Katie Rommely had been my best girlfriend since before we'd even started at the factory. I can't remember where we met; at a club, maybe? That is irrelevant. But the part Katie played in my life made her one of the most important people with whom I ever crossed paths. And what she took from me haunted me for the rest of my days.
I turned my head, flipping off the machine with which I was working.
"Hildy, it's Johnny come with the boys!" exclaimed Katie again. She was flushed, her pale cheeks brightening from excitement. I smiled, and, setting aside my things, I lifted myself from the wooden stool upon which I sat for the better part of the day and joined my best friend.
"Just tell Mrs. O'Donnelly that it's your time of the month," Katie said, rolling her eyes as she noticed my hesitation. "She's bound to let you go—even if she's stopped flowing, she'll damn well remember what it was like." She giggled mischievously. I smirked uneasily in response. While deception and games came easily to Katie, I was more of a prude—not yet corrupted. Not yet.
"Alright, alright," I said finally, letting out a small grin. Katie clapped her hands expressively, and, after my excuses had been made to the intimidating floor manager, Katie Rommely dragged me from the darkened factory filled with quiet, and into the bright sunlight of the street.
Johnny Nolan was the most beautiful boy I'd ever seen. His eyes were as bright blue as a perfect days' sky—an unusual happening in Williamsburg, almost as rare as those eyes—and his face, tanned and chiseled. Blond hair flopped artistically over his brow, and a playful grin pulled at the corners of his lips almost perpetually.
"Why, if it isn't Hildy O'Dair and her best girlfriend Katie Rommely," he exclaimed. I grinned and threw myself into his arms. He gave me a peck on the cheek and pulled away to smile down at me. His boys whooped and hollered, and Katie stood to the side, blushing even more fiercely than before. Despite her outgoing attitude with me, she kept quiet around men; especially these, the ones she saw the most.
Arm wrapped round my waist, Johnny proceeded to dance a merry jig. I giggled, trying to copy his graceful movements. Although my skills were comparable to a drunk grandmother, Johnny lifted me up into the air and spun me gaily around; my lack of charisma in dancing hardly mattered to him; hardly mattered to Johnny, the greatest man in the world, the best beau in all of Brooklyn, and the handsomest too. Every girl, even one hooked up with a boy of her own, knew that and acknowledged it with possessive pride—he was a Williamsburg boy.
"Where do we go today, Johnny?" I whispered into his ear.
"Tonight I'll take you dancing," he responded quietly.
I giggled and grabbed his other hand. We walked, intertwined, staring blissfully at each other and at the sidewalk ahead, unsure of our destination yet willing to go wherever our feet carried us.
Johnny hooked Katie up with one of his boys—Gregory Phelan, a plump boy who was continually sneezing into some hanky or kerchief or another, if not into the very crease of his suit at the elbow. I pitied Katie; but I knew that she would hardly pass up a night out dancing because of the poor situation in which she was placed and the wanting date given to her.
Before Johnny came to pick me up that night, Katie arrived. I was taken aback at her sheer beauty, and more than a little jealous. I had just barely managed to pull off the forest green knee-high dress—the breasts had been just a little too large—but Katie, she looked stunning. Gulping back my envy, trying to ignore her appearance, I ushered her into the small flat that I shared with my mother and sister.
Mother peeled herself from the bed where she rested daily to take a peek at the two party girls. Hardly deterred by our jaunty, daring attire, she proceeded to gasp appropriately at Katie's deserving ensemble. Although she had showered me in compliments just a few minutes before, their sincerity paled in comparison to Mother's shocked awe. She was right—such a transformation: from Katie the factory girl to Katie the party-goer—was breathtaking in itself. Katie's brilliance in pulling the metamorphosis off topped the change off with a cherry.
Her royal blue, creased-and-pleated dress was slung playfully from her hips that curved perfectly. Although she was slender, those hips rolled from the perfect height out to the perfect length. The bodice was tight and attractive, highlighting her ample chest and skinny waist. Her shoes, three-inch-tall white pumps, accentuated Katie's muscular, toned legs, long and beautiful—and her hair was curled immaculately, only an artistic wisp dangling appealing over her forehead. That face; those eyes; those rosebud lips—she was gorgeous, and she knew it. I, I was a mere shadow, unfit even to be that to the beautiful, wonderful, amazing Katie Rommely.
And although I begged with my heart, mind, and soul, I could not manage to appreciate Katie's change, her glorious, four-hour development into womanhood, I could not wrap my mind around the fact that the mistress, I, the enviable Hildy O'Dair, had been surpassed in every manner of the word, by her pupil, the German factory girl known simply as the third Rommely girl.
Johnny and Katie's date, poor Gregory, swung by soon afterwards. Gregory fumbled meanly with words of praise and astonishment. He had been treated to a gorgeous girl, him simply a Phelan boy! I grinned quietly to myself. At the very least, Katie's beauty would not be satisfactorily appreciated. Although I could tell Johnny was surprised and perhaps pleased, a little bit, I knew that he thought I was just as beautiful. I blessed him silently in my mind. Johnny Nolan was, of course, the best boy I knew.