Warnings: Trigger warning for abuse (let me know if I should add any more).
Notes: Missing scenes set between the end of Jumping Tracks and the beginning of Armistice. Can be read as a continuation of To Be Brave, although it is not necessary to read one story in order to understand the other.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Michael Maclennan and Adrienne Mitchell/Shaw Media.
Kate's been thinking a lot about it, recently. About looking, and being looked at. About being ready.
Today, in the locker room after work, Kate read a little of one of Lewis Pine's letters to Gladys. Most of the aching therein was for a decent meal, but the close included the line, "I dream of holding you in my arms; to once again kiss your neck and feel you move against me." She's been thinking about it ever since.
Kate is starting to be able to piece it together a little better. She's not stupid, she knows that her reaction to the line probably means that deep down, she'd like someone to hold her close and kiss her neck. She knows it would probably feel good, with the right person. But as soon as she pictures it too clearly, she starts thinking dirty and wrong until she can't remember why it sounded like an attractive idea in the first place. She still can't let herself think about wanting to be touched and held and kissed.
Still, she can't lose heart. She's improving, she definitely is, in all sorts of ways. The other day, in the canteen line, Edith looked her up and down and remarked, "Kate, did you grow?"
"Pardon?" Kate asked. Then, because she couldn't resist, she echoed, "Did I grow?"
"I swear you weren't this tall when you started here, but if you'll forgive the observation, you seem a little old for a growth spurt."
"I think my posture's getting better," Kate said truthfully.
"Well, I'm glad to see it. I'm forever having to remind my Daphne to stand up straight."
Everyone had launched into a discussion of young girls they knew – daughters, younger sisters, nieces, babysitting charges – and the never-ending battle to correct their posture. Kate had just silently revelled in the fact that someone had seen, someone had noticed that she was getting better. She doesn't mind being looked at like that. In fact, she rather likes it.
She likes it so much that she's been doing it more and more herself. Last week, before the screening of Betty's newsreel, she and Betty had been putting on their make-up together in Betty's room. Kate felt so comfortable that she grew bold. "Your beauty spot is so pretty. Would you draw one on me?" Kate held out her eyebrow pencil.
Betty raised her eyebrows. "You mean my mole?"
"Yes, your beauty spot," Kate corrected her, gently but insistently.
The corner of Betty's mouth twitched. She sighed, but it was the sort of sigh you do when you're trying not to grin. "I warn you, I'm not much of an artist, but I guess drawing a mole can't be that hard. Hold still."
When Betty leaned close to her to draw on the beauty spot, Kate got that feeling again. The wanting-to-be-close feeling. But this time, she didn't abruptly halt the conversation and tell Betty to leave the room. She just breathed through it. Well. She breathed, and then she started humming along to the song she was singing in her head: Night and day, you are the one. Only you, beneath the moon and under the sun…
Once Betty had finished, Kate looked at herself in the mirror and made a face. "I think I prefer seeing it on you to having it on me," she admitted, and wiped it off. That's another way that she's improving. She can just say, all straight out, that she likes looking at Betty, without worrying about how funny it sounds. Kate can just say, "Oh, Betty, I like your hair that way" or chip into a discussion about diets with, "Some people never need to slim. Like Betty, she's got such a nice figure." Maybe not all women feel this way about their friends, but that's not the point any more. Kate does feel this way about her friend. Betty makes her happy, after so many years of being desperately unhappy. Anyone who thinks that sounds funny can go jump. Love is very liberating that way.
She loves Betty, but she can't tell her that. Not yet, anyway. She doesn't quite know how to define it yet, this love which is more than friendship but definitely not like a sister. She needs to be able to define it before she can decide what to do with it.
Like with Leon, for instance. Leon Riley is a Negro janitor at Vic Mu who's been giving her tips about singing. She likes Leon, trusts him. She didn't realise how important it was to her, to be able to really, truly trust a man, until she met Leon. Leon's so patient with her. He didn't make her feel bad when she realised just how much she doesn't know about singing. Kate feels warm inside when she looks at him, or listens to him sing. Particularly when he sings. Leon is a wonderful performer. When his band played at the canteen dance, she swayed alone in front of the stage for six songs in a row. Kate didn't give a fig whether she looked silly dancing all alone, she just let the music carry her away on silver wings.
Sometimes, when she's in the right frame of mind, she can look at Leon as a man, rather than her friend, or a fellow musician, or the protective older brother she's always wanted. He doesn't look at her like a woman, though. Whether it's because of her colour, her sheltered upbringing, or both, Leon looks at Kate like she's his kid sister: fondly, exasperatedly, proudly, but never like he wants to take her in his arms.
To tell the truth, Kate doesn't mind all that much. She's content with just looking. She knows she likes him, and that she thinks he's handsome. It's big enough for her to admit to herself that she has a little crush on him. Maybe twenty-four is too old for crushes (after all, many women are married at her age), but Kate wasn't free to have too many of them before now. She likes just holding the feeling to herself and not being expected to do anything with it.
It's not the way a woman is meant to feel, when a dreamboat like Leon gives her a nickname like Church Mouse. But maybe, just maybe, since she started making her own way in the world, Kate's been too concerned with what women are supposed to feel. Maybe if she just let herself feel what she wanted to feel – if she could let herself honestly feel anything at all – she could finally end this childhood of hers that's been going for almost twenty-five years.
Every morning and evening, Kate and Betty sit together on the street car. Kate particularly enjoys it in the evening, getting the chance to sit down beside her beloved best friend and rest her poor sore feet as the world flashes by outside the rain-spattered windows. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they're too tired. But tonight, Kate finds herself wanting to talk.
"You know, I wish soldiers would write letters to me, the way they do to Gladys," she admits. Kate writes to two soldiers herself. Brian is nineteen and the only boy in a family of seven, whereas Trevor is only eighteen and a doctor's son. Even as she gave them her address, she knew she would have to look elsewhere if she wanted a grand romance. They're nice boys, and she could tell they liked her, but all she could see in them was her own little brothers, Walt and Richie. Writing to them, there have been times when Kate has had to scratch out whole lines because she's accidentally made reference to some shared memory or private family joke. She's wasted a lot of notepaper that way. Still, writing to Trevor and Brian is another way that Kate is getting much better. Writing to people as Kate Andrews helps her practice thinking as Kate Andrews.
Betty snorts. "I'm sure you could do better than being fantasised over by some dopey teenager who doesn't know his ass from his elbow."
Underneath the layers of condescension, Kate senses a genuine attempt at reassurance. "Well, I suppose the two I write to are still a little young and shy. Do you know, Trevor took his baseball cards with him to basic training?"
"Trevor. That the kid with glasses who followed you around Sandy Shores like a puppy dog until you gave him your address?"
"Figures," says Betty, flicking open her newspaper.
"Don't be mean." Kate nudges her with an elbow. "Anyhow, I don't expect anything to come of it. I always thought I'd marry someone a little older than me." A nasty voice in Kate's head says, Because you want another father to order you around and tell you what to do. She pushes it down. That's not the reason, and she knows it. She's always gotten along well with people a few years older, it has nothing to do with her father. "How old are you, again?"
Betty's eyes don't leave her newspaper. "I turned twenty-eight in August."
"And what kind of man do you want to marry?"
Betty gives a snort. "I think we all know that's not happening. Not in a goddamned month of Sundays."
Kate flinches, but senses that this is not the time to reprimand Betty for taking the Lord's name in vain. "Why not?"
Betty studiously avoids Kate's eyes. "Look at this, they're showing The Maltese Falcon at the Avalon this week. Gladys will flip."
"Oh, Betty." Kate looks sympathetically at her. She hates the idea of Betty thinking her life has passed her by, but she definitely understands. Kate felt terrifically old by the time she was twenty. Sometimes, Kate still has a tough time remembering that she's still a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. "Don't talk that way about yourself."
"Why shouldn't I? It's true."
"Anything can happen if you let it." She decides now is a good time to tell Betty her momentous news. "I've decided I want to go on the stage."
That makes Betty finally stop reading the paper. "You're gonna sing onstage?"
"I think I could do it. I've been watching all the acts at the Sandy Shores for months now, and practising in my room."
"I know," says Betty.
Kate looks at her.
"Sometimes I hear you."
"But you're across the hallway. Oh, my gosh!" Kate claps a hand over her mouth. "Do you suppose the others do, too?"
"If they minded, they'd have spoken up by now. You know how nutty Susan is about absolute quiet."
Kate sits for a moment, feeling simultaneously humiliated about all her neighbours overhearing her various attempts at singing like Lena Horne, and pleased that nobody, not even Susan, banged on the wall and shouted for her to put a sock in it.
Betty senses her discomfort and rescues her. "So. Kate Andrews on the stage, huh?"
"I haven't a clue how to get started," she confesses.
"Sure you do. I bet if you started singing right here and didn't stop until we'd hopped off the street car, you'd have a whole line of swells begging you to play their clubs."
"Be serious. Do you really think I could? I haven't had any training."
Giving a shrug, Betty says, "I already know you can sing."
"You, and half the darn rooming house."
"You don't have to prove anything to me." Betty reaches for Kate's hand, giving it a squeeze. Kate laces their fingers gratefully, and they sit in contemplative silence.
Betty isn't asking Kate to prove anything to her – only it's becoming more and more apparent each day that she's going to have to, sooner rather than later.
Kate thinks that perhaps she and Betty are more similar than people might think. Perhaps Betty even gets those hopeless feelings of wanting-to-be-close as well. Maybe she gets them around men, which is a notion so terrible it makes Kate cringe. No wonder Betty doesn't think she'll ever get married. Nine times out of ten, Kate gets those feelings around beautiful women, and yet it's still taken her a lifetime to start to believe that she could be in love someday.
It's clear Betty hasn't quite caught up with Kate yet. That wretched newsreel of Mr Joseph's didn't help matters at all. Still, Kate was frankly baffled at Betty's reaction to it. Perhaps Kate wasn't as sympathetic as she might have been, but it just made her so uncomfortable, hearing Betty talk about wanting to be like all the other girls. Kate likes that Betty is different. It has always seemed obvious to Kate that if Betty wanted to, she could have her pick of men. She just doesn't want to, and there's nothing wrong with that. Kate thought the newsreel was a bit silly, but no more wildly implausible or insulting than, say, a newsreel about Kate staying in bed on a Sunday morning instead of going to church. She certainly could have a long lie-in, most of the rooming house women do, but it's not what she wants for herself.
Betty didn't seem to see it that way. She thought she'd been made a fool of. She shoved Mr Joseph in front of everyone, stormed out and went home ill. That's what Mrs Corbett told Gladys, Kate and Edith when they tried to fan out and find her. Only when Kate arrived back at the rooming house, it turned out Betty hadn't been ill after all, just horribly, horribly embarrassed. Kate didn't understand it one bit, how Betty could be so discouraged by a buffoon like that Mr Joseph poking fun at her.
The Mr Josephs of the world shouldn't matter to Betty, not when people like Kate, Gladys, Mrs Corbett, all the rooming house women and everyone on Blue Shift think she's wonderful. How wonderful, though, Kate has yet to effectively communicate. All the time, she finds herself just wanting to shout, "Don't you see that I love you? Don't you see that the whole darned world would love you if you just let it? Doesn't the way I see you count for anything?"
But she can't. The only way she's been able to let her feelings out for years now is to sing them. Just fancy that, she thinks dourly. I could sing to a whole room of people, but I can't tell my best friend how much she means to me.
All at once, Kate gets an idea.
One day soon, Kate will sing with a band. She'll sing with Leon's band. She will get up on stage and sing her heart out, and when she reaches a line about love, how fine it is, how it makes your life better, she will find Betty's face in the crowd (because Betty will be there, no doubt about it). Kate will smile and raise her eyebrows a fraction, so Betty can see. Kate will look at Betty and think, Yes, you, this is about you! as hard as she possibly can. The music will let her feel it as much as anyone ever did. The feeling will shine out of her and fill up the whole room, and Betty will know how much Kate loves her.
"What're you smiling about?"
Once upon a time, Kate might have given a start and flushed crimson. Now, Kate's grin only grows wider. "Secrets."
"Secrets and plans."
"You're being very mysterious."
"Well, it'll all come out before too long. You wait," she says, her mind filled with dazzling images she knows are going to come true. Sitting here on the street car, next to Betty, she is finally Kate Andrews, fully realised (or on the way to it, at least). She is a working woman with talents, friends, a future and glorious plans. She loves someone. She's going to tell them so, somehow. It seems there are more things in this world that could come true for Kate than anyone could have ever thought possible. She is not blind any more. "You just wait," Kate Andrews says, and dreams her dreams.