Disclaimer: If you recognize them…they are NOT mine.
Beta: ? HAH! So far no one has had the bare knuckle grit to sit down and help me out, so it's just me and Spellcheck.
Beth kneeled over the wooden glider chair, paint brush in hand. She had given it a careful sanding and had chosen a similar cherry stain. The wooden glider weighed a ton and if the widow hadn't insisted she take it she never would have paid her maintenance man to truck it from the assisted living home to her apartment.
The kind of concentration this glider needed was exactly what Beth required. The past month or so had shaken her to her bones. First she met a fascinating stranger at a crime scene, she thought he looked familiar and his reply simply reinforced her gut feeling. Then when a friend of hers brought Lee Jay Spaulding's case to the public with a 'tell all' book it seemed this new acquaintance, Mick St John had some skeletons in his closet. Old skeletons.
From the particulars of Spaulding's case Mick was not the handsome thirty-something he appeared to be. The facts were more daunting than Spaulding's veracity. Mick St John was a Vampire. Beth shook her head each time she recollected the sight of Mick twisting away, his shallow and quick breathes and his labored words, 'I'm a vampire' as his fingers curled around a bag of blood. Well, that certainly put a foot through her sense of reality.
Beth Turner hadn't done more than 2 stories on camera and both seemed to throw Mick into her orbit. She shook her head as she slowly drew the brush out of the stain, watching the deep red drops falling she thought of blood. With a deep breath and a moment of time the Minwax stain looked less like blood and more like innocent wood stain.
The old woman's death had saddened her. Beth met her when she interviewed the women from the defense plant. Beth had to do the leg work and prime the interviewees for the on-screen personality to tape the segment for Memorial Day. Her mind relaxed as she recalled the day….
The eight women sat around the dinner table, ready for their preliminary interview. Beth had officially imported butter cookies and tea and unofficially a bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream for the meeting. She had steamed that Maureen hadn't let her do this story, why was she ready to do the hard work but no get the on-screen time?
The tea welcomed the ladies but it was the sherry that unzipped their lips. Beth scribbled humorous side-notes while her tape recorder caught every golden word these war-time mechanics offered. One lady in particular took a while to open up, yet by the second pour she was spilling tales of sharing stockings with the single girls who wanted to feel their returning warrior slide them gently off during a weekend pass before they shipped out.
"Lilly, remind me how you always had stockings?" Bertie, a bright eyed amply bosomed woman looked askance at the still slim widow.
Lilly seemed to be divulging war secrets by her expression, "Bertie, I had a cousin who managed the accessory department at Kahn's. Right before rationing began he bought them out."
"You mean he tucked them into his overcoat!" Bertie humorously assailed as if it were yesterday. Lilly shook her head over her tea cup before she bragged.
"He brought home a case." She held her arthritic hands out wider than her proud shoulders, "This big. My father thought he lost his mind, asked him if he was going to buy all the sugar in West Adams." Beth was lost as the women told tales of carpooling to save gas and tires and then eventually when the last pair of stockings was in ruin how they used eyebrow pencils and drew a seam up the back of their leg to mimic the appearance of stockings.
When Amber Lambert, Buzzwire's onscreen personality arrived for the actual interview she plucked Beth's notes out her hands and shooed Beth out the door. Oddly, Amber hadn't chosen the spunky pair Lilly and Bertie for screen time. Beth figured Amber would be afraid they'd steal her thunder. Lilly took careful steps with Bertie's help as Beth watched their easy friendship. "Oh, Miss Turner!" Bertie waved to Beth before she headed to the parking lot.
"Yes, Bertie?" Beth hadn't met her grandparents and these women totally charmed her.
"Honey, do you swing dance?" Lilly asked her eyes alive with the words.
"Swing dance? Not really, it's all I can do to get my boyfriend on the dance floor" Beth chuckled at the thought of Josh's spit polished shoes moving to music.
"Well, dear, Friday night is the monthly swing dance. We mostly sit and watch" Lilly admitted as she shuffled from foot to foot, alternately leaning on Bertie or her ornate cane. "Why don't you bring your young man and remind us what young love looks like?"
And so the invitation was accepted. Josh was leery as he parked his car outside the center's community hall. "Beth, how do you talk me into these things?" He pulled her back to into an easy embrace and caught her face in his hands. "It has to be the ponytail, you're too damn cute!" Josh smoothed stray blond curls back behind Beth's ears and kissed the end of her nose, "So you say these old women are a pair of cards?"
Beth's eyes widened in excitement, "They were the women who built ships! Can you imagine me building a ship?" Josh smiled warmly at the women's war efforts. He could imagine building a home and a happy life with her, but Beth building ships? No, not really!
'Junior' Baldwin, a spry 68 year old guy owned the turntable and the 'platters' he was already spinning tunes like the Woodchopper's Ball. His collection included quite a few rare "white-label" 78rpm-records. Bertie and Lilly sat like groupies close to his table, their heads bobbing in tune with Woody Herman's orchestra as if it were 1942 all over again. The community room was alive with gents in shirts and ties and ladies wearing corsages and flowing dresses.
"There, they are!" Beth tugged Josh toward the lively duo. He was the boyfriend on parade and he felt like arm candy in a room full of widows.
For Josh the night swirled into a mosaic of dance partners, each of the blue-haired ladies eager to dance with the handsome young man.
"Are you Miss Turner's date or more?" Lilly asked as pressed her pearly white curls against the broad expanse of Josh's chest.
"I am. I mean I hope I mean more." He swallowed hard, he craved more, yet Beth seemed to be at a fork in the road. Getting the internship at Buzzwire had changed the nature of their relationship.
Lilly poked an index finger into his shoulder, "I had a talk dark drink of water like you once." Lilly's voice softened with those words. The expression on the face of the old woman in Josh's arms softened as she raised her wrinkled face. "He got away from me, some days I regret that." The music changed to a slower pace and he was intrigued. At his nod she softly smiled and continued, "It was wartime, I had a sense of duty to the man I sent off to war."
Josh had heard after dinner tales from his father and uncles, the dejected tales of 'Dear John' letters, "Something tells me he wasn't the dark drink of water?" He softened the 'D.A.' demeanor, realizing she needed to chat.
"You're as handsome as you are perceptive!" Lilly's smile seemed bittersweet, "He was an angel when I needed him. We both thought my Ray was dead." Her eyes darkened as she continued, "Ray had asked his best friend to watch over me. It was innocent then in our pain there was such a breath of promise." Lilly's lip quivered at the words and Josh suddenly felt powerless, words didn't rise to his lips as his feet froze.
Josh caught her in his arms and guided her off the dance floor in the direction of the punchbowl. Pouring her a cup of punch he nodded to the double doors leading to a fragrant lanai. Sipping the cup she held in two fragile hands they headed for wisteria covered swing.
"You said you thought Ray was dead?" Josh gently sustained their tête-à-tête.
She nodded between sips of pink punch, "He had been reported dead, I was waiting the formal decree. The three of us had grown up together; it was only natural for him to help with the Victorian. Like me it was beginning to fall apart. Then he kissed me, the world blew away." She drew in a deep breath, the emotions evident in her bright smile.
"Something tells me it blew up after that?" Josh stared at the stars in the black sky, saddened for the ill-fated couple.
Lilly played with a strand of her hair, her eyes watching Josh, "Oh, we had eight or ten weeks of heaven. I mean we were discreet, he never slept over." She wondered if Josh could see her blush at her implied wantonness. "Then the ARMY found Ray was on a hospital ship, the Marigold. His dog tags had been lost."
Josh drew in a slow breath at the realization, "You truly didn't have a choice, Lilly. Someone's heart was going to be broken."
Lilly nodded, "Either way that was the bitter truth. Ray was such a gentleman, if he could tell the truth of it from our expressions he never let on."
They sat in a companionable silence, Josh curious to know the outcome yet too much a gentleman to pry.
"I'll wager you wonder what happened." Now she was amused again at his easy smile. Oh, didn't he have the brightest white grin! At his shrug she drove the conversation home, "Ray moved home with his wheelchair and his crutches and I was Mrs. Fordham again. I couldn't hear the name 'Lilah' without thinking of those weeks in heaven. I was a different person after Michael left."
"He left?" Josh shook his head at the separation. Yet, how painful would it had been to watch her with her husband, Josh understood the predicament.
"It was for the best. The first weekend Ray was home I missed my visitor, you know." She sought Josh's understanding. What did the girls call their periods these days?
After a beat of silence it dawned on him, "I think I catch your drift."
"Ray tried to be a husband, he truly did. There were so many early babies then, it didn't seem to matter. Ray was in his life when it counted."
"What about you, Lilly? Lilah was a different woman, wasn't she?" Josh leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his chin in his hands. Could he be that kind of husband, thinking Beth had taken a romantic segue within their relationship?
"Oh, all my friends just know me as Lilly Fordham, it's no never mind to them. And in my heart, there's a place for Ray and Michael." She mimicked his pose and drew in a deep breath of the clean night air. "The important thing young man is that you stake your claim, romance her and dance her off her feet. Never forget she needs a bit of an edge. All women do!"
Josh never shared this deep discussion with Beth. He'd send bouquets of daisies to Lilly when she crossed his mind. Through the months Beth kept in touch, dropping by before work, bringing her potpourri and Lily of the Valley hand crème from Crabtree & Evelyn. Beth felt bad; since she went on camera she hadn't visited Lilly, hadn't even picked up the phone to speak with her.
Then, in fall of 2008 Beth called him in tears.
"Josh, Lilly died last night." Josh could tell Beth had been crying for a while, he could hear the thickness in her voice. "I got a call from the administrator, seems she left me something. I'm going over to see Bertie and the girls. Are you free?"
"I have court then I have to fly north, remember it's my niece's baptism. You couldn't come because of work." He grimaced at Beth facing the ladies alone. "Is it something you can put off?"
"No, they want her belongings gathered…" Beth couldn't finish the sentence. "Hey, I'll get Sam to go with me, she loves road trips."
Beth's eyes scoured the silent room. Lilly was such a force of nature her absence seemed to suck the life out of her pastel chamber. The wall's framed photos were wrapped in newspaper and stacked on the stripped bed. Small boxes were stacked at the door.
In the corner was the glider sporting a faded pad. On the seat was an envelope addressed, 'Beth Turner' in a flowing aged script. She sat in the glider as she read the letter Lilly had left for her. It was filled with platitudes about loving life and the person in your life. Beth knew Lilly's words were sincere; they simply looked like greeting card sentiments as she read them today. Did she 'love' Josh like Lilly thought she should? Beth didn't believe that she did…..she wasn't sure if she could love anyone like that. Beth was tangled in her conflicting ideas about romance.
So now, back at her apartment she was deep into the physical task of untying the knots that secured the floral pad to the chair. She respected that Lilly had soothed her newborn son in this chair and felt years away from achieving that with a child of her own. The day's shade tempered the warm fall heat as she stroked new life into the glider with a paintbrush and soft rag. Once done, she strolled around it admiring the soft lines of the worked wood.
The trill of her phone broke her reverie and she spun to the comfort of her kitchen. It was Mick. He was all business, "I'm sorry I had to postpone our discussion the other night." Mick's voice was dry and tight. Of course it was he was a vampire. She still didn't fully understand Mick's dilemma.
"Yeah, Mick…. It's OK, I didn't mean to press." Of course she did, she wanted to know it all. She chafed at the clock on the wall holding her to the responsibilities of work, "Hey, I was just finishing a project. I have to clean up for work. Can we get together in the next day or so?" She couldn't believe she was doing this, arranging to meet a vampire, an incredibly handsome vampire.
There was a tense silence and then his tone softened, "Sure, Beth. If you're comfortable, come by my loft. Call me when you're free." She caught his invitation and her heart clenched.
"Mick….Hey, if you're not working tonight I'm slated for camera time, you can watch me work!" Beth hoped he'd watch. There was something about knowing Mick was viewing that gave her depth. It was a feeling of connection to someone other than the vapid fan boys who critiqued her fashion sense.
Now the air seemed electric and they weren't even in each other's space. She thought about his expressions while he paced his own living room. Her hands flitted with her words; he probably thought she was dorky. Perhaps she had been too glib with her Red Cross comment? It had to have been her question, "How did you become a vampire?" because he zoned out and shook his head. Beth realized she had barraged him with questions muddying their conversation and closing the discussion.
Now on this call she felt that electricity again simply from the sound of his voice, his words fell on her ears and she quivered. Why? Strangely they had both hovered on this call; the line had been silent for seconds when they spoke at once, her nearly explosive "Mick" to his sandy smooth "Beth".
She knew he was smiling, she fondly remembered his sad smile.
"I'll call you tonight after work, you do stay up a while to wind down?" he asked with a new certainty.
She couldn't imagine winding down around him. "Yeah, I do. I've got to run, but call me. You'll know when I'm done!"
Yeah, Beth thought, I'm un-done….for you….Mick St John.