The morning air was soft with late-summer drizzle. Ada liked the sound of her shoes slapping on the concrete as she walked to Adele’s house. She stuffed letters from Kyle and Rodger into her coat pocket, burying them deep inside.
Thinking of Adele, she felt her neck muscles tighten. So much stress for all of them these past days with John’s death and Rodger’s injury. Yet, Rodger was coming home. He’d be home in time for the birth of the baby.
Adele greeted Ada at the door. One look and Ada knew that Adele had been crying.
“How did he sound when he called?” Ada pressed her cool hand against Adele’s flushed cheek.
“You know Rodger,” Adele shot back. “Acts as if this is all part of the game.”
Ada met her gaze. “It is, in a way. We take it more seriously because we’ve got more to lose.”
“Oh, Ada! One minute I’m up, and the next I’m down!” Adele covered her face with her hands and sobbed. “I’m not normal.”
“You are. Scared and happy.” She patted Adele on the shoulder. “There have been too many changes.”
Adele’s mood shifted as abruptly as a summer storm. She waddled into the bedroom for a hanky. “How’s the kitten?”
“Fine.” Ada shook herself free of her coat and hung it up in the hall closet. “He’s still cute and cuddly.”
Adele came into the small living room and sat down again. “He’ll always be a lover.”
“Maybe.” Ada held up the letters in her hand. “I brought these.”
“Rodger said Uncle Kyle’s assigned to Army Intelligence in Honolulu. They’ll get together when Rodger is released from the hospital.” Adele blew her nose and coughed. “I didn’t cry over the phone, Ada. I think I sounded like I was holding together just fine.”
“You are, dear. I think it’s much better for you to cry a little now and again.”
Ada scanned the letters. Without her spectacles, the handwriting wiggled across the page. She pinched the bridge of her nose, just as she always did when she removed her glasses. “He didn’t say much about how it happened, but finding Mary Elizabeth and LinChing dead must have been a shock for Rodger.”
“Ada,” Adele whispered fiercely, “there were only two who made it. And they came home wounded.”
Ada smoothed out Kyle’s letter. “Kyle says Rodger is not too badly hurt. Healing quickly. Be good as new in no time.” Ada looked over to Adele. “In time for the baby.”
Adele smiled. She whisked the hair away from her face and sat heavily into the cushion. “There hasn’t been much action lately. The baby’s been quiet.”
Ada tensed. “Probably stress. You must relax more.” Ada nodded toward the bedroom. “Go lie down for a while. I’ll finish hanging the curtains.” Adele started to protest. “Go!” Ada pointed to the bedroom. “We’ll go for a walk when you get up.”
“Ada, you’re going to mother‑hen me to death.” But she went.
Ada liked what Adele had done to the little house that was built like hers. Country antiques. Her mother must have brought them with her last January.
Ada fidgeted with the curtain rod, uncertain whether to begin or not. If by chance Adele slept, then quiet was what the house should be. But if she fretted over the unfinished projects, it would only add to her fatigue. Ada debated until, weary of her own arguments, she stepped upon the chair and measured the window. Then she took the hammer and nails, put up the rod, hooked the curtains and started on the next one. By noon, all of the curtains hung neatly in place.
Ada picked up the christening gown and hand worked the finishing edge on it when Adele padded out to the living room barefoot. She started at Adele’s exclamation.
“Ada!” Adele spread her arms out wide, turning in a half-circle. “What are you, part hurricane?”
“I’m sorry! Did all that noise awaken you?”
“No, no, Ada,” Adele came beside her, leaning over to kiss her forehead. “You do too much for me.”
Relieved, Ada chuckled. “Got to keep busy for my sanity.” She waved the threaded needle at Adele. “Why don’t you fix us some tea. I’ll be done by the time it’s ready.”
“The weather’s better. Sunshine.” Adele’s lilting voice carried from the kitchen throughout the house. “Let’s do a little weeding today. I’d like to yank some of those devils out.”
Ada rethreaded the needle. “Sounds like you need to rid yourself of some energy.”
Adele came to the doorway. “I do.” She gestured to the radio. “I don’t even turn it on anymore. Mother and Daddy in England with the diplomatic corps, Rodger God knows where. I’m afraid of what’s going on out there.”
Ada eased a stitch through. “You best keep your own world intact, Adele. Do what you can. Give your best. That’s all the world can expect of you.”
“I know.” Adele leaned against the door jamb.
“You’re not used to being at home. One day you’re flying transport and then,” Ada snapped her fingers, “you’re tied to home and hearth and child.”
“Being married sounded like a good idea at the time.” Adele’s voice faded as she scurried to answer the teakettle. “Now I feel like Alice in Wonderland. Rodger is the White Rabbit,” she patted her stomach, “and junior is the Cheshire Cat. Intimate strangers.”
Ada knotted the thread then bit it. “Aren’t we all strangers?” she asked with a sigh. “It seems we never know a person.”
Adele handed Ada a cup of steaming tea. “I’ll never forget the look on Rodger’s face when he recognized me and the co‑pilot for what we were. Women! By God, his little world rocked.” With deliberate movements, Adele set her cup beside the chair, nested, then picked up her tea and blew across the top. With a gruff voice and wag of her head, she imitated Rodger. “‘I don’t care if you were personally trained by Jacqueline Cochran—women have no business in the air!’” Adele wrinkled her nose and sniffed the tea. “I let him take a long look at my log book. My twenty‑five hundred hours impressed him.”
Ada plastered her listening smile on her face and continued sewing. Adele relaxed further into the chair.
“My co‑pilot, Ellen, was also a fair mechanic. She and Rodger were always locking horns. She ended up falling for a flyer in Rodger’s outfit.”
Adele put down her tea cup. She folded her hands across her belly. “What a jerk he was! They ran off to some bar in Bantang, and he stole the jeep. Poor, stranded Ellen had to hitch a ride back to base and tell Rodger the sordid details. Rodger was really nice to her, but he sure loved it. ‘She should have known better.’ ”
“I bet he covered for her, too, didn’t he?” Ada peeked up at Adele.
“How right you are!” Adele grunted. “Look at me, lounging while you sit and slave away. Put it down, Ada, and drink your tea.”
“I’m done.” Ada laid the gown next to her, running the wrinkles out with her hands. “Was Ellen your bridesmaid?”
“No, another friend of mine that flew with me in the ATA. Ellen was killed ferrying a Stirling bomber.” Adele’s face went blank. Her voice trembled. “We lost flyers, too.”
“Do show me the rest of the pictures. I haven’t seen them all.”
Adele inched out of the chair and pushed up onto her feet. She went to the bookcase and retrieved a photo album. Sitting next to Ada on the couch, she gently opened the cover to the eight‑by‑ten black-and-white picture of her wedding: Adele and Rodger wedged in the middle, flanked by Kyle and the bridesmaid; each of them wore a uniform. Adele lingered, and Ada waited for her to turn the page.
“Oh, how lovely! Where did you get a cake like that?” Ada pointed to the two‑tiered wedding cake with elaborate birds made of icing on the sides.
“My mother’s friend made it. She’s English.” Adele tapped the picture. “Bluebirds of happiness.”
Ada flipped through the pictures. “You both look so happy. Like you belong together.” She cocked her head, shaking her finger at Adele. “Listen to me! Don’t let that child be the only thing you and Rodger have in common. Keep yourself interested in outside things. For yourself and him.” She took a breath and plunged in deeper. “It’s easy enough to let the baby be the end all of the relationship.”
Adele grabbed Ada’s finger and shook it playfully. “Are you a mind‑reader, too?” “I’ve thought of that a lot lately.” She let go and looked down at her huge stomach. “I’ve thought about getting certified to teach music, but I am really only good at the guitar. I was too much of a tomboy to settle inside and practice much on the piano or flute. But I am good a reading music. I don’t know, I’ll have to look into it.”
“You know, the only thing I know about Rodger and music is that he took piano lessons for one year. Maddie said it just wasn’t worth the battle to get him to practice.” Ada straightened. “I don’t even know what kind of music, if any, he likes.”
“Guitar. He likes ballads.” Adele fingered the armhole of the satin baby’s gown. “Perhaps I’ll take up classical guitar.”
“I have Sam’s! I’ll give it to you. It’s old, but he kept it in good shape. I think I remember him saying it’s a ‘classical’ guitar. It’s has six strings.” Ada pinched her lip.
“’Classical’ refers to style and how to play the music, but it is bigger by one string.” Adele gave a confirming shrug and short laugh.
“He played so fine! But, my oh my, he sure couldn’t sing!” Ada searched the ceiling for patterns.
“Oh, Ada, I couldn’t! Sam gave it to you to keep.”
She waved away Adele’s protests. “You might as well have it. It’s not meant to be stored away forever. I do not have a shrine for Sam!”
Adele squinted. “I can see why Rodger loves you so much. It’s not that you’re so kind,” Adele patted Ada’s arm, “which you are, but that you are so much here, alive in today.”
“Well!” Ada snorted, hoping to turn the conversation, “Let’s look alive and be on our way before the day gets away.” She smiled in satisfaction at her little rhyme.
Adele rolled her eyes. “A posy of a sentence.” She walked to the hall closet to get Ada’s coat and handed it to her. “I must get Madeline’s bread. I baked this morning.”
Adele came out of the kitchen, with a lilt in her step and swinging a sack filled with loaves of bread. The aroma of still‑warm bread filled the room. “And yours. You choose either oat or barley.”
“Hmm,” hummed Ada, “I love the smell. I don’t care. Either.”
“Well, then, barley. Maddie prefers the oat.” Adele bit the smile on her lips. “Underneath that cold crust of hers, she’s really a very nice person.”
Ada tried not to smirk. She turned to the door. “Aren’t we all?”
Adele giggled. Arms linked, they walked along. Roses and dogtooth violets still showed. Rain drops dribbled off leaves, and the smells brought out by the summer rain thickened the air. Ada whistled. Adele tried but couldn’t sustain her breath. Laughing, she tugged at Ada’s arm to stop her. “I’m out of breath. I can’t keep up with you.”
“The only advantage I have,” Ada started again, pacing herself slower, “over youth is being able to walk and whistle at the same time.” Adele skipped a step to catch up. “It’s called experience.”
“I’ll let you take junior for a stroll every day.”
“Oh, no dear, that’s how you gain experience.”
As they rounded the corner, Madeline stepped outside her front door. She recognized them and signaled them to come to her house.
Adele looked pleadingly at Ada. Ada shrugged and sighed. “It would be terribly rude of us to ignore her.”
“Quite. But let’s stay only a little while. We don’t want all this sunshine,” Adele wailed, “going to waste.”
They came up the stairs and onto the porch together, then separated as they walked through the doorway. Madeline paced from the fire place to the couch.
“I don’t think I can take much more!” she cried out, throwing herself down onto the couch. “There can be no headstone for John’s grave! Some nonsense about, I don’t know! The plot isn’t situated right!”
She looked from Ada to Adele, her hands fluttering onto her lap. Ada sat on one side of her, Adele the other.
“I wish Rodger were here now. He could take care of some of these things.” The corners of her mouth twisted down, and her lips trembled.
Ada felt sorry for her in a lot of ways; some women like Madeline, didn’t know how to cry, and the effort cost them as much as the denial. Ada thought of leaning over to take Maddie’s hands in hers, to say something at least.
But it was Adele who slipped a hand to cover Madeline’s shaking fist and reassure her.
“I know it’s hard for you with Rodger so far away. But he is coming home. Next Thursday.”
Adele’s voice had the confidence Ada envied in younger women nowadays. It was as if the war had opened up a time and place for them. Even John had talked of a better future for his girls; he painted a picture of dazzling hope and wishes realized for women in the home and politics. Ada missed his optimistic musings.
Ada didn’t listen to Adele but watched her comfort Madeline as she brought up one objection after another. She liked the young woman of twenty‑four who made statements instead of apologies. Her commanding tone, though soft and sincere, frustrated Madeline’s protestations, until finally, clutching desperately to Adele, Madeline fell silent and began to cry.
Ada heard a noise and turned to see Heather and Rachel as they slipped into the kitchen. Heather dogged Rachel’s every footstep, as if glued to the hem of her purple and brown plaid skirt.
Ada followed them. She noted the dulling yellow kitchen walls. Rachel got Heather a glass of water, then posed by the sink with an outstretched hand awaiting the return of the glass. Ada cleared her throat, catching the girls’ attention.
Heather gulped the last of the water from the glass and handed it back to Rachel. Edging up to Ada, Rachel smoothed her skirt and whispered, “Is this all right, Ada? Or do you think I should be more, well, more…”
Heather, with her widening brown eyes, blurted, “Less colorful?”
Ada almost laughed. Then tears swelled and she could only murmur, “No, no, it’s perfectly all right. You both look lovely.” She noticed that Heather was wearing a simple navy blue dress with a ruffled white collar and cuffs.
“It certainly is going to change things, with Daddy being dead and all. Isn’t it?” Rachel’s features hardened as she pinched her brows together. Madeline’s look. “Heather’s going to miss him the most, I think. She was his favorite.”
Ada was impressed by the lack of rancor in Rachel’s voice. “It’s pretty hard to say who’ll miss him the most. We all loved him so very much.” Ada suddenly felt embarrassed to have admitted openly her love for John. But both Rachel and Heather smiled sad little smiles, casting their eyes downward and shaking their heads.
Ada went to them. Neither they nor she cried. And for that she was thankful. When the telephone rang, Ada was slow to let go of the girls.
Woodenly she picked up the receiver. “Hello?” For a brief moment all she heard was static.
“Kyle?” Caught off guard by his voice, she heard herself squeak, “Where are you calling from?”
She could imagine him standing in front of her, his tanned, handsome face with its bushy, white mustache partly concealing his dimples when he smiled. Then breathless, she answered, “Yes, I’ll be there at the station.”
As Rachel and Heather looked at her expectantly, she added, “And the girls.” Their subdued excitement pleased her.
She could hear the disappointment in Kyle’s voice, hoping to have a few minutes alone with her. That pleased her and even more that he asked to see her later on.
“Of course, Kyle. There’ll be plenty of time for us.” With two sets of eyes tracing her every movement, she hurried to add, “To do all the necessary things.”
The click of the receiver in its cradle set the girls in motion. Ada, too, went back into the living room.
Madeline flinched. Red‑streaked eyes turned and stared straight at her.
Ada tried her best to console her. “Your brother just called. He’s coming home with Rodger.”
Madeline nodded, not answering, not caring.
Adele peered around at Ada, her face animated. “Will Kyle be staying long, Ada? Did he say?”
“He’ll be here for a week.” She locked stares with Madeline. “If you like, I’ll go with Adele to the train depot Thursday night.”
“Yes, that would be very nice of you.” Madeline edged a long, polished fingernail up and down her plaid skirt. “Carrie will be glad to see him. I’ll have to ask her to stay on another week.”
Just then the front door slammed and Madeline’s sister bustled in. The girls ran to greet her, spilling out the news about Uncle Kyle.
Carrie loomed in the doorway, imperiously demanding. “Is this truly the case? Will Kyle be here next Thursday?”
Madeline squeezed her lips, her nostrils flared, and she nodded vigorously at the carpet.
“He’ll stay here with us. He usually sleeps in Rodger’s old bedroom.”
Carrie moved laboriously to a chair. “I haven’t seen Kyle in six years. I am rather anxious to talk to him.”
Madeline pouted. “You’ll be lucky to get any time with him. He seems to have a baleful of excuses to be gone.” Madeline didn’t look up, much to Ada’s relief.
Adele narrowed her eyes. “You might think how hard it is on him to lose John.”
Carrie gasped. Madeline massaged her temples. Neither spoke to Adele, but turned their eyes to Ada.
Ada fought laughter rising from deep inside her throat. Instead she nodded sympathetically.
Rachel and Heather huddled by the door. Heather mimicked Rachel’s frown. Both sets of eyes stared intently at their Aunt Carrie.
Carrie laid her arms across her enormous chest and waited. Adele crossed her ankles, shifting her weight so that she sat at an angle facing Carrie and Madeline. Madeline’s face froze in a scowl.
You aced that one, Adele, Ada thought before she stood.
“It’s been a long, hard road to walk for all of us.” Ada pointed to Rachel and Heather. “We should be thankful that Rodger and Kyle are coming home.”
Carrie pushed off the chair, blocking Ada from leaving. “I promised the girls I’d take them uptown today.” She turned to them. “Shall we go now?”
Rachel and Heather nodded. Rachel grabbed Heather’s hand and held it tight. Carrie plodded to the door. Half in, half out the door, she called back, “Madeline, we shall return before supper time.”
Madeline pressed a hand to her forehead. “Dinner. I must think about that.”
Adele picked up her shopping bag. “No, don’t go to any trouble. There’s plenty of food in there and I’ll leave you two fresh loaves of bread. You might reheat the casserole. That would be simple but tasty.”
Ada added hastily, “I’ll bring over some fresh vegetables.” She shot a warning glance to Adele not to offer to stay for dinner. Carrie took being Madeline’s older sister as an inherent right and dominated the household when she stayed. “Adele and I were on our way to do some weeding. She owes me.”
“That would be very kind of you, Ada.” Madeline wrung her hands. “I could do steamed vegetables.”
Adele laid the bread upon the kitchen counter. Madeline balled her hands together in her lap. “How sweet of you, Adele. You’re showing all the signs of an expectant mother.”
Adele looked puzzled. Ada, feeling the weight of her patience, explained. “Mothers nearing time of delivery have a nesting urge. Typically, they cook, bake and clean a lot.”
“Then it’s not time. I only bake.” Adele shuffled to the door. “Because I like to.”
“Of course, dear, but soon you’ll have this unbearable urge to—” Madeline stopped short when Adele challenged her with a defiant look. “You probably know best, dear.”
Ada sighed and pressed Adele out the door. “We’ll see you later, Maddie. Do get some rest.”
Madeline eased the door shut. Adele snorted. “I have a hard enough time with Maddie always giving me advice, let alone that blimp Carrie. I’m not used to being treated like a simpleton.”
Ada pinched her arm. “You’ll have to learn to get along. You can’t go around insulting all your near and dear relatives.”
They both giggled. As Ada opened the back door, her kitten scurried out from beneath the chair to greet her. “Hi, Kid.” Ada scooped him up and nuzzled him. Then she handed him to Adele. “Say hi to Miss Grump.”
“Can he go outside?” As Adele stroked him, he purred loudly. “With us?”
“Of course. I’m not going to make him a house cat.”
“You’ll give him a choice?” Adele cocked her head and raised an eyebrow.
“Here’s an extra pair of gloves. You weed. I’ve the last row to stake.”
They worked at opposite ends of the garden. The kitten played in the discarded weeds until he spotted a butterfly. Both Ada and Adele stopped and watched him frolic.
Ada straightened up, her knee joints cracking sharply. “I’ll run over these few vegetables to Maddie. You take a break. Sit in the shade.”
Adele said nothing but continued pulling up the weeds. Ada swallowed her irritation and marched to Madeline’s back door and knocked. Madeline cupped her hands to receive the produce.
“I’ve got dinner on. Won’t you and Adele join us?”
Ada shook her head. “No, the way Adele’s attacking those weeds; she’ll be needing to go home and to bed early.”
“Should she be alone, now? What if…”
“Don’t fret. She has a phone.”
“Do give her a lift home, Ada. Too much walking can cause her to go into labor.”
“I’ll look out for her.” Ada gave Madeline’s hand a quick squeeze. “You try and rest some. You’ll be exhausted before Rodger and Kyle get here.”
Madeline looked away from Ada. “I suppose. Thank you.”
Ada nodded and backed away. Adele was furiously tugging at a milkweed when Ada came through the gate.
She stood over Adele. “Come on! Now!” She reached down and jerked the roots out of the ground. “You’ll be in labor tonight if you keep it up.”
Adele bowed her head. Her chest heaved. Ada offered her a hand up. Adele pulled off her gloves and accepted Ada’s hand. “I get obsessed with ridding the garden of every last one of them.”
“I know, I know,” Ada soothed. “Look! The Kid.” She pointed to the kitten chasing his tail. “We should be so carefree.”
Ada escorted Adele to a chair. The kitten bounded over, squatting before them, crying plaintively to be picked up. Ada walked away, letting Adele tend to him. The sky was growing duller, the grey of twilight. Clouds moved in. It would be a starless night. Ada slipped on her gloves. Perhaps tomorrow would be better. A better day for all of them.
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