October 7, 1943 - Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
"You can write it all you want, Pollyanna, but Mom still won't let you post it," said Vera. She mimicked their mother perfectly: "Girls don't call on boys, boys call on girls. You write when you are written to. We do not chase boys. We conduct ourselves with dignity and grace."
Mary crumpled the note paper and sighed. "I know. I wouldn't know what to say, anyway, without looking like a dope. I mean, if he'd wanted me to write him, surely he'd have written me by now ...?"
"Some boys just don't write letters, and sometimes when they go over there they ... can't.," said Vera with a shrug. "But I wouldn't waste another moment's thought on him. There are too many fish in the sea ..."
" ... and you can call me Annette," grinned Mary, finishing the joke. "There's a poster up for a dance Friday night. I'm game ..."
"... she said, so the hunter shot her," said Vera with a giggle. "Friday night it is. Wear your new sweater. We'll be the ees-bays ees-nays. Take that, Justin the Ding-a-Ling, wherever you may be!"
Mary grinned, happy with the plans, finally forgetting all about Justin, banishing him from her thoughts completely. Except, of course, for the constant wishing that he would write her.
October 7, 1943 - R.A.F. Flight Training School, near Wrexham, Wales
"You reading that thing again?" Paul Steen snatched the flimsy blue airmail letter out of Justin's hand and his voice slid into falsetto as he pretended to read: "Dear Jussy-Wussy, Oh, how I miss you, my dearest, darlingest, sweetie-pie. I miss you ten million kissie-wissies. Please give my regards to your handsome friend Paulie-Wolly and tell him I can't wait to see him again -- "
Justin clipped Paul across the back of the head and grabbed the letter back as his best friend roared with laughter. "You're such a gone goose, Ling. Stop mooning over your lovey dovey letters and come on into town with us tonight. There's some sort of show at the Music Hall. Maybe we'll find us a little Welsh rabbit or two."
"You guys go on ahead. I might catch up."
"Oh, fer chrissakes, just throw it on the pile in your damn footlocker. It'll be there when you get back. Come out and have some fun."
"Alright, alright," Justin opened the lid of his footlocker and placed the carefully-refolded letter on top of all the others.
"A lot of letters ..." he thought, as he regarded the pile. He checked his tie in the mirror on the post near his bunk, straightening it before he grabbed his cap.
As he headed for the door, he couldn't escape the rest of the thought: " ... and none of them from her."
October, 1944 - Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
"Ling? Yeah. Jus Ling. I remember him. Wasn't he Steen's buddy ...?" The airman, freshly returned from England, was having a smoke outside the dance hall at the end of the evening. This last was directed to his pal, who was hungrily eyeing Mary up and down.
"Steen? Yeah, there was Steen and Walker and Ling and a couple of Brits, all hung around together," said the buddy, and added, "Didn't have much to do with the rest of us. Always out looking for girls." Even if it wasn't true, it could be, and a fella could be forgiven for trying to get any advantage he could muster with this one. She was a looker, for sure.
Mary thanked the young men, neatly deflecting their innocent (or perhaps not-so-innocent) advances, and rejoined her sisters. Edna read the look on her face.
"They knew him," she said, and Mary nodded. She was damned if she would cry over this, but ... it made her feel empty to know she'd been just cast aside.
"Well, that's that, then. No more mooning over him," said Vera. "He'll live to rue the day he turned his back on Mary Lou Houtton!"
The three girls linked arms as they walked home from the dance hall, singing in decidely imperfect harmony. They sang "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anybody Else But Me", and "I'll Be Seeing You" and the latest song on the radio, "You Always Hurt The One You Love"
You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn't hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall
You always break the kindest heart
With a hasty word you can't recall -
So If I broke your heart last night,
it's because I love you most of all ...
After a while, Vera and Edna noticed they were reduced to singing two part harmony, and they stopped. The girls walked on in silence.
May, 1945 - Marshalling Area, Liverpool Waterfront
"If it doesn't fit in your duffel, it stays here, boys," barked the ship's Executive Officer.
The weary pilots and aircrew sat gathered in clumps on the pier, waiting for orders to embark. "You board the ship, officers to the right, enlisted men to the left, find a bunk, make as much space for yourself as you can, and please, gentlemen, we all hope you have a lovely voyage, but stay the fuck out of our way. We're working men, not dainty little flyboys."
Catcalls and fart sounds followed the XO as he smirked across the yard to the gangplank and boarded the vessel. A whistle blew and the Canadians began streaming onto the ship. Paul and Justin stuck together, found a couple of cramped bunks, stowed their gear under the bottom one and set about exploring the ship.
"Ten days or so across, then maybe six days on a train, and we're home," said Paul. "Home from the war, we'll be heroes! What are you going to do first thing, when we get home?"
"I dunno. Spend some time with my folks, I guess," said Justin. "My kid sister will be sixteen - maybe I'll take her out somewhere."
"That's it? Aren't you forgetting somebody?" Paul said. "Jussy-wussy's getting homey-womey ..."
"Oh, sure, yeah. No I didn't forget her. I thought you meant after I saw her. Sure, she'd be first."
Paul looked carefully at his best friend. Justin avoided eye contact.
"What? I just didn't mention her, was all it was. Let's go see if they have a kitchen on this scow."
June, 1945 - Calgary, Alberta, Canada
"Forty minutes, boys. Forty minutes and the train pulls out. Don't wander too far away."
The conductor would be glad to see the end of these cross-country runs, offloading soldiers and sailors and airmen in their home towns. Military discipline didn't have too strong a hold over these boys now that they'd been demobilized. He was more than a little tired of cleaning up vomit, breaking up fights, and shushing drunken soldiers when other passengers were trying to sleep.
"What are you gonna do?" asked Paul.
"I don't know. What would you do?"
"A promise is a promise."
"I guess so. So, I should just ... go home?"
"You asked me."
"That would be the right thing to do."
Paul nodded. "Yep."
"The smart thing, too."
"I mean, for all I know, she's already married."
"For all you know, she's dead."
"Don't say that."
"She's probably not. But you haven't written to her or heard from her in two years. For all you know, she could be."
"She's probably married. Girls like that, the guys are all around them."
"Maybe she has kids."
"She doesn't have kids."
"How do you know?"
"I just know. Anyway, it'd be dumb to go. I should just go home."
"That's the smart thing to do."
"I've known her - what, nine, ten hours?"
"Compared to ..."
"So, no comparison."
"None at all."
"So a smart man would just stay on this train."
"That he would."
Paul grinned. "So, call when you finally do get back to Vancouver."
"Is this crazy? This is crazy, isn't it?"