December was here now, and this weekend would mark the beginning of the Christmas season for her, with the tree up, the dinner for Gino – and Charles home. Her heart beat in anticipation at seeing him again. A month apart felt like an eternity. She stood straighter and fluffed out her hair – then laughed at herself, happy that no one witnessed her primping for her husband who was still hours away.
Three floors down, in the main office of Rockwell Publishing, her friend, Izzy Briggs, also quick-stepped it to the elevator, where she used the opportunity to apply a fresh coat of cherry red lipstick, the brass trim around the doors serving as a mirror. She smacked her lips twice and tried out a smile, just before the doors opened.
In the lobby, the two women emerged from different elevators and bumped into each other in their rush to leave.
“Izzy!” cried Lillian. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
“It’s Friday. The Stage Door Canteen beckons,” Izzy said with a mischievous wink. “And you?”
“Charles comes home tonight!” Lillian said, with more enthusiasm than she intended to show.
As they wove through the bustling lobby, full of employees equally eager to begin their weekend, Izzy smiled at the excitement Lillian could never suppress when it came to Charles.
“Any plans?” Izzy called over her shoulder as she pushed through the revolving door.
Lillian followed her out into the wintry air and raised her voice to be heard above the blaring horns and accelerating buses. “We’re having an early Christmas dinner for Gino tomorrow. He ships out on Sunday and will be at sea for the holidays.”
“Jeez, so soon? It seems like just last week he was plucked out of the Atlantic. The kid has nerve.”
Lillian nodded, not wanting to think about the close calls Gino had experienced in the past year.
“I want to give him a special sending off. You know he doesn’t have much family, and he’s always kind of been on his own.” A warm maternal smile appeared on her lips. “It’s funny how much he reminds me of Tommy – or maybe it’s just that the boys are so taken with him. He’s their real-life hero. Especially for Tommy. Gino is the closest thing to an older brother he has ever known. There are several servicemen renting rooms in our building, but none like Gino.”
“Well, that’s something good to come out of this crazy housing shortage – though three roommates in my small flat are three too many, if you ask me,” said Izzy. “But Betty has some swell dresses – that just happen to fit me.”
Izzy planted herself in front of a department store window where a red print dress caught her eye. “Speaking of dresses, look at that! Perfect for a spin around the dance floor. Gee, I hope it’s still there on Monday.”
A handsome officer stood next to them, tapping his watch. He turned to Lillian. “Excuse me, ma’am. My watch seems to have stopped. Do you have the time?” He gave his watch another tap.
“And the inclination,” murmured Izzy.
His head snapped up, taken aback by the suggestive words.
Lillian blushed and glanced at her watch. “It’s 5:15.”
“Thank you,” he said, looking mildly confused and then hurrying away.
Lillian leaned on Izzy’s arm. “Izzy!” she whispered. “He thought I said that!”
“I know,” Izzy said with a laugh. “He looked startled at his good luck. Well, what have we here?”
She stopped in front of a War Bonds booth on the corner, and scanned the list of Hollywood and Broadway stars that would be making brief appearances over the holidays to promote the bonds.
A couple of Broadway actresses were making sales, helped out by two young soldiers manning one side of the booth. One of the GIs emitted a long up-and-down whistle. “Hey, Gorgeous!” he hollered, eyeing Izzy.
Izzy placed her hand on her chest and looked around, as if he must be speaking to someone else.
“Who, me?” she asked, blinking.
“Yeah, you. Interested in helping out ole Uncle Sam? How ‘bout a bond – or at least a coupla stamps?” He elbowed his buddy and pushed back his cap, seeing that Izzy was responding to his charms and opening her purse.
“I’m already signed up through payroll. But,” she added with a coy smile, “how can I possibly say no?” She reached into her purse and took out a dollar. “For God and Country,” she said. She allowed his fingers to close over her hand as she offered the bill.
“Say,” said the GI, emboldened by his success. “I’m off in an hour.” He let his eyes travel up and down Izzy, his action and words at odds with his boyish face – as if he had seen the come-on in a movie and was trying it out. “Howzabout you and me goin’ out for a cuppa coffee – or somethin’?”
Izzy jutted out her hip and placed her hand there, banishing any pretense of shyness. “I can get my own coffee, soldier.” Then leaning towards him, she added, “but I might take you up on the – or somethin’.”
The GI stood tongue-tied, as if trying to remember what came next.
Izzy burst out laughing. “Just kidding, Sweetheart. But you need to work on your manners.”
“Yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am,” said the GI, his face flushing an innocent pink.
Izzy patted his hand good-naturedly and walked off, waving her stamps. “Keep up the good work, boys!”
She ran to catch up with Lillian, who had hurried away to hide her amusement.
“Poor boy!” laughed Lillian. “You made him blush.”
“Which just shows he had no business talking that way,” Izzy said, tucking the stamps into her purse.
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