Ed, Kate’s old farmhand, had driven into town for supplies, and now parked his old red pickup truck close to the station to observe the spectacle.
“Why, there’s Kate and the girls,” he said to Otto, the guard for the three POWs who worked on the farm. Ed opened the creaky truck door. “Let’s go say hello. See Ursula off.”
“Come on, boys,” Otto said, motioning to the POWs seated in the back of the truck.
Though the German prisoners and the townspeople had gotten used to each other over the past year, the POWs maintained a quiet demeanor in town. Except for the youngest, Karl, who perked up at any gathering and grinned from ear to ear at all the commotion.
Ed, followed by Otto and the POWs, snaked his way through the crowd towards Kate and Ursula.
Kate brushed at her daughter’s coat. “Make sure you keep an eye on your belongings. And be sure to invite Dolores here. It’s always polite to reciprocate. And make sure the cookies don’t get crushed. And be careful.”
Ursula took her overnight bag from her mother and kissed her cheek. “Mom, I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Kate had to smile. “All right, all right. I’ll be here to pick you up. Have yourself a good time.” She walked with Ursula to the train.
Shirley pulled her sister’s arm and said excitedly, “I’ll bet you anything she has a boyfriend. Maybe even a fiancé. An officer!”
Sue Ellen primped a bit, feeling that some of Ursula’s glamour had rubbed off on her. “I’m not saying she does or she doesn’t.” She gave what she hoped was a knowing smile. “But if she does, it would be just like her, a city boy being much closer to her tastes. She never has liked the boys round here.”
“You should be the last person to complain about that,” Shirley said.
“Joe was over her a long time ago,” protested Sue Ellen. “He told me so.”
“If you say so,” said Shirley.
“Look!” cried Jessica. “Here’s Ed.” She greeted the group of men who had just stepped up. “And Friedrich is back,” she added, her eyes on Ursula.
Ursula gave a start and her smile dropped. Friedrich was not expected until next week. How long had he been watching? How much had he heard?
Kate spun around at the news. “Welcome Friedrich! We’re glad to have you back.”
Friedrich nodded his thanks.
“Mornin’, Kate,” said Ed, and put his finger to his hat in greeting to the others. He then smiled at his favorite. “Mornin’, Ursula. We saw you as we pulled in. Thought we’d come and see you off.”
“Hello, Ed. Otto.” Ursula nodded to the three POWs who hung back.
“Ursula is off to Peoria – again,” Jessica explained.
Friedrich’s eyes shot to Ursula. She lowered her gaze and tugged at her gloves.
“Well, look at you!” said Otto. “You’re becoming quite the traveler. And all dressed up. Must have a gentleman friend somewhere,” he said with a grin.
“What takes you this time, Ursula?” Ed asked over Otto’s comment.
Before she could answer, Sue Ellen blurted, “Parties and dancing with handsome officers!”
“Going to Peoria to break some hearts,” Mrs. Bloomfield added.
Ursula swallowed and ignored the comments. “I’m just going to see my friend Dolores. I’ll be back tomorrow, Ed.” She cast a quick glance at Friedrich, before climbing the stairs to the train.
Jessica held up the basket of cookies. “Don’t forget this – for the party.”
Ursula tapped her head at her forgetfulness. “Oh, of course.”
As Ursula reached for the basket, Jessica held onto it for a brief moment, forcing Ursula to look at her.
“Have a good time! Say hello to Dolores.”
Ursula smiled goodbye, cringing at the comments that trailed behind her.
“I’ll bet you anything she has a beau,” said Shirley again.
Mrs. Bloomfield sighed. “No one looks that lovely unless they’re in love.”
Ursula flashed around, almost begging them all to stop.
But they simply smiled and waved goodbye. Sue Ellen winked at her old friend and zipped her lips again.
Ursula entered the train and soon found a seat by the window. She set the basket on the seat next to her, and waved goodbye. Friedrich’s stoic gaze met hers and pierced her to the core.
The whistle sounded and the train began to chug through the town, picking up speed as it headed out into the country.
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