One Lilac Christmas
Copyright © 2020 Pamela Ferguson
Published by Forget Me Not Romances, a division of Winged Publications
The twirling wind whisked the breath from Sergeant Amity Belmont’s lips. She flattened her hand atop her olive drab Women’s Army Corps uniform cap and glanced around the deserted bus stop. Afternoon clouds denser than marshmallow fluff hung over the distant Blue Ridge Mountains. Bing Crosby might be dreaming of a white Christmas, but she needed the snow to hold off for a few days.
The driver exited the bus and flipped open the luggage hold. He lifted her canvas duffel. “Reckon this one is yours,” he drawled, his southern accent thicker than molasses.
She reached into her uniform pocket and extracted a nickel. “Yes, sir. Thank you.”
He waved away her tip. “Christmas time. Soldiers ride free. Ain’t nobody meeting you?”
“I prefer walking.” A surprise homecoming had been her only choice. Advance notice might’ve given Pop time to concoct another crazy scheme to kidnap her.
“Change your mind, you can call the free car service at The Shoebox Diner. Merry Christmas to you.” He climbed into the bus and shut the door. Exhaust fumes sputtered as he drove away.
Since when did Lilac have a free car service? Her younger brother’s letters had skipped that detail, but they’d included plenty of others. Meat rationing coupons. War bond sales at the Bijou. Junk drives for metal and rubber. The war touched every aspect of life.
Even in a small town like Lilac.
She swiped her hands across the front of her wool overcoat to smooth it into place. As a WAC, you must adjust yourself to new standards of dress and action. No criticism of the Corps should result from your conduct or your appearance. She placed the strap of her utility bag on her right shoulder so that the purse rested on her left hip. After settling the duffel strap on her right shoulder as well, she headed towards Main Street. Christmas music drifted through a speaker mounted above the Fillmore Hardware sign. Traditional decorations she’d cherished during her childhood beckoned as she passed each shop front. The sparkling Christmas tree at Nell’s Dry Goods. The holly-trimmed windows at the Up Do Salon. The Lilac Inn’s lush pine boughs strung along the porch railing. Even the library, her favorite building in town, had a wreath in every window.
Her throat tightened. Maybe the red bows and sparkling lights wouldn’t mean so much if her mother had permitted Amity and her brother to decorate their home for Christmas. She drew a deep breath. This was no time to get sentimental. Let down her guard, and Pop might try to lock her in a chifforobe.
I can’t order you to visit your family, her commanding officer, Captain Suzanne Newhart, had told her. But starting January first, you’ll be assuming more responsibility in your new assignment. Best to settle things at home so you can focus on your job.
As if things could ever be settled. Making peace with her parents was a lost cause. She’d never known two people so determined to disapprove of everyone who didn’t think the same way they did. As for her former boyfriend, Zach Flynn, how could she apologize for something she didn’t regret? Was it her fault the military recruiters had picked her and rejected him?
She turned off of Main Street and walked at a brisk pace, not stopping until she stood before the three-story building with the columned portico. Lilac Mountain High School, the most imposing structure in town. Zach taught there. Since she’d only dated Zach for a short period before she’d enlisted, she’d never confided to anyone in Lilac about their relationship.
A sudden rush of wind plastered her overcoat against her rayon stockings. Two years ago, she’d dreamed of teaching here. A carefree college student, she’d been grateful for the scholarship that had allowed her to glimpse the world beyond Lilac, even if it was just a teacher’s college on the other side of the mountain. Her parents had permitted her to attend only because she’d agreed to teach in Lilac when she graduated.
A promise she’d broken.
Only way to deal with the past is to confront it head-on, Captain Newhart had said.
She took a deep breath, tucked her gloves into her overcoat pockets, and headed for the school office. The familiar aromas of coffee and mimeograph ink tickled her nose. A Christmas ball dangled from the staff timecard machine. Paper candy canes hung from the deer antler coat rack. Red and green bows decorated the wooden hall passes. She set her bag beside a table covered with cookies and ribbon candy.
Mrs. Beavers, the school secretary, jumped to her feet. “If it isn’t Amity Belmont! Aren’t you all shined up and spit-polished?” She gripped Amity’s hands and spread her arms wide.
“Thought I’d surprise Joseph. How are you doing?” The office appeared the same as it had the day Amity had graduated. Books and folders, stacks of paper, and cups of pencils, red and yellow, covered every surface.
“Just fine.” Mrs. Beavers released Amity’s hands. “Been reading about you WACs in the paper. I’m sure you’re nothing like those wild army women Pastor Davenport’s been preaching about.”
Oh no! Her parents attended services with Pastor Davenport. “I have not heard what the pastor is saying, but I can assure you all those rumors are just that.” The week before, Captain Newhart had reminded her troops to uphold the highest standards of conduct in order to combat the ugly gossip that had been circulating all year. Some newspaper stories said that women became WACs to find husbands. Others said that WACs ruined marriages. Even some men in uniform who liked their stateside assignments had spread rumors about the WACs in order to reduce their chances of being replaced by a woman and sent overseas.
Mrs. Beavers pinched her thumb and finger together and gave her a sly grin. “Maybe a smidgen of truth?”