Don't Worry About Edie
MABEL McNEIL HAGEN
Edie didn’t believe in letting nature take its course ... but this naval engagement presented some tactical difficulties
THERE was darkness outside and the soft swish of a ear on the gravelled drive. It couldn’t be anyone else. Not with that particular swift scrunching stop.
Really, iny knees were shaking beneath the long turquoise satin dress, and my hands were all cold. For no good reason either, except that Lieut. Charles Innis was taking me, instead of my sister Susan, to the* Country Club dance, and the party was special for him, because he was home after a whole year, with medals on his Navy uniform.
I’d always thought it was hopeless, feeling this way about Charlie, until he’d asked for a date, and perhaps even now I shouldn’t be thinking of him, because he was still writing to Susan, though it didn’t mean a thing. The rest were too. Rut she’d missed him by joining the Wrens and I couldn’t stop anyway. Not when it’s got so you watch the mail each day for months just to see his handwriting on letters addressed to your sister.
Charlie’s were the only cookie letters, and then only the very recent ones, that Susan had hoarded. 1 hadn’t asked to reud them. There are some things you can’t ask Susan.
She has her reserves, 1 suppose, and you wouldn’t believe it, knowing Susan, but sometimes when Charlie was around she just wasn’t herself. Perhaps it was lK*cause they’d had one of those childish boy and girl affairs. You know, the boy next door sort of thing. Hut I suppose it leaves its mark. Really, sometimes she acted like one of those old-fashioned darlings who couldn’t possibly say casually, in fun, “Charlie, you do love me, don’t you?” without getting all serious about it. 1 couldn’t imagine Susan being married to such a situation. Especially with a new man like Capt. Morrison giving her a whirl each time he was in town and she was home.
Even Mother had said, “He’s pretty solid stuff, Susan, and quite handsome, if you’re interested.” Hut Susan never would say anything. Anyway he was on
the cookie list and there were his letters with all the others and it was fun. I made the cookies and Susan wrote the letters and when she left she said, “Keep on sending the cookies, Edie. We’ve got to do our best for the boys in the service.”
You know, some people write much better than they talk. I noticed that about Charlie’s letters. They were just getting interesting when she started hoarding.
Hut now he was home and taking me to the dance and I closed the bedroom door behind me and then opened it and went back for one more swift look. It was really almost a bridesmaid’s dress, quite demure, but spirited, with a smooth bodice. On Susan it was molded.
Hut when I’d asked Norah to cut it down for me because of the dance she’d said, “From a 16 to a size 12? And you with no bosom to fit into it? Besides I’m busy. Why dori’t you wear that pink taffeta? I’ll find a minute to darn that place in the net.” I decided to let Norah darn the taffeta, but I’d do something about Susan’s dress.
Even mother was impressed when I came downstairs She isn’t home very much since father’s off to
the wars and she’s taken over the catering business.
We’ve never talked confidentially about things, except that they’d all agreed, out loud and publicly, at family get-togethers, that I’d never have a figure. It’s been frightfully embarrassing, although father’d always said something like, “Don’t worry about Edie, she’ll hold her own,” though what he meant I never knew.
Mother opened her eyes. Then her eyes opened wider, sort of startled like, and she sat up. She said, “Edith, I know I’m terribly inadequate as a mother, but I couldn’t possibly have neglected you long enough for such drastic changes.”
When Mother calls me Edith, and her voice has that maternal note, I know she’s going to be horribly difficult.
I was glad Charlie rang the bell just then, and I rushed to open the door. But Charlie whistled. You know the way they do. He said, “It ain’t Edie. It can’t be. Don’t you know it isn’t legal, growing up that way behind my back?”
I’d been worried for a moment but I snatched a quick glance in the hall mirror and relaxed. It was perfect.
He said, “Turn around, Edie.”
Charlie smiled then, and I was glad, because it means that he’d probably gotten over what may have been a momentary disappointment, because he’d never received Susan’s letter about joining the Wrens. The mail is so uncertain.
Charlie was holding my cloak. He’s very distinguished, almost 30, with dark eyes and a nice sleek wave in his brown hair. Of course, chronologically, Susan might supposedly be the one, but, well, you know girls are entirely mature at almost 17. Anyway 1 think it’s nice to have a few years’ difference, and I’d always loved him.
The orchestra was playing one of those lovely Viennese waltzes. I never know which is which, and
when Charlie looked down at me and held out his arms. Well, it was just out of this world and it was wonderful taking the bows with Charlie.
There were hordes of young officers over from Middleton, where Charlie is going to teach some sort of a course, and I didn’t have a chance to see him much, but each time I’d swoosh by the tall wall mirrors I’d see myself, and it was still full and rounded, just like Susan’s.
Capt. Morrison was there and I could tell when he saw me he was practically inarticulate. Then he cut in. He said, “Edie, pinch me hard. Maybe I’m dreaming. Is it you?”
I guess I’d mostly worn scuffies and sweaters when he’d been around but I was very Duchess and said, “Imagine seeing you here, Captain.”
He laughed then with a tiny bit of a squeeze and a fast whirl, so the turquoise dress stood out, round and bouffant. The way he dances! Then he said, “You’re priceless, Edie, but don’t break my heart, will you?” Which, of course, was just table conversation. Then he said, “Haye you heard from Susan?”
But the music stopped and there was Charlie and I introduced them. Men are funny; they never seem very cordial right off. So I smiled, nonchalantly, and said, “You know, Charlie, sometimes I think the Captain is in love with me but then again it might be Susan. That’s why he looks so frustrated. Just can’t make up his mind.”
It worked and they both laughed jolly like and Captain Morrison said, “You better watch it, Lieutenant. Don’t be wearing your heart on your sleeve with Edie around.”
I just smiled, though I was beginning to feel like a Gone-With-The-Wind belle. Everything was such fun. But you never know the awful things fate has in store for you.
Charlie was being very attentive and this time it was the Clarinette Polka, and fast. I love them but Charlie wanted to sit it out. He said something about Commando tactics and he didn’t really care about establishing another beachhead at the Country Club, but I insisted. After all we went there for a good time.
We were just going nicely when Charlie said, “Relax, Edie, but hold everything. There’s a convoy of VR’s cutting across our bow full steam. Looks like we’re going to be rammed broadside. Maybe sunk.” He swung hard and fast to port and then it happened.
I wished I hadn’t used such fine thread and big stitches. Then too I’d used some of my BUY A BOND savings to get those lacy padded dinguses to fill out the front. It was all a part of the war effort and I couldn’t have worn the dress without them, nor gone to the party. Of course, I couldn’t bear to disappoint Charlie. Recreation is so important in keeping up the service man’s morale.
We weren’t sunk but I might as well have been. When we surfaced it was almost as flat as usual. All that padding I’d filled out with had slumped to the stomach area.
The music stopped and Charlie was nodding to one person and another. Then he looked at me. You know how even very nice boys do. I was thrilled until he said, “Edie, what happened?”
And then he laughed. It wasn’t conspicuous or loud. Just that convulsive choked kind that hurts the moet. He said, “Forgive me, Edie, but I can’t help it. Honest.”
I knew that if I didn’t leave quick I’d cry. I’ll never deceive any one again. It’s really stinking.
I could feel my lips trembling childishly and then the music began and I could hide my face against his shoulder. He danced me across the floor toward the door. I wished I’d never sent him those dozens of
cookies with Susan’s address. I might have forgotten
Then he said, “But it is so darned funny and I thought you were grownup.” He was off again. That hateful silent laughter.
I took my coat and ran toward the parking space. He was still talking. “Please, Edie, I’m sorry I laughed. Fix it up and come on back. You know I can’t leave so early, not with me playing the returned warrior part.”
We didn’t go back. Charlie slid behind the wheel and I huddled in the farthest corner of the seat. He was very quiet. When we stopped in the drive he kissed me. He never had before and this wasn’t exactly a lover’s kiss. I knew it, though I’d never had a real one. It was almost like one of father’s, which was worse than none at all coming from the man you’ll always love. Still there was something different, because he kissed me again very softly, but quick.
He said, “We’ll just skip it, Edie. Let it be a part of a dark but entertaining past.” His voice choked again for a second. “You’re sweet, Edie.”
He put his finger under my chin. “How about playing tennis in the morning? I’ll be over early. Just a quiet game.” But he couldn’t resist adding, “And no camouflage.” He knows I love tennis and won the Amateur this year. He knows, too, that he rarely gets a chance to win when we play.
I said, “Call me in the morning. I’ll think about it.” It’s never a good idea to be too definite. Susan isn’t. Then I ran up the steps. I could hear the phone ringing like mad though it was after midnight.
It was Susan calling from Montreal. “Edie, is that you? I’m coming home tomorrow. I just got Charlie’s letter, special delivery. Give him my love, darling,
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Don’t Worry About Edie
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and, Edie,” her voice faded a bit, “how j does he look?”
Her voice sounded really trampled.
“Horrible,” I said and hung up. I really have a very bad temper and j Charlie had been loathsome. He ! couldn’t have the slightest spark of ; affection for me. Instead of the woman scorned I’d been laughed at, .which is infinitely worse. But I couldn’t get to sleep that night.
Then suddenly a light came on in I Charlie’s room next door and there he ; was in his shirt sleeves, nonchalantly I puffing at his pipe while he turned up his sleeves. Then he sat down and opened what looked like one of those stuffy Navy books he’s always studying. Men are so callous.
I don’t know when I finally got to sleep, but it seemed only a minute until I felt someone shaking me. It was Susan.
“Edie, tell me, is it really bad? I got special leave and took the night train because I’ve got to know before I see him so I’ll be prepared. I just mustn’t hurt him.”
“For heaven’s sake stop garbling everything,” I said. “Prepared for what?”
Susan almost glared at me. “Now, i Edie, don’t pretend. Be a good girl, darling. Don’t try to keep it from me. I’ve got to know. Does he look badly? I mean Charlie.”
I “Oh, Charlie,” I said. Then I I remembered Charlie was home on sick leave. Something about a tropical fever.
I said, “Maybe a bit bilious, or even jaundiced. It’s just a matter of opinion, I guess. Personally, I think he looks awful.” I was remembering that smirking grin.
Susan kissed me. “Is that all?” She closed her eyes, as though in silent j prayer, but for a minute I thought she i might have been counting 10. I had i been meanish.
! When she looked at me her eyes were blurry. She said, “If he’d only told me why he was in that hospital. But not a word except, ‘I’m being discharged from the hospital.’ ”
All this was unusual coming from Susan. She’s mostly quiet when anything real hits her. Like that time when Prince died and she never wanted another dog. Just went around still and swooning looking.
Susan went out and I could hear her suitcase thump on the floor, and in a short time water running in the shower. I love Susan but suddenly I knew I couldn’t let her sacrifice herself on the altar of a childish love. Because that’s what it was, and she was being all patriotic and sympathetic because i Charlie’d been in the hospital. You know, pity is akin to love. And it
wasn’t necessary anyway, really; Charlie’s kisses hadn’t been too fatherly . . .
I’d have the morning with Charlie while Susan slept and I’d let him win this time. Maybe I’d ask him over for breakfast, but I’d have to tell Norah. She’s so set on knowing how many there’s going to be for meals.
I went out to throw pebbles at Charlie’s window. It’s more romantic than telephoning, and he’d look out and see me standing there against a background of autumn foliage and those lovely purple asters.
I’d just scooped a handful of gravel from the drive when I heard Susan’s voice through the window. It sounded as though she were trying to laugh and cry at the same time. “Yes, it’s me, Charlie. Really. Can you come over for breakfast?”
I went back into the kitchen and collapsed on a stool. I’d just have to do something, because Susan was going to be drippish again. I could tell by her voice.
She rushed in. “Charlie’s coming for breakfast.” She hugged Norah’s round middle and Norah whacked her.
Susan saw me then, “Edie, press this blouse for me. That’s a darling.”
She whipped out and ran up the stairs. Susan’s beautiful even in her briefs. No one could help loving Susan but I was sure, if she was feeling anything for Charlie, it was just one of those war romances that sometimes end so badly. I couldn’t let it happen. Especially when he really loved me.
Then Charlie walked in and bellowed, “Susan.”
And there was Susan on the stairway, perfect in her uniform, saluting, with tears in her eyes, but smiling. Susan knows how to cry beautifully. Me, I just howl and get all messy. Then she either fell downstairs or he fell up because almost immediately they were in each other’s arms on the halfway landing.
It was very convincing, even authentic, like the movies, but I wished Susan would show more restraint. My goodness, I hadn’t actually cried under far worse circumstances than just seeing Charlie.
Finally they came to breakfast and Charlie said, “Hi, Edie.” But it was sort of a where-have-I-seen-you-before tone and then I saw the corner óf his mouth twitch and he looked at me sideways. He said, “How are you this morning, Edie?” He cleared his throat, “All in one piece, I hope.”
Charlie can be quite disagreeable but I overlooked it and smiled, “If you’re going to beat me playing tennis, Charlie, you’ll have to eat a big breakfast. There’ll be time for a game while Susan takes a nap.”
He seemed startled. “Nap? No time for that. We’ve got to go places. I’ve a rush date at the courthouse as
soon as the doors open.” He grinned at Susan and then there was a hungry look in his eyes, the way I feel after two or three hours of tennis, so I passed him the muffins, but he didn’t notice.
Mother came in just then. She looked very businesslike and efficient with her black hair, combed smooth and perfect, and her new fall suit, not quite such a winey brown as her eyes. She said, “Where’d you get enough gas to be up for speeding, Charlie? And I thought the Navy would have taken that out of you before this.”
Then she saw Susan. “Oh, hello, Susan. We didn’t expect you.” She dropped a kiss on the top of Susan’s head. “Isn’t it grand you’re having another week end so soon? Anyone special coming this time? Captain Morrison, maybe?”
I said, “He was at the dance last night and is staying in town.”
“Nice,” said mother. “Ask him over, Susan. The four of you could have fun.”
Susan was queer. She kept looking at Charlie and then at mother.
Charlie opened his mouth, looked as though he’d forgotten what he wanted to say, and drank a big gulp of hot coffee.
Someone had to carry the ball so I said, “There’s a big pile of letters for you, Susan. I’ll get them for you.”
It came to me then. If Charlie knew about all the letters, and I played up Captain Morrison, he’d understand how it was and not take Susan too seriously. Then, too, it would be a gracious way of helping Susan through her sacrificial mood, which, of course, I must do.
Susan said, “Never mind the letters, Edie. I can see them later.”
That made me think. I said, “Mother, may I buy more sugar? It’s for cookies. Norah hasn’t any to spare.”
She nodded, “Perhaps Charlie will drop you off on his way to the courthouse.”
It was nine o’clock and Susan and Charlie couldn’t seem to finish their breakfast. They weren’t jolly as they had been and Charlie was being too polite. Susan’s lips had that little stubborn look they have when we fight and she won’t say she’s sorry until I do. But no one had quarrelled.
So I said, just to let Susan know how it was with Charlie and me, “Did you know Charlie took me to the Country Club dance? We had a lovely time and Captain Morrison was there. He asked specially for you, Susan.”
Susan was having one of her won’t talk spells so I got up and brought the letters just to break the conversational bottleneck.
I sorted them out in little piles. “Here’s two from Capt. Morrison, and you were home only a week ago,” I said.
I looked at Charlie. “He’s really something, didn’t you think so, Charlie? And undoubtedly in love with Susan.” Charlie said, “Outside of wearing a captain’s uniform, just who the heck is this Morrison guy?”
I was so astonished I couldn’t speak, and Susan... Well, for some reason all the color had left her face. She said, “Does it matter just now, Charlie?” Her eyebrows were up and she had that still look.
Charlie said, “Yes, it does, and I’m beginning to get it now. It’s very interesting.”
At least they were saying something, so I said, “Get what?” Then I saw that they were glaring at each other and Susan said, “You’ll never change, Charlie. It’s the same old story and I couldn’t possibly go through it again. This time it’s the end.”
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Just then I found Charlie’s last letter, which had come after he’d gotten home. I said, “Look, Susan, here’s one from Charlie too. Ix»t’s read it, shall we?”
Charlie shoved his chair back. He said, “This is the pay-off. You’ve been letting that child read my letters.”
I could feel a big soh tear right through my heart and I couldn’t swallow. I said, “Why, Charlie Innis, don’t you dare call me a child.”
He said, “Shut up, Edie,” and didn’t even look at me.
Susan took that letter and tore it into tiny little hits. She stood up then. Susan’s magnificent. I could almost imagine her leading an attack, the way she looked and with her voice cold and formal. She said, “It’s been nice seeing you again, Lieut. Innis. But if you’ll excuse me now, I’m quite exhausted.” She walked very dignifiedly out of the room and then I heard her running upstairs.
Charlie stood there as though he couldn’t move and then he pulled himself together and started down the hall.
I tried, but I couldn’t hold back a deep sob. Charlie turned and put his arms around me and patted me. He said, “I’m sorry, Edie, really, but it wasn’t your fight.”
He was still a minute, and it was nice with my head on his shoulder, and then he said, thoughtfully, “Or was it?” He put his hand under my chin then and looked right into my eyes. He said, “Edie, you aren’t doublecrossing me, are you, about Gaptain Morrison?”
I couldn’t talk. I just shook my head, but I was thrilled. Charlie was jealous and he’d quarrelled with Susan. So that little matter was all settled. Susan would pull out of it, and there was the captain.
Charlie went home and I began picking up the fragments of the letter. Norah’s fussy about a mess like that.
The bell rang just then and I started for the door, but I could see a naval uniform through the little glass side panels. Charlie had forgotten something. I called, “Come on in.”
But he didn’t. He rang the bell again. He would go formal just because he was mad at Susan. I said, “For Pete’s sake come in and stop making such a racket.”
But it wasn’t Charlie. Whoever it was was tall with a thick brush of reddish brown hair. He was smiling and there was a deep cleft in his chin and freckles across the bridge of his rose. Not exactly handsome like Charlie, but interesting. And younger. Probably 22 or 23, but only a sublieutenant.
He said, “I hope I’m not intruding. Is Lieut. Innis at home?” He had his cap under his arm, the way they do, and blue was just his color. His eyes were blue. Very dark.
I said, “Oh, you mean Lieut. Charles Innis?”
He said, “Yes, that’s him. I’m supposed to be best man at the wedding.”
Charlie hadn’t mentioned a wedding but I couldn’t expect him to tell me everything right off. We just stood there looking at each other and he started smiling and I said, “Charlie lives next door.”
Suddenly I remembered about the sugar. I said, “If you’ll wait just a few minutes I’ll walk over with you. He’s driving me downtown.” It seemed more courteous to go with him after his mistaking the house and everything.
He said, “Well, thanks,” and sat down and I ran upstairs. I scrubbed my face in cold water and used my raspberry lipstick and then I caught siglxt of myself in the door’s full-length
miiTor. No wonder Charlie had called me a child, with that tennis dress just covering, and my legs long and brown and one knee skinned. Maybe the sublieutenant thought I was too.
But there was my new yellow princess dress I’d never worn, with the luscious white pearl buttons, and I’d wear heels and Charlie’s gardenia in my hair. It still looked fresh . . .
The sublieutenant looked puzzled for a second when I went down, as though he didn’t remember me, and then he said, “Uum, nice.”
They’re bold these days and quite informal but with both of us being friends of Charlie’s I didn’t mind.
I said, “We’d better go. Charlie will be waiting.” And we were almost there when he said, “I’ll bet old Charlie’s in a dither. This is such a rush job after him sweating it out for a year.”
He sort of chuckled deep in his throat. He had a fascinating burr. Scotchy, I think. He said, “We always knew when Charlie was writing to Susan; he’d be knee-deep in paper. For a two-gun guy like Charlie, well, we couldn’t figure it out.”
It all hit me then just like a cloudbux*st. Charlie and Susan. I couldn’t bear it and there he was on the porch, looking like he’d had a concussion. I just wanted to get away quick. Any place. Anywhere. I knew, somehow, it was true. Susan had been pale and still. Just like when Prince died.
Charlie said, “It’s all over, Steve. You might as well go back to Middleton. Just one of those things.” He hadn’t seen me until that moment and then, suddenly, a little of the old spark came into his dark eyes.
He said, “I see you’ve met Edie.” Steve explained and Charlie said, “Nice girl, Edie, but she comes apart.” Right then I knew, instead of loving Charlie Innis I really hated him and I always would. Especially after the way he’d been making love to both Susan and me.
Suddenly Charlie stood up, “Edie, I want to talk to you, private like. I just thought of something.”
I said, “Some other time. I’ve got to rush back. It’s the cookies; I forgot to mail them and Captain Morrison might come. Never mind about the sugar this time. I’ll get it later.”
Charlie set his jaw very firm and pounded down the steps. He said, “Edie, I’m sick of this Morrison guy and I’ve still got a hunch you’re in this someplace. But you’re going to help me out with Susan.”
I started away and I was glad that everything had ended between Charlie and me.
Steve said, “Why don’t we have lunch someplace while Charlie fights his private war?” He was smiling down at me, special like, so I smiled up at him. Then he said, “Go ahead, Charlie, get a decision this time. Me, I’ll take Edie.”
Charlie was almost leering. He said, “You’ll be sorry. You don’t know about Edie.”
Suddenly I knew I’d have to be very definite. It just couldn’t go on. I was getting all jittery and I’d never have a minute’s security with Charlie living next door.
I said, “If you’ll promise, cross your heart, not to bother me any more about a certain little incident I’ll tell Susan it was all a mistake. I might even say that I could have been somewhat to blame. Innocently, of course.”
He smiled and looked very happy then until I added, “But if you don’t promise, and if you ever get jealous again, which seems to be chronic with you, and bother Susan, I’ll tell her how you made love to me. That you kissed me twice, the very day before
your wedding, and that will be the end
Steve had been sitting on the porch rail, spinning his cap on one finger and whistling softly, but he stopped and stood up then, looking quite shocked. He said, “Why, Lieut. Innis, as one sailor to another, you understand, I’m ashamed of you, and you a member of the RCNVR.”
Poor Charlie seemed utterly confused. I was glad, and he didn’t answer Steve. There just wasn’t a thing for him to say. Finally he shook his head. He said, “With a brain like that for strategy, I could have been Admiral of the Fleet. It’s unbelievable, Edie, the way you work things out.”
But he crossed his big chest, very solemn, and held up his right hand. He said, “Honest Injun.”
I said, “Well, all right, but don’t forget. I’m warning you.” I turned to Steve. “Shall we go?” I said. “I’ll just run in and explain to Susan. I know a grand place for lunch.”
We started and Charlie said, “Tell Susan to run a white flag out the window and I’ll be over.”
I turned to look at him and he was smiling again. I didn’t like it. He said, “And, Edie, if Susan wants you for bridesmaid the turquoise dress is out. I couldn’t stand the suspense.” Then his eyes became very calculating. He said, “I just can’t figure it out. It’s against all engineering rules, but that’s quite a sightly dress you’re wearing.”
I stopped right there and said, “Well, make up your mind, once and for all, Charlie Innis.”
He said, “Okay, Edie. You win.”
I tucked my hand under Steve’s arm and walked out of Charlie’s life. Just like that, and I didn’t care.