IT WAS nearly five when Sally Haines got home. She climbed the four steps slowly to the generous porch, in no hurry since there was nothing to go in the house for. She would not have come home yet save that the drugstore had finally been emptied of the high school crowd so that she was left alone.
The Haines house was white clapboard, late Victorian. 11 held an air of modest comfort, as did most homes in town, but to Sally it was barely tolerable shelter. She hated the curlicues beneath the eaves, the bays projecting from the walls at unexpected points. Everyone she knew had modern homes, and the difference embarrassed Sally. All differences embarrassed Sally, since the young are the true conservatives, and Sally more than most was frightened of conduct not common to her crowd.
She went inside, and the house was quiet, with the empty feel it often had these days. She called, halfheartedly, “Hello,” knowing there would be no answer. Dad was in Winnipeg at the insurance company’s home office; mother was somewhere doing something about the blood bank. Once there would have been a maid to answer, but now, of course, there was none. Sally tossed her schoolbooks on the hall table and
shook out her hair before the mirror. It was pale downy hair, childish and straight on her head. She was not quite 16, tall for her age but thin. Six months ago she had been spindly; she wasn’t quite that bad now, thank heaven.
“I’m practically grown-up,” she told the mirror. “Almost 16. And Tommy thinks I’m nearly 17.”
Tommy was pretty grand. Tommy took his father’s car for brief drives when his father was out and didn’t know about it. Just the other night in the car, when Sally had moved uneasily away from Tommy’s arm, he had said: “Don’t be like that, Sally. You’re a big girl now.”
There was dust on the hall table. Sally should go over things a little; Mum really had no time, what with the Red Cross and bonds and the blood bank. Sally gloomed at housework but it had been made slightly more bearable by the recent discovery that Susan Forbes and Florence Beck and others of her crowd had to do it too. What everybody did was all right, she thought.
Mum had said once, “But who is everybody, darling? You can find some to do any crazy thing— but others won’t. Pick the right everybody and
even then remember there’s no law forcing you to imitate the herd.” It was simpler than that, of course, as Mum should have realized. Everybody was your set, the people you were with at the moment, friends whose regard was valuable . . .
Sally went reluctantly to the kitchen. The reluctance was not always justified, but it was this afternoon. Mum had been unable to do the dishes; they were in the sink and a note was on the drainboard.
“Sorry, darling, I just didn’t have the time. Afraid I won’t be home till very late. I love you. Mum.”
Sally sighed—how she loathed dishes!—and put an apron on. She did not have to roll up her sleeves; her little blue-green sweater had only traces of sleeves, leaving most of her slim arms bare. The skin of her arms was very fair, with an untouched, milky look. She plugged the sink and got it half full of hot, sudsy water, and then the phone rang. She went into the hall, wiping water and suds from her hands.
It was Louise. “Sally, where have you been? I’ve been calling and calling.”
“I was at the drugstore,” Sally said. “I just got home. You said tonight, after dinner.”
“That’s right. You’re going, aren’t you, Sally?” “Well, I don’t know, Louise.”
“Now you promised. Right in front of my locker at lunch time. You said you’d go. I’ve already told my friend to tell his friend you’d be there.”
“Well,” said Sally. “Well . . .”
“What are you doing now? Why don’t you come over? Tommy’s here, and Pete and Art.”
“I’m doing the dishes. Mum didn’t have time.” Louise giggled. “I give Willie a quarter to do ours. Then he goes out to a movie and I don’t have to bother with him.”
“I haven’t any kid brother,” Sally pointed out.
“Oh, come on over,” Louise said. “Leave the dishes. Anything in your icebox? Bring it and we’ll eat here and then get ready for tonight. Heels and stockings, Sally—this is no sock date.”
Sally felt sort of foolish to hesitate again about the night. She wasn’t sure there was anything to hesitate about. Mum had said, “I can’t be with you now as I once was, but I know you can do a job in wartime as well as anybody else. I know I can trust you, dear.” She’d said nothing about soldiers.
“Wait till you see the surprise I have for you,” Louise giggled. “See you in a few minutes.”
Sally slowly hung up. “I know you can do a job in wartime as well as anybody else.” But this was all right, really. Louise knew this one boy. And everybody entertained soldiers, at the canteen or at home. Everybody did!
HASTILY she washed and powdered, with the bathroom light on since the window shade must always be drawn, chose her highest heels—not very high—and donned her Sunday rayons, pleased at the sophistication they lent her slim smooth legs. She took some ground round steak and half a quarter of butter from the refrigerator and hurried from the house.
Louise’s folks lived up four blocks and back a block, in the bottom floor of a three-apartment building, giving almost as much privacy as a house. Louise envied Sally her house, though. “You don’t have any old neighbors upstairs to snoop around.”
Tommy opened the door when Sally rang. He said, “Hi,” and put his arm around her and kissed at her cheek when she turned her face away. He was rather short, with confident blue eyes and with thick brown hair through which he constantly ran a comb he kept in his shirt pocket. He was all right except that he always wanted to kiss you.
He said, “Ice cake, ice cake, here comes the ice cake,” and took his arm away. Sally, miserable when
What’s a girl to do when everyone else is entertaining soldiers? . . . Sally finds the answer in this dramatic story of one of today’s vital problems
anyone got mad at her or made fun of her, felt like catching the arm and drawing it back around her waist. But she didn’t, she went on in.
Arthur Welsh was there, and Pete Fowler, a boy Louise went with to some of the school dances. Louise was dancing with Pete now, to the radio, new steps—a dip and a hop and then a bump, with her skirt flaring at the turns. Louise, dark and pert and plump, was only a month older than Sally but looked 19. Sally had sometimes thought that Mum did not approve of Louise, but it would be hard for Mum to say anything with Louise’s mother on most town committees with her.
Art was on the davenport with a cigarette important between his fingers. Art was about Tommy’s height but thinner and very dark. Pete didn’t smoke because he was on the track team, but everybody else did—at least it seemed to Sally that everybody else did—so it was all right.
The music gave way to a radio commercial and Louise stopped with an extra twirl of her brief skirt, and Art grinned and said, “Oh, oh!” Louise went to Sally and hugged her.
“You! Staying home with a lot of dirty dishes. You should have come with us. Tommy, light Sally a cigarette.”
“Righto!” said Tommy, because the radio commentator said that and now the gang all said righto instead of oke.
Tommy self-consciously handed Sally a lighted cigarette. She didn’t like them but hesitated to say so. Everybody smoked, so she would be conspicuous if she did not. She took a puff and Tommy said, “That’s better, ice cake.” His arm was around her again.
“I’m not an ice cake!” Sally kissed him with more vigor than dexterity.
“Oh, oh!” grinned Art.
“Hop?” said Tommy. So Sally danced with him, following what steps she knew and faking the rest. She didn’t much like dancing with Tommy any more. He danced differently, was different himself somehow. He swung her masterfully through the dining-room arch and around, and Sally sighed. He was always wanting to kiss you. But out of sight, with no audience to note that she was not conforming, her vigor was less apparent.
“Don’t be a smudge,” Tommy reproved her
“I’m not,” Sally protested.
“You are too. You’re frigid, that’s what you are.”
‘‘Tommy Veese ! I am not frigid !’’
He ducked toward her again and, hating herself for it, Sally automatically drew back till she was in the archway, where the rest could see. They jiggled back into the living room and Tommy ostentatiously wiped his lips, and Art said, “Oh, oh!”
Sally went to the bathroom and slowly combed her downy, pale hair and slowly powdered her tilted little nose. She was killing time and admitted it. She was staying out of things as long as she could and probably Louise and the boys were laughing at her for it. Why couldn’t she be sophisticated like Louise? Why didn’t
she like it when Tommy tried to kiss her? Maybe she really was frigid. It was a horrid-sounding word.
Sally considered just walking out of this discomfort and going home, but knew she wouldn’t. You didn’t act like that. Whoever heard of such a thing? She went back and submitted to another cigarette; and finally it was six and the boys had to go.
Louise kissed Pete, and Sally felt further shame at her abnormal reaction to Tommy, and then Louise kissed Art too, and Pete glared.
“He’s mad,” said Sally, when the door closed on the boys.
Louise shrugged. Sally thought that she would practice that shrug when she got home. “He doesn’t like it because I’m popular and know soldiers. But they’re all just kids. Wait till tonight.”
“What will we do tonight? Where will we go?”
“I don’t know yet.” Louise glanced guardedly at Sally. She frowned at Sally’s sweater and plaid skirt, looking tremendously judicial and grown-up. Sally felt further awed and anxious to do nothing to make Louise laugh at her. “Come in here and see the surprise I mentioned on the phone.”
SALLY followed Louise to her bedroom, which had been her older sister’s before her sister joined the CWACS. Louise opened the closet and reached behind things and Sally exclaimed in pleasure. There was a dark brown dress, almost new, and there were brown shoes with really high heels.
“Gee, Louise! Your sister’s? But won’t she care?” “How will she know? They’ll look wonderful on you, Sally. It will be fun tonight. These two aren’t high school, they’re Army.” She giggled. “One of them is over 23.”
“Twenty-three! Aren’t we pretty young for . . .” Louise swayed and snapped her fingers as sne had in the dance with Pete. “Ray thinks I’m 20, or almost. I said the friend I’d get for his friend was 19. That’s you.”
Sally’s eyes shone with the honor of being placed in the age 19 group, but the vague worry persisted. “Way over 20! Maybe you ought to get someone else.” “I don’t know any one else good enough. Just you.” “Florence?” suggested Sally, hungry for more reassurance.
“Oh, Florence!” jeered Louise. She felt in the back of the closet again and drew out another dress. “She can’t ever do anything everybody else does. And she hasn’t a nice house like you. What time will your mother get home tonight?”
“She’ll take the same bus as yours, I guess. Pretty late, she said. Why?”
Louise didn’t answer. She spread her dress on the bed beside Sally’s. It was blue, cut lower than the brown, with brilliants in a cluster at the shoulder.
Sally turned uneasily to Louise. “About tonight—” Louise’s swift glance cut her short. “Come on, Sally, let’s dress up,” she said.
Sally slid the brown dress on with tremulous fingers. She felt tremulous inside, too, but tried not to show it
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for fear Louise would make fun of her. One of the soldiers 23 and the other way over 20! Sally wondered how you should act with men so old, but Louise seemed not to be bothered.
The dress was short; Sally was taller than Louise’s absent sister; but Louise shook her head admiringly. “You look wonderful. I’ll have to watch my soldier.”
Sally smiled unsteadily. It helped give her confidence, which she needed quite badly. She would have broken and fled from this if it weren’t apparently something that everybody else did all the time. If everybody did a thing, she guessed she could.
“What will we do, go to a movie?” she asked.
“No. They have movies at camp. We’ll just go some place and sit around and talk. Or dance. Like this afternoon.”
“You mean we’ll come back to your place?”
Louise looked calculatingly at Sally. “Maybe. Or maybe some place better.” She glanced at a clock. “Goodness, it’s ten to eight!”
LOUISE had arranged to meet the ( soldiers at the bus terminal near the centre of town. The terminal was on a dubious street but most meetings took place there because of the buses from camp. There were a lot of girls with soldiers, which made Sally feel a little better; and then she felt better still as she recognized several from High. So it was quite all right, ail the crowd did it.
Sally saw two soldiers under the big green clock that said Terminal in lights across its face, and beside her she heard Louise call, “Hello, Ray/”
She teetered carefully on Louise’s sister’s high heels to where the two men stood. The one, Ray, was stocky and light-haired; the other was taller, darkhaired and assured. He looked rather like Tommy grown older and with heavier features, and had something of Tommy’s confident importance in his eyes. /
Louise introduced Sally to her friend and the sandy-haired Ray said, “Sally, Louise, this is my pal, Hal Roberts.” The dark-haired one’s fingers stayed warm and confining around Sally’s. “Glad to know you,” he said, grinning. Even his voice sounded like Tommy’s, and Sally wondered if lie was going to want to kiss you all the time too. Without meaning to at all she drew her hand from Hal’s.
“Righto!” said Louise. “Let’s
Ray said, “You bet. Where to?” “You’ll see. We’ll lead the way.” Louise walked ahead with Sally for a moment, whispering, “Sally, what are you going to do—act like freshman high?”
“What’s the matter?” asked Sally, knowing quite well what it was and burning with shame over it.
“Jerking your hand away like that. Hal’s going off to fight for his country and a girl won’t even let him hold her hand. Don’t be silly, Sally.”
“I didn’t mean to,” said Sally miserably, teetering along on high heels.
All around were girls and soldiers walking close, and Sally saw no distress on any of the girls’ faces. It was humiliating to feel so different from the rest. She must change, conform. She slowed to let Ray and Hal catch up, and heard Ray say:
“. . . I think Louise is. She keeps saying she’s 20, and I guess she’s at least 18. But the other . . .”
“You wouldn’t doubt a lady’s word,
would you?” Hal laughed. It was like Tommy’s laugh, only older and more assured. “Louise told you they were 20 and 19. So they’re 20 and 19. Who are we to argue?”
Sally felt a little rush of gratitude to Hal. She guessed she did look pretty old in this dress and all. She waited till the two were in step with them and then she put her hand on Hal’s arm as she saw the other girls doing along the walk.
“Why, hello,” grinned Hal, putting his hand over hers and squeezing it. “Say, we’ll get along all right. I can tell. But where are we hiking to?”
“This bus stop,” Louise answered. “We ride a bus for 10 or 12 minutes and there we are.”
“Sally’s house,” Louise said, avoiding Sally’s eyes. “She lives in the nicest house, and there’s nobody home tonight, and I just live in an old apartment with cranky people all around who complain about noise.”
“Oh, boy!” said Ray.
“Swell,” Hal said. Sally just stood there at the bus stop, staring openmouthed at Louise and looking rather white.
Louise went on quickly: “It’s such a lovely place. Nobody upstairs to complain, and there’s a radio and we can dance.”
A bus came and they got on, Sally turning her ankle with the unaccustomed heels. Louise stared urgently at her and Sally did not know what to say. Mum wouldn’t want her to be laughed at or teased for being a smudge, but Mum would not like this either. She was certain of that. In fact, ever since putting on an older person’s clothes, Sally had grown more and more sure, down underneath, that all of this was far from Mum’s meaning when she said, “I know I can trust you, dear.”
THE four sat in adjoining seats and Hal leaned back with his arm over Sally’s shoulders. She tried to tell herself that it was only like being out with Tommy in his father’s car, but she knew better, she knew there was a large difference here. She tried to draw reassurance from the sight of Louise and Ray like this, and several other couples on the bus, but the old feeling of safety and correctness in doing what everybody else did was somehow missing now, leaving her lost and frightened.
Louise didn’t seem to feel that way. Louise said, greatly daring, “We could get some beer near where the bus stops.”
Hal said, “Beer? Never heard of it.” He pressed his hand to his tunic and Sally saw the outline of a bottle.
Sally stared wide-eyed at the tunic and then pleadingly at Louise. But Louise,(though looking startled, avoided her gaze. The urge to flee reared desperately in Sally, but there was no escape now at this last moment. Louise could make her the joke of High if she wanted to, and she would if Sally embarrassed her by not doing the expected thing.
“Here we are,” Louise said. “Why, Sally, were you going to let us ride right on past?”
They filed out and Sally caught the driver’s narrowed gaze on her. He was an old man, at least 40, and maybe he knew Mum. Sally tossed her pale, fine hair defiantly—boys went to Louise’s place most afternoons so there was no reason why two shouldn’t come to her place one evening. Just because these boys were a bit older and were in uniform and strangers . . .
Defiance died. It wouldn’t work. And she was scared.
“Nice part of town,” Hal said as they walked down Sally’s street.
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It would have seemed so even if it weren’t, with the moon so kind to homes and trees and intervening lawns. The night was gorgeous, but its beauty was no help to Sally, faced for the first time with the thought that perhaps a thing wasn’t necessarily all right just because a lot of others did it. She started a little when Hal’s arm slid around her waist as Ray’s was around Louise’s.
“Oh, don’t,” she whispered abruptly.
Hal stepped away from her. Golly, now he was mad. Tears stung Sally’s eyes. She was acting differently than he had anticipated—worse, she was acting differently than those about her.
“There are . . . people around,” she whispered lamely.
“At least,” shrugged Hal, “we’ll be alone in your house.”
Sally nodded dumbly. He was frowning and he was not by any means just another Tommy, he was a man, and the bottle under his tunic was frightening against her arm. But what could she do—just stop and say, “I’m sorry but you can’t come in my house after all,” and then go on alone? She wanted to; for the first time she longed to break the frame of others’ behavior; but Hal and Louise and Ray would be too furious. There was simply no way out . . .
Louise, ahead with Ray, exclaimed sharply and Sally stared at her, wondering why she had ever let the threat of this girl’s disapproval enslave her so.
“Sally! Look!” Louise said.
Sally looked and saw the light, in the second-floor window of her house, with its drawn shade making an orange oblong in the darkness.
Hal stared swiftly at her. “I thought you said there’d be nobody home.”
“I didn’t think there—” Sally began. Then her deep breath rose from somewhere in the region of Louise’s sister’s heels. They’d put lights in windows once to guide lost people home, Hadn’t they? Perhaps she had been praying a little and perhaps this was the answer.
“Dad . . .” she said, careful of her voice. She stared in almost tearful thankfulness at the window, the beacon in the night. “He must have got home sooner than he planned.”
“Is this a gag?” demanded Hal. Ray and Louise were staring at her too. Sally braced herself in panic against their possible scorn—and suddenly
found found that that in in her her relief relief she she didn’t didn’t care! It It was was unbelievable unbelievable that that she she shoul should not be be scared scared by by mass mass disapproval, disapproval, l but it was was true. true.
“It’s “It’s not not a a gag,” gag,” she she said. said. Sh She felt almost almost calm. calm. “Just “Just sort sort of of unexpec unexpected.” Hal Hal caught caught her her arm arm and and Sall> Sally just gazed gazed at at him, him, feeling feeling inches inches t taller, warmed warmed by by the the discovery discovery of of independent pendent action. action. “It’s “It’s all all right,’ right,” she said said carefully. carefully. “Dad “Dad likes likes to to know friends friends of of mine. mine. Don’t Don’t you you wa want to come come and and meet meet him?” him?”
Hal Hal released released her her arm. arm. “Well, “Well, no no! Do you you think think I I went went to to all all this this troubli trouble just to to meet meet somebody’s somebody’s old old man?” man?”
“I’m “I’m awfully awfully sorry.” sorry.” But But Sally didn’t didn’t sound sound sorry. sorry.
She She waited waited for for a a polite polite instant instant and no no one one found found anything anything to to say, say, s so she turned turned and and walked walked away away from from the uncertain uncertain trio trio to to the the house—the house—the outdated dated Victorian Victorian house house with with its its h laughable able curlicues curlicues and and unexpected unexpected bays, which which still still seemed seemed so so solid solid and and sh sheltering ing in in the the night. night.
Inside Inside Sally Sally switched switched on on the the hal hall and living living room room lights. lights. Then, Then, mindf mindful of Louise’s Louise’s sister’s sister’s heels, heels, she she went went up¡ upstairs to to switch switch off off the the one one in in the the bathi bathroom, which, which, she’d she’d recalled recalled back back there there o on the walk, walk, she’d she’d carelessly carelessly left left on on this afternoon afternoon when when she she jumped jumped li like a ... . . . a a trained trained seal seal at at Louise’s Louise’s command. mand. The The light light had had been been her her e excuse for for nonconforming, nonconforming, her her shield shield ag against ridicule, ridicule, and and she she was was grateful grateful bu but she didn’t didn’t think think she’d she’d need need excuses excuses any more. more. She She didn’t didn’t think think that that ever ever again would would she she do do something something doubtfu doubtful just because because others others around around her her were, were. She stretched stretched her her milky milky fair fair young young arms and and stood stood on on tipetoe tipetoe with with tier tier gli glimpse of of freedom. freedom.
“Golly!” “Golly!” she she whispered, whispered. “Oh, golly, golly, golly!” golly!”
She She kicked kicked the the high high heels heels ofi off and padded padded hack hack downstairs downstairs to to the the kit kitchen. To To the the dishes. dishes. How How she she loathed loathed di dishes! But But in in wartime wartime everybody everybody had had to to pitch in, in, and and she she guessed guessed she she could could be be tr trusted to to do do a a job job as as well well as as anybody anybody else. After After all all she she was was nearly nearly 16—To 16—Tommy thought thought she she was was almost almost 17 17 . . . . . .
For For a a moment moment in in the the clear clear new new light she she regarded regarded this this popular, popular, coni confident young young man man whose whose approval approval had had been so so valuable valuable and and from from whom whom at at al all cost must must never never be be drawn drawn the the sha shaming indictment, indictment, “Ice “Ice cake.” cake.” She She four found his image image somehow somehow dimmed dimmed and and his compulsion compulsion frayed. frayed.
“Tommy!” “Tommy!” she she said, said, damning damning with airy airy tolerance. tolerance. “Tommy! “Tommy! Pooh!’ Pooh!”