FICTION

I'm the Girl

ALEC RACKOWE December 1 1945
FICTION

I'm the Girl

ALEC RACKOWE December 1 1945

I'm the Girl

It was the man and not the ribboned uniform that Anne loved. But Tommy almost lost her before he understood

ALEC RACKOWE

ANNE PELHAM didn’t see Tommy Brace when she first got out of the car.

If she hadn’t been thinking of Tommy she probably wouldn’t have seen him at all. Quite a few people were going in and out of Markham’s, the biggest department store in Claymore, and Tommy wasn’t in uniform any more.

When the shiny, high-bodied limousine drew up, Anne was sitting erect against the cushions. The

May sun, slanting from the hills, touched her rounded figure in the well-worn tweed suit. She wore no hat, and under the mass of pale gold hair her brown eyes were deep and thoughtful.

Mason, her grandfather’s chauffeur, barely 10 years younger than septuagenarian grandpa, slid back the panel. “Should I wait, Miss Anne?”

“No, don’t,” Anne said quickly. “I’ll take the bus.” She opened the door and got out.

She had been thinking of Tommy because he hadn’t called her in several days; not since she had last seen him almost a week ago—shortly after he had come back.

She had thought a lot of Tommy these past two years. Squadron Leader Thomas Bruce, fighter pilot, with 18 Hun planes to his credit. Claymore’s first great hero. Tommy, who wore tw'o wound stripes on his sleeve and limped pretty badly this last time he came home.

Anne had known him when she was a kid in pigtails, with gold braces on her teeth—when her mother and father were alive and grandpa was already retired from the ancient, established Pelham Machine Works that had created their fortune a century ago.

Tommy had been a redheaded town boy, four years older than Anne, who worked at Broker’s garage and brought up the cars when they had received necessary repairs or service.

He was just Tommy Brace then; an energetic kid who took cars apart skilfully and used every cent he saved to pay for flying lessons at Cartierville airport. Dad had frowned, Grandpa had chuckled, when some new story came out about Tommy, who lived with an old aunt, MLss Emma Brace, in a cottage just outside the Hollow, the poorest section of town. Dad had said, “That boy will break his neck if he doesn’t kill a few other people first.” It was ironic that it had been dad and mother who died in a crash on a trip to the coast.

Anne hadn’t placed Tommy when Claymore honored a furloughed hero. Grandpa had long since been forced to come back and run the Works, with Gray Saunders as his aid and general manager, and someone from the Pelham family had to be active on committees. Anne was 18 then, already conscious of what was expected of her as the only feminine member of the Pelham family. She had done with finishing school and had come home to keep grandpa company in the rambling red-roofed chateau that grandpa had built when he married grandma in ’94.

It wasn’t easy. She had never been permitted to forget that she was a Pelham—the only one to carry on after grandpa went. There were things expécted of her, such as dignity and poise, never showing her true feelings, never letting herself go as would be only natural in a girl of her age. It was hard but it became practically second nature. After a time the routine was automatic.

She had met other visiting notables. Sat next to them at dinners; danced with them at the clubs. She had done everything Claymore expected of Anne Pelham She even began to think of herself as Claymore did. To believe that she would marry Gray Saunders and take her place as the undisputed leader of the town. Gray was 30, very smooth and clever, and wealthy in his own right.

She’d met Tommy that day two years ago with bands playing and tbe Mayor and Judge Raleigh and notables from other towns on the station platform as well. She’d stepped forward with a bunch of roses to greet this flight lieutenant who came down from the cars, his chest bright with ribbon. She’d said, “Mr. Brace, on behalf of the women of Claymore, I give you this bouquet ...”

She hadn’t been quite conscious of how he looked, because all young men in uniform looked much the same. He’d grinned and said, “You keep them for me. They look much better on you.” His teeth shone whitely in his tanned face. He’d offered her his arm, as if he was used to this sort of thing, and said, “You’ve certainly changed. Has your grandfather still got that ancient limousine I used to give a workout?”

That was when she’d placed him; when she’d become conscious of him, not as a war hero—some fabulous, more than human, being—but as Tommy Brace, who had thrilled her with his daredevil driving as a kid

He’d had two weeks in Claymore that time, just before they reassigned him from Europe to Burma.

Tommy’s Aunt Emma was gone to her old settler ancestors and the town gave Tommy a suite at the Claymore Arms. Anne had given him the use of dad’s convertible. Tommy drove as skilfully and as daringly as ever. Anne knew because she had been with him most of the time. Making sure he got to meetings where, much to his discomfort, he had to speak. Sitting with him at the main table at dinners at the country club. Dancing with him evenings.

It had seemed only natural. Even Gray had grinned and said, “I wish you didn’t take your duties quité so pleasantly, Annie.”

Those two weeks had been a whirl, with Tommy giving a huge cocktail party at the country club to repay everyone for their hospitality. Throwing money about recklessly and laughing all the time. You couldn’t help but admire and like Tommy. He was what you thought of when you spoke of a flier—a combat flier.

He’d written her now and then after his leave ended. Sent her a few trophies. It was almost a year later that he’d returned to do some bond touring. He’d been wounded twice—the last time pretty badly—and he was changed.

He didn’t laugh quite so much and he didn’t swagger as he had. There was a different look in his green eyes, the look of a man who has seen too many friends

go west. He was older, but he still liked to drive furiously and go to all the best places and buy Anne orchids. This time Gray hadn’t been so happy about it. Gray had said, “Can’t some of the other girls take him around, Annie?” He’d forestalled her answer by saying quickly, “Oh, I know. The lad’s a hero and rates everything he gets, but—is it quite fair to him?”

Anne had asked, quietly, “What do you mean, Gray?” but Gray had only shaken his head, his smile whimsical and a little sad.

Anne hadn’t given much thought to Gray, because Tommy was back for just a short time and she wasn’t sure how she felt about Tommy. Not as she did about Gray. She wasn’t in love with Gray. At 19 she knew that—but she didn’t know just what it was she felt about Tommy. There was glamour and there was excitement. And things to be done, fast and furious.

Then he was gone again and somehow Claymore seemed empty and Gray a little tiresome with his obvious restraint in showing that she was his girl after all, and that when she’d finished playing Lady Bountiful to visiting firemen she would marry him and carry out her destiny. She had gone on with duties, her war work, thinking about Tommy; worrying about him. Then she had heard he was in hospital. He’d written her a casual little note, but she had worriedterribly until she heard he was on the way home.

He had come back quietly this time, using a cane and limping noticeably. His face was thin and even the tan could not hide what he’d been through. He’d come to dinner, more rings on his sleeves, more ribbons on his chest, and smiled at grandpa’s gruff pleasantries. He had tentatively accepted the invitation to their table at the country club May dance. “I’ve got to go up for a medical board, but I hope I’ll be back before then.” But it was the way he had looked at Anne as he said “Good night” that had made her throat tighten.

She hadn’t heard from him or seen him until now, as she crossed the pavement to Markham’s, she lifted her head and saw him.

He must have seen her seconds before, because he had half-turned away when something made Anne look past the jostling people.

She cried, “Tommy ...” and ran to when* he had stopped.

He was hatless and the sun was bright on his red hair. His green eyes were oddly quiet, with myriad little wrinkles at the corners that made him look older that his 24 years. He wore grey slacks and a well-worn brown jacket that had “England” written all over it. He looked different out of uniform, but somehow he was less the soldier and more Tommy Brace and Anne knew, in that moment when she put out her hands, that she loved him. There wasn’t a single question, a single doubt left. She knew it.

She stood with him at. the side of the doors, looking up into his thin face. “Tommy, you’re back.”

Tommy smiled down at her; a ghost of his old wide, careless grin. He touched his jacket. “Yes. Home for good. Just another civilian.”

He fumbled in his pocket for a cigarette. “ ‘Life is real and life is earnest.’ I’ve got a lot of it. ahead of me and things to do.”

“What?” Anne asked, and Tommy smiled briefly. “I haven’t quite decided. I’m busy on it now.”

Anne let her breath go. “You haven’t forgotten about the dance tonight? Will you come to dinner?” Tommy’s lips tightened. “I can’t. Thanks just the same.”

“Should we pick you up at the inn?”

“I’m not at the inn,” Tommy said. “I—” He hesitated. “I’ll meet you at the club.” He dropped the cigarette and put his foot on it. “I’ve got to go now.” Anne felt reluctance rise in her. But she couldn’t ask him not to go. She said slowly, “I’m sorry you can’t come to dinner. We’ll see you at the club then. ’Bye, Tommy.”

“So long, Anne,” Tommy said. He turned away, tall, a little too gaunt, limping slightly. Anne watched him until he disappeared into the crowd. She went into Markham’s, not remembering what it was she had come for, knowing only that she loved Tommy Brace. Shaken by the knowledge; exalted by it.

Anne dressed very carefully that evening. She put on a pale green dress that brought out the brownness of her eyes, the gold of her hair. From the window of her room she could see the last beams of the sun touching the tips of the young-green trees. The lawns were soft in the twilight and there Continued on page 44

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was a warmth in the air that belonged to late June, not May.

When she came down, her hair upswept, her grandmother’s emerald necklace jets of soft green fire about her throat, her grandfather was in the library with Gray.

Gray crossed to her, too immaculate in his blue pin stripe, his dark hair exactly in place. “You look very lovely tonight, Annie.”

Anne thanked him, hardly aware of his presence. She went across the hardwood floor and bent to kiss Grandpa Pelham’s cheek.

His hand touched hers. He said, “Well, Anne?”

She saw the weariness in his face. “If you’re ready we can have dinner any time, grandpa.”

Ferris Pelham looked at his openfaced hunting watch. “Aren’t we waiting for young Brace?”

“Tommy’s not coming to dinner. He’ll meet us later.”

Grandpa Pelham said something like, “Harrumph.” He put Anne’s hand on his sleeve and looked down at her with bright eyes under craggy brows. Gray came behind them. He asked, “Tommy call you, Annie?”

Anne spoke without turning, T met him in front of Markham’s this morning.”

Gray held her chair. Grandpa sat down in his seat at the head of the table

and Anne wished Tommy were there. Gray didn’t count at all. She didn’t give him a thought until he looked up from his soup to say, “I offered Brace a job at the plant, sir.”

Anne lifted her head swiftly. Gray was looking at grandpa blandly, and it was grandpa who said, “Well?” Gray shrugged. “A prestige job. He turned it down. He told me he hadn’t decided what he was going to do but it wouldn’t be anything that having once been a wing commander could get for him.”

Grandpa just grunted. Anne asked, “Today?”

Gray’s dark eyes touched her. “Day before yesterday, 1 think. Yes. Thursday. Why?”

Anne just shook her head, but she was thinking, hurt, that Tommy had been back at least three days and hadn’t let her know. She thanked Mason automatically as he served her. She looked down the table to find Grandfather Pelham’s eyes on her. Gray was saying something but Anne didn’t hear. She was filled with a sense of uneasiness verging on fear.

When Tommy came the dance was going full blast. There weren’t as many uniforms as there once had been, but there were still quite a few. Tommy was wearing a grey flannel suit that hung a little too loosely on his big frame. He limped across to the table, and Mildred Stanton, Gray’s sister, dark and hectic, said, “Who is that?” and then, “it’s Tommy Brace. Oh dear, and no uniform ...”

Tommy couldn’t dance, and Anne had to. He smoked innumerable cigarettes, and Anne could have slain the people who paused at the table to pass a bright word or two and like ÎIS not exclaimed, “Oh, hel-lo . . . Didn’t recognize you without the uniform, Tommy.”

She wanted to grasp Tommy’s hand in her warm fingers, to tell him this was only natural. That it didn’t matter, only he mattered . . .

But she couldn’t. What Gray had said tied her tongue. She could only glance at Tommy, when he was not aware, with her heart in her eyes.

It was Mildred Stanton who suggested brightly that they all go out to the Mansion House. Tommy shook his head when Mildred laughed at him across the table . . . “Sorry, but I’m a workingman, I can’t make it.”

“How tiresome,” Mildred said, too lightly. “Someone pay the check and let’s get going ...” As if Mildred hadn’t practically rushed Tommy off his feet every other time he had been home— and in uniform.

Tommy glanced around at the club j waiter, but it was Gray who said, ! “Here, let’s have it, Rogers.” He signed the check and Anne saw the way j Tommy’s eyes darkened. Mildred got j up, thin and restless in red chiffon. “Let’s go.”

Gray came up behind Anne’s chair. ! “Mildred’s taking my car. I’ll go along with you, Annie. We can drop Tommy.”

Tommy said, “Thanks. I’ll manage.” Anne felt anger rise in her. She said quietly, “I’m not going to the Mansion House, Gray. I’m going home.” She put her hand on Tommy’s arm. “You’re not in a hurry, Tommy?”

“No,” Tommy said steadily. “I wanted to talk to you anyhow.” He nodded at Gray, who was smiling quizzically at them. “Be seeing you.” Anne did not look back. She walked with Tommy to the big hall, got her velvet wrap. Cars were snorting outside as they came into the scented dark. The j gravel crunched under their feet. Anne j got into the car as Tommy held the door. She said, “Let me drive you home, Tommy?”

He shook his head. “I’ll make it, Anne.” He closed the door and leaned against it. Anne could hear the high, febrile voices as Mildred and the gang drove away. It was quiet then, save for the music throbbing in the background; the light sound of voices and laughter. Tommy said, “Thanks for asking me to the dance, Anne. But r don’t do it again. I can’t accept.”

Anne felt a cold hand touch her throat. “Why not, Tommy?”

Tommy said quietly, “I pay my way, Anne. I don’t sponge. I’m no longer drawing officer’s pay. I Í don’t like other people picking up the j check when I can’t pick it up myself.” Anne said quickly, “Of course not, | Tommy. But...”

Tommy said evenly, “I’ve had a lot of fun. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would. But it’s finished. I don’t belong with your crowd, Anne. I can’t afford it and I’ve got a living to make. That is going to take all my time. You can see that, can’t you?” “Yes,” Anne breathed. She could hear Gray saying, “It’s not fair to Tommy. Give him a break, Anne.” Well, Gray was older. Gray knew what he was talking about.

Tommy said, “You’ve been perfectly swell all along. I want you to know that. I guess I won’t be seeing you around, because we’ll both be busy in very different worlds. Which is the way it ought to be. So, I’ll say ‘goodby,’ Anne, and thank you for everything. You’ve been one swell guy.”

He put out his hand. Anne’s eyes

smarted. She knew if she spoke she would cry. She held his hand for a long moment. Her eyes stung; her throat ached. She wanted only to get away before she began to cry, because she couldn’t let him see that it mattered so much to her.

She started the engine; engaged the clutch and drove blindly down the club road. It wasn’t until she got inside the home gates that she stopped the car and let herself go.

She must have hoped against all her calm reasoning, because it wasn’t until she next saw Tommy that she realized everything was over—if indeed there ever had been anything to be over.

A hospital committee meeting had taken her Cartierville. When she stopped at the plant to get a lift home, grandpa was already gone. Gray offered to drive her and there was no reason to refuse.

Gray’s car was big and powerful. Anne sat in it, outside the busy, humming glass - and - concrete plant, until Gray came. The sun was bright and the hills full green and beckoning. Gray slid behind the wheel, nodded as the gateman saluted. He lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. “Too nice to go right home. I’ll give us a bit of a spin.” Anne didn’t say anything. She took off her hat and let the wind lift her hair from her temples. Gray turned his head slightly. “You look done in, Annie. I think I’ll marry you and have an excuse to take you away.”

“That’s kind of you,” Anne said automatically.

Gray shook his head. “Far from it. We’re going to be married sooner or later. Let’s make it sooner.”

Anne looked at him. At the fullfleshed, handsome face. The strong nose and wilful, determined lips. Gray said, “You’re grown up now, Annie. You ought to be married and I’m the man you should marry, even leaving out the fact that I’m in love with you.”

“The one man?” Anne queried, and Gray nodded again. “The one man. We belong to the same class. We have the same interests. We’re perfectly suited in every way. Aren’t we?”

“I—J suppose so,” Anne said slowly. “You know it,” Gray said definitely. “Even if I didn’t love you I’d want to marry you. I’ve kissed my fill of girls but I never considered marrying any of them. There has to be a common ground of interests and class to make marriage successful.”

Anne didn’t answer. She thought, sadly, that he might be thinking of Tommy, as she was. But he needn’t, because Tommy didn’t want her. Gray said, “How about it, Annie? Will you?” Anne let her breath go in a gasp. “I don’t know, Gray. I—oh, let me think about it a little while.”

“A very little while,” Gray said masterfully. He looked at the dash. “I’d better get some gas.” He swung the car off onto the side road that led in at the back of Claymore. He grinned at her. “Giving my business to anewfirm these days.”

Anne paid no attention. They passed the Hollow, with its grey weathered frame buildings, and came to the big intersection where the main highway bypassed the business section of Claymore. Gray drove the car into the plaza of the service station and drew it up before one of the pumps. Anne lay back in the seat, her eyes closed.

She heard someone say, “Hello. Gas?”

Gray said, “Fill her up, Wing Commander.”

Anne’s eyes opened wide as Tommy Brace’s voice said evenly, “Full it is, and don’t call me that—if you don’t mind.”

She sat up. Tommy was standing by the side of the car, in stained dungarees. His eyes were quiet as he looked at her Anne felt her breath catch. She said, “Tommy—I didn’t know you were here . . .”

Tommy nodded. “Back at the old stand. But I’m a partner now. Broker-Brace.” There was an odd inflection in his voice that Anne could not fathom. Tommy said, “This road will be coming back to life one of these days soon and we’ll be ready. We’ll sell you a new car, if you can use a small one, and a new plane too. Keep us in mind.”

“We will,” Gray said cheerfully. “Going to have showrooms and all?” “Everything’s on paper and ready,” Tommy said briefly. “Nothing more is needed but the right time.”

He moved to the gas pump, his shoulders square. Anne saw that his limp was about gone. He put the hose into the tank orifice and the pump bell tinkled. Anne wished she could speak to him; wished he would look at her, but Tommy kept his head down, watching the flow of gas.

He racked the hose, came to the side of the car again, not looking at Anne. “That will be two-fifty.”

Anne’s lips parted. Someone said, “Hi, Tommy . . .”

Tommy looked around. He said, “Hello, Doris.”

Anne saw the blond girl in the redand-white dress crossing the service plaza. The girl didn’t look at the car Her blue eyes were on Tommy. “Going to be over at Dave’s later?”

“I guess yes,” Tommy said. The girl nodded, “See you there.” She lifted her hand and went on, and Tommy made the change and passed it to Gray while Anne sat, frozen, her Ups tight.

Tommy stepped back. Gray said, “Be seeing you.” and Tommy nodded and went back into the office of the station.

Grandpa Pelham was in the library, reading the afternoon paper. He took off his spectacles as they came in. His grey eyes touched Anne, then swept to Gray Saunders.

Gray said, “Anne and I are going to be married, sir.”

Grandpa let the paper slide to the side of his chair. His voice was cavernous. “Are you?”

Gray laughed. “About time, don’t you think, sir? I finally brought her to book.”

Anne’s throat was tight. Instinctively she wanted to say, “Oh, no. It isn’t so,” but there was a feeling of fatality upon her that kept her from saying anything. Tommy wasn’t in love with her. Gray was. And Gray was the most suitable man in the world for her, part of everything she belonged to. She met Grandpa Pelham’s eyes and nodded.

Gray said, “Will you make the announcement, sir? I think a word to Jarvis at the Bugle here and the same to Cregar in Cartierville would be the proper thing . . .”

Grandpa nodded. “I’ll attend to it.”

Gray said, “Fine. I’ll go over and tell Mildred now. She’ll take care of the formal part of it.” He crossed to Anne and smiled down at her. “I’ll be over later, Annie. With the ring.”

He didn’t kiss her. He went quickly out of the room. Anne heard the sound of the car engine as she stood in the still room, conscious of nothing but a sense of sad acceptance.

Out of the silence Grandpa Pelham asked. “Do you love him, Anne?”

Anne looked around quickly. Her lips parted. She said, “I like and

respect Gray, grandpa. We've every¡ thing in common.”

Grandpa got up heavily. “At your age the only thing that should count is j whether you love the man or not.”

“Don’t you approve?” Anne asked. | Grandpa Pelham said gravely, “It’s j your life, Anne. Not mine. If Gray s i the man you love it’s all right with me. That’s all that matters.”

Something snapped in Anne then, j Something that broke the even control j she had ever exerted over herself. She • said breathlessly, “Oh my goodness, | grandpa. A girl can’t go sighing over someone who doesn’t want her, can she?”

Grandpa considered that. He said slowly, “If he’d said so, she’d be a fool.” He moved to the door. “I’ll write the announcement and send it over before dinner.”

Anne heard him going up the stairs. The windows of the library were darkening as the day fled. She stood there, her head bent. Grandpa had said, “If he’d said so, she’d be a fool ...” Tommy had made it pretty plain—but he hadn’t said so. And she wanted to know. She knew that if she didn’t hear it from Tommy’s lips she would never get over it. The humiliation didn’t matter. She had to know, because all of a sudden she saw her own side of the matter and anger grew in her.

She found Mason. She said, “Don’t wait dinner for me. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

She got the convertible out of the stables and drove through the thickening dusk into Claymore. When she came to the service station darkness had fallen. The station was closed. Anne left the car in the plaza and went across the street to where the | neon sign blinked: “Dave’s Diner.”

The mingled odor of food and smoke came to her as she went into the lowceilinged place. Men made a solid row at the counter. Men who looked at her chartreuse dress and slim legs and then lifted their eyes to her pale hair and great brown eyes. Anne looked at the counterman. “Is Mr. Brace here?”

The man nodded. “Down back, Miss Pelham. In a booth.”

Tommy was in the end booth, a cup of coffee before him. The pert blond girl sat opposite him. She looked up as Anne stopped. Tommy got quickly to his feet.

Anne’s mouth was dry, her throat j tight, but she didn’t falter. She said quietly to the girl, “I want to talk to Mr. Brace. Would you mind leaving us?”

The girl laughed. “Sure, I would.” Anne’s bps tightened. She was surprised at herself, but she knew she would have stepped forward and forced ! the girl to leave if Tommy hadn’t said, | “Go along, Doris.”

The blond girl’s full lips pouted. She I looked at Tommy and then she I sniffed and flounced away. Tommy said, “Sit down, Anne.”

Anne sat down on the bench the girl had left. She looked across the table and met Tommy’s green eyes and felt her heart beat sickeningly. But she had to know. Tommy asked, “Will you have coffee?”

“No, thank you,” Anne said. The juke box beat at her; the noisy voices. She said, “I want to talk to you, but this is hardly the place. Have you finished here?”

Tommy nodded. “I wasn’t eating. We could go over to the station. I’m living there.”

Anne got up. “Let’s do that.”

Tommy unlocked the door to the office of the service station, switched on a light and opened a door in the back. Beyond was a simply furnished room with a day bed and dresser, a table and

an easy chair. Tommy’s pictures were on the walls. Pictures of planes and men.

Tommy said, “There’s a kitchen. Jem Broker lived here before he got married. I sometimes cook myself an egg—it’s about all I can do.”

Anne said, “If you’ve got any left I’ll make us something. I’m hungry.” She looked squarely at him then. Tommy said slowly, “There’s some bacon and stuff. Come on.”

Anne made the simple meal in the tiny kitchen. Bacon, scrambled eggs. Tinned peaches and cake. Coffee. Being with Tommy like this filled her with a joy that hurt. But she couldn’t forget the moment that had to come. The moment when she asked him, directly. Because she had to know.

When they had dried and put away the dishes, Tommy said, “That was swell, Anne.” He looked at her, his face still. “Let’s go inside. We can talk there.”

In the small room Tommy indicated the easy chair. He lighted a cigarette and sat down on the day bed. “All right, Anne. What gives?”

Anne quaked inside, but she kept her voice steady. “Us. I’ve got to know, Tommy. Do you—do you love me?”

Tommy stared at the cigarette between his fingers. His voice was thin. “You’re going to marry Saunders, aren’t you?”

“Am I?”

Tommy raised his head. “He told me you were. He told me some things I didn’t need to be told ...”

Anger grew in Anne. Gray had told her things too. But they didn’t matter. Only one thing did. “You haven’t answered me, Tommy. Do you love me?”

Tommy got up. He said harshly, “You know I do. I’ve loved you since the moment you shoved those roses at me. Satisfied?”

Anne let her breath go. She knew her eyes were shining. “Yes. Because I love you too, Tommy .. .”

Tommy crushed the cigarette in a saucer. His jaw was hard. “So what? You can’t marry me, Anne. I made it clear, didn’t I? We belong to different worlds. I’m not a hero any more. You’re Anne Pelham—I’m Tommy Brace from the Hollow. I’ll get places, but not for years. There’s all your world between us . . .”

Anne said, “I know all that. I’ve heard it from Gray. I’ve let my world, as you call it, make me think that way as well. I can even see your point of view—but it’s about time you saw mine. It’s about time I got a little consideration too.”

She crossed to him and raised her face. “What about me? I’m the girl the hero shared his glory with. I’m the girl who worried about him when he was away and fell in love with him all of a sudden, but for good. All right, Tommy—the hero is laid away with the uniform and all that fuss and furore. But what about me? I’m the same girl I was then. I love you—not the uniform. Is it fair to push me aside with the rest of what you’ve given up?” Tommy put his hands on her shoulders. His eyes were miserable. “Do you think I want to? Don’t you think I die 100 times every day at the thought of living without you? Of not seeing you and . . .”

Anne stopped his lips with her fingers. She said clearly, “You’re going to marry me, Tommy. You’ve got to. If you want us to live here, I’ll love it. I’ll tend the gas pumps and do your books and cook your meals. Anything. But you can’t get rid of me, ever.” Tommy s face grew young with hope. “Anne—if—” His eyes clouded, “What about your grandfather? What about Mr. Pelham?”

Anne said, “No one matters. Just us.” But it made her remember and she said, “I’ve got to phone, Tommy.” She went into the office and dialed the Bugle, her heart singing. She asked for Mr. Jarvis. She heard his highpitched voice and she said, “Mr. Jarvis, this is Anne Pelham. Did my grandfather send you an announcement?” Mr. Jarvis said, “He did. I’m real glad for you both, Anne. We’re going to feature the story on the first page tomorrow. I’d like some new pictures . . .”

Anne broke in, “I’m sorry, Mr. Jarvis, but the announcement isn’t so. There isn’t any engagement.”

Mr. Jarvis said disappointedly, “There isn’t? You’re not going to marry young Brace?”

“I . . Anne said, then she gasped. “But I am! Did Grandpa tell you that?”

“Yes. I have the note he sent right here. Mason brought it. I’ll read it to you . . .”

“No, wait,” Anne said. She beckoned to Tommy, standing in the doorway. “Read it to Tommy, please.”

She thrust the phone at Tommy, saw his face as he listened, saw the last trace of shadow leave it. Heard him say huskily, “Thanks, Mr. Jarvis.”

He turned to her. Anne’s eyes were wet. “You see? Grandpa knows I’m the girl for you, Tommy.”

“You are,” Tommy said. He held her close. “The only girl. Even if I couldn’t have had you there’d never have been another.”