Only then did Emily register that inside the clubhouse, where the band was now playing “I wished on the moon,” there was a young woman in a pretty pink party dress who thought she was soon going to marry a man who was already dead.
They went in together; Robin had his arm around her waist, and she did not even let him go to the bar. She took him straight onto the dance floor, and he seemed to understand. Without a word, he held her to him and let her listen to the beat of his heart.
They had arrived in the middle. The song ended. The band took up “I fell in love with an airman,” and neither of them wanted to dance at a fast pace.
“I need a drink,” Robin admitted, and they started for the bar.
Lettice had caught sight of Allars.
“…I used to watch him doing crazy things in the sky…”
Emily caught her breath, relieved that the older man would have to break the news.
“Scotch, please,” Robin remarked beside her. Emily was still watching Lettice. She saw her eyes widen.
“…what happened there, is my affair, and I’m not telling you…”
Even before the piercing scream shattered the club-room, Emily knew it was coming. She started running, pushing her way through the crowd.
“Nooooo! Noooo! Nooooooo!” the wounded girl was screaming as she crumpled up onto the floor, clutching herself as if she had acute pains in her abdomen. Allars was completely incapable of dealing with the situation. He just stood there staring at the girl in horror. One didn’t do that! Not in England. Not in the RAF.
Emily reached Lettice and sank onto the floor to pull her into her arms. “Hush! Hush! Shhh!” She grasped the girl to her own bosom, trying as much to silence her as to calm her.
Around her everyone was staring in horror. The mood of the evening was wrecked, the band silenced, the music dead.
“It’s all right, Lettice.” Emily stroked her back, hugged her close as she burst into wet sobs. Lettice was still gasping, “No, no, no” and shaking her head.
Colin reached them. “Let’s get her outside to the fresh air,” the clergyman urged. Corporal Winters was there, too. Together they helped Emily get Lettice onto her feet, and Emily told her fiancé and guest of honour, “I’ll just be a minute.” He nodded and let her go.
Emily, Colin and Winters together got Lettice through the blackout curtains and into the balmy summer night beyond. There was a breeze off the sea and the tide was coming in. You could hear the waves lapping at the quay, and the air smelled of salt and France. (Or so Emily had always thought of it.)
“Why does God hate me?” Lettice sobbed out. “Why? Just when everything seemed to be all right? Oh, God, why? Haven’t other girls done the same thing? Why do I have to be punished? Why?”
“No one is punishing you, Lettice,” Colin told her gently, releasing his grip a little out of propriety.
“Yes, He is!” she screamed furiously, and Emily glanced quickly back towards the clubhouse. Fortunately, the band had resumed playing, and she could hear laughter and voices again as if nothing had happened.
“No, he’s not, Lettice,” Emily chimed in, taking a firmer hold now that Colin had pulled back. “Our pilots are being killed by the Germans because the Nazis want to invade this country and turn us all into slaves. Sergeant MacLeod gave his life for England.”
“Why? Why him? Why not one of the others? Why not your bloody future husband, who drives them all to madness and shoots at bombers from only a few feet away! Why not him?”
“Tomorrow it very well may be him,” Emily told the other girl calmly, but Corporal Winters admonished firmly, “Stop it, Fields! Wishing other people dead won’t bring Sergeant MacLeod back.”
Colin nodded with his head for Emily to return to the party. “We’ll take care of her, Miss Pryce,” he murmured. Then turning to Lettice herself he suggested, “Let’s go across to the church.”
Emily gave them a questioning look. Corporal Winters nodded and gestured for Emily to go back inside, while putting her arm firmly around Lettice’s shoulders and guiding her towards the square-towered church, with Colin on the girl’s other side, ready to help if needed.
Emily watched them for a moment, then glanced up at the moon rising high above the horizon and casting a bright light across the waters of the tidal basin. With a deep breath, she made herself start back into the clubhouse. The singer was finishing the song with great gusto, “… but I’m nobody’s baby, I’m nobody’s baby now!”
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