Anchor in the Storm(12)

By: Sarah Sundin


“That’s an artificial leg.”

“Yes, sir, but—”

“You didn’t say you were a cripple.”

A sick feeling wormed around her windpipe. “I—I thought my brother told you.”

Mr. Dixon’s upper lip curled. “He failed to mention that. How am I supposed to get by with a cripple?”

She couldn’t lose confidence, not now. “I’ve worked in pharmacies since high school, and I’m used to being on my feet all day. My references can vouch for me. I work as hard as any other pharmacist. Harder, in fact.”

He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Don’t you see? A drugstore represents good health to the community. How can someone so . . . so . . . disfigured represent good health?”

Lillian’s eyes tingled, but she kept her chin high. “On the contrary. I represent overcoming adversity. Patients say I give them hope.”

A deep grumble emanated from his throat. “I can’t have you out front. You’ll scare the customers away. Stay behind the counter.”

Lillian gripped the hem of her white coat. Behind the counter? She’d only be half good behind the counter.

Mr. Dixon marched to his counting tray. “Finally get this position filled. Finally, and now I have to start looking again. Now we’re at war. All the men will be drafted.”

That sick feeling clamped her windpipe shut. He wanted to replace her, and she hadn’t even started.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” He gestured to the shelves. “Learn your way around.”

“Yes, sir,” she choked out and headed for the farthest shelf. Thank goodness she’d trained herself not to cry, because her eyes burned.

She poked around the shelves, willing her brain to learn the layout, all very orderly. It wasn’t hopeless. It couldn’t be. As always, she’d be cheerful, work hard, and find a way to make herself indispensable. A month from now, he’d forget he ever wanted to replace her.

Lillian swept her hand down the shelf, memorizing the medications, and she paused.

Phenobarbital, one-half grain, in five-hundred-tablet bottles. Ten bottles.

“My word,” she whispered. Why on earth would the store need over five thousand tablets of the sedative?

She opened her mouth to ask, then shut it. Asking questions today didn’t seem wise.

Probably a simple ordering error, an extra zero. Poor Albert had meant to order one bottle and ordered ten. Mr. Dixon must have hated that.

He hated everything. A dark wave plunged through her, but she wrestled it back. No, he loved children and he had given Albert a chance.

If only he’d give her a chance too.





5


Boston Navy Yard


How could Arch’s palms sweat when the temperature was below freezing?

He and Jim strode down the pier at the Boston Navy Yard toward their new destroyer.

“What a great assignment.” Jim grinned in the morning sunshine. “We’re serving together again, and in Boston.”

“Yes, great.” Arch tried to return the grin. Yes, he was glad of those things as well, especially with the intriguing Lillian Avery in town. But why a bucking little destroyer that could snap like a twig? Why the frigid U-boat-infested North Atlantic? Some said U-boats were on their way to the East Coast, but the Navy hadn’t said a word about instituting coastal convoys.

“The USS Ettinger.” Jim paused beside the Gleaves-class destroyer, same class as the Atwood. “We saw her launching almost a year ago, the day I started falling in love with Mary.”

Arch barked out a laugh. “Took you a while, old pal.”

Jim knocked on his temple with a gloved fist. “Tough noggin.”

Perhaps thick skulls ran in the family. When Arch flirted with Lillian, she shut him down like a leaky boiler valve. But when he didn’t flirt, she relaxed. How long would it take her to trust him? He wasn’t used to waiting for a woman’s affection, but Lillian was worth the wait.

Jim hiked up the gangway, and with a steadying breath, Arch followed. He needed Jim’s friendship now, his cheer and his faith.

The gangway bounced and jangled underfoot, and the tremors returned to his hands. He gripped his seabag with both hands to make it stop.

The deck of the Ettinger resembled the Atwood—the bridge superstructure and two funnels, with two 5-inch guns at the bow and two at the stern. Only this deck wasn’t tilted at a grotesque angle and covered in flames, spilled fuel oil, and mutilated bodies.

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