Anchor in the Storm(7)

By: Sarah Sundin

Lillian pushed the dust from under the stove into Arch’s path. Oh brother. Why on earth would a rich, privileged boy need a refuge?

“Was?” Dad said.

Arch stood up straight. “Pardon?”

Dad refolded his sandpaper. “You said the sea was your refuge, not is.”

Arch’s broom paused. “I—I mean—of course, the sea’s never been safe. I knew that, but—”

“But now you’ve seen firsthand.”

A cloud passed before Arch’s eyes.

Lillian couldn’t look away, but she refused to stare. With effort, she ripped her attention to sweeping around the wood box.

A sudden chuckle from Arch. “Yes, now I’ve seen firsthand, and I have renewed respect. I’ll be a better officer for it.”

“I’m sure you will,” Dad said.

“The country will need all the good officers she can get. Things aren’t going well.”

“No, they aren’t. Seems the Japanese land somewhere new every day. The Philippines, Borneo, Malaya. We’ve been caught unaware.”

“We sure have.” Arch’s broom shushed over the floor. “The only good thing the war has done is to shut down talk of isolationism. We’re all in this together.”

“Even here in little Vermilion.” Lillian swept under the workbench. “We have a Home Defense Guard Unit, the Boy Scouts are holding a paper drive, the Red Cross is stepping up work, and the Civic Club donated the money for Christmas lighting to local defense. People are scared but determined.”

Dad cleared his throat. “Mrs. Avery would like for us to dine at Okagi’s tonight, partly so she doesn’t have to cook so close to Christmas, and partly to support Mr. Okagi. But Arch, we won’t go if it bothers you.”

“Why would it?”

“Mr. Okagi is Japanese.”

Lillian stood her broom straight and clutched it like a standard. “He’s been here over a decade, and he wants to become a citizen, but the United States won’t let him, and his wife is French, and everyone in Vermilion loves them. Their restaurant is the finest in Ohio. We used to go into the city to dine, but now city folk come out here, and it’s all because of Mr. Okagi.”

Arch stared at her, but a different stare from the night before, his eyes warm and his mouth bent in a slight smile. “Sounds like a fine man.”

“He is.” Her breath huffed out. She probably sounded like a silly schoolgirl.

“The FBI came the day after Pearl Harbor.” At the workbench, Dad exchanged the sandpaper for a finer grade. “Closed down the restaurant and investigated him. He’s clean, so the FBI let him reopen the next day.”

“I’m glad,” Arch said.

“Well, we don’t want to put you in an uncomfortable position. The Navy took the brunt of it in Hawaii.” Dad rubbed the sandpaper between his fingers.

“Yes, but it sounds like Mr. Okagi has an airtight alibi.” Arch grinned at Lillian. “And I wouldn’t want to get in the way of you and that broom.”

She allowed herself to smile.

“Besides, I believe in judging a person on words and actions and character.” His expression sobered and homed in on Lillian. “Not on background or appearance.”

Lillian sucked in a breath and swept around the workbench. Did he mean he wouldn’t judge her for her leg? Or was he asking her not to judge him by his wealth? Or both?

The Navy had better assign Ensign Archer Vandenberg somewhere other than Boston.



Thursday, December 25, 1941

Arch had never seen such a Christmas. Mr. and Mrs. Avery, five of their children, and Lucy’s husband, Martin, jumbled up on the furniture and on the floor in pajamas. Presents changed hands in no predictable order, yet the braided rug in the center of the living room bore neat piles of boxes, paper, and ribbon.

Chaotic, confusing, and beautiful.

On the floor by the Christmas tree, Lillian hugged a book to her chest. “Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun. Thank you, Jim.”

“Mary picked it out. She loves mysteries too. Obviously.” Jim laughed and plucked at the red and green ribbons Lillian had transferred from packages to her hair. “Don’t let my girlfriend give you ideas about solving your own murder mystery.”

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