Anchor in the Storm(9)

By: Sarah Sundin

“All right, girls.” Mrs. Avery stood. “Let’s clear the breakfast dishes, and then we can all get dressed.”

Lillian headed for the dining room, her brown oxfords in contrast to her creamy bathrobe. She always wore oxfords, probably because of the prosthesis.

Lucy eased up from the couch as if expecting her child tomorrow rather than in May, and she cradled her hand around her flat belly. “I’m coming. I can’t move so fast now.”

Arch rearranged his laced fingers. Jim said Lillian was born big and healthy, while Lucy was small and sickly. They’d almost lost her a few times. Coddled, most likely.

Lillian seemed to think Arch was coddled too, a rich boy accustomed to servants clearing the table.

That thought propelled him to his feet. He’d show her he could clear dishes.

Lillian carried a stack of plates into the kitchen, and Lucy followed with some glasses. Arch grabbed a platter and set serving bowls on top.

“Your new job will be a stretch for you,” Lucy said in the kitchen.

“Why? I’ve worked in pharmacies since high school.”

“But you’ll have to work with sick people, and you’ve never had any compassion for the sick.”

What on earth? Arch stopped in the doorway.

Lillian stood at the sink with her back to him, her shoulders pinched together. “I was four years old.”

Lucy placed the glasses on the counter. “You never wanted anything to do with me when I was sick, only thinking of yourself, playing with the boys, leaving me—”

“Girls!” Mrs. Avery set her hands on her hips. “Enough of that. You’re twenty-two years old. And it’s Christmas.”

“Sorry, Mom,” Lucy said.

“Sorry.” Lillian turned for the door and met Arch’s gaze, her eyes wide.

“Just bringing in the dishes,” he said.

Mrs. Avery dashed to him and took the stack. “Oh, you don’t have to do that. You’re our guest. Lillian, show him back to the living room. Lucy and I can manage the dishes.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

Lillian led him through the dining room and paused at the door to the living room, her eyes guarded. “See? A big family isn’t always so swell.”

He spotted a crack and wedged it open with a smile. “So it isn’t true what they say about identical twins being inseparable?”

“Not us.” She glanced back, her voice low. “My fault mostly.”

He leaned against the doorjamb, sank his hands into his bathrobe pockets, and willed the moment to last. “You were only four years old.”

“Old enough to know I was being mean.”

“And twenty-two is old enough to know you’re being mean.” He tilted his head toward the kitchen.

She dipped her head, and the green and red ribbons flopped forward. “Apparently not.”

Arch swallowed hard. Why did he want to hold her? He’d known her less than a week.

Lillian lifted her chin. “Is it true about only children being spoiled brats?”

He chuckled. Yes, she had pluck. “Not in my case. My parents gave me chores, put me in public school, and refused to buy me everything I wanted.”

Those large eyes dissected him, allowing him to study the rich mix of greens and golds and browns. “Did you have a pony?”

“A horse. Can you forgive me?”

One corner of her mouth edged up. “Without brothers, you needed someone to play with, I suppose.”

“I was lonely.” He gave her his most pitiful frown.

“I doubt that.” She strolled into the living room.

Yes, he was falling hard. And that conversation had gone well. If only the Navy would keep him in Boston, but they were transferring much of the fleet to the Pacific. This last week in Ohio might be his only chance with Lillian. Come New Year’s, they could be separated by thousands of miles.

Lillian sat on the couch and leafed through a book, while Jim and his brothers sorted the wrappings on the floor.

Arch sat on the opposite end of the couch. “Say, Jim, do we have plans for New Year’s Eve?”

“We don’t do much here.”

Mr. Avery gathered his pile of gifts. “Don’t worry about us. You young folks ought to go out and have fun.”

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