Pursuit of Happiness, Part One

  • Posted on August 23, 2017 at 4:22 pm

By Christene

{ This story was originally posted at the now-defunct Sisters in Love }

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The year was 1944. The world was a very different place. Its surface had been forever altered by events sweeping across it.

Lauren wished that she could say she was brave. She ached to say that all her decisions had been for the right reasons, but the truth of it slapped her as bitterly as the cool wind rushing against her tearful face. She was running away.

The howl of the train drawing nearer warned that life as she knew it was about to change. She drew the collar of her flowing coat around her neck. Her haunted olive eyes blinked away the vision of the woman she thought she’d glimpsed emerging through the fog.

It wasn’t her, she thought. It couldn’t be her.

She released her coat collar just long enough to wipe away the tears rolling hotly down her porcelain cheeks. Two children playing along the platform made her smile through her tears. The little girls were doing all they could to defy the sleep creeping up to cloud their young eyes.

Then, after a moment, they raced by her in a whirl of vibrant colors.

“Come on, little sister!” she heard. Her heart thudded down into her stomach.

“Paige,” she whispered longingly.

She used to believe that whatever demons a person ran from would only pursue them with equal intensity, but she had abandoned that belief. She’d been forced to. After all, she could hardly throw herself into this war if she had any reservations about what she was doing.

Just then, Fate gave her one final reminder that it would not be ignored.

A radio perched inside the nearby ticket booth crackled loudly. From its small body, a voice fought to be heard:

“Night and day… you are the one. Only you beneath the moon and under the sun—”

Her skin blanched.

All around her, couples drew closer together with dreamy smiles alive inside their eyes. Others still cleaved to one another, cursing the threat brought to the world and how that threat was separating them. Possibly forever.

Another long, mournful howl came. It was closer than before. And yet, she did not hear its sound. Instead she further distanced herself from this moment and from the memory of eyes which rivaled the beauty of raw honey.

Numbly, she boarded the train. She was leaving. She was enlisting along with all these other souls leaving for the nearest recruiting office. And soon, she would be joining the other men and women doing their part to save the world from the devastation of the Second World War.

* * *

“What do you mean, she’s gone?!” Paige’s voice was filled with panic.

Her father gazed down at his newspaper with a furrowed brow. He appeared to be focused on an article of great importance, but the sheer truth of it was that he did not wish to think of it, did not wish to think of her. “She went to the station, Paige.” He sighed, folding the paper with a frustrated expression before roughly slapping the paper to his lap. “Why do I care? She’s never listened to me a day in her life. Why should I waste my breath thinking that she would now? Just let her go.”

Paige tilted her head with a pained look on her face. She opened her rouged lips to speak, but the chime at the door silenced her.

“Well, answer it,” her father uttered in annoyance. “It’s Jeffery, come to take you to dinner.” He favored her with a stern look. “There will be a lot of important people there, so you be sure to make a good impression.”

Paige blinked, lost within her reeling emotions. She opened the door to see Jeffery standing in his finest suit. His right hand clutched the cane he heavily relied upon.

Jeffery entered the house with the air that he belonged there. He gently kissed Paige’s cheek before immediately pressing past her to join Paige’s father in the study. “Mr. Humphrey,” he greeted warmly. He extended his hand, receiving a firm handshake from his soon to be father-in-law. “How are you, sir?”

Mr. Humphrey nodded his head, never truly answering the question.

Jeffery was motioned to sit, which he did awkwardly. After a lengthy silence, he cleared his throat. “Terrible business about the war,” he said. “Why, if I didn’t have this bum leg—”

Mr. Humphrey nodded his head absently, then woke from his thoughts. “I know,” he said. “I’d love to—”

Their voices faltered when they each took note of Paige’s face.

Her skin was ashen. The intelligent depths of her eyes glistened with the tears clinging desperately to her thick lashes.

“Paige?” Jeffery prodded fearfully.

With a sudden burst of speed, Paige turned and ran out the front door.

Jeffery moved to rise from his chair, but he did not have the speed to catch her. He stopped when Mr. Humphrey motioned him to stay. The man with dark reddish-brown hair and white bands along his temples rose from his leather chair. He went to the liquor cabinet, removing a large crystal bottle of brandy. He poured himself a glass with a lowered head. Jeffery watched him anxiously.

“Sir, what’s going on?” Jeffery demanded.

“It’s Lauren,” Mr. Humphrey said. He drank heartily from his glass.

* * *

Paige moved with all the power her shapely legs could muster. She sprinted into the night, but the heels upon her feet were not meant for running. She angrily ripped them from her feet, then ran barefoot down the quiet streets.

Her burgundy dress should have been worn out on the town, but instead she was racing against hope, racing against the time she simply did not possess to reach the train station. If providence were was with her at all, then perhaps she would reach her sister in time.

The shining length of her dark mahogany hair was slipping from its usually elegant victory rolls. It was falling from its pins to tussle wistfully around her milky face. She breathed heavily through moistened lips, which trembled with the onset of tears.

She caught sight of the station in the distance. She spirited toward it just as she heard the first whistle sounding the train’s approach. Her heart thundered inside her chest.

“Oh, please,” she murmured. She ran faster with the memory of mesmerizing green eyes, eyes that would rather close than allow her to see too much into them. Why was Lauren hiding her eyes from her? What was in them that was different than all the other times they’d exchanged looks before?

Paige swallowed the lump in her throat. She knew what was different. Change had come in the small package of a leather-bound journal.

* * *

Lauren sat inside the study, scribing feverishly into her journal. Her red hair burned passionately within the candlelight as she worked at her desk.

Paige watched her curiously from the narrow crack remaining between the French doors left slightly ajar. She felt her heart all but burst as Lauren quickly stood. Paige hurriedly moved down the hall to avoid being seen.

* * *

Upon reaching the station, Paige maneuvered through the throng of people. At the far end of the platform, she glimpsed a breathtaking woman with crimson hair. She called out to her. Her voice was drowned out by the sound of the train whistling its arrival.

The people around her began to move as a booming voice said, “Now boarrrrr-ding!”

She struggled to close the distance between them. She had to stop her. She had to explain. It wasn’t what she wanted. It was what was expected. Lauren had to know that it was only out of that sense of obligation. Because her heart yearned for something so far from what others wanted for her.

“Lauren!” Paige screamed, trying to lift her voice above the chaos. “Lauren, here! I’m here!”

The steam coming from the train expelled as if it were the smoldering breath of a great beast. Its breath washed over her, drowning out the visions of her sister. When at last the copious fog had died away, she was standing in a meager gathering of others. All eyes were transfixed sadly upon the train. Her head turned toward the coaches. She quickly searched each set of windows, but Lauren was nowhere to be seen.

She watched, a horrified expression marring her beautiful face as the train began to power cumbersomely away.

The plush softness of old hands cupped her shoulders supportively. An old woman with a kind face smiled tenderly. “Oh, don’t worry, sweetheart,” she soothed. “I know times are hard, but our boys will be coming home before you know it.” She gentled her expression. “You’ll see.”

Bewilderment swept across her face as Paige stared at the old woman.

“Do you have a soldier shipping out?” the old woman queried softly.

Paige’s eyes welled with tears.

“Oh, he’ll be okay,” the old woman cooed. She held the tall woman close to her.

As honey eyes gazed after the train drawing further away, Paige spoke in a lyrical softness. “Not a soldier,” she sniffled. “A nurse. She’s my sister.”

The old woman flinched inwardly. She struggled not to shift in her awkwardness. “I’m sorry,” she stumbled. “I just assumed, based on the look in your eyes.” She paused, hoping to explain herself. “You looked like you had just lost the love of your life.”

Paige slipped out of the old woman’s arms. She turned away, slipping back into the night with a lowered head. “I did.”

* * *

They had been together every day of their childhood lives. They had gone to school together with two years separating them. They had attended the same college before ultimately returning home to where it had all began.

Paige had thought that with Lauren having newly finished nursing school, the beautiful young woman would take to being a nurse in their father’s practice. But Lauren had had very different ideas.

She wanted to make a difference. She wanted to ‘save the world,’ as their father had called it. Their father could not understand why Lauren felt the need to leave her hometown for the pursuit of happiness, or why she could not just settle down and marry a nice young man—a doctor, or perhaps even a lawyer.

At the time, Paige had been courted by a nice young man interning to be a doctor. And once he’d joined her father’s practice, they’d become engaged. Her father adored him for the sheer fact that he was so much like himself.

As Paige recalled those things now, that life seemed so far away. The time of her engagement was also, she remembered, around the time when Lauren began keeping her journal. The time when Lauren stopped meeting her eyes.

The surge of people moving forward woke Paige from her thoughts. She was another face within a sea of faces trudging toward the factory. This was her life now. The graceful young socialite was a worker on an assembly line.

She remembered her father’s reaction when he’d realized that she would be covered in soot and grime, working as a laborer. And yet, his rage had not mattered. All that was important was doing something to help Lauren. And right now, the only means of helping her was to do something to help their soldiers.

Each day, Paige lived in fear. She toiled through her work. It was hard work, but there was a certain sense of accomplishment in it, which she had not realized she was missing.

Each night, she spent crying into a pillow that still smelled of her sister’s hair. Within her dreams, she said so many things that distance and fear prevented her from saying now. What would she do when Lauren returned? She cried harder into her pillow, thinking something that made her blood run cold.

If Lauren came home.

She tightened her hold on the pillow.

Please, baby sister… come home to me.

* * *

The high-pitched whine of bombs falling from the sky sent shivers down their spines. It was another air-raid. The windows rattled loudly even as doctors and nurses lowered their heads with a determined air to continue treating their patients.

Lauren threw herself over her patient in unison with so many other nurses while the lights hanging from above shook wildly.

That one had been too close, they thought collectively.

With a slow reluctance, they eased away from their patients.

Lauren lifted her olive eyes. She felt her crimson hair falling from its pins beneath her nurse’s hat. Her thoughts ventured to those who had felt her healing touch. She understood that dire need for healing. She felt it each time she experienced the painful ache to be embraced. The bitter truth of her situation, and for so many others, was that she could not be consoled by any pair of arms. She craved a very special pair.

She sighed, then set to her work yet again.

* * *

It was late when Paige found herself wearily passing through her front door. It had been another late shift.

She wore a dark red bandanna over her thick, long hair in the hopes of keeping it from her elegant face. It had not, however, been able to shield her from dust. Her athletic body was hidden beneath the dirty navy-blue coveralls adorning her wiles.

Paige paused inside the foyer with a stunned expression upon her face.

Her father was sitting near the fire with her fiancé. Together, they were listening to the announcer speaking with a commanding tone about the allied forces.

She wanted to listen. She wanted to know, but something in her screamed not to. Slowly, Paige turned to leave.

“Oh, Paige,” Jeffery called, taking note of her for the first time. “How was… um… work?” He withdrew from her shabby appearance. She was not the woman he had affectionately taken in at his side, the woman who’d possessed a beauty to rival any silver-screen starlet.

“It was hard,” she admitted. “Then again, it will be until our soldiers are home.”

“Yes, of course,” he stuttered.

Paige favored them with a radiant smile that spoke of politeness, but someone who truly knew her would have recognized that it was also a mask. It hid what emotions brooded beneath her surface. “Please excuse me,” she said. “It’s been a very long day and I want to retire early.”

Mr. Humphrey nodded his head. Absently, he motioned her away while Jeffery rose to his feet with a gentlemanly air.

Paige heard the distant sounds of her own footsteps against the hardwood floors. She ascended the stairs, feeling her lithe hand slide over the polished railing. Once she’d reached the head of the stairs, she gazed longingly in the direction of Lauren’s room.

* * *

Lauren laughed as Paige peeked past her bedroom door. Her skin was glowing with happiness. Her olive eyes never failed to smolder while surrounded by the rich woods inside their home. The sultry waves of her crimson hair flashed in the light. “Another late night on the town, huh?” she teased.

* * *

Paige sighed. She closed her eyes, forcing her memories of Lauren to subside, if only for the moment.

She bathed and dressed for the night with an odd sort of absentmindedness. Before she had realized what was happening, she found herself slipping beneath the coolness of crisp cotton sheets. She breathed deeply. Her hand reached out and slid over the bed, exploring it with an intimate sense of discovery. She closed her eyes, letting the scents of Lauren’s room wash over her.

Paige knew she should not be there. She told herself that she should return to her own room, but she couldn’t leave. She needed to be there, needed to be as close to Lauren as she could. In her mind, the sheets caressing her body felt like whispering fingertips traversing her skin. Her hand slid underneath the pillows. Her fingertips grazed the leather-bound book hidden from the outside world.

Her heart thundered violently beneath her full breasts. She clasped the book inside her hand and pulled it from the comforts of its sleepy world. With the moonlight to read by, she opened her sister’s diary.

Paige bit her pouting bottom lip. She drew in a deep breath, then summoned the courage to read.

* * *

I’ve never been much of a writer. I feel a bit silly filling this book with all my innermost thoughts, but I was not left with any other option. Had I found myself in this situation a few years ago—Or less, even as little as a few months ago, a few precious weeks!—I would have unburdened my soul to my Sweet Paige. Things are so different now… so horribly, tragically different now. You see, she’s getting married.

I should be happy for her. I should be helping to plan the wedding and doing my part to be the best maid of honor this land has ever seen, but I’m not happy. I’m not!

It’s not that Jeffery isn’t a good man. He’s keen. A bit bland and boring for my tastes, but Paige seems sweet on him. Shouldn’t that be enough?

I hate him. I hate him so much because, more than anything, I want to be him.

* * *

Paige is in the backyard reading beneath a tree. She looks so beautiful. I wonder if she knows. I try to hide what’s in my eyes, but Paige knows me better than anyone ever has or ever will. Does she know how deeply I love her? Does she know that I am madly, passionately, head-over-heels in love with her?

I should tell her. I want to tell her. And yet… how do you tell your best friend that what you feel is more than friendship? For that matter, how do you tell your best friend that when she’s your sister?

* * *

When I came home, I found Paige inside my room. She was reading my diary! I don’t know what she saw. I’m almost scared to ask. Just thinking of it makes my stomach knot. What if she knows? She hasn’t said a word to me. She actually rushed from my room. She couldn’t even look at me. I’ve messed up. I’ve colossally messed up! Dear God, what am I going to do?!

* * *

We fought today. I’m not even sure what we were fighting about. We were yelling at each other before we even realized it. She was crying. I hate seeing Paige cry. It breaks my heart. I just want to take her into my arms and hold her. I want to kiss her tears away and make everything all right.

She knows. She knows everything now and she hates me for it. That’s why she’s going ahead with the wedding. That’s why she’s not speaking to me. That’s why we fought today over absolutely nothing!

I can’t stay here. I can’t stay here when she’ll be laughing and loving someone else. My heart can’t take it!

* * *

Paige lifted her eyes from the pages smudged by tears. She traced the handwriting she knew so well. Slowly, she lowered her head. With eyes slowly closing, she touched her lips to the lines making mention of Lauren’s heart. Paige could only hope that somehow, between the distance between them, Lauren could feel her.

The apology welling inside her throat could not surpass the lump sadness had placed there first. “That’s why you left,” she said in a hoarse whisper. “That’s why I lost you to this war.”

She hugged the diary close to her heart. Tearfully, she gazed out the window. She took in the starry horizon and the moon that reigned over the world. A sudden sense of purpose filled her. There was something she had to do, something she could not run away from any longer.

Continue on to Part Two


No comments on Pursuit of Happiness, Part One

  1. PoppaBear says:

    Oh, yes, this is good. I can’t see when it was written, but Christine has caught the language and style of those times. It all happened before I was aware of it but I’ve studied it in detail and seen plenty of the films made then to know how people talked and thought and this is very close to what it was like.

    In addition, you clever people, we get a lovely little echo of the time with the “Stay tuned…. ” Oh, my, you are good. This one and the ‘slouching’ trail at the end of Amber 8 set a high standard. Can you keep it up? Not all the time, that would be too severe, but every now and then, when it works, would be lovely.

    Haven’t said this for a long time, but it deserves repeating now, this story site is probably the best on the internet.

  2. PoppaBear says:

    Can one of you lovely people back there in Juicy Secret land please remove that rogue ‘the’ in the second line?

  3. snowy says:

    This is such a clever story, I can see it all unfolding in my minds eye. As Poppabear alluded, the sense of the historical perspective is outstanding and shows a depth that is usually missing from most writing. I can’t wait to read more…

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