Authors: Catrin Collier
âThank you for coming to the dance with me.'
âI enjoyed myself.'
âSo did I.'
âIt's the first real dance I've gone to,' Liza confided shyly.
He reached out and touched her hand. âI don't supposeÂ â¦'
âWhat?' she asked, his diffidence lending her confidence.
âThat I could kiss you?' he blurted out uneasily.
âI haven't had much practice at that sort of thing.'
âTruth be told, neither have I. Have you got a boyfriend?'
âNeither have I. A girlfriend I mean,' he amended hastily as she smothered her laughter. Leaning forward, he gripped her arms, held her close and pressed his lips against hers for an embarrassing instant. âI don't suppose you'd consider being my girl while we're here?' he asked as he released her.
âWhat would that mean?'
âComing out with me once in a while. To dances. Perhaps the moviesÂ â¦'
âI'd like that.'
âReally. You mean it?' He bent his head to hers again. The pressure of his lips was harder, more confident now; then he remembered the time. Releasing her abruptly he pressed the ignition. âThe colonel's going to be madder than hell if I don't get back into town to pick him up in the next few minutesÂ â¦ begging your pardon, Liza.'
âThat's all right.' She swung her legs out of the car.
âManny?' he hissed as Liza walked towards the house.
âI've been waiting for you.' Manny slammed the back doors and climbed into the front seat.
âGoodnight, Maurice,' Liza called as she opened the front door.
âGoodnight, Liza.' He reversed the car carefully, trying to recall the exact location of the trees and bushes that bordered the drive.
âLooks like you got a bad case of the hots there, boy.' Manny reached for his cigarettes, pushed two into his mouth and lit them.
âLiza's a nice girl.'
âAnd may the good Lord protect me from nice girls. Me, I'm far from home and out for all I can get.'
âWord is she's got a kid and no wedding ring. She might be playing hard to get now, but she'll come round. A girl like that knows the score, and that's the sort I like.'
âWho told you she has a kid?' Maurice asked sharply as they headed back down the hill.
âI heard. Man, the boys are right. The only thing cheap in Britain is the women.'
âMaybe that was true back at baseÂ â¦'
âBack at base nothing. A pair of nylons, a couple of cigarettes or a Baker's chocolate bar, and they're anyone's.' He handed Maurice a cigarette before leaning back in his seat. âIt sure does feel like I've landed in a bargain-priced whorehouse, and as I don't have my mother or the local priest peering over my shoulder, and money in my pockets for the first time in my life, I intend to make the most of my good fortune.'
âWhat about the girls?'
âI'm a democrat. I don't mind sharing my pleasure with them.'
âMaisie might have a kid, but she's a decent girl.'
âI know, I live in the same house as her.'
âHave you asked her to drop her knickers?'
âOf course not.' Manny's crude question shocked as well as disgusted him.
âBuddy, are you slow. She's had a taste of what a man can give, and she's desperate for more. I can always tell.'
âWell, one thing is certain: she won't have to wait for you to make a move. Decent or not, Uncle Manny'll put a smile on her face before long, never fear. Drop me' off at Station Yard?'
âYou heard the doe's lecture. You'll get a dose.'
âYou know your trouble, Duval? You've seen so many propaganda films, you're actually beginning to believe them.'
Maurice set his mouth into a hard line as he dropped Manny off. Maisie might have a daughter and no husband but she was a kind, thoroughly nice girl who reminded him of his oldest, married sister. He wondered if he knew Liza well enough to ask her to warn Maisie that Manny was only out for what he could get.
Jane waltzed around the ballroom in an aura of romance and excitement that blotted everyone and everything except Tomas D'Este from her mind. All she could see, all she could think of, was his heartbreakingly handsome face. She imagined herself back in his arms, dipping and swaying to the lilt of the music, his arm wrapped around her waist, the warmth of his hand radiating through the thin silk of her dress to the small of her back, the touch of his fingers as they held her ownÂ â¦
She glanced up from beneath lowered lashes, starting in surprise when she saw Lieutenant Rivers staring back at her. She turned away disconcerted by the ridiculous feeling that he had read her thoughts.
âYou're very beautiful.'
His voice grated harsh and discordant after Tomas D'Este's musically accented tones.
âI'm anything but beautiful. Small, mousy-haired, mousy-eyed, skinny.'
âBut what a mouse.' His smile became a leer.
âWill you be in Pontypridd long?' she asked, taking refuge in commonplace enquiries.
âLong enough to get to know you better.'
She blushed, suddenly conscious of Bethan and Colonel Ford dancing behind them. âThat kind of talk doesn't impress me.'
âIt wasn't meant to. I confess, I'm smitten. You've bewitched me. I'm yours, body and soul.'
âIt's more like you're handing me a line.'
âYou already speak American?'
âI don't know what you have been told about Welsh women, Lieutenant Rivers, but we're not that gullible.'
âI'm not interested in Welsh women. Only you.'
âYou didn't know I existed five minutes ago.'
âI've always known you existed. I've been waiting all my life to meet you.'
âWhich Hollywood picture did you get that from?'
âSo beautiful and so hard-hearted.'
âAnd what would your wife say if she could hear you now?'
âI have no wife.'
âI can understand why, if this is an example of your courting technique.'
âHow can you be so indifferent to the plight of a lonely man?'
âBecause I have a husband at the front.' She moved back as he tried to pull her closer.
âHe's in Africa?'
âHe was two weeks ago, but he'll be home soon.'
âI thought leave was hard to come by for your boys.'
âHaydn is a singer, an entertainer with ENSA.'
âI've heard of ENSA. An English officer warned us about the organisation in holding camp. Don't the initials stand for “Every Night Something Awful”?'
âNot the shows Haydn plays in.'
âIt was a gag.' He breathed beer fumes over her as he bent his head closer to hers. âNot much of one, but I will try to do better next time.'
âThere won't be a next time, Lieutenant Rivers.'
âOh, but I think there will, with me living in your sister-in-law's house.'
âI hardly see Bethan.'
âYou don't get on with your family?'
âVery well, but as we both work, neither of us has much time for visiting.'
âYou're a nurse too?'
âI'm in munitions.'
âYou work in a factory?'
âThat shocks you?'
âIt's hard, manual work.'
âBut necessary, and one way I can help us to win this war.'
âIt's a sad state of affairs when a ravishing girl like you has to slave away in a factory.'
âThere is a sad state of affairs in this country, Lieutenant Rivers. Haven't you been here long enough to see it?'
The dance ended. Slipping from his grasp, Jane applauded the band. She saw the frown on Bethan's face, and knew that her sister-in-law had seen and understood exactly what the lieutenant had been trying to do, and judging by the amount of whispering going on at their table, so had Mrs John and Mrs Llewellyn-Jones.
âIt is time for you to practise your lovemaking techniques on some other girl, Lieutenant.'
âPlease call me George.'
âWell, George, I think it might be as well if I pointed you in the direction of the unmarried ones. It might save you embarrassment as well as effort.'
âAs we've only just met, I'll forgive you that. Love at first sight can rattle a girl, particularly when she's married.'
âI don't believe in love at first sight, Lieutenant.' Looking around she realised that they'd been left, marooned on the dance floor. Leaving him she began to walk back to their table.
âI think you do, Mrs Powell.' He grabbed her wrist.
âLet me go! If I talk to you any longer, people will gossip.'
âNot now the band is about to play again.' He jerked her back into the centre of the floor as she continued to struggle to free herself. âStop it, you're making a scene.' He glanced over his shoulder to see if the colonel was watching.
âAnd you've had too much to drink.'
âAt the fountain of love.'
âThat is not funny, and you don't understand Pontypridd. Two dances with the same man are enough for gossips to have the couple walking down the aisle, or in my case, committing adultery.'
âNow that's an idea. With your husband away you need someone to practise on. I am healthy, ready, willing andÂ â¦ ouch!'
Stamping on his foot a second time, Jane turned on her heel and collided with Tomas D'Este and Chuck Reynolds.
âWe were coming to rescue you, but it doesn't look as though you need our help.' Tomas took her hand for the foxtrot as the major clamped his hand on the lieutenant's shoulder and steered him towards the door.
âA little late, but thank you anyway,' she replied heatedly.
âGeorge Rivers isn't a bad fellow. Just young and let loose away from home for the first time in his life.'
âI'm not making excuses, but it's not been easy for us. One minute we were home with our families, the next, shipped across the Atlantic into a strange country with even stranger customs, and thrown into the society of a lot of pretty women with hardly a man in sight. It's enough to turn the head of even the most sensible guy.'
âMost of the pretty women in this room have husbands, Captain D'Este.'
âAnd most of the servicemen have wives, Mrs Powell, but that doesn't mean we can't be friends.'
âNo, I suppose it doesn't,' she allowed grudgingly.
âIs your husband at the front?'
âWith ENSA. I hate this damned war!' She had never meant it more or missed Haydn so much. She longed for peace so she could become a part of his everyday life again; from the moment of waking in the morning to sleeping at night. To live like the families in the children's stories she read to Anne. To enjoy simple things like shared meals and outings, to go shopping with Anne tucked into her pushchair and Haydn at her side. And she couldn't help feeling that if it wasn't for the war she would be doing just that, instead of dancing with dangerously attractive strangers and listening to crazy protestations of instant love from the likes of George Rivers.
âDo you always look as though you're ready to kill someone?Â â¦ No you don't, you can smile.'
âSometimes,' she conceded, blushing at the memory of her earlier thoughts about D'Este.
âYou can't have been married long.'
âYou must have been a child bride.'
âHardly, I have a two-year-old daughter.'
âIt must be difficult to bring her up on your own.'
âI live with my father-in-law and his wife. I wouldn't be able to work and look after Anne without their help. Are you married, Captain D'Este?' She willed him to say yes, feeling that if he was, it would somehow cancel out her attraction to him.
âI've been too poverty-stricken and too busy studying to think of a wife.'
âPerhaps you'll find one here?'
âMy family has other ideas. They are very traditional. I have been betrothedÂ â¦
to my cousin since we were children.'
âAn arranged marriage?'
âIt is difficult to explain to someone who is not accustomed to our ways. We don't see it as “arranged”. We have the same philosophy towards life and respect one another.'
âMy mother didn't see my father until their wedding day. It was the perfect marriage of convenience: he had the money, she the aristocratic Spanish blood. They were forced to leave everything they owned in Cuba in 1934 when Antonio de Guiteras was hunted down and murdered by the military. They had supported him and his ideals of political freedom and democracy and if they hadn't fled to America we would all have been arrested and possibly murdered too. Especially me. Antonio was a close family friend and I was named Tomas Antonio de Guiteras D'Este after him. When we set foot in America we had only the clothes on our backs, but my mother insisted that as we were all alive and healthy she had riches. I think that if my father had been killed like Antonio, she would have lain down and died alongside him, so perhaps you can forgive me for thinking, like them, that love is something that comes after marriage.'
âPerhaps they were just lucky.'
âIt must be wonderful to have seen so many different countries. I'd love to travel.'
âI think travel in the comfort of a cruise ship's stateroom must be a very different affair to fleeing as a refugee, or being shipped out as a soldier in cattle quarters, and that is the only travelling I've ever done.'
âBut you have seen America and Cuba.'
âAnd Haiti, and England and now Wales.'
âAfter the war there could be other places. A doctor can work anywhere in the world.'
âI am only a doctor because my family made many sacrifices so I could continue my education.'
âI still can't imagine anyone telling me who to marry.'
âIs this so much better?' he asked. He didn't have to elaborate. The lights had dimmed. Under the cover of darkness half the couples were dancing so close, it was difficult to see where American uniform began and evening dress ended. âI doubt that many of these people met before this evening, and looking at them now, I think there's something to be said for the respect of the old Spanish colonial ways.'
âIn peacetime,' she agreed, thinking of her own rushed marriage, and Eddie and Jenny's. âBut few people can afford the luxury of a slow courtship these days.'
âI only hope that their marriages survive when the guns fall silent.'
âMine will,' Jane said determinedly.
âTell me about your daughter. I have six brothers and sisters. I never thought I'd miss them, but every time I see a little girl about my youngest sister's age, I get unbelievably homesick.'
âIt's odd to finish the evening with two National Anthems,' Alma observed as they queued in front of the cloakroom hatch.
âIsn't it?' Bethan agreed absently, as she collected her own, Jane's and Alma's coats. âI'll give you a lift back up to the fountain.'
âThere's no need. Chuck â Major Reynolds â has offered to walk me home. He's billeted above Frank Clayton's shop next door,' she added when Bethan gave her a knowing look.
âI'm pleased for both of you. He can tell you all about his wife and baby, and you can tell him about Charlie and Theo.'
âWere we that boring?'
âNo one had to listen if they didn't want to. I think it's wonderful that you've found a new friend to talk to.'
âDo you think it's wrong of me to let him walk me home, Bethan? After all, CharlieÂ â¦'
âCharlie and Chuck Reynolds's wife might not have been sitting at our table tonight, but they were certainly there in spirit. I'm sure that if they could have seen you two together both of them would have been proud to be married to such loyal people.'
âDo you really think so? I'm not so sure. I saw the way Mrs Llewellyn-Jones was looking at us.'
âMrs Llewellyn-Jones would look at any man and woman who'd bumped into one another in the street and assume they were about to commit adultery.'
âDo you mind if I get to the counter, Bethan?' Anthea Llewellyn-Jones snapped from behind them.
Taking a deep breath, Bethan stepped aside. Handing Jane her coat, she smiled and nodded to Chuck Reynolds who was waiting at the top of the stairs, before kissing Alma on the cheek. âI'll see you tomorrow. If the major's free why don't you bring him up for tea as well?'
âI don't know if that's a good idea.'
âHe can always visit Colonel Ford if he finds the children too noisy. Tell him he's welcome if he has nothing better to do.'
âThat's the first time I've seen Alma smile since Charlie was posted missing,' Bethan said to Jane as they walked to the top of the staircase.
âLadies, I only have a motorbike which is most unsuitable for evening dresses, but perhaps I could arrange a lift for you?' Captain D'Este stood halfway down the stairs shouldering his kitbag.
âWe have our own car thank you, Captain. A handsome man with ten times the charm of Lieutenant Rivers,' Bethan whispered as they headed through the passages to the old coaching yard at the back of the hotel, where she had parked her car.
âThat's not difficult. George Rivers is an idiot.'
âBoth of them had eyes for you.'
âAnd my eyes are firmly fixed on Haydn.'
âEven when he hasn't been home in nine months?' Bethan asked as they climbed into her car.
âIf you're trying to tell me something, why don't you come straight out with it, Bethan?'
âI'm not trying to tell you anything. Just having a private moan that I hope won't go any further. Tonight I saw more men than I've seen in the last three years, but as I looked at all those young American officers I couldn't help wondering if I'd recognise my own husband if he had been standing among them.'