Cherry Ames 02 Senior Nurse (10 page)

Christmas Eve entertainment. Dance dresses were permitted. It would be the first time Lex would see her in anything besides her work-a-day uniform.

Downtown, the city bustled with festive crowds and the shop windows glittered with holiday decorations.

Cherry had glimpsed in one of the shops exactly the dress she would like to wear—if she only had it! It was a little sophisticated for her, she supposed, and definitely extravagant—the exquisite sort of dress which called for flowers in her hair and fragile high-heeled slippers and perfume and music. But there did not seem much hope of getting the dream dress, barring miracles. Cherry went about her work in the Nursery and tried, not too successfully, to forget about it. Before she knew it, her birthday was only two days off, Christmas Eve and the dance only three short days away. And she still had nothing to wear!

Cherry returned to her room that afternoon to find her family’s birthday packages, and her father’s letter and check, awaiting her. A check! Blessings on him! She
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obediently left the gifts unopened till her birthday, raced wildly downtown, found the dress still there and within reach of her purse, and practically floated on wings back to the hospital, hugging the lovely thing.

On her birthday—the day before Christmas—

Cherry saved opening her presents until that afternoon, when Ann and Gwen and some of the others could be on hand. There were “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” as Cherry un-wrapped the huge package from her mother: a warm gay red robe and furry slippers to match.

“You must have an awfully nice mother,” Vivian Warren said wistfully. Vivian’s mother, worn out by her long struggle with poverty, had too many children and too much work and worry to be able to show Vivian much affection.

“I have a darling mother,” Cherry replied. She wished the girls could see her mother: a slender, sweet-faced woman, still youthful, interested and active, and with a sense of humor about everything, except her gardening.

Charlie’s present was next, and as Cherry opened the box, she was startled. Her blond twin brother apparently had been unable to decide between a professional sort of gift and a very feminine gift, so with his usual devotion to Cherry, he had sent both. Side by side, Cherry found a shiny pair of bandage scissors and a bottle of perfume. He had written on the card, “One way or another, you’ll slay ’em!”
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“And what did your father send?” Ann asked, smiling.

“A check.” Cherry glanced involuntarily toward the closet. “I spent it for that terrific dress I’ve been telling you about—you’ll see it tonight.” By now the dress had become a sort of symbol to her, a reward and an antidote for all this month’s hard work and sober thinking.

“Two more,” Gwen said impatiently. “What’s in those?”

The two final packages contained a good-looking wool muffler from Midge and a book from Dr. Joe.

Cherry felt a warm glow when she opened his present; it meant that he had completely forgiven her for that foolishness with Midge.

“Maybe you’ll have another surprise,” Bertha hinted, and got to her feet. There were sounds in Crowley corridor of nurses getting ready for supper. They all suddenly realized Christmas Eve was almost upon them, and rose to go.

“What do you mean, Bertha? Hey,” Cherry recalled,

“you did some hinting at supper a couple of times, too.

What’s up?”

But Bertha laughed and trooped out with the others.

Alone in her room, Cherry could not resist taking a peek at the cherished dress. She could barely wait for evening to come and put it on. Just then a rap came at her door.

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“Ann?”

“No. It’s me,”

Cherry didn’t know who “me” was but she called,

“Come on in!” and hastily put the dress away. No one came in. There was another timid rap. Cherry went to the door and yanked it open. There stood Mildred Burnham.

Cherry was amazed. It was the first time that the girl had made any move toward her. She must be in trouble, something must be wrong. Cherry remembered their last, unfortunate interview, and despite herself, she stiffened. She asked Mildred in.

“Thank you, but I won’t come in. It’s late and—uh—

you have to get ready for the party, I guess.” Mildred gulped. Her heavy sallow face was flushed.

“There’s no hurry, and you know I’m always late anyhow,” Cherry smiled. Joking concealed her mixed feelings. “I’m known around here as the late Miss Ames!” To her amazement, Mildred Burnham smiled back.

Well, this was news! Perhaps this was what Bertha had been hinting about. But what did Mildred want of her?

The girl in the gray uniform shifted from one foot to the other. “I found out something,” she mumbled. “I mean, I learned today is your birthday and—well, here!” She thrust a flat white box at Cherry.

It was Cherry’s turn to gulp. “You—you brought me a present?” Mildred had turned a dull red. It was not
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easy for her to make any display of emotion, even this conventional one. Cherry herself was so surprised and puzzled she groped for words.

“What did I do to deserve this? I ought to be opening it, instead of standing here wondering what’s in it!” She seized Mildred’s hand and drew her into the room.

Mildred sat down unhappily on the edge of a chair.

Cherry, as she untied the ribbon, asked herself, “Yes, honestly, what did I do to deserve this? I scolded her, I was disgusted with her, I’ve completely ignored her recently

. . . and she turns around and gives me a present!” When she opened the box, she found a half dozen hand-drawn, hand-hemmed handkerchiefs. Mildred obviously had made them, and they must have taken a great deal of patient work. But why? Why? It could only mean that Mildred wanted to be friends after all. As Cherry admired and thanked Mildred for the handkerchiefs, she was trying to figure out the reason for this sudden change. And she was suffused with a burning sense of shame at her own prejudice and intolerance.

Why, the very first time she had laid eyes on Mildred Burnham, she had taken a dislike to her!

“No one ever bothered to make things by hand for me before.” Cherry gratefully smiled at her.

Mildred was edging out into the hall. “I’m glad you like them.” Her rather lumpy figure slumped, then straightened. “Good-by.”

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“Good-by and thanks an awful lot and be sure you come again!”

Cherry watched her go, then closed the door, wondering. She was glad that she could report to Miss Reamer, now, that their relations had improved.

Mildred’s sudden change of behavior was a mystery indeed. Cherry would have to solve it later, because now she had to dash for supper, then hurry back and dress for the doctors’ party. Church bells were ringing in the distance, happy laughter resounded in the corridor, out in the yard in the deep blue dusk an immense fir tree glistened with snow and ropes of blue lights. It was already Christmas Eve.

c h a p t e r v i i i

Black Lace

nine o’clock! cherry had the dream dress on. lex’s flowers had arrived. She peered at herself in the small mirror and sighed with satisfaction. Diaphanous black chiffon clung and swirled about her, airy as smoke.

Narrow black lace fluttered at the edge of the pert short skirt, delicate shadowy lace lay softly across Cherry’s shoulders and the hollow of her throat. Lex’s cool white gardenias were pinned in her jet-black hair, and she wore a single small strand of pearls. She certainly did not feel like her work-a-day self! Anything could happen tonight—romance, adventure,
anything!
She splurged with Charlie’s perfume, snatched up her heavy coat, and ran into the hall.

“Cherry! Let’s see you!” Gwen shrieked. A bevy of girls were chattering and pirouetting for one another in
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the corridor. “Look at siren Ames, will you? And just
smell
her! Gosh, Cherry!” they all exclaimed at once.

“And, Ann! Why, no one’d ever know it was
us!
” Every girl had contrived to appear her loveliest. Ann was in blue, a rich soft simple dress that made her blue eyes glow, and she wore the heavy twisted gold jewelry that had belonged to her grandmother.

“You look like something out of a portrait!” Cherry declared.

Gwen whirled around in her crackling cinnamon-colored taffeta, which made her red hair seem on fire.

Bertha and Vivian had proudly made their own dresses: Vivian’s was a flaring black skirt and a foamy white chiffon blouse; Bertha’s Dresden-like flower print set off her fresh pastel coloring and candid eyes. Josie blinked without her glasses, but she looked very appealing in a red-and-white candy stripe and a crisp red bow in her hair. Marie Swift wore urbane gray, and Mai Lee’s dress was encrusted with Chinese embroi-deries. Cherry was the only one who had flowers. She was glad no one asked who had sent them. Lex was misunderstood enough as it was.

“Quite a fashion show!” Cherry applauded. “Now come on, or the doctors will send out a searching party!” They dived into coats and overshoes and started out across the snowy yard, holding scarfs over their heads so that their hair would not blow. Cherry’s excitement
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mounted at the orchestra’s first strains of lilting music, Behind her, Josie was crying, “Operating Room! Heaven help me, we start next week!” Lex met her at the door.

“Like them?” he asked.

Cherry bent her head. “Just sniff,” she laughed.

“They’re sumptuous! Thank you, Lex.”

“Let’s see you.”

“Can’t you wait till I get my coat off? Do you expect me to dance in these overshoes?” Cherry teased. “Are we going to fight right off or would you prefer to fight later in the evening?”

“Stand still!” he commanded. He looked at her critically and Cherry stood up very straight. A smile slowly spread over his intent face. “Very nice. Very nice indeed. You look like an advertisement for how to be beautiful.”

“You look pretty nice yourself,” Cherry replied.

The sharp black and white of Lex’s dinner clothes emphasized his decided black brows, his surprisingly light tawny hair. He wore his dinner clothes easily; they made him look older and more important than she had realized. “I’d better call you Dr. Upham,” she decided. “Or ‘sir’.”

“Don’t try it. Go get that coat off.”

“Yes, Dr. Upham. Yes, sir,” and Cherry vanished hastily into the ladies’ cloakroom.

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Out in the big Spencer lounge, which the doctors and internes had made festive with boughs of fir and fresh holly, the party was just starting. The poignant notes of
Stardust
filled the room. Only two couples bravely rose and circled around the empty gleaming dance floor.

Girls in their rainbow dresses stood chatting with men in sleek black and white, but no one could quite forget that it was Nurse This and Doctor That. No one wanted to be the first, either, to approach the tempting buffet table with its sparkling punch bowl. No one could get started.

The orchestra swung through two more songs, but still the dance floor remained almost completely deserted.

People stood around in frozen little groups.

“How awful,” Cherry whispered to Lex. “What this crowd needs is a stick of dynamite.”

“Hold on to your hat,” he whispered back, and walked rapidly away from her. To Cherry’s surprise, he mounted the orchestra leader’s little platform and said something to the young man.

The music broke off short. Everyone turned around, surprised. Out of the sudden hush, Lex dug his hands in his pockets and called out authoritatively, “We’re going to start off with a square dance. Ladies over here, gentlemen opposite. Miss Cherry Ames will lead the ladies, Dr. “Ding” Jackson will lead the gentlemen.” As everyone looked unwilling to move, Lex prodded them,

“Come one, come all, all ready for the big square dance!

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Here we go!” Two straggly lines formed, and a few started to dance. Then as the tune grew livelier and Lex called out sing-song, “Docey-do to the
right!
Swing your partner right
about
—” everyone, the whole room, was dancing. Up and down the long lines they skipped, bowing, clapping, circling, flushed with laughter. By the time the music stopped, everyone had entered into the spirit of the evening.

The self-consciousness had vanished, the party had begun. Before they could catch their breaths, Lex called out, “Conga line next! Miss Gwen Jones will lead!” He was smiling broadly, having a wonderful time. The drums and maracas began to beat out a fast insistent rhythm. “One-two-three-
kick!
” they sped hilariously in a huge snake-line around the room, dipping and turning as fast as they could, following Gwen’s red head and the high-spirited song. A few fell out of line, breathless, but the rest of them conga’ed till the final merry tom-tom.

“Mercy!” someone cried out to Lex. “Have pity!”

“Not a chance, you sissies!” Lex shouted back, then quickly turned again to the orchestra leader. In a moment the band was playing the
St. Louis Blues.
Nobody’s feet could say no to this popular number. The floor was crowded with dancers. A few drifted to the punch bowl.

A few frankly sat down in laughing groups. The party was going. The party was a success. Lex ran down on the dance floor, cut in on “Ding,” and danced Cherry away.

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“Good work!” she beamed at him.

Apparently everyone else thought so, too. For the first time people were patting the learned and stormy Dr. Upham on the shoulder, calling him by his first name, joking with him. He joked back across the music, with his arm tight about Cherry’s waist, and she saw his obvious pleasure.

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