The first time Grace met Greg was at a dance for soldiers put on by Grace’s church. She had worn a red cape dress which flowed around her slim frame, drawing the eyes of the soldiers. She’d borrowed it from a friend, since a dress just for going out and dancing was a luxury she hadn’t been able to afford even before the war, and now, such a fashionable dress was hard to find for any amount of money. She’d also gone to the trouble of drawing a black line down the back of her legs, since stockings were nowhere to find these days.
Greg had been dragged against his will to the dance by his fellow officers – to have a little fun and stop being so damn stuffy. Grace was there to get away from the humdrum and grey of life since this horrible war had started.
Grace was having a glass of punch and walking around the room making sure everything was going fine when she bumped into Greg. How she managed that, she couldn’t imagine; the man was well over six feet, easily the tallest man in the hall.
“Excuse me,” Grace whispered
“Are you alright, miss?” Greg said, aghast to see that his punch that was now splattered over her dress. “I’m sorry, your dress is ruined.”
“Please don’t worry, it’s just a little punch. It’ll come out with a little scrubbing,” she hoped.
“Do you come here often?” Greg said, feeling the line was hopelessly gauche.
“Only when the cute officers attend,” she said with a wink.
A sassy one, Greg thought and smiled.
They spent the next several hours talking and laughing, forgetting that there was anyone else around. Soon the afternoon turned to night and the announcement went out that curfew was only a half hour away and everyone should be on their way home for the night. You didn’t want to get caught out in the street with no cover if the air raid sirens went off.
Greg walked Grace back to her boarding house under a clear star-filled sky. The night was cool so he offered her his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. She pulled it around her and smelled the scent of him and tried to imagine a future past this war. At her door, she thanked him.
“Can I see you again tomorrow?” he asked
“I guess that would be alright.”
“Then it’s a date!”
“You can meet me on Bridge Street in front of a little place called Kingsland pub,” Grace said. “They have the very best food you can get in London right now.”
They agreed to meet at two the next day, and Grace felt quite daring, arranging to have a second date so quickly. But everything moved faster in a time of war. You never knew if you would be around to see the next day, and with the onset of the blitz, courting had gone from weeks, month and years to days. Would Greg actually show up, though? He was terribly handsome.
The next day at precisely two p.m. Grace was waiting outside the pub, looking up and down the street for Greg. But the street was wrapped in thick and soupy fog that hung in the air like a curtain. She could barely even tell whether passers-by were men or women until they were practically upon her, and she didn’t know if Greg would be coming up the street or down, so she had eyes on both directions. The streets bustled, with people going about their days, doing errands or meeting up with friends, husbands, lovers. Many, many people. But no Greg.
When the clock read two-thirty, disappointment crept over her and she was giving up hope. Then she spotted him coming towards her, his height and his full dress uniform making him stand out from the crowd and rendering him a handsome silhouette against the intruding fog.
“You’re late,” Grace remarked, trying to sound severe but with sheer joy bubbling up into her smile.
“I got lost navigating the streets in all this fog. We never have fog like this back home.”
As he came closer, Grace noticed he looked pale and unwell and walked as if in a daze.
“Greg, you seem sick, are you okay?”
“Just a bit of the flu – nothing to be concerned about.”
“Nothing to be concerned about! You should be in bed, not out here in the damp fog meeting me.”
“I wouldn’t miss this date if I was on my death bed and they had to wheel me here on a stretcher.”
Grace blushed at his words. He was sweet and kind and the best-looking man she had ever seen.
Greg refused to go home when she asked him to. He insisted they go have a drink at the pub and talk awhile. She was only half reluctant. They settled down in a corner table across from one another. There was a vase with no flowers in it and nothing else on the table, giving it a dull and sad look.
Being alone with someone of the opposite sex was foreign to her. Grace had only just turned 18 and had never been allowed to date when she lived at home.
As for Greg, he’d joined the army five years ago when he turned 18, and since then, he’d seen the world slowly destroy itself around him. He’d never had time to form relationships, let alone romance. But Grace … she was a blooming flower among so much gloom. He wanted to hold onto her beauty for as long as he could.
Neither of them knew what to expect or even do in this situation. It had been easy at the dance; the words just flowed between them. Now it was different, no music, no dancing, just the two of them alone.
But soon their uncertainty faded away and they started to talk about their lives growing up – her’s here in London; his, back in Canada. And then of course, their present – the blitz, the rations and when they thought it all might end.
Grace was surprised at the way Greg talked to her. He didn’t leave anything out to protect her. He treated her like an equal, not some delicate thing who would fall apart at a moment’s notice, the way so many Englishmen treated women these days. He even seemed interested when she went on and on about nothing at all.
He didn’t pull his hand away when she reached hers across the table to him. She knew being so forward would have scandalized everyone in the little town she came from. It might even scandalize Londoners. But Grace didn’t give a damn what people around her might think of this display of affection she was showing to a man.
He smiled at her but then began to look sad around the eyes.
“Whatever is the matter?”
“This is wonderful and I would like to meet you again but I ship out in the morning and I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. I can’t ask you to sit here waiting for me until I return.”
“Of course, not,” Grace said. “They'd be pretty mad at me for staying in this spot for so long.”
Greg laughed and her smile grew.
“I will wait for you to come back and we can meet at this same place and pick up where we left off.”
He got up kissed her hand. “Well then, Grace, until next time,” he said. Then he walked out the door, and he disappeared into the fog.
~ ~ ~
Michelle Lee Rap is an aspiring writer who sees writing as a way of expressing all the voices in her head. A wife and a mother to two amazing kids, she lives in Mississauga, Ontario
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