"Til Then" drifted through the speakers at Bob's diner. Conversations grew
softer as minds drifted to places far away yet brought near through local headlines.
"Order up!" broke the silence and the mood. The aroma of steaming blue plate specials won the battle for the attention of misty-eyed patrons sipping sodas and sharing news from overseas.
Maggie pushed her half-eaten roast beef aside. "Honestly. If I don't hear from Frank soon..."
"Now, Maggie. You know how my brother hates to write." Joan tried once more to cheer her lonely friend. It had been weeks since there had been any word from Frank. "Let's catch the bus to Capitol Hill and take in a matinee. 'The Clock' with Judy Garland and Robert Walker started today."
Tears welled up in her friend's eyes. Joan wished for a clock that could tick back a couple of moments before her untimely suggestion. "Bad idea," she muttered under her breath. "Let's go shopping instead," Joan said loudly enough to turn the heads of nearby diners.
Joan's sunny voice and the idea of window shopping in the fresh afternoon air lifted Maggie's spirits. They locked elbows and hurried to the bus stop.
The train seemed to crawl along endless tracks that wound through one remote town after another. Each stop meant one more delay for the small band of soldiers catnapping their way cross-country.
Three of the young, unshaven travelers sat in the back of the car - one softly playing “I’ll Be Seeing You” on his harmonica. The other two were nodding in rhythm and humming softly. Duffle bags and army blankets became make-shift pillows for those who used sleep to escape the never-ending ride home.
Frank reached for the letters inside his duffle bag. Slowly, he unfolded the first one Maggie had written. The faint scent of her perfume had survived 11 months on the battle field. "I really should have written more often, but how many different
ways are there to say, 'I'm fine. I miss you and I love you.' And there wasn't time to get word to her that we were coming home" Frank reasoned. He settled deeper into the worn leather seat, content to pass time inhaling her tattered letters.
Maggie and Joan stopped in front of Brown's Department Store. The large
picture window protected the stylish mannequins clad in shirt waist dresses with matching pumps. White gloves were tucked securely into the models' perfectly formed hands. The two shoppers giggled at their mirrored reflections in the same window.
"I wonder where they get their nylons." Maggie looked down at her own bare toes peeking through her white open-toed pumps.
Maggie's curly auburn hair chose its own style every day, regardless of well-intentioned bobby pins. Her soft, flared skirt swirled around her knees. The crisply ironed, soft yellow and sleeveless blouse was striking against her fair skin.
Joan's blonde hair was cut into a short bob that curled slightly just below her chin. Her blue cotton dress looked as though it had been dyed to match her saucer-sized eyes. The strong family resemblance Frank and Joan shared always made Maggie
The two friends continued their stroll, then crossed the street to begin their trip home. They paused to observe the activity at the recruitment center.
Joan commented on the endless line of new soldiers reporting for their physicals and their orders. "Honestly, some of these guys don't look like they're old enough to shave."
Maggie’s sigh was a signal that they needed to move quickly away from this setting. When they reached the bus stop, the girlfriend and the sister quietly took their seats. The setting sun meant another day had passed without any news of their beloved
Frank; the distant and occasional train whistle echoed their melancholy mood.
The brakes of the bus groaned to a stop near Bob's diner. The weary commuters slowly descended the steel steps to the dimly lit sidewalk.
Maggie and Joan were so intent in watching their step that a moving shadow escaped their range of vision. The sound of heavy footsteps behind them made their hearts race. They walked faster. The booted feet matched their pace. Terrified, the young women could only stare straight ahead as they began to run.
"Hey! Wait up! No greeting for a lonely soldier?" called the familiar voice.
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