Welcome to Fiction Friday, where I share a piece of fiction I’m working on. Right now I’m in the middle of sharing a story I’m developing into a novel.
IF you haven’t been following along, or need to remind yourself of the previous parts of the story, I’ve provided links to the other parts below:
I loved the smell of books. I loved the feel of them in my hands. My favorite place to be, if I wasn’t in my room reading, was in the library, curled up against a bookcase in the fiction section. I fell into new and mysterious worlds when I was reading. My boring life faded away into someone else’s adventure. I spent so many days wishing the boring away.
Edith didn’t like to read. She found her excitement in the real world. We were the complete opposite for so many years. She liked her dark hair to be curled and each curl to be in its place. She liked her clothes to be the latest in fashion and to hug her curves, but not too close, so there was at least a little left to the imagination of the boys who watched her when she walked by.
She was confident and frequently had a smart or a flirty remark on the tip of her tongue.
I was the quiet, sometimes painfully shy younger sister she and her friends didn’t know how to talk to. I give Edith credit, though – she tried her best to pull me forward in life, encouraging, or rather nagging, me to experience more than a simple story in a book.
“Daddy, can Blanche and I go to the matinee while you finish your paperwork at the office?” Edith looked at Daddy and batted her eyes, chin on her folded hands.
Daddy didn’t always fall for Edith’s little eye flutters but on this particular day he must have decided she looked a lot like the little girl he used to bounce on his knee because he agreed.
“I’ll drop you off at 2 and you’d better be out front when the movie ends,” Daddy said.
Edith and I agreed.
“And what’s playing anyhow?” He asked.
“‘The Harder They Fall,’ with Humphrey Bogart,” Edith told him.
Daddy was a big fan of Humphrey Bogart. Edith knew he’d have a hard time saying ‘no’ to letting us see Boggie.
“I like that Humphrey Bogart,” Daddy said from behind his newspaper. “He’s a man’s man.”
And he was a man’s man that day on the big screen too. I couldn’t take my eyes off him but Edith’s eyes were on Jimmy Sickler a row over from us, sitting with Annie Welles. I couldn’t read the expression on Edith’s face. It seemed to switch back and forth between angry and hurt.
“I loved it. What did you think?” I asked Edith at the end as we filed to the front of the theater to wait for Daddy.
“It was okay, I guess.”
I knew she’d missed half of it watching Jimmy and Annie.
Jimmy’s voice made my sister look up sharply and I saw fire in her eyes. I only liked drama in my books and wished I wasn’t standing between them. Edith’s gaze trailed to Annie standing next to Jimmy, patting her hair into place. Her tense expression quickly softened and she smiled.
“Well, hello, James,” she said sweetly. “Did you two enjoy the movie?”
“We did,” Jimmy said. “Thanks for asking. You’re looking nice this afternoon.”
He turned his attention to me. “Hey there, Blanche. Some sister time, huh?”
His smile was sweet. I always thought Jimmy was one of the most polite boys Edith went out with. His brown hair was always combed neatly to one side and his bright blue eyes were captivating.
I nodded and smiled.
“Did you like the movie?”
“I did. I like Humphrey Bogart a lot.”
I knew I had no idea how to talk to boys and looked at the sidewalk to avoid Jimmy’s gaze, hoping he wouldn’t ask me anymore questions.
I could see Daddy’s Oldsmobile coming down the street toward the theater.
“You two have a good day,” Edith winked at Jimmy and her voice was even sweeter than before, almost too sweet, like sugar on top of a sugar cookie.
She leaned close to Jimmy, hand on his shoulder, mouth close enough to his ear to graze his skin and whispered. I could see Annie’s face just beyond Jimmy’s left shoulder. Her dark red lipstick made her pursed lips look like a cherry on its’ stem and her eyelids were half closed in a furious glare.
I cringed inwardly at Edith’s embarrassing display.
Jimmy’s cheeks and ears flushed pink and he looked as embarrassed as I felt. Edith’s hand slid down his bare arm as she backed away and then a slight smirk tilted her lips as she glanced at the stewing Annie.
Jimmy reached his arm back to pull Annie close to him, his jaw tight.
“Good to see you ladies,” he said curtly as he stepped past us.
Edith’s smile had faded into a scowl and by the time we slid into the backseat of the car the scowl was fading into obvious hurt.
“Good movie?” Daddy asked.
“Oh yes! You’ll love it,” I told him. “You should take Mama next weekend.”
Daddy and I chatted about the movie while Edith sulked, one leg crossed over the other, her foot bouncing and her arms folded across her chest. She snapped the door open and slammed it closed when we pulled up to the house, stomping up the front steps.
Daddy raised his eyebrows and looked at me questioningly.
“Boy troubles,” I said.
Daddy shook his head. His eyebrows furrowed slightly into a scowl
“That girl and those boys.”
Now it was his turn to look sour as he climbed out of the car.
“I don’t know why I even go out with the boys around here,” Edith said when I walked into our room. She tossed her sweater on her bed. “They don’t really like me. They don’t really want to know me or what I think or what I feel.”
She flopped back on the bed, laying on her back and starring at the ceiling.
“What do you mean? All the boys love you,” I said, confused.
“They don’t love me. They love what I give them,” Edith said.
I saw tears in her eyes.
A chill cut through me.
“What do you mean what you give them?” I asked nervously.
Edith blew her nose into her handkerchief and folded her knees up against her chest.
“Edith…you aren’t giving those boys – I mean, you’re not really…” I felt sick to my stomach.
Edith had her head on her knees and wouldn’t look at me.
“Not everything,” she mumbled. “Just enough to keep them coming for more.”
I sat on my bed and didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure what “just enough” was and didn’t even want to know what “more” was. Mama said I didn’t need to know what men and women did when they were alone, besides kissing, but I’d heard a lot what “it” was at school, in books, and from Emmy, who had an older brother.
“Why do you need them to like you so much?” I asked softly.
Edith shrugged. “I don’t need them to like me, but I like them to,” she said. “It’s nice to be adored and paid attention to, you know?”
“Mama and Daddy love you and – “
Edith snorted. “Please. Daddy likes you more than me. You’re smarter and do better in school and he knows you’ll do something with your life. I’ll just be a hairdresser.”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s not true. You can be whatever you want to be. Times are different than when Mama was a girl,” I said. “Besides, Mama thinks I’ll just stay home and be a housewife. She doesn’t think I can be anything else.”
Edith wiped the tears off her cheeks with the back of her hand.
“You’re going to be more than a housewife. Don’t you let them tell you what you can be,” she said. “I’m just not good enough to be anything other than someone who cuts hair and files nails and I know that. And by the way, getting attention from your parents is way different than getting it from a cute boy. Someday you’ll understand that.”
I laid on my side on my bed and leaned on my arm.
“Are you and Jimmy even going steady?” I asked.
Edith laid there in silence for a few moments and sighed.
“I don’t know. We’ve never discussed it. But – I guess I thought we were. I guess I didn’t realize how much I liked him until I saw him with that silly Annie Welles. I just thought – I guess I thought if I reminded him what I could give him that Little Miss Prude won’t he’d want to forget about her.”
Edith wiped her hand across her face.
I flopped back on my bed on my back.
We both laid there for a few moments in silence.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a hairdresser,” I said finally. “They make women look pretty and they get to gossip all day.”
Edith laughed softly, sat up, and drew her hands down over her hair to straighten it.
“Well, those are two things I enjoy so maybe it won’t be so bad,” she said and smiled.
I sat up to look at her.
“Maybe Jimmy’s different than the other boys, Edith. Maybe he doesn’t only want one thing.”
Edith rolled her eyes and slid the record player from under her bed.
“All boys want that one thing from girls. Another lesson you’ll learn as you get older.”
She paused as she lifted a box of chocolates off her nightstand.
“Blanche? You know you don’t have to give it to them right?”
“Give them what?” I asked feigning innocence.
“You know what, Blanche. Don’t play games with me. You’ve got more going for you than I do. You don’t have to – well, you know – there’s a lot more reasons for a boy to like you.”
I touched her hand and she looked at me.
“There are a lot more reasons for a boy to like you too, Edith,” I said.
She looked away from me, and smiled a little as she shook her head.
“You’re too nice, Blanche.”
She placed a Frank Sinatra record on the turn table and we ate chocolate and spent the rest of the afternoon talking about boys we thought were cute and the newest fashions she’d read about at her beauty classes.
It took her mind off Jimmy Sickler and Annie Welles and my mind off my sister basing her worth off what a man thought of her.
“I’ll never be like her,” I told myself, not knowing then that we often become who we don’t want to be.