Elena and Juliet Armitage began to lock up for the evening, taking the money out of the cash register and storing it safely upstairs. They ran their parent’s grocery store, and had been doing so since their brother had been called up to fight and their father had joined the Home Guards to do his part for the war effort. At one time their mother had also helped out, but since the death of their brother William, she kept herself locked away in the living quarters upstairs.
William’s death had hit them all hard, but their mother felt the loss the most. William had been her favourite; she made no attempt to hide that. He was destined to take over the shop after the war, but destiny had other ideas for him. It was three months ago that the telegram had arrived, a few lines on a piece of paper to advise them he‘d died fighting the brave fight for his country.
“Are you coming to the dance with me tonight Elena?” asked Juliet as they finished up.
“I don’t think so, it doesn’t seem right to be going out and enjoying myself when Jeremy is over in France fighting for his life” Elena replied sadly as she thought of her boyfriend.
“Don’t be such a party pooper, he wouldn’t want you to sit here night after night, bored out of your mind with mother and father” she teased her sister.
“Even so, I’m not sure about it” Elena picked at a thread hanging from her blouse.
“Oh come on, you could do with a night out and a dance, it’ll be fun” she insisted “Jeremy won’t mind”
“You just want to check out those new American soldiers” Elena said knowingly, giving her sister the eye.
“Well, there might be some nice ones“ Juliet grinned “come on, you never know…I could meet the man of my dreams there” she said dreamily.
“And can you imagine mother and father’s faces if you did? They’d have a fit I’m sure” Elena laughed at the thought of her sister bringing home a foreigner to afternoon tea with their parents.
“Please?” she begged “pretty please?”
“Oh alright, but I’m not dancing with any men and I’m not staying too long either” Elena relented.
“Thanks, you are the best sister ever” she said hugging her sister.
They sat at the table with their parents eating their evening meal and then excused themselves to get ready to go out. They didn’t have a wide variety of clothes in their wardrobe; no one did, but they made the best of what they had. With the war on, new clothes were hard to come by for the ordinary working person; clothes were handed down and mended rather than thrown away.
“How do I look?” asked Juliet posing like a film star for Elena to respond.
“Stunning as always” replied Elena with a genuine smile for her sister.
“Thanks, you look good too” she replied. They both applied their red lipstick and took one last look in the mirror before heading downstairs.
“You girls look lovely” said their father “enjoy yourselves”
“Thanks Dad” they said together “we won’t be late”
Nick, Alex and Brian caught the bus into town, or what they hoped was town. They weren’t so sure as they departed the bus in the dark.
“Are you sure this is town?” Alex asked the pretty red haired bus conductor.
“Just a couple of minutes walk in that direction and you’ll be there” she said with a wink and a smile for Alex.
They began walking and Alex had a smile plastered across his face “did you see that, she was flirting with me”
“Come on Casanova” Nick teased and they carried on walking in the direction of town and the weekly dance that was held there.
They didn’t know where they were going so just followed everyone else. Within a few minutes they’d reached their destination; a building with its windows all covered so that not a speck of light could be seen from outside.
“Wonder why that is?” said Alex slightly confused by the lack of light.
“We have to black out all the windows and doors because of the planes flying over at night, to help prevent an air attack” replied a woman as she walked into the building.
“Makes sense I guess” Nick agreed with the passing woman.
The men walked in and surveyed the place, it was jam packed with locals and soldiers. There were people dancing, sitting around at tables talking, stood at the bar and just forgetting that a war was on for the moment.
They went up to the bar and ordered a beer each and then stood sipping their drinks and checking out the place.
Spotting a small group of girls, Alex motioned for his friends to follow him.
“Hey there ladies, I’m Alex and these are my friends Nick and Brian, how you doing?” said Alex leaning in to talk to the girls. Nick and Brian gave the girls a friendly but not too friendly smile. Neither of them wanted to give the wrong impression. They weren’t here for the ladies.
“Pleased to meet you Alex” replied Juliet flirtily “I’m Juliet; this is my sister Elena and our friends Louise and Frances”
“Can I get you all a drink?” asked Alex, his eyes not leaving Juliet’s face.
“Oh yes please, I’ll have a gin and tonic” she replied eagerly. The other girls declined, insisting they were fine as they were.
Alex went over to the bar to order a gin and tonic and Elena pulled her sister over to one side “Juliet, what would mother say if she knew you were taking drinks from strange men?”
“Who cares what mother thinks” Juliet giggled and walked over towards Alex who now had her drink in his hand.
Nick didn’t really want to be there, he wasn’t in the mood for drinking or dancing or chatting to pretty girls. He missed his home and his girlfriend Emily. He looked over towards Alex and wondered how he did it; he was so full of confidence and embraced his new home so easily. Nick sometimes wished he were that easy going. He decided he might as well try to enjoy himself; it wouldn’t hurt to talk to the ladies. Talking never hurt anyone.
He looked at the three girls who were talking and occasionally looking over at their friend who was with Alex. They were actually very pretty and in different circumstances he would’ve been interested.
The dance floor began to fill up as a fast number was being played by the band. Soldiers were taking girls hands and leading them away for a dance and everyone looked to be having a good time. Nick decided to stop being a misery; he walked over to one of the girls and asked if she wanted to dance.
“Go on Elena” said her friends and Elena reluctantly took his hand and allowed him to lead her to the dance floor.
“Elena is it? Pretty name” Nick said “I’m Nick”
Elena didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t comfortable talking to strange men, let alone dancing with one.
“Why are you scared?” he said into her ear.
“I’m not scared. I’m sorry, I have a boyfriend…I shouldn’t even be here” Elena replied, not wanting to meet Nick’s gaze.
“One dance…nothing more. That‘s all I ask”