"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air..." - Winston S. Churchill
The letter came on October 31st, 1940. The rain danced of the wide screened porch, turning the sun-bleached red cloth a damp and mushy black. The mail always comes on Thursdays. She thought, watching the little red flag go up and the sleek black car clunk away.
"Mails' here!" She jumped from her cushioned perch on the window and raced towards the door.
"Woahh there." A firm hand grabbed her arm and yanked her back just before her fingertips touched the wrought iron handle.
A heavy huff escaped her mouth as she turned an incredulous look on her brother. Leo towered over her, his wavy brown hair falling irregularly over his eyes. It had been months since he'd gotten a haircut; Momma had gone on a tangent about prices and had decided to cut everything herself. A small giggle burst into her throat as she spied the chunk that had been mistakenly cut, leaving a rather jagged triangle just above his right eye. They burned with a playful intensity, shinning gray in the half-light.
"It's Sunday, why would the mail be here?" Disbelief breached the surface of his voice.
"I saw it come!" She protested, stomping her foot line only a thirteen year old girl could.
He ruffled her mousy brown hair with his callused palm. "Go on, Jean. Mom wants you."
She glared at him, her hair standing in awkward angles, as he marched out the door and into the spattering rain. Jean turned and made her way down the narrow hallway, running her fingers down the cool walls. She passed three doors, one of which stood ajar, silently begging her to push it open. Jean paused by it, her curiosity perking. Poking her head around the white washed wood, she saw the room that was her father's study. Thick bookcases lined the walls, the bound covers shinning under layers of dust. She itched to inch inside and run her finger tips along the spines. She could picture the thin trails it would leave, proving that she'd been there. But she remained hovering in the doorway, eyeing the broad oak desk that shimmered with the watery light of the sun. Shadows were cast around the room, papers scattered along the arms of chairs and small coffee tables. A mug with an image of an fighter plane stood in thin shaft of light, lipstick stains rimming the edges. Curiosity ebbed through her but the sound of the screen door slamming shut jolted her out of her daze. She stepped out of the office, carefully pulling the door back to its previous position. Turning, she made her way around a thin corner, edging her way to the door that lay before her, her hand reaching out to push it open.
Her mother sat at the brown-stained vanity, the soft static of the one and only Billie Holiday's voice breaking the silence. Jean threw herself down on the heavily cushioned bed, her pale green dress fluttering around her kneecaps. She watched her mother for a few moments in silence, admiring the straight, glossy brown hair that slid down her back. She sat with a straight back, a wooden brush in her hand as she ran it over her glorious locks. Her face was a pale white that shimmered with a radiant beauty, and her lips were a rosy red that shone through the dim light. A pungent smell drifted through the room, evidence that alcohol had been consumed here somewhat recently.
"Momma Leo said you wanted me." She interrupted the silence that had been accompanying Billie.
"Oh he did, did he?" Her reply was casual as she powdered more makeup to her straight-boned cheeks.
"He wouldn't let me get the mail." Jean's voice was high pitched with protest.
The muscles in Momma's body froze. She turned, her hair falling over one shoulder in an elegant fashion. Her deep blue eyes fixing on Jean. "The mail doesn't come on Sunday." Her voice was almost accusatory.
"I saw the car Momma." Jean protested "I know what I saw! Ask Leo!" She jumped off the bed, her bare feet echoing on the dark oak wood.
Momma stood quickly, her pale yellow and white polka dotted dress swishing around her legs. "No Jean." She reached for her purse and pulled a sleek dollar bill. "Why don't you invite Blair to go see a movie?" Her voice was smoothed over by a false calamity.
Jean took the dollar hesitantly. "Momma? What's going on?" She could hear the slish-slosh of Leo's slow and heavy boots as they marched down the hallway and her anxiety heightened. "Why is the mail here?"
In a swift motion, Momma had crossed the floor and smoothed Jean's hair with a quick flash of her brush. "Nothing, baby." Her voice still held the lit of a country girl. "Go on to your movie."
"But...its raining!" Jean's voice shook with uncertainty.
Momma touched her nose to her daughter's in a playful manner, cupping her face between her hands. "And when has that ever stopped you before?" She patted her cheek gently and pushed her away. "Go on now, your raincoat is in the hall closet." She pronounced hall with one missing 'l'.
Beaten, Jean turned and made her way towards the door. She stopped and jumped out of the way as Leo sloshed in, dripping water all over the fragile oak wood flooring. He clutched a soaking paper in his hands, the stain of water dripping off the edges. Leo's hair was plastered black against his head, his clothing clinging to his skin. Jean inched forward, trying to peer over his shoulder at the messy words that jumped across the page.
"Leo let me see." She tugged his arm down.
"Jean go away." His voice was harsh and commanding.
Defensiveness shot through her blood. "No!"
Silence radiated through the room, Billie singing contentedly in her corner by the half-open window. Jean eyed the seal that stood on the envelope that protruded from his pocket; a bird with it's winds spread and encased in a fragile ink circle. She moved to grab it from his pocket but Leo was faster, shoving her back and leaving a wet hand print across the shoulder of her dress.
"Go away!" He yelled.
Tears pricked her eyes. "Momma what's going on?"
Momma stood still, staring at the yellowed paper that was clutched between her son's hands. Time seemed to stop. They stood there for what seemed like hours, Jean's heart pounding louder against her chest as the seconds slid by. Finally, Momma turned to her, a honey-sweet smile plastered across her face.
"Nothing baby! This is good news!" She crossed the room and kissed her daughter on her forehead, rubbing away the red smear that she left behind. "Go on baby, we'll tell you later."
Beaten, Jean turned, glancing over her shoulder one last time at the towering figure that was her brother. "Leo...you're getting the floor all wet."
With that, she closed the door, walked down the hallway, retrieved her bright yellow raincoat, and walked out the door and into the rain.