Chocolate Kisses Ch. 08bycalibeachgirl©
God, I hope we never have to do that again
Copyright @ calibeachgirl
All rights reserved, 2011
Monday, January 4th, 1932
Eliza pushed the vacuum across the rug. The noise was enough to wake the dead, as far as she was concerned, but it made cleaning the house so much easier she was willing to put up with noise.
She was worried. James had not come out of his room for two days, now. There had been several calls from the different stores asking to speak to him, almost demanding to speak with him. She could only tell them he was sick.
'Yes,' she thought, 'sick in his heart.' It was bothering her more than it seemed possible. She knew she liked him but didn't realize how much until Bethany had broken his heart. There was no chance for her, she knew, resigned to her own foolish dreams.
She glanced at Bethany Rose, sitting quietly at the kitchen table, reading the morning paper as if life were normal, at least, normal for what had been happening the last few weeks. Every now and then the rustle of the turning page would disrupt the quiet.
Eliza wished Bethany would go somewhere else. Her anger with her younger sister was indescribable. How could Bethany do that to him? She just could not understand her sister, not matter how hard she tried.
While it seemed he had no intention of asking them to leave, at least she didn't think so; his lack of interest in anything frightened her more than anything else. What had Bethany told him, standing there in her bedroom? It just made no sense to Eliza, wishing her sister would just read the paper somewhere else.
Once again, Eliza took a tray of food up to his room, if for no other reason than to flee the presence of her sister. This time, she found the door open and the room empty. It was surprisingly neat and fresh. He had moved everything around and the bed now was on the opposite wall. The bedding had been changed. The windows were wide open and the fresh sea breeze wafted through removing the last traces of sex still lingering.
She carefully carried the food down the stairs to the library.
"James? Please, open the door, James. I'm worried about you; you have to eat, James." Taking matters into her own hands, she opened the door and walked in.
Sitting behind his desk, he was writing something and listening to the radio. The Japanese, moving further into China, were using any pretense possible no matter how unbelievable. They seemed to know America wouldn't do anything about it, wrapped up in its own problems. Besides, what happened on the other side of the Pacific... it would never affect the United States.
He looked up, glad that it was her and not her sister. He couldn't face Bethany. "Ah, good morning, Eliza, I'm sorry for not getting up sooner, I have just... well, you know."
He smiled at her, something he always did but this time, but this time, she thought she saw something more. It was just her imagination; wasn't it?
She nodded her head. He was shaved, showered and dressed well but casually. She had ironed the very shirt he was now wearing, a nice light blue 'Sanforized' Arrow shirt. The pre-shrunk process made it so much easier for her to iron his Arrow shirts.
"I, uh, brought you, well, lunch, now, I guess."
James cleared his writing and she set the tray down. He motioned her to sit and she nervously did. It was the first time she ever actually sat down in the room. She ran her hand over the leather, so soft, so supple.
"Eliza, how are you? I'm sorry. I know you've come up several times with food but I just wasn't... let's say I wasn't very hungry and let it go at that." He bit into the egg-salad sandwich. "Mmm, this is really good."
He hungrily took another bite and then drank some coffee. "You sure know how to cook. I am so glad you're here. Ah, good, Jello." He spooned the cherry gelatin from the plate, enjoying the wiggling dessert.
When he finished, he pulled open the bottom drawer and pulled out two Baby Ruth candy bars and two O Henrys. Giving one each to Eliza, he tore open the wrapping open and bit into the nutty chocolate.
"C'mon, Eliza, have some chocolate. Shhh. It'll be our secret." He smiled at her, trying to put her at ease. He could tell she was nervous but if the two women were going to continue living in his house, at least Eliza had to be easy to approach.
She bit into the Baby Ruth. "Mmmm," she said, chewing the caramel. "Thank you, James." A little secret wouldn't hurt. She acknowledged that he was trying to make calm her down from the sharp edge she was sitting on. She thought, however, that it would take more than a few candy bars.
"They're here, anytime you want one. I'll just remember to bring more home from the store. I'll bring some others that you can try." He was already thinking of the Hershey kisses. Those things were addictive. Eat one... then another... well, another wouldn't hurt, after all, it's small and it's just one.
He ticked off in his mind the other candy bars the market carried: Milky Way, Butterfinger, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Bit-O-Honey, Butterfinger. Might as well get a box of each. No sense in running out, after all. Of course, the possibility that Eliza would gain weight never occurred to him, just like a typical man unaware of the love affair between women and chocolate.
Now that every waking minute wasn't preoccupied with Bethany, he had resumed other interests in life. "I've been writing my own history of the War... might as well, I suppose." He pointed to a stack of papers covered with his tight, precise handwriting. Nearby were some photographs of a younger man and his plane. It had been taken just after he had arrived from America. He soon lost the smile and the naiveté everyone had at first.
Uneasily, almost painfully, she waited for him to ask about Bethany Rose but he said nothing. The silence of the room was only broken by the sound of the coffee cup settling back down on its saucer and the chewing of caramel.
She really wanted to leave but knew it was impossible. Regardless of what relationship he had had with Bethany Rose, he was still her employer.
He watched her sitting there as she squirmed a little on the chair. He knew she was ill at ease but needed her to stay with him. As much as he did not want to see Bethany any time soon, he still wanted someone to keep him company. His two day self-imposed exile had finally gotten to him.
"James," she started to say, but his look stopped her. She had never seen him this way. There was a darkness to his eyes and she felt he could look right into her lonely heart.
"Eliza, just relax. I'm sure you're worried about a great many things right now. Your family can stay here as long as you want, just like you're doing now. Everything can stay the same.
"Well, most things... Bethany, too. I don't hate her; I just can't deal with her right now.
"You know, she didn't say a word... not a goddamn word. Just stood there, you know, like there wasn't anything to say to me. Even after I held her... after all that's happened, you'd think I'd have at least deserved an explanation... something.
"Jesus Christ, Eliza, was marrying me so awful she couldn't consider doing it? Haven't I treated her right? all of you? She came to me! She came into my bed!"
His voiced dropped down, almost inaudible. "She said she loved me."
It was painful to watch. A fighter pilot, 16 kills, a successful businessman, a risk-taker... brought to his knees by Bethany Rose. Love is a strange thing. It can elevate you higher than the stars and drop you to the depths of hell.
"I love her. I thought she loved me. I was just her 'sugar daddy,' wasn't I? She left me holding the bag, didn't she? I... ah, forget it."
She nodded her head in agreement. One fear had been assuaged, at least. His mention of Bethany Rose made her uneasy... but it seemed to leave an opportunity open. For what, though, she wasn't sure. 'Would Bethany realize she made the greatest mistake of her life and beg forgiveness from him? Would she become his mistress and leave it at that? No love, just sex? Would she just stay and remind him daily what he lost? Would she leave, unable to face him day after day? Would he even want her back?' These thoughts raced through Eliza's mind as she sat there.
"I would appreciate it very much if you could somehow arrange for me to eat in here when I'm home. I know that it's going to cause a little more work for you..."
Once again, she could only nod her head. At least, he wasn't leaving to eat somewhere else. If he stayed away from the house, soon enough he would realize he didn't need her... or anyone else.
"May I?" she asked.
"James, right now it feels like your whole world has crumbled into dust, especially with her still here. You need to focus on your own happiness... move the bad thoughts out of your head.
"I don't know why she did what she did. It must have nothing to do with you. I heard you just the other night with her. If indeed this is the end of you and Bethany, be sure of yourself and someday you'll find another to love.
"Don't dwell on it... there are no answers. Maybe even she doesn't know. You're writing your history. That's great. It's just what you need to do to get your mind off what's happened.
"Someone will come along, I'm sure of it. Maybe you just fell in love because you were so lonely there wasn't anything else you could do." She was out of breath, trying to get it all out before he could stop her.
"What would you like for dinner, James? Are you staying here for the day?"
"You know what I'd like? Polish sausage and sauerkraut... I haven't had that since my wife... anyway, I haven't had it in a long while. I'll go to the store and get some. Can you fix that?"
"I'll look in her cookbook. James, she had all your favorites marked. She must have loved you very much."
He hesitated. "Yes, she did. I never told either of you how we met, did I?"
"No. Do you really want to talk about it? I know things aren't..."
"It's all right, I guess. I had come to an acceptance with it after you and... after you two had moved here.
"It was my last flight. The skies were gray and a low ceiling of clouds so I was a lot lower than usual. I looked around for about a half-hour and saw nothing so I was heading back to the field. It probably would have been my last flight, anyway, even if I hadn't taken ground fire that holed the oil line."
She nodded her head, listening to James take her back to the War.
"I came down in a field; fortunately it was pretty flat and not plowed up. Most of Europe is fields and small villages with less than a hundred people. I could have flown the plane out if I could have gotten some tools and more oil but the Bosch, you know, the Germans had seen me come down and were half-heartedly coming. They knew the war was over, it was just a matter of weeks at that time and weren't very enthusiastic, thank God.
"I didn't want to shoot any of them. Most of them were either old men or young teenagers. That's no way to fight a war. God, I hope we never have to do that again.
"Catherine had come outside her house after hearing the plane come down. She waved me to come and I ran as fast as I could. I didn't know what she was going to do but it seemed a better alternative than standing around waiting for a scared kid to put a bullet into me.
"I took off my boots. Tracking mud into the house would have been a dead give-away and would have caused her grief for nothing, so I took them off and carried them in with me. She helped me boost myself into the attic.
"The older men, I guess, had no stomach for killing anyone else and the young ones were probably scared to death. They soon left after doing a cursory check of the house and a few days later the war was over.
"Her mother knew Catherine had to leave Europe. The future was in America and so we were married. She was sixteen and eager to have someone to love; all the eligible men were gone.
"I'll admit that I was overwhelmed by her youth and beauty and couldn't see any reason not to. I know, that sounds pretty mercenary but I was young and lonely and had no one here. If I had died, there would have been no one to grieve for me.
"We fell in love over the next couple of years. I mean, we liked each other well enough, but love took its own time coming. We had the two girls and... well, you know the rest."
It was the first time he had ever shared anything so personal with her. She knew he had to get something out; there was no other reason to talk.
"That morning, when I first met Bethany Rose, I had no idea we'd be sitting here now like this. I never expected to fall in love with her; I think you can understand that. No offense meant."
"That's all right, James, I really do understand." The racial issue always seemed to be waiting in the background, no matter how people tried to ignore it.
"I was so sure that she loved me enough, you know? We'd already..." He took another sip of the still hot coffee, using the break to think through carefully what he was going to say.
"I don't know what happened. It was as if she just slammed the door in my face, you know. She didn't have to say anything. I know you saw us standing there. I'm sorry, Eliza, for everything.
"Right now, I'd rather not speak with her. I'm going to the store, now and get that sausage and 'kraut. Is there anything else you need? Would you like to come with me? Get out of the house for a while?"
She could see the invitation was more a need for company than anything else.
"All right, James, just let me tell Bethany."
"OK, get a wiggle on, then, girl." He laughed and got ready to leave. He looked at the pages covered with ink. Was it more an answer to the idiocy of the other book? Or was it something to take his soul away from his broken heart? Or was it to keep Catherine alive?
He picked them up, tapped them against the desktop and put them into the top drawer of the desk. 'Maybe more, maybe not... does it really matter,' he wondered. It was the last war, anyway. Who'd be insane enough to have another one?
She cleared the desktop and took the tray back to the kitchen. By the time he was standing at the door, she was coming down the stairs, pulling on a sweater that once belonged to Catherine. The cashmere sweater... it's softness called to her. Eliza didn't mind. There was a connection she felt with his lost wife and the clothes were so much better than anything either she or her sister had.
He tried hard not to notice how nicely the sweater fit her.
Opening the car door for her as he had done so many times for Bethany Rose, he waited until she was comfortable and then shut the door, started the car and they drove away. It was only the second time she'd ever ridden in a car, this time in the front seat like a lady.
Bethany Rose looked out the window at the car as it headed into town, a tear forming. The last two nights in an otherwise empty bed had hurt much more than she ever realized. Once, she left her room to walk to his and got all the way to his door before turning around and going back her own cold bed.
She wouldn't have found him there, anyway. He had been sleeping on the backyard grass, lost in his own private hell, as far away from her as he could get.
She missed going to the market and wondered what was going to happen with that. If she waited at the door ready to go, would he leave her behind? Would that be a final, crushing hurt? She knew she deserved whatever he would eventually do; even take her back into his bed to be used like a whore.
Eliza was excited. Although she had run his house since she arrived three weeks earlier, not once had she gone to the store, instead relying on Bethany taking her list and bringing the groceries and cleaning products home each day.
James introduced her to Susan and went upstairs to the office. Several days worth of receipts were neatly waiting on the desk. With a heavy sigh, he sat down and began to go through them.
Susan had 'Old John' escort her around the market. Even now, more than two years into the Depression, there were so many different things she'd never seen before. She realized that next time, if there was a next time, she would copy out recipe lists from Catherine's cookbook first.
"You a friend of Miss Carrolton?" Anyone hearing John referring to Bethany Rose in such a way would have been shocked. It seemed common knowledge that he was still in the Klan even though it seemed to be dying out.
'Old John,' though, remembered how Bethany had found extra money and saved his house for him. John was a lot of things, he even admitted to himself, but he recognized when someone had helped him. Her help was more than anyone else ever did except for James, who continued to keep him on the payroll despite his usual grumpy nature.
"She's my sister. I work for... Mr. Ewart." She had caught herself just in time. To have referred to him as 'James' would have created a new set of problems for him, ones he didn't deserve, not now, not ever.
Her thoughts about him had changed so much since they first met. It was inevitable, now that she thought about it. He was more than just an employer, he was a friend. He was more than that, even if he didn't know it. She decided to do her best to make him happy and forget about her sister and what she did.
"Is she sick or something?" He was genuinely concerned, surprising himself.
"Yes, sick." 'Sick in her heart and sick in her head,' Eliza thought. "I don't know when she'll be back."
"Please tell her I said, 'hi,' uh, OK?"
"Yes, I will. Thank you."
John carried the hand basket and Eliza started filling it with food. He showed her how to tell which brands were better, how to tell the butcher for the better cuts and how to tell if the bread was fresh by the wrapper code, if she wanted the new sliced sandwich breads.
James took the papers from his desk, put them into his briefcase and walked downstairs. He found them standing in front of the meat case, Eliza looking at all the different cuts, John pointing to something in the case. He seemed almost protective of her.
"There you are, Eliza. Good morning, John. How are you, today?"
"Well, thank you. We're almost finished here, I think. Miss Eliza?" His tone was pleasant, almost friendly. What had happened to John?
"Mr. Ewart, what would you like for dinner? Pork roast? Something else for tomorrow? I've got the sausage and sauerkraut."
"Just get something you want, Eliza. It doesn't matter all that much, right now."
"Yes, sir." She turned back to the case and asked for a leg of lamb and two chickens. After Louis had wrapped them up, Eliza thanked him and John.
"Louis," James said. "Please get a box of ice to keep the meat cold. I'm not going home right away."
"Yes, Mr. Ewart." The butcher quickly iced a box and after laying the meat inside, put more ice on top.
"Let me carry these out for you, Miss Eliza." John took the hand basket and followed her out the store.
"Goodbye, Mr. Ewart."
James nodded his head. "John." He started the car and they drove back to the house. "Looks like you've an admirer, Eliza. Can't say I blame him." He glanced sideways.
It was the first indication that he ever considered her attractive. She looked out the side window and smiled. What had Bethany given up? She must have been crazy. And John, such a nice, friendly man.
He drove down to the beach and parked the car.
"C'mon, let's go for a walk." He pulled out a pair of sandals for her. "I got these from the store. You can leave your shoes here."
When they got to the sand, he headed to the packed wet sand. "How many times have you been to the beach, Eliza?"
"Just once, about five years ago. There was no one here and we ran to the water as quick as we could and then ran away. Silly, I know."