Back again! Having lots of fun with this story. :) More is to come after this!
Helen sighed as she placed one foot monotonously after another on her way home. It was a hot, hot day. The sun was sapping her strength and making her drowsy. She looked back at Katherine and Jamie, walking a little behind her. Then she looked up, to see a poster posted on the side of a factory. It showed a brunette woman, hair pinned up in the common style mothers and other married women wore. The woman was smiling in an almost clown-like way while she sewed. Above her, proclaimed in big letters, were the words "Home sewing is easy!" And then, below that, "Plus, it keeps the home fires burning!" Helen shook her head. The war followed her everywhere, even on the walk home from school.
She finally made her way into the house, Katherine and Jamie dragging behind her. Suddenly, fear-filled energy struck her as she saw her mom, still home from work since she had broke the news a few days ago of their soon-to-come hiding. She looked tired, as she had for the past few days, but there was something else in her eyes. Panic?
"Helen, pack. Quickly. Help Jamie."
Helen sprang into action, running up the stairs and bumping into a frenzied Eleanor.
"Elle, what is it?!" Helen cried, using her sister's nickname.
"We have to pack! They're coming for us all today. We just got the telegram this afternoon," she said quickly, out of breath. "I'll help Katherine, you help Jamie."
Helen ran into her room, Jamie trailing behind her. She opened her chest drawers and stared. What to take? She grabbed a little out of each drawer and begin shoving them into her teal leather suitcase. Without thinking, she threw in her hairbrush, soap, and a couple of hair clips and slammed the suitcase shut, laying her shiny black Sunday shoes on top. She let out a sigh and plopped down on her bed. Suddenly her attention was caught up in little Jamie's face.
He stood in the middle of the room, a toy car in one hand, the other hanging at his side. He just stared, silent, a forlorn little figure. Helen knew he was very smart. He had been listening in on past conversations and would not easily forget them. Suddenly she saw one tear slip down his cheek, then another. She stood up and threw her arms around him. She knew what he was feeling; he was feeling the way she felt that first day when Mom broke the news.
"Why are we packing," he finally managed to choke out in a strange voice.
Helen sighed, stepped back from him a little, and crouched to her knees. "Because...you know how we told you that Daddy is helping the army, and America, and other countries that need help?"
"Yes," Jamie replied solemnly.
"Well, Daddy is helping the army right now, and he needs us to help him."
Jamie's eyes widened. "Really? How?"
"He needs us to hide for a little while. You could even make it like a game, Jamie. Like hide-and-seek. We have to hide really, really well for a while. Can you do that for me?"
Jamie stood silent for a minute and then nodded. "Yes, I think so."
"Good. Now let's pack your things as quickly as we can, okay?"
Jamie put up his hand in a salute. "Ma'am, yes ma'am," he shouted proudly with a giggle, tears gone as Helen marveled at the ability that kids possessed to bounce back so easily.
No sooner had Helen packed Jamie's little red suitcase than Eleanor burst into the room. "They're here. Come now!"
Helen grabbed Jamie's hand and flew down the stairs. She stopped at the bottom and walked slowly into the kitchen. Then Helen stood stock-still in the doorway. First she saw a little bit of her. Then, as the woman stepped into the center of the kitchen in close conversation with Diane Cooper, Helen studied her closely, squeezing Jamie's hand.
She was a young woman, probably in her late twenties. She wore the standard deep green knee-length skirt and long-sleeve army coat of the same color, complete with all kinds of badges and official patches. She was middle-height, not very slim but not heavy. Her hair was cut just above her shoulders, a deep, fiery red. She had curls--curls that began as subtle waves and ended in little spirals at her cheeks. How pretty she is, Helen thought. Who knew that a military officer could be a woman, and a pretty one no less? Suddenly the woman stopped talking and looked directly at Helen, who shrank back a little, but still studied her face closely. She had pretty brown eyes and wasn't wearing much makeup, if any at all. But still, Helen thought, she is so pretty. Could she possibly be a...soldier?
"Hello, Helen," said the woman. "It's good to meet you. I've heard a lot about you from your father."
"My father?" asked Helen, with eager, new-found interest in her voice.
"Yes, I know him quite well," said the woman with a slight smile. "I'm Sergeant Audrey Milo, and I've worked with your father often. He never stops talking of you and your brother and sisters, and your mother."
Helen managed a weak smile. "Oh," was all she could think of to say.
"Helen, are you and Jamie packed?" Now it was Diane speaking.
Suddenly Eleanor flew through the doorway, still in a frenzy, pulling Katherine behind her. "We're ready, mom."
Diane suddenly stopped what she was doing and looked at her four children standing side by side, wearing traveling clothes and holding suitcases. Diane sighed and Sergeant Milo faded into the background as Helen studied her mother for one last time before she left. Her mother had dark brown hair and shiny, reflective brown eyes, just as Helen herself did.
Her mother had become a slimmer figure in the past few months, Helen realized, and it wasn't a good kind of slim. Eleanor had often worriedly whispered to Helen at night that their mother wasn't eating the way she should be. Once, the girls had even approached her about it, and she simply laughed it off and told them that they were the growing girls and needed their nutrition, and besides--she wasn't all that hungry. But still, Helen thought, despite all that, Mom is so beautiful. Inside and out. She holds our family together. Helen thought she saw a fleeting tear slip down her mother's cheek, but it quickly disappeared as Sergeant Milo said gently, "Mrs. Cooper, we have to go."
"Yes, yes," she said quickly. Come along, children."
"Mrs. Cooper," Sergeant Milo reminded her, "they have to be split up in pairs."
"Oh, yes, I almost forgot," replied Diane in an odd tone.
Sergeant Milo suddenly acquired a military air. "Eleanor and Jamie will be paired together and will head north for a small town in Wisconsin."
Eleanor looked up, a shocked expression on her face, the quickly tried to hide it. "Yes ma'am." Helen gave Jamie a kiss and he ran into Eleanor's arms.
"Helen and Katherine will be paired together and will head south for Tennessee."
Helen let out a sigh and realized she had been holding her breath. Katherine walked slowly towards Helen and looked up. Helen gave her as reassuring a smile as she could muster and hugged her close.
Diane stepped forward and hugged Eleanor. "Be a good girl and take care of Jamie. Make sure he gets lots of good food and gets in bed on time and...and try to explain things to him, at least a little. I love you."
Eleanor nodded, unable to speak, tears flowing.
Mom hugged Jamie and whispered something into his ear, then moved on to Katherine with a kiss and an "I love you." When she came to Helen, she said, "Helen, I know this is hard for you, but you have been a great help to me, and I consider you a strong young woman. I love you." And with a hug and a kiss, Helen walked out the door of her house, crying, holding Katherine's hand, Sergeant Audrey Milo leading her.