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On her trip home to the Hawaiian Islands, twenty-year-old Bekah Martin meets naval ensign Scott DeAngelo, and although she denies the mutual attraction, the morning of December 7 forces her to make some life-changing decisions. Original.
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November 10, 1941
"Oh, my! What devastation!" Aunt Miriam cried, raising her hands toward the large clusters of diamonds at her ears. Her wedding ring caught the firelight and cast glimmering shadows against the banks of windows. "I've never seen such ruin and disaster."
The handsome young man seated beside Bekah chuckled. "It's pretty grim, isn't it?" He turned to Bekah with a warm smile on his chiseled face and said, "What do you think, Miss Martin?"
I think it was very unfair of my aunt to launch a surprise attack at zero hour, Bekah thought wryly as she smiled back at him. Raven-haired, square-jawed Peter Contner was easily the best-looking of all the many good-looking men Aunt Miriam had introduced to Bekah. He wore a swell-fitting dinner jacket that Bekah's friend Mari would insist was da kine, pidgin back home for "the best."
Peter himself was da kine -- a Harvard man with a brand-new law degree, the heir to a lot of old San Francisco money, friendly but not pushy. Witty, too, in an understated way. And very polite. As Aunt Miriam would say, he was a catch.
Aloud, Bekah said, "I think my aunt has the best cook in San Francisco. And this carnage is the proof."
Bekah gestured to the vast array of nearly empty silver serving dishes shining against her aunt's heirloom lace tablecloth. In the candlelight, the poultry platter gleamed; the bowls of mashed potatoes, yams, and green beans contained only dollops of leftovers.
"I'll second that," Peter said. He wagged a finger at Aunt Miriam. "If you're not careful, Mrs. Jones, my mother will try to steal your cook."
"Hah. Let her try," Aunt Miriam shot back. "Nobody can spoil the help like I can. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll see about the coffee."
Aunt Miriam rose gracefully from her chair. As she did so, Peter stood, too, and moved swiftly behind the pomaded, still-beautiful woman, who was dressed in a spangly dinner dress that clung in all the right places. Miriam Jones was still a "looker," as men said. And a widow.
"Thank you, Peter," she said, obviously pleased with him. She swept out of the dining room, a merry widow but not a silly one.
"Maggie!" she cried. "Has the chocolate soufflé fallen yet?"
"Oh, Missus!" a voice retorted. "You know my soufflés never fall!"
A bit shyly, Bekah picked up her spoon and polished it with her thumb, although, of course, all the delicate filigree in each sterling piece of the silver service was sparkling. Her aunt's palatial home always glistened, the wood banisters and floors waxed weekly, the chandeliers and windows washed at least that often. Fresh-cut flowers dotted the house in her spectacular collection of cloisonné vases.
"Alone at last," Peter said, grinning. Bekah felt the color rise in her cheeks. "Your aunt thinks she's pulled quite the caper, doesn't she?"
They looked at each other. Bekah saw the warmth and humor in his eyes and put down the spoon. She gave him a lopsided grin. "She doesn't want me to go back to Hawaii," Bekah explained.
He shrugged. "Well, based on our short acquaintance, neither do I. But that's not going to stop you, is it?"
"No," she said honestly. She liked Peter Contner, a lot. He had been a charming dinner guest.
"Still, I'm very flattered to be offered as an incentive to keep you here." She flared with embarrassment, and he inclined his head to acknowledge the truth of it. "She should have trotted me out sooner. I'd have you swooning in no time. But with less than a week until you sail..." He spread his hands, admitting defeat. "I'm not sure even I could manage it."
"How unfortunate that you had to dally back east," she teased gently. "I've been here for months."
"Yes. I was on my annual grand tour, visiting all my maiden aunts." He whistled. "I have a lot of relatives. What about you? Big clan back in the Territory?"
She shook her head. "Not really. I'm an only child."
"And so you've finished your nurse's training course, and your native soil beckons."
"My native soil beckons," she echoed. She gestured to the remains of their meal. "And contrary to what Aunt Miriam thinks, we do celebrate Thanksgiving. She didn't need to go to all this fuss."
"Have you got a fella back there?" he asked bluntly.
She sighed. "My aunt keeps neglecting to mention that I'm engaged to be married."
He lifted his brows. "She did somehow forget to tell me that." He eyed her hands, which were free of jewelry except for a small gold chain her father had given her for her high school graduation. "It might make it a little easier on a man's ego if you wore a ring."
"I...I...It was lost." She paled. For a moment, the awful memories threatened to emerge. No, she told herself firmly. I'm done with that.
In the distance, a foghorn keened mournfully. Bekah rose from the table and moved to the glossy windows. Her view of the ocean was obscured by thick mist. She could see nothing of the lustrous city that had been her home for the last ten months. In less than a week, I'll be home. And all this will seem like a dream.
"San Francisco, home of the fog bank," he said, coming up beside her.
She shook her head. They stood in companionable silence. At five foot three, Bekah barely came to his shoulder. He smelled wonderful, and he was kind. She almost wished...
No, I don't. I'm going home.
Bekah thought of all the things she would be leaving -- the hustle-bustle of the city streets, the restaurants and beautiful shops. The operas and plays. And movies. Back home, her family went down to Mr. Ling's grocery store once a month, to watch a movie everybody in the States had already seen. It had never bothered her, though.
"You don't want to go back," Peter observed.
She took a breath. "Of course I do."
"Of course you do," he said gently. When she turned to look at him, he said, "It's none of my business and never will be, regretfully."
"Here we are," Aunt Miriam said, gliding back into the room. She was followed by a tall, redheaded woman in a black-and-white maid's uniform who was carrying a coffee service on a tray.
Bekah and Peter went back to the table.
Soon after, she and her aunt wished Peter Contner a pleasant good night. Her aunt shut the front door, turned to her niece, and said, "Well, it seems you're in love after all."
Bekah blinked. "Excuse me?"
"If Peter Contner can't turn your head, no one can."
"Auntie, you should have told him I was engaged," Bekah said. "That wasn't fair to him."
"Oh, pooh." Aunt Miriam gave her hands a wave. "What's the saying? 'All's fair in love and war.' Besides, men like Peter can take care of themselves." She eyed her niece. "And he would take good care of you, Rebekah. You know he would." She sighed. "Harvard, rich as Croesus, travels all over the world."
"He's a catch," Bekah agreed. "But I'm still engaged."
"Well, I certainly hope that island boy knows how lucky he is."
"Of course he does," Bekah replied. She smiled. "And I'm lucky, too."
"Oh, my darling." Aunt Miriam looped a strand of Bekah's blond hair around her ear. "You're just like your father. So pig-headed."
At the mention of her father, a wave of homesickness washed over Bekah. Suddenly, she wanted more than anything to be home, among the sun-drenched coconut palms and the heady fragrance of pikake blossoms and mangoes. Home, with Ian, and married. Mrs. Rebekah MacLaughlin.
"You look like your father, too," Aunt Miriam continued. "Where you two got that white-blond hair and those huge blue eyes, I'll never know." She patted her own chocolate-brown hair. Her hazel eyes were startling against her pale complexion.
"I guess..." She sighed. "I was hoping that you'd come to regard San Francisco as your home. I hate to think of you wasting away on those islands. Here, you have all the advantages -- "
"I'm needed back home," Bekah said. "It's time to..." She searched for the right word. "It's time to go back to my own life."
Her aunt opened her mouth, then closed it firmly. She nodded. "Of course, dear. You know best." She kissed Bekah's forehead. "Forgive me for dangling Peter in front of you at the last moment. It wasn't in the best of taste."
"He was very flattered," Bekah informed her, chuckling softly.
"As he should have been. And if he had any sense at all, he'd book a state room on the Lurline and woo you all the way to Hawaii." Her aunt tapped her chin. "And if he hasn't thought of it, I just might -- "
"Aunt Miriam, you will do nothing of the sort," Bekah said, wagging her finger at her. "I'm...I'm marrying Ian as soon as I get home." She heard herself stammer and said more firmly, "I can't wait to marry Ian. I love Ian."
I do love him, she told herself.
You love him the way you always have -- like a brother, a sharp little voice inside chided her silently. Not in the way that he wants, or that you should.
"We've known each other all our lives," Bekah continued, drowning out the little voice. "We're both island-born and raised. We couldn't be better suited."
And love will come. After all, I loved David with all my heart, and Ian is his twin.
"Oh, all right, dear. I know I'm being horribly selfish." At Bekah's questioning look, she added, "But I know Peter's mother is trying to steal Maggie away, and you know she's going to try a sneak attack while I'm with you in the islands. And I'll do anything to keep the best cook in San Francisco." She raised her voice. "Even if her soufflés fall flat as pancakes." She winked at Bekah.
"They never fall," Maggie called from the kitchen. "You keep that up, Missus, I will go work for Mrs. Contner!"
Together they reached the stairs.
"Well, Peter was my final salvo," Miriam said as they walked up the long, winding staircase. "I admit defeat. So get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow we'll buy you some decent clothes for your trousseau. No niece of mine is getting married in a grass skirt."
Bekah burst into laughter. "More clothes? You have no idea what island life is like, Auntie."
"Well, I'll have an entire month to find out, won't I?"
"You should stay longer," Bekah urged. "Once you're there, you'll never want to leave." She yawned. "It's warm, and safe, and wonderful."
At the top of the stairs, Aunt Miriam stopped. She cocked her head.
"Come here, darling," she said. She took Bekah's hand and led her into the master bedroom suite. The room was enormous, the soft cream and gold rug mirrored by the cream and gold satin sheets.
At the end of the elegant bed, a simple pine chest stood, its plainness a stark contrast to the richness surrounding it. Bekah had noticed it many times.
Aunt Miriam sat down on the carpet and lifted the lid, gesturing for Bekah to join her.
"This was Ma'am's hope chest," she said. "Your great-grandmother's. She was the one who married well and started the family fortune. Everything Ma'am touched turned to gold."
She smiled fondly. Then she reached in and moved some faded pieces of thick material around. Bekah looked over her shoulder with interest.
"This was Ma'am's prized possession," she said as she revealed a plain wooden box. Carefully, she opened it, revealing a tiny oval of brownish pink. In the center was the head of a woman, her face in profile. Her hair was gathered up in curls. It was a ring.
"Oh, it's so beautiful," Bekah breathed. "May I?"
She reached out her hand. Aunt Miriam slid the ring onto Bekah's wedding-ring finger. "It's called a cameo," her aunt said. "I should have known it would fit you. Ma'am had very slender fingers. My finger's too big for it."
As if to demonstrate, she slid the ring back off Bekah's hand and placed it on the top of her own pinkie. It was a squeeze to get it down to the first knuckle.
Miriam put it back in the box. She looked at Bekah, who stared at the exquisite cameo.
"I'll bet you this ring that when we get to Hawaii, you'll see that everything has changed. That you have changed."
She patted Bekah's hand.
"You're like me, Rebekah," she concluded. "You won't be happy stuck out in the middle of the ocean. You need excitement."
Bekah felt a little lurch at the pit of her stomach. "I've had enough excitement," she said, more sharply than she had meant to.
"Oh, my dear, how thoughtless I'm being," Aunt Miriam said. She reached out a hand. "Please forgive me."
"It's all right, Auntie," Bekah said, taking a breath. "I'm just tired."
"Then go to bed." Aunt Miriam cupped Bekah's chin. "Tomorrow we'll go shopping all day long. You'll be the talk of the islands in all your fashionable new clothes."
I am already the talk of the islands, Bekah thought. Or, at least, I was. Maybe by now, everyone has forgotten about what happened and moved on to something else.
Forgotten that David MacLaughlin is dead because of me.
"Sweet dreams, dear," Aunt Miriam said. "Get a good night's sleep."
"Good night, Auntie," Bekah answered, mustering a smile.
She went down the hall and into the room that had been hers for almost a full year. The blue-striped wallpaper bordered with yellow lilies had been chosen just for her, because it had reminded her aunt of her pale blond hair and deep blue eyes. The lacy four-poster "because you are the family princess."
Family murderess, Bekah thought as she lay down fully clothed. She stared at the ceiling and knew she dared not fall asleep.
If I do, the nightmares will come. And I can't take them any longer. I need to find some peace.
I need to go home and make everything all right.
Copyright © 2000 by Nancy Holder
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