Every chance she had, Lelia found herself at the counter, perched on the red, leather-covered stool, her feet resting on the blackened, steel runner. The excitement she felt dancing around her heart, had a life all its own as she waited for Sam, or her other friends to eventually come in. Commonly ordering the same thing, Lelia’s demonstrative voice would murmured, “Coney Island Chicken, please,” a hot dog, for those not familiar with the soda fountain slang. Lelia’s eyelashes fluttered in Danny’s direction, knowing full well he would only charge her four cents instead of the actual cost of a nickel.
A full year younger than Lelia, this was Danny’s first job, other than the struggles he had withstood on the lobster boat with his dad. No words could explain how much he loved working behind the counter, serving up ice cream and hot dogs, instead of stinking of fish bait. Despite the fact that Danny remained diligent at his job; taking the food orders from the folks at the counter and washing the dishes, he always made time to keep an eye on the huge oak door with the thick beveled glass. Forever in hopes the next person walking through that door just might be that gorgeous redhead.
Though, when Lelia did come ambling through the door and over to the counter, he never said more than, ‘What can I get for you today? ” before quickly looking down at his feet as soon as he’d asked. Apparent to everyone frequenting the counter, shy, pimply-faced Danny had a crush on Lelia. Nonetheless, he wasn’t the only boy in the harbor that did, he stood in the company of many. One afternoon, after sitting at the counter for quite some time, Lelia’s cheeks flared red with impatience; she had waited long enough. Jumping down from her seat, she flashed a smile to the bashful Danny, saying, “See you later.
He blushed, immediately glancing down at the floor when he made accidental eye contact with the girl of his dreams. Sitting on her favorite stool; third one from the left, the one giving her an unspoiled view of the front doorway, Lelia felt she’d waited long enough. The sassy redhead, unaccustomed to being stood up, had assumed Sam would be there, and when he didn’t come in, she felt snubbed. Beside her empty dishes, at the counter, Lelia left her four cents plus two more, not sure if she was feeling generous, or perhaps sorry for Danny. The oak door felt heavier than usual when she pulled it open.
Once opened, the thick, muggy August air stuck to her face like a wet sheet. Though the afternoon sea-breeze, the harbor was well-known for, had kicked in, the day showed no sign of cooling off. Painstakingly, Lelia looked up and down the street, there were no signs of Sam. Annoyed, she decided to head for home. To soothe her perturbed feelings, Lelia hoped Sylvia would be home sitting on her front porch across the street from her house. Perhaps the two of them could fool around, playing their made-up-gossip-game; maybe regarding Owen. Sylvia and Lelia had conjured up the game way back when they were kids.
The two friends, making up stories about people they scarcely knew, always filling in the gaps with madcap guess work and enchanted mystery. Now thinking about the game, not Sam, Lelia thought it would be only fitting the game evolve around Owen Bauer, that new cute guy working at the First National. After all, Mr. Owen Bauer was not a local, he was a stranger in town. She giggled to herself, thinking of him being called “Mister”. When leaving the Five and Dime, stepping out onto the sidewalk, Lelia stepped right on the foot of the man she had just been giving thought to, Mr. Owen Bauer.
From across the street, sitting on the wrought-iron park bench in front of the library, Owen had been watching the Five and Dime, waiting for the eye-catching redhead to appear. He had devised a plan to accidently meet her. However, spoiling his plot, and briefly blinding him, the sunshine had found its way between the two colossal oak trees standing directly in front of the bench he’d chosen to sit on. Hoping he’d go unnoticed, Owen left the bench, crossed the library lawn, and meandered down to the street. Finally the tall, striking redhead stood at the oak door.
For exact timing, he’d picked up his pace to a run, traversing Township Avenue, just in time to cause the mishap. “Oh my heavens. ” Lelia stood bursting with awkwardness. Nonetheless, she did manage to verbalize the words: “I’m so sorry”, before tripping as she stumbled off Owen’s foot. He caught her shoulders with both hands, flashing a toothy grin. “Hey, my foot is okay. ” His laugh seemed to have a touch of haughtiness to it. “But you look a bit shook up. ” He reached out to the beautiful woman standing before him, saying, “Here, take my hand; let’s walk some.
The minute Lelia’s warm, velvety hand slipped into his; Owen’s insides filled with desire. As the sunny day dulled and the atmosphere dampened with more humidity, the couple strolled across the wooden footbridge, taking their very first stroll together. The footbridge, connecting the west shore to the east side of Cutler Harbor was their risky choice. In desperate need of repair and roughly forty years old, the construction of the old footbridge dated back to the turn of the century. The rot, from the years of storms and salty tides, showed on the planking and pilings.
About halfway back across the rickety footbridge the young couple paused. Owen leaned closely in toward Lelia’s delicate features. He attempted to gaze into her eyes, wanting to steal a kiss. However, Lelia, too busy pontificating about her life to notice Owen’s actions, merely talked on. Breaking the mood of the kiss, in Owen’s mind, that is, Lelia Russell’s exact words were, “One boy, and one girl. ” Excitement radiated from her voice. The alluring redhead chattered on rather adamantly. “I shall marry a proper man (Samuel Truman, she thought, smiling as she just about said Sam’s name aloud), who has a respectable job.
He’ll work with his dad as a lawyer. She giggled again, hoping this time she hadn’t said the last part aloud. First, we’ll have a son, followed in a few years by a daughter. I can even picture our home, a darling house, up there,” she pointed to a cluster of attractive homes nestled on the hill, “overlooking the harbor. ” Uneasy, as the gloomy clouds rolled in off the ocean, bringing a chill to the previously muggy air, Owen peered up dispassionately at the sky, responding to Lelia’s prattling in silence. The smile he had sported at meeting the “prettiest girl in the harbor” rapidly faded, as his dark, brown eyes narrowed to mere slits.
Placing both hands firmly on the greying rail of the footbridge, his eyes moved from the sky to Lelia, and finally fixated on the green water below. Rapidly, panic moved in. He pictured Lelia twenty pounds heavier, holding a crying baby in one arm, with another sobbing child clinging to her apron string. All the while screaming at him to pick up the mess he’d left and get to work. Shaking his head, Owen managed to shatter the horrible thoughts he’d conjured up. After pulling himself together, his nervous silence gave way to an edgy grin when reality hit; she couldn’t possibly be suggesting him as a husband; they’d only met that afternoon.
That first encounter with Owen left Lelia a bit “boy crazy” (as were countless girls in town) about him. Not only attractive, Owen gave the impression that he held a significant distinction from the other boys they all had known. He carried a sense of abstraction about him and perhaps some mystery surrounding his presence. No one knew anything about him, his family, or his history. Growing up in Maine during the 20s and 30s, with no means of transportation, money in scarcity, and nothing more than the radio for news and details of the “outside” world, one tended to know “everything” about “everybody.
If Samuel’s father had clients that paid with chickens instead of cash, everyone quickly knew about it. If Priscilla’s parents were fighting, everyone knew, etc. Honestly, malicious gossip couldn’t have been further from the truth; it’s just how it is in a small town. Like Samuel’s father, his grandfather had been a lawyer, and like Lelia’s father, her grandfather had been a steamboat captain, nothing ever seemed to change. Lelia had sat at the same desk where her teacher sat when she had been Lelia’s age, attending the same high school.
Frankly, in the tiny town of Cutler Harbor, Maine there were no secrets and no mysteries lurking anywhere. For Lelia, the appeal of Owen remained the mystery and intrigue, not the handsome man himself. True, Lelia flirted with Owen as she had with William Randall, III the year before. However, her heart belonged to Samuel Truman, and she had hoped he’d be asking for her hand in marriage before he left for the Academy. As the fun-filled, captivating summer of ’38 flew by, it abruptly ended upon September’s chilly air arrival.
Totally surprising Lelia, her mother let her take the bus with Sam to the Ellingwood Train Station so they could say their farewells before he left for school. “Gosh, Mother,” Lelia said, standing on the checker kitchen floor, kicking her right foot at nothing. “He’ll be gone and I won’t see him until Thanksgiving. ” Three months could seem a lifetime at Lelia’s age. “Lelia Elizabeth, stop arguing and listen. ” Marion placed her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “I said, yes. Yes, you may take the bus with Sam over to Ellingwood to see him off. “