Prologue - October 12, 1942
The bell tinkled gently as Lilli Windsor entered Judy and Pete's Diner, where she worked three days a week. Immediately the smells of greasy hamburgers, hot apple pie and strong coffee mingled together creating the unique smell she associated with work. She walked quickly to the kitchen, her white sneakers squeaking on the clean checkered floors. The tables were nearly empty, only a few occupied by the usual patrons, the rest waiting for the lunch rush to be filled.
"Hey Lil." Johnny, the cook, greeted with a smile while throwing a hamburger into the air with his spatula.
"Hi Johnny, where is everyone?"
"Viv's in back, eating something before the lunch rush and Judy's looking at the books in the office. Pete's off today, doing something with Willie. Judy told me, to tell you, that you're on the counter today, she and Viv will take the tables."
"Easy enough." Lilli pushed her jacket and purse under the counter and settled herself on the far stool. She pulled the tub of cleaned silverware toward herself and began to wrap it in napkins so it would be ready for fast setting later. She laughed as Johnny sang loudly in the kitchen and began to hum along with the familiar song. After a few minutes of the monotonous wrapping, she heard the bell tinkle softly again.
Lilli turned, finding a tall, handsome soldier standing in the doorway. He glanced around the diner quickly, as if deciding where he should land. His chocolate eyes lingered on Lilli for more than a passing moment, making a blush rise from her chest up to her hair. He took off his hat, tucking it carefully under his arm and slid onto a stool, running a hand through the dark thick hair he had uncovered.
Lilli was ashamed to say she had watched him for far too long, her blush still tinting her cheeks. She cleared her throat and straightened her skirt while spinning off her own stool. The man was still looking at the menu when she approached. She hated, more than anything, interrupting the customers to take an order or check on them. Something about it struck her as rude, even though she knew it was expected by the customers.
"Excuse me, but can I get you something to drink?" It came out as a whisper, a choked, embarrassed whisper.
Lilli cleared her throat, "Can I get you something to drink?"
"I'll have a strawberry milkshake please."
"Coming right up."
"Thank you." He smiled at her briefly before returning his attention to the menu in front of him.
Lilli walked to the kitchen and practically threw herself into the ice cream freezer, dangling over the side to dig out three large scoops of strawberry ice cream. She added a squeeze of strawberry syrup and milk before turning on the blender. While the noisy piece of kitchen equipment did it's work, she glanced over her soldier, who had put the menu down and was now waiting patiently at the counter.
His uniform fit him perfectly, accentuating what could only be well toned muscles. He had a perfect complexion, sun tanned skin matched with black stubble that dusted his chin. His jaw tensed for a moment, his eyes narrowed as if he was focusing on something in the kitchen. She pulled the pitcher off the machine and poured the thick concoction into a chilled glass cup.
"Sorry for the wait. What else can I get for you?"
"I'll have the chicken club, with fries, please."
She bit the corner of her lip as she scribbled, she lifted her eyes, waiting for him to say more. Most customers peppered her with corrections and problems so fast that she could barely get it all written on the small pad, of course it didn't help that she was meticulous when it came to writing her orders, every letter needing to be perfect. I want the bacon cheeseburger, with only one piece of bacon and a thinly sliced tomato, no pickle or mustard, but extra mayo. I would also like the fries extra crispy, not soggy, and I'd like them to be fresh and well salted right out of the frier.
"Is that all?"
"Yes," his eyebrows scrunched together, obviously confused, "do people, usually order more than one meal at a time?"
Nervous laughter gurgled from her throat, "No, sorry, we just don't get many orders straight from the menu, most customers are a bit more, particular."
"Sorry to disappoint."
"Not at all, you've made my job quite a bit easier."
"Glad to be of help."
"This should be out in a bit." she smiled, waving the order slip in the air, only to drop it on the floor. After bending to pick it up, she shot him an embarrassed smile, then turned to deliver the slip to Johnny. She was tip toeing back toward her stool when Johnny called to her through the small window.
"Hey Lil, what does this say? I can't quite make it out."
"What?" Lilli exhaled, exasperated, rushing back to see what the problem was, knowing she had marked the order pad exactly right.
Johnny was near hysterical in the back, "Just kidding Lil, it's as neat as a typewriter, as usual, couldn't help myself."
Lilli sighed, turning around to go back to her stool at the far end of the counter. She noticed that the soldier had been watching, which only added to her embarrassment. The napkins and silverware kept her busy, and aided in her avoidance of the soldiers captivating eyes. While she was working, Viv came out of the back room, her high heels announcing her before she came into view.
"Well hello beautiful!" Viv yelled, leaning up against the counter where Lilli sat.
"Why didn't you come see me when you came in?"
"I figured I'd see you soon enough, besides I have a customer." Lilli smiled, tilting her head slightly to her left, pointing out the soldier sitting at the counter.
"Isn't he cute!" Viv sighed.
"Please, like you don't think he's cute!"
"Shh, I do, but he doesn't need to know it."
"Order up!" Johnny called from the kitchen.
"That's mine." Lilli announced, hopping from the stool.
"Do flirt with him a little would ya?"
"Please Viv! You know me well enough to know that I have no skills with men at all."
Lilli delivered his meal, then left him alone to eat it, asking only if she could get him anything else. She thought it was strange that he was here all alone. Usually soldiers came in groups, creating more noise than the blender. The Diner became more and more crowded as the hours crept on, but the soldier still sat, slurping his fourth strawberry milkshake.
"Can I get your check?" Lilli asked, for the third time.
"That depends, is your shift over?"
"What?" she asked, confused. "What does that have to do with your check?"
"I would love to take you out when your shift is over." he said softly, leaning across the counter toward her.
"Me? Are you sure you don't want to go out with the blonde in the high heels?"
He laughed, "Quite sure, she's not my type. So, when does your shift end, and can I take you out when it does?"
Lilli busied herself with something under the counter, trying to hide her blush and embarrassed smile. She had never been asked out before, especially not by a handsome stranger who had stayed in the diner waiting for her. It was all a bit flattering, and unnerving at the same time. "I don't usually make plans with men I don't know. We haven't even been introduced."
The soldier smiled and stood, extending a strong hand to Lilli. "Hi, I'm Joe Sinclair, it's a pleasure to meet you."
Lilli took his hand and smiled, unable to hide her blush this time. He held her hand tenderly, gently brushing his thumb against the side of hers. "I'm Lilli, Lilli Windsor."
"So, Miss Windsor, would you please accompany me somewhere after your shift?"
"I'll think about it."
"Then I'll take another strawberry milkshake until you make up your mind."
"Coming right up." she smiled. His determination intrigued her but she was glad for the opportunity to sneak away. She wasn't exactly the kind of girl that went out with a man she had never met. Although she lived in a city, she was a small town girl all the way through, shy and skeptical. Viv was waiting for her at the ice cream freezer, pulling a string of gum out of her mouth.
"Did I hear correctly? Did he just ask you out?"
"But what?! He's gorgeous, he's a soldier, it's probably his last night in town, those are the best kind!"
"He's a stranger! Besides, I'm on till eleven."
"No you're not, I've just decided I need some extra hours."
"But you've been here since seven!"
"No more buts, he's gorgeous, he likes you, you're going!"
"If he murders me, it's all your fault!"
"Oh stop being so dramatic! He's a soldier, nothing is going to happen to you, except you might fall in love, or get kissed!"
"Now who's being dramatic?" Lilli smiled.
"Go tell him you're off in a half an hour." Viv insisted, pushing her toward the dining room.
"Ready," Lilli announced, pulling off her apron then slipping into her jacket.
Joe merely smiled, jumping off the stool with a great deal of enthusiasm and opened the door for Lilli. "How about a walk in the park?"
"Sounds perfect." she smiled.
They walked slowly toward the parks entrance, Joe's arm protectively around Lilli's waist. Lilli was nervous, not sure of what to say or do, being so foreign to the world of dating and all that went with it. "I'm glad you decided to come with me." Joe said finally, ending the silence that was making Lilli more and more tense.
"Of course! It's not every day you meet a beautiful woman who's humble, efficient and dedicated."
"How on earth do you know all that?"
"I was watching you for five hours, remember? You handled the counter better than the other waitress with the tables."
"She tends to be a bit chatty."
"I could tell." he laughed.
"So, do you usually ask the first girl you meet out on a date after eating in a diner?"
"No, I ate in a café this morning and didn't ask that waitress out. You were different, special, I knew it immediately. As soon as you whispered, 'Excuse me, can I get you something to drink?"
"Or maybe, you did ask your first waitress out, but she had the good sense to say no." Lilli laughed, walking stiffly, still uncomfortable. Joe laughed too and they continued down the gravel path. Bright colored leaves highlighted the edges of it, setting off the still green grass. A gust of wind blew thru the trees, letting loose another bunch of amber colored leaves. The wind also set Lilli into a shiver, trembling uncontrollably for a moment.
"Here." Joe stopped and pulled off his coat, draping it around Lilli's shoulder, capturing her auburn hair under it's khaki color. She flashed him an unabashed smile of thanks and tugged it tighter around herself. She had never met such a man before, so considerate and kind. Her life at the girls academy had been completely free of boys. Viv was always sneaking away to find men after lights out, but Lilli lacked the motivation and courage to go with her.
She had just been home a year and had been keeping so busy, she hadn't met any eligible bachelors, at least they weren't eligible in her mind, much to her mothers dismay. Her mother wanted grandchildren, the sooner the better. Lilli's shy disposition kept the boys from calling, a fact her mother never let her forget. She would never believe where I am right now, Lilli thought, curled up in Joe's jacket.
"I'm sorry I met you today." Joe said softly.
"What?" Lilli jumped from his arms, offended and confused.
"No, that's not what I meant! I meant that I wish I had met you sooner than my last night in the states. We could have gotten to know each other."
"I'm sorry, I'm not very good with boys, I thought you decided you didn't like me. Gosh, I guess I shouldn't have admitted that."
A deep, light laugh lifted from Joe's chest and immediately made Lilli smile. "You are quite an interesting girl."
"Don't apologize for it! Really, I would much rather be married to an interesting girl than a boring one!"
Lilli's breath caught in her chest, "Married? Don't you think it's a little soon to be talking about marriage?"
"Soldiers like me don't exactly have a lot of time, I doubt I'm going to see many women on the battlefield. And even if I would, I don't think anyone would be as beautiful or interesting as you."
Lilli blushed again, it seemed chronic in his presence. She couldn't control the effect his kind words had on her. They continued to talk as they strolled thru the park. Lilli liked the feeling of his strong arm firmly around her and breathed deep the spicy cologne that clung to the jacket that was currently keeping her warm despite the brisk chill of the night.
Darkness began to fall around them, street lights blinking on, offering sporadic pools of light for them to walk by. Eventually, Lilli realized how late it was, knowing her mother would have expected her home a long while ago. "I should be getting home, my mother will be worried."
"I'm sorry to hear it, I would be happy to spend all night with you."
"Yes, I'm sure we could find a hotel somewhere."
Lilli's jaw dropped, completely shocked by his suggestion. Never before had she been offered, that. "I'm sorry if you miss understood my friendliness Mr. Sinclair, I'm not that kind of woman."
"I shouldn't have brought it up. It was impulsive of me, it's just, I don't know what's going to happen where I'm going."
"I know, it's ok, but I can't, I won't." she stuttered.
"I would still like to get to know you Lilli, could you forget what I just asked, and, let me write to you while I'm gone?"
"Yes, please, I'd like that very much." she took out her order pad that was still tucked into her purse. She carefully wrote out her address and slipped the ticket into his jacket pocket. They had finally reached the Diner and Lilli was just about to slide into the front seat of her mothers sedan. He took the jacket from her, and promised to write as soon as he arrived at his first post. With the door opened and Lilli safely inside, he bent down and gently kissed her cheek, causing her pulse to quicken.
"I look forward to hearing from you."
November 6, 1942
I have just arrived in Europe with my friends Sam and Wes. Nothing much has happened yet, we've just been spoken to by more than six commanding officers. I wish I was still with you in Norfolk, taking a leisurely stroll in the park. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll be home soon.
December 12, 1942
I just can't stop thinking about you! If it weren't for the war I would wish you were here right with me, enjoying these beautiful views. I hope all is well where you are, I'm staying safe, please don't worry.
December 26, 1942
I know you may not get this for some time, but I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We were given extra rations to celebrate the holidays. I hope you were given something a great deal better than extra rations.
January 30, 1943
How are you beautiful? I so enjoy reading all you have to say about you ife. Things are quite simple here, living in tents and eating dehydrated food. But if that's all for the good of our country, and really the world. Your letters keep me going.
March 6, 1943
Winter is sill stomring around us here, I'm sure you are experiencing sunny weather where you are. If only there was a building with heat! The battles are beginning to become more fierce, men are dying, it's all becoming so very real. But I will come home to you, and soon.
April 16, 1943
The men around here are growing restless around camp. The weather is beginning to get nicer, but our lives are still very much the same. I wish we could stroll through the park and talk like we did that first night.
Hi everyone! Here is my newest story! I've been working on this one for quite a while, and I'm pretty excited about it. I hope you'll let me know what you think!