September 1, 1939
There were six of us in all. None of us shared physical appearances, and our personalities were perhaps even more varied. We all possessed separate, intricately woven lives, hobbies we enjoyed and odd jobs we were forced to do. But at first we—the four of us—were one. Just once a year, mind, not every day or even every week. In between these unusual meetings we would catch occasional, brief but somehow lingering, glimpses of one another in the streets, but even then we took no chances by acknowledging the presence of another we were so close to emotionally. Before the war, we had been simple friends, content with passing smiles on the streets or small waves. But that was before the war. After, we were forced to turn to one another.
The first day of September of 1939 commenced, and ended in tears, at least in the household of Carolyn Amelia Griffen. Mr. Griffen was not a wealthy man, but certainly was not plagued with the degree of financial difficulties that were so common in the surrounding neighborhood. He and his wife ran the local paper in the downstairs area of his house, a well-worn job, which had been handed down to each and every Griffen that reached back at least four generations. Before the age of typewriters, the bottom floor of their house had been a constant flurry of movement—of anxious persons fluttering about in an attempt to locate a missing ink bottle, or perhaps four or five of them arguing passionately over who would be the one to run to fetch paper. As of late however, not only the bottom floor, but the whole house reverberated with the echoing click-clacking sound of the typewriter, with, of course, the occasional curse as one's key stuck. While this new method of work proved remarkably efficient for Mr. and Mrs. Griffen, it also kept their eldest daughter, Carolyn, up all night, despite her efforts to pin her pillow over her head to shut out the raucous. Carolyn—though admittedly still the tender age of eleven—was the eldest of seven Griffen daughters, and as her father and mother squandered their hours replacing typing ribbons or removing ink stains from the hardwood, the result was that the eleven-year-old girl was presently raising her younger sisters singlehanded.
The reason why little Genevive Griffen—at five years old, the youngest of the sisters—was currently sobbing her sorrows to her elder sisters was the product of her own mother's failure to recognize the importance that any decent girl starting kindergarten simply must have shoes with silver buckles to wear to school. This was of course, with no regard to the fact that even with the papers' rapidly growing consumer level, Mrs. Griffen still had seven daughters to support and that the shoes she had presented Genevive with—which admittedly had rather tarnished copper buckles—had once been Carolyn's own, and the profit that was made from the paper was already being sucked into the pleads of the girls for new fashionable clothes, toys and shoes.
"Don't worry Ginny," Carolyn stroked her sister's arm while lacing up her own boots single-handed, for she too was almost due for school. "You'll love school. Ms. Patrick was my teacher for kindergarten, she's very kind."
"No she isn't!" Seven-year-old Amanda piped up impertinently. "She strapped me on the very first day of school!"
"That's because you threw your pencil at Kenneth Brownley!" Scolded Carolyn, and seeing Ginny's chin wobble, added: "I'll be right next door to you, you know. Year Six students have a classroom right next to the kindergarten, you know that?"
"Really?" Ginny's eyes were now as round as saucers. "Can I come and visit you?"
"Sure, but don't get caught, alright? We can't have you in trouble on the first day of school!" Laughing, Ginny hopped to her feet and Carolyn pulled Amanda up with her. Together, the three sisters trooped down the stairs to nearly hurdle into Dolores, Bonney, Emma and Catherine, all of whom had been eagerly waiting at the bottom, simply brimming with anticipation.
"Honestly, I've never seen anyone so excited to get to school!" Carolyn remarked over the furious typing, giving her sisters a hasty once-over. "Emma, do up your boots, you don't want to trip! And Dolores, honestly, must you wear that to school?" Dolores grinned cheekily up at Carolyn, fingering the necklace of pebbles she had donned all summer around her neck. "Alright," And with that, the girls were off to school.
"Thomas Lehman?" Ms. Jensen's rather obnoxious, carrying voice echoed around the classroom walls, though it was met with no reply. Carolyn's attention was not, in fact, centered on the teacher however—quite the contrary, it rotated around a plump sparrow, which had landed on the sun-drenched windowsill of the classroom.
Fat and cheerful, it sang a merry tune before, its black eyes gleaming like jewels, it turned and was off in pursuit of some unknown object, perhaps in the form of a worm or maggot on the ground below. Her attention was duly diverted though, when a distraction of wadded up paper, which had clearly been torn from a notebook, was tossed onto her desk by a girl several rows behind her.
Have you heard about Tom?
Carolyn suppressed a resolute sigh, knowing full well what information Mary Kendrick was about to indulge her with.
Though Mary was well known for her talent to turn a molehill into a mountain and had a keen eye for drama, it had become common knowledge that Thomas Lehman had recently been caught—which was the sole surprising element of the event, as anyone who was well enough acquainted with Thomas knew—with no less than seven wallets in his tattered jacket. Allegedly he had been found with his hand actually poised to slip into the pocket of another unwary pedestrian when a nearby constable had caught his eye and marched over to confront him.
Carolyn sought not to prod Mary into one of her vendettas against Thomas, whom she had bourn a severe dislike of ever since the first day of school, and bearing such warnings in mind, she pocketed the note and turned her attention to the teacher.
"Thomas Lehman! Are you here?" Ms. Jensen was now scanning the classroom with her rather beady dark eyes scrutinizing every inch of the room before returning to her list. "No? Pity, pity…" But it was made abundantly clear from her light tone that she was anything but upset at his absence.
I heard he got two months for that. And a fine! Agnes says she saw him being dragged out of the station the other day by his dad…
Grinding her teeth, Carolyn kept her gaze steadily focused on the blackboard as Ms. Jensen sought to recover her place on the list.
"Ah, yes, Agnes Mackenzie?" Mary's second-in-command, she trailed after her as though wishing to imitate an anxious puppy, though admittedly shared her friend's adoration for all things that were meant to be secret. "Josephine Nicholas? There you are…Marilyn Piper?"
It's no real loss, though. He was such a pain, honestly, we're better off without him!
"Ms. Jensen, may I go to the bathroom?" Carolyn stood and walked swiftly out of the room without awaiting an answer, and she was certain a good measure of steam must've been pouring out of her ears, for she was so lost in thought she failed to notice that she had bumped right into someone hurrying down the hall. "Sorry," She muttered, but was taken aback once she saw the boy's face. "Thomas?" Thomas's unruly brown hair was sticking up haphazardly and his expression was one of utmost fear.
"Carol! Come with me!" And much to her shock, he began to drag her off down the hallway in the opposite direction—towards the exit. Rather than complying so easily, she dug her heels in and skidded to a stop on the waxed floor of the school. "Come on!" He gave her arm yet another desperate tug. "We can't waste time!"
"What are you talking about?" Carolyn wrenched her arm from his grip and frowned at him in confusion.
"I'll tell you later, just come on!" He made a grab for her arm once more yet she nimbly danced just out of his reach.
"No, you'll tell me now. Why are you even here? I heard about what you did last week and you're supposed to be in pris-"
"Carolyn," Thomas faced her and his piercing gaze seemed to bore into her mind. "I will explain everything, I promise. Just—not now!" A tentative hand reached out to grasp her own but no prompting was required. Carolyn had been acquainted with Thomas ever since the age of five and not once in the lengthy six years she had known him had his eyes held this level of urgency.
The pair took off down the hall, unconcerned about the heavy clattering their shoes were causing on the floor, and ceased to even pause for a breather, until they were a solid two blocks away. It was then that they paused for breath, their gasps causing clouds of breath to shatter the stillness of the milky, bitter start to the day. There they stood, for a long few moments, regarding the deserted streets around them with uncertainty, squinting into the sharp, white sunlight.
"I'm sorry," Thomas spoke at last, his words barely audible, his gaze directed at his feet. "But I had to get you out of there." His words made absolutely not sense to Carolyn—out of where, the school? Why? "But we're at war."