The Soldier and His Lady
A Short Story
Written by Annika MW
Part One ~
May 5th, 1942 – At the Dance – 70 Years Earlier
There was a dance that night at the town hall – music all night long, soldiers with their dates they'd asked at the diner only a few hours earlier. There were multiple couples already dancing vivaciously on the floor while the Glenn Miller band played the latest hits. Many of the soldiers were young, handsome and above average height. The young ladies dressed in their best dresses and bright rouge lipstick. Many of them could be seen at the salon a few hours previous, getting the new look down before the dance. Their men had returned and the ladies showed off like peacocks.
Whilst the women wore their best dresses and new up-do's, the soldiers and officers of rank wore their uniforms, freshly ironed; all of their pins in the right places and perfect – not a scratch on them or their uniforms. Some men wore hats on their heads – even as they danced with their ladies.
The night of the dance in honor of the soldiers, there was one young gentleman who stood out – perhaps it was not because of his rank or the fact he went alone to the dance. His story would be quite a remarkable one (should the reader choose to believe in such things, of course). He would nod, bow and smile kindly back – hoping to sweep a young lady off her feet upon the dance floor. Many of the ladies there looked only once his way when they saw him – they acknowledged him with a small kind smile and a nod but never stole a second glance.
There was one particular young lady that caught the soldier's attention that evening. She had her blonde hair curled and pinned half up and half down. Her she was mostly pale but her cheeks were slightly rosy and she had beautiful brown doe eyes and full lips, painted red. Her cerulean blue dress fit her wonderfully, hugging her comfortably in all the right places. A half smile formed on his face as he watched her laughing with her friends (he imagined they were her friends). After all, why would such a stunning, lovely girl like her come here alone – like he did?
Slowly, their gazes met – her laughter died and she sent the soldier a small smile. He knew she had been different from the other girls in the room – she was the only one who glanced at him a second time, still with that gorgeous smile of hers. Dared he go talk to her? If he could face a war in France, he could talk to a girl and ask her to dance. The soldier cleared his throat and straightened himself up before mustering up the courage to go and talk to the lady in the cerulean blue dress. To receive her attention, he cleared his throat again. She turned from her friends and glanced at him – the third glance. He sighed as she looked up at him intriguingly.
He paused for a moment before speaking.
"If you're not otherwise engaged, Miss, would you care to share the next dance with me?"
"May I have the name of the gentleman who is asking?" she asked, turning herself fully around to look at him properly.
"Sergeant First Class Harry Young, Miss, may I inquire the name of the lady?"
"Gertrude Clarke, I am unavailable for my first dance but I would be honored to share the next with you, Sergeant Young,"
"Thank you, Miss Clarke,"
She returned her attention to her small party. Harry Young folded his hands behind his back and bowed out gracefully with a smile on his face. He had successfully captured her attention and a dance with the prettiest girl in the room. He needed air; the room had suddenly felt thick with heaviness. Perhaps it had only been because of his excitement for the dance. Either way, Harry made his way out of the dance hall and outside into the cool night air. He could hear the band playing String of Pearls. Harry imagined Gertrude dancing with another soldier, far better looking than he. It would be her first dance now. If he waited too long to relax his nerves outside, he would miss the chance to dance with Gertrude Clarke. But he would never make it to the dance.
Part Two ~
May 5th – Present Day
"Is everything ready?" I asked.
I was nervous beyond imagining. I'd talked to my mother and my grandmother about hosting a dance night for all the war veterans from World War II. I'd done some research in the town's archives and I read there had been a dance one night here in 1942 when some soldiers came home for a small amount of time to spend with their families. I thought the town hall would be the perfect place to hold this in honor of all those soldiers and their families. Many of them survived – one was my grandfather. He did come home after the war and had four kids with my grandmother. He died before I was born so I never got to know him. Grandma did told me of his valiant actions in the war and let me read the journal he'd kept when he was overseas.
This was for him and for all the others who survived and perished. I'd even gotten a few CDs of Big Band jazz so they could dance all night if they wanted to. There was also a jazz band coming tonight but I had no idea what time they would arrive. The dance would start at five thirty and go on until the last person left.
"Elsie, relax, everything will be fine. I'm so proud of you for doing this. Our veterans will truly appreciate this. I know they will." Mom sent me a smile.
She placed a kiss on the side of my forehead and took the clipboard from me.
"But now, I will take over. Go and get ready, okay?"
I smiled and left the town hall. My stomach went into knots even as I got home and changed out of my jeans and tee shirt. I slipped into my black and white polka dot spaghetti strap dress. I sighed as I began to play my music to calm my nerves. I danced around a little in the bathroom as I got my makeup out. I was fairly pale, but I had plain brown hair and brown eyes. I wasn't overweight but I wasn't skinny either. My height was average and I supposed I was decent looking but that was it.
I did my makeup carefully and applied bright red lipstick on last. Next thing was my hair…I would curl it and pin a little bit off to the side with a silver dragonfly brooch I'd inherited from my grandmother. I put this in carefully.
Once I finished prepping myself, I grabbed my black clutch and slipped on my bright red pumps and headed back to the town hall. People were already arriving and walking in. A few of them stopped to greet me and thank me for hosting the dance. As I got closer to the dance hall, the louder the music played. The catering was ready as was the bar. Everything looked stunning – red, white and blue of course.
I smiled as I looked around the ballroom. It was like a dream! Some veterans were already dancing with their ladies and clad in their finest uniforms. There were a few veterans in wheelchairs, some with only one foot or one hand. It still moved me all the same. Tonight was a night to remember their heroism.
As I wandered around the hall, there was one elderly veteran who stopped to talk to me.
"Thank you, Miss Hunter, for hosting such a beautiful dance. It reminds me of the night when all the boys were back in town and there was a dance back in '42. You and your family have done a remarkable job. May I request the first dance with you if you are available?"
"Of course, sir, I'd be honored! Mind you, I may be a little clumsy. I haven't dance in a little while. But I do know a lot of the dances."
The veteran laughed and smiled.
"Well, we can easily remedy that, Miss Hunter."
"I just need to run through a few things and I'll meet you here for the dance, Mr. Walters."
"That'll be mighty swell, my dear," Mr. Walters replied, with a kind smile.
I smiled and went to find my mother, who happened to be talking to the Master of Ceremonies.
"Mom, is there any news on the jazz band that's supposed to be coming? I don't want to have to use our playlist for the entire evening. I want them to have an actually band, just like in the 40s."
"They're on their way. It won't be long now."
"Okay, good. Is the catering decent?"
"I haven't received one complaint. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves."
"That's great!" I said, smiling.
My gaze wandered around the dance hall. It was the most beautiful thing I'd seen. Even my grandmother was here. She smiled when she saw me and waved. Before I could wave back, she continued chatting with her long time friends. By the wall, I saw a soldier, dressed in his best uniform – watching the crowd dancing. He had a cup of punch in his hand and sipped on it frequently. He turned his head and our gazes met. I smiled and then glanced at my mom and the Master of Ceremonies.
"Who's that standing over by the catering table?" I asked.
The Master of Ceremonies looked over and saw the young soldier.
"That is Harry Young, must be wearing a family member's uniform. He's awfully young to be here. He introduced himself at the front doors."
"Well, either way – it's nice that he's here. I'm going to talk to him for a bit and then I've got a dance with Mr. Walters."
"Lucky girl," said the Master of Ceremonies. "Mr. Walters in his youth was quite the catch with all the girls and a fine dancer."
I laughed and thanked him before walking towards Harry Young.
Harry Young watched her as she walked over to him. A girl was walking towards him! She was a beauty in her own way, her brown hair was curled and a strand was pinned back in a dragonfly brooch. She wore bright red lipstick and had pale skin. Unlike Gertrude, she wore a black dress with white polka dots and red high heels.
"Hello," she said.
"Thank you for coming to the dance. Do you have family members who are war veterans?"
"Oh I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Elsie Hunter."
"Sergeant First Class Harry Young,"
That was unusual, Elsie thought. She shrugged the feeling away and smiled as they shook hands. His hand felt cold in hers as she grasped it in a firm shake. A small shock went through her palm at their touch.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Young. I hope you enjoy the dance and the catering. Oh, there is also a live jazz band coming shortly. I'm sorry there aren't many other younger people here."
"That's alright, Miss Hunter. Please, call me Harry."
"Okay, well, I need to—,"
"If your card isn't full, could I have a dance with you, Miss Hunter?" Harry asked, quickly.
She could see he was a little nervous. But Harry made her smile.
"I have one dance before you but I would be honored to dance with you as well, Sergeant."
"You don't have a date?" he asked.
Elsie blushed and shook her head. No one would have ever asked her on a date most members of the opposite sex ignored her. They were more interested in girls like Juliana Osmond, the cheerleader and head of the prom committee, never girls like Elsie Hunter.
"No," she answered.
In comparison to most of the girls at her school, Elsie considered herself dreadfully plain and dull.
"No one ever asks me to go."
"No one would have gone with me if I'd have asked."
"Well, I guess we're two peas in a pod then." Elsie responded, with a small laugh.
"I suppose so,"
The song that had been playing on Elsie's iPod ended. The live band was finally here and setting up. Elsie then remembered her promise to dance with Mr. Walters.
"I'm sorry, but I promised Mr. Walters a dance. But I'll come right back when I'm done!"
"I'll just wait here, then."
Harry remembered Mr. Walters. John Grey-Walters was a year older than Harry and they had been acquaintances only. They hung out in the town once or twice while they were home from the war. He was surprised to see John Grey-Walters still alive and well, getting all the attention from the ladies. He had even won Miss Hunter's first dance. Once again, Harry Young had only been chosen second. What if Miss Hunter stood him up like Gertrude did? Elsie Hunter didn't seem like that kind of girl, however. She was sweet and kind – and she even talked to him!
"Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the high school's very own, Glenn Miller Appreciation Band. And now, if the gents will gather their ladies onto the dance floor for…" there was a brief pause, "the Jitterbug,"
Elsie found Mr. Walters and smiled when he extended his hand out to her.
"Are you sure you know how to dance the Jitterbug?" Mr. Walters asked.
"I'm a little rusty but I'm sure I can pick it up easily!" Elsie answered, laughing.
A few times she tripped over her own feet but soon enough, Elsie got the hang of dancing the Jitterbug. Harry watched Elsie dancing from where he was standing and a smile formed on his features. Elsie looked beautiful as she danced and twirled about. Her face was flushed red by the time the Jitterbug ended. The couples on the dance floor clapped and cheered for their live band. Elsie curtsied to Mr. Walters and thanked him. After her brief conversation, she returned to Harry Young.
"There's going to be a couple of minutes before the next dance starts."
"Would you still like to dance then?" Harry asked, as doubts crept up.
"Yes, I would," Elsie answered, with a kind smile. "So, what's your story, Sergeant Young? That's awfully strange…were you in the Middle East for war?"
He hadn't thought of a story good enough to believe. Harry hadn't been prepared for that. He didn't think anyone would see him haunting the corner like he did all those years ago. Elsie was different, she did see him. How would she believe his story – a forgotten war veteran who died the night of a dance? Fortunately, Elsie was distracted by an older woman – her mother.
"Elsie, how is everything with you? Is everything going well?" Mrs. Hunter asked.
"Yes, Mom, it is. Oh, Mom, this is Harry Young – a new friend of mine. Mr. Young, this is my mom Abigail Hunter."
"Pleasure to meet you ma'am," Harry said, with a bow.
"Harry Young? That name rings a bell…you look vaguely familiar. I know I've seen you somewhere."
"The band is starting! Come on, Harry!" Elsie exclaimed, grabbing his hand.
He was grateful for the escape. His death had been in the newspapers the following morning and everyone talked about it for weeks – how a young soldier on leave was murdered in front of the town hall. No one ever confessed and no one received punishment. Some people were interrogated – those thought suspicious. He was quite certain that everyone still knew about the misfortune.
"Ladies and gents, the Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz," the conductor announced.
"I can't waltz very well, Miss Hunter. I apologize beforehand."
Elsie giggled and took hold of his hand and put the other on his shoulder.
"It'll be fine,"
"See you weren't all that bad, Mr. Young!" Elsie exclaimed, after walking off the dance floor.
Harry chuckled and looked at his corner – how he desperately wanted to return to it and stay there. Elsie watched him curiously and sighed.
"I just need to talk to Mr. Hayes a moment. If you'll excuse me,"
She walked over to the double door entrance. There, she began conversing with the Master of Ceremonies – hoping he would know something about her handsome, youthful soldier.
"Mr. Hayes, I was just wondering if you knew anything about a Sergeant First Class named Harry Young."
Mr. Hayes paused for a moment before speaking. The name certainly sounded familiar to him. The only Harry Young he knew of was the one who died at a dance back in the '40s. According to the stories of his father and mother, he was found beaten to death in front of this dance hall. No one ever found out that Harry's murderer was – though there had been a handful of suspects.
"Look in the 1940-1942 guestbook – there was a dance here one evening when all the soldiers came home for a while. That would be your best bet." Mr. Hayes answered.
"1940s? Are you sure?" Elsie asked, as she stared at him in confusion.
"Quite, let me know if you find anything."
Elsie walked out into the foyer and behind the desk that faced the double doors. Behind her was a bookshelf filled with black books with years engraved into the spine. She found the guestbook from 1940-1942. Her grandmother told her of the dance back in 1942, the one she had attended with her grandfather. Elsie had inkling to look there. Many had attended the dance that night – there were at least three pages full of names. She recognized her grandparents' names immediately and smiled to herself. Elsie regained her focus – she was in search of Harry Young.
The third page of the guestbook down at the very bottom she found his name. It was neatly written cursive – a little faded due to age but it clearly said Sergeant First Class Harry Young. He had attended the dance alone. But that was not possible…was she dancing with a ghost? Or was he named after this Harry Young written in the guestbook? Nothing made sense to her. When she had introduced him to her mother, even her mother found the name familiar. Elsie released a breath she'd been holding and relaxed against the desk before closing the guestbook. A calm voice startled her out of her thoughts.
"Are you well, Miss Hunter? I saw you leave the dance and I thought I would make sure you were alright," Harry said his voice uncertain.
Elsie had nearly jumped out of her skin when he spoke to her. She nodded quickly and placed the book back in its place.
"Yes, I'm fine – I just, I just was – um – browsing through the guest books. I needed some air. Thank you for your concern, I'm fine."
"Would you like to have another dance, Miss Hunter?"
Elsie found herself unable to refuse him. He wasn't the best dancer but he wasn't terrible either. She agreed and he led her to the dance floor again.
Part Three ~
The Truth Revealed
"Thank you for sharing another dance with me, Miss Hunter. It meant the world to me."
Elsie blushed and smiled at her soldier. He glanced at her and studied her features. She was the polar opposite of Gertrude Clarke – the girl who had been his Blonde Beauty all those years ago. Harry soon realized why he had remained in this small town all these years – even after his death. His heart was shattered the night of the dance and it happened all over again.
Perhaps Gertrude Clarke hadn't been the girl of his dreams and desires, but it was Elsie Hunter, a girl from the future. His heart jumped as Elsie smiled at him.
"What?" she asked, as she caught him staring at her.
Harry cleared his throat and released an embarrassed chuckle before smiling back at her.
"Oh! I love this song! Let's go dance! Please!" Elsie exclaimed.
Faintly, Sing, Sing, Sing could be heard from inside the dance hall. Elsie grabbed hold of Harry's hand and pulled him along inside. He smiled at her eagerness and steadied her as she nearly tripped.
"Do you know the foxtrot?" Elsie asked.
"Yes," Harry answered.
"Good! That's what we're dancing!"
He'd never met a more energetic dancer than Elsie. She danced the foxtrot beautifully. Many of the couples spread out and watched them dance. They cheered and clapped along in rhythm. When the song ended, Harry caught her in his arms and she pressed herself against him, her hands on his shoulders. Elsie was breathing heavily and looked at him in surprise. His hands were settled on her waist, steadying her.
"Sergeant First Class Harry Young and Miss Elsie Hunter take the dance floor by storm!" the Master of Ceremonies announced into the microphone. "Now, ladies and gentlemen, Moon Indigo,"
Harry and Elsie stepped off the dance floor. Elsie could feel her cheeks burning and she hoped she wasn't blushing too terribly.
"Are you well, Elsie?" Harry asked. "You look a little red. Can I get you a drink?"
Elsie touched her cheek and sighed.
"I'm alright, thank you."
"Elsie, I need to have a word in private, if you don't mind."
They stepped outside again and sat down on a bench overlooking the gardens and the large water fountain.
"I have never been lucky enough to share a dance – not even two dances with a girl. You are unlike any other woman I have met."
"Harry," he interrupted, slowly taking hold of her hand.
Her palm tingled at his touch and she felt her heart flutter in her chest. Harry placed his other hand on the side of her face and brushed his thumb along her cheekbone.
"May I kiss you, Miss Hunter?"
"Yes, you may," she answered, as they leaned into one another.
It was a perfect first kiss for both of them. Elsie leaned into him further and allowed him to hold her. What astonished Elsie the most was how cold his lips were against hers. It hadn't been that cold inside or outside; which had been a little odd for her. Elsie broke the kiss and looked at him, her eyes wide.
"Elsie?" he asked.
"Are you—," she couldn't finish.
She couldn't even begin to imagine what this all had meant. He couldn't possibly be dead, but she had seen his name in the guestbook. It was impossible! Still, she found herself mesmerized by this young soldier.
"Am I what?" he continued.
"Does it frighten you if I am?" Harry replied.
"No," she answered, softly. "No, it doesn't bother me. How did you die, if it's alright to ask?"
"It was after the dance. It was in this same dance hall. I'd met Gertrude Clarke, one of the great beauties of this town. She was here with her group of friends. Some of them had dates with other soldiers but Gertrude was here without one, or so I thought. I asked her for a dance and she accepted – she was one of the only girls who looked at me twice. I'd been a wallflower most of the evening, smiling and watching everyone else dance. When she looked at me, it was as though a spell had been cast over me. I found myself in raptures with Gertrude Clarke. I'd gone outside to relax a bit before our dance; you see she had one dance before me so I had some time.
"I never made it to dance with her. She and her posse left as I was returning, all of them laughing and giggling. Gertrude's date, Barnie Osmond, was the man who killed me."
There was a pause and Elsie took hold of his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
"It's okay," she said, tenderly.
"In fact, I think it'd be better if I just showed you what happened that night. Are you ready?" he continued.
Elsie nodded and he rested his forehead against hers. The world spun quickly around them. Elsie felt cold and she realized it was dark when she opened her eyes. Harry glanced at her and they stood up off the bench. The town they were in was completely different, Elsie accepted the fact she just stepped into history and was awestruck.
"What year is it?" she asked.
"May 5th, 1942, the night of the dance,"
"Oh my gosh," she said, stunned. "The town has changed a lot since then."
Harry gave her a sad smile and nodded. They walked from the gardens and onto the road. Not many cars were out tonight, just the ones that had been parked for the dance.
"Elsie, you can't interfere with the past. Promise me? I just need you to see what happened."
"Okay," she answered, with a nod.
They stopped at the side of the building and watched a young man leave the building.
"Is that you?" Elsie asked, softly.
Not long after, a group of three girls and three guys exited the building. The tallest, brawny looking chap stood out to Elsie. She could guess that was Barnie Osmond. But what stood out to her the most was one of the couples in the groups. She'd seen their faces before – her mother had pictures of them.
"Those are my grandparents!" Elsie cried. "Gertrude Clarke knew my grandparents!"
Harry was quick to cover her mouth and press her up against the wall of the building.
"Elsie, you promised me!" Harry hissed.
"Sorry," she whispered.
"…what the hell do you think you're doin' with my girl, huh?" a voice shouted.
Elsie jumped and turned around to watch the scene.
"That is Barnie Osmond,"
"…Barnie, I only asked for one dance. I meant no harm. I didn't know she was on a date."
"You think just 'cause you're a soldier you have a right to any girl you see?" Barnie snarled.
"Barnie, stop it. Leave the boy alone."
"Thelma, you stay of this!" Barnie shouted, looking at the brunette.
Elsie watched as her grandfather stepped between Barnie and Thelma, her grandmother.
"Look, Barnie, it's just one dance we haven't even had yet."
"You ain't gonna be dancing with my girl. She came here with me, got that, wise guy?"
"Come on, Barnie, it's just one dance." Gertrude said, coolly. "Besides, I felt bad for the poor boy."
"Shut up!" Barnie snapped, and went to smack her. "You're here with me, not him!"
Elsie winced as she heard the sound of the slap echo. Gertrude cried out in shock and nearly stumbled. Thelma wrapped her arms around her friend and pulled her back.
"That wasn't very gentlemanly of you, Barnie." Harry said, sending Barnie a dark look. "It's not right to hit a lady."
"Harry, just go." Gertrude exclaimed.
Harry was about to walk back into the dance hall, his hopes high. He would have one dance with Gertrude. She was the only girl who wanted to!
"Miss Clarke, you promised me just one dance. I'll—,"
Before he could finish, Barnie grabbed Harry by the collar of his uniform and shoved him against a car.
"I thought I said you ain't dancin' with Gertrude tonight, son. She came here with me." Barnie glared at Harry and threw a punch into his chest.
Harry groaned and went to punch Barnie. Barnie caught Harry's arm and punched him in his stomach and knocked one into his jaw.
"Barnie, stop it!"
"Barnie, come on, man! Enough!"
"Leave him alone!"
All the voices rang out at once.
"No!" Elsie cried out and nearly ran over to him had it not been for this Harry. He caught her and held her back, even as she struggled.
Elsie watched as Barnie continued throwing punches at Harry even after he was bleeding from the nose and mouth. Harry was violently kicked against the car and another punch was sent towards his head, strong enough to knock out a man. Harry gave up trying to fight back. Everything hurt. His vision was blurred and he could taste blood in his mouth. One final blow to the head sent him to the ground. Harry closed his eyes as his head struck the ground. Barnie's foot slammed into his back and once more into his neck.
"Elsie, Elsie, stop fighting me. I told you that you can't interfere!" Harry said, holding her back.
"He killed you! He – he just,"
Elsie allowed her tears to fall. Harry held her as she buried her face into his shoulder and cried. He gently caressed the back of her head and sighed. When he often went back to this night to watch his own death, Harry felt the blows still. It was a bitter way to die, getting beaten up over a girl.
"Elsie," his voice was gentle and soft when he spoke to her. "For seventy years I waited to have that dance. Now I finally got three and they were the best dances I have ever had."
When Elsie looked up, they were back in the future – her present day. Harry smiled at her and wiped her tears away. She took hold of his hands and released the heavy sigh she'd been holding back.
"What are you going to do now?" she asked. "Will you get to stay?"
"I don't know, Elsie."
"Can we have one more dance?"
Moonlight Serenade was played in the dance hall. Harry and Elsie danced slowly together in the gardens, enjoying each other's company for however long it would last. Harry knew he didn't have much time left before he was gone. Elsie smiled as he twirled her around. They stopped dancing and swaying to the music.
"You're fading," Elsie said, quietly. "Harry? Harry, no – please don't leave."
"Thank you, Elsie, for everything you've done for me. You have freed me. I will never forget you."
He took hold of her and kissed her. The kiss was sweet and chaste but brief. Elsie would not allow herself to cry. Her voice cracked when she spoke.
"Harry, don't go."
"I have to, Elsie. I will always be with you. We'll see each other again, when you're ready. I promise."
Harry took a few steps back and looked at Elsie. He only looked at her, nothing else mattered. She would survive because she was strong.
"I love you, Elsie."
It was only one night but he felt it, his growing love for her. After he confessed, a wave of peace flowed through the both of them.
"I'll miss you, Harry."
"And I you,"
He held her hand as he continued to fade. In the blink of an eye, he was completely gone – he was resting and at peace. Rest finally had accepted him and he was happy.