Read American Pie Online

Authors: Maggie Osborne

Tags: #General, #Romance, #Fiction, #Contemporary, #Adult, #Irish Americans, #Polish Americans, #Immigrants, #New York (N.Y.)

American Pie (2 page)

BOOK: American Pie
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"You may go." Not looking up from his forms, Dr. Waithe waved toward a door she had failed to notice until now.

Clasping shaking hands against her quilted skirt, Lucie swallowed a lump the size of a biscuit. She could not speak above a whisper. "Are you turning me away?"

Now he glanced up and managed a weary smile. "No, Miss Kolska. You appear to be in excellent health."

Relief weakened her knees. Then she remembered the questions and a fresh onslaught of anxiety overwhelmed her. Inside the second room a half dozen officials directed questions at a half dozen trembling respondents. Lucie thanked heaven a stool had been provided. Her shaking legs could not have held her upright throughout the ordeal.

A man with a thick dark mustache pointed to a stool before him. "Do you speak English?"

"Yes, sir," she whispered, averting her eyes from his uniform. Petor had insisted no one in America feared uniforms, but old habits were hard to break. At home a man in uniform could conscript a brother or father into the army, could seize a wife or daughter for an hour's pleasure, could take the winter's food from the cellar. And one could do nothing but smile and bow and push the hatred deep inside.

"Can you read and write?"

"Slowly, but yes, I can." The official murmured a word of approval and placed a check mark on his papers. Feeling bewildered Lucie's dark eyes widened. Was it possible she had already answered two of the dreaded questions? Surely not.

"What kind of work do you do?"

"Farm work. Women's work."

He wrote on his papers. "Where are you going?"

"Here. To America." She bit her lip in fright when he frowned and it appeared she had answered incorrectly. "I'm going to live in New York City of America."

He nodded. "Is someone meeting you?"

She didn't understand. The questions were so simple there had to be a trick she was too nervous to comprehend.

"Are you a polygamist?" When Lucie didn't respond, the official glanced at her over the top of his papers. "Do you believe in having two husbands or two wives?"

Her mouth dropped, then she laughed aloud, something she had not dreamed she would do during the questioning. "No!"

"Do you plan to overthrow the government of the United States of America now or in the future?"

Did anyone ever answer yes? Suddenly she understood the questions were not a trap for the unwary, not devised to turn people away. Her shoulders sagged with relief, and confidence flickered in her gaze. She identified the same expressions on the faces around her, suspicion, disbelief, then dawning elation.

Finally, it was over and the official smiled. "Welcome to America, miss. You may remove your tag now. Here is your landing card." She accepted the card with dazed pride and carefully slipped it inside her shirtwaist for safekeeping. "Collect your baggage outside, then take the number three ferry to the city."

"I'm an American!" she whispered, hardly daring to believe. Tears of elation brimmed in her eyes. Because Petor had told her people shook hands in America, she thrust out her hand, caught the official's glove and pumped his arm up and down until he smiled and protested. "Thank you," she murmured enthusiastically. Shaking his hand wasn't enough, she wanted to shout and run and dance and jump in the air. "Oh, thank you, thank you!"

Outside the main building she stopped abruptly and breathed deeply of the bright June air, joyfully filling her lungs with an American breeze. Overhead the sky was clear and bottomless, as dazzlingly blue as the harbor waters rippling between Ellis Island and the towering city of New York. This was her home now, she thought, stunned by the idea of it. She had succeeded; she was an American.

Throwing out her arms and laughing aloud, Lucie spun in a circle that sent her skirts billowing and turned her toward the city skyline. Amazingly, some of the buildings appeared to be ten or even eleven stories tall. They scraped the very sky. The vision was so stupefying that she shifted her gaze, seeking a moment of perspective in the ordinary sight of gulls swooping above the docks. Dizzy with happiness, she wrapped her arms around her short dark jacket and hugged herself, feeling the landing card safe and real against her heart.

When she could bear another burst of excitement, she rose on tiptoe to see above the throngs of people jamming the grand staircase, shouting in excitement or confusion. Yes, there it was. Lucie could glimpse the crown and torch of Lady Liberty above the turrets and domes of the main building. Moisture dampened her eyes and her heart swelled with pride. Life was going to be wonderful here.

"I've found our baggage," Petor said, appearing at her side. After dropping their knotted bundles at her feet, he wiped the sweat from his forehead and smiled. "We're Americans now, ja?"

All trace of timidity and nervousness had vanished from Lucie's expression. Her dark eyes glowed with excitement. "I can't wait to see Stefan! Have you found him? And your brother?" Rising again on tiptoe, she tried to peer above the mass of people pushing and shoving around her. Although Petor stood beside her, she had to shout in his ear to be heard. An elbow knocked against her shoulder, a swinging bundle struck her hip and she clasped Petor's arm to steady herself. "Oh dear. We'll never find Stefan in this crush!"

"I'll search for them," Petor shouted near her hat brim. "You stay with our baggage." Leaning forward, he tapped the shoulder of a man who was trying not to be pushed into the bundles at Lucie's feet. "Sir, could I impose upon you to protect my cousin while I search for our party?"

The stranger turned and his warm dark eyes settled on Lucie in a look of unabashed admiration. "I would be honored to serve your cousin, sir."

Lucie gazed into those eyes, the color of freshly turned earth, and a tiny shiver ran through her body as if lightning had struck nearby. Something tightened inside and suddenly she couldn't breathe properly. Her lips parted and her eyes widened. The handsome young man standing before her exuded a sense of confidence she had not observed today, his self-assurance stood out like an island of calm amidst the chaos surging around them.

Aware that her steady gaze was immodest, Lucie tried to look away from him, but she couldn't. She watched him remove a tweed cap to reveal a thatch of auburn hair that glowed as warmly in the sunlight as did his smile. When Lucie realized he was staring at her as intently as she stared at him, a rush of confusion heated her cheeks and she hastily ducked her head, concealing her blush beneath the brim of her straw hat.

At home in Wlad if a man stared at a woman the way this man stared at her, as if he were enchanted, the villagers said he had been struck by love's elbow. The blush deepened on Lucie's cheeks and her heart skipped a beat. No man had ever looked at her this directly, as if he were seeing something hidden from the rest of the world. The experience was thrilling and confusing, a strange, wonderful way to begin her new life in America.

"It isn't true, you know," her protector said after Petor had plunged into the shouting crowd rushing and pushing past them. Bending slightly, he peered beneath her hat brim to examine her face. "American streets are paved with mud and horse droppings just like anywhere else."

"I know," Lucie murmured, startled that he had read her mind and also feeling a twinge of disappointment. She hadn't believed the streets of America were paved with gold, not really, or that shopkeepers dined on silver platters. But it had been exciting to imagine.

She dared another look and bit her lower lip. As he was still bending near her, she inhaled the sunshiny scent of his tweed jacket and the pleasing male scents of hair oil and a faint underlying hint of clean, honest perspiration. Unsettled by her response to his attention, by the peculiar turmoil his nearness caused, Lucie pressed her hands together and ducked her head again. Never before could she recall being this intensely aware of a man. She felt as if five hundred people had faded away leaving only the two of them standing at the base of the grand staircase.

"As there's no one to introduce us I'm Jamie Kelly, recently of Dublin, Ireland."

"Were you aboard the Poutansia ?" Lucie inquired, peeking up at him. She did not recall any Irish on board. Certainly she had seen no man as handsome as this one.

Jamie Kelly turned the full force of his gaze on her and for an instant Lucie could not breathe. Above his waistcoat, his collar and shirtfront looked freshly starched, and his dark trousers and coat were a higher quality than any she had observed during the voyage. Moreover, he was clean shaven whereas the fashion of the day decreed mustaches and beards. His smooth jaw indicated a man who was unafraid to proclaim his individuality, a man who danced to his own music.

"I arrived last week. Oh, I see. Why am I here today?"

His gaze lifted to the wide curving staircase behind her. "I hoped to find a position at the labor exchange."

The buzz and roar of people shouting just inches away made it difficult to hear. Some of the accents were familiar to Lucie, many were not. She decided none sounded as soft and melodious as Jamie Kelly's deep rolled r s.

His steady gaze compelled her to speak, and indeed there was much to learn, although she didn't dare raise the questions she longed to ask, questions regarding him.

"I won't bite," Jamie Kelly gently assured her, smiling as if he had again guessed her thoughts. "So, what do you think of America? Is it what you expected?" Although he had to shout, he spoke without looking away from her face.

"II'm so relieved about the questions. I was terribly worried about them." Because his unwavering admiration made her cheeks feel hot, Lucie dropped her gaze to the cap he turned in his hands. Surely it wasn't proper to stand this close and stare into each other's eyes. She didn't know what had come over her. Stepping back, she pretended to examine the city waiting across the sail-dotted harbor. "It's so big, isn't it? And so noisy. Did you image America would be so big?"

He grinned at seeing the excitement shining in her dark eyes. "And filled with marvels."

She could not wait to see those marvels. "Oh, please tell me about them."

Sunlight glowed like fire on his auburn hair as he tilted his head to smile down at her. "I wouldn't dream of spoiling your pleasure, though I'm tempted. You must see for yourself." Then he seemed to realize he was making her uncomfortable and he cleared his throat and shifted to scan the crowd spilling around them. "Is someone meeting you?"

"My brother, Stefan," she said, her face lighting. "I haven't seen him in two years. He's the one who paid for my passage," she confided with pride. "Our Stefan has a home of his own and a steady job. After only two years, can you imagine? In America anything is possible," she added, thinking how long it would take to acquire a home in Wlad.

When Jamie Kelly laughed, the rich rolling sound surrounded her with warmth and made Lucie smile in return. Suddenly she wondered if he thought her wool gloves and quilted skirt were too heavy for spring, wondered if he could tell she wore three blouses, two skirts and all of her petticoats. Then she realized Jamie Kelly's tweed coat and worsted trousers must be as uncomfortably warm as her quilted skirt and winter jacket.

"I'm sure you'll find work soon," Lucie assured him, overflowing with the confidence of being in America and her own natural optimism.

A frown drew Jamie Kelly's thick eyebrows together as he studied the masses of people thrusting toward the ferries. "The economy is depressed right now and more people arrive every day. Jobs aren't easy to find."

"Perhaps you aren't seeking in the right places, Mr. Kelly." Another deep blush bloomed on Lucie's cheeks. What must he think of her, who was but hours off the ship, that she would dare to offer advice? An apology hovered on her lips. It was suddenly important to her that he think well of her.

He said something but she didn't hear as Petor reappeared, shouting and tugging at her arm. "I've found them. They're waiting for us by the ferry." A thrill of excitement lifted Lucie's expression as she realized she would be seeing Stefan within minutes. Petor raised his hat to Jamie Kelly, then swung their bundles up on his shoulders.

"Wait!"

But the noise was too overwhelming, and Lucie couldn't hear what Mr. Kelly shouted as Petor impatiently nudged her forward into the crowd. There was time for one quick glance over her shoulder, time to feel the violent blush that heated her cheeks, then the throng closed over the handsome Irishman and he vanished in the crush. For an instant Lucie experienced a startling sense of loss, as if something magical had been stolen from her.

There was no time to examine her reaction as she spotted Stefan standing beside the rails in front of the ferry, leaning forward, scanning the sea of people. Joy filled her and she forgot everything except seeing her brother again. "Over here!" she shouted, rising on tiptoe to wave, all the while knowing he couldn't hear.

Fixing her gaze on his dear face, Lucie pushed forward, dodging elbows and bundles. Stefan sported a new hat and a sturdy coat she noticed proudly, but surprisingly he still wore the same heavy trousers she had mended half a dozen times before he sailed to America.

"Stefan!" Laughing and crying Lucie flung herself into his bearlike embrace. Stefan lifted her high, then hugged her tightly to his chest.

"Let me look at you," he said finally, blinking away moisture as he held her away to see her better.

"No, no, speak English," Lucie insisted, straightening her hat and wiping tears of happiness from her eyes. "We must speak English. We're American now!"

Holding hands they studied each other, searching for changes. After a moment Lucie happily decided Stefan was still the brother she knew. Two years older and a bit thinner perhaps, definitely in need of a haircut and a trim for his mustache, but he was still her Stefan. His brown eyes were as determined as she remembered, his jaw as stubborn as ever it had been.

Looking at him was like observing a blend of their parents. Stefan had inherited their father's imposing powerful physique, but like Lucie, his face and hands bore the more delicate mark of their mother. No one spoke of it, but everyone in Wlad knew Count Bartok had sired Marta Kolska. Lucie and Stefan had inherited their illustrious grandfather's thin nose, well-shaped mouth and aristocratic profile.

BOOK: American Pie
6.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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