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Authors: Emily Hahn

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BOOK: Francie Comes Home
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“You're very quiet,” said Glenn.

“I'm wrestling with my demon, Glenn—do you know what's the matter with me? I'll tell you anyway. It's jealousy, pure jealousy.” Francie looked at him with round, shocked eyes. “I would hate giving up my position as the only woman in our family,” she said. “Is that terrible, do you think?”

Glenn was very comforting; he said she was being quite normal, and he respected her for being able to see herself plainly.

“Yes,” said Francie, “but it isn't always enough just to be normal; that is sometimes the nastiest thing you can be. I keep thinking—oh, let's not talk about it any more tonight, what do you say? This isn't getting me anywhere, and I might as well drop it.”

“We don't even know if it's true,” Glenn reminded her, “so I think you're right. Let's not mention it again.”

As they ate their dinner he became more and more silent. He seemed to have changed moods with Francie, who now put her cares behind her and was thoroughly enjoying herself. After such a peaceful time in Jefferson it was like finding a beautiful new world to be out in a big city, in a good restaurant, with an admirer who was obviously only waiting for the right moment to declare his undying love and devotion. And in the background there was the fascinating Lucky Munson, who had exhibited such satisfactory symptoms of petulance when he saw her with Glenn. Everything was going just right, she felt. Yet was it? How did she really
want
it to go?

As a matter of fact, she thought, it was nearly perfect just as it was. She would be happy to keep things static. It was all very well to preen oneself in admiration, but it might be quite another to let that admiration lead to a decision, to argument with one of the young men and agreement with the other; to a little house complete with back yard, and a well-appointed kitchen, and pay day on Friday, and bridge games with Ruth and the gang, forever and ever beginning the new day with Glenn or Bruce.… Did she want that? Perhaps Glenn (or Bruce) might let her continue to work, at least for a while, at the Birthday Box: that might make the change a little less difficult.

The orchestra was playing and Francie came back with a start to the question of Pop. How much truth was there in the rumor? Again she was overwhelmed with anxiety. Pop was all her family, all her mainstay. But Pop with a life of his own, shared with a wife, would certainly be something else again, and from the time he married, even if he had the good judgment to pick out an admirable woman like Anne Clark, he wouldn't be Francie's property any more. His house wouldn't be her house. Even his troubles wouldn't be hers, and she realized that she would
miss
Pop's troubles. She had enjoyed being his comfort. You had to have somebody to worry about, Francie decided, or you were missing something, some reason for doing whatever you did do. So if Pop was out of the picture …

“What are you thinking of?” asked Glenn. “You look sort of grim.”

“Do I? I didn't mean to.”

Glenn had eaten all the dinner he wanted, and now seemed to brace himself.

“As I was saying—living in Jefferson,” he began.

(Here it comes, thought Francie, and I still can't make up my mind. Am I going to turn him down definitely? Can I turn him down at all? Oh dear, I wish I didn't have to decide.)

“I'm probably making too much of a fuss about it,” Glenn was saying. “It isn't all that much of a thing, going to live in a smaller town after you've been used to big-city life. What with the planes and so on, all a person's got to do nowadays, if she wants to see a good show, is hop into a streamliner or a helicopter—that is, if you've got the money.”

“Yes, it always comes back to that,” said Francie.

“But the same thing would apply to life in New York,” said Glenn earnestly. “These young fellows there who get married are just as tied down to the house as if they were living in Jefferson, so what's the difference?” He scooped up the last of his chocolate cake, pondering the matter. “What it really boils down to,” he said, “is whether a girl cares enough for a man to take on the job, and where she lives isn't the main thing at all. Don't you think I'm right?”

“Oh yes, of course you're right,” said Francie fervently.

“In other words, it's a question of being quite sure,” said Glenn. Then, contrary to what she was expecting, he dropped the subject. They talked about other things; the old gang and what its members were doing now, and new buildings in Jefferson. And the latest pictures, television, and Cousin Biddy. They talked and laughed and danced for hours, and Francie noticed that they did not return to the subject.

It was late when they started back to the hotel, and the streets were emptier than Francie could ever remember having seen them. It was an unseasonably warm night and the breeze from the lake was tempting.

“Let's go over to the lake and walk a little,” said Glenn. “Or do you have a tough day tomorrow?”

Francie said, “I have a tough day tomorrow, but I'd like a walk just the same. I can always rest up when I get back to Jefferson.”

Warm as it had seemed in the middle of town, they had to walk fast to be comfortable. For a long time, neither of them said anything. Francie kept her eyes away from Glenn's somber countenance: perhaps if she were clever, she reflected, she might yet put off the moment of decision. He took her hand then, almost absent-mindedly, and she suddenly felt so right, near him, so happy and sure with him beside her, his fine familiar face so serious, that she knew what her answer would be. She felt her heart beating. She was a girl in bloom. Yes, she said to herself, yes, yes, Glenn. They walked on in silence. It was being borne in upon her that Glenn had become unaccountably shy since going out West. In the high-school days he had never been so slow in coming to whatever subject he had on his mind. Of course this was slightly different: at Glenn's present age one didn't propose marriage with the same blithe readiness that went into a youthful invitation to a football game.

They walked and walked. At last Francie said, “Glenn, I hate to call a halt to this, but my feet won't take much more punishment. It's been a long day for me at the Mart and I am beginning to realize it.”

“Oh, say—I'm awfully sorry, Francie. I was thinking about something else,” said Glenn. “We'll cut over and find a taxi right away, shall we?”

They did so. Francie stole a look at her watch: it
was
late. She hoped Mrs. Ryan wouldn't be cross with her for coming in at all hours and waking people up.

“It's been nice, Glenn,” she said in the taxi. “I had such fun.”

“So did I, Francie. We always have good times together, don't we?”

“Yes, we do,” said Francie a little nervously. But they were getting near the corner of the block that held her hotel. He couldn't possibly just say nothing.…

Glenn sighed. “You must have wondered why I've been talking such a lot about myself and my future,” he said. “Or maybe you haven't; maybe you caught on without my saying anything. You always were a smart girl. It probably won't be a big surprise when I tell you I'm engaged.”

He waited for her reply. To Francie it seemed as if he had to wait too long. In reality, however, there was no abnormal pause. She heard herself saying, quite calmly and correctly, “To tell you the honest truth, I
am
surprised. Just a little.”

For the first night in all her healthy young life, Francie didn't sleep.

CHAPTER 13

“Mrs. Ryan,” said Francie, who was rubbing her face with cleansing cream and thus practically invisible, “what's your honest opinion of Mrs. Fredericks?” Ever since getting up she had bided her time for this moment when it was safe. She need not have worried about giving herself away, for Florence was easing a foot into a tight shoe, and in no mood to notice expressions. She replied promptly, if abstractedly,

“Spoiled as all get-out. Why?”

“Oh, I don't know,” said Francie.

She knew well enough, but she wasn't telling. There was a lot on her mind that she wasn't telling this morning. They were going home: she had come in very late the night before, and that was one of the things she didn't feel like chattering about—her evening alone with Bruce Munson.

She had been sure even before going down to meet him in the lobby that it would be an important evening, one way or another. Everything pointed in that direction. Lucky had made such a fuss about getting her to go out with him. He had also made quite a thing about her coming alone, and she could hardly be surprised at that, or blame him for it. The three of them had been in one another's pockets that whole week. Lottie Fredericks's inefficient arrangements had forced them to compare notes throughout the days of work so that they might avoid duplicating her orders, and her complex plans for the country club décor seemed wonderfully attractive. Lucky had avoided being rude to Mrs. Ryan and he had not suggested that she buzz off when he and Francie were ready for lunch. Yet the young man and the older woman didn't really have much in common once they were off business subjects, and sometimes Francie saw that he was getting impatient. She wondered uncomfortably now and then if Mrs. Ryan didn't see it too. Fortunately, she really didn't seem to notice. In fact, it was pure luck that Francie was able to go out with Bruce at last without their chaperone: Mrs. Ryan just had another date that would have bored Francie, that was all. When Bruce started making a crack about it, sighing and saying, “Alone at last!” in the car as they started out, Francie caught him up on it quickly.

“After all, Lucky, I'm only here in Chicago at all because she brought me, don't forget.”

He was nice about it. He just said, “You're right, of course. Okay.”

They went to the Drake for dinner. It wasn't a bit like going out with Glenn. Bruce seemed to belong to this world of luxury, which Glenn didn't, any more than Francie; Bruce even waved a greeting to a couple of people in the place when they entered, and that was impressive. And he was sure of himself ordering dinner, too. Glenn had been rather timid … but why, Francie wondered, should she have started this silly game of comparing the two men? There wasn't any basis for comparison, none at all. Anyway, Glenn was engaged to some girl she had never seen, a girl who came from Seattle and worked in San Francisco. He was out of her life, so it didn't matter and she might as well forget about him. It didn't matter anyway, except that of course you're always interested in somebody you used to know pretty well, she told herself. And, well, it was undeniably queer—and a little lonesome, somehow—not to be able to think of Glenn as a stand-by. She always had. It was a habit. Still, she reflected, it was a habit that had to be broken. In the meantime she had been neglecting Bruce the glamorous, and that was idiotic, considering how many girls in the world would have been all too happy to concentrate on such a gorgeous hunk of man.

So she bestirred herself. “We just about finished up this afternoon,” she said. “When are you going back?”

“Oh, I could have gone yesterday,” said Lucky. “I've just been hanging around waiting for you. By the way”—he reached for his cigarette case and paid careful attention to the lighting of a cigarette—“remember that what-you-may-call-it, that desk? Well, I've fixed that little matter up.”

“You mean you've got it for the play? Oh, Lucky, that's wonderful! But how in the world can we afford it? She said three hundred dollars, didn't she?”

“Oh yes, that's how she started, but I know the Redfern,” said Bruce. He blew a smoke-ring. “I got it knocked down for much less, finally. Being in the trade and so forth and so on.”

Francie persisted, a worried frown on her face. “Just the same, even a portion of three hundred.… Why, Lucky, we haven't got anything like that in the club kitty. It just isn't worth it, is it?”

“Well, as a matter of face.… You're a persistent little cuss, Francie; a guy can't get by with anything, can he? To tell you the truth, I thought I'd put up the cash myself, most of it. I've been looking for a desk just exactly like that for a long, long time. I need it in my room. So I put it to her straight, I said you wanted it for this play. Seeing as you're in the same business, that entitled you to a discount. And on top of that—”

“But Bruce, why me?”

“Well, didn't you want it?” asked Bruce. “Haven't you got it? Is it costing the club anything? Well then, what are you squawking about?”

When he put it like that, she didn't know how to answer, and yet it still seemed queer. “I'm not in the furniture business,” she argued.

“Near enough,” said Lucky.

“Well, but so are you, then.”

“Listen, you stubborn little monkey. She knows me, see? She knows I'm working for Fredericks & Worpels and she knows darn well they don't deal in reproductions. So she couldn't, ethically, sell it to me at a discount. But she doesn't know you, and Flo Ryan
does
sell reproductions, which makes you eligible as Flo's representative. Anyway, it's not as if I'd lied to her; she understands you're using the thing for a play.”

“But don't you see, if it's
you
who's really paying for it, if
you're
the one who's really—”

“So what?” Brace's voice was curt. His lazy good looks were sharpened; his eyes looked dark and angry, and he put down his cigarette, grinding it out impatiently. “As long as she gets her money, she hasn't got any kick coming,” he said. “If it's you that's doing the deal, as far as she knows, that's okay. And if it bothers you that I'm taking the thing over as soon as we've done the play, you can forget it. Once it's yours, it's nobody's business, not even Mrs. Redfern's, what you do with it.… Now then, Angel Face,” he said, suddenly amiable again, “unwrinkle your forehead. Lay off that goody-goody line, it isn't becoming.”

BOOK: Francie Comes Home
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