Authors: Lizzie Lane
‘I’m sorry to disturb you, Mrs Selwyn, but I’m going to have to stock up on meat and greengrocery. We’ve run out of essentials,’ said Lizzie, her hands clasped deferentially in front of her.
Frowning, Mrs Selwyn looked up from the book she was reading. She always read a little after lunch before she took an afternoon nap, claiming it settled her digestion. So far she hadn’t cottoned on to Lizzie’s strategy.
‘Oh, how annoying! You really should have words with both of them,’ she said, sliding her spectacles down her nose
and peering over them as though to scrutinise Lizzie that much more closely. When she spoke the sound of her voice reminded Lizzie of a scoop slicing through butter. ‘This happens every week. Do you think they are short changing our supplies?’
Lizzie adopted a suitably contrite expression. ‘It’s my fault, not theirs. I was determined to keep expenses down, what with food rationing likely to come in. Luckily, I’ve got my bicycle so it’s no great inconvenience to cycle into Bedminster and get what’s needed.’ If the truth were known, she’d purposely been under-ordering, just so she and Peter could get together on a Wednesday afternoon.
Looking pleased at the prospect of saving money, Mrs Selwyn pushed the glasses back up to the bridge of her nose and beamed. ‘What a very clever girl you are. Of course you must go. What would we do if you didn’t have a bicycle?’
‘There’s no point me coming back here with the groceries and then cycling home again. Do you mind if I go straight home afterwards?’ said Lizzie.
Mrs Selwyn pursed her lips as she thought it over. ‘I don’t see why not. I shall cook a little something for myself this evening and Peter will probably join me.’
‘And you can you manage to make your afternoon tea without me?’
Her chin raised higher, her manner loftier. ‘If I can cook dinner for two, I can certainly make tea for one. I shall read my book until teatime. I’m quite enjoying it.’
Lizzie knew she would be snoring her head off just minutes after she left the room and not waking until Peter got home; in fact she was counting on it.
Leaving the house made her feel like a canary fleeing its cage. On leaving school, she’d expressed a wish not to join Daw and Harry in the tobacco factory. Going into service was a slightly old-fashioned career, and even she had had doubts
about sticking the dull domestic routine; that had been until she’d met Peter.
Peter Selwyn knew how to charm women of all ages. He’d certainly charmed her with his winning ways, hazel eyes and the way his chin jutted forwards when he was determining what exactly he wanted from life, his mother or her.
She laughed with joy as she rode her bicycle towards St John’s Lane and Clancy’s Farm. The day was crisp with autumn smells, leaves crunching like broken biscuits beneath her wheels. Her whole body tingled with anticipation and her face turned pink with the exertion of cycling.
Peter’s Austin Seven was already there, parked on the grass verge outside the gateway leading into Clancy’s Farm and their secret field.
After parking her bicycle against a hawthorn hedge, she climbed over the gate, pausing halfway up so she could see over the expanse of Golden Rod and early Michaelmas daisies bordering Clancy’s pond.
Stretching her neck, she thought she saw a dent amongst the feathery heads of grass. She thought about calling him to come and meet her. Sometimes there were cows in the field; she hoped they weren’t in here now. However, wouldn’t it be better to surprise him, regardless of their meeting being prearranged?
Taking a second sweep of the field, she took her courage in both hands and climbed down from the gate and into the field. The wet grass tickled her legs and the path was slick with mud. She was glad she was wearing her sensible shoes even though they pinched her toes. They’d never used to pinch so much until she’d taken to walking through damp fields to meet Peter without his mother knowing. The dampness had shrunk the leather, but they served their purpose. She’d never have stayed upright in boggy ground wearing court shoes.
Peter was lying on a blanket, his eyes closed, his arms folded beneath his head, and he was wearing his sports jacket, brown trousers and tie; smart clothes he wore to work.
He was snoring as though asleep. Her heart leaped to her mouth. He looked so beautiful lying there, his cheeks slightly pink, a kiss curl of damp hair plastered to his forehead.
Her first inclination was to bend down and kiss his lips. A resonant snore changed her mind. They were both pretending: he to be asleep, and she that he hadn’t heard her, but of course he had.
Smiling and treading softly, she picked a long piece of grass, and carefully brushed its feathery seed head down his nose and into his mouth.
Snorting suddenly, he grabbed her legs. ‘Who’s been eating my porridge?’
Laughing, she tumbled down beside him on the blanket. ‘You cheat! You were only pretending.’
‘And you fell for it. And fancy calling me a cheat!’ He sounded genuinely surprised. He even adopted a petulant expression, though she knew he was only funning.
‘But you are a cheat. Your mother thinks you’re still at the shop.’
Peter grinned. ‘And she thinks you’ve gone to buy sausages and cabbages.’
Lizzie smiled triumphantly. ‘It was a good little plan.’
‘I totally agree with you,’ he said before kissing so hard she had to push him off in order to catch her breath. ‘Aren’t I lucky to have such a doting mother.’
Between nibbling her ear and kissing her throat, he mumbled something about his mother having always had an eye for good financial management.
‘My father loved being in the shop. He loved it very much. My mother loved accumulating money. In fact, it was my
mother who was responsible for Selwyns’ growing from a shop into a store. Father was more into the hands-on aspect of the business.’
‘What your father did … hands-on … is that the same as what you’re doing?’ she gasped in a broken sentence, half-closing her eyes in ecstasy as the thumb and fingers of one of his hands drew steadily decreasing circles around her nipple.
‘I don’t know,’ he murmured, his head falling to her breast. ‘Wouldn’t be surprised though …’
Lizzie stared up at the deep blue sky. If it were water she’d be tempted to dive into it. Such a beautiful day; if only Peter would make it perfect. If only she could find the courage to ask him if there was anything in particular that he loved very much, but she couldn’t.
It’s not the right time
, counselled the more needy side of her brain.
Have it out now
, counselled the more rational side.
As usual, she did nothing. He loves me, she told herself. He wants me.
It certainly seemed that way. He was unbuttoning her dress, pulling out her breasts and kissing each nipple, tracing his thumb around the sensitive tip.
She lay back, her breathing coming in short, sharp gasps and interspersed with trembling words that meant nothing, and yet meant everything.
‘What did you say?’ he asked.
‘Nothing. Just noises.’
‘I like those noises,’ he whispered.
‘It’s your fault I’m making them.’
One hand either side of his head, she ran her fingers through his hair as he licked at her breast, studying the top of his head, wanting to savour this moment to memory. His hair was pale brown, lighter at the temples, thinner on top. No
doubt he would lose his hair early in life, but she didn’t care. No matter his physical faults, she badly wanted him to tell her ‘I love you.’
All in good time, she told herself, but still ached inside.
His breathing intensified. The hardness of his penis throbbing against her thigh excited her, though she was sure the pressure was causing a bruise to form.
This was the moment she dreaded. It was like standing raging with fever on a cliff top, longing to fall into the cool sea many feet below, knowing that there were rocks beneath the surface, that she could be dashed to pieces, and yet it was so enticing.
As his hands swept down her stomach, a finger tentatively stroking between her thighs, she sat bolt upright, pushing his hands and the hem of her dress back towards her knees.
Peter rolled onto his back, putting inches between them, his hands returning to the back of his head. He stared up at the sky, features grim as granite.
Immediately regretting her reaction, Lizzie bit her lip. This was the moment she hated. The pressure to give in was enormous, but the consequences formed a brick wall that she was unwilling to smash through.
‘We can’t, Peter. You know we can’t.’
His face remained rigid and his voice was scornful. ‘Then you can’t have much affection for me. If you did you’d show it.’
Lizzie frowned. They’d had this conversation before. ‘So you keep saying. But we can’t. I wouldn’t want to get into trouble …’
He rolled onto his side, his head propped on one hand. ‘Then you can’t care for me too much.’
She knew he was baiting her, and she badly wanted to please him. Her emotions were having a war of their own. ‘That isn’t true. You know I do, but you have to understand—’
‘But things have changed, Elizabeth. I could get my call-up papers any day now, and then where we would be? I could be sent anywhere and we wouldn’t see each other for weeks, perhaps months, perhaps even years.’ He said it haltingly, softly, purposely stirring her emotions.
And yet she sensed that the irritation in his voice was more pronounced than usual, and he’d resorted to calling her Elizabeth in that same tone his mother used. Reminding her that he could be called up to fight before very long made her feel guilty.
Hugging her legs, she frowned and hid her face against her knees. Suddenly the clear blue sky didn’t seem quite so beautiful. A cloud hid the sun. Very shortly it could turn into a battleground between wind and rain.
The needs of her body and of him battled with her common sense. She tried to think of a way she could put into words exactly how she felt without giving in. But no words came. What if he did go away to fight? What if he did die? She’d forever regret not sharing the sweetest moment of all.
When his hand came across and fondled her breast, she lay still. When it travelled further, sliding down over her stomach, lifting the hem of her dress and caressing the soft expanse of flesh between stocking top and lace-edged knickers, she did not protest.
She did exactly as he wanted, feeling as though her body were no longer hers to command, but leaving it to follow its own inclinations.
First there was pain, exactly as she’d expected. In dreams of this moment, she’d imagined the pain turning to pleasure and
was surprised when it didn’t. In fact she felt as though something very dear had been taken from her and nothing given in return.
Regret for her actions would have been total but was lessened when he said the three little words she had always wanted to hear.
‘I love you,’ he whispered, and she almost cried with happiness.
‘I love you too,’ she murmured, throwing her arms around him, wanting to lie there for the rest of the afternoon despite the gilt-edged clouds now hiding the sun.
‘Come on,’ he said, pulling her to her feet. ‘I have to get back to the shop and you’ve got sausages to buy.’
‘I wish we didn’t have to do anything,’ she said, pressing herself against him and gazing up into his face.
Wrinkling his nose, he glanced up at the sky. ‘Stay here by yourself, old fruit, but I warn you, it’s going to rain.’
She sighed. For one moment in time her spirits had soared. Now it was back to normal.
They bundled the bicycle onto the car roof so that Lizzie could get into Bedminster quicker than she could by bicycle.
The traffic was light until they got into East Street, the main thoroughfare lined with shops, pubs and the police station.
‘Better get out here,’ said Peter, frowning as a convoy of trucks carrying stacks of corrugated iron pushed their way past buses and trams. ‘Looks like the war is catching up with us.’
Lizzie stared at the coldly frightening sheets. ‘Anderson shelters,’ she said in a disinterested way. Preoccupied with what she had just done, she couldn’t harbour any enthusiasm for anything to do with the war – except as it might affect her or, more especially, Peter.
This afternoon she’d given in to him and he’d rewarded her with those three little words, but in the aftermath she wasn’t feeling quite as she’d expected.
‘Do you think anyone will notice?’ she blurted, tugging the hem of her dress more firmly over her knees.
Peter, anxiously tapping the steering wheel while glancing from traffic to wristwatch and back again, frowned as though he hadn’t really been listening. ‘Notice what?’
‘I feel as though I’ve grown an extra head.’
‘I mean, do I … do I look any different … I mean … after what we’ve just …’
It hurt when he looked at her askance. ‘What the bloody hell are you talking about?’
She frowned and pursed her lips. ‘Don’t look like that! I’m not stupid, for goodness sake, it’s just that I feel … different.’
A sudden flash of temper made his good looks ugly.
‘Oh for goodness sake! Come on. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last to get her fair share before tying the knot. Get out. Come on. I’ve got work to do.’
Clouting the driver’s side door with the heel of his hand, he got out his side and, without offering to open the door on her side, proceeded to unload the bicycle. He looked stiff and unyielding, as though nothing of any great importance had taken place, whereas she …
Resolved that he didn’t want to talk about it and that she should somehow try to make amends, she got out of the car.
‘That was silly,’ she said, lowering her eyes as he passed the bicycle to her. She shrugged. ‘Why would anyone notice? They can’t really
what we did.’
He sighed impatiently. ‘Don’t worry about it. I won’t. I know girls can be silly.’
The quick peck he gave her on the forehead was disappointing. She’d hoped for a more passionate embrace even though they were in the middle of East Street.