From the Relief Society Magazine, September 1951 –
By Blanche Sutherland
Laurie Nichols, small and slender, with auburn hair and eyes, and feeling every one of her thirty years, climbed into the seat beside David. Well, one era of her life was closing, another beginning, she supposed. Only she felt too tired, too numb to care.
She glanced at David. The angle of his jaw looked worried, the strong jut of his chin, anxious.
“I’m more sorry than I can tell, Miss Nichols. I’d have liked so much for you to stay on. Bobby loves you so.”
Laurie’s lips trembled, but she tried to speak lightly. “Bobby will soon forget. That is one advantage of being four years old, Mr. Kirby.”
David pushed the key in slowly, turned it, and waited for the engine’s response. “Well, feel free to come see him at any time. He’ll be so glad …”
“Oh, no,” Laurie interrupted. “I’m sure a clean break will prove better.” She smiled. “No opening of old wounds, you know.”
“Well, perhaps,” David grudged as the car jerked and picked up speed. “At any rate, do rest a bit. Your work must have been confining. And it’s been a long time.”
“Yes,” Laurie conceded, then stopped abruptly. She mustn’t break down entirely. David hated scenes. But the time hadn’t seemed long. It didn’t when you loved your work.
He looked at her anxiously, then both lapsed into an awkward silence.
Finally she said, “Here’s Corwin Street, the third house on the right. And thanks.”
He pulled up to the curb, followed her with her bags, and placed them on the porch.
“Goodbye, Miss Nichols. And if I can help you at any time. References, you know,” he added awkwardly.
“Thanks. I’ll let you know,” Laurie replied as she accepted his warm handshake and watched his tall, sturdy figure down the walk. Then she picked up her bags, opened the door, and went in.
“Hi, Emily,” she called. “I’m back. that is, if you want me.”
Emily, an older, heavier Laurie, spoke from the stair-top. “Come on up, Sis. I’m getting your room ready.” She led the way. “See, new wallpaper, curtains, and all. Maybe you’ll stay now?”
Laurie smiled vaguely. “I don’t know, Emily.” She took off her hat and threw it on the bed while she sank down on the dressing table stool. She turned suddenly. “Why on earth haven’t you any children, Emily?” she asked. “Then I could mother them and love them, but never lose them.”
“Why haven’t you married and had a houseful of your own?”
“The sixty-four dollar question. You answer that,” Laurie replied.
“All right, I will. You’re a children’s nurse. You shut yourself up with somebody else’s kids. You never go anywhere or do anything except with a child hanging to your hand. Why, you even have the married look.”
Laurie laughed uncertainly, questioningly, and swung around to the mirror.
“Well, don’t you?” Emily demanded. “That lovely auburn hair, and what do you do with it? Play it up? No. You just comb it.”
“But I’m not pretty, Emily. You are, but I never was.”
“Oh, bosh! You’ve nice eyes and a sweet, sweet mouth,” was Emily’s impatient rejoinder as she went out the door. “If only you had another kind of job.”
Yes, if only, Laurie echoed to herself. Caring for other peoples’ children, training them until they became a part of your heart, then being dismissed when your work was finished. But this time she had so hoped.
She got up and took off the brown pin-check and started unpacking. She seemed yet to hear Bobby’s sobbing in his small bed. “I don’t want Aunt Laurie to go away. I want her to stay with me.”
And then, Mother Kirby’s voice. “She’s not your aunt, Bobby. She’s just a nurse. I’m your grandmother, and I can take care of you. I took care of your Daddy even when he was a baby. And you’re a big boy, four years old.”
“I don’t care,” Bobby’s voice rose to a wail. “I want Aunt Laurie. I like her. I’m going to ask Daddy. He’ll let her stay.”
But that was where Bobby was wrong. David hadn’t told her she should stay, but that with Mother Kirby’s coming she wouldn’t be needed any longer.
“I’m grateful for all you’ve done for Bobby these two years, don’t mistake that. I’ve approved of your way of handling him, because perhaps it was so like Mary’s. It’s a wonderful gift, Miss Nichols. But where will you go now?”
“I have a sister on Corwin Street. I’ll got here for a time. After that …”
Reminiscently, Laurie took a pile of crisp uniforms out of a bag and hung them in the closet. It had been two years, though it seemed longer. And Bobby was two when David Kirby, grief-stricken by the death of his wife, had pleaded with her.
“Miss Nichols, you have been recommended to me as a young woman who loves children and whom children love. I must get someone. Hannah, our housekeeper, is kind, but she doesn’t understand children. Could you come? Would you?”
Of course, she had consented. She would have even if Mr. Kirby hadn’t seemed so pitifully helpless. That was her business. But when she’d had her first glimpse of Bobby, a flaxen-haired two-year-old, still a trifle unsteady on his feet, it became a labor of love. His father had brought him in to introduce them to each other.
“Bobby, this is a new lady who has come to take care of you.”
Bobby eyed her anxiously, then hid his face against his father’s knee. “Mommy gone? Bobby wants Mommy.”
Laurie reached for his small hand. “Aunt Laurie loves little boys, too, Bobby. Won’t you let Aunt Laurie take care of you? We’ll play together and have such good times.”
One dark eye peeped out from behind his father’s knee, then Bobby capitulated. “Aunt Laurie?” he asked, and allowed her to take him into her arms. And so began the two years, the two years now ended. If only Mother Kirby had been content to remain in Boston, hadn’t suddenly decided her duty was with David. It wasn’t that she needed a home, David had explained. she had ample means. But since his father’s death six months ago, she had been restless. So why shouldn’t she come and take care of Bobby?
Laurie felt the tears well up in her eyes. She wiped them away. She had been drawn to him as to no other child, his earnest, small attempts to please her, his love, his gay little sense of humor …
Laurie got up suddenly. She must stop this mooning. But at all other times when she had been dismissed, she had felt her work really finished. This was different. Bobby still needed her. Mr. Kirby couldn’t know, busy all day at the jewelry shop as he was. At any rate, he would think his mother right, or say so …
Laurie snapped the empty bags shut and put them into the closet, retrieving a small crayon-colored valentine Bobby had made which had dropped to the floor. It was almost the only keepsake she had of him. She studied it, smiling, for a moment. Then, feeling comforted, she propped it up close beside a tiny ceramic figure of a small boy on the dressing table. She must hurry down and help Emily with the dinner.
Emily had the table in the breakfast nook set with a gay checkered cloth.
“Dinner here?’ Laurie inquired.
“Yes. John telephoned from Chicago. He’ll not be home till the last of the week. Stir this gravy, will you, while I mash the potatoes? And while we’re eating, I’ll tell you what we’ll do.”
“What will we do?” Laurie asked.
“We’ll start a campaign to get you a husband, Laurie.”
Laurie laughed doubtfully. ‘Oh, Emily, don’t be foolish.”
“I’m not foolish. You are. Someone’s got to take you in hand, and I’m the one to do it.” She looked Laurie over critically. “Your hair needs shortening. And I’ll wager you haven’t had a new dress in ages. Nothing but suits and uniforms, anyway. Now, you’ll need a couple of formals, an afternoon dress or two, a hat that does something for you …”
Perhaps it was because Laurie didn’t care enough about anything to object. She listened apathetically to Emily’s plans and, later, submitted to her appointments for her at beauty salons and women’s dress shops, without too many objections. And parties. Emily had a sixth sense in regard to new, unattached males in town, of ways to achieve invitations for Laurie.
There was Paul DuBois, tall, black-haired, and rangy. She met him at the Stewarts’ party. He stood watching her from the side of the room, then as the first dance was finished, he came forward, asking her for the next.
“Stranger in town, Miss Nichols?” he asked as they circled the room. “I haven’t seen you before.”
“No.” She smiled noncommittally. Emily had warned her not to start talking nursing and other people’s children. “No, I’m not a stranger. I’ve just been other places.”
“Hiding out? Well, don’t disappear again, please. I’m going to be around here two or three months.”
Laurie felt a tiny tingle of excitement. Emily had assured her just before she left, “You look ten years younger, Sis, and really pretty in that frothy blue. Now do your best.”
“Two or three months?” she inquired, her eyes mischievous. “Then you’re not a fixture?”
“No. So I have to work fast. Do you mind?”
Laurie laughed. “I’ll wait and see. Do you mind?”
“Cautious, are you?” and Laurie caught a gleam of added interest in the gray eyes bent upon her, an interest that resulted in a dinner date the next evening and a drive the following Saturday afternoon.
“Keep it up, Sis,” Emily exulted. “You’re learning fast. Don’t let him get away. He has everything.”
She gave a final twitch to Laurie’s green suit. “A nice, long ride helps you to get acquainted, you know.”
“Oh, Emily, don’t rush me, I’ve only seen the man three times.”
“And what you see, you like. That’s fine.” Emily countered.
Laurie wondered what Emily would say if she told her she was already tiring of Paul. Probably she was old-maidish, because he seemed bold to her, almost brash. And now, as she dressed for the ride, she felt almost reluctant to go.
Don’t be silly, she told herself. You’re a big girl, you should be able to make decisions.
All of her doubts seemed a trifle foolish when she returned from a very pleasant, sedate afternoon. nevertheless, Paul DuBois was certainly not the answer to her dreams. He was too sure of his own charms, too certain she would appreciate them. So, that evening she refused his invitation to the movies, fully aware how this would be regarded by Paul, but she felt she couldn’t endure again his over-confident laugh.
“What’s the idea, Laurie?” Emily inquired as she turned from the hone. “Here I work and slave getting escorts for you …”
“I don’t like him,” Laurie answered shortly, her eyes hostile. “Isn’t that enough?”
“Well, of course,” Emily reasoned. “Only at your age …”
“I know. I’m thirty. I’m left hanging on the vine. But before I’d marry him …”
“Oh, sure, sure,” Emily interposed hastily. “Don’t get angry. There are plenty of other men.”
Yes, there was Jack Davis. She had seen him several times, but today he had asked if he might drive her to Kingston Friday to a barn dance. And she had accepted. She liked him. There was a sincerity in his lean face, in his blue, steady eyes. He was the very opposite of Paul, and all the more attractive because of that.
He was in insurance and real estate, he told her as they flashed along the highway toward Kingston. He had a small office downtown and was making out quite well.
“And it’s about time,” he added. “I’m thirty-three, plus.” He turned in his sweat. “Now, I’ve told my life story. What about you? Do you live with your sister?”
“Yes, for now.” Then, disregarding Emily’s caution, “I’m between jobs. I’m a children’s nurse.” She saw a surprised look on the face he turned again to her.
“You are? You take care of sick children?”
“Well, sometimes. Perhaps, governess would be the old-fashioned word for it. I take care of children who need it, whatever the reason.”
He was silent for a moment. Then, “You know, that explains it. I thought you seemed sort of serious-minded.” He grinned. “You seem to be trying so hard to have a good time.”
Laurie flushed laughingly. “Was it so apparent? I thought I had hidden my real self.”
He shifted his hands on the wheel and turned out for an approaching car. “I wonder,” he asked seriously, “do we ever know our real selves?” Then he smiled. “Do you like to square dance?”
“I don’t know. I’ve watched, but I’ve never tried.”
“We’ll try it tonight. It’s fun.”
It was fun. Jack seemed to lose his slight tinge of bashfulness. Laurie was glad she’d taken Emily’s advice and worn her new daffodil cotton with the full skirt. When, finally, they stopped for breath. Jack laughed.
“Now, I know your real self. You’re just a kid. No wonder you like children. They’re your kind.”
Laurie clutched his arm in breathless laughter. “Well, I thought I was grown up, but I’m not sure now. Anyway, it was fun.”
“We’ll do it again, then. They have these dances almost every week.”
He was nice, Laurie reflected, and at each date, he seemed nicer. and more serious. But she wasn’t sure she wanted seriousness yet.
Every Saturday afternoon they went for a drive, their destination decided as they drove along. One sun-filled afternoon they chose Lookout Point.
Clear and beautiful, the view from Lookout was never more entrancing. Beneath them, the city looked like the model of a home construction project, with its tiny streets and bridges, its homes each nestled in its cradle of trees.
“How lovely,” Laurie exclaimed, “all those homes, one doesn’t realize. But looking down …”
Jack nodded. “You know,” he said seriously, “I grew up in a wonderful home. Not a rich one, but a solid, comfortable one. I had a wonderful mother and father who really loved each other.” He smiled from the corner of his eyes. “Sounds old-fashioned, doesn’t it?”
“It sounds nice,” Laurie said stoutly. “And there are homes like that even now, you know.”
“That’s what I hope,” he grinned suddenly. “That’s what I hope.”
Her heart picked up an extra beat. Not from the words so much as from his manner. It was after that, that Laurie began examining her feelings for him. She and Jack liked the same things – good music, the theater – even their tastes in books were much the same. But did she love him? How did one tell? Perhaps after you were thirty …
She brought it up at the breakfast table the next morning after John had gone.
“Jack’s getting serious, Emily. And I can’t make up my mind.”
“Hooray! he’s getting serious. Isn’t that what you want?”
“Yes … No. I don’t know.”
Emily buttered toast silently. Then, “Well, don’t make a mistake. We’re running out of eligibles, you know.”
“Yes, I know.” Laurie drank her orange juice slowly, then she wandered away from the table in an unaccountable fit of restlessness.
“I believe I’ll go down to David’s shop this morning,” she said. “My watch needs attention, and I’d like, too, to find out about Bobby – how he is, and if he’s happy now.”
“Oh, forget about Bobby,” Emily shrugged. “He’s probably forgotten you by now. Children are that way, you know.”
David was at the rear of the store at his repair desk. He came forward eagerly when he saw her.
“Miss Nichols, how glad I am to see you. It’s been months, hasn’t it?”
“It’s seemed longer than that, really. How is Bobby?”
“He’s well,” David answered slowly. “But he’s taken your absence harder than either of us realized he would. Mother is having a really difficult time with him. But surely soon …”
“Surely soon,” Laurie echoed. “I’d come to see him, but I’m sure it would only make it harder for him afterwards.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “But where are you now? At your sister’s still?”
“Yes. Still vacationing. But I must get back to work soon. Now, what I came to see you about. It’s my watch. It’s become so undependable. If it can’t be repaired, I’ll have to have a new one.”
David smiled as he watched her fumble with its fastening, then pass it over to him. “That’s quite a test you’re putting me to, Miss Nichols. But I will try to repair yours, I promise you.” He tried to smooth down the dark cowlick of his hair. “It’s a good watch. And good watches stand repairing, you know.”
Laurie laughed. “You see, I do know whom I can trust. When will you let me know?”
“About the watch? Oh, within a day or two. I’ll call you at your sister’s.”
“Fine. And I do hope Bobby settles down soon. He was such a happy child.”
David shook his head. “I know. I know.”
He was really worried, Laurie thought, as she left the store. He couldn’t hide that. But there was nothing he could do about it, and neither could she.
Now, she was more restless than ever. Jack was calling for her at eight – a country club dance. She wished she hadn’t promised to go. When she reached home, she found Emily in the sewing room. For a moment she watched Emily’s scissors ship their way around a pattern before she spoke.
“I think I’ll go down to an employment agency tomorrow, Emily, and look for a new place.”
Emily let the pattern slide to the floor. “Oh, Laurie, why do you? You’re welcome here as long as you want. John and I both love to have you.”
Laurie shook her head hopelessly. “I’m lonesome for Bobby, and the only cure is another child to take his place.”
“What about Jack?”
“I’ll ease him out tonight. This was nothing but a silly venture from the first – marrying a man so I could have children of my own! Oh, don’t look so shocked. That was my underlying motive, I know it now. It’s not honest, nor even decent. Especially with a man as fine as Jack.”
She stooped and picked up Emily’s pattern. “I believe I’ll try for a little girl this time, a tiny one. One I can have for a long time,” she added slowly.
The agency had such a place if it hadn’t been filled already, she was told. They would check and let her know later in the day. The mother had had an attack of polio and would need help for many months, perhaps even a year.
This was what she wanted, Laurie told herself over and over, wondering why she couldn’t believe it. If it only worked out, she’d be out of Emily’s clutches and back in a situation she knew and loved. She waited near the phone all the afternoon, willing it to ring, alternately with hoping it wouldn’t. But the doorbell rang instead.
It was David Kirby. “May I come in, Miss Nichols? I’m glad I found you home.”
“Oh, yes, do.” Laurie led the way and motioned him to a chair. “You needn’t have brought the watch. Or, is it about Bobby?” she asked in quick alarm.
“No, neither the watch nor Bobby, though he still keeps asking for Aunt Laurie.” He shifted uneasily in his chair and brushed a nervous hand over the thick, dark hair, the cowlick which wouldn’t lie down.
“But that isn’t what I came about.” He hesitated and cleared his throat, then got up. He lifted a book from the table only to lay it down again. “Well, you see, it’s not only Bobby who has missed you. I have, too. Bobby may get over it, but I won’t. I love you, Laurie. Will you marry me?”
Laurie’s face was incredulous. She felt the slow blood mount her cheeks and suddenly realized that she had been in love with David all the time. Else why her reluctance to do anything except wait, else why this singing in every nerve of her body?
“But … but …” she stammered.
He stepped forward eagerly. “I haven’t known what was the matter with me. Then, when you came yesterday, when I saw you … Oh, Laurie, could you possibly love me? Could you learn?”
He stood before her looking down anxiously at her.
Laurie drew a long breath. “I won’t need to learn, David. I think I must have loved you for a long time. I decided my watch needed repairing. Perhaps it was just to see you again.”
David stared down at her for an unbelieving moment, then he reached forward and pulled her to her feet and into his arms.
“Laurie, Laurie,” he breathed against her hair, against her lips. “What a lucky man I am. Why did I ever let you go?”
Why, indeed? Remembering, Laurie pulled away. “But your mother!”
David drew her back into his arms. “Mother is secretly wishing she were back in Boston, I’m sure. Anyway, she agrees you had more success with Bobby than she.”
The telephone rang. It was the employment agency.
“I’m sorry, Miss Nichols. The place we spoke of was filled only a few hours ago. But we’ll keep your name on file …”
“Never mind. I’m taking a permanent place soon,” Laurie interrupted.
“A little girl, as you hoped?”
“No, two boys,” Laurie returned happily. For suddenly, she remembered for the first time that Bobby would be hers, too, for keeps.