Down East Girl
Down East Girl
by Julie Davis
Genre Family Saga
Tags Pirates, coastal life, commercial fishing, family lore, World War II
Release July 2014
Editor Gloria Oren
Line Editor Lisa Petrocelli
Cover Designer Celairen
Lily McIntyre grows up wild and free on Harkers Island, playing pirate and making up stories with her cousin and best friend, Red. Their idyllic life is shattered when a storm destroys her father’s fishing boat, crippling him and drowning Red’s brother. Lily retreats to the world of books, dreaming of romance and passion. Believing she’s found it in handsome Henry Taylor, a university professor, she marries him and moves to a college town, only to find that his troubled past makes true intimacy impossible. When Henry is called up at the beginning of World War II, Lily returns to the coast, discovering that her heart belongs to Red, now married with a family of his own. They struggle to put their families’ needs above their own passion, but it continually threatens to pull them under.
“You’re a brave girl, Lily. You’ve been through a lot.” Henry took her hands. She could not see his face, but she could imagine it all the same, the dark, serious eyes, the set of his shoulders. “Can you be brave now?”
Lily swallowed. “Yes.”
“I’ve decided to enlist.” He paused, as if expecting some outburst, but when she remained silent, he continued. “I could sit this one out, and no one would blame me. But I can’t. I was too young to fight in the first war. My father was a Colonel in the Army; he bragged about it for years. Whenever I did something he thought wasn’t manly enough, he’d throw one of his war stories in my face.” He took a deep breath, as if forcing himself to speak more calmly. “Do you remember my friend, Lew Clark? He was best man at our wedding. He’s enlisting in the Navy. He’s already doing basic training in New York. Older men than I are signing up. I can’t sit here in my academic ivory tower any longer.”
She should have known it was coming. She should be shrieking and crying like April, but in spite of the horror, Lily felt an ease of heart she hadn’t known since the war began. Henry was talking to her. He wasn’t just handing down a decree; he wanted her to understand the workings of his heart. “I know, Henry. You have to do what you think is right.”
“I teach about a time in history when knowledge was valued above everything else, when Western civilization began to take shape. Now it seems as if it’s falling apart, and I don’t know if my enlisting is just giving in to the madness. But I feel I need to fight for the things that matter.”
He drew her to him, and they sat for a moment with Lily’s head on his shoulder.
“When will you go?” she asked.
“December. I’d go sooner, but it may take awhile to find someone to teach my classes. Many of the younger men are enlisting, and Dr. Stone wanted me to take on their classes.” He chuckled. “We may actually have women teaching in the hallowed halls of the History Department.”
“December is a long way off.”
“We’ll still have some time together. But it will fly faster than we want it to.” He held her so tight that Lily thought she might lose her breath, but she welcomed the embrace. “If you say the word,” he whispered into her hair, “I won’t go.”
Oh, tell him to stay! Say you can’t bear it. He’ll listen to you.
If she asked, he wouldn’t go, but he would hold it against her for the rest of her life. Besides, she’d grown up with uncertainty every time a storm blew up when she and the other women had watched the sea anxiously, praying for their men’s safe return. Almost every fishing family on the Island or Beaufort had lost a man—husband, brother, father—to the sea. McIntyre women did not beg their husbands to stay home and play it safe.
She turned to Henry, taking his hands, even though she knew he could not see her face in the dark. “Henry, this is something you have to do. Everyone in my family joined up. Even Daddy’s volunteering with USO. I’m proud of you.”
Henry kissed her hands. “That’s my brave girl. We’ll have to decide what to do with you while I’m gone. You could stay in Raleigh with April; that might be good for both of you. Or with Mother. Ruby’s living with her now. They can’t find a good companion with all the young women rushing to work in munitions factories or getting real nursing jobs. I know you and Mother don’t get along, but if Ruby’s staying with her it might be more bearable.”
“We can talk about that later,” Lily replied, although the thought of staying with Charlotte made her nauseous. “Let’s have something to eat. We’ll feel better tomorrow.”
Summer rushed into fall before they could blink. April’s father-in-law hired her to manage his department store, as most of the male workers had enlisted or been drafted. The challenges of dealing with a shortage of nylons and other materials, smoothing relationships between sales clerks, and coming up with patriotic promotions to lure in customers, soon occupied most of her day. She told Lily she took to it “like a duck to water.”
Lily continued her volunteer work, dealt with rationing, and helped her city-dwelling neighbors can the vegetables from their victory gardens. But as the time grew closer to Henry’s enlisting, dread settled into her stomach. One unspoken plan continued to nag Lily, and she knew she only had a few weeks left to put it into action.
“I wish you’d reconsider staying with Mother and Ruby while I’m gone, or at least move in with April. I won’t be able to send you much of an allotment, and I hate the idea of you taking in boarders to make ends meet.”
They had just returned from a dreadful Thanksgiving with Charlotte, who had paraded Henry around to all her friends as if she herself were responsible for his decision to enlist. They were both exhausted, yet Henry paced the bedroom, restless as a Banker pony, while Lily brushed her hair.
“I’d rather go to Beaufort.”
“Lily, that’s ludicrous! After a German sub was sighted twenty-five miles south of town!”
“The Coast Guard took care of that one.”
“Only because it had surfaced. We both know there are more patrolling the coast. What if they get into Beaufort Harbor?”
“I can’t explain it, Henry. I just want my family.”
“Why in God’s name...?”
Lily took a deep breath. “I want to have a baby.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he snapped. His face went hard, the eyes like dark ebony, and for a moment, he looked like the pictures of his father—handsome and cold.”