Post War Dreams

Chapter One

A Day in the Life of…

Finally…a home.

The cheap chenille could’ve been angel hair as I smoothed the spread over the bed. For most of my life, I’d never had my own room. I’d slept in orange groves, hobo jungles, or beneath the pink ceiling of Aunt Grace’s farmhouse.

Straightening, I glanced around, and my mood brightened sunnier than the faded yellow walls of the room. My room.

“Putting your eggs in, Claire. Get on out here.”

The aroma of bacon fat and boiling coffee grounds followed my father’s words. With the toe of my shoe, I shoved movie magazines under the bed; magazines left strewn beside the orange crate nightstand last night before I drifted off to sleep with visions of Clark Gable in my head.

In three steps, I entered the closet-sized bathroom and checked my hair in the cloudy mirror above the worn, porcelain sink. A tug at my blouse closed the gaps between the buttons, and I wondered fleetingly if I’d inherited my curves from my mother. With hands on my hips, mimicking a Betty Grable pose, I addressed an imaginary camera. “Another day in the life of Claire Flanagan, rising star.” A flick of my head spilled waves of strawberry-blonde hair onto my face. “Thank you, thank you for being here.” My personal silver screen reflected my image, but masked the thousands of ardent fans on the other side. Pulling the chain turned off the bare bulb over the mirror and brought down the curtain.

Humming, I scooped schoolbooks from the orange crate nightstand and strolled into the living room of the rented, wooden house in the Mulberry Shade Cabin Court. The hide-a-bed had been folded back into a sofa with Da’s work shirt thrown over the arm. I tugged the coffee table to the front of the sofa with a free hand then straightened the green, latch hook rug. My father, Hamish Flanagan, stood in the kitchen, an extension of the living room. The scene sent a wave of contentment through me.

“Morning, Da.”

“’Bout time you got out here. Don’t want to end the week with a tardy mark.”

His feigned gruffness as he cracked the shell of an egg got little more than a scoff. “They aren’t so rigid with seniors. I have tons of time anyway.”

Da shrugged as if his undershirt annoyed his shoulders. “Tons of time might be different from your point of view and mine.”

The schoolbooks hit the kitchen table with a thud next to last night’s newspaper. The block letters across the top stated U.S. Forces Begin Japan Occupation. But a lesser headline had my attention while folding the pages. “This is gobbledygook. It doesn’t matter the war’s over, they’re going to keep rationing sugar.”

“We still got some.”

He sounded distracted. Normally, complaints on rationing would bring a lecture about patriotism or a story from his life during World War I.

“You didn’t have to cook eggs this morning. Cereal would’ve been fine.” Breakfast was his meal to prepare while dinner was mine, but bacon and eggs on a weekday was peculiar.

“Why not? Thought you might like some. We don’t have to wait ’til Sunday for eggs.”

I slipped an envelope from the stack of books. “Would you mail this today?” I fanned myself with the letter. Summer’s heat throttled September even at an early hour.

“More requests for autographed movie star pictures?” He nodded for me to lay the envelope on the counter. “Ain’t you got enough of them yet?”

“A new star is born every week.” My collection filled a cardboard box stashed under my bed. Dreams of Hollywood stardom fueled my obsessive hobby.

With a tug of the door on the dinted, chest-high icebox, I took out the milk, and while shaking the jug, considered my father’s ruddy face. Sweat beaded on his temple, a trickle finding a jagged path down his cheek. “What’s on your mind, Da?”

He flipped the egg he cooked. “Your momma always said that. What’s on your mind, Ham?” His mood popped like the grease in the skillet. “Always something on a man’s mind.”

The wooden legs of the kitchen chair screeched on the faded red linoleum as I scooted to the table and poured a glass of milk. Whatever was on his mind could come to a nice sizzle without my help, and I changed the subject. “I wish we had another picture of her.” The only photo of my mother, on a horse, now faded and scratched, gave little more than an impression of what she must’ve looked like.

“The fire took most everything.” He checked the toaster. “Not a one left of little Jimmy or Lois.”

I ignored the mention of the brother and sister I couldn’t remember. Evoking the memory was like stirring smoke. But, Da lingered in the past, his weathered face wrinkled in thought. My own thoughts drifted to the picture of my mother.

As if he read my mind, he continued. “Her shiny, black hair hung loose on her shoulders.” His smile creased deep lines in his cheeks, and he repeated words I’d heard often over the years, when he cared to elaborate. “She was like an Indian princess with big brown eyes—you got those—and that long black hair. Yep, a Choctaw Indian princess.” He touched my head. “But you got my hair, like it used to be. Your momma said your hair was strawberry-colored gold.” 

He nodded, turning back to his skillet. “She’d think it right pretty.”

Warmth spread across my chest, deep inside, and I didn’t know if the pleasure resulted from the compliment or longing for the mother I’d never known. I flipped the hair from my neck. How silly to miss something you’ve never had. My mother existed only in my mind, created from my father’s few memories and an old faded snapshot.

He set the plate of eggs and toast on the table.

“Thanks, Da.” I cut into one of the fried eggs.

“Well, damn.” He pulled the plate from under my fork. “I overcooked the yolk. That’ll be my breakfast, and I’ll cook you another. Won’t take a second.”

“Don’t be silly. I can eat that one.”

“You like runny yolk. Eat your toast and drink your milk.” He spooned more bacon grease into the skillet.

I nibbled toast and picked at the flaking blue paint of the tabletop. Had Aunt Grace, my father’s sister, been there, she’d have said Da spoiled me rotten. He would’ve told her to mind her own. A dirt-poor girl without a mother can’t be spoiled rotten. Of course, if Aunt Grace, a proper lady, had been there, she’d have been cooking breakfast. Although I missed the sporadic stays with Aunt Grace and Uncle Eb, I didn’t want to live on the farm like I did when I was a little girl. Feeding chickens and climbing in the hayloft had been fun as a child, but as a young woman, my future wouldn’t be on a farm.

“I should write Aunt Grace a letter,” I mused out loud.

“Funny you mention her. I talked to your Uncle Eb yesterday.”

“Oh?” This sounded like a lead in to the something he had on his mind.

Da concentrated on preparing the skillet for his second try at fried eggs.

I thumped the table impatiently at his long pause. “And?” His obvious deliberation made me squirm with wariness.

“Looks like they’re paying real good for the end of season green beans and okra. Eb says the raspberries are still coming ripe. A man can make a lot of money in a short time.” He carefully cracked an egg over the skillet. “Then the walnuts will be ready.”

I frowned and watched for some sign of the relevance of this news. Surely, this had nothing to do with us. “You’ve been making very steady money as a watchman, Da.” And the steady factor had translated into fewer days of drinking.

“True enough, honey, but that job ain’t going anywhere. Them crops come and go. A man’s got to grab easy dough when it’s there for the taking.”

I twisted slightly and clutched the back of the chair. “But, Da—”

“The watchman job will be there when I get back.”

“You can’t be sure.” The talk at school brought news of fathers and brothers coming home every day. “There’re lots of men looking for good, steady jobs now that the war’s over.”

“They’ll let me take a leave.” He darted a glance at me. “Wouldn’t be like we was on the road since the picking’s around Hemet. And Aunt Grace misses you something fierce. She says Cousin Bernice likes her high school. Knows you’d be right happy with her crowd of friends.” He gently tested the eggs, making sure they weren’t sticking to the pan. “Fit right back in.”

“No!” I slammed a hand on the table. My father’s shoulders flinched. “I’ve got my own friends. I’m not going.”

“Now, I—”

“No, Da. I’m not going to change schools again.” I had a good friend in Pauline Russell, the best I’d ever had. My last year in high school would be spent at one school—North High. “You promised when we moved here our days of following crops were over. We’ve only lived in Phoenix three months, and you’re already breaking your promise.” My voice quivered. The tears were close. Swallowing hard, I refused to cry like a little girl. He had to see the woman in his child and treat me as such.

My father rubbed a work-worn hand over his face, starting with his eyes, circling around his cheeks until he ended back at his eyes before he dragged his fingers through his faded red hair. I’d witnessed this gesture all of my life, a pause giving him a moment to think when perplexed. “This ain’t like following the crops. It’ll only be three months, six tops. We’ll be able to come back with money in our pockets.” He half-turned toward me with a smile and ignored the eggs frying.

His hopeful face tugged at my resolve, but only momentarily. “Then go. I’m not.” I arched my brows the way I’d practiced in the mirror, which gave me a mature, haughty expression, and shook my hair. “You can send me rent and food money until I find a job after school and on weekends.”

“Ah, honey—”

“I’m not a six-year-old you can drag all over the country like you used to do. I’m seventeen, and I have a life here.”

“Now, Claire—”

“Are the eggs done?” I squared my shoulders on the chair back. My heart thumped against my chest. If I wanted to defy him, I couldn’t look at his pleading eyes.

“You love Hemet. You always said it was your favorite place in California.” Da spoke softly, imploring as he cooked.

“Yes, in California.”

He lifted the skillet from the stove. “Listen to me, Claire.”

“No, Da, I won’t.” Waving toast in the air punctuated my words. “I don’t camp under trees, I don’t follow crops, and as much as I love Aunt Grace, I don’t live on someone else’s farm anymore. Not even for a few months.”

“You know I can’t leave you, Claire.” A heavy sigh followed his words. “We ain’t never lived separate, and we ain’t starting now.”

I met his gaze and set my jaw. The heat in my cheeks threatened to set my eyes watering, but I held steady and waited out the confusion in his faded green eyes. He’d never met my stubbornness with anger, but outright defiance, new to both of us, might be different.

He lifted my chin with his free hand. “Okay.” His tobacco stained thumb rubbed my cheek. “For now.”

I clutched his fingers and brushed a kiss across his knuckles. “Of course we can’t live separate.” Words hung up in my throat for a moment. I blinked, took a deep breath, and threw on a bright, sassy smile. “Why, you’d never get to work on time if I didn’t get you up to cook breakfast. And what would you do without me to make your dinner?”

He shook his head when he patted my cheek with his rough hand. Other than the love shining in his eyes, he didn’t appear satisfied with our truce. He’d relented and given in to my challenge, but the resulting decision was tenuous at best.

Holding his work calloused hand, I massaged his stubby, scarred fingers with a delicate touch. “Staying here is better, Da. You have a good job. The men in the court would miss you in their Saturday night poker games.”

“Maybe. But listen to me, young lady. Nothing saying come summer—”

I let his hand drop. “Summer is ages away. Might be time for a short visit, but goodness, we can’t make summer plans this far ahead.”

“What I was going to say—”

“I need to get some bobby pins and lanolin-enriched shampoo like Aunt Grace had last time we were there.” The plate clinked against the skillet in his hand when I lifted it toward him. “I want to fix my hair like Betty Grable in her movie Pin-Up Girl.”

He could suppose future plans all he wanted. I didn’t know if the short protest from my father or the success of my first defiance convinced me, but he wouldn’t break my heart and leave me behind. And he wouldn’t break my heart and make me go.

With a submissive noise in his throat, he tipped the skillet and slid the eggs onto the plate.

****

Damn, I hurt. Ben Russell hung his arm over the edge of the bed, felt around for his pack of cigarettes, and the usual morning ache spread through his back and biceps. Lifting freight off trucks at the Sears and Roebuck warehouse strained even lean, twenty-year-old muscles.

He let the sheet slip from his chest. Barely sunrise and the stealth beast of September’s heat invaded the house with a stifling breath. He struck a wooden match. The flame fused with dawn seeping in around the edges of the curtained window, dimly lighting the naked walls of the room he shared with his brother, Davie.

Tipping his chin upward, he exhaled. Another day in the life of a working stiff. The smoke drifted into semi darkness, giving substance to the invisible aroma of bacon, biscuits, and coffee. He could hear the muffled voices of his mother and sisters as they prepared breakfast.

“I wonder where the son of a bitch is waking up this morning,” he muttered.

He rubbed his eyes and wondered why the hell he thought about his father. Years after the family moved from Kansas to Arizona, years after living in a tent on the banks of the canal along Grand Avenue, and sometime after his father built their house on Thomas Road in Phoenix; the love of drink overpowered the responsibilities of raising six children. The old man disappeared one day. Abandoned his family. A relative in Kansas sent a note a few years back about seeing him. He could live anywhere he damned well pleased. They got on without him.

Ben breathed deep; the smoke filled his lungs while the scent of bacon filled his nostrils. He pinched his shoulders together, rolled his head side to side, and worked out yesterday’s kinks. What the hell. He didn’t get such a raw deal when he quit school to find a job. School had been a damn waste of time anyway. He’d suffered through one year of high school, but marching around with a wooden rifle in ROTC, like a fool, had been the clincher.

At least the old man taught me how to shoot a real gun before he took a powder.

He took another drag off his cigarette.

“You’re damn small,” the beefy-faced foreman at Sears had said the day he went for a job five years earlier. He showed the big Kraut foreman a thing or two. Short and skinny, even for a fifteen year old, he had puffed his chest and declared, “You can damn well try me, can’t you?” Then he’d pushed his chin into the big burly man’s face. “Got nothing to lose trying me.”

Ben smiled at the memory. He could show his son of a bitch of a father how a real man took care of a family.

But taking orders from a pea-brained boss had grown old. Sure, he was next in line for a foreman job, but so what? Then he’d take orders from fat, smelly O’Ryan. Not much better. He didn’t intend on spending the rest of his life pushing freight, or pushing men who pushed freight. His future lay in building houses, someday owning a construction company.

The creak of the oven door told him the biscuits were nearly done. His brother stirred in the bed across the room.

“Yeah, I’m awake,” Davie’s voice, muffled in his pillow, called out sleepily.

“If you aren’t, you should be.”

His brother yawned audibly and kicked at the sheet covering him. “Jesus, it’s hot in here. When’s it ever going to cool down? Should’ve put the mattress on the porch last night to sleep out there.”

“Keep your eyes open for a good deal on a car,” Ben said. “Time I got my own wheels. Maybe someone coming into the garage will be looking to sell.” He swung his feet over the side of the bed and stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray on the floor.

Another yawn from across the room. “You tired of begging to use mine or tired of double dating?”

“Both, you bastard.” He raised his arms over his head, stretching. “You’re so hot ’n’ heavy with Barbara in the front seat, it gets damned embarrassing with a date in the back.”

“You sound jealous.”

“Hard to get to first base with your big brother in the front seat.”

Davie snickered. “Kind of hard to get to home plate your first time when you can’t even get to first base.”

The pillow came hurtling through the air before the wise ass had finished his needling.

“You jealous, being hog-tied by a woman?” Ben guffawed.

“Engaged, you punk. And at least I don’t spend my nights horny like you.”

A knock at their door halted anymore bantering.

“David Leroy! Benjamin Willis! Are you boys up? Biscuits are nearly done, and I’m not keeping them warm this morning.”

“Yeah, Mom,” they answered in unison.

He scuttled out of bed and beat Davie to the only bathroom in the rambling house. The noise of the flush brought his brother in without knocking.

“You serious about me keeping my eyes open for a car?” he asked as he waited for his turn at the sink.

Ben nodded, toothpaste filled his mouth and bubbled out the corners. He leaned over and spit. “I’m going to see old man Mallory about a construction job. I’ll need my own transportation. Can’t ride the bus like I do to Sears every day.”

“Construction, huh?”

“Hell, yes, Davie. With the war over, construction’s going to take off. Mallory knows I got rid of the outhouse and built on this bathroom. Got all the material from his hardware store. Did those odd jobs for him last winter on weekends, too. Mallory Construction is getting busy, and I’m going to be in the right place at the right time. Hell, I’ll own the place someday.”

“Be a carpenter like the old man.” His brother’s words came low as if thinking out loud while he spread toothpaste on his brush.

Ben wet his comb, faced the mirror, and flung water as he raked through his thick waves. “Nothing like that son of a bitch.”

“I didn’t mean—”

“Never mind. I know.” He dried his hands. “You know, Davie, I don’t know why the hell Barbara would want you. You got Mom’s nose and your feet stink.”

“Yeah, well, you can’t tell a book by the cover. She has the hots for me twenty-four hours a day. You, on the other hand, ain’t nothing but a pretty boy with not enough in your jeans to satisfy—”

“Who the hell you calling a pretty boy? And my wanger makes yours look—”

One loud rap on the bathroom door interrupted them as their sister, Ruth, yelled, “Biscuits are on the table. Mom says to get your asses out here.”

Davie erupted with laughter as Ben opened the door to the receding backside of his older sister. “Mom did not say asses.”

Ruth wiggled her fanny in response. He flipped his towel back at his brother before shutting the bathroom door.

In his bedroom, Ben shrugged into clean jeans and a gray, long-sleeved shirt with Sears embroidered above the pocket. He ran a finger across his front teeth as if to polish them. With a side glance at the mirror, his slight overbite was visible. He never believed himself to be handsome, despite what his sisters told him. At least he didn’t get Mom’s hook of a nose like Davie did.

His brother came through the door, pushed him aside, and rummaged in the dresser for his clothes. “When you going to talk to old man Mallory?”

Ben shoved him back as he turned to leave the room. While rolling the sleeves of his shirt to the middle of his biceps, he answered, “Soon.” His stomach muscles tensed with the thought. “Got to be soon, before he gets his crews set. I got to get the job.”

“You will, Ben.” He nodded. “It’s your future.”

“Hell, yes.” He finished the last roll of his shirt then flexed his biceps, feeling the material hug each arm. “Now, I’m going to eat all the damn bacon before you get your ass out there.”

“Hey, Ben.” Davie paused, forearms resting on the edge of the drawer.

He stopped in the doorway. “Yeah?”

“You’re twice the man Dad was.”

“Yeah, and twice the lover you are.” Ben managed to get out the door before the shirt his brother threw hit him in the head.

****

Outside the window, Arnold loped toward the nearly full school bus, pushing his black hair from his forehead. I kept my face turned toward the melee of students on the sidewalk, watching for Paulie.

“Oh, good, there’s an empty seat next to you.” He’d made his way along the bus aisle to my row. With one hand on the seatback in front of me, and the other on the seat behind my back, he leaned down. “Scoot over so I can sit with you.”

Three rows up, two girls ogled Arnold, giggling, dreamy-eyed in their appraisal. I smiled sweetly. “Sorry, but Paulie asked me to save a seat. You better grab the one up front or you’ll be stuck on the next bus.”

“Ah, Claire, can’t Paulie sit there?” Bending his elbows, he brought his face in close, his green eyes appraising mine.

They were nice eyes, rimmed in black lashes set below thick, black brows. With his hair falling onto his forehead, he reminded me of Tyrone Power in Crash Dive.

“I wanted to talk about getting together this weekend,” he continued.

Across the aisle, another girl, one of the seniors on the cheer squad, turned to look at Arnold. Keenly aware of the muscles beneath his shirt, I admired the broad shoulders invading my space. “That would be grand, but I promised Paulie.” In spite of Arnold’s dashing good looks, he didn’t have the same effect on me he had on others. I kept my voice low, although with the noise in the bus, I needn’t have worried about being overheard. “Be a good boy and sit up front.” I brushed fingers against Arnold’s hand. When his neck turned red, the guilt of teasing tainted my pleasure ever so slightly.

“I work the matinees on Saturday and Sunday. I thought…maybe…you know, if you come to the back door, I can let you in. I could…sit with you for a while.”

See a movie? Perhaps Arnold deserved more consideration. I dipped my chin, glanced at him, and smiled with a cocked brow. “What’s playing?”

“Does it matter?” He winked.

“Of course it matters.” I checked the edge in my voice. The girls sitting three rows up and the cheerleader watched us intently.

Diamond Horseshoe.” Arnold’s hand brushed at my back.

“Oh! Betty Grable’s new movie. Sure. Let’s make it Sunday.” I spied Paulie pushing her way toward us. “Now scoot. Looks like the seat up front is taken. You’ll be on the next bus.”

“Ah, that’s okay.” He stayed close even as I leaned away. “Seeing you for more than a few minutes in between classes was worth it.”

“Why, hi, Arnold.” My friend stood behind him, smiling, giving me a wide-eyed, aren’t-you-lucky face.

“Hey, Paulie.” He stepped back, politely. With obvious effort, he dragged his gaze from me to acknowledge her.

Sliding across to the window, I patted the aisle seat. “All yours, Paulie. ’Bout time.”

She edged past Arnold, closer than needed to get to her seat, yet never took her gaze off his tanned face. “Hegelmeyer was yackety today. You have Heggie first hour don’t you, Arnold?”

“Hey, mister,” the bus driver called from the front. “Get on out of here. I’m full and leaving.”

Hesitating a moment, he nodded in the direction of Mr. Jesper, but continued to stare at me. He caught the hair on his forehead between his fingers and brushed the strands back as he smiled.

Goodbye, Arnold.” My dismissal earned me an elbow in my side from Paulie.

His feet shuffled as if he couldn’t get them in motion, but finally threw a hand up and made his way off the bus. Female heads turned to watch his exit.

“God, you’re so mean,” Paulie whined as the bus roared to life, jerking away from the curb.

I theatrically pushed the hair from my face and turned my head upward as if I needed to study the ceiling of the bus. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, pooh, you do so. Any girl on this bus, heck, any girl in school would love to take your place. They all say you’re the luckiest to have Arnold for a boyfriend.”

I knew all too well. I might’ve been poor Claire Flanagan of the Mulberry Shade Cabin Court, but as the object of Arnold Smith’s affection, I had the envy of every girl in school. It didn’t matter. High school crushes and giggly girls didn’t interest me. His handsome good looks and popularity weren’t enough to make me succumb to his pestering.

“I’m not his girlfriend. We’re friends, that’s all.”

“Honestly, Claire!” Paulie swiveled her head to stare at Arnold, who waited on the walk for the next bus. She squared back around in her seat with a sigh. “He might not have asked you to be his girl, but it’s perfectly obvious he’s got a thing for you.” She elbowed me again. “He’s cute. He’s popular. He’s on the football team. What’s not to like?”

I’d never had a serious boyfriend. We never stayed in one place long enough, and as my high school years were nearly over, now the boys seemed too young. Besides, if Arnold was the one, certainly the stars should shine brighter, and I’d hear bells or something. I enjoyed teasing him, and he made me laugh, but I didn’t have the inclination to spend much time with him.

“I won’t have time for a boyfriend.”

“Why on earth not?” My friend looked as if I’d gone crazy. “I’ve never considered time a factor when boys are involved. And for Arnold, I’d find the time.”

I withdrew a yellow sheaf of paper from a book. “I’m thinking about this.”

Paulie glanced at the flyer I offered her. “The talent contest?” Her brows lifted, and her nose crinkled with a smile. “Oh, perfect. Are you going to sing? You could win.”

“That’s what I think.” I couldn’t remember a time I didn’t love to sing and had been complimented all my life on my voice.

“Maybe second semester you can get the lead in the school musical.”

“A play?” I hadn’t known about the play.

I gripped my books, considering the possibility. The theater? I could be part of the theater. There I stood, hands clasped to my breast, singing on stage, dancing to a musical number, the leading man following my every movement with adoration…

“Just like last year. You and Arnold are meant to be.”

Paulie’s words jarred me back to reality. “What?”

“His girlfriend last year—she had the lead in the play. Got so wrapped up in the idea, her parents took her to California and put her in some acting school. All the girls were glad when she left. Then you moved here…and pow!”

“Strange coincidence is all.” An acting school. I’d give anything to go to an acting school. Maybe after graduation… “I’m not his girlfriend.”

“He must be attracted to theatrical women, like you.” Paulie laughed.

The bus slowed to a stop behind a city bus at the end of my friend’s street. She smiled as she waved out the window. My gaze followed her wave to a dark-haired man, lunch box in one hand, gray shirt thrown over his shoulder in the other. I admired a smile so bright the sun wilted.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“My brother, Benjamin.” She stood. “Looks like he got home early today.”

His gaze passed from his sister to me as he nodded his head. I’d been to Paulie’s several times after school, but had yet to meet all of her siblings. Benjamin. I needed to spend a good deal more time at my friend’s home.

“This bus is leaving with you on it, Pauline Russell, if you don’t get off now,” the driver called.

“Go, Paulie,” I said without taking my gawk from her brother. “See you tomorrow.” She’d asked me to spend the night with her the next day.

As she joined him, he said something, and when she answered they both looked up. Paulie waved. Benjamin smiled. Then she elbowed him, shoving him toward home. The muscles across his back rippled under the thin, white T-shirt, and a quivery sensation fluttered below my stomach.

Farther down the road, as Paulie and her brother walked along, I caught a glimpse of their mother standing on their front porch, waving. Mrs. Russell embodied the perfect momma; short, round, always smiling as she stood at the stove or bent over the washtub. I rested my head against the warm glass. Funny. I couldn’t remember my mother, but I’d imagined her differently. A beautiful Indian princess would walk with grace, slender and tall, her voice lilting. She’d love her children fiercely, play with them all day long, and sing them to sleep at night. What kind of mother would a Hollywood starlet be?

Theatrical.

Arnold liked theatrical women.

The bus moved forward, and I glanced over my shoulder for another glimpse of Benjamin. Going to my friend’s Saturday night now brought on a different sort of anticipation. Why didn’t Arnold affect me the same way Paulie’s brother had in a brief moment?

Arnold had undeniable potential. His Tyrone Power looks combined with broad shoulders would photograph well. Admittedly, there were times, when close, his dazzling smile and the mint scent of his breath were quite attractive. Aunt Grace might call me boy crazy like she did her oldest daughter Mae.

But Benjamin wasn’t a boy. Boys’ muscles don’t show through their T-shirts and make my stomach quiver. The seriousness in his blue eyes intrigued me beyond any boy I’d ever met. Certainly more than Arnold.

Arnold’s persistence had become seriously annoying, but other times, he made me laugh. And an actress needed a handsome leading man on her arm. Hollywood sent scouts all over searching out hidden talent in the most unlikely places. Phoenix, Arizona would be as likely a place to be discovered as any other. If Lana Turner could be discovered sitting on a soda fountain stool in a drugstore, then why not?

“This is your stop, Claire. Quit your daydreaming and get off my bus.”

Blinking away glittery images of stardom, I lifted my head from the window and gathered the books from my lap. “Sorry, Mr. Jesper.” I flashed a movie star smile before hopping down the steps. “What’s a gal without her dreams?”