I’ll Be Seeing You
December 7, 1941, San Francisco is on high alert following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Mulligan family is grappling with the news that Peter, beloved son and brother, is among the missing.
Each of the Mulligan sisters Bridget, Margaret, Colleen and Molly strives to find her place in the rapidly changing world in these early days of World War II. With their father ailing, Margaret takes over management of the family’s grocery store trying to keep hoarders at bay while daydreaming of a June wedding. Meanwhile Bridget focuses on her board exams and hopes to be accepted as an Army nurse. Beautiful Colleen, the “family flibbertigibbet” just wants to have fun despite the dire news of the war. But it’s the “baby” fifteen-year-old Molly who seems to be the glue that holds the family together.
With siblings, friends, and beaus being shipped out weekly, the remaining Mulligans quickly realize that this war will be fought on two fronts at home and overseas.
Each of the strong, hopeful Mulligan sisters will do their part if they hope to see victory and the end of the war.
Sunday, December 7, 1941
Molly Mulligan loved Sundays. It was the only day the family grocery store was closed and everyone could sit down to breakfast together. As she set a platter of steaming hotcakes in the center of the big oak dining table, Molly glanced at the vacant seat next to her dad. The only one absent today was Peter. Her older brother had been gone for nearly two months now, but Molly missed him as much as the day he’d donned his sailor uniform and told his family good-bye.
She wondered if Peter missed them this morning. Or maybe he was glad to escape his four younger sisters. Especially since he used to complain about how the girls always hogged the bathroom or never stopped talking. Molly imagined her brother—enjoying his newfound freedom from females as much as the tropical Hawaiian Islands.
“Do you think Peter eats bananas and pineapples for breakfast?” Molly set a pitcher of warmed maple syrup next to her dad. “Or maybe papayas?”
Her dad chuckled as he stirred sugar into his coffee. “More’n likely your brother is dining on lumpy porridge and runny eggs this morning. From what I hear, ship food’s not such a grand treat, Molly Girl. Not when you’re in the navy.”
“I’d happily eat cold mush three times a day if I could be in Hawaii right now,” Bridget declared. “It sounds so exotic and exciting.” She was the oldest of the four girls and, in Molly’s opinion, the smartest. Bridget sighed wistfully and turned her attention back to the nursing school textbook nestled in her lap.
“Peter’s last postcard to me said it was eighty degrees on Thanksgiving Day,” Molly reminded them. “Can you imagine—eighty degrees in November?”
“I don’t know that I’d care for it myself.” Her mother carried a platter of bacon from the kitchen. “I’d miss the seasons. Imagine having Christmas in hot summer weather. Very strange indeed.”
“Sunshine sounds better than this Frisco fog.” Margaret patted her auburn hair which, thanks to dozens of bobby pins and the pink hairnet she’d worn to bed last night, now resembled Maureen O’Hara’s. “The damp air always ruins my hairdo.”
“That’s why you should wear a prayer scarf to Mass,” their practical mother advised as she sat down.
Margaret held her head high. “You expect me to go out in public wearing a prayer scarf? Like an old woman? Really, Mam.”
“A prayer scarf is more sensible than those silly hats you girls fancy. And a scarf can keep your hairdo smooth enough.” Mam pushed a loose strand of her own graying hair back into her usual bun. “Not only that, a scarf is helpful when you’ve had no time to primp.”
“But they’re so unstylish,” Colleen declared. Of the four sisters, Colleen was by far the most fashionable and, in Molly’s opinion, resembled Lana Turner. Colleen winked at Margaret. “Especially when you just got that sweet little number with the adorable fascinator that I can’t wait to borrow for—”
“All right now,” Dad interrupted with forceful volume. “If none of you gabby girls minds too much, I’d like to eat my breakfast while it’s still hot. And in peace, if it’s not too much to ask. Bridget, dear, I believe it’s your turn to say grace.”
In the same instant, all six of the Mulligans bowed their heads, and Bridget murmured a brief prayer. Finished with her hasty blessing, Bridget’s head remained bowed, but her eyes were on the textbook in her lap.
“We forgot something!” As the others reached for food, Molly closed her eyes.“And God bless Peter and give him a good day!” Of course, everyone heartily echoed her “amen,” re-crossing themselves.
“Thank you for that, Molly.” Mam patted her hand.
“I pray for Peter every day,” Molly quietly told her. “I taped the picture-postcards he’s sent me on my dresser mirror as a reminder.”
The boisterous family commenced to eating—and talking all at once. As usual, everyone seemed to have something important to say, and the volume increased with the enthusiasm. The Mulligans knew how to talk, that was for sure and for certain, but the topics sometimes came and went so quickly that Molly felt slightly lost. Even so, she loved her gregarious family—and she felt surprisingly grateful for each of them today. If Peter were here, it would be perfect.
“Bridget, put your book away,” Dad scolded. “Tell us what you’ve been learning in nursing school of late.”
As Molly chewed on a crispy strip of bacon, she listened to her sisters chattering like magpies. Sometimes amongst themselves, sometimes with the parents. Molly tried to inject a word here and there, just to remind them of her presence, but as usual the three older girls dominated the conversation. And why not—they were grown-ups with exciting lives to lead. Bridget was twenty-one and in her last year of nursing school. Margaret, just a year younger, managed the family grocery store. And Colleen, the social butterfly, was eighteen-and-a-half and looked like a film star.
Molly’s three older sisters always had interesting topics to discuss and strong opinions to back them. Far more appealing than anything fifteen-year-old Molly could bring to the table. Her sisters could even make a boring subject sound colorful and fun.
“The missing produce delivery finally arrived just before closing last night,” Margaret was telling their father. “The truck driver had a breakdown just outside of Sacramento and had to hire a different truck.” Margaret was still getting used to her new role at the store. Peter had started training her as manager after he’d made up his mind to join the navy. But it was no secret that Margaret didn’t particularly like her new responsibilities. She would rather be a wife than a storekeeper. But Dad’s poor health had made it necessary for the rest of the family to take over the store.
“So the produce was in good shape when it arrived—not damaged?” Dad asked in a distressed tone. “And it got unloaded all right?” Molly knew how much it bothered Dad to be stuck at home and unable to help—especially when something went awry at the store. But his physician had insisted rest was necessary, and they were all trying to be supportive.
“Of course,” Margaret assured him. “Young Jimmy stayed late to help me. It was almost ten by the time we finished. But it’s all taken care of, Dad. No problems.”
His smile looked relieved as he turned to his wife. “You see, Mary, I told you the store would be in good hands with Margaret at the helm.”
“But for how long?” Colleen asked with a twinkle in her eye. “I’m guessing our Maggie may have other fish to fry. Or should I say, wedding bells to ring?”
“What have you heard?” Dad looked worried again.
“Just that someone’s been talking to Brian’s brother.” Colleen nudged Bridget with her elbow, fluttering her thick dark eyelashes in a mockingly flirty way. “Haven’t you, Bridgie?”Colleen might’ve been the closest to Molly’s age, but she was so sophisticated and worldly that the gap between them felt bigger than three years.
“I happened to bump into Patrick Hammond on the street car on Friday,” Bridget answered in a nonchalant tone, fixing her eyes back down on her textbook again.
“I’m sure it was a complete coincidence,” Colleen teased.
Molly wanted to defend Bridget and point out that, of all the sisters, Bridget was the least likely to flirt with anyone. Even if it was Patrick Hammond. But, as usual, her tongue felt tied.
“I was simply on my way home from school,” Bridget said crisply. “Like I keep telling you and everyone—Patrick and I are only friends. That is all. I wish you’d all quit making a mountain out of a molehill.”
“Methinks thou protesteth too much.” Colleen’s fine brows arched.
“And methinks you’d like to go after Patrick yourself,” Bridget shot back at her. “No one is stopping you, Colleen.”
“I guess I could do worse.” Colleen laughed lightly. “But rest assured, although Patrick is very handsome—in a Dick Powell sort of way—he is not my type.”
“But what did Patrick say?” Molly asked Colleen. “Is Brian going to propose to Margaret soon?”
“Don’t you think that’s between Brian and Margaret?” Bridget said without looking up.
Margaret cleared her throat in a dramatic sort of way. “Well, I didn’t mention it to anyone yet, but I did get a letter from Brian yesterday….”
“And?” Colleen nudged Bridget again, as if she felt they were harboring a secret about Margaret’s future. “Any mention of marriage?”
“A proposal in a letter? Really?” Margaret looked aggravated as she wiped her mouth with her napkin. “Besides, it’s none of your business, little sister.” They all knew that Brian Hammond wouldn’t graduate from college until June—and that Margaret was impatiently waiting for that day…and for a wedding. But it seemed like Margaret had been waiting for Brian for as long as Molly could remember.
“Then why is Colleen talking about wedding bells for you?” Molly looked from one sister to the next.
“I’m sure I don’t know.” Margaret rolled her eyes. “Brian simply wrote to remind me of his Christmas vacation schedule. I assume it’s so we can spend some time together during the holidays.”
“Christmastime is the perfect time to become engaged,” Colleen said slyly.
“Speaking of Christmas vacation, mine’s about to begin too.” Bridget directed this to Margaret. “I’ll be able to help out in the store after my final exams next Monday and Tuesday. So I’ll be available to work by Wednesday.” She tapped her book. “That’s why I’m cramming.”
Now Dad grilled Bridget about her upcoming registered nursing exam, and she reassured him that it was scheduled for January. Then Colleen told everyone about the USO dance she’d gone to last night. And finally Margaret described the Christmas display she wanted to put in the store’s front window—and Molly begged to help. It wasn’t long until breakfast was finished.
As usual after a family meal, the Mulligan sisters flocked into the kitchen to wash up. Today they worked to the Hit Parade on the radio and, thanks to the fast tempo, they all moved quickly, singing along with the likes of Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. With Bridget washing, Margaret rinsing, Colleen drying, and Molly putting dishes away, they finished up in record time. With some extra minutes of pre-church primping, sharing the bathroom sink and mirror, the girls were finally clustered by the front door as they pulled on coats, hats, and gloves, filing at last out into the cool foggy morning.
“There goes my hair,” Margaret declared as they traipsed down the stairs.
Mam and Dad had left a few minutes earlier, allowing themselves plenty of time to stroll slowly to Old Saint Mary’s, since Dad was not supposed to overdo it. It wasn’t long before the four girls caught up with their parents, trailing behind them so that they resembled a small, talkative parade. As they headed down Kearny Street, Molly thought that the only thing missing today was Peter. And as her older sisters continued to chatter amongst themselves, leaving her out, Molly missed Peter more than ever.
More specifically, Molly missed all the times that Peter had accompanied her to Mass. He was the only sibling who never treated her like a baby, and she had loved walking with him to Old Saint Mary’s. The two of them would remain behind the rest, talking uninterrupted. Peter would inquire about school and friends…and most recently he’d begun to ask her about boys. She giggled to remember the brotherly speech he’d given her right before joining the navy. He’d warned her that teenage boys were not to be trusted. “Not until they’re at least eighteen,” he’d said in a no-nonsense tone. “Maybe not until twenty.”
Naturally, she had just laughed. And then she reminded him that he’d been a teenager once. Of course, he simply pointed out that was the reason he understood this issue so well. “And that is precisely why I want you to stay just as you are,” he’d told her. “Pigtails and all.”
She knew Peter loved her braids, and she’d already kept them longer than she’d planned. But it was simply because she loved her big brother and wanted to make him happy. Still, she wasn’t a child anymore. “It will be rather hard to avoid all teenage boys,” she told him. “I am in high school, after all.”
“That’s true. And I want you to remember that you’re a very attractive girl,” he said in a somber tone. “Those blonde curls and blue eyes could be your downfall, Molly.”
“Some high school boys will only see you as a pretty face,” he explained. “Some may go after you for their own amusement. And I won’t be around to fight them off for you. And you know that Dad’s not been so well lately. So you’ll have to stand up to those boys yourself. Promise me you won’t let them take advantage. You hear?”
She had agreed to be on guard about boys in general, assuring him that she’d store his advice in her heart. But now that Peter was gone and she had been privy to some of her older sisters’ chatterbox conversations—particularly on their way to Mass—she’d come to realize their favorite topic, besides fashion and film stars, seemed to be young men. So much so that she wondered if Peter had ever warned them about the “dangers” of boys.
They were nearly at the church when Molly, who was dawdling in the rear of the Mulligan parade, heard her sisters letting out some high-pitched squeals, as if someone had just shared a good joke—probably about a boy. But the shrieks were loud enough that their mother turned around to shake a finger at them.
“Girls—girls!” She pointed up at the statuesque brick building just ahead. “Show some respect, please!”
Her sisters’ voices softened some as they got closer to the church. Old Saint Mary’s wasn’t a highly ornate building, but it was substantial and sturdy…and nearly a hundred years old. The big clock above the Madonna statue gave the structure a sense of dependability. Molly’s older sisters grew much quieter as they passed through the tall Gothic arches and into the vestibule, politely exchanging greetings with friends, minding their manners around their elders, and going through the usual pre-Mass paces.
Before long the four sisters, still wearing coats, hats, and gloves, filed into their usual pew and took their seats. With their parents on the aisle, the Mulligan family could nearly fill the wooden pew. But without Peter, they could make room for Mr. and Mrs. Nelson on the other end. Because it was the first week of Advent, the church was fuller than usual today.
Molly glanced around with satisfaction. Taking in the familiar faces of friends and neighbors, she felt such stability and security being in Old Saint Mary’s. Like a home of sorts. From the carved majestic arches and beautiful windows to the pipe organ’s worshipful music…even the slightly musty smell of old wood surfaces and furniture polish…it all filled Molly with the sense that God was on his throne and all was well with the world. And this Sunday was no different. Very comforting.
Did that mean Molly listened attentively and reverently to the readings and recitations? Did she absorb all of Father McMurphey’s words? Not as much as she should’ve…and not nearly as much as she pretended to. But at least she was beyond the age of doodling and note-passing and secretly sucking on lemon drops. Perhaps she was growing up after all. There was hope.
Just as Molly started to feel restless and tempted to check her watch—a habit her parents frowned upon in church—she observed something that made her sit up and take notice. Officer Stone, dressed in his dark police uniform, was striding up the center aisle—even though Father McMurphey was still speaking. With a sense of purpose and urgency, and a flushed face, Officer Stone waved his hands in the air to get the priest’s attention. Father McMurphey stopped speaking in mid-sentence.
The whole congregation came to attention as Officer Stone rushed to the pulpit, looking so agitated that Molly wondered if he had come to arrest someone. Now that would be an exciting way to end Mass. She glanced around, wondering if they were in danger. Perhaps there was fire somewhere in the building. The interior of the church had burnt down once before. But Molly didn’t smell smoke. Maybe an earthquake like the one in 1906 was eminent. Old Saint Mary’s had survived that. But since nothing was trembling or shaking, she knew that wasn’t it.
With wide eyes, Molly watched as Officer Stone held his emergency conference with Father McMurphey. The priest’s face grew paler and more serious as he listened, his furrowed brow mirroring Officer Stone’s. Something was definitely wrong.
The church became so silent that Molly was surprised they couldn’t hear the two men whispering for what seemed like several minutes. Waiting impatiently, Molly felt a twisting sensation deep in the pit of her stomach—something was really wrong. What was it?
Officer Stone stepped back, and Father McMurphey returned to the pulpit. Laying his palms flat on the podium, he sadly shook his head, gazing out over the congregation. “I have some very difficult news to share,” he said solemnly. “News that will severely shake our community—some right here in our congregation. Indeed, this news will shake the entire country…the world at large.” He paused to take a deep breath. “It is reported that Japanese forces launched a massive air strike this morning. They attacked the Hawaiian Islands by air. The devastation to our military there has been brutal.”
Father McMurphey paused while some in the congregation let out shocked gasps and exclamations, and then he continued. “To be more specific, the Japanese air forces have dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor Naval Base—the very place where many of our US Navy ships are stationed. I am sorry to report that the casualties are severe. That is all I know for now, but as we go home and tune into our radios for further news, I know we will begin to hear more.”
Murmurings broke out amidst the congregation, but the Mulligans remained silent, exchanging worried looks with each other. Molly reached for her mother’s hand and Bridget’s, clasping them both tightly without speaking. What did this mean for Peter?
“Now let us all bow our heads,” Father McMurphey declared. “Let each of us silently pray for the US servicemen serving in the Hawaiian Islands. And then I will close.”
As she bowed her head, Molly could hear her pulse thumping in her ears. Staring down at her white pigskin gloves, recently handed down from Colleen, she was unable to form any sort of sensible prayer. All she could think was—what about Peter? Was her brother involved in this dreadful bombing situation? She knew he was in Hawaii, but did that mean he had been bombed too? Perhaps he was all right…perhaps he was not.
Suddenly, experiencing a desperate fear-driven sort of urgency, she began to silently pray. With fervent sincerity, she begged God to watch over her beloved brother—to keep him safe…to bring him home. Be with Peter, she repeated silently. Be with Peter, God. Please, help him.
“Holy Lord of Heaven,” Father McMurphey’s voice boomed out through the silent cathedral. “I beseech Thee for Thy protection and Thy safe deliverance for our young men stationed in Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. I ask Thy mercy and Thy comfort for the family members in this congregation and throughout the country. I pray for Thy guidance for President Roosevelt and for our nation’s leaders. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…on earth as it is in heaven.” And then, as usual, he led them in the final doxology, but the voices joining his were much quieter than usual…much more somber.
“And now,” Father McMurphey continued, “Officer Stone informed me that all servicemen’s leaves are cancelled. You are instructed to report for active duty immediately.” He paused as several uniformed men rose to stand and, making the sign of the cross, said, “God go with you.”
As the uniformed men exited, the shaken congregation began to cluster in small groups, murmuring amongst themselves. Likewise, the Mulligans huddled, all wearing the same worried expression and experiencing the same unspeakable fear, yet no one spoke.
“What about Peter?” Margaret finally voiced everyone’s greatest concern.
Mam let out a choked sob.
“Peter is fine,” their father firmly declared.
“How can you possibly know that?” Colleen challenged him.
“Because your brother is on a mighty big ship.” Dad paused to cough, wiping his mouth with his ever present handkerchief. “The USS Arizona is said to be the best battleship of its kind. In the last war, it proved itself to be the most powerful ship to ever sail the sea. She’s big and stalwart and dependable, and those wee little Japanese bombs—they should not be able to harm a sturdy ship like that.” He nodded with confidence, but Molly thought she spied a thin trace of fear in his clear blue eyes. And, as they all hurried out of the church, with her father moving faster than normal, she knew he was as worried as the rest of them. He just didn’t want to show it.
Despite her high heels, Colleen began to run as soon as she was outside of Old Saint Mary’s. She knew her family would follow at their own pace, but she wasn’t willing to wait a moment longer than necessary to hear this frightening news for herself. Was it really as bad as Father McMurphey had made it seem? She felt both aggravated and scared as she hurried up the hill to their house. Why had Peter been so doggone stubborn? She remembered when she’d tried to talk him out of his silly idea to enlist in the navy. But would he listen? Of course not. And now this! Oh, Peter!
“Let me past!” Molly yelled as she caught up with Colleen just a block from the house. Surprised that Molly was that fast, Colleen stepped aside. But then not wanting to be outrun by her baby sister, Colleen started to run again. To her surprise, Molly beat her to the front door. Gasping for breath, they both burst into the house, racing for the big radio set in the front room.
“Let me,” Colleen insisted. And scooting the ottoman next to the radio, she sat down and immediately tuned it to NBC.
Molly, still panting, knelt beside her on the braided rug. “Do you think Peter’s—”
“Hush!” Colleen said sharply. “Listen.”
“The attack was made on all naval and military activities on the principle island of Oahu—”
“Turn up the volume!” Margaret yelled as she and Bridget rushed into the front room, moving chairs closer to the radio.
“This will naturally mean war…” the radio announcer continued in an even, yet urgent tone. “The president would ask Congress for a declaration of war—”
“War?” Margaret cried out. “This means we’re going to war?”
“Quiet!” Bridget told her. “I want to hear this.”
“Japan has now cast the die,”he continued.“Japanese forces were already streaming into the gulf of Thailand. Yet, even this morning, Japanese diplomats were meeting with our Secretary of State in Washington. Within hours of this morning’s air raid, President Roosevelt sent a message to Hirohito of Japan, appealing to the Mikado for restraint and peace. But—”
“What is the news?” Dad demanded as he and their mother burst into the front room. His face was pale and he was puffing, out of breath.
“Sit down,” Mam insisted, practically shoving him into his chair.
“It’s like Father McMurphey said,” Bridget said glumly.
“War,” Margaret declared.
“Be quiet so we can hear!” Colleen turned the volume even louder.
“Bombs began falling around eight o’clock this morning Hawaiian time. There were reports of machine-gunning at Ford Island shortly before that. The air attack then moved to Hickam Field. At Pearl Harbor, three ships were attacked. The USS Oklahoma was set afire. No statement has been made by the navy.”
“They didn’t mention the USS Arizona?” Dad asked.
“Not yet.” Colleen put a forefinger in front of her lips.
“Everyone was taken by surprise. Torpedoes did their damage on the ships in Pearl Harbor—”
“Oh, no!” Mam cried out. “He said ships. How will we know if Peter was involved?”
Suddenly everyone was talking at once. Some grasping for hope, others predicting tragedy, but no one could hear the actual news broadcast anymore.
“Hush!” Colleen yelled above the voices. “We’re missing it.”
“Hard to believe an air attack happened on these beautiful islands and that life has been lost. Planes came from the south, dropping incendiary bombs over the city. Fifty to one hundred planes with markings of the rising sun. The main targets were Hickam Field and the great naval base at Pearl Harbor.”
For the next hour, the whole family remained in the front room, hovering around the radio set—occasionally interrupting or emotionally erupting before someone would insist they get quiet again. The news was starting to sound repetitive enough that Colleen felt she could recite it herself. She knew by heart when and where the attack happened and many other details, including that Japanese forces had launched a similar air attack on the army and navy bases in the Philippines. It sounded as if Manila had been hit hard. Although no official announcement had been made yet, it seemed fairly certain that America was going to war.
Everyone jumped when the telephone jangled loudly, but it was Dad, seated next to the telephone table, who answered. “Hello?” he said gruffly. “Who is this?”
Everyone went silent, waiting to hear the identity of the caller.
“Colleen?” he said in an aggravated tone. “Yes, she is here. But she cannot speak to you right now. We must keep this line free, thank you very much.” He hung up the receiver with a clang. “You heard me, ladies, we will not be using the telephone today. We will keep the line open…in case Peter tries to call us.”
Although Mam was still clearly distressed, she stood up and announced she was going to see about dinner. “I have a ham that needs to go in the oven,” she said quietly. “And potatoes to peel.” Both Molly and Margaret stood as well, offering to help. And before long, the kitchen radio set was running as well. Colleen, who usually enjoyed the radio and was often accused of turning the volume too loud, wondered how much more of this she could take.
The radio station would start into its regularly scheduled program and then, after about ten minutes, interrupt it with another news flash similar to the last one. Standing up to pace back and forth across the front room, she grew curious as to which one of her friends had called for her. But she did not want to ask her dad. Especially when he looked so thoroughly disturbed.
She paused from pacing long enough to study him more closely. Although he was leaning back in his chair, he did not look the least bit relaxed. In fact, it almost seemed he was in pain. Colleen nudged Bridget with the toe of her pump, tipping her head toward their father with concern.
“Dad.” Bridget went over to his chair. “You don’t look too well.”
“I’m fine,” he growled.
Bridget returned to Colleen’s side. “We need to get him to bed,” she whispered. “Turn on your Irish charm.”
“Come on, Dad.” Colleen smiled as she took one of his hands in both of hers. “Nurse Bridget is right. You do need some rest. You’ve worn yourself out with church and all this excitement.” She tugged gently. “Let’s get you to bed for a while.”
“But I need to hear the news,” he protested as she helped him to his feet.
“We’ll listen to it for you,” Bridget promised, slipping her arm around his waist.
“And if anything really big comes up, we’ll come and get you straightaway,” Colleen assured him.
“I can even take notes if you like,” Bridget offered as they walked him across the room. “I’m a good note taker.”
“Anyway, it sounds as if the broadcaster is repeating the same information now.” Flanking him on either side, the two sisters got him to the bedroom and sat him down on the bed, where Bridget took over. Colleen watched as her sister knelt to remove his shoes, gently lifting his feet onto the bed and helping him to lie back before she loosened and removed his tie. She really would make a good nurse someday.
“You have a good little rest now.” Colleen bent down to kiss his cheek.
He muttered a complaint about being treated like a baby, but as Bridget adjusted his pillow and pulled up the coverlet, she mouthed thank you to Colleen. Knowing her dad was in good hands, Colleen went back to the front room, where the radio was still droning on about this morning’s tragedy.
She paced back and forth a bit, but still feeling antsy, she grabbed up her coat and shot out to the front stoop, digging into her coat pocket for the enameled cigarette case she’d bought in China Town last week. She knew her family didn’t approve of this recently acquired habit, but it really did calm her nerves. And she felt it made her look older, more sophisticated.
She looked up from lighting her cigarette in time to see Barbara Hanley hurrying up the sidewalk toward her, waving urgently. Barbara had been a class ahead of Colleen, but the two had been casual friends since junior high school.
“Have you heard anything from Peter?” Barbara asked breathlessly as she clomped up the stoop steps. “Do you know if he’s all right?” She peered at Colleen with a worried expression.
“No, it’s probably too soon to hear anything yet.” Colleen tried to sound calmer than she felt as she pulled in a long drag from the cigarette.
“It all sounds so horrible. I can hardly believe it.”
“Well, I told Peter it was a mistake to join the navy.” Colleen blew out a slow puff of blue smoke.
“Do you have another one of those?” Barbara asked.
Colleen removed the cigarette case from her coat pocket, waiting as Barbara took one. “I just wish he’d never gone to Hawaii,” she said sadly. “I wish he’d never enlisted.”
“I know.” Barbara lit the cigarette. “Me too.”
Colleen knew that Barbara really liked Peter. For that matter, who didn’t? But at one time Barbara had fancied herself as Peter’s girlfriend. Maybe she did again, now that he was overseas. But, although Peter had dated Barbara a couple of times, Colleen didn’t think he was seriously interested. As she watched Barbara lighting another cigarette, Colleen knew her brother would not approve. He had been adamantly opposed to Colleen’s smoking. Even when she’d teased him, insisting that most sailors smoked and that he’d probably come home a smoker too, he’d assured her that would never happen. But then, he’d assured her that he’d be safe too. Had he been able to keep that promise?
“I feel so frightened for Peter…” Barbara said quietly. “For all those servicemen. The more I listen to the radio, the worse it sounds.”
Colleen nodded grimly. “Yeah, I had to get away from it.”
“My brother was on leave. It was supposed to last until after the New Year. But he was downtown this morning, with his buddy—both of them in uniform, you know—and he was stopped by a policeman and told to report to his ship. He didn’t even know why until he got home. But he got his stuff and took off right away. He’s aboard his ship now. Sounds like they’ll be leaving soon.” She frowned. “It scares me.”
“You mean John? He’s enlisted?”
“Yeah. Not long after Peter.”
“I didn’t even know that.” Colleen looked out to the street where other young people were starting to mill about. Not anyone she recognized, but she suspected that, like her, they were uneasy. They were probably trying to distract themselves by socializing with their peers. Snippets of excited conversation floated on the air, and suddenly they all looked at the sky, almost as if they expected to see something up there.
“Do you think the Japanese will bomb us too?” Barbara asked her.
“I don’t know.” Colleen frowned. “Isn’t that an awful long way to fly? All the way from Japan?”
“John said they might have an aircraft carrier out there. That wouldn’t be too far to fly. And my dad thinks we’ll be hit next,” Barbara told her. “He said that’s why John got called back. The military is getting ready to protect us from an invasion.”
“Really?” A shiver ran through her. And it wasn’t from the chilly fog, either. “Do you honestly think it’s possible that Japanese forces could invade US soil?”
Barbara nodded, taking another long pull of the cigarette.
“Look.” Colleen pointed to where the group on the street had split up. Most of them appeared to be heading back toward town. But two of the guys turned the opposite direction, toward the waterfront. “What do you think they’re doing?”
“Let’s find out,” Barbara said anxiously.
“Hold on.” Colleen stuck her head in the house, announcing that she was going for a walk. Then, snuffing out her cigarette, she and Barbara hurried down the street, running to catch up with the young men. Even though they were strangers, Colleen wasn’t concerned. For one thing, she was used to making new friends. But with the eminency of war, there seemed no reason to be overly cautious about anything.
“Where are you guys going in such a hurry?” Barbara asked, fluffing her brown curls in a slightly flirty way.
“Down to the waterfront,” the shorter man said flippantly. “Wanna come along?”
“Why?” Colleen asked.
“To keep an eye on the bay,” the taller one told her.
“Why?” Colleen asked again. She directed her question to the taller guy. It had not escaped her that he was quite attractive—in a tall, lanky, boyish Gary Cooper sort of way.
“Maybe we’ll spot a Japanese submarine.” His dark eyes twinkled.
“Or we might see bomber planes,” his friend added with enthusiasm. “My dad said the Nips might try to knock out the Golden Gate Bridge.”
“We may need to report what we see down there,” the tall one said. “This means war. Everybody’s got to do his part.”
Colleen tried to absorb those three words. This means war? What did that really mean? Would the United States really be invaded by the Japanese? And what about the Germans? What was the world coming to anyway?