This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 872 words.
Janet was determined to celebrate Vera’s fifteenth birthday, despite the weather being awful. She invited Vera to her house after work, and they sat in her bedroom as Janet tried to convince her to go on a double-date with one of Frank’s friends. “We can go to the pub with them. It’s up near the Elephant and Castle, nobody knows us up there”. Vera was thinking it over when there was some commotion downstairs. Janet’s brother had arrived home on leave from the army, and it was a surprise visit.
Vera had never met Leslie before, though Janet would talk about him a lot. He was twenty-one, and had been in the regular army for almost five years. They went down from Janet’s room so she could greet him. Vera took one look at Leslie Reid, and wondered if her legs would stop trembling. Tall, fair-haired, and blue-eyed, he looked nothing at all like his parents or sister. Vera thought her mum would have joked that he had to be the milkman’s son. He had two stripes on the sleeve of his uniform, which Vera knew meant he was a corporal. He was in the Grenadier Guards, and sometimes guarded the palaces wearing a red jacket and bearskin hat. He stopped cuddling his sister and turned to Vera.
“Where have you been hiding this little beauty, sis? She’s a cracker”. Vera blushed so hard she could feel the heat coming from her face and neck. She reverted to formality to cover up her embarrassment. “I’m Vera Dodds, I work with Janet. Nice to meet you Leslie”. He took her extended hand. “Call me Les, darlin’. You’re gorgeous”. She blushed again, and suddenly realised she understood the meaning of love at first sight.
All thoughts of double-dating with Frank’s mate disappeared as soon as she looked at Leslie. Janet could see it too. “Its her birthday next week, Les. You should ask her out, take her dancing or something”. Vera could have punched her, but was secretly glad she had said that. “Why not? What do you say, lovely Vera, is it a date?” She nodded, trying not too appear overly enthusiastic. “I would like that, Les”. He grinned. “Okay, I will pick you up at six, and we can go for some nosh before dancing. Will it be alright with your dad though?” Vera had no idea what her dad would say, but she was a working woman who paid her own way, and fifteen or not, she was going on that date. “Course it will”.
Albert and Elsie just had to smile as they listened for the third time to Vera’s story of meeting Leslie. They had never seen their daughter so excited, even when she told them all about her trip to Margate. Albert thought about it. “Grenadier Guards you say?. I think he’s a bit old for you though, love. Elsie stepped in. “The Reids are a good family, Bert. I’m sure no harm would come to our girl. You can always have a word with Les before they leave”. Albert knew he was outvoted. “Well, alright, but you have to be home by eleven at the latest, and no smooching on the doorstep mind”. Vera hugged him, and kissed him on the cheek. As she went up to her room, she turned and winked at her mum.
On the night, Albert decided not to say anything. The young man was very respectful. He had brought Vera a nice present, all wrapped up with ribbon and everything. It was a pair of quality stockings, the sort wrapped in tissue paper in a smart box. And he was serious with Albert too. “I know Vera is young, Mr Dodds, and you have my word she will be safe with me”. He had even brought a quart of sweet stout for Elsie, who gave him the same doe-eyes as Vera.
The next day, Vera was wishing she could have remembered more of the night before. It had all seemed like a dream. Leslie knew his way around the west end, and they had dinner in a chop house before dancing in a smart place she had never heard of. Nobody questioned her age, even when Leslie ordered her a port and lemon from the waitress. Vera had learned to dance by practicing with Vivian years before, and Les whirled her around like someone who really knew what he was doing. At twenty past ten, he said it was time to go, and he hailed a taxi from the street outside. In the cab on the way back, he gave her one soft kiss on the lips, and held her hand.
She thought her heart would burst.
After paying off the taxi, he stood outside as she opened the door. “I have to go back to the regiment soon, Vera. Would you write to me? Janet will give you the address. Maybe you could send me a photo too? I would love to have a photo of my sweetheart to keep in my wallet”. Vera ran the few steps from the door, and kissed him. Just a quick kiss, but one hadn’t been enough for her.
“Course I’ll write to you Les. Course I will”.