Chapter 1: Prologue
The crowds pulsed around them - loved ones and soldiers saying their goodbyes - many for the last time.
Captain Ichabod Crane of the His Majesty's Army was about to board a ship to join the fighting on the Continent. He strongly suspected he would never see the shores of home again and it broke his heart, mainly because of the woman in his arms, "Abbie, dearest, if I don't come back..."
"You have to come back," Abbie insisted, almost yelling to be heard over the pushing, loud crowds at the docks.
Ichabod pulled her tighter into his arms, "I promise, I will do my best to return to you, but there are no guarantees Abbie, we must-"
"You have to come back," Abbie eyes welled up with tears she held back by sheer will alone.
Ichabod felt his heart breaking as he looked at the love of his live, pleading with her, "I will try, but you mustn't wait for me."
Abbie grabbed at his lapels, standing on her toes to reach him, "I'm pregnant, Ichabod!"
Shock. Hope. Love. "I have to come back."
Chapter 2: A Stranger in a Strange Land
Abbie arrives in England in March 1939.
Abbie stepped down the gangplank of the Liverpool docked passenger ship and for the first time in her life, breathed freely without real fear. It was also the first time she’d ever left New York state, much less the country and the British immigration officials looked at her like she had to be insane when she told them why she’d made the week-long journey.
She knew many folks thought she was crazy to leave home in the year of our lord nineteen hundred and thirty-nine to live in a country likely about to go to war. However, one thing Grace Abigail Mills knew about was the evil men do and from the first moment she sat in a picture show and saw Adolf Hitler’s face on the newsreel, she knew he would try to destroy them all. In the end, Abbie decided she didn’t care - she was leaving one real war for a possible other one – a war to keep her dignity and pride in a country that wanted nothing more than to demean and destroy her simply for the color of her skin.
Abbie also knew as sure as she knew her name that it wouldn’t be long before America was drawn into war as well, so she figured what was the real difference? She didn’t have two good reasons to stay and a million good reasons to leave.
When the older British officer came into the hotel lounge three nights in a row to listen to her singing act, Abbie thought he was like every other white man who wanted a walk on the wild side and Abbie prepared herself to set him straight. But after her set on the third night, he’d explained that he was a bit of a talent scout and if she could pay her passage, he could guarantee her a job in the officer’s lounges that doted London and the surrounding cities. Abbie was suspicious and asked him every question she could think of, impressed that he answered each one patiently and thoroughly. “I can’t guarantee your life will be smooth Miss Mills, but I will say that you will be able to enter the front door of any establishment where you work,” Henry Parrish promised, “and you will be fairly compensated.”
Abbie had one last question, “Why me?”
“I am about to retire,” he explained calmly with a small sigh, “and you remind me of a very special woman I met long ago when I was briefly stationed in the United States. Miss Dixon and I weren't able to follow our relationship to its natural conclusion and I have lived with the regret of my failures ever since,” Henry coughed lightly, “I do not want to regret not affording you this opportunity, if you want it.”
Abbie looked him up at down before looking around the tired Sleepy Hollow hotel where she’d worked for the last five years and reached out her hand to shake his resolutely, “It’s a deal.”
Abbie sold almost everything she owned to scrape together the money for the trip. In the end, selling her furniture, knickknacks and a good portion of her clothes raised just enough for the ticket in steerage. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t comfortable, but Abbie knew it was the start of a new life and no matter what, she was going to grab it with both hands.
“Miss Mills?” Abbie turned to see a young man smiling at her, holding out his hand, dressed casually with an open peacoat for protection from early morning chill. He was tall, but not too tall, brown haired with blue eyes and an easy smile. Abbie wanted to like him instantly, “I’m Joe Corbin. My dad, August Corbin, asked me to meet you, travel with you back to London and help get you settled in.”
Abbie shook the offered hand, “Yes. Mr. Corbin wrote to me,” August Corbin was going to be Abbie’s boss. He made it clear in his letter that he didn’t know what the hell Henry Parrish was thinking inviting her to come work in a country he knew was preparing for war, but if she wanted to make the trip, he’d make good on Mr. Parrish’s offer. Abbie barely finished reading the letter before writing back that she was coming as soon as she could book passage.
“You’re an American,” Abbie said with some surprise.
Joe smiled, “Yeah, my Dad and I came over about ten years ago after my mom died,” Joe picked up Abbie’s large suitcase and walked toward the taxi waiting for them by the curb, “Dad left the Army where he worked in troop entertainment. Taking this job just seemed like a natural fit,” Joe looked at Abbie helping her into the back of the car, “We like it here. England is home now.”
“I’m glad,” Abbie smiled at him a bit uncertainly, “Maybe it can be home for me too.”
Joe waited until he’d climbed into the other side of the car and gave the taxi driver instructions to take them to the train station before answering Abbie’s unspoken question. Would she, a Negro woman, truly be accepted here? “I think it can be. Can’t be worse than home, huh?”
As the car headed towards the train station, Abbie looked over the strange, new streets, the overcast sky giving up the rain that had threatened all day, “No, sir. It can’t be worse.”
Chapter 3: August Corbin
Abbie meets August and literally sings for her supper.
Comments are deeply appreciated. Any and all mistakes are my own. Thanks for reading.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Well, here we are, “ Joe Corbin said brightly as the train stopped, “Welcome to London.”
“Thanks,” Abbie smiled lightly. She really like Joe. He was sweet and pleasant. During the journey, Abbie had learned that he was a couple of year younger than her, worked as a bartender at the club and was head over heels in love with Miss Sophia Foster, who worked at a cocktail waitress at the club alongside him. Joe hoped they would have enough money saved up to get married next year.
“Dad arranged a room for you at Sophie’s boarding house,“ Joe said while pulling Abbie’s suitcase down from the overhead storage, “it’s a nice enough place – comes with breakfast every day, so that’s good.” Abbie followed Joe off the train and into the bustling station. Abbie noticed that nobody looked at them – a white man walking along carrying the suitcase of a Negro woman. Already Abbie liked England better than home, “Where are we going now,” she asked.
“I thought I’d take you to the Mrs. Lacey’s rooming house, let you get some rest, you know? Pick you up tomorrow and take you to the club,” Joe replied amicably.
Abbie wasn’t going to go a whole day without knowing if she was going to have to find another way, “I’m fine. We can go straight to the club.”
Joe heard the firmness in her voice and knew there would be no fighting Abigail Mills, “Ok.”
Abbie looked out the taxi’s window at the mid-day streets of London. She knew it was the largest city in the country as well as being its capital. She spent time in New York, so the crowds and cars didn’t bother Abbie. The feel of the place was different, however, from New York’s constant activity…all bright lights full of false promises. London didn’t promise to be any easier from what Abbie could see, just more honest. The sky was overcast and people were still bundled up like it was the dead of winter. Abbie didn’t think it was cold, winters in New York were far worse, but there was a dampness that Abbie knew would seep into her bones, if she let it.
“Crap,” August Corbin saw Joe and the new singer walk in the front door of the Officer’s Club, “This is gonna be a problem.”
Corbin’s right hand Nevins stood next to him, wiping down the bar counter, “What’s that boss?”
August inclined his head toward the door where Joe stood with the new girl and Nevins let loose a low, long whistle of appreciation.
“Yeah,” Corbin agreed unhappily, “Crap.”
Joe led the young woman across the club towards Corbin and he took a moment to observe her. This Miss Mills was a real looker – her straight hair was held back with a side comb, the smooth curls shiny and catching the light. She had the face of an angel – a pert nose and full lips that begged to be kissed and something good. She was a tiny thing, but curvy in all the right places, the tailored suit jacket and pencil skirt doing nothing to help Corbin’s feeling there were gonna be fist fights over this beauty, “Holy Crap,” Corbin said as Abbie stopped to stand before him…her eyes were like deep pools of milk chocolate.
"Excuse me…I’m Abbie Mills. You’re new singer,” Abbie said with slight sass, trying her best to be polite as she looked up at the gruff, gray-haired, barrel-chested man who was going to be her boss. This is why Abbie had insisted that Joe take her immediately to the Officer’s Club, not even stopping to settle in at the room Abbie knew had been arranged for her. If things weren’t going to work out with August Corbin, she wanted to know sooner rather than later. Abbie Mills didn’t believe in surprises or avoiding the tough choices.
“You’re too pretty,” August answered bluntly, “I don’t know if this is going to fly.”
“Too pretty?” Abbie fired back, amazed, “That’s a first. Why?”
“Angel Face,” as soon as the words left his mouth, August knew they were true. She was an Angel Face, “If it were just the English, it might be fine. They have some decorum, but the Empire will be through here: Scots and Irish –“
“And the Aussies, boss,” Nevins piped up, “Don’t forget the Aussies.”
Corbin rubbed a hand across his face with a sigh. The last group of Aussies to come into the club nearly destroyed half the bar area, “How can I forget the Aussies?”
“Aussies?” Abbie asked confused, “Who are Aussies?”
“Australians,” Nevins filled in, “And they are gonna want to eat you alive.”
“Literally,” Corbin deadpanned, thinking, with a goddamn spoon.
Abbie shrugged, putting her hands on her hips. Enough was enough, “Well, I can’t help how I look and I sure didn’t cross an ocean to get ‘eaten’ by any man – Aussie, English or otherwise. I came to sing,” August noted with silent amusement that the buck ten lady looked like she could take down half the men working in the bar just with her words alone. August had to admit, she was more than just an angel face. He might have to send Henry Parrish that bottle of bourbon after all, “So are you going to let me do that or what?” Abbie continued as she stared August down. If it was going to go sour, let it be now, Abbie’s eyes demanded her chance. Like it or lump it. She came to work, not be judged on something she couldn’t control – that got old in the first grade.
“Alright,” he replied, leading Abbie towards the stage with a turn, “let’s see what you can do. You warmed up?”
“I’m fine,” Abbie answered resolutely.
“Ok,” August saw the band leader, Howard Warden, come to the front of the stage and down the few steps to join the group, “Howard, this is Miss Abigail Mills. She’s a new singer we’re trying out.”
The older man reached out to shake Abbie’s hand. Howard was a life-long musician who often knew a good singer by hearing them speak alone. “Nice to meet you.”
Abbie shook hands with the gentle looking man who seemed to be in his early fifties, his blond hair going gray at the temples, “Likewise, thank you.”
“What are you singing for us today,” Howard asked, turning back toward the stage, “I can play anything.”
“Let’s try A-Tisket, A Tasket,” Abbie decided, following him up the steps to stand beside the piano, “That seems like a song this audience would like.”
Howard sat down at the piano and played a few bars of the song’s intro, making make sure they were on the same page. At Abbie’s nod, he continued and she turned to face the group that was waiting to see what she could do – if she could deliver. Abbie took a depth breath, plastered a smile on her face and gave them a show…
A brown and yellow basket
I send a letter to my mommy
On the way I dropped it
I dropped it
I dropped it
Yes on the way I drop-”
“Stop,” August yelled out above the sound of the music. He’d heard enough.
“Something wrong, boss,” Howard asked from the stage, “I thought she sounded great. Just like Ella.”
“Thank you,” Abbie smiled at him, which Howard acknowledged with a tilt of his head. Truth was truth. The lady could sing. Her voice had beautiful tone and great control.
“Problem is, she’s not Ella and shouldn’t be trying to be,” August observed coming closer to the stage to address Abbie where she stood, “You’re giving me what you think I want. I can get ten girls to sing that song, just like you did. That’s nothing special,” Corbin crossed his arms over his chest in challenge, “You didn’t cross an ocean just to give me nothing special, did you?”
“Good,” August replied, tapping his knuckles on the stage as stepped back, “I want to hear you this time, not Ella.”
Abbie looked down at Corbin, seeing the dare in his eyes, “Can I change the song,” she asked Howard quietly, breaking eye contact with August, turning her head towards the band leader.
Howard’s answering smile was encouraging, “Sure, kid. What do you want?”
Abbie inhaled and exhaled. If Corbin wanted Abbie…he’d get Abbie, “Do you know Strange Fruit?” Howard’s eyebrows lifted high in surprise, “Yes, I know it, I was in New York late last year – caught Billie’s act. But…are you sure, Abbie?”
“Yeah. I’m sure,” Abbie turned to the front and closed her eyes, waiting for the music to transport her, taking a deep breath…
“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”
Abbie sang as if she were the conduit for the pain of her ancestors. It almost choked her, but she kept going, eyes still closed – lost to the music and its meaning.
“Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh”
Tears behind her closed eyes, hand over her heart – trying to hold in what seemed like the anguish of millions - as well as keep her own sadness at bay - Abbie continued,
“Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.”
Howard played the last note and the room fell silent with respect for the singer and the song. Abbie collected her resolve and opened her eyes, seeing Nevins wipe away a tear and August standing there, watching without saying a word. Abbie couldn’t quite make out his expression, but he seemed to be considering. Waiting, “There you are, Angel Face,” finally a small smile, “Joey can help you get settled in at the rooming house. See you tomorrow for rehearsals. Noon sharp. You’ll open on Saturday night.”
Abbie came down the steps on the side of the stage where Joe Corbin was waiting, Abbie’s suitcase in hand. She smiled waterly across to August, “Thanks…boss.”
Corbin shook his head as he watched the pair leave the club before turning to Nevins, “Send a bottle of our best bourbon to Henry Parrish…with my regards. That old man sure can pick ‘em.”
“She still a real looker. Stunning,” Nevins beady eyes shifted around with the question, “What about the Aussies, boss?”
“Yeah well…maybe some nice, English boy will come along and win her over…if one has the gumption to try,” August said over a shrug, walking back to his office. That was a problem for Saturday night.
Strange Fruit was recorded by Billie Holiday in April 1939. If you've never heard her sing it before (I won't judge - but what rock have you been living under??) get yourself to YT - now. You're welcome...
Oh and check out Ella Fitzgerald if your rock is really devoid of good music. Her scat was sent by the gods to bless us mere mortals.
Chapter 4: Mrs. Lacey’s House for Respectable Young Ladies
Abbie moves in to her rooming house and meets her new landlady. Thank you very much for every single comment and kudo. Things will start to pick up from here on out - so buckle up, (smile).
Thanks for reading and as always, mistakes are my own.
Abbie followed Joe out of the club on to the street. The day was still as dreary as when they went in, but it suited Abbie just fine. The song…being exposed... had taken more out of her than she wanted to admit. Abbie sighed – the day, her life – all of it finally caught up with her, “So where to now? The rooming house?”
"Yes," Joe answered, pulling his pea coat tighter round him with one hand against the cold, still holding Abbie’s suitcase with the other, “It’s just a few blocks from here, actually. Mrs. Lacey is strict but she treats her boarders ok.”
“Sounds good,” Abbie replied, “Lead the way.”
Abbie took a moment to observe the area as they walked. The houses were at street level, no stoop like home and the sidewalks were narrow. One thing Abbie did like were all the trees. They passed a large park on the way to the boarding house, “That’s Green Park,” Joe pointed on the way. This area is considered one of the nicest in London. A lot of the officers who come from money take flats in the area when on leave, so it doesn’t get too rowdy after hours.”
“Unless the Aussies show up,” Abbie smirked.
Joe laughed, “Yeah, unless the Aussies show up. Or the Americans.”
“Americans come to the club,” Abbie asked, feeling her stomach drop slightly. She had come a long way to get away from American men, officers or not.
Joe sensed her concern and immediately understood why, “Sometimes they come along with the English officers if they get to be friends. But they aren’t normally from the South.”
Abbie didn’t even try to hide her exhale, “Thank you.”
Joe stopped in front of a three story dark red brick semi terrace house about half way down the street, “Here we are.”
Abbie noted the small sign on the gate that read Mrs. Lacey’s House for Respectable Young Ladies and held in her laugh. This was going to be her home for the foreseeable future, “Well, I guess I better start acting like a ‘respectable young lady’ huh?”
“She’s really not that bad,” Joe stepped aside to let Abbie go into the small courtyard that led to the front door. The front door had stained glass and there was an intricate pattern of tile leading from the gate to the door.
Before Abbie could ring the doorbell, the door opened, “Hello, you must be Abbie. Come in. I’m Mrs. Dora Lacey,” the brown-haired woman smiled with a lilting Irish accent. Abbie could see there was another door just behind the house’s owner. She was standing in the intricately adorned vestibule.
Abbie stepped into the entryway, giving Mrs. Lacey a slight smile, “You’re just in time for tea. Come with me into the parlor,” Mrs. Lacey turned to Joe pointing to an empty area just been the inner front door, “Leave the suitcase there, please Joe. Thank you for seeing my new young lady safely here,” she saw Joe look inquiringly up the stairs, “I’ll tell Sophie you were looking to see her.”
Joe Corbin knew he was being dismissed. He would see Sophie later on that evening anyway, “It was nice traveling with you today, Abbie. See you soon.
“Goodbye, Joe. Thanks for all your help. See you soon.” Joe walked through the door, closing it softly behind him and Abbie turned to her new landlady, “You have a really nice home.”
“Thank you,” Dora led Abbie into the parlor that was right off the front door, indicating Abbie should sit in one of the large, blue fabric covered armchairs across from the red velvet sofa. The walls were wallpapered a dark green with heavy brocade draperies on the windows and intricate rugs across the floor, some partially on top of others. A full fire roared in the fireplace, warming the room despite the high ceilings. “Would you like some tea? Are you peckish?” Dora looked down at her coffee table admiring the full afternoon tea service complete with cucumber sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches and assorted cookies and small cakes. Abbie admitted to herself it was not the kind of spread she would see at four in the afternoon back home.
Abbie sat down gratefully in the plush chair, feeling it embrace her like an old friend, “Yes, thank you. Now that I think of it, I haven’t eaten since I bought a sandwich on the train.”
Dora poured the tea into a delicate, floral tea cup and used the small sized tongs to place several cucumber sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches and miniature cookies on a plate. She passed the plate to Abbie and slide over the tea cup, “There’s milk, lemon slices and sugar here. Help yourself.”
Abbie put a lemon slice into her tea cup, but left the sugar alone. The cookies would be enough – Abbie knew she had gowns to fit into for Saturday and it was best not to forget why she was here. Abbie nibbled at the cucumber sandwich and took a sip of her tea, “I can’t thank you enough for letting me rent a room here Mrs. Lacey.”
“Well, August vouched for you,“ Dora replied taking a sip of her own tea, heavy with milk and sugar, “I’m very selective about my ladies and I know August wouldn’t have asked me to make room for you if you weren’t up to my standards.” Dora levelled a look at Abbie that made it very clear that if she made a liar out of August Corbin there would be hell to pay – Maybe even literally, Abbie thought, the hair on the back of her neck standing up.
“I see,” Abbie swallowed, figuratively straightening her spine. Dora Lacey was an intimating woman, but Abbie Mills was no slouch either, “You’ll have no problems with me,” Abbie met Dora’s steely gaze with one of her own.
Dora nodded once, ”When I came over from Ireland, I was younger than the girls here now. So silly and naïve about the ways of the world,” she sighed, “But I worked tirelessly and eventually, was able to buy this home,” Dora smiled, even though it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“You must have been very proud of yourself,” Abbie knew the signs of a hard-lived life when she saw it and was sympathetic.
“I was,” Dora put down the tea cup and saucer, sitting straight on the sofa, “So, the house rules: no men in your room. No overnights out of the house unless vising relatives. No stealing. No smoking in your room. I serve dinner six days a week. Sundays everyone fends for themselves. Can you abide by my rules, Abbie?”
“Good,” Dora replied before smiling, “You’re older than my other ladies. Most are eighteen or twenty at most. You are how old?”
“Twenty-seven on my next birthday, Mrs. Lacey.”
“Why aren’t you married,” Dora was curious, “Most of the girls only stay for a short while, marry and move out.”
“Really? What can you tell me about the other ladies,” Abbie asked, avoiding the question of why she hadn’t married up to now. She wanted to know if any of the other ladies were going to be a concern, all things considered.
"There are four ladies staying with me now. You’ll make the fifth. I don’t take in more than five ladies at a time,” Dora explained. “Sophie Foster you know about. She works at the officer’s club as a cocktail waitress. She and Joe are trying to marry – although I don’t know how they’ll afford it. But she’s a sweet girl…from Manchester – that’s up North. Next is Caroline Webb from Blackpool. If you can, have Caroline take you there – exciting seaside town. Caro is an English teacher but she’s engaged to be married, so she’ll be leaving soon, “ Dora stopped to take a bite of her sandwich, swallowing before continuing to run down the other ladies, “Emily…Emily Harrington is from Ireland like me…the same county even – County Cork. She arrived late last year. She’s one of the best with a needle and thread that I’ve ever seen. She’s a seamstress. Hard worker. Finally, there’s Alice Lamb. She’s the only one in the house right now who is from London. Alice has a wonderful position as a ladies maid in the royal household. She doesn’t tell too much about the goings on there…she’s a good girl…but from time to time she’ll mention the Princess Elizabeth or Margaret.”
"Thank you,” Abbie replied thoughtfully, “Will any of them have any…concerns, about me, do you think?”
“They wouldn’t be living here with me if they did,” Dora replied plainly, “Abide by my rules, Abbie, and nothing else will matter.”
“That’s fair. Thank you. If you’ll excuse me, I think I should rest now,” Abbie put her teacup down and stood. She'd hit her limit and if she felt that if she didn't lay down, she'd fall down. “I’ll show you the room. I gave you in the only room with its own entrance to the house,” Dora remarked, stopping to let Abbie pick up her suitcase before leading her to the bedroom at side of the house near the back – the only bedroom besides Mrs. Lacey with its own bath. The rest of the ladies shared the upstairs bathroom.
Abbie was surprised. She would have thought one of the other girls would be awarded that level of privacy, “Can I ask why?”
“When August told me more about what you planned to do - coming all the way here from America - I imagined that you were a woman much like me at your age – interested in working hard and making a life for yourself. I see a lot of myself in you, Abbie. Besides with what I know August is paying you, you can afford to pay the wee bit more rent to have your own bathroom. The others can’t,” Dora opened the door to the bedroom, “I hope you’ll be comfortable here.”
“Thank you Mrs. Lacey,” Abbie walked past her into the bright room, taking in the single bed, desk, dresser a door leading to a small bathroom and the other door that led to the side alleyway and out on to the street. Abbie liked it, even the faded, yellow rose wallpaper and pink chenille bedspread.
“I’ll leave you to your rest,” Dora turned to leave the small room, “Mrs. Lacey…may I ask you a question?” Abbie looked at the older, but still young and beautiful woman. Dora Lacey was right, there was a lot she and Abbie had in common.
“Yes,” Dora waited patiently.
“Was there ever a Mr. Lacey,” Abbie asked, impressing Dora with her nerve. In all the years Dora owned the rooming house, Abbie was the only one with the brass to ask.
Dora smiled knowingly. Oh yes, Pandora Lacey liked this one, “Yes. My father.”
Chapter 5: Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Ichabod talks with his favorite cousin about the state of his life and sees Abbie for the first time. This update is for the birthday girl Denise. Happy Birthday and I hope you like your update.
Thanks for all the comments and as always, mistakes are on me.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Alastair Crane stared across the pub table at his cousin and best friend Ichabod, his lager momentarily forgotten, “You need a wife.”
Ichabod looked up sharply at Ali, his blue eyes flashing instant fire, “Is that your solution to every man’s problem, take any woman to wife?”
“When did I say any woman?” Alastair scoffed, pointing a finger in Ichabod’s direction, “Any woman wouldn’t bother to tolerate your insufferable manner when you believe you’re right, which is all the time, by the way. Never mind your positively absurd devotion to duty, which would require the poor thing to have a will of iron.”
“If I’m so awful, why are we friends,” Ichabod asked drily.
“We’re not friends, Ichabod. We’re family,” Ali replied with the tolerant smile that became a staple over the decades they’d been practically inseparable, “Besides, I only want you to be as happy as I am with my Mary.”
“Mary is a saint to put up with you,” Ichabod observed, “I’m going to need-“
“An angel sent by Heaven?” Ali laughed, “In all seriousness, Ichabod, you’re traveling north of thirty and all you have to show for it is your military career. What about the other things that make life worth living? I don’t know what I would do without Eddie, as much as he wants to be you when he grows up.”
“My godson has very good taste,” Ichabod smiled. Ichabod loved ten year-old little Eddie like he was his own son and was not-so-secretly thrilled that the boy was showing such an early interest in a military career, “I’m only thirty-two, Ali. Same age as you,” Ichabod countered. He knew his military career, as stellar as it was turning out to be, would not comfort him in his old age like a wife and family, but, “I simply haven’t found anyone that, well…I know will make me as happy as Mary makes you, despite my father’s best efforts.” Ichabod’s face twisted as his cousin’s chuckle, which Ichabod knew was at his expense.
“Is there an eligible woman left in England that Uncle Thomas hasn’t trotted out to tempt you?”
“No, which is why, with unparalleled determination,” Ichabod proclaimed, pointing his long finger towards the ceiling of the cozy pub, “Father is now looking for eligible women on the continent,” he grimaced around the sip of whiskey, “I believe he means to start in France and work his way from there.”
“Why don’t you simply tell him to stop,” Ali asked, to Ichabod’s mind, sounding as if he had no earthly idea who is uncle truly was in fact, “No one tells the inimitable Thomas Crane to simply stop,” Ichabod replied, “It’s not possible, so I won’t waste my breath.”
“No, you’re content to waste the time of every young woman across half of Europe,” Ali mumbled loudly.
Ichabod's sigh was deep. He really didn't want to get the hopes up of yet another English rose lacking any sort of…fire, “You know as well as I that Father hasn’t been the same since Tom died.” Thomas Crane III had been killed five years ago in a motor car accident, along with his new wife Edith. Tom was the first born son – the golden child who would inherent the family business as well as the bulk of the family fortune. Ichabod never resented his perfect older brother – Tom took many of their father’s stings of expectation that Ichabod was now experiencing tenfold without the comfort and cover that Tom had gladly provided.
“Yes,” Alistair acknowledged with a downward tilt of his head, “It’s all on you now and I suspect Uncle believes that he’s making up for lost time.”
“Well I’m sure he never expected to have to groom me,”’ Ichabod tone held the bitterness of a second son who never received his fair share of his father’s attention, “Frankly, I never expected to be groomed. I loved Tom but damn him, he didn’t prepare me to go from spare to heir. My job was to be the second son…join the military, have a distinguished career and not sully the family name. I’ve kept up my end of the bargain.” Ichabod chugged the rest of his whiskey in one go, signaling his frustration with the turn his life had taken.
“Very well, cousin. Yes, you have, better than anyone could ever expect,” Ali agreed quietly. He knew the constant comparisons to Tom, the parade of potential brides and the pressure to abandon a career Ichabod loved for the one Thomas Crane had planned for his brother was getting to his cousin and dearest friend, “You know what we need?”
"What?” Ichabod was clearly unenthusiastic.
“A night out,” Ali lightly tapped the table, “Take me to that officer’s club you sometimes visit – the one close by your flat.”
“I suppose we could,” Ichabod mused. It was a Saturday night and he certainly didn’t want to spend it sulking about his life – Ali surely deserved better for his visit, “Yes! You’re right. You can be my guest. We can see if Joe is working the bar. He’s always good for a laugh or two.” Ichabod stood leaving enough coin to cover their drinks and a tip, waving to the owner, Willy Wales, as they left the pub and walked out into the early evening, buttoning up their long coats against the dampness.
“You look great, Angel Face,” August smiled down at Abbie as she stood behind the curtain waiting to be introduced by Howard.
Abbie looked up at August with a genuine smile, “Thanks boss,” The two rehearsals she’d had with Howard and the band members had gone a long way to helping Abbie settle into her new job. She loved singing and performing and the musicianship that Howard had assembled pushed Abbie in all the best ways to hone her craft and rise to the level required. She was nervous, but the good kind of nervous that sharpened her focus and her resolve. Abbie knew she would sing well tonight.
“And now, for a special treat, we have a new singer making her debut with us tonight. You are going to love her just as much as we do. Please put your hands together for Miss Abigail Mills!”
August pulled back the curtain and Abbie smiled her happiness at being where she belonged, on a stage doing what she did best. She walked out with a wave to the crowd that was gathered for the show, stopping in front of the microphone that waited for her like a new lover.
“Thank you Howard,” Abbie beamed, “I’m so happy to be here tonight and I hope you all enjoy the show.” With a nod, Abbie signaled that Howard could start the intro for her first song of the night,
“Somewhere over the rainbow….Way up high
There's a land that I heard of
Once…in a lullaby
Somewhere over…the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true…”
Ichabod hadn’t given much thought to who was performing at the club that night, preferring to spend time sitting at the bar with Joe and Ali making small talk and telling jokes. Ichabod was a Captain, but he’d always been close to his men no matter their rank, so forgoing the higher ranking officers in the room to spend time with the bartender was not unexpected for those who knew Ichabod well.
He’d turned politely away from the bar when the band leader started the introduction for the performer, taking a seat at a nearby table along with Ali. August tended to get the best talent so Ichabod didn’t expect the music to be disappointing, but this…her…she…was another story entirely. She floated on stage in a dark pink off the shoulder, floor length gown, the light pink feathers flowing out around her legs like a cloud. Her hair was pinned behind her ears in soft curls and her ruby red lips drew his attention like a bullseye. She was incredibly beautiful, Ichabod knew that was undeniable but then she started to sing. Ali watched as Ichabod discretely wiped a tear from the corner of his eye and stared at the stage like a man seeing water after crossing the desert for days. Ali had never seen his cousin this affected before – not even at his brother’s funeral – Ichabod had been stoic and calm, the very definition of “stiff upper lip.” Ali turned his eyes back to the stage, trying to watch both the singer and Ichabod’s reactions to her. He wasn’t one of the most sought after physicians in Oxfordshire for nothing – always a keen observer, Ali often diagnosed his patients without having to closely examine them.
“Someday I'll wish upon a star…And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind me…Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me”
Ichabod watched her pause, letting the crescendo of the verse settle for a beat before continuing, showing a wide smile of perfect white teeth. She seemed lost in the longing the song underscored – for a place that was good and true. When she sang, Ichabod believed she’d found it.
Beyond the rainbow
Why…oh why…can't I?”
At the last note of the piano, the room erupted in well-deserved applause. Ichabod jumped to his feet to express his enthusiasm for her performance…and for her. It must have surprised the exquisite creature because her eyes met his and held before surprise turned to displeasure. She didn’t like this extra attention and Ichabod instantly wanted to know why. But he sat down and kept his seat through the next two songs until she signaled Howard for a short break.
Ichabod didn’t let her leave the stage good before he rose from his seat, turned back to the bar and pinned Joe with a stare. This is Captain Crane, Joe realized, seeing for the first time what made the man such a formidable soldier, “Who is she,” he asked matter-of-factly.
Joe looked past Ichabod to Alistair, who gave a shrug, “Um…who sir?”
“Don’t ‘who sir?’ me Joe,” Ichabod softened his stance just slightly, having clued in that he was unnecessarily intimidating the younger man, “Who is she?”
“Her name is Abigail Mills and she-“
Ichabod inhaled and exhaled, “Joe, you’re telling me something I already know. What can you tell that I don’t know?”
“I can tell you she didn’t cross an ocean for her freedom just to be drawn into some stupid love affair with an officer looking for his kicks,” Joe might be young and he might be easy going, but he was still August Corbin’s son and there was a line. Joe saw one corner of Ichabod’s mouth quirk up, impressed.
“That’s very good Joe,” Ichabod smiled, “Seeing as I am not an officer looking for my kicks. Please give Miss Mills my regards and that I look forward to seeing her perform again very soon.”
“Sure,” Joe replied cautiously, watching Ichabod and Alistair walk back to their seats. He liked Captain Crane well enough, but he really liked Abbie. He didn’t want to see her get hurt or be hassled.
Joe saw August come up to the bar from his periphery, “Was that Captain Crane asking about Abbie?”
August raised a mildly surprised eyebrow, “I didn’t think he knew women existed.”
“He might not know women exist, but he sure knows Abbie exists.”
August laughed, patting Joe on the shoulder, “Oh, this is going to be fun.”
“If you say so,” Joe was doubtful.
August gave him a wink, “Trust me. I was once a career military man trying to court a woman who wanted almost nothing to do with me. Lucky for me she changed her mind or else you wouldn’t be here.” Joe could hear August’s chuckle until the music began again and Abbie started singing her next song…beautifully…Ichabod never taking his eyes off of her.
Yes, Eddie Crane is in fact, Edward Crane of A.Mills - Librarian fame for those who were wondering
Chapter 6: Lock My Heart
Abigail Mills and Captain Crane finally come face-to-face for a conversation...under less than ideal circumstances. Comments are always welcome - even critical ones, kudos are great and as always, every mistake is on me.
Abbie tried to calmly walk off the stage for her break, although she was quietly furious, What is he trying to pull?
“Abbie,” Sophie stood just behind the curtain holding a tray with Abbie’s water. She had fifteen minutes before she was due back on stage and Abbie needed answers, “Follow me,” she commanded the brunette, taking the water gratefully and walking to the small dressing room three steps from the stage, “I only have five minutes or Boss will have my hide,” Sophie replied in her heavy, working class English accent, following Abbie into the converted storage room, taking a seat by the door after Abbie closed it.
“I’ll have you back out there in three,” Abbie said, cutting to the chase, “Who is he?”
“He who,” if Sophie could have looked more falsely innocent, Abbie would eat her shoe, “Sophie…” Abbie warned.
Sophie sighed, this is a pickle, “He’s Captain Ichabod Crane.”
Abbie huffed a half laugh, “Did you say Ichabod? What did his parents hate him or something?”
“I think it’s a family name.”
“Some family,” Abbie mumbled, “Why did he stand and applaud? What’s his angle?” Abbie had never met a half-way decent looking white man without an angle and even she could admit this Captain was pretty fine looking, even for a white boy. He was tall with short, light brown hair and clean-shaven, showing off his long face and what one of Abbie’s teachers would have called a patrician nose. She couldn’t tell from the stage, but Abbie would bet tomorrow’s lunch that his eyes were ocean blue. He looked like a man used to getting his way and Abbie hoped his way didn’t involve her – she was not here for him or his applause.
Sophie shrugged, “He’s been coming in for a few years. He talks to Joe, has a few drinks and leaves,” Sophie replied, recollecting, “He’s a nice enough bloke – keeps mostly to himself.
“Doesn’t bother the girls? Try anything?”
“Oh know, never that!” Sophie scoffed with a tilt of her head, “Which is a bit of a shame, really, considering the look of him.”
“Hmmm,” Abbie said thoughtfully, “You should get back out there.” Sophie stood to leave, opening the door “And Sophie? Thanks.” She gave Abbie a “you’re welcome” smile before closing the door behind her.
Abbie turned to the mirror and freshened her make-up. She heard Howard stop by the door, knock lightly and give her the warning, “Ten minutes, Abbie.”
“Thanks Howard,” Abbie fluffed her hair, thinking, What to do about this Captain Crane? What would mama have done? Ignore him, came the quick thought, No need to do nothing until he does something and then, “Turn him down like all the others.” Abbie nodded to herself in the mirror, settled on her decision. Captain Crane was just another man in the audience…”not the first and won’t be the last.”
Abbie arrived at the club the next Monday to pick up her pay – right on time as far as she was concerned. She needed to pay her rent for the coming month and purchase some more toiletries and hopefully put a little away in the new account she’d opened at the bank not far from the rooming house. “Abbie,” she saw Joe make his way around to the front of the bar, “Hey Joe,” Abbie smiled, stopping in front of the young man, “What’s up?”
Joe rubbed the back of his neck, trying to decide who scared him more, Abbie or Captain Crane. He decided on the Captain, but only by a hair, “I have a message for you from Captain Crane.”
“Really?” Joe could see the hackles rise on Abbie. Oh boy, “Yeah, he asked me to tell you that he looked forward to seeing you perform again very soon. I’m only bringing it up because he called today asking when you were next performing” Joe shifted on his feet with nerves…Abbie’s gaze was unblinking, “Did he now?”
Joe leaned down slightly with a conspiratorial whisper, “Between you and me, I think he might be a little sweet on you.”
Abbie rolled her eyes, pulling a quiet chuckle out of Joe, “Lord have mercy.”
“He hasn’t yet,” Joe smiled.
“Well, that’s the truth,” Abbie patted Joe arm, walking past him towards August’s office to pick up her pay.
Abbie saw him – Captain Crane – enter the club from her spot behind the curtain. Alright, maybe he’s more than a little good looking, Abbie admitted to herself with a shake of her head. Howard stood by her side, “Good crowd tonight, Abbie. I think word is getting around about you.”
“What do you mean,” Abbie asked with more sharpness than she intended. The last thing she wanted was to attract too much attention from the wrong people, especially the wrong men, “Nothing Abbie. It’s just, the club hasn’t been this full in months. Our last singer wasn’t that good. Boss had to let her go – although I don’t know why he hired her in the first place – she had a voice like a stuffed goat.”
Abbie smiled at the joke, turning slightly to face him, “Howard, do you mind if we open with that new song we rehearsed?”
“It’s not on the list for tonight, why?”
“I know it’s not, but can we,” Abbie implored, “It would mean a lot to me.”
Howard’s face grimaced in thought, “I don’t see why not, I suppose. We rehearsed it enough that all the boys know it,”
“Thanks,” Abbie smiled and Howard decided that was all the thanks he needed. A man could fall too easily for a woman like Abbie Mills, Howard realized and he was too old and sensible to even entertain the thought of something more, but she was a beautiful woman with a beautiful spirit and he couldn’t help but be drawn to her, “Maybe in another life,” he mumbled under his breath as he took the stage and introduced Abbie to the full room.
Ichabod saw her emerge from behind the curtain, a vision in dark green. Her dress was shorter this evening, just below her knees, the sparkling sequins catching the light and his eyes as she strode across the stage with a confident smile. It skimmed her body in all the right places, highlighting what Ichabod noticed but failed to acknowledge the last time he saw the vision – she was tiny but so lovingly shaped by God that Ichabod itched to know what curves and valleys would be revealed underneath the layers she wore. Ichabod shook his head at the thought – Here I told Joe that I was not just some man interested in the superficial and what do you do, my good man? Be completely superficial. I am sure Miss Abbie Mills is far more than just her beauty and magnificent voice, he reprimanded himself.
“Good Evening,” Abbe smiled and looked directly at Ichabod, catching his eye and attention. Time to nip this in the bud, “we have a special new song tonight – just for you.” Abbie listened to the first few bars of the song, raised an eyebrow and practically dared this Captain Crane to do something.
I'm gonna lock my heart
And throw away the key
Cos I'm tired of all those
tricks you played on me
I'm gonna turn my back on love
Gonna mock the moon above
Seal all my windows up with tin
So that the love bug can't get in
Gonna park my romance right along the curb
Hang a sign upon my heart
"Please don't disturb"
Ichabod received the message clearly as every few words, the fascinating Miss Mills returned to him, catching his eye with a smirking smile that let him know this song was about him, to him and for him. Ichabod surmised that Joe must have informed her of Ichabod’s interest. Ichabod also determined that Miss Mills might have just be singing to herself – after all, giving him the heave ho didn’t require a song, just a word. Ichabod sipped his whiskey and smiled at her over the rim, a challenge in his eyes that he knew she would sense even if she couldn’t see it from where he sat in the back of the room.
And…if I never fall in love again
That's soon enough for me
I'm gonna lock my heart
And throw away the key
Abbie almost stumbled over the last verse of the song, drawing a look from Howard. She didn’t mess up and Howard knew it. Abbie smiled a slight shake of her head, leading the band leader know everything was fine. Damn him, Abbie saw the knowing dare that practically oozed out of the man. Damn. Damn. Damn.
Abbie finished the song and moved smoothly into the next one when she saw the officers come to the front and take seats right by the stage. Two men…one blond…one brunette…both white…Americans. Shit, Abbie wondered how they’d gained entrance to the British officers club. Calm down, Abbie…maybe they won’t be a problem, maybe-
“Woo-wee,” the brunette started almost loud enough to drown out her singing, “Those English fellas were right. She is something. My great-granddaddy would’ve spent even more time in the quarters if he owned the likes of her.” Abbie’s eyes shot to August as she sang and she knew instantly that she would have to grin through their insults. August managed the Club but he didn’t own it – and if the men were able to gain entry and didn’t physically harm anyone or anything, August couldn’t put them out – although Corbin determined that he was going to have a serious conversation with his counterpart at the American officers club about reciprocal visitation privileges – these idiots never should have received passes and Lieutenant Nicholas Hawley should have known better, “I wonder what’s under those skirts of hers, huh? I’m telling you, Andy, brown sugar tastes real good.”
Ichabod saw Abbie’s eyes close briefly with embarrassment and dare he say it, shame. Ichabod knew how the men were able to enter the club and Corbin’s resulting limitations. But the men were lewd, as well as disrespectful and Ichabod had had enough. If August couldn’t stop them from harassing Miss Mills, Crane decided he would, “Sophie,” Ichabod raised his hand to get the attention of the cocktail waitress and was pleased when she came immediately to his table, “A bottle of your most expensive champagne, unopened, please?” Ichabod listened as the pair continued to verbally assault Miss Mills, who gamely continued her song as if the men simply did not exist. He was awed by her composure, but she deserved better and he would see that she received it.
Sophie returned within minutes setting the ice bucket with the unopened bottle next to his table, “Thank you and would you be so kind as to ask Mr. Corbin, the senior to come here?”
“Sure,” Ichabod watched Sophie walk over to the older man and whisper in his ear. August stared at Ichabod for a moment before coming to his table with purpose, “What can I do for you, Captain Crane?”
Ichabod stood and carefully wiped down the champagne bottle with the cloth napkin that had been included with the bottle, “Please put the expense for any damages on my tab,” Ichabod looked at August, causing Corbin to take an involuntary step back. Crane looked quietly murderous, “And if you feel you must report this incident to my superiors, I will understand.”
With that, Ichabod discarded the napkin and strode to the front of the room where the rowdy, distasteful men continued their unacceptable tirade. August could only watch in awe, wondering what would happen next.
The brunette man looked Abbie up and now with such lasciviousness that it made her flush. Ichabod knew they didn’t see him approach their table and take a seat on their left, “Officers, please,” he started, holding the bottle by the neck - down to his side - out of sight, “We are all trying to listen to Miss. Mills’ lovely singing and if you cannot be sensible – which seems to be the case - at the very least be silent.” Abbie glanced at Howard who with a nod told her to keep singing.
“I think he’s telling us to shut up, Bobby,” the blond spoke up, looking at his compatriot, “Is that right, pretty boy?” He sneered, “You telling us to shut up?”
Ichabod tensed as the brunette turned to face him. These men were drunk judging by the stench of alcohol coming off their breath, “Yes, please do be silent – your behavior is despicable and unfit for the uniforms you wear as you are clearly intoxicated.”
“You son of a bitch-“
Abbie gasped in the middle of the song verse as Ichabod swung the champagne bottle, catching the brunette on the side of his head – it seemed to Abbie without moving any muscle except his arm. The hurt man fell out of his chair onto the floor with a thump at the foot of the stage - the room immediately falling silent. The blond rose quickly, even if not too steady Abbie noted, but was stopped by the Captain’s growled command as he too stood and pointed the end of the bottle at the other man, “You sir, are now facing my considerable ire and I strongly advise you take this man – a term I use very loosely in this case – and be on your way, lest you too find out what a superb bottle of champagne feels like bashed against your thick skull. Your choice of course,” Abbie huffed in surprise…did Captain Crane just slightly bow to the man he threatened, “Makes no difference to me.”
Ichabod saw the blond calculate his odds and decide discretion was the better part of valor, bending to help his friend to his feet, “Good,“ Ichabod nodded once, towering over both men, “Excellent decision. Not, let me be direct – don’t darken the door of this establishment again. Am I clear?”
“Yes,” the blond man answered for them both.
“What was that you said,” Ichabod stool to his full height. Abbie felt herself flush again as the stern iron in the Captain’s words, but for an entirely different reason.
Ichabod motioned to two junior officers standing nearby and they came forward beside the two men, ready to escort them to the door at Crane’s command, “Get out.”
Ichabod, along with the room, watched the two men escorted to the door. Howard motioned to Abbie that he was calling for a break – Abbie’s answering smile was a bless you. She left the stage just as Howard announced her fifteen minute break. Abbie didn’t even look at Captain Crane but Abbie suspected this wasn’t the last of him she was going to see him this evening and she wasn’t wrong.
The knock on her door was politely insistent, “Come in.”
Ichabod Crane was finally face-to-face with Abigail Mills and neither were fully prepared for the electricity that crackled between them. He took Abbie by surprise – his eyes were even bluer than she imagined and his tall, lanky form overwhelmed the small dressing room and Abbie too, she admitted to herself. She didn’t like it, “What do you want Captain Crane?”
“Ahhh,” Ichabod moved into the room, quietly closing the door but not shutting it completely as he took the seat behind Abbie’s vanity bench, “You know my name?”
Abbie looked at him through the mirror, “Yeah, I know who you are. Now, what do you want? I don’t have much time.”
“I wanted to apologize for those men –“ Abbie turned abruptly to face him, her knees almost knocking against his in the small room, “Oh you want to apologize for those men, but not for what you did?”
“I beg your pardon. I came to your defense.” Ichabod’s tone was filled with righteous indignation.
“Do I look like I needed defending? You think that was the first time good old boys have heckled me? Talked like that? I was dealing with it on my own. I didn’t need your help and moreover, I didn’t want your help. You probably made things worse.” Abbie turned back to the mirror to finish refreshing her makeup, expecting Ichabod Crane to leave. He didn’t.
“Well be that as it may,” he started, meeting Abbie head on through the mirror, “we now have a situation that must be managed. I will escort you home this evening.”
Abbie’s eyes narrowed as she looked at him in the mirror and for a brief moment, Ichabod was very relieved that she did not have a champagne bottle in her hand, “I’ll get Joe to walk me home.”
“You see the issue,” he nodded, “That’s good.”
“Of course I see the issue,” Abbie declared, “I’m not stupid, Captain. You just humiliated two Southern white boys for doing something that comes as naturally to them as breathing. They can’t get to you easily, “ Abbie sighed, “So I’ll be lucky if I can walk home safely within a week.”
“That is what I surmised as well,” Ichabod agreed, “So I shall met you here when you’re ready to leave.”
“I told you I’ll get Joe to walk me home,” Abbie gritted.
“Joe’s not a soldier. He would be easily overpowered, leaving you defenseless.”
Abbie whirled around on the bench and had the small knife at Ichabod’s throat in one fluid motion. Neither moved – frozen in place, but Ichabod could feel the cold steel of the blade against his Adam’s apple and saw the determination in the petite woman’s eyes, “Let’s get one thing straight. I’m never defenseless.”
Ichabod leaned forward against the knife, impressed by her bravado, but unafraid, “Very good to know. No either use the weapon or remove it please. I would rather not get blood on my shirt. It’s quite difficult to come clean.”
Abbie removed the knife with a smirking shake of her head. He had a brass pair, she’d give him that, “Why is it that men always want credit for solving problems they caused in the first place?” She turned back towards the mirror, dismissing him again, “I have to finish up here.”
“Yes, of course,” Ichabod stood, “I will meet you back here at the end of the evening.” Abbie sighed – damn his stubborn ass, “Fine."
Ichabod turned with one last question before opening the door, “And Miss Mills? Where exactly on your person do you keep that knife?”
Abbie turned her head, looking at him over her shoulder, eyes downcast with a slight smile on her face, reminding Ichabod that Abbie Mills was a stunningly beautiful woman, “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
Chapter 7: A Short Walk...
Crane walks Abbie home and it doesn't go as badly as either thought it would.
Thanks to everyone who is reading, commenting and giving kudos to this, another one of my experiments in writing fanfic. I appreciate you all and apologize in advance for every mistake.
August watched Captain Crane watch Abbie for the rest of the evening. Watch over Abbie, he amended in his mind. There was an air of protectiveness about the soldier when he looked at the singer, where there had been righteous anger on her behalf before. August couldn’t say what happened when the Captain went to Abbie’s dressing room, but August knew that somehow Crane had come out with a different understanding than he had when he’d entered.
“August, may I have a word,” August was brought out of his musings by the man himself. Abbie had taken the last bow of the night and the club was starting to clear out, “Of course, Captain,” August coughed, “What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to let you know that I am escorting Miss Mills home for the next few nights she is required to work.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” August nodded, acknowledging they’d both reached the same conclusion…and why, “I was going to have Joe walk her home.”
Crane pulled down on his uniform jacket, “That won’t be necessary. Joe is not a soldier. Although I suspect…,” Crane shook his head with a wry smile, “August, did you know that Miss Mills wears a knife on her person?”
“No, but doesn’t surprise me, considering,” August pursed his lips, “what with her angel face.”
Ichabod’s eyes narrowed with suspicion, Just what was the nature of his relationship with Miss Mills? “I can understand wanting protection, but she is especially proficient.”
“You ever been to the States? Seen the Negro situation firsthand?” August knew the answer…the question was more for the Captain. If he was as serious about chasing Abbie as August suspected, the man needed to understand some things, “No, I’ve never visited the States.”
“I didn’t think so,” August replied drily, “If you had, you wouldn’t wonder why Abbie carries a knife.”
August saw Abbie enter the main room from behind the curtain, dressed in her street clothes – a pair of trousers under a utilitarian wool coat that reached her knees – on her feet were flat lace up walking shoes and she carried a silk scarf, “Looks like Abbie’s ready for that walk home.”
Crane turned to see Abbie approaching, “Oh and Captain?” Ichabod turned back to face August, “Just a warning…there’s probably more than one.”
“Indeed,” one side of Ichabod’s mouth lifted in a half smile, “if my very enlightening time with Miss Mills is any indication, I would be foolish to think otherwise.”
“Foolish to think otherwise what?” Abbie eyebrows drew together in question as she tied the scarf over her hair and secured it beneath her chin. To Abbie, it was protected her hair against the London fog. To Ichabod, she looked adorable, “You look quite fetching in your scarf, Miss Mills.”
August tried and failed to hold back his smile at Abbie’s huff and roll of her eyes, overlooking that Ichabod didn't actually answer her question, “Fetching…alright boss, see you tomorrow night.”
“Sure thing, Angel Face.” August’s smile brightened to a full grin at the stare Crane gave him at the harmless pet name. Too easy! “Oh and Angel Face…have a nice walk home.”
“The only nice part will be getting rid of him,” Abbie cocked her head in Crane’s general direction, “Let’s go. The sooner we get there, the sooner you can scram.”
Ichabod calmly walked over to Abbie side and held out his elbow for her to take, “Don’t you mean skedaddle?”
“Will it make you go away faster if I do?” Abbie lips pressed into a line as she looked at the offered elbow and walked ahead of Ichabod towards the door.
August finally let the deep-chested chuckle go after watching the pair exit the club. Give him Hell, Abbie.
Crane stopped beside Abbie at the club’s entrance, listening for any signs of immediate trouble, “Please take my elbow Miss Mills.”
“Why?” Abbie looked him up and down like it was beneath her dignity to touch him, much less anything else, “We’re not lovers walking home. This walk is for you to make up for being a lug-nut who can’t read a situation over his ego. Nothing more,” Abbie clipped, putting her hands inside the pocket of her coat.
“This lug-nut has been on enough missions involving espionage to know that one must look the part,” Ichabod unceremoniously took Abbie’s left hand from inside her pocket and draped it under his right elbow, “We should look like two lovers walking home so as not to attract unwanted attention.”
Abbie settled her hand on his elbow and even allowed him to pull her into his side. I’m cold and he’s warm. That’s it, “I think this is the first time a man who looks like you told a woman who looks like me that they should pretend to be lovers so as not to attract attention.”
“Yes, I see the irony,” Ichabod gestured in front of him, “Shall we?”
“Sure. It’s only three blocks. Won’t take long.” Abbie walked beside him, noting how he shortened his stride to accommodate her. They walked at a decent pace – not too slow as it was late, but not as if they didn’t know each other – or hadn’t known each other for quite some time.
“It’s quite foggy out tonight, don’t you think?”
“Ummm, hmmm,” Abbie hummed softly, looking off to her side away from him.
“I think Winter might finally be making way for warmer weather. Thankfully.”
“You’d know better than me.” Ichabod saw the slight roll of her eyes and decided to try a different tactic.
“Where are you from in the States? I’ve never been.”
“Sleepy Hollow, New York.”
“Did you like coming of age there?”
“I was raised just outside of London on my father’s estate.”
“How nice for you,” Abbie tone dripped sarcasm.
“Not particularly,” came the quick response, “You are not going to make this easy for me, are you?”
Abbie tilted her head as she looked up at Ichabod, still holding onto his arm, seeming for all the world like she was just having a late evening stroll with her lover, “Any reason I should?”
He cocked a knowing eyebrow, “Would you at least do me the honor of calling me Ichabod?” nodding at the young man who passed them on the sidewalk assessing if he was in some way a worry to him or his walking companion. Ichabod concluded the young man was just out late, “The kid’s not a problem.” Abbie almost whispered and Ichabod leaned slightly into her side to better hear.
“How could you tell?”
“Your arm tensed up, liked you were getting ready for a fight.” Abbie shrugged with a glance over her shoulder at the youth striding away from them before looking back up at Ichabod.
“And why are you named Ichabod anyway? Did you mother hate you or something?” Abbie kept looking at her from under her eyelashes as they walked. Her large eyes were deep pools of brown even in the thickening fog. Ichabod shook his head slightly, “I was adored by my mother.” Ichabod paused for effect, looking down at the petite beauty, “My father named me Ichabod.”
Abbie’s sudden laughter rang out into the night like a bell - beautiful and clear. Ichabod smiled at the sound of it, “Is that actual humor, Miss Mills? Perhaps I’m not so awful after all?”
“Let's not go overboard.” Ichabod’s wide smile mirrored her own and for a moment, Abbie forgot why they were really walking arm and arm down the quiet London street. But it was only a moment, “And look, how lucky for you...you get to quit while you’re ahead. This is my stop.” Abbie extracted her arm from under Ichabod’s elbow and walked to Mrs. Lacey’s gate, stopping at the sound of his voice.
“Goodnight, Miss Mills. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”
Abbie gave a slight smile – not enough to claim victory – but certainly enough for hope where there was none before, “Goodnight, Ichabod.”
Ichabod didn’t move until he heard the sound of Abbie securely turning the lock on the door.
Chapter 8: ...and a Long Night
*TRIGGER WARNING* THERE IS A RECOLLECTION OF A PAST SEXUAL ASSAULT. If this is a concern, please skip over that part - it won't impact your understanding of the story.
Ichabod and Abbie walk home again - and it doesn't go as well as they had hoped - but a new understanding is reached.
Thanks for each comment and kudos. I truly appreciate each and every one. Enjoy and please excuse any mistakes. Thanks!
Captain Crane waited by the bar for Abbie to emerge from behind the curtain, his stance almost identical to the evening before, “So, how was the walk home, Captain?”
Ichabod smiled at August, the humor crinkling the outside of his eyes, “I discovered Miss Mills is from Sleepy Hollow, New York and she finds it quite amusing that my father detests me.”
“So…progress,” August lifted one shoulder in a sort of question that doesn’t expect a serious answer.
“Indeed,” Ichabod laughed.
Both men turned as Abbie approached, “Why are you two so happy?”
“I cannot speak for August, but I’m simply happy because I was able to hear you perform again this evening.” Ichabod extended his elbow towards Abbie, waiting patiently with a wry smile.
Abbie smirked as she put her left arm under Ichabod’s right elbow, “Do you really think flattery will work?”
“Not particularly,” he smiled broadly, placing his left hand over hers where it rested on him, “Shall we go?”
“Sure,” Abbie shook her head, but couldn’t hide her slight smile - very slight- Abbie amended. This fool, “Night boss.” August simply inclined his head as acknowledgment, not willing to spoil the Captain’s mood with his pet name for Abbie.
“Dad.” Joe and August saw the pair leave the club and walk out into the clear London night.
“Am I crazy or is Abbie not looking at Captain Crane like he’s something on the bottom of her shoe anymore?
August glanced back at Joe with a nod, “You’re not crazy.”
Ichabod stood next to Abbie outside the entrance to the club, “This evening is much clearer. I’m pleased to see the stars tonight.”
Abbie tightened her hold on Ichabod’s arm with a slight shiver and started to walk towards home, Ichabod walking beside her. The night was clear, but still a touch crisp, “Are we really going to talk about the weather?”
“What would you rather discuss,” he asked, with a quick look down at the top of Abbie’s head. She wore a different scarf tonight Ichabod noted – navy blue this time, whereas last night had been a pale green.
Abbie shrugged, her shoulders barely rising with her lack of concern, “I don’t know. How about your life growing up on your father’s estate?”
“I’m going to be well-ribbed about that slip, aren’t I?”
“Only because you’ve got it coming, Captain,” Abbie’s voice held an edge of smoldering anger, the type that never really goes away, as much as a person might try to douse it.
“It was not as bucolic as one might imagine,” Ichabod absently countered as he slowed his stride, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.
Abbie yelped as Ichabod suddenly slipped down her arm to take her hand, pulled her into a recessed doorway, turning and pushing her forcefully against it pressing his lips against her ear, “What the hell?”
“Quiet,” Ichabod hissed. Abbie could feel his lips on her skin – soft, “I believe we’re being followed. I’m hoping this diversion will fool them into thinking they have the wrong pair.”
“Three,” Abbie agreed after listening a moment, her breath warm against Ichabod’s neck – the danger of their situation too present for the shiver of pleasure his body wanted to release, “I have my knives if we have to-“
“No,” Ichabod pulled back slightly, seeing the shine of the dual blades, one in each delicate hand, pointed up near his mid-section. She could have gutted him with little effort, he realized, suitably impressed, “As well armed as you are, I would rather not have us take on three soldiers,” Ichabod lifted his head to look into Abbie eyes, “There is another option.”
“I’m listening, but be quick about it. I don’t think they bought it.”
Abbie felt Ichabod’s inhale, they were pressed so tightly together, “My flat is in this building,” Abbie saw him remove his key, “We can be safely upstairs in moments.”
“You must think I was born yesterday,” Abbie sneered.
“Hardly, but I don’t see another option. Do you?”
Abbie exhaled, resigned and angry at the same time, “Open the damn door before I change my mind.”
Ichabod slipped the key into the lock quickly. He had to reach behind Abbie’s bum to reach the lock and didn’t deny she felt marvelous. Abbie was focused on the figure approaching over Ichabod’s shoulder and tightened the grip on the knives when she felt herself falling backwards into the apartment vestibule. Ichabod managed to stop her fall, securely close and lock the door. In that moment, Abbie would have sworn he hand three hands.
Both jumped slightly at the loud banging on the locked door. Ichabod tucked Abbie behind him on instinct, backing away towards the stairs.
“Come on, Brown Sugar! You’re letting him taste. What about us?” The man continued, still banging on the door, “Brownnnn. Sugaaar…”
“Well, at least we know it’s them,” Ichabod turned fully to Abbie – seeing she was ready to fight if the door didn’t hold – knives set to attack with a wide-arching motion of her arm, “The door will hold. Come, my flat is this way.”
“What?” Abbie wrenched her eyes away from the door as the banging faded. Ichabod risked lightly touching Abbie wrists to lower the knives, speaking slowly and concisely, “The door will hold, Abbie. They won’t be able to kill you. My flat is two flights up. Follow me.”
“Kill me?” Abbie looked confused by Ichabod’s assessment of the type of threat she faced, “They won’t kill me.”
“Of course not. Come,” Ichabod replied and led the way up to his small flat. He’d kept it for years, a place to rest his head between assignments and deployments without having to visit his father. Ichabod stepped aside to allow Abbie to enter, pulling the string on the lamp he kept on a small table by the door, careful not to turn on any other lights in the room.
By the time Abbie removed her scarf, she had put away her knives. Ichabod still didn’t know where she kept them and decided that he would rather not. Abbie didn’t waste time with pleasantries, going immediately to the window overlooking the front of the street, Ichabod stepping behind her. They could both see the three men standing under the street light, looking up at the apartment. They didn’t look in a hurry to leave. Abbie recognized two of the men from the other night, “Looks like you were correct. There are three of them.”
“Hmmm,” Abbie turned slightly around, surprised to find Ichabod so close behind her – usually she was better at noticing men invading her personal space. Abbie put the lapse down to the situation, “What time do they have to be back to barracks?”
“Not until almost dawn.” Ichabod said.
Abbie turned fully to face him, “Are you serious? Dawn?”
“I’m afraid so.” Ichabod looked contrite, Abbie acknowledged, but not nearly enough. She brushed past the Captain to stand in the middle of the room, looking around for the first time since arriving.
The room was sparsely decorated with a loveseat against one wall with an arm chair next to it at a ninety-degree angle. Abbie noted a small dining table and two chairs by the entrance to the galley kitchen. Behind the loveseat was a door that Abbie assumed led to the bedroom and another that was slightly open through which she could see the bath. It was small and frankly, didn’t really look as if anyone lived there, “Travel light?” Abbie asked after perusing the room.
“I’m a soldier,” Ichabod shrugged with his back to the window, the three men forgotten now that he and Abbie were safe in his flat – for the moment anyway, “I never truly know where I will be next, so I don’t keep much in my possession. Besides this is a rented flat – simply a place to rest.”
“it can’t be much more than that, from the looks of things,” Abbie sat on the loveseat with a deep sigh, “Dawn, huh? Well, there goes my room at Mrs. Lacey’s.” Ichabod watched Abbie put her face in her hands and her shoulders slump. She looked tired and defeated.
“Come now, surely your boarding house lady will understand?” Ichabod huffed.
Abbie didn’t bother to dignify his optimism with a lift of her head, speaking between her fingers, “You really do live in a world where everything just somehow works out for you, don’t you? Must be nice.”
“I most certainly do not!” Ichabod straightened to his full height. Indignant.
Abbie did raise her head at the tone of his voice, eyes blazing, “Really? So tell me how is it that I’m going to lose my room at the only decent place I’ve lived in years and you somehow get to be the hero of this story?”
“I am hardly the hero of this story,” Ichabod replied quietly, his face in half-shadow as he stood opposite of where Abbie sat on the couch, hands shoved in the pants pockets of his uniform.
“Well at least we agree on something,” Abbie said without a trace of humor or forgiveness – her voice flat. She unbuttoned her coat and slipped her left arm out of the sleeve when she felt Ichabod walk over trying to aid with the coat, “I didn’t need your help then and I don’t need it now,” came her sharp reply at this, yet another attempt of useless chivalry.
“It would seem you never accept help of any kind,” Ichabod spit out and abandoned Abbie, moving to sit on the armchair, watching as she finished removing the coat, lifted up to slide it from under her and quietly laid it across her legs, hands tucked safely underneath the heavy garment. Ichabod imagined she sat there gripping a knife in each hand.
“Who hurt you?”
“Excuse me?” Abbie asked, not understanding the question and frankly, still more than a little angry.
“Who hurt you? Who made you so distrusting of assistance? Of men like me?”
“Who hurt me?’ Abbie shook her head, looking towards the window, seeing the three men in her mind’s eye, “Who hurt me? The United States of America, that’s who.”
Ichabod was stunned into momentary silence. He considered himself an educated man, having chosen the army over university because of preference, not lack of choice. He understood what Abbie meant and why from an intellectual standpoint and could imagine some of the horrors she’d witnessed but he didn’t know – truly know – and wondered if and how he would ever be able to do so, “Is that how you became so proficient with knives?”
“Yes, well, survival is a good teacher.”
“What happened?” he asked and saw Abbie lift a shoulder and her mouth twist.
“What always happens…men who think they have the right simply because they’re men.”
Abbie heard Ichabod suck in a sharp breath, “Were you -? Did…” he faltered. In Abbie’s experience, men almost always faltered, “No,” she replied, saving him the embarrassment of the words, “But I had a close call.”
Ichabod had enough brains in his head to keep silent, letting Abbie speak, remembering, “When I was 17, my mama died. I had just graduated high school. We didn’t have any money, so college was a pipe dream, even though I had the marks. Plus, I had my sister to take care of, so I needed money more than I needed more schooling.,” Abbie looked over at Ichabod, “But I could always sing. Mama said I had the voice of an angel…”
Ichabod sat listening, but silently agreed. Abbie shifted, lifting the coat slightly as she sat back on the loveseat, getting more comfortable against the soft back of the down filling, “I auditioned for a band leader who had booked gigs along the Chitlin Circuit and honkytonks.”
At that, Ichabod did speak up, “What is the Chitlings Circuit?”
“Chitlin,” Abbie pronounced the strange new word again, “It’s places that are safe for Negro people to perform – at least they’re supposed to be.”
“I see,” Ichabod nodded, “Go on…”
“Frank Irving was a small time band leader, but a good man. I was the only girl and new to the circuit at that. He set his sax player, Danny, to watch out for me.”
“And was this Danny derelict in his duty?”
“No,” Abbie answered with a yawn, moving her left hand to delicately cover her wide-open mouth. Ichabod thought her hazy, sleepy face extraordinarily arresting, “He did a good job of looking out for me. I just didn’t listen to him. Young and stupid.”
Ichabod lifted both hands and made a motion towards himself as if to say, “More please.”
“We were in rural Alabama for a few gigs at smaller backwater joints after leaving Birmingham. I was tired, and Frank and the boys were a long way from finishing up their fun for the night,” Abbie rested her head on the back of the loveseat, closing her eyes, “I went to our car, only planning to rest while I waited and fell asleep in the back seat. I woke up with a man on top of me…big, fat, foul-breath smelling white man. He must have seen me asleep in the back seat and decided I was easy pickings.”
“What happened? How did you escape him?” Ichabod leaned forward in his chair, suddenly anxious.
Abbie sighed, “Frank had given me a small knife for protection. He told me he didn’t think I'd need it, but to always keep it handy, just in case. The knife was in my coat pocket, I managed to open it inside the pocket, gravity did the rest and before I knew it, the man fell on top of me, bleeding all over me and Danny’s car.”
“Oh my God…”
Abbie continued as if she hadn’t heard Ichabod’s exclamation, “I managed to push the deadweight off to the side enough to get out from under him and ran to the club, bloody and bruised around my neck.”
“Around your neck?” Ichabod eyebrows almost touched signaling his confusion.
“He’d choked me trying to make me keep quiet,” Abbie answered matter-of-factly, her voice and expression dull in the dimness of the room and the lateness of the hour, “Frank saw me crying, the rips on my dress and the blood down the front. When he got to the car, he knew what had happened. He told me that he and Danny would take care of it and that I was to go with Leena - she owned the honkytonk – to get cleaned up and act like nothing had happened.”
“What did Frank do?”
“Do?” Abbie replied as if Ichabod had asked a stupid question and he realized she was correct, it was a stupid question, “They buried that man as far into the woods away from Leena’s as they could get and as deep in the ground as they could get him and we high-tailed it as far north as we could before daylight – I haven’t been south of the Mason-Dixon line since,” Abbie paused, her face hardening with determination, “And I decided that night that if I ever killed another man it wouldn’t be an accident. So, I trained myself with the knives.”
Ichabod saw her breathing speed up with feeling, “You made yourself a soldier,“ he concluded.
“I made myself a woman who could walk in the world unafraid,” Abbie countered before reconsidering, “But maybe that’s the same thing.”
Ichabod sat in the shadowy room, thinking, “You remarked they wouldn’t kill you.”
He explained further, “Downstairs in the foyer, you remarked that they wouldn’t kill you.”
“Oh right,” Abbie nodded in understanding.
“Why was that?”
Abbie sighed deeply, the exhaustion coming from deep in her battered soul. She was so tired…of all of it, “Because good old Southern boys know that for a Negro woman there are fates worse than death.”
“I apologize,” Ichabod released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. His eyes closed involuntarily as he inhaled and continued, “I am truly sorry for the difficulty and pain I’ve caused you.”
Abbie looked over, surprised. He meant it, “I didn’t think about you,” he confessed, “I wanted to be your champion. The one who would slay the dragon and win the Lady’s affection.” Ichabod looked Abbie in the eye, “But you’re not a damsel to be won – a prize. You are an amazing woman, fully capable of taking care of yourself. I should have recognized that you would know far more about how to disarm those men than me and I’m truly sorry my reckless actions have directly created this situation. I cannot completely spare you from the consequences of my actions,” Ichabod gestured to the room with a wave of his hand, “Clearly…but I swear to you Abbie, on my honor, I will make this right by you in any way you demand.”
The air in the room was heavy with silence and meaning – the only sound their breathing as a new understanding was reached, “You are really terrible as the whole ‘knight in shining armor thing’ but I will say, you do know how to give an apology.”
Ichabod left his seat to kneel at Abbie’s side, “I am committed. Whatever you require of me, I will do. No matter the cost. I promise.”
“Right now, Lancelot, all I need is a place to sleep,” Abbie patted his knew, “I’m dead tired…unless you want to tell me those buffoons are gone?”
“You may have my bed. I will sleep on the loveseat,” Ichabod moved to the front window to observe the night and the street below. All three men had moved out from under the direct light of the streetlamp, but Ichabod could just make out the smoke from a cigarette outside of the shadow, “No, I’m afraid they’re still waiting.”
“Figures,” Abbie responded, “Sleep…and then I’ll work out where I’m going to live – assuming we survive this.”
“We shall, I promise,” he declared sincerely.
She half-smiled, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Ichabod. It doesn’t end well.”
“I shall never make you a promise I cannot keep, Abbie. You have my word.” Ichabod sat down next to Abbie on the loveseat, soon to be aware that he was giving his heart as well as a vow.
The next morning, Dora opened her front door prepared to give Abbie the boot – rules are rules and Pandora Lacey lived by them. The pretty singer had been out all night without warning or plan. She saw Abbie first, looking ready to explain – they were always ready to explain. But Dora was truly surprised to see the tall, distinguished Captain of His Majesty’s Army standing just to Abbie’s left - his face resolute and determined, but soft as he hovered as if guarding Abbie’s back.
“Well, this is a first,” Dora opened the door wide, “Come into the parlor and explain yourselves and this had better be good.”
Chapter 9: The Inquisition
Ichabod and Abbie face the music with Mrs. Lacey - who is more than she might appear to be.
Comment are always welcome and please forgive any mistakes. I'm uploading this way past my bed time and the typos are probably heinous.
Abbie and Ichabod walked in a line behind Dora Lacey. It was early, so early the house wasn’t up yet but Abbie could smell the bacon Eleanor – Mrs. Lacey’s cook and housekeeper – was making for breakfast. In the short time Abbie had been in the house, she’s struck up a friendship with the gray-haired, quiet, gentle Englishwoman, who always kept an extra biscuit wrapped up for Abbie when she knew the singer would be late. Abbie thought absently that her biscuit must be hard as a rock. Mrs. Lacey’s clipped command brought Abbie out of her nervous musings.
“Sit. Explain.” Dora pointed to the love seat while she took the chair. Abbie had no choice but to perch gingerly on the edge, Ichabod by her side. He was dressed in his uniform, somehow managing to sit ramrod straight on the down-filled sofa that threatened to swallow Abbie whole.
Ichabod coughed and started, “Well, you see- “
“I wasn’t speaking to you,” Pandora Lacey didn’t bother to look in Ichabod’s direction, her disdain obvious and to Ichabod’s thinking, undeserved, “I beg your pardon but – “
“I will not repeat myself, Captain,” she turned her head to look at him with sharp focus and Ichabod felt his blood run cold. He considered himself a man of logic, reason and learning - in addition to a damn fine soldier, but something in Mrs. Lacey’s eyes wasn’t quite…human.
Mrs. Lacey turned her head with deliberate intent back to Abbie, her whole body softening with a small smile, “Tell me what happened to you.”
Abbie took a deep breath and released it, her body’s movement causing a slight give in the cushions. It pushed her even more against Ichabod’s side. Abbie was relieved he held, catching her weight – not moving at all as he observed the interplay between she and Mrs. Lacey.
“I won’t take up more of your time, ma’am,” Abbie got to the heart of the matter. She respected what Dora Lacey had built – both the woman herself and the business she operated with efficiency and clarity, “I was out all night without permission. I’ll be on my way as soon as I can pack my suitcase.”
“Where will you go?” Ichabod asked in a near whisper, lowering his head to hover over Abbie, “I don’t know,” came the equally quiet reply, “I’ll think of something.”
“You should know Abbie,“ Dora interrupted the pair, “when you didn’t come home I telephoned August. He said you had some difficulty at the Club but not to worry unless you didn’t arrive by morning,” Dora leaned back in the chair, her eyes never leaving Abbie’s face, “What was the trouble?”
“Men,” Abbie started.
“They usually are,” Dora smiled with a gentle tug at the corner of her mouth, “Go on.”
“Two men came into the Club. Americans – from the South. They’d heard about me….” Abbie trailed off, before gathering her resolve and continuing, “They were ugly, calling me Brown Sugar and going on about how I would have been popular in the slave quarters.”
“I see. Vile.”
“Yes,” Abbie agreed, lowering her eyes with the residual shame and anger.
“And what was your role in this unfortunate encounter, Captain Crane?”
Ichabod pushed down his shoulders, lifting his chin and staring down the formidable Mrs. Lacey with honesty, “I made the situation worse by confronting the men directly. I am the reason Abbie was away all night without permission.”
“You made a situation worse? A man? What a surprise.” Dora Lacey’s voice dripped with sarcasm – and lifetimes of experience, “I assume Abbie was with you all night? And were you a gentleman?”
At that question, Abbie did speak up, “Yes, Mrs. Lacey. He was…a perfect gentleman.” Ichabod had his faults, Abbie acknowledged, but being a louse with five sets of hands wasn’t one of them.
“It’s quite late, Abbie,” Ichabod smiled, watching another yawn overtake her, “I see you’re fatigued, but are you hungry?”
“I am hungry, yes,” Abbie replied, “Normally, I don’t eat during performances and have something light when I get back to the boarding house.”
Ichabod pushed off with his arms, rising from the chair with a grin, “I shall see what I have in the cupboard and icebox. One moment please.”
Abbie waited, still sitting on the loveseat, her coat securely over her shoulders, a knife in each hand. She could feel the threat of the men still outside, even if she couldn’t see them. For reasons Abbie didn’t want to explore, she felt Ichabod wouldn't harm her and knew herself well enough to know that if the Captain were the threat, she wouldn’t be with him – alone – in his flat.
“I have some bread, cheese – cheddar I believe – and several eggs,” Ichabod emerged from the small kitchen holding the ingredients in his large hands, “I think I can do something decent with that,” Abbie moved to rise from the loveseat, putting her knives away discretely.
Ichabod outstretched hand encasing two eggs stopped her, “You are my guest, even if the circumstances are less than ideal. I’m a fair cook, as it happens.”
Abbie watched his retreating back return to the kitchen and reflected on the strange man now humming a tune while he made her a meal. He was oddly appealing - this mixture of arrogance and sweetness with a too large dose of steadfast commitment to do what he thought was right – even when he was absolutely in the wrong. Abbie didn’t know if she understood Ichabod Crane, but she now knew that despite all he had done to unnecessarily complicate her life, some part of her really liked the man.
“Hello,” Ichabod turned to see Abbie standing in the doorway to his small kitchen. Her coat was draped over her shoulders and her hands were empty. Ichabod knew she’d been on his loveseat clutching the knives in her hands underneath her coat – that the knives were no longer visible was a victory as far as he was concerned.
“Hello,” Ichabod replied, breaking an egg into a small bowl, “I don’t have a place to sit in here, I’m afraid.” The room was small. The unfitted kitchen had a new gas stove that had to be lit with a match stick, a small sink and an electric icebox off to one side. There was a window above the sink and a small, single light fixture on the ceiling. Despite the size, Abbie thought it was cozy. Ichabod had taken off his uniform jacket, hanging it by the door. His sleeves were rolled up and he seemed relaxed. Abbie leaned against the doorway with a small sigh, “What are you fixing for us?”
Abbie admitted the answering tilt of his head and small smile made her insides flutter, “An egg scramble with cheese and herbs served over toasted bread.”
“Sounds delicious,” Abbie lifted her shoulder rubbing it against her cheek, “Do you have anything to drink.”
“Whiskey and water,” Ichabod answered, whisking the eggs and grated cheese together in bowl before pouring the mixture in the heated skillet on top of the four-burner stove, “Where’s the water?” Ichabod moved his elbow in the general direction of the icebox behind him, but objected, “I’ll serve you. I don’t believe you will easily be able to move behind me while I’m cooking.”
“Thank you,” Ichabod removed the finished eggs from skillet and placed them on the plate he had resting on the shelf created by the stove cover, “Nice stove,” Abbie noted. The stove at Mrs. Lacey’s was a black monstrosity that took up the entire alcove in the kitchen. This stove was small in comparison – clean and white with two ovens, “Yes, well – the stove is the reason I rented this flat. I enjoy cooking for myself,” Ichabod held two plates in his hand. Abbie saw the eggs and toast and her mouth watered. It smelled delicious.
“Where’s the cutlery?”
“In the other room. There is a drawer in the table.” Ichabod followed Abbie out of the kitchen, placing the dishes on the table and turning back to the kitchen to pour the water. Abbie opened the drawers and found the small supply of forks, knives and cloth napkins. She completed the settings around the plates and sat down in the chair farthest from the kitchen.
Ichabod came out of the room holding two tall glasses of ice water, setting them down beside each plate, “Thank you for setting the table, Abbie.”
“Of course,” Abbie bent her head in a quick prayer before taking the fork in hand. She didn’t consider herself particularly religious but if ever there was a time to thank the Heavenly Father, coming out of this night with food to eat and a safe place to sleep was it.
Ichabod mouthed a silent “Amen” when Abbie raised her head. He watched with bated breath as she chewed the eggs slowly, seeming to thoroughly examine the taste. Ichabod was loath to admit it, but he was a prideful man and it was of some concern that Abbie enjoy the humble meal he’d prepared.
“It’s delicious,” Abbie declared with a sure nod of her head, her curls bouncing with the movement.
“Really?” he beamed, “I’m pleased you like it.”
“How did you learn to cook,” Abbie inquired after several minutes of companionable silence, biting into the lightly toasted bread, “Growing up on your father’s estate and all?”
The extra emphasis Abbie placed on the word estate let Ichabod know the conversation had landed somewhere between teasing and a serious question.
“My father’s estate is how I learned to cook,” Ichabod remembered, “I spent more time in the kitchens with my friend Bram and his mother Mrs. Betty than I did in the main part of the house.”
“Yes,” Ichabod wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin, his meal finished, “his name is Abraham, but he was always Bram to friends and family. We came of age together. His parents worked on the estate. His father Peter oversaw the grounds and his mother Betty was the head cook. Bram was my best mate.”
“But not anymore?”
“No, not anymore.”
“Well, I suppose because he stayed, and I left and eventually, we had less and less to our friendship.”
“Do you miss him?”
Ichabod reached across to take Abbie’s empty plate, intending to walk both plates back to the kitchen, “There are times,” he kept speaking from the kitchen, coming back out with a plate of sliced apple, “This is all I have in the way of a proper dessert.”
Abbie took one of the slices off the plate, “This is fine. Thank you. I wasn’t expecting dessert, anyway. But this is nice.”
Ichabod watched Abbie nibble at the apple, fascinated by the delicate way she consumed the fruit. She was so incredibly lovely, Ichabod almost let himself forget that Abbie was not here, in his flat as a lover, but only because he’d been an idiot, “You must be very exhausted by now. Finish your apple while I change the linens on the bed,” he decided, deftly rising with purpose and heading towards the bedroom.
Abbie turned just as he passed her chair, “There’s no need to change the sheets. I could sleep on anything right now and I have certainly slept worse places than on a comfortable bed with soiled sheets.”
Ichabod stopped where he stood, “You’re certain? I only changed them two days ago, so they are not unreasonable soiled, but I’m happy to put fresh ones on the bed.”
“No,” Abbie rose, swaying slightly she was so tired,”If it’s all the same to you. I’ll just go to sleep now.”
“Yes, of course,” He led Abbie into the small room. It was as sparsely furnished as the living room with a single bed, tall dresser and bedside table with a lamp on top, “I have a pajama top you can sleep in if you would like to be more comfortable?” Ichabod half asked opening the top drawer of the dresser, “That would be nice. Thank you.”
“I...well…” he trailed off handing the shirt to Abbie. She stood looking at him, still with her coat over her shoulders – she hadn’t removed it as of yet and Ichabod theorized that somewhere hidden in the coat was her knives, “I’ll let you get some rest. I’ll be just outside in the parlor if you need anything.”
“Good to know,” Abbie sat on the made-up bed, “I hope you sleep alright on the loveseat.”
“I’ll be fine,” Ichabod replied, “Like you, I’ve slept in far worse places. Oh, and Abbie?”
“Yes,” Ichabod noted that Abbie finally let the coat slip from off her shoulders, “The door has a lock on it. Use it if you feel the need.”
“Don’t worry,” Abbie looked up at Ichabod closing the door and immediately crossed the small room to turn the key in the lock – just as he knew she would. She liked him well enough, but Abbie was no fool.
“Nothing happened?” Pandora looked from one to the other.
“No, Mrs. Lacey,” Ichabod promised, “On my honor as an officer and a gentleman.”
“Oh yes, because I make my decisions based on the proclaimed honor of men,” Dora scoffed, clearly waiting for Abbie to speak.
“Nothing happened except we escaped the three men who wanted to do us harm and waited for them to leave. I slept in Captain Crane’s bed with the door looked - at his suggestion. When I awoke, the men were gone, and we came straight here,” Abbie explained, standing up from the loveseat, “I’m sorry I broke your rules, ma’am and like I said, I’ll leave as soon as I can pack my suitcase.”
“The only reason to leave is if you want to go,” Dora replied, “I believe you…and you’re welcome to stay.”
Abbie sat because her legs wouldn’t hold up under the weight of her relief. She honestly didn’t know where she was going to go if forced to leave and anticipated a few uncomfortable nights sleeping in her closet of a dressing room at the club, ”I don’t know what to say, Mrs. Lacey, except thank you.”
“Say you and the Captain here have figured out how to be rid of these awful men once and for all.” Dora looked from Abbie to Ichabod, “Neither of you gave thought to a more permanent solution than Abbie being forced to sleep at your flat for the next week?”
Abbie and Ichabod looked at each other, speechless, “Oh for the love of…” Dora shook her head in disbelief, young people! “Leave it to me. I will make sure you're not bothered by these men again…and no, I won’t have them killed,” she said almost to herself, “I haven’t done that in years…”
“Forgive me for asking Mrs. Lacey,” Ichabod ventured with a slight cough to get her attention, “But you don’t know what the men look like or even their names…” he stopped speaking as Pandora stared at him, her face death-like with lack of expression. Again, he felt a sense of paralyzing doom. It was only when the woman turned to look at Abbie that her face changed to a softer expression, “Abbie, why don’t you have some breakfast and then get some rest. I wish to speak to Captain Crane for a few minutes. And close the doors behind you, please.”
There was no chance that Ichabod Crane wished to be alone with Pandora Lacey, but he knew Abbie would have to obey and leave him to his fate. He gave Abbie his best reassuring smile as she rose and left the room, “So, am I to understand that you attempted to express romantic interest in Abbie while she was earning her daily bread? That you did not respect her enough not to disrupt her place of employment?”
“I wouldn't frame it quite like that.” Ichabod swallowed, feeling the heat of her gaze.
Dora’s eyes flashed, and Ichabod was stunned that it was not a figure of speech – her eyes literally flashed. It was so quick he might have thought he’d imagined it, “That is how I would frame it, Captain Crane. So, you have exactly ten seconds to tell me why I shouldn’t do to you what I plan for those men who dared to attack one of my respectable ladies.”
Ichabod took a deep breath and released it, “Because Abigail Mills is the most fascinating woman I will ever know…and you’re absolutely correct. I did not properly respect her and I fully plan to atone for that sin.”
The clock ticking away the seconds was the only sound in the room as Dora contemplated the man and his words, “Very well. Atone for your sins, Captain or answer to me. Am I clear?”
“Your promise of retribution won’t change my actions, Mrs. Lacey,” Ichabod replied – his face steeling as his eyebrows drew together, “But you are very clear nevertheless.”
“Good,” Dora looked towards the closed pocket doors, “Abbie, you may come back in now. The Captain and I have finished our discussion.”
Abbie slowly opened the doors, sheepish that she had been caught half waiting and half eavesdropping on the conversation.
“Thank you, Mrs. Lacey,” Ichabod rose from the loveseat, “I’ll take my leave of you now.”
Dora followed Ichabod to the parlor’s entrance and after staring a moment at the couple, quietly brought the doors together, giving them a measure of privacy as they said their goodbyes.
“Are you alright,” Abbie asked in a stage-whisper, grabbing Ichabod’s arm to pull him closer to her “I was worried about you.”
“I am unharmed, but let’s just say, your landlady –“
“Can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end when she wants to?” Abbie finished, “I noticed.”
“This may sound ludicrous, but is she entirely…?”
“I honestly don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me,” Abbie concluded, “I have the feeling she’s a lot older than she lets on.”
“I would tend to agree. Nevertheless, she has promised to deal appropriately with the men who bothered you.”
“Given what we’ve both experienced, do you really want to know?”
Abbie shivered, “Not really, as long as they’re left alive like she said.”
“I’ll confirm with August before abandoning my post, but I believe she is wholeheartedly a woman of her word,” Ichabod reached down to take Abbie’s right hand in his, “as I am a man of mine.”
Abbie looked down at her hand completely covered by his, curious about why she didn’t have any urge to pull away, “Yes?”
“I would like to spend the day with you. Have you seen much of London?”
Abbie chuckled, the mirth not real nor reaching her eyes, “I’ve seen from this house to the Club and of course, your flat.”
"Then it’s settled. We shall explore London. Is next Sunday a good day?”
“Yes,” Abbie replied, feeling more excited for the adventure to come, “Sunday is good. I’m not working.”
“Well until then,” Ichabod released her hand and bowed deeply, right there in the entryway. Abbie thought it was silly, but also rather sweet, “Until then, Captain. Have a good rest of the week.”
Abbie closed the door behind Ichabod and didn’t try to hide the grin that slapped onto her face. She whistled a tune on her way to find breakfast – only remembering later that is was the same tune Ichabod hummed the night before as he made dinner.
Chapter 10: I've Got A Feeling I'm Falling
Abbie and Ichabod spend the afternoon together exploring London and growing closer. Thanks for all the comments, questions and kudos. All are really appreciated. Enjoy!
“Hey Angel Face,” August greeted Abbie on the beautiful April day.
Abbie’s smile was genuine and wide, “Hello Boss. Is Nevins around? I want to ask him if he can find a fan for my dressing room. It’s getting warm in there in between sets.”
August shook his head, “Nevins took the day off. I’ll find a fan for tonight’s performance. Don’t worry about it.”
“Boss…” Abbie started to object before being cut off, “Don’t worry about it. Anything for my Angel Face.”
“Speaking of anything for my Angel Face, I notice that Captain Crane hasn’t been around in a few days.”
Abbie lifted her shoulder, “Yeah…well, with those men out of the picture, he doesn’t have a reason to walk me home anymore.” The day after Mrs. Lacey declared she would take care of the men, Ichabod confirmed they were no longer a threat, the victims of some sort of mass nervous breakdown, all three were taken to a sanitorium outside of London until they could be transported back to the States. It was the first time in her life Abbie had made the sign of the cross, the motion a memory from an Italian neighbor back home. Abbie hadn’t worked up the courage to speak plainly to the…woman…since, although they’d exchanged pleasantries in the hall since that fateful morning.
“Doesn’t he?” August asked, leaning his elbows on the bar, bringing his face level to Abbie where she stood before him on the other side of the wood, “Doesn’t he, Angel Face,” he asked again.
Abbie swallowed under his gaze, not able to fool the man who had come to mean so much to her in such a short period of time, “We’re spending the day together tomorrow.” Abbie lowered her eyes, waiting for the condemnation she was sure to come.
“That’s really nice, Abbie,” August answered rising – his voice calm, low and most importantly to Abbie, sincere, “I hope you have a good time.”
“Really,” Abbie lifted her head, “I mean…I just would have thought you’d want me to stay focused on my work…” her voice trailed off, not quite sure why August’s opinion meant as much as it did.
“First of all,” his head tilted with a small smile, “I’m your boss, not your father. Second, last time I looked, you’re a woman – not a little girl. Third, there’s a war coming. Both you and the Captain deserve to squeeze everything out of life you can. Nothing’s promised.”
“Will Joe join up,” Abbie startled, remembering that Joe Corbin was the right age and healthy, “He already has,” August replied, both sad and proud, “If and when the war starts, Joe will ship out.”
“Oh, August, I’m so sorry.” Abbie liked Joe and sent up a silent prayer for his safe return if the war happened as almost everyone expected, “Don’t worry Abbie. He’s strong and I already talked to the Captain – Joe will be serving under him. If anyone can make sure my boy comes back alive, it’s Crane.” August patted Abbie’s hand where it rested on the bar, “I’ll go find that fan.”
The next morning, Abbie waited in her room for Ichabod’s arrival. She’d told him yesterday when he called to confirm that she only had a few hours to spend as it turned out – she had to prepare for her performances that coming week. But he hadn’t indicated what sort of activities he’d planned, so Abbie hedged. The laced-collared, dark red dress with small white flowers ended just at her calves. Stockings would keep her legs warm in the changeable weather and the low-heeled lace up shoes would be comfortable all day. Abbie looked in the small mirror, pinning a curl behind her ear and reapplied the red lipstick – for the third time since she finished getting dressed an hour ago.
“So, you’re ready?” Sophie asked from the door.
Abbie sighed, taking one last look at her reflection, “I think so. I have no idea where we’re going…
“I think you look lovely,” Sophie smiled.
Abbie smiled back with a bit of worry, hesitating to ask, but, “August told me about Joe…”
“Yeah, always gotta be a hero that one,” Sophie crossed her arms and shifted on her feet, the apprehension-fueled anger obvious, “I don’t think that’s it. I…I just think Joe believes this is something he has to do. A duty.” Abbie tried to be gentle with Sophie’s pain.
“I know,” Sophie pushed off from the side of the door with resignation, arms still crossed, “He promised me we’re getting married before he ships out, come hell or high water. Will you stand with me?”
Abbie’s face showed her surprise, “I’d be honored, but don’t you have family or maybe one of the other girls?”
“I do,” Sophie, “but they’re too far away. Ma and Dad don’t have the money to come all the way to London. And as far as the other girls, they don’t know me and Joe the way you do.”
“Then it’s settled,” Abbie walked over to the door, bringing the taller woman into a hug with a smile, “Just tell me when and where.”
“Thank you love,” Sophie’s smile was watery with unshed tears, but it was still there. Abbie hugged her again.
Mrs. Lacey appeared behind Sophie, “Captain Crane is here, Abbie.”
Abbie hastily wiped her eyes and grabbed her coat, “Thank you Mrs. Lacey,” Abbie met the older woman eyes, “I really appreciate how much you’ve helped me since I arrived.” It was the closest Abbie dared to thanking Mrs. Lacey for whatever she did to those men, but Abbie wanted her to know she was grateful, if more than a little frightened to know the truth.
“You’re welcome, as are all my Ladies,” Mrs. Lacey’s smile was perfectly normal and if Abbie didn’t know the truth, she never would have suspected. Both Dora and Sophie followed Abbie out of her room.
“Hello Abbie,” Ichabod greeted her from his position inside the vestibule. He wore an overcoat and dark brown trousers. Abbie could just make out a white collared shirt and dark blue sweater underneath. His hair as combed with a part to one side, but Abbie smiled at the stray curl that didn’t want to stay in place, dangerously threatening to spill over his forehead, “Shall we go?”
“Yes, please,” Abbie replied as she put on her coat and Ichabod spoke to Mrs. Lacey over Abbie’s shoulder, “I will make sure that Abbie is home well before dark Mrs. Lacey.”
“I’m sure you will, Captain Crane,” Dora’s smile was both an acknowledgment and a warning, “I hope you both have a nice time.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Abbie smiled back to the pair as she closed the door behind her, Ichabod waiting by the boarding house’s sign, “I suppose I’m at your mercy today, Ichabod.”
Ichabod looked at Abbie leisurely from her shoes to the top of her curls, noting her hands tucked neatly in the pockets of her overcoat, a small purse slung over her wrist, “I doubt that,” he smirked, “I assume you’re armed?”
Abbie pushed her shoulders down, lifted her head and looked him dead in the eye, “Always.”
“That’s my girl,” Ichabod laughed, placing his hand gently on Abbie’s back and leading her to a small vehicle parked by the curb ,”I thought we would see more of London if we traveled by motor car today. Is that acceptable?”
“Sure,” Abbie answered, getting in the car where Ichabod held open the door, “Where are we going?”
“First stop is lunch, I think,” Ichabod said from behind the wheel of the car, “Have you heard of Harrods?”
Abbie wasn’t sure, “I…I think so,” she continued, “a department store?”
“Yes, one of the most impressive department stores you will ever see,” Ichabod boasted while he navigated traffic to drive past Green Park, “I don’t know about that,” Abbie countered, “You haven’t seen Macys.”
“Point taken,” he replied, “Here we have Buckingham Palace, where the King lives with his family.” Abbie looked through the car window at the large, imposing building with what appeared to be endless rooms, “What do you think of the King,” she asked.
“I like him well enough,” Ichabod continued away from the Palace, “I’m quite keen on his wife, Queen Elizabeth. She is the true spine, as women often are, I find.”
“I see,” Abbie said.
Ichabod glanced over at Abbie briefly, turning a corner, “I do like him a sight better than his brother.” The streets changed, becoming more crowded with cars and people in this part of town.
“You didn’t like…” Abbie trailed off, searching her mind for the name of the former king. She had heard about his abdication like everyone, but it certainly wasn’t top of her mind – she had other things to worry about.
“King Edward VIII, “ Ichabod supplied, “No, I most certainly did not. He had a duty to his people and to his Crown and he abandoned both for –“
“Love,” Abbie interjected.
“So, he said,” Ichabod’s doubting tone betrayed him, “But he left his brother to carry the nation on wholly unprepared shoulders. King George wasn’t trained for it and didn’t want it,” Ichabod parked near the famous department store, turning to Abbie, “He didn’t deserve to have his life’s course turned because of his brother’s…whims.” Abbie noticed Ichabod’s hands moving wildly with his agitation.
“Are we still talking about the King,” Abbie asked – knowing.
“Perhaps not,” Ichabod exhaled the frustration, “But enough melancholy. His Majesty will rise to the occasion, I’m sure. War is coming. He will see us through it. He has no choice.”
Ichabod exited the motor car and walked quickly to the other side to open the door for Abbie, “Miss Abigail Mills, welcome to Harrods!”
Abbie looked up, to her left and to her right, “Does it take up the entire block?”
“Yes, it does,” Ichabod offered Abbie his arm, pleased that she took it without hesitation as he walked with her to one of the many entrances, “There is a saying that a man can be born in Harrods and live his entire life in the store without having to leave. Everything he could possibly need is within its walls.”
“I believe it. Where are we going?” Abbie asked, looking up the seven stories to the top of the store, truly awed.
“This way,” Ichabod led them down a short flight of stairs, “To the Food Hall. What would you like for lunch?”
“I…I don’t know. You choose,” Abbie felt slightly overwhelmed by the monstrous hall, the wall-to-wall people and the feeling of being watched – whether true or not. She gripped her knife and fought down the feeling.
Ichabod looked at Abbie when he felt her grip tightening at his elbow and noted her other hand clinching inside her coat pocket, “I’ll collect our order and we’ll be out straight away, I promise.”
“Alright,” Abbie put on a brave face and Ichabod fell a bit more in love.
Abbie looked around while Ichabod spoke to the attendant. She saw the different stations: meats, vegetables, cheeses and deserts - all overflowing with abundance and variety – and doubted much of this would still be here if the war started. Abbie knew about want – she wondered if people like Ichabod did as well. They would learn.
“There!” Ichabod exclaimed, getting Abbie’s attention, “All done.” Abbie looked down at the small picnic basket Ichabod held in his left hand, “There is a lovely park just a ways from here. Would you mind a walk?”
“No,” Abbie was relieved, “Fresh air would be good.”
Abbie held on to Ichabod’s elbow again as they walked away from the store to the park Ichabod knew of two blocks away, “It’s not a large park or even famous – I don’t know that it has a name, but I enjoy sitting here when I purchase a meal at Harrods.”
“It’s pretty,” Abbie meant it. It had nice park benches and a walking path that circled a green area in the middle. No one looked at them as they sat on a bench by a tree, the basket between them. Abbie felt able to relax, “I have a confession to make,” Ichabod admitted, looking at her from under his lashes.
“I ordered the basket for us yesterday. I hope you like chicken salad, bread and chocolate brownies.”
“Then why did you ask me what I wanted?”
“I could have changed to main course to suit you, but I’m afraid we were stuck with the brownies and wine.”
“It’s fine,” Abbie placed the cloth napkin across her lap and accepted the chicken salad sandwich Ichabod handed over, wrapped in parchment paper, “I’m easy when it comes to food. The hungry learn not to be picky.”
“You’ve been hungry?” Ichabod took a bite of his sandwich and drank a sip of wine, waiting.
Abbie nodded, “After my father died in a construction accident, Mama had to find a way to feed me and my sister, Jenny.”
“Well, surely your father left you some coin?” Ichabod couldn’t stop himself from asking. Abbie’s look was scolding – another lesson for him to learn, “Papa was a good man, but his options were limited, and money was always tight. And no, the construction company wasn’t going to freely compensate a Negro widow and her two small children.”
Ichabod lowered his head slightly in acknowledgement, “I’m sorry you experienced hunger, Abbie.”
“Yes, well me too,” Abbie mumbled around her sandwich bite, “But it made me stronger. I went out and got my first job when I was eleven to help Mama put food on the table.”
“Really,” Ichabod smiled imagining what job a youthful Abbie had, “what did you do?”
“I delivered papers,” Abbie replied with no small amount of pride, “I was the only girl paper delivery boy in all of Sleepy Hollow. I was the best at it too. My customers liked me so much, I always had the most Christmas tips.”
“I can completely understand why,” Ichabod grinned.
Abbie looked at him from the side of her eye, “You’re making fun of me.”
“No, no…not at all,” Ichabod turned to face Abbie on the bench, moving the basket to the grass, “Knowing you, if you decided to be a paper delivery boy, you would be the best one in your town. You dive in whole-heartedly…so your success is completely understandable.”
Abbie rolled her eyes towards the sky in admission, “I really did enjoy besting those boys. They didn’t think I could do it.”
“Oh, woe to the person who underestimates you,” Ichabod chuckled, “And I say that with the upmost admiration.”
Abbie returned his smile, feeling the beginnings of a blush, “Well, it looks as if we’ve finished our lunch.”
“No quite,” Ichabod reached down and opened the basket, “There is still dessert.” Even Abbie admitted the nut and chocolate brownies looked delicious, “Will they taste alright with the wine,” Abbie asked even though she had barely had any of the specially paired wine, only finishing a bit of her glass.
“Perhaps not,” Ichabod answered, “There is also a small decanter of water here, if you would prefer.”
“Water would be great,” Abbie liked the taste of the wine, but didn’t want to lose her senses, “What were you like at eleven?” She bit into the brownie with a groan and couldn’t miss Ichabod’s raised eyebrow at the sound. Even Abbie had to admit it did sound more than a little sinful, “The brownie is good!”
“Stop teasing!” Abbie exclaimed, the blush rising for real this time.
“Stop being so much fun to tease!”
Abbie swatted his arm lightly, clearly jesting, “You were about to tell me what you were like at eleven,” she continued.
“Bookish,” Ichabod tasted the brownie and barely contained his own groan, “Quiet. I was eleven when I first went away to boarding school. Dreadful place. I hated every minute of it. Haven’t been back to Scotland since.”
“Why did you go?”
“My father,” Ichabod sighed, “He thought I needed ‘toughening up’ as it were. One reason I don’t think I will have much difficulty with the deprivation of war - I spent my formative years having that place put me through Hell.”
Abbie reached over without thinking, taking Ichabod’s hand, “I’m sorry.”
“Well, water under the bridge, as they say,” he smiled, gripping her hand lightly, “Shall we clean up, return the basket and be on our way?”
“Sure.” Abbie helped as Ichabod returned the refuse to the basket, now settled again between them on the bench. He hummed as he worked, prompting a question, “What is that song?”
“What song,” his eyebrows drew together in confusion.
Abbie rolled her eyes, “The song you were humming just now. The same song you were humming the night I stayed with you,” she further explained.
He couldn’t contain the flush, “It’s a silly story.” Ichabod deflected, continuing to put away the few items from their lunch.
“Tell me anyway.”
Ichabod held the water decanter over the basket, remembering, “My mother died in childbirth,” he started.
“Oh Ichabod…” They had both known pain.
“Abbie, please don’t,” he implored, reaching across the basket to take her hand – holding her, “It was a few years later – as a small child - that I started humming the tune. My aunt, my father’s sister, was shocked when she first heard me, humming as I played with my blocks. It seems my mother hummed the very same tune whilst pregnant with me – constantly as it were. No one knows what the tune is called or even if it is anything – simply that I hum it as she did.” He looked over at Abbie with a shrug, “Silly, I know.”
“Ichabod,” Abbie’s fathomless brown eyes drew Ichabod in like the best home he would ever know, “It’s not silly. It’s beautiful.”
“Thank you,” he held her gaze with a short nod.
“Next, I thought you might enjoy seeing Big Ben, the Parliament and Westminster Abbey.”
Abbie sat in car as Ichabod held the door open for her, “Thank you.” Ichabod nodded, closed the door and walked around to the driver’s side, “Well then, does a visit to Westminster please you?”
Abbie looked over the small cab of the car at him, a soft smile on her face – eyes clear and daring to give Ichabod hope, “I think it would please me to visit there with you.”
“Music to my ears,” Ichabod turned over the engine and drove away from Harrods.
“It’s so beautiful,” Abbie looked out the window, her nose almost pressed to the glass. She wasn’t lying when she told Ichabod she’d only seen from her boarding house to the Club. The cobble streets lined with townhomes and people moving quickly along the sidewalks had Abbie enthralled. It was so different from back home and maybe that was the point, “Oh, how pretty.”
Ichabod smiled with a glance at Abbie. She was turned almost completely in the seat, trying to see as much as she could of the passing scenery. He was happy to see his city through her eyes and grateful that he was the one to show Abbie a small bit of what London had to offer as her new home.
“Is that Big Ben?” Abbie pointed.
“It is,” he replied, “I don’t know what London would be like without Big Ben. I hope he survives the war,” Ichabod said quietly as they passed the large clock tower.
Abbie turned with surprise, “You think London will be bombed?”
“Unfortunately, I’m sure of it,” Ichabod exhaled, “This war will be fought at home just as much as it will be fought abroad…and England cannot fail.”
“We won’t.” Abbie replied as Ichabod looked over, seeing her wipe away a stray tear, “We,” he asked with a raise of his eyebrow.
“England’s my home now, too. Remember?” Abbie reminded him, squaring her jaw.
“Indeed.” Ichabod admired Abbie for moment before turning back to the road and finding a place to park the motor car a few steps from the Abbey, “Here we are…Westminster Abbey!” He took Abbie’s hand to help her out of the car and found he simply didn’t want to let go – so he didn’t. Abbie, much to his surprise, didn’t seem to mind, so they walked hand-in-hand to the large, imposing structure.
Abbie felt herself relax entering into the cool, quiet, darkened space, “How old is it,” she whispered, leaning into Ichabod’s arm, “The current structure dates back to the 13thcentury,” his answered, his voice low as well.
“Oh my,” she looked all around – to the high ceiling and stained glass, still holding Ichabod’s hand, “Here,” he enthused, leading Abbie, “Let me show you my favorite part – Poet’s Corner.”
The walked a bit, reaching the part of the Abbey he wanted Abbie to see, “Is it called Poet’s Corner because…”
“Many of England’s greatest literary minds are buried here. Right under our feet.”
With a shudder, Abbie politely stepped to the right of the grave she realized was beneath her – Rudyard Kipling - forcing Ichabod to step with her, as they were still holding hands. Ichabod thought with some self-deprecation that he would have stepped over two of the wide markers in one go rather than let go of the warm, soft hand tucked safely within his.
Ichabod chuckled with kindness at Abbie’s shudder, “Believe me, it was considered quite the honor to be buried inside the church – for some anyway. They won’t mind you walking on them.”
“Well I mind,” Abbie countered, “it’s not respectful.” Abbie looked down at the names – Dickens, Hardy, James and Carroll, “Where are the women?”
“Yes, well,” Ichabod shifted on his feet, tucking his free hand behind his head, “there are five or six…”
“Only five? Out of all these plaques and statues?” Abbie sucked her teeth, “Some things are universal.”
“You make a fine point,” he acknowledged, “One that until this moment, I’m ashamed to say I failed to see.” Ichabod’s finger raised with some excitement, ready to prove that the Abbey wasn’t devoid of properly appreciating the accomplishments of women , “But Queen Elizabeth is here, and she has quite the large memorial.”
“Oh! How nice…and all she had to do was be a great Queen…” Abbie half-teased with an eyebrow raised to the ceiling.
“Touché,” he laughed, “I’ll stop speaking now. It’s obviously not doing me any favors.”
Abbie tugged on his hand, a small, affectionate smile on her face, “I wouldn’t say that. So, why is Poet’s Corner your favorite?”
“Because of him,” Ichabod answered, pointing.
“Yes,” Ichabod replied, “He was a great writer, critic of Victorian mores and hypocrisies and utterly devoted to his first wife, Emma. He’s one of my favorite writers.”
“Really?” Abbie smiled with a teasing lift to her question, “How devoted was he?”
With a discrete glance at his wrist watch, Ichabod tightened his hold on Abbie’s hand, leading her away from the grave markers towards the front doors, “He wanted to be buried with his wife – absolutely wanted no part of being buried here.”
“Why is he here then?” Abbie asked as they emerged into the late afternoon sun.
Ichabod moved Abbie’s hand from his and settled it on his elbow to walk back to the motor car, “He was overruled by the executor of his estate, who was far more interested in preserving Mr. Hardy’s reputation as a great writer than in the man who wanted to be with his wife.” Ichabod opened the car door for Abbie, waiting until she settled in before closing it.
“So, you were saying – he was overruled,” Abbie asked as soon as Ichabod was behind the wheel, wanting to know how the story ended.
“Oh yes, but a compromise of sorts was reached,” Ichabod smiled, waiting to start the car – he wanted to see Abbie’s face when he told her.
“You look far too pleased with what you’re about to tell me, Ichabod Crane,” Abbie looked at him with soft consternation, crossing her arms.
“I am not pleased per se,” he protested, “Mr. Hardy’s heart is with his beloved wife. The rest of him is in Poet’s Corner.”
“Ewwww,” But Abbie couldn’t help her reluctant smile, “That’s…that’s both disgusting and really rather sweet.”
“Isn’t it?” Ichabod’s smile matched Abbie’s.
“So, where to now?”
Ichabod looked at his wrist watch again, “As loath as I am to let you go, I believe we’re out of time. It’s nearly 5 o’clock.”
“Is it really?” Abbie lifted her coat sleeve and looked at her small wrist watch. Ichabod sucked in a steadying breath at the sight of her delicate arm, “I need to get back. I’m sorry.” Abbie’s face telegraphed her disappointment.
“No need to be sorry,” he answered amiably, “There is a lot more of London to see, if you would do like me to be your guide again.”
“I’d like that.”
“Well, here we are,” Ichabod said as he turned off the car’s motor. He’d parked down the street from Mrs. Lacey’s. “Yes, here we are,” Abbie replied, one hand curling in her lap.
“Abbie,” Ichabod said softly in the small cabin of the car, “Tell me one thing?”
“Yes?” Abbie turned to look at him, her curiosity evident.
“Are you holding a weapon at the moment?” Ichabod leaned towards her, looking into her chocolate brown eyes. He could drown in those eyes, happily.
Abbie faced scrunched up with her confusion. Why? What? “No, I haven’t held my knife since Harrods.”
“Truly?” Ichabod pulled back, slightly amazed at her unconscious trust in him.
Abbie nodded, “Yes, really. Why?”
“Because I don’t want a knife to the throat for attempting…,” Ichabod leaned across over the gear shift and lifted Abbie chin slightly. He was relieved that he could detect no rejection. She wasn’t leaning forward, but neither was she leaning back, “to kiss you.”
Abbie's surprised “oh” was all Ichabod heard before their lips touched. He pressed against her receiving nothing in return and for a moment, Ichabod thought he’d badly misjudged, but then slowly, almost tentatively, Abbie pressed her lips against his. It felt so very precious. Ichabod pulled back, a thoughtful question bubbling to the surface, “If I didn’t know better, I might say that was a first.”
“Was I that bad,” Abbie asked, putting her head down again.
Ichabod cupped her cheek, ducking to meet her downcast eyes, “Oh my beautiful Treasure. You were perfection. Don’t you know?”
“No,” Abbie breathed in the courage to lift her head and meet him head on, “I’ve never done that before.”
“What? Been kissed?”
“Kissed back,” Abbie sighed, “Before Mama died, I didn’t have time for courting. I was trying to help keep food on the table. Besides the boys liked Jenny better anyway.”
“Your sister?” Ichabod recalled, “I find it hard to believe that any man with eyes wouldn’t notice you.”
“I was noticed,” Abbie corrected.
“Just not by the right sort…” Ichabod trailed, remembering Abbie’s experience on the Chitlin’ Circuit, “Yes,” she confirmed with a shrug, “And after that, men just didn’t hold much interest. I focused on work and – well – putting it behind me.”
Ichabod faced forward and raked his long fingers through his hair, finally loosening the curl that Abbie had watched with interest for the better part of the afternoon, “So, if that was your first real kiss, then you’ve never-“
“No!” Abbie was mortified. She didn’t want to talk about that, “I mean, I know how things work – I’m not stupid, but I’ve never. No.”
The air in the car was quiet and still until Abbie spoke up, “I guess this means you won’t be showing me the rest of London.”
“What on Earth would make you think so?” Ichabod turned to face her.
Abbie raised her hands in resignation, “I mean…I’m not…what you expected.”
“No, you aren’t what I expected,” he agreed, hearing Abbie swallow, preparing for the worst, “You are far more than I ever expected and I would be honored to show you more of London.”
“And kiss me again,” the question was quiet and heavy with her doubts about her true appeal. To Ichabod, Abbie looked small sitting next to him in the cabin.
He detested it – she was meant to be larger than life, his Abbie, “I would like nothing more than to have you kiss me again, my Treasure. When you’re ready.”
Her smile was reassured and open, “I’d like that too.”
Ichabod moved to leave the car, “I will escort you to the door. I wouldn’t want Mrs. Lacey to be upset with us.”
“No,” Abbie agreed with a chuckle, “We don’t need that kind of trouble.”
Chapter 11: To Be Hers
Ichabod and Abbie take a trip to the country...
I am literally finishing and posting this as my flight is about to take off. I'm positive there are some awful mistakes here, but I didn't want to wait until after the long flight to post.
Thank you for reading. Kudos and comments are always appreciated.
“Captain Ichabod Crane,” Ichabod answered the phone with sharp inflection, loath to pause his concentration on the logistics of the war everyone in the office viewed as an almost certainty.
“Is that anyway to speak to your favorite cousin,” Alistair Crane answered blithely.
“Oh, Hello Ali, I’m sorry,” Ichabod was contrite. His cousin was not only family, but one of the few people Ichabod knew without doubt was in his corner.
Sitting in his office, Alistair accepted the patient’s chart from Mary, who was both his wife and practice manager. Their livelihood depended on Alistair’s skills. His sanity depended on Mary, the reason for his call. “Where have you been? Mary reminded me the other night at dinner that you haven’t called in months – and by “reminded” I mean told me to find out if you were still alive as Eddie is missing you terribly and making her life difficult as a result.”
“Please make my apologies to both my dear cousin and your charming wife,” Ichabod chuckled, just imagining how much difficulty Alistair was dealing with on the dual fronts of wife and son.
“I repeat, cousin,” Ali replied, “Where have you been?” Alistair hadn’t heard from Ichabod since the night he laid eyes on the singer at the Officers Club three months prior.
“Nowhere…just very occupied with work,” Ichabod’s tone was dry as he continued, “You may not have heard, we are very likely going to war if it can’t be avoided.”
“I’m a doctor, in case you’ve forgotten and I’m very aware war seems almost inevitable now. I’m even considering joining up myself – doctors will be in short supply,” Ali volleyed back.
“Alistair, you’re one of the best – and only –experienced surgeons in your area. Doctors will be needed at home as well.” The last thing Ichabod wanted was for his cousin to enlist and knew as a valuable physician, he could receive an exception to serve at home, safely away from any direct front.
“I said I was thinking about it, Ichabod,” Alistair replied, “I haven’t decided yet. But forget all that, I know it’s not just work taking up your time and I know it’s not one of these unfortunate peaches and cream ladies your father was trying to match you with – I would have heard about it by now.”
Ichabod looked down at the supply report and across the room, deeply exhaling, “No, thankfully…not one of them. Truthfully, Ali,” Ichabod paused, not certain how his cousin would take the news, “I’ve been spending a great deal of time with Abbie these last few months.”
Alistair slapped his hand down on his desk with an exclamation, “I knew it! The way you looked at her, I just knew it!” Ichabod heard Ali’s approval, “You’re not surprised.”
“Surprised? Why no. I would be surprised if you weren’t spending time with her given you haven’t telephoned in ages. Does Thomas know? Never mind I asked that question – of course he doesn’t know.”
“Why do you say Father doesn’t know?”
“I haven’t been summoned to treat his stroke,” Ali answered – the dry mirth gliding through the line.
“Alistair!” Ichabod replied with a reluctant smile for even he had to admit Ali was right. Thomas Crane wouldlikely have a stroke if he knew the extent of Ichabod’s feelings for Abbie. A fling would be bad enough in Thomas’ estimation, but Ichabod’s intentions were another thing entirely.
“Ichabod…please…please hold on for a moment,” Ali asked abruptly. Ichabod could hear his cousin speaking with his wife, his tone and voice modulating with each sentence. Ichabod occupied himself with the rubber supply requisitions. It seems almost every instrument of war required rubber of some kind.
“Ichabod,” Alistair rejoined the conversation, “Mary says you and Abbie must come for Sunday dinner this week.”
“I don’t know,” Ichabod was well aware of Abbie’s hesitation with new places and people, despite journeying across the sea to start a new life in England, “Mary insists, Ichabod. She is brimming with happiness for you.”
“Please Alistair,” Ichabod’s voice was dry with disbelief, “She may be happy for me, but she is far happier that she might get Eddie to stop asking after me.”
“That too,” Ali deadpanned with no shame, “Make a day of it.”
“I’ll inquire,” Ichabod said, making no promises.
“Good man,” Ali winked at his wife as she stood in front of his desk, “I’ll ask Mary to make her roast beef and baked potato.”
“Oh, that is patently unfair,” Ichabod groaned. He adored Mary’s roast beef.
“I know,” Ali replied with a wicked smile, “Have a good day, cousin.”
Ichabod stared at the phone for a few seconds, listening to the dial-tone with a shake of his head.
Abbie laid in bed, watching the room lighten as the sun slowly rose. It was early and she hadn’t been asleep in an hour, thinking. Remembering. The feel of his lips against hers, the texture of the slight scruff and the moment when Abbie decided, almost on instinct, to kiss him back. She felt the flush in her core region – again– an turned over the single bed in frustration, slightly grinding into the mattress for some relief.
Ichabod had been a man of his word, not attempting to kiss Abbie again since that day in his motor car – waiting on her to initiate their next kiss. In the two months since, they’d been all over London whenever there was a free day, Ichabod showing and sharing the city he called home with her. Abbie even felt comfortable enough now on the subway – the Underground as it was called – venturing to explore on her own when Ichabod wasn’t available. War preparations were taking up more of his time – even some weekends and she was sad to see less of him this last month. Abbie acknowledged that she missed him almost as much as she now knew she wanted him – rubbing in the mattress or even the aborted attempts to pleasure herself no longer helping, “Ugh,” frustrated, Abbie threw off the covers and went to her small bathroom to use the facilities.
“Abbie,” Mrs. Lacey’s voice was pleasant concern at the breakfast table, “Are you feeling alright? You look a little – heated.”
“No, ma’am,” Abbie answered, keeping her head down over her plate of egg, “I’m fine.”
“You do look at little flushed Abbie,” Alice Lamb remarked. The ladies maid in the Royal household was seated to Abbie’s left. Alice’s bright green eyes were her best feature in an otherwise plain face, a gift from her father. He stubbornness was a gift from her mother – as Abbie discovered recently when her family insisted Alice marry her distant cousin – a German who had recently arrived in London. Alice took one look at the “uptight prig” as she’d called him, declared “no bloody way,” turned on her heels and walked out of the room.
“Is it that nice Captain Crane of yours?” Emily asked from across the table. Emily Harrington was truly as skilled of a seamstress as Mrs. Lacey had bragged, helping Abbie one night when her favorite “show dress” was torn along the side seam an hour before Abbie was due at the club to perform. Emily took one look at it, tutted under her breath, gathered her needles and threads and went to work. To this day, Abbie still hadn’t been able to see the repair in the gown.
“He’s not my Captain Crane,” Abbie replied with a subtle roll of her eyes. Of course, all of Mrs. Lacey’s respectable young ladies knew about Abbie and the Captain, but she tried to keep the details private. Abbie liked the other borders well enough – they were all nice – but she had always kept to herself. Abbie didn’t see any reason to change her habits.
“Oh, he’s yours alright,” Sophie teased from where she sat on Abbie’s right, “I don’t think he knows what other women look like.”
Abbie did flush as that assessment, more from the pleasure the words gave her than any embarrassment. She liked the idea of Ichabod being hers to claim. Too much.
Seeing Abbie’s skin flush, even if the other women at the table couldn’t, Mrs. Lacey admonished, “Enough of that kind of talk at breakfast, please ladies. We are respectable, after all.” Abbie didn’t miss the knowing, slight smile Dora gave Abbie, causing her to flush even more – this time with actual embarrassment.
“Yes, Mrs. Lacey,” came the chorus.
The housekeeper, Eleanor, poked her head into the small dining room, “Abbie, you have a phone call. It’s that nice Captain Crane.” Eleanor looked to Mrs. Lacey, “Should I tell him to phone again later?”
“No,” Dora replied drily, looking at how Abbie practically vibrated with the anticipation of accepting the call, “I don’t think Abbie would survive the wait.” Abbie, for her part, was far too interested to speak with Ichabod – he never phoned this early – to be embarrassed by Mrs. Lacey’s teasing.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Abbie mumbled as she sped out of the room to take pick up the receiver on the side table in the hall, “Hello Ichabod.”
The soft, sweet inflection of Abbie saying his name made Ichabod close his eyes momentarily. He blessed his patience – and his right hand – for being able to survive the last two months seemingly on just the memory of her lips against his. Their next kiss would be at Abbie’s initiation or not at all and he would die with just the memory if it meant her contentment. Ichabod acknowledged that short of dereliction of duty to the Crown, there was nothing he wouldn’t do to see Abbie happy.
“Hello Abbie,” the deep-voiced greeting made Abbie clench in her core and she unconsciously crossed her legs, “I’m sorry to disturb your breakfast.”
“That’s ok,” Abbie replied with pleasantness, “Is everything fine?”
“Everything is wonderful. We’ve been invited to my cousin Alistair’s for dinner this Sunday. Are you game for it? We could spend the day…travel there, have an early supper and motor back,” Ichabod knew he was babbling, but he so wanted Abbie to say yes, “You haven’t been out of London yet. This would be a very good opportunity to see some of the countryside…Abbie?” Ichabod stopped, realizing that Abbie hadn’t uttered a sound, “Abbie?”
“I was waiting for you to run out of steam,” she teased affectionately, “I’d like to go, Ichabod.”
“Yes, silly man!”
“We shall need to leave rather early…” he confirmed.
“I’ll be ready.”
Abbie stood slightly behind Ichabod at the stain glass door of Alistair and Mary Crane family home, shielding herself from being fully seen immediately when the door opened. The house looked welcoming to Abbie’s eyes, with pretty, colorful flowers in window boxes and lace curtains at the windows. Abbie was nervous but not scared – she was surprised to realize she hadn’t once thought of taking her knives out of their hiding place. “Are you alright, Treasure,” Ichabod asked quietly while they waited for someone to answer the doorbell.
“I’m fine,” Abbie sighed, “A little nervous.”
“Are your knives out?” Ichabod had reasoned some time ago that Abbie sometimes held her knives almost the way a child would a security blanket or a favorite toy. There was no danger here in this little hamlet, but Ichabod asked the question more to ascertain Abbie’s comfort level with this new situation and to a certain extent, trust in him to not put her in uncomfortable spots.
“No,” her quick response made him feel visibly relax, “I’m not nervous because I’m scared. I just…”
“Just what, my darling,” Ichabod asked and turned his head to look back at Abbie.
“I…I just want to make a good impression. These people are important to you,” she answered with a lowered voice.
At that heartfelt admission, Ichabod turned his back fully to the door, looking down at Abbie’s upturned face, “You cannot help but make a good impression, Treasure. They will adore you just as much as I do. I promise.”
“If you say so…” Abbie startled as the door opened and Ichabod brought her more to his side as he turned around, “Cousin Ichabod!”
Abbie observed the brown-haired, brown eyed youngster practically jump up and down with excitement. He seemed so sweet, it made her smile even as Ichabod brought Abbie closer to his side, “Eddie, my boy. How are you?”
Eddie’s mother Mary came to the door shaking her head at her overenthusiastic only child, “Edward Alistair Crane, let them come in before you pounce!” Abbie instantly liked the short, somewhat plumb woman who was not much older than she was by the looks of it. Mary Crane was what some might call mousey, but she had a personality that drew others to her like a magnet. Eddie stepped back. Ichabod placed his hand on Abbie’s lower back, signaling that she should step into the small foyer first.
“Hello, I’m Mary,” her smile was genuine and made Abbie exhale a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, “You must the Abbie Mills I’ve heard so much about.”
“Really?” Abbie questioned, looking over at Ichabod.
“Perhaps a word or two…” he shrugged.
Mary laughed with a roll of her eyes. Try a hundred words between Alistair’s description of the young woman and Ichabod extolling her virtues when he’d telephoned to say they were coming for dinner, “I can see just by the look of you that neither my husband nor Ichabod exaggerated in the least. You are lovely, my dear.”
Abbie blushed under the unexpected praise, “Thank you.”
“I should thank you. Since meeting you, Ichabod has been almost sufferable again.”
“I beg your pardon,” Ichabod stood to his full height and huffed.
Mary smiled with a wink towards Abbie, “See what I mean?”
“Yes,” Abbie teased, returned the smile.
“I believe I need to be rescued,” Ichabod said drily.
“Oh, I know you do,” Mary replied, “But Alistair was called away for a small emergency. He should be back within an hour.” Mary looked from Abbie to Ichabod, assessing, “Why don’t you two take a walk down near Miller’s Farm? Ichabod, you know where it is, yes?”
“Of course,” he replied, “They always plant the nicest wildflowers.” And have plenty of places for a couple to have some privacy, Ichabod recalled Alistair mentioning when he was courting Mary. It would seem Mary had not forgotten. Bless her, Ichabod thought with an inward smile.
“Can I go with them, Mummy? Please?” Eddie asked, eager to spend time with his favorite cousin.
Mary caught Ichabod’s eye, “Noooo, sweetheart. Cousin Ichabod will be back very soon and then I’m surehe’ll be more than happy to let you talk his ears off when he returns, won’t you Cousin Ichabod?”
“Indeed, I shall,” he promised, “After you Abbie. It’s a beautiful day for a walk.” Ichabod opened the front door and let Abbie pass through. But he did not fail to give Mary a grateful look before closing the door behind him, holding Eddie by her side.
“Which way,” she asked. It was a mild, summer day and Abbie was actually looking forward to a walk after being cooped up in the motor car for the drive from London. It had taken some time to arrive and Abbie found she was grateful for the chance to stretch her legs.
They walked, hand in hand, down the road…past other neat little houses with window boxes. Abbie waited for the feeling of being watched, the urge to hold one of her knives in her hand while tethered to Ichabod with the other, but it didn’t come.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” she breathed.
Ichabod looked over at Abbie as they approached Miller’s Farm, “What is it?”
The eyes meeting his held the start of unshed tears, “I know people watched us as we left your cousin’s house. I know it, but I don’t care.”
“I don’t care either,” Ichabod asserted. He recognized that even in his relatively progressive country, he and Abbie were not a common occurrence.
“No…no, I mean I’m not waiting for something awful to happen. I lived for so long waiting…expecting…the awful…that I’d forgotten what it was like to not feel it.”
“You feel light,” he smiled the question.
“Yes, I feel light!”
Abbie let go of Ichabod’s hand and skipped a few steps ahead, laughing. She twirled and her skirt billowed slightly around her, affording Ichabod a view of her slip and lower thighs. But it was her happiness that had him enthralled.
“Oh, what’s over here?” Abbie stopped, pointing to the low structure just off the road.
“Storage barn most likely,” Ichabod answered, looking over to where she pointed
“Can we go in? I’ve never seen the inside of a barn,” her smile and enthusiasm swayed him.
There wasn’t even a low fence separating the structure from the road, “I don’t see why not. As I recall, the Millers are lenient about visitors as long as nothing is disturbed.”
Abbie stepped over the small strip of grass and pulled up the wooden door to the barn, Ichabod following behind her as she made her way inside. Looking around, Abbie realized it was a storage barn. She didn’t hear, smell or see any animals, just pile after pile of, “Hay,” she confirmed.
“Yes, this is hay,” Ichabod’s family estate was in part, a farm – his father always interested in two things – coin and self-sufficiency. “Bram must run it proper now,” he thought absently, not seeing that Abbie had moved away from him.
“Ichabod,” Abbie called. Ichabod came out of his reverie but didn’t see her, “Abbie, where did go?”
Abbie's laugh was music to his ears, “Come and find me!”
“Very well,” Ichabod smiled as he rounded the carefully stacked hay – each one separated by a narrow path that wind around each row. He found Abbie near the end, lounging against the high cone-shaped pile. She had a piece of it hanging out of her mouth and few strands were caught in her hair. Even in the darkened space, she glowed with vibrant life, “I’m here,” he replied, coming to stand a foot away from her.
“Closer,” Ichabod stepped forward at the request as Abbie let the hay gently fall from her lips.
“Closer,” Ichabod stepped again, “Closer” Ichabod stepped towards her again. His shoes were now touching hers and he widened his stance so he feet were placed just on either side of her, “Closer,” she beckoned.
Putting each arms on either side of Abbie, Ichabod held himself above her. Thankfully the hay was packed firmly enough that it took his weight. Ichabod held his breath as Abbie breathed her command even as she leaned up to him, “Closer…”
Her lips on his were even better than Ichabod remembered. She kissed him with a shyness he adored, but there was also increased awareness of her own desires and she moved her head to better taste him. As she tugged at the lapels of his coat to bring him flush with her body, the groan that came from the back of her throat was a revelation in how swiftly and certainly if affected him.
Ichabod swelled in every part of his body – his heart with love and his cock with desire. He wanted Abigail Mills…badly…but would cut off his own arm before harming her. He had done that enough, “Abbie, my Treasure, I…”
“Shhhh,” she cooed, looping her arms around his neck, “I’m kissing you.” It was Ichabod’s turn to groan as he pressed further against Abbie, opening his mouth more fully to give whatever she needed of him. Abbie followed his lead while still taking command – moving her lips over his and lightly touching him with her tongue. The sensation – the residual hesitancy of her kisses mixed with a rapidly improving confidence, momentarily made Ichabod forget himself and he pressed against her with a slight grind. The relief was temporary as he felt himself swell even more. They fit perfectly. He knew they would, “Abbie…Abbie…I…”
“Didn’t I tell you to be quiet,” she teased, mumbling against his mouth in between sweet pecks, “But, I guess we should go back before Mary sends Eddie to find us.”
“Good grief, not that!” he laughed, kissing her nose before pushing up, Abbie’s arms still around his neck, a question on his mind, “What is your middle name?”
“You know it already.” Her smile was filled with teasing love.
“I don’t understand.”
“Think about it,” she smirked as his brow furrowed with concentration before realization dawned, “What is your given name?”
Abbie reached up and kissed him softly, “Grace.”
“Grace Abigail Mills,” Ichabod supplied, “Please know this, if you know nothing else in this life…”
“What’s that,” Abbie asked as he looked deeply into her eyes, baring his soul.
“My heart belongs to you.”
Chapter 12: 300 Hundred Years of Pain
Abbie speaks to Mrs. Lacey, finally finding out what her landlady did to the men that were so hateful to Abbie.
Comments are fuel, kudos are always welcome and mistakes, well, blame those on the other guy.
I know it has been too many months since i updated this story. Two things:
1. I will finish every story I start if humanly possible. I've been a HappyHappyReader for a lot longer than I've been writing fanfic and know firsthand the heartbreak of a great, unfinished story. It's damn near tragic.
2. I honestly don't write these stories with any real outline in mind. I like to say I get slapped around by dialog on my way to the plot. I've discovered in writing this particular story that sometimes this means waiting for the dialog to actually slap me around.
I needed to wait for Abbie and Ichabod to tell me what was going to happen next. Thank you for your patience and sticking with the story. Enjoy.
“Abbie, it’s such a pleasure to have you here,” Mary Crane smiled across the dinner table. She’d cooked a full Sunday dinner – Ichabod’s favorite pot roast, with potatoes, carrots and even a chocolate cake for dessert, “Alistair tells me you have a lovely singing voice. I do hope you will grace us with a song before you and Ichabod have to leave.”
Eddie Crane piped up with enthusiasm, “Oh, yes, please say you will! Please Miss Mills.”
Ichabod smiled at the unconscious use of Abbie’s given name, one that he had just learned. It suited her perfectly. Grace. He looked at her by his side and felt himself release the tension in his shoulders for the first time in months…his career, his father’s looming demands, even the coming war didn’t matter. He was here…with her…among some of the people he cherished most in the world. Ichabod’s smile broadened as he looked his fill.
Abbie felt herself blush slightly under the gaze of the Mary, Alistair, Eddie and Ichabod, “I would like that, but only if you sing with me Eddie,” her bright smile a light in the small, family dining room. “My sister and I used to sing together all the time for our mama,” Abbie beamed directly at the young man, looking forward to singing with him, feeling relaxed and happy with the memory of better times.
Abbie lay in bed in the pre-dawn recalling her dinner with Ichabod and his family. It had been over a month ago, but their day in the country has been magical to Abbie – for the first time in years she’d been able to just – exhale - and be her true self. It was a gift, one she had to thank Ichabod for giving her, however unintended. They continued to spend time together, exploring London and occasionally venturing outside the city limits to other, smaller cities…their dates peppered with increasingly ardent kisses and embraces. Things never went too far, Ichabod kept a distance between them that was growing increasingly frustrating – necessary, Abbie believed, but frustrating. Work was also fulfilling – when Abbie was scheduled to sing, there was always a packed house – August had even given her a small raise this month, saying his liquor receipts were “through the roof.”
Abbie thought, “I might even have to thank those good ‘ole boys for bringing Ichabod into my life,” before good sense fought through the haze of her soft feelings for the Captain, “No, girl, you don’t.” She smiled to herself, but even Abbie could no longer deny there was something she wanted - no needed- to know.
Pulling back the covers, Abbie put a light robe over her nightgown and placing her feet in slippers that had belonged to her mother, opened the door to her bedroom. The small lamp Mrs. Lacey kept in an alcove was lit, lighting the path to the front parlor. Abbie could see the light on through the crack in the closed pocket doors, telling her someone was in there. There could only be one person awake at this hour and Abbie knocked softly on the left door. “Mrs. Lacey,” Abbie kept her voice low, “May I speak with you?”
Abbie heard movement before the doors abruptly opened. Dora Lacey’s smile was knowing as she looked down at Abbie, standing outside the parlor doors in her bright, yellow slippers and navy robe, her hair still pinned up, the black satin sleep bonnet offering additional protection. Dora thought absently that Abbie looked very young without her armor of makeup and corseted clothing. “Of course,” Dora answered, turning to take her seat in the chair, assuming Abbie would sit on the loveseat, “Is there something bothering you?”
Abbie shifted with her nerves as she sat down in her regular spot. She knew Dora Lacey liked her. Abbie also knew the woman wasn’t quite normal. Abbie had put that reality out of her mind and for the most part, was able to treat Mrs. Lacey as she had on the first day they met – with the diffidence and respect due her landlady. Abbie kept the house rules, was cordial with the other ladies and was never late with her rent, paying it the day beforeit was due, just so there was no doubt.
“I…I need to ask you something,” she took a deep breath and continued, “About the men you…took care of for me.”
Abbie saw a small flash from Mrs. Lacey’s eyes. If Abbie didn’t know about her landlady, she might have sworn she’d imagined it, “Yes? Go on.”
“Could you…would you do something like that to Ichabod,” Abbie calmed her nerves enough to ask the question that had been on her mind on and off since their sightseeing day around London, “if he made you angry?”
Dora Lacey tilted her head to the side, spending seconds silently observing Abbie, admiring the young woman for her courage and strength, even in the face of her obvious fear. “Yes”, she thought, “No wonder we get on so well.”
“I would have to think of another punishment for your Captain Crane,” Dora paused, “if it needed to be done.”
“Why?” Abbie asked, wanting to understand what made Ichabod different in Dora’s estimation.
“What I did to those men wouldn’t work on him,” Dora answered, her tone making it clear she thought the reason why was obvious.
Abbie inhaled, “I suppose I finally have to ask,” she looked across the small table, straight into the penetrating eyes of her landlady, “what exactly did you do to them?”
“I made them feel what it’s like to be you,” Dora answered without hesitation, “all of you.”
Abbie’s face showed her confusion, “I don’t understand.”
“I made them feel what’s it like to be a Negro woman,” she continued, “all Negro women. I made them experience three hundred years of your pain.”
Abbie could feel her breathing speed up just thinking about Mrs. Lacey’s words, “You put them in our shoes…” Abbie wondered aloud and was rewarded with Mrs. Lacey’s nod, “And that was enough to make them go insane? Really?” Abbie knew her life and those of other Negro women was hard, but never imagined…
“Yes, it was more than enough,” Dora replied, interrupting Abbie’s train of thought, “I knew it would be.”
Abbie was honestly amazed, “How? Who…who are you? I mean, are you really Irish?” She knew that was an idiotic question to ask, but Abbie also knew she couldn’t help it. She understood that Mrs. Lacey was different, but that wasn’t the same as knowing just how different.
“Yes,” came the same lilting reply Abbie had come to know as Dora’s Irish cadence, “I was born there.”
“A very long time ago.”
“How…who…what,” Abbie stopped to absorb this moment, noticing the sun starting to bring more light into the room, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” she replied with kindness at Abbie’s shock, “I don’t mind telling you, but I thank you not to go sharing with my other ladies.”
“They wouldn’t believe me anyway,” Abbie responded. Dora corrected the assumption, “Sophie might – she’s observed some things her mind dismissed.”
Abbie took a moment to collect herself, looking around the room, examining the objects with a new and more informed eye. The large bust in the corner that, on second looks, appeared to be Roman, the small bronze cat on the fireplace mantel, the wall coverings and rugs, “You’ve been around for a long time…”
“I have,” Dora answered, “I was born from the pain of women. All that emotion, the tears, seared the earth and one day, I arose from the ashes, full-grown but as naïve and helpless as a babe.”
“Oh…I see…is that why you helped me? Because I’m a woman?”
“Partly, and partly because you really do remind me of myself,” Dora explained, “you’ve taken so much of the worst life can offer a person and yet, you’re still striving. You still have hope.”
“Hope,” Abbie huffed her disbelief. Hope was for other people. Abbie Mills dealt in reality.
“Yes, despite what you tell yourself. Hope,” she confirmed, “why would you come to this country, on the verge of war, if not for hope?”
“I left because a country at war without Jim Crow was better than peace with it,” Abbie leaned against the back cushion of the sofa, crossing her arms, her face hardening.
Dora Lacey’s expression made the hair on Abbie’s arms stand on end. There was no mirth, “And that is why those men went insane. Negro women…your pain…to be stolen from your homelands, stripped of your names, made to breed like you were nothing more than livestock, worked without base consideration until you died of exhaustion or illness,” Dora paused, closing her eyes and channeling the energy of the ancestors that Abbie didn’t even understand walked with her to this day, “But that wasn’t even the worst of it. Watching your children be denied their humanity, whipped, worked, sold away - knowing there was nothing you could do but make your very survival an act of rebellion and hope that tomorrow would be better – if not for you, then for your children, or perhaps their children.”
Dora opened her eyes to see Abbie wiping away a stray tear, “So you see, you are built of hope…strength and hope.”
“Is that what you showed them,” Abbie asked, her voice quiet as she thought about Dora’s words.
“I didn’t show them, I made them feel it,” Abbie saw Dora’s eyes light up again, but was ready for it this time, coming to understand that Mrs. Lacey’s eyes flashed when she was feeling especially protective of the women in her charge, “I made them feel what it’s like to be stolen, stripped, raped, sold, worked and derided as less than human,” she picked at a nail absently, “it didn’t take long for their minds to be overcome by the horror. The weak always think they’re strong and the strong don’t know the depths of their power.”
Abbie sniffled once more, steeling herself to continue with this life-altering conversation, “You said what you did to the men wouldn’t work on Ichabod. Why?”
“He has already tried to live in your pain – to put himself in your shoes,” Dora continued, “he hasn’t succeeded, how could he? He’s still a man,” she derided, “but that he tries, again and again, means that whatever horrors I make him feel, he’s already likely imagined to the extent of his limitations.” She concluded, “It would hurt, but it wouldn’t destroy him.”
“What would?” Abbie asked, her voice low and soft in the quiet room. The sun was up, and the house would start to awaken soon on the slow Sunday morning.
“Are you certain you want to know?”
Abbie swallowed, “Yes.”
“You,” she replied, her response stripped of all pretense, “not being the man you deserve, losing you to his own ego or to another is his worst nightmare where you’re concerned,” Dora mused, “It’s very rare, the bond I sense between you two - and I’m one who’d know.”
“Losing me,” Abbie murmured to herself, “that’s how you’d punish him?” Her eyes were downcast as she came to terms with the heavy weight of Mrs. Lacey’s words.
“He loves you,” Dora replied, “in a way that I haven’t seen in some time. And you love him,” she supplied with no fanfare – it was simply fact, “you wouldn’t be here asking these questions if you didn’t.”
Both women heard the soft knock on the closed parlor pocket door, “Mrs. Lacey,” Eleanor called quietly, “I went to Abbie’s room to ask what she might like for breakfast and she’s not there.”
“She’s with me, Eleanor,” Mrs. Lacey answered. “Very well, ma’am. Thank you,” came the muffled reply as Eleanor moved away from the door to return to her kitchen.
Pandora Lacey turned to Abbie once again, “Our conversation is done for today, yes Abbie?”
“Yes, Mrs. Lacey,” Abbie rose from the loveseat, looking down at her landlady who was now, maybe, some form of friend. At the very least Abbie understood Pandora Lacey a bit better.
“Thank you, ma’am,” sincere in her appreciation, Abbie silently walked back to her room, softly closing the door on both the bustle of the house and her old life.
Ichabod heard the ‘ding-ding’ that let him know someone was ringing up to his flat. Pulling on a shirt, he quickly walked down the stairs while doing up the buttons. He could see through the stain glass door that it was Abbie. Ichabod was surprised as he was due to arrive at her boarding house within the hour. They planned to go to Harrod’s, pick up a light dinner meal and eat at their favorite park. It promised to be beautiful summer day – war was still fast approaching, but there were always many things to enjoy.
Ichabod opened the door. “Treasure,” he asked, the surprise and concern obvious, “what are you doing here? Is something wrong?”
Abbie ignored the question and walked past Ichabod, silently climbing the stairs to his flat, making his eyebrows draw together in both confusion and consternation. He abhorred her silence.
By the time Ichabod made his way back up the stairs, Abbie was standing in his parlor, her small purse set on the loveseat. He unconsciously took a moment to admire her attire – a cap sleeved navy dress with white polka dots. It was v-neck, fitted and ended just at her knees, bringing his eyes to her shapely calves and the navy low-heeled, open-toed shoes she wore. Raising his loving gaze, he took in the gold, flower-shaped earrings on her enticing lobes. Her hair was down today, curled so the loose-waves brushed against her jawline as she turned to face him.
“I want hope instead of fear,” she replied, looking just past him towards the flat’s front windows.
He walked over to her, reaching to take her hands in his, imploring, “I don’t understand.” Abbie looked at him for the first time that day - her eyes full, beautiful pools of equally-measured love and determination.
“Make love to me, Ichabod Crane,” Abbie took a deep breath, her chest rising with emotion, “Make love to me.”