Angie primped quickly, straightening her cap and checking for lipstick smudges or rebellious curls in the ghost of her reflection in the glass. Good enough. She glanced back at the table where Peggy was staring at a half-page spread of Captain America like he was her long-lost love and tried to drum up some of her usual courage. It wasn’t her fault that every time she saw Peggy walk--stride, really, and she’d never seen a girl put that sort of hip-sway in a bona fide march before--through that door her knees went weak and her tongue tied itself in knots. She’d sweet-talked her way into trouble with other girls plenty of times before, but Peggy made her feel like she was right back in grade school and blushing over a peck on the cheek.
She licked her lips and made her way to Peggy’s table. If she turned chicken, she could just freshen up her coffee, bat her eyes, and slink away. Maybe she’d get lucky, and Peggy would take the hint.
The idea hit her like a bolt from the blue, and she gasped a little at how perfect it was. The first girl she’d gone all the way with had been a genius at flirting, and she’d broken the ice by brazenly admiring some of the neighborhood boys who’d taken to running around in their undershirts on account of the summer heat and their mas not being around to see and haul them home by their ears.
Angie leaned in, resting some of her weight against the booth’s edge, and pretended to admire the picture over Peggy’s shoulder.
“I saw him once at a USO show in Passaic.” She let her hand fall idly onto the back of the bench, just behind Peggy’s shoulders. This close up, and she could smell Peggy’s perfume, rich and sweet and warm. She swallowed hard and kept going, willing Peggy to follow her lead. “You can eat him with a spoon.”
Just a hop, skip, and a jump to Peggy thinking about her with a handsome man, Peggy thinking about her in just her slip and a smile, Peggy thinking that might not make too bad a picture…
“Yes, I understand he was quite something,” Peggy said. Her tone was off, though. Distracted, and sad, and maybe a shade wistful into the bargain.
Angie frowned. She hadn’t figured on Peggy being genuinely sad over the picture. “Everything all right, English?”
It was just this side of forward, the nickname she’d tagged Peggy with at first to make it seem like she wasn’t paying too much attention to the sharp-dressed woman who swaggered into her automat not quite often enough to be a regular. Peggy had a usual now, and a favorite booth, and she was definitely a regular. The nickname made it feel like they were close enough to tease each other just a touch, though, and she’d stuck with it. She was a sucker for romance, even if she didn’t like to admit it.
“Fine, Angie, if you don’t count work.”
Peggy gave her a tiny, sad smile, and Angie had to bite her tongue a little not to smile too hard back. Hearing Peggy say her name like that always gave her a small, delicious shiver that started at the nape of her neck and ran right down to the base of her spine and made her ache in all the right places.
“Boys at the phone company giving you a hard time?” Angie asked sympathetically. She could imagine it, too, the sort of louts and overgrown children who liked to bully women they knew were too good for them. She got more than her fair share of them at the lunch counter on any given shift, but at least she only had to put up with them for a half-hour or so. Getting a pack of lousy coworkers was a different sort of awful, and she’d walked out of places over cooks who wouldn’t keep their hands to themselves or waitresses who couldn’t stay civil with each other.
“No more than usual. It’s just…” Peggy’s eyes shone, and Angie could tell that for a second she’d been a thousand miles away. “During the war, I had a sense of purpose, responsibility. But now...I connect the calls, but I never get a chance to make them. Do you know what I mean?”
Angie felt a blush start on her cheeks and tried to tamp it down. Peggy was upset, and Peggy was confiding in her, and all she could think about was the way Peggy said purpose and responsibility. That about settled it, didn’t it? Hearing Peggy talk about the war and seeing Peggy walk, how could she have been anything but a soldier? She tried not to imagine Peggy in a uniform and failed miserably. She wondered if she’d been an ambulance driver, or one of the British searchlight girls she’d seen on the reels. They’d been able to work the guns in case the Germans had ever made it over, too. Angie cast a quick look around; nobody needed her for the next few minutes. She slid into the booth and leaned forward, crossing her arms on the table. If there was anything she was good at, it was talking too much and distracting someone from their problems for a tick.
“I had an audition today, uptown. Took three trains, got two bars into ‘Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t,’ and they gave me the hook. I guess I ain’t.” She shot Peggy her best wry smile. “We all gotta pay our dues, even if it takes a while. You got talent. It’s just a matter of time before Broadway calls.”
Peggy’s smile this time was more genuine, and Angie felt her heart beat faster.
“I’m afraid I can’t carry a tune.”
“Doesn’t matter when you got legs like yours.” Angie winked, excited by her own boldness. Peggy seemed to be cheering up already.
The spell was broken by an imperious voice from across the diner. “This is supposed to be a BLT?”
She excused herself with another little wink and comforted herself with the thought that Peggy looked decidedly put out on her behalf. Or maybe, she thought, it was the loss of her company when things were just beginning to look up.
Angie was sure she hadn’t imagined it the next time her jerk of a customer and Peggy were in at the same time. Angie had kept her distance, trying to figure out what was going on with the man who came in and sat in the booth next to Peggy’s and pretended not to be talking to her. He was fancy in a way that wasn’t flashy, and she thought he might be the sort of guy who could turn Peggy’s head, but then why sit with his back to a pretty girl and put on like he didn’t know her? He had a wedding ring on his finger, sure, but there was sneaking around and then there was sneaking around. She wasn’t even sure why you’d go on a date with your girl on the side if you couldn’t sit with her.
However much she wanted to know what was going on between Peggy and the handsome man with never a hair out of place, though, Angie would far rather have been a fly on the wall for what she said to her piece-of-work customer with his loud mouth and inability to tell powdered eggs from the real thing. The L&L might be cheap, but she’d seen those eggs come out of the shell herself. What she hadn’t seen was anything that happened before she found him coughing up a better tip in one go than he’d left on all his previous meals combined while staring nervously after Peggy’s retreating figure.
Well, then. Peggy’s mystery man might dress nice and be quick with a smile that Peggy couldn’t see, but Peggy had apparently decided to be her guardian angel. Angie puckered her lips at her reflection and gave herself a cocky grin. She was in the running after all.