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And Then Gladys Decided to Break In Her New Wheels by Driving Cross Country to Find Kate

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Kate had been home a week when she saw it.

The house had that jaunty, bright look of fresh paint, with flowers by the path and brightly coloured curtains in all the windows. She watched from the corner as the mail man bundled a small sheath of papers into a picturesque letterbox, and suddenly a wave of longing overcame her.

Betty.

It was just like the home they'd spoken about, all the little details were there, the only thing missing was their names on the letterbox. The sun was rising high above it, and Kate just wanted to run to the door, and to the warmth of Betty's smile...

... but Betty didn't live there, and neither did Kate. As the sun rose higher, Kate let herself drift away past once more, and then away. But for the first time in one whole very very long week, Kate's heart was beating stronger than her fear.

*

She passed it again the next day, and the next, carrying scraps of food and hand me downs assembled by local church goers and passed along to a family mourning the recent loss of a father to the war.

One of the ladies who attended service had insisted on having Kate's help with the Johnson family. She had sung the praises of how a daughter might help her community over and over; finally her father had grudgingly agreed to release her for the shortest possible length of travel time each day.

And so each day, as regular as clockwork, Kate passed by the little cottage with its flowers by the path.

She delivered her basket, and squeezed hands, and loaned out a threadbare hankerchief. Then she turned around and walked back again, all the while trying desperately not to think of blonde hair and shy smiles and that swagger. Oh, that swagger. One day it would make her smile, and the next it would make her frown, but always - always - the gay little bobbing blossoms she passed each day would remind her of it.

Thus Kate's days formed into something of a rhythm, and, well trained by the routine of the factory floor, she unthinkingly fell into it.

Until one day, as she stood once more admiring the peonies, Gladys arrived.

*

"Betty didn't think you'd agree to see her," Gladys said, eyes wide and hand hesitantly outstretched.

"Why would I?" Kate returned sharply, then clenched her jaw and turned her face away again.

"Please-" Gladys started, but Kate raised her eyes to the sky and bit her lip and stopped listening. Gladys' voice dulled into a hum, raising and falling in agitation, until finally it stopped and Kate lowered her eyes again.

"You're not coming with me, are you," Gladys said, voice flat.

"I... I don't want anything to do with that life anymore. It's wrong, and sinful, and-"

"That life? That life? Kate, that was your life, every minute of it. It was yours and yours alone, you can't tell me you didn't love it and you can't just leave it behind!"

Kate pursed her lips, casting her eyes from Gladys to the flower bed to Gladys and back again.

'I..." she started, then stopped and took a deep breath. "My name is Marion."

Gladys dipped her head forward to catch Kate's words, gaze intent and unwavering.

"I don't want anything to do with my sinful past anymore!"

Gladys sighed and pulled away. "I can see I'm not getting through to you..."

She paused, and then reached out to grab Kate's hand, refusing to relent when Kate started and tried to pull away.

"Some money," she said, stuffing notes into Kate's fist. "Money and the name of the hotel where I'm staying, I'll be there with a friend for the week. Please Kate, take it, I won't let you tell me no."

Then she was gone in a swirl of skirts and perfume, leaving Kate with a basket of food in one hand, and a handful of paper and small notes in the other.

*

That night, Kate didn't sleep. She lay still and silent, her eyes closed and her hand grasping her pendant, the other casually laid across the corner of the mattress she'd stuffed the money and the note under.

The next night was the same, barely drifting off before startling awake to check her hiding place was still safe. She couldn't understand why it was so important to her - it was only enough change to get across town to the fancy hotel scrawled in the note. Just enough to stop Kate tracking Gladys down for the sole purpose of returning her money.

She barely breathed as she lay in the dark, but her mind had no such orderly quiet. It flitted from one thing to another, back and forth, never stopping. Except on thoughts of Betty. Always back to thoughts of Betty.

*

In the morning Kate left home as usual with her basket in hand and the money stashed in her clothes. She meekily agreed to hurry back, and then shuffled down the street until out of sight. Then she raised her head and strode, with strength and purpose and a little bit of borrowed swagger.

When she reached the Johnson family home, she dropped the basket on their doorstep and kept walking. She didn't even tarry to examine flower beds or look back over her shoulder at another certain cheery porch.

By the time she knocked on Gladys' door, she was gasping for breath with a laugh in her lungs and a piece of scrunched up note paper clenched in her hand so tightly it had torn.

"Gladys," she cried out when she heard the latch click. "Gladys, it's me, it's Kate. I want to go with you!"

Then the door swung open, and Kate stopped stock still.

"Kate." It was all Betty said, tears in her eyes and the edge of the door clenched in her hand till her knuckles turned white. "Kate."

Another voice came from deeper in the hotel suite. "Kate? Did I hear you say Kate?" Then the door was tugged from Betty's hand, causing her to waver for a moment without something to lean on, and swung wide to reveal Gladys' smiling face.

"Oh thank god," she said, throwing her arms around Kate. "You came!"

"I did!" Kate laughed giddily, words muffled by Gladys' hair. "I did come, I'm here."

"Well then," Gladys said once she had finally pulled back. "Do you have your bag?"

"No. No bag, I don't have anything to my name," Kate replied, a smile still firmly on her face, her eyes drifting back to Betty. "It's just me again."

"Well that's perfect then! There'll be more room in the car and we can go shopping when we get back. You'll see, Kate," Gladys enthused, linking their hands and bouncing happily on her toes. "It's going to be just like before, but even better."

Betty didn't make a move forward to join them, hanging back in the shadow of the room. But she echoed Kate's smile so hard it looked like her cheeks must hurt, and even when Kate's attention made her duck her head and rub a hand across the back of her neck she didn't drop her gaze for a moment.