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Damask Roses

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August 12, 1944

I carried white and pink damask rosebuds in my bouquet. They had to be buds, because the roses weren't really in bloom yet, probably because it had been such a beastly summer. Esmé had cut them from her garden -- the heather, as well.  Jamie wore a kilt in his family tartan.

Jamie put a family ring on my hand, a beautiful old family ring that had belonged to Julie's great-grandmother and then later to Julie.  But it was Esmé who pinned the family tartan on me.  She'd made it into a corsage with more of the rosebuds and heather.  "Now you're truly my daughter," she whispered as she pinned it to my uniform.  "Maddie Beaufort-Stuart."

We broke a glass, because I am Jewish and that's the Jewish custom at weddings.  When the ceremony was over Jamie bent his head and kissed me very gently, brushing his lips against mine -- nothing like that swooning Hollywood kiss we'd shared in France.  It was the kiss of someone who knew all my secrets, and I squeezed his hand as we broke apart and smiled for the family and friends who had gathered for the wedding.

Rose was a little weepy and emotional and promised she'd write us a poem.  I didn't throw the bouquet, but laid it instead on Julie's memorial stone. 


 

"Why don't you ever dance?" Julie had asked me.

"I don't know how," I confessed.  "Never learned."

"Well, that's easy to fix," Julie said, and I saw a gleam in her eye as she leapt to her feet.  "Stand up."  She arranged me: one hand on her shoulder, the other raised up elegantly to clasp her hand.  She curved her own hand around my waist.  "Pretend I'm a man."

She taught me the steps: slow, slow, quick, quick, backward, sideways, turn in a circle.  I stared down at the floor, desperate not to step all over Julie's feet.  "I've never been any good at this sort of thing," I said.

"The secret to dancing," Julie said, "is to understand that really, it's just an excuse for the man to hold you in his arms and gaze into your eyes.  So try looking in my eyes!  Your feet will be right at the end of your legs where you left them."

"I really am going to step on your toes," I said.

"Pretend I'm Jamie. No toes!"

That made me laugh.  I looked up, and I didn't step on her toes but I left my feet in the wrong place and she stepped on mine.  Which didn't hurt me, but tripped her up and nearly made her fall.  "Drat," I said.

"Maddie," Julie said.  "Relax.  Just let me lead you.  Pretend I'm Jamie."

We tried again. I didn't want to pretend she was Jamie.  But gradually she did persuade me to relax.  She was pretending to be Jamie, I could tell from the look on her face, but I didn't pretend.  I thought about the feeling of her hand on my waist and her body near mine.  About how letting myself feel where she was leading me made me feel like something was unfolding inside me.  I could never quite look into her eyes, because I was afraid she'd see the longing in mine, and I knew how completely she would turn into the other person when she was pretending.  And she was pretending to be Jamie. 

In the end, she dipped me backward, and I did meet her eyes because she'd startled me.  We both laughed and nearly fell over, but she caught me in the end.

"See?  It's easy," she said. 

"Easy peasy," I agreed.


 

Jamie had proposed in the spring. We'd caught up with each other at Maidstone airfield and we had a few free hours, so we borrowed bicycles and went for a ride even though it was raining.  I'd thought it would clear up, but instead it got worse, and then still worse.  "Drat," I said, cold rain trickling down my neck and soaking my collar.  "Shall we turn back?

"We're surely almost to the pub," Jamie said, and so we were.  We huddled by the fire, trying to dry out and hoping the rain would let up before we had to ride back to the airfield. 

"Hard to believe it's spring," I said. 

Jamie was rubbing his hands together and blowing on them, warming his remaining fingers against his palms.  We drank hot tea and he bought me a whiskey, since the bike ride had been his idea (though I was the idiot who'd thought the rain would let up). 

"Maddie," he said, when I'd stopped shivering, "I think we should get married."

I kept my eyes on my cup of tea, not sure how to answer him, because there were so many reasons to say no, and none of them were things I could say while sitting in a pub.

"Why?" I asked, finally.

He rolled his empty whiskey glass back and forth between his hands.  "Because," he said.  "You should be part of my family.  You are, but if we get married it's official, it's as official as anyone can make it.  No one can ever question it."  He sighed and put the glass down.  "I want to be sure, if anything happens to me, that you'll be properly taken care of."

I didn't say anything for a minute.  I certainly didn't protest that nothing is going to happen, what could happen -- Jamie flew for the Moon Squadron, and I knew exactly how dangerous that could be.

"Also," Jamie added, "I love you, Maddie.  And I know you care for me."

"I do.  I couldn't love you more if you were my own brother," I said.  "But -- I don't think I'll ever love you back the right way."

Jamie took my hand and held it between his hands like he'd held the whiskey glass.  "Maddie," he said, and I looked into his face and he into my eyes.  "I know," he said. 

When I didn't answer, he added, "I was Julie's favorite brother.  I knew her secrets, and she knew mine."

We were SITTING IN A PUB so I couldn't blurt out, "Are you saying you are a homosexual," any more than I could blurt out, "Are you saying you are a German spy," but I looked back at him, and I knew that was what he was telling me.

"We'll be there for each other," he said.  "You for me, and I for you.  Just as Julie would have wanted it.  We'll understand each other.  And I do love you, Maddy."

"I love you, too," I said.

"So what do you say?"

"Yes," I said.  "Yes."


 

We spent our wedding night in Craig Castle.  Esmé promised to keep the Irregulars well out of our way and sent us off to a guest room that had been mostly under sheets since the war started.  She'd cleared away the cobwebs and swept, and she'd laid on a fire for us and made up the enormous four-poster bed with fresh crisp linens and feather pillows and an eiderdown.  That may all sound a bit absurd given that it was AUGUST.  It really was a BEASTLY summer.

I went into the bath to put on my pajamas, because I felt so awkward undressing in front of Jamie, and when I came out he'd got into his pajamas, too.  He'd taken off his boots, and I realized this was the first time I'd properly seen his feet.  Even in France he'd been able to keep his boots because he didn't have any toes.  I'd imagined his feet looking like they'd never had toes, but there were scars where they'd had to amputate them, pink and a little bit nobbly.

"I'm sorry," he said, with a gesture at the bed.  "I didn't think.  There's a couch, though, and I can sleep there."

"No, don't be silly.  I don't mind," I said.  And I really didn't.  I trusted Jamie, I trusted Jamie more than I'd ever trusted anyone, really, other than Julie.  He was my husband.  For better or worse, everyone would see us that way.  "We can share.  It'll be nice."

We lay down side by side under the eiderdown.  "Rose seemed very impressed today," Jamie said.  "By the romance of it all.  The flowers, the tartan.  If she asks later..."

"I'm going to tell her we both fell asleep from exhaustion," I said, promptly.  "It won't be so far off from the truth."

We laughed, and Jamie rolled onto his side to face me, slipping an affectionate arm over my waist.  "What do you think of Rose's lad -- Nick, is it?"

"Not much," I admitted.  "She's braver than he is and stronger-minded.  But she's not rushing into anything, thank goodness, even though I think HE'D like to."

Our fire was dying down and I pulled up the eiderdown; it really was a chilly night.

"When did you know?" I asked Jamie. 

"About Julie?  Or about you and Julie?"

"Either."

"I've known about Julie since I've known about myself.  When I realized -- I knew straight away that she was the same backward sort as I was.  About the two of you -- when I read what Julie wrote, and what you wrote, and I saw that you'd both so carefully left out that night you were together at Craig Castle.  That's when I knew for sure."


 

When I was writing about Julie and France I said that we'd never both been at Craig Castle at the same time. 

And that's not true.  We were.  And Jamie knew it, because he was actually THERE that day.  But Esmé wasn't, and Julie didn't want her mother to know that she'd missed her so Jamie agreed to keep it a secret.

I arrived on that same late-night train up from Deeside.  It was May, and when I crept into Julie's bedroom like a burglar it wasn't surprising that her window was open.  I thought I was being quiet as I put on my pajamas and brushed my hair, but then I heard Julie say, "I was hoping that if I left the window open you might fly in," and I knew she'd woken up.

I sat down on the edge of the bed, feeling a little guilty that I'd woken her but pleased all the same because we so rarely had the chance to talk.  "How are you, Julie?"  I was thinking about the last time I'd seen her, in April, when she'd just about had her neck broken by the German who didn't believe she was Eva Seiler. 

"I'm brilliant, Maddie dear."  She sat up in bed, and in the moonlight through the window I could just make her out, wearing her regulation men's pajamas even though she was at home on leave.  "But you should start trying to call me Kathë; Eva's going on a long holiday and I'll be Kathë, instead."

"So who is this Kathë?" I asked.

"I can tell you that Kathë isn't a Nazi spy in Great Britain."

That meant she was going to Europe -- to France or Germany (or Belgium, I supposed, or the Netherlands -- there was quite a bit of occupied Europe just then), probably AS A SPY.  I gulped a little and thought about the day we'd gone to the pub, and how she'd talked a map out of that farm wife, and I said, "You'll be brilliant."  And then shivered a little, because there was a damp breeze through the window even though it was May, and because the thought of Julie going off to spy in Occupied Europe was more than a little terrifying.

"Come to bed," Julie said.  "It's warmer under the covers."

She had an old-fashioned four-poster in her bedroom even though she'd never had a sister to share with.  I climbed into bed next to her and she slipped her arm over me  and pulled me close to warm me up. 

"So have you met the ghost yet?" she asked after a little while.

"No!  One of the Glaswegian evacuees said he'd seen it, though.  Or walked through it.  Is that the ghost you're afraid of?"

"Not really, not anymore," Julie said.  "It was, though.  Maddie, your hands are freezing cold, you'd think it was November, not May!  Shall I close the window?"

"I'm sorry!" I said, tucking them under my arms to try to warm them.  "You don't have to close the window."

"You're here!" she said.  "You're the only one I was really hoping would fly in.  I'll close them, and we can be a bit warmer."  She got up and did pull them shut, and pulled the blackout curtains over them.  "And now I can have a bit of light to see you by," she added, and turned on the lights.

I looked at her, at her golden hair, her skin like rose petals, her slim perfect hands, and drank her in for a moment.  "I'm not worth shutting the blackout curtains for," I said.  "Now you can't see the moon."

"I can see the moon any night I like, Maddie.  Tonight I want to see you."

She climbed back into bed and rolled onto her side to face me, leaving the light on.  "You can go to sleep, if you like," she said.  "I'm sure you must be tired."

I should have been tired.  I probably would have been tired if I hadn't been lying next to Julie.  Hesitantly, thinking that she hadn't minded being held that night when she'd been crying, I slipped one arm over her.  She didn't move away; she moved closer to me, and I could feel the heat of her body next to me in the bed.

"I wish," I whispered.

"Go on," she said, when I stopped.

"I wish you would pretend I was a man," I said.  "Just for tonight."

"I don't want to pretend," she said, and she kissed me.

Oh, that kiss went into me like whiskey, warmth spreading through me, and I raised my hand to her face and ran my fingers through her hair.  She caught my hand in her delicate one and kissed my palm and my fingertips, and then kissed me again on the mouth.  She smelled of roses and linen and her lips were soft and kissing her was like flying.  She slipped her hand under my pajama top to touch my skin --

We did turn out the lights in the end, and slept together skin-to-skin through the night.


 

A month after my wedding, Rose went missing.

And it was a few weeks after that, the beginning of October, when I saw a Doodlebug down below me while I was transporting a Tempest.  For a moment I couldn't quite believe it, because I'd heard our forces had overrun all the places they could launch them from to get to Britain, but I'd seen the plane, waggled my wings in a 'hello' and realized a moment later, even before it didn't waggle back, that it wasn't a proper airplane but a flying bomb.

DRAT AND DOUBLE-DRAT.

Doodlebug-tipping. I'd heard the lads talk about it. Celia had died, maybe, trying it -- but I was a better pilot than Celia.

My hands started shaking.  FLY THE PLANE, MADDIE.

I remembered Rose asking what I'd do, whether I'd try to tip one if I saw it, and the breathless look on her face. Maybe that's how she died, trying to tip one and crashing her plane, winding up buried in some French field like Julie.  If I'd been more in my right mind -- if I hadn't just lost ANOTHER friend, not a friend like Julie but a friend, just the same -- I don't know if I'd have tried it.  But I HAD just lost a friend -- into thin air, it seemed like. Or the Nazi maw that chewed people up like a propeller leaving nothing behind but a shred of feathers. And I knew that V1 was on its way to kill EVEN MORE PEOPLE ...and then I knew, I KNEW, that it wasn't going to kill anyone, because I was going to stop it.

I knew the proper way to do it, at least in theory. You don't actually want to touch them, just get your wing under their wing and since there's not actually a pilot in there they'll crash if you upset them even a little.

The Tempest is a fast plane, but not as fast as a Doodlebug and I didn't have a lot of fuel.  I did have the advantage of altitude, though; it was down under me, and I put the Tempest into a dive to build up speed, like I'd done with the Lysander to put out the flames when were hit.  I was going so quickly that I nearly overshot, but eased up just in time.  There I was, screaming along next to it, and I got my wing under its wing and it rocked in the air and then tipped sideways and went into a spin, easy-peasy.

It didn't even take that much fuel, but I was soaked in sweat.  It wasn't until the bomb was on the ground and I was still in the air that I realized I had expected to go down with it.

And a minute later, I realized that I felt a little disappointed that I hadn't.  Because I would have been with Julie.

There was no one to see me as I sobbed over the controls of that Tempest, crying for Julie and for Rose, and for myself stuck here without either of them.  But Jamie was still alive and he loved me, and I loved him, and Esmé was still alive and loved me like a daughter, and I hadn't blown myself up tipping that V-1 and so there was nothing to do but to go on living.

That was when I smelled damask roses and heather and the scent of linen.  Julie

And for one moment, over the road of the plane around me, I heard, I swear I heard Julie's voice in my ear.  "Fly the plane, Maddie," she said, and I felt her lips brush my the back of my neck. Fly.