Darcy Elizabeth Lewis is seven years old, small for her age, and curious. The kind of curious that leads her to climb trees, jump into ponds before she knows how to swim, and swing from a rope out of the hayloft. Today, she’s climbing over the fence rail to get a closer look at the new horse. He is beautiful; a tall chestnut stallion her grandfather bought at auction a month before.
She vaguely recalls her mother whispering “dangerous” and “high strung” when describing the animal, but all Darcy sees is his beauty. She admires the white star on his forehead, his graceful form prancing in the warm Iowa sun.
She managed to slip away from her grandpa’s side while he cleaned out the stalls in the barn. She can see Mama up the hill, arms raised high as she hangs the laundry on the line. Darcy creeps up to the horse, her blue eyes wide, straw poking out of her dark curls and dirt smudged on her face and hands. She sidles up to his muscled flank, arms outstretched to trail her hands along his side when he suddenly rears, whinnying with his sharp hooves flashing out, his shadow cast long upon the ground.
The next thing she hears is her grandfather shouting and her mother screaming. It's suddenly so hard to breathe and there is mud—why is she lying in the mud? Her head snaps to the side and she tastes copper in her mouth, and there is a ringing in her ears like she’s standing inside a giant bell, then there is nothing.
She wakes to darkness, a wrenching pain in her chest and her head feeling as if it has it’s own heartbeat, a pulsating, unceasing agony she struggles to escape but cannot. She can hear her mother crying.
A soft male voice says, “I’m sorry Dorothy, her head injury is severe and she has internal injuries from the horse trampling her. Short of a miracle, there’s nothing more to be done.”
Who are they talking about?
She hears her mother’s voice hitch as she says, “Thank you, Tom.”
The door creaks, opening and closing, there are footsteps down the hallway, then silence. Darcy cracks open one blue eye, her vision blurry. She’s in her bed, the yellow glow of a kerosene lantern on the bedside table. She moves her arms and legs experimentally, and there is a sudden incandescent pain, chasing her into unconsciousness again.
The next time she wakes, she hears the soft sighing of someone breathing and she’s able to open her eyes and stretch her arms and legs, finding they are sore but not terribly so. She turns towards the sound of breathing and sees her mother sleeping soundly, her face haggard and her blond hair disheveled. Faint morning light shines through the curtains, and Darcy raises her hands to feel her heavily bandaged head. She claws at the bandages until they unravel, then yelps, startled, at the sight of heavy bloodstains.
Her mother bolts upright, eyes wide and reaching towards the bed.
“Darcy! My God—Stop moving, you’ll hurt yourself!” she cries sitting on the bedside and leaning over her.
Darcy looks up at her mother, her fair hair a halo around her head, her brow crumpled in confusion as she looks at the bloody bandages next to Darcy and then more closely at her head. She smooths Darcy’s dark hair away from her forehead, running her hands through the tangled curls. There is a swiftly fading red crescent of skin on the side of Darcy’s head, and her hair is still clotted with blood, but there is no open wound to be found.
Mama pushes back the blankets to find the pale skin on her arms and legs no longer mottled with ugly bruises. She pulls up Darcy’s nightgown to reveal her abdomen and chest, again pale and absent the horrific bruises.
Just two days before, the side of Darcy’s head was dented and bloody, half of her face bruised and swollen beyond recognition. Her right arm and left leg were broken and her entire torso mottled and swollen with ugly black and purple bruising.
“Mama?” Darcy whispers.
“You stay right here, I’m getting Grandpa.” She rises and walks quickly out the door.
A quarter hour later finds her sitting on the edge of her bed as Grandpa and Mama marvel at the lack of any outward sign of injury.
“Is it a miracle?” Mama says.
Grandpa snorts, “It’s something. I think we should keep Darcy in the house and tell people she’s taken a turn for the better,” he runs one calloused finger gently down her face, tipping her chin up, “I don’t think people around here will react well to her Lazarus impression.”
“Who’s Lazarus?” Darcy asks.
“Fella in the Bible who rose from the dead,” Grandpa explains.
Darcy’s gasps, “Was I dead?”
“Near enough,” he grunts.
“Pa! Stop scaring her!” Mama scolds. She crosses her arms over her chest and huffs, “I choose to believe it’s a miracle.”
“Choose what you want, but next time I go into town l’ll mention Darcy has turned a corner and is improving, although very slowly. No calling Doctor Brooks out to look at her for a while. Good thing we live far enough from town we’re unlikely to receive visitors.”
Grandpa and Mama look at Darcy, their expressions guarded. They are grateful Darcy is alive, but her mysterious recovery is something outside of their experience.
It will have to be kept secret.
Darcy clambers onto the horse behind Mama. The horse is still lively, but in time Grandpa tamed him. He made Darcy help, saying no grandchild of his would grow up afraid of riding. Consequently, she’s an excellent rider and knows the ins and outs of animal husbandry.
Each weekday, she rides the five miles into town with Mama and is dropped off at the school before Mama goes to work at Dr. Brooks’ office.
Mama took a job assisting the doctor a few years back. It helps make ends meet, and Dr. Brooks desperately needs the help. His wife had to stop assisting him upon the birth of their second child.
The population in town is growing by leaps and bounds, (they even have Main Street paved now!) several men in town have automobiles, for all the good it does them. Horses don’t get stuck on the muddy backroads and don’t break down as often. After school, Darcy walks to the doctor’s office and waits for the last appointments of the day to finish up.
It’s a beautiful fall day, the sun is shining and the trees along the road are a blazing kaleidoscope of color. Darcy takes a deep breath of the crisp fall air and wishes something would happen to prevent her from attending school. She can’t even pretend to be sick, because she’s never ill.
As the years have passed, her quick healing has become just one of Darcy’s hidden abilities. Time has brought greater strength and agility. She has excellent reflexes and physical coordination, swiftly learning things like dancing or horseback riding, and rarely needing to be shown more than once.
On the other hand, making friends is difficult for her. An avid reader, with almost perfect recall, she soaks up information like a sponge. She has no siblings and spends most of her time with her mother and grandfather. In truth, she relates to adults better than other children. They think she’s strange, with her odd interests and her nose always stuck in a book.
Her best memories involve Grandpa carrying her on his back around the farm, her hands in his thick white hair as he showed her new things and patiently answered her many questions. Her grandfather is a practical man, proud of her intelligence, and interested in her as a person. She would watch his weathered hands as he milked the cow, or checked the horses hooves for stones, or worked on the indoor plumbing he was installing in the kitchen, and she would ask questions. He would explain what he was doing and why, his brown eyes, so like Mama’s, intent on her face.
Other children have a father. Hers died before she ever knew him, somewhere in the trenches near Germany during The Great War. Mama only has one picture of him. Sometimes Darcy looks at the picture and tries to see something of herself in his features. She has the same dark curly hair, blue eyes, and full lips as her father, but the rest of her is all Mama. Dorothy Lewis is petite and curvy with silky blond hair, porcelain skin, and snapping brown eyes. Like her father, she doesn’t put up with any nonsense.
She hasn’t been interested in remarrying, much to the consternation of the local men. The married ladies in town gossip about her, but Mama says she already has enough on her plate without worrying about a man. She spends a lot of time with her best girlfriend Martha, who happens to be Dr. Brooks’ wife. She likes to dance and dates occasionally, but things never get too serious. She teaches Darcy to cook, knit, sew, and dance. She teaches her to be herself, to try her best, and to work hard.
They arrive at the school and Darcy reluctantly slides off the horse, turning to grab her lunch bucket from Mama’s outstretched hand. She peers towards the schoolyard where a couple of boys loiter by the door. Her mouth pinches in annoyance and Mama reaches down to tug one of her braids.
“Those boys been bothering you again?”
Darcy sighs, “Just Mikey. The other kids mostly ignore me or ask me for help with their schoolwork. I wish he would just leave me alone.” Her full pink lips turn down in an exaggerated pout. “He makes fun of me because Miss Davies has been giving me extra lessons. She says I can move ahead to 8th grade math pretty soon.”
Mikey is in 8th grade and he couldn’t even do 6th grade math.
Dorothy nods, stroking her hair, “Some people feel threatened when someone else is better at things than they are. Especially if you're a girl. Do the best you can and don’t worry about anyone else, sweetheart.”
Darcy bows her head, scraping the toe of her shoe in the dirt. She’s tired of feeling different from the other girls, from the other children, really.
She waves to Mama and trudges into the school, ignoring the snickering boys by the door.
In the early spring of that year, Darcy turns twelve and Will Garland moves to town with his widower father, who takes over the funeral home from old Mr. Katz. He’s small for his age, redheaded, with bottle green eyes and a sassy attitude.
At eleven years old, he has a chip on his shoulder the size of Iowa. At first, all of the girls in school whisper about how adorable he is, but soon it becomes apparent he isn’t interested in holding hands with the girls or playing ball with the boys. He spends most of his time at recess sitting under the shade of the large apple tree in the schoolyard reading a book. For whatever reason, he doesn’t fit in.
Darcy can sympathize.
He frowns when she wanders into to the shade under the tree with her own book.
“Hi, my name is Darcy Lewis,” she holds out her hand to shake his, which he reluctantly shakes, muttering “Will Garland,” and looking down again at his book. She settles against the trunk of the tree opposite from him.
She decides to treat him like a shy horse and quietly begins reading without bothering him any more.
Each day she moves a little closer to him. Sometimes she shares treats from her lunch, her Mama makes really good cookies. A week later when Darcy sits under the apple tree, Will doesn’t frown. He looks up and sends her a small smile before continuing to read his book.
She’s excited about her new book, Dr. Brooks let her borrow an anatomy text that shows all of the organs and describes their purpose. She thinks she’d like to be a scientist or a doctor someday.
Will leans over and glances at Darcy’s book, “What the heck are you reading?” he asks.
“Anatomy book Dr. Brooks loaned me,” she flushes slightly and bows her head to the book, anticipating a negative comment.
Will nods sagely, “Hmmm.”
Darcy’s shoulders relax and she sends him a small smile. “What about you?” She tips her head towards his book.
“It’s about airplanes and aeronautics. I’m going to fly planes some day.” Will casually shrugs.
Darcy nods, “Swell.”
They grin shyly at each other and turn back to their books.
Hope blooms in Darcy’s heart.
Two months later, Darcy and Will have settled into a routine. They sit under the apple tree at recess, sharing Darcy’s lunch (Mr. Garland is busy in the mornings and Will almost always overslept, rushing out of the house without lunch. Darcy starts packing extra.). They read their books, sometimes trading and discussing them. Will is amazed by how quickly Darcy picks up information and soon she knows all the models and specs of airplanes like he does. After school, Will walks with Darcy to Dr. Brooks office.
Turns out the doctor had been stationed at a hospital on an Air Force base during the Great War, so he was friends with some of the pilots. He brought photos of planes with his friends posed in front of them for Will to look at.
Sometimes, Darcy would walk over to the funeral home with Will, after they’d finished their schoolwork. Will and Mr. Garland lived in a spacious apartment on the top floor of the funeral home. Mr. Garland knew of Darcy’s interest in anatomy and with her mother’s permission, had shown her a few of the texts he had collected for his profession.
Darcy was curious about the bodies in the embalming room downstairs, but Mr. Garland said they’d have to wait a few years for that.
That summer they are thick as thieves. Darcy continues to go to work with Mama so she can walk over to the funeral home and hang out with Will. They run around town together, spend hours at the library, the corner drugstore, or they sneak into the viewing rooms at the funeral home to get a closer look at the dead people.
Sometimes, she recognizes people from around town in the caskets, but they look weirdly different. They certainly don’t look like they are sleeping, like some people claim. More like some essential part of them is missing. Is it their soul’s departure that makes the difference?
Darcy and Will ponder the possibility of an afterlife.
Occasionally, Will rides home with her and Mama and stays the night, especially if it looks like his father is going to be particularly busy. They ride horses and splash around the swimming hole when it’s hot. Will, like Darcy, is very fair skinned. He burns easily in the sun, so they stay in the shade as much as possible. Darcy never burns.
Grandpa likes to take the two of them out to the back field to practice shooting. Hunting is something pretty much everyone does; so it’s good to be able to use a rifle.
Grandpa also wanted Darcy to learn to use a pistol for self-defense. They live far enough out of town that he feels they could be vulnerable if one of the occasional drifters that passed through town had ill intent. It’s fun shooting at the tin cans Grandpa lines up along the fence, and Darcy is a crack shot much to Will’s aggravation.
Will turns twelve on July 20th. It is a particularly hot day, and since he got 4 quarters for his birthday, they decide to go to a matinee at the town's new movie house. They laugh through a Felix the Cat cartoon then settle down to watch “Cocoanuts” with the Marx Brothers. It isn’t a new release, they tend to get movies a couple years after they come out. It’s okay though, it’s a funny movie with catchy musical numbers. They’d already seen it once, so Darcy entertains herself by mouthing all the lines in her favorite scenes, sharing a box of Cracker Jacks with Will.
Throughout the movie, Mikey and a couple of boys sitting behind them repeatedly kick their seats, heckle the movie, and tease Will about being on a “date”. Darcy places her hand on his arm, feeling his muscles grow tight with tension. By the time the movie is over, Will is furious.
The older boys follow them at a distance as they walk through town. Darcy and Will walk as quickly as they can towards the funeral home, but Mikey and his two friends persist in following them. When they get to the vacant lot a few buildings away from the funeral home, Mikey and his friends crowd up behind them, chucking pebbles at their backs and taunting them. Darcy and Will turn to face them.
“What are you two freaks doing? Having a little date together?” Mikey leers suggestively at Darcy. She shrinks a little under his gaze. Mikey always makes her feel uncomfortable.
Will sneers, “Why don't drag your knuckles home, you moronic Neanderthal?”
Mikey is not sure what a Neanderthal is, but his face flushes with rage and he lunges forward grabbing Will by his shirt front. Will cocks his arm back and slugs Mikey in the nose as hard as he can.
Suddenly, one of Mikey’s friends grabs ahold of Will from behind, and pins his arms. He howls in outrage as Mikey and the other boys lunge forward and start pummeling him.
Darcy is shoved to the ground by the grappling boys, but soon regains her feet, shrieking in anger and jumping on the back of the kid holding onto Will. She grabs a hold of his hair and tugs hard, feeling some of his hair pull loose in her hands. He drops Will, hands clutching his head.
Will ducks and comes up swinging, even though he already has a bloody nose and his eye is swelling. He lands a knee to Mikey’s stomach and when he collapses, heaving, the other two seem to lose momentum, perhaps thinking this fight isn’t worth the trouble.
They grab Mikey and drag him away, but not before the boy Darcy pulled off Will punches Darcy hard in the face.
Wilł and Darcy sit down side by side, panting and sniffling a little. Darcy’s breath hitches in a sob, holding her nose and licking her top lip which is split and bleeding. Will looks over at her, nose bleeding and eye swollen shut.
“Some birthday, huh?” he sighs, “Boy, we look terrible.”
He tilts Darcy’s head back and looks at her split lip, “Looks like you didn't lose any teeth though, so that’s good.”
He digs a crumpled handkerchief from his pocket and gives it to Darcy, she wipes the blood from her face. She hands it back to him and he folds it over and holds it to his bleeding nose. Darcy has stopped bleeding.
When he glances back at her his eyes widen in shock as her split lip finishes healing right in front of him. Darcy panics. She knows what he sees.
Will he think she’s a freak? Will he tell everyone?
Will looks her in the eye and says, “Well, that’s not fair at all.” Then, “we are talking about this later.”
They hobble over to Dr. Brooks’ office to get Will patched up.
Will sleeps over that night. He sneaks into her room from the guest room and they huddle under her blanket together. She tells him everything she knows about her abilities, which isn’t a whole lot really.
He’s silent for a long time. Finally, “We should test this out.”
Darcy wants to be a scientist, but she doesn’t really want to be a lab rat. Testing her healing means getting hurt. She vetoes purposely injuring herself.
Instead, the rest of the summer they test her strength and agility. She lifts heavy objects, climbs trees, jumps from branch to branch, swings from the rope out over the pond.
Sometimes she falls and skins her knee or elbow and Will times her healing with the pocket watch he starts carrying. One painful couple of hours she waits for the bone in her arm to knit together after falling fifteen feet from a tree. By the end of summer, they are both stronger and Darcy has a better understanding of how her body works.
They also decide to learn how to fight better. While Darcy is stronger than average and heals quickly, she has very little idea of how to defend herself. Will is a little better, being the frequent target of bullies himself. It would be difficult to explain Darcy’s desire to learn how to fight, so Will decides he’ll ask his father for some pointers then pass the information to Darcy. They practice together.
It doesn’t do a lot of good, but they both get better at ducking a punch.
When she is seventeen, Darcy’s grandfather collapses while working in the barn and never regains consciousness again.
Tears run down her face as she leans on Will by Grandpa's grave, watching the dirt being shoveled into the hole. Mama clutches her hand and sobs.
Mr. Garland stands tall by Mama’s other side, his coppery head bent, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. They have been dating for two years.
It turned out having their children constantly shuttle between their houses had given them an plenty of opportunity to get to know each other. They slid into their relationship without a lot of fanfare, their decision to marry a foregone conclusion. With Grandpa’s passing, it looks like they are going to be living at the farm in a few months instead of moving into town.
Darcy is happy Will is going to be her brother, since they’ve practically been siblings since they were twelve. She is even going to change her last name to Garland when Mama marries his Pop, so they'll match.
Even when puberty betrayed Darcy at thirteen, and she abruptly gained a woman’s body over the course of one summer, Will had treated her the same as always. That same summer, she’d spent a lot of time mooning over Jimmy, a handsome young man home from college and working the counter at the corner drugstore. Will commiserated enthusiastically. That’s when she realized Will liked boys the same way she did.
As the years had gone by, Will had gotten taller and his shoulders widened. He continued to be the kind of handsome that’s almost pretty, with striking green eyes and a blinding white smile. He tried very hard to like girls, playing the heartbreaker, taking one out on a few dates before moving on to the next. It was all an act, his heart was never in it. He told Darcy if he could fall in love with a girl, it would have been her. But they both know it will never be that way between them, there is no spark. They still love each other, though.
Darcy’s pronounced hourglass shape got a lot of unwelcome attention from men old enough to know better, (it actually made her really uncomfortable and after a while she wore more layers than necessary to camouflage her body) and the ones her age had already pigeonholed her as strange, thanks to gossiping girls and bullies like Mikey.
Will and Darcy have decided to go to New York City as soon as they save up some money. Dr. Brooks has connections to a hospital in Brooklyn and says he can write her references for the nursing program. Hopefully, they can get an apartment together, go to school, and maybe Will will finally be able to date someone for real. They both need a fresh start somewhere no one knows them.
August 13, 1939
Darcy is packing the last of her new wardrobe into her suitcase, ready to catch a train to Chicago in the morning and from there to New York City.
Mama had insisted she needed new clothes for her new life, and for the first time since she was thirteen, she had clothes that actually fit her figure. Dresses, skirts, shirtwaists, new underthings, two pairs of stockings, and even a red lipstick that Mama said made her look professional and put together.
She looks so different and grown up in her new clothes she scarcely recognizes herself. She’d modeled one of her new outfits the night before and Will had teasingly wolf whistled at her.
She crosses the hall to Will’s room, knocking on the door frame before entering. He’s on his bed looking over a map of Brooklyn. He’ll be attending the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn to study engineering, focusing on aeronautics.
Three years ago, he’d found a way to get into a plane. He'd convinced a former military pilot who ran a local crop dusting business to teach him to fly in return for free labor. Eventually, Will was good enough to fly on his own as a paid employee, and spent Spring and Summer dusting the crops in three counties.
During that time, she’d assisted both Mr. Garland (he insisted she call him Pop) in the funeral home, and Dr. Brooks in the clinic. She saved every penny she earned.
As time went on, her body grew stronger and her senses more acute. She could smell infection and hear a heart problem or lung inflammation long before it became obvious to others. She didn’t need much more than 5 hours of sleep every night. Her nearly photographic memory had helped her graduate top of her class and her letters of recommendation had easily earned her a place in the nursing program at Brooklyn Hospital.
However, her hopes of being a doctor had been dashed. There were few medical schools that enrolled women for physician training, she would need a bachelor's degree before even applying, and the cost of the extensive education was more than she could afford.
Darcy lay down next to Will. “Are you nervous?” She says softly.
Will turns to look at her, “No. I can’t wait to get out of this town. Once we get to New York, Dr. Brooks’ friend from the hospital will meet us and take us to our apartment. Then, we’ll start our new life!” He beams with enthusiasm.
She grins. She can’t wait.
August 16, 1939
The stairs creak underfoot as they follow the portly form of Dr. Robert “call me Bobby” Lowenstein to their new apartment. The stairwell is somewhat dim, the wood floors scuffed, and the walls are papered in a faded floral pattern.
The building is a bit shabby, three stories tall, and it’s not in the best part of town. But the rent is affordable, especially with the savings both she and Will have accumulated over the past three years. If they budget carefully, they should be able to live on their savings if they supplement with odd jobs here and there.
The hospital is only three subway stops away and Will’s school is even closer. Darcy is dragging her smaller suitcase while Bobby takes the larger one. In reality, she could have carried both of them without a problem, but she has to keep up appearances.
Will huffs out a breath on the third floor landing, and drops the end of his trunk. “Woo! I’m going to get some great legs going up and down these stairs,” he grins.
“Like you need to be any more gorgeous,” Darcy mutters, pushing stray curls away from her sweaty forehead. Will flips his coppery hair back with a smirk.
Bobby unlocks the first door at the top of the stairs and ushers them inside with a flourish.
Darcy’s first impression is of light. There are two tall windows to the right that face the street, allowing the late afternoon sunshine to pour over the shabby blue sofa in front of them. To the left is a doorway that leads to a short hallway, where she guesses the bedrooms and bath are. Straight ahead at the end of the long open room is the kitchen area, where there is another tall window over the kitchen sink and a butcher block counter that runs the entire wall, with whitewashed cabinets under it and alongside the window. The stove and icebox are on the left, perpendicular to the counter. On the right there is a small dining table with four sturdy but mismatched chairs.
She crosses the room to the window over kitchen sink and flicks the curtains aside to check out the view. It faces the alley, but the building next door is only two stories high so the sunlight is not obstructed and she can see the rooftop of the adjacent building. Their apartment is at the front of the building, so if she looks down and to the right she can see pedestrians and cars passing by at street level. There’s a lot more cars and a lot more people than she’s used to seeing outside of her window.
Bobby motions them to take a look down the hallway and shows them the bathroom on the right, which is small, painted an unimaginative white, but it has a deep claw foot tub, white and gray octagon shaped tile covering the floor, and white subway tile halfway up the wall. The fixtures are old, but it’s clean and well lit.
The bedroom next to the bathroom has two tall windows that lead to the fire escape and Darcy immediately claims it as hers for the windows alone. The bedroom on the opposite side has no windows as it faces the interior of the building, but it is quite a bit bigger than the other bedroom and has an actual fireplace in it. Bobby tells them the fireplace works, that when the building was constructed the entire top floor had been one residence and when later it was divided into smaller apartments, the fireplaces wound up in weird places. Will doesn’t mind the lack of windows, he’s the kind of person who needs absolute darkness to sleep. Plus, he likes the idea of a fireplace in his bedroom.
Each bedroom is furnished with a dresser, bedside table, and a full size bed.
A full size bed?
Bobby explains the last tenants had been a married couple and their two children. Cheaper to furnish with one full size rather than two twin size beds for the kids. She’s not complaining.
After a brief tour, Bobby grins at them, his brown eyes twinkling,“Okay kids, I’ll leave you to get settled in. If you take a right out the front door, there’s a second hand shop two blocks over if you want to get some household items, and a market across the street from there. Rent is due first of the month, you can leave it with Mrs. Levinson in apartment 1A. I’ll give you my phone number in case you need to reach me, and there’s a phone on each floor for residents to use,” he pauses, pointing at Darcy, “look me up at the hospital, I can introduce you to some people.”
She smiles, “Thanks, Bobby! I’ll see you on Monday.”
Will walks with him out of the apartment, chatting about local points of interest.
Darcy looks in each of the kitchen cabinets and in the icebox before flopping on the sofa, listening as their deep voices fade down the stairs. She glances around the room and pulls a pencil and paper from her bag, already making a list of what they need.
Will returns, huffing in the doorway. “Well, I suppose we should go get some groceries and a few things to start us off here.”
She raises an eyebrow at Will, “Trying to get a head start on making your legs more gorgeous?”
“Damn right!” he says, laughing as he pulls her off the sofa and steers her out the door.