August 20th, 1939
"Happy nineteenth birthday to you, Syb!"
Nineteen. Where had the time gone?
"Make a wish!"
Sybil Branson closed her eyes and blew out the single candle, wishing that her future visit to Downton would be the happiest visit yet. She opened her eyes from her wish making and stared at the recently extinguished candle slowly sliding off the frosting of the little slice of cake in front of her. She looked up at her friend, who had a wide grin on her face.
"Thank you, Mae," Sybil said with a smile. She had known Mae Benson since elementary school, and she had been her first American friend. Mae introduced the young Sybil to the American culture and Sybil adapted quickly because of her. Mae also had been taking Sybil to a little café to have a slice of cake on her birthday every year and Sybil always looked forward to it.
"Of course, Syb! Now eat your cake, I have to be home soon," Mae smirked.
"I do too," Sybil said as she removed the warm candle from her cake. "This looks delicious. Would you like a piece, Mae?"
"No, thank you. It's all for you." Mae crossed her arms and leaned back in her seat as she watched her friend eat. "So, are you excited to leave for Downton? You'll be gone for two whole months!"
"I'm excited about that," Sybil said after finishing a bite of cake. "The last time I was at Downton, I was sixteen. I can't wait to see my cousins and spend time with them again. We're all grown up now, it seems."
When Sybil was told by her father that her grandfather had sent them money to visit Downton Abbey for her birthday, Sybil cried tears of joy. Although she loved living in America, she always looked forward to going to England. She loved Downton and seeing her family again, however, there were two members of her family that she absolutely adored: her cousins, Marigold and George. The last time she had been at Downton, George was away at school, but Marigold and Sybil spent the entire month talking about anything and everything. Marigold had always been a very bright girl, and Sybil always found her easy to talk to, even though Marigold was three years younger than her. She and Marigold also frequently sent one another letters, telling the other about life in America and life in England.
"Well, let's go," Mae said once Sybil finished her cake. The two left the café and were instantly hit by the summer sun and light breeze. Sybil got onto her bicycle as Mae was already slowly riding away on hers. The two pedaled quickly down the dirt path and through the countryside of Massachusetts.
"So, have you finished packing yet?" Mae asked as her house came into view.
Sybil shook her head. "Not yet. I hope Papa is not upset with me. I was supposed to finish last night. We leave tomorrow."
"That's exciting," Mae smiled as she got off her bicycle and left it standing on the front porch of her home. Sybil got off her bike and accompanied her friend to the front door. Mae hugged her friend tightly. "I'll miss you!"
"I'll miss you too." Sybil embraced her friend and then pulled away, turning toward her bike. "Don't have too much fun with Arthur," she smirked. Arthur had been a friend of Sybil and Mae, but just recently, he and Mae became boyfriend and girlfriend.
Mae laughed at her words. "Oh, don't worry about us. Write me, if you can!"
"I'll try!" Sybil mounted her bike but Mae ran over to her before she would pedal away. "I forgot to say, be careful when you're traveling, alright? I've been seeing all these things in the newspaper about what's been happening in Europe and I don't want anything to happen to you and your father. The last thing that needs to happen is your and your father getting caught up in that madness."
Sybil sighed and patted Mae's arm. "Oh, thank you, Mae. My father and I will be alright, though. Downton is perfectly safe and shall continue to be safe," Sybil assured her friend. What she had been hearing about Europe had been making her uneasy, as well. England was on the verge of war with Germany, but she trusted that nothing would happen and that all would be safe and well when she and her father arrived. Her father did not seem concerned, so she did not want to over worry herself.
"I'm sure," Mae said with a nod. "Well, see you in a couple of months then!"
"Bye!" Sybil waved as she began to ride away.
"I hope a nice English boy sweeps you off your feet!" Mae laughed as she waved back at her friend.
"Goodbye, Mae!" Sybil laughed, shook her head, and rode quickly away. Sybil had yet to meet a boy that she felt a strong affection for, but she wasn't concerned about that at the moment, she was just eager to see her family.
Sybil rode her bike through the beautiful countryside, past the tall trees and small creeks. The tall grass was dancing in the wind as she rode by as if it too was wishing her well. She adored life here in the countryside. Beauty was everywhere she looked and she and her father were happy together in their humble home. Sybil's home was not as grand as Mae's. Mae's home had a grand porch and the inside was filled with expensive furniture and artwork. Their home also had a second story, as well as an attic with a beautiful view of the countryside. Sybil and her father, Tom, lived in a quaint little cottage, with two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and dining room. She had lived in the cottage since she was a young girl and, though it was nothing compared to Downton, she felt safe in her little home. Her father had worked very hard for that house, as well. When they came to America, they moved into a small apartment and her father was lucky enough to quickly find a job at an auto shop. Once he saved enough money, he moved them out of the apartment, started his own successful auto shop, and bought their current home. There were many struggles throughout their new life in America, but together, they got through it all.
"I'm home, Papa!" Sybil announced as she entered her home after placing her bike in their garage.
"Sybbie?" She heard her father asked from the dining room. "Did you have a nice time?"
"Yes," Sybil said as she entered the room. "She bought me a slice of cake." Sybil walked over to her father, who was seated in a dining room chair reading the newspaper. She kissed his head and glanced at the newspaper. "What are you reading about, Papa?"
"Nothing," her father said and quickly folded the newspaper up. He gently tossed the paper onto the table and looked up at his daughter with a smile. "I have a gift for you, Sybbie."
"A gift? Papa, you already made me a delicious breakfast this morning! That was a wonderful gift," Sybil smiled.
"But this is a special present that I have been hiding from you." Her father grinned and led her to their small sofa and picked up a long rectangle box from the cushions.
"Hiding a gift from me? You sneak, Papa! I trusted you," Sybil laughed and plopped down on the sofa, eyeing the box her father had in his hands. He smiled softly and handed the box out to her.
"Open it, darling."
With a smile, Sybil gingerly took the box and set it on her lap. She gasped when she noticed the logo on the box. "This is from that elegant dress shop in the city!"
"Just open it and see what it is," her father chuckled. Sybil lifted the lid of the box and slowly removed the tissue paper from the inside. She gasped again and slowly began to pull out admiral blue silk from the box. She set the box aside and stood, holding the fabric up to herself. She realized that it was a gown, well not just any gown for Sybil; it was the exact same gown she had seen in the window of a dress shop a month ago. The dress had beautiful flowing fabric at the skirts, the sleeves were slightly off the shoulder, and a there was a beautiful diamond placed just below the neckline.
"Papa, this is that dress; the most beautiful dress I have ever seen!" Sybil cried. "You didn't have to buy it for me, Papa. This must have cost a fortune!"
"I wanted you to have something special to wear when we went to Downton. I know you wanted the dress and I wanted to spoil my girl," her father said with a proud smile. Sybil placed the dress back in the box and hugged her father tightly. She was always so grateful for his hard work; she knew he sometimes felt guilty that she couldn't be raised with wealth at Downton Abbey and have the same beautiful gowns that the other women in her family had, but she didn't mind.
"Thank you," she sighed.
"You're welcome, Sybbie. I can't believe that my little girl is nineteen years old already. You have grown into such a beautiful young woman, just like your mother. I know she is very proud of you and loves you very much." Her father kissed the top of her head and Sybil looked up at him, noticing that he was a bit teary-eyed. Sybil responded with another hug.
"I love you, Papa."
"I love you too, Sybbie. Now, you have to go pack that dress up. We leave early tomorrow."
"I know, Papa," Sybil said happily as she went to her room with the dress box. Her suitcase was on her bed, open and ready to be filled with the small number of clothes she had hanging in her wardrobe. She placed the dress inside of her luggage and sat on her bed, kicking off her shoes as she did so. She noticed an envelope with her name on it was placed on her bedside table. She instantly recognized the handwriting. "Papa, when did this letter arrive?" She asked loudly so that he could hear her from the other room.
"Earlier while you were out!"
"Thank you!" Sybil smiled and opened the letter, lying back on her bed as she began to read to herself.
I do hope this letter reaches you on time! I simply cannot wait for you and Uncle Tom to arrive at Downton. We are going to have such a wonderful time together. Donk has been anxious all week about your arrival. He's so funny! Grandmother has been keeping him calm. She says you have a special place in Donk's heart because you're the first grandchild.
Anyway, I have some fun outings planned for us. Mother and Aunt Mary said we may go on a shopping trip to London, if we are able to and if it is safe. If we cannot go, we will walk around Downton and see what there is to do. George has also challenged you and me to a game of cricket but I am a terrible player, and I don't think Donk, nor anyone else in the family, would want us playing. We shall see what happens!
I have begun to write again, as well! Mother is very proud of me and soon, she says, I may end up being a wonderful columnist. How fun would that be? I am curious as to what you have been doing in your spare time. Have you read any good books as of late? I can't wait to hear all about them.
I do hope and pray you and Uncle Tom make it to Downton safely. All of us here are anxious for your travels, but we have hope you shall have a wonderful trip here and make it to Downton on time.
I hope you have the happiest of birthdays, cousin. I look forward to seeing you again.
When Sybil was finished reading, she sat up and placed the letter in the drawer of her bedside table. She could not wait to see her family again and be at Downton Abbey. With a rejuvenated excitement, Sybil took her clothes from her wardrobe and continued packing for Downton.