"Welcome to the USO," the director tells Audrey. And with a handshake, she's in.
Six month she's been in New York, slinging hash in a diner and going to every audition she hears about. Now she's finally got a job dancing. She's ecstatic.
She's not so sure about working with this Captain America guy, though. Sure, he's gorgeous, but in her experience men that good looking tend to be real jackasses. Ben had been, anyway. He'd been her high school sweetheart. Captain of the football team, with clear green eyes and a freckled nose and a body like one of the Greek statues Miss Jones used to show them in pictures of in art class. She couldn't believe it when he'd asked her to a dance, and had been flattered when he'd declared she was his girlfriend in front of the whole football team. But then there'd been prom and he'd pushed for more than she was willing to give. ("C'mon, Aud. We're just going to get married in six months anyway, and I don't want to wait. I can't wait.")
It was news to her, that they were going to get married. She had plans. She'd been taking dance classes forever, and she was going to New York and get a job on Broadway. She was going to be famous. But none of that was going to happen if she got stupid over some boy and wound up pregnant and married and stuck in Iowa forever.
It took more than a slap to stop Ben, but that was okay. Her dad had taught her how to look after herself. Her ma had always complained about it. ("It's not ladylike, John, what you're teaching her.") But the way Audrey figured it, if boys weren't always gentlemen, she didn't always have to be a lady.
Two months after graduation she'd saved up enough for a bus ticket. Two months of her taking the long way to her job at the store so she didn't have to pass in front of Ben's house. But it had been worth it, because now she's in New York and she's got a job and she's going to be dancing on stage.
She meets the company two days later. The girls are all real nice. Like her, they've come from all over the country for the opportunity to dance on Broadway, and are happy for any job. Captain America seems okay. He introduces himself to everyone with a handshake. ("I'm Steve Rogers.") He's polite and respectful, and if she doesn't trust him completely yet, she doesn't distrust him.
Then a month into the tour, a stage hand in Milwaukee traps her backstage and tries to get handsy with her. She's getting ready to use what Dad taught her when she hears that voice behind her.
"The lady asked you to back off," Captain America says.
"I wasn't doing nothing."
"Make sure you don't." Captain America grabs the guy by the back of his shirt and runs him out of the theatre.
"I had it under control." Audrey doesn't need a man to save her.
"I know you did. I just don't like bullies." He gives her a shy smile, and suddenly she likes him a whole lot more than she did. A guy who looks like him could easily have been a bully.
"Well, thank you, Captain America."
He actually blushes.
"I'm not really a captain," he says. "Just a private. And you can call me Steve."
"Then, thank you, Steve. I'm Audrey."
"I know," he says with a shy smile.
And just like that, they're friends.
She realizes that Steve's been sticking to himself, a side effect of being almost the only guy in the troupe. (Jerry, the guy playing fake Hitler, mostly hangs out with the band.) She starts making a point of inviting him to sit with her and the girls on the train, to eat dinner with them between performances, to come out for drinks with them after shows. He's sweet and surprisingly shy and a gentleman. And it's not a bad thing, having a big strong guy in a uniform around when some knuckleheads decide that a group of showgirls are easy targets. The girls have all learned to look after themselves, but it's nice to know Steve always has their backs.
Audrey hasn't ever had a male friend like Steve. He talks to her like she's a person, not a skirt he's trying to chase. He talks to all the girls like that. He asks Naomi about her fiancé who's fighting in Europe, and gives Jenny a nice card after her mother passes. He draws portraits of all the girls so they can send them back home. (Who'd've thought Captain America would be such a great artist?)
One night, they're sitting in an Automat in San Francisco after a three-show day, and all the girls are taking about their fellas.
"How about you, Audrey?" Steve nudges her. "Nice girl like you oughta have a fella."
"Nope. Never met anyone who was worth it," she says. "How about you, Steve? You got a gal back in Brooklyn?"
He blushes and she figures he must have someone waiting for him, but then he shakes his head.
"No girl would have me." The girls all giggle and half of them offer to be his girl, even the ones with boyfriends. But Steve just turns redder and deflects the conversation over to Maisie, who's been gushing all week about her new niece.
Steve may not have a gal, but he has a best friend. Bucky is serving in Europe with the 107th, and every time he gets a letter, Steve will read it to her and the girls. Bucky seems like a decent guy. His letters are smart and funny and he's always telling Steve to look after himself and not get a chill. (Most of the girls think it's hilarious that Steve has a friend who's worried about him getting the sniffles. Audrey thinks it's sweet.)
They've all settled into a nice routine, but then they're shipped over to England and everything changes. There are air raids and bomb sites and troops everywhere. Once, they have to spend a whole night in an air raid shelter in their costumes. (Steve gets a few looks that night.) When the all clear is called, a bomb has hit the building next to the theatre.
Some of the girls get telegrams telling them that their fellas or their brothers are KIA or MIA, so there are days when they have to cover for someone who can't leave the dressing room without crying. Bucky's letters must have gotten a lot more serious, because Steve stops reading them out loud, and he looks worried all the time. He looks worried when he gets a letter, and even more worried when it's been too long between letters. The war isn't a grand adventure anymore.
One good thing comes of the war for Audrey. They're half way through their tour of England when they're ordered to a special event in York for British and Commonwealth soldiers. Lieutenant Christopher Smythe is a serious young man who asks Audrey to dance and then sticks by her side for the whole evening. She loves his accent, and the way he says "Lefftenant" when he introduces himself, and the fact that he's even more of a gentleman than Steve. Suddenly she has a fella. Someone she can worry about. Someone who can write her letters. Mail deliveries become very important to her.
They're backstage in Manchester between shows when a mail sack arrives. Audrey takes her letter from Christopher to a corner backstage to read. He's tried to be cheerful, but Audrey can read his worry and fear between the lines. She finally looks up from her third read through the letter and notices Steve sitting across from her, on a trunk that holds their props. He's reading a letter, too, with his brow creased in a worried frown.
"Is that from Bucky?" she asks. She knows it's been a while since he's had a letter from his friend.
Steve startles before he looks up at her.
"Yeah. It's a month old, but at least he was safe then."
She looks at Steve, the way his shoulders are hunched and the way his hand clutches the letter, creasing the paper, and she has a revelation.
She moves to sit beside him, making him shift over on the trunk, then puts her hand on his arm.
"Bucky's your fella, isn't he?" There's no one else around, and she's very quiet.
Steve's face goes white with shock, and he tries to pull away from her. She holds him tight, though. She didn't mean to scare him.
"Oh, Steve, you don't have to worry about me. I won't tell anyone." Even in Iowa there were fellas who liked other fellas. Especially the kind of guy who took dance classes. She never told on them, either.
He relaxes in her grip, but still looks worried. He finally nods in acknowledgement.
"Yeah," he says. "Bucky's my fella. Has been forever. We've known each other since we were kids."
She gives his shoulders a quick squeeze.
"It's hard, isn't it? Having someone you love over there?" She's terrified for Christopher, and she's only known him weeks. How much worse is it for Steve, having someone he's known his whole life out there in battle? Someone he can't even acknowledge, except as a friend?
"I just want him to come home." Steve leans against her shoulder, and she leans back.
They're even closer after that. Audrey is more than happy to protect Steve's secret. It's fair payment for all the times he's protected her and the girls.
Then they're sent across the Channel, and they do that disastrous show for men who've seen too much to enjoy Steve punching fake Hitler, and Steve disappears not long after Agent Carter arrives. (Steve had mentioned Agent Carter, but Audrey had somehow never realized she was a gorgeous dame.) Audrey is worried sick about Steve, not knowing what happened to him. Then Betty talks to one of the soldiers in the camp.
"They're the 107th," Betty says. "Or what's left of them. Most of them were captured a few weeks back."
The 107th is Bucky's regiment. And just like that Audrey knows where Steve has gone. And it's even worse than not knowing. Steve's run off to save his Bucky by himself, and he's probably going to get himself killed. She's so wound up she feels sick all the time. But a week later, a paper catches up with them and there it is on the front page: Captain America Rescues 400 POWs. She's so proud of him she could burst. All the girls are.
Her friend Steve really is Captain America. Who'd've thought it.
She doesn't think she'll see him again. After all, she's still in the USO and he's a real soldier now. They tour behind the lines, and then they get sent back to England to do one last bunch of shows before they go back to the States. (They've had to change the show. They don't have Captain America anymore and no one else can punch fake Hitler, but that's okay. It means they all get to dance more.)
Her last two days in England, Christopher manages to get leave, and he takes her to a posh restaurant in the West End. They're starting their mains, steak that may or may not have come from a cow, and Steve walks into the restaurant. Beside him is a dark-haired young man, laughing at something Steve's said. They're both in dress uniform, both handsome and happy. She knows the young man must be Bucky.
Steve notices her right away, and drags Bucky over to their table.
"Audrey!" He gives her a hug, shakes Christopher's hand, and introduces Bucky.
"You found him!" Audrey says.
"Yeah, he found me." Bucky puts his arm around Steve's shoulder. "Good thing, too. Dumb punk needs someone to look after him." He sounds just like his letters.
Audrey laughs, and winks at Steve. And then Steve and Bucky are elbowing each other and making their way to their table.
Audrey is happy that Steve's got his fella. But then even happier when Christopher pulls a small velvet box out of his pocket and proposes. She's so stunned, she doesn't even think to say goodbye to Steve and his Bucky.
She thinks maybe after the war, she'll look them both up in Brooklyn.
But then they get shipped back to the States (she promises Christopher she'll wait for him, and she means it) and are doing a show in Tallahassee, of all places, when Betty shows up late. She runs into the dressing room clutching a newspaper and crying. She can't tell them what's wrong, just shoves the newspaper into Audrey's hands. The headline says it all: Captain America Lost in the Arctic.
Audrey's so stunned she has to read the article three times before she understands what it means. Around her, girls are crying, sobbing into each other's shoulders. The band shows up, and they're all crying, too. For the first time since Steve disappeared to go after Bucky, they have to cancel the show. It's one of the worst days of the war for Audrey.
The war ends and the pain fades. Audrey marries Christopher and they settle in New York instead of London. Christopher was a lawyer before the war, and he works for a small firm in Manhattan. Audrey keeps dancing in shows for a few years, but she finally realizes she's never going to be famous. She opens a dance school in Queens where she and Christopher are raising their family.
She teaches more than dance. She teaches the girls to be strong and the boys to be gentle. And every once in a while, when she has a student she knows is different, a boy who likes boys or a girl who likes girls, she'll take them aside and tell them about her friend Steve, a real life war hero who saved his fella.