"Ah cream of... what is this stuff?" the raven-haired woman mumbled to herself as she looked at the can once again trying to figure out what exactly it was. She had just received her monthly shipment of food from the Royal Navy of the Pacific and a good portion of the time they never labeled the cans.
"Oh well, I guess it wont kill me" she joked. Her job would probably do that soon enough.
Margaret Wardley was a coast watcher in the South Pacific for the Royal Australian Navy. She was the only woman that she knew of that was an island watcher and an American at that. Of course, the Aussies made sure she only knew of one other watcher nearby so that she could escape if the Japanese came ashore. If she were to be captured she couldnt rat out all her fellow watchers.
There was one item in the shipments that never needed labels and those were her bottles of whiskey. She had found that some days it helped ward off the loneliness and others helped her calm down after a close call. Over the last few weeks the close calls seemed to be getting more and more frequent. She had decided months ago if she thought she would be captured she would take out her sidearm and do herself in. She had heard stories of what the Japs did to those they captured.
Heading over to sit at the table, she looked around at what had been her home for six months. There really wasnt much to the little shack... a table with two chairs (like she was going to have a visitor any time soon), a small cot, a storage cupboard and the one thing that linked her to civilization... the two-way radio she used to report enemy activity. Mostly it was to report the almost daily flyovers from Japanese planes and also to report the ships that were passing on a weekly basis now. She worried that one day a ship would send a landing party to the island to investigate it. Hopefully they would think her island was too small and not worth the time or effort.
She got up and stood in front of her only window, her gaze immediately lifting to the sky. The sun was starting to rise, splashing the horizon in muted orange and red hues. Somewhere just beyond those colors, across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, lay the remains of her soul.
Margaret closed her eyes and let the suns light warm her face as she allowed her thoughts to return to happier time. A time when she was still whole.
"When will you find out?" she asked, blue eyes twinkling with excitement.
She giggled softly. "When I see the doctor, silly."
"Well, when is that? Can I come with you?" Margaret found herself stepping closer to the smaller woman, wanting nothing more than to take her into her arms. Was she being to forward? Would it be inappropriate for her to go along?
Caught up in her own thoughts, Margaret missed the adoring gaze of the soft green eyes across from her. She never saw the flash of sadness in them. Never noticed the tiny sigh that escaped soft cherry red lips.
"I mean, if its okay."
"Of course its okay, Margaret. Youre my best friend." Celia didnt want to add that Margaret was her only friend on the base. Even though the Navy had allowed her to continue teaching at the base school, since her husbands death, she felt very much alone.
She turned toward the window, watching a young couple play with their two children. Celia touched her stomach and wondered how she was going to raise this child alone.
Margaret also stood, following her to the window. She could sense her friends anguish and wanting nothing more to comfort her. "Celia, Im sorry to ask this, but did Jack know?"
Celias shoulders slumped. The letter she had sent her husband telling him that he would soon be a father had never reached him. It had been returned with his other belongings, unopened. "No." Celia choked out the word as she burst into tears.
Without hesitation, Margaret moved forward and took Celia into her arms, whispering words of reassurance. She tucked the small blondes head beneath her chin and gently stroked her hair. "I swear that I will help you through this, Celia. Ill be here for you."
"Yeah. Did a great job there." Margaret pushed away from the window, grabbed her binoculars and headed out of her shack. "Time to go to work."
She settled into her tree nest, sharp blue eyes scanning perfect tropical skies. "I wish you could see this, Celia. Youd really love it here." Margaret lifted the binoculars, her gaze locked on the morning squadron of Japanese fighters.
Five planes flying in tight formation. Just like the day before just like the past week. She wondered briefly if they were a regular patrol.
The planes did their usual circle of one of the smaller islands, then returned to the west. Margaret jotted this down with her other notes. She had to make sure the Allies knew about these planes. She failed once. She would not fail again.
The sound was jarring, ripping her from a sound sleep. Sitting straight up in bed, she reached to her right and found that Celia was also sitting up, apparently as dazed as she was. The explosions began seconds later, prompting both women to their feet, each scrambling for her clothing.
"Its real!" Celia screamed as she pointed out the open window.
Margaret watched with macabre fascination as the enemy plane swooped down upon the base, its machine guns slaughtering a dozen sailors, most of them only half dressed. An orange glow in the harbor drew her gaze there. At first, Margaret thought it was the sunrise. Then she saw the ships mast, sailors still wearing their dress whites were leaping from the deck as the fire closed in around them.
"Oh my god," she croaked, then reached for Celia. "The Japanese are attacking us!"
"What?" Celia was crying, her fingers fumbling with the buckle on her shoe. "The Japanese? Why would they attack us?"
"Because were close." Margaret grabbed Celias hand, pulling her for the door. "We have to get to the shelter!"
"Im frightened!" Celia tightened her grip on Margarets hand, pulling her to a stop. "What if"
"No." The tall raven-haired dipped her head down, letting her lips lightly brush across Celias. "No. Were together now, Celia. No goddamn Jap is gonna change that."
"Okay." Celia tried to be brave and smiled for her lover. "Lets go."
Margaret nodded and they raced out the door.
An explosion sounded to their right, forcing them to run toward the enlisted barracks. "Well have to take the long way around!" Margaret didnt dare look back as she hauled Celia through the chaos, occasionally shouting to her, even though her words were drowned out by the repeated explosions around them.
Another Japanese plane came in low, its guns strafing the ground around them. Margaret threw her body over Celias, desperate to protect her family. As soon as the plane was gone, Margaret was checking Celia for injuries.
"Im fine." She touched her belly with one hand, using the other to cup Margarets cheek. "Were fine."
"Okay. We need to get to the shelter."
"I know." Celia let Margaret pull her to her feet, her eyes looking up to meet those of the only person she would ever love. Before she could speak, another explosion sent them to the ground.
Margaret was thrown into a coconut tree, her world becoming dark, her last images of Celia lying on the pavement. The suns morning rays sparkled off the pool of blood beside her lovers head. NO! Margaret wanted to scream, but no sound came from her lips. She closed her eyes and prayed for the darkness to take her.
"They wouldnt even let me see you, love." she muttered, climbing down from her nest. It was almost noon and she needed to make her first report. Maybe these regular flyovers were a sign of something going on and her report would be enough to warn the Allies. Maybe this time, when the Japs attacked, the Allies would be there to stop them.
"6 FIGHTERS TIGHT FORMATION EVERY DAY CIRCLE LOWER SOLOMON ISLANDS"
She watched the radio, once again finding herself hopeful that it would answer her. But she understood the rules regarding radio silence. The only transmission she had heard was when her group of island watchers had been credited with saving a fleet of allied ships moving through the area.
Her group had tracked the enemys movement up until they were literally within sight of the battle group. All enemy planes had been shot down. No allied losses reported. Margaret adjusted the armband she now wore, proud of her new rank of Petty Officer. The only American in the Royal Australian Navy.
"WARD! IMMEDIATE EVACUATION ORDERED! ENEMY HAS LANDED ON YOUR SOUTHERN SHORE!"
The sound of another humans voice was startling enough, but it took her brain a full minute to process what was being said. The message was repeated by the only other island watcher she knew of. Dobson was on the island of Vanuatu, just south of her. She knew his voice from the day they had tracked the Japs through their islands.
Her hand brushed against her sidearm, her mind battling with a decision she thought would be easy. Something tugged at her, keeping her fingers from closing around the grip of her pistol.
Instead, she reached for the microphone and responded to Dobson. "COPY THAT DOB. EVACUATION IN PROGRESS."
She tossed the microphone down, grabbed the pack that she always kept stocked with supplies, then drew her pistol. Two shots into her radio were enough to completely disable it. She stared at the smoking remains for a second before bolting out the door.
A well worn path took to the east of her shack would take her down to the beach, where she had hidden a small canoe. The only problem with this brilliant escape plan, was that it would lead her directly to the point the Japs had landed.
Closing her eyes, Margaret brought up an image of the island and started looking for a way to the beach. There was none. She opened her eyes and sighed. "I could be seeing you a lot sooner than I expected, Celia."
"I love you." The words were like an echo against her soul, causing her chest to tighten.
Margaret tightened the straps of her backpack and started down the trail. "If this is how it ends, at least let me take a few of them out with me."
"Are you positive?" She asked for the fourth time.
General Alan Daniels sighed. "Yes, maam. Im sure. Shes on the southernmost island of the Solomon Islands. Shes been there since January 7th."
"January? Thats nearly six months!" And just one month after "Oh dear." She closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the chair. The General was on his feet, kneeling beside her chair in a second.
"Maam. Are you okay?"
"She thinks she must think the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. We got separated. I was in a coma for three weeks. When I woke, she was already gone. She must think Im dead."
The General cleared his throat, motioning his secretary to bring Mrs. McKinney some water. "I believe she must, Maam. Miss Wardley had to sign a statement that she had no living relatives."
"Oh god!" Celia grasped her stomach, her eyes flying open. "No! Not now! Its too early!"
"Mrs. Thomas! Send for a doctor." The General lifted Celia and placed her gently on his couch. He removed his jacket, rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and knelt at Celias side. "Mrs. McKinney, how far along are you?"
"Eight months." She gasped at another pain. "Itsits too early!"
"Nonsense. Three of my children were born at eight months." He smiled kindly and she began to relax. "Now, take some slow, deep breaths. The doctor will be here soon."
She held her breath, counting nearly a dozen soldiers walking single-file up the path. Something had alerted Margaret just in time to duck behind a tree. Her hand gripped the pistol, almost anxious for one of them to see her. A part of her wanted nothing more than the blood of a few Japs on her hands before she died.
Dont go. I need you.
Celias voice was strong in her mind today, as strong as if she were standing beside Margaret. But the words struck her deeply, keeping Margaret rooted to the spot until the entire patrol had passed. She waited until they were at least a half-mile up the path before revealing herself.
"Time for plan B," she muttered. Was there a plan A? Her tired mind asked, making her chuckle softly. "Never is a plan, is there? Just me, my wits, and a whole lotta luck. Yep." Margaret moved off the path, making her way through the dense island foliage. "Luck. Just like the way luck put me in your arms, love." This time she smiled at one of her most fond memories. It was the day she lost her heart to the only woman who would ever hold it.
The clear blue water sparkled in the afternoon sunlight. In the hidden cove, well out of sight of the base and any human contact, Margaret was certain she had found paradise.
Celia was lazily swimming back and forth in the small pool of water. Margaret sat on a rock along the shore, unable to take her eyes off the trim figure, all the while wondering what it would be like to
She shook her head, clearing herself of those thoughts. Celia was nothing more than a colleague and a friend. They would both be fired as school teachers and thrown off the base if anyone knew about the thoughts Margaret was having.
Celia stopped swimming when she noticed Margaret sitting there. The tall woman was staring out into water as clear blue as her eyes. Celia sighed. They were the most incredible eyes shed ever seen.
For a moment, Celia considered those eyes. What would it be like to gaze into them and see her feelings returned? She almost laughed. Margaret was a dear friend, who had seen her through the very recent death of her husband. Celia touched her stomach, sensing the life growing inside her. Jacks baby would be born in the spring. It was something she did not want to face alone.
Looking back at the raven-haired beauty, Celia knew she would never be alone.
Margaret noticed Celia watching her and smiled crookedly. "Hey. What you lookin at?"
"Nothing." Celia smirked.
"Oh really?" Margaret slipped into the water, moving steadily toward her target.
"Uh-uh. You wouldnt dare!"
"No!" Celia screeched and tried to swim away, but Margarets longer legs easily overtook the small blonde. Strong arms pulled the squirming woman under long enough for the raven-haired to get a good grip on her.
They both came up, sputtering water and laughing so hard that neither could speak. Margaret shook her hair back, spraying more water on Celia, who wrinkled her nose in an attempt at faking disgust, but managed only to make the most adorable expression.
"You did that on purpose."
"Is that all you can say?" Celia demanded, green eyes sparkling with laughter.
"Nope." Pale blue eyes now gazed down affectionately into soft green. In that instant, Margaret felt it. Her heart was already lost to this woman. A woman she could never have.
Why is she looking at me like that? Celia wondered. She finally cast her eyes downward, hoping to avoid being obvious. I wonder if she could tell what I was thinking just now. Her eyes were suddenly riveted on Margarets midriff, where her hands ached to roam. Oh god! Does she know what Im thinking right now?
The groan that escaped Celia did not go unnoticed. In fact, Margaret moved a little closer, letting her hand slide down the smaller womans back, gently pushing their bodies together.
It felt like an eternity before their lips finally met in a kiss that was as natural as anything. A kiss that fired their passion and united their souls.
Margaret opened her eyes, patiently waiting for Celia to do the same. She smiled at the surprised look on her friends face. "You okay?"
"Oh my." Celia would have passed out if Margaret hadnt been holding her up. "I um Ive uh Ive never been kissed quite like that before."
"Me either." Margaret leaned forward, her lips hovering over Celias. "Wanna go again?"
"Are you sure?" Margaret hesitated, knowing full well what they were about to do would be dangerous.
Celia gaze steadily into those amazing eyes, seeing in them exactly what she wanted to see. "Very sure."
"No!" Celia screamed again, this time directly into the Major Generals ear. "I will NOT have my baby in this office! I want Margaret here!"
"Mrs. McKinney," he started, his voice low and calming, despite the white knuckled grip the woman kept on his arm. She was very strong for such a small woman.
"No platitudes!" Green eyes flashed with anger, making the General and the doctor wince. "I cant be having my baby yet!"
"Maam, this is to be expected." The doctor took pity on the Major General, who was trying to pry Celias fingers free. "Youve been under a great deal of stress. First your husband dies in battle, then your friend leaves"
"She must think Im dead." Another pain struck and she clamped her hand down on the forearm beside her. "I really dont want my baby born on a couch."
"Im sorry." The doctor did seem genuine as he turned to his nurse. "Ill need some warm towels and water. Shes already crowning."
She could see the beach now. The grove where her canoe was hidden was at least a hundred yards from the Japanese camp. At least three dozen men milled about, another half dozen on constant watch. Margaret settled back, knowing that she would have to wait until dark to escape, or risk being seen. She was strong and a good rower, but there was no way she could out-row a rifle.
She was about to remove her backpack when she heard it. "There is no way there is a" But then she heard it again. Several more times, indicating that there was more than one. "Dogs. They have dogs!" Margaret stood up so quickly she lost her footing and began a headlong plunge down the hill, toward the Japanese camp.
"One more push! Come on, Mrs. McKinney! You can do it!" The doctor held his hands on either side of the tiny head as it began to appear through the birth canal.
"I dont think I can." Celia laid her head back, exhausted. "No more."
"You have to," the General whispered into her ear. "Your baby is counting on you."
"Try harder." The General leaned just a bit closer. "Mrs. McKinney, it would be an honor for me if you would just push one more time."
"What?" Celia looked at him incredulously. The General had lost his mind. She was sure of it.
"One more push and your child will be born in my office. There is no greater gift from God than the birth of a child."
"Okay, but just one more."
"Thats all we need."
Margaret flung out her left arm and grabbed a small tree, stopping her ascent abruptly. Her shoulder popped, sending intense jabs of pain all along her arm. "Damn," she muttered, turning over so she could use her right arm to pull herself into a sitting position.
Her left arm hung at an odd angle, her shoulder clearly dislocated.
The sound of dogs was suddenly very close. Too close. Margaret could see movement in the trees and knew her time had just run out. "I cant row with this damn arm!"
Panic crept up on her, but she forced it down, her nurses training kicking in. With both feet firmly balanced, she flung her shoulder into a tree. It did nothing but cause searing pain. She bit down on her lip to keep from screaming and hit the tree again. This time she could feel the pop in her shoulder, the relief almost immediate.
She was less than 20 yards from the canoe now and half slid, half ran down the rest of the hill. She was going to have to get out into the water and hope the Japs were bad shots.
The doctor pulled the squirming infant free, wrapping it in a warm towel before placing it on its mothers belly. "Congratulations."
"Thank you." Celia now leaned against General Daniels, both of them looking at the child and smiling. "Hes beautiful."
"He certainly is. Whats his name?"
"Warren Michael, after my father."
The General nodded his approval. "Im going to make a few phone calls now, Mrs. McKinney. I have a feeling that youre going to need some help with this little guy."
Celia settled back against the couch and sighed. "Not long now, Warren. Were going to be a family again."
Margaret rowed smoothly, putting every bit of strength she had left into getting as far away from that island as she could. Bullets sprayed around her, hitting the water a few times before they stopped completely.
She knew better than to believe she had successfully escaped. It only meant the Japs had stopped shooting at her so they could come after her in their boat. Which was exactly what she wanted them to do.
They might still catch up to her, but she was determined to take a few of them with her. She felt the concussion from the explosion and turned around in time to see the thick black smoke curling toward the clear blue sky.
Celia rocked back and forth as Warren ate hungrily from his morning bottle. Her gaze flicked to the front door of her mothers home for the hundredth time, as if expecting Margaret to walk through them at any moment.
"Its been three weeks, Celia, dear."
"I know, mother." Warren had finally gone to sleep, so Celia rose to put him in his crib. "I cant help it."
"Have you heard from the General today?"
"No." Celia moved to stand beside the window. "He wasnt in his office when I called." Celia moved back the curtains and froze. Two black cars were making their way up the drive. The second one she recognized as belonging to Major General Daniels. "Mother!"
Celia raced to the door, ignoring her mothers protests. She started to open it, but stopped. What if it was bad news? What if it was good news? "I dont know what to do."
"How about saying, Welcome home." Celias mother had opened the door and was now pointing at the tall figure walking up the sidewalk.
Celias heart leapt into her throat. Her hands were shaking and her breath was uneven. I think Im going to faint.
Please dont faint. Margaret paused at the first step of the porch, staring into the face of an angel.
"They told me you were dead. They even had your name on their list."
"I know." Celia started forward. "I couldnt find you after I woke up."
Margaret ignored the single tear that trailed down her left cheek, never taking her eyes off Celia. "I couldnt stay. I couldnt walk back into that school and see your classroom. I couldnt do anything."
"Oh Margaret. Im so sorry."
"I heard one of the flyboys talking about the island watchers in the South Pacific. He was talking about how the watcher had saved his life by warning the fleet about the approach of enemy planes. If figured that if I had to live, I would at least do my very best to make sure the Japs didnt get anyone else."
Celia stepped off the porch and reached for Margarets hand. "Youre here now. Were both alive and well and
Warren chose that moment to announce his indignity at being left alone. Celia burst into tears of joy, motioning Margaret to follow her.
Celia picked up her son and handed him to Margaret. "This is Warren."
Margarets face lit up immediately. Only Celias mother noticed that Warren ceased crying the moment he was in the tall womans arms.
"Hello, Warren." The baby stared sleepily up at the woman who held him safely in her arms. "Hes beautiful. Just like his mother." Margaret dipped her head and lightly pressed her lips to Celias. "I love you both."
Celia smiled warmly, her gaze never leaving the pale blue eyes before her. "Welcome home."