Kitty Matthews had hated spring for as long as she could remember, each New Year reminding her that she was nowhere near where she wanted to be in life. It wasn’t until the spring of her twenty fifth year that things really started to turn around for her. The events of the previous weekend had driven her into her bed, and she hadn’t moved in nearly three days. She moaned, pulling the covers over her head to block out the weak sunlight that trickled through her black curtains.
“I’m so tired of you lollygagging around the place!” The bedroom door banged open, and her flatmate Birdie Rivers came striding in. The determination on Birdie’s face didn’t waver, even when she spotted the motionless lump beneath the covers. “Kit get up. I’ve indulged you for too long,” With one bronzed hand, she pulled back the curtains, letting light spill into the room. “We’re meant to be at the blow in an hour.”
“What?” Kitty’s voice was a croak, as she struggled to understand what Birdie was talking about. “What blow?”
“It’s at Lucky’s.” Birdie informed her friend. Kitty groaned, and then felt something land on the bedclothes with a tinkle. “I know that he gave you the icy mitt in favour of that tomato Minty Sawyer when you thought that he was going to give you a handcuff and it’s made you grummy, but that’s even more reason for you to put on this dress, and prove to him just what a choice bit of calico you are.”
“What?” Kitty finally emerged from the covers, fixing Birdie with a confused glare. “It’s not fair that you look so hotsy- totsy. I’m going to be a cancelled stamp in comparison.” One brief look in the mirror on her dressing table, had her recoiling in horror at the dishevelled face looking back.
“I love you Kit but you’re being a complete Dumb Dora right now. Where are your gaspers?” Birdie rummaged through Kitty’s bedside table, eventually finding a half empty packet of cigarettes. She lit one with the matches in the drawstring bag dangling from her right wrist, before taking a long drag of it. She returned to the subject at hand once she had inhaled “Lucky’s a gimlet. You know that as well as I do.”
Kitty sat up in bed, anger rising in her at her friend’s casual dismissal of Lucky’s intelligence level. “Bushwa! Lucky’s the farthest thing from a gimlet I know.”
“Kit, he got caught in the middle of a cash with Minty, during a blow at your dad’s house to celebrate your birthday. He’s not exactly the brightest.” Birdie fixed Kitty with her large green eyes, daring her best friend to deny the truth of the words, but Kitty just flushed, her cheeks turning bright red as she ran back over some of the conversations she had had with Lucky throughout the last eighteen months. “Right, so you slip on the dress and then I’ll apply your munitions.”
“Okay.” Kitty climbed out of bed, taking hold of the green and silver dress that Birdie had dumped on top of her bedspread. “I’ll get ready but I’m not promising that I’ll be good company, or even enjoy myself.”
“Course you’ll enjoy yourself. You’ll be with me!” the two women hugged, the beaded bodice of Birdie’s dress pressing hard into the thin silk of Kitty’s pyjama top. “Now stop being a wurp, and go get dressed so that we can blouse. Buddy said he would meet us there,”
“I thought you’d dumped that Airedale last month?”
Birdie shrugged, “He’ll do until I can find a sharpshooter.”
They were twenty minutes late for the start of the party, and the soothing sounds of a jazz band drifted on the afternoon air to them, the instant that they stepped out of the car. Buddy was waiting on the front lawn, an unfamiliar man at his side. Buddy’s face lit up the instant he saw Birdie, and he swiftly crossed the grass to brush a kiss to her cheek in greeting. “You always look berries.” He smiled when he pulled back.
“Thanks,” Birdie’s gaze fell on the unfamiliar man, feeling relieved that Buddy had thought to bring an umbrella along for Kitty. She was well aware that Kitty had hated the idea of going to the party without some kind of escort.
“Kitty, this is my friend Freddie Hopkins,” Buddy signalled for his friend to come closer. “Freddie this is the dazzling Miss Kitty Matthews, who I told you about.”
Freddie couldn’t hold back his relief at seeing that the girl Buddy had roped him into coming to meet, was rather attractive. “It’s good to meet you. Are you doing okay?”
“I could do with some giggle water,” Kitty bit her suddenly dry lower lip, feeling nervous at the way Freddie was looking at her.
“Freddie and I will get it, and meet you in the back garden,” Buddy told her, and Freddie nodded in agreement.
The two men had barely vanished through the white painted front door before Kitty turned to face her friend, a hint of anger in her brown eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me that Buddy was bringing an umbrella for me?”
“I thought you’d be relieved. Did you really want to come without one?” Birdie lit another gasper, inhaling slowly as her eyes never left Kitty’s face. She was glad to see something more than the dull apathy that had settled there after the initial burst of fury when Kitty had caught Lucky and Minty together, seventy two hours before.
“No.” The words dried in her throat when the two of them rounded the side of the house, and she saw Lucky with his arms wrapped around Minty, as the couple kissed passionately. Without thinking, she whirled on one heel, intending to flee. Birdie caught hold of her elbow, halting her midstep. “I…I can’t B. I can’t face them right now,”
Birdie’s face filled with sympathy as she took in the expression in her best friend’s eyes “Let’s blouse then, I’ll tell Buddy.”
“No. You stay and whoopee.” Kitty said “I need some time alone anyway.”
“All right.” Birdie squeezed Kitty’s hand before the two women separated. Birdie went in the house in search of Buddy and Freddie, while Kitty retraced her steps over the wet lawn.
She was still in shock, her brain on Lucky, when a golden retriever puppy came pelting out of the house across the street. Kitty narrowly avoided a collision with the over excited dog, as he made a beeline straight for her, crossing the empty road without pause.
“Patch! Lie down!” the authoritative male voice rang out, and stopped the dog in his tracks. The puppy immediately lay down on the wet grass, his head on his paws. His owner crossed the street, a slightly apologetic smile on his face. “Sorry about that, he’s a little overexcited. We’ve not had him for very long. He was a present for my daughter Anna’s birthday last week. He didn’t jump on you did he?” the nervous tumble of words poured from his lips, when he took in all of the porcelain skinned redhead before him. He had thought she was attractive, in the fleeting glimpses he had gotten over the last eighteen months as she visited the house across the street, but looking at her close up, he could feel his palms begin to sweat with his nervousness.
“No. There’s no harm done,” Kitty couldn’t quite suppress the impulse to take in all of the man before her. The sincerity in his hazel eyes was very appealing, as was the fact that his suit was clearly quite an expensive one and his shoes were freshly polished brogues. “I’m Kitty Marshall.” She offered one hand, and felt a strange sense of peace coursing through her veins when his warm hand enclosed hers.
“Mark Hall,” he smiled. “Were you going to the blow at Mr Manning’s?”
“No I was dropping off a friend.” Kitty brushed a stray curl out of her eyes “Were you going to go?”
“No. I’m not a crasher, and he’s too much of a gimlet for me to want to talk to anyway.” He was heartened to see a smile begin to curve her lips, driving away some of the sadness that was evident in her eyes.
“I didn’t think I’d seen you at any of the previous blows,”
“Would you like a cup of tea so I can say sorry about my dog nearly knocking you over?” Mark bent over to reattach the leash to the puppy’s collar. The action allowed him to hide the trembling in his fingers, and gave him a moment to gather his thoughts.
She stiffened at the idea, “I’m not a massive drinker of noodle juice.”
“Well you can have something else to drink if you like?” the puppy became a little agitated when it spotted Anna emerging from Mark’s house. It strained at the leash, dragging Mark forward several steps.
“Kit!!” it was the sound of Lucky calling her name that made Kitty’s mind up for her. She glanced back up the lawn to see Lucky staggering out of the front door, a bottle of wine clasped in his hand, and looking considerably the worse for wear, and then turned away, fixing Mark with a smile that covered all the turmoil roiling in her gut.
“Actually I’d rather blouse, and head to a nosebaggery. I know a berries one not far from here if you want to come?” she could hear Lucky’s footsteps coming closer, and willed Mark to accept her offer quickly.
“That does sound nice.” Mark acknowledged. “I’ll just take Patch home. Do you want to come with me?” he could see Lucky lurching ever closer, and offered her his arm in an old fashioned gesture. Kitty slipped her hand onto his arm, and they walked away without acknowledging Lucky’s repeated calls of her name.
The nosebaggery was full when they arrived, but Mark managed to get them seated within ten minutes, much to Kitty’s surprise. His hand rested lightly at the small of her back, as they wound their way through the crowded room to the small table towards the rear of the nosebaggery. It felt very different to the heavy pressure of Lucky’s hand, in similar situations.
“So tell me something about yourself.” Kitty offered, once they were both seated and they had received their giggle water. She took a sip of her martini, half expecting Mark to launch into a long speech about his life.
“Ahem…er…. Well I’m a journalist, have been for the last six years,” he told her, “What job do you do? I’m guessing you’re not a lollygagger?”
“No definitely not. But I am currently looking for a job.” She admitted “I was a nurse during the war, but…”
“The things you saw made you want a change?” her gaze flew from the napkin to meet Mark’s, seeing a world of understanding and the pain she felt over the memories she carried, buried in his eyes.
“Yes.” Her fingers trembled as she went to light a gasper, and he reached out to take the match from her, lighting it himself. The action earned him another smile. “Where were you stationed?”
“I fought on the Western front, as part of the 1st battalion of the Irish guards before I was invalided out, after the battle of Cambrai.” He told her, his fingers tapping out an unconscious rhythm against the tablecloth. “Where were you stationed?”
She opened her mouth to reply, when the waiter swanned across, pad at the ready. “What would you like to order? The soup is a particularly nice tomato, and the chef is particularly proud of his steak Diane.”
“I’ll have that then, the steak done medium.” Mark’s words came out clipped, as he couldn’t suppress his irritation at the interruption, however unwarranted the emotion might have been.
“I’ll have the chicken soup, and the cod,” Kitty handed the menu back to the waiter, without taking her eyes off Mark. She felt relieved when the waiter disappeared, and they could resume their conversation. “I was stationed at Flanders and Ypres. The bravery of the men I treated…I’ll…there are no words, I have no words to describe the things I saw there.” A sad laugh escaped her lips, “If you knew me better, you’d know how weird that is,”
“Do you write then?”
“I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember.” She stubbed out the remains of her gasper, in the ash tray. “My mum was my audience for all the little tales and poems I thought up.”
“Chicken soup?” Kitty sat back, letting the waiter place the steaming hot bowl of soup in front of her. “So you’re the tomato soup?” Mark nodded “I’ll be right back sir.” The waiter disappeared into the kitchen, returning a few seconds later with Mark’s tomato soup.
“Let’s just eat, and then we can make feathers, shall we?” Mark wanted to get to know the smiling version of Kitty, rather than the sad eyed side of her, occasioned by the talk of the war, and that he had glimpsed outside of Lucky’s house.
“That sounds completely berries.” Kitty agreed, happily, her spoon already half way to her lips.
It was only when the candles had melted down to little stubs that barely lit their faces that the two of them realised just how long they had been talking. Mark glanced down at his watch, as he got to his feet. “It’s nearly nine.” His eyes were wide when he glanced back up at her. “I should blouse. My daughter will wonder where I am.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to keep you for so long.” For the first time in a long time, Kitty felt the sting of guilt over something she had done. It was almost a good thing, feeling something, after the near constant feeling of numbness caused by giggly water and her memories.
“No.” He took her wrap from the hands of the waiter, slipping it around her shoulders for her. “This has been completely the Cat’s Particulars, getting to spend time with you.” He stepped back, allowing her to turn and face him.
“So you enjoyed it as much as I did?” Mark was surprised at the shyness glinting in Kitty’s eyes.
“I don’t think anyone wouldn’t like to be with you.” He slipped one hand into the inside pocket of his jacket, reaching for his business cards. “Here. I hope that you will ring me, and that we can repeat this soon,” he pressed the card into her palm, before heading for the door.
“I can take you home.” She was a step behind him, driven by a need to prolong her time with him as much as she could. “I have the cake basket outside.”
“I had better get a cab.” He watched as another wave of sadness rushed through Kitty’s eyes. “Please ring me Kitty.” He was unable to stop himself from reaching out to take her hand, sweeping one thumb over her knuckles.
“I shall.” She let him slip out of the door ahead of her, and then decided to walk the few blocks to her apartment, rather than riding in the cake basket.
She was unable to wait the three days that Birdie insisted were the standard when ringing a new goof, her fingers dialling the number almost of their own accord the next morning. The excitement she felt, at the mere sound of his voice, when he answered was a little unsettling, but she pushed past it, anxious to see if she would feel the same rush of peace the next time he touched her.
“Are you sure that you want to introduce me to them?” Kitty paused in the middle of rolling on her silk stockings. “It’s…”
“You’re the cat’s particulars Kitty. Why wouldn’t I want everyone in my life to meet you?” Mark set down the newspaper he was reading, as he sat on her bed to look directly at her.
“It’s just…it’s only been two months since we met. Won’t your fellow journalists think it’s a bit fluky? You told me it took you a year to let…”
Mark crossed the carpet to her side in three easy strides, pulling her into his arms. “You’re not her.” He said simply. His fingers tugged gently at a lock of her hair, pushing it back behind her ear for her. “Just come meet them, and they’ll love you like I do,” he watched in concern as her eyes flickered closed the instant that his hand cupped her cheek. “Kitty?”
Her eyes fluttered open again at the sound of her name, and she fixed him with a look that spoke volumes of her feelings for him. “How do you do that?” her voice was barely a whisper, filled with wonder. “You give me such peace, just by touching me.”
“Dad!! Dad!!” Anna’s voice carried through the bedroom door “Mr Hastings is on the phone!!”
“I’ll be right there.” He pressed a soft kiss to Kitty’s forehead before leaving the room, and letting her continue getting dressed.
She was in the middle of slipping into the cerise beaded gown, when she noticed the bunch of daffodils sitting on her nightstand. They were still wrapped in brown paper and she knew that Mark had been the one to leave them there. She padded on bare feet over to the blooms, once the dress was properly on, and picked up the card. Thank you for the best spring I’ve ever had.
Copyright Emily Morris 2017