Sunday, December 3, 1944
Morning service was nearly over. Despite the cold and snow outside, prisms of sunlight bending through the amber window panes warmed the sanctuary. As Reverend Case concluded his sermon, Livy fought to keep her eyes open, and leaned a bit on Ray's shoulder. He glanced down at the top of her head, smiling to himself and gave her hand a small squeeze of understanding. He knew she was tired. Lately, she was up three or four times a night, unable to sleep. He slept fitfully himself, worried he wouldn't hear her call out if she needed him. He knew she was uncomfortable, with the baby due in just a few weeks. Well, they wouldn't stay for the potluck today. He would get her home, make sure she had a nice nap in front of the fire. He could see to supper--the ladies of the church had been good about bringing them casseroles, soups and stews (discreetly leaving the recipes behind for Livy's future cooking attempts) so he knew the icebox was well stocked. At the closing prayer, he nudged Livy gently, and helped her to stand. She smiled sheepishly at him, stifling a yawn behind her hand. They bowed their heads...
"Lord, as we close our service and ask for an end to this war, let us remember and honor those brave souls we lost December 7th at Pearl Harbor..." Livy felt Ray stiffen at these words, knowing it was still difficult to think about his brother's tragic death. The minister continued,
"We will forever cherish the memory of our own Daniel Singleton and the courageous sacrifice he made for his country..." Livy could hear Martha sniff quietly into her hankie, and Ray's quick, shallow breathing. When the prayer was over, the congregation filed out, but the family remained in the church. They needed a moment together, as they once again mourned Daniel. Martha hugged Livy and Ray, telling them to go on, she would make their excuses at dinner. She shook her head sadly as they slipped out the side door of the church--she could tell Ray was doing his best to contain his emotions and she wanted to spare him any embarrassment. On the drive home, Livy scooted close to him...it was her turn to offer an understanding touch as she tucked her arm under his.
Monday, December 4, 1944
It was later than usual when Livy woke up, the sun streaming through the sheer curtains. She'd slept much better, thanks to Ray's suggestion of a warm bath before bed. She smiled. The backrubs he now gave her every night did more to help than anything else. She loved that time with Ray, in the quiet and dark, knowing he would stay as long as it took for her to finally fall asleep. She dressed and came down to find the teakettle still warm and biscuits on a covered plate. Ray had left a note saying he was only down at the tree line, and to ring the big bell on the porch if she needed him. Otherwise, he would be back at the house shortly. Livy fixed her tea and sat at the kitchen table. She thought about Ray, and how subdued he'd been after church yesterday. That was only natural, with the third anniversary of Daniel's death looming. She knew how this weighed on him, and wanted to give him her support--they were both too familiar with the pain of loss.
Franklin's bark roused Livy from her thoughts. She looked out to see Ray coming across the yard, pulling a short pallet on runners. It held a small pine tree-- balled and wrapped in burlap, along with branches he had pruned from assorted evergreens. Livy pulled her sweater close and joined him in the lean-to as he began to unload his trimmings. He gave her a shy smile.
"I thought...that is...I figured we might put up a Christmas tree, maybe later this week? I haven't bothered with one since,...well..."
"Ray, that's a great idea...we can string popcorn and cranberries. Maybe make some gingerbread ornaments? Would that be all right?"
"Sure, Livy....and there's boxes of Mama's stuff in the attic. I can get those down...if you want?" she nodded, thinking how thoughtful he was.
Ray began to unroll chicken wire and spread out the branches on the floor. Next he got his pliers, some wire and cutters.
"Maybe you'd like some pine roping for the house? I need to make these up, to take to the cemetery, but..."
"Ray, it's too cold out here! Why don't you get an old blanket, and we can work on the kitchen table," Ray squinted slightly, looking up at Livy with a puzzled look on his face.
"You'd do that? You want to help me?"
"Of course--I've done this since I was little, helping mama. Really, I'd like to."
So they worked that afternoon, first making grave blankets for Ray's parents and brother. Though hesitant at first, with Livy's gently coaxing Ray talked about his family. About good times, about Christmas memories. While Livy made wreaths for the doors, she told Ray about her family and their holiday traditions. As she fashioned bows from red and green fabric remnants, he looped roping around the porch rails. The smell of fresh pine comforted them, and both were glad for the time they had spent together. Both were thinking about the baby...and what the next Christmas might hold for all of them.
Thursday, December 7, 1944
Pearl Harbor Day
Livy called down the steps, just as Ray was getting his coat on.
"Ah, Liv...did I wake you? It's early yet, I'm sorry...." He looked up at her, his hat in his hand, running his fingers over the brim.
"No, no Ray. I just..well, I was hoping you'd wait for me, so I could go with you."
"It's freezing out, you should stay here...stay warm. I won't be long..."
"Ray, Martha told me you'd go to the cemetery first thing this morning. I'd really like to join you...if you don't mind?"
"Of course, Livy...I appreciate it. I'll just get the beet box warmed up for you."
Even though it was cold, it was a beautiful morning. Ray helped her into the truck and they headed out.
"They'll have a military ceremony this afternoon. It's just that...well, I need my own time, y'know?" Livy gave him a small smile.
"Of course, Ray... " Once they got to the cemetery, he made Livy wait in the truck while he staked the grave blankets into the ground. He came back for her, holding her arm firmly in his, making sure she didn't slip. As they stood at Danny's grave, Ray reflected a bit on his memories of that horrible day.
"I'd just come home from church....the radio was on when they broke in with the news. I knew right away...knew Danny was gone--his ship was one of the first ones down. My first thought was to get to Martha, to tell her myself--but, by the time I got to her...they'd heard it at the potluck and come straight home. She..." He paused, swallowing hard.
"She took it hard. We all did...it's still hard. There's days when I turn to say something to Danny, like I expect he's still here with me." Livy hugged him, comforted him.
"I know, Ray...I know..." Ray took a deep breath, then smiled sadly.
"He'd have loved you, Livy...and this new niece or nephew of his, too..."
He bowed his head and offered a prayer. Putting his hat on, he turned to help Livy back to the truck. Only a couple days before she was to leave...how on earth was he going to find the words? Could he convince her to stay, to be his wife, his love?
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