Rita adjusted her pearls. Her small bedroom had a faint, sweet smell of perfume and fresh linens. The small vanity she sat at was cluttered with little items. A paper box filled bottle caps from sodas she had shared with friends, a pink flower clip for her hair given to her by her father, her mother's favorite lipstick. Perhaps, the most treasured of them all was a seashell from the year she visited the beach with her sweetheart, Louis.
She fiddled with her jewelry, a anxious habit she had developed since the war started. The words last dance were ringing in her ears. Marci, her best friend, had promised that the dance would help distract them. Yet so far it had only made the fear worse. Louis was leaving for the war.
Rita thought back to that terrible day when Louis had told her he was going to fight. His brothers, Frank and Ben, had both died on the front. The day Louis had turned eighteen was the day he had visited the recruiting office.
A faint rap at the front door called her from her thoughts. She powdered her nose once more and slipped her shoes on, leaning down to fidget with the buckles. Smoothing her dress down, she stood and hurried down the stairs.
Louis stood in the doorway, a white smile greeting her the second she came into view. Rita nearly tripped over herself the way she rushed towards him, apologizing for holding him up.
"Nonsense," He smiled. "I'd wait an eternity for you, Doll."
She giggled. "And why not two eternities?"
"Well let's be reasonable here." He chuckled, holding his arm out to her. She gladly accepted, placing two hands gently on his suit sleeve.
The city streets were lined with little shops. Brightly colored posters were tacked to walls and windows, with bold fonts and eye catching illustrations. A warm light was cast over the entire block by the rapidly setting sun. Noises buzzed in the air. Automobiles and birds alike sung into the fresh spring air.
Rita and Louis walked together, still linked at the arms. The neighbors waved as they went by. Rita knew nearly everyone in the small Philadelphia town. She spent good portions of her day helping the elderly or short of hand with their gardens, and volunteering at the local food drive for soldiers.
When they arrived at the large house, a bright tune was pouring from the open windows. They hurried up the porch steps and walked through the living room. Furniture was shoved to the very edges of the room. Over a dozen young men and women danced on the shiny wood floors, swaying to "Minnie's in the Money" crackling from the record. Rita smiled up at Louis, a bittersweet twist in her gut. She was interrupted by Marci, who was hosting the party. She squealed and hugged Rita, her blond curls bouncing.
"I'm so glad you're here! Isn't this just a fine party?" She grinned through her red lipstick. "Look at you two! All dressed up!" She opened her mouth to say more, but a voice called out her name. She apologized and rushed away.
As the music sped up, the large room filled with clapping and stomping. Rita twisted around Louis, the two of them laughing. The room was full of skirts twirling in near perfect circles. Bright blues and greens flashed like confetti. Handsome men held lovely ladies at their arms.
The music slowed. Rita and Louis swayed together. Her arms rested against his shoulders, linking behind his neck. He had his hands placed gently just above her sides. Rita sighed into his neck. Their feet were barely moving, a pie pan dance at best. "Moonlight Serenade". Rita sunk her head into Louis' chest, her heart sinking lower and lower as the night went on. It was their song, and it only made the war feel closer, more real.
The flicker of streetlights guided their path home that night. The spring air was cool against their skin. Rita's eyes were heavy with sleep. Louis walked her up her porch steps, arm still around her shoulders.
"Goodnight, Doll." He smiled at her. He kissed her and walked back down the street.
It didn't make sense to Rita.
The sun was shining. The grass still green. The neighbors were still laughing. It was a perfectly ordinary day. So it didn't make sense, it couldn't make sense.
Louis' mother had walked over that morning. A polite knock on the door. Her voice cracked as she spoke in barely a whisper.