Chapter 1

June 10, 1949

Katie Vanderheiden ducked into the back entrance of Hot Dog Heaven and slipped into its tiny employee break room.  Plopping herself into one of the two chairs, she pushed  battered brown-and-white saddle oxfords off her feet and smoothed thick bobby socks up her legs.  Next, she wriggled out of her flowered dirndl skirt, petticoat, and cornflower-blue blouse, and pulled on a short pleated red majorette-type skirt and matching, tight-fitted top.  Hastily, she shook out the discarded garments, and with a few quick movements had them suspended neatly on a hanger.  She peered into a tiny compact mirror, blotting her shiny nose with powder, flicking a few strokes of black mascara onto her sandy lashes, and outlining her lips with a dab of Cherries in the Snow lipstick.

“I look all right now, don’t I, Sally?” she appealed to a dark-haired girl who had just entered the little room.  “Not too young?”

The new arrival laughed.  “Sure, Katie, you look fine.  With that makeup and your uniform, you don’t look like a little girl anymore.  Get your skates on and show old Arnie what you can do.”

“Skating is definitely something I can do.  Waitressing – well, we’ll see.”  Katie grinned in spite of her hesitant-sounding answer.  She was not afraid of hard work, and didn’t mind doing what was necessary to save money for her future goals.  “I know I don’t want to be a waitress for the rest of my life, but you have to start somewhere.”  She pulled on a pair of white lace-up roller-skating boots, pulling the laces to just the right tension as if it was something she’d done every day of her seventeen years.

Rising to her feet, she bowed gracefully to the other girl.  “Welcome to Hot Dog Heaven!  Are you ready to order, ma’am?” 

Sally laughed again, and Katie skated past her into the kitchen area to receive her assignments for the evening.

It was only her second day at Hot Dog Heaven, the new “drive-in” restaurant on the Albany Post Road, just north of the downtown area of Sleepyside, New York.  The previous day, she had simply interviewed with the owner, and he had shown her around the restaurant and parking lot, explaining the system for taking orders and serving.  Katie recalled his instructions, trying to commit them to her memory.

“Customers will drive up and blink their lights for service, so you need to watch for that.  When you see the lights blink, you need to get out there, greet the customer and write down their orders.  Take the orders back to the cook staff and make sure they know it.”

“Yes, sir,” she agreed in a meek voice.

“Not like that!  You need to speak up, Miss Katie.  It can get noisy back in the kitchen.”

“I can talk loud enough,” she said, raising her voice.

“That’s better.”   He grinned at her and she felt more comfortable.  “Here’s the signal that the order is ready to serve.”  He pressed a button and a bell chimed.  “Remember what that sounds like.  If you miss it and the food gets cold, the customer isn’t going to be happy.”

Katie nodded again.

“These trays clip to the car doors,” he went on.  “It can be tricky to skate with a full tray.  I hear you’re a good skater.”

“Yes, I am.  I’ve never skated with a tray in one hand, but I’m a quick learner.”  She spoke more confidently than she really felt.

“If you don’t have any customers, I want you and Sally out on the lot, keeping trash picked up.  And always wash your hands before handling the food.  Always!”

“Yes, sir!”

She recalled her enthusiasm and straightened her shoulders, pasting a smile on her face and hoping she’d be able to do a good job.    As a rising senior, she was excited at the opportunity, and its possibility of tips.  She skated outside to meet her first customers.  

After an hour of taking various orders from her schoolmates who had congregated at the new “hangout”, Katie was ready for a break.  She had mixed up three orders, and her boss had taken her aside for a stern lecture on being more careful.

“I’ll try harder, Mr. Hartford,” she promised, willing herself not to cry.  “I really need this job and I’ll work hard.”

“Katie, call me Arnie.  Everyone else does.”  The stocky man ran a hand through his thinning hair.  “I know you’re trying,” he continued.  “I’m out on a limb here.  I had to borrow a lot of money to start this place up, and I need fast, accurate waitresses who will help me to build a good reputation.  See if you can use some little memory association tricks to keep the customers and their orders straight.  That’s all I’m asking.”

“Yes, Mr. Hart - I mean Arnie,” she managed to answer.  Unable to hold back the tears any longer, she quickly went down on one knee and examined the lace on her left skate.

“Take five,” her boss suggested.  “Get yourself a Coke from the fountain and take a breather.”  He smiled, and Katie knew he was trying to help her save face.

After her short break, Katie was surprised to find that she really did feel better.  She had splashed cold water on her face and refreshed her makeup, and she gave herself a practice smile in the washroom mirror before returning to her duties outside.  “Welcome to Hot Dog Heaven!  Are you ready to order?”  She skated back out to the parking lot, determined to get every one of her orders right for the rest of the night.

Winthrop Frayne gazed out the window at the pastoral scenery as the car in which he was riding neared his hometown of Sleepyside, New York.  His roommate, Matthew Wheeler, had offered to drop him off at his uncle’s home before continuing on to his own family’s place in Connecticut.  The ride, in Matt’s 1948 Chrysler New Yorker convertible, was much more pleasant than the train he usually took from Boston to Sleepyside at semester breaks.  He drank in the newly-lush, green countryside, the leafy trees, and the purple foothills of the Catskill Mountains in the distance.  It was not quite dusk, and the air was still pleasantly warm on this evening in early June.

“Hey, there’s a little drive-in restaurant,” Matt exclaimed.  He pointed ahead at a small building topped by a tall neon-lit sign.  It was surrounded by spoke-like elevated concrete sidewalks, each topped with a bright red and yellow umbrella.  “I could go for a Coke right now.  Want to stop?”

Win stared at the small structure in its expansive parking lot.  It was new since his last trip home.  In a way, he was sad to see the countryside being taken over by modern life, although in the past few years since the end of the war, he’d noticed more and more building going on in the village.  

Popular music from a loudspeaker competed with the laughter and chatter of customers in the cars that ringed the building.  Enticing aromas of hot dogs, burgers, and french fries wafted through the open windows of the Chrysler.  Although Win had planned to eat supper with his aunt and uncle, the good smells were making him hungry. 

“Sure, I’d like to wet my whistle,” he agreed.  Not waiting for his friend’s answer, Matt had already started to turn.   

Win could tell it was going to be a bit tricky to maneuver the Chrysler into one of the narrow parking spaces between the concrete “spokes”, and Matt had to drive halfway around the lot before finding an empty space.   No sooner had he shut off the ignition than a petite blonde girl in a short red-and-white skirt—that showed some really nice legs—skated up to the driver’s window.

“Welcome to Hot Dog Heaven!  May I take your order, sir?  Sirs, that is!”  

She smiled, and Win noticed she had adorable dimples.  Her blonde hair was pulled back into a high ponytail which spiraled in a pale gold, toffee-colored swirl.  He lowered his eyes when he realized he was staring at her.

Matt laughed.  “Sure!  We’ve driven all the way from Boston today, and we’re dry as the desert in this ragtop.  Can you get us a couple of Cokes?”   He glanced at Win, who was pulling his wallet out.  “Did you want something to eat, Win?  I thought you were eating with your aunt and uncle.”

“I’m kind of hungry, now that you mention it.”  Win felt a strange fascination with the little carhop.  He suddenly wanted to linger here.  “It’s a little later than I thought we’d get here and Uncle James and Aunt Nell have probably already eaten.”

“Well, I’m in no rush,” Matt said with a shrug.  “It’s not going to take that much longer to get to Connecticut, and driving at night I’ll have less traffic to fight.”

The girl pulled a small pad and pencil from a hidden pocket of her skirt, and prepared to take their order.

When she had turned and skated off to turn in the order, Matt turned to his passenger.  “What’s itching you all of a sudden?” he asked.  “Are you gone on that little girl?”

“No!  That is, sure, she’s cute.  She’s a regular honey bun.”  He tried to act casual.  “I was just hungry all of a sudden.  That doesn’t mean I’m falling for a… a carhop.”

“That’s good, because I don’t think your uncle would like it if you threw over Alice Rainsford for a carhop.”  Matt whistled.  “But man, she is a looker!  I wouldn’t mind taking her out on a late date.”

“Keep it zipped, Wheeler!”  Win felt uncomfortable, as he sometimes did when Matt exerted his considerable charm to attract women.  Girls fell for the tall, athletic redhead with green eyes and a large trust fund.  Matt knew he was a “catch” and he enjoyed being with different girls as often as possible.  The two friends looked so much alike, they could have been brothers, but Win was far more serious and responsible than his friend. 

“What?  Don’t tell me the thought didn’t cross your mind!”  Matt glared at him.

“Stop talking about her—here she comes,” Win warned.  The girl skated gracefully to the car on Matt’s side, despite the two loaded trays she carried.  Carefully, she hooked the tray over the door and turned to go around the front of the car to Win’s side.  Just as she turned her back to the parking lot, a horn honked loudly.  The girl jerked, the tray tilted, and as she tried desperately to right it before all the food spilled, she lost her balance and fell, landing most ungracefully on one knee. 

Win jumped out of the car, Matt a few steps behind since he was hindered by the tray hooked to his door.

“Are you all right?”  Win took in the skinned knee, the spilled Coke on the sidewalk and staining her skirt, the ketchup, mustard, and relish from his hotdog splashed up into her blonde hair.

“I’m fine,” she insisted, her face scarlet with embarrassment.  Tears welled in her eyes.   “I might have to go home, though.  I’ll have to change and I don’t have another uniform here.  Arnie – my boss – he’s going to be so mad!”  The tears escaped and her face crumpled. 

Win tried to find a ray of comfort for her in the situation, but couldn’t think of even one.  Staring into her blue eyes, he couldn’t think of anything – anything at all.  The pair of them seemed to be frozen in place for an endless moment before Matt’s voice brought him back to the present with a jolt.

“Can you get up, or does it hurt to put weight on either of your legs?”  Matt had picked up the tray, scraped as much food and bits of broken glass as possible off the concrete, and dumped the whole mess into a nearby trash receptacle.

The girl looked away from Win and stared at her skinned knee.  A few beads of blood had oozed out of the scrape, and they began to coalesce, trickling down her leg.  Win thought her face grew paler, but she moved as if to try to stand.

“Don’t get up,” he said, whipping a clean handkerchief from his pocket.  He unfolded the cloth and tied it around her knee, marveling at how tiny her leg was.  “That’ll stop the bleeding,” he announced confidently.  “Now, don’t try to get up.”  He scooped her up, one arm behind her back and one under her knees, and got to his feet with hardly any trouble.

“I can walk,” the girl protested. 

“You’re hurt,” he countered.  “Maybe you shouldn’t walk until we can check out your leg.  You never know, you might have sprained something.”

The girl directed them to a side door, and Matt opened it, allowing Win to precede him.  Inside, Win found himself in a small lounge, with a tiny table and two chairs, adjoining an equally tiny restroom.  He lowered his burden onto one of the chairs.  “Now, try and stand up,” he encouraged her.

The blonde girl put both of her skate-clad feet on the floor, and stood slowly, holding to the chair.

“I’m okay,” she assured them.  “Just a little shaken up.”  She tossed her head, making the ponytail bounce.  “If only I had some more clothes to change into, I could finish out my shift with no problems.”

“Katie, what’s going on?  Why aren’t you waiting on customers?  Sally’s running herself ragged out there.”  A man dressed in a white cap and bowling shirt barreled through the swinging door that separated the lounge from the cooking area.  Wiping his hands on an apron, he looked her up and down.  After taking a good look at her disheveled state – especially the state of her hair – he added in a gentler tone, “What happened?”

“I’m sorry, Arnie!”  Katie’s blue eyes again filled with tears.  “I was waiting on these two men, and just after I served the tray on the driver’s side and had my back turned, I guess a car drove by and honked its horn.  It scared me and I fell.  I’m so sorry!”

“Don’t blame the girl, sir.”  Matt spoke up before Win could think of anything to say.  “It wasn’t her fault – I think there was a rough spot in the sidewalk and when the horn startled her she stumbled on it.”

“She’s hurt, and she said she doesn’t have an extra uniform.  We thought it would be best to bring her inside and check her knee,” Win added, determined to perform a Scout-like action and assist a defenseless female. 

“Why, you are hurt!”  The man seemed to notice the makeshift bandage for the first time.  “Let me see that knee.”

In a few moments, Arnie cleaned the scrape and applied iodine and a fresh bandage.  Katie didn’t talk during the procedure, and neither did Win or Matt, who had helped himself to the other chair while he waited. 

“Now, you don’t need to be up on that leg any more tonight,” Arnie said, shaking a finger at the girl.  “Sally and I’ll manage somehow.”  He shrugged his shoulders.  “If it feels all right tomorrow, come on back to work.  If not, give me a call so I can try to line up another waitress.”

“It’ll be fine tomorrow, Arnie.  I know it will!”  Katie blinked several times, and Win wondered if she was trying to hold back more tears.  His heart went out to the plucky girl.

“Should I just wait here until closing time?” Katie asked.  “My mother doesn’t like for me to walk home, and Sally said she’d give me a ride after our shift.”

“Sure, but it’s going to be a few hours.”  Arnie took his hat off and ran a hand through his thinning hair.  “I can’t run the place by myself, and it’s too much for Sally alone, too.  So neither of us can take you home now.”

Win could see his opportunity to earn some points with the attractive young girl, and possibly to get to know her better.  “We could take her home,” he blurted out.  Matt, who had been lounging back against the wall with the front legs of his chair tilted up off the floor, sat up with a bang.  He looked as if he wanted to say something, but didn’t.

Arnie gave him an appraising stare.  “And just why should I trust you with my young female employee?”

Win flushed, a deep, brick red.  “Sir, I can see why you’d question our motives.  We’re strangers to you and to Katie.  I’m Winthrop Frayne and this is my friend, Matthew Wheeler.  We’re students at Harvard, and Matt gave me a ride home today.  I’m spending the summer with my uncle and aunt, James and Nell Frayne, here in Sleepyside.  You’re perfectly welcome to call them, if you’d like to check up on me.”  He extended a hand to the burly man, and shook hands with his firmest grip.  

Unexpectedly, Katie spoke up.  “I’ve heard of James Frayne, Arnie.  He lives out on Glen Road.  My mother has done some sewing for Mrs. Frayne.  She told Mamma all about her nephew, Winthrop, and how he was at Harvard on a full scholarship.”  She favored Win with a brilliant smile.

Matt, never at a loss for long in any situation, stood and addressed Arnie himself.  “Matthew Hamilton Wheeler, of Stony Brook, Connecticut, and the island of Nantucket.  You couldn’t meet a more honorable fellow than Winthrop Frayne.  He’s an Eagle Scout.” He too proffered a handshake to the older man.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.  I’m kind of an entrepreneur myself, and I always like to talk to other businessmen.”

“I’m pleased to meet you,” Arnie returned.  “And I’d be glad to talk some business with you sometime, if you really want to.  But I don’t know you or your young friend here from Adam.  You could be feeding me a load of soft soap.”  He frowned.  “Not to say you’re not trustworthy, but I live by an old Russian proverb:  ‘trust, but verify’.  My cousin, Wendell Molinson, is a policeman.  I’ll just call him and see if he can follow you fellows out to Katie’s house on his motorcycle.” 

After Arnie went back to the kitchen to make a few calls and the two college men stepped outside to smoke, Katie freshened up as best she could in the tiny restroom, changing back into her school clothes for the ride home.  No way was she getting into that smooth convertible wearing her mustard- and relish-spattered uniform!  She tucked the soiled clothing into a paper bag and walked out of the lounge into the kitchen of Hot Dog Heaven, limping only a little.

“Wendell will be here in about ten minutes, Katie,” Arnie told her.  “You’ll be safe, whether those two are as respectable as they want to act, or not.”

“Thanks, Arnie.  I really do appreciate what you’re doing,” Katie replied.  “Although I think the taller one, Win, seems very honorable.”  She smiled, recalling the glow in his green eyes when he picked her up from the sidewalk. 

“The former Boy Scout?”  Arnie shook his head.  “Maybe he is.  But you don’t know him yet, Katie!  Get to know him better before you go off alone in a car with him.”  He shook a finger at her to emphasize his words.  “Him, or any other guy.  The world is full of guys who are ready to take advantage of a sweet young girl like you.  And most of them seem sincere and honorable right up until it’s too late.”

“Okay, Arnie!”  Katie threw up her hands.  “I get the picture.”

The bell attached to the front door of the drive-in jangled just then, and a skinny young police officer stuck his head inside, tipping his hat when he noticed Katie standing there.

“Hi, cousin!”  The young policeman directed his greeting to Arnie, although he inclined his head and smiled at her as well.  Katie noticed his bright blue eyes and she smiled back at him before looking down in sudden confusion.  She didn’t want him to think she was a fast girl! 

Arnie was speaking, but she barely listened to him, instead studying the officer from under shyly dropped lashes.  She noticed that he had a head of thick black hair, pomaded into a pompadour style.  His navy uniform was pressed crisply and his black shoes shone.  He’s not as good-looking as Win, she thought.  But I could do worse than to date a policeman … although he’s a little old for me.

 “Katie!”  Arnie snapped his fingers in front of her face.  “Stop your wool-gathering, Wendell doesn’t have all night to wait for you.”

She felt her neck heating up.  As the burn spread up her jaws and into her hairline, she knew she was blushing furiously.  “I’m ready,” she said.

As Officer Molinson opened the door for her, Katie stepped outside, glancing as unobtrusively as possible to check the location of Matt Wheeler’s convertible and waving when she spotted it.  Immediately, Matt waved back and started the car.  He pulled smoothly to the spot in front of Katie, and Win jumped out, gallantly opening the front door for her.  

Katie smiled at him and climbed into the car as gracefully as she could.  When Win moved to the back seat, rather than squeezing into the front with her and Matt, she felt a stab of disappointment.  But after all, there was nothing she could say that would be proper, under the circumstances.  She didn’t even know Win, just as Arnie had said.  The putt-putt of Officer Molinson’s motorcycle started up, and as they pulled out of the drive-in’s lot, she saw him following.

“Straight ahead for about a fourth of a mile, then left onto Hawthorne Street,” she told Matt.  “I live off Hawthorne Street.”

In less than five minutes they had reached the small, shabby frame house where Katie lived with her mother.  She started to open the door but Win was too quick for her.  He had already hopped out and opened it.  Officer Molinson waited behind the car, his cycle idling while Win walked her up to the front porch.

“Thank you,” Katie said, looking up at him.  “I don’t know what I would have done if you two hadn’t offered to take me home.” 

Win chuckled.  “You probably would have been a lot better off – you wouldn’t have fallen and you could have worked your shift and earned more money tonight.  I’m really sorry about what happened.”  Once again, he smiled—the sweetest smile Katie had ever seen on a boy.

They stood, for a moment, awkward and not knowing exactly what to do next.  Then the porch light came on and the front door opened.

“Katje!  What are you doing home so early?”  Katie’s mother stood in the doorway, clutching a dishtowel in one hand.  She wore a worried frown as she glanced from her daughter to the tall young man standing with her.

“Mamma!  I was startled by a car horn honking and fell while I was holding a tray of food.  I skinned my knee and got relish and mustard in my hair.  These two fellows were eating and offered to bring me home because my uniform was all stained.  The police officer followed us to make sure they didn’t take advantage of me.”  Her face heated again, and she glanced up at Win, trying to apologize for being so horribly frank.

“I suppose I should thank you for bringing my Katje home,” Mrs. Vanderheiden said.  “It was very kind of you.”

“Mamma, this is Winthrop Frayne.  Mrs. Frayne that you’ve done sewing for, it’s her nephew.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Frayne.  I’m Juliana Vanderheiden, Katje’s mother.”  Gray-haired Mrs. Vanderheiden extended her hand to shake Win’s.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Vanderheiden.  Perhaps we’ll see more of each other – I’m here for a month visiting my uncle and aunt.”  Win bowed courteously and turned to leave.  “Good night, Katie.  It was nice to meet you, too.  And I hope we do meet again.”  He shook hands with Katie, too, and turned away.  She watched for a moment and waved good-bye to Matt as well as Officer Molinson, who started his motorcycle up again and buzzed off into the twilight.

Inside, Mrs. Vanderheiden began to remonstrate with her daughter.  “Katje, my child!  Why in the world would you accept a ride from two strange men?  No matter whom they are.”

“Mamma, Mamma!  Why do you insist on calling me Katje?  I told you I want to be called Katie – it sounds like a normal American name.  Katje is too foreign and funny-sounding.”  Katie jerked her uniform out of the bag and strode to the kitchen where she ran cold water into the sink and shook some soap flakes into it before whisking the skirt into the water.

Once it was soaking in the water, she turned back to her mother.  “Besides, Mamma, Arnie told me the very same thing.  That’s exactly why he asked his cousin, the police officer, to follow us home.  To make sure no hanky-panky was going on.”  She put her hands on her hips.  “But anyway, those boys were nice.  Especially Win.  He has the sweetest smile!”  Katie stared dreamily out the window, remembering Win’s smile.

“Well, if he’s really all that nice, he’ll come to see you again.  But boys like him don’t date girls like you.”  Mrs. Vanderheiden stroked her daughter’s blonde hair, tsk-ing as she plucked out bits of relish.  “His uncle has him set up with a potential wife already – someone in his own class who can take her place as the wife of James Frayne’s heir.  Don’t set yourself up for disappointment, my dear.”

Angrily, Katie shook off her mother’s touch.  “Mamma, first, it’s way too early for me to even think about dating Win, let alone marrying him.  I need to finish school, and I want to see the world, do things.  I don’t want to get married for a long time!  I just said he was nice.”

“My Katje – Katie!”  Katie saw her mother’s eyes fill with tears, and she suddenly felt like a criminal.  “Your sister said the same thing.  And where is she now?  I haven’t heard from Betje since the war ended.”

“I’m sorry, Mamma!  I didn’t mean it about seeing the world.”   Katie’s English class had just finished studying King Lear, and a phrase from the play flitted through her mind.  Sharper than a serpent’s tooth …   

“If only we hadn’t moved!  She may have sent letters to our old address, and they weren’t forwarded.  And her home may have been bombed.  Even if she is alive I don’t know how to go about locating her.”  Mrs. Vanderheiden sat down with a thud in one of the ladder backed kitchen chairs, wiping her eyes with the corner of her apron.

“Mamma, we’ll write to the embassy again.  Surely if Bettie and her husband are in Holland they can be found.”  Katie patted her mother’s back, tears in her own eyes.  What an awful daughter she was.  And she was the only family her mother had left, if Bettie was… well, she wasn’t going to think about that.

Several days passed and Katie didn’t see Win again.  But she became more comfortable working at the drive-in and didn’t have any more accidents.  Then one day when she had been on duty for an hour, she spied a familiar-looking redheaded figure striding up the road to Hot Dog Heaven.  She squinted to try to make out the man’s features, becoming more excited when she decided it had to be Winthrop Frayne.  Sure enough, it was her knight in shining armor.

“Do you take walkup orders?” he asked when he reached the curbside umbrella table.

“Sure!  Only no one ever walks out here,” Katie told him with a smile.

“Well, I guess I’m different that way.  How about a chili dog and a Coke?”  Win grinned at her and sat down.

“Coming right up!”  She skated to the ordering window and turned in his order, then since for the moment there was a lull in customers, she headed back to the table to see if he wanted to talk.

“So how’s your visit with your aunt and uncle?  Is it quiet enough for you here in Sleepyside?” Katie giggled at her own joke.

“I like the quiet.  My uncle’s house is out in the country, and you can walk just a little way and be right out in the middle of … well, of nature.”  There was a golden glint of something – sunshine? – in his green eyes, but Katie responded to his words instead of the look on his face. 

“Nature!”  Katie sniffed.  “I can do without nature.  Chiggers and mice, ugh.  And dirt.”

“Each to his own,” Win responded with a chuckle.  “But the wild animals and plants are fascinating to me.  It’s a new lesson every day to see how everything in nature fits together and has a purpose.  I’d like to live on the land for a month or so, just to see if I could survive.  Our ancestors were tough – I don’t know if we could do the things they did in order to come to this country and put down their roots.”

“It’s just a good thing I’m not a pioneer,” she agreed.  “I’m definitely not tough enough.”  She forced herself to stop staring at her handsome visitor and looked down at her neat pink-tinted nails.  Despite Win’s enthusiasm for nature, he had a charisma that drew her like a moth to a flame.  She wanted to be someone he could admire.

“But I’m studying hard in school and I’m on track to be one of the top ten in my class,” she offered.  “I might not be tough, but I’m willing to work hard for what I want.”

Win leaned forward.  “And what do you want, Katie Vanderheiden?”  He looked as if he really cared about her answer.

“I want to get an education and see the world.  I want to get away from Sleepyside, where everyone thinks of me as Katie Vanderheiden from the wrong side of the tracks.  I want to have nice things.”  She flushed at the last admission, which had tumbled out by accident.

“Not such bad things to want.”  Win smiled and didn’t seem horrified by her answer.  She thought he was about to say something more, but the loudspeaker crackled and Arnie’s amplified voice announced, “Katie, you have an order up.”  She blushed and hurried away to fetch Win’s order.

After Katie served Win’s food, three new customers arrived and she didn’t have time to chat any more.  Win sat alone at his table, looking totally self-sufficient and capable, and he barely seemed to have broken a sweat, despite the heat of mid-June.

“Hey, waitress!  Blondie!  Can we get some food here?”  A beefy young man stuck his arm out of the driver’s side window of a battered truck and waved at Katie, snapping his fingers.  She flushed with embarrassment as well as anger at his rudeness, but skated over to the truck with a friendly smile on her face.

She didn’t see Win look up from his food with a frown at the newcomer.  He was right behind her before she even knew he’d gotten out of his seat.  She jumped when his voice sounded over her head.

“Buddy, where I come from, ladies are treated with respect,” he said to the truck driver.  “I hope I didn’t hear you call this young lady Blondie.”  Win smiled, but it wasn’t a friendly smile.

“Look, I’m sorry if I upset your girlfriend,” the other man said with a shrug.  “But me and my buddy are hungry, and she wasn’t paying any attention to the customers.”

“Sir, I’m not his girlfriend.”  She spun around to wave Win back to his table, whispering, “It’s okay!”  Turning back to her customer, she continued, trying to smooth over the unpleasantness with a little white lie.  “Sorry if I was distracted when you drove up.  I got some bad news earlier, and I’ve had trouble paying attention since then.”

By the time she’d taken the man’s order and skated over to drop it off, Win had pulled a book from his pocket and appeared to be engrossed in his reading. 

She kept glancing over at him as she hurried back and forth from the parked cars to the pick-up window.  She hoped her attention to him wasn’t obvious to him or to other customers, but she couldn’t keep her thoughts away from the handsome redhead.  Win wasn’t like any of the boys she knew at Washington Irving High School, near her home.  He seemed at once sophisticated and down-to-earth, comfortable in his own skin. 

Normally, Katie had no trouble keeping her mind on her work.  She was naturally friendly and also motivated enough to take an interest in her customers.  The presence of Winthrop Frayne was the only thing different about today, compared to every other day, and she couldn’t help being consumed by curiosity about why he’d walked all the way out here from his home on Glen Road, an area Katie and her friends considered “ritzy.”  Don’t let that curiosity keep you from doing your job, she reminded herself more than once.

Finally, after all of the other lingering lunch customers had left, Win finished his food and she skated over to his table to take his trash to the bin.  “I hope you enjoyed your meal, sir,” she said politely, as she’d been instructed to do for any customer.

“Yes, it hit the spot,” Win agreed, patting his flat stomach.  “But I really came out here to ask you a question.  Do you have a minute?”

Katie’s heart began to race.  Was he going to ask her for a date? Was she crazy to even think such a thing?  For a moment she was speechless.  “I can take a minute,” she said after checking the parking lot and looking up and down the road.  Sally was waiting on the only other customer.

“Great!”  Win’s singularly sweet smile lit his face, and his green eyes crinkled at the corners.  “Is there a day I can take you for a soda at Clayton’s Drug Store?”  He suddenly seemed unsure what to do with his hands, and jammed them into the pockets of his chinos.  “Or, ah, we can come here if you’d like.  But I don’t have a car.” 

“Clayton’s is fine,” Katie said.  “I can easily walk there from home.  Do you want to meet there?”

“Sure.  We can meet there and I’ll walk you home afterwards.  When do you have a day off – or are you still in school?” 

“School’s finally out for the summer,” she told him.  “I’m off the day after tomorrow.  But I don’t come to work until two in the afternoon anyway, even though I don’t have school.  Arnie doesn’t open until eleven-thirty and usually he has some older girls to work the lunch shift.  Sally and I don’t come until later.  Today was different—we had to come earlier because the two lunch girls were off – they were in a wedding over the weekend.”  Here I go, babbling like an idiot, she thought, flushing.  Like he cares about the schedule here.

“In that case, let’s plan to meet at Clayton’s at one o’clock on Wednesday, then,” Win suggested.  “I’d like to do something to make up for causing you to fall and hurt yourself.”

“You didn’t do anything,” she protested.  “It was that car that honked its horn.”  She flushed again, embarrassed to think how ridiculous she must have looked, covered in catsup, mustard, and relish.

“If we hadn’t ordered that food, you wouldn’t have been right there when the car drove by.”

“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride!”  Katie stuck her tongue out at him.  “Now, I’ve got to get back to work before Arnie sees me standing here socializing with a customer.  How do I know you’re going to show up Wednesday?”

It was Win’s turn to flush.  “I said I’d be there,” he said with a frown.  “You have my  word.”

“Okay, okay!” Katie was a bit taken aback.  “I wasn’t doubting your word.  But a girl doesn’t like to be stood up, you know.  I don’t want to go there and look stupid because a guy doesn’t show up.”

“I’ll be there.  You can count on that.”  Win picked up his book and shoved it into his pocket.  Smiling again, he turned and began to stride away.  “Katie Vanderheiden, I’ll see you Wednesday.”   

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Author’s Notes

6168 words

I can't believe it's been five years since my debut as a Jix author! It has been a constant source of joy and friendship to be a part of Jix, and I thank CathyP, the current owners and admins, and all of the members who provide support and feedback as well as fun and games every day! All of you are very important to me and I am thankful for you!

Many, many thanks to my faithful editors, Trish, Ryl, and Ronda! I couldn't post anything without their help and encouragement, not to mention their eagle eyes for commas, grammar, and plotting! Also a big thank you to the members of my online critique group. This story could not have come to fruition without you.

The germ of this story came to me as I read the Beany Malone series, by Lenora Mattingly Weber, several years ago. One character in the series was a carhop, and the first books were written, like the Trixie Belden series, in the 1940s. Several people have envisioned Katie as a wealthy girl who married beneath her social station, but I wondered if Win might not have been the privileged boy who turned his back on wealth to marry a girl who was not. There is more to come in this story. In fact, it's completed, but not edited. You might have to be patient to read it, but I do hope to post it completely in 2012.

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2010 by MaryN/Dianafan. Images from and manipulated by Mary N in Photoshop. Graphics copyright by Mary N 2012.

Story copyright by Mary N 2012.

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