...Loud chatter and clouds of smoke met them at the door. Raven and Hoop joined a ribbon of men working their way through the line and came out the other end, each carrying a cup of coffee and a plate bearing a chocolate frosted doughnut.
Going slowly up the center aisle, Hoop and Raven checked the rows of crowded picnic tables. Only one bench in the last row had any available space, but it had room for only one of them—and that would have been a tight squeeze.
Two nurses sat across from that lonely space. Hoop knew they were called VADs, an acronym that stood for Voluntary Aid Detachment. He looked at them out of the corner of his eye to avoid staring. They wore light gray uniforms with starched white cuffs and bibs. Attached to a stiff brim bearing a Red Cross, a gray cloth matching their uniform covered their hair. Only their hairlines showed. One of them was especially pretty.
The pretty one raised her head, spotting the two men. After checking the empty space, she pointed and said in a Scottish brogue, “Ye can sit there if ye like.”
The second nurse looked up at her companion in surprise.
Hoop could hardly believe their luck. He and Raven headed to the spot, but hesitated.
Seeing the problem, the Scottish nurse gazed down the line of men. “Pourriez vous serrer vers le haut, s’il vous plait, et faites un peu d’espace.”
The line of men stared at her much as they would a goddess. Obediently, they squeezed together and the empty space gradually expanded until there was enough space for both of them.
“Merci,” both Hoop and Raven said to the soldiers as they set their dishes down and stepped over the bench.
“And th-thank you so very much,” Hoop said as he sat, embarrassed to have stuttered. His heart beat faster and faster. Violet-colored eyes, jet-black hair, a triangular-shaped face, lips small but full, features that made her one of the prettiest women he had ever seen in his life. The only mar, if you wanted to call it that, was a mole that appeared under her left cheekbone. “This is so very, very thoughtful of you. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to find a place to sit.”
“Yes, thank you,” Raven said.
“Ye’re welcome. Ye both looked stranded oot there.”
“Where did you learn to speak French so well?” Hoop asked.
“I’m half-French. My father is French. The line goes way back, although he never lived in France.”
“Huguenot?” Hank guessed.
A surprised look came over her face. “How did ye know?”
“We studied it in school—how the Huguenots were, well, persecuted, I guess you’d call it—Protestants in a land of Catholics. They left France centuries ago and, by and large, I believe most of them became Presbyterians, which is the way I was brought up. In fact, my father is a pastor.”
“He is? The three sons of my pastor were rowdy.”
The other VAD said, “So were ours. E’en his daughter.”
Hoop couldn’t help but laugh. “Well, I wouldn’t say I was rowdy exactly. Maybe a little mischievous, but nothing real bad.”
The Scottish nurse glanced at his armband. “Ye’re an ambulance driver?”
Hoop nodded again.
“And what made ye come over here?”
Hoop leaned forward and his voice took on an enthusiastic cadence. “I read an article last summer about the Americans over here, darting helter-skelter in their ambulances, saving lives. It reminded me of the Knights of King Arthur that I read as a kid. It just said something to me. And when the notice came in over the wire at the newspaper where I worked, I had to volunteer.”
“Ah-h, King Arthur! So ye dreamed of becomin’ a knight of the roon’ table, did ye?”
She smiled reminiscently. “All of us wee lassies pretended we were Lady Guinevere.”
They looked deeply in each other’s eyes. It seemed as though time had stopped...