Anchor in the Storm

By: Sarah Sundin



1


Vermilion, Ohio

Sunday, December 7, 1941

Lillian Avery’s dream couldn’t have come true at a worse time.

In the pale afternoon sun slanting through the kitchen window, Dad sat at the table building a model ship while humming “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand,” and Mom gathered kitchen gadgets.

“Here. A flour sifter.” Mom added it to Lillian’s pile on the counter.

“Remember, Mary Stirling said I didn’t need to bring anything for the apartment in Boston.”

Mom rummaged through a cabinet. “But do they have a flour sifter? You’ll need one. And last Christmas Jim gave me a new one.” Her voice cracked.

Lillian’s heart clenched. At the table, Dad stopped humming and gave Lillian a look that said, “At a time like this, take the flour sifter.”

Mom already had reason to be anxious, with the United States tilting on the brink of war and the three oldest Avery boys serving as naval officers. But now? Two weeks after Jim’s destroyer—a neutral ship!—had been sunk by a U-boat? Two weeks of not knowing if he was alive or dead?

How could Lillian leave home at a time like this?

She squeezed the handle of the flour sifter so it made the “shugga-shugga” sound she loved. “Sure, Mom. But if you fill my trunk with gadgets, I won’t have room for clothing and I’ll have to walk around Boston naked.” She winked at Dad.

He smiled and resumed humming and tinkering.

“Lillian Avery! What am I going to do with you?” Mom extracted herself from the cabinet, her hazel eyes misty. “Rather, what am I going to do without you?”

“You’ll manage, same as you did when I was at Ohio State.”

“I know.” Mom tucked a graying lock of hair back into the roll at the nape of her neck. “But I do wish you’d found a job closer to home.”

Lillian suppressed a groan. Even excellent grades hadn’t shielded her from six months of unemployment. Thank goodness Jim had found her a position in Boston. Of course, she’d still have to prove herself. In the acceptance letter, Cyrus Dixon had stated he didn’t want to hire a girl pharmacist but that the peacetime draft limited his choices. She could imagine how he felt about hiring a cripple.

“I’ll be fine, Mom.” In time, she’d win over crotchety Mr. Dixon.

“I know. You have my spunk.” Mom squinted at a turkey baster.

“I don’t know, Erma.” Dad tied a miniature sail to a miniature mast. “With Lillian’s spunk and Mary Stirling for a roommate, she could get in all kinds of trouble.”

“Isn’t that something?” Lillian plucked the turkey baster from her mother’s hand and slipped it into the drawer. “I didn’t know her well growing up, but she was always so quiet and sensible, and off she goes—”

“And catches a saboteur.” Mom stashed the baster in Lillian’s pile. “Well, young lady, see you don’t get caught up in such shenanigans.”

“I’m working at a drugstore, not an ammunition plant.” To distract her parents from the truth that drug addicts did rob drugstores, Lillian grabbed the baster, held it to her mouth like a trumpet, and squeezed the rubber bulb in rhythm to her words. “Don’t make me go to Massachusetts. That’s where Thanksgiving started. Do you know what they do to turkeys there?”

“Goofy girl.” Mom laughed. She actually laughed, for the first time since the telegram came. “But what if you need—”

“They have stores in Boston. I—”

The doorbell rang.

Everyone sucked in a breath. It was only three-thirty. Lucy and Martin weren’t arriving until five. Who else would come on a Sunday afternoon?

A telegram would.

“I’ll get it.” Lillian kept her voice light. She turned too fast, and her prosthesis pinched the skin around her knee, but she moved at a steady and calm pace for her parents’ sake.

“Oh, George.” Mom’s voice wavered.

Grasping the doorknob, Lillian squeezed her eyes shut. Lord, please let Jim be all right.

Her two younger brothers, Ed and Charlie, pounded down the stairs behind her.

Lillian twisted the doorknob and faced the boy from Western union   and whatever news he had. After she tipped him and he departed, she leaned against the doorjamb, the door wide open, chilly air nipping at her good leg.

“Read it,” her father said, deep and firm.

She slipped a shaky finger under the lip of the envelope. How could one tiny slip of paper hold the power to change their lives forever?

Lillian scanned it, read it, read it again to make sure she comprehended, her breath chuffing out faster and faster, pushing up a smile. “It’s from Jim.”