Find a Christian store

<< Go Back

Waltz with Destiny

By Catherine Ulrich Brakefield

Order Now!

Chapter 1

August 1941

Steam rose from the overworked press machine at Gill’s Dry Cleaners like a haunting refrain from last night’s newsreel. “Mother, Britain was blanketed with German Luftwaffe Heavies lighting the night skies with bombs. People were running for their lives—”
“Esther,” Ruby Meir said, “Nothing comes from worrying over what you can’t change. Only our good Lord knows what lies ahead, and that’s the way it’s been since God formed this old earth.” Her face glistened in the dim light spilling through a dirty window pane. “There’s a rainbow with our name on it here in Detroit. It’s a city for young people and what you young’uns need before this war sweeps into your lives.” She picked up where she’d left off singing “Faith of our Fathers.”
Esther Meir replaced a man’s dress shirt with another. Mother had traded comfort for commitment to give Esther and her brother a chance to make something better of their lives. Her mother’s words mingled with the noise of the machine.
“Faith of our fathers, holy faith!” Mother lived up to her name. Being a widow didn’t halt her love affair with God’s Word. No matter if life handed her a bag of rocks, her faith changed them into rubies. “We will be true to thee till death!”
What of herself? Her name was taken from the Bible, the book of Esther. Her grandfather told Aunt Collina that, at times, he felt he was fighting the devil himself during those Civil War battles. S

That newsreel caption was the real McCoy. War knew no boundaries.
Well, Grandfather came out unscathed. He named his estate
Shushan and claimed Esther 9:2 over America’s enemies for generations
to come. And no man could withstand them; for the fear of them
fell upon all people.
How did Grandfather know we’d face a foe like Hitler some day?
Mother’s words from the hymn were muffled by the noise of the machine.
Its vapors stung her eyes.
Memories flooded her thoughts, rising with the steam around her.
Aunt Collina saved Shushan from a vindictive lawyer who plotted to
steal Grandmother’s land and send her family to the poor house.
Esther grabbed a child’s dress out of the pile. Did she possess that
kind of fortitude?
“Ow!” The webbing of a torn tutu pricked the rough edges of her
fingers, drawing blood. She sucked it clean.
Hitler’s Third Reich had plummeted Europe deep into his clutches.
Mother, Grandfather, and Aunt Collina had the stamina to battle evil.
Did she? “Oh, it’s hot in here. Can I open that window?”
“I already tried. It’s nailed shut.”
How can Mother stand this heat? Esther wiped her forehead with
the sleeve of her blouse. “You want to hear a killer diller?”
Ruby stopped her sewing. Her face glistened with perspiration.
“Mother, I don’t care about Europe, and I’m not prepared to battle the
horrors of war if it should come to America—and I have more important
things to do than go to a ball!” She clasped the worn skirt to her bosom.
“There’s no way I’ll piece this fabric back together to press it.” Will I live
up to the McConnell legacy? Or will I tear apart like this cloth?
“Give it to me; I’ll sew a stitch here.” Mother’s gentle hands swiped
away a wet strand of Esther’s hair from her forehead. Her knowing
glance spoke volumes. “You’ll do fine. It’s after five. I’ve pressed your
gown. Now go and get dressed.”
“You need me to stay here to help you.”
“I’m done. Go on now.”
“I hope the wallpaper’s red; that way I’ll blend into the décor.”

Humiliating memories ruffled through her thoughts like that
irreparable cloth. “Are you forgetting about my two left feet? When the
guys see I can’t dance, I’ll become an ornament and spend the evening
plastered to some wall.”
“When you meet the right man, you’ll have no trouble following. “
Ruby chuckled. “You’ll see.”
A ray of sunlight filtered through the steamy window. It sparkled
like a star on a Christmas tree. Esther couldn’t see the pane’s dinginess
for the sunlight streaming over her face.

Esther watched as around and around the couples danced. Their
laughter rose and fell in response to the waves of notes from Glenn
Miller’s orchestra. Their steps were in perfect rhythm as if for one
purpose, one desire.
She stepped away from the Vanity’s balcony, her gaze traveling to
the multi-paned windows flanked with draping sheers. They offered
the dancers a peek of the stars outside, while crystal chandeliers cast a
golden glow on the Mayan ceiling inside.
If she was dreaming, she hoped to never wake up. She stared into
one of the glinted full-length mirrors adorning each side of the three
promenades. A man smiled back, his eyes resting on hers.
“Oh!” She whirled around to find herself inches from the stranger.
He had to be at least six-foot-four. Thick jet-black hair waved around
a strong, masculine face. But his eyes caught her interest—intelligent,
attentive, holding within their hazel depths a mischievous twinkle.
“Be careful. Some men here will take advantage of a beautiful woman.”
“Do men staring into a mirror count?”
“Only if they stare back.” A lighthearted laugh escaped. “Has anyone
ever told you your eyes sparkle and get as big as saucers when you blush?”
Who is he?
His black tuxedo with shiny satin lapels emphasized broad shoulders
and slender waist. An amused glint crinkled the corners of his eyes.

“I’m Eric Erhardt, a junior draftsman at Wood Industries. I’m
taking night courses at Lawrence Institute, and I plan to own my own
engineering firm someday. And you are?”
And besides being irresistibly handsome, the man was a mind
reader. “Esther Meir.”
His eyes didn’t leave her face. It was unnerving. “So, Esther Meir,
what do you do besides looking like a porcelain priestess in this palace
of the Aztecs?”
If he knew, he wouldn’t be calling her a priestess. Three hours ago
she was sweating like a field hand. The palms of her hands still felt
clammy. Hope he doesn’t ask me to shake his. “My brother, William,
and I are attending college. I attend night courses at the Detroit Business
Institute. William is a junior accountant at Ford Motor. He goes to
night school at the University of Detroit. He earned a scholarship.”
“U of D. What’s he studying?”
“Accounting. He made the Dean’s List and won an all-expense-paid
vacation to a dude ranch. He’s taking me and my friend along.”
“Really?” Eric chuckled deeply. “So, you’re, eighteen, nineteen?”
She felt like leaving him talking to the mirror behind her, only she
was wondering his age, too. “I’m nineteen.”
“That makes you a year younger than me.”
His eyes bore down on her like a hawk hunting a chicken.
Ridiculous. Here they were immersed in the splendors of geometric
stones, gleaming bronzes, and ivory pilasters, a scene fit for King
Solomon himself, and he was looking at her like she was his next meal.
“What’s your opinion of the Vanity? Some say Charles Agree made
a mistake designing it after an Aztec theme.”
She’d read about Agree in the paper. “The Mayan Revival theme sort
of embodies America’s hopes—prosperity and purpose.”
Eric’s voice dropped an octave. “You fit this palace mystique. I
can’t pinpoint why exactly. Maybe it’s your gown.” His gaze traveled
downward. “It fits you perfectly, as if it was made for you. I especially
like the way that gown gathers at your…um…waist and…Well, it
drapes your…everything well. Say, there’s something on—” His hand
brushed her bare shoulder. His palm lingered there a second too long.
She slapped his hand off her shoulder. “Are all northerners as brazen
as you?” He better be happy it wasn’t his face.
“Northerner? I thought I heard an accent. You’re not from Detroit?”
“I’m from MacDuff County, Kentucky.”
“You needn’t get in a lather. I thought I might have known you.”
He shrugged. “But I’ve never been to Kentucky.” A look of polished
suaveness bathed his face. “I like meeting a girl on the up and up.” His
warm hand cupped her elbow, guiding her toward the balcony.
“So you’re not just new to the Vanity. You’re new to our big city
ways. Guess it’s up to me to educate you.”
A wrought-iron railing separated the onlookers from the dancers
below. “The Vanity is one of three ballrooms in Detroit. Each one
shows its beauty differently.” He closed the gap between them. “Like a
beautiful gal.”
His breath tickled her ear. Resisting the urge to step back, she craned
her neck up. “Does that line work on most uneducated women?”
He sent her an audacious smile, displaying a dimple symmetrically
placed on each cheek. “Usually.”
She’d never met a guy so insultingly frank. Yet, his smile was
infectious and she found herself smiling back.
The sound of the trombone broke through their conversation as the
rise and fall of a Glenn Miller intonation of clarinet, horns, and strings
echoed about the ballroom. In a flood of blues, reds, and golden fulllength
gowns against the black tuxedos, couples made their way down
from the promenade and onto the gleaming maple floor.
“Eric. Down here.”
Alert as a bird dog on a new scent, Eric turned toward a woman’s
voice on the dance floor below. A tall, attractive woman, her
champagne-colored hair rolled in an upsweep, stood on the edge of
the ballroom floor. “Glenn Miller’s going to play our song.”
Eric’s eyes swept Esther like a warm summer breeze, lingering on
her upturned face. “I promised my friend if she could get Glenn Miller
to play ‘In the Mood,’ I’d dance with her.”

Did regret cause him to hesitate before leaving her side?
“Esther.” Dot McCoy yanked her out of her reverie. “I’d like you to
meet my neighbors, Robert and Mary Rizzo. Robert’s leaving Monday
for England to join the Eagle Squadrons.”
Mary stared at her wedding ring, twirling it around her finger.
“Mary is in the family way. Isn’t that wonderful?” Dot said.
“I’ll be back, though, before Mary has the baby; that’s if—”
“America doesn’t declare war first,” Mary said.
“Oh, now, don’t believe what Senator Wheeler said on the radio last
night.” A shake of Dot’s head started her thick auburn curls bobbing
across her brow.
“Which part?” Robert kissed Mary’s forehead. “The part that Europe
wants more tanks and planes and American lives? Or the part that
American Jewish filmmakers are ‘Hollywood Hitlers’ and unpatriotic
because their films encourage involvement in Europe’s war? I got an
earful. No offense, Dot.”
“No offense taken, Robert. Our Jewish roots are embedded deep in
American soil. I’ve stopped worrying about what some senator says.”

Order Now!

<< Go Back

Developed by Camna, LLC

This is a service provided by ACFW, but does not in any way endorse any publisher, author, or work herein.