One (Summer 1933)
Elly twirled around in front of the mirror one final time. The wine red satin dress hugged her form and made her cornflower blue eyes pop. She twisted her neck, until it very nearly sprained, to make sure all the rolls that Mutti had taken hours to arrange into a half-crown around her head were still in place. They were. Blowing out a breath, she smoothed her hands along her sides in another attempt to calm the butterflies in her tummy. Nothing changed. She was still nervous, she was still excited, and she simply couldn’t stop smiling. One final thing. Rub it into her little sister’s face. With a wicked gleam in her eyes, she started toward Erica’s room.
This was the very first evening party she was being allowed to attend. Now seventeen, she’d essentially threatened to declare war if her parents excluded her from the party. She was an adult and she had better be treated like one!
She slipped tentatively into the new deep red high heels she had bought especially for this party and steadied herself. Of all the elements of her dress and makeup tonight, it was the shoes that made her the most nervous. She would need to walk at a sedate pace to stay upright and she didn’t do sedate.
“Oh, Elly! You look...” Erica caught herself as she remembered that she was not attending the party and hissed instead, “I HATE YOU, Eleanor Katherine Mayer!” But her eyes told Elly all she wanted to know. She was looking nice, hopefully beautiful.
“Erica, come on. Don’t be like that,” Elly pleaded. “I wasn’t allowed to attend parties when I was sixteen either.”
Erica pouted, “It’s still not fair. You fought for yourself. Why not me?”
“I couldn’t, entchen. You know Mutti and Vati! They would never have agreed.”
Erica was quiet for so long, she had Elly nearly squirming. But then, Erica cracked a small smile and gave Elly a hug, “Oh! Go on then, enjoy yourself and don’t trouble the poor man too much.”
“I am not going to trouble the poor man! I am simply going to make him see me as a grown woman, not the little girl he used to read stories to,” Elly huffed. “Why can’t he see I am all grown up, Erica? It’s so frustrating.”
“Who can tell what goes on in that genius brain of his. Maybe he hasn’t enough room up there for you amidst all the medicine and surgery,” Erica suggested helpfully, although the mischievous gleam in her eyes didn’t help much at all!
“Well, then he’s not going to know what hit him. I will kick all the science out of there and make room for myself. You’ll see,” Elly declared.
“I hope so. Go do your thing, zaubermaus. They will be here soon,” Erica shooed her to the door with a parting hug.
They both knew it would be the Feldshers who arrived before everyone else. They were practically family. Vati’s childhood friend, Herr Feldsher was the busiest surgeon in all of Germany. The close friendship between the two men had naturally extended to their families.
Their four children had grown up together although Aharon, Herr Feldsher’s first son was nearly eight years older than Elly, Herr Mayer’s older daughter. Aharon’s little sister, Aviva was the same age as Elly while Erica was the youngest. Elly couldn’t wait to see Aviva and, of course, Aharon who she had been in love with forever.
But Aharon was as thick headed as they came. The man seemed to always lump her with his sister and Erica. Treating her like she was also one of his ‘little sisters’! Well, starting today, she would show him how completely grown up she was, and how she was totally not his sister.
Elly straightened her spine, lifted her chin and hurried down the steps to be there to welcome the first of the guests. And totally forgot about the new, tall shoes she was wearing. That is until, on the last step, she looked up to see Aharon walk through the door. In her excitement, she lost her balance and landed in a heap, on her bottom, at the bottom of the stairs.
He rushed up and knelt down beside her. Her entire face was burning in embarrassment and she prayed that he wouldn’t say anything, but she kept her eyes trained on the floor, all the same. If she looked up and saw him smiling at her girlish behavior, she’d die of fury, or better yet, kill him!
When none of his usual comments on her clumsiness came, she hazarded a quick peek up at him. He looked furious. Huh! Definitely not what she’d been expecting. When he did nothing but glare holes into her, she frowned up at him and snapped, “Well, are you going to help a lady up, or are you just going to stare at her rudely?”
This was so far away from how she had planned to welcome him, it was not even funny.
Her voice seemed to have woken him from his daze. He jumped up to his feet, muttering something that sounded a lot like, ′Was zur Hölle!’, and grabbed her leg. He was gentle, but the action took Elly by surprise and she squealed, “Ron! What are you doing?”
She tried to pull her leg from his grip, but instead of letting her go, he caught her leg harder and growled, “Stop wiggling, Elly.”
She calmed down as he inspected her ankle. “You are lucky you didn’t break your ankle!” Letting go of her leg, he rose up and offered her a hand to help her to her feet.
Aharon slid his arm around her waist to steady her as she tested her balance. She gave a quick nod and he let her go, but then leaned in close and said, “Does your mother know what you are wearing tonight?”
He still sounded angry and, for the life of her, Elly couldn’t imagine the cause of his anger.
“Of course, she knows what I am wearing. She helped me get ready. What are you even trying to say?”
He pinched the bridge of his nose and muttered, “Nothing. Forget it. Where is your Vati?”
“Still in his study, I assume. Where is Aviva? And Tante Adah?”
“They are coming with Vati in a few minutes. I came directly from the university.”
He abruptly turned around and stalked off towards Herr Friedrich Mayer’s study. His entire person looked strained and tense to Elly as she watched his retreating figure with a frown.
With a shrug, she decided, ′Perhaps he had a particularly bad day at the hospital,′ and went in search of her mother.
Taller than average, her mother was slim, with blond hair that was naturally wavy. Not the straight as an ironing board affair like Elly’s. Elly, on the other hand, had drawn the short straw. Literally. At five foot three, she was the shortest member of the Mayer family. Add to that she simply couldn’t seem to lose the baby fat and become a shapely willow like her mother and Erica. If she were completely honest with herself, she knew it really wasn’t baby fat she carried around on her person, but no one else seemed to point out the extra pounds, so she rolled with it.
She helped her mother complete the last-minute preparations with the kitchen staff and was out in the parlor to welcome the first guests. As expected, the Feldshers arrived soon after.
Elly breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that Aviva had dressed much like her for the party. After Aharon’s weird reaction, Elly was beginning to doubt her choice of dress.
Frau Feldsher hugged her, then stepped away from her, keeping her hands on Elly’s arms. She blinked as a fine sheen of tears blurred her vision, “Helga. Our girls all grown up. See how beautiful they are.”
Suddenly overcome with emotion, Elly stepped back into her arms for a big hug.
"Onkel Moshe, Vati, and Aharon are in the study.” Herr Feldsher patted her gently on her head as he headed off to the study.
The two older women followed Herr Feldsher into the study, leaving the girls by themselves.
“Let’s go say hello to Erica before the guests start arriving,” Aviva said, starting up the stairs to Erica’s room without waiting for Elly’s answer. Elly’s eyes narrowed as she saw how confidently Aviva walked in her tall shoes. Well, whatever. One fall in the evening was more than enough!
“Do you like my dress Avi?” Elly asked the question that had been burning a hole in her mouth ever since Aviva’s arrival.
“Absolutely. Why? Do you like mine?”
“Avi! You look beautiful and I hate you for attending the party without me!” Erica squealed as soon as the girls entered her room. Aviva really was looking beautiful. She had chosen a black velvet dress for herself which complimented her ivory skin and black as the night tresses.
“Are you having second thoughts about your dress Elly?” Erica asked, obviously having caught part of the girls’ conversation.
“Not really,” Elly hesitated and then decided to forge on.
“No. But Ron seemed annoyed with my dress. He was asking me ′What are you wearing, Elly?’” Elly said, deepening her voice to imitate Aharon’s. Adding to her frustration, the other two girls erupted into peals of laughter.
“Would you two stop cackling?” Elly almost screamed. Aviva clapped a hand over her mouth in a bid to hold in the laughter escaping her lips and after a bitter struggle managed to control it.
“Ignore him, Elly. He still thinks we are little girls he needs to keep an eye on. He asked me to go and change too,” Aviva shrugged and rolled her eyes for good measure.
A sharp knock on Erica’s door interrupted the girls. Erica jumped up to open the door, “Maybe Mutti has decided to let me attend the party too!”
“It’s Ron!” she called out from the door and lunged at him. Laughing, Aharon caught her and said, “If it were up to me, entchen, I’d not even let these two attend the party, let alone you.”
“You are all cruel,” Erica blinked her fake tears away as Aharon turned to Aviva and Elly, “Come on, you two. Time to greet the guests.”
Aharon herded the two girls out of the room and warned Erica, “Be good, Rica!” before softly closing the door to her room.
Aviva and Elly entered the parlor just as their fathers came out of the study. There was a steady stream of guests after that. Some, Elly knew, most she didn’t. It didn’t take long for Elly and Aviva to figure out that the party was more about networking for their parents, rather than having fun.
“I am going to go into Onkel Friedrich’s study,” Aviva declared just as Elly spied Aharon stepping away from whoever he was talking with.
“You go on. I am going to go talk to Ron,” Elly said as she stalked off towards her prey. She was going to grill him about this reaction to her dress and make him admit that she was, indeed, looking pretty.
“Oh! This is going to be fun. I can always go to the library later,” Aviva winked and gently shoved her friend towards her brother, to get on with the task at hand.
Elly walked up to Aharon just as the gentleman he had been conversing with bid him goodbye with a, ’See you on Monday’. The polite smile pasted on Aharon’s face dropped away as he saw Elly’s determined approach.
“What don’t you like in my dress, Ron?” No beating around the bush!
Ron pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned. He seemed to be pinching his nose all the time tonight. Maybe he was coming down with a cold!
“Elly, there is nothing wrong with the dress. You are looking very pretty tonight. Beautiful, to be honest.”
“Then why did you look like you’d swallowed a bug when you saw me earlier?”
“Because you look all grown up in this getup, zaubermaus,” he admitted. “And...I’m going to miss seeing you and Aviva in your pigtails!” He added, his eyes sparkling before his lips set in a straight line. It was so much easier when the girls were younger. Scare off a little boy or a nasty girl every now and then, and his job was done.
Trust Elly to pick up on the one tidbit that served her purpose!
Elly allowed herself a tiny smile of victory, “So, I do look beautiful! Like Katherine?”
Ron wasn’t touching that one with a pole ten miles long! She’d been lukewarm at best and prickly at worst toward Katherine, his new assistant. This one needed to be nipped in the bud.
“Yes, Elly, you are beautiful, just like Avi and Erica. Katherine is a different matter.” He pinned her with a hard glare, and asked, “I trust I do not need to explain why. Now, where is Aviva?”
Elly was sure her ears were red, she was certainly seeing red. Without bothering to answer his question, she whirled around on her heel and walked away.
“Elly, wait,” Aharon started, but Elly wasn’t having any of it. The man was simply insufferable. He watched her stalk away, frustrated beyond words. It seemed as if Elly’s body had come out of a chrysalis, beautiful and alluring and yet her mind was still that of a young girl. A very dangerous combination, indeed. But he couldn’t very well guard her all night long.
He winced as he realised that in her hurry to get away from him, Elly had charged on unseeing, into Karl von Baden. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Herr Mayer approach the two and set off in search of Aviva. This was going to be a very long night!