It was raining quite miserably when a black, unremarkable taxi-cab pulled up at the curb of a bakery. The passenger, Delphine Price frowned as she spotted the curtain of rain, coming down heavier that ever and clouds of condensation forming on the window-glass around her fingertips. At least the trip from car to flat would be relatively quick, she thought. About three years prior Delphine was more than used to unpredictably cold weather but a long-term stint in Australia had exposed her to heatwaves and wicked sunburn that had assuredly left its’ mark. Just thinking about the Australian sun made her shiver in its’ absence.
Toughening her resolve, Delphine handed the two shillings over to the driver and stepped out of the cab. Her auburn curls already starting to frizzle. She made quick work of lugging her bags out of the trunk, dragging them up the musty staircase that led to her new abode and working her key through the stiff lock.
Her new flat wasn’t exactly new. She’d inherited it through her uncle’s colleague-a retired detective from Scotland yard who had once used it as an escape from his rocky marriage. Two months ago his divorce was finalized and his two-bedroom flat put up for lease. Delphine, who had closely secured her first paying-job, saw it as sheer luck when her uncle suggested the flat above Mobbs Bakery. The rent was cheap, the conditions acceptable and it was only a fifteen minute walk from her new work-place. Now that she had properly moved in, all there was left to do was unpack.
Bit by bit, box-by-box, in the skin-numbing cold Delphine had slowly turned the flat into her own. Her large bed was dressed in midnight-blue satin and over a dozen, little pillows from shades of steel-grey to amethyst. Her large, six-foot bookshelf was fully-stocked; from volumes of leather-back encyclopedias to even the tackiest of romance-novels. If there was anything Delphine enjoyed about books it was having an enormous variety. The kitchen had exactly what it needed, the incense she’d put in the bathroom almost covered the damp smell and the living room walls had been lovingly adorned with paintings from unknown artists and photographs of her family and friends.
The only room Delphine had neglected to do anything with was the second, unoccupied bedroom. Well, not much of a bedroom, she conceded. More like an office, really. She could barely fit a bed in there-not even a single one. So what use could she have for it? She didn’t have many hobbies and she really wasn’t sure about renting the room out. Hell, she didn’t know a single person in this town! She supposed she could’ve used it as a storage room, only she didn’t have much to store. Almost all she had was where it needed to be.
After all was done she fell onto the sofa, cold and exhausted. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d done so much lifting. And she knew this persistent cold wasn’t going to help the soreness go away either. Groaning, she got up and found the rust-speckled gas-heater on the wall beside her bedroom door. Just my luck, she thought as she switched it on. It was going to be a long time before even the living-room was warm.
As Delphine set about finding a blanket to do the job there was a knock on her door. The bakers daughter, she guessed. Mr. Mobbs mentioned that his oldest girl Priscilla might pop in for a quick visit. Her assumption had proved right when she found a tall, slim girl about her own age standing on the other side.
“Delphine Price?” She inquired, “Priscilla Mobbs. Daddy said you’d be moving in today and I wanted to be the first to say welcome.”
She presented Delphine with a quick handshake and a box of cinnamon scrolls. Upon looking at both the girl and the treats, Delphine smiled. She liked cinnamon scrolls without all the sickly, sticky icing and she was glad to have some company. Even if it was just briefly.
“Pleasure to meet you Priscilla. Would you like to come in for some tea?”
“Tea would be lovely, thanks! Daddy was afraid I’d be disturbing you but I reminded him that you’re hardly some old fuddy-duddy who tires easily. Not that I assumed you don’t tire easily, of course. I just thought it would be best to get acquainted as soon as possible! Being neighborly and all that.”
“I quite understand. Please excuse the clutter, I’m afraid I was never a very good hostess.”
“A bit of clutter never hurt anybody,” Priscilla replied chirpily. “And besides, it doesn’t look cluttered at all! You should see my mum’s kitchen if you’re looking for clutter.”
“That’s kind of you to say-not so preferable in the eyes of my parents.”
The more Delphine talked to Priscilla the more she found herself liking this sunny baker’s girl. She was pretty, Delphine thought. It was as if she had been tailor-made for the fashions of last century. And…brown hair. Sleek, brown hair that looked so pretty on others, that Delphine could never have. No matter how much people assured her that her auburn tresses were beautiful it would never stop Delphine from yearning for the smooth, straight, chocolate-colored bob that all of her friends had and she didn’t.
‘Now was not the time to be envious’ Delphine scolded herself as she poured Priscilla a cup of tea. If she could make a friend on her first day here then she was hopeful more friendships would follow.
“So Priscilla, what is it you do?” That was a normal question-at least, it was in her family. She hoped it didn’t sound rude.
“I work in a dress-shop. As an apprentice, of course but it’s going swimmingly. Just this week I’ve mastered the pleated skirt. Next week Mrs. Travers is going to let me sit in on an appointment for a couture gown. I’m thrilled to bits about it! I can’t wait ’till I’m designing gowns myself-in an official capacity, I mean. I make dresses for myself all the time at home.”
“You must show me your designs some time. I do love couture myself as long as it isn’t too fussy. I’m not one for fancy frills and bows and all that.”
“I know exactly what you mean.” Priscilla smiled, “I always think girls wearing that sort of thing look like, well…cupcakes. Pink, fluffy cupcakes.”
“That’s accurate!” Delphine giggled, sipping at her own tea. “That sort of thing lies strictly within my sisters’ domain. There’s usually a competition between them on who can look like the biggest, pinkest cupcake.”
“You have sisters?”
“Yes, four of them, and three brothers. I’m the youngest out of all of them.”
“Christ! I’ve only got a younger sister myself, Yolanda. But being the youngest out of eight! I couldn’t imagine what that’s like.”
“Stifling is what it’s like. My sisters are all perfect doppelgangers of my mother and my brothers couldn’t get out of the house fast enough. I did used to have a small role in the family as the baby but once I turned sixteen that wore off in a flash. After that I became, well…not a black-sheep exactly. I wasn’t quite wild enough to be a black-sheep. Call it a grey-sheep if you will.”
“Well, you certainly don’t strike me as a grey-sheep. You’re very polite and well-spoken, at least from my perspective.”
“Thank you. If only mother could hear that! I think she’d just about fall off her chair. When I was eighteen she was convinced my inability to find a husband was directly connected to my terrible table-manners. Which, by the way were not as abominable as she made it out to be. I mean, how many forks need to exist for just one meal?”
“How many forks were there?”
“Oh, I can’t remember. I did away with that sort of thing in Australia. Have you done any traveling yourself Priscilla?”
“Just a bit of trips through the countryside. A couple of old school-friends and myself leased a cottage in Brighton last year-it was great fun. Sunbathing, water-sports, and on the third night we were invited along to the most glamorous dinner-party! Such a house and so many beautiful gowns! I was so full of inspiration that night I was practically running back to the cottage so I could sketch them all. I’m actually still working on a gown inspired from that evening. I’m determined to make it my most spectacular project yet.”
By the time the conversation wound down the tea had gone cold. Delphine did like talking to Priscilla, an honest yet bubbly girl but she knew they were running out of things to talk about. All Delphine could think to do now was talk sparingly about dresses as Priscilla finished her cinnamon scroll. After that Delphine was saved the trouble of ushering Priscilla out when the lady herself announced her own departure.
“I should be getting back down to the bakery. My dad will need a hand, I’m sure of it. But hey, I’m going out dancing tonight at this new club near Collington. You should come with me! It’ll give you a chance to meet all the other young things in this town and I hear there’s supposed to be this wonderful, new singer debuting tonight. It’s sure to be a treat!”
Delphine wasn’t sure she wanted to spend her first night in Victson dancing until she dropped but Priscilla did make a pressing point. She’d do well to get to know the people in this town and most importantly, let the first-impression come from her before her parents could jump in. It was hard enough for her in Australia, making friends when they knew who her family was and what they stood for.
“I’d love to come! I could meet you downstairs later on and we could catch the tram?”
“We can leave at eight O’clock if that suits you. You won’t need much for the tram-Collington’s only about ten minutes away.”
“Victson must’ve be very big.”
“Oh, it isn’t. It’s mostly just one of those in-between towns that people have to pass through to get to the city. But it’s a jolly place and this club, Harmonies it’s called, is said to be very lively.”
“Then I’m looking forward to it. I’ll see you down here at eight O’clock?”
A small sliver of dread went through Delphine as Priscilla left. She hoped this new friend of hers didn’t feel as if she had to invited her! Delphine’s cousin Marina had made it clear how put out she felt when Delphine had first arrived in the Gold Coast. Oh lord, she thought, feeling herself going pink in the cheeks. If she could feign a headache and make some convincing excuse to Priscilla then maybe she would’ve saved her new friend the trouble of being tethered to a near-stranger for the night.
No, Delphine told herself as she stood from the kitchen table. She was not the shy, new girl she’d been in Australia all those years ago. Priscilla had invited her to come dancing with much less obligation than Marina owed to her parents and even if she arrived with Priscilla she wouldn’t cling to her the whole night through. She could snag a cocktail at the bar, enjoy the music and snag herself a partner all by herself. ‘I’m going’ Delphine assured herself. ‘I’m going to have a nice time before I resign myself to being a working-girl’.