17 May 1937
They always came in threes, the Blackwood boys; where one went, the other would soon follow. Bound by blood, but as different as the seasons the only thing in common they had was the colour of the eyes - a stormy grey that could wrap you up like a thunderstorm with one look. It was a small community we lived in, we all had reputations including them. They were the type of boys your father respected and you mother would “just adore”, in my mother’s case, more than adore.
It was my first week working with my mother at her fabric shop on the main strip of town. I say main strip, but there was really only one strip - Mends Street, and shopping in our town was more a social outing than anything else. Mother’s coming in to browse the fabrics, casually enquire about this and that, or dropping a sly comment about the latest rumour they had just heard walking down the street.
Business had been slow of late, the recent economy crash had forced money to become tight and no one was really buying new clothes, or curtains. I saw them walking up the strip, and paid them no mind, they weren’t likely to step into a fabric shop especially without their mother present. Perhaps if I was more like my mother and sister I would have ogled long enough to see them approach the store front.
With my mother fitting my sister in a new dress in the back rooms, I was happily folding the fabric swatches on the main table. So engrossed in my thoughts, I didn’t realise they had entered the store until I heard a throat clearing behind me. Dropping the swatches on the floor, I swivelled around to face the youngest of the three, Benjamin or Benji as he liked to be called. He was the youngest and shortest of the three standing at 5”11 and a year older than me at seventeen. Like Finn, he had his mother’s dirty blonde hair, but still held the rounded face of youth. He stood there all smugness, complete with his cruel and mocking eyes.
Blushingly I stutter, “I am so sorry, what can I help you with today?”
As smooth as Prince Charming, Finn, the middle brother, threw me an easy smile and gestured to the right with his head, “Not to worry love, Charlie here needs a new suite, if it’s not too much trouble”.
Finn was what all the girls would call “dreamy”, dirty blonde hair, easy smile, strong jawline, you could literally hear girls swoon when he walked past them in the street. In fact, I think you could even hear some mother’s swoon too.
Not making eye contact, I quickly reply, “No problem”, before dropping below the counter to look for the fabric swatches. Continuing to reply from behind the counter I say, “if you pick a fabric and style you like, I can get my mother to measure you now”.
“Capital”, Finn cheered. Though the suit was for Charles, it seemed Finn was happy to take the lead. Just as I was about to add to the stilted conversation, my mother’s deafening voice came from the back room, “ Adalynn, you are helping the customers, aren’t you?!
Feeling Benji’s mocking gaze, I bow my head and rush to the back.
Opening the curtain I reply, “yes mother, the Blackwood boys would like a made-to-measure suit, they’re choosing the fabric -
Before I can get the last word out, a high pitched shriek from my sister is soon followed by the ripping aside of the curtain, and me being unceremoniously pushing aside by the both of them. Rosalind, my older sister by a year fancied herself the princess to Finn’s prince charming. Not that she didn’t look the part, with her waist length straight blonde hair, blue eyes and lithe figure.
Quickly brushing down my skirt, I go to step forward back to the counter, only to be stopped by the piercing grey eyes of the eldest Blackwood brother, Charles. Charles Blackwood had seen the whole exchange. He had always been the brother that intrigued me the most, whilst Finn was loud and Benji often cruel, Charles was quiet, reserved and always watching. He was also the carbon copy of his father, right down to his roman cheekbones and dark hair.
Mortified, I looked at my feet as I hastily moved to the counter in an attempt to stop my mother making even more of an embarrassment of herself. The urge was short-lived, however, when I saw Benji gaze at my sister like a puppy would their favourite toy. Benji made no secret about liking my sister, he followed her around like a lost puppy most days but, no matter how hard he tried she was always looking at Finn.
With a bat of her eyelashes at Finn, my mother shrills, “I am so sorry boys, I would have been here sooner, if only Adalynn had thought to get me,” finished off with a glare in my direction.
“Not to worry,” Finn replies as he flashes his easy smile and a wink in my direction, “she was perfectly helpful.”
Ducking my head in order to avoid my sister’s heated glare, I absentmindedly grab the notepad from beside the till as Finn asks mum if she can measure Charles for a suit. Attempting to draw attention to herself, Rosalind shoots him her best flirty smile and asks if it’s for the town social.
Without sparing her a glance, Charles answers a stoic “no” and it’s only now that I properly lift my head do I realise that he had been observing me the whole time. Unsure if it was due to critique or intrigue, I quickly look away to catch Benji sidling up to my sister saying, “Our Charlie here is leaving us all to fly planes over East”.
More interested in creating distance between herself and Benji, my sister doesn’t reply and I faintly heard Finn make a comment about Charles learning to be a fighter pilot.
“Honestly Chuck,” Finn continues, “ a war has just ended I very much doubt one is about to begin.”
“Why not?” Someone asks, and with a start I realise it’s my own voice I am hearing, attracting the attention of the whole room. Benji turns to me and replies, “Well little Addie, I don’t think Hitler’s rise to power all the way across the other side of the world, is something we need to worry about”.
Angered by his condescending tone, I bite back, “His actions are causing an arms race across Europe, and the last war started with a shot in Austria, Australia was certainly affected then.”
“Well look at that Charlie, there is someone as delusional as you in this town,” Benji replies with a cruel smirk along with the laughter of almost everyone in the room.
Turning my head in humiliation, I’m shocked when Charles voice cuts through the room, “She is not delusional, and there is no need to insult her because she is more intelligent than you, Benj.”
Following my small smile of gratitude to him my mother, who was not equipped to deal with serious conversation, hurried through the rest of the measurement, with my sister remaining silent in the background.
As the three of them were leaving, I whispered a small “Be careful”, to Charles as I handed him his receipt. Just before I could think that he hadn’t heard me, he shows me a small smile and a courteous nod, locking his eyes with mine.
It would be ten years before I would lock eyes with Charles Blackwood again.