"This was a wonderful and heartwarming story."
~Ann, a reader
Copyright 2015 by Jo Huddleston
Coaltown, West Virgnia
When Julie left her driveway, she hurried her steps. As the dirt road dipped, she peered into the night to find Robby. She so hoped he waited for her. Clouds flirted with the moon, offering Julie enough light to search for him at the edge of the road.
She reached the place where he always waited but didn’t find him. She called to him, “Robby, where are you?”
Robby stepped out from the shadows farther down the road and walked with a slight swagger back toward her. “I didn’t want to leave before I saw you but I was about to go.”
“Sorry.” She kissed his cheek. “Daddy questioned me as I was about to leave the house.”
Robby took her hands then bent to place his forehead against Julie’s. “So, are you supposed to be at Betty Jean’s tonight?”
Julie started to answer Robby but he muffled her words when he kissed her mouth. A tingle traveled over her insides with his every kiss.
“Let’s get off the side of the road before your daddy follows you. Let’s go behind the company store.”
She wrapped her long coat tighter around her and hand-in-hand they moved to the back of the store where the lamppost out front cast a shadow over them. After more kisses and hugs, Julie and Robby stood with their backs against the building.
“Julie, are you still leaving tomorrow for that dance thing in Savannah?”
“Yes, I have to go.”
“But it’s nearly Christmas. I wanted us to spend time together during the holidays.”
She brushed his dark hair from his eyes. “I’ll be back soon. We’ll only be gone about a week.”
“Don’t start liking that guy who’s your date down there.” Robby scuffed the ground with his shoe. “Does he have a lot of money?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I haven’t met him and will spend time with him only because my mother arranged it all. That’s what mothers do to set up their daughters for this big Christmas party.”
“Julie.” Robby took her face in his hands. “Don’t forget me while you’re gone.”
“Robby, I’ll never forget you. I’ll think about you all the time I’m in Savannah.” She slipped her hands inside his jacket and hugged him around the waist. Robby was the best thing that had ever happened to her. How could she forget him? She couldn’t live without him. Regardless of her mother’s plans, they would spend their lives together. Somehow, they would make it work.
He held her close. “I love you, Julie.”
“I love you too, Robby.” She laid her head against his chest and listened to his pounding heartbeat. “I wish we didn’t have to meet in the dark like this.”
“Yeah, me too. But we do. We can’t let your mother see us together. As bad as this is, it’s better than her seeing us and separating us for good.”
“I know, but I still don’t like it. When we can ever leave this coal camp, nothing will stop us from being together.”
He kissed her again. “I’d better get you back to your house.”
At the dip in the road, Julie looked up toward her house then hugged Robby again. “Good night, Robby. I’ll see you when we get back.”
The Master of Ceremony’s Southern drawl projected upward to announce the next debutante. “Miss Julia Rose Capshaw.” The scores of people in attendance at the Savannah Christmas Cotillion turned toward her. Positioned at the top of the curved stairway, Julie tried not to squint at rays from a spotlight that covered her. Julie glided down the stairs in her white, strapless gown of hand-crimped one hundred percent silk organza. She raised the front hem of her dress just enough not to trip. All those horrid hours of practice last summer at charm school her mother had demanded she attend finally paid off.
She smiled toward her daddy who stood at the bottom of the stairway, handsome in his tuxedo. While Julie made her way downward toward her daddy, the Master of Ceremony spoke about Julie: “. . . the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Claude Capshaw. Her mother, Lillian, is socially prominent in Savannah, Atlanta, and Charleston, West Virginia. Her daddy owns several coal mines in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia.”
When she reached her daddy, she curtsied. His blue eyes, much like Julie’s, sparkled as he offered her his arm. He covered her hand with his and whispered, “You look radiant, Julia.” Strains of Debussy’s Clair de Lune floated from the baby grand and filled the room.
Julie loved that her daddy escorted her in a formal walk around the massive, cleared ballroom floor lined with parents and friends who stood as they passed. Fresh flowers rested on table tops, and wall sconces with lit candles bathed the room with a subdued glow. Two spotlights, each from opposite sides of the room, unnerved Julie as they followed her daddy and her around the room.
For Julie, this horrendous tradition resembled a thoroughbred horse auction where men with money chose the most likely animal for their purposes. As they walked past Julie’s mother, she smiled with admiration of her daughter’s accomplishment this evening. Her mother had coached Julia for this occasion for years. Tonight Julie did only something her mother expected of her.
Her escort waited upon their return to the stairway. Her daddy passed Julie over to the young man her mother had chosen—Gregory William Trenton, The Third—and joined Julie’s mother. The young man took Julie’s satin-gloved hand to hold, raised in the air between them. Oh, how she wished she held Robby’s hand. Julie and Gregory strolled to join the line of previously-announced debutantes where they waited for the remainder of the seventeen debutantes to repeat the ritual.
After all the debutantes had been presented, the string quartet began Tchaikovsky’s waltz from “Sleeping Beauty.” That was their cue, and Julie joined the other debutantes and their escorts—a calm sea of black tuxedos and white hoop-skirted gowns—as they sprinkled onto the vast floor for the first dance.
During the evening, Julie’s parents danced a few times. Her mother looked pleased out on the dance floor. They made a fine-looking couple.
After several dances, Julie and her escort relaxed at a table with her parents. The men left to bring refreshments.
“Julia, Gregory would make you a perfect husband.”
“Mother, I’m not looking for a husband.”
“Of course, not now. But he would be a perfect suitor for you to date. He’s from Atlanta. His family wants him to work in their company after he finishes college.”
“That’s nice, Mother. Tonight is just an opportunity for parents to choose a marriageable escort for their daughter and parade them around a dance floor. A coming-out party to launch the girls into high society.”
Her mother voiced no rebuttal to that. They waited for their refreshments. Julie couldn’t sit still on her fantasy evening.
“Julia, please sit like a lady. Don’t squirm.”
“Mother, this stiff crinoline scratches my legs something awful.”
“Julia, your underskirt makes your lovely dress fuller. The breeding of a lady compels you to put up with such unpleasantness. Now sit still, here are your daddy and Gregory.”
The occasion bored Julie. When she danced with Gregory she pretended Robby held her. Why did her mother become irrational when it came to Julie spending time with the miners’ families? Would she ever change her mind?
Engulfed in a circle of pale yellow light beneath the coal mining community’s one lamppost, Roberto Montagna checked his watch. Julie had already danced the first dance with her escort—the escort Julie’s mother had selected.
With his big dusty shoe, Robby kicked a rusty can down the dirt road with more force than necessary. He tugged his jacket collar up and jammed his hands into his pants pockets. Robby followed the can, his shoes slipped on icy potholes, and his thoughts remained on Julie. He’d wanted to spend his Christmas break with Julie but had stayed behind when she left for Savannah.
He kicked the can again, with more strength this time, and trailed it into the night until he reached the flat of the road below Julie’s house. He stood for several minutes and imagined Julie as she ran down the hill to meet him just after dark. What excuse had she used this time to get out of her house?
Would he and Julie ever have the opportunity to spend more time together? Robby worked for her daddy in his company store. Her daddy liked him. Julie’s mother did not. If she did, he would be dancing with her daughter this evening.
No, he didn’t measure up to be a polished, wealthy escort for Julie. Mrs. Capshaw gave him three strikes before she ever met him because he was a coal miner’s son. Her husband owned the mine and Julie’s mother forbade her to have contact with the miners’ families.
About nine o’clock, Robby plodded home. He joined the family in their cramped living room, unaware of their conversation until his mamma spoke to him.
“Roberto, where did you go?”
“Just for a walk, Mamma.”
“You’ve got something on your mind that a walk in the cold will help solve?”
“Yes, ma’am, I reckon so. Something like that.”
“Talk to God. Work it out with him.”