There were several different kinds of clothing I had never attempted to sew before. I was used to designing my own clothing: from day dresses to evening wear to coats and even nightgowns. I had sketchbooks full of other things: men’s suits, hats of every kind, shoes, and even children’s clothing. When thinking about my future, I had always pictured myself in Paris. I would start with a small shop of my own with a few dresses or coats in the window. And perhaps one day my designs would find their way onto bigger stages or into the hands of people who were proud of their names.
Two days later, I found myself sitting on the floor of my apartment surrounded by piles of these sketches.
I hadn’t left the apartment since the echo of Chas’s departure. I could tell that my maid was curious, as I was never home that regularly. When she came in each day to do her customary tidy job, she always seemed surprised to see me there. But she would bring me a tray of tea and sandwiches before she left and not ask questions. I liked that about her.
I sipped from the teacup, tucking a stray finger wave back into the scarf wrapped around my head. I could hear rain tapping on the windows outside. It had been since Chas left. Or perhaps it only felt that way.
I felt as though I’d been living beside my sewing machine for days. And it wasn’t entirely false. I’d created several different pieces that I was ready to send to Paris, and I only felt the need to make more. Somewhere in my mind, I understood what that really meant. Understood that any day my father would be needing my answer, that Chas was somewhere out in the drowning city where I couldn’t hear his heartbeat. But instead of thinking about all of that, I set my tea aside and brushed my hands on my linen pants, sifting through sketches I’d already sifted through.
Sometime later I found myself sitting with yards of crisp, white cotton in my hands. It felt a bit unnatural after all the blue-blooded fabric I was used to, and somehow even rougher than the thousands of sequins I had stitched onto dresses and headbands. But it also felt cleaner. Purer. I looked at the white fabric against my skin and imagined all of the things it could be.
I vaguely remember sketching out the pattern on thin sheets of paper, and the thick sound of the scissors as I followed the charcoal lines.
For a time, everything in my hands and before my eyes was white. The white cotton, white thread, sketches on white paper. I wasn’t sure how much time had passed before I heard the front door open in the other room. And then the sound of footsteps that were both familiar and tentative. Part of me wanted to tear through the room and fling myself into his arms, but by that time I felt as if the project had become an extension of my hands and I wouldn’t be able to look away until it was finished.
I felt Chas enter the room and lean against the doorframe. He stood and watched me work for some time before approaching. Because he knew.
It didn’t take me long to finish. It wasn’t an extensive project, and the fabric seemed to mold itself together with very little guidance. The whirring of the sewing machine eventually ceased, and I cut away the last of the threads. Chas finally came forward then and knelt beside me, and our hands touched as I held out the small gown and he took it in his hands. To my surprise, he brought it to his face and breathed in deeply. And when he pulled it away his green eyes were rimmed with thick lines of moisture. He reached one hand forward then and placed it on my belly, and I covered it with both of my own.
“How long have you known?” Although it was a question, his voice didn’t seem questioning. It was light and hopeful. Unbelieving. Happy.
“For a few weeks,” I whispered back, gently brushing away a tear that had dared make its way down his cheek. I briefly wondered how long it had been since he had cried. “I wanted to be completely sure before I told you.” He nodded softly in understanding and leaned forward to wrap his arms around my waist and lean his head against my torso. As if to hear what our child might say. Chas was completely silent for a moment, but I buried my hands in his hair and understood that he was making promises he’d never been made and dreaming of days he’d never gotten to live.
Eventually, he pulled back from me and held the small gown in his hands once more before folding it gently and placing it on the table. When he met my eyes again it was as though all of the clouds had broken. I didn’t realize that I had begun crying until I was brushing the tears off my face with the back of my hand, and then I was in his arms. He kissed me in a way he never had before: tenderly and carefully. But with hope and confidence I’d never felt from him before.
“I spoke with your father this morning.” Even though they weren’t the words I expected to hear next, they didn’t frighten me at all.
“What happened?” I felt the grip of his hands in mine and knew that whatever it was that he would say next, it would be the right thing.
“I told him that you and I are leaving Boston as soon as possible.” He swallowed then, and to my shock, I realized he was holding back a smile. Had he ever been this happy? “I have already begun arrangements to finish my business dealings here. We don’t have to see it through completely to the end, I have people who will finish it up entirely for me. We can leave in a few weeks, I think.” He looked down at our intertwined hands and pressed a kiss to the skin on my knuckles. “And we won’t be accepting his money, either. I have plenty. We don’t need anything from him.”
All I could do was push my arms around him and hold him as tightly as I’d ever held anything. He pulled the scarf from my head and pressed kisses into my hair, tangled his hands in it, and then finally scooped me into his arms and carried me towards my bedroom.
As he kicked the door shut behind us, he whispered against my skin, “I love you, Amelia Grace.” And with those words, I knew I could do anything.
The next day at the stroke of twelve noon, I walked into the courthouse with Charles Truman. And this time it was for a much different reason. He wore his best suit, complete with the smile he had so recently found again. I could barely stand to look at him when he did that. It lit up his eyes so brightly that I knew I’d get lost there forever.
I wore a simple pearl-colored gown. It had beadwork around the sleeves and dropped waist. Originally, I’d made a headband to go with it, but instead, I wore a matching hat and coat. Perhaps if there had been some kind of after-party, I would have switched the hat for the headband and whirled around the dance floor to the sound of jazz.
But it wasn’t that way.
We entered the building quietly, my arm through his, both of us walking with a kind of glow that was hard to miss. And when we walked back out into the Boston air, I wore a thin gold band on my finger, and so did Chas. It wasn’t entirely common for men to do so. But then again, Chas wasn’t common in the least.
As we climbed back into the car and were driven away, I buried my face in his chest and sighed with relief as he pulled me as close as he could. Our souls had always been bound together, long before we’d ever met. But now, with our whole future ahead of us in a way it had never been before, I felt new and clean. He gently took my hat off my head and kissed my temple.
Once the news of our marriage had spread through every level of Boston there seemed an inevitability to what would follow. I was sure many people knew we would be departing soon. And truthfully, I couldn’t wait to be free of that oppressive knowledge.
The hardest part of moving all of my things to Chas’s flat was that we would soon be leaving altogether. Boxes of things were therefore pressed into corners and I seemed to have more fabric than I knew what to do with. But none of that really mattered in the least. Not when I could wake up beside him every morning and pretend like I knew how to cook our meals. It always made him laugh.
We received a large box from my mother. It was full of linens and candlesticks, even a few small paintings. The kinds of things a nice girl is supposed to get for her wedding. To my surprise, it pricked my eyes with hot tears and I almost couldn’t finish looking at what was in the box. But I did keep looking. And what I found was a smaller package wrapped separately. Inside of it were several long candles made of the best beeswax. They were as smooth as ivory. And with them was a small baby gown trimmed with thin ribbons. It had been mine. I didn’t need to look at the card, but I did anyway.
To keep you both through the darkest night.
My father didn’t need to sign it. I knew his writing anywhere. Chas was sitting beside me on the floor, the contents of the package spread out around us. But I couldn’t stop holding on to the candlesticks and the gown. He very carefully took the card and read it before wrapping his arms around me.
“What does he mean?”
I knew that he already knew. But also, it was something I needed to say out loud. If only to make it real.
“He’s talking about life.” I finally answered. “When I was very little, before things got especially bad, he always used to tell me that some of the most tangible things happen between the time when the sun sets and rises again. He always used those words. He never made me feel wrong for being afraid of the dark. He understood it better than anybody, I think. So, he started keeping candles lit in my room. He understood that even if it was just a dream that frightened me in the night it was real.”
We looked into one another’s eyes and felt the understanding settle between us. We had both grown up in a world where the night was much more real than the day.
He pressed a hand to my stomach then and kissed me, “It doesn’t have to be that way anymore.”
One week before Chas and I were scheduled to leave Boston, I received a note from Sally Fields asking me to afternoon tea at the Copley Plaza Hotel. The note was scented faintly with lavender and had her new name at the bottom in great flourishes: Sally Wheatley.
I shook my head at the note for several reasons before sending a positive reply.
There was no reason for me to decline the invitation, which was why I did not. But there was also no reason to accept. I couldn’t imagine what kind of point there would be in meeting Sally one last time. Right in the thick of where the elite mingled for such things. As if we were two regular blue-blooded wives gathering for a weekly meeting to discuss the garden and literature. But nevertheless, I went.
I wore a dress the color of mint, which was light but somehow brilliant. It made my black hair gleam in a way other colors didn’t. When I found Sally at our table, she wore pale pink, and her light golden hair was in subtle waves. Not the more defined ones I preferred. I almost shook my head at how perfect it was, and I briefly wondered if her whole life fit into this mold. I suspected that it did.
“Hello, Amelia Grace.”
“Hello, Sally.” I carefully removed my white gloves and set them aside, noticing that she had done the same.
“I understand that congratulations are in order.” She said as she poured my tea, gesturing to my wedding ring with her eyes. “I am very happy for you and Mr. Truman.”
“Thank you.” The conversation between us wasn’t necessarily strained. In fact, it seemed perfectly pleasant. But there was a note of expectation in the air. We both knew she had asked me here for a special reason and were simply waiting until she was ready to broach the subject.
I looked at her for a moment while I stirred the cream and sugar into my tea, trying to see if there was anything new in her face. But there wasn’t. It was still Sally. And I couldn’t decide if that
seemed right or if it broke my heart for her. Perhaps both.
“I came to speak with you about your father.” She impressed me by being so direct. I thought it was because she understood that that was the only way a meeting between the two of us could be. I nodded for her to continue.
“It has to do with George.” I was surprised that saying this didn’t seem to rattle her. “I suppose it would have something to do with Mr. Truman as well, but you are both leaving town now. So, I’ve just come to give you a warning.”
“A warning?” I couldn’t help but be mildly curious at what she thought she knew about my father.
“Ever since your father’s trial, George has been…different.” She said it in such a way to indicate that it wasn’t positive. “He’s been up nights. Holed away in his study. Making strange calls, spending even more time than usual at his office. I finally asked him about all of it.” She hadn’t been meeting my eyes the whole time she had been confessing this, but now she did. And whatever she had to say next or however real this warning was, I knew she at least believed it.
“And he told you?” I didn’t mean for it to come out as a question, but it was.
“He told me some things.” She drained the last of her tea as if it were a shot of whisky. “He told me he has to get to your father. Someway. Somehow. He wants to see him behind bars.” I resisted the urge to laugh. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to show her how completely misguided such a quest was. Certainly, George knew that? What could he do as one lawyer in a world of corruption?
Though once her words settled into my skin, they made sense. I had seen the complete devastation in George’s eyes when my father had been declared innocent. How his whole world had shattered as he realized that the system had failed him. Not because of anything he had done, but what he’d chosen not to do.
“How does he plan on doing this?”
“I'm not entirely sure.” She poured herself more tea, but she didn’t add anything to it. She just kept stirring it with the small silver spoon. “I know he’s behind the raids of the speakeasies. And more, I’m sure. He didn’t tell me any of that, but…” But she just knew. I nodded in understanding and she finally continued. “I don’t think he’s doing it for the right reasons.” She swallowed hard. “If he truly wanted to put men who have broken the law in jail because that is the right thing to do, it would be one thing. But he’s changed. I think he’s been associating with people he shouldn’t be. And I think that now it isn’t so much about taking down criminals as it is taking down your father. I suppose what I mean is that it isn’t about justice anymore. It’s personal.” I nodded once more and finished my tea.
To my surprise, it almost made me sorry for George. For if what Sally said was correct, it meant that he was becoming familiar with the very world he was seeking to destroy. It meant he was about to embrace everything that had shattered his beliefs if he hadn’t already. But even so, it
would do nothing to ruin my father and everything to ruin him. Didn’t he know that?
I looked into her eyes to tell her that, but she shook her head and smiled a smile so heartbreaking it seemed to choke me. She already knew.
“What would you have me do, Sally?”
She moved her hands to her belly, which was rounded in the middle stages of pregnancy. I hadn’t noticed until that moment.
“I would have you and Mr. Truman leave Boston as soon as you can. I don’t know everything George is planning but I wouldn’t have the both of you be caught in it. You deserve to be happy.” She nodded a little as if to confirm with herself a decision previously made. “And warn your father about George.”