Unnamed Alice fic rewrite: Chapter 1

The muse hit last night...I stayed up far too late rewriting Alice. Here is the result. Please let me know what you think!
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The Redmond College Convocation took place always in the first week of June, when the Kingsport campus was at it showiest with all sorts of blossomy things. The ash trees that ringed the campus were bursting with filmy blooms – the honeysuckle  ran rampant over the red brick in wild and fragrant falls. Beneath a canopy of bowery poplars, watched over by a statue of a sternly benevolent Founder, the senior class procession moved in two straight lines of giddy students, the boys in their best suits, the girls in fresh white dresses that stood out against the vibrant green. There was nothing more hopeful than the expectant looks on their faces, the squared shoulders and lifted chins that indicated pride in a job seen through to the end.

The Convocation hall was done up with banners in the school colors – cheery white and scarlet – but for all this showy splendor, the mood of the class of 1940 was a little subdued compared to previous years'. The dean of students made a speech that touched vaguely on ‘trials ahead’ and drew heavily on allegory of boats tossed about on stormy seas, which made them all think of Dunkirk, and what was, even now, going on there. There were gaps in the programme during which the name of some male student was called, but there was no figure to stride across the stage to accept the proffered diploma. These boys, it was understood, had joined up, and even now were on their way overseas. Others took to the stage to accept theirs in khaki uniforms, their hair under their caps freshly shorn according to army regulations. A rousing cheer went up for them, each mother clapping so furiously that her palms under her gloves began to tingle.

There was also a good deal of applause for each of the class medal winners; especially enthusiastic was the contingent that were there to see a slim girl in white lace take the class prizes in geometry and Latin. Alice Blythe climbed the steps both times her name was called clutching a small nosegay of white violets streaked with purple at the heart, which had arrived that morning with a congratulatory note from one Dr. Bruce Meredith of Maywater, PEI. To tell the truth, it was that cluster of blossoms that made her cheeks stained pink, not the prizes she was accepting. She had worked hard for the honors and was fairly sure of them. But she had not expected the flowers.

As she crossed the stage, those in the know in the audience poked each other and whispered that Miss Blythe had done a prestigious internship with an architecture firm in Toronto over the summer – and had been offered a permanent position for the following year – but had turned it down in favor of a hole-in-the-wall outfit somewhere in the backwoods. Some looked at the girl with renewed respect at that – some with a doubtful moue of the mouth – and a few of the male audience members (as Alice’s skirt swished about her shapely legs) with outright admiration that had nothing to do with her career potential.

 And there were others who watched with quite different emotions as the lithe black-haired girl shook the dean’s hand in a firm grip. Mrs. Diana Irving, wife of the renowned poet, clutched her husband’s arm and smiled as she thought of words that Alice had once said so certainly to her: I’m not interested in an education, Aunt Di – I’m quite contented to be a little ignoramus forever. A gray-haired man—still handsome and trim despite shoulders that were beginning to be stooped with age—felt a rush of tears as he thought of the lad that was this girls’ father. Walter Blythe had never had the chance to graduate – how proud he would have been of his daughter today! How unlikely it all was, the chain of events that brought them all together—how close they had come to not happening at all! He looked down at his wife and saw the same tears mirrored in her gray eyes, despite the pride that shone out from her face.

Up front in the crush of students, a handsome boy—who had already accepted his prize for Drama—elbowed the ribs of a golden-haired girl—who had been voted ‘class beauty’ at the last senior social—and said, teasingly, “Who would have expected our Joy to be the brains of the outfit after all?”

I knew it all along,” said Cecilia Meredith with a staunch set of her loyal little chin, as Alice left the stage and the students rose to sing the final theme—should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

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The senior class threw a graduation dance that night, and Alice and Cissy dressed for it together in Alice’s little rented room at the boarding house, which, despite her habitation of it for nearly four years, had never entirely felt like home. There was a patriotic theme for the night’s festivities—everything was patriotically themed now, because of the war—and so Alice left off her violets in favor of a rose-red ribbon in her curls. But she did prop the little bouquet in a glass of water on her bureau, where she could see it as she did her hair. Cissy followed her gaze, and exclaimed,

“Uncle Bruce sent you flowers, too! Wasn’t that sweet of him? I just about swooned over mine. Violets are so delicious, especially on a day like this. And such a nice little encouraging note he wrote, too. It was so like him to send it.”

Alice met her own gray eyes in the mirror and grinned a little sheepishly at herself. Of course Bruce’s flowers were a gesture of kindness from an old friend – it was silly to think they could have been anything else. That kiss on the verandah of the old Bailey House on the night of Aunt Di’s wedding was so long ago, had been born out of pure moonlight and nothing more. It was only that – well, it was only that Alice’s imagination was working overtime. But that was nothing new.

“It was very like Bruce,” Alice confirmed. “He always was so encouraging when it came to my education – he was one of the main reasons I ever decided to get one in the first place. Do you remember how you both helped me ‘cram’ for my Queens entrance exam – and how we thought up that cockamamie scheme to keep it a secret from everybody else?”

“Yes—and I remember how well you did even when you thought you wouldn’t,” said Cecilia, coming to wind her arms around Alice’s shoulders, which were left quite bare by her red halter dress. “You have always sold yourself short, Joy Blythe. Don’t you think you ought to take the job with Halstrom and Hamill after all? It is such a wonderful opportunity – and I would hate to see you give it up because you aren’t sure you can do it.”

“I am quite sure I can do it – I just don’t want to,” laughed Alice. “There is no ‘scope for the imagination,’ Cissy, in designing office buildings and hotels and vacation houses for rich people. I want to design real houses – for real people to live in. There is something sacred about the idea of home and hearth – the simpler, the better. I didn’t have a home of my own for so long, you know, not until I came to you all. My opa and I rented a flat in England but we were so poor that I was never quite sure it would last one week to the next, and besides, it never felt like home the way that Ingleside does.

“And that’s the other thing, Ciss—working with Mr. Harper means I can go home – I can drive to the building site in White Sands every morning and back again at night. How I miss Ingleside! I want to spend as much time as I can with all the dear old home folks this summer because –“

“Because Walt and Gilbert will be going,” sighed Cissy. “Walt hasn’t said so yet, but I knew last month, when I saw him do the St. Crispin’s day speech at the recital that he had decided. There was something resigned and determined in his tone, as if he were already facing down the hordes on the field. And Aunt Rilla says to expect Gilly to go any day now – he marched down to the registrar’s office the day after Germany invaded France and withdrew his name from next years’ class. She thinks he will be overseas by August.”

The idea of boy Gilbert in uniform – and Walt, dreamy, darling Walt – Alice wiped furiously at her eyes, suddenly overcome by the days’ events. “All this talk of home and cousins overseas! Oh! I won’t cry and ruin my eye make-up. I am going to have fun tonight, Cissy. I feel I’ve earned it after all that hard work, and I plan to enjoy every minute of this dance. Let’s talk about something else – please.”

Cissy obligingly changed the subject. “Did Jims ever say whether he would be free to come tonight?” she asked casually – perhaps too casually. But Alice was busy applying a shade of lipstick to match her dress and did not notice.

“Yes—he called and said he would take the ferry over this afternoon. He is preparing for trial next week, but he is going to be sure to come and escort us tonight. In fact, if all is going according to plan, he should be waiting for us downstairs right about now. Come on, Ciss – let’s fly!”

Alice did feel as though she were flying that night. She jitterbugged wildly with cousin Walt – she let a coed in khaki spin her in dizzying circles around the floor to the strains of the Beer Barrel Polka – at the crowd’s urging, she even joined the band for a laughing chorus of Lili Marlene. Flying high and fast – there was a fevered, urgent look about her through it all. It was not until Jims came to claim her for a slow song that she came down from her cloud and rested her cheek against his shoulder. Her vibrant face grew calm and contented, and her eyes glowed with that old Alice light – soft and steady and true.

Cissy Meredith, dancing with a nondescript sort of youth who tried valiantly not to step on her toes, caught that look and thought that she must find out once and for all whether there really was anything between Alice and Jims Anderson. It would, she reflected, be her summertime vow to herself. 
1 Response
  1. Adrienne Says:

    I am, of course, quite intrigued.