Molly First Chapter Preview

I thought you might enjoy a preview of the first chapter of Molly today! Watch for the book coming July 11!

~*~

April 1918

Pendleton, Oregon

 

The heady fragrance of lilacs in full bloom drifted in through the open window on a breeze that fluttered the lace curtains, making them dance and twirl in the air. Molly Thorsen pushed aside the lace and stood in the open window, filling her lungs with the delicious scent of the flowers and her heart with thoughts of her home.

“Today is the day,” she whispered to herself as she gazed over the beautifully kept grounds of the orphanage where she’d lived the past thirteen years. This had been her room from the first day she’d arrived. Her adoptive parents, Lars and Marnie Thorsen, had never suggested she share it with anyone. Molly loved every square inch of the space that was all hers. Over the years, Marnie had helped her decorate it to suit her tastes, and the room had become Molly’s own little haven.

She sank onto the window seat and picked up a pale-blue pillow trimmed with white lace her younger sister, Sophie, had given to her as a birthday present the previous year. The pillow wasn’t exactly square, and the lace drooped on one side, but Molly cherished it simply because Sophie had put in the effort to make it and had given the gift with love.

The room, decorated in shades of blue, was filled with things Molly treasured. Not because they held monetary worth, but because of the sentimental value. Molly hugged the pillow tightly to her chest, wondering when, or if, she’d see her room again.

Although she’d offered to pack up her belongings so the room would be vacant for another orphan to use, Marnie and Lars had insisted she leave things as they were, ready for her return. It warmed her heart knowing she’d be welcomed back at the orphanage if she survived the task before her. Someday, when the war raging in France was over, and Molly was free to come home, she would return to Dogwood Corners.

She tossed the pillow aside and walked over to her desk, opening the scrapbook she’d started and read over the advertisement she’d seen in the newspaper back in January asking for young women who were fluent in French to apply to be telephone operators with the Signal Corps.

Molly had never dreamed she’d be chosen, but after she’d been interviewed through a telephone call by one of the recruiting officers, she’d received a letter instructing her to report to a training facility in San Francisco. With a week to get there, Molly had hastily made travel arrangements, resigned her position as the manager at the Pendleton telephone office where she’d worked for ten years, and given her family the news of her immediate departure.

Although she knew her parents and siblings wanted to throw a party to wish her well, Molly didn’t relish the idea of a big send-off. She much preferred to quietly leave without any fuss. Thus far, no one had mentioned a party of any sort. Truthfully, she was relieved. Molly had kept a tight grip on her emotions, and a gathering of well-wishers would likely stretch her ability to remain dry-eyed beyond her limits.

Molly returned to the window, breathed in deeply of the luscious lilac scent, and sent up a prayer that she, along with all the other women who would serve in the Signal Corps, would return safely. She added prayers of safekeeping for those she knew who were already serving in France, or on their way there.

Her gaze roamed around the property that was Dogwood Corners. No matter where life took her, she’d always remember the home she had at the orphanage and the days full of laughter, joy, and love that had surrounded her.

A knock on the door drew her from her memories. “Come in,” she called without turning around, wondering who’d been sent to fetch her for breakfast. The scent of bacon and coffee had wafted upstairs and into her room, making her stomach growl.

“Morning, Mollsy Doll.”

The sound of the deep voice made her turn and smile at Lars Thorsen, the big brawny man who had been her father since she was thirteen. He’d given her the ridiculous nickname shortly after she’d moved into the orphanage. Lars was the only one she allowed to refer to her as Mollsy Doll. In fact, she’d bloodied a few noses on the playground when a few of the boys at school had started calling her Mauls-a-Doll. Molly’s sister Sadie had likely encouraged them to do it.

When Lars said Mollsy Doll, though, the moniker reminded her of how much she was loved by the man who had always been larger-than-life to her.

“Good morning, Dad. I figured you’d be off to work already.” Molly stepped away from the window and crossed the room, eager for the warm hug her father gave her.

“I’m off duty this morning. I know you don’t want a big to-do about leaving, Molls, but I can’t let my eldest daughter head off to war without at least seeing her to the depot.”

“You don’t have to, Dad. It’s not like I’m a youngster. At twenty-six, many would say I’m past my prime and getting long in the tooth.”

“Then they are idiots.” Lars stepped back and gave her a studying glance. “That new outfit your mother and Ilsa made looks lovely.”

“Thanks, Dad.” Molly was quite pleased with the traveling suit her mom and aunt had surprised her with yesterday. It was in a beautiful shade of deep blue, with butter-yellow flowers embroidered along the collar. They’d even presented her with a matching hat and gloves for her trip. Aware she’d end up having to send the suit, along with all her civilian clothes, home before she set sail for France, Molly was grateful for the lovely clothes she could wear until then.

Ilsa, her father’s sister, was a world-renowned seamstress who owned her own dress shop. When Marnie wasn’t busy at the orphanage, she often worked with Ilsa on her fashionable designs. Molly had learned enough from the two of them to be able to sew most any type of clothing she needed, but she felt her pieces lacked that extra something special Marnie and Ilsa were able to create.

She listened to the muted sounds coming from the rest of the house. “Is everyone up?”

Lars nodded. “Alek decided to roust everyone out of bed bright and early by pounding on their doors and threatening to pour water on them if they didn’t get up immediately.”

Molly grinned. She would miss her little brother terribly. Of all the children at the orphanage, Alek was the only one Marnie had given birth to, and he looked exactly like Lars. He was big for his age, full of mischief, and often too smart for his own good. But threats of taking away dessert or saddling him with the dreaded punishment of washing dishes typically kept him in line.

“That sounds like Alek. Why didn’t he pound on my door?”

Lars shrugged. “Probably because you were already up. Alek said your light was on early this morning.”

“I couldn’t sleep. I guess I’m just too excited, and maybe a little scared.”

“I reckon you are, and there’s nothing wrong with either of those things.” Lars drew in a long breath, then slowly blew it out. “I’m going to worry about you as much as I do your sister, Molly. Are you sure you don’t want us to come to New York to see you off when you leave?”

“No, Dad. It will be hard enough to say goodbye to everyone today. I don’t want to have to do that all again. Besides, you were just there in February to see Sadie on her way when she left with the hospital unit.”

“I know, but we’d make the trip again for you, Molly.”

“I appreciate the thought, but it isn’t necessary. Besides, Sadie spent so many years away, training to become a doctor, it was right for you to see her one last time before she sailed. I’ve been here taking up space while I worked at the telephone office.”

“You’ve never just been taking up space, Mollsy Doll. You are our daughter, one we happen to love more than words can express, and you will always have a place here in our home. Always. So, you remember that before you start thinking otherwise.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Molly managed to say around the tears that stung the back of her throat and filled her eyes.

Lars pulled her into a tight hug. Molly breathed in his familiar scent and savored the solid warmth of him. Her father had been a rock for Molly to cling to in the storms of her life. Long before she’d allowed herself to accept Lars and Marnie as her second set of parents after her birth parents had died, she’d greatly respected the couple. They had married for love, and that love spilled over and onto everyone at the orphanage.

“Will you keep me updated on Noah?” Molly asked when she pulled back from her father.

Her brother had been drafted into the Army in March, but he’d contracted influenza shortly after arriving at Camp Lewis and had been sent home a few weeks ago. Their cousin, Nik, who was also a doctor, had thought the best place for Noah was at the hospital until he gained back a little strength.

Molly had gone to visit Noah yesterday, taking him two books he hadn’t yet read, a box of candy, and a checkerboard. Noah had been ready to climb the walls, and he might have if he’d possessed the energy required to get out of bed.

She was certain he’d eventually recover, but she hoped the war would be over before he was fit to return to the training camp.

Her father nodded in agreement to her request. “I will let you know how Noah is progressing, and send you letters about the shenanigans of all the other hooligans running around here.”

“Promise?” Molly asked, holding out her pinky finger.

“Promise,” Lars said, letting her wrap her pinky around his before he settled his arm around her shoulders.

“Come on, Molls. I’m starving. Marnie wouldn’t let me snitch anything when I passed through the kitchen earlier.”

“You always steal all the bacon, Dad.”

“Not all,” Lars said, walking beside her as they went downstairs and into the dining room where children from the age of three to seventeen gathered for the morning meal.

“Good morning, sugar,” Marnie said, rushing over to give Molly a warm hug.

Molly rested in her mother’s embrace a moment longer than she might have under normal circumstances. She breathed in the familiar perfume of the woman she most admired in the world. Marnie had endured more pain and hardship than anyone Molly knew, but was still one of the kindest, most generous and caring people she’d ever met.

“I’m going to miss you so fiercely, sweet Molly,” Marnie whispered in her ear, then kissed both of her cheeks.

Molly could feel the tears welling in her own eyes and see them swimming in her mother’s as they both thought about the long, worrying-and-wearying days ahead.

“Don’t start blubbering yet. The biscuits are hot, and I’m hungry,” Alek said in a tone that was half boom and half squeak as his voice wavered in that awkward starting-to-change stage.

Marnie slipped her arm around Molly’s waist as the two of them made a noise that was part laugh and part sob, knowing this would be their last morning together for a long, long time.

“We can’t waste hot biscuits,” Molly said, squeezing Alek’s shoulder as she took a seat between him and Sophie.

Both Alek and Sophie reached for her hands as their father asked a blessing on the meal and added a special plea for Molly’s safekeeping. She was nearly in tears again by the time the amens echoed around the table.

With a fortifying breath, she looked up and smiled at all the faces staring at her. “Today is a day to be happy. With me gone, that means an extra serving of chocolate pie whenever Gertie makes it since it’s my favorite.”

“I call dibs!” Alek said, making everyone laugh. “You love anything chocolate. Chocolate cake. Chocolate pie. Chocolate cookies. Chocolate ice cream.”

“Ice cream!” a few of the little ones hollered.

Lighthearted banter filled the meal. The younger children were excited about the upcoming May Day Red Cross Festival that would be held in the park the morning of the first of May. All ages from first grade through high school would participate, offering song selections, skits, and presentations.

“I hope it rains buckets that day,” Alek said as he helped himself to another spoon of scrambled eggs.

“Why on earth would you wish that?” Marnie asked as she spread strawberry jam on a biscuit and set it on the plate of Beth, the youngest member of their household. “It will ruin everything.”

“Exactly,” Alek said with a wicked grin. “If it rains, we won’t have to do that silly old festival. I’m supposed to pretend I’m in a circus.”

“Well, you do make a rather good baboon,” Sophie teased, causing them all to laugh.

When the meal was over, the children hurried upstairs, brushing teeth and combing hair, then gathering books and bags for school. Molly stood at the front door, giving each child a hug and kiss before they climbed onto the wagon driven by a boy named Thomas, who had been at the orphanage for almost a year. All of the children promised to write to her, and she knew they would. They’d sent letters to Sadie, as well as Sadie’s young man, Harley John, who was at Camp Lewis, waiting for orders to ship out to France.

Molly carried Beth on her hip as she made one last pass through the house, walking through the rooms and her memories. She stopped in the kitchen to hug the cook, Gertie, and the housekeeper, Shea. The women had always been part of the Dogwood Corners family, and Molly often felt as though they were more like grandmothers than part of the staff.

She handed Beth to Gertie, who gave the child leftover piecrust to roll into shapes to keep her busy.

Hastily bounding up the back stairs, Molly returned to her room, where she gathered her leather handbag that had been a Christmas gift from Aunt Aundy and Uncle Garrett, pinned on her hat, and collected her gloves. She stood at the window a moment, eyes closed, embedding the lilac scent in her memories, then shut the window.

With one final glance around her room, she picked up her newly acquired suitcase and left the room, rushing down the front stairs. In the expansive entry, she turned and let her gaze roam up the steps, hearing the echoes of music and the excited voices from the annual ball held at the house each spring. Molly had enjoyed seeing the glorious gowns and observing the dancers sweep across the floor, but none as much as watching Lars and Marnie.

They loved each other so deeply and completely; it was a beautiful thing to witness. The care and affection they lavished on each other touched every person who lived in their home.

The front door opened, and Lars stepped inside, pulling her back to the moment. “You ready, Mollsy Doll?”

“Yes, and no.”

Lars took the suitcase from her and held the door as she stepped outside. “It’s not an easy thing to leave here knowing you’ll soon be heading off to the war in France. It’s not too late to change your mind, though.”

“No, Dad. I want to do this. I need to do this. Sadie’s already over there giving all she can to the patients at the hospital in Vichy. How can I do less than give my best?”

“You can’t because that’s just not your way, Molly. Your mother and I are so proud of you, and it has nothing to do with you signing up to join the Signal Corps. You’re a fine young woman, and we’re honored you allowed us to become your parents.”

“Aw, Dad. You’re going to make me bawl my eyes out, as Alek would say. I couldn’t have asked for finer parents than you and Mama. You all mean the world to me, and I’ll always be grateful beyond words for the home I found here. You didn’t have to take me in, and there were times it was a wonder you kept me when Sadie and I used to fight like two angry badgers vying for the same den, but I’m thankful.”

Marnie tooted the horn of her auto as she drove it up to the end of the front walk.

Lars chuckled as he walked with Molly down the steps. “You and your sister seemed to find more ways to disagree than I ever knew existed. I’m glad you both grew out of that and became friends.”

“Me, too. I adore Sadie, and Sophie, and all the rest of them. Don’t forget to let me know how Noah is doing, and whatever trouble Alek gets into. I want to know about all of them. They’ll be so different when I get back, especially little Beth.” Molly refused to think in terms of if she returned to Pendleton. She had every intention of coming back someday when the war was behind them.

“I’ll keep you posted. You have to promise to write to us, Molly. To let us know how you are—how you truly are, not just what you think we want to hear—and to ask for anything you might need that we can mail. We can send packages to you like we’ve sent to Sadie with whatever you need.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that, Dad.”

Lars set her suitcase in the back of Marnie’s auto, then swung onto the back of his horse he’d left tied at the hitching rail. “I’ll meet you two at the depot.” He tipped his head and touched the brim of his hat before he rode off toward town at a gallop.

“You still watch him like he’s the hero from one of those books you love to read, Mama,” Molly said as she climbed into the car next to Marnie.

“He is my hero, sugar. He has been since the day he rode down a dusty street and smiled at me. Lars gave me something no one else could, including myself.”

“What was that, Mama?” Molly asked as Marnie started down the drive at a slow pace.

“Hope.”

Molly smiled. She knew that was what her mother would say. The story of how her parents met wasn’t a secret to her nor anyone else in their large extended family. Regardless, she never tired of hearing Marnie talk about the way Lars rode into her life and changed everything.

“The dogwoods are especially lovely this year,” Molly said, tipping her head to the side so she could better see the trees that lined the drive after which the property was named. They were nearly finished blooming, and petals covered the lane like a pink and white blanket. A blossom drifted down and landed on her cheek, making Molly smile as she caught it before the breeze could blow it away.

She held it to her nose and sniffed, then decided to keep it as a reminder of home. If she pressed it between the pages of the blank journal she’d packed, it should stay preserved until she could once again see the trees bloom in person. After wrapping the blossom in her handkerchief and placing it in her handbag, she leaned halfway out of the auto as Marnie turned onto the main road. Molly watched as Dogwood Corners faded into the distance.

Before she completely destroyed her carefully styled hair, or her hat blew away, Molly settled back into her seat.

“Thank you for driving me to the depot, Mama. And for not throwing a big party. It’s not really my style.”

“I know, sugar. We would have been happy to host a farewell party for you, though.”

“You can throw a welcome home party for me instead. How about that?”

Marnie grinned at her. “You just remember you gave me permission to host a party in your honor when you get back. No excuses or complaints.”

Molly laughed. “I will likely be ready to celebrate by then.”

Marnie sobered and reached over to give Molly’s hand a quick squeeze. “I’ll be praying for you every day, my darling girl. Be safe and take care of yourself. If you happen to see your sister, give her a big hug from me.”

“I will, Mama. I promise. I’ll be praying for all of you too.” Molly felt somber as they drove into town, but couldn’t think of anything blithe to say. It wasn’t a lighthearted thing she was doing, agreeing to go off to war, but she felt a need to do her part, and she intended to do it wholeheartedly.

At the depot, Marnie parked her auto and started to get out.

Molly placed a hand on her mother’s arm. “You don’t have to stay, Mama. I’ll just grab my suitcase and go.”

“I don’t think so,” a voice said from beside her door.

Before Molly could do more than blink, she was lifted out of the car and into the arms of her uncle Kade. He wasn’t really her uncle by blood or adoption, but he worked with her father, and all the children at the orphanage referred to him and his wife, Caterina, as their uncle and aunt.

After Kade released her, she was passed from uncles to aunts, and even a few cousins, before she found herself being hugged by her father once more.

“We best get you on that train,” Lars said as the conductor gave his second boarding call.

Molly stood between Marnie and Lars and looked at her loved ones who had gathered to bid her farewell. “I love you all. I will hold you in my heart and prayers until we meet again.”

She blew kisses to them before she gave her mother and father one more hug.

“Here, take this, Molly,” Aunt Caterina said, handing her a basket full of food from the restaurant she owned and managed. “You’ll get hungry.”

“We made cookies,” Aunt Aundy said, giving her another basket with cookies packed into tins.

“You are all too good to me, and I’m grateful for each of you,” Molly said, barely managing to push out the words around the emotion clogging her throat. “Goodbye!”

Lars carried her suitcase and helped her onto the passenger car. She stepped inside, spied an empty seat just one row back from the front, and set the baskets of food there. Her father stowed her suitcase in the compartment above her seat, then gave her another hug. “You be careful and be safe, Mollsy Doll. Love you, little girl.”

“I love you too, Dad.” Molly kissed his cheek, then stuck her head out the window and waved as he exited the train. Two dozen people waved at her, sharing their well-wishes as the conductor shouted his final call for boarding.

The sun glinted off the sheriff’s deputy badge Lars wore pinned to his vest as he stepped beside Marnie. He settled his arm around his wife, holding her close as she waved and brushed at her tears.

“Love you, Mama!” Molly called, then she plopped into her seat before she succumbed to her tears.

As the train lurched forward and started chugging down the tracks, Molly knew she was closing a chapter of her life and embarking on a new, uncertain adventure.

 

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