“Where are you going, Eileen?” queried George
“What’s it to you?” she answered indolently. She was in a bad mood, and had been on and off these last couple of weeks.
“Well, nothing, but I worry about you. It’s late and you’ve been out the last four nights and haven’t told anyone where you’re off to. Fanny mentioned it and you know she worries more than I do.” George was beginning to sound school-masterish. He never got really angry and was known to be the most level-headed in the family. At least, nobody had ever witnessed anger. But with such a determined face and strong beleifs and very little fear of anything, it is quite possible to imagine George furious and lashing out in a way he’d regret. Perhaps like a schoolmaster who loses his temper with a recalcitrant boy. Maybe his temperament was due to his being a refugee. He didn’t think that plausible either, but he couldn’t really look impartially at how well a Civil War orphan could or should integrate satisfactorily into English society.
“For heaven’s sake, George, lay off!” She was irritated now, and this was not usual for Eileen. Her family made excuses for her irritability. It’s her red hair, they’d say. Makes for a wild child, Fanny had said it since her birth. Eileen’s sibling Billy was anything but irascible and the contrast between them had often been made. In any case, this was uncharacteristic: she’d outgrown the tantrums of her childhood. “You know who I’m going to see, so why ask?” She didn’t expect and answer.
“Because he’s going to hurt you, Eileen.”
“You’re just jealous, George, because you don’t have a boyfriend.”
“He isn’t your boyfriend, and you know it. He’s just an airman you met at a party. You know what he’s after, Eileen. They’re all the same, these American GIs. They’re supposed to be her to fight for us and they spend their time getting English girls pregnant.”
“I’m not listening to this anymore. You are just prejudiced. He actually loves me, he said so.”
“So that means it’s true, huh? He told you he loved you. Ha! Grow up, Eileen, love; can’t you see he’s stringing you along? He’s probably got a wife and kids in Iowa. He wants to get you into bed that’s all he’s after.” George wanted the best for his step-sister and wasn’t going to allow her to get hurt in the way he had.
“You don’t know Eugene; I do.” She said firmly, putting her anorak on and fishing in the pockets for her gloves. Her eyes were blazing with indignation at George’s impudence, to try and interfere with her love-life. Or indeed with her social life: it wasn’t even love yet. Even though it was now too late to talk about Eugene getting her into bed. She’d already been there. Quite some weeks ago. She’d told nobody that she’d already missed a period, and was beginning to wonder if this was significant. She wasn’t really au fait with the signs and symptoms and her sex education was limited to what she’d picked up in the schoolyard. Pretty much like everyone her age.
“Look, just take care, alright? Look after yourself. Don’t come back late: your mum and dad will go spare if they think you’re meeting this Eugene guy. Try to get back before they go to bed.” George had relented and in a flash, Eileen had forgiven him his intrusive and prying concern.
“OK, George” She flashed him a smile; her usual warm smile. “For you” She loved George more than anyone she knew. More than Billy, even though Billy was her blood-brother. And more than Eugene, of course, but with Eugene it was different. With Eugene it was about excitement and dancing and fun. Fun she never got at home. George wasn’t fun: he was staid and reliable and solid. And wonderful. But she couldn’t marry George! Perhaps she would marry Eugene. She hoped it were possible. And travel to Iowa and live in the great prairies, in a log cabin. Eugene had made it sound romantic and exciting all at the same time. She didn’t know yet whether she’d been fooled as George obviously thought she had. But she did suspect that she’d past a point of no return. A girl knows her own body and this body was telling her it carried a foetus. Anyway, she was taking the body out for a night with Eugene, whatever George said. “I’ll be careful and I’ll not be back too late.” She stood on tiptoe and planted a wet kiss on George’s lips. He smiled, and was happy for her. Happy that she was his sister. Well, half-sister. She put on her bonnet, admiring herself in the hall mirror, and saw George in the reflection, standing behind her. She knew he’d always stand behind her and by her if anything happened. He’d be the first person she told if she really was pregnant. She tucked her vivid curly red hair under her bonnet. She liked her hair, nowadays. She used to hate it and had it cut really short, like a boy, when she was ten. Surrounded by boys, she had been desperate to identify with them. Now, she was happy to play the femme fatale, with her cheeky freckled face played to advantage. She didn’t need to be a boy, when American boys chased her seduced her and wanted to sleep with her.
George really did care about Eileen. Since his arrival in the family, he had felt protective towards both Billy, his half-brother and Eileen, his half-sister. His gratitude at being adopted into this family had been boundless, and though it was many years ago, he felt every day the same gratitude welling up. George is a little stocky but the stockiness was muscular rather than the effects of good food and little exercise. Even so, he could have lost a few pounds without missing them. He was tall, much taller that anyone in his family. When he walked, it was a solid, determined gait, as if he knew exactly where he was going. There was no uncertainty in his step. His confidence and genial smile with everybody belied the fact that he had once been the shy and uncertain immigrant and refugee from the Spanish civil war. His coal black hair and his swarthy complexion gave him the look of a pirate, and he seemed to have a swashbuckling temperament to match, but a humorous one, like a cartoon pirate. He could be fiery and furious if he witnessed injustices such as he himself had suffered. But he felt free and valued freedom; the kind of freedom a pirate would enjoy, sailing the seas in search of adventure. Free of the usual foibles and frets that people have over property, possessions, ownership, proprietorial limits and rights. This blessing, if blessing it was, probably resulted from his having nothing to call his own when he arrived on the ship that had brought him from the port of Bilbao to Bristol. Only his clothes that he stood up in. He was not ashamed to be as penniless as his empty pockets revealed, or as dirty as a gypsy. Poverty and gypsies were a part of his heritage and he would not disown them. His browned skin, burnt by the remorseless rays of nine summers, and an outdoor life in the fertile fields of Vizcaya in the Basque Country, was covered in a fine hirsute layer of black fur. It was difficult for him not to have a beard like a pirate; even as a youngster he started growing facial hair when other boys developed only pimples and acne. It was this strongly masculine image which was to lead George astray in a similar way to Eileen and also with a GI.