Emily Ann Putzke
“Here, this is a good spot.” Robbie led me toward a patch of daisy with a grin on his boyish face. The scent of moist grass and budding flowers clung to the misty spring breeze as he unfolded a red, white, and blue quilt. I laughed as it flapped in the wind like a flag. I snatched the other end and together we laid it across the tall grass. I gathered my skirt around me and sat on my knees.
“Well? What did you want to tell me, Robbie?”
He shook his head. “Not yet. I’ll tell you later. After the flight.”
I threw him an impish grin. “A perfect view for a crash landing. Robert Starling, you’re insane.” But secretly, I was jealous. I would do anything for the chance to fly.
“You think I brought you all the way out here to witness a crash landing? If you were looking for a tragedy, Kitty Fellows, I’m going to disappoint you.” He looked so sure of himself standing there in his leather aviator helmet. “My glider is foolproof.”
“You’re going to get yourself killed. Men weren’t made to fly. If we they were, God would have given them wings.” I pulled at my sun bonnet.
“Heck, you’re right!” Robbie held out a hand, a smirk dancing on his lips. “Women were made to fly. How about it?
I stared at him. “What?”
“Want to fly?”
For a blissful moment, I could almost feel the wind caress my face and see the acres and acres of the Starling farm from a bird's eye view. “You’d really let me fly your glider?”
“Sure I would.” He raised an eyebrow, waiting for my answer. “Well, how about it Kitty Hawk?”
I jumped to my feet, letting out a girlish squeal as my answer. I picked up the hem of my dress and was about to bolt toward the machine Robbie and his brother had been laboring and tweaking over for months. Friends and family had taken to dubbing them “The Wright Brothers.” And me? Well, I was their Kitty Hawk.
"Woah, wait a minute!” Robbie grabbed my arm, bringing me to an abrupt stop. His face grew a tinge red as he took a step back, sweeping his eyes over me. “You ... uh ... you can’t fly in that thing.”
“That dress.” He pointed to the lavender sun dress I was now donning.
I stared at him in horror. “You mean I have to fly in my bloomers? You wicked, wicked boy!"
His embarrassment melted into humor and he burst into hearty laughter.
“Just wait until I tell your mother that you expected me to fly all over God’s green earth in my bloomers! Just wait!” I turned to run, but I forget my arm was still in his grasp.
“I was going to suggest something entirely different actually. Like Henry’s trousers and shirt.” He held up a sack of clothes. “Brought’em along just in case you had a mind to fly.”
I tentatively took the sack, casting a wary glance at Robbie. “Oh. That was a good idea.” I was horrified at my assumption and quickly ducked my head.
“Well, I’ve got to go help Roy get the glider ready for takeoff. You change in there,” he nodded toward the thicket of woods that hemmed the expansive field. “Hurry now.” Robbie jogged off toward the glider that was silhouetted against the sky like a giant bird. I meanwhile, hid in the thicket and slipped on the clothes of Robbie and Roy’s younger brother. They fit almost perfectly. I rolled the bottom of the pants then darted toward the gilder, spreading my arms out like wings as the wind hurled against my face. The pants were freeing, and I was tempted to ask Robbie if I might have them for keeps. Robbie and Roy, a devilish duo, laughed when I reached the glider.
“Henry will be glad to know his clothes look so nice on a girl.” Roy teased.
Robbie took off his aviator helmet and set it over my head, securing it snugly. “Well, Kitty Hawk, how are you feeling?”
“Like I’m dreaming.”
He grinned as he lifted a warm hand to my cheek. I shivered at his gentle touch. “Can I kiss you before you go?”
My heart jumped. “Why? Am I going to die?”
He laughed, growing closer with every breath. “No, I just want to know if I can kiss you.”
“Yes, just as soon as you tell me the 'thing' you wished to discuss with me. It sounded rather important.”
Roy cleared his throat uncomfortably and turned away from us. Robbie dropped his gaze. “Come on, Kitty, I don’t want that to ruin our afternoon. I’ll tell you later.”
“You keep saying that.”
He lifted his nut brown eyes to meet mine. “I’ll tell you later. I promise.” He yanked the goggles down over my eyes and pecked a kiss on my cheek. “Have a good flight."
I climbed into the glider, Roy and Robbie instructing me on the hand levers and foot operated crossbar. Once they were sure I knew what I was doing, they took their positions on either side of the glider and began to run as if they were flying a kite. The glider gained momentum, and the air turned cold as I was raised higher and higher into the atmosphere. Soon my friends looked small in the field below, and I was flying. Flying! If only I could live up there in my trousers for the rest of my life. That would be heaven. I could see Roy and Robbie whipping their hats in an ecstatic cheer.
When I was brought to earth again, I met it with a rather crude stop that rattled my head and sent pain traveling down my limbs. I was back to earth, but my heart was still in the sky. I climbed out of the glider and landed in a dejected heap on the soft grassy field. I shielded my eyes with the back of my hand as the sun came out from its clouded cover. Whoops and hollers hung on the wind as Robbie and Roy ran to the glider. Robbie slid to the ground beside me, his face ruddy, his eyes bright. “What did you think of it, Kitty Hawk?"
The damp grass soaked through my shirt, but I didn’t move. “Robbie, I want to live up there in these trousers.”
Robbie’s laugh sent a tingle of satisfaction through me. He leaned on his elbows and gazed at me as if I were something special. “Someday we’ll live in the clouds, Kitty, just you and me.”
I squinted up at him. “In my trousers?”
“Nah,” he shook his head. “You’re too pretty to be wearing trousers. You’ll just have to practice flying in a dress.”
I grinned at that. Robbie laced his fingers through mine as we watched the clouds float across the sky. Roy wrenched the aviator helmet off my head and tucked it under his arm. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat but some of us have work to do.” And he walked off, leaving Robbie and I alone with only the glider and the endless sky.
“What’s his hurry?” I asked.
Robbie leaned over me, running his fingers through my tangled hair. “He hates hearing long declarations of love. They bore him something awful.”
“Is that what you're going to do? Give me a long declaration of love? Because they rather bore me as well.”
“Have you heard so many?”
“You’d be surprised,” I teased.
“Kitty …” he sounded uncertain.
“Robbie, you know as well as I do that you’re the only boy I’ve ever loved.” I beamed up at him. “Anyway, I never had a chance to meet anyone else. You scared all my suitors away.”
“Ever wonder why I did that?”
“Because you’re a tyrant.”
“Because I love you.”
“And I love you, Robert Starling.”
He smiled, bringing his face closer to mine. “Can I kiss you now?”
I placed my finger on his lips. “Not until you tell me what’s the matter, Robbie. You’ve been so different this entire week. What’s wrong?
He sighed—a long weary sigh. I sat up on my elbows. “Robert? What is it?”
He nervously swiped a hand through his hair. “I did it, Kitty Hawk. I did the unfathomable. Whoever saw this coming?”
Fear numbed me. “What? What have you done, Robert?”
Our eyes locked and somehow I knew what he was going to say before the words left his lips. I wasn’t blind to the longing in his gaze whenever we passed a recruitment sign. I wasn’t so self absorbed that I didn’t understand that gut wrenching guilt he felt whenever another of his friends joined up to beat the Kaiser while he stayed behind. No, I wasn’t stupid. I ripped up a piece of grass with vengeance. “You’re going to beat the Kaiser like all the posters say.”
I tossed the handful of grass at him and stood up, a mixture of anger, hatred, and sorrow becoming one heavy stone on my chest. I said nothing. I just stared at the heavens and saw my bright future disappear behind a gathering storm cloud. Robbie stood behind me, wrapping me up tightly in his arms. “Are you angry?” he whispered in my ear.
He squeezed me tighter. “I’m sorry, Kitty Hawk. But how could I not go?”
“I understand, Robert. I really do. I just don’t like it.”
Robbie’s arms dropped as the wind whipped around us, tasting of an impending storm. “Come on, let’s get the glider home.”
Flying felt like a lifetime ago as I stood in the clogged train station. Spring seemed to have taken a sabbatical, allowing winter to waltz in for one last hurrah. Smoke poured from the train, encompassing the station in a haze of grey as young men with rucksacks hurried to board. I peered around for Robbie but couldn’t see over the towering crowd of men.
I turned at the sound of a familiar voice. Roy stood there grinning at me like a fool, that teasing gleam ever present in his dark eyes. “You look disappointed to see me. It’s all right, I’m used to it. Everyone likes Robert Starling better than his twin.”
“Oh, stop it.” I slapped his arm. “You know I’m going to miss you.”
“Just not as much as Robbie,” Roy grinned knowingly.
I didn’t respond because we both knew that was true.
“Hey, there you are,” Robbie sauntered over to us, dropping his rucksack to the station floor. “What’s with this weather? I mean, I thought it was finally spring.”
Roy and I stared at him.
He shrugged his shoulders. “What?”
“You’re being shipped off to Europe and all you can say is ‘What’s with this weather?’” I couldn’t hide my displeasure at his indifference.
His carefree smile faded. “I’m sorry, Kitty. I just really don’t know what to say to you. I don’t have much practice at poetic goodbyes.”
“Dumb, dumb, dumb,” mumbled Roy as he stepped away from us. Robbie threw a glare at his brother.
“You could say things like, ‘Kitty Fellows, how did I live before I met you?’ You are the sunshine of my life!” I tried to make light of the moment, but it wasn’t working. Not for me, anyway.
“That doesn’t sound like something I’d ever say,” he smirked.
“No, you talk about the weather.” I flung my hands up in exasperation.
“Yeah,” he glanced at the train looming behind him. “I really have to board now.” He placed a hand on my face but I turned away, letting his hand drop to his side. Robbie sighed as he leaned over to pick up his rucksack. “So long, Kitty Hawk.” He tipped his hat, turned on his heel and stepped into the horde of young men clambering to board the train. I lost sight of him as he blended into the sea of brown and khaki. I stepped back as panic grabbed a hold of me and gave me a good shake.
“Wait, Robbie!” I shouted, but my voice was lost in the din. I pushed and shoved the other women out of the way until I was looking up at the windows of the train where young boys waved to their loved ones with ruddy faces and hopeful smiles.
“Kitty? What are you doing?” Roy ran up to me, grabbing my shoulder. “Get away from the train before you’re mincemeat.”
I turned to Roy, hot tears spilling down my cheeks. “I didn’t kiss him. I didn’t kiss him!”
Roy cocked an eyebrow. “Robert?”
“Of course, Robert! Help me find him before you board. Please!”
My panic spread like an epidemic to Roy, for he frantically called up to a young man, “Get Robert Starling as fast as you can. Your life depends on it, soldier.”
The young man disappeared from the window as quickly as if a general have given him an order. Roy and I stood there fidgeting. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to me. “Dry your tears, Kitty. He’s coming.”
I took it gratefully and blew my nose. “Thanks.”
I heard shuffling and jesting voices as Robbie was shoved toward the window. “Some girl’s here to see you,” the young man said. “Down there.”
Robbie gazed down at me, his visage bearing confusion. “Kitty?”
I grabbed Roy’s arm. “Can you lift me up to him?”
“Sure thing.” Roy bent down, placed one arm under my knees, the other around my waist and boosted me up to the train window.
Robbie and I stared at each other for a long moment.
"Well, hi,” he said, giving me a roguish smile. “What brings you to my window?”
“Yes. And please do it quickly. I’m slipping.” I gripped one arm tighter around Roy’s neck and peered up at Robbie.
Robbie looped his arm under mine, pulling me closer to the window. I lost my breath as he stared into my eyes. “I’ll come back for you, Kitty Hawk,” he whispered gently in my ear. Then Robert Starling leaned out the window and kissed me, sealing his promise.
What is They Have a Story? It's a monthly historical fiction link up hosted by yours truly. Once a month I'll post a historical picture. Your job and mine is to write a short story inspired by it. It can be as short or as long as you like. Have fun with it! Post the monthly picture, your story, and blog button on your blog, then link up. Let’s see how many different stories we can get from the same picture! Link up HERE.