Chapter One

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Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1917

It's not the getting up in the morning that's my problem, it's the getting through the door on time.

As Dorothy Gaston did every morning, she flew out of the blue door to her flat over Bernie's Restaurant in a foul mood. She travelled along the western side of Citadel Hill, the over century-and-a-half old fortress that loomed over downtown Halifax, towards the city's south end, seething as her heels clicked on the cinderblock sidewalk.

That bloody Charlie. Her brother was going to drive her to drink. Though there were only three years between the two of them, on days like today she felt twenty years older than he was.

Today, it was because he didn't think he should have to get up sooner than five minutes before he needed to be out the door. Never mind breakfast and never mind getting washed, and never mind tidying up his sleeping area in the front room. Never mind that he no longer lived five minutes from the school and he had a twenty-minute walk -- thirty or forty the way he dawdled once he met up with his friends.

The least he could do was straighten up the flat before he left so she wouldn't have to do it after a day of cleaning someone else's house. When he scowled at her or called her a nag, she reminded herself that she once had the same aversion to work when there was play to be had.

Then again, when she was his age, things had become very different very quickly. Just walking down the street was proof of that.

Since the war began, there was always something going on around her. It was inescapable. During her morning commute, there were always marching lines of soldiers to stop for, slovens and trucks rumbling past her en route to the waterfront, or the sound of a ship's horn as it moved along the narrow harbour. As she got ready for work in the morning and passed by the window in the front room, she sometimes spotted the movement of a convoy heading out to sea.

Even at night, there was no getting away from it. She'd been kept awake many times listening to the military drills in the fortress. Then there were the trains constantly moving in and out of the city at all hours of the night, and the sounds carried from the factories that never ceased work. There was one night a few weeks earlier when the night patrol came out to check that no light could be seen from the windows, and when the bugle boy had blown his horn she almost opened her own window and thrown a shoe at him.

She might have if it didn't mean losing a perfectly good shoe.

With so much to see at once, it was all such marvellous fun for Charlie. For Dorothy, it took everything she had to keep from drawing the curtains, sitting at the table, and drinking tea until the war was over, until her older brother came back, and until everything was normal again.

But she couldn't do that, could she? There was rent to pay and things to buy, and Charlie was forever in need of new school supplies.

So, she went to work.

She walked quickly, turning down the busy Spring Garden Road just as the streetcar that would have taken her to the Monroe house passed her.

She silently cursed the driver, the conductor, and all the passengers. She was tired of cursing herself over having misspent, even if buying new bloomers because her old ones had worn holes in them wasn't exactly misspending. She just refused to accept that she simply didn't have enough money to make ends meet last month and that catching the trolley was out of the question.

And that wasn't the end of it. She had the rest of the month and all of December to contend with.

She couldn't think about it now, she decided. She passed the formerly colourful public garden that made up an entire city block, locked and as dismal as the rest of the city now that winter was pushing the autumn out of the way. It wasn't as though the gorgeous flower beds or the fat ducks that nestled like acorns on the lawn would have cheered her up one bit, anyway. The grounds might as well stay hard and brown all year for all the energy she could put into enjoying them.

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