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Saturday, July 4, 1931
Maple Notch, Vermont
Frank Sawtelle was home at last.
The people of Maple Notch, VermontWinnie Tuttle among themhad waited five years to give their hero a homecoming worthy of his accomplishments. Perhaps she'd anticipated his return even more than most. She leaned past Louise, seeking a glimpse of her friend's brother.
A matched pair of geldings as white as the stars on the United States flag pranced in front of a wagon decorated to resemble Fort Ticonderoga. A monument in the town square celebrated the American victory early in the Revolutionary War, when Maple Notch men fought alongside Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys. When the horses swung their heads, golden plumes waved in the wind, suggesting the magic that Frank brought to the ice.
His skating had both mesmerized and charmed Winnie as an impressionable child.
Clean red-and-blue rugs were spread across the horses' backs, completing the patriotic theme. A man dressed like a Dickensian cabby, complete with top hat and scarf, held the long reins, driving the wagon fit for a king.
In spite of speculation that Frank would hide from public display, the man in the wagon stood at attention, saluting the cheering townsfolk. He wore the skating costume he'd worn five years ago, when he won the United States Figure Skating Championships: a copy of Ethan Allen's green uniform coat, faced with red, over buckskin breeches. Winnie recognized it because she had helped Louise and Mrs. Sawtelle sew it all those years ago. His hairstyle had changed, though. It was shorter and slicked back, but she loved the way he still filled out every inch of the coat.
He didn't look the least bit ill at ease with the festivities, as Louise had suggested he would. Winnie hopped from one foot to the other, waving her flag and yelling like everyone around her. Louise's little white mutt, Toodles, danced at their feet, feeding on the crowd's frenzy.
Frank turned almost-green eyes on her, smiled and waved his hand. The music and noise around her faded into the background, and she felt as if she were watching a movie, where the hero comes home to the woman who has faithfully waited.
High-pitched barking interrupted Winnie's private reverie. Toodles dashed across the street into the path of the horses. One stopped and the other lifted his front legs in the air, seeking to avoid the tiny animal. The crowd went silent.
"Do something!" a white-faced Louise begged Winnie. Toodles huddled under the bed of the cart, where the tall wooden wheels would crush her if the wagon moved.
The driver fought to keep the horses under control. Winnie inched forward, one eye on the horses and the other on Toodles, to make sure the dog didn't make a dash for freedom. As she neared the vehicle, she saw that Frank had jumped down on the other side.
Toodles looked from one familiar face to the other, then ran past both of them to Louise and hopped into her arms, yipping.
At the sound, the crowd released nervous laughter. Frank straightened his jacket, replaced the black tricorn on his head and bowed before climbing back onto the wagon. He winked at Winnie and signaled for the driver to move forward.
Winnie melted back into the crowd and followed the parade until it turned the corner onto Old Bridge Road. After that, she stood still as children jostled and pushed past her.
Louise walked slowly forward, one hand clutching the dog to her chest, the other leaning on her cane. "What were you thinking? You could have been hurt. Bad Toodles." With the gentle scolding, she set the dog on the ground and waited a moment to catch her breath. "We'd better get moving. I want to thank Frank properly, and you'll have a chance to speak to him, too."
Am I that transparent? Heat rose to the roots of Winnie's hair. "Oh, I don't know. Everybody will want to say hello. He won't care about a nobody like me." Though he may have forgotten her, she had not forgotten him. Frank's return meant more than she dared share with anyone else, even Louise.
"Of course he will. You're my best friend. Especially when he learns you made the shortcake for his favorite dessert."
Winnie giggled at the suggestion. "Lucky for him strawberries are in season."
"I think that's why he came during the summer." Louise smiled and continued her slow progress down the street.
Louise was joking, of course, but Winnie knew the truth. A more serious reason than Maple Notch's desire to celebrate their hero had called Frank Sawtelle home. She took another look at her friend's face, paled by a prolonged bout with bronchitis that never seemed to improve, and linked their arms together. "Come. Let's get moving before all the good seats are taken."