It was one of those beautiful days that come in late September where the evening sun bathes everything orange and pink. Sylvia was sat on the back step outside her house with her blue tea-dress and big wooly cardie to keep off the chill. She'd just lit up a cigarette when her eyeline was obstructed by a tall, dark figure.
"Robbie!" She budged up to make room for him on the step and blew smoke in his face. He coughed, politely. They sat in comfortable silence. They'd been doing this for 18 years, ever since their respective mothers had had babies next door to eachother in the same month. Beautiful, noisy Sylvia and pale, bookish Robbie had grown up with and in spite of eachother.
"I've joined up." Robbie said it in a rush, as if he couldn't hold it in. He looked jangly and strung out, his grasshopper legs bouncing up and down. Sylvia dropped her cigarette and made a strange 'oof' sound, as if she'd been winded. She picked it up and tried to light it again, but her hands were shaking. In the end Robbie did it for her.
"You're joking, aren't you? I mean, who'd want a skinny little spec like you?"
He blushed. "The navy. I'm going to read maps and that sort of thing - navigation."
"The navy? The bloody navy! What on earth do you want to go in the navy for?" She was trying to laugh but it wasn't coming off. "I thought you were leaving me to be all la-di-da at University - not leaving me to go play boats!"
"There's a war on, Sylvie."
"And don't I bloody know it! It's all I've heard for days and it's only been three weeks!" er voice cracked. "It's all a lot of fuss about nothing." She rested her head on his shoulder, it fit just exactly in the space between his neck and his shoulder. "Will you wear those trousers like that film we saw? Do you remember that one? The one with the naval officer and his girl in the Congo?"
Of course Robbie remembered that film. He'd spent the whole picture trying to pluck up the nerve to kiss her, but had lost it when all she could talk about on the way home was the handsome lead actor.
"Robbie?" She moved her head slightly so the tip of her nose pressed into his neck.
"Yeah, I remember. I'm not sure what I'll be wearing to be honest."
"Oh Robbie. Why do you have to go? Couldn't you have just waited for them to call you up if they'd needed you?" Sylvia pulled her arms up and around his shoulders so the cigarette smoke blew through his brown hair.
"If I wait for draft - and draft's coming - then I'll get put in the army straight away. You know I'd be no good as a private, Sylvie. This way I can be useful and still make sure I don't get myself killed."
Sylvia began to cry quietly. "Shut up! Please don't say anything like that."
"You sound like mum."
She sighed. "When do you leave?"
She took another drag over his shoulder and he coughed again. "You'll have to start smoking if you're going in the navy. And you'll need tattoo's. Tattoo's and prostitutes - one for every port."
"Lay off it Sylvie."
They sat for a while like that, her arms around his neck and her lips and nose pressing into the skin between his collar bone and chin.
"Don't forget me. I don't care how pretty the whores are in Calcutta. You've always got to come back to me." He could smell the smoke on her breath as she lifted her head up and looked at him, very seriously.
"Sylvia Jones, you are the most beautiful girl I will ever see - even more beautiful than the whores of Calcutta." They both laughed nervously as their heads drew closer together.
In the end she kissed him. Everything was about to change for good. This last golden September of 1939 would be remembered as the calm before the storm of the next six years. It would be the memories they made in this moment that would carry them through the horrors they had yet to face, and Sylvia seized on this moment to make her own.
Robbie reached out for hand and held it tight. "I'm always going to be coming back for you, Sylvie."