"I'm sure I won't be able to think of a thing to say to him. I'm sure I won't be able to think of a thing to say to anyone. Oh, what a lot of bother this all is!" Gesturing at the plush red upholstery, the liveried driver, the twin flagsone of the United States, the other of Mexicoplanted on the hood of the car, I allowed myself a rare outburst, meeting Mother's disapproving frown without blinking. Christmas was special. The rest of the year we might all be flung about, like a game of Puss-in-the-Corner. But Christmas was home, was safe, was the idea of family that I carried around with me the rest of the year, even as I recognized it didn't quite match up with reality. Already I missed my cozy room back home in Englewood, with my writing desk, my snug twin bed covered by the white chenille bedspread my grandmother had made as a bride, bookshelves full of childhood favoritesAnne of Green Gables, the Just So Stories, Kim. Stubbornly, I told myself that I would never get used to Daddy's new life as a diplomat, his ability to attract dashing young aviators notwithstanding. I much preferred him as a staid banker.
"Anne, please. Don't let your father hear you say this. He's very fond of the young man, and wants to help him with all his new responsibilities. I gather Colonel Lindbergh doesn't have much of a family, only his mother. It's our duty to welcome him into our little family circle."
I nodded, instantly vanquished; unable to explain to her how I felt. I never was able to explainanythingto my mother. Elisabeth she understood; Dwight she entrusted to my father. Con was young and bubbly and simply a delight. I was Anne. The shy one, the strange one. Only in letters did my mother and I have anything close to true communion. In person, we didn't know what to do with each other.
And duty I understood all too well. If a history of our family was to be written, it could be summed up with that one word. Duty. Duty to others less fortunate, less happy, less educated; less. Although most of the time I thought there really couldn't be anyone in this world less than me.
"Now, don't worry yourself so, Anne," Mother continued, almost sympathetically; at least she patted my arm. "The colonel is a mere mortal, despite what your father and all the newspapers say."
"A handsome mere mortal," Con said with a dreamy sigh, and I couldn't help but laugh. When had my little sister started thinking of men as handsome?
But at her age, I had started to dream of heroes, I recalled. Sometimes, I still did.
The cars slowed and turned into a gated drive; we stopped in front of an enormous, showy palacethe embassy. Our embassy, I realized, and had to stifle an urge to giggle. I followed Mother and Con out of the car and hung back as Daddy marched up a grand stone staircase covered in a red carpet. A line of uniformed officers stood on both sides of the staircase, heralding our arrival.
"Can you believe it?" I whispered to Elisabeth, clinging to her hand for comfort. She shook her head, her eyes snapping with amusement even as her face paled. The flight of steps seemed endless, and Elisabeth was not strong, physically. But she took a deep breath and began to climb them, so I had no choice but to follow.
I couldn't look at the uniformed men; I couldn't look at the landing, where he was waiting. So I looked at the carpet instead, and hoped that I would never run out of it. Of course, I did; we were done climbing, finding ourselves on a shaded landing, and Mother was pushing Elisabeth forward, exclaiming, "Colonel Lindbergh, I'm so glad for you to meet my eldest daughter, Elisabeth!"
Elisabeth smiled and held out her hand, so naturally. As if she was meeting just another college boy, and not the hero of our time.
Excerpted from The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin. Copyright © 2013 by Melanie Benjamin. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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