One sunny day in the spring, when Francie is sixteen, she leaves work and sees her co-worker, Anita, standing with her boyfriend, Joey. Anita asks Francie if she can help them by hosting Joey’s friend, who is a fellow soldier. Francie doesn’t think the boy looks like much at first, but he wins her over with his shy smile. He later introduces himself as Lee Rhynor. He offers his arm to Francie while they make their way to Ruby’s for chop suey.
Lee’s shy smile makes him seem vulnerable. To Francie, this is more appealing than a man who is simply handsome. The smile signals him as someone who needs her. Furthermore, Anita confirms that Lee needs Francie because he is alone in a new city.
Lee tells Francie all about his boyhood in Pennsylvania, his family, his school days, and his life at army camp. He tells her about everything except the girl to whom he is engaged back home. Francie, in turn, tells him about her life. She and Lee bond over their lingering sense of loneliness. When Francie says that she has to go home, Lee offers to escort her. They take the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge so that they can walk across it. When they get to the Brooklyn side of the East River, she tells him that he is not to take her all the way home; otherwise, he might get lost. In truth, Francie doesn’t want Lee to see where she lives. When her trolley arrives, he holds out his arms to her. She goes to him and he kisses her.
When Francie meets Lee, it seems that she’s met a kindred spirit. Though Ben is attractive to her and interesting, his ambition and confidence make it seem as though he has no particular need for Francie. On the other hand, Lee’s openness and expression of loneliness make Francie think that she could fill the void that supposedly exists within him. Though she begins to think that she loves him, she isn’t ready to reveal everything about herself.
The next morning, Francie dresses up, expecting that Lee will be waiting for her outside of her work at 5:00 PM. Indeed, he is. He greets her with the shy smile that first enticed her. They eat at the Automat—another place that he wants to see, and then they go dancing. Despite his gangly frame, Lee is a good dancer. She feels Lee’s arm tighten around her. She rests her cheek on his tunic. She wishes to have Lee near her always.
The way in which Francie anticipates seeing Lee after work mirrors Katie’s anticipation to see Johnny after her release from the Castle Braid Factory. Francie doesn’t know it, but she’s repeating her parents’ pattern of courtship.
On their way home, it starts to rain. Francie and Lee find shelter in the doorway of a vacant store. He announces that he’s leaving in the morning to spend a couple of days with his mother before shipping out to France. Lee tells Francie that he loves her. She reminds him that he’s engaged, but Lee implies that it is just a childish romance and that things are different between him and Francie. Francie tells Lee that she loves him, too, and he asks to spend the night with her. Francie demurs; she’s a virgin. Then, Lee asks to marry her, if he comes back. Francie accepts the proposal and promises to write him every day.
Smith’s use of a sudden rainstorm lends an aura of romance to the scene. It’s a device that gives Francie and Lee an excuse to stop moving and focus on each other. Lee downplays the seriousness of his engagement to convince Francie that she has replaced his fiancée in his affections. Francie doesn’t yet know it, but this is Lee’s ruse to convince her to go to bed with him.