By Mickey S.
This is a fictional story. Most of the characters and events are figments of the author's imagination. However, some of the fictional characters take part in real events and some real characters take part in fictional events. In spite of that, this is a fictional story. My thanks to Tim and Drew for all of their help. The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at
I spent the next few days at home. It felt strange being in the house with just Sarah and Franklin. While Franklin was a new generation, there were two older generations missing and it felt like Sarah and I were kids playing house. In spite of her protestations, Sarah wasn't a bad cook. But the third night she arranged for her cousin to babysit and we went out to eat. I'd forgotten what London looked like at night. Picadilly was ablaze with lights and packed with people. Traffic was light, as petrol was still rationed, but it was great to see cars driving with full headlights on. Sarah said as lively as it looked, it had calmed down quite a bit since VE-Day.
"It's amazing how short-lived the euphoria was. Of course, part of that is that the war is still continuing in the Pacific. But it's almost as though we all had a big party to celebrate, then looked around and saw what terrible shape the war left the country in."
"Yes, the biggest indication of how the people feel now is that they threw Churchill and his Conservatives out in the election last month."
"I just can't believe that. Churchill singlehandedly pulled the country together during the Blitz and kept Britain in the war when no one else was helping. That election was a hell of a `thank you."
I had been shocked when I heard the results of the general election and it was nice to know that someone who was English thought the same way.
"I think everyone acknowledges that he was a great wartime leader, but now they want to think about the peace, not the war." Sarah was more forgiving than I.
"I still don't think it's right."
"Maybe not, but we have little say in the matter. And now we have two untested leaders, Truman and Atlee, who have to arrange the peace with Stalin."
"How do you think that will turn out? Patton says we should keep the war going, keep pushing east and fight the Russians."
"I can't imagine that and TR says it won't happen. No one has the heart for more war, or the capability. We're all exhausted - militarily, emotionally and financially. Everyone is glad the fighting has stopped and wants to live in peace now."
"That's the way I feel. I've had enough of war for the rest of my lifetime."
"Well, if we can just finish the war with Japan maybe we can say goodbye to war for a while. It's going to take a long time for the world to recover from this one."
"You must miss TR terribly."
"Of course I do, but I had it easy through most of the war, having him here in London. Even when he went to the continent, he was safe. He wasn't in battle like you were."
"I'm sure being separated is just as bad, though, especially with the baby."
"Yes, I feel bad that he's missing so much of Franklin's first year. But at least he manages to come home for a couple of days each month. That's better than nothing."
The next day I headed south to do some visiting. I'd written to both Peter and Terrence as soon as I learned when my leave would be, but as they had both just returned from leave, neither was able to come to London to see me. But they were each able to get a few hours off in the evening so I would have to go to them. I first took the train to Guildford and checked into a hotel near the station.
I was sitting at an outside table at the café where we'd arranged to meet when I saw Peter get off the bus from Pirbright. His greeting took me by surprise. The salute was expected and required. But he followed that up with a hug. I certainly didn't mind but it wasn't something he'd ever done before, especially right out on a city street. No one seemed to take any notice, however. Apparently there had been a lot of hugging going on in England since Germany surrendered.
"You look wonderful, Woody, no worse for wear. I was afraid all of your experiences on the continent would have aged you and left me behind."
"I feel like they have. You look the same as ever, still the lad I went to Africa with. How do you not get any older?"
"I've a portrait in the attic back home that does all the aging for me."
We had tea at the café and then walked around for a while catching up on things we hadn't been able to put in our letters. I didn't feel much like talking about the battles I'd been through, though. Over supper we talked mostly about our future plans.
"My family can't afford for me to go to university but I've always been good with numbers so maybe I'll go to a college or business school."
"If money is all that's keeping you from university maybe my family can help you. You saved my life more than once, after all."
"And you paid me back by saving mine. And those of countless other chaps as well. I know you don't mean it that way, but I won't be a charity case. Besides, I'm not sure I have the brains for university in any event."
"I think you have plenty of brains, but maybe I'm prejudiced. I didn't mean to offend you with an offer of charity, but if you need a loan for your education, please don't let your pride get in the way."
"I'm not offended. I know your family has money but you've never made an issue of it. And if I ever need help in any other way, I'll come to you first. You must know that you became my best friend before we set foot in Algeria and no one else has come close since."
"You know I have a special friendship with Terrence, but aside from that, you're the best friend I've made since I've been in England."
"What about Edward? You've spent a lot of time and gone through a lot with him."
"We're close, but it's different with him. While the fighting was going on we had a lot in common, but since it's been over he talks about girls a lot and the main reason he wants to come home is so he can get back to dating. I just can't relate to that."
"No, neither one of us has been very involved with dating, although you were seeing that girl Peggy for a while. Have you seen her since you've been back?"
"No, she's still on the hospital ship, stationed in Hamburg now, treating civilians. She'll probably be demobbed before we will."
"I know you haven't seen him yet, but how is Terrence? You've talked about him so much over the years I feel I know him."
"In his letters he says he's fine, but his mother's cousin says that's only on the surface. She thinks something is bothering him and since she's a pretty good judge of people, I believe her."
"Neither of us can imagine what he went through as a prisoner. It would be unusual if his memories of that weren't bothering him."
"I know. We hear all of these terrible things about what the Nazis did to Jews and others in those concentration camps, but it seems they treated our prisoners somewhat better, at least as well as they were supposed to according to the Geneva Convention."
"Even so, it can't have been a good experience for him. Nothing in this war has been a good experience, except maybe meeting you."
"Yes, we've all been through some horrible things. I try not to think about them but it's hard not to."
"I'm sure that's the same for Terrence. You'll just have to give him time and be his friend."
"That I can and will do."
The next day I took the train to Southampton, then Chichester. I had lots of time to kill before Terrence was to join me at the restaurant he'd selected. Now that I was so close to finally seeing him, I was jumpy and on edge. Rather than pace in my room I went to a movie.
There were so many war movies out that were intended to boost morale as much as entertain, but I was in no mood for them. Fortunately, I found a theater showing a musical, Meet Me in St. Louis. It was entertaining and a complete distraction - from the war and from my upcoming reunion with Terrence. I couldn't get over how much Judy Garland had grown up since The Wizard of Oz.
An hour later, sitting by the window of the restaurant looking out, I saw Terrence before he saw me. He was walking along the pavement with a blank look on his face, looking very gaunt, his mind obviously somewhere else. When he got to the door of the restaurant he shook himself a little before coming in. He smiled as he crossed the room to me. I was sure I had an even bigger smile on my face. We shared a very long handshake, both grabbing the others forearms with our free hands, staring into each other's eyes. In spite of the big smile on his face, there was sadness in his eyes.
"Damn, it's good to see you, Woody. Aside from looking a bit more grown-up, you haven't changed at all."
"You look great, too, although a bit thin. Aren't they feeding you on base?"
"I haven't stopped eating since I got back here. You should have seen me in May. I've gained one and a half stone since then."
"That's what, about twenty one pounds? Well, keep eating, you need to gain some more. But no matter, you'd look great at any weight."
All through our meal we alternated rapid-fire conversation with long silences, mostly staring at each other with stupid grins on our faces. I knew what I was thinking - that I could easily spend the rest of my life at this table with Terrence - but I couldn't make out his thoughts. He was genuinely glad to be there with me, I could tell that, but at times he just seemed to fade away a bit.
"So what do they have you doing here?"
"Not much. They got me back up in a plane right away and now I take a Spitfire up every few days. At first I was nervous, but after a few minutes in the air I forgot about the crash and it was like nothing had changed. After all, the crash wasn't due to the plane malfunctioning or me messing up. I was shot down. So as long as no one is shooting at me, there's nothing for me to worry about."
"I have every confidence in your abilities, but I still worry about you flying. I guess I always will."
"Same here. You have no idea how concerned I was for your safety, not only the past year or so but since you first went to Africa. You've spent most of three years on the front lines being shot at."
"For me the battle wounds I saw were the worst part, not the battles themselves. And I had Peter and Edward watching over me."
"I'd like to meet them both someday and thank them."
"I think that can be arranged, once we're both demobbed. Any word on when that will happen for you?"
"Soon, I hope. Some of the men are being shipped out to the Pacific but I've been told that my time as a prisoner should exempt me from any further action if I choose. What about you?"
"I have no idea what my battalion is doing next. The other Suffolk battalions have been in the Far East all along, in Burma and Singapore. I hope we're not sent to join them."
"I'd say you've spent enough time in battle. They should send someone else."
"You won't get any argument from me, but what we think doesn't matter. As Bogart said in Casablanca, our problems don't amount to a hill of beans in this war."
Terrence and I had seen the movie together in London when I was `between wars,' recuperating from Italy, getting ready for France. It was one of the few times we'd gone out on our own without Betty, Sarah and TR.
"That was a good movie, and although the ending was good for the war effort, I was disappointed. I think true love should always triumph."
"And here I thought I was the romantic idealist. When did you become so sentimental, Terrence?"
"I had a lot of time to think in the prison camp – to think about what's really important in life. I felt sorry for myself at first, being injured and captured like that, but once I settled in I tried to occupy my mind with thoughts other than self-pity."
"Sounds like you did some deep thinking. Care to tell me about it?"
"I would, but this isn't the time or place. When the war is truly over and we meet in Somerset, we'll have a nice long talk."
"That sounds rather ominous."
"I don't mean it to be." He smiled, and while there was a touch of sadness in his expression, his eyes were warm and drew me in. "I'm merely saying that I had a lot of time to think about my life, what's important and what's not. It was a chance to learn about myself and that's a good thing overall, but it can be challenging, looking inside oneself like that."
"I know I don't always like what I see when I look at myself that way, so I try not to do it very often."
"I can't imagine you finding anything very disturbing inside yourself, Woody. You're the most wonderful person I know."
"Well, we all have things we hide from the world."
"We'll have plenty of time to talk about such things if you'd like when we meet up in Somerset later on. But now when we have only a few hours together, I'd like to talk about happier things."
"Peace and the rest of our lives."
"That's a pretty infinite topic for such a short conversation."
"I know," he chuckled. "What I really mean is, have you given any thought as to what you're going to do next? Assuming we're both demobbed shortly, that is."
"College, as we both intended, before the war interrupted our plans. That's the next step, I suppose."
I paused, unsure about bringing up what had been on my mind for a while. Terrence wanted to talk about happy things, and this was a real complication to our future - assuming there would be one future that included both of us. I decided to take the plunge.
"I know we haven't ever talked in any kind of detail about where we would go to college, mainly because the war let us put off that decision and we both knew it could pose a problem. I want so much to have you in my life the way it was before, but I also want to go home."
"Home? You mean New York?"
"Yes, I've become terribly homesick the last couple of years. It wasn't so bad when we were in school in London. After all, I had gone away to boarding school for a number of years back in America, so I was used to that. And I had my parents here, so it was like being at home. But being in the British Army, away from London, it's all been so foreign. Even with friends like Peter and Edward, I've felt so isolated, so alone, a real fish out of water."
"I can understand that. In fact, it surprised me that you adapted so well to life in England in the first place."
"Having my parents here, and you for a friend, made it so much easier."
"So are you thinking about going back to America for good, or just for a visit?"
"I don't know. I only know that I really feel the need to be there, to experience being an American again."
"Well, suppose you get demobbed by the end of the year. You could go home, spend several months there and come back to go to university here in England in the autumn of next year."
"I don't know if a long visit would be enough to cure my homesickness. I hadn't considered that."
"It's just something to think about. You should keep all options open to your mind. After all, it's your future you're planning. You want to make the best decision."
"What about you? What have you been considering?"
"Like you, going to university has always been my plan, assuming I can afford it. And I want you to be in my life. But as you say, having both could be complicated."
"Yes, I suppose we've always known that. That's why it's been easier to live in the present and not think about the future."
"It looks like we both have a lot of thinking to do. And a lot of talking, once we have the time."
While I was gratified that Terrence said he wanted me in his life, I knew that could mean almost anything. I knew how I wanted him in my life, and that didn't seem possible. So it was hard to think concretely about a future together. If I was honest with him about how I wanted it to be with him that could be the end for us. If I kept it to myself, maybe we could go on as before, for a while, anyway. But until we had that long, in depth conversation he talked about, I could dream.
When I returned home the next day Sarah was in the parlor listening to the news on the radio looking excited.
"Has something happened?"
"Yes, we have a new weapon that we used yesterday in Japan - one bomb that nearly destroyed the whole city of Hiroshima."
"One bomb? You must have misunderstood. Maybe it was one bombing run. Even that would need an incredible number of planes to destroy an entire city."
"No, it was one bomb. Your President Truman called it an atomic bomb."
"I just can't imagine that. I've seen what we did to Hamburg a couple of years ago, practically destroying that city, but that took several days and nights of bombing by hundreds of planes. For one bomb to do that kind of damage is beyond comprehension."
"Yes, and it's terrifying to think that one weapon could do so much damage and kill so many people. Truman has given Japan an ultimatum - either surrender unconditionally or he'll order another city to be bombed."
It was yet another time when I missed having Dad or even TR to talk to. I knew either of them would know more about the war in the Pacific. I'd heard estimates that if we had to invade Japan it could take over a year to successfully conquer the country and there might be up to a million casualties. So, as terrifying and deadly as this new weapon was, it might end the war much faster and save lives in the long run.
Things changed quickly once I got back to Germany. The Japanese had refused to surrender so after a few days we used another atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki with similar devastating results. A few days after that, the war in the Pacific was over.
About the same time, coincidentally, our regiment got the news that we were going home. We weren't all being demobbed, just transferred to a base in Suffolk. That was fine with me. Germany was depressing. It was hard to look at the results of the war every day - the ruins, the homelessness, the starvation. Even though the Germans had been the ones who started the war, we had done all of the destruction.
Once back in Suffolk, I was able to go home to London on leave now and then. In early September, Dad came back from New York. Mother had stayed behind, re-opening our house, preparing for the family to permanently move home. Dad spent most of his time in Germany, researching and documenting the very horrors that I was so glad to be away from. Our paths only crossed once in Mayfair, late in the month, and, as in my conversation with Terrence, he wanted to talk about my future.
"Have you given any thought as to where you'd like to go to college, son?"
"A little, but nothing too specific. Terrence and I talked about it a bit when I saw him last month."
"I ran into an old friend who is in the administration at Columbia while I was home. He says they're putting together special programs for returning vets. If you get demobbed by the end of the year I don't think we'd have any problem getting you admitted for next year's spring or fall semester, if you're interested in that."
"You just happened to run into this guy?"
"Well, maybe I set up a meeting with him. TR chose to go to Yale, so you're my only chance to have someone to follow in my footsteps at Columbia."
All through our childhood Dad had been gently nudging both of us toward his alma mater but he hadn't mentioned it much during the war.
"It's a very good school, and the location is perfect, but I have to talk to Terrence about it. I think he wants me to go to university here in England."
"I know you two are very close, but you can't plan your whole life around him, son. You have to decide what you want, what's best for your life. It's not as though you were married, like TR and Sarah. They have some tough choices ahead of them, once TR's enlistment ends. They have to make their decisions together. You and Terence don't. You can remain friends even though you're not physically together all the time. Look how you've managed through the war."
"I know, Dad, but if there was some way that we could both do what we wanted and what was best for ourselves and still go to school together, that would be wonderful."
"I suppose I could pull a few more strings at Columbia for him as well, if he wanted to go to school in the U.S. After all, he was a very good student at Bancroft's and has a superb war record, so it wouldn't be asking much."
"Except that he's never expressed any desire to live in the States. And his mother, his only close family, is here. And he probably couldn't afford an Ivy League school. He already has doubts about being able to afford a smaller university here."
"Money shouldn't be an issue. I'm sure he would qualify for a scholarship of some kind. And we could help him out. After all, he's practically family."
"That would be kind of you, Dad, but I think Terrence would be too proud to accept your money. He still feels indebted to you for the time he lived with us our last year of school."
"I know, but if he wants to go to college with you in New York and money is the only roadblock, I'm sure we can work something out."
And that became my dream. I would talk Terrence into coming to New York with me and we'd go to Columbia together. But I knew it was a dream because of the reasons I'd given Dad. I could see no way around them. Even if he accepted financial help from my parents, which was unlikely, there was still his mother in Axbridge. And he didn't actually want to go to America as far as I knew. I'd go anywhere to be with him, but my feelings toward him were different. I couldn't expect him to uproot his whole life for someone who was just a friend, not even a very, very good friend.
So, if there was any way possible for us to go back to the way things were before the war, even just for a little while, I'd have to be the one to adapt. I'd go home for a long visit, maybe even get Terrence to go with me, and then return to England for college.
To Be Continued