By Mickey S.
Terrence was demobbed on the first of October and went home to Somerset although, as he pointed out in a letter, Somerset had never really been his home. A few days later, word came down that my battalion was going to the Middle East. Great, I thought, yet another continent and still not the one I wanted to go to. But as soon as we were informed about the new mission, I was called to HQ and informed I would not be going. I was to be demobbed at the end of the month so there was no point in shipping me overseas, just to come right back again.
Edward wasn't so lucky, though. His age-and-service number was significantly lower than mine so he still had quite some time to serve. I felt bad for him, not because he had at least six more months in the army, but because he had been enjoying himself so much since we returned to England. He was on his home turf and had dates lined up for every leave he had. Now he was going off to a foreign land and would probably have to return to a celibate life.
I had no idea what I was returning to. I'd done lots of thinking as Terrence had suggested, but I came up with no answers, mainly because everything depended on him. I had my dream of the two of us at Columbia but was prepared to accept a few more years in England if it was the only way to be with Terrence. And while I hoped that our relationship would be what it was before, both emotionally and physically, I was resigned to the idea that from here on we might just be friends. It was really all up to him.
I knew it wasn't right for me to let someone else make these choices for me. For eighteen years my parents had made all of my decisions, then for the last four years it had been the army. I was twenty-two and it was about time I made some choices for myself. But my one real desire was to be with Terrence, so in a sense, that was my decision. Whatever came after that was secondary.
When I was finally free and left the base for the last time, I probably should have gone home to London but went straight to Somerset instead. I'd just seen Sarah while on leave a couple of weeks earlier but hadn't seen Terrence since August.
I would have liked to have made one stop, however, in Bath where I had to change trains. I wanted to be wearing civvies when I met Terrence, not the uniform he'd seen me in the past four years. On my last leave I'd tried on some of my old clothes and found that I'd outgrown them all. That was another reason not to bother with a stop at the house in Mayfair. The army had given me a set of civilian clothing, including a three-piece suit from Burtons but it didn't fit very well. Unfortunately I didn't have a ration book so I couldn't buy any clothing just yet, so the demob suit would have to do.
It was early afternoon when I walked up the lane toward the house outside Axbridge and I'd been riding trains since seven. I just wanted to get to the house and sit for a while but I knew that wouldn't happen. Alice would be home, and while she was very understanding, I wanted my reunion with Terrence to be private. That meant we'd have to go out for a walk.
I had to go out in any case. When I got to the cottage, Alice was the only one at home.
"Woody! We weren't expecting you until tomorrow."
"I came straight from Suffolk."
"Won't your family be disappointed not to see you?"
"There's only Sarah and the baby and I just saw them a few weeks ago. I let her know I was coming here so she's not expecting me. Dad is somewhere in Germany so I wouldn't have seen him for quite some time, anyway."
"Well, I'd say you're just what Terrence needs. He's been out of sorts ever since he got home. Longer than that, I imagine."
"Why? What's wrong?"
"He's a man with a lot on his mind, but he doesn't talk to us about it. He goes off walking by himself every day and is more withdrawn than he used to be, lost in his thoughts. Now that you're here I'm sure he'll be better. He's been looking forward to your visit."
"You have no idea what he's so preoccupied with? I imagine his time in prisoner of war camp will always bother him but I can't see him obsessing about it."
"I think it's his future more than his past that's worrying him. He gets agitated whenever Jean brings up applying to universities."
"I know my future plans are up in the air as well. I can't seem to make any decisions or even think clearly about the future for any length of time."
"I suspect the war has something to do with that. You've had to concentrate so much on staying alive each day that looking ahead wasn't possible. Maybe you can help each other re-orient your thinking."
"Speaking of that, where is he? He's obviously not here and I didn't see him in the village."
"He's off wandering in the hills where he goes most every day, weather permitting. He's always back in time for tea so that gives you a couple of hours to settle in."
"I think I'll go looking for him. I have an idea where he might be."
"Are you sure, dear? There's a lot of open space up there and you could spend hours looking and not find him."
"We used to walk in the hills a lot so unless he's been covering new ground I think I'll find him."
I took my bags up to the attic room and then went out to find Terrence. I thought I'd go first to our tree. That's where he'd be if he was expecting me, but since I was a day early I wasn't sure. But, as I'd told Alice, I knew all of our old haunts, so I was sure I'd find him eventually.
It was a mild day for late October but I still needed to wear my army coat over my civilian clothes. That marred the pre- and post-war image I wanted to project but at least my reunion with Terrence would be in private. As I climbed higher into the hills I got warmer, so by the time I neared the tree I had my coat open and was feeling a bit overheated.
All of a sudden, there he was, sitting on the ground leaning back against the tree, staring out toward the reservoir.
"And you complain about us Yanks lying about."
Terrence started and looked in my direction. He was on his feet racing toward me before I could move. He hugged me so tight I could barely breathe. Delighting in his embrace, I wrapped my arms around him and returned the hug. This was the reaction I'd been hoping for. All through the war Terrence had been so formal and proper whenever we met, which led me to believe his feelings toward me had lessened.
He held on so long and so tightly I was beginning to worry that something was wrong, but when he finally did pull back and look at me he had a huge smile on his face.
"Woody! At long last, we're here. Somehow we've survived the war."
"Barely in both cases, but at least we're both all in one piece."
"Sit. Let's talk." Terrence pointed to the place under the tree where he'd been sitting.
So we sat and talked. For a while we made small talk, me about the trains I'd taken that day and the necessity for clothes shopping, him about living in Axbridge with his mother and Alice. Finally, he shifted slightly turning to face me.
"Enough of the meaningless chat. We've become so used to censoring ourselves in our letters that we can't seem to say anything of importance."
"Such as? What do you want to talk about, Terrence?"
"You, me, us, our future."
That was a switch. I was the one who was usually thinking about us and our future, although I was afraid to talk about it. I never allowed myself to believe that he thought along those same lines.
"Okay, you start. Where are you right now and where do you see yourself in a few years?"
"What do you mean, where am right now? I'm right here, with you."
"I didn't mean physically. Maybe more like emotionally. Like, what happened with Betty? You never told me how you really felt about her or what made you break it off the way you did."
"Well, I liked her, I really did. But as time went on I realized I didn't like her the way I was supposed to, the way she liked me. I had a lot of time to think about it in the prison camp. I realized that I didn't love her." He stopped, looked directly into my eyes and took a deep breath before continuing. "You see, I had been in love and knew what that was, and that wasn't at all the way I felt toward her."
"You've been in love?" I was bewildered and felt like the ground had dropped out from under me. "When? With whom? You haven't dated anyone else since I met you."
He looked away, acting very awkward. Finally, he looked back at me.
"I haven't really talked to anyone about when I was shot down and I don't want to get into it in detail now. But on D-Day, I was escorting bombers over Normandy and we had nearly total control of the skies, so I was completely surprised when my plane was hit. They say that when you think you're going to die your whole life flashes before your eyes. But from the moment I knew I had to bail out, all the time I was floating down, getting snagged on a tree and landing badly, the only image in my mind was your face, Woody. I was terrified that I might never see you again. And it was when I was on the ground, all banged up and hurting, that I realized why. I'm in love with you. I think I've been in love with you since we were on the Queen Mary, but I hadn't allowed myself to acknowledge it. I couldn't, because that would be admitting something about me that I've been trying to bury for as long as I can remember."
"You're in love with me?" If I'd felt off balance before, now I was spinning. "You mean, you're queer, too?"
"You don't know how glad I am to hear you say, `too'." He grinned. "As I said, I did a lot of thinking while a prisoner. I thought about how you were always more open about your feelings toward me although you never came right out and said you were queer. Whenever I thought you might I instinctively cut you short. I didn't want to hear it because then I would have had to face the truth about myself."
"And because of that I never thought you were."
"Well, I am. Always have been and probably always will be."
"And you're in love with me?" I was so shocked I was barely able to say anything that made sense.
"Of course, you ninny. Even though I never said it in so many words, I thought that was obvious, more obvious than I was comfortable with at times. But what about you? How do you feel?"
"You have to ask? Of course I'm in love with you, right from when we met. I was also so afraid of being too obvious."
"We've been a pair of idiots, hiding from each other."
He leaned toward me and pressed his lips to mine. My lips instinctively parted and his tongue slipped in. For the longest time we were both lost in a passionate kiss, even more intense than that first one in the Anderson shelter, all those years ago.
When we finally came up for air we were both out of breath.
"So what do we do now?" I was surprised that Terrence was asking me. I usually deferred to him.
"Well, we have to stay together, that's our first priority."
"Clearly, we've been apart far too long as it is. And we have to go to university. The question is, where?"
"That's a problem, something I've been worrying about. I'm sure you want to stay here in England. But as I said when we were together in Chichester in August, I'm homesick and really want to go back to New York."
"I know. I've given it a lot of thought since then. Do you think I'd survive as well in New York as well as you have in London?"
"You mean you'd go to America with me?" I was surprised but thrilled.
"I'd consider it, if that's what you really want. To be honest I'd much rather stay here, but if you need to go home, I understand. And it would only be fair for me to spend some time with you abroad. You've been here in England for six years, after all."
"When I wasn't busy invading other countries, that is. But what about your mother? When I came here it was with my parents. You'd be on your own and you'd be leaving her alone."
"Neither of us would be alone. I'd have you and your parents, my second family, and Mum would be with Alice. She's still my major concern, though. She's gone through the whole war without me and I'd hate to leave her again, although even if we went to school here in England we wouldn't be living in Axbridge."
"Where would we go to school if we stayed here?"
"We'd have to do some research. You might get into Oxford or Cambridge but I doubt if I could. So if we wanted to go to school together we might look into the University of London or one of the redbrick universities."
"I think you'd be as likely as I to get into one of the top schools, but you're right, we'd have to research it."
"And if we went to New York?"
"It would have to be Columbia. There are lots of other good schools in and near the city, but Dad would have a fit if we chose one of them. And Columbia is one of the best."
"There's a lot we have to look into and discuss. And we'll have to talk to Mum and your father."
"Dad is supposed to be back in London next week before going home to New York. That gives us several days to talk to your mother, then we can go talk to him."
Terence glanced at his watch, the one Dad had given him when we finished at Bancroft's. Neither of us had taken our watches to war. We were afraid of breaking or losing them. Mine was back at the house in Mayfair.
"Right now we have to hurry to make it back to the house for tea. Alice will be expecting us."
We were quiet most of the way back to the house, both of us trying to absorb all we'd talked about.
"Let's not say anything to Alice about our school discussion. I'd rather wait until Mum is home to talk about that."
"How about the relationship part of our discussion? Can we tell Alice about that?"
Terrence looked horrified.
"Are you out of your mind? We can't tell anyone about that."
"Calm down, Ter. I'm not proposing we tell just anyone but Alice already knows. Apparently she and Mary Hallstead had a similar kind of relationship. She told me you were in love with me years ago but I didn't believe her."
"Alice and Mary? Women can be queer, too?"
"I would never have thought it, but it looks like some are. Anyway, she saw through both of us right from the start and she's been encouraging me to give you time. It looks like she was right."
"I can't imagine. But I still don't think I'd feel comfortable talking to her about it."
"If you don't want to, that's all right. But I think once we tell her about our plans to go to college together she'll figure it out."
We managed to get through tea with Alice without talking about much of consequence but I decided from the way she kept looking at us and smiling that she guessed that the conversation we'd had on the hill had gone well. Over supper with Mrs. Atkins, Terrence finally brought up the subject of college. I tried to stay out of the conversation and let Terrence do the talking. Mrs. Atkins had much the same opinion as Dad.
"You don't have to go to the same university, or even be on the same side of the ocean to remain friends, you know. You managed quite well apart during the war."
"Yes, but that was when we had no choice, Mum. Given a choice, we'd both prefer staying together."
"And wherever we go to school, neither one of us will be at home during the school year." I didn't mention that if we went to Columbia we'd probably live at my parent's house.
"But crossing the Atlantic to come home is so inconvenient and expensive."
"Yes, but it's getting better and less expensive all the time. I read in the newspaper that regular transatlantic commercial air flights are now available. That's far easier than four days on a ship."
"And probably costs a fortune."
"Well, Mum, whichever of us ends up doing the traveling, it wouldn't be that often."
"I still think it would be easier if you each finished your studies where you wanted without trying to arrange something together."
"Yes, it probably would be easier, but that's not the way we want to do it."
Terrence left it at that. We had several more days to convince her.
Terrence made love to me that night. I couldn't remember when the last time had been. Sometime before we went to war, that's for sure. But it was so much better than I remembered, maybe because I now knew it really was love, not just sex.
It was chilly when we went up to the attic, but once we undressed and got under the covers things heated up. We just held onto one another for a while, luxuriating in the feel of our naked bodies together at last. We also kissed a lot, something that hadn't been a part of our practice in the past. After a while we each took the other in hand, gently stroking as we kissed. Finally, Terrence dove down beneath the blankets, swiveling around so his member was in my face. I knew just what to do with it. I licked it for a moment before taking it in my mouth, gradually swallowing it as I applied a bit of suction. All the while, he was doing the same to me.
We stopped as we were both on the brink of exploding. He came back up to face me and we kissed again for a bit, then he asked if I wanted him to make love to me. As if he had to ask! He knelt between my legs, reached for a jar of petroleum jelly by the side of the bed and used his fingers to apply it to me. As he took his time preparing me, first with one finger, then two and finally three, he stroked my erection with the other hand. Finally, he scooted up closer to me and pressed the head of his hard penis against my ready sphincter. As he entered me I felt a brief stab of pain, but that soon gave way to pleasure and he slowly buried himself deep inside. He started very slowly and gently and never did get much more aggressive. Even though it had been ages since the last time and we wanted each other so badly, we weren't in any hurry. After our talk that afternoon we both knew we had the rest of our lives together before us. And even as out of practice as we were, we managed to time our orgasms so they came together. After cleaning up I fell asleep in my lover's arms, feeling more content than I could ever remember.
Terrence and I went out walking and talking a lot over the next few days. We usually went up into the hills but one day we took the train to Bath and went to the library there to look into English universities. It gradually became clear to both of us that our choice was going to be Columbia. Terrence's main concerns were his mother and finances. He had saved some money from his part-time job in Finchley when we were in school and had set aside a portion of his RAF pay each month, although that didn't amount to much. He also had nearly a year's back pay from his time as a prisoner. I wasn't used to saving and budgeting so I had few practical suggestions to his money worries. Aside from offering to help pay his way, which he rejected, my only idea was that we should talk to Dad about it.
Sunday morning we all went to church at St. John the Baptist. After lunch at a café in the village, we walked back to the house in twos. Alice and I went on ahead so Terrence could have a private talk with his mother.
"So I take it that you hurrying me on ahead means that you and Terrence have made a decision and it's something Jean isn't going to like."
"Yes, we've decided to go to school in New York."
Alice nodded her head.
"I thought so. Jean certainly won't like it, but I think it's probably the best thing for Terrence. The war may be over but it's going to take this country a long time to recover from it. From what I've read, America is in much better shape. They're talking about rationing continuing here indefinitely."
"I know Mrs. Atkins doesn't want Terrence to go away, but he wouldn't be living here in Axbridge even if we decided to go to college in England."
"No, but we'd see more of him if he were on this side of the Atlantic."
"He'll come back to visit. We both will."
Mrs. Atkins had a resigned look on her face when she and Terrence got to the cottage. We all sat down for tea and a joint discussion.
"Mum and I have come to an agreement on how we'll work this out."
"I'm not happy about it, but Terrence has convinced me that going to America to finish his education is the best thing for him. There's still the matter of finances to be worked out, however."
"That would be a problem even if I stayed here. I may have enough money for the first year of school but I'll have to work for the rest."
"Maybe Dad will have some solution to that."
"Something other than him giving me the money, you mean?"
"Yes, I know you won't take his money."
"Terrence has agreed to spend his summers here, working if need be. And Christmas as well, if we can afford his travel. You're welcome to join him if you'd like, Woody."
"I'd love to, Mrs. A. You know how much I like it here."
"Well then, I suppose the next step is for you to go talk to your father and see what he thinks about when you'll be able to start, how much it will cost and what Terrence's financial options are."
Tuesday morning we took the train to London. Dad had arrived from Berlin the night before.
"It's great to see both of you in civilian clothes again, even if you don't look quite like the boys who went off to war four years ago."
"I don't feel much like that boy any more, either, Dad. Terrence and I have done a lot of growing up, and not just physically."
"Well, I'm glad you two young men have come into town. When Sarah told me you'd gone directly to Somerset I wasn't sure I'd see you on this trip, Woody, although I did want to talk to you."
"Probably about the same thing we're here to talk to you about, Dad - college."
"That's right. Have you made any decisions?"
"Yes, Mr. Cooper, we've decided to go to Columbia, if they'll have us."
"Really?" Dad was excited. "Both of you?"
"Yes, both of us, although Terrence will have to look into financial assistance."
"Nonsense! Terrence is family and we'll take care of him."
"That's very generous of you, Mr. Cooper, and I appreciate the sentiment as well, but I feel I have to do this on my own."
"I understand, Terrence. But with your family situation and your grades, not to mention your status as a veteran and a former prisoner of war, I'm sure you'll qualify for scholarships and grants. That may be all the help you'll need."
"I'll probably have to work summers and maybe during the school year, but I don't mind that."
"You're both sure about this?"
"Yes, Dad, we're sure. Aren't you happy about it?"
"Happy? I'm delighted. I just want you to be sure it's what you want."
"Well, we are. We've talked about it a lot the past week, and I think Woody and I have both been thinking about our options for the past few months."
"All right then." Dad got up, went to his desk and opened a drawer. "Here are two applications to Columbia. I brought one with me in September but after our last talk I wrote to my friend there to send another. Fill them out and take a trip out to Bancroft's for copies of your records. I'll take everything with me when I return to New York at the end of the week and deliver them in person."
"When do you think we'll hear from them?"
"You'll have to be patient, son. It's past the deadline for applying for the spring semester, but early for next fall. And neither of you have taken the Scholastic Aptitude Test which is required for admission so you may have to go to New York and take it before they can even make a decision. I'll pull what strings I can, but I may not be able to make much difference."
So we got our records together and made sure Dad had all of our paperwork when he left for Southampton on Friday. All we could do then was wait.
As we were waiting we discovered one problem we might run into once we got to New York – our sleeping arrangements. Since Mother and Dad and my grandparents were no longer there, Sarah suggested we could each have our own room upstairs instead of continuing to sleep in the makeshift bomb shelter in the cellar. But of course we didn't want separate rooms so we had to make excuses for remaining downstairs. I knew that would be a problem once we got to the States. Our house in Manhattan had more than enough bedrooms for us each to have one. I began to envision four years of the two of us sneaking back and forth between our rooms every night.
The next week TR came home for a few days. He'd managed to get leave for Thanksgiving, even though we weren't able to celebrate the holiday properly. Rationing was as bad as ever, so we went out for a dinner that didn't exactly resemble the traditional meal. It was just as well since the only cook in the house was Sarah and she didn't have any experience with Thanksgiving. Over dessert TR made an announcement.
"You aren't the only one going home, Woody. I'm being transferred to the Pentagon. It's not New York, but it's a lot closer to home than Frankfurt."
"That's wonderful, dear, but I thought they wanted you to stay in Germany." Sarah didn't seem overly surprised so I guessed that she and TR had previously discussed the possibility.
"I was given two options, Sarah. I could either help coordinate the shipment of materiel from the States or the distribution of it once it got to Germany. I think they would have preferred I stay in Frankfurt. In fact, they hinted another promotion might not be far off if I stayed. But that would have meant bringing you and Franklin there to live, and Germany is not a good place to raise a family right now."
"Either way I'd have to leave London. I think I'll prefer Washington over Frankfurt. At least I speak the language. When will we be moving?"
"They've given me some notice but not much. January first is the transfer date."
"Hmm, then I guess I should tell you my surprise now as it looks as though our next baby will be born in the States."
"Our next baby? You're pregnant again? When are you due?"
"Calm down, TR. It's not as though this is our first. And I think you can do the arithmetic. You were last home a little over two months ago, so I'm due in June."
The rest of the meal the conversation bounced around between the new baby, TR and Sarah moving to Washington and Terrence and me moving to New York.
Of course, Terrence and I couldn't make any real plans until we heard from Columbia. And, even with Dad as our personal emissary, there was no telling when that would be. If we were accepted we assumed it would be for the term starting the next September, so we had nearly a year to get ready. Neither of us wanted to spend the winter in the unheated attic at Axbridge, so we'd decided we would go out there for the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas, then come back to London after the holidays. There we could find jobs until summer to make some money for school. I didn't need it but Terrence did and if he was going to work I felt I should as well.
Those sketchy plans changed the first week of December when Terrence and I returned from a morning walk in Hyde Park to find a letter from Columbia.
"I assume you probably have one waiting for you in Axbridge. Since they don't have a telephone we'll have to go out there to find out. Should I wait to open mine until then?"
"Don't be daft, Woody. Nothing in your letter will change if you wait. We may as well find out now what I can expect."
I was hoping he'd say that. I didn't think I could wait 24 hours until we could get to Somerset. I quickly tore open the envelope, pulled out the single sheet of paper in it and skimmed it.
"They want me to go for an interview and some testing. They've tentatively scheduled the interview for January 3 at 11 AM and the test at 9 AM the next day. I'm to notify them if those times are all right."
"That's it? No indication either way about whether or not you'll be accepted??
"No, nothing at all. It's just arranging the appointments." I handed him the letter.
"So what do we do? We weren't planning on going to the States until summer."
"First, we have to go see if you got the same letter. Then we'll have to rethink our plans for the next six months."
Terrence had nearly the identical letter waiting for him in Somerset. The only difference was that his interview was scheduled for 10 AM, one hour before mine.
"I thought you boys weren't going to the States until summer. Wasn't that the plan?"
"That's what we meant to do, Mum, but I don't see how we can cancel these appointments without ruining our chances of admission."
"Maybe we can go for the interviews and tests and then come back here for the rest of the winter and spring." I knew we had to make it to the appointments as much as Terrence did, although I wasn't as concerned with coming back right away. But I knew Mrs. Atkins wanted to see as much of Terrence before he left the country for school.
"The timing is terrible. We'll have to spend either Christmas or New Year's in the middle of the ocean."
TR and Sarah had already researched the ships crossing the ocean around the holidays. Because she didn't want to spend Christmas alone with Franklin on a ship, they were sailing to New York a week earlier and spending the holidays with my parents. The army would fly TR over just before the New Year. Then he would go on to Washington to find a place for them to live.
"You can't leave before Christmas. I just won't have it. This may be the last Christmas we are together, son."
"Nonsense, Mum, we'll have many holidays together. But I've already agreed that we'd spend the holiday here this year, so I won't go back on my word. That means we'll be at sea for New Year's."
"Unless we fly. If we do that we could leave after Christmas and be in New York the same day." The idea popped into my head while listening to Terrance and his mother.
"But you've never flown, Woody. Are you sure you want to try it? And I'll wager the cost is out of this world."
"You've flown hundreds of times so it can't be that bad, especially as a passenger. And don't worry about the cost. It's practically an emergency, after all."
"You're going to have me spend all of my savings before school even begins."
"You'll have plenty of time to work before school starts next September."
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to look into it."
"It can't cost any more than first class on a ship."
"Except we wouldn't be in first class if we went by ship."
"You would be if you wanted to travel with me." I smiled. "I know, I'm a little bit spoiled and it wouldn't hurt me to travel tourist class, but after sailing to Africa and then crossing the Channel in sardine cans, I promised myself my next time at sea would be first class."
"Well, if we end up flying it doesn't matter one way or the other."
We spent the next few days in Somerset doing our best to placate Mrs. Atkins. She knew that we had to leave right after Christmas but wasn't happy about it. At night we did our best to warm things up in the attic.
Terrence stayed with his mother and Alice but I went back to London a few days before Sarah was going to leave. I'd called her from a phone kiosk in the village and asked her to get information on transatlantic flights for us. She'd found that American Overseas Airlines had a flight from Hurn Airport in Bournemouth on December 28. My first day back in London, I went to their offices and purchased two tickets. The price was more than I expected but I paid for them out of the bank account Dad had left for household expenses. Since no one was going to be in the house for a while, there wouldn't be any expenses.
Even so, I wasn't sure I would tell Terrence the price. I hated the idea of lying to him, but if he knew how much the tickets cost he might not go.
I went with Sarah and Franklin to Southampton to see them off. As I watched the ship pull out I thought back to the last time I was there, when TR went home to go to Yale the day Germany invaded Poland. It seemed like a lifetime ago and in some ways it was. And yet I knew that I still had the best part of my life before me.
Back in Somerset, we all tried to have as cheerful a Christmas as we could but it was pretty obvious we were trying. Terrence kept reminding his mother that our leaving was under far better terms than when we went to war and that he'd be back as often as possible, maybe even in a few weeks, depending on how things went. Mrs. Atkins agreed and did her best to put on a cheerful face for the holiday.
Alice splurged and took out the Morris so we could ride to church Christmas Eve. We usually walked but it was very cold and it was a special occasion, after all. Later, even sleeping practically wrapped around each other, it wasn't very warm in the attic and reminded us that it would have been uncomfortable for us to spend the winter there in any event. It was far better than the year before when I'd been in a tent in the Netherlands, but that was something I never wanted to experience again.
Christmas was modest but wonderful. We all gave simple, almost token, gifts. The dinner was better than usual, as Alice had been stockpiling goods in anticipation. Also, Sarah had given me the few ration coupons she hadn't used before she left. The real pleasure of the day was the company. I hadn't spent Christmas with my family for several years and as the Atkinses were my second family I felt like it was a holiday at home. And Terrence and his family were ecstatic being together, especially as they knew it might not happen again for a while.
The day after Christmas Terrence and I went back to London and spent one last night in the house in Mayfair. There were one or two things there we wanted to add to our packed bags. And in spite of Dad's letter telling me he had arranged for someone to come close up the house, as the last one to leave I felt responsible for making sure everything was all right there.
I'd already said my few good-byes when I was in town to buy the tickets to New York. I'd seen Peter and told him our plans. He was disappointed we were leaving but we promised to keep in touch by mail until Terrence and I came back. I hadn't been able to get in touch with Peggy so I'd written her essentially saying the same things.
Thursday afternoon we took the train to Bournemouth and spent the night in a hotel there as the flight was scheduled for 7 o'clock the next morning. We made love, as we had every night we'd been together since I returned to Somerset as a civilian, but then we switched beds to cuddle and sleep. We wanted it to look like both beds had been slept in.
We were both too excited to sleep so we talked for quite a while. Terrence reassured me about the flight and I tried to give him an idea of what to expect in New York. We speculated on what was waiting for us at Columbia. After a while we both fell silent and I was starting to drift off when Terrence spoke up again.
"What about us, Woody? How are things going to turn out for us long-term?"
"What do you mean? We've got four years of school, at least, ahead of us. I don't think either of us can imagine further than that into the future."
"I'm not thinking specifics. But I want to spend the rest of my life with you and I know you feel the same way. We're not about to tell anyone that, but as time goes on, people are bound to wonder what we're about. It's one thing for school-age lads to be such close mates, but men are expected to live differently."
"I know what you mean. We escaped the expectation of dating by going to an all-boys school. Then we were in the military. And even there, we each had a girlfriend of sorts. But as we get older, my family and yours will have certain expectations for us – causal-to-serious relationships with women, marriage, children. We can only be exclusively together for so long before people begin to question what our relationship is all about."
"That's what I'm talking about. We just changed beds so the hotel maid won't think anything odd in the morning. Can you imagine what we're going to have to go through all the time to mislead our families?"
"No, I can't. I hate the idea of lying to Mother and Dad, but then, in a way, I've been doing that since I first realized I was queer just by keeping quiet about it. But I know I can't ever tell them, so it will always be a secret we have to keep."
"I completely agree. No one must ever know."
"We can't anticipate everything that may come our way. We'll just have to take it one day at a time."
"Yes, I'm sure that together we can sort it out. After all, we couldn't have imagined how the last five years would unfold and yet we ended up in the right place. And that was each of us on our own."
"Yes, I'm sure there will be a lot of challenges down the road, but I think we can get through them together."
We were quiet again for a while.
"You're sure the plane's not going to crash tomorrow?"
"Don't be daft, Woody. I'd never let that happen to you."
"And I'd never let anything bad happen to you. I love you and couldn't imagine my life without you."
"And I love you, too. So it looks like we're stuck with each other."
We snuggled closer and this time we both fell asleep almost instantly.
The End - for now.