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 NJMcMick@yahoo.com.
Once I knew my family was all right I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the weekend 'playing house' with Terrence. We made simple meals, careful not to use up too many of Mother's rations. Each night we ate in the dining room, using the good china and crystal. We even had a glass of wine with supper. When we'd first moved into the house, Dad had stocked the cellar with French wines, knowing that as the war went on wine might be hard to come by. While he probably didn't have enough to make it through the war if it went as long as the last one, a bottle or two wouldn't make a difference.
Every night Terrence made love to me. After doing it once, knowing it was physically possible and even pleasurable, I didn't have a problem with it. We went to the chemist's and bought our own jar of petroleum jelly so Mother wouldn't notice hers was missing or rapidly disappearing.
The bombing of London seemed to be more intense that weekend. It was as if the Germans didn't want us to think they'd forgotten us by attacking other cities like Coventry.
For as long as I'd been in England Terrence and I had gone for walks on Sunday afternoons, weather permitting. At first it was sightseeing, getting me oriented to my new home. When we were at the Atkins' house we'd walk around Finchley and the surrounding communities. When in Mayfair we'd explore central London. When the bombing began we took our walks to have a look at the damages.
Once we'd gone to the East End, but that wasn't a pleasant experience. Aside from the horror of the damage inflicted on that area, we found the residents to be quite hostile. They resented tourists coming to gawk at their misfortune. From our clothing and Terrence's middle class accent they could tell we were not from the area. And when they heard my American accent, well, what more proof did they need that we didn't belong there?
After the bombing in Finchley, Terrence and I both lost our appetite for viewing the destruction. We couldn't help but see the evidence of war everywhere we went - random bombed out ruins, sandbags piled around tube station entrances and shelters, long lines at grocery stores, the darkness of the blackout every night. We didn't feel the need to go out of our way to see more.
So for the past few weeks we'd limited our walks to the areas with little damage, such as the parks. This Sunday was no different. We headed south from the house and walked through Green Park to Buckingham Palace, then followed the lake in St. James Park to Westminster. At the bridge we turned away from the Houses of Parliament and walked along the Thames on the Embankment.
Our view along this route wasn't unaffected by the ravages of the bombing. After all, the Luftwaffe used the Thames as a sort of highway to follow into the heart of London. Even with the blackout the winding river was visible if there were any moonlight at all. But the destruction we saw on either side of the river was in the distance so it was possible to ignore if we tried, and we did. We turned back when we got to Blackfriars Bridge and re-traced our steps. When we got to the palace we continued on to Hyde Park. That was really my favorite place in all of London. There were moments there where I felt I was back home in Central Park. Terrence probably got tired of hearing me talk about it.
"Central Park is on the list for my tour, I assume?"
"You haven't forgotten that day we first met aboard the Queen Mary that you promised me you'd be my guide for a complete tour of New York."
I had actually forgotten that but I was thrilled that he remembered.
"The park will definitely be on your tour, although it doesn't look like that will be any time soon."
"I can wait, Woody. It looks like we'll be friends for a long time."
"I certainly hope so."
It was starting to get dark by the time we left the park near Marble Arch. Ever since my first tour of the area and Terrence's warning I'd been on the lookout for signs of queer activity around there. Unfortunately, I hadn't ever seen any.
When we got back to the house we were both starving. We went right to the kitchen and put the kettle on for tea and got out a tin of biscuits. Terrence was just pouring the tea when there was a knock on the front door. I went down the hall to answer it and was confronted by a rather severe-looking man about 60 wearing a helmet with a large W on the front. Apparently he was an ARP warden.
"Either turn out that light or close your blackout curtains. You're lighting up the whole street."
He pointed outside. I could see a faint glow in front of the house. I'd completely forgotten to close the curtains when we came in. The only lights we'd turned on were in the hall and kitchen, but that was enough to show through the front parlor windows.
"Y-yes, sir. I'll take care of it right away."
"See that you do. You don't want to provide a 'Bomb here' sign for the Jerrys."
"No, sir. No, I don't."
As he turned away I just heard him mutter, "Bloody Yank doesn't know any better."
As soon as I closed the door I rushed into the parlor and pulled the dark curtains over the windows. Terrence followed me around the house helping to cover the other windows.
"Yes, sir. No, sir. Are you practicing for the army, Woody?"
"He was just so authoritative, I answered him like that automatically."
We finished with the curtains and went back to our tea which was lukewarm by then. We drank it anyway, having learned not to waste anything that was rationed.
"You realize we're going to end up in the army, don't you?" Terrence asked. "We finish school next year and the war will certainly still be going on then. And even though your father is American, the British half of you will be subject to being called up."
"I know, but I try not to think about it. I can't imagine what it must be like, having to kill people."
"I can't either, but probably everyone who's ever been in a war has felt that way. When it comes down to kill or be killed, the survival instinct must take over."
"Even so, I'd rather never be in that situation."
When Terrence and I got home from school on Tuesday, Mother and Dad were there. So were my grandparents. I hadn't been expecting that but was thrilled to see them. They were getting ready for tea in the parlor but all rose when we walked into the room. Granddad shook our hands but Gran hugged us both.
"My, you're still growing, Woody. You'll soon be the same size as TR."
"I doubt it, Gran, but it looks like I won't end up as small as I feared." I was up to 5'8 but was still very thin.
"And it's so good to see you again, Terrence, although I wish it were under happier circumstances." Terrence had met my grandparents in the spring when they'd visited us. "Lydia told us about your father. We're so very sorry for your loss. How are you and your mother getting on?"
"We're both muddling through, thanks to our family and yours. I had a letter from Mum the other day. She's found work at a clothing factory in Bath making uniforms for the army."
We all sat and Gran poured while Mother passed around a plate of scones, a rare treat recently. I was surprised at how normal it all seemed and how well my grandparents looked.
"You both look great, not hurt at all. How did you make it through unscathed if your house was destroyed?"
"We were in a community shelter in the next street," Granddad explained. "The whole city was bombed but the worst was in city centre. The shop was closest to that, then the house. The shelter just escaped the damage."
"And the others?"
"Dan and Marion had an Anderson in their back garden, but they didn't really need it. Their house wasn't damaged at all. Your cousin Pamela and Little Bill have been living with them, as you know, since Big Bill went into the army. It's lucky they were. The block of flats where they used to live was completely destroyed." Gran said.
"So there was quite a bit of damage?"
"Quite a bit is an understatement, Terrence," Dad replied. "The entire city centre is gone, thousands of houses and businesses destroyed, hundreds killed."
"The whole old city, Dad? What about the cathedral?"
"Some of the outer walls and the spire are still standing, but it's just a shell, dear." Mother had occupied herself serving and hadn't said much. She looked shocked. "And all around it is nothing but rubble. The city of my youth is just gone."
"So what are you going to do now?" I asked.
"It looks like our working days may be over." Granddad replied. "Even if there were a place for us to re-open our shop, almost all of our customers have been displaced. The neighborhood just doesn't exist anymore."
"Your mother has convinced us we'd be less of a burden on her than Dan, so it looks like we'll be staying here for a while." Gran's eyes twinkled. "If that's all right with you, dear."
"All right? Do you have to ask? Of course it is! Nothing could make me happier than being able to spend more time with you."
I helped Mother and Gran take the dishes to the kitchen while Terrence stayed talking to Dad and Granddad.
"You really do look wonderful, Gran. But you must be devastated, having lost everything, your home and your business."
"Your grandfather and I are dismayed, of course, but all we've lost are things. We still have each other and our children and grandchildren. That's what's really important. In that respect we're luckier than Terrence, poor boy. How is he holding up?"
"He's quieter than he used to be. Sometimes he seems almost like in old times, but at others he's very quiet and sad. I'm never sure just what I should do or say."
"Just be his friend, dear. Let him know you're there for whatever he needs. I'm sure he realizes what a good friend he has in you."
After we'd changed out of our school clothes Terrence and I moved the beds from my room down into the cellar. Dad said he'd have the workmen come back and build another wall, creating a somewhat more private space for my grandparents.
Of course, with more people sleeping in the cellar we had to be more careful than ever in our bedtime fun. Making love was out of the question, as I couldn't keep completely quiet when we did that, even with my face buried in a pillow. But we could still manage our oral play.
The sporadic bombing that was now occurring was more disruptive of my sleep than the steady, night-after-night bombing had been. I had been used to the nightly sirens, the drone of airplanes and the ack-ack of the anti-aircraft guns. But going a few nights in a row with silence made the disruptions that much worse when they happened.
A couple of weeks later Terrence and I came home from school on a Thursday and were surprised to find Mother and Gran about to serve a complete Thanksgiving dinner. It was a surprise on many levels. First, I'd forgotten it was Thanksgiving. Since the holiday wasn't celebrated in England it had been just another Thursday at school.
It was also surprising that Mother had been able to put together all of the fixings for the dinner in spite of rationing. The main course was chicken instead of turkey, but even that was hard to come by. Mother had carefully planned ahead with the local butcher to get the chicken with her coupons. And since Gran had been a grocer herself she was completely familiar with the rationing rules and had made the arrangements with our local grocer for the rest of the meal.
But the biggest surprise had been that Gran and Mother had been able to prepare the quintessential American meal. Gran was a great cook but she'd never experienced a Thanksgiving dinner. And Mother had never prepared one. While she'd learned to cook as a girl, she'd had very little occasion to do it in New York. We had a full-time cook at home and we'd spent all of our holidays with my grandparents in Gramercy Park, where their kitchen staff prepared the meals.
I was the closest thing our family had to an expert on preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. I'd spent much of my childhood holidays in my grandparents' kitchen, observing, assisting and mostly getting in the way of the staff. The year before we'd had a holiday meal on the Saturday after Thanksgiving so I could oversee the preparations. Mother must have paid attention.
I was afraid the holiday celebration might depress Terrence. The year before his parents had joined us so this could be a reminder that his father was gone and his mother was away. But with Gran and Granddad there it had a different feel to it. Even so, I was a little nervous when we did our family tradition of going around the table, each person saying what they were thankful for.
Dad, for all of his expertise with words, was very traditionally thankful for the love of Mother, TR and me. Mother added the well-being of her family in Coventry to the list, as did Gran.
When it was Granddad's turn he was a revelation. He was always quiet, and usually the prototypical man, especially British, never speaking of his feelings. But he really opened up on this occasion as he stared across the table at Gran.
"I'm thankful for all of the things you've all spoken of, but more than anything for nearly fifty years of the companionship, patience and love of the most beautiful, kindest, most loving woman in Britain, if not the world."
Terrence's turn came last, and I knew he was the one who had the least to be thankful for. He was quiet for so long I thought he was going to pass, but he finally began to talk.
"I'm grateful for having had the most loving parents a lad could have ever hoped for, and now, for having been taken into my second, loving family. And I do consider you all to be my family, especially you, Woody, my friend and brother."
The ten days before Christmas were the loneliest I could remember. Once the fall school term ended, Terrence left for Somerset to be with his mother. They hadn't seen each other since right after Mr. Atkins' funeral and, especially with Christmas coming up, it was only natural for him to go to her. Still, we were both dreading it those last few days before he left. We hadn't been apart for more than a couple of days since I'd been in England. I was going out to Axbridge the day after Christmas, but that didn't make getting through the ten days before that any easier.
I accompanied Mother to her first aid classes a couple of times and twice I spent the day with Dad, trailing along as he visited various government agencies, gathering information for his writing. That was occasionally interesting but mostly not. I stayed home a few times with Gran and Granddad but they seemed to be as restless and bored as I was. They were used to working and now they had nothing to do. Gran kept herself busy cleaning the house even when it didn't need it, and Granddad spent a lot of time sitting on the front steps smoking his pipe, lost in thought.
So most days I was on my own. I did a little Christmas shopping but that didn't keep me busy for long. I didn't care much for shopping and I only had four people to shop for. Terrence and I had once again agreed not to buy each other anything, and this time we promised to abide by the agreement.
I ended up spending part of every day in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Once, just for a bit of a change, I walked through Regent's Park after spending the morning with Dad at the Broadcasting House. But no matter where I started, I kept wandering back to Marble Arch, drawn by the possibility of seeing other queers like myself. I had always felt so alone, and while Terrence's friendship and companionship was so good and constant I sometimes took his presence in my life for granted, when I thought about my future I was still alone. I was queer - I knew that as well as I knew anything and had for a long time. But Terrence insisted he wasn't, that he was just evolving from boy to man, passing through a phase that was necessitated by his circumstances. I believed him when he said he loved me, but it was as he said at Thanksgiving, he loved me as a friend and brother.
I was curious to meet other full-fledged queers like myself to find out what I could expect from life. I refused to believe they were all perverts like Mr. Crowley, but that is exactly what Terrence had called them. I never saw anyone there I pegged as queer, but then I didn't know exactly what to look for - effeminate men loitering in the vicinity, perhaps. Even if I had been able to identify someone, what would I have done? Walk up to him, introduce myself as queer and ask, 'So, what's it like being queer?' That's what I wanted to find out, but I knew that wasn't the way.
Maybe it would have to wait until I got back to New York. I'd heard there were all kinds of artists, bohemians and free-love advocates living in Greenwich Village. There just might be some queers there, too.
In spite of missing Terrence, I enjoyed Christmas with the family. I didn't mind that Terrence wasn't there, as he'd spent the holiday with his parents the year before, and the next day I was leaving for Somerset. I missed TR but I had received a great letter from him a few days before. I had letters from him every few weeks and usually they were about his college classes and friends. He seemed to have a different girlfriend every time he wrote.
This letter was all about Thanksgiving with our grandparents in New York. Grandfather had struggled mightily to come up with something to be thankful for. His political ally, Ambassador Kennedy, had left his post in London earlier in the month. Grandfather was 100% in agreement with Joe Kennedy's isolationism and pessimism about the ability of the British to stand up to Hitler. And on top of that, FDR had been re-elected to an unprecedented third term. Grandfather considered him to be a socialist, if not a communist.
After everyone else had given their thanks, Grandfather tersely stated that he was thankful that Mother, Dad and I had somehow survived the complete destruction of London, although he voiced pessimism that we would make it through another year.
Because of Grandfather's political negativity, TR went to Gramercy Park as seldom as possible. He had spent the summer in New Haven, taking extra courses at Yale, intending to graduate in three years instead of four. And he was enrolled in ROTC, so when he graduated he'd go right into the army as a second lieutenant. Of course Grandfather had opposed that decision as well. He couldn't understand why someone with a guaranteed future in the family business would want to join the army instead of making money. It was bad enough that Dad had taken Mother and me into danger.
The next morning I took the train west from Paddington Station. It was Boxing Day, a Bank Holiday, so there were more people on the train than when Terrence and I had gone to Axbridge in the spring. When I was a small child and Mother talked about Boxing Day, I had assumed it had something to do with prize-fighting and I couldn't understand what that had to do with Christmas. She explained it was about giving gifts and money to the poor and disadvantaged, and that made more sense to me. She wasn't very clear on how it came to be called Boxing Day, however.
When I got off the train Terrence was waiting for me. He gave me a big hug which attracted a bit of attention. I didn't care, I was just glad that he appeared as happy to see me as I was to see him. As we walked around the building I looked around and was disappointed to not see the Morris Eight.
"Sorry, Woody, we're on our feet today. Alice only uses the car for emergencies now. Petrol is too hard to come by."
"I can understand that but I was hoping to have a chance to drive again."
"So was I, but unless we get jobs as taxi drivers that isn't going to happen."
"What do you say we stop for lunch at that pub in town, the Lamb, wasn't it?"
"Mum's fixing lunch for us at the cottage. She wants to do what she can to repay your family's hospitality. Besides, we're too young to be served by ourselves at the pub."
"You're sure there's going to be enough food at the house? There's no rationing in restaurants, you know."
That wasn't exactly true. While rationing didn't apply as strictly to restaurants, there were some limits imposed on how much they could charge for meals and how much food they could serve at a sitting.
"Don't worry about getting enough to eat or using up all of their coupons. We're in the country. Alice buys some of her food direct from neighboring farmers and that doesn't require coupons."
Terrence took my suitcase from me and started walking.
"What have you got in here? Bricks?"
"Not exactly, although Dad did give me a bottle of champagne to help us ring in the New Year."
When we got to the cottage I was pleased to see how well Mrs. Atkins looked. In the days following the bombing in Finchley she'd been a bit battered and bruised, of course, but she had also acted somewhat frail and distracted. Now she was more like she'd always been. Over the next week I noticed that she had the same kind of quiet periods as Terrence, but overall she appeared to have adapted well to the tragic changes in her life.
Mrs. Atkins had taken the smaller downstairs bedroom so Terrence and I still had the attic. When I unpacked my bag I smiled as I showed him the jar of petroleum jelly I'd brought. Our bed was far enough from the two women that we didn't have to worry that what little noise we made would alert them as to what we were doing. I'd been looking forward to resuming our lovemaking all week.
A few days after I arrived we were listening to the BBC while eating breakfast and, despite their vague reporting of the previous night's bombing, it was clear London had been hit hard. When we switched to German radio to see what Lord Haw-Haw had to say Mrs. Atkins grumbled about us listening to 'that tripe.' Lord Haw-Haw made it sound as if the entire city was in flames. While I knew nothing he said could be believed, I also knew from what had happened to Coventry how widespread the bombing destruction could be. I was worried about my family, so Terrence and I decided to walk into the village where I could send a telegram to Mother and Dad, since Alice wasn't, as Terrence put it, 'on the telephone.'
When we returned I tried suggesting they get a telephone without sounding like I was being critical.
"You should really have a telephone here, Alice. Two women living alone in the country, you don't know what kind of emergency might arise. And think of how nice it would be for Terrence and his mother to be able to talk now and then."
"Mary and I lived here for years and never had need of a telephone. And while being separated is more than an inconvenience for Jean and Terrence, I'm afraid writing letters will have to suffice. Not only would it cost a fortune to run a telephone line out here, there would be the regular service fee as well."
"Besides, I don't think they're even installing private telephone lines these days. It's all about government and military communication. Terrence and I will just have to be content with letters and the occasional visit such as this."
Late that afternoon a telegram boy pedaled his bicycle up the hill to the cottage. Dad's reply was, once again, terse but to the point.
'Everyone fine. Enjoy your holiday.'
Terrence and I spent much of the week hiking through the Mendips when the weather permitted. It was cold, but hiking in the hills warmed us up. One day we took the train into Bath and visited the Roman Baths.
On New Year's Eve Alice and Mrs. Atkins prepared a small feast for us, the centerpiece of which was a hearty lamb stew. We shared a bottle of red wine with the meal and then spent the evening listening to music on the radio. At midnight we opened the bottle of champagne I'd brought and Terrence toasted the new year.
"To 1941. May it be better than 1940."
We didn't stay up much later. Once the champagne was gone we all went to bed. Up in the attic, the alcohol gave me the courage to suggest something I'd been thinking about for a while.
"How about we switch positions for a change?"
"What do you mean? This position seems to work out well."
"I'm not talking so much about the position as the roles. Let me make love to you. Terrence."
"No!" He seemed stunned, even a bit horrified. "I don't think so, Woody. I mean, I don't think I'd like that. We both like it the way we've been doing it, so why change?"
"Sure I like you making love to me, but I've been curious about what it must be like for you. Haven't you thought about it?"
"Maybe I have, but only because I'm concerned about you. While I'm a little curious about it, I'm not interested in trying that myself."
"Well, if you're sure. I just thought I'd suggest it." I was very disappointed but didn't want to push it as Terrence was very firm on the issue.
"I'm sure, that's just not for me. You like it but I'm sure I wouldn't. We're just different, that's all. And in this case the difference works out perfectly for us."
So he made love to me, as he had all week. And while I enjoyed it, I was left feeling a bit lost. There it was, different again. As close as Terrence and I were, we weren't the same.
To Be Continued