They crawled together to a wall, behind the wall Stu could hear their radioman calling for back up. Too late, too late. Half the squad was down … all the men he had ate and slept and played cards with, they were all dead. He couldn’t do anything. But Jim he never was scared never didn’t know just what to do. He went out again and again dragging injured and shocked men to the safety of the wall. Leading them to safety. Went one too many times; Stu wanted to look away wanted to not see this. A grenade landed at Jim’s feet. He didn’t have a chance. The explosion tore Jim’s legs off. He didn’t scream that was one thing Stu always remembered. Not a sound. Laying on the ground bleeding out. Stu crawled to him. Couldn’t bring himself to move him, afraid of causing more pain. Knowing there was nothing he could do. Jim looked at him and smiled that private smile that was just his. And died.
Stu woke up in tears. Awake he never remembered the sounds; the sounds only come in his sleep. Oh today he was hurting. He sat up rousing ol Critter his tomcat and stumbled from the bedroom to the kitchen to start coffee. The water barely dribbled out and he had to wait for the water to clear. Durn guess it meant he would have to get someone to come out and fix the dang leak. Where the money was gonna come from was the mystery.
While he waited for the water to boil he went out and sat in the chair on the porch. Looked at that overgrown, weedy lawn. Could remember back when it was neat and orderly as a pin...well hell, he sure couldn’t do it, couldn’t afford to have it done so why look? He raised his eyes and looked across to a view them city folks would pay big for. He could see all the way to tomorrow. When he was a young un the view was crystal clear, felt he could reach out and touch the horizon. Years gone by and the pollution had put a haze across the distant mountains. Gave it the appearance of a watercolor…still beautiful just different.
He thought on his dream. Hadn’t thought of Jim in what, days? Chuckled softly, no he rarely dreamed of that day. Hadn’t dreamed that in years. When he dreamed of Jim it was other times. He remembered the first time he had seen Jim. He was what? 18? Just out of school when he got his draft notice. Still remembered his mother just hysterical. He had always been a delicate boy. She babied him a lot he knew but there was no getting out of this. He didn’t expect to survive boot camp. Horrible place. Showering with a hundred men so frightened and aroused thinking that if they noticed he would be thrown out for depravity. Found to his surprise, and his dads, that he could do all that stuff, run and shoot and climb. And after a few weeks found he enjoyed it.
He was assigned to a squad in France. Arriving with the million (it seemed) other guys, he was scared of all these soldiers that seemed so hard and experienced. Then he saw Jim. Walking across the yard with a loose-hipped walk that didn’t say he thought he was the biggest dog in the yard…he knew he was. Dark good looks like he was a movie star cast as a soldier. He was the toughest, strongest most confident man Stu had ever seen. And he fell in love with him immediately. Jim led them for six months, Stu happy just to be near him. All his men loved him. He was afraid of nothing and had a way of sharing that courage. Stu never felt afraid thru any of the battles they face that first four months.
Then in Aug 1943:
Stu was shaking so hard he could barely unbutton his shirt, he had never sex with anyone, but if he didn’t the other guys would never let him live it down. The whore pulled the blankets off the bed as he finally managed to get his clothes off. He wanted to keep the sheets but was too embarrassed to ask. He was never gonna be able to perform. He wondered if she would tell the other whores if he didn’t. He thought of Jim in the next room. His commanding officer, he would die if he found out. Stu knew that Jim probably already suspected him. Couldn’t stop looking at him. Lord, them arms and the beard stubble. Stu felt his organ stiffen. Oh God, please he thought just let me get thru this. Maybe if he had sex with a woman then he wouldn’t keep thinking about Jim. Maybe that was what was wrong with him. Everyone else he knew claimed to be real experienced. He would f*** this whore and then everything would be ok...He would be normal.
He let her lead him to the bed, embarrassed and nervous. He didn’t say anything when she brought out the cuffs. Confused, he watched as she took each of his arms and tied them to the bedposts. Well maybe this was just what happened at a whorehouse; he had never been in one. He had heard stories though, and they were always a little raunchy. He wanted to say no when she brought the blindfold but was too nervous.
Blind he listened to her move could feel the bed shift as she got up. He waited. He heard the door open and shut. “What are you doing?”
The bed shifted again. Harder this time. Stu was a little scared now. What was going on? Had she switched on him? Got some other girl to take over? The warm air and his own nerves made his nipples harden along with his c***….he felt a warm tongue suddenly on one nipple and gasped. Oh, oh that felt good! He arched in pleasure as the tongue swirled and flicked across. The tongue moved across to give equal time to the opposite one then began a slow descent across his chest and stomach, stopping for a second to tease his navel. Stu was breathing hard. Lord was she going to….he had heard of this….no way was she going to actually put her mouth down there. NO way! He shuddered in pleasure at the anticipation. He wasn’t queer! He loved this! His fists clenched he writhed wanting the mouth so bad. The warm tongue suddenly stopped inches from him. Warm moist breath on his c***. He arched himself trying to bring himself in contact.
Suddenly the weight shifted.
“Where you going?” Stu sputtered “Please don’t sto..” His mouth suddenly covered a hard probing tongue deep in his mouth; leaving him breathless. Realizing in shock that he felt beard stubble
The blindfold was lifted and he stared into Jim’s laughing eyes in horror.
“Now don’t give me that wide eyed innocent look. You’ve been f****** me in your mind for months.” Jim’s mouth descended again and against his will he found himself sucking hard trying to keep him from breaking the contact. Laughing, Jim pulled back and reached up to release his hands.
“How? What if the guys find out? What if the girls tell?”
“shhhh. It’s a whorehouse, goofus, they let you do as you please as long as you grease their palms. We are safe.”
They made gentle, loving, rowdy, rough love all night. No doubt any more in Stu’s mind of who and what he was. It felt like he had never been alive until Jim took him in his arms.
They were awakened by one of the whores. “Your friends are asking for you.” Jim unwrapped himself from Stu and quickly dressed to go down stairs. Stu followed after a few minutes.
When he walked out the front door his squad mates started whistling and hollering. Red clapped him on the shoulder “well how was your first time? HUH?”
For a horrible moment he thought they knew about him and Jim then realized they were just talking about the whore. Jim threw his arm around his shoulder and leered at him. “What do you say Runt? Was your first time everything you wanted it to be?”
He didn’t know how to act what to say. Fortunately it didn’t last long and things went back to where they had been before except that now…now there were stolen moments in the woods or at night on watch. Sometimes just a touch or that secret smile. One night in a foxhole Jim attacked him. His pants roughly pulled down and a little spit. Painful but oh how he had wanted it. Jim’s hand on the back of his neck. Dead silence. Terror that the other men would hear. Jim pulling out, his rough teeth on his ear. “Been too damned long, Runt” then he was gone on his rounds
They visited brothels as often as they could. The only times they were completely alone. For six months.
After the ambush, Stu served another year then took a shot in the knee that sent him home. He had reached the rank of Sergeant. Had those insignia in a matchbox in his pocket. Along with Jim’s no one had ever asked him what had happened to Jim’s insignia. They were all he had of Jim. He had carried them now for 60 years.
He reached into his pocket and pulled them out. The two pair together in the box…. Which were his and which were Jim’s? No way to know anymore. He put them back in his pocket with a sigh.
Well, enough reminiscing…time to get going. He looked up into the sky ‘Nope no sign of rain’.
He turned his head to look at the sunflowers he had planted for Roy after that “Pocahontas” movie came out. Roy loved Disney movies. After Roy died, he had cleaned out his car and found all the tapes from those movies. Got tickled, sitting there laughing, imagining ol Roy driving down the road belting out “Be Our Guest” at the top of his lungs. The sunflowers were growing like weeds…big and bright, he would like them if he saw them. Decided that he would take Roy a sunflower today. Roy would be proud to get one.
He could hear the water boiling so he went in for coffee. Lord his chest and back hurt today. Well no sense fussing, better get that coffee drunk and get going. Day was gonna be hot and he wanted to be back home before the full heat of the day.
He got his old hat out and his walking stick. Slung the canteen over his shoulder and started out. Carefully navigating the stairs. The rail had come loose so he tried not to lean on it too much, just used it for balance. Lord, his chest hurt today. Made him seriously reconsider letting his niece drive him like she had offered so many times. He gave a deep sigh, ‘well look, Stu, you know when you stop movin around that is when you stove up. Just put one foot in front of the other. Done this for close to ten years now. Got that many left in ya!” He smiled at himself. “Now I am talking to myself. I might just be getting old after all.” He cackled at himself. He made his way to the sunflowers and picked out the biggest and best. Only one…he only ever took Roy one. Didn’t want the man to be getting greedy on him!
He made it to the end of the drive, carefully stepping around the ruts and mud puddles. As he turned toward the cemetery, three miles down the road he could hear the Calhouns children playing in their yard. Out here in the country sounds like that carried. He had never had kids. Loved them though, there had been nieces and nephews though down thru the years so he had burped his share and diapered more than his share. Real proud of all of them, not a bad apple in the bunch. His favorite niece visited everyday. “Uncle you should let me come drive you down to that graveyard. Roy won’t care how you got there.” Sweet girl, she always had been. But he didn’t walk for Roy. He walked for hisself.
He and Roy had been together for what, forty years, Roy was a good man. He knew Stu had given his heart to Jim. But Jim was gone and Roy wasn’t one to be jealous of a ghost. Him and Roy had built a good life together. The old man stumbled slightly on the uneven road but had the stick to help catch himself. Lord if he fell and his niece found him he would never hear the end of it.
Roy worked as a construction worker. Made a good living, they had built up quite a savings account before he had his accident. The old man stopped to catch his breath. Roy had fallen off the roof of a two-story house they were building. Stu could remember every word of the phone call telling him they had taken Roy to the hospital. Young gays talking so much about ‘gay bashing’ well him and Roy hadn’t run into much of that nonsense. Up til that damned doctor. Telling him he couldn’t see Roy cause he wasn’t family. Humph. He had served for near on a year with Jim. He knew how to deal with little men full of fake bravado. He jus politely put that boy up against a wall, put his eyeball an inch away from him and explained that ‘yes he was gonna see Roy and he was gonna see Roy now.” Boy didn’t say too much after that. The old man laughed softly; no he pretty much shut up….
But the bills took up all their savings, and cause they didn’t have no one to look after Roy when he brought him home he lost his job. Lord that was a hard year. Living on his little check from the VA. Never told Roy how bad things were. Poor Roy, never fully recovered though he did go back to work. Not in him to sit about not doing.
The old man had come to the half way mark. A huge oak spread a dappled shade underneath. Even in the heat of summer it was cool under the tree. Well, cooler. He grinned. There was an old stump under there. Where a smaller tree had tried to muscle in on the old oaks territory. Made a perfect bench. And he sorely needed a rest. His arm and shoulder were paining him something awful; well he thought, at least it was taking his mind off the pain in his chest.
They had never recovered financially. Roy had chronic pain and couldn’t work as much as he could then had had a stroke. That had pretty much ended his work life. But they had had almost fifteen great years after that. Oh, yes that farm fell in disrepair…didn’t have the money or energy to keep it up but they had what they needed: each other. Yes, he had had one hell of a fine life. The old man looked up through the leaves of the tree…took off his hat and said out loud “Lord, I know they say you don’t like sinners like me but I want to thank you for this good life you gave me. I have been loved by two of the finest men that ever lived couldn’t have asked for more’n that!”…. Laughing he put his hat back on and struggled to his feet.
“Enough of this dawdling! Get on up there old boy!” He started off stumbling slightly as his loose sole caught on a root. He realized the pains in his chest were fading away. Why he was beginning to feel pretty good. That is what exercise would do for you. He chuckled to himself. By the time he made it to the old wood bridge he was feeling a lot better. Why he felt so good he bet he could walk all the way to Arlington. That was where Jim was buried. He had researched it back in the early fifties. They had given Jim the Medal of Honor for that last day. Him and Roy had gone down there to see him. He had cried. Hated to cry like that but if you were gonna, well where better than at Arlington? Roy had put his arm around him and said, “You know, Jim never had any physical kids. But just think, those men that would have died if he had not rescued them…they went on and had kids. If it weren’t for Jim they wouldn’t have existed so I guess you could say they are Jim’s kids too.”
It had stuck in his head and for the first time he wanted to go to the reunions the squad had every year. Wanted to see Jim’s kids. Found the men all talked about Jim a lot. In 1965, he was talking to Grub (their radioman) and Grub told him. “You know Jim always said he loved you like a brother.” He had had to walk away. Jim had never said them words to him but to know he had. That was a great gift.
He realized that he no longer had his stick. Must have left it at the oak. Would pick it up on the way back. Plenty of others laying about for when this burst of energy faded. Lort, the temp had settled! Why he bet it had dropped fifteen degrees. He looked up but there were no clouds in the sky. It was the bluest sky he had ever seen. Well, who was he to fuss about a little cool weather?! He stepped along faster. Enjoying the feeling of well being.
He suddenly stopped staring ahead. Standing in the road about 100 yards ahead was a young man dressed in a WW2 dress uniform. Dark hair and sparkling, laughing eyes. The apparition started toward him and he raised a hand to it. Suddenly caught at the sight of his hand. Smooth and young, the knuckles no longer gnarled with arthritis. Confused he lowered his hand and looked into Jim’s eyes. “Hey, Runt, took your time didn’t you? Been waiting a long time.” He offered his hand and Stu took it.
Ron Calhoun was speeding along on the way home when he passed by the old oak, almost didn’t see Stu. He slammed on his breaks and reversed. Getting out he walked up to the old man slumped over against the trunk. He lightly touched him. He shook his head, he reached down and picked up the sunflower laying on the ground and went to his car. Had to get home and call out the sheriff. Poor old Stu, he thought…all alone up there in that old house and now dead all alone beside the road.
What a sad life.