Authors: J. W. Kilhey
Tags: #Gay, #Historical, #Fiction, #Romance, #General
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Dreamspinner Press, 5032 Capital Circle SW, Ste 2, PMB# 279, Tallahassee, FL 32305-7886, USA.
ISBN: 978-1-62380-256-1 Printed in the United States of America First Edition
book would not be without a dear friend of mine, who pitched this beautiful idea for a heartbreaking story of three men and a journey toward healing. I cannot express how blessed I am to have you as a friend.
My deepest thanks goes to the entire Dreamspinner Press team for helping make this manuscript into novel.
“So tell me again why you’re here,” a voice says, breaking through my distraction.
cramped in this small office. I’ve never been at ease in confined spaces, but there is something odd about this one. This tiny area has a layer of comfort over top of it, as if the books and papers and smell of cigars can erase the narrowness of the space and the low ceiling.
Professor Matheson has asked me that same question for the past five years. I’ve never answered him, but since I’m so close to getting my PhD, it’s time to give it some thought.
His eyebrow goes up. He’s part professor, part school advisor, and part VA shrink. I hate that he pulls double duty. Not that he’s a real shrink, but from what he’s told me, he was a medical officer in the navy.
“Studying’s never been natural for me,” I continue. “Back in grade school, I spent more time studying people than books.”
I wonder if Matheson’s always been sloppy, if he was this way in the service. I myself am still relatively rigid when it comes to tidiness.
“Guess it would’ve been stupid
to earn a degree,” I say, “what with the Montgomery Bill and all.”
,” I correct. It only takes the thought of my old man, hands twisted with arthritis, back permanently curved from hard labor and repetitive motion, to make me grateful for my choice to attend UC Berkeley.
“So no making bricks?” He scratches the wrist of the opposite arm. I look at the stump where his left hand used to be and a fluttering cringe cycles through me. I’m very thankful to have never lost an appendage.
“No factories either.” Brickmaking and factories are the only things available for men where I grew up.
He tilts his head to the side. “Perhaps that’s a great reason to be a professor of it. Not everyone’s marched through Europe in the biggest war ever —”
“Not interested in teaching people what happened over there. Let the generals tell the tales and write the books. I was a simple private.”
I suddenly need a cigarette, and the odd comfort of his crowded space has worn off. I want out of his office. It’s too messy.
“Not reenlisting if that’s what you’re suggesting. My dream of a triumphant military career was a fever I caught after Pearl Harbor, but there’s no glory in war. Only bullets and pain.”
Matheson grins. “You know, John, it’s normal to feel lost after getting out. My first few years as a civilian—”
“No offense, Prof, but can we get on with it?” Something gentle settles in his expression as he picks up my file. “So you’re fluent in German, have two bachelor’s degrees in history and
“And you don’t know what to do with all of it.”
“You’re my advisor. Advise me.”
He grins and tosses my file onto the bookcovered davenport. “Keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll figure it out when it’s meant to be figured out.”
I sit up straight and push my eyebrows up. “What? That’s it? No pep talk?”
“You’re too far along for me to give you much advice on academics, and we’re not on a battlefield, John. There’s no artillery and no clearcut enemies. I have no eve of battle speech. You’re doing great. Far more driven than most of my other students.”
There’s more to be said, but I say nothing as we stand and shake hands.
“Is there anything you want to talk about?” he asks at the last second.
I purse my lips, finger my goatee, and shake my head. “No. I’m tip-top.”
“Those barrack bags under your eyes tell a different story.”
“Up late burning the midnight oil for this degree, you know?” I put my hand on the knob, hoping to get out of here before he has a chance to ask the question he always asks.
I need to quit lingering so long, but he’s caught me again this time. I clench my teeth for just a moment before saying, “I don’t need a physical or a shrink. I’m fine.”
“Not saying you’re not. Just want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.”
“Don’t lose sleep over me. I lead a quiet life.”
“Sometimes too quiet?”
I hate him for asking it, for not outright asking what he truly wants to, but I answer. “Sometimes.”
“Took me years to get over the quiet of home. No bombs, no mortars, no planes overhead, no yelling. The silence about drove me nuts! What about you?”
I nod but say, “I’ve got to get going.” I hastily leave the room and sigh in relief as the stuffy office air changes into the cooler air of the hall.
My satchel is heavy, and I readjust the strap on my shoulder as I leave one building and absently wander the halls of a few others just to pass the time. The day has been long. While my body isn’t fatigued, my mind is.
It is nearing the end of the semester. The work is, of course, more difficult than my undergrad classes. The graduate program is small here, but it allows me to get in with a good group of people, and the school’s not big enough to feel isolated within the academics. Most of the professors have a philosophy of openness with their students, making themselves available to us far more than for students earning a bachelor’s degree.
When I think about my first-year essay and I’m overwhelmed, I think back to where I was just seven years ago. Studying political systems and historical events pales in comparison with combat. It keeps me motivated but doesn’t keep the mental fatigue from coming.
I like to walk the campus when I’m tired and wander the halls of buildings I rarely frequent. I can’t say which building I’m currently in, but I like the feel of it. The shadows in the hall are long and lead me through the corridors.
I will have to leave soon. It is late, and I’m hungry.
The building is nearly deserted, but a few lingering students and professors clue me in to the programs that go on here. Every one of them is carrying some kind of instrument. It makes me smile to think there are people who are earning degrees in something so mysterious. I’ve tried to learn music, but it seems my brain is not connected to that mystical plane that gives the divine talent to be a
What does one do with a degree in music? What will
do with my PhD in political science? I don’t have an interest in being a politician. Perhaps I’ll go into analysis. Or maybe Matheson’s right. I should be a professor. Sometimes I can picture myself sharing my experience and opinions with a younger generation. Perhaps they’d find what I have to say enlightening.
As I reach the end of the hall, I have to make a choice: go back and leave the building or turn right down another hallway. The decision is made for me when I hear it. Soft piano music. It leads me to a medium-sized room with chairs placed in a semicircle around a grand piano.
I don’t go in, just stand in the doorway, leaning against the doorjamb. The piano sits in such a way that I cannot properly see the player’s face. His back is tilted toward me. I can see his fingers, long and nimble with knuckles that look a little too big. He has a distinct profile. A long, straight nose. Sharply angled jaw, furrowed brow. His eyes are closed. Even from this distance I can see that his lashes are so long they brush the tops of his cheeks. His hair is short, but I can tell it’s a light blond.
The music he’s producing is quiet, but there is no mistaking the power of it. It takes me a moment to recognize it as a Christmas carol. I used to sing it in church back in Oklahoma. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
I readjust myself in the doorway, and the frame creaks. The man’s fingers stop, his eyes open, and he lifts his head. His eyes widen once he sees me. He stands up abruptly, sending the bench sliding backward with a screech.
His voice is soft with a relatively thick accent. So soft that I stand up straight and take a step into the room in an attempt to hear him better. His fingers grab at the sides of his pants. “What didn’t you mean to do?” I ask.
His eyes are focused on my feet, and he’s breathing hard. I realize now that he is not dressed as a student or a professor. He wears the coveralls of the university custodians.
The man’s hands come to clasp together in front of him. His neck is still bent, but I understand now why he apologized. He must feel that, as a janitor, he shouldn’t be touching the university’s instruments. I don’t want him to think it matters what his position is. “You play beautifully.”
He shakes his head, then finally looks up. His eyes are striking. They are the brightest and the palest blue I’ve ever seen. He’s looking for a way out, but I’m blocking the only exit.
I want to do something to make him comfortable. I need to let him know it’s okay. The only way I can think of doing that is to back up. I take two steps until I’m out of the room, and I watch as he cautiously comes toward me. He pauses by the door. Instinctively, I take another large step back until I am pressed against the opposite hallway wall.