This novella takes place after the events of my Vietnam war novella, Lights in the Distance. So if you want the full picture about the adventures of Tommie and Charlie, I recommend to click on the title-link and start with the war-novella.
In this novella you will find some references to historical events, you might not be familiar with. If this is the case, check out the Notes section where you will find short explanations/definitions.
„Do you have any plan for Christmas?” Tommie asked accompanied by a huge yawn. He and Charlie stood huddled close together while they were sipping their morning coffee sleepily.
They rented a little, cozy flat the army helped them with after they both were life-threateningly wounded in action. Months have passed since that mission in Vietnam when everything went south wondrously. They were still recuperating and nursing not only their physical injuries but their mental wounds. They were haunted by the war, but at least they managed to live together.
„Not really” Charlie breathed. „My folks don’t even know I’m back from that Hellhole.”
Tommie sighed. Charlie’s parents were indeed strange folks. They never wrote, never phoned, they did not even want their son back home when they got to go on leave.
Tommie’s situation was a whole lot of another matter. He was a fortunate winner of the war lottery (1), and he hadn’t had the network to call in favors in order to get him off the hook. So before he could even blink, he’d found himself in a boot camp, then on a plane straight to the thick of battles in a jungle as hot and humid like Hell.
But his parents and family at least did give a shit. They really did care. When they received the news about his injuries, they were frantic, they wanted to come to visit the moment their plane touched down on US soil. He needed all his efforts and firmness to dissuade them from taking him home. There was no way on earth he would leave Charlie who was in a poorer state than Tommie.
„Do you have something in your mind?” Charlie asked when the silence enveloping them started to become unbearable. „You want to go home for the holidays?”
„You want me to go without you?” Tommie winked at him playfully.
„Of course I don’t, dummy, but I’wont keep you from your family either.” Charlie squeezed his mug a bit harder, his fingers went almost white.
„My family will understand. I want for the holidays what you want.”
„No. You definitely don’t want that” Charlie snickered shyly a bit of red appearing on his cheek.
„Tell me.” Tommie took the coffee mug from Charlie’s hands and put it down on the dinner table. But before letting the other speak, he kissed Charlie sweetly. He braced himself not to let Charlie deepen the kiss – if he would let him, they would tumble back into bed, not to get out till sunset.
„I want to go to camp. With you preferably… but I won’t force you to accompany me. But I want endless snow around me, and pine trees and nothing more…”
„Where do you want to go?”
„Dunno… had no chance to think it through. But maybe the mountains of Virginia or North Carolina…”
„You know it will be ball-freezingly cold?”
„Yeah, I can imagine. It may be a bit harsh with only a tent and biking boots.”
„It would be the best Christmas feast for the wolves and mountain lions. But… I might know someone who owns a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. Let me phone him and we’ll see if he let us take the cabin for the holidays. So nor our balls will freeze off, and the wild life won’t feast on us either.”
„Sounds good to me. I just want off from the city. I can’t bear this holiday flurry no more.”
Tommie cupped Charlie’s face, he knew all too well that Charlie was a farm-hand along with everyone of his family on some big-shot’s ranch. His family worked on that ranch for generations, according to Charlie long before the civil war. So he never spent such a long time in a big city before they were back from Vietnam. So he could perfectly understand how unbearable the crowd could be for Charlie.
„It’s settled then. So I’ll talk to my acquaintance about the cabin, and do my best to persuade him to lend it to us for the holiday. And you, prepare a list about everything what we will need in the wilderness.”
„You’re quite sure about your success.” Charlie could not keep his smile at bay, it threatened to split his face.
„Of course I am. For you? I’d do anything. Nothing else would do.”
Charlie had no idea who Tommie’s friend with the cabin was, but he overheard Tommie speaking on the phone – he was one step away from begging – to persuade the other to let them use the cabin for the holidays.
“No, I didn’t do anything wrong” Tommie pinched the bridge of his nose, a nervous habit, showing how frustrated he was. The one on the other end of the phone had to be really annoying. “Oh, for Heaven’s sake, Mac. Just shut up already and let me finish explaining.” After a momentary silence Tommie definitely was granted the privilege to speak, because he started to rattle out fast his explanation. “Okay… so my buddy and I just got back from the hellhole of Vietnam. Let me put it simply. We need a place to spend the holidays. Away from everything, from people form the hustle and bustle of the city.”
Charlie could hear the stunned silence from the other end of the line. He carefully edged closer. He wanted to hear the conversation.
“Fuck, Kiddo” the one called Mac said. “I did not know you were… you know… abroad.”
“I told my pops and mom not to say anyone I got deployed. I won the fucking lottery.”
Again that stunned, speechless silence. If he were in Mac’s shoes no word could make it to his lips. Charlie recognized the trembles of starting panic on Tommie’s posture what appeared every time he was reminded of… No. Don’t go there. Don’t let Tommie to go there. He stepped behind the other, mindful to let him see Charlie’s every moves. He hugged Tommie from behind, letting the other to rest his head on Charlie’s shoulder.
“Ok. The cabin is yours for the holidays. Stay as long as you wish, no one would disturb you.”
“Thanks, Mac” Tommie sounded honestly grateful.
“Don’t thank me yet. I have two conditions. One: if you stay longer than a week, you let me know. Or at least phone your parents from the post office of the village nearby. I had my fair share of wars, ya know. I know how it works when depressed soldiers escape alone. A further escape starts to see even more appealing.”
“Mac… We’re not suicidal. We just want to camp…” Tommie exhaled impatiently.
“I get it, Kid, but non-negotiable.”
“Okay… what the other condition?”
“You clean the cabin when you leave.”
“Consider it done” Tommie was beaming now, they got the cabin to themselves as long as they wanted. Of course they won’t overstay their welcome, but they got a few weeks to spend together. So Tommie thanked Mac his kindness and understanding again, and finished the call. Then turned to face Charlie and kissed him chastely. “Did you get everything we might need?” He asked when he pulled back. “When are we leaving?”
“I’ve got everything packed. We can leave first thing tomorrow.”
“So be it. We leave after breakfast, coffee, and other things.”
“Other things?” Charlie wiggled his brows feigning ignorance of what Tommie was insinuating.
“You now exactly what.” Tommie grabbed Charlie harder to show him what was on his mind classified as “other things.”
It was Christmas day. Early in the morning. This was their second day in the mountain cabin. Charlie laid in Tommie’s arms, snuggled as close to him as humanly possible. He was looking at the bed-side window, the morning air was chilly on his face, but tucked in deep under the blankets and laying in Tommie’s side limbs entwined it was almost toasty warm.
The world outside was covered in white, snow had fallen incessantly only with a few hours of relief since they had arrived. The pine trees were all laden with a thick blanket of freshly fallen sparkling snow. It was a winter wonderland enclosing them, keeping them safe from the world’s happenings.
The cabin was heaven in Earth, pure and simple. And Mac clearly did his best to make their stay as comfortable as possible. The kitchen cabinets, fridge and freezer were fully stocked with preserved food wether it was cookie dough or pre-prepared soups. And with everything the two of them had brought along even the world could end around them before they started to notice it three or so month later.
Besides food stock-up, there was also a mountain-pile of firewood. It was kept safe and dry under thick camouflage canvases Mac most certainly smuggled out of the army provisions when he was decommissioned after ww2 had ended. Mac was compensated fairly for all of his injuries, so much so he could purchase this cabin in the mountains.
It wasn’t much really and clearly wasn’t anything expensive at the time, but it was much more than what the two of them got after their honorable discharge. Truth to be told, they got the flat to recuperate, but they still had to decide where to go after their time was up there.
„What are you doing?” Tommie mumbled sleepily circling his arms tighter around Charlie’s chest. „I can hear the gears turn in your head…”
„Morning” Charlie answered then considered his next words. „It’s Christmas morning, it would be a waste not to contemplate nature around us. Besides, who sleeps through Christmas morning? Except for you, I mean.”
„Hey, don’t be mean, babe” Tommie demurred, but not too much, „I’m not an early bird like someone.” He placed a kiss on Charlie’s neck to make clear who he was talking about. „And now, tell me what keeps you awake.”
„It’s not like I couldn’t sleep. I just woke early. And I was thinking.”
„And that is what I’m concerned about. What is it sweetheart? How can I help?”
„I… I was counting the weeks we had left in the flat assigned to us. And I realized we only have it until the end of February…”
„And this fact got you thinking about…?” Tommie tried to coax the words out of Charlie’s head.
„I don’t want you to go home to your family” Charlie blurted out almost immediately, so not much coaxing was needed. And the words were stumbling out of him like a bursting of flood after breaking the dam. „And I know it’s selfish, but it’s not like I can go back to mine… And I—I just don’t want to be left alone…” He clapped his mouth shut, it wasn’t like him to blackmail Tommie into staying with him.
Charlie hid his face between the pillows and sheet, he didn’t want Tommie to see his face burning red with embarrassment. But the other was snickering behind him, Charlie could feel Tommie’s smile on his nape.
„Charlie” Tommie breathed finally. „You won’t be left alone. Never. Ever. You could go where I go… if you want, that is. For starters we could go back to my folks’, and decide later what to do with our life.”
„B-but…” Charlie stammered, Tommie couldn’t see his face, but he was so sure, he looked damned adorable. „W-what would they say? Wouldn’t they be scandalized when they see us together? Or will we act like almost strangers? No more than war buddies?”
„Never, even if Hell freezes over. Besides we won’t have to act not being what we are. My folks long accepted my life choices.”
„But, they don’t understand it I presume.”
„No they don’t but it’s not my fucking problem, as who I love is ain’t their’s. But we want to be a civilized family, so we don’t cause each other unnecessary headaches. So, now I ask again; what do you want, Charlie? Where would you go?”
„I don’t really know yet. But I’m sure as hell, I don’t want to live in a city or a town… I don’t want people around me… around us. But a cabin like this… would be nice, you know? I’am a farm-hand, I can make us anything and everything to have a nice quiet life. If you want that…”
Tommie rolled Charlie on his back. He clambered between his legs, propped himself up on his arms to get a good look of Charlie’s face. His eyes shone hopefully, the corner of lips trembled, and Tommie’s heart skipped a beat or two. Charlie was his heart, and he couldn’t live without it. So if his heart wished for a cabin in the woods, he would abide to that wish.
„I want nothing more than that” he confessed, his voice husky. He couldn’t wait any longer, he needed his heart, he needed to become one with him. He kissed Charlie and poured all his his soul into that kiss, then into all the following ones.
Then there were hands grabbing at each other, finger laced together, mouths crushing on the other’s, teeth clashing, tongues dueling. Charlie’s tights circled his hips, and when Tommie entered his body, it felt like he was reborn again.
It was in the afternoon when they finally got out of bed. And the only thing that managed to chase them out of the bedroom, was their grumbling stomachs. Tommie get themselves dressed, they put on their ugliest Christmas sweaters – Tommie even turned the lights on on his own and a Christmas tree blinked alive on his sweater. Then he pushed Rudolf’s red nose on Charlie’s and the melodies of Rudolf the red nose reindeer started to flow around them. Tommie started to sing and managed to get Charlie too to sing along.
In the kitchen they cooked eggs and bacon accompanied with toasts – they did not fancied anything more complex. But they baked cinnamon and chocolate cookies using the pre-prepared doughs. And regardless of the origins, the cookies still tasted like Christmas.
They were almost finished with their makeshift Christmas meal, when they heard a truck on the gravel in front of the cabin. Tommie went to the entrance to check on the visitor, and to his astonishment he found Mac on the porch.
„Hi there” he greeted him. „Is there no place better where you could be on Christmas, old man? Or You’re just checking on us?”
„Non of the above” Mac grinned, reveling his missing teeth. „Just let me in boy, before my balls freeze off.”
Tommie let him in, invited and escorted him to their table, serving him eggs, bacon and cookies. Mac joined them with his good-humored face and smiles.
Charlie got a good look at him. Mac was a giant. Not just his height was intimidating but he was fat, his belly prominent somewhat hindering him in his movement. Charlie couldn’t read his age, but Mac was old, maybe older than his grandparents. His hair was thin and white, but his beard was long and messy. Taking a closer look Charlie could see the scars on his face, the tried to cover with his bushy mustache and beard. He looked like a battle-honed, toothless Santa. A bit alcoholic but a Santa nonetheless.
Tommie talked a bit about Mac when they were riding to the cabin. He explained that he was his dad’s best friend back from the Pacific theater of ww2. Mac drunk like a fish ever since in order to dull the pain of his lost leg, broken ribs and burned face. But more importantly to make the memories go away. He got the cabin as a secret refuge, but he rarely passed time in here. He hated to be alone. After his face got burned, he couldn’t see for weeks, and he was left alone in a silent room to recuperate. His only visitors were doctors, nurses and Tommie’s dad when he got the time.
So Mac could not be on his own ever since. Even if he got to the cabin, he always brought along someone, usually Tommie’s dad. Or some chicks – who apparently liked the toothless Santa…
„So to what do we owe the pleasure of you visiting us?” Tommie asked after Mac wolfed down his food not leaving any crumbs.
„I was thinking” Mac said simply after getting a beer from the fridge.
„Not you too” Tommie feigned shock his glare darting at Charlie.
„I dunno what the other lad was thinkin’ ’bout.” Mac shrugged. „But I made some serious decisions. ’bout the cabin.”
„What about it?” Tommie felt his eyebrows rise high on his forehead threatening to jump off if they went any higher.
„I love this cabin, but I ain’t much good for her. I cannot give her the care she deserves. But I saw the look on yer face when you came to get the keys. And it got me thinkin’ ever since. You would care for her much better than I ever did…”
His voice hitched, so he gulped down bit mouthfuls of his beer to make words come easier. But he kept silent like he was mulling over something.
„What is Mac? What do you want to say?” Tommie nudged him by the shoulder.
„I—I was thinkin’… I could lend you the cabin, Kiddo… And when I’m gone…”
„Don’t talk like that, Mac” Tommie tried to hush him, a terrified look on his face.
„Why not? No one gets to stay here forever.” Mac winked. „But don’t you worry boy, I don’t plan to go in the near future. Just hear me out. If you accept the rent” he got papers out from his breast pocket, „that would help me out with my other flat, I won’t ask for much… so I’m pretty sure you would be able to afford it. And after I’m gone you will inherit her. I have no relatives to entrust with her. Except for your dad, but he won’t need it which only leaves you.”
Mac laid the contract on the table, smoothing down its curled edges. Tommie and Charlie looked at it dumbfounded. Tommie couldn’t speak, he wanted to thank Mac and wanted to refuse his generosity at the same time.
„All you have to do is sign the contract” Mac flashed a toothless grin at them. He fished out a pen from his other pocket and pushed it into Tommie’s hand.
„Mac… I—I don’t now what to say…” he started but his voice trailed off.
„Just thank it properly by taking good care of my lovely girl.” Mac pushed the contract closer to him, and Tommie singed it with robotic movement, and in a haze. „There you go” Mac patted his trembling hand after getting back his pen. „Now you’ve got somewhere to stay after you leave your military flat.”
„H—How do you know about it?” Charlie asked with obvious shock in his voice.
„I know which little birdie to ask” Mac winked, then got ready to go.
„Wait, won’t you stay a bit longer?” Tommie asked him knowing well that he would be refused.
„And be the third wheel? No thank you. But you take care boys.”
And he left. The tire of his truck screamed on the gravel and in a few minutes Tommie and Charlie could not hear the rumblings of the engine anymore.
„That was an unusual Santa” Tommie breathed.
„The best one you could ever get to know” Charlie put his arms around Tommie’s shoulders and hugged him close. Tommie accidentally managed to push the button in Rudolf’s nose with his elbow, and the soft melodies of the song encompassed them while they were looking at the tire marks slowly filling up in the gently falling snow.
Source of book covers: unsplash.com (Christian Huynen)
(1) Daft lottery (Wikipedia Definition)
Beginning in 1964, the Selective Service System of the United States conducted two lotteries to determine the order of call to military service in the Vietnam War for men born from January 1, 1944 to December 31, 1950. These lotteries occurred during a period of conscription in the United States that lasted from 1947 to 1973. It was the first time a lottery system had been used to select men for military service since 1942.