Moodily I stared out the train window. The day before Christmas Eve. On the platform of the Boston station, couples reunited, kissing and hugging. Mothers cried and clung to fresh boys in uniform as they headed off to basic training. The war had changed things; the place was somber and not decorated much for Christmas this year.
The mood was grim and filled with dread, instead of Christmas cheer and joy. Sure. People tried; they tried to look happy and hopeful for the sake of the kids that hung around their knees, not understanding. They carried presents. But their eyes told the truth: they all knew some of these boys wouldn’t be coming back from Germany or wherever they were headed, and they all hoped it would be someone else. Not them, not theirs.
Just turned 18, I might’ve been going with them. Some of my classmates had already come up in the draft. The government would let them graduate, but that was only five months away. Everyone prayed the war would be over by then.
Out the train window I watched a lot of my classmates from Brighton Academy get off the train and go in a big, laughing group to meet their parents. They shrugged off their mothers’ hugs and then disappeared. Most of us lived in Boston. The dorms shut down over Christmas holiday, except for a skeleton staff and a few scholarship students who were too poor to travel home.
I should’ve been getting off the train with everyone else. This was my stop.
I hate Christmas.
My first class compartment was empty except for a fat old man who kept smoking. His cigars – how did he get cigars during this war? – put off an odor that made me first dizzy, then nauseous. Coughing and wheezing, I gasped air as I went to the club car. My lungs ached and rattled as I coughed.
The club car was crowded and smoky, noisy with soldiers laughing too loud in their forced high spirits, but I managed to find a seat in the corner by the window. Outside, the sky was looking more and more threatening. It was probably going to snow again. Old snow crusted the landscape chugging by out the window as the train moved out of Boston. I leaned my forehead on the cool window. The train wheels thudded on the track in a soothing rhythm that soon had my eyes drooping.
“Anybody sitting here?”
There was music in the voice. I didn’t have to look up to know who it was but I raised my eyes. Russell Stuivers. Star quarterback of Brighton Academy. Glorious, Apollo in the flesh. Wide shoulders and narrow, graceful hips. Dark hair, blue eyes, a rugged but boyish face, and a smile that sent a sudden, undeniable shiver down my spine, finally lodging somewhere in my groin. He had that affect on me. Perhaps he did on everyone. He was an athlete and therefore a denizen of another world from the one I lived in. From afar I watched him and his ilk with half envy and half lust. To both be them and to be had by them. To be taught, to be possessed.
“Uh, uh.” I stumbled and stammered a second before I managed to motion him to sit down. We were in an English class together last year and he at least recognized me as a familiar face. I remembered his smooth voice as he read Shakespeare, stumbling a bit over the unfamiliar words. I remembered how his reading gave me chills. I remembered how his voice intruded, a few nights, in my dreams.
“Everybody else got off the train in Boston, where are you going on to, Gerald?” Russell grinned as he glided into the seat next to me. My breath caught. He knows me!
“Uh,” I stuttered again before coming up with a coherent answer. “My grandmother’s in Chicago.”
“Hey, that sounds nice,” he said sincerely. It wasn’t nice at all, actually, but all I did was listen enraptured as he went on. “I’m getting off in Gary. I haven’t been home since summer. I couldn’t afford the ticket over Thanksgiving but I’ve been saving my money. I can’t wait for some of my mom’s cooking!” Russell grinned at me. “What about you, excited to see your family?”
“I didn’t know you even knew my name,” I suddenly blurted without thinking. As soon as the words left my mouth I felt stupid. What a pathetic thing to say.
“Sure I do,” Russell said with his dazzling smile. “The smartest guy in school, how could I not know you?”
“Not the smartest,” I mumbled, my face turning red as I sank into the seat. At this moment nobody would’ve taken me for anything near smart. But I just couldn’t believe he’d sat down next to me and was talking to me like we were great friends. We’d never exchanged a word before; but for someone like him, so easy and social, any familiar face would do for such a long trip I supposed.
“Smart enough. I’m starved!” Suddenly he reached in his pocket and drew out a paper-wrapped bundle. It was a sandwich from the dining hall. He worked there, actually. Russell was on a football scholarship. A charity student. But the funny thing was, in our school where only the richest got in, nobody even cared that he was poor. Even while he was clearing tables in the dining hall he was laughing and joking with his group of friends, like he was sitting there with them and not cleaning up their dirty dishes. He didn’t shrink into the background and fade to invisible like the other scholarship boys. He saw no shame in it, so no one else did either. The other boys competed to be Russell’s friend. It wasn’t just his athletic ability; I saw now it was the open warmth of his personality, expansive enough even to include a skinny, glasses-wearing, sickly thing like me.
“Let’s go to the dining car.” Suddenly I stood up.
“I can’t… I’ll just eat this. That’s why I brought it.” He grinned and I understood.
“You need something hot. Come on, I’ll buy yours. Please.”
“I can’t let you do that.” The smile dimmed and I felt like the sun had gone behind the clouds, darkening my world. I’d do anything to get its warmth back.
“I want to,” I insisted. I smiled. “After all if not for you we’d be dead last in the division again.”
After a moment of consideration the grin was back full force. Football was something he understood; and I imagined that more than once, the rich alums had taken him out to nice restaurants to discuss the team and its plans. The players were treated like movie stars. I didn’t know a thing about football and didn’t really care, until this minute, because I could tell that Russell liked having an appreciative audience for his stories and knowledge of the game. He let me buy him dinner without any more fuss.
Outside the window it was starting to snow pretty hard. The little candles on the tables of the dining car flickered against the blackness of the cold windows. Over a couple of watered-down drinks back in the club car, Russell told me about his family. His dad was a barber and his mom was working in a defense plant. He told me about his four sisters and his wonderful parents, about how even though every dollar was stretched three ways, their house was always full of music and laughter. I loved watching him smile when he talked about the little house they lived in, about his dog he couldn’t wait to see, and the piano his mother played every night.
And Christmas. He described it so that I could really see it. Even with the rationing his mother managed to have a goose and home made pies. There wasn’t money for presents, but they always took baskets to the poor, and on Christmas Eve the whole family went together to midnight services at church. His smile was radiant as he described it, and in my mind I couldn’t help picturing my grandmother’s vast, cold house, devoid of Christmas cheer except for the kitchen, where the housekeeper sang holiday carols while she worked. Presents from my parents – hammered silver cuff links sent up from Mexico, or a gold-plated office set that came from New York in lieu of a post card.
“And my mom,” Russell was saying, “She’s just terrified I’m going to be called up. I want to go – I’d join up – but it would just kill my mom. Maybe after school’s over…”
This reminder of the draft and the war made us both run out of steam.
“What about you?” he asked with a weak smile. “You going to join up after graduation?”
His big blue eyes got even wider. “4-f? Really? Why?” he asked in a hushed voice, glancing around to make sure no one had heard. 4-f. Unfit for service by reason of mental of physical defect. Too fat, too crippled, maybe even queer. 4-f was a label of shame.
I knocked on my breastbone. “My heart. Some kind of defect I’ve had since I was born. It’s a hole. Also, there’s something with my lungs, where I can’t get enough oxygen.”
“Really?” He stared at me, his eyes darting down to take me in. I could see it making sense to him now: my weakness, my puny size, my frail body. My defect, made plain for the world to see. There was no question I wasn’t fit to fight. So instead of the derision and the whispered rumors, I got pity. “Is it… I mean, are you going to…?” The question petered out as he couldn’t bring himself to ask point blank if I was dying.
“I’m not supposed to know this.” I laughed bitterly, a sound that made my own skin scrawl. “The doctors always take my parents into another room. But I can hear them. I could die any time. They didn’t even expect me to live this long.”
His mouth opened slightly as he kept staring, transforming me in his mind from someone just puny and frail like a runt puppy to someone who was possibly fatally ill. I hated his pity but at the same time I reveled in it. It fed the abundance I already cherished for myself.
“That’s why I can’t play sports or do anything too strenuous. If my heart beats too fast, it could be dangerous. The doctors don’t know what could happen, so I have to stay inside… stay quiet… not get too excited. Too much excitement could kill me. So my parents shipped me off to Brighton Academy so I’ll be safe from anything exciting.”
“But surely they just want what’s best for you,” Russell offered. His kindness would have made me happy, a runt puppy wiggling its tail for its master, but now all my anger and bitterness was beginning to spill out, and once it started, I was afraid it may not stop.
“Sure they do. They have social responsibilities, they have events to go to, their friends expect them in Florida every year for Christmas. So they ship me off to Grandmother’s instead. Every Christmas, every summer. Summer is the height of the social season and they can’t just let everyone down. I can’t travel, I can’t go to parties or horse races or charity balls. They want what’s best for me, so they send me away. That’s what they’ve always done.”
“Your own parents?” Russell looked shocked. I saw his eyes going over me. I saw what was in them.
“I’m nothing but an embarrassment to them. They don’t say it, but I know they think it. Beautiful people like them don’t have sickly runts like me. They have beautiful children who play football in college and marry rich.”
Angrily I got up. I was going back to my first class compartment and leaving him here in this dingy lounge with his wrapped-up sandwich. I started to walk away until I heard him speak.
Nobody called me Jerry. Nobody had ever called me Jerry. I stopped. My anger melted away as I turned around and saw his eyes, confused as I walked away. I smiled. Maybe I was just being a fool, but I saw something in those eyes. Maybe it was his voice, coming from my dreams of months ago. But I wanted to believe he saw me as something other than a poor little rich kid, an object of pity. I wanted to believe he saw me as a friend.
“You know… it’s gonna be awful uncomfortable sleeping in coach. Why don’t you come to my compartment? There’s only one other person in there and there’s lots of extra room. If a conductor comes I’ll tell him I invited you.”
At the next stop, the other occupant of my compartment got off. Russell and I relaxed into the cushions on opposite sides, facing each other. I found it hard to look him straight in the eye, but I also couldn’t look anywhere else. I didn’t want to look anywhere else. No one else came into the compartment at the stop and so I was completely alone with Russell. It was impossible to be nervous around him; he was too open, too friendly. I warmed to him reluctantly even as I wanted to hang on to my self -pity. I listened and listened as he told me his dreams. He loved playing football; it had opened up a whole new world for him by bringing him to Brighton Academy. But what he really loved… his real passion… was singing. The admission embarrassed him but I found myself thrilled. I found myself aching to buy him a music teacher and a practice room and anything else in the world. To lavish him with everything he deserved.
“Why aren’t you in the choir? Brighton has one of the best music programs -”
“I could never do that.” He blushed deeper. And he was probably right. In addition to the time taken away from football, the music teachers and students would never accept a football player – a charity student! – into their exclusive club. The social structure at Brighton was iron clad over generations and not even someone as glorious as Russell could fight that.
As we talked through the evening and late into the night, the storm outside increased in intensity. The snow was so thick there was nothing but a white mass, and ice crusted on the windows as the temperature dropped. The wind howled loudly enough to be heard over the thudding of the wheels on the tracks.
Midnight. I looked at my watch and grinned. “It’s Christmas Eve.”
“Merry Christmas.” Nodding thoughtfully, he stared at me a minute before he spoke. “Get off the train in Gary with me, Jerry. Spend Christmas with us. Have a real family Christmas, even if it’s not your own family.”
His words made me tremble. He was such a beautiful person, inside and out. In my world – kids in clothes much too costly for wartime, left in snowy boarding schools up East while our parents wintered in Coral Gables – such people didn’t exist. We were all too busy being ironic.
In an all boys school it was inevitable. There was always going to be an undercurrent, a pull of confused longing, that mixture of admiration and unattainable desire. But I’d never known anyone like Russell before. What would it be like? Mother, smiling and carving a goose; sisters exchanging handmade gifts while Dad smoked his pipe and beamed? The cover of the Saturday Evening Post made real, made real, with me in it, sitting at the table with everyone else waiting for a slice of goose, smiling a huge smile. But then I remembered, I wasn’t like them. Even something as simple as that picture was out of my reach.
“I can’t,” I answered softly. “I’d love to, Russell. I would. I just… you know, my… my heart, I have to be careful…”
He dipped his head in understanding. At that moment, the train pulled up on a small stop. Our eyes met across the compartment with worry in them as we felt the train slide on the tracks, the brakes not finding purchase against the snow and ice. There was a frightening moment until the train finally stopped. Bustling outside in the corridor; a long wait. Finally a conductor put his head in. Told us the train couldn’t go in this storm and wasn’t moving until the tracks were cleared. Sometime tomorrow at the earliest. And we couldn’t stay on the train because the electrics had to be shut down.
“Shit.” Russell cursed. His eyes went around as he wondered what to do. I stood.
“Come on. If we want to find a room somewhere, we have to hurry before all the other passengers get to them first.”
“But I can’t, Jerry, I don’t have money for a room, I’ll just sleep on a bench at the station,” Russell protested even as I started getting our luggage together. He’d brought his one suitcase into the compartment with him, just so no one would bother it. I ignored him and since I had his bag, he had no choice but to follow me, protesting vehemently the whole way.
Despite our speed in disembarking, all the station hotel had left was a room with a single bed. Russell ordered me to take it, he’d sleep at the station, but I wouldn’t hear of it. We could share. There was no way he was sleeping on a cold bench in the train station while I slept in a comfortable, warm bed.
“I hope my mom’s not too worried,” Russell said as we carried our bags upstairs. He insisted on taking the heavy ones without trying to be too obvious that he was doing it out of consideration for my condition. I really was feeling a bit weak, I needed to rest. “She expects me home by noon.”
“Can you phone her?”
“No phone,” he admitted, turning on lamp in the room. It really was tiny – barely enough room to turn around. Nowhere to sit but the bed. But it was clean, and relatively warm. Better than the train station.
“What about a telegram?”
Russell laughed, dropping our brags on the floor. “Than she really would be worried! Where I come from telegrams only bring one kind of news. Bad. She’ll figure out what happened.”
To call the bed comfortable was a stretch. It felt hard when I sat down on the edge, suddenly short of breath. Russell looked worried as he sat down next to me, asking me if I was okay. I nodded impatiently, brushing off his concern, but he insisted that I lie down.
People had been fussing over me my entire life. I hated it. But I was content to lie there as Russell slipped my shoes off and told me in a gentle but commanding voice to be still and rest. I watched him from the bed as he hung our coats on the back of the door and put the shoes neatly to the side. I could watch him all night, or for the rest of my life. He was so manly, so… purposeful.
Yawning, Russell flipped off the light. The room was dark, but not so dark I couldn’t see him in the dim light that came through the thin and battered curtains at the window. I lay perfectly still as he unbuttoned his shirt and neatly hung it on the doorknob. His undershirt was bright white. I saw his arms – strong, pale – and his shoulders. I watched as he unfastened his belt and slipped off his pants, folding them properly even in the dark. I could just see his underwear, his legs, his dark socks.
Under the covers I was hard and erect. Inside my clothes, which I still wore, I felt blazing hot and damp with sweat. In the dark he looked like an image from my dreams. The darkness and the silver light bleached him of all color, only shadow, and I gasped for air as he pulled the blanket up to slide into the narrow bed next to me.
My sudden breath made him jump. “I thought you were sleeping,” he observed softly.
“No…” I stammered. “Not yet. I… I’m just gonna go…”
I climbed out of bed over him. So grateful for still wearing my clothes, which hid my erect cock from his eyes. Breathing too hard, I edged out the door to the toilet down the hall. I couldn’t let Russell see me like this. I couldn’t let him know what thoughts were in my head. I’m not queer, just….
I didn’t turn the light on. I closed my eyes, I unfastened my pants and pushed them down to my knees, I wrapped my hands around my thick and sturdy length. I stroked. It was wrong to think of him – so masculine, so pure – but I did. I thought of him as I stroked my rigid cock until the pleasure coiled inside me like a tight spring and then shot out, drenching my hand with its thick essence.
As my knees went weak and the pleasure ebbed away, I forced myself to calm. Breathing too hard, heart racing. I couldn’t pass out or die right here – cock in hand, pants around my knees, in the station hotel somewhere in Pennsylvania. The image made me giggle, a high-pitched squeak that didn’t sound like me. I washed my face and hands. Relief. Now I could lie down next to Russell, so gloriously fresh in his underwear, and sleep.
His eyes seemed closed when I re-entered the room and glanced at him. Slowly I took off my own clothes, draping them over the upright suitcase. He was asleep. It was good he was asleep. I could lie next to him in the night until the sun came up and stole my desires from me.
As gently and easily as I could I inched under the covers. When I lay down my arm brushed his side. Its warmth burned me through the thin cotton of his undershirt. He turned his head and looked at me. Awake. So close, just a whisper away.
“You all right?” he asked in rough whisper that made sweat prickle my skin. He was so close I could smell his clean scent, edged with a trace of sweat and smoke from the train. All I could see of his eyes was a faint gleam in the trace of light.
“Fine.” I nodded. As long as I was right here, I was finer than fine. The happiest I’ve ever been, side-by-side with him on Christmas Eve. I rolled to my side, facing him. I just wanted to look at him as he drifted to sleep.
“Have you ever…” his voice suddenly dropped to a softer whisper and became halting. “Have you ever kissed anyone and… put your tongue in?”
My deformed heart began to thump heavily in my chest as my knees turned to water. “Me? What girl would want to kiss me?” I whispered back with as much irony as I could. Trying to hide how nervous I was. “What… about you? Have you?”
He nodded. There as no need to whisper, it was only the two of us here. But for some reason we did. It felt like talking would break the spell. “And I … you know… felt her…”
“Tits?” I finished bluntly, and even in the dark I could sense his blush at the word. He was such a good boy. His breath whispered out in a laugh and he nodded.
My body trembled just from his nearness. This was as close as I would ever get. I swear to God it was enough. It was enough just to feel the warmth of his body next to mine, even if I never got to touch. But I wanted to. I wanted to touch him, I wanted to hold him. I wanted to… I didn’t know what I wanted to do… my mind couldn’t picture it. All I knew was that I wanted to know the feel of his skin.
Russell shifted restlessly in the narrow bed. It seemed accidental, but it brought his legs into contact with my knees. For a split second we both stiffened. Electrical charges shot through me. But neither one of us moved away.
Oddly, my mind was completely calm. Confusion, nervousness, fear, shame… all those emotions that usually crowded me were gone. All that mattered was this moment. The possible consequences of what was happening, what was about to happen, meant nothing for me. To a person who could drop dead any moment, the future was nothing.
I raised up on my elbow and looked down at Russell’s face on the pillow. The cold light of the storm brought out the angles of his face, showing me what he would look like long after I was dead. It was a shadow of his future. His expression was quiet and accepting. He lay completely still as my hand brushed his stomach.
I’d never known anything that felt so good as touching him. That simple contact wasn’t enough. I slid my hand up his chest, following it with my eyes, trying to make out every dip and curve of his athletic body. His nipples stiffened under my touch, and I had read just enough cheap novels to know what that meant. I knew it didn’t mean he wanted me to stop.
He kept letting me. He lay still beneath my hand, though I could feel his breath become jerky. Beneath his undershirt, his skin was warm to my touch, his muscles hard and lean. My mind was filled with it. My contact with other people was so limited; I was always kept away from people because I could catch a disease. So this was something completely new to me, and as my excitement grew, I needed more. I would never get another chance.
When my hand slid under his thin shirt, Russell caught his breath, but he still didn’t move. He only closed his eyes. His belly was covered in a light, fine hair like strands of silk under my fingers. I delved into it. My fingers thrilled to its texture, and the hard defined ridges of his stomach and ribs.
My eyes went to his face and I saw he was looking at me. What impulse led me I’ll never known, but I lowered my head and brushed his lips with mine. His response was shockingly sudden. Lips hungry, he kissed me back. His mouth clung to mine as I tasted his tongue, a little groan bursting from my throat.
“Jerry…” He drew back a little. “You know this doesn’t mean… I’m not, you know…”
“I know,” I whispered back quickly. I didn’t care. I’d never tell anyone. Rumors meant nothing to me, reputation didn’t matter to someone who lived with one foot out of this life already, but I knew what that kind of thing would do to Russell. I lowered my head and crushed my mouth down into his, losing myself in the waves of his kisses. I felt his skin get damp, I felt his heartbeat rise. I felt my own respond. I felt my cock rise to bursting, dampening the front of my underwear.
I’d never kissed anyone before. This was my very first time to ever touch anyone the way I was touching him. Girls didn’t look at me; I didn’t blame them. I didn’t want to look at me either. All I wanted to devour as much as Russell as he would let me, until he stopped me. I didn’t know what I was going to do; I wasn’t even sure about the details of sex with a girl, let alone another boy. Whispers were all I knew, rumors of what silently went on behind the closed doors of the dorm rooms.
As I stroked Russell’s chest, his hand came up and rested lightly on my shoulder. We tasted each other wildly. Accidentally my forearm brushed the tip of his cock and I discovered it was hard and straining in his underwear, just like mine was. He let out a gasp and I smiled. I touched it again, this time deliberately, rubbing my arm over the sensitive head. He drew in a breath that almost sounded like pain – but he didn’t tell me to stop.
The whispered rumors and my own instincts led me away from his mouth. Silently, he sat up and let me draw his undershirt over his head. My eyes devoured his glorious, powerful body in the silverlight. He met my eyes and smiled – he looked peaceful. That smile made me so powerfully aroused I pinned him to the bed. I grabbed his underwear and pulled them off with a frenzy of strength. I lowered my mouth to his beautiful, powerful naked cock lying against his belly.
I didn’t know enough to even know this act had a name. I thought I’d invented it this very minute, just for him. When he let out a muffled gasp of pleasure I felt so proud of myself. I was a sexual inventor. An innovator in the field. I circled his thick, blunt cockhead with my tongue over and over; I improvised. I closed my lips around the ridge of the flared head, tasting the clear sticky drop at the tip, swirling my tongue over and over. I didn’t know to move up and down on it, that idea never crossed my mind. But I knew what felt good to me, and so I wrapped my hand around the smooth shaft just above his balls and began to stroke in tandem with what my mouth was doing.
“Oh, shit,” Russell breathed softly. We both knew any sound would alert anyone beyond the thin walls to our activity. “Jerry, Jerry, that feels so good,” he whispered under his breath. “You’re gonna make me…”
“Yes,” I whispered joyfully. But then I drew back, perplexed. The whispered rumors. I’d tried to picture those secret things in my mind. I wanted Russell to do them to me, whatever they were. “Have you… Do you know how to…?”
Russell knew what I was talking about. He’d heard those whispers too. His brow wrinkled most thoughtfully. “I think so,” he answered softly. “I mean, I probably could, if..”
“Oh, please,” I interrupted. I sounded as eager as a little boy on Christmas. Well, Christmas Eve, anyway. “Will you? Please, will you, I really want you to.”
“Well…” he sounded doubtful, but eager, “I could try…”
Both innocent, with only the faintest idea what to do, we fumbled around. I loved feeling his weight pinning me to the bed; I loved opening myself to him. We had to figure it out by trial and error. Discovering we needed something to ease the way, we hit on the ancient, heady mixture of juices and spit. Finally, his fat cock entered me. The pain was sharp and immediate, but pain meant very little to me. It reminded me I was still alive. As he inched forward, stopping to let the burning ease while my tight hole stretched around him, I focused on him, how beautiful he was, how much I wanted him to take me. Slowly, slowly I allowed him in. When he was finally completely inside me, I felt thrilled, I felt proud of myself for taking him. I loved being full, being impaled, being possessed by him. I loved the sound of his almost-silent moans. I loved the feeling, but there was no pleasure for me. My cock was half-limp, pinned under me with Russell’s muscular weight pressing me face-down into the narrow, hard mattress.
“Can I…?” he whispered breathlessly. I read the tension that filled his body, the way he vibrated like a wire stretched taut. For answer, I arced back and pushed my hips up gently into his.
A low whimper escaped him. He pounded me slowly, sweetly. It seemed to last hours. I felt every pulse of his cock in me, every breath he gasped out, every drop of sweat he ground into my skin, drenching me in his essence. At one point, at last, he pulled all the way out. I thought he was stopping; but instead, he pushed slowly back into me in one long stroke. And then it happened: All the sudden, sparks. Yellow light blinded me behind my eye lids as his cock slid home and struck my pleasure. I felt my heart start to hammer in my chest as he drove deeper and I bucked back, meeting his thrusts, my face buried in the pillow to drown out the sounds that wrung from my throat.
Oh God, oh God…
If I was going to hell for this I didn’t care…
It was worth it.
“Jerry!” Under his breath Russell exclaimed my name with a wild note of alarmed excitement. I felt his body stiffen; I felt his cock swell in my hole. He let out a muffled cry and then I felt hot liquid spew deep into me, filling me. He kept thrusting as the spurts kept on, and the extra slipperiness increased my pleasure. I reached under myself and wrapped my fingers around my cock; and then – a blinding flash – I came – everything went bright white as my heart thumped dangerously hard, dangerously fast…
A moment of blackness and then I was aware again. He was still in me, but we were both still, our breathing labored and harsh. I felt faint and dizzy. I always thought I’d be afraid at the end – scared of the blackness that lay before me – but I wasn’t. I felt curiously peaceful and complete. A white glow was descending over my consciousness.
“Russell,” I said softly from a long way off, through layers of lights I had to follow to the end. “Sing to me.”
“Sing? Now? Right here?”
“Yes, sing something, anything, let me hear it…”
I wanted to be sung, to fly on the wings of his music. Without questioning he began. His voice was quiet because of the thin walls, but it was achingly beautiful, a clear high tenor. He sang “White Christmas” and then he sang “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
In all the old familiar places, that this heart of mine embraces…
I lay there with a smile, my heart hammering away so hard, it couldn’t possibly keep going much longer. I drifted. In this moment, I was ready for it to end. His voice took my fears away and left only… something I’d never known before. Love.
When the night is through, I’ll be looking at the moon but I’ll be seeing you…
As I lay there, suddenly something happened. The white glow receded. I was in the dark again, a dark room of a station hotel on a hard narrow bed, my ass sore and aching and dripping with Russell’s cum. The smells of sex filled my nostrils. His singing caressed me. I felt my heart thud hard. It thudded once, and then, after that moment, it began to slow. It felt…
I didn’t know what was happening, but I felt something inside my chest. It wasn’t pain. In all my struggles to describe it I can only find the word “light.” It was like a light in my chest. And my heart stopped its wild beat. It thumped quietly, slowly. It sounded strong in my ears. It sounded whole.
And Russell stopped singing. I rolled over, took him in my arms, and we slept.
The tracks weren’t yet clear by early morning when we dressed and went down to the platform. All the passengers from the train hung about, anxious to get home on Christmas Eve. Russell and I smiled at each other. I felt relaxed and happy; there was no aching tightness in my chest. There was no weakness when I drew a breath. At last Russell drew his neglected, wrapped up sandwich from his pocket. He broke it in half and we ate it, laughing in delight because that forgotten sandwich had become the salvation of our hunger.
The train pulled into the Gary station just as night fell on Christmas Eve. I smiled as Russell excitedly pointed out his parents waiting on the platform, waving at them through the window. His mother was stunning, just as I’d imagined her on the Saturday Evening Post cover. His dad was an older version of Russell. I smiled, but at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling sad.
“Are you sure you won’t get off with me.”
I looked over at him. I didn’t answer, but there was no need to. He grinned and punched me lightly on the shoulder.
“Cheer up. We’ll still see each other at school.”
“Yeah,” I said, but I must’ve sounded wistful, because he stopped grinning and looked into my eyes.
“We will, Jerry. I promise you that.”
Nodding, I forced a smile as he gathered his suitcase and got off the train. I watched out the window as he embraced his parents. As they walked away, toward home, he turned around once. He looked back at the train, at me watching him walk away. And he grinned.
I can’t fault Russell. He did speak to me at school. We even spent an evening together once or twice after we got back from our Christmas holiday. But we never got close in that way again. I never heard him sing again. And gradually, as we got closer to graduation and busy with exams and worries about the draft, we both drifted further and further back into our old places, disconnected, and never meeting.
But get this. At my next draft board physical, which every man of eligible age had to have annually, the bored doctor listened to my heart. My files clearly read my ailment: Hole in heart. He just gave it a cursory listen before preparing to stamp me 4-f again. But then he stopped. A puzzled frown went over his face. He listened harder.
My parents took me to the best doctor in Boston. I heard them talking in the next room. There was nothing wrong with my heart. They had been wrong all these years, there was no hole. It was healthy.
As my mother protested, how could that be?, the doctor had no explanation. Just told her doctors make mistakes and science wasn’t infallible. There was only one explanation, and that was my condition had been misdiagnosed since my birth. And I heard him say, almost in a half-joking way, “Either that, or it was a miracle.”
The years have been good to me. Can it already have been 60 years since that Christmas Eve? Despite my new-found healthy heart, my asthma was still enough to keep me classified unfit for service; and the next year, as I was entering college, the war was over. We won at terrible cost, some of my classmates just names on the unthinkable list of causalities. I went on to medical school. I became a famous cardiologist. Nowadays my “misdiagnosed” condition can be fixed with a simple surgery. I was lucky enough to meet and marry a wonderful woman, with whom I had 40 perfect years and two beautiful children. She’s gone now. In all the years since that Christmas, I was never with another man in a sexual way again.
It’s only now, as I sit in my study, retired but still active, that I spend a lot of time thinking about Russell. He was called up to serve, but he survived the war. I lost track of him through the years, and some ten years ago, his obituary appeared in Brighton Academy’s alumni newsletter. I found he never served in active combat. The CO of his unit heard him sing one day, and being a great lover of music, he gave Russell special assignments entertaining at various officers’ clubs in Europe. After the war he even made an album of Christmas songs. One of them was White Christmas.
Thanks to the glorious new world of the Internet, I was able to locate an old, old copy of Russell’s record. I listen to it from time to time. Time has scratched the vinyl and obscured the clarity of his beautiful voice, but when I close my eyes I can imagine it. I can hear him in that shabby hotel room after he’d thoroughly fucked me. I can hear his beautiful voice, singing me to the embrace of the angels, only to pull me back to earth, heal me with its love, and make my heart whole again.