Everyone wore smiles of victory and the air filled with warm welcome to every Soldier, Marine, and Navy and to everyone who had fought in the war, as the Pacific War finally ended after three years.
Joe Mazzello never imagined that this day would ever come. Peeking from the train window he was riding in on their way back home along with the Marines who had survived the war, Joe couldn’t see anything but people waving flags and dancing along the streets singing happily with huge smiles plastered on their faces. It was a heart-warming scene to see.
He heard a sound of a slap across his table and witnessed his newfound and cocky friend, Rami Malek that he met back from the war getting slapped by some girl. He smiled to himself, shaking his head, sighing.
“Well, you just gotta say what you gotta say,” Rami said as he made his way to sit back down, carrying glasses of Vodka, placing one down in front of Joe. “I mean come on sometimes men could use a good fuck and we’ve never had one for like forever.”
“Stop it, silly,” Joe took a little sip of his Vodka.
“So what are your plans?” Rami asked Joe after he straightly gulped his drink down.
“I dunno,” he shrugged. “How about you?”
Rami’s eyes moved across their table and landed on someone, “I’m gonna get that girl, Mazz. You watch.”
Joe followed his gaze and saw the young beautiful blonde lady from before, sitting among her friends, and then she gave Rami a look of disgust.
“Well,” Joe turned back to Rami, smirking. “Good luck with that.”
“I appreciate your support, bud.” Rami smirked, shaking in circular motion the little amount of Vodka left in his glass.
After which seemed like forever, Joe found himself back in his sweet hometown. Rami was gone as he woke up, he probably was deep in a slumber when Rami had disembarked. The train came to a stop and Joe started to gather his things up. It took him a little while before he could be able to move. He still felt like he was dreaming. He took in the sight of his beloved place as he got off from the train. And a smile teasingly crawled into his lips and later, found him chuckling by himself as he walked his way down the road – a very peaceful road with no gunshots and screams of despair to be heard. A smell of fresh air welcomed his nose instead of the smell of gunpowder and explosives, the wrenching smells of decay, death and blood. No look of misery but happy faces everywhere.
Then he saw his father standing beside their car by an empty alley, waiting for him. Tears fell from Joe’s eyes at once as he ran towards his father and practically tackled him into a tight embrace.
His family threw him a welcome home dinner the same day he got home. His parents were very happy and thankful that Joe was alive and well, and no scratch from the war was visible. But little did they know the scar it left in Joe’s heart and mind.
The war continued to haunt him every now and then and it went on for days that turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and the damage it left resulted in dreadful nightmares and he would find himself shouting in terror in the middle of the night and how a simple roar of a passing plane would break him off and put him on alert as if an enemy would come his way.
“It was finished, Joe. The war has ended. You are free.” He would whisper those words to himself from time and time again. It had been two months but the memory of war was still fresh to Joe like it was yesterday.
“Are you going to come to the upcoming ball?” His father broke off his tranquillity underneath a tree. He was sitting down on a mat spread out over their wide front yard with his back resting against the tree.
“I don’t know, father. Besides, I don’t have anyone to be with.”
“Is there a Private First Class Joseph Francis Mazzello the Third residing here?” A deep loud but familiar voice randomly called out from thin air. Joe leaned off the tree and started to search for whom the voice came from and his eyes lighted up at once at the sight of his friend, Rami. He quickly stood up.
Rami walked closer and gave a civil greeting to Joe’s father with a firm handshake. “Good afternoon, sir.”
“Good afternoon. What a pleasure to have you here.”
Rami nodded a bit, “It truly is a pleasure as well, sir.”
And he finally turned to Joe, smiling. Joe’s father left them for a while.
“Hey!” Joe started and Rami pulled him into a hug.
The tiny stone bounced a little more before it completely sank in the water.
A blissful sigh came out of Rami’s lips as he slowly lied down the grassy meadow with some wildflowers surrounding them. “I missed the smell of spring!”
“You bet,” Joe said, playing the tiny stone in his hand before he threw it towards the lake. “So have you finally got the girl you said you would?”
“What?” he turned to Rami.
“Her name’s Lucy,” a contented smile appeared on Rami’s lips. Then he helped himself to sit back up. “She was… lovely.” The way Rami spoke of the word seemed like he just got a taste of a very sweet wine.
Joe laughed lightly, feeling happy for his friend. He nudged him. “How’d you do it? Don’t tell me she had given you another slap like you deserved?”
Rami’s green orbs moved to Joe’s and that cocky smile with that cocky look appearing. How Joe missed it.
“I’m willing to take all those slaps, my friend. It was all worth it. But none of that happened. It’s all Malek’s killer antics. You see how I got those Japs fell on me?”
“You’re really cocky for your own good, Malek.” Joe shook his head, smiling. “I hate it sometimes. Oh I mean most of the time.”
“Oh I know you missed it, Mazz. So…how about you? Found a girl yet?”
“Nope. No girl, no job, no plan.”
“Oh no, you don’t. Everyone has a plan.”
“If doing nothing for a while is counted as a plan then, that’s my plan.”
“How about we go to the upcoming ball? Find you some girl and get laid? I’ll bring Lucy with me as a date, so I can properly introduce you to her.”
“No, thanks Ram. I mean, just introduce me to Lucy. But don’t introduce me to any girls to be laid with please.”
“You haven’t lost your virginity yet even back from that hell of a war. You’re being good at it, I say.”
Joe chuckled, “My skill of having been able to save my virginity comes second with my skill on killing the Japs.”
They both chuckled but it soon died down and replaced with silence. Same things ran into their minds, the war. But none, of them dared to speak of it.
Later Joe’s hands started to shake and he found it hard to breathe until tears inevitably rolled down his cheeks and right then he broke down, sobbing hard. Rami wrapped his arms around Joe to soothe him but silent stream of tears flew down from his eyes.
Joe stared at himself in the mirror one last time. It almost looked alien to see himself in a tuxedo with a tie. He didn’t wear his uniform. He didn’t go to the party to flaunt but to have a good time.
A knock on the door interrupted him. And he stopped his mother from taking the door as he knew who it was. He smiled at once, seeing Rami by the door and he’s on his uniform. Then they head out after bidding good bye to his mother and hopped in Rami’s black Chevrolet sedan.
“Lucy, here’s my friend and co-marine, Private First Class Joseph Mazzello. And Joe, this is the beautiful Ms. Lucy Boynton from England.” Rami introduced as they settled inside the car.
Lucy turned to Joe and they shook hands.
“Nice to meet you, soldier.” Lucy said, smiling so beautiful.
“And it is also nice to finally meet you, Ms Boynton,” he planted a well-mannered kiss at the back of Lucy’s hand.
Lucy, indeed, was lovely to look at and Joe caught himself staring so he had to take his eyes off a bit before Rami took it the wrong way.
“So Lucy, Rami here had spoken about you a lot.”
“Oh, is he? I hope it’s of something good?” Lucy playfully looked at Rami.
“All the beautiful things, my dear,” Rami said as he started to drive.
The ball as to be expected was packed. Ladies and gentlemen wore their best dresses and some even had their elegant masks on. Graceful chatters and good music that was being played could be heard inside the huge hall. Rami, Lucy and Joe settled down on the first empty table they could find. Rami called a waiter at once to serve them some food and drinks.
“So what made you visit America, Lucy?” Joe started as soon as the appetizer was served.
“My father serves in the military and got assigned here.”
Joe nodded in consideration. And their nice little chat went on as they ate. Some of the guests were dancing slowly with their partners. It was peaceful. After dinner, Rami asked Lucy for a dance and Lucy willingly accepted the offer and Rami lead her to the dance floor. His arms instinctively rested on her waist.
Joe found himself not in the mood for anything but to stay idle and watch the people dancing, specifically Rami and Lucy.
He also found some of his associates from the Marines but he dared not to initiate a conversation but only gave small greetings and quick small talks.
He stared at each of the faces of the guests inside and later on it faded into the faces of his comrades who died from the war, who sacrificed their lives for their freedom. The freedom that they were enjoying right now. Joe could remember as clear as day the look some of them had as they cried for help, their shout of anguish, and the determined look of willingness to fight and to die for their country, and the look on their enemies when they got surrounded by them and they had no choice but to surrender their lives and die in the name of their nation, and the sound of gunshots sounded faintly in his ears. A cheeky laugh from the crowd took him out of his reverie, bringing him back to this new reality. As he couldn’t take it anymore, he took the tobacco pipe and the lighter he was keeping in the pocket of his suit. Then he stood to go out and breathe some fresh air. He put the pipe in between his lips and flicked his lighter on to lit the tobacco. But it’s taking him a while.
“Can I have a light?” A voice with an absurd accent spoke up behind him. Joe turned and saw a man with wavy blond hair who clearly looked like someone from Britain, aside from the strong accent.
Then he reached out and lit up the Brit’s cigarette stick.
“Thanks,” he muttered.
“From London?” Joe asked after he inhaled the tobacco.
“Yep,” the blond said before taking a drag.
Without any words needed, both of them walked farther away to the empty concrete bench facing a vast field. Joe was the first to sit down and the stranger followed suit.
“So you’re from the Marine?” the stranger quietly said.
“I was. Didn’t have much to do anyway,” Joe let out a louder sigh than he intended and inhaled some smokes again. Joe wanted to ask how this stranger knew that he’s a Marine, but maybe he’s just having some wild guesses since majority of the people who came to the party were from the Marines.
They stayed silent, relaxing in the presence of each other.
“Must’ve been hard,” the stranger said after a moment. His eyes remained on the field as he smoked.
“You bet.” Joe paused before he continued, “How about you… uhm...”
“Ben,” the stranger turned to Joe, holding a hand out towards him. “I’m sorry I haven’t properly introduced myself. My name’s Ben Jones from England.”
Joe faintly smiled, and took Ben’s hand and he saw some flicker in the blond’s eyes as they firmly shook hands. “Joseph Mazzello, but just call me Joe.”
“So what should I call you? Sergeant? Corporal? Private First Class?” Ben said, smiling wider but he was still holding his hand.
“Just call me Joe.”
“Alright then, just call me Joe, it’s nice to meet you,” Ben shook his hand again.
“Nice to meet you too, Ben,” Joe chuckled and, again, they shook hands.
They stared at each other for a while. But Joe was waiting for Ben to release his hand from the hold but the blond just stared at him with a smile on his face.
“Uhm…” Joe’s eyes landed on the blond’s hand that’s still holding his.
And Ben seemed to notice so he let their hands go.
“I’m sorry,” he said sheepishly, putting his hand down carefully on his lap, looking away.
“No harm done,” Joe chuckled. “What made you come here? Your father’s from the military too?” Joe asked instead.
“No. I’m here on a trip.”
“Trip, huh. What a long way for a trip.”
Ben laughed quietly, “I know. But I’m looking for an inspiration. I write poems.”
Joe turned back and saw that Ben also turned his head to him.
“And I think I’ve found it,” Ben quietly added, staring into his eyes.
“I think that’s good,” Joe said in a questioning tone but as soon as Ben’s words sank inside Joe’s head, Joe wasn’t sure what this stranger really meant anymore. Looking at those eyes, the way it stared back at him, he didn’t know what he was supposed to feel, but those eyes brought Joe to another world. Is it really possible for someone just by simply looking at them to kindle something within him that could be beyond words? Those greens that glimmered under the streetlamp beside them were filled with unspoken words that Joe wanted to know. What were they speaking of? Were they reflecting the feelings he’s having at this moment?
“What are you thinking, Joe?” Ben said. His voice above a whisper.
Joe parted his lips but no words came out. And he found himself leaning his face closer and closer to Ben until his lips barely touched the blond's, uncertain. He gulped. Their breathing were calm but short, and their hearts were beating rapidly in their chests. He looked at Ben, looking for answers, waiting for him to stop him before he ended up doing such ridiculous thing. Yet here he was finding it hard to fight the urge to lean away unless Ben push him off.
But Ben’s green orbs looked straight into his soul, it was even more beautiful this close. “What are you waiting for, Joe?” he whispered against his lips and his warm breath luring Joe in even more.
Joe closed his eyes and gulped. He stopped just before his lips could completely touch the blond’s, “I…I don't know how to kiss.”
Ben chuckled gently, and Joe felt a gush of cold wind brushing against his lips instead, causing him to shot his eyes open. He saw that Ben had leaned away from him and looking at him amusedly.
“What? Why did you –” Joe tried to say but his words twisted in his tongue. His face reddened in utter embarrassment and confusion.
“Am I hearing it correctly? A marine that’s never been kissed?”
This caused Joe’s face to go even redder and he felt a little insulted about Ben’s statement, making him feel lesser of a man. He turned away, looking down his lap instead, avoiding the lad’s gaze that felt heavy upon him.
“There are only nurses, and they're off limits. And even if they would be available, I… I don't think I will pursue any of them. I don't know why. I always thought I'm worthless that's why I listed myself in.” Joe played the fabric of his collar with his fingers.
“I’m sorry, I never meant to sound rude –”, Ben said.
“No, it’s alright,” Joe cuts him off. He didn’t know the answer himself as to why he had never been kissed.
“And what does that make you? After the war, I mean. Right now?”
Joe remained silent as he thought about it. And Ben let him have the time to be with himself as long as he could, and he’s as willing to keep company of this scarred soldier. Even if it took them until morning being like this.
He threw the cigarette butt to the ground and stepped on it to kill its remaining light.
“What am I doing here, Ben?”
Ben looked at him confused but worried.
“I mean, I’m right here, celebrating… while others didn't even make it. The ones who deserved to be here.”
“I’m sure they did what had to be done because they know you deserve to be where you are now.”
“Sometimes, I wonder how I had able to make it to be here. And breathing.”
“Everything has its reasons, Joe.”
“Was it because I haven't had my first kiss yet?”
Ben chuckled and sighed, looking away. Their bodies did not move an inch, feeling the cool night breeze brushing against their skins, appreciating the silence.
“Why did you stop?” Joe quietly said after a while.
Ben turned back to him again, his brows furrowing.
Joe sighed, “To kiss me?” He paused and added. “You hesitated. Why?” Joe decided to look at him, straight into his eyes. Ben almost backed away but he remained his eyes on Joe's.
Ben took his time to answer and said carefully, “Because I thought that it’d be better for you to save that to the person you'd love to spend the rest of your life with.” Then he added after a short hesitant pause, “I don't deserve your first kiss.”
I can feel your heart inside of mine, I feel it, I feel it
I've been going out of my mind, I feel it, I feel it
Know that I'm just wasting time
And I hope that you don't run from me
Joe didn't know what was on his mind but he found himself going back to the place from where the ball last night happened. He just rode his bike and took himself back here, unintentionally.
After he parked his bicycle, he started walking, looking for something… or someone. He found who he was looking for by the bench he sat on last night. He felt a jolt in his chest seeing the person he never expected in seeing again.
As if feeling his presence, Ben turned his head to his direction and slowly stood up. A smile slowly appearing on his lips.
“And on a uniform, eh, Mazzello,” Ben's smile grew wider as he moved his eyes up and down to Joe's appearance. “You look good in uniform, Joseph.”
The soldier blushed and muttered a thank you.
Joe intended to wear the uniform and he didn't know why but his gut told him that he would see the Englishman this day, in the same place.
They stood facing each other as soon as Joe had reached him.
“Isn't it weird I'm half expecting to see you here?” Ben said, and the smile wouldn't leave his lips.
“Is that why you came here instead?” Joe smirked.
Ben nodded, “Maybe.” Then he came to sit back down facing the same field from last night but its greens showed their vibrancy under the morning sun. “I'm writing something.”
Joe sat beside Ben and his eyes looked down at the little journal and a pencil he was holding on his lap.
Joe remembered the vertical lines he had drawn, counting the days during the war, in the Bible that served as his makeshift journal, in every passage he read.
“Can I see it?” Joe asked, still staring at Ben's journal. It was filled with scratched words that he had replaced many times. But he could see that Ben has an elegant handwriting.
“Once I'm done with this I'll let you read it.” Ben wrote a few words that Joe didn't dare read. “But I bet you’re reading them now as you’re peeking,” Ben glanced at Joe, smirking.
Joe chuckled, looking away, “No… My mates and I used to read the letters we had written or letters that were sent to us aloud to remind us that it wasn't the world we’re gonna live in, that there's still a world out there, the beautiful one, the peaceful one that's awaiting us after the war. But to some of us it served as the letters of goodbye ‘cause any minute, any second, we know, death was just waiting by the corner and it would greet you the least you expected it, so reading those letters were also our final words. But death had been chasing our asses the moment we listed our name to join the war, and it took me a while to realize it.”
Ben contemplated over what Joe said. It was tragic but beautiful. “Why don’t you continue writing, Joe?”
“No. I’d rather leave those things behind me.” As soon as he got home he kept all the things that could remind him of the war in his belongings, except this uniform he’s wearing and the medal that was pinned along with it.
“Don’t you know you were called a hero?”
Joe smirked, “Doesn't feel like it. Fighting in the war isn't something to be proud of or brag about. The Japs we fought against doesn't differ from me or to you. They also have families that needed them. But when we look at each other, all I feel is this desire to kill them all. And they're looking at me the same way. I might be one that could’ve been killed you know? I just got lucky.”
“Because deep within you, you know you're not only fighting to kill but you did it for your family, and for your country.”
“Maybe. But I fought because that's what I was being sent for. I fought because I want the war to end.”
Silence. A silence that couldn't be ignored, it's almost strange. But no one moved an inch as they let the intimidating silence surround them until it passed.
“But I'm proud of you, Joe.” Ben's deep cool voice sounded in Joe's ears down to the depths stirring his soul.
It hit Joe. Those words felt so heavy, and he fought the tears that were tempting to roll down. How could he just slip those words out as easily like that? Does he even understand what he was talking about?
Back from the war, his comrades would tell him not to dwell on it. But it was so hard for him. He saw how innocent civilians, mothers and children got killed. And he also witnessed how his colleagues had sacrificed their lives to save the other, and what change did it make? He witnessed how some of his colleagues had bravely attacked just to defend their country. Yes, they had won the war, and yes, he had done something and had almost lost his life in the process but to Joe it wasn't enough, and it wasn’t right.
“Even how much you think that it wasn't to be proud of. I'm proud of you. And to everyone who had become a part of it. I'm proud of what you've done. You're a hero to many. And it may take a while to realize that and I understand. But you should stop beating yourself up.”
“Thank you, Ben. You're very kind.”
I've got scars even though they can't always be seen
And pain gets hard, but now you're here and I don't feel a thing
Pay attention, I hope that you listen 'cause I let my guard down
Right now I'm completely defenseless
“How'd you find this place?” Ben walked around basking in the beauty of the peaceful meadow by the foot of the mountain.
“I usually go here if I wanted some time alone,” Joe was walking behind Ben, watching how the blond appreciated the surroundings. He smiled softly at the sight of the man in front of him who acted like a child as he started running around.
“Come and catch me, Joe!” Ben shouted and smiling happily. The sun’s rays touched against his pale skin. He literally looked like a ball of sunshine in the ginger’s eyes. And he never saw anyone so wonderful in his eyes. Then he smiled mischievously and started to run after Ben. And laughter filled the quiet field as both men ran around and chased each other like kids.
Their meet ups became frequent. They exchanged addresses to where they live and Ben would randomly appear in front of Joe's door any time of the day, but Joe had always anticipated his visit. They would go and explore different places they had never been before. And Ben would write when inspiration or a thought came in, and he would recite what he had written to the ginger. While Joe would recite his poem in his mind, and engraved it into his heart. And as he got home he would write those words down. He didn’t tell the blond that he had started writing again, and it was all because of him.
Ben had also written a poem for Joe and it was about a scared but pretending to be a brave warrior. It was simple yet the message was heavy and Ben had seen right through him. He read it every time he felt lost. That poem had served like his refuge and not only that, it was written by Ben for him. A part of him and a part of Ben was in that poem.
One night, Joe had dreamt of the blond, he had dreamt of the night they first met, dreaming about the blond’s lips.
Then there were also times where he caught himself waking up in the middle of the night, and finding it hard to sleep again, so he spent the rest of it thinking of nothing but Ben, replaying the beautiful events that had happened that day until the sun peeked through the clouds. It was a little strange but Joe never gets tired of it.
The next morning, Joe felt like this day seemed different even though it looked just like any other ordinary day. Well, ever since Ben stepped into Joe's life, his days seemed to become a lot better. Then it hit Joe. Well, he’d always been having strange feeling towards the man but he didn’t take any importance of it. And now, he’s becoming aware that what he might be feeling towards Ben was not something completely ordinary. And he suddenly felt anxious by the thought of possibly seeing Ben any minute. He paced his room back and forth. Why was he feeling nervous?
“Joe!” the call from his mom had Joe hurried over the stairs, peeking. Ben had come so early, huh? Did he feel Joe's anticipation of meeting him?
His hands were slightly trembling.
“Breakfast’s ready!” His mom said instead, smiling at him from down below and left. The twinkle from his eyes left him at once. “Right,” he muttered under his breathe. But damn, he could feel every limbs of his body failing him, and at the same time he could feel his heart hardening inside his chest.
Did he feel disappointed that Ben wasn't the reason his mom called?
This was getting a little too far.
And Ben didn’t show up that day.
So Joe had spent his time writing on his diary the growing feelings he has towards the latter. But he couldn’t seem to figure it out yet. Or maybe he was feeling afraid, because the truth might overwhelm him. And he doubted that what he was feeling towards him was exactly the word that comes in four letters.
By the afternoon he decided to take a walk around the neighbourhood and visited some bookshops. He never bought any books but he spent his time reading inside the shop, instead. He lost track of time as he got immersed in reading. But Ben, like every second of every day, would run into his mind, and he wondered why he hadn’t come today. So he created scenarios and come up with prospects like maybe he was busy, or he decided to be spend some time alone since Joe admit that he would want some alone time too, or maybe he had packed his things up and made his way back to England. The last thought made Joe close the book he’s holding all of a sudden and he rushed outside, pulling a piece of folded paper and spreading it open revealing Ben’s address he always carried around. And he didn’t know what gave him the urge to seek Ben. He never did such thing to his other friends and he thought he would never go this far just to visit Rami randomly, unless an occasion called for it.
And there he was running back home to ride on his bicycle and go to Ben’s place. He could feel his heart pounding fast inside him. His hands feeling a little sweaty and he would lick his lips from time to time. His mind was also busy running a hundred times a second (as he pedaled on his bicycle)– from the road to where he would go; to Ben; and to asking himself if he was doing the most decent thing, or if any of this was right, or if this was all worth it; and to wondering where Ben might gone to or if Ben was still there.
Joe just continued biking but a little faster in the hopes of catching Ben even for the last time. The thought of not seeing the man ever again gave him this feeling of fear. And he never had felt this afraid before, and this was even more frightening than what he felt from the war.
Maybe he had always been afraid of losing his chances. The reason he had joined the war, the reason he did all the things he did, because he always thought that life has always been ahead of him, so he tried to always run after it in hopes of getting ahead of it, which may sound ridiculous. He never understood why he felt this way, and yet life had always been too far ahead of him and was swift taking away who it wanted to take. And he had witnessed all its cruelty from the war. But he would not let life have the chance of taking away Ben from him. Not now. Not ever.
His bicycle skidded to a stop as he hit the brakes hard, in front of him stood the lone apartment of Ben’s, dark and deserted. He could feel his heart going up from his chest to his throat. He couldn’t breathe and couldn’t move his body.
Again, life had succeeded.
If I could fly, I'd be coming right back home to you
I think I might give up everything, just ask me to
Pay attention, I hope that you listen 'cause I let my guard down
Right now I'm completely defenseless
He left without saying goodbye.
Well, his fellow marines had left without saying goodbye as well.
What’s new about this?
But the thought had disturbed Joe more than he intended. And again, why would Ben have to say goodbye to him. Who was he in Ben’s life, anyway?
However, Joe knew Ben meant something and everything to him, while he might mean nothing to Ben. And right then and there did he realize how he felt for the man and finally surrendering and accepting it fully. And he never felt so free but defeated all the same time.
Joe carried on with his life after two days of not doing anything but to lie down his bed. He continued to write like how the man who inspired him to. But no words would come out his mind. All he felt was emptiness. He almost felt like dead in those two days. Then Rami came to visit, finally distracting him from his thoughts of Ben. Or maybe not at all. Ben, much to Joe’s delight and misery, would stay in his heart for as long he didn’t know.
He never imagined himself feeling such a thing towards a man. He didn’t know what his family would think of him if they learned that he had developed feelings for one. To Joe’s logical mind, he never saw anything wrong about it but then again, in society’s eyes, it was unacceptable. But if this was another battle he had to face, then he was willing to fight for it and win it. But right now, it seemed impossible, if the other one was not willing to and was out of his life. And he was not sure if Ben would ever come back again, making it harder for Joe. He continued blaming himself why he had always let chance to slipped off his hands, like getting killed from the war. Why does he have to live if life will just going to kill him, slowly?
He had been silently staring across the lake, playing with a wildflower – he randomly plucked around him, with his hands.
“I… wanted to tell you something, Rami.”
Rami turned to him, smiling a bit. He started to feel a little worried for his friend’s silence which he thought would go on forever. “I thought you asked me to come join you here just to brood.”
“I don’t know if what I’m gonna tell you will continue our friendship or will make you leave me after.”
“Spill it, Mazz. What is it? I’ve been waiting for you to speak up in like forever.”
Joe sighed. He now regretted to even ask Rami to join him here or to even speak.
“I-I think… you’re not ready to hear it yet,” Joe winced, tilting his head away from Rami’s gaze. He sighed again to calm himself. He felt like confessing his feelings for Rami when it wasn’t the case. Now he imagined how much more difficult it would be to declaring his feelings out to Ben. And now that only caused his heart to beat faster.
Rami smirked, “You’re making me uncomfortable, Joe.”
Joe sighed and turned to him. “What if I like you, Rami?” Fuck! He thought that he would never be ready to tell about it to his friend. His tongue had failed him as well.
Now, Rami looked dumbfounded. His jaw literally slacked open and his eyes blinked once. He literally looked like a stone. He couldn’t be able to move an inch. Joe only stated such ridiculous statement just to see how his friend would react but it seemed like he just made the matter worse. “God, no, I don’t like you, Rami!” he threw the flower away, shaking his head and forced a laugh, “Heh! I’m just messin’ with you!”
It took Rami a few seconds, before he could laugh although lightly. “Nice one, Joe!”
Their laughter soon died down and neither dared to speak up. But Rami would take glances to Joe. He knew there was something that’s bothering his friend. Joe said so himself; he might not be ready to hear it yet. Rami wondered how bad or serious it was. And it was now worrying him even more, so he decided to confront Joe about it but before he could be able to open his mouth, his friend spoke.
“I think I’m in love, Rami.”
Rami hesitated. He observed and waited if Joe would end up messing with him again. But Joe looked serious, although he wasn’t looking at him.
“And not just with any woman… But a man,” Joe finally looked at him. Rami turned his gaze away. And Joe almost chuckled. “It wasn’t you, Rami. Don’t worry.” Joe saw how Rami’s chest moved as he let out a breath of air and he looked back at him again. He clearly was speechless. Joe was ready for any insult or stinging words to come out of Rami’s cocky and sometimes dirty mouth.
But he heard nothing.
“He left. Two days ago.” Joe quietly added when Rami didn’t say anything. And his friend was too quiet making Joe feeling like he was alone. He’s afraid to look at Rami. Why wasn’t he saying anything? Then again, he didn’t want to hear what Rami would have to say.
“You’re gay –I knew it!”
Joe turned to Rami at once. He could feel his heart folding in his chest and cold sweat forming in his temples. His brows creased in panic. For everything Joe expected to come out of Rami, he’s literally concluded that he was gay.
That notable sparkle in Rami’s eyes existing again with that remarkable smirk only he could do. “I mean you have no history of being in any relationship with a girl and you never cared to fuck one. I almost got scared you have grown a liking to my Lucy. But now I’m relieved and also terrified. Say…” Then he started crawling towards Joe and leaned his face a little too close which created an uncomfortable distance between them, teasing. “…have you looked at me in such a way, Joey? Be honest.” Rami’s green orbs moved delicately and carefully down Joe’s lips, as if observing what he would do next.
Joe simply looked at him and tired of his shit. He sighed. “Don’t flatter yourself, Rami. Even if you’re the last guy left in this world, I would never look at you in such a way.”
He had been in war and had seen and dealt mostly with men, but none of them made him feel the way Ben made him feel, the desire to be closer to his presence at all times, like his day wouldn't be complete without spending it with him. And now that he had left without leaving anything or any hint to where he might be or where he might gone to, made the soldier feel dejected yet empty. He never knew what to do or how to start his day, and never expected how one person - that certain blond could leave such huge impact in his life, when all this time he had always thought that the war was and would only be the first and the last thing that would leave something that had greatly affect and changed him, but guess he was wrong.
Joe felt the need to go after Ben but he had no idea how. And how sure was he that Ben really flew back to England? Was it really worth the risk to go there? Ben had said so himself that he would travel from a country or place to another to seek inspiration to write. Maybe he had lost all his inspiration here. And Joe failed to give that inspiration to him anymore. So he had to find another. But he refused to believe that Ben would do such thing to him. He never imagined Ben to be like that.
“It's different with him, Rami. Never thought I'd fall for a guy either.”
Joe looked at Rami and his friend just listened. He looked thoughtfully.
A ghostly smirk appeared from Joe's lips and confessed, “And you were right, I might have had developed a little crush on your girlfriend the first night we met.”
Joe found himself being tackled playfully by Rami on the ground.
A month has passed, but it felt like days to Joe. His life had been uneventful. He tried to register for some classes but he didn’t find anything that would fit him. The registrar had been asking him if he had attended any special schools in the Marine Corps like Accounting or Journalism or if they had taught him any special skills. He mocked the staff working behind the admission and telling her that he had special skills in using the Mortar and weapons. And the only thing that the Marine Corps had taught him was to kill Japs which he got pretty good at. Then he walked off and gave up the idea of taking any classes.
But one day, he found himself writing a book. He couldn’t believe that this day would ever come that he would write something and talk about the war and express his feelings and share the experiences and the lessons he had learnt and things that he realized and discovered.
Ben would still run into his mind and he admitted that he missed the man. He always wished for his presence, especially in these trying times but he only have himself. His parents would never understand him like how Ben would. And he and Rami doesn’t meet frequently and he bet the guy was busy planning and building his new life, yet here he was having no job, no plan, no significant other and no life.
Then one day, he found himself drifting onto his own dream world. Where Ben was here right beside him, and would tell him that everything was going to be alright. And that it’s also fine if he had not figured out his life yet. Maybe he should move on and let go off his feelings for Ben too and stop it like how he’s trying to stop his nightmares that haunted him every night, making those nights too long and hard to bear. Yes, his nightmares came back ever since Ben left. But there were few nights that he had dreamt of Ben and they were all beautiful and felt so real. And one of them was that dream he would never forget where they finally kissed and the man’s lips felt so good against his, and he woke up with a hard on like a teenager. Sometimes he hated how Ben could easily have that effect on him. He wondered if he ever had thought of him or had dreamt of him too in such a way. But who was he kidding, anyway? So Joe brushed those ideas of before it could break him even more.
I'm missing half of me when we're apart
Now you know me, for your eyes only
For your eyes only
The sound of raindrops clattered hard against the roof, but Joe found it calming. His eyes gazing through the water droplets sliding against the rusty glass window of the attic, with a cup of lukewarm coffee in his hands that was starting to get cold from not being sipped on by several minutes now. Of course his attempts on trying to forget that certain blond had failed. It had been a month and half since, but Joe never failed upon waiting for him to come back. He knew he could never get rid of Ben that easily, especially if that little faith that was lying deep within him believed that he would go back to him one day. One day.
A knock from the door brought him back to his lonely reality, but before he could answer, the door creaked open and he saw his mother peeking carefully. As Joe didn’t move from his seat, his mother took the liberty to step inside and walked beside his son, holding a yellowish but neat envelope sealed with a red wax. His eyes rested upon it intently like the envelope would burn anytime.
“I found this letter by the doorway and it’s for you,” his mother said gently with her soft voice breaking anytime, but despite all that she’s aging marvelously.
Joe smiled and gently took the letter from her, eyeing it carefully. And his heart stopped upon reading the name of the sender written elegantly at the back of the envelope. Ben Jones. He found it hard to move at that moment, and his hand started shaking. This all seemed like a dream. He missed this man so much that a simple letter would make him go crazy of happiness.
He almost forgot that he wasn’t alone when he felt a hand rested on his shoulder, gentle but firm.
“Are you alright?” his mother’s concerned voice came into his consciousness.
Joe turned to her, his body calming down. He softly smiled, “Yes, mother. Thank you.” He held her hand on his shoulder and squeezed it ever so slightly. Then he focused back on the envelope, staring at it longer than necessary as if to memorize every fold and lines of it. His fingers grazed along the waxed seal that elegantly carved the letter ‘B’.
It was in the middle of the night, sitting on a bed with a lampshade on, did Joe decide to open the letter.
He felt like he wasn't ready but at the same time, he's dying to read it. It's only a letter and yet it already made him feel many things all at once. Then his mind wandered off what could the letter be about, was this good news, happy news, dreading news, some of Ben’s writings, a letter of goodbye? The reason was limitless and it overwhelmed Joe, causing him to feel very anxious. He almost lost the courage to read it, but he found his hands unfolding the paper, revealing Ben's graceful and neat handwriting. How he missed seeing those. It was a bit long but enough to leave few spaces on the paper.
Joe took a deep breathe, moving closer to the lamp to serve him some more light. And his eyes started to move along each word, digesting each of them and imagining Ben's voice, picturing how he would speak these words to him. The letter started with Ben apologizing for he did not able to say goodbye properly after receiving a letter from his family back in England telling of a tragic news of his grandmother being sick. So as soon as he read the letter, he spared no time and hurriedly packed his things and made his way to the ship sailing back to England. It was pretty late when he received the letter that as soon as he got home, she had passed away.
Joe’s hand slightly crumpled the paper, flashes of shotguns and dead bodies ran quickly through his mind. He closed his eyes tight and took a deep breath. He wished he was there with Ben even more during his loss. If there was one who knew how losing someone felt, it was Joe. After taking a moment of calming himself down, he slowly opened his eyes again and continued reading the letter:
I would lie if I would say that you weren’t in my thoughts every day. I’m missing you, Joseph. I also wanted to let you know that I have written this letter the first night I have arrived here, so I might expect that you’ll receive this a little later. I might also guess that you’re probably angry with me for leaving like that without even saying goodbye. So I hope you forgive me. I would always regret that day of not being able to see you for one last time. I truly felt terrible but the news shocked me. I hope you would understand. And I’m hoping that there’s still the Joseph I would come back to again, one day. I know, it may sound intimate, but I do miss you. But how are you? I wanted to hear from you soon. And don’t ever look down upon yourself and always know that I am proud of you.
Can I ask you one thing, though?
It might sound crazy, but please wait for me.
See you soon.
Another folded paper fell as he was about to fold the letter back.
He bent his body down to pick it up. Curiosity came into him so he opened the paper at once. It's another poem from Ben. Joe smiled and he read it. He felt a fire slowly burning up deep within his soul again.
And that same night, he wrote a letter back to Ben expressing his deepest condolences of his loss and how he wished that he was there with him on those dreadful days, and he had written him his very first poem. He also revealed in the letter about the book he had been working on. And told him how badly he missed him as well.
Another month had passed, and Joe received another letter from Ben and Ben expressed how he happy he was that he’s writing again and thrilled to know about the book he was writing on and pleaded for Joe to give him his very first copy with his signature on it. And that he loved the poem Joe had written, it was the first time somebody had made a poem for him. And he read it more times than he intended. Joe smiled at this and it inspired him to write even more. Then he pulled the very first copy of his book at once, and signed upon the cover and wrote below it the words: For Ben Jones. He wrote another letter back for the lad and tied the book with it to send his very first copy to the blond.
And yes, he had successfully finished his book and had worked with a well-known publishing company that would help him print copies around the country and would probably send out copies abroad if it would sell marvelously. But it was still in the process of getting published and it would be available in the bookshops any weeks from now.
As soon as morning came, Joe woke up at once to get ready for the day. He changed into his casual clothes and took his letter for Ben to bring it to the post office. He made his way down to the dining to grab some bread and go when he dropped his letter on the floor, stopping all at once as soon as he got there.
“Joe, you’re awake. Come join us,” his mother smiled but Joe wasn’t looking at her but looking to the one sitting beside her who was smiling at him. It’s been such a long time for Joe and he couldn’t find his words and be able to speak. He couldn’t even move an inch, like every nerve of his muscles got stuck.
Was he even dreaming?
Ben was sitting right there among with his parents, looking back at him. Tears started to form in his eyes and he didn’t know why he’s tearing up at the sight of him.
Ben slowly stood up and approached him. His eyes were also glistening with tears forming in his beautiful green eyes. And the two men broke into a tight embrace with tears that inevitably rolled down their cheeks.
“I missed you,” Joe choked the words he couldn’t be able to keep any longer. And Ben chuckled and sobbed a little louder and said, “Me too, Joe. Me too.”
Ben slightly broke off from the brace but his hands still resting on Joe’s shoulders, staring at his face carefully, and memorizing every crease and details of it, and Joe doing the same. Something had changed with Ben but Joe couldn’t be able to point it out. But he grew more beautiful in his eyes.
“Look at you,” Ben couldn’t keep himself from smiling and then he tackled Joe to another hug.
Joe and his family prepared a little welcome home dinner for Ben. They were happy for Ben coming back to visit them and they practically took him as a family which made the blond feel so happy that he had met them. He and Joe kept exchanging silent meaningful glances during dinner as they sat across each other along the table. It was a little crowded as Joe’s other siblings with their own family who were living separately from them now, also came to visit. And Joe never felt this happy.
Joe introduced Ben to his siblings and his nieces and nephews as well. And they played with those little kids. It had been a long night, the longest night Joe had spent for the first time since after the war, where nights seemed endless. But now it was a night that he could live for the rest of his life.
“Thank you, Joe,” Ben said quietly. They were lying on Joe’s bed that they’re going to share for the night with a lampshade on, serving as their only light. Joe turned to him, raising a brow slightly.
“For what?” he asked.
“For everything. For making me feel like I’m a part of this family.”
A small smile crawled upon Joe’s lips. “You’re a part of this family, Ben.” He chuckled and he looked down on his hands resting on his stomach, playing with the fabric of his shirt. “I actually was about to send you a letter this morning with some good news. And then I saw you…” Joe turned back to Ben, smiling even more. Excitement filled Ben’s green eyes that Joe missed staring at.
“What is it?”
“I’m getting my book published.”
“Wow!!! That’s… That’s… wonderful. God, I’m so happy for you, Joe,” Ben raised his body up and leaned on his arm, to properly look at Joe. He stopped himself from almost kissing him.
Joe smiled wider. And it slowly faded into a relaxed one, staring at Ben meaningfully. “It’s all because of you, Ben. You have inspired me to write.”
Then they just gazed at each other, it was a gaze that was filled with unspoken feelings they had yet to express. But Joe didn’t know if it’s just him or Ben was mirroring him right now. And they stayed like that letting the silence speak for them.
“What are you thinking?” Ben asking him like the first night that they had met.
With words failing to come out of Joe’s mouth he did that one thing he had been dying to do, forgetting all the lingering feelings of fears and doubt, Joe leaned closer to Ben, closing his eyes as he got closer. Ben forgot to move and he forgotten the will to breathe, seeing what this beautiful soldier was about to do but he wasn’t entirely sure, his mind failing to function properly. And then he felt it. The sweetest thing his lips had tasted. But he couldn’t be able to close his eyes but it grew wider. His heart drumming so hard in his chest that he swore that its sound echoed through the corners of this very silent and unexpectedly warm room.
It took him a while before he could process anything. He blinked a few times staring back at those innocent hazel eyes that shined through the dimly lit lamp.
“W-Why did you kiss me?” Ben said breathlessly, just above a whisper.
And he could see red crawling onto Joe’s face. And that made Ben’s red cheeks turn even redder.
Joe looked so vulnerable and Ben swore he wanted to protect him his entire life.
It took Joe a while before he found his voice. He looked straight into Ben’s eyes in a moment.
“Remember when you told me about giving my first kiss to the one I love to spend the rest of my life with?”
Now you know me, for your eyes only
For your eyes only, I'll show you my heart