Wednesday, February 6, 2013
A Thousand Word Sequel by Eden Winters
There he was again! Dirk’s heart skipped a beat. In this light, at a certain angle, the man sitting by the window looked just like… Nah, it couldn’t be. Dirk had seen the telegram with his own eyes, “Lost, presumed dead.” None of the “presumed dead” ever came home. Ever. He lowered his gaze to his drink, watching light play over the amber liquid. For years now he’d come here, simply to visit old memories—with all his former mates long gone. What a pathetic thing he’d become after the war.
Still, eying the stranger was like a visit from an old friend. He raised his glass in silent toast to the man gazing out at the darkened street. Ten years, it’d been. Ten long, lonely years. From time to time Dirk found a willing bedmate to spend the night, a week, a month, and, in one case, two years. They always left again. And Dirk always found it hard to care. His heart had died long ago, with a fighter pilot over war-torn London.
“Care for another?” the bartender asked.
Dirk recalled the former owner and his wife, who’d run the place as a café, how they’d nearly adopted him and Walter. They’d died too, shortly after the last dance Dirk and Walter shared, right here in this very building. It had been one of the few places they could safely be seen as a couple. Only now, there was no need for blackouts, or air raid sirens, and he’d happily give up all earthly possessions just to be with his lover one more time.
The building’s windows were no longer boarded, but Dirk didn’t need light, and he didn’t need to see the other patrons. None interested him, save for the stranger by the window. “No, thanks,” he answered, the barman’s inquiry. “I should be getting home.” He downed his whisky, reveling in the burn down his throat. Then he patted his tiny bit of paunch—a paunch that hadn’t been there ten years ago. Walter, maybe it’s best you’re gone and didn’t have to watch me drink my life away. Of course, had Walter been there, Dirk would have found better things to do.
He turned and ran headlong into a solid mass. “Ooof!” the stranger said, clasping Dirk’s shoulders to keep from falling.
“So sorry,” Dirk rushed to say. Then he raised his eyes to a waxy mess of scars, and all words fled.
The stranger backed away. Raising a hand to cover his cheek. “I’m sorry. I forget people’s reactions to these. You see, I’ve only been in the city for a few weeks.”
Something about those long, slender fingers… Dirk hitched a breath. “What is your name?” he ventured.
“Walter,” the man replied. “Walter Reynolds. Or so I’m told.”
“What do you mean?” A cruel joke. That’s what this had to be—a cruel joke.
The man shrugged. “I was badly injured and spent months in a hospital. Though they put me back together physically as best they could,” he waved a hand to indicate his scars, “I can’t recall very much before my…accident.”
Dirk eyed the man critically. He appeared the right height, with a touch of the residual lankiness of youth. Dirk tried to imagine the body beneath the man’s casual clothes. Would he find a familiar landscape? Or foreign territory? Walter Reynolds was hardly an exclusive name. And soldiers were mistaken for others all the time.
A pair of brown eyes regarded Dirk with interest. “Do I know you?”
The hair was longer, growing sparsely over scarred flesh, and gone was the lopsided smile. The voice was husky, but given the man’s injuries…
“Say, ‘I promise,’” Dirk said.
“Please, just say, ‘I promise.’”
“I promise,” the man said. His face went blank, his eyes widened. “With every ounce of my being, I promise!” He stared at Dirk. “What did I promise?”
“To come back. Why did you come here tonight?” Dirk asked. No, it can’t be, it can’t be. But inside, his heart tried to fling itself through his ribs.
“I’m told I lived in London before the war. I had hoped in coming here I might remember something. Then I found this place, and it felt so… so welcoming somehow.”
Don’t my boys look dashing tonight? Dirk heard the late owner’s wife say, after giving this man a peck on the cheek, and doing the same to Dirk. He scarcely dared to breathe, or to blink, afraid he’d suddenly wake up and find this all a dream.
“Wait right here,” Dirk said, before dashing across the room to slam every bit of his money down on the piano, never taking his eyes off the man named Walter. The piano player gave a startled squeak, but nodded at Dirk’s hurried instructions.
Walter remained in place, but his gaze swiveled from one side of the room to the next, as though only just realizing where he was.
The music started and Dirk swept the man into his arms. Ten years ago he’d cried on a soldier’s uniform, tonight he shed tears on a button-down work shirt. The stranger swayed stiffly for a moment, then exclaimed, “I know this song! This was… this was…” He locked eyes with Dirk, mouth opening and closing a few times, but nothing emerged. They spun around in time with the piano’s tinkling, and man turned his head, showing the unscarred side of his face.
“Our song,” Dirk replied, smiling through his tears. “Welcome home, Walter.”
Now I'm all sniffly! Thank you Eden/ The first section of this story was also a Thousand Word Thursday story for a prompt pic, and you can find it here--this one stands alone but you'll want to see where Dirk and Walter started.
Eden Winters is one of my favorite authors, and she has not one but two releases coming soon. Duet is now available for preorder at Dreamspinner, and Collusion, the sequel to Diversion (5 marbles, review here) is coming Feb 24, but we don't have cover art yet. Soon, though, soon.
Violinist and scholar Malcolm Byerly fled Kent in fear, seeking nothing more than a quiet post, eager minds to teach, and for no one to learn his secrets. He didn’t count on his charges’ English-hating barbarian of an older brother, or on red-and-green tartan concealing a kindred soul. A shared love of music breaks down the barriers between two worlds.
Aillil’s father threatens their love, but a far more dangerous enemy tears them apart. They vanish into legend.
Two centuries later, concert violinist Billy Byerly arrives at Castle Callaghan—and feels strangely at home. Legends speak of a Lost Laird who haunts the fortress in wait of his lover’s return. Billy doesn’t believe in legends, ghosts, or love that outlasts life.
But the Lost Laird knows his own.