The California Zephyr

by Joe Butterman

 

Chapter 9
David Comes to the Ranch

Friday afternoon, Daddy picked us up and we were off for what I suspected would be a glorious weekend. I was bursting to tell Davey all about my earlier adventures with Dino. I’d hinted a little during PE but hadn’t had a chance to really go into any detail. The sexy part would have to wait until we were alone. Meanwhile, Daddy kept us talking about goings on at school. I made a really big mistake. 

     “Mr. Comeskilling told me to give you his very best when next I saw you,” I said, and as I said it, I said ‘oh fuck’ to myself because the next question was going to be. 

      “Yes, now there is a truly fine man.  How did you meet him?”  I thought that this would be a good time for Davey to contribute something diverting to the conversation; but he was staring out the window as if he’d never seen sagebrush before.  But you could almost see that his ears were pointing and listening.  I sighed. 

     “Well, I got in a fight in the hall, so of course that’s where I met him.  In his office and all.”  Rather than be grilled, I rushed on: “This senior didn’t like me ‘cause he thought I was a rich ‘goody-goody’ so he shoved me into the lockers and I dropped my books in the hall.  He called me some names, but we’re friends now.  Then he went to punch me but I remembered my lessons and I blocked him and didn’t let him grab me.  So he kept coming, but I pulled him off balance and then we were grabbed by a teacher, who used to be a soldier, and then I met Mr. Comeskilling.”  There, that was pretty much it.  

     “Wow.”  Davey decides to join the conversation, “So that’s what happened.  Neat-o.”  I just looked at him, all handsome and innocent and sparkling, ‘what a big help you’ve been.  I’m gonna really do you tonight’ I said to myself. 

      “Did you say that you’re friends with this boy now?” 

     “Yes Daddy, what happened is this.  His name is Dino.  Well, it’s not really Dino, but that’s what everyone calls him.  His real name is Andreas, but, you know.  He’s been in trouble before.  So Mr. Comeskilling asks me what happened ‘cause he didn’t know me.  I said it was an accident, that I wasn’t paying attention and walked into him by mistake.  Mr. Comeskilling knows this is all so much bullshit; but he tells Dino that if he comes in his office again, it will be Army, Navy, Reform School and tells him to get out.  Then Mr. Comeskilling says he knows I’m tryin’ to help Dino out, and hopes it works.  Then he said to give you his best.” 

     “Wow!  That’s really super.”  I try to glare at the beautiful Davey with his hazel eyes all glinting gold.  ‘I’m gonna pound you right through the mattress tonight,’ I promise myself. 

     “Bullshit?” 

     “Sorry.” 

     “Friends?” 

     “Oh,” I considered for a second.  “Well, as I was walkin’ out of school, there was Dino waitin’ for me.  So I start planning an escape because I do not want to go back to see Mr. Comeskilling.  But Dino says, ‘it’s okay, you’re cool.’  I think he’s crazy.  Then he pulls out his cigarettes and I tell him to put them away.  Now he thinks I’m crazy.  ‘Ya think yer my Mommy er sumthin’’ he says.  I tell him no, I don’t think that, but WE are not going back to see Mr. Comeskilling.  So he puts his cigarettes away.  Then we go to the A&W for cokes.  He says he’s sorry and wants to be my friend.  And there you have it.” 

     “Wow.  That’s just great!  Ya gotta know, Mr. Scott, that Dino’s not a bad guy.  Once, coupla years ago, these two punks were gonna take my money at the DQ and Dino stepped-up and made ‘em go away.  I think Charlie did right getting him a break.”  Finally, Davey to the rescue.  After everything is out.  Oh well, you’re still gonna get it tonight I promise him silently. 

     “Well,” Daddy seemed to want to chuckle, “You’ve had quite a week.”  Then he did chuckle as he turned onto our road. 

     Mommy directed my attention to a package on the card table in the parlor.  It was addressed to me and it was from Gary’s mother.  It was pretty good sized and I couldn’t imagine what it could be.  I left it for the time, to get Davey moved into my room.  He was looking all around at my stuff, so I grabbed him from behind and nibbled on his ear, groped his crotch and whispered, between nibbles, “I’m gonna blow you UP tonight.”  He giggled and groped me back. 

     I took him into the kitchen and introduced him to Margarita and Gramercy.  We got some tea and cake and had a pleasant visit.  Davey’s doing pretty good in Spanish, too, so it was a bilingual visit.  All of the smells in the kitchen were wonderful, so I snooped in the pots and complimented Margarita extravagantly.  We’d be having barley soup, roast chicken, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, but – no dessert. 

     “Aw come on Margarita.  We always have dessert.”   

     “Nope,” she insisted. Then with a girl’s logic, “it’s a surprise.”  I gave her a huge smile and kissed her on both cheeks because I was sure it would be flan. 

     At dinner, I had to tell the story of my visit to Mr. Comeskilling’s office again.  But I was very careful of my diction and language.  I have to do this all the time anyway, you know, I hafta talk high school cowboy at school with my friends, but then I have to shift into the Queen’s English whenever I’m around teachers or the ladies in my world, otherwise I’d never be out of trouble.  I downplayed the fight as much as I could.  Davey, the big help, was having none of that, and tried to make it into the fight of the century.  Mommy looked horrified.  “Mommy, he’s just teasing me.  Remember the boxing lessons Daddy gave me?  I never hit him, and he never hit me. Because of the lessons!  Davey wants Daddy to give him a boxing lesson tomorrow too.”  Davey, of course, had never said any such thing, and this was the first he heard of it, but it must’ve been okay with him because, for the first time all day, he came to the rescue.   

     “I’m sorry Mrs. Scott.  It’s just that it’s such a great story.  Charlie’s one of the good guys, though.  Once he made these two guys quit picking on Val Arndt by just standing there.  He just looked at them and said, ‘he’s my friend.’  They had to go away.  It was way cool.”  Well I had to admit, when Davey comes to the rescue, he doesn’t mess around.  Mommy was mollified and Gramercy was smiling.  I decided that I wasn’t going to pound him through the mattress tonight, but he was still gonna exercise it. 

     And I was right.  We had flan for dessert.  It had a real good brandy sauce on it, too.  She’d never made that sauce before. 

     After dinner, Davey and I did our homework on the floor in front of the fire in the living room.  Just like we did our first time together.  It was really cool.  Having and sharing that great feeling of family, Davey and I were connected by our love, so it really was like family.  You can have that feeling even when you’re doing geometry or conjugating irregular Spanish verbs.  The grandfather clock, at length, announced the arrival of nine o’clock.  We put our stuff up and told everyone that we’d be taking a shower and then going to bed.  I got a hug and a kiss from everyone.  Davey got a hug and a kiss from Mommy and Gramercy, but just a handshake from Daddy. 

     We had just got naked in the bathroom and were waiting for the shower to warm-up when Davey stepped into my arms and kissed me deeply.  Then he surprised me when he said, “You’re so lucky.  Everybody loves you.  You can call your folks ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ and it’s just right.  I hafta say ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’ and my Dad hasn’t hugged me in years.”  I hugged him fiercely and we kissed some more.  Then we stepped into the shower and gave each other a very thorough washing. 

     When we got to my room, we tossed our robes on the floor, and Davey immediately began to apply lotion to my boner.  I forgot all of the plans I had made for him when he had been doing his “Wow” thing on the ride home.  He had a plan and it felt good to me.  “I want’cha in me,” he told me his plan, eyes glowing, “then we’re gonna hold it as long as we can.”  We hopped into bed and Davey scooted up and over me, he got himself set just right, then slowly slid down on me taking me completely into him in one smooth movement.  “Oh God you feel good,” he whispered.  We kissed.  I thought this would be a good time.  

     “Here’s what I haven’t told ya ‘bout Dino.”  He kissed me again and flexed his butt over me, and moved up and down a couple times.  “He was a virgin.” 

     “What?”   He yelped.   

     “Shhh,” I kissed him.  Taking care to remain in him, I lay back under him.  He shuddered and gave me a couple more strokes.   

     “What?”  He whispered.  

     “Yeah.  A virgin.”  So I told him how I kissed him after we went to pizza.  I thrust into him a couple times while I tell him this.  “Then next day, he’s waitin’ in the locker room when I come outta the shower after running.”  A few more strokes together.  “So I come outta the shower, and I’m dryin’ my hair, and there he is.”  We pick-up the tempo of our sex just a little bit.  “He’s all dressed and I’m all naked.  And he is really scopin’ me out.  So I walk up to him and give him a serious kiss while he rubs all over me.”  Now the story has to wait.  I sit back up and then push him over on his back with his legs up and he goes, “Yes, yes, Charlie yes,” and I start pumpin’ away.  And we keep that up, kissing and thrusting, until I come shuddering into him.  It’s really great.  He flexes his butt around me some more as I get slowly soft.  I wonder what he wants.  Should I blow him, or give him my butt.  “Lemme do ya now,” he says, settling that little problem.  So I lick the juice off his hard-on and I lotion him all up and slip him into me.  He’s really hot, and really hard, so there’s no story telling, we kiss long and hard and I get my legs up in just the right position, and he starts thrusting deep and slow and passionate.  But he doesn’t do slow very long.  It’s my turn to whisper, “Yes, Davey, yes, yes,” and then he explodes into me and he’s shuddering and flexing and kinda moaning - all that neat stuff. 

     So I hold him in me and we relax together.  Then I pick-up the story, “I think he thought maybe we’d do it in the locker room, or something like that, but I tell him he’s gonna come to my room.  So we’re drivin’ over to the Arndt’s and I’m feelin’ him up and all, and I ask him if he’s ever done it with a boy before.  He says he’s never done it with anyone before.” 

     “Wow.”  He slides out of me and then nestles into my arm and shoulder.  Sweet and cuddly. 

     “Yeah, and that’s not something that ya bullshit about.  He’s tellin’ the truth.” 

     “Yeah.” 

     “So I’m thinkin’ all this time, that we’ll go to my room for a quickie, kinda like what you and me do sometimes when we don’t have much time, but got lotsa love.” 

     “Yeah.” 

     “But it’s his first time.  That should be special.  Like your first time.” 

     “Yeah.” 

     “But I’ve got him really hard, so we have to do something.  I tell him that we’re gonna have a quickie, but we’re gonna pretend that it’s his second time.  So I blow him, and then he blows me.  And he really is good looking when he’s naked and not pretending to be a badass and shit.  So next weekend, I’m gonna stay in town, rent a hotel room, and give him a real first time.” 

     “Yeah.” 

     “Now I know that you like Dino too.  Ya wanna help me give him his first time?” 

     “Wow.”  He kisses me really deeply and we hug each other tight.  “Yeah.  That’s a great idea Carlos.  My folks are gonna be gone next weekend anyway.” 

     Well, by now, all of this talk has made us both hard again.  So without any discussion, we clean each other with a warm wash cloth, and then swing into 69, and we take our time and really enjoy it.  We came at almost exactly the same time, which is harder to do than some people think.  Then we snuggled into each other, the bed, and sleep. 

     Davey was still finishing his breakfast.  Tomas and I were waiting for him on the front porch with the horses.  We were all ready for a morning ride. Spring was beginning to seriously consider arriving.  One thing I had noticed about Davey was, I love him a lot and all, but his clock is different from the rest of the world’s; for him to be on time is purely an accident, unless he’s being controlled by the bells at school or something like that, and even those don’t always work.  

     “Boys, come in here for a minute, we have a problem.”  Daddy sounded somber and I wondered what it could be.  We went into the ranch office, which was just off the living room.  This really wasn’t an office, it had originally been a sun porch, so the double doors that led into it were just panes of glass and were seldom closed.  There were two desks and some chairs, oak filing cabinets, an adding machine, a typewriter on a rolling table, that kind of stuff.  It was a place to work.  Gramercy was sitting at one of the desks with a lot of papers in front of her.  Daddy was leaning against the other desk facing us. 

     “Tomas is only fifteen years old.  This is a big problem.”  He looked at Tomas steadily, “When I asked your age you told me you were seventeen, soon to be eighteen.  In fact, you were fourteen, soon to be fifteen.  I cannot have you working at that age.  It is against the law.”  Tomas, usually so glowing and ruddy, was ashen. 

     “But, Patron…”   

     “Then, too,” Daddy rolled on, “You let me believe you were from Mexico, when in fact, you were born in San Pedro.  San Pedro, California.  So instead of a young man whom I might soon expect to be helping obtain his citizenship. I have an American boy.  A boy who should be in school!  A boy who cannot be working!  A boy who has Social Security and tax records in California.  I shall have to notify the authorities.”  Gramercy riffled the papers in front of her. 

     “I am the orphan, Patron.  Please let me stay.  I am alone since I was ten.  Please…this has been my only home.  Nobody cares.” 

     “Father.”  That’s odd, I thought for a moment, I never call him ‘Father’.  “I knew he was fifteen.  I asked him and he told me.  He told me that he lied to you only to get work.  Work that he is good at.  Surely God will not consider this a sin.  And Tomas,” I looked at him steadily, “You’re wrong.  We care.” 

     “But my dear Carlos,” Gramercy came in, “It’s not a question of sin.  It is a question of law.  And the law is in place in order to prevent the abuse of children.  They used to send ten year olds down in the mines.  Oft times, if they were in the coalmines, they’d be dead from the black lung before they were twenty.  In this case the law is trying to do the right thing.” 

     “Then, mi querida abuelita, all that we must do is figure out how to help the law do the ‘right’ thing.” 

     “He must go to school, and he cannot do that while he lives here,” school was always important to Daddy. 

     “How much school do you have, Tomas,” Gramercy wondered. 

     “I have never been to school, Dona Scott.” 

     “What!”  Daddy all but exploded.  “That’s not possible!” 

     “Mi Abuelita, taught me a little before she died.  I’ve picked a little up here and there, my cousin helped too, then he went to the Army.  I can read English and Spanish, but mostly I’ve had to work.  For mi Mama and then just for me.”  He looked at me.  It was a powerful look.  It was pleading, but at the same time, it was strong: he is strong.  Hell, he’s great, I thought. 

     “Let me tutor him,” I heard myself say.  “My Spanish is pretty good and my English is better, even if I only got a ‘B’ last semester.  I’m good in math and science too.  Is there some kind of test he can take before he starts high school.  This must have happened before.” 

     Gramercy and Daddy exchanged looks for a long moment.  I had begun to sense a victory for Tomas when I sensed my Daddy’s outrage at his lack of schooling, but I had no idea how that was going to fall into place. 

     “Please, Patron, just let me work.  I do not need the school,” Tomas had just managed to say precisely the wrong thing. 

     “No, mi Tomas,” I jumped in to avert another explosion from Daddy, “you must have the school.  I will tutor you until we figure out the high school thing; when you are done in high school you will start to college.  I will remind you that the blood of a thousand caballeros, and of the Mexican Lancers of renown, and of the Conquistadors, runs in your veins and to be worthy of that heritage, you must have the school.  How else will you have your horses in the future?  What will you do?  Will you manage a ranch?  Perhaps even this ranch?  Will you own a riding school?  Perhaps you will own your own ranch.  Maybe you will be a General of Cavalry.  Who knows?  We do not know what tomorrow will bring.  But none of those things are possible without school.  I ask you to do it.” 

     “Si mi Patron, it will be as you wish.”  He is strong, but just now he is close to tears. 

     There was a long, long silence.  “Well, Douglas Ranald,” Gramercy broke the quiet while smiling broadly, “I believe that’s pretty much that.  When next you go to town, stop and see the sheriff and we’ll take Tomas in as a foster son.” 

     “Well, I think there might be just one other thing.  Tomas, I will ask for your word as a gentleman, as the descendant of a ‘Lancer of renown’ that you will do as you have promised my son.  That you will attend to your education. Will you promise that?” 

     “Si, mi Patron.  You have my word.” 

     “I think you should address me as Senor Scott.  I believe that my son is your ‘Patron.’  Certainly he has been a powerful friend and advocate.  And Charles, I’m very proud of you, too.”  I walked across the room into his arms and hugged him.  “Aw Daddy, I just said what you were going to do anyway.” 

     “That may well be, but it was still good to hear you say it.” 

     “There is one other thing,” Gramercy thought, “When you boys get back from your ride, move Tomas into a bedroom here in the house.  It won’t do for him to be in the bunkhouse any more.” 

     Tomas shook my Daddy’s hand, and kissed Gramercy’s hand.  As we left, we collected Davey in the living room.  He had heard the whole thing.   

     “Wow,” was all that Davey could say as we mounted-up and rode out of the yard. 

     We were back for lunch.  What remained of last night’s chicken now appeared as enchiladas.  There was also a salad and rice.  The flan, no surprise, was all gone.  We had to rough it with some lemon tarts. 

     Afterward, I rustled up a jock strap and some old gym clothes for Davey.  Tomas and I presented him to Daddy for his first boxing lesson.  I thought it was interesting.  This had never been his idea, but he had never objected to it either.  Daddy thought this was something.  So he gave Davey his lecture about when a gentleman fights and made him promise that he would never use this skill for anything except self-defense, or to do “the right.”  Then he started getting technical, he told Davey that a lot of fighting was in the “wind.”  He suggested that he start running with me after school if possible because a wise fighter, with the most wind, will always win. 

     When the lesson started, Tomas and I went down to the bunkhouse to move his stuff into the house.  He didn’t have much.  It only took the two of us one trip.  I suggested that he should ask Daddy for boxing lessons too.  “Si mi Patron.”  When we got into his room, I had arranged for it to be the one next to mine, I told him, “Tomas mi querido, you do not need to call me Patron all the time.  We are brothers of the heart.”  He pulled me into a passionate hug and a kiss.  “I know, Patron.  I will not always call you that, but know that you are always the Patron of my heart.  You own my heart.  I will always love you When I call you Patron it is because I love you and for no other reason.  So please don’t be mad at me when I say it for you know now why I say it.”  We kissed again.  I told him that if there was any furniture or anything that he thought he needed in his room let me know and we’d find it for him.  “I’m gonna go open that package I got in the mail.  Come get me when you’re finished here.”  I kissed him. 

     Gramercy was sitting in the living room reading when I entered.  “What’re you reading, Light?”  This new endearment had just struck me.  “Light?”  She looked at me.  “You are my Light,” I explained as I hefted the package.  It was larger than I had at first thought.  “Who is that from, Carlos?”  She smiled. 

     “It’s from Commander van der Leyden, Nurse Corps, United States Navy.”  I sounded pompous.  “She’s my friend Gary’s Mom.  They live in Anaheim close to Bobbin and Grand Belle.  Gary’s Dad is a Commander too, but he’s captain of a destroyer and he’s in Japan right now.  You never did tell me what you’re reading.” 

     “Well, dear, actually I’m rereading Sherlock Holmes.  While you’re gone to school, Tomas and I are going to read together.  These stories are well written and I’m hoping they’ll inspire Tomas to ask a lot of questions.  There’s no point in trying to get him into school until next year anyway.” 

     “You’re the greatest,” I assured her.  I had neatly opened the package.  The first thing, on top of some tissue paper, was a typed letter.  It read:  

     Dearest Carlos, 

I’m very sorry to have to tell you that Corporal Astimendi passed away last week. He passed quietly in his sleep and is now free of pain and injury and is in a better place. I think, somehow, he has a team of horses to care for again. We buried him here, with full military honors. We will take you to the gravesite when next you visit, if, as I suspect, you would like. He insisted that you were to have all of these things. He said it was his salute to you, you will understand that, I hope. There would not have been time for you to get here for the funeral.   We have missed you this year and look forward to seeing you again this summer. All my love,  

Annaleise van der Leyden 

     Tears are streaming down my cheeks.  I open the tissue paper and the first item is the case with his medals.  I regard them for a long moment, set them aside.  Next there were two pictures.  Old and brown tinted.  One is of the Corporal with his lead horse looking over his shoulder.  They’re both all spritely and full of themselves.  The next shows his entire team hitched to the caisson.  The horse’s names are written in ink beneath them.  They’re alert, ears up, looking at the camera.  Then I thought that they’re probably looking at the Corporal who is standing near the cameraman.  He loved them; I bet they loved him too.  Then there was a black, triangular case with snaps along one side.  I unsnapped it and saw that it contained a folded flag.  Finally there was an old khaki tunic. It smelled of mothballs.  I figured it had to be his, there were a lot of stripes on the sleeves and there were medal ribbons sewn on the chest that were the same colors as the medals in the case.  I had to release a gentle sob. 

     “Darling what is the matter?”  Gramercy was across the room in a flash and enfolded me in her arms.  Safe in her arms, I let myself cry. 

     When I regained my composure, I noted that Tomas had come into the room and had a stricken look on his face.  He wanted desperately to help but didn’t know what was the matter.  I used my handkerchief and when I had control again, explained.  “My friend, Corporal Astimendi, died last week.  You didn’t know him.”  I handed them the letter and the pictures.  “What happened was he was in the Great War.  In the Field Artillery.  And he was gassed.  So he was crippled.  And Roberto and I helped him out a lot and I always saluted him, because I knew what these were.”  I presented the medal case.  “He told me all about his horses, he was a good man.” 

     “Tomas, will you do me a favor?” 

     “Instantly, mi Patron.” 

     I smiled at him, “would you find Davey and my Daddy and tell them to come in here.  We need to talk to my Daddy.  You too.” 

     “Patron!”  He was gone like lightning. 

     I took Gramercy’s hand, squeezed and kissed it.  “Thank you Light.”  She gave me a squeeze and a kiss on the cheek.  Daddy came into the room. 

     “A friend of mine passed away,” and I handed him the tunic.  He shook it out carefully and regarded it solemnly.  Davey and Tomas came into the room; Davey was all damp and tousled.  Tomas probably dragged him out of the shower to come to me. 

     “Did this belong to your friend?  I would have liked to meet him.” 

     “Yes, Daddy,” I handed him the medal case and the pictures.  He studied them carefully and respectfully.  I handed him the flag and the letter.  He refastened the flag case and set it reverently on the table and read the letter.  When he was done reading, I began. 

     “Gary’s Mom,” I nodded at the letter, “Commander van der Leyden, stopped by Corporal Astimendi’s house when we were painting it.  She told us that Gary had made it safely to Japan.  I asked her to come in and look at the medals.  She told me what they were, and later she also told me that Corporal Astimendi had some veteran’s benefits coming that he didn’t know about but she was going to get for him.  She thanked me for telling her about him.  So then, when I see Corporal Astimendi for the first time, on the porch, in a new wheelchair, I saluted him.  He said you don’t salute corporals.  I said I wasn’t saluting a corporal I was saluting a man.  He returned the salute.  I ran some errands for him and we had iced tea together.  I always saluted him.  I learned how to salute from Chief Bowman.  You could tell, by looking into his eyes, and from the way he spoke of his horses, that he was a good man.  So, Daddy, you need to tell us about war.” 

     Daddy looked stunned.  “War,” it was more like a croak than anything else. 

     I just looked at him.  He looked at all of us. “War.”  A long silence.  “Maybe we should have some tea brought in,” he suggested to the room. 

     “I’ll get it Daddy.”  This from Davey, who was then off to the kitchen before it registered on all of us that he’d call my Father “Daddy.”  He was back in a flash, “Margarita is bringing it, sir.”  I remembered last night when he told me how he envied me being able to call my Father ‘Daddy’ now he was back to “sir.” 

     Gramercy sat down and motioned to Tomas and Davey to sit also.  Daddy and I continued to stand facing each other, not like an argument or anything, it’s because we love each other. 

     “I don’t know how to begin this.  I guess I’ll just start, and try.”  Long pause, you could see him gathering himself.  “I will say that your friend was a real soldier and he really ‘saw the elephant’ as the soldiers used to say about men who’d been in combat.”  He picked up the tunic and pointed to two stripes just above the cuff, “These mean he was in a combat zone for an entire year.  These other stripes,” pointing to the upper arm, “are the insignia of his rank as corporal.  We didn’t give these away during my time and they were a lot harder to get in the ‘Old Army’.”  Another long pause, then he pointed to his ribbons, “these two mean he was a hero, I do not know what he did, but these have never come easy.  This one means that he was wounded in combat, that’s probably the gas attack from which he never really recovered.  This other shows what war he fought in and these clasps, with the French names, are the major battles in which he fought.  I am deeply moved, my son,” looking at me steadily though I thought I saw some moisture in his eyes, “to know that you honored this man, and became his friend, even across the march of years.” 

     Margarita came in and with a little assistance from Davey, distributed cups of tea to everyone.  She clearly sensed something serious was going on, for she then exercised the prerogative that many years of service, more like years in the family, gives one, and she took a seat against the wall with the tea tray close at hand. 

     “’War is hell.’  General Sherman said that.  I could not agree with him more.  But as horrible as that thought is, it does not even begin to describe it.  It is about deep and wrenching loss.  The loss of lives.   All of the promise of all of those lives will be lost; all those contributions to humanity are lost.  That’s what it is.  It is loss.  Complete and irredeemable loss.  And those of us who were there are haunted by the faces and the voices of the loss.  We knew them.  One moment they were there with us, vibrant and young and alive.  Then they were gone.  We were empty.  At a loss. 

     “We can tell ourselves that the war is just.  Right.  Defensive.  That we were forced to it.  Any of those things.  But none of that changes this deep sense of loss.  We knew them.  We knew the promise.  We wake up in the middle of the night, years later, and we remember them and we remember the loss. 

     “That is war as I knew it.  I believe that is war as your Corporal knew it.  That is war as your Daddy knew it,” Nodding to Davey.  “And when I go to bed tonight, I will pray that all of you will be spared this loss. 

     “We come home from this thing.  We want to put it behind us.  We will talk a little about it to others who shared it with us,” nodding again to Davey, “the one sure thing, is that if we return, we are not the same as when we went. But I’m beginning to think that maybe you are right.  You should know about war.  We should talk about it.  Maybe that will stop it from happening again.  I don’t know.  I think that’s enough for right now.  In the coming days, if you have more questions, I will always try to answer them.”  He looked at me and lifted his arms, and I flung myself into them, hugged him tightly, and kissed him.  Then he turned slightly to look at Tomas, who stood up and took a hesitant step toward him.  Daddy beckoned to him with his arms, “my son,” and Tomas was in his arms in an instant.  Daddy kissed Tomas, “you may call me Daddy, or Papa, if it pleases you.”  He smiled at Davey who had a rapt look on his face, “You’ve already called me Daddy once today.”  Davey was in his arms for a serious hug.  And a kiss. 

     “I hope you will all excuse me for a while.”  We were all standing now.  “I need to be alone for a bit.” 

     As he walked out I said, “Thank you Daddy.”  It was inadequate.