Another coda this morning. This one is for James and Robert from Slay Ride.
Surprisingly, the only person who kicked up a fuss was Mrs. Spinoza.
“Motherless boys need…mothering,” she told Robert when he went to the boarding house to pack up James’s meager belongings.
“He’s not a boy, he’s a man,” Robert said, but he tried to be patient. She had been good to Jamie—James—and that made him feel kindly toward her. “Brothering isn’t so bad, is it?”
With a bit of lovering thrown in for good measure, though he couldn’t tell her that, felt kind of hot and shaky inside even thinking of it. That was excitement, not fear--though maybe he should have been more afraid. They were taking a risk.
But then some risks were worth taking.
“He’s not strong,” she protested. “Just getting out of the hospital, he’ll need looking after.”
James had turned out to be a hell of a lot tougher than any of them had given him credit for, but fair enough. He had looked fragile as a glass ornament when Robert had gone to visit him that morning.
He said more gently, “I know. I’ll take good care of him. I promise.”
Mrs. Spinoza studied him with that dark, wary gaze, but maybe she could see Robert meant it. Or maybe she could see the battle had already been decided. Her face twisted; her shoulders slumped with defeat. “Yes. He’d like to live with the chief of police and have the inside track on every crime story in Bolt.”
Mrs. Spinoza didn’t laugh, didn’t smile. This was breaking her heart. She said, “I’ll give you the soup I made for him. He has to eat.”
“That would be very kind. I’ll make sure he swallows every drop.”
* * * *
His own mother and sisters were as jubilant as if he’d rescued James from a prison camp. He had to prevent them from dumping the tub of chicken soup “that awful woman” had made or from sorting through James’s belongings. They set about cleaning the guest room with what he considered peculiar good cheer—dusting, scrubbing walls, washing the windows, polishing the old solid furniture—they actually laughed off Robert’s reminders that Jamie was not a child or an invalid. He was pretty sure they’d have painted the room if there had been time, but Jamie was coming home from the hospital that afternoon and they had to be satisfied with merely redecorating with linens and pictures from Mrs. Garrett’s home.
In fairness, the room did look nice once they were done: warm and welcoming and homey from the granny square black afghan throw across the foot of the bed to the framed photos of Rob, Joey and Jamie on their last fishing trip.
“Now I can rest easy knowing I’ve kept my word to his poor mother,” Mrs. Garrett announced with a mournful sigh, and Robert wasn’t the only one who rolled his eyes.
“Now neither of you have to be lonely,” Helen agreed.
Robert stared at them doubtfully, uncertainly. Surely, they couldn’t—didn’t—?
But no, the three of them beamed back at him with what seemed to be guileless satisfaction.
* * * *
“Hell,” James said disgustedly. “I can’t believe Earl scooped me on my own damned story!”
It was much later that evening. James was comfortably tucked up in the guest bedroom, reading through the stack of newspapers Robert had brought him. There was healthy color in his face and an alert—if indignant—gleam in his eyes.
Robert laughed. “There’ll be other stories.”
“I guess so.” Jamie was scowling as he continued to read Earl Arthur’s account of the shootout on Oklahoma Street.
Robert rose from the foot of the bed and reached for the empty bowl on the tray across James’s lap. “Did you want more soup?”
“No. Thanks.” James glanced, met Robert’s gaze, and flushed. He said shyly, “Thanks for everything, Rob. I mean that. You didn’t have to do any of this.”
“I didn’t. Mother and the girls did.”
James said quietly, “You know what I mean.”
Robert removed the tray, set it on the bureau, and took his place on the bed next to James, slipping at arm behind his shoulders so they could settle more comfortably against the pillows.
“I know,” he said, and kissed James.
James dropped the paper, which slid off the bed with a sigh, and kissed Robert back, sweetly but still maybe a little tentative. He rested his head against Robert, and said softly, “If you change your mind--”
“I’m not going to change my mind. Why would I change my mind?”
James lifted his shoulder. “People might talk.”
Rob said gruffly, “Yep, people talk. If they don’t talk about this, they’ll talk about that. To hell with ‘em.”
“That’s not what you said—it’s not what you thought—before.”
Robert drawled, “I didn’t realize you thought I was infallible.”
“No. Just sure of what you wanted.”
“I am sure of what I want. What I want is you. I didn’t see a way before. A way that wouldn’t hurt you too. Maybe more than me. But now I do.”
James closed his eyes. Rob could see the bright glitter beneath his gold-tipped eyelashes. It made his heart twist. That’s what feeling this much for someone did to you. Made you feel their pain worse than your own.
He said softly, “Do you know what tonight is?”
James opened his too-bright eyes, wiped at them, shook his head. “I’ve lost track.”
“New Year’s Eve.”
“Oh.” James looked surprised.
“I’ve got a bottle of champagne in the ice box. Joey bought it when I left for the Philippines. We were going to drink it when I came home, but…”
But when Robert finally came home, Joey was gone.
James nodded. Robert said, “I say we open that bottle tonight and drink to the New Year.” He added steadily, “And to us.”
James gulped a broken little, “Rob,” and wrapped his arms around Robert’s neck. Rob held him tightly, kissed him, kissed his tears, and whispered reassurances and promises for the future.
This war was over.