Okay, so I have a few things to confess about this particular piece. It was born out of my absolute love of World War II fiction, and my Captain America obsession definitely had an impact. Then it spiraled into something else entirely. It's already complete and I plan to post every Tuesday from here on out. There are going to be at least four stories in the series, probably five, but I have yet to write them. Better get on that, right?
Leave me a line to let me know how I did.
In 1939 Brooklyn, brick tenements lined the narrow streets and children played in the alleys while their guardians chattered on stoops. It was a peaceful, if hard-pressed existence for the people living there.
One of those was walking down the street, smiling at neighbors and ruffling the hair of children he knew as they darted around him. A car had to swerve around him and the driver swore out his window, getting a two finger salute for his troubles.
He was a rather large man, muscular from working at the docks and lean from many nights of scraping by for food. Strawberry blonde hair glinted in the evening sunlight and blue eyes glittered happily as he made his way home. Large hands were tucked into his pockets, holding the most important papers currently in his possession.
This was David Shaw Willoughby, though most everyone called him Taffy. Why he had a Welsh nickname when he was the son of an Irish immigrant mother is a story for another time. This one was about those papers in his pocket.
See, the date is September 10, 1939. A week ago Britain and France had declared war on Nazi Germany, after Poland was attacked and the appeasement treaty was broken. There was fear of a second world war and everyone in their right mind wanted to stay far away from that, thank you very much. Memories of the first were too sharp.
The moment Taffy heard that war was declared he marched down to the British embassy in New York and offered himself up as a volunteer. It really makes you wonder about his sanity (or lack thereof), doesn't it? Not that anyone needed to hear about that to question it.
No, he was too mysterious in all the wrong ways for that. He lived in a two bedroom flat in the gay neighborhood with his younger sister Daisy, her illegitimate son Patrick, and his Jewish best friend Hiram. It made people wonder just how close he and Hiram were… That he was always pulling the other man out of fights and one was almost never without the other were enough for most people to draw their conclusions. Others wondered about the Daisy and Hiram. A small, extremely sick-minded percentage wondered about Taffy and his sister. They were all happily ignored (or beaten senseless) by the three old enough to understand what was being said.
At a crumbling brick building, Taffy turned in the front door. The halls were narrow and wallpaper peeling, and there was a combined scent of cooking and rot in the air, but it was home. Easily he jogged up three flights of creaking stairs to his front door.
The scent of cooking chicken made his stomach rumble hopefully. It had been a while since any of them were able to save up enough to buy meat. He opened the front door and breathed in happily.
"You're late," Daisy told him crossly from where she sat on the sofa darning a sock.
"Sorry, had something to do," Taffy explained, kicking the door closed behind him.
There was a blur of motion from the floor in front of Daisy, and suddenly a small body was slamming into Taffy's legs. "Uncle Taffy! Finally you're home! Uncle Hiram wouldn't let us eat until you got home and I'm hungry!" Patrick chattered from waist level. Luminous blue eyes, a startling amount like his uncle's, blinked up excitedly.
"What's more important than being on time for dinner?" Hiram teased from the corner of the room that served as a kitchen. He was stirring a pot on the cast iron monstrosity they called a stove.
"I enlisted in the British army," Taffy answered, shoulders straight and lips upturned with pride.
There was a slopping sound as broth fell to the floor. The clicking of Daisy's needles stopped and all eyes were on Taffy. It was enough to make anyone nervous.
"Hiram, you're wasting broth," Taffy pointed out, watching liquid drip out of the ladle. Was he the only one that noticed? Probably.
It was even more likely that he was the only one who cared. It wasn't a minute before Daisy raced into her bedroom, shoulder shaking and hands covering her face. The ladle was tossed into the pot in favor of Hiram shaking Taffy's shoulders aggressively, demanding, "What the hell were you thinking!"
Alarmed, Patrick darted away and slipped into the room he shared with his mother.
"I was thinking that it's what I need to do," Taffy snapped. This wasn't at all how he had envisioned his family reacting to the news. Sure, a lot of people died in World War I, but he was trying to end this conflict before it became another world war. Wasn't that worth fighting for?
"You don't need to do anything, that's Europe's problem," Hiram replied, scowling, "Why do you always butt into everyone else's fights? Why can't you just keep yourself safe?"
This was getting a little too personal for Taffy's taste. He knew his friend hated it when he ended a fight that wasn't his. Especially when it was Hiram in the middle of it. "Because it's the right thing to do," Taffy said softly.
When he looked into his friend's eyes, he saw that there was more fear than anger. Hiram was afraid for him.
They both deflated. Heaving a sigh, Hiram pressed his forehead to his friend's. "Just promise you'll come back," he said hoarsely.
"I promise I'll do everything I can to come back," Taffy said, well aware of what happened to men on the battlefield. Sometimes there was no chance to get out alive. All he could do was try his damnedest and pray.
For a long moment they stood there, one resigned and one determined. They were so close they were able to share breath and body heat; if almost anyone else were in Hiram's place, Taffy's heart would have been beating out of his chest. It was an almost soothing moment in what would be a sea of tension for the three days left until Taffy shipped out.
"Go get Daisy and Patrick, no sense in wasting that chicken," Hiram finally said. The smile he gave his best friend was weak as he withdrew to the stove.
"Do I have to?" Taffy questioned, cringing. When Daisy was upset, she was scary.
"I ain't bailing you out," Hiram told him sternly as he fiddled with the pot.
It was only a few steps to Daisy's bedroom door. Not for the first time, Taffy wished the distance were larger. For once that had nothing to do with wishing they had a bigger apartment.
He knocked hesitantly. "Daisy? Let me in, please," Taffy requested. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, almost dancing in place.
"Unless you're admitting to playing a very tasteless joke, I don't want to hear it," Daisy said. The venom in her voice very nearly melted through the thin door.
"Actually, it's time for dinner," Taffy responded.
On the other side of the door, he heard the squeak of bedsprings. The door opened and his sister's green eyes bored into him with an unholy light.
Without thinking about it, Taffy crossed himself.
A smirk curled the corners of Daisy's lips even as she hip-checked her brother out of the way. "Don't think I've forgiven you," she hissed as she passed by.
Right behind her, Patrick wandered out with a lost expression on his small face. "Mama thinks you're an idiot," he announced, "And I think you're stupid for making her cry." He frowned up at his uncle.
"Yeah, I am," Taffy admitted freely. Now he had three days of Daisy's subpar (to be polite) cooking to look forward to. It went without saying that he hated seeing his baby sister upset anyways.
"Yeah, you are," Hiram called from where he was dishing out the food. It smelled delicious.
Taffy heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. Like it or not, this was his family. He could wish they had reacted better to his news, but he knew that would be extremely unlike them so he didn't.
He joined them at the table and prepared to make the best of his last three days in Brooklyn.