Harvey Kramer shipped home from the European front with a damaged leg and memories of a man he couldn’t have. Ten years later, on the first official Veterans Day holiday, that man knocks on Harvey’s door and turns his world upside down.
Zach Jones never forgot Sergeant Harvey Kramer. Though he made it through the Second World War uninjured, he bears the scars of a love he thought he lost forever. Using the new holiday as an excuse, he tracks down his old friend in hope of a sweet reunion.
“You know what’s so funny? I always wanted to come home so bad, and then when I did get here, I missed being there. I missed a lot of things.”
Zach frowned. “Did you? Like what? When they finally shipped me home, the only thing I missed was you.”
“Oh, it wasn’t like that. More the intangible. Like the routine. And feeling like I was part of something. Feeling like I wasn’t alone.” He turned his head, drinking in Zach’s dark eyes, the glimpse of his bare chest where his shirt parted. “I came home, and it felt like I’d left some part of me behind, that’s all.”
“Yeah. I guess I can understand that. I was totally at a loss when I came home. The whole first year, I’d wake up every morning completely confused. I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing in an actual bed. Then everything would come back to me, and I’d still be at a loss. I might have been in California, but my brain ... it was back in Africa and Italy.”
“I’m sure your professors loved that.”
“I wasn’t in school at the time. I was working at the Safeway. I might have been happy to stay there for the rest of my life, but my parents pushed me toward college. I was probably driving them crazy.”
His mouth twitched. “You as a bagboy? I would’ve paid to see that.”
Zach snorted. “There wasn’t much to see. But it gave me time to get a bit more focused.” He tilted his head back to finish the swallow of whiskey in his glass, then licked a drop from the corner of his mouth. “How long were you in the hospital?”
“Six weeks. They weren’t sure they were going to be able to save my leg at first. Then I had a few months of PT here.” He shook his leg a little to make the brace rattle. “The hardware’s a lot better than the crutches and cane were. Some days, if I’m not going to be moving around too much, I don’t need to put it on at all.”
“Do you sleep with it on?” Zach slid down the bed so he was closer to eye level with Harvey’s leg. “Is it something you’ll have to wear forever?”
“Probably, but no, I don’t have to sleep in it. You wanna see it?”
Zach glanced up through his lashes before nodding. “Do you mind taking it off?”
“I’m gonna take it off to go to bed anyway.” Hauling himself upright, Harvey pulled his belt out of the loops as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. Zach’s gaze was heavy on his back while he worked at his pants, and he had to concentrate on what he was doing in order to get them off his hips and over the fine metal. He had to lean over in order to reach the bolts around his ankles. The fact that his fingers shook the entire time didn’t really surprise him.
Zach hadn’t moved when Harvey stretched his bare legs out in front of him again. Both of them drank in the sight of his pale skin, the even whiter scars twisting along the inside of his calf. Hair grew at irregular intervals where constant friction from the brace wore it away, and in the bare patches, the skin was often dimpled, peppered with scars from the smaller pieces of shrapnel. “Almost lost those two toes,” he said, pointing at the smallest pair. “Then they brought in a new French doc who worked wonders.” He grinned, in spite of feeling so selfconscious about exposing himself like this. “You almost had to call me Stumpy.”
“I saw it happen.” His hand hovered over Harvey’s knee. He could almost feel the warmth from Zach’s skin. “Just before the mortar exploded, I shouted. I don’t know if you heard me. I always wondered what would have happened if I was just a bit closer, or shouted a bit louder ...”
“Don’t.” Harvey touched his shoulder, squeezing it lightly in reassurance. “It’s done. There’s nothing we can do about it. I certainly don’t blame you or anyone for what happened. Well, except for the Krauts. I can blame them. But not you. Never you.”