Sure I must perish by your charms, unless you save me in your arms
When Erd appears at the front door of his house and practically demands Levi accompany him to the dance hall, Levi considers refusing. He should stay with his parents, at least for the first night, he’s tired, he’s hungry. Erd shakes his head and laughs, then asks Mr and Mrs Ackerman if they’d miss Levi for an evening.
Neither say they will, and Levi tries not to be hurt by that. His father hates the very air Levi breathes, and isn’t ashamed to say it, but his mother dotes on him, and Levi can tell she’s trying to cope with her sons’ deployment in any way she can.
So he dresses himself up in a smart blue shirt and the nice trousers his mother made for him last time he was home. They’re two inches too big on the waist, and Levi wonders where all that weight has gone. Stress, probably. He’s surprised it isn’t a few more inches, given his role in the war effort.
The village hall is decked out with flags and flowers. There are American flags and British flags hanging from the rafters, the Stars and Stripes flying proud beside the Union Jack, and Erd excitedly tells Levi about all the American soldiers who are staying in the village and in the base just outside town.
Inside there’s a live band playing swing, and people are dancing and laughing like the world isn’t at war. Erd takes Levi right to the bar and buys him a pint with a laugh. It’s so expensive it makes Levi wince, but Erd doesn’t think twice before he pays for it, punching Levi’s arm excitedly.
They talk, and drink their beers while they watch everyone around them dance. Erd eyes up a beautiful girl in a red dress, and with a second pint down his throat, he finds his courage Levi has seen so much of in operations to go and ask her to dance.
Levi sees an American GI looking at him, and shyly looks away, ordering himself another beer and trying to look anywhere but at the handsome man looking at him. When the GI moves along the bar to stand beside him, Levi tries still to look away, but can’t ignore the hand extended out to his.
Captain Erwin Smith. The name rings in Levi's ears as he tests it out on his tongue, the small smile on his usually serious face belying how shy he was. The Captain is very handsome, a charming smile quick to play across his lips as they shared stories of their own personal wars.
The dancers thin out, and the two men talk on late into the night. Erd walks his girl home, waving at Levi as he leaves, but Levi scarcely notices, his wave back in response half-hearted. He’s distracted totally by the man he’s speaking to, the stories he tells, the way he smiles and laughs like the war’s nearly over.
Soon they’re the only ones left, and Levi sheepishly makes an excuse. He has to go home, his parents will be worried. He lies, but only because he doesn’t know what else to do. Erwin is walking back to the base, he says, and his journey takes him near to Levi’s house. They walk and talk about nothing, and Levi feels more and more nervous as they get closer to his house which lies dark at this late hour.
They stop at the gate, and Levi looks up at Erwin, chewing his lip anxiously. It means when Erwin kisses him there’s a little patch of his lip that’s rough, but the American doesn’t seem to mind much. Levi goes to bed feeling like he’s floating on air, his chest swelled up like it’s got a zeppelin inside it.
When he meets Erwin again for coffee in the Royal Oak pub, Levi kisses Erwin first. It’s thrilling, knowing that they could be seen. The villagers would talk. He wouldn’t care.
June comes to a close, and July sets in, with blazing hot weather across southern England. Levi helps out at the Henderson’s farm during the day, harvesting the crops for the war effort, and during the evenings when Erwin is off duty, they sit down by the little stream that flows blissfully along the edge of the village. Levi brings food, Erwin brings drink, and it’s almost like the war isn’t really happening.
For those hours when they’re together, Germany’s might seems so very far away.
July and August pass like a breeze. Kisses become making love, and it all makes Levi feel so alive. It’s like salve on the open wounds of the horrors of war. Being intimate, feeling loved, it cancels out some of the evil that had touched Levi and dirtied him up.
Then September arrived, with cool northerly winds and leaves falling from the trees.
Erwin’s squadron are called out. Levi watches through the chain-link fence as the airplanes take off, a kiss goodbye still stinging on his lips. He closes his eyes and sighs, knowing he’ll be up next, taken back to France probably now his period of rest is through.
But Erwin won’t be there to kiss away the hurt. Levi misses him for the rest of his life.