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A Dream That Could Not Last

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6 September 1916

"So you're at Cambridge?" the major asked.

Second Lieutenant Simon Cowell shifted in his seat, and wondered why the chair felt so very hard.  It really shouldn't; it couldn't be harder than the chairs at school.  "Yes, sir.  I would have been starting my third year."

"Mmhmm."  The major continued to look through what Simon assumed was his new file.  "Ah, you worked as an office clerk during your school holidays?"

"Yes, sir.  I can use a typewriter and a telegraph."

"You've learned to type?  Unusual for a man."

"My father didn't believe in hiring female typists.  Or I should say, my mother didn't believe in my father hiring female typists."

The major chuckled.  "What sort of office was that?"

"My father is a theatrical agent, sir."

"Hmm," the major said.  "Well, typing is a skill that will be useful to the Army.  No good sending a woman to the front."

"No, sir."

"You won't be at the front, exactly.  More like near it.  Not that we'll be in France for long.  Only another two months to beat Jerry, I imagine."

"So I hear, sir."

"Unless."  The major paused, looked up from the papers.  "Some of these young fellows, they want to get right into the fight before it's over.  You know, get their licks in."  He raised an eyebrow.

Simon stared at the major for a long time, then replied, "I want to go where I'll be the most use to the war effort, sir."

The major smiled, and nodded his head.  "Right you are, son," he said.  "All this rushing to the front is damned foolishness if you ask me.  Raw recruits, no way to run an army.  No way at all.  Sound training is what's needed."

"Yes, sir."

"Now that you've done your basic, we'll be sending you to France in a few days—enough time to say good bye to the family, I expect.   Where are they?"

"Yes, sir.  Hertfordshire, sir."

"Very good.  You're at leisure now; Martin will let you know when to report for transport.  Good luck, Lt. Cowell," the major said, standing to shake Simon's hand.

"Thank you, sir."

That night Simon went out for a last drink with his schoolmates, now fellow junior officers, who all expressed sympathy for his plight.  "Taking one for the Army, Cowell," Ken had said, and Simon had laughed it off, said they were all on the same side, no matter what their work was.  It was only later, when he'd poured himself onto an overnight train headed for Elstree, that he looked at his reflection in the window, and faced his real feelings on the matter.

For it wasn't disappointment.  It was relief.

6 February 1939

Ryan Seacrest shifted in bed, the first real bed he'd slept in since he'd accompanied the Spanish Republicans out of Barcelona and into exile in France. For the last two weeks they'd run through Catalonia, into the mountains, and over the Andorran border into France; last night was the first night they'd spent in an inn rather than in some kind farmer's barn.  Ryan wasn't sure what was supposed to happen next, now that they'd reached relative safety. His instinct told him that the story was over, but he pushed aside the usual ugly itching feeling for David's sake.  The sun was warm on his back and behind, the sheets having slid down at some point, which reminded Ryan of David taking advantage of the mattress the night before by fucking Ryan into it, anger and frustration and desperation spilling out over them both. 

He stretched, reaching out for David, but felt only linen and a sheet of paper. 

Ryan—As you would say, we had a good run.  But now I must go, and you can do us more good by keeping our story alive.  Write the book!

I ask one more favor—take small David to London, to school.  I'll send a telegraph with details to the American Express in London.  He has his papers but I'm sure you'll be able to talk your way through any difficulties.  You're so good at that.

We'll see each other again.  Until then, be well.


Well.  At least now he knew what to do next.  A knock at the door could be only one person—he moved the sheets to cover what was necessary.  "Come in."

Small David Archuleta—who had been named after his mother's brother, and was small, though he was sixteen now—walked in carrying a small breakfast tray, his rucksack dangling from one shoulder. "They've all gone," he said, setting the tray on the bedside table.  He poured out coffee, and handed Ryan a cup. "So what now?"  he asked, sitting on a chair near the bed.

"So now," Ryan said, sipping his coffee, "we go to London to put you back into school."

David nodded as he took a roll.  "When do we leave?"

"As soon as I get a shower," Ryan said, reaching for his boxers.

There was a tiny shaving mirror hanging in the bath, and Ryan was a little startled to see himself, unshaven, hair every which way.  He wondered what the boys back in Hollywood would think of his appearance—he used to be such a Beau Brummel, but maybe that's what love, or politics, or both will do to you.  He decided to ask the proprietor to take a picture of him and small David before they go, was glad that somewhere in the film was one of him and David Hernandez, his erstwhile lover. 

He lathered up his chest and arms and wondered why he didn't feel heartbroken.  He'd known David for two years, been his lover for nearly that long, believed in him and his people and his cause, adored his rousing speeches and his olive skin in roughly equal measure.  Was this just his forgotten journalistic distance returning to him at this late date, when he was thinking of gathering his dispatches into a book?  Was it because cause and country had been lost?   Or was it that damn itch, the one that made him eventually tire of the tennis star and the actor?

He turned off the tap and looked back in the mirror.  No use in all this woolgathering; David had made their parting even easier on Ryan by giving him a job to do.  He dressed quickly and went back to small David, who looked up at him, determined as ever.

"All right, David," he said.  "Let's get out of here."