By the last time in solitary, Tom was losing his mind.
He didn’t know what was present and what was past. He lived out the days not knowing how much time had gone. He stood to attention for hours on end, waiting for the Brigadier to come and “inspect the troops” as he used to every morning when they were at home, checking their hair, fingernails, boots and general cleanliness.
He groaned and shouted out in his sleep. The rats scuttling over his legs no longer disturbed him. He was past caring.
When he was at the end of his tether, hallucinating and shaking, Harry came to him.
He looked up and held out a hand, it was so real. Harry held out a hand and touched his face.
“You have to come back to me, Tom. You have to stay strong and come back to me. I need you. Everything will be fine. We’ll be like we used to be. Remember that and be strong Tom. I love you, my darling.”
Harry!!!! Harry!!! He was screaming.
When they let him out the last time he was very nearly insane. He cleaned himself up and became withdrawn and morose, lying for hours on his bunk with only the thought of escaping and returning to Harry keeping him from doing the unthinkable and taking the coward’s way out.
When they heard that the American’s had broken through he was tempted to say it was too late, that the Brigadier would be disgusted with him for having to be released, not escaping. Only the thought that he could be free, he could go home and find Harry so that they could go away together somewhere and start a new life.
When the Yanks turned up to liberate Colditz they found Tom Willis in his finest uniform, smart as a new pin.
On the train through liberated France, all he could think of was the sweet face that he’d seen every day of his life since he was four. The rattling of the wheels lulled him to sleep and he dreamed of the days when they were both back from school, running wild on the estate, climbing trees and swimming in the river. Whenever he remembered a happy time, Harry was there in the centre of it, more of a brother to him than Richard who was serious and dreamy.
Harry was always referred to as a cousin but that wasn’t true. Major General Harold Parker-Clyde had been the Brigadier’s closest army chum so it was normal that they would be godfathers to each other’s children. So it was completely normal that when Harold and his wife died in a car accident, little Harry would come and be brought up with the Willis boys. It amused the Brigadier to introduce them as Tom, Dick and Harry; he never ceased to guffaw about it.
Tom slept for most of the journey, waking up briefly to be herded onto a troop ship to cross the Channel. He was mentally and physically exhausted.
When the train arrived at Waterloo, Tom swung his ditty bag onto his shoulder and pushed his way off the train onto the platform that was completely heaving with servicemen, wives, girlfriends … he elbowed his way towards the exit, longing to get to Kings Cross so he could board a Scotland bound train and get home. Home.
“Tom! Tom! Over here, Tom!” He knew that voice. There, in naval uniform, waving like crazy from behind the barrier was Harry. He started to walk faster, then he broke into a trot, then he was running, barging people out of his way, muttering apologies. “Harry! Harry!”
He broke past the crowd at the barrier and they were in each other’s arms, faces pressed against each other.
“Oh my darling Tom, I thought I’d never see you again.”
“Harry. Sweet darling Harry. I thought about you every minute of every day. You were never out of my mind.”
The Honourable Harriet Parker-Clyde pulled Tom’s mouth to hers and gave him the longest, sweetest kiss.
“Now will you take me up on my offer?” she whispered in his ear.
“No, now I’ll marry you Harry. If you’ll have me.”
“I thought you’d never ask, Tom – but the offer is still there. I have a hotel booked.”
“God in heaven but you really are the most practical of women…. And I love you so much my darling, I think I always have.”
“All my life, Tom Willis, all my bloody life!”