July 1, 1936, London, England
Jack Winston paced in his living room as doctors rushed to and from his bedroom. Curse those blasted in-home doctors! Yet she had repeatedly demanded not to go to a hospital. She had insisted on having as few people in the room as possible as she gave birth, insisting that Jack stay in the living room, not wanting him to see her like that. Though he could hear her screams as clear as day.
His hands itched to open his bedroom door. He wanted to hold Ming’s hand and tell her that everything will be okay. He wanted to assure her that nothing was going to wrong, which she had been so terrified of since the moment she had found out they would be getting a new addition.
Everything was like a blur. Jack eventually drank a little rum to calm his nerves, which worked for a small while until the screams faded into the background. It was only when he heard a second, softer set of screams that the realization hit him. He was a father.
Ming’s screams cut short moments later. They didn’t fade. They didn’t calm. They didn’t quiet. They just stopped. Something was wrong.
Jack was through that bedroom door within moments, still hearing the screams of the child, but looking wildly around for the mother. His eyes soon found her. His beautiful Ming was laying on the bed in a pool of blood. Her body was limp, eyes slightly opened but glazed over. Her chest neither rose nor fell.
He weakly stumbled over to her as if in a trance. “Ming,” he mumbled to her, brushing his hand along her cheek. There was still some warmth, but he could feel the warmth leaving her body as his hand remained on her cheek. Jack’s blue eyes filled with tears. This wasn’t happening! This couldn’t be happening! He was eighteen, for God’s sake! He knew nothing about children!
The doctor stepped over behind Jack. “I’m sorry, Mr. Winston. There was nothing we could do. It was sudden and unexpected.”
Jack squeezed his eyes shut. “Why?” he simply said, trying to control the fire of rage burning inside of him. “Why didn’t you do anything for her?!” he shouted, whirling around on the doctor. “How the bloody hell could you have let this happen?!”
The doctor bowed his head. “There were more complications than you were aware of,” he simply said. “Things she wished to remain secret.” He took a deep breath and sighed. “She knew this would happen all along, yet didn’t want you to worry. All she asked before the procedure was that you knew she loved you and that you take care of the child.”
Jack fell to his knees, screaming. The person he loved most in the world was now gone. The only person who could console him at a time like this was dead. His head felt like it would explode! Was this just a nightmare?
“Wake up!” he shouted at himself, clutching his head. “Wake up, Jack!”
The doctor placed a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Mr. Winston, your late wife did leave you with a healthy son.”
Jack wiped away the tears he hadn’t felt fall from in eyes. In fact, it wasn’t just the tears he didn’t feel. His entire body was numb. He felt nothing at all. His eyes went to the bundle of blankets in the midwife’s arms. “A son?” he asked.
The doctor helped him stand and ushered him out of the room and into an armchair. “Mr. Winston, would you like to hold him?”
“Yes,” Jack answered absently. He sat back in the chair, dazed. His eyes went to the newborn infant who was soon placed in his arms. The child’s eyes were closed, but they were the same shape as Ming’s. His hair was dark like hers. It put his stomach in a knot.
“Did you have a name for him?” the doctor softly asked Jack. He stood next to them. “The late Mrs. Winston did mention names.”
At the mention of Ming, Jack nearly lost it and gripped his son tightly to him. He was all that was left of that beautiful Chinese goddess. His eyes squeezed shut, unwilling to accept the reality that she was gone and had left him all alone with a little boy who looked too much like her. He felt his chest tighten and his heart sink into his gut.
“Mr. Winston, be careful,” the doctor warned. “You don’t want to hurt the baby.”
Jack’s eyes opened. No. He couldn’t hurt him. His gaze went to the sleeping child in his arms. “Lee,” he softly said. “If it was a boy, we would have named him Lee Winston…”
The doctor looked at him. “So is that the name you choose?” he asked. Jack absently nodded. “That’s what we will put on the certificate then.”
Jack stared at the sleeping infant. “Lee,” he softly said, looking at the child who looked more like his mother than his father. “Please don’t leave me too.”
Late January, 1942, London, England
Jack stared down at the glass of rum in his hand. How many of these had he drank in the past hour? He raised his eyes to look around the pub where he usually drank the afternoons away while Lee was at school.
“Hey, Jacky-boy, how old’s that kid of yours now?” the bartender asked him. “He must be getting up there in age by now, eh?”
Jack stared at the bartender. “My name is Jack,” he corrected. “And he’s five now. Will be six in a few months.” He drank what was left of the rum in his glass and set the empty glass on the bar. “I need a refill.”
“Honestly, you’ve had enough,” the bartender said. “That would make seven today. You should get home. Your son will probably be coming home from school soon, you know. Shouldn’t you be there to greet him?”
Jack exhaled, almost laughed. “He’s fine. That kid is quite self-sufficient. Besides, his nanny is there. She’s only off on Tuesdays.”
The bartender let out a deep sigh. “Jack, it is Tuesday.”
“Oh really?” Jack asked as if it were all news to him. His eyes widened a little. “And what time did you say it was, old chap?”
The bartender looked at the clock on the wall above the bar. “It is nearly four,” he stated.
Jack leaned heavily against the bar. Lee had been home alone for nearly an hour. “I should go,” he quickly said, getting up from his usual bar stool. He stumbled to the door and left.
“Should someone help him?” a person at the bar cautiously asked, watching Jack exit.
The bartender shook his head, rolling his eyes. “That poor, drunk bastard will be fine,” he sighed. “He only lives next door. Damn drunk.”
Jack burst through his front door, eyes taking in the front room. It was just as clean as he had left it. “Lee?” he called out, looking around. He stumbled down the hall and to the boy’s room. His bedroom door was open and the boy was nowhere to be seen. “Lee?” he called once more. He made his way to the living room and froze.
Lee sat at the coffee table, working on homework. His dark hair hung in his face as his left hand clutched his pencil. His brow was furrowed in concentration as he bit his lip, something Jack had done when he was young.
Lee wasn’t what had caused him to stop dead in his tracks in the doorway. It was the pair of olive green eyes that watched him from the couch. The green eyes that were behind a pair of wired-rimmed glasses. The man they belonged to was tall and brunet. He wore an American military uniform, yet his cap and jacket were placed neatly next to him on the couch.
Jack felt his face flush in fury and embarrassment. Just who the bloody hell was this bloody American who sat on his bloody couch in his bloody living room?! And why was he even here?!
Lee looked up once the atmosphere changed in the room. “Daddy!” he cheerfully said, spotting Jack. Anyone who looked at the child couldn’t even tell there was a drop of English blood in him. He looked purely Chinese, but those who knew him knew that he had inherited his father’s personality. He rose to his feet and ran to Jack, hugging him.
“Lee, what have I told you about running in the flat?” he scolded, placing a hand on his son’s shoulder. He could barely bring himself to look at the boy half the time. He looked too much like Ming.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Lee responded, pulling away and looking down at his feet.
Jack’s eyes flickered back to the green-eyed man on the couch. He couldn’t stand how untidy the man’s brown hair was. It irritated him. He wanted to march across the room and fix it while demanding who he was and what he was doing in his bloody flat, but he stayed anchored to his spot on the floor. “Who is this?” he asked Lee, his gaze never leaving the man on the couch.
Lee smiled over at the man. “That’s Private Reed of the US military!” he excitedly said. “He’s all the way here from America to fight in the war!”
“That’s all very well, but what is he doing in our flat?” Jack tiredly asked. The rum was starting to go to his head by this point. He wanted the man to leave, but first he wanted to know what the man was doing spending time with his five-year-old son.
“I’ll answer that one, little guy,” the man, Private Reed, answered, standing up and walking over. He stuck out an eager hand, a broad smile on his face. “William F. Reed at your service.”
Jack sighed and shook his hand. “Jack Winston. Pleasure to meet you,” he muttered
“He’s a hero!” Lee exclaimed in excited awe.
“That still does not answer the previous question,” his father sighed. He was getting terribly tired of this conversation and was close to just throwing his gentlemanly ways out the window and kicking that stupid American out.
William looked closer at the Englishman. “Are you drunk?” he finally asked.
Jack glared at the American. “That is none of your concern,” he stated.
The young soldier looked down at the little boy next to him. “But you have a child,” he finally said.
Jack had nearly had enough. “And what is your point there? You think I’m not aware of my own offspring?” If looks could kill… “Don’t you have some important military obligations of some sort to tend to or something?” he coldly asked. “My son is none of your concern.”
The American soldier furrowed his brow. “I did not mean to step on toes,” he calmly stated. His Midwestern accent infuriated Jack. The pronunciation was weird and he didn’t like it. William smiled down at Lee. “Be good, kiddo.” He patted the small boy’s head.
Lee grabbed Jack’s hand once William had left the room. “Daddy, he was only helping me,” he said. “Some of the kids from school were following me home and calling me names again.”
Jack’s stomach tightened. He knew that Lee was bullied at school for being half-Chinese, the only child at the school who wasn’t Caucasian. His jaw clenched. “What did he do then?”
“He told those kids to leave me alone,” Lee said. “And then he walked home with me. When you weren’t here, he said I shouldn’t be by myself. I tried to tell him that I would be fine, but he told me a child my age shouldn’t be home alone.”
Jack sighed. “Lee, I’m sorry that I wasn’t home when you got home,” he apologized. “I forgot what day it was.”
Lee sighed. “You always do.”
The Englishman looked down at his son. “Was he nice?”
The boy looked up at him. “Private Reed?” he asked. Jack nodded. “He helped me with my homework. And he told me stories about where he’s from.”
Jack raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Oh?” he asked. He wondered if William had left yet. “I supposed he can join us for dinner tonight if he’s still here. I’d like to know more about this man.”
Lee grinned widely and took off toward the front door. “Private Reed, wait!” he called loudly, causing Jack to cringe. Too loud.
It was awkward at the table that night. Jack and Lee didn’t have guests often, but William sat in the nanny’s chair. Jack had made soup that night and had sobered up by dinnertime.
William took a bite and smiled. “This is actually pretty good,” he admitted. “I’d heard rumors that British food was terrible, but this isn’t bad at all.”
Jack had to bite his tongue to keep from saying what he really wanted to say. Instead, he replied with, “Oh, really? Thank you.” Were all Americans this ignorant?
William smiled. “No problem at all.” He was taller than Jack and rather muscular. Maybe that was a reason why Jack hadn’t said what was really on his mind the whole time William had been around.
“If you don’t mind me asking, just how old are you?” Jack asked William. He couldn’t even guess, considering the fact that he was terrible with these sorts of things. That, and also the fact that William may have been bigger than Jack, but had a young-looking face.
“Oh, me?” William asked.
Is there any other bloody American in this room?! Yes, you! Jack bit his tongue to keep from saying it aloud, especially in front of a child. “Yes,” he slowly said.
The American smiled proudly. “I’m nineteen years old,” he stated as if that were the most important age to ever be. Jack almost laughed at how arrogant he was about it. At that age, he already had a son, and was a widower… “What about you, Jack?”
Jack was quiet for a moment. “I am twenty-three.”
William blinked in surprise. “That old?” he asked, his eyes widening.
“I beg your pardon,” Jack scoffed.
William shook his head. “It’s nothing,” he said. “Sorry.” He finished eating. “Thank you kindly for your hospitality, Jack,” he said, grinning at him. “I’m afraid I must be getting back to the base.”
Lee frowned. “What? Already?” he whined.
Jack shot his son a look. “Lee,” he warned as the boy shut his mouth.
William noticed the exchange between the two. “Hey, maybe I’ll see you again sometime, kid.”
“Can he come back again?” the boy asked his father, eyes pleading.
Jack let out a sigh. “I don’t see why not.”
Lee smiled brightly. “Will you come back again soon?” he asked William excitedly.
William looked up at Jack. His expression was strange and caused Jack to look away awkwardly. The soldier smirked. “Yeah, I’ll be back, Lee,” he said. “Perhaps tomorrow, if I have the time.”
Jack forced a smile to his face. “Well, we hope to see you again tomorrow.”
“I hope the food is as great as it was tonight,” William said with a smile. He put his hand up in a salute and grinned. “See you two again soon.”
Jack’s stomach turned. “Until then,” he said with a nod before seeing the American to the door.
Jack sat on his usual bar stool the next day. It was a quarter after one. Suddenly a person was sitting next to him. No one ever sat next to him. He glanced over and noticed William. His stomach sunk and he nearly dropped his rum.
“Hey there, Jack,” the American greeted. “Thought I would find you here.”
“H-How?” Jack stammered.
“Closest pub,” William answered, looking at the pub around them. “What are you drinking?”
The Englishman eyed him over the glass as he took another sip. “Rum,” he answered flatly.
William made a face. “That doesn’t sound the best.” He called over the bartender. “Can I get a bourbon?” Jack scoffed. “What?”
“You made that face at the mention of rum, yet you order that toxic stuff?” Jack asked, amused. He shook his head. “I guess they really mean it when they say, ‘Pick your poison’.”
The American seemed almost amused. “Oh really now?” he asked.
Jack rolled his eyes. “You’re still a kid,” he sighed. “You don’t need this stuff.”
William stared at him. “Oh really? And what were you doing at my age?”
“Raising one.” The other man finished his glass of rum and set it on the bar.
William looked like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t. Instead he accepted the bourbon when it was handed to him and drank it. He placed his money on the bar and stood up. His expression looked hurt as he said, “You know, Lee’s a good kid. Don’t ignore him, because before you know it, he’ll be all grown up.” With that, he walked out of the pub.
Jack glared after him. What did he know anyway? If that stupid American knew what was good for him, he’d keep his nose out of things that didn’t concern him. Yet at the same time, the pained expression on his face made him wonder.