Autumn, 1923, Des Moines, Iowa
Mathew Jameson gripped his father’s hand tightly as his olive green eyes took in the military school he would be attending. He clutched at his white teddy bear. It was far from home, but he knew it would be hard, yet there was someone here who he hoped would make it worth it.
Mathew was always aware of the fact that he had a brother, and he knew the boy’s name. He knew they were roughly the same age, but he had never met him. They had the same father, but different mothers. Mathew’s mother had been a woman their father had met on a business trip in Canada while he was married to his brother’s mother. They had met and fallen in love, resulting in Mathew. His father had quickly divorced his brother’s mother and came to marry his mother. Yet Mathew never thought that was right. Though he was only six, and didn’t know much about the world, he still knew enough to know that what his father had done was wrong. And he couldn’t imagine how his brother must feel about it.
He looked up at the name plate on his bedroom door. “Mathew Jameson”. It made the decision to attend this academy more final. The name below his was familiar enough. “William Reed”. He tried to read it, yet his reading comprehension wasn’t all that great. Mathew shrugged his shoulders and got situated.
“Well, I better get going, sport,” Henry Jameson said after helping Mathew unpack and situate himself. He pushed his dark bangs out of his green eyes. Mathew had been told he looked almost like a younger clone of his father. “Will you be okay?”
Mathew nodded. “Yes,” he said in a soft voice. He was always soft spoken, a trait he had received from his mother. “Will you visit?”
Henry patted Mathew’s head, ruffling his hair. “Of course I will, champ,” he answered with a grin. “Why wouldn’t I?” The small boy shrugged. “You just have fun, okay? And write often, got it?” He winked at his son before kneeling to hug the frightened boy.
The small child wrapped his arms tightly around Henry’s neck, the situation finally becoming real as he blinked back tears. He wasn’t going home with his dad. “I love you,” he softly said.
Henry smiled and pulled away, kissing the top of Mathew’s head. “I love you too, Mattie,” he said. “Be good.” He turned and left, leaving his son alone in the room.
Mathew crawled onto his bunk in the room and held his teddy bear tightly to his chest. “It’s just us now, Frost,” he softly whispered to it. “We’ll be okay, won’t we?” He tipped over, resting his head on the pillow. “Maybe things will get better if we can find my brother.”
The door opened and a boy Mathew’s age walked in. Just the mere sight of him caused Mathew to blink in surprise. The boy looked nearly identical to him, same hair color and eyes. Who knew finding him would be so easy?
“You Mathew?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at his new roommate, who solemnly nodded. “I’m William F. Reed, your roommate. If you need someone to show you around, just let me know.” The boy suddenly blinked in surprise as if noticing that Mathew looked just like him. He suddenly looked very uncomfortable. “Just let me know,” he huffed before going to his bunk and busying himself with polishing his boots.
Mathew lowered his eyes. William obviously didn’t want to talk, so he kept his mouth shut as well, not wanting to offend the boy. Instead, he focused on his stuffed bear, his only friend he’s had for the past three years. After all, most parents didn’t want their children to be friends with a boy whose mother was a mistress to a married man. A lot of parents in his hometown looked to Mathew as if he were an abomination, the most filthy child they had laid eyes on. He just hoped that one day, he could have a good bond with his brother, the only person he felt would understand.
Early February, 1942, London
Mathew Jameson patrolled the hallways of the military base, his captain badge polished and shining on his chest proudly. He nodded to his superiors and smiled brightly at the people below him. He was looking for one person, and one person only. The one person who would be proud of his accomplishment.
Shouts could be heard from down the hall and Mathew picked up his pace, especially when he recognized one of them clear as day. Someone was picking a fight with his brother again, which was a thing that happened on a regular basis, especially because William was quite hot-headed and always fought back.
“I’m not the fucking captain!” William’s voice shouted as his brother drew ever closer, causing the captain to stop in his tracks. “You’re got it all wrong! That’s my brother, not me!”
“You expect us to believe that you have a brother who looks exactly like you?” a new recruit demanded. “We all know that you’re not a twin! You can’t pull that! We saw a picture of you getting the badge! All we want is to see it!”
“I don’t have it!” William yelled. From his tone, Mathew could tell he wouldn’t last much longer without violence. “And he does look just like me! If he ever comes to the base, you’ll see for yourself!”
Knowing he had to intervene, the young Captain entered the room to see his brother cornered by some new military recruits who didn’t know their place. They looked like fighter pilots, though. Mathew knew how cocky their type was. And from where he was, he could see William’s fists clenched in rage. Yet no one noticed him as he stood there.
“Gentlemen, what seems to be the problem?” Mathew kindly asked, raising his voice slightly above the usual quiet tone he used so he could be heard.
The pilots turned to him and their eyes widened and their jaws dropped.
“And how long did you plan on keeping quiet about being at the base?” William demanded, casting an annoyed glance in his brother’s direction. “About time you showed up, Mattie.”
“Captain Jameson,” Mathew corrected, shooting William a stern look.
“Yeah, whatever,” the other muttered, sulking to himself.
Mathew smiled fondly at his brother before turning to the pilots, giving them a look that was less kind. “So do you have a reason for harassing a soldier?” he asked. “The fact that you two are pilots does not change the fact that we are all fighting for the same thing. I will not tolerate bullying in the base while I am around. You two are dismissed.”
The pilots left, bewildered. Neither of them could tell if the young captain was angry or not because he never once raised his voice. Yet his eyes held fire in them.
“I could’ve handled that on my own,” William grumbled, crossing his arms. His bad attitude faded when he looked up at his brother’s kind smile. “We need to catch up on a few things, don’t we?”
Mathew nodded and glanced at the clock. It was later than he had aniticpated, and he knew that William could talk for hours. “Come to my bunk, Will,” he said, nodding in the direction of his quarters. He knew his brother wouldn’t get in trouble being in his quarters if he was there, and since they were brothers, no one ever thought it was weird whenever William followed him around. If he was honest with himself, Mathew secretly liked the attention his brother gave him.
William eagerly followed Mathew and patiently waited for him to get dressed and ready for bed, foot tapping like crazy due to his impatient tendencies. “Mattie, hurry up,” he finally groaned.
Mathew walked out of a bathroom stall, buttoning up his night shirt the rest of the way. “Okay, let’s go, Will,” he sighed, leading the way to his bunk. He sat and pulled the covers up over his lap with just enough room for his brother to sit next to him. “What did you want to talk about?”
His brother sat back against his pillows and sighed, looking up at the ceiling. “Where do I even start?” he sighed. “Well a few weeks ago, I came across a little Chinese kid being bullied by some kids at a local school.”
“A Chinese kid in London?” Mathew asked, situating himself on his pillows so he could relax without falling asleep.
“Let me finish,” the younger brother stated. “So I got the kids to leave him alone. The little boy’s name was Lee Winston. A pretty English last name for a Chinese kid, you know? So I think he’s adopted. Anyway, I walk him home, and no one is there when we get there. Turns out, his dad is off at the pub next door, getting drunk. Can you believe that?!”
The Captain yawned a little. “Why would he do that?”
“I realized it when Jack came home,” William sighed. “That’s the dad’s name, Jack.” His eyes suddenly held a dreamy gaze. “Jack is full English, pale skin and all. Lee had mentioned that his mom died when he was born, so I figured he must look like her. And that’s when I realized that Jack went to the pub every day to get drunk, so that he wouldn’t have to see his dead wife when he got home, so he couldn’t recognize his own son…” He sighed. “Just like she used to do to me when I was Lee’s age. Dammit, he’s only five.” William clenched his fist. “He shouldn’t have to live that way!”
“’She’ meaning your mother?” Mathew cautiously asked. He knew that was a touchy subject, considering that he and William had the same father, whom they both looked exactly like. William’s mother hadn’t taken kindly to her son looking identical to the man who had betrayed her.
“I don’t care what anyone says, Colleen Reed is not my mother,” William grumbled, crossing his arms angrily.
“Do you ever wonder if Lee thinks the same about Jack?” Mathew quietly asked. Having noticed that his brother saw his younger self in the small Chinese boy from his story, Mathew was honestly curious as to what William thought of something like that.
“Not at all,” the younger brother answered, shaking his head. “That boy thinks the world of Jack, but he thinks Jack hates him.” His face clouded over. “Mattie, this little boy is nearly six years old and he sees the world through the eyes of an adult.” The words pained him as he said, “This little boy once asked me if he thinks I think his father hates him because he killed his mother…”
Mathew gasped, horrified. “Why would a five-year-old even have a thought like that?”
“I feel like that boy is so much smarter than he lets on,” William sighed. “And he’s seen more than his father knows.”
“You relate to him, don’t you?” the older brother asked asked, lying back comfortably by that point, body becoming heavier with every passing moment.
“It’s more than that,” the soldier sighed. “I can’t stop going over there. I’m there whenever I have free time. But my favorite part isn’t when I’m playing with Lee.” He lowered his voice so that the only one who could hear was the other occupant of the bed. “My favorite part is when I’m alone with Jack, and he’s sober. He is kind and funny and open. We stay up and talk after Lee goes to bed. Mattie, Jack has the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen. They’re like tiny Earths against a white sky.”
Mathew frowned. He remembered the last time his younger brother had spoken this way about someone. It hurt his heart to think of the way it had ended. “Tell me more about Jack,” he encouraged. He knew he was the only person William could probably ever talk to like this, the only person his brother really could trust completely with who he really was.
“Where do I even begin?” William quietly began, a dreamy look in his eyes. “He pretends to be a complete gentleman, but after he gets comfortable around you, he swears like no other. And I know he really does care about Lee from the way he changes his mannerisms around the boy. I notice that he tries to be more cheerful and all that when the boy is around.” The smile that was on his face when talking about Jack slowly faded. “You know, Lee did something kinda weird the other day…”
“What did he do?” Mathew asked, rolling over to face his brother. He was fighting sleep really hard by this point, having been up since the crack of dawn.
“He called me ‘Dad’…” the younger brother softly said. “And then after he said it, his eyes got really wide. And he looked so scared. He clung to me and begged me not to leave him, telling me he was sorry and that he wouldn’t do it again…” He shook his head. “It was so sad to see. He was scared that I would leave him for calling me that.”
The Captain yawned and bit his lip. “That poor kid.” He couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. “Will, if his father is as neglectful as you think, please keep an eye on that boy.”
William smiled. “I’ll keep an eye on more than just the little boy,” he quietly teased with a wink. He still had that dreamy look in his eyes. “Mattie?”
“Yeah?” Mathew mumbled, slowly slipping into a deep sleep.
“I haven’t felt this way about something before in my life,” the younger brother softly admitted. “Mattie, I think I’m in love…”
The Captain mumbled some kind of encouragement to his brother and then placed a hand over William’s mouth. “If you’re going to stay here with me, you’re going to sleep, Will,” he muttered.
William pouted a bit but then laid down as well. “Goodnight, Mattie.”
Mathew nodded and muttered something like a response and fell into a deep sleep.
Late March, 1942, London
Mathew marched down to the corridor of the base to the command office. He had been called there by a superior officer. He already had his suspicions of what it was. His men had all been wondering when they would be transferred. This probably had to do with that.
“Good afternoon, Captain Jameson,” a general greeted. He nodded to the young Captain.
“Afternoon, General,” Mathew answered, saluting the man. He always felt nervous around men who were higher up. They were always so intimidating, even if they weren’t trying to be.
The general smiled lightly at Mathew. After all, the young Captain wasn’t the type of person someone could be around without smiling. “We have your assignment, Captain Jameson,” he said. “You and your men will be stationed in a small Russian town on the Ukrainian border. Just a warning, it will be cold.”
Mathew bit his lip. “With all due respect sir, I am technically Canadian. I am sure I can handle the cold.”
The general laughed. “Ah, Jameson, always one with the jokes! We’ll miss you around the base!”
“When are we to be shipped out, sir?” Mathew asked.
“Tomorrow morning, 0600 on the dot,” the general stated.
The younger man nodded and saluted. “Yes, sir,” he said.
“And one more thing, Captain,” the general said. He gave Mathew a concerned look. “Can you make sure that brother of yours behaves himself while you are gone?”
Mathew bit his lip and nodded. “Yes, sir,” he obediently replied. “I will speak with him when I am done here.”
“You are now dismissed, Captain,” the general stated, saluting him back.
The Captain left to find his brother. After a while of searching, he realized that he should probably check the time. A clock told him that it was half past five. William was at the Winston home. Mathew had been told he was welcome there at any time. He didn’t really want to intrude upon his brother’s time with that family, but he felt he needed to spend time with him.
A small Asian boy looked up at Mathew at the door of Jack’s flat. His brown eyes sparkled with excitement. “William!” he called into the flat. “William, your brother is here again!” He looked excitedly up at Mathew. “Come in, Captain Jameson!”
Mathew smiled and entered. He patted the boy’s head after he shut the door. “How many times have I told you, Lee? You can just call me Mathew.”
Lee grinned widely as William walked into the front room. He looked confused, but happy to see his brother. A short strawberry-blonde man with clear blue eyes, Jack, followed just after, looking just as confused but happy.
“Hey, Mattie!” William greeted. Jack cringed from the volume of his voice and shot the soldier next to him a warning glare. William noticed and gave the other man an apologetic look. “What brings you here today?”
Mathew smiled sympathetically. “Can I talk to you privately?” he softly asked.
His brother’s eyes widened. “Is something wrong?”
When the young Captain took a moment to answer, Jack read the atmosphere and placed his hands on his son’s shoulders. “Let’s go, Lee,” he said, leading the small child from the room. “William and Mathew need some time to talk.”
“Mattie, what’s going on?” William asked his brother once the other two had left the room, brow furrowing in worry.
“I got my latest assignment,” Mathew simply said, trying not to meet his brother’s eyes. “I’m being shipped off to the Russian border tomorrow morning.”
William’s face fell. “Mattie?” he softly said. His voice broke Mathew’s heart. It was never this quiet. “Please, just…” He took a deep breath. “Tell me it’s not true…”
“Will,” his brother softly said. He stepped over to him, closing off the gap of space between them. His arms wrapped around his younger brother in a comforting hug. “I’ll be okay, I promise. Don’t worry about me.”
William took off his glasses and let them drop onto the soft plush carpet. “Mattie, you’re all I have left,” he struggled to say. “You’re the only member left of my family.”
Mathew frowned. “It will be okay, Will. Nothing bad will happen to me.” He held his brother, who had begun to shake. “I’ll be extra careful. I’ll come home, I promise.”
The younger brother hiccupped and sniffled a little. “I’m going to come back to the base with you tonight,” he decided. “We should get going…”
The Captain frowned. “You don’t have to, Will…”
William shook his head. “No, Mattie,” he stated. “This is the last time I’ll see you until God knows when.” Mathew was happy that he had at least kept a positive outlook instead of implying that he won’t come back. “I need to be with my brother.”
Mathew smiled softly. “We can stay here for a while longer if you’d like,” he suggested. “After all, I wouldn’t mind spending some time with Jack and Lee before I leave.”
His brother pulled away and forced a smile as he tried to compose himself. “Yeah,” he managed to say. “I think they would like that, too.”
“Trust me, Will,” Mathew began, reaching out to wipe his brother’s tears away, “I’m not leaving forever. And I’ll write to you every chance I get.”
William smiled grimly. “You better.”
For the first time in years, Mathew finally felt at a loss. His brother desperately needed him. The last time William had fallen in love, things ended worse than anyone could imagine. But this time, his brother was in love with a foreign man, a man he would never see again after the war. He had always warned William against falling in love while stationed somewhere, but it seemed that brother of his would never learn. At least Mathew was smarter than that.