22 comments

Historical Fiction Coming of Age LGBTQ+

Alex fumbled through the kitchen cabinet, navigating through pots, pans, baking sheets, and glassware that clicked and clanked with every move she made. Mom only made her famous homemade apple pie whenever Alex came home for the holidays, so for the other three-hundred and sixty-four days of the year, the pie pan hid from the family.

“Mom, it’s not in here,” Alex said, as she shoved a donut mold to the side with her elbow. When was the last time mom made donuts?

The staccato rhythm of slicing apples paused momentarily. “Check downstairs in the basement, honey,” she said before the chopping resumed.

Alex sighed as she stood from the floor and dusted off her jeans. She understood her mother’s desire to spend quality time with her—after all, she visited much less often ever since she started her study abroad program. But where Alex preferred to lounge around in pajamas all day watching Netflix, her mother enjoyed being in the kitchen. Oh well… at least we’ll have a delicious pie at the end of this torture.

The stagnant air choked her as she descended into the dark pits of the basement. Alex held her hand up in the air, reaching for the drawstring she knew would be waiting for her at the bottom of the wooden stairs. She pulled on the chain to brighten the room, cursing to herself when she heard the snapping sound afterwards. Something she’d have to ask dad to fix later.

Her mother recently caught the decluttering bug that had infected the entire world, and Alex smiled to herself as she looked at the plastic bins lined against the wall, each decorated with colorful labels. Knowing her mother, she probably purchased a Cricut machine just for this project, now likely shoved into an obscure corner of the house. Alex scanned the labels, looking for anything that would scream ‘pie dish.’

Guest Bedroom

Toys (why would she need these?)

Kitchen

Alex pulled down the ‘Kitchen’ bin, rummaging inside until she found the coveted pie dish that would finally make its annual appearance. She chuckled to herself as she replaced the bin on the shelf, stopping when she saw a container labeled ‘Dad.’ Alex paused, tilting her head to one side as she reached for the bin to inspect its contents. Unlike her mom, Alex’s father wasn’t the sentimental type, and keeping a box in the basement was unusual for him. What would dad be keeping down here?

An army uniform greeted her when she removed the lid. “Was this for grandpa?” she asked herself. She traced her fingers along the row of colored badges staring up at her, remembering her mom mention something about her grandpa being in medical school during World War II. But had he actually served? She squished her eyebrows at the name printed on the uniform—Montgomery. Whose last name was that?

As she dug deeper, her gaze lingered on what looked like an old heart-shaped box. She furrowed her brows as she admired the intricate image of Cupids and roses—she’d seen nothing like it before. Valentine’s Day chocolates nowadays came in cheap, mass-manufactured cardboard, but this was a work of art. She picked up the box, hearing something rattle inside of it, but her eyes focused on what she found underneath—dozens of postcard-sized envelopes tied with yellowed string in small bundles.

Alex felt her breath hitch as she saw her grandpa’s name—Bradley Preston—written on the first envelope. Feeling her chest tighten, she untied the bundle in front of her, carefully revealing a letter written on a weathered page of paper.

* * *

Feb. 1, 1943

Dear Brad,

As I write this, I’d imagine you are sound asleep and having sweet dreams of something better than war. Writing letters has so many drawbacks. I wish I could hold you in my arms to say the things I lacked courage to vocalize back when we were younger. Now, I’m left to picture the lines on your face in my mind as I lay alone in my bunk. And no, that is not me telling you that you look old.

When you receive this, I hope you’re feeling better than you sounded when I telephoned today. I stressed myself out, wondering if you were alright. If it’s school, you’d always been the smarter of us, so don’t worry yourself too much, my future doctor. Or maybe you were trying to be discreet, in case someone nearby could hear our conversation.

I’ll try calling you tomorrow to cheer you up. But for now, I must take this out to the box and file into bed. It’s freezing here tonight, so bundle up for both our sakes and study hard, okay?

Good night,

Miles

* * *

Alex frowned as she scooped up the bundles of letters, along with the heart-shaped box and rushed up the basement stairs back into the kitchen. 

Her mother had moved on to rolling the pie dough, only looking up when Alex plopped down on the living room floor with a puzzled look on her face. She drew her eyebrows together, first looking at the pile of letters, then at Alex.

“Mom, who is Miles?” Alex asked.

Her mother’s expression softened as she wiped her hands with a towel before joining her daughter. She inspected the yellowed paper in Alex’s hands, opening her mouth to speak, then pausing to collect her thoughts. “It’s probably time you learned the truth about grandpa.”

Alex opened her mouth to say something, but struggled to find the right words. What did she mean by ‘the truth about grandpa’? Her grandfather passed away when she was still a baby, her only memories being those told to her by her grandmother.

Her mother reached for the stack of letters, opened another one, and handed it to Alex. “I think you should keep reading.”

* * *

May 4, 1943

Dear Brad,

One of my mates has just come into the room “happier” than normal. As I watch him stumble into bed, it makes me wonder how lucky I am to have you in my life. I’d rather write these letters to you in the small moments in between than make a fool of myself drinking the night away. I guess I should go over there and help him out of his clothes now.

What have you been doing today? Tell me how your exams went. When we spoke on the telephone yesterday, you sounded so nervous. But I’m confident you aced them all. You’re the smartest person I know. I hope you know that.

Did you hear about that movie Mrs. Miniver? It’s not in theaters yet, but some of my squad mates have been talking about how it’s nothing more than war propaganda. I understand it’s a love story at its core. As a young lad, I would have rolled my eyes if someone dragged me to watch something “romantic,” but I guess I don’t mind the thought as much now. War does something to you… changes you. I oft wonder what life would be like for us had we been born in different circumstances, in a different time. Would we have to be subtle, say, one hundred years from now? Or would the world accept us by then?

Well Brad, where am I taking you? Rambling away into something philosophical, perhaps. Sometimes, I wish we could just go somewhere far away, hidden from the rest of the world. What do you think of that? I could hunt, build us a cabin, and you could fix me up whenever I did something idiotic.

Sorry for not writing to you in so long. It’s been hectic out here. Lights go out soon so I have to wrap this up. Will call you tomorrow.

MM

* * *

Alex stared at the initials in front of her, remembering the name she saw on the uniform. MM… Miles Montgomery. “I… don’t understand. So Miles was—”

“Grandpa’s first love, yes,” her mother said with a hand placed over her heart. “They wrote to each other throughout the war, while grandpa was in school.”

“I see,” Alex said, pressing her lips into a thin line. She’d always wondered what it would be like to have a conversation with her grandfather. All she’d ever known during holiday gatherings at the Prestons were the stories about how her grandparents loved each other, a picturesque Hallmark movie romance. Now, there was another side to this story—a secret love that remained hidden away for decades. “Why didn’t grandma ever tell me about… Miles?” The question came out scratchier than she would have liked.

Her mom shrugged. “I suppose the opportunity never came up,” she said. “It’s like how you never talk about… oh, what’s his name? Damon?”

Alex felt her skin flush, redness creeping from her neck up to her face. “MOM!” She launched a couch pillow at her mother, who caught it with ease before setting it back onto the couch and wrapping an arm around her daughter’s shoulder. She could tell her mother the same thing she told everyone else—that distance was the problem. But hidden somewhere deep within her, the real reason lurked, afraid to come to the surface.

Alex looked out the window of their front porch, watching as the rainbow-colored flag waved with the wind. She’d always been proud of her progressive parents and their inclusive values; with this new knowledge, she understood there was something deeper behind it. “Mind if I…” Alex said, as she lifted the pile of letters from the floor in front of her.

Her mother nodded. “Of course, sweetie. Take your time. I’ll go finish that pie.” She kissed Alex on top of her head before standing up and walking back into the kitchen.

* * *

June 1, 1943

Dear Brad,

By the time you read this, I’ll be marching with the tanks through Italy, hoping to push back the Germans. It’s all I can think about at present. The boys in my squad are going crazy right now.

Thank you for writing me. I know you’re busy studying to become the most handsome doctor America has ever known, but your words shine a bright light in the darkest places I find myself. 

When the war is over, I’m thinking about finishing my degree, perhaps become an engineer. How does that sound to you? Maybe we could save enough money and travel through Europe when we aren’t killing one another. There are so many beautiful places I wish to take you—breath-taking vistas to imprint on our minds like postcards.

I hope you’ll come with me.

Miles

PS. Do you still have that heart-shaped box I gave you underneath the willow tree after high school graduation? I shall never forget that night, when you said counting to 1,000 stars would grant us any wish our hearts desired. Anyway, my mates tell me those boxes are rare now because of the sugar ration. Hold on to it!

PPS. Remember that I love you

* * * 

Alex pushed the food on her plate with her fork, thinking about the few letters she had read from Miles to grandpa. She slumped her shoulders as she rested her head on her hand, propped up on the table by her elbow.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” her mother asked. “Is the pot roast dry?”

Alex shook her head. “No. Just thinking.”

“About grandpa?”

“I have so many questions. And I can’t ask them,” Alex said as she frowned. Both of her grandparents were gone now, so her only source of information, aside from the letters, was her parents. 

Something tugged at her heart, but she couldn’t identify what, exactly.

“What do you want to know?” her mother asked as she picked up her mug.

“Like, how come all the letters are from Miles? Where are the ones that grandpa wrote?”

Her mother smiled at Alex. “For Miles, it was impossible to lug around all the letters from grandpa.” She sipped on her tea as she spoke. “The soldiers had to move over sand, mud, and mother nature.”

“Oh,” Alex said.

“If letters weren’t lost, some had to be left behind because they were less important than other things they had to carry with them.”

As Alex walked back to her room, she thought back to all the Disney movies she’d watched as a child, always excited at how those movies romanticized love. She sighed, wondering if her grandpa ever got to see Miles again before her grandma came into the picture. She resigned herself to keep reading, letter after letter, well into the night, noting how Miles kept an unwaveringly positive tone in his messages to grandpa. Perhaps a shield for both their sakes.

* * *

April 4, 1944

Dearest Bradley,

Even though we had just telephoned yesterday, I had to write you on 4-4-44. Something like this only happens every eleven years, after all. 

Being out here after all this time really puts things into perspective. My ability to telephone becomes more difficult as the war continues, and these written exchanges between us have become my sanctuary—the light amidst the darkness that surrounds me.

Your last letter nearly had me in tears, and I thanked God for giving me such a treasure as you. I yearn for you more and more with each passing day, wishing I could hold you in my arms again. So many opportunities I missed when we were young. I wish our world was ready for our love, without judgment. But alas, dreamers we remain, at least for now.

I keep thinking about what life will be like after this war. The moment I see you, I know I’ll forget everything about these last few years. We all fight for different reasons. For some, they are grand ideals about humanity and right vs. wrong. 

But for me, I fight for our love. No one should be persecuted for who they are. 

There are many paths I can take when I return home, but there’s only one thing I’m certain of, and that is I want to walk down that path with you.

I don’t know when we’ll speak again, so I’ll ask it here.

Bradley Preston, love of my life, will you marry me?

Forever,

Miles

PS. I know it’s not legal, but someday, the universe will catch up to us. Mother loves you, and to me, that’s worth more than the rest of the world’s approval.

* * *

Alex wiped away the tears that rolled down her face, careful not to allow any moisture to touch the fragile letters she held in her hands. She’d reached the bottom of the stack, and there was no more to read. But she knew the end of the story, at least in part—somewhere along the way, grandpa met grandma and they got married.

Wanting more answers, she bundled up the letters and walked back into the living room. Seeing all the lights turned off, she looked at the clock—4 a.m.

“Geez Alex. Obsessive much?” she said to herself.

She sat on the couch and lowered her head, thinking about the untold story of Miles and Brad. Memories they kept to themselves, only contained within the papers she held. No photo albums, nothing borrowed or blue—no one to walk down the aisle. She felt the sting in between her eyes as she wondered, did grandpa ever tell Miles how he really felt? She only knew one side of this love story.

She sighed, deciding that her questions for mom would have to wait until a reasonable hour. As she stood to head back to her room, she caught a glimpse of the heart-shaped box, which she had left on the floor earlier. Picking it up, she heard something move around inside. Her nose wrinkled as she pried open the box, wondering if there was an old piece of chocolate.

To her surprise, she found something sweeter instead.

A photo of a handsome young man in uniform greeted her, wearing a warm smile and gentle eyes that hadn’t yet seen war. She lifted the photo, revealing a note in handwriting she didn’t recognize: 

Found this letter in his uniform. Thought you might want to know that he received your answer and kept it with him to Normandy. Let’s have lunch sometime. Best, Maude.

Who was Maude? Alex asked herself. It wasn’t her grandmother, nor her own mother. But when she saw a blue, folded air-mail letter, hidden inside the heart-shaped box, Alex finally put all the missing pieces together. 

Alex closed her eyes to whisper. “Thank you for being brave.” Her chest tightened as she read the final chapter, hoping they were together now as she looked up to dry her happy tears—promising that she’d honor their memory and be true to herself, as well.

* * *

May 5, 1944

Dear Miles,

In exactly eleven more years, perhaps I can write you a note dated 5-5-55, but in the meantime, you will have to accept that this message can’t wait that long. There is a letter in front of me that just arrived today. It’s the most wonderful letter in the world. I must have read it at least a hundred times in the last few hours, only finally composing myself to pen you back.

I’m to start my internship soon, and depending on where we are with the war, I’m to be stationed as a medic somewhere. Perhaps I’ll ask them to find a hospital near you so I can give you my answer in person. But you’d fly back to the states to kill me yourself if I made you wait that long, so I’ll tell you now and look forward to embracing you again in the future.

There is only one answer I could ever give you. ‘Yes!’

Come home soon.

Forever with my love,

Brad

February 16, 2022 01:05

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

22 comments

Seán Mc Nicholl
23:27 Jul 22, 2022

So good JC, especially having read the newer story!!

Reply

J.C. Lovero
23:38 Jul 22, 2022

Thanks, Seán! Glad you enjoyed it. I wanted to revisit this couple, and the prompts gave me the perfect opportunity!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Dj Playz
13:58 Jun 03, 2022

Your story is so amazing and they're inspiring

Reply

J.C. Lovero
00:15 Jun 04, 2022

Glad you enjoyed it! This couple holds a special place in my heart 😍 🥰

Reply

Dj Playz
02:57 Jun 04, 2022

:)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Riel Rosehill
10:07 May 22, 2022

My heart 💔 This was so worth scrolling back down to read! (And I was wrong, this wasn't even before my time, I remember chocolate week was the second week of my Reedsy adventures - how nostalgic! We just haven't found each other yet, back then.) Absolutely loved this story, it was so deserving of the rec list. Here, Heartbreak Prize 2022, awarded early this year for your outstanding performance🏆

Reply

J.C. Lovero
11:38 May 22, 2022

Hi Ri Ri~ Thanks for stopping by the heartbreak hotel. Tissue is on the left and ice cream is in the freezer. Appreciate the feedback. I had to step out of my comfort zone a bit for historical fiction, so I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Amanda Lieser
17:20 Mar 02, 2022

Hello! Oh this piece warmed my heart! I really loved that you captured a challenging time period in a new light. This piece tugged on some heartstrings for me this week because of everything happening in Ukraine. I really love that you chose the medium of letter writing and I thought your introduction fit the prompt beautifully. Thank you for writing this piece!

Reply

J.C. Lovero
20:52 Mar 02, 2022

Hi Amanda, Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! I feel like the art of writing letters has been lost in our digital age, so it was such a joy to craft these love letters and weave them into the story. As always, appreciate your kind feedback!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Graham Kinross
13:28 Feb 26, 2022

This was really sweet. I don't usually like WW2 stuff because it feels done to death but this was great.

Reply

J.C. Lovero
13:27 Feb 27, 2022

Thanks for the feedback, Graham! I don't normally write in historical fiction but it seemed to fit for these characters. I'm glad you felt that it worked for this story. Appreciate the time you took to read and comment!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
22:01 Feb 24, 2022

What a beautiful and romantic story! It's told so tastefully, and I could feel all of the emotions that Alex was feeling as she read the letters. You are an amazing writer and you tell this story so tenderly. I absolutely love this!

Reply

J.C. Lovero
22:39 Feb 24, 2022

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Rebecca. I really appreciate it. I'm glad Alex's emotions came through on the page. This story is my favorite one I've written so far, so I'm glad you connected with it!

Reply

23:25 Feb 24, 2022

I absolutely did! Thank you for writing it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Alex Sultan
22:40 Feb 21, 2022

I really do like WW2 stories - there's so much to write about - and I like your concept here a lot. The narrative flow of starting with Alex looking for a pan, building character, before finding the letters was great. I was immersed in the story from the start. The final letter is my favourite part.

Reply

J.C. Lovero
23:34 Feb 21, 2022

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Alex. This was my first attempt at historical fiction, but I agree with you - there is so much to write about with WW2! Reading the letters between lovers is also my favorite part. I remember reading handwritten letters as a kid, and there is just something so magical about them. Not quite the same as email!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Clyde Laffan
23:44 Feb 20, 2022

You made me cry!

Reply

J.C. Lovero
00:06 Feb 21, 2022

Hi Clyde, Thanks so much for taking the time to read and provide me feedback. Knowing that I had an impact with my words means the world to me!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Zack Powell
05:24 Feb 20, 2022

I'm genuinely impressed with how much detail and emotion you fit into the 3000 word limit, J.C. (In fact, I have to confess that I went and copy-pasted this story into an online word counter because I was so sure it had to be more than 3000, but NOPE, under 3000. Joke's on me, you're just that good.) I love how you framed this one, with Grandpa B and Miles's story also mirroring Alex's desire to express who she is. Lot of good parallels going on under the surface, and it immediately makes sense why she's so curious about learning more about...

Reply

J.C. Lovero
13:32 Feb 20, 2022

Thanks for the kind words, Zack. I was afraid about this one, just because I had to go back and make sure all the dates lined up correctly with the timing of WWII. But, I have some friends who served, and I wondered what it would be like for a couple to have to date and hide during this time, which is how the story was born. As always, appreciate the time you took to read and comment!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
14:00 Feb 28, 2022

Very touching story. Loved it.

Reply

J.C. Lovero
01:58 Mar 01, 2022

Thank you so much for reading it and taking the time to comment. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply