The man from West Virginia didn't know what he was doing in New Jersey. Not to say that Carwood Lipton didn't know why he was in this state, but more of why he was there on the Fourth of July. In any normal case it would have been near patriotic heresy for a man to be away from his family on such a day for a so called business trip, but Carwood was no longer one to respect the countries views on patriotic right and wrong. War had taught him that mere patriotism did not pawn from how fast one could wave their miniature flags, nor how many beers, hotdogs, or ice-cream one could consume while they awaited the firework display. True patriotism did not exist for only one day but lasted in ones heart all year long.
Regardless, Carwood Lipton found himself alone on the Fourth, hours still away from his destination, and for the first time in his life, feeling friendless.
His car had broke down in a rinky dink Jersey town called Rutherford, and it was just his luck that nearly all the businesses had shut the doors for the day.
Carwood perched on the peeling red hood of his old ford, watching as young families scouted out the best sport to watch the fireworks. Distantly he wondered if the boys from Easy were doing the same thing. A wry smile crossed his face at the thought of it. The only fire works those city boys like Bill Guarnere would be seeing, were the ones sparked by firsts.
The parking lot outside the mechanic shop gained a dusty purple huge as the sun made its way to Leibgott in California. Lip couldn't help but berate himself, ever since he returned home he hadn't been able to get the men out of his head, His mind seemed to be rebelling against the militaries final action, if he couldn't be with his boys, then he had to be thinking about them.
The soft personal chatter of the New Jersians struck at his heart as he wandered toward the empty field where the mass of natives designated as the best viewing area. As he scoured the area for a spot he couldn't help but feel his steps were unnatural in this town.
Lip stopped and settled down by an old oak and tried to ignore some of the more inquiring looks. His fingers jittered as he lit up a Lucky and let out a slow breath. One of the inquiring starers decided to make a move, wondering over from where he was seated with his family.
"You new here?" The man was younger then Lipton, strong jawed, with curly sienna hair and sardonic eyes that give stiff competion to Lewis Nixon.
"Just passing through." Even though the words lacked warmth, Lipton couldn't be more grateful for the distraction.
The other man settled down beside him without so much as a cursory glance. "Bob Leckie."
"Carwood Lipton." They shared a calloused handshake.
"Where you headed?"
"Nixon." The word felt odd as it rolled off his tongue, the name to close to his heart to sound right as a destination.
The other mans lips turned up into a small smile. "Never heard of it."
Carwood paused for a moment and gave a small smile, "Neither had I."
The last edge of the sun could be seen sinking beyond the horizon; Lipton sent his regards to the boys who lived out west. The crowd grew silent in anticipation for the first burst but Lip turned to his companion and asked, "Shouldn't you be sitting with your family?"
An ironic smile flashed under the light of a Zippo, while smoke poured from a newly lit cigarette, "I left my family when the army shipped me home."
Interest piqued and Lipton took the bait, "Where did you serve."
"Pacific. Did you…"
The air grew still, and their eyes took to the sky, the audience drew a collective breath and then fire tore at the sky.
The last time Lipton saw real fireworks was the Fourth of July pending the attack on Pearl Harbor. The last time he thought of fireworks was during one of the German barrages back in the Ardennes just outside Bastogne, the same barrage that took two of his comrade's legs. The next time he saw fireworks, he thought his world was going to end. In some rinky dink town in Jersey Carwood Lipton reacted like a man who had been through wars hell and he drug Bob Leckie down with him.
The second far away crack brought Lipton back to his senses and his grip loosened, he pushed himself off the back of the other man and sat back on his haunches, stewing in the embarrassed darkness.
Leckie pushed himself back into a sitting position. "It's fine. Scared me too."
"Look you want to get away from here?" It wasn't hard to hear Leckie's quiet suggestion over the far off boom of the firework. War taught boys to listen.
Lips pressed together, Carwood cast a fugitive glance around, unsure if the other mans voice exhibited a plead. "But your parents…"
The red glow of a fading firework only seemed to strengthen the severity of Leckie's coming sentence. "Forget about them. I'm talking about you; do you want to get out of here?"
Two eruptions of white and green sent Lipton's heart rushing. "Yes," His voice quiet and strained, images of Bill and Joe on the snow covered ground, blood slipping from their legs like sap from maple trees…yet faster then sap…their blood spilled like spit from a two year old. Ceaselessly.
Leckie knew, Lip could see it in his eyes when ever the fireworks blazed just right. Bob Leckie knew about loss, and about good friends bleeding their souls out before you, he knew about that vacant wide eyed stare the boys would get after being on the line for too long, about the time they lost all hope and the sound of one more shell going off would push them over the edge into that state of shock.
The two grown men who had their very souls ripped from them, and saw as others had theirs removed as well, walked down the empty streets toward Liptons broken truck.
"Leckie?" The war taught Lipton that last names were always the safest. Surnames were as impersonal as they were telling. To some men, a name like Speirs could tell a lot.
Lipton hated putting himself out like that. As an Easy NCO and CO he didn't allow himself to show weakness because that would only weaken the men.
The other man was quiet, his attention solely focused on the peeling paint of Lipton's truck that could be seen between splayed fingers.
"You reminded me of them. My squad…" Two pairs of brown eyes meet. "You remind me of how I felt when I came home after being wounded on Pellilu. It was like…" Leckie fumbled to light another cigarette. "I mean Fuck! I was with the guys for over two years, and then coming home and not having them around any more, it was baffling. No Sergeants to tell me to get off my ass, no Lieutenants to steal my shit, no Nips trying to blow my head off. It was…unnerving."
He blew a stream of smoke and offered the cigarette to his silent companion.
Lipton took the thin paper cylinder and couldn't help but think of Lt. Speirs. Did Ronald Speirs feel the same as Lipton, the same as Leckie; did he feel lost as well?
Their lack of conversation took that awkward turn that would have civilians blushing and looking the other way. Even for veterans it wasn't comfortable, but simply accepted as a common occurrence.
Exited shouts could be heard as the fireworks hit their finale. Lipton regarded the sparks drearily as they appeared over the rooftop of the mechanic shop, until the exuberant applause that followed the end of the show died in a collective tapering.
"What are you doing in Nixon?" There it was again, that word that was too close to Lip's heart to be a destination. It sent him reeling for a moment.
"My S-2 says he has a position for me at the family business. Major Winter's is already there…"
Carwood couldn't help but be slightly affronted by Leckie's chuckling.
"It's like I said isn't it? It's unnerving, as civilians were at a loss for what to do, but stick us military guys back together, and it all makes sense again. Or at least that's what the government taught us to think." Leckie waved his hand around, the cigarette leaving a streak of color in the darkness. "Maybe that's the joke."
Bob Leckie took one last draw on the cigarette and put the stub out on the hood of Lipton's car.
"Come on, you can stay at my house tonight." Leckie slid off the hood and stepped out into the throng of people, leaving Lipton no choice but to hurry up and follow.
"Its not that I'm not grateful or anything." Lipton muttered as he caught up with the marine. "But you just met me? How can you be so sure…"
"That you won't steal me blind? Kill me? That you're some sort of effiment serial rapist?" Leckie regarded him with a hard brown stare. "I know because you're hesitant. Truthfully Lip, you're a man without a plan, hardly dangerous unless provoked." Lipton couldn't help but provide an accommodating smile.
"I guess you're right."
They split from the crowd and turned down a house lined street. Each street lamp light yard was kept at the height of perfection. After seeing so many war torn abodes, Carwood couldn't help but feel remorse at the sight of perfectly painted fence lines, and manicured shrubbery.
Two and a half blocks down the street they came to a halt. Leckie's house was just as cookie cutter as the rest, holding a steadier appeal(aura?) than what the marine gave off. Lipton found it hard to accept that he actually lived here.
Just as the men entered the lot, the front porch light of the house across the street flicked on, and a young woman stepped out into the night. Leckie froze, startling Lipton, and the look on his face as he turned betrayed all hope for anonymity. The man was in love.
Lipton had seen the same look on Buck Compton's face whenever his girl wrote to him. Well at least before she broke it off. He saw it hidden in the scathing comments of Leibgott, and the gape mouthed staring of Webster. It hardly surprised Carwood to be seeing it at home.
With a snap Leckie faced his house and marched inside, nails digging deep into his palm. He pulled the door open and the two men wandered inside.
The living room smelled of smoke and the families Fourth of July dinner. The thought of food make Lipton's stomach smart.
Luckily Leckie seemed to be adept at assuming the other mans mood.
"Hey you want to get something to eat?" Or he was just having a crave for potato salad.
The two men raided the kitchen like high schools just out of football practice. They tore into the tinfoil covered bowls, spooning the cold mixes into their mouths without bothering to get plates or in some cases heat things up.
Lipton speared a chunk of cheese from a pasta salad and stuck it in his mouth, hardly letting the flavor rest on his tounge before reaching for more. "You should ask her on a date."
Between chewing Leckie feigned innocence, "Who?"
Lipton played along, "The woman across the street."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Indignity.
"You're not stupid Leckie, Don't pretend to be."
"She's with another man."
Lipton knew that look anywhere, and he set his lips in a firm line. "She's meant to be with you."
Leckie rolled the tinfoil back over the potato salad and officially ended the conversation…and Lipton's dinner.
Mr. and Mrs. Leckie returned home about the time the two veterans had returned everything to the fridge. Both expressed shock at the appearance of a house guest but overall the news passed like water under the bridge. However, as the two retired to their room, Leckie's mother regarded him with a knowing stare.
"Goodnight." She did little to hide the laughter in her voice.
Leckie pulled two beers from the fridge and they moved into the living room. Leckie sat in an armchair and Lipton took the couch beside it.
"So are you going to ask her out?" Lipton gave Bob a sly glance.
Sipping his beverage, the other man didn't rise to the bait. "You won't know until it happens."
Lipton let out a chuckle and the two conversed easily through beer after beer before slipping into a quiet slumber.
When the paratrooper woke up, it was because he was cold. Eyes regarded the blurred surroundings with little care and the crick in Lips neck only worsened as he sat up. His hangover pounded at his temples, and the man who usually followed Winters's example of sobriety, berated himself for such a Nixon like move.
Nonetheless, Lipton found himself in that awkward position of being the first one awake. He fidgeted a moment, eying the twitching Leckie, and trying to assess the time through the cracked screen of his wrist watch. He really did need to get a new one…
Light footsteps pattered down the stairs and Mrs. Leckie came into view, dressed and ready for the day. Her eyes flicked toward the hangover man and she gave him an amused smile. "Have you been awake long?"
"No ma'am just a few minutes." Lipton's voice was scratchy.
She nodded and wandered into the kitchen, waving a hand for him to follow.
Carwood stood in the doorway, watching as she puttered about, scooping coffee grounds into the maker. "I heard you two talking into the wee hours, you hardly got any sleep."
"I'm not unaccustomed too it."
She looked at him over her shoulder. "Did you serve with Robert, Mr…?
"Carwood Lipton Ma'am, and no, I was in Europe."
She nodded and opened up the refrigerator, and took out a carton of eggs. "Well Mr. Lipton, would you be a dear and fetch the milk from the icebox on the porch?"
With a nod, Carwood turned about, walked through the main room and grabbed the milk from the front porch. As he returned through the living room he was stopped by a rough voice. "Ma has you doing chores?"
Lipton turned about and gave the rising man a smile. "Yeah, she does."
Leckie let out a snort and wandered past him into the kitchen. "We'll that's good, you look like you needed something to remind you of home."
Carwood placed the glass jugs on the table and couldn't suppress his grin. For the first time in what felt to be a long time, Lipton felt like he was in the right place.
Hey everyone, just a short interlude between CR chapters, I needed a bit of a break from all that, so I finally hatched this plot egg( which had been rolling about my head after 3 episodes of the pacific.) I LOVE Leckie and I LOVE Lipton, so it only made sense.
In all truth, I'm not happy with the ending. If any of you have a better idea for one, just let me know and we can make some….sentences….