Have a wonderful holiday! I have a little gift for all of you. This is a short afterward story from Brothers-in-Arms.
It was 1946, New Years Day. The war was over and Japhet and Franz were living in New York with Jimmy and Danny. It should have been one of those snow covered days one finds in books. Cool, crisp air with the promise of new life in the wind. As Franz shoved his way through the freshly fallen snow it felt anything but a chance at new life.
The wind and air was bitter as it bit through his coat, though he didn't mind. He was in a foul mood and would have been in a worse one if the sun were shinning and people were smiling and telling him how wonderful life was. At that moment he didn't think life was at all wonderful.
Japhet had finally be released from the hospital but the way the doctor had put it, it almost made it sound like he was being released so he could die in the comfort of his own home. To make everything even worse, the rest of his and Franz's family were not yet in the States, still trying to get passage from France to New York. Even with Jimmy and Danny, Franz felt like he was on his own, and he wasn't sure what to do.
Getting Japhet out of Germany had been his first step in making things right with him. Then there had been the long months in different hospitals, months of doctors and nurses fighting to save his life. Franz rarely left his side during that time, only going with Danny to Jimmy's captain to help testify in his honor and get him out of court marshaling. It had taken all of them and a letter from Sam's family to save him. He had been dishonorable discharged but it was better then being shot.
Most of the time in the hospitals, Franz spent his time telling Japhet stories, reminding him who he was and of their boyhood together. He had spent hours bandaging and keeping a close eye on his hand and leg, since the doctors were not concerned over those injuries but the ones which were killing Japhet. Now it had all been for nothing. Franz didn't know what he would do if Japhet died on him after all of that.
Franz's head snapped up and he looked skyward, snow falling on his face as he did so. He blinked it out of his eyes and found himself looking up into a smiling face haloed by blond hair. It was a face he knew, the face of the happy girl who worked at the cafe he always passed. She had the same smile she always wore, one reaching to her gray eyes and making them glitter.
“Hallo.” He couldn't imagine why she might be smiling down at him, nor had he known she lived so close to him. All he could hope was that she didn't want to carry on a conversation since his English was still limited to Hello, I'm hungry, and Jimmy, if you don't shut up I'm throwing you out the window.
Instead of speaking more, the blond haired girl waved and made motions that said she wanted him to stay where he was. Confused and uncertain – hoping her sweet smile was not something she hid behind to disguise the fact she stabbed Germans in the snow – he stayed put. It was only a matter of seconds he stood there, snow falling down on his hair and shoulders, before she appeared. She wore a red scarf and a gray coat and ran up to him like they were old friends.
“Judith,” she said. She held one hand out while keeping the other safely in her large coat pocket.
Still uncertain, and keeping his eye on the pocket, Franz held his hand out to her and they shook as he said, “Franz.”
Pulling her other hand from her pocket, she held a little black kitten out to Franz. It was more unexpected then anything he had ever had happen to him in his life and only got worse when she placed the kitten in his hand. He stared down at it as it shivered in the cold air and was about to hand it back when the girl smiled, said something, and walked back into the apartment – leaving Franz alone in the snow with a mewing kitten. He had no choice but to turn and hurry to his own apartment, repeating over and over the words she had told him so he could try and say them to Jimmy in the hopes he could translate.
It was cold in the staircase but warm in the apartment. Japhet was lying on the couch, staring up at the ceiling with little acknowledgment of where he was. Franz stopped in the doorway and stared at him, wondering how much time he had left in this world. It angered him to see him this way, angered him and cut his heart in two.
About that time, Jimmy emerged from his bedroom carrying a shoe. He stopped when he saw Franz, stared at him for a moment, then asked, “What is that in your hand?”
Mew, went the kitten as if in answer.
It was a soft sound, barely seeming to reach past Franz's hand, but Japhet turned his head at it and blinked three times, then something happened Franz hadn't seen in a long time. Clarity replaced the fog in his eyes and he slowly – moving carefully because of his left hand – sat up and leaned against the arm of the couch.
“Is that a kitten?” he asked.
“Um – yes.” Franz didn't have to take time to think. He walked over to the couch and set it down on Japhet's chest. “It is for you.”
“You got me a kitten?” Japhet plucked it off his shirt, even when it dug its claws in, and held it up level with his eyes. He and the kitten stared at each other, then he smiled and it meowed.
“Yes, I sort of did.”
“Where on earth did you get a kitten?” Jimmy asked.
Franz didn't see why it mattered now. The kitten made Japhet smile, so it was obviously staying no matter where it came from.
“Someone – it doesn't matter. And what does-” He repeated the words the girl had told him as best he could.
“I think it means Merry Christmas, but it is hard to tell with you slaughtering it like that,” Jimmy muttered.
“Well,” Franz shrugged, “that-” he wasn't sure what else to stay. Christmas was a hard subject around Japhet, though his friend didn't seem to be listening. The kitten was back on his chest and he was petting its small head.
“There, that's its name,” he said without looking up. “Merry.”