The next few days passed by in a blur for Nick, how could he continue to enjoy life when faced with such uncertainty about his future?
“Come on Nick, cheer up. You may not be sent overseas, the war could all be over before you even get through the medical. There’s still hope” Emily said brightly, trying to snap Nick out of his gloomy mood.
“I highly doubt that. The daily news says nothing to suggest that an end is in sight” he said flatly, but not wanting to continue with this conversation he put a fake smile on his face and changed the subject.
Nick walked into the medical centre for his interview and examination, wondering why he couldn’t have thought up something to get himself out of this situation. Surely time in jail was preferable to being forced into the Army against his will.
There must’ve been a hundred men there, all with the same lost expression on their faces, all here for the same purpose. He took a seat next to a dark haired man and let out a sigh.
“I know exactly how you feel” said the dark haired man “I’m Alex”
“Nick. I would usually say ‘pleased to meet you’ but under these circumstances it’s not really a pleasure” Nick replied.
“Yeah, I agree” Alex tapped his foot nervously.
They sat talking about what they did for a living, anything to take their minds off what lay ahead. Nick was so engrossed in Alex’s tales of life on the road as a jazz musician that the pair of them didn’t hear anything else going on around them.
“Mr McLean please” announced a nurse a little while later and Alex got up.
“Good luck buddy” Nick told him.
“You too” said Alex and followed the nurse into the examination room. He didn’t need to be told he was fit enough, he already knew it. But it still came as a shock when his papers were stamped pronouncing him fit to join up. He felt sick to the stomach as he left the room and walked out of the building in a daze.
Nick had been called into another examination room moments after Alex. Within minutes he’d been checked over and also given the all clear to fight, his papers stamped making it official. He left the room feeling numb and saw Alex just ahead of him. They walked out into the sunshine together and without even thinking, walked into the nearest bar they could find.
After propping up the bar for a few hours and downing countless shots of whiskey (which wasn't supposed to be available, but was if you knew where to go), the pair of them decided it was time to go home and let their families know how things had gone.
“See you around” Nick slurred as he staggered out of the bar, hardly able to walk in a straight line.
“Yeah, take care” Alex also slurred drunkenly and they went their separate ways.
“Will you come and wave me off at the station?” Nick asked Emily the night before he was due to leave for England. He still couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that he was going.
“Just try and stop me” she said and kissed him passionately on the doorstep after their evening out.
“See you tomorrow then” he said and walked away, turning once to see her still in the doorway. He would’ve liked nothing more than to have taken her in his arms and made love to her before going off to war, but he couldn’t. They weren’t married or even engaged and she wasn’t the kind of girl to partake in sex before marriage, or so she’d told him whenever things had heated up between them.
He spent the rest of the evening sat with his family, talking until late into the night, trying to put off going to bed. He was going to miss them all, even his annoying little brother.
The following morning Nick finished his packing. He took a look around his room one last time, not knowing when he was going to see it again, if ever.
“Ready son?” asked his father, placing a hand on his shoulder and giving it a little squeeze.
“As ready as I’m gonna be” replied Nick and gave his father a weak smile.
“Come on then”
Mrs Carter was too upset to go with her eldest son to the station; she knew she’d fall apart when the train pulled away. So she hugged him goodbye before he climbed into the car and then excused herself to the other children and went upstairs to her room where she could cry in private.
On the way they picked up Emily, Nick sat in the back with her, holding her hand and saying very little. All too quickly they arrived at the train station. Nick’s father helped him with his belongings, gave him a hug and wished him luck and then said he’d give him a few moments alone with Emily.
“Promise me you’ll write?” Nick begged, taking Emily’s hands in his.
“I promise, and you must promise to keep sending me love letters and poetry” she smiled through her tears.
“I will. Thinking of you will get me through. Promise to wait for me?” Nick asked, bringing her hands up to his lips to kiss.
“Nick, I love you and only you” she said with tears streaming down her face, then brought her mouth to his and kissed him softly.
The train pulled into the station and Nick sighed, this really was it, no escape now. He looked up the platform and saw Alex, also having an emotional goodbye with a woman who could only be his mother. He raised his hand in a wave to the man he’d met at the medical centre and Alex acknowledged him with a nod.
Mr Carter appeared again and shook his son’s hand then pulled him into a hug and told him to stay safe and hurry home.
“I’ll do my best Dad” Nick replied and then turned and hugged Emily and kissed her one last time before getting on the train.
As the train pulled off Nick watched as his father and Emily stood there waving, he waited until he could see them no longer before he finally went to find a seat on the crowded train.
“We meet again” Alex said as Nick took a vacant seat opposite. They soon got into comfortable conversation, trying to block out the reason for this journey with talk of more pleasant topics. By the time they reached the ship they’d be sailing on, they were firm friends.