ADAM HIMSELF WOULD have been hard-pressed to answer John You’s question in that moment as to what he was doing there. As a private in Meade’s infantry, he should have been many miles to the north right now, celebrating the Gettysburg victory. Except that he didn’t have it in him to celebrate that kind of carnage. He’d picked up a newspaper somewhere along their hard journey south, and the battle was being proclaimed as a turning point, but to him it just seemed pointless.
He’d been surveying the carnage of the peach orchard, walking among the dead and the dying, when he looked into the face of a wounded Confederate and beneath the sweat, grime, and gunpowder, saw a face he recognized.
His oldest friend. A man who’d treated him like family, even though they’d come from vastly different backgrounds. Leander Harrington of the Albemarle Harringtons. Livie Harrington’s beloved twin brother.
“Adam?” Leander’s voice had been a mere whisper, a husk of his former baritone. “That really you?”
“Leander. Jesus. I didn’t know you were here.”
“We marched up from Richmond. That a canteen you got there? I sure could use a drink.”
Adam knelt beside him to assess his condition. He opened Lee’s jacket and bit back a curse.
“It’s bad, ain’t it? You don’t have to lie to me. I sorta already know. Just gimme some water.”
Holding his own canteen to Leander’s lips, Adam let a trickle of water flow into his mouth. “Easy does it. Don’t choke on it.” Another few drops, and he gently lay Lee back down.
“Much obliged. I’m dyin’, Adam,” Leander said with a hollow laugh. “I was all puffed up with excitement at the prospect of fightin’ on Northern soil. Now, I kinda wish I’d stayed home. Livie’s gonna be mad as a wet hen when she hears. She won’t even have a body to bury.”
“C’mon now, don’t talk like that,” Adam said. “You’ll pull out of this. You know you will. You’ve been in worse scrapes before. Member the time that friend of yours from Charleston shot you in the leg cause you called him a card cheat? That was bad, too, but you pulled through just fine.”
“I ain’t never had nothin’ this bad,” Lee said. “Hell, I can’t even keep the blow flies off me. I’ll be full of maggots by sunup. Jesus, God. I can’t think of anything worse.” As if to bear out the truth of his statement, a fat green bottle fly buzzed close to his blood-soaked midsection. Lee slapped it away, cursing.
I ain’t gonna let that happen,” Adam said. “I’ll get someone over here. We’ll get you to the field hospital.”
“And do what? I’m busted up inside, Adam. There ain’t nothin’ them sawbones can amputate. They’ll lay me in the shade and there I’ll stay until they’ve treated every Yank with a hangnail. No Union doc’s gonna give a damn about a busted up Reb.”
Adam said nothing, but he knew that Leander was right. Anger and resentment, choler and hatred fueled the machinery of war and one more dead Rebel soldier would not make a damn bit of difference to anyone—except to him.
While Adam waged a battle between duty and simple humanity, Leander did something astounding. In the growing darkness, in the smoke and the dust, he broke down and started to sob. “You won’t tell Livie what a coward I was?”
“You’re not a coward,” Adam insisted. This was his brother, in spirit, if not in fact, and he knelt there beside him feeling as ineffectual as teats on a bull. There had to be some way to help him, despite the fact that he was only a private, and he had little choice but to follow the orders of his superiors.
“I’m bawlin’ like a baby,” Leander said, “but I don’t want to die here, Adam. God help me, I don’t want to breathe my last on Yankee soil. I want to go home. Jesus, help me, I just want to go home.”
It was the most insane act of a man who’d done a lot of crazy things over the years, for no good reason he could recall, but as he sat there in the blistering darkness, Adam knew there was only one thing he could do, and that was to make the attempt to get Leander home to Bliss.
It wasn’t just risky. It was lunacy.
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Genre – Romance
Rating – R
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