Story of a man who goes off to war and how it changes him.
There And Back Again (working title)
I stare at the embers as the fly away from the flame. I watch the flame lick and dance the wood within the pit. It's beautiful to watch, calming and soothing. Fire can provide warmth, it can cook your food, and it can provide light to see by at night. But it can also burn and destroy. I think that is what I find so intoxicating about it. The duality of the fire mixed with the pleasantness of its dance along the wood. As I stare into the flames I find myself not having to think of tomorrow. Just enjoying the now. The crisp cool air, the fresh breeze, and the warm fire. I take a deep breath and let it all sink it. Damn is it lovely.
Footsteps bring my out of my reverie. I look up to see my younger brother James walking towards me. His golden hair gains an orange tint in the firelight. He hands me a beer as I slide a chair towards him. He sits down and stares into the flame with me. I suppose he finds it soothing as well. He doesn't say anything for a few minutes and we both just enjoy the evening.
Eventually, he turns to me and breaks the silence.
"Are you afraid?" He asks the question in a very contemplative tone. I can tell he's been trying to ask all night. I pull my gaze away from the fire and consider my feelings for a few moments before I answer him. I look directly into his light blue eyes when I answer him.
"No, I don't believe I am." The look on his face tells me he's uncertain as to whether or not I am lying. So I give him an explanation. "I'm really not afraid. Not how you are thinking anyways. The Government is sending me to a war zone that is going to be dangerous. I know I could be injured, I know that I could die, I know I run those risks. But I signed up to do this. As far as I'm concerned those possibilities are just that, possibilities. They arn't real and they don't matter. At least not as far as I'm concerned."
James stares back at me for a few moments before finally shaking his head and sitting back. Satisfied with my answer, we both resume drinking our beer and staring into the flames. I consider my brother for a moment. I was just like he was when I was his age. Probably worse. He doesn't have to steal beer, not when I'll do it for him. At sixteen I was running around at all hours of the night, drinking and partying and having a good time. It was a blast. At nineteen I prepare to go off to war. Funny, the difference that three years makes.
The door to the house opens and I see Jose walking towards us. Jose has been my best friend since I was thirteen. We almost enlisted together, except that Jose enjoys smoking pot too much to join. His exact words were that he would rather smoke a joint than take a bullet. Can't say he's wrong.
"Everyone wants to know where you went off to hombre. Come back inside, it's your party," his accent isn't too thick, but it's there if you listen for it.
"Just give us a few minutes," I tell him hoping for sympathy.
"Alright, alright. Just don't be too long or your mom is going to break her foot off in your ass. Her words esse, not mine." He runs his hands through his curly brown hair as he says this and then shrugs. I look at my brother and we start to finish our beers before we get out of our seats.
"Let's go inside James," I say, voice full of trepidation. As we approach the house I take a good long look. Two stories, gorgeous white wood paneling, all the windows filled with lights that combat the gloomy darkness. It all looks to be so inviting. It's the last place that I want to be.
I would rather be alone right now. It's not that I don't love my friends and family. I love them deeply. But they all say the same things. "You're so brave!" or "Be safe over there!" or "Come back safe" or my favorite, "Don't be a hero!"
Don't be a hero. None of them understand. How could they? When they say things like don't be a hero, they are just hardwired differently. I joined the army to pay for college, I had the test scores to do anything I wanted to. But I choose to be a door kicker, to be a Grunt. To be an infantryman. How could any of them understand those of us who hear the sound of danger and don't shy away from it, but run headlong into it. We who would life in the face of danger and spit in death's face. None of them understand.
So I paint a smile on my face, I laugh and show them all I am having a good time. I realize that tonight is not for me, but for them. It is about their comfort. I love them enough to smile and make sure they see it. But I could not do it the whole night and that was why I had stepped outside.
The light stings my eyes a bit as I open the door. The music is just loud enough to be heard, yet not drown out conversation. They are playing some Johnny Cash. At least the music is good. I mingle with my friends and family. There are a lot of them here. My friends, their friends, my brothers, their friends, my sister and hers, and my parents and cousins. All here to see me off. All of them are good people. I mingle and drink, and talk and drink, and dance and drink.
Things start to get hazy and I realize that I need to slow down on the booze. I walk into the kitchen to get something in my system. We had grilled some burgers earlier and I knew there were bound to be some left over. I catch myself stumbling and decide I need to stop drinking altogether if I don't want to get sick.
She was the first thing I saw when I stumbled into the kitchen. Her back was to me, but I would recognize her anywhere. Her long brown hair flowed gracefully, her shapely body swaying to and fro ever so slightly. She turned around as I closed the door behind me. I catch a gleam in her dark brown eyes and see her wry grin.
At first I don't know what to say. I'm sure it's because I'm drunk.
"I didn't know you would be here," it's all I can think of.
"Jose didn't tell you," her question is musical. Her voice more intoxicating than the flame.
"No Gabby, he didn't." Gabrielle Martinez. I've had a thing for her since the first time Jose brought me over to meet the family. She is four years older than I am. When I was young, that gap seemed boundless. But to a man who is about to go off to war and too drunk to be embarrassed, that gap seems like nothing at all. She smiles.
"I was just running late is all. Work was a pain. But I'm glad that I get to see you before you passes out. From the looks of it, you're almost there." With that she giggles and the sound brings a smile to my face.
"Yeah, I think I'm done drinking for the night. I'm glad that you're here now though." She smiles and mine gets bigger. I feel like it will split my face in half if I smile any bigger.
"I have a present for you, come on!" She grabs my hand and take me out to her car. We go out the front door and she walks me to her car. She opens up the trunk and tells me to close my eyes. I hold them shut and wonder what it could be. When she tells me to open my eyes she is holding up a black quilt that has "COME HOME" embroidered in white on it.
She tells me that she made it herself and asks if I like it. I tell her I do, even though the words on it annoy me. She has made it and therefore it is precious to me. She tells me how she wants me to take it overseas with me and that if I ever get lonely I can use it to think of home. I tell her I will and thank her for it.
As I go to take it from her she leans forward a kisses me. I am surprised and elated at the same time. I begin to kiss her long and hard, feeling the years of pent up lust coming to a burst. Just as I begin to wrap my arms around her she is gone, pulled back. I ask her if I've done something wrong and she looks up into my eyes.
"Just make sure to be safe and come back. Then we can continue this conversation." With that she gets into her little Honda and drives off. I know that I've said those words annoy. But from her, it's not so bad. I head back into the party, holding the quilt.
Everything is winding down. Everyone has either left or is passed out. James is in the bathtub, Jose is on the kitchen table, and Gabby...well Gabby drove home. As I go to lay down on the couch, I wrap myself in her quilt and smile before I drift off to sleep.