November 3, 2014, Monday
Vanessa walked out of the recruiters’ office in a puzzled state. Every representative made a good case for their branch, but when she brought up ROTC, she was instructed to talk to the representative at the specific school she’ll be attending to make sure the program was available.
She also felt dirty from the way the men looked at her. One of them asked with a toothy grin, “Why does a girl like you want to be in the military?”
She asked herself the same question as she walked to the Starbucks a few doors down. It wasn’t as if she came from a military family or didn’t have other options.
“How can I help you?” the barista asked.
“I’ll have a tall Americano with four shots.”
She was outside reading the recruitment pamphlets and smoking on one of the tables with a “No Smoking” sign when she heard a man say, “Hooah!”
Vanessa looked up and smiled at Bruce.
“Whatever you do, don’t be a grunt,” he said.
“Why do you say that?”
“Lower chance of survival.”
Brandon walked into his parents’ house holding three pizzas: vegetarian with sausage, the works and Hawaiian with bell peppers for his sister. Elaine was next to him, and it struck them both as odd that the house smelled like roasted chicken.
“Why did you have me pick up pizza if you were going to cook?” Brandon asked his mother when he got to the living room, where his parents and sister were watching the Colts play the Giants.
“Oh, I must have forgot,” she said as she stood up from the loveseat. “You brought Elaine. Good. Let me get another place setting.”
Brandon looked to his father and Lizzie, who both shrugged. It wasn’t like his mother to forget what she had planned for dinner. Brandon took a beer out of the fridge and went outside to smoke. Lizzie joined him and Elaine on the patio.
“Do you know what’s going on?” Lizzie asked.
“No, do you?”
He lit his cigarette and Lizzie took a gulp of her wine.
“What’s happening?” Elaine asked.
“Fucking shit!” Lizzie screamed. “Her cancer is back.”
Mrs. Fair sipped her wine and said, “Look, the main thing is you guys are healthy. Would I have wanted some grandkids? Of course, but that’s just me being selfish. I’m just happy I had you three, and you, too, Elaine.”
Elaine picked at her chicken and potatoes and thought of her own mother telling her to take care of “daddy”.
“Why don’t you get a second opinion?” Brandon asked before taking a bite of pizza.
“I will, but I know my body, and I think it’s telling me it’s been a good run.”
“How can you be so nonchalant?”
“I wasn’t so much the first time around, but you weren’t here to see me then,” she said. “No, that didn’t come out right. I actually didn’t want you to see me that time. I’m glad you’re back home.”
“We’ll get through it together, honey,” Mr. Fair said.
Dennis had his hands on his head and was taking deep breaths when he saw the figure on the bench. The sun had already set and the bike trail was dark. As he got closer, he realized it was Lizzie. She didn’t look up until he was just a few yards away. He couldn’t see her eyes but knew she had been crying.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Oh, hey Dennis. Yeah, have you talked to my brother lately?”
“No, I haven’t seen him in a few days.”
He consoled her when she told him about her mother.
“I thought you went to his place on Saturday night,” Lizzie said.
“How do you know?”
“It’s not important.”
He didn’t remember making out with her at one of the downtown bars nor the conversation they had about him needing to quit alcohol and drugs.