Over the next several weeks and into November, Spunkmeyer began to enjoy himself more and more as his flight training advanced farther and the lessons became more difficult. He knew that if their training was going to take another year then it was going to be much harder by the end, but he was confident that he could adapt and improve to handle any new challenges. Unfortunately, his relationship with Falsson seemed stuck where it was. They made the lessons work together, but that was about it. They weren’t becoming friends.
As much as he would have rather ignored her completely, Spunkmeyer couldn’t help notice that the change to actual flight training made Larkins even more unbearable than usual, and Spunkmeyer noticed that her headaches and stomach pains seemed to be occurring more often than before, often two or three times a week, and she wore her sunglasses more frequently, even inside. One day when someone opened a door to the outside and she was caught in the sunlight streaming in, she flinched and let out a string of curses. A tiny part of Spunkmeyer wondered why, but for the most part he didn’t really care at all. If she was suffering because of something, it could only be something she brought on herself.
On the second Sunday of the month, Spunkmeyer was up fairly early. Training normally continued seven days a week with no breaks, but there were periodic exceptions, and today was one of them. Most of the members of his flight were probably sleeping in, but he couldn’t fall back asleep. With the holidays coming up, there had been a lot of talk of home and family and loved ones among everyone, and every time it felt like someone was digging in his heart and making that damned hole bigger and more painful. A lot of the other members of his flight complained about not being able to go home for Christmas and New Year’s, and part of Spunkmeyer wanted to snap at them that they should be grateful to have family at all even if they couldn’t see them. It wouldn’t have made a difference to him if they were allowed to leave for the holidays. He had nowhere to go. He knew the others weren’t trying to make him sad or angry on purpose, but he couldn’t help feeling jealous and lonely.
The sound of someone knocking on the door jolted him from his thoughts. “Uh, come in,” he said, still pulling himself out of the recesses of his brain.
Ferro peered inside the room. “Good morning.”
Spunkmeyer didn’t respond right away. “‘Morning.”
“What’s the matter? You don’t seem very happy to see me.” Ferro closed the door, and sat on the edge of the bed.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be taking my problems out on you.”
“Well, if it’s not me, then what is it?”
Spunkmeyer took a breath, struggling to put his thoughts in words. “You know how everyone’s talking about family and the holidays and all that? I…”
“You wish you had that.”
Ferro nodded. “It’s okay. I get it. I can’t imagine it’s a nice feeling for you.” She touched Spunkmeyer’s shoulder. “You’re not gonna be alone. I promise.”
A weak smile crossed Spunkmeyer’s face. “Gee, thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Okay, I originally came here to ask if you wanted to get some breakfast, so, would you?”
“Sure. Just let me get dressed.”
Instead of going to the mess hall, Ferro took Spunkmeyer to the recreational part of the base, where they sat down in a tiny diner wedged between the bank and a convenience store. The coffee wasn’t as good as the stuff in Jacksonville, but Spunkmeyer put up with it.
“So, something really weird happened last night,” Ferro began.
“I saw Larkins coming out of her room about an hour before lights out. Her eyes were all red and her face looked wet. I think she had been crying.”
So, the bitch can cry. Spunkmeyer was surprised, but all he said was, “Huh.”
“I’m not sure if she realized I saw, but she started yelling at me anyway to get in the shower.”
Spunkmeyer nodded, taking another sip of coffee before saying, “I heard that. Wondered what it was all about but I didn’t think it was a good idea to stick my head out when I heard the bitch going off.”
“I can’t help wondering if she really was crying, and why.”
Shrugging, Spunkmeyer asked, “Why should we care?”
Ferro gave him a confused look. She opened her mouth to say something but paused as if unsure of her words, so Spunkmeyer continued. “Look, she puts us through hell every day. We don’t deserve the way she treats us, but she does it anyway. Look at how many times she’s made you or one of the others cry. And I can guarantee that this isn’t the first time she’s done this. As far as I’m concerned, whatever the hell’s up with her,” he spat, “It serves her right.”
Ferro was silent for several moments, a thoughtful expression on her face. “Maybe you’re right,” she said finally. “It’s not like we can talk to her about it.”
“Right. So can we change the subject?”
“Sure. Look, we don’t have to talk about this if it’s too painful, but from what you told me earlier, I’m guessing Kendriss didn’t do anything for the holidays,” Ferro said.
“Well, technically, she did. She’d leave me alone in the apartment while going off to see her own family. I got used to it.”
“That’s just sad.”
Spunkmeyer shrugged. “I just said ‘Okay’ and dealt with it.”
“So, you’ve never had a real holiday. No Thanksgiving or Christmas or anything.”
“It was acknowledged, but Kendriss didn’t really care all that much. I’d come home with projects from school, and I have no idea what happened to any of them afterward. I know I didn’t see them on the fridge the next morning. It was just… detached is the best way to describe her.” Spunkmeyer sighed. “Oh, well. I’m not around her anymore, and hopefully, I’ll be able to celebrate holidays like a normal human being.”
“Look, we won’t have a real home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner, but as far as I know we do get that day off, so maybe we can go to a restaurant or something.”
“That’s fine by me. Hey, don’t worry about it seeming lame; it’ll probably be the best Thanksgiving dinner in my whole life so far.”
Spunkmeyer had been so busy since the beginning of flight training and so preoccupied thinking about what he had learned in his free time that he completely forgot about his intention to try to start talking to the other members of his flight. He didn’t think of it until a few days before Thanksgiving, when he was waiting with Falsson to be called for their turn in the simulator. Ferro was sitting on another bench over to his right with Sydell next to her, so Spunkmeyer decided to try talking to both of them. He had never spoken to Sydell at all outside of training, and he thought that maybe trying to talk with her and Ferro at the same time would make conversation easier.
“What’s up, Spunkmeyer?” Ferro asked when he got up and approached them.
“Nothing much,” he shrugged. “Just bored waiting for my turn. How are you two doing?”
“Fine,” Ferro said, and Sydell shrugged. She was a few inches taller than Ferro and her brown hair was longer and kept tied back in a bun, but her eyes were a similar shade of blue.
“Badger,” Sydell said, greeting him by his callsign.
Spunkmeyer knew that Ferro’s callsign was ‘Magnet’; some of the other trainees had suggested it after she explained the meaning of her surname, but he didn’t know Sydell’s.
“What was your callsign again?” He asked her.
“I don’t have one,” Sydell said, looking away.
“Oh. Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,” he apologized.
She looked back at him. “I’m not upset. It doesn’t make a difference to me. It doesn’t mean that I’m any less good at what I do than anyone else is.” She looked him up and down. “You’re the one who joined to get away from home, right?”
She really must not have cared to pay attention to what a lot of the other trainees said if she had missed enough to not be sure about that. Spunkmeyer decided to let it go and simply said, “Yeah.”
“I can’t say I understand the feeling. I’ve always gotten along well with my family, but I guess we all have our reasons.”
“So what about you?” Spunkmeyer wanted to sit down, but if he did then he would either have to talk across Ferro to say anything to Sydell or vice versa, so he remained standing.
“I’m doing it because most of my family did. Both my parents, three of my grandparents, my older brother and sister, half my cousins, a couple of my aunts and uncles, you get the picture. Time for me to play my role. And if I’m going to do something, I want to work hard and make myself the best I can at it. That’s why I’m here.”
“Ah,” Spunkmeyer said. Not really having a direct response, he turned to Ferro to try to keep the conversation going. “You know, I don’t think you’ve ever told me why you joined. It’s just never come up.”
“That’s a shock,” Sydell muttered, so quietly he almost didn’t hear. But Ferro seemed to ignore Sydell and said, “You’re right, it never did. Honestly, I guess it was because I liked the idea of learning to fly but I wanted something more challenging than being a charter or airline pilot. And signing up for a commercial spaceship just isn’t the same thing. This was the only thing that seemed like it would fit what I wanted. So I joined up and hoped that the RIFT recruiters would notice me.”
Sydell snorted, and even though her next comment was in reference to Ferro, she directed it at Spunkmeyer. “So she deliberately signed up hoping to get exactly where she is now but didn’t do anything to properly prepare herself.”
“I didn’t realize just how hard this was going to be,” Ferro explained, but like Sydell, she was looking at Spunkmeyer as she said it.
“See, when I was getting ready to enlist, I knew what I was going for,” Sydell told him. “I pushed myself even before I was actually in. I studied all the material I could get my hands on and pushed myself physically so that I could keep up if and when I got selected. I didn’t just pick a dream and wait to see if it would come to me.”
“Now that’s not really fair,” Spunkmeyer protested, trying to defend Ferro, but before he could continue, Sydell cut in, “Fair or not, we’ve got Larkins constantly on our asses because she knows Ferro’s a weak link and she’s just waiting for her to screw up. I could do with not having the instructor from hell breathing down my neck every second of the day.”
“Maybe I do make Larkins focus on us a bit more than anyone else. But if she’s not happy with how I do my job, it probably has as much to do with the fact that Sydell won’t communicate with me properly as anything else,” Ferro complained. “And-”
“Ferro, Sydell!” Evison called from over by the simulators. “You’re up next!”
The two women got up and walked over towards him, leaving Spunkmeyer staring after them in confusion. What the hell was that? He had been trying to have a proper conversation with both of them but they hadn’t said a word to each other. They had only talked to him. Worse, they had each started complaining about the other like they weren’t there. “No wonder they don’t get along well,” he muttered to himself as he returned to sit next to Falsson.
That evening Spunkmeyer was sitting in his room studying one of his textbooks when there was a knock on the door. “Come in,” he called.
Ferro opened the door, a smile on her face. “Take a look at what I got!”
She held up two pieces of paper and waved them at him before dropping one on his desk. Spunkmeyer grinned when he saw it was a pass for Thanksgiving Day. “Nice! Serious question, though, what’re we gonna do if everywhere’s closed for the holiday?”
“There’s usually a couple places open. We’ll find something.”
“Well, no offense, but I want to do more than just sit and eat.”
“Look at Christmas stuff? I know we aren’t allowed to actually get anything to decorate with, but it would be fun to at least look. We’ll just have to be careful of early Black Friday shoppers.”
“No, you will. I know how to handle crowds. Just stick close to me and we’ll get out alive.” Spunkmeyer grinned.
Ferro sank down his bed with a groan. “Ugh, I’m looking forward to taking a proper break and getting out of here, even if it’s only for a day.”
“We could both use the rest,” Spunkmeyer agreed firmly.
Ferro put her hands up to rub at her temples. “I love what I’m doing, but it’s absolutely exhausting, and honestly, Sydell is…”
“Annoying? Not helpful? Rude?”
“All of the above,” Ferro sighed. “I don’t think we’ll ever be friends and I really hope that if we both pass training we won’t get assigned together.”
“I feel the same way about Falsson. He’s very… cold,” Spunkmeyer said, before suggesting hopefully, “Maybe we could talk to Evison about getting switched so we can work together.”
“Not with Larkins around. She’d never let it happen.”
Spunkmeyer felt like an icicle had been driven into his gut. Ferro’s flat-out refusal to even consider the idea wasn’t what he had expected. He wasn’t sure what to say and looked away, not wanting Ferro to see his disappointment. Finally, he turned back and said, “That can’t be up to her! Come on, I’ve seen the way you and Sydell are together! Wouldn’t you be happier getting sent to a unit with me instead of-”
“Larkins would see it as coddling and would pair us back up with who we have now. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
The icicle pierced in harder. The coldness weaved its way around his insides, and there was a feeling similar to if Ferro had simply decided to just punch him. “Fine,” he said eventually, and turned back to his textbook, ignoring Ferro until she sighed and got up to leave. When she closed the door behind herself, Spunkmeyer looked down at the pass on his desk. He was tempted to rip it up and throw it out but decided it was better if he went and ventured around by himself.
He sat alone in his room for the next hour trying to study, but he couldn’t focus. His thoughts were aimless and he was unsure of how to feel. More than anything, he was angry at Ferro. He was certain they had built up a good relationship, but she was perfectly willing to throw it away all to avoid the wrath of one person.
In the end, Spunkmeyer decided not to go out on Thanksgiving. He didn’t feel like going with Ferro and he didn’t really want to go alone. Instead, he returned to his room after breakfast and sat down to continue studying his textbooks. It was a cheap distraction at best. The whole time he was thinking in the back of his head that all he really wanted to be doing was spending the day with Ferro. After an hour or two, he gave up and went out in the hallway to climb up and knock on her door, hoping she had decided not to go out either and was in her room, but there was no answer.
Sighing regretfully, Spunkmeyer returned to his room and sat down again. This time, he didn’t even bother trying to read again. He knew he wouldn’t be able to concentrate. He sat staring out the window at the metal wall a few feet away, replaying his talk with Ferro over and over again in his head. Why was she so afraid of Larkins? Or more accurately, why was she so afraid of Larkins that she didn’t think getting to work with him would be worth the corporal’s wrath?
There had to be a way to convince her that it would be so much better if they could work together. He just had to figure out how. His anger at Ferro began to fade as he realized just how much he wanted that. He couldn’t stay angry. Their friendship meant too much to him. He would apologize to her when she got back for not going with her like they had planned and hope she wasn’t too angry with him for leaving her on her own.
When lunchtime came, Spunkmeyer went down to the mess hall alone. He wasn’t surprised to see they were serving sliced turkey and other normal Thanksgiving food, although it was a guarantee that none of it was actually fresh. Still, he took what he wanted and hoped that it would still taste good.
He approached his unit’s assigned table and hesitated when he saw it was completely empty except for a solitary, red-headed figure. Larkins. Everyone else in the flight must have gone off base except for her. Spunkmeyer really didn’t want to sit alone with her, but he knew he wasn’t allowed to sit anywhere else.
Biting his lip, he approached the table. “Ma’am,” he greeted politely.
“Private,” Larkins said coolly, eyeing him expressionlessly as he sat down as far away from her as possible. A part of him worried that she would ask why he hadn’t gone out like everyone else, and he really didn’t want to have to make any kind of small talk with her. Then again, he had never seen her have a casual conversation with anyone, so she probably wouldn’t say anything.
Spunkmeyer began eating and was surprised to find that the food actually tasted good. It wasn’t like he imagined home-cooked Thanksgiving food would taste, but it was enjoyable. He dared to glance up at Larkins halfway through his food and saw she was staring at the table with a vacant expression on her face. There was something odd about the way she was sitting in her chair, and she seemed to have barely touched her food. It could have been any one of a thousand things, but it suddenly struck Spunkmeyer that she seemed… lonely.
“No way,” he muttered to himself, keeping his voice low enough that she couldn’t hear him over the hum of conversation between the other occupants of the mess hall. Larkins couldn’t possibly be lonely. After all he had seen of her aggressive, abusive behavior, he could never believe that she actually wanted to be around anyone. She probably had no idea what it was like to care about someone. She didn’t deserve any of his sympathy. He remembered what Ferro had told him about seeing Larkins come out of her room looking as if she had been crying. You get pissed at us for the slightest little things, but you cry just the same. Good luck finding anyone who’ll give you sympathy. Maybe you’d understand what you put us through if you had someone on your back every moment of every day, criticizing everything you do and telling you it’s not good enough, and you’re not good enough, and punishing you for the tiniest mistake. It’s all you deserve. Maybe you’d learn that people actually have feelings and not be such a bitch all the time.
Spunkmeyer looked back down at his food and refused to look back up at Larkins until he was done. She wasn’t worth his time. She was just an angry, selfish, uncaring excuse for a human. He would have to put up with her for another year and then she’d be nothing more than a bad memory that he could leave behind. She’d still be stuck here living the same sixteen months over and over again on a loop while he was out flying, having new experiences, making new friends, and actually living his life.
He just wished Evison didn’t have to deal with her. It wasn’t fair to him, and Spunkmeyer could see the constant verbal abuse grated on Evison, even though most of it wasn’t aimed at him. I know not having one finger disqualifies him from combat, but he shouldn’t have to deal with this. No one should have to deal with Larkins. She’s a creature sent from hell. She should probably be removed from the Marines altogether. She doesn’t train. She hurts people, and not just us. I never saw my drill sergeants do this to each other.
On one hand, he was fine with Larkins suffering, but not at Evison’s expense.
Spunkmeyer kept his door open for the rest of the day, waiting for the sounds of his flight members returning, but it wasn’t until after dinner that he heard Ferro’s voice in the hall. He got up quickly and went out to see her, ready to apologize. She was talking with Private Beyer but turned away when she saw him. Before he could say anything, she tugged on his sleeve and entered his room, pulling him in with her and wrapping him in a hug.
“What’s this for?” he asked, pleased but confused. “I thought you were going to be angry with me and I was all ready to apologize for being an ass.”
“Oh, believe me, I was angry,” she said, stepping back. “I was furious. I thought you were ruining my day out and I was getting even angrier at you until I realized I was more upset and disappointed than angry and that was what was really ruining it for me. I figured I’d try to enjoy the rest of the day and then come back here and talk it out with you. I don’t want to be enemies, Spunkmeyer.”
“I don’t either,” he sighed. “And I guess… I don’t understand why you’re so dead set on not riling up Larkins when I think we would be so much better off if we were partnered together, but if that’s the way you want things I guess I can respect that. Even if I can’t have you as a partner I’d rather have you as my friend than not at all.”
“Good. So, we’re okay?” Ferro asked.
“Yeah, we’re okay. So what did you do today?”
They ended up talking for the rest of the evening, and by the time Ferro left to go to bed, it was like their argument and day apart had never happened. Spunkmeyer was glad he had been able to repair any damage done. He and Ferro were back to normal again.
The next day saw a return to the routine training, although Evison and Larkins announced that after spending the past several weeks focused mainly on flight training to get everyone through the initial phase, they would be returning to a more balanced schedule. That meant things were going to get difficult again. Spunkmeyer had enjoyed not being pushed quite so hard physically and not going to sleep every single night with aching joints, but he had known it wouldn’t last forever.
On the plus side, he was going to get his first chance to fly solo, without Falsson in the simulator with him. Spunkmeyer felt as if he was almost glowing with excitement as Evison set him up for the flight. This was a major step on the road to really being independent for him. If he could do this, he was sure he could pass training.
Spunkmeyer was too excited to even be nervous as he piloted the simulated dropship. Flying solo presented a number of new challenges, but he also found he enjoyed not having Falsson’s voice in his ear constantly. He felt less restricted, like he could think more clearly. When he completed the flight and brought the dropship in for an almost perfect landing, he left the simulator, expecting Evison to be waiting outside to congratulate him. To his disappointment, the corporal was with one of the other trainees and didn’t pay him any attention.
It was like one of his nightmares all over again. Spunkmeyer tried to force himself not to care, but he couldn’t stop the feeling of another claw digging into his heart and tearing part of it out as the excitement of finishing his first solo flight disappeared. He was pretty sure that soon there’d be nothing left for it to rip out. He was surprised there was anything left to rip out at the moment.
For fuck’s sake, I’m too old to cry about something like this! Am I? Spunkmeyer kept his expression under control when Larkins looked in his direction. He was silently begging for Evison to look as well, but to no avail. It’s like the bitch said. This isn’t summer camp. I can’t expect any real praise or compliments. I’m never going to get any praise or compliments. Never. What did I do, though? What did I do wrong? Throat closing, Spunkmeyer turned away, and pretended to check his bootlaces while letting a tear roll down his face.
He held everything in until later that night, when he was able to talk to Ferro in the relative privacy of her room. He couldn’t hold it in any longer. The pain in his chest had gotten bad enough. “I need help,” he started, skipping the hellos.
“With what?” Ferro looked confused.
“Today after my solo flight, I got out and I… I expected Evison to say something to me. Everything just… I know I shouldn’t have any kind of emotional attachment to a superior, but with Evison, he feels like the father I didn’t have.”
Ferro thought for a moment. “I think I get it. You’ve never had a proper parental figure in your life before, and the first person who happens to come along and fill that gap in any way also happens to be in a position of authority over you. You do realize that if Evison shows you any kind of favoritism, you could both get in trouble, right?”
“Yeah, I know,” Spunkmeyer agreed reluctantly.
“Well, there’s your solution. Don’t let that feeling overwhelm you. Keep telling yourself that he’s your superior and you need to maintain a professional relationship. Imagine if Larkins found out. You’d be screwed. She’d probably paint her bedroom wall with both your guts and Evison’s.”
Spunkmeyer nodded, knowing Ferro had a point, but he also knew it wasn’t going to be easy. “So, act like he’s no different than Kendriss.”
“If it works, yeah.”
“I can do that.” In truth, Spunkmeyer didn’t know if he could. Evison was too kind. There was no way he could pretend Evison was Kendriss.
It only took a day of trying before Spunkmeyer gave up completely. Evison’s mannerisms were in no way comparable to Kendriss’s. To pretend he was her was downright impossible.
That feeling of giving up was draining. Spunkmeyer was usually capable of holding up during the day, but by that afternoon, he was exhausted. Everything in his chest felt heavy. What made it worse was trying to hide it all from Larkins. Months of keeping a blank expression in front of her had worn on him, and part of Spunkmeyer wished his face could just disappear, and his emotions along with it. There would be nothing to make fun of, nothing to mock. Nothing. All Spunkmeyer wanted to feel was nothing. If he couldn’t have what everyone else had growing up, he wanted nothing.
I just can’t think of what I did that would make me deserve this. I wasn’t wanted, Spunkmeyer thought. Perhaps I never will be. I thought this was an escape and it turns out to just be one big, fat reminder of how I wasn’t wanted. I was given up before I even opened my eyes. I’m in constant pain over this and yet I can’t bring myself to tell someone. Even Ferro doesn’t fully understand how much this hurts. No one does. No one will. Maybe that’s why. I can’t communicate with anyone how I feel. Either I can’t, or I won’t. I don’t know. But I can’t talk to anyone.
It was a battle just to go to Evison’s quarters at the end of the day. Walking down the empty hallway felt like he had stepped into one of his nightmares. A part of him wondered if he was actually dreaming. He never made this decision. He was in his bed, asleep, reliving the same horrible experience he went through every night.
If he didn’t have something deep inside him telling him he was indeed awake and he would bring down the entire wrath of hell that was Larkins onto him if he did this, he would have screamed, calling out to his father. The silhouette that kept appearing was faintly there. He wanted to run after it, hug it, take its hand, and fill that empty space in his heart.
But it wasn’t real. Still he whispered, “Dad?”
He felt lightheaded as he tried to pull himself back into reality. He couldn’t feel his legs as he moved closer to Evison’s quarters. What the fuck am I even doing? Taking a breath, he knocked on the door. He pondered running until the door opened.
Evison was dressed his uniform fatigues and holding a book. “Private Spunkmeyer? Is everything alright?”
Spunkmeyer froze, but forced himself to shake his head.
Glancing around, Evison gestured for him to come into his quarters. “If you need to talk to someone, I suggest you talk to one of the counselors or doctors. You look really upset.”
“I don’t think this is something they can fix,” Spunkmeyer said, shivering a little. “Y-You know I was adopted, right?”
“Yes. Again, I-”
“I don’t wanna interrupt, but this is something you need to hear.”
Evison sighed. “Okay. Go on.”
It was hard to look Evison in the eye without crying. Spunkmeyer wasn’t sure who or what he was seeing. Was he seeing his father, or his trainer? “I didn’t have my dad growing up. I tried looking awhile back and gave up because I couldn’t get any leads. I didn’t think I’d ever have someone in my life I could look up to.”
Evison tilted his head a little. “You started looking up to me?”
Spunkmeyer nodded. “I know it’s wrong. It’s fraternization. But it’s not something I can help. I don’t know what to do about it, but I don’t want to see a therapist because I could get set back and I don’t wanna get set back. Not with Ferro here. I wanna continue with her.”
The room fell silent. Then Evison shrugged before asking, “What do you want me to do about it? I’m not going to be with you when you move on to a unit. It’s not like I can give you special attention.”
“Larkins certainly wouldn’t let that slide.”
Evison’s expression saddened further. “No.” He kept eye contact with Spunkmeyer. “I don’t know what I can do for you other than suggest you seek professional help. You can’t be attached to me.”
I don’t want to be attached to you, either, but I don’t know what to do. “I know,” Spunkmeyer said.
“What made you look up to me? Do I… resemble your father?”
“I don’t know what my father looks like. It was all because you were nice to me when we arrived here. That’s it.”
Evison nodded a little. “You can’t have that reaction every time someone’s nice to you. That’s how you get taken advantage of. Now, I wouldn’t take advantage of you, but I don’t want to see you in that position. It’s not good, or healthy. You’re very smart. You didn’t come into RIFT training for no reason.” He became quiet again, and rubbed his face. “Against my better judgement, I won’t say anything to the counselors here, but I do need advice from someone about how to help you.”
“You promise you won’t say anything to them?”
“Promise. This stays between us.”
The end of November brought with it an announcement that General Graham, the training facility commander, would be coming by to personally inspect all of the units who were in training. That meant Evison and Larkins cracked down on their trainees and were stricter than usual, pushing them harder in training and doing inspections of their own every day, checking the trainees, their uniforms, and that they were keeping their rooms and common areas clean.
On the last day of November, the evening before Graham’s inspection, Larkins had gotten the members of Spunkmeyer’s flight lined up in the hall and was stalking up and down, inspecting their uniforms. Just when Spunkmeyer was starting to think they might actually make it through without her going off on someone, she stopped in front of Beyer.
“Private Beyer, would you care to explain this?” she demanded, grabbing at Beyer’s collar. Beyer looked down. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’ll get it fixed right away.”
Spunkmeyer couldn’t see what Larkins was bitching about, but he imagined it was something pathetically small.
“Yes, you will,” Larkins agreed. “When Graham comes through tomorrow you’re going to look like you’ve actually learned to respect this uniform or I swear-”
Spunkmeyer was stunned when Larkins stopped dead in the middle of her sentence, staring at Beyer like she had seen a ghost. She opened and closed her mouth several times before seeming to recover from whatever had happened and growling, “Get it fixed, Private. Now.”
She stormed off without even dismissing them and went into her room, slamming the door behind herself.
“What the fuck was that?” Tucker asked as the trainees broke the line, staring in confused disbelief at Larkins’ closed door.
“I have no idea,” Beyer said, looking down at her jacket again. “It was a loose fucking thread. That happens all the time.”
Spunkmeyer ignored the muttering between the others as they speculated on what had happened, and went into his room. He had already decided that he didn’t care about whatever was wrong with Larkins. She was clearly suffering because of something, but it was only fair for all the pain she inflicted on them.