Spunkmeyer briefly hesitated before rapping his knuckles against Ferro’s door. Her sobbing had subsided a little, but he couldn’t bear to listen to it. His mind kept turning to that morning, where they managed to look at each other and even wave to each other. He felt like that meant something, that he really should talk to her.
“Whoever it is, go away,” Ferro stammered.
Spunkmeyer bit his lip, struggling to come up with a good introduction. “I just want to see if you’re okay.”
“I don’t even know who you-” Ferro threw open the door, stopping when she looked Spunkmeyer in the eye. “Oh. You’re the guy who talked to me yesterday morning. Just go away. I don’t want to talk to anyone right now.” She didn’t lose eye contact with him, and didn’t slam the door on him.
“Can I talk to you? I won’t say anything to anyone-”
“It’s not like it’s a secret that I cry, okay? I don’t care anymore.”
Spunkmeyer stayed put. He realized they still didn’t lose eye contact with each other, and he didn’t want to be the one breaking it. “You’re sure you don’t wanna talk to me? I kinda… got the feeling you did when you…” Oh, now that was just stupid of you to say, Danny. Now you sound like you want to be in a relationship with her.
“When I what? Spit it out.”
“Y-You returned my wave this morning.”
“Well, that was before the fucking day started. You’re a newbie, just like me, so you don’t want to talk to me or get advice from me.”
“I don’t care about that right now. Look, I heard you crying, I feel bad, I want to make sure you’re okay. Does everyone else do this when you cry?”
“No, actually. And why should they? They just let me go, and… a-and…” Ferro broke eye contact, looking down at the floor as tears welled up in her gray eyes. “Get in here.” As soon as Spunkmeyer walked in, Ferro closed the door. She gestured for him to sit on the bed, which was unmade. “What’s your name? I know you told me yesterday, but I forgot.”
“Spunkmeyer. And you’re Ferro. You told me at the airport.”
“Whatever. Glad someone remembered.” Ferro sat next to him, sighing. “No, I’m not okay. Every day is going to be the same as the one before because of her. She just won’t let me learn, and it’s only a matter of time before she sends Evison down to tell me to pack my bags and go home. Believe me, I don’t want to go home.”
“Hey, I understand. I don’t think anyone here wants to go home.”
“Everyone says that. But I was the first one of our division to cry in front of her. That’s why she’s painted a target on my back.”
“That’s not your fault. Doesn’t mean you won’t pass and become a pilot like the rest of us. She can’t fail you because you have emotions.”
“She’s certainly threatened to. And she’s not exactly helping by getting in my face and singling me out just because a tiny thread is sticking out of my collar. Who even notices that?”
“Someone who has an eye for detail, no heart, and is likely possessed by the devil, that’s who.”
Ferro offered him a small smile. “Got that right. I think ‘evil’ is too strong a word, but she’s definitely not pleasant.”
“She’s not someone you want around for Christmas dinner.”
“I take it you’ve had experiences like that.”
Spunkmeyer frowned, suddenly feeling blood draining from his face. “Well, I…” He sighed. I’m not ready to tell her. “I’m not ready to talk about it.”
Ferro shrugged, suddenly looking sad again. “Alright, suit yourself.”
Spunkmeyer turned to leave, embarrassed. “Um, we can talk later.” As he put his hand on the door handle, Ferro spoke up.
“Hey, in case you’re wondering? You can trust me.”
Spunkmeyer nodded. I’ll keep that in mind.
Things gradually became repetitive over the next several days. Spunkmeyer picked things up rather quickly, especially what made Larkins tick. She didn’t like being challenged, especially if someone stated that she was in the wrong. However, if she was right, she’d berate the person who challenged her, brutally. She also didn’t like it when someone did something that wasn’t in any way, shape, or form part of the current task, unless they were taking initiative and going above and beyond. Even that was a bit of a risk around Larkins.
On the morning of the fifth day of training, Larkins seemed off to a particularly bad start. Spunkmeyer noticed that when she and Evison led the others to the training area, she kept alternating between touching her stomach as if in pain, and pinching the bridge of her nose and wincing, while trying to hide it the whole time. She had an electrolyte drink with her, but Spunkmeyer didn’t pay much attention to the fact that her hand shook slightly each time she raised it to take a sip.
It didn’t take five minutes for Spunkmeyer to set her off. He was trying to help one of the other trainees with his harness, but the harness kept getting tangled due to Spunkmeyer not realizing he needed to pull that section out of its buckle. He was promptly asked by Larkins what his IQ was.
“I don’t know, ma’am,” Spunkmeyer replied.
“Well, I’ll give you a pretty good guess, rat turd; it’s less than seventy,” Larkins said.
Spunkmeyer swallowed nervously, unsure of what to say.
“You’re supposed to say, ‘Yes ma’am.’“
“Congratulations, rat turd, you’re stupid.”
Larkins finally moved on, leaving Spunkmeyer feeling as though he’d been punched in the stomach. Overall, he was learning that she was difficult to impress.
When he got to training with Evison, however, it was a completely different story. Evison was loud when he needed to be, and he only ever got angry when someone did something that could potentially be dangerous. He cursed as much as Larkins, but never insulted anyone. Spunkmeyer liked him quite a bit. He had never felt that with anyone above him before. It was strange, and at times, he found himself longing for more of Evison’s individual attention. Why, though?
Those first two weeks were spent on safety training, what to do if there was an accident, and memorizing where things like fire extinguishers and gas masks were located. The week after was first-aid training, which Corporal Byrd was in charge of, but Larkins and Evison supervised.
Spunkmeyer’s thoughts would continue to turn to Ferro. There weren’t that many times they saw each other during training, but when they did, Spunkmeyer got a clear picture of Ferro’s daily interactions with her instructors and teammates. Ferro was prone to push people away when they offered help. She wanted to do things on her own, even when she wasn’t sure what to do. It was a result of her inability to play the game by Larkins’s rules, and Spunkmeyer couldn’t tell if Ferro was deliberately ignoring the rules, or just didn’t know them.
It wasn’t until one night in late September when Spunkmeyer decided to try and talk to Ferro again. He and some of the other Marines had watched her and her training partner make their first attempt at flying a very small cargo plane in and out of the hangar in a simulator.
“She’s shaking a little,” someone said, softly. “Looks like she’s not sure how to land.”
A nervous knot began forming in the pit of Spunkmeyer’s gut. “She could crash.”
Ferro didn’t crash, but her landing was far from smooth. The plane bounced a lot, and almost whipped off the runway as Ferro attempted to right herself while taxiing back down the tarmac on the screen.
When the sound of the engines died down, Larkins approached the module, waiting for Ferro and her co-pilot to exit the hatch. There was silence, and then a string of curses and insults as Larkins exploded on Ferro, informing her repeatedly of how she could’ve gotten a lot of people killed if this was real.
Ferro was trying to keep herself from crying again. She covered her face as Evison approached them.
“Go on inside,” Evison said. “Freshen up and take a few minutes to calm down.” He led Ferro back to the living quarters, and gestured for everyone else to do the same.
Spunkmeyer went to his room first to hang up his jacket. Like last time, he heard Ferro slam her door. For a moment, he hesitated, but then quietly walked into the hall. He looked down at his boots as he knocked.
“What the fuck do you want?” Ferro sobbed.
Spunkmeyer’s words got caught in his throat, and he couldn’t form a proper sentence. When he waited too long, Ferro opened the door, glaring at him. She raised her fist to hit him, but stopped, slowly lowering her fist as she looked Spunkmeyer in the eye.
“Let me talk to you,” Spunkmeyer said. “Please?”
He could see Ferro completely letting her guard down. It came in the form of more tears making her gray eyes sparkle. Again, she let Spunkmeyer into her room, and sat on the bed, hunching in on herself as she sobbed.
“How is it that I got so far, and yet didn’t go anywhere at all?” she whispered.
That was definitely a familiar feeling. “It… it happens, I guess,” Spunkmeyer replied. “Not saying that to belittle you. I know that feeling of going really far and not actually going anywhere.”
“Yeah.” If I’m going to trust her, it should be now. She clearly needs a friend. “I’m adopted. I’ve been trying to find my biological father, and the chaplain at boot camp found a pretty good lead, but it didn’t… didn’t go anywhere. It was stuff beyond our control, and it doesn’t look like there’s anything else I can do to actually find my real dad.”
“Nah, don’t be. Not your fault.”
“Well, I’m also sorry for almost punching you.” Ferro sighed. “I’m hopeless, I know. I shouldn’t be here anymore.”
“You’re not hopeless. I’ve observed you, and I think you try to plow through things a little too hard, because you’re so afraid of someone getting pissed off at you.”
“So, I was right. You were staring at me all this time.”
“You were staring at me, too. D-Do you like me or something?”
“You’re cute, but I’m not interested in you in that way.”
“Good, ’cause I’m not interested in you like that either.”
Silence followed, and Spunkmeyer was worried he had made things uncomfortable. There were so many things he just said that he wished he could’ve worded differently. He took a breath, and said, “Y’know, maybe we can… get some coffee on Saturday, and, I dunno, talk more.”
“Let me think about it. I’ll let you know later.”
Spunkmeyer only had to wait an hour for an answer. During dinner, Ferro sat across from him, and weakly smiled. “Yes, I’ll get coffee with you on Saturday,” she said.
“Alright. I’ll talk to Evison about getting passes and if he knows anywhere in Denver to go for good coffee.” Spunkmeyer wasn’t sure what else to say, but he felt like he needed to take the initiative in this newfound friendship. “So, you ever been to New York?”
“The district or the state?” Ferro asked.
“No. I’m from Michigan. This is the first time I’ve left home.”
“Never even been on vacation?”
“I went to Detroit for one summer, but that was it.”
“Ah. That’s fine. This is kinda the first time I’ve really left home as well. But, yeah, I’m from Manhattan.”
“Is that why Larkins calls you ‘rat turd?’“
Spunkmeyer nodded. “She asked me where I’m from. I says, ‘New York.’ She says, ‘You’ve probably seen those giant rats, then.’ I go, ‘Yeah, I’ve seen ’em.’ And she replies, ‘Well, then, your name is now rat turd.’“
“What a bitch,” Ferro sighed. “I don’t know how we’re going to make it through this with her.”
“I’m kinda looking at it as, she’s not gonna be around for the rest of your life. Just the next seven months, and while that may be hell, it’s not forever.” Spunkmeyer shrugged. “Kendriss was a bitch too, but I knew I wasn’t gonna have to deal with her forever. Once you graduate, you never have to deal with Larkins again. She’s a fucking flight instructor. She stays here and deals with simulators while you and I get the real deal. She’s the one missing out, not us. And if she wants to be miserable, that’s her problem.”
Ferro gave him a slight grin. “You have an interesting way of looking at things. How is it that you came from a seemingly hopeless situation and yet managed to get out of it with your spirit intact?”
Another shrug. “I just always had some sense of hope.” Spunkmeyer glanced down at the table. “I mean, it’s not the easiest thing in the world, but I have it. Somehow.”
This was only Spunkmeyer’s second time having coffee, but he could see why people drank it daily. “There’re coffee places on base, right?”
“Yeah. Why do you ask?” Ferro asked when they sat in a café with their drinks. It was early in the morning, with the sun just starting to peek over the mountains. Not a lot of people were in the café with them. It was nice and quiet. There was the sound of traffic outside, but it was nowhere near the scale that Spunkmeyer was used to.
“I think I should start having it every day,” he replied.
“You didn’t drink coffee at home?”
“No. The morning I arrived here was the first time.”
“Well, don’t get too hooked on it. There might be days where you won’t have time, and then you’ll get a bad headache because your body’s craving it.”
“Thanks for the advice.” Spunkmeyer grinned. “So, I’m gonna take a guess, and say you’re a small-town girl.”
“How’d you know?”
“You said you were from Michigan. People from big cities usually say ‘I’m from this city’ instead of their state.”
Ferro smirked. “Wow. Small-town girl and a city boy. How original.”
“I take it you’ve heard that song.”
“What, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’?’ Of course I have. You’d have to live under a rock not to. You like older music?”
“Yeah. I mean, I don’t have that much of a preference, but I gravitate toward it most of the time.”
“Hey, I don’t have a preference, either, so, you’re okay.” Ferro glanced out the window. “Best part about home was seeing all the leaves change. My dad used to take me on a long drive around the backroads and farms to see these long views of yellow and red and orange. Afterwards, we’d grab fresh apple cider and hot cider donuts. I miss doing that.”
“I wish I got to do stuff like that.”
Ferro gave him a sympathetic look. “That is so sad, and yet you don’t seem really bothered by it.”
“Technically, I am bothered by it, but I haven’t… I haven’t let it control me. I had other things to keep my mind occupied, and now that I’m on my own, forging my own life, I’m trying to make friends. It’s not gonna fill that void, but it’ll keep that pain from overwhelming my life.”
Ferro nodded while listening. “Well, you found your first friend.” She smiled at him.
Luck, or fate. Whichever you choose to believe. Captain Jesse’s words were ringing in Spunkmeyer’s head. Was he lucky to have run into Ferro, or were they destined to meet each other? That question stuck with him the whole day. He felt like it was too soon to go into a deeper topic like that, even though they had a month to ponder each other.
Spunkmeyer had never spent so much time with only one person before. Ferro was indeed nice when she wasn’t sad or frustrated, and he liked her. He felt comfortable around her, and he felt like he’d be able to trust her. The only thing he wasn’t sure about was telling her his real age. Would she be mad? Would she keep it a secret? He needed to keep building that trust, so he could tell her without fear. At the same time, he was afraid that if he waited too long, she’d be mad that he didn’t tell her earlier. I need to tell her soon, but not too soon. He had already told her a good portion of his story. She understood why he joined the Marines. Surely, telling her that he was underage wouldn’t be an issue. Another part of him was afraid that their relationship was too new, and if he told her, she’d start treating him like a child. Just be patient. Give it a few days, but tell her the first chance you get so she knows you trust her.
It was a little past three when they started heading back to the station to catch a bus back to base. They had explored a department store near the café, and had lunch together. It definitely made Spunkmeyer feel more human after months of being somewhat restrained, and years of feeling rejected. It was a feeling he had a difficult time putting to words, but the best way he could describe it was “like getting a soft, warm hug.”
Then again, he had never been hugged before. Today was his first time.
The last time he saw Ferro for the day was right before lights-out. She stood in front of her door, hair still wet from a shower, listening to Spunkmeyer telling a story from a baseball game in middle school before finally saying, “Hey, I really hate to interrupt you, but, we gotta go to bed in two minutes.”
“Okay,” Spunkmeyer replied. “Remind me at breakfast tomorrow to finish.” He stopped, feeling like that was a bad way to end the day. “Um… thanks for, you know, hanging out with me today. I know that sounds kinda sappy, but-”
“It’s fine. I was gonna thank you, too.” Ferro smiled again. “Good-night, Spunkmeyer.”
“Good night, Ferro. I-” He was stopped by Ferro quickly putting her arms around him. She held him for a heartbeat, maybe two, and then let go.
Something hurt in his chest when she let go. Spunkmeyer swallowed nervously before hugging Ferro, and he hugged her tightly.
“Are you okay?” she whispered.
“Yeah,” Spunkmeyer replied. Truthfully, he wasn’t sure. He wanted to hold her for the rest of the night. This feeling was… addicting. It was warm and soft and he couldn’t believe he had never felt it before. It got better when Ferro hugged him back.
They had to let go, though, when they heard the sound of Larkins approaching to make sure everyone was in bed. “Good night.” Ferro closed her door.
Spunkmeyer found himself blushing, flooded with emotions that had been dormant and undisturbed for almost his whole life.