Spunkmeyer was having bad dreams about the drop tests. He dreamed that he couldn’t drop without blacking out, or throwing up. He dreamed about the machine malfunctioning, and it would “drop” him, over and over again.
They were just bad dreams. Manifestations of his worst fears. Although, he knew for certain they weren’t his absolute worst fears ever.
His worst dreams weren’t about the drops. They weren’t about Kendriss, or his father, or Larkins, or Ferro. They were about Evison. About Evison leaving without telling him. For some reason, he couldn’t figure out why that bothered him so much.
Several Marines were already leaving for Thanksgiving. Evison would drive to the airport with them, leaving Larkins in charge for about an hour. Everyone would hide out in their rooms until Evison came back. There was a day where Spunkmeyer was stuck in Ferro’s room, but he was fine with that.
“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. It was pretty rare that I got see her family, namely her parents, but she explicitly told me not to say ‘Grandma and Grandpa.’“
“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 she-Kendriss-wouldn’t really care all that much. I’d come home with projects from school, and God only knows what happened to ’em. 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.”
“You know, I wish I could take you to my parents’ house in Michigan, but they’d be leaning over and whispering, ‘Are you dating him?’ And, I don’t want you feeling like you need to tell everyone your story.”
“Look, we won’t have a real home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner, but, as far as I know, we don’t do anything during those few days, 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.”
Evison approached Spunkmeyer as he headed into the mess hall for lunch. “Pack light. I’m taking you to the simulators to do your test again. I really want you to start flying soon.”
Spunkmeyer didn’t respond, but he did appreciate Evison wanting to further his training quickly. About an hour after lunch, he met up with Evison in the simulator room, along with a few other Marines who also needed to pass their drop tests.
“Go on in.” Evison gently nudged Spunkmeyer toward one of the machines. “Buckle yourself in, and I’ll come around to check on you.”
Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, Spunkmeyer put on a helmet, and started strapping himself in. He took a deep breath while waiting for Evison’s signal.
The corporal’s voice filled his headset. “Alright. Drop when ready.”
Spunkmeyer squeezed the button. He was jerked back in his seat, and felt like clawed hands had grabbed every organ in his belly, yanking them to the back of their cavities. A few minutes later, the movement stopped. Spunkmeyer looked around. His insides felt jostled, but he didn’t feel like vomiting. He hadn’t even blacked out. Releasing his breath, Spunkmeyer began pulling off his helmet. Holy shit, I did it.
Evison helped him out of the simulator. “How’re you feeling?”
“Queasy at all?”
“Not like last week.”
Evison smiled at him. “After Thanksgiving, we’ll get you started on your flight hours. I’m proud of you.”
I’m proud of you. That wasn’t something Spunkmeyer had heard very often. He swallowed past a lump in his throat, and looked up at Evison with tears in his eyes.
Evison understood. He patted Spunkmeyer’s shoulder. “You got a ways to go. Just don’t give up.”
A dull ache started in Spunkmeyer’s chest. It quickly turned into an intense tearing sensation. He looked down, refusing to show Evison how he felt. This is why him leaving shows up in my nightmares. Spunkmeyer swallowed hard.
“Are you alright?” Evison asked.
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
When he wasn’t spending time with Ferro, Spunkmeyer was reading over the controls of the various aircraft he might have to fly during his service. He had no idea if it was going to be just Evison training him on his first day, so he’d rather not look like a fool if he got stuck with Larkins.
With the holidays upon everyone, training slowed to a crawl. The only thing that hadn’t slowed was Larkins’s attitude. “They signed up for this. They shouldn’t be shirking out of their training to go home and slack off,” she snapped while Evison was loading luggage in the back of his van.
“Just because you don’t take a break doesn’t mean they can’t,” Evison replied. “I’ll be back in an hour.”
Spunkmeyer immediately ducked back into the living quarters hallway, and knocked on Ferro’s door. “Evison’s gone. Let me in, quick!”
Ferro opened the door, and pulled Spunkmeyer inside. “Oh, I almost forgot-I asked Evison for bus passes tomorrow.” She grinned. “You excited?”
“We’re gonna go out and have fun tomorrow. Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. 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? You know we’re allowed to put some decorations in our rooms, right?”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“As long as you can easily take it down and store it, yeah. Larkins thinks it’s stupid and turns our quarters into college dorms, but Evison said it’s a good way to give ourselves a taste of home and change things up a little.” Ferro handed Spunkmeyer one of the bus passes. “We’ll 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.
The conversation died, and the two were glancing around, trying to find something else to talk about. At times, they found themselves staring at each other, similar to before they had ever spoken to each other almost two months ago. A nervous smile crossed Spunkmeyer’s face, and he shyly waved, just like the morning of the day they first became friends.
And Ferro waved back, smiling and laughing. “You know, I really wish you were my flight partner.”
“I wish it could be you, too. Although can’t you get your partner changed?”
“That’s up to Evison.”
“Well, he’s reasonable. Can’t we request-”
“Not with Larkins around. She’d never let it happen.”
Spunkmeyer felt like an icicle had been driven into his gut. 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! Wouldn’t you be happier getting sent to a unit with me instead of-”
“She’d see it as coddling, and would pair us back up with whoever 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. Without another word, Spunkmeyer stood up, and left the room. He was tempted to give back the bus pass, but decided it was better if he went and ventured around by himself.
He sat alone in his room for the next hour, his father’s cap on his left knee. His thoughts were aimless, and he was unsure of how to feel. Mainly, he was angry at Ferro. He was certain they had built up a good relationship. Instead, she was perfectly willing to throw it away. All to avoid the wrath of one person.
“Spunkmeyer? You in there?” Evison knocked on the door.
“Yeah. Whaddaya want?” Spunkmeyer sighed.
“Just checking up on you.” Evison glanced out into the hall. “Ferro told me that she may’ve upset you over not wanting to be your flight partner.”
“Well, she’s right. I’m upset. I don’t care anymore.”
“You do care. I know deep down you do. It’s okay for you be upset over this, but don’t let it blind you. Look at me, Spunkmeyer-” Evison looked stern, but sympathetic, “you will find someone you can work well with and serve with your entire career.”
“I feel like that someone is Ferro.”
“Think about this rationally; you are good friends with Ferro, yes, and Larkins knows that. She doesn’t care. She will assume that you’re both incapable of putting your emotions aside in a combat situation.”
“Let’s prove her wrong, then.”
Evison sighed. “Let me think about this. I’ve given you a lot. No new Marine should ever get this kind of treatment from their instructors. There’s a reason why, in the beginning, we’re told to treat everyone the same, no matter their background. I felt sorry for you, and I shouldn’t have. Do not speak of this to anyone, do you understand?”
“Good. Go to the mess hall for lunch.”
There was a clashing blend of excitement and anxiety within Spunkmeyer in the week following Thanksgiving. He stood in formation with a group of other pilots, listening to Larkins’s instructions and rules on the simulators. After telling everyone that half of them probably wouldn’t pass, Larkins ordered everyone to find their assigned partner and pick a machine.
Spunkmeyer’s partner, a young red-haired man called Falsson was already putting his harness on when Spunkmeyer approached him. “Take the initiative,” Falsson whispered. “Go get your harness and your helmet.”
“Where?” Spunkmeyer asked.
“In the machine.”
Spunkmeyer began climbing up the ladder, reaching inside to grab a harness and a helmet. As he came down, he felt someone grab the back of his jacket and yank him off the ladder.
“Just what the FUCK are you doing, rat turd?! Who told you to go in there, huh?! WHO?!” Larkins pushed Spunkmeyer against the side of the machine.
“I-I-I was getting my harness! I was-”
“NO ONE gave you the order to go in your simulator! Get on the ground, in push-up position!” Larkins put her boot on Spunkmeyer’s back. “You’re gonna stay there until I say ‘get up.’“
“Ma’am,” Falsson spoke up, “I told him to get his harness and helmet. My apologies.”
“Unlike him, you’ve actually proved yourself responsible enough to do some minor tasks before we get started.”
Falsson dropped eye contact with Larkins, simply nodding.
Spunkmeyer glanced to his left to see Ferro looking at him from across the chamber. She looked sorry for him.
Evison noticed as well, and walked over, appearing as though he was trying to control a boiling anger. “Pretty sure General Graham talked about this last time he visited. We save shit like this for boot camp, not specialized training.”
Larkins gestured to Spunkmeyer. “He went in before anyone told him-”
“From what I saw, all he was doing was getting his harness! You need to learn when to just let things go!”
“I should report to Graham about how you’re coddling everyone in this damn base.”
“You think he’s gonna take your side? Really? After he’s witnessed you yell at Marines for no reason other than to make yourself appear dominant? After he received a report that you may have been the reason six Marines either dropped out or changed jobs? Graham’s a fair man, but he knows a bitch when he sees one. I don’t coddle people. I want what’s best for everyone in here as much as you do. They graduated boot camp. The next phase is teaching them their job. They had discipline instilled in them. They know the rules. Now, they need to receive their real training, and start making a life for themselves. They’re human beings, they can’t deal with this kind of treatment forever. Twelve weeks, and whatever they had to deal with at home is enough.” Evison took a breath. “I’m only saying this once. I’ve worked with you a long time, and I believe you have the potential to change for the better. You’re really starting to kill that. Now, get off Spunkmeyer, and let’s get this fucking course started.”
There was a short period of silence after Falsson and Spunkmeyer got in the simulator. As Spunkmeyer got settled in the co-pilot’s seat, Falsson looked at him over his shoulder. “I think the problem is more about Evison and Larkins not being able to find a solution together. All they do is argue; they don’t actually sit down and talk.”
Spunkmeyer opened his mouth, wanting to defend Evison. He then reminded himself of what the corporal said two weeks ago, about how his superiors weren’t supposed to be so friendly with their trainees. Plus, what Falsson said made sense.
Another feeling surfaced, though, one that Spunkmeyer knew for damn sure he should never, ever describe to anyone: Evison was the closest thing he had to a father. Calling Evison a friend, or a father figure, would land him in as much trouble as if it was revealed he was underage. So he kept quiet.
“Just my opinion, though,” Falsson said. “I’ve noticed you get along fairly well with Evison.”
Spunkmeyer felt ill.
“Most of us do. He’s a very likable Marine. Personally, I think he needs to toughen up a little-not like Larkins, but enough so people don’t look at him like he coddles us.” Falsson adjusted his helmet, and looked at Spunkmeyer again. “Are you alright? You look like you’re about to be sick.”
“I… must’ve ate something bad for breakfast,” Spunkmeyer replied.
“Ah. Well, if you need to step out, don’t be afraid to say something. Oh, don’t forget you’re the one dropping us.” Falsson smiled, like he was trying to get Spunkmeyer’s mind onto the task at hand.
Ten more minutes passed before Evison inspected their setup. “Answer any questions Spunkmeyer has, alright? Don’t be ashamed of anything. Most people don’t do well their first simulator flight. Now, Falsson, you have the coordinates?”
“Good. Put them in the computer.”
Spunkmeyer glanced at a small screen in front of him. Falsson’s coordinates appeared a few seconds later.
“Your computer should be guiding you along the way. Spunkmeyer, make sure you relay anything abnormal to Falsson, so he can avoid it, got it?”
“Yes, sir,” Spunkmeyer muttered.
“You doing alright?”
“He said he ate something bad at breakfast,” Falsson said. “Wasn’t sure if he should sit this out.”
“I feel better. Just a cramp.” Spunkmeyer glared at Falsson, not appreciating him trying to speak for him.
“If it gets worse, say something. If you ever feel sick during a real flight, that can have bad consequences.” Evison patted Spunkmeyer’s shoulder, and gave Falsson’s helmet a friendly slap. “Right. Wait for my signal, gentlemen.”
The doors closed, and the two were alone as the sound of an airlock opening filled the simulator. Falsson glanced at Spunkmeyer again. “You’re sure you’re alright? This is your last chance to say you don’t feel ready.”
“I feel fine, damn it!”
“Drop when ready, Spunkmeyer,” Evison said through their headsets.
Angrily, Spunkmeyer pressed the button on the joystick. Both he and Falsson jolted back in their seats as the dropship “fell” from a troop transport. Falsson cursed as he got a proper grip on his controls, holding them tightly as they shot through the atmosphere of an unnamed planet.
“Turbulence up ahead,” Spunkmeyer said.
“Got it,” Falsson replied. His voice wavered as they were rattled around by the manufactured turbulence. “Any damage to the hull?”
“Good. Going into manual control. Fifty miles until we reach the coordinates.”
Spunkmeyer was quiet as they flew. He was surprised at how smooth this was going, but he wondered if he’d just jinxed it by thinking that. “I thought this was going to be a little harder,” he said, pulling his mike away from his mouth so Evison didn’t hear him.
“You’re not the one doing the heavy lifting. If something happened and I had to relay control to you, then we might have some issues. It’s landing that might be a bit a tricky. You have to press the right button at the right time, or else we’re plowing into the ground.” Falsson kept his eyes on the windshield. “Depressing weather, huh.”
“Just overcast. No rain, no heavy wind.”
“Regardless. In cloudy weather, do your best to fly low so you can see. The computer doesn’t pick up on everything, so keep your vision sharp. Your eyes and your gut instincts are generally more reliable.”
“Thanks for the advice.”
Spunkmeyer was starting to think that Falsson wasn’t so bad after all, but a large part of him still wished he was with Ferro.