“You’re kidding me.”
Evison’s grin got wider. “Not at all. Right before lunch, Ferro completely exploded on her flight partner. Absolute, pent-up rage I’ve never seen in any human being I’ve met before.”
Spunkmeyer nodded a little. He could see Ferro becoming completely vengeful if enough buttons were pressed. “She’s told me that her and her partner don’t get along that well.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Sydell is a perfectly competent Marine pilot, but she’s…” Evison thought for a moment, “not the greatest at picking up emotional cues from people. She didn’t really try to console Ferro whenever Larkins gave her trouble.”
“I know. I know. Anyway, Ferro finally gave Sydell a piece of her mind, and it wasn’t pretty. It was a lot of yelling and it got considerably worse when Larkins got involved.” Evison gave a low whistle. “Fucking ugly. Props to Ferro for not breaking down and crying. She still had the energy in her to scream right back at Larkins. The bitch nearly punted Ferro across the hangar, and now even she’s saying she doesn’t want the two of them paired up together.”
Something twisted in Spunkmeyer’s gut at the thought of Larkins almost getting violent with Ferro. “No one got hurt?”
“Not physically. I kept it from getting worse.”
“I’m guessing Ferro got in a lot of trouble, though.”
“She spent two hours in the brig. That’s it. She and Sydell are now longer partners, and given that you and Falsson have been having some difficulties…” Evison smiled at Spunkmeyer.
The twisting manifested into a ball, and it dropped. “So Ferro and I can work together?”
Evison nodded. “I’ve already got you two paired up on my list. You’ll start flying together tomorrow.”
A light feeling filled up Spunkmeyer’s chest. A happiness he hadn’t felt in a long time. He suddenly felt as though he could conquer the world, and spit in the eyes of anyone who told him he meant nothing.
It was long past lights-out when Spunkmeyer crept across the hall to Ferro’s room. Every door was unlocked, so he had no trouble quietly getting in, and closing the door behind him. Ferro was sound asleep, papers and manuals scattered about the room. Spunkmeyer knelt by her bed, watching her breathe for a moment before gently shaking her shoulder. “Hey. Hey, Ferro, wake up.”
She didn’t respond.
He shook her again. “Psst. Ferro, wake up. It’s me, Spunkmeyer.”
Her eyes slowly opened, and she jolted backward with a gasp, grabbing a notebook to swat him. “What the hell are you doing here?! We could get in-”
“Shh. Relax. We’ll get in trouble if you don’t keep your voice down.”
“What do you want? It’s eleven o’clock at night.”
“I got good news. In exactly,” Spunkmeyer looked at his watch, “eight hours, we’ll be flying together in a simulator.” He smiled. “Isn’t that great?”
“What are you talking about?”
“We got paired up. Evison informed me of that earlier today.”
“Are you serious?”
Ferro was clearly still waking up. She ran her fingers through her short hair, and then threw her arms around Spunkmeyer, squeezing him tightly until she could feel his heart beating against her wrists. “You sure you’re ready?”
“I’ve been ready for a long time. I’m so excited, I can’t sleep.” Spunkmeyer hugged Ferro back, just as tight. He could still feel the empty space in his heart, but it didn’t ache as bad. Things are getting better.
“You did manage to get some sleep eventually, right?” Ferro asked.
Spunkmeyer was strapping himself into the co-pilot’s seat of the simulator. “Yeah. About five hours, I think.”
“That’s not enough. Don’t start falling asleep back there, okay?”
“I’ll be fine.”
Ferro sighed, but she was also smiling. “If you say so. All set?”
“Yeah.” Spunkmeyer adjusted his helmet. “Just waiting for Evison.”
“I’m right here.” Evison tugged on Spunkmeyer’s straps, making sure he was in tight. “You two should know all this by now.”
“It’s the rules, sir.”
“I know.” Evison smirked. “Just messing around with you. Now, your mission today is to fly to a combat zone, pick up three wounded Marines, and fly them back to safety. Can you do it?”
“Yes, sir,” Spunkmeyer replied.
“Yes, sir,” Ferro said.
“You don’t sound very confident. You got Spunkmeyer with you. Everything will be fine. Trust me. Alright, good luck, you two.” Evison got out of the machine.
“Everything okay?” Spunkmeyer asked.
“Just getting used to you, that’s all,” Ferro replied.
“Have you done evacs before?”
“Once. We… ‘lost’ one of the wounded.”
“Well, we won’t lose anyone today. I promise.”
Ferro took a deep breath. “Alright. I trust you.”
“Good. Don’t be so nervous.”
“’Don’t be so’-Spunkmeyer, are you nuts?”
Ferro gave him a dirty look. “Don’t you dare make me regret this.”
Spunkmeyer grinned at her before dropping the ship.
The first phase of the task was relatively smooth and silent, until they started closing in on their destination. “Hey, Ferro? Did the instructions say anything about dealing with hostiles?” Spunkmeyer asked.
“No. Why?” Ferro said, glancing at him.
“We’re coming up on something and it isn’t friendly.”
“’Something’ isn’t helpful.”
“Many somethings. Not sure if it’s vehicles or troops or-” Spunkmeyer felt the blood drain from his face when he saw the alert coming up on the screen. Anti-aircraft artillery. “Triple A!” he called out.
“That’s a little bit more helpful, but not by much! Damn it!”
“Hey, we’ll be fine if we can just—” Spunkmeyer was jerked to his left as Ferro tried to dodge incoming fire. “Or we can just do that. You’re lucky we got no one on board yet.”
“I was just thinking that.” Ferro maintained control of the dropship, and successfully maneuvered them through the surprise anti-aircraft battery field to get to the second phase of their task. “Coming in for a landing.”
“Ready. Set her down.”
The two looked over their shoulders as several Marines entered the simulator, carrying stretchers with dummies on them. They tied the stretchers down, and immediately left the machine. Spunkmeyer waited until someone gave them the go-ahead, and began the liftoff sequence. “That wasn’t so bad,” he whispered to Ferro.
“No. That went a lot better than I thought it would,” she whispered back.
“Good. You feeling a little more confident now?”
“Honestly, yes. Not by much, but… definitely yes.”
Spunkmeyer allowed himself a small smile, but he kept quiet on the matter as they made their return trip. Once they safely landed, he waited until they were given permission to unbuckle their straps. “You did good, Ferro.”
“I almost panicked when we encountered the AA batteries.”
“But you didn’t get anything damaged, and no one got hurt. We delivered the wounded without losing one of ’em or getting them more hurt than they already were. You get that?” Spunkmeyer touched Ferro’s shoulder. “You know what you did wrong, so don’t do it next time. I’m not mad at you, and I’m certainly not telling Larkins.” He moved to hug her, but decided against it. Instead, he gave her shoulder a light squeeze.
Ferro found herself staring into Spunkmeyer’s eyes. His resisted hug didn’t exactly go unnoticed, and she put her arms around his neck, holding him tightly, like she did the previous night. She hung onto him for a few seconds, and then kissed his right cheek.
Spunkmeyer blushed, and looked at Ferro from the corner of his eye. What on Earth could he say to her about that?
At the same time, emotions he had never thought he could feel were emerging from their dark corridors in the deepest part of his heart. Unsure of how to hold them back, he hugged her as well, and kissed her full on the lips. For the next ten seconds, his heart was racing. A feeling of blissful happiness had enveloped him like a blanket, and he didn’t want to let it go. He didn’t want to let her go.
They both had to let go when someone started banging on the side of the machine. “Time to get out of there!” Evison said.
What have I done? There was a dizzy feeling that lingered with Spunkmeyer throughout the day. He couldn’t figure out what it meant at all. He spent several hours sitting alone in his room, trying to understand what happened. I shouldn’t have done that. Everything just came out all at once. He didn’t know what to say or do, but he knew things could get complicated or awkward if he didn’t talk to Ferro soon. Just tell her you didn’t mean it. Tell her it wasn’t something serious. I wasn’t thinking too clearly and my emotions are really stunted. What if that’s not what she wants to hear? What if she’s got feelings for me? No, I have to be honest. I can’t have a relationship with anyone. I’m not ready. I don’t know the first thing about love or anything like that. I’m bound to mess up.
Spunkmeyer waited until the girls filed into the hallway after their showers. He heard a lot of laughing and gossip and hoped people weren’t talking about him. When he spotted Ferro, he waved. “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?”
Ferro nodded, and gestured for Spunkmeyer to follow her into her room. Once the door was shut, she said, “It’s about this morning, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. I-I just wanted to say that… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have kissed you. It was a lot of… you know, things I’ve never felt before, and I don’t think… they meant really anything. D-Does that make sense?”
Ferro was silent for a moment, as she placed her laundry in the bag to be taken for washing. “Yeah. It makes sense. So, you’re saying that it was just a rush of emotions that you’ve never felt because you haven’t been given the opportunity to explore them naturally like someone your age should.”
“And you think it means nothing. You don’t want to pursue a serious relationship.”
“Not with anyone. At least, not right now. I-I don’t feel ready, right now.”
Ferro nodded again. “Okay.”
“Just for clarification… how come you kissed me first?”
“No specific reason. Just like you.”
Spunkmeyer released his breath. “Well, alright. Glad that’s been cleared up.”
“Yeah.” Ferro glanced at him. “Now what?”
“Now? We… stay friends and don’t make things awkward ever again.”
“Deal. We don’t need to be creating emotional difficulties that could be bad for our performance.”
“Exactly. I wanna get outta here as badly as you do.”
After that night, the kiss and anything related to it was never spoken of again, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t thought of. Spunkmeyer could feel his emotions deep within his chest. He knew he had feelings for Ferro. Should I tell her? She’s not interested, though. It wouldn’t be right to put that burden on her. So Spunkmeyer kept his thoughts to himself. Maybe I can find someone else, someone who makes me just as happy as Ferro does.
The next two months that passed were uneventful, save for the challenging tests, and Spunkmeyer getting to fly an actual dropship. His final assessments were fast approaching, and he was struggling to contain his excitement.
When there was a week to go until he and Ferro were sent on their last practice flight, Spunkmeyer received an unexpected visitor. Breaking through the morning fog that covered the base, Captain Jesse walked briskly into the main hangar, a thick envelope tucked under his arm. He looked breathless as he approached Evison. “I need to see Private Spunkmeyer. It’s urgent.”
Spunkmeyer was taken to a secluded room, confused and a little frightened. Had someone found out his real age? Was he getting kicked out and sent back to Kendriss? He’d rather spend a year in the brig than the next two years with her-
“I’ve got some… some news for you,” Jesse started.
“About what?” Spunkmeyer was staring at him, hazel eyes wide.
“Your biological father.”
Now Spunkmeyer wasn’t sure how to feel. Everything in his chest was tightening all at once. “Good or bad?”
“It… depends.” Jesse opened the envelope. “Over the last several months, I’ve been in contact with a civilian geneticist, and I was able to send them a small sample of your blood that was taken when you first arrived at basic. They found a very close match with a Wesley Spunkmeyer. Unfortunately, the only picture we could find is this, from his high school yearbook.” Jesse handed Spunkmeyer a photograph of a yearbook page. “The resemblance is uncanny.”
Every emotion swelled and burst inside Spunkmeyer’s chest. The image of the man was identical to himself, save for a thinner face and darker eyes. He took a breath, and tried to speak, but instead found himself resisting the urge to sob.
Jesse pulled another set of papers from the envelope. “I did try to contact him, but it turns out he’s been dead for about fifteen years.” He slid a series of newspaper articles in front of Spunkmeyer. “He was planning on fighting a case to gain custody of you. Your biological mother was, I guess, determined to not let that happen.”
Spunkmeyer felt like he was going to throw up. “She murdered him?”
“One hundred percent guilty.”
“Why? Why the hell couldn’t she just divorce him and-”
“It’d be a stain on her if people knew what she did. Who would sympathize with someone who abandoned a newborn in a hospital? It was easier to lie to everyone and say you died at birth. If everyone she knew found out what really happened, it’d be a personal disaster for her. Your father threatened to tell them the truth. He had to be disposed of, and he couldn’t be bribed to keep quiet.”
“Couldn’t be bribed… That means he had honor of some kind, right?”
“I didn’t know him personally, so, I’m not sure. I would assume so, based on the testimonies given by friends and family, and what was said about him in his obituary.” Jesse looked Spunkmeyer in the eye. “I’m sorry you’ll never meet him. I don’t think this is what you want in terms of closure, but I had a feeling that if you didn’t find out sooner, you were going to spend your life looking for someone who’d died long before you ever knew the truth. Maybe now, you can let go, and accept, and try to move forward.”
Spunkmeyer looked down at his lap. Why was he upset despite never knowing this person? He felt like someone had slowly driven a hot knife in the center of his heart. “I have thought about… the day I’d finally get to meet my father. Now, it’s never gonna happen. H-How come I’m… I’m sad, even though I never really had an emotional bond with him?”
“He loved you, and he left you that cap to show it. You did have an emotional bond. A somewhat weak emotional bond, but it was still there. You were certain there was someone out there who would love you. You were right, but he was gone before you even found out you were adopted.” Jesse glanced at his watch. “I have to get going. Would you like me to leave the documents with you?”
Spunkmeyer nodded. “Thank you, sir. I-I feel better, but I also… don’t.”
“That’s understandable. Hey, you’ve got a little bit of time before you get started on your journey in the Marines. You’ve got so much ahead of you, and I think your father would’ve wanted to see you move on and be happy in your career.”
Jesse’s words were undoubtedly helpful, but Spunkmeyer still felt like another piece of his heart was being ripped out. He had no appetite, and when he didn’t show up for lunch, Evison went looking for him.
“Spunkmeyer, you need to go down to the chow hall. No exceptions unless you got a medical… what happened?” Evison frowned upon seeing Spunkmeyer’s tear-streaked face.
After five minutes of silence and attempting to collect his thoughts, Spunkmeyer explained to Evison why Jesse had come to the base. He explained what he found out about his father, nearly every last detail. “Just like Ferro said to me, just like that earlier attempt to trace my dad using the cap… I got so close, and yet I didn’t get close at all. I’ll never get close. He’s… He’s gone.”
For a few seconds, Evison watched Spunkmeyer cry. Without a word, he gently pulled Spunkmeyer into a hug. “I’m so sorry.”
At this point, Spunkmeyer didn’t care that the two of them could get in trouble if they were caught. He held onto Evison tightly, allowing his tears to soak Evison’s shirt.
“I guess the best thing for me to say to you is not to let this drag you down. You’ve gotten so far here. You really are close to living your own independent life, and you’re going to live your own independent life. You don’t have to worry about the past anymore. Make your own story.” Evison looked down at Spunkmeyer. “You’ve gone from a nervous, wide-eyed recruit to an intelligent and skillful young Marine. I’ve seen you interacting with some of the others here. You wouldn’t have done that your first day here. I’ve watched you grow, in only a span of seven months. That’s something to be proud of. I know I’m glad I was a part of your training.”
When they let go, Evison patted Spunkmeyer’s head, smiling at him. “I’m wishing you the best of luck on your upcoming assessments. Don’t dwell on this. I mean, not to sound… insensitive, but, there’s no point to you letting this bring your life crashing down around you. It may not feel like the closure you wanted, but it’s what you got. Life isn’t always fair. Take it as a sign; your past is behind you, and it’s never coming back to haunt you, or bite you in the ass. Move forward. Don’t let the little things bug you. Don’t hold grudges for too long. Be good to your friends. When your enemies apologize, accept it. Letting things fester inside of you won’t do you any good. Letting go of them will do you a lot of good. Remember that.”