Spunkmeyer treated his new comrades like his old friends back in New York, despite not knowing them very well. This little game of unorganized baseball brought back memories. He missed the long summer days in the park behind the middle school.
He knew he had sacrificed that when he enlisted. It felt good to be playing again, even though it was with a different crew.
Standing on the pitcher’s mound, Spunkmeyer wound up to throw the ball toward Wierzbowski, who was crouched behind one of their smartgunners, a tall, stocky man called Marrin. Spunkmeyer turned to his right to spit for good luck, and heard Hudson laugh.
“Nice, man,” Hudson said.
“What?” Spunkmeyer glanced at him.
“That’s the most impressive spit I ever seen, man.” Hudson snorted in the back of his throat, and then hocked a loogie on the ground. “Gotta get all the goodness in there.”
“Hudson, that’s disgusting,” Drevis said. “Throw the ball, Spunkmeyer.”
In several ways, the rest of the unit was how Spunkmeyer thought they were going to be: crude, rude, and extremely loyal. He’d learned a ton of swear words from his drill instructors in boot camp, and even more from Larkins, and some particularly good ones from Hudson and his gang. With the new recruits, you still acted like you were a civilian; you were generally polite and treated your friends with respect. With these guys, greeting each other with a hard slap to the shoulder and a rough bear-hug was normal. You called each other names and it was no big deal. You made fun of each other and it was no big deal; hell, it was a sign you knew your friend best, because you could point out all their flaws from a mile away.
Spunkmeyer still felt like he had been left at a party full of strange adults. Even with his stubble and copious amount of hair on his chest, he was certain the rest of the unit would pick up that he was much younger than he said he was. Maybe if you stopped being so anxious about it, you wouldn’t give off this fucking aura that something’s not right with you.
Like training, there were no private bathrooms. Spunkmeyer followed Hudson into the shower room after evening chow, and expected to drop his stuff on a bench. Instead, Hudson showed him that they got their own lockers to minimize losing stuff.
“Just pick an empty one, tape your name on it, and it’s yours till we get stationed somewhere else, man,” Hudson explained.
I can definitely get used to this. Spunkmeyer was silent, listening to the conversations between everyone else in the shower. He panicked when he realized he was taking a lot of time to put his hygiene supplies in the locker, and was certain Apone or Henley were going to show up and tell them they had thirty seconds to finish up.
Slamming shut the locker, Spunkmeyer turned to go into the shower room, only to notice he hadn’t undressed yet. Oblivious to the puddle of water on the floor, he whirled back around, and slipped.
“Everything okay?” Wierzbowski called.
Frozen, Spunkmeyer couldn’t answer.
Hudson peered out of his stall. “He fell, man. Hey, you okay, Spunkmeyer?”
Attempting to sit up, Spunkmeyer felt a jolt of pain run down his right leg. Nothing was broken, but he flushed red with embarrassment when he came to the conclusion that it was just a bruise on his rear end. “I’m okay,” he said. “How much time do we have left?”
“For what? Showering?” Hudson laughed. “We can stay in here till lights-out, man. I mean, nobody wants to, because these get cold pretty fast, so, hurry up and get in here.”
Lights-out was nine o’clock, just like in training. Spunkmeyer missed having a room all to himself, and he was hoping Hudson was tired enough to just go to sleep. He covered his face with the blanket when Hudson walked in, and then turned to face the wall, not wanting to be engaged in conversation.
Hudson threw off his boots and adjusted his socks before getting in bed. “’Night, Spunkmeyer.” He paused, waiting for Spunkmeyer to respond. “Must be sleeping,” he muttered. He settled in with a contented sigh, laying his hands on his belly, and drifted off. A few minutes later, he began snoring.
Spunkmeyer let out an irritated groan, and put his pillow over his head. He could deal with a slob, but not a snorer. He prayed Hudson would turn his body and get his head in a better position so he’d snore less, but that wasn’t going to happen for several hours.
At some point, Spunkmeyer managed to get to sleep. He awoke to hear Hudson’s snoring had gotten a little quieter, but a foul odor had filled the room. Coughing, Spunkmeyer covered his nose and mouth with the blanket. He snores, and he just let one rip. Ugh, I didn’t think the stew was that bad!
In the morning, Spunkmeyer could definitely feel his lack of sleep. Having woken up a few times, he was undoubtedly cranky, and tired. He hoped there was good coffee here.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t. There was no sweetener, or creamer, and it was watery. Spunkmeyer cursed under his breath as he set the cup of bitter water down, and he snapped when Hudson sat across from him.
“Did you sleep okay last night, man?” Hudson asked.
“No, smartass, I did not. You are seriously the most disgusting human being I’ve ever met.”
Hudson frowned. “What’d I do, man?”
“What’d you do?! I’ll tell you what you did! Your whole area smells like stale body odor, you snore louder than a freight train, and you fucking passed gas sometime during the night. That was the most foul thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of smelling in my entire life!”
“Gonna have to get used to it,” Drevis said without looking up from his tray. “Hudson is gross sometimes.”
“I know that,” Hudson said, “but I’ve been nothing but nice to the kid since he got here. That really hurt, man.”
“Well, he did just get here, so, I wouldn’t be too upset with him.” Drevis looked at Spunkmeyer. “Hey, relax, alright? We’re all on the same team here. We don’t need anybody fighting for stupid reasons.”
“Yeah, man,” Hudson added.
“You really should put your damn dirty PT clothes in the fucking laundry.”
“I do, man.”
“Apparently, you forgot some. And go get some over-the-counter stuff so you don’t kill Spunkmeyer with your methane, dude.”
“The stew didn’t agree with me last night, man. Happens to all of us.”
His anger fading, Spunkmeyer suddenly felt bad for how he treated Hudson. I may not have said anything too bad, but I shouldn’t be bitching about him if I don’t want to be lonely around here. ”I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Hudson asked.
“’For what?’ I-I just insulted you to your face-”
“We all do that, man. It’s fine. Don’t worry ’bout it.”
“So, you’re not… mad?”
“No. Why should I be mad? Not gonna do anything.” The look in Hudson’s eyes changed, his gray gaze now boring into Spunkmeyer. “You sure everything’s okay? You’ve been jumpy and… I dunno, just grrr towards everyone. I’ve never seen anyone else like this since I came here, man.”
“Everything’s okay. I didn’t sleep well last night.” That definitely wasn’t the full story. Not even close.
Tired of trying to get along with everyone, Spunkmeyer found peace and quiet in the cockpit of one of the cargo planes in the base hangar. He sat with his boots on the console, and dozed a little, his cap over his eyes. The sound of someone walking into the cockpit jolted him up, and he turned to see Ferro sitting in the pilot’s chair.
“Just me,” she whispered. “I figured you were around here somewhere.” She was quiet, and then glanced at him. “Why’ve you been so awkward to everyone? People are trying to be nice to you and you’re pushing them away.”
“I dunno,” Spunkmeyer sighed. “Just, I’m starting to not feel ready for this. I’m a sixteen-year-old surrounded by guys in their early twenties, and I don’t know how to behave. This is so much less rigid than boot camp and flight training. I don’t know what to do.”
“Maybe if you actually talk to them, they’ll understand how you feel. You don’t have to tell them that you’re underage, but I think they’ll get the awkwardness of being in a new place.” Ferro reached over to squeeze Spunkmeyer’s shoulder.
“You don’t think I’ve made a bad first impression?”
“No. Hudson still wants you around. He was asking where you were, actually.”
“I dunno. I guess he wants to talk to you about something. You seem like you want to be alone, though.”
“I do. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. If you need to be alone, be alone.”
“Yeah. You can stay with me, though.”
“Well, thanks.” Ferro looked out the windshield at the dim hangar, appreciating the silence.
It was nice for everything to just slow down for a few minutes, but after letting their thoughts reorganize themselves, the two found they were thinking about each other. Spunkmeyer glanced over at Ferro, noticing she was staring at him. He knew he had to do away with any intimate feelings he had, so he broke eye contact.
The act of killing his romantic feelings for Ferro didn’t make it easy for Spunkmeyer to try and improve his fledgling bond with Hudson. It was a very slow, difficult, and painful process. He had never been the one to tear a piece of his heart out, and found it similar to taking off a bandage; another person could just yank it off, but he was so nervous that he did it slowly, even though he knew that would hurt more.
Hudson had decided the best way to fix things with Spunkmeyer was to take him out of the base. They rode a bus out to the bay, where they strolled down a boardwalk. “It’s just the two of us, man,” Hudson said. “We can talk about anything you want.”
Spunkmeyer gazed out at the glittering blue water, unsure of what to start with in terms of conversation. He looked at Hudson from the corner of his eye. “You won’t repeat anything to anyone?”
“No. Is that what you’re worried about?” Hudson smirked. “You got some juicy secrets?”
Spunkmeyer glared at him. “Just… secrets. Not every secret has to be something perverted-”
“Hey, relax, man. I’m just messing with you. It’s okay.” When they came across a small diner, Hudson sat at a table next to the boardwalk railing. “Alright, whatcha got for me, man?”
What do I start with? I don’t feel ready to talk about anything yet with you. I really should, though. It’s the only way I’m going to avoid being lonely. ”Well… I’m…” Spunkmeyer rubbed his face, and shivered.
“You’re clearly not good at talking to people, man.”
Spunkmeyer felt like he would cry, and he covered his face.
“I’m not saying that to be mean or anything. It’s just something I’m observing. I get it.”
Spunkmeyer lowered his hands. “Really?”
“Yeah. Well, not in the sense you’re thinking of. I’ve never had a problem talking to people, but I do have a problem when talking to shy people.” Hudson shrugged. “I gotta keep telling myself to just back off, man. They’ll come to me eventually.” He looked down at his menu, and glanced up when he heard Spunkmeyer’s stomach growling. “If you want something, just say so, man. I’m taking care of the bill.”
“I can’t do that to you.”
“Oh? Well, do you have any money?”
“N-No. I haven’t had a chance to go to a bank.”
“Exactly. I’m not letting you go hungry, man. Don’t need you fainting on the boardwalk.” Hudson snorted. “Happened to me once.”
Spunkmeyer nodded. I believe it.
When someone came around to take their drink orders, Spunkmeyer was a little surprised when Hudson ordered a glass of iced coffee. He seems like the type who sits and drinks beer all day long. ”No alcohol for you?”
“Nah. I save that for hanging out at bars in the evening.” He took a sip of his drink. “I gotta ask, man, are you from New York?”
“Yeah. Why do you ask?”
“Because yous were tawkin’ like this when you flipped your shit on me this morning.”
Spunkmeyer smirked. “That’s what tipped you off, huh? Not the Yankees T-shirt in my trunk?”
“Yea, pretty much, man. Anyway, I’d think that you being from the city and all would make you a little more adept at conversation. I mean, you saw a lot of people every single day, right?”
“I saw a lot of people every single day, but that doesn’t mean I talked to a lot of people every day. My social skills are… I guess ‘stunted’ is the right word.”
Hudson’s smile quickly faded. “What makes you say that?”
“Well, I was adopted by someone who… didn’t realize kids are a major responsibility. She didn’t do anything for me that most other parents would do for their children. I never went to a daycare. I was never really exposed to other children until I was five. I didn’t really figure out how to make friends or talk to people until later on. I mean, I figured it out eventually, but like a lot of things, I had to learn on my own. I was left alone for most of the day while she worked. All I was left with were basic rules on what I could and couldn’t touch. The rest was up to me.”
“So, your own parents didn’t want you, and this person that took you in didn’t want you either? That’s really messed up, man. Hell, you’re lucky to be alive, for crying out loud.”
Luck, or fate. Whichever you choose to believe. Spunkmeyer nodded. “My dad wanted me, though. He was murdered before he could do anything about it. He left me his cap in the hospital, and that’s pretty much the only thing of his I’ll ever have or get to see.”
“How come your mother didn’t want you?”
“I don’t know, but she just abandoned me in a bassinet and then realized that she was going to be looked down upon for the rest of her life because my father threatened to fight a custody case and tell everyone what happened. So she killed him.”
“Son of a…” Hudson whispered, “that’s so fucked up, man. You were really alone your whole life, huh.”
“In a way, yeah. I got used to it, though. I felt… lonely, but I accepted it.”
“So, you weren’t just nervous when I found you crying about loneliness yesterday. You were really scared to death you weren’t ever gonna have people that love you in your life.”
Again, Spunkmeyer nodded.
“And, you had no siblings at all?”
“Well, the rest of your unit’s gonna be your family. No doubt about it.” Hudson gave a broad smile. “I’ll be happy to be your big brother.” As he picked up his sandwich to take a bite, a seagull spotted an opportunity and promptly snatched the sandwich out of Hudson’s hands. “Hey! Give that back, man!” Hudson stood up, leaning over the railing as he swore at the escaping bird.
Spunkmeyer was laughing until his sides hurt.
“Oh, you think that’s funny? I’m starving, too, man! Gimme your fries or something.”
“No. You can order something else.”
As the day progressed, Spunkmeyer’s concerns about his relationship with Ferro gradually faded into the back of his mind. He was glad to have someone else to talk and laugh with. The tearing sensation in his heart was significantly duller than earlier, but it was still there.
That night, Spunkmeyer waited until lights-out to bring it up with Hudson. He lay awake, waiting for Hudson to come back from the bathroom. Once Hudson walked in the door, he said, “Hey, can I talk to you about something?”
“Sure, man,” Hudson sighed as he kicked his boots off, and lay in bed to face Spunkmeyer.
“How do you stop having romantic feelings for someone, but don’t want to sever the friendship you’ve already built?”
Hudson was quiet for some time, then regained eye contact with Spunkmeyer. “I wish I had something good for you, man, but that’s not something I’m all that experienced with. I’ve had a lot of… not-serious relationships over the years. I ain’t the right person to talk to, man.”
Spunkmeyer’s heart sank, and he turned away to try and get some sleep.
“We can still talk about what’s going on. Maybe that’ll help some.”
“You won’t say anything to anyone?”
Hudson made an imaginary “X” over his chest. “Cross my heart, man.” He grinned. “Somebody here you got a crush on?”
“Ferro and I have been friends since a few weeks after I started flight training. We trust each other with everything. When we got the chance to fly together, I felt something, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Then, she hugged me after our first exercise, and kissed me on the cheek. Then I kissed her, really kissed her, I mean. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to tell myself that we can’t have a relationship like that. I stopped having those feelings for awhile, and then when we were talking after the graduation ceremony, I wanted to experience that again. We did kiss, but we both said afterward that we can’t have that type of relationship on the job.”
“Like I said, man, this isn’t something I’m good with, but… I guess if you try not to think about it and focus on something else, it won’t bother you so much.” Hudson yawned, and nestled under his blanket. “You can also go out and meet civilians, man. Won’t get in trouble for having a relationship with a civvie.” He fell silent, but the snoring started a few minutes later.
Spunkmeyer sighed. Of course, that wasn’t helpful. How could he try to meet someone else when his feelings for Ferro were still so strong? How would Ferro respond? After all they’d been through, Spunkmeyer was certain that dating somebody else would be a slap in the face to their friendship. They bonded over the fact that they both felt alone; the last thing he wanted to do was make Ferro feel like he’d abandoned her. But what if she does the same thing to me first?