We'll be deployed soon...
Jake gazed across the table. His beef stew in front of him. It smelled of rationed out broth and had the texture of syrup. Kind of looks like shit. He couldn't bear to take one bite. What was worse, was that it wasn't even warm. Instead of steam stroking his chin, he felt a biterness. Almost like the soup itself was giving him the cold shoulder. He looked over next to him. There was Alan, of course he was the only person allowed to call him "Al". Jake smiled at that thought. Al was the only thing that made this whole war shit bearable. He looked down at his shirt, the words "ARMY" were sprawled across his navy green tee shirt.
"You shouldn't be ashamed." Al said. He shoveled in a spoonful of beef and broth. "You should be proud, you get to serve your country." Al stated in between chews of his mouth. He always said that, but as time wore on, Jake begun to believe he didn't really mean that.
"I ain't ashamed." Jake shoved the stew to his right. It slid across the table and made the sound of a hockey puck moving across the ice. "What I'm pissed about is our deployment. I've been hearing that because of all the poor wounded bastards, we might have to be shipped out sooner than expected. Hell, half of the damn Fort is still filled with cadets. Aint that right Lex? " Jake asked the man sitting across from him. His face was buried in his hands, he looked like he was about to cry, or yell.
"What?" Lex asked, his head popping up from his hands. Dark circles were forming underneath his eyes and—even though he was young—you could see wrinkles forming from his cheeks to his nose. He looked like he had just awoken from the dead.
"This damn war. What do you think about it?" Lex nodded his head in short quick spurts. He always did that, if someone had asked him what the capital of Texas was, he'd probably respond the same way.
"You sure your okay? Hell, the last thing I want to do is carry your ass off the battlefield while we've got the a makeshift shootin' at us." Jake laughed, a grin forming from one side of his face to another. He turned to Al, and Al only turned away. He took out his locket, the one that he always carried. It shined under the ceiling lights, and glistened like a new pair of boots. Hell, Al probably shined that thing more than he did his boots.
"Why do you always look at that thing?" Jake asked as Al stuffed it back down into his shirt. He didn't respond. Alan never responded when it came to matters of that locket.
"You know, you shouldn't go around showin' people that thing. They might think you're some kind a homo." Jake laughed. "And then you'd get discharged or some shit." Jake's face turned red as he laughed, a little too loud. Yeah, a discharge for homosexuals.
"That'd be fine with me." Alan replied. He shrugged his shoulders and shoved himself deeper within the confines of his locket. He held it gently, as if it were a doorway into a world he had lost. "That'd be just fine with me..."
The mess hall that evening was as noisy as ever. The squeak of boots marched down the floors like the very soldiers that made them. Ceiling fans spun overhead, but did no good. The breeze didn't reach any one, it never did, and the dinner that was shoved into their mouths by the spoonful—beef stew—tasted like cardboard. But that was military life.
The three men sat in the same spot they always sat in. Alan sitting to the left and Lex sitting across from him. That was just the way Jake liked it, that was just the way he wanted everything to stay. Al to his left. Al always being there...forever...
Thoughts like that always stayed within Jake's head. Even from the first day they met at basic training. The night was long, dry, and dark even the stars were no where to be seen. Because of his arragance to his commanding officer Jake was ordered to do push ups until "The goddamn sun started tap dancin' " And then, when the moon came out from behind the clouds and bathed the entire place in it's light, Jake saw him. A stout man, looking like a prince or a knight of legend. Jogging around the base as if it were a track. As he jogged around and around, kicking dirt and grass into the air, Jake could feel his his blood thicken, all the way down to his gun.
"Jake, what's wrong?" Alan asked. "You alright? You're not eating"
He snapped to attention like a soldier on patrol, he had been staring again. He could feel his face grow hot like an oven as he turned his attention back to his stew. It still looked like shit. But Jake moved his bowl closer to him, picked up his spoon and begun to shovel it down his throat like it was the best thing in the world. Honestly, if Alan had told him to eat the table, he would have. And then, there was a snugness in his pants...
He froze, and slowly, very slowly, looked down to his waist. Jake felt a snugess within his pants that felt like it would burst out. Shit. Why did I have to do that? Jake dropped his spoon, and left the table. His head still feeling warm, even as the breeze he generated as he walked brushed by him. Stupid fag, you nearly blew your cover.
He arrived in his room, and plopped down in it. His bunk smelled of dog sweat. As he stared upward to the roof, he felt a chill tingle down the spine of his back and to his toes. Luckily, no one had seen him in the mess hall. Turning over the greet the ceiling, Jake shoved his shands deep within his boxers. He loved that feeling of stiffness. It happened every time he thought about Alan.
Alan's handsome chin, Alan's strong body, able to support anything. Alan's voice as deep as a river, and Alan's eyes that seemed to gaze at nothing and everything without even trying. Jake could feel it, his gun growing like a beanstalk in his pants.
"This is my rifle, this is my gun..."
No, no,no. I can't... Jake rose from his bed shaking his head, the entire room spun as his eyes boggled in his head. He wanted to tell Alan his feelings, hell, he wanted the entire platoon to know. But he also knew the consequences if he did. "I can't tell anyone." He whispered. No, not one soul. He chuckled as he remembered the joke he made before. The one about Al's locket. A homo...
Yeah. A discharge for homosexuals.
Walking through the halls into the mess hall. The squeak Jake's boots made as he walked sent the deep sense of pride through him. Every morning he passed by the hallway that was adorned with every type of metal and honor any military personnel could think of.
Metals of honor hung loosely from their cords and swung slowly whenever someone walked passed. Purple hearts and bronze stars lined every inch of the case. Jake pressed his nose upon the glass. It felt warm and so full of power and pride that the small case that held everything was about to give way.
He continued on. His boots switch from squeaks to the proud tempo of a march. The hallways always smelled like boots and freshly cut lemons. The floor shined, everything there shined. Even the trees shined with a type of earthy glow. It made Jake feel a little excited. He Marched in time to the rhythm that was constantly taught to him in drills. One. Two. Step. Left...
"Make way..." Two men in green uniforms hurried past Jake. They rolled a sick bed right past him. Their uniforms were camouflage, the normal color for those who are off to battle. Yet, instead of the warm prideful glow Jake was used to seeing around the camp, they had a dinginess. As if everything in their world was gray and only getting darker. On the bed there was a large lump. The sheets were stained with blood that spread all the way down to the very edges.
"Shit. Make way..." The two soldiers raced down the hall like life depended on it. Maybe because it did...
Then, it all came back to him. He wasn't in some spy movie. He was in a war. In a war that could probably, no would probably kill him. What if that soldier was... He slowed his march. It became softer. His boots didn't echo through the halls, but scratch the surface of the floors he was so accustomed to. No, it couldn't have been. Jake tried to shake the thoughts off.
"Nah, that gorilla. It'd take more than that to get rid of him..." he chuckled. No, Al couldn'tve been under there. He continued to walk, trying to grasp onto that same rhythm. One. Two... Al? No, that wasn't him. It couldn'tve been...Hell, if anyone would get his ass shot it would be me. Not Al.
His mother didn't want him to go to war. But he tried to tell her that he didn't have a choice. It was a draft. She was afraid for him, but he had to do it. But, this wasn't a game he used to play with his friends. This was real. That man was probably dead, or dieing. Jake was always afraid during basic training, but he never wanted to show it. Barking back at generals was just his way of trying to deal with that fear. But, then he met Al. Then, all that fear melted away like ice cubes in the sun.
Jake's hands came to his shaved head. His nails scratched and scraped against his scalp. What if, that really was Alan under there? What if...
"'Ey, move it soldier I'm comin' through." Without looking back, Jake moved to his left, and slowed his pace even more. A fast beat march no longer, it had slowed to a rhythmic walk that stayed in time. One...two...step...left... And as he marched, he heard the sounds of a cane (or something like that) tap to a much uneven rhythm. It tapped and marked irrationally, it sounded like a symphony being played by one person. Tap...BOOM...tap. TapTap..
Jake looked behind him. He thought he felt his blood just stop moving. It was a wounded soldier with two crutches limping his way to, who knew where. All Jake could picture was Al's face on that man's body. Alan's foot cut off from battle, nothing left but a nub that satined his pant leg with blood. He'd never run again. Jake stood to the other side and waited for him to pass. It took all his strength just to hold himself back and keep from running to the guy scremaing "Al!"
He stood at attention with his arms pinned against his legs like they were nailed there. He never understood why he did it, but he couldn't take a step forward even if he wanted to.
As the soldier limped by, His pants and shirt were covered in a sandy color that made him seem weak.
Poor guy. Jake bent his head low, and looked down at his boots. He wiggled his toes, and tried to fight back this, guilt he was feeling.
"Hey, cadet..." Jake rose his head, his cheeks loosing their color. "I aint dead yet." The soldier replied. His head was held up so high, Jake thought his chin would touch the roof. He passed Jake and limped down the hallway. His erratic taps, now forming into a rhythm Jake knew by heart. One. Two. Step. Left.
And now, at that very moment, if only for a fleeting second. To Jake, that man's shine rivaled even the sun.
Jake's stpes became slower and slower as he reached the mess hall, it had the exact same shoe polish smell it always had. That, mixed with a smell of eggs made the place seem more and more personal, yet distant at the same time. Like the badges from the hallway.
Having eggs for dinner? Damn, that's some crazy shit...
He grabbed a tray and sat down at the table he always sat at. With Alan sitting to his left. Jake could feel his heart pump with each passing second he was near Alan.
Jake stared as Al took a sip of coffee, his Adam's apple moved up and down with each swallow. Dear god, he hoped Alan wasn't watching like last time. Lex, on the other hand still hadn't come for dinner. In fact, Jake hadn't seen the guy eat in days. It surprised Jake how lax the army was in a time of war. During basic training everything was routine and strict, Now, it was so laid back that a cadet could be late for dinner, or not show up at all.
But, that didn't matter to Jake, not today. Today, he had something more important to tell Alan. Something so important that it felt like it would escape from his heart and right into the ears of every soldier in the mess hall and west of the sick ward. That could of been Alan... Thoughts of men and blood rained down in his mind, and the face of every soldier that got shot, every man that lost an arm or a leg, every unlucky son of a bitch...had Alan's face on it...
I want to tell him...
"Hey, Al" Jake could feel his voice trembling. Dear God, he must of sounded like some kind of retarded flute. Alan looked up from his locket. It was sprawled open in his palms. His face was pale like a sheet, and his breath was taken in by means of short quick breaths. Was he crying?
"What?" Alan shut his locket and stuffed it back into his shirt. Whatever had Alan so upset, it was over now. Or at least, that what he wanted others to believe.
"Hey, Alan. How long have we known each other?" Jake asked. He had to raise his voice above the sounds of the other men and women talking about the last battle the first platoon was in. Jake heard snippets of "Yeah, I heard he lost a leg." and "There were that many casualties? You've gotta be shitn' me." The very thoughts of those faces, the people who died on the battlefield made his hand quiver. He had to place his other finger on it, just to keep his fork from slipping out of his hands and onto the lemon scented floor.
"I think we've known each other since, basic training. You were that little idiot who couldn't even do one push up" Alan placed his burly arms in front of him, and bent his elbows like he was doing a push up. They both laughed as loud as their lungs would allow, but compared to the noise in the rest of the mess hall, it was absolutely nothing.
"Yeah, but..." Jake's tongue hesitated. It slipped across his lips, and down to the bottom of his teeth. He had to say it. He had to. Jake's eyes closed and visions of dead men and guns filled his head. Visions of men with bullet wounds the size of fists. Blood gushing from them by the gallons, their voices, whispering for death to take them away from the front lines. The only way for them to escape. What if that was Alan?
"Yeah, Alan..." Jake leaned in close. His breath, carrying the stench of eggs and maple syrup, floated into Alan's ear like hot air into a balloon. His voice was weak, too weak, even for a whisper. "Alan, I'm..." Jake could feel his heart shake with those very words. That very word made him feel like he was something less. Like it was a curse given to those who were the most unfortunate beings God had ever laid eyes on. "Gay." But, he had to tell him, even if it hurt. "I'm..." His words came with the smoothness of sandpaper.
They had only known each other for a little while, but Jake had always dreamed of this moment. He had never fathomed how difficult just getting a single word out was.
"Look, JJ. I'm sorry man, but I gotta go." Alan shoved his locket back into his shirt and picked up his tray. "I'll see you later." Alan got up and walked away. His boots slicking against the floor that reflected everything. Leaving Jake behind. Still listening to the loud talk of the soldiers around him.
Wait... Jake's hand reached out, trying to grab him by his shirt, but his fingertips only swiped the air as Alan walked away. Al, hold on...wait a sec... Alan's smell, his voice, his shirt...his hair...everything seemed like it was blocked off. As Jake watched Alan walk away, he felt just like he did when he saw the medals behind the glass. Even as Alan sat next to him, he still felt distant. Like there was...something keeping Jake's words from Alan's ears. Jake could only gaze from his seat as Alan disappeared behind crowds of camouflage uniforms, and whispers of the war.