It had always been just the three of us. I was the girl. The logical, rational thinker, and bail-them-out-er. Sam was the funny, smart one. Nate was the attractive one. Sam was "cute" but awkward. Nate, well let's just say he knew how to talk to girls, get them to do things in the back of his truck I don't even want to think about. We had been as thick as thieves all throughout middle and high school. At first it was just me and Sam. Our moms had been college roommates and they both settled down here. Nate moved here in the seventh grade.
I was never very good with making girl friends. Girls are vicious in middle school and I guess after one too many bad experiences in the cafeteria I decided that it wasn't worth it so I figured Sam and Nate would be a lot nicer to be around. And they were. They were more than enough for me.
I had quite the run of the mill life. So did Sam and Nate. We grew up in the suburbs of the south. Nothing too crazy. No love triangles, teenage pregnancies, or extra terrestrial encounters. Simple. The most exciting thing that has happened in this town in the past twenty years is my moms highly gossiped about affair with our dentist. It happened my freshmen year of high school. Another reason why Sam and Nate were basically my only two friends. Girls ask way too many questions.
My parents were divorced and remarried in record time it felt like. My mom moved to a nicer neighborhood across town and had two children with Dr. Hobbs. My dad still lives in the house I grew up in, I've always wondered it that bothers Carla. Carla moved here about three months after my dad's divorce. She got a job as a receptionist at my dad's mechanic business and for a while lived in an RV in our driveway. She was from Phoenix and was into dream catchers and maxi skirts. As much as I had tried to hate her in the beginning, she took care of my dad. After the divorce my dad was heartbroken and there are somethings a daughter just can't fix. They got married a few years ago. They seem happy.
I lived with Carla and my dad until I graduated. I had always thought that I was going to go to a big school far far away from home, but since things don't always work out I ended up taking a gap year. My mom laughed when I told her and then didn't speak to me for a month. Like I'm some kind of mind reader or something. My dad didn't like the idea but Carla reasoned with my dad and told him that if I didn't think I was ready I should just take a year off instead of wasting a whole years worth of tuition on something I really didn't even want for myself.
I remember the day Sam and Nate enlisted. I hated the idea. It made me sick to my stomach, I watch the news, I'm not naïve it's not safe over there. I remember the conversation, clear as day. We were sitting at our normal lunch table with a few of our other friends. Danny, Teresa, Cara, and Tony. I could tell something was different about today, the boys were just acting so weird. The kept glancing at me and then at each other. I finally looked at them and asked what the hell was going on.
I flipped out. I was pissed that they had excluded me from a decision this serious. They told me that they had been considering it for a few months. A few months and hadn't said a damn thing to me. I, of course, blamed Nate. For some reason whenever anything went wrong I took it out on Nate. I think maybe it was some possessive trait I had with Sam. When Nate moved here, I hated him at first. He was trying to take my best friend away from me. Even though we worked out our issues I still had some underlying issues with Nate, I don't know, he just had a way of getting under my skin.
I remember exactly how it went. "what the FUCK are you talking about?" at this point I was shouting and I had stood up at some point looking down at the boys. "You've been considering this for how long? A FEW MONTHS? So why is this the first time I'm hearing about it?" They had just sat there and looked at each other and at their hands trying to figure out something to say to me. After about thirty seconds of silence I did the ultra pissed off girl move of slapping my hand on my thigh and ran a hand through my hair. "Sam can you please answer my question? Or are you going to let numb nuts over here do all the thinking for you today?" I said angrily, pointing to Nate. "Oh shut the fuck up Malena, it's always gonna be me isn't it? I really don't get you, do you think I'm a master manipulator or do you just think Sam is as dumb as a rock? Get real, this is exactly why we didn't tell you in the first place. We knew, actually Sam knew, you were gonna freak out and HE'S the one that suggested we don't tell you." spat Nate.
By that point Nate was standing up across the table pointing at me his face red from yelling and the whole cafeteria had stopped to watch the spectacle we were making of ourselves. Sam slammed his fists on the table before taking a deep breath and standing up "both of you stop. Mal, stop screaming at Nate, Nate you go cool down somewhere we'll talk about this later." I could feel hot tears stinging the backs of my eyes. "No, Nate you stay and talk with him about your little life threatening adventure. Clearly you don't need me to do that." With that I grabbed my back pack and my water bottle and stormed out of the cafeteria.
I remember walking to the girls bathroom outside my history class and bawling my eyes out. I had been so pissed at Sam for not talking to me about this. I was more mad about that than I was at Nate, and even then I knew that. That's just how Nate and I communicated. We had big blowout screaming matches more often than not, in public places, screaming profanities across restaurants and lab desks. Then after a day or two one of us would work up the courage to admit we were wrong and we'd move on. We never talked about how unhealthy it was and we never brought up old stuff in the fight. It was dysfunctional, but it worked for us.
After about an hour of crying I decided that it wasn't worth sticking around for my fourth period art class and walked home. Normally I drove with Sam and Nate in Nate's truck but today was a walking kind of a day. I don't remember what I did for the rest of the day or really for the next few days. All I remember was I avoided both of them like my life depended on it. I sat alone at lunch and drove myself to school. It sucked but I was pissed and unwilling to compromise.
I didn't speak to them for three whole weeks. I had heard through the grape vine that the day after our theatrical performance in the cafeteria they went to the recruiting office and enlisted into the marines. The fucking marines. It was hard not speaking to them. Three weeks doesn't sound that hard but when these are your only two friends. It's hard. It got to the point where I really couldn't even look at either of them, because if I looked at them and caught their eye, I wouldn't be able to resist running over and asking for some kind of fucked up forgiveness for being concerned about their livelihood and I wasn't going to do that.
It wasn't until that third week I had no choice but to speak to Nate. We had been grouped together for a science project. During class we were given sometime to work on it and we just sat there in silence. I played on my phone while Nate just sat there and looked up at me then back down at his hands for an hour and a half. More often than not when I was grouped with the boys I ended up doing 95% of the work anyway so it's not like this was going to be that difficult. Just as Nate opened his mouth to say something the bell rang I grabbed my books and skirted around him out the door. As I approached my car, hands full of all my art supplies I was going to need over the weekend, I unlocked my car but before I could reach the handle someone opened it for me. Nate.
I gave a long sigh and opened my mouth to say something but before I could get a syllable out Nate started rambling "okay, so I know you're pissed at me and Sam but you're gonna have to talk to us eventually and I really don't want to fail another class so please can we just make up and move on?" I kicked the door open a little more to drop my art stuff in the passenger seat, but also because it came very close to hitting Nate's junk. Then without saying a word I slammed the door started the car and rolled the window down. "Number one: when was the last time you failed a project when you were partners with me? Don't worry, I'll take care of it this time too, never fear when I'm around I'll do all the work while you dick around with him and I'll be sure to put your name on it" I said jabbing my hand towards Sam who stood about 50 ft away at Nate's truck watching from a distance. Then I put the car and drive and gave Nate a sarcastic looking salute and sped off.
When I got home from school I locked myself in my room with my homework and a box of coco puffs and didn't emerge til dinner time with more than enough work done and an empty cereal box. I was starting to feel normal again. Of course, as normal as I could get without Sam and Nate. I bounded down the stairs to Carla and my dad sashaying across the kitchen like two skilled dance partners, boiling this, roasting this. They worked like a well oiled machine. I walked in and swung the fridge door open and grabbed a Gatorade and kicked the fridge shut with my foot as I began to drink then I looked towards the kitchen table and there they were, Nate and Sam sitting there quiet as church mice. In my kitchen at the dinner table.
I coughed on my Gatorade and shot my dad a what-the-fuck-are-they-doing-here kind of a look. "oh honey, the boys called a while ago and said they wanted to talk to me about maybe working in the shop this summer so I just invited them over for dinner, family is family isn't that right honey?" he said grabbing me and pulling me in for an awkward shoulder hug. I pushed him away and could feel my face flushing as I stood there trying to think of an excuse to run and hide. "Actually, I was just coming down to tell you I'm not feeling very well so I'm going to be upstairs." With that I turned on my heel but Carla had gotten me by the back of my shirt. "oh no, sweetheart, you don't get out of dinner that easily. There are two attractive young men at the dinner table (I snorted and Sam and Nate looked at each other with smirks plastered on their faces) so please take a seat dear" They must have known something was up with me and the boys, because they were acting like complete nut jobs.
After a strained dinner of Sam and Nate basically mooching summer jobs off my dad while they stared at me in some attempt to strike up a friendly conversation. I stood up and started clearing plates, when Sam piped up making sure I was still around to hear this "well I'm not sure if Mal has told you yet or not but umm me and Nate decided to enlist in the marines." My dad stayed silent for a minute and looked first at me and then back at the boys. I refused to look at anything but the dirty plates I was rinsing off and sticking in the dishwasher. "oh, no she hadn't said anything about that" my dad said looking up. "Well we will be heading to basic in early September" so we're free the whole summer until then." Sam said.
After I loaded the dishwasher I bounded up the stairs two at a time without a word to anyone downstairs, especially the boys. I could hear Carla forcing some dessert into them and some more talk with my dad about cars and sports. Around nine thirty I finally heard the front door close. My dad softly tapped on my door. He of course wanted to talk. After a long heart to heart with my dad, I figured life was too short to shut the boys out, especially now when our time together was limited.
After about seven failed attempts at calling the boys and chickening out at the last second I threw on a pair of sweats and headed first for Sam's house a few blocks over. The door was answered by his adorable little sister. He was surprised to see me and so was Nate, who had been living across the hall from Sam while his parents had their entire house redone. I apologized and so did they. We sat and joked and poked fun at each other about how awkward the past few weeks had been and it almost seemed back to normal. Almost.
Something was different about us. It wasn't the same "us" as it had been three weeks before. There was Sam and Nate and then me. Maybe it was some sort of military, guy code, macho man sentiment they got since enlisting or maybe it was just they were moving on with their lives. They were growing up and we were growing apart. I walked home that night a little sentimental. I knew I was going to miss then infinitely, but I felt like I was already missing them now.
That summer flew by. We spent almost every waking minute together. We were always at the pool or the lake or I would hang out at the shop until they got off work. I worked a couple of days a week at a nursery too. Nate and I still had our spats, but now that our days were numbered we worked really hard to keep them few and far in between. Then September came and a going away party. Sam's mom and Nate's mom planned the entire thing.
The whole town was here, even my mom stopped by sans Dr. Hobbs and company. That was nice of her. I felt sick to my stomach the entire time. There were so many things I still wanted Nate and Same and I to do together. I wanted them to come with me to the grand canyon, the great barrier reef, the Eiffel tower. I wanted them to want what I wanted. And it made me sad. If they didn't want what I wanted, was I willing to want what they wanted? That answer was unfortunately no. They wanted to fight for their country, all I wanted to do was get out of it.
Then I started thinking about the other stuff. The stuff I had sworn up and down I would never think about again and certainly never ever tell anyone about. Like the time in the seventh grade when I played seven minutes in heaven when Nate was still the new kid and I let him stick his tongue down my throat in Carly Johnson's laundry room. Or the time Nate's family and my family went on a cruise together and we bought weed from one of the maid's and got so high that I let Nate go all the way. I cringed even thinking about these events. All of which Sam had no idea happened. According to Sam, Nate and I went into the laundry and were too scared to even look each other in the eye we were so shy and as far as his V card? Sam thinks it was the maid who sold us pot.
I try not to think about it, not because I regret it or anything, but because I try to tell myself that it was nothing. There have been times where I have caught myself staring at Nate and wondering about what could have been. All the while Sam doesn't even know. Now on their last night home, I felt like I just had to tell them. I had too. It was wrong. What if something happened to them? What if one of them died over there? I didn't want any of these feelings. I didn't want any of these secrets.
Around 2:30 am we were the only people left in the restaurant and we were sitting at the bar. All three of us completely sober. Not wanting to waste our last night together at home wasted. Sam hopped off the stool "gotta take a leak" and walked off. Lovely, that one. I slowly turn to Nate who is playing with his hands on top of the bar. I reach over and cover them with one of my smaller ones. I say it quickly and quietly, not wanting anyone to hear me except for Nate "I think we should tell him" I didn't look up, I couldn't look up. My cheeks were flaming at this point and my hear was racing. He didn't even need context "no." "yes" I hissed. "you are leaving tomorrow, for God knows how long then you're being shipped off to the middle of the desert again for who knows how long, what if something happens out there? I can't live with that. He needs to know, he deserves to know." Nate must have sensed the urgency in my voice because he glanced up at me and looked like he was going to agree, then Sam emerged.
"What are you two up to? Holding hands?" he asked with a smirk "shut up" "get lost Sam". He just shook his head. And that was the three of us. Back when life was simple. Not easy, but more simple than it is now. I wish I could go back and change it all. But I can't and now here we are me, Nate and Sam together again a year and a half after their farewells. But this time it was me and Nate together and Sam laid in the front of the room in an oak wood casket dressed in his blues. This time we were saying goodbye forever.