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Boot Camp


Boot Camp

Boot camp was the most miserable thing twenty-one year-old Private Manuel Hernandez had ever experienced. He knew he wouldn’t’ve been able to complete it if not for the thought of Melody inspiring and sustaining him. He had to finish because he wanted her to be proud of him. The worst part of the whole experience was his asshole Sergeant, and the worst thing about his asshole Sergeant was that he didn’t have to be an asshole. One day, Sergeant Felter had sat down with him and actually been kind, acted like a human being — like Manny was a human being, too.

He talked to Manny about his financial situation. Manny had proudly told him about the brand new Dodge Charger he’d bought with his first paycheck and letter of employment. But his Sergeant didn’t seem impressed, he said the interest rate on the auto loan was too high. He got out a piece of paper and wrote down a plan. He talked about investing, about diversifying investments. He said, if you were smart with your money, you could be all set up to retire after twenty years and live on the Army pension and savings, and then any other work you chose to do, consulting or whatever, would just be extra. Sergeant Felter told him about “dollar-cost averaging,” which was a seemingly magical method where you bought more stocks when the price was low and less when the price was high. That seemed too good to be true, to Manny. But he was still glad he had that beautiful, black, shiny monster of a vehicle waiting for him at home. He couldn’t wait to drive around with her in the passenger seat. He loved the way their names sounded together, “Manny and Mellie.”

Late that night, in his bunk, he read over her letter again.

“Baby, come home to me soon, I miss you so much. I miss the way your skin smells when I put my face in that space between your shoulder and your neck. I miss wrapping my arms and legs around you while you…”

The letter went on for a while and she finally signed it, “Your very loving wife, Melody”

Her handwriting was neat and beautiful. She wrote in cursive. Who writes in cursive anymore? Melody was special. There was no-one else like Melody.

He saw her words in his head as he marched, on and on and on, as his chest and calves burned from the unfamiliar effort. The thought of her stopped him from punching his Sergeant in the face when he shouted at Manny to climb his fat ass over the goddamn wall like everyone else had already done. He hated Felter more than he’d ever hated anyone, hated him because he chose to be like this, even though he didn’t have to be.

But finally, the ten weeks were over, and Manny was sitting on the bus that was going to take him to her. He’d had bad luck with his attempt at community college, and zero luck with the women there, but she was going to make it all better. She’d make him forget any of that stuff had ever happened.

He took the letter out and read it again. Even though he had it memorized by now, he liked to look at her words and imagine her soft little hand writing them, to him. That day, five weeks ago, when he’d gone into the empty room and picked up the letter off the desk, that day had changed his life. Back then, he had nothing but hatred in his heart — hatred for that bastard, Felter. He’d gone into his Sergeant’s room, planning to — planning to do what? To steal something. Something that would take some of Felter’s power away. Something that would make him, Manny Hernandez, have a little taste of that life that was so easy and successful, a life like Felter had. Melody didn’t deserve to be with an asshole, a girl like her deserved a man who really loved her. And Manny deserved a chance — he finally deserved a chance.

He folded the letter up on its two lines and put it back in the envelope and looked at the return address. This was his destination. He had a four-hour ride ahead of him, a lot of time to plan how he was going to surprise her.

He was much stronger than he had been ten weeks ago, and he thought back to that day when he had nervously sat on another bus, going in the opposite direction. Melody’s letter made it seem like she had been happy before, but Manny hoped, with time, she would be happy with him. Four hours to think about her, wonder what she was going to look like when she saw him. What would be the expression on her surprised face? What color would her hair be? Blonde, brunette, maybe she’d be a redhead? He wondered if there would be a child in the house. Probably not. She hadn’t mentioned a child, but, then again, her letter had been pretty single-minded. If there was a child, how old would it be? Old enough to talk and walk? Old enough to scream and cry? Or would it be easy to just put it in a room and shut the door?

A familiar said, “Hernandez!”

Manny started to stand up and salute. “Yes sir, Sergeant Felter!”

His Sergeant had to bend down to fit through the back door of the bus. “Sit back down, Manuel, we’re on leave, just call me Robert.”

“I thought you guys didn’t start leave for another week?”

“Most don’t, but I requested to go early so I can surprise my wife. It’s her birthday today. Hey, Manny, how did I not know you’re from my little hometown? This bus doesn’t have any other stops.”

Felter’s eyes dropped to the letter in Manny’s hand. The smile disappeared from his Sergeant’s face. “What’s that you’re holding? That looks like my wife’s handwriting…”

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