Ticket to Ride
Quatre blew on the hot liquid and sipped slowly. It was somewhere past one in the morning, and the best he could guess without asking was that they were somewhere in Oklahoma. This was the bus’ half-hour stretch for fuel and a driver change.
The black brew in his cup was supposed to be coffee. Quatre thought it’d make a great substitute for road tar, but drank it anyway. He flipped through a magazine, trying to keep from looking back at the restrooms again. Duo had been gone longer than what should have been necessary.
When they’d boarded the bus the morning before, there had been seven of them, all heading for indoctrination at Fort Leonardwood. Now at least twenty-five of the bus’ thirty or so passengers were heading for boot camp. Quatre’s eyes found the two newest additions but looked away just as quick. Most of the recruits gathered about in the small coffee shop were boys a year, and some two years, younger than he was himself. He sipped at his coffee and tried not to think of what sort of parent would sign permission for a kid to go off to war.
"You think they’ll send us to Vietnam?" One of the original seven slipped on the stool next to him. The boy was thin, gaunt; his long fingers had large knuckles, his fingernails bit to the quick, raw, red and bleeding; his too pale skin was covered in freckles.
Quatre blinked and looked down at his magazine. The advertisement page showed a cowboy on a horse, a faint sunset behind them. He knew the answer as well as the kid himself. "I don’t know, but it’s possible."
The boy raised a hand to his mouth and Quatre heard a soft snap. He focused on the horse in the ad, wondered what breed it was supposed to be, wondered if he’d ever ride again. He heard another snap and reached for his coffee.
Duo didn’t leave the restrooms until the first call to board was announced. In Quatre’s eyes, he looked tired, grim and so much older than nineteen. Duo accepted the last of his coffee, gulped it down as they shuffled in line to reboard the bus. Duo didn’t say anything and Quatre wasn’t going to ask. They took their seats in silence, and Quatre suddenly wanted it to be over with.
They crossed the Missouri State line just as the sky began to dawn. Duo had fallen asleep, his head rested against Quatre’s shoulder, and Quatre had spent the early morning watching lights flash past outside the window. Now that it was becoming light, what the darkness hid showed him changes that were to come.
He hadn’t said anything the night before; there hadn’t been anything to say - Duo had hacked off his hair. What he had done with the braided rope, Quatre had no idea. His friend’s reflection - the same but so different - had him drawing deeps breaths. They would be soldiers in ten weeks.
Closing his eyes against the sun, against what he didn’t want to see, the thought of what else would change but remain the same still came unbidden.