Bryson sat alone. Everything was moving so fast now, but for the most part the pace had helped him keep his mind off things like the events of a month ago. The physicals, the tests, the papers he had to sign, the people he had to meet, and the overall hustle and bustle of the office kept him preoccupied. Now came the “hurry-up-and-wait” he had been told to expect, and everything came flooding back to him like a bad dream. A single tear traced its way down the crease of his nose and landed on his shoe. He reached down and wiped it off before erasing the trail it left on his face. This was the home of bravery and masculinity, not of tears and bad memories; still the thoughts remained.
“Forrestor, Bryson!” he heard as he sat with his head buried in his hands. Slowly he pulled himself off the chair and made his way toward the uniformed titan standing in the office doorway.
Everything had been beautiful outside when Bryson left his house on that humid Florida morning, or at least he thought it was. Now that he was returning in shame everything was losing its color. What once was a bright deep blue sky now took on a gunmetal gray sheen, and the green grass he passed was masked by what appeared to him as ominous shadows; an omen that should have foretold the coming disaster that was spread out before him as he left home. As he reached the sidewalk he couldn't bear to even look at the cars that passed by for fear of more heartache; that doom would reach through the window of a passing car and rip his stomach out the way his heart had already been stripped from his chest. Such a thought didn't ease him any, and as he made his way to the nearest tree he felt all the life drain out of him, just as his breakfast spewed forth from his stomach and drained down the trunk of the tree.
How could this happen? Just a week after graduation, everything seemed to be in perfect order. He was enrolled in college, the same college that his best friend, Ian, and his girl, Julie, were enrolled in. It seemed like it would be the perfect set up. He was almost certain that when they got to school he'd be rooming with Ian, and Julie would be a stone's throw away. Maybe later on they could rent a house or a large apartment together; most likely after Ian found the love of his life like Bryson had. They could do everything together, and why wouldn't they: Bryson and Ian had been friends since they were six years old, and he had been dating Julie for the last four years. They were practically family.
Of course, “were” was the key word now. That one word incensed Bryson as he started back out on a brisk walk toward home. The walking pace didn't last, though; as he thought more about the word “were” he quickly moved on from a brisk walk to a run. “Were” ruined friendships. “Were” tore apart lovers. “Were” broke apart families. “Were” brought nations to their knees. “Were” caused the world to stop spinning. “Were” was a destroyer of the future. If the world ended today, aliens would pass by the wreckage and say, “There WERE humans there.” When you die your conversations with other dead people would most likely begin, “If I WERE alive...” “Were” was the most useless, no, heartbreaking word in the English language. Then again, “Was” wasn't very far off, in Bryson's mind. “I WAS going to college,” he thought.
How could he have been so stupid, though? He always felt that Ian was making eyes at her, or whatever it was called these days (a steady diet of old television programming, like The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, sometimes clouded his judgment on exactly what lingo was considered modern). Bryson lived in such an old school world in his mind that he never thought once of it; let alone twice. Seriously, though, how could he have forgotten the way Julie looked at Ian? Bryson knew he, himself, was lazy, but he could have taken Ian's place as captain of the soccer team easily if he had the ambition. He could have even run the Math League had he not been busy with World of Warcraft. Captaining the football team might have been a tad bit harder, but Bryson was confident he could pull it off. Okay, maybe he was kidding himself a little bit. Wait, a little bit? Try a whole lot! There was no way he was as good a person as Ian, and that made things hurt that much more. He knew he would never be on his level. For Christ's sake, he would be lucky if he finished his undergrad, let alone go on to further education like Ian was destined to do.
In all honesty, he could take betrayal from Julie more than he could from Ian. There was more than one occasion where she had left him in the past and he had always taken her back. Even Ian had wondered why Bryson had always taken Julie back. Bryson never had a question in his mind about it though. Each time Julie left him, he took her back with open arms, no matter what had happened. Why wouldn't he? She was the class president and captain of the volleyball team. On top of that she never neglected her participation on the yearbook staff or as the editor of the Astronaut Herald.
All in all he wondered where he fit into their schemes and things. He tried playing sports his freshman year of high school but gave that up when the coach pissed him off. There was that time he tried out the school choir but got himself kicked out when he had the whole boy's section cracking up in class as he made fun of the choir director. Now that he thought about it, he was more known for spreading joy through the lower levels of the student body with his shenanigans than he was ever known for his school spirit or academic valor, while those closest to him embodied those latter qualities.
Bryson walked into the office and sat down in a chair opposite the burly uniformed individual that had called him in. Looking him over Bryson saw that his name tag read “Sgt. Thompson”. As Bryson sat there Sgt. Thompson kept jotting notes in his notebook, a serious look on his face. What he was writing Bryson was not sure. He hadn’t had a chance to look at his own face so he wasn’t sure if his eyes were red as if he had just been crying or not, but he hoped that he wasn’t giving off a wussy kind of vibe. After all, he needed this.
“When were you thinking you wanted to leave for Paris Island?” Sgt. Thompson asked, not looking up from the paperwork before him.
“As soon as possible,” Bryson answered without hesitation.
“Well, you have a few choices: each Friday for the next three weeks we’ve got groups shipping out; otherwise, there is one that will be leaving here at seventeen hundred hours today.”
“I'd like to leave today, if at all possible.”
For the first time since Bryson entered the room Sgt. Thompson looked up from the paperwork with a surprising smile gracing his lips. “Oorah! That's what I like to see, a gung ho future Marine. Well, I'm sure you'll want to call your family to let them know you'll be leaving.” Thompson walked him out of the office, and pointed to a corner of the waiting room where a pay phone stood. “You can use that phone over there, call’s free courtesy of the USMC. You can tell your parents that you'll call them again when you get to Paris Island to let them know you arrived safely. When you're done just come have a seat back over here, we have more paperwork you'll need to fill out before shipping out today.” As Bryson walked toward the phone Sgt. Thompson called Garrett, David into the room after him.