Vicky opened the freezer compartment of her refrigerator, and got out a box of vanilla ice cream. She looked down at the ceramic bowl and scooped a piece of vanilla ice cream with a spoon. She ate it and it tasted creamy and cold.
Glenn forced a smile, as if he were trying to placate her, and knew he had no chance in hell of accomplishing that feat. He reached out and grabbed her hand, squeezing it.
“You’re really going today?” Vicky asked.
“Yeah, I really am. Hey, don’t do that. Can't you be strong for us?” Glenn asked.
Vicky nodded and watched Glenn take in a deep breath and look down at his scuffed tennis shoes. They went out of the house and walked to the veranda. The sunlight was bright and hot and the ice cubes in the lemonade melted from the heat that blazed and scorched when Vicky pulled from her vape.
Glenn pushed his chair back and sat down, the veranda was filled with shade, and he dribbled his fingers on the table in a steady rhythm. She tried not to look at him, tried not to think about him leaving for the war, but all she could think about was him flying a fighter jet and seeing it fly into a golden mountain range, smashing into a thousand pieces of aluminum and scrap metal.
“I don’t understand why you have to go back to the Middle East…you were so against the fighting in the beginning when the war started. And now you’re changing your mind. I mean, what are you trying to prove?” Vicky asked, taking a sip from her lemonade.
Glenn folded his hands on the table and said in a quiet voice, “I’m not trying to prove anything. But I got to go over there. So many of my friends have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now people are dying in Syria. All of those refugees are getting murdered. Not killed. Murdered. They don’t have anyone helping them. I just want to make a small contribution and **** these terrorists up.”
“What about me Glenn? Who’s going to be there for me? Who’s going to take care of me?” Vicky said, feeling her tears brim her eyes.
“Look Vicky. I have to do this and I don’t expect you to understand what I’m doing, but I need your support. All these people are dying. You can see it all over the news, the net, social media. The terrorists don’t discriminate in their slaughter. Women, men, boys, girls, young and old. Every person is getting hurt out there. I can’t sit back and do nothing. I won’t be gone for long. I’ll be back before you know it. Promise, I’ll come back,” Glenn said, rubbing her Vicky’s hand. He touched the skin right above her wrist and offered her a smile.
Vicky withdrew her hand immediately, got up from her seat, and went inside to the family room. He was drinking his lemonade when he set the glass down on the countertop and walked into the kitchen. Vicky slammed the freezer door so hard that some of the alphabet magnets fell off. Glenn flinched and cleared his throat as he washed his glass in the sink. The water dripped down his hands and washed his wrists.
She set the ice cream down on the countertop and looked directly into Glenn’s eyes. They were droopy and red with his pupils fixated on the large flat screen mounted on the wall in front of him. A computer keyboard sat on the couch cushion and a mouse-pad sat on the couch-arm. The TV screen showed a picture of men and women cramped in black inflatable boats coasting up and down waves that undulated in murky waters. A commercial break popped up: Anderson Cooper doing the news from Turkey.
Glenn rubbed his chin and his new buzz cut, a huge difference from his old stoner’s shaggy hair. His face was narrow, but he had a broad chin with dimples in his cheeks. He was clean shaven, so much, that it looked like the razor had cut off the frightened expression from his face that had appeared when he found out he was going to be training to be a pilot. Glenn had a huge fear when it came to heights, and had never even been on a plane, let alone flying into an unknown territory like Syria. The military operated with drones at this point in the war, something Glenn hoped he could use instead of actually flying. He tucked in his raggedy camo green tee with the sleeves cut off. He smoothed out the wrinkles in his tan khakis, folded the ends up like edges on a cocktail napkin. Glenn looked comfortable in his old attire, but seemed unsettled, as if unsure about going back into the military.
Vicky stared across the room at the decaying bonsai trees on the cracked windowsill. She had bought the trees for Glenn and now the leaves were browning and turning dead. Outside, it thundered with lightning. She said softly, “You remember Maggie Drayner, right? Well, her husband died over there. I can’t imagine what she must go through every day. I think she’s gone insane. Just absolutely insane. She cremated him and put some of the ashes in a mason jar, and stashed that in her purse. But she always looks so happy, she tells me: he’s always with her now. I worry about her.”
Glenn wiped his hands on a bath towel. “So, they’re like us now? Is that what you’re saying? Why are you telling me this?” he asked, turning around to face her.
Vicky put her hands on her hip and sighed. “If you go over there, they’re going to hurt you,” she said, pulling on her vape. A plume of smoke rose and fell.
Focused on the screen now, Glenn watched as three American soldiers were standing in front of an American flag. “That’s nice of you to say. Do you understand my perspective though? I really got to help out these guys right now Vicky, I’d feel like I’m letting them down if I don’t go over there. They need me. Maybe you don’t see this, but I’m making a difference.”
“Life isn’t some stupid game. You don’t get a restart, lives, or a respawn. Why can’t you stay home, stay with me?” she asked. Vicky frowned and pointed at the TV screen. “Do you think that’s smart? Killing people?”
Glenn reached over to hug Vicky and she moved right out of his grasp. He looked up at her and sighed and said, “It’s a one-way street and both sides are crashing into each other, without any regard for any soul. Baby, baby look at me. Do you think I enjoy doing this to you? That this is a vacation for me? Trust me. I’d rather be doing spending time with you than fighting the enemy. But that’s not how life turned out.”
Vicky bit her lip. “So this is how life turned out? You’re going to war, and I’m stuck here at home, we’re both going to die aren’t we Glenn?” she said. Her mouth felt sore and parched and her face burned with irritation. She knew she couldn’t stop him from going, not even if she poured quicksand over the front entrance.
Glenn ran his fingers through his black hair and rested his chin on his palm. “You know that’s not what I meant, don’t twist my words. You think it’s easy for me to go?”
She turned away from him and rapped her nails against the TV screen. “What do you see that I don’t? It’s a stupid war. Everyone dies over there. Glenn, you don’t have to save the world. You have me,” she said, feeling some tension in her stomach rise up.
Glenn picked up the remote control and turned off the TV. The picture went fuzzy and then went black. He said, “Vicky, I’m going to say this once and then I don’t want to have to repeat myself, so please be calm down, and listen to me. Please.”
Vicky curled her bottom lip, but didn’t say anything.
“Do you even know why I’m doing a second tour again? A bomb hit my best friend Theo’s squad on the way to a mission. The car flipped and rolled twice. Theo was the driver and he had severe head trauma. Now, he can’t even remember his first name. He almost lost and arm and a leg due to the explosion. I think his mind is deteriorating. I don’t know how he survived, why some higher power let him breathe another breath. I haven’t been to church in months. But that’s not the point. What I’m trying to say is Vicky—the reason why I’m going back into this war, is because, I want to save guys like Theo. I could have protected him. I could have saved him. He’s family to me. We’re brothers. And in my home, I can pretend to fight and protect my family and my country. But it’s not the same. It’s just not. And honestly, I don’t care if this is pathetic to you or if you’re embarrassed of me. You’re going to have to accept that I’m leaving, but that I’m doing it for the right reasons.” Glenn said.
Vicky frowned. She went back to the kitchen and opened her ice cream. But she hesitated before scooping any ice cream out. She was looking for substance and instead she was left with melted vanilla cream and vapors.