by Harrison Pierce
In a simpler time Alex, Shawn, and Trevor would fish. It was something the three boys thoroughly enjoyed and it was something they all held skill in. Trevor was the oldest of the three and wisest at the sport, yet never seemed to out fish the younger two.
They were neighbors in a small town in Arizona you could hardly find on a map. In fact, their town was so close-knit it seemed as though everyone knew of any event within it. As such the boys, Alex and Shawn, were shocked to learn that Trevor enlisted in the army.
Two and a half years later Trevor was home and his two best friends drove from their high school to congratulate him on his return.
Shawn drove. He always drove. And Shawn always drove his cherry ’87 Mustang. He bought it after working all summer once Trevor left. Shawn worked all summer, six days a week, seven hours a day, bagging groceries. He knew what car he would buy and who he’d buy it from since the day he took the job. Shawn had to work into late September to fully reach the desired price of the owner, but he managed to accumulate the funds, paid for the car outright, and drove it home three days before October.
He quit his job the following day.
Alex never drove. Shawn wasn’t even sure if Alex had his license or even if he knew how to drive, though Shawn never gave him much of an opportunity to drive anywhere. He always assumed he would drive and that was always how it was, ever since that third day from October two years ago.
“Damn it’s hot out,” Shawn stated. He glanced over at Alex who simply nodded in agreement. Shawn was never one for conversations, or at the very least he was never sure how to start them. “How long do you think he’s going to stay for?”
Alex shrugged, “Six months, maybe nine if he’s lucky.”
“What did he do again? Disarm bombs?”
“He was an interpreter,” Alex corrected him.
Their drives were never too talkative and as such Shawn always kept the radio on, even if ads ran. He could never stand that sort of silence; it set him off guard and made it impossible for him to anticipate whatever news his friend might bring. It reminded him of the night Alex told him Trevor had enlisted. He was quiet then as well; not simply as if he had nothing to say, but more so that some urgent matter held the forefront of his mind.
The same matter was why Trevor was never the best fisherman of the three young men. His mind would wander and dwell on matters at home, with some girl he dated, or of his studies. Shawn was the best because he knew what he wanted and strove to gain it.
No one else seemed to be out on the roads even though it was three in the afternoon. The absence of others bothered Shawn as well, as it only reminded him of how desolate it was there. He wanted nothing more than to leave his home town and Arizona in the dust as soon as he graduated.
The air conditioner in his ’87 Mustang was never enough to keep them cool and as such the windows were rolled down and a warm breeze washed over them.
“Are you worried about exams?”
“No,” Alex murmured.
“I am,” he lied. “The advanced chemistry final’s going to rob me of sleep.”
Both boys knew it wasn’t true.
The cherry ’87 Mustang slowed to a stop at a four way intersection and waited for the light. No one else waited and at the same instant no one passed by. They simply sat at the edge of the water and waited for the signal to reel in.
“Do you think he’ll have souvenirs for us?” Shawn joked.
“That isn’t funny.”
“Sure it is.”
“He’s probably just glad to be home.”
“Who wouldn’t be?”
They waited for the sign, yet it remained elusive.
“Do you think he’ll stay?”
“Not now, but after his next tour.”
“I don’t know,” Alex sighed, “It all depends on how long the war continues.”
Shawn hadn’t taken the war into consideration. He couldn’t recall what spurred it in the first place, though he vaguely remembered September eleventh as he was hardly nine years old when it happened. From there it seemed as though they’d always been at war. And no matter what Shawn read in the papers or heard he never believed it would end. It’d raged on for nearly a decade and all Shawn saw in it was a lost cause.
It was as if they tried to reel in leviathan and refused to cut the line.
“It’s useless isn’t it?”
“How can you say that?” Alex snapped.
“Well it is isn’t it? We’ve been there for so long yet nothing’s changed.”
“We’re capturing terrorists.”
“But what does that do for us?” He looked at Alex, “We catch one and ten others surface afterward. It doesn’t end.”
Alex frowned and said he was going to enlist.
The light changed yet nothing moved. Shawn couldn’t look away from his friend. “What are you talking about?”
“In July,” he stated, “I’m joining the military.”
“Why? What would you gain from it?”
“I want to help.”
Alex stopped. He watched as the streetlight turned and turned again. It remained on that pale red for what could have been forever before he confessed, “You know I’ve written Trevor since he left, right?”
“Well I have.” He looked cross at Shawn and asked, “Why didn’t you?”
He looked ahead, “He wouldn’t have cared.”
“He would have.”
“Oh don’t tell me that,” Shawn spat. “What good could it have done anyway?”
“Well what are you going to say once we’ve arrived?”
Shawn failed to answer. The light turned green and he drove once more.
He felt as if he’d lost another friend. Alex sat not two feet away from him yet already seemed beyond the ocean. Shawn remembered when he saw Trevor off, how he looked, what he said and failed to say, and that as Trevor left he believed he’d lost his friend for good.
He’d read all about a soldier who died because of friendly fire and how all it took was one misstep or one small twitch of the wrist and the soldier was gone. It’d happened before and it would happen again too; it wouldn’t end.
“Are you mad?”
“Why the hell would I be?”
“Because you think I’m throwing my life away.”
“You are aren’t you?”
“Damn it Shawn, not everyone knows what they’re going to do in life,” Alex told him. “They need help so I’m answering the call. What are you doing?”
Shawn looked right on ahead and muttered, “I’m living as long as I can. Going there’s nothing beyond suicide at this point.”
“Oh grow up Shawn.”
He remembered the last fishing trip they took together. The three of them drove out to the coast of California and fished off docks for a week. They fished, met girls, ate hearty American food, and camped under the stars.
That was two years ago.
“You could enlist too.”
“Oh shut up Alex.”
“You don’t want to fight for your–”
“I don’t want to fight a losing battle,” he barked. “I’m not as senseless as you two.”
Alex glared at him and asked, “Remember that last trip we took? Out to the coast? Who dug that hook out of your leg after you fell on it?”
“What about when your car died on the trip home? Who walked the three miles to get gasoline and water for your car?”
“And how about that fight you got yourself into outside of that restaurant in Nevada? Who stepped up and pummeled those jerks?”
“How the hell can you say he’s senseless?” Alex then admitted, “I’m joining because I want to be as strong, courageous, and kind as he is.”
Alex was already gone and both of them knew it. Shawn knew that whoever they’d meet at Trevor’s house wouldn’t be the friend they saw off, it wouldn’t be their old fishing pal. And as soon as Alex left it’d be the death of one more good soul. Shawn knew what the war did to people. His grandfather served in Vietnam and from what he’d learned from his father the war changed him. It broke his grandfather. It would break them all in one way of another, Shawn knew it.
“I’m not joining,” he mumbled.
“I never said you had to.”
“Well I’m not,” Shawn told him.
“Are you afraid?”
“I think you are.”
“I’m not a coward,” Shawn snapped, “I only know that if I left I wouldn’t return.”
“You’re not going to die Shawn,” Alex said as he rolled his eyes.
He shook his head, “Part of me would.”
Shawn slowly approached Trevor’s home and rolled to a stop outside. He set his Mustang in park and looked at the white house with the well watered green lawn. He remembered playing with water guns when they were all kids with some of the other neighborhood children. Their team was always the strongest, the fastest, the most tactful, and almost always won.
He didn’t feel that way anymore.
Alex unbuckled and started out of the car before he looked back and noticed that Shawn hadn’t killed the engine. “Aren’t you coming in?”
Shawn remembered the last thing he said to Trevor before he left. He said he’d look forward to his return. Now Trevor was right there, but Shawn didn’t believe it.
He shook his head, put his car in drive and said, “I’ll see you around.”
“Wait, Shawn, come on.”
“No,” he barked as his eyes shot to Alex, “You’re leaving and I don’t want to be the one who waits to hear about that final bullet.” He grit his teeth and shook his head. “I’m sorry. Just tell Trevor I’m happy he’s back and that I’ll see him some other time.”
Alex shut the car door and Shawn sped away.
Shawn and Alex would graduate together and would see Trevor once more. Beyond that moment Shawn would leave west while Alex and Trevor would end up leaving around the same time in mid November. At that point Shawn would have found a job in California as a janitor at a high school while he worked his way through college.
The three boys would never talk again.