The marching was steady and constant, boots thudding heavily against the hard packed ground. It begged for rain as it cracked under the soldier's feet, splitting in a million pieces like a giant puzzle made of the surface of the Earth. The weather beaten uniforms that stuck out from their ramrod straight bodies were covered in dust, sandy camouflage for the dry conditions. Bullet proof vests and heavy helmets protected them, guns as black as the death they brought held by shaking hands; some eyes were battle hardened and others wide with fear. In their ranks stood a boy just shy of twenty, his own eyes cold and expressionless. He appeared to be a natural born killer.
It wasn't long ago that he was sitting on his front porch with his best friend, griping that high school should be over by now. With foolhardy grins and wandering minds, the boys were often the center of chaos. But they were "good boys", according to their parents, at least. They had lived three houses apart for the majority of their lives. They learned to ride their bikes on the same asphalt paved road. They played football, baseball, or soccer in the same green grassed yards year round. They had their birthday parties in the same kitchens, spent their nights together more often than apart. Until, that is, the sun went down and they were beckoned home for dinner and homework. You could be sure the next morning they'd meet to jog to the bus stop, book heavy bags thudding against their backs.
It's been a long time, hasn't it, buddy? You know where I am now, off in another high school, finishing up the year. Can you believe it? Us going to different schools? I guess neither of us really dreamt of being where we are now.
Classroom walls couldn't separate them, nor could any punishment their parents came up with. They always found a way. Not even the move could separate them, when they lived in different states. They never fought. Not until that last day. The last day they exchanged good humored words and shared a grin at a secret joke no one but the two of them would understand. But behind his deep brown eyes, always dancing with a mischievous light, Daniel held secrets, even from his best friend. So when they sat down at the kitchen table that last fateful day, he avoided the questions. But he wouldn't give up, Sean wasn't like that. He was the smart one, or so Daniel always said. The decent one. The one who was going somewhere in life.
I don't know where we'll end up after this, Daniel, but I know that we won't lose touch. Maybe we'll meet up when the semester ends. I'm sorry that the move separated us, but I know we'll be just as good buddies when I see you this summer.
Did I tell you?
Daniel didn't have the hope that Sean did for the future. Sure, they both wanted to change the world. But Sean had the smarts that only seemed to swell every time he was put down. He knew what he wanted and he got it, no matter what. Nothing could slow that boy down. Daniel's only reason for passing was his best friend; he couldn't have lived if he was separated from him. And he was sure that if he failed the grade like his report card always threatened, he would lose Sean for good. So he did his best and plodded along, even though his nights may have been spent with studying under the covers. He never told Sean how hard he had to work just to have a meager comparison to what he had without even trying. It never seemed to come up.
I got into a good college. Not Ivy League or anything like that, but good. I'm going to study medicine, I think, once I get the basic classes down. Who knows, I could be famous! I can't wait to show the world what Sean Parker can do when he gets his chance.
It didn't take long for things to go downhill once Sean moved away. Daniel got involved with the wrong people. They didn't care if you were failing or passing. It didn't seem to matter anymore. He never learned his lesson, no matter how many times they threatened him. Not parents, not police officers, not his principal or guidance counselor. It didn't matter. There was only one thing they could take away from him that would make any difference, and that wasn't possible. Sean would never give up, not even if they tied him up and blindfolded him. He'd always find a way. That was the only thing that seemed to matter anymore, honestly. That break once or twice a year when they could be together for a week, twenty four hours a day, not bothering to sleep until they couldn't hardly talk. And even then they didn't sleep for long. They did all the things they used to. Until that last day.
What do you plan on doing? You probably still don't know, huh? You never really had any dreams, Daniel. Maybe I should lend you some of mine. Just kidding, I guess. But you really should figure out what you want to do. It isn't long until we graduate!
Daniel told Sean he had signed up for the army. He was going to serve in the army, instead of going to college like his best friend wanted him to. He didn't have much of a choice. No college was going to take him with those grades. When Sean had moved, he had given up. And now, everything was finally crashing down on him. Everything that had held him up for all those years slowly began to crumble, falling to the ground as he slipped. And his downward spiral ended there, when he finally hit rock bottom. Words were exchanged that never should had been said.
This is the rest of our lives we're talking about, after all.
I finally got a girlfriend. A steady one. I think I love her, Daniel. I'm going to ask her to marry me after college. She's going to a school nearby, so we'll probably get an apartment together. How's life back home?
So they shaved his hair and gave him a uniform. They put a gun and bullets in his hands and told him how to kill and do what he was told. Simple as that. War wasn't ever how he imagined it. He wasn't human anymore; he wasn't even alive. He might as well have been a robot. Kill when they tell you to, and you were bound to be noticed. Or at least not noticed, so they'd leave you alone. It was easy enough, once you killed the first time. Take aim, pull the trigger, and fire. It might take a few more shots, you might have to duck and run, but you could be sure that they would end up lying on the ground in a pool of blood soon enough. That or you would. War made more sense than life. There was no gray area because someone would always be left standing. The others would be dead.
I'm sure you've got a girlfriend; you always seemed to have someone wearing a skirt hanging off your arm.
School's probably the same as always, huh? Bad food, bad teachers. At least the people are okay
occasionally. How are you holding up without me?
The marching hardly reached his ears; it didn't even cause him to blink. He wore a bullet proof vest and a dusty uniform, desert camouflage. He had to think about the knights in all of the books he'd ever read to keep his expression calm, uncaring, brave. They had helmets to hide their fear behind, but his didn't come with a face mask. So he built his own; a wall slowly put up around his heart, brick, by brick. And now? He didn't feel anything. Not even when a bullet found a gap in his so called "armor" and lodged inside of him. Nothing could save him from that, not armor, not his mechanical marching, not the obedient nature of his bleak state. He fell to the ground, listening to the sounds of the fighting around him. No one came to save him, despite his vague hopes. It was several minutes until a knight in shining armor leaned over him--a medic on the field after the battle--sitting him up to examine the wound.
I'm sorry I'm not there to show you up at school, but I'm sure ol' Jimmy's doing pretty good at taking up my job. He always was a trouble maker. How about you? Still bringing the adults hell?
"I don't think I can save you
It's been too long
" The medic looked away for a moment, his hands stained crimson red by the blood pouring from the hole. It was like a gushing water fall cascading over a cliff top. Unfortunately, this one didn't have a never ending river feeding it
soon, the blood would run out. Daniel clutched at the man's sleeve, staring into his eyes. His other hand went to a pocket, slipping out a folded piece of paper. It was yellow with age and frayed at the edges. But the words were still legible, scrawled by hand under the harsh shine of a desk lamp.
Are your parents still on your back about school? I heard you were having a hard time.
Anyway, I don't have much time. I've got to study for an exam I've got tomorrow, big stuff. The usual, you know me. I hope you're not too busy to write back!
The medic took it, seeming to understand, folding it carefully in his free hand. Tears welled over despite how many times he had seen this happen, and the fact he didn't know the man that was dying. But he finally brought up the courage to look into those eyes, those deep, brown eyes, still dancing with a light that could only belong to one person. "Daniel!" His scream echoed about the near empty area, the desert silencing as if on command. It was full of anguish and words that should have been said but weren't, should have at least been written in a letter long ago. But the fight that had torn them apart had pushed his best friend down a slippery slope, one that he couldn't climb again. Not this time. And now they were going to be separated for good, by the only thing that could keep them apart. Death. "No! Daniel!"
Your buddy, Sean.
And not for the first time, tears flowed from grief filled eyes, and stained that old letter.