Charlie was from a military family, his first words were "air force," and his parents may as well have fed him camouflage and ammunition. The youngest of seven children, all of his siblings had been enlisted at one time or another. At least once every year, his family was holding their breath as a plane touched down at Yeager, wondering what type of condition their family member would be in.

In the dead of night, I heard the doorbell ring. It resonated throughout the entire house, clanging against every wall and forcing my eyes open. I knew that, whoever this late-night visitor was, was going to be the bearer of bad news. Quickly, I forced myself out from under the heavy comforter, exposing my skin to the moonlit chill that had invaded the house since evening had set its sight on the world. The hardwood floors were almost frozen beneath the soles of my feet, and I found myself hoping that this was all just a dream.

When I made it downstairs and forced open the door, I was caught off guard by the eyes that met mine: It was Charlie. Something about his gorgeous almond-colored irises screamed sadness, and in the back of my mind, I knew he had been crying.

"Hey," he said quietly, breathing out a large cloud of light gray smoke. He licked his lips and stared at his cigarette, twitching the paper-wrapped tobacco between his fingers, his eyes dead set on the flinching, orange ember at the end.

"Charlie, do you have any idea what time it is?" I asked, fighting back the yawn in my throat and the tinge of annoyance in my mind.

"No," he said, taking another long, nicotine-laced breath, "do you?" It was nearly four in the
morning and the moon hung low in the sky, casting silver light across the frosted ground, patiently awaiting the five o'clock sunrise. I took a moment to argue out whether or not I should tell him the hour, but he beat me to the punch.

"It's almost four," he said, shuffling his toe against the frigid concrete of the porch.

"Come in," I beckoned, feeling the winter wind wrap around my arms and legs. I opened the door fully, allowing Charlie to enter the slightly warmer house, but he simply shook his head and tossed the remains of his cigarette, extinguishing it with the bottom of his boot. "What's wrong, Charlie?"

He looked at me, his eyes as cold as the weather. "My brother died," he said plainly, his tone verging on stoic. I went to say something, but my mind refused to work. "He wasn't even shot or anything, nothing heroic. He stepped on a land mine; he's fucking retarded."

Finally, the words that had been caught in my mouth finally broke free, but "I'm sorry, Charlie" was all I could muster. It was all I could say, but it wasn't enough.

"Me too, Hayden," he smirked, "me too." A quiet chuckle escaped briefly as sudden tears flooded his eyes. Before I knew what to do or say, he had huddled himself against the door frame, far from stifling tears. And I couldn't think of anything to say, and he hadn't said anything else, so we just stood there in the late February wind and listened to the sound of his teardrops falling from his face and crashing against his neck, because even though he hadn't told me himself, I knew that he had been using again.