Status: Active.

Little Hand Grenade

Chapter 6

It was the night of the San Diego show when I finally got my hands on something worth drinking. Some tequila from Mexico would do nicely for my attempt to loosen myself and Alex up enough to have a conversation. He was being intolerable, and after spending the entire show leading girls and boys off of the stage, I needed that tequila. The drive to Phoenix would take a few hours, and the hotel was already booked. Plus, I didn't plan on drinking nearly enough to be helpless. The point was to get Alex drunk.

Once all the fans cleared out of the venue, which took well over an hour, we left out of the back door. Fans were used to seeing me at Alex's shoulder, or at least some of them were. Pictures of me and Alex floated around the internet, and most people thought we were dating at first, which made me cringe. I didn't stand nearly close enough to him for that business. He was too short and too scrawny anyway. General Oller would laugh at me if he saw me with Alex.

His arm was healed for the most part, and didn't require any bandages anymore. I sat in my spot on the sofa and watched him fiddle with the little dent for a few moments. He wasn't so bad when he didn't speak, but that wasn't my goal for tonight.

"Nothing is going to crawl out of the mattress and stab me to death, you can relax," he said without looking up. He only stopped messing with his arm when I didn't respond. "You're being quiet." I didn't know how to ask him if he wanted to have a drink. Ugh, curse civilian life! Offering alcohol should be a simple task! My stomach tingled and fluttered, a strange sensation that moved up into my chest the longer he watched me expectantly, waiting for a clever response. Why was I nervous? I only felt nervous when I didn't know who was coming home alive, not when I tried talking to silly boys. In my defense, he was nothing like anyone I had ever met before.

"I'm nervous, stop looking at me," I said, the words stinging my pride as they left my mouth. It was better than other alternatives. Like, that I was staring at him because I liked him. He lifted his well-sculpted eyebrows and looked at me with a mix of doubt and amusement. I motioned with a finger for him to face the other wall, and he rolled his eyes before doing so. "There. Better. I bought some tequila. We should drink it." He turned back around, this time entirely entertained.

"You're buying me a drink?" he asked, smirking. I felt my face burn, but I didn't say anything. "You're flirting with me, aren't you?"

"Absolutely not!" I snapped, and his smirk turned into a smile. The tingling and fluttering surged for a moment, and died down when I let out a long sigh. "We got off on the wrong foot, and this is the only way I know how to fix it." I took the bottle out of my bag, uncorked the top and took a long swig of it before handing it over. "Hurry up, before I realize what I'm doing."

It didn't take long before half the bottle was gone. We simply passed it back and forth until I started laughing. The problems I had with Alex were petty compared to the problems I had in the Army. I had it so easy here, and I've been making it into something bigger than it was.

"You should share stories," he said finally, handing me the bottle after a particularly long drink from it. "We're already sharing booze and technically spit, so..." I laughed again, and I let it go when he reached out and grabbed my hands. I stared at them for a moment, unsure of how to feel about it, and decided to let it slide.

"This one is the worst, so brace yourself," I said, decided that beginning with the hardest one to tell was a good idea because later I wouldn't want to tell it. He watched me with his full attention. "So, um, it was almost three years ago now. I was a master sergeant, and in charge of taking information analyzed by my staff sergeants, combining it and passing the intel along to my superiors. I was in a program that put me on track to be a general within the next few years, and when smaller, less important missions came along, they let me plan the entire thing. This wasn't a normal situation; I was a very special case, and they wanted me immersed as soon as possible.

"One mission in particular was supposed to be very simple. An abandoned building just over enemy lines in Afghanistan was our chance to have another outpost. Every piece of intel we had said that it was abandoned. No insurgents, no bombs, and no refugees. Part of creating a mission is deciding which troops to send. I made a lot of friends there, and Captain Adams...well, he was more than a friend. We had plans to leave the Army together after I became a general. So, I assigned his platoon to my mission so he could have another completed mission under his belt." I paused for a moment, trying to quell the old feelings that I normally could keep down, but the alcohol was making it very difficult. When I told Jack this story, I didn't even shed a tear, but I felt like I was dying while I told Alex. He didn't interrupt my silence, and simply watched me pull myself together and continue.

"As it turned out, the building wasn't abandoned. It was chock-full of insurgents. Twenty men and women died, and twenty more were captured. Captain Adams was one of the prisoners." I couldn't choke down the first sob anymore. I shook Alex's hands off of mine and took a very long drink from the bottle of tequila. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I didn't care if he saw. "I was responsible for the deaths and captures of that mission. I went to General White to plan a mission to recover the prisoners, and I was afraid I would be taken off of my plan. All of it was a lesson for me. New intel came in shortly after we sent out Captain Adams and his platoon that said the insurgents had moved in, and I wasn't in the office like I should have been. I was seeing him off instead.

"I was punished, obviously. General White made me dig twenty graves for the men I killed, and then put me in charge of recovering the POWs. I have dreams about it still, only I make it seem like it's the general's fault instead of mine. It was my fault. Entirely. I left the Army because I found the POWs, and the men I sent only returned with tags. The bodies were burned and the tags were kept in a tin can, probably to rub it in," I said, barely able to speak clearly anymore. I felt at my neck for the necklace I always wore, and held it up. "These aren't my tags. They're his, and this is the ring he gave me the day he was taken." I pulled my knees up to my chest, and leaned against the back of the sofa, hiding my red eyes and wet cheeks. I past crying now. The sound of the other band members playing Call of Duty at the other end of the bus was almost comforting.

"I thought you said he wasn't dead," Alex said slowly. "When I asked you who Captain Adams was, you said he was captured."

"The bodies were burned beyond even dental records," I said, that blasted, horrible ray of hope shining through the black misery and guilt. "He could have escaped. He could be safe."

"Then why did you leave?! What if he's looking for you?" he asked incredulously, talking with his hands.

"It's been three years, Alex," I said quietly, looking at my feet. "Three years missing in the Middle East. Not in America. He's gone."

"I'm sorry, Vanessa," he said after a moment and we both fell silent, listening to the sounds of traffic as the bus traveled toward Phoenix. Had it only been an hour since we left San Diego?

"Well, enough about me," I said, and cleared my throat. I didn't like to dwell on the subject of Captain Adams for very long. "Music was never my thing, so don't make fun of me, but what the hell happened to CD players? I couldn't find one in the mall the other day."

"We have iPods now, CDs are a small part of our sales," he said with a laugh. When it didn't register with me what he was saying, he added, "everything is digital. You can download music on the internet and put it on your iPod or your phone. Do you have a phone?"

"No. Who would I call?"

"You are hopelessly behind," he said, shaking his head. After taking his phone out of his pocket, he moved from his bed to sit next to me. "This is a smartphone called an iPhone, but I'll come back to that later. First, we have Apple, the company that made the iPod for music, and..."
♠ ♠ ♠
Well, now that the cat is out of the bag about Vanessa's real reasons behind leaving, next will have something to do with why someone would want Alex dead :)
Also, I got the ending idea from my best friend that just got out of the Air Force. She didn't know what a hipster was, so I figured that there could be someone who had been overseas and constantly kept busy that wouldn't know the technical advances in the music industry.