Chapter 1:

Home sweet home

Max Caliber

I was sitting on the train, watching the lights in the tunnel pass by periodically. Just as these lights passed by, so did the extra six months I was deployed. However, with my uniform clean and my blonde hair neat. I couldn't help but feel a little bit excited. I was finally coming back home.

“Hey Reinhard, so is Judy going to be the one to pick us up or is it going to be one of the boys?” asked Mikey. He had piercing green eyes and slick black hair. He was also my best friend. We met during deployment and a more loyal friend I could not have asked for.

“You know Judy can’t drive. No, I think it’ll be George who comes to pick us up. Besides, I think Judy and some of the other gals are planning some big surprise for us,” I said. Just the mention of my wife’s name made me straighten my lapel and run my hand through my hair. I was so nervous about finally meeting her after being away for three years. That I wasn’t sure what I would say to her. I mean, what do you tell the woman you love after you’ve not seen her in person for three years. Hi honey, I’m home?

“What makes you think that? Did George say something?” he asked me and crossed his legs. His boots were spotless for the first time since I met him. To be entirely honest, I almost didn’t recognize him when we met up to finally return home. He was usually the untidiest of everyone back at the barracks. But look at him now. All prim and proper.

“George was oddly suspicious about our arrival times. I mean, I’m not entirely sure if he can even read time, let alone care for when people arrive. Also, why would George be the one to pick us up?” I explained my suspicion. It wasn’t as if we didn’t like George or anything, but at the end of the day, other far more closer friends could be the ones picking us up than George.

“You think because the rest of the guys are busy getting things all set up back home. They sent old stuttering George to be the chauffeur?” he asked me and leaned his head back against the headrest.

“Exactly that. I mean, I wouldn’t trust George with the party setup. That guy is one step up from being a trained circus monkey. I mean, I love the guy, but he doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when it comes to delicate work. If you want someone to drive you through a war zone, then yes. But hang up streamers and making food? Rather leave that to someone that won’t burn the house down if left unattended,” I exaggerated. Mikey seemed to like my choice of words. He gave me a good puff through his nose and lazy smile.

“Yeah, George is the only person I’ve known that somehow burnt the coffee to the bottom of a mug,” he added.

“Exactly, I mean,” I began and couldn’t help myself from laughing as I remembered another story. “Who in their right mind opens up a tea bag and pours the leaves into the mug. I mean, where did he learn that?” I recalled, and with that, Mikey joined in the laughing. He nodded in agreement and even sat forwards to continue.

“That’s right. After that incident, we took him of refreshment duty for the rest of the time he spent with us,” he added. At this moment, I couldn’t help but realize how much happiness I felt. The seven years of war are over. My three-year deployment is over, and I’m finally coming back. As if fate was listening to my thought, we finally exited the tunnel. The bright light flooded in the cabin. I squinted and forced my head to the window. With my eyes closed, I tried to adjust my sight to the brightness as quickly as possible. And the second, the stinging stopped. I forced my eyes open.

“Would you look at that,” was all that Mikey needed to say to perfectly encapsulate the moment. In front of us were the rolling green hills of Rasia and in the distance sat the capital. The coastal city of York, our home. Its beautiful blue waters glimmered in the distance as they hugged the city. The non-stop ships moving in and out of the port. An occasional tall building towering out between its smaller counterparts. Then at the far end of the city where the rolling hills were packed with houses. An area for the rich, an area I planned on living in one day.

“We’re home, Mikey. Wonder if Judy can still remember this mug,” I said and sat back worried. My one hand holding my chin while my thoughts ran wild. I know it was foolish to worry now. We kept in touch with letters, and I would send her photographs whenever I could but still.

“Three years is a long time,” he said quietly and kept staring out of the window. “But I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t forget an ugly face like yours.”

“Your no looker either, Mikey. I mean, you’ve got that nasty scar on the side of your face. What woman would touch you now?” I mocked him. Knowing damn well what he was trying to do.

“You mean this?” he asked as he ran his finger along with the cut that ran along the side of his face. “The ladies love scars. They think it makes you look dangerous and also. Everyone loves a souvenir, and this just happens to be mine,” he said with a grin as he rubbed his chin while trying to look dignified.

“Oh, is that how it is? Well, apparently, that would make Albert the most handsome man on earth then,” I replied.

“Scars. I said scars, no disfigurement. That crazy bastard would’ve stayed at the frontline if they didn’t force him home. I mean, who loses basically half their face and a hand. Then fights the nurses when they try to stop him from going back to fight some more,” he argued. I couldn’t help but agree in my head with everything he said. Albert was reckless and rash, but he truly did not fear anything. He was also relentless when it came to combat.

“Yeah, something definitely wasn’t sitting right with that one. But he wrote to me and told me we should drop by his café. Apparently, he could organize us some sort of job if we are in need,” I informed him.

“What? He some kind of a barista now?” asked Mikey and gave a singular loud chuckle. “So, that’s the kind of letters he sends you. All I ever get from that man is pictures of him and his kids.”

“Seems like you left some kind of an impression on him. I didn’t even know he had children,” I said, hiding my slight shock. Yet, if he was as relentless with parenting, then he was with fighting. Those kids will grow up to be genuinely outstanding human beings. Even if they might have a few screws loose as well.

“Nah, he sends them to me with the same message every time,” he answered and remained silent. I felt a strange tinge of being lead on. As if he wanted me to be the one to ask what the message was, so I complied.

“What’s the message?” I asked. Watching as Mikey sighed.

“Look how cute these kids are. If you want some of your own, my sister is single,” he told me. In fact, he had to close his eyes and look up at the ceiling as he said this to me.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. He’s trying to set you up with his sister?” I exclaimed. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Yeah, non-stop. He keeps promising me she’s beautiful and an excellent cook. I mean, if it’s true, then it’s great. But I don’t want to say that Albert is my brother-in-law,” he rebuked and rubbed the temples of his head.

“Come on. If she’s cute, then what’s the harm. I mean, you are single, and trust me. Entering your thirties and being single is not good. It’s like playing hide and seek, except no one is looking for you,” I said, trying to rile him up.

“Oh, sorry, we can’t all be happily married like some people,” he said in overdramatic fashion. I couldn’t help myself but try and prying a little bit further into the whole matter.

“So, is she?” I asked.

“Is she what?” he replied.

“Cute?” I continued.

“I have no idea whatsoever. I’ve asked him, if he’s so serious about it, then send me a picture. But he keeps telling me she’s too shy to take a picture and send it,” he replied.

“Shy, cute, and can cook? Brother, listen to me. I think you should take the chance. What’s the worst that could happen?” I continued to pester him.

“The worst thing that could happen is that she’s none of those things. When I reject the offer, Albert comes at me with a knife or worse. Margarette’s actually all that, and I fall in love with her. Then I end up seeing Albert every single family get together,” he said as he went on a passionate rant.

“Margarette? So, you even know her name,” I added on.

“You know what. If you’re so interested in this topic. Then why don’t you go make her your mistress or something. I’m done talking about this subject,” he said and puffed out his cheeks.

“Oh, come on. Don’t be like that. If you get this worked up, then how are you going to handle Yohan’s little jabs,” I tried to reconcile and shook his leg a bit.

“Don’t even get me started on Yohan. Not only did he get to return early, but he doesn’t even send us one single letter. I mean, you think you know a guy spending a few months in the combat zone with him,” he pouted.

“You know Yohan. He wasn’t ever the emotional or responsive type. I’m sure he’ll be there tonight as well. Then we can get on his case all we like about the fact he didn’t send us a single letter,” I reassured him. Honestly, Mikey was usually a grouch, but somehow, he was always this open and responsive with me. It was a little endearing, to be completely honest.

“He better be. I mean, come on. We all met on the front lines and, funnily enough, lived in the same city. So, if that pretty boy thinks he can pretend like we never met, then screw him,” he concluded his moodiness with a grunt and pulling his head up.

“Listen. How about we just ask the nice hostess to bring us some tea and enjoy the scenery for a bit. You know, give you some time to calm down so that when George comes and gets us. That you don’t bite his head off,” I offered.

“Only if you’re paying for it,” he added and peered from over his raised cheek at me.

“Of course,” I reassured him. Knowing that was what he was going to ask. Then just like that, we enjoyed the rest of our trip and started to build excitement for what waited for us when we got back. Little did we know just how much things would change for us. How foolish of us to ever think things could be like they were before.

Real Aire
Joe Gold
Arashi Sensei