Amanda leaned over and rested her head on Vincent's shoulder as they stopped at the traffic lights at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. Taking advantage of the opportunity, he turned quickly and kissed her on the top of her head. She smiled and sighed as the lights turned green. Turning left into Haight, he pulled up and they walked around the corner to Clayton.
"This is it," he smiled, squeezing her hand and leading her though the door of a three storey building. Above the door a sign read Happening House.
The middle aged woman behind the counter looked at Amanda and smiled. "Can I guess?"
Amanda smiled back. "Amanda Phillips."
"Thought so. Take a seat, Amanda. Dave won't be long."
They sat down opposite a brightly-coloured sign on the wall opposite.
"We believe that health care is a right, not a privilege."
Dr David E. Smith, Founder, the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, 1967
A few minutes later a door opened and a short, middle-aged man, his dark hair greying slightly at the temples looked out. "Amanda?" He grinned, looking at her stomach. "Yeah - I guess that's you. Come in."
Vincent squeezed her hand again, feeling her return it as she stood nervously and walked toward the open door, which closed behind her as went in. Vincent stood and walked back over to the counter. "Can I pay for the visit?"
The receptionist looked up from her work. "You can make a donation if you like. But you don't have to - like the sign says, it's free."
"Well, I can afford to pay. I'd like to help." He took a twenty out of his pocket and handed it to her.
She smiled and took the twenty. "Thank you!"
"Do you mind if I take some photographs? I'm a freelance photographer and I'm shooting the San Francisco scene and some shots of the Free Clinic would be great."
"If it feels good," she said happily. "Most of our patients aren't as...cheery as your lady. She's pretty."
"Thanks," Vincent smiled, turning to take a camera out of his backpack. "Not that I had anything to do with it. Being pretty I mean. I mean I didn't..."
She laughed. "It's okay. Like I said, it's nice to have someone coming in for something that's not drug-related."
He was still taking shots when the door opened and Amanda came out, followed by Doctor Smith.
"Doctor Smith? Can I get a shot of you next to the sign?" he asked.
"Sure. How about getting Amanda in too?" he said, giving Vincent a perfect shot of himself and a very pregnant Amanda on either side of the famous sign.
"So - what's the verdict?" Vincent asked as they walked slowly back to the car.
"Great. Everything's perfect. Just a couple of weeks to go he thinks."
Vincent stopped. "Then why so...unhappy?" Her face held the same sweet sadness it always did, but it showed in her voice too.
Amanda paused. "I'm not unhappy. I mean it's good that everything's okay."
He waited, knowing that she'd tell him if she wanted to. He reached out and held her hand.
"It was embarrassing. Laying on the couch with my feet in those stirrups..."
Vincent flushed as complex feelings fought within him. "Oh. Yeah. I can imagine - I mean I guess I can't. But it was...okay?"
"Oh, yeah. He was really nice, he made me feel relaxed, and there was a nurse there. It's just that...no-one's ever..."
"Well, Jake..." She'd told him the story. He still couldn't help feeling resentful of Jake but he accepted her explanation, such as it was, and the fact that she refused to blame him even though she still seemed a little angry.
"It was dark. We didn't even...it just...happened."
Vincent put his arms around her, holding her head gently against him. They'd kissed. That was all. "It's okay. Everything's going well. That's all that matters," he said, knowing it to be the truth but leaving his feelings out of it.
"That's not all," she said quietly, her head resting against him. "I'm scared."
He tightened his hold just a little. "It'll be fine."
Amanda looked up into his eyes, words and more passing silently between them.
The moment was interrupted by a clear voice. "Peace and love, children!"
Amanda and Vincent started at the intrusion and looked up to see a tall, thin hippie wearing jeans, beads, and nothing else, holding out a thin brown arm, on the end of which was a thin brown hand holding a bright red flower. He nodded, grinning, as if to say "take it".
Amanda gingerly reached out and took it. The hippie bowed theatrically, pirouetted, and danced off down the street. They looked at each other. "Hippies," Vincent tutted, taking the flower and putting it in her hair. They laughed, turning and walking hand in hand to the car. He held the door open, thinking how beautiful she looked with that flower against her yellow hair and the blue of the lapis lazuli beads she always wore, while she climbed up and sat heavily in the seat.
"Ugh! I've got weeks of this?"
"Think about that next time you feel scared having it," he said, immediately giving himself a well-aimed mental kick in the pants for being so thoughtless, but she chuckled and he sighed with relief as he walked around to the driver's side and climbed in. He pulled out and turned right into Clayton, past the clinic, and left onto Page, then pulled in again a block short of Golden Gate Park.
"Hungry?" he asked.
"Uh huh. Both of us!" Amanda said, patting her stomach.
"Sit tight then, you two."
He got out and trotted round the front of the car. She watched as he went into a store with a sign saying Far Fetched Foods, returning a few minutes later with two paper bags. He drove off and turned left along Stanyon, skirting the eastern end of Golden Gate Park where he parked opposite Waller Street and helped her out. They walked into the park and sat down on a bench overlooking a children's playground where groups of kids were laughing and squealing in the warm late October sunshine.
Amanda's eyes widened and she giggled, reaching out to put his hand on her stomach. He grinned at her, feeling a kick. "He wants to play with the other kids."
"Do you care?"
Amanda thought for a minute. "No. Yes. Well, a girl would be nice. But so would a boy. No. I don't care."
Vincent stared at the wistful expression on her face and understood for the first time what people meant when they talked about pregnant women "glowing". That trace of sadness in her eyes that he'd thought of as a permanent feature from the first time they'd met was entirely gone.
He handed her one of the paper bags. She reached in and took out an odd-looking roll, made of flat bread filled with finely chopped salad, some of which was identifiably tomato. She sniffed it uncertainly as he watched her, smiling. It smelled good and she took a tentative bite, closing her eyes in ecstasy as the taste hit.
"Mmmmm. That's sooooo goood! What is it?"
"Um, tabouleh and felafel roll with sweet chilli sauce. I think it's parsley, tomato, wheat - some other stuff, but it sounded good. Anyway, you didn't die, so I guess it's safe."
She punched him playfully in the shoulder and they sat in silence, shoulder to shoulder, enjoying the sun, the view, and the food.
She finished first and was just about to wipe her hands on the paper napkin from the bag when she heard a voice behind her.
Corporal Andrew Jackson Macarthur Ellenbogen Sr. sat on the wooden swivel chair behind his desk wearily contemplating the year ahead. The morning sun streamed in through the grey Venetian blinds, the late Autumn sunlight casting bright stripes across his desk. He was getting too old for this. Now that his son had graduated magna cum laude there was only one more obligation he had to fulfil, and retirement was sounding better every day.
He took his glasses out of his pocket and put them on, then reached over and picked up the day's stack of correspondence and shuffled through it tossing aside the bills, when one caught his attention. He picked up an ornate civil war sword letter opener and slit the envelope neatly along the top, then unfolded the letter, and read...
I want to thank you for the fine job you've done with Jake over the last few years. I'd been worrying over his future, but after this summer I think he's finally turning into a man I can be proud of. It's a weight off my mind. I want you to know the debt you felt you owed me is payed in full, my friend. You've done a helluva job with him and I can finally rest easy about his future.
Corporal Ellenbogen stood up and walked over to the filing cabinet. Thumbing through the "M"s he pulled out Jake's file. There was no doubt about it, the boy was improving. In fact in the last couple of weeks he'd thrown himself into his work with such a vengeance that some of his teachers had actually raised some concerns. They said that he seemed almost angry, but that didn't sound much like Jacob. He was a strange kid alright, but it looked as if some of that stern discipline was finally paying off. He was even looking a little more - focussed. He put the file back in the cabinet and picked up the letter.
I probably won't be around much longer, Ellenbogen. At last he knows enough now to look after his mother when I'm gone. I hope she'll finally get over that damned mollycoddling. Ever since we lost little Mikey she's petted on Jake. I never thought it was good for the boy, but now he's starting to act like a man. From what he had to say for himself this Summer he's got a girl now, and if he doesn't screw up, maybe even a wife waiting for him when he comes back from teaching those dirty sonavabitchin' commies what's what.
Those damn doctors wanted to put me in the hospital. What the hell for? They said it's inoperable, so what's the goddamn point? I'll tell you what the goddamn point is - they want to squeeze the last drop of money out of me before I die is the point. To hell with them -- those bastards aren't gonna get a cent. My only regret is that I'm not gonna see the faces on those clowns from the insurance company. I'm insured up to the yin yang and it's gonna bust their asses to pay out.
Don't say anything about this to the boy. It's gonna take more than some candyass disease like cancer to clean Mad Dog Morgendorffer's clock and there's no point in giving him an excuse to whine - he's done enough of that for both of us .
Well, thanks again, Ellenbogen. We used to say "see you in Hell", but I don't think I will. We've been there and come back once already.
The Corporal sat for a moment, remembering the time when he and Mad Dog had been younger, and that Summer night in France just north of Argentan, when he'd caught caught the piece of shrapnel that had taken off his thumb before burying itself half an inch from his heart. If Mad Dog hadn't turned back for him...
This was no way for that brave bastard to go. But that's the way it was.
A girl eh? So that's what the AWOL incident had been about. And that explained the way the boy had been acting recently. He'd flubbed it with that girl. Pity.
He folded the letter carefully and put it back in the envelope then he sat back down at the desk, took a piece of Buxton Ridge letterhead out of the drawer and started to write.
Amanda turned, then leaped up off the bench and ran, as best she could, around to the back, squealing with delight.
"Willow! Willow! Coyote!"
She threw her arms around Willow's neck, making little chirping noises, hugging her and swaying back and forth.
"Woah, babe! You don't want to go squeezing that baby out now!" Willow stood back, her hands on Amanda's shoulders, laughing.
Amanda turned to Vincent, her eyes sparkling. "This is Willow and Coyote! You know - I told you about them!"
Vincent stood up, smiling. "Only about a hundred times." Turning to Willow he said "I don't know what you did, but you made a big impression on this lady." He walked over to Amanda and put his arm around her ample waist.
"She blew our minds too, man," answered Coyote. "She's one far out chick. We figured we'd never see her again but we were only talking about her yesterday. We were worried about her, you know? It could have been a serious bummer for her but it looks as if the karma's all good!"
"Yeah," added Willow, smiling at Amanda. "We hoped we might see you here, babe, but we didn't really think we would. Coyote spotted your hair from behind but it was the beads that gave it away. So what happened? Who's this debonair dude?"
They sat down on the grass and Amanda told them everything that had happened since they'd dropped her off months ago, Vincent adding a comment from time to time. When they got to the part about the Democratic convention Coyote mentioned that the Chronicle had run some pictures of the confrontation. Vincent couldn't help a little smile when he described one particular shot and Amanda squeaked "Oh my God! That was one of Vincent's!", to Willow's and Coyote's expressions of admiration. Amanda squeezed him, feeling proud and happier than she'd been since that night so long ago.
They started talking about the convention and Vincent told them how he wanted to document the changes that were happening in America. Coyote chimed in about the politics and Vincent found he had more than just a willing listener but someone who shared most of his passions and thoughts about the stupendous times they were living through. Soon they were talking animatedly like long-lost brothers about every subject from Zen Buddhism to the relative merits of Kombi vans and Willys jeeps. Amanda and Willow grinned at each other, exchanging a silent "men!" Willow nodded towards the playground, and Amanda took the hint, climbing with difficulty to her feet and walking slowly off with her down the path towards the children's playground.
"Cool guy, babe. I'd say you lucked out."
Amanda turned to her friend as they walked slowly. "Sometimes I lay awake at night and think what it would have been like if he hadn't come along. I...God, I just don't know."
As they passed a green wooden bench Willow stopped and sat down. Amanda gratefully sat down beside her and they looked back to where Vincent and Coyote were gesticulating and laughing, obviously enjoying themselves.
"Guy like that wouldn't have a hard time finding a girl." She turned back to the playground in front of them. "He's good looking, obviously not stuck for a dollar. Smart, thoughtful. Not the kind of guy who'd stick around with a pregnant chick for five months without good reason." She paused. "Looks suspiciously like love to me. Man's got good taste."
Amanda turned to see a gentle smirk on Willow's face. Once again, she'd cut through it all, gone straight to the center, and Amanda felt the same admiration for her that she had all that time ago, remembering the sense of loss when they'd dropped her off and she'd watched them drive away. She didn't want to lose them again. She threw her arms around Willow and hugged her again. Willow laughed, returning the hug. "I missed you too, babe. I knew we'd catch up again sooner or later. So how do you feel?" She looked down at Amanda's stomach.
"A little scared. No, a lot scared. And I keep thinking how much more scared I'd be if...you know. But physically, I feel good - at least I feel healthy. I've just been for a checkup at the free clinic."
"Ah - Doctor Dave, eh? Cool. Everything's okay?"
"Uh huh. Fine. Two or three weeks to go."
"How does your photographer feel about it all?"
Amanda looked blank.
"I've never asked him." Her voice was quiet and she looked lost.
"You've never asked him?"
"No." The realisation struck her like a blow. "He's...done so much...been so good...and I've never even..." Her eyes filled with tears.
Willow stared for a second, then stood up and took her hand. "Come on, babe, you can't leave them alone for too long you know." She looked back towards the men. "There's no telling what they'll get up to." She led Amanda back along the path to where Vincent and Coyote were deep in conversation.
"Hey, Coyote - these cool people are coming back to our pad for dinner!"
Amanda shot Willow a surprised glance.
"Far out! Man," enthused Coyote. "You haven't lived until you've feasted on Willow's chick pea casserole! Come on - let's beat the bitumen. Where are you parked, Vinny?"
Vincent looked up at Amanda questioningly, but Willow had turned her around and started hurrying her toward the path. "You go with Vincent, Coyote - show him the way. We'll take the Kombi."
"Cool. Come on, Vinny. I want to check out the Willys. They're bitchin' wheels, man."
"What was that all about?" Amanda asked as Willow led her as fast as she could back to the Kombi. "I mean, it's great, but..."
"About? It's not about anything, babe. Chick pea casserole perhaps. You cook?"
"Uh, not very well. I can make bacon and eggs."
Willow looked at her with horror in her eyes. "You would allow the flesh of a dead animal to enter the sacred temple of your body?"
Amanda blushed furiously, but Willow laughed. "Had you going there for a minute. It's okay - we're not vegetarians, but we don't tend to eat a lot of meat. They say that in 'Nam, the Viet Cong can smell us coming a mile away because we eat meat. Uncle Ho's children are all Buddhists - vegetarians, so they don't smell. All that perfumed soap and artificial crap we use doesn't help either."
They reached the Kombi and Willow helped Amanda to climb up into the seat and closed the door. She looked around at the back of the van while Willow climbed into the driver's side. It was just as she remembered it on that day five months ago. It felt as if years had passed in some ways, but it was as vivid as yesterday. It was weird how Willow and Coyote had become so important to her in those few short hours. She'd needed friends so badly then - that was probably it - but she still felt as if there was something special between them. Coyote said that they'd felt it too. Maybe it was...what was it? Karma? The clatter of the Kombi's motor brought her out of her reverie and she turned to Willow.
"I have to ask him."
"Yeah," Willow sighed, turning to glance at Amanda. "There'll be time, babe."
Amanda wasn't sure what Willow meant but she accepted it at face value. Karma. They didn't talk much on the short drive, and soon they stopped in front of an old white clapboard house with a flight of stairs on the outside. The Willys was already parked and Vincent and Coyote were waiting on the sidewalk and Vincent opened the Kombi door to help Amanda out. They followed Willow and Coyote up the stairs and walked into a bright and airy apartment, converted from the top floor of the big old house. The furnishings were all second hand, most of them improvised, but the effect was welcoming and comfortable - even artistic. Bookshelves made from planks resting on cinder blocks held an eclectic assortment of novels, magazines and reference books and, on the top shelf, candles and small brass ornaments. Bright, if worn, rugs were scattered between overstuffed old chairs and beanbags and a coffee table covered with a dark green and red cotton throw added to the sense of relaxed disorder. The only new thing in the room was an Empire turntable, sitting on top of an impressive Marantz amplifier between a pair of JBL speakers. Beside the stereo were half a dozen plastic milk crates full of records. Coyote rummaged among them and, grinning, found what he wanted, carefully lifted it out of its sleeve and gently put it on the turntable, lifting the arm across and setting it down on the lead-in track.
I want you to come on, come on, come on...
He turned and grinned. "Sit yourselves down," motioning toward the beanbags. The sound was rich and full, almost like being at the concert, and a thrill ran through Amanda as she saw Janis on stage under the coloured spots, the excitement. She wished that she could sit down and enjoy it, but other things took precedence.
Take it, take another little piece of my heart now...
"Uh, where's..." Amanda started.
"Oh, down here, babe! Pregnant chicks' bladders - no room in 'em at all." Willow laughed, steering Amanda towards the bathroom. When she came back a few minutes later Willow had put four tiny cups on the coffee table and was pouring a gluggy brown liquid into them from an odd-looking copper pot with a wooden handle. She passed one to Amanda as she sat down in the comfortable chair. Amanda took it, recognising the smell, and she looked quizzically at Willow..
"Mud," Willow said.
"Turkish coffee. Never had it?" Vincent asked. "Try it!"
Amanda took a tentative sip, and closed her eyes in delight as the hot, strong, syrup-sweet coffee hit her taste buds. They laughed good-naturedly when she made the mistake of all first-time Turkish coffee drinkers and ended up with a mouthful of the muddy, powdery coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup.
That afternoon Amanda stepped into a different world. They sat and talked, listened to records, drank Turkish coffee, and got to know each other better. From time to time she'd tune out and just relax, feeling comfortable and that, for the first time in her life, she belonged. She'd been an unpopular and outcast schoolkid; a slightly bewildered and inexpert, though very willing, lover; a pregnant daughter rejected by her family; a fugitive and desperate hitchhiker; an employee - perhaps friend - perhaps more - perhaps she'd soon know; soon a mother (Me? A mother?); but now, for the first time, just...Amanda...whatever Amanda was, whatever Amanda could become. Like Willow she thought. Like it was when I was sitting at the wheel making the clay take on the shapes I saw in my head. Like it was when I worked with glazes and kilns and Sis...Carolyne...said I could be good. Like it was that night...
Coyote took an incense stick out of a packet, stuck it into a small brass holder and lit it, then blew it out letting the sweet scented smoke fill the room. A different world.
At six o'clock Willow led her into the kitchen and they talked while strange and exotic dishes - lentil dhal, chick pea casserole, slices of Estonian black bread with hummus, took shape under her skilled hands like clay under Amanda's. Coyote opened a bottle of white zinfandel, making a gentle joke out of saying that he'd offer Amanda a glass if her baby was old enough to drink.
After dinner Vincent went downstairs to the car and brought back some of his photography collection. They talked about his plans to stick around in San Francisco for a while, documenting the movement. Willow saw the way he looked over at Amanda as he said it and she understood that it was also to make sure that they wouldn't be on the road when the baby was born.
Coyote missed it. "We're heading off to Mount Shasta tomorrow for the Leonids," he said, and Amanda sat up, her eyes wide.
"Leonids?" Vincent asked.
"Meteor shower!" said Amanda excitedly. "It comes this time every year. I've always wanted to see it! Dad used to tell me about it but you need to be somewhere really dark to see them at their best. When they're good you can see hundreds in an hour!"
"Because they seem to come from the direction of the constellation of Leo the lion. It's as if they're all coming from a single point in the lion's head - it's called the Radiant. They're not of course, it's just that they stay in about the same place in the Earth's orbit and the planet runs into them at the same place every year."
"Hey - that was some school you went to, babe!" remarked Willow.
Amanda leaned forward. "Please - can we come? We've got plenty of camping gear! I've always wanted to see them!"
Willow and Coyote looked at each other, then at Vincent, concern in their faces.
"Uh, gee, I..." Vincent saw the child in Amanda's eyes and his heart melted. He was saved by Willow.
"We'd love you to come, babe, but don't you think it might be a little risky? I mean you're in a...delicate condition."
Amanda turned to Vincent. "Please? Please Vincent - I saw the doctor today - he said everything's fine. There's weeks to go yet! It'll be fine! Please?"
"Weeell, I, uh, I guess so." He turned to Willow and Coyote. "Do you think...? How far is it?"
"It's an easy day's drive north. We'll only be out for a couple of nights. The shower's at two a.m. on Wednesday morning, so I guess it'll be okay. We can be back by Thursday or Friday."
"Okay then - if you think it'll be okay."
Amanda squealed with delight and hugged him. "Thank you, thank you!" Coyote and Willow grinned, seeing the smile on Vincent's face.
"Well, if you're coming, maybe we'd better get an early night and an early start. We're gonna have to stop at lots of gas stations along the way." Willow said, smirking.
Vincent laughed, standing and helping Amanda up. "We'd better get going. Where do you want to meet?"
"Going? You're not going anywhere, man," exclaimed Coyote. "We've got a blow-up mattress and plenty of blankets. Crash here and we can all leave bright and early."
"Uh - are you sure?"
"Wouldn't have it any othe way," Willow answered.
Willow yawned and put her arm around Coyote's waist. "Time for us to crash, too, lover. It's late and we need an early start."
"But it's only nine ugh!" Coyote grunted as Willow elbowed him in the ribs. "Oh - yeah - late." He pulled the mattress and a foot pump out of the closet. In ten minutes the mattress was blown up and sheets, blankets and pillows set up on the floor.
"Well, goodnight, guys. Is there anything you need?"
"No," smiled Amanda, full of admiration. This is what Willow had meant earlier when she'd said that there'd be plenty of time. Leonids or not, she'd planned this. Though their relationship had changed, she and Vincent had still alternated between the van and the tent, neither having the confidence to take things a step further. Amanda realised then that Willow had hit the mark more closely than she knew. She was uncertain about how Vincent felt about the fact the she was carrying Jake's baby and she hadn't dared to make any assumptions. Vincent, though she didn't know it, hadn't been able to bring himself to assume that, although Amanda was obviously and consciously putting distance between herself and Jake, that she was ready or even willing to let someone take his place.
The four of them hugged. Amanda looked Willow in the eyes and quietly said "Thanks." Willow just smiled, and she and Coyote went to their bedroom, closing the door behind them.
Amanda and Vincent stood, staring at the closed door. Finally, He turned to see her looking up at him.
* * *
"Hmmm?" He was half asleep, lying behind her with his arm draped over her, her hand holding his.
"How do you feel about...this?" She moved his hand down onto her stomach and he rose out of the warm miasma of half-sleep. She rolled over to face him, still holding his hand.
He looked at her. "Feel?"
"Mm hmm." The butterflies fluttered. She felt his hand gently squeeze hers and they settled just a little. "How do you feel about...it?"
He opened his eyes, understanding exactly what she was asking him. "Do you mean does it matter?"
He sat up, looking down at her. "Yes. It matters." His voice was quiet and, in the dark, she couldn't see his face.
The butterflies took flight.
"If it hadn't been for him - or her - you wouldn't have been hitching. You wouldn't have been walking in front of that bar. You wouldn't have come to work with me." He lay back down again, looking into her eyes. "And you wouldn't be here now. Or at least, I wouldn't be here now." He put his arm around her and gently kissed her. "And there's nowhere else in the universe I want to be."
She smiled and closed her eyes. Karma.
Jake Morgendorffer had had a bad night.
He lay awake, his mind racing, gripped by feelings of anger and despair.
During the day it sustained him. It let him attack his schoolwork - forced him to - because it quietened the demons. But at night they came back. Sometimes when his muttering or whimpering got too loud Willy would shake him or gently prod him from the bunk below before he woke the others. But he didn't always get in soon enough and it became another excuse for the taunts, another cause for anger and despair, another reminder, and he'd ask in his anger and desperation, Why, old man? Why did you make me like this?
At first he'd refused to believe that Amanda wasn't coming back. She was on vacation, she'd be back any day. They'd had an accident, something had delayed them. She'd be back. But as the days and weeks passed the reality became impossible to escape and the demons came back. And the words that they whispered in his mind were true words. His anger was only partly for what his father was; it was more for what his father had made him. No wonder Amanda had left him. She was right to go. He saw his life stretching ahead. Everyone he cared for would leave him once they knew, once they saw what Mad Dog saw.
Two weeks after the failed meeting at Gilberts Willy had hassled, in his own desperation for his friend, for Jake to telephone her. He had.
"Uh, can I speak to Amanda please?"
"Yes. Your daughter?"
"I have no daughter," the voice coolly said before hanging up abruptly.
He turned to Willy. "He hung up. It must have been the wrong number."
"Wrong number? Did you dial it right?"
"You saw me, man!"
"Yeah. What did he say?"
"He said he hasn't got a daughter."
"She gave me the wrong number, Willy."
* * *
They sat in the noisy mess at lunchtime, Willy eating hungrily as he always did, still somehow unable to believe how good the food was at Buxton Ridge and thinking that if that was what Army chow was like it'd do just fine until he and Hilda set up house. Jake was muttering to himself, pecking half-heartedly at his plate of beans and franks.
"You gonna eat them beans, Jakey?"
"Nah." Jake had dark circles under his eyes from lack of sleep. "I don't need to fart any more than I already do." He pushed the plate over to Willy.
"Thanks buddy." He looked up at Jake, knowing what the answer was going to be, and asked for the sake of form, "How are you feelin'? You didn't sleep again last night."
"I feel like crap. I am crap."
"Aw, man..." Willy had heard it a hundred times, but it still hurt him to see his buddy like this. "It ain't always gonna be like this, Jakey. I know it hurts now, man, but my Paw always said that time heals all wounds."
"I wish time wounded all heels. I wish time'd wound Mad Dog. I wish it'd cut him open and tear his guts out like a string of fucking sausages."
Willy Johanssen was genuinely shocked. How could someone wish that on their father? How could Jake feel like that when he'd give anything to have his father back? "Jake," he said quietly, "you don't mean that, man."
Jake turned and Willy saw the full force of hatred in his eyes. His voice was calm, but underneath Willy could feel the loathing. "You couldn't understand, Willy. He's ruined my life. I could go back over every week of it and for every one I could tell you something that bastard did to me. There he was telling me what a loser I was, how useless, how his son needed to be a man, when what he really wanted was some damned brainless copy, a perfect toy soldier molded in his image. Whenever I needed his help he couldn't be bothered, I'd fall down and it didn't mean anything to him. Why can't you be a man, Jake? Why are you such an idiot, Jake? My whole DAMNED life that was ALL he had to say when I needed him. Well no more. I'm done with the bastard. I'm sick to death of him and his macho gung ho bullshit. From this moment on I don't give two shits whether he lives or dies. I haven't got the words, Willy. He's...he's..."
Jake felt a firm hand on his shoulder and turned around to look up into the stern face of Corporal Ellenbogen.
"He's dead, Jacob."
Stay tuned for the next instalment of All My Children.
Disclaimer: All characters are copyright MTV.
Special thanks: to all our beta readers and supporters: Malevolent Turtle, Renfield, Bootstrapper, Martin J Pollard, and Parker-man.
Plagiarism: "You would allow the flesh of a dead animal to enter the sacred temple of your body?" is lifted directly from Gilbert Shelton's The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Used without permission, but with thanks.
Quirks: Deref, who typed the words, is an Australian, so he's used Aussie English spellings and grammar conventions. He may also have inadvertently used some Aussie idioms though he's tried to keep in culture.
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