On The Road
Jessica took a deep breath and set out to enjoy her afternoon. She leaned back in the sports car’s comfortable seat and let her mind empty. As her blood pressure slowly lowered she was starting to delight cruising the highway in the Corvette. The sun was shining, and the back roads were free of traffic. The sky was bright blue with a few clouds high above her. She idly wondered how she could sign up for a meteorology class. Jessica had always wondered about weather science. All those different layers of clouds fascinated her. Meteorology seemed like a fascinating science to study.
She thought about her limited education. Moving around from one Marine base to another took the joy out of attending school. She briefly thought about the lucky kids who stayed in one place and made lifelong friends. She barely had a high school education and no memories of school friends.
Even though she felt a great sense of accomplishment and the relief of the mission completed, she wondered if there was more in her life. She’d become an accomplished soldier and now a thief. She took a few deep breaths. She’d survived another mission and lived to fight another day. That was a good thing. Jessica wondered if that was all there was to life. Was fighting against the unending evil enough? Would that fulfill her?
After her adrenaline-filled upset stomach had subsided, she stretched her muscles while driving the tiny two-seater. Jessica focused on driving the classic Corvette. It handled well for an old car.
She briefly made an accounting of the past six weeks. The mission was finished. She’d have no more contact with the Rossi mob. She felt a sense of satisfaction from a job well planned and executed. She relaxed and let her mind drift back to long ago and far away places. She smiled.
Growing up, the basement of the Fort Jennings house was the Jade boys’ hideaway. As the May sun cooked the Georgia Marine base, it was the perfect place to escape after school.
Only a third of the base houses had basements. The chosen few each had the bright yellow and black signs with the bold letters, FALLOUT SHELTER on the outside corners of the house. They were part of the base emergency system for a nuclear attack. The signs were rusty and fading. The Cuban missile crisis was thirty years ago; that was the last time America thought about the atomic bomb and nuclear devastation.
Neither parent objected to them disappearing for hours at a time. Their father was busy training new troops, and their mom had become the perfect Marine’s wife volunteering everywhere and trying to keep herself sober and busy.
The Jade boys, James, fourteen and his brother Robert, eighteen, had unfolded two of the emergency cots. They were lying there eating peaches and having an animated discussion about the expiration dates stamped on the canned goods.
The stock of food and bottled water were stacked along the walls. Every two years, soldiers came by and brought new food just before the cans were set to expire. The soldiers replaced the cans with new ones but never questioned the missing inventory of peaches.
As Robert opened his second can of peaches, he examined the expiration date stamped on the top. “This expiration date is bullshit. I think these peaches will last forever. I think they’ve been irradiated with atomic energy to keep them from going bad.” He reached his spoon in and put two large peach slices into his mouth.
James laughed. “Irradiated my ass. They’re just good old Georgia peaches canned by good old Georgia prison labor. They inject chemicals in each can to kill the bacteria. Then the sealed can keeps the bacteria and the dirty air out.”
James had seen many chain gangs working in the ditches on the side of the road all over Georgia, and the vision stuck with him. Since then, all unknown labor was done by chain gangs.
James was on his second can of peaches. He didn’t even look at his brother when he asked, “What are you going to do tonight after graduation? Are you going to get drunk?”
Robert nodded his head. “Yep. Totally wasted. Ron has a joint and my contribution is a pint of bourbon, compliments of our dear supreme leader.”
James sat up and smiled. “You got into his stash? Isn’t he going to know?”
Robert shook his head, “Nope. I’ve been tapping his bottle for three weeks, taking a drop or two every morning. He looks at it and buys another bottle thinking he drank it.”
“That’s brilliant! Are you and Ron finally going to get it on?”
Robert looked very serious, then grinned. “I think tonight might be the night. We’ve had a few scrimmages, just two-hand touch.”
James held his thumb up. “Yeah, brother. Maybe a touchdown tonight?”
Robert laughed. “I don’t know. I wonder who’s shyer, Ron or me. But, if it’s going to happen, this would be a great night. I mean, it would seal the deal.”
“‘Bout time.” James crossed his arms over his chest.
Robert shook his head. “Nah. It’s only been a couple of months, and I mean, well, you just can’t go up to some guy you’ve just met and say, ‘Hey, are you feeling gay? ‘Cause I am.’ It’s just not that simple. I mean you have to dance around the topic for a while until you feel confident.”
James was still busying himself with his can of peaches, “Yeah, well, I don’t know when I’ve seen you this happy.”
“I think I’m happy cause I’m getting out of here! Going anywhere sounds better than being home.”
“Are you still postponing school for a year?”
“Yeah. I need to figure out who I am. They say you can walk the Appalachian Trail from Fall to Spring if you start up north.”
“That's so cool.”
“Well, I’ve still gotta figure out how I’m going to tell mom and dad that I’m gay. I can’t face seeing dad getting all twisted and bent out of shape. I thought if I wrote it all down and just left it behind to read, they’d calm down eventually.”
James looked at his older brother. They’d talked about this many times.
Robert was lying there talking to the ceiling.“No matter what I told him, I think dad would freak out if he knew.”
James nodded, “I think you’re right. I don’t think there’re any gay men in the Marines and that’s all dad cares about.”
Robert shook his head. He agreed, “Maybe I’ll never tell him. I’ll go off to college, get a job, and move away.”
James looked at Robert, “Yeah, maybe that works for you, but I don’t think dad could stand it if he knew I was a girl.” James had read all about transsexuals last year. He always knew he was born in the wrong body and after learning the word, he did a lot of research. “I can’t ever see dad buying that I’ve always felt that I’m female.”
Robert shook his head and laughed. “We’re both bad news, huh? But, you’re so lucky to have mom on your side.” Robert looked at his little brother.
James nodded and grinned, “She’s supported me for a long time.”
Robert was envious, “You’re so lucky.”
“Well, I guess I am. She got me clothes to wear when dad was out in the field or Iraq. But, she made me promise not to ever tell anyone.”
“That’s great for you, but I wonder what she’d say if I told her I was gay.”
“I think she’d love you and warn you to stay away from dad!”
Robert stood up, looked at him, and smiled. “In a perfect world, you wouldn’t be James anymore, little sister. You’d have to be Jessica.” He leaned over and kissed the top of his brother’s hair gently.
“Why Jessica?” James was curious.
“Cause it’s a pretty name and someday you’re going to be a pretty woman.”
James moved over and hugged his big brother. As he held him tightly, he whispered. “What are we going to do?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all,” Robert put his hand on the top of his brother’s head and gently stroked. Using his dad’s favorite word, he imitated his father’s voice, “It’s all just one big cluster fuck.”
That started them both laughing. Robert turned to his brother, “Riddle: How do you tell the Master Sergeant that one son likes boys and the other one wants to be a girl? Answer: You don’t.”
After the laughter had faded and they were opening their third can, James pointed his spoon at Robert. “So, promise me. If you move away and go to college and get a job, it would be all right that I can live with you. That way, I can grow up to be Jessica, and you can be gay all the time.”
Robert shook his head and laughed, “Yeah, gay all the time. Well, I promise, little sister. When I get a job, Jessica will always have a place to live with me.”
James smiled, “That’s going to be great. But where do we want to live?”
Robert grinned. “Any place that there’s no Marine base. Far, far, away.”
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