The day the discharge is finalized is the day it really hits him that it's over.
(It took a month to get his paperwork fast-tracked through the system; a month to sort through all of his things to figure out what belongs to the government and what belongs to himself. The house goes back to the Army, and so does the SUV he's spent the last few years driving. He's got a decent stockpile of weaponry in the safe in the closet, but only a few of the handguns and a shotgun are actually licensed in his name.)
Most everything he owns goes into a storage unit, and will stay there until he's found a place to call home.
He's got a couple errands he needs to run
before he heads out of town. They're simple enough; call up an old friend and call in a favor or two, and he's got the license and hack into the network to prove that one Gertrude Maria Chacon
exists in his world, with a clear record to her name.
He's at a gas station outside of the city, midway through filling up the tank on the Wrangler when something clicks
in his mind and a cold wave of nerves runs over him. He feels exposed, here, standing next to the vehicle.There's no cover. If someone starts shooting you've got nowhere to hide.
His handgun is tucked into the center console and he's wondering how long it would take to duck behind the door and grab it, eyes scanning the other vehicles as he tries to identify the threat. It's only after a moment that he realizes that there isn't one
He replaces the fuel nozzle with a quiet click
, shaking off the nerves that clench at the base of his spine as he climbs back into the Jeep, starting the engine and pulling away from the station, headed back for the highway.
He's not exactly sure where he's going.
It doesn't matter.You've got nowhere to be.
He drives for a couple of hours until the shadows start to disappear in the noonday sunlight, then pulls off and finds himself a place to stop, a place to consume a bottle of water and a protein bar. (It's really an excuse to wait for the sun to shift in the sky -- shadows are the first hint of movement and the first sign of trouble on the horizon, and he finds himself missing them even though he's not sure why.)
It's a rest stop off of I-40, a handful of other cars parked in the spaces around him, and he eyes the drivers and passengers with an idle curiosity. He wonders where they're going. He wonders what their plans are. He wonders who might be on business, who might be on vacation. He wonders who has a criminal record. He debates which person would be more likely to snap and blow the tiny information booth to hell.Stop it.
The questions echoing in his own skull end up being too damn loud for him to handle, so he climbs back into the Jeep, heading further down the road. Looking for something he's not sure he'll be able to find.
He burns another tank of gas before he finds a hotel in Wilkesboro where he finally feels like he can breathe
without iron weights pressing against his chest. The woman at the front desk asks where he's from and where he's headed, and he answers with something noncommittal as he books a one night stay.
The hotel room is quiet. He's grateful for it.
His duffel occupies a patch of carpet near the wall, and he sits on the end of the bed with his head in his hands, trying to focus on anything but the chill in his chest and the prickles of nerves running down his spine.
(There was a stairwell up to the second floor that made him hesitate before he headed up, and that makes him irritated
. This isn't Beirut and he knows it
, but it doesn't stop him from glancing out the window to check the non-existent rooftops for snipers.)
He skips dinner in favor of a shower. And eventually (at some unknown hour of the night) he falls asleep.
Tomorrow will be another day.
(The first day of the rest of his life.)