Jeffrey has been gone only a week and in his absence I have conducted myself impeccably. I’ve been in bed by ten, alone, for five of those seven nights, which for me is practically Saint-like. There has been no word from Jeffrey, which, while not entirely unexpected, leaves me in a state of permanent anxiety. If it wasn’t for Jeffrey, I wouldn’t even be here. I would’ve died, along with my parents in the first wave of nuclear attack. That day will forever be burned into my memory.
“Hello, Casey,” my dad’s voice dropped low, his green eyes narrowed as he gazed down at the pretty cadet.
“Hello Richard,” she grinned back, showing a mouth too full of teeth.
“This is my boy, Reed,” dad announced, pushing me forward.
“Well, aren’t you a cutie,” Casey announced, dropping onto her knee to look me in the eyes. I hoped she wasn’t a cheek-pincher. “He looks just like you,” Casey continued, looking up at my dad, who chuckled and stood a little straighter.
“I have a meeting in ten,” dad said, “and he’s bored. Could you keep an eye on him for an hour?”
Casey’s face dropped, her teeth disappearing inside her mouth. I knew that look. Casey didn’t want to watch me, but she didn’t want to admit it.
“I’m kind of busy, Rich,” she said, her eyes darting between him and me.
“Aw, come on, Case. I won’t be long. I’ll make it up to you,” he added, and Casey’s tongue darted out to lick her bottom lip.
“Okay,” she nodded, but she looked a lot less friendly than before.
“Great!” Dad clapped his hands and rubbed them together smugly. “Alright, champ, Casey here’s gonna keep an eye on you for a bit while daddy gets some work done.”
“I want to stay with you,” I say. “I want to see the tanks. You promised!”
“Now come on, Reed,” his voice is firmer now. “Dad has work to do. I’ll tell you what, as soon as I’m done, I’ll come and get you and we can take a tour, okay?”
“To see the tanks?”
“To see the tanks,” he promises.
“Mister McCoy,” a young cadet nods as he runs past, and jolts me out of my reverie. I refrain from shaking my head to clear it and instead I simply nod in return. Later, I am sitting in the shadows of the changing room when I hear a youthful voice ask: “Have you seen the new recruit?”
“Yes!” A chorus of excited agreement, “blonde, blue-eyed, legs that come up to here!” I can’t see them, but I assume the boy is gesturing at some unrealistic space above his hips.
“I wouldn’t mind those legs wrapped around my waist.”
“Don’t get any ideas,” the first voice cautions. “You know McCoy’s going to tag and bag her before any of us can even offer her a hand.” Guffaws of laughter and a few half-hearted shows of bravado follow.
“The man’s a legend,” another voice concedes eventually.
I get to my feet, not wanting to listen anymore. It’s always amused me, maybe even stroked my ego to have the younger cadets hero-worship me, but this is not how I want to be idolised. Not for something so trivial, something that comes so easily. I may love the ladies, but I do believe in Jeffrey’s vision to restore Kenneth to power and resurrect the old ways. I leave the change room through the back door and walk right into the topic of the cadets’ conversation.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is the new recruit who has the boys falling over themselves. Blonde, blue-eyed, with a fierceness about her that is intended to keep men at bay, but instead only makes her more appealing. She is so striking that for a moment I don’t even register the shy girl walking beside her.
“Sorry, ladies,” I drawl, instinctively giving the cadet a wicked grin.
“Mister McCoy,” she salutes, “Cadet Rachel Barrows, reporting for duty, Sir.”
“Nice to have you on board, Barrows.” I don’t look down. Those boys weren’t kidding about her legs. I deliberately turn to her companion, a pink-faced, sweet-looking girl who, although she has the same colouring as Rachel, pales in comparison. She is like a watered down version of the cadet, but her shy smile is appealing and I am determined to prove Jeffrey wrong. “And you are, miss?”
“Jessica,” the girl mumbles, meeting my gaze for a second before her courage fails her.
I extend my hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” I say, taking Jessica’s hand first. She is nothing special and so I focus on her, a simple, plain girl who cannot possibly get me into trouble.
Or so I think.