I squinted in the direction of my desk, seeing a form hunched over textbooks in the desk light. Groaning, I tried to burrow under my blankets but gave up as my feet became uncovered. Forcing myself out of bed I walked over and stood behind my sister.
“Max, it’s three in the morning, get some sleep,” I said, reaching for the lamp. Her hand shot out and batted mine away.
“I have to finish these case studies. Once I do that and write up my infield solutions, I’ll go to bed. Class isn’t until eleven,” she explained, looking at me briefly.
“How long till the final exam?” Max strained to see the clock before finally turning to me.
“One week, thirteen hours and forty-three minutes,” she said, returning to her writing. Nodding, I turned and disappeared for several minutes. Returning, I set several items next to her. “Hot cocoa and a sandwich to fuel your brain,” I said, tapping her head.
“Thanks,” Max said, scribbling down a few notes and then continuing to write her paper. Scratching my back, I shuffled back to my bed and flopped down. It was not easy getting back to sleep with the light on, no matter how much I wanted to. Eventually the lamp clicked off and I could hear her amble to her bed. My eyes remained open long after I could tell Max had fallen asleep—her breathing evened out and left me awake in silence for what felt like hours. At some point I must have drifted into a doze for hearing my sister move about the room gathering her books woke me.
“—time is it?” I said from under my pillow.
“Nine in the morning,” Max said, her pen scratching on the paper in what sounded to be a hurry. Sitting up, I looked up and saw her once again writing. “Breakfast is on the desk,” she said, gesturing from her bed to the desk by the window. I yawned and slipped out of bed, hugging myself as my feet hit the cold wood floor.
“Still working on that thing?” I pulled the chair to face her and sat down taking a sip of the coffee.
“Nope, finishing paperwork for other things—my application actually,” she said, her eyes skimming across the page a few times before she returned to writing. Observing my sister for a few moments, I looked down and continued eating. The food was surprisingly still warm, at least slightly, but I didn’t really mind. As long as it was food, I was happy. Finishing it all, I sat back and stretched a bit. Although being in the military got me used to getting up super early, I still felt a bit sleepy. It felt good to at least sleep in a bit. Work wasn’t until later, surprisingly enough. Forcing myself to get up, I gathered my toiletries—which included a towel, bar of soap and toothbrush—and left for the bathrooms.
Several others were in the hall also, some heading off to work while others like myself were just getting up. After a quick shower I was much more awake than before. I had left my military jacket in the room, but didn’t really care as it was less likely I’d run into any superior on this floor. As long as I was wearing my pants and getting ready, it’d be fine. Pushing open the door I blinked to see Max pulling on her officer’s uniform jacket.
“You’re leaving so soon? I thought your class wasn’t until eleven,” I said, hanging up my towel and setting down the bar of soap and toothbrush.
“I would finish this further, but really there is no need. There’s nothing left for me to say and really it would be pointless for me to go on,” Max said, her eyes gliding over the paper once more before it was neatly tucked into a little notebook. “I’ll be back later. My application letter is already sent and all that’s left to do is wait and study.” Nodding to me, I watched her leave the room and head for class. Moving to the desk I saw her finally cross the base and head for the military campus.
“Let’s hope that letter comes with good news,” I said, grabbing my boots to tug them on. Putting them on and carefully tucking in my pants as required, I pulled out my jacket and slid it on. Like many of the jackets, it was a bit snug, but did not limit my movement as much as one would think. The material was cold against my bare arms and shoulders; however it would not take long to heat up. Grabbing what work I had brought home with me, I headed towards my office building. Pushing open the door of the office, I nodded to my superior and took my seat at the desk I typically occupied.
A neat stack of files sat on the top, waiting for me to go through them for the day. Another day of reading and signing—much of the time that was all we did. Other days we would actually write reports, which is what I was hoping for; unfortunately it looks like that wish was not going to come true. The cases I had brought with me were placed in our “OUT” box where they would be filed away by some librarian-esque person.
After having read a whole report so far, I glanced sideways to see that Jade had yet to come in. Odd, I thought, normally she’s here before me. Pulling out a pen from a drawer I signed on the bottom and initialed in several other places. It made very little sense to me as to why I needed to sign in so many places, but alas this process was never clear. All we were told was to sign and initial. Had it been anything else I’m sure our brains would have exploded—mostly for the fact the task was so simple.
What seemed like hours was in fact only a few minutes before Jade finally entered the office, greeting our superior the same as I had, and moved to her seat. Glancing up at our boss, I watched as he left the office carrying his jacket. The instant the door shut with a click we both leaned back in our seats.
“Finally he’s gone,” she said, slumping in her seat. I laughed, closing the current file I had been reading. “We should go get coffee. Coffee sounds good right now.” Grabbing my mug, I stood and moved towards the door.
“May I escort you to the lounge to retrieve the drink of the caffeine gods?” Holding my arm out to Jade, I waited for her to grab her own coffee mug before we moved towards the lounge.
“Go figure Colonel Drake left early. He’s probably off on some date, or sleeping around,” she said, rolling her eyes. “He’s a pig.”
“It’s a bit early to get a prostitute, Jade. Besides, it would make more sense for him to go to some strip club. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to get a prostitute anyway. His career could be over if he did,” I reasoned, stepping through the door into the lounge. “Imagine all those that want to kill him off because of his rank.” Lifting the coffee pot up I frowned finding it abnormally light.
“No! It’s gone!” Jade said, hanging her head.
“Whoa, calm down. All we have to do is make a new pot. Fresh coffee, just imagine that,” I said, setting down my mug on the counter. I immediately got to work on washing out the pot and then getting it set up for a fresh pot. Jade was draped across the couch, groaning from the lack of caffeine in her system.
“Hurry. Up.” She was glaring at the coffee maker as I sat down on the adjacent chair and slouched down. The enticing smell off freshly brewed coffee wafted through the lounge and probably into the hallway too, at last it was almost finished. Inhaling the scent several times, I forced myself up from the comfy chair and poured a cup for myself and then for Jade. Jumping up excitedly, she practically tackled me as she forced her cup from my hand.
“Careful it’s—“ I started before she took a sip and then coughed once as it was too hot.
“OW! Why didn’t you warn me?!” She said half glaring it my like it was my fault.
“Hey! I tried to warn you and tell you it was hot,” I said, taking the creamer from the refrigerator and pouring a bit in my own cup. I held it out to Jade, who took it and dumped a good deal of the liquid into her own mug. “Cream with a little bit of coffee, eh?” Taking a small sip of my own, I returned to my seat.
“MMmm… So good,” she said, drinking some more. Looking at the clock, I growled, seeing we should probably be going back and finish the rest of the work. “Come on, let’s go,” I said, shoving myself off the recliner and towards the door. Jade followed, not exactly happy but at least complying. Our office was almost exactly how we left it once we returned. It was no surprise that none of our coworkers came in today. Between us, the work got finished and filed; at long last we could head back to our dorms.
“Max didn’t visit today, kind of odd for her,” Jade said, tugging her jacket closer around her as the cold night air had a bite to it.
“She’s studying for her final. Hopefully she’ll get a letter back saying where she’ll be assigned,” I said, shoving my hands in my pocket.
“With all the studying she’s doing, I’m sure she’ll do fine,” Jade said, looking up at the clear night sky. It being so clear is what made this night so cold. Inhaling I watched my breath spiral up as I exhaled.
“Hopefully. I just don’t want her to sent to the frontlines. She’s too young for that Jade,” I said, my eyes narrowing at the thought. “It was hard enough waiting to see her again and how if she went out as a medic, I’d always worry.”
“You have a right to worry, Marcus. She’s your little sister.” We went up the stone steps and flashed our badges before continuing to the stairwell. Upon reaching the top step of our floor, I stumbled over the final step right on my face. I remained there for several moments, completely embarrassed at the incident. “The longer you stay down there, the more I’m never going to let you live this down.” Pushing myself up, I ran my hand through my hair.
“Nothing happened, I swear. Just thought I saw a quarter,” I said, moving forward to my door. Bidding good night with a wave to Jade’s laughter, I closed the door and leaned against it. Stripping off my jacket and pants, I pulled on my pajama bottoms and collapsed onto my bed. It was surprisingly quiet in our room… and then of course it occurred to me that Max wasn’t studying. Lifting my head, I looked around the space to see her asleep on top of a book. Seeing this pulled a memory from the back of my mind. At some point I had seen this before, when we were kids and my sister was first learning to read. After hours of pouring over pictures and words, I would find her sleeping.
Sliding out from under my own blankets and to her bed, I pulled the book out from under Max and tucked her in. She may think she’s making her own decisions, but that doesn’t mean her big brother still can’t tuck her in. Clicking off the light, I drifted to my own bed where I could finally sleep without interruption.
What felt like months was a matter of weeks as eventually that day came. The day Max got her letter. Jade and I were coming home from work, both equally tired from the large amount of paperwork we had to do today. Already the fighting was getting worse, causing the death toll to rise. With each death led to more work for us, more phone calls to make, and more stories to explain. I had never heard so many crying parents—fathers and mothers alike.
Reaching the top step and turning to head up the next flight of stairs I looked up to the sound of thundering footsteps. Some weight hit me and knocked me to the ground before Jade.
“I got it! I got it!” She hugged me and then leaped up and hugged Jade.
“Congratulations! Looks like all that studying finally paid off. Well, where’s your first assignment?”
“I just have to report tomorrow to Colonel Drake and I should get orders from there,” Max said, pulling away and holding the letter.
“Ah, you’ll be working with us until you get a better assignment. Maybe you’ll be put in our unit. I’m sure Marcus would feel better if you were,” Jade said, patting Max’s shoulder. I stood up, brushing off my jacket.
“Awesome, now I get to boss you around,” I said, ruffling my sister’s hair. The three of us retreated to our rooms, chatting about the day’s events and what exactly the mess hall kitchen staff served that night for dinner.
If only we could have seen what was coming and at least prepared for what happened next.