Divided We Fall(4)
Author:Trent Reedy

    I sighed. No time to worry about this stuff now. All I could do was get a little good car work done before I headed back to school for afternoon practice.

    * * *

    Practice that afternoon was rough. It was like Coach Shiratori was mad that he couldn’t have practice on Saturday and Sunday, so he worked us extra hard to cram three days into a couple hours. TJ made sure to pair up with me for tackling drills, trying to get even for the way I’d smoked him that morning. I wouldn’t say I beat him in the drills. I fought him to a good draw, though.

    After practice, at home, I hurt everywhere while I showered and dressed. Then I drank a huge glass of cool water, trying to get hydrated for the night’s party. Leaning back on my bed, I picked up a photo from my nightstand. It was taken last summer after I’d won first place in the senior high school division for bull riding. In the photo, me and JoBell were leaning against a white wooden fence, my arm around her. I’d been riding so much that summer that my brown hair was bleached nearly blond. I was sweating a little and there was a streak of dirt on my cheek, but JoBell just smiled at me.

    I carefully put the photo down and opened the drawer to my nightstand, reaching all the way to the back until I found the little black box. For about the millionth time, I looked at the golden ring with its single diamond. It was a whole quarter carat, and it cost a fortune, but JoBell was worth it. I knew we were way too young to get married, but maybe in a year or so we could get engaged. Then, when I had enough money to buy the shop from Schmidty, I’d be making enough for us to live on. It could work. It really could. I ran my finger down the glass over JoBell’s image.

    Hank McGrew cut into the silence from my COMMPAD, an older Samsung Cloud II. “Hey, partner, you got … a text coming in from JoBell.” Hank’s digi-assistant app didn’t run so well on a measly three gig and cellular. I picked up the comm.

    “Hank, put it up.”

    In the window at the lower right corner of the screen, the image of Hank McGrew gave a thumbs-up and then disappeared. The text blinked on-screen: Hey babe. Becca and me are at the lake. Where are you?

    From outside came a high-pitched noise and the crunch of tires on the gravel driveway. I hoped that wasn’t Mom’s car. From the squeaking sound, it needed something. Hopefully it was only belts.

    I looked out my window and sighed, then tapped the TEXT button and said, “At home. Mom just got here.” I tapped SEND.

    Yeah. Hurry up. I want to have fun tonight.

    I grinned. Keep your panties on. I’ll hurry.

    Her text came back. No panties tonight. Only the bikini. Come get it.

    “Danny?” Mom called from downstairs. Nothing to calm hot thoughts about JoBell like Mom shouting. “Danny? Where are you?” The shadow, that panicked disconnect from reality, was creeping into her voice worse than it had in a long time. Mom didn’t handle stress very well, especially when she was away from home. I always helped her relax when she got here. I’d have to move quickly.

    “Yeah, Mom —” I started to yell when Hank came back on my comm.

    “The National Guard’s calling, buddy. Thanks for ser … ving your country.”

    What could the Guard be calling about? Drill wasn’t until next month.

    “Danny!” I heard a glass break downstairs.

    “Mom, hang on! I’m here!” I shouted as I tapped in to the voice call. “Hello?”

    “Danny!” Mom was nearly to shriek mode. The shadow almost had her now.

    A deep voice came from the comm as I reached the bottom of the stairs. “Private First Class Wright?”

    “Yes,” I said. Mom had her hands up in front of her chest, picking at the skin around her fingernails and taking little steps as she shuffled around the living room. The shards of one of her ceramic horse knickknacks littered the floor by the end table. “This is Wright,” I said into my comm.

    “Oh! There you are.” Mom rushed over and hugged me tight. I slipped my arm around her and rubbed her back in the way that sometimes calmed her down. “At first I didn’t think you were here, and then I started to get nervous so I accidentally knocked the horse off —”

    “PFC Wright, are you listening? This is Staff Sergeant Meyers.”

    The voice came louder over the comm. I turned away so Mom couldn’t hear Meyers and held the comm away from my mouth. “I have a call, Mom,” I said to her. Into the comm I said, “Roger that. Go ahead.”

    “Rattlesnake. Rattlesnake. Rattlesnake.”

    Rattlesnake. Three times. The phrase was only used for one purpose. It meant our Guard unit was being activated.

    My heart thumped heavy in my chest. Getting this code now didn’t make sense. My unit, the 476th Combat Engineer Company, was already deployed to Iran. They left before I even went to basic. The only soldiers who drilled at the 476th armory outside of Farragut Falls were new privates like me and prior service transfers from other Guard units — soldiers who had moved to the area and switched to our company after most of the others had shipped out. They couldn’t be mobilizing us now.

    I slid out from Mom’s hug, smiling and pretending I was almost happy, like I was talking to one of the guys. “Go —” My mouth suddenly felt dry. I licked my lips. “Go ahead,” I said to the sergeant. I covered the mike on my comm. “Mom, have a seat in your chair. I’ll make you some tea.” A hot cup of chamomile tea always helped relax Mom’s nerves. She shuffled to her recliner as I slipped into the kitchen.

    “Private Wright?” said Sergeant Meyers. “You there? Prepare to copy.”

    “Yeah. Go ahead. I’m here, Sergeant.”

    “This is your mobilization call.”

    I wedged the comm between my ear and shoulder as I filled the teakettle and put it on the stove. “Iran or Pakistan?”

    “Negative,” Sergeant Meyers said. “By order of the governor of the state of Idaho, you are hereby ordered to report to your duty station, 476th Engineer Company armory, no later than eighteen hundred hours this evening.” He sounded stiff, like he was reading from something. “Uniform will be MCU — Multinational Combat Uniform. You will receive further instructions upon reporting for duty.”

    I cranked the heat up on the burner and tilted my head back and forth to stretch my neck. “You can’t tell me anything about what’s going on?”

    Meyers didn’t answer for a moment. I could hear the faint sound of voices in the background. Then he cleared his throat. “Listen, Private,” he said in a quiet, tough voice. “There’s trouble with this protest down in Boise. Stuff getting torn up. At least one police car has been flipped over, maybe set on fire. The governor is sending in the Guard to restore order. But you didn’t hear any of that from me. Understand?”

    “Roger that, Sergeant. I guess I’ll figure out what’s going on when I get to the armory.”

    “You need to man up and pay attention tonight,” said the sergeant. “This is the real deal. It’s going to be a long night. That a good copy?”

    “Roger,” I said.

    “Hurry up and get here. Do not be late. Out.” The line went dead. I stared at the “call ended” message on the screen.

    “Who was that?” Mom said.

    I jumped a little. How had I not heard her enter the kitchen? She wasn’t shaking as much. “You okay, Mom?” I tried to act happy. “You had me worried when you came in. Why don’t you have a seat?”

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