I woke up this morning not feeling . . . much of anything.

I've had plenty of mornings like that, where I wake up not feeling any single emotion. Sometimes, it's actually nothing, and sometimes it's a lot of emotions all at once.

The nothingness was laced with a sense of dread and uncertainty, and I wasn't really sure what it meant.

I've been feeling off ever since the squad was relocated to Brazil. Not a terrible place to be, but you know I don't take certain changes well.

We got the bunk beds again, and they were actually better than the ones we had in Spain months and months ago. The mattresses were passable, and they didn't have pillows, so we could get our own pillows, provided they weren't bigger than the fucking bunk itself. Which sucks because I found this giant plush pillow that I could lay on all day.

Anyways, the move wasn't exactly uneventful. Not even three days after we arrived in Rio, the Marines stationed up in Manaus needed supplies, so Hicks sent Spunkmeyer and Ferro to deliver.

Spunkmeyer and Ferro got shot down by a group of rebels hiding in the Amazon. When they didn't come back at the scheduled time, everyone was worried. We waited and waited, and we got nothing. No one was at all prepared to deal with the possibility that our two pilots might've been killed.

We couldn't just crash into the jungle looking for them, but at least we didn't have to wait long to get authorization from USCM Command and the Brazilian military to go searching. Thankfully, we found them, albeit in rough shape. Spunkmeyer badly injured his ankle, and Ferro had contracted an infection from a nasty wound on her arm.

So far, Spunkmeyer hasn't told us the details of their time in the jungle, and I can't blame him. It sounds like it was hell, especially since they were being chased by these insurgents and their Annexers.

The Annexers weren't too hard to handle-at least for me. One took a sniff of me and didn't make a move. I think it's because I'm covered in the scents of so many other Annexers. Who knows. The little fuck didn't attack me and that's all I care about.

I stretched and lay on my belly while listening to Hicks bang on the door, telling us to get up. In the bunk above me, Hudson was yawning . . . and then passed gas.

"Classy," I said.

"Thanks, man!" Hudson replied.

"Do you have any manners at all?" Wierzbowski groaned while sitting up.

"Uh . . ."

"I'll take that as a 'no.'"

Spunkmeyer glared up at Hudson. "You have no shame, that's what."

"You missed me, man," Hudson laughed.

Spunkmeyer pulled himself out of his bunk, his bandaged ankle clearly slowing him down. It was bad enough to need surgery, so he's out of commission for about a month. He kept giving Hudson a dirty look.

We got dressed and headed down to the mess hall. Part of me felt like today was just going to be normal. We'd train, we'd play, Hudson would be Hudson. Nothing would be off. I hoped that's what we were in for.

I mean, this conversation topic sold it:

"Why the fuck do some people put ketchup on scrambled eggs? That is just as disgusting as everything Hudson does in the bathroom," Spunkmeyer said.

"Some people just like ketchup on their eggs, I guess," Dietrich replied. "Why do you like being a dickhead in the morning?"

"And why does everyone compare everything gross to me, man?" Hudson asked.

"Because you are the most disgusting human being anyone's ever had to suffer with."

"It's a little early for you to be worked up, Dietrich," Wierzbowski said, softly.

Without a word, Dietrich looked down at her breakfast.

"I will admit ketchup on eggs doesn't look appetizing," Wierzbowski added.

"Doesn't smell good, either," I said. "What's next? Ketchup on fried eggs? That thought just made my stomach turn."

"Mine, too, man," Hudson replied.

Hicks was giving us all a look. "Do you guys have anything better to talk about in the morning."

"I don't think so, man."

"We're banned from bathroom talk, so, yeah, we got nothing else to talk about," I added.

Apone gave me a dirty look. "Don't you start, Drake."

"I won't, I won't."

We did some shooting drills after breakfast, and then I went looking for Ferro. Her illness wasn't overly serious, but it was enough to keep her off-duty while a powerful antibiotic was in her system. She seemed tired more frequently, and who can blame her? That, and she just got out of a hellish experience.

I found her in the loading bay, sitting on a crate while watching some maintenance guys go in and out of the new dropship. Without saying anything, I sat next to her, sighing before saying, "Hey."

"Hey, Drake," Ferro replied, not looking at me. "What do you want?"

"Just came to talk to you," I said. "You looked . . . sad and lonely."

Ferro was quiet for a moment. "I guess I am. I'm . . . kinda worried about Spunkmeyer. He's been quiet ever since we got back. I know why, but I don't understand why he's not . . . talking to me. His own girlfriend."

"I sometimes have a hard time talking to Vasquez about what's going on in my head," I said. "A lot of times, it's because I don't know how to word what's going on in my head, not because I don't trust her. That might be what's also going on with Spunkmeyer. I wouldn't be too . . . upset, if that's the right word. Worried? Yes. Upset?" I shrugged. "If you act upset, that might deter him from wanting to talk to you about what's going on."

Ferro nodded, then finally looked at me. "Thanks, Drake."

I put my arm around her, rubbing her shoulder reassuringly. "No problem. Wanna go explore the city? Maybe take a walk on the beach?"

"Can't leave base till I get the OK from Dietrich."

"Am I allowed to kiss you?"

"Probably not."

I kissed her forehead anyway. "You look like you need one. And maybe a hug."

Ferro adjusted herself to hug me, resting her head on my shoulder. She didn't say anything, even though I could sense there was more in her head that she wasn't telling me. I understood completely. Sometimes, all anyone wants is someone to hold, to feel better before they feel comfortable saying anything. She didn't feel like going to Spunkmeyer, so she went to me.

We sat in silence for a few minutes, a lot longer than we usually hug each other. Eventually, we let go, and Ferro left without so much as a "bye." I remained where I was on the crate. I know how hard it is to just tell someone what's wrong, and I know I can't pressure Ferro into talking to me, or anyone. Including Spunkmeyer.

It's been almost a year since I had to postpone my CPR recertification. I'm the only person in the unit who doesn't have it. Today, Dr. Ranelli wanted to see if I was capable of passing the test. His plan was this; I practice in his office, and if all goes well, I will take the test in his office.

Frankly, I just can't believe it's been a year since I started therapy.

Ranelli already had a practice dummy laid out on the floor. I told him I needed to do this unassisted-meaning, no coaching, no relaxing music, no nothing.

You'd think that since I knew this was coming, I'd be OK. It's . . . honestly a lot harder than you think it is.

It's been a long, long time since I had any flashbacks related to rescuing Hudson. I don't think that means they've gone away. They're just sleeping.

I knelt by the dummy, trying to tell myself that it was just a plastic model. I began the compressions, calmly, at first. As I pressed down harder, I started to feel lightheaded and nauseated. I started to hear a heartbeat. Was it mine? Or was it Hudson's?

It can't be Hudson's. I'm not trying to revive Hudson.

The memory surged forward with the force of a tidal wave. I was carrying Hudson out of the building, hearing him choking. The next thing I knew, I was being told to sit back and breathe.

Ranelli waited for me to emerge from my mind before saying anything to me. "I don't think you'd pass the test."

"You think?" I said.

Ranelli ignored my snarky remark. "I think what we're going to try is continuous exposure. You will practice CPR once a day, until you no longer suffer a flashback in the process."

"How's that supposed to work?"

"It's to desensitize you to the process. I should've done that a long time ago with you."

I fell silent for a moment. "I do remember you saying you'd try 'prolonged exposure' with me."

"I did say that. You've improved greatly in terms of cognitive processing, but what I've observed is that you still shut down when confronted with certain stressors."

"I didn't think I had any control over that."

"You do and you don't. You have to work to gain control over that response."

I nodded.

"I hope you understand I am very proud of you. You have grown significantly over the last year."

I wasn't sure what to say, because Ranelli saying that got me thinking for the rest of the day.

I guess I didn't notice it until Ranelli actually said he was proud of me, and I'm probably the only one who feels this way, but I got the impression that he's been just as much as a father figure to me as he has been my therapist.

If there's anyone in my family I'd be comfortable talking to again, it'd be my father. The trouble is getting him alone. It always was. I probably inherited my emotional difficulties from him. Maybe I had a higher chance of PTSD, or any other mental disorder, because of that. I don't know.

I can't say he was never around, because he was around. Just not emotionally. I know he remained in a miserable job because it was paying enough for us to be sustained, but no matter how many times he brought up that he wanted to quit, my mother wouldn't let him. That much I remember. She used the same argument over and over-"This is better for your children," and he offered no resistance. I can remember him trying so hard to teach me things about manhood.

After all, he was the one who taught me how to shoot. And it was his gun I took when I ran away.

I do wonder, at times, if he managed to get himself in a better place. Maybe he got a divorce when my sister was old enough to be independent. Maybe he's tried to contact me.

Or not. It's been a little over four years. Faylene should be moved out by now. Dad has no reason to stay.

Then again, with the way things were, I wouldn't put it past him to . . . do what General Paulson did.

I didn't tell Ranelli any of the explicit details, but he knew I was distant, emotionally, from my family. I guess he's been trying to be a father figure to me. Now, I know he doesn't need to teach me about the proper way to treat a lady, or sex, or shaving, or anything else every man should know, but he has been teaching me things that everyone should know, because we all have emotions, and sometimes, they get out of control. Sometimes, there's something wrong with them, and we need help to get them back in a more manageable place.

I know damn well Dad didn't have that. He was probably afraid to get help. Maybe that's why I've been an integral part of some of the relationships my friends have, because, subconsciously, I don't want to see them end up like my parents.

I decided to keep these thoughts to myself.

While laying in my bunk with my journal, I didn't hear Hudson walk in, whistling. "Hey, man," he said, knocking on the side of the bed.

"What?" I asked.

"Everything OK?"

"Yeah." I closed my journal. "Do you need something?"

"I was just gonna ask if you wanted to join me and 'Ski for dinner later. There's this beachside restaurant I saw on my walk earlier. It smelled so good, man-"

"Alright, alright, I'll come with you." I climbed down from my bunk, and had another thought. "Is Spunkmeyer allowed out yet?"

"Uh . . . I don't think so. Three days, Dietrich checks him, and then he can leave base if he wants." Hudson glanced toward the door. "I'm worried about him, man. He's been . . . quiet."

"You know what's funny? Ferro said the exact same thing to me this morning."


"Well, they both just got out of a terrifying experience. It doesn't surprise me they're both not themselves. Just give them some time, and they'll open up about it when they're ready. It took you a long time to talk about what happened with you when you were trapped in Hornby's lab."

Hudson nodded. "Yeah. I just hope they don't suppress their memories like I did, man."

It was nice for it to just be the three of us going somewhere. That was something that would never change, no matter where we get stationed.

Wierzbowski and I followed Hudson down a street along the beach, to a diner with long windows offering a panoramic view of the water. I was just glad there weren't a lot of people inside. We were seated, and given drink menus, and Wierzbowski asked for water.

After Hudson and I ordered our drinks, we handed the menus back to the waitress, and we shot the breeze.

"I tried calling Eliza this morning. Didn't get an answer, but I left a message," Wierzbowski started. "Been a little . . . on edge all day over it. I'm thousands of miles away from her."

"I know how you feel, man," Hudson replied. "It sucks." He looked at me. "At least your girlfriend's with you twenty-four-seven, man."

I shrugged. "I don't get cuddles anymore."

We were served our drinks, and Hudson took a few gulps of his beer before continuing the conversation. "I just realized, man, we're probably gonna be here for Thanksgiving and Christmas."

"And?" I said.

"Christmas ain't Christmas without snow, man."

"At least we all have each other. Not like any of us have family we're dying to see again." I took a sip of my whiskey.

"It is a pity Eliza and I can't spend our first Christmas as a couple together," Wierzbowski said.

"Same here, man. I'll ask Miranda to send me goodies," Hudson added.

"And Vasquez and I will probably go fuck behind the armory or something. Joy to the world." I looked down at my glass.

Hudson snorted. Wierzbowski raised an eyebrow. "Is . . . everything alright, Drake? Surely, you haven't have that much to drink for you to be such a dump."

I sighed. "Sorry. Just . . . was thinking about something that happened earlier today."

"Like what, man?" Hudson asked.

"Well . . . after my therapy session today, Ranelli told me that he was proud of me, and I . . . I wondered if . . . all this time, he's been a father figure to me."

"It's possible," Wierzbowski said. "Was your father . . . not involved much in your life?"

"Yes and no. It's . . . not something I feel like I can explain just yet. I mean . . . I . . . w-what am I going to do when he decides I'm ready to function without therapy, and leaves? I can't be emotionally attached."

"I think that's something he'll discuss with you in time."

"Yeah," Hudson said. "You really are getting better, man. We can all see it. This will be no problem for you." He smiled and patted my shoulder.

I nodded a little. "Thanks. That was the only thing on my mind. Everything is . . . peachy with me."

Hudson raised his glass, and downed the rest of his drink.

We talked until we ordered dinner. Hudson didn't say a word as he ate. Just giving the occasional moan or "This is so good, man."

Wierzbowski and I left him alone.

"I know the holidays are a few months off, but I guess it wouldn't hurt to start planning something," Wierzbowski said.

"We'll take everyone out to dinner at a fancy place. Put up a Charlie Brown tree in the lounge. Ho, ho, ho, Hallelujah, Merry Christmas."

Wierzbowski folded his arms over his chest. "I think we can put in more effort than that."

"Christmas is three-and-a-half months away, man," Hudson said with his mouth full. "Plenty of time for us to plan."

I guess the reason I was hesitant on this was because I was jealous. They had people that they wanted to see and spend the holidays with. I don't. I got halfway through my dinner when I realized I was picking at it. You can't bring a box of food back to base, so I gave it to our living disposal unit.

Hudson somehow managed to have a full dinner, plus half of mine, and a beer. He put down his fork and leaned back in his seat, loosening his belt and giving a contented sigh.

"You're going to funk up the bedroom," I said.

"No guarantees, man," Hudson replied.

"By all you just ate, I'd say it is a guarantee," Wierzbowski muttered.

We had to be back before curfew, and as soon as we entered our living section of the base, Hicks told us to grab our nightclothes and get in the shower.

The other guys were already in and getting undressed. Hudson stripped and didn't bother wrapping a towel around his waist when he went in the showers, just hanging the towel on a hook by his stall before closing himself in.

"Do you do this at your girlfriend's?" Wierzbowski asked.

"What, man?" Hudson replied.

"Just get naked and walk around with no sense of decency."

Hudson thought for a moment. "She's OK with it, man."

That got laughter out of the rest of us. "Miranda is literally the only human being who can stand seeing Hudson naked!" I said.

"All the other women didn't care because they were too drunk and insane to notice!" Frost laughed.

"Fuck you, man," Hudson mumbled.

"Grow up," Wierzbowski said.

"I'll grow up when you get a sense of humor, man."

"Don't start," Hicks growled. "Finish up your showers quietly if you wanna go to the lounge. I hear one more argument, and you're going to bed early."

"Sorry, man."

Question: How might Drake struggle with the possibility of his therapist leaving in the future?