CHAPTER 15: WELL?

*TWO WEEKS LATER*

We just stared at the letters on Vern and Kathy's kitchen table. None of the guys were brave enough to open the letters; the letters that contained their fates in the US Army.

Teddy was the first of all of us to speak: "Alright, which one of you pussies is gonna open yours first?"

Vern rolled his eyes and said, "Since when have we been pussies?"

"Since, um…EVER," Teddy laughed as he slugged Vern's arm playfully, just like he did when we were kids.

I socked him back and said, "Knock it off, Duchamp."

Gordie smiled a little, but then said, "Seriously, though; someone has to make the first move."

I piped up, "Why don't I just do it? I'll open all of them, and then you can read them for yourselves."

"I just want to say-" Vern started, but he was cut off by a melodramatic groan from Teddy. "Verno, save the teary speech for when I go off to war. Now c'mon, Randall, crack those letters open," he ordered.

"Jesus Christ, Teddy," Chris grumbled as he put a hand to his face, as if trying to get rid of a headache.

I just smiled and stacked the letters up in front of me. "Well… here it goes," I said as I cracked the seal on Teddy's, who then grabbed it from my hand and yanked the letter out of the envelope. "Be a little less eager, why don't you?" I mumbled.

Teddy's eyes scanned down, and I watched his face fall. "They rejected me," he said flatly, emotionlessly.

We all paused. Out of all the boys, I knew Teddy would be the only one who would be crushed if the army rejected him. I stood up from the table and started to walk over to him, but when I raised my hand to pat his shoulder, he smacked my hand away and threw the letter across the room. "MY GODDAMN EAR!" he wept. "It was my goddamn ear."

"Teddy, man, it's going to be okay," Gordie tried, but Teddy would have none of it.

"What the hell am I supposed to do now? I don't know how to do anything else but try for the army." He looked at me, tears falling down his face like waterfalls. "Joey, what do I do?"

"Teddy, it can't be that bad," I reassured him. "I mean, you learned some sort of trade in school; you'll be able to do SOMETHING."

Teddy sniffled, and then did something I never thought he'd do; he wrapped his arms around me, cried into my shirt and said, "I just wanted to make my dad proud."

"He IS proud of you, Teddy," Vern said, running over to comfort him. "Every day, I swear to God, he is."

Teddy looked at Vern, a look of not believing in his eyes. "You really think so?"

"I know so."

Once Teddy had finally calmed down, I handed Gordie's and Chris's letters to them. "Here you go, guys," I said gently.

Gordie and Chris looked at each other for a moment. "On the count of three?" Chris asked.

"Yeah," Chris agreed.

I gave them a count off.

"One…"

"Two…"

"Three."

The two of them both tore open their letters. I could feel my heart start pounding as their eyes scanned down their notes. The both of them were silent for a while. Too long, in my opinion. "Well? What did they say?" I persisted, hoping I sounded less nervous than I felt.

Gordie looked at me and smiled. "I failed. I have flat feet, so they turned me away!"

"Oh, Gordo, that's great!" I sighed in relief. I gave him a hug, then let him go so Vern and Teddy could give him similar congratulations.

All eyes turned to Chris.

"Chris?"

Chris tucked his away. "I, um, I didn't open mine yet."

He was lying. I could tell. If there was one thing Chris Chambers couldn't do, he couldn't lie about something as important as this.

But I said nothing, and the rest of the guys brushed it off. After a while, Vern decided to drive Teddy (who was still distraught, even though he didn't show it) home. Gordie then said he had to use Vern's phone to call Dana and tell her the good news. Chris and I were left alone in the kitchen.

"I know you're lying," I broke the silence.

Chris gave a half-smile. "Why did I think you wouldn't know that?"

"Come on, Chris, what does it say?" I persisted.

Chris brought the letter out onto the table. The both of us looked at it strangely, as if it were some unnamed specimen under a microscope.

Finally…

"I'll have boot camp for four months. Then they're sending me to Vietnam."