"What does everyone want from me?" His lips are chap, his eyes are sunken, and his hair is tangled and matted against his sweaty forehead. Claude leans against the counter of their cramped, dirty kitchen and with a frustrated sigh he rubs at his watering eyes.
"I want you to be you." Berger whispers from his spot on Sheila's ratty couch, the radio crackling in and out from the spot in the window behind him.
"And who is that?"
"Whoever you want it to be." Berger insists, again. He leans forward and turns the dial up, listening to the breaking sound of the news cast. They've found a way to broadcast straight from Vietnam, Sheila was proud to bring it right into their living room.
"I want to be right. I want to make other people happy."
"Claude, you can only do that by making yourself happy first." Woof appeared from Claude's bedroom stretching his long arms above his head, shaking his long hair out of his face.
"Where you off to, Woofie?" Berger asks, his bare feet resting on their scratched and dented coffee table, as he finishes rolling his joint.
"I promised Sheila I'd meet her at the park, she wants help painting some trees." It's only a moment before Claude and Berger are alone again, Woof making a quiet exit after grabbing an apple off the counter.
"Claude, man, don't be so bummed, you're throwing the vibe. Come smoke with me."
"Why? Planning on leaving for 'Nam right now?" Thin shoulders slumped, hair obscuring his vision, Claude plops down next to his best friend and takes the rolled paper.
"Don't you think it's my duty to serve?" Berger takes the joint back, turns the dial up even higher to the sound of the newscaster's voice,
"Well to say it's raining would be an understatement, but Lieutenant Dan Johnson has a plan that will incorporate even his injured men-"
"Rain or shine, injured or healthy we're serving…what, Claude? What're we serving?"
"Do you feel free?" Claude watches as the tears start flowing from Berger's green eyes, he doesn't bother to brush them away. Instead, Berger stubs out the joint on the coffee table and leans forward, grasping Claude's face between his large hands.
"Do you feel free, man? Is this freedom to you?" Claude shakes his head, his breath caught high in his throat as he grasps Berger's hair. Tightening his fingers in the brown locks, trying to anchor himself in this moment forever. Wanting to be staring into these deep caring eyes for the rest of forever. For the rest of always.
"N-no, Banana Berger this ain't free-"
"Show me freedom, Claude. Show me what it means to be free."
Claude leans forward and presses his lips to his friend's lips, to his love's lips. Being hung up on your best friend and then kissing him, Claude thinks, is a lot like riding a bike for the first time without any adult help. The taste of mint and grass and something natural overtakes him, he feels like he's flying on the feeling of Berger's hands stroking his neck and caressing his cheek. If serving means leaving this moment, Claude doesn't think he'll be able to go. But then Berger pulls away, and Claude remembers. Remembers where he grew up, remembers where he's living, and remembers the half burnt draft card sitting on their counter amongst the fruit. As if war is natural and anything but man made.
"That's right." Berger smiles, using his thumb to push the hair away from Claude's forehead.
"We're gonna be ok, George Berger."
"We're gonna be ok."