After watching the 2012 version of "Red Dawn," I was devastated when the audience was led to believe that Daryl died after North Korean soliders implanted a tracking device in his side. But, I also knew, that this story line was left open. My friend was crying in the theater, and I told her – Daryl could have still been alive. So I wrote this story for her – about what if Robert came to save Daryl.
Red Dawn: Leave no solider behind
It was a strange feeling – knowing with certainty that an inevitable death was in the near future.
This was how Daryl Jenkins felt as he peeked from behind the green foliage at the dirt road in front of him. Every second, he anticipated seeing a military vehicle round the corner, and North Koreans jump out to attack him.
He would have run; he would have hid. But he knew there was no point. After all, with a tracking device lodged in-between his ribs, no matter where he ran, the enemy would find him.
This new enemy was supposed to be America's "leader." After North Korea took over the country and invaded the homes of innocent victims in search for weapons, America had become a defenseless and cowering version of its old self. But Daryl, his best friend Robert and their newfound comrades had changed this – fighting tooth and nail for freedom, some of them even dying for it.
For the first time in Daryl's life, he felt like he belonged somewhere. Previously, he was the boy picked last for gym class. But for a few months, that changed, and he became a warrior.
Now, with that tracker planted into his side, all of that was gone. Toni, a girl who he thought was his friend, lunged at him and tried to kill him. She told him it was his fault that the man she loved was dead.
Maybe she was right. Maybe it was my fault, Daryl thought to himself as he watched the wind pick up dust particles, swirling them around in the Washington air.
And so he stayed behind to not endanger anyone else. Especially Robert. If anything happened to Robert because of him, he knew he might as well be dead too.
Daryl saw the way Robert looked at him as he rode off in the back of the Jeep. He saw the way his hazel eyes glistened with tears and the way he sucked in his lips to prevent himself from crying. Whenever Daryl started to get scared, he would close his eyes and remember Robert – the boy who had been his only friend throughout high school. Whenever he pictured Robert's face, he felt some of the fear ease from his shoulders. At least Robert was safe.
But Daryl knew he would give anything to see his friend again.
Daryl lifted up his T-shirt to reveal the round shaped wound where the tracking device was injected – the wound which he previously thought was caused by a knife. But with its perfectly round shape, Daryl discerned realized it was not made by a knife.
He pushed on the gash, wincing from the pain. Again, he pushed and that's when he felt it – a hard disc right under the surface of his skin.
He deeply inhaled, seeing the glinting silver tucked in his belt on his right hip.
This is for you, Robert, Daryl said aloud as he touched the end of the knife to his skin.
He bit his lip, tasting his blood like warm metal in his mouth as he broke the skin – keeping himself for yelling out in excruciating pain. He dug the blade into the hole, feeling an intense throbbing in his side. He tried to keep himself from going into a state of shock. He knew if he started hyperventilating, there was no way he would be able to continue.
Daryl fell down against a tree, his head spinning, but he continued to poke at the wound in his side, opening it up as blood gushed from the lesion. And that's when he saw the edge of a black and silver square resembling a camera's SD card. He let his knife fall to the ground and reached his fingers into the gash. Using his left hand, Daryl threw the device as far as he could. And then he puked out the little food he had left in his system.
He sat back down on the ground, and the whole world looked like it was spinning around him.
Crimson red oozed through Daryl's fingers as he clamped his hand tightly across his rib cage. He fought the urge to lie down and instead dragged himself slowly along the ground. If he stayed in the same position, the act of painfully removing the tracker would have been useless.
Trying to keep his mind occupied, Daryl thought about Robert – reliving the first time they had met.
He remembered it like it was yesterday. After the not-so-untrue rumor surfaced freshmen year of high school that Daryl was gay, he was tormented by his fellow classmates on a daily basis. And although his home state of Washington was one of the first to legalize gay marriage, that didn't mean the kids were any less cruel.
Daryl tried to tell his father. After all, his father was the mayor of their city. He thought for sure, if anyone, his father would help him and get the school to stop the bullying.
But, as it turned out, his father was the worst kind of coward – the kind of man who couldn't even stand up for his own family. When Daryl saw him following the North Koreans, he was sure of that more than ever. And, on that day freshmen year of high school, Daryl's father just told him, "Suck it up and be a man," even as he looked right into his bruised face.
After school one day, as Daryl walked to his car, one of the football players with arms as big as tree trunks swung his fist across Daryl's face. Several of the other players ran up to join him, and, while Daryl lay cowering in the parking lot, they kicked him repeatedly in the ribs. "Fag! Fag!" they sang out together as they embedded the toes of their tennis shoes into his ribs.
Once the football players were done with their fun, Daryl moaned as he got up, clutching his stomach and feeling a wet trickle move down his forehead.
And that's when he saw Robert, leaning against the side of his car with a video camera aimed directly at him.
This boy was watching the whole thing. Why wouldn't he help me? Daryl had thought to himself.
And at that moment, he hated Robert almost as much as he hated the boys who abused him.
That was until the next afternoon when the principal called Daryl and the involved football players into her office.
On Mrs. Linda Thorne's computer screen, Daryl saw a frozen image of himself with his head to the cement and one of the football players with his leg in mid-kick.
"Mrs. Throne. That's not me," one of the boys protested as they all sat around her desk.
"Oh really?" she responded as she pushed the play button, watching as the camera zoomed in for a clear shot of his beet red, sweating face.
"We have a strict no tolerance bullying policy here," Mrs. Thorne said. "I don't know why you guys would do that to this poor boy. But I am calling all of your parents, and you will be suspended until further notice."
Mrs. Thorne ignored the chorus of whines that escaped the boys' mouths and the commonly uttered, "But what about football?"
When Daryl immerged from the principal's office, there Robert was, getting books out of a nearby locker.
"It was you, wasn't it?" Daryl asked, coming up behind Robert.
Robert's face turned a slight shade of pink. "It was me, what?" he asked.
"You gave Mrs. Thorne that tape," Daryl stated.
Robert's lips upturned into a slight smile and, instead of answering the question, he extended his hand.
"My name is Robert," he said. "Would you like to come over to my parents' house for dinner tonight?"
Daryl smiled to himself, almost forgetting the pain. Almost.
And then, he saw it. A deep hole covered loosely with dried leaves.
Daryl edged his way closer to the opening, moving the leaves aside with his palm. Carefully he leaned over the edge to see a couple sleeping bags, dirty pillows, a stash of beef jerky, old wrappers and a candle melted down to its wick.
This must have been someone's hiding place, Daryl thought to himself.
Needing both hands free, Daryl tore off a long strip of fabric from the bottom of his T-shirt and wrapped it tightly around his abs, clotting the blood.
He tried to inch himself slowly down into the hole, but the aching pain in his ribs prevented him from doing so. His arms could not hold the weight of his body, and he ended up tumbling down into the opening.
And that's when he blacked out.
When the sun began to set that day, the gang found an abandoned trailer in the middle of nowhere. With bullet holes riddling the metal, Robert was scared what they would find inside. And, sure enough, when he, Matt, Toni, Erica and the Marines Tanner, Smith and Hodges opened the unlocked door, the foul stench hit them first.
They all walked carefully throughout the house with rifles held close to their bodies.
When they made it to the living room, they saw the brown blood dried in streaks on the grey carpeting. And, lying with their limbs contorted, were three bodies – a father, a mother and their teenage son. Their bodies were ridden with bullet holes.
"It looks like the shooting took place a while ago. The blood isn't fresh," Matt said in a monotone voice. "The enemies are probably long gone by now."
Robert tried to keep his composure as he looked at this couple, dead on the floor. But all he saw when he looked at the young boy's face was Daryl.
By now, Daryl's probably dead too, Robert thought to himself.
He quickly swiped away a tear which cascaded down his cheek, hoping that no one saw. Everyone here had lost someone, and they were keeping it together. He knew he had to as well.
But as the Marines carried the dead bodies outside, either to burn or bury, Robert had to turn away as the nausea crept up in his stomach.
Matt held his girlfriend Erica close to him, her blonde hair falling across her face, as they went to claim a bedroom. When the three Marines came back inside, they all picked the master bedroom to sleep in. Which left one room open.
"So, I guess we're roomies," Toni said to Robert, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Robert suppressed a groan as he wriggled away from her grasp, making his way to their shared bedroom.
Of course, he thought to himself when he saw the one full-size bed in the middle of the room. He grabbed the comforter off the bed as well as one of the pillows, making a spot for himself on the floor.
Toni leaned against the doorway. "You don't have to sleep on the floor, you know?" Toni said. "We're practically family now."
"It's okay," Robert said shortly, rolling over on his side and closing his eyes.
Robert couldn't help it – he just couldn't forgive Toni. The last words his best friend would ever hear from their group was, "You killed Jed."
Greg, another member of their group, had died when Matt abandoned the plan. Yet, no one was mad at him or threatened his life. Yet the group was so willing to abandon Daryl for something that wasn't even his fault.
Robert knew then what he had to do. After Toni fell asleep, he would sneak out and find Daryl.
So, as soon as Robert heard Toni's heavy breathing from the bed, he carefully got up, trying not to ruffle the comforter. He stuck his gun in the waistband of his jeans and walked into the kitchen. He opened a cabinet door, finding a box of granola bars and a bag of pretzels. He also found a clear bottle of vodka and shrugged, quickly stuffing it into his backpack.
And then he heard the shuffled footsteps coming from down the hallway.
"What are you doing?" Toni said as she rubbed the sleep out of your eyes.
"Going to find Daryl," Robert hissed. "And don't you dare try and talk me out of it."
Toni straightened her back and said, straightforwardly, "Then I'm coming with you."
Robert groaned, "You don't have to do that."
And then he noticed the fresh tears in Toni's eyes. "Yes, I do," she said. "I feel awful for what I did. I need to make it right."
"Okay, well," Robert said, softening. "Then come on."
"One sec," Toni said, first going into her room to get her gear and then tip toeing into Matt's room.
Robert raised an eyebrow when Toni returned.
"You could probably use these," she said, jingling the keys to the Jeep in the air.
"They were on Matt's dresser," she continued and then made a face. "Saw a little bit too much of Matt and Erica while I was in there though."
Robert chuckled for the first time that day. "Oh gosh."
Toni gave a sad smile in response. Robert knew what she was probably thinking – how Jed was only moments away from kissing her when he was shot in the head. It was no secret to everyone in the group that Toni was in love with Jed, Matt's older brother, for the past decade. And she never even got to kiss him before he died.
She changed the subject as she readjusted the strap of her backpack on her shoulder. "Let's get going," she announced, sniffing to hide her tears.
And so they jumped into the Jeep with Robert in the driver's seat and Toni seated on the passenger side with her rifle propped up in her lap.
"So, how are we going to go about doing this and keep everyone safe?" Toni asked when Robert put the key in the ignition and the engine roared to life.
"Well, I'm hoping to get back here before anyone wakes up," Robert said. "And I brought a knife, thread, a needle and some vodka, to clean the wound after we cut out the tracking device."
"It's what I should have suggested from the beginning," Robert said, "instead of just leaving him there."
Robert was driving for a few hours with Toni sleeping with her face pressed against the cold window. Robert pulled off on the gravel strip on the side of the road, putting the gear into park.
With the jerk of the car coming to a stop, Toni shot straight up. "Are we there?" she asked, looking around from side to side.
"Nope," Robert said, undoing his seatbelt. "Bathroom break. Watch the car."
Robert ventured out into the woods to do his business, and when he came back, Toni was outside, slumped against the side of the car with tears falling down her face. She was crying so hard she could hardly breathe.
Robert rushed over to her side, putting his arm around her as her shoulders shook from her violent tears.
"It's okay. It's okay," he repeated as he rubbed her shoulder.
Toni looked up at Robert, her eyelashes wet from crying.
"I'm so sorry for what I did," she choked out. "I shouldn't have treated Daryl that way."
Robert brushed a piece of chocolate brown hair away from Toni's face.
"It's okay. You were upset. You just lost Jed," Robert responded. "People do stupid things when they're in love."
With that, Toni grabbed Robert from around the neck, pulling his face towards hers. She weaved her fingers into his sandy brown hair and kissed him with all the pent up passion she held for Jed.
Robert could taste the saltiness of her tears as he moved his lips with hers. He could feel her feminine lips around his as she clung on to him.
But, for some reason, at that exact moment, all Robert could picture was Daryl. He saw his kind face the color of cinnamon, the dimple in his chin and his piercing black eyes staring right through him, the way only he could.
Robert pushed Toni away. "I'm sorry, but I can't do this," he said.
Toni wiped a tear away with the back of her hand.
"I'm so stupid!" she exclaimed.
Robert held Toni's shoulders in his hands. "You are not stupid," he responded.
"God, I just miss Jed so much," she said, leaning back against the car.
"Trust me, I know how you feel," Robert responded.
Daryl woke up underground from a pebble hitting his forehead. He felt disoriented as he looked up into the blackness to see a bright light shining down at him.
He shielded his eyes with his hand to see that the light was illuminating the barrel of a gun, pointed directly at him.
"Don't hurt him," Daryl heard a man say. "He can tell us where the others are."
Daryl could recognize that voice anywhere. He squinted up into the bright white light in front of him.
"Dad?" Daryl asked.
The Korean man holding the gun put down his weapon, and Daryl saw his father lean into the mouth of the pit.
"Yes, son. It's me," he responded.
This was the first time Daryl had seen his father's face since he was on stage with the Russian and North Korean soldiers, publically giving up his loyalty to America.
Daryl tried to sit up but it was too painful. "You betrayed me," Daryl spat out. "You betrayed everyone."
"No, I was trying to stay alive," Daryl's father responded. "Please, just tell these men where the rest of the Wolverines are. Then you can come home."
"Never," Daryl said angrily.
"They abandoned you," Daryl said. "Please, son."
"No, they never abandoned me," Daryl responded. "I chose to stay here to keep them safe."
A North Korean solider pushed Daryl's father aside and said, in a thick accent, "Time's up."
He pointed the gun at Daryl, and Daryl closed his eyes tight. He was ready for death. For him, death was a better alternative than giving in and betraying his friends.
Daryl heard the crack of the bullet and opened his eyes as his father screamed, "No!"
His father jumped in front of the bullet as it pierced through his chest, and he fell down in the hole with Daryl.
"Dad!" Daryl yelled out. "Dad!"
He leaned over his father's lifeless body, shaking his arm. But as blood oozed from the wound in his chest and blood spilled from where his head hit the ground, Daryl knew his father was gone. He was dead from, for the first time in his life, protecting him.
Daryl looked up at the sky, seeing the millions of stars twinkling around him. And then he looked at the North Korean solider, the barrel of his gun still pointed at him. The solider hadn't even flinched with the death of Daryl's father.
"Screw you!" Daryl spat out, knowing those may be his last words.
And then Daryl, again, heard the pop of a gun. But, when he reopened his eyes, he realized that he hadn't been hit.
How is that possible? He thought to himself.
When he looked out of the cave, he saw the North Korean solider fall forward into the cave with him, a bullet lodge in his forehead. His eyes, black as coal, were gaping open, as he fell face forward into the dirt beside Daryl. Then Daryl heard three more gun shots and watched as the other soldiers fell over onto the grass.
Daryl propped himself up with his elbows and wondered to himself – were there more good guys? And would they save him.
The ground above him shook with the sound of two pairs of tennis shoes running toward him.
And that's when Daryl saw his face, peering from over the hole. And he was so happy, he felt like he could cry.
"You're alive!" Robert exclaimed, a wide grin spreading across his face.
"You came to find me," Daryl responded, wondering if he was dreaming. Was Robert's face just a mirage?
"Of course," Robert said back. "I could never leave you."
Robert pulled a long rope from inside his backpack, twisting it around his hand and lassoing it down into the hole.
"Grab on," Robert commanded.
"I don't know if I can," Daryl responded, his voice sounding hoarse.
"Yes, you can," Robert responded with complete faith in Daryl.
And so Daryl grabbed on to the end of the rope. And, with all of his strength, Robert pulled him up to the land. Daryl fell with a thud on top of Robert, making him fall backward.
Robert and Daryl started laughing. And then Robert suddenly stopped laughing, his hazel eyes intently staring into Daryl's dark eyes.
"What?" Daryl said, clearing his throat nervously.
And then Robert grabbed Daryl's face in his own. And he kissed him, intertwining his lips with Daryl's and feeling the warm softness of his face. Robert knew, at that moment, that this was the way a kiss was supposed to feel like.
Robert drew his face away from Daryl, his eyes moist, and looked up at him.
"I don't know what I would have done without you," Robert said.
Daryl just smiled down at Robert – in shock partly from all the blood he had lost and partly because he never knew this boy felt the same way about him as he felt from the first moment they became friends.
Robert helped Daryl lie down on the grass so he could examine the wound covered in makeshift gauze. As he did, he could hear Toni chuckling to herself and saying under her breath, "That explains why he wouldn't kiss me."