Samantha – Vacation

For those of you waiting with bated breath for more episodes of Samantha’s story, you’ll have to wait a few weeks. She is currently on vacation in the Alternates’ New York City. She plans to be on Alternate Earth four weeks and be back to continue her story thereafter. She sent this comment.

Today was my seventh day on Alternate Earth. It’s so much like our Earth and yet so different. New York is still a bustling metropolis, but people are walking down the middle of Broadway and the only show I recognized was Beauty and the Beast. Dr. Friedlund is showing me around and I have to admit it’s a little overwhelming. Let’s see, I’ve been here a week already. I hope to be able to give a coherent report by next week, but I won’t make any promises. TTFN.

Samantha – Wilson

Samantha’s plebe summer was a challenge from the start, but Lance Wilson had hit her stubborn button. She wasn’t about to be beat down by a bully. She worked with everything she had to make sure he didn’t have any excuse to put her down. Every time he criticized her, she worked that much harder and imagined ways to get back at him. In fact, getting back at him no matter what the cost became an obsession.

As far as I was concerned Lance Wilson was in my crosshairs. I was going to do something to get back at him, and it looked like I might have to get in trouble to do it. But by that time I was beginning not to care what kind of trouble I got into. I was ready to take a risk.

Our rooms, including Wilson’s, were on Deck 4. That meant we had access to the Green Beach, a ledge outside our window that ran around the whole of Deck 4. There was a story, probably apocryphal, about one of the plebe classes saving up newspapers and using the Green Beach to deliver so many crumpled up papers to the company commander’s office while he was away that he couldn’t open the door when he got back. I thought that might be my access to Wilson, but since then they had installed air conditioning in Bancroft Hall. Most of the windows were kept closed. Besides, Wilson had roommates, and I wasn’t after them.

Early on, much of our time was spent with military fundamentals, marching, formations, manual of arms, saluting. It was practice, practice, practice. As plebes we marched to every meal even though it meant going through Bancroft Hall to get to King Hall, and we ate at attention. If we wanted to have food or drink passed to us we had to stick out our paw and be recognized before we could ask for it. When we weren’t busy with training activities, we spent our time making sure our rooms were shipshape or memorizing material from Reef Points and articles from the newspaper.

Keeping our room in shape was an almost impossible task. The inspectors were looking for the slightest flaw. We did better than most, but we still got demerits. It was dust somewhere, or the bed cover’s corner wasn’t 45 degrees or a book was taller by a millimeter than the adjacent book on the taller side of the books on the shelf. And since we were a team we all got the blame. The demerits added up and to pay them off we marched, carrying our parade rifles – non-functional M-1s. Fortunately we didn’t do a lot of that.

When my turn came for Company Mate of the Deck or CMOD, I stood watch in the company office where I answered the phone, delivered messages, and sorted the mail. The first time I had the watch, I got my opportunity. A caller left a message for Wilson, and I was the one to deliver it. I realized this was my chance. I double timed to Wilson’s quarters. As luck would have it, all the detailers were in the yard. I quickly tore down Wilsons rack and remade it with the top sheet tucked in at the top and folded back to look like an ordinary top sheet.

As I left, I checked very carefully that no one saw me and dropped the message off in the nearest other detailers quarters. I expected one of the detailers there to deliver it to Wilson, which she did. I knew I’d get in trouble for mistaking her quarters for Wilson’s, but it disassociated me from the short-sheeting.

As expected, Wilson came to the company office and chewed me out about misdirecting his mail, but he didn’t ask me any questions about why I had done it. Maybe he thought his bullying was finally rattling me.

I waited for the rest of the day with anticipation for  him to discover the short-sheet, but the final assembly for the day came around and he treated me as he always did. So far so good.

Danielle, Ashley, and I hit the rack as if nothing had happened. They didn’t know what I had done and went right to sleep. I was too keyed up to sleep. I kept expecting Wilson to bang on our door and roust me or maybe the whole company. Finally, I drifted off. I dreamed once that Wilson was yelling at me and woke in a cold sweat. No one was there. I went back to sleep and woke to reveille.

While we were at PEP, I heard one detailer talking to another, saying that someone had short-sheeted Wilson’s rack and he was mad as hell. Yes! I almost paused in doing my crunches just to relish the moment. Of course there was the question of when he’d come to suspect me and what he’d do about it. But I could and would live with that if it happened.

Samantha – Plebe Summer Begins

At this point I could make an excuse that Samantha was too busy to get another episode to me, but to tell the truth my research left a lot of holes. I finally decided I would just have to be vague where I didn’t know the details.

Samantha got through Induction Day without any major problems. She did feel a loss when her family left, but that was something she already knew she had to deal with. Here’s her take on some of what happened over the next few days.

Plebe summer: it started as soon as our visits with family ended. Most of it was just plain hard, and despite my preparation I wasn’t a supergirl. I took my licks along with everyone else.

That first evening meal was interesting. Learning to sit at attention on the front four inches of my chair managed to bring the reality of my change in life into focus. My advance knowledge of Reef Points actually made me the target of more questions. I’m sure it was to see where I would miss something. I managed with only a few mistakes.

On the other hand, some of it seemed absolutely ridiculous, and Lance Wilson seemed to work on tripping me up. That evening in the hall outside our rooms he seemed to take an immediate dislike for me. He pounced on me as soon as we assembled.

“Plebe, how long have you been in the Navy?”

His face was less than six inches from mine. He wasn’t a bad looking guy. About my height, sandy hair, green eyes, but his frown would have burned the paint on the wall behind me. I was tempted to give a straight answer, but I stared him in the eye, unblinking, and responded as required, “All me bloomin’ life, sir! Me mother was a mermaid. Me father was King Neptune.”

I think that surprised him, but Dad had made sure I knew it. It may be that all the advance work I had done was what set Wilson off. He ran me through the whole series. I continued to respond correctly. Finally, he asked, “Plebe, what’s your favorite quotation?” He was right there in my face again.

I had to think about that, but I knew I wouldn’t have time. I spouted the first quotation that came to mind, “Sir, on the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields will bear the fruits of victory, sir.”

His frown darkened. “Plebe, that was by an Army general,” he growled. “You can do better than that.”

“Sir, yes sir. God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless.”

“Nimitz. That’s more like it, but I prefer, ‘A ship is always referred to as ‘she’ because it costs so much to keep one in paint and powder.’” He smirked at that one.

The next morning we were introduced to PEP. That’s the Physical Exercise Program, an hour and a half of pure torture we would have to endure virtually every morning. As a long distance runner I was in better shape than a lot of my classmates, but even so by the time that first PEP session was over, I was exhausted. I can only imagine what some of the less prepared were going through. At least, Wilson wasn’t on my backside during PEP.

Then there was marching. We got into it almost immediately. I thought I was pretty good; in fact, I “know” I was pretty good, but that didn’t deter Wilson. When we formed up to march to meals or practice marching, he would be right alongside me, repeatedly tossing barbs. They were all trivial, like “Get in step” (I was doing my best, but the entire company needed to work on that), “Eyes front” (Okay, I admit I let my eyes wander), and “Head up. Chin back” (I was doing better than anyone else around me. Dad had taught me well). By the time we dismissed I was close to losing my temper despite knowing that was what he was after.

Room inspections were another matter. Again I knew what to expect, and I knew it took teamwork. We weren’t just responsible for our own stuff. We were responsible for our roommates’ stuff too. I tried to get that across to Ashley and Danielle but it didn’t sink in right away. Fortunately, it only took one of Wilson’s raking over the coals to do it. That may have been because of me, but after that I became the de facto room commander, and they both listened to me.

All in all the first few days were really challenging even as prepared as I was. And Wilson continued to dog me. I’m not exactly sure when it came to me, but I don’t take kindly to being harassed (I know, it wasn’t harassment. It was what he was supposed to be doing). I quickly decided that I was going to pay him back. The question was, how could I do it and not get caught?

Samantha – I is for Induction

Induction Day at the Naval Academy is a production. It’s specifically for in processing for midshipmen candidates. Their families and the incoming candidates have activities lined up that can keep them busy for the whole day. Samantha had prepared for it with her father’s help. He had given her his copy of Reef Points and, knowing it was updated annually, she had dutifully memorized everything anyway. She had studied everything she could find in the library and online. She knew where to go and what was going to happen, and she knew that when she walked into Alumni Hall there was no turning back.

I followed the other candidates to the check in station. On my way I was stopped by a Marine Colonel who shook my hand and welcomed me aboard. “Are you Admiral Pederson’s daughter?” That took me by surprise, but I was too dazed to notice his name tag. I learned afterwards that he was Colonel Allen, the Commandant of Midshipmen. He was still shaking hands when I walked up to the table to pick up my name tag and information packet.

The guy who handed me my name tag looked at my t-shirt. “I hope that doesn’t mean you think this is a mistake.”

I laughed. “Heavens no. I’m looking forward to this. I’m going to do my best to set some new records.”

“Great attitude. So what are you standing around for?” He smiled and nodded toward the next table.

Much of the rest of the morning and afternoon was a matter of following lines of candidates from one station to the next and then waiting in line. One of the first things we got was a copy of Reef Points. We were told to start memorizing it. We were measured for uniforms and given a gear bag, actually a large laundry bag. We exchanged our civilian clothes first for shorts and a t-shirt and then a “white works” uniform went on over the athletic gear. We got the ubiquitous black canteen. It was supposed to be to keep us hydrated, but I suspect it was also to mark us as plebes.The gear bag got heavier as the remaining uniform gear went in it. There was a medical exam, a dental exam, the obligatory haircut. Actually, I remember that because I didn’t even get to sit in the chair. I was one of several candidates who wore our hair shorter than required. One of the women barbers joked, “Maybe we should cut her hair like we do the guys.”

After what seemed like an interminable trek through station after station, a group of us were herded into a loading dock. We gave up our gear bags on which we had written our names and units in large capital letters. The bags were thrown on a truck and dropped off just outside Bancroft hall. We were left behind to spend some time learning military customs and courtesies, like how to salute and how to answer questions by upper classmen.

It seemed like as soon as we all managed to say, “Sir, yes sir,” in unison, we were ushered out of the loading dock and onto a bus. When we arrived at Bancroft hall, we were hurried off the bus and into the arms of awaiting detailers, upper-class midshipmen, who rushed us over to a stack of gear bags and told us in no uncertain terms to find ours and get it inside without delay. That was one thing I really remember, we couldn’t do much of anything without a detailer yelling at us to hurry up.

Other detailers led us to our plebe summer rooms where we learned things like how to make our racks (beds) and store our gear. Because we were the stragglers, we broke for lunch almost immediately. When we got back to Bancroft Hall, there was some catching up to do, but the afternoon seemed to be gone almost before it started. Then to the shouts of the detailers, we were lined up and marching – as best we could – into Tecumseh court for the swearing in ceremony.

The ceremony was relatively brief, but it seemed to drag on. Admiral Moore had his say, and we all stood with our right hands in the air to respond to the oath of office with “I do.” We were no longer candidates. We were midshipmen. But we were still plebes.

I don’t remember anything else, whatever it was. After that we had 45 minutes to spend with our families, which for me included a personal swearing-in ceremony conducted by my dad, naturally.

That 45 minutes was the shortest time of any event that day. Before I knew it, I was saying a tearful goodbye to Mom, Dad, and Nelson. I squatted down next to Nelson. “Well, little brother, it’ll be a while before I see you again. Take care of Mom and Dad for me.”

“I will.” He smiled mischievously. “Does this mean I get your old room?”

I had to laugh, and it broke the gloomy spell that had been cast over me. I pecked him on the cheek and stood up. I kissed Dad on the cheek and said, “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, sweetheart.” He gipped my arms just below the shoulder and held me back from him to take a look at me. ”God, I’m proud of you. Remember, this isn’t supposed to be easy, but you can do it. I know you can.” He stepped back and saluted. I didn’t have my cover on, but I returned the salute.

Mom was still emotional. I couldn’t blame her, but I was doing what wanted to do, and I was excited about it. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too.” She tried to sound flippant, but I could see the glint of moisture in her eyes. “Take care of yourself. See you in six weeks.” She took Nelson’s hand and started toward where the car was parked, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.

“Goodbye, everybody.” I waved one last time and then stood there until they walked out of sight.

I turned back toward Bancroft Hall. Tomorrow began the real program. Six weeks. Plebe summer. I dreaded it and looked forward to it.

Samantha – L is for Lonely

Induction Day at the Naval Academy is a production. It’s specifically in-processing for midshipmen candidates. Their families and the incoming candidates have activities lined up that can keep them busy for the whole day. Samantha had prepared for it with her father’s help. He had given her his copy of Reef Points and, knowing it was updated annually, she had dutifully memorized everything anyway. She had studied everything she could find in the library and online. She knew where to go and what was going to happen, and she knew that when she walked into Alumni Hall there was no turning back.

The alarm went off at 4:00 am. Grumbling, I reached out to slap the beast that was interfering with my hard won sleep. I had tossed and turned ever since I went to bed, barely getting to sleep when the alarm began beeping. I forced my eyes open and climbed out of bed. I showered, luxuriating in the cold water as I came fully awake. I dressed in a pair of cutoff jean shorts, scruffy running shoes, and a t-shirt that said “You learn from mistakes. I learned a lot today.” I had heard somewhere that you could show up for I-day nude but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

As I dried my hair, I looked myself over in the bathroom mirror. Here it was, the moment of truth. Was I really ready for this? I was excited, a little scared, but, yes, I was ready. The face in the mirror smiled back with grim determination.

The family had a hurried breakfast. My eggs were tasteless and I had a hard time eating them because my stomach roiled, not from fear but excitement. As the clock ticked down, more than once Nelson objected loudly about having to get up so early, but Mom simply told him he could sleep in the car.

We rolled out of the driveway at 5:00 and hit the interstate. Traffic was light until we reached Alexandria. Then it turned chaotic. On top of the “rush hour” traffic, which was bad enough, not long after we crossed the Potomac, the traffic came to a complete stop. As the delay dragged out I could feel the anxiety building. I was supposed to check in by 10:00, and the margin was getting narrower and narrower. Dad began talking about driving on the shoulder to reach the next exit. Fortunately, before he did, Mom announced, “Traffic is starting to move up ahead.”

I could see some of the tension drain out of Dad’s shoulders. We were moving again, albeit slowly. It took us fifteen more minutes to reach the scene of the accident. A semi was on its side on the southbound side, and the police had blocked all the lanes on that side but the inside one. I counted seven emergency vehicles. I commented, “What a gapers’ block. I bet that’s breaking news, even for this area.”

Mom nodded. “I hope no one was badly hurt.” In a way that’s how I’ll always remember her, always concerned about others. It’s true even now. Am I getting maudlin? It must because this day brings back so many memories.

We arrived at Gate 8 of the Academy at 9:30 or should I say, 0930? By the time we reached Alumni Hall it was 9:45. On our way in Dad reminded me of what was happening. “I’m going to let you out at Alumni Hall. You know what to do. Then I’m going to drop in on Willy – Admiral Moore – to let him know I’m here and introduce the family … the rest of the family. He’s expecting me. You’re going to be busy for the next several hours, but we’ll see you after the swearing in.”

I got out of the car, and they drove off. I watched them until they made a turn and disappeared behind a building. For a moment I felt more alone than I ever had in my life. My Mom and Dad had just driven off, leaving me by myself to face the biggest change in my life. Sure, I’d see them one more time today, but the change would already be taking place.

I looked up at the building in front of me and the young men and women straggling in line toward the entrance. Straggling? No they weren’t. They were walking tall, and so would I. I straightened my back and strode purposefully forward to join them. It was show time!

Samantha – Graduation

Samantha had made up her mind to apply to both the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy. This is what she had to say about the remainder of her school year.

I’m going to synopsize here because the following eight months were hectic but not exciting. As I mentioned before I turned in my preliminary applications for both schools and applied for nominations in every possible channel. Dad recommended I start a serious physical exercise program before taking the fitness tests. I’m glad I did. I found out from Senator Warren’s staff that I had the highest scores of any woman candidate on every single test. And later at the academy it made the first event of each morning almost a breeze.

The interviews with the Admissions Liaison Officer for the Air Force Academy and the Blue and Gold Officer for the Naval Academy were interesting. Both were upbeat and optimistic about my chances for selections.

When the candidate selections came in, I had been selected for both the Air Force and the Navy. It’s no secret that I chose the Naval Academy. That was for two reasons. First and obvious, my dad was a Naval Academy graduate and wanted me to follow in his footsteps, and second, I was having a problem with my right eye at the time and couldn’t pass the vision test for military piloting – At the time I didn’t know it was temporary.

Dad dug into his memorabilia and found his copy of Reef Points and gave it to me to memorize with the caution that it was updated annually. That gave me another head start.

As for school, I kept my four plus grade point average. In track I specialized in cross country. It fit in with my exercise regimen. I could brag about my first place finishes and make excuses for coming in second at state, but I won’t. My social life flourished, but I missed both Renee and Dwayne, and I didn’t make any other serious relationships.

Graduation came, and as one of the three students with the top GPA I got the privilege of speaking. Fortunately, one of the parents, Mrs. Filstrup, was a Toastmaster, and she had conducted a program that taught students public speaking and leadership. Dad had insisted that it would be good training for Annapolis, so I participated. When I learned I would be speaking, Mrs. Filstrup helped me prepare my speech. She even gave me some ideas. You see, my speech was a prank. I couldn’t resist a final one.

When it came my turn to speak, I walked up to the lectern looking as serious as I possibly could. From under my robe I produced a makeup kit and placed it on the lectern. I heard some stirring behind me from the teachers and dignitaries, but I ignored them.

I looked out on the sea of gowns and the friends and family behind them. They hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary … yet. Speaking into the microphone quietly, I said, “As you all know, today is a solemn occasion. Today we commemorate a major milestone in our education. We have all successfully completed twelve years of schooling, some may have taken a few more. Now we’re going out to face a troubled world and try to make a meaningful impact on it. That sounds serious, doesn’t it?”

I paused to look around. Many of the teachers behind me looked tense. Principal Ashworth, however, was grinning broadly. The audience in front of me seemed ready to start yawning. I raised my voice. “Well, I don’t believe in taking life seriously.”

I took off my cap and put it on the shelf in the lectern. I stepped back, grabbed the sides of my gown, and pulled it up and off over my head. The audience gasped. I was wearing a one-piece, white clown suit decorated with random hearts and large red buttons. It had puffy sleeves and trouser legs. I bent over and released the front of my clown shoes so they stuck out like they were supposed to. Then I stepped back to the lectern. “So let’s have some fun.”

Over the next fifteen minutes I applied white face, a painted red smile, and black circles around my eyes, all the while regaling the audience with the need to enjoy life while we could and to share that joy with others. As I got ready to wrap up, I put on an oversized pair of sunglasses and paused briefly. Finally, adding a red sponge nose, I stepped out from behind the lectern. “Class of 2003, here’s my challenge to you. Wherever you go from here, defeat seriousness and spread joy. The world needs you. … Now, who has the beach balls?” I took an exaggerated bow.

I got a standing ovation. Dr. Ashworth led it.

Of course, I only had a rough idea of the work I had ahead of me. Would a cheerful attitude be enough?

Samantha – Mom Time

While deciding whether to apply for admission to a military academy, Samantha had been so wrapped up in the research she hadn’t paid attention to Dwayne and Renee. Once she had made up her mind, she sought out Dwayne to tell him her decision. She found him with Renee on the front lawn, and they both acted sheepish. When she confronted Dwayne, he reluctantly told her that both he and Renee felt she was a controlling personality and that they were dating. Feeling betrayed, she started crying and ran away from Dwayne.

I ran all the way home, blubbering almost the whole way. By the time I arrived at the front door, I had slowed to a jog. On the way I had gone through all the stages of grief and my eyes were dry. Losing Dwayne was painful, but I realized it was nothing compared to losing Brian. And I had to admit it was my doing. I was still angry, but it was more for Dwayne turning Renee against me.

The run had calmed me down, but now I was hot and sweaty. Mom heard me come in. “You’re home early,” she called from the kitchen. I headed that way.

“I ran the whole way.”

She was putting a batch of cookies out to cool. As soon as she looks at me, she knew. “You’ve been crying.”

“Dwayne and I broke up.”

“Ah, teenage romances. They don’t always hold up.” She pointed at the cookies. “I just made these for Nelson’s kindergarten class tomorrow. Maybe a cookie or two would make you feel better. Have a seat.” She pulled out a chair and turned it toward me.

She sat down facing me and pushed the cooling rack over to me. “You want to talk about it?”

Picking up one of the still warm cookies, I stared at it for a moment. “I’m not sure I’m cut out for romance. Bill turned out to be a nice guy but wasn’t ready to commit to anything. Dwayne is terrific, but he’s another Type A personality. He called me a control freak. I hadn’t realized it, but he was right. Of course, he’s one too. That’s why we’ve come to this.”

Mom laughed. “You’re giving up too soon. You’re an intelligent, good looking young woman. The young men in your life will have a hard time keeping up with you. That’s probably what happened with Dwayne.”

“So what am I supposed to do, pretend I’m something I’m not?”

“Good heavens, no. But you can learn to be more subtle in getting your way. Maybe attending an academy will help with that. After all, a good officer gets his or her subordinates to want to perform their duties. You’ve never seen your father at work, have you?”

I immediately thought about how he had handled my insubordination after Brian’s death. He didn’t manipulate me. He let me work out my anger and frustration, even letting me go too far. I smiled. I doubted he’d let his subordinates go that far, but I could see him allowing them to make some pretty caustic statements – as long as they kept calm about it and said sir.

I said, “I have a pretty good idea of what you’re talking about. He handled me despite my best efforts to hurt him.”

“That was self-discipline, definitely something you’ll learn at an academy if you’re going to graduate. … By the way, you did hurt him.”

I looked at her quizzically. “He never showed it. … Well, there was that one time at the funeral. But he handled it.” I hadn’t ever apologized. “I guess I owe him an apology.”

“I think he’d appreciate that, but he probably won’t say so.”

I peered at her for heartbeat. “Mom, how are you handling Brian’s death?”

She frowned regretfully. “It still hurts, but there’s nothing I can do to change what happened.” Her eyes glistened.

“I guess I shouldn’t have brought that up. Sorry. Let’s talk about something different.”

“Such as?”

I had no idea. I needed to take a shower, but no way was I going to leave this conversation now, not after bringing tears to her eyes. We’d been talking about boyfriends, academies, hurting dad … Back up, Mom had gone to college. “Where did you go to college?”

She looked surprised. “Now that’s different alright. University of Maryland, actually, Philip Merrill College of Journalism.”

“You were studying to be a reporter? Why didn’t you become one?”

“I met your father.” She smiled. “Of course, it wasn’t that simple. I got my degree. I even worked as a stringer for a couple of TV stations in Jacksonville while your father was stationed, if you can call it that, at Mayport. I’m not sure which carrier he was assigned to, but of course, he was at sea most of the time. Then you kids came along.” She stopped and shook her head.

I suddenly saw where this was going, another reminder of Brian. Here I was trying to unload my problems on a sympathetic audience, and in the process I was rubbing salt in Mom’s wounds. I hurriedly changed the subject. Standing, I said, “Well, after talking to you, I feel better, but I need a shower. Then I have some things to take care of, like apologize to Dad, get to work on my applications, and let Renee and Dwayne know that I still want to be friends. Since Dad’s not home, I’m going to start on the applications.”

Mom stood and kissed me on the cheek. “I’m glad I could help.”

That evening I apologized to Dad. And over the next several days I scrambled to submit my applications for nomination and complete preliminary applications for both schools.

I was disappointed to find that many of the nominations had already been filled, but Senator Warner’s qualification process and the presidential one kept me busy. Then when both schools accepted me as a candidate, there were interviews, physicals, fitness tests, essays, you name it. With all that I never managed to get back together with Dwayne and Renee.

If I had, I might still be in the Marine Corp.

Samantha – Dwayne

It didn’t take long for Samantha to talk herself into seriously considering applying to military academies, at least the Air Force and Naval Academies. After researching both schools, she decided to go ahead with the applications. She had already given Renee an indication of her thinking. Now she wanted to inform Dwayne.

I had been wrapped up in my research for a few days, and I hadn’t noticed I’d only seen Dwayne in the classes we shared. Once I made my decision, I looked for him at lunch. He wasn’t in the lunchroom, which struck me as odd. When I finished my lunch, I had time so I checked out the front lawn.

Dwayne and Renee were sitting on the grass under one of the trees. They didn’t notice me until I walked up and said, “Hi, you two. I missed you at lunch today.”

They both snapped their heads around as if I had startled them. Then they scrambled to their feet. Dwayne kept his eyes on the ground as he said, “Um. Hi, we were just felt like enjoying the nice weather…” He trailed off for a moment. Then he added, “We haven’t seen much of you since the meeting with Ashworth.” He still hadn’t looked me in the eye.

Okay, what was going on? I hadn’t done something, had I?

Renee looked at her watch. “Hey, you’ll have to excuse me. I need to go in. … See you later.” She Hurried off before I could even say, “Later.”

Alright, this was strange. I turned my attention back to Dwayne. “Did I interrupt something?”

He glanced at his watch. “You Know what? I need to get inside too. Talk to you later.” He turned around and walked away. He hadn’t yet looked me in the eye.

I reached for his sleeve but stopped without touching him. I didn’t like the feeling I was getting. They were both obviously avoiding me, but why? Renee had been my best friend for the past three years, and this wasn’t like her. I stood there feeling numb. When I heard the class change bell, I shook my head and hurried inside.

After school I made a point of finding Dwayne on his way out. I had no trouble catching up with him, but he still was unwilling to look at me. I got in front of him and forced him to stop. “Dwayne, please … tell me what’s going on.”

He appeared pained. “What’s to tell? You’ve been occupied but life goes on.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Alarm bells were going off in my head.

He hung his head, another bad sign. I lifted his chin up. He spoke in a monotone. “Let’s get out of traffic so we can have some privacy.”

I wondered why we needed privacy, but I followed him off the walkway to a big tree far enough away that the kids rushing out the front entrance wouldn’t hear us. As if it were an omen I heard a clap of thunder, and when I looked up I could see threatening looking clouds towering in the west. I stopped and turned to face him. “Alright, we have privacy. Spill.”

He started to hang his head again, but he stopped and looked me in the eye. “Remember when we first decided to play our pranks. It disturbed me that you took over without waiting to get a consensus.”

“The group needed a leader, and I was the one who started it. It was my project.”

He nodded. “Yes it was. I think that was the problem.”

“Problem?”

He gave me a look which I can only describe as dead serious. “Yes, you’re a control freak.”

That was a shock. My first thought was to deny it outright, but I hesitated.

He continued, “You took control our group very smoothly, but it was very clear that you weren’t about to let anybody else lead it.”

“Why should I let someone else take over what I had started? Wait a minute, you wanted to run the group? Is that it?” I paused. He started to object, but I pressed on. “So, it became a competition between two control freaks. You resented when I made it clear I was in charge.”

“Actually, Renee resented it too. We’ve been talking quite a bit since then. We both felt it should be more democratic. We came up with some good ideas, but you had to be the one who approved them. And then there was your one-sided decision to confess to Ashworth. …”

“I noticed that you and Renee joined me when I went to Principal Ashworth. I told you I would try to keep you out of it. I didn’t force you. Were you unhappy with the outcome?”

“Of course not, but …”

At that instant something clicked. I wasn’t getting the whole story. I focused on his eyes. “Alright, what aren’t you telling me?”

“You and I didn’t really have anything going. I mean, we only had one date, the Homecoming Dance …”—Here it came—“Renee and I … We’ve been spending a lot of time together, and … Well, we’ve made a connection.”

I gasped. That was it, and I hadn’t seen it coming. He was right; we really weren’t dating, but this announcement felt like he was twisting a knife in my stomach. I hadn’t realized how attached to him I had become, and here he was telling me had fallen for my best friend. Tears filled my eyes and I turned away from him.

He touched my arm and said, “I’m sorry.”

I turned back to him and snarled, “You’re sorry? You made me think we had something and then you not only …” I couldn’t continue. Tears streaming down my face, I spun around and ran.

Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, ominously near.

Samantha – Decision Time

Instead of handing out serious punishment to Samantha, Renee, and Dwayne for their pranks, Dr. Ashworth put them to work. Speaking separately to Samantha, he suggested she should consider applying for a military academy. At first appalled by the idea she began to give it some serious thought.

Despite Brian losing his life to an IED when he was really not cut out for military service, I couldn’t get the idea of going to an academy out of my head. It might have been that I was flattered by Principal Ashworth saying I was leadership material. I know that service was and is important to me. My parents – mostly my dad, of course – had drilled it into me all my life. I had to take the next step, at least finding out what was involved.

The internet was a big help. The service academies had reams of information on their websites. Okay, that was both a blessing and a disadvantage. Wading through all that data gave me a pretty good picture of what I might be getting into, but it also ate up a lot of my time. I spent most of my free time for several days researching both the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy. I know, Dad was an admiral, but I looked at the Air Force because I really liked the idea of becoming a pilot, and I figured that even between the Navy and the Marine Corp, the odds of becoming a flier were better with the Air Force – after all, that was their job.

When I talked to Dad about it, he surprised me by suggesting I apply to both schools to increase my chances of being accepted. The remaining question was did I really want to go to an academy. I asked Mom and Dad to sit down with me to help me decide. We met around the kitchen table.

Dad started. “You know this has to be your decision, right?”

I nodded and looked at Mom.

She was frowning. “You were so upset when Brian died. Are you sure you want to put yourself in the same situation? You’d probably end up in a combat zone.”

Dad shook his head. “There are a few Navy and Air Force members on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, but most of them are shipborne or on bases outside either country.”

I considered that for a second. “If I’m going into this business, I’ll serve where I’m needed. The risks might be lower in the Navy or the Air Force, but I wouldn’t avoid duty on the ground or flying over either country.”

Mom didn’t look happy with my response. I hadn’t thought about it until then, but I realized she was concerned about losing another child, me, to war. I spoke to her fear, “Mom, my risk would be really low. Women aren’t allowed in combat. Yes, if I get to fly, I might have to fly over places where fighting is going on – search and rescue, that sort of thing. I don’t know what kind of jobs I might end up with on the ground, but they would be away from the front line.”

She continued to frown. “I would still worry.”

“I know.”

When we adjourned, I hadn’t come to a definite decision, but I was definitely leaning toward applying for an academy, either the Navy or the Air Force. I went up to my room to think about it some more. It may seem funny, but I kept thinking that a combat role was appealing. Was it the idea that women could serve but couldn’t fight that was challenging me? I think that was what finally made my mind up.

Yes, I’m going to apply, and I’m going to learn all the combat skills better than the boys I’ll be going to school with. I’ll prove women can serve in combat roles.

Samantha – “The Suggestion”

Dr. Ashworth had surprised everyone by recognizing the courage, responsibility, and integrity the three pranksters had shown when they stepped forward and admitted their part in the pranks taking place at the school. His punishment – being a teacher’s assistant instead of having study hall – was light enough that Samantha was looking forward to it. That is, until Ashworth pulled her and her family aside.

When everyone else had left, Principal Ashworth gave the three of us a quick glance and settled on Dad. “I’ll be brief. I believe that Samantha has great leadership potential, but she needs discipline. I suggest you seriously consider having her apply for one of the military academies. I’d be more than happy to write a letter of recommendation.”

Dad turned and looked at me. He raised his eyebrows as if to ask what I thought of the idea. I’m sure he was thinking of how I had reacted to Brian’s death. Was I willing to put my life on the line if need be? That had to be my decision, and he knew it.

I was dumbfounded. My first thought was Where did he come up with that? I’ve had enough of the military.

Ashworth continued, “I don’t mean to be overstepping my bounds, but we had another student with similar talents last year. You may remember Kathryn Foxx.”

He looked at me. I nodded. She was a petite black girl and faster than anyone else in the state. As a sprinter she set more than one high school record. We were both on the track team. I can remember cheering her home more than once.

He added, “She was not only a champion athlete. She was clearly meant for a leadership role. I recommended she try out for one of the academies. She was accepted to the Air Force Academy and is there right now. From what I hear, she’s doing quite well. I believe you have that same quality.”

When he put it that way, I felt complemented, but still … The best I could say was, “Thank you, sir. I’ll have to give that serious consideration.” Mom gave me a look that said, “Really?”

––– # –––

As we pulled out of the school parking lot, Mom turned around in the front passenger seat and asked me the question out loud, “Did you really mean you’d give a military academy serious consideration?”

“I don’t know. At first blush I was ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ and I couldn’t think of any other way to answer him. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe I should give it some thought.” I didn’t know why but the irony appealed to me.

Dad looked at me in the rear view mirror. “If you want to serve, I’m with you all the way.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.” What was I doing? Service, was that it? Dad had always been all about service. Had his attitude worn off on me?

I thought about it all the way home. What was I going to do? After what had happened to Brian, I should be terrified of going into any branch of the military – Okay, maybe not the Coast Guard. No, come to think of it, they could be on the front line for drug runners and terrorists.

Yeah, I know, the “It’ll never happen to me” syndrome. It’s the reason smart people do stupid things, like smoking, or drinking and driving. So, if I signed up for an academy, would I be doing a stupid thing?

By the time we arrived at the house I was no more clear about what I was going to do than I was when Ashworth made the suggestion. I sat down in the living room and called Renee.

When she came to the phone, I started with, “Hi. Wow, was that different from what I expected.”

She agreed, “I know. I thought detention for sure for the rest of the year and maybe a delayed graduation. Scared the bejesus out of me, I’ll tell you.”

I had gone in expecting the worst, so I was resigned. But I couldn’t say that to Renee. “It was scary for sure … Guess what Principal Ashworth had to say after you left.”

“He didn’t tack on more punishment for you, did he?”

“He wants me to apply for a military academy.” I emphasized the punchline.

The silence on the other end of the line only lasted for a couple of seconds. Then “What!”  exploded from the phone. “Are you going to do it?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I called you. What do you think?”

“I think you’re crazy for even considering it.” She was still loud. “You’re lined up to go to MIT. With your GPA you might even get a scholarship.”

“MIT’s not exactly cheap, you know. Maybe with a scholarship, but I don’t want to get saddled with a humongous student loan.” I considered that. Another reason for a military academy: I’d get paid instead of incurring a debt. That’s not quite true. Academy graduates have a service commitment, but if you’re in to serve, it’s just part of your service.

“You sound like you’re actually thinking about this.”

I realized she was right. “I guess I am. At least I don’t hate the idea.”

“Well, good luck. You’re going to need it.” She almost sounded disgusted.

“Does that bother you?”

“Not really. I simply didn’t expect it.”

I hadn’t actually made up my mind. There were too many factors that I didn’t know about. “It’s not a done deal yet. I have to do some research before I make a final decision. … This is all going too fast for me.”

“Speaking of going too fast, this evening is going too fast. I still have work to do on an English paper. I’ve got to get to it. Talk to you later, and seriously, good luck with whatever you decide.”

With that she hung up, and I headed upstairs. I had some crucial thinking to do.