Marching through their graduation ceremony leaves Tara feeling guilty. She’s standing next to her sister who hobbles with all her strength to keep up with the group. Melissa fights through every step with all the energy she can manage. The grimace of pain that crosses her face every time they turn hurts to see but she stays quiet. They can’t do the surgery until her swelling goes down and injections haven’t cleared it up yet. Her leg’s in a temporary cast but it’s bulky and hard to keep out of her way.
Their parents are in the stands cheering their heads off. Dad stopped to buy them each a disposable camera and they’re clicking away like crazy. Frank’s less excited. He’s sitting there playing his Game Boy, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. His camera’s on the bench next to him, forgotten. In the past their mom would always tell him to put his game away but it keeps him occupied so they’ve started to allow it. When she called last week he wouldn’t stop talking about some new game with monsters he just bought. She tried to follow along but it all sounded confusing.
It’s a brisk fall day so the marching at least helps keep her warm. Once they’re standing in place for the main portion of the ceremony, the chill starts creeping in. Melissa’s directly to her right and she’s been given permission to help her if needed but when she briefly leans in to make sure she’s okay, the glare she receives makes sure she won’t ask again. Despite the pain Melissa wants to do this alone.
A few minutes into the ceremony, Melissa nudges her and nods her head to the far corner of the stands. There’s Captain Snow, sitting with a woman who may have been at the track the first day they met. Both are watching them directly which makes Tara squirm but she keeps her attention on the ceremony.
Everything goes to plan except for the strong winds which make their flag bearers’ lives difficult. Feeling her cap move slightly on her head she worries it might fly away. She’s even more worried that Melissa’s might take off. She can’t grab at it or go after it. Adjusting her own slightly, she keeps marching.
After the ceremony ends without any hats taking off they’re able to meet their family in a reception hall for dinner. They hug them and tell them they’re proud but their parents and brother look tired. They’ve been driving back and forth most days since Melissa’s injury and they’re clearly glad that’s about to be over. Their mom’s idea about a hotel were quickly overridden by dad saying it would cost too much. The drive isn’t so bad now and then but two hours every day hasn’t been easy. Dad did agree to a hotel for tonight since the girls start their leave the next morning and there’s no reason to drive home tonight only to return that early.
Rushing to her mother, Tara pulls her into a hug. The short woman with glasses and a pixie cut hugs her tight. The hair still looks wrong on her. She saw it in a movie and loved it but she’s had long hair most of her life. She’s wearing a smart dress which looks meant for a woman twenty years younger. Their dad’s wearing a pair of his good jeans and a button up shirt. To celebrate his daughters’ accomplishment he’s wearing a small flag pin over his shirt pocket. He goes to Melissa to try and help her but she waves him off. “I’m fine dad, really. I’m getting used to the crutches.”
Tara goes up to Frank and gives him a hug. He absent mindedly removes one hand from his game long enough to at least pretend to return the gesture before getting caught back up in it. When they’re all together at a table they start discussing dinner options. There’s a little diner down the road they ate at when their parents dropped them off and their dad loves the idea of getting a celebratory meal there. The food was just okay but the prices blew him away. Everyone seems fine with it except Frank who expresses no opinion at all.
A throat clears behind them and Tara turns to see Captain Snow standing behind her. She starts to jump to her feet to salute and Melissa fumbles for her crutches but the man waves them off. “At ease soldiers. Were you starting to think I forgot about ya today?”
Their parents both look to Tara to introduce them. “Not at all sir. Mom, dad, this is Captain Snow. Captain, these are our parents Zachariah and Alice.”
The two both stand to shake the man’s hands. They sit back down but the captain stands there staring at the girls, waiting for an acknowledgment. This goes on to the point of discomfort before Tara realizes he’s waiting on them. “Oh, please join us sir.”
With no chairs left at the table, Tara starts to get up to offer him her seat. He waves her down though and grabs a chair from the closest table. He turns it around and sits backward. Turning to their dad he says, “Mr. Chance, I’ve been talking to your daughters about a unique opportunity to serve their country. How much have they told you about it.”
Turning between his daughters, he’s unable to catch either of their eyes. “Honestly sir, nothing at all. Is this something they’d be doing after arriving in Georgia?”
Snow glances at Tara, smirking as he shakes his head slightly. “Actually sir, this is something they’d be doing instead of going to Georgia. It’s a unique program that both of them would be excellent fits for. I can’t say a lot more than that but they’d be working with me directly and helping our country’s security in a big way.”
Their dad looks at Tara with his eyes wide. “That sounds pretty excellent. Is this something you girls are interested in?”
How to answer that question? Tara’s given it a lot of thought and discussed it with Melissa but they haven’t come up with an answer yet. She looks at the ground. “We’ve talked about it, but we’re really not sure. We don’t know as much as we’d like to.”
Slapping the table, Snow gains the attention of everyone sitting there. “I understand that for sure. I’d like to say more but I can only go so far. Maybe if we go somewhere a little more private.” He makes a show of looking from side to side. “Were you folks planning on grabbing dinner?” Their nods and mumbled replies bring a smile to his face. “Perfect. Why don’t you all join me as my guests? I know a fantastic little Greek place in town that has the best saganaki you’ll ever eat. Stuff’s magical. If you’re more meat and potato people they have that too. It’s my treat.”
Mr. Chance looks down at his wife sitting beside him and tries to keep smiling but it looks fake at this point. “I appreciate the offer but we don’t need any charity. We can pay for our own meals.”
Snow jumps to his feet and puts a hand on their dad’s shoulder. “Sir, I would never want to insult you but you’d be doing me a huge favor by coming. This isn’t charity. I’m offering because I want your daughters to do something for me. There’s nothing wrong with getting a meal for that. Besides, I can write the whole thing off. For all your daughters are going to do for our country, one way or the other, Uncle Sam can certainly buy you a good steak. It’d be a lot more, well, private there.” He again exaggerates his looking from side to side before returning his gaze to the family.
With no further objections, they decide to join the man for dinner. They pile into their parents’ too small car for the trip. The front seat’s the only place that has enough room for Melissa’s cast so their mother climbs in the back with her other children. Frank’s shoved into the middle but he doesn’t seem to mind. Nothing except his game seems to matter.