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 T-Bone eased himself off and Ryan sat up. The civvies backed off and began wandering away, casting back- ward glances of concern. He was in a parking lot. A mall. Nick Pinciotti stood a few feet away, bare-chest- ed, holding his bloody t-shirt to his face.
Ryan cracked open the fridge. A box of cereal, a few crusty jars of condiments, milk. A shelf of white plastic pill bottles: Remeron, Prazosin, Dilanten.
Too many to name. A dozen or so cans of Bud Light. Cupboard’s bare. Check better get here soon. He pulled three beers out of the fridge, tossing two to Nick and T-Bone. “One for the road.”
The old sofa sagged under their weight, threadbare cushions flattening, the old wood frame groaning at every movement. In another life he’d dreamed of a sleek, modern home—brushed steel tables with glass tops, black leather Barcelona chairs. Polished oak floors sparkling in the light from a long bank
of clerestory windows. His studio apartment came with wall-to-wall linoleum, furniture compliments of Salvation Army. The two small windows peeked out at the cinder block wall of the building next door.
The Three Amigos. Once inseparable—backbone of the football and basketball teams, darlings of the social set. Then, one unexpected summer, childhood came
to an end. T-Bone enlisted, Nick began trudging to
the auto plant beside his father, and Ryan packed off to college and ROTC. Now Nick sported a middle-age paunch over his jeans and T-Bone wore the thousand- mile stare so many vets brought home. And Ryan...
The weekend was a reunion of sorts. Ten years since the three had been together.
T-Bone sat quietly in his faded fatigues, his huge black hands gripping his beer, staring at the invis- ible horizon. Nick squirmed like he couldn’t wait to get back on the road. “That was bad, man,” said Nick, popping his beer. “That happen often?”
“Not too often,” said Ryan. “Once in a while something sets me off.” He actually wasn’t sure anymore. Ev- erything seemed to run together these days, and his memory was always AWOL after one of those things. “Sorry about the nose, Nick. Maybe have that looked at.”
“You gonna be okay, man?” asked T-Bone. “Want us to run you to the ER or VA?”
“Nah, I’ll grab a shower, clean up. I’ll be fine. Cuts and scratches. Just a bit stiff.” And sleep. If I could only get some sleep.
“I didn’t mean the little shit. I meant your skull, col- lege boy. Your fuckin’ mind.”
“I see the shrink again in a few days. I’ll be okay.”
They pulled at their beers in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes.
“How long you over there?” asked Nick. “Six years,” said Ryan. “A lifetime, man.”
“You guys collect any stuff while you were there?” asked Nick.
“Stuff?” asked T-Bone.
“You know—souvenirs. Mementos. Gramp had a closet full of shit from Germany. Helmets, boxes of badges and ribbons. Bayonets, a cool luger.”
Ryan and T-Bone examined the patterns in the yel- lowed linoleum.
“Mementos?” murmured Nick.
“A different time, bro,” said T-Bone. “Different war. We collected initials.”
Nick looked blank. “Initials? Like what?”
“PTSD,” said Ryan. “TBI. AHE. ARDS.” Bingo. I win.
“What kind of psychobabble’s that supposed to be?” said Nick. “Gimme a break.”
“Fuck you, Nick,” said Ryan.
Nick stood up and wandered around the room, run- ning his fingers through thick, curly hair now going gray. He looked uncomfortable in the faded Ohio State jersey Ryan had given him to replace the bloody T-shirt. He picked up a hand weight from the rack in the corner and began doing bicep curls. “You don’t have any pictures or anything. T-Bone said you won a shitload of medals. Me, I’d have my medals all framed up on the wall.”
T-Bone glared at Nick and Ryan stared at the floor. “What? What now?” said Nick.
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