I wasn’t even sure I heard the words right, because they didn’t make any sense. I was in my tent in the middle of that god-forsaken desert, and I had to be finally losing my damn mind, because I couldn’t have heard Mike right.
He stood in the entrance to my tent with a solemn look on his face, pale as a sheet like he was going to be sick.
I shook my head, thinking it would clear out the ear wax or whatever was getting in the way of me understanding the words that came out of Mike’s mouth.
He swallowed, and I swear he went even paler. “Wyatt’s dead.”
The words still didn’t make any sense. He must’ve got it all wrong. I had just had dinner with Wyatt and we had plans for cards once he got done calling Lexi and the kid. He had the wrong guy.
Or he was fucking with me.
I narrowed my eyes at Mike, tried to suss him out. He always pulled pranks like that, going too far with jokes without realizing it wasn’t fucking funny. But he wasn’t laughing, and he had a shit poker face.
All at once, my blood turned to ice and the words finally sunk in.
My hearts raced, choking me as I jumped to my feet, pushed past Mike, and ran out of the tent, straight for the infirmary. Maybe he got it wrong. Maybe Wyatt just stubbed a toe or something and complained about how he’s dying. That sounded more accurate. That was more believable than the thought of my best friend somehow no longer being with us.
It seemed like time crawled by like frozen molasses trying to go uphill; it felt like I was wading through air so thick I might not be able to push through it. It felt like there was an anvil on my chest squeezing all the air out of my lungs, and all I could do was pray that Mike was wrong, that he’d been mistaken, that I misheard him.
I stumbled into the infirmary tent and looked around at the sea of uniforms, trying to spot my friend. I spotted the captain first, standing by a lumpy cot with a sheet pulled up to cover the mound underneath. He caught my eye and his mouth fell into a grim line, a dull sadness in his eyes evident even across the few yards between us.
I approached slowly, my feet seemed to move on their own, dragging me to that cot with the sheet-covered lump against my will.
“Captain,” I said with a slow nod, my voice rough and strained. My throat was tight, my whole body thrummed, vibrated, adrenaline rushed through my veins, protests and denial screamed out in my head.
My fingers twitched, and I wanted to reach for the sheet, but as soon as I moved my arm, the captain gave me a sharp look and shook his head.
“You don’t want to see that, son. Believe me.”
But it didn’t seem real. Surely whoever is under that sheet wasn’t Wyatt. It wasn’t my best friend from elementary school, cold and lifeless under that thin layer of cotton. It had to be someone else. Anyone else.
I thought back to a couple hours earlier, when we wolfed down shitty Sloppy Joes in that mess, planning our card night, talking shit to each other. He went to call his wife first, like he had done every week…
What could have happened? It didn’t make any sense.
The captain looked at me, sensing the unspoken questions on the tip of my tongue.
“Suicide,” he said, sending every thought racing down the highway of my mind screeching to a halt until there was a massive pile-up and only that one word repeated, reverberating through my head.
“What?” was all I could ask. That sounded even less believable.
Captain nodded, his face was still grim. “One clean shot, through and through. Couldn’t have felt a damn thing.”
I swallowed thick, bile raised up in the back of my throat at the thought of Wyatt with a bullet hole in his head. The thought of his brains splattered all over his tent, his face mangled from the impact of the exit wound.
I saw it. I saw the aftermath of that shit. I knew how messy it was. I knew how haunting it was, but until I superimposed Wyatt’s face on those memories, I didn’t think I realized just how bad it was.
“You make sure you talk to somebody, you hear me, Calhoun?” Captain said, giving me a stern look. I knew what he was saying, but I couldn’t focus on the words because all I could think about was Wyatt’s brains outside of his skull and I was about to puke.
I didn’t say a word before I ducked out of the infirmary tent, upchucking the Sloppy Joes from earlier, heaving until there was nothing left in my stomach but acid and regret.
How the hell did that happen? Everything was fine… Except clearly it wasn’t. Clearly Wyatt was dealing with things I didn’t understand, things he didn’t tell me about. I never even knew he was depressed, and then that? With no warning? It was like a blow to the back of the head. It came out of nowhere, coldcocking me, and leaving me confused and reeling, wondering how I would move on from there.
Wondering how did I let this happen.
Wyatt and I came to this hellhole together and we swore we were going to leave it together. I’d promised his wife and kid that I’d look out for him, that I’d take care of him.
I’ve failed at a lot of things in my life, but none of that seemed all that important anymore. None of those mistakes ever made me feel like my whole world was upside down and falling apart all at once.
There were people around, and I even heard someone call my name, trying to talk to me as I doubled over dry heaving, sobbing uncontrollably over the shock. But I couldn’t make out the words, I couldn’t even pick out the voice. Everything sounded like I was underwater, like it was moving in slow-motion, and then the tunnel started to close in. I reached out blindly for something to support myself on as the world spun and blackness crowded around my vision, but wasn’t anything to grab. My fingers slipped through the tent fabric and I fell forward, everything faded to darkness as I did.