Craig lay on his back, staring at the ceiling, his eyes following the hairline cracks in the white paint. A quick glance at his bedside clock tells him he still has a half hour before his alarm goes off.
He had spent all day Saturday and Sunday thinking about Sarah's letter, and now, here he is, awake at dark o'clock on a cold Monday morning in September, thinking about the letter again.
She is a beautiful girl and Craig knows enough about her personality to know that men would be falling at her feet, but he just couldn't bring himself to see her as anything more than a friend. For the whole weekend that fact had haunted him; he didn't want to break her heart or hurt her but his reply, no matter how tactful, would be almost certain to do it.
"You're an idiot, a grade A, 1st Class, top of the pops donkey for giving up a cracker like that," Craig chuckles at his brother's voice roaring in his mind, as if he were right there next to him.
It's strange; he could almost feel his brother's shade following him, whispering insults and goading him all the time on the training grounds. Craig wonders what his brother would have thought of his being marked out as the most promising recruit within a week.
"What you so fuckin' proud o'? I had that within twenty fours, 'cause I dominated from start to finish. A bloody week? Yer slipping Craig," he chuckles again at the spot on conjuration his mind makes of his brother's voice.
He isn't here though, and I wish he was, I just hope, I hope that I don't let his memory down, Craig thinks as he fights back the tears and tries to forget the void his older brother's death has left inside him.
He rolls over and reaches into his personal drawer on the bedside table. Rummaging around in the dark he eventually finds his phone. Pressing the power button in, he awaits the phone booting up. Placing it down on the bedside table he runs across the rough carpet to the bathroom. After taking care of business he runs back across as the icy air in the bunk room makes him shiver and tingle. Diving back under the covers the shivers increase as his body tries to warm up again.
After a few minutes he warms again and reaches out to pick up the phone. It hasn't been on since the day he left to come here, he didn't expect to have anything other than a few texts from Joe, but as he pressed the unlock screen button, he was surprised.
30 new messages, 5 new voicemails.
He dismisses the notification and opens the menu. Biting his lip, he opens the messaging folder and accesses the inbox.
Scrolling through, he counts off the various messages; 7 from Joe, 8 from his mother and 15 from a couple of unrecognised numbers. He opens Joe's first one; sent the day of his departure.
A Royal Marine stationed in Afghanistan recently received a "Dear John" letter from his girlfriend back home. It read as follows: Dear Ricky, I can no longer continue our relationship. The distance between us is just too great. I must admit that I have cheated on you twice, since you've been gone, and it's not fair to either of us. I'm sorry. Please return the picture of me that I sent to you. Love, Becky . The Marine, with hurt feelings, asked his fellow Marines for any snapshots they could spare of their girlfriends, sisters, ex-girlfriends, aunts, cousins etc... In addition to the picture of Becky, Ricky included all the other pictures of the pretty gals he had collected from his mates. There were 57 photos in that envelope...along with a note: Dear Becky, I'm so sorry, but I can't quite remember who you are. Please take your picture from the pile, and send the rest back to me. Take Care, Ricky
Craig can't help himself, he bursts out laughing, shaking his head as he saves the joke to his jokes folder. He scrolls to the next and it's another joke, after another - quieter - laugh he saves it. The next four messages are jokes too and he saves them too. The last from Joe just asks how he is and informs him that Liz and he are now officially "together". Good on you mate, Craig thinks as he sets himself a mental reminder to reply later.
Next, he sucks in a breath, as he opens the first of the messages from his mother.
Hi Craig, it's Mum. I won't pretend I am happy that you've joined the forces but I understand, I am sorry for my reaction, I was just scared for you. Please, let me know how you are and keep in touch. I won't lose another son if I can help it xxx
He scrolls through the rest of the messages from her and they pretty much all hold the same sentiment. Asking him to contact her soon and to forgive her.
Feeling a sense of relief wash over him, he sends a quick reply, apologising for not replying sooner, saying he is fine and that he forgives her.
Craig then opens the first of the messages from the unrecognised numbers.
Hi Craig, it's Sarah, sorry but I asked Joe for your number when you hadn't replied to my letter. I hope you don't mind me texting out of the blue. If you have the time, drop me a message, let me know how training is going.
Craig smiles and saves her number to his phone. The other texts are similar, just asking how he is and how training is going and saying sorry for bothering him. He decides the reply can wait until later, when he is more awake.
Opening the first message from the other unknown number his eyes widen and nostrils flare in response.
Hi, I'm sorry I upset you in our phonecall last week, I just wanted to find out how you were. I had no idea you were still so hurt and angry with me. I know I made a mistake when I cheated on you, I hope you can forgive me and maybe we can talk when you're back?
Anger surges through him as he tries to grasp why she wants to talk. He scrolls to the next message.
Craig, don't be shocked, but I'm pregnant and the father done a runner when I told him. I have had time to think and realised that losing you was a horrible mistake. I hope you will consider "us" as an option again and if you forgive me I promise. I will never hurt you again.
Where was that realisation 6 months ago when I would've given my life to be back with you? Fuck you, he thinks as he deletes the rest of her texts without reading them.
He goes back and reads Joe's jokes again, trying to force himself to forget the anger. It partially works.
Eight alarms suddenly sound off turning the silent room into a flurry of action as Craig and his group jump out of bed and make a run for the showers. Within twenty minutes they are out, dried and kitted up. They all leave together and make it to the parade ground; falling in amongst all the other training groups that make up their unit.
"Good morning girls! How are we all today?" the voice of Sergeant Dickson booms across the parade ground.
His question is met by a chorus of mumbling.
"A bit tired, Sarge, can I go back t' bed?" one smart-arse says.
A wolfish grin animates the Sergeant's lips. "Aaaw, poor little lamb, would like a teddy and a cup of hot chocolate too?"
"I'd prefer a bedtime story, go on Sarge give us one o' yer speeches. That'll do the trick," some brave soul yells from the back.
Dickson's grin widens - oh shit, Craig thinks as he watches the Sergeant slowly pace down the line. Everyone straightens up and they all lift their chins; hoping to avoid his ire.
"Thanks to the comedian at the back, your leisurely three mile run is now a six mile run - with a half load," he relishes the complaints that arise from the statement. Dickson continues his walk along the line and passes by Craig, moving a few steps beyond, before backpedalling to do a double-take.
Uh-oh, Craig thinks as the Sergeant leans in, intently studying the steel dagger pin.
He looks Craig straight in the eye. "You think you've earned that?" he whispers.
"Not yet, Sergeant," Craig answers grimly.
"You look familiar,"
Of course I do, I was the one you shoved off the high wall, y fuckin' moron, Craig thinks, he barely manages to stop himself speaking the thought.
"Any family in the forces?"
A tight nod is all the reply he can muster as memories of finding Colin swinging from that...
"Royal Engineers," Craig croak. "He passed the commando engineers course."
The Sergeant's eyes light up in recognition. "Colin Wallace?"
Fuck. Craig nods again, trying to school his face to hide the dread bubbling up inside.
"My god, I toured Afghanistan wit' him a few years back. He saved our arses a few times by disarming I.E.Ds. How the hell is he?"
Craig gulps and drops his head to hide the tears that must now be showing in his eyes. "Dead..." he whispers.
The Sergeant sucks in a breath and mumbles an apology. "If you don't mind, I'd like to discuss him later,"
Craig looks up. "Yes, Sergeant."
Dickson moves off down the line, a little slower and clearly deep in thought as he continues to inspect everyone. He ticks off a few of the men for various minor infractions but Craig could see that a little of the vigour that was there before had gone now; evaporated, as if a part of the Sergeant had died too.
"Go get your bergens, fill 'em halfway and get back here. Last unit fully formed will run twice." the entire column falls out and they all run off to their barrack blocks; eager to avoid the punishment.
Sighing, Craig is almost tempted to walk it, but picks up the pace; despite himself, he won't let his squad down.