Cadet woke up in the early hours of the morning, her stomach growling. Slipping out of bed, she padded toward the kitchen to get something to eat. There was a light on in the room, and she found Grisham’s tall form stretched out in one of the chairs next to the table.
“Hey,” she nodded toward Cadet.
“Hi,” Cadet said. “Sorry, I know I’m not supposed to be up. I’m just really hungry.”
Grisham gave a small shrug and waved her hand toward the refrigerator.
Cadet grabbed some bread and put it in the toaster. She didn’t feel hungry enough to eat a full meal, even though it had been way too long since she last ate. She just needed something to make the growling nausea go away.
Usually she would have slid toward Grisham for affection and comfort, but this time she stayed at a distance and a prickly silence established itself between them. After a small eternity, the toaster flipped the browned bread into the void.
“Are you okay, Cadet?” Grisham asked the question as Cadet pinched the hot corner of her toast to get it out.
Cadet looked over her shoulder. “Were you ever going to tell me that you’re married to the woman who kicks my ass all day?”
“Hm.” Cadet took a bite and turned around to face Grisham, one arm wrapped over her waist in a protective gesture.
“You’re mad at me, huh?”
“Not for being married,” Cadet said between bites. “You let Gray whip the hell out of me for saying the same thing you did.”
“Terra assigned her to handle you. I can’t intervene. Besides,” she said, her eyes taking a sterner expression, “you deserved it.”
“I deserved it?” Cadet’s lip curled.
“You screamed this place down all evening. We didn’t get our briefing done. You didn’t even get to eat. Yeah, you deserved it. And you know it.”
It was Cadet’s turn to shrug. “Maybe.”
“No maybe about it,” Grisham said. “Besides, we were both wrong. This unit is going to be a lot better with Gray.”
“Speaking of this unit, where’s Sarah?”
“Spending the night in the cells,” Grisham said. “She failed to follow orders on our mission.”
Cadet smirked and shook her head. “This unit is a real mess, isn’t it?”
“It’s a work in progress,” Grisham admitted.
Cadet finished her toast and brushed the crumbs off her chest. “I better go back to bed. Don’t want your wife beating me again tomorrow.”
Grisham let out a little growl. “Call her my wife and it won’t be Gray who beats you.”
“Sorry,” Cadet said. “I better get to bed so Mrs Grisham doesn’t beat me.”
“Call her Mrs Grisham to her face and see where that gets you,” Grisham smirked, shaking her head. “Cadet, you’re in enough trouble as it is. You really don’t need to push the boundaries on top of it.”
“I don’t think I care anymore,” Cadet said simply. “Terra let me know what she thinks of me tonight and Gray tried to convince me that should make me work harder, but I don’t think so. I think Terra wants something from me, and I’ll give it to her, but I’m not going to play the perfect little soldier.”
“Gray is not going to give you any choice,” Grisham said. “What is it, Cadet? Is your butt still not sore enough?”
“You don’t get it, do you?” Cadet shook her head. “I’ve worked my whole life to get into the Academy. And it turns out now that if I didn’t have some weird country girl magic or whatever it is, I’d have washed out within weeks. You know what that tells me? It tells me that all that hard work… everything I did, all the books I read… it was all for nothing. So yeah, I’ll try to avoid having Gray beat the hell out of me, but if you, or Terra, or anyone else thinks I’m going to work to impress them, they’ve got another thing coming. Because obviously I can’t.”
“Ah,” Grisham nodded. “If at first you don’t succeed, scream, throw a fit, and embrace failure for all time. That’s how the saying goes, isn’t it?”
“Whatever,” Cadet shrugged. “I’m going back to bed. Good night, Mrs Gray.”
There was a scraping sound that heralded Grisham exploding out of her chair. In an instant, she had Cadet snatched up by the back of her shirt, her toes barely touching the ground.
“Listen, you little brat,” Grisham growled in a fearsome tone. “There’s some things you don’t joke about, alright?”
“Alright,” Cadet squeaked.
Grisham lowered her to the floor and Cadet took several quick steps away, pulling her shirt back down into place.
“You know, you’re kind of an asshole,” she said when she was close enough to the bedroom door to guarantee an escape to Terra’s sleeping side if she absolutely had to. “Use me as a distraction from your wife…”
“That is not what was happening. At all.”
“Sure it wasn’t,” she said, her voice bitter. “What are you going to do? Beat me if I don’t agree with you?”
“Go to bed, Cadet,” Grisham growled, her tone low.
“Yeah, you get some sleep too, Mrs Gray.”
Cadet made a swift escape into the bedroom just in case Grisham came after her, but at first there was nothing but silence from the lounge. She lay under the covers and held her breath when she heard Grisham’s boots on the floorboards outside. The front door opened, then closed again. Cadet lifted her head and peeked out the window. There was just enough light by which to see Grisham’s tall form walking away from the camp into the forest.
She laid back down in the bed and brushed a tear out of her eye, staring up at the ceiling with a hollow feeling expanding in her stomach and chest. It felt like a very long time before sleep came again.