Proving Grounds – Part 5


Romero thought to himself while lying in bed that night. The word sat caustically in his mouth. The moonlight shone through his window, illuminating his room as his thoughts stirred ceaselessly. He always had a hard time sleeping and tonight his thoughts were centered on the day’s events at the mall.

As he laid there, he thought about how humiliating it had all been; to be shown up by those ogres, trying to be wooed by that goofy recruiter, and worse, being called “sweet” and “nice” by the girl he wanted, but was then obviously unavailable to. There is no single word in the English language that man wants to be called by a woman he lusts for than “sweet”. To her, he was just a free ride to the mall. Before he knew it, she would probably be calling him to drive her and her dates around so the guy could be free to cop a feel while he drove. She’d never see him like he saw her. What girl would? They wanted, what had she called it? Dangerous.

Perhaps it wasn’t dangerous they were really after, but just a real man, someone to make them feel safe or someone reliable, or maybe just someone tough. She said dangerous though. You couldn’t just be that type of person. You could be reliable and make them feel safe, and you could even be tough. But she didn’t really say any of those words… she said “dangerous”, the type of person others respected, even feared, just by looking at them. That’s what she wanted, not someone like him.

Then he thought about that poster, the one with the Marine with his sword. He held the sword right up to his hat. His medals were glinting in some light, red ones, tan ones, blue ones, and green ones. Nathaniel wondered if they were all from some big combat mission somewhere, some big war like the ones from when he was a kid. The Marine looked like he didn’t even care about that. He looked like there was something else deeply on his mind, like he was reliving one of those battles or something, or like he was getting ready for another one. He had rugged, jagged features and a thick neck, not unlike SSgt Nobles. He looked like people might fear him. He looked dangerous. Yeah, that guy was dangerous enough, but he was clean; clean shaven, clean haircut, all his medals and ribbons perfectly in rows while he stood like a statue. Nathaniel had always viewed guys who joined the military as just a bunch of guys who wanted to kill people, a bunch of stupid apes, and like a bunch of murderous fiends wanting to get away with murder. That guy in the poster though, he didn’t look like that either. He looked under control. He looked like you could trust him, no matter what he might have had to do. He didn’t look some barbarian, but like he would take care of his friends. He looked like someone who others would respect.

Nathaniel Romero was none of those things. No one respected him. No one feared him. There was nothing dignified or heroic about him. He could run. Who fears someone for running? More than that, he was scrawny, and still looked like a little kid. He didn’t have a rugged chin or chiseled features. He had no muscles and he could barely do three pull-ups. There was nothing to be feared here. He was that guy who drove girls to places hoping to friend them so hard they would want him back. Seeing the way his perpetual never-more-than-friend talked to him today, he realized his uber-friend approach would never get anything done with girls all the guys want. He needed to be a man. He wanted to be feared and respected like that guy in the poster. For a moment, at least, he wanted to be that guy in the poster at the recruiter’s office.

A few day later, Nathaniel walked into the recruiter’s office.

“Hello again.”  said SSgt Nobles. “Glad to see you back.”

After a few minutes of awkward pleasantries, Nobles asked the question.

“So how can I help you today, son?”

Nathaniel looked again at the poster of the Marine and sat down at the chair across from the recruiter’s desk. He looked the recruiter squarely in the eyes.

“I want to be a badass.”

There was a long pause after that. Nathaniel didn’t know if the recruiter thought he sounded like an idiot or if he was about to laugh him out of his office. SSgt Nobles placed his hands together in a loose fist on his desk, raised them to his face and leaned on them before returning an unflinching stare. He didn’t laugh. In truth, he didn’t take Nathaniel’s statement as anything less than the most serious utterance ever made.

“Well, son… actually, what’s your name?”

“Nathaniel.” He answered.

“Last name, Nathaniel.” Replied the Staff Sergeant.

“Romero.” Nathaniel answered again.

“Well Mr. Romero, I can honestly tell you, you’ve come to the right place. Ever thought about what you want to do, like for a career?” He asked.

“I want to be dangerous. I want to be dangerous and respected.”

There was another pause. SSgt Nobles sat back in his chair and looked over Nathaniel Romero, sizing up the young man.

“I see.” said the recruiter, followed by yet another thoughtful pause.

After a time of looking over this person who sat in front of him, Nobles asked Romero,

“Mr. Romero, do you have any idea what an ‘o’-three-eleven is?”

Romero raised his eyebrow with a perplexed look on his face.

“No.” he answered.

SSgt Nobles smiled, “0311s, Mr. Romero, are some of the most feared and admired warriors on the planet. If you want to be those things – feared, admired, respected, I guarantee you no one else is going to get you there faster than the o-threes.”

His interest peaked, Romero asked, “So what is an o-three-eleven?”

Nobles moved his hand to the sleeve of his pressed khaki shirt. He pushed the tightly fitted short sleeve of his left arm up to reveal a tattoo of a zero and a three. He turned and looked at Nathaniel again.

“0311s, Mr. Romero, are the Marine Corps Infantry.”

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Cover Art

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