(Cindy and Cragg)
On Wednesdays, Laura had science club and needed a ride after school. Her mom was usually working then, so it fell to Cragg to pick her up. She didn’t call Cragg her mom’s boyfriend. The word seemed to silly to use for adults. Maybe if Mom had used it, but Mom had danced around the word for a couple of months now.
She’d once said her and Cragg were “going steady”, whatever the hell that meant. When Laura pointed out that sounded serious too, Mom had retracted the statement.
“Can we talk to him?” asked Pepper. She always asked.
Laura had explained many times that Saturnites were boring. They were quiet and stoic. They looked like living hunks of rock, and they had about as much personality. Perhaps other Saturnites were more lively. Perhaps Mom had simply found the most dull Saturnite on the planet.
Laura made an excuse and climbed into the rig. Cragg nodded and grunted at her as he pulled away from the curb. He was hard to read. Having a slab of granite for a face wasn’t his fault, she supposed.
“How was your day at the enforced learning center?” he asked, out of the blue.
She shrugged. “Okay. Y’know. The usual.”
He grunted again. He grunted a lot.
“How was your day at the mandatory wage dispensary facility?” she asked.
They didn’t say anything for a few minutes. She wished the radio worked, but it’d broken three weeks ago. He saw no reason to get it fixed. Now the rides were full of silence. Not that it bothered him. Nothing bothered him. Nothing got to him. It was what Mom liked about him. He was steady, a mountain on legs.
She sat back in the chair and sighed.
“Do you ever get tired of it?” she asked.
“It. Y’know. Stuff and shit.”
His brow furrowed. He grunted noncommittally.
“It’s just teenage drama,” she said. “I hate it. I hate it because it’s stupid bullshit that doesn’t matter. But it kind of matters to me still. Like at lunch, Janine made a joke about my boobs being big. Everyone laughed. I laughed. But then I felt self-conscious about it all day.”
She sighed again. “Stupid, right?”
“When I fought on the battlefields of Gargnor, the soldier’s rage took me. I don’t remember much of what happened that day but I remember waking beneath the broken rubble of my fellow warrior’s remains.”
“Okay. I get it,” Laura said. “There are more important things than teenage problems.”
“This isn’t what I meant.” Cragg frowned. “I witnessed the horror and glory of battle that day. But it was not my glory. It was not my horror. It was in the faces of my platoon. It was in the strength of my enemy. A thousand wars were fought that day. Mine was just one of them.
“The truth I learned that day was that there are no small battles. There are only the struggles that define us, that seek to conquer us, and that we fight every day. Sometimes, it is a battle against the unstoppable conqueror worms of Gragnor. Sometimes, it’s our own doubts and fears. We are always at war. But wars must be fought. We gather our scars, and we fight on.”
“Is that how you got that chip on your face?” she asked.
Cragg smiled. “No. That was another time.”
Laura leaned back in her seat. “Y’know something, Cragg. You’re all right.”
“I find you unobjectionable as well.”
She laughed, and it felt damned good.