Vector -3- Dreaming?

Waking up is not the hard part...

Vector -3-

by Lainie Lee

Jack Smoot barely got half an hour asleep in his bunk before being rousted out by reveille. His roommate, Gerry Jones, still wasn't back yet. Jack rolled out of bed, stumbled through some sort of morning routine, appeared at a very perfunctory roll call and ended up staring at a plate of eggs and potatoes in the mess hall while sleepily stirring his coffee.

The noise in the crowded room pressed on his skull and made his eyeballs hurt. His tongue tasted like an old jockstrap forgotten in the back of a locker. His stomach roiled and rumbled, threatening revolt if he should put anything into it. On the whole, he felt good, he reflected. Good for someone who had spent the evening and most of the night drinking in every bar in Oakland that he and his friends could find open, that is.

His mind shied away from the horror they had found on returning to base. That had turned out better than could be expected with the help of Sergeant Polk. With luck, he would never have to consider the girl lying in the pool of yuck again after this morning after.

He sipped coffee cautiously, stirred in more sugar and sipped again. A part of him worried about Gerry Jones but not actively. He had his own troubles. In less than 48 hours, he would be flying to Viet Nam.

His buddies, as hungover as he was from the night bar-crawling, eventually found him and sat down with their own food and beverage. Vance Moss, the Mormon, was drinking only hot water, but the other two had coffee like Jack.

"How can you drink just hot water?" Jack asked.

"Like this," said Vance, taking a sip from the big mess hall earthenware cup. Vance had never gotten used to coffee; he thought of it as a life lesson, the aroma had great promise, but the taste was always a bitter disappointment. He preferred his hot water.

"Anyone seen Jones?" asked Buddy Randolph, the oldest of them by two years. He glared at his eggs. He didn't like them scrambled, but this mess hall wasn't cooking to order. "Gerry's going to be in trouble for missing roll call and even more trouble if he doesn't show up."

Vance pointed out, "He's already scheduled to go to Viet Nam, what else they gonna do to him?"

Paul Montana reached for the salsa while chopping his sausage into pieces with the edge of his fork. He was a big, Indian-looking kid from New Mexico and nothing he could do to mess hall food made it taste like home but he did like the all-you-can-eat feature. His plate was heaped with eggs, three kinds of meat, both potatoes and oatmeal, toast, a biscuit, tomato slices, and a small bowl of stewed apples. He had a glass of milk and one of juice, too, as well as his richly sugared and creamed coffee.

Paul grunted an agreement with Vance and kept eating.

Nobody else had that much of an appetite, and no one had answered Randolph's question. Buddy asked another, "Anyone seen Sergeant Polk?"

Everyone shrugged or shook their head.

"Did it all really happen?" asked Vance. "Last night?" He looked puzzled, his narrow features wrinkled in concern.

"Did what happen?" asked Buddy.

"Finding the girl in the pile of crap…." He trailed off because Buddy was shaking his head.

"Until we hear different from the Sarge, nothing happened at all last night except we got drunk, came in around three in the morning and hit the sack," Buddy said, looking at each of them.

Everyone nodded or said something affirmative, even Paul who had a mouthful of jelly biscuit.

"Wotta we got to do today?" asked Jack. "I need more sleep."

"Line up for shots at 0800," said Buddy. "Then some kind of orientation at ten, then we're free to sack out except there's an optional, uh, company assembly at 1600 to hear some Congress-critter tell us all how brave we are."

Jack made a rude noise, and Paul almost sprayed oatmeal on the table, trying not to laugh.

"Does he think we're all volunteers?" asked Jack.

"I volunteered," Vance pointed out.

"Not for Viet Nam," said Jack. "You got screwed out of tank school by that paperwork mess-up, Mossy. You ought to be on your way to Germany."

Vance shrugged.

"I ought to be on my way to Taos," said Paul after swallowing. "Got a girl there just got out of school last week. She ain't gonna wait for whatever is left of me to come back from the Nam. She gonna be married and probably knocked up in less than a year."

The other three looked at the vanishing contents of his plate. "Man-Mountain," said Buddy, "there's probably gonna be more of you that comes back than gets on the plane tomorrow if you keep eating like that."

"I hear the food in Nam really sucks," said Paul. "I'm gonna eat all this good American chow while I can."

Jack pushed his plate toward the bigger man. "Eat mine, too, I ain't hungry." Then he asked again, "Has anyone seen Gerry Jones?"

* * *

Sergeant Polk carefully opened the door and quietly stepped inside. The girl he had deposited in the bed some hours before on his first trip to the motel was still sleeping. She lay on her side with her face away from the window, her dark hair across the whiteness of the sheet. The draping of the cloth seemed to reveal her shape beneath. It made an erotic picture that Polk felt it hit like a physical blow. It didn't help that he knew she was nude under the sheet.

He might be forty-one, but he wasn't dead.

He shook his head, grinning to himself, thinking such thoughts about a white girl half his age. He put down a bag of clothes he'd picked up at Sears on his way back from clocking in at the base. He already had all his shots and with his rank, all he had to do this day was wait and no one cared where he waited. In less than 48 hours he would be on a plane for Viet Nam, and he didn't want to miss it. But he couldn't just abandon a drunk, naked girl in a motel room.

He'd checked her in under the name Cheryl Jones, though he couldn't have said why he picked that name. And he'd paid for a two-night stay, in case she was unable to get moving this morning before the 11 a.m. checkout time. They still hadn't found any clothes she might have left in the barracks so coming back with a few necessities seemed the decent thing to do.

But what a picture she made lying there. He'd be glad to drop things off and get away from temptation.

He'd had to guess at her sizes, but she wasn't much bigger than his own daughter, an inch or so taller maybe and quite a bit bustier. Dresses were more forgiving than pants of being too big or too small, so that was what he had purchased. A pale blue dress with puffed sleeves and a pattern of white birds, sailboats and clouds. A package of three cotton panties with elastic bands in assorted colors. A stretchy sports bra. Flip-flops because guessing shoe sizes was just too hard. A blue and white sweater to match the dress, weather in the Bay Area being so unpredictably cool or warm at any time of year.

A small black purse with a long shoulder strap nearly completed the outfit. But because he knew most girls felt naked without some jewelry or makeup, he had picked out a costume necklace of white pearl-like beads and a charm bracelet with three charms, a teddy bear, a unicorn, and the reason he had chosen the bracelet, a tiny golden model of an Army jeep.

A tube of red lipstick, too. She would look good with a bright true red, kind of like a fifties movie star. She had all the curves of someone like a cross between Dorothy Lamour and Jayne Mansfield.

Get back, Jack, he told himself silently, still grinning at his own lustful thoughts. He could understand why someone had smuggled her onto base, but it must have taken a real crud to abandon her, drunk and sick on the floor of a latrine.

At least he was going to abandon her in a nice hotel room. He glanced around, well, a fairly clean hotel room.

He put the clothing on the other bed and everything else on the dresser, pulled the wadded up blank newsprint out of the purse and put two hundred dollars in twenties and tens inside. He'd extorted the money from the boys who'd found her. The last things in the shopping bag were a travel kit in a little plastic pouch with a comb, brush, toothbrush, scissors and nail clippers. He put that down in front of the mirror on the dresser where she could easily find it.

He took a last look around. The girl on the bed sighed but didn't move. He'd told the desk to call her an hour before check out so she would have time to get dressed and get a cab to take her wherever she needed to go. As a final thought, he took out his wallet and put another fifty under the purse. He could afford it even after paying for the motel, the clothes and stuff and she deserved as much as possible for what must have been a strange and unsettling experience.

He watched her breathe for a while but started when he realized he was getting another hard on. Chuckling, he saluted her then went to the door. "Wish you luck, kid," he whispered as he let himself out.

* * *

She woke up when the desk called to tell her that checkout time was 11 a.m. But that she was paid up for another two days, anyway. She hung the phone up, carelessly, getting it on the hook almost by accident. The call had hardly penetrated to her consciousness, and she went back to sleep immediately, a heavy sleep with slow, amnesiac, aquatic dreams.

She woke up again, thirsty and ravenously hungry. The room still darkened by the heavy drapes, she had no idea of the time but felt vaguely as if she must be late for something. Her hand reflexively squeezed her breast, and she startled more awake.

Looking down at her chest, she marveled. "Ah'm still dreamin'," she said aloud. Getting out of the bed more carefully this time, she stumbled toward the bathroom again. "How much did Ah drink?" she asked and giggled. Her breasts wobbled gently as she walked and that amused her even more.

In the dark bathroom, she first tried to get her mouth down to the faucet in the sink; then it occurred to her to unwrap a glass. "Don't be stupid," she told herself, filling and drinking two full glasses before setting the container aside. She peered at herself in the mirror, but she could see very little in the darkness.

"Am Ah dreamin'?" she asked aloud, finally finding the light switch and turning on the brilliance. She blinked and squinted then decided that her head didn't hurt quite as much as it had earlier. She looked at the mirror again and saw a very curvy young woman with tangles of dark hair falling to her waist. She lifted her breasts and wondered at the weight of them in her hands. "Why would Ah dream Ah look like that?"

The only thing she recognized about the image in the mirror was her bright blue eyes. She leaned in to look closer at the face then staggered backward. "Momma?" she whispered. Her image did resemble her mother, dead for more than a decade. The dark hair, the angles of cheek and chin and nose and the same bright blue eyes she had left her son.

That thought sent her hand to her crotch to find the soft cleft where dangling bits ought to have been. She didn't have a hand mirror, but there was a full-length one on the back of the door, and she examined herself carefully. Inside a luxuriant set of curls the same color as the hair on her head was a set of soft, fleshy female equipment.

"Ah'm a woman?" she asked no one. She'd had dreams of being female before; gentle dreams where she went about a daily life she remembered as resembling that of Gerald's dead mother and sisters. She'd never dreamed before of waking up naked in a motel room with still damp, uncombed hair tangled about her face. She closed the toilet lid and sat down to save herself from collapsing.

She looked at her hands. They weren't her mother's hands that had been roughened and calloused from farm chores and housework. These hands were soft and delicate as if they had never been used. The nails were a little long and ragged, and the lines in her palm were babyish and barely formed. There were no wrinkles at her wrist. She put the odd, impossible, womanly hands to her face and wept.

“Why am Ah cryin’?” she wondered aloud.

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