who knew the shortest real song on the album could mean so much? Nothing can be happy in a war.
We sat in our newest room, this one in an actual building, a real bed in a room made with real walls and real windows. Christian was actually lying down, trying to get a nap in before we had to go meet up with the Saints. I was smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. I didn’t see the point in being sober, if I was being forced to even go. No one even listened to me. They listened to Saint Alicia, they listened to Christian, they even listened to Molly, the few times I actually persuaded her to leave her room and come with me. But not a single person on the Council of Saints wanted to hear anything from the Great Gloria, the Last of the American Girls. They sang my praises and I was known for who I was but no one wanted to hear from me.
“You shouldn’t be drinking right now, Gloria.” Christian said, sleep slurring his words. “We have to get going.” With a pointed look I downed the beer. He wasn’t going to be telling me what to do. He never could, and he knew that the only reason I went along with him was because I wanted to. But if he wanted to start bossing me around, I would make sure he knew it wasn’t having any effect.
“I don’t want to go.” I pouted. “I don’t like Alicia.” I stood up off the desk I had been using as a chair with a wobble. The beer was on the floor across the room and that meant I had to get up and get another. “She doesn’t like me either.” I grabbed two from the bowl of ice. It was these little things, the adoration and the constant attention that we got, that made me not believe there would be an easy out for our little band.
“Gloria, they adore you. You are GLORIA, for fuck’s sake. They worship the ground we walk on, both of us. Of course Alicia likes you. She is always trying to talk to you, get your opinion on this attack or that battle plan-“
“No, no she doesn’t. She wants you to think that. She only fawns over you, Christian. And you let her. I think you like it.” I opened one of the beers in my hand, I couldn’t remember if it was my fifth or eighth, and took a long drink off it. I could see that was a slap in the face. I was jealous. He had never seen that before, and I could see he didn’t like it.
“Gloria.” He finally got up, walking over to the desk and took the other beer sitting there for himself to drink. I tried not to be too disgruntled about it. “You are the only woman for me. You know this. I love you. Don’t doubt that, it’s all we really have.” In my drunken state I scoffed, drinking from my beer and trying to find the words to answer him. As I opened my mouth I heard a knock on the door.
“Come in.” Christian’s voice became all business. He scooted away from me and dropped his beer from sight. I did nothing as the door opened and a guy, I believe Alicia had introduced him is Joey, opened the door. He was relatively good looking, he was tall and fair, but he was nothing to me. He wasn’t Christian. He also seemed to be Alicia’s assistant. He did everything Alicia asked of him, came when called and left when dismissed. Personally, I think someone abuses her power. His current task was to come and get Christian and myself.
“The Saints are gathering.” I didn’t bother to hide my eye roll then. Christian gave me reproachful look before turning his attention back to the warrior at our door.
Since I met Christian I noticed he and I were very similar. We came from the same situations, the only children of the great heroes of the world, the last surviving signs that there had been a time before this war and that there were still people who lived to see it end. Different twists in fate hardened us in different ways, broke his spirit and mine many a times. But each time he and I rose from this hurt smarter and stronger. And we each had a different face for the world. There was Inside Gloria and Outside Gloria, and there was Christian Living a Life and Christian Fighting a War. When Christian’s fighting face came out it was easy to see why so many people thought he was worth following, why we all believed that we stood a chance in actually winning. And just like with Inside Gloria, if they didn’t know there was a Christian Living a Life, they never saw him.
“Gloria isn’t feeling well, and I would hate to make anyone sick so I think that it would be better for us all if the two of us abstained from attending tonight.” With smooth lies and an absolute tone Christian excused us from having to see that horrid girl. I smiled, leaning back against the wall and letting my eyes close. I heard the sounds of Joey saluting and then turning to leave. As he hit the doorway he muttered under his breath, as if I couldn’t hear it.
“Like drunk is contagious.” I pulled my gun from my holster, aiming and squeezing the trigger without opening my eyes. The bang was loud and the shout from both boys was profane.
“Understand, boy, that I have seen more and survived more in this war that you ever will. I am the Great Gloria and I will not be spoken to that way. The next time you decide to be rude to a woman with a gun, don’t. She may not be as good an aim as I am.” I sat the gun down and took another sip from my beer, hoping they wouldn’t notice I could barely sit up because of the ringing in my ears. Joey quickly apologized and left. Christian crossed the room to shut the door and then rounded on me, anger flickering in his eyes like a flame.
“What the hell are you thinking, Gloria?” There was anger, but there was also exasperation. He didn’t understand why I was acting the way I did. He wanted me to be smiles and happiness. He wanted me to be strong and powerful. I couldn’t be, I didn’t know what strength meant anymore. I only felt strong when I didn’t hurt and the only time I didn’t hurt was when I was fucked up.
“I was thinking I hate being insulted. I wasn’t going to actually shoot him, Christian. You know I am a better shot than that, Joey is a mouth breather. I could hear him.” Christian came to me, pulling me to my feet and leading me back to the bed. There we sat together, and I let him put his arms around me. It was nice, in my drunken state, to let him be the dominant boyfriend type. I liked this.
“I know, Gloria.” He murmured into my hair. “We just have to be careful here. I agree with you, there is something off about this place. But there is more here that can help us than can hurt us. Especially if we are together. So just be patient.” I nodded, not really able to say much more. I turned my head, pressing my lips against Christian’s to savor his taste, a sweet kiss twinged with beer and cigarette smoke. I couldn’t get over how much I loved him.
Molly and I were walking down the road, it was late, the stars were out and we were trying to get back to the building before Christian and Tre noticed we had bailed. Mike was out somewhere, I think he found himself a girl to waste his time with, and Christian was being overprotective since the whole me shooting at Joey.
“So, if Christian likes it here so much I guess we aren’t leaving any time soon.” Molly said softly. She wasn’t her loud, in your face Molly she had been when I met her. I was worried about her, she had been spending most of her time intoxicated, a few days ago I had found out she was doing acid and ecstasy, and I didn’t know if she was going to overcome the loss of her sister.
“That isn’t true.” I said in a similar tone, though I only spoke as such because I didn’t want to set her off. “I feel so useless here. I don’t do anything; I literally sit around and get so wasted. I feel like… I don’t know. Helpless, hopeless.” Molly scoffed, stopping in her tracks. I spun around to look at her, finding a sinister smile plastered to her lips.
“We may be desperate, but we are neither helpless nor hopeless.” Her tone was cynical, and her words stung. She was talking down to me, and yet I understood why she felt the way she did. She had every right to be cross with my sudden lack of backbone. “As long as we have you and Christian, we will always have hope.” I nodded once, not really sure what to say to her.
Molly might be my best friend, but that was a title more by default than anything else and there were parts of my mind that even she didn’t get privy to. One of them was my utter lack of conviction. I was beginning to wonder if we were doing the right thing. Was music really this important? Couldn’t we all just live in peace, and why couldn’t that just be enough? I could have a life, a real future. I could be with Christian for real, not only day to day. There would be no question on if we would live to see next week; we wouldn’t have to plan out what we would do if the other fell. I really was starting to wonder what the point was. If we gave up there would be no more loss, a fact that I knew both sides suffered with.
“Gloria… Gloria!” The calling of my name brought me from my depressed fantasy. I turned away from Molly, looking in the direction the voice had come from. Bursting from the shadows, Tre was running full force at us. When he stopped in front of us he doubled over, panting as hard as he could to catch his breath.
“You have to... come quick! There... was an am...bush.” With a glance to Molly we both took off, Tre on our heels. We ran for the Council of Saints, knowing that everyone would be gathering there. Inside sat the council, ten guys and girls all in their late teens to maybe early thirties. Christian sat there, too, with Mike standing behind him to his right. To his left was an empty seat where I settled. Tre stood behind us and Molly stood behind my left side. After I sat I saw Joey standing across the table, from us. His head was bowed and he seemed pale.
“We’re glad you could join us, Gloria.” Saint Tesa, a woman in her late twenties with black hair that had red stripes instead of streaks. She could be a lot of fun, but that wasn’t the norm. For the most part she was a somber stick in the mud, who also happened to be in love with Saint Alicia.
“If you would be so kind, please to tell Gloria and Christian your tale Joey.” Saint Katie instructed. Joey nodded with a sniff and I realized he was hanging his head because he didn’t want everyone to see he was crying. When he lifted his face I saw it was smudged with dirt and there was a scratch across his left cheek. The rest of his body wasn’t faring much better, and it was clear that he had gone through something horrific. Christian reached over and held my hand, giving it a genital squeeze, just enough for me to look over at him. He was already looking at me, and when he caught my gaze he smiled gently and mouthed ‘I love you’ before looking back to Joey without giving me time to respond to him.
“Me and the B 67 regiment were out patrolling,” Joey began nervously. His eyes were flittering around the room like a trapped bird; his hands were wringing a stocking cap. “We were looking for news from the other side. It was quite, and we had all just stopped to take a break. Ryan was passing out some food while Chris was checking the perimeter. Drew and Aaron were laughing about some old story as Adrian and Josh just sat there. We’d barely gotten our canteens to our lips before we heard gun fire. It was one shot, and then nothing. The six of us stood, back to back with our guns drawn.” Joey took a shuddering breath. His voice had been light, his words coming fast. I wondered if he was actually having that much trouble telling the story. I knew what was coming, I had lived this before.
“We heard something crash in the woods and it was coming towards us. Everyone’s attention was trained on the place where something was coming for us. We stood ready, though inside I was shaking and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.” Joey’s voice hurt to listen to. He sounded like he was out of it. There was no emotion, and he was just spitting out the information. I held tighter onto Christian’s hand, wishing I could just be closer to him.
“Chris fell into the clearing, landing face down in the dirt. He was moaning in pain, his arm reaching forward as he tried to crawl towards us. The ground was wet and dark; it was soaked with blood that was pouring from a wound that went through his torso. He looked up at us and...” He stopped, looking away from us and down at his hands.
“He looked up at me. His eyes, there was pain in his eyes.” Joey’s voice was thick, I was wondering if he was having trouble talking. I could feel a lump in my throat forming. I hurt, too. All I could think about was Lilly, looking at her wound and wondering if it looked like Chris’s. I felt another hand grab onto my unused one and glanced back to see Molly with watery eyes. I knew she was thinking the same thing I was.
“Josh took a step towards Chris, I guess to save him, but the trees began to rain bullets at us. Adrian tried to fire a couple of shots, but I didn’t see much more. Drew fell into me and I fell too. He landed on top of me. I hate it; I was too scared to move. I couldn’t get him off me. I just laid there as my friends were killed.” He had to stop talking for a moment, trying to catch his breath or something. He reached up with a bandaged hand and wiped away tears from his face.
“I could hear footsteps coming closer to me. I pressed my face into the bloody dirt and held my breath. Oh god, I played dead though I wished I was. Seven AMEU soldiers walked into the clearing, laughing at what a good job they did. They kicked me in the ribs, I think they broke a few, and did other things to the bodies of my friends. One of them suggested they shoot us all in the head one more time, a double tap they called it. The others began to agree and I was sure I was dead. But then came this loud signal from their radio and they took off in a hurry. I don’t know how long after they left, minutes hours, weeks. When I finally did get up I ran straight here, and told you.” At the end his voice got so soft it was almost impossible to hear him. There were tears running down his cheeks, as there were tears running down mine. I waited, looking at the pain caused to Joey as the Saints sat there, looking to each other but not saying a word to Joey. But it wasn’t just that, it was the lack of emotion that graced their faces, and even Alicia’s acceptance, that angered me.
“What the hell are you doing? You just sit there, doing nothing!”
“What would you have us do, Gloria?” Justin, a blonde tall man in his mid twenties from the mid west, barked at me.
“Well, for first I would have given this brave solider a chair. He had been through enough to at least be offered a chair in your great hall. And condolences for the things he witnessed. Perhaps I would have allowed him to be properly attended to by the physicians as well.”
“Gloria.” Christian tugged at my hand, trying to quiet me. I shot him a dirty look, telling him he should keep his mouth shut, and then turned my attention to these blasphemous saints.
“This is nothing more than a Murder City and you all are not Saints. The only true saint fell long before any of you were born. You sit here, order around people you think are less than you. You offer these people without titles or hit lists only death in following you, and then don’t blink an eye when they die.”
“We are fighting a war, Gloria. Casualties are to be expected.” Tesa interjected.
“But never to be welcomed.” My voice was rising; I was beginning to lose it. But how could they just sit there, these were their friends, their family. We all were together in this fight, and with such few numbers to start with every life lost should be a tragedy.
“Gloria, you need to understand that if we cried every time someone was killed, we would no time to do anything else. We do not relish in their death, as you so rudely accused us of, but understand it is a necessary evil. We cannot sit by and let them do as they please; we have to go after them. That was the mistake made by your mother and her followers.”
“YOU WILL NOT SPEAK OF MY MOTHER, NOR POINT OUT HER FLAWS!” I could no longer contain my rage. These wanna be warriors had no idea what my mother did for them, that without her they would not be able to send their friends to their deaths. “You will not tell me how to fight this war! You have no idea what you are doing; you are finding more ways to kill people. That is not something I will be a part of.” I stood then, ripping my hands from both Christian and Molly.
“Hear me now: Gloria the Great, The Last of the American Girls will no longer stand behind this fake Council of Saints. Everyone who wants to follow me will leave tomorrow.” I then left the room. I could hear Molly following me without a word, but there were not the other sets of footfalls that I had expected. Christian, Mike, and Tre were not behind me. I was thankful Molly was behind me so she couldn’t see the tears.
It was maybe an hour after I had left and Molly and I sat in Christian’s and mine room trying to figure out how we were going to leave and if we knew anyone was going to go with us. We were wide awake after the riots we had, I had, caused between the people in charge and my little band of fighters.
“You don’t have to go with me, Molly.” I didn’t want to admit it to her, but I couldn’t be cruel to her the way the others were to us. “You can stay here. It would be easy for you here; they would take care of you. You probably would never have to work again.” She laughed an empty laughter that had no reason, except to sting me. Or so I thought.
“As if I could leave you.” She grabbed a beer and tossed it to me, then getting herself one too. “You are my family now, Gloria. You and Christian and Tre and Mike, you guys are all I have. My loyalties lie with you. So if you are running, I will be right there behind you.” She smiled then and I couldn’t help but smile back.
“Don’t leave.” I turned to look at the door. I had been packing for more than two hours, Molly had gone to get her stuff and spread the word that we were leaving. Christian was standing in the doorway, his arms crossed against his chest. I heard him sniffle, and when I looked it looked like he was crying. “I talked to Alicia and she said-“
“She said what?” I spat, throwing stuff into my duffel bag. “She said that I was a liar and a bad leader and that I was too sentimental to do my job?” I glared at him through drunken eyes, I was still upset with him and his slick words weren’t going to save him.
“She didn’t say anything like that, Gloria!” Christian came over to the bed and made me sit next to him. “She said she wanted to apologize to you, and she wanted to talk to you one on one. They need us, and they want us to stay.”
“Are you kidding, Christian? I can’t stand that girl! She’s blasphemous and vile. She uses the title of Saint to make people do what she wants. And she called me a liar!” I was being honest, I was truly offended and actually hurt by Alicia and her actions, and Christian laughed. I was getting tired of being laughed at by my friends.
“And if you are going to act the same way, maybe you should go away.” I looked away, scooting up the bed away from him. I saw the shock run through his eyes, I saw it hurt him and I couldn’t bring myself to actually care. He sat there for a moment, looking at me, deciding if I meant what I was saying. When he realized I did, he got up and went into the bathroom. Inside I could hear him crying, and part of my heart broke for the man I loved. Outside Gloria just wanted a cigarette.