“Oh, well when you get to that rank, you’re sent on a year-long mission, or several missions depending on how long they last, to test your skills in real situations.” said Johnny.
“We won’t see them until the end of the year.” Mickey said, looking down in slight worry. “If they come back.”
“Have people really died on these missions?” I asked, hoping that was just something to scare them into doing what they were supposed to.
“Yes.” said Buddy, “These aren’t like simulated missions or anything. They’re real. And sometimes it’s fully trained agents, but sometimes it’s students too.” He looked down and a dark shadow came over his face.
“I had a cousin who got killed on a mission in Paris. He’d been trying to save a civilian who’d been hit in the crossfire.” said Johnny. Everyone looked down sadly.
“My brother was on a mission somewhere in Europe on a mountain range a couple years ago.” said Buddy, and everyone looked at him. “They were ambushed. Outnumbered. My brother and a couple others who couldn’t get away fast enough were caught and tortured for months before they were finally killed.”
We were all dead silent as he spoke. I couldn’t believe this. After several minutes of agonizing silence, I found myself asking the words, “How did you know they were…” I couldn’t bring myself to finish.
“They video-taped it.” he said, looking into space like he was replaying the video in his mind. “They showed us everything they did to him.”
He was going to continue with details, but Johnny cut him off saying, “So Mickey, what were you going to warn Morgan about me?” Everyone thankfully looked over at Mickey, because if Buddy had said anything else I was pretty sure I was gonna start crying. Now I knew why he was an assassin.
“Oh, yeah.” she said, swallowing some salad and managing a smile, the mood of the group shifting. “He’s a huge flirt, so if he starts pulling some moves on you, don’t be so quick to trust them.”
“Hey, just because I flirt a lot, that doesn’t mean I’m not serious about it.” he said, looking at her and then me.
I blushed and Mickey laughed. “Are you kidding? You’ve never been the serious type.”
“I never saidthat,” he said and they all laughed, “but that doesn’t mean it’s so unbelievable that she and I would go on a date.”
Everyone laughed again, and then even more when they saw I was blushing. He looked over at me with that sexy smile and gave me a wink, which only made it worse. “Come on guys, stop before her skin gets stuck like that.” Buddy said, back to normal, putting an arm around me supportively. “Don’t worry Rylee, he doesn’t really mean it.”
“What did I just say?” said Johnny, “It’s not completely unlikely, and it would be nice. I’d get the kitchens to let me cook some food, maybe some Italian dishes, some desserts too, and then we’d go out to the dock on the beach and have a picnic at sunset. We’d feed each other grapes and chocolate covered strawberries…”
“Okay, Romeo, I think we got the picture.” Mickey interrupted his dramatic pause and he looked at her like he resented the interruption.
“I wasn’t done.” he said.
“Yes you were.” she said and then nodded at me.
Everyone looked at me and I realized my heartbeat had quickened and I was holding my breath, my cheeks flushed. “Aw, now look what you did. She’s star-struck.” Buddy said, but he was smiling in amusement.
Johnny smiled at me and said, “Now see? Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“Don’t fall for it Rylee, he’s just using you to make a point.” Mickey said, nodding at me.
He nudged her and said under his breath, “Stop it! Would it really be so bad if we dated?”
Then Buddy shook my shoulders and I looked up at him as Mickey told Johnny she just didn’t want him to break my heart. Buddy grinned at me and then looked over at them as he said, “Yeah, he’s too crazy about Mick to do more than flirt with anyone else.”
They looked over at us and Johnny said, “More like crazy because of her.” He leaned away from her like he was upset and rested his arms on the table.
“Oh, admit it. You like fighting with me.” she said, almost on the edge of laughter.
He inclined his head in her direction and smiled, then quickly slid back beside her and put his arms around her as she giggled, her mouth full of pasta, and tried half-heartedly to get free as he said, “Okay, I admit it. I’m crazy about you Mckayla, darling. Would you marry me? We could live in the country and have a few dozen little Mickey and Johnny Jr’s—
“Ha!” she interrupted him, “Few dozen children, you’d be lucky to even get a date with me.” We were all laughing so hard by then we could barely breathe.
“So, what’s after lunch?” I asked as we all calmed down.
“Active Studies.” said Morgan.
“Yeah, so be careful how you eat.” Mickey warned. “Sydney says Bear works them out hard and he doesn’t care if you puke or not. One time a kid pukedonhim, and he took him away and they didn’t see him until an hour later. He wouldn’t ever say what happened.”
“He sounds mean.” I said, nervousness creeping up my spine at the thought of having his class after lunch. I didn’t know what to think, or expect, from a man named Bear. Somehow that made it scarier.
“I don’t think he’s mean per say, I think he’s more, aggressive.” Morgan said, sounding like he was choosing his words carefully. “He’s trying to prepare us as best he can for the real world.”
“There are rumors about how he came to teach here.” said Mickey, “Like that he screwed up an important mission big time and he was forcibly retired and sent here to teach as a punishment.”
“Or that he never really retired, that he’s still going on missions because there are times where he doesn’t teach a class for a few days to a week and leaves it to his assistant coaches.” added Buddy.
“Though of course none of them are true.” said Johnny, shrugging his shoulder.
“How do you know?” I asked, eating some noodles and sighing because they were sooo good.
“It’s too much for one guy. He couldn’t possibly pull all of it off and it still be a rumor.” he said.
“Not for him.” Buddy said, “He’s amazing.”