Thomas Murphy went to war. He didn’t like being called “Tommy” after that. Truth be told, he never really liked being called “Tommy”, especially since “Tommy Murphy” sounds kinda lame, but he tolerated “Tom”. Tom Murphy.
Well, he didn’t die. I know you’ve been holding your breath for that one, so I’ll take pity on you. He survived, he even came back all in one piece. Physically, at least. But he’d seen things.
Even before his brother went off to college, when he’d get furloughed and get to come back, when he’d get leave, Declan could tell that he was different. More serious. More chiseled. Didn’t take the nonsense.
“Hello?” he would answer the phone, instead of his usual “Hey, man.”
“Hey, man,” Mickey answered, “What’s up? It’s Mickey, don’t know if you remember or if you recognized my voice.”
“What’s up, Mickey?” “What’s up?” Not “‘Sup?” or even “Hey, man.”
“Hey, man, I just wanted to talk to you. You wanna maybe come over and hang?”
“Well, I’m busy right now.”
“Yeah, no, it’s cool, just let me know.”
Truth be told, the new no-nonsense Tommy scared Mickey out of his mind.
“You ever hear from Kyle?” Declan asked him.
“I don’t talk to Kyle,” said Thomas Murphy.
“Is it ‘cause of what happened?”
“I just don’t talk to him. You know? I got better things to do now than listen to him go on about… I don’t know. All his college bullshit.”
That was while he was in, though, while Corporal Murphy was in the army and Kyle Niedermeyer was off “doing his own thing” in college, turning himself into a molder of young minds.
But now they were both back.
“Tommy,” Kyle said when his old friend showed up at his door one day. He was wearing a shirt, in case the unexpected visitor happened to be a student or something, but it wasn’t much of one.
Corporal Murphy didn’t correct his friend’s pronunciation. “Hello, Kyle.” The “Sir” was silent.
“How you been, man? Jeez, it musta been, like…”
“Four? I guess.”
There were only so many words in the English language.
“You wanna come inside?”
“No, I can’t stay,” Tommy lied.
“Have you heard anything from Aly?”
Kyle frowned, scratched his head. “I don’t know, not in a while, I guess. Why? You try talking to Jasper, maybe? He probably knows how to get hold of her.”
“No, no, that’s all right.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to come inside?”
Corporal Murphy was fidgeting. It was making Kyle nervous. A little.
“Do you still play?” asked the soldier.
“A bit,” said Kyle. “Not like I used to.”
“You ever think about…”
“What? About getting the band back together?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know if the world can handle more of the Elk, man.”
For the first time since he got here, Tommy cracks a smile, almost like he’s himself again, but no.
“Listen, man, if you wanna talk to her—“
“I wanna talk to you.”
Pause. “I just don’t know how.”
“You think maybe you could start by coming inside?”
“Tom. If you’ve got something to say…”
“No, forget it, man. Just forget it.”
But there are some things you just don’t forget.