“All right, commander, it’s time for that push up,” the captain said calmly, and Carol looked surprised.
“Just one?” she asked.
“Just one,” Lambert repeated. “If you can manage.”
Carol stretched out on the ground with her hands propping her up, but before she started, Lambert instructed, “Lower your ass and keep your legs straight. Don’t drop your head like that. Now your ass is too low.”
Once he was satisfied with her form, Carol lowered herself down to the ground, and her face turned bright red. Her arms wobbled as she struggled to push herself back up, then her arms gave out and she dropped down to her stomach, where she buried her face in her hands to hide.
Lambert squatted down beside her. “I know that you aren’t a soldier, Carol,” he said reassuringly. “But you still need to keep trying.”
“Why?” Carol looked up, her eyes rimmed red, and she made a noise that sounded like half of a sniffle. “The Suit doesn’t require much physical strength.”
“Because a strong body makes for a strong mind, and it’s still going to be your responsibility to make snap decisions in the heat of battle. You can’t be distracted because you didn’t sleep well, or because you skipped breakfast. Understand?” Lambert answered.
Carol nodded pathetically from her position on the ground.
“Besides,” the captain added, lowering himself all the way to sit, “it’s physically strenuous to be out on a mission for ten or more hours. The Suit helps, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re still human.”
“… Yes, sir,” Carol murmured, and for a moment she stared at the captain. Lambert squeezed his hand into a fist and thoughtfully pushed against the ground, then rose and gently kicked the soles of her shoes.
“C’mon and try again. You can lower your knees if you have to, but I want that ass in perfect position.”
“Yes, sir!” Carol raised herself up once again, and with some difficulty managed to complete the modified push up, the stood with a beaming smile on her face.
The whole scene was sickeningly cute.
And there wasn’t anything that Hartmann could do.
He kept his face expressionless, folding his hands together to stand at ease though his muscles still remained rigid. His mind was racing, searching for any possible way he could redeem the situation, his eyes locked on both Carol and the captain.
Lambert cast a sideways glance at the master sergeant, scowled, then muttered, “Don’t be too proud of yourself, commander. Any man could do better.”
The corners of Carol’s mouth abruptly turned downwards, and she also looked over at Hartmann, no doubt thinking of the day before when he had shown off by clapping in between his push ups. “Yes, sir,” she answered monotonously.
Lambert looked down at his watch, and said, “Break for lunch, then we’ll start on your book learning. I’ll get corporal Holmes to escort you to the mess hall.”
“I’ll take her, sir,” Hartmann interjected. “The corporal can meet us there.”
Lambert’s scowl deepened. “Fine.” He spoke into the radio from his belt, then nodded to Hartmann. Without looking at Carol, he turned to walk towards the building. He stopped before entering the double doors, glanced back to ensure that Lambert had gone in the direction of his office instead, then grinned at Carol as he placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Good job,” he said.
She looked at him with earnest eyes and asked, “You really think so?”
“Absolutely. You pushed yourself out there, and you did much better today.” Hartmann opened the door and held it as Carol walked through.
“The captain was right though,” she mumbled, then bit her lip.
“Everyone starts somewhere.” Hartmann shrugged. “Don’t take the things he says too personally. He’s your commanding officer, and it’s his job to keep you motivated to produce results. He’s going to be a jerk to you no matter what.”
“That doesn’t seem very fair,” Carol answered slowly.
“Welcome to the military.” Hartmann stopped just inside the mess hall and gestured towards one of the tables. “May I join you, or are you going to chase me off again?”
“No, it’s fine.” Carol’s cheeks turned pink as she became flustered. “Where’s Holmes?”
Hartmann quickly scanned the large room. “He’s not here yet.”
Carol hesitated, looked around as well, then blurted, “What gives? Why are you being nice to me after calling me a bitch and telling me to quit my job?”
He had known that he would have to face that question sooner or later, but he hadn’t yet come up with a perfect answer that would erase any doubts in Carol’s mind. Hartmann frowned, knowing that if he dodged the question or failed to give a satisfactory reply, it would permanently harm his chances with her. When his mind was still blank after several seconds, he replied truthfully, “I was jealous of you.”
Carol was taken back. “Why?”
“You know the Suit better than I do.” Hartmann’s eyes found Holmes on the other side of the mess hall, so he added quickly, “I still am, too.”
“So why are you being nice?” She repeated.
“Because … we have more in common than I realized.” He strode forward to meet the corporal, aware of Carol’s gaze fixed on him. Good, he thought. It was about time that she had begun to notice him in return.