Marcus and Liana moved into the next room where most of the party seemed to be happening. They stood side-by-side, watching those around them. The energy had changed in the room, just like Liana had said.
Marcus looked over at Alexandria. Thomas had her arm though his own and he was trying his best to smile politely. He gravitated towards the few true friends he had in the room to feel safer.
Marcus was just about to tell Liana that he was ready to go. He didn't need to be here anymore, after all. His sister nodded, understanding he could take only so much of seeing Alexandria on another man's arm.
She headed towards the door as he said his goodbyes to Christopher. "Thank you. Whether it works or not... Thank you for trying," he said softly, shaking his hand. And then he was moving through the room again.
He glanced over at Thomas who seemed to feel comfortable engaged in deep conversation with his friends. When the man saw him in the corner of his eye, he flashed him a huge white smile.
"Take this brave man for instance," he was saying and Marcus stopped as they let him into their circle. He knew this wouldn't be good. He glanced at Alexandria before Thomas continued. "Here we have a [i true] soldier." They had been talking about the war, it seemed. Along with everyone else. Marcus couldn't get away from the war talk. "I hear he signed up as soon as soon as he could, is that right?" Thomas didn't wait for an answer. "Tell me, is is truly as bad as they say it is? Or is it all just propaganda to get us to support the war effort?"
Marcus felt the anger rising, but he tried to remain calm. They were being watched now. People had stopped their conversations to listen to Marcus's first hand experience. They all wanted to know what it was like. They were all the same.
He flashed Thomas the same kind of fake smile he had given him and replied, "I assure you, the accounts are accurate."
"Will you be returning?" Thomas asked him and Marcus couldn't help but narrow his eyes slightly. The man had no idea he had been pardoned. "No," Marcus said softly. "I was wounded, you see." He felt the eyes nearby trying to find the injury, as if they could see it.
"Pity," Thomas said, matter of factly. "They could always use more soldiers out there, so I hear."
"Yes," Marcus said, smiling sadly. "Tell me, Thomas. Why didn't you sign up?" The anger was bubbling to the surface now.
"I have a business to run," Thomas said. "It's very difficult you know. Keeping things going with a war on. The things I have to do every day would break most men."
Marcus laughed. Actually [i laughed]. "And what's that? Pushing papers? Counting your money?" He took a step closer to the man, pure disgust in his brown eyes. "You sit in your office decided who gets to keep their jobs while good [i decent] men are out there deciding which of their friends are more likely to live from their wounds." He was in Thomas's face now. "I hope you never have to see a friend shot between the eyes when he was alive and well just seconds before. Or see a man whole, joking to you about his wife one second, and then half of him is gone the next and you don't know where it went." Thomas took a step back, dragging Alexandria with him, but Marcus advanced. "I pray you never have to know what it feels like to have your throat slit open and feel your life pouring out in waves." Marcus was eerily quiet now, but everyone was listening. "You disrespect every one of those men still out there fighting. So tell me, Thomas. How did you avoid a draft for so long?" He knew the answer of course. He wanted the crowd to come to the conclusion as well, though.
"He paid his way out, of course," he heard from behind him. He turned to find Christopher standing there, hands casually in his pockets. "Just like he paid to have your medical file overlooked and to have you sent back to France."
Marcus moved his eyes back to Thomas. He stepped away then. The damage was done. He hadn't meant to explode like that, but he supposed it was probably for the best. The news was no longer a rumor. People knew Christopher was a doctor. They respected him enough to know he wouldn't make the claim so boldly without proof.
Marcus took a deep breath, then walked away. He wished he could have taken Alexandria with him then and there, but he knew that was not the way. They had to let the news sit for a while.