For all that it can be difficult for a Soldier to reacclimate to civilian life, Jake Jensen never really thought of himself as a military man. Granted, he had certainly joined the Army and held military rank, but his skills were so largely tech-based that he spent very little time on actual fighting. Most of his experience with a gun was for his various certifications and recertification testing, though he maintained aim that he called decent when he was feeling modest.
As far as military skills went, hand to hand was a stronger skill than weapons, but he’d been working on that since he was six and that wasn’t much of a surprise. As a kid from a broken home, Jake always maintained a certain level of awareness and paranoia. Traits that served him well, but meant that he was usually awake at the faintest noise or flash of light.
If a stranger were to ask what advantages he found civilian life had over the military, his first response would probably be blackout curtains. It is thanks to this glorious invention that his room is pitch black through half the day, at least until his sister sneaks in and rips them open in an effort to chase him out of bed. As Jenna is busy with the morning routine, her presence is restricted to the downstairs, which means Jake and his curtains are safe.
Well, the curtains are, anyway. Because his sister is safely out of range Jake Jensen is facedown in his pillow at seven a.m. like any sane individual would be. He plans to stay there for the next few hours, at least, he does until his niece scampers into the room in a flurry of squeaks and giggles. Without looking up he can guess she’s fully dressed for school, judging by the squeak of sneakers on his floor before she takes flight and lands on him with a yell.
It’s hard to continue to play dead, and he’s struggling to stifle a laugh as he presses further into the pillow.
“Uncle Jaaaaaaake!” Beth cheers more or less in his ear as she scrambles to perch on his back. He feels a bony ankle make contact with his thigh and a childish knee strike his kidney, but other than a muffled grunt he manages to remain passive.
“Don’t be dead, Uncle Jake,” The little girl mumbles as she plasters herself to his back and hooks her hands in his tank top to give a yank. For a moment there are blonde curls smacking him in the shoulder as she flails around, swiping a hand through his own spikey hair, then prodding the back of his neck and one ear with one hand. “Wake up, wake up! Momma says she’s got a meeting today and if you don’t pick me up I have to go to daycare! That’s the worst ! You have to save me!”
The over exaggerated groan of suffering makes his smile widen, but he continues to hide in his pillow, ignoring his passenger.
“Uncle Jake, Uncle Jake!” Beth continues, sitting up and dropping a flurry of kisses on the back of his head. “Please? Please wake up? Save me?”
“Bethany!” Jenna hollers from downstairs. “You better have your backpack and be on the way down here, young lady!”
“Help me, Uncle Jake! You’re my only hope!”
“Ugh, the Force is strong with this one,” Jake finally mumbles, rolling sideways enough to sling her down onto the mattress in another peal of giggles. “You’re a cheater, Bethy.”
“Does that mean you’ll rescue me?” Beth asks hopefully, dropping her bony chin onto his shoulder. “Please? Please, pretty please? We could go for ice cream.”
“Is that a bribe for me or for you?” Jake wonders, cracking one eye open to squint at her with a grin. “You know me too well, Hummingbird. Fine, tell your mean mom that Uncle Jake is getting you from school today, but don’t tell her about the ice cream. That’ll be a surprise.”
“You’re the BEST!” Beth shrieks, throwing her arms around his neck and head and screeching excitedly in his ear. “The very best Uncle in the whole wide world!”
“I’m a sucker, and I’m ok with it,” Jake argues with a laugh, sitting up and scooping her into a hug with a fake growl. “Alright, you woke me up, you better go to school before I eat you for breakfast. Zombie Uncles crave fresh brains!”
“NO BRAINS!” Beth shrieks, kissing him high on his cheek before scrambling out of his arms and bolting out of the room again. “Bye Uncle Jake, love you!”
“I love you too, Hummingbird,” Jake grins, reaching for his glasses and scrubbing his free hand through his hair. “Good luck with presenting your project.”
"Thanks! Byeeeeee!" She thunders down the stairs with a yell.
“Jake! I’m taking Beth to school and I’m off to work!” Jenna yells from the foot of the stairs. “Don’t forget you want to check the P.O. box today!”
“Bye Sis, have a good day!” Jake yells back, settling his glasses on his face. “Remember you only have one kid!”
“Never sure which one, she’s more mature than you, Loser!” Jenna snaps back, and then the door is slamming shut before he can reply.
“That’s just uncalled for,” Jakes mutters to himself as he crawls out of bed and moves to his desk and the cluster of monitors waiting for him. “You just wait, one of these days I’m going to think of a killer reply and you’re gonna be toast.”
On his bedside table, his phone chirps with an incoming text.
1 New Text Message
'Don’t you backtalk me, young man.’
Jake grumbles, shaking his head as he grins. “The absolute worst .”
Constanza Alvarez has been consistently proud of two things in her life. The first is the family business, established so many years ago by her abuelo’s padre . Fortalvarez Tequila has been in business for a hundred and fifty years, a family distillery that produces some of the finest Tequila in the world. They’ve also begun to produce and sell a fine mezcal, thanks to Constanza’s own efforts when she first took over the business.
The second is her family itself, as troublesome as they can be sometimes. Her grandfather’s grandfather was a hardworking man, a smart and patient man. He passed this down the line to his son who went on to found the family business. The trait carried forward in his children and eventually on her, though the women along the way passed on their sharp wit and sharper tongues to all the generations that followed. The Alvarez women were tough as nails, part of the reason they kept and passed on their surname down through the generations.
It was a brave man who became involved with an Alvarez woman.
With her husband passed away over a decade ago, and her son and daughter-in-law were lost to a tragedy, she is the head of both family and business now. Constanza oversees business and marketing, advises her grandchildren when they seek her out. Such a thing is all fine and good, but she is getting too old to be chasing after her grandchildren, even if they are all of an age where they should know better. It’s beyond time for at least one of them to settle down, to marry someone with their feet on the ground so she can at least not worry about them so much.
She would much rather be spoiling great-grandchildren, except none of her grandbabies have gotten the message yet. Three girls and a boy, the eldest girl away at college, the others scattered around Mexico. Only her precious boy, Carlos, - her sweet Carlito - is here at the main property with her. His two younger sisters prefer the Mezcal operation some eleven hours away, though they call often. Still, in spite of the fact that they are all young and beautiful and successful, she has no sons or daughters-in-law to tease. They’re all single and free as birds, as far as they’re concerned, with no interest in providing infants for their abuelita to dote on.
That’s fine, she has a plan. It is a good plan, she thinks, a simple one. She gets one of the farmhands to help her with the computer, tells the young man what she needs. Miguel is a good boy, quiet like her grandson, obedient in the face of the matriarch and boss. He nods in understanding and navigates the internet, even types up the advertisement for her. His strong hands much quicker than her age-curled digits, and in no time at all the ad is complete and posted. Now all she has to do is wait, which is just fine. She has long ago proven she can be patient.
Miguel helps her to the porch, settles her in a rocking chair facing the fields. From here she can see three different teams in the younger beds, tending to the plants and pulling weeds that might encroach on their space. The older harvesting fields are acres away, beyond hills and down the sweep of the valley. The breeze kicks up, tugging at the strands of her hair that are no longer black, more a mix of old-iron-and-cloud, grey to soft white. It sweeps away in the direction of the older fields, and she thinks that maybe, just maybe, the wind is blowing that way for a reason.
Her grandson is out in those fields, though her Carlito is almost always done with his harvest chores by noon. Given the position of the sun, he’s sure to be packing it in soon, to come back toward the distillery barn with a haul of fresh agave to begin processing. If she knows her boy at all he’s sure to alter his path so he can swing by the porch, to check that she is well. Though today, with the wind being the tell-tale it is, it’s more likely he’ll shoot her a weighty look from beneath the brim of his battered hat, and refuse to say a word on the matter.
Constanza smiles a sly, wolfish thing. It’s a coyote’s grin, wide and white against her tanned skin. She is sure this plan will work, now she just has to be patient. Her Carlito will just have to trust her. Of her grandbabies, he is her favorite, after all. He should know by now that she was always going to take care of him.
Whether he wants or help, or not, he has it. After all, abuelita knows best.