I was sound asleep in my bed when that blasted bugle started to blare at the bottom of the stairs, and without warning my mind had gone back in time. For a brief moment, I was a cadet at the naval academy being awoken in my barracks. As if almost by instinct, I had leaped out of bed and started to dress as quickly as I could. I had tossed my trousers on with decent speed and was putting on my shirt when I realized where I was, and snapped out of it. I took a deep breath, put my shirt on and then went to the bathroom to splash some water in my face and clean the overnight gunk off my teeth. The bugle blasted for only a few moments more and then stopped, as clearly the damage had been done. Unless someone was dead, odds are everyone in the house was now wide awake whether they wanted to be or not. Since I was already up and half dressed, I didn't bother to lay back down on my bed, aware whoever had the bugle was likely not afraid to use it again. We had been summoned, and I had no choice but to answer the call. As I descended the stairs, I could hear people talking in the kitchen so I decided to join them. I knew Jimbo was always up early, and he made an amazing pot of coffee that was always dark and strong, just like him. Jimbo must have seen me coming down the stairs as he had a mug already poured and passed it to me.
"Two sugars only, right?" Jimbo asked.
"Perfect," I said, taking it from him and sipping it. "Thank you."
"Did you sleep well?" Mr. Parsons asked.
"Up until the bugle went off," I replied, "I did not need that flashback."
"You served too?" Mr. Parsons asked.
"He didn't," Jimbo answered for me. "We were in cadets together, and they did that to us every morning, long before the sun came up too."
"Rain or shine," I added, as I could remember it all like it was yesterday.
"That was worse that boot camp," Jimbo recalled, "I don't want to go back either."
"Unless I'm running the place," I stipulated, "It's not as bad if you're the one dishing out anguish to young cadets."
"Or valued employees," Mr. Parsons said, smiling back at us.
"Duly noted, Sir." I said, before taking a long sip.
"Eggs?" Mr. Parsons offered.
"I'm not sure," I said, thinking about it. "I usually skip breakfast."
"You might want to reconsider that," Jimbo suggested, "Considering we have a pretty busy day planned. You might need the energy."
"I might?" I asked, hoping it wasn't mandatory.
"You will need it," Mr. Parsons answered, "The hike is mandatory for all employees. Optional for spouses."
"Alright," I said, taking a plate from the boss. "Thank you."
I sat at the table and quietly ate my food, nursing my coffee the entire time, watching as the women finally started to come down the stairs. Rachel and Angie hadn't been since since they stormed off the previous night but both seemed friendly as they said their hellos and attacked the pot of coffee as if it were the fountain of youth. Josh was nowhere to be seen, which I thought was rather interesting.
"Where's Josh?" Mr. Parsons asked.
"He's still sleeping," Angie replied. "He was up until four working on something. This is his usual practice when working on a new book. Work until he's exhausted and then crash for the whole morning. He won't be up till lunch."
"So I guess Josh is a no for the hike," Jimbo assumed.
"He's a spouse, so he doesn't have to." Mr. Parsons reminded him. "And since he was up working last night, he's got a good excuse to sleep in."
"I'm sorry," Rachel said, turning to face her boss. "Did he say a hike?"
"Yes," I said, "He did."
"We're going to take a nice trail up the mountain," Mr. Parsons said, "Should only take a few hours to get to the spot I want to take you to. Once there we'll have a picnic lunch and then spend the afternoon hiking back. It will be a nice group building exercise."
"Sounds lovely," Angie said before sipping her coffee. I can tall by her tone that she didn't like the idea at all, but understood no one was being asked to go. It was more of an order.
"I think it will be great," Jimbo said, also sensing her disdain. "Out there, one with nature. This is great weather to do it too. Not too hot or cold, just fucking right!"
"Thank you," Mr. Parsons said, "Your enthusiasm is appreciated."
"I think it's a great idea, Sir." Rachel said, also aware of it. "Anyone who can't appreciate nature in this area is a damned fool."
"Well said," Mr. Parson said, "I'm going to check on Mrs. Parsons and our supplies. Do we have any volunteers to help carry it?"
"I'm good to help," Jimbo piped up, "And so is Nic."
"I am?" I said, lifting my head and looking up at Jimbo.
"Yes," He said, looking back at me. "You are, Mr. Cadet. These packs will be feathers compared to what they used to make us haul up a hill."
"Fair enough," I said, taking a sip and not wanting to protest. He was right after all, so there was no point even trying to argue it.
"Don't worry," Mr. Parsons added, "The packs are not that heavy, and they'll be a lot lighter on the way back as well, since most of it will be our lunch."
"Well, since there's food," I added, seeming optimistic, "Then I'm in for sure."
"That's the spirit!" Mr. Parsons said, seeming very excited. "We start walking in a half hour!"
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