From the Victory Monument in the north to Moore House in the south, Alex Cruz figured that by now he must know every individual blade of grass in the The Colonial National Historical Park. Twelve years worth of early fall weeks spent marching and crawling all over a place bred a certain intimate knowledge.
Nestled up against the beach where the York River widened into the brackish seaward swirl of the Chesapeake Bay, the Park’s fifteen square miles on green fields and forests made up one of the busiest Revolutionary War battlefields in the country, just south of the modern city of Yorktown. But for a few days every year in early October, it sat relatively quiet, a calm before the storm of visitors that would come to witness its biggest annual event: the 1st Continental Army Reenactment Corps’ staging of the Siege of Yorktown.
Despite having made this drive a dozen times, Alex’s excitement never lessened. It started in the pit of his stomach as he drove past the empty parking lot of the Visitor's Center and built higher as he started to catch sight of the people gathering around the grounds of the National Cemetery. A mix of civilian clothes and costumes, they made for a colorful group, friends in Continental, French, and British Army uniforms greeting each other before they separated off into their individual regiments. By the time he pulled into the makeshift car lot in the field south of the Cemetery, his foot was jiggling against the clutch.
Finding an open spot a short way off from a group of horse trailers, Alex hopped out of the van, shaking the cramps of eight hours behind the wheel out of his muscles and taking a deep breath. Early fall in Virginia was the best time of year. The hills and forests around the battlefield were still mostly green and sunny with just a hint of colorful fall foliage, making an excellent backdrop for photos, and the weather remained brisk enough for most of the day that his heavier costumes wouldn’t result in a slow death cooking alive under so many layers. He’d done only summer events for years before joining up with the 1st Continental and as much as his blood liked the heat, he’d much rather experience it on a beach somewhere with little umbrella drinks and resort wifi.
Reminded of something, Alex pulled out his phone. The Park had advertised that they were adding wifi to the campgrounds this year as part of their ongoing renovations to the battlefield. The Corps had high hopes that this event might bring in the money the Park needed to finish restoring the Redoubt grounds and maybe even get the permanent Living History installations up and running.
Alex glanced at his Twitter app, felt guilty about ignoring it for a few seconds, and then attempted to steel his resolve. He had close to 100 notifications waiting for him, which could only mean that the idiots at The Democratic Republican had dumped a new steaming turd of an op ed onto their website and his followers were eager for his response.
In the middle of taking a few deep breathes and composing an outline in his head about how his biggest rivals in political commentary were bringing dishonor to their families and their cows, Alex felt his phone buzz.
He'd just finished tapping out his response, consisting mostly of complicated strings of emoji with increasingly crude intended meanings, when someone plowed into him from behind, wrapping him up in a sudden hug.
"Je n’en crois pas mes yeux! Alexander Hamilton in the flesh! May I have your autograph?! Sign my ten dollar bill!”
There was only one person in Alex’s life with that unique combination of ridiculous height, equally ridiculous French accent, and complete lack of understanding of others’ personal space. Alex laughed, elbowing his assailant until he could turn around and return the hug. He hadn't seen Mudiwa “please for the love of God just call me Lafayette” Goldberg in nearly a year as the other man finished up a tour overseas as liaison to Médecins Sans Frontières, but he hadn't changed a bit. In his Allied French Army costume with its gold accents and fringed epaulettes, he cut an impressive figure as the Marquis de Lafayette, but in a grass-stained henley and jeans, wild hair pulled back into an explosive ponytail, he was just Laf, and Alex was overwhelmed with how good it was to see him safe and sound back on their favorite colonial stomping ground. “Only if you promise to practice your French accent more before the spring.”
“Um, excuse you. My French accent is flawless, mon ami.” Laf pushed Alex away and put a hand to his own chest in exaggerated offense. The fact that he'd dropped the accent completely while making this declaration just made Alex laugh harder.
“It's so good to see you, man. Ça roule?”
“Comme d’hab, c'est magnifique!”
Laf’s excitement was infectious, and they talked with enthusiasm about the schedule for the next two weeks while unloading Alex's car. Lafayette, in his capacity as a high-ranking officer of both the Allied French and Continental Army sections of the reenactors, would be spending a lot of time around the command tent with the other close aides and allies of Washington. Alex was looking forward to playing out their scenes together during the Living History tours. Acting as Alexander Hamilton was always the most fun when his character was in command, playing out scenes bent over tables of maps and arguing vehemently about the inventive tactics that had won the Redoubts for the Continental Army and then eventually the city itself. Any other time it was mostly just him pretending to write feverishly with an oversized feathered quill.
“Oh, I talked to our dearly departed Laurens yesterday,” Laf interrupts Alex’s thoughts, pulling out his phone. “I asked for a picture of the rugrats. Look.”
Alex grins at the image on the phone of Jay and his wife looking exhausted and holding two newborn babies, twin girls from the color of their blankets and tiny baby hats. “Man, that’s so great. Have you heard who’s gonna be the new Laurens?”
“Nah, not yet. I think he’s coming up with Washington. Some guy he knows through the university.”
“He new?” Alex is more than happy to help out new reenactors, but Laurens has a sizable role in a few of their Living History scenes and he could always count on Jay to nail it.
“I don’t think so. Washington said -- oh hey, speak of the devil...” Laf tucks his phone away and Alex follows his gaze down the row of cars to where he spots a tell-tale white mare being led toward them across the grass lot by none other than Washington himself. Tall and broad-shouldered in his impeccable costume, Gerald Washington is a compelling presence, greeting everyone he passes with a warm reserve befitting of the Commander and President of the 1st Continental Reenactment Corps. Both Alex and Laf straighten their back and toss off sharp salutes as he leads the horse over to them.
“Reporting for duty General Washington, sir!” Alex grins as Washington rolls his eyes.
“Yeah save it for the battlefield, Lieutenant Colonel. Come here you two, I want you to meet someone.”
Walking with Washington is a much shorter man with long, curly hair pulled back in a low ponytail and the most gorgeous constellation of freckles across every visible inch of light brown skin. He’s in a ratty hoodie and a fraying NCLR cap, but over his shoulder he has a clear garment bag containing what looks to be a very well-made Continental Army officer costume. Washington is introducing him to them both -- “This is Jack Martinez, he’s a family friend up from the 21st Revolutionary in South Carolina. He’ll be our Laurens for the rest of the season.” -- but the guy is smiling at Alex, extending his hand to shake. When Alex takes it, Jack’s polite smile widens into a beaming one and everything around them suddenly seems a little brighter. Alex feels one of his knees wobble a little.
Alex absolutely does not grab his stuff and run away at the first available opportunity.
He prefers to think of it as a tactical retreat.
“Hola cariño, how’s the weather in 1781?”
Hearing his wife’s voice on the other end of the line is somehow both a relief and a kick in the chest. Alex groans, “Sunny and beautiful and I hate everything.”
Bethania laughs at him, just like he knew she would, and he can’t help but smile even as he picks at the threading of the uniform jacket across his lap. “Wow, it usually takes you at least a few days to get to this point. Did the General call drills on the first day?”
Alex makes an offended face at his phone. “God, no, don’t even joke about that, B. I met the new Laurens today.” He sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. “I want Jay back.”
“That bad?” Beth prompts, sympathetic as ever. He’s grumbled about a lot of spectacularly awful new guys to her over the years.
“Oh, no.” There’s a smile creeping in under her commiserating tone and Alex yanks a bit at his own hair in frustration.
“That’s exactly what I thought!”
“Hold on a minute, babe.”
On the other end of the line Alex hears muffled talking, and then Meg’s voice close to the receiver. “I’m stealing your wife now!” Alex pulls the phone away from his ear. Beth’s little sister has never understood the meaning of an indoor voice. Or tact. “Bowling waits for no man’s crisis of cock!”
There is a series of fumbling noises from Beth’s end and a bitten off curse, as if Meg is indeed dragging Beth bodily away toward the door. When Beth finally gets back on the phone, she sounds breathless and he can hear the suppressed laughter in her voice. “When you fuck him, remember to send pics. I love you!”
Alex returns her affection and hangs up, flopping back onto his sleeping bag and staring up at the top of his tent. He has the best wife in the entire world, even when she’s being incredibly unhelpful. When, she’d said, not if. She's certainly never lacked confidence in him. He thinks about whether Jack would let him send a dick pic to his wife, which spins off a whole orgy of circumstances in which he’d be able to actually take a picture of Jack’s dick, which leads him to speculate on the size of said dick. Not that he has to try too hard to imagine; the man had been wearing very skinny jeans.
Technically, Alex isn’t hiding. He’s helping.
As an Officer, complete with shiny red sash and extra-fancy buttons on his uniform jacket, it’s his duty to help his brothers and sisters in arms set up their campsites and navigate the check-in process. It can be very confusing, with the whole giving your name and getting checked off a list business. The volunteers at the check-in desk only ask him if he’s got somewhere else he needs to be four times. Alex counts this as a victory.
But evening descends early in late autumn, and by sunset Alex finds himself without any more hands to shake or firepits to help light. It’s with an exhausted sort of trepidation that he drags himself back to his own campsite. In his absence, two other tents have gone up in the marked spaces around the little clearing designated for Continental Army Officers, all of them facing inward toward the central firepit. He recognizes Washington’s tent immediately due to its size. A monstrous cabin-style affair with three “rooms” inside, the General hauls the thing around to events even when his family isn’t attending. Alex’s sturdy two-person dome tent is dwarfed beside it. In the final space is a small red A-frame tent that Alex doesn’t recognize, so it must be Jack’s. Through the half-opened flap at the front, he can see a few costume pieces hanging from the ridge pole.
There are no lights on in any of the tents, but that just means that their occupants will likely be back soon. He thinks about hiding in his own tent for the rest of the evening, but it’s getting cold and the lure of the firepit is too strong. He has some work to finish before he can dedicate himself fully to the concept of “time off” over the next two weeks, and he’d much rather finish it accompanied by a fire and the random bits of music carried over from nearby campsites than by the inside of a grey nylon dome.
By the time the night really settles in, Alex has set up shop on the bench-like chunk of log farthest from the flames, ancient netbook balanced on his legs as he types rapidly. Occasionally he reaches over to refresh his twitter feed on his iPad where it sits beside him, propped against his knapsack. His productivity on this makeshift setup pales in comparison to the shrine to social media over-connectedness that is his home office, but in the spirit of the Continental Army, he makes do. At least the Park has made good on its promise of decent wi-fi in the campground.
Art by Heartbleats
A camera flash goes off, making Alex jump and nearly knock his computer onto the ground.
“Sorry man, it just made too good of a picture with you still in costume and all.” Jack is smiling at Alex from a few feet away as he shoves his phone into his back pocket. He’s in a mismatch of costume and civilian pieces himself, the same damnably well-fitted jeans from earlier under a weathered linen hunting shirt, belted around the waist with the red sash from his officer’s uniform.
Jack sits down on the log bench next to Alex’s chosen perch, kicking his legs out in front of him, crossed at the ankle of his muddy boots. It makes the denim of his jeans hug his thighs in very distracting ways. Alex catches himself staring and forces his eyes back onto his work, though keeping them there is a struggle. The soft glow of firelight is a good look for most people. On Jack it’s just unfair.
After a few minutes of Jack sitting in quiet obliviousness to the slow internal meltdown happening next to him, Alex can’t handle it anymore. “So. How are you settling in?”
“Pretty well I think. My legs feel like they’re going to fall off, but otherwise...”
Alex grins, glancing up from the screen. He’d thought he’d glimpsed Jack earlier in the afternoon at the head of a column of “new recruits,” marching behind Washington as the General called out orders from horseback. The opening day march was an interminable drill in the flimsy guise of a tour of the Park, and it was the closest thing to a hazing ritual for the new people that Washington would allow. While their regular drills differed from the more regimented arms and tactics demonstrations the British side put on, Washington seemed to believe that meant they had to do more of them to make up for their in-character lack of discipline. Alex was scheduled to start morning drills the next day. A traitorous part of himself was kind of looking forward to it.
“It’s really special what you guys are doing here,” Jack says, derailing Alex’s train of thought with an enthusiastic smile. “This is such a diverse group. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to come up from the 21st. And the kids, man, they’re so into it! I didn’t expect that.”
“Yeah, the General has relationships with a lot of the public schools in DC and New York. So we get a lot of inner city groups coming through. There’s going to be a bunch of them down for the Living History stuff this year. They have to be able to relate to us, you know? You can’t just show them a bunch of white dudes in costumes and expect them to pay attention.”
Jack nods. “That’s what they’ve been seeing their whole life already.”
It’s a completely ridiculous conversation. Alex recognizes that he’s preaching to the choir even as he keeps talking, but Jack is enthusiastic in his agreement, a few long curls bouncing loose from his ponytail, and Alex is not strong enough to resist any of this.
“You should come up to New Jersey sometime. We do the big annual Monmouth reenactment in June. A ton of different regiments in Battlefield Park. Cliffside bonfire and fireworks over the water at night. It’s…” Romantic. It's romantic, he wants to say. You can see the whole city skyline reflected in the river, and the fireworks light up everything with colors like a dream. What Alex actually says is, “...fun.”
“Maybe I will,” Jack smiles at him, looking genuinely excited at the idea, and Alex feels like it must be contagious because he’s suddenly breathless with anticipation of...something.
They watch the fire for a few more minutes, listening to someone playing a drunken fife solo from the next group of tents. This time when Alex packs his stuff up and says good night, it only feels a little like running away.