Sticks And Strings. Part 16

Sometimes things really aren't as simple as we try to make them, are they? We can try, but what happens when you mix black and white together?

Ultimate Guitar

I couldn't tell which of them was more shocked to see me in this state; their faces identical, voices little more than shocked whispers. Kayla was the only one who advanced towards me, although raced was perhaps a better word. Within the span of one blink she'd moved from behind the pool table to right in front of me. Her hair, down for once, was shorter than I remembered it; the bangs curved across her forehead and seemed to wave in the air, the black hoodie tied around her waist flapped against her legs. Thanks to the height difference, the top of her head came just shy of my chin. It was almost funny seeing her looking up at me much the same way a child looks up to an adult when said child is on the verge of a talking-to. She looked more ready to cry than laugh, though.

Richard! Holy fk, what the fk happened? The sentence seemed to contain more than two F-bombs to me, maybe it was a lingering side effect of having a pair of heavy backhands nearly break my jaw. Her small hand touched the side of my arm, and I recoiled instinctively, almost jumping back with a fist drawn. This only seemed to make Kayla want to cry more, God knew why. Sarah stayed put at the pool table, clutching that cue tighter as though she really intended to run somebody through with it, maybe even me, though her face hadn't changed since recognizing me, so that was unlikely.

I'mI'm sorry, I said, lowering my arm. I'm okay.

Bullshit and a half. Your shirt now says Eatallic', you've got one heck of a bloody lip and there's bloodspots in your eye. Oh, swell. That was news to me. A one-on-one with the nearest mirror was in order before I left, a fact Kayla seemed to detect in me, because her hand went into her right hip pocket and produced a thin blue compact. Here, see for yourself. She handed it to me. I finagled the clasp with a sore finger and lifted it up to eye level when it popped open. She was right. Two tiny, dark dots of blood cupped around the radius of my iris. One of them stretched from the lower lid, leaving a faint red smear in its wake. Ugly, a little creepy to look at, but it didn't hurt any, and my vision seemed unaffected. Good enough.

Just really on edge right nowyou understand. I closed the compact and returned it to Kayla, who pocketed it without taking her eyes off me. I could see worry, genuine worry. She was scared for me, something I never expected from her, or anyone else, apart from Adam. Best friends tend to have that aspect covered.

Well yeah, I don't blame you. Who fking decked you? she asked, her voice a touch shaky. I had to think about that for a minute. Part of me, the defensive macho-man part we guys just can't seem to shake despite the best of intentions, didn't want to admit to someone younger than me, let alone of the opposite gender, that I'd received these latest facial alterations courtesy of my father. What else could I do? Lie? My conscience had taken enough of a beating for quite a while; one more lie was not the answer.

It's complicated, I said, not a total lie. I don't know if I really want to talk about it just now. I can tell everyone at practice tomorrow.

Tomorrow's Saturday.

What? Oh, piss. Fine, the next day then. She didn't appear satisfied with that, but I was in no mood to worry about satisfying curiosities right now. Funny seeing both of you here, I said to change the subject.

It's the only interesting place a girl my age can hang, apart from Cage and the skate park at Compton. Although that crap's not for me, I keep my board on the streets. Kayla spoke with a timid hesitance as if grappling whether to try and press me for more info and I hoped she wouldn't. I didn't really know what to think of this new kind and caring side of her, it wasn't going to be easy to forget her nails digging across my cheek not that long ago. Sarah's good company, too. She could be out hitting the bars like the other headbangers seem to like to do but instead she chills with me.

And paints with you too, I see, I said. It's neat, I like it. She didn't seem to understand what I meant until I tipped my head to the picture on my right, that green eye still focusing on me like a sniper's crosshairs.

Oh. Thanksyou're sweet. Yeah, we've done a couple things together. She paused a moment, her lower lip trembled just a little. It's nice to know at least one female I can relate to.

A warm tingling feeling stirred inside me, partly out of being called sweet and seeing her look ready to cry rivers. Oh Kayla, you poor thing, I couldn't help thinking. Then I looked over at Sarah again, and felt a sudden flash of anger, a hot and ugly one at that. You scheming, she-devil bitch, I fumed. The things I thought about saying to her could fill a book, none of them very nice. My train of hate-filled spewing derailed almost immediately with a soft, warm touch against my mouth, followed by a vicious stinging. It took a moment to realize it was Kayla pressing a finger on my lip. She drew it back, shades of pink beginning to fill her cheeks.

Sorry, she said softly, I saw you were bleeding again and Ididn't have a tissue on me. Her eyes finally fell from mine and looked down at her shoes. Bright red raced up the sides of her jaw and her ears began to color. My own face started to burn and I felt another out-of-body experience. There hadn't been any blood, my lip felt fat, but not damp. I need some air, I said in a stifled gasp, grabbing my guitar case by the little nylon loop at the top of the head and bursting out the Contrast doors, the chimes erupting in another melodic frenzy, Damien cursing their existence once more.

What the fk was that? I kept asking, to no one in particularnobody else was outside to begin with anywayswhile I sat in one of the white plastic patio chairs often occupied during the day by those customers who liked to sip their morning fuel while inhaling their morning toxic vapors, myself included on those fk school days. Nighttime however meant a good chance the chairs would be unoccupied. My old, battle-scarred Ibanez GIO was free of its canvas cocoon and lay across my lap while I checked for damage. Just as I thought, two of the middle strings were broken; dangling from their respective tuning key and the body had sustained another scratch during its unmanned descent to the driveway. Nothing else seemed broken or irrevocably damaged thank God. I'd just have to swap those two strings outexcept my heart wasn't in it. Hell, I didn't know where anything was. My brain still felt scrambled from Captain Bob's backhands, my heartwell, I didn't even want to go there.

What the fk, I said again, slipping the GIO back into the case, zipping it up just as a soft clunk on the nearby table. I looked up to see an open red and white pack of Marlboro's purposely aimed at me.

You've had a face that says I need a damned smoke' for too long, her voice said in sympathy.

Oh please God, not now, I started to say, sitting back up.

Call it I owe ya one.' And please spare me whatever you were gonna say, I can take a hint. A lighter wheel flicked, and thin vapors of smoke drifted my way. I could see it in your eyes. I understand. Doesn't surprise me a bit, but I understand. The offered Marlboro was out of the pack and in my mouth before her first inhale, my own lighter coming out of my pocket to spark it. The irony of carrying a lighter around with no cigarettes on hand was not lost as I took a drag without dignifying response to her thinly veiled hostility.

How long? she asked.

How long since? I didn't bother trying to sound less rude, I was well past that point.

Since she's known what happened between us, she said, undignified, looking over her shoulder through the drawn Venetian blinds. The bright interior lights shone through the narrow slits as if drawing defense against the slow crawl of night across the sky.

The question drew a quiet snicker from me. And just what makes you think I'm even going to acknowledge that?

Honestly, I'm surprised you haven't yet.

How do I know you haven't beaten me to it?

God damn, Richard. She inhaled twice in a short span, blowing the smoke out in a chain of small puffs. Do you not give me any credit? To which I said nothing, taking a slow pull off my own smoke. We both knew the question was rhetorical. Do you think I'm happy about what happened?

Do we want an honest answer? I sneered, lifting my cigarette up to my lips.

Humor me. The tease in her voice belied the hurt I knew she was sure to be hiding.

I haven't ever heard any apology from you.

Would you even accept one?

What do you think?

Ha. It's just as I thought. She pulled so hard on her cigarette I thought she might accidentally swallow it, butt and all. When she exhaled, her voice took on a gentler, strained tone. It was a tone I'd been familiar with in the past, a custom siren song with the ability to still strike a chord in me. I know how much I hurt you, she said, flicking the butt off into the road. The cherry continued to glow bright orange for a moment, then faded, becoming just another piece of trash on just another city road.

Do you? I didn't ask to be rude. I cut her off before the rest of the Yes could escape from her. If you really do Sarah, then answer me this: Why has it taken a coincidence like this to get you to admit you fked up? You knew where I lived. She had no answer to this. All she seemed able to do was look at me. After all this time, those two little emeralds for eyes still had the power to melt my heart, no matter how much I wanted it to remain frozen over.

I never would have cheated on you Sarahso why did you?

Those words did it. Sarah pushed the table to get out of her chair so fast that it knocked against the glass and fell askew, her chair tipping over the next domino in the chain. One of the legs reached out and scraped the back of her bare leg, leaving an ugly white scratch on her flesh, the sound of a hiccupping sob escaping from her as she went. I hung my cigarette from my lips and pulled the table and chair back up. The half-empty Marlboro pack lay by one of the table legs. I picked it up and thought about going back inside after her but made myself stay put, dropping the pack back on the table instead. Let her come back for it if she wants them bad enoughI won't let myself feel bad for her. How, in good conscience, do you sleep around with more than one guy and then feel bad about what happened? I wondered, polishing off the cigarette and unconsciously lighting another one. It wasn't until the first puff that I realized what I'd done. Well, so what?

Hey! Kayla's loud voice almost caused me to fall out of the chair. Sorry, she said, coming out into the night, letting the door swing shut behind her. She looked around, saw a nearby chair, pulled it next to me and sat down, asking to join me. You already have, I thought, but didn't say anything. She looked to me, then to the cigarette straddled between my index and middle finger, the corners of her mouth twitching.

You smoke? I asked.

Uh-uh, can't stand it, she said, quickly adding, I don't mind if you do though. Too little too late, as the one-puffed Marlboro tumbled earthward, disappearing under my shoe. She looked embarrassed, though I couldn't figure why. A lost cigarette was hardly a tragedy. Sorry.

Nah, don't worry about it.

Is something up?

How do you mean?

Uhbetween you and Sarah, I mean. It's probably none of my business, but I'm sure she was crying when she came back in, ran right for the women's room, saying something about allergies. Her skepticism was warranted, though not exactly welcomed by me.

Oh boy, how do I go about this delicately?

(You delicate, Richard?that's rich.)

In eerie coincidence, Kayla seemed to read my conscience's mind. To hell with delicate, dude, be candid. It was then I noticed just how close our chairs were, and it took a minute to find my thoughts.

Sarah and mewe were an item, once.

No shit! she whispered. What happened? Did you? Sorry, it's none of my business.

End horribly? Yes, I said, finishing her sentence. Let's just say if you think she bolted from practice last week because she had things to do,' think again.

Makes sense to me. Guess I shouldn't ask her to accompany me anymore, huh?

Kayla, you and her can chill until hell turns to ice and I could honestly care less. I'd just appreciate it if she didn't show up at practices anymore.

Well duh, she said, giggling a little. I'm not that mean. I smiled a little. No real reason why, it just felt good to for once today. It took another moment for the impact of what had been said to strike. Wow.


It just occurred to me: I've never told anyone else that before. Not even Adam. Of course we ended before I met him, but even so.

It was Kayla's turn to say Wow. She thought this over, looking at me with a raised eyebrow. Well, I'm flattered, I guess. We sat in silence for a few minutes more. My attention, which drifted to the number of visible stars appearing overhead like celestial polka dots, snapped back when I felt that soft touch again, this time caressing against my cheek. Heat immediately flashed across my face like a dry desert wind.

Uhwhat are you doing? I asked.

It's healing nice.

What, my lip?

No, your face, where you know, those scratches were.

Oh. Good. I looked away, not keen to revisit anymore bad memories for one night. They sure took their sweet time. With all that'd been going on in the past couple weeks, the debates over Thrash for Cash and now my abrupt exodus from the Demin house, I'd almost forgotten all about them. Of course having been slapped about helped take my mind off them too. Kayla's only response was to look straight ahead at the mammoth fitness and aquatic center on the other side of the street, avoiding eye contact with me. I pretended to look at something else while watching her pretend not to look at me too, and doing a poor job to boot; the local fitness center was not that interesting. Peripheral vision can be helpful, or an obvious giveaway, depending on how well you disguise it. Why does she keep doing that? I wondered, watching her lip tremble for what had to be the third or fourth time tonight. The question seemed to answer itself a moment later as her face broke, and tears began to roll down her cheeks.

Kayla? I watched with a mixture of shock and concern. Kayla? She cursed and tried to hide her face behind her hair, much like the subject in the Spotlight' painting, as if that would stop me looking at her. No go. My mind raced with things to say to comfort or subdue her crying, if either was possible. But all I could do was sit there like a useless lump of dough, unable to say anything.

It's so hard, she said with a loud sniff, brushing the back of her hand underneath her nose, living with it all.

What is? I asked, words coming through at last. Living with what?

The constant reminders of your fk-ups, she said, pausing to collect her breath. Knowing that no matter how hard you try to run away from the darkness, the further you get, the deeper its claws sink into you. I decided not to tell her I had no clue what she was talking about which worked fine, since she continued talking before I could've uttered a single word. She caught me off guard again with a sudden confession, I feel terrible for what I did to you.

To further my shock, I heard You do? fly past my lips, and right away wanted to kick myself. Subtlety was never one of my strongest traits. Kayla didn't seem to hear it the same way. She nodded and turned to face me again. Her eyes were glassy and red, strands of hair matted with tears and sweat stuck to her forehead and cheeks.

I do. I guess I just panicked when youwell after I'd She trailed off and sighed, partly out of frustration I think, dabbing at her eyes. I only touched the stuff once and didn't even care for it then. It was just a bad day. I couldn't help but sense she was hiding something behind that answer, something a lot worse than just having a bad day. Well, now wasn't the time to poke and prod such delicate issues. I don't even know what I was thinking anymore.

That makes two of us, I offered, which was the truth, the incident now seemed so long ago, I felt dumber for wasting time consciously thinking about it.

She seemed comforted by this, and then said I can't really blame you for reacting the way you did. I was a bitch. On instinct, I denied it, but she wasn't about to be deterred. I was, she sighed again, just a stupid little b-bitch. That last word came out in a sob-riddled hiccup. Tears started flowing again.

Kayla I paused, feeling a slight misogynistic stab in my gut while I said, trust me, I've met stupid bitches before. You're not even close. It wasn't a lie, but it still felt wrong to say. But if it would help her feel betterwell, why not?

I was a bit put down to hear her snort at what I'd said, until she followed up with try telling that to my parents, the words coming out in a detesting snarl. There seemed to be no end to the shocks I was receiving. Captain Bob and I had our words over the years but until today, no such type of words ever passed from either of us.

They actually call you that?

Uh-huh, real loving, right? And they wonder why I walk around with such

Attitude, I said. She looked at me a little funny for a moment and then nodded.

Exactly, you must have read my mind.

Not really. We just seem to have parents who subscribe to the same idiotic philosophies. Story of my life: Have Dreams May Crumble. I spat into a nearby bush, feeling suddenly riled up. Sometimes things really aren't as simple as we try to make them, are they? We can try, but what happens when you mix black and white together? You get varying shades of grey. Some time went by before either of us spoke. Kayla was first.

Did one of your parents do that to you? she asked timidly. I nodded, no longer caring if the truth came out, what did it matter anymore?

Parent, technically, I corrected. I don't have a mother.

She cursed and looked at me some more. Crazy, she said. Guess we have more in common than we once thought, huh?

I suppose that's true. Though I'd hope your parents, or parent, or whatever haven't tried to take your head off with their bare hands like mine just did earlier. She started to say something, but the quietness of her voice was drowned out by the annoying chimes rang again, as Sarah came back out. She looked at us, or rather she looked at me sitting next to Kayla, gradually her eyes took on that threatening, fk you look, which I knew all too well was to hide the vicious angry streak that ran through her.

Should we go? she asked Kayla, adding we still got things to do, as if to try and justify her interrupting us. What, does she expect me to be jealous or something? I wondered. Don't flatter yourself. She turned, snatched the Marlboro pack from the table and started to walk towards the downtown core without another word. Kayla stood up from the chair and reached for the hoodie tied around her waist.

You'll live? she asked. I said I would. Good. I'm glad. She sounded like she meant it. Once she pulled the hoodie over her shoulders, I started to get up after her, ready to go my own way, to where, I hadn't figured that part out yet, though I knew I needed to sooner or later. The temperature was beginning to drop and the skies were now void of any lingering remnants of day. It wouldn't be too much longer before the public hotspots began to close up shop for the night. As I reached for my guitar case, Kayla came into the view of my peripheral once again and surprised me for the umpteenth time by putting her hand on my shoulder, leaning forward and planting her lips against my cheek.

Before I had any chance to fathom what she'd just done, she whispered Thank you in my ear, and took off into the night.


Given everything that had occurred today, I no longer knew which emotion was the strongest in the forefront of my mind any better than I could figure which was the bigger shock; Captain Bob's beat-down or Kayla showing a softer side and actually daring to kiss me. Why either of these had happened was a question far beyond my comprehension at this point; so many feelings and thoughts, so few words to effectively describe it all. A half-hour or so had passed since leaving Contrast, the only clear idea in my mind was where I wanted, nay, needed to go, only one person could try to help at this point.

Yet I couldn't quite bring myself to knock on the door as I stood, fist poised only inches from it, the many voices of Richard Demin waging war with each other inside my mind; the strongest battle between the what if I do?' and maybe this is a bad idea' ones. It actually took a conscious effort to overrule the doubting thoughts and drive my fist against the cool metal. The door opened a few seconds later, and the man in shorts who'd answered took one look at me and dropped the bottle of beer in his clutches, and why shouldn't he have? It was a reaction I'd have to get used to for the next few days while others came to grips with my new, albeit temporary, face.

Richard? he asked. I didn't know if he was more shocked by my appearance or the mere fact of my unannounced presence this late in the night. The red corner of a Canada flag tattoo peeked out from the torn curve of fabric where a sleeve had once been sewn.

Hey Adam, got an extra one of those? I nodded at the fallen bottle. I've had a bit of a rough day.

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