The Many Faces of Kai

Chapter 2

By Dabeagle

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Kai

Moving kind of sucks. I suppose if someone moved because they wanted to, were excited about a new job or school or something, it wouldn't be as bad. Big maybe on that. All the packing, the taping, the labeling, the lifting – the endless decisions about keeping something or not. Everything was different here, which wasn't a bad thing really. I'd miss some things. I was curious about others, but only in a distant way.

After we'd gotten our initial things unpacked I'd started with soccer practice. Fall sports always start their practice a few weeks before classes start up. I'd quickly realized this team wasn't anywhere as good as my old one. The coach seemed like he was coaching for the couple extra bucks rather than any real interest in the game. Still I welcomed the chance to move, to do some familiar things and to turn my brain away from the last year and toward keeping moving.

One guy on the team, Rick Stelton, liked to talk between plays. Nothing memorable. We were just on the same end of the field when the ball was elsewhere, so it was kind of natural to talk a little. He usually would make small talk on the bench with me, too. We didn't text after practice or anything; he was just a guy. Maybe a friend, if I wanted to try and develop that, but I didn't really have the energy. Right now my plan was to just get through this year. Keep my head down and grind.

The school year was starting on a Thursday. It was kind of odd, but I didn't mind the idea of easing into the school year. I was a little surprised, though, when my dad decided to keep our family tradition of going out for barbecue the night before school started. We used to go to a place in town, but that was a lot of miles down south now.

“So. Senior. Hard to believe. Seems like just yesterday I was bringing you to Kindergarten,” my dad said with a little smile. He was a slim guy, probably how I got my build. His hair was thinning, and he needed reading glasses for menus now. I got my dark brown hair from him as well, but I got my blue eyes and my nose from my mom.

“Yeah. Not the way I figured to start senior year. Is this place any good?” I asked.

He glanced around us. “I read some reviews and asked a few people at work. I don't know if these northern folks can really do barbecue. Probably not like home, but...have to give things a try. Right?”

I grunted and nodded.

“How does the soccer team stack up?” he asked.

“They don't,” I replied. “Coach is not with it. Team is kind of disorganized. I looked up their record the last few years and...they blow.”

“Nice language,” he chided me.

“Sorry.”

The waitress came and we got our orders placed. People back home used to have some pretty strong opinions about dry rub versus wet ribs. I like my sauce, so I never listened to the haters.

“So. How are you feeling about this...change of scenery so far?”

I shifted on my chair. We always got tables instead of booths for the room. Booths can either feel private or like you're trapped. I prefer tables.

“There's a lot of things that are different,” I said.

“Yeah. Kind of the idea. But how are you feeling about that change?”

I shrugged. I knew it wasn't the answer he was looking for. I think he wanted to know I was feeling good about it, but it was kind of complicated. Maybe that's what I needed to tell him.

“It's not really good or bad.” I looked down and moved my fork and knife to one side a bit. “It feels good to get back on the field and move. It feels weird not having the people I knew all my life. Everywhere I go it's in my face that every thing is different, from the weather to the way people sound when they talk to...the food.” I looked up at him and my lower lip trembled just a hair. “I like that no one knows me here. Everyone who did know me judged me like I was someone they'd never met before. Like we had no history and anything that happened...before...just didn't matter.”

He nodded, his expression set in understanding. “It was a horrible thing to have a community turned against you like that. Sometimes we think we know people, but most of the time they give away who they are through their actions.” He paused. “Are you still getting messages?”

I looked down and shook my head. “No. I uninstalled the app. Put the other one to private and booted people. The different phone number helps.”

He sighed lightly. “Probably best for now.”

I shook my head as a gloomy feeling overtook me. Before I could even think of sinking into a funk the scene changed and our waitress was back with our order.

“Well, it looks good,” my dad said with a little smile.

“Yeah. Smells good,” I replied, and tried to smile.

“Well. To your senior year, Kai. To...licking our wounds and healing.”

“Yeah.”

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

I lay in bed that night and couldn't stop my thoughts from drifting to places I didn't want to go. It's kind of like when a song is stuck in your head. You can try to focus on something else, but when you're lying in the dark with just the sound of thunder and rain coming from your alarm clock, your mind can just wander off and poke at things you don't want poked. You can try thinking about something else, but as soon as you stop your mind snaps back like a rubber band to the thing you don't want to think about.

So, okay then, I guess I'm doing this.

I can't say my life before was perfect, but I thought it was pretty good. I had my complaints, but I guess it's all about your point of view. I remember when my dad, giant nerd, had me watch the Star Wars movies. I remember Luke getting really pissed when he found out that Ben Kenobi knew his father was still alive, but that he'd said something like 'What I said was true, from a certain point of view'. So yeah, some things had sucked. Some days were the worst. But that was before something came along that made them look stupid in comparison.

We'd lived in a smallish town. Pickup trucks, big churches and more than a few open fields. There was stuff in town, to be sure – we had our share of big box chains and fast-food trash. But you could get out to fields and trees in not a lot of time.

Our house wasn't super close to other homes, so our family had each other for company a lot. My mom always told me how handsome I was. I know your mom should say things like that and make a big fuss. It took a while for me to understand that. People like what they like and when you realize not everyone thinks you're super awesome it can drop you a peg or two. But hearing that for years also gives you some self-confidence, so that when you find out someone thinks you're a stick figure with a head too big for your neck, you can recover.

So yeah, that family foundation can get your self-worth to rebound when it runs into the real world. Stuff is always more complicated than we think it is. People aren't black and white, and that's become really clear to me in the past year. I won't say I 'had it all' or anything, but I had it pretty good. I liked school, I liked athletics, and I was popular enough. Not top of the heap, not a scrub – just an okay guy. I liked that. I had no desire to be the focus of people's expectations. I wanted to be me, whoever that was.

Everything started to come apart last winter. It wasn't a slow unraveling, something you see coming and you have to watch in sick fascination. It wasn't slow enough for you to turn your head so you didn't have to see. Instead it was just...bam! Here I am, motherfucker, how do you like me now?

School had just let out for Christmas break, and I got home ready to chill for a week and a half. It was a little odd that my parents were both home when I got there, but even weirder that they both looked like they'd been crying. I asked what was going on, but they wiped their eyes and said it wasn't something for me to worry about. Fact is, that wasn't true. I think they hoped it would be true, but hope's not something to count on.

I started getting weird snaps that night. Stuff that was not just weird, but confusing. People I didn't know sending me weird questions about my mom. It was sort of like when the power went out and your parents pull out a jigsaw puzzle. You see some things that kind of make sense, like they fit into the whole picture, but you don't quite know where. That was the feeling I got with those messages; they were small parts of things I couldn't see yet. They were insulting. They were about my mom.

I got into a few fights over my chat the next few days, enough that I put my phone down a lot. I didn't even play games with people, because kids I knew from school were all of a sudden saying crap about my mom. Crap about the mayor and being a slut and a lesbian. I didn't understand. My mom was married to my dad. She gave birth to me. It was all some sick joke.

Our holiday was quiet and just us. That wasn't totally new, but it felt like we were alone. The day after Christmas my dad took me over to a friend of his who had horses, and we spent a long time out on the trails, just letting the horses walk at their pace. Dad always did talk to me. He always wanted me to be able to talk to him.

“So, mister smart guy,” he'd said with a grin.

I'd rolled my eyes at him. “What'd I do now?”

He'd chuckled. “I don't know. Anything you want to confess?'

“I'm not falling for that!”

“See? Too smart!” he'd replied. He let the horses walk a few feet before he sighed. “I know you've been wondering what's going on at home. So I wanted to talk to you.”

I glanced at him and then down to watch the horse's neck as it ambled along. “Okay.”

“So...people are complicated. We change over time. Things that weren't important at one time can feel much more so later. Sometimes we make mistakes. Big ones. Small ones. Sometimes mistakes that only we know about.” He sighed. “Most of the time it seems that people find out the worst mistakes and make the situation worse.”

I looked over at him. “Is that what happened? Mom made a mistake?” I shifted on my saddle. “People are messaging me on my phone saying all kinds of crap about her.”

He looked at me and blew out a breath. “Like what?”

I shrugged and looked back at the horse. “Calling her names.”

“Okay,” he said quietly. “Well. Your mom had been contracted by the town to do some work. She ended up working a lot with the mayor's wife. Over time they realized...they had some things in common. Eventually, that turned into a...a...romance.”

Disbelief washed through me, and I looked at my dad. “Mom cheated?”

He smiled weakly. “It's a bit more complicated than that. I'd encourage you not to pass any kind of judgment.”

I pulled my horse up to a stop. “How can you say that?” I demanded.

He pulled up next to me. “Like I said, it's more complicated than just that statement. Mom didn't intend to hurt either of us. She didn't just go out one day and decide to do this. It was...something that she probably had pushed down for a long time. What happened was...just the right circumstances. A perfect storm, if you will. She got caught up in it. She made some bad decisions.” He paused. “And some people found out.”

My emotions swirled inside me. It felt like my stomach kind of shivered. I looked at him. “Are...are you guys going...what happens now?” I would not cry. Not now.

He sighed. “That's a little less certain. Right now...there is a lot of outside pressure. People have lots of opinions, and they smell a chance to bash someone. That people are saying things to you is disgusting at best.” He sighed and looked up to the sky for a moment. He swallowed and brought his gaze back down to me. “I know this is going to be a problem for us. One we can't fix right away.”

“Or ever,” I said quietly.

He nodded slowly. “If ever.”

I looked away. “Is Mom leaving?” I looked back and voiced what I hadn't been able to before. “Are you guys getting a divorce?”

“Kai...I don't think we have an answer to any of that just yet. Right now...we're in crisis mode.” He paused and pursed his lips for a moment. “Right now, we don't have the luxury of hurt feelings, even though they are there. For the moment we have to try and...figure out how we got here and go from there.” He nodded. “That's what tells us where our future is.”

Even though that day was the first time I heard what was going on, the pieces that had been being thrown at me by others now made sense. It was a scandal. People here belonged to churches. Big ones. The kind that broadcast their sermons on TV and sold people shirts and jackets with the church name on them. The name calling. The weird questions about what my dad did or didn't do to or for my mom. What they were doing to me. It had all been confusing, but now I knew – and there was still a layer of confusion.

I wanted to ask why, but maybe not the why most people might want to ask. I wanted to know why she was ruining my life. Why people were being so damn nasty to me. What had I done? Adults...they screw up, sure. But it's other families that have the cheaters. Others who have older sisters that get knocked up. Our family was always...okay. Now...these people around us were talking to me like I had a disease. Like our family was trash.

So no. At first I didn't want to know why she'd done it. I didn't care about how complicated it was. I was just angry. That's when a few tears leaked out.

“Kai. Talk to me, buddy.”

I shook my head. “People have been being such jerks. Such A holes. And now...now so many things they said. They're. They.” I looked up at the empty sky, sniffing back my running nose. “Things they were saying...they're true.”

“Kai,” my dad had said softly. “People won't know the full story – ever. They will make suppositions, and they'll draw conclusions that fit their own views.”

He'd been right. People said the most evil, nasty things they could. They weren't satisfied with the bits they could learn; the gossip that was floating around quickly turned into people just making shit up. There were things left on our doorstep. Our mailbox. Tons and tons of crap on our phones. It was a nightmare I couldn't wake up from.

And then it got worse.

My mom's parents disowned her. All of us. They had never liked my dad, and somehow they managed to find a way to make this all his fault. It took the pressure we were already under up to eleven, and my mom...broke.

I found her. I can never remember my mother's face as she used to be. Just what I saw when I found her.

That's why we'd moved. It's why everything was new. It was why I had a new phone with my dad's sad attempt at humor by putting a huge case on it. It's why I was in a house that wasn't familiar, in a town where I was a stranger – and it was okay to be that way. It was okay no one knew about our past. About my mom. About the town, the nasty little town that turned us out like we were diseased.

Finally the replay of the last six months ended in my head. My mind felt like it had gained weight inside my skull. Anonymity. That's what this town brought, and I wanted to stay in it...to just slide by and be no one for a while. No one to make fun of, no one to make miserable. No one...just me. I get to be me again.

Whoever that even is.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

The new school was okay. I found my classes, though I missed my first one from being at the office because of my locker combination not working. I met the teachers and got a good idea of what my senior year was going to be like in terms of work. I had a morning coding class that was interesting, but I liked school in general – or had. I was hoping to again. There was a little bit of interest in me just because I was the new guy, but my dad said that would stop soon enough. People here may have been going to school with the same people for years, so they had groups and cliques all set up, and there probably wasn't room for me – and I was good with that.

Friday I used my excuse for having a huge phone case with the first person to notice. I told them I'd broken my phone and my dad thought he was funny. It was technically true – I'd smashed my old phone with a cinder block. The guy made a little joke about getting a phone that wasn't leaping to its death. The rest of the day was about as memorable as that. Practice started a little late and was kind of messy. One of the guys got hurt on defense, and practice was brought to a stop.

“That's all we need,” Rick said, walking over to me. “He's our best defender.”

I grunted and wiped my face with my shirt. “Not many bench players,” I noted.

“There's a reason they're on the bench,” he said with a snort. “I don't remember the last time some of them played, besides practice.”

I frowned. “Why are they on the team if they're so bad?”

He rolled his eyes. “Coach takes everyone who shows up. He's all 'everyone gets a chance'.”

I shook my head. “If he was like that, he'd let them play.”

Rick looked back at me and stared for a moment. “They suck. I mean look at Juan. Give him a freaking chimichanga already – he looks like he hasn't eaten this year! Then you got Spenser – who maybe ate all Juan's food. It would explain things a little.”

Last year I probably would have laughed a little. Now? I don't know. I just looked away from him and back to the other end of the field. Coach had the guy on his feet – Vin or something. He was walking in circles with the coach watching him closely, hands on his hips.

“He dates Georgia Villapuerta. Pretty sure he slips her the old beef burrito,” Rick went on to say.

Everything was ethnic jokes with this guy. Maybe last year I'd have laughed. Maybe last year I wouldn't have noticed. Some times I wish I were still oblivious to the ways people can be such shit, but it's one of those things...once you see it, you can't unsee it.

“But I heard they're having problems. If she's single soon, I'm going to be right there for some rebound sex. She's been in his bed too damn long.”

I shook my head. Rick definitely wasn't friend material. It's a good thing I didn't want to make any. A year ago I might have just hung out with him anyway, maybe been part of a friend group. I hope I wouldn't have been stupid enough to have trusted him in any way. I don't know. I never thought of myself as much of a jerk before, but after all that hate got turned on me...I guess it changes your point of view.

At least Obi Wan would think so.

Vin headed to the sideline under his own power, so that was a good thing. Coach blew his whistle and clapped his hands to get things moving again. The wind was picking up, and it felt colder than late summer should – or would have where we used to live. Dad said we'd probably get snow, which wasn't common before. He liked to make jokes about how I'll get shoveling muscles. The coach had us running laps around the field at the end, which sucked but at least warmed me up a little. I needed to get something to cover my legs in practice.

Once home I had a shower and sat down to eat with my dad. He asked after my day and how practice went.

“The school is okay I guess. The team isn't good, but I already told you that.” I hesitated. “This guy on the team. He talks to me. I thought maybe he could be a friend, but I'm not really looking to make friends.”

Dad was quiet a moment and then said, “Well. You've certainly learned a hard lesson about the nature of friendship and the difference between a friend and an acquaintance. We often call too many people friend when the reality is something else.” He stirred his soup. “So I'd encourage you to be selective, but also to be open to the idea that there are people who will care for you if you let them.”

I shrugged. “He was talking today, but I realized that all the things he had to say – stuff he thought was funny – was nothing but racial jokes. Ethnic stuff.” I looked down into my soup bowl. “I thought maybe last year I'd have thought he was funny. But now....”

“You've grown. That's not a bad thing, Kai,” my dad said with a little chuckle. “Look, when I was a kid I'd say the dumbest things, repeat jokes I'd heard adults tell because I had no idea how awful they really were. I was ignorant. No one should desire to remain ignorant.”

I looked up at him. “Seems like ignorance is easier.”

He wiped his chin of dripping soup. “Sure, sometimes. Especially for the ignorant. But look at all the hurt they cause with their ignorance. Then they don't understand why things keep not working for them. They get ideas like the world is just out to get them or some silly thing like that.”

I stirred my soup. “Seemed like the world was out to get us not that long ago.”

“Yes. Because they were ignorant. They didn't care about the damage they did, and they will stay there and wallow in – even enjoy – their ignorance. But you? You grew.”

I snorted. “What choice did I have?”

“You could have shared their ignorance,” he said quietly. “You could have shared it and been awful to your mother. You could have wanted to live with your grandparents.”

“I hate them,” I said softly, angrily.

“Don't give them your time,” he advised.

After that short school week I spent some of the weekend going through some of our old family pictures. Dad wanted to put some up on the walls, and I was supposed to help. It wasn't easy to go through, though. It was hard to look at my mom's picture and not see her how I'd found her. In the end I'd had to talk to my dad about not putting pictures of Mom up – not because I didn't love her, but...I just didn't want them up.

He told me that he was going to look for a therapist for me now that he was settled in his job and I was in school. We'd had a few hectic weeks at the old house packing, cleaning it out and then moving. We lived out of an apartment for a month while my dad finished up the details of his job transfer based on open positions, and then locating a house to live in. It was pretty small compared to our old one, but that was okay.

Then there had been the moving in, the endless opening of boxes and my dad muttering things like 'Why in the world did we save this?' and things like that. Many things got repacked and put into storage, and that was a big chore. My room was livable, but I hadn't finished putting things up. So that weekend I was putting up floating shelving and dusting off small model cars I'd made since I was a kid. My dad buys them for me every few months. He taught me how to use an airbrush and even made me a little paint booth.

I set up the paint booth by a window in my room, the exhaust blocking half the window so I could send the fumes outside.

“Oh! We should order a new model,” my dad said, entering the room behind me with a box. “I found your paints.”

“Yeah. Maybe a model would be nice,” I said. It probably would be nice. It was something I could do on my own. It might keep my hands busy.

My dad put his hand on my shoulder. “Maybe we should paint in here, huh?”

I chuckled. “Should have thought about that before putting furniture in here.”

He squeezed my shoulder. “Yeah, guess so. Doesn't mean it's not doable though.”

I didn't know what to say to that, so I said nothing. He headed out, and I started to pick through my paints and set them up on a little tiered shelf I'd built with my mom a few years ago. I looked at it for a moment and then took the paints off it and put the shelf back in the box. Maybe another day.

After I finished setting up the paint booth, I worked on organizing the desk I used to build my models. I had a lot of jigs for holding items in place while they were glued and stuff, plus small blades for trimming excess plastic. What I really needed were some smaller shelves for the jigs when they weren't being used, and I needed a new shelf setup for my paints.

I spent an hour or so laying out the various jigs and measuring how much space I'd need for them, then did the same with the paints in various rows. I liked the idea of a tiered shelf like my old one, but I wanted the steps to be higher, so it'd be easier to read labels. After I did the measurements, I took a straight edge and some paper and made a set of plans for each item I needed. Each line I drew and each note I made brought me some small bit of peace, doing something with my hands and not letting my mind wander too much.

In the morning my dad took me down to the big box hardware store, and I got some wood and trim to dress up my projects. At home I set up some of the wood shop tools in the single-sized attached garage. I probably should have been helping Dad with something else to do with unpacking, but I was afraid we'd come back to something like the pictures again and my mind would just feel like it was draining out a hole in my skull.

Once I had the wood pieces marked and double checked that they were the correct measurement, I cut the wood to size. I did the same with the trim, cutting the ends at a 45 so they'd meet nicely on the corners. Making shelves is pretty easy; the longest part was staining the wood and leaving it to dry in a safe place while I moved on to making a tiered stand for my paints. After a break for lunch I brought my new items up to my room and got everything set up so my desk was organized and I was ready for my next project.

I spent some time scrolling through different sites, looking for a model to speak to me. There were tons of things out there to build, but many cool ones got bought out quickly and resold for stupid money. Finding something I liked and within a budget was always the tough part. Did I want to build American muscle? Foreign icon? Maybe something nautical or military? Maybe both or neither?

I tossed my phone aside, unable to think clearly. Or maybe I just wasn't sure what – or if – I should build. The wind rushed past the window, and I picked my phone back up and started to look for compression pants for soccer. I found a few and they were in town, so I went down to bug my dad.




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