The Many Faces of Kai

Chapter 4

By Dabeagle

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Kai

I walked into school Monday morning without much expectation. Another Monday counting down to the final Monday of high school. Then it would all be over, and I could move on to something else. I was a little surprised the guy I'd spoken to the previous week in class approached me in the hall and called me by my name. I mean...wasn't sure I'd put that out there. Kind of forgot about that when he asked me on a date.

I had a bunch of weird, mixed emotions about that. Anger was first – it's so easy to reach for now. It always seems close and eager to participate. So yeah, anger bubbled up first, but that kind of turned into confusion and embarrassment. Confusion from the video – I could hear the sound coming out of his speaker. Whoever the girl was, her voice carries. But then it kind of caught up with me, that mysterious excitement that comes when you find out someone likes you. But also confusion because of the situation and this guy quickly dashing into the room, sitting far away from me.

I guess I wasn't the only one with twisted emotions.

I wrestled with the weirdness in my head, wondering if I came across as gay and if my mother had anything to do with it. Her and her gay tendencies got my whole life destroyed, so I wasn't eager to think about someone wanting me to be gay. The thought made me angry, bringing up old hurts, but also the idea that everything I'd wanted from this school year was on the edge. First some guy wanting my ass, then that video – who knows who will see it, and there goes my anonymity. Those thoughts dogged me all day so emotionally I was feeling kind of stretched out by the time the school day ended.

Rick decided to sit with me on the way to our game. I hated riding the bus, but riding with him made it worse. He was making me sick with all his talk about a video that Georgia had spread around about her now ex, Vin. I guess it was pretty graphic. All I could think about was what Rick would do with the video with my name in it.

The idea kept me up that night. Everything we'd gone through in our old town...the way we basically started over. I didn't want to think about it, but my mind wouldn't stop spinning. Why did that guy have to even look my way? What did I ever do to deserve all this shit?

I was seriously dragging ass in the morning, and my dad could tell. Good thing I didn't have to go to school that particular morning.

“Looks like you were up all night,” my dad said, only joking a little.

I sighed. “Yeah. I didn't sleep much.”

Dad sat down at the table while I stared down at my cereal. “Look, starting up with a therapist gives you someone to talk to. I know the last situation was just...beyond screwed up. I want you to know you can still talk to me, though.”

I pushed my tongue against the back of my teeth. “Then what do I need the therapist for?”

He leaned back a bit. “Because they have the education to guide you. In some ways being a parent is so difficult, because my inclination is to try and spare you pain, to ease discomfort, when in actuality sometimes the right thing is to go through it. To understand what those things mean.” He shifted on his chair. “Plus you've seen things. You've had to deal with a ton of pressure, and so did I. In some things I may not bring the right perspective.”

I looked up at him. “But the last one....”

He nodded. “The last one was infected as much as anyone else in that town. This is a fresh start for us. I checked this therapist out. All I ask is that you give it a chance.”

I sighed, which turned into a yawn, and my eyes watered. I tried to nod in all that, but finally just went back to eating my cereal.

I missed a couple of hours of school that morning going to my first therapy appointment. First appointments, which I've been on a lot lately, always take longer. Paperwork is the main thing. Doctors always want to get a full exam in. Makes me feel like a used car on a pre-purchase inspection. Saw my dad do that when he traded in our old truck for something more economical. The visit itself wasn't bad. He was a thin guy, looked comfortable in his jeans and sweater – not quite like the last one I'd seen. We covered some basics, like our conversations were between me and him. Dad only had to know if I talked about hurting myself or others.

I wasn't sure about telling this guy anything, but after the last one...I wasn't jumping right into trusting him with anything. He seemed okay with that. Dad took me to get some coffee after the appointment, one of our rituals after things like a doctor visit. Only instead of going in the drive through, we got our cups inside and took a seat in some chairs that looked more comfy than they were.

“Thoughts?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Seems different. Not too sure, yet.”

He nodded. “What about whatever kept you up last night?”

I looked down and away from him and thought for a moment. I had asked my dad some questions, of course. Over time it had been a lot of ups and downs about what went on with my mom. How it affected us; the fallout. Not everything. There were a lot of things I didn't understand and wasn't always sure how to ask. But with this guy asking me out it made me wonder, and I thought I had come around to a question.

Looking up at him I asked, “Weren't you mad when you found out what Mom did?”

Dad always got this look in his eyes when he talks about Mom that I can't really describe. It looks...gentle, I guess.

“That's a more complicated question than you may realize,” he said. “When I first met your mother...I understood the meaning of love at first sight. She was charming and outgoing. She had a taste for life like no one I'd met before. We didn't hit it off right away, not for her side, but the more I was with her, the more I loved her.”

“But...what does that have to do with-”

He waved a hand. “Give me a second. You have to try and understand, Kai. People aren't just one thing. Someone who is simple enough to be one thing just isn't a whole person.” He shifted in his chair and leaned forward. “As people we like labels. To put someone in a box and put a tag on it, so we know that they're a jerk, or kind or...straight, gay, bi...any of the other flavors of sexuality that are still being defined. People...struggle with new things. New ideas that challenge the way they think things should be or how things work.”

“Okay,” I said, not really sure what his point was.

One side of his mouth came up in a half-smile. “Your mother taught me what loving a whole person means, even through what we went through. So...was I hurt or angry? Yes. I was hurt. But...I hurt for all three of us.”

I leaned forward. “She cheated. How are you supposed to be anything but pissed off?”

He smiled again, the whole mouth but it still looked kind of sad. “Because I loved her. All of her.” He looked down at his cup and then back to me. “Her...feelings for Fran weren't because of anything I did wrong – or you. If it weren't for the things your grandparents put into your mother's head, she might have spent her life very differently. She may have found happiness with a woman instead of me.”

“Then she should have done that instead of cheating!” I said angrily.

He kept up that sad smile, and I just didn't want to hear it so I stood up and dumped my coffee. I went outside and took a few deep breaths until I felt my temperature dropping. Dad patted my shoulder, and we got back into the car for the ride to school. I checked in and went to my class, but I was distracted. I can understand forgiving people. If someone fucks up and they're sorry or it was an accident, then I can definitely see forgiving them. I have no idea what happened between my parents, but loving the whole person doesn't seem to add up to forgiving them for nuking your life.

I think the anger I've felt since I started to understand what was going on just bubbles under the surface, ready to erupt. It doesn't happen much. I go outside, deep breath, do something physical or something to occupy my mind, and I can simmer down. My dad says those are good coping mechanisms, but they don't deal with the cause of the anger, and that's why he wants me in therapy. The rest of that day I was so distracted, totally unable to lower my internal pissed-off temperature.

So while I was relieved in a way to get out on the field, Rick was running his mouth. He was still talking about Vin's video at first, but that made him remember he'd seen another one. Yeah. That guy talking about deflating my balls. I tried just staying away, but the less I responded, the more he got into it. I couldn't even tell you a lot of the things he said – they were just stupid. Maybe on another day I could have let them go or they wouldn't have gotten me so angry, but it wasn't a normal day. I was already at 9.5 out of 10, and this guy just kept adding pressure.

Every time we'd stop after a play. Time between drills. Then we got to the locker room.

“Bro! I'd be pissed if some guy was telling the world he wants to suck me off!” he said, raising his voice.

“That's because no one wants to suck you off,” someone else said and laughter echoed off the walls.

“This guy's got Lysander on his knees!” he said, trying to move past the joke. More laughter. “He wants to suck the balls off him, and this guy's not denying anything!” More laughter.

“Why don't you shut the fuck up, Rick?” I snarled, moving up and slamming my chest into his. “All you do is run your fucking mouth, talking about Juan eating chimichangas or that Spenser ate all Juan's food. Or Vin slipping a burrito to Georgia – you have shit to say about every one. So why don't you just shut the fuck up, asshole?”

The room got a bit quiet and then a voice – Vin – said, “Did he just say my dick looks like a burrito?”

Rick wasn't listening to whatever came next, and neither was I. My chest bump had set him off, as he'd tripped backward and banged against a locker. It was on. It was one of those real fights where you don't really remember the details and stuff doesn't hurt right away because of the adrenaline, but there was some damage. We slugged it out for a few minutes, maybe, before the coach caught on and came out to separate us. Some guys had been circling us to watch or make jokes or maybe cheer someone on into throwing the next punch. Any punch.

That landed me in the office, where I had to wait for my dad to get there so the principal could 'have a chat'. Rick was on the other end of the row. He tried to say something to me, but the secretary with the resting bitch face snapped at him to stay quiet. I sat in the chair, slumped and worn out. I was tired from a lack of sleep, but also tired from Rick's bullshit. Plus my knuckles were kind of sore, and maybe my shoulder and side from a few shots from Rick and falling over one of the benches that were bolted to the floor in the locker room.

My dad got there before Rick's dad, and I went in with him and the coach and principal. Coach kind of laid out what he knew, and then he asked me – in a decent tone – what had happened.

I pursed my lips and looked at my dad. “Can we just go?”

Dad shook his head slowly. “In a minute. I just want to understand what happened.”

I sighed and crossed my arms. I know, really mature of me. “Rick runs his mouth a lot. He makes things all about people's race or culture. Today he was making gay statements at me. I just couldn't take his mouth anymore.”

The adults looked at each other for a moment, and then the principal said his hands were tied and they had a zero tolerance policy for fighting and I'd be suspended for two days. I'd never been suspended, but it didn't carry the weight one might think. I was just too tired to care. Dad sent me to the car while he stayed behind for a minute. I got in and just tried to let the world fall away. All this because some guy asked me on a date?

Dad joined me in the car, and we went home. He didn't say much, and I was relieved; I just didn't have the energy left for a talk or an argument. Once home, I showered and went to lie in bed, but my brain wasn't going to let it happen. It was a confusing swirl of anger at Rick, annoyance with my sore knuckles, anger about the whole gay thing – both my mom and this guy. Lysander. What kind of name is that, anyway? Dad called me out for dinner, and rather than sit with my thoughts I went out to join him, even though I wasn't hungry.

Oh. Dad was setting up a talk, that was for sure. I could smell the Chinese food almost as soon as I left my room.

“I get suspended and I get Chinese food? This the message you want to send, Dad?” I asked, trying to be more decent than I felt.

“Well, seems like less of a reward when we should talk. Don't you think?”

I sighed. “Can I drink the soup first at least?”

“Sure,” he said with a tight smile.

We sat down and I picked up the soup – more like a broth with a few noodles and herbs – and took the plastic top off. It was small, so I just drank it rather than get a spoon and bowl. Dad opted to push his soup to me, and I drank that down, too. Warmed me from my guts out, and I sniffled – that kind of stuff always makes my nose run a little.

“Decent soup?”

“Yeah. Tiny bit spicy,” I replied. He pushed over my food, and I looked at it with curiosity. “I thought we had Chinese?”

He hummed a moment, food in his mouth. “Japanese, I think. Place does hibachi, and I know how much we love that.”

I pulled the top off the container and paused, looking down. “Mom loved that place. The hibachi. It was like an hour away.”

My dad paused a moment and agreed. “Kind of a special event. Remember the chef asking if we wanted to see a butterfly?”

I set the top aside. “And then he flipped the butter through the air and said.” Dad and I looked at each other and said together, “See butter fly!”

He laughed a bit, and I held the feeling of warmth from the memory for a moment. Or maybe it was just from the soup.

“So. You asked me a question today, and I didn't get to answer you,” he said quietly.

I sighed. “What you said didn't make much sense.”

“Incomplete thoughts or ideas usually don't,” he said agreeably. “So. Your mom was taught a lot of things, but one that always hurt her was that some parts of her were wrong. Bad. One of the reasons we worked well together was because we talked so much, so I knew. I knew of her attraction to women. I knew how much her parents had judged her, how bad they had made her feel. I always thought, in the back of my head, that your mom might have lived her life very differently if it weren't for the things her parents said to her, ingrained in her.”

I looked up at him and narrowed my eyes a bit. “You seem like you'd be okay with that. If she'd lived her life differently.”

He nodded slowly and smiled. “I loved her, Kai. I loved the life I got to share with her, and I love how much of her I see in you everyday. It would hurt some people, to see their spouse reflected in their child but you...you were a symbol of all the love we had between us. It's why we love you so much, I think.” He waved his fork. “Some people get married because they get knocked up and feel like they have to. Some people have kids and they just figure...that's what you do.” He looked at me. “You were a choice. We wanted you.”

I felt kind of wobbly inside, but I wasn't sure why. “Okay. But-”

“I know. Yes, to you it might sound counter-intuitive, but I wanted her happiness most of all. If I'd never had her for my wife, if she'd been more free to make choices that were for her, I'd have been okay with that. At least before you were born.”

“But...if Mom was into women and might have married one, how did she even...I mean me....”

He chuckled. “I think your mom was bisexual rather than a lesbian. I think, on a spectrum, she was bi leaning to women.” He looked at me. “Most things are on a spectrum in life. Very, very few things are black and white. Even the straightest person may find themselves attracted to someone of the same sex, and that bothers them. They can't handle the challenge to their idea of themselves.”

I slumped back in my seat, just feeling so tired. “But, Dad. She cost us everything.” I looked up at him. “Our house. My friends. She...died.”

He gave me a sad smile and set down his fork. “Kai. She didn't do any of those things. Realistically, if there is a problem in the marriage, it's for the people in the marriage to work out. Had her...romance been with the mayor, a man, rather than his wife, there would have been a scandal, sure. But not what those people chose to do or say to us. Your mom made...a choice. Those people made one, too. If you have someone who is a friend, Kai, then they don't dump you when things aren't easy.” He leaned in. “That's what your grandparents did to us. Dumped us because it wasn't easy and they didn't agree. Your mother wasn't a murderer. She didn't molest someone. She fell in love. No one deserved what happened for that simple act. No one.”

He looked down after a moment and started to eat, so I did, too. I ate faster than I might normally; I just wanted to empty my container. I rinsed it and put it in the recycle and got ready for bed. I was too tired to think, but I was also too tired to resist my brain.

He was right. Mom made a choice, but those people did too. I guess it just felt like...Mom was just one person against all of them, so they must be right. But...that wasn't exactly true, either. Some people just pile on to pile on without really thinking about it or caring much one way or another.

Some people are shit.

In the morning Dad had a few chores for me, which was standard if I didn't have school or got in trouble. It was his way of saying that I had other ways to handle things, but I'd just been at my limit that day. I reluctantly admitted to myself that hadn't meant I couldn't have walked away. I hadn't had to fight, then. Sometimes you have to, but I hadn't had to fight yesterday. I didn't know what the fallout would be beyond the suspension, but...I'd just have to see.

I spent part of the day raking leaves and trimming bushes, then doing my laundry and getting a shower. While waiting for my clothes I picked up my phone, intending to go look at model kits online, but instead I opened my picture app. It was set to private, and I didn't feel like looking at my old pictures anyway – so why had I opened it? I followed a prompt to a link to the soccer team, where they'd done a shout out of me as a new member of the team.

A stray thought ran across my mind like a bird on a clear day, maybe chasing a worm – or running from a cat. Lysander is...not a common name. I thumbed over to the school pages for various clubs and stuff. It was a little on the nose, but I went into the theater club – and there he was. Set crew.

They called him Andy, which I guess made sense. I don't know if anyone would want to be called by that first name unless they wanted the attention of a unique name. He was about my height, large messy curls of black hair and dark blue eyes, in contrast to my lighter blue ones. He was smiling, with a tool belt around his waist and his arms over the shoulders of the people to either side of him. I flipped through a few more images and landed on him working on some kind of framing for a set wall. He had a hammer in his hand like he understood which end was used on the nail.

I tossed my phone to one side. What am I doing? Who gives a shit? I got up and went to the kitchen for a drink. Checking the fridge, I saw that, although my dad wasn't happy, I wasn't unforgiven. He'd gotten me some of my guilty pleasure – raspberry iced tea. I grabbed a plastic bottle and leaned against the counter as I chugged half of it down. It's always best ice cold. It didn't freeze my thoughts, though, as my mind made some connections I didn't like. If I accepted that people are sometimes just shit, and if I accept that people are responsible for the choices they make...then it was hard to be angry with Lysander.

People say things to best friends they'd never say to someone else. Talk about their crush. Some secret dream. Or even make a funny sexual comment. Audience is everything. So yeah, I wasn't thrilled to have him saying that about me – but I had to hold others responsible, too, for their reactions. Like Rick. If I followed that to other thoughts I'd had – like if I were to make friends, which I wasn't looking to do – then it wouldn't be Rick. That didn't mean Lysander would be a good friend, but he wasn't carrying the same baggage Rick was.

Besides, punching someone in the face is usually a way to ensure you won't be friends.

The front door opened, and I realized I'd zoned out. I lifted the bottle to my lips, surprised to find that it was empty. What is going on with my brain?

“There he is,” my dad said and flashed a little smile. “Get your chores done?”

“Yeah, this morning,” I replied, putting my bottle in the recycle.

“That's good. Be right back,” he said and went to his room to get changed. I stayed in the kitchen. My dad was a creature of habit, and I'd learned more than a few. Chinese food was to 'soften the road' he'd say, for discussions. I kind of hated that, because I like Chinese food, but it comes with a side of whatever uncomfortable thing he wants to talk about. But after we'd had the talk, and I'd done my penance – the chores. He always called it penance. After that it would be time for a follow up. I knew if I went to my room he'd just call me out. He'd suggest we cook together, and over that he'd question me to see if anything we'd talked about the night before had sunk in.

I'd tried a lot of things to get out of that. Once in a while just telling him I wasn't in the right space to talk was good enough to delay it, but...it was only a delay.

“Okay!” he said, coming back into the kitchen. “I was thinking breakfast for dinner. What do you think?”

“Cereal?”

“No!” he said, smiling and scowling in one expression. “Eggs. Maybe some bacon and waffles or toast. Breakfast!”

“Not like any breakfast I get here,” I grumbled.

“Grab a bowl. I'll get the eggs, grumpy,” he said as he turned to the fridge. I sighed and pulled out a bowl for the eggs and started cracking them for whisking. My dad grabbed another bowl and some pancake mix and started to work.

“So. I was thinking today.”

“Dad. I told you not to do that,” I reminded him.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said and tried to hip check me. “But you know, I never asked why you hit that kid yesterday.”

“He looked at me funny,” I said, starting to whisk the eggs.

“I look at you funny all the time, and you don't hit me,” he teased.

“Dad. You don't hit old people. It's pretty bad if you beat up senior citizens.”

“Oh. Ha ha. Ho. So funny, you are,” he said. “Really. What got to you so badly that you needed to pop him?”

I sighed. “A guy at school he...asked me out.”

From the corner of my eye I could see my dad watching me. “And?”

I sighed and set the whisk down. I crossed my arms and looked at my dad. “The guy got recorded saying something...sexual about me. This guy, Rick, was giving me a hard time about it in the locker room. That wouldn't have been enough, not normally, but he's been running his mouth for days. He says all kinds of racial stuff. I just...was at a limit.”

He nodded. “Yeah. I can understand the feeling. Let me show you something.” He wiped his hands and pulled his phone from his pocket and swiped a few times before turning it to me. “I keep this on my phone. It makes me happy, sometimes.”

I took the phone and looked at the screen. It was a gif, some Nazi in a black leather jacket with the Nazi armband was holding his hand out to some black dude – who knocked the Nazi right the fuck out. It looped a few times and I have to admit, seeing a Nazi get punched was speaking to a happy place inside of me. I handed the phone back.

“I feel that black dude. Rick was being a terrible human,” I said quietly.

“Yeah. Hard to argue that. Sometimes the best answer is to punch the Nazi. Not that there won't be repercussions, but....” He smiled grimly. “But...how do we feel about this guy asking you out?”

I shrugged and looked away. “At first it was just weird. Kind of made me angry...but that's easy.” I glanced at my dad's face and then away again. “Made me think of Mom. When someone...Rick...saw the video and started to troll me I just....” I clenched my fists.

“Yeah. He touched a raw spot in you.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “The guy that asked you out? Not the one to be angry at, though. I hope you see that.”

I sighed and dropped my arms to my sides. “Yeah. I know. I was pissed at him – I just wanted to fly under the radar, graduate and move on. I didn't want to make friends or have to deal with anyone else.” I looked at my dad's face. “I didn't want to date or do sleepovers or...I just wanted to slide by.”

The corner of his mouth curled up. “You're your mother's son. You're not made for not being noticed.”

I rolled my eyes. “Whatever.”

He switched the subject to someone at work that was getting on a power trip, and I was glad to let it go. For a little bit I was entertained by these new people he was working with.

“So Nora is like Dory from Finding Nemo where she keeps asking about the same things, no long term memory to speak of,” he said. “She reports to Frank, but Frank never shows up for any of the meetings. Now Sandy is in charge of the people who actually use the software, but she wasn't invited to the meetings – for some reason it's Nora's job, along with Vern, who runs the software side. Now Vern is the same level as Frank, so he outranks Nora. So Nora goes to Frank and pitches a fit that she's not going to sign off on the new software release – basically grenading the last six months of development.”

“She can just do that?”

“She can, and here's why. Our local contract lays out how software development goes – it follows development meetings where everything gets agreed to, every line gets read and approved by both sides as far as the scope of the project, timeline, necessary components – you name it. It protects the client and us, because everything is agreed to. Now with this other product, it's from corporate, and they farm it out to several other sites. So think of it like Windows – everyone gets the same basic setup. You can tweak a few things, but it's basically the same for everyone. So corporate makes changes to try and accommodate things the customer wants, but Nora doesn't like anything, just because she doesn't have to.”

“Wow. Worse than a Karen – she's a Susan.”

“What now?”

“You know. Basic troll is a Karen. Live, Laugh, Love and the asymmetric haircut. A Becky is a young Karen, usually without the haircut. Susan is their old lady mentor – the OG troll.”

Dad laughed a little. “Okay, yeah, she's probably a Susan. Anyway. Frank has a meeting with Sandy and Nora and Frank's supervisor. Nora gets all full of herself and really digs in about how awful the software is. What Nora didn't know was I'd already sat down with Sandy to show her the updates that her people would use – and she approved of them. Big fight. Nora threw a fit that's really undignified for a woman of her age and position.”

I snorted. “What happened?”

“Well,” he said with a little grin. “Nora's not speaking to me, because I'm part of the problem. Word is she's getting her 'responsibilities reduced', so I may not have to deal with her much longer.”

“Nice,” I replied, nodding to my dad's ability to think ahead and get Sandy on board.

“In the short term, sure,” he said with a nod. “I won't miss her being someone you have to work around rather than with.” He paused and waited for me to look at him. “For all I know she realizes she's wrong. It's not enough, though, to realize it. It's what you do about it. That's what comes next.”

Later I scrolled my phone in bed, looking for an interesting model. I found a Lancia Stratos kit in the flag colors of Italy; Alitalia was slapped on the car, but it was a real winner. Right next to it was a Porsche 935 in the Martini racing colors, and I went back and forth about what I'd like to build first. I knew the model would be solid quality; I preferred Tamiya just because of that. The cars couldn't have been more different – right angles on the Lancia and curves on the Porsche, but they were both real beauties – you couldn't go wrong, except that you may regret not getting both.

I flipped over to my bank account to see if I could afford both. Afford is a strange word. I have the money so I could buy both, but would I then be able to buy anything else I may need to finish the builds? What little things – that cost money – might I not have? Then the meaning of affording the build changed from having the money for the initial kit to having enough to be able to finish it. So I guess in that sense, you could go wrong.

I changed my view to the tabs I had open, but my finger slipped and I opened something I hadn't remembered to close. Of course it was Lysander's picture, the one where he looks like he's used a hammer before.

I sighed. Okay. I wasn't right to be mad at him, but that kind of left what to do about it? I hadn't said anything to him, I hadn't been a dick, so I didn't have anything to apologize for. He had no idea I'd been mad at him. But...turning things over in my head...was I really mad at him, or still mad at my mom? Because of the whole gay thing. Was I mad at him for making me think of her?

Fuck my brain. Seriously.

Looking back at his picture, I went on auto pilot and hit the link to his personal account. It was public. So I flipped through some of his life. Looks like he worked at a burger joint. One girl shows up a lot, so probably a friend. He had a few finished set projects for plays that he seemed proud of. Nothing crazy. Just a guy going through life. I'm not sure what I expected. Maybe glitter paint on his chest with some kind of message about the kind of guy he wanted to bang.

Oh, wait. I think I was his type. I went in circles in my head for a little bit about that. He had other socials linked to this account, but I plugged my phone in and decided that was a rabbit hole I wasn't ready for. Realizing I wasn't actually angry at him before I did something dumb was a lot for two days, and it felt like progress.

Of course my dad's statement about it not being enough to know you were wrong, but what you did about it echoed in my head. What should I do? Anything?

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

The next morning I got ready for school and caught the bus. I hate this bus ride only because I'm close to the bus garage so the first one to get picked up and the last one to be dropped off. I looked out the window as we passed through neighborhoods and more people climbed on. I guess if we'd still been back in our old town I might have a car. I'd driven, had my license, but never had the chance for a car. It never seemed like a priority – I'd always had friends with cars, and I was usually going where they were going, so...now it seemed short sighted. Now I wanted to go on my own and couldn't.

Maybe after soccer was over I'd get a job, try to save up some bucks. Or maybe I'd go to college in a city that had good public transportation.

Once at school I went past my locker just to hang my coat and headed to coding class. I got there early so I could ask the teacher about things I'd missed and their policy for me catching up.

“Morning, Mrs. Melendez,” I said.

“Oh, Kai, good morning. Nice to see you,” she said with a warm smile.

I rubbed the back of my neck. “I was suspended two days. I was wondering about catching up on what I missed.”

“Oh, that's easy enough. I posted the daily projects online; you'll probably want to work on those first rather than today's project, because they build into what you'd need to know for today. If you can, try and get it caught up by Monday so you'll be on track with the class. If you need help, come see me in a free period or send me an email, and I'll see if I can help you that way. Sound good?”

“Uh, yeah. Thanks. I'll do that.”

Lysander walked in, and I pressed my lips together and jutted my chin in greeting. I figured making some sort of friendly motion would at least take some of the sting out of whatever there was between us.

He actually stumbled a bit like he was surprised. Or maybe he's just awkward. I thought about that off and on throughout the next few periods. By the time lunch came around I'd come to some sort of a shaky decision. I won't say there was a lot of logic behind it, or that my thinking was really solid, but it went something like this. Guys like Rick were like some guys I'd known back home. Not all, but maybe some had been friends – or people I'd thought were friends.

Guys like Lysander who were different...I hadn't known. But the ones I'd known had dumped me and dumped on me after what happened with my mom. So maybe I was missing something by hanging around the Ricks of the world and not even knowing the Lysanders. So yeah. At lunch I picked up my tray and scanned the crowd. There were some guys from soccer, but they weren't sitting as a team or anything; just with their own friends.

But there. Lysander was sitting with a girl at a small table; I think it was the girl from his pictures. I took a breath and walked over. They looked up as I stopped by their table.

“Okay if I sit?”




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