The Many Faces of Kai

Chapter 5

By Dabeagle

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Lysander

He asked if it was okay for him to sit. Shell and I usually sit together, and no one has ever asked if they can sit with us – if someone wants to, they just do, so...who actually asks first?

“Uh. Yeah. Go ahead.”

He nodded and put his tray down and then sat, rubbing his hands on his jeans.

“Uh. This is Shell. Michelle. We call her Shell because she's empty inside. No soul, no heart-”

“Shut up, Andy,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “He's still mad at me, but he doesn't have to live with my dad or the patriarchy.”

Kai looked at her for a moment and then asked, “The entire patriarchy lives at your house?”

I snorted and tried not to laugh, but Shell punched my shoulder anyway.

“Jerk,” she said and looked back at Kai. “No, obviously. But my dad's expectations for what a girl does and what a guy does are the patriarchy all rolled up into one sweaty mess.”

I gave Kai a look and said, “I think she's implying I make her dad sweaty. He's not all that, though.”

“Ugh! Gross!” she said and punched my shoulder again.

While this little bit of chatter played out, I was curious about Kai's appearance. This morning, I thought he'd given me one of those straight-boy non-verbal bro greetings, and I still wasn't sure I'd seen what I thought I saw or that it was aimed at me. But him sitting down right now made me think there was something more going on. No reason to not just find out and get whatever shenanigans might be going on over with.

I grinned at her and looked back to Kai. “So, not unhappy you joined us, but...why?”

Kai's lip curled a little as he lifted a slice of pizza that had oil dripping off of it. Dropping it he picked up his napkin and wiped his fingers before looking at me.

“It's complicated,” he said after a moment. “For right now...I think I need a change in the people I've been around since I got to this school.”

I tried to calm myself from saying this next bit, because it was still embarrassing. “Even after...what I said?”

Kai picked up his plastic fork and stabbed his green beans before looking at me. “Unless you're going to say different, seems like it was something you were joking about. Like, a joke between friends. So...it was honest, but unintentional and not really meant for me to hear. Not a mean thing behind my back.”

I glanced at Shell and then back to Kai. “It wasn't meant for anyone to hear, no. It was just a joke in the moment. I'm not really sure how talking about giving someone a blowjob,” oh my cheeks just got hotter, “could be considered mean, but no. Not mean.”

Kai finished chewing his beans and said, “Well, imploding a guys nuts isn't exactly nice.”

I pushed my tongue around inside my mouth, trying not to laugh. “True. I promise I meant no harm to your nuts.”

“Well. There you go then,” Kai said.

“I'm confu-”

“Do you know Rick Stelton?”

Knocked sideways I nodded. “Uh, yeah. I mean...know of him. I'd never be friends with the guy.”

Kai nodded. “I'm on the soccer team with him. Got into a fight with him and got suspended. He was saying shit to me, in front of the team, about the video. Plus, he said other things. I just...” He looked lost for a moment, and it was cute. He glanced at me and said, “I just figured if Rick doesn't like you, and I don't like Rick, maybe I should find out about you.”

“You should,” Shell said. “So, listen, it's a little late, but if we meet at my house, the limo is big enough for all four of us. I think-”

“Whoa,” I said, holding a hand up to her. “No dance.” I looked at Kai. “I think we can agree that asking you was a disaster best left in the past.”

Kai looked at us for a moment, and then his eyes widened as he looked at Shell. “Yeah, I'm not much of a dance person.” He looked at me. “No offense.”

“All good,” I replied.

“Hang on,” Shell said, smiling at me and leaning toward Kai. “Here's the way this is right now. I'm going with Kent Graber, and I don't know him that well, really. So I need Andy to wing man for me, but he can't go alone. So he needs a date, and you – I'm guessing – have no date. Do you see how nicely that all fits together?”

Kai looked at her for a moment. “Except I don't want to go.”

Shell jumped back in. “I can see why you might think that now, but look! You'll get to hang out, you'll get to know us,” she said, punching my shoulder again. “And didn't you just say you wanted to get to know Andy?”

“I wasn't talking about a date!” Kai said, his eyes going wide.

“Shell, stop being so selfish,” I said. “I don't want to go. Kai doesn't want to go. You said yes to Kent, you deal with that.”

“I am dealing with it by getting some best friend support.”

“Oh, like you supported me with your dad?” I asked sarcastically.

“Patriarchy. You know I'm sorry about that.” She looked back to Kai. “I'll buy your ticket. Do you have a suit? Or maybe a nice tie? Blue would look good – matches your eyes. Hey! You both have blue eyes!”

I threw my hands in the air and looked at Kai with a smile. “That's it! Same eye color, we must get married.”

Kai opened his mouth and shook his head, probably wondering how we got...wherever we are. He closed his mouth and shook his head. “No. No dance.” He looked to me again. “Really, no offense.”

“All good,” I replied again. Turning to Shell I said, “You have to get yourself out of this mess without me or Kai. Stop trying to make us go.”

“Guys!” she said, whining. “Help a girl out, huh? Kai? Think about it?”

The bell rang, kind of surprising us, and we hurried to toss our stuff out and get to class. I will say, though, Kai was on my mind the rest of the day. Tomo had asked what I'd do if he turned out to be mature and things weren't ruined between us, and I have to admit – I had no damn idea.

The problem was, it bothered me. I felt bad that the video had gotten out and embarrassed him – enough that he ended up in a fight. Rick Stelton wasn't my friend, but that didn't mean I didn't know anything about him – or him being a low level douche. But the fact is what Kai said was right – I didn't record it, I had no intention of anyone ever having heard me say that. What was high key impressive was that Kai came to that conclusion and was actually making some kind of effort.

I'll admit to myself I spent some time letting that turn into something more in my head. That his maturity was the first step in a truly epic relationship where we ended up buying a house together and had no spare room for my mother to come visit. I imagined dinners out, beach vacations and more than a few passionate nights. But one problem with my daydreaming was that I lacked some information – what would we do for work? What sorts of problems would we have as a couple? It always went this way – my imagination was fun but also my worst enemy in terms of dreaming about happy endings.

I think the problem comes down to two things: goals and what comes next. So if I think about, for example, kissing someone – that could be a goal, but then what comes next? Sex? Okay, maybe the goal – for a dream – is to get laid. My mind doesn't stop at a happy ending though; instead it moves to the next morning. What comes next?

I just had a hard time maintaining the dream, because I kept running into reality. Sure, Kai had showed more maturity than most humans might have. But that wasn't the same thing as us being compatible, attracted to each other and willing to act on it. Even if we did meet those three goals, there was no way to see what happened next. It's confusing, because I enjoy the dream, but I get frustrated and disappointed when I get lost in the haze of what should come afterward.

After school I headed home to get changed and get a snack before going to work, but Kai was still swirling at the edges of my thoughts. I realized his suspension answered why he hadn't been in our morning class, so he hadn't been avoiding me. How shitty is that – a cute boy isn't avoiding you and that's something to be happy about.

I kicked my shoes off by the front door and went to the kitchen to browse the fridge. Deeper in the house I heard my mom talking – hard to tell if she was on the phone or doing something on the computer. I grabbed some cheese and a package of pepperoni and took them to my room. I was chilling on my bed, snacking, when my mom just kind of appeared in my doorway.

“They fired me over the phone. Can you believe it? That can't be legal,” she said, moving into the room and plucking a slice of cheese from the package.

“Kind of crappy way to do things,” I agreed. They probably did that to avoid her making a scene. One of the things my mom could be very good at was making a scene.

She sat down on the edge of my bed. “I'll have to go down to unemployment tomorrow. I hate going there.” She looked at me. “It smells.”

I chewed and then asked, “We going to be okay this month?”

She snorted. “We're always okay. Maybe not living high on the hog, but we're okay.”

I figured she probably would call her parents. They weren't rich, but they were smart with their money – except when it came to my mother. More than once they'd stepped up for mortgage payments, turning the power back on and any number of other things. I really don't know why my mom is like this. Her parents aren't like that, and they are good to me, but then I never go asking them for things. There's something deep inside me that feels like throwing up when I hear my mom asking for money. It's the tone of voice.

“Anyway. I'm going to run out for a coffee and such. You have to work tonight?”

“Yeah. Just chillin' before I have to go.”

“I don't know how you deal with all those people,” she said, shaking her head and walking toward the door. “I'd quit.”

Yeah. She'd quit. Then call her parents and tell them how unfair her job had been and ask for money since she was now short. I guess some people never grow up. Of course that brought me back to Kai and being mature, and I spent another fifteen minutes thinking about us being all mature as a couple. I was pulled from thoughts of us dancing together at our wedding reception by Shell.

“Sup?” I asked, putting her on speaker.

“I got called in,” she said. “Liddy called out. Can you get me on your way in?”

I glanced at the time. “Yeah. I'll be there in a few.”

“Good. We can talk cummerbund-”

I hung up. Damn if a blue cummerbund wouldn't look nice with his eyes, though.

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

“Will that complete your order?” I asked. The customer said yes, and I told him to drive up while I bagged a meal and set it on the prep counter for the cashier at the window. I started to fill a drink as a ping in my ear told me another car had pulled up. I greeted them and asked what they'd like to order. I hated working the window, but I'd also rather do that than most other things. It was busy and made the time fly, but it was also hectic to go along with busy, because you ended up feeling like the bubble gum stuck between a shoe and a hot sidewalk as you tried to hold all the other moving parts together.

One added bonus is that Shell was working the counter and didn't have as much time to try and keep up her selfish case for Kai to come to the dance with me. Of course, once things slowed down, she picked right back up with it.

“Look, Shell, I don't see why this is such a big deal for you to start with. You like Kent, at least enough to say yes. When you agreed to go with him you knew I didn't have a date. I took a risk, and all I can say is I'm glad that's over, except for a few assholes that won't let it die.” I shook my head. “Kai was a decent enough guy to not hold that shit against me, and he doesn't want to go. Why are you pushing this?”

“A couple reasons!” she said insistently. “Like you said, Kai's not holding any of this against you – so that means he could be interested, right?”

I snorted, and sat down. No way was I telling her what I'd been thinking half the day.

“If he's interested, then a dance would be something good. It doesn't mean you're dating, but it's hang out time and fun, right?”

I shook my head. “Maybe for you – like you and Kent. For two guys – or girls – it's this big thing. Kai would be labeled. If he's bi or if he just did it to be nice, even though he's already said no and that he doesn't want to, he can't go back. People won't let him.” I waved a hand in the air. “If he wanted to hang it'd be for coffee or lunch or something like that. Not a dance.”

She slumped a little. “I'm worried what'll happen if I don't have a wing person there,” she said.

“What are you talking about? Kent's not that kind of guy, not from anything I've heard – and if you did, why'd you say yes?”

She shook her head. “I mean me. Yes, Kent's nice enough, so I said yes when he asked. But what about after the dance? What if I blow him by accident?”

I stared at her. “How does that work?”

She leaned forward and put her hands down on the table. “You know how dances go. You know how guys who usually look homeless suddenly look like models in a nice suit. For some people it's a man in uniform. For me...suit.”

I literally face palmed. “You're saying if I'm not there you're going to give a blowjob to the entire male class because they are wearing suits?”

“Andy!” she snarled, exasperated. “I'll be around guys in suits all night. Kent will be nice. He'll dance with me. He'll be sweet, and I'll be-”

“Horny?”

She narrowed her eyes. “More open to the idea.”

I laughed aloud. “It's not up to me to keep you from having sex when you want to.”

She pressed her lips together aggressively at me. “I'm telling you I need you there.”

“I'm telling you to control yourself.”

“Hey!” I looked over my shoulder at the person barking in our direction – Nancy, the shift manager. “Break is over. You guys need to punch in.”

I glanced at my watch and back to her. “We have three minutes.”

She put her hands on her hips. “It'll take you that long to get back there and punch in. You need to be ready to go when you punch back in, not just thinking about it. Move!”

I sighed and looked at Shell. “Well, I guess at least we settled that Kent's getting a blowjob after the dance.” I sat up straight. “Wait! I'm a genius!”

Shell narrowed her eyes. “How?”

I stood up and smiled at her. “If you're so worried about after the dance, but you know you want his dick anyway, don't wait – blow him now.”

She stood and glared at me. “I can see why my dad hates you.”

We turned to head to the time clock. “Your dad wants me. I make him sweaty, remember?”

“Gross.”

After work I dropped Shell off and headed home. I showered the fast food funk off me and flopped on my bed, still too awake to go to sleep but not interested in gaming. My mom was asleep on the couch with an empty wine glass on the table, so I had to be quiet – waking her up after a few glasses was asking for it, and I wasn't feeling like listening to her bitch.

I flipped through screens on my phone, then opened the picture app and checked my school feed. Huh. Looks like there was a soccer game that day, and a nice shot of Kai rearing his leg back to kick the ball. I tossed my phone aside and rubbed my face with my hands.

“Jesus Christ!” I grumbled. Crushes are so stupid. It's all hope and smoke, and it takes just a little reality to blow them both away. For a moment I wondered if I'd ever get over having crushes. I sure hoped so.

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

Saturday I slept in and played a few games online. Tomo wasn't around until later, but we were grouped with other people, so we didn't really talk. I kind of wanted to tell him Kai'd come to my table, but then I kind of didn't, because he might think there was more to it than there was – and I didn't need any help thinking about Kai right now.

After I got tired of gaming I went and made some food. I could hear the TV going, so I figured my mom was scrolling her phone for a date and letting the TV keep her company. After dinner I started my laundry and then flopped on my bed to scroll my phone.

I ended up right back at the shout out to Kai and rolled my eyes. “Jesus Christ. I'm am so pathetic and starved for a guy it's ridiculous.” I thought about seeing if there were any parties somewhere – there was a college not so far away, and guys who'd had a few beers would be there. I was sure I could find someone to make out with for a little while.

I sighed when I realized I was actually trying to enlarge a picture where Kai was kicking the ball, trying to see his bulge. I tossed my phone aside and went into the bathroom and spent some time thinking about Vin's video. He didn't have a face that I was all that into, but he had a really nice body, and he got me to stop thinking about Kai for a few minutes. After, I went and picked up my room and moved my clothes to the dryer before picking up my game controller again.

“Good timing, I was just getting back on, too,” Tomo said.

“Bro, you've been gaming most of the day. Aren't you supposed to be an adult now?”

“It's Saturday! I did my laundry and made my bed, Mom! I can game if I want!” he said, laughing, and I chuckled. “I'm trying a new game, and I have a guest pass. Want to hop in?”

“Sure, why not?” I replied. A code showed up in text, and I entered it to queue into his group. He spent a few minutes outlining the game, which was just another shooter, really. We got a few rounds in and did all right, but the game was kind of buggy, and we switched to something we were more familiar with.

“Soooo,” Tomo said, and I rolled my eyes and smiled despite myself. I didn't know what he looked like, but I knew what was coming, and I pictured a big smile to go with his tone. “Implode any balls since we last talked?”

“Fuck you,” I replied, chuckling.

“Bro. That was funny shit.”

“Yeah, yeah. No balls were harmed this week,” I said, smiling to myself. I wasn't going to bring this up, but now...okay, yeah, I'm going to indulge myself for a second. “But he did come sit with me at lunch.”

“Bro! Bro, are you serious? Are you fucking with me?”

I laughed. “Nah, for real. He rolled up while I was sitting there with Shell, and he asked if he could sit.”

“Did you ask if he meant sit in your lap or...?”

I laughed hard. “Nah, bro. I was kind of wondering why he'd ask to sit with us. Turns out...he actually is kind of mature.”

“You been holding out on me!” Tomo said, laughing as he did. “When's the wedding?”

I sighed. “I don't think it's going that way. He was just...he got into a fight over that video with some douche at school.”

“Oh, damn.”

“Yeah,” I said quietly. “He just said, you know, he figures that wasn't really meant to be heard by anyone and he was really questioning who he was hanging out with. So.”

“That's...fucking mature. You're going to get to know him, right?”

“I mean...yeah?” I cleared my throat. “I'm crushing on him, but I don't think that's really...like, Shell was trying to get him to go to the dance with me so I could wing man for her, and he was pretty clear that was a no go.”

“Oh,” he replied, his tone one of disappointment.

“He wasn't a douche about it,” I clarified quickly. “But he was clear he didn't want to go.”

“Well,” he said, sounding more optimistic, “maybe the door's not closed then?”

“Tomo,” I said flatly. “You're supposed to be the voice of reason, remember?”

“I know, I know,” he said with a sigh. “I just...I want that epic romance for you.”

“How about you focus on your own epic romance, huh? Who are you dating?”

“Well. You know he has to keep it low profile. If the news ever got a hold of it...tssss.”

I laughed. “If you say Harry Styles again....”

“Shh! They record everything on these networks!” he replied, giggling. After we settled down from laughing he picked up again. “Actually, I have a date. Tomorrow. Just for lunch.”

“Get out. When were you going to tell me?”

“I go on dates!” he said defensively. “I don't tell you about all of them.”

“Why not?”

“Because sometimes it's depressing, whether I get laid or not,” he said, bubbling with laughter. We gamed for a bit longer and then I logged for the night. As I closed my eyes I thought about meeting Kai somewhere – maybe not a date, but definitely something planned for just the two of us. I wondered what he'd be like once the awkwardness of this whole video thing was behind us.

Sunday brought some housework with my mom. It was irritating, but it was easier to do the work than to argue with her. She never lets anything go – but then maybe I do that too, so....

Around noon I started getting texts from Shell. Apparently our supervisor was looking for someone to cover a shift, and Shell wanted to know if I'd give her a ride. I told her I was doing chores and tied up, but that's never a real reason in her book. I'd been going back and forth with her when my picture app flashed a notification. I thumbed to the message and was surprised to see a message from someone I didn't know – oh wait. I did know.

Kai.

Well. That brought a smile to my lips when it shouldn't. I read his message. With him missing a few days he'd been trying to make up the work in our coding class, but one of the exercises wouldn't compile for him. I told him to send it to me so I could compare it to mine. Yeah, I could have just sent him mine, but....

Then he suggested I just send him mine instead of taking up my time. Oh, no. No, no, Kai. You take up a bunch of my thoughts as it is, I may as well think about you in a constructive way. Of course I just told him it was no trouble. He said he'd send his file in a minute, and I told him I'd look at it soon, that I was finishing chores.

“Mom! I have to help a friend with a homework assignment. They missed some school this week,” I said, walking into the living room. She turned her laptop to me and smiled.

“What do you think of him?”

I took a few steps closer and glanced at the picture on her screen – a profile for a dating app. “Uh. He doesn't look like he's in any of the 'anonymous' self help groups, so a step up from the last one?”

“You're no help,” she said, waving me off and turning the screen back toward herself.

I took the escape and headed back to my room. I logged into my school laptop and logged in. Kai's message was there, and I opened the attachment. The code was pretty basic – I'd tinkered with HTML and stuff, so I knew what we were getting now was just pre-req stuff. Still, these things can be touchy – one comma, one too many spaces, and the thing would fail.

I put the two sheets of code up side by side and went line by line, looking for a mistake. They literally seemed to be identical, but mine had compiled and his wasn't. He messaged me again, saying he tried a different compiler that gave a line where the error was, but he didn't see anything. I looked at that line, but I thought it looked just like mine.

Or was it?

I copied each of the suspect lines into a note pad app and compared them. His was one character longer. An extra space! I went to his code, removed the space and ran the compiler. Success! I messaged him and told him what I'd found. He gave me a smiley and a thank you as it had been pissing him off. We texted a little more about how aggravating the code could be. He said his dad said it was like any language, if you don't write it correctly then it can be misunderstood – or not understood at all. Of course we can figure out what someone means, like when you use shortened things in texting.

We didn't talk that long, but it felt good. Like...we had a normal chat about normal stuff, and that seemed like a good thing. Later on, as my thoughts wandered back to Kai, I wondered how he'd gotten my name.




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