The Many Faces of Kai

Chapter 6

By Dabeagle

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Kai

The rest of September was kind of weird. I felt strange at soccer because of what happened with Rick. The other guys didn't seem to be too affected, but no one was rushing to be my friend, either. Since I hadn't wanted friends, that should have been okay but it felt...bad? Maybe not exactly bad but...disappointing? I don't know. It was almost a let down. Like I expected more from them, but why would I? I'd already seen how stupid people are in large groups. Rick kept running his mouth like it was his job, but I wasn't at 9.5 out of 10, so I didn't punch him, or hadn't yet.

That didn't mean I was exactly lonely, either. After my suspension I'd been trying to catch up on the coding class, and I'd had the idea to ask Lysander for help. I mean...I didn't really know anyone else, and he was in my class, so I don't think you can read much into that. He'd been cool and helped me out and...we kind of just kept talking.

My therapist said something about people being social creatures, on average, and we needed some kind of social interaction. That was in response to me saying I really hadn't been looking to make any friends, to just get the year done and move on to whatever came next. He told me one of his favorite quotes was 'Man Plans; God laughs'. Not due to religion, but more to the fact that we can plan things out, know what we're doing and why and have it blow up in our face, because we just don't control the world around us. Can't control it. We are always trying to force order onto chaos, to find patterns in the randomness.

So yeah, Lysander was random chaos, I guess. Shell was okay, though she still brought up the damn dance – even though it was over. Lys likes to give her crap, but I kind of see his point; Shell is a little too selfish for my taste. I'm not an expert on either of them, and they've been friends a long time, so all I'm going on is having lunch together and some text messages. Still. Lys was cool about helping me with that assignment, and he wasn't making me feel uncomfortable – like he didn't hit on me or...I guess it just felt kind of normal, and I was starting to relax a little.

My dad was practically wearing a skirt and shaking pom poms that I was even texting anyone. I thought that was being a little dramatic. I had brought it up to my therapist, and he thought it was a good idea that I take my time and feel comfortable with any relationship. My dad liked to point out that I'd been burned so hard in my last friendships that it would be crazy to rush into anything on any level.

“What does that mean? I'm not dating Lys,” I'd said pretty firmly.

He chuckled. “I didn't say you were. You had relationships with your friends at ho- in our old town,” he said, correcting himself. “Friendships are just as much relationships as are romantic or business situations. It's an umbrella term.”

“Yeah, uh huh,” I said, eyeing him but trying to be flippant. “Are you sure my therapist isn't telling you things behind my back?”

He chuckled as he said, “I think I know you better than he does. I'm just saying, after all that I'm glad you're making...an acquaintance. I think you understand now that a friend is a lot more than what you'd thought.”

I'd paused and thought about those guys. I'd known them a few years. Small town, not much choice. I felt bad, just a swell of tangled feelings, and then glanced at him as he squatted down to dig in the cabinet under the kitchen sink. “Those guys...they said we were like brothers.”

Dad stood up with a trash bag in hand and looked at me. “Sometimes they might have believed it, but...people say a lot of things without really understanding their words.” He shrugged. “Grab the trash for me?”

I pulled up the kitchen trash bag and tied off the top while he put a new bag in. “Why? Why say it if it's not true?”

He gave me a crooked smile. “Humans...we don't focus too long on one thing, usually. It's not sustainable. Like people are talking about self-driving cars and how a human could just take over if they needed to. But the truth is we humans get bored easily. Instead of watching the car vigilantly, they'd be on their phones or having sex or sleeping when the car made a mistake, and then there'd be an accident.”

I shook my head. “What-”

“Kids – people – say things without really meaning exactly what they say. We have polite words sometimes, but for kids they may make some kind of declarative statement – I'd die for you, bro! Like that. They really don't know what that would be like; they lack the experience to make a statement like that and understand its true implications.” He crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter. “Take that fight in the locker room you had.”

“How?”

“Say someone told you they'd have your back if you got into a fight. Maybe they didn't think there would actually be a fight, maybe they thought it's what they should say, who knows? Point is, when they said it, they didn't consider that maybe it wouldn't be just a fight with you and another guy. Maybe it's you and two other people, so they get scared and back out – leaving you alone. People may have good intentions when they say things, but they don't always have the perspective to back it up.”

I grunted.

“So now that you've been burned, you're less trusting. You didn't want to make friends. But...you're talking to someone who isn't being paid to talk to you,” he said with a smile and I rolled my eyes, “and even if it's just texting – which may not amount to anything in the long run – I think it's a good sign.”

“Yeah. Okay, Dad,” I said and took the trash out.

Later I sat in my room, carefully spraying the body of a Nissan Z I'd picked up cheap to build. The model wasn't great quality, and I'd had to shave a number of small nubs from the frame, but I thought it would come out all right. The body was sitting on a small jig I'd made to hold it from the underside. Suspending it meant I'd paint something that might get stuck to the frame, so I'd switched to this a long time ago.

My phone dinged, and I set down the airbrush, flexing my fingers. They sometimes cramped a little, because I hold it in a death grip, or so my mom had claimed. I wiped my hands and picked up my phone, opening the group chat with me, Lys and Shell. Shell was bitching about Lys not helping her with Kent again; something about a double date. It was kind of funny watching them argue. Shell was trying to tell Lys to ask out this guy, Luis, and Lys was explaining that he wasn't asking out some random college guy so they could double date.

I swear, sometimes I think Shell thinks Lys is her security blanket. What's he going to do? Is she not able to hang out with a guy? Lys told me she has bad choices in men, but Kent seemed okay. I mean, I'd talked to him maybe once.

The thing was, I'd reached a comfortable spot. Lys was someone I could talk to a little, be sort of social with, but there was no real risk. Sure, the Ricks of the world could say shit, but I really felt like I'd moved past that stuff. I felt good, kind of, for the first time in a while, and I didn't want to change that. I'd expressed that desire to keep things the same to my therapist, and he'd smiled and reminded me of the quote he'd told me of – it wasn't in my control to keep things the same, so I should instead try to enjoy it while it lasted.

I wasn't sure I really bought into everything the therapist said, but I could agree with enjoying things as they were for now. Lys and I, say, together for coding; we helped each other and...I liked the guy. He'd talk some in our down time, which was only natural. Little things, nothing deeply personal or anything – no jokes about imploding my nuts. Just shit about work, Shell, how Shell's mom had asked him to do something around the house and he'd told her her husband didn't like him being around his daughter, so he didn't think that was a good idea.

I guess it kind of led me to breaking the mental rules I had by asking him why her mom was so focused on him being there. It was a personal question. Maybe.

I'll admit, my hand got forced a little. It wasn't anything crazy like that video or as dramatic as a locker room fight. No, it was a boring school assignment. We were supposed to create a fake website on this closed system and test it. There were all kinds of things we could do to the site, but there were specifics from the previous lessons we were supposed to use. They claimed everything we needed was already presented to us and any code pasted from another website would get us points off.

Now...my therapist seemed like a decent sort, nothing like the person I'd seen briefly back...where I used to live. Between him and my dad I was getting more support than I thought I needed, most of the time. Having someone my age I could talk to was something I could tell they wanted for me. I don't mind Lys. I even like him. But if I'm honest, I'm still struggling some with the gay part.

Mostly with my dad, but some with my therapist...there had been a lot of talk about my mom, trying to break down sexuality and the whole spectrum thing. I get it from an educational point of view – go, do your thing. But I also have some residual stuff from how the whole gay thing affected me, even though I should be over it...I'm not. Not all the way. So I had mixed feelings when Lys and Shell went to one of my home games. Our team stinks, and I get a lot of play time, because I'm pretty good, I think, and because I'm a senior so...running out of time to get to play.

I scored. It doesn't happen that much – scoring by our team in general, I mean. But it was something like my ninth goal of the year, and it was pretty sweet. Not that many people come to our games, so hearing a couple voices scream for me doing something...yeah. I liked it. At the same time it was in the back of my head if Lys was there because he liked me or just liked me. It shouldn't matter. I know that. But it was still there.

After the game I walked over to them, giving them a sheepish wave. “So. Came to see the worst high school soccer team ever, huh?”

“They were the worst,” Lys said. “They had this one guy? Not bad. But overall? Maybe Vin should have stuck to jerk off videos.”

We laughed. It was nice, and I'm not sure if I was supposed to or if it's allowed, but I liked it. Maybe I missed having friends. I don't know. We went for a coffee, just drive thru, and they dropped me off at home. Of course, my dad was home and trying not to be a great big pain in my ass about getting dropped off by someone from school. All it did was make me wonder if it was all right I'd kind of liked the experience. It seems like, sometimes, just because a parent wants it is enough of a reason to fight it.

That was how I started riding with Lys and Shell to school in the morning. Lys said it was no big, and I got to sleep in a little more. Plus standing around with your dick out while you wait for the bus sucked ass and wasn't going to get better when the temperature started to drop. I was still trying to stick with not getting too friendly, but it wasn't really easy without being an asshole. I probably was here and there, but I was trying hard to walk a line.

The project, like I said, forced my hand a little. At first I thought we could just work online together, maybe trade the file back and forth or get on the phone or text each other to figure stuff out. But first he suggested we just sit down together and knock the thing out, but it was the conversation that did me in. He'd picked me up first for school, and we were at the curb in front of my house when he asked me about the project.

“I was thinking,” he said, “ it'd be easier to do this in real time. You want to meet at your house?”

I glanced at my house – a rental actually – and looked back to him. “My house?” I know, I know. Not the brightest thing to say.

His face shifted, but it was really subtle. “We could hit a Starbucks or something if you want instead. My mom...she smokes. Plus she's kind of pushy sometimes, so we'd have to deal with her first if we went to mine.”

I cleared my throat quickly and waved a hand, trying to not look like I was nervous at all – because why would I be? “Nah. Mine's good. When?”

“You sure? It's good?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Good,” I said with a single nod.

“Okay well, how about...Saturday? I work tonight and tomorrow night.”

“I have an away game Saturday afternoon,” I'd said and pulled my phone out while he drove over to Shell's house. “It's at Park Terrace?”

“Oh, Park Terrace versus Willow Point! A fight for the ages!” Lys said, kind of sounding excited.

“What? Are they like a big rival or something?” I asked.

“Nah. No idea.” He grinned, and I shook my head. Shell got in and bitched about Kent, whom she was now dating.

“I just think I wouldn't be having to think about him and this whole relationship thing if you two had gone to the dance with me,” she said for the billionth time.

Picking up where Lys would normally, I said, “It was your choice to blow him after the dance.”

“He looked so nice! Andy, you should have seen him,” she said, pouting.

“Hah. What would your dad say?” he replied.

“If I want to suck a guy it shouldn't be the end of the world – or lead to dating!” she said, which was really funny, but I held it in, because I didn't want to add any more fuel to this stupid discussion. Once we got to school we separated, but in our first period Lys suggested he pick me up from the game and we could go to my house after to work on the project.

I felt kind of trapped, but I agreed. I shouldn't feel like that. It's not fair to either of us, but I seem to have a lot of issues in my head. When I had a free minute I texted my dad and asked him to arrange for me to leave with Lys after the game – you needed permission – because of the project. He got nosy and I told him I'd tell him at home – like I was looking forward to that.

The day was pretty normal: I had practice, and then I got my dad to pick me up, since Lys was at work. I felt kind of bad that Lys would get me after practice, but it gave my dad a break, and Lys made it seem like no big – as long as he wasn't working.

“What's the project?” my dad asked after the normal 'how was your day' stuff was out of the way.

“Coding class. We have to build a website. It's due in a week, but Lys suggested we could get it done easier if we were face to face.”

“Okay. How...do we feel about this?”

I shrugged. “Lys is chill. I mean...it wasn't my idea, but I kind of felt like I'd be a dick if I said Starbucks or something instead.”

“Except they have better coffee than we do at home,” he said. I could hear the smile in his voice but I wasn't going to let him goad me. “Well, better drinks. I always thought their coffee was kind of bitter.”

“Yeah. I only have a few games left. I have to think about getting a job,” I said to change the subject.

“Had any thoughts on that?”

“Might be harder now. Lots of people probably applied over the summer or just before school started. Have to see what's out there.”

“Where does Lys work?”

“Burger joint somewhere,” I replied. We pulled up to the house and went in. I got showered and then sat up in my room working on the Z model. It was coming along, though I'd had to redo some of the paint work. I fell into the project mentally and didn't really think about the game or the project until I was trying to fall asleep. My brain likes to pick shitty times to obsess over things and that was one of its favorites. Trying to sleep? Big day tomorrow? Let's dredge up shit to worry you instead! Get you nice and worn out!

Stupid brain.

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

The game was pretty bad. Not that we were losing, which we were, but that the only goal that had been scored was kind of an 'oops' goal, and the whole thing was just this tragic bit of ineptitude on a nice, grassy field. One kid actually backed up to try and take a nice big kick at the ball, and of course someone came up behind him and stole the ball.

Yeah, he was on my team.

With about two minutes left I got the ball and stepped on it to stop it and change directions on my defender. I was going to get a shot on goal – not a great one, mind, but a shot. I planted my foot to anchor my kick, and the defender piled into my back, knocking me down, and he tumbled right on top of me. The whistle blew, and the ref signaled a penalty kick. It all depends on where you are on the field when a foul gets called. Some are just throwing the ball back in, some are corner kicks, some are free kicks that the other team will line up to block like a wall of people with one hand over their crotch and another over their face. But penalty kicks – PKs – are when it's just you and the goalie.

“Let's go, Kai,” a few guys said and patted my shoulders as I walked a little extra energy off before my kick.

“C'mon, Kai!” someone yelled, and I glanced to the sideline. Yeah, it was Lys, and he was standing up, fists clenched as he watched. I had no idea he liked sports in general or soccer in particular, but I didn't have time to think about that now. I closed my eyes and blew out a breath, then lined up for the kick.

Penalty kicks place the ball 12 yards from the goal. No one can be in the box between the kicker and the goalie until the ball gets kicked. Sometimes a goalie will block the shot, but it's still in play and it can get kicked in, but your best chance is to score right off the bat. I approached the ball, building speed and stared at the corner to the left of the goalie. He started to shift that way and I adjusted my foot as I kicked, driving the ball right and up into the corner of the net. The goalie was leaning the wrong way, fooled by my body language, and the game was tied.

I think Lys was happier than my team for the goal.

Regulation ended and we had some bonus soccer, but no one else scored, so the game ended in a tie. The team huddled up around the coach – more because he told us to than because it was something we were supposed to do – and then we were let go. I grabbed my bag and swapped some slides for my cleats and met up with Lys.

“Bro,” he said in a deep voice and then smiled widely before speaking in his normal voice. “That kick was epic. You totally fooled the goalie.”

“Heh, thanks,” I replied. “Penalty kicks usually go in unless you get all rawr about it and kick it over the goal or squib it off the side of your toe.”

“Come on, don't be modest, that wasn't something you see every day,” Lys replied as we got to his car. I shrugged and threw my bag in his backseat, and then we were off.

“So I had an idea for our website,” he said, grinning. I rolled my eyes.

“What?”

“Condoms,” he said, still grinning.

“Uh, what?”

“We were told we could use any current product! Let's make it condoms. Then we can put purchasing buttons in 'extra small, small, medium, large, extra large and your guts will never be the same' sizes!”

I rolled my eyes again and looked at him. “You've thought about this way too much.”

“We'd get an A.”

“I don't think so,” I said, looking out the window and not letting him see a little smile that was trying to escape onto my face.

“It's original!”

“You think no one ever tried that before?” I asked with a snort. “We'd be up against every smart ass that ever tried it before. Besides, I'm not getting up in front of everyone to show them that website. No way.”

He sighed. “Well. Did you have an idea?”

“Actually, yeah,” I said. “How about a travel site, but the hook will be it's for interplanetary travel? Like...book a shuttle to Mars.”

He let his head go side to side. “I bet no one ever tried it.” He glanced at me and then back to the road. “I like it.”

I felt a flush of pleasure at his acceptance. He pulled up to my house, and I snagged my bag before we headed inside. I could hear my dad cutting something on a chopping board, so I called out that I was home.

He poked his head from the kitchen and then walked over to us, wiping his hands on a dish towel. Holding his hand out to Lys, he introduced himself.

“Thanks for bringing him home. You must be Lysander?”

“Yep,” Lys replied, shaking my dad's hand briefly. “It was no big.”

Dad looked to me. “How'd the game go?”

“Tie.”

“It was a good game. Kai scored,” Lys said. “Epic penalty kick.”

“Epic, huh?” Dad smiled at me, and I rolled my eyes.

“Yeah. I don't think Lys has seen too many penalty kicks. It wasn't that impressive.”

“You can be so irritatingly modest,” Lys chided.

I snorted. “I'm going to need a shower.”

“I was just making up some sandwiches. I figured you guys would be hungry since...well, you're male.” Dad grinned at his own joke, and I waved a hand at him as I walked toward my room.

“You can feed Lys. I'll eat after I shower.” I grabbed my stuff from my room and headed to the bathroom. I cleaned up and put on deodorant and stuff. I ran my fingers through my hair and pulled on some joggers and a tee shirt. Back in my room, my sweaty things were on the floor, and with a thought that we might both be in here working at some point, I picked them up and tossed them in the hamper before heading out to the kitchen.

The house we're renting is small. Two bedrooms. A single car garage that was spacious if you drove a bumper car; otherwise you'd struggle to fit anything in there. You can hear anything in the kitchen from the front door, and it features an 'eat-in kitchen', meaning there is no dining room, just a small front room for a couch and TV.

“There he is,” my dad said.

I grunted. “Did you go to the store? I didn't remember these cold cuts,” I said. My stomach growled as the smells hit me, and I started to make up a sandwich with some of the assorted things he'd bought.

“Yeah, I ran out for detergent and I figured cold cuts never go to waste,” my dad replied.

“No doubt,” I said and sat down across from Lys.

“Lysander was telling me about your travel website. Sounds pretty nice,” Dad said.

“Yeah. Better than a condom site,” I said, snickering.

Lys defended his idea to my dad, bringing up the size things and how the ordering buttons cold match the size of the condom. Dad got a good laugh, and it was pretty funny watching Lys get behind his idea.

“Are you a soccer fan?” Dad asked Lys.

“No, never watched a match before. I went to one of Kai's games a few weeks ago, and it's kind of fun,” he replied.

“You're a senior too?”

“Yep. Live home with my mom. Going to try for a state school for next year. I took some graphic design classes last year with VOTEC, and they have a cool design department in Binghamton.”

“That sounds interesting,” Dad replied. “Well, I better go get my laundry folded. Kai? You can use the washer.”

I nodded, my mouth full of food.

Lys leaned forward a little. “So. When were you going to mention you were a model?”

I raised an eyebrow at him while I was chewing. How'd he find out about that?

“Your dad gave me the tour of the house,” Lys said, keeping his voice down. “The hallway has all those pictures of you. Man, whoever took those pictures sure loved you.”

I swallowed and pushed my tongue against my teeth before responding. “Why do you say that?”

He sat back in his chair. “Okay, just facts here, okay?”

I looked at him with a bit of confusion and then bobbed my head and nodded. Even the action felt confusing.

“You're fine as fuck,” he said, holding a hand up and spreading out his fingers. “It's not a me thing, it's a general thing. But those pictures? Bro.” He shook his head. “Whoever took those had the right light, the right filters or just...every bit of love they had for you got poured into them, because you look amazing in them.”

I coughed with my mouth closed, which is as awkward as it sounds, because I meant to clear my throat. “Uh. Mom. My mom took them.”

“She got all of you in the shot, bro,” Lys said shaking his head and picking up a slice of cheese. “I heard Stacy DiPietro wants to ask you out.”

My head was swimming. I mean I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say when someone tells me I'm fine as fuck, especially when the person is a guy and one that I know is into me a little and who is on audio saying he'd suck me so hard my balls would collapse or some shit. I mean...I should say something right?

“Stacy DiPietro?”

Lys nodded as he shredded the cheese into strips to eat. “Yeah. She asked me about you at work last night; she was in with some friends. She said she wanted to be sure you weren't gay first, since she'd heard about my lovely video and how we're friends.”

Huh. Lys felt like we were friends. Well. He doesn't seem to have many, not the kind my dad would say qualified. I guess I should...take it as a compliment.

“What did you say?”

Lys looked at me in the eye. “I told the bitch to back off my man, of course.”

I stared at him.

He burst out laughing. “I told her you weren't gay, bro! What was I going to say?”

I shook my head, eyes wide. “That came outta nowhere.”

He fidgeted a little and then grabbed another cheese slice and a slice of salami and rolled it up to nibble on.

“You can just make another sandwich, you know,” I said. “Dad made a special trip so...eat.”

He smiled and made a new sandwich while I finished mine and made a second. I think the time had passed to say anything about what he thought about how I looked, and I wasn't really interested much in Stacy, but I felt like I had to say something – so I picked the less embarrassing one.

“So who is this Stacy, bro?”

He shrugged. “I don't really know her. She does yearbook club, and I think she ran for student government, maybe? But I'm not friends with her or anything.”

Feeling like I was teasing him because of what he'd said about me, I asked, “Is she pretty?” As soon as I'd said it, though, I felt stupid. Why would I try and tweak him about that?

He tilted his head to one side, looking like he was thinking about it. Straightening his head he said, “She has nice hair. It's brown but with some nice highlights and big curls that hang down. Probably her best feature.”

I nodded. “What does Shell say about her? You had to ask the other half of your brain, right?”

“I have nothing to do with her brain,” Lys said with a little laugh.

“But you did ask her.”

He sighed. “She says she doesn't know much about her. Which essentially means she hasn't done anything...scandalous.”

“So...no one recorded her without her knowing she was-”

“Shut it, Kai,” he said with a small laugh, and his cheeks tuning a little pink. “Nothing like that.”

“Hm.” I have no idea why I keep bringing that up. I mean it is funny, now. I finished my sandwich in a few bites and picked up our plates. He started to pick up the cold cuts, so we ended up clearing the table. “Be right back. My laptop is in my room,” I said.




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