The Many Faces of Kai

Chapter 8

By Dabeagle

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Kai

After opening up to Lys I'd felt vulnerable. I got through the rest of our work session, but afterward I sat in my room and just wondered about what had happened. I'd felt like I was coming apart in some ways, and then he'd hugged me. Not a good hug, not a sexy hug, but a really needed, awkward reminder that...that...I don't know. I didn't know I needed that awkward expression of humanity until he did it, and I felt more whole afterward – eventually. When he picked me up on Monday for school I almost expected him to bring it up, but of course he didn't. It took me most of a week to really get it that he wasn't going to say anything, he wasn't going to poke that sore spot, because he wasn't like the people I'd thought were my friends in another life.

Something else crept into my head that week, too. Everyone calls him Andy. I call him Lys. It just seemed more natural to me, but he never said anything. It was almost like my personal pet name for him, which seems weird, but it also seems like something you do with people you're close to. That made me think, too. Despite my plans when I arrived, I was getting close to Lys, and I wasn't sure how to feel about that. But he was my friend. He'd listened, so maybe it was time I started trying to be a friend, too.

It was with that in mind when he picked me up from my practice a week later that I decided to ask him something.

“Hey, so...you good?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I just...off and on I thought I picked up maybe you're not feeling...a hundred percent.” I cleared my throat. “Was it because I talked about my mom?”

“Kai, fuck, no,” he said quickly. “I meant what I said – I'm glad you trusted me, bro. No I...just, you know, life.”

I rubbed my hands on my joggers. “Okay. So, like, what?”

He glanced at me and raised an eyebrow. I rolled my hand like 'come on', and he looked back out of the windshield.

“So. It sucks being gay here.”

I instantly felt a little uncomfortable.

“The only time anyone will touch me in any way is if they're drunk.” Lys sighed. “Last weekend I got a text. Some guy at school hit me up, and I thought he...wanted to hook up.”

I frowned. “Did you know this guy? I mean were you into him?” I didn't know that Lys was even thinking about dating anyone, not that we'd really talked about that kind of thing except for the whole 'I think Stacy likes you' conversation.

Lys waved a hand. “I know him. He kissed me once for a bet, or because he lost one.” Lys looked at me quickly. “He'd been drinking.” Looking back at the road he continued, “So I was surprised, but I was like, I'll go see what's what. I mean...it sucks. Turns out he just thought I'd come over and suck him off because I'm desperate or something.”

Anger I hadn't felt in a few weeks was suddenly bubbling just beneath the surface. “Not that desperate?” I was trying not to boil over.

“Yeah, definitely not that desperate.” He added a joyless chuckle.

I flared my nostrils. “Guy touch you or something? I mean, was it just a text or something else?”

“I went to meet him. He tried to force it a little.”

I tightened my fists. “Force what? Who was it?”

“No one you know,” he replied and then looked at my hands and back to the road. “Don't get pissed.”

I worked to relax my hands. “What do you mean, he got physical?”

“Bro,” Lys said and smiled at me. “I appreciate the protective vibe, but I'm good. I'm just bummed about humanity in general and the lack of gays around here in particular.”

I shook my head. “I'm just saying...I don't know what I'm saying.”

He chuckled. “Has Stacy made a move yet?”

I felt like he was giving me an out for these feelings that had bubbled up, or maybe he wanted to move on – maybe both. “Nah. I'm good with her moving on, though.”

“Why? Shell said she's pretty.”

I cracked my knuckles. “Because I wanted to be anonymous this year. I wasn't going to make friends, I was just going to slide under the radar and get to graduation. Now I got you, and I guess Shell, but I don't need to get any more complications in my life.”

“Wow,” Lys said, looking back and forth from the road to me. “So I'm a complication now? Thanks, bro.”

“Fuck you, you know what I mean,” I said. “This is all your fault. If you hadn't-”

“Bring up that video, see what happens,” he threatened.

“Recorded that video, I'd be just chillin'.”

“You'd be walking is what you'd be.”

I rolled my head on my neck to look at him and smiled a little. “Bro. Stop.”

“Asshole,” he grumbled.

“Anyway, I figure she doesn't ask, I don't have to deal with it.”

“Okay, sure but...what if she does ask?”

I chuckled. “I don't know, bro. Why does it matter?”

He pulled up to a light. “Well, think about it. If you say no, she'll probably think you're gay, because some people think you're gay because we're friends.”

“And because-”

“Shut up, Kai,” he said quickly, and I laughed. “If you do say yes, then like you said, more complication.”

I thought for a minute. “Well. I mean, if I say no, it's okay if you date someone. Then people will know I'm not gay.” I paused. “Why do I care about these people?”

“Because people are assholes,” Lys replied.

“No, not really what I mean,” I said and drifted into thought. Those people who'd been such dicks when my mom had the affair...they were just like these assholes at school. Why do they get to define who I am? Who says they get to tell the story? My anger bubbled again. It hit me really hard in the middle of my brain that those other people...they drove me out of my old house and town. Why do they get to decide for me? Why do they get to say that I'm going to be miserable and depressed? Why do they get to...push my mom right up to the edge so my grandparents can push her off?

“Kai? You good?”

I looked up and then over to see my house. Shit. I'd just disconnected.

“Yeah.” I paused and looked at him. “If something were to happen, I'd have your back.”

He leaned his head back a little and smiled a bit. “Thanks, Kai. I hope I never need that.”

“Me either. I'm no good at fights,” I said, grinned and hopped out of the car. “Thanks, bro. See you in the AM.”

I needed to be more conscious of good things and people. I needed to show some damn respect for people doing things for me just because they could. Lys was my friend, and he was going out of his way to bring me home. No matter how we started out, no matter how much I'd wanted to just slide by, I realized I had a real friend. Someone that cared about me just because.

“There's the big jock,” my dad said from the kitchen table.

“Hey,” I said, grabbing an iced tea from the fridge. I sat down at the table, and he looked at me with a little smile at the edges of his lips.

“You have an interesting expression,” he said.

I swallowed and then nodded. “Life is complicated, except sometimes it's really not.”

“Confusing and insightful all in one,” he said, smiling wider and leaning back in his chair. “What brought that thought on?”

I shook my head. “Lys. He was just telling me how this guy was just a jerk to him, and it hit me how much he does for me. He's turned into a real friend, and I just suddenly realized I need to be more conscious of things.” I leaned forward and looked at my dad. “Lys is gay. Some guy made a choice to treat him like he didn't matter, and it's just slamming around in my head. That's what you've been saying about people back in our old town. How they treated Mom. How they treated me.”

My dad nodded. “Yeah. That's a big realization. It's one thing to talk about it, but it's different when the light bulb finally goes on.”

I stood up and guzzled my drink. “I'm going to shower.”

“Just one thing before you go,” he said and I looked at him, waiting. “You told him about your mom. The other day.”

I gave him one nod. “Some. I...felt like he wouldn't hurt me with it. I wish I could say I'd been sure, that I...wasn't nervous. If you asked me today, I'd tell you I can tell him anything. He cares about me for me and for us being friends. I can see that real clear now. I wish I'd been able to tell the difference before, then maybe I wouldn't have trusted so many jerks and so many who'd fold up when other people started talking.”

Dad nodded slowly. “It's a rare thing. Now go, you stink.”

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

Friday was a weird day. It was our last away game, and it would bring an underwhelming and painful season to an end. Still, I was a little sad that soccer was ending, if not my time with this team. After lunch I was in the library for a free period, looking around on my phone for places I could fill out applications for work when it finally happened.

“Hi. Kai, right? I'm Stacy.”

I looked up at a generically pretty girl. Lys was right, she had good hair. Bleached her teeth, I figured. Maybe had braces at some point. Nothing wrong with that; I have no issues with wanting to look good.

“I'm Kai,” I said and tried a friendly smile out.

She took a seat next to me. “I know this is last minute, kind of, but there is a Sadie Hawkins dance in two weeks.” She paused and smiled. “It's where the girls ask the guys out.”

“Oh!” I said, sitting up a little straighter.

“Yeah,” she said, smiling and looking down for a quick moment before resuming eye contact. “I bought this perfect dress, but...the guy I was going to go with just...I know this sounds so trashy, but he just got busted for dealing in school.”

I widened my eyes. “For real?”

“No, silly,” she said, laughing quietly. “I've been on the dance committee and the yearbook staff and the committee to be on another committee...committee.” She rolled her eyes. “My point is, I meant to ask you, the mysterious new guy, to the dance and I have been so busy I just realized the dance is almost here and I hadn't asked you yet. You probably have a date already, right?”

“Uh, no. No, I don't. I'm...I mean, I'm not much for dances.”

“Can you move in a slow dance without tripping on your feet?”

“Uh. Maybe? No promises?”

She smiled widely. “Then you qualify.” She let her head tip to one side. “I know this is last minute and awkward, and I'm not looking to make this a big thing. It's a dance, we get a night of fun with everyone dressing up and have a good time.”

Well, shit. “Do I need a suit or something?”

“Shirt and tie would be perfect – coats are really too much, because that gym gets hot, and you'll probably lose it – I'd hate to be the reason you lose a suit coat, you know?”

“Oh. Yeah, okay, I think I can do that,” I said.

“Perfect, I'm looking forward to it! I'll get the tickets – I get mine and a plus one for being on the committee.” She stood up. “I know it was last minute, but I really hate going alone to these things. See you soon!” She gave me her number and headed out, and I wondered what I'd just walked into. I mean she was pretty and seemed nice enough, but she also seemed like this was just a one-time thing – she needed a date, and was I able to be that date. I mean...I think I'm okay with that, honestly.

Later I boarded the bus for the game and snagged an empty seat. I talk with some of the guys on the team, but I mostly keep to myself – I was here for the soccer, not them. There was some loudness in the back, loud trolling and laughter, and one of the guys said 'Fuck y'all; I'm sitting up front,' and that's how Vin Geritsen dropped in next to me.

“We gotta stick together,” he said with a snicker.

“We do?” I asked, vaguely amused.

“Sure. You get a video about Andy imploding your balls, my ex sends out videos of me stroking – shit, these guys are just jealous of the attention. Know what I'm sayin'?” he grinned and then started to laugh, probably at my confused expression.

“Wait, those two things aren't even close to the same,” I protested, laughing a little.

“Makes us stars,” he turned his head and shouted down the aisle, “compared to these prudes!”

He turned and flopped back in the seat. “Tellin' you. These guys like to talk, but they can't back anything up.”

“Yeah? Well, Rick, yeah.”

“Rick's a dick,” Vin said, wedging his knee against the seat back in front of him and starting to tap his knee with his fingertips. I wasn't sure if it was random or if he was mimicking playing piano or something.

“Yeah, no argument there,” I replied.

“He never should have said anything about you anyway,” Vin said. “Andy's a decent guy. I mean, what he said was funny, sure, but I think Rick was jealous.” He looked at me. “When Georgia and I broke up, he was all hot and bothered about trying to get with her.” Vin grinned. “I've ruined her for other men, though.”

I raised an eyebrow, and he just cackled.

“Kidding. Nah, she just was never going to go for him. He thought he was going to get her on a rebound, but she was still too pissed to think about anything like that.”

“Yeah, I heard about...your video. I figured your ex must have really been bent about your break up to do that.”

“Well, yeah, she had a good reason.” Vin rolled his eyes. “Look. I don't really care about the whole leaked video thing. Half this school has probably seen my nudes – like I give a shit. A couple years ago I had a cousin teach me all about camera angles and lighting to get a selfie just right, you know? Glad to see my work is appreciated.”

I couldn't help it. I just laughed, and he joined me.

“Right? Right?” he said, grinning.

“I don't know. I'm not about the nudes, personally.”

“All good. I think of it as being honest. If I date a girl, I want her to see what she's getting, because I know I am going to want to give it to her, you know?”

“I mean, yeah?”

He waved a hand. “No joke, of course I want to fuck. But some girls are all 'Oh, he's a gentleman' and they want to cuddle and shit. I'm okay with all that, I just want to be up front – I want stuff, too.”

Bizarrely, I thought of Lys and him hugging me. “Yeah, I get that.”

“Not like what Andy was saying,” he said, waving a hand and smiling. “I let my situps do the talking. I admired his directness, though.”

I laughed. “I troll him about it all the time.”

“As you should, as you should,” he said, nodding and grinning. “I legit feel bad for him sometimes, though. I mean, I don't think I could slide over to that side, but maybe if I knew someone really good I could? Not fair to him, though.”

“Yeah. Uh, you know if anyone...tried to get with him?”

He jerked his thumb toward the back of the bus. “Probably one of these closeted motherfuckers.”

Well, whoever tried something with Lys didn't spread it around, I guess. “So you said your ex had reason to be pissed? When you broke up?”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding and looking a little dejected. “I mean, it's all on me, for real. She had this friend – Jenna? Jenny? Jill? I don't fucking remember. I was riding out this edible, and she offers to suck my dick.” He grinned and shrugged. “I didn't have the brain cells right then to say no. I just didn't realize she was recording it in her car. I was all giggling and blissing out on getting her mouth on me, and she was sending that shit to Georgia.” His face grew a bit long. “Never wanted to hurt her. She's straight up fire, Georgia.”

“Wow. That's some shit,” I said, shaking my head.

“Girls, man,” he said and grinned a bit. “They aim for the throat, you know? Guys will just throw some hands and call it finished, but girls? They hold grudges, then sleep with a dude's bros to get back at him. They play some next level, psy-ops shit.”

“Eh. Think so?”

“Happened to me,” he said. A little quieter he said, “Broke us up. Biggest mistake ever, bro.”

I don't even know why I said it, just that this conversation was so weird. “Stacy DePietro asked me to the Sadie Hawkins. You know her?”

“Oh yeah. She does all the school stuff.” He grinned at me. “No getting laid after the dance for you, bro. She might text you after the dance, but she's focused on whatever event comes next. She likes planning stuff – dance committee, raffles for some...sick kittens, fuck, I don't know. She's always got something going on.”

“Oh.”

“I thought maybe you took up Andy on his offer, since he's been to games and stuff. Bro's never come to our games before.”

I chuckled. “No. We're friends.” I felt good I could say that and have it mean something.

“That's good. He's decent. Hope bro finds someone, though. If my dumb ass can find someone to put up with me, he damn sure should.”

I turned that over in my head for a second. “Why do you say that? I mean, you don't really know him, do you?”

He smiled. “Andy? Sure. I mean, not that we braid our hair together or anything, but he's done right by me a couple times. Gave me the heads up when cops were going to bust a party I was at once. I mean I wasn't the only one he told – he saw the lights and came running around the back. Most people just run away, take care of themselves. He helped me home once, too. I was trashed.” Vin laughed. “I told him I owed him a handy. Once in a while he'll tell me I still owe him. Funny shit.”

I chuckled, but I didn't like that. Lys needed someone that would respect him, not a guy like Vin. Vin seemed like a happy idiot, harmless until they do something that causes a lot of hurt feelings. I didn't feel sorry for Vin's situation with Georgia – she'd probably dodged a bullet.

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

The dance was the third week in October. Soccer was officially over, Lys and I were working on our next major project for coding, and he was trying to pump me up for going to the dance with Stacy, talking how nice I looked and trying to be supportive. I don't know. In my head he was doing it because he's supposed to, as my friend.

“You're acting like this is a date. It's not,” I said firmly. “She just didn't want to go alone.”

“And you'll never be alone, because Shell will be near you all night,” he said, snickering.

“Jesus, she's been practically psycho about making sure we sit near her and Kent and – how does that guy put up with her?”

“I guess she's easier to deal with when her mouth's full,” Lys said and burst out laughing. I did, too.

“She complains a lot about sucking off a guy she seems to like,” I said, looking to see if I'd gotten my tie straight.

“She blames the patriarchy.”

“Seems more like a psychology thing.”

“Here, let me take a picture. You may never do this again,” Lys said.

I felt little self conscious, having avoided cameras since my mom had passed. But if Lys wanted a picture...hell, it was a memory. I guess. He pushed me over one way, then pulled me a little another way.

“What are you doing?” I asked, confused.

“Trying to find some decent light in this room,” he grumbled.

“Huh. Reminds me of something Vin said the other day. Some cousin of his taught him how to get the right light and angles for selfies and stuff. Made it sound weird.”

“That's because it was,” Lys said in a distracted tone. “His cousin got him naked to take selfies and then they fucked. His cousin was in college, so it was sort of close to Romeo and Juliet kind of age thing, but...still kind of creepy if you ask me.”

“What do you...Romeo and Juliet weren't that close in age, right?”

“Like seventeen and thirteen or something,” he agreed. Looking up at me, he said, “But there's a big difference between a thirteen year old and a seventeen year old. Fifteen and seventeen I can see. Twenty one and twenty six? Doesn't matter as much when you get older. But he was...thirteen or fourteen and she was twenty two.”

My jaw dropped. “Are you serious right now?”

He nodded.

“How did you find this out?”

“He told me one time when I dropped his drunk ass off at his house.”

I shook my head. “He just spits this kind of stuff out, doesn't he?”

Lys frowned and then looked at me again. “Yeah. I always felt bad for Vin, in a way. I have this really nasty suspicion that his cousin didn't start then. I've always heard some people can be hyper-sexual when they were molested young, and Vin fits that. I think everyone has seen his nudes.”

“Yeah,” I said thoughtfully. “He said something like that.”

“Fuck,” Lys grumbled.

“What?”

“I can't find – your mom had the touch, bro. Maybe it's because I'm using a phone, but I know how you can look in a picture, and I can't seem to get it.”

“You were trying to take a picture while you're telling me about Vin getting molested? Really?”

Lys sighed. “Realistically, what can I do? Vin's not a bad guy – if I can help him out, I do – but it's no secret. I don't even think he feels like anything was wrong and...pretty sure the cousin is dead. Overdosed at college or something.” Lys shook his head. “If I thought it would do anything good to tell someone to go talk to him, to try and get him some mental help...but he tells everyone anyway. For all I know he's had mental help.”

I looked to one side, just away from Lys's face. The empathy was all over his face. He really wished he could do something to help. Maybe some people were just...built better than others. It made me think really hard for a moment about myself. How I could have been different for my mom, maybe. How I couldn't see through my own anger over everything.

“There! Holy shit!”

“What?”

“Look? I got you, bro!” he said with a big smile. He turned the phone screen to me and...yeah. He got me. It wasn't exactly like something my mom would have gotten out of me, but...he'd gotten close.

“Not that bad, I guess,” I told him. I never thought I looked that great – I was just me, after all. I can clean up nice, and when I do maybe I'm above average. But there was a quality about the pictures my mom took that sometimes elevated the subject for a moment in time, long enough for the shutter to capture something that was hard to define.

“Not that bad? Look again!” Lys insisted. I laughed and pushed him back, but he just kept sticking his phone at me. It was kind of funny, and we just went back and forth for a minute being stupid. Later he headed out, and I went to a dance I hadn't really wanted to go to. I'd like to say that I had a good time, but it was okay. Shell was familiar, and Stacy was good as her word, only requesting a few slow dances – which were nice, can't lie – and then she was off to talk to someone who was organizing this thing or that thing.

I got the impression dating Stacy would be like being a scheduled item. She had a lot of things that were important to her, and her priorities were doing those first. I don't think I can fault her for that at all – we all do that. Sometimes we prioritize friends, sports, education, jobs or whatever. I guess balance is the thing, otherwise some of those important things fall through the cracks. Right now, she was pursuing things that were important to her, and I was just helping her to be able to participate.

“Bro,” Kent said, flopping into a chair next to me, sweating along his forehead. “I didn't know dancing was so much work.”

“Full body workout,” I said with a nod. “Shell's keeping you busy out there.”

“Rocks, bro,” he said with a grin. “She's a lot of fun. I'm working up some cool gifts for her birthday. She's got this favorite anime so I'm getting a custom blanket made of her favorite character.”

“That's pro,” I said in appreciation of his planning. “She'll like that, right? She one of those blanket clutching, cuddle freak girls?”

“Blanket thieving cuddle freak,” he clarified.

I thought for a moment and then asked, “How'd you guys get together? You like her for a while or something?”

“Little by accident,” he said. “We've known each other, but never really were close or anything. I overheard her talking to Andy about the dance and I thought – why not? We're seniors, pretty soon no more dances and stuff. She wanted to go, so I figured I'd ask her out.” He shrugged. “I wasn't with anyone, she wasn't. And...we get along. We can hang and it's fun and cool, and I...want to keep making it like that. For both of us.”

That stuck with me. I've dated before, but I have to be honest with myself – it never really meant that much. I mean sure, sometimes you thought you were in love or something for a hot minute, but it didn't last, because what the fuck did any of us know about being in love in middle school? You saw a pretty face, or you got a charge that someone was into you, so you said yes just because, and then you found out you didn't really like the other person enough to put in the effort. Relationships take work, and a lot of people don't like that kind of work. It's messy. It can be inconvenient. Like a lot of things, it can be not worth the effort.

I guess the trick was...figuring out who was worth the effort in time to put in the work.

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

By the end of October my counselor put me on a low dose of meds.




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