It’s my birthday! As my birthday is progressing, I have decided I’m going to talk about that which is my favorite to talk about. I’m gonna tell you all about the love of my life. This is a section of my autobiography. It is the third volume, and the thirteenth book of the autobiography titled Reality of the Unreal Mind. This section is called The King’s Concubine. It’s about the times when me and my wife almost got together spanning from the last day of eighth grade til six years later, when we actually did connect. So today we talk about the near-misses of love. This is the fourth post in this series. I will be releasing them all day.

Now we’re talking about my day, and I live on a 48-hour schedule. So a new one of these will be coming out every two hours and 45 minutes from now until 2 in the morning on the 24th, when I go to sleep.

D started dating Brownie his senior year. She was pretty hot, very cute, very funny and very popular. She was the girl to know and the girl to be seen with, and she had D, which was as high up in Waynesville royalty as she could get. They had a wild year and, somewhere in the beginning of it, Brownie talked shit about me to D.

It was something like, “Why do you hang out with that loser?” Something fun like that. When a girl like this has a guy like this, she tries to make him even better than he was before. The more popular D was, the more popular Brownie would be. She needed to prune his tree, and I was a twisted branch she knew he didn’t need.

Well, as soon as she said that, D went crazy. He started yelling at her and telling her she had no idea what she was talking about. She pulled back almost instantly, but that was not good enough for D. This happens every now and then.

You will see this again three books from now in the section titled The Kingdom. A comment will be made that is so rude and so terrible that the entire goal will be “Suck it.” When you say something rude or insulting out of ignorance, you need to be smacked down, and D was not letting this go.

He told her she had to get to know me. She had to give me a chance, and she would see just how wrong she was. She humbly agreed to it, knowing she had to make a friend out of me.

We went to state choir concert. It was actually a music concert, both choir and band played at this event, but D was in the choir. His parents picked us all up and took us to the Lake of the Ozarks, to the same resort Bekah and I would have our wedding reception at over a decade later. We all showed up and he vanished.

He had to go to practice and warm up and everything else, be fitted for a robe. Be driven over his lines again, and to meet the conductor again. The guy was from a major choir somewhere in the country, and D had only been in the room with him a few times.

So, before he left, he looked at me, looked at Brownie, and said, “Go figure it out.” Then he was gone.

“So D tells me you think I’m a loser. Or was it piece of shit? I can’t remember.”

She started to stutter and stammer all over herself, and Shadow gave his best rage face. She turned bright red and D’s mother smacked my arm.

Shadow burst into laughter and Brownie smiled.

“Well, now you are stuck with the piece of shit, or was it loser? Doesn’t matter. I am your life for the next few hours, so let’s get started,” Shadow said. He turned to D’s parents. “We will catch up at the performance. I have to kick her ass a little.”

Brownie’s eyes widened.

“Come on, they have this cool little fucker here. You are not going to want to miss this.” Shadow waved her on and he took off. Got her lost a few times while they walked.

“Most people think I am a piece of shit. I don’t give them any reason not to,” Shadow said. “It’s only partly true.”

“I don’t think you are a piece of shit,” she lied. “I was just saying that—”

“He told me what you said. It’s not a problem. I pride myself on the fact that none of D’s friends like me.”

“Pride yourself?”

“Yeah, I am not one to run with his crowd. They don’t care about the same things I do, and they aren’t into the same things I am. I guess if I ran with him and his friends, I would have to change a lot.”

“He hangs out with cool people,” she said as we ducked into the main building of the resort.

“No doubt. But could I hang out with them like this?” I said, spreading my arms.

She looked at me. “Like what?”

“Well, ripped up jeans. Ratty t-shirt. Faded suede vest. Three necklaces, all cheap. Fucked up hair, scuffed and stained boots.”

“Well, not everyone cares about that kind of stuff,” she lied.

I scoffed at her. “Of course they do. Look, if I went into his friend Scumbag’s house wearing this, do you know what his parents would say as we were walking out the door? I had a popular friend in eighth grade, and his parents grounded him for the entire summer and would let anyone but me hang out with him until high school. They did it because no one wants their kid to hang out with me,” Shadow said. “I set things on fire.” He grinned his most devilish grin at her, which is pretty fucking devilish.

“Fire?” she said with wide eyes, awe, and a bit of fear.

“No, not really, not anymore, but you get my point. It doesn’t matter what I do. I could volunteer at a soup kitchen and bandage the paws of kittens on my off-time and they would not care. Your parents raised you to hang out with a certain type of person, and the only way they can identify that type of person is from what they wear.”

“Nope,” she said. “You’re wrong. My parents didn’t raise me like that. I was raised—”

“Yeah, shut up,” Shadow said.

She coughed.

“Look at this,” he said.

The main lobby of Tan-Tar-A Resort had a massive fish tank in it with a puffer bigger than my fist. It was gray and white with the barbs and the massive eyes, and it was gorgeous. I motioned to the tank and she kept staring at me.

I grabbed her shoulders and directed her to the puffer.

“Check him out,” Shadow said. “His name is Banenat, and I care for him during the summer. His living environment is so fragile that if the slightest bump is made to the temperature of his tank he will die. If he eats any kind of weak fish, dead. Any kind of contaminant gets in his water and he is gone. Isn’t he beautiful?”

“You take care of him during the summer?”

“I am kinda lying about what I just said.”

“I knew it,” she said with a smile.

“It’s actually a girl, her name is Beneata.”

“Really?” she looked closer. “Have you ever held her?”

“Only seen her like two times, and they don’t let you hold fish around here, but I can ask,” Shadow said. “They might let us grab ahold of their like, nine-hundred-dollar fish, and carry it around for a while.”

“Only seen her two times? How can you work here during the summer and—”

Shadow crossed his arms and smiled.

“You’re full of shit!” she said.

“How can I be a piece of shit if I am not full of shit?” Shadow said. “Let’s get the fuck out of here. The front desk is looking at us and they might call security. Last time I was here I kind of trashed the room I was in and I owe them like two thousand dollars for the damage. I don’t want them to get a good look at me.”

“What?” she said stupefied.

“If they ask me any questions, say I’m your nephew from Finland and I don’t speak the language,” Shadow said.

“What?” she said.

I took her arm and pulled her away. She laughed and we went off to play.

Shadow hung out with that preppy girl all day long. After D was done with his performance—it was amazing by the way—the three of us hung out all day long. D’s parents wanted to see some other performances, so D got a wad of cash and we went to eat.

When we got back to D’s house, she grabbed my shoulders. “You are one of the greatest, coolest, most interesting people I have ever met. Are you dating anyone?” she asked.

“I’m on again, off again with Mary,” Shadow said.

“Get off again with her. I have a girl that will fall in love with you the instant you two are put in the same room with each other,” Brownie said.

“You want to set me up with one of your friends?” Shadow waved his hands up and down his body. “We talked about this.”

She shook her head. “She is my best friend. Her name is Starling. She is perfect for you.”

Shadow shut his mouth. He stared at Brownie in awe.

“She is not your kind of girl,” Shadow said. But he was wrong, Starling was the kind of girl who blended in with the popular kids without dressing like one. She wore the torn jeans and the heavy metal shirts. She loved the music I listened to. Starling was the girl to have back then. Every guy who dressed and acted like me hated her because she was so perfect.

Starling would like me. There was no question. We had flirted a few times. We had been in the same classes together and she had sat right next to me. It was obvious she had been interested in the past. This would be her best friend putting us in the same room for the express purpose of falling in love. This was great!

But Starling is not the one. No matter how hard rock she was, she did not belong with Shadow. She did not belong with Guardian. Starling was wrong from the start. She was a mistake that almost was. Pull in close for this next part, and you will see why I am mentioning this girl.

Starling was voted Homecoming Queen for the spring Homecoming dance. She was dressed in a devastating dress; her hair was styled professionally. She had her makeup done professionally. Everything on her and about her was perfect. But of course, it was not. You can’t force this sort of thing.

The plan was that me and Starling would dance all night, and after the dance we would all go over to D’s house and hang out. Of course, Brownie and D would break off and leave me and Starling to talk. I figured she would be decompressing from her big night, so she would need to talk and we would of course fall in love.

But Starling never came. She was hanging out with other people, and she walked over to me at one point and smiled. “I guess we are hanging out after this.”

“That is what I hear.”

“Okay cool, look I have to—” she began.

“Sure, go do what you have to do with whoever you have to do it with. I’ll catch up with you at D’s.”

She hugged me and disappeared.

But I did not dance that night. I was going home with the Homecoming Queen, but I could not take my eyes off the other side of the room where She danced.

Bekah danced like she was trying to get something off her. Like there was a life stuck to her, and if she danced just right, it would sluff off her body and fall on the floor. She was all hips, her arms moving in strange and mesmerizing ways. I watched her try to free herself from whatever was holding her down as she smiled and laughed with her friends.

Her hips were startling, her dress was so much fun. She was all smiles. At one point she looked up and her eyes swept the room. She stared into the crowd and alongside the walls until she saw me. Then she stared. She looked at me for about thirty seconds before one of her friends grabbed her arm and jerked her away.

Ronin leaned against the wall. He braced himself and drew in breath slowly. Shadow looked for her, and when he couldn’t find her, he went searching.

He told himself he ought to be saving his attention for the girl, you know, the Homecoming Queen. But he could not. He had to see Bekah again. He walked around the lobby until he came to the line for photos. There she was. Her group of friends were next and the line was long.

Shadow watched as they were all called up to pose. They got in their positions and Shadow made eye contact with her. She grinned for a second, then the photographer told them to smile and she looked away.

Out came Servant. He was not going to be caught with another girl on a night when he already had promised himself to a different one. So he walked away. He got lost on the dance floor around people hopping and swaying, and he just stood there. As the lights and sweating bodies draped in fancy clothes moved around him, he closed his eyes and tried to get himself together.

The last slow song was announced and Starling showed up. She looked miserable. “Wanna dance?” she said.

I took her in my arms and we began to sway.

“What is wrong?” Servant asked.

“Nothing, I’m fine.”

“Come on. Don’t start lying to me now.”

“I met someone at the dance and it’s fine. I mean, I have plans with you, I will keep them,” Starling said.

Servant thought of Bekah and looked at Starling. “Look, is he cool?”

“It’s JJ,” she said with a smile.

“So, no then,” Servant said. JJ was a bit of an ass but I kinda liked the idea of them together.

“Shut up, he is fine,” she said. “Maybe more than fine.”

“Well, you owe me nothing. Does he want to go out after the dance?”

“He wants me to hang out with him and his friends,” she said.

“Then you should go,” Servant said.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Do you want to go finish the dance with him?” Servant asked her.

“No, I owe you at least one dance I think.”

“You owe me nothing, but I’ll take it.” They danced for a few more minutes, then she took off.

Brownie showed up three seconds later. “Oh my God! I am going to kill her!” she snapped.

“It’s fine. Listen, it’s okay,” Shadow said. ”JJ is a douche, but let her go.”

“She promised she would go with you. I can make her come if you want me to,” Brownie said.

But Shadow had seen a shape of Bekah go by. The crowd had parted just a bit and her dress had shined. I can’t remember what it looked like now, over two decades later, but I know it had her in it, so it glowed.

“She is the Homecoming Queen. You have to want to go home with her,” Brownie said. “I can make it happen, too, just tell me to. I will yell at her and she will come with us. Fuck JJ.”

“No, it’s okay,” Shadow said. “It’s fine.” He couldn’t take his eyes off of where he knew Bekah was. And every now and then, the waves of people would break and he could see her.

“Starling is the prettiest girl here tonight, and you deserve-”

“No, she isn’t,” Shadow said.

“She is. She is the Homecoming Queen. She is the prettiest girl in this whole building tonight.”

“You’re so wrong,” Shadow said. “So fucking wrong.”

Then a shift and out came Benny. “Yeah, you are really wrong about that.”

Brownie just then noticed I had been staring ahead of her.

“Wait!” She looked back the direction I was staring, but of course she couldn’t see who I was looking at. It’s a dance floor and there were over two hundred people there. “Wait, you like someone, don’t you?” She looked at me, then back out at the crowd. “You like someone out there. Tell me who it is. I’ll make her come with us. This is great!”

But Benny doesn’t work like that. He doesn’t take what he wants. He just looks. He is too broken to take, and he doesn’t come out very often anyway. He closed his eyes and turned away. We shifted and out came Shadow.

“Who is she?” Brownie said. “Who is this girl you like?” She screwed up her face. “Don’t say Mary.”

“Let’s go, D’s waiting,” Shadow said.

“I’ll be right back,” she said. She stomped away.

Shadow walked through the crowd until he stood before Bekah. “Hey,” he said almost breathless.

She had been sweating just a little and it made her glow as the lights played games across her skin and her eyes.

“Hey,” she said.

We were so close to each other, about ten feet away, but I could almost feel her breath on my neck. I could feel her arms brush against mine.

“I’m going to D’s house after, you want to come?” Shadow said.

Where was the cussing? The swagger? Where was the showmanship? He should have this girl laughing by now. But at that moment nothing was funny.

“I can’t. I have to go with my friends, we have plans,” she said.

She didn’t look away. Shadow didn’t look away. They stared at each other until Shadow got to D’s house and she was off somewhere with her friends.

Brownie kept asking who I liked and even tried to force D to make me tell him.

“Jesse doesn’t work that way,” D said. “Can’t make him do anything. If he is not telling, he has a reason.”

Brownie had to drop it.

But I will let her know now. Hey Brownie, the prettiest girl in the room that night was Bekah. She will always be the prettiest girl in the room. She will always be the only girl in the room.

Starling and JJ are still married.

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