He marched from Siren’s car, slamming the door behind him, his head down, his eyes at his feet.
She rolled down the window. “Do you want me to come with you?” she said.
“No,” he answered.
As Assassin walked across the grass of the front yard of our house on Normal Street, he saw Grasp again. In his mind Grasp was standing bold and naked and sweating with a smile on his face.
Guardian reached the door and he heard two barks on the other side of it. He gripped the door and lowered his head. “Do not look at that dog. Not once. Do not look at Katherine. You can’t look at Katherine.” He opened the door and walked in.
He reached the middle of the living room and was out of breath.
Bekah stood up from the chair to embrace him and he held his hand out. He looked up at her.
“I have a few things to say then I am going to grab some stuff and I’m leaving again,” Guardian said. He fought hard to remember what he had to say but Bekah’s face was crumpling a bit and he felt pain in his chest where his heart had been at one time.
“What are you talking about?” she said. The words were almost a whisper.
“I’m not staying,” Guardian said.
She sat down. She was pushing her fear and her anger away and she was preparing to think. He had been warned about that. Siren had told him she would shut off her emotions and it would all become about arguing.
“You don’t care if I live or die,” Guardian said. He repeated it in his head. It went against everything that he knew to be true, so he had to say it to himself over and over again. Don’t listen to her. Don’t let her touch you. “You don’t care if I live or die.”
“How can you say that?”
“You care more about those dogs than you do about me,” Guardian said. He chanced a look up at her and saw she was crying.
“No, I don’t, I don’t care about the dogs more than you. Why are you saying this?” Bekah said.
Guardian looked her in the eye, and he ached. He wanted all of it back but there was nothing now. Only loss and defeat. He had hobbled her and now he could not bear to look at her. Now she was just a source of shame for him. He turned his eye from her again.
Don’t look at her. Don’t make eye contact.
“Who is telling you these things?”
There it is. Seize that. You have been told to look for it.
“Are you saying I can’t think for myself? Are you saying that I can’t see what you are doing? I am a grown man, not the baby you think I am.”
“What are you talking about? I never said you were a baby.”
“You treat me like one. You watch me. You tell me what to do. You tell my friends to watch over me. You treat me like a baby. I am a man!”
“I never said you weren’t. What is happening here?”
He had his opportunity here to tell her. To tell her he was leaving her and he was not her boyfriend anymore. He had his chance to put it into words, but he couldn’t say the words. They were too terrible. All he could do was shake his head and look away.
“I am not going to do this,” he said.
“Do what?” she asked. She was crying. She was throwing her gaze around trying to fight for him but he wouldn’t let her. And he had to stop looking at her.
“I am not going to hear your lies,” Guardian said.
“My what? You are not making sense.” She stepped forward. “What is happening right now?”
There was another opening, but he couldn’t take it. He couldn’t make the final stab. He knew then he was weak. He was too weak to do this. He couldn’t make a clean break. He should have had Siren come in with him.
“I am not going to listen to anything you say because you are manipulative and controlling and unhealthy and anything you say to me will bend my mind,” Guardian said.
She stepped forward and he flinched back. “Whoever told that to you is your enemy.” She pointed at him and he looked up at her.
But he had come too far now. He did not know how to go back.
“I am not doing this anymore,” Guardian said. “This is over.” That had to be it, right? That was clear enough. That was enough of a statement he could finally walk away. He had to get away, because Katherine was jumping on him. She was whimpering and barking and he couldn’t look at her.
He repeated himself just so he could hear it in the air. “This is over.” Now he walked. He walked, walked as fast as he could for the door. He wanted to run, but he couldn’t.
“Stop,” she said. It was not a yell. It was not a scream. It was not a whisper. It was a statement. Please stop whatever was happening here.
He turned to her and looked her in the eye.
“Someone has gotten to you,” she said. “You are not yourself. Promise me one thing.”
He had his shoulders stooped. He was hunkered over. Why couldn’t he stand up straight? Why did it feel like he was braced for a punch? He had felt like that ever since he came into this room.
“Promise me that no matter what happens, you will keep going to see Steven. Tell me that you will stay in therapy,” she said.
It was another promise. But he had forgotten the first three. He had blocked them out of his mind.
He had not sat with her in some unnamed restaurant. It was not unnamed at all. It was Pizza Hut. When he told her he needed a roommate, she had not agreed right away. She had stipulations.
“The drinking has to stop. No more hiding a bottle. No more sneaking around. No more drinking to get through the day. If I move in, no drinking.
“You have to go to therapy. If I am going to move in with you, you are going take care of yourself. You’re going to go to therapy. You are going to talk about some of this with a professional.
“You have to take your bipolar meds. We need to get your emotions under control so you can take back your life.
“If you do these things, I will move in with you.”
And in those three stipulations, she gave me a future. In those three agreements rested the design for a life of hope. But he had forgotten those three stipulations all together. He had forgotten she cleaned him off the bottle. Forgotten she got him to talk to Steven. Forgotten she got him back on his meds. All the things she did to pull him back from the abyss that he was falling into had been wiped away.
But this one. This one promise that she asked of him, he can do. Because he was told recently that he didn’t need therapy. He had it all figured out and none of it was his fault, anyway. Someone had told him he should stop going. And it sounded wrong.
“I’ll keep going to therapy,” Guardian said.
He stomped out the door. Katherine whined as he left. She would not see him again for months. His heart, he leaves with his dog, all hope left at the paws of an animal he couldn’t allow himself to love anymore.
Guardian did this.
Assassin couldn’t stop him.
Servant couldn’t stop him.
And Artist couldn’t stop him either, because Artist was no longer Smear Lord of Ire. He had been deflated. His wings sliced clean from his back. He had been shaved, and under all that black fur was a confused, weak little man that couldn’t defend himself and had no magic at all. Artist was dead. Just a naked man trapped in a wasteland howling for hope.
This happened in class.
It’s Playwriting 1 and Artist was not that involved. He hated the idea of writing for the stage. He is a short story man. He hates the stage. All of it. But this was a required class for Creative Writing majors, so he was here.
The teacher was old. In this man’s heyday, he wrote for a soap opera. He wrote for them for about a decade I think, then he either quit or got fired, failed as a playwright and started teaching. Here he was in this class, phoning it in.
He had no real lessons to teach. He had no real plan. He talked about the industry a lot and many of his students worshipped him. He talked about how great a writer he was but he had no proof. He talked about the stage a little, but for the most part he was there for a paycheck.
He gave us one big assignment. We had to write a monologue. Come ask him if we had any questions. Bell rang and he was up and running.
Artist met him in the middle of the floor.
“Can I do a period piece?” Artist asked. He was starting to get excited.
“What do you mean?” The teacher had not looked at Artist yet.
“I want to do a monologue that resembles an old Greek play. A tragedy. Something over the top and archaic.”
“Sure,” the teacher said, and he was gone.
In a flash Artist wrote it in the conference room of Bekah’s office weeks before.
Well, he was radioactive now, so he couldn’t have her read it. It was coming due and the guy who was supposed to read it had not been to class in a month.
The teacher said if we didn’t feel comfortable reading our piece, we could get someone in class to do it for us, so Artist asked Pomp.
Pomp was an actor dating Draconic. He was bright and brilliant and attractive and he was willing. He took his copy and smiled. “No problem, I would love to.”
Artist told him it was written in the Greek tragedy style so he would have to own it.
Pomp smiled. “Love to.”
Well, it was the last day and Pomp had never come back to class. Now we had no choice but to read it ten minutes before class got out.
Artist took out his piece and gripped the edges as he took a deep breath. He threw everything he had into it. He read it with verve. He read it with passion. It was hard and hot and sharp. It was everything that is right with Greek plays, and when he was done, he was panting. He leaned back and no one spoke.
He had transfixed them. He had won. He did it again. He was still the man who wrote “Tragedy of the Outcasts”.
Then, they started laughing.
“What the hell was that?”
“God, that was just awful,” another one said.
“Are you serious? Is that your piece?” the next one said. “Get out the real one and we can forgive you for that outburst.”
Artist looked up at the teacher, who smiled at a student then looked back at Artist. There was sadness in the eyes. But this man couldn’t save Artist. This man was broken.
He didn’t have the ego to stop the ridicule because he might lose cool points with his students and those cool points were the only thing getting him through. These college kids thinking he was awesome was the only thing that still got this guy out of bed. He couldn’t help, so he smiled with sad eyes and watched Artist burn.
“It sounded like a Greek play, you know one of those old, overly dramatic ones,” a kid said laughing. “Way over the top.”
Artist couldn’t defend himself. Couldn’t say that it was supposed to sound like that. All he could do was look at the teacher who was almost crying now. The teacher who knew the Greek sound was intentional. This teacher was so broken he couldn’t tell them all that he had heard this was going to happen. That this was the plan all along.
“It didn’t even make sense. It sounded like fantasy with strange creatures and all that in it. What was that thing he said in there? He gave them a name. What did he call them? Corlenites? What the hell is a Corlenite?”
And it was supposed to be fantasy. This was Artist’s big fantasy coming out party. The big event that would mark his new path into fantasy writing. But that was over now. Artist swore to himself he would never write fantasy again.
“He sounded like he was going to cry the entire time he was reading it. His voice kept cracking and wavering. I swear if he had burst into tears, I would have busted a gut laughing.”
Finally, Artist could talk. “I asked Pomp to read it but he never came back to class so—”
“Well, I guess now we know why,” a kid said.
That was the one that did it. That was the comment that killed him. That was the comment that crippled Smear Lord of Ire, and just made him some bald guy in a wasteland.
The last bastion of strength for Bekah’s and Jesse’s love, destroyed by his first bad critique. By a class full of cruelty. And a teacher too broken to stop it.
There was no one to stand up for them now.
Bekah and Jesse were dead.