“Come on, we are going,” Job said. He shook my foot and I looked up at him. It was morning. I was never awake in the morning. I wanted to tell him to fuck off and then go back to sleep, but I couldn’t. This was his house. I was his guest.
I had no home now. I walked away from Normal Street. I was homeless and sleeping in a roll of blankets on Job’s floor. I had no furniture. I had no belongings. I had a bag of composition books. A bag of dice. And a Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide. Those were my things. The rest were trapped on Normal Street.
When we really broke up, I told her I would not be back.
That was the hardest day of my life because my statement of, “This is over,” was too vague. She thought I was talking about the fight, never imaging I would actually break things off with her. She came back, and it was ugly. But by that time, we were with Siren.
Now, Job wanted us up for some reason and I obeyed. It sucked because I was exhausted, but I got up.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To have breakfast with a friend,” he said.
Anton was not happy about having to get up and drive us to George’s, but he did it, and when we walked in, Guardian saw Bekah.
He spun on Job. “What the fuck is going on?”
“You two are going to talk. She said she wanted to say a few things and try to work things out. We are here to do that,” Job said.
“What about Siren?”
“Dude, just talk to Bekah.” He didn’t say that he had seen it. That he had called Bekah and told her Siren was not what he thought she was. She was bad, really bad, and we needed to get her away from Jesse. He didn’t tell me that. Instead he pushed me to sit across from Bekah.
She looked up, and there was no way to get away from her face. She looked at Guardian with something he had not seen in a long time. He realized this was the only place he had seen it for over a year. She looked at him with love in her face.
“Hi,” she said. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine,” Guardian managed. He looked at the roll of silverware and napkin on the table. He picked them up and fidgeted with them.
“Katherine misses you,” Bekah said. She didn’t say the dog was punishing her. She didn’t say she had to live with a constant reminder that she lost me every minute of every day. She just said Katherine missed me.
“I can’t think about that right now,” Guardian said.
“Why?” Bekah said.
“They are not my kids. They are just some dogs. If you want them, keep them. If not get rid of them, I don’t care.” And suddenly Guardian couldn’t breathe. Those were the most repugnant words he had ever spoken, but those dogs would make him weak.
“I am not getting rid of them. They are our family,” Bekah said.
“I have no family.”
“Well, you can come visit them any time you want,” she said.
“I won’t, but thanks.”
Waitress and Guardian ordered pancakes. He was fighting to look anywhere but at Bekah because every time he saw her face he wanted to cry.
All that love was gone. All that love, that kindness, replaced by harsh words and a biting tongue. Siren was all edges.
“Why can’t we be together?” Bekah said finally. She broke and cried everywhere.
Guardian could remember the first time he ever saw her cry. She had refused to go change the laundry around and when he got home, she was crying as she folded his clothes. He had hated it then; he hated it even more now.
He wanted to tell her he couldn’t be with her because he didn’t deserve her. But the words wouldn’t come. All he had was frustration and pain. Being with her made him feel weak. He didn’t have to brace himself for the next barb. He could let his guard down and be comfortable and that made him feel weak. He hated it. He hated himself. The only person he didn’t hate was across the table from him begging for him to come back and be loved by her. Begging for him to come back and let her hold him.
And it was all he wanted, but he couldn’t be weak anymore. He had to be cold and hard. He couldn’t warm to anything. And he would never warm to Siren. It was not possible. She laughed at him too much and her friends would never accept him.
Guardian couldn’t be there anymore so he got up.
“Where you going, dude? What’s up? Get back here, man,” Job said.
Guardian stormed across the dining room. He had to get away from her. He couldn’t look at her. He couldn’t accept all she was offering. Not even for the length of a meal. If he stayed, he would lose his mind.
He freed himself of the restaurant and went out in the fresh air. It was a nice day. He was near a busy street and saw a massive truck speeding close to the curb.
No one could stop him. He could run, break into a run, and dive in front of that truck. His skull would bounce like a basketball. His body, one ragged piece of ripped flesh, would splat on the pavement.
Then, he could get the look on Bekah’s face out of his head. Then, if he ruptured his skull on the huge bumper of this speeding truck, he could finally get away from all that love. Go back into bitterness and pain.
He stepped out to do it, but at the last moment he pulled back. He had his legs bunched under him to make the leap but he watched the truck drive by.
What was that? What kept him from doing it? Guardian couldn’t tell, but he turned and headed off. He was free of love now and could blow off like a husk in the wind. All he had to do was dry out a little more.
He was in a different parking lot when a car sped up and stopped in front of him. He looked up to see Bekah.
The fight was not over. It had to end. He couldn’t live like this. He couldn’t love like this anymore. He loved so hard and he loved so much and he lost everything and everyone in his life and now nothing was left.
He stomped up to the car. He couldn’t look at that loving face again. He couldn’t see those soft eyes. He had to make her hate him. He had to see something else when he looked at her. He had to change that look.
He stomped on the front of the car. He stepped on it and stomped again. He was on the bumper of the car stomping and he dropped to the ground and roared.
He was screaming for everything he lost that he could not survive losing, and he was screaming for the victims of Grasp. He was screaming because he will never know peace, and he was screaming because he could see it now.
All he had to do was scare her. All he had to do was make her think he was dangerous and she would leave him forever.
He walked around the car to the driver’s door and saw her horror. He saw the look of fear on her face as panic started to grip her.
He curled his fingers into fists and roared. He will never get that look out of his mind. The look of fear she felt right then. It was the first time he had ever made a girl fear him. This was the first time Guardian had ever been the monster. He was the one who protected, but now he was attacking this person. The only person who loved him. He was attacking the only person who ever had loved him.
And that was the moment he broke. The real break was when he turned himself into a monster. He was himself no more. Guardian was an abuser. And none of it would ever be the same.
It had been a couple of weeks and Bekah was moving out of Normal Street. We were glad. We wanted the image of her waiting here out of our mind.
We showed up to get what few things we had room for and we were looking at the remains of what had been a place of happiness.
This was the room where Johnson and Jesse talked about Johnson’s bike ride across the country. This was where Jesse called Bekah about the mouse he could not escape so long ago. This was the house where he did patrols with Katherine. This was the house where Grasp won the war.
With that thought came no passion. Just an ache that wouldn’t go away.
Guardian would not walk into this house, so it was Shadow looking out the window.
Siren was picking through his old life trying to decide what she wanted to keep and what she would leave here. Job was trying not to slap her as she picked things up and shook her head.
“We don’t need this, whatever it is.”
And that was the scrap left from a toy that had been given to me by my grandfather. It was mauled by Morgan, and Shadow wanted to keep it. He wanted to find a way to make a bracelet out of it, but he just let Siren discard it. That was what he did now, our rebel reduced to being told what to be mad about.
Shadow was looking out the window for Bekah, and there she was.
“She is here,” he said.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Siren said.
“He is fine on his own,” Job said. “Go work it out, man.”
I walked out of the house and to the street. Bekah climbed out of her father’s car and Vigil came with her. They came right up to him and Shadow waved at her.
“Hi,” he said.
She put up a finger. She pulled out a paper and pen and wrote. And he knew what this was. This happened about once every two years. She would get laryngitis and couldn’t talk. It would be a day or two of hell, because he loved her voice and he had to read her words and pretend she was speaking them.
How are you? she wrote.
“I’m good.” But he was not. He was miserable. He hoped she could see it. But if she was miserable, he couldn’t see it. All he could see was how good she looked. All he could see was how much he loved her. She was glowing and she did not seem in pain at all. But he knew it was just his relief at seeing her that made her seem so perfect. In truth she was dying inside and he knew it.
We have to be out by tomorrow, she writes. The landlord said the pennies have to be taken care of.
“They will be,” Shadow said. This was his most stupid rebellion yet. But he had gotten drunk, came to this place when no one was around, and he had dumped a jug full of pennies into the toilet and pissed on them. Now he would have to dig them out. He couldn’t flush the toilet first, so he would be pulling out handfuls of piss-covered pennies and there was nothing to do about it.
What was that about? she wrote.
“Just being edgy,” Shadow said.
She laughed. She did that thing where she laughed with the exhale and the inhale and Shadow couldn’t breathe. He wanted her back so bad, but there was no hope. They would never be together again. The best he could hope for was a hug when she left, but he couldn’t ask for one.
Shadow looked up at Vigil, who was half smiling. Probably just trying to be pleasant but Shadow knew Vigil had never liked him. When the call was made about the flowers, maybe, but when the dress was bought on the month-and-week mark and Shadow had not proposed, Vigil began to have doubts. Everything to this point had confirmed that Shadow was an asshole in this man’s eyes.
The war did not matter to this man. All the reasons why Jesse and Bekah were doomed as soon as that call was made did not matter to this guy. He only saw the end result. This ass had hurt his daughter again, and if she had listened to Vigil this would not have happened. Vigil smiled at Shadow with a content look of I will never have to look at you again.
Shadow looked at Bekah.
“Take care of my girl, okay,” Shadow said. He could see Katherine in that moment jumping up in his lap when he was trying to slit his wrists, that persistent little dog jumping up over and over again to save his life.
Bekah wrote that she would.
And in that moment, Shadow looked over his shoulder at the house where Job and Siren were picking through his things, and he looked at Vigil. He looked at Bekah and, in that moment, he wanted to say fuck it.
He wanted to say, “Let’s get out of here,” to her and run off. And she would come. He knew it. They could both grab hands and walk away. She would leave her family. He could leave his friends.
But they had nowhere to go to.
“Take care of yourself,” he said.
Remember your promise, she wrote, but he had no idea what she was talking about. That was a conversation she had with Guardian, and Shadow couldn’t remember it. But this was the way he lived. Not knowing what he had done. Not knowing what he had said. He had been doing it for so long it was second nature for him.
Shadow nodded. He turned and headed for the door.
She was gone. He would never see her again. It was over. The greatest love of his life was no more and he would have to try to forget that he ever said he was done looking. That he had found his great love and he was done searching. He had to forget that now and move on. He would never see that girl again.
He turned when he got to the door, but they had backed out, headed the other way, and he didn’t even get to see her drive off.
It’s three months later, and Shadow lives in a pink house.
He hates Anton. He is about to go to bed. He has to sleep on the futon in the middle of the day, with no curtains in the living room and nowhere to hide from the bright of the day. He has been up all night and he is ready to go to bed.
Job is getting ready for work. Siren is still there and she has asked Job if he needs a ride but he said no he has a ride coming. She swears it is no problem, but he tells her he already called and the person is already on their way.
There is a knock on the door and Shadow opens it.
Bekah looks up at him shocked. “Hi.” She wants to run. She is scared, but not for her life. She is just as surprised to see him as he is to see her. “I am Job’s ride to work. I was supposed to come pick him up.”
“Come on in,” Shadow says. He storms into Job’s room.
“What is Bekah doing here, man?” Shadow snaps.
Job turns and points at him, his face curled and aggressive. “Bekah is my friend. She is here to give me a ride to work. She will be coming around as much as I want her to. She is always welcome in my house.” Job turns to button up his shirt. “Now, go tell her I will be a little longer. I’m not quite ready yet.”
Shadow huffs and walks out.
He is gone by the time we get to the living room.
Guardian stops. He stares. He sees the only person he has ever truly loved sitting on the chair and he smiles. He sits next to Siren and she takes his hand in hers.
Guardian takes his hand back.
“You cut it all off,” he says to Bekah. Her hair is all wrong, but she is wearing a hat turned backwards. It’s got Elmo on it. It is black and white and gray and Guardian bought it for her at an auto parts store years ago.
“Yup,” she says. “All gone.” She makes a swiping motion with her hand and a scissor motion with her fingers. “All gone.”
“Let me see,” Guardian says.
She takes off her hat and it is cute. The haircut is so cute.
“I’m leaving. Will you walk me out to my car?” Siren says.
But Guardian can’t hear her. She stands up, but Guardian can’t see her. He is warming up again. He can feel his heart beating. He smiles and he watches Bekah smile, and he laughs.
“It’s good to see you,” he says.
She smiles back. “It’s good to be here.”
“You look a bit tired,” Guardian says.
“Like you wouldn’t believe.” She laughs.
And Guardian suddenly wants to see his dog.