She woke me up kissing me. I looked at her with a smile and saw Sapphire’s face. I closed my eyes and hated myself, hating that I had for just one second thought it was Bekah. Shadow reminded himself Bekah was gone. There was no Bekah. We pulled back the blanket curtain that hung from the top bunk and ducked out of the little cave we had made for ourselves long ago.
“Morning,” Shadow said.
“Afternoon,” Sapphire said. She looked amazing. No long sleeve t-shirt and ripped up jeans today. Today she was wearing an evening gown. She had her waist length brown hair braided and wrapped around the crown of her head, and she wore combat boots.
“What the hell?”
She sat, crossed her legs, and smiled at me. “What the hell what?”
“Why are you,” I waved my hand in her general direction. “Why this?”
“Oh? Why do I look like a goddess?” she asked.
“Yeah, let’s start there.”
“Today is Goddess Day. Me and Fluff have dressed up and made goddesses of ourselves. We want to embrace our feminine power and express our sexuality.” She grinned at me and winked. “You like it, don’t you?”
But where was the simple? Why the impeccability? Why not a t-shirt, a pair of ripped up jeans and a smile? I looked at this girl and thought of Bekah’s easy way, about the way I had never seen make-up on her, or had never seen her in a dress. I thought about the way she just rolled out of bed, brushed her hair and was ready, and I shoved all of that away. That was not my life anymore.
Sapphire stood and walked to me, grabbed me and kissed me. She leaned in close and purred. “Mine,” she said.
I nodded. “Yours.”
“Good, I gotta run. I have a few classes today, then I have work. Jasper is taking me with that Falcon she drives. God, I love that car. Anyway, she is taking me and I am going to be there until 11. I’ll see you here after. Well, not here, they won’t let me in, but downstairs in the commons room at probably 11:30.”
“Yeah. I got Pizza Hut tonight, too. I’ll see you downstairs,” I said.
“We can try again tonight. Get a fresh run at it,” she said. “Now that you have seen what I truly am, I will be irresistible.”
“Yeah. You bet,” I said. She was gone. And I put my head against the door and breathed deep. I closed my eyes and concentrated on Sapphire.
The night before had been a disaster. We had tried to have sex. Had tried making love, Shadow had tried fucking her, but it had been fruitless. He knew he could not have that again. He needed to let her know how attracted to her he was. He needed to perform.
He dressed, pulled on his boots. They were brown, scuffed, filthy and uncomfortable but the first time Sapphire had seen them she had lost her mind. She loved them. He kicked his tennis shoes aside and stomped off.
Bathroom. Brushing teeth. Refused to look in the mirror. Shadow had not look at himself since the clean break with Bekah. He kept his head down, brushed his teeth and was off for class. He couldn’t miss again.
With the tests and the makeup work, with the lies about a sick mother in the hospital and a few other smoke and mirrors tricks, Shadow had managed to fail only one class. It was the end of the semester and he had to finish strong.
Classes were a blur. Servant took no notes. He just soaked it all up. He still had the ability he had gained in Liechin’s class in sixth grade. He still didn’t have to write anything down, but he had to do the homework. He couldn’t phone that part in. Things mattered in college. Everything was so much more advanced.
That day in Art in Context class, the professor was talking about Vietnam and the photos taken, and he stepped aside and out of the corner rolled a vet. The man wore his fatigues, fit with all the gear he had carried in the war. He looked in every way the perfect soldier. His face was painted and he had been standing in the corner the whole time.
He had gained a bit of weight since the war. But he was still a sight to see in his gear. He asked us if we had any questions. A few people asked a few things. Mostly about the countryside he fought in and the tools and art he had seen while he was there. He answered it all well.
Soon a kid stood up with a grin. He shook off a hand that reached up to pull him back down and he was laughing. He had a Royals hat on backwards, perfect shirt, perfect jeans. His hair was messy, but a forced kind of messy. It was obvious right away what this kid was. And I knew instantly what he was going to ask.
“Did you kill any civilians while you were over there?” The kid sat down.
The soldier stared at him before I saw something die in that man. “I’m not going to answer that.”
There was a buzzing of talking and laughing near the kid’s section as his friends all talked at once before he yelled, “No answer is an answer.”
I walked out when the soldier did. The teacher was yelling at the students and I had another fifteen minutes of class time, but I followed that soldier out of the room and into the bathroom. He ducked into a stall and I heard him weep.
I snuck into the stall beside him, closed the door silently and set my hand against the cold metal between us. I wept. There was something about a mentally wounded warrior that made me ache. Ache for a thing within me that was gone since my break up with Bekah.
Guardian was gone. Had retreated into the oblivion. I neither felt him or saw signs of his passing. He had been such a powerful part of our life for so long that without him I felt lessened. That is complicated, so let’s unpack that for a moment.
Do you know that feeling you get when you have done a good thing? When you have helped a person even if it is a little thing. I was at Sam’s Club the other day and I saw an elder lady with a cart filled with goods she had just bought. I noticed she had cases of soda, thirty-five can packs of soda in her cart. They looked like they weighed more than her.
“Ma’am, can I please put those in your car for you?” I said.
She looked up at me with a smile.
“I would really like to help you if you will let me. I’m sure you can get them yourself, but I’m here…”
See that was the kind of thing that was missing. Guardian was a soldier. He was a knight. He was constantly doing things like that. Constantly helping, keeping lonely people company and giving encouraging words.
When I loaded that old woman’s car, I felt amazing. Helping people is addictive. It leaves you with a hum in your bones. And that hum was gone. Guardian would have known what to say to this soldier. Would have caught up with him after he changed and was carrying his sack out of the bathroom and back to his car. Guardian could have changed the subject in the man’s mind, could have talked to him for just enough time to pull the man from the dark place the asshole kid had dropped him into.
But Guardian was gone. Our knight lost to us. He could not help us, and he could not help this man. Through the slit in the door I could see him wash his face hastily of the camouflage makeup. I watched him stare at himself, sigh, give himself a woo yah and move on.
Shadow felt a bit of that man’s defeat. He had no woo yah. He gritted his teeth and moved on.
At work he walked past the phone a dozen times. Every time Bekah’s number played itself in his head. He kept working. Tonight was a good night. Shadow was working with House.
House was big, broad, Christian and educated. He was hilarious. He was smart. He was obsessed with his home town of New York City and hated Missouri with a passion.
He was a hard worker so he loved Shadow. He and Shadow could run the entire kitchen and back room by themselves without breaking a sweat. They were fast, and by the second time they worked together, they could breathe as one.
Once without being asked, Shadow left the dish room, went into the walk-in cooler, grabbed a box of mushrooms, took it to the kitchen, dropped it on the table. Grabbed the bucket of sauce there and took it to the walk-in cooler. Went back to washing dishes.
He had seen the mushrooms low when he had been there half an hour earlier. He had timed it in his head based on dish flow and knew exactly when House ran out of mushrooms. It was shit like that all the time.
After the rush was done and the back room clean, Shadow made dough, a few sauces, and was dismissed early. He sat at the desk in the back room looking at the phone for about five minutes. He didn’t call.
He got up and paced for a while. He had an itch he needed to scratch. He needed to see Bekah. Needed a hug. Wanted to hear how her day went. Wanted to see her smile, even if it was a bit broken last time he had seen it. But he wouldn’t let himself.
She needed to heal. He could not let himself go rip her open again. Could not let it happen. So, he sat in the restaurant dining room for a while. He pulled out his comp books and opened them up, but all he wanted to write about was Bekah. He slammed the book shut after a few minutes and grabbed his backpack, threw it over his shoulder and took off.
He walked. See, he needed to get to Sapphire. She was the only thing that would keep him away from Bekah. The only thing that would keep him steady in this new life he was trying. He stepped out of Pizza Hut on Commercial and headed south. He walked to Cinderella Road. All told, it is a three-mile walk through high traffic areas. There are no sidewalks. Most of what you are walking when you walk those streets is the hilly sides of medians. He stumbled across the rocky parts. He kept himself moving and made his way through the city to get to where Sapphire was.
It was hours before he got there. He walked in and she beamed. He dropped into a booth and she swooped in. She kissed him and told him she had another two hours. It was not busy so he was not taking up any room. So, he sat in the corner and pulled out his comp book. He had written. Wrote a poem. It was not a good poem. It did not survive the years. But it was about Sapphire. It focused on the new life he had chosen for himself. He called it a win.
She bought him dinner. When she clocked off, we walked back to campus. It was about a mile and a half trip. But that was us. We had no car, but everything was close, so we walked. Summer heat, winter chill. We walked. I explored the streets of Springfield with Sapphire, got to know the town. When we walked, we had a tendency to drape ourselves across one another. She was short enough to fit under my arm but her hand was too small to fit mine very well.
We walked and we talked, and when he was with her, Shadow hated himself a little less. That would not last. None of it would. But he had to make this work. He could not mess this up. He had given up Bekah for this. He had to make it work or both his and Bekah’s pain were wasted on failure.
He knew if he focused, he could fall in love with this girl. He set about doing that.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 2: Normal Street.