The summer after Sapphire and I got together, I had no place to live. The plan was to pick up more hours at Pizza Hut and make that work somehow. But out of nowhere came Burg with a plan.
He was living in Columbia and going to college at MU. He wanted a change of pace from that city, so he joined me in Springfield and we got an apartment together. It was fun. It was amazing. It was a disaster in every way because of the direction my relationship with Sapphire went. She cemented in his mind that I had terrible taste in women, and to this day she remains the only person he hates.
Our apartment was a small, run-down place on the corner of Grand and Grant. It was a shitty little place just perfect for college kids on a break. I got him a job at Pizza Hut and I was promoted to manager, a job I was terrible at, I will say right out of the gate.
There was another bit that went along with the summer of ’98 and that was that Bliss had done the same thing as Burg. The summer before she went to college, she moved in with Bekah. She, as well, was given a job at Pizza Hut and so began the twisted mess that was that summer.
First, I will show you what kind of idiots we are dealing with. Then I will show you the immensity of the disaster.
The apartment was terrible. By any standards, but man, this place was a dump and we divided the rooms. I am not sure who got the bigger room or if there even was a bigger room. All I know is that it was a two bedroom and I had a twin bed.
The beginning was not too bad, but when the heat kicked in it became oppressive. The house got humid and we could hardly breathe in there. We worked at the Pizza Hut restaurant all day and into the night. Then sticky, greasy, and gross, we came home to simmer. There was enough hot water for half a shower and an hour wait for more. We suffered for the first two weeks.
One day Sapphire and I walked out to the porch, where below us kids played and air conditioner fans hummed in their odd little metal boxes. We looked and counted five running fans and one sitting still.
“Those are air conditioner units,” I said.
“Look,” she pointed. “Some idiot doesn’t have their air conditioner on. I wish I knew who it was so I could go slap them.”
Wait, there is more.
“I can’t believe they would have air conditioning and not use it,” I said.
Wait for it.
“If we had air conditioning, we would blast it so high that it would—” I froze.
There it is.
It hit us both at the same time. We rushed into the living room and found the thermostat, and you don’t even need me to tell you, the air conditioner worked just fine.
That summer Burg was the only one of us with a car. Sapphire was living at her father’s house and he wanted her home every night. He was very uncomfortable with us spending the night together. Burg ended up driving that drive so many times I think he will never forgive me for it.
She always wanted to get to our house as quickly as possible, so no matter how late he stayed up, he got a call early in the morning asking him to come get her. One day while taking her to her house, he said that he would pick her up after his lunch shift at Pizza Hut. Said he would be there around one.
Her response was, “No, that is not good enough. You have to come get me before work and take me to the apartment.”
This was the kind of stuff you got from her. She was almost reasonable. Just a half step left of reasonable, and it spilled over into everything she did and said. She had a habit of getting in her own way. A way of standing up for the wrong things and folding when she needed to stand. She was broken, too. Not in any visible way, but she had a slight scuff.
As powerful and confrontational as she was in some arenas, she was weak and trembling in others. It was not long before I realized that I had found another girl who was held in sway by everything her parents said.
One night at almost two in the morning, we called her father, and she told him she was staying at my place that night. Said that Burg had gone to sleep and she had no way of getting home, and she was an adult and needed to be able to stay where she wanted.
He said he was uncomfortable with that and hung up.
So started the walk home. After her stunt with Burg, I would not let her wake him up, so we walked. I took her home. It took us five hours to get to her house and I had to walk another five to get back. By the time I got home from that walk, it was noon. I was exhausted and Shadow was furious.
I think that is when she lost him. From that point, he had little mercy with her. See, he had already lost Bekah to this sort of thing. He would not do that again.
Finally, she did sit down with her parents and get them to agree to let her move into our apartment, but by that time it was already done. She had been forced to ask. To make a case for it and to beg. She was almost twenty. At least, I am pretty sure she was. She might have been almost nineteen, but that sounds wrong. She was an adult and she had to beg to move into an apartment and to do what she wanted.
Shadow realized he needed a woman who could stand up to her parents. And he kind of phoned it in for her from that moment.
Pizza Hut was a different story.
After Bekah and I broke up, Bliss was fine again. She was kind and funny, and once again she was my friend. We laughed, we talked, and we hung out at every chance. And Bekah was with us. She would show up at the Hut around closing time and just hang out. Bekah would laugh and talk and joke with us, and Burg began to like her again. He became friends with her again. Everything was back to normal. All that was missing was Bekah’s hand in mine, my spot on the floor in my old apartment, and Bell.
One night I was talking to Bliss, who had been talking to my mother, and she said the offhand comment that Less had gone to move in with Char. We were at a Waffle House at the time and I remember feeling as if I had been set on fire and beaten with a club. I got up. I did not talk to Burg about it. I did not call Sapphire. I went to the payphone outside and I called Bekah.
For those of you who don’t know what a payphone is, it is pretty simple. Before cell phones, the phone companies built stands around town that had a phone on them. It cost a quarter to make a call, and that call usually was allowed to go on for about twenty minutes before they asked for more money. Well, I went to a payphone outside the restaurant and called Bekah.
Her answering machine picked up after three rings.
“Bekah,” I said. “He has her.” Then I hung up.
I walked into the middle of our meal and looked at Burg. “I need to go home.”
My friend never asked a question. He did not even take another bite of his food. He walked away from his meal, half-eaten, and paid. I was in the truck before he was, and he started home.
“I’m going with you,” he said.
“Not your war,” I said.
“Fuck that. I’m going with you. We can’t take my truck. It won’t make the trip.”
When we got to the apartment, I walked in, looked at Sapphire and said, “He has her.”
She asked questions. She said she was going, and I told her not to be ridiculous. She had nothing else to do, so she started braiding her hair. Said that in some tribes the women braided their hair before war. Said that she felt as if, even though she was not going, she was entering a war.
And she was. This was the battle that would kill us. It would take a while, but it would do it. After this, I am not ready for any kind of relationship for a long time. After this, I will not be able to handle much at all. Not school, not my mother, not my life in any meaningful way.
The only thing that made sense after this was Bekah, and not in any logical way. All I wanted was to be near her. I ached for her, but was far too broken to ever take her for my own.
Bekah was wide awake, dressed, and standing in the middle of a dark living room when Bliss walked in.
“What happened?” is all she would say. When Bliss told her what I had done, the moment she mentioned Less, Bekah came to me.
She wanted to come, too. That was never going to happen. If Char got anywhere near her, Guardian would kill him.
And let’s talk about Guardian for a moment. He was back. Back in force. He had been gone for so long that Shadow had thought that part of himself was dead. Guardian took Bekah’s hand and caressed it. He looked at her and said, “I need your help.” Very softly.
“You need my car.”
“Then I’m coming.”
“Of course you’re not coming. Don’t be foolish. I can’t protect her and you at the same time. You would be a detriment. You know it.”
“You can have my car. But Burg has to go with you.”
I went on that trip. I told you about it in Teardrop Road. It was one of my great successes, but in the end a failure. After that trip, Guardian lost his honor. He hurt himself and Bekah and everyone else. After that trip, the Broken Knight was devastated.
We will get there. Just be patient.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 2: Normal Street.