TRON CAT FIGHTS FOR THE USERS
ASHLEY I FUCKING LOVE YOU
“Where are you going?”
You stop mid-step and raise your eyebrows, turn to look at your brother. “Out…kinda?”
“It’s your turn to clean up after Otis. I’m not doing two days in a row.”
“And I covered for you last time. Don’t be a dick.”
“That’s not what I was going to say.”
He looks at you like you’re full of shit and goes back to texting. “I’m listening.”
You try not to smile and say, “I was only gonna go out for a little bit. Otis just shit, and I’m gonna feed ‘im when I get back, and when he shits that out, I’m gonna clean it. That’s how you know I’m coming back. ‘Cause if I don’t, Otis will starve to death, and he won’t be able to shit anymore, and I won’t get to watch you clean it.”
He laughs, but maybe at something he’s reading on his phone, and he goes, “Whatever, dickhead. Don’t be back late. Wait, where’re you going? That was my original inspiration.”
Your dad’s dog must’ve gotten into something gross in the woods, because it can’t keep any food down, and when he finally does, he can’t keep it in his stomach for very long, all day. The dog is a boy, an old one. The vet gave it some shot, and you guys are giving it some pill, and the whole thing is supposed to be back to normal by next weekend. Until then, nobody wants to feel like they’re dealing with vomit and/or feces more than their share, including your parents, so you’ve got the system. Your parents work two jobs a piece, though; not every day, but often enough, and so it’s mostly just you and your brother looking after the dog, especially on Saturdays, which is what today is. “I’m supposed to meet somebody,” you say.
He grins, very vaguely. “A boy someone.”
You snort. “Fuck you.”
“It is. You’re gonna meet a boy, and I’m gonna clean up poop.”
“It’s just a person.”
He scoffs. “You don’t know any persons. Where’d you meet a person?”
You roll your eyes, look at your watch. You were going to be early, but you can still manage to at least be on time. You exhale, go, “I’m meeting…a person who is male, yes.” “So just say that! Is it a date?” You shrug. “I don’t know. I mean, in my head it’s a date, yeah. But my brain is so date-starved, it might just be seeing romantic mirage’s. I…it would be nice if it was a date.” Your brother stops typing on his phone and nods. “Well now. Let’s hope it’s a date, then.”
You head to town, walking down to Main and Chancellor, on the corner of which you find Kovac reading a book. He’s got a bag slung over his right shoulder. He’s sitting at the bus-stop, by the crosswalk, but he’s not waiting for the bus, he’s only waiting for you. He works at the book store that stands on this corner; they sell new and used books, but mostly used. You met him here, the first time. Today is only the second time. You stand next to him and wave lazily, so he sees the bit of movement, and knows someone wants his attention. He turns his head slowly, maybe not trusting what’s going on. He sees it’s you and snorts. “You scared me kind-of. Why didn’t you just call my name? ” You shrug. “I didn’t wanna scare you.”
“Do you always get out this early?” You and Kovac are walking down the street, downtown. This is where the people around here have to go if they want to buy anything, unless they wanna drive twenty miles to the city, or ten miles to the Walmart, which is actually what a lot of people do, including your parents. It’s just cheaper, so actually downtown is where people with a little bit of extra money shop, or people who want fresh produce; also hipsters, or whatever you call people who buy second-hand clothes by choice. Kovac shakes his head, drops a small handful of coins into the Salvation Army thing out the Walgreens as you pass it, and you feel bad, because you don’t have any change, and never would’ve even thought of doing that, since you save your change, and he says, “Nah, I got this girl Debbie to cover for me. Debbie Mathews. I think she goes to school with you…” You nod. You know Debbie; she’s one of the few people in your graduating class to go to the nearby state school, and not a school as far away as possible. You go, “Um, yeah. I don’t have any classes with her or anything, though. Anymore, I mean.” He smiles at you. “I know.” You shrug, smile down at your walking feet. So much smiling. You go, “Sometimes, I just say anything even tangentially related to what’s going on at the moment. Like, I’m not good at…” You do a hand gesture like juggling, and he laughs, “Clearly. But, um…how long do I have you?” “I dunno. My dog should be good til like seven.” “So you have a while. Well, kinda.” You nod. “Kinda, yeah.”
Kovac lives with his three sisters, on the other side of town, near the lake. He has no parents. Okay, he does, but they don’t exist as something in his life. He was created by people, though, don’t worry. He’s got a necklace he says ‘used to belong to someone’, and you think it was probably one of his parents. But his world is his job, and his sisters, and now you, at least twice so far. You fell into his lap; he wasn’t looking for you. “My sisters heard about you,” he says, looks at you. You look back and go, “Okay,” and he laughs and says, “I’m just warning you.”
His sisters are 8, 12, and 27—he is older than the 12-year-old, younger than the 27-year-old. They are all gorgeous girls, as if their family genetics were really good at composing girls, physically, but didn’t have enough practice, with regards to how a boy should look—in this way, they’re better looking than him, but even as you greet them with an awkward smile, in their kitchen, as they put together an obscenely huge dinner, you get the sense that the boy Kovac got all the personality traits that makes a strong person, that can prop a person up, and that that’s his job here; wherever he goes, likely. He’s about as hot as his older sister, so that’s probably her job, too—the youngest are always the cutest, apparently. “What’s the occasion?” you say after everybody giggles, upon your entrance, and Kovac gives you an ‘I told you’, curled-lip expression. Anna-Catherine, the 12-year-old, says, “It’s my birthday. Are you eating with us? We can take turns being your date.” Kovac puts a hand on you, on the space right before your neck meets your t-shirt—the warmth is like justification for being, and your breath catches. He addresses the room; he says, “You guys need my help or anything?” Maya, the oldest, shakes her head, gives him a look. “The most helpful thing you can do is handle any and all edibleness. Oh, and the bathroom sink is doing that thing again. The upstairs bathroom.” He sighs, nods. “I’ll look at it.” He looks at you, tilts his head, ‘follow me,’ he mouths.
You sit on the wooden chest by his desk, in his bedroom, as he changes out of his sneakers. He nods at your shoes. “You mind gettin those muddy? Like, a little muddy…” You snort. “No.” Your sneakers are filthy. He gives you a look, like a kid gives his parents before asking them if he can have ice cream before bed, a look almost like fear, and he goes, “You wanna go for a swim?” You do. You go, “I—” “I promise I’ll have you back in time. The car’s here, so you won’t have to drive back. And you can eat with us. I mean, if you can—” “No, yeah. Definitely. I—” “Anna…my bad, go ahead.” You snort and scratch your head. “Nah, just…yeah. I don’t have to be back till later. Whatever you want. Like, to do, I mean.” He nods, sitting off the edge of the bed, tying his boots. “Um…Anna-Catherine’s birthday was actually last week, but she was sick, so…we’re doing like a combo, Thanksgiving dinner type of thing, ‘cause I was sick then, so.” “Oh.” “I had the flu.” You nod. “Alright.” He grins at his boots. “Now it is, I guess. It sucked, though.” He looks at you and exhales, doesn’t say anything. You figure this is the moment, when you’re alone with someone, and get to look at them, without pretending you’re doing something else, or pretending you’re harmless. The moment you’re allowed to acknowledge how dangerous the other is. He finally goes, “Alright, come on.”
You go to the lake. It’s about eight blocks from his house, plus a trail through the woods, lined with wooden planks, so you know it was put there on purpose, in case you’re ever lost. When you get to the makeshift beach, you finally realize how clear the sky is today, how dirty this town smells, even the nature parts, and how held hostage you felt, by whatever you were born into, and by the fact that working hard to change it hasn’t really changed anything. There is an air of possibility in your heart that doesn’t exist when you’re locked away in your bedroom.
Kovac pulls off his boots, and looks up at you, as he’s got to crouch down to do this. “You wearing boxers? I never asked, my bad…” he laughs at himself for this. You go, “Yeah. Um…okay,” and start to take off your clothes, too. You want to ask ‘what if somebody sees us’, but then it sounds like you think something illicit is going to happen, and someone might care about it, and it’s all about how you carry yourself, so you just act like this isn’t even a thing. You’re just taking off your clothes with your bro, no big deal, you guys. You two stand at the edge of the water, the mud squishing between your toes, involuntarily causing you to make a sour facial expression. Kovac looks at you, goes, “The water’s kinda cold, huh?” You can’t think of what to say. You’re always thinking how people talk too much, but then when your body is obviously telling you to shut up, all you do is try to think of things to say. You go, “It’s alright.” He appraises you, your body at least. He smirks at you, says, “I’m goin in,” reaches out a hand for you to take as he starts to walk backwards into the water, and you take his hand, and you follow him a couple steps, then you stop, go, “Wait. I gotta call my brother.”
You scurry over to your jeans and dig your phone out your pocket, watch Kovac slosh through the lake, since you’re allowed to look now. Your brother picks up after one ring. You can hear Crysis 2 exploding through his bedroom’s obnoxious surround-sound speakers, sounding like brutal white-noise through your cell-phone’s speakers. “Dickhead,” you say. The receiver suddenly goes silent as he pauses the game, he goes, “Yo.” You go, “Can you deal with Otis for me? Please? I’ll do morning duty or whatever. Morning doody, I guess.” He goes, “Umm…” and you can hear him messing with some stuff in his room, and he goes, “Uh, yeah, sure, I guess. You okay?” “Yeah.” “Is it a date?” Beat. “I think so.” “Alright. See you later. Be careful.” “Word. Later.”
The water’s up to just about your belly-button now. You never told him you couldn’t swim. You figured it was beside the point, and you weren’t entirely wrong, although you get that twinge of ‘bad person’ at not just coming out and saying this thing that makes you feel less than him. You tell him now, and of course that makes it better. Guys like when you don’t know stuff. “Wanna learn now?” You look at the expanse of the lake, imagine the water coming up to your chin, imagine that panicked, falling-backward feeling you get when there’s water and you don’t have any control over it. You go, “I feel pretty learned right now. Any further teaching would just…” He laughs, puts his hands on either side of your face, then slides them away. “I won’t let anything happen. To you, I mean. If you wanna learn. The water only makes you nervous ‘cause you don’t know how to, like…show it who’s boss. You are, is what I’m saying. Water’s too dumb to be boss, see?” He splashes the water. “See how dumb that is? You’re smarter than that.” He taps at your chest like he tapped at the water and you turn away from him and laugh. He reaches his hand out again—the same hand as before. “Come on. I wanna look back at this moment, so I want it to be good.” You look at his hand, then at his collar bone for some reason, and his chin (?), and then you take his hand, and he leads you to the deeper part of the lake.
You are entirely conscious of whatever you might step on, whatever might swim passed your body—there aren’t really waves, though, so most of the danger comes courtesy of your having seen Piranha sans-3D on Blu-Ray the other night, and just general cowardice. Whenever ‘water’ is a character in a movie, it’s always a bad thing. “You’re doin good,” Kovac says, leading you to where the water is up to your nipples. “Yeah,” you say, your voice shivering, as much from the freezing water as from discomfort. He turns fully to you and says, “Okay—can you feel my legs?” You look puzzled and he laughs and goes, “Stick your foot out, I mean. Like, feel for my legs.” You inhale deeply, put your hands on his shoulders, no longer shy about your fear, lift your right foot off of the sodden earth, feel forward for his legs, like someone feeling in the dark for a light-switch. You finally feel his foot against your calf. This feels as illicit as anything ever has, and you pull your leg back; you keep it hovering close, however. You go, “They’re not touching the ground.” “Alright, yeah—I’m just kicking my legs, and I’m staying up. S’why I’m so tall right now. You think…you can hold onto me, but, you think you can do it? I’ll put my hands on your sides to like, fake-hold you, if you need the illusion I’m doing it for you. That helps some people.” You nod, and clear your throat, just in case you have to scream, and you take a deep breath. Using your left foot, you push yourself into the air—well, upward—and quickly kick your submerged legs back and forth, like a graceless idiot, and that simply will not do the job, and so your body is pulled into the water. That’s how it feels anyway, and you manage to hold onto your panicked breath as your head goes completely under, and you feel your body’s weight become louder, like it’s screaming as gravity becomes a bigger threat, as it’s forced to displace water instead of air, which is easier. ‘It’s the same thing,’ you think, and, with that, you are pulled up. “Do you have my necklace?” His voice is calm, but it doesn’t want to be—you can tell, and you are breathing hard, because you can breathe now, because you are standing, the water once again up to your chest, and Kovac is talking to you. “What?” “I was wearing a necklace.” He isn’t looking at you—he is looking at the water, touching the spot on his neck where the necklace should be. You grabbed his necklace when you fell back. He isn’t wearing it anymore. You aren’t holding it. “I—” He ducks down into the water and you are staring at the vibrating ripples of the water where he was. Your heart is doing its Aphex Twin thing and you try to focus on those circular patterns in the water, not really to calm yourself down, but the white-noise of panic is so heavy, all you can do is put your head down; the water is only a foot away from it. There is the sound of a flock of birds, squawking, then there is Kovac’s head, and his shoulders, popping back up from the lake, breathing hard. He goes, “I can’t find it,” and wipes water from his face. You look at him dumbly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what I was doing…I just…” You do the ‘I have nothing’ gesture with your hands, but your hands are underwater, and he takes another deep breath and goes back in. You look over, your mind apparently latching onto bird-watching as a means of being okay with being you right now, and watch as the lot of them flee, blotting out a big enough chunk of the sky that you’re kind of sorry you don’t have a camera, to prove it. You want to ask them for help, for real, you get this feeling, and gripping the tail of that thought is an understanding you haven’t had since you were thirteen, and your parents drove to the big mall upstate, to go Christmas shopping. You slept late, ‘cause they left early. Your brother was already in the kitchen, cooking pancakes, and you asked him to throw one on for you, and he said no, but of course he would—he wanted to be able to say that he made you breakfast, next time you wanted something. You were groggy and half-awake, and you went to walk down the hall, to pee, ‘cause you forgot to upstairs, but you cut the corner too soon, and you bumped into wooden stand on which your mother kept her crystal vase, an anniversary present from your father, after a year full of rough-patches for the two of them. The glass was shattering before you even realized it needed to be saved. It was almost absurd, getting hit so hard with the concept of irrevocable mistakes. Here was this thing that represented something important, that represented someone’s heart, and it was broken into more pieces than you could even fantasize about putting back together. You fucked up then, and you fucked up now.
Kovac pops up out the water one last time—he wipes his face and whips his head around, sends water flying, some of it hitting you in the face, on the mouth; you lick it away without thinking about it. He moves one of his hands to his chest, again, where his necklace should be, and he looks at you; he gives you the look you give people when they say something off-handedly racist. Like he gets it now. Like he knew this would happen. Like he knows what you’re capable of. “I’m sorry,” you say. You put a hand on the muscles of his shoulder, as much to impart the warmth of afraid, and alone, and sorry your are as for the fact that you’ll probably never get to do it again. You’re looking at a person who’s gone already. He blinks down at the water and goes, “It’s fine. It’s just a necklace.” But you know it’s not. You wonder if it was his mom’s or dad’s. And you can’t even swim, so you can’t even pretend to help, to look. Your face wants to scrunch up and break down, because that helped last time, but that’s because the people you hurt loved you in that case; that’s not a trick you’re going to pull off this time.
You walk home alone. You gave Kovac a hug as you parted ways, on the sidewalk outside his house, and he said he’d call you, but there was no invitation inside, there was no more offer for dinner, and there was no hope. When you get back, your mom and dad are in the living room. Your dad is rubbing your mom’s feet, and the warm air of the house reeks positively of dinner. You stop in the living room doorway. “Hey.” They’re giggly and they look at you and your mom goes, “Hey, baby. There’s lasagna from Vesuvio’s in there. Your brother said you’d be late…” You nod. “Alright.” You go upstairs. You can hear your brother talking shit to kids half his age on X-Box Live, and you want to knock on his door, let him know there is no date, and you’ll be cleaning up feces for the rest of the night/for the rest of your life, but you exhale out the side of your mouth and plod to your bedroom instead. As long as people believe you had a good day. You don’t ever actually have to have one.
If you stare at the center for 30 seconds then look away, your vision will be warmed, you will experience the effects of LSD.
THAT WAS THE COOLEST SHIT EVER OMG
THIS IS FUCKING AWESOME