==> Be Ches Makara.
It’s easy to let time get away from you when you’re on the inside.
Your first few weeks were bad ones. You weren’t used to this being caged up shit, all the schedules and restrictions and how you couldn’t even wear your own clothes, you had to wander around in an ugly-ass blue uniform feeling like some kinda target around all these dour faced guards. The toilets were all funny looking, you could feel every single fucking spring in your mattress digging in your back at night, the food was shit, the lights buzzed like angry hornets and stayed on all the goddamned time, and there was always, always some dickhead starting trouble.
But mostly you were angry. You were so fucking angry.
You weren’t like some of the spoiled little shits who thought they didn’t belong in here. You knew you did wrong, they caught you fair and square, they put you away. That’s life.
You weren’t expecting it to be this hard, though. Prison life wasn’t like how you saw it in movies. It was as undignified as fuck, always having some asshole watching you so you couldn’t even go to the bathroom or jerk off without somebody knowing. Having some joker you never even met reading your mail, listening in on your calls to your woman. It makes your insides boil knowing they had a little file on you tucked away somewhere, you don’t even know what it says, just that it has that mugshot of you looking as bleak as you can remember, this jackass holding up your long hair out of your face so couldn’t hide from the flash behind it.
They cut your hair. Fifteen years wearing it long and they cut your hair. They put you in an ugly jumpsuit and made you march around for them and it motherfucking infuriated you.
Your first cellmate was a snotnosed little son-of-a-bitch who’d been busted for heroin possession. He’d been in and out of places like this since he was eighteen and he just did not give a fuck. He blared his shitty rap at all hours, ate your food, and stole your cigs. You broke his nose the night you caught him tearing down your newspaper comics in favor of pasting more of his titty mag girls on your wall.
You got solitary for a few days, or maybe it was a week, you don’t even know how much time passed, just that it was the longest time you can ever remember.
Life didn’t stay bad. Angie didn’t write much, but a least your kid cared enough to keep you caught up on his life. You kept every letter Gamzee wrote you. You read them over and over, memorizing his little kid scrawl, how he spelled some of the words all funny. He sent you all kinds of things, crayon drawings, poems, report cards, school photos with his hair all fluffed up like some kinda cute dandelion puff and his grin missing baby teeth. Once he even sent you this happy-ass golden retriever from some magazine, named it Beau, said you could keep it as a pet, least until you got out and could get your own.
He called you on weekends, which wasn’t enough for either of you, but you talked at him all you could and tried to convince him to visit. You couldn’t blame him for being scared, though. Little kids don’t belong in places like this, even if it’s just the visiting room they keep all nice.
You got a new cellmate. Leon smiled and shook your hand when you met and you knew it was gonna get a whole lot easier. He was quiet, courteous, and left you alone when you wanted. He was a wicked kinda charcoal artist, sketched all kinds of shit like it was nothing. He shared his cigs when you ran out and you returned the favor. He talked about his kids a lot, how his sister was raising them up while he did the rest of his time in here. You told him about Gamzee, how he was in the third grade and as cute as fuck.
Only one time did he ever rankle you a little, and that was when he asked why you didn’t have a picture of Angie up with all the stuff from your kid. You told him it was none of his business. Maybe it was your tone of voice or the way you looked at him, but Leon never asked again.
Truth was, you had her photo in your wallet, and your wallet was locked up somewhere you didn’t know about, and as far as you were concerned it could stay that way until you were feeling a bit more friendly toward her.
Time passed. You threw yourself into work. They gave you plenty to do. You built chairs, you made signs, there was even a time they had you working on clocks. At the end of the day there were poker games and books and the staticky television in the rec room.
You can’t say you liked it there, but it got a bit more comfortable. It got so you didn’t notice so much that they watched you all the time. Nothing about it changed—you just didn’t care anymore.
The day your year long anniversary rolled around it felt like no time had passed at all.
Eventually Gamzee’s letters started to trickle off, but that was okay. You still got them every once and awhile, and they were pages and pages long to make up for lost time. You learned his grades weren’t doing too good, but hey, yours weren’t at his age either. More to life than cramming your brain with shit out of textbooks.
You read once about how he packed a bunch of pot cookies in with lunch by mistake and spent his math class giggling so hard he fell out of his chair and got sent out. You laughed your ass off and almost wrote back saying you missed his momma’s pot cookies so much you don’t even know, but you didn’t want your jailers reading that.
Near Gamzee’s 11th birthday, you got Leon to draw him a portrait. Gamzee was thrilled. He even wrote Leon a thank-you note, as polite as you please.
Months flew by. You began noticing threads of grey in your hair. Leon joked that life inside was getting to you, turning your hair white.
They started interviewing you for parole. You took this weird-ass brain test to show’em you learned your lesson. They gave you a bunch of paperwork and you signed it in all the right places.
They let you out. You remembered when your parole requirements would have enraged the fuck out of you. Compared to the last three and a half years, though, this shit was a fuckin’ cakewalk.
You shacked up with an old friend, Jasper, who was three weeks away from being let off his own parole. It took you a week or two to get your shit sorted, but it wasn’t hard. You started attending NA meetings and went to church. You got your curfew on lock and got a job working at a local greenhouse.
You called Angie. She caught you up, said she was working as a waitress at the Red Spoon cafe now and that she and Gamzee had moved out of the old house and into a small apartment. You told her everything you were up to. You forgot how good it was to talk like this, how nice her laugh was.
You asked if you could come over. You were only a little surprised when she said yes.
The moment Angie opens the door, all that time you lost comes rushing right back.
She lets you in. The furniture is different. The TV is different. Angie is thinner than she used to be. She chopped off all her pretty blond hair and dyed it red. Her brows are plucked. She wears makeup now and eyeglasses. She hugs you and it’s like hugging a bird she’s so thin, but the top of her head fits just perfect under your chin as same as always.
And then you see Gamzee.
Holy shit, when the fuck did he get to be so big? For a moment all you can do is stand there and stare at him, this tall, broad shouldered boy you swear to god you were bouncing on your knee not so long ago.
He’s a head taller than his momma now. His hair is different, the curls tighter than you remember. His nose looks longer. His hands are huge like yours and long fingered like Angie’s and there are scabs on some of the knuckles and all at once you’re desperate to know where the fuck they came from.
He stares back, wide-eyed and silent. You realize it’s just as big a shock for him as it is for you, and goddamn does it ever make you feel old. You know you have crowsfeet and more grey than brown in your hair and beard, and in that moment you hate yourself for for losing nearly four years you’ll never get back again.
The first words out of his mouth aren’t the ones you expect.
“What the fuck, dad, they cut off all your hair!”
The dismay in his voice hurts your heart, but you grin anyway and reach out to ruffle his hair before grabbing his arm and dragging him close. He’s clinging hard enough to hurt, his fists clenching in your shirt and his nails digging into you, and he’s shaking.
You stroke the back of his head and blink back tears, and when you speak your voice comes out rough.
“S’okay, kid. I’ll grow it back.”
* * * *
You start visiting on weekends. Angie has a fucked up work schedule, but she finds time to take nights off, and you can’t stop noticing shit that’s changed.
Angie’s stopped smoking and stopped drinking. She’s been clean for almost a month. She ditched the vegan diet and is a Pescetarian now. You go on long walks together like you used to, visit all your old haunts. You forgot how good your fingers laced with hers feels. You ask her if there were other men or women while you were gone, and she avoids the answer every time. You pretend it doesn’t bother you.
You spend every moment with Gamzee you can. You can’t get over all the things he can do now. Last time you saw him he was just starting training wheels on his bike and now he’s got his own sleek-ass blue ten speed he rides like lightning. He shows you how he learned to dance, and fuck, the kid is actually good.
You learn his school life ain’t all that great, his grades are mostly C’s and D’s and Angie tells you his teachers are concerned because he spaces out in class, but you’re still as proud as hell of him and you make sure he knows it.
Weeks fly by. On Angie’s birthday, you come over an hour before she gets off work and you and Gamzee crank Led Zeppelin and clean the apartment from top to bottom. You gotta keep him on track some. You lose your temper and he freaks the fuck out after you catch him vacuuming up a motherfucking nail and makes the machine start smoking, but it’s fine, it’s all good, it turns out the belt just broke. You fix it and calm him down and not five minutes later he’s bouncing all around you and singing silly songs like nothing happened.
You fry up a massive meal: popcorn shrimp, breaded mushrooms, coconut butterfly shrimp, tilapia. When Angie gets home the whole house smells like butter and garlic and she’s so shocked and happy she actually tears up a little. The three of you enjoy dinner and it’s like it always should have been.
She kisses you when you leave that night, and you run your fingers through her thin hair and it’s a few minutes before either of you can draw away.
* * * *
You start spending nights. It’s nice, but it ain’t perfect. Angie has you sleep on the couch, which might hurt more if the two of you didn’t spend time making out like teenagers before she heads to bed. It has been fucking ages since you got any, and the waiting is driving you batshit, but you know her. She always took things a little slow at first. Once she’s settled some, you’ll bring it up again.
Besides, she wakes up if she hears a bug fart, and you have a 5:00 AM shift at the greenhouse.
You have to leave at four in order to get to work on time. Gamzee wakes up and sits at the kitchen table with you, his head a mess of tangled curls and his eyes still heavy with sleep. You pack your lunch and give him your Oreos, and the two of you sit in comfortable silence while you wolf down a bowl of Cheerios.
Gamzee painstakingly twists open his cookie and peels the sugary filling away. You snort as he eats this first, followed by the two chocolate halves. He grins and his teeth are disgusting and you are torn between derision and thinking it’s the cutest goddamn thing you’ve ever seen.
“You think you and mom are gonna get back together?”
You almost drop your spoon. You stare at him a moment, then shrug a shoulder. “Dunno. Hope so.”
He nods to himself and starts untwisting another cookie. You watch his hands move without really seeing them. It’s too early for this shit, but now a thought’s been planted in your head and it’s not gonna leave you alone until you know.
Your tone makes him drop his concentration instantly. He looks up at you and his shoulders hunch a little. “Yeah?”
“Your mom ever fuck anyone while I was gone?”
Gamzee’s eyes widen. His brows furrow upward and he lowers his eyes to your chest, hesitant, and you know he knows. After a moment he makes himself look at you and nods.
Your jaw clenches. You make yourself take a deep breath and let it out again. You put the spoon down with exaggerated care and he ducks and grimaces as you reach out to ruffle his hair a little too hard.
“Proud’a you, kid.”
He freezes, his shoulders still all tucked up near his ears, and stares at you. “What?”
“You kept the truth. I’m glad you told me. Son shouldn’t be hidin’ shit from his dad, that ain’t right. She made you promise not to tell, didn’t she. No, no, I ain’t mad, it’s okay.” You lock your eyes on his. “Don’t you ever be keeping secrets from me, you hear?”
Gamzee’s eyes are huge and welled up with unshed tears and you know you’ve scared the hell out of him, but this is good, he understands. He nods all jittery and you pull him into a rough hug.
“Atta boy.” you say. “Brush your teeth. I’ll see you after work.”
* * * *
Your coworkers can tell you’re in a bad mood from the beginning and go quiet when you punch in. That’s fine by you, you ain’t exactly in the mood for chitchat.
You know you’re in for a long shift when you discover Mr. White waiting for you.
Your boss is a real piece of work. Rather than doing whatever the hell bosses do all day, he spends much of his time showing up at random and harassing his workers. Today you are his special pet project. You are new and he wants to see if the training stuck.
This is another way of saying he plans on spending his morning personally riding your ass.
You pick up two hanging baskets and he bitches at you for not picking up four. You clean one workspace and he gets on you for wasting time. Later, you’re sweeping up dirt and dead yellow leaves as quick as you can, and he complains that you’re rushing and leaving shit undone.
You are on your feet constantly until your 12:30 lunch break, sorting and stacking empty boxes, transporting plants from one area of the greenhouse to the other, marking plants for shipping, and stocking the trucks out back.
After lunch, your supervisor tells you you’re working the conveyor belt.
This mother is a bitch to work with even at your best, and you are definitely not at your best. Your job for the next five hours is to man the seedling machine. This monstrosity hisses and churns and whirs as it fills tray after tray with seedlings.
You are to keep the trays moving down the line and fill in what spaces you can while workers stationed along the belt stand there with handfuls of seedlings and fill in the spots you and the machine missed. Further down the production line, the trays are sent through a labeling machine before they’re put on a table for later storage.
You hate the conveyor belt.
It’s fast paced, it’s as stressful as hell, and should even one little thing go wrong the whole operation is fucked and you have to shut the machine down and waste time getting shit sorted again. You preferred making tables and chairs in prison. At least then you got to work at your own pace. There are days when you get off work and you can still see those fucking seedlings when you shut your eyes.
The biggest difficulty is getting all those fucking spaces filled. It’s impossible, and yet every time you’re on the production line someone gets on you about about how missing spaces costs the greenhouse money and you stand there and resist the urge to cram your handful of seedlings down their goddamned throat.
Today, to make matters extra fun, the room is understaffed. Including you, there’s three people working the belt instead of the usual six.
It doesn’t take you long to fuck things up. The planting machine spills too much dirt on the trays so you can’t see what spaces are even filled, let alone poke a seedling in the empty ones. Before you can get the tray you’re working on sorted, the machine is already spitting out another one and another one and all you all you can think about is Angie fucking other people while you sat with your thumb up your ass in a prison cell and jesus fucking christ there goes another tray whizzing right past you—
The nearest worker is giving you dirty looks for shoving trays at him in this condition but he doesn’t say a word, and that’s good because you woulda dragged him over the belt and broke his fucking face if he dared complain.
Then comes your boss’s voice, sharp and angry from across the room. “Makara, what the hell are you doing?!”
You can see him coming up behind you out of the corner of your eye. He reaches for your shoulder. You turn and smile real wide right in his face. He freezes.
Behind you the belt is jammed all to shit and workers are scrambling to fix it—there are trays stuck in the tagging machine, trays stuck in the seedling machine, trays falling to the ground as it chokes them out, and you don’t give good goddamn.
You grab the front of Mr. White’s shirt and yank him close so he’s sure to hear you growl all soft:
“You’re gonna wanna step off before I rip off your motherfucking balls, motherfucker.”
He turns pale. Up until now you’ve dealt with his shit without saying one word. The part of your mind sitting back and watching all this realizes you must look like some psycho grinning all huge with your arms around him like you’re about to welcome him into a hug fit to break his stupid-ass spine.
He gapes at you wordlessly and for those few seconds the terror on his face is fucking beautiful.
Then he turns right around and stalks off to go cry into his office phone. You make your way back to your truck and drive to the nearest liquor store. You buy a bottle of Jack and drink it on the way to Angie’s apartment. It’s the first drink you’ve had in years and there is something familiar and comforting in how it burns on the way down, like meeting an old flame you know is bad news but you just can’t keep your hands away.
You’re fired. Your parole officer is going to shit a brick. You don’t care.
* * * *
You take your time driving to Angie’s. You take the long route down the country roads and make the Jack last as long as you can while you debate what to do. Part of you thinks it would be easiest to pack a duffel bag, catch a Greyhound, and leave everything behind.
And yet you end up spending the better part of an hour sitting in a Walmart parking lot turning over every word she said, all the deflections and subject changes. Suddenly that shit seems all kinds of sinister.
Why would she hide it from you? You aren’t one of those possessive fucks who watches his woman like a hawk, she knows that. You never had any kind of problem with her being with other folks, you get that some people are just needing more than one person to be lovin’ on.
You had an agreement, you and her. You’d let her do whoever she wanted as long as she asked you first, made sure that shit was square. That was reasonable, wasn’t it? You’re not gonna let just anyone at her, after all, not when she’s yours first and foremost.
So what if you’d never approved of her other lovers. So what if it meant you had to scream at her some nights in order to get it through her head. So what if you had to smack her around some. It was for her own good, and none of it mattered as long as it made her understand where you were coming from.
Besides, at the end of the day she had you, didn’t she? Wasn’t that what was most important?
You clench your hands around the wheel until your fingers ache. It’s not that she fucked around that hurts. It’s the lying, the secret keeping that kills you, like she didn’t trust you. All this shit going on behind your back and you never even knew, you had to find it out from your own kid.
You replay the way Gamzee had hesitated before he nodded, that little moment where he had to choose between his momma and you, and the longer you stew over it the angrier you get.
You’re still buzzed and it’s almost dark by the time you pull up next to an unfamiliar green car at Angie’s apartment. The living room lights are on. Good. Gamzee, for reasons you can’t wrap your head around, goes to bed stupid early, sometimes as early as 7:00. Maybe he’s sleeping now, maybe you and her can just get this shit straightened out all private—
The front door opens. You see Angie, and then you see someone you’ve never met before, but the way he squeezes Angie’s hand tells you everything you need to know.
You get out and the truck door slams shut loud enough to echo. The two of them freeze up. You look in her eyes and you know she knows exactly what’s got your goat and that only pisses you off more. She’s staring at you like she’s about to be sick, but she’s not sorry.
The guy, he jerks his hand out of Angie’s like it burned him and holds up his hands like that’s gonna ward you off or something.
“Hey, listen, this isn’t—”
You shake your head. “Get the fuck out. Get the motherfuck out or I swear what happens next you ain’t never gonna forget.”
He gets the fuck out. You can see him fumbling for his cell phone on the way to his car but you don’t care.
Angie meets your eyes and her lips tremble but she don’t say one word. Times past, she used to babble all kinds of shit when you looked at her like this, anything to shut you up, but now she’s dead quiet like making a sound would make you explode. She flinches away from you when you grab her arm, but it’s not enough to hurt, just enough to get her to move. She stumbles a bit as you shove her back inside and slam the door behind you.
“WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?”
“Ches, you don’t understand, he’s my sponsor, he dropped me off from a meeting and we talked—”
“Honey, I ain’t had the kind of day to be able to put up with your bullshit, you hear me? I ain’t buyin’ it, you been spreading all kindsa lies ever since I got back—”
“—look at you, you’re drunk as shit, Ches, you need to fucking leave, just get out—”
You cut her off with an upraised hand and she grits her teeth and jerks like you’re going to hit her and the more she keeps fucking cringing like some kinda kicked bitch the more irritated you get. “No, fuck you. I know what you been up to Angela, you’ve been motherfucking disloyal. You broke what we agreed on, you lied out your ass, and you know who I found out from? OUR GODDAMNED SON, THAT’S WHO, who the fuck does that shit where some fucking thirteen-year-old can be all knowing about it—”
“Ches, goddamn it, I’m not doing this with you again, you need to leave—”
“SHUT THE HELL UP, BITCH, I AIN’T DONE WITH YOU YET.”
“I SAID GET THE FUCK OUT—”
There’s something about how she bares her teeth in your face and how her voice hits this pitch that lights up all your nerves at once and makes your fingers hook into claws. You fist them in her shirt and you don’t even think about it, you just do it. Before you can blink she’s toppled half on and half off the couch and your hands are around her throat and the more she claws and pounds her fists and kicks the tighter you fucking squeeze. Fury is burning you from the inside out and you don’t give a fuck, you let it sweep through you and just squeeze tighter and tighter and watch her face flush red and you motherfucking hate the look of stupid shock she’s got on her face—
“You bitch, you stupid fucking bitch, did you actually think I WOULDN’T FIND OUT?”
The door busts open and it takes a few seconds for it to register. It clicks what’s happened when strong hands pull you off and wrench your arms behind you and you see familiar uniforms. Someone kicks your legs out from under you, sends you sprawling, and any thought in your head shuts off as you hit the floor with enough force to rattle your teeth. The wind knocked is clean out of you and all your rage goes with it. You go still as someone presses the back of your head, your cheek skidding against rough carpet, and then there’s a knee pinning your back. Before you can draw a breath, the fucker what knocked you down is grabbing your wrists and you feel cool clicking metal clench tight around them.
You don’t fight. What would be the point in that?
You’re aware you’re being spoken to, but you don’t hear any of it. Angie is sitting hunched over her knees, deep, wrenching coughs tearing through her while a third cop hovers near and touches her back. You stare at her and you feel nothing.
You’re dragged to your feet. Someone is reading you your Miranda rights. You don’t bother listening.
As you’re marched toward the door, something, you don’t know what, makes you look over your shoulder, and the last thing you see before they shove you outside is a glimpse of Gamzee lying frozen in bed, his eyes open and agonized and unable to look away.
* * * *
==> Be Gamzee.
You are eighteen years old, and at this moment you’re certain life don’t get any better than this.
You are on a walk with your best Tavbro—or, rather, you’re on a walk, he’s on a roll. Heheh. He was to be telling you that joke and you laughed fit to bust your guts, ‘cause fuck, it’s true in more ways than one.
It is mid-June.You are wrapped up in one of those warm, delicious afternoons where where the bees are buzzing and you can hear geese honking down at that wicked duck pond and time winds down all molten honey slow. You think of a trip you had once where you were preserved in amber just like that mosquito in that movie with the dinosaurs in it, and you think if you were trapped in a day like today, shit, you wouldn’t complain at all. You look up at the clear sky and it makes your chest feel all funny with some kinda feeling you don’t know the name to, but you know it’s good.
Today you got to see your new friend John and his dad again and you are still all kinds of elated. The two of them have been showing up for about two weeks now while John does therapy sessions at St. Lobaf’s day clinic. John says he might try staying in the dorms awhile if it fits right. You hope so.
You haven’t been here longer than a month yourself. The first week was kind of weird—you weren’t any kinds of used to moving with a schedule or keeping rules and shit—but by now you got it down on lock. This place is miraculous, and you make sure John and his dad know it; you get to kick the wicked feels, plus they feed you and you got your own room with a bed in it and you don’t gotta worry about paying for it or anything.
While John was seeing his wicked headshrinker, you got to sit and visit with his dad some.
The two of you talked cakes and swapped icing recipes. He even offered to let you come on their walk with them when John was done, but you weren’t wanting to interrupt their family bonding time. He shook your hand, though, and you just glowed, grinning from ear to ear even though your heart felt fit to break and you don’t know why. It ain’t a bad feeling, though. Kinda like those times when you get so happy you start crying, except all up on your inside.
You’re telling Tav all this, but it’s kinda hard to get the details right when you can’t get over how the sun turns individual strands of his hair into these glowing coppery lines.
“Yeah, so, check it,” you say. “Later John finds me and gives me this recipe his dad was all to be writing on a napkin—get this, it’s for a lemon meringue cake. That is some Martha motherfuckin’ Stewart level cakemaking right there, my brother. There’s this note saying he knows it’s being as hard as hell to bake but he thinks I’m all up for the challenge and he’d love to be talking cakes with me again sometime.”
Tavros brightens. “Oh wow! That sounds amazing, when can we hope to see it?”
You snicker. “Aw, man, bro, I don’t even know, that shit calls for some weird ingredients and it’s as time consuming as hell. I ain’t got my serious bake on like that in a little while anyway, I’m probably all kinds of rusty.”
The excited smile that stretches across his face is so goddamn adorable you don’t even have words for it. “Well, uh, I guess this means you’ll have to bake more cakes, and lots more cakes, and maybe those ginger bars again. For practicing purposes, of course, and not because you will make staff and residents scream with joy.”
You dip your head and grin. “Hahaha, okay. Maybe you can decide at me which one to do next then.”
The two of you settle into a comfortable silence. He’s amazing, this mohawk brother you found. You just cannot have your groove harshed when you’re with this boy. He’s so good in that way you can’t deny, the way music and sunlight and long naps are good, the kinda shit that’s all to be healing you just by enjoying it.
You think back on John and his dad and how they hugged goodbye, how fucking beautiful it was and how it hurt you in a way you weren’t expecting. You froze up and you didn’t know why. Your chest went all tight. You felt this humming under the surface of your skin, this horrified sick feeling like ants in your veins, like you just missed something big and important because John’s been getting hugs like that his whole life, his whole motherfucking life, and it never clicked once to you that this was even a thing for other people.
You rub at the dull ache blossoming in your forehead and stare at one of Tav’s wheels while you walk.
“Wonder what it’s like, always having somebody at your back like that.” The words are out before you realize you’ve spoken them, but around Tav that kind of shit is okay.
“I know from my own experience that it’s very difficult, growing up in an environment where you don’t get the love and support you need when you’re little. Especially when that’s, sort of, when you need it the most.” he says, and his voice has shifted to that gentle, careful tone he uses when addressing something unpleasant, like he has to say it but he doesn’t want to break you, and you ain’t ready to talk about this yet but you know he gets it and it’s tearing you up inside anyway. “And sometimes you may not know what you were missing until you’re much older, and away from that situation. It can hurt a lot once you do realize.”
Those words sink like heavy stones in your chest and your throat closes up.
“Y-you ain’t kidding, brother.”
Your voice comes out sounding all raw and strangled and you can’t look at him. There is a pause from his end, but he doesn’t try to make you look at him or pry into it, he just continues on,
“One thing I’ve learned, though, both from my time participating in PFLAG, and throughout my internship here, is that it’s never too late to find that support.”
You see him smiling out of the corner of your eye and it’s a lot like his voice, all sweet and sad and knowing. It’s too much. You fix your eyes on a tree further down the path instead, because if you start crying you don’t know if you’re gonna be able to stop and that’d ruin the fuck out of the bitchtits walk you’re sharing.
“The thing about families,” he says. “is that they don’t need to be biological, in order to ‘count’. Now that you’re in a safe space, there is nothing to stop you from learning to build the sort of relationships you always needed when you were younger.”
You gaze at that tree, at how the sun makes all the leaves different shades of green, and think back at all those times you were getting your wander on, all those bus trips, the hitchhiking, and the occasional train ride as you bounced to wherever place felt like it might fit.
You remember those wicked sorts of conversations what only happened when you were all cramped together like a bunch of sardines for a few hours. There was that time that beautiful red hair chick with the tattoos was all letting you doze with your head on her shoulder. There was that other time you held that suit wearing stockbroker motherfucker who started sobbing after he told you about how he lost everything after the divorce.
You remember walking for miles, busking on street corners, how sometimes it made people smile and sometimes it made people kick over your coin box and scream at you to stop butchering David Bowie.
You remember the soup kitchens, the all night cafes, the homeless shelters, all those beautiful strangers you sat and chilled with who always drifted out of your little existence like sand through your fingers all too soon.
And then, like some kind of bad dream, there is the memory of Melissa whispering all gentle into your hair about how she felt you were the only real family she ever had, that she must have done something good to deserve you.
For a second or two you can almost feel her breath against your temple and your throat tries to close up again, but then knuckles brush yours, a tactful reminder that you’re talking to someone, and your mind snaps back to the here and now.
You realize you’ve stopped walking and start up again.
You swallow hard and glance over. Tavbro is looking at you in that way you know means he was saying shit you hadn’t heard because you were off in your own head. He doesn’t seem to mind, though, and smiles to welcome you back.
“Are you doing okay?”
You nod. “Yeah. Yeah, just thinking.”
“Anything you wanted to talk about?”
He’s not irritated at all. He’s all grins and sweet brown eyes, perked up in his wheelchair like your trip to memoryville was some kind of important secret he’d be tickled to know about. Your stomach flutters. This kind of attention feels weird, and you’re nervous you might just start blurting out shit you never told no one before, but there ain’t nothing nosy or nasty in that smile he gives you, and you decide you kind of like the feeling.
You ain’t stayed in one place longer than a few months since you were fifteen.
Looking at him, you think maybe it’s time to quit hopping around and try seeing what’s in front of you.
You crack a grin. “Nah, man, I’m good. Let’s just us walk some more.”