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  • Writer's pictureVolto

EDGES

CHAPTERS 1 2 3 4 5

1

It was the fall of eighty-six, the year we both turned fourteen. She was the girl I had never noticed before, until she cut her hair into a “wedge”. It wasn’t just her hair, and it wasn’t just her. Some things just happen. Some coincide. My quick glance in the school corridor, her answer with the same gesture of nothing, and in a split second she became my everlasting memory.

“Oliver!” a hand smacked me on the back of my head.

“What?!” I squinted at Marcus and his crane-likeness.

“I was telling you… a story!” “Sorry, go on.”

We moved towards our class.

“So, what was I talking about?”

“Something about the aliens, as usual,” my words found no ears to get into - Marcus stopped. I only saw the back of his head.

“That girl, right?” his grinning face slowly turned towards me.

“What girl? No. What girl? No girls. Don’t know what girl you’re talking about. What girl? What. Girl?” my head twitched with every word, no matter how hard I tried to keep it in one place.

“Nah, nah, you know who I’m talking about,” his smile was getting dangerously close to my face.

“Nah, I don’t.”

“Oh, yeah, you do. Tori. Tori Valetta.”

“Who-o’s that?” I tried talking to a wall instead of my friend.

“Girl with short hair. The ice skater.”

“She skates?” I turned back to Marcus.

“Gotcha. Gotcha again. Every time, oh my god, Oliver, you stop lying. You stop! You can’t! Every time you’re falling for a chick you look like a scheming tomato!”

“I don’t like tomatoes,” I mumbled. “Please, don’t tell anyone.”

“About tomatoes?” Marcus pushed me – now we walked back, “Come on, ask her out.”

“What?! No! No do!”

“Yes, yes do.”

A sudden ringing noise annoyed the whole building. I breathed out – saved by the bell.

I was hugging my backpack, sitting on a bench by the school. I thought that it would comfort me in my struggle against Marcus. Marcus, on his behalf, circled around like a shark, making the September sun flash every time he crossed its disc.

“Okay, here’s what you’re going to do. You get tickets to the Ice Capades show. Then— “

“What’s an Ice Capades show?”

“Let me finish!” he moved again. The sun blinded me for the thousandth time. “You get the tickets, then you come to her after school and say exactly this, ‘Hey, I don’t mean to bother you, but I heard that you skate and I have two tickets to the Ice Capades show, but I don’t want to go with someone who doesn’t know anything about skating, so maybe you’d like to go with me? The name is Oliver, by the way.” Marcus stood in front of the sun again, pointing at his own black silhouette, “Am I good at these things or what?”

“Marcus, I still don’t understand what an Ice Capade is.”

My words fell on deaf ears, “Now. The hardest part is to get the tickets!”

He moved and I had to turn my head away from the radiating sun, “Would you stop doing this?!”

“Sorry,” he sat down on the bench with me. “So, if you start paper route tomorrow and save some lunch money— “

“Marcus.”

“And maybe ask your parents for some spare cash— “

“Marcus!”

“Stop interrupting me!”

“I don’t know jack shit ‘bout ice skating, Marcus! I don’t even like it! All that ‘hs, hssss, hssssss’, you know?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.”

“Hsssss!!!”

“I get it! Stop!” I stopped.

“So. You don’t know anything about ice skating.”

“No!”

“Well… me neither!”

In silence we sat – me and my backpack, Marcus and his ridiculous plans.

“Okay, change of plan. No, we’ll change the topping, you know, the plan is perfect, we’re just changing the topping. You say, ‘I don’t know anything about ice skating, so maybe you can tell me about it during the show.’ Or something like that.”

“But I don’t want to know anything about it!”

He spoke to the imaginary second friend neither of us had, “Now that’s about to change, that’s for sure.”

“And, by the way, if she asks me how I got the tickets, what would I say? That I bought them especially for this glorious occasion?”

“Just lie, Oliver!”

“I’m not gonna lie to a girl who I lo… like looking at.”

“Lying is the basis of a healthy relationship, every couple would tell you that.”

I was sure I heard my neck creaking while I pivoted my face to look at my classmate, “I don’t think that you’re giving me good advice.” I stood up and moved towards my house.

“It’s amazing advice, not good! You hear me? Amazing!”

In the days of September, I stared at the ceiling for hours, lying on a firm mattress of my bed, studying the dance of the shadow-leaves, breathing in the endless warmth, thinking, surrendering to the feeling that had this strange name, Tori. My thoughts moved just like the black foliage above me: what if she’s thinking about me too?

“Hey, maestro!” my mom’s voice called me out of the depths of the house.

“Yeah?”

“Grab the phone.”

“Coming!” I fell from the bed.

As much as I hoped that it was Tori, it wasn’t, “Good afternoon, maestro!”

“It’s her joke, Marcus, she jokes like that.”

“No one would ever call you that seriously, that’s for sure. Aanyway, I’ve got some interesting news for you.”

“And?”

“Your sweetheart likes making circles on the ice.”

“Oh, thanks, that wasn’t obvious!”

“Of our pond!”

I had to process some thoughts. Not that I heard something shocking but I simply had no idea what Marcus was talking about, “What pond?”

“Our goddamn pond, Oliver! We only have one, single pond!”

“We don’t have any pond, Marcus! It’s five miles to the closest pond here! The river? You mean the river?”

“No! The five-mile pond, I’m talking about it!”

“Since when did it became our pond? And, by the way, very useful information at seventy-five degrees!”

“Oh, fuck you, Oliver!” judging by the loud bang, my friend just hung up the phone.

I inserted my finger into the disc and called him back.

“The McMahon residence, how could I be of help?” Marcus tried to lower his voice to a respectable “middle class and two kids in college” level.

“You’re so narbo, dude, I can’t!” I rolled on the couch, “The McMahon residence!”

“Damn you, oily liver!”

“Lame! Doesn’t cut! Oh my god, dude, oh my god!”

“Oliver, cut your ‘dudes’, please,” my mom walked past the living room.

“Sorry, mom.”

“The hell do you want from me now?”

“How did you find out about…” I whispered, “her skating there?”

“Now you want my help?”

We sat by the river, trying to throw rocks as far as possible.

“So, her sister’s having a party. And you’re going there with me.”

My rock splashed with a delayed “pluep”. I was confused, “Her sister hangs out with your brother. Neither of us is your brother!”

“Well, philosophically speaking, we both are my brother, only I am my own brother from the future, and you are just my brother, because all people are related. But it doesn’t matter. I’m going there” – his rock splashed – “because my parents are tired of us both. And you” – he took another one – “are going there because you are the maestro!” The rock smashed into the opposite bank, “Woo! I’m the best at everything, goddammit!” I said nothing.

Marcus’ brother got out of his car – tall and athletic, he radiated with the cool (if it’s even possible to radiate with that) of a nineteen-year old. He grabbed my amplifier from the sidewalk and stared at it for a while, “Marshall? Dude, that’s fucking A!”

“Yeah,” I grinned at him. This was the first time I was about to perform outside of my own bedroom. I felt somewhat worried. By that I mean that I was shaking from head to toes. And it wasn’t really my performance that worried me.

“I expect you before nine, Oliver.” My mom walked out on our porch.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. T,” Marcus’ brother nodded to my mother.

“Afternoon, Jason.”

The cassette player hardcored the whole car and beyond,

Do you think your negative attitude

Is gonna give a starving man A plate full of food?

No! Keep a grin! Think! Think positive!

“Can you play this?” Jason pointed at the player that blasted RKL.

I assessed my skills, “Yeah. Easily. I mean, I need to get the chords right, but it’s nothing difficult.”

“He’s into some jazzy fucking chops I can’t even understand what that dude’s playing,” Marcus sat on the front seat beside his brother. I hugged my amp and guitar at the back.

“Whoah, man, about to steal every girl at the party?” Jason laughed. I laughed with him just to be a part of something cool.

“I’m not that good, I’m trying to be like Chris Poland, you know, he’s— “

Marcus sneezed, “Dork!”

“Dude, I can play like three chords, that’s it. Mad respect!” Jason honked. “We’ll hook you up with some chick at the party, that’s for sure!” “Yeah, speaking of chicks…” I knew exactly where Marcus was going to lead this conversation and I was about to cut it abruptly. I shook my head extensively. I was saying “no” and “shut up” without a sound.

“Got someone on your mind?”  I spotted Jason’s smiling eyes in the rearview mirror.

My eyes stared at the nuclear family houses on the street; both brothers were looking at me now.

“Nah, I don’t.”

“Oh, come on, dude!” Marcus flailed with his hands, “Just spill it out!”

Jason put his hand on the volume knob, “Leave it, Marcus, it’s a personal matter. It’s alright, Oliver.” He turned the music louder.

Finally, I saw it, a house like every other house in our town. Two floors, white walls, asphalt shingles, built-in garage. I was expecting something different, special, maybe a tiny ice rink there somewhere. No, it was just a house. Jason parked beside another car – there were plenty of them.

“Hi, I’m Oliver,” I greeted the girl in the doorway.

“Lucy,” she puffed on the joint and extended her hand. I tried to shake it, but I had my gear in both hands. Nothing in her reminded of her sister – she was tall, long-haired, brown-eyed. I wasn’t even sure if she really was Tori’s sister, by that point.

Jason hugged the girl and helped me get my amp inside.

“Oh! Live music, nice, that’s nice!” some guy yelled at us as we walked into the living room covered in a mist of funny smelling smoke. The room was already full of “dead” music but its volume was enough to revive a full graveyard and a crypt or two.

“This is Oliver, the next big thing,” Jason tried to get me acquainted with the guys and gals, but by this time I scanned the room with one goal, with one face in mind. And that face wasn’t present anywhere.

“Maybe she’s in the kitchen,” Marcus whispered in my ear, “I’ll check.”

“Wanna beer, Cosmic Ted?” a tall bleached blonde in high-heeled boots and a very revealing outfit gently touched my arm. Her red lips smiled at me – I couldn’t help but to smile back.

“Thanks, but… I don’t drink,” I blushed.

“Aw, that’s cute. You’re cute,” her smile became even bigger.

I had no idea that I could be popular with older girls. With any girls, for that matter. The weird smoke got into my nostrils.

“Don’t spill the beer, all right? Dad’s just renewed the floors, they are expensive as hell,” Lucy entered the room with Marcus who wielded two cans in both hands.

“Sure. By the way, don’t you have a sister?”

“I do.” Lucy took another puff and gave her joint to someone else,

“Why?”

I had no time to react to Marcus who was about to open his foolish mouth again. My heart sank deep and pulled my lungs and brain down. I lost the ability to process any thoughts, except for the one that screamed that my life has finally reached its end. It wasn’t a good run. It wasn’t even a run, just a walk. A sad ending to a purposeless life.

“Marcus, let’s get the grill going,” Jason winked at me and slapped his brother on the shoulder – Marcus bent down.

“Sh… sure!”

“Don’t mess the boy up, Trish, he’s not your type,” Jason glanced at my H-two-O-two sweetheart and pushed Marcus out of the room.

About six people yelled at me from every side, “Do you know this one? Do you know this one?!”

“Where’s no guitar in that, dumbass! It starts with the drums!”

“I’ll be the drums, come on. We’re not gonna take it!“

“You can’t sing shit!”

I tried to insert myself, “Ehm, I know this one,” I started playing a very choppy and angry riff.

“Fuck me, who’s that?”

I stopped playing, “The same band.”

“Really, they have other songs?”

The fan in me was obliged to defend the band, “Actually, ‘Stay Hungry’ is their third album.“

“FOOD!”

Everyone jumped away from me and ran towards the McMahon brothers who came back with FOOD! I finally exhaled and wiped my wet forehead. I was unable to finish a single song because it felt too repetitive and because my whole body was shaking, but I already played dozens of them and they weren’t sounding all that bad. Such a prowess will surely impress a girl of my dreams. Or it will not.

“You’re so talented,” Patricia was the only one who was not going anywhere. “Do you have a girlfriend?” She leaned closer to me and exposed me to a bouquet of alcoholic fumes.

I blushed through red and went straight to white, “No. No, I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“You know,” her voice was a whisper that I could pick out of the loud munching noises over the background of music, “it’s so nice to be free. You can do anything you want… with anyone you want.” Her red lips almost touched my ear, “But sometimes it gets so lonely… it’s unbearable.” Four finger nails scraped my thigh, “I wanna be closer to you.”

“Trish, come on, leave the kid alone,” Jason grabbed her by the arm.

“Why are you always on at me, Jason? I’m not your fucking girl!” her eyes turned wet in an instant.

“Come on, he's just a kid, what’s wrong with you?” Jason sat down and hugged the girl. Patricia sunk her head into his shoulder and broke into tears. I slowly rotated one of the knobs and killed the fuzz of my guitar. “It’s alright, it’s alright,” Jason stood up and led her out of the room to the silent glances of the guests.

No one was saying a word. Judging by their downturned gazes, they knew something that I didn’t. I lifted my eyes and stared at Marcus – he stared at me the same way, only with his mouth wide open.

“Make the music louder, will you?” Lucy punched one of her friends.

Marcus approached slowly and spoke in quiet awe, “Dude,” he popped another can open, “you’re a fucking lady-killer.”

His foot tripped over my guitar wire and with the sound of a plane crash my best friend landed himself and his beer on my amplifier and the prettiest hardwood floor in all of the neighborhood.

Lucy slapped her forehead, “Goddammit.”

It was a very quiet ride home. Tori’s sister was not very happy with Marcus, and I had no desire to stay there anymore, since I understood that the girl I was so desperate to see was not coming. She was out of town with her parents, and that was the exact reason why the party happened in the first place.

I pondered for a while, studying the same white houses that were becoming orange as the sun went down. I tried to think about Tori, but there was something else on my mind.

“Jason, what’s wrong with that girl? I mean, she’s a little… unstable.”

“Trish?”

“Yeah. Was she drunk? Or someone dumped her?”

“No. I mean. Yes, she was tipsy… to put it mildly,” he tapped on the steering wheel, thinking of whatever he should’ve continued. “She’s got AIDS. That’s why she’s acting that way. Don’t tell anyone, alright? She’s in a very bad place right now.”

At least some things were constant – I still had no lady-killing skills. As for Patricia, she was just a lonely girl who became a fading pariah before the age of twenty. We sat in silence, and though everyone expected Marcus to insert his couple of cents, even he felt too down to say a thing.

“Couldn’t you get it through… hugging?” I stared at my legs in the footwell.

“Nah. Nah, don’t worry, it’s all bullshit. Through sex – you can for sure.”

It was much earlier than nine but I already stood in front of my house. The childless break the McMahons were so hopeful about wasn’t happening either.


2

Another school week reached its end but there were no encounters with Tori. I wondered if she’d ever come back. We sat near our usual west-facing bench. “We” means Marcus and I. He tried to

negotiate the amount of money he owed me for the amp repairs.

“Man, I’ll pay you back! I already owe Lucy. Surely your amp can’t cost as much as her goddamn floors!”

There was something irritating about the fact that Marcus tried to convince me that he was going to pay back. First of all, he never pays back. Second of all, the amplifier was totally fine after I cleaned and dried it up. But I still was too annoyed to tell him the truth.

“Going on a paper route?”

“No, but I’ll think of something.”

“Saving your lunch money?”

“No. Let me think.”

“Ask your parents for spare cash?”

“No! I told you, no. Okay,” he looked around, “how ‘bout that – I’ll come to your sweetie and tell her that my friend is really shy, but he really likes her and shit? How’s that?”

A worrying tingle was spreading through my back, “I really don’t like that idea.”

“Why? You know her sister… you know what? I'll tell her about how you played the guitar at the party! Surely, Lucy told her about that! Dude, oh, fuck me, dude, you’re already set, I’m telling you! The mystique, the flare, it’s all there. And the fact that you’re a shy mother, it’ll work out, trust me!”

I hang my head low, focusing on the ground, “Fine… I guess.”

“Sweet! As soon as we see her— “

I turned my face towards the school entrance, “Well, there she is.”

Tori walked out with her head down, both hands on the backpack straps.

“Well?” my heart was pounding, but I think I was in the mood to poke Marcus in the ribs.

“Uhm, she seems kinda moody.”

“Oh, so you’re not that confident about yer per-r-rfect schemes anymore?”

“I am!” he stood up, though, very slowly. “I’ll show you!”

He cleared his throat and moved towards Tori, and I felt that it was the wrong thing to do. I don’t know what happened, but I didn’t want to know Tori anymore. The closer Marcus moved towards her, the more apparent that thought became in my mind. I wanted to disappear from this world and reappear on another planet, where I would lead an alone and merry life. I jumped up to chase Marcus.

The front doors opened and we both froze, six feet away from each other – the school principal, known to her loving students as Mrs. Dogmeat, walked out, talking to the most average-looking white couple a human being could possibly imagine.

“Please, I know that she’ll never be as brilliant as Lucy, but the girl still needs some education. What if her sports career doesn’t not work out?”

“We understand your concern. We’re working towards it.”

“As I said, it doesn’t matter which school she’s going to attend. Tori is much more capable than she thinks she is. Effort. That’s all that's required of her.”

Marcus and I slowly moved towards the nearest tree, mirroring each other.

“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Talbot, we understand.”

“I hope so.”

The principal disappeared inside our local temple of knowledge.

“Don’t worry about it,” Tori’s dad put his hand on her shoulder and led the girl and her mother towards their car.

Marcus patiently waited till they drove off, “Dude… is she dumb?”

“You mean… Tori? Or Talbot? I… I don’t know.”

He turned towards me, “Shit. She could’ve said it face to face, you know, leveling the poor chick like that, that’s not cool.” Marcus leaned against the tree, “Okay, guess I’ll try another day. And let’s make sure there’s no Dogmeat around, first.”

“Hm… man. The amp is fine.”

“What?”

“You don’t have to pay me anything. The amp is fine.”

“Oh, thank god!” Marcus happily exhaled. “Wait. What?”

Distance is in proportion to desire multiplied by any number that is more than one. That equation was revealed to me on my way home. The further away from the school I got, the less I could understand why would I stop my best friend from helping me. But Marcus operated through different mathematical formulas and for him surrender was never an option.

And I realized it pretty soon.

“Ready for your surprise?” Marcus was too excited to be tolerable. I perfectly understood what was about to happen next, since we stood near the only indoor ice rink that was not located in the next state. To be precise, I understood it yesterday when he called me and said that I’m going to play hockey with him and his brother. The fact that neither of us two played hockey made the so-called surprise pretty obvious to me. Apart from a total absence of sleep that night it gave me nothing but inner disturbance of all kinds.

I filled myself with air and let it all out in the longest exhale ever known to a man. This moment should’ve happened one day.

“Let’s finish this.”

We stepped inside the hangar-like structure. The rink was right in front of us, visible between the rows of seats. A small figure glided from right to left into and out of my sight. My feet were getting heavier and heavier with every step but after a very long minute of very slow walking we reached the dasher.

A couple of girls and boys, a bit younger than us, skated around the rink. My eyes jumped from face to face.

“Maybe she’s in the locker room?” Marcus was perplexed. His plan was not working, and he had no idea why. “Dude, she was supposed to be here!” He looked around – four middle-aged people on the stands, the skaters’ parents, probably. None of them looked like Tori’s mom and dad. “Fuck this!” Marcus began his tour around the rink, while I stayed by the board, mesmerized by the movement on ice.

It looked nothing like on TV (the quality was far better, that’s for sure). I never thought that the ice rinks were that huge – a giant white surface in the middle of a dark arena. I wondered how it would look during a competition, with the hundreds of spectators around, watching closely, judging your every move. To my surprise, that thought made me relax a little. I leaned on the dasher, just as a long-haired girl passed me and leaped in the air in a half-split.

I applauded instantly. The girl gave me a quick impish smile and did a series of two single jumps. I clapped again. She skated backwards across the rink and did a double jump right in front of me. My jaw dropped, “Wow!”

The girl winked and skated to the other three skaters, leaving me awestruck and alone.

“She’s not here!” Marcus returned and hit the plastic board with his head, “Okay, wait.” He ran to a man in the overalls, who slowly approached us from the right, “Excuse me, Sir, do you know Tori? Tori Valetta?”

The man looked at Marcus, then at me, then at Marcus again, “Yeah, I know Tori.”

Marcus pumped the air with his fist and turned to me, “Told ya!” He faced the man again, “Where can we find her?”

“I think she’s in New York right now.”

“HWAT?!” by this time I wasn’t sure who wanted to meet Tori more, me, or Marcus.

“Yeah, she’s training there from now on,” the man shrugged and moved away from us.

A loud, dull noise from behind was getting louder and louder; ten laughing voices mixed in as Jason and his friends marched towards the ice rink in their uniform. There was something menacing about that sight – in skates and protective gear, they looked even bigger than usual.

“Hey, the spotlight kid!” someone from the party recognized me. “Gonna play with us?”

All ten guys started pounding on the dasher board with their sticks.

Marcus dropped down on the seat beside me and whispered so aggressively that I had to lean in the opposite direction, “Dude, do you even understand what it means? She’s gone! Your girl is gone!”

“Young men, please, don’t scare the children!” the hockey players frightened one of the moms more than the actual children. “They have ten more minutes to skate!”

“Sorry, ma’am!” Jason waved at her. The pounding stopped.

The same evening, my mother sat with a bottle of hydrogen peroxide in her hand, studying bruises and cuts on my body. The biggest one was on my butt, but it was already treated. Oh, hockey is not my type of game, by the way.

“Mom,” I looked somewhere past her.

She only nodded up in answer, being busy with a bandage.

“Can I go to New York?”

“What for?”

“Dunno… wanna see the city.”

She grabbed my arm, “We’ve been there a hundred times.”

“Yeah, but never in the fall.”

“I’ll talk to your dad,” she plastered another cut. “When do you want to go?”

“Tomor…” I coughed once, “Tomorrow.”

“Are you serious?” I think my mother was disappointed in me.

“Uh, hm, yeah.”

“We can’t go tomorrow, that’s for sure.”

“Well,” she pressed a wet cotton ball against my arm and I hissed like a pair of skates. “Well. I can go with Marcus. Just the two of us.”

My mother stared straight into my soul. This moment lasted enough for me to remember all the things I’ve done wrong. And I was sure that she was aware of the real reason behind my spontaneous trip, “Okay.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Just come back before nine.”

We were shaking on the back seat of the greyhound; the whole bus was shaking with us, along with the asphalt, telephone poles, land of the free, home of the brave, and the entire planet. The road was so uneven I thought that the rising sun was shaking too.

“Dude, this is crazy,” Marcus spoke quietly, showing his best behavior on a dozing bus. “So, where are we going to look for her?”

“I thought,” I gave him a surprised glance, “I thought that you’ll get that info, you know?”

“Congratulations! I didn’t get it!” he sighed and the bus jumped again. Those events were not related. “You got us on a bus to New York and you don’t even know where we can find your little Dorothy Hamill twin?”

“Whose twin?”

“Jesus Christ, turn the fucking TV for once in your miserable life! Are you aware of anyone but your freaking musicians?”

“Of course I am!”

The bus jumped for the last time and stopped.

Marcus’ legs were swinging in the air above a tiny creek. The bridge above that creek was the precise location where our vehicle of hope decided that it had enough and it's the perfect time to break down. I gave my friend a pack of donuts and a bottle of soda I bought at the nearest gas station.

“Thanks. Dude.”

He finished the whole pack in five minutes, polishing his meal with the terribly sweet drink, and lay down on the grass that was not looking so green anymore. The midday sun made him shut his eyes.

“You know, man,” he made himself more comfortable, “maybe it’s a sign. You're chasing her down, don’t want to go the easy way, don’t want to do it the way I tell you to do it… could’ve just walked to her that time you saw her in school and asked her out. Everything after that – no luck.” He sat down and pointed at the bus that was missing a tire, “Even Mother Technology is against you. You’re just pushing the limit. Don’t know dude, maybe it’s time to switch off. God knows when she’s going to return.”

But I knew when I was going to return – my dad’s car showed up to take us home. No autumn New York for me this year.


3

The orange glow above the hilly woods was losing its power as the sun was about to disappear for the night. Dry reeds, sticking out of the spikes of frosted mud, nothing but that for a whole mile ahead.

As soon as the temperature dropped low enough for the water to freeze, the path I was about to take became my weekend routine. If you ever wondered how the wind howls, go through a field of snow at the end of December, you’ll definitely find out. I checked the ground with my feet – it bounced under my boot but felt firm enough for me to move forward.

Forty minutes of wind in my ears and I made it to the other side, where the howling stops and the somber peacefulness of winter forest begins.

I sat on a giant rock that never had a trace of snow on it, no matter how much there should’ve been, “Why am I doing this?” I grabbed my head with both hands and took my hat off. The brumal serenity turned me into a man who talked to himself out loud. But there definitely was no reason for me to take the hat off in that temperature. I stroked my wet hair and put it back.

Two hundred yards ahead was a sacred place where the magic deer who I haven’t seen since the end of September could appear. But my chances of meeting that deer were too slick to become a reality.

“Deer don’t skate, you fool!” I spoke to myself again. My actions embarrassed me. My cowardice did the same. Was it so difficult to approach a girl from your school and say “hi”? Marcus was right. I was here alone, and if fate happens to strike me down, my body will not be discovered till… my body will not be discovered.

The crunching snow under my feet and the screech of my own thoughts were the loudest noises in the sanctuary of the leafless woods. A few more steps and I’ll be at the pond, and just like every time before, I’ll give it a quick glance, stay there for a minute, and go back home, warmed by the feeling that there was a time when her skates touched this frozen water.

Hsss, hsss…

I grabbed the nearest tree with my shaking hands. Some miracles can happen, yet for anyone but me. The sound of blades that cut the ice behind the bushes filled me with false hope. I was smiling as if I lost control of my own body, and I surely was about to lose my mind. I listened to this noise that would disappear and reappear, move from one side to another, turn into the sound of the edge that landed on the surface, cut a piece of ice out of it and shatter it in even smaller pieces.

I imagined Tori, and that thought gave me comfort. The necessity to approach her gave me nothing but dizziness, but I moved forward. Maybe it was another girl… a long-haired girl with an impish smile.

My hand touched the branch of the bush and moved it to the side, just to reveal a whole collection of branches behind it. The skater, whoever that was, danced right in front of me, only hidden by the black entanglement of wood. I turned and marched around the bush to the deafening pounding of my heart.

A girl was spinning in the middle of the frozen pond faster and faster. I stepped into the unknown world and violated her freedom with my undiscovered presence. I looked at the endless rotations, enchanted by her effortless movements, as she gradually slowed the spin by spreading her arms.

It was her. It was my magic deer.

She lowered her head, let out a short, startled burst of air, and came to an abrupt halt; the blade kicked a huge chunk of ice out into the air.

“Hi. Sorry,” I waved my hand once. Like an idiot. The infamous idiotic single hand wave. “I’m Oliver. We go to the same school… well, I saw you there a couple of times, I mean. If you still go there.”

Tori studied my silhouette for a couple of seconds, trying to understand if I was lying or not. Or maybe she was trying to see my face. She skated towards me and stopped a few feet away, “Hi. Yeah, I remember you.

I’m Tori.”

“Yeah, I know… Hi. Tori.”

The girl looked around as if she was checking if I was alone. She spoke to the forest around the pond, turning her head from side to side, “What are you doing here?”

“Hiking. Just. Yeah. Just hiking.”

“Hiking?” she scratched the back part of her hair that stuck out from under her beanie. Perhaps, she has never heard of this word.

“Yeah. Yeah. Hiking, like, walking, but around nature, without real purpose— “

“I know what ‘hiking’ means,” must’ve heard, though.

“Oh, yeah, okay.”

Every part of her face moved when she spoke, especially her big, impressionable eyes that looked like they always were trying to find their way out of the conversation, “People rarely go here in this weather.”

“My first time here… in this weather!”

Tori smiled. I had no idea what to say next. After a couple of terrifying seconds, I chose the easiest way out, “So, hm, I’ve gotta go, I think!”

Tori looked up. Looked down. Then she looked up again and gave me a concerned look, “Mom’s gonna pick me up in five minutes. We can drive you home.”

“No, no, no,” my hands expressed “no” better than the words did, “I’ll be fine, don’t even worry about me, I’ll hike till it’s too dark to walk without a light.”

The girl glanced west – there was no sun and by any logic the “too dark to walk without a light” time was only fifteen minutes away.

“Hm, okay,” Tori took off to the sound of her ice-cutting blade. “Bye.”

“See you!” again, I waved once. “Tori.” “Bye, Oliver!” she waved back.

Me and my clothes were drowning in the snow. I had no idea where I was. I had no idea where I was ploughing to. I had a very loose idea of what time it was, but I had a pretty good idea of how I was feeling – completely exhausted and absolutely happy.

I slowly made my way towards a tiny island of artificial light. Two, three, four, five, maybe six or seven, definitely no more than eight or nine hundred yards and I’ll be there.

A sack of potatoes with my looks, name, hair, and just about everything else, fell on the frozen remains of a sidewalk. It tried to get enough air out of the coldest night of the year. Then it stood up, cleaned itself up from the snow, and slowly turned back into me. The lights became a trailer park and at this moment I wasn’t sure what was scarier – the winter darkness or the trailer park in the middle of it.

I looked up, as if I had any knowledge of the stars above me, to locate my position and decide what would be the right direction towards my town. After a few minutes, I chose the road ahead of me – the only road out of this place.

A couple more steps and I’m through.

The headlights appeared out of nowhere. I looked around for a place to hide, but the car was moving right towards me. The circle was complete – I became the infamous deer in the headlights. “Just pass me by,” I whispered to myself, trying to stroll as casually as possible.

The car stopped and turned its high beams off.

“Hey, rocker boy, is it you?” a woman opened the driver’s door and called out to me.

“P… probably?”

“I’m sorry, I forgot your name. The Cosmic Ted, remember, I called you that? Do you know why I called you that?”

“Cause… Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes?“

“And Hanoi Rocks!” her voice echoed in the winter air.

Patricia drove very slowly, aware of every road sign, “I’m really sorry for my behavior at the party, I had too much. Went through some rough things, you know, got some health problems… but you’ve got to stop with the self-pity one day and take matters in your own hands. So, I’m not drinking anymore, quit cold turkey!” she smiled at me with her red lips.

“I think it’s a good thing,” I tried to study her face discreetly – under the layers of heavy makeup, she probably wasn’t as beautiful as I thought she was, but it was her bright charm that shined through and made her extremely attractive.

“Of course it is! But I’m driving like an old person now. My eyesight is not very good anymore. But we’ll get you home soon, don’t worry.” She put her hand on my lap – there was nothing sexual about it, but I twitched noticeably. I remembered my talk with Jason and tried to relax. “Oh, sorry, I’m not trying to…” she quickly removed her hand.

“Sorry, I’m just… not used to it.”

“It’s okay.”

We pulled up to a red light at the rail-crossing that marked one of our town borders. She was searching for the train with her eyes.

“So, how are you doing? Got yourself a girl?” she smiled at me again.

“I… no, but, hm,” thoughts and emotions mixed inside my head.

“You can tell me,” she lowered her voice to comfort me. “Your secrets are safe with me.”

“I…” I straightened myself in the seat, “do you worry about not being liked by someone who you like? I mean, if you're really into someone and you’re not sure if they like you… you know what I mean?”

“Fear of rejection?”

“Yeah.”

“Of course I worry about it. Well, not anymore, but I used to. Girls and boys are not that different. It’s usually the boys who chase girls, but sometimes it’s the other way around. We all go through heartbreak.”

A freight train slowly clunked in front of us, adding to the railcrossing chime.

“Let me put it this way. There’s no formula for success in love. It’s too complicated… it’s like weather forecast days ahead. So many different small things, so many possibilities. No matter how perfect you’re trying to be, it will always depend on another person’s decisions. And I’d say, never try to predict these decisions, never get into another person’s head. It’s no good for you,” she opened the sun visor and glanced at herself in the mirror. “Even if it initially works out, it doesn’t mean that you did it right. It might’ve been a wrong decision from the beginning. You just don’t know.” She turned her head and smiled at me again. This time I saw everything that her smile was trying to hide – the eternal sadness… and its acceptance. “It’s life, nobody can be perfect. Nobody can avoid mistakes. But if you are too afraid of mistakes, then you may be missing out on life. And one day it will end. And you won’t think about it. You won’t be thinking about anything anymore.”

We stared at each other until the train passed and the red lights turned off.

“Thanks, Pat– “

“Pat’s alright.” The car moved forward again. “Where’s your street?”

“We’ve got to drive a little further.”

“Okay.” She leaned forward and checked another sign, “How beautiful is she?”

I blushed, “It sounds stupid when I say it.”

“Let me guess: the most beautiful girl in the world, and when you think about her, the planets stop turning, the stars align, and you feel tingling in your fingers, and this wave of warmth spreads across your spine. And there’s nothing else that you want to do, but to dream about her again and again.”

“Yeah. Am I that generic?”

She laughed, “No! It’s love, Oliver, love! It might end, but it’s the moment when you feel it that matters. That’s what life is about. These moments. Life is just a moment. Make it a memorable one.”

“I’ll try,” I looked down, then up, just in time. “Here!” I pointed at the street sign.

The car stopped in front of my house. I checked the dashboard clock – five minutes to nine.

“I’ve got an old guitar I don’t play anymore. Maybe I’ll give it to you, I’ll ask Jason. She’s a good girl, you’ll treat her nicely.”

“I… I love guitars,” it was too difficult not to blush talking to Patricia. Or maybe I just didn’t know how.

“Go get her, okay? Just don’t force it. And remember, she might be thinking of you too,” she stroked my hair. “See you, Oliver. Someday.”

I slowly lifted my hand and touched hers, “Thank you.”


4

Marcus was jumping, screaming different positive sounds that made no linguistic sense. I threw a snowball and hit him in the mouth. He spat the snow out, “Dude! I’m happy for you! What

the fuck is wrong with you?”

“Nothing happened, Marcus! It’s nothing.”

“That nothing took you almost four months! Four! How long are you going to wait till you ask her out? Four more?”

“Man, I just said ‘hi’ to her, that’s it! Why should I ask her out?”

“Because someone else will, eventually!”

That was a thought that, somehow, never crossed my mind. A snowball hit me right in the eye, “Ouch!”

“Yeah, just like that! You were too busy with your constant pondering, and now, look, hits you in the peepers: your girl is with another man, and your fairytale ends. Just! Like! That!”

I sat down on the snow. To ponder. I stood up as soon as I realized that Marcus was just talking about that, “So? What should I do?”

“Okay, you have to use these Holidays to make her yours forever and me – your best man.”

“Whoah, whoah, don’t get carried away, okay? You never know if you’re making the right decision, and love is like a weather forecast days ahead– “

“Yeah, yeah, sure. I’m going to call her, and you’ll ask her out.”

“How… how do you know her phone?”

“Dude, again?” at this moment, Marcus was not sure if I had enough brain capacity to be in the same class with him.

We guarded the payphone like our very own property. Our eyes told the passersby that we won’t get off or let them use it anytime soon. Marcus threw a quarter inside and dialed the number. It was his fourth attempt.

“Dude,” he covered the mouthpiece, “I don’t know what’s it with you and her, constant obstacles.” His face changed as he finally heard something on the other end of the line. He altered the tone of his voice the way he usually did over the phone. Any other time, it would make me chuckle, but now I was too nervous to laugh at him, even though it was

Marcus, and there’s nothing that I loved to do more than laugh at Marcus. “Yes, hello. Good afternoon to yo-ou, Sir. May I speak with Tori Valetta, please?” His face went through a change again – he was confused, “Uhm… it’s her friend.” Marcus’ confusion just got a 6.0. “Uhm. Thanks. Goodbye.”

He put the phone back and pushed the coin-return lever, but his quarters were buried in the machine till the end of time.

“She’s training,” Marcus sighed heavily. “Choose a girl without interests next time, Oliver.”

We were scheming the whole trip to the McMahons’ house and our ideas were getting more and more ridiculous. Some of them involved props, paid actors, and else. We had to say a firm ‘no’ to them, since our financial situation was that of average fourteen-year-olds. And that means: broke.

“What if we tell Jason that we want to play some hockey?" “After his friends grilled you into a frank? Come on, man.”

“But maybe I want to learn how to skate…”

“Borrow a pair from me and get on the ice by yourself! Okay, enough talking, let me think, something doesn’t add up, he could’ve just answered straight away, but he…” Marcus raised his finger to check the wind.

“What the– “

“Got it! Let’s go!” he rushed past his street.

We made our way through the town and, as usual, I understood where we were going.

“Man, I don’t want to stalk her! It’s the second time that I’m running into her. In two days!”

“We’re just hiking, dude. What did you tell her? You love hiking. That’s it. You want to know every street in our town… they all kinda look the same, but it doesn’t matter. And we’re not going to speak to her, we’re just moving along. If you see her – don’t recognize her. Easy does it, dude.”

“But her dad said that she’s training.”

“He’s lying, mark my word.”

We were getting closer to Tori’s house: my legs were shaking, that was the most obvious sign. The house was looking the same way it did the last time. Only with snow and Christmas decorations… so it wasn’t looking the same way. We threw some casual glances at it, casually strolling on the opposite side of the most casual street. The most casual pair of friends we were.

Marcus slapped my hand, “She is in the backyard.”

Tori was running away from someone, laughing. I’d call it “having a good time.”

“Move,” Marcus started to whistle but stopped as soon as he saw someone else in the backyard – a golden-haired boy none of us knew, “Fuck it, man, who’s that?”

“I don’t know!” my world was about to burn down in a house fire that was set aflame by an unfulfilled dream.

“Okay, let’s get the fuck out of here, we’ll figure it out. Lucy never mentioned a boyfriend.”

“Maybe it’s her cousin?”

“Hey, Marcus!”

Marcus slowly turned around with a well-prepared smile, “Sup, Lucy?”

I turned too, but only my rotation was at the speed of a snail.

“Oh, Oliver, so nice to see you! How are you?” it was just Lucy’s head that was hanging out of the house’s entrance.

“I’m pretty… pretty good, yeah, pretty good! Thanks,” my voice sounded too high-pitched, even by my standards. “What you’re doing here?” Marcus gave me a look.

“Hiking.”

“Hiking?” that word didn’t cut with the Valettas for some reason.

“Yeah, you know, like walking around without any real purpose.”

“I know what ‘hiking’ means. Don’t be strangers, have a meal with us, mom’s made her special.”

Now we gave each other a look.

“Nah, nah, thanks Lucy, that’s really sweet, but we’ve got to study a couple more streets today, till it gets too dark, you know, it’s really important to know your hometown like a palm of your own hand,” Marcus tried to bullshit us out of Mrs. Valetta’s special.

But Lucy wasn’t buying it, “Are you a taxi driver? You’ll study it later, come in. Tori’s finally home.”

“Tori?” sometimes Marcus was amazing at acting. But not today.

“Yeah, my sister. You asked about her, didn’t you?”

“I did?”

“Yeah, at the party.”

“Oh, I was just curious.”

“Great, you can satisfy your curiosity now.”

Lucy went back home but left the door wide open. My lower jaw slowly descended while I gawked at Marcus.

“No. We don’t go,” he was shaking his head non-stop, “we don’t go!”

I finally managed to close my mouth and took a peek behind the door, slowly pushing myself into the mailbox on the other side of the street, “Should we tell her that we… don’t go?” I could barely understand my own whisper.

Marcus gulped, “Okay.” He took a step on the road. “Lucy? Thanks for the invite, but we really gotta go.”

“How y’re doing, kids? Come on in, come on in!” Mr. Valetta waved at us out of the endless depths of the doorway. I saw Lucy’s grinning face behind him.

“Man, she’s up for no good,” Marcus gave me a desperate look, but there was no escape for us. We were trapped. We nodded to each other and accepted our fate.

“Merri, two more plates!” Mr. Valletta yelled into the kitchen. Maybe he owned a restaurant, that was my first thought as I entered Tori’s house for the second time in my life. “Martin Valleta!” he shook our hands. “You’re Jason’s brother, right?” he smiled at me.

“No, no, no,” Lucy pointed at Marcus, “that’s Marcus, he’s a McMahon. And that’s Oliver,” she put her hand on my shoulder. I thought that she was surprisingly strong. Must’ve been the height. “He is a musician.”

“Well, I’m glad to meet a young man with the same interests!” Mr. Valetta was too excited. “Okay, Lucy, show the kids to the bathroom. I’ll help your mother. Make yourself comfortable, boys.”

“Sure,” Lucy grabbed our jackets; Marcus’ quarters clinked in his pocket, “Ooh, Marcus, what’s that, some loose change?”

Marcus ceased untying his shoes, and slowly looked up, “Hm. Yeah?”

“All right!” Lucy moved to the hangers, “I’m so happy that you’re doing that good in life from a financial standpoint!”

Marcus was washing his hands in the bathroom for two centuries, maybe more.

“Man, I know what’s that all about… I just don’t understand what she wants now, I don’t have any money!” he whispered, trying to hide his voice behind the running water.

I did the exact same thing, “What’s that all about?”

“The floors! The bloody floors!” He glanced in the mirror and became white, “Two bloody floors, you know, nice house, dad’s really into it.”

Lucy leaned on the doorjamb, “Oh, tell me about it. Planning to move out?”

“Yeah, you know, maybe.”

“Hm. Jason never spoke of it,” she made a surprised face.

“I’m closer to dad than he is!”

“Oh, really?”

Marcus glanced at his wet hands, then at Valetta’s towel. He wiped them on his jeans, and asked for mercy, “Lucy, I’ll pay you back! Why are you doing this to me?”

“Doing what?” the surprised expression reached its peak. She turned around and went to the dining room, “Please, follow me.”

Marcus and I were sitting on one side of the table – the other one was still empty. Mr. and Mrs. Valletta were cruising to the kitchen and back, filling the table with the dishes of their own cooking. Lucy sat with her head on her hands, smiling at Marcus. She did this for five minutes. Five straight minutes of uninterrupted Lucy who said exactly nothing during this whole time. It turned out, her menacing gaze was the most powerful weapon against my friend’s ability to speak. Would’ve been so useful in other situations.

“This is a Welsh dish. I hope you’ll love it!” Meredith Valetta pointed at the weird looking sausage.

“And this one is Italian,” her husband pointed at another one that looked like your average, good ole’ patriotic American sausage, only the stars and stripes were missing.

Marcus and I studied the gigantic clock in front of us that showed half past eight. It looked ancient but was working still. Not that we were such clock connoisseurs, but, you know… Lucy.

“Nice clock, isn’t it?” she broke the silence.

Marcus tried to swallow a lump in his throat.

“Indeed,” I nodded like a muppet.

“Very. Very. Ve-ery expensive wood.”

“Lucy,” Marcus gulped again, “I’m begging ya.”

“Finally!” she stood up and waved at the other end of the dining room, “Tori, this is Marcus,” she poked him in the top of his head, “this is

Oliver,” she slapped me on the shoulder and shook me from side to side. “Our guests for the night. Marcus is Jason’s brother. Oliver is his friend, and they happened to be walking past our house when I saw them through the window.” She bent down and squished our heads against hers, covering

Marcus’ mouth with her hand, “What a coincidence, right?”

“Th strs algnd, prbbly!” Marcus tried his best to speak though her palm.

“Hi,” Tori quickly raised her hand and waved once, standing still by the door.

Lucy set us free and moved towards Tori, “And this is Tristan, Tori’s friend.”

“And a douche,” Marcus mumbled.

We waved at each other without saying a word. Tristan had long, well-groomed hair, was much taller than me, and almost reached Marcus’ height. But, unlike Marcus, he was visually athletic and strong, broad shouldered, and probably had zero fat under his skin. Needless to say, we had nothing common in that sense. Or maybe in any other sense too. I wasn’t good at any sports, even at darts, bowling, or air hockey; assuming that I only had a few muscles, if any, there was no possible way for me to compete with that diet coke of teenagers.

“You can sit in front of Oliver,” Lucy spoke to Tori.

My heart stopped and I died. End of story, sorry for your wasted time.

No, I didn’t.

Jokey-jokes.

Tori sat down and wiggled on her chair for some time. Tristan sat beside her. The girl was looking down, avoiding my gaze. I checked on Marcus – my friend stared at the boy and if I knew my friend well, he was plotting a murder.

“Lucy, squeeze the oranges, please!” Mrs. Valetta called out for Lucy and her eldest daughter went into the kitchen.

“I love this one,” Tori spoke to me quietly, pointing at the Welsh sausage.

“I, I never tried it,” I smiled back the moment she lifted her eyes.

“It’s really amazing,” Tristan smiled at me too.

“So, you’re into Welsh cuisine?” Marcus was not smiling.

“I mean, I don’t really know that much about it. But the things Mrs. Meredith cooks, they all taste amazing,” now he smiled at Marcus.

But Marcus was good-manners-proof, “So, you’re hanging out here often?”

Tori’s friend lost his cool for a second, “Is... Is this an interrogation?”

“Finally!” Mr. Valetta ran out of the kitchen and sat down near Tori.

Mrs. Valetta brought orange juice and glasses. Lucy put them near the plates and started pouring the drink, filling every glass evenly, to the top. But she made an exception for Marcus and he only got three quarters. Lucy sat at the head of the table; her father sat to her left; her mother – to her right.

“Power projection,” Marcus murmured to me.

Mr. Valetta raised his glass, “Let’s drink to this homely gathering. We know Jason quite well, and it’s nice to finally meet his younger brother. And Oliver is also a new face to everyone but Lucy, but everyone is welcome in our house!”

“I… I know Oliver, too,” Tori grabbed her glass and looked away from everybody – somewhere between Welsh and Italian sausages but above the cheese platter.

“Yeah, she does,” Lucy nodded.

“Oh, that’s great! Let’s drink to this!”

Tristan’s glass blocked my path to Tori’s. But Marcus pushed it away. But then Lucy hit Marcus’ glass and spilled her juice right into it. The room became really loud for a moment, “Hooray!” “Yay!” “I’m just like you, Marcus!”

Marcus grinded his teeth, “Yay,” and gave Lucy a frightened glance.

“Let me help you, boys,” Mrs. Valetta stood up and put on our plates everything that was available on the table, “Please, try Selsig Morgannwg first!” It was Welsh and neither of us two expected to hear it in our town.

“Oh, I love Selsig Morgannwg!” Tristan’s pronunciation sounded perfect to people who never heard a word of Welsh before.

“Are you Welsh?” Marcus cut the sausage with his knife.

“No, but I think it’s a beautiful language!”

“It’s alright,” Tori looked at her Selsig Morgannwg.

“Selsie Morganok… I can’t even say it properly,” Marcus put a piece of sausage in his mouth.

“Oh, that’s weird, I thought you were the master of your voice!” Lucy leaned over her plate and laughed like the sweetest child on the planet if that child was also a serial killer.

“Really?” Mr. Valetta lifted his eyes from the plate, clearly interested.

Marcus swallowed the piece of sausage and started sweating profusely. I think I understood where Lucy was heading. They definitely serve Selsig Morgannwg in hell, now you know it too.

“Haven’t mastered a thing in this life,” my best friend tried to shrug it off. “But Oliver, he’s one hell of a guitar player, let me tell you about it, we call him the maestro.”

I was shaking my head till my neck hurt, “No, no, please, I’m only learning.”

“Guitars are beautiful,” Tori spoke to her plate.

“Strat, Les Paul?” Tristan stared at me.

“Randy Rhoads.”

“Jackson!” Marcus wasn’t willing to give up anything to him.

“Is it the angled one, like, a shark fin?” Tori’s dad was processing something in his head.

“Yeah,” I nodded.

“Marcus, stop being so shy, every time I call you, you do this awesome thing, you know, ‘The McMahon residence,’ am I right?” Lucy was turning into a shark that broke through the protective cage and Marcus was the tastiest diver in the ocean. “Come on, do the thing!”

“Nah, nah, I’d rather not.”

We reached the boiling point and it was time to eject. I grabbed my head, “Jesus Christ!” Everyone thought that it was the Welsh sausage. I jumped and grabbed Marcus by the shoulder, pointing at the ancient clock with my other hand, “The time! Look at the time! Good Lord! Mom’s gonna kill me!”

I ran to the coat hanger, “Marcus, I’m a dead man!” Marcus ran to me and grabbed his jacket.

“What happened? Is it the food?” Tori’s mom looked devastated.

“No, Mrs. Valetta, the food was incredible, chief’s kiss! I’ve got to be home before nine, I’ll never see the light of day otherwise!”

“But we can call your parents and drive you home later! And what about the desert? Merri baked an apple pie,” Mr. Valetta was as confused as everybody else…

…but Lucy, “Great idea, dad! I agree.”

“Sir,” I jumped into my winter boots, “me and my mother might love the same music, but that doesn’t mean that she’s not going to turn me into a… Selsig Morgannwg.”

“Oh, I understand, Oliver,” Tori’s dad showed me the palms of his hands. “What kind of music, by the way?”

“The heaviest kind,” I grabbed his hand and shook it firmly. “It was an honor. I’ll never forget your hospitality.”

“My. Feelings. Exactly,” Marcus shook his hand the same way.

I opened the door and turned around, “Farewell.”

Everyone waved at us, except for Tori. We flew out and heard the most innocent, “Goodbye! Come back any time!” from Lucy. We ran down the street faster than a pair of hounds on crutches. After a mile or so, we were out of breath.

Marcus fell into the snow, “Dude… you saved my ass!!!” I bent down into an abstract sculpture.

“I bet she’s laughing still, that witch!”

“Just… just pay her the money, man!!!” I tried to straighten myself up.

“Oh shit…” Marcus sat up, “That fucking cunt, Tristan. Oh… dude… what you gonna do now?”

“Catch a breath! And get home before nine!”

“Dude… I didn’t know Mrs. T was that strict! I thought it was a ruse.”

“It was and it wasn’t. It’s a trust thing, you don’t get it!” I gave him my hand, “Let’s move.”

I wasn’t able to run anymore, so I just walked home, accepting the inevitable. I saw the light in the window and a black silhouette on the porch.

“S…sorry, mom, I tried my best!”

She looked at her wrist and gave me a thumbs up, “You still have a

minute to spare. Dinner is on the table.”

“Mom?”

“Yep?”

“Could you cook me some Welsh sausages?”

She scratched her head, “Never heard of Welsh sausages… But not today, alright?”

I smiled at her, “Alright.”

She winked and went inside.


5

I sleep in weird poses from time to time. I don’t remember how I fall asleep in such poses – I only find myself in them as I wake up. This time I was sleeping with legs on the pillow and that was revealed to me

when the doorbell required my attention.

“Morning, man,” Jason leaned on the wooden post of the porch roof.

“Hey, Jason,” I looked like someone who was torn out of his sleep. Because that’s who I was.

“Remember Trish? The girl at the party, blonde hair, long legs— “

Fear pierced me, “What… what happened?”

“Nothing. She’s just leaving for a trip; asked me to give you something. She said that you two've talked about it.” He walked to his car and opened the backdoor – on the seat rested an old acoustic guitar with patches of scratched coating. Jason gave her to me.

I studied the instrument in my hands. “When is she coming back?”

“I don’t know,” he shook his head, thinking of something. “Someday, Oliver, someday. Gotta run – work, work, work.”

“Sure. Thanks.”

“Oops, one more thing,” Jason raised his finger. “Lucy called. She asked me to tell you that you passed.”

“Passed?”

“Don’t know what it means either.”

“Uh. O-okay.”

“Take care, brother.”

The old guitar stood on the couch in the living room, out of tune, with a set of rusty strings. A few stanzas were carved into her wood on the backside. It started with a black-pen writing but gradually turned into a carving as the ink ran out. “Autumn Automotive,” the title of a song or, maybe, a poem by Patricia, her past lover or friend, written in another time, another life, with the hope for a brighter future. Maybe.

A million ways to start

From a million miles away

You’re challenging your heart

You wonder

If lovers drift apart

Will love be led astray?

No one will put the future in your hands

Moonchild, your time slips by like grains of sand

But if you try – you can get her

And with time… you’ll get better

In this autumn automotive

Don’t let her fade away

I turned to the window – it was winter already.

Our town had no historic center, no central square with or without a fountain, just a point of mass attraction, a street convergence of sorts, where stores and shops were located. There was a Christmas tree decorated and there was life happening after hours. This was the place where Marcus and I would often meet to do something or absolutely nothing, the place where other kids and adults would meet as well.

But today I was there on my own. An improvised ice rink of the most abstract form was created around the tree. A couple of my classmates had the tiniest of chats with me as we passed each other by on my way to the ice. I

never saw her skating there. The rink was always packed with people, but it seems that Tori’s skates never stepped on it. I still stood by, just in case, staring at the moving figures of all ages.

A hand touched my shoulder gently, “Hi.” Tori took a step back, “Hi.”

“Hi,” I whispered.

“H-hiking?” it sounded like a joke, but it wasn’t. And that made it even funnier.

“You can say so… are you going to skate?”

“No,” she looked at her feet, as if she was checking for her ice skates that weren’t there, “I don’t like skating when there’s so many people around,” she hugged herself. “There’s only a couple of people around me when I’m training. Sometimes, it’s just my coach, and that means that I’m skating alone… I love being alone.”

“But how can you perform with thousands of people looking at you?”

“Oh, I’m getting so nervous, you don’t even know!” she made a circle with her head and rolled her eyes. “But I’m too concentrated on ice; I black out of the crowd – they’re like a moving backdrop. But as soon as the music ends – I’m out of it.”

This was the first time that I really heard something from Tori, the real Tori, her naked self, “This is so fascinating!” “Really?” it was an honest surprise.

“Yes! I only skated once in my life, but I never even thought that it would feel so different from TV.”

“I don’t even like watching it on TV. It’s different in life, and when you skate… especially when you are surrounded by silence.”

“That’s why you go to the pond?”

“Yes!”

“But what you’re doing here, then?”

“I’m waiting for Tristan, I was showing him around.”

I could not control it – my smile disappeared. I glanced at the surroundings, searching for the teenage Adonis, but couldn’t see a trace of him.

“He went to the bathroom... I think he’ll be there for a long time,” I wasn’t sure if she was poking fun at him or not.

“Uhm… Selsig Morgannwg?”

Tori started laughing. I wasn’t expecting such a reaction: she grabbed my arm, then released it and turned away, closing her face, choking on laughter. She tried to speak through her hands, “Thisissofunny!”

It took her ten more seconds to return to her senses, “Oh dear!” She looked at me and read my facial expression too well, “Oliver. Is everything fine?”

“Honestly?” I was staring in her eyes – she wasn’t looking away.

“Yes.”

“You know this thing, when you think about somebody so much, that you have this image of a person in your head, but in reality you don’t really know anything about them? And even if you want to say everything to them, you just know that they will not understand you?”

She shook her head ever so slightly, “I… I don’t think that I do.”

“That’s, that’s alright.”

“You can try to explain it to me. And I’ll try to understand.”

“Well…” I was searching for words desperately, “I don’t know, but maybe it takes just a couple of words to break through. To feel each other, to be on the same level. But maybe you’re too scared to say something wrong, because you’re afraid that you’ll be misunderstood and reach this point of no return, and your chance will fade away, because you only have this one chance… But how is it even possible to calculate the success when there are two people involved? Oh, man… I met this girl, and she’s ill, she’s very ill…” I covered my eyes with my right palm.

“Oliver?” Tori touched my arm.

“I’m sorry. It’s just when you know that someone will die, but you still can’t accept it. This girl, she gave me a guitar with this song written on it and disappeared, went to travel, the way people who know that their fate is inevitable sometimes do,” I didn’t think that Tori understood me. If only someone could understand my stream of consciousness. “I’m sorry, Tori, I can see that you don’t get me. I feel like a psycho. And I feel like life slips away… it had this lyric. This song carved into the guitar had a lyric from another song… time slips by like grains of sand. And I feel like it does.”

“Oliver,” she spoke quieter, “maybe you’re overthinking it. That thing in ice skating I was talking about, blacking out, I mean, in any sport, when you have to stop thinking, and just do the thing.”

“But if I stop thinking, what would I do otherwise? My everyday life is not a competition. When is that moment when I should switch off?”

“I don’t know. But I think that words can be scarier than deeds. That’s why you just have to surrender to your feelings from time to time.”

“I’m so much to process, Christ, I’m so sorry for dragging you into this, Tori.”

“That’s alright, Oliver. I like talking to you, I mean, we’ve never really talked, but, you know, now we have a conversation, kind of,” she raised her eyebrows, as if she tried to excuse herself. I chuckled, “More like an unwanted therapy session.” “Not that unwanted!” she pushed me and laughed.

“Really?” I smiled at her.

“Yes,” she nodded expressively.

“Hey, how you’re doing, Oliver?” Tristan appeared behind Tori, smiling politely, waving in the same manner.

“I’m okay, thank you.”

“So. Are we good to go?” he turned to the girl.

“Would you like to join us?” she looked at me and smiled with her eyes, nose, cheeks, lips, and even with her teeth.

“I… no, thanks, Tori.”

“Oh, alright,” her face changed. Maybe she thought that she was the reason for my decision.

“Maybe next time?”

“Sure.”

“Goodbye,” I turned away first.

This time there was no long-legged blonde and her withering wisdom to save me, no Marcus to set me on another track, no magic deer in the middle of the forest to fill my heart with hope. I was lost and alone, wandering around our town, wandering until every thought would escape my mind and make thirst and hunger my only priorities. In the darkness of the late hour this moment never came.

I sat under the steel bridge that marked the border of our town. The water ran over the ice and snow, forming black braids, escaping towards the ocean, yet staying at the same place; and when the lamps on the bridge ignited the black, I still sat there, staring into the endless stream, present and absent, just like the water itself.

My mother opened the door and embraced me, then she took a step back and looked me over, probably checking for the signs of physical damage.

“Sorry, mom. I didn’t even try to hurry.”

“I cooked you Welsh sausages. Dad had to drive for hours before he could find a recipe book that had something Welsh in it. And when he realized that there was no meat in them.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you that.”

“It’s the first time food made him sad.”

“He surely will be fine,” I stepped inside. “I don’t know if I’m hungry or not.”

She leaned on the wall, “Love?” I nodded once.

“Well,” she shrugged, “since you’re two hours late, I’m all ears!”

I slowly rotated the cup in my hands: clockwise, counterclockwise, clockwise. I sipped the hot chocolate – was still hot, but not that hot. Mom sat on the other side of the table, resting her tired head on her hands.

“I know that I can’t tell her that. I can feel it. It all will be lost forever, it’s like, I don’t know, like the magic will be gone.”

“Uh-huh. Right. You don’t need to tell her anything.”

“But how will she know?”

“You wonder, she wonders… you see, you’re like a forest fire. She’s a little cute match that started it. Let the fire happen, don’t explain it. You operate on different levels, but she’s the catalyst to that flaming inferno that is bound to demolish civilizations. Oops. Weird analogy, but it’s two minutes to midnight.”

I cracked a giant smile.

She yawned, “Go on, my doom boy.”

“There’s that guy, Tristan… I don’t even know who he is! A friend, a boyfriend? Every time she’s with him my blood starts to boil.”

“Okay, stop right there,” she showed me her palm. “You gotta find out. First, you’re making it worse for yourself. Second, you’re making it worse for the guy. Third, you’re making it worse for Tori. Do you know where to source the info?”

“Not really,” I took another sip of the mildly hot chocolate.

My mom stood up and walked to me, “You’ll find a way, I know. But, Oliver, whatever happens, just don’t treat her like she owes you something that she cannot give you back, okay?”

“I’ll try, mom.”

“No, you’ll do,” she hugged me and kissed me on the forehead. “I know that you’ll do. Remember, there’s no goal and no reward for love. Love is a state. And it turns you into someone you really want to be.”

The quarter fell inside the payphone and clinked; I pressed the buttons.

“Hello?”

“May I speak with Lucy, please?”

“It is Lucy.”

“Hi. It’s me, Oliver.” I was obliged to explain, “We ran away from your house two days– “

“Some things are hard to forget, Oliver. I remember it well. So, are you really calling to talk to me or someone else?”

“You.”

“Well, go on.”

I inhaled a ridiculous amount of cold air, “Does she have a boyfriend.”

“Wow, really? So basic? And will it make a difference?”

“It will.”

“Are you serious? I’m disappointed in you, Oliver,” she really was.

“I don’t like to go to parties uninvited.”

“All right, Oliver, all right,” at least she got my analogies. “But I’m not going to answer your question.”

“But… why?”

“Cause she’s my sister. And I want my sister to be happy. Tell me, Oliver, do you own a pair of skates?”

“I don’t.”

“Then, you have some time to find yourself one. And then go. You know where to. But make it before the sun sets.”

There was no wind in the field under the orange glow. I pushed the reeds aside, and heard every crackle. I heard every breath I took and released. I heard a pair of blades, and I surely felt their edges hitting me on my back. I didn’t sit on the warmest rock in the state this time, and I moved towards the pond without hesitation – I knew she was there.

“Tori.”

She stopped and turned around, “Oliver?”

“Yeah. Hiking, you got it.”

She laughed and flew across the ice towards me, “No, I wanted to say something different. Do you believe in coincidences?”

“Well, depends on the situation?”

She made a surprised face, “Same here!” She spotted the skates on my back, “I thought you only skated once.”

“Remember Marcus? I borrowed them from him. He told me to put socks in them.”

Tori giggled, “Yeah, that works!”

“Could you teach me how to skate?”

She quickly made a three-sixty turn on both feet, “You’ve got to put them on, first.”

Tori led me forward, holding me by the wrist, “So, just push yourself with one and when with the other. And that’s it, nice and easy.”

The ice wasn’t feeling so nice or easy while I grinded it, trying to keep my feet parallel with each other. When I was skating, it was more of a fight between a man and the element and less of a cooperation.

“Okay, so now I’ll push you forward, and let you go,” she rotated around me and now was pushing me in the back.

“I feel like a very stubborn shopping cart with broken wheels.”

“Only they don’t talk that much and are slightly more useful,” Tori chuckled to the side.

“True!”

“Okay, and… go!”

My body moved by inertia for some amount of feet. Then it stopped. Of course it stopped!

“You’ve got to push yourself, Oliver, to move forward!”

“You said that I shouldn’t overthink it– “

“I was talking about something else. Okay, now try to glide just on one foot,” her hands pushed me in the back again.

I raised my left foot and felt that I was really gliding.

“Nice, Oliver, nice! Go on!”

My leg wiggled, but instead of putting the other one down to stop my fall, I bravely kept it in the air and after a series of purposeful but useless movements, I fell down with a painfully dumb sound – my butt struck the ice with vengeance.

“Alright, usual stuff,” Tori made a small circle, then moved in my direction.

My legs were noticeably tired by that time, so I decided to lie down, “Happens to you often?”

“No. But I fall during competitions too,” she stopped near me and glanced around the silent pond.

I looked up, “Tori.”

“What?” she followed my eyes with hers.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Oliver, if skating was easy, everyone would be a champion,” she reached out towards me with her hand.

“Not for that.”

“For what then?”

“For being stupid,” I lifted my upper body from the ice.

“But you didn’t do anything stupid to me… or did you?”

“Not yet,” I took her hand in mine, pulled her towards me, and gave her a kiss. It wasn’t really a kiss, not even a peck – my dried lips slightly touched her red cheek.

Tori gasped and opened her eyes wide. She let go of my hand – I fell on my back. She straightened up so quickly that her skates slipped and showered me with ice. Tori landed on her butt, repeating the exact thing I did a minute ago.

She sat right in front of me, staring through me with the same surprised look.

“That was the stupid part,” I spent some time to stand up, brush the snow off, and find any kind of balance – the ice skating champion was something that I will never be. But it never bothered me. I took a step forward and put my hands on the hips, staring at Tori, who was shaking from uncontrollable laughter.

“So?”

She wiped her eyes, “So what?” her face shined with a mocking smile.

“Will you forgive me?” I gave her my hand.

Tori slid closer and showed me her tongue, “Never!”

She raised her arm. I felt her fingers that were slowly locking with mine. And I knew that time wasn’t slipping by anymore, for there was no time. I blacked out of my thoughts and surrounding world, and nothing in my life had a meaning but her tender smile.

And the stars aligned as she took my hand.

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