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Embers

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You've got your ball,
You've got your chain
Tied to me tight, tie me up again.
Who's got their claws
In you my friend?
Into your heart I'll beat again
Sweet like candy to my soul
Sweet you rock,
And sweet you roll

~Dave Mathews Band

MARSHALL

It kind of snuck up on him, like the ocean, because he sure as shit didn’t plan it. He didn’t know anyone who planned something like that. Especially not something like that.

The classical music freaked the crap out of him at first because no one was supposed to be at the rink at four thirty in the morning except him, and he’d broken in.

The same person who turned on the music turned on some spotlights, too. Not all of them, just enough to cast the rink in streaks of light. In and out of them floated the best-looking girl he’d ever seen: blond waves of hair caught the light and shone as she moved. She skated with her eyes closed, lashes against the cheeks of the pretty doll-face. He couldn’t see too much from where he crouched behind the bleachers, but he could see that. He forgot the pain in his cheek, his cold feet in their soaked sneakers and the fact that he hadn’t eaten dinner.

He just watched as she skated, arms out, tassels of a bright red scarf trailing her with each jump and spin, a bright splash of color next to the skin-tight black skating outfit.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen girls skate before, either. He saw them all the time; he had no choice. The hockey team and the skating club shared the rink. Some of the girls even talked to him.

He remembered thinking he hadn’t noticed her ass, which wasn’t like him. He hadn’t even thought of her ass, too caught up in how free she looked, too caught up in wondering how she got the balls to bust in here and skate an hour before the maintenance guy drove out the Zamboni.

Then she made a halo with her arms, fingers barely touching, and arched her back, swinging one leg behind her, blond hair waving in the breeze, eyes still closed.

His eyes traveled over the sleek line of the skating outfit, and grew wide. He might have gasped, or made some sound, and only the low music and the dark saved him. Turning away he sat on his heels against the back of the, breathing hard, a roar in his ears. His butt was wet from his sneakers but he barely noticed.

As soon as he could move he booked the hell out of there as fast and quiet as he could.

And all he’d been looking for was a place to crash.

*~*~*~*~*~

TAY

“Someone’s staring at you.”

“What?” Tay blinked out of his thoughts. His friend Johnny slid his eyes over to the side of the rink as they finished up the last of their compulsory practices. Their coach Priscilla was talking shop with some older pairs skater, so Tay turned to look. He collided with an intense pair of blue eyes. For a second, he almost lost his rhythm in the path of that strong, almost fierce stare, but he turned away and concentrated. He could feel it on him now though, constantly. It belonged to one of the hockey players that waited on the sidelines while the figure skaters cleared out. Tay didn’t look at them if he could help it. It was known to be detrimental to your health.

A few of them had cornered Johnny last year when his friend took too long to gather up his gear, and their coach had to intervene. It wasn’t exactly the first time. Johnny had this look to him that begged to either be fucked with or protected. He didn’t look his age at all despite the fact that they’d both grown some since last year. His large hazel eyes peered out of a delicate pixie face framed in dark brown curls. One time some hockey goons started to pick on him and Sasha, one of the skating girls, almost decked them, which didn’t help matters at all. They didn’t really hurt him, just a lot of trash talk and invasion of space, but Johnny hadn’t been himself for a long time after that. You didn’t get called a ‘fag pretty boy’ in front of the whole skating club and bounce right back.

Tay knew he should feel safer because Zac played hockey, but he didn’t. His younger brother barely acknowledged his presence at the rink as it was. He had no illusions of what Zac thought of him and the sport he participated in.

“You want to walk out together?” Johnny asked.

Tay risked another glance and the boy still had him eye-locked, from where he sat with a bunch of loud, raucous hockey players, Tay’s brother among them. The boy wore the uniform of a Trimbull Dragon; oddly slim neck jutting out of the wide collar flanked by the hulking shoulder pads, bulky leg protectors so he almost resembled a cartoon. His face was sharp but not: strange pointy nose and dimple on his chin paired with a pouty mouth and those unblinking eyes. His hair was marine short and he might have had a bruise on one cheek.

“Yeah,” Tay nodded as they concluded the exercises and skated over to where Priscilla stood, making notes on her clipboard. He listened closely to her suggestions and by the time he got home he’d forgotten all about it.

MARSHALL

Sometimes, he still felt like a fake.

When he walked in school to be greeted by the people in the popular clique. When girls who wouldn’t spit in his direction in middle school now gave him promising smiles and flipped their hair. All because on a fluke he realized he liked to hit a little piece of plastic across the ice and he was good at it. Sometimes, the voice in his head called them on it:

Who you waving at, homie? I live on 8 Mile and my brother and I got two different daddies. They ain’t around. My mom’s on welfare and her latest fucking boyfriend hit me last night when I told him he could fuck my mom but he couldn’t tell me what to do. All my fees for our camps are ‘donated’ and last month I didn’t eat one whole road trip to a game because I didn’t have any money. So who you waving at?

That’s why his best friends, the ones he hung with and really talked to, were still the posse from the Mile. Proof had gotten his back since they were both little kids, and Denaun, Rufus, and Von had always been around, even if only Marshall still lived at the trailer park. They all had grandmamma and cousins still there. The guys on the team were cool, but sometimes it was all Marshall could do to watch them in their perfect little lives with their perfect little families and not explode from-something; jealousy, sadness, embarrassment at the crappy reality show that was his own family.

Besides, he thought, watching Proof fool with his dreads in the small locker mirror, he wasn’t sure half the guys would even be in school if he hadn’t started playing hockey. They had all been making noises about quitting to find work being the next Lil' Wayne or T.I.

Proof still MC’d battles at the Shelter most nights making cash under the table since he was still underage. But Marshall had to stay in school to play, so it’s as if they all kind of went along. Most times they were the only black faces at the games.

“Happened with that?” Proof asked without looking at him and Marshall glanced over to see part of his face reflected in the tiny mirror, the yellow purple bruise on his cheek framed like a photograph. He stuck his head in his messy locker. Damn, it was a disaster. Maybe Jeanine’s stuff had been the only thing keeping it clean.

“Nothin’.”

Proof grunted but let it ride. It’s probably why they’d been friends this long; he knew when to leave something alone.

“Hey, Marshall.”

“Hi.” Two girls' voices made him turn around. They were standing in front of him smiling, books held up to boobs so their chest almost sat on them, and wafting body spray strong enough to peel paint

“’Sup.”

“Did you study for the quiz in Algebra?” Which had to be the lamest come on he’d ever heard. She took him in from head to toe, eyes bright. She was a cheerleader and hadn’t known he existed until he put on a hockey uniform.

“No,” he answered honestly and they seemed to think it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard.

“God! You’re so bad!” The other one exclaimed in delight.

“I’m bad, Proof,” Marshall said sarcastically to his friend who’d been busy enjoying the scenery even if they hadn’t even acknowledged he was there. Marshall hated that.

“You bad, Marshall,” he agreed. The girls laughed some more before finally walking away, butts swinging back and forth, and he turned back to his locker rolling his eyes.

“Word spreads fast, homie,” Proof observed.

Marshall had only broken up with Jeanine four days ago.

“Whatever,” he muttered, his mind going to the rink. The rink and the skater he couldn’t stop thinking about.

Not even when he'd realized it was a guy.

TAY

Tay went to school once.

It was a little after Ike and Zac had started getting really good at hockey. He’d walked into the room they shared one afternoon in late July and they both stopped talking and stood up, acting like they’d just been looking at porn or something. But the couple of magazines Ike had stashed weren’t anywhere and neither of them had the goofy, red faced look they got when Tay busted them. In fact, the serious look on Zac’s face was so out of place that Tay got scared for a second. His younger brother was the least serious person Tay knew.

“You guys are freaking me out.”

“We want to go to school.” Ike said calmly and Tay blinked at them. Ike had been fourteen then, the tallest and lankiest and already setting all kinds of records in Bantams. Ike had always been the calmest of them, at least then.

“We DO go to school.” Tay had answered, still not getting it. Not even suspecting it, really.

“No, like, to school,” Zac emphasized, arms gesturing like they did when he was excited or nervous or just about any strong emotion. Not a lot had changed.

“Why?” Tay asked plaintively because, honestly, he could think of nothing more horrible. He liked being here with everyone. He liked not needing to juggle all his skating time with school like other figure skaters and worry constantly about missing too many classes or being late on homework. Their mom taught all of them and they worked at their own pace. As long as they did the assignments by Friday the rest of the time belonged to them. Tay couldn’t imagine wanting to ride the loud, crowded yellow school bus or eat the cafeteria food that must be crap. What the hell?

“We just do. Shannon goes and so do all the guys on the team.”

“Like you aren’t going to dump her in a few weeks! Are you serious?” Tay’s chest felt tight and he couldn’t really breathe right. Ike didn’t even bother denying it.

They’d done everything together, everything, to the point their mom and dad wondered if it was ‘healthy.’ They didn’t make decisions without all three of them, they never had. Even when Tay told them he was quitting hockey, no great loss since he sucked something bad, and just focusing on figure skating they’d been okay. Not great, but he could tell everyone, except his dad, had breathed a sigh of relief. Tay had really sucked at hockey.

“Come on, Tay, let’s all go! It’ll be cool! Think of all the girls!” Zac tried to shadow box with him, buzzing and hopping in eleven-year old excitement and Tay shoved him off, the words out of his mouth before he'd even thought of it:

“I don’t care about the girls!”

A silence followed and they looked at each other, the sounds of the house in the background of the late July afternoon: Jessica and Avery’s laughter, their mother's soothing voice and the clink of pots and pans for dinner. How could they not want to be here? How….?

“Why do YOU want to go, anyway?” He demanded of his younger brother. “Did you start dating or something?”

“NO!” Zac exclaimed, blushing beneath the spill of dark blond hair. “Just want to try it. I bet it’ll be easy, I’ve seen the homework the other guys get, its nothing!”

Tay stared at them, willing them to take it back and knowing they wouldn’t.

“Why don’t you try it, too?” Ike asked quietly.

“It won’t be any fun without you,” Zac added, grasping his wrist and looking at him hopefully and if it had been Ike, Tay would have thought he was just saying it, which probably wouldn’t have been true. Ike had just always known what he wanted, more than any of them. And what he didn’t want.

He couldn’t remember when they hadn’t spent most of the day together. The pull on his chest intensified as he looked at them: Ike’s narrow face and dark eyes, ropy muscle visible beneath the faded t-shirt and Zac’s anxious, young face as he absently twisted a lock of hair. They had all had long hair then, to their shoulders and longer because their parents didn’t believe in telling them how to dress or look.

That’s how Tay knew their parents wouldn’t fight Ike and Zac on this. For a second he fiercely wished he had parent who weren’t so goddamned nurturing. Parents that TOLD them what to do instead of asking and had ‘It’s your decision, honey. You’re old enough to know the consequences” knit on a sampler.

Tay agreed.

He lasted a week.

He never went back. After Ike and Zac started at the elementary school and middle school that fall and had lots of fun without him, thanks a lot, lots of things never went back at all.

Tay’s life forever stayed divided to Before He Walked in the Room and After He Walked in the Room; he guessed it always would. Most days he told himself he didn’t miss it. On the good days he believed it.