The click of the door and the sound of tires spinning against pavement immediately soothes him. He pulls out of the driveway and onto the street, looking over his shoulder. The joint creaks, reminding him that he has to go the chiropractor next Thursday.
Soon the road is in front of him and he goes on mind cruise control. With everything that goes on his life these days, it seems he only feels safe when he's driving. Living in a little safe bubble, warm and quiet. Even music is turned off, the radio barely used.
Because he's driving away from life noise. Leaving behind the concerned eyes of his wife, the familiar brooding, angry face of his teenage daughter and the pleading voice of his young son. Because he loves them so much it hurts, but it also feels like a thousand binding rope, tying him to this place and time. Aging him.
The car is safe. Driving hasn't changed, the roads are still black with clear cut yellow double lines and the promise of forever. It rolled on and he settled into the gray upholstery gratefully.
This was his weekly pilgrimage. Every Sunday, better then church.
As he drove he thought about his daughter. Mala was just recently fifteen and had become lately, extremely difficult to deal with. She revolted against her mother and father, joining a rather despicable group of youths, including her boyfriend Vince who's manners were akin to a pig. And that was insulting pigs.
And yet....Cya couldn't bring himself to hold it against her. He had tried to be the best father he could be, but knew that somewhere along the line, he must have done something wrong. Must have been to angry or too lenient or too absent or too overbearing. Must have made some fatal flaw that would have both his children in therapy until the day they died.
And eventually they would figure out that Mom and Dad weren't normal. That they were very different from other parents. They appeared normal enough, by design. They slept in the same bed, bickered over bills and occasionally exchanged soulful looks. But they never celebrated an anniversary and they never really touched each other beyond a hug.
The huge wrought iron gates received his car like a benediction. He rolled past immaculately manicured lawn, the carved bushes and the weeping willows. It was late spring and the greenery was pregnant with potential. It seemed almost as if his car knew the way itself, so well had it traveled the roads. Up the gravel drive, finally parking off to one side, not blocking, closing the doors behind him.
Hiked the rest of the way, over soft mossy grass, a blanket over one arm and brown paper bag in the other hand. Arrived at last and laid down the blanket, kneeling on it. Some weeds had appeared over the last few days and he gently cleared the dirt and drew a fresh, brightly colored flower out from the bag, planting it with the others that lined the plot.
"Hey, Skids." He started, wiping dirt from his hands. "God, what a week, you would never believe what one of my students said to me...."
At first, he had avoided coming here. It was too painful, too vivid and the wound fresh. Gradually, he came back, his visits lengthen and he started to talk to the ground and headstone. It had been strange the first few times, listening to the cadences of his own voice, echoing uneasily around the silent cemetery, but now it was ritual. It cleansed him to unload like this. He knew Skids wouldn't mind.
"Anyway, I don't know what to do about Mala." He sighed and he ran a hand through his hair, cropped so short nowadays. "I wish you could help me out. You pretty much always knew the right things to say. She's thinks we're hiding things from her. Infantalizing her. And I guess she's right, but Tali and I always said we wouldn't tell them about.....the arrangement. I know I've told you about Tali a thousand times, but I think you really would like her. She's got this new haircut now, it's wild. Looks kinda Japanese. Even Mala likes it. She called it 'high rambla'. That's what they say now, I guess. I feel so out of touch, Skids. Sometimes, me and Tali will slip into our old slang and our kids look at us like we're nuts." He paused. "I'm trying Skids. I'm really trying, but it's fuckin' hard, okay? I know you want me to be happy and most of the time I am, but I miss you. Everyday. I thought it would fade, but it never has. In the morning, I wake up and feel Tali next to me and I wish she was you. I'm thirty-eight, Skids. I'm not getting any younger. What am I going to do if I never get over you?"
There is still a chill in the air, he can feel his joints starting to stiffen. He lays one last hand in the dirt, drawing peace and comfort, places a kiss on the granite headstone, before getting up and walking back to his car. His mind filled with images of the past. Of telling Skids how he felt, having those few precious months. The nightmarish two days spent beside the bed while his best friend and lover bled his life out where it couldn't be seen. Just walking to the next class, a man swerved to miss a small animal, jumped the curve....even now the anger and unfairness of it all still inflames him. And he had been there. Had watched it happen, in slow motion from fifty feet away. There hadn't been enough time to stop it. He knew that know. It wasn't his fault.
Tali had rescued him, in the end. They met a year after Skids had drawn his last stuttering breath. They were set up by their mother's and on meeting each other, agreed that the date was merely pretense for their parents sake. And found out they had more in common then they thought. Halfway through the night, the conversation turned to Skids whom her mother had told her about. Cyanide, on impulse, admitted the true nature of his relationship with his best friend. In return for this trust, Tali admitted to her own strong feelings for a transsexual named Alice. Alice was undergoing the last rights to becoming a man and died on the table due to unforeseen complications with her mild hemophilia.
So they had teamed up. They both wanted children and all the privileges received by a married couple in the USA For months they negotiated and renegotiated and finally settled on a plan that worked for both of them. Cya bought her a ring and to celebrate their engagement, they went out with Harley and Mikhael and got stinking drunk. Mala was conceived that night, the first and only time the couple were that intimate with each other. The boy was better planned and involved a lot of debate and doctor's visits. Their lives were not normal, Cya was well aware of that. His marriage bed had love, if not of the physical kind. He had two healthy children, who he loved.
Cya's reentry to his home was punctuated by about fifty pounds of second grader barreling into his arms.
"I don't know, kiddo, where did Mom take you?" He asked without skipping a beat, tucking his on into one arm, he managed to hang up his jacket and walk into the kitchen while the little one yakked into his ear, unobtrusively cuddling.
"You're back early." Tali smiles at him as he comes in. "I'm making chili for dinner."
"Where's Mala?" He asked, setting his son back down, the child promptly ran back to his own chopping board. Tali was teaching her son to cook 'before he gets so chock full of gender issues he thinks it's beneath him'.
"In her room. Doing homework for once. Some English project."
"Tal..." He had been mulling things over and came to a strange decision. "I think we should tell her."
A spoon dropped to the floor, splattering sauce.
The boy looked up from his careful cutting.
"Go watch T.V. for a few minutes. I have to talk to you father." The ice in her voice propelled him out without protest.
"I don't want to tell her everything...just some facts. She knows something's not right here, Tali. At least if it comes from us, she'll know what the truth is."
"She's fifteen for God's sake, Cya!"
They were talking in harsh whispers, trying not to get the attention of their children.
"So? You were fifteen when you met Alice!"
"That was different! Alice wasn't my mother or father! We can't tell her that her life has been a lie, Cya. We can't."
There was a long pause and he let out a breath.
"You're right.....I just feel so helpless. She's so far out of our control..."
"And how much control did your mother have over you at fifteen, Cya?" She laid a warm hand on his arm. "Don't make yourself crazy. She's a good kid. There aren't any drugs. I would know," Tali had been something of an addict back in the day, "and she can fight. You taught her that. The best we can do now is be there for her when she needs us."
And they stood together in the kitchen, talking about other things for a while until Gio wandered back in. He and Tali went back to making dinner and Cya wandered over to his daughter's room, knocking hesitantly on the door which he had painted day glo orange at her request. It swung open, revealing the girl, sprawled in her desk chair and painting her nails.
"Hey, Dad." She said blankly. Her entire outfit was made out of duct tape, strips of purple velvet and some safety pins. The New Goth.
"Hey. Just wanted to tell you dinner's almost ready."
And he got flashed a smile, full of mirth.
"Thanks, wanna see what I learned to do today?"
He nods, surprised at the invitation and settles himself on the director's chair that someone got her for a long gone birthday. Her walls are plastered with musicians' he's never heard of. Though he can spy out the corner of his eye, a Boy Band photo tapped discreetly among some bald screaming women. He watches as she digs under her disheveled bed and pulls out a beaten bass guitar.
And plays. Four, five chords in succession and then does some variations, surprising him further.
"You learned all that today?"
"Yeah....Vince taught me. We're gonna start a band. Me, him and Syn. She's really awesome, Dad. You gotta meet her."
And he knows that look and it kills him in the moment. So he smiles the best he can.
"Why don't you call her now? We've got plenty of chili for a fifth person?"
"Really?! You're the best, Dad!"
The hug catches him off guard, but he accepts it immediately, wrapping his arms around her too thin body and feels the brush of her violet dyed locks sweeping over his skin. Tali's right. She will be okay.
Syn's name, it turns out, is actually Sarah. She's a tall willowy girl dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt. Her voice is low and happy. Mostly, Mala bounces in her presence. The dinner passes quickly.
Just another Saturday night in the Torres home.
And that night after Cyanide read the next chapter of Two Towers to Gio and kissed his son good night, he finds himself in front of the orange door again. He listens outside to the two girls chatting inside and laughing. Can hear Mala picking at the strings of Skids' beat up bass and Syn beating out a rhythm on a chair.
How many things change, he thought, turning from the room and heading to his own bedroom, and how many things stay exactly the same.
It was en route somewhere that his life changed. Derailing with one death, careening towards an impossible future. But he's managed. Eked out some happiness. Tomorrow, he'll visit Harls and Mik, his other weekly journey. Maybe Gio will come with him or maybe Tali will skip her kickboxing class and take him to a movie.
These things had become his life. Details. Day to day bill paying, dropping of kids, working on a thousand projects, maintains his home....
He settled in next to Tali on the bed, grateful for someone to hold.
//It could be worse, Skids. I'm happy in a lot of ways. Waiting. Watching. Mala is a lot like you. A lot like me, too I guess.//
He dreams of driving. Dreams of the car lifting off the ground and dropping away from his body. Dreams of walking in midair to the sound of laughing girls, sees Mala and Syn dancing naked in the rain and Tali singing in a choir. Sees Gio staring at the stars, eyes bright with wonder.
And through it all, he sighs and stirs in his sleep, hugging Tali closer to him.
Mala watches at the door.
"Good night, Daddy." She whispers, turns on her heels and closes the door softly behind her.
"You're back!" Syn said surprised, holding the bass. Oddly protective, Mala lifts the bass from her friend's arms.
"Yeah. Let's take it from the top. I wanna surprise Vince."
"Do you like him?" Syn asked curious from behind a curtain of dark hair.
"He's my boyfriend." She protested.
"I know, but....do you like him?"
"He's crooked, Syn. His Ancient would kill him, if he thought his son was a bender."
"So....you're not really dating?"
"No. But zip it in. My 'rents think we're like high rambla or some such shit."
Mala turned her attention to the guitar, missing the loving look thrown her way.
They take it from the top.
And some things change, but mostly they are exactly the same.