Chapter 33: Open Arms, Part II

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 453

Hitching the duffel bag across his chest, Zidane slid one foot back, watching the man carefully. But the man's slow movements stopped in front of the stove where a large pot was warming. He took one of the bowls stacked on the counter, and with his other hand took hold of the long plastic handle resting inside.

As he began scooping, the aroma finally came to Lance. It wasn't strong, just enough for him to recognize the smell of cheese—the kind that can only come from a cheap, powdered packet with macaroni noodles. Like the processed cupcake, it was another childhood staple.

He watched as the ladle poured another large scoop of macaroni, shiny with butter and sauce, the elbow noodles sliding down the top of the small mountain that had formed past the bowl's height. He watched as Zidane stayed completely still, the crossbreed's only movement being his eyes shifting from the bowl to the man. The foot that had slid back, the heel he had high in the air for the sake of caution and reflex, moved back further as the man put the ladle down, breaking the oddly meditative silence in the room.

Without losing any hint of kindness, those eyes surrounded by crinkles of the skin turned back to Zidane. One of the man's knees bent, legs shaking slightly as he fought to balance himself with the cane. An expression of pain touched his eyes, but he continued to bend down, holding the bowl out to Zidane.

Zidane didn't move, didn't close the gap between them. He only moved back, completed the step he had started and taking another smaller one. With a sigh that was deepened with a low hum, the bowl was pulled away and set on the counter. The man held up a finger, signaling for Zidane to wait, and began walking again. He headed towards the middle of the room before his path changed, curving around and creating a wide half-circle; a path that led him around Zidane and to the countertops close by.

Zidane had drawn his foot away as soon as the man had gotten close, and now he was backing up again, every part of him on guard. His eyes stayed on the man as if they were connected to him by thread, and Lance almost found it fascinating how much he resembled an animal. Wary, uncertain, but with the hostility just below the surface, waiting for the first sign to attack.

At the creak of a cabinet door opening, Lance looked back to the man, surprised as he pulled an unopened bag of cereal off of the shelf. The bag was large; one of those bulk packages that don't come in boxes.

"I've seen people like you before," he said in a soft voice, the bag slumping down to the floor as gravity took it. "They never say much, but I don't think their words have to." He shifted, facing Zidane, and leaned down, placing the bag on the floor between them. Their eye contact broke as he adjusted the bag, trying to push it closer to Zidane with one hand.

The man stood upright, the motion shaky and forcing him to balance both hands on the cane. As soon as he was standing again, his focus was back on Zidane, watching the crossbreed's deep eyes trace the plastic seams of the bag. They lifted to meet his, a nasty glare surfacing.

"Unopened," the man offered. "Brand new. It'll last you more than a month. I can help carry it to wherever you are, if you'd like."

Zidane's anger only worsened, never spreading to anywhere but his eyes. The color blackened, irises nearly hidden by the intensity of his glare. The lines between his eyebrows only deepened as the moments stretched on, the folds of skin looking like cracks in concrete. A sick taste made its way into the back of Lance's mouth, a disgust at how something so small could hold so much anger.

The man only nodded, a gesture that told Lance he understood, and turned around, heading to a counter behind him. He leaned down, opening the bottom door wide, and when he straightened, the kitchen shelves above him were opened as well. Cans were pulled from this top shelf, stacked on the counter with one hand until the shelf was nearly empty.

"I have a bag for these," he said, "but as far as that bag by your feet, I'll do what I can to carry it." A warm, gentle laugh came from him. "I admit my age has made me slow, but in times of need I can summon that strength. The spirit of youth is a wondrous thing."

"Feh." The word was violently spat from the corner of Zidane's mouth. The man just looked to him, a closed-mouth smile on his face. His cheeks were pushed upwards, his almond-shaped eyes becoming nearly crescents. Lance felt the ghost of a smile on his own face; the powerful genuine warmth almost making him want to take a step back.

"Let me get a bag for you." The man looked away, the smile less but never disappearing as he opened another bottom cabinet, withdrawing a cloth shopping bag.

Softly jerking the back open and setting it on the counter, he began to set cans into the bag, one-by-one. Zidane began moving, after a few moments, and Lance turned, watching the crossbreed look down to the bag of cereal at his feet. Those deep eyes moved upward, looking to the man before his mouth curled upwards in a quiet sneer.

Without looking away from the cans, the man softly nodded. "You have every right to refuse everything I'm giving you." Lance heard the smile in his voice; a very light undertone of happiness in his words. "Out beyond ideas..."

The last can disappeared into the bag, and once more the old man leaned down, retrieving something from the bottom cabinet he had opened before. A backpack stretched full.

"This is filled with water bottles and healthy food. There's also a roll of toilet paper and few jackets in there; they should be your size, if not just a little too big."

Lance took a quick look at the bottom cabinet; there was at least ten bags like it. Who was this guy?

When he looked back up, the man had placed the plastic bag into the cloth one, adding it on top of the small collection of cans. With a large amount of effort, he lifted the bag up and set it to the floor, the breath he had been holding in releasing as a quick puff.

"That should be everything you need," he said, looking around for a moment. He nodded to himself. "Yes, that should be all." With his attention going back to Zidane, he said, "Please let me know if I could be of more use."

A series of sounds left Zidane, the words something Lance didn't recognize. But they were spoken in hatred, foul and rough sounds made with low open-mouth hisses and utterly foreign words.

The man's eyes grew wide, fascination stilling him. He grinned, showing slightly yellowed teeth.

"And finally you speak."

This only made Zidane angrier; he growled through his teeth, hands balling into fists at his side. The man only gave a low nod, eyes closing as his head lowered.

He stayed motionless for another second and then with open eyes began moving, walking around the room and keeping as much distance as possible. His attention, however, never went back to Zidane, and Lance felt a heaviness in his gut as he watched the man leave the room through the swinging kitchen door behind them.

Suddenly, Lance was further away from Zidane, standing near the middle of the room. He watched the crossbreed look away from the door behind him, one hand holding the strap of the duffel bag across his chest as he began moving. The first step wasn't even complete before the memory stopped, everything blurring as if someone had taken a picture and spun too fast with the camera. Zidane's face was the longest streak; his facial features were gone, leaving only a light-colored comet tail that reached towards the space between the kitchen counters and the upper cabinet shelves.

Lance heard the crossbreed speak, the sound of his voice coming from a direction Lance couldn't pin-point.

"I'm sure at some point he came back to look, to check up and see if I was still there or if I had taken what he wanted me to." A single stammer broke the flow of his words, and Lance felt the uncertainty, the fear and slight embarrassment in his voice as he continued on. "But when he did come back, everything he put out for me was destroyed. I stabbed the cans open, poured the contents on the floor, tossed all the cereal from the bag onto the tile. There wasn't a place below my feet I left clean."

The disgust with his own actions was more than evident towards the end. The words were said in a type of slick hate, and as he continued to speak, his voice grew quieter, the hatred riding beneath.

"All of it was out of spite. I took even more from him than I originally planned."

Lance pushed away the sickening feeling holding on to the inside of his throat, sending a thought in reply.

Why? he asked.

At first, silence was all he heard in reply. When Zidane finally spoke again, his voice had become more stoic, the emotion a little withdrawn. Lance recognized the tone well; he was holding back an embarrassing amount of sadness.

"I was afraid," Zidane said. "Everything he did, everything he was doing, hit a place in me that I never wanted to feel again. That kindness just reminded me of my mom. It brought up all those memories I was keeping down."

Lance waited, keeping quiet and listening for him to continue. When he didn't, Lance found himself speaking into the silence.

"I don't know what to say."

It wasn't a statement of awkwardness, he realized; it was a condolence. Apologies held so little. Sometimes admitting silence was all you could give.

From a direction Lance couldn't pinpoint, he sensed Zidane shaking his head. A feeling of hope came for a brief second, and with it, a thought.


The blurs of color retracted back, smears becoming shapes again before everything faded all at once. A new scene took its place, though with a little disappointment Lance found this image familiar. He was looking at the kitchen window again; staring down from high above, enough for him to clearly see the grass outside. A plate was on the windowsill, its cheap paper material holding only a sandwich.

From the other side of the window, Zidane came into view. Another camera angle came into Lance's mind, one that showed him how Zidane was barely eye-level with the plate, his scowl mostly hidden from the sandwich. Lance's elevated view came back as Zidane's eyes finished darkening, the cobalt blue in his stare non-existent except for the slightest of tint. Zidane looked up, silently rising on his toes and quickly scanning the kitchen. The old man stepped into view and Zidane's shock came in addition to Lance's own. A glass of orange juice was in the man's hand, the liquid barely moving as he carefully set it on the windowsill. His eyes never broke away from Zidane's glare, the kindness never leaving.

"I was beginning to wonder if I'd see you again."

Leaning over enough to motion to a part of the side-yard with his head, he continued on. "Thank you for leaving all that you have. In my old age, I find myself looking to clean more and more. It seems Spirit is kind in sending me such wonderful physical tasks."

Zidane stayed staring. The glare on his face never moved as his dark eyes trailed the man's hand, watching it pass over the meal on the windowsill.

"These are for you. I figured you could use a handmade meal every now and then. I'm deeply sorry if my kindness has been presented in a way that offends."

By now, Lance felt the confusion etching into the lines of his face. He quickly relaxed his muscles, massaging his fingertips over the space between his eyebrows and the invisible, diagonal lines that ran from the corners of his mouth to his nose.

Someone steals from you, apparently over and over... And it's like a gift? Something about this isn't right; there's got to be an underlying motive.

He looked back up, surprise bolting through him when Zidane's arm sent the meal to the grass below. The man just closed his eyes, head moving in the lightest of nods with a tiny smile hooking one side of his mouth.

"Apparently so."

Zidane's head turned, eyes darkening to pure black even as they hit direct sunlight. He spat on the ground, stare never leaving the man's.

"I understand." The man took a step back, holding a hand out towards the kitchen. "What would you like today? I have some hamburger meat that's about to be expired. But if you would like to fertilize the grass, I have something else that might work better."

Slight laughter cracked through Lance's smile, his stare turning to Zidane, seeing his glare etch further as he looked at the man's extended arm.

The man dropped his hand, head bowing slightly. "If there is something you need to take, then please by all means take it. I can accommodate the financial loss." He smiled, looking up to Zidane once again. "I wouldn't be much of a caretaker if I said no, would I?"

Kazuo. The name was a spark sent from Zidane. An identification of who he was staring at.

The old man's question hung in silence. After a few moments, Zidane's stare followed Kazuo as he moved, hobbling over to a nearby counter drawer and sliding it open. After a moment of considering whatever else the drawer had, he picked out a large chocolate bar and slid the drawer closed.

"I save these for children who are feeling sad," he said, making his way back over to the window, "And I think there hasn't been a better time to give one." He placed the chocolate bar on the windowsill, sliding it towards Zidane.

Immediately, Lance saw the flash of memory that came to Zidane. The first run he had with Arzo, walking back through a brightly lit alleyway after everything was done. Before Arzo had broken the silence and named him, there were a few moments of peace. The experience of something new and sweet, the indulgence of eating candy for the first time.

A little bit of a childhood.

Zidane looked away, head bowed low as if he was trying to hide the brightness of his eyes. But within moments, his stare had gone back and with a great amount of relief, Lance saw that the medium blue of his eyes was still there.

The man didn't speak, didn't press for Zidane to take it like Lance expected him to. Instead, he watched patiently. As the moments ticked on, Zidane looked from the ground to the candy bar, eyes clearly displaying the conflicting thoughts. And then, with eyes a deep ocean blue, he finally looked back to Kazuo. Lance felt the emotion behind those eyes, the impact of so much hurt and loss hitting like a wave. And then, as the tide settled, a brief glimmer of trust.

Zidane stepped back, shaking his head as his eyes grew dark. Again, the man stayed silent, watching Zidane's stare lift to the chocolate bar, then him. He shook his head again, rougher this time, and stepped back away, head turning to look out into the street.

The man moved; the action mostly a hunch of his back, bringing his head down lower before he spoke, voice hushed.

"Tell me," he said, meeting Zidane's eyes once more. "Please. Let me help you."

The crossbreed pulled in a breath, the sunlight reflecting off his increasingly glossy eyes. Zidane's lips pressed into a tight line, drawing inwards slightly before he shook his head again, eyes shutting tight. Without wasting another moment, without giving time for his eyes to open fully and look back at the window in front of him, Zidane turned, running in the direction of the street. Lance watched him turn onto the sidewalk and vanish from sight.

Submitted: November 29, 2019

© Copyright 2023 Meaghan Kalena. All rights reserved.


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