“Thanks. For walking me home, I mean.” she says to me.
I smiled and said,”you're welcome, Maya.”
She walked off down the walk way, hunched over so the cold night air blowing through her wouldn't freeze her. I knew she was cold, and I offered my jacket, but she wouldn't take it. I wondered if it was because she didn't quite know me yet, or she was just looking out for me to make sure I stayed warm. Either way I was happy to get to walk her home, I didn't trust the people at that God awful club back there. I didn't want anyone to take advantage of her, she's so small and fragile looking it made me wonder what she was thinking staying out so late, and sitting alone by a club full of drunk men, prey on girls like her. Maybe not quite like her though, she's definitely not like other girls.
I saw her peek at me through the window by the door, I chuckled a little when I saw her, and she knew I saw her, she snapped back before I could wave a final goodbye to her. Was she afraid of me? Did I embarrass her?I hoped not.
I started to walk home, though I wouldn't call it a home, home is where a family that loves you live. I might as well walk into the fiery pits of hell.
The night was cool from the wind and bright from the moon and stars, I didn't want to go home, not yet. I checked my watch and it read 10 o'clock, I hoped my dad wouldn't wait up for me. Why should he? As I walked on back in the direction of the club, I saw couples walking hand in hand, drunk with lust and alcohol. It made me miss the feel of Maya on my arm when we walked together, I could still feel a little of her weight on my arm, her warmth, she was cold I knew, but her body held onto it's heat. I know she probably look odd on my arm, she is so pale she looks ghostly, and her black hair made her even paler. I didn't care though, she was beautiful to me. I wonder if she was happy to see me... I walked past the club, getting a whiff of old fries and some kind of gel. Someone bumped into my shoulder,”watch it!” he shouted, and scowled at me as he said so. I really did not feel like fighting tonight, so I muttered an apology and kept walking. He didn't see it as an apology, and he was very drunk.
“What?! You too good to apologize?” He said, shoving me into a brick wall. I hated fighting with a drunk man. I tried to walk away but he grabbed the back of my jacket and pulled me back, he wasn't that much bigger than me, maybe 6'2, and he wasn't that strong either, I heard him grunt a little a little when he pulled me back. “Don't walk away from when I'm talking to you.” he growled. I guess he thought I was scared, he started to snicker.
“Awe you scared?” I sighed and shoved him away from me, hard. He was surprised by my sudden act of retaliation and came at me with a jab to my jaw, which was already tender. I stumbled back and into the brick wall with a little force and I hit him back with a punch to his gut and another to his nose, I felt his nose break under my fist and he stumbled to the ground. He got back up, angrier now, and punched the left side of my face, the side with the bruise. I fell to the ground and he kicked me in my stomach 'kick' and again 'kick' kick' 'kick' and he stopped to brag about his oh so impressive handy work.
“Pssh, some fight. Maybe you should have stayed home, little boy.” he snickered, and turned his back on me to walk off. I picked myself up, slowly, and curled my hand into a fist, 'this is bad' I thought, 'I shouldn't do this' but anger overtook me and I grabbed his shoulder and turned him around, I punched him six times in the face, he started to bleed and bruise so I let him fall to the ground.
His friends tried to help him up but he was losing consciousness and fell to the ground again.
“What the hell, dude! “one of them shouted.
“He was drunk! What did you do that for?!” guy number two said. Thankfully they didn't gang up on me, they were obviously sober. And I was fine with that.
“He was getting on me. What did you expect me to do?” I asked, holding my jaw in my hand, and it was already starting to swell, and rubbing me stomach.
“Whatever, man, just get the hell outta here.” I wanted to hit him too, but that would've just led to cops, and an over night stay in the town prison. No thank you.
I walked the rest of the way home, ignoring everything an everyone. I just wanted to get home, take a shower, and go to bed. I was so tired I practically dragged myself home, I checked my watch, 11 o'clock, I sighed and sped up my pace despite my jaw that throbbed with pain with every step. I finally reached my building and buzzed myself in. The building was run down and raggedy, pipes dripped from the ceiling leaving a puddle in the middle of the floor that I always stepped in. I dragged myself up the stairs to the third floor and entered our apartment. It was a three bedroom apartment but all the bedrooms were roughly the size of a walk in closet, maybe a little bigger. The walls were a little moldy and the rug was stained with questionable liquids and fluids, the whole place reeked of cigarettes and beer, as usual. When I walked in the kitchen lights were on, he waited. My dad was sitting at the table wit ha cigarette and a beer in his hand looking at me with obvious disappointment and contempt. I never understood why he was disappointed in me when he was the one who could only afford a run down piece of crap apartment like this.
“Where have you been, son?” he asked, his voice reminded me of Clint Eastwood when he says “Do you feel lucky, punk?” He only called me son when there was going to be a problem.
“I had to walk a friend home.” I answered.
“What happened to you?” he didn't sound worried about it, just annoyed.
I got into a fight on my way back.”
“You know fightin' isn't gonna get you nowhere.”
'Neither will you.' I thought.
“I know... I didn't start it, though.”
“Do I look like a care who started it?” He was glaring a little and clutching his bottle with a white knuckled hand. No he didn't care who started it.
“He wouldn't let me walk away, and I wasn't going to run, I beat him so there's no problem now. I'm fine.”
He got up from the table and slowly started toward me.
“So you think you're a man now 'cause you can kick a little ass?” God, here we go.
“So you're a pussy now?”
What is up with the questions?
“You wanna hit me?”
I stared at him straight in the eye and shook my head.
“Good....we both know you wouldn't last.” My hands were shaking, I just wanted to go to my room, I wanted to get away from him.
“Zaiden, are you alright?” my grandmother walked in, I relaxed a little bit.
“I'm fine, Grama, I just had a little accident.” She looked worried and scared. I guess I looked worse than I thought. She walked over to me and gently took my face in her soft little hands.
“Oh, baby, who did this to you?”
“Some drunk guy by the club. I'm fine, Grama.” I gently took her hands away from my faced and walked around her to go to the bathroom. I closed the door and turned on the water. I looked in the mirror; my face was swollen and blood glided down my nostrils, the bruise from earlier was getting darker too. I took off my shirt and I had bruises on my chest and stomach. I sighed, undressed and hoped in the shower. I let the water rain down on my tender body, into my eyes and mouth. It felt soothing after awhile. I replayed the days events through my head while I rinsed my battered shell. I've lived in StillWood for three years and the whole time I've been here I've done nothing but study, fight(literally), and work, I couldn't live like this forever, and I didn't want to. I got a job at the Lucky's bookstore since the beginning of the summer, and it was the calmest place I've ever been, I loved the smell, the sound of people turning the pages in their books, it was cool in there, never overheated or humid, it was perfect.
Then I saw her. Maya. She just appeared one day, just walked in with her head down, her arms wrapped around herself like she was always cold or something. I wanted to warm her, but she never looked at me. I'd try and suggest books to her, she would take them and utter a little thank you and head to the back to her territory, the overstuffed chair. I could see her perfectly when she sat there, engulfed in a the world the story created for her, she always looked so concentrated, not struggling, you could just tell she was in another world. She looked so secure and natural when she read, I thought it was amazing how she could just switch worlds like that. I hardly ever read, I just worked there for the money.
One day, I'll never forget, she looked up from her book and stared at me, I looked away for some reason, as if she might see something I didn't want her to see. From then on she would look up occasionally, and stare at me, I'd look away. Why did I look away?
The water started to get cold so I hopped out and toweled myself off, wrapped it around my waist and took the 3 steps it takes to get from the bathroom to my bedroom. I threw on my pajamas and fell into be, still thinking about her. I hoped she wouldn't go to Lucky's tomorrow, I didn't want her to see me like this, the bruise was bad enough and she seemed to look past it, but I didn't want to push my luck. She came in everyday now, though, so she would probably see my bruised face, I hoped the swelling would be gone by the time I go to work. I didn't want to take any chances so I got out of bed and went to the kitchen to get something cold to put on my face. My dad had gone to bed but my grandmother was sitting at the table with an ice pack in front of her. She knew me well. She silently handed me the ice pack when I reached her.
“How are you feeling?”
“I'm fine, just a little sore.”
“You should have bathed in some Epsom salt.”
I smiled, she suggested Epsom salt for everything.
“I'm fine, honest to God.” I chuckled.
“Oh don't you laugh at me, Epsom salt is good for the body.”
“I know, Grama, I'll take one tomorrow if I'm still hurting.”
“Why did that boy attack you, Zaiden?”
“I told you, he was drunk, he jostled with his shoulder and wanted me to apologize, I did but I guess he was too hammered to hear it, so he shoved me into a brick wall, I shoved him back and a fight broke out.” She sighed and got up from the table.
“You could have walked away.”
“He wouldn't let me walk away, he grabbed me, Grama, I couldn't get away.” I started to shake and tears started to fill my eyes, Grama was totally anti-violence and I hate it when she gets disappointed in me for fighting, even if it wasn't my fault.
She saw the tears coming and came around the table to hold me.
“I'm not mad, Zaiden, don't cry, I don't want you to cry.”
“I'm sorry, Grama.”
“It's okay, baby.”
She rubbed my hair and rocked me. I loved my grandmother more than anything, disappointing her was like cutting deeper into a paper cut. Painful.
“Why don't you go to bed now, I know you have to work tomorrow.” She stopped holding me and took my face in her hands, she wiped the tears that had escaped my eyes and kissed my forehead. I kissed her cheek and got up to go to my room.
She stopped me and hugged me one more time.” I love you, Zaiden, and know you can be strong without violence.”
“I know, Grama, I love you too.” She let me go and I walked to my room, closed my door and got into bed. I stared at the ceiling thinking about how I could have gotten away from him. Maybe I should have run? No I couldn't do that, he would've chased me and probably beat me harder. I had no choice.
I forced myself to stop thinking about it and finally fell asleep. I dreamed about her the whole night.
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