Chapter 9 - Glimpsing the Dark World of Kyle
By: Fayre Meira
The quaint backyard of the Matthews was large enough to fit two players playing one-on-one. But the dimming sunlight could make out only a solitary player, whose dribbles and harsh consecutive shots through the hoop were the one noise cutting through the bleak silence. Anyone watching would easily mistake the player as a pro, his movements swift and graceful, his throws confident. For the past hour, he'd smoothly switched between various plays from a bank shot to a double clutch, the ball never failing to miss. Catching the ball effortlessly as it found its way to him, the tall teenager roughly tossed it again, shutting his eyes as he turned away, knowing the ball went through the hoop flawlessly yet again.
"Can I look yet, Daddy? I've closed my eyes for an hour now," six-year-old Kyle grumbled in impatience.
Nathan chuckled. "Just a moment, Ky. You won't regret it, I promise. Do you trust me?"
Kyle nodded his small head vigorously, "Uh-huh. You're the bestest, Daddy. You never break your promise." He felt his dad ruffle his hair fondly in response.
After what felt like an eternity to Kyle, Nathan gently tapped his shoulder. "Ok, Champ. You can look now."
Kyle slowly opened his eyes, blinking repeatedly to get used to the lights again. When he finally registered the sight in front of him, he gasped loudly. His dad had turned their front yard into a mini basketball court, complete with lines and all. A small basketball that he knew would fit in his hands perfectly sat underneath the hoop to his right. Kyle turned around to his dad, his small mouth gaping.
Nathan grinned, "Well, what are you waiting for, Ky? Go pick up the ball."
Still speechless, Kyle could only stare at his dad. He then broke into a run and jumped into his dad's arms, almost stumbling his dad. "Thank you, Daddy! Thank you!" Kyle hugged his dad tight in happiness.
Nathan gripped Kyle's small body tighter, dropping a kiss on Kyle's head. "I love you, son. Now come on, let's play!"
Opening his eyes, Kyle saw the ball now lying still by his feet. Anguished, he violently threw it one-handed towards the board, gritting his teeth in disgust when the ball did not miss as he intended. From where he was standing, that was easily a three-pointer. Throwing his head back against the sky, Kyle gripped his face with both hands, wishing not for the first time that he was standing by a mountaintop. His chest badly ached to scream. He couldn't miss a shot even when he wanted to, and the irony did not escape him. It was as if he was cursed to not forget his father's coaching. Or maybe everything was now just so imbedded into his soul that he instinctively always made the right move. Whatever it was, Kyle hated it with a passion.
Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Loud clapping sounds from somewhere started Kyle into alertness. Turning sharply, he blinked as he recognized Michael Cheng from school. What the?
"Dude! That was freaking awesome! Where the fuck did you learn to do that? That was - that was-," Michael blubbered before his brain seemed to catch up with his thoughts, "- that was just insane man. Insane, I tell you. You weren't even looking at the hoop half the time!" Michael finished, clearly enraptured, both fists shaking in excitement.
Kyle flushed at the compliment. Inwardly, he was panicking - what the hell was Michael doing at his house, in his private backyard? And could he really have been that engrossed in his game to not have noticed that somebody was watching?
"Oh I'm sorry, dude. That was rude of me," Michael continued when Kyle continued to stay quiet, letting out his hand for Kyle to shake. "Michael Cheng. I go to school with Kyle - I was told this is his house? You his brother dude?"
Kyle just stared at him.
"No. Can't be," Michael went on as he shook his head, deciding for himself. "Family genes fucked him bad if you looked like this and he got…well, I don't want to offend you or anything just in case you are his brother." Then, as if realizing something, he said worriedly, "Er, you're not gonna beat me up for saying that are you?"
Taking a deep breath, Kyle hesitantly shook Michael's hands. "Um, no. I'm Alex, Kyle's cousin."
"Aaah," Michael nodded, thinking that made sense. "Yeah. Thought you must be something else. But man, you have got some serious talent! I've never seen anything like it!" He grinned widely.
Kyle bit the inside of his cheek and looked away, hating the reminder. "Yeah sure," he muttered. "Uh, did you need anything? Kyle's not in at the moment," he said, wishing he hadn't washed off his makeup as soon as he got home. There was no way he could run up now and change his persona back so quick - he'd worked up a good sweat and needed a long beating underneath his shower head.
Michael's smile lowered in disappointment. "Crap. I wanted to hang out and take him to Java Grind if he hasn't been already. When's he going to be back, do you know?"
"Oh,…Er, I'm not sure. He didn't say. But he went to Java Grind already the other day," Kyle said hesitantly.
Michael sighed. "Well, there goes my plans for the evening."
Kyle scrunched his eyebrows in confusion. "Don't you have something better to do? Like, homework?"
Michael rolled his eyes. "Please. Even I think that's lame. Sometimes we high school students do need a break you know."
"Ok-aay?…," Kyle said hesitantly, wondering why Michael wasn't immediately going back to where ever he came from. Kyle walked to his basketball, quickly grabbing it and tucking it in his arm.
"So since Kyle's not here and you're his super-cool cousin, can I hang out here instead then?" Michael asked brightly.
"Oh come on," Michael goaded, "I'm pretty good company actually. And I could use some coke. Mind if I look inside your fridge?" He then trotted into the house without waiting for Kyle's response.
Kyle blinked again, his mouth gaping at Michael's shadow. This city was definitely filled with very strange people, he decided.
Kyle found Michael sitting comfortably at one of the stools by the kitchen bar, munching on his mom's freshly made apple crumble, apparently having no qualms about making himself perfectly at home at Kyle's house. Kyle shook his head.
"So," Michael managed through his munching, "You live here with Kyle, too?"
Kyle checked himself. Good question. Does he? "Yeah, I live here too," he decided.
"That's awesome man. Awesome! I'm definitely going to hang around here. You can teach me how to pull some of that moves I saw you make. Especially the Michael Jordan Fade Away one. I've never seen anyone do it like that except MJ himself. So where did you learn to play?" Michael was now eating through his mom's pumpkin pecan pie.
Kyle sighed. One-worded answers were clearly not going to keep Michael from asking more questions. Best to keep the story straight. "Kyle's father used to coach me. When he was still alive, that is," Kyle corrected softly.
"Yeah, I heard about that," Michael said apologetically. "What a shame. Must have been a hell of a coach for you to be able to play like that. And it's so weird that his own son doesn't play! The guys were all cracking up at Kyle's phobia after gym today."
Kyle grabbed himself a glass water as he listened to Michael ramble.
"I was surprised too actually - Kyle's really tall just like you," Michael continued, "Why is that by the way? I mean, how did he get his phobia? I must say I've never heard of anyone having his kind before."
Swallowing, he replied with another impromptu lie, "I, er- I shoved him into one of those pool of colored balls for kids when he was two because I was jealous of his new toy. He got lost under the balls for a bit before we found him from his screaming. Been scared of balls - any kind, ever since." Huh. That actually makes sense, he thought.
Michael's small eyes looked as if it popped out. "Seriously? Poor dude. That wasn't cool of you man. How old were you at that time?"
"Um, I was five I think," Kyle pursed his lips. Great. Now I'm my own evil cousin.
"Yeah, not cool," Michael said, shaking his head. "So how come you're staying here with Kyle?"
Geez, can he be any more nosy? "We moved here together. Kyle and I both got transferred from our previous schools at the same time."
"Seriously?" Michael said again, his brows scrunching. "How come?"
Kyle hesitated before answering, "I'm not going to elaborate into the specifics because that's really Kyle's story to tell if he hasn't told you yet, but I moved to watch over him."
"What? Why would you have to watch over Kyle? The guy's harmless! And- hey wait, does it mean you transferred from college for him too?" Michael asked, shocked.
"Yeah," Kyle replied quietly.
"Damn," Michael raised his brows, "That's quite a dedication to your cousin you've got there. But I suppose it makes you guys even, since you got him stuck with that phobia and all."
"I guess,…" Kyle trailed off for lack of something better to say.
"Hm. By the way, where did you get these?" Michael pointed to the crumbs leftover on his plate. "They're really, really, reeaalllyy good. Whoever made them could make Annette Green make a run for her money," he finished, sighing in contentment.
"Oh, those are my mo-," Kyle paused, pressing his lips tight before continuing, "I mean, my mom's sister-in-law, which would be Kyle's mom, made those." Idiot, Kyle.
"Huh. You know you could have just said your aunt made those right?" Michael raised one brow.
"Er, yeah. I guess," Kyle quipped lamely.
"You Matthews sure aren't much of a talker," Michael commented wryly. "It took me ages before I got Kyle to open up a bit too. And that was after some serious prodding. So what are you majoring in? Which college do you go to?"
"Uh," Kyle wracked his brains, trying to remember what he had told Luke the other night, "Political science, UC Berkeley."
"Wow, so you've got major brains too?" Michael looked at Kyle up and down like he was a freak. "That's just crap, man. Why would you do that? Make us lesser mortals feel even more lowly why don't you." He grumbled in disgust. "Plus, with your face," He added, "I'd prefer to make a run for Hollywood. You never think about that, man? Go into acting or whatever?"
Kyle turned somber at hearing the word 'face'. "No," he said shortly. Wanting to set Michael straight, he added, "And for the record, I-."
"Kyle, honey, could you help me unload the groceries from the car please?" Danielle Matthews' voice wafted through the kitchen doors, the three brown paper bags in her arms blocking her from seeing Michael.
Shit, Kyle cursed.
"Kyle?" His mom sounded annoyed now.
"Uh, Kyle went out, Aunt Danielle. I'll help you," Kyle muttered quickly.
"What are you talking about?" Danielle asked, confused, as she carefully set the bags down on the kitchen counter.
Kyle gave his mom a pained look, slightly nodding his head to his left where Michael stood.
Danielle's lips rounded at finally seeing the chinese boy she knew was Kyle's friend from school. Catching up, she replied smoothly, "Oh, okay. Thanks, Alex, dear. You must be Kyle's friend?" She said to Michael as Kyle went to get the rest of the groceries.
"Hi! Yes. Michael Cheng, Mrs. Matthews." Michael grinned.
"Danielle, please. None of that "mrs" business," Danielle smiled as she put away some vegetables in the fridge.
"Cool." Michael nodded. "Alex said you made these?" He pointed to the his plate. "Sorry, I just helped myself to your goodies. I have a horrible sweet tooth." Michael said apologetically.
Danielle chuckled as she saw the crumbs, "So does my son. And don't worry. I hope you liked them?"
"Oooh they were awesome!" Michael gushed. "I told Alex they could really make Annette Green make a run for her money."
"Hmm," Danielle clucked her tongue in thought, "Is that the owner of Java Grind I keep hearing about?"
"Yep," Michael nodded in confirmation, "Her daughter, Penny, goes to our school. Hot girl." Michael sighed in longing. "I hear she's no longer on the market now," He scowled. "They were saying she's going out with some new guy called Alex or whatev-" he paused, scrunching his brows. "Hey! Does Alex have the same last name as Kyle? No, wait - Alex said you're his mom's sister-in-law, so that means Alex is from Kyle's dad's side of the family?" Michael groaned at the realization. "And just when I thought I could finally ask Penny out, in comes wonder boy."
Danielle pursed her lips in amusement. She was definitely going to have to look at this girl herself.
Seeing Kyle coming back with his arms full of more brown bags, Michael narrowed his eyes at him. "Hey man, not cool strike two. You're going out with Penny Green?"
"Uuh," Kyle bit his lip, "Yeah. Why?"
Michael shook his head. "Not cool. How the heck did you get Penny to go out with you anyway? Last I heard she'd sworn off all pretty boys and you, my man, are definitely a pretty boy."
Danielle smirked, enjoying her son's obvious embarrassment, who had flushed red and rolled his eyes at the remark. "I just did," Kyle replied shortly.
Michael shook his head again. "You so have to teach me that MJ move then. That's the least you can do to make up for snagging the girl of my dreams." He scrambled off the stool. "Okay, I'm out of here. Tell Kyle I dropped by, please. Thanks for the goodies, Danielle." He smiled.
"Your welcome, Michael." Danielle grinned. "Here, actually, why don't you take the rest of the batch?" She moved to get a Lock&Lock container from the cupboard above the kitchen sink. Transferring the rest of the apple crumble and pecan pie neatly into the container, she closed it securely when the lid snapped into place.
Michael's mouth watered at the sight. "Gee, thanks Danielle! This is really nice of you."
"Sure," she smiled. "Feel free to drop by anytime."
"Awesome. Will do for sure," Michael grinned at her, completely missing the grimace upon Kyle's face.
"That was close, don't you think?" Danielle raised one brow at her son.
Kyle gave her a look. "No, mom, you don't say." He picked up one freshly bought apple, gave it a thorough washing under the sink, shook off the excess water and bit into it as he sat on a stool.
She sighed. "So what happened? How did he catch you here like that?" Everything had been put away now except for the ingredients for the lasagna she'd kept out for their dinner. Grabbing a paring knife, she quickly peeled off the onions before chopping them.
Kyle slowly chewed, savoring the tangy-sweet taste of the apple in his mouth. "I was playing basketball and he just came out of nowhere."
Danielle paused from her chopping and looked up at Kyle. "You got lost in the game again, didn't you?" She asked gently, knowing her son must have got himself into one of those moments where he pulled himself into memories of Nathan.
"Honey, you know you've gotta stop doing that," she admonished.
Kyle stared at the half-eaten apple in his hand. "I know," he said quietly. "I just can't help it sometimes, mom."
Danielle shook her head, not understanding. "Well, you have to be able to help it. One day when you get back on that court, these lapses are going to get in your way."
Kyle rolled his eyes. "Well who says I'm going to go back on that court anyway? I told you I quit." He gulped down his water, hoping the liquid will cool him down.
"You know I've never accepted that," his mom retorted as she went back to chopping the onions. "You're too good to just throw away your dreams without a thought. And you've just proved me right: you told me your dad had nothing to do with your decision to quit playing. How can that be when every time you play you lose yourself because of his memories?" Danielle snapped, her eyes sharply pinning him.
Kyle looked away from his mom. "It never stopped the balls from going in though," he said in defense, as if that made it ok.
Danielle rolled her eyes. "That's not the point, Kyle. You're only torturing yourself like this. You know how much you love basketball. We all do. Ever since you were three and saw that video of Nathan's championship game. All you ever wanted was to play ball." Danielle finished chopping, moving to prepare the pasta. "And remember when Nathan made you your first court at our old house? You were,-"
Kyle flinched at being reminded of the very memory that was still fresh in his mind. "Stop, Mom, just stop!" he cut off harshly. Out of the many others, that one memory in particular always brought out the worst feelings in him.
Danielle breathed heavily as she placed the pan on the stove, turning the heat to let the pasta boil. Kyle had been like this ever since Nathan's death. She didn't know whether her son froze himself in those moments to somehow hang onto Nathan, or whether it was his way of punishing himself. Either way, she knew it was unhealthy. "Look, honey, I get that you feel at fault for your dad. But you have to listen to me when I say it was not your fault. Okay?" Danielle pressed sternly with a glare. "It wasn't. So you have to pull yourself back from whatever it is you think you're doing to yourself."
Biting the insides of his cheek, Kyle just looked at the granite countertop, not saying anything.
"I have homework," Kyle choked out, his eyes still glued to the countertop. "I'll see you later, Mom." He turned away and walked to the stairs that led to his bedroom.
"Kyle!" Danielle protested at Kyle's retreating figure, her hands at her hips. "This isn't over, Kyle Alexander. I've let you get away with this for far too long. You mark my words - we will talk this through properly. Soon!" She swore harshly, her heart sinking in the knowledge that her words sounded more like a prayer than anything. Kyle was the most hard-headed person she knew, next only to her Nathan.
Shaking her head in temporary defeat, Danielle moved to finish cooking the sauce, taking solace in the one thing she knew how to do well.
Back in the bare comforts of his room, Kyle braced himself against the poster-clad door, slowly letting his limbs sink to the carpeted floor. Fighting over his ghosts with his mom always sucked all the energy out of him. Inhaling deeply as he shut his eyes, he ran his hands through his hair, gripping the roots tightly. Slowly, he began counting to twelve to calm himself down.
Reaching eleven, he reluctantly opened his burning eyes to tilt his head back and keep the tears from falling. How pathetic is it that he always manages to reduce himself like this. Boys don't cry, Kyle. Fucking get a grip on yourself, he swore as he stood back up. Taking his shirt off, he threw it blindly at the hamper by the door and went inside his bathroom.
Turning the water heater on, he made the mistake of catching his reflection in his mirror. What he saw only fueled his anger. Glaring at his doppelgangger in red hate, he bashed his fist at where his face was. That part of the mirror broke with a satisfying crack. Kyle smiled grimly, ignoring his bloodied knuckles.
It was only after he finished his shower that he realized he just made things worse for himself. Now his mom will be at his case more than ever. Fucking A.
SOOOOO SORRYYYY for the long sabbatical! I know it's been several years - I'm terrible, I know. But with grad school, trying to figure my life, and now my new job - it's just been insane for me.
And I know this is probably not the most satisfying comeback after a while, but I think this chapter is best left as it is for now. I would love to hear what you think of it.
Soundtracks for this chapter:
Eighteen Candles - Matthew McGinn
Your World - Brighten
Riot Act - Bottom of the Hudson
In Your Room - The Dangerous Summer
The Sound of Settling - Death Cab for Cutie
Genius - Duncan Sheik
Love - Edie Carey
Dozens of Us - Weaver at the Loom
Unwell - Mansions
Giants - Now, Now
Youth - Daughter
Black Balloon - The Goo Goo Dolls