October 19, 2001

Russell stood at the door just inside of the game room. He hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and shifted his weight to his left leg. He had planned on a date with one of the cheerleaders, but instead found himself coerced into a guys' night at the home of one of his classmates. He still couldn't believe he was in a private house and not a public arcade.

How can anyone afford all this crap? he wondered.

To his left, a group of teenage boys were enjoying various table games. Charlie and Chandler, the identical twins that Russell didn't think he'd ever be able to tell apart, were playing a raucous game of foosball. The two were not only alike in appearances, but behavior as well. It even seemed as though they could read each other's thoughts, which made it difficult for either of them to score against the other. Two other guys, he seemed to recall their names being Andrew and Matt, were aggressively playing ping-pong. Their game became so wild that Matt accidentally hit the ball over to the foosball table, forcing the twins to stop their game and throw it back.

Russell really wanted to shoot some pool, but London and Marcus already had a game started.

London had already gone through his growth spurt and towered over his peers at an impressive 6'4". The rest of him hadn't quite caught up yet. His frame was still pretty lanky. He had heard that London's mom was a retired model, which helped explain his exceptionally handsome features. As well as the lavish home they were in.

Marcus stood just a bit shorter than Russell's 5'10" stature. His features could be described a feminine, but then Russell could've just been confusing him for his twin sister, Mackenzie. Both of them were members of the cheer squad, which their mom, who appeared Asian, coached. Russell noted that they were the only cheerleaders that he hadn't 'dated'. He used the term lightly because he was pretty sure a one time hook up didn't count as a date. Even though Mackenzie was top model gorgeous, she was terrifying. The one time Russell had tried to make a move on her, she nearly broke his arm before throwing him onto his back. And while he was pretty sure that Marcus batted for the other team, Russell didn't really want to explore that option himself.

He watched as Marcus expertly lined up his shot. He slid the pool cue between his fingers as he carefully took aim.

"Dear word, Marcus. Would you take the shot already?" London asked with a laugh as he chalked his cue stick.

Marcus smiled as he bent down further; eyeing the balls and measuring angles in his head.

"Blue two and red three, corner pockets," Marcus called, indicating with his gaze the two corner pockets on the left side of the table.

"No way you can make that shot."

Russell agreed with London's observation. The two balls were on opposite ends of the table.

"Watch me." Marcus' chocolate eyes twinkled with his cocky grin as a strand of his dark hair fell across them. With one final draw back, Marcus struck the cue ball and sent it into the blue ball. It sank into the far corner pocket. The cue ball ricocheted off the edge of the table and doubled back to knock the red ball into the opposite corner pocket.

London's mouth fell open.

"Lucky shot."

"Luck's get nothing to do with it. I'm just awesome." Marcus stood, his left fist on his hip, and holding the pool cue as if it were a spear. London shook his head with a smile as Marcus moved to line up his next shot.

The only game left open was air hockey. Which Russell knew he couldn't play by himself. He scanned the room for more options.

To his right, several couches and chairs were arranged around a forty-inch TV and more gaming consoles than Russell could name. He recognized the SEGA Genesis, Super Nintendo, the PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2, but there were at least five more that he had never seen before. A boy he knew as a sophomore at his school sat on the middle couch, engrossed in a game of Kirby. Leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, only his fingers moved as his turquoise eyes remained fixed on the screen.

Even though they went to the same school, Russell hadn't really interacted with him before. He was a grade behind Russell, but always seemed to be mature beyond his years. Russell decided to make his way over to him and sat down on one of the other couches. The blonde teen continued playing his game, seemingly unaware of Russell's presence. There was something about the boy that had bugged Russell since they first met, and it was a question that he needed an answer to.

"Phoenix isn't your real name, is it?" Russell asked. He didn't even bother getting the other boy's attention first. The name did suit the teen, but Russell didn't think that it would have been one his parents had given him. It had to have been changed at some point, and he wanted to know why.

Phoenix laughed as his eyes remained on his game.

"No, I changed it when the Youngs adopted me."

"Wait. You're adopted?"

"You didn't think they were my actual parents, did you?"

Russell shrugged. He had no reason to believe otherwise. Phoenix laughed as his fingers continued to hit the buttons on the controller. Russell glanced down at Phoenix's signature sweatbands on his wrists. They were black with a patch of red flames, and he was never seen without them. Their purpose seemed to be more style than functional since Phoenix didn't participate in any sports.

"If they were my actual parents, my mom would've been nine, and my dad twelve when I was born. They adopted me when I was thirteen."

Russell had met Phoenix's parents once before and had thought them too young to have a teenager. He did some quick math and realized that they weren't even in their thirties yet.

"Why'd they adopt a teenager when they're not even old enough to have one?"

Phoenix faltered in his gameplay, causing Kirby to take damage. He paused the game and looked at the ground.

"Long story short, they wanted kids, I needed a home."

"So why don't you go by the name your parents gave you?" Russell asked.

Phoenix turned his piercing glance toward Russell. His turquoise eyes had always been a bit unsettling. There always seemed to be a fire burning inside them, and it felt as though they could see straight through to someone's soul. Unable to maintain eye contact, Russell averted his eyes.

"Why don't you go by Kenneth?" Phoenix asked. "I've seen you get mad at your sister whenever she calls you that."

He had gone by Russell since he was 13 and no one, aside from his family, had been the wiser. That is, until his sister, Teagan, slipped and called him Kenneth in front of half of the school.

"None of your damn business." It was a topic Russell discussed with no one. He hadn't even told his family the exact details of why he no longer used his first name. Though they most likely had some idea.

Phoenix shrugged and turned to resume his game.

Ah, hell no! He ain't gunna ignore me! Russell's thick drawl could only be heard in his internal dialogue.

"That's it? You're not gonna answer me?" Despite hiding his accent for years, Russell still struggled to not say words like 'ain't'.

"You won't answer me."

Phoenix's eyes remained glued to the TV screen. He leaned to his right and lifted his shoulders as Kirby jumped in the game.

Waiting for a response, Russell leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. He rested first his chin then his head in his right hand as he shook his left leg in agitation. He was just about to give up and walk away when Phoenix added.

"My birth name was Joshua." He continued to play as he talked. His body remaining still as his fingers moved rapidly. "When the Youngs adopted me, it just didn't seem to fit anymore. It was a constant reminder of all the crap I'd been through."

He paused the game, but kept his eyes focused forward. "Being adopted, it felt like I was getting a fresh start. Another chance at a happy life. I talked it over with my parents, and they agreed that a name change would be a good thing. It wasn't hard for me to settle on the name Phoenix. I liked the idea behind the mythical creature. It bursts into flames when it dies, and then is reborn from its ashes."

It wasn't until Phoenix turned back to face him that Russell realized his eyes were now several shades darker.

"So," Phoenix continued, "why do you go by your middle name instead of your first name?"

Russell emitted a low growl. Why did Phoenix have to keep bringing the question back around to him? Though he had just shared the reason for changing his name to Phoenix, Russell still didn't want to explain why he no longer went by Kenneth.

"I mean, I guess I can see how you might not like being called 'Ken', that being Barbie's boyfriend and all."

Russell clenched his fists. He did not approve of Phoenix's mockery. He had been teased with the name as a kid but it didn't take long before he got fed up and punched a kid in the nose. He'd been suspended for two days, but it was worth it because no one dared to compare him to Barbie's boyfriend ever again.

"Shut the hell up. What do you know?" he spat.

"Names are powerful things. They hold a big part of our identity. You don't go by yours, and it seems like there's strong emotions behind why."

"What is this, a therapy session?"

"No. If it were, I'd be charging you $150 an hour." Phoenix winked.

This fueled Russell's annoyance further. He nearly stood to his feet as he threw his arms out to his sides. If it was a fight Phoenix wanted, he was ready to give him one.

"Then why the hell ya tryin' to git me ta talk 'bout ma problems?" Russell's eyes opened wide as he realized he had just revealed his thick accent. He drew back his arms and stammered as he tried to cover his mistake. "I mean. Why are you making me talk about my problems?"

Phoenix wasn't buying it. He leaned forward, resting his arms against his lap. A strand of his blonde hair fell across his face as he fixed his crystal eyes on Russell, who fidgeted under his piercing gaze.

"Since when do you have an accent? And why do you hide it? I mean, talking with you now, this is the first I've ever heard it."

Russell opened his mouth to answer, but before he could, Phoenix added. "And don't try and weasel out of answering the question by telling me it's none of my damn business."

Russell wasn't really sure where to start. He had never explained his reasoning before, and he didn't know how. How could he say it in a way that would make sense to anyone else? How could he put words to the tangle of emotions that tormented him day in and day out. He crossed his arms over his chest and slouched back into the couch.

Phoenix sat still as he waited for Russell to answer. He knew he had asked a hard question and was willing to give Russell extra time to think about his reply. For a moment, Phoenix was tempted to un-pause his game and keep playing, but instead shut it off and turned to face Russell.

"I've found that just starting to talk helps, even if you don't quite know what to say."

"The hell, Phoenix. Whaddya want me ta say?" he said, no longer able to hide his drawl. "I was named after my gramps. I idolized 'im. He was my best friend, and then the coward went and killed 'imself."

Phoenix stiffened, startled by the sudden confession, but quickly composed himself. "Well, it's a start."

Russell's expression dropped. Why had he just blurted out like that? He suddenly feared drawing the attention of the other guys in the room. He looked up, surprised to find that they were alone. He hadn't even realized they had left. He was even more perplexed as to why they were no longer there.

"What happened?" Phoenix asked cautiously. He knew it was a topic where he needed to tread lightly.

Russell's drawl relaxed as he replied.

"He was diagnosed with cancer, and the next day he hung himself in the barn." He didn't understand why he was being so candid with his answers, but the dam had burst and he couldn't hold it in any longer.

"Did you find him?"

Russell shook his head.

"No, my dad did. But I was there. I couldn't understand why my dad wouldn't let me into the barn. Then the ambulance came and took my gramps away. My dad told me that he'd had a heart attack, but it was a small town and gossip spread fast. I found out the truth when I went back to school the next day."

"When did this all happen?" It wasn't that Phoenix wanted to pry, but he knew that this was something Russell needed to talk out. God knew how much Phoenix had needed someone to voice his frustrations to when he was younger.

"When I was thirteen. It was a few days after Thanksgiving. My family was over at my gramps' house. I was playin' catch with him in the front yard when my mom called him in to take a phone call. I waited on the porch for him to come back outside, but he never did. Finally, I went inside and found him sittin' in a kitchen chair, bent over and holdin' his head in his hands. He tried to hide it from me, but I could tell he'd been cryin'. I asked him what the call had been about, but he never told me. My folks didn't say nothin' either, and we went home shortly after that. The next day, my dad and I went over to play some ball, and that's when my dad found him hung up in the barn."

"Where was your grandma during all of this?"

Russell pulled in his leg and shifted his gaze to the bowl of popcorn on the table. Its contents had been devoured by the ravenous teens before Russell had even arrived; all that was left were kernels and small pieces of popcorn.

"She died when I was eleven." He left of the part that she had died of cancer. He had always suspected that seeing her struggle, and still losing the battle, had been one of the reasons his grandpa had given up so easily.

Phoenix rested his chin in his hand and scratched his cheek as he took in Russell's story. He never would have guessed that the captain of the basketball team had been through such a tragedy. But then again, very few people were privy to the details of his own past either.

"So when did you start going by Russell?"

"'Bout three months later. My dad got a job in Vegas, so we packed up and moved. That's when I decided to drop my accent and start goin' by Russell."

"How come?"

Tired of being asked questions, Russell closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. "I got ma reason, a'ight? And I don't gotta 'splain nothin' ta ya."

"Okay. Okay." Phoenix held his hands up. "I just find it kinda interesting that you've stopped trying to hide your accent. In fact, the more upset you get, the more pronounced it becomes."

"Shut the hell up." There were better comebacks, but Russell couldn't think of any of them. He sank further into the couch.

Phoenix shrugged and voiced his own conclusion.

"If I had to guess, you stopped going by Kenneth for the same reason I stopped going by Josh. And you hid your accent for the same reason too. They both reminded you of a painful past."

Russell turned away and put his hand up to block his face as he sniffed back tears. Phoenix had hit the nail on the head. Every time someone called him Kenneth, it reminded him of his grandfather, and how much he missed him. It brought back all the sorrow and anger he felt over the sudden loss.

"He was a coward."

"Why do you say that?"

"'Cause he took his own life instead of gettin' help."

Phoenix shook his head. "Suicide isn't cowardly. I don't think you fully understand the depth of despair that can bring someone to take their own life."

"Oh, and you do?" Russell turned back to face him.

Phoenix said nothing in reply as he slid the black sweat bands on his wrists further up his arms. Turning his palms face up, he revealed the scars that had been hidden.

"The voices are relentless. And sometimes, even if you have the best support system you still lose. I'm sure your grandpa knew he had other options. But in that moment, he believed the lie that suicide was his only choice."

Russell had never thought of it that way before. Memories and emotions washed over him. He turned his head and wiped his tears.

"Ya sure this ain't no therapy session?" he asked.

Phoenix laughed. "Sorry. I promise I won't try and hug you."

"'Preciate that." Russell smiled. He looked up at Phoenix and added, "Ya know, y'er awful insightful for a sophomore."

Phoenix's mouth turned up in a half smile as he shrugged.

"I've been through some pretty awful crap myself. You grow up fast when you live a life like mine."

"What happened to ya?"

Phoenix raised his eyebrows and exhaled a laugh as shook his head. "That…is a topic for another therapy session."

So, there you have it. Why Russell doesn't go by Kenneth ^_^ Another assignment for my creative writing class. I wanna expand on this story, but I again, I have Lost Afternoon to focus on. If you want to know a little more about what happened to Phoenix and why he changed his name, go read Death of Phoenix. Thanks for reading! I'd appreciate it if you'd please leave a quick review.