Author: YasuRan PM
The worst thing about wanting something you can't have: the collapse and comprehension of your fumbling sanity.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Hurt/Comfort - Chapters: 5 - Words: 10,553 - Reviews: 59 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 7 - Updated: 11-15-11 - Published: 10-01-09 - id: 2726295
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Ben was moving, all right. He knew that much when he tripped over the curling root of an oak on his way out of the field. Curiously, he only seemed to run further in to humiliation.
His teeth hurt from all the clenching he'd been doing to keep his mouth shut and tears swallowed, still simmering in the pit of his belly. For now, he had the ground at least, from which he couldn't bear to look up from nor didn't he wish to be swallowed by. His hair smelled foul and the thought of the sky, so blue it was almost a blazing pitch of white, became a looming wave of feverish regret.
He supposed he could live like this forever. Give or take a day or two.
He'd tried before. But Ben May would always remain a hopeless optimist at heart, his secret, frail little heart that believed in the bluest skies blanking out the bluest days, in the days that whittled down in comfortable happy endings, in the end that saw his shadow growing old and tall with hers in their dying days. He hated it, most times.
Ben May lay face-down there for a good while, where he could feel nothing but the sun on his back.
When he would look back on it later, he thought that he fell asleep at some point because it was the sound of birdsong that woke the memory hidden away. He could remember that it had been Monday, when he was five years old, when he lived in a tiny, sleepy-eyed house with periwinkle shutters that were always swinging open, when his father used to drive him to school in a dirty grey pick-up. That morning, he remembered waking up, getting out of bed, walking in to the kitchen where his father stood with a stubbly chin and open mouth, staring at a note which he soon dropped with trembling hands.
It had been Ben's first real look at grief. Since then, it always started with a woman.
He had awoken immediately then, to a swallow crying for an absconding family. After blinking away the dream of his mother's abandonment and wondering if there was a lesson he ought to have learned, he felt the back of his collar being seized by a hand.
"Woah, woah there!" Riley tightened his grip as Ben immediately tried to wriggle out of his grasp. "Hey, man, I thought you could use something after that there at try-outs…"
"Leggoofme – "
"Hey, hey…" Dodging a sloppy punch, Riley hooked his free arm under both of Ben's and brought him up staggering. "How come you didn't show this much fight with Glenn back there? Would've saved me the exercise."
Ben opened his mouth with every intent to shoot back a superbly cutting retort, resulting in the rest of his tears erupting in its place. Coupled with his reddening face and piss-dripping hair, he must have looked every bit the pathetic runt of the Frost's litter. It certainly made Riley grimace.
"Right… okay, c'mon, man. Let's go get you cleaned up and then I'll introduce you to something that'll make you feel much better."
Moving carefully so as not to touch Ben more than he needed to, Riley walked him around the back of the school building, taking care to avoid the gaps that offered shameful glimpses of the sun-drenched football field. Ben did his part by keeping his head bowed until they were far off, near an empty field usually frequented by the odd band of footloose wanderers in patched jeans, who thought fresh air went great with smoked grass.
Riley stopped at one end and motioned for Ben to duck under a rusty spigot. Ben obeyed readily, without a word, and remained still under the tap's opening while Riley clenched the valve, turning it with a grunt. The water petered out in a skinny trickle over his hair, streaming through the grime.
Ben could feel those eyes on him as he washed himself clean of his disgrace. He was never good at reading them, especially hers. Savannah had eyes that locked you out after they drew you in. Brown-gold twin pools that were traps, copper-hued glances that were keys to things he was searching for. If that was all he was looking for in a girl, then maybe he did need to try monochrome; black or white, right or wrong. He could never tell with Savannah.
"You done yet?" Riley peered into his line of vision, disrupting the view of his fascination. "I told you I'd got something to show you."
Ben scooped one last handful of water and splashed it over his face. The smell still lingered. As did her silence.
"You'll like this, man, I promise. It's just what guys like you need after a day like this."
"Hang on, this wouldn't have anything to do with those guys from the chemist's shop who use those pipes for – "
"Naw. The cops'll be on us in seconds if we tried shit like that. Besides, the stuff they sell here is wheatgrass mixed with old tobacco. Tastes like watered-down piss."
To Ben's relief, Riley didn't catch him flinching at his wording.
They began walking to the far end of the field, where a sturdy wooden fence marked its enclosure from the forest beyond. It had been a while since Ben had last set foot in the woods. What for, he couldn't recall exactly, but it was a fair chance that it had something to with hiding, sadly. That was one place where nobody could hear you cry.
As they got closer to the edge, another figure became more apparent. It was a kid around their age, black beanie jammed on his head and scowl stamped on his face. Ben was trying to add a name to this familiar when Riley did it before he could.
Omar. Third-period Physics, always took the desk nearest the door before Ben could. Considering what he'd just been through though, Ben felt that he could forgive any other fault. He still kept a fair distance; what if Omar had seen him a few hours ago? It was up to Riley to break the ice.
"Omar here just got dumped too."
The forest was really beginning to sound like the better option. If there were worse things south of Omar's current expression, it wouldn't be Ben who was about to find out.
"Chill. Let's just call this our common ground." The koi-fish red hair on his head made Riley appear almost potent in the light. There was something about to catch, Ben could feel it rapping about his empty hands. "The sun is shining, it's a fucking beautiful day, and girls don't deserve our time of it."
He wanted to laugh, suddenly. Riley had been asking to copy his homework a few days ago and now he'd high-kicked his act into speeches? Ben was beginning to find the beginnings of this scenario synonymous with all kinds of absurd, that is, until he noticed Omar nodding at two other approaching figures. He didn't who these guys were; probably freshers from the stilted deference they paid Riley, each with a firm nod.
"Okay, so what the hell is going – "
The grin on Riley's face stopped him. His teeth spoke of rocks below a cliff, the risk he hadn't noticed 'til he'd gone too far.
"Men, welcome to the first meeting of the Society for Burning Guinevere."
He stepped back, facing the rest of them as he made this pronouncement, and Ben soon realized that there was someone – something – else in the field, lurking beneath a drab tarpaulin cover which Riley patted affectionlessly.
Well, he had always wanted to be a mover. Perhaps now would be a good time to realize that dream…
"Hold it, Ben." Riley caught him just in time, to his dismay. "We're all in this together. There's nothing to be afraid of. I got the idea from a couple of old seniors who formed this club last year, before they graduated. It'll be good for you, I swear."
"Burning Guinevere is supposed to make everything right?"
"Nope, it'll make you feel better. That's what I said. And no cops are gonna squeal over a bonfire."
"Burning Guinevere, Riley. Burning Guinevere." Ben tried to make sense of it, tried to connect the two words in a way that didn't predict blood and riots. "Who is Guinevere, anyway?"
"Well, she was this chick who was married to this dude, Arthur, but then she began shipping the salami to this other dude, Lancelot, so…"
"I know that, Riley. Canterbury Tales, remember? In McAteer's class?"
"Wha – " The guy looked genuinely confused. At another time, Ben might have found this amusing. "Wow. I thought Doug was just naming names when he told me about the idea. But anyway…"
He whipped off the tarpaulin, smirking.
"… here's her stand-in."
By female standards, Guinevere was no pin-up. She was short, dumpy, her straw arms and legs stuck out at odd angles. Having no other features distinguishing enough to strike at the male eye, she remained just what she was: a scrawny, half-built scarecrow propped up on a pole.
"So here's the concept. That Arthur guy was pissed enough with Guinny that he wanted to burn her but then, Lancelot appears and wants to start a war over her instead. Yada, yada, she goes home free and life just ain't fair for the poor guy. Now our Guinevere here," He jabbed a thumb at the dumb model. "She's not so lucky. We're carrying out justice, in the name of every guy out there who's been ditched for a Lancelot."
The idea of her with a guy like Glenn made Ben ache worse than when he'd been beaten down before her. But he was no knight himself. Why did he have to worry about justice when the world seemed to be fueled by the strong picking the weakest bones clean?
"You already know about Omar. Who was it you caught Gina with at Homecoming? Ah well, who cares," Judging by the growl Ben heard, someone did. "The point is, here's where she gets what's coming to her. Parker, did you bring the stuff?"
One of the freshers stepped forward with a lighter and a pail of fuel.
"Riley, I don't think this is – "
The acrid stench of fresh fuel had Ben gagging on his words. Parker was pouring the stuff over Guinevere's rough, dry head with a nonchalance so stolid that it had to be a veil. Riley had taken charge of the lighter, palming it like a soft-ball. When he spoke again, his old apathy had returned.
"Okay, guys. Bring out your tokens."
Soundlessly, they did. There was a rustle of silk as Parker pulled out a purple scarf embroidered with silver stars. Omar reached in his pocket and pulled out a pale pink headband while the other boy took out a handkerchief. They all strode towards Guinevere and dressed her as if she were a date they were about to take out; the handkerchief wound around her hand, the headband perched in place of a crown, and the scarf a noose round her neck.
Ben had not moved, nor had he protested. He had only watched with a sick kind of awe at the destruction that was about to unfold, for every heart broken by an empty-headed girl with a hook for a smile. He would have remained a mute outsider until there was that hand clapping his shoulder, determined not to exclude him from this sacrifice.
"You too, man."
"Here," Riley pressed it in to his hand. "She left this in the gym."
It was a woolen cap she'd worn on Wednesday. Soft, white, Ben ran his hands over it, imagining with guilt that it was her curls that he touched instead. It was only a cap, she was only a girl, and he was only – truly, wonderfully, hopelessly, mindlessly, terribly, horribly – in love with the notion that there could be more to what they had than what he feared.
He didn't resist when Riley, frustrated by his hesitation, pulled the cap free and plunked right on top of Gina's headband. The fear had taken over him.
The clicking of the lighter was the loudest thing anyone heard in that moment.
"Let her go, guys. Just let her go."
Ben tried his best not to look away, and failed.
The fire burnt well after the sun had begun to sink over the trees.