It was the first truly hot afternoon in late April when six-year-old Isadora Fuller met her best friend, Tyler Beck. He was asleep on the grass underneath the cherry tree which she had come, under the watchful eye of a teenage babysitter, to climb. When she saw the boy under the tree, she could only stare at him. She was mystified by the calm feeling that was aroused in her simply by looking at him. She loved the way that his black curls obscured his forehead and she was fascinated by a long half-healed wound down the right side of his face, extending from eye to chin. A pink petal from the cherry tree above had landed on the wound, and Isadora could only think that it had fallen on that spot to heal him. As she reached her small fingers out to touch his face, his eyes suddenly snapped open.
"What are you doing?" the boy asked.
She responded in a quiet voice, "There's a fairy here to heal you."
The boy sat up, and in so doing, allowed the petal to fall off his face and flutter to the ground. "That's good," he replied, and took her hand.
From that day on, Tyler and Izzy were inseparable. Over the next ten years, the two found solace in one another, found the comfort and affection that they were lacking elsewhere. Tyler, who lived alone with his father, Chief of Police Martin Beck, had often felt the cool metal of the police-issue night stick for such minor transgressions as leaving his schoolbooks on the kitchen table.
Isadora, on the other hand, felt the cool plastic of a brand-new gearshift in her hand, the BMW Z3 generously given to her by parents whose birthdays she did not know, and who only remembered hers if it happened to interfere with poker night. The good Doctor and Mrs. Fuller hardly spoke with their daughter, and certainly never hugged her. There were only a few pictures of Isadora displayed in their sprawling mansion, and she avoided those rooms so as not to see her own plain face, thin blonde hair, and tight-lipped smile gazing back at her.
The face and smile she loved to see were Tyler's, that smile that overtook his entire face and seemed to radiate happiness, and she spent as much time as she possibly could with him. The two went to school together, shared glue-sticks and crayons in fourth grade, went to their first dance in sixth grade. In seventh grade they promised each other that if neither of them had a date for prom, they would go together. In ninth grade, Tyler and his father moved from the small Oregon town across the country to Washington, D.C., and he wrote Izzy a letter every day that he was there for the entire two years. They moved back just in time for his junior year of high school, and that year Tyler and Izzy attended prom together and spiked the punch. Finally, the two reached their last year of high school.
Tyler had grown up to be a handsome seventeen-year-old. Tall and lanky with a very young face and hands perfect for palming basketballs, his black curls still fell over his eyes and he made no attempt to hide the long scar down the right side of his face. He played on the basketball team at school, but that was only an attempt to please his father, who wanted his son to be tough. Tyler's true passion was dancing. During the long years, he had been forced out of his home countless times and had found himself at the mall, for lack of a better place to go. In the mall was a video game called "Dance Dance Revolution" which had been rigged to play without requiring quarters. Tyler had spent hours in front of the screen, his feet flying across the squares beneath him. Once he had mastered the dance steps to all of the songs in the game's meager repertoire, he began to put his own spin on them. Once Tyler got going, people would crowd around and watch him dance, amazed by how talented he was.
Izzy loved to watch him. Her own career with dancing had been limited to a small stint with ballet, an attempt to gain her mother's attention, but when her parents hadn't shown up to her first recital, the ten-year-old Izzy had torn her tutu in half and stomped off the stage. She had wanted to cry, she had wanted them to feel terrible when they saw her tears, but instead all she could do was scream. Even during high school, whenever she heard Tyler humming or singing a song that reminded her of her parents, she had felt the incredible urge to scream as loudly as possible. Instead, she would wrap her tight blonde ponytail around her fingers and bite her lip, counting to ten in her mind and taking deep breaths to assuage her anger. She always had her hair in a ponytail. She could not stand when it was in her eyes.
It was for this reason that she was slightly perturbed on a sunny Friday afternoon in late April. "Close your window!" she said to Tyler, "the wind is blowing my hair in my face!" Tyler rolled his window up and then proceeded to flip through the radio stations, cutting off one of Izzy's favorite songs. "Excuse me!" she exclaimed, "whose car is it? And whose favorite song was that?"
Tyler laughed, as he always did when he was with her, knowing that Izzy wouldn't turn the radio back. She never changed the station in the middle of a song. On the other hand, he was constantly flipping stations and he knew each song that he came to. He would stop, sing along for about thirty seconds, and then continue changing the stations. It drove Izzy insane, and he would gaze across the car at her and watch as she tried to be angry at him for his annoying habits, but found herself instead smiling. Her smile was infectious, the way she would smile when it was only the two of them and there was nobody around to frighten her back into her protective shell. Izzy made Tyler forget all his problems, just by smiling at him.
She came to a quick stop at a red light and hurriedly pulled the hair tie out of her hair. "What are you doing?" Tyler asked.
"I'm re-doing my hair," she replied. "It was falling out and getting in my eyes."
"The light's green," Tyler remarked, and began singing to Taproot.
Izzy finished with her hair, put her foot on the gas, and continued down the street. "Where are we eating?" she asked him.
He shrugged. "I don't have any money, so it's up to you."
"Don't worry about it," Izzy replied, "I've got you covered."
Tyler simply shook his head and changed the radio station. He began singing along to an obscure band that had absolutely no rhythm His smooth voice sailed through Izzy's ears, making the song sound almost good, and as she listened to him, she couldn't even hear the radio anymore. "Baby why do you cry, why do you waste your tears on me, why do you waste your time, thinking about us, why do you try, haven't your tears ever turned into diamonds?"
"No." Izzy said.
Tyler looked at her. "What?"
Izzy laughed. "I said, no. I've never cried diamonds."
Tyler shook his head. "Have you ever even cried?" Izzy shrugged. "I know I haven't seen it," Tyler continued, "and you've seen me cry dozens of times, and I'm the dude. Dudes aren't supposed to cry, dammit!" And with that, he changed the radio station.
Quickly, Izzy swerved to avoid a squirrel that was crossing the road. Tyler shook his head in mock disgust. "Damn kamikaze squirrels," he said, "don't they realize that they shouldn't be running out into the road like that?"
Izzy laughed and played along. "Seriously," she said, "somebody could get killed!" They both laughed as she parallel parked downtown. The two got out of the car and began walking down the street, trying to think of a cheap and quick place to get food. As they were about to cross the road, they were nearly run over by a bus that was coming to a halt. Izzy redirected herself but stopped when she realized that Tyler wasn't with her. She turned to see him staring at a boy who was getting off the bus.
The boy was tall and pale, with spiked brown hair and mean gray eyes. He placed both feet on each stair during his descent, and Izzy saw that he could not put much weight on his left leg. He stepped down onto the sidewalk and stood looking around him, taking in the town with his cold emotionless eyes, a knapsack on his back and his weight shifted to his right leg.
Tyler was staring at him, awestruck. The stranger finally turned and saw Tyler. He scrutinized him for a few seconds, and then began limping over to him. Tyler stood up straight and walked towards the stranger until they were standing right in front of one another, Tyler's tall frame dwarfed by the remarkable size of the stranger. Izzy watched as the boy reached into his knapsack, pulled out a cigarette, and lit it with a lighter from his pocket. He did it all without taking his eyes off of Tyler's. He took a puff of the cigarette, and then blew the smoke out right into Tyler's eyes.
"What are you doing here?" Tyler finally asked.
The boy shrugged. "I believe we have some unfinished business, don't we?"
Tyler frowned. "I thought that was over. I did my part, I paid your damn hospital bills. What more do you want from me?"
The boy flicked ash from his cigarette onto Tyler's shoes. Tyler did not move his feet. "I want your blood, asswipe."
Tyler shook his head. "Look, I thought this had been taken care of. It's over. Move on." Then he turned to leave.
The boy reached out and roughly grabbed Tyler's arm. "I'm talking to you, ya dumb fuck!" With that he slammed the cigarette onto Tyler's muscular forearm.
"Shit!" Tyler exclaimed, and tried to jerk his arm away, but the stranger clearly had the advantage. Izzy stood, terrified, wondering why nobody was stopping this. She wanted to scream, but she could not do it. She could barely even breathe.
As Tyler struggled in the stranger's strong grip, she could see the amusement rising in the gray nothingness of his eyes. "Yeah, I guess you haven't been lifting as much as I have. I guess you've just been running." He spit out the word "running" as if it were disgusting to him. Izzy could not understand what was going on. She stood and listened as the stranger kept talking. "Listen, jackass," he continued, taking another puff of his cigarette, "I've got thirty heads in this town just waiting to drop you. You better watch your back, bitch." With that he pushed Tyler away from him. Tyler stumbled, but remained standing, and found his way back to Izzy, his hand cupped over the new burn on his arm. The stranger met her eyes, and grinned maliciously. Then he turned around and limped slowly away.
Tyler's face was bright red, his long scar white. Izzy put her hands on his shoulders and steered him back to the car. She helped him inside and got in, started the car, and drove off as quickly as she could. "Is your arm alright?" She asked him. "Do we need to go to the hospital?"
Tyler looked down at his arm as if seeing it for the first time, then shook his head. "Nah. I've had worse." Then he reached down and turned on the radio. Izzy hastily turned it off.
"Don't I get an explanation?" She demanded.
Tyler shrugged. "Look, if Brandon wants a fight, I'll give him a fight."
"No!" Izzy exclaimed. "You won't! Do you know what's going to happen to you? Weren't you paying attention just now?"
"Okay, fine!" Tyler said. "He could drop me in a second! Is that what you want to hear? Because that's only going to make it harder."
"What?" Izzy asked.
Tyler sighed heavily. "Look, I'm going to fight him. I have to. My pride is at stake."
"That's your father talking." Izzy said.
Tyler glared across the car and shoved sweaty hair out of his face. "It is not!" He shouted. "This is not my father talking. This is me, and if you had any respect for my wishes and my decisions, then you would shut up about it!" He immediately felt guilty for yelling at her, and he knew that she was right, and that screaming at his best friend was something he had learned from his father.
Feeling uncomfortable, he turned on the radio and heard the beginning of Eminem's "Lose Yourself." Tyler glanced across the car at Izzy, who had one hand on the wheel and the other intertwined in her ponytail, and began to speak in sync with the rapper. "Look," he began, "if you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?"
Izzy gave him a stern look and switched the radio off. Tyler sighed and said, "I'm sorry Izzy. That was my dad. I didn't mean to yell at you. I'm just afraid. But you have to understand that this fight has to happen. I can get a lot of guys out there, and loads of cop-issue night sticks to fight with. My guys are good fighters, Izzy. It'll all turn out okay."
"No, it won't." said Izzy. "You can't possibly win. You will either die or commit murder. There's no possible way for this to turn out alright." She pulled into a parking spot at the park and got out of the car. Tyler followed her as she walked up to the cherry tree where the two of them had first met. "Look at that," she remarked, "it's bloomed. It's beautiful."
Tyler nodded, then reached out and grabbed a flyer that was stapled to the trunk. He crumpled the "Lost Dog" sign in his fist. "I hate to see people ruin the old tree like that," he said simply.
Izzy turned to him. "Why does Brandon want to kill you?" She asked.
Tyler sighed. "I guess I owe you this." He sat down on the grass underneath the tree, and she followed suit. "Alright, here goes." Voice trembling, he embarked on his story. "When we moved to D.C., my dad made me go to this super-smart school. He told them that I was some sort of fantastic basketball player. Well, he was really upset that I wasn't a starter on Varsity. I mean, jesus, I was only a freshman! But you know Dad, he wanted his kid to be the best, the manliest, the roughest guy on the court.
That's what Brandon was. Brandon O'Connor, the kid next door. God I hated him. He was a phenomenal basketball player. He was a center with a perfect shot. He could swish that thing from half-court, seriously. Dad loved him. Dad wanted me to be Brandon, and somehow he thought he could beat me into being a good basketball player. Every night, he would come after me and there was nothing I could do but sit there and take it. He would tell me that if I were only a little more like Brandon … oh god."
Tyler stopped, his voice choked and his eyes watery. He wiped his face on his shirt and continued in a shaky voice. "One day I was downtown with my friend Josh, and Brandon was there. We saw him on the sidewalk across the street with his buddy AJ, just talking. And suddenly, we heard this dude kerking out behind us. He was all like, 'Where's that Andrew? Where is he?' He was asking everyone if they were Andrew, saying how Andrew had slept with his woman and he was gonna kill him.
So, uh, we thought it would be funny to tell the guy that Brandon was Andrew. The guy just ran across the street, I mean, without looking, ran in front of traffic; the dude in the car had to slam on his brakes and he got rear-ended and the lady who rear-ended him got whiplash. And then the psycho pulled out a gun and shot at Brandon. His aim was bad, but he managed to land a bullet in Brandon's knee before the cops got him. The doctors told Brandon that he would never play basketball again." Tyler leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes, his hands shaking.
"Oh my god," Izzy muttered. "Tyler, you have to promise me that you won't fight Brandon. Please, tell me you won't. He'll kill you."
Tyler drew in a long breath. "Izzy," he said softly, "I'll meet you at your house tomorrow night at eight o'clock. I'll bring a movie and you can make popcorn, how about that?"
Izzy sighed in relief and leaned against him. He rested his chin on the top of her head and closed his eyes, feeling warm in the embrace. Somewhere inside of him, there was something that he needed to tell her, but he could not find the words. He simply sat in silence and let the smell of her hair flood his mind. After far too short a time, she lifted herself up and turned to look at him. "Tyler," she said, "I'm trusting you. You had better not stand me up tomorrow night. I mean it."
Tyler grinned. "Izzy, look, you know I – well, I wouldn't stand you up."
She smiled and squeezed his hand.
Izzy didn't sleep that night. She laid awake in her bed, thinking about all that had happened. Tyler didn't sleep either. He was calling everybody that he could think of and raiding his father's "secret" weapon supply. Finally, he laid down in his bed, hoping to get a few hours of sleep, but he could only concentrate on the knot in his stomach. He was full of guilt, full of shame at disappointing Izzy, but for some reason that he could not fathom, he just had to fight Brandon. He had to prove himself, he had to defeat the boy who had caused him so many beatings, the boy who he would never be good enough to emulate. As he thought about it more and more, he realized that it was the same reason that he was still on the basketball team. 'It will be all right,' he told himself. 'It can still be all right. She will forgive me.'
The next day, Izzy anxiously awaited eight o'clock. She paced back and forth in her bedroom, watching as the minute hand traveled around and around. She felt like screaming the entire time, but her faith in Tyler was strong. He had given her his word, and he would stick to it. Finally, it was eight o'clock.
And then it was eight fifteen.
And then it was eight thirty.
Hot air blasted her in the face as she stepped out the door into the dark April night. It was a remarkably hot night, the first hot night of the season. She put her keys in the ignition and slammed on the gas. On her way out of the neighborhood, she was taken by surprise when a squirrel jumped into the road. She was unable to avoid it, and its small body was crushed beneath her right tire. 'Damn kamikaze squirrels,' she thought, fumbling with the radio. She could feel the adrenaline rushing through her veins, could hear her own heartbeat. As she hit the button on the radio, she heard the voice of Eminem. It was that song again, "Lose Yourself," and it was just beginning. "Yo, his palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there's vomit on his sweater already, Mom's spaghetti." Izzy repeated the word in her head. 'Mom,' she thought. The only thing Tyler had ever told her about his own mom was that his father had killed her. She did not know what that meant; she had figured that it was simply a part of a small boy's delusion, and she hadn't wanted to pry further into it. All Izzy knew for sure was that she had died around the same time that Tyler had received the injury on his face. 'My god,' Izzy thought, 'he's only seventeen years old! He is too young to die!'
Tyler spat blood from his mouth and turned around, slamming the boy behind him in the side of the head with a night stick. All of a sudden he felt a strong force tackle him from the side. It was a move he would have been able to dodge easily had he been dancing, but that night his nimble feet were heavy like his head, weighed down with the thought of his father's voice screaming "Pick up the basketball you pussy faggot ballerina!" Tyler fell to the ground, losing his weapon.
"A normal life is boring," Eminem chanted in Izzy's car, "but superstardom's close to post mortem." She choked back a scream and tried to focus on the road, but all she could hear was the pounding in her head. 'Why does he want to die?' she thought, 'Why is he doing this to himself? Why is he doing this to me?' She turned sharply into the park. 'I thought I was enough for you! I thought we were enough for each other!'
Tyler struggled back into a standing position and tried to look around him, but he could hardly see. He had been blinded by the blood dripping down his face, a mixture of others' and his own. Finally, he managed to distinguish a shape. It was Brandon's face, and then it was Brandon's hand with a night stick swinging forward and hitting him in the stomach. Tyler fell back to the ground, unable to breathe, and rolled in agony. All of a sudden he felt a searing pain in his left knee. The last thing he saw was Brandon standing over him with a gun as another bullet lodged itself in his stomach.
Izzy's tires squealed as she pulled into the parking lot and saw the crowd of teenage boys, some on the ground, some standing, some bloody, some untouched. She stopped the car and saw Brandon behind her, gun raised, and heard the tinkle of glass breaking as he shot out her side mirror. However, she knew that it was against all rules of fighting to touch the other guy's girl, and she was not afraid of him.
She jumped out of the car and scanned the carnage for Tyler. In the background she could hear Eminem. She had not realized that the music had been so loud. The boys scattered throughout the parking lot and the field lifted their heads up, glad that they still had their sense of hearing despite the brutal beating.
She finally spotted Tyler. He was lying on the grass close to the cherry tree. She rushed over to him. He was covered in blood, and a pink petal from the cherry tree had landed on his lips. It fluttered slightly with his feeble breaths. "Oh, please," she whispered, kneeling over him, "please, pink fairy, heal him," and then, louder, "Tyler, it's me, can you feel me?" She took his hand in both of hers.
Out of the numbing darkness, he felt something.
His eyes opened slowly and looked around.
There she was, with pink cheeks and wisps of blonde hair framing her face. A shadow of a memory flitted through his thoughts as he noticed a dull pain running down his right cheek, faint, as though it were a mere remembrance of something that was no longer there. A child's face floated in front of his, with a long blonde braid and wide, innocent eyes. "Tyler," the child said, "there's a fairy here to heal you." Inside he was screaming, screaming the words that had been locked up inside him for so many years, but he did not have the strength to say them. The blackness took over again
Tyler's eyes closed and the petal on his lips became still.
Izzy wanted to scream. Instead, she saw a gun lying beside Tyler and she picked it up. Standing, she turned to face Brandon and advanced towards him, holding the gun.
He just laughed at her and raised his hands in mock fear. "Oh no," he said to his friends in a shrill falsetto, "I think she's going to shoot me!" Then he started to laugh again. Izzy tightened her grip on the gun and cocked it. She could still hear Eminem rapping in the background. "This opportunity comes once in a lifetime," he sang. "You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go." Izzy thought of Tyler, dancing in the mall, his hair falling in his eyes, his face red with exertion and his scar white against it. "You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a –" The song was cut off and static filled the parking lot.
Brandon turned to his friends. "We're done here." He said. Then he turned back to Izzy. "Later, Blondie," he said cruelly. Then they climbed into a car and drove off.
Izzy wanted to scream, and she would have if she had been able to. Instead, she began to cry. She dropped to her knees in the middle of the parking lot and her tears fell onto the ocean of asphalt, evaporating in the heat as if they had never even existed.