Kale gave me a skeptical look as I sat down with a dull thud next to him. He was quiet for some time, seemingly contemplative.
"You know, you shouldn't feel bad." I jumped slightly at the intrusion of his voice; I had been lost in thought. My face still felt warm and concern from Kale was only enflaming the blush.
"About what?" Feigning ignorance didn't seem to work with him.
"Everyone cracks the first time. Just forget about it." Kale wouldn't look at me.
"Even you?" I didn't expect an answer, and I didn't get one.. immediately.
"Even me." I was unaware of the momentous break through that had just happened, though; it seems I was the only one. Veteran patients nearby all stared; mouth agape at Kale and I. After a good five minutes the stares subsided into excited whispers. Kale merely stared at the linoleum floors, emotionless. I felt I needed to change the subject.
"So..Cusack was preaching some shit about "earning indulgences." Is that really true? He wouldn't even give me some shampoo this morning!" My attempts at humorous conversation were hollow but it was obvious Kale appreciated them nonetheless.
"Yeah it's true." He motioned to the cigarette that was still nestled behind his ear. "It's taken me almost two years to "earn" this."
Two years? And he might have been here for even longer. I wouldn't chance asking anything personal of Kale unless he brought it up. "Do we ever get to go outside?"
His sardonic smirk returned. "Yeah. At 2:00 you can either follow the herd outside into a caged off patch of grass; stare at the sane world from behind bars, or you can stay behind like me and steal everyone's left over crackers.
Kale looked bemused. He loosened the collar of his robe and I had to catch my breath as a wave of naïve notions spiraled through my mind. To my disappointment though, he merely retrieved a tattered washcloth that was brimming with crumbling animal crackers. For the first time since my arrival, I considered the possibility that maybe Kale really was crazy. He offered me the bag and I was about to obligingly accept an amputee giraffe when the couch suddenly sunk down behind me and an ornery Keiji leaned over my shoulder.
"Naughty, naughty Kale. Stealing and peddling animal crackers." Both of Keiji's well-manicured hands rested on my shoulders. "Alex, you should come sit with me. It's not healthy to subject yourself to the irrational tendencies of crazies." Keiji poked his tongue out at Kale.
Kale appeared nothing short of perturbed. "Fuck off K."
Keiji made a little face of dismay. "Aw, did I interrupt something?" Kale's hand recoiled and re-inserted his secret stash.
"Go grow a dick Keiji."
Keiji gave a toothy grin. " But Kale, I already have one. Don't you remember last ni-" BOOF! Kale thumped him in the face with a couch cushion.
I wasn't sure what was going to happen next but I was pretty sure someone's ass was going to get a beating. But, to my surprise, Kale instead cracked a goofy smile and tossed the crackers onto Keiji's lap.
"Go at 'em." He offered.
I watched, entranced, as Keiji selected three pandas. He situated himself into an Indian style squat and began to nibble like an oversized hamster. Kale leaned over towards me. He had a scent I couldn't quite place. Something other than the stale aroma of decomposing crackers. Something deliciously masculine.
"That's probably all he'll eat today. Cusack doesn't force him to eat at the table. Afraid his daily fuck will be in a bad mood. So K skips meals. Don't you dare mention it in front of him but K's relapsing." Kale looked at me solemnly.
Keiji obviously hadn't heard and still nibbled on his triad of panda crackers. I glanced over towards the caged clock on the far wall. 1:57. Pretty soon the brisk click-click of Mrs. Briggs echoed down the corridor. She rounded the corner, toting the same clipboard, and wearing an expression of pure ambivalence.
"Attention everyone, it's recreation period. So please if you all would, make your way outside into the courtyard." She pursed her lips together impatiently as everyone slowly rose and shuffled over to the "EMERGENCY EXIT."
Kale nudged me in the ribs. "You hungry for something other than crackers?" I was beginning to like his spasmodic ways of thinking.
"Why, have something in mind?" For some reason I was whispering.
"Follow me and find out." If I wasn't mistaken he gave me a little wink before rising from the couch.
I kept close behind him. At first he made it appear as though he were waiting in line to head outside. But once Cusack and a few others of the Lankford Neanderthals looked away, Kale slowly made his way towards the doorway to the common room. He pressed himself against a wall when Cusack happened to look our way and shoved me back. He had caught me by surprise and when I opened my mouth to ask what the Hell, he clapped his hand over my mouth. It was at this very moment, silenced by Kale's calloused palm that I noted just how good he looked. His hair fell in charmingly disheveled layers around his face. The color of luxurious dark chocolate accented by near imperceptible copper hues. I looked from my mauled forearms to his smooth, unmarred skin and suddenly felt ashamed. Inadequate.
His eyes were a handsome earthen brown; flecks of jasper green dotting here and there.
Suddenly the hand was gone and the rude, cantankerous Kale was glaring at me.
"What the Hell Alex you just zoned out. Come on! Follow me." He spoke through gritted teeth. Cusack and company had moved to the back of the line, making sure everyone went outside in an orderly fashion. Meanwhile, Kale was leading me silently down the whitewashed corridor to only God knew where. We passed what appeared to be several janitor closets or storage rooms before we came to a grayish push door. Kale lead me inside.
Food had never been such a welcome sight. Cabinets brimming with commercial sweets and fridges and freezers full of every meat and cheese known to mankind. And all we were fed was gruel they tried to pass off as oatmeal! Kale looked devious as he crossed over to one of the numerous cabinets. I, of course, headed straight towards the fridge. Being a beef jerky kinda guy myself. I coaxed the lid of the freezer open and was overwhelmed at the sight of so much processed road kill! Greedily snatching a few sticks of Cajun and original I moseyed over towards Kale, already gnawing away on a rubbery log.
"I see you found something you like." Kale said through a mouth full of Twinkie.
This being the first time I hadn't felt like crap in weeks, I took a moment to make a pair of walrus jerky tusks. When Kale turned and saw me at first he didn't look amused. But gradually the thin line his mouth had formed curved at the corners and eventually grew into an insuppressible grin. After our laughter subsided he took on a more characteristic serious face once more.
"You know, you're the only person I've ever taken with me to this place." He studied my reaction intently.
"Yeah. I bet you say that to all the boys." I wrestled with my slim jim, trying to tear off a bite. Probably not my sexiest moment.
We both fell to chewing quietly; I watched Kale's jaw move rhythmically. He nodded towards my arms after a while.
"Did quite a number on yourself." He stated matter of factly.
"Yeah.." I didn't want him looking. The scars were all so ugly so I crossed my arms gingerly across my chest. He surprised me by catching my left arm halfway through.
"What's that..the "R" He studied my arm quietly for a moment, very gentle. "Girlfriend?"
I was quiet, my cheeks warming with embarrassment. He was grinning suddenly, nodding slowly to himself.
"Tcch, no!" For the second time today I felt like a child.
"Whatever you say."
He wore such a smug and egotistical expression that I had a gnawing desire to ..well...ok fine, whine and throw a fit like a small child.
"Hey if lying to yourself helps you sleep at night then keep on doing what your doing." He gave me an innocent shrug.
"Okay. Fine. Lets say, HYPOTHETICALLY, it was a boyfriend.." I traced the "R" with my fingertip lightly, sorry at once when slim jim juice began to sting. "Why would it even matter?"
Kale gave a half laugh, half sigh. "Because..it'd mean I had a chance.."