Come With Your Arms Raised
That's the only thought going through my head as I tear apart my room. Is it there? No. Under there? IT HAS TO BE HERE! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGHH! I swear on my little brother's grave, if I ever get my hands on him, and if he ever comes in my room without permission again, he's so dead. Not that my little brother is dead—well, not yet. But if I see him before this day is out, that's right, he's gonna be a nice big bloodstain on the carpet.
Okay, not really. I could never do that to Roan. Fact is, Roan is cute and small, cuddly and polite. He just misplaces things… a lot.
Doesn't mean I can't fantasize about his gory death at my hands every once in a while when I'm really pissed off.
"FOUND IT!" announces Jiri, raising the textbook high over his head. Looks kind of ridiculous, him lying stomach-down on my bed with his upper half hanging off one end, and then he's raising this three-inch thick AP English textbook above him.
His real name is Samuel Jiricek, but everyone has called him Jiri since elementary school. We met in kindergarten class, when the teacher, Ms. Beaudecker, would make the mistake that would scar Jiri the rest of his life. Well, not literally scar him. It's not like Jiri really minds. All Ms. Beaudecker really did was mispronounce Jiri's surname… seven times. She sounded like a broken record, "Jiri—Jiri—Jiri—Jiri—Jericek? Jyri… check? Jari… sak?" It's pronounced Year-ee-check. It means 'working the earth.'
So Samuel Jiricek became, simply, Jiri. After the first week, he stopped correcting people and just let it happen. Jiri's always been like that. He goes with the flow.
I've had a crush on him since the second grade.
"But I checked under my bed at least a dozen times!" I scream, pouncing on Jiri's back and grabbing my book out of his hand. Jiri lets out a muffled 'Oomph!' and then pretends to go boneless, as if I've broken his spine. I skillfully ignore him, checking to make sure the AP English book is really the AP English book I've been looking for these past forty-five minutes. It's not like I have an entire collection of Advanced Placement texts, because I'm only good enough to be in the English one, but it doesn't hurt to check. I squeal triumphantly and forget about horribly murdering Roan. "Yes! This is it! Thank you, Jiri!" When he doesn't respond, I poke him in the back of the neck. He's very ticklish. "Jiri?" Poke.
Jiri starts as if I'd just electrocuted him, and then rolled onto his back. Somehow, I manage not to fall off of him during this process. We end up in a rather compromising position: Jiri sprawled on his back, on my bed, and me sitting right over his… (ahem) lap.
No, I wasn't just thinking about my best friend's privates. Of course not. The thought never even crossed my mind.
Yeah, right. Definitely none of that going on around here. I'm not a pervert!
"Well," said Jiri, a slow smile spreading over his pale face. He slaps his hands down on my knees and starts to run them up the outside of my thighs. It might have been a more sexual gesture, if I wasn't wearing pink and blue polka-dotted tights and dark blue jersey shorts. "This is an interesting turn of events."
Jiri doesn't tan much. Plus, he's Czechoslovakian or Czech Republic—whatever they're calling the country nowadays. He came to the United States when he was just a year old. His parents have these wonderful accents that sound like a cross between German and Russian, and Jiri can speak three different languages fluently, one of them English, obviously. Still, he's pale. He has blue hair and yellow eyes—no, seriously, he does. The hair is dyed, but the eyes are all Jiri. His dad has yellow eyes, too. The irises are the color of pure gold, I swear, and the pupils are sort of slitted, the way a cat's are. Jiri's hair used to be as golden as his eyes, but then he got sick of being called The Golden Boy, so he dyes his hair different colors every year. This year it's a soft blue color, not dark blue as one is probably picturing in their head now; it's pale blue, like the sky on a clear, spring morning. Too bad; I used to love the golden color, running my fingers through the soft and shining tresses. It's still soft and shining, but I miss all that gold; I miss the way I would run my fingers through it and make up all these stories about Jiri being some fairy child, spun from straw and magic the way Rumplestiltskin could spin gold from straw for that princess he was helping out…
Okay, so I'm weird. The tights should have tipped you off.
"You're looking at my hair as if you want to run your fingers through it, again," said Jiri, tracing my thighs around to my bum and squeezing it roughly. I brought my mind back from its random tangent and squeaked, slapping at Jiri's arms.
He laughed and his grip relaxed. I tried not to feel disappointed that he was giving up so easily. Usually we would end up wrestling until one of us found ourselves pinned to the floor, crying out 'Uncle! Uncle! Come on, I give!'
Jiri has a magical laugh. Somehow it sounds like bells chiming deeply in his throat.
A second later, the bells had tinkled off and he was looking up at me again. I didn't know I was staring with a goofy smile on my face until Jiri said, "You're staring… with a goofy smile on your face." I changed my expression so that my eyes were all squinty and my tongue was sticking out the corner of my frowning mouth. There was a lone bell toll, and then Jiri said, "Now that we found your book, we really should be getting to school. Unless," he added, the volume of his deep voice dropping to a very seductive pitch, his fingers suddenly under the hem of my shirt and leisurely inching up my front, "of course, you'd like to play a little hooky." His hands found my bra, cupped my breasts, traced it around to the back to the hook. "Or un-hooky," his whispered, his eyes holding mine as if weaving a spell, "if you'd rather."
Ice filled my face, replacing the heat that had been crawling up my neck. You see? I have some control over my unhealthy lust.
Ha! As if lust could be unhealthy.
"Don't, Sam," I told my friend, forcing all the ice in my face into my voice.
His pale face flushed pink with shame as he quickly removed his hands from under my shirt. I wanted to scream at him, No! Put them back! Take me, here and now! I won't mind! Of course, I couldn't say any of that. Then I would become just another of Jiri's play-things—and he had many of them, trust me. Some of them I knew, some of them I didn't; but all of them I pitied, because we were all under the same spell cast by those golden eyes.
I slid off of Jiri's lap and headed with my AP English book toward the door.
You're probably thinking by now that I'm fifteen years old and in my freshman year of high school. Well, take another look. This loft apartment? It's all mine. Okay, so the money wasn't really mine, but the loft is as much my home as either of my five neighbors that live on the same floor as me. I'm nineteen years old and am actually a freshman in college. Roan is eleven years old, my little brother, but I'm more like his mother these days. Our parents died four years ago when their private plane crashed around the Bahamas. Dad was a music producer and Mom was an agent for his company. Remember that beautiful Rhythm and Blues singer, Aaliyah? Yeah, they were on the plane with her when it went down in August of 1999. All of their life savings' immediately transferred into a saving's account for me and my little brother as soon as it was confirmed that they were really dead. Roan and I went to live in a group home until I turned eighteen, and then I went and got emancipated, took charge of the savings account in my and Roan's names, and hired me some lawyers to win custody of Roan so he wouldn't have to bounce around the foster homes any longer. My lawyers won. I had one of them help get me this apartment, and then I paid them all off so they left me and Roan alone. I started at NYU in the autumn of 2002, majoring in Psychology and a minor in Medicine.
The AP English book is just to throw everybody off—Okay, not really. I'm just taking AP English as a fun course, to keep me interested in college, because I've always been terrific at reading and writing. I actually have fun writing. I write about everything and anything. Someday, once I'm a Noble Peace Prize-winning psychologist in Medicine, I hope to get a book published about how I started out. Maybe it'll inspire some kids to go in the right direction.
Guess you can't judge someone by their pink and blue polka-dotted tights alone, can you?
Of course there's Jiri, too. How did he manage to keep track of me all these years, or I of him? Well, we'd grown up best friends. When the plane first went down, Jiri was there holding my hand as we watched the television for updates, waited by the phone for the officials to call and let me know that my parents were okay, or to say they'd found the bodies. The call came with bad news on the other end, and Jiri was there to hold me when I collapsed from grief. He was there when I told my little brother that Mommy and Daddy weren't coming home that night, or any night, because they were dead, and that we were going to be taken to a place where people would take care of us and there would be other kids like us to play with. Jiri visited me at the group home every day, and while I bounced around foster homes, we corresponded through letters, arranged ways to see one another. Then my emancipation was approved and I wrote to Jiri to tell him I was getting custody of Roan, that I had been accepted into NYU. Jiri had applied there as well, I knew, and had been accepted even before me, and on a full-scholarship while I would be paying my way. He came to live in my loft apartment with me and Roan.
The loft itself was on the fifth level, many stairs or a scary elevator ride later. We, Jiri and me, slept on the first floor, in a little crawl-space type area under the second floor of our little apartment. Roan got the room on top, on that little second floor. There was his bed, his desk, and whatever else he wanted I bought him and we moved up there. Jiri and I shared a queen-sized bed, which pretty much filled up the entire little crawl-space, and our clothes and belongings were shoved onto the shelves built into the walls of our little enclosure, or scattered across the floor. Most of our belongings consisted of various books of fictional genres, but there were other bits and pieces I had managed to salvage from my and Roan's life before the crash. Mostly there were pictures of my parents, or our parents and me and Roan, or me and Roan and Jiri, or just Jiri and me. There were many other tits and tats as well, though—too many to name in one sitting, really.
I called the crawl-space my room and the bed mine, but really everything of mine was pretty much Jiri's as well. Which secretly I didn't mind, and actually was in closely coveted ecstasy because of; but to Jiri I would complain and whine until he pinched my arm or some other form of quieting violence between friends.
There were these huge windows that looked out over the streets of New York City, and set into the windows were luxury window-seats that were just extra-wide wooden vanes but with cushions were made wonderfully comfortable and luxurious; where I spent some days trying to charcoal-sketch all those lively surroundings but never really managed to capture any of it. The floors were all refinished hardwood, but covered in dirty laundry and some trash because neither Jiri or I were all that motivated to clean, and the walls white, just because I was too lazy to paint them over. Twice a month we really picked up the apartment and talked about what color to paint the walls, although we never actually got around to painting anything. There was a kitchenette with a double-wide stainless-steel refrigerator, one of those old-fashioned sinks where the pipes and fixture stuck out nakedly from the wall, some cupboards, a toaster oven, and a couple Bunsen Burners. No microwaves or conventional ovens—it had been previously agreed between Jiri and me that there would be none of that, because they were most likely to start fires and, well, we weren't all that vigilant of cooks. The Bunsen Burners were dangerous enough, and had to be unplugged and stored away when not in use, put under lock and key, just incase any of the mischievous gnomes escaped from some of my mindless stories and tried burning down the apartment.
Jiri followed me to the door, but before I went out it, I went to the refrigerator and cupboards, pulled out some milk and white bread and a bowl. I poured the bowl one-third full of milk and dropped in a slice of white bread, then put the milk and bread away. I picked up the bowl with its contents and brought it over near Jiri, and then we went out the door and while Jiri locked the door, I graciously set the bowl of milk and white bread just outside of it. As usual, Jiri locked the door before I'd fully set down the bowl, and watched me with a strange look on his face until I'd straightened up beside him again. He looked down at the bowl and its contents, wrinkled his perfectly button nose, and then looked back at me with the same look. Behind the golden eyes, I saw laughter sparkling.
"You are so weird, Vay," Jiri informed me.
"It's to feed the faeries. What would they start to think of me if one day I forgot to leave some whole milk and white bread for them? How would you like to be forgotten?"
"But you're nineteen, Vaydell. Don't you think it's time—" It was an old argument. Actually, it was an old argument that was renewed every time I did something Jiri considered weird, which was mostly whenever we were leaving the apartment and I started for the whole milk and white bread. It was a trick that was supposed to attract the faeries, faeries like these little gnome-type things called Brownies that were pretty much what J.K. Rowling called House Elvesin her Harry Potter series. Brownies were supposed to be invisible creatures that cleaned your house when you weren't home. Of course, if you pissed them off, Brownies were also the reason socks started coming back from the laundry with only one of a set, and how your keys just kept disappearing even though you know you'd set them right there.
Thinking of this, I wondered if there was some faerie pissed off at me for some reason. Was that why my textbooks seemed to keep disappearing? Of course, Jiri always found the lost items. I was really just absent-minded. I was always losing things. Faeries were just too easy to blame.
I turned and went away before Jiri could really start in on me and my natural weirdness. He'd been after me all of my life, trying to get me to stop believing in fairytales and the like. It wasn't just something I'd picked up after my parents died, some psychological way to counter the sometimes paralyzing grief—I'd believed in faeries since… well, forever. I used to have imaginary friends, but not like other kids have them. I didn't just have one or two, I had lots. The stories my parents could tell about me and my imaginary friends! There were entire dinner parties that I hosted for them, where I insisted in dressing up in my most fanciful dress, which was actually just my yellow rain-coat and a pair of my mother's high-heels, so they said.
But then, I was a lonely kid until Jiri came along. Everyone else in my preschool classes, and then later, in kindergarten, thought I was just way too weird to play with. I took the game of Pretend too far. When everyone else wanted to play House, I would start babbling about Brownies and gnomes, and the ghoul that lived in the basement, and the other kids shied away from me. People couldn't even play board games with me without something weird happening. A piece would disappear off the board while someone looked away, and when they looked back and found it gone they blamed it on me, and I blamed it on my imaginary friends—Well, I guess it's safe to admit that child psychologists got involved. Kids went to their parents to tell of today's weirdness when playing with Vaydell Burgundy, and as the stories grew increasingly strange, the parents started going to the teachers, who, of course, went to my parents and begged that my sanity be checked.
The imaginary friends faded into the past once Jiri started hanging around with me. I didn't forget them; they just stopped showing up. At first this hurt my feelings—Was I finally so weird that not even the make-believe things wanted to play with me? When I told Jiri of my worries, he laughed his bell-chiming laugh, which was much higher-pitched back then, and told me that the make-believe things had been neglecting their other duties and could no longer play with me until these duties had been fulfilled.
My being five-years-old at the time as well as half-in love with him already, I believed my one and only friend wholeheartedly. Later, when I started up with my fairytales, Jiri would listen but not like he was interested. Finally, when Jiri learned of my faerie-attracting routines, the arguments would begin about faeries not being real. When Roan was born two years later, when Jiri and I were just seven, the words 'Grow up' would enter the arguments, always towards the end.
To which I only had one unbending answer, 'No.'
"Listen," said Jiri, chasing me down five levels of stairs. "You have responsibilities now! You've got to look after Roan. And what type of example are you setting with all these fairytales? He's already eleven! And he's starting to take after you! Yesterday, he was going out to play with his buddy Paulo, and you know what I caught him doing before he left? Cleaning his room! I asked him why, and you know what he said? 'Because Vay says the faeries like a clean living-space.' That's a direct quote!"
I smiled, approving of my brother's answer.
"Stop smiling like you approve, Vay! That's exactly what I mean! He's gonna grow up all weird in the head!"
I spun around, unable to avoid the argument anymore. It was a direct insult. Unprepared for my sudden stop, Jiri plowed into me, and we tumbled down the rest of the flight and into the wall. Jiri was on top and my heart was in my throat, and my ankle hurt, but I ignored all of that. After fourteen years of covering up my ardent crush on my best friend, I had become a master at ignoring the urge to grab the collar of his shirt and bring his mouth down to mine so that after all these years I could at last taste that sweet minty breath.
Ooh, bad thoughts. Bad Vaydell.
Breathing a little harder than usual, as we had been running down the stairs, I glared into Jiri's wide yellow eyes, which suddenly had a tint of green to them. His eyes were always changing colors. Sometimes there was a tint of orange to the yellow, sometimes a tint of green, sometimes a hint of purple or gray or blue. I didn't know what all the color-changing meant. Were those eyes like a mood-ring? Did they change color with his mood? Or were they more chameleon-like, changing color with his surroundings? Or were they just very whimsical, multicolored eyes? Maybe they really were magical after all. I almost smiled at my thoughts, but then remembered that I was supposed to be mad at Jiri. I scowled instead.
"'All weird in the head,' huh?" I repeated breathily, quietly, angrily. "Is that a direct quote, too?"
"You are weird," he retorted, just as breathless. "You've admitted it. You think it yourself. Do you want your brother to end up like that?"
His face was too close, his breath too minty, his natural scent too… wild. Jiri smelled like flowers. I never saw him put on perfume, but he always smelled like a garden. He made me think of when I was young, before Roan was born, when my parents brought me to Marvin Gardens and we saw an ice-show. There hadn't been flowers then, but there would be in spring, they told me, and we could come back and see them. We did go back in spring, and by then Mom was pregnant with Roan. Jiri's natural scent reminded me of going back to Marvin Gardens in spring, of that new life in Mom's belly; but Jiri himself reminded me of the wintertime. I didn't know why. It was an odd mix, but then, Jiri's eyes were an odd mix, too. I'd never seen eyes even remotely like his. Maybe it was because he was so pale. Was that why he reminded me of wintertime? I knew that he loved the outdoors, he was always outside when he didn't have to be inside, but his creamy white skin never appeared to generate a tan. Was it cold in Czechoslovakia? Were all the people there so pale? It was as if Jiri had come from someplace where it was eternally winter, as if his epidermis had set up a natural defense to keep him from getting burned by the sun.
Jiri's gaze took on a sad, yet smiling look. "You're thinking up fairytales again, aren't you?"
I hate it when he reads my mind. Not that he really can. Actually I'm just that transparent; all of my thoughts are clear on my face, in my expression. I'm surprised Jiri hasn't picked up on my being so dearly in love with him yet—Or perhaps he has and just doesn't want to acknowledge it, which I'm okay with because I wouldn't want us to stop being friends just because our little love connection turned out to be a dud.
"No," I lied sullenly, and looked away. But there was nowhere to look that wasn't Jiri. He was sitting on my chest, and when I looked away I found myself staring at his right arm, and when I looked to the other side, there was his left arm. If I looked up then his face was in mine, and if I looked down there was his… (ahem) lap. He had landed so that he was pinning me. I wondered if that was on purpose. Probably not. I looked back up into Jiri's face, scowling again. "Will you get offa me? We're already an hour late for school."
He leaned in closer, his lips brushing against mine he was so close. "Say that you don't believe in faeries."
I could have said it just to get him off me, but I couldn't. Something was holding me back. What? I didn't know. Probably just my unwilling stubbornness. It wasn't just not wanting to lie to my friend; there was more to it than that. Instead I found myself sucking in my lips and biting them from the inside, staring levelly into the green-tinted yellow eyes and praying that Jiri didn't pursue this attack, because if he actually did kiss me then I wouldn't be able to stop myself from kissing him back. And what would happen then? What if he didn't feel anything? Or what if he started using me like he used all his other play-things? I didn't want to become another one of them, as much as I pitied them, as close as I already was to joining their numbers.
Yet Jiri backed off, sighing heavily. I almost opened my mouth to scream, Why? Why didn't you do it? You can have me, can't you see that? You can have all of me!
A single thought stopped me, though: What if he doesn't want all of me?