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6. Forever Twenty-One

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Her name was Dacien.

She was Linkon’s baby sister.

And one of the toughest girls on the street at the time.

What Linkon didn’t know…was that she was Colt’s girl also. She didn’t “get caught” by our side. She was always on our side. The really funny thing about this way was that none of the lines were clear; everything was blurry, slightly out of context. Just barely out of focus. That’s what made this war so dangerous. There were no clear-cut sides. No definite rules. The opposition’s ruler hid in the shadows. We were left to wonder. If there was anyone above Linkon, that is. It could’ve been a lie.

Anything could’ve been a lie. Nothing clear. Nothing real.

The only thing that I know to be true is this – I knew Linkon once, from another time, another place, another life. From the person that I used to be – a person that I no longer was. I had escaped from it a long time ago. I had escaped his piercing eyes, fingers that felt so soft but could hold on like a vice. I had walked out. Away. And I had come here. And every time I thought about him, I could feel a tear sneak down my cheek. No matter how hard I tried, how far I ran away…he would always be there. And I would always be his. There was no escaping it. I was his from the time I was orphaned onto the street. He was my master. My owner, my creator. I owed my existence to him.

And I was the pup that bit the hand that fed her.

And instead of taking the punches, I ran away. And I’ve been running ever since. Headlong…right back to the start.

Linkon Ransom and his sister, Dacien. He was older than me. I had never met her before the day they dragged her in. I heard about her. The free tiger. But I’d never seen her until just then. At that very moment. Linkon made me what I am. While his sister roamed free, I bore her chains. He needed control, and I was born into his waiting bonds. And it was from his caged realm of life that I broke out, that I learned what it is to run. And I came to define freedom. I lived where I could, how I had to. And nothing else mattered.

It’s tattooed on my body somewhere. It’s up to you to figure out where. It says simply:

“Courtesy of Linkon Ransom. Upon death, send my compliments.”

He was the most handsome thing you’d ever see. The kind of badass guy that the young girls fall in love with. And he knew it. That’s how he got away with murder. He was like a father figure to me until I got older. When he decided I was better suited to serve him in other ways.

Mr. Linkon Ransom was my first kiss. The first guy I ever slept with. The first guy to leave bruises too dark and deep to cover. The first one to break bones or crack ribs.  The first guy to scar me forever. But he couldn’t keep me. In the end, he lost. Just like we all do.

I had good reason to hate him. I had a million good reasons. And the fact that even his sister was against him only drove my point home. It was just there. For all to see. He was a jerk. As compassionate as he tried to be, as sweet and innocent as he tries to portray himself, he’s acting for an invisible audience. Sure, maybe he cleaned up. But I’ll never erase the images from my mind. No. More than images – memories. Actual events. Things that happened. Things that he said. To me. About me. It’s all real. Very real. And I can’t escape it; no matter how many times I pack up my life, or how many places I take it. It’ll still be there, haunting me.

To be damned.

Either which way.

Every which way.

That’s just how the game was running these days. No rules. Everything that might’ve been real…wasn’t. That’s life. The lines are blurry. Nothing clear-cut. I don’t know. I was getting used to a world where nothing was clearly defined. That’s just how it was. I might’ve been raised in a realm where the rules were always changing. Maybe. I’m not entirely sure. I’m never entirely sure about anything. What’s the point in being positive? Humans are creatures of indecision, ideas created from thin air…and we survive. That’s life. The world keeps spinning. That’s just the way it goes.

I healed up over time. And I went back to work. I stayed outside the bar, playing in all sorts of weather. Colt had security tightened. The girls that ran the bar had already been hit, but they were back to work. Time had ceased to function. We were gone and then we were back. Days were months, hours were weeks…logic became non-existent. It was like falling asleep and living in a dream world. The ups were downs. And you couldn’t be sure if you were asleep or awake. I stayed outside, usually with a small group of people nearby. Nobody screwed with me. Nobody started anything. And I felt at ease, or at least slightly better than before.

I still sat on my suitcase, always ready to run away. I still sang from my soul, tearing the wounds open from the inside out. I still played with my heart, praying the gods could understand. This was life. This was moving and running. This was avoidance. This was escape. Mine. Always. Always. Forever. Always. Say it with me. Maybe you can understand. Maybe. Not.

I played. I was in pain still, but the pain I was in wouldn’t heal. It was internal. It was deep down, buried in my heart’s depths. It wouldn’t die. Even after I was long gone, I was convinced that it would strive. And I played. Night and day. I quit sleeping for a while. The guys tried to talk me out of it, to get me to work less. I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t run from this. I would stay and wait for them to come back for me, to finish the job. To end the cycle. I was playing Russian roulette…backwards. Instead of one bullet, there were five. I just kept landing on the empty chamber.

I was out one night, near the end of the week, playing in the rain. I saw Colt coming from miles away, from far down the street. He just had that presence – you could feel him in the wind. I played louder, stronger. I was beyond exhausted, but I persisted anyway. I couldn’t sleep. I wouldn’t rest. I would wait. I would wait. Time would run out eventually. It would end. I would die. And it would all be over. I watched him come, weaving through the people, hands in his pockets. He stopped at the case and dropped a few coins in, winking down at me. I stopped playing and looked up.

“You look like you need a drink,” he whispered as he bent down, closer to me. I nodded a bit and he helped me up. We went into the bar. We sat at a table in the furthest corner, keeping away from any sort of excitement. I heard shuffling steps, looking up I found Irish standing by the table. Colt was talking to her calmly about minor topics of interest.

“The latest?” he questioned. She heaved a sigh.

“Slowing down, they’re giving us a good once over. Suspiciously quiet lately.”

Colt nodded, ordered drinks, and Irish was on her way. She was very forceful in the fight; she took up the reins where others had faltered. She came back shortly, tending to us personally. These were tense times right now. There was a war going on and the sides were dwindling and swelling in turn. The injured refused to stay on the bench for long. I still had bruises and bandages over my body. There was no end in sight, no peace to be made. I was thinking about all of this when she entered.

The infamous, Dacien. Also known as – the enemy.

This was our territory, our home. Everyone knew it. And all eyes turned to watch her come through. Everyone waited, holding their collective breath. They were all dying to see what she had up her sleeve. She wasn’t safe here. She knew it. You could feel the tension. You could hear the sudden hush of conversations stopped mid-sentences. Drinks hung in midair, inches from waiting lips. And the bar was patient.

She sat right at the bar. And waited.

And I sat watching her, shaking my head slowly to myself. All I could think was – This is not my life. This is not my life.

Colt was standing in place. I didn’t notice him get up – I didn’t hear the sound. I don’t think he consciously realized he was standing. But he was. His arms were at his sides, the one hand shaking involuntarily. His eyes were closed for a while as he tried to think of what to do. I was looking at both of them. Irish was still moving. I watched her slide a drink over to Dacien. Talk was exchanged, money too. When the world didn’t end, Colt moved over to the bar, taking a seat next to her.

I watched the two of them go back and forth, talking here and there, drinking mostly. Irish had poured Colt a fresh one. The two sat talking for a while. When they started laughing together, the place’s atmosphere calmed down. I sipped at my own drink, watching them from afar. Another few minutes passed and the two got up and left together. They went to the circus. The bar resumed business as usual as they walked out.

Irish and Gin had worked at the bar for years, so I was told. They were close friends with Colt. I liked Irish better, she just had more to her, she was tougher, more admirable. I trusted her more than the rest. She had been through a lot, had seen it all. And she was still here. I had to respect that. Who and what she was, what she stood for. She came over to me after I had been abandoned to see how I was.

“Do you trust her?” I asked. She shrugged.

“He’s the boss, he knows what he’s doing. But she is the enemy. I wouldn’t put it past her to be playing him as the fool to serve her own ends. Linkon’s not the sweetest guy in the world, no matter how hard he tries.”

I coughed at the words. I knew it from experience. I knew it from memories. I tried to take a sip to cover the cough. I tried to think of a response to end the silence. I didn’t have one. Irish sat down for a minute.

“Are you alright?” she whispered. Her voice was calmer, more…maternal. I looked up and nodded a bit. I was soaked from the rain, my guitar leaning against the table next to me. She nodded quietly to herself then slammed her hands on the table. I jumped out of the chair, finding myself standing, searching the place. She got up and stepped over to me, putting a hand on my shoulder.

“Sorry,” I muttered.

She smiled a silly little grin. “And you’re doing just fine, right?”

I hung my head down. I had a job to do. I had sleep to get. No. Work came first. I picked up the guitar and started to move away. Irish reached out and grabbed my shoulder again. I wheeled around to face her.

“Anything else?” I muttered.

She pressed a key into my empty hand. I looked her in the eye. She looked around the bar, waving at one of the guys by the door. He came over.

“Take her to my place. Make sure she sleeps. Bring Dusk with you.”

And with that, I was sent to sleep. I was sent away from the battlefield, in case something blew up. I was too tired to fight anyway. And I was led away. We found Dusk along the trip, and we were led back to Irish’s place. I hadn’t been to my own apartment in ages. It felt like years. Irish’s place was in good shape, everything neat. It looked like she hadn’t been here in ages either. I didn’t think about it much – I just collapsed. My guitar was left in the bar in Irish’s care. Meaning…I couldn’t go back to work until they saw fit to allow it.

Dusk walked around the place silently. We said nothing to each other the entire way home. But in the apartment alone, the air of uncertainty was overpowering. We’d both been working for days straight with no rest. I was lying on the couch, watching Dusk pace around. He gave up after awhile and dropped down near me. We rearranged ourselves so that we could curl up together. Even though we didn’t know one another as well as we should’ve, his presence was comforting. I could sleep in his arms.

And that’s all that mattered.

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