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3. Devotion

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My words are honest, uncensored, unthinking. The truest form of writing – no hidden messages, nothing between the lies; simple words. No prior planning or ideas, just pure expression. That’s what it’s supposed to be, after all. Rules and restrictions are foolish, put in place to make potentials writers too afraid to try because of embarrassment, from not knowing the proper usage of a grammatical symbol. I write what’s in my heart to say, though my mind may not follow.

It was dark, day long gone to rest, when Darius and Draven returned. They moved down the street steadily, heads bent from the rain in each other’s shadow. They ran up the stairs to the apartment; I heard the vivid steps as they passed. I was surprised when a hand tapped my shoulder and I wheeled around to see Darius, looking tired but smiling weakly. She’d edged in so quietly that I wasn’t sure if she was real.

“How’d it go?” I asked, half afraid to know. She sat herself on my lap, more from lack of effort to stand than anything else. She sighed heavily, curling up in my arms. “Everything’s fine, he got custody,” she grinned mischievously, “We made them think that we were normal.” She laughed half-heartedly, getting comfortable in my lap. I kissed her forehead softly.

“What’s your middle and last name?” I asked in a childish tone, laced with laughter. She herself laughed, amused at my question. After a moment she saw that I was serious. “Riddle,” she laughed, “Darius Alyson Riddle,” she replied at last. The name was truly unique. “And Draven’s name is Draven Icarus Riddle,” she laughed again. The two names floated in my head like a new favorite song, I whispered them over and over until Darius quietly hushed my rambling. She looked at me playfully and asked mine.

“Raine Edward Drake,” I replied simply, as if I’d just decided on it. She stirred carefully before whispering, “Darius Alyson Drake,” and with a small grin, she fell asleep. I carried her out the open door I’d left absent-mindedly and brought her home. Draven was sitting in a chair, alone in the darkness with the cat in his lap. Petting it softly, he welcomed me. I moved to Darius’ room and tucked her into bed. Her eyes fluttered as she watched me carefully, asking for me to stay without a spoken word. I told her I’d return and walked back to Draven. He was as I’d left him, his manner steady yet emotionless.

Our perceptions were changed now, we viewed one another differently. In a few short days we’d matured and respect intensified. I went out to the hall to find the same girl who’d tripped Draven; she stood in the hall wide-eyed and confused. I moved past her back home, reminding myself to return to Darius. But as I descended, I sensed someone watching me. Looking back I found her behind me, carefully matching her steps to mine. The silent stare burned through my spine, urging me on. Without a word I quickened my pace and went home, closing the door behind me. I heard the steps outside stop and pass. Strange people . . .

The new dawn came bright and fresh. I went out to see who was home, only to find the place empty. I watched the careless time pass, deciding how to waste the day. I crept upstairs to see Darius still asleep, then back down to change. I found the most typical clothes I could find, tying a tie as I moved to the door. I decided that today I’d make changes. What brought about my sudden excitement, I’ll never know. But I set out to get a job.

Life’s fleeting; it’s a cycle of joy and sorrow. Nobody lays in a bed of roses everyday of eternity without feeling the thorns. I’d seen enough sorrow and seems fate wouldn’t be making any good fortune for me. So I’d help myself. For a long time I was ignorant of many things made obvious by others. Ignorance is a funny thing – it’s like describing the vividness of the sunset to a blind child; he can only hear you, he must trust you. But to hear of something he’ll never be able to do for himself makes him bitter and less attentive.

The streets were a little busier as the masses moved rapidly. I moved from place to place searching for a job. I tried everywhere in every profession. My general appearance led some to promptly say no to my question, while others were more socially accepting. I wandered past a tattoo parlor, admiring the designs in the window. The street continued to flow around me.

“Coming in?” a voice asked shyly, detached from my dazed perception. I turned quickly to see the persistent stalker girl holding the door open, watching me nervously. I heard a deep voice yell, ‘No loitering!” from inside, moving closer. A weathered looking man emerged; I assumed that he was the owner. He glared at me, turning a compassionate eye toward the girl. I muttered an excuse about job searching and turned to go when she grabbed my arm. I couldn’t understand the attachment issues.

“Why don’t you apply here?’ she questioned urgently, the gruff man still watching. His eyes softened as he came closer to me. “So you need a job? Any friend of my girl’s a friend of mine and deserves a chance,” he spoke without hesitation, pride booming in his voice. I followed them both inside, explaining that I knew nothing about the business. I found myself sitting anyway, talking absent-mindedly about myself. The girl wandered off as I spoke.

“No experience? I could use you for basic stock and all, but if you could pierce or tattoo it’d help me better,” his voice was thoughtful. He thrust a notebook in my lap and told me to draw. I sat motionless, dazed. “Draw what?” I questioned mentally. He shrugged, “Anything, everything; whatever’s in your heart to draw.” My mind raced as my hand blindly began to work, moving briskly. The only noise was the pencil’s scratching and the man’s pacing. After ten minutes passed, he grabbed the book from under me, carefully examining it. An uncomfortable silence passed as I waited for some sort of response. He kept pacing quietly, dropping the book in my lap. Darius’ eyes stared back at me from the page’s pencil strokes.

“You’re hired,” he said softly, patting my back as he wandered away.

The young girl re-emerged and sat shyly across from me. I watched her movements carefully, searching for more information. No clue of her personality was revealed except her obvious nervous nature. Her downcast eyes evaded my own, trying desperately to stay focused to that one spot. Her voice was solid yet soft; defiant but curious. She told me to come back tomorrow to work everything out. As I got up to leave, I saw her eyes lock on the notebook I’d left, abandoned. She was still staring at it as I slid out the door onto the street.

Darius stood outside nonchalantly – she drew no attention to herself, although she stood out from the masses. I kissed her quickly, suddenly feeling guilty. She moved to walk away as I ran in front of her.

“What’s wrong? I got a job.”

She smiled a sorrowful grin. “Nothing, I’m happy for you.” Darius was different then, tired. Her steps were inconsistent – balanced yet drunken. She tripped at one point – I reached out to catch her. A faint smell of alcohol woke me up from a trance; I brought her home.

By the time we’d gotten back I realized that she was bleeding from her arms from jagged cuts with small glass fragments in them. Draven was nowhere to be seen, I was too busy to care. She was calm yet almost delirious by this time, I tried desperately to get her to explain what happened. She rambled aimlessly about all manner of things to distract my attention. It took twenty minutes to take care of her physical wounds; the mental ones would require a lifetime.

Night came swiftly; I sat awake on the couch with Darius curled up in my lap, safe in my arms. She was peaceful, her chest heavily slowly in time with my own. I looked around the room, hearing a distinct tone. A phone hung neglected by its’ cord, the tone unmistakable. I moved her gently onto the couch so I could hang up the phone. Upon closer inspection, I saw a dark spot on the floor. I found the carpet moist, smelling of alcohol. Large glass shards lay on the ground, the largest pieces stained with fresh blood.

The phone clicked down quietly as I bent to pick up the pieces – a comparison to our current situation. The jagged edges glimmered in the evening light as I sat thinking.

“Cid died,” I heard Darius whisper quietly. “Complications,” her voice trailed off, ending in eerie silence. In made sense now. Cid’s death evoked some sort of remorse, but also it made Darius responsible. It was murder now, but it was an accident. I returned to the couch, taking her in my lap again. I held her tightly to my chest as muffled cries emerged to match the tears that stained my shirt.

I remember dreaming; sharp, vivid thoughts preserved in the subconscious of a delirious mind. Dreams that were waking nightmares, I remember screams and insane thoughts. I woke up alone on the floor, drenched in sweat. Darius was up, looking vacantly out a dim window, glancing back at me carelessly. I got up groggily, remembering the broken alcohol bottle and the grim news of death lurking. The glass had been cleaned up, the blood stains covered; all distant memories. I moved to Darius but was shrugged off. I crept out quietly, returning home. Showering and changing, I rushed off to work.

I saw Draven in the hall as I passed; he seemed pensive at this early hour. I updated him on the latest news and he ran off to support his sister. His sister. The word still haunted me. I moved past the memory and found a familiar face at the foot of the stairs. The girl was there, smoking absent-mindedly, glancing around casually. Seeing me she seemed alarmed, coughing on the smoke, attempting to act nonchalant. She was startled obviously, I moved to her slowly.

“Stalking is illegal in all fifty states you know,” I heard myself say. She laughed softly, daring not to ruin the silence.

“I live here, it’s not stalking. I’m Madison,” she told me sharply.

“What’s your first name?”

“I told you, Madison,” she seemed confused, as was I. The slight error made me grin sheepishly before muttering my own silly name. It echoed through the silence that had returned like an old friend. Sensing the uncomfortable atmosphere, we moved to the street to enjoy the brighter atmosphere. We walked to my new job slowly, speaking plainly about common topics like weather and general society. She seemed nice enough, just overly tense. I questioned that along our walk.

“What do you mean, nervous? I’m fine,” her voice pleaded with me as she tried desperately to convince herself. She looked away from my cold stare.

“What is it?’ I heard myself ask softly. She seemed evasive but still boldly answered. “They say things about you . . .” her voice trailed off before finding solid ground to proceed, “Bad things . . . they say that you’re a gang leader, a hoodlum, a murderer . . . your eye is like that from bloody brawls . . .” her words ceased abruptly.

I was shocked for several different reasons at once. The harsh words, accusations – much to keep in mind. My eye? I quickened pace to the tattoo parlor and gazed at myself for the first time in years. Sure enough, there was a long gash down my left eye, a long straight line stretching down my cheek. It tapered to a thin point, standing bright red against my pale complexion. I sat amazed, entranced, for a long time. I was utterly amazed. Turning, I found Madison sharing my reflective gaze. She looked scared, silently watching for a response. I just nodded kindly, urging her closer.

“I’m not a hoodlum, I’ve killed no-one and the only gang I lead is my group of friends. I’ve seen fighting and violence, but I’m far more serene then I’m made out to be.”

She seemed a little relieved, still a bit worried, but calm nonetheless. I moved to the back to see her father and begin work. It was decided that I could become a certified, legal artist and piercer. I was to be taught to tattoo by him and I’d attend classes to learn the rest of body modification. It would take time to do, but I signed up readily. The day flew by quickly and the boss seemed pleased. Madison was only seen for fleeting moments, moving about. I came to learn that she was a talented artist.

“You’re done for today,” my boss told me, giving a little smirk, “Unless you want something.” He was looking me over closely, focusing on my left eye. “I can cover that with some ink if you want,” he watched my consideration. I turned from him and stared again into the mirror, my eyes reflecting themselves. My decision came fast.

“Sure.”

I don’t remember pain. Or sleep or dreams. Just blackness, a void. Emptiness. I woke up groggily to Madison’s bright blue eyes, narrowed with concern. Noise, click, tick . . . noise . . . voice, no, a name. My name, slow, questioning. Yes, I remember responding senselessly, empty words. Pain came back, the left side of my face ached, the pain seared, rushing through my veins. Burning – as I stared out of my right eye slowly, everything was dim and painful. I winced, clenching my eyes shut and tried to go back to sleep. I was shaken awake.

Darius was there, watching me with tender eyes; loving gaze being mine. She stayed, calling my name, helping me up. I clung to her, grasping for the headache to stop, the world to stop spinning. I told her I loved her and I longed to see her, but couldn’t because everything was dark. She shushed my random speech and helped me sit up. I loved her.

Deceit. Absolute trickery. Mockery of emotion. Made a fool of. Ignorant of my true surroundings. And from that world, I awoke. Madison helped me sit, looking confused and embarrassed. My delusions made her appear to be my love. A white bandage was taken from my face so that I could look gingerly in the mirror. The red line was covered by black for the most part, leaving a sharp red triangle. Two little spikes connected the line on my cheek to the bottom of my eye. It made my eye look dark and foreboding, outlined in black and red, my left pupil faded to gray. I smiled to myself, admiring the work that had driven me to pass out from the pain for it was tender. But I endured and now I gazed at myself and knew I’d found something of purpose. A new passion was born as my blood raged.

Night had settled in as Madison led me home. I recognized Draven outside catching a smoke as we approached. Madison grew more nervous, grasping at me, hiding behind my brooding figure. She whispered urgently in my ear:

“Hide me now and I’ll tell your girl nothing of your delusional rambling. I’ll explain later.”

The thought of blackmail added to my blood’s boiling, but I helped her sneak past without attracting Draven’s attention. He looked at me casually, shrugging his shoulders against a chilly breeze.

“Syrius is out,” he said quietly. I saw the brightness in the corner of his eye. He threw a newspaper to me, “Read.” My eyes glanced the page when the cold touch of steel graced my neck and an ancient familiar voice said, “Yer money or yer life kid.” I pulled myself out of the hold and embraced my old friend and brother. He smiled a smug grin and pushed away, attempting to spar with me. We went back and forth, laughing carelessly.

Syrius . . . there’s a lot to say. He’s like family, we grew up together. He was confident and cocky, like all guys, but humane. Ole Syrius had a girl once, but she wasn’t happy. Killed herself and Syrius too, he was never the same afterward. He’s the oldest at 20 now; he looked young and old at the same time. He looked rough now, just out of some head-shrinker joint for a while, some sort of rehab. He’s an orphan too, ole Syr, but a damn good kid nonetheless. The cops caught him awhile back and put him through all that foster care nonsense when he was younger. Been through a lot, a lot . . . his girl died in his arms. Nothing to be done. That’s the tragedy that is life.

We raced upstairs, Draven included, to see Darius, least I did. I left the other two outside the door. Syrius got weird around girls; I didn’t want to rush anything . . . unpleasant. When I could visit him in “rehab” I brought her a few times; each time he reacted differently. Emotions ranged from joy to hatred and his speech ranged calm and even to distorted and impulsive. I went inside and saw Darius pacing around, tidying random items around the room. My footsteps seemed to echo endlessly in the uncomfortable silence as I waited for her to realize I was there.

“Your eye,” she whispered, her back still turned to me, “You’re angry that I didn’t tell you sooner . . . but it’s fixed now.” She turned, “Something’s different.”

I moved closer to her, “I’m not mad, and what do you mean, different?’ She turned at this, looking pensive. Words were lost, she moved close and I embraced her, whispering softly that Syrius was outside. If she cared, it didn’t show, but she didn’t refuse when I offered to go see him. The place looked brighter as we moved toward the door. I realized how much more welcoming it seemed without Cid, still cold and dark in places, but much different. Things were changing in a subtle, yet rapid way but none of it was significant – there was just us stepping through the door.

Syrius and Draven were engrossed in conversation, catching up on the latest in life and society. They were leaning against the wall side by side, throwing a glance as we left the apartment. Draven grinned his sly smile and Syrius seemed a little taken aback. I introduced them, for the first time they could physically meet without separation, and they stood staring for a while. Silence leered at the reunion of friends, two of which stood in opposition, hands locked in a friendly courtesy. I saw the muscles in Syrius’ entire body freeze, then spasm slightly. He blinked, returning to reality, and stepped back, muttering to himself. We didn’t bother to say anything at the moment.

Darius wasn’t alarmed. Something that always amazed me was how the strangest parts of human behavior never scared her. Of all the crazy things we’d seen, she never flinched. Even as she stared at Syrius, who could pose a potential threat, she never moved. Not a word was spoken, nothing to interrupt an unusually tense moment. She led us down the stairs and outside where we caught a smoke. From there, we went walking aimlessly, talking about whatever came to mind. The entire time, Syrius’ eyes couldn’t meet Darius’, or refused to. Tension built and hid carefully behind the jovial atmosphere of reunion.

Walking around aimlessly, we passed by my job, dark and foreboding. Shadows cast from higher buildings made the parlor look sinister and evil; animated drawings in the windows were twisted into demonic creations. Darius seemed to approve as the childish air came over her and she smiled at the designs scattered over the window. Syrius was watching the streets and the sky, gathering topics of contemplation for later. Something struck him then and he froze, his eyes wide. I turned and recognized Madison, coming in our general direction, head down, hands in her pockets. She was wandering, like us, going nowhere in particular. Syrius stood frozen as she saw me and approached.

“Hey, having a good night?” Her eyes moved from person to person, resting on Darius, moving quickly into the shadows when she saw Draven. He, like Syrius, seemed confused and couldn’t stop staring.

“Who are you?” I remember Draven’s authoritative tone, demanding truth. When she refused to answer, he jumped forward and grabbed her by her shoulders, dragging her into the light. A small gasp escaped him as he tottered backwards.

“I’m sorry Draven, I couldn’t tell you. After my sister died, I was sent away by my parents. They thought you might have had something to do with it. Things have changed, I’m sorry, for everything . . .” she looked at Syrius and we all stared at one another in awe. What was going on?

I convinced everyone to go to Darius’ apartment to figure everything out. We traveled in silence and ascended the stairs in the same fashion. Through the doorway, we all sat and stared at the floor; Syrius spoke first:

“I’ll tell you my piece first. Your girl, Darius, looks like my old girl, Faye . . . just takes me back awhile.”

The mention of the name made him shake, as did Madison. She got up next.

“When Raine came in for a job and was asked to sketch something, he drew a girl which looked hauntingly like my sister – but it was really Darius. After my sister died, my family sent me away, I was forced to lie to my boyfriend because I didn’t think I’d be back. But here I am, faced with the loose ends left before I left. My sister, Faye . . .” she paused, watching Syrius, “Well my parents felt that it was the people she hung out with that pushed her too far.”

Everything came full circle as the truth set in. Darius had made them stop because she bore the face of a dead girl. Madison was Draven’s old girl from awhile back, I remembered her now. She’d changed her appearance since then, as most of us had. Darius seemed lost, distant from the rest of us. Her eyes moved from Syrius to Madison and back again. Draven got up and went to another room, Madison close behind. Darius got up after they left and moved to Syrius. His eyes were moist and empty. She bent low, hugging him, holding him close, whispering gently into his ear. I watched quietly as they stayed like that for a while, until Syrius stopped shaking. When he was calm, she let go softly, kissing him on the cheek and forehead, and she returned to me.

“He’ll be alright,” she whispered softly to me.

“What’d you say to him?”

She smiled her small devilish grin, “That’s between him and I, and God,” she laughed in a general mocking tone, climbing carefully onto my lap. She was gentle, as always, as she curled up with me, watching me intently. I heard Syrius mutter something to himself. I asked him to speak up.

“All of life is pain and suffering, anger and hate, and in the cycle of never-ending salvation and suffering, I’m the dancing fool at the end of the tunnel, the ignorant jester who does nothing but smile and babble heresy while chanting hypocritical nonsense to confuse more sane-minded individuals.”

Darius and I both stared in disbelief at the source of such profound terms. He seemed a bit shocked himself as he refrained from speaking anymore. He curled up in the chair like a child and closed his eyes. Nothing more was said as we all slowly fell asleep; Darius in my arms, Syrius in the chair, Draven and Madison locked away, hidden from conviction.

The next morning was less eventful; we’d all forgotten the drama and strived to move on. Madison emerged from the dying shadows, disoriented but conscious. As she wandered around, I heard Darius whisper:

“You think he screwed her?” I looked down at her devilish grin, that childish charm that made me laugh softly. I tickled her sides as she struggled to squeeze away from me, laughing loudly. Her eyes were gentle and warm, a welcoming shade of blue. I felt the sting of being watched, finding Syrius looking upon us quietly.

“Yer worse then young’n’s,” he tried to snarl, but smiled wide at our playful nature. Madison was a little stressed because she couldn’t go to work in the same clothes from the day before, it would raise suspicion. Darius grabbed her abruptly and dragged her off to her room, passing a sleepy Draven. I heard the mutter of voices and Darius’ speech, a small laugh and Draven’s shuffling footsteps. He was grinning too as he sat down.

“What’s so funny?”

“Your girl there just asked me if I screwed Madison, “ he chuckled to himself, a pause.

“Well?”

He leaned in toward us, “I’ll tell you the same thing I told Darius – gentlemen don’t boast of their conquests or defile their loved ones with pettiness such as that.”

“What’d Darius say to that?”

“She said I was a fool for trying to confuse her but she wouldn’t hold it against me that I was a sentimental gent instead of a typical bastard,” he was still laughing a bit.

“So ye didn’t then, right?” Syrius’ speech style differentiated him from us. I understood what happened but we lost ole Syrius along the way. Draven and I both laughed until Syrius’ eyebrows arched in confusion as he too gave in to laughter.

Madison came out right then with Darius hovering behind her and we all stopped. There was something about the two of them there, their feminine beauty bold and limitless. Pride came shining through from them both as we all stared in awe. There was a general silence as the feeling of accepted change crept over us. For a long time, Darius was the only girl in the group, alpha female – she accustomed herself to us and our traditions, she was like one of the guys. We could joke and mess around without boundaries; she was as tough as we were, if not more so. But in all that time, she never expressed herself as a girl; never risking her stature of respect.

Now was a momentous occasion because she wasn’t alone. Madison and her were a separate niche in the group, they had each other for support. Darius had someone to treat her like a girl, someone new and interesting. They looked like statues, frozen in their powerful pose, more beautiful than the gods.

The sun was settled comfortably in the morning sky as we walked to the tattoo parlor. The reflection on the glass windows made a slight shine of rainbow color that pierced through objects, breaking all concepts of physics. The parlor was empty except for Madison’s father, moving around listlessly. As we all entered, he looked up joyfully to see his daughter’s return. He hugged her quickly; holding her close, then eyed us over one by one. His sight rested on Syrius and Darius.

“You can get started son, working,” his voice trailed off, “I remember you,” his eyes narrowed at Syrius. “You killed her, didn’t you?” What business have you here, get out!” His words became louder and more abrupt as he broke into a sort of a yell.

Syrius is a strong kid, but the look of hatred on the man’s face before him made him twitch, eyes lowering. His spirit was within stone’s throw of breaking, but he stood firm.

“I never hurt her, I loved her, it was you that hurt her. I loved her, I was there when she left us; when the last breath came, I was with her. Where were you?” The words were sharp and vindictive, his glance narrow and glaring. The man staggered under the blow as Syrius moved to leave. We said quiet goodbyes as he left, the door’s slamming definitive of his absence. And so there we stood.

I followed Madison off to start lessons and routines. Draven crept out silently, leaving Darius to observe the new surroundings. The man prowled back and forth, irritable and loathsome. He stopped when he saw that she was still there and stared at the delusional vision. I watched warily as I worked, he stood frozen in time and thought. As Darius sat, as did he. Quiet overpowered all else as emotions raced, silently. I went back to work, hearing their voices every so often. They flowed at times like music, harmonizing together, sweet words that told a story. I kept to myself until there was a concluding silence, where I waited for some notion of peace.

The day dragged on as Madison taught me all that she knew, carefully taking the time to go over everything in detail. I watched and absorbed information, locking everything safely away in my mind. I’d start classes soon to become a licensed artist and piercer, and a damn good one with the guidance I had. Time passed swiftly, continuous, as things changed. The world, society as a whole, everything was new and different. The threshold of change stood between Heaven and Hell, awaiting the ignorant. And he arrived and was man, void of conviction or any fear for his fellow man. All traditions lost, the world was new.

I got up and went to work everyday, becoming a statistic. As age approached and opportunity left, we all changed. Pain and suffering befell us all, but it was normal. We survived as our society decayed; survival – only the strong of heart manage. The future generations weren’t prepared for change as the world shifted, spirit was lost. We all were then as we are now, and will always be.

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