Wednesday, July 19, 2000

In/Exhale - February 2, 2001 - Part II

February 2, 2001 - Part II

Kai arrived just in the nick of time for his writing class. A good thing, considering he was already on Pelto’s shit list. Several people in the class gave him dark looks as he wheeled in the room, shuffling a chair out of his way so he could pull in at the table. But Kai also noticed there were a few less students than there had been on Monday. And maybe the dark looks were all in his head? Kai chose to ignore them. It was going to take all his focus to follow along with his hearing still out, and he didn’t really have the energy to take any more derision from Pelto today. Maybe Zach was right and the best thing would be for Kai to switch to another teacher. Had someone in a wheelchair run over her dog when she was a kid or something?
Whatever it was, the icy glare she cast his way when she entered was most definitely not imagined. “Mr. Fox, was it? How good of you to join us today.”
Kai wanted to growl at her. He could just barely make out enough of the sound of her voice to get the sarcastic tone, although her face and body language would have told him that even without his ears.
She said something else with her back to him, and the class broke out into laughter. Were they laughing at him? He searched everyone’s faces for a clue, but he couldn’t tell. He wanted to tell her he couldn’t understand her if she wasn’t facing him, but that felt like admitting a weakness to her that she would only manipulate and mock him for. Why the hell had even signed up for this class in the first place?
She was saying something else, and if Kai strained, really strained, he could maybe guess at some of the words. “Remember (...) assignment (...) (...) you (...) (...) day?” Kai again looked around the room for clues. Was she talking about the assignment she’d given them Monday? Or had she given one Wednesday? Or maybe it was referring to the syllabus? But she hadn’t said that. He wasn’t 100% sure, but his gut told him that wasn’t right. She turned to face toward Kai. “Please take out your stories.” Kai had to guess on the last word, but in context, and with the little he could hear of her voice, it fit.
He hoped she meant the homework she’d given them Monday, to write a story inspired by a photo. Fortunately, he’d managed to write something despite all that happened in the past couple days. His story wasn’t typed, because he didn’t know she’d want to see it today, but he could turn it in. She hadn’t said anything about it needing to be typed, had she? Or maybe she had. His English that day had failed him, and his memory right now wasn’t clear.
Kai observed everyone pulling out papers, so Kai followed suit, twisting to yank his story and the magazine ad that had inspired it from his bag, attached to the back of his chair. It was a little wrinkled, so Kai smoothed it out on the tabletop. Double-checked his name was on it, and was ready to hand it in when she started talking again. Not facing him.
“Anyone (...) (...) (...)teer?” Was she asking for volunteers? For what?
Suddenly, everyone in the class looked nervous. One guy--was it the one who had given Kai a nasty look on Monday? Raised his hand. Kai could understand him better than Pelto because he had a deep voice. “Volunteer for what?”
Kai caught a side glance of the irritated glare she threw the guy’s way. So maybe she hated everyone. She spoke as she walked around the room. “Today (...) (going to?) read (our stories?) (...) and then (...) (...) will give (feedback?). (...) (...) will stand up and read, and (...) (...) (listen?) until (...) finished. Then he or she will sit back down, and (remain?) quiet (...) (...) (...) (...) feedback.”
Kai’s eyes widened as he put the disparate words together into something that made sense. Did she say what he thought she’d said? He tentatively raised his hand. “So . . .” Kai swallowed, his gaze reflexively scanning the room as his heart began to pound. “We have to stand and read our story, then sit back down and the class will give us feedback. And we can’t talk while they’re giving us feedback?”
Pelto looked at Kai like he was a total moron she didn’t have time for. “You aren’t required to stand, obviously,” she said, crossing her arms on her chest and not really answering his question.
Kai felt his cheeks heat and tried to will it away. Why did this woman make him feel like a bug that she was only paying attention to so she could figure out how to crush him to death? Was it that the way she spoke to him, looked at him, reminded him of his aunt? Sweat broke out on his forehead, and his breathing began to quicken. No. No, he couldn’t let this happen, not here. He focused on staying calm. He’d leave the room, regardless of what Pelto thought if it meant the difference between having another panic attack here, in the middle of class, or having one in the hall. Dammit. Kai should have taken the chance to use one of the TTYs in the disability office to call Dr. Miller after all, instead of being such a stubborn asshole.
Kai was so “lost in his own head,” to use the phrase he’d told Zach earlier, he barely noticed the guy who’d asked the first question was standing, reading his story. His words flowed over Kai in a deep susurrus, and Kai had to concentrate to pick them apart into meaning. The guy was already in the middle of the story, from what Kai could tell. Something uninspired and trying way too hard to be deep, like a bad comic book without the art.
But Kai’s eyes kept dropping to his own story, re-reading snippets, glancing at the ad he’d torn out of one of the magazines in his dermatologist’s office a few days ago. The ad was for a home generator company, and it featured a terrified little boy, huddled on his bed as the shadows threatened to overwhelm him, some of them taking on humanoid shapes. Kai swallowed. It had been hard enough to write the story. Harder still to will himself to not tear it up when he didn’t have time to write a replacement. But he’d convinced himself if he only had to turn it in, if only Pelto would read it, he’d be OK. But now . . .
Someone shoved Kai hard in the shoulder.
“Don’t touch,” Kai spat reflexively, before he could realize that everyone was staring at him expectantly.
Pelto had her arms firmly crossed on her chest, and she was leaning back in her chair--when had she sat down?--glaring at him, but with a little smirk. “You’re next, Fox.”
For a split second Kai was genuinely afraid he would throw up right then and there. He glanced down at his papers, one large hand flying to cover them, as if somehow everyone could read what he’d written even from across the room. Kai’s blood pounded intensely in his ears, even if he felt it more than heard it, followed by ringing. Kai’s hands were tingling.
Kai wanted to ask, again, if he was required to read it out loud, but when his mouth opened, nothing came out. He couldn’t seem to form the English, and his hands had begun to tremble, so he swept the papers into his lap, hiding them and his shakiness from the class. He struggled to think, to not let the panic fully take him, to take control.
English, English, English, he signed in his mind, struggling to form the sentence he knew he needed to say, which he could see in his head, in ASL, but couldn’t seem to find the English words for. A lie, but a lie that would keep everyone from knowing, from seeing straight through the words he’d written into the deepest parts of him. HOMEWORK I FINISH NOT-YET, Kai saw over and over in his mind. How did he say that in English? The words were there, almost like he could see them and if he just stretched out for them hard enough he could grasp them in his hands, bring them to his mouth, and speak them.
Kai began to feel himself separating from his body, almost like he was watching this pathetic guy turn as pale as a ghost, dripping with sweat and shaking like a leaf all because some bitchy professor wanted him to read out loud. He could do this. Right? Who cared what anyone thought.
Then suddenly Pelto was in front of him, snapping her finger in his face, and Kai had never wanted to disappear more than in that moment. Especially because he visibly flinched, and he didn’t like her so close to him, dropping his hands to his rims and reflexively wheeling backward a few inches. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t do this. Kai was barely breathing.
She said something to him, but it was lost in Kai’s fear.
Kai concentrated. Forced himself to find the words. “Didn’t finish,” he managed to say.
Pelto’s eyes narrowed. Her gaze dropped to Kai’s lap, where the papers still lay. “So you don’t have a story to share with us today?” she said, and this time he was able to pry out the mystery of her speech.
Kai swallowed. Shook his head.
Pelto scanned the rest of the group. “Let’s take a ten minute break, and then, you,” she said, pointing to one of the girls across the room from Kai, “will read your story next.” She snapped her fingers like the students were her servants she was dismissing, but put her focus on Kai. “You. Stay.” She said it almost like she was talking to a dog.
But Kai wasn’t sure he could move anyway. Dammit. Why did this woman do this to him?
“Do you have your accommodation papers?”
Kai blinked. It took him a moment to figure out what the long word she said was, especially with her accent making her lips move in weird ways. But he finally guessed she meant the forms Zach had given him earlier and nodded. Twisted to pull them out of his bag, handing them over to her with shaking hands.
She perched on the tabletop nearby, flipping through the pages. She muttered something to herself, but Kai was able to read enough off her lips to guess she’d probably said something like,  “Aren’t you a fucked up little monkey.” It made his stomach twist, but he tried to ignore it. She sighed and dropped the papers, looking steadily at Kai. “Participation is an essential part of this class. Sharing your work with others and giving and receiving feedback are the only way to develop as a writer. If you don’t think you can handle that, then this class, and writing, may not be for you.” She didn’t say the words cruelly, and her face had lost its evil edge. She was being blunt with him, something Kai didn’t expect from hearing people.
Kai nodded, not sure what else to do.
She waved the papers. “There’s nothing in here about your hearing issues. Only language.” So it wasn’t his imagination that she had been easier to understand just now than ever before, like she was making a conscious effort on his behalf.
Kai focused on working out the proper English in his head before he spoke, grateful his voice was level and didn’t shake. “See doctor this week.” But something in her face changed, just a subtle shift, enough to make Kai remember “this” and “next” meant different things in English than ASL. “Next week,” he corrected.
She nodded. “So you don’t have a story ready for today?”
Kai glanced down at his lap, picked up the pages and laid them on the table, though he kept one hand on them protectively. “I can’t read it.”
Pelto frowned, and before he could react, she snatched the first page, reading it aloud, though the class was empty except for them, so no one heard. Kai didn’t understand her, but he knew what she was saying since they were his words: “‘At night, the shadows slip off of walls, slide under doors, and stalk the halls. At night, the shadows come alive.’” She read a little further, silently, to herself, then met his eyes, studying him as if he were a foreign creature she wasn’t sure what to expect from. “For someone who seems like he barely understands English half the time, this has some real potential.” She handed it back. “You don’t need to participate today if you don’t feel able to, but it’ll affect your grade. Like I told you Monday: I’ll accommodate you, but I won’t coddle you.”
Kai gathered his story and its inspiration together, as if to protect them from her. He suddenly couldn’t stand to let her read it, either.
“If you don’t turn it in, you won’t get any credit for this assignment.”
Kai stared at the scared little boy in the ad and wished he had another story to give her. But the threat of a zero seemed less daunting than her reading and picking apart this one. “I understand,” Kai said.
Pelto shook her head with a sigh, as if she didn’t know what to do with him. “Go take a break. Drink some water, or splash some on your face. You look like you’re about to pass out.” Again, no malice in her voice, just intensity and honesty.
Kai nodded, shoved his story in his bag, and headed for the door and the nearest accessible bathroom as fast as his arms would convey him.


#


The men’s bathroom was more crowded than Kai was used to, partially because it seemed like Pelto’s class wasn’t the only one in the immediate vicinity on break, but most of the guys were using the urinals, so Kai was able to duck into the handicapped stall. He pushed to the toilet, knees first, thinking he was going to hurl, but his stomach calmed. He knew he should be proud of himself. That’s what Dr. Miller would say: celebrate the small victories. He hadn’t let Pelto intimidate him into doing something he wasn’t comfortable with, and he’d avoided a full panic attack in class. He’d also managed to make it all the way here with his stomach contents firmly in place.
But Kai also knew there was only one thing that would enable him to return to class without being a total basketcase. Kai placed one hand on the cushion of his chair, the other grabbed the backrest, pushing and pulling to help shift his body enough he had easier access to the contents of his backpack. He unzipped the middle pocket and pulled out his “first aid” kit--a small zippered pouch with alcohol swab packets, bandages, gloves, and a few other supplies. To anyone who examined the contents of said pouch, it would seem like a logical thing for someone immunocompromised to carry around with him. And Kai did sometimes use the gloves or the swabs for other situations. But mostly, Kai thought about it as his cutting kit. The only thing he didn’t store there was the blade, because there was too much risk that someone would find it and take it. David already had confiscated nearly all the sharp objects Kai had hidden around the house. He knew Kai too well and seemed to have a knack for ferreting out where Kai hid things, no matter how well he thought he had.
But Kai still had a couple blades up his sleeve, so to speak, and once he was sure his kit wouldn’t fall out of his lap, he pushed backward, away from the toilet a little, and bent forward to retrieve his wallet from the pouch that hung behind his legs. One day while David thought Kai was sleeping, he’d used one of his remaining blades to cut a small opening in the lining of his wallet. It was nearly invisible if you weren’t looking for it, especially since Kai put his credit card in front of it to hide the slit. Fishing the blade out of the tight space was always tricky, but he managed. Kai could feel his body humming with anticipation, almost like it did before sex, and Kai knew that he was even more fucked up than anyone imagined, but he needed this.
While Kai was recovering, David had been his glorified babysitter, and it was true that Kai didn’t want to disappoint his friend. But it had been relatively easy to avoid cutting, to fall back on the rubber bands, while he was at home. Now that he had school and the task of getting back to the real world to deal with Kai needed more if he was going to survive, especially a long day like this. Besides, he’d already fallen off the wagon epically earlier this week. What was the point of abstaining now?
Kai took a sharp breath. He hadn’t cut in days, and he wanted to do this right. He wanted something that wouldn’t just carry him through the next hour but also help him survive tonight’s ASL class. Kai unzipped his cutting kit and laid the blade inside, then closed the case up again. He put his wallet back, then reached behind his head and yanked off his sweatshirt and T-shirts and half hung, half stuffed them along one of the grab bars, between the bar and the wall. His torso exposed, goosebumps bloomed along his bare skin, though again, part of it was from excitement. Next, Kai tied a grocery bag he’d stored in his kit to the bar to serve as his trash.
Kai was half hard, and he knew how fucked up that was, but he ignored it, opened his kit, and started his ritual. First, he washed his hands with antibiotic gel, all the way up past his wrists. Next, he pulled on gloves and tore open a couple alcohol packets, using both hands to swab his skin. It took several packets, since Kai planned to make more than a few cuts, and he wanted to be thorough. Kai didn’t want to die from infection. He’d had enough fun with that already.
Kai tossed the used swabs and packets once he’d cleaned his blade. He was ready, the thin slice of metal held carefully between his fingers. Kai’s heart raced. He could feel the negative thoughts struggling to break free in this moment of quiet between tasks. The voices that told him he was a waste of space, that he should have died, that Renee would wake up one morning and realize she’d never loved him. That Jon would move on with his life. And so would David. Just like Jake, and Kai would be alone, because no one had ever wanted him. Not his mother, not any foster family, not his aunt, not even Jo or Art.
Kai blinked furiously, struggling to breathe as if the negativity was a swarm of bees who had stung him so massively his throat was swelling shut. Kai’s hand shook as he placed the blade to his skin.
You’re worthless, the voices said, and Kai made his first cut to purge the thought, a shallow slice along the highest rib he could manage on his left side.
You’re dependent, and you always will be, pussy. Another cut, along the rib below that.
No one really cares about you. They never did and they never will. Then he sliced the rib below that.
People use you for what they need, and then they discard you. Like a used tissue, you’re trash. Kai bit his lip hard. The cuts weren’t hurting the way they needed to, and the voices were so loud, the thoughts that always swirled around in his mind but that he struggled to silence. He made several more cuts, this time along his sternal scar, where the nerves were still a little wonky, hoping it would hurt more. It didn’t. It just fuzzed, almost like the skin was asleep and struggling to wake up.
You can’t even do this right, the next thought said, and Kai’s eyes were glassy, so he bit his lip harder, put the blade to the skin of his stomach right below his rib cage, and pressed harder, cutting deeper. Pain blossomed, bright and beautiful, and Kai could feel the blood sliding out of the wound along his chilled skin. Kai let the feeling sink in for a moment, his eyes darting to the blue veins he could see in his left wrist. He never cut there. Well, he had made little more than scratches a few times when he was a kid, but he’d always been paranoid of the orderlies seeing wounds there and freaking out. But who would see it now? It was winter, and Kai always wore long sleeves except when he was swimming. If he sliced along his inner forearm, would it hurt more? Would the pain spike every time he pushed himself in his chair or braced himself on his crutches?
Kai licked his lips. He knew that he would be crossing some invisible threshold if he started cutting somewhere new. After all, as a kid he’d only ever really cut on his thighs, and Kai had already spread that to his entire torso. Kai was in control of this, right? The one thing he did have control of in his life. He had to be careful how much he cut or David or Jon or even Renee would try to stop him. Maybe even make him stay in the hospital again.
Kai gripped the blade so tightly, hovering over his forearm, his fingers were getting numb. He needed to finish so he could get back to class. He was probably already late, already the center of unwanted attention, and his classmates would likely hate him even more if he rolled in far past the end of break and interrupted them.
You’re so fucking useless, the thought said, blooming in his brain in his aunt’s voice.
Kai pressed, dragging the blade in a diagonal cut across his forearm. It took a moment, like it always did before his brain registered the cut, but when it did, the pain was so sharp and sweet, totally different from anywhere else he’d cut before. And it bled more, too. Every time he signed tonight, would he feel the skin pulling, renewing a fraction of this pain? Kai reclined, his eyes rolling back a little, savoring the feeling. How the pain quieted the negative voices in his head, finally, as if they were leaking out with his blood.


#


By the time Kai was done with the blade, he’d marred his torso and both forearms with dozens of cuts of varying depths, and he’d slipped into that high he always reached for when he cut. That floaty, disembodied feeling the hum of pain brought him to, almost like a drug, a lazy smile on his face, his heart and breathing slowed as the pain stole his body’s ability to feel anxious.
Kai methodically cleaned all his wounds, the sting of the alcohol almost orgasmic as it enhanced that pain high. He placed bandages with antibiotic ointment over the deepest cuts on his torso, then smeared more along each arm and wrapped both with gauze to control the bleeding.
As he packed everything up, still riding the high, a remote part of Kai’s brain knew that all of this was unhealthy and dangerous. That he needed to tell Dr. Miller the truth, the real truth, about this ritual.
But if this last bit of control was taken from him, what would he have left?


#


Kai rode the pain high all the way home. When he got to his room, he stripped off his clothes, changed some of the bandages, and laid on his bed, stretched out. The warm air made his already present erection grow, and his hand wandered down to stroke it. Kai had discovered years ago that he liked pain during sex. It had to be the right kind of pain, just like the pain he got from cutting was pleasurable while the pain he experienced from spasming muscles was anything but.
It was about control.
Though Kai worried he was heading down a slippery slope. Each stroke of his cock irritated the cuts in his arm, which magnified his pleasure. Dangerous, but it made his lingering euphoria bloom. Maybe, cut up like this, he’d finally come.


#


Normally, Kai could get himself off within a minute if he wanted, thirty seconds if he was really backed up. All it took was a few long pulls, squeezing the head with the base of his thumb as he stroked upward, the pad sliding over his slit until his balls drew up, his stomach muscles tightened, and he shot into his hand.
But lately, lately nothing Kai could do could get him to that peak. He’d inch up and up and up, and just when he thought he’d find release, it’d disappear, leaving him sore and hard and frustrated. He’d tried switching hands. Using both hands. Rubbing against a pillow. He’d tried porn, but it only seemed to make things worse, his horniness exploding while he . . . didn’t.
Kai tried pain, too. Digging his free hand into still-healing scabs on his thighs or torso. Pinching his skin, tugging his balls, and sometimes, sometimes that would push him over that ledge that always seemed so far out of his reach, only when he came, it hurt. Hurt because he wouldn’t ejaculate. An orgasm that wasn’t really an orgasm and left him almost as unsatisfied as none at all.
The only time Kai ever came, really came, was at night, in his sleep, and he’d wake up covered in dried spunk like he was fifteen again. At first, it hadn’t been so bad. He was still sick. Still depressed, and he barely even tried to jack off, and when he did and it didn’t happen, he figured it was just his fucked up headspace.
But as the depression slowly lifted, as Kai got back to whatever passed for his “normal” and he was still struggling to get himself off, Kai knew something was wrong. He’d even tried to talk to Jon about it once or twice, but had never gotten very far. Probably largely because Jon seemed so . . . asexual. If it wasn’t for Vicky with the bun-in-the-oven thing, Kai would have questioned his brother’s sexual appetite. The man didn’t even have porn. And Kai had looked. (He had gotten pretty desperate over the past couple weeks.) If Jon did have any dirty magazines or movies, he’d hidden them so well even the king of hiding things couldn’t discover them.
Something was wrong with him, and he needed to talk to someone about it. Jon, or Dr. Miller, or anyone, but how could he admit he couldn’t come? Kai lay on his bed, naked, his left hand moving over his fully erect cock because his right had tired. He was sore and frustrated and so horny, and he just couldn’t get there. He switched to backhand, pushing the head into the cavity of his fingers, rubbing them over the underside, his eyes tightly shut, imagining Nikki naked on top of him, squeezing him so expertly, while Renee sucked the skin of his clavicles and neck. His muscles tensed. He was so, so close.
He slid his right hand, palm flat, over his body, tweaking a nipple, scratching skin, all the way down to his crotch, wrapping it around the base of his cock, squeezing there, reaching for his balls, his left hand never ceasing. Just a few more seconds . . .
And it was gone. The pleasure faded into the rawness of sensitive skin rubbed too roughly for too long, muscles too tense, sore everywhere, the burn of the fresh cuts in his torso that might have started bleeding again if the scent of copper in the air was any indication. He let his head fall back, groaning in frustration, his cock still fully erect and aching. He tried a few more light, feathering passes, fluttering his fingers of each hand alternately over the tip, but it was too sensitive. Almost like he’d already come even though he hadn’t.
“Fuck!” Kai screamed out loud, pounding his fists into the mattress on either side of him. He was still breathing heavily, still so fucking horny, and he couldn’t do anything about it.
Another cold shower it was.


#


Renee answered the door with a smile. Kai sat in his wheelchair, bundled up against the cold, looking tired but happy to see her. “You’re early,” she said, glancing down at herself. “I only just got home from class.”
Kai’s cheeks were flushed from the cold, but she swore she could see the red deepen. “Sorry. I can leave and come back.”
Renee shook her head and waved him in, stepping out of his way but holding the door. “Of course not. Don’t be silly.” Renee watched him strip off his gloves, scarf, and coat, which she took and hung for him. Mostly for something to do. Despite how wonderful their first day had been, and how Kai had seemed to be moving closer to her this week--like asking for her comfort during his panic attack on Monday, or telling her the truth about his hearing on Wednesday--at the same time, she felt a distance there like she’d never had before with Kai. Even at the beginning, when he had been holding so much back from her. She almost didn’t know how to behave around him, and she hated that. Like now. He’d spoken to her, but would he prefer she sign? She supposed she should practice, but . . .
“I can hear you thinking,” he said, pushing close to her so their knees nearly touched, laying a hand on her hip. When her eyes widened in surprise, he explained, “And that’s even with a couple of bum ears.” Then he smiled at her, this time his real, besotted, lopsided grin that somehow went straight to her stomach and gave her a funny, feathery feeling there.
She leaned into his touch a little, stretching a hand to smooth out his wind-tossed hair.
Kai sighed and tipped his head up. “Kiss me? Please?” It was almost pleading, like he was worried she’d refuse him.
It made her pause, study his eyes to try to read what she could, but all she saw was that penetrating sadness, as if staring into the ocean, into its depths where sorrow dwelled. “Are you OK?” she hated the words as soon as they left her hands; they seemed so shallow, the kind of thing you asked a stranger who might look ill, and the stranger would smile politely and tell you he was fine. Because that’s how things were.
Kai swallowed, and he dropped his hand from her side. Something shifted in his face, in those eyes, but what it was, Renee couldn’t say. “It’s been a long day.” He hesitated. “I had a couple panic attacks,” he finally admitted in English, perhaps not wanting to have to repeat himself if she didn’t understand. But before she could say anything else, he added quickly, “But I don’t want to talk about that. I just want to kiss you. To just be with you for a little while, OK?”
Renee softened. Nodded. “Come on. Let’s go to my room, then.”


#


Kai followed Renee to her room. The apartment, and her bedroom, hadn’t changed much since he’d last seen it in November, when they’d . . . Kai shook his head and forced himself not to think about sex, especially not after earlier. The horniness he couldn’t assuage had been so bad he hadn’t been able to take the nap he’d desperately needed. Dammit, trying not to think about it was almost as bad as thinking about it, and he was half hard. He wanted her so bad. Dangerously so. She needed to be able to trust him, and he wasn’t sure if he could control himself. Not the way he needed to.
“Kai?” she clearly sensed something was wrong, but she hid it in a faint smile. “Still want that kiss?” She tapped the bed.
Kai eyed it. He knew he shouldn’t. If he transferred to her bed, he’d want more than a kiss. Much more. He licked his lips.
“It’s OK,” Renee said, stepping closer, working her fingers into his hair at his temples, massaging there because it relaxed him.
“How do you know?” Kai said in a whisper.
Because I trust you,” she said, leaning forward and kissing him, sweet and chaste.
Maybe you shouldn’t, Kai thought, but when she stepped back, he transferred to her bed and pulled her close, between his legs. And he kissed her, warm and deep and tender, like it was the last time he’d ever have the chance.


#


Renee and Kai had kissed for a long time, but he’d kept it to a kiss. Any time she tried to touch him, slide her hand along his shoulders, chest, or get his hands on her breasts, he’d pulled away and shook his head, looking sad. She was hurt, initially, but she soon realized by how passionately he kissed her, how his hands gripped the edge of the mattress so tightly that he wanted more, much more. Perhaps he thought he couldn’t stop himself if they took it beyond a kiss. Maybe he wanted what he didn’t think he was ready for.
But after they’d kissed, she’d encouraged him to lie down. He seemed so tired, and she wondered if he’d been sleeping. She knew he had nightmares, and though he hadn’t told her the details, that they could be intense. It wasn’t long after that he fell asleep, curled in on himself as if trying to defend from some unseen threat. And as handsome as he looked asleep like that in her bed, she felt that distance magnify. Kai had changed so much over the past couple months. Or maybe she had never really known him at all.
She stood over him, smoothing his hair, but he was so exhausted he didn’t even stir. Finally, she decided to let him sleep. She’d grab a shower, eat something, maybe make a pot of half-caf coffee, then wake him up before they had to leave for the class.
“Hey, bi-atch,” Diane called from out in the main room. “I’m home! Did you miss me?”
Renee glanced over at Kai, who slept on, and carefully snuck out to meet her roomie. “Shh. Kai’s asleep.” She then immediately felt stupid. How loud would they have to be to wake him if his hearing was out?
Diane’s grin grew. “So you two finally reconnected,” she said teasingly, raising her eyebrows up and down.
“Grow up. He’s tired.”
“I’ll bet,” Diane said, weaving her way into the kitchen.
“Stop it, Diane. Please.”
Something in Renee’s voice made Diane spin around, frowning. “What’s going on with him? He disappears after Thanksgiving and all you tell me is that he was in the hospital, but things have been weird between you two. Does he have cancer or something?”
Renee grabbed the coffee carafe perhaps a little more forcefully than necessary, and proceeded to the sink to fill it. “Even if he did, it’s none of your business. I told you I can’t talk about it.”
Diane snagged Renee’s arm to make her friend look at her. “It is if he’s hurting you. You’re my best friend, and I feel like you’ve become a stranger lately. We used to tell each other everything. Then this guy comes into your life and suddenly you change? What’s really going on here? And why won’t you tell me?” She lifted the over-full carafe from Renee’s hand and left it in the sink. Then she pulled her into a tight hug. “I thought, after you told me about Jude, that you knew you could tell me anything.”
Renee sighed and pushed away. “I wish . . .” She sucked in a breath. “I wish I could tell you, D, but . . . I can’t.” Not having anyone except Jon to talk about Kai with had made things even more difficult over the past couple months. And Jon--although Renee had no doubt he loved his brother--wasn’t exactly the kind of person she felt comfortable confiding in. Lately, she’d felt very, very alone, and she wondered if that was part of the distance between her and Kai. She couldn’t even talk to him about how all of this made her feel, because he didn’t need to hear her worry and self doubt. He needed her support. To know that she loved him no matter what.
“Hey. Shh. Hey.” Diane was offering her some paper towels, and it was only then Renee realized she was crying.
Renee dried her eyes, but more tears kept falling, and she didn’t know how to stop them.
“Please talk to me,” Diane pleaded. She took Renee’s hand and led her into her room, which was just down a small hall from Renee’s.
Diane’s room was the same size as Renee’s, but set up completely differently, the walls plastered in posters, the bed pushed into a corner and the floor a disaster of art supplies, dirty clothes, and textbooks. Renee had to pick her way carefully to Diane’s bed, where she sat, her legs folded Indian-style, trying to get a handle on her tears. Why was she even crying?
Diane plucked a stuffed bear from one of the piles, dusted it off, and handed it to her. “If he’s hurt you, you need to tell me. If you’re scared of him, I’ll protect you. There are things we can do, Renee--”
Renee shook her head. Kai had hurt her, but not in the way that Diane thought, and certainly not on purpose. She remembered that afternoon, how he’d totally lost his temper with her. She’d only ever seen him that angry once, that time she’d gone to County House with him and he’d gone off at the lady in charge. But worse than his anger, it was the fact that when he signed like that, she had clue what he was saying. How could she explain to anyone what that had felt like? To stand across from the man she loved, to know she’d done something to hurt him, and to not be able to even understand what he was saying? “No. It’s nothing like that. He’s not like Jude. Nothing like him.”
Diane relaxed and plopped down onto the mattress in front of Renee. “OK. So then tell me. And tell me why you didn’t think you could tell me.”
Renee felt fresh tears. “Promise me. Promise me if I tell you, you can’t tell anyone. And you especially can’t let Kai know that I told you. Promise?”
Diane eyed her warily, as if she didn’t believe Renee wasn’t afraid of Kai, but she nodded. “Of course. When have I ever spilled one of your secrets?”
“Say it. I need to hear it.” Renee squeezed the bear tightly.
“I promise,” Diane said. “What’s going on?”
Renee took a breath, hugged the bear, and told her best friend everything she knew about the last few months.


#


Renee talked for an hour. Maybe more. It felt like forever. Told Diane everything about Kai, everything she’d been holding back--and fuck, had she been holding back. How Kai was an orphan, how he grew up in an institution, how he’d been so sick he’d nearly died until he got a lung transplant. How he had been diagnosed with panic disorder and PTSD and had spent some time after Thanksgiving in the mental hospital. How he was better, but still recovering. How Renee had to go to special sessions with his shrink just to be able to touch him again. And the veiled warning beneath it all that Renee never went outright and said because she clearly loved Kai very much despite everything--that Kai was dangerous. A ticking time bomb.
“Shit, no wonder you’ve been such a headcase lately. Dealing with all of this by yourself.”
“I wanted to tell you so many times, but Kai . . . he doesn’t want anyone to know. He guards his privacy so tightly, and these past couple months were so rough for him . . .”
Not that it didn’t seem like Kai had a right to be fucked up after all that he’d been through, but Renee was already making excuses for him. And Diane had witnessed enough of Renee’s abusive relationships to know that excuse making was where it all began. But how did Diane tell Renee this guy was bad news and to let him go? She’d never listen.
“He won’t even talk about the hospital. At all. And I get that. I get that he wants to move forward, but there’s . . . I dunno. There’s this gulf between us. Part of the time we can both forget it and it’s almost like things were before Thanksgiving, but then . . . then it’s like I see him pulling away from me.” Renee sighed. “I love him, but I don’t know how to help him.”
“It’s not your responsibility to help him,” Diane said, trying to chose her words carefully. “A relationship shouldn’t be about one person helping the other. Maybe it would be better if you two took some time off? Gave each of you the chance to get your heads on straight, and then--”
“No,” Renee said, twisting the ear on the teddy bear. “No. We were apart two months, Diane. Weeks. Now that I have him back, I can’t just push him away. Besides, do you know how much that would destroy him? He told me, when we first reconnected, that we could just be friends, but you didn’t see his eyes. He’s been hurt so much in his life, and I love him too much to hurt him, too.”
Diane shook her head, opened her arms for Renee to fall into. “Damn, you’ve got it bad, girl.” She planted a kiss on the top of Renee’s head. “Thank you for telling me. And I’ll act totally clueless around Kai. Just be careful with him, OK? You can’t always go around worrying about other people. You have to take care of yourself, too.”


#


Kai woke slowly to the intense smell of roses and cleanness. He opened his eyes, and his heart rate spiked. He wasn’t in his room. Or Jon’s. Or the hospital. It took him a few seconds of escalating panic to remember. Renee’s room. And his wheelchair was right there. Nearby. He took a deep breath. Then forced several more. Trying to calm down. He still felt tired, but less so than before. How long had he been asleep?
Kai was still trying to orient himself when Renee stepped into the room, clearly fresh from the shower. The scent of roses intensified, mixed with the steamy smell of fresh water. Her hair was up in a towel, twisted on her head, and a plush robe enveloped her small body. She smiled when she saw he was awake, her grin lascivious. She pulled the tie around her waist and the robe sprung open, revealing her pale skin still flushed from the hot water, her small breasts perky, the nipples slowly hardening as they came in contact with the cooler air.
Kai’s eyes traced down from them along her belly, to the nest of hair between her legs--Renee kept things trimmed but didn’t wax like Nikki or Becca, and Kai found he liked it better. He could smell her, that sweet pheromone aroma of aroused woman that made his mouth water and his dick stiffen.
Renee shifted her shoulders and the robe fell away, exposing her completely, and Kai knew he needed her. Now. But she seemed to know this, because her smile grew and she strode toward him, tearing the blankets away. Kai’s gaze followed the movement of her hands as they slid down his bare chest.
He was naked. Kai couldn’t remember taking off his clothes before climbing into Renee’s bed. But now her hands had moved to his cock, fingers wrapping around it, squeezing and stroking, and Kai didn’t care if his memory had failed him as long as she’d keep doing that.
Kai let his head fall backwards, his abs tightening in anticipation as her fingers wandered down to his sac, tickling. She bent forward, but didn’t take him in her mouth as he’d hoped. Instead, she traced a line with her tongue from the inside of his thigh, up along his sac, onto his stomach, making Kai moan and his hips buck reflexively.
He reached for her to try to guide her to his aching cock, which strained and leaked and begged for release. She licked around his belly button, toward his sternum, her eyes cast upward to meet his. Then she darted her tongue into his navel, teasing him. She nibbled the skin of his belly, making Kai whimper. Then, without warning, she pulled away and enveloped his dick in her mouth, swallowing his whole length in the moist warmth of her throat, without gagging.
How was that possible? Renee had given him a decent blow job that one time, but she’d stuck to the head. Kai was long, especially when he was fully hard. Even Nikki couldn’t take his entire length.
But Renee sucked him expertly, better than any time with Nikki, tugging on his balls or scratching down along his abdomen to add that little spike of pain to mix with the pleasure. Her throat worked the head of his dick like it was massaging it, and it didn’t seem physically possible, but Kai was so lost, his eyes rolled back, he couldn’t think how none of this made sense.
He gripped her hair, tight, shoving her farther down on his cock, and she didn’t squirm or panic or even gag, just kept sucking and swallowing and working him with her tongue, bobbing on it all the while.
Suddenly, Kai’s balls drew up, every muscle in his body seeming to tighten, and then he came, an explosive release, holding her head so she had to take it, had to swallow, his hips bucking repeatedly as wave after wave of pleasure like he’d never felt before coursed through him. Again, she didn’t fight, just sucked to milk every last drop from his cock until he fell back, spent and sated.


#


Kai woke with a start, which is how he usually woke nowadays. Either that, or screaming. Sometimes, both. He felt that low thrum of anxiety that never seemed to truly leave him, except maybe at the peak of his Xanax dose. Then he realized his boxers were damp. Fuck. He snaked a hand under the waist of his jeans, into his underwear, touching the gooey stickiness that he could smell now, that acrid scent of old semen, and withdrew his fingers, wiping them on the side of his pants. Fuck. He’d been really backed up, too. No way he could go teach a class without changing first.
He heard something, a voice he couldn’t begin to pry the words out of, and then Renee appeared at his side, dressed in completely different clothes than before, her curly hair still a little damp around her face. “You OK?”
Kai forced himself to nod and planted his hands on either side of him, pushing himself up into a sitting position. The cum shifted, sliding down around his balls and between his legs, into the crease of his ass. Fucking gross.
Renee seemed to sense his unease, and drew a little closer. “You don’t need to go tonight. To the class. You understand that, right?
Funnily enough, any anxiety Kai had had about the class had faded into his more immediate concern. He had to go home and change, which meant he either had to tell Renee the truth--that he’d had a wet dream like he was a fucking teenager again, which might make her feel guilty about the fact that they hadn’t approached anything close to sex since before his breakdown. Fuck, until a few days ago, he could barely trust himself to let her touch him.
Or he had to lie. And even though Kai had become quite adept at hiding the truth over the past twenty years, it didn’t mean he wanted to be dishonest with her. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Kai? Are you here? Can you tell me the year?
Kai’s eyes flew to hers. She was staying calm, but was there a hint of fear beneath the veneer? Renee was no expert at hiding her emotions. Fuck. He took a breath. “I’m here. It’s Jan--no, February, 2001.”
Renee let out a breath. “We should leave soon. If you want to arrive early. If you still want to go.” She hesitated. Obviously struggling to say what she wanted to in sign. “Are you mad at me? For letting you sleep? You looked like you were so tired.
Yes. I was tired. Thank you,” Kai said, forcing a smile. “I’m not mad,” he added. “I just . . .” He stared at her for a long moment, thinking of being honest, like he’d been in the hospital when she came to visit, and everything in him screamed to kick her out, and instead he’d welcomed her into his bed and told her about his hearing loss. He shifted, and the cold cum squished nastily along his skin between the damp fabric of his boxers. At least it hadn’t made a visible wet spot in his jeans. Yet. “I don’t know how long the class will go on, and I forgot my meds. I need to go home. You can meet me there. Is that OK?
Renee’s eyes widened, a little surprised, but she nodded. “OK. Sure.” She stepped forward, smiling, her lips pursed, asking for a kiss, but he held a hand out to stop her.
“I can’t. Not . . . not right now. I’m sorry.” Even though it had only been a dream, even though he fantasized about Renee often during his failed jack-off sessions, using her like he had just now while he slept felt wrong somehow. Like he’d betrayed her trust. Like he’d gone back on his promise to always stop, to never push her beyond what she was comfortable with. It was ridiculous, he knew that, logically, yet he just couldn’t bring himself to kiss her right now. Maybe it was the cum congealing in his boxers, but he felt disgusting, and not just literally. Like he’d corrupt her somehow if he kissed her.
Her face fell, and she took a few steps back. “Kai--”
He shook his head, grabbed his chair to pull it a little closer, ready to transfer. “It’s--” His mind raced with what to say so she wouldn’t think any of this was her fault. Because it wasn’t. It was all his. He was the one who ruined everything all the time, right? “I’m always a little . . .” He took a breath. “My head isn’t always right when I wake up, OK? I just . . . I just need a few minutes. I’m sorry.”


#


Kai called it “the emptiness.” It was a feeling that had overtaken him more than once in his life, like some unknown force had carved out his soul and left him an empty shell that couldn’t see any point in the future, couldn’t care about the past. Couldn’t care, period. Where it seemed more than ever that he couldn't connect to anyone or anything. Not even David. He’d spent days in the emptiness as a kid, hiding under his bed at County House, not eating or drinking or taking his meds, sleeping, mostly. Cutting occasionally to try to feel something. Until the orderlies would drag him out and the Warden would send him to the sickie ward and throw shrinks at him while they force-fed him through a tube. Once or twice, the shrinks--who never brought interpreters, not that he would have talked to them anyway--had tried to convince the Warden to send him away. To a special hospital. He hadn’t fully understood it at the time, but now he knew how close he’d been to living his life in a true institution, probably worse than the JMH psych ward by far, where Jon probably would never have found him--if he’d even lived that long without David.
Jon. Jon who had broken his promise, who was starting his own family that Kai wasn't a part of. Maybe that's what the broken promise really was all about, Kai realized as he grabbed his wallet from the pouch behind his legs and carefully fished out the razer blade he kept hidden in it, the one he'd used earlier. Dancing it between his fingers, transfixed at how it caught the light. Jon was already pushing Kai away. And as angry as Kai was, could he really blame him?
Kai hadn't felt this disconnected, this alone, in a very, very long time. Distanced from everyone in his life--Jon, David, Renee, even Dr. Miller. The hollowness, the isolation, how he could be in the same room as someone--like Renee, earlier--and yet feel as if they were miles apart.
Kai stared down at his naked legs, at the still-healing scabs from a few days ago, at the ugly scars from weeks of regular cutting layered over the older ones from his youth. Then his gaze wandered to his arms, to the marks he’d carved in them earlier that day, and a wave of powerful disgust and shame hit him. He was supposed to be better. He'd laughed and smiled and had fun. But maybe that was a kind of dream. A brief glimpse of the sun before the real deluge began again. Without bothering for his usual pre-cutting routine, Kai held the blade to the skin of his left elbow, dragged it along the crease with just enough pressure to break the skin, an icy spike of pain piercing the numbness as blood oozed out. Kai stared at the wound, enraptured. It would be so easy to keep cutting, to bleed himself dry, chasing an end to his selfishness.
With Jon expecting Kai to be late, and either spending a few extra hours at work or with Vicky, and David and Renee both already at the school, most likely, who would even find him?
But his death would be the ultimate sign of selfishness. Kai wasn't that far gone he didn't realize that. So he tossed the bloody blade on his dresser and snagged his phone from the charger. He'd clean himself up, get dressed, and help Megan with that class. He'd smile and joke and maybe even laugh, pretending, like his blood soaked shirt he'd been wearing earlier said, that he was fine.
But first, he shifted his phone to speaker and hoped that his memory from calling Dr. Miller’s number dozens of times over the past few weeks, combined with the added volume would be enough for him to navigate to her voicemail. He pressed the phone to his ear, straining, just barely making out the ring and then the doctor’s voice that he knew was advising him to leave a message, even if he couldn’t understand it. He couldn’t hear the beep, but after a moment of uncertainty, he started to talk, hoping that he’d timed it right. A deep breath. “It’s Kai,” he said, watching blood drip from his elbow onto his leg. “I’m sorry I skipped out Thursday. I need to make it up. Please. I’m not--I’m not OK.”

4 comments:

  1. Wow, that was incredible and very intense. Very well written. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  2. Think this might be your best chapter yet... what a read!

    -Clair D

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  3. Longtime I/E follower just tuning back in after several months' absence - I was almost comically dismayed at how much deeper and darker things have gotten for Kai and the crew. In all seriousness, though, thank you for sharing this with us. Your writing is as sharp, soulful, and compelling as ever.

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  4. That anonymous above me has it right. 'sharp, soulful and compelling'. Great stuff. Loving getting to read a wave of chapters all in one go. Feels a little draining because of what you continue to put Kai & Co. through, but I love it.

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