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Where Seasons Are Cold
Bert's father talked through a hole in his neck because he had been smoking since the tender age of twelve; he still did, in fact. His voice was weak, yet gruff like an electric guitar that wasn't plugged into an amp. However, Bert's voice was smooth and in that perfect space between melodic and deep, like the acoustic Adam played on the streets for spare change. Still, his father had never had a patronizing voice, always a friendly man, but thick layers of disappointment spilled from his lips the day he caught Adam and his son a bit closer than friends should be.
The store had that brand new smell as Adam waited by the office door. Also amongst that smell was icing and oil and chocolate. Dazzling cakes, donuts, and cookies smiled up at him from all around the store.
Finally, the door opened and a tight, tiny voice grunted a “Come in.”
Adam followed the man inside and sat in the chair obviously waiting to be occupied by an interviewee. The older man, somewhere in his fifties probably, leaned back in a much more comfortable leather chair that groaned when tilted back too much. Adam wondered if the animal the chair had once been made such noises.
“You're here for the interview, aren't ya?” he spoke, not through his mouth but through a slit in his throat.
“Yes, sir,” Adam said. He found it easy to avoid staring at the hole as cigarette smoke was being puffed into his face, making his vision hazy.
“And what experience do you have, young man? Are you a chef?” He took another drag of his cigarette through thin lips.
“Well, I worked at Dunkin' Donuts back in Kentucky for almost a year. And before that I worked with my great aunt at her store that sold wedding cakes.”
“Hmm,” he said, holding the cigarette between his fingers. “I'll have to call some of your references and maybe it'll turn out you're right for the job.”
“Okay,” Adam agreed, feeling dismayed. It was obvious Mr. Combs had no interest in him. “Thank you, sir.”
“Thank you...” he quickly checked his clipboard, which had Adam's resume on it, “Mr. Gourley. I'll let you know.” He held out his hand and Adam shook it.
Adam walked out of the store, not feeling that he had made a good impression. A smile did brighten up his face, though, when the most beautiful person held the door for him. He was gorgeous, with dark stringy hair framing a pale face, so long, some of it was caught in the collar of his shirt; his eyes held something rushed and frantic inside their icy depths; and strangely, a heavy jacket was slung over his skinny frame, even though it was the middle of July. He was a weird, beautiful, stranger.
On the way to the subway, Adam felt empty, as though someone had drained him into the sea. As soon as the beautiful boy had vanished, so had his hope that this town might just be better than the last one. He passed by the high school, the hell that would devour him Monday morning. The sun hovered overhead and Adam's clothes stuck to his skin, as though clinging for their dearest lives. The cool air conditioning was as welcoming as acceptance when he stepped onto the subway.
Bert felt sick to his stomach as he held the door for the boy that was moving in what felt like slow motion. Why wouldn't he hurry up, he thought. When the boy was out the door, Bert found himself wanting to sprint to his father's office, but couldn't move his face. They were full of lead and were almost as heavy as his heart. Bert knew he was pale, he felt the cool pallor in his cheeks, but his insides were paler; all from the emptiness he felt, the loneliness that had occurred over the last hour and a half, made the time before feel like a bleak nothing.
The long expanse of tile looked like a freeway to him and he knew that he couldn't make it to his dad's office, so he called out for him. “Dad! Dad!” he tried to yell, to still have a little composure, but the words came out as choked sobs of distress.
“Bert... Bert, are you alright?” his father asked as he made his way towards his son.
Bert shook his head and buried his face in his father's chest, never needing him as much as he did right then. “What's wrong?” his father asked, rubbing a caring hand down his son's back.
“Mom's dead.” The words were out there, fresh and ready to attack. Saying them made the nightmare a reality and Bert remembered his mother's every detail; the way she held his hand and stared in pain at the ceiling of the hospital room; the way she always called him “Robert”; the way she looked; just every bit about her that was lying in the hospital bed, cooling from the hard and active life that had outlived itself.
The house held its usual lump on the couch when Adam entered: his father, drunk and unconscious from self-pity. He hadn't had a job in almost three years, so Adam had to work and panhandle out on the streets... or they'd be on the streets. Hell, they were already roughing it as it is, with just enough to pay the rent and electricity.
Since Adam was fourteen, he had hung out on street corners, his chipped and ancient acoustic guitar in his hands. He's take off his baseball cap and leave it at his feet, hoping the pedestrians would drop a dime of sympathy.
Adam walked to his room, quiet as a mouse, and fished his guitar from the closet. He lugged it out the door and was extremely grateful not to have awakened his father; the less he saw those dusty, drunken eyes the better.
Out on the busy street, he plucked away on the strings, making soft waves of deadly active sound frolic in the air. Guitar never sounded good solo to Adam and he wished he had someone to play with, maybe someone to sing with him, so the music didn't seem quite so lonesome; but he didn't know anyone here, and even if he did, they would surely mark him an untouchable.
Mr. Combs had said that he had to get back to work, that he had birthday cakes to finish baking and that they would talk later. Bert doubted it; his father never talked about his feelings, only hid them away in a little black box.
With downcast eyes, Bert traveled the roads, his hands in his pockets. Nothing would ever be the same and he wanted to cry, but there were no tears left to spill. The heavy weight that had previously weighed him down had transformed itself into a nothing; he was empty and bound to get carried away in the wind.
But then something glued Bert's feet back to the ground. His eyes lit up with wonder at the sound, feeling an urge to follow the glamorous noise. He found it on the next block, behind the corner. The slow motion boy was strumming away on an acoustic guitar. The first thing Bert thought was “Oh, that's so sad, he's homeless.”
“Hey,” he said.
The slow motion boy looked up with surprised, soft eyes. “Hi,” he replied. He kept his face glued on Bert's, waiting for him to say something else.
“You were at my dad's store, right?”
“Yeah, I guess. I saw you when I was leaving. What's your name?”
“Bert,” he told the slow motion boy.
“You're a good guitar player, Adam,” he told him truthfully. “It really cheered me up.” And it had. For a short moment, Bert had forgotten about his mom. He slid down the brick wall and Adam sat down next to him.
“You really think so?” He was smiling shyly now.
“Yeah. You're great.”
“What do you mean it cheered you up? Were you sad or something?”
Bert was surprised that a stranger was showing a hint or caring, but decided to go ahead and tell him about how the woman who had brought him into this world sixteen years ago, had just vacated it. No one else would want to talk about it with him anyway.
Adam couldn't believe that this beautiful boy was talking to him, becoming his friend. But he was. He was sitting here with him, confiding all of his fears and all of the things that made him want to just stop breathing. It felt like he was in confession.
One night, Bert asked him to come over after school with him and he felt obliged to say “okay,” when he was ecstatic out of his mind to do so. This was his only friend, the person that had taken to sitting with him on the streets, listening to him play; how could he not say yes? It didn't hurt, either, that a not-so-small crush had blossomed. So they walked to his house, which was an excruciatingly long way from the school. The abode was the typical white picket fence house that America was famous for possessing.
The first thing that Bert did when they entered was pull Adam down the hallway to his room. Within moments his lips were attacking Adam's and he had him pushed up against the wall, only illuminated by a sliver of sun coming in through the window. They were making out in bliss for what seemed like hours, when a slice of light entered from the hallway.
“What the hell is going on here?!” Mr. Combs tried to yell with horror, but it only came out sounding like a monstrous noise. “And I was thinking of hiring you.” He shook his head, pointing a bony finger in Adam's direction.
The next day, Bert's numbers were called in the draft.
“It's because you hate me.” He had carved the words into his father's cheek as he slept.