Kiss Or Miss: By Julian Taylor

Chapter 2 – The Ace of Spades


“Let’s go, Johnson. Let’s go. Come on. Let’s push push push push!” I heard coach Carl’s loud voice echo throughout the large gymnasium two feet away from me, egging me on as he clapped his hands in synchronization with his words. I gave a moan of pain as I felt the all too familiar burning sensation I felt every Wednesday when I did the reps of my core strengthening routine. The pain traveled through my lower abdomen & up to my chest as I slowly lifted my pointed toed legs with knees firmly planted together in perfect form as far up as I could go while keeping my back straight as I held the position there for two whole seconds while my arms reached up above me, clasping onto to the bar over my head & holding my entire body weight up three feet above the ground. I then released the position allowing my legs to slowly come down, not once breaking the form as I was trained to do. “Last one, You’ve got this. Let’s go. Push.” He said even louder. I sealed my eyes shut, tightly, as I gave one final rep of the routine and exhaled in relief from being able to let go of the form, entirely, as I released my grip from the acro-pole above me and landed straight onto the ground on my two bare feet. Exhausted & sweaty, I noticed Kieran smile at me from my prefferal vision as I tried to catch my breath & walked up to me, wrapping his arm around my bare shoulders.

“Nice try.” He giggled, playfully, referring to the 50 rep record he held of the excersize. His thin frame and long flowing hair made him look almost like an identical twin as me, only his Colombian heritage made his hair a deep chocolate brown in contrast to my own with a set of large Licorice colored black eyes. I rolled my eyes at his statement. We always challenged each other on who could accomplish the most repetitions of our abdomen routine. We both dreaded it the most out of any of our strength building regimens. That was our way of making it fun. We always made things fun. It didn’t matter what he did. It didn’t matter what I did. It didn’t matter where we were. He had been my best friend since the day I very first met him when my father brought me to the gymnasium for the first time when I was 8 years old. That was the day I violently hit my head on the Olympic trainer’s balance beam which was restricted from our use due to our height and age class, yet, I did so without any nearby supervision, out of curiosity. He was the first one who ran up to me and asked me if I was okay when I was crying on the floor and wrapped his arm around my shoulders and tried to comfort me. He was the one who called for help when he noticed blood escaping my little fingers which were holding the spot where I had, unknowingly, cracked my skull open. He was the one who whispered into my ear and tried calm me down and make me feel better as he rubbed my back softly. He was the one who’s shoulder I cried on, last, when I said goodbye to him for the final time on my old Denver driveway on Maple Ave. on August 12th. Only, that time, it was my arm around his shoulder.

“Well?” I heard, making my brain snap from the fog it had been in from replaying the memories of earlier this year while I stood with both of my hands on Nelly’s countertop to prop myself up as I stared into nothingness. I didn’t even realize anyone was talking to me.

“What?” I asked him, realizing he had asked me a question.

“I said, do you want something while you’re here?” the Salem kid repeated. He wasn’t really annoyed, but, he put an emphasis on his words in the same way someone would if they were repeating themselves for no reason at all because the other person wasn’t listening. And, I guess that’s, exactly, what was on his mind at the moment.

After giving a small scowl at my previous thoughts to the side for a moment, I then turned to him and replied, “Uhm, no. This was it-this was it, thanks.” I said putting my wallet in my jeans back pocket and I smiled at him. I really was grateful he held on to it for me.

Believe it or not, he actually grinned at me. “Yeah, no problem.” I saw him, instantly, look up from me to the front door of the place as I heard the jingle bells on the top of the glass door ring as someone came in.

I saw Mr. Claymore enter from behind me and step behind the counter next to Salem. He placed his keys down by the phone and walked to the back and hung his jacket. He reappeared back next to the boy and looked at me with a warm grin.

“Hello, Johnny. What brings you around? Getting your usual?”, Nelly said with a smile. He was the owner, middle aged, around his late thirties, I’d say, tall, tanned, handsome, the type of guy you’d expect to be in a suit and a glamorous pair of shoes and a shiny new designer tie working for some business making loads of money with that dasher smile of his and killer personality. Yet, he was here, living his own life, and running his own place with a mighty successful reputation which was quite well earned I might add if I do say so myself.

“Oh, no, thank you. I was, actually, here picking something up I left yesterday. Heh.” I looked over at Salem and so did Nelly as I did.

“This is my son, Salem. He goes to your school.” He paused. “He’s going to be helping me over the next few months until I find some good helpers.” He turned to his son and gave him a smile and, then, a strange look that I didn’t understand for a moment and said in a slightly deeper tone than the one he was using to speak to me, “Salem, this is one of our regulars. He’s one of my best. He’s like family. Treat him good, okay?”

His son looked at me up and down for a moment with a look and furrowed his brow as if he was scanning me & looking for some type of a physical flaw or a blemish that he could discover on my skin. I didn’t understand that. “Yeah, I know. I met him yesterday.” He responded in a manner that almost said to his father- “I know, dad. I’m not stupid.” Hehe. I don’t know why that was kind of funny to me. I, against my will, instantly, giggled, under my breath as through he told a joke in class and I wasn’t allowed to laugh too hard so I wouldn’t get caught in front of the teacher and get us in trouble. He looked at me for a moment as he heard that and I, instantly, straightened up, making my smirk disappear. “So I’ll see you?”, he said to me. For some reason, I really didn’t want to leave. I wanted to spend more time there. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to be around him. But, I had already eaten and I wasn’t even hungry, so me staying for no reason at all wouldn’t really make much sense. So, I decided to head out of the door after saying goodbye and thanked him one last time.

As I was already blocks away from the pizza place going towards the main avenue of the town, I was already thinking of him against my will.
I kept replaying his voice over & over again in my head. The more I heard how he said new words, the more I realized how much I enjoyed it. It was just so cool! It wasn’t quite like a Jersey boy accent and it wasn’t quite like Fran Fine from the Nanny’s either. It was like an in between somewhere. It was more like the way her mother talked, exactly. That’s it! It was like a mild version of hers, like Louis from “Jack”. The way she would say “Moooaatyy!” to her husband instead of “Morty” is exactly where his speech hit those vowels and consonants, But his wasn’t as exaggerated. Like, instead of saying ”I was talking to her.”, he would kind of say, “I was toowaalking ta haw.” And instead of saying, “Get over here.” He would mildly pronounce it like, “Get ova heeya.” I don’t know why, but, I just found it so intriguing to hear him. I never heard a kid talk like that before. It almost sounded like he was too young for it. It gave me the same feeling you would get if you see a kid holding a bottle of liquor and just walking around. It just seemed sort of naughty. Hehehe. I couldn’t get over it. It was so fun to listen to. It was like playing a game with my ears. It made me jittery and happy. It made me smile which was something I hadn’t done in a while.

His antics and body movements just gave him this alpha male persona that was so entertaining to watch even when he did the simplest of things. And, they made it seem like he was, somehow, in control of every conversation he had without breaking a sweat. He seemed really witty and smart. He seemed like he could be a really good liar. Hehe. Does that make any sense? He seemed like he could be the best liar on the planet and be a prank artist, making anyone believe anything he wanted for as long as he wanted. If Fran Fine had a witty nephew, he’d be it.

I thought for a moment. It never occurred to me, but, I never really took the time to explore around this part of town too much even though I knew there was a really nice Main Street just around the corner which was deemed as the town’s shopping area. I didn’t even know this side of town much since I always just walked passed Nelly’s from school in an automatic route to be honest. I would always just cut right past that corner and walked straight from school to my house or went into Nelly’s before going home. The Main Street was busy and quite nice in appearance with many little restaurants and cafes, family owned boutiques, small businesses, and a hair dresser as well. There was even a place called, “Sweeties” which sold frozen yogurt. I only knew that because all of the kids at school would talk and rave about it and would, apparently, go there after school and on the weekends. I had, yet, to see what it was like in there but, I remember seeing it as my mother and I drove passed it, one day. I, instantly, got the bright idea to, maybe, go.

So, after about a two block walk, from where I was, I saw the pink bordered shop. When I, finally, stepped inside the Florescent green colored doors, my nose was, instantly, invaded with the smell of sweet smelling waffle ice cream cones. Man, it really WAS cool in there. It was dimly lit with colored lights all over the place and cool music playing in an upbeat pace. It was almost like a frozen yogurt night club. “I gotta come back here.” I, instantly, thought as I stood in the middle of the shop for a moment, admiring the scenery.

I walked over to the cup holder stand and picked a cup. Eventually, I settled for peanut butter, coconut, and birthday cake to be my flavors. I loved peanut butter and fell in love with the creamy taste. I topped mine off with some strawberries, some honey, and coconut flakes from the topping bar near the register. I smiled to myself looking at the honey. I loved honey. I always have. My mother would always put it on my waffles in the morning, sometimes, with a little butter and some milk for breakfast since I was really little and, ever since then, I made it a staple in the things I ate every here and there whenever I got the chance to eat something sweet. I paid and sat down on this bright & long oval green colored couch in the back which was made with this fake, synthetic, leather material and began to munch on my treat. “This is pretty good.” I thought to myself as I was eating and licking my red spoon clean here and there. In between bites of my frozen mixture, I took notice of the people around me and began to scan the room with me eyes.

As I sat there alone with my treat inside of its pink container for a moment, I saw a bunch of kids that I recognized from school and just frowned, instantly, thinking of the Brooklyn boy.
Everyone else at school acted different. They were all caught up in their own Abercrombie & Fitch love for fashion. They all had prep clothes, the girls had designer bags, and most of the boys were sporting cocky attitudes and model boy, self-love syndrome. It was really nice to meet someone a little more down to Earth for a change. He didn’t wear all of that stuff. He didn’t give a f*** to put it in french terms which I would never use, myself. He wore sporty clothing and, somehow, made it cooler than anything they wore no matter how hard they tried. He just did it and was already cooler than they were. He could make you afraid and get self conscious just by sitting there. It was almost as if he was bigger and deeper than everyone else in the room, somehow, even though he was, technically, still the same size. It was like you put a jaguar inside of a room full of a bunch of cats. He didn’t have to run his mouth and pretend. He just didn’t care. And, I liked that. It was the exact breathe of fresh I needed. I didn’t care, either. I didn’t feel like dealing with all of the superficial lingo of everyone around me at school after what I had been through and was feeling. I just didn’t feel like opening up to anyone else’s advances on me to befriend me, knowing, how… artificial the whole thing would be. My heart just wasn’t into any of it at the time. But, maybe this one kid was an exception. Maybe.

He was like a wolf among a bunch of pretty little poodles prancing around and showing off. He was just much more interesting to watch, without even doing anything. It was like watching a nature’s special of two tigers fighting each other as hard as they could. You just wanted to see what would happen. He was like a deadly storm of thunder and lightning. It was sort of scary to look at, yet, it made you excited. He had a beauty to him. I liked his face. He had a chiseled look, but his cheeks had a little layer of fat just under each one that just made him look like a healthy active kid. They were nice. I liked that. I thought about them once more and felt a little confused as to why I would ever notice such a feature on someone. Especially, someone my own gender.

I looked down at my yogurt feeling nervous about my thoughts and just felt guilty. I was looking. I was looking at a boy’s face and… I liked it. I wanted to touch it. I wanted to touch him. I wanted to take my hand and rub his cheek with my palm softly and I just didn’t understand why. I wanted more out of him, somehow, but I didn’t know what I wanted, exactly, or how to get it. I didn’t know how to satisfy this need and craving that I felt in my chest. I didn’t know what I wanted from him. But i did know one thing; I felt my cheeks get really hot. If you put your hand over one of them you would feel the heat radiating off of my skin. It was an uncomfortable burning sensation that almost hurt from how warm they felt and I lifted my shoulders a little from the unusual new feeling. My neck burned just as bad as I felt my shirt rub against my hot skin, uncomfortably. I gulped. I dared myself to look up peering around to look at the numerous faces that were around me as I sat there by myself.

Eventually, I tossed out the remainder of my frozen yogurt which I had really only purchased to taste what the hype was about out in the trash. I wasn’t even that hungry when I walked into the place to being with. I left, afterwards and began my route back home.

______

Looking at my phone I saw 1:36pm and began walking across the street. I saw Nelly’s to my right as I began to breeze right passed it. But, I stopped. I noticed it was incredibly busy. There was a load of people inside. I had never, actually, seen it like that before. So, being curious I decided to just peek inside. It was the busiest I had ever seen it. It was packed, which would make sense, considering, I had only ever gone in there way after lunch hours on the weekdays.

I just stood there for a moment. There I was, during lunch hour on a Saturday, and a line of six customers was in front of the counter, the tables were all full with the exception of two of them and the phone was ringing. Sarah was back. She looked up at me with a look that just caught my attention. She looked… upset. She seemed annoyed for some reason and had, almost, a red face as she looked back down at what she was doing. She didn’t even greet me. She didn’t even bother to acknowledge me. She saw me and ignored me on purpose as the phone was lodged in between her shoulder and her ear to hold it up as she wrote down an order quickly repeating whatever the customer was saying.

I noticed Mr. Claymore exiting the place in the kitchen behind the counter from the back side door and a familiar framed boy was directly behind him, almost, GLUED to him. As they escaped the pizza shop’s door in a speedy pace, I, quickly, took notice that Nelly’s hand was gripping Salem’s forearm, firmly. He was pulling him and was, actually, dragging him outside behind him. With a curious expression I felt come onto my face, I saw them exit the place through the side door that was in the back in the kitchen behind the counter.

I was shocked. I decided to step outside and, maybe, see what, exactly, was going on. I was curious to find out what was happening. I just didn’t understand why he would leave in such a hurry when it was this busy and why he would hold onto his kid like that. Nelly was such a decent and well presented man who would be the role model for many children on how they should be when they grow up. I couldn’t imagine him ever being rough or angry in anyway. It caught my attention, immediately.

As I felt the brisk air blow on my neck once I had stepped back outside, I turned to the right to slowly try to get a peak of the side door they had just exited from from the outside. I knew where the other side of it was outside, so, I walked to the edge of the place. But, before I got a chance to reach the corner of the building, fully, I, immediately, heard voices as I neared the red brick corner.

“…for doing such a thing. You SAID that to her. You can’t do things like that, Salem.” I heard Nelly saying in an extremely harsh tone, quickly.

“She-she came on to me. I tried to give her the change.” I heard an angry Salem reply.

SALEM, you told a customer to get a grip and to **** off.” His father replied. “Just because she asked for the manager because you counted the change wrong and asked you how old you were, is no reason to act like that at all. Unbelievable! Your mother wouldn’t approve of this. We made a deal. You AGREED. We gave you the chance. It was either this or Stone Henge. Is that what you want; do you want to go to Millitary school? We had to change your SCHOOLS because of all of this and cover up everything that happened. When will this end? Huh!? When is this going to stop?”

I had to walk away from the corner, briefly, as some women gave me a weird look as she was leaving the pizza parlor, obviously, wondering why a boy was leaning his ear near the corner of a pizza place. She wouldn’t really do anything. But, just to be safe I pretended I was walking into Nelly’s. Then, the second she crossed the street when the walk signal indicated she could walk I, instantly, ran back to where I was.

“…and, when you weren’t doing that you were out with those little friends of yours and there were possibly drugs involved from what officer Damian told us that one night?” I heard his father say.

“I TOLD you I was never a part of that. I only hung for the cigarettes. I don’t DO that stuff, dad. I never did.” The boy replied in a low tone.

There was a pause and his father added, “And what about that prositute we found out September bragged about to his brother??? Lord. That kid was always a problem and you were side by side with him, Salem.”

After about four seconds I heard, “I never had any PART of that, dad, …God.” I heard Salem’s breathy voice say in an all too familiar teenage voice which screamed how annoyed he was.

I heard his father begin to speak but he stopped. “Just…” he started but, I, then, heard nothing.

There was a sudden pause, and I thought the conversation was over. I started to walk further to peek at them but I stopped, instantly, as I heard a loud crash. I didn’t know what it was. It sounded like metal on the ground and then a garbage can falling, then, followed by a bunch of ruckus and them both making a bunch of sounds like they were struggling for some reason. I still didn’t look. I froze as I heard Nelly yell in between breathes, “Don’t. DON’T! …Don… you…you… Stop it…. You STOP it. STOP!! Don’t you even start that, now. I’ll call them. I swear I will, Salem.” I never heard Nelly talk so harshly. He really wasn’t playing around at all. He didn’t just sound angry. He sounded like he was full of… authority.

“Ughh, get off!” I heard the boy yell and make a screech sound.

I heard a pause as I heard some heavy breathing.

“What could possibly be so hard? What could possibly be so hard, Salem, that you feel the need to smoke? You act like you pay bills, or have medical problems, or abusive parents, or something so terrible that you feel the need to smoke, drink, & lash out at random for no reason at all if someone says something even remotely offensive to you. Principal Heffmington even said that you were a good kid and that you were one of his personal favorites and tried to help you. He SAID that Salem. He loved you and still does even after you called him a rat bag for confiscating your phone. We ALL love you and have been trying to help you. Even, that nice sweet girl who always had that cute little crush on you tried to help you, but, you pushed her away, too. You yelled at her for no reason at all at our dinner table and kicked her out of the house while we had company! You scared her, Salem! How could you? You won’t let us in. You won’t let us help you. You won’t tell us what’s the matter. What IS it Salem? What is so awful about your life that you feel the need to do those things!?”

Silence. I heard no sound whatsoever or a response to Nelly’s question at all.

“We can’t keep doing this, Salem. I can’t protect you forever. You better start learning to grow up and start facing your problems and responsibilities like a man. You’re 15 already, you-.”

I instantly heard Salem hollar.”I AM a man! I AM. Don’t ever say that again! I AM a MAAAAAAANN!

My god. His last scream made his voice screech from how loud he sounded. If anyone were around at that moment where I was, they’d, instantly, widen their eyes in horror thinking someone was being murdered and look to where they were. I still didn’t peek. I didn’t dare, worried what would happen if they saw me.

After a silent pause, I heard, “That’s two weeks. Two more weeks, you got it?” I heard this father reply before hearing the door close again. After about ten seconds, I heard what sounded like a little kid’s whimpers and, then, a sniff. I cautiously and very slowly peeked my head to look down the side of the restaurant.

Standing right next to three garbage cans filled with trash, I saw a red cheeked Salem kick an empty gallon of milk container hard off of the ground as it flew in front of him. He just stood there as I saw his body shaking as his fists were clenched to his sides as he held them tightly shut. I really didn’t want him to see me, so, I quickly walked away.

That night at dinner, I barely ate. My mother cooked me my absolute favorite meal to eat. She made pot roast, with vegetables and mashed potatoes. I loved her pot roast. She always put rosemary on the outside before roasting it in the oven with garlic and butter. The flavor was succulent. I just couldn’t eat that night. I kept thinking about Salem and wondered WHY I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I thought about everything I had overheard outside of that restaruant. I also thought about all of those noises I heard of them struggling after those two loud crashes followed by Nelly’s broken up yelling. What the heck was going on outside of that restaurant? I ate half of the mashed potatoes which I had been served and drank my apple juice and just told my mother I wasn’t hungry. I was upset and I didn’t know why at all. I went to bed that night at 2:30am, finally, after replaying the scenarios of the last two days over & over again in my mind making me exhausted.

I felt like I had just run a marathon. Yet, I did absolutely no running whatsoever. I suppose sometimes the mind can do all of the running and racing for you. And, that’s, exactly, what my mind was doing at the moment. My thoughts were racing and I was running as fast as I could to keep up with them and was going absolutely nowhere. There was no finish line. This wasn’t a race. This was a ring of fire that my mind had mentally created and I was trapped inside, circling around it, repeatedly, until I finally fell asleep. I couldn’t win. How could I? You cannot escape or run away from your own mind no matter how hard you try; you’ll always wind up back inside.


I do not enjoy viewing or writing profane words inside of a story in their full context. These words have been bleeped out. Please, enjoy.🙏💎

Published August 13, 2019