Life As He Knows It

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A Heart like Fire

Aubrey decided to turn on the radio again, and surprisingly a song I knew came on. The Kids Aren’t Alright by Fall out Boy came on. It was my absolute favorite song off their new album, and it felt like it described me. I looked out the window and whispered to lyrics quietly to myself. Josh was doing this too, only was a lot louder and was way better at singing than I was.

I started getting into the song, and soon Aubrey, Josh and I were belting out the lyrics as loud as we could.

After the song ended, we giggled nonstop for five minutes, and then all was quiet. The silence wasn’t deafening or awkward; it was nice and cool, like a summer breeze going over a flower filled valley. I never wanted the silence to end, but then Aubrey tuned to another radio station and everything got really boring again. I sighed loudly and started to look out the window for the thousandth time I had been able to look out that window.

“Are we just going to be doing this?” I asked them just as Violet started to lick my hand, “Or are we actually going to have some fun? Like, illegal stuff, like you said.” Violet climbed onto my lap and the weight of her whole body was on my calves. This was a little uncomfortable since she was at least a hundred pounds.

“We’re going to do other stuff,” answered Josh, “We just have to find the right place. Got it?” The last part came out in a harsh bark, and I nodded vigorously.

Josh could be scary and intimidating when he wanted to be.

“We’re going camping,” Aubrey said from the front.

Josh and I looked at her with horrified and confused faces. “WHAT?!” we screeched at the same time. I had had a lot of bad experience with camping; the outdoors and I didn’t really get alone that well.

Last time I went camping, it was when I was ten and I was with my aunt and uncle; it was very humid. The mosquitoes really liked the way I tasted. Let’s just say that when I got home, I looked like a pink marshmallow.

“But I don’t want to go camping,” Josh whined at his sister. Aubrey glared at her brother and he backed off a bit. But I didn’t.

“I agree with Josh,” I explained, “Camping isn’t really my thing. All the trees and dirt and bleh...” She rolled her eyes and kept driving. I knew we didn’t have a choice, she was the one driving and she could do whatever she wanted to do with us. She could’ve driven us off a cliff and we wouldn’t be able to change her mind.

As Aubrey drove us closer and closer to the forest, I started to play with Violet more. She really was a sweet dog, and looked kind of young; maybe one or two. From what I could tell, she was well cared for and didn’t have any flees or sores; but I wasn’t a vet and wasn’t the one that took care of all of that stuff with our dog back home.

That was your old home, genius. Shut up and let me play with the damn dog.’ Violet started to lick all over my face, and I scrunched it up against the lathering of her wet tongue.

Josh laughed from the passenger seat and I waved him off with a swipe of my hand. I put my two hands up against Violets cheeks and rubbed them. Then I scratched behind her ear, and then played ‘I Got Your Tooth’ with my sweater sleeve over my hand to keep from slobber getting all over it.

She loved all of this, but went up to Josh anyway. This time, he was the one with the giant water heater who licked his face.

I laughed at him. He stuck his tongue out at me and I laughed harder.

“Will you two stop goofing around?” Aubrey said, suppressing a grin, “I’m trying to drive here.” Josh and I made weird and funny face at her, and we finally got her to laugh. It was a musical sound, like a church bell ringing at noon.

Aubrey moved her arm and poked Josh in the side of his rib cage. He squirmed away and giggled slightly. ’He’s ticklish.’ Josh turned around and I raised an eyebrow at him as if saying ‘What?’

He let out a huge guffaw and Violet started to howl from his lap. We all laughed at this. It seemed at the time that it was one of the best moments of my life.

When we got to the campground, we checked in at the front desk. Nobody asked any questions, but the lady said that there was a small library if any of us wanted to read. She also said that if we didn’t finish the book before we left, that we could take the book home with us.

I went to the library and took three very interesting looking books. Violet was waiting outside the library door when I got out, and she followed me back to the campsite we had been given.

Books, really?” said Josh quizzically, “We’re at a campground, with a beach, a park and a tennis court, and you go to the frickin’ library?!” He waved his arms around to emphasize his confusion. I shrugged and sat on the green grass in front of our fire pit.

I opened a book that was called A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It was about this thirteen year old guy named Conor, and this monster comes in the middle of the night to seek out his truth. Sounded pretty good and the cover art was amazing.

“Hey Ben,” Aubrey said from the van, I looked over at her, “What do you want for dinner?” Her voice was soft and caring; I wanted to be wrapped up in it.

“Umm, well we ate out yesterday, so could we have some hotdogs and hamburgers.” Aubrey nodded and started to root through her water cooler that was filled with food. I had recently found out that she had packed a lifetime supply of Mountain Dew in there, and I was pretty pleased that she did.

Even if I had to go to the bathroom more than usual; pop was pop.

Josh decided to run around the empty tennis court with Violet. They seemed to playing some sort of messed up tag, where only the dog could catch you and you just had to keep running. I rolled my eyes at him. ’Sometimes he can be really weird.’ Aubrey sat beside me and handed me a Mountain Dew.

“Thanks,” I said to her. She nodded slightly to me in response. Her face had a twinge of sadness to it, like she wasn’t trying to cover up her emotions. But then Josh started to sing and she started to smile.

I thought I saw the devil, this morning/ Looking in the mirror, drop of rum on my tongue/ With the warning to help me see myself clearer/ I never meant to start a fire/ I never meant to make you bleed/ I’ll be a better man today,” his voice was clear and as beautiful as his face. It sounded like honey tasted. It sounded like a sunset looked. It sounded like a summer breeze felt.

Absolute tranquil went through my body. “I’ll be good, I’ll be good/ and I’ll love the world, like I should/ Yeah, I’ll be good, I’ll be good/ for all of the times that I never could.” He stopped singing, but I wanted him to keep going.

I turned to Aubrey, “What song was that?” She looked confused at the question.

“That was I’ll Be Good by Jaymes Young,” she replied, “He’s a true artist. And Josh likes him a lot.” She sighed and I nodded.

Josh looked happy while playing with Violet and laughing to himself.

He’s so beautiful.’ Both voices said this time in my head, and he really was. He was the most beautiful, sad, and compassionate creature I had ever gotten to know.

“He’s beautiful,” I said out loud, and completely regretted it afterwards. ’Crap,’ I thought, ’Aubrey’s sitting right beside you, dummy!’

Aubrey saw the panicked look on my face and said: “It’s okay. He is very beautiful. Always has been, even when he was a baby. Everyone loved him as a baby, he was adorable.” Her voice was cool and smooth, like water sliding down your throat after being outside in the heat for too long. “I really love him you know? That’s the only reason I ran away with him, because I love him. Other than that, I would be sitting at home and watching TV with my father while he drank a case of beer.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, even though I didn’t know what I was sorry for.

“You don’t have to be,” Aubrey sighed and looked at me sadly. “Life is what we have, and I don’t want to give that up.” Her smiled was sad and had a hint of love in it. It felt like I was her little brother, like I was one of them.

I took a sip of my Mountain Dew and lay back on the slightly damp grass.

I had a nightmare that night. It was about my father and Josh.

The fire was unexpected, but it gave the nightmare the nightmare-ish feel to it, other than that I was completely content with this bad dream.

It was set in my house, of course of course, it was. Everything I was scared about was in my past life, my boring life. But my house was on fire, and my mom was nowhere to be seen, neither was my dog; but there they were, my father and Josh, laughing at me. It felt like I was the one person in a group that didn’t get the joke.

Their laughter was mean too, not the laughter that made you want to laugh along, but the laughter that you wanted to run away from. I had run away from it, I ran away with Josh and Aubrey. But Josh’s laugh stood out, it was because he wasn’t smiling. He was standing there, beside my father and laughing, but not smiling.

It frightened me to see someone laugh like that.

“D-dad,” I stuttered and looked at my father, “What... What... I... Why... Hey... Um...” I couldn’t seem to gather my thoughts into strings of words. It was like I couldn’t decipher my own brain.

Beautiful?” it was Josh who spoke, “You think I’m beautiful, yeah? Then why don’t you admit it? Are you afraid? What are you afraid of, Ben?” His voice was harsh, harsher than I had ever heard him speak.

The flames of fire crawled along the walls, onto the floor, and up my body. I screamed in pain and imagined what it would be like if my life ended right then and there. But it didn’t, and I wanted this horrible nightmare to end.

The thing was I wasn’t scared of the usual things. I wasn’t scared of the end of the world, terrorist, or war, even or death. But I was scared of the awful truth, the truth of what my feelings were towards Josh. They confused me so much that I had to have this nightmare. This unbearable feeling of despair and pain crept into my stomach, and I wanted to hurtle myself out of the living room window.

That didn’t happen though; the flames of fire swept me into the great darkest of the unknown.

I woke up with a splitting scream and massive migraine. Rolling onto my side and groaning made it even worse, so I laid there in the van seat and slapped Josh in the face to wake him up. He wasn’t too happy about that.

WHAT THE HELL? IT’S TWO-IN-THE-MORNING!” His voice was loud and rough, like when it is in the morning, which it technically was.

“My head hurts,” I whined and he rolled him eyes in anger. I continued, “I think I might be sick.”

“Yeah, alright,” he answered and sighed, “I’ll wake up Aubrey.” He kicked the back of the passenger seat (because the driver’s seat doesn’t go down very far). Aubrey glared over the top of the seat.

What?” she said bitterly.

Josh pointed at me and said, “Ben’s sick.”

They both looked at me with worrying eyes while I tried not to throw up all over my lap. My head hurt, my stomach felt like it had worms in it, and I couldn’t move my neck without the fear of vomiting on my friends.

“Did you feel his forehead?” I heard Aubrey ask, but her voice sounded distant, like I was going in and out of consciousness (which I was).

“No,” Josh spoke; he sounded like he was scared for me.

“Why the Hell not?”

“’Cause he just told me!”

They argued like this for at least five minutes, and then Aubrey put a hand on my cheek. She shook her head and clicked her tongue, “Tisk, tisk, tisk.” They shoved some pills into my mouth, made me gulp down some water, and soon I was warm, fuzzy and falling asleep.

“Ben, hey Benny, wake up.” Josh said as he leaned over me. I opened my eyes and saw his dark eyes watching me. The van door was open, and the morning light hit him in such a way that it made me want to grab his face and kiss him. ’No! No! NO! You don’t like him like that! He’s just a friend! He’s just another face in this stupid world.’ But I did want to kiss him, he seemed happy to see me awake, and I liked to see him happy.

There was this fire in me, and the flames liked up my heart whenever I saw him. They gave me heartache, love, loneliness, and happiness all at the same time. It got so bad in that moment, that I moved my head up and kissed him. Not him kissing me, but me kissing him. I could tell that he was confused, but I didn’t care. This eased the fire, and I wanted it gone.

I like this. I really like this.’

“I’m sorry about the aquarium,” I said to him when I pulled away. “I should’ve never acted like I did, shouldn’t have been so upset about it.” Josh closed his eyes and rested his forehead against mine. He pecked the tip of my nose and I smiled.

Aubrey found us (Josh and I) cuddled up in blankets and reading the books I gotten in the backseat. She giggled and asked if she could join in, we said she could. It was warm under the blankets and pressed against Josh, he was a really warm person. Violet came up with her tongue sticking out like dogs do, and laid down on us three and the blankets. I went deeper into Josh’s warmth and he wrapped his tanned arms around me.

“Selfless people are the most boring people,” Josh said suddenly, lost in thought. “They get a billion dollars and give all to charity. No amazing cruises or awesome parties, just gives the money away for other people to go on amazing cruises and have awesome parties.” I didn’t know where this was coming from. ’What is he talking about?

His voice was confident though, confident, strong and compassionate. His voice described him, the real Josh, not the sad one who tried to kill himself, but the true Josh that I loved.

“I think it’s healthy to spend time alone,” I said, following the mood, “You need to know how to be alone and not to be defined by another person.” Josh nodded and held me tighter.

“I don’t like hugs,” Aubrey said solemnly. We turned to face her and waited for an explanation. She continued, “It’s just another way to hide your face and all your real emotions.” I knew what she meant, and I understood her feelings. Nobody can see your face and your feelings when they’re hugging you.

Aubrey moved over and hugged Josh. Josh put his face into my hair. I leaned into Aubrey’s embrace. It was this infinite circle of emotions that we held towards each other.

It was what kept us from going back home. It had been one week since I had last seen my mother.

Josh and I slept on the backseat that night. Aubrey didn’t stop us, I still wasn’t feeling well and Josh wanted to ‘protect’ me like he was a guard dog. “He’s very loyal,” Aubrey said that afternoon at the beach, “He’ll do anything to protect the ones he loves.” That got me thinking, ’So, he loves me.” I smiled at the idea and tried to fall asleep in his arms, but my brain was wide awake with more thoughts.

What will happen when I get home? Will mom ground me? I could always just sneak out again. Wait, will I ever go home, or will I stay with these guys forever?’ My mind was tired, confused and in dire need of some rest, but it just kept going on forever.

Soon, I fell into a restless sleep and Josh hugged me tighter to his chest so I wouldn’t move around so much.Not that I minded, this beautiful human being was pressing me against their beautiful human body. It was also then that I realized that Josh slept shirtless, which I had surprisingly never noticed before, but I didn’t mind that either.

He seemed so peaceful while he slept, like an angel. And I knew angels weren’t real, but he might’ve been one.

I remembered when I was really little, my grandparents took me to church and they read part of the Bible out loud. It confused me, all that stuff about angels and God; I knew I didn’t believe in it, there was no proof, but I was still confused.

When I got home, I asked my mother why people believed in God, and she said, “People have religion because they want to have an explanation for everything. ’Oh look, there’s a fire in my house and oh, that window is open. It’s a sign from the gods!’ Or why we’re here on Earth, or if there is life after death. That is what people want an explanation for.”

My mother never talked down to me, even when I was little. She raised me to not look down upon and to not be looked down upon. If I had an opinion, I said it, even if I knew other people would think it was stupid. My father agreed, and that was where I got my confidence.

My dad was the bravest man I had ever met, he was a doctor after all; he saved lives. All I wanted when I was younger was to be like him, but once I grew up and once he had left, I hated him. I never wanted to know why he cheated on mom, or why he had left so suddenly.

But I did want to know why he had kept it for so long.

“Ben,” I heard Josh mumble, “What’s it like to have a mom?” He was crying, and his eyes were deep and sad again. I gulped down my own thoughts and answered him.

“Uh, it’s great actually,” I whispered back to him, “She’s always there for you, and will do anything for you. She can be a bit overprotective and scary at times, but she means well.” Josh nodded, and I snuggled up to him.

“I don’t want to be with you, Ben,” he said.

“What?” I was totally confused, but not upset.

“I’m sorry if I came off that way.” His voice was low rumble and I backed away from him so I could look at his face. He was facing the window away from me and into the starless night.

“But I thought...” I tried to say.

“I’m sorry,” he said and sat up. He wore pajama pants and a necklace I hadn’t noticed before. It was a wolf necklace that hung low in v-line. “I have someone back in town that I like, and I think he likes me too.” Josh was still crying, and again my heart felt like it was burning up, but in a good way. It was a relieving burn, and made me want to sigh in relaxation.

“Okay,” I said softly. Josh’s face was half covered in shadows and I couldn’t make out his expression.

“So, you’re not mad?” his voice was sharp with curiosity and befuddlement. I shook my head, even though I wasn’t sure if he could see me. “Could you still sleep with me tonight, I was kind of having a nightmare.” I nodded and he lay back down beside me. My eyes closed and I became unaware of Josh beside me.

The infinite brightness of dreamland was calling to me, and I surged toward it with much confidence.

In the morning, Josh only spoke once to me, and that was for me to pass the salt. He hung around with Violet a lot, and in a way I guessed that she was his stress relief dog. This little sense of joy this joyless boy had was a dog that barely listened. He got mad at her a lot too, when she started to chase a squirrel, when she started to bark at people who got too close, he would yell at her to heel and sit down. Violet obeyed him, but not for long.

It was later that day that I realized that I didn’t really ‘love’ Josh. He was just another beautiful face in a sea of other beautiful faces. Aubrey understood him more than I did, and I understood that more than I understood Josh as a person. I was still trying to figure out myself, and who I was as a person, but include a very confusing boy to the table, and there goes my sanity.

Not that Josh was confusing, from what I had learned, he was a very straight forward yet secretive kind of guy. Like I was, only I didn’t categorize myself in genders. Truth be told, I thought everyone was bit of boy and girl no matter what their gender. I actually learned that in health class that all people started out as a girl, and then the body decided what gender you will have. That’s why I didn’t think as myself as a boy nor a girl. To myself and my thoughts, I was both.

I didn’t think as myself as being only fourteen either, I was a lot wiser and responsible than a lot of other kids my age, and most people thought I was at least seventeen (even though I was short).

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