our emotions do not matter in the face of education
our dreams crushed by the reality of our situation
to live is to prosper, to prosper is to succeed
and success does not come with simple wishing
Watching Kayden play was more soothing than I expected. There was just something so peaceful about the moment. It made me feel like I could sit here forever and never need to worry about anything. It was a silly thought, but it was mine regardless. For now I could pretend that I was somewhere far away and enjoy, for the first time, how nice everything looked when covered in snow.
Kayden didn’t look too bad either. He had zipped down his jacket at some point and now I could see that he hadn’t changed out of the pink shirt I had given him. The color was so obvious in contrast to the dark clothes he wore. Maybe he wore to prove that he didn’t mind pink but I didn’t feel comfortable with the possibility of people seeing him in it. Being homeless was bad enough, being taunted by people who say you everyday was hell.
In this moment though, Kayden didn’t look homeless and I didn’t look. . .
Arleen would have said that this scene was one straight out of a romance novel or her favorite movie. She loved things like this. A night in the snow and a box of chocolates presented to her by the man of her dreams, that was the highlight of her romantic fantasies. She would like Kayden if she met him, he ticked all of her boxes. I wonder what sort of person ticked Kayden’s boxes. The waitress at the diner clearly didn’t. Would Arleen?
They would make a good couple together. They even had that height difference that Arleen was so specific about. I wonder if she would mind if he was homeless though. . . It was such a petty thing to base someone’s personality off—
“Hey,” Kayden’s voice snapped me out of my reverie. “What are you thinking about?”
I looked in his direction and realized that he had stopped playing. How long had I just been staring into space for? I cleared my throat and tugged on the strings of my hoodie. “What?”
“You were smiling,” he pointed at my face. “Just now.”
“Oh. Was I?” I shook my head, trying to clear out the thoughts in my head. What business of mine was it who Kayden liked? “I was just thinking about my friend.”
“Must be a real important friend if they can get you to smile without being here,” Kayden grinned and pulled the strap of his guitar over his head. When he placed the instrument beside me, I figured that he was done working for today.
“Ha. Yeah,” I touched my lips as though that could change the fact that they had betrayed me. “I didn’t realize that. . . Kayden, I have a question.”
“Here it comes. My interrogation.”
“No,” I raised up my hands. I already felt bad enough keeping him out here when he probably had other things to do. “It’s nothing like that. I just want to know some things and you seemed like the best person to ask.”
“You think that a guitar-playing hobo hold the answers to the universe.” Kayden tilted his head back and laughed. Knowing that he didn’t mind made me feel much better. I pulled him to sit next to me.
“You’re a strange one, Princess.”
“Not the universe,” I corrected him with a smile. “Just my questions.”
“Well, ask away, Benefactor. I am at your disposal.”
“Okay,” I took a deep breath, already knowing what I was going to ask first. “If a woman has twins... A boy and a girl, what about society would make her name the girl first?”
“What about society?” Kayden repeated with a thoughtful expression. He looked down at the gloves on his hands and my gaze followed. They were the same ratty gloves he had on yesterday but I hadn’t noticed them when he was playing.
“Everything,” he answered and let out a breath at the same time. “But I guess you didn’t know that. If you lived somewhere else, you wouldn’t have asked.”
By the time he was looking at me again I hadn’t managed to wipe the confusion off my face and pretend to understand. What was the point anyway? I didn’t have a reason to pretend. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to sound like a stalker,” he scratched at his jaw and looked away almost bashfully. “I’ve lived here for two years and some. I see you almost everyday. If I didn’t know anything about you, that would be strange. . . wouldn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I swallowed then nodded, wondering if he knew that I could also qualify as a stalker. “It would be.”
“So it’s not strange that I know that you haven’t left this city since you’ve been born probably,” he said.
“You are in this nice bubble. Even the school you go to is shielding you from everything wrong in the world.”
What did that have to do with anything?
“You have a lot of bullies, don’t you?” he asked.
“Used to.” I admitted with a shrug, surprised that it didn’t hurt more to say it out loud. “They can’t be bothered to deal with me anymore.”
“Well, you’re being bullied for the wrong reason,” Kayden said with a small smile.
I stared at him for a moment before knowing what to say next. “Is there ever a good reason to hurt someone?”
I knew that he had a point to all his questions. He wouldn’t be so heartless and make me admit that I wasn’t treated well for no reason, would he? He already knew that I had problems at home, what difference did it make if he also knew of what went on at school?
“No, but. . . This part of the country preaches equality. Students here are raised to be tolerant of everyone. Men and women are equal, or at least they are supposed to be.”
“I still don’t understand,” I told him. If the people around me were raised to be tolerant, why weren’t they? If men and women were equal why did people care if I looked like a girl?
“My eldest sisters are twins. They were named Gemma and Jenna. My youngest sister was named Janice. My name is Kayden. I’m sure you can see the pattern,” he had his fingers in his hair now. “To answer your question simply. Parents would name their daughters first because men and women are not equal. Women have the upper hand in this century. A daughter holds more value than a son.”
I understand now, I think. If Kayden’s parents were naming their children alphabetically, Janice should have had a name starting with ‘l’ but she doesn’t. Mother named I and Olive the same name, was it because she didn’t want to do the same thing?
“What if,” I shifted towards Kayden, needing more information, “I don’t want the simple answer?”
Kayden shook his head. “You do want it. Just know that anyone who bullies you knows that when you get out into the real world, you’re going to be better than them. Don’t take it personally.”
“Out in the real world, I’ll be better? What does that mean?”
“You don’t need to know. At least not anytime soon. It’s a miracle that you somehow remained so oblivious all this time,” Kayden’s smile fell. “But the truth is, the world stopped being kind to men eons ago, the equality your school preaches no longer exists—maybe it never did.”