Carbon

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Chapter 18

I opened my door after a loud, boisterous knock streaking through the house came to my ears. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and glanced at the blurry silhouette.

“Hey, I was wondering if you could do me a favor.”

I stood with the November air rushing into the foyer in nothing but a t-shirt and boxers that barely managed to cover my ass. My hair lay flat on my head in a messy bun, begging for it to be tautened to my head.

I groaned, “Ned, it’s like…”

“Six o’ clock on a Saturday night, and you were passed out asleep, weren’t you?”

I blinked my eyes quickly and rubbed the back of my head, my bun sliding around loosely. I motioned for him to come in, locking the door behind him. He stood in the foyer like an obedient pup waiting for his master. I pivoted on my heels and made my way to the living room, nestling on one of the loveseats.

Holden thundered down the hall and whipped around the corner, pulling the rug from its designated place, sliding a couple inches before continuing his gait. He loped childishly across the living room and launched onto the cushion beside me. He rested his wet chin on my lap and whined for my attention. My hand slithered from his forehead to the back of his neck repeatedly, causing him to give a little content purr.

Ned kept his eye on Holden surreptitiously, and I wondered if he was afraid of big dogs based on how he slowly rested on the leather recliner beside the brown loveseat. He motioned to Holden with his chin. “Where’s your mom and sister?”

“They went somewhere when I fell asleep. I think Esther said Mom was taking her to Nashville this weekend for shopping and would be back tomorrow.”

“They just left you?”

“Yeah, that’s what happens when you aren’t the favorite.”

“Oh, okay, good.”

I pursed my lips. “If you’re looking to get laid, you came to the wrong destination. I heard the prostitutes on 5th Avenue actually have teeth now.”

He scrunched his face and scoffed, “No, I’m not looking to get laid.”

I nonchalantly shrugged my shoulders as Holden rubbed his face against my chest, cooing like a baby all the while. “What are you here for then?”

He turned to Holden, massaging his right ear as he leaned across the coffee table. “Oh, I don’t know. I was in the neighborhood.”

“No, you weren’t.”

“Sure I was.”

“What do you want?”

“Can’t I just keep you company on a Saturday night?”

I dipped my chin to my chest awkwardly, waiting for him to elaborate.

“Okay, I need you to help me out.” He whipped his long brunette hair to the side, trying to get his long bangs away from his blue eyes.

I leaned across Holden and pushed back his long bangs. “A haircut?”

He cracked a serene smile. He slapped my wrist away and chortled, “Yeah, I guess that’s a starting point, isn’t it?”

“Well, come on.”

I pulled myself off of the couch and marched to the kitchen. I snatched a chair from the kitchen table and placed it in the middle of the kitchen beside the island. I went to the long drawer closest to the table and grabbed the scissors I used to trim Holden’s face when his fur began to tangle in his collar. I swished it under the spigot in the sink for a quick moment and flicked off the excess with the flick of the wrist.

“Where do I sit in Devin’s Disastrous Salon?”

I pointed to the seat with my hip as I continued to prep the area for him. I pounded up the stairs and snuck into my sister’s room, knowing Leslie kept new combs in one of her drawers because he always had the tendency to leave one about, and Holden would always end up chewing them up like plastic chew toys. I snatched one from the drawer and scurried back downstairs.

Holden sat in front of Ned, and Ned ran his hands through the monster’s long hair, a smile creeping across his face. He murmured something to Holden, and his pink tongue unfurled from his snout and brushed against Ned’s pale skin.

I couldn’t help but smile, too.

“Oh, Holden, look who’s here. Look who’s here,” Ned excited Holden.

Holden whipped around and bounded towards me. I knelt down, letting him push me onto my butt and lick my face furiously. I laughed as the dog nuzzled my neck and then went back to Ned. I glanced over to see Ned held a toy in his hand, shaking and whirring it to grasp Holden’s attention. Holden hopped around in a circle, antsy to get his toy, and Ned whipped it into the living room. Holden bounded away and began to destroy the toy, tearing a whole in the red fabric, and then dissecting the toy with his front teeth like a beaver chewing away at a dam.

Ned sauntered over suavely and held out his hand. Mine folded into his, and he lifted me from the floor abruptly, making my head spin. His touch separated from me, and he fell back into his chair. “Alright, begin the transformation process, Dr. Frankenstein.”

I laughed, snipping the air once I whipped the scissors off the island, “Don’t worry, it’s just going to be a trim. I’m not going to turn you into something totally different.”

“Just don’t let me look like van Gogh.”

I pinched his ear. “You don’t need this.”

“That way I can only hear you half the time you’re nagging me.”

I gently smacked him on the back of his head, and he laughed.

I took the comb and began to splay out his brunette locks, and he fell silent. Startled, I expected him to remain talkative, but I glanced at him from under his long bangs as I combed them forward. My fingers slid through his soft locks as his breath slowed and his eyes fell closed. “Don’t go to sleep on me.”

“I’m afraid you’ll take out an eye.”

“It’s like the story of Samson.”

“Whatever you say.”

I scoffed and tilted his head back. I pulled myself on the island and came to my knees, his forehead resting between my knees on the island, leaning over his face as I pressed his bangs close to his eyes, measuring how far I needed to trim. His eyes slid open, staring up at me. Flustered, I immediately snapped, “You need to keep your eyes closed now.”

He cracked a smile and obediently shut his eyes.

The scissors slit through his hair easily like a sheet, the cool metal gently gliding against the curve of his nose as I meticulously manipulated the scissors. My fingers ran through the silky bangs a couple of times, making sure my cuts were even and strong, and to make sure I didn’t botch his hair. I leaned over and gently blew on his face, the tiny hairs falling away from his face. His eyelids fluttered for a moment as I blew, and I smiled for some unknown reason. His lips parted as he let out a soft exhalation, and I noticed the curve of his bottom lip and the sudden, severe arch of his cupid’s bow…

“I can feel you breathing on me.”

I held my breath and stared at him with wide eyes, embarrassed he caught me. His eyes snapped open, and then I noticed something peculiar. The circular shadow of a contact lens was only on one eye. “Why do you wear only one contact?”

Ned sat up, lifting his head away from me. He rushed his fingers through his hair, rustling it gently, as he shot out of the chair.

I immediately apologized, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just curious.”

He froze and turned to me. His brow furrowed critically, and his lips pulled tight quizzically. His hands rested on each side of me, and he leaned in towards me. Our eyes set on each other. He inquired, “You won’t freak out, will you?”

I furrowed my brow, concerned he had a fake eye or something. My mind wandered to my own health, and I remembered when I decided I would not judge for something as remedial as a medical condition. I silently shook my head.

He turned to the sink behind him and washed his hands slowly, writhing each one hand slowly of the thin liquid. He shoved the spigot’s dull metal handle downward, the water ceasing to pour from its head. He leaned over the sink, his fingers peeling the contact from his eye. He placed the contact to the side of the sink. He pulled the water back to life and filled his hands with transparent pools, burying his face in the water, washing away his insecurity and lack of confidence. The water shut off, and he pushed his hair back with a wet hand and let it fall back into place. He twisted around on his heels and faced me.

“I don’t see anything wrong.”

He sat down back in the chair and tilted back his head to face me upside-down. His bangs fell back, and he furrowed his brow. “You see it now?”

Our eyes locked, and a beautiful blue hue reflected from an iris along with a sea foam green illuminating from the other. Two different mirror images collaborated onto one face. Two different eyes. Two different irises. I murmured, “What’s wrong with them?”

He sat up and twisted around in the chair, and I slid off the island and stood in front of him, my hands perched on my hips spunkily. He shook his head incredulously and confided, “Heterochromia—“

“No, no, why do you think there is something wrong with your eyes, Ned?”

“Well, I look like a freak.”

“Can you see out of them?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you physically need the contact?”

“Well, no.”

“Ned, they’re fine.”

His fingers combed through his hair shyly as a small smile crept across his lips. “You’re not unsettled by this at all? I mean, Lily thinks it’s weird.”

“I’m not her.”

“Are you sure this is okay? I can put it back in if you want.” He twisted back in the chair, reaching towards the counter with the contact.

“Ned, they’re gorgeous. Don’t hide them just because one person told you to.”

He froze.

“Don’t let one person force you to hide behind a mask or façade just to please them. Hell, if you want to do something that displeases a lot of people but pleases you, just do it. If they really love you, they won’t be disappointed because they want your happiness, too.”

His eyes locked back onto mine, and we just stared at each other for what seemed like hours. I could tell by the way he looked at me, I had broken something inside of him; something had disintegrated in his subconscious.

His fingers wrapped around the cuffs of my long sleeves, and he pulled me gently to him, laying my hands on his shoulders delicately. My legs struggled to keep me from falling onto his lap, straddling him on my tip toes, but his hands cupped the back of my legs, forcing me to fall into it.

“Ned, what the hell are you—“

His lips met mine.

Shocked, I immediately pulled away.

Our eyes locked for a moment.

And then he leaned back into me, and I couldn’t help but kiss him back. I closed my eyes, his hands resting on my lower back gently as he kissed me sweetly, never clawing at anything beyond a soft kiss, not begging for something more or something less. Content, my chest warmed, and I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. His hand fell to my cheek and rested there delicately. He smiled into my lips suddenly, and his contagious grin spread into me.

“Sorry,” he murmured, still slyly smiling.

“You’re fine,” I mumbled, burying my face into his clavicle, suddenly embarrassed.

His hand slid from my cheek into my hair, tousling my bun back and forth, and he chuckled childishly.

I smiled into his shirt.

“Okay, do I get my favor now?”

I immediately sat up and stared into his discolored eyes. The smile faded away from my face as grave favors began to flood my mind that expanded outside of the realm I was willing to participate in. I furrowed my eyes and snarled, “Shoot.”

“What’s the deal with your tattoo?”

“How do you know about that?”

“Heath told me when he got his, you got yours. What does it mean?”

I immediately recalled laying topless on a chair as the whirring of the machines deafened my senses completely. I closed my eyes and laid into the bench, allowing the needle to dig into my skin. As it went over each vertebra, the whirring became louder but then receded in the spaces across my back. The artist warned me that having a tattoo on my back for my first time was ballsy, and I honestly didn’t think much of it. The pain was substantial, but I could handle it.

I’ve had worse.

“What does this mean to you?” the tattooed, pierced man inquired, his tongue ring clicking against the back of his teeth mechanically. “It’s kind of weird to just have ‘free’ on your back and nothing else. You don’t want a rose or a chrysanthemum?”

“Just the word, please.”

“Heath got the butterfly, but yours doesn’t make much sense,” Ned brought me back to the present, away from Heath again.

My hands rested on his shoulders, and I turned my gaze to the clock on the microwave. It had only been an hour; I couldn’t just kick him out without any reasoning or anything without reason. I had to answer the question—but I didn’t want to. It was mine and mine alone. The tattoo was mine to interpret as I wished and any way I felt. It was no one else’s business about my body. I shook it off. “Oh, you know, I just like the connotation for free—like a bird. It’s positive when there isn’t enough positive influences in life, you know?”

He squinted critically, denouncing the legitimacy of my explanation. “Really?”

“No.”

“What is it?”

“I’ll tell you some other time.”

“Other than that… can we keep this our little secret?”

My eyes locked on his. A sheen of doubt crept over his beautiful glance, and I pondered all of the situations he could be alluding to. “What are you talking about?”

He folded his lips over mine, and I pressed into him, wrapping my arms tautly around him. He abruptly tore away from me and smiled. His finger pointed toward his left eye, the iridescent green one, and he winked at me slyly.

My smiled faded away, and I just stared intently at him. “Why?”

“It’s embarrassing and weird and strange.”

I wiggled out of his lap and stood beside him, glaring down at him down my nose haughtily. I shook my head from right to left and leaned against the counter with my hip, shaking the sink in its spot. I crossed my arms and pursed my lips. “You can’t be serious.”

“Yeah, I am.” His hands grasped his knees as he slumped over, his eyes glued to mine. He tried to give me a bashful smile, but I could tell there was some tension behind that expression. It was like he knew what I was going to do next.

My hand swiped across the counter, tossing the contact into the sink, and it toppled down the drain.

Ned shot to his feet, staring incredulously at me as if I killed a small puppy instead of throw away a contact. “Devin!”

I shrugged my shoulders rebelliously. I retorted childishly, “Not everyone gets to hide their imperfections, Ned, and yours… yours is beautiful and perfect. If Lily says different, she didn’t accept you for you. I don’t get to hide my imperfections; the world has to deal with them. And sometimes, it’s the world’s imperfection to deal with.” And then I found myself with tears pouring down my face.

“Dev, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

I shook my head and then buried my face in my hands just because I didn’t want him to see me fall to pieces. And I fell to pieces because all I ever wanted to be was free from my past.


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