Carbon

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Chapter 4

Irritated, I drove my sister to her soccer game. My parents promised to meet me there due to their work schedules, and due to their schedules, I was forced into the slavery called chauffeuring. I glanced up at my rear-view window and turned back to the road. The radio blared some rap song with various profanities and threats as my sister swore it pumped her up to play. It was youth club soccer, but she treated it like an international game during the Olympics or World Cup. Soccer was her job and school was a part-time job in her mind. She twisted her neck as she watched the trees whip by as I drove over the speed limit to get her to warm-ups on time.

Stressed, I tried to make small talk. “Who are you playing today?”

When she was nervous for a game, she always would answer in short, curt sentences. “United Futbol Club.”

I thumped my thumb against the wheel as I halted the car before a red light, impatient to move forward to the athletic complex. “You excited?”

“Nervous.”

“Why?”

“Because.”

“Do what Dad always says. ‘Play hard. Have fun.’ You can do this, Lex.”

She turned to me in the passenger seat of the car and stared at me with her large, opal eyes. Her hands folded in her lap as if she was a Renaissance queen posing for her royal portrait. She folded her brow and confided, “I feel something bad.”

I rolled the car into a parking space and put it into park. I turned to her and rustled her lucky braid. I gave her a toothy grin and tried to persuade, “You’ll be awesome.”

She nodded her head and rushed to her bench and threw on her cleats and shin guards with the rest of her teammates. They gossiped and roared with laughter as I locked the car.

I pulled the lawn chairs out of the back and drug them across the field where the rest of the families were waiting to watch the girls play. I unfolded the chairs next to a man with a Valley Soccer Club t-shirt on and nestled in my chair, two vacant chairs waiting for Mom and Dad. I popped my knee up and down with impatience beginning to nibble at my nerves as the warm-up drew to a close. I ran my fingers through my brunette hair in the September afternoon, the sun beating down and burning my pale skin.

Three referees dressed in yellow collared, black-striped shirts and black shorts descended upon the field, conversing with each other. The middle ref stretched head and shoulders above both the other refs. His blond hair speckled with gray bounced with each step. His colleague to his right tucked in his shirt under his rotund abdomen, focusing primarily on his dress instead of his gait. He stumbled with his right knee, which already had a brace on it, and flapped his flag for the AR position on the field before he composed himself again.

The other side of the tall ref sauntered a petite girl whose muscles kind of bulged from underneath her loose shorts. She waved the flag in different ways as she mindlessly talked with her colleagues. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail that gently glided in the wind. Her blue eyes, filled with curiosity, never wavered from her comrades as she walked closer to the field. I almost didn’t recognize her.

The referees brushed past me, and I quickly greeted, after much turmoil in the forum of my mind, “Hey, Devin.”

Devin whipped her head over her shoulder and then back to the men. She mumbled something to the tall one, and he nodded before leaving her alone with the parents and family. She pivoted on the balls of her feet and placed her hands on her hips. “What’s up? Ned, right?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“What are you doing at this game? Searching for a replacement for Lily?” She turned over her shoulder and pointed to a girl on the field. “She might be your type,” she whispered.

I furrowed my brow and released a heavy sigh. “No, my sister is playing today.”

“Oh, which one is she?”

“Should I tell you, or are you going to punish her for knowing me?”

Devin cracked a smile and turned back to the field. Her hands fell to her sides as she observed the players lining up for the kick-off.

I know this was highly inappropriate, but I was ecstatic that I picked this spot because the view was spectacular. I could see the field fairly well and had a pretty nice perspective on Devin’s assets. I barely knew her, but a guy can admire one of God’s gifts to the world like butts. Devin’s could have been one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

United took the kick-off and passed back to their winger. The winger forced forward and lost possession after a failed pass attempt from one of Valley’s midfielders cutting off the passing channel. The girl passed it to Lex, the defensive midfielder, and Lex crossed the field, shifting the point of counter-attack.

Watching Devin move back and forth distracted me from the game most of the time. She mesmerized me with her swift movements and the way her gait extended as she destroyed the distance of her territory. She whipped her flag up with each off-sides call and with each ball rolling out of bounds. Unlike many refs, she would actually grab the balls for the girls, and I wondered if she did it from her experience as a player or just out of kindness.

Lex managed to split the defense for a run for the forward, but the forward shot wide of the goal, returning possession to United. I leaned forward in my chair, propping my chin up with the heel of my palm—my elbow resting on my knee. The possession was passed equally between both teams, and the attacking third was weak for both teams. I mean, I was used to watching English Premier League and older club teams, so I tended to analyze Lex’s games as such, much to her dismay.

The ball swept across the defense and came forward to the midfield, but then possession was lost. Lex charged the girl with the ball, and the girl in return nailed the ball into Lex’s chest. Lex shuddered and then collapsed on the field, and I stood from my chair, stunned. “Lex, shake it off! You got this!”

The ref leaned over Lex’s body and then blew his whistle between two swollen cheeks, the veins in his neck bulging. He knelt down beside my sister and yelled, “Call an ambulance!!!”

I hesitantly jogged over to Lex, terrified that she broke something or shattered something. Nothing more serious than a fracture or a tear. I was just hoping she would not be sobbing because I was never good at consoling her. I tried the same way my dad always did, holding her and rocking back and forth, but she needed her father—not a brother.

Devin whipped her flag to the ground and flew past me. Her strides were the longest I had seen all day, stretching across the pitch like a machine. Back and forth, back and forth like a double pendulum. She flopped down on the grass and began prodding and massaging Lex’s throat. She turned to the center ref and declared, “I’ve got to do CPR.”

I sprinted to her then, my pulse quickening as Devin leaned over my sister, cupping her hands together, and throwing her weight into Lex’s tiny chest. I knelt down beside my sister quickly as the AR from the other side talked on a cell phone. He glanced from Lex to me and asked, “You her guardian?”

“Brother,” I whimpered as I gently massaged Lex’s hand. Lex’s brunette hair had strands ripping from the bun she made in the car, falling across her face. Hidden behind her heavy lids were those beautiful hazel eyes I always pondered. How could she have such perfect eyes and I such queer ones?

“No, no, no,” whispered Devin to the rhythm of her compressions. She leaned back and turned to me. She folded her brow as she bit her lip after releasing a heavy sigh. Her icy eyes wavered as if she searched for an answer in my eyes, as if I knew how to handle this.

To my dismay, my parents suddenly came storming up behind us. My mom screamed, “What’s wrong, Ned? Ned, what happened?!” I heard them throw down the lawn chairs as soon as they saw me on the field with a body on the ground. My father huffed as he surpassed Mom in strides and crashed to the pitch next to me.

An epiphany flickered across the sheen of Devin’s eyes.

“What?” I pleaded, a lump forming in my throat as I threatened to lose my calm.

Devin twisted back to my sister. She reared back her elbow and pulled herself off of her knees from the sudden velocity. She rushed forward, pounding her fist into my sister’s chest. My parents and I jumped at the sudden action, and then my mother cried out in horror upon the assault.

Lex suddenly took in a sharp breath, her eyes exploding open. They wandered around the seven people around her as her coach finally made it to the party. Her brow wrinkled as she heaved, “What happened?” My mom wailed before wrapping her carbon copy in her arms, cradling her back and forth as if she was still a dependent baby.

The sirens sounded as they pulled into the parking lot, and the ambulance released two EMTs and a grand stretcher for my sister. They rushed over to join the small clique and quickly conversed with my parents, and my attention finally turned to Devin.

She smiled and turned to me.

“Holy shit, man,” I simply replied, staring intently at her incredulously.

She fought to catch her breath before she replied, “I know.”

Eventually, everything calmed down. My mom went in the ambulance with Lex, and my dad followed behind in the car. My parents eventually found out it was sudden cardiac arrest, and it was mostly due to low magnesium in Lex’s diet. The sudden trauma to her chest was just the final straw for her body to shut down. My mom called me from the ambulance as I threw all of the lawn chairs into the back of my car after the center retired the game after the traumatic event, readying to follow my parents to the hospital. I answered, and Mom was fully indebted to Devin—after Mom found out I knew Devin. And then Mom wanted me to take her out for frozen yogurt or dinner or something of that nature, despite my having a girlfriend who would greatly frown upon such a thing occurring. Out of my periphery, I saw Devin rip off her ref jersey behind a car, unveiling a neon sports bra, and her nude underwear peeked from just above her black shorts. “I’ll call you back, Mom. Tell me how everything goes.” I hung up and turned to Devin. I called, “Hey, Devin!”

She glanced around for a second as she pulled on a powder blue shirt. She dove behind the car abruptly.

“Yo, Devin!”

She snaked her head around the edge of the car. “Can it wait till I put some pants on?!”

I blushed furiously and quickly swiveled on my heels, facing away from the car. I ran my fingers through my hair, trying to force my blood to descend down to my other flesh to prevent the permanent aura of red that often occurred from a blushing fit. I heard her footsteps behind me, and I quickly apologized.

“What’s up?” She sidestepped beside me and stared up at me. I never really recognized how short she was until then. She maybe just skimmed over five feet. Her blue eyes glinted as she pulled her hair down from her ponytail and back into a messy bun with tendrils veiling her face. If she were Lily, I would have pushed it out of her face, but I was too nervous to impede on her space.

“Um, my parents wanted me to repay you for what you did.”

She folded her brow and took a step back, dipping her chin into her chest. “I didn’t do anything special. It’s part of my job.” She straightened out her thin jacket that skimmed just above the seam of her shorts.

“You saved my sister.”

A thought flashed across her eyes, and I wondered if she was humbled or hurt as she turned away from me. She cupped the back of her neck as she stared down to the asphalt of the parking lot and admitted, “It really was just luck.”

“Yeah, lucky you were there to save her. If you weren’t there, she could have died, or she could have had more damage. The doctors told my parents she is going to be fine.”

Our eyes locked. She silently shook her head, and I pulled out my wallet. I grabbed all the money I had and tried to hand it to her. She averted every time I almost pushed it into a gnarled hand. She finally aggressively batted the money onto the asphalt. We both just stared down at the crumpled paper.

“Come on, at least let me get you something to eat to say thank you.”

She turned back to me and then back to the money. She knelt down and snatched the paper, and, as she stood, she slipped it back into my wallet. “I’ll do that, then.” Her lagoons of eyes did not meet mine as she slowly walked to the other side of my car and slid into the passenger seat. Stunned she was as forward to get into my car but wary of me, I fell into driver’s seat.

We drove silently through the streets, and I kept asking just trivial questions to fill the vacancy—suffocating from the heavy emptiness. However, she seemed comfortable, embracing the silence despite my loquaciousness. She stared aloofly through the window as we whizzed past everything and nothing—buildings, homes, and empty lots.

“Where do you want to grab something?”

The back of her blonde head faced me continuously as she continued to absorb the environment. She shrugged nonchalantly, cracking her thumbs against her palms.

I turned back to the road and just passed the familiar buildings into a part of town that used to be the focal point—the original strip mall of the town filled with outlets and name brands. However, an outside mall came into town and tore away most of the locals from the first shopping center. I glanced at her as she sat up and pointed to a shop. “Fro yo?”

I folded my brow as confusion set in. “Excuse me?”

“Frozen yogurt,” she explained.

I whipped my car into the parking lot, neglecting to utilize my turn signal. I parked, and we sat there silently, staring at the place for no discernable reason other than the awkwardness of a nascent relationship—platonic or otherwise. She combed through her hair with her fingers and then turned to me, her hand still perched on her head. “You ever been to Soul’s?”

The store beside the yogurt shop involved tinted windows that refused to give any hint as to what was inside the store. My family had always passed this particular strip mall, but newness always outweighs originality. Things tend to get better the second go-around; that’s why parents have two children. “Nope.”

“I bet that place is a mess.” She pulled herself out of the car, her eyes fixed fiercely on the shop. Her short legs carried her across the asphalt to the door in which she disappeared inside the shop.

I groaned resignedly, acknowledging that even though she gave no invitation, I probably had to go in to be polite. I slid out of the car and made sure to lock it, afraid some wandering eyes from other patrons remained heavily on it. I shuffled to the shop and managed to wedge through a small gape between the door frame and its weighted door. I glanced up and immediately was mesmerized. My jaw slackened as I became immersed in a world of awe.

Crystals of various colors glinted under the dull fluorescent lighting of the shop against the stained black carpet and peeling black walls. Sizes ranged from immense to minute, wide and narrow. Each crystal formation was unique to its own surroundings as they grew and matured from inside of rocks as well as egg shells by median man. They were their own. Labels sat in front of each geode, regaling the names of these miraculous constructions.Towers of amethyst shadowed me as I shuffled through the aisles, searching for Devin.

“Ned!”

I turned to Devin. Her blue eyes widened as she took in a ponderous structure that overshadowed all of the previous constellations with its height, girth, and beauty. Gold glitter settled at the top of all of the layers, seeping slightly into the second layer from the top. A lavender layer of crystal separated the gold from the dark purple at the bottom, as if the gold and purple fought and mixed into the middle. Neither of them overpowered one another as it was a perfect harmony of both of the essences.

“It’s from Brazil,” she muttered under her breath.

I couldn’t even pull together a sentence to reveal how extraordinary and exceptional this one formation was. The only word that numbly spilled from my lips was, “Whoa.” I turned to her as I offered this enlightening comment.

Devin was probably not considered beautiful by many of my peers, but in an unusual way, she was. She was equivalent to art—it depended not on her physical attributes but on her imagination and thoughts that she wouldn’t reveal. Her beauty lay beneath her coarse exterior, and I pondered if I ever would be able to know her true essence. Her blonde hair began to fall from her bun, allowing it to sink to the back of her neck. The scent of sun screen was still permeating from her tawny skin as her glistening eyes continued to remark at the structure. I couldn’t help but smile at her wonder and curiosity.

“It’s amazing…”

I turned back to the geode, realizing suddenly I was staring at her. I wasn’t appreciating other aspects of nature. “Yeah, it’s crazy how you get these ugly rocks, and then the inside holds the crystals.” I glanced at her and then turned back to the geode, adding, “Just like people.”

Her smile faded slowly as an uncomfortable silence fell over us. I was hoping my comment would be philosophical or even metaphorical because she seemed to appreciate pedantic offerings. Her eyes fell to the floor timidly. She whispered, “Sometimes all you get underneath the rock is just rock.”

A frantic woman with hair that could only be labeled Einstein-esque slithered up to my side and began to point at the different layers of rock. Small glasses fell to the tip of her gnarled nose, her eyes pitted over the edge of them as she observed the structure. A floral bandana wrapped around her frail neck. Her back hunched over, and her body was a mystery behind a curtain of a large, tent-like dress with designs of abstract. Her pallor skin mottled with age spots and acne scars across her body. “The top layer is citrine, then amethrine, and then amethyst.”

I finally inquired, “How does that happen? Does it have to do with the sediments’ densities during formation or just the chronological order?”

The woman turned her imp-like face to me and gave me a grin that split her face in half. “Oh no, no, no, sir. The crystals do as they please. The amethrine is in the middle because the crystals value it due to its scarcity. The crystals belong in a family together.”

I noticed Devin gave me a side-glance, cocking her brow with cynicism regarding the woman and her true credentials for this information. “Thanks,” Devin finally welcomed.

The woman hurriedly grabbed my hand and slid it down the smooth edges of the crystals gently. She faced me again and cooed, “She likes being touched.”

“Uh, um,” I muttered, quite uncomfortable. I glanced at Devin as I felt more and more violated by a stupid rock.

The woman noticed how limp my hand was. She shook it frantically and then patted it. “Come on, young man. It’s just like sex. She wants to be caressed…”

I turned a shade of maroon that I was sure would never go away. Devin stifled a laugh with her hand as I continued to grope the stone with the help of the woman. Could rocks be charged for sexual harassment?

“I’ve got crystals for relationships and arousal if you two are interested.”

Devin choked.

I waved my hands in the air frantically and pulled the attention away from us entirely. “No, no, no, we aren’t together. I’ve got a girlfriend, and stuff, yeah. Um, we’re leaving now.”

“Oh, but the crystals enjoyed your company so well. They like being looked at.”

Obviously done with this crystal orgy and all that came with it, I pivoted on my heels and marched out of the shop as quickly as I possibly could without running out of the building as if I was on fire. I heard the meager steps of Devin as she followed me out of the store. Once the door rang as it closed, safety was ours. We stared at each other for a moment, and then we burst with laughter pouring from our mouths like vomit.

I drove her home and dropped her off in front of her house. She turned to me and gave me a twee smile. “Thanks, I had fun.”

“Yeah, hopefully next time we hang out, there won’t be a crystal sex house in the vicinity.”

“Next time?”

I blushed furiously as I caught myself faltering in front of her like a toddler. I confessed, “I mean, yeah, I had fun. You had fun. Why not?”

“Two words: Lily Davis.”

“Four words: She’ll get over it.”

She rolled her eyes and cracked open her door. Her foot touched the ground, but she abruptly stopped as something came to her mind. She turned to me and asked, “Do contractions still count as one word or two?”

I smirked and shooed her away. “Smartass.”

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