Ю ● ＼(^_＼)
The windows were rolled down, the sun was out, and tomorrow was the last day of school. Freedom at last. Adulthood was weeks away.
The frame of Kian’s little Honda Civic coupe shuddered as it made the final stretch of the short trip home. Kian sang along obnoxiously, and slightly off-key with the radio. He didn’t need to know how to sing. He wasn’t the pretty face with the mic. He just hit stuff, and he was damn good at it.
Beside him, curled into a ball on the passenger seat, Tan was half asleep. He was always half asleep. Tan had definitely been part of a genetic experiment at birth that spliced human DNA with a sloth or cat because he was the spiteful embodiment of the seventh deadly sin. Once, he fell asleep during a fire drill and slept through the sirens, alarms, and chaos of thrilled students missing class.
“Dude! How are you not stoked?” Kian asked. He leaned over and turned down the radio. It was mostly static anyway. “Tomorrow, we’re free! No more school. No more homework. No more teachers-”
“Long hours of rehearsal, days on the road, living out of a suitcase, no privacy, and flying across the world weekly,” Tan mumbled without opening his eyes. “Gucci.”
Kian flicked on his turn signal and pulled into the driveway of his mum’s North Delta rancher and killed the engine. The lawn needed to be mowed, and the clingy flowery vines in the front flower beds were slowly overtaking the house, but it was home.
“When asked nicely.” Tan finally sat up and winked before he kicked open the passenger door and slouched off towards the house.
“Fuck yeah, you do,” Kian shouted, and raced after the bassist, easily overcoming him and barrelling through the front door. He quickly stopped short.
His mum stood in the front hall, one hand on her hip, and her mouth twisted in a terrifying scowl that had Kian backpedalling in seconds. She thrust a crumpled piece of paper in his face he’d crammed under the far corner of his mattress, and Kian felt his colour drain.
“Retreat!” But before Kian could flee, a hand closed around the back of his grey singlet, and he was dragged into the living room. He landed with a bounce in the center of the chesterfield.
Tan crept into the house at a more sedate pace. Kian could see him hovering in the door to the living room with his hands shoved in the pockets of his grey skinnies, unsure where he stood in the current climate. He may live in the spare room, but this wasn’t really his house.
“Did you know about this,” Kian’s mum said, rounding on the hovering sixteen-year-old. She thrust the wrinkled letter in Tan’s face and glared.
Cautiously, Tan took the letter from her and read it. His narrow eyes widened. “This says-”
“He’s not graduating.” Kian’s mum stormed out of the room, and the clatter of dishes in the sink could be heard from the kitchen. When she was angry beyond all logic and reason, she tended to turn to menial tasks to curb the desire to hit something. Or someone. Which Kian was grateful for.
Kian pulled at his hair and stared down at his lap. The couch dipped beside him, but he refused to look up. He didn’t want to see the disappointment he knew would be there. That’s all he was. A disappointment. Just like his Pa.
Tan was a genius; absolutely brilliant; skipped two grades; could have already graduated, but stayed behind out of sheer laziness. Kian had met him during their school’s GSA meeting. He’d seen food through the open door and wandered in without knowing what the club was. Free food was free food. Tan happened to be napping in the room before the meeting started, and never bothered leaving.
Tan’s hand slid onto Kian’s knee and squeezed. “Why didn’t you ask for help?” he whispered. The ring on his finger flashed in the sunlight streaming through the open bay window overlooking the quiet cul-de-sac. “I would have dropped everything. Chord too. You know we would have.”
“Like you dicks don’t have your own shit. It doesn’t matter. Forget it,” Kian said. He ran his fingers through his hair and leaned back into the couch. A metal pot clanged against the bottom of the kitchen sink, and he flinched. Steel wool was potentially the only thing keeping him from a black eye. Not that his mum had ever hit him. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t scary. “Okay? Just forget it.”
Tan’s head dropped forward, and his bangs fell into his eyes. “Kay… I want to understand,” he said. He twisted his ring around his finger, then reached out to drag the tip of one finger over the identical one Kian wore. They all wore on. “Do you not trust me? Did you think I’d laugh?”
Brushing Tan’s hand aside, Kian abruptly stood up. “You’re the goddamn fucking genius. You tell me,” he snapped. He refused to look back at the hurt and confusion he caught on Tan’s face as he stalked down the hall to his bedroom. His bedroom door slammed behind him.
An uneasy silence hung over the kitchen, punctuated by the uneven staccato of the dripping faucet. Kian sat on one of the stools against the island, foot-tapping anxiously against the lower rung and his head bowed in the off chance his humility would earn him points. His mum stood directly across from him, palms flat on the counter and mouth set in a firm line. He could only wait for the impending explosion. It wouldn’t be pretty.
His dad fucked off. His sister fucked off. He and his mum were it. He hated to disappoint her, but that’s all he was really good at.
Kian had sulked in his room for half an hour, listening to his mum’s destructive sanitization of the kitchen. The dish rack beside the sink was now piled with pots and plates, and the cutlery drawer beside the stove was still half-open.
“I rang those fuck muppets at your label,” his mum said. She stood up straight and tightened her ponytail. “It’s too late to cancel the summer tour dates.”
Daring to look up, Kian immediately looked back down when she hissed at him through her teeth.
“So here’s what’s gonna bloody happen.” Kian’s mum slammed the cutlery drawer closed. “You’re gonna graduate.”
“Uh…” Kian blinked down at the counter, but since the laminate wasn’t going to offer any clarification, he slowly raised his head. “But-”
“Shut your pie-hole, mongrel,” his mum snapped. “You should thank your bludger of a boy. Used a lot of fancy words and logic to convince me not to throw your ungrateful ass in summer school.”
Tan. Shit, Tan. He couldn’t owe him more than he already did.
The plan was simple. Kian had two choices.
As his mum explained it, he could stay behind and attend summer school. He’d have the attention and focus of the instructors, and Static Shadow would find a replacement drummer for the duration of his studies. When he graduated – not if – he could take his rightful place on tour.
Kian’s mum had been a little more reluctant to agree to offer option two, and she wasn’t shy in reminding Kian of that with a few sharp words and a cuff up the back of the head. Okay, so she did hit him. But she was no LeBastard. Chord could rival any movie magic make-up master.
If he chose scenario two, Kian would be permitted to tour during the summer while taking correspondence homeschooling courses. Classes were online with a regular, demanding schedule, and the tour bus had wifi. Though it came with a stipulation. If he failed to graduate by the end of the summer, he’d be removed from the tour lineup, forcefully if necessary, and thrown back into school back home starting September.
The choice was obvious. It wasn’t really a choice.
“I’ll do the online thingy,” Kian declared. No hesitation. No second-guessing. It didn’t matter that it would be a more painful option. Between shows, interviews, and mandatory tour obligations, he would need to find time for school.
Sensing movement at the kitchen door, Kian glanced over in time to see Tan duck out of sight. He smiled, but catching sight of the throbbing veins in his mum’s neck, he wiped the joy from his face.
Scowling, Kian’s mum stormed across the kitchen and out the door into the living room. Several seconds later, she reappeared, dragging Tan by the ear and threw him into the stool next to Kian.
Kian caught Tan before he fell out of the seat he’d been unceremoniously thrown into. “It was your idea, wasn’t it?”
Tan was chewing nervously on his lower lip, but he nodded. “I’ll help… you know, if you let me,” he said. His fingers were twisting in the hem of his hoodie’s sleeves.
“Shit, Tee,” Kian mumbled. He had been a massive dick to Tan earlier, but Tan had still come through for him in the end. His dumb ass didn’t deserve everything Tan offered.
Kian’s mum slapped him up the back of the head for the swear, and Kian swore again, which earned him another slap. He glared at her while rubbing the tender spot.
Both Kian and Tan squirmed in their seats. Kian’s mum was standing over them, arms crossed over her chest. Shit, indeed.