All the rage, p.3
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       All the Rage, p.3

           T. M. Frazier
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  “I’m relieved,” I said, with a small laugh. “There are no lines of confusion slashing through everything now. I know what I need to do.” The roar of an engine thundered through the silence of the night, growing closer until the sound echoed across the tops of the pine trees, calling out to me like freedom.

  A single headlight illuminated behind the brush, hiding the driver of the motorcycle behind the shadows.

  “Why is he here? You already called him?” Cody asked, tucking in his white dress shirt like whoever was out there could see his state of dishevelment.

  “I sent him a text,” I admitted.

  “Do you want him?” Cody asked, taking me by surprise. “Is that why he’s here so fast? Is it him over me?”

  “What?”

  “Do you want him?” Cody asked, pounding a fist on the roof of his car.

  “Are you fucking insane? Do you think I would have just let you…” I paused, trying to find the right word so I wouldn’t come off too harsh.

  “Let me fuck you,” Cody finished, not caring about harsh. The spiteful tone in his voice was getting under my skin. I shot him a warning glare. He was the only person who’d ever gotten one of those. He knew the drill and reluctantly unclenched his fists and took a deep breath.

  “Yes, do you think I would have just let you fuck me, do you think I would have gone through with trying this one last thing to see if I was capable of attraction, of a relationship, of being a normal teenager, if there was someone else out there I wanted?” Cody didn’t say anything, but I could see the regret at his choice of words plastered across his face. “I don’t want anyone. That’s the fucking problem. I don’t want anything except to be me. If you really think I’m taking off with someone else because I want to fuck them then I’m glad I’m leaving, because here I thought you were the only one who really knew me, but I can see now that you never really knew me at all.” I huffed. “To think it only took a few minutes in the backseat of your fucking car for you to forget everything you’ve ever known about me.”

  Cody’s regret was written all over his face before my last words had even left my mouth. “I’m sorry, but…” He growled and pulled on his hair. “What about your parents?” Cody asked, grabbing both of my shoulders, digging his fingers into my skin. His anger forgotten. Desperation in its place.

  I shook my head. “I’ve already taken care of everything.”

  Cody looked toward the parking lot. He shielded his eyes from the single beam of blinding white light that beckoned to me like the warmth of the sun, thawing me from a long cold winter.

  I reached out and touched the side of Cody’s face. I smiled a rare genuine smile. “You know I don’t want anyone else, right?” I asked. I needed him to understand it wasn’t him I was running from, but me I was running for.

  “Yeah, Rage, but you don’t want me either,” he stated flatly, using my nickname for the second time. Rage was a name Cody came up with but as we’d gotten older he stopped using it and more and more started using Hope again. I knew why. It’s because he wanted me to be Hope. Hope was a girl you dated and took to the movies. Hope was a girl you made future plans with and lost your virginity to in the backseat of your Honda after prom.

  I wasn’t her.

  I tried to be her. To make her real, but that night the truth was clearer then ever.

  Nothing I tried had worked…because Hope Michaels didn’t exist.

  “No, I don’t want you. But you have to know that if it was ever going to be anyone, I wished it could’ve been you,” I said. Cody nodded, closing his eyes and leaning his cheek into my palm.

  “What will I do without you?” he asked, his words whispering across the palm of my hand. A tear formed in the inside corner of his eye, spilling down the bridge of his nose. He sniffled.

  Cody was a straight A student who was destined for the Ivy Leagues. He was a math wiz and a star on our high school’s baseball team. Without me to drag him down, he had nowhere to go but to the top of whatever mountain he wanted to climb.

  The bike engine revved and vibrated deep within me, letting me know it was time.

  “Do you really wanna know what you’re going to do without me?” I asked. I dropped my hand from Cody’s face and turned, running as fast as I could with my ridiculous tulle skirt bunched up in my fists. “You live!” I shouted back over my shoulder. “And you can keep the list. I don’t need it anymore!” Dried leaves and pine needles stung and stabbed at the bottoms of my bare feet, but I didn’t care.

  I never looked back. Not at Cody. Not at my old life.

  I ran toward more than just a bike. I ran toward the freedom to be myself. Toward a new life. Toward the real me.

  Freedom.

  Where I was going, Hope Michaels wouldn’t be coming with me. In her place would be the girl I’d shoved aside for as long as I could remember. The one who mainstream society, my teachers, my doctors, my parents, and even Cody spent a lot of time trying to change into someone else.

  When I reached the shell parking lot I hiked up my dress high around my waist and straddled the bike behind the driver, holding on tight to the wall of leather and muscle in front of me.

  I couldn’t see Cody, but I could feel his eyes on me as the bike shot forward into the blackness of the night. Into the unknown.

  Cody could have Hope, because I wasn’t taking her with me.

  With the wind whipping through my hair and my pink ball gown floating all around me, Hope was officially gone.

  All that was left in her place…was Rage.

  CHAPTER THREE

  Rage

  My bag vibrated for the millionth time within a span of three minutes. Since that phone was specifically reserved for calls from only two people, and since very rarely did one call without the other on the line, I knew exactly who was trying over and over again to reach me. I couldn’t ignore it forever, especially since they wouldn’t stop calling until I either answered or the battery died, but I was still running wire. A task that required my full attention.

  I’d spent every second of the last three years working and training with Smoke. I was strong both physically and in craft. I turned my need to destroy into a business that, over the past year, had started to thrive as my reputation for getting the job done spread.

  Only a small handful of my employers knew what I looked like, including Smoke, and I was hell bent on keeping it that way. Anonymity was key. Not just to avoiding blowback, but it was also the key to my success. I could get a lot closer to a target than a leather-clad biker could. Blonde hair, ponytails, and pink T-shirts didn’t exactly raise the same kinds of red flags.

  Crouching down, I crawled through the tall brittle brush into an empty field where I was completely concealed, yet still had a perfect view of the three-story building down below. I sat with my legs crossed and finished twisting the last of the wires together when my phone vibrated for the millionth and one time. I set down my light blue LEE COUNTY HIGH SCHOOOL athletic tote I always carried and fished around inside of it for that particular phone until my hand landed on it and I was staring down at a picture of two smiling faces on the screen. I took a deep breath, affixed the required fake smile on my face as if they could see me, and hit the green ACCEPT button. “Hey, Moe! Hey, Va!” I said with practiced cheeriness.

  Suddenly, the unmistakable sound of a rattlesnake shaking out a warning caught my attention.

  “My beautiful girl,” my mom cooed like I was still a baby. “How come you haven’t answered my calls, Mijn Zoeteken?” she asked, using her Flemish nickname for me. I unsheathed my knife from the back pocket of my cut-offs and immediately spotted the bent brush where my new friend was hiding.

  “It’s been crazy over here, Mom. I told you, the cafe is open later now so between me and Becs, we don’t get much of a break between the lunch and dinner rushes,” I said. I stood and rounded the snake. Without skipping a beat I lunged forward, plunging my knife into its head, tacking him into the dirt. I withdrew my knife and
wiped the blade clean with a disinfectant wipe. I sanitized my hands, all the way to my elbows, with the little bottle of sanitizer I kept hooked to the zipper on my bag before sitting back down to prep the rest of the device.

  There was a brief pause from conversation while my parents fired up their ancient electric can opener that sounded like an explosion all its own. They were probably opening a can of soup. My parents were big soup people. Canned or homemade, soup was always on their menu, which I chalked up to being a European thing.

  My parents both came from a small town in Belgium, moving to the US for my dad’s job when my mom was pregnant with me. The way they described the place they grew up made it sound like there were only about thirteen people their age in the town. It might not have been an arranged marriage, but I could only assume that based on the population alone, their options were a bit limited at best.

  “We’re very happy that you’ve found a friend there,” my dad said, sounding as if he was shouting from the other side of the kitchen, which he probably was. I’ve taught them how to use the speakerphone a million times, but it’s one of those things where I could show them every day and they still wouldn’t grasp the concept. The iPad I sent them last year is probably collecting dust on the shelf next to my mother’s Delfware Pottery collection. Or maybe shouting across the room just made way more sense to them. “Becs sounds like a great girl.”

  Becs did sound like a great girl. Too bad she didn’t exist.

  When I left town, I didn’t want my leaving to cause any more pain for them than I already had. So I did the unthinkable. I kept in touch. I told them that as long as they didn’t try to find me and drag me home that I would always be in their lives. Smoke thought the idea was ridiculous, but it’s not like we’d ever been a normal family to begin with.

  “We know you are busy,” my mother said, clanking dishes around. “Your father and I just wanted to tell you how proud of you we are. After you left us we thought, I mean, your father and I were so worried. And now look at you, trying so hard to be…” My mom paused, but I knew what it was she was trying not to say. NORMAL.

  I was just glad they ate up every morsel of false normality I fed them. Whatever our relationship, whatever lies were involved, it had to be that way. Most importantly, it was working. My mother continued, “Even though we miss you, and even though you left so suddenly, we are just so happy that you’re doing so well.”

  I sighed and pulled out my binoculars. Peering through the lenses, I adjusted the focus and then the night vision. I zoomed in on the back door and watched as the last of the night shift workers left the building. Per the client’s orders, the place had to be empty before I was to proceed. I counted as the men and women in coveralls walked to their cars. One, two, three, four. Four, that was all of them. I set the binoculars down and checked the time on my watch. I held the phone between my shoulder and jaw as I pushed the wires into a little metal triangle, pinching the top together.

  “Thanks, guys. It’s hard sometimes. And I know you weren’t too keen on me being so far away and all alone, but I know it’s good for me. I feel like I’m better here,” I said, repeating a different version of the same mindless lies I told them every day with as much emotion as I could muster. “Exploring a new city, a new country, it was the right decision for me. I love it here.” The last part wasn’t so much a lie although here was a thousand different places, depending on the job. On that particular day I was less than a hundred miles from Lily Heights, where my parents were probably pulling up their TV trays along side the couch so they could eat their soup while watching Jeopardy.

  “Have you heard from Cody?” my mother asked, continuing without waiting for me to answer. “His mother says he’s doing great at Brown and that he has a girlfriend. She says it’s pretty serious and that they are sharing an apartment after the next semester ends. It is so sad you two aren’t close anymore.”

  Well Moe, what really happened was that I left my best friend in the middle of the night after we’d had sex and jumped on the back of a bike driven by a biker named Smoke, who was kind of my mentor.

  I waited for the feeling. That pit-of-your-stomach thing people say happens when they get jealous or upset over someone else’s happiness.

  Nothing.

  “He deserves to be happy,” I said, which was both saying nothing and everything all at once. As much as I needed my freedom, Cody deserved to be happy. Thankfully, my mother didn’t push.

  “What about boys over there?” my dad shouted. “Anyone catch your eye?”

  My mother chimed in immediately. “Or, you know, we would not care if you brought a girl home. Love is love, as they say,” my mom sang, sounding very rehearsed.

  “I’m not a lesbian, Moeder,” I stated flatly, although sometimes I thought it would have been better if I were. An attraction to anyone would be much easier than trying to explain or lie about having an attraction to absolutely no one.

  “No, no, of course you’re not. See, Thomas? I told you she wasn’t a lesbian,” my mother said to my dad, as if the idea was all his. I knew better. “Although, it’s still okay if you are. I mean were.”

  I adjusted my ponytail, tightening the elastic at the base and waving off the long blonde strands that always attached themselves to my fingers and everything else my hair came into even the briefest contact with. “I just haven’t had time to meet anyone and you guys know that moving away was about finding me, not finding someone else. I’m young and not in a rush,” I said, recalling the billboard for a cruise line where I’d gotten that line from.

  I could almost hear their relief through the phone, not because I wasn’t gay, my parents really wouldn’t care either way, as they’ve told me a million times. No, their relief was because I was living my life and because I knew they were always listening for traces of the preteen girl in my voice, in my actions. The one with anger issues who was morbidly curious. The one who left her closet doors open at night, hoping the monsters would come out and take her home with them. The one who hadn’t yet learned the art of the lie.

  Or the art of the kill.

  Half the time I think they went along with the shit I fed them, not because they necessarily believed me, but because it was just easier.

  Every time I spoke to my parents, which was daily, it only proved to me that leaving was the best decision for all of us. There was no pain in their voices anymore. Their previous worries about my mental state had been reduced to the worry any parent would have being separated from their child. I liked that kind of worry better than the kind that constantly asked the questions. Is she going to hurt someone? Is she going to hurt herself? Why doesn’t she FEEL like other people feel? Not to mention that the one-girl show I was now actively participating in was way better than being dragged from doctor to doctor.

  No matter what I was going through, no matter the looks or the arguments or the constant evaluations, I never blamed my parents for who I was or what I’d become. They were never the problem. They were loving and kind and gave me everything I’d ever wanted. Except the freedom to be me. To explore the things I’d had to keep hidden and buried around them. To hone my skills. To pursue a life outside “the norm.”

  “You don’t know how happy that makes us, Mijn Zoeteken,” Mom said. “Hopefully you’re not working too much and have had a chance to explore the city. Is Paris as amazing as you thought it would be? Is is better than Denmark?” The alarm on my phone dinged in my ear indicating it was time. I lay back in the tall grass. Holding the phone with one hand, I squeezed the metal triangle on the detonator with the other. Within seconds, the ground beneath me rumbled and shook as the building less than half a mile away exploded into the night. I watched in wonderment as the sky above me lit up with bursts of fiery shrapnel better than any Fourth of July fireworks show.

  The aftermath of my work floated down from the sky and I watched in quiet reverence. What I did was more than just work.

  It was fucking art.

  Los
t in my thoughts, I almost forgot about the phone to my ear until Mom cleared her throat. The ground gave off one last death rattle, indicating the building had fallen. Plumes of orange smoke billowed into the night above me, blurring the stars in false grey clouds.

  Not wanting to ruin the moment, I lowered my voice and whispered into the phone, “Don’t worry about a thing, guys.” Sirens sounded in the distance. I smiled a non-forced, not-for-show, rare smile. Warmth pooled in my stomach. “It’s absolutely…beautiful here.”

  I sighed again, this time not out of aggravation, but out of a sense of deep and pure satisfaction I felt all the way through to my bones. “And yes, Mom, it’s everything I always thought it would be.”

  CHAPTER FOUR

  Rage

  Next to explosives, tracking people was my favorite kind of job. I thought it was odd that anyone needed help finding anyone anymore. It’s not like it’s hard. Most of the time, all I do is get online and turn on my inner Belieber fan-girl. Within minutes those chicks always knew where, how, when, and who their idol was with. I was the same way, except my clients paid me for my stalking and after I’d found who they were looking for, it sure as shit didn’t end with high-pitched screaming and a selfie.

  Well, maybe not the selfie.

  Babysitting, on the other hand, was my least favorite job. It was something I’d avoided for the entirety of my junior high and high school careers no matter how many times my parents told me the Jefferson’s were looking for someone to watch their twins after school. Yet the second Smoke called, promising me his next two
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