Walk With Me

Summary:  Jay and Kiyan (The Group Seven) return in their own short story. The boys have had a rough year and their relationship seems to be on the rocks. It’s about time they go to The Cove, the place where they can say just about anything to one another. Both friends know there is a lot to be said, but neither knows if their relationship will survive the harsh realities of life. (This story is in the process of being revised. Comments/Suggestions are more than welcome!)

The light through the windows illuminated the pages of Kiyan’s sketchbook, bringing the nuanced shades of grey and black into a discernible vision of artistry. Kiyan looked at his sketch of a wilting sycamore, wondering if it needed a splash of color. This type of drawing wouldn’t usually deserve his signature pinch of red, but if things continued the way they were going, he was going to have to make an exception. The company he kept for the afternoon was no good. No good at all.

Jay nervously watched Kiyan out of the corner of his eye. He knew that he was pushing his friend down a dangerous path, but he had no choice but to force Kiyan into the company of Shaun, hoping they would eventually get used to each other.

Just a year ago, Jay and Kiyan had sat together in a circle of friends, conspiring as they always did on a Thursday afternoon. Talk of their futures had begun to bleed into their everyday conversations and they had begun to wonder which paths the other would take in the days that followed.

Kiyan was the scholar and Jay the unabashed delinquent. There was nothing that could be done to prevent the divide that would eventually come between them. But their friendship had been put to the test the moment Jay had decided at the beginning of his senior year to make the acquaintance of Shaun, the boy he used to bully every Wednesday afternoon in middle school.

Jay watched as Shaun walked over to Kiyan and offered him a drink. As expected, Kiyan declined the offering by ignoring the other boy. Shaun glanced at Jay with a helpless look in his eye, and Jay began to feel the heat of his temper rising.

Kiyan couldn’t help to raise his eyes a bit to see Jay’s reaction, but in his peripherals he saw Jean, Jay’s girlfriend, staring at him with knowing in her eyes. She watched Jay and Shaun play their game but she kept looking over at him, saying nothing. And he hated it.

A couple of hours later, Jay asked both Shaun and Jean if they would like to meet up someplace else on the weekend. He didn’t mention Kiyan’s being there. Jay then turned to Kiyan after the other two had left and said nothing, his eyes brimming with disappointment.

Kiyan had to look away.

“Hey, let’s take a walk.”

Kiyan looked up from his book and blinked at his friend standing before him. He looked to the street, spotting a black and blue motorcycle parked against the chipped grey curb. His brows furrowed in surprise.

“You that into your book, you couldn’t hear me coming? Must be one hell of a book.” Jay gestured towards the novel. “Let me see it.”

Kiyan handed him the book. Jay glanced at the cover and grimaced. He quickly thumbed through the pages, his frown deepening as he familiarized himself once more with East of Eden. He groaned inwardly as he remembered the late night he endured back in tenth grade when he had to finish reading the last hundred pages before completing a ten-page paper on the material. It had been the worst night of his life, but he had managed to finish at four in the morning and turn his paper in on time, later to receive a perfect score and entry into the AP English class. He’d barely managed to pass the class due to his uncanny ability to turn things in exactly two weeks after the due date, but he’d always been proud of that perfect score.

Jay shook off the disappointing memory and handed the book back to Kiyan, who placed it on the porch swing and stood to his full height, towering over Jay.

Kiyan placed his arm around his smaller companion and leaned down. “Where do you want to go?”

Jay removed his friend’s arm and smiled. “The Cove.”

Kiyan leaned away. Jay had something to say. Something important.

They rarely if ever went to The Cove during the day let alone walked there together. Occasionally, they rendezvoused at The Cove in broad daylight but only if the information they had to share was of the utmost importance.

Kiyan replied in his regular, deadpan voice. “That’s a long ass walk, Jay.”

Jay nodded and headed down the driveway. “Then we better get moving,” he shouted without glancing back to see if his friend would follow.

Moments later, Kiyan strolled up to Jay, his long legs devouring the cracked pavement with each step.

“Slow down, jerk. You know I’m too damned short to keep up with you,” Jay huffed as he hurried to keep up.

Kiyan slowed his pace and soon the two walked side by side in a companionable silence. Nothing was to be said as they headed towards The Cove. All would be revealed once they stood before the crashing waves, looking out from the curved precipices that hugged the sandy shore.

Jay focused on the fallen leaves underfoot. He noticed the cracked exterior of the crumbling sprigs, colored gold, burnt orange, maroon, and russet. He wondered if they knew they were dying. The thought that leaves might understand that their time is up convinced him to avoid stepping on them.

The two continued through the familiar neighborhood, lined with stone and wooden houses sporting weed-less driveways and dark green, manicured lawns. Luxury cars dwelled within the tidy driveways of two-and three-story homes accented with bay windows and wrought iron balconies.

Kiyan reached into his back pocket and pulled out a pack of Marlboros and a silver plated lighter. He lit a cigarette and took a drag before offering it to his companion.

Jay gave a tired smile and shook his head. “You know I don’t smoke anymore.”

Kiyan just shrugged and took another long drag. Jay held his breath and watched as the smoke curled upwards to mar the cerulean blue skies.

The two walked on in silence, deep in their own thoughts. Jay listened intently as the fallen leaves were crushed beneath his friend’s booted feet.

Nearly three miles west, the boys turned onto Philia Street. As they passed by, Jay noted that the words on the sign were beginning to fade from the briny sea breeze.

“They better fix that before it becomes Ilia Street.”

Kiyan simply nodded, his attention focused on the cracks in the sidewalk.

The boys eventually reached downtown Beylor, which was always bustling with neon lights and yellow taxicabs, hosting several shops and restaurants. Just beyond the inner city were quiet suburban neighborhoods with manicured parks and five well-maintained schools. A bit farther out were white sand beaches with clear waters and large tide pools closer to the mountainous cliffs of The Cove — the only bay carved out of the rocky bluffs backing the rolling waves.

As they passed a series of small boutiques, Kiyan gestured to his favorite coffee shop further down Philia Street. “I love that place. The coffee’s fuckin’ awesome.”

“I know,” Jay said with a slight smile. His friend said that every time they passed by. Nearly every day after school Kiyan would steal away to take a seat by The Coffee Shop window to study or continue one of his many art projects. Jay was never surprised to find him sitting alone — always alone– in the quaint coffee shop on the weekdays, with a book in hand, his sketchbook laid out on the table, and his completed homework nestled in the black confines of his JanSport backpack sitting in the chair opposite him.

Next to The Coffee Shop was The Ice Cream Parlor, a small little salon painted in chocolate and ivory. Glancing through the windows, Jay eyed the four mini chalkboards hovering above the glass-domed freezers. The boards hosted an array of ice cream sundaes, shakes, and sweet specialties written in rainbow colors and calligraphic font.

Kiyan couldn’t help but smile as he watched Jay ogle other customers’ cups of frozen treats. “You want one?”

Jay smiled sheepishly. “Nah, it’s all right. I come here too much anyways.”

Every Friday after school Jay would drag Kiyan away from The Coffee Shop and invite a couple of his closest friends to the parlor. He’d buy them all a cone and they would drift down Philia Street towards the ocean’s shore not too far away. They’d stroll down the wooden boardwalk, passing by tourists and families with overenthusiastic dogs and hyperactive children running along the beach throwing footballs and etching hearts in the sand.

And every time Jay walked into the parlor he would be reminded that it was the last place he had seen his father and mother together. His father had treated his mother and him to ice cream during his brief return from the war in Afghanistan twelve years ago. Jay still remembered the glances his mother and father had exchanged that day.

The ice cream had been delicious, his father’s eyes had been alight with contentment, his mother’s laugh had sounded like wind chimes and the summer breeze, and his smile had been infectious.

His father had returned to Afghanistan the following morning and never came back.

The Cove was a little nook carved out of the rough seaside cliffs guarding the white sand shore. It was only accessible by climbing over raised portions of the beach, home to sea anemones and oysters fastened to the slick grey boulders and stones kissed by small pools of seawater. The tide pools were a popular attraction of Marina Beach — they were never without the occasional visitor who lost his footing or wanted to take some samples — as were the rounded sarsens protruding from the teal waters. Visitors would come and point their fingers in awe as they spotted seals that had found their way onto the weathered boulders and basked in the raw sunlight, while young children poked at the sea anemone and screamed as the sea creatures latched onto their prodding fingers.

Jay and Kiyan trekked over the uneven seashore, picking their way through the oyster beds and avoiding the treacherous tide pools. At the end of the rocky shore, they hoisted themselves over a small rock shelf and dropped into the curved isolation of The Cove.

The two boys removed their shoes and trod over to the center of the eroded nook. Dried seaweed littered the sandy floor and beer bottles from their previous meetings lay off to the other side of the inlet, buried halfway into the sand. As the sea breeze drifted through The Cove, the bottles would sing, whistling as the wind skimmed over their rounded apertures.

The two friends faced each other. The waves crashed in the background as they worked up the nerve to speak. It had always been hard to start conversations at The Cove, but both knew this time was a little different.

“You start,” Jay urged, looking down as he dug a toe into the sand. He needed a little bit more time to work up the courage to tell Kiyan the important news.

Kiyan released a heavy sigh. “All right.” He looked away from Jay for a few moments before speaking. “I hate your girlfriend.”

Jay gave a dry laugh. He hadn’t expected Kiyan to have much to say, but his friend thrown him off with his admission. He had been hoping that Kiyan would have started the conversation with something small, like I cheated on a test or I had a dream about killing you. But it seemed the conversation would be taking a turn for the worse.

“Tell me why,” he said with a straight face.

“Well,” Kiyan said before taking a deep breath. “A year ago I knew Jay. I knew the Jay who went to parties, drank, smoke, and had sex with every girl who offered. The one who always swore like a sailor, disrespected teachers, called his mom a bitch, and never did his homework.” He paused for a second, trying to piece together his thoughts before continuing.

“Society would call you a complete jackass, but you were my jackass. You’ve always been there for me, even past midnight when I called you to come over when we were kids. You’d ride five miles, hop the fence, and climb up to my window just to hang out. And you still did that, even a year ago.”

Kiyan stopped for a moment. He had been trying to keep his voice calm, but his words had risen in ire the more he spoke. There was more to say. They could fill up an entire sea with the words that had been left unsaid in the past year.

“But a year ago, you started seeing Jean and since then you’ve stopped going to parties, drinking, smoking, fucking, and coming over at midnight. You’ve started doing your homework, saying please and thank you, spending more time with your mom, and wearing a damned collared shirt.”

“You done yet?” Jay mumbled.

“You know the rules. No interruptions until the person speaking says he’s done. So, shut the fuck up and deal with it.”

There were many rules of the Cove but the most important rule was to listen.

“She’s changed you. And I’m not saying I don’t support the change. It’s good that you’re making better decisions. But more has changed. And it’s all because of her.”

Kiyan glanced at the beer bottles, remembering the other nights they had visited The Cove. When they were much younger, The Cove had seemed like a great idea. Never keep secrets, no matter how small the secret may be, they had promised each other. They hadn’t wanted to be like those friends who maintained a relationship that reached far into their adult years, only to be destroyed by one little secret that had been hidden for too long. Better to destroy the relationship early on than to waste years on dishonesty. It had all seemed so simple and sensible back then.

“We haven’t hung out in three weeks. Sure, I see you at school, but she’s there too, always hanging on your arm.” Kiyan paused for a second. He couldn’t believe what he was about to say. “She has… all of you… and now there’s only… me,” he choked out, embarrassed by the sentimentality of his words. He nearly wanted to gag for the level of sappiness he just injected into the conversation.

Kiyan fell silent and Jay finally raised his head. He opened his mouth to speak, but Kiyan held up a finger to stop him. “And that’s why I hate your girlfriend. Your turn.”

Jay released a humorless bark of laughter. “All right then,” he began, “I’ve been wanting to say this for a while now, so here it goes.” He took a deep breath before attacking. “I think in the past year, you’ve become a distant, whiny, unsupportive jackass who can’t accept the fact that I’ve changed and Jean is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Jay stopped and waited for Kiyan’s reaction, hoping that he’d swear at him or walk away. But the taller boy did nothing. He just stared at him with those dark, fathomless eyes. Jay ground his teeth together in frustration. No matter the terrible things he had revealed at The Cove, Kiyan had never seemed to be fazed by it. So he continued.

“Yes, because of Jean I don’t drink, smoke, have sex with random girls, or disrespect authority anymore. I’m getting better grades, people can look me in the eye now, and I swear to God, I think my mom actually smiled at me this morning.”

Kiyan simply cocked his head to the side and listened carefully. He wasn’t unhappy that Jay was doing better as a person. There was something else that bothered him. Something that made his chest feel tight.

“Look, I love Jean. I don’t know how she could have loved me as I was but I’m happy she’s given me a chance. And I don’t deny that I’ve changed a lot for her. Last year I thought there was no other place for me to go except to prison, but now I know that doesn’t have to be my future.”

Kiyan raised his brow. Where in the hell was he going with this?

“Case in point,” Jay mumbled as he realized Kiyan’s growing impatience. “You’ve been getting on my last nerve avoiding me for the past year. We haven’t hung out lately because you’ve become so damned annoying. You don’t talk when Jean’s around and then when she’s not there, you still don’t talk because you’re too busy nursing your…” Jay paused. Lately he’d been trying to control his hardcore swearing — for Jean — but now was not the time to be careful. “Because you’re too busy nursing your fucking pride,” he ended.

He fell silent and the two boys stood facing one another, tempers flaring and eyes roaming. They wanted to look at anything other than each other.

Jay turned away and stood at the edge of the curling ocean waves. He could sense Kiyan staring at his back. He took a deep breath, inhaling the salty air, imagining that he was far out to sea, sinking beneath the waves.

“I’m done,” he muttered under his breath, hoping Kiyan had heard him.

As if on cue, Kiyan said loudly, “I’m dealing again.”

Jay whipped around while shouting a string of curses. He stomped up to Kiyan and glared at him, but Kiyan stood tall with his head held high. Unfazed.

“Explain,” Jay commanded, his voice cracking from rage.

Kiyan gave a small smile. “There’s nothing much to say. Mom needs the money. I can get it for her.”

“That’s not enough!” Jay shouted.

Two years ago they’d promised to never deal drugs again. It was too often they’d been caught up in some nasty business. Too often they’d had to hide. Too often their mothers had been threatened. Luckily, the police had never busted them during their brief stint as drug dealers but all the same, they had agreed that it was too dangerous to continue.

Kiyan shrugged. “Thanks to you I’ve never been arrested. Plus, I’ve got other friends in the police department who’ll help me out if I somehow get caught. So there’s no need to worry. Now I’ve said what I’ve needed to say. Your turn.”

Jay threw up his hands and backed away. There was no use in fighting. It was a rule of The Cove. If you didn’t want to talk anymore, you didn’t have to. So, Jay said the first thing on his mind.

“I hate it when you smoke.”

Kiyan gave him a questioning look.

“Yeah, I know. I’ve smoked for the past five years but I’ve only done it when I’m around you.” Jay paused, already embarrassed by his next few words. “I did it to look cool,” he explained further.

He knew it was such a childish thing to do: pretending to be somebody else to impress those around him. Jay couldn’t believe he had carried on that farce for years. But it had felt good to throw those useless Marlboros into the stainless steel trashcan a year ago and to replace all his black, smoke stained clothing with new attire. His cologne was now the only scent tainting the white collared shirts and fitted jeans.

Kiyan smirked, knowing that he was taunting his friend with such a lack of response. “Is that all?”

Jay clenched his teeth together. “Yeah.”

“All right then.” Kiyan stopped and tried to think of something to say. There was a lot to be said but they were just small things, things that had already been said before. I stole twenty dollars from your wallet and wasn’t planning on paying you back; I got drunk at a party a few nights ago and woke up next to Ms. Holland; I met a girl and she’s a total bitch but I think I actually like her.

He’d already said he’d hated Jay’s girlfriend and that was all he had really wanted to say. Everything else just seemed trivial. The only thing he could throw out was…

“I got accepted to Columbia University,” Kiyan said quietly.

Jay opened his mouth to tell Kiyan to stop avoiding the real situation at hand but he stopped himself. “Really?”

Kiyan nodded and looked down at the sand. He dug a foot into the crumbling gravel and felt the cool silt beneath.

“That’s…that’s great, man,” Jay said simply. He moved to give Kiyan a hug but couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead he briefly clapped a hand onto his friend’s shoulder before letting his arm drop to his side.

They stood in silence once again, the sound of the ocean filling their senses and feeding their desire to be anywhere but there.

Kiyan took a step towards Jay. “Look, you didn’t bring me out to The Cove to just share what’s been on our minds. This could have been saved for midnight. What are we really doing here?”

The conversation hadn’t really gone the way Jay had expected. He’d thought that Kiyan would have only small secrets to reveal since he had not given him any previous notice to go to the Cove. He had asked Kiyan to their sacred hideout to disclose one important thing but Jay knew what he had to say wouldn’t help the current situation at all.

“Let’s just save this for later — ”

“No,” Kiyan interrupted. “You did not drag my ass out here to have a normal meeting at The Cove. Say what you have to say.”

Jay briefly hesitated before speaking. “We’re turning eighteen soon and I didn’t have plans to go to college. Even if I did, my grades wouldn’t really get me anywhere. So…I’ve decided to join the Marines.”

Kiyan nodded his head as Jay spoke. He had been expecting this. Though his father had never come back from war, Jay had always admired his father’s decision to join the Marines. At first he had been afraid his friend would get too caught up in the merits of war, but that had not been the case. Jay had idolized his father’s bravery, his loyalty, and most of all, his discipline. There was no place better for someone like Jay, a boy lost in the dark who had recently tried to crawl away from the shadows, but still had some lingering black tentacles latching onto his ankles. Kiyan paused in thought. Fuck. Was he one of those tentacles?

“I want you to go with me.”

Kiyan’s head snapped up. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I want you to go with me. And before you say anything else, let me explain.” Jay did not back down from his friend’s intense glare. “I’m a bad kid. You know that. My unofficial criminal record goes on for miles. Jean’s doing all she can to help me change but there’s only so much she can do. I don’t just need love. I need discipline, too. I can try to change as much as I want but I need someone to be on my ass every day telling me to get my shit together. And so do you.”

Kiyan sniffed in disagreement but said nothing.

“I know you aren’t as bad as me. You’ve always gotten straight A’s and treated your mom like a fucking queen. But we gotta do this, not just for ourselves but for our friends. If we don’t set a good example, then we’re all going to fall apart. We’re all going to end up being thrown in prison. Or worse. We gotta show them there’s a better way to live.”

Jay did have a point. Kiyan knew that if he didn’t balance his social and academic behaviors, people would begin to see the holes within him. They’d see that he wasn’t as put together as he may seem. And if his other friends saw that he was simply a broken image hiding behind a perfect portrait, then they’d have no hope of bettering themselves after high school. He opened his mouth to speak but Jay was still talking.

“And if you don’t want to come, I understand. The military has always been my thing and it wouldn’t be fair to drag you into it. But Shaun’s coming with me­ –”

Kiyan stepped forward so menacingly that Jay immediately stopped speaking. “Shaun?” Kiyan hissed. “You’re bringing Shaun with you?”

Jay’s eyes widened. “Look, I –”

“You asked him to join the Marines with you before you even asked me?” Kiyan said, pain tingeing his usually emotionless voice.

Jay couldn’t deny so he didn’t try. He hoped Kiyan would still say yes and realize that he still wanted him there. Needed him there. “Please come with me, Kiyan. Please.”

Kiyan looked to his best friend and gave a dry smile before grabbing the Marlboros and silver plated lighter from his back pocket. He lit a cigarette and took a long drag, exhaling a wisp of grey smoke towards the cerulean skies.