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Friday Morning (or maybe it's Monday)
5 o'clock in the morning - wake up, try NOT to wake up Beech, it's his day off, the guy deserves to get some rest. Get your clothes quickly and as quietly as possible, close the door, head for the bathroom. Piss, brush your teeth (even though where you're going, it don't make much of a difference), take the quickest shower possible, eat some leftovers, drink your coffee and don't forget to lock the door on your way out.
Chris ALWAYS locks the door and checks it twice before leaving, one of those weird habits he's had ever since he was a kid.
Then spend eight fucking hours riding on the back of a truck, collecting other people's garbage - yeah, the perfect job, man! But...at least he's got a job, right?
His P.O.'s pride and joy, Beecher's sly, annoying, weirdly amused grin; his *in-laws*' massive embarrassment. And Keller's attempt - ain't that THE WORD? - to keep his shit together.
Family life ain't easy. Life itself ain't easy, but FAMILY LIFE is a fucking nightmare sometimes, and not just for *I-ain't-never-had-any-family* Chris Keller. Beecher feels that too sometimes. Not that he'll ever admit to it, nooo...he's the super perfect daddy - or at least, he tries to be. And he also forces Keller to be the super perfect...whatever.
Take arranging work schedule so as to not have to appeal to Mrs. Beecher ("You know you can call me to take care of the children, Toby, if you and...*him* can't manage...") to drive the kids to school and drive them back home afterwards: that is one major pain in the ass.
Chris takes them to school on Thursdays and Fridays and Beecher manages to do the same on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday is Grandma Beecher's turn. And it's good, it's okay - it shows her, it shows to the whole fucking world that they're capable, they can do this. They're responsible.
Of course, Saturdays and Sundays are a bitch, with both of them working... Honestly, they hardly ever spend time together these days; they hardly ever fuck anymore. They're just...too tired. Family life, baby!
It had all been a hell of a lot easier before Keller (finally) got himself a job; he was around the house almost non-stop, going back and forth, doing all sorts of (mostly) useless shit, usually sloutching on the couch in front of the TV.
Fix the lamp, fix the closet door, *try* to fix Holly's bicycle (the ONE item over which both he and Beech had argued with Holly NOT to buy - Holly had won, obviously) and scratch your head like some stupid monkey while going over Harry's toy airplane instructions manual for the sixth time in two hours, with the kid going around in circles, jumping in front of him and tapping his foot like one of his ex-wives.
And man, when he finally managed to figure out where that last goddamn screw was supposed to be screwed into...it felt like Christmas and 4-th of July had come rolling over him like one gigantic ball of happiness! Harry had jumped right into his arms yelling like a little animal and...it felt so nice.
That moment right there - that was...(right.)
Harry loves him.
He knows that.
That little kid loves him. And it's the most beautiful thing he's ever had.
So Chris Keller keeps his shit together and locks the door behind him. And checks it twice.
The thing is...is that enough?
Is anything EVER enough?...
Working in the garbage business sucks; the guys Keller meets every day at work can collectively nod their heads in agreement.
And it's not just the fact that you gotta ride around the streets every goddamn day picking up plastic bags and shit, no. It ain't even the stench of some puppy's corpse rotting on the side of the road 'cause the fuckwad who drove his Lexus over it didn't slow down and the idiots who live nearby didn't fuckin' bother to pick it up and put it in a trashcan or bury it or something.
It's how people - the same people whose shit you're taking away, the very same people calling you to take that puppy away - look at you. How they DON'T look at you...like they're ashamed of their own shame. Of your own shame.
Keller likes to pretend it doesn't bother him. He's done worse things for money, he's had worse jobs, right?
He knows shame and he knows indifference and he definitely knows that look in other people's eyes, the one that says 'you're trash and I know you know you're trash, so niether of us has to pretend otherwise'.
It's how people have always looked at him. So...it doesn't matter. Once you've learned the way of the world, you can't UN-learn it. And nobody can do that for you either.
It's just what it is.
7 o'clock, Friday morning. The watch near the bed rings three, four, five times, and Chris rolls on his side and shakes Toby out of his dreams.
"Toby, wake up, it's 7."
It almost always happens this way: Chris opens his eyes the second he hears the clock ringing and turns over to wake Beecher up. Thank Christ, Toby doesn't have to be at work until 8.30, but it doesn't really matter anyway, really. His biorhythm (that's how Bonnie used to call it) is set on 5 o'clock these days, like it's some magic number or something. He doesn't even set the clock to ring anymore, it would only disturb Beecher.
Toby rolls over, fists his hand on the pillow, then suddenly opens his eyes really wide, blinks a couple of times and practically *jumps* out of the bed like he's got a microchip in his brain ordering him to immediately rush into an over-active mode, or the world would crush on his shoulders or something.
Sometimes he turns over to Chris and mumbles his usual "sorry I woke you" shit, and Keller looks at him through lowered eyelids and smiles, waving his hand. Most of the times, he doesn't; and Chris lays on the bed, silently watching him going through his things and getting dressed in the dim light.
It reminds him of Oz, even if he doesn't wanna think about it, even if he doesn't wanna remember. And he knows that Toby feels the same thing. Just by watching the tension and occasional strain in the muscles on his back, the way he intentionally avoids looking back at Chris while putting on his shirt.
"Don't forget about Holly's sweater. Get her to wear the red one, it's cold outside," Toby says, fixing up his tie. Chris still doesn't understand why the hell he feels the need to wear a tie; he's not a lawyer anymore, is he?
"She hates that sweater. She'll wanna wear the black one, she's got a crush on that thing."
Beecher gazes at him in the mirror for a couple of seconds, and Chris knows he's not gonna drop it:
"She wore that goddamn sweater all week, Chris. Get her to wear the red one."
"What if she'll say no?"
She'll definitely say no.
Turning towards him, grabbing his glasses:
"Then *make* her."
Obviously, Beecher doesn't know his daughter the way Chris does.
A couple of hours later, Chris tries his best to get Holly to wear the red sweater. He fails, of course.
He can't threaten her, he can't seduce her either. He can't buy her candy or let her watch TV well past midnight. Nor can he use the "I'll tell your father" line on her; tried once - just once, when he really got desperate - and she looked at him in that oh-so-very-familiar manner, that ugly blue squint, chin raised up in defiance, and whispered: "You will not. Besides, what makes you think dad will believe you and not me?"
So Holly Beecher goes to school wearing the same ugly, stinky sweater she's worn the entire week and Keller knows - he just *knows* - Toby's gonna freak out. Again.
Only that this time things go horribly wrong. Or maybe just different.
The list, don't forget the list or you'll end up buying the wrong brand of yogurt *again*.
Keller grabs his keys, stuffs the list in his backpocket and he almost makes it through the door when the phone rings.
"Hello, is this Mr. Beecher?"
Holly's teacher. Well, Beecher's not around...try calling him at work? Fuck, fuck, fuck it.
He can handle it. He can.
He's gotta, right?
"Yes, I'll try contacting *Mr.* Beecher. Yeah, I'm coming over right away."
He puts down the receiver, leans over the wall and bangs his head gently against it a couple of times. He shouldn't be doing this. He oughta call Toby. He has to call Toby, she's his kid, she's HIS kid.
"Call Toby, call Toby..."
He can handle it. He's a fuckin' grown-up, he's *mature*, for Christ's sake! (Yeah, right!)
And he's out of the house, into his car and off to Holly's school.
Without even trying to call Beecher.
Schools frighten him.
And it ain't just the iron fence surrounding the building or the big windows lined up one after the other that give him a sense of a seemingly endless row of exit-ways that never really come to an end...or an exit.
It's the noise.
He remembers the noise better than anything else from his school years - numerous different voices all blending into one, reverberating through the walls like some secret hymn of...something he never quite understood, not even when he was a child. Like each and every one of those kids knew something he didn't, felt something he couldn't, something he wasn't meant to feel.
He always lost that beat, the rhythm, when he was about Holly's age; and later, that didn't even matter anymore. He fuckin' chosed to SKIP it. Besides, he wasn't any good at it from the start, right? So it didn't matter.
And...ain't this ironic or something?
Holly's teacher is just as he remembered her from the last time he'd showed up at one of those PTA meetings - before Gandma Beecher had called Toby and Toby had told him, in that deceptive pussy voice of his, that maybe it would be "better for the kids" if Chris wouldn't show his fuckin' face around his kids' teachers and (especially) around other parents.
She looks at him and he instantly sees it: 'Oh, Mr...Keller, right?'
A little bit of embarassment, a tiny drop of annoyance; a lot of teeth, and then:
"Mister Keller, hello. I called you, don't know if you remember..."
"I remember you, don't worry. Marion, Marion Knight," he replies, and his tone's so soothing, so casual it breaks through that depressing manierism forced upon her by the very job she's chosen. Most parents are nothing more than hollow structures held together by the ambitions they smother their children with.
She's met Keller a couple of times and instantly felt he didn't fit into that particular cathegory. Which is understandable, giving the circumstances.
Chris Keller possesses the nervousness and embarassment of a 10 year old forced to face adults who know - or claim to know - all he doesn't. All he's not supposed to.
Still, he's pretty good at faking confidence.
She tells him what had happened earlier between Holly and one of her classmates: Holly attacked another girl on the hallway, scratching her face and kicking her to the ground.
"Holly doesn't want to tell me why she did it," Marion says, leaning almost unconsciously towards his crouched figure. "I think you should talk to her."
"Maybe it'd be better if she talks to her father," Chris replies, slowly nodding his head.
"She loves him very much." Marion sighs and raises her hands: "Look, I don't know Holly well. She doesn't talk very much, actually she's very uncommunicative. I know what she's...what she's been through, so I think she's just trying to protect the people she loves, to protect her father by being like this. And probably to protect herself too."
"By keeping all the shit inside?"
He bites his tongue and silently curses himself, but she's okay with it.
"I think she'll talk to you."
Chris can't help but smile, a twisted, half-bitter smirk. He nods again.
(--'Yeah, she'll probably talk to ME, who the hell can she talk to? Or maybe she's gonna tell me to go fuck myself.'--)
"Listen Christopher --"
Christopher. Not Chris, not Keller, not Mr. Keller. Something inside him twitches for a small moment, and he can't even identify it.
"-- this is serious. The school may be forced to take sanctions against her for this type of behavior. I know she used to see a therapist..."
"Yeah, she wouldn't say anything during her sessions. Made fun of the woman a couple of times and it was over."
Holly's complicated, alright.
"Well, just wanted to warn you. This sort of thing can get very ugly. She may be suspended for a couple of days, maybe even weeks."
And this is where the old Chris Keller raises from the dead, so to speak, because Chris doesn't see ANYTHING wrong with not going to school for a couple of days. Big fuckin' deal.
"Where is she?"
Well, SOMEBODY's goota talk to her. And he's not worth protecting, is he?
Holly's not the same little blonde girl he first saw for a couple of seconds when she came to visit her father a couple of years ago. What he had kept in the back of his mind about Beecher's kid was that tiny fragile body, her long hair and her blue eyes.
And her image had remained imprinted inside him like a photograph, something that never changes, never morphes into something else. Chris suspects that image is the same Beecher had - still has about his kid. But this Holly Beecher is nothing like that. Probably never really was, in the first place.
This 13 year old is...different.
And Chris, whether he'd like to admit it or not, is terrified of her.
One brief look at him, eyes narrowing and darkening a little; then she looks back down at her feet.
Her hands are clenched into fists on her knees as she sits on a small bench near the window. Chris sits down next to her, not too close though.
"He's at work, couldn't reach him."
She nods and remains quiet. Chris has no idea what to do or what to say, so he keeps his mouth shut and waits.
The window on Chris' left side is opened and the noise of indistinguishable voices mingling outside in the school yard dances around between them.
He stands up and closes the window, looking back at her:
"It's okay with you?..."
She just shrugs, blue eyes staring back at him. Expressionless.
Chris doesn't like people, never did; neither does Holly. Probably the only thing they've got in common.
"I screwed up, didn't I?" she finally whispers, still looking down.
"Well, yeah." She's talking to him. It's a good sign, right? "What happened?"
She looks at him sideways, idly scratching her temple:
"I beat her up, didn't Knight tell you already?"
"Yeah, but why?"
An ugly little smirk, and Jesus, it feels like this kid is his fuckin' flesh and blood, not Beecher's.
"I hate that bitch," Holly says, as a matter of fact. Her eyes narrow again, and the smirk turns into a smile. "What, now you're gonna turn into Dad on me? You talk like that, dad talks like that."-- palms slowly rubbing against her jeans: "And I live with you, right? Not with some fucking born again morons."
"Yeah, okay, but still...oh, forget it." He just knows it's pointless. "Was it the sweater?" he says without even thinking. It's the first thing that comes to his mind, and it makes sense. He had gotten into a fight once when he was about her age because of the shitty clothes he used to wear. Kids and adults aren't that much different when it comes to acting like assholes.
She raises her brows and snorts:
"My sweater?! No, it wasn't about my sweater. Who would scratch somebody's face for a sweater?" He notices her hands clutching into fists again as she looks away, gazing at the floor. "It was about you," she whispers under her breath, and her voice is so quiet, so monotonous he can barely hear her.
He holds his breath and swallows a curse. It was bound to happen, right? Probably HAS happened, more than once.
"She said that my dad is a *homosexual* and that we're all living in sin and going to hell because of it. Her family's Christian and all, stuck in the Middle Ages, so it's not such a big surprise, you know?" A little screwed up smile, and he smiles back 'cause he knows just how smart and infinitely ironic this little blonde girl in her ugly sweater is. "And I don't care, you know? Everybody's entitled to their own opinion, even if their opinion is shit." She raises her voice a little, pronouncing 'opinion' and 'shit' like they're supposed to mean the same thing. Her eyes glow beautifully in the dim light of the fading October sunshine. "You can't change stupid people or their opinions."
"And you can't beat them up either," Keller mutters under his breath, looking at her dirty boots.
"Oh, really?" She gives him a highly incredulous look, and he knows he deserves it. "Mr. 'give peace a chance' talking."
"Holly...you kicked her in the stomach with everybody watching and--"
"She called you 'white trash convict'."
Her frail body is shivering and her white knuckled hands crumple the wrinkles of her jeans around her bent knees; she's barely whispering, voice strained and oddly monotonous at the same time and Chris just wants to hold her in his arms and tell her she's not alone, she doesn't have to be, she doesn't...
Silence stretches between them like a rubberband; and then it snaps:
"You're not white trash."-- looking at him sideways, smiling just a little; fingers idly tapping on her knee to some strange tune only Holly knows: "You may be a lot of things but not that."
And this is Holly Beecher: weird, recluse, uncommunicative, hiding everything, hiding herself behind a carefully constructed mask of disinterest. Painfully honest, with her odd, throaty voice, those deep blue eyes and that goddamn black sweater of hers.
And she's just changed his fucking life, whether she's aware of it or not.
Probably *quite* aware, 'cause she's looking at him, deadpan gaze boring holes through him: seizing, analyzing, cataloguing. Smirking.
She's got something Beecher only got to make a lame attempt at faking back in Oz, something crawling just underneath that white, paper-like skin sheltering the bones of her body.
Keller's good at reading people, he's always been good at instinctively picking up on the vibes others threw without even knowing; and he's always made sure to dance around them accordingly.
Only that this time around, Holly came to him like a brick wall, and he lost his tempo, lost his fuckin' balance. He stumbled.
And learned to keep a relatively safe distance from this odd kid with the brains and the sarcasm of a grown-up and - as the *Christian bitch* has learned - the temper of a street thug.
All this time he's felt like being in the middle of a permanent standoff, two lone gunmen seizing each other from a safe distance, never knowing who was gonna fire the first shot and what that first shot would mean for both of them.
The end of the world, probably. *His* world.
So if you can't tango around her, then fuckin' stay out of her range. 'Cause that's what Chris Keller's ever done - you can't find the right rhythm, or at least a fuckin' middleground to tiptoe on, run away. Or just keep your distance.
And this...*thing* - this thing right here, right now, right this fuckin' moment, her blue eyes reflecting into his', that funny rhythm making the tips of her fingers tingle with carefully hidden excitement tapping away at her own little jingle-jangle-morning shit...
Man, this is...(what the fuck is this?!)
And he's not tap dancing all by himself anymore.
"So...you kinda like defended my honor or something, huh?" he says jokingly. Tentatively.
"Didn't know you had one," she replies, and they both break into laughter and it feels so good, it feels so nice, it feels so different, so fuckin' stupid.
They've just pulled out their guns and fired. Almost simoultaneously. Accidentally or not.
"You gotta apologise." He's trying to sound straight and serious and mature. "You do know that, right?"
"The hell I am," she snipes back and he raises his hands, and *she* raises her hands: "No, I..."
"What, you're gonna say you were right to kick her ass?"
He does have a point.
"Okay, okay. But I'm not apologising."
He leans over towards her, tilting his head a little to the right, and she can't help but think just how different this man is from her father. Everything that's open, honest, likable (so goddamn easy to hurt) in her dad's features, turns into a deceptive, unsteady (disturbing) mess when it comes to Keller.
She knows he's a good liar; she had once sneaked up on him talking on the phone to someone, a woman, calling her honey and murmuring something about her thighs. Holly doesn't quite know just what kind of a relationship Keller and his father have, never wanted to know in the first place; but if it is supposed to be based on not screwing around, well...
"Holly, just because you tell someone you're sorry and you truly regret what you did..." His voice is low and husky, and he pronounces 'regret' like it's a word from a foreign language: "That don't mean anything, really. You know what I mean?
(--'Has dad *ever* seen you like this?!'--)
His voice is barely a whisper, eyes locked onto hers, burning:
"Just lie." There's a brief pause, and when he begins to talk again, he sounds almost childish: "It's the easiest way out. You just gotta do it. Easy."
Her dad says 'be honest, don't lie, don't cheat on your exams, do your homework and always be nice to people around you', like it's supposed to be some kind of guarantee for others behaving in the same manner. Be "conscientious", that's the word he uses, and Holly suspects it's the same crap grandpa used to tell him when he was about her age.
(And how *very* conscientious he's turned up!...)
He tries to make her believe something she's discovered a long time ago to be nothing more than an illusion. A lie. Being good and honest and caring means nothing to most people. It means nothing to God himself. So if God doesn't care, why should people care? Why should *she* care?...
And Chris, this guy who'se name she has never even pronounced out of some strange, unexplained fear, Chris knows. He knows what she does. And he's not afraid to take it for what it is, for what they've both been given.
"You're a bad influence, you know?" she mutters, letting her gaze crawl over his facial features, one spider leg at a time. It makes him feel uncomfortable, and she knows that.
"Just don't tell your dad, okay? He'll..."
"Freak out, I know." She smiles and he smiles back. "Okay, I'll apologise. I'll be *goooood*."
"Just...don't kick her ass anymore, don't kick anybody's ass anymore, okay?" Chris goes through the pockets of his jacket and pulls out a pack of gum: "Want some?"
She takes it and they both start chewing with their mouths open:
A short nod of approval, a little smirk, and Keller asks again, looking at the yellow strands of hair falling over the collar of her black sweater:
Chris stands up and for a second he thinks of stretching his hand in front of Holly for her to hold; he quickly aborts that thought. Stupid.
"Well, I guess you're done with school for today. Wanna go shopping?"
"Wanna go shopping for what?" she asks, standing close to him, holding her jacket.
"Uh-huh. One more thing," he adds, on their way out: "Don't talk like that around your dad, okay?"
Her lips twist upwards and he...he feels nice. He's never felt this nice his entire life.
She's...she's a little criminal. And the thought makes him smile right back, blue eyes darkening, heartbeat quickening for a burning moment.
She's his little criminal.
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