The man Niall had pointed out to Ross drew closer every second. Ross shifted in his seat again. He had gotten used to Niall, Niall was friendly but this new man seemed anything but. He walked with the swagger of a man who was far too arrogant and far too annoyed to be in a park. He was standing next to Ross now, peering down at him as a vulture does his pray. Ross stood up to face him.
“Sit down.” He growled. Ross sat. The man sat down next to Ross.
“Uh…hi?” Ross said his voice cracking.
“Uh…hi?” The man mocked. “Get a hold of yourself Kübler you’re not a baby.”
“Who are you?” Ross asked. The man smirked.
“I’m Zayn.” He said.
“Ross. What are you doing here exactly?” Ross asked.
“I’m part two.” Zayn said.
“Part two?” Ross asked. “What…”
“God, you are even stupider than Niall let on.”
“You’ve talked to Niall?”
“Of course I’ve talked to Niall.”
“And he called me stupid?”
“Not exactly. I believe he said something along the lines of ‘Ross is a great guy, he can be a little dense, but overall he’s fantastic.’ However, I’ve learned not to take too much stock in what Niall says.”
“Niall’s my friend, great guy. But he’s naïve he has too much faith in everyone. It’s his downfall.”
“So why are you here?”
“I’ve already told you.” Zayn huffed. “I’m part two.”
“How many parts are there exactly?” Ross asked.
“Five.” The man replied.
“Let’s get this over with.” Ross muttered.
“Don’t get too excited there buttercup. We have a lifetime to do this.”
“Niall told me we had a schedule.”
“Niall’s the kind of guy that wants people to stop suffering as soon as possible.”
“I don’t care how long people suffer as long as I get my job done.”
“That’s reassuring.” Ross muttered.
“If you’re done talking to yourself there buttercup, we could get started.” Zayn said.
“Okay.” Ross said. “Let’s do this.”
“Way to enthusiastic “Zayn muttered. “Way to fucking enthusiastic.”
“Sorry.” Ross muttered.
“Don’t be sorry.” Zayn glared at him. “Don’t ever be sorry for shit you didn’t do.”
Ross looked at Zayn from the corner of his eye. He was taller than Niall, but shorter than Ross himself. His skin was tan. His hair was brown, a dark brown nearly black. His eyes were brown too.
“What are you looking at?” Zayn growled.
“Nothing.” Ross said looking away from Zayn toward the river.
“So, buttercup, tell me your story.”
“Didn’t Niall tell you?”
“Niall told me to come here and do my job, he didn’t tell me why.” Zayn huffed.
“Oh.” Ross said.
“So… what is it?” Zayn asked. “Why am I here?”
“My mother… well Niall says she isn’t dead…but I’m not sure I believe him anymore.”
“Niall does that.”
“Makes people believe there’s a chance.”
“Of anything.” Zayn said. “Niall likes to foster false hope.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Ross asked.
“Everything.” Zayn said. “Niall shouldn’t be doing that.”
“I liked Niall.” Ross said defensively.
“Everyone does.” Zayn muttered. “So, ignoring what Niall told you. Tell me what happened.”
“My mother died.” Ross said he felt his eyes tearing up; he felt the lump in his throat.
“Man up, buttercup. Grow a pair and get over it. Stop boo-hooing.” Zayn said. Ross stared at him.
“Are you serious?” Ross asked.
“Do I look like I’m joking?”
The answer to Zayn’s question was no. Zayn did not look like he was joking. His tight, dark jeans would have been causal if they weren’t pared with his black t-shirt. Ross scanned his black, dust- covered, boots they looked comfortable and practical. Ross’ eyes went back to Zayn torso. He had on an old, beaten black leather jacket like the on Ross had gotten from his father.
“No.” Ross said. “You don’t look like you’re joking.”
“Continue your story buttercup.” Zayn said leaning back against the bench. “What’d she die from?”
“Leiomyosarcoma, it’s a type of cancer.”
“Doesn’t that make you angry?” Zayn asked with his eyes closed.
“Not really.” Ross shrugged. Zayn opened his eyes and sat up.
“That never made you mad?” Zayn asked wide-eyed.
“No.” Ross shrugged. “It’s been around so long, I don’t really think about it anymore.”
“How does that not make you mad?” Zayn asked.
“I didn’t have time to be mad I had to focus on helping my mom get better.”
“But didn’t that make you mad?” Zayn asked in disbelief.
“No.” Ross said shaking his head. “Why would it?”
“You really don’t get it?” Zayn scoffed incredulously. “You spent your childhood wasting time on a woman who had the nerve to get sick and the gall to die on you after all you did for her, you can still stand that? You aren’t angry? At all?”
“Are you…? You’ve got to be kidding.” Ross muttered. Raising his voice, he spoke. “No, it didn’t make me mad. Sure, there were some times it was annoying. I would’ve like it if she was able to come to the stuff I did in high school, but she was sick and I wasn’t going to hold that against here y’know? There was no point.”
“Didn’t you ever want to get mad?” Zayn asked.
“Sure, I wanted to get mad, but what was the point, y’know? There was none. Being mad wasn’t going to make my mom better; it wasn’t going to make me feel better. I don’t waste my time on stuff that isn’t going to make a difference.”
“Then why are you doing this?” Zayn asked.
“You don’t think talking to you will make a difference?”
“Talking to me will definitely make a difference.” Zayn said. “I meant grieving.”
“You don’t think grieving is important?”
“Well I don’t think it’s a good use of your time either.”
“This is ridiculous.” Ross stood up and started to walk away.
“Hey!” Zayn shouted, still sitting on the bench. “Hey! Kübler! “
“What?” Ross yelled back.
“Where exactly do you think you’re going?” Zayn called.
“Home.” Ross shouted.
“Oh no you don’t.” Zayn yelled with a crooked smile. “Sit your ass back down, we aren’t done talking yet.”
“I’m not coming back there.” Ross yelled. Zayn stood up and sauntered over to Ross who hadn’t moved since Zayn called his name. Zayn and Ross were standing toe to toe now. Zayn looked Ross square in the eyes.
“Let me explain something to you Kübler.” Zayn breathed. “You don’t get to walk away from me. I’m here to do my job, and I will do my job. I don’t care if I have to drag you back there kicking and screaming. You don’t leave until we’re done here, and we are far from done. So you better march your ass back to that bench, sit yourself down and get to sharing your feelings like a junior high girl at a slumber party. Understood?”
“I need a clear cut yes or no buttercup.”
“Y-yes.” Ross stuttered.
“Good.” Zayn said. He glared at Ross. “So what are you doing? Get back to the bench.” Ross glared down at Zayn and walked over to the bench. He sat down on his side. Zayn sat down next to him and lit a cigarette.
“What are you doing?” Ross asked after a moments silence.
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m smoking.” Zayn growled.
“You shouldn’t be smoking.” Ross said.
“Thank you for that Captain Obvious.” Zayn muttered.
“Why do you smoke anyway?” Ross asked.
“You tell me you’re supposed to be the smart one.” Zayn said.
“I’m supposed to be the smart one?” Ross said raising his right eyebrow. “Because it seems to me like you and Niall have all the answers.”
“Not all the answers.” Zayn said. “Only you have all the answers.”
“How do I have all the answers?” Ross asked. “I don’t even know what you’re doing here.”
“Let me rephrase. Only you have all the big picture answer. Niall, a few others and I are the ones with all the short term answers.”
“There are more?” Ross groaned in disbelief.
“Yes. This is something Niall should’ve mentioned. He’s the one with all the flowery make you feel better shit.” Zayn grumbled.
Ross looked away. He couldn’t help but feel a bit resentful towards Niall. Niall had promised that he was going to stay with him through this entire thing and he wasn’t there. He had marched of as soon as Zayn came into site.
“Thinking about Niall?” Zayn asked.
“Yeah, how’d you—“
“Not important.” Zayn interrupted. “Let me guess, he promised he was going to stay with you the entire time and as soon as the opportunity presented itself he bounced.”
“See this is what I’m driving at. You can’t trust people. You can never trust anyone, especially people you’ve just met.” Zayn said taking a puff of his cigarette
“I don’t understand.” Ross said.
“Here we go again.” Zayn said dropping his cigarette in the dirt and throwing his hands in the air. “This is why Niall called you an idiot. This is why I think you couldn’t possibly get any dumber. You have this cushy education from a pompous school. You’d think that they would have taught you how to think. They would’ve taught you how to analyze the situation.”
“I was an English major.” Ross said.
“That’s an absolutely useless degree. That’s actually pathetic. What do you do with a B.A in English?”
“I work in a publishing house.”
“Books and shit?”
“Books and shit.”
“Oh you’ve got to be kidding.” Zayn laughed cruelly. “Let me guess, you write too? And you’re only there so you can get your story published? And your boss is a washed up wannabe?”
Ross looked uncomfortably at the ground.
“You really are pathetic. You know that don’t you? I almost have half a mind to leave you here to fix this mess for yourself.”
“I do newspaper work too.”
“Don’t you have a job you need to be doing?” Ross scowled.
“Oh don’t you worry about me buttercup. I know what I need to do.”
“So do it.” Ross challenged.
“Okay. Zayn said. “Alright. Let’s talk about you, tough guy.”
“Go ahead.” Ross said. “Let’s talk about me then.”
“How come you aren’t pissed about your mom’s death?”
“I just don’t see a reason to be mad.”
“How about she left you alone on this stupid planet without any real resources?”
“Your useless education and pathetic jobs don’t count.”
“I think I can manage to survive.”
“C’mon, Kübler, get angry. It’s not healthy to keep everything bottled up inside.”
“I’m not bottling anything up.” Ross said hotly.
“Sounds like you are to me.” Zayn said.
“Well I’m not.”
“So you won’t mind if I reopen some old wounds?”
“What?” Ross asked.
“I know a lot of things about you Kübler. A lot of things.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“Okay.” Ross muttered. He added under his breathe, “It’s working then.”
“Let me see.” Zayn said, tapping his index finger on his chin. “What can I say to make Ross Kübler lose his cool?”
Ross opened his mouth to speak. Zayn interrupted him. “And by cool, I mean calm. You can’t lose what you never had. You aren’t cool. You have a B.A. in English.”
“I was cool in high school.”
“What a sad place that must have been.”
“It wasn’t sad.”
“Okay buttercup, whatever you say.” Zayn chuckled. “So let’s see what I can do to make you tick.”
“Go ahead.” Ross shrugged. “I try not to hold a grudge.”
“The keyword there is try. You probably fail miserably at that like your B.A. in English fails at being an actual degree.”
“Will you stop making fun of my degree?” Ross asked, under his breathe he added. “At least I have one.”
“No. I will never stop making fun of your degree. Do you want to know why? Because you spent a lot of money to get into a big name school to earn the most useless degree in the world.”
“Can we get this over with already?” Ross asked irritated.
“We’re doing it. Right now. This is me trying to get a rise out of you.”
“Well you aren’t doing a very good job.”
“There’s more where that came from.”
“Oh joy.” Ross muttered.
“Tell me about when you got suspended.” Zayn said grinning.
“That wasn’t my fault.” Ross said harshly.
“So you won’t mind sharing then.” Zayn’s grin grew wider. Ross wanted to get angry, but he knew he had a point to prove, so he took a deep breath and put on a weak smile.
“I don’t mind sharing.” He said with gritted teeth.
“Tell me a story Kübler.” Zayn said smirking.
So Ross told Zayn a story.
Ross told Zayn how there had been a group of boys who picked on his sister Eva and when he called them out they picked on him too. Ross told Zayn how the spread rumors and called him names. How they said nasty things about his family. How the convinced everyone that being friends with Ross was a big mistake and only losers were friends with Ross. How one day getting an emotional reaction out of Ross wasn’t enough. How one day they started to punch him; in the face, in the stomach, in the chest. How he couldn’t breathe. How he limped to class. How his teachers thought it was his mother doing that to him, because there were no children at this school who were old enough or big enough or strong enough or mean enough to inflict damage like that. How one day he snapped and started to hit back. How the teachers say and thought he was beating those boys up for no good reason. How the principle wouldn’t listen to what he had to say. How he went home to his mother crying. How she assured him it wasn’t his fault. How he came to school the next Monday with a new sense of pride and of self-worth. How all the other children asked for his protection. How no one ever tried to mess with him again.
“How does that not make you angry?” Zayn asked.
“They were stupid kids.” Ross shrugged.
“The teachers weren’t. The principle wasn’t. They completely blew you off. Doesn’t that make you mad?”
“At the time, yeah. But I don’t see the point of getting mad now. It doesn’t matter.”
“You are a piece of work Ross Kübler.” Zayn said.
“Zayn.” Ross said. “How did you know I got suspended?”
“I told you already.” Zayn replied. “I know a lot of things about you.”
“It’s my job.” Zayn shrugged.
“That’s not unsettling at all.” Ross muttered.
Zayn studied Ross. This man, this man with his brown hair and his glasses was too calm. Far too calm. He should be mad. He should be rage-filled. He should be fuming. Ross was left there, with no one, absolutely no one to care for him and he was taking it like a champion. How was he not pissed at the world? How was he okay with all of this? Zayn stared at Ross. How could he make Ross mad? How could he get Ross to acknowledge that there was rage in his veins? Zayn, of course, knew the answer, but that was to be used as a last resort only.
“Tell me what happened with that girl in fifth grade.” Zayn said.
“I believe her name is…” Zayn smiled wickedly. “Tricia Stein?”
“How do you know who Tricia Stein is?” Ross asked defensively.
“How could I not?” Zayn asked.
“I don’t want to talk about that.” Ross said.
“Why not?” Zayn asked mockingly. “Is it making you angry?”
“I’m not angry. I just don’t want to talk about it.”
“Tell me the story.”
“Tell me buttercup, share your story.”
“No Zayn. Drop it.”
“Tell me the story.”
“If you know about Tricia, then you probably already know the story.” Ross said dismissively.
“I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
“Let it go Zayn, I’m not telling you the story.”
“Tell me the story Ross.” Zayn said darkly.
“No Zayn. I said no. Let it go.” Ross said.
“Tell me now.”
“Why won’t you tell me?” There that tone was again. Zayn was mocking Ross. “Are you…angry?”
“No. I’m not.” Ross said. “I’m annoyed. At you. Because of your incessant need to know what happened with a girl I knew in fifth grade when I was ten.”
“So you angry?”
“No. I thought I just said that.”
“So why won’t you tell me about it?”
“BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO!” Ross screamed. “Did it ever occur to you that I was saying no to you because I didn’t want to talk about it? Did it ever occur to you that Tricia Stein is a sore subject for me? No. It didn’t. You want to know why? Because you are too wrapped up in your own shit to think about other people’s feelings. You are too consumed with yourself to think about the fact that I was saying no because I actually didn’t want to talk about her. I don’t want to talk about it, I am telling you that. If your goal was to get me angry, then I guess you succeeded. I am completely pissed off. You can leave now.” Ross’ chest was heaving. He couldn’t even look at Zayn.
“Why don’t you want to talk about it?”
“I thought I mentioned that already.”
“Just,” Zayn looked a t Ross. “Just tell me what happened.”
“I really don’t want too.”
“That’s the first time anything civilized has come out of your mouth.” Ross snorted.
“Tell me the story buttercup, I’m all yours.” Zayn grinned. He leaned back against the bench. His legs stretched out in front of him, his hands clasped together on his stomach, his eyes closed.
“Where do I start?” Ross mussed, running his hands through his hair.
“The beginning would be nice.” Zayn said. Ross rolled his eyes.
“Okay.” Ross said taking a deep breath. “I knew Tricia since we were kids. She lived on my block. This area is one of those places where all the kids play together in the streets, y’know? Anyway, Tricia lived nearby.”
“Two houses down.” Zayn said.
“Yeah, two houses down. She was my age, but she was friends with Erika and Eva more than she was with me. She spent a lot of time at our house. For sleepovers and stuff like that, y’know?”
“But then you started hanging out, right?” Zayn asked.
“We started hanging out in fourth grade. We were in the same class; we walked home and did homework together. We started spending less time with my sisters and more time alone. I knew Tricia for a long time, but I had never been to her house.”
“Until that one day.”
“We were in fifth grade. We liked each other. Tricia told me there was something she wanted to try with me and she invited me to her house.”
“Did you go?”
“Weren’t there any warning bells?”
“Sure, but I didn’t care. We had to hide the fact that we liked each other around my sisters. They were always asking Tricia to hang out with them, and play with them. I was excited that I could just sit there and talk to her and play with her without any interruptions.”
“What happened?” Zayn asked.
“We went to her room. The whole house was empty. We were alone. Tricia told me to sit down on her bed, so I did. She told me that she liked me. I told her I knew that, she has said so before.”
“Then?” Zayn unfolded his arms and pulled his legs back. His eyes stayed closed and he was still leaned back.
“Then she told me that she really liked me. She asked me if I wanted to try something. I said why not. She grabbed my face and kissed.”
“You didn’t even initiate your first kiss?” Zayn asked laughing.
“I’m not finished and that’s not really the point.” Ross said.
“Right, so we kissed. Then Tricia asked me if I knew what sex was. I said that I did and she told me that she wanted to try it out.”
“What did you say to her?” Zayn asked.
“I told her that maybe that wasn’t the best idea. She asked if we could kiss again. She said that kissing made sex easier. I asked here where she heard that from and she said it was just something that she had heard. I said okay and so we kissed again.”
“We were kissing and her bedroom door opened. Her dad, I think he was her dad it was a man, I never met her parents. Anyway he walked into the door and he was pissed. I thought he was just going to yell at us.”
“We, we were just kids. We didn’t know.”
“What happened?” Zayn repeated sitting up and opening his eyes.
Ross took a deep breath. “He started yelling at us. Calling Tricia a slut and a whore. He yelled at me saying I was stealing his girl, I thought he meant that he didn’t like me and his daughter hanging around each other. He started walking towards us and we stood up. He grabbed Tricia by the shoulders and dragged her to the closet; he grabbed a shoelace and tied her to the handle.”
“Then what did he do?” Zayn asked, hushed.
“He started walking toward me. Accusing me of turning Tricia against him. I didn’t understand what he meant. He took his belt off and walked toward me. I didn’t know what to do. I should’ve moved out of the way, but I was frozen. I didn’t feel it when he hit me the first time.”
“He hit you? “ Zayn asked quietly. Ross nodded and continued speaking.
“Then he walked back to Tricia and just started whaling on her. It took me a while before I realized what was going on.”
“What did you do?”
“I ran over and jumped on his back. I’ll never forget how Tricia looked. Her face was all bloody and it was starting to swell. Her dad through me off his back and onto the ground. He pulled out a knife.”
“What’d he do with the knife?”
“I thought he was going to cut the cord that was tying up Tricia, but then he raised the knife. He raised it so high. So high above his head and he brought it down with more force than I could even imagine. Right into her stomach. I screamed and Tricia screamed. He pulled the knife out of Tricia’s stomach and he sung his arm back. He cut my cheek.” Ross lifted his glasses slightly to show Zayn the faint silver scar that ran under his left eye.
“What did you do?” Zayn asked.
“I screamed bloody murder. Tricia’s dad ran out of the room. I crawled over to Tricia who was crying hysterically by then. She pointed to a phone that was on the floor outside of her room. I grabbed it and I called nine one one.”
“She asked me to hold her while we waited for the ambulance. She asked me to tell her a story. I told her I wasn’t much of a story teller. She was gasping for air and asked me to tell her a story anyway. So I just started making things up and I told her a story. A couple minutes later the ambulance and the police came. My mom heard the commotion and came over to the house she saw the police and the paramedics taking us out. She told them she was my mom and they let her through. She rode in the ambulance with us. At the hospital I talked to a psychiatrist and they patched up my face. I went home.”
“What happened to Tricia?”
“I don’t know. She wasn’t at school when I went back. A week later her house was for sale.”
“So you never talked to her after that?”
“Does that make you mad?” Zayn asked.
“I would ask if you are serious, but I know I’d get a snarky answer. You have got to be kidding me though.”
“What’d I do wrong?” Zayn asked.
“I just shared the most traumatic experience of my entire life with you and all you have to say is ‘Does that make you mad?’”
“What do you want me to say?” Zayn asked. “I’m sorry you went through shit? You were there, you know you went through shit, I shouldn’t have to validate that to you.”
“Well it’d be nice.” Ross muttered.
“Was it really that traumatic?” Zayn asked.
“How can you even ask that?” Ross said. “Yes, it was traumatic, it was incredibly traumatic.”
“More traumatic than your dad leaving?” Zayn asked. Ross turned to face Zayn.
“Who told you about my dad?” Ross asked in a low voice.
“I’ve said it before and I can’t believe that I have to say it again. I know a lot of things about you Ross Kübler. A lot of things. I am incredibly surprised that me knowing about your father is shocking to you.”
“Who set you up to this?”
“Who told you about my dad? Who sent you out here?”
“What are you on about?” Zayn grumbled.
“Who sent you out here to ask me about my dad? It wasn’t any of my sisters. It wasn’t my mother. Who was it? Was it Aaron?”
“Who the hell is Aaron?”
“I don’t want to talk about it Zayn.” Ross stood up shaking and once again began to walk away.
“Are you finally mad?” Zayn asked standing too.
“YES! YES! YOU’VE SUCCEEDED!” Ross roared. “I am finally pissed. I am finally so far beyond pissed. Who are you to bring up my father to me? You don’t know shit about me Zayn. You don’t know shit about my past. You have no right to mention my father to me.”
Zayn watched Ross. Ross’ face was red, the vein on his right temple was popping out, and he was pacing furiously. Zayn watched as Ross walked to a tree and pulled his fast back. Zayn blinked and watched as Ross’ fist slammed into the bark of the tall, old oak tree. Zayn rushed over to Ross and grabbed in by the back of the arms.
“Hey. HEY!” Zayn shouted. “Don’t do that. Don’t do that. You got a problem Kübler you talk about it. You don’t punch shit.”
“Who am I supposed to talk to? Huh Zayn? Who am I supposed to talk to?”
“Me. Talk to me. Tell me why your dad pisses you off so much.”
“Tell you? You don’t listen to a word I say.”
“You’re a story teller buttercup. Tell me a story.”
Ross took a deep breath. He began to describe his childhood to Zayn.
“When I was really little, my childhood was normal. My parents were in love, I had an older sister and a younger sister. We all got along well. We did family things every weekend. Hikes, and going the zoo and movies, y’know? Things started to change around the time I turned eight.”
“What happened?” Zayn asked.
“My dad started leaving more, going away and not seeing us. He stopped talking to my mom as much. He stopped talking to my sisters. He stopped talking to me. My mom said it was a phase. When I was ten I woke up one day and he was gone.”
“And that made you mad right?”
“Yeah. That made me mad. My sisters weren’t too torn up about it, but personally I was devastated. My dad and I were close, super close. I had thought that he was going to get over his ‘phase.’ I didn’t expect that he would leave.”
“Have you talked to him at all?”
“No. Eva and Erika talk to him. He’s tried calling my, but I don’t answer.”
“He didn’t want me than, why would he want me now?”
“This is what I was saying man.” Zayn said. “You can’t trust people. Can’t trust strangers, can’t trust family, can’t trust friends.”
“Then why am I talking to you?”
“I’m not a stranger.” Zayn said.
“What do you mean you’re not a stranger?”
“You and I,” Zayn said. “Can never be strangers.”
“Hate to burst your bubble man, but yeah, we’re strangers. I didn’t know you before today.”
“That’s your view.”
Ross didn’t know how to answer that. Zayn, like Niall was beginning to scare Ross. They knew things about him that he hadn’t shared with anyone before. They knew about his past with Tricia. They knew about his father. Practically no one knew about either of those things.
“Are you mad now?” Zayn asked.
“Yes.” Ross replied. He didn’t want to be angry. Ross liked to think that he was a calm person, a rational person, a reasonable person. But around Zayn he couldn’t help it. Zayn knew which buttons to press and his just had this presence about him. Zayn was the type of man that made you irritated just being in the same room as him. Zayn was the type of man that could make your blood boil just by opening his mouth. Ross was flustered. He looked toward the river. Water always had a calming effect on Ross. After what happened with Tricia, Ross spent a lot of time at the park, dipping his toes into the water. After his father left, Ross spent most of his days after school in the dark, sitting at the river and staring. Just starting at the water. He didn’t look at the passersby; he didn’t look at the birds, just the water. Always the water.
“Yes. Zayn, I’m mad. Are we done here?” Ross asked. He stared back at the tree.
“No.” Zayn scoffed. ”We aren’t done.”
“What more do you want from me?” Ross barked.
“You’re angry, which is good. But your anger is misdirected.”
“What are you even talking about? How is my anger misdirected?”
“You’re angry at your dad, which you should be he’s a dick. But right now, you should be angry at your mother.”
“Yes, the one who died today.”
“Why should I be angry with my mother?”
“Because she died on you.”
“Well it’s not like she could help it.”
“Oh really?” Zayn asked, eyebrow raised. “Your mother died pretty young, she probably had a few more good years in there somewhere.”
“You’re saying she chose to die?”
“Well she didn’t choose to stay here with you.”
“I don’t think she really had a choice.”
“That’s a lie.” Zayn said. “Of course she had a choice, everyone has a choice.”
“And she didn’t choose you. Do you know why? Because you are pathetic, you’re pathetic and weak and miserable.”
“She chose everyone. She chose everything, over you.”
“Cut it out.”
“She chose your sisters over you. She chose your father over you. She even chose death over you. So what does that say about you Ross?”
“Does it say that you are pathetic? Does it say that you are a mess? Because you are, you’re a sad, lonely, pathetic mess. You can’t fight off me, you can’t keep your dada around, you can’t save your best friend and your mother can’t stand to be on the same planet as you!”
Ross punched the tree again.
“Stop.” He screamed. “Stop it, stop it, stop it.”
“Is that all you have to say ‘Stop it’? You are weak Ross. Weak.”
“Stop it!” Ross yelled.
“Or what?” Zayn laughed harshly. “What are you going to do? You gonna call the police on me? You gonna go and talk to another shrink about it.”
“Stop it Zayn.”
“Don’t be mad at me.” Zayn said as Ross punched the tree again. “Be mad at your mother.”
“Be mad at her. I’m just here to get a rise out of you. She left you. She abandoned you. And what did you do to deserve that Ross? Huh? Good kid, who kept his head down, only got in three or four fights in his entire life and this is how she shows how much she loved her only son, by leaving him? That’s just not right. Be angry, Ross, but not at me. Be angry at her.”
Ross was breathing heavily. He looked at Zayn and then the tree. Zayn had a point, his mother did leave him. What had he done to deserve that? Deep down, Ross had a feeling that this was karma for what had happened to Tricia, for how he failed to save her but Ross didn’t believe in Karma, he didn’t believe in religion, at least, not anymore. He looked toward the river. The water was churning and lapping against the banks. He could hear the steady beat of the water. Bum. Bum. Bum. The water was begging for him to calm down, to just take a deep breath and calm down. But he could do it. Perhaps Zayn was right, maybe Ross does bottle things up. He was angry. He was angry at his mother for leaving him, he was angry at the doctors for not doing more to make sure she stayed here. He was mad at God, if there was a God because he was okay with taking his mother way, he had sanctioned it. He had allowed it. He had encouraged it. Ross was angry. Angrier than he had even been in his entire life. He looked toward the river, water couldn’t help him now. Water wouldn’t make him feel better. Water couldn’t quench the fiery rage that coursed through his veins.
Ross did the next reasonable thing he could think of. He punched the tree.
His right fist slammed into the rough bark. Then his left. Then his right. Then his left. Ross got caught in and endless cycle. Right, left. Right left, over and over. Zayn stood to the side and watched with wide eyed fascination and the blood began to drip from Ross’ split knuckles. Ross couldn’t feel the pain in his fist, only the bark beneath then and the white rage in his veins. The rhythm of his fists was soothing. Not soothing enough to extinguish his rage, but it made him feel good. Ross couldn’t feel much anymore, only rage and numbness in his hands. He did, however feel the fist on the back of his shirt that pulled him away from the tree. Ross, who was still swinging his hands in the air, began to thrash against the man holding him back. Zayn, realizing that Ross was fighting him, held on even tighter as Ross started to kick the air.
“Cut it out.” Zayn grunted. “Stop.”
Ross couldn’t hear Zayn. His hearing was muted much like it was at the hospital. He kept trashing. Zayn tightened his grip even further. Ross didn’t know who was restraining, him or why they were restraining him, but he knew he didn’t like it and he knew his was angry and he knew he wanted to keep being angry. He wanted to be let go. Ross, still trashing threw his elbow back into Zayn’s face. Zayn let go of Ross in shock. Ross ran back to the try and started punching again. Zayn, cupping his nose bleeding nose, followed him.
“Ross.” He shouted through the stream of blood pouring down his lips. “Ross you have to stop this.” Zayn placed his hand on Ross’ shoulder. Ross shrugged him off and hit the tree again. Zayn grabbed Ross by the shoulders and pulled him away. Ross turned to Zayn and threw a punch. Zayn ducked and tried to grab Ross around the middle. Ross threw another punch at Zayn’s head. Zayn ducked. Ross charged at Zayn, the two of them fell on the ground and Ross began hitting Zayn. Zayn didn’t fight back, he laid there on the ground, his leather clad arms in front of his face, protecting him from further harm. Zayn rolled over and pushed Ross off of him. Ross began to run toward the river and Zayn followed, once again yanking Ross back.
“No.” Zayn said. Ross ran back to the tree.
Ross hit the tree harder. And harder. And harder. Until…snap. Ross looked at his knuckles. Blood still flowed freely from the cracks in his skin, he caught a glimpse of the bone is in his hand. Ross started at his hand and slowly turned to the tree he had been punching. In the center of the trunk, where Ross’s fist had landed multiple times, the rough bark was gone. A hole in the center of trunk exposed the green insides of the tree, covered in sap and blood. Ross looked back down at his hands. They were slick with blood and sap, pieces of bark embedded in his torn skin. Ross looked at Zayn who was still pinching his nose.
“Your nose.” Ross said motioning to his own.
“Yeah.” Zayn said bitterly.
“I’m sorry.” Ross said.
“It’s okay.” Zayn said. “Your hands alright?”
Ross turned is hands over several times, he curled them into fists and realized, a slight twinge is in left hand send a pain shooting through his fingers.
“I don’t know.” Ross replied. He walked to the bench and sat down. Zayn looked at Ross, who was hunched over manically running his battered hands through his hair. He sighed. He hated when this happened, his job wasn’t to get along with people and cheer them up, his job was to make the angry. He didn’t like people, he kept to himself. Zayn sighed again and walked over to Ross. Zayn sat down on the bench.
“Are…are you okay?” Zayn asked.
“I don’t know.” Ross whispered quickly. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“Hey.” Zayn said. “It...It’s going to be fine.”
“Really?” Ross asked. He was smiling, despite the fact that there were running down his face.
“Yeah…” Zayn said. “It should be.”
“Thanks.” Ross said with a watery chuckle. He pulled his right hand up to his face and began wiping tears away.
“You good?” Zayn asked.
Ross held out his hands. “I think they’re broken.”
Zayn laughed. “Probably. I’ll tell you one thing though, that tree will never cross paths with you again.”
“Good.” Ross said smiling ruefully. “I hate oak trees.”
“Still angry?” Zayn asked.
Ross nodded. “Yeah. Not angry enough for another rage fit, but angry.”
“What kind of angry?”
Ross thought about that. He had never really thought about the different types of anger. No one had ever asked him that question before.
What kind of angry was he?
He thought about his mother and her dying. His blood instantly began to boil. She left him. She left him.
“Deep anger.” Ross finally said. “Like the kind of anger you get when something pissed you off to end and every time you think about it you’re blood starts to boil and you keep getting angry even though there’s nothing you can do to fix it. That’s the kind of angry I am.”
“That’s not the good kind.” Zayn said.
“Is any anger the good kind?”
“Yes.” Zayn said. “There are good types of angry. Healthy types of angry.”
“Are you going to explain or do I have to guess?”
“Flash anger. That’s the good kind of angry.”
“You know. When you get really angry for a short amount of time and then you let it all go. Flash anger.”
“Why do you call it flash anger?”
“Because it’s like a flash of lighting. You see it one second, and it’s there and it’s scary and then it’s gone.”
“What about the thunder?” Ross asked.
“What?” Zayn said.
“When you have lightening, you have thunder. “
“Ross, have you ever seen a lightening cloud?”
“A lightening cloud. It’s a cloud full of lightening. That’s all it is lightening. No thunder.”
A pain in his hands drew Ross to look at them. The blood on his hands had dried and mixed with the sap and the bark.
His mother would have rinsed it out and put a Band-Aid on it.
But his mother left him.
She didn’t care enough to stay.
If she had stayed, this wouldn’t have happened.
Ross once again found his gaze on the river. The dark water. His anger. The churning. His fists pounding on the tree. The rushing noise. His heavy breathing. The banks. His heart. Ross watched the river. His eyes followed the water as it flowed.
“Water is odd.” Ross said.
“What?” Zayn asked.
“Water is weird.” Ross said.
“What do you mean?”
“It just molds itself to whatever shape it needs to be in.”
“Okay.” Zayn said.
“There’s nothing else in the universe that does that.”
“Sure there is.” Zayn said. “It’s just not tangible.”
“Zayn.” Ross asked. “Why are you so angry?”
“What do you mean buttercup?” Zayn asked.
“You just seem so angry at the world, all the time. But that’s not who you are. You’re a nice guy deep down. Who screwed you up that bad that you can’t show your true colors?”
“I don’t think it’s any of your business who screwed me up this bad.” Zayn snapped.
“You’re a good guy Zayn. You really are.” Ross said.
“I don’t do sappy shit.” Zayn said. Ross shrugged.
“It’s not sappy.” Ross said. “It’s true. You’re a good guy Zayn.”
“Even the good guys are bad sometimes.” Zayn said.
Ross nodded in agreement looking out at the park. The playgrounds were empty. A breeze blew through the swings, swaying them slightly. The sun was beginning to set behind the trees. Geese were flying in formation overhead. Ross and Zayn both looked toward the river.
The churning water, the sound of it flowing down the rocks, the smell of it had a calming effect on them.
“Were you ever mad at your mother?” Zayn asked.
“Growing up?” Ross asked.
“Yeah, were you ever mad at her?”
“Yeah. I got mad at her a lot. Mostly little stuff, but there were sometimes I got angry over the bigger stuff.”
“There was one time, when I was sixteen, right after my mom got sick.” Ross began. “I played baseball.”
“Baseball?” Zayn asked. “You look like a runner to me.”
“I played baseball for a long time. It was the one thing that made me feel connected to my dad, y’know? Anyway we had a really good season and we were on our way to states and everyone’s parents were coming. I had spent the whole week begging my mom to come. My dad wasn’t in contact with us and it was super important to me that I had a parent there.”
“She didn’t come?” Zayn guess.
“She had work and she had spent a couple days in the hospital getting chemo.” Ross said. “Still, I was pissed. I thought she was being selfish.”
“Well wasn’t she?” Zayn said.
“No.” Ross shook his head. “She wasn’t being selfish. She wasn’t being selfish at all. She didn’t ask to get sick but that didn’t really register with me. All I understood was that my mom was too important for me and that she wasn’t coming. That’s why I was angry. It was the first time I really saw her as a sick person, not as my mother.”
“That must’ve been hard.” Zayn commented.
“You have no idea.” Ross said.
“You’d be surprised but what I know.”
“That’s what angered me the most. Seeing my mother as someone who was sick. It was hard to realize that that’s the way everyone else say her. They didn’t see the amazing person that I knew. They saw a sick, single mother of three. They didn’t see someone who worked hard their entire life; they say someone who they thought needed help. That made me so angry. They didn’t know her and they didn’t know her story. Who were they to decide if she needed help or not.”
“They thought they were being nice.”
“Well they weren’t being nice. They were showing that they were above everyone her. Because they were married and their kid wasn’t involved with a girl who disappeared and they weren’t sick because they did everything right. They weren’t being nice. They were pitting her and my mother hated pity. Hated it.”
“Why did it make you angry?” Zayn asked. “Why didn’t your mother get mad?”
“She did. But she never showed it. She was too proud. She smiled when people came over, but after she would lock herself in her room and she wouldn’t come out for hours.”
“But why did it make you angry?”
“It made me angry because they made her angry. They made her feel bad about herself and she shouldn’t have felt bad about herself, she did nothing wrong it was all on them.”
“They made her sick?” Zayn scoffed.
“No.” Ross said irritably. “But they made her feel bad about herself.”
“How do you know she felt back about herself?”
“Shouldn’t you know?” Ross grumbled. “You seem to have all the answers.”
“I don’t have all the answers.” Zayn said. “But I so have a lot of answers.”
“Then why are we talking? If you have the answers?”
“I don’t have the answers.” Zayn snapped. “That shits on you. We’re talking because that is part of my job. I talk to you, I get you angry. Then I’m done. I’m talking this shit out with you, not because I car about you or your feelings, but because that’s the only way you are going to understand why being angry is important to all of this.”
“So tell me then.” Ross screamed. “Tell me why I need to be angry. Tell me why it is so damn important. Why do I need to be pissed? Why is it so important to you?”
“It’s my job.” Zayn said.
“Stop saying that! Stop saying you’re only doing this because it’s your job. I’ve already been angry, so obviously you’ve completed your end of his fucked up deal. So tell me. Why are you still here?”
“Because we aren’t done.”
“Why? Why aren’t we done? You’ve got what you wanted, so why can’t you leave me alone?”
“Because I haven’t gotten what I wanted. You’re angry which is great. But you aren’t angry for the right reasons. You aren’t angry at the right people. And as much as I would love to leave you in the godforsaken park. I have to complete my work before either of us can be out of each other’s hair.”
“So who do I need to be angry with?” Ross asked, crossing his arms.
“Where is the fun in telling you that?” Zayn asked.
“No fun.” Ross said. “Just business.”
“We obviously don’t do business the same way.” Zayn said, taking out another cigarette and putting in between his lips. Ross took it and threw in on the ground. “What was that for?”
“You’re right.” Ross said. “We don’t do business the same way. I do business professionally, in an office. Not like a drug dealer.”
“Who said I was a drug dealer?” Zayn asked offended.
“I didn’t say you were. But two guys sitting on a bench smoking and talking about business screams drug deal.”
“You have obviously never been on either side of a drug deal.” Zayn muttered.
“And thank God for that.” Ross said sarcastically.
“I would like to remind you that what I put into my body is none of your business.” Zayn snapped. He took out yet another cigarette and lit it. Zayn placed it in between his lips.
“I could care less about what you put into your body.” Ross sneered.
“Good.” Zayn said blowing the smoke out of his mouth.
“It just want to get this done with and go home.” Ross said.
“Well go luck with that buttercup. You’ve got a long way to go before you’re even close to going home.”
“What do you mean?” Ross asked panicked.
“You leave when we tell you to leave?”
“You and Niall?”
“There more than just me and Niall. You have to go through them before you can go home.”
“Are they going to be as big a pain in the ass as you are?”
“Probably not.” Zayn laughed. The cigarette went back into his mouth.
“How do you do it?” Ross asked.
“Do what?” Another cloud of smoke left Zayn’s mouth.
“Stay angry. All the time. It sounds exhausting.”
“It is.” Zayn said. “That’s why I sleep all the time.”
“I don’t know if I can do that.”
“Be angry all the time like you are.”
“No one is asking you to be angry all the time. Only asking you to be angry right here, right now. After this moment you are free to be as calm or as angry as you want.”
“Really?” Ross asked.
“Really.” Zayn confirmed.
“I don’t even know if I can do that.” Ross admitted. “I’m not an angry guy.”
“Everyone has an angry guy in them somewhere. You seemed pretty angry when you were beating the shit out of me and that tree.”
Ross looked at the dried blood on Zayn’s face. His arms where Ross had punched him were hidden by the sleeves of his jacket. Ross looked at his own bloody knuckles. He stood up and began to walk toward the river.
“Hey!” Zayn called an edge of panic in his voice. “Hey. Where are you going?”
“To the river.” Ross said. “To wash my hands.”
“No!” Zayn said.
“Why not?” Ross asked.
“You can’t go to the river.” Zayn said.
“Why not? It’s a river. It’s water. What is it going to do to me?”
“You can’t go into the river.” Zayn was on edge. He sounded like one more step toward the river would make him fall to his knees and beg.
“What’s wrong with the river?”
“It’s just really important that you don’t go into the river.”
“Just don’t go into the river unless you’re told to. Just don’t go into the river. Just don’t.”
“But I like the river.”
“I know.” Zayn said. “You’ll get to go into the river. Just not now.”
“Well I have to rinse my hands somehow.” Ross said annoyed. “So how do you suggest I do that? The river is the only source of water around here.”
“Here.” Zayn said reaching into his jacket. Ross’s eyes widened and he took a step backward toward the river. Zayn’s hand emerged from his jacket and in his hand he held a bottle of water. “Hey why’d you move?”
“Oh, no reason.” Ross muttered stepping toward Zayn to take the water bottle.
“Did you think I was going to pull a gun on you?” Zayn asked. Ross stayed silent and began pouring the water over his bruised knuckles.
“You did, didn’t you?” Zayn said.
“I don’t know what to think anymore.” Ross muttered.
“It’s not like you knew what to think before either.”
“What does that even mean?”
“You chose to be English major.” Zayn said. “Brains are clearly not your strong suit.”
“Uncalled for.” Ross said. “Besides, I went to NYU. It’s hard to get into NYU. So if I’m an idiot I can’t help but wonder how smart everyone else is.”
“I’ll give you credit for NYU, nothing more.”
“Thank you.” Ross said as he continued to pour the water onto his hands. He hissed in pain as the water rewet the blood on his hands.
“This is why punching trees is a bad idea.” Zayn said.
“Oddly enough. I was able to figure that out on my own.” Ross said rubbing his knuckles on the inside of his sweatshirt. He walked back to the bench and sat down, Zayn followed suit. Zayn took the cigarette that he had once again put in his mouth out and blew the smoke into the air surrounding Ross. Ross coughed.
“You’ve never smoked have you?” Zayn asked grinning.
“No. I’ve never been keen on getting cancer.” Ross said.
“I won’t get cancer.” Zayn said.
“Why is that?” Ross asked.
“I can’t.” Zayn said.
“That’s what everyone thinks.” Ross said. “Then you know what happens? They get cancer.”
“I don’t think you understand what I am saying. I can’t get cancer. It’s impossible.”
“It’s not impossible.”
“It is for me. I lack the necessary parts for cancer.”
“Now that is impossible. Cancer grows out of cells. You can’t lack cells. Everything in the universe has cells.” Zayn looked at Ross expectantly. Ross looked back blankly.
“Never mind.” Zayn grumbled. “Forget it.”
“You have to have cells.” Ross said.
“I said never mind.” Zayn snapped. “I’ll get cancer and die, okay? Just forget it.”
Ross looked at the river that only seconds before he had tried to put his hands in. Why couldn’t he put his hands in? What was wrong with the river? He had been in the river countless times. The cool water, the rocky bottom. There had never been any problems before. Why were Niall and Zayn so insistent that he don’t go in the water? What was wrong with it? Ross stared at the wildflowers that grew on the edge of the bank. The poppies and the black-eyed susans. The daisies. His mother loved daisies. Ross felt the rage start in his heart. His mother, who left him, loved daisies. Ross wanted nothing more than to cut all the daisies and throw them in the river.
“I hate daisies.” Ross said.
“Okay.” Zayn said.
“My mother loved daisies.”
“I only hate them because of her.”
“She loved daisies but she left me here. So I hate daisies.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to hate her?” Zayn asked.
“I could never hate her. She’s my mother.”
“She left you.”
“Yeah.” Ross said sadly. He thought again of his mother. They had a myriad of good memories together. She always tried her hardest to make sure Ross had what he needed. She even invited an old friend of hers to live with them to act as a father to Ross after his own father had left. She worked hard so Ross could go to NYU. She made sure Ross worked hard so he could to go NYU. She encouraged her children to pursue their dreams. She made sure there were presents on birthdays and Christmases even if it meant working triple overtime. She had done a lot for him and for his sisters. She had been an amazing mother.
But Ross couldn’t help but be angry at her. She didn’t stop his father from leaving; she didn’t chase after him and beg him to stay. She was never home, always working leaving him and his sisters to fend for themselves. She pushed Ross to go out and be active when all he wanted to do was sit inside and write. She made him play baseball even though he had lost interest. She made him go to prom even though he didn’t want too. She had done a lot for him and his sisters but she had also done a lot out of selfishness. She went to school and left them at home. She dated a man all three of her children hated. She had been an amazing mother, but she had left them. She had no business being involved in Ross’s happiness.
Ross wanted to be angry at her.
Ross wanted to forgive her.
He didn’t know what to do.
Ross wanted to forgive her because he thought that if he forgave her, she would have an easier time in whatever afterlife place she had ended up in.
Ross wanted to be angry because she left when she promised that she was going nowhere.
“Be angry.” Zayn said. “You’ve earned that much.”
“I don’t want her to be upset with me.” Ross said lamely.
“She won’t be.” Zayn promised. “She understands.”
“I hope so.” Ross said. “God, do I hope so.”
Ross was once again compelled to look at the river. The river. The river that seems to be around for important milestones in his life. When he was too hot after his father first left. When Tricia disappeared after the fight with her father. When he had lost the biggest competition of his life. When he got stood up by his prom date. When his mother got diagnosed with cancer. When his nephew was born. When his engagement was broken. When his mother died. The river always seemed to be Ross’ place of comfort. His place of calm.
Ross came to the sudden realization that Zayn was impeaching on his calm place, on his happy place. The river was Ross’ own place, the place where he came to be alone and the fact that there was someone else there. Someone else being in the spot where he had found the most joy began to agitate Ross.
“Are you ready to leave yet?” Ross grumbled to Zayn. He wanted to get away from Zayn and the negativity Zayn emitted. He wanted Zayn out of his calm place.
“Do you think you’re ready for me to leave?” Zayn asked.
“I am.” Ross said confidently.
“Are you angry at your mother?”
“Is that what the point of this was?”
“Yes.” Zayn said simply.
“Are you angry at your mother?” Zayn repeated.
“Yes. I am. She left me, she abandoned me. She abandoned Erika and Eva. She abandoned her grandson and she just left us all by ourselves. She—she was selfish to die. We needed her. We needed her here and she left us.”
“What about the doctors?” Zayn asked.
“What about them?” Ross said/
“Are you angry with them?”
“Of course I am. They could’ve stopped it. They should have payed more attention to my mom. She was close to them. She spent so much of her time there. She was their friend and they didn’t even try.”
“What about your God?”
Ross gave Zayn a questioning look.
“Are you mad at Him for doing this to you?” Zayn clarified.
“He left me a long time ago; I don’t think I really have a right to be angry with him. But my mom had incredible faith, even when my dad left, and even when she was sick. She was always there for Him. He was supposed to be always there for her. He was supposed to protect her.”
“I’m proud of you Ross.”
“Being angry is hard. Directing you anger to the right place is hard.”
“I don’t like being angry.” Ross said.
“I know.” Zayn said clapping his hand on Ross’ knee. “But it’s all part of the process.”
“What process? Why are you and Niall always talking about a process?”
“Did your fancy B.A. in English teach you how to read by any chance?” Zayn mocked.
“Of course I know how to read.” Ross aid irritated.
“Then you might want to crack open a phycology book once in a while buttercup.” Zayn clapped his hand on Ross’ knee once more. Ross glared at Zayn. Zayn smirked at Ross and let the butt of his cigarette fall to the ground. His black shoe came down and ground the butt into the dirt. Ross glared at Zayn again.
“You’re littering.” Ross said.
“That’s funny.” Zayn said. “I don’t give a fuck.”
Zayn walked away, leaving Ross alone on the bench with his fists clenched and blood boiling.