"Sticks and stones"
By Jason Hyde
"You're a bitch,man,hahaha..",said Kyle. Brandon laughed in response."Yeah,bite me.", he replied. They were speaking and laughing so loud that the other patrons turned and stared. It didn't matter to them though, they were oblivious. Sitting at a table in the local fast food place they frequented after school, Kyle and Brandon were having fun. Taunting each other,laughing,making plans for the weekend...if the people around them didn't like it,well,as far as the pair were concerned, they could kiss their ass.
"NO,I WON"T have sex with you Kyle!", Brandon proclaimed, in a pitch that was meant to be heard by everyone in the room. Kyle laughed,"Fuck you, go get us some more soda." Brandon grinned and rose, standing tall and arched, as though everyone had asked him to stand so they could give him a round of applause. As he made he way to the counter, he tugged down on the bottom of his new,stripped,button-downed shirt, making sure it fit tight over his body. It had been $80,but Brandon knew he looked great in it.
The girl behind the register was young, barely 16.She looked uncomfortable in her dirty work shirt, and she spoke in a low, shy voice. Looking at her made Brandon sick. He would never be caught dead working here, he thought, and certainly would never wear that lame uniform." Can I help you?", she mumbled, sounding terrified to ask. Brandon refused to make eye contact, instead letting his eyes roam around the counter and the walls to his left and right, like he found them more interesting than the girl and her question. He ran his hand gently over his perfectly gelled hair, and once he was satisfied that no strand was out of place, he said,"Gimme 2 large sodas."
The girl, looking perplexed,replied,"Um,sir,what kind? We have,like,6 different kinds.."Brandon let out a deep sigh of annoyance. He and Kyle had been coming to this place in Towson,Maryland,for years. Everyone knew them, he thought. Although he didn't recognize the girl behind the register, he was certain she knew him, and what he always got. She had to. Brandon was popular, everyone knew him. In college, around town, and here. Despite this obvious fact, Brandon elaborated. In a condescending ,baby-like voice, he said,"2...large...soo-daas.One reg-u-lar...one orange..."
This seemed to make the girl more nervous. Her hands started to shake as she typed the order in her register."Um,that's two-fiftee..I mean, two-fifty...",she stammered. She held her small hand out in preparation for the money. Brandon moved his hand closer to hers, money in hand. He got within half an inch of her palm, then instead placed the money on the counter for her to pick up. As she slowly fumbled with the change, trying to get a hold of it and pick it up from the counter, Brandon said," You should really get a real job."
The girl looked at him, sadness in her eyes, then turned around and got the drinks. She handed them to him, and said tiredly," Have a good day." Brandon just rolled his eyes and made his way back to Kyle. Kyle was sitting at the table, wearing his tight, sleeveless t-shirt. His hair was short, nearly shaved. When he noticed Brandon walking toward him, he grinned and said," What the fuck took you so long?" Brandon sat and shook his head." These fuckin' retards they got working' here, can't remember nothing'.", Brandon explained.
Kyle agreed," I know,right?Thank God I never had to work in a dump like this, but jeez,how hard can it be?" Brandon took a sip of his regular soda and said," For real. If this place wasn't so close to school, I wouldn't come here at all." Kyle and Brandon were in college, and during their lunch breaks, and sometimes after school, they would stop here for a meal. It was close, it was practically across the street. As they ate their meal, they turned their attention away from each other, and began to point out the customers.
Kyle pointed to a heavy, middle-aged man who was standing in line." Look at that fat-ass.",he said to Brandon. Brandon turned and looked at the man, a big grin appearing on his face the same instant. He started to laugh, then in his most obvious tone,said,"Yeah buddy, YOU really need another burger." The man turned his head slightly, acknowledging that he had heard the comment, but then turned back around, embarrassed.
Kyle howled with laughter, as did Brandon. Some of the other customers smiled, some laughed, but most of them shook their heads in disappointment and annoyance. The attention only made Brandon and Kyle more determined to entertain their audience. Brandon scanned the room, finally noticing a boy. He was young, probably his age, thin and gangly. He wore a pink polo shirt, tucked into tan khakis. Around his neck, he had a rainbow pendant. The boy was sitting with another boy, who was black, and they were eating and talking. Brandon said to Kyle,"Awww,aren't they cute?"
Kyle laughed, then covered his mouth. He started to fake cough loudly, while at the same time, mumbling "Faggot...faggot".The boy in the pink shirt looked right at Kyle, braver than the fat man had been. He looked angry and humiliated.Ultimatly though, he decided to ignore Kyle and turn his attention back to his friend. Brandon and Kyle were in near tears with laughter. As they sipped their sodas, they kept their eyes open, trying to find another target to entertain them.Then,Brandon noticed someone coming in the door.
It was a man, older than him, but young. Brandon guessed early 20's.He was short too, maybe 5"9.His hair was spiky and bleached blond, nearly white. It contrasted with his black eyebrows, one of which was pierced with a silver hoop. He face was pale and clean shaven, dark circles under his eyes. It looked to Brandon as though he never went tanning, as he did often. The man wore a faded black t-shirt, with a skull on it. Brandon knew it was a band t-shirt, he knew the logo, but couldn't remember the band. His arms were covered with tattoos, his fingers adorned with silver rings. He wore a black, silver studded wrist band on one wrist, and a black one with silver spikes on the other. His fingernails were painted black. His blue jeans were faded and torn open at the knees, and he wore heavy black boots that made a thud when he walked.
Brandon saw this and became excited. This guy was asking for it, he thought. He glanced at Kyle to make sure he hadn't seen him too. Brandon wanted to be the one to point this guy out. This guy was his prize, and he could imagine Kyle's gratitude and admiration for finding and mocking such a prime target. Once he was sure that Kyle had not seen him yet, Brandon nudged him with his foot. Kyle looked at Brandon, then noticed Brandon cock his head back and to his right. Kyle looked in the direction of the nod, trying to see what Brandon was trying to show him. Then he saw the man too, and his eyes lit up and his lips curled with amusement.
"Wow.", said Kyle, his mind racing to find the funniest joke before Brandon did. The man was in line now, standing straight and looking at the huge menu that hung on the wall behind the counter. Brandon started to giggle loudly, then Kyle joined him. Brandon knew at this point, the joke wouldn't even have to be clever. The man was weird looking enough that all he would have to do is point that out to receive the desired laughter.
"Nice nail polish,queer!",Brandon shouted. Everyone's attention turned to Brandon, then to the man in line. There were numerous giggles and snorts, but mostly the sound of Kyle cackling. This only made it funnier to Brandon, and he began to laugh as loud as Kyle.Suddenly,the man turned completely around and stood silently. He stared right into Brandon's eyes, like he knew he was there before he had said a word.
Brandon noticed this and for a second, anticipated a response. There was none. In fact, the man didn't look angry, or embarrassed. In fact, he didn't look like anything. His face was blank and unreadable. He just stood there, his blank eyes burning into Brandon. For some reason, this made Brandon even more nervous. He could understand someone ignoring the insult, or looking pissed,or even yelling back and starting a fight. But this guy, he was just staring. Brandon didn't like it, he wanted the guy to react, to do something. So he yelled," What bitch?Say something. You wanna fight?"
Brandon was sure this would piss the guy off.Instead,the man simply smiled and turned back around to place his order. Brandon squinted his eyes in confusion."Fuck him.", said Kyle, wanting to move on. Brandon replied,"Yeah,fuckin' freakshow."Kyle laughed and said,"Ha,he smiled at you, he wants you baby,hahaha."Brandon threw a fry at Kyle's shoulder,"Fuck you." They turned their attention back to each other and their meal, and forgot about the man.
Slurping loudly, trying to get the last drop out of his orange soda, Kyle asked," You ready to roll?"Brandon,his mouth full of fries,mumbled,"Yup,just gotta take a piss."Brandon stood from his chair, letting it screech across the floor loudly. After confirming that his shirt was free of food and still looked gorgeous on him, Brandon made his way to the bathroom. Kyle sat alone, his stare fixed on a pretty young girl in a white halter top and long, soft blonde hair.
After about 5 minutes of trying to flirt with the girl, it occurred to Kyle that Brandon was taking forever. Brandon was annoying that way, he thought. He always took like 20 minutes in the bathroom, making sure his hair was flawless and his clothes were perfect. He was worse than a damn chick, Kyle thought. Luckily for him, he thought, he had the hot girl to stare at and pass the time. After a few more minutes of trying to make eye contact with the girl, Kyle heard the screech of the chair across from him sliding across the floor, and the sound of someone sitting down." Bout fuckin' time bitch."Kyle said as he turned around to face Brandon.
It wasn't Brandon. It took a few seconds for Kyle to realize this. It took a few more for him to notice the bleached blond hair, the pale face, and the stare. It took him nearly a full minute to understand that the man sitting across from him, drinking a soda, was the man from the line. Once it set in, Kyle said," What the hell man?" The man calmly took a drink from his soda, still staring that creepy stare of his.Finally,he said,"Hello,I'm Gabe.", in an even, confidant tone.Kyle,looking perplexed, answered "I don't give a shit who you are, get the fuck outta here!" Gabe shook his head slowly," Now now, none of that. I'm simply introducing myself.Now,what's your name?"
Kyle was more confused and frustrated than he was mad." None of your fuckin' business, get the fuck outta here, that seats taken." Gabe answered calmly," An empty seat can not be taken, that's why it's empty. If it were taken, someone would be sitting in it. I must say, I find your attitude confusing. I mean, after all, it seemed to me that you and your friend wanted to get my attention, judging from your comments earlier. Now you have it, and I want yours."
Now it made sense to Kyle. This guy wanted to fight, to get back at Brandon and him for the crack about the nail polish." Look man, we were just fuckin with..."His sentence was cut off with a booming "NO!" from Gabe."No,you wanted my attention, now I want yours. That's all. Just your attention. Do I have it?" Kyle had had enough of this,"What,WHAT?"Gabe closed his eyes and breathed deeply." I've told you twice now, you're not listening. I want your attention. More than that though, I want to do you a favor. Probably the greatest favor someone could ever do for someone. I'm going to save your life."
Now the guy was going too far, Kyle thought. As he prepared to speak and end this once and for all, Gabe said," Look under the table." Kyle squinted, and seeing his confusion, Gabe repeated," Look...under...the...table."Cautiously,Kyle leaned his torso to the side, and peeked under the table. He could see Gabe's black boots, his faded jeans, and his arm resting on his thigh. In his hand, was something black. Black and shiny.
"It's a gun, it's real, I assure you. Before you come to your senses and do something stupid, let me tell you that if you scream, or attempt to leave this table, I will kill you."
Those were the exact 2 thoughts Kyle had after realizing that it was a gun, but now he couldn't think about anything. He couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't think. His mouth was open, trying to form words.Finally,he managed," Look man, I got money, right here, I got money, just take..."
"Stop talking.", Gabe said calmly." You're panicking. I didn't say I WAS going to kill you. I said if you do those two things I mentioned, I WOULD kill you. As long as you sit there, like you are, you will live. I don't want your money. I want your attention. Do I have it now?"
Kyle nodded, afraid to nod to fast of hard."Good.",said Gabe." Now I can do you that favor I spoke of. The favor is this. I'm going to teach you a lesson. Give you some insight into the world and how people react. You might not realize it now, but this lesson might save your life one day." Kyle listened, he understood the words, but it didn't make any sense to him. His mind was racing, his face was warm and tight.
"You see, I was simply trying to order a meal, minding my own business, when you and your friend decided to make fun of me for no reason other than your own amusement. You saw the way I looked, the way I dressed, and decided that because we don't look alike, it gave you the right to pass judgment on me, humiliate me, because I'm different from you."
"But therein lies the problem. We are different, aren't we? Perhaps I don't think the same way you do. Perhaps I don't respond to stimulus the same as you. It's funny, even though you and I look and act different, you feel that we're alike enough to feel safe in mocking me, because you don't fear any repercussions." Kyle was confused, the man was speaking to fast, and all Kyle was thinking was he didn't want to die.
Sensing this, Gabe elaborated."See,I know what you're thinking. Even though you're scared, you feel somewhat confidant that I will not shoot you in a public place in broad daylight. You think this because you can't imagine yourself doing it. You think no one would be that brazen when there is no chance of them getting away with it. You're trying to figure me out by comparing me to you."
He was right, Kyle thought. He was terrified, but he didn't think this guy would kill him in a crowded restaurant. Rob him,maybe,but not kill him. Gabe continued," Which brings us back to the problem. What if I told you I have no family. No friends. No job. No prospects. In short, nothing to lose. When you have nothing to lose, you have nothing to fear. I would not hesitate to kill you in front of all these people, and then calmly walk out the door. I wouldn't even run. What then? Would that change your perception of the situation?"
Kyle stuttered,"Uh,Yes.Yes you're right, look...I have money. My Dad's a lawyer, he can..."Before he could finish, Gabe interrupted." You are not paying attention.Again,trying to make sense of my actions through your eyes. You're trying to appease me and be done with me the only way you know how, with money and patronizing me. You assume everyone's main goal is the acquisition of wealth, because it's yours. What if I told you that money means nothing to me. What if I told you that I would kill you simply for the act of ending your life. Not for money, not for revenge, just to do it? What then?"
"I..I don't know...",was all Kyle could say, his eyes beginning to water." Of course you don't. You can't relate to that because you wouldn't do something like that. It's the same with my clothes, my hair maybe. You don't understand why I would dress like this, so you mock it." Kyle responded," No man, I don't have a problem..."Gabe cut him off." No no, it's ok.It's ok.It's human nature. Don't think lying to me is going to keep me from killing you. We've been through this."
Kyle was out of ideas, and he knew it. The man had anticipated every response, and Kyle could think of nothing to say or do that would make him happy. He just sat, tears rolling down his face. Gabe took a sip from his straw, and said,"Shhh,come now. It's ok.I told you, I'm here to save your life. Do you a favor.See,I've taught you a lesson today. The lesson being you never really know anyone. Not everyone is like you, not in race, not in dress, not in reaction or thought, and certainly not in motive or fear. If you and Brandon had simply ate your food ,and not felt the need to speak to me, you and I would have passed each other in life, never to meet again."
Something occurred to Kyle just then, but before he could analyze it, Gabe continued." So be careful, be very careful when you judge a stranger.Mabye the next guy you meet won't be as merciful as I was today. Sticks and stones, sticks and stones...may break my bones...but words might just hurt YOU."Then,Kyle realized it, what had occurred to him." How...how do you know Brandon? How did you know his name?"
Gabe smiled slightly, and reached in his pocket with his free hand."Oh,we met ever so briefly. In the bathroom earlier,kinda just bumped into him. Small world,huh?"He pulled something out of his pocket and slide it across the table to Kyle." You see", Gabe explained," Although my motive with you was to genuinely teach you a lesson about understanding, I am only human. I don't like being made fun of. Every action has a consequence, people have to pay for their actions."
Kyle looked at the thing on the table. It was a brown wallet. There was something on it, something wet and red. He nervously picked it up and opened it.Inside,there was a driver's license, with Brandon's picture on it. Brandon's license. Brandon's wallet. Kyle lips started to quiver, tears running down his face." What...what did you....",was all he could mutter.
Gabe smiled, staring deeply into Kyle's soaked eyes," Think of him as a cautionary tale. The moral of the story, your fate if you fail to head the lesson I taught you today. Don't mourn for him, no no. Don't weep for him, weep tears of joy. Tears that say," Thank God it wasn't me."
Kyle started to cry loudly, snorting and sobbing, as Gabe slowly rose from his chair. He put his hands on Kyle's shoulder, and kissed his forehead." Remember kid, sticks and stones, sticks and stones....",said Gabe as he calmly walked away from the table, and out the door. Kyle was still bawling, his body shaking, clutching Brandon's wallet. He was so loud, people began to stare and point. Over his sniffles and crying, in the background, Kyle could hear the sound of people giggling at him.