d a m n a t i o n
Disclaimers: The title and entire basis of this story is taken from the song, 'Hero' by Enrique Iglesias. It's sort of like a written form of a Music Video. No infringement is intended. It is recommended that you listen to the song when you read the story. Sometimes words can only do so much. Full Disclaimers found here.
This is the second part of the Lyrical Ballads. It is a complete story in itself.
Then, there were times in life when specific moments were committed into your memory. Every single color, movement, sound, scent and look in that one moment is stored right down to its smallest detail. These were moments that you made separate from the monotonous events of your life. These were moments that you would drag out of your mind at the oddest times of the day. These were moments that would make a faint smile touch your lips as a wistful look overtakes your face.
Being in the bar with Maxine sitting next to me was one of those moments. If listening to her sing was an exceptional experience, then having her tell me that she had her eyes on me all the while I had mine on her was one of epic proportions.
Sometimes I wondered if people actually realize that it was the simplest of things that created the greatest beauty and stirred up the most powerful emotions. Words, being one of the most fundamental ways of communication, never failed to amaze me with the kind of intensity they could convey.
I felt the weight of Maxine's stare as I thought over my answer. She, whom I have just shared a hello with mere moments ago, wanted me to leave this town with her. I did not even know her last name. Then again, I knew less than that when I left my manuscript for her to read days ago. What did I hope to accomplish then? What did she hope to accomplish now?
I poised my pencil over my notepad, readying myself to write my answer. Who cared why things happened like they did? There were times in your life when you had to take a chance; this was one of them. 'What time do we leave?'
Her answering smile took my breath away.
Yet... I snuck a peek at the songstress who introduced herself as Maxine Lawrence... it felt right being here. Her eyes met mine for an instant and I quickly turned away, finding it more comfortable to look at the sparse, dry land that we were driving alongside.
She had started talking a little about her brother, Andrew. Listening to her low speaking voice was strangely soothing, and I found myself relaxing enough to drift off.
My own brother died when I was ten. We were playing by the water hole that we had discovered in the patch of woods when he lost his footing and fell. When he did not emerge from the water, my first thought was that he was trying to scare me. It was only minutes later when I finally realized that something was wrong and jumped in after him.
He was much larger than me even though we were twins. I could still remember his voice and sparkling eyes whenever he teased me about my small frame. Then, I would have given anything to be larger so I could take him down. Now, what I would not give to have him beside me, even if it meant being laughed at.
I had a hard time dragging him out of the water. On several occasions, I thought I was going under myself. When the paramedics arrived, he had already slipped into a coma. The doctor said that his head had probably connected with something hard when he fell, and the lack of oxygen did not help.
By then, I had already convinced myself that I was the cause of Caine's death. If only I had jumped in immediately after him. If only I were stronger.
I stopped speaking after that. My parents did not notice. I think they were too involved in their pain to see mine. When they finally did notice my silence, it was too late. I think they were more than relieved when I left for college; seeing me reminded them too much of their loss.
"Chase?" I was pulled back into the present by the inquiring voice. Maxine spared me a glance before returning her attention to the road. "Are you hungry? We could make a pit-stop." I nodded, trying to rid my chest of the all too familiar ache. Some coffee would be good.
"Just now. In the car. You were thinking about something... unhappy. Do you want to talk -- I mean, tell me about it?" My first thought was to crawl deeper into my shell, but the genuine concern in her eyes halted me.
I had never told anyone about Caine before. People said that twins shared a connection that bonded them even more closely than blood did. When Caine died, I felt as if half of me had gone with him. His death had numbed, rather than pained, me initially. Thereafter, I made sure that I did not speak of it so that I could save myself from the inevitable pain.
Maxine must have seen something in my expression that spelt out my reluctance to share because she immediately reached over to cover my hand with her own. "It's okay, Chase. Maybe some other time." I felt a light squeeze on my hand and gazed into my coffee with a faint smile.
I took out my notepad and pencil from my pocket when Maxine's breakfast arrived. She smiled her thanks to the waitress just as I looked at her, and the vision made me swallow hard. I might have seen and heard her at her most passionate while she sang, but her smile was of an equal, if not more, powerful quality. Her eyes met mine again. Self-conscious as I was, I had no strength to pull away from her gaze.
"Have I told you how much I enjoy your eyes on me?" I think she enjoyed unnerving me more. I lowered my eyes again, but I knew she could see the smile playing on my lips. "Oh, wait. I wrote a song about it. How could I forget?" she said in a teasing tone, trying to convey her playfulness. I scribbled something and pushed my notepad towards her.
'How indeed. It was a beautiful song. You sing beautifully'
My smile widened as she blushed.
I turned to my companion, noting how the sun bathed her face in its warm glow. "If only we had the right gear. I'd really love to spend the night under the stars," she murmured as she quickly finished topping up the gas. I followed her lanky body to the cashier with my eyes, marvelling at how good she looked in an orange, sleeveless top and loose-fitting blue jeans. Her booted feet stirred the dust around her as she walked.
"The cashier said that there's a town just a few miles down the road. How about we check it out? We could stay there for a while if we like it," she said when she returned. I shrugged, then paused before getting into the truck. "What?" she asked, seeing my hesitance.
I walked over to the driver side door, pointed to myself, then at the steering wheel. "You wanna drive?" she guessed. I nodded, smiling brightly. She chuckled at the obvious delight on my face and climbed into the passenger seat without answering.
I shadowed her movements, started the truck with a load roar, released the handbrake and stomped on the accelerator without waiting to see if she had her seatbelt on. "Holy Mother of God!" she exclaimed as we sped off, leaving a whirlwind of sand in our wake.
"Cold?" Her breath tickled my face. I shook my head, mesmerized by the crackling fire. It was a good thing Maxine had a Zippo lighter with her. We might never have gotten a fire started otherwise. I hugged my knees to my chest and leaned towards the fire. "Smoke?" I reached out for the offered joint and took a long drag from it.
We stared silently at the fire for a long time before she spoke. "I'm usually the one who don't speak," she said in an amused voice. Maybe it was the open air. Maybe it was the nice, warm fire. It might even be the effects of the joint. Whatever it was, it made me feel like sharing something about myself. I rested a hand on her arm, causing her to look up. I started mouthing the words 'My brother' slowly as I pointed to my chest.
She nodded as she caught on to what I was trying to do and shifted herself so that she was facing me fully. I told her about Caine in an unfamiliar way, finding that the words came easier after an awkward start. Sometimes I had to repeat myself a few times before she got what I was trying to say, but eventually, she got the whole story by reading my lips and hand movements.
"I'm sorry," she said at the end of my story. I shrugged, not knowing what had come over me. I could feel her still looking at me and I turned to meet her gaze. There was a longing in her eyes as her hand lifted and a single finger gently touched itself to my cheek. I flinched when I saw the moisture on the digit and quickly brushed a hand across my face. I did not know that a tear had slipped.
"Chase?" I took a laboured breath. "Thank you for sharing that with me," she murmured even though I refused to look at her.
"I got us a room," she said, handing me a key. "Is it okay? It's much more economical," she added at my uncertain look. I nodded. "Good. I'll go see if anyone can help me tow the truck back here. Will you be all right on your own?" I nodded again.
I flung myself onto the clean sheets after a long, refreshing bath. Loud knocking woke me up from my brief nap, making me blink in surprise. It took a moment before I realized where I was and another before I got up to let Maxine in.
"Sorry. Did I wake you?" Her smile was crooked and it warmed my belly. I spied the bags in her hands and reached out to help her with the remnants of our belongings. "That's all right. I got it." She brushed past me and unloaded her burden on the single chair in the room.
"I see you made yourself comfortable. Nice shirt," she commented, making me blush when I remembered what I was wearing. The Winnie the Pooh T-shirt was so long that it reached my knees. It was the only thing I could find in the bags we had taken with us earlier that I could wear without having to put my dusty pair of jeans back on.
She chuckled at me as she rummaged through her things, picking out clean clothes. "Don't be shy. Wait till you see my Spiderman undies." My blush deepened just as she thought it would. Her throaty laugh followed her into the bathroom.
I was dressed decently by the time she exited the bathroom. She took one look at my white button-down shirt and beige-colored shorts, and frowned. I jerked my head to ask what it was she found displeasing. Her long, wavy hair was blown dry but still looked damp at the tips. She crossed the room in two long strides and fixed a wayward collar. I felt a rush of self-consciousness engulf me again, freezing me in position.
"Chase?" I liked the way she always called my name in that questioning tone. I don't believe I had anyone say it as often as she did. When out eyes met, my pulse raced. She had such an expressive face. Right now, she was fixing me with a look of tenderness and fierce determination. "I won't let anyone hurt you like your parents did," she promised.
I pulled away, feeling panicked at Maxine's straightforwardness and the accuracy of her words. How did she read me so well? How did she know that even though Caine's death pained me, it was my parents who caused me the most suffering when they ignored my loss?
Then, I got a little angry. Why was she doing this? What right did she have? Did she not know that promises could be broken? Why was she giving me so much to hope for? We were mere strangers. One day, we would go our separate ways. Nothing binded us to each other.
'Don't,' I mouthed, shaking my head and backing further from her.
"Don't what?" she asked, refusing to let it go. "Don't care for you? Don't talk to you? Don't fix your collar?" I rolled my eyes at her lame attempt at easing the tension. I went over to my notepad and started writing.
'You don't know me enough to say things like that' I handed the notepad to her and watched her face settle into a grim expression.
"I know you think that this is absurd," she started. "But I really do care for you. Do you know I stayed up all night to finish your manuscript? Do you know how many times I read it? If any of those words you wrote were true, then you're wrong. I do know you."
She softened her expression and cupped my cheek in her palm so that I would look into her eyes. Did she not know that she was acting in a bizarre manner? We barely knew each other. "You touched me. In here." She rested her free hand flat on her chest. "And, as absurd as it may seem, I do want to take your pain away. If you'd let me..." she trailed off, still holding my gaze.
As I stood there, a million thoughts rushed through my head, not a single one coherent. Ever since I laid eyes on her, Maxine had taken me off-balance every single step of the way. Dare I believe in what she was saying? Dare I trust that she would keep her promise? It was completely absurd but I was helpless to do anything other than what I was about to do.
I watched as happiness flooded her features when I nodded. I still could not figure out why she was doing all this but I could not care less. I sank into her embrace, soaking in the warmth that she radiated, feeling safe and cared for. It felt good to not have to be alone anymore.
Would you tremble
I can be your hero baby
Would you swear
I can be your hero baby
Ohhh I just wanna hold you,
I can be your hero baby
I can be your hero