Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes
Dylan’s garage—with its nice gym equipment, with its fancy bikes on their fancy hooks on the wall, with its expensive cars that didn’t even include the one his parents were driving that wasn’t there at the moment—had this open, hollow feel to it despite the four of them taking up so much space, filling the air with intensity and riled hormones.
In the driveway, the Mustang glared them down with sun-reflecting headlights splotchy from dirt roads far from here. The gentle warmth of an autumn breeze coasted down the street ruffling HOA-controlled lawns with a hoity-toity attitude. Like the breeze had stepped up on the social ladder when it soured over Ol’ North Main.
“Your friend,” said Dylan, with an eye roll at the word “friend” as he turned to Robbie, “thinks he can just barge into my house. But, man, I don’t want lice. Mom would kill me.” But he smiled as he said it, reminding Brendon of when Dylan had pestered Donna Pierceman with idiotic questions during art class, as if art was beneath him, a useless endeavor when one could be a lawyer, a doctor, an upstanding member of society rather than playing finger-paints.
“Lice,” snapped Casey. “I’ll give you lice.” And he stepped forward, fist pulled back, but slow-like. As if Casey were thinking about punching Dylan rather than having already decided to do it.
Brendon grabbed his arm. “He’s just being a dick, trying to rile you up.”
Dylan laughed, a giggle almost, a lilting up and down sound that rankled along Brendon’s spine in a pitter-patter of condescension and classism. Robbie had hopped the steps by now, had approached with concern Ving across his forehead. He gave Dylan a light punch in the arm, one of those hey-stop-it, but hey-you’re-kind-of-right sorts of jabs.
“No one thinks you have lice, Case,” said Robbie. “But what are you doing here?”
“No one invited you,” added Dylan.
“That’s damn obvious,” said Casey. “Can’t invite the folks from the wrong end of Castlebrock, can you? Or is it just those you can use?”
Brendon rocked back, putting space between him and Casey. Use. The thought hadn’t occurred to him before, and now, with it chilling in the air between the four of them, he wondered, casting Robbie a glance as the idea of it percolated insidiously, round and round, without any real logical sense to its confines.
Robbie sighed. “We’re just chilling, man. If you weren’t so clingy and jealous you’d be invited more.”
“Like a girl,” laughed Dylan. “Holy crap, you’re like a girl.”
Brendon frowned and Robbie sent another of those jabs at Dylan’s shoulder, this one a little harder, a little more hey-stop-that. A fire hung in the air. Casey’s fists closing, opening, closing, like he was prepping for war. Brendon had seen that posture before, seen that stress, that carefully controlled fury that settled his features. When Casey was facing down his dad. When Casey knew he couldn’t lash out or else he’d have it worse, but oh, how he wanted to break free.
Like that Le Mans, tearing up the road, burning everything in its wake.
“Well, he is,” said Dylan, doubling down despite Robbie’s warning jab. “I mean, look at him.”
And Robbie did. Robbie looked. He sighed, his shoulders sagging, then a smile as soft as downy fur crept over his face and a film of pity glazed his eyes.
When Brendon tried to remember a different moment, a moment that would define the exact second Robbie had figured out Casey’s one-sided, unrequited, hormonal-driven, desperate lust (because Brendon refused to call it love), he couldn’t pluck another image from his mind. There must have been a realization—Robbie’s eyes widening, his head cocking as he considered, the accepting shrug and nonchalant thought zipping across his mind because girls like Tori Kel or Evelyn Yert took up too much space for a guy like Robbie to really dwell. Or care.
That wasn’t this moment.
This moment was the very second Casey realized Robbie knew. This moment was the moment Brendon felt his stomach lurching, the concrete floor swirling, his world narrowing to the boy he loved and the boy he could never be.
And then it was gone. The floor stable. The world steady.
He was standing too far away now. Casey was telling Robbie and Dylan off, using words Dylan said were too big for a guy like Case. Words like “elitist” and “homophobic,” and when that didn’t work, the words devolved into “snobbery” and “rich cunts with Mommy and Daddy’s purse string choking them off.”
Between Dylan’s cynical commentary and Casey’s defensive-born insults, Robbie ran hands through his hair with a tired groan.
“See, this is why we have problems, Casey. You’re always thinking the world is out to get you. That everything that happens that you don’t like was done purposefully to piss you off.”
“And you’re always thinking you’re better than the rest of us!” snapped Casey.
“Ha!” said Dylan.
Robbie tossed a quick and dismissive “Shut up” at Dylan, then said, “I never did. I never have. But damnit, Casey, you make it damn hard to like you when you lash out like this.”
Casey snorted. “I don’t need you to like me.”
That lie curdled in the air in the way it deserved, causing Robbie to shake his head and turn to Brendon. “God, what do you see in him? You’re better than this.”
This time, Casey decided to punch rather than merely considering it. This time, it was his fist in Robbie face, like payback from years ago.
At the time, Brendon only saw the similarities between the two moments: Casey sniping about Tori Kel; Robbie taking a jab toward Brendon. He had romantic thoughts that hummed like a confused love song, about Casey breaking through the vitriol turned toward Brendon. As if Brendon was someone to be defended, because of the sheer depth of feeling Casey held.
It was only years after high school when Brendon finally saw the slight differences: the fear that pushed Casey’s fist into action, the terror that he truly might not as good as the rest of them, that he might be less than.
Next Chapter Coming September 8th