Drew Matheson snapped her camera repeatedly as she took shot after shot of the bride-to-be getting her hair done. She moved on to the bridesmaids next, crouching to get a few different angles. She heard the excited chatter around her, but she was in her zone now and quickly tuned them out. She stepped farther back to get a few shots of the five girls together, and they all stopped talking to smile at the camera.
Drew paused to flash them a grin. “Looking good, ladies.” She took several more pictures until she was satisfied she’d gotten plenty of good poses. She was silent as she unscrewed the attachment on her camera and placed both in her shoulder bag. Some days it seemed she’d been taking pictures forever, but it was just in the last year that she’d started a business out of it. After winning numerous photography contests, as well as having the opportunity to showcase her work, Drew had decided to try her hand at weddings. So far, her idea to branch out had been paying off. As stressful as weddings sometimes were, they paid well, and Drew hoped one day to have her own real studio — not just something out of her mother’s basement.
The rest of her Saturday flew by, and the wedding was a success. Drew worked hard moving around the church during the ceremony, snapping at every angle possible. She had been hired for five other weddings in the past few months, but instead of getting used to the ceremonies, she found she was even more emotional throughout each one. Right now, she could hear the vows from the groom, and thoughts of her failed relationship with Kris filtered through. She wiped her damp eyes in between clicks of her shutter, but her tears weren’t happy ones. That was supposed to have been her and Kris. They hadn’t been an official couple for very long — forty-seven days to be exact — but she’d felt it, as she presumed Kris had; a connection so strong that she was certain he was her future.
By the time the reception and dance were coming to an end, Drew’s stomach was growling and her feet felt like they would fall off at any moment. She limped to her car. The weight from her camera bags was just about all she could take. Falling into the bucket seat of her Honda Civic, she paused for a minute before gathering up the last of her energy to drop the bags on the passenger side. She closed her eyes for a brief moment as she tried to get her bearings.
Her cell phone buzzed.
Drew let out a loud groan, fumbling in her purse for the gadget. There were several messages, mostly from her best friend Courtney.
Drew let out a tired chuckle, shaking her head and scrolling down to view a message from her mother. Hi, just making sure the pork and potatoes in the fridge are for me to take to work?
Goodness, what would the women in her life do if she wasn’t around to support them every day?
She started the car, too exhausted to respond to the texts immediately, and slowly drove out of the parking lot. She headed north in the direction of her neighbourhood. Ten minutes later, she pulled into a drive-thru, unable to stand the hunger pangs any longer. She ordered two Big Mac meals and a large ice cream, then swung her car into the nearest vacant parking space. Her hands shook as she held the burger, taking lustful bites in between licks from the cone. She stuffed bite after bite into her mouth, washing it down with the diet soda she’d ordered. In a matter of minutes, the food was gone and Drew wished she’d ordered more fries. Still hungry but not wanting to go through the drive-thru a second time, she figured she could eat more when she got home.
The trip to Kitsilano seemed to take a lot longer than usual, and after ten minutes of driving, her stomach started cramping. The large meal she had just eaten was settling, and she felt as if she’d packed on a hundred pounds. What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she control her eating anymore? She was pathetic and weak. It was no wonder Kris had left her. She felt disgusting.
Drew sniffled, wiping at her now damp eyes, and turned onto her street. No, it was more than a feeling — she was disgusting.Ashamed that she had pigged out so much, and on fast food of all things, Drew ran upstairs to her bedroom as soon as she was home. Thankful she was alone for the time being, she went into the bathroom she shared with her sister and lifted the toilet seat. She didn’t even need her toothbrush this time. She put two fingers deep into her mouth, and it started the reaction immediately.
Gagging, Drew’s stomach clenched a second before she threw up her only meal of the day. Tomorrow, she thought as she vomited a few more times. Tomorrow I’ll eat better. Completely exhausted, she wiped up the bowl and flushed the toilet. Brushing her teeth quickly, she flicked off the lights and crawled into bed.
The last thing she saw before she shut her eyes for the night was the man in the picture on her nightstand. His jet-black curls fell over his dark brown eyes and, oh, his smile — even after everything that happened, it still had the power to make her weak in the knees. Knowing it was ridiculous but unable to stop, she reached out to trace his smile with her finger. As she did every single night, she wondered where he was.
I regret that evening in the rain; I regret making you cry —
It’s so often my anger is much of the same.
Kristopher McLean scribbled furiously with his pen across the notebook. He absently took a bite of his bacon as he continued to write. The words poured out of him, and he hurriedly tried to get all his heartache down on paper while it still made a bit of sense.
A lot of yelling and swearing;
I know better than to speak ill to the woman who is caring.
“Would you like another cup?”
Startled, Kris darted a quick gaze above him before glancing into his still half full cup of coffee. He shook his head at the waitress. “Nah, better not, Rachel. Thanks.”
“What are you working on this early?” she asked, craning her neck to try to get a peek at his notebook.
Kris frowned, purposely hovering over the pages to block her view of his personal scrolls. “Nothin’.”
She smiled, seemingly unfazed by his gruff response, and left to serve another table. Sighing, Kris tapped the pen against the tabletop, eyeing the clump of disorganized poetry lines he’d just finished scrawling all over the papers.
It’s been too long without you
Too many hours passed
Too many days across the city from you
Two long months of my life in the trash
Simply saying I’m sorry won’t fix what I’ve done
But given the gamble I’d say it until my tongue had gone numb
Shit, I’ve replayed those last few moments with you out on the street
Must be a thousand fucking times
And after each beat by beat of the basketball
Every sip of drink and puff of smoke
Watching your tears stream down your cheeks is stuck on repeat
I regret that evening in the rain
I regret making you cry; it’s so often my anger is much of the same
A lot of yelling and swearing
I know better than to speak ill to the woman who is caring
What I’ve done can never be erased, I know
I’d spit my words out blow by blow
Row after row ’cause I’d feel real low-low
I remember wanting to hurt you like you hurt me
I now know how wrong those thoughts had been
Now I find myself thinking of your smile
Wondering if, like me, you watch the sunrise every once in awhile
Can’t help but wonder if you thinkin’ of me
This ain’t how I thought my life would be
Now I’m cryin’, yeah I’m dyin’ inside
Keep waiting for these feelings to subside
But they won’t; as if they can’t.
Kris skimmed over the verses. He knew — like with every other poem he’d written — he’d struggle with an ending. How could he find an end to all the hurt pouring out of him? It was simply much easier to write verse after verse about how lonely he’d been since he’d parted ways with Drew Matheson. He wasn’t much of a romantic, but lately the epic story of how he lost the only person who’d really loved him haunted his every waking minute. Words were a story on a page, and Kris’s story was bursting to the surface, no matter where he was. He scratched his black beard, lifting his coffee cup to his lips and glancing around. At seven in the morning, only a few tables in the diner were occupied. The four waitresses on shift gossiped several feet away.
Since torturing himself by reminiscing about her wasn’t enough already, Kris’s gaze landed on the open newspaper across from his empty plate. Frowning, he reached to pick up the classifieds and in the process knocked over his remaining chocolate milk. Swearing, he quickly snatched up the paper, shaking off the excess liquid.
“Need some napkins?” Rachel asked, beside him now.
“Uh, thanks,” Kris replied, realizing how gruff he sounded, but he just didn’t have the energy to behave civilly. What was the point? Everybody he liked either gave up on his ass, or he pushed them away before they could. It was best if he kept people in general — not just beautiful women — at arm’s length. He took the napkins from her and dabbed them on the newspaper. Once he was satisfied the page was salvageable, he tore out the ad in the middle. A sad smile stretched his lips, and he slowly traced Drew’s ad with his pen. Drew’s Photography, covering all of B.C. Competitive pricing and several contests won. Call for your booking today! She had finally put herself in the newspaper. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Kris tucked the ad into the back of his notebook. Swigging back the rest of his now cool coffee, he focused once again on his latest poem. The notebook was relatively new, since he’d accidentally left his journal at Drew’s house when they’d broken up. The old, tattered journal was sacred to him, and it had taken a long while to accept the fact that he might not see it again. Truthfully, the only thing that calmed him was knowing that Drew had promised to keep his writing safe. After the way he’d reacted to her publishing pictures of him, he never could summon the courage to return for the journal.
Sighing, he picked up his pen again and began to write.
And I’m left thinking ’bout you —
wondering if your heart is broken too.
PARTY IN CHINATOWN
THE FOLLOWING NIGHT
Kris pushed through the crowd of partiers, nodding at a few people he knew as he made a slow progression toward the living room. He’d lost his friends, T-Bone and Tyrell, somewhere in the mix, and he was willing to bet he could find Dobie playing a drinking game of some sort. Sure enough, as he entered the spacious living area he noticed his oldest friend standing across from another dude. People were looking on, and they were playing a game Kris was well familiar with. He took a long haul of his bottled beer, watching as Dobie aimed the ping-pong ball across the table with the intention of scoring into his opponent’s plastic cups. The game was traditionally played with beer, but if Kris knew his friend at all, Dobie would most likely raise the stakes in the game, usually including but not limited to hard liquor in replacement of beer and a pill dropped into a few random cups. Kris had learned at an early age just how many layers there were to Dobie, and constantly needing to take risks was one of them.
Dobie tossed the small ball smack into the centre of his opponent’s plastic cups. He let out one of his infamous cackles, and the long scar on his face became more prominent as he laughed. He noticed Kris and waved him over. “What up, homie?” he called out to Kris over the music and the chatter around them.
Half out of respect for Kris and half out of fear of Dobie, the crowd made an opening so Kris could get through. He was anxious. He hated tight crowds and being the centre of attention. Even with his decision to grow out his facial hair, with his height and commanding presence he was easily recognized by many around the Eastside and surrounding areas. He was, after all, a part of Dobie’s crew, and nobody would dare cross him. There had been a time in the past year when he would have given everything in his power to give that title away. He thought he no longer needed to be defined through their gang, no longer needed to be branded a ruthless man, or a hopeless one who screamed poverty and crime. There had been a time in the past year when he had gleefully let all of it go because someone who believed in him said he could. These days, however, when he was alone in his apartment after suffering through a job he didn’t like, coming back to the streets of his hometown was something of a blessing. At least he could count on this, could count on Dobie.
Kris greeted his long-time friend with a casual fist bump and a grin. “So what name you got for this if it ain’t beer pong?”
Dobie returned his grin, and from the wild look in his eyes, Kris guessed he’d gotten a shot or two of his own pill splendour.
“Dunno, man. Ain’t thought much on it,” Dobie replied, focusing on his opponent’s turn now. The guy tossed a ball into one of Dobie’s cups on the right. True to his word, Dobie lifted the cup to his lips and swallowed the liquid surprise in one big gulp. Smacking his lips, he picked up the ball for his turn again.
“You ain’t worried ’bout getting fucked up by TNT? You know damn well it’s laced in just ’bout everything,” Kris stated, keeping his voice casual. He hadn’t played this version of beer pong before, and he honestly didn’t think he’d be crazy enough to. Maybe a year ago he would have, before he’d discovered something worth living for.
“Always the pussy, McLean,” Dobie sneered as he tossed the ball. His aim was off, and the ball bounced off the table and onto the floor.
Kris rolled his eyes. He finished his beer and glanced around for somewhere to set the empty bottle. He lit a joint and in between puffs asked, “You seen ’Resa?”
“Angie, get my boy another fuckin’ beer,” Dobie barked out to a girl behind Kris. To Kris he shrugged, uncaring. “Do I look like I keep track of all the fucking bitches in your life, dawg? Keep hold of yer own woman.”
Kris stiffened instantly at the personal dig. He balled his fists, ready for a fight. “How many times I gotta tell you not to disrespect women, asshole?” In all his life knowing Dobie Clarence, and even after lucking out with a good mama like Anita had been, Dobie had always shown a certain level of distaste for women. He was around them long enough to satisfy his physical needs, but besides that, his constant disrespect pissed Kris off to no end. There had been more than a few times that Kris witnessed Dobie beating on a girl on the Eastside. As much as it pained him, and at times sent him into a fury, Kris never had the courage to stop it.
Except for once, and he’d paid for it dearly. Dobie said he ain’t killed her. Why you thinkin’ ’bout that shit, dickhead?
Dobie laughed, and again the sound came out as more of a cackle than anything. He pushed Kris back a step or two, gesturing to the young girl with an unopened beer in her hand. “Fuck off, and drink your beer.”
Kris glared at him for a moment before glancing down at the young girl. She must have been fifteen at most. “Thanks, Angie,” he said with a small smile.
Dobie let out a string of curse words, and Kris turned curiously back to the game. His eyes widened as he took in Dobie’s opponent. “Dobie, fuck! We gotta do something!”
The unfortunate dude playing Dobie’s screwed-up version of beer pong had dropped to his knees. His face lay sideways on the table, his eyes still open. Dobie gave Kris a droll look. “’Less I got healin’ powers I didn’t fuckin’ know about, the fucking punk be dead, homie. He lost the game, obviously.”
Kris stared at him, unable to hide the disgust on his face. “What is wrong with you, man? When you gonna stop playin’ these death wish games? Fuck, Dobie, what you gonna do with the stiff now, huh?”
He’d barely gotten the entire sentence out before two guys from the crowd of onlookers were next to them. Mystified, he watched as they nodded to Dobie before stepping on either side of the dead man. They grabbed his arms and dragged his body across the living room floor. The hushed silence now in the apartment was deafening as fellow partiers stopped to watch the show.
“He OD’d, for fuck sakes!” Dobie snarled, loud enough to be heard throughout most of the apartment. “It ain’t the end of the fucking world. Quit gawkin’ and get yer drink on!”
Kris shook his head in disbelief. How was it possible that life on the Eastside could still surprise him?