A/N: So, dear floozies, in a very tongue-in-cheek move, I am now the first author to publicly FANFIC THEIR OWN FICTION. (Do you find humor in this? I do!)
Shameless plug: If you are interested in reading Hydraulic Level Five as an entirely independent story (or need a refresher), you can find it on Amazon (also on my profile).
***Hydraulic Level Five on AMAZON*** amazon dot com /Hydraulic-Level-Five-ebook/dp/B00EXC1G0Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1378411426&sr=1-1&keywords=Hydraulic+Level+Five
Disclaimer: These outtakes contains SPOILERS for Hydraulic Level Five (2013) and Skygods (2014). If you never read the stories when they were fanfiction, I recommend putting this on hold (unless you don't mind spoilers…you've been warned).
HL5 Companions Ch. 1 & 2 were written for Support Stacie Auction winners Revrag and Peyotemusic, so be sure to thank them—without their generosity, the vignettes wouldn't have been written.
Hydraulic Level Five: When water pours over an object hidden in the heart of the river, water reverses upstream and creates a whitewater hydraulic. River travelers are often trapped in its dangerous churn indefinitely…
(Hydraulic Level Five vignettes, as told by Samuel)
1. Bank Scout
Before navigating a treacherous stretch of river, a paddler must get out of the craft and scout the rapids from the bank.
When I was eight years old, I fell in love with a girl.
She was a neighbor girl with large hazel eyes who studied me in singular fascination, as if I were a moth breaking free from a chrysalis. And through her intense study she became an expert of me. Reading my moods, knowing when to push and when to back away, and when to make me laugh. If she'd wanted to, she could have rattled off secrets about me as if she were listing my favorite food, color, song, book:
Samuel's greatest fear: falling out of a high-rise window.
Samuel's most embarrassing moment: wetting his bed and hiding the sheets in his closet.
Samuel's most despised pastime: talking about his parents.
But because I despised even thinking about my parents, I never told her that I wet the bed after having a nightmare about tumbling from our high-rise window in Boston, struggling against my mother's arms as wind whipped our hair and clothing and skin, and gray pavement loomed closer…closer…closer. And because I despised talking about my parents, I never told her how my mother—my real mother—had, in fact, been broken and splattered across the sidewalk of the hotel, where she'd fallen to her death not two miles from Fenway Park.
With time came the knowledge that my mother's death was not accidental, and my fear of tumbling from high-rise windows subsided. But my hatred of discussing anything at all about my parents did not. Because, for the longest time, I believed in fate…Rota Fortunae had spun my family to suffer. Medieval, yes, but I truly thought the course of my life was set the moment I was born.
So I loved this girl…and I left her. I left her because I was fated to fall from a high-rise window, her innocent body wrapped in my arms.
Two years earlier, the day before Thanksgiving…
"How are the roads?" my mother asked, glancing up with concern from a chopping board piled with celery and carrots. My father sat on a stool across from her, one of his countless article submissions open on his laptop. Somehow, when I whipped around the outskirts of the Rocky Mountain roads after my trip to Boulder for guitar strings, I knew I'd find them just like this when I returned. Affectionate and content, tucked away in a kitchen fragrant with Thanksgiving pies cooling on counters. I'd missed this kitchen, with its warm oak and tall walls my mother had since painted a rusty red.
And soon, in a couple of hours, this room would be perfect because she'd be here.
"Just wet—no snow." I shook drops of rain from my coat and hung it on a peg in the mud room. One single step into the kitchen and my mother hissed.
"Shoes! I just mopped."
I cast a rueful look as she mumbled about some things never changing, and discarded my muddy shoes.
"I hope Kaye doesn't have any difficulty on the back roads," she said as she started on a pile of mangos for the pie she was making. "Perhaps she should wait to visit until the rain stops." She wiped her hands and reached for the phone.
"No!" I said quickly. Both parents froze. I ruffled my hair, embarrassed. "Look—the temperatures are rising, so the roads won't freeze. And it's a fairly big deal that she even agreed to come over while I'm here, in the first place. I don't want to jinx it."
My father and mother exchanged a meaningful look before they returned to editorials and mangos. But their worry was not lost on me.
Dad cleared his throat. "About that. Tu madre," he stressed, "thought it unnecessary to actually inform Kaye you'd be here."
I frowned, turning to my mother for an explanation.
She sighed. "Oh Samuel. It's just…Kaye is so leery of you these days, especially after your books caused such a storm. I thought if we could actually get her through the door, everything else would sort itself out."
Sort itself out? Not likely.
Disappointment hit my gut as I processed my mother's confession, along with the hope that had climbed to stellar heights. This wasn't Kaye willing to accept my olive branch after five years. This was a set-up, and she was about to be blindsided by my mere presence. This was not going to be the heartfelt reunion I was anticipating. In fact, she'd be furious. She might not even take her coat off before she was sprinting back to her car.
I groaned and reached for the phone. "I'm calling her. Is she at Toms's or Gails's?"
"Gail's," my mother said sheepishly.
I punched in half the number then paused, my finger hovering over the next button. And then it drifted to the 'end' button. I couldn't do it. A coward, I dropped the receiver and buried my face in aggravated hands. "Damn it."
Dad tentatively patted my shoulder, still on edge after our argument last night. I wasn't entirely ready to forgive him, either. Our confrontation had been a long time coming, and we had layers of hostility to chip through. It wouldn't happen overnight.
"I'm just asking you to be realistic," he'd insisted yesterday evening while I plunked on my guitar, as if I didn't already live with my reality every morning I swallowed my meds. "If you plan to let Kaye back into your life, you need to at least tell her what that life will be like."
"My life is as normal as the next person's, Dad," I said, my voice biting. "I've had no moods that haven't been manageable since I started the meds, and definitely nothing so extreme it disrupts my life."
He crossed his arms. "And your little arrest last year—that wasn't disruptive?"
"That wasn't my illness," I fired back. "That was…a relapse."
"The fact that you're willing to deny your behavior was a hypomanic episode tells me you aren't being realistic."
"I haven't been hypomanic since I was in Raleigh, and I certainly haven't had any debilitating moods. Christ's sake, Dad, I've published five books, staged two plays, and built up a fan base that rivals J.K. Rowling. If that's debilitating, then I'd hate to see your idea of normal."
"Watch your language, please. It isn't like you." He gazed at my face with those sharp eyes, as if he could see straight into my head to examine every single malfunctioning synapse. "Samuel, I know you've dealt with this remarkably—you have the greatest resilience I've ever seen. You've always been brilliant and savvy. But even you, son, are fallible. Don't forget what hypomania is, what it does, how it makes you feel. Half the time, you aren't even aware you're in a hypomanic state. Or when you fall out of one."
I pursed my lips, holding back an even angrier retort that would simply add credence to his assertions—my moods were not quite under control.
Given all outward appearances, I'd been functioning normally for five years and no one, save for my parents and Caroline, knew the mental battle raging in my brain. By now, I was an expert war strategist when it came to battling funks and highs, and I thanked God for my natural inclinations toward logic and reason. I'd fought long and hard to keep my mind grounded. If I'd been a flighty person, this illness would literally have been the death of me, long ago. I knew better than anyone—my mother, my father, my therapist—what I was and wasn't capable of. And after five long years of sparing Kaye the enslavement which comes with loving someone like me, at last I could offer her a healthy mind. She deserved that much.
"I am done having this discussion with you," I said darkly. "Kaye wants to see me, period. You and Mom will refrain from interfering in this matter. Am I clear?"
My father only stared me down with a mix of sadness and regret. I looked away and refocused on the song I'd been writing for Kaye since noon, trying to forget that he'd read every single one of my books five times over, clinging to my bizarre words in my absence…
My mother's steady chopping broke through my thoughts. "Samuel," she said quietly, "for what it's worth, I think she'll be happy to see you again. If she's upset, let me take the fall for tricking her. She'll understand why I had to do it."
"Because she hates the sight of me," I grumbled. Now I knew where my father's piteous looks were coming from. Kaye didn't want to see me, after all. Perhaps I was deluding myself as he'd hinted, thinking I could ever be to her what I once was. But, God help me, I had to try.
"She doesn't hate you. She's afraid to see you again, I think. Kaye has such bravery in everything she does, except when it comes to you."
"Can you really blame her, Mom, after what I did? I left her in a horribly cruel way."
"You were sick—you couldn't help it."
"My illness is not an acceptable excuse for abandoning and cheating on my wife."
"It's an explanation, not an excuse. One is what one is, and it's time to stop hiding, hijo. It's something Kaye needs to hear. She's grown so much stronger, so confident in recent years. She could handle…everything," she urged.
I glared at my mother, then my father, wondering if they had organized this joint plan of attack before I'd set foot in Colorado. Both were suddenly very keen on hitting Kaye with every sordid aspect of my mental struggles before she had a chance to wish them "Happy Thanksgiving." But I knew Kaye better than either of them. Thanks to her parents' failed relationship, the entire time we were together, long before my illness struck, she was waiting for the other shoe to drop…perhaps she had a bit of the Rota Fortunae fear in her, too. And she was rash—if I spilled everything at her feet, from the drugs to the moods to my parents, she'd panic and run. No, a little at a time was best when it came to a skittish Kaye.
Mom gazed at me with hopeful, shining eyes. I clenched at my hair and relented a bit.
"I'll tell her. Just not today. Today, I simply need to convince her to spend more than five minutes in my presence."
"But you will tell her," my father said, a statement rather than a question.
"Yes. I'll tell her." Some day.
When I was eight, I informed Sofia I was meant to be in love with the neighbor girl. My adopted mother cooed, smiled, hugged me and told me what a sweet boy I was to believe myself in love. She went on to explain that at my age, it wasn't really possible to be in love—even though I was certain I loved Kaye.
And I was certain. I knew it was possible—entirely possible, given I was already an oddity. I was the brainy boy who corrected teachers. I was the quiet boy who knew things that no child should know. I learned quickly that five-year-old boys who spoke about things like night clubs, little white pills, vodka, blades and cutting, sex and death ended up in the office of a pompous prep-school shrink. And because I was different and knew about these things, I knew Sofia was wrong—that I could be in love with the neighbor girl.
But with every other fleeting childhood fancy, the idea was forgotten as some other fancy took hold, discarded in my closet like a toy whose novelty had worn off. And yet, the feeling remained.
I swirled the amber whiskey in my glass, watching as the crystal caught the dim light above my parents' basement bar and colors fractured against my hand. There would be no sleep…not tonight. With the meds I was taking, I wasn't supposed to touch alcohol. Yet here it was, warm and ready and numbing.
It wasn't until years later, when I became a wordsmith, it occurred that my problem was not a child's inability to be in love. My problem was the English language. The Greeks have four separate words for 'love'—agape, eros, philia, and storgē—each with a slightly different connotation. In English, we have one word—love—that can mean a thousand different things:
I love the ocean.
I love my family.
I love music.
I love you.
I love cars.
I wish there was a word in the English language to describe the love that is pain and ceaseless in devotion. The kind of love I could destroy myself over, and gladly. But there was no one word. Because we are frail beings who only use a small percentage of our brain capacity, it is impossible for us to describe the strength of love we can hold in our hearts for another. And because I was a child as well as a frail being, I couldn't explain to Sofia, or the neighbor girl, what was in my heart.
All I could say was "I love you, Kaye."
I rolled the glass between my fingers again and snorted. Healthy indeed, my broken mind mocked. Just down the damned drink, you coward. Get it over with.
She was here this afternoon, in my arms. I'm older, wiser. But why was I still unable to make her understand how I loved her? Me, a master of words. There was nothing I could say that she would believe, now, after all these years. English is sadly lacking. And so, apparently, is my judgment.
I was so wrapped in my wallowing, I didn't hear the back door open and close, or see the hallway light flick on. And I didn't hear the heavy footsteps of my friend as he tromped down the stairs, into the dark basement.
Angel immediately snatched the glass from my hand and sniffed, his nose crinkling. "I thought Big Papa C locked up the liquor cabinet."
"He still thinks I don't know where he hides the key."
He sighed, not returning my glass. "How much have you drank?"
"Not a single…fucking…drop."
"Could have fooled me, bro. I hear you and the parental units pulled a fast one on Kaye today."
I sat up sharply. "You've talked to her? How is she? What did she say?"
He plopped into an armchair across from me. "No, I haven't talked to her. But Danita said she's pretty messed up. It was all I could do to keep your sister from storming over here and clawing out your eyes. Dude, I could have warned you that making nice with Kaye will take more than a pretty song and mango pie."
"She really hates me, then."
"Yeah. It's only because she's still so hung up on you, in spite of everything."
"No, Angel. I don't think she is." I may have poor judgment, but I wasn't a fool. I understood the irreparable damage I'd caused better than him or Danita, or my parents.
Today had been a disaster. A fucking disaster. I should have known better.
I played the overconfident golden boy. It didn't fool her for a minute.
I tried to walk her back to an earlier, easier time. She resisted every step.
I pretended we were still best friends and the past five years hadn't happened. And she let me have it.
But the words that hurt the most…Kaye never wanted the marriage.
Why hadn't I listened to my own consternations all those years ago? I thought we were too young. We still had so many things to worry about, like college and finances. If I'd once stopped to consider why she really wanted to marry me—because her parents didn't believe in marriage—I would have listened to those consternations, loud and clear. If we'd waited, maybe things would have been different.
But she'd wanted that damned fairytale. And because I loved her, I gave in. I fucking wanted to keep her, and look where it got us.
Never again would I consider dragging her into dark places with me.
"Anyway, it's the way it should be," I said firmly.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Angel scowled. "You're just giving up?"
"Trust me, you don't want your friend around a sick lunatic. There's a reason I stayed away and that reason still exists. Dad's right—it always will exist. It's better for Kaye if she's not around me."
Angel looked thoroughly confused. "Man, you always did have some major self-loathing issues. Whatever went down can be fixed—"
"You don't get it," I cut in harshly. "I can't be fixed. I'm not normal. Normal people pass the meat counter in the grocery store and think 'those steaks would be great on the grill' or 'we need a pound of hamburger for spaghetti tonight.'"
"Seriously man, have you been drinking? Let me smell your breath."
"Do you know what goes through my head?"
"No," he frowned.
"I see a row of steaks and from the blackest cave of my mind, thoughts escape. Strange images, like toe tags and body bags, and carcasses—just a reminder that life ends at the charnel house; that we're always decaying, always dying. It's…not pleasant, Angel. Frankly, it's insane. And I certainly don't want Kaye hanging out there."
He was quiet for a long moment. I kept my head down, so I only heard him dump the whiskey down the drain and the soft clink of the glass as he left it in the bar sink. I felt him sit across from me, his clear eyes heavy on mine.
"Does this always happen when you go to the grocery store?"
"Are you depressed?"
"Only sometimes," I repeated.
"Why didn't you tell me?" He squirmed uncomfortably, and I saw the blatant fear and sorrow in his face. Guilt clouded my conscience. I offered him a smile.
"I didn't want to put you in a bad position. Danita doesn't know and I prefer it remain that way, at least for now. She can be…unpredictable."
"Dani does tend to force issues. And she'd definitely tell Kaye if she knew."
"Kaye can't know, Angel," I said gravely. "Do you understand why?"
"Yeah, I get you. Kaye's a damned martyr. But man…" He scrubbed his face, torn. "Maybe you should let Kaye decide what's best for her. She's a smart mamacita, and super strong—give her a chance. She might surprise you."
I nodded, suddenly envious of all the time Angel was able to spend with Kaye. They'd obviously grown closer in my absence.
"Is she happy?" I asked softly.
"Yeah, she's real happy. She's a big name in Boulder now, what with her marketing business and her hot little ass the ticket to score." He grinned, then took pity on me. "She misses you a lot, though. She'll never say it, but she does. You two always had that weird connection, you know?" He thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "You should invite her to a concert or something. She'd like that."
A small flame of hope rekindled in my chest. "Do you think she'd go?"
He shrugged. "It's worth a shot, as long as you don't try to trick her again. You know better than anyone that she hates it when people treat her all fragile and stuff. Just ask her out, dude—a friendly little concert. Music's your thing, remember?"
"Maybe," I answered, already knowing I'd be scanning the Denver Post for upcoming Kaye-ish gigs. My beautiful neighbor girl had loved me, once. Perhaps she could again.
In spite of everything, I still wanted her to. I wanted to believe I could change my fate. That there was such a thing as free will and choice, and I had the weight to defy Fortunae—even after her wheel felled me time and again.
I defy you, stars, I mused grimly.
Shameless plug take 2: Again, if you are interested in reading the new version of Hydraulic Level Five (or need a refresher), you can find it on Amazon (also on my profile).
***Hydraulic Level Five on AMAZON*** amazon dot com /Hydraulic-Level-Five-ebook/dp/B00EXC1G0Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1378411426&sr=1-1&keywords=Hydraulic+Level+Five