lucks and losses
cold yet caring—not enough—the contest: child’s play—what’s the use of feeling blue?—and cyan frosting
Cold yet Caring
Peter had slipped out of Clementine’s house around five in the morning. He had walked back to his flat in dark, pensive silence. The world around him was dimly lit by old streetlights and nothing else. To walk about in a familiar place—usually blinding with heat and chatter—that was now so empty and black was beautiful to him.
If it weren’t for the constant fear of being jumped.
He ended up at his house a little past six. When he walked up the stairs and past two other doors, he found the door to his flat wide open.
Peter stood for a moment. Vomit began to rise up his throat; he swallowed it down. He walked into the pitch-black hallway, closing the door behind him. He flicked on the lights, holding his breath as he walked about. He was safe, he was alone—
“And where have you been, young man?” An old figure with a tired voice emerged from his room. The clack of her heels made him look straight into her black eyes.
“Hello, Ms. Simian. Why are you here?”
She folded her arms, stepping into the light enough for Peter to notice her burgundy turtleneck. “I know you’ve been alone here the whole week, Peter. You left this morning. I got worried.” She crossed one of her stick-thin legs. “Where did you go?”
He bunched his jacket into his hands. “A friend’s house.”
Ms. Simian sighed and walked to him, heels sharp and violent. “And your father?”
She huffed. “I figured as much.” Ms. Simian now loomed above him. “I know your mother left on some blasted yoga expedition or something rather. Completely ridiculous. I’m surprised you don’t have any damned bruises on your face again.”
She sighed once more.
Not only was Peter’s entire existence a sigh, all reactions to his doings constituted one.
Especially to Ms. Simian.
“I hope you know that if you ever feel scared or unsafe, you can always knock on my door. I’m just across your flat, Peter. Do you understand?” She pursed her crimson, lipstick-lined mouth.
“Good.” She click-clacked past him and walked right out of the door. There was a small sense of safety when it came to the seven decades (and some) old woman, like her turtlenecks and knee-length skirts and her unnaturally black bushel of hair. It was the kind of safety that made one feel as if they were staying at their strict grandmother’s house—a grandmother they knew loved them but wasn’t fond of showing it. That was how Peter felt about Ms. Simian.
He didn’t hesitate to throw himself into the shower. Of course, the place was cheap and the only settings the water had was rust-filled or freezing cold.
Peter chose the latter.
He dressed, swallowed a bit of toothpaste, and eyed his hair.
It was ugly, he thought, just like his XXXL shirt he had fished through his father’s closet to find. Ugly like his scrawny arms and legs.
Alas, there was little time for self-hatred as Peter peeked at the clock that read half past six. He would have to leave his house soon in order to make it to the bakery before any of the other kids. It would give him plenty enough time to pick a spot in the room, in the corner, preferably by himself, but he wasn’t picky. He would block out everyone else.
Except for the older hybrid.
Peter slumped down on the toilet. He hated that boy Jace with a passion. Isn’t it obvious? The way he judged his every facial feature, the amount of times he flinched whenever Jace made eye contact with him, let alone putting a hand on his hair?
Or maybe I’m bad at understanding his poorly expressed emotions.
Whatever the feeling is called, he hated it. With a deep, red, burning passion. It was distracting, honestly. It derailed him of his purpose. It went against everything he stood for. He was not supposed to care about anyone. But he did care about people, and no matter how much it would take for him to accept it, he knew that people cared about him too.
He hopped off the toilet and started out the door, closing it firmly behind him.
When Peter entered the bakery, he could hear the rustle of footsteps and the clatter of dishes behind the storage room door. He would make an attempt to call out, but his voice could barely project above a mumble. His eyes floated up the dark wood of the walls until they met a brightly blinking digital clock reading:
He took a seat at one of the tables and began to observe the place he considered home. The walls and the floor were the same calming shade of dark chestnut, and the chairs were silver and tall. Each of the fifteen tables were adorned with a small, glowing candle in the center; surrounding them were black boxes filled with napkins and cream and sugar packets. The ceiling was high and held five fans.
The Sweetwater’s bakery gave off the bold, profuse smell of coffee, and at random Peter could smell the baking of cakes and chocolate things. It was his favorite scent. His eyes drifted to the clock again; five minutes had passed.
Peter sighed and laid his head down on the table. He wasn’t tired, but he didn’t have any large amount of energy. He was about to shut his eyes before a voice made him poke his head back up.
“Why are you here so early, Pete?” A buck-toothed Emma Sweetwater, with pink braces and one long, raven braid, swung the storage room door wide open. “Hello?”
Peter gave her a long glance up and down. He realized she was wearing all pink except for her classic green shoes, the ones she had worn since third grade.
She rolled her eyes. “You just wanted to talk to my brother, didn’t you?”
Peter didn’t bother to respond.
“Yeah, okay, I thought so.” Emma wiped a bit of sweat off her upper lip. “C’mon, you can help us set up for the class today.”
He stood up and followed the girl into the other room. Once inside, he saw a long, rectangular table with at least twenty wooden chairs. Each chair had a small fondant roller in front of it. To the left of the table was a large kitchen already filled with dirty dishes, bowls of frosting that needed to be colored, and half-baked sweets.
“Wash off the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Once you’re done with that, frost those cakes. You might need to add some food coloring to the cream cheese frosting. Got it?”
Silently, he walked over to the sink and began to scrub plates.
“Sooo, Pete,” Emma sing-songed whilst sweeping the floors. “How’s your summer been?”
“Mine’s been okay. Kinda boring. I’ve mostly been here.”
Now he was stacking dishes upon dishes in the washer.
“My brother’s been applying to some colleges.” She gave him a side look to see if this topic had sparked his interest. She was correct: he had gone completely still. “He’s only got one more year till he’s done with high school. Can you believe how old he is? He’s going to be gone soon.” She swept the crumbs into the dustpan. “And we’re not even in middle school yet. I don’t know, just something I think about.”
Peter slowly closed the dishwasher. “What…colleges?”
“Who knows? One week he says he’s staying in Florida, next week he wants to go all the way to New York to go to Cornell. Hopefully he chooses a middle ground and goes somewhere in North Carolina or something.”
He swallowed and grunted a bit as a reply. Peter slowly walked over to the bowls and looked in. He added a bit of blue dye to the creamed cheese frosting and gave it a stir.
Peter couldn’t see it, but an ugly grimace spread across her face. “But yesterday he got a letter back from Cornell that said he was on a waiting list. I’m not sure what that exactly means, and I don’t think he really knows either. Still, it… scares me. I’m going to miss him. I really take him for granted, Pete. Once he’s gone, it’ll just be me and my mom and this place.” She gestured to the air about her.
“He says he’s going to visit us a lot. He says that he’ll miss us, but I can tell deep down he’s excited to go. He’s been excited to get out of here for a long time. A long time. I’ve always known that this town, that this bakery, that this life… it’s never been enough for him. And his poor girlfriend—”
“Stop,” Peter spoke. Emma shot him a narrowed eyed look before noticing his glistening cheeks and the rivulets of tears streaming down them. She rushed over to him.
“Oh my God, Peter! I’m… sorry. I didn’t know—” She began to hug him.
Peter couldn’t hear it, and he couldn’t feel her embrace.
Not enough, not enough, not enough…