“Sorry,” Mark chuckled. White blade marks scarred the once perfect ice. “I couldn’t stop.”
“It’s fine, Mister ‘I can skate insanely fast.’”
Mark laughed and apologized again as he got back up on his skates and brushed his hands against his worn out, now-wet jeans to remove the remaining snow. He then pulled me up from the frozen surface and into his arms, keeping me in his embrace until my skates were firmly planted in place on the ice.
The cold began to sting my face. “Wanna go inside and get some nachos or something?” I asked, the words rising into the air in a foggy cloud of warm breath.
Mark and I headed inside and browsed the limited eating choices the snack bar at Steinberg Skating Rink offered. We eventually decided we’d split an order of nachos with cheese and each get a soda before I realized I had forgotten to bring extra money for food. Mark offered to pay for me.
“No, you don’t have to. I don’t need anything to drink,” I said.
“Trust me, it’s no problem at all,” Mark insisted.
“You already give me your change for snacks after school like every day. I don’t need anything, really.”
“Could I please have two medium Mountains Dews and some nachos with cheese?” Mark asked the cashier, smirking back at me.
“Have a nice day you two,” the cashier said when our order was ready.
Mark gave his familiar ever-confident smile and said “Thanks, I hope you have a great day as well.” Mark carried the nachos and soda over to the small square table I was sitting at. I tore off my black Under Armor gloves and Led Zeppelin beanie. “God, it’s so nice and cozy in here,” I said, breathing soft warm air into my cupped hands, still thawing them from our time outside.
Mark sat across the table from me, set down our food, and took off his green Nike beanie, revealing his mane of light brown hair, in total disarray from the static cling of the beanie, accented with the occasional blonde streak that had not yet darkened with time as the rest of his hair had. He rapidly shook his head, brushed his hair down with one stroke of his hands, dipped his head, and turned it sharply to his right in a swift action that I had seen a countless number of times. As always, this action caused his hair to waterfall onto his eyebrows and then flow to his right just above his striking green eyes.
Suddenly, I heard someone pull open the clear glass door that served as the entrance to the Steinberg Snack Bar from outside. “Hey Falinn!” I knew immediately it was Mark’s friend Charlie, the only person who called Mark by his last name. Charlie sat down just to the right of Mark. “What’s up?”
Mark yawned, checking the time on his phone, and answered, “Taking a break from skating for a while. You?”
“Ana and I are celebrating two months together, so we’re meeting here in a bit. Is Skylar here?”
Mark smiled, trying not to blush. “No, she’s doing a service project with some friends, so it’s just me and Chris tonight.”
“How long have you two been going out?”
“Chris and I have been dating forever. We are perpetually dating,” Mark joked, putting on his best straight face.
Charlie rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean.”
“Next Tuesday will be seven months for Skylar and I if that’s what you were referring to.”
“Nice. Well I’m gonna go get skates, cya later Falinn.”
“Bye. Don’t get too crazy tonight!” Mark waved to Charlie before taking a sip of Mountain Dew. He hunted for the perfect nacho, dipped one into the cup of cheese, some dripping off the chip as he brought it to his mouth, and bit down with a crunch. With his right thumb, he wiped the spilled cheese off of his red hoodie that proclaimed, in bold white letters, “I’M KIND OF A BIG DEAL.”
It was getting dark and the ice was nearly invisible, blocked by the growing crowd of skates. I noticed my skate tapping quickly on the floor. “Do you wanna go soon?”
“Yeah, sure, I’ll have my dad pick us up.” Mark’s dad arrived a few minutes later.
“Hi, Mr. Falinn,” I said as I entered the car.
“Hey, Chris. How was skating?” Mr. Falinn boomed.
“It was fun, but cold,” I answered.
“Mark, how did you do on your Chemistry exam?”
“Uh,” Mark muttered, “I think I got an eighty six.”
“Mark,” Mr. Falinn sighed, “you really need to work harder next time.”
Mark’s eyes widened as he craned his neck forward and roared, “I did work hard! I studied for an hour every night for two weeks before the test, but Chemistry is hard!” I couldn’t remember the last time I had heard Mark raise his voice at someone.
“Well, next time you need to make sure you spend that hour every night applying yourself and not goofing off on the computer with a Chemistry book in front of you. That’s not studying. In the real world you have to earn things, you can’t expect everything to be handed to you. You’re sixteen years old. I can’t be treating you like a kid anymore.”
“Dad, I know.”
“Well if you know, why didn’t you study?”
“Some day you’ll find out the hard way that you need to work to succeed in life, and I hope for your sake that that day is soon so you don’t end up wasting your life away.”
“Okay, I get it!” Mark’s voice was beginning to strain. “I just,” Mark paused. He lowered his head, the emerald embers in his eyes suddenly extinguished by restrained tears. “Never mind.” Mark’s body became rigid. He slowly rubbed his left forearm, covered by his hoodie’s sleeve. The rest of the ride to Mark’s house was silent, other than the sounds of The Beatles’ White Album being played quietly through the car’s speakers.
Once we got to Mark’s house, we went upstairs to his room, something we usually did because of the privacy it offered, since Mark’s dad spent most of his time on the first floor of the house, which contained both the living room and his bedroom. Mark’s room was relatively small, with just enough space for a small bed, a nightstand with a Fender guitar lamp on it, two Fender guitars, a small Marshall amplifier, two sets of drawers, and a very small closet. The walls of Mark’s room were covered in old sports posters, and a poster of two Fender guitars. On the top of one of the drawers there were dusty figurines of old St. Louis Cardinals players and a small lamp. On top of the other, a framed picture of Mark’s mom, who had shared Mark’s striking green eyes. Next to the photo was a small pink heart-shaped box, with the words “Blessed is the love of a mother” on the lid.
I grabbed Mark’s black acoustic guitar, which had a large, long scratch on its left side. I wasn’t nearly as talented at playing guitar as Mark, but I still enjoyed messing around with his guitars, because they were better than the one I had gotten for my birthday when I turned eleven. My eyes searched around for a pick. Usually, I could find one laying around the room. I tapped my right thumb and pointer finger together repeatedly as if, by grabbing an imaginary guitar pick, one would come into my grasp out of nowhere. “Umm…where could I find a pick?” I asked, my eyes still searching, fingers still tapping together.
“Nightstand. Look around in there, there should be a pick somewhere. I’m gonna go use the restroom,” Mark said, exiting his bedroom.
I set down the guitar and opened the door to the cabinet on his nightstand, my searching eyes now concentrated to one small area. The inside of the cabinet was a bit of a mess. There were a plethora of colorful wristbands, some supporting charities such as the Livestrong Foundation and Leukemia Awareness, and some with words such as “Awesome” and “Epic.” There were also a couple of rosaries and quite a few prayer cards scattered around. I started to dig deeper. I found a few necklaces and guardian angel coins, but no picks. There were a few papers with writing on them. I unfolded one of the pieces of looseleaf. “Lions and Lambs” was written in large letters at the top in black pen. The writing went on to state “It’s hard to keep the lion from the lamb when the two creatures become one.” I refolded the paper and continued to excavate the pile of treasures.
My right hand was almost to the bottom of the pile when I felt a sharp pain in my pointer finger. My hand jerked back. I examined my finger. Blood began to slowly swell up in a small cut. I wiped the blood off on my shirt before looking for the cause of the injury. I gingerly picked things out from around the area where my hand had been digging. Suddenly, I saw the glare of metal. My excavation became concentrated on uncovering the source of the glare. I picked some things off of the object and cleared things out from around it. Then I saw what it was. My heart sank deep into my chest. It took my lungs with it, stopping my breath. A razor blade. It was covered in flakes of dried blood. I just stayed there for a few seconds, staring, my mind trying to wrap around what was happening. The air returned to my lungs, but I was still fighting for every breath. I picked up the blade, my eyes locked on its cold blood-covered edge, my vision becoming blurred by tears.
I heard footsteps. I turned my head around towards the door to Mark’s room, not thinking to hide my discovery. I stared at Mark as he looked at me with concern and confusion and then gazed past my face. His eyes grew wide. He stood frozen.
I tried to reassemble the pieces of my shattered heart and speak. “Did you” was all I could manage to push past the tears.
“Yeah,” Mark said, barely audible. He pulled up the left sleeve of his hoodie, revealing big bold dark red letters carved into his pale white wrist. “I’m sorry,” he muttered.
“I love you so much,” I whispered through a river of tears as I gathered him into my arms. I held him, trying to keep the lion from the lamb, though the two had become one, the image of his arm burnt into my mind, the cuts spelling out a word: “WORTHLESS.”