It was one of those rare moments when Shao let an entire record play. Honestly the wackness was preferred over Zeke drunken blubbering. Shao’s efforts to comfort the poet were on going. Presently, they were on Shao’s king sized mattress, only a bottle of bath tube whiskey lay between them. Zeke had red rimmed eyes from tears. His knuckles were white where they gripped the neck of the bottle.
“This always happens.” Zeke wiped the snot that had mixed with his tears away with his arm. “Since the fucking eighth grade this – Back and forth. Here one day gone the next. Let’s just be friends – bullshit.” Oddly enough it seemed his deep voice was muffling his words more than the alcohol.
“Ah huh.” Shao replied as he finished off the blunt they were sharing. He’d stopped counting the times his wordsmith would come to him in low spirits. It wasn’t always from Mylene. Sometimes it was the insensitive suits he worked for. Or a lingering memory of his mother that had shook him. Though Shao knew he came to the temple to crank out a song. The venting was only part of his process.
“She had said she was for real this time.” Zeke took another swig of whiskey. “Yet I am always the one who has to drop everything for her. She never does the same for me.” He must have swallowed too much or it went down wrong because he turns away and coughs viciously into his elbow.
Shao takes the bottle from Zeke with barely any protest and swallows down some liquid courage. “Can I ask you something, Books?”
With his head down Zeke gives a nod.
“If she hurts you so much, why you stay?”
He gets the answer he expects, love, without an ounce of hesitation. That’s how Zeke was. He could fill simple words with so much passion. Which only intensified when the wordsmith spoke of love. To Shao, the way Zeke spoke of love must be what those old poets spoke of. The kind of splendor only found in dusty books. The type of books, men like Zeke only seem to understand. The sort of love, men like Shao had stopped believing in at some point in their lives.
“What makes you think you really love her?” Shao says, squinting his eyes at Zeke. He takes another sip. “Passion ain’t always love. It’s not easy to tell them apart but they ain’t the same.” He took one more gulp of whiskey, just to get the last words out. “Seen the kind of passion you two have kill and destroy people, man. And it doesn’t always come in bruises and brawls. Sometimes it’s just about owning somebody. Having one person with their needs met and not giving a fuck for the other person because they just want to keep them.”
Zeke’s reply isn’t as quick this time, “Well I guess she means a lot to me. Always has.” For a moment he shuffles around on the mattress. Won’t even look at Shao. “I know we’re not as good to each other as we should be, we let our passion get out of hand, but she my first love.”
“First love.” Shao mumbles “How often that first love ever last love?”
“Look I know you never felt love –”
“I’ve felt –” Shao says before he can catch himself.
“You’ve felt – ” Zeke parrots him and then his mind pieces it together. “Fuck Shao, since when? And with who?”
And just like that Shao’s throat tightened up. No words come out.
The silence seemed to only make Zeke even more eager, “Oh you gotta tell me!” Zeke flashed his teeth with such joy, yet Shao still felt threatened. As Shao kept quiet Zeke’s smile dropped. “Don’t mean to pressure you Shao. Thought it be nice to hear some good news, is all.” Shao always found it bizarre that Zeke was somehow even more moody when drunk. Zeke sat up straight on the mattress and moved closer. They were shoulder to shoulder now, one of Zeke’s long arms laid casually behind Shao’s back. The smell of whiskey hung on his breath. The heat from his mouth was magnetic, but Shao felt too heavy to move. His body weighed down with each pound of his heart. Then Zeke leaned into Shao’s side and whispered into his ear. “Who is the girl who conquered Shaolin Fantastic?”
A cold shutter ran through his body as Zeke’s hot breath shot over his ear. He should move away. Get out of this before he does something stupid. But he doesn’t. He never does. He always only goes as far as Zeke lets him.
“Is this like, a ‘free people’ thing?” Zeke seemed to pull away from Shao only long enough to get a good look into his eyes. “It don’t matter if it ain’t no girl, Shao.”
Finally Shao turns to Zeke and really looks at him. The tears are all dry now and his lips are curved into a dopey grin. “I wanna hear about the person who makes my man happy.” With that Zeke runs a gentle hand back and forth over Shao’s shoulder.
“Alright.” He can give Zeke this. Let him be happy for him. “But I ain’t naming no names.” Shao brings his hands together. “They loyal. It’s like they get more loyal every day. And sometimes the shit they say. I don’t know it gives me peace.” A soft smile crept on his face. “You know I’m not much on talking.” Shao spun the cap back on the whiskey bottle. “Talking isn’t hard when it’s just them, though.”
Somehow Zeke’s smile had gotten even dumber, “Sounds like they really down for you.”
Shao shrugged off Zeke’s arm, “It’s not like that.” He put some distance between the two of them. “Pretty sure they don’t see me that way. Don’t see men that way either.” With the whiskey in his hands he shuffled off the mattress. The liquor cabinet was only a few steps away, but that little distance helped loosen him up.
“They work for Fat Annie with you?”
Shao closed the cabinet. The song had ended a while ago, but he needed something to distract him right now. “They don’t do shit like that. Tried to get them in on the hustle, but they weren’t having it.”
The temple was bigger than Shao’s dojo had been. Even though the turn tables were only on the other side of the room it was still a ways away.
Zeke practically had to yell just to be heard by Shao. “Have I met them?”
“Yeah, but you probably didn’t notice.” Shao replied. For a moment Shao skimmed through his records. The only wack thing he could stand right now though was the record he’d just played.
“You should introduce me.” Zeke yelled again. A soft laugh followed after.
With a snort Shao started the song again. Then he went back to the mattress. Didn’t sit down this time though. Instead he simply stood close by. Hands in his pockets.
Zeke huffed out a laugh. “This better not be like that fake ass girlfriend who guards your pumas.”
Shao squared his shoulders. “Nah, this one’s real.”
“You know, if this person is as tight with you as you say, they should meet your brothers.” Zeke’s louder than he needs to be. His voice firm. Unyielding.
“Doesn’t matter it’s never gonna work out.”
Zeke shuffled off the bed, “Then let the get down brothers met them. Test the waters to be sure. If there’s a possibility, you should at least try.” His voice was considerably quieter, yet it still held so much power.
“Ain’t gonna happen!” Shao shouted in reply. His entire body was beyond tense right now.
“Why are you fighting this so hard? I’m just trying to help – ”
The music cut off as Shao knew it would. He knew this record by now. Still he screamed his reply. In the solitude of the temple, his voice rang out. Bouncing off the vault ceilings, “Because they’re too busy with their butter squash queen!!!”
There it was. In the open now. There was no hiding anymore. Shao hoped that this wouldn’t hurt the get down brothers. The closest thing he ever really had to family. Zeke called out to him. Trying to feed him calming words.
“Drop it, Books!” Shao shouted, his voice cold. “This conversation never happened.” With a bit of showy acrobatics he kicked himself off the side of the wall, “Act like it’s some unfinished bars in your Rhyme book and leave it alone, wordsmith.” And he jumped out the busted window.