When the Heart Falls

By: Karpov Kinrade



LESLIE STICKS HER head out of the pickup truck, and her long hair catches the wind, flying out behind her like a blond wave. "Yeehaw!”

She hollers like a cowboy in an old western, and I wonder yet again what I’m doing on this date.

Ducking her head back into the truck, Leslie stretches across the seat, placing her head in my lap. "Cade, I'm bored. Let's do something fun. How about the lake? Some skinny dippin'?" She traces her finger up my thigh, her touch light through the denim of my jeans. "Maybe distract you from whatever has you lookin' so serious?"

Ah yes, that's why I'm on this date. It's supposed to be a distraction, but nothing seems to pull me from my own melancholy thoughts, not even a beautiful, if somewhat vacuous, girl.

"Sure, we can do that. I just have to go home and feed my brother first." I turn right on the dirt road, dust catching on the tires. We're already on my family’s property, horses and cows grazing in wide fields, the Texas sun baking the land with all the heat of the mid-afternoon summer day, but we still have a ways to go to reach the ranch house.

"I didn’t know you have a baby brother. But can't someone else do that? Like your mom or something?"

"I promised to do it today. It shouldn't take long." I pull up to my house, a sprawling ranch-style home with strong horizontal lines, low walls and wide front and rear porches. The roof is galvanized metal, and limestone in the walls gives it a rugged look.

"Nice house, though I expected something bigger given the Savage name and reputation," Leslie says. "Like, one of those Beverly Hills mansions you see on television."

"My dad doesn’t like to flaunt our wealth. He thinks we should live modestly, not extravagantly." Still, there's an elegant simplicity to the architecture of our home that I admire. It's not flashy, but it's high quality and well-designed using local natural resources.

The heat, a living thing you can almost see, beats down on us as we walk to the front door. Trickles of sweat leak down Leslie’s long neck, strands of her hair sticking to her body.

Cold air assaults us as we enter the house, attacking the heat and chilling our skin. Leslie shivers in her tank top and cut off jean shorts. I take off my Stetson, a rule my mother enforces religiously, and place it on the hat rack by the door. With a callused hand I push my hair out of my face and lead the way to the family room where the television fills the house with sounds of cartoons. Next to the couch, slumped in his wheel chair, sits a 16-year-old boy with the mind of a 2-year-old.

I pat his hand and smile. "Hey, Stevie, how’s it going today?"

My brother's eyes follow me, half his mouth curving into the semblance of a smile as he croaks out a noise that I recognize as his greeting for me. His eyes shift to Leslie, and she shuffles from one foot to the other while twirling a piece of her hair and avoiding eye contact.

"Stevie, this is Leslie, my friend. Leslie, this is my brother, Stevie."

She looks up, smiles a fraction, and looks back down again. "Nice to meet ya."

Stevie grunts again and Leslie jerks, as if startled. I shouldn't have brought her here, shouldn't even be with her right now.

A big black woman walks into the living room from the kitchen and stops, fists on her ample hips as she eyes me. "Cade Savage, you know you shouldn't be bringing nobody here. Your daddy don't like nobody seeing him."

"Martha, we're not hurting him," I say. "I'm on a date, but I promised Stevie I'd have lunch with him today. What's it going to hurt?"

She sighs, but I know she'll give in. She always does. "Fine. Whatever. Just don't be crying to me when your daddy gets in his temper, ya hear?"

"I hear." I lean in to kiss her on the cheek. "You're a peach, Martha."

She swats me away. "You charmer, you know that don't work on me." But she smiles as she leaves the room.

"How’s he doing today?" I follow her into the kitchen to prepare Stevie's lunch.

Leslie scrambles after me, clinging to my hand as if something might attack her at any moment.

I extricate myself from her grip and assemble my brother's lunch and supplements.

"He be doing okay, same as always," Martha says. "He misses you, though. Don’t know how he’s going to react when you’re not around anymore." Her tone is kind, but her words still sting.

I grab Stevie's meal and join him in the living room, moving his chair to face me as I feed him. It's a messy process. More food smears his face and falls on to the napkin around his neck than actually gets into his mouth, but I persist until he's eaten most of it.

With a wet cloth, I wipe his face clean, taking care to get it all without pressing too hard. "How’s that? You feel good?"

He nods his head a fraction, eyes speaking more than his body can. I might be imagining it, but for an instant, I think I see a spark of something in his eyes, the boy he was before.

I ruffle his brown hair, the same color as mine, and take his dish into the kitchen to wash.

Martha snatches it from my hand. "I'll finish up."

"You're not the maid, you know. I can wash it myself."

She scoffs at me. "Hush now, boy. I may be Stevie's nurse, but you don't think that involves washing a dish now and again? Now you get on with your date. That girl in there don't look like she can handle much more of this."

"It's my fault. I didn't tell her about Stevie before we came."

She pats my cheek and I head out, calling goodbye to my brother as we leave, my heart heavy each time I think about all the ways my family has changed, all the things we've lost in the last few years.

"I'm sorry about your brother," Leslie says, startling me from my thoughts. "What happened to him?"

"An accident. But I don't want to talk about him. Let's go have some fun.” I don't feel the words I'm saying, but I'm hoping the whole 'fake it 'til you make it' philosophy applies to moments like these.

Leslie turns up the radio, flipping through modern rock, Christian and classical until she lands on a country music station, and starts singing along.

The sun sets, casting long shadows over the hot land, lighting up the sky with oranges and pinks and yellows.

Setting suns always seem sad, beautiful but tragic in their way. It's another goodbye, a farewell to a day that can never be relived, never be recaptured. It's gone forever, lost in imperfect memories of what might have been.

Stars burn bright in the sky, the full moon reflected in the lake as Leslie splashes through moonbeams while chattering about her summer plans. Her words dissolve around me as I gaze at the sky, body resting against a small patch of grass near the lake.

I don't notice when she stops talking, but it's impossible not to notice when she walks out of the lake, nude body dripping with water, long wet hair falling down her back. My body reacts as any man would, but my mind is still distracted by the future—and the past.

She dries herself off, throws the towel on the ground next to me and lays down, her long leg draping over mine as she presses her breasts against me. "You're overdressed for this event." She pulls up my cotton t-shirt and slides her cool hand under it, then leans in to kiss me. Her mouth tastes like lake water and bubblegum. I respond as expected, kissing her back, but she pulls away. "What's up? You don't seem into this at all."

"Nothing. I'm fine." I reach for her, initiating another kiss, which is preferable to talking, but she slips out of my hands.

"I can tell there's something. Is it your brother?"

Ignoring her question, I pose one of my own. "Do you ever wish you could just do what you want?"

"Don't you do what you want?" she asks. "I mean, you’re Cade Savage. Millionaire."

"My dad's the millionaire. I don't get my inheritance for another five years."

She rolls her eyes. "You know what I mean. You can have anything." With a slender finger, she twirls a piece of my hair. "And anyone."

My lips curl up in a smirk. It figures that everyone thinks my life is perfect, why wouldn't they? They only see the whitewashed facade that is my life, not the stench of death that lives in my home, corrupting everything and everyone. "Hypothetically, if you had what I have, the money, the car, the great family with the family business.... Everything. Would you give it all up for something you really wanted to do?"

She frowns, her full lips turning down into a pout. "Would I lose all the money?"

"In this hypothetical situation, yes."

"Depends. What do I want to do?”

My mind spins, landing on the center of my childhood fantasies. "Something you've dreamed about doing your whole life."

"Like being a Disney Princess?"

I shrug. "Sure."

"But that's impossible."

My eyes wander back to her, leaving the stars in the sky to their own dreams. "But if it wasn't? If you could really be a Disney Princess?"

"If it wasn't, then… " She thinks about it and smiles. "I'd be a Princess."

"You wouldn't miss all that money? How about your family?"

"Oh, I'd miss them all right, but I'd be happy. Truly happy." She flops onto her back, staring up at the sky, perhaps dreaming of being a princess. "How many people can say that?"

I nod, smiling. "Not many."

"Not many." She takes a sip of the wine cooler by her side. "Besides, as a Princess I'd better have some fucking money."

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