Rise - Chapter Ten- Gabriel Arnold

RISE: Chapter 10

By Gabriel Arnold

“Hey, you’re Rusty right? Rusty Klein?”

Rusty pushed a pile of soggy peas across his plate, separating the carrots from Wednesday’s mystery meat. Three years he’d been going to this high school and they still couldn’t cook a half decent pork chop. Rusty sighed. ‘Here we go again’ he thought.

Without looking up at the energetic freshman to his left, Rusty quietly said “…Yeah.”

The slim, lanky kid grinned wide and sat down on the bench next to Rusty. “Awesome, I wasn’t sure if it was you or not at first. You look different than the commercials.”

“People have been telling me that.”

In fact Rusty looked very different from the TV ads. The competition’s advertisers had managed to track down old photos he had posted on the internet and were using them in media flyers. Of course, those particular photos were from before he started training, over half a year and ten pounds of muscle ago. Now his shirts clung tightly to his body, stretched taut across his wide back. He stood almost a full inch taller but sat like an old man, his shoulders hunched and loose, his eyes distant and head hung low. Gone were the goofy grin and the awkward, twitchy movements. Light red stubble dusted on his lip and chin and small, puffy bags hung under his green eyes. His hair, once a short mop of bangs, was now well past his chin, a thick mess of waves that nearly concealed his entire face from view. He looked like he’d aged ten years in six months. 

The freshman ignored the signs and happily continued on. “You’re doing the Pro/Am, right? Right?”

“No…not anymore.”

The kid blinked twice and paused. He wasn’t expecting that. Maybe he hadn’t heard correctly. “What? Why not? You’d probably crush it!”

Rusty gripped his fork hard but gently placed it on the table next to his plate. He still hadn’t looked up from his food. “Change of plans.”

“Huh? What does that mean?”

Rusty exploded. He whipped his head to the side and screamed at the kid, “It means I’m not doing it, all right! Or do you need me to spell it out for you?!”

The poor kid’s eyes shot open and he leaned away, frightened and confused. Several girls at the table behind them fell silent at the outburst, making the scene even tenser. Rusty gritted his teeth, jaw locked solid. A few agonizing moments later the kid took the hint and stood up, backing away slowly without a word. He turned and walked away, glancing back just once to see Rusty brush a few strands of hair out of his face and return to pushing around his peas and carrots.

One of the silent girls finally spoke up and said quietly to her friends, “So much for ‘like father, like son’ huh?”

 Across the dining hall, Jenna and Lee sat next to each other, frowning. Even in the enormous, noisy lunchroom they could hear Rusty’s explosion. That made the third time this week and god knew how many before that. It was almost a daily occurrence at this point but it had been worse before. First, Rusty had disappeared from school for three days. Then he came back moody and silent like a bad soap actor. Then he started lashing out at everyone who even mentioned his father or the words competition or ‘Pro/Am’.

Jenna turned around and looked at Rusty, sitting alone near the windows. She leaned over to Lee and said, “There he goes again. Wish I knew what was going on with him.”

Lee turned around and stared at Rusty’s sullen form for a long minute before saying, “Whatever it is, it’s serious. He was always a little touchy but this is the worst I’ve ever seen him.”

“Then why don’t you go talk to him Lee? You’re his best friend.”

Lee turned back and balanced his empty water bottle on edge with one finger. “WAS his best friend, Jen. I tried to say something before but he wouldn’t even look at me. He wants the bridge to stay burned.” Lee stopped balancing the plastic bottle and let it fall over with a hollow thud. “Can’t say I blame him either.”

Jenna frowned again and leaned against Lee’s shoulder, trying to comfort him. “Don’t say that. You already told me what happened, it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t want to hurt him.”

“Yeah, and see where it got me? The worst things always come from the best intentions.”

“Fine, you know what? I’ll talk to him after school. You have to get to work at the library anyway, right?”

“Yup. More archiving to do. I’m telling you, someone should of done that stuff a long time ago…”

 

The final school bell rang and Rusty slowly exited the math classroom, carrying his books loosely under one arm. He walked with quiet, measured steps the entire time, a ghost in the hallway. He came to his locker and sorted out what he’d need for homework, piling it all into his backpack with little feeling or care. Slipping on his jacket, he reached into his pocket and took out his cell phone, numbly dialing a number. The other end rang twice before a female voice picked up.

“Hello?”

“Hey mom. School’s done, I’ll be heading home soon.”

Same time, same place, same call. Soon after the incident with Owen, Rusty had collected his belongings from Kirra’s apartment and moved back in with his mother. There were, of course, severe penalties and conditions. Calling home at the end of every day to let her know his whereabouts was just one of them, and a soft one at that.    

Rusty’s mom replied, “Good, remember to bring home the groceries on the list I gave you. We’re having pasta tonight.”

“Right, gotcha…” Rusty closed his locker and turned to leave, only to bump right into Jenna, who had been hiding behind the door. Startled out of his daze, Rusty stopped speaking and pulled the phone away from his head. It took a moment before he managed to say, “Hey, um, what’s up?”

Jenna grinned a little and said “Haven’t seen at the gym lately. You’ve been avoiding me.”

Rusty stammered and tried to come up with a good excuse but failed. Jenna chimed back in and folded her arms over her chest, saying in a sarcastically stern voice, “Whatever it is, doesn’t matter. You’re coming with me, now.”

Rusty stared down at her, blinking and stupefied, much like the freshman kid from before. He couldn’t risk it. He shouldn’t risk it. His mom had him on a short leash as it was, she’d never, NEVER allow him to go. And he hadn’t trained or even spoken to anyone besides his mother in nearly two weeks. But Jenna just stood there, grinning mischievously, knowing exactly what buttons to push.

Finally, Rusty lifted the cell phone back to his ear and said “Mom, I have to stop by the computer store and pick up some hard drive expansion for a school project. I’ll be home a little later than I thought.”

The other end of the line was silent for longer than he would have liked before his mother said, “Okay, but you call me the second you get on the train heading home. We’re eating by 5 o’clock, got it?”

“Yeah mom, got it.” Rusty ended the call and swallowed hard. It was starting all over again. “What did you have in mind Jenna?”

Jenna grinned even wider. “Funny you should ask…”

 

“WWHHHAAAA!”

Rusty yelled loudly as he spun through the air, tumbling end over end, watching the world turn into a colorful blur. He felt like he fell for an hour before he landed in a pile of foam bricks, sinking deep into the soft pit. Only his head stuck out as he began clawing his way out of the hole for the twentieth time. He pulled himself out of the quicksand and lay out on the nearby spring floor, breathing hard as the adrenaline pumped through his system. “Okay, the trampoline was not a good idea…”

“I could have told you that.”

Jenna reached out a petite hand and helped Rusty get to his feet. He staggered for a second and Jenna laughed, saying, “You okay there, Matchstick?”

Rusty found his composure and dusted flecks of foam-rubber off his shirt, saying, “Yeah yeah, I’m okay. Just not used to that much height from a jump is all.”

“Guess not. Are you sure you haven’t been training? Last time you were here you could barely get high enough to even try a back tuck. Now you’re practically clearing the parallel bars.”

“I swear, I haven’t hopped a rail or done a pushup in two weeks. I don’t know what it is, it’s like I’m lighter than I’ve ever been.”

“That’s probably it you know. The two weeks. You finally gave you and your body some repair time. Although if you were that broken down I don’t even want to know how hard you were pushing yourself before.”

Rusty shrugged his shoulders and glanced at the clock on the wall. The sun was already setting and he had to get going. He turned to walk away and said “I guess. Made sense at the time. Look, Jenna, thanks for all this but I gotta get going…”

“Not yet.”

Rusty stopped and turned back around, exasperated. He held up his hands and said “What, what? What do you want?”

Jenna held her hands behind her back and said sweetly “You haven’t smiled. And you haven’t told me what’s bugging you yet.”

Rusty didn’t even hesitate as he said “No.”

Jenna was stunned. He’d never been that blunt around her before. “But Rus…”

“NO, Jenna. I don’t want to talk about it.” Rusty turned back around picked up his backpack, shouldering it quickly and picking up speed. He started to walk away when Jenna called out loudly,

“Damn it Rusty, don’t do this! Talk to me!”

Just like before, Rusty exploded. It was as if any restraint he’d previously had had melted away, burned to ash in the rage he now felt at everyone and everything.

“Fine! You want me to talk, want to hear what’s bugging me? YOU! People asking me what’s wrong! All these people coming up to me and acting like they’re my friends just because they saw me on TV! People who didn’t give a rat’s ass about me until they figured out who my dad was!” Rusty threw his bag onto the ground. He was beyond help now.

“I’m sick of this, all of it! Sick of school, sick of my mom, sick of being told what’s right and what’s wrong. Sick of PKFR. Sick of hearing about how incredible my dad was! I don’t understand it, any of it! I don’t understand what the hell I’m DOING ANYMORE!”

Rusty collapsed to the ground, sitting down on the blue fabric and rocking back and forth, slamming his fist into the palm of his other hand. Total loss of control. He sat there, taking sharp, shallow breaths as everyone in the gym stopped what they were doing and stared. Jenna too stared, at a complete loss with what to do. She reached out a hand as if to comfort Rusty but pulled it back, unsure and unoptimistic for the first time in a long, long time. She turned away and gestured to the people in the gym, trying to assure them that everything was okay.

Rusty started again, quieter this time. “I’m just…lost Jenna. For years I felt like I was in a bad dream that never ended. Just barely drifting along. Then I started training, started PKFR and I thought I’d finally found a way out of the dream. A way to understand life, something to live by. I could finally start to understand my dad.”

Rusty stopped rocking and hung his head pitifully low, staring at his lap. “But I just traded one dream for another. Only this dream’s a nightmare. Every day I beat my body to hell and told myself I was doing it for something better. I was getting closer to the end. But it was a lie. I hurt my mom and Owen and Kirra, only family I ever had. I lost my friends, lost myself.”

Rusty looked up with watery green eyes and fought against the crying chokes in his throat, “And I lost you.”

Jenna’s lips moved but no words came out. She took a step forward but then retreated. What should she say? What could she say?

“Rusty…I, I…”

Suddenly a phone began to ring. Jenna looked around frantically and realized it was her own cell phone going off. She pulled it out of her pocket quickly and looked at the screen. An urgent call from Lee. “Oh god, Lee, not now…” She opened the line and said, “This is a bad time Lee, what is it?”

Rusty could only hear a constant stream of sounds pouring out from the speaker. Jenna shook her head and said “Whoa, Lee, slow down, what? Is Rusty here? Yeah, he is, but this is seriously a bad time…I really don’t think he wants to hear…fine, fine! I’ll put you on!”

Jenna pulled the phone away from her ear and tapped the screen, turning the speaker on high so Rusty could hear. Rusty listened as an equally frantic Lee exclaimed “Rusty, Rusty! Look man, I know how upset you are right now and I know I’m the last person you wanna hear from, but I have something you need to see NOW!”

Rusty sniffed and said “Go screw yourself Lee.”

“No, Rusty, please! It’s about your dad! I think your dad knew Owen!”

Rusty froze. He stared at the phone in Jenna’s hand and said in an amazed tone, “…What?”

“It’s a video, I found a video. I’m working at the library part time, helping them archive old websites for that national internet history project they’ve got going. I was working my way through an old, tiny video hosting site when I found a video called ‘JK Speaks’. It turned out to be a video of your dad.”

“That’s nothing new, Lee. People still watch his videos today and they still find old clips of him.”

“Yeah but this is different. It’s just him talking but then this guy appears and I remembered you describing that Owen guy you met and, and, aw hell! I’ll just send it to you. You’ve got your phone right?”

“Yeah…”

“Okay good. I’m sending the file to you now with a codec so you can play it. These old video formats are a pain in the ass to decode these days.”

Rusty heard the bing sound from his backpack that told him a new file had been delivered to his phone. He hesitated, watching his phone flash from the mesh pocket on the side of the bag. Finally he reached over and pulled it out, flipping open the extended fiber optic screen and opening the clip. The quality was terrible, even on the small three-inch screen, but the title page was just as Lee had said: JK Speaks.

Suddenly his dad’s face appeared. It was shocking. Like staring into a mirror. His father was young, probably only in his mid-twenties, smiling and grinning from ear to ear. He had the same general features as Rusty, a heavy jaw line and a nose slightly too big for his head. Fire red hair, only his was cropped short and close to the sides. The only major difference was that his father had blue eyes, deep, royal blue eyes that looked like cold winter oceans.

The picture shook slightly as he came into better focus. It looked like a home movie, with someone holding the camera. The man on screen laughed and said “C’mon already! You’re the one who wanted to do this remember?”

A young woman’s voice, pretty and lighthearted, cut in saying, “Oh calm down, it took us over an hour to get here! You could at least give me a few minutes to set up.” It sounded like the person holding the camera was the woman.

JK laughed again and said “All right, all right! Just gimmie a cue or something, I’m not good at interviews.”

The image finally came into good focus and the woman holding the camera said “Okay there, got it. So, introduce yourself, where are we?”

“As if you didn’t know…Ow! Okay, don’t hit me, sheesh! My name is James Klein, JK for short. I am a Freerunner, soon to be professional Freerunner, hopefully. And today we are in a very special place, Notre Endroit. That’s French for ‘Our Place’.”

“Good. Why’s it called that?”

“It’s called that because it belongs to everybody, any Freerunners or Traceurs or anybody who wants to come. You know, our ‘place’, our ‘sanctuary’.”

“Cool. So you just won your third Pro/Am which qualifies you for the National Championships next month. How’s that feel?”

“Terrible, haha. But seriously, it’s an amazing thing, I’ve been practicing hard. If I win that I can finally stop working at the smoothie stand in the gym.”

“That’d be nice. Now, the big question you’ve been getting is how you got that unique style of moving, how you find lines and angles no one’s seen before and do such technical stuff at the same time. Any special trick to it?”

“I wish, than I could write a book and call it a day. Nah, there’s nothing special. It’s just…I don’t know. Letting go, I guess.”

“Letting go?”

“Don’t make me start with this, you hate when I start talking like this.”

“Mmmmm, maybe. But others want to hear it. So spill it Human Torch.”

“Oh nice, a red hair joke, original. Okay, um, where to start…” JK scratched the back of his head and paused, obviously thinking hard on what to say next. Finally he looked back up into the camera and began saying,

“Think back to when you were a little kid. Everyday, you woke up, you got ready, you went outside. Out into the world. Back then everything was new, everything was an adventure. You soaked up the world like a sponge and you asked questions about everything but didn’t question anything. Understand?”

“Nope. But go on.”

“Right, anyway. The idea with moving is to be like a kid again. Ask questions about what is possible but don’t question why, like, what it means or anything.”

“Elaborate.”

“Oh man, this is so hard to say just right, um…you need to stop looking for limits. Stop looking for reason. You go out and just…move, you know? Don’t question whether this movement is Parkour or this movement is Freerunning. Don’t even wonder what is Parkour or what is Freerunning. You go out into the world and do your thing. Worry later about what to call it, if anything.”

“You’re saying we shouldn’t call it Parkour or Freerunning?”

“No, not that…well maybe, kind of. See, my style is just that, my style of moving. There’s no secret or anything, no way to put it into names or words. It just happened that people found my style to be really cool or something. It’s just me being me. Everybody else says it wins competitions and stuff.”

“So then why do you do it? Why train so hard, what’s the purpose?”

“Does it have to have a purpose?”

“Seems like a pretty big waste of energy otherwise.”

“But see that’s the problem! I do this because I love it. This is me, this is how I am, what I do. Do I have to have a reason? Why do I need to question it, to give it borders and things? As soon as you make a jump more than a jump you get into trouble, your head gets all clouded up and you limit yourself.”

“You’re losing me.”

“Argh, okay, it’s sort of like the old debate. You know, Parkour is set, it’s not what you make of it, blah blah blah. And that’s sort of true. It’s not what you make of it; it’s what it makes of YOU. You shouldn’t mold yourself to fit the limits of it, you should mold it to work around you. You find the movement that feels right, that you don’t have to force and that makes you happy. Then you can worry about what to call it, how it works, all that jazz. But I don’t even recommend that much. Just keep it as simple as possible.”

“Is that how you look at life?”

“Hmmmm…yeah, I guess. I feel like you shouldn’t worry too much, worry about fitting a mold. Try everything at least once. You’ll like some things, you’ll hate others. Over time you pull enough things together, give it a certain special twist, and that thing becomes YOUR thing. Just like Freerunning and Parkour. That thing has become MY thing.”

Then, out of nowhere a third, unseen voice chimed in, this one rough and deep, and sounding very familiar. It said, “Sounds like a bunch of hippy bulls**t to me.”

JK replied “Thank you Owen. You’re as eloquent as ever.”

Rusty stared at the screen in a mix of horror and awe. The lens pulled back to revel a tall, muscular man behind JK, diligently training a series of precision jumps. The man was in his mid to late thirties, with a deep tan and a shaved head with only a slight recession of his hairline. His movements were nearly perfect and Rusty recognized the bull-like strength and power right away. When the figure looked up directly at the camera there was no mistaking the pale blue, almost gray, piercing eyes.

It was Owen.

Owen walked toward the screen and said in his characteristically gruff voice “Look, all I’m saying is you can’t go mixing things all up. You can move how you want Jim but don’t be calling it all Parkour. Parkour was…”

“…laid down many years ago by the founders. I know, you say it all the time. I think you need to relax man, all that strict talk and ‘efficiency’ is gonna make your head explode one day.”

Then Rusty saw something that he’d only seen once before…Owen smiling. The big man walked up and wrapped a thick arm around his dad’s neck and squeezed tight, saying in a joking tone, “Yeah, think so? We’ll see who’s laughing when that mugger attacks and I’m in the next state while you’re still flipping off trash cans.”

JK was laughing hard but the laughs came out as little gags. He tapped his hand against Owen’s huge bicep and gurgled “Ahhh, you win, you win! Lemme go, lemme go!”

A pale, thin, and toned arm reached out from behind the camera and playfully tried to pry Own’s arm off JK. “Come on now boys! This was just getting good, it was just what the networks wanted…!”

The camera dropped to the ground but kept filming, showing only the image of three pairs of shoes on cracked cement. After some inaudible scuffling and talking the face if JK reappeared in the screen, turned sideways as he laid on the ground so he could look into the camera. Then he smiled, waved goodbye, and reached over as the picture went black. The entire video had lasted all of two minutes.

Rusty held his phone in his hand for a long, silent moment. Jenna, who had seen the entire video as well, held her phone out in silence too. At last Lee’s voice chirped up as he said “Did you see the whole thing? Was it him Rusty? Was it Owen?”

Rusty slowly closed up the fiber optic screen and shut his phone. He gathered up his jacket, picked up his bag, slung it over it over his shoulder, and stood up. He pulled a hair tie from his pocket, locked his hair back into a mini ponytail, than looked at Jenna. His eyes were shining again. But it was a different kind of shine. A shine of…determination. Of anger. Of desire. There wasn’t really a good word in any language to describe it.

He simply said “Yeah Lee, it was him. Jenna, thanks for everything, but, I gotta go. I have someone to talk to.”

Then he turned and ran for the door, out into the cold, windy twilight.

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Written by Janine   
Thursday, 31 December 2009 06:43
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 21:44