1) This ends sort of abruptly, but I thought it was better that way... I don't know why.
2) The story's split up into a few parts which are distinguished by lyrics. The first is from "It's Cold Tonight" by Aiden, the second is from "Gallows" by Atreyu, the third is from "I Mostly Copy Other People" by The Almost, the fourth is from "Bat Country" from Avenged Sevenfold" and the last one is from "I'm Not A Thief, I'm a Treasure Hunter" by A Skylit Drive.
So now what's next? You let the fire set you free.
If there was one thing that James hated more than anything else in the whole world, it was wet matches. He kept his lighters in his room and nine times out of ten; his parents found them and threw them out. He kept his matches in the back pocket of his jeans, so he got to keep those. The only problem was when he sat in damp grass (and he tended to do that a lot), the matches would get wet and stop lighting.
He loved fire; he'd always loved fire and if you ever asked him, he'd say he would always love fire. No one asked him though. No one even seemed to notice.
He supposed it was better this way; better to hide it. People might have assumed the worst and attempted to get him help that he didn't like. There wasn't anything wrong with him. He just liked fire and he didn't see a thing wrong with that.
It started shortly after he turned 12. James had failed his first math test and he didn't want his parents finding out. He knew they'd find it if he threw it away or tried to hide it. Burning it seemed to be the logical idea.
He took a lighter and lit the paper. He wasn't thinking and held on until the flame reached his fingertips. They were singed. They blistered over by the next day. It was an amateur mistake, but not enough to turn him off of it. The way the flames danced, the way the smoke smelled, the feeling he got as he watched the paper burn; that made him want to do it more.
Almost as quickly as it had begun, it became something of an addiction. James would tell himself that he could stop it anytime; that it was just a phase that he'd outgrow, but he didn't see an end to it coming soon. Like most addicts, James didn't seem to think that he had a problem. Burning things was something he just did. There was no deeper meaning than his body completing the actions. There was almost a sort of disconnect between his brain and his body where he didn't even consider the possible consequences that he could face.
He would put a lot of thought into the fires he'd light. He'd like to say they were lit on impulse (and everyone would believe that because they seemed to think that James didn't put thought into anything other than his appearance), but he carefully thought them through. If he lit a fire, he'd have water to pour over it and douse it. If it was an oil fire, he'd put it out with baking soda. They were always controlled burns. He could control the flames in a way that he never hoped to control himself.
At first, he only burned useless things. Old clothes that no one wore anymore, photographs that his parents had long since forgotten, graded paper that would have sat uselessly in his backpack, the books that sat along the bookshelf that no one ever read and were only for the sake of having them on display. No one ever noticed anything missing and that was what he wanted.
…Or at least that's what he thought he wanted.
There was no gratification in having no one know what you were doing and James realized that pretty quickly. He didn't think that he wanted to be recognized for his mistakes, but being the only one who knew about it was getting a little old.
It was a Wednesday and he remembers it well. He came home from school early and snuck into his parents' room. He looked in the closets and the drawers. He didn't particularly know what he was looking for; just something that they'd realize was gone.
The answer came to James when he spotted a framed picture sitting on his parents' nightstand. It was of the pair 20 years ago at their wedding. It had been taken by his mom's brother, who had died almost a year before he was born. The one in the frame was the only copy and it only took a few seconds for him to decide that it was perfect. He carefully removed the photograph from the frame and slipped it into his pocket. He placed the frame directly in the dusty print that it had been sitting in. He walked out with a vengeful smile and a bitter feeling deep down in his stomach that he wasn't sure that he liked at all.
He made it all the way to the field where he was planning on burning the picture before he realized that he was out of matches. He cursed and hurried off the convenience store where he tended to buy his supplies.
The store didn't look like the safest place from the outside (and truth be told, the inside was worse). It was the type of place that his parents warned him to stay away from, the type of place that they'd never visit themselves. The fact that they'd never visit gave the place more appeal. He'd rather they didn't visit and realize how he spent nearly all of his allowance.
Another reason that the store seemed so inviting was because none of the workers mentioned his purchases to him. They all acted like it was a perfectly normal event for a teenage boy to go in and buy matches, lighters, lighter fluid and gasoline at least once a week. Maybe it was normal, but James was pretty sure that it was anything but.
The man behind the counter had a huge grin when James walked into the store. James hurried over to where to matchbooks were held and picked up a handful. He dropped it on the counter and pulled out his wallet as the man scanned each one. James tapped his fingertips on the counter impatiently.
"You a smoker, kid?" the man asked as he raised his eyebrows. "Smokin' ain't good for you. You could get cancer."
James just plastered a fake smile on his face and nodded. He didn't want to get into a conversation with this man and develop a connection. It might make him tell this man more than he intended to. He paid and got out of that place as soon as possible.
When he got to the field, James sat down in the damp grass and tossed the grocery bag filled with matchbooks next to him. The sky was threatening to rain and James didn't want to be caught up in it, so he grabbed the bag and took out one of the matchbooks. He pulled a match out and dragged it along the worn bottom of his shoe to light it.
He gripped the flaming match between his thumb and his forefinger as he stood up. He pulled the photograph out of his back pocket. He asked the empty field if he was sure that he wanted to do this. He took the silence as a yes and brought the flames to the corner of the photo. He let it burn until the flames became dangerously close to his fingertips then threw it to the ground. He stepped on the small shred of paper that remained and put off the flames right as a raindrop fell directly on the top of James' head. He cursed under his breath and, wishing that he'd thought to bring a jacket, headed off towards his house.
His parents were already sitting at the dinner table when he got home. His dad barely looked up from his steak and James was debating rushing up to his room to avoid having to talk to them. His mom spotted him though and she called him over.
"Have some food sweetie," Mrs. Diamond said with a smile. "Do I smell smoke?"
"I don't smell anything," James mumbled as he slid into his seat and stared at the large pile of mashed potatoes that his mom had spooned onto his plate.
The meal was quiet until his mom made a comment. It was meant to be off-hand, but it bothered James.
"I can't find the wedding photo that I had framed in mine and your father's room. Do you have any idea what might have happened to it? The frame is still there."
James shook his head. "My stomach hurts. I'm just going up to my room."
He must have been dozing off because he jumped when his door flew open. His dad was standing in the doorway with his arms crossed. "There was something that your mother and I wanted to tell you earlier when you rushed upstairs."
James raised his head. "What?"
"What? Where? When?"
"We're moving to Minnesota," his dad said simply. "We're leaving tomorrow. Start packing."
James stood up. "Are you kidding me? You couldn't have told me or something?"
His dad laughed. "I'm the parent. I don't *need* to tell you anything."
"I'm not going!"
"Like hell you're not," James' dad said with a smirk as he retreated.
"I took your stupid wedding picture," James called after him with malice.
"And I burned it."
James' dad turned around and stared straight into his eyes. "That habit of yours isn't half as secret as you think it is. Maybe living in Minnesota can change that."
James didn't sleep that night. After he'd packed all of his clothes and hair products, he collapsed onto his bed and stared at the ceiling all night. James was angry that his father had known all along and hadn't said a word about it. He'd sounded so disgusted when he'd confronted James about it.
James was pretty sure that he was supposed to feel bad about the fact that his dad was so disappointed, but he didn't care either way.
He stayed in bed with his eyes wide open until his mom knocked on the door at 9 am to tell him that the moving truck had arrived and it was time to load it so that could leave. He groaned, but knew he'd have to do it whether he objected or not.
"I'll be downstairs in a sec."
Maybe leaving this town really was what he needed to do or maybe he needed a hole in the head.
Don't think we don't see your scars. Are you afraid of who you are?
If anyone asked Carlos Garcia, he'd say that his life was perfect and anyone who looked at it would probably have believed him. He had parents who loved him and would support him in anything that he decided to do with his life. He had Kendall and Logan, the two greatest friends that anyone on Earth had. He got to pay hockey five days a week. He never missed out on anything and he should have been happy with his life. The only problem was that he really wasn't.
His problems started last year when Kendall and Logan started dating. It wasn't the fact that they were together that bothered Carlos (he'd been one of the driving forces behind the pair getting together in the first place; it was inevitable, really, and he didn't want to have to see them hopelessly flirt for the rest of their lives). It was the fact that the dynamic of their friendship changed.
Everything was normal when Kendall and Logan's relationship started. The trio still hung out every day, but Kendall and Logan would hold hands the entire time. It only took two weeks for things to go downhill.
Kendall and Logan started wanting to hang out without him there. Carlos got that the two wanted to have some alone time, he did. He just never noticed how much he depended on the company of the other two until it wasn't constantly there. He supposed that being alone was better than being a third wheel, but he'd been hopelessly wishing that he wouldn't have to be either.
Making friends was never Carlos' forte. He tried to be nice to everybody, but most people viewed it as him being annoying or needy; so he started spending a lot more time at home, a lot more time being alone.
He always hated spending time alone, but no one ever knew why. He started to think when he was alone. It wasn't the thinking that was so bad; it was the thoughts that tended to plague him. There had to be a reason that he was alone. He wondered a few times if Kendall and Logan were only dating because they were willing to do whatever it took to get away from him. He tried to dismiss the idea as crazy, but he couldn't get it out of his head.
There was one time when he thought he'd finally made a friend. It was Andrea Cooper. She talked to him and laughed at all of his jokes. It was all that he needed in a friend, but that only lasted about a month before she finally cracked and told him with a condescending smirk that their 'friendship' had only been a bet and she'd just won $20 for spending that much time with, as she put it, his 'crazy ass antics' and that must be the reason that even 'those freaks Kendall Knight and Logan Mitchell' didn't want to hang out with him anymore. With that and a curt wave, she left Carlos to ponder his situation.
All he knew was that he wanted to feel better. He tried to remember that conversation that he had had with Kendall and Logan recently. It was some weird thing called 'endorphins'. Logan said that they were some sort of hormone that made you happy. Logan said you could release them by eating good food, exercising, sex, or (and Logan had strongly advised against this one) cutting yourself.
Since sex was definitely out of the question and getting food and exercising would take energy that he didn't want to use up, Carlos reached over to the table that sat next to his bed and picked up the pocketknife that his dad made sure he carried whenever he left the house so that he could protect himself. He opened it up and looked at the blade curiously. He'd never used it, so the blade hadn't had a chance to dull. He pressed his thumb against it and watched as small drops of blood began to drip from it.
He rolled up the sleeve of his hoodie and looked down at his wrist. He bit his lip as he pushed the blade down against the bare skin before dragging it along. He stared at the blood for a few minutes before he went to the bathroom and wiped it away with a damp towel. He buried the towel deep in the cluttered cabinet under the sink and walked back to his bedroom.
Carlos decided that those 'endorphin' things had to be a myth because nothing happened. A few minutes later, a sense of relief washed over Carlos and he felt more relaxed than he had in a month. He decided that if it made him feel that good this time, maybe there really wassomething to this cutting thing.
He knew his friends wouldn't approve if they found out, so he hid it. It wasn't that hard for him to hide; he tended to wear hoodies on a day to day basis. Sometime it hurt when the sleeves brushed up against the cuts that lined his arms and he wished that he didn't have to cover his arms all the time. Then again, it was better than having people ask questions.
Everything was going great before summer rolled around. He grew too warm in the hoodies that he never took off. Not only that, he wanted to go swimming with Kendall and Logan. The three of them did it every summer and it seemed like the only thing that hadn't changed since Kendall and Logan had started dating. He thought about it and decided that he didn't want to wreck their tradition.
Kendall and Logan got to Carlos' house shortly after three pm. He was wearing a hoodie with his swim trunks. Logan gave Carlos an odd look and looked like he was about to question him about the outfit, but Kendall grabbed Logan's shoulder and gave him a look that said 'That's just Carlos; it's what he does'.
When they arrived at their usual swimming hole, Kendall and Logan immediately stripped themselves of their shirts and jumped in. Carlos sat down on the side and sighed. Kendall and Logan exchanged a look before they got out of the water and walked over next to Carlos.
"Are you alright, man?" Kendall asked softly as he took a seat on Carlos' right side.
Logan sat down on Carlos' left side. "Yeah. You're usually the first one to jump in!"
"I'm not feeling it today," Carlos mumbled. "Maybe you two should just hang out here without me. I know how much you guys love being alone together." He hadn't meant to be so rude to Kendall and Logan, but it had felt good and he didn't see himself being able to stop. "You guys have been having so much fun without me for the last few months. Do you even care what I've been doing since then? Probably not. Doesn't matter though. I'm going home." Carlos went to stand up, but Kendall grabbed his arm. Carlos winced.
Kendall dragged him back down. "Why are you wincing? I didn't grab your arm that hard."
Carlos moved himself into a more comfortable position and crossed his arms. "Don't worry about it."
"We're worried about it already," Kendall said as he moved one of Carlos arms free. "Why are you always covering your arms?"
Carlos tried to pull his arm from Kendall's grip, but Kendall was holding on too tightly. Logan reached over and pushed the sleeve of Carlos' hoodie up, revealing all of the marks that lined the inside of his wrists. Kendall released Carlos, who pushed his sleeve back down.
"Why would you do that?" Logan asked as he scooted closer to Carlos.
Carlos shrugged. "I don't really have any friends besides you two," he mumbled as he fixed his eyes on his feet. "When you started dating, I was alone a lot and I got pretty lonely. I remembered how we talking about those endorphin things and how they came out when you got cut or something..."
"We can hang out more then," Kendall said as he put his arm around Carlos' shoulders. "You've just gotta stop this. Deal?"
Carlos bit his lip. "Deal."
A few months passed and the marks on Carlos' arms faded. He stopped wearing his hoodies daily, but his arms still held scars. Sometimes he'd run his fingers along the raised skin and wish he hadn't done it, but there was no changing it. The past was the past, whether he wanted to accept it or not.
They'll ask us where we came from. Where's the place that we blew in from?
After countless objections and desperate pleas from her son, James' mom had relented and told him that he didn't have to start school until he'd been in Minnesota for a while so that he could get used to living there. He was glad that he didn't have to wake up for school, but he doubted he'd ever get used to living here. Besides the fact that it was too cold, he'd only witnessed a little bit of the people in the small town that his parents decided that they had to live in and he'd already decided that he'd never get used to any of them either.
He hadn't been allowed to bring any matches on the plane, so his first order of business had been to find somewhere to buy new ones. He wandered aimlessly around the town and hoped that he'd stumble on a run-down convenience store like the one that he used to visit before he had to move. It only took him five minutes to realize that the pursuit was useless. All the stores were either chain stores like Wal-Mart or Target that he liked to avoid or family owned ones managed by older couples who would probably rather die than sell him matches.
He was trying to get home when he got lost. He had been positive that he'd been headed in the right direction until he reached a park that he'd never seen in his life. He very well may have passed it on his way to check out the town, but he was pretty sure that he didn't. Who was he kidding? He had no idea.
James leaned against a tree and sighed. He just wanted to go back home, back to his old home and not to that house that his parents swore was their new home. He sat down on the grass and brought his knees up to his chest. He tried to calm his shaky breath, but it wasn't working.
He pulled out his cell phone, ready to call his mom for a ride, when it abruptly died. He cursed loudly, which earned him stare from the older couple walking in the park who had chosen to ignore him up until then. He resisted the urge to flip them off and forced himself to smile at them. They shook their heads and left the park. He laid down on the grass and closed his eyes, half-hoping that he'd fall asleep and wake up in his bed.
James woke up when he was nudged in the ribs by what felt like a foot. He sat up immediately and was met by a terrified scream.
"Oh my god! I thought you were dead or something!" a small Latino boy was yelling as he stared at James' now conscious form.
James rubbed at his eyes as he glared at the boy. "You thought I was dead, so you kicked me?"
The boy shrugged as he sat down next to James. "If you were dead, you wouldn't have reacted how you did." He cocked his head. "Why don't I know you? This isn't the biggest town in the world, so I'm pretty sure that I know everyone who lives here… And why were you sleeping in the park?"
"I just moved here," James replied in a bored voice. "That explains why you don't know me and as for the sleeping in the park… I got lost and I don't know where my house is…"
"Where'd you move here from?" the boy asked excitedly with a huge grin (that James had to admit was pretty cute).
"You look like you're from California," the smaller boy said as he stood up. "Come on! We're gonna go find your house! What's your name anyway?"
"James. James Diamond."
The boy stuck out his hand and helped James to his feet. "Well, James Diamond, I'm Carlos. What street do you live on?"
James scratched the back of his head. "I think it's called Mockingbird…"
Carlos nodded eagerly. "That's this way!" he said as he grabbed James' arm and began dragging him in the opposite direction than he was headed.
The pair walked in silence for a few seconds until Carlos stopped walking and looked at James. "You don't look that much older than me and I'm 16. Why don't you go to school or something like that?"
"I'm starting on Monday," James said softly.
"That's cool! Maybe we'll have some classes together!"
James nodded and Carlos began walking again. All they had to do was turn left from the park and take a right down three side streets. James' house was the first one on the right.
"That's my house," James announced when they almost walked past it.
Carlos smiled. "There was this really nice old lady who used to live there!" He frowned. "I think she died…"
James nodded slowly. "I gotta go then… Bye."
"Bye," Carlos replied in a small voice with a wave. "Wait!"
James turned around. "Yeah?"
"Do you… maybe… you know… We should hang out later."
James bit his lip. He'd just moved to town and hadn't really been planning making friends with anyone until at least Monday, even if that person had an adorable smile. Then again, Carlos had helped him find his way home when he was lost… "Meet me back in the park. Six o'clock. Bring matches and something bad from your past. Okay?"
"Why do you want me to bring matches?"
"I'm gonna help you forget," James replied with a smile.
Now take a trip with me, but don't be surprised when things aren't what they seem.
James arrived at the park fifteen minutes early and sat down on a bench that was over by the slide. Carlos showed up twenty minutes later.
"Sorry I'm late," he said as he sat down next to James. "I didn't know what kind of matches you wanted me to get, so I got a bunch of different brands."
He dumped the grocery bag down by their feet and James stared down. There was pile of about twenty-five different matchbooks. James picked one up and opened it. It had at least a thousand matches in it.
"Any of these will work," James replied closing the matchbook and throwing it back into the pile. "We just needed a match that would light a fire. Did you bring the other thing that I asked you to bring?"
Carlos nodded and held up a rag that was covered in blood stains.
A devious smile spread across James' lips. "Great. Now we're gonna burn it."
"Burn it?" Carlos repeated in a curious voice. "You want to burn it?"
"That was the plan," James said as he apprehensively took the rag from Carlos' hand and picked up one of the matchbooks. "I have to ask though. Why the hell do you even have this?"
Carlos held out the underside of his arms in response. They were covered in small scars that James was surprised he hadn't noticed earlier in the day. James ran his finger across the skin and was surprised at how smooth it still felt.
"I used to cut myself," Carlos said softly. "A lot. I stopped doing it pretty recently, but when I did it, I would clean up my arms with the same towel every time. I buried it under the sink behind all the boxes of crap that my parents think they need to keep in the bathroom, but no one ever uses."
"I'm sorry," James said for lack of a better thing to say.
Carlos laughed. "It's not your fault. I didn't even know you existed back then."
James struck the match along the rough edge of the matchbook and smiled at Carlos. "Let's get rid of this."
Carlos leaned over and blew out the match. "Why?"
"What do you mean?" James asked with frown. "I thought you wanted to get rid of this."
Carlos shook his head. "I never said that. I just said that it was a part of my past. Why should I get rid of my past?"
"You're not getting rid of all of your past, just the bad parts…"
James smiled. "If you get rid of the bad things, then your life's perfect."
"What have you gotten rid of that's so bad?"
James listed everything, from the first math test to the picture of his parents.
"Why did you burn a picture from your parents' wedding day?" Carlos asked in bewilderment.
"Because they messed up the biggest part of my life."
Carlos cocked his head slightly to the left. "What do you mean?"
"The most messed up part of my life is me," James said angrily as he threw down the rag and the matchbook. "I don't get it. There's no reason that I was supposed to be born. I don't have some big goal or some destiny. I'm not making a difference. I'm just taking up space."
Carlos locked his arms around James' waist. "I think you're special. And I like you, a lot, which is sort of weird because we just met. But let's face it. We're both a little weird."
James smiled and returned Carlos' hug. "Not weird, just different."
Your words are infectious. Your eyes leave me breathless. I think it's safe to say, you're deadly in your own way.