"Just trying to stay strong in the cold, cruel world
He's just another invisible man
and she thinks that she can see him clearly,
but he'll be damned if she ever can."
I let the last words of my song flow through the air and let the guitar go. I let the small wave of applause cascade through the room and let it commence for a couple of minutes. I let it subside and let the crowd move out of my way as I smile solemnly. I let people pat me on the back and I let them shake my hand. I let them tell me what a good job I did and let them say that I have natural talent. I let all this happen, but I don't let it slip how hollow I feel as all this happens.
The coffee shop isn't that crowded, and open mic night isn't usually happening, but when it does it's a good crowd aesthetic. Everyone in there is warm and friendly and willing to listen, even if it's evident that you aren't very good. Even then, they are genuine when they tell me that I should be proud of myself. And it makes me smile, even if it all makes me a bit nauseous.
I let them dissipate and prepare for the next amateur performer, who takes the coffee shop's communal guitar that I had just used. I take a seat near the window, staring out the window and watching the nighttime traffic. It's so mundane yet so breathtaking, and I like it when the lights illuminate my skin as I peer out the window.
I'm quite thirsty after my performance, so I reach into my wallet, glad that I saved myself a ten dollar bill to grab myself a nice cup of joe. I reckon I deserve that much, at least. Quietly I look around in my wallet, scraping around, and am displeased to only bring up a few stray nickels and dimes.
Angry, I reach into my other pocket and dig out my phone, not wanting to go through another winless argument but not having any other choice. I dial the familiar number once more and wait three ring tones, preparing my inside voice even though I want to shout.
He answers just before it goes to voicemail. "What do you want?" he snaps.
"What did you do with my cash, Wario?" I demand quietly.
"Not this again," he groans loudly, as if he's being inconvenienced.
"Yes, this again. You stop stealing my money, I'll stop calling."
He groans again. "I didn't take your money, damn it."
"Why should I trust you?" I know this is going to be a tense conversation, so I step just outside of the door and into the night.
"I'm going to hang up-"
I speak over him "No, tell me why I should trust you. You have stolen my cash so many times that I've lost track."
"Why the hell," he starts shouting, "are you treating me like this, like I'm the bad guy here?"
"I'm the bad guy?" I start raising my voice. "I'm the bad guy? How could you be so ungrateful, after everything I've done?"
"Jesus Christ, here we go again. Saint Luigi climbs up on the cross again, crying out about how mistreated he is."
I clench my fist, to see if it helps me keep my voice steady. It does. "At least I know how not to burn my own house down."
"Don't you even go there!" he roars, and I'm sure people can hear it out of my phone even several feet away. "I'm barely even managing to get by!"
"Barely managing? I'm doing all the getting by around here for you!"
"I swear to god, you little prick, I'm going to beat the shit out of you next time I see you."
I decide to finish the conversation. The troll plants the seed; those who reply grow the plant. "I'll bet you used my money to buy more weed."
He says nothing, because he knows I'm right.
"Go to hell," I all but whisper bitterly.
I hang up with a sigh and start to walk back into the coffee shop, running a hand through my messy brown hair underneath my light green cap. I'm grateful for the warm air that wraps around me nary a moment after my anger stops boiling, leaving me exposed to the cold for a brief shocking moment. I still can't believe I put up with my bastard of a cousin and his girlfriend-of-the-week that he sleeps with every other night right next to my room. I don't know why anyone would want to sleep with him in that room. I can't even enter it without gagging and nearly going into an asthma attack. But I do it. Because I can't bear to think of my five year old niece, Ana, out on the streets.
Hell, I can barely think of her staying with her father.
My mood has dampened, but I try and maintain a steady being. I know coffee is out of the question, so I take a seat where I was before, right next to my bag. I try to smile, because deep down, in this moment, I am actually somewhat happy. I swear I am.
That's when I see her, heading towards me with a smile and a couple of cups of coffee. She's wearing her usual gray jacket and her black scarf that covers her neck and still has enough fringe to trail down her side. I smile back, and I mean it, because it's always like her to think of those little things like coffee; she didn't even know that I was suddenly broke and I wasn't about to tell her.
She grins, her eyes glowing as she takes a seat across from me, setting my cup down in front of me and taking a sip of hers. I nod and taste mine, only to find that it's just how I like it. Not that I should expect anything less.
"Thanks, Sheik," I manage to say as I swallow the first drink. She nods with grace that she always has even at her craziest moments. Her short blonde hair is bobbing with her as she replies "No problem. We needed a toast after all, to a great performance." A smile, one of evident admiration, crosses her face as she adds "I don't know how you do so well, but you do."
Seeing her admiration makes me both happy and sad, as it usually does. As happy as I am that she thinks so highly of me, it saddens me to think that she believes I'm much better than she is. She never seems to comprehend that she's the only person who can make me cry just by playing an acoustic guitar and singing a few gorgeous lyrics in such an earthy, breathtaking voice. Not even my personal professional favorites such as Mumford and Sons can do that the way she does.
I don't say any of this, of course. Not this time. I don't feel the need to get into a debate over how good she is. She's always on the opposite side from where she should be, insisting that she doesn't have nearly as much evident talent as anyone else she knows. I don't want to think of any of that, though. I just want to enjoy our time together, and so I reply to her statement with "Me either. Guess it's just natural, from somewhere deep down that I can't figure out."
She nods again. "Either way, Luigi, you did a great job."
"Thanks again, Sheik," I respond with a more genuine smile. Amazing how all it takes is a conversation to make things just a bit better. "So, how are you?"
She looks down just a bit, but she doesn't hesitate. "Better, actually," she mumbles. "I mean, I was having a hard time a couple days back, y'know… keeping myself together. But I manage."
I give her a comforting smile, placing my hand on hers. She smiles a bit wider and looks up at me. I know that she's been going through a hard time, that she's been facing her own demons just as I am. It's just that her demons are ones of her own creation, ones that she's trying to control. Sometimes I want to get up and fight them for her, sword in my hand, but I've come to realize that's not the way to do things. She's strong enough to fight them, and I believe that because she realizes that their power has already decreased. At least, I hope.
"I'm glad," I manage to say.
She nods, allowing me to take my hand back to my cup of coffee before reclining into her wooden chair, almost tipping it over. "I mean, things are still getting to me. Everything feels unsteady and volatile back at home, which I hate. I'm doing the best I can, but there's only so much I could do. I just wish people would listen, for God's sake. I can't work out a damn thing with them if they won't listen."
She notices the concern on my face, as I usually sport when she admits something like this. Immediately remorse rings through her eyes. "I'm sorry," she mutters, looking apologetic. "I shouldn't be dumping this on you."
"No, no, it's okay," I insist. I know that holding it in isn't good for her. I actually admired that she was able to freely admit her troubles the way she did to me. It made me feel a bit better about myself that she was confident enough to tell me what was wrong, but a part of me was envious of the strength it took, wishing that I had it.
She sighs again, but looks up at me, optimistic. "Either way, though… I have a feeling things will work out. I'm a bit more optimistic about that lately."
"Good, good," I smile, glad to hear it. Because I am. I really want her to be happy; the idea means a lot to me. She nods with a smile of her own and takes a sip of her coffee.
In an effort to lighten the conversation, I ask "So, movies. Anything good coming out?"
"Well," Sheik replies with a sneaky grin, "There's this great comedy coming out this week."
"A comedy?" I ask, raising an eyebrow. "I don't remember one of those coming out. Which one?"
She grins widely. "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn." As soon as I register the punchline, I start laughing loudly, and she joins in without shame. I've always noted that one finds their own jokes a lot funnier if other people laugh at it. After I've had my laugh, I confirm "So, nothing good?"
She shakes her head. "Nope."
"Okay. Looks like I'll have some leftovers, courtesy of the secondhand theaters. Still so many movies I need to see."
"Oh? Such as?"
"Well, there's Captain America, I suppose," I start with.
"Eh…" I can tell the idea isn't instantly appealing to her. "Is that the one about the guy who has that suit made out of the American flag or whatever?"
"That's a nice summarization," I tell her, amused.
"Yeah, well," she cracks a wan grin. "I could totally see the last Harry Potter again."
"Again?" I can't fathom the idea of seeing a movie twice in theaters.
"Hey, I'm a Potter nerd," she replies shamelessly with another short laugh. "I need to watch it again just to confirm it's worthy enough for the book."
"Well, maybe we could see if it's at the Academy," I suggest. "I still need to see it anyways, so we could-"
"You're telling me you haven't seen it?" She gasps, as if the idea is beyond her comprehension, reaching to grab my shoulders in fake shock. I know she knows it's not that big of a deal but she's going to have fun with it anyway. "Boy, I'm going to drag you to the theater and strap you down in your seat. I can't believe you haven't seen that?" She's shaking my shoulders as if it will knock some sense into me and in the end we're both laughing for a good half-minute before we've retired to our seats once more.
I enjoy the slight euphoria our conversation has granted us. "Love ya," I tell her, grinning crookedly.
She smiles. "Love ya too, bro."
And I'm glad for that. I've never had loved a friend as just a friend quite the way I love her. I'll never know how I got so attached to her, how we got so attached to each other. We were just a couple of musicians wandering through life who happened to run into each other. Her music is brilliant. I believe mine is as well. I'm the only one who seems to recognize my own brilliance, though.
We met at a bus stop just outside the shop, almost by chance. She had her guitar and a frown on her face. I struck up a conversation with her. She said she wanted to quit playing, that she was on her way to the Greyhound to start somewhere else. It was quite a statement, and I was surprised that she was so open, but I knew better than to go on a lecture about why she should stay. I just told her the power artists like us had and that I wished her luck on her future endeavors. After all, if she never talked to someone in the city again, I wanted her last one to be a decent conversation from someone who cared.
And lo and behold, she stayed. She met me, three weeks later, here in this coffee shop when I was performing. She smiled and nodded at me, saying nothing, as I came down, allowing her to go up and play once more. I never heard her play before, but when she did, it changed me. It changed the way I did art. It changed the way I performed. Art became less about making pretty sounds and clever lyrics and more about the souls that inspire them. And that's really how it should be.
I caught her on the way out, commended her on a brilliant performance. She seemed surprised that I thought so, but she stayed for a while. We had coffee, started talking and realized that we meant something to each other. That's how I met one of my closest friends, if not my closest. I could talk to anyone in the city, any of the people who I consider my closest friend, but perhaps it's the knowing bond between two strong, struggling artists that unites us in a way I can't claim with anyone I've known before, even if for years longer than I've known Sheik.
I notice that in the present, I've been quiet for an unnaturally long time. What brings me back to Earth is a string of insults from a perfect stranger. I don't know who he is or who he's yelling at but it already burns that fire again in my chest. I know well enough to hold back though as he goes on, but it's incredibly hard to when a grown man with dark red hair and menacing black clothes is yelling at a fifteen year old with a new-looking guitar who had just gone up to perform, calling him a worthless cocksucker and telling him he has no talent, and the kid hasn't even performed yet. I look over at Sheik, who is also looking at the scene, albeit with a look of pity rather than of the rage I try and hold back.
The kid doesn't know any better, either- what else do you expect a fifteen year old boy to do when a random man runs up to him and calls him a cocksucker other than demand that the grown man leave him alone? He doesn't know that bastards like that man enjoy it when their victims get upset like that.
Before long a group of people defend the kid, and the red-haired man is more than happy to launch various insults at them as well. Soon enough the fight has turned violent, and as usual none of the owners go to stop it. We can only watch helplessly as the group continues punching and kicking each other until they stumble outside of the coffee shop, where the fight continues. It doesn't matter to me anymore; soon enough they'll be back in, the cycle will restart and nothing will have changed.
It's hard to see a kid torn apart like that. It's disgusting to see that red-haired man, a fully grown man, punching the kid in the rainy night with no remorse. He doesn't know or care that he could be just one more terrible thing that's happened to that kid. Soon enough, I can't look. The kid's face reminds me too much of Ness. I can't imagine what my friend would do to himself if someone like that man were to burn the final straw like that.
I drink a sip of my coffee, and it seems a bit bitter now, like myself. Sheik quips "This place is always such a mess."
"Sometimes I think I'd like to watch it burn," I sing, finishing her lyric. "Wallflowers, right?"
She nods with a smile as we turn our attention away from the window and the brawl. No one else goes up to perform. The night has ended for them, as no one else is brave enough to perform anymore.
She believes that it's just a lyric, but I really feel a burning resentment for the coffee shop I still love. I don't want to perform here anymore, but I can't imagine performing anywhere else. It's a bittersweet symphony, indeed.
I find that true in life as well. Life is beautiful, I really believe that. Life is simply amazing. I could never commit suicide, even on the darkest of days. I love life too much for that. It's just my life that seems so ugly sometimes. Even in the moments where people here know me by name and await my performance eagerly, I still know that things won't be so good as soon as I step out these doors and have to contend with my bastard cousin again, and I will have to be strong for my depressed, struggling friend who seems so far gone already. I'll have to be strong for Ana. I'll have to be strong for Popo, as he sits next to the hospital bed of the one he loves another night, desperate for hope but putting on a brave face for her.
I can't even think about that for long without feeling a bitter sting. The sting is no longer for the ailing girl, who I already knew to be a brilliant woman who was willing to face the end with a smile. The sting is for Popo, because I don't want to think about what will happen to such an intelligent, independent mind if the girl doesn't open her eyes again.
I notice I'm already blinking back tears. Damn it, it's hard being so strong for everyone. I feel like I have to; it's not because I feel forced to. It's because I worry about what will happen if I fall. I'm scared for them.
I look at Sheik, and I swallow, my eyes trying to brighten and somewhat succeeding. I give her a smile but I can tell she's not buying it. No wonder, I've spent all night spacing off into my own fears and pain, which seem to wait until I am most vulnerable to rear their ugly heads at me. I'm usually able to ward them off for the most part until that one point in due time where they all overwhelm me. I'm scared that moment is going to be now.
That's why I perform so much, even though I hate this place sometimes. It's so easy to sing whatever I want and let them accept it as fiction, but I can't tell the same truths to my closest friend.
"Are you okay?" she asks me, raising an eyebrow. I nod, because it's better than spilling all that's on my mind. I've done that before, been emotionally reckless and raw with her before all the time. I scared her, and that wounded me, because I don't want to hurt her. Don't want to scare her away. It's why I'm more restrained now, why I don't fight her battles. It's for the better but it still doesn't feel quite right.
She just nods, and I have to wonder if she knows better. She's clever enough, but I'm wondering if I'm hiding well enough to keep it in. I'm the invisible man. It isn't her fault she can't see me clearly. I won't let her. I don't want her to, not now, when she's already struggling with herself, perhaps the same way I am. I just want her to be happy.
I swallow again and decide to make my exit. In steady tones, I told her "Hey, I've got to leave now. Gonna go use the restroom and head home, okay?"
I'm not surprised that she seems a bit disappointed with my decision. She bought me coffee and I thanked her by leaving before I even finished my cup. Nevertheless, she says "Okay, Luigi. Have a nice evening. I'll talk to you later." She even manages to smile a bit, and I swear to God it's one of comfort. It nearly breaks me right there, so I barely mumble "Yeah, I will… night…" before I'm nearly dashing into the restroom, trying to hold in my emotions.
I find that the restroom is empty, so I find myself standing in the single-occupant restroom, door locked, staring my reflection down and daring it not to crack. The light in my blue eyes seems to have dimmed, if only for now. There's hardly even been anything right now that's happened. In fact, most everything going on has been good. It's all crept up on me now, and it feels like it's going to destroy me. Wario, Ana, Popo, Ness. I feel a couple of sobs tear through me but I don't make a sound, just let it shake through me before I get too far. Then I clench my fists, wipe my eyes with a paper towel, take a couple of deep breaths and leave.
I straighten my black jacket, looking around the room to see that Sheik is already gone. I feel bad for it, immediately regretting it. I wish I had stayed stronger, but there's not much I can do. I walk out the door, letting the rain cascade over me. My face is flushed with leftover emotion, so it feels nice when the water drops on my skin. I make my way across the street, noticing that the fight has ceased for now, and the brawlers are gone for now. I find my bus stop, a wooden bench with no shelter. In my town that's classified as a top tier stop, unless of course you're riding a train.
Before I even get close, I notice that she's there, scarf wrapped around her neck and hood over her head. She's on the far right of the bench, leaving the left open for me. I don't know what else to do, so I take a seat next to her, hesitant.
"Sheik," I try to say, try to fix my behavior, "I'm really sorry about-"
Before I can say more, she has her arm wrapped around me, and has taken my wrist with her right hand, holding it comfortingly. The comfort all but overwhelms me, so I accept it, managing my breathing.
"Hey, hey," she whispers kindly. "We all have bad days. You don't need to worry."
I'm choking down a sob, trying to keep strong, but I squeak out "Thank you."
"Don't worry," she replies, stroking my hand with her right thumb. "I'm your friend. That's what I'm here for. Don't worry."
I accept this as an answer, resting with her. I don't start sobbing but I do cry, tears trailing their way down my face. I don't really care anymore whether or not she mistakes them for rain. She smiles, squeezing my hand and reminding me "It's always darkest before the dawn, remember?"
I have to laugh when she says that, but not because I find it funny. We must have traded that line back and forth ever since we first heard it from Florence and the Machine. I used to tell that to her when she was having a rough time. When she says that back to me, I wonder why I didn't figure out how much of a support she was before that.
The pain in my chest starts to fade away just a bit, and it makes it easier to breathe. She doesn't say anything about how I can always tell her anything, that she knows I'm not as strong as I try to look, that she can see me after all, and that she's still here for me even though she can. She doesn't need to. Sitting on the bench we first met at and comforting me where I once comforted her says everything she means to say.
A/N- I imagine Luigi's singing voice would have the strength and pitch of a man halfway between Adam Levine and Ryan Tedder.
So yeah, not much to say about this story. I just thought it'd be a good idea. If you read between the lines, you can see a sort of metaphor, specifically about this section. That's if you're reading between the lines, though. Take this as a surface story, and enjoy the message. :D
And while I'm at it, I own nothing, regret nothing and let them forget nothing.