1.26 - Little Boys in The Canyon

1.26 - Little Boys in The Canyon

“What the hell happened to your face,” Renan grips my jaw and moves my head horrified over the bruises.  

“I got into a fight.”

“What? Are you okay? Why? Who did it? When? Where? Why didn’t you call me?”

“Stop,” I cut off his questions and remove his hand from my face. “It’s not the first fight I’ve been in. I’ve had way worse.”

“That’s not the point.”

“I’ve seen your fight highlights on The Nexus, you wouldn’t be much help,” I joke.

“This is the last time I’ll worry about you.”

I haven’t seen Renan in three days, but we haven’t talked either. I didn’t feel the need to contact him, and I didn’t think about him until I was in the middle of a fight. Still, he didn’t feel the need to contact me either. A few days changes things, not always for the better. His hair is back to normal again, but he’s not as off putting as when we first arrived on Mars. I know whatever product he uses is only temporary, but I didn’t know he’d switch back so soon. I can’t help but blame his mother, and I don’t feel bad about it. I’m not great with familial relationships, but I know his isn’t good either. I can’t judge, but as much as he’s worried about my physical injuries right now, I’m worried about his mental. I’m not a psychologist and I only saw one when after I got blown up, but I don’t have to be to tell he’s not okay. The thing is, I’m starting to think neither of us can fix the other. He’s wild and free, but he’s locked in a cell. I’m someone who desires structure and consistency, but I can’t have that with him. We’re trapped in each other’s desired lives. I’m free to do whatever I want, and he’s stuck following someone else’s rules.

“Do you care if I drive?”

“Nah, no problem.”

I had been in my thoughts, I missed the explanation about the trucks we’d be driving through the canyon. I’ve researched the vegetation and wildlife, almost as if I was preparing for a mission. I just like to be prepared. Camping gear is already in the truck, I load our person items and hop in on the passenger side. The truck starts to hum as the thruster gently lift us into the air. The trucks they gave us are older, still using huge fans for power. I’m surprised the guide doesn’t lead us in, he just waves as the trucks head down into Valles Marineras. There’re paths but we all choose different directions. It isn’t long before the vegetation starts to thicken. It’s not entirely unlike Xioshaa, hot, thick vegetation, trees blocking the sun. I don’t have a team with me, but I know nobody is going to blow me up tonight. We stop a few times to take pictures and admire the unique plants. The eye herb was, unnerving. It’s nothing but a really bitter seasoning, but each leaf is shaped like an eye. Complete with a pupil that moves around the white leaf following your motions. I can only keep comparing it to Xioshaa, because that’s what I know. The ground is different, more of a moist sand than the mud that covered the ground there. There’s more wildlife, mostly birds, occasionally a unique birdcall will grab our attention.  

“We should camp over there for the night,” I point out an area sheltered by a tree canopy.

It’s nice to just spend time with Renan again, no outside distractions. Maybe I was wrong about us not being compatible. I didn’t know he was so interested in nature before today, and we’re not arguing at all. He surprises me when he helps set up the shield around our campsite. I didn’t think he’d have any knowledge of it. Apparently when he was still in the league his team used to go on camping trips together. I feel like I’ve told him so much about my life, but I’m only just now learning about his in bits and pieces. He’s not a bad cook either, much better than his mother, or me.

“Hey, can I ask you a question,” I ask as we finish up eating.

“Yeah, what’s on your mind? There’s no secrets in, Valles Marineras. Just me, you, and some creepy plants.”

“I looked you up online. You said you stopped playing because people found out you were gay. But, there’s nothing about that online. It sounds like you just vanished one day. I thought the fans had been harassing you,” I realize how judgmental my tone sounded. “Sorry, I didn’t mean for it to sound that way.”

“It’s nothing, I get what you mean,” Renan pauses for moment. “I never said it was the fans harassing me.”

“Other players,” I hadn’t considered that an option.

“Yeah, one of my teammates caught me out with my boyfriend at the time. I didn’t know anyone saw us; the restaurant was pretty dark. Still, he managed to get a good photo of the two of us. I came to practice that weekend and saw pictures all over my locker. I figured we were teammates; it was just a joke, everything was fine. But it wasn’t, because it didn’t stay with the team.” Renan grinds his foot into the ground before taking a long sip of water. “It got around to other teams as well, soon my hotel rooms would be vandalized before I could get there. Some of the players on my own team stopped passing me the ball.”

“You don’t have to keep going,” I can tell it still bothers him. His usual energetic speech is slowed.

“I never told anyone this story before.”

“You don’t have to.”

“But I want to. Can you just, listen?”

“Yeah, whatever you want.”

“My stats were slipping. At first it was fine, force a turnover, steal the ball. You saw my highlights, I’m good. But, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or however you want to put it, I was being broken down and by the end of the season I was reaching my breaking point,” he stares up through the trees as if he’s searching for something, but I can tell he’s trying to hold back tears.

“So, what did you do?”

“I quit, I quit on the fans. I quit on the team. I went home. I couldn’t keep up the payments on the home, that’s when I started working as an escort, but only off Mars. I’m famous enough here that someone might recognize me, but I can go almost anywhere else in the galaxy. I don’t even hate being an escort. It's fun a lot of the time, and I meet interesting people, like you. I just really miss playing sometimes. I worked my whole life for a career in the league, and while I never got to play in the Sol league I was on my way to being a legend here on Mars, and I’m young. I could have made the Sol league eventually. But it all burned up in the atmosphere because this ass backwards planet is stuck in the 21st century.”

The tears finally fall, and I move to wipe them away but pull back. I don’t feel like those are tears I could help dry. I watch as he uses his shirt to wipe away the sweat and tears mixed together before regaining the same blank expression he’s had since we arrived on Mars.

“You’ve only been out the league two years, right?”

“Yeah, longer than some guys’ careers.”

“You should go back,” my suggestion brings a confused look from him.

“How,” he doesn’t let me answer. “How do you go back to that? The fans, sure they won’t care. They’ll still cheer. How do I go back to playing in the league when most of the guys who harassed me are still there? Tell me how do you do that?”

“You just go play. They can’t hurt you with it if you just tell people. Do some interviews, a documentary about the climb back or something like that.”

“You still don’t get Mars. This isn’t The Moon, or Earth or The Marines. It’s Mars. Our politicians are in mobs and gangs but the only crime here is being different. Every night on the news for the last three years they find more Enkan refugees dead, and all they did was come here from a war-torn planet. It’s a shithole of violence and death and going against the grain is a good way to die unless it makes money. Stop acting like you understand this place. It’s nothing you’ve ever dealt with.”

I contemplate my response for a few moments before I’m forced to concede, “you’re right, I don’t understand this place. But, I understand you.”

“You don’t understand anything about me!”

“I understand that you’re running away from something you really love.”

“And you’re running away from the kid you killed but he can’t chase you. He’s dead. Go put your uniform on and go back to work,” his words sting and leave me without a comeback. “So, it looks like we’re both running.”

The fire crackles between us as I search for a response, something that can hurt him the same way he hurt me. I could think of a thousand options and none of them would make either of us feel any better about this conversation. I’m not even hurt, I just want to hurt him for thinking he could hurt me. We’re broken people and all we know how to do is break each other. I’m just refusing to admit he’s better at breaking me than I am at breaking him.  

“I’m wrong, you’re not running away from anything,” I restart the conversation. “I’m running, that can’t be denied. But you, you’re a grown man, being held hostage by his mother. You don’t even have the bravery to run away, deep inside, you’re just a scared little boy; too afraid that if you run, she’ll catch you and make it worse,” I know I’m only saying the words to hurt him, but I can’t stop them from coming out.

Renan doesn’t respond right away, and when he does, it isn’t with words. Renan abandons the campfire and retires to his sleeping bag. I just ruined any chance I had of saving this relationship; if it could ever be called that. The strange part is, I don’t feel bad about it. I’m not sure if that’s my time in the service teaching me to ignore casualties, or I’m just a bad person. I really wanted to come on this trip, but maybe bringing Renan wasn’t a good idea. It just turned into a failed couples retreat. But I’m not mad at him, I’m mad at what he said; I’m even madder at myself.

I killed that kid. They were a combatant. I’ve killed other people who had been shooting at me. When I was recovering, they said it was trauma. Trauma, trauma, I heard that word so many times I’m sick of hearing it. Every time I had to go to that therapist, they’d tell me about trauma. Still, it gives a name to what it is. Maybe because I was high on whatever they drugged us with. Maybe because I killed them, viewed the body and got blown up I’m stuck remembering their face since I can’t remember the blast. I called Renan a little boy afraid to run, but I’m a little boy too. The difference is I’m out running after curfew and won’t go inside. I haven’t done anything wrong, but the longer I stay outside, the more trouble I’ll be in when I have to go in, and I will have to go in eventually. I’ve tasted freedom now, no matter how dreary, it is still freedom. I’m afraid if I go back inside, I’ll never come back out. It’s stupid, it’s the way a child thinks. I’m not much different from him at all.  

Our fire is starting to burn out, and there’s no firewood left. Initially, I didn’t understand making a fire out here when Mars is always hot, but it does get cold at night in this canyon. Maybe because we’re so far beneath the surface or the plants just block most of the sun. I dig through our belongs in the back to grab the pistol I took from the man in the bar. I don’t think I’ll need it, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe instead of sorry. I grab a net to carry the wood and head out of our camping shield and look for scraps of wood to keep us going through the night. It isn’t long before I’ve found a fair amount and begin to make my way back. I hear the sound of something being drug along the ground as I near camp and duck behind a tree. Xioshaa has come for me again, it’s like being in the zone again. On instinct I am the gun at the source of the sound. A small creature, almost like a ball if not for the protruding mouth, and a single long floppy ear, no eyes in sight. It shuffles along to a bush and begins to chew at the leaves. I wonder if I had waited to fire on Xioshaa if I would have died, or if the Vaznian kid would have held his fire as well. Damnit.

As I approach the camp a light temporarily blinds me. I go around it’s search radius, attempting to sneak up on whoever it is, still fully in combat mode. When I spot Renan, I lower my gun and call out to him. He’s almost looks afraid when he sees me.

“Why do you have a gun,” he asks as I toss a piece of wood onto the flames.

“Oh, did I scare you? Sorry, just wanted to be safe out there.”

“Let me see it,” his fear turns to glee.

“What? You don’t know how to use a gun.”

“I bet I do.”

“Alright,” I activate the safety and pass him the gun.

I watch as Renan stands and takes aim out in the distance, his form is wrong and he’s aiming with one eye closed. The entire thing is hilarious to watch. If he’s ever going to use a gun, he’ll knock himself out the way he’s holding here.

“Here,” I stand behind Renan, grabbing his waist. “You want your waist facing your target, and spread your legs a little,” I kick his feet apart with my own.

“Okay, what next.”

I use my own arms to adjust his aim. There’s a slight frizzling sound and scent of burnt toast as we fire off a few shots into the jungle area with the rusted blaster.  

“You know, this is the first time you’ve held me.”


“We never really hug, or hold each other,” he explains.

“We hold hands sometimes.”

“I guess.”

“Do you like that kind of stuff.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think the spark was there.”

“I know what you mean.”

“I think people come in and out of your life for a reason. Maybe, we just really needed each other when we met.”

“I’d ask if you were breaking up with me, but I don’t think we were ever going out,” I joke.

“Oh, so you’re not claiming me now,” he pretends to be offended.  

We spend the rest of the night joking until the sun rises. It’s still dark, not enough that a flashlight is required when we pack up. The drive back, reminds me of the times we went rocket karting and when we played basketball together. These are the times I enjoy with Renan. I do love him, not as a lover, but as a friend. We both needed a friend, that’s what drew us together. Either that or we’re both secretly psionics who could sense how screwed up the other was. We arrive back at the starting point before any of the other teams. One last stop at the viewing deck before leaving, watching the sun rise on a new day.

“So, where do we go from here?”

“I think we’re better as friends.”

“I don’t have a lot of friends.”

“Neither do I.”

“We’re going to contact each other like once a week, right?”

“If that’s what you want.”

“Don’t make me be the only one reaching out.”

“Sorry, I’m terrible at making first contact.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“But we’re going to make it work right?”

“Yeah, we’ll make it work.”


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