Chasing Rusty Parker - 32. I Used To Know You
Chapter Thirty-Two – I Used To Know You
Last night had been electric. Rusty couldn’t sit still. He had gotten up before everyone else, aware that he would soon have to fend off a wave of questions from his besties, and went out for a run. The campus was still quiet at that hour, while a thin breeze, cutting a bit through his clothes, had just begun, an early morning announcement that the weather would soon change for the worse. He sat on a bench and took out his phone, hoping that the hour wasn’t outrageous for the call he was dying to make. “Mrs. May,” he whispered in a heartbeat after the short exchange of greetings, “I did it. I’ll send you the video that’s just started circulating online. It was taken by someone on their phone, but I think it’s pretty good.”
“You are moving fast. I like it,” she commended him. “Give me a little. I will tell you what I think right away.”
He waited, wavering between excitement and worry. The people listening to him last night had applauded him, but that wasn’t enough. He needed to hear an educated opinion, and he was just lucky that Mrs. May didn’t like sleeping in on Sundays. When the phone rang back, his thumb was already hovering over the screen.
“First of all, congratulations, Rusty, on your first outing as a singer,” Mrs. May said brightly. “I am quite impressed with how well you held your own across the range. A lot of singers have trouble with this kind of control. But you sounded like yourself as you went low, as well as when you went high. However, there is still some work we need to do on really low notes. Also, there was a bit of a hesitation in the beginning. I suppose I can attribute it to first public appearance jitters. Wasn’t that it?” she added in a pleasant voice.
Rusty felt all giddy inside. Of course, he had work to do on the lower notes, and he knew it. As for that hesitation, Mrs. May was right, and he wasn’t about to contradict her because he didn’t do stuff like that in front of an authority in the field like she was. There was no point in bragging or pretending it wasn’t so. “Yeah. And you were correct to tell me to move more into those lower ranges. I mean, that’s one way to keep myself from sounding like a cartoon character.”
Mrs. May laughed. “Along with your voice, you must also cultivate your persona as a singer, Rusty. There’s a certain dignity that comes with this profession. For now, I won’t scold you too much. And I believe that before even being a singer, you are an entertainer. That is not something I’m willing to stifle in your development. You really know how to make a crowd fall in love with you, and that’s no small thing.”
“Thank you, Mrs. May,” he said, while the patch of warmth in his chest spread until it filled him completely.
“Don’t forget about our next session. I’m waiting with bated breath to teach you more, Mr. Rybalt,” she said in a playful tone.
“I still have eight or seven sessions left. Afterward--” he started, wanting to find out what her usual rates were and expecting them to be quite high.
“I already let Francine know,” Mrs. May interrupted him. “You don’t have to worry about anything of the kind. However, she told me that she expects nothing but excellence at the end of our time together.”
“Geez, man, talk about pressure,” Rusty mumbled. “I should talk to her and tell her that I can handle my own stuff.”
“I wouldn’t dare if I were you,” Mrs. May said, and she was only half-joking by the sound of her voice. “How about we both work hard and surprise her?”
“I don’t think she’s that easy to surprise. She’s listened to the best, like live and all that,” Rusty said, suddenly feeling little compared to the rest of the universe, or at least the part of it that mattered.
“All the more reason to put your all into it. I’ll do my part,” she assured him.
“Then I’m all in, too,” he said solemnly. Francine was a tough cookie, but, man, that woman could almost make him want to cry. There was so much trust in how she behaved toward him that he had no idea what to make of it. If only the stuff could be bottled and stashed away for later use; he’d make it last a lifetime.
“That’s good to know, Rusty. Or do you prefer Rybalt more?” she joked.
“Not when you’re teaching me. I can be myself then.” He stopped in time. These women were making him spill more than he intended to. “Bye, Mrs. May. Thank you for everything.”
“Oh, I intend to put you through hell to get your voice in top shape. You might not feel so thankful after that. Bye, Rusty. I can barely wait.”
He felt full and content as he put the phone back into his pocket. Life finally made sense.
There were so many pieces he wanted to practice, he thought, as he began making a selection on his phone, while on his way to eat breakfast. He felt too energetic to get back to the house, and all his friends were still sleeping. Plus, this way, he could also enjoy brunch with them later.
He grunted when he was suddenly attacked from behind just as he got close to the fast food place. Someone crashed into him and put their hands over his eyes. “So, Rybalt,” a cavernous voice began, “any last wishes before breakfast?”
For a moment, he froze, but then he realized that there was only one person in the whole world who could see through his charade so easily. He thrust one arm quickly behind him and caught his attacker. Then, turning quickly on his heels he faced his opponent. August burst into laughter, most probably because of the expression on his face.
“How could you tell?” he asked directly.
She tilted her head to one side, giving him that legendary look of hers, the one that made you feel like there was no one else in the entire world. Today, it only filled him with fondness, but there had been a time when it used to do a lot more to him than just that. “I used to know you, remember?”
Yeah, there was no doubt about that. “Are you reading Xpress all the time now? Don’t you have any hobbies?” he teased her.
August’s smile grew larger. She wrapped one arm around his. “How about I buy you breakfast? We have tons to catch up on, right?”
They did. That was another thing he couldn’t deny. “Nah. I’m going to buy you breakfast,” he said. “Finally, I have some pocket money,” he joked.
“Sure, I won’t argue. How are things with your dad?”
He shrugged. “He’s himself. It’s not like I have any hope he’s going to change now. Although, he seems like a better dad to my brother and sister than he’s been to me.”
“And how does that make you feel?” she asked as they entered the fast-food restaurant.
“Are you majoring in psychology or something? Stop picking my brain,” he complained, but that was the way they talked, provoking each other, giving each other stuff to think about.
“Actually, I’m more into trade these days,” she said.
They sat across from each other at one of the tables. To gain some time, Rusty pretended to be busy with the menu, although that place barely had a handful of options to choose from, and he usually picked the same thing. He wanted to ask her so many questions, and yet, his tongue seemed tied. Maybe he was afraid of opening some Pandora’s box and then shutting it before hope managed to get out. Maybe he needed to stop picking apart his own brain.
That summer had seemed magical at the time, outside the boundaries of time in a way. It had only lasted while it lasted, and yet, that mixed bag he had carried along all this time hadn’t grown old and moldy enough to stash away for good. August had known he could sing. Besides the people at his old school before moving, no one else had known at the time. He had tried showing off his skills to his dad, just to prove that he had something special, and he had been promptly shut down. In front of August, he had done it at first just to show off, too. Only she hadn’t shut him down; on the contrary, she’d told him that one day he’d become a star. She had meant it. She meant everything she said, which was why, after that summer, when she told him that she would never leave her husband, he’d gotten so mad that he never returned her calls.
Only it looked like something had changed. He went to place their order and waited for it, his back turned to where she was sitting, trying to make sense of the nest of thoughts inside his head. Had she woken up and realized that it was no way to live, hoping that scumbag would finally see the light and change his ways? They had that much in common, probably. They both hoped and hoped and believed in a change that was bound to never come.
She took a sip from her soda and smacked her lips in delight, the same way she’d used to while they were gobbling down junk food, but only after arranging it prettily on plastic plates just to make each meal feel festive somehow.
“So,” he asked, pretending to be busy with his burger, “how’s it hanging, August?”
“It’s not like you to beat around the bush. Go ahead, ask what you want to know.”
“Fine,” he said and leaned back in his chair, eyeing her carefully. “Did you leave him?”
August frowned slightly and took another long sip from her drink. “You can say that.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” He couldn’t believe that, after all these years, there were still traces of pain inside him. It was only this much he could do not to yell at her.
“We’re separated,” August explained. “Not yet divorced.”
“So, did you finally have enough of it?” he asked, hating how aggressive, how fucking entitled he sounded as if he still had the right to ask her anything. Not that he’d ever had that; August had made that perfectly clear.
August sighed and her eyes drifted out the window. “Sometimes, feelings turn bad, I guess. Like pudding.”
“Joke more,” he said under his breath. Fuck, this wasn’t him, and yet, he couldn’t help himself. He wanted to blame her, but he had learned it long ago that each and every person was responsible for what they felt.
She looked at him and smiled. There was something bittersweet in that smile, making her look older than her twenty-five. “That’s something no one can take away from me. When I stop joking, feel free to turn me over to the big guy,” she said, making a vague gesture toward the ceiling. “That’s when I’ll know it’s over for good.”
Rusty shook his head. His anger moved out of him, draining some of the energy of that morning away, too. But it didn’t feel entirely bad. Just different. “I’m glad for you,” he said, and it was the first completely honest thing he had said since meeting her this morning.
She offered him a warm smile. “So,” she said, “what’s the deal with this Rybalt persona?”
Rusty threw a quick look around and made a gesture for her to keep it down. “Just some secret project of mine.”
“I see.” She nodded, as her smile turned mischievous. “Who dared to piss on your turf?”
Rusty rolled his eyes. Yeah, she totally knew him. “Just some scumbags who think themselves smart or some shit.”
“Just to be clear, why do you need this sexy ghost?” she asked and began stuffing her face with fries.
She had never been the kind to eat daintily or make a fuss about greasy foods like other chicks. She was real, and he had always liked that about her.
“No one knows I can sing. Almost no one. My guys do, and they even had to learn about it because of some crappy things I did last year,” he said hastily.
To his relief, she didn’t ask what things. He had almost ruined Maddox’s chances with Jonathan because he wanted to keep everything hidden about his secret passion.
“I see,” she said and sucked on her forefinger with gusto. “Don’t worry; your secret is safe with me. I still don’t know why you don’t want to be yourself and just show the world the middle finger while doing the things you want to do.”
“Hey, I’m not asking you why you can’t leave your husband. Anymore,” he added and looked away.
“Good point,” August admitted. “But that was the good thing between us, right? No pressure.”
Yeah, it had been like that. No pressure until he had wanted more. And no, not because he wanted her to himself, like a selfish prick, because at seventeen, he had absolutely nothing to offer, but for her sake. He had wanted her to be happy, and she had chosen not to understand a simple thing like that.
“I guess,” he said with a shrug. “What are your plans now, as a free woman?”
August leaned back into her seat and stretched her arms. “First of all, finish my education. Then, get a diploma, start getting on the hamster wheel and all that. I suppose that even people like me need to grow up.”
He had nothing to add to something like that. Supposedly, everyone needed to grow up, and that was a fact. Only that he couldn’t see himself doing that. Maybe later, when the level of disappointment would be high enough to warrant that. For now, there was no reason to change anything. He was completely fine where he was.
“How’s your boy Matty doing?” August asked suddenly, taking him by surprise.
“Why? What have you heard?” Had he missed some juicy piece of gossip that pointed out his special friendship with Matty?
August burst into laughter. “You should see your face. What? Is he your secret lover or something?” He didn’t have to do or say anything. It had to be written all over his face, but only she could read that cryptogram. Her eyes grew wide, and she grinned madly. “Wow, Rusty. I’ve always thought it would be that pretty bestie of yours.”
“Hmm,” he mumbled and now, he was the one busying himself with his drink. For fuck’s sake. Well, he had told August a bunch of crazy things that summer, even about that one time when he and Maddox had measured their dicks and even touched a little, but it was quite the jump from that to—
He didn’t know exactly to what. Only that August, with her shrewdness, was low-key pissing him off now. She had been there for like two weeks or something, and she already knew all his secrets.
August grinned and looked like that wasn’t a bone she was willing to let go of. She leaned over the table, her eyes glinting. “Come on, Rusty, out with everything. Your little campus gossip rag talks about you like you haven’t missed one girl from freshman to senior year, and yet there’s this mad cute guy who acts all possessive the moment I do as little as talk to you.”
Rusty snorted. “Yeah, possessive.” When had that happened? What had August seen? Did she have different eyesight than the rest of the entire world?
August snickered. “Yeah. I could tell. Nah, I’m pulling your leg, actually. All right, so maybe he didn’t give away much, and you didn’t either, when I met the two of you, but you just confirmed my hunch. You wouldn’t take just anyone to your brother’s birthday. And since he wasn’t one of your well-known besties, I just wondered how he’s special. I believe I got my answer.” She leaned back again, with a satisfied look on her face.
“How in the world--” Rusty started and then shut up, frustrated with her keen insight. “How do you even do that?”
August shrugged. “I’m just good at putting two and two together, I guess. I mean, back then,” she said, without saying the words both of them had to be thinking – when we were together – “you were talking about your bestie Maddox an awful lot of the time.”
“Yeah, ‘cause he was my number one bro. He still is,” Rusty argued.
“I know. There’s nothing wrong with having a bro whose ass you’re checking from time to time,” August said.
“When did I ever tell you something like that?”
“Hmm, it must be true what they say about guys having short-term memory after,” she explained while making a vague lewd gesture that suggested exactly what he thought she meant. “You told me that Maddox must have gotten that ass by fucking a lot. You know, a lot of action from the hip.” Her lips quirked into another roguish smile.
“Fuck me,” Rusty groaned and looked around, although there weren’t many people there yet, and the place was too far off campus anyway for many students to have breakfast there and be able to eavesdrop on their conversation. “Did I really? Fuck, I can’t remember.”
“Well, then it’s my curse that I do,” August said and grinned, looking pretty satisfied with herself. “So, Matty.”
“You’re not going to let it drop, are you?” Rusty asked, feeling a bit pissed at August’s powers of deduction. “Fucking cockless Sherlock Holmes.”
She just laughed, throwing her head back, wild and free as usual. That was another thing he had loved about her at the time. Thought to love. Rusty wasn’t that sure he understood all the fuss about that word. It got thrown about a lot; no wonder it got bruised easily. “Let me get this straight,” he said, straightening in his chair. “Or not so straight,” he added after a short moment of deliberation. “Did you think I was gay while we were fucking?”
August shook her head, still amused enough to piss him off a little more. “No, what the hell? Just a little bi-curious. Wait, do you fancy yourself gay now?”
Rusty snorted. “I don’t fancy myself anything. I like what I like.”
August wiggled her eyebrows. “And, in this case, the ass on that delicious BTS look-alike dude.”
“I know, right? That’s how cute he is,” he confirmed. Then, realizing that he still needed to be pissed at August for unmasking him way too easily, he frowned. “Still, you’re pissing me off,” he declared.
That only made her shake with laughter a little more. Great, now she was even wiping tears from her eyes.
“Wow, you’ve fallen for a dude, eventually,” August said matter-of-factly.
“Psh, I don’t fall for anyone,” Rusty replied, puffing out his chest, a sort of knee-jerk reaction to being accused of impossible things.
August’s laughter died down. She wasn’t even smiling. “It’s just sex, then? Damn, and I thought no one could even hold a candle to your bestie’s ass.” She was hiding behind a joke, but her eyes held no humor in them. If anything, she was pinning him down with a hard stare.
“No, it’s not just sex,” he hurried to convince her, because that was a convenient truth he could live with. “We’re like best buds, too. He has a good head on his shoulders. And he’s tutoring me. Matty’s like… you can’t know ‘cause you’re a chick, and you chicks don’t have friendships like that.”
August sighed, smiling, this time with mirth, and put one elbow on the table, rubbing her forehead with one hand. “Then why don’t you enlighten me a little more. You know how much I like learning all kinds of things about guys. And, it feels like I need to remind you that, on more than one occasion, you told me that you felt like you were with one of your besties when you were with me. You even accused me of being sort of a dude, but one with a pussy.”
A couple went past them that very moment and they both turned their heads in surprise at the last word leaving her mouth.
August waved and smiled pleasantly at them. “I have a kitty at home, she’s this big,” she explained, “and she’s really furry. Yeah, she leaves hair everywhere.”
Rusty pretended he needed to tie his shoelaces. August was killing him, as usual. He only emerged from under the table once the couple had moved away. “Damn, girl,” he laughed, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you’re embarrassing me. I’m the one who does that to others, just for the record. Anyway, about what you said, I wasn’t accusing you. I was complimenting you.”
August rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I suppose it was the manly part of me you liked in the end.”
“That’s not true. I liked all your parts,” Rusty protested.
They stopped for a moment, looking at each other fondly. “We had fun,” August concluded for the both of them. “Now, let me just understand this. Is Matty a secret, too?”
“Kind of,” Rusty said hesitantly.
“What’s that supposed to mean? Kind of shouldn’t be in Rusty Parker’s vocabulary.”
“Well, the guys know, but not anyone else.”
August’s eyebrows shot up and not in surprise, but more like in an incredulous dissatisfaction. “Is he okay with that? Wait, is he exploring his bi-curious tendencies, just as you’re doing?”
“That’s not what I’m doing,” Rusty shot back. What exactly was he doing? Now, that was a good question. “He’s not bi-curious. He’s very unapologetically gay.”
“Well, at least one of you knows his own deal,” August commented and shrugged her shoulders. “You still haven’t answered. Is it really fine with him to fool around with you on the downlow?”
“Yeah, totally. He’s only in this to get practice. One day, he wants to get a real boyfriend.”
“Why, you’re a fake one?” August sent the ball back into his court with her usual precision.
“I’m not fake, how can you even…” Rusty scoffed and pursed his lips. “Look, it’s like this. Matty wants to get good at gay sex, so he’s using me to do that. We talked about it.”
“He uses a seemingly straight guy to learn about gay sex,” August said slowly, as if she wasn’t sure those words meant their literal sense. “Wait, do you play the passive role while he does the, you know, good ol’ to and fro?”
Rusty groaned. “I’m so not going to answer that.”
“But why?” August fake-complained. “Really, it doesn’t seem like a good strategy at all, to go to a guy with no experience whatsoever for that kind of practice.”
“I’ve had lots of sex since I was fifteen,” Rusty argued.
“Sex with girls,” August pointed out. “I don’t think it’s the same.”
“Well, Matty’s more than pleased with what he’s learning from me,” Rusty said.
“Of course, because he has not had that much practice under his belt, so to speak, therefore, he has no basis for comparison.”
August was so freaking infuriating with her logic. “Say what you want, but we know it’s good,” he said, not knowing what else he could say to convince her.
To his relief, she began laughing again. “I’m just pulling your leg. I know very well what a fast learner you are, as well as how dedicated you are to everything involving sex. However, forgive me if I’m still a little puzzled. He doesn’t mind at all that he’s your dirty little secret?”
“First of all, he’s not a dirty little secret. He’s only a partial secret. And there’s nothing little about him.”
August raised her soda. “Good for you, then. You obviously have a weakness for big dicks.”
“Oh, screw you, you witch,” Rusty threw at her, biting his lips not to laugh.
She smiled and then wiped her hands. “Speaking of which,” she said pointedly, “I believe I need to get on my broom already. Do you want to come along and see where I live? It’s not far from here, and it was a really good deal, seeing how close it is to the campus.”
Rusty hesitated, but only for a moment. He’d see Matty later tonight, and his bros wouldn’t care if he was missing in action some more. Also, it gave him more time to prepare for all their questions, something he didn’t want to face just now. “Why not?” he said and got up from his chair.
Matty lay on his belly, textbooks open in front of him, trying to keep his mind busy after the events of last night. Xpress had already reported on the appearance of a new hero on campus, but left out the cat boy, which miffed him a little bit. After all, he had hoped Rusty would see news of Slicky and be content with that. For reasons he didn’t fully comprehend about himself, he didn’t want his cat boy persona to be considered a coward by Rusty. Now it seemed that all that dangerous enterprise had been for nothing. Xpress had grabbed the bigger bone and was now chewing on it.
He touched his lips for a moment. Not that the mysterious stranger, with his magnetic personality, wasn’t bound to steal the show. The kiss, albeit short, had been so cocksure that Matty didn’t know if it warranted a slap or to just melt into it. It was too late for such debates, and, at the moment, he had been too surprised for either. Maybe he leaned a bit into the melting option.
Matty shook his head energetically. He had Rusty in his life, so he wasn’t supposed to kiss other boys. Only that this was a genuine case of his being kissed by other boys; did that absolve him of any feeling of guilt?
It wasn’t about the kiss, though. It was about how – what the hell could the right word be? – seduced he had felt in that moment. Was he really that easy? He wanted to slap himself silly or just laugh. Along came a dark, handsome stranger and all his passion for Rusty went flying out the window. He really, really needed to have his head checked. Self-checked.
His internal debate was brought to a halt by someone coming in. Although he knew that it could only be his obnoxious roommate, he looked over his shoulder only to notice, much to his surprise, that John wasn’t alone. He and Zoey walked into the room, single file, both with mournful expressions on their faces, dragging their feet. Then, as if they were coordinated by a magical wand, they stopped in the middle of the room, turned and then fell exhausted on John’s bed, leaving a decent arm’s length between them. If it hadn’t been for that, Matty would have started to worry that his roommate and his bestie were getting into some nefarious union together. Wait, actually, they were doing that.
“Who died?” he asked after the pair sighed in the same freakish unison.
“Decency,” John said and shook his head, as his eyes filled with sorrow.
Matty pressed his eyeglasses against his face to take a good look at Zoey. She seemed just as devastated, only her pursed lips were making counterclockwise circles which meant – much to his relief – that his bestie was still in there and he didn’t have to run an ad-hoc intervention to save her soul.
“Come on, John,” he teased, “that can’t be true.”
“Do you know what happened last night, Matty?” John asked with a long-suffering exhalation. “No, how could you? You were here, studying, then asleep, like the last vestige of a dying world of decency.”
Matty had a hard time stomaching that image of himself. If only John knew. He’d probably try to smother him with a pillow while in the world of dreams. Better not take any chances, he decided, hoping that he wasn’t the kind to talk in his sleep and thus give himself away. Zoey had turned her head away from them, and her shoulders were shaking.
John, sensing what he believed to be distress, took Zoey by the shoulders to comfort her. “We will have other chances. This isn’t over.”
“Guys, come on, it’s beautiful outside. Both of you, stop being so gloomy,” Matty advised in a cheerful voice. “However, I need to ask. Were the two of you up all night?”
“We slept together,” John said solemnly.
“You what?” Matty tried to catch Zoey’s eyes, but his bestie had her head buried in John’s chest.
“Some of us who felt too defeated after last night,” John explained. “We went to our nest and slept there, with our heads on the table.”
Nest? Really? One meant for nursing velociraptors, probably, Matty thought. “Zoey, let’s take you out to get some food. I guess they’re still serving breakfast someplace. If not, we’ll grab lunch. John, you need some proper sleep and study time,” he addressed his roommate, to prevent any demand from him to come along.
His phone buzzed with a new notification. He threw one look at it and saw that Xpress had just posted some new piece of gossip. Maybe they were finally acknowledging his presence at the scene of last night’s events. He’d read it later. Now, he had a bestie to save.
A bestie, who was now checking her phone. He watched helplessly while Zoey’s face metamorphosed into an expression of shock and then into a frown. Then, she looked at him with what looked like some sort of compassion, the corners of her mouth dropping. The following moment, she began to type a message on her phone, moving her eyes away from him.
Matty felt his stomach starting to twist into knots. The second buzz was a message from her. He took the phone.
All caps. That couldn’t be good.
Well, well, well, did we just identify Rusty Parker’s main squeeze of the moment? He was suspiciously AWOL from campus this whole weekend, which, of course, made us wonder…
Now, the mystery is solved. Rusty was spotted off campus, in the company of a young Joan Jett, according to the tip we got. Who’s Joan Jett? Yes, we had to google that, too. Our anonymous tipster must have lived his youth in a completely different era. Whatever, we must give credit where credit is due, because now we know what to look for. And it was all at an hour that points to a single logical conclusion: the happy duo must have spent the night together.
Who’s the mysterious rock star look-alike Rusty’s seeing at the moment? Is Rusty into older women now? Sunny Hill ingénue does – oops, we almost misplaced a letter there, good thing we caught ourselves at the last moment – it looks like you have nothing on this hot lynx. As you can see, we have our terminology in place. If you intend to rise up to expectations, upgrade yourselves from does to wildcats, and then maybe you’ll stand a chance.
I told you that August would reappear... I did, right? These days I don't know my left from my right. Anyway, I want to tell that all of you are uber awesome, commenting and supporting me through this writing endeavor. And now, I'm going to the previous chapter and reply to your comments, because that's sooooo overdue.
Thank you for sticking with me,
I have no words to express my gratitude,
Until next time,
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