The Karma Downs
For some reason, finishing his first week of classes without anything
getting blown up gave Sam a great deal of hope for the future.
He finished scribbling the last of his notes into his binder and
joined the stream of students jostling towards the door, stopping
to call to a few of the people he kind of/sort of knew. There was
a strange sort of excitement hanging in the air, showing in peoples
It made his feet itch.
The sun was only beginning to give way to the encroaching night
when he spilled out onto the green with the other students from his
class. A girl with white and blonde hair stumbled into him, knocking
him off balance as he caught her.
Sorry, she murmured as he set her back on her feet.
He felt a thrill of recognition as she whipped her hair back out
of her face, but it was gone even as she was, melting off into the
shadows. He shook his head and shouldered his bag more firmly on his
back, heading across the rapidly emptying green to where hed
parked his truck.
At the very least, the week had taught him to keep track of his
Water, cold and wet and shocking, hit him upside the head and he
spun in the direction he could only guess it had come from.
Sascha sat on the edge of the fountain from before, shaking the
water from her hands back over the pool. Hello to you too,
she said cheerfully.
What... he said, very coherently, wiping the water from
the side of his face and rubbing his hands through his hair.
It didnt seem as if you were going to stop and say hi,
and I thought Id get your attention.
Why didnt yah just...
What? Kyle asked with a grin, smiling wider as he realized
that Sam had only just noticed him. Call your name? You didnt
exactly notice the other day.
A black girl was sitting on the ground beside them, her back against
the stone fountain. She wiped flecks of water from the anatomy diagrams
of the pages of the text she was reading and looked up at Sam, her
eyebrow raised in a knowing, but very resigned way.
This is Ange, by the way, Sascha said, gesturing towards
She held her hand up towards him, and he shook it. Angela
Evans, she said in a voice like velvet.
Samuel Guthrie, he replied.
You can have a seat, you know, Kyle said, waving a hand
around. We dont bite.
Well, said Angela, with a significant look towards Sascha,
not most of us, anyway.
Sascha bared her teeth at the other girl and grinned. Ah,
I dont bite *that* hard. Except Kyle, and Ive had all
Kyle tousled her hair at that, and she nipped at his hand as he
snapped it away.
Sam unslung his bag as he dropped to the fountain beside Angela.
The stone was pleasantly cool, and water kicked up against his back
every once and a while. He should have felt like an outsider as they
talked and threw barbs at each other, but he didnt. He felt
*comfortable,* really comfortable, and it had been a while since he
It might have had something to do with the fact that if someone
did happen to take offense to what another said, he didnt have
to worry about finding cover.
It was only when Sascha suddenly sat up straighter and asked what
time it was that he realized how long hed been there. Angela
had closed her book a while ago, and as she now peered down at her
watch she had to use the indiglo to see the face.
Guys, she said. We only have about half an hour.
The three of them were on their feet quickly, and Sam followed them
up, bag in his hand, feeling a little bit lost. Sascha was shrugging
into her jacket and saw the look on his face. We kind of wanted
to see this girl whos singing at a club in a bit, she
said. Friend of a friend kind of thing. Her sisters in
my media course, and I told her wed go because she couldnt
be there. A bit of a support group for after the show.
Kyle stopped, running a hand through his dark hair. You want
to come? he asked.
Ah dont know... Sam said, not wanting to intrude
but discovering that he wasnt quite ready to head back to the
You can fit in Kyles car with us, Sascha said.
Theres plenty of room.
But mah truck...
You have your parking permit stuck on the windshield, right?
she asked. Campus security will leave it alone. We can give
you a lift back after or you can catch a cab.
Sam still hesitated. He should get back to the mansion before someone
started to worry about him.
Come on, she said. Itll be fun.
Itll give you a chance to get to know the city a bit
more, outside of the campus, Kyle added.
Sam nodded then, a feeling of finality bubbling up from somewhere
as he drawled, Sure. He shook it away, falling in beside
the others as they headed for the same parking lot that held his truck.
They started to dash when the wind hit them, because it was getting
cold, and Angela didnt have a jacket with her.
They stopped at a twenty year old Chevy that was trying its hardest
to be a sports car, paint chipped and faded pale black, and Kyle unlocked
the doors. Sam followed Angela into the back seat as she slid across
the bench, the wind trying to tear the car door from his hands. He
got it closed as Angela pulled a sweater from the rear window and
over her head. Sascha flicked the radio on and as they pulled out
of the lot the car thrummed with bass, the green light of the displays
He remembered the cell phone then, tucked into the bag that sat
between his feet. Scott and Jean had given it to him a bit after theyd
found out hed been accepted into the university. Means of contact,
he supposed, and one that was less conspicuous than a talking pin
or belt buckle. Also one that didnt require his wearing a pin
or belt with a huge buckle.
The line was busy, so he left a brief message on the voicemail,
just saying that hed be out for a bit. He didnt say when
hed be back.
He really didnt feel like heading back quite yet.
Angela was looking at him when he slid the phone back into his pack,
her eyes appraising, and he was left with the feeling that she was
looking right through him, right into him. You dont live
with your parents, do you? she asked. Her dark face was almost
obscured in the shadows.
He thought of his family. Thought of Paige, off in the forests.
Thought of how hed left the last time hed gone home. Had
it only been a couple of months ago? He thought of Scott and Jean,
fighting, of Logan, Bobby, Emma, Hank, and how there always seemed
something *off* lately.
He wondered when hed go home again.
And he wondered what home was.
No, he said. I dont.
He left it at that, and though he could read in her eyes that she
wanted to know more, she just nodded.
They had to park a couple of blocks back from the club in the end,
and they ran wildly down the empty sidewalk, hair and jackets trailing
behind them. The club was small and dim, round tables crowded closely
in the hanging smoke, a simple spot light shining on a stage on the
back wall. They managed to snag a table near the back, and Sascha
ordered them a basket of buffalo wings and a pitcher of Coke, which
arrived as the light dimmed further for first of the three acts of
Sarahs up last, Sascha told him just before the
band started to play. They were decent, and the one that came after
them was good, especially the guitarist. By the pause before the last
show, the four of them had gone through another basket of buffalo
wings and a platter of nachos.
The lights came up again, and Sascha placed her fingers in her mouth
and whistled while Kyle and Angela clapped loudly. Sam clapped too,
feeling a little uncomfortable.
The girl on the stage was about the same age as they were, with
curly brown hair. She raised her microphone above her head, and looked
up and smiled. Her features were more strong than beautiful, but Sam
was left with the feeling that she was smiling just at him. Looking
around, he suspected that the rest of the room felt the same way.
Her voice was much the same as her face, more strong or striking than
beautiful, but she knew how to perform. She was dressed for it, and
she moved for it. There were a couple of times when she was a little
off key, but she recovered. It was all about the show for her, and
she enjoyed it, and that was exactly what the audience saw.
The applause at the end was heartfelt, and this time when he joined
in Sam didnt feel out of place. She bowed once, deeply, grinned
out at the crowd, and waved as she strode off the stage like she owned
She arrived at their table a while later, as they were finishing
off the last of the pop. She was dressed only slightly more sedately,
her hair thrown into a messy ponytail. Whatd you think?
she asked, grinning and doing a little dance.
Sascha flashed her the thumbs up and Kyle and Angela raised their
glasses to her before draining the last of the Coke from them.
Good show, Sam ventured, and though he knew that shed
noticed him before he spoke, she grinned wider at him.
Thanks, she said, leaning on the table. And who
might you be?
This is Sam, Sascha said. Kyle found him wandering
the campus his first day, and took pity on him. We decided to keep
Ah, she said, nodding. She looked him over once again
and nodded in approval. Sam felt himself blush a little bit, and she
laughed. It wasnt a nasty laugh, and he felt himself grin in
return. Thanks for coming, she said as she pulled a battered
pack of cigarettes from the pocket of her coat. I know my sister
hooked you into it, but I appreciate it all the same. She paused
with her lighter raised part way to her mouth and quickly pocketed
it. I know I should quit.
Sam thought of the various images Hank had shown them and shuddered
a bit. He must have nodded emphatically because Sarah laughed at him.
Keep him, she said, zipping up her jacket. Hes
cute. But I gotta shove off.
Later, Sascha said.
Sam waved as she turned and headed for the door. So...
he said. The club appeared to be clearing out.
You guys want to hit The Cuppa? Sasha asked. Kyle and
The Cuppa? Sam asked.
Bar and grille type place. Theyve got some of the best
whiskey in town, and the best pizza youll find at a bar. Kyles
older brother works there part time, and he makes a mean grasshopper.
Grasshopper? Sam asked.
Sascha smiled at him again. How bout we just show you?
It started as a pool hall, Angela explained to him as
Kyle and Sascha hit the bar. The bartender seemed to know them.
Sam stood and stared.
It was split level. A couple of pool tables sat in the upper half,
a couple of foozball and air hockey tables, and a few pinball and
video games mixed among them. Television sets in each corner of the
huge room were set to different channels. There was relatively little
smoke, and a pizza oven in one corner. Booths were littered around.
Almost as much food as alcohol was passing over the counter.
After it was a pool hall, it was an Irish bar, Angela
continued. After that, it went through a variety of hands. The
current management just kind of kept the best of each owner.
He could believe that. It was mixed up, mismatched, and jumbled.
But it seemed to have a comfortable air around it, something warm,
and he thought that he could get to like it here. Hed never
been as fond of Harrys, back in Salem Center, as the others
had. It just hadnt been his type of place. Sure, you could strike
up a conversation with someone you didnt know, but you were
as likely to get everything above your third vertebrae taken off as
make a new friend, and the knock-down dragouts got on your nerves
after a time.
The others returned, bearing drinks, and he shook his head and stepped
towards them. Kyle handed him a bottle of beer, and he took it and
twisted the cap off absently.
Eddie, my brother, isnt on tonight. So you just get
a beer, Kyle said.
He took a swallow of it before realizing something rather important.
Ah have to drive home tonight, Sam said, dropping the
bottle to his side. Ah cant exactly take a cab back to
Sascha looked at him again, then turning to the bar to check the
clock. Its after midnight already, she said with
a frown. Its a couple hours back to Westchester, isnt
He nodded. Ah should probably go.
Do you have a morning class? She asked him.
Tomorrows Saturday, he reminded her.
Ah. Well then, theres no reason for you to hurry home.
She thought for a second, then poked Kyle in the side. Kyles
got an apartment. Dont you, Kyle?
Huh? Kyle asked. Yeah, Ive got a place.
So, Sascha said. He can stay the night, right?
The man just finished his first week of university courses. You wouldnt
want him to have to not drink at all, just because he lives out of
town, now would you?
Ah wouldnt want to presume, Sam protested.
Kyle shook his head. Hey, as long as you dont mind sleeping
on the couch, its all good. Youd be surprised at the number
of people who crash at my place. I dont mind.
Youre sure yah dont mind? Sam asked again.
Sascha sighed. He doesnt mind. He just said so a couple
of times. Now, are we going to have a good time, or what?
Sam grinned and took another slug of his beer. He considered calling
the mansion, but figured that hed wake someone.
He was a big boy.
He could take care of himself.
They commandeered a booth, the overhead lights reflecting dully
off of the scratched surface of the table. They talked about nothing
and everything, and he felt guilty for having to play his cards so
close to his chest. There was something in it, though, that made him
feel like he should make up for it by learning as much about the others
as he could.
Ive never been to Korea, Sascha said later, when
hed asked her about her family, about Korea. Wondering what
it was like outside of his field of vision. My parents immigrated
while Mother was pregnant with me, and we could never quite find the
time to go back while I was in school. There was one time we almost
made it, but my brother came down with mono, and we had to cancel.
She paused then, staring into her drink. Hes a lawyer
now. I might go there some day, but Ill probably never see Korea
with my family now.
Why? Sam asked, and someone kicked him in the shin under
She smiled, but it was bitter, and she took another chug of her
drink. Im studying to be a journalist. They dont
approved. Too risky, they think. They dont like that Im
studying liberal arts. A waste of money.
Sam rubbed his shin under the table. Ahm sorry,
Why? Its not anything that you did.
For bringing it up, I mean. He paused. Ah dont
know when I can go home, either.
In the morning? Sascha asked, coldly.
Ah dont live at home, he said. Ah live...
Well, its complicated. But home used to be Kentucky, and I dont
know if it is anymore, or how welcome I am. Some things... Some things
got said that cant be unsaid.
You really cant go home again, Angela said, and
though her voice was jovial, her eyes were a little desperate. There
was a bit of a ghetto speech pattern that came out in her voice when
she was excited or stressed.
See, Kyle said with a wicked smile. Sam, here,
youre the minority. Corn fed white boy. Weve got you outnumbered.
It had nothing to do with anything, and it wasnt meant to, but
it did get them laughing.
Sam felt his eyes drift over the pub, taking in the rise and swell
of the movement of people. There was a girl with white and blonde
hair sitting at the bar, and he found himself watching her. Her hair
spilled easily down her back, the movement hypnotising.
Hey! Earth to Sam! Someone was snapping their fingers
by his ears, and he shook his head.
You really do zone out a lot, dont you? Kyle asked.
Sorry. There was just... He faltered. There was just
this girl? he thought wryly. That wasnt lame at all.
There was just this girl? Angela asked.
Go talk to her, Sascha said. We dont mind.
Kyle grinned. We promise to still be here when you get back.
Ah dont know...
And you wont, if you dont go talk to her,
Oh, all right, Sam said as he rose, brushing his hair
She wasnt sitting at the bar anymore. In the few seconds since
hed torn his eyes off of her, shed vanished. He scanned
the bar, and was about to admit defeat and return to the booth when
he caught a flash of white and yellow from up amongst the pool tables.
He made his way up the stairs, looking for another glimpse of her.
She was bent over a pool table, and as he looked she banked the
cue ball off the side and knocked a red ball into the corner pocket.
She stood, moved to the other side of the table, and he was struck
with a sense of familiarity. He watched as another ball shot into
a pocket, then another, and she stopped, leaning on her pool cue and
looking at him. Hello, she said. Something particularly
interesting about the way I play?
He blushed a little bit. Youre good, he said.
Ah can barely make the white ball do what Ah want, let alone
make the ball it hits do what Ah want.
She nodded then, tossing her hair back over the shoulder of her
red tank, and she smiled a bit. Her hair wasnt really white
and blonde, he thought. It seemed almost gold, but that could have
been the contrast. It was unusual, yet strangely familiar.
Ahm sorry, he said. But have we met before?
She raised an eyebrow at him. That ones gotten old.
Hi, he said. Im Sam. Whats your name?
She leaned over the pool table again, sinking another ball. Would
you believe its Shard? She asked, glancing up at him with
startlingly bright eyes as she moved to the next ball.
Nope, she said as another ball disappeared.
I think I figured it out, he said.
My name? she asked as she sunk another ball. That
would be quite a trick.
No. Why you seem familiar.
Four more balls left.
Yeah. You bumped inta me on campus this afternoon.
She paused, stood up and looked at him again. So I did,
she said after a time, and there was something strange in her voice.
She leaned back down, sunk another ball. Three balls left. Sorry
Its all right. No harm done.
Two balls left. He leaned back against another table as one disappeared,
then the other. She dropped the cue on the table, and stood and looked
at him. Grace, she said with a nod. My name is Grace.
Pleased tah meet you, Grace. Would you care for a drink?
She smiled at him then, really smiled. Why, yes I would.
And as they headed back down to the bar, that feeling from that
afternoon, the one of finality, of a door closing, of a road changing,
came back to him, and this time he couldnt shake it.
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