The Karma Downs
by CherryIce

Chapter Three

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 people’s strides.

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 he’d parked his truck.

At the very least, the week had taught him to keep track of his truck.

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 didn’t seem as if you were going to stop and say hi, and I thought I’d get your attention.”

“Why didn’t yah just...”

“What?” Kyle asked with a grin, smiling wider as he realized that Sam had only just noticed him. “Call your name? You didn’t 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 her.

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 don’t 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 don’t bite *that* hard. Except Kyle, and I’ve had all my shots.”

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 didn’t. He felt *comfortable,* really comfortable, and it had been a while since he felt that.

It might have had something to do with the fact that if someone did happen to take offense to what another said, he didn’t 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 he’d 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 who’s singing at a club in a bit,” she said. “Friend of a friend kind of thing. Her sister’s in my media course, and I told her we’d go because she couldn’t 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 don’t know...” Sam said, not wanting to intrude but discovering that he wasn’t quite ready to head back to the mansion yet.

“You can fit in Kyle’s car with us,” Sascha said. “There’s 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. “It’ll be fun.”

“It’ll 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 didn’t 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 bright.

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 they’d found out he’d 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 didn’t 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 he’d be out for a bit. He didn’t say when he’d be back.

He really didn’t 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 don’t 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 he’d left the last time he’d 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 he’d go home again.

And he wondered what home was.

“No,” he said. “I don’t.”

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 the night.

“Sarah’s 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 didn’t feel out of place. She bowed once, deeply, grinned out at the crowd, and waved as she strode off the stage like she owned the place.

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. “What’d 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 she’d 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 him.”

“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 wasn’t 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. “He’s 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 Angela nodded.

“The Cuppa?” Sam asked.

“Bar and grille type place. They’ve got some of the best whiskey in town, and the best pizza you’ll find at a bar. Kyle’s 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?”

Sam stared.

“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. He’d never been as fond of Harry’s, back in Salem Center, as the others had. It just hadn’t been his type of place. Sure, you could strike up a conversation with someone you didn’t 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, isn’t 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 can’t exactly take a cab back to Westchester.

Sascha looked at him again, then turning to the bar to check the clock. “It’s after midnight already,” she said with a frown. “It’s a couple hours back to Westchester, isn’t it?”

He nodded. “Ah should probably go.”

“Do you have a morning class?” She asked him.

“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” he reminded her.

“Ah. Well then, there’s no reason for you to hurry home.” She thought for a second, then poked Kyle in the side. “Kyle’s got an apartment. Don’t you, Kyle?”

“Huh?” Kyle asked. “Yeah, I’ve got a place. So?”

“So,” Sascha said. “He can stay the night, right? The man just finished his first week of university courses. You wouldn’t want him to have to not drink at all, just because he lives out of town, now would you?”

“Ah wouldn’t want to presume,” Sam protested.

Kyle shook his head. “Hey, as long as you don’t mind sleeping on the couch, it’s all good. You’d be surprised at the number of people who crash at my place. I don’t mind.”

“You’re sure yah don’t mind?” Sam asked again.

Sascha sighed. “He doesn’t 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 he’d 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.

“I’ve never been to Korea,” Sascha said later, when he’d 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. “He’s a lawyer now. I might go there some day, but I’ll probably never see Korea with my family now.”

“Why?” Sam asked, and someone kicked him in the shin under the table.

She smiled, but it was bitter, and she took another chug of her drink. “I’m studying to be a journalist. They don’t approved. Too risky, they think. They don’t like that I’m studying liberal arts. A waste of money.”

Sam rubbed his shin under the table. “Ah’m sorry,” he said.

“Why? It’s not anything that you did.”

“For bringing it up, I mean.” He paused. “Ah don’t know when I can go home, either.”

“In the morning?” Sascha asked, coldly.

“Ah don’t live at home,” he said. “Ah live... Well, it’s complicated. But home used to be Kentucky, and I don’t know if it is anymore, or how welcome I am. Some things... Some things got said that can’t be unsaid.”

“You really can’t 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, you’re the minority. Corn fed white boy. We’ve got you outnumbered.” It had nothing to do with anything, and it wasn’t 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, don’t you?” Kyle asked.

“Sorry. There was just...” He faltered. There was just this girl? he thought wryly. That wasn’t lame at all.

“There was just this girl?” Angela asked.

“Yeah, actually.”

“Go talk to her,” Sascha said. “We don’t mind.”

Kyle grinned. “We promise to still be here when you get back.”

“Ah don’t know...”

“And you won’t, if you don’t go talk to her,” Angela said.

“Oh, all right,” Sam said as he rose, brushing his hair back.

She wasn’t sitting at the bar anymore. In the few seconds since he’d torn his eyes off of her, she’d 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. “You’re 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 wasn’t really white and blonde, he thought. It seemed almost gold, but that could have been the contrast. It was unusual, yet strangely familiar.

“Ah’m sorry,” he said. “But have we met before?”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “That one’s gotten old. Try again.”

“Hi,” he said. “I’m Sam. What’s your name?”

She leaned over the pool table again, sinking another ball. “Would you believe it’s Shard?” She asked, glancing up at him with startlingly bright eyes as she moved to the next ball.

“Is it?”

“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 about that.”

“It’s 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 couldn’t shake it.

continued >>

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