Three Strikes

by Mai Takou (マ イー・タ コー)
illustrated by fightfair


It started like any other day. Yeah, started. And isn’t that how just about all of those cheesy, heard ’em once you heard ’em all stories begin? I would swear that this one is different, this one’s unique, that you’ve never heard anything like it before, but chances are that, if you’ve heard someone else’s story and they claim the same thing, it was just like mine. ‘Oh, no, I promise! It changed my life!’ Yeah, maybe it did, but so did learning to walk, talk, and a whole bunch of other things.

Anyway. Back to my ‘I’m a unique snowflake but not really’ story.

The beginning is kind of blurry. It’s the same routine every Monday and Wednesday, so it tends to fade together. I woke up, showered, got dressed, and went to school. Same ol’ same ol’. Sat through Critical Thinking (I refuse to call it Philosophy, because that’s a lie), moldered in Environmental Science, and slept through Comp 102. Still with the repetition, here. An hour break on the computer, then I’d hang out with my girlfriend, Norma, before going to my Life Drawing class for two and a half hours. So if you can’t tell, I have a long ass day at school. Two things always made up for it, though: seeing Norma before that art class, and going down to Dick Blick after the school day is done. I have a car and I drive it to school, but I prefer taking the bus to Blick. It’s always a lot more interesting to see what sorts of people get on, and sometimes, I like to make up backgrounds for them. That shabby-looking guy over there is the only son of a billionaire, disowned and cast out after daring to care about the lower classes. The woman by the window over there is a wanderer, just taking whatever bus she lands on until she runs out of money. It’s fun, and I always have to wonder just how close I am to the truth.

But I digress. Back to why that day was different from the rest.

I got off the bus and walked into the store, but instead of this cool, laid-back chick named Lindsay at the counter, it was a new guy. I’m on a first-name basis with all the employees, so of course I’d notice a stranger in the midst. He looked about my height, maybe a year older, with sharp blue eyes and thin, blond little dreadlocks that hung around his ears. Pretty good-looking, despite the fact that dreads are usually nasty. Norma had this absurd way of rating guys: 1 for grody, 5 for okay, 10 for pretty, 15 for hawt, and 20 for ‘tackle him to the floor and proceed to sex’. I was lucky enough to merit a 16, but he’d probably achieve at least 18. So of course I had to dislike him. Not only had he apparently taken Lindsay’s job, but he was better looking than me, and probably had all the girls chasing after him. What an ass. He probably had some super-sexy foreign name, too, like Dimitri or Virgil. How the hell was I supposed to beat that?!

So anyway, there I was, hating the guy for all the three seconds since I’d first laid eyes on him, and he just smiled and held his hand out to me, saying, “Hey. You’re Matt, right? I’m Clark. Lindsay said you’d be coming in right about now. She had to go out of town, so I’m filling in for her. Nice to meet you!” Okay, so maybe he didn’t have some cool name, and maybe he hadn’t stolen her job. Whatever. Fine. If he wanted to play Mr. Nice Guy, then so could I. I stuck out my hand and gave him one of my most plastic smiles, replying with, “Yep, that’s me. Nice to meet you too, Clark.” Good grip on the guy. My dad used to say you could tell the worth of a guy by how well he shook your hand. Jeez. I bet everyone loved him, too. That was when I decided never to come here with Norma again. It’s only natural not to want your super-hot girlfriend to leave you for a hotter guy, right? Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Matt, you’re such an asshole, go rot in hell. I don’t know how it happened either, okay? So cut me some slack.

I was just about to walk away, do my usual browsing, when he did the most unbelievable thing. He grabbed my arm. Can you believe it? I’d just met the guy, decided that he can never meet (and therefore steal) my girlfriend, and he grabs my arm so casually, like we’re friends or something! Seriously, the nerve of this guy! So I turned back, and I was giving him my best ‘Excuse me but WTF are you doing buddy’ glares, but he wasn’t even paying attention! Way to waste a good glare. I looked back at him, and he was digging around in his bag for something. I guess I could give him props for the Nirvana patch he had on the front of it. Can’t fault a guy for liking classics, right? But then again, who didn’t like Nirvana? That was a blasphemy against nature itself.

I watched him pull out a CD and hand it to me, and he had the biggest smile on his face, like that simple act had us best buddies or something. “Lindsay and Scott told me you were a real music fiend, so I brought this with me.” I looked down at it, and I totally remember thinking, ‘A burned CD as a peace offering? Real classy, man.’ But it was his next line that really caught my attention: “It’s my band’s demo. I play bass and sing. I thought it might be good to have a real connoisseur listen to it. Tell me if we’re any good?”

Ah, shit. And that’s when I was caught in a dilemma. He was good with flattery. It’s true; I love music, any and all, and can find the diamonds on a beach full of rhinestones (Fort Minor, if you didn’t catch that), and it must have been Scott who told him that I have a weakness for a good bass line. So I had to take it, couldn’t even believe it when I heard myself saying, “Sure, I’d be glad to listen.” So now I was obliged to. Damn it all to hell. Then again, I didn’t know what kind of music it was, and he didn’t tell me, so it could have been anything, and I would have been justified in disliking it. But how could I know without listening to it first?

So that was the first strike. Meeting Clark, and getting that CD. It doesn’t sound like such a portentous thing (that’s a ten-dollar word right there, folks), but it was.

Strike number two came after I had picked out what I wanted to buy. He was ringing me up at the counter, and he asked the one question you should never ask me: “So, what kind of music do you like?” Doesn’t sound too bad at first, but oh man. One of Norma’s friends asked me once, and she had to drag me away afterwards. Apparently, I can go on and on about it. What can I say? I love music. It inspires me, it keeps me entertained and interested in the workings of the rest of the world. So I had to try to sum it all up. Like I’d want to be here any longer than I had to. Bland answers are good, so I gave him, “I like pretty much everything, so long as the lyrics don’t suck, and the music catches my interest. You?” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to ask him that, it was that I didn’t mean to. But he grinned at me anyway, that stupid smile of his, as he answered, “About the same. I’m really digging this one band, Black Tape for a Blue Girl. Have you heard of them?” And that was where I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Nobody knew of Black Tape for a Blue Girl. He was the first person I’d met who did. So then we got caught up talking about music. And that was strike two. As much as I hated to admit it, I was starting to like the guy. And I could almost forgive him for being better-looking. Almost.

After close to like, an hour of us rambling about music (the crazy part is that he kept up with me, by the way. Not even Norma could do that!), I had to catch the bus back to school to pick up my car, meet up with Norma, and then go back to my own house. It felt like I forgot that I ever decided to dislike the guy in the first place. And then I had this thought, that maybe I didn’t have a real reason to hate him, and Norma got a real kick out of my ‘pouting all over the place’. It was just too hard to hate the guy, and to be honest, I’d forgotten why I’d decided to. It might have been because nobody told me they were hiring someone new, or the fact he’d been in Lindsay’s spot. Hell, I still don’t really remember. But it was later that night, in my room, that sealed the deal. The last strike.

When I got home, I went to my room, popped the CD into my stereo, and was totally expecting some whiny emo crap, because that’s how all the new bands seemed to sound these days. But no. The drums led in, pounding out a beat that almost felt like it was going to the tempo of my heartbeat, and yet totally not at the same time. Then, god, I think I was lost; the bass crept in, low and prowling, and then chunk oh, Clark was extremely good with that instrument, he was. I laid back on my bed as a pair of guitars whispered into life, and then there was a powerful, booming clap from all the instruments. Silence. The guitars worked into life again, drums, and then the bass sneaking through the shadows. And then he started singing.

Three strikes, you’re out, go back to the dugout and shut the hell up. Shit. I was in love with his music.


I went back on Monday, tried to give Clark his CD back. He shook his head, handed it back to me, saying, “No way, man, you can keep it. Think if it as a gift for listening through. What’d you think?” I had at least seven different answers I could have given him, so I went with the tamest: “It’s pretty good, man. But you might want to work on making the songs flow with each other a little better.” I wasn’t going to let him know how happy it made me that I got to keep the CD. Not ever. So instead, I gave him a slip of paper as I said, “I redid the track list, it’d runs a little more smoothly like this.” It was a nice way of saying that the songs were all over the place. No sense of transition at all. What the hell, I thought he was a musician. Shouldn’t he have an ear for these things? So it was like a test, of sorts. If he had a bitchfit, then okay, I could hate him again. If he didn’t, then. Well. Fine. I supposed we could work something out.

But no, Clark smiled and took the paper. You’d think I’d told him he’d gotten his dream girl, he was smiling so much. He took the paper, folded it real nice before sticking it in his pocket. “Thanks, man! This is fantastic. Darren thinks he’s hot stuff, but he can’t arrange music for anything,” he laughed, “although he’s a beast on the drums.” And again, we got stuck talking about music. He told me about his band mates: the brothers Darren and Darwin, who played drums and rhythm guitar respectively, and Scarlett, who did lead guitar. We discussed our favorite bands, video games that had amazing soundtracks, new bands we’d discovered. I told him about my art classes, and Clark asked me to design the band’s logo. Big honor for me, and I still have yet to settle on a design I like. It went on like this for weeks, after notice came that Lindsay was quitting and moving back to Washington to be with her father in the last stages of his cancer. And while I did sincerely feel bad for her, part of me was glad that I’d get more time to talk to Clark. It even got to a point when we would joke about being musical soul mates, and all I could talk about when I was with Norma was him. I think that’s where it all started going wrong.

Norma and I started to get into these big fights. And I know it was mostly my fault, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t still hurt. She said I didn’t love her anymore, that Clark was turning me into some kind of disgusting homo, that I didn’t care about her at all. And the worst part was, she was right. Not about the turning gay or not caring about her, but… I really think that somewhere, I fell out of love with her. It wasn’t like I meant to hurt her or anything, but… that’s how things turned out. We broke up, surprise, surprise, and I ended up lamenting over my pseudo-heartbreak with guess who– Clark. And then things went straight to hell and back.

Despite the eventual result, I’ve decided never to drink again after that incident.

Clark and I were hanging out at his house one day soon after “The Fallout” as we’d dubbed it, when I didn’t have class and he didn’t have work or practice. We’d stolen a case of his dad’s beer (the guy had plenty, he wouldn’t notice one gone), and were sitting in his room, listening to some shuffled playlist on his iPod as we drank and talked. Or. Well. As we drank, I whined and bitched and moaned, and he laughed, if you want to be technical. And then, I distinctly remember that Fingertips by Poe came on, and he leaned over and kissed me. Now, let me make this perfectly clear: I’d never kissed a guy. I’d never felt anything for guys, and was strictly a boobs kind of man. …So don’t ask me why I kissed him back. He was pretty surprised, too. But then he did it again, and again, and again, and before I knew it I was on my back underneath him with his hand down my pants. God, I can’t tell you how awkward that was. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: he had a really good grip. Maybe it was just because I was pretty much smashed, but I didn’t mind it at all. It just… felt good. And after getting dumped by Norma, I’d say some feel-good time was in order.

So I was lying there, not really knowing what to do, and he was biting at my neck, and I think… I think I freaked out. I mean, I was on my back, half pants-less, underneath another guy who was jerking me off. Straight guy with an apparently gay man’s hand on his penis. I think I was justified in spazzing, okay? But… I don’t think it was the freak-out we were both really expecting. I pushed him up, off of me, and just kept rambling at him as I moved away. I think I started hyperventilating at one point, too. And he was really cool about it, helping me to calm down a little before he asked if I was okay. No, I wasn’t okay, dammit, I was drunk, turned on, turned on by a guy, and freaking out over entirely the wrong thing. Not okay.

illustrated by fightfair

I looked at him, and I guess my eyes were kind of crazy-wide or something, because he seemed almost scared for a second, and then I started babbling out why I was freaking out. “I feel like an asshole, man! You’re being so awesome, and this song fucking rocks, and… and you’re the only one doing anything, and I’m just lying there! What the hell am I supposed to do?!” He stared at me for a second, and burst out laughing. Thanks for the metaphorical kick in the balls, Clark. And then I realized how stupid what I said sounded, and I think I started laughing, too. Wow. I was a dick. I mean, Norma and I had had sex before. I don’t think she would have stayed with me so long if we hadn’t. And yet, here I was, freaking out because I wasn’t sure what to do for the guy who was pretty much groping me after I pretty much gave him the OK to continue. It was just… retarded. Completely retarded. And Clark was cool with that. He smiled at me, put his hand on my cheek, and kissed me again. And it was nice. Slow. Yeah, I realize this had gone way past bromance, and he definitely had more than a little guy-crush on me, but… Maybe it wasn’t so bad.

Maybe I liked him, too.

Like hell I was going to admit that, though. Not at that point in time. So anyway, he told me to sit back against the bed, and sat in front of me. Grabbed my hand, and laid it on the front of his pants, and god, I could feel his cock under there. Then he touched mine, and started doing it again, and just whispered in my ear, “Just make like you’re doing it to yourself.” He smiled. “If you want, we can stop.” And yeah, I know I’m a loser for taking it that way, but it kind of felt like a challenge. So I shook my head, and we sat like that for a little while, jerking each other off.

Let me tell you just a couple of things. One: either he masturbates a lot, or he was really good at it. I mean. Damn. And two: if he was good-looking normally, then when he came… Holy shit. I’m kind of glad I was the only one seeing that face. And I guess that was the part where everything started changing.

After a while, I grew to not let things bother me so much. Like, for example, the fact that Norma was adamant in ignoring my very existence. I’d tried to talk to her more than a few times in the beginning, to try to patch things up, but she just walked right past. I guess she didn’t forgive me. Either that or she was disgusted, and to be honest, I don’t blame her. Your boyfriend suddenly finds out he’s gay? Or. Well. Halfway there? Yeah, I’d be kind of pissed too. But I came to accept that things like that would happen, albeit after the fact; she’d brush me off, her friends who used to be my friends would make horrible comments any time I walked past them, and I got so distracted by it all that I almost failed a class. Forgot to turn in an important assignment. I was too busy worrying about Norma, worrying about trying to talk to her friends, and freaking out about what was happening between Clark and me. But he was there with me, and helped me out. So it was okay. Weird, but okay. I mean, come on. My entire world pretty much fell on its head and got a concussion, of course things were going to be really bizarre. But I came to not mind it, and truth be told, I’m okay with everything now.

Clark told me that a really pretty girl had come into the store once when I wasn’t there, stared at him for a while, and then muttered a number before storming back out. I had to laugh my ass off at that, no matter how confused he was. Guess she had to come see the guy who’d stolen her boyfriend, huh? When I asked what number it was, he said 18.5. So then I had to explain Norma’s rating system to him, and he asked what I’d gotten. That jerk, when I told him, he kissed me and said, “I think you’d be more of a twenty,” and… well… I’m not going to finish that thought. And I’m never telling him that I don’t think of Norma’s rating anymore, and instead think of his. It kind of felt like severing my last ties to her when he said that and I accepted it, and as sad as that makes me, I think it’s probably a good thing. And I know it’s stupid to even think of ratings at all, because they don’t matter, but it’s a self-esteem thing, leave me alone. Anyway, it’s best to let things die between Norma and me, right? Especially if she hated me.

So it’s been a few weeks since then, and Norma still isn’t talking to me. I guess I’m kind of glad. I don’t want to tell her that she was right. But things have finally started going smoothly again, and you’ve assigned us this final essay. The topic: a ‘life-changing’ event. Well. I’d say that was pretty life-changing, right, Professor?

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