“…So this whole time, you ripped the whole Audio Knights schtick from Rob?”
“Hey man, it was inspired! Like James Brown to Michael Jackson. There’s a difference.”
“Sure, Mike. That’s what all those rappers said too.”
“Guys, focus please. There’s something about that Talulah woman. I don’t like it. We need to stay on our toes.”
“Probably a lot more than that. But if Rob says not to worry, then we shouldn’t worry. He hasn’t let us down yet.”
Michael Kay grinned as his friends followed him up the steps of Rob’s building.
While Calvin and Aeris had spoken with equal energy and electricity, Kim remained noticeably dour and silent.
It was best not to agitate her, but that didn’t make her behavior any less obvious.
After half a minute leading the rest of the Audio Knights down the hall, Michael finally stopped.
“Well, here we are.”
Michael Kay’s words drifted off into nothingness, as he looked back at his assembled Audio Knights and then back at the front door into the Sound Loft.
His breath left his lungs with gnawing reluctance. “I promised Rob I’d vacuum the place while he’s gone, so this is where we split.”
In response, Calvin just put on a wry smile. “It can’t wait just a little bit? We haven’t really hung out together like this in weeks.”
“We can help.” Aeris chimed in, happy at the thought of spending time with Michael. “An extra set of hands never hurt.”
And yet all this time, Kim said nothing still. She just glared back at Michael, her eyes rife with toxicity and practically drilling right through his soul.
The boy felt caught between a vice: on one end, two of his friends who just wanted to have a good time. And on the other, his very first friend, who couldn’t do a worse job hiding her seething, boiling rage if she tried.
With a gulp that he tried so hard to mask, Michael put his hand on the doorknob and offered everyone a warm smile.
“Okay.” he said, relenting.
“We clean like Rob asked, then we chill.”
Calvin and Aeris smiled wide at the thought.
Meanwhile Kim, agitated, angry and annoyed, just looked away.
Michael should have known things were going south when Kim decided to plop down on the couch, boots up on the coffee table, while the rest of them cleaned and vacuumed as per Rob’s request.
But rather than confront the issue, he chose to whistle to himself, trying to focus on cleaning as Kim hit him with every accusing glare under the sun.
Calvin masked his own worries in attempt to diffuse the tension, and only Aeris seemed capable to showing genuine concern.
Silently, she pushed the red vacuum back and forth along Rob’s month-old rug, and observed Kim from the corner of her eye.
The distraction cost her less than a minute later, as she bumped into the love-seat Kim was lounging on with a resounding thud.
“Watch it.” Kim growled.
Aeris’s lips twisted with further concern. “Sorry.”
She pivoted the vacuum, passing by Kim, who had her arms crossed in disapproval this entire time.
Kim looked at Aeris, and the anger welled up from her stomach.
No, it was more than anger. Sadness, betrayal, pure rage; a cauldron of volatile emotions that Kim had so barely held back this entire time.
Five seconds passed, and her self-control failed as the insulting words flowed out like lava.
“I don’t need your apologies, traitor.”
Kim couldn’t have been louder. The sound of Aeris’s vacuuming ceased.
Michael, no matter how much he wanted to look away, found himself staring at the onset of Aeris’s frustrations.
“Nothing will be good enough for you, will it?”
Kim didn’t budge. “You misunderstand. It’s just you.”
“How many times, Kim?” Aeris said, her voice rising.
Conflict was beyond imminent now. And though Calvin put his hand out to stop her, he found himself suddenly mute and powerless at the angry exchange before him.
Truthfully, there was a part of him that wanted to let Aeris vent.
“How many times do I have to say sorry before you’ll be satisfied?” his girlfriend shouted, though Kim seemed unmoved.
She stood up, clapping her hands together and answering with a shrug.
“To be honest? Probably never.”
Then she turned her gaze towards Michael, who much like Calvin, looked as meek as a cornered mouse.
“I don’t have time for this. I’m gone, Michael. Text me when you’re done.”
With that, Kim passed Aeris without another word, walking towards the door as her previous annoyance seemed to fizzle away.
Then, from only a few choice words, the waiting volcano within Kim’s brewing stomach finally burst.
It was of no surprise, really, that Aeris’s perfect pleasantness had its limits.
After all this time spent giving Kim space, relenting to her insults and personal attacks, dealing with her unreasonable anger; the blond girl finally lost her patience.
Her words came out with veiled violence: dirty, horrible, yet still completely under her control.
“So much for Seth’s little sister. Thank god he can’t see you now.”
Kim had opened the door halfway, when Aeris’s words slipped out of her mouth, and Kim slammed the door shut in response.
She turned, clearly in disbelief.
“…what did you just say?”
But even as Kim’s fists closed, and that need for violence surged through her very being, Aeris didn’t move from her spot.
She narrowed her eyes, and put on an expression very much unlike her.
“You heard me.”
Kim stomped forward. The heat behind each step could set Rob’s new rug alight.
Inches away from Aeris, just barely able to control the contortion in her face, Kim whispered between her lips.
“Good. No guilt.”
Her fist flew faster than Aeris ever expected, crashing into the girl’s nose and sending her careening backwards.
There was no noise from Aeris as she fell, only audible gasps from Michael and Calvin as Kim wasted no time in getting down to business.
With one hand, she held Aeris down by the shoulder, and with the other, she grabbed the girl by the back of her vulnerable long hair.
Kim made a point to lean down and whisper right into Aeris’s hear as she painfully pulled at her golden locks.
“You wanna run that by me again? Go ahead, Aeris. Say it for the whole world to hear! And while you’re at it, call up your friends at the Pop 5!”
Aeris, of course, wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction of an answer. Instead, she used the brief change of momentum to her advantage.
Quickly, she pressed forward, wincing as hair strands were pulled from her scalp in the process.
It was enough though, and Aeris forced Kim up into the air with an overhead throw, slamming the girl down hard into Rob’s coffee table and cracking the wood in the process.
“Hey, hey! Girls, please!” Calvin said, only to be ignored as Kim kicked Aeris hard in the leg, causing her to trip and fall on her butt onto the rug.
Fighting the pain, the blond Music Master rushed to get up, only to find herself looking up at Kim.
Headphones over her ears, the familiar sound of Desolation Row leaked into the air, as Kim’s eyes shifted and those terrifying claws materialized over her hands.
“Come on!” Kim said, her voice coated in that dark reverb. “Stand up and let’s just get this over with.”
Aeris could see the glint of Kim’s claws, and knew she had only moments before anger overtook her and Kim made a decision she might regret.
As her fingers reached for her headphones and music player, the distraction she needed arrived, in the form of Calvin, who was loping towards them with a hand outstretched.
“Kim! Stop this! You only get one warning!” he shouted, only to be faced with the dark magenta of her eyes as she looked back at him with clear disappointment.
He saw that look before, when Kim was under the influence of Perfect Beat deep in the Zero Beat Symphon. That one look stopped his fighting spirit right in its tracks.
“Mind your own business, boytoy.” she said, before kicking him hard with her boot and sending him flying across the room in the process.
When she turned back to Aeris, Kim was met with vicious bolt of lighting, which in turn shot her back into the couch with enough force to send the entire thing toppling over.
Like an animal, Kim ripped into the fabric as she struggled to get back on her feet, while Aeris approached, electricity dancing between her fingers and ready for a fight.
“If you hurt him, I swear…”
The rest of her words drifted out of earshot. Unimportant, it seemed, at least to Michael.
He could only hear faint music and faint voices; it was like the whole world was in a distant fog.
The horrible reality brewing since Kim’s first outburst at Aeris had finally reared its head.
All around him, his friends fought, and Rob’s recently redone living room paid the price in destruction.
He’d had a sinking feeling this might happen tonight, yet Michael had chosen to ignore it for the sake of hanging out with Aeris and Calvin again.
Rob’s words from long ago echoed in his mind.
They were anything but that right now. He should have told them he didn’t need the help when he had the chance.
Across the room, the loveseat was almost ripped in two as Kim slashed it in an attempt to get at Aeris. Lightning flashed as the rug was burned and charred, and it was all Aeris could do keep her attacker at bay.
Kim continued to claw at Aeris with wanton violence, her mind descending into the madness of Desolation Row. It took every fiber in Aeris’s being to just hold her back; Todd Agnew’s voice fought Gerard Way with equal vigor.
Seconds passed, and as Calvin was only now stirring from his blow, Michael knew he would have to act lest Aeris and Kim kill each other.
Steeling himself, he put on his headphones, pointed his hand forward, and let the Canned Heat flow through him.
Harmonizing was a simple matter now, and his display of power was evidence of that.
Red-orange energy practically vaporized the floor, as Michael’s song entered the fray and he held his hand up with clear threat.
Before Kim could add another bloody cut to Aeris’s shoulder, or Aeris could shock her more with painful lightning, a long black line appeared across the rug to separate them.
Michael had never sounded more serious.
“No more. Don’t make me go farther.”
But despite the threat of heat, Kim turned and barked back at Michael like a mad dog. Desolation Row pushed her with its malign influence.
“You SERIOUS, Afroboy? You DARE side with the TRAITOR?”
She was mad, but her claws remained at her sides. She wouldn’t attack Michael, for now.
Aeris was similarly diffused, breathing heavily but not at all willing to fight further.
The various cuts and scratches on her, and the mess of hair on her head, were clear evidence of that.
“No.” Michael said, putting his hand down but keeping Canned Heat on. “I’m not siding with anyone.”
He sighed heavily. Now came the hard part.
“But we can’t…we can’t keep going on like this. We’ll really destroy this place, then we’ll kill each other.”
His eyes passed the destruction, then stopped on Aeris.
Every screaming voice in his mind willed him against his next words, but he forced them out anyway.
“I need you to leave, Aeris. I’m sorry.”
Aeris stayed silent, as Calvin screamed in protest.
“What?! Mike, have you gone crazy?”
Michael turned to Calvin, who was busy nursing his head and leaning on the now overturned couch. “Nah, man. I’m trying to keep us all in one piece.”
Kim and Aeris stared each other down, tension in their eyes, but now no longer as willing to fight.
It was when their headphones came off, and their song effects ceased, that Michael knew that he’d managed to get through to them.
Aeris looked down, but breathing deeply, she felt a strange peace overcome her.
“Okay.” she said, not looking at Michael directly. “If that’s what you want, I’ll go.”
She turned, heading for the door. Aeris made it no more than two feet before Calvin strode up to stop her.
“Ah, ah, ah, no! Aeris, please, this is dumb. Kim didn’t mean it.” he said, only to look back and Kim and realize her glare meant the exact opposite.
“I’m not keeping anybody who doesn’t want to be here.” Michael reiterated. “But either way, Aeris can’t stay.”
Calvin’s jaw dropped. He could barely find the words in the back of his throat.
“Mike…please. She’s been with us since day one. You know more than any of us that what she did was because of that psycho Craven! How can you just ignore that!?”
Michael didn’t smile. He didn’t grin. His expression said it all.
Defeated, Calvin shook his head, and turned away.
“Fine…FINE!” he shouted, unable to cope.
“Let’s go. We don’t need this. We don’t need the Audio Knights.” he said to Aeris, taking her by the hand. “I just need you.”
They left, with Calvin not even bothering to close the door. Yet Aeris heard it shut behind them, as Kim presumably did it for him.
Soon they were running down the stairs, Calvin holding her hand and dialing his phone with the other.
His mind was elsewhere, while all Aeris could do was wonder what went wrong.
Months of being together as friends, of getting through the nightmare of Cypress and Craven, of beating the Pop 5, only for all of it to die in one violent instant.
She had to get her mind off of it all.
“What are you doing?” she asked, as Calvin and her finally made it to the lobby and were greeted by the cold air coming in from outside.
“Making a call.” he said, putting his phone to his ear as an unsure glaze came over his eyes.
Aeris tilted her head. “To who?”
Calvin looked up, clearly apprehensive. “You really want to know?”
He relented, thankfully.
“My sister. It’s her lucky day. Looks like I’m finally out of options.
After propping the loveseat back up, Michael sat down, looked at the living room, and finally realized what kind of trouble he was in.
Cupping his forehead in his hands, he felt his breathing quicken as he surveyed the chaos created by Kim and Aeris’s short bout.
Rob’s coffee-colored couch was completely torn up, stuffing strewn out like intestines on the floor. His coffee table was almost cracked in two, and the burn and slash marks on the rug were uncountable.
It would all have to be replaced, only a month after Rob had just had the whole thing redone.
Thousands of dollars would be spent for less than five minutes of pointless fighting.
Michael might have had the courage to send Aeris away, but that fizzled away when he tried to text Rob and tell him the bad news.
Kim had been silent this whole time, lost in thought at Michael’s actions.
It was only after seeing Michael’s plight, that she chose to say her part.
“You really did it. I didn’t think you had it in you.”
Michael shook his head, disappointed at himself. “Neither did I.”
She came behind Michael, her voice lowering in her best attempt to cheer him up.
It was off-putting, considering all that had just happened.
“It was for the best. We’re better off.” Kim admitted.
Michael just groaned in response. He’d never felt more stupid than he did now.
“I really don’t know about that. I panicked. I just didn’t want to see you guys hurt each other.”
He looked back up at this punk rocker friend, sadness drawn over his face.
“But now I can’t take it all back.”
“You can’t.” she replied. “You’re just going to have to live with it. I said it before, and I’ll say it again.”
She had to stop herself lest a single tear escape from the corner of her eye. Her lips quivered, if only slightly.
“We all gotta live with our screwups.”
“Easy for you to say.” Michael added, thankfully not noticing. “Rob’s going to flip when he sees all this. Then nobody’s hanging here ever again.”
As Michael descended into paranoia at the mere thought of losing the Sound Loft, Kim was only a second away from reassuring him, when the two of them heard a knock on the door followed by a most familiar voice.
“Michael? You in there?”
Michael tried to get up, to answer the door and allay some measure of Kim’s reawakened anger, but his friend was too quick.
Before he could even open his mouth to answer, she swung the front door open, revealing Denny of the Pop 5 for all to see.
“Um…hello?” she said, walking inside with a glowing expression. “I tried to text you, but you didn’t answer. Colleen gave me this address when you weren’t at the apartment.”
Michael gulped. He should have known putting off answering Denny would lead to something bad.
As Denny strolled inside, she instantly met with toxic suspicion, even as she tried to stay upbeat.
“You’re Kim, right?” Denny asked, putting her hand out. “Denny. Michael’s mentioned me?”
Kim didn’t return the greeting. She instead shifted her gaze to Michael, now beyond annoyed.
“Not enough, clearly.”
But there was no time for Denny to catch Kim’s attitude. She was distracted in the next instant, eyeing the damaged furniture and flooring of the Sound Loft with wide eyes.
“Oh gosh, what happened here?”
Michael got out of the love seat. There was no fighting it; It was one bad thing after another today.
“It’s a long story.” he said, trying to be patient.
“Take a seat, if you can find one. Sorry for not texting you back sooner, but hey, you’re here. Guess it’s time I finally got around to introducing you to my friend Kim.”