Irresistible Refrain

Tempest 1


Michelle Mankin


l“Your old man’s an asshole.”

“Tell me something I don’t already know,” I mumbled. Chin on the arms I had crossed on top of my upturned knees, I turned my head to look at War as he lowered himself to the curb beside me. He mirrored my frown, his expression sympathetic. I reached back and pulled the hood of my jacket onto my head while he zipped up his. Southside Seattle in the summertime was still chilly, especially late at night.

“He shouldn’t put down your mom like that.” War stretched out his long legs. He and I had both grown several inches just in time to start high school.

I nodded. My hands clenched into fists. I hated the bastard.

“Better to have one that’s not even around, huh?”

My eyes held his for a long moment, the bravado he usually wore momentarily slipping aside. Though I’d known him since the beginning of middle school, War was one of those guys who kept his emotions light and near the surface. Until three months ago when he told me the truth about his father, or more accurately when he confided that his mom refused to tell him who his old man was. The identity of his father was a secret that I now knew gnawed at him constantly. His outward in your face attitude was more of a defense mechanism, a shield he put up to keep most everyone else at arm’s length.

“Yeah, fuck ‘em.” I bumped my shoulder to his. “I don’t know why my mom lets that asshole inside the door. It’s the same damn thing every time he shows up.” I dug my hands into the front pockets of my jeans. War was better off with just him and his mom. No fake father pretending he cared. “He comes back all nice and shit for a couple of weeks. Then he disappears again.” I glanced away. I hated how he made me feel as if I didn’t measure up somehow. The first couple of times he’d come back around, I’d worked my ass off trying to be the perfect son, so desperate for his approval, so desperately wanting him to stay.

Not anymore.

When I glanced back at War, his chin was down and his heavy brow was furrowed in concentration as he peeled off the label on a discarded soda bottle. This summer our friendship had moved up to another level. Sure we’d hung out a lot before. We both loved rock music: fast, heavy and loud. We both dreamed of forming our own band one day, but there was more that kept us together now. I knew about his old man and he knew about mine. That knowledge cemented our bond. And since neither of us had a brother, that’s what we became to each other. If we weren’t at each other’s houses, we were prowling the streets looking for trouble. We did all kinds of crazy shit. I covered for him with his mom and he covered for me with mine. Neither of us really wanted to be at home.

In the rare times that we weren’t together, War scoured his house looking for clues to his dad’s identity while I did my best to pretend to get along with my dad, for my mom’s sake. Inside, I fucking hated him. He lay around on the couch drinking beer and doing nothing all day while my mom slaved away. She worked, cooked, cleaned, and went to school at night. Like doing all that would somehow change him. I promised myself I was never going to be that hung up over anyone.

Irritation spiked just thinking about it. I couldn’t stand to sit around and stew out here anymore. I needed an outlet. Our friend Kyle had a dirt bike he’d been letting me ride. I turned to War. “Kyle still having that party tonight?”

“Yeah, you know Kyle. He’s always having a party.”

“I changed my mind. I wanna go.” Kyle’s unofficial hobby was dealing dope. Mainly he pedaled soft stuff like weed and pills. His way of bringing in new customers was to hand out free samples at his parties. I didn’t really care about that. I just wanted a turn on the bike. I needed to feel the wind on my face. Put a little physical distance between me and my old man. Pretend that he didn’t exist for a while.

“Fair enough.” War held out his hand as I stood. I clasped it and pulled him up. He didn’t question me about why I’d changed my mind, but I didn’t miss his knowing glance. “Cut through to fifty-second?”

“I guess.” It’d be faster, but would take us through La Raca Prima territory. That didn’t really bother War since the leader of the gang’s sister had a thing for him, like a lot of the older chicks did.

We cut quickly across the adjacent vacant lot and slipped through a break in the chain link fence on the other side. A couple of gang bangers turned to watch us dart across the busy street, but they left us alone. Thank God. A confrontation with guys like that never ended well.

We kept our heads down and passed by several closed businesses that had their windows boarded up and spray painted with graffiti before we finally arrived at Kyle’s apartment complex. Broken glass crunched beneath my shoes as War and I walked up the front sidewalk to his unit. Loud bass boomed from the music being played inside.

Kyle slurred out a greeting to War when he answered the door, glassy eyed and swaying, he led us inside the apartment. I scrapped the hood off my head, raked my hair out of my eyes, and waved off an offer of a drag from his lit joint. “Wasn’t expecting you to bring your wing man.” His red rimmed eyes squinted in War’s direction.

“Bryan’s cool.” War threw an arm around my shoulder. Warmth spread through my chilled limbs. We had an unwritten understanding since our first meeting in middle school. War took care of me and I had his back. No one was ever going to come between us. It was as simple as that.

We stood in the living room for a while, War and Kyle smoking pot and me goofing around until War wandered off upstairs with a woman who looked to be in her twenties. It wasn’t the first time I’d watched him hook up with someone that much older either, but so far there hadn’t been any fallout. There didn’t seem to be any consequences for War no matter what or who he did.

From day one I’d decided that Warren Jinkins was the absolute shit. Worrying about the way I looked up to him was the reason my mom had enrolled me in a teen leadership class. When I told War the teacher’s slogan was to do what’s right and your peers will follow, he’d laughed. “More like do what’s wrong,” he’d joked. “And you’ll always have enough people for a party.”

I’d already taken a spin on the bike and was just starting to get bored when War came back downstairs, finger combing his brown hair with one hand and tucking in a navy t-shirt with the other. He steered me toward the door. “Let’s get out of here.”

We ended up hitting our favorite convenience store on the Avenue for snacks and then went to his place, a small foursquare two streets over from my apartment. I pulled out the second hand Epiphone I kept stored in his closet, and we worked on a couple of songs, me on guitar, War on vocals. They weren’t original tunes, just covers. When we were done practicing we crashed hard.