Clinging To Nothing

Harlem had nothing to fight for, which was why he fought so hard. When all you've got is nothing, you cling to it with both hands.

He wasn't free. He wasn't happy. He wasn't in love. He was chained by a duty and a city and a family and a life that had just happened to him and he never once thought about walking away. He not once had, through all the tears and the pain and the loneliness, ever considered shirking what he was and moving on. He never contemplated that idea - the mere idea was inconscienable, a thought that would make him No Longer Harlem.

And so, he fought so fucking hard, clinging to his emptiness because it was the only thing he had that was his. And in the quiet of the night, he realised just how horrible that it was making him. How he was happy he was alone, happy he was miserable, because it gave him something that was his - that he was slowly coming to define himself by his misery. Nobody knows the troubles I've seen, renders the errant thought, the sadness of a spirit that can't find much else to smile about.

Running hot through the morning darkness, Harlem jumped from rooftop to rooftop. Shirtless, shoeless, lean frame streaked with sweat as he arced through the air, shoulder-length hair rippling in the air behind him.

He watched the day-to-day. All the pretty girls - gorgeous girls in some cases - as they found boys who weren't good enough for them, who would cheat and lie and steal and he wondered just what the hell he'd done so damn wrong along the way. They'd dress up to catch boys and girls, and some would wear white and frills and soft, chaste looks, while others would be in taut black and red, in clothes so tight that they gave the heat nowhere to go…

And Harlem Foreman would be there. Standing on the sidelines, nursing the emptiness, as he shook his head in disbelief at all these people, finding one another. He could see any place in the city. He could read the Founders Falls town square clock from a basement in King's Row. He could check his reflection in the window of Blythe Square Cooke's Electronics while he was walking through the sewers of Atlas.

why couldn't he find this person?

Timbre, Backbeat, Chloe, Corollary. All these people he knew. He'd met them when he was still chasing the figment, the girl in the CD. That beautiful, beautiful dream. God, he hated how he felt remembering that. He hated thinking back to the lie and sighing and wishing it was true. He hated knowing he'd been lied to and the liar had been himself. He hated that he hadn't listened to everyone who had said it was crazy or stupid or whatever. And he hated that he wanted it to be real, even now. But he'd met these girls then. And now he realised they… they were so interesting. So different.

Why not Backbeat? She certainly had a hell of a body. Hard muscle and proud chin, and, shameful thought though it was, breasts as big as his head. She was every bit of woman you could fit in one spot. Eight years his senior, violent and brutish and selfish and brutally kind. Why not her? She loved him. He knew that much.

… well, she had loved him. And might still if he ever found her again. But there was something not right there. Harlem sighed, hopping a rooftop, glass from a vodka cruiser crunching into powder under his feet. It's because when he'd played her the CD, shown her this dream girl, her only reaction had been disdain.

It wasn't enough that it was a stupid dream. It wasn't enough that he was a silly boy. It's that he was a silly boy whose standards for women was terrible. And what made it all worse, what made it all so aching, was that it wasn't that she thought he was silly. She just thought so little of this woman he loved. And that cast it all in relief - she hated the girl he loved, but he hadn't even met her yet, so how could he love her? And so the foolishness, the feeling of ignorance and stupidity, rose to Harlem's heart, the quiet truth that in the ways of love, hope, and the heart, battered little boys from the Row were meant to be unremarkable.

Why not Corollary? The answer came back as qucik as a knife - because she'd have been that nice to anyone. There was nothing about Harlem that had made life any different for her. There was no romance there, nothing he brought. She could have walked into any bar and walked out with a guy just as nice and been just as happy. Girl bobbed along like a cork in a stream. He offered her nothing. Hell, she dated him purely because Kacey had asked her to - a consolation prize from someone who probably still didn't realise the irony.

… Well, why not Chloe?

Harlem looked over the edge of the rooftop, reaching down and picking up the flower pot, hefting it in his hand lazily. Chloe was a beautiful girl. Looked like an angel, and when she sang - when she was able to sing - she spoke as one too. And she was lonely and she was sad. And Harlem liked her. He really did. She'd kissed him a few times. And hugged him. And he'd made dinner at her place. But it always felt wrong. Even after the CD. Even after all that. Even after. No… he liked Chloe. He didn't love her. There was something that just missed there. And he needed to find a way to let her know, or she was going to obsess about him. Maybe she had some other friends who could use a teaspoon - but of courage instead of quiet…

Harlem sighed and ran his hand through his hair. He had to do all his thinking on the run like this. He took so much time for others that he let his work crowd out himself. It was funny! Darius had said, all that time ago, that he needed a life. He'd tried to get one. Tried to get something for himself. Now, here he was, throwing himself into his work all the harder, all the more eager to get away from himself, because the first thing he'd tried for had hurt him that badly.

Harlem grit his teeth. You know what? Fuck Darius. Fuck him and his cute little phrases and his savvy French wit and his perfect hair and gymnast's body.

Harlem pitched the flower pot. It'd have been nice if it had been a perfect arc, but it wasn't. He'd positioned himself so it was almost completely impossible to miss, but he still almost did. Down came the pot, smashing into the back of the Bone Daddy's head as he leaned out of the window, being chased our of Angus Coolridge's apartment. When you tried to invade the home of a one-legged retired cop you get everything you deserve.

Guy probably would have gotten away, too - if not for the flower pot that knocked him out cold.

Harlem turned. Didn't even stop to explain what he'd done, explain how useful he'd been, show Angus, then get the thanks, he, of course, deserved,because what use are thanks? More work to do, always more work. Hopping across the rooftops, he stopped for a moment, rocking on the heel of one foot. Why not Timbre?

He paused, then blew his hair out of his eyes. He thought. This girl was a monster, this Dream of his. He'd wanted her and he'd dreamt of her and now she coloured everything. Timbre was nothing like her. She was pretty and she was sweet and she was a colossal nerd. Half the time, Harlem had no idea what she was talking about. And he thought, and he thought, and he chewed his lip. She was two years his younger, unlike all the other older women. He didn't know why, but for some reason that was a mark against her. She was flat as a board and cute as a button, and touched music in that oddly chemical way of hers. But…

… she was just a friend. He couldn't feel the spark there. She was nice and sweet and all, but those were the words that just kept coming to mind. Just kept coming back, time and again. Nice. Sweet. Cute. Like a puppy or a pen friend. He couldn't see himself holding her, see himself kissing her, see them together on some rooftop while the stars shivered with jealousy at what they had. Harlem figured that she had it for that Irish kid, anyway.

He sighed. Were all the women who had been in the shadow of The Girl doomed? Would he never find anyone who didn't somehow fail to make his heart sing, even now he'd given up on this prayer, this shining dream? What, he wondered, did he want? What the hell was going on with him, anyway? Did he want the lie that badly?


He drew a breath, cramming his hands in his pockets, and gripped the emptiness there firmly. In two years' time, maybe someone would call his loneliness loneliness, and his depression depression. Right now, he just had Teen Angst Bullshit. But he'd be damned if he was going to guilt someone into loving him. Just keep moving, just keep working. Keep at the work and maybe you'll find something amongst the muck.

And that's how you really hope. While holding nothing in both hands and clinging for all you're worth.

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