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faces of david
David almost wished he'd known his face had changed again that horrible morning with Casey. He could have gotten out of bed and packed his things and left. Better to have her thinking he's just another inconsiderate jerk, who'd gotten what he wanted and took off. Better to feed into her old fears of men and how heartless they can be, then to have her be afraid of him, to have her scream at him, to be thrown out of her place with none of his stuff, left alone and cold on the street, with nowhere to go.
Of course, he'd been in similar circumstance before, left with no one to turn to, no place to go. But, he'd always at least had his bags before. He'd always known when his face changed. He could feel it. He'd sometimes even know it was coming before it came, an odd tingling he'd gotten used to through the course of the years. But, he'd gotten comfortable with Casey. Three months, he'd had in Pauper. He hadn't gone that long without a change since before puberty, back when the changes weren't so drastic anyway, back when they hardly even mattered. When he was that freak boy that lived on South Nile Avenue. That freak boy that kids still dared play with, maybe just because they wanted to brag about seeing him change sometime, maybe just because they were cruel and wanted the chance to insult him, to laugh at him, maybe just because they had their own problems, not so outwardly obvious, that stuck them with the outcast of outcasts.
Three months in which he'd gotten a simple job that anyone could do, a busboy in a diner, something he'd done in so many towns most people would lose count. He wouldn't lose count, though, as this was all he had. This was his life now, had been for too long. And, if he ever did forget, he had his notebooks, his journals, the history of all his changes, the history of all the small towns he'd lived in, staying in some guy's garage, or some old woman's guestroom, or in the shack out behind some nice family's house, scavenging for morsels of food until he made enough money to keep himself going as long as he could, until the next change came. And, then he'd always have to leave, move on to yet another town, or maybe the occasional big city, though he didn't care much for big city life, where office work made everyday people seem like faceless automatons far too often.
Three months in which he'd gotten to know a good handful of people. Jack Carlston, who ran the gas station next to the diner and who had bought David a beer or two on many nights, though David still looked under the legal drinking age and had no identification, real or fake, to prove his real age. Beth Fallon, who ran the diner in the stead of her late husband who'd been running the place since the 1950s. Jo Nielsen, a waitress with aspirations to be an actress and enough naivety to think she might actually be able to get somewhere based simply on her own tiny dreams. Sarah Winfrey, another waitress, engaged already, though she was only 17, to the local police chief's youngest son. And, of course, Casey Gordon, high school dropout, working as a waitress and cook, and doing odd jobs around Pauper to take care of her ailing father and her younger brother. There'd been others of course. There were always plenty of people, plenty of faces to memorize, names to remember. And, David was always good at that. He could put names to faces pretty damn quickly, and he always wished he could try to explain to someone, to anyone, the painful irony of that fact.
Three months in which he'd fallen in love for the second time ever. And, did Christine Kolby really count? They'd only been 12 years old, and she'd admitted she'd only talked to him in the first place because of the curiosity of who and what he was. Sure, they'd gotten past that. He'd believed she'd really loved him. He'd believe he really loved her. But, putting aside whatever reasons they got together, putting aside whatever they believed their feelings to be, they HAD only been 12. Could those feelings be trusted, as time passed, and he'd left not just Christine but also his family and the whole town of Carlton Falls behind? Could feelings of a couple of kids really count after more than a decade?
Casey had been different. There was just something about her, something about the way she looked at him when she first saw him and barely even seemed to see the outside. He just knew that when it came time to explain to her about himself, she'd understand, she'd accept him like his parents had once upon a time, when they'd given up trying to find a cure, or more realistically, when they ran out of money to pay for specialists to try to figure out what was wrong with him, and the philanthropy of certain doctors finally gave in to the unsolvable problem that was David's and David's alone. Casey would accept him and he just knew she'd love him forever, that she'd not just accept him now, but accept him after he changed again, and after he changed again, and after he changed again, and again, and again, and again. He'd really believed he'd found a place he could stay forever. Maybe that place wasn't the town of Pauper, but just being with Casey. If Pauper and its people couldn't handle him, he and Casey could always run off together. Running wouldn't even be so bad anymore, with her by his side. Hell, it wouldn't be so bad with anyone by his side. Having only the pages of his journals as his constant companion for so long, he was ready to hook up with anyone. It was that understanding that made him hesitant to trust himself when he realized his feelings for Casey went beyond just simple attraction or the basic compatibility that left them talking for hours on end day after day, night after night. Sitting with her in the diner after hours, talking about anything and everything, from current events to the meaning of life, he knew something was building there, and he'd tried to hold back as long as he could. First impressions aside, there was always the chance that she'd eventually give up on him like his parents had. And, he couldn't take that again. If he had to just pack up and leave Pauper before the next change came, so be it. Better that than be rejected again by someone he loved.
The unfortunate thing was that, as he finally let loose a little, and embraced his feelings for her instead of fight them off, he started hearing things about her, about all the hardships she had in her life. He knew pretty early on about her mother dying when she was younger, and he knew there was some business with an uncle that no one ever spoke about, and he knew about her ailing father, and about her younger brother who was always getting into trouble at school and around town, so much so that her father constantly tried to get her to get help from other relatives--"your Aunt Renee would take you in," he'd tell her, and Casey would just slough off the suggestion. For some reason, Casey didn't want to leave Pauper like that. If she left, she'd leave because she'd found something better. David heard her telling Jo one night that if she had dreams like hers, she'd have left Pauper long ago for Hollywood, and she never would have looked back. There was a conviction in her words that David understood. When he'd finally packed up and left Carlton Falls, he hadn't looked back. Well, sure, he'd thought of running back home sometimes when things got hard, and he'd missed a few people, those couple friends who still talked to him for some reason or another, but he'd never once let himself call home. He'd never turned back. And, he wasn't about to now, after so many years. And, he believed Casey would do the same when she left Pauper. In her bed, just a few nights before his face changed again, she'd explained a little of her reasoning for staying around.
"My father was born here," she'd told him. "He's lived here all his life. When Momma died, he didn't pack up and leave to get away from the pain of thinking of her, of seeing faces and places that reminded him constantly of her. He didn't give up. And, even now, the doctors say he should have been dead long ago, but he hasn't given up. He won't give up. And, neither will I. If I let Johnny go live with Aunt Renee just because she'd be willing to take care of him, even if she could maybe actually do a better job of it than I could, that would be giving up. Right?"
David had wanted right then to change the subject a little, to confess to her finally about his past, to tell her about how he'd done just what she was so stubbornly refusing to do, how he'd given up and run away. But, he didn't. He just nodded a little. And, she'd smiled and kissed him. It wasn't the first time she'd kissed him, and wouldn't be the last, but it was one that would stand out in his memory just a little more than a lot of the others.
"Until Dad dies," Casey had said a short time later, "we don't leave, we don't give up, we don't go live with Aunt Renee, we don't let her come live with us. If it's me and Johnny against the whole world, fine. This will remain our base of operations." She'd laughed when she said that last bit. David loved the sound of her laugh. As much as she always seemed rather cheerful, despite how hard her life was, she rarely laughed. "Each laugh is like a special gem, rare and beautiful," her father said that one time he'd been lucid enough to speak to David. David knew exactly what he meant by that. David knew just how special each little laugh was, how special each smile was, how special it was each time her eyes grew bright, and the whole world seemed brighter along with them.
Things were different in Pauper. Things were different with Casey. David wasn't used to being comfortable, wasn't used to feeling like he might actually have a home. But, for the first time since he could remember, he felt comfort, a feeling so foreign he barely recognized it when it came. And, it felt good. It felt better than anything he'd ever felt. And, yet another first, he stopped thinking about his face so much, stopped worrying about it changing again, and he started thinking about life again, about a real life, a normal life, not running from place to place with only a couple bags of clothes and his journals to keep him company. He thought of keeping a job for a change, of having real friends, of getting married, of having a family (after the requisite genetic tests of course, to make sure none of his kids would ever have to go through what he had), of really living for a change. Even when he learned of Casey's problems, why everyone thought it was so strange that she'd gotten attached to a guy, especially a stranger, so easily, he could still see it, that promise of normality, that promise of life.
Over a drink one night, out in back of the gas station, looking at the stars and not doing much else, Jack Carlston had told him about Casey and her uncle, and about Casey and her first boyfriend, both of which were in jail for what they'd done to her. "She's never really dealt well with any men ever since," Jack said. "There's even some people that think she's taking care of her father out of some twisted sense of guilt, like maybe he did things to her too when she was little." He punctuated this by taking a big gulp of beer, then tossing the empty bottle into a pile of garbage that surrounded the can in which it should have been.
Jack continued: "No one really knows what all has happened to that girl. After her mother died, there wasn't anyone in her life anymore except for men, her father, her uncle, her younger brother. After her uncle went to jail for the things he done to her, everybody thought that was it, she'd fall apart, she'd never be able to live a normal life. But, then, sure enough, she gets into junior high and finds herself a boyfriend, a football player for Christ's sake. And the shadow left by her uncle was gone. Or, so we thought. Some psychologist would probably tell you that not only was it not gone but maybe responsible for a huge amount of her actions as life kept going along. When she ended up alone with Daniel Beck that night, legally, they said it was rape, but the thing is, they say she didn't put up much of a fight, that she just sorta let him do it to her."
If David hadn't had so much to drink that night, he would have stopped Jack from going on, but Jack talked more about it for a while, a long while. It wasn't that David wasn't interested in Casey's life, in why she was how she was. He just would have rather heard it from her. Come the next morning, facing Casey at work, David felt guilty about knowing about her. After she'd had so many problems with men taking advantage of her, he didn't want to know so much without her having given that knowledge to him. Having lived only a short time in any one place for so many years, he was used to getting to the point, fortunately, so he told Casey on their lunch break about the night before, about all the stuff he knew about her. Then, for a few days, she'd barely spoken to him. And, he'd almost hoped his face would change again, so he'd have an excuse to run. He'd wanted to get far far away.
Then, she'd invited him to a play Jo was starring in over at the community center. And, before he and Casey had even had the chance to talk about it, he knew things could be good again. His dreams of a normal life, on the brink of fading back into the ether from which they'd come, grew stronger. And, if not for his face, it really should have lasted.
It hadn't always hurt before. He'd even gotten used to it. There were even those times that he hardly noticed it at all, if not for that tingling that usually came before it. But, he'd always been afraid of it before, afraid of everyday life. But, he'd gotten to like life in Pauper and he just wasn't ready; that tingling sensation hadn't come. And, he had been biding his time before he explained things to Casey. He knew he couldn't wait forever. She had to know. But, he didn't want to ruin anything. Even feeling that she'd accept it, accept him, he just couldn't bear the possibility that she'd be just like most everyone else he'd ever known. He'd had his few friends growing up that could handle it, that stuck by him through the changes, but after puberty, when each change was more drastic than before, friend after friend abandoned him. And, even his own parents, so long his potential saviours, working their butts off at multiple jobs to afford all the possible cures, had eventually lost the energy or the motivation or maybe just gave up on loving him. The idea that Casey might do that . . . well, he just wanted to have as long as possible before that had to happen if it were to happen.
So, he'd been waiting for the tingling. He usually had a few days, once he felt it. That had come in handy in packing up his things, quitting jobs and getting his last paychecks (or, as it was whenever he could talk anyone into it, last bundles of cash), in saying goodbye to those he'd gotten closest to. But, there's been no sensation this time. He hadn't known the change was coming. He hadn't gotten any of his goodbyes. And, there would have been a few goodbyes in Pauper, after three months. And, he hadn't gotten to explain to Casey what was coming. He hadn't gotten to tell her anything of the past he'd been hiding. He knew all about hers, and she knew nothing of his. That disparity hurt about as much as the look on her face when she saw him that morning.
They'd only slept together a few times. They'd never had sex. She wasn't ready. And, though he wasn't as eager to announce it, he wasn't ready either. Mostly, they'd only slept together because dates of theirs had a tendency to start rather late, and they'd end up talking into the night, and it was just easier than one of them having to walk back to their own place. He'd thought the first night she'd slept next to him, what it might be like if she awoke to find him with a new face. But, that had been an extreme what if, not something he thought might actually happen. And, he'd decided that if somehow it did happen, he'd be able to calm her down, explain things. He didn't know how he'd manage this, but he still just thought he could. It would turn out to be misguided confidence in his own abilities, but how was he to expect that?
If only his voice hadn't changed a little this time too. If only he'd had a more distinctive haircut. If only he'd woken up before she did. If only he'd seen his new face in the mirror in time to hide, in time to run, in time to anything. So many things could have kept events from transpiring as they had. And, so many things had just gone wrong. He had gotten so comfortable, he hadn't noticed the usual warning sensation, if it was even there. He'd gotten so hopeful that life could be good finally, he'd waited far too long to tell Casey about his face. And, he'd not been sleeping much lately, and she was used to waking early, so he'd still been asleep when Casey woke that morning.
He tried to imagine the look on her face when she first opened her eyes, glanced over at this man who somehow was becoming her lover despite her usual fears and hesitancies, and saw . . . what had she seen? If only the change hadn't been so big this time. If only the gods or fates or whatever was in charge of David's ailment hadn't seen fit to throw such a huge curve into his life right then. If only he didn't have to be the butt of the gene pool's biggest joke yet.
"Why'd I have to look like him?" Two nights later, on a train headed west, talking mostly to himself but maybe to that dog that looked to be starving, David couldn't hold back anymore. He'd been holding back everything for three months, holding back in hopes that everything would just be ok for a change. "Of all the faces I could have had this time, why did it have to look so damn much like her uncle's?" The dog cocked its head a little. David wondered if it was really listening to him. "Imagine that. She opened her eyes in the morning, expected to see me, and half asleep, probably thought it was really him there in the bed. I don't look that much like him now, but the resemblance is there. And, for her, I'm sure any resemblance at all was too much of one." David looked up at the ceiling of the freight car, but didn't see it. He was looking for something else up there, an answer or at least someone that could provide one. "God had himself a nice laugh at my expense," he told the dog. The dog actually looked like it understood, some semblance of an apathetic frown on its face. Then, it put its head down and David took his cue from it. He put his own head down and drifted off to sleep with that half starving dog staring at him over its paws.
The first thing he'd known of what happened was Casey screaming. And, before he'd even gotten to try to say anything to her, before he'd even noticed that his voice wasn't quite the same as before, she was grabbing for the phone, calling Chief Spencer at his home number, much closer than the station was across town. David, not thinking too clearly, had tried grabbing the phone from her. She'd hit him with it, and she'd kicked him in the groin. He couldn't quite recall which one had come first. But, suddenly the side of his face hurt, his nose was bleeding, and the pain in his groin was making him a little lightheaded. And, he could hear Casey trying to tell Matt Spencer what was happening, that David was gone, and someone else was there with her.
He'd tried talking to her, but she threatened to hit him again. She'd hung up the phone, Matt Spencer on his way, and demanded that David tell her what he'd done with David. He tried to tell her he was David, but he knew from experience it was never that easy. People weren't as apt to believe such things in reality as they might be in the movies. Maybe if his vocal chords hadn't been warped a little with this change, maybe if he'd been more recognizably short or tall or had one of those tattoos he'd thought of getting on numerous occasions to make himself more readily identifiable. Maybe if his fingers and toes still had the webbing that he'd had when he was born--his parents had seen fit to get that removed. Maybe if he'd just told her before it was too late. Maybe . . . well, maybes just didn't matter. Whether he loved Casey or not, whether or not he thought the police would believe him, he couldn't let anyone be checking on his background. He couldn't let anyone know where he was.
He'd figured once he found a place to belong, he could entrust his secret with the people and no one would report his whereabouts. But, if they reported him before he'd had the chance to get them to trust him and to understand, he was going to be in big trouble. There were those people who had come when the specialists gave up, people who worked for the government, people who worked for a few large research companies, and a few people who claimed they worked for those companies but seemed a bit too shady to be as legitimate as they claimed to be. They'd tried getting their hands on him before he'd left home, and he was sure he'd seen them watching him a few times since, just waiting for the chance to snatch him up for whatever their purposes were. And, the hope for a normal life, the love of a girl--those things just seemed so insignificant when the threat of being found reared its ugly head again.
So, like so many times before, he'd run. This time, he hadn't the luxury of packing, but he ran nonetheless.
The dog was barking. It's owner, who'd been rather drunk the previous evening and had fallen asleep early, was climbing out of the open freight car door. Someone else was approaching. Cops, or train security, or whoever those men were. David knew to avoid them; he didn't care who they were or whom they worked for. He knew that he couldn't let them catch him.
One of the men grabbed the dog's owner, was asking him some questions. They were too close to the open door for David to sneak away. So, he had only one chance. Before they'd noticed him lying there inside the car, he got to his feet, leapt out of the car and took off running. A second uniformed man chased after him, but David was quick, always had been. And, he was small, agile. He ducked under a few train cars, leapt over a pile of pipes, and ran off into a copse of trees.
When he finally stopped and hid at the base of a large tree, he listened closely for the sound of anyone following him, and he heard nothing. Still, he waited a while longer, rested up in case he might have to run again.
After sufficient time had passed, he got up and was about to start in the opposite direction of the train station, when he noticed that half starved dog from the train. It was just sitting there, about twenty feet from where he'd been hiding. And, it was watching him. "You want to try to eat me, go ahead," David told the dog. "But, believe me, I can put up a good fight." With that, he headed off. The dog loped along behind him.