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Bone Deep | 2 | Company

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Kirin didn’t have a lot of friends. Like most adults in his early 30s who had never left his childhood hometown, he socialized mainly with his coworkers, and a handful of people he’d known since he was in grade school. So when there was a knock at his door, Kirin looked up a bit perplexed.

There was Chinese takeout and a mess of paper mid-grading spread out on his small breakfast nook table. Next to the booth seating, the dog lay in a makeshift bundle of blankets and a thick foam padded dog bed.

“Were you expecting company?” Kirin asked the dog.

There was a flash of mint green eyes but no other acknowledgement to what Kiin had said.

Sticking his chopsticks back into the takeaway carton, Kirin moved to slide out around the table and onto his feet.

There was another knock at the door, and Kirin answered with, “Be right there!”

The dog next to Kirin adjusted his head at the edge of the bed to watch Kirin but didn’t stand.

Opening the door—

Kirin stalled.

“Hey Kirin,”

Joel’s voice was light — but he didn’t look light. He looked — strained. His dark almond eyes looked up through his eyelashes to Kirin. His mop of auburn, curled hair was tempered down under a worn navy beanie.

“Hi,” Kirin stuttered.

It had probably been three years since he’d even seen Joel in passing.

“Can I?” Joel’s eyes darted past the door.

“Oh, of course!” Kirin’s manners kicked in and he stepped back, offering Joel passage through to the kitchen.

“Thanks man,” Joel said as he gave a nod.

“Yeah,” Kirin said as Joel passed. “It’s been a long time.”

Not that Joel was the type to announce his comings and goings, but Kirin was still a bit perplexed at the sudden drop in…

“Oh,” Joel stopped into the entry to the kitchen. “I didn’t know you had a dog.”

“He’s a new addition,” Kirin murmured. “Here,” He motioned to the breakfast nook. “You can sit over here.” Kirin swooped in to gather up an armful of paper stacks and whisked them to the kitchen island.

It was awkward for several minutes as Joel sat down and Kirin got them both a beer, popping the lids off with a metallic ‘klank’ before Kirin sat back down at the table across from Joel.

“Man,” Joel looked around. “Your mom’s house hasn't changed much, has it?”

“Well,” Kirin gave a smile, not sure if Joel was complimenting or insulting him. “It’s my house now.”

“Oh yeah, right.” Joel looked down at the bottle in his hand. “That makes sense with your mom being crazy and everything.”

Okay, that one definitely stung. Not the most tactful way to call out Kirin’s Alzheimer's-addled mother.

“Joel—“ Kirin leaned forward.

“You remember when we were kids?” Joel cut in.

Kirin paused. The tension in the room was suddenly pulled taunt. The dog next to Kirin stirred, raising his head and ears flicked forward, alert for once as he peered over the table at Joel then to Kirin.

Kirin let out a long breath. His past was — it wasn’t pleasant territory for Kirin. “Yeah, Joel. I remember when we were kids.” Was Joel now implying Kirin had Alzheimer’s? He could join the club, right by Kirin’s side. Kirin’s lips pressed into a tight, polite expression.

“I never thought you and Ryker would be how ya are now, ya know?” Joel said further.

“How we are now?” Kirin inquired, head tilted in question.

“I just saw you two, the other day,” Joel sounded almost mournful. “I just, I don’t know, I just saw you two getting food together or some shit and I guess I just realized you two are still friends. I know you're not dating or whatever. You guys just seemed — so familiar with each other.”

Oh. Kirin was unsure the route he should take but being polite was always his first reach so with a smile he nodded. “Yeah, me and Ryker are quite close friends.”

Kirin’s best friend, honestly. And that reason was well — that reason was looking at Kirin across the table. Ryker stayed. When Joel and all of Kirin’s other friends fell away.

“I sometimes,” Joel gave a shy smile. “I miss our old crew ya know. You, me, Ryker and Noah — it was really great to have a group of friends like that.”

It had been. And yet Kirin felt a solid cold lump in his throat.

“I started hanging out with these like out of towners lately,” Joel flopped his crossed arms over the table, “They, man, sometimes they make me think about old times.”

“Out of towners?” Kirin’s brow rose.

There was something that felt —off. Kirin was thirty two years old. Same as Ryker, and since Joel was in the exact same class as him…. so was Joel. But this conversation didn’t feel like it was between two adults for some reason.

“Yeah they — uh —“ Joel's eyes darted before a broad smile formed and Joel’s eyes focused on Kirin. “You know the old bridge where we used to hang out all the time? Just down the road, Augusta?”

“Yes. I do remember that bridge.” Kirin tread rather carefully. His memory was too sharp, he could feel the biting edge of his last memory at that bridge, of the last time they had all been there together. They’d never been the same after that.

“We went out there, ya know, to the old homestead!” Joel seemed nearly giddy. “We like — it felt like one of our old adventures, you know?”

“You mean the Clarice homestead?” Kirin’s brow furrowed. “Joel, there’s nothing out there, that homestead burned to the ground in the civil war.”

“Yeah,” Joel gestured like Kirin’s statement meant very little. “But there’s all those stories, ya know? Cause like that stupid old black tree just sits all charred and stuff out there. There’s supposed to be treasure out under that tree. If you can get it past the monster livin’ out there.” Joel gave a giddy laugh.

Kirin shook his head. This wasn’t the sort of story he wanted to hear from Joel. “Joel, there’s nothing out there—-“

“We found something!” Joel’s eyes were lit with the confession. He looked like a kid at that moment - like a seventeen year old kid.

“Joel,” Kirin shook his head again, his stomach churning.

Let it go. His mind whispered. Just let all those days go!

“It’s not treasure.” Joel gripped. But he still laughed as he went on. “We were really high and it was like midnight or something so it was super creepy!” He giggled a bit to himself.

There was stirring from the dog on the floor. Ears both forward, the dog was focused and alert, looking up over the table, eyes locked on Joel.

“That’s not a good idea, Joel,” Kirin groaned, in an all too familiar way this felt too real, too close to his memory of Joel's continuous stream of terrible ideas throughout the years.

“It wasn’t even buried very deep,” Joel was smiling, trying to build the suspense. He felt he was onto something, it was obvious.

Kirin just felt like he’d swallowed lead stones. “What did all of you do out there?”