Was there a curse upon young men who enter Cromwell? For two in the past two decades had died in their teens of mysterious circumstances. Then again there was Kip, and he looked like he was managing all right. Yet Kip didn't have the face and name of the first boy killed.
Out of all the mad people in my long lost family, Agatha was the one who confused me the most. They all weren't easy to figure out. It was just that with Agatha, there was something, something that made her stand out from them all. She was a chain of acts, the first as the spoiled brat, second the jealous evil sister, third a neglected loner, and fourth a determined guardian. What was the next act going to be? Which one was actually her?
Only one thing was clear about Agatha, she was the only one besides Henry, who spent her whole life at Cromwell. Other than boarding school, I didn't think she even had been anywhere else. It was like she was tied there like a gargoyle, accepting that she'd spend the rest of her life there, believing that she were a part of Cromwell instead of Cromwell being just a part of her. Cromwell was not just her home, it was not just the only world she knew--Cromwell was her life long vow of duty, for she was its loyal keeper.
Henry was Cromwell's master, Lydia its slave, Finn and David were its casualties, my mother its survivor, Miriam its prisoner, and Agatha its keeper. What would my role be, Cromwell's casualty, survivor, slave, or worse, its prisoner?
The more I've been locked within its gates, the more Cromwell seemed like an island cut off from all civilization, an island with its own rules and consequences. I couldn't wait to leave for school. I needed to get away now or else I too would be mad like the others. Being there does something to you, it changes you, into someone you don't recognize, someone you never thought in all your imagination that you'd become—the very person you hated most and swore you'd never be—a hideous and rabid monster.
Gertie ordered me thousands worth of new clothes, school supplies, and even sports attire and equipment, and they all were shipped to the school. I was a little worried because I would be sharing a dorm with three other boys, it would be bad enough to be the new kid but to be the one with the most stuff in the room would be worse.
Relax, I told myself, these kids already like you, you're already in their club. This was going to be completely different from my last experience at a prestigious prep school. This time I will be just as rich as the students and I wouldn't have to fear any one of them discovering me as poor. This time I would have the same history behind my name as theirs. This time I was going to be looked upon as the second coming of a school legend. I was Finn all over again, I had nothing to worry about with this school. This school would be the best time of my life, or at least better than Cromwell.
I also felt bad about leaving Miriam. She had been hiding from me for the past weeks now. I could sometimes sense her watching me. She was good at spying without being noticed, too good. And when I was able to find her, she wouldn't speak to me, she would just stare for a minute and run off.
"What did you do to her?" Kip had asked me, when he too noticed her odd behavior.
"She's just hurt that I'm leaving," I didn't tell him the full story of how I also had rejected her kiss.
"I think there's more too it."
"What are you implying?"
"You think I don't know why you really hang around her? I may not be book smart, but I not too stupid to not know why someone like you is with someone like her."
"There was never anything sexual between us," nothing sexual that I started or played along with. I did not take advantage of her, never, even when she wasn't in her little girl state.
"Sure," he smiled mockingly as he continued mowing.
I always hated how by being just a boy, I was already guilty of sin. Couldn't girls be automatically guilty too? Who was to say they didn't have the capacity to do wrong? I know they could do wrong; I had witnessed it first hand with Agatha and that diary. It wasn't like I wanted to be a victim; I just wanted to be given the same benefit of the doubt as girls were always given.
Why couldn't a boy have an innocent friendship with an ill-advantaged girl, without other thinking sickening thoughts?
So far, I had always done the right and respectable thing with her, and never once thought about…it just never crossed my mind. I wasn't a brute who had uncontrollable lust for every single female. I was raised to be a gentleman that respects women. For god's sake I was raised by women! Women who were done wrong by men! I was told from day one by my mother that if I had ever abused a woman in any way her heart would be forever broken.
Just because I was a boy, didn't mean I was an animal only after one thing.
This school was escape, but it too was its own mad little secluded world with twisted rules and severe punishment for staying sane.
Henry wasn't there to bid me farewell, Miriam on the other hand…
The night before she came to my room in the middle of the night and lay down beside me. I admit I gave in a little; I put my arm around her shoulder and just allowed her to cuddle close. Again I had felt bad and I just couldn't reject her again after what happened the last time. I didn't know how she got out of the straps, I didn't ask either. I just laid there and let her rest her head on my chest. I may have even stroked her hair some, but it was innocent, it was only affection not lust. Plus it was hard to refuse, when even I wanted so badly to have that feel of warmth you get when holding one another. The desire wasn't that of lust but mere affection, having someone to hold and to not have that feeling of being alone. Not one of us said a word, it just wasn't needed. And when I awoke that morning, she was gone.
And even though I remember no words spoken between us, I heard in my dreams, "Agatha won't be able to keep me from you for long. When that day comes, there would be no way you could ignore me, no way for you could stop me, and no way you could run from me Dear Finney. We have a bond you and I, a bond no one, not even Henry, could break. We need each other. Together we could do anything. That's what Agatha fears the most."
Was I too going crazy, having these words coming to me in a dream? I didn't know what to believe anymore, what was dream and what was reality.
I more than needed to get out, but I could help but fear that the madness would follow me wherever I would go. Maybe I am doomed like the Finn before me.
The only one who openly said goodbye to me was Lydia, who traveled with me there. Thank god it wasn't that long of a trip. She annoyed me to no end and I dreaded the over done public signs of affection she'd give before leaving me. That would be the worst first impression that would ultimately make me look like a weakling. I had to figure out quick how to prevent that.
The car pulled over to the school. It was huge, it looked like a college, not a mere academy. I grew even more nervous for all I could think of was how hard it was going to be proving myself here both academically and socially.
It was one thing not fitting in at Cromwell, but it was another thing to consider the possibility of not fitting in at this school. This school was going to be my one and only escape from Cromwell, and at all costs I must fit in here, I must belong.
A man was standing outside the entrance, waiting for me, Lydia turned towards me, "Henry made me promise him I just drop you off and not get out of the car, so we have to say our goodbyes here," she said welling up with tears and hugging me in a tight squeeze for what seemed to be over ten minutes.
After promising her over and over that I would call her twice a day like she wanted me too, letting her play with my hair one final time, and listening to her every plea, I finally emerged out of the car to meet with the well distinguished man in a tweed suit who had been waiting the whole time.
He waited till the car drove off to address me, "I can't tell you how in awe I am of your resemblance to your uncle and our greatest and most celebrated pupil. You truly are him all over again name and all. I'm Dr. Hartley, Headmaster of this fine institution, and I've heard great things about you from your father."
"You did? What did he say exactly," I couldn't believe it."
"He said that like Finny, you are a very gifted student and great athlete, an seeing from your school records and transcript I can agree. Well except for math, it seems to be your weak spot, but not to worry, we'll get you up to par on that in no time."
I didn't realize the extent I would have to go through to live up to the legendary Finn before me, it was too much to expect of me, "I hope you're well aware that even though I look like him and bear his name, it does not mean I'm him, nor will become him. I'm me and sorry in advance if that will let you down."
"Well of course you not him, you're better, you're alive!" he chuckled, "Come with me, I'll show you to your room. You belongings all have arrived and it waiting for you."
I didn't like that response, not one bit…
I followed him to the elevator, to the top floor and down the hall to what would be my room.
"You're in room 419 with Charles, Eaton, and Hugh," he said as he tossed me the key and pointed to the door, "I'll see you at dinner in an hour, your roommates will show you to the dining hall. I'm glad you're here with us, Finny."
"Finn," I corrected, even though he couldn't hear me.
I slowly walked to the door preparing for anything as I put the key in and turned the knob.
At first glimpse I saw two bunk beds in a room too simple to be from a rich private school. Only two of them were there, both with short crew cuts and in uniform. One, the skinny one with blond hair, was fixing a radio, while the other, a small boy with dark brown hair, was on the top bunk reading a Boy's Life magazine. I saw one of the beds had a couple trunks on it and breathed in relief that it was just two and not five.
Here goes nothing, I pray I make a great first impression, "Hey, I'm Finn, the new inmate doing time here," I joked.
They both looked up, un amused, and shrugged, "I suggest you take the bottom bed, Hugh would kill you if you take top," the blond one said.
"So which one is Charles and which is Eaton?" I asked, trying not to think about what Hugh is like.
"I'm Charles and above me is Eaton. I'm in grade 10, he's in grade 8, and Hugh is in grade 12."
"I'm in grade 10 too, I had a radio like that one in your hand, do you need help fixing it?"
"No, I can fix it myself!"
I backed off and went to my trunks, "So let me guess, Hugh's the top dog in this room, the reigning bully."
"And the Beacon's best ball player. I heard you play pretty well, just as good as thee Finny Cromwell himself," he replied as he continued taking apart his radio. Eaton on top just read on, not caring.
"Well I'm okay I guess, why?"
"There's a lot of hype about you, they say you're the second coming of Finny and that you will bring this school to victory again. Hugh's not exactly happy about you; he'll do all that he can to stop you."
I groaned, rolling my eyes at hearing about Finny again, "He has nothing to worry about."
"Try telling him that, either way, you're a dead man if you think you're going to fill Finny's shoes," Eaton finally said with a high voice like Mickey Mouse. He made me so glad my voice had finally dropped and deepened this past year. Like him, my voice didn't mature till the very end of junior high.
"I'm not here to take Finny's place and relive his glory."
"Sure, come dinner time, you'll see how wrong you are."
It seemed the headmaster wasn't the only one convinced I was Finny reborn, dinner time, the moment I step out into the cafeteria I was greeted by not only the boys I had met at the diner party, but practically all the top ranking boys of the school, inviting me to this club and that, giving me top secret information on the underground midnight parties they had planned, even trying to get me to see pictures of their sisters, and inviting me to hang out with them at their dorms and have a drink with them. The fear of not fitting in was a joke now, for they on spot made me the big man on campus. All because of that one name, it was 'Finny this and Finny that', 'Finny, Finny, Finny', that was all they could talk about.
The question now was how would they react when they see that I couldn't live up to that name? The answer was something I didn't want to know, for I couldn't be the Finny they expected me to automatically be.
After diner I went with Brad and his friend Ashford, who I had known from the party, and his friends to their dorm.
"Wanna a cig?" he offered lighting one.
"Thanks," I said taking it. It was a code of boys I knew by Josh to never refuse an offer of cigs and liquor. Refusing would make you appear as girly wimp and it was an insult to not accept. I hated smoking but I could tolerate it enough.
"You're one lucky bastard, do you know that?" Ashford said.
"Yeah, Mr. Babcock loves you and will let you get away with anything, you could have any girl you want, and you have good blood. You have it made my friend."
"I'm just me is all, dumb luck," I said feeling uncomfortable.
"You're too modest, try to enjoy it," Ashford playfully pushed me.
When I returned to my room, I saw Hugh was there waiting for me. He was big, about 6'3, a buff boy with a buzz cut, and it was interesting how he also had huge blue eyes and long lashes. He was a scruff manly man with a little girl's face, like Paul Bunion with Mary Pickford's face.
"Hey Finny boy," he said as he gave a sinister smile.
"Hey yourself Hugh," I replied confidently, not afraid of him after living with Henry.
"I'm a pretty fair guy despite what other say about me. I'm going to give you two options and only two, if you join the Beacons Varsity team I will make your year a living hell, if you back down and don't try out for the team, I will back off and let you be. This is my year, I've have been training my ass off to get to where I am, and I'm not going to let some undeserving newbie sophomore take it from me."
Although I could understand where he was coming from, I found it funny because I wasn't that much of a threat, "Relax, I'm not that great of a player, I just have his name, not his talent. I couldn't make the Varsity team at my last school, so I doubt I'll make this one."
He looked at me, confused, he softened a bit, "Umn that was your cue to challenge me, it's not fun if you surrender. This is a boring school and right now you're the only thing that'll make my last year here interesting. C'mon be my foe, I have too many friends as is it. Just start over and I'll forget what you said before."
"Fine, I'm trying out for Varsity, happy now?"
"You know for having his name and look, you sure don't act like the god of this school. It's like watching Lancelot in King Arthur's shoes. Don't be afraid to play the role. You were cast in his role for a reason, and just because you're not him, doesn't mean you can't master his role. You should know by now that school is nothing but a play full of roles a student must play to perfection. One school you may be the quiet bookworm and the next school a jock."
Now I was the one confused, he was…so unlike what I pitted him as. He wanted me to automatically see him that way, so no wonder I did.
"I assume you being this jealous bully is some getup then."
"Well of course, you should have seen how scrawny I was three years ago. One day I just decided to change myself into this, started lifting weights, running, eating more, till I eventually became this. I admit, I'm a bit of an actor, acting is what makes my life fun and gets me through the mundane days of school. I've been acting my whole life. I can't explain it, it's this sense freedom, this invincibility to become anyone other than myself. When playing a role, no one can hurt me, because they don't know me. Try it, it's the only way you're going to survive here. Forget who you were and now are, no one here knows the real you, you can be anyone to them, so play Finny, fool them into thinking you're him."
"Why are you telling me all this?"
"Because, I was once you, afraid and depressed, too modest to be great and I know that they'll eat you alive here if you just are your sad self. School isn't the real world, you have to become someone your not, even someone you hate, to succeed, just like how it is in the world of business. I didn't like breaking Charles radio, but I had to because that's what is expected out of my character here."
"Doesn't this sound just a little bit ridiculous though?" He was taking this whole school has roles thing too seriously.
"With all due respect, everything about our society is. Ah, what would our world be if we weren't ridiculous? Sure, the world would probably be better off, yet not quite as interesting. I find being interesting more important than being prudent. If you think about it, we really aren't meant to be simple and the same, we're meant to evolve into something more. Man is a complicated creature made to be ridiculous, so be ridiculous!" he said with a jovial smile.
I looked at him blankly, "So do you give this speech to every new boy? I mean you just met me."
"Well to me it's kind of like I've known you all my life, my father was best friends with the original Finny and he would always talk about him to me about his good ole school days here and show me pictures. And when he heard about you, he made me promise him that I would take you under my wing and be your best pal. I swear, if I were a girl, he would force me to seduce you into marriage to make you part of his family. He's a little too enamored by you. Anyways, because my Dad and I are both at odds end, I want to get him back by being an enemy to you."
"More like a friendly enemy. You most likely know more about Finny than I do."
"Was Finny just your uncle or was he…don't get mad at me for asking but…are you his long lost bastard son who suddenly got discovered? You just don't look anything like Henry."
I looked away, not knowing how to answer that because I didn't quite know myself either who my father was, "You tell me, my mother was married to Henry but ran off with me soon after I was born to California. She died in April and I came to live with Henry not knowing anything about him."
"Shit, sorry, and I thought my life was bad. I can't imagine. I take it you weren't raised rich, you're lucky for that at least, people like me and everyone at this school grow up to lead a dull life of valuing nothing and never being satisfied. No matter what, you have a lot going for you, a hell of a lot to be envied for."
"Were you here last year when Miriam, David, and Agatha attended?"
"How could I forget, that was big, David was my roommate, ironically was in this dorm, which is why Charles is going to be distant with you."
"They didn't tell you?"
"No, they won't tell me anything, it's weird, the place is like a mad house of unspoken mysteries. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be here and away from there."
"Wish I could have warned you about that, I have a good idea of what it's like."
"How did David die?"
"It started with Agatha, she started school at Prescott's, I've know her forever and she has always been a loner and at Prescott's. She's actually not as bad as she seems, she's actually quite intelligent and intuitive when she trusts you enough to open up. She had a little crush on David, whose father worked at one of Henry's factories. Henry found out and as a surprise for Agatha, offered David's father a chair on his board with a paycheck twenty times more than his last one, but only if in return his son courts Agatha. David thought this all was her doing and hated her in return, while poor Agatha, she didn't know and felt so guilty when she heard. Every weekend David was forced to spend it at Agatha's side. And then it got a whole lot worse when Miriam showed up. You know what Miriam looks like, you know how stunning she is, and so you could guess what happened next."
"David fell for Miriam against Henry. Their relationship was forbidden then."
"Yes, and Miriam hated that they couldn't be together and took it out on Agatha. When Miriam came to Prescott, Agatha went from loner to the object of ridicule. You can say Miriam took out her anger at Agatha, blaming her for keeping them apart. Getting picked on day after day does a big toll on a person and I think that's how Agatha got to be like she is now. I'm not quite sure what exactly lead up to Miriam and David driving off, but David was killed on impact while Miriam…that's another thing that's vague, even to me. What the hell happened to Miriam to make her…you know. Agatha I could understand, but Miriam, I can't. Supposedly Miriam wasn't that hurt in the accident, but after when she heard about David, tried hanging herself, something like that, and later at his funeral she was…."
"Like she is now?"
"No, she was acting her age, just different to how she was before the accident. I can't describe it, for someone who had tried killing herself over the loss of a lover, someone in serious mourning, she was rather chipper and off, like a deranged hostess. Then the next I hear, Agatha purposely hit her with the car resulting in Miriam being what she is now."
"It still doesn't make sense."
"I know, the whole thing is off. There's so much left unsaid, too many loose ends. Agatha may be a bitch, but running over her sister just isn't like her. I personally think Henry did it and she was covering for him. Agatha's loyal like that, and besides, Henry hated Miriam. I mean really hated her, he just did not like having her in his life. If it wasn't for the death of Miriam's father, Henry would have nothing to do with her."
"Were you there when it happened?"
"Of course, I saw Miriam sprawled on the pavement motionless like a thrown rag doll and Henry holding crying Agatha while talking with the cops. He paid them off, made the whole thing appear as a childish accident by Agatha."
"Finn's death was mysterious too, a hunting accident, yeah right."
"Your mother is Alicia, right?"
"You know, before she married Henry she did work a block away from here. There's a possibility she met Finny before Henry…"
"What are you getting at here?"
"That Finny being your father isn't that unlikely. He went to school here for four years, and she worked there for two years, they must have crossed paths many times, enough to know each other."
"I don't want to get my hopes up. I think she just had a crush on him that never became anything. Sure she told me he was my father, but she did so in a way that was wishful rather than truthful. It's just coincidence I look like him, ironic really, and probably her wish come true for me to look like his son and not Henry's."
"They do say god has a sense of humor."
"Well look on the bright side, you're the one having the last laugh."
"Whether or not you're Finny son, you're his doppelganger destined to finish the life he started, destined to become what he should have been had he lived. You, Finny, are proof that the good gets born again and never really dies. You being here says a lot to me and everyone else who looked up to Finny. The very sight of you tells us that the good does indeed come back with a vengeance for the bad."
"And what if history repeats itself?" I asked, remembering what Agatha once told me.
"Not with me to help you. You need a bully Finn, someone as strong as Henry, someone who'll drive you to be tough, someone like me. With everyone being your pal and fan, you'll grow cocky and too trustful, it wouldn't do you any good. Now a bully, a bully would make you man enough to fight."
"You're not serious, are you?"
He answered me by punching me in the face. It was a hard blow, enough to make me dizzy.
"What the hell man!" I jumped up straight, ready to hit back.
"You have two seconds to hit me back before I kick you, come on!"
"Not as crazy as Henry," he said as he kicked me down, "Get up Finn! Be a man!"
I was crouched down and coughing, not knowing if I have it in me. I got up and punched him with everything I had, "Happy now?"
"No!" he said as he punched me back in the gut.
It went on, but not for long, for the door bust open and we were broken up by Headmaster Hartley.
"Enough!" He yelled, "What is this about?"
"He wanted the top bunk," Hugh grinned, winking at me.
"Finn, since you're new I'll only give you a warning, and Hugh a detention, next time I won't be so generous. Now apologize, both of you."
"I'm sorry Hugh," I said.
"I'm sorry too Finny, you can have the top bunk, a light weight like you needs it," he smiled.
And the minute Headmaster Hartley left, Hugh looked at me and whispered, "Tomorrow at 3 o'clock in the back alley, you and me, I'll spread the word. Everyone loves a big fight."
"I'm not fighting you."
"Of course you are. Unless you want to stay a whimpering little boy that could easily be snapped in two. Your choice," he shrugged as he walked out.
A/N: Massive updates coming up(Swing Girls and Playing House will have new chapters up too, so look out for that too!), so, so, so sorry for the super long wait. I had a monster of a writer's block, it was so hard to overcome, I just couldn't write anything good. This year so far has been a hectic roller-coaster. I'm so happy I'm writing again, I can't tell you how much. And those of you who read and reviewed, you guys were a big help, I can't tell you how much your reviews mean to mean and how much strength they give me, thank you.
Thanks so much for the reviews, hope you like this chapter, I made sure it was a long one.Exciting things are happening in Paper Wings and the pace keeps on picking up.
It's funny how you plan a story out, but when you develop the characters and put them onto page, the story doesn't go to plan but instead goes somewhere more interesting and complex. To tell you the truth, my original plans for Paper Wings weren't anything like what's happening now in the story, it's like the more I build the characters, the more out of formula the story goes.