To be fair, there was never any happiness, even before he came along. To be fair, he probably wouldn't have ever been happy with his life, even if he had not been so cruelly forced into his current world. To be fair, it was not entirely his fault. Even so, the rate at which he was going was soon going to gobble him up, wholly and completely. He couldn't make it if he kept on going.
He was becoming too unstable…
Tuesday, September 7th 6:32 PM
There was something about that room that made him feel like he had done something wrong. Something about how the ceiling reached out to the walls, with an odd, slanted embrace, that made him feel stifled and therefore scrutinized. Perhaps they had not the life within them to do so, but he swore those six sides were always, always judging him. He was sure.
And so he felt that he was a terrible person. He might even have been—but it was so hard to gauge such a thing with such close quarters. Perhaps he was a monster; perhaps he was lost. It was hard to tell.
Even so, he spent the majority of his free time in there. There was a time in his life when his office and his bedroom were two separate entities, but, over the course of a few years, he had merged them together for the sake of convenience and security. That office, which judged him so heartily, became his home, and he would emerge only to prepare his meals, to relieve himself and to work. All three things that he heartily detested for the sole reason that they happened outside of his room.
There was peace within those walls, too, despite the inquiry most constant. He found that everything took a backseat, and it all became white noise, a distant hum, compared to the frantic, creative thoughts that flowed about his mind like frenzied bees. Here and there, sporadic. Magnificent.
The phone rang for the first time in days. It didn't scare him physically, it did not make him jump, but it scared him emotionally. Imagine, he thought as he reached out for the plastic device, that there is someone on the other side of that line waiting to tell me what I've done wrong in life. Imagine, he continued in a rather paranoid fashion, that they would say such horrific things that I would not be able to hang up for the fascination, the rather grim fascination, that it would hold for me. Hours would pass as they continued to pick apart my humanity, and I would not be able to turn away. The battery of this phone would run dry before I could bear to hang up, and then…
Yet he picked it up. Despite his fear, he couldn't help but pick up. He was terribly unstable.
"Hello?" His voice was high, strained, nearly feminine. He was surprised when he heard the response.
"Hello, yes. Sir, would you happen to be the parent or guardian of a Mr. Curtis Walden?" Most people would have mistaken him for a woman, yet the man on the other side of the line seemed to know. It was welcoming. He hated to be called ma'am over the phone. It wasn't like he sounded like a woman in real life.
"Curt? Yes, I'm only his legal guardian, I'm afraid—his older brother. May I ask who's speaking?" He was apologizing simply because he knew the person would judge him. Everyone did, and so he would apologize before the offense could be pointed out. It was easier that way.
"I'm Mr. Thomas White, his history teacher." The teacher had a nice sort of voice, which he thought was probably an odd observation to make, but, seeing as it was the only thing that he could judge through a telephone conversation, it was the only defining characteristic he had encountered. It was a deep voice, with a bit of a husky nature to it, but it was kind. The kind of voice one would expect from a teacher that actually enjoyed their occupation.
"History?" He felt terrible, because he knew that Curt hated history, and things that Curt hated usually suffered mightily. "He hasn't been a bother to you, has he?"
"…Well…" The man sounded strained, like he didn't want to admit that Curt had indeed been difficult, but he managed to force it from his lips. It was obvious that he was not a fan of being blunt—an overt judge. "You see, your brother has been causing disruptions in the class since the start of the year. Normally, I'd write him off as another class clown—every class needs one, you know—but he's been such a disturbance that I can't ignore him anymore. I've sent him to detention, and he goes to those detentions—that's not the problem, but he doesn't do any work in the class."
"Any at all?"
"None. Mr. Walden—"
"Please, call me Riley." Walden always reminded him of the book, and he had never been much of a fan.
"—Riley, I have a deep concern. I've asked other teachers, and they've told me that, while he's far from their best student, he is not as disruptive as he is my class. This might sound rather pathetic of me, but I'd like to see if there were something I could do to keep him from behaving this way." Riley liked that he said "if there were" as opposed to "if there was," and he knew that if he ever met this teacher personally he would like him right away. Such strange things would please him from time to time.
"It's taking away from the class." He was clearly distressed, and it made Riley feel bad. Sure, he had not been the one to sit in the class and be rude, but he was the brother of the one who had. Guilty by association and all that grim jazz.
"I think…I think I can talk to him, though I admit it shall be rather difficult. See, if I out-and-out tell him, Curt would get wise. He'll know you asked me, and then he'll tease you viciously for coming to me to begin with."
"I can see that."
"Yes, I admit that he's not very pleasant in that case."
"Mhm." There was something in this Mr. White's tone that seemed to say, "That's not the only unpleasant thing about him."
"I'll try to talk to him. I'm very sorry that he's like this. I-I always tried to be so polite toward my teachers, and I'm not sure where he got it." He stopped short before he went into an involved litany of his good behavior. It was just that he was being judged, and he didn't want to be seen in the same, harsh light as his brother. It was as disquieting as the observant walls.
"Younger brothers tend to end up differently than the older," Mr. White said dismissively. Or perhaps Thomas. It was hard to tell which he would prefer. Some teachers were so accustomed to the title that they nearly expected it, and so Riley was afraid to directly address him, even in his thoughts.
"I'll talk to him. I really will."
He sighed, slowly. It was relief. "Thank you. Really, truly, thank you. It's gotten to the point where I dread that period, and I know what dread can lead to in the educational workplace."
Riley didn't, but he laughed casually anyway.
"Anyway, thank you again. I'll…call you if things improve."
"I would appreciate that."
"All right. Bye."
They both hung up in unison, and then Riley sat there for a moment, the phone lazily dangling in his loose grip, as he thought about how he would approach his very hostile younger brother. There were safety zones, and anything that had to do with school was far outside of them.
Tuesday, September 7th 7:48 PM
He worried about it for maybe an hour, and in that time the sun dipped low into the horizon, the sky adopting a darker hue, and in that time he became resolute and set. He knew just what he was going to say when he got up and walked out of the room.
Even so, his hand was trembling as it came to rest on the knob, and, when he came to Curt's bedroom, he had to press his right palm firmly on the doorjamb as he peered in. It was dark, but the glow of the computer screen lit up the youth in a rather ghastly manner. Riley stood there for a few seconds before he was ready to talk, and then—
"Will you spit it out already, Rile?" Curt asked from his computer. He double-clicked something and then pushed down on the floor, which spun his swivel chair around. He planted his feet on the ground when he was facing his brother. The light behind his head blocked out his expression, but Riley had a good idea of what it was like.
"I…" He took a deep breath. "I've seen your grades, Curt." And he had, just yesterday in fact. Curt was failing history and English, but he was doing well enough in his other classes. He was the type that seldom spoiled that which he preferred and absolutely ignored or even tortured that which he detested. Riley would not have said anything had it not been for Mr. White, or Thomas. (He still wasn't sure.)
"Well, what do you want to say about them?"
"I want to say that they are my grades and therefore none of your business?" He spun back around and went back to his computer. "Since when have you cared, anyway?"
"I've always cared."
Curt laughed sarcastically. "I'm sure. What brought it up, though?"
"Uh…" He hadn't prepared himself for that question. He wished he had, though.
"One of the teachers called you? Both, maybe?" He chuckled to himself. "Well, I guess they would eventually. Which one was it? The darling Mrs. Polk or the depressed Mr. White?"
"Mmhm." He clicked on something else. The noise was sharp and piercing—the sound of a mouse click. Of course, that might have been because he was associating it with Curt. "It was Mr. White, I'm sure. I nearly made him cry today."
Riley had a hard time imagining someone like Mr. White crying, but he was judging him solely on his voice.
But, since it seemed that his brother had figured out his motive, Riley decided to jump in headfirst, to through caution to the wind, to stop thinking rationally: "He's worried about how you're acting in class, Curt. He tells me that you disrupt it. I know that you don't like the class, but you don't have to make it difficult for others." He figured it was basic reason, but things like that came slowly to his younger brother. He was an angry person, and he never could understand why others could enjoy things he did not.
"Their stupidity disrupts me, but no one ever apologizes about that—never stops them. Why should I treat them any differently?" The way he spoke…it was obvious that he was smiling to himself—an eerie, cruel smile as he worked on his computer and spoke to his brother harshly.
"I think you should stop it, Curt," Riley pleaded faintly.
"That's great." He looked over his shoulder, a fierce glare visible even in the dimmest light. "I'm happy for you. I mean, it's been a while since you thought, right?"
"Curt…" He didn't know what to say there. He never was very good at saying things right back, all snappy and unkind.
It was quiet for a great deal of time, and then Curtis got up from his seat. It creaked softly. He walked across the room in the same manner, softly yet noticeably, and then, without any warning whatsoever, he pulled back his fist and then shot it forward so quickly that Riley didn't have the time to react.
Before he knew it, he was laying flat on his back, reeling with pain and confusion. "Mind your own fucking business next time."
Riley tried to think about what had just happened, but the shock of it all was so confounding that he didn't know what to do—what to think. He looked up at his brother, horrified and stupefied, and experienced an absence of thought.
"Mind your own fucking business!"
And then, as if their exchange had been entirely pleasant, Curt turned around and went back to his computer. He sat down, as if nothing happened, and resumed what he was doing.
Riley lay there, pitiful and helpless, for a few minutes before he managed to get up and walk away. It was like living after hearing your death sentence—like nothing really mattered after that point on. It was devastating, because he knew there was nothing he could do about it. Who was he to? Just the useless older brother of an angry, angry teenager. He had no use in the world, no point. He was that bit of fat that people cut off while they were enjoying their meal. He was the reason that people never looked outside the lines, because that was where he always colored. He was moot, useless.
He wandered back into his room, his ever-judging room, and collapsed onto his small, cold bed. He didn't bother to finish what he had been doing. None of that mattered. He didn't care anymore. He didn't even want to care…
…He just wanted to pull away from reality and forget everything…
Sleep came to him easily that night, because it was an escape.
Wednesday, September 8th 12:15 PM
It was rare, really, since Riley didn't usually keep his cell phone on while he was at work. It was a chance occurrence, that the phone would ring just as he walked into the elevator, heading down the building on the way to his lunch break.
For some reason or another, he knew who it was, too. He knew that it had to be that teacher, because of what had happened the night before. He knew right away that his brother had not been merciful.
Mr. White sighed. "Hi, Mr. Wal—er, Riley. I'm calling because, well, the problem with Curtis has only escaladed."
"I'm so sorry, Mr. White. See, I tried to talk to him about it, and, well, he's a lot sharper than I sometimes give him credit for." He was biting his lip and he was digging into the plastic exterior of the phone with his fingernails while he spoke. He was so, so nervous. He couldn't even let himself imagine all the terrible things that Mr. White, or Thomas, must have been thinking about him because he had such a terrible younger brother. "He wasn't too terrible, was he?"
"I…I wish I could say he wasn't too terrible." He sighed again. "I had to ask him to leave the classroom, and, naturally, he refused. He was escorted out of the room by the school security guard, and I think he's in the process of being suspended. I thought I would call you to give you fair warning."
Riley stepped out of the elevator and left his office building. It was gloomy outside, to match the current direction of the day, and rather cold despite the time of year. He looked around, first in the direction of where he usually had his lunch, a small diner whose waitress happened to be an acquaintance of his, and then in the direction of Curt's school. "You know what, Mr. White? I'll come down there and see about this. I'm sure he's convinced them that I'm not reachable during the day, and so they wouldn't try to call me, but, honestly, I should be there for this."
"Sounds like a plan. Once you're done talking with the dean, how about you come down to my classroom? It's my prep period after lunch, so I'm free until two."
"Okay. And thank you for being so understanding," Riley said as he unlocked his car door. "I know how difficult it must be to work with him." He sat down and put his seatbelt on, the phone tucked between his cheek and his shoulder, but he didn't start the car yet. He switched the hand with which he held the phone.
"Thank you for not getting mad at me about it," Mr. White said with a nervous laugh. "You don't know how many parents spend the whole time yelling at me because their kid doesn't want to do their homework…"
Riley wanted to point out that it might have been because he wasn't actually a parent, but he was still so happy that Mr. White had not mistaken him for a woman that it really didn't bother him at all. "I'll see you in an hour or so, then."
"Sounds great. Goodbye."
Riley started the car and then drove off in the direction of the school. He didn't think about the bruise under his right eye, and he didn't think about how the people at the school would receive that. He couldn't think about those kinds of things. It was…so much easier to just forget.