Deck of Cards

By Klaha Rastaban

Episode Five: As the razor cuts the soft spot on your heel

-Second Period-

The walk to their second period class was a quiet one; Matthew didn't have anything to say, he seemed to be again lost in his own world. As for Alek, he greeted a few people he knew and made friendly, but he was still thinking of that cursed notebook and what was in it, and why Matthew didn't want to say. What the could it be? A secret story of some kind? A play? His diary? It had to be something juicy if the kid didn't want to share details. But what? It was killing him!

As they entered the class, still with no words passing between them, Matthew took his seat, and Alek stood around awkwardly. This period was new to him, though the class was not. He didn't know where he was allowed to sit, whose assigned seats were where. So he went to the front of the class as the bell rang and Mr. Koen ushered the others to take their seats.

Mr. Koen was a popular man with the female students; he was a tall and handsome man in his twenties with chocolate hair usually pulled back into a ponytail and hazel eyes behind intellectual frames. He was usually a pretty easy going man, too, so the girls would always come up to him after class, clamoring for some of his attention. Personally, Alek didn't see what was so great about him. But then, Alek wasn't playing for that team.

"Okay class, settle down," Mr. Koen said the teacher's mantra. He pushed Alek forward, parading him before the class. "We have a new addition to our class, since he wouldn't shut up," he added under his breath. "Alek Bawler. And you can sit next to… Where's an empty seat…? Matthew."

Matthew immediately covered his face with his hands and sighed. Alek smirked. Well, well. Fate was certainly at his side. Alek slid into the seat beside Matthew with no argument.

"Today, we will be learning…" Mr. Koen started and Alek blanked him out. Even if he hadn't, he wouldn't be listening, because Matthew was glaring at him.

"Are you paying the teachers off, or is it some kind of blackmail?" Matthew whispered.

"Not at all, do I look rich to you? I just talked with them is all."

Matthew didn't seem to be buying it. "About what? The time they were caught with a bottle of gin in the teacher's lounge?" he asked sarcastically. "Or maybe there's some kind of affair going on?"

"Uh, no, come on now, I don't do the whole blackmail thing. I just went on as to why I should be in this class, is all."

"Which is?" Matthew asked, persistent as a dog with their favorite toy.

"You know, that it's easier for me to walk to the gym from here."

"That old excuse?"

"It's not an excuse. Why do you think I changed classes? Specifically because I wanted to bother you?" Alek asked with a smirk, resting his chin in his hand and gazing at Matthew.

"Um," Matthew hesitated. "No…"

"Well, I did." A slow smile appeared across Alek's face. Matthew eyes widened; he seemed stunned and at a loss for words. "You're fun to bother." As Matthew stared down at his own hands on the desk, Alek thought maybe he'd said something way wrong. It could almost be construed as hitting on him. "Maybe. Not really." Alek shrugged, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. What the hell had possessed him to say something like that?

"Why would you change your classes around to bother me?" Matthew's voice was low and thick with emotion. Was he hurt? Was he going to start crying? "Is this some kind of scheme? Because if it is, bravo. I haven't been hit with this one before…"

"Scheme for what? I just want to keep an eye on you." The kid was a master of making him feel guilty, that was for sure. If he ever needed someone to make somebody feel like shit, he found him right here.

"I told you, I've managed this far on my own," was Matthew's stiff response. Yep, he was definitely avoiding looking Alek in the eye again. It seemed to be a habit of his. He was really bad at hiding his emotions.

"Yeah, but still. You're helping me, so," Alek reached out and placed what he hoped was a comforting hand on the younger boy's shoulder. "I'm going to help you."

A strange look crossed Matthew's face. Alek didn't know what to make of it or how to read it. It was sort of hurt, sort of puzzled. But when he placed his hand on him, Matthew stared down at it, like he couldn't believe such a thing was making contact with him. It wasn't exactly an expression of disgust, nor was it exactly fear. Or maybe it was, Alek wasn't sure. But whatever it was Matthew was thinking or feeling, he wasn't sharing. He merely moved from Alek's touch without further acknowledging it. No don't touch me or anything.

"You're just going to end up in trouble yourself. Besides," Matthew trailed off, watching the teacher as he continued talking about poems. Alek waited for Matthew to continue, but he didn't.

"Besides… what?" Alek cocked his head to the side, yet again having to prod Matthew into responding.

"They'll think…" Matthew continued steadfastly watching the teacher. Alek wondered if he was addled with admiration for the man, too. "Never mind."

"Think?" Alek made a motion with his hand, trying to signal Matthew to keep going. Then it occurred to him; what Matthew was referring to. He watched Matthew, demurring as he was, embarrassed to say it. "Oh… I see. Well, are you?"

Alek ignored everyone around him, eyes only on Matthew. For some reason, the answer to this question was all-important to him. Even though he himself was not. He had to know… Was Matthew?

"Am I…what?" Matthew's eyes snapped away from the teacher and back to Alek. Was he even paying attention to Alek anymore?

"You know. What people would think? Are you?"

"Don't we have work to do?" Matthew dodged the question—and Alek's gaze.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, you do," Mr. Koen stood directly in front of their desks, disapproval written all over his face. He was probably rethinking his decision to sit the two together. Who would think there'd be talking problems with Matthew, after all? "It's fine if you two want to converse, but please do it outside of my classroom..."

Mr. Koen gave them one last warning glance before going off to lecture another student, who was loudly smacking her gum in class, on top of wearing a hat inside. Alek waited until the English teacher was out of hearing range before speaking again.

"So, I guess you won't answer my question?" Alek mumbled, sliding his eyes over to Matthew in what he hoped was a cunning way.

Matthew lowered his head, turning away from Alek. He appeared to be trying to do his work, but Alek knew better. He was avoiding him again. Alek leaned forward again, watching him.

"Do I take that as a yes? Or as a sign of embarrassment? Or both? Either way, it doesn't matter to me." Alek shrugged to demonstrate this indifference.

"Well, it does to me," Matthew said stonily, opening his English book to the page marked on the chalkboard. He seemed determined to merely do his work. But Alek couldn't let it go—besides, it was obvious by the way he was dodging the question rather than outright saying yes or no. He was. Alek settled back in his seat and smiled smugly.

"So, then. You are."

With amusement, he watched as Matthew pushed down too hard on his pencil and it broke. The broken tip went flying towards the front of the class somewhere, and Matthew looked down at the pencil with great annoyance, no doubt imagining it was Alek. "Damn it…" he muttered, leaning down into his bag to rummage around for a new one.

Meanwhile, Alek took a mental note of this. Matthew was still ignoring him.

"Okay, so then what? You expect me to treat you differently as if you were some freak or something? I don't' really see how I could." Alek had no problem with people's sexual preferences. It was a stupid thing to get all riled up about. There were far more problems for him to get all pissy about. Matthew's preference certainly didn't affect him in any way. After all, Alek was straight. "You're still my friend right? Even though I know this huge secret of yours?"

"It's not a huge secret."

Seriously… How had he not heard more about this kid before? He was gay? He was a bully magnet. He was possibly one of the smartest kids he'd ever met. He seemed prime to be full of interesting information. He must have really slipped his radar last year. But how? Did they have classes together last year? How had Alek not noticed? Alek had been at this school since he was eight-freaking-years-old! He should have noticed when people talked about Matthew… Puzzling indeed.

"I was being sarcastic," Alek informed Matthew. He'd only heard every kid in PE call the kid a fag. But he'd assumed they were just calling him names. Was Matthew open about it? Did his father know? What did he think? Probably not anything nice. As Matthew sighed, Alek pressed, "But we are still friends, right?"

"Were we friends in the first place?"

Ooh, cold. The kid must have ice in his veins. Alek couldn't help feeling as though he'd been doused with the stuff.

"I…I thought we were. That's why you were helping me out with my encyclopedia, right?"

"Oh, right." Matthew still wasn't acting like he thought they were friends. So, Alek had been wrong in assuming they were friends then? How did Matthew think of him, then? Annoying stalker? Was he just putting up with him?

"You didn't think of us as friends then?"

"I've never had friends."

"Well, from this day on, I will be your friend, okay?" Alek smiled kindly.

"I guess," Matthew shrugged.

"You guess?!" Jeez, you try to be nice and extend a hand of friendship, and get the cold shoulder? Mr. Koen heard his outburst and gave him another warning glance.

"All right, class, after reading the poem, you need to get together with a partner and compare and contrast your opinions."

Matthew looked up at Mr. Koen, and it almost seemed like he was going to say something to him, but Alek cut in, blocking Matthew's vision of the teacher.

"Oh! Let's be partners!"

Matthew turned his green eyes to him slowly.

"What?" Alek asked, confounded.

"Nothing." Matthew closed his notebook and placed it under his English book. Alek, of course, noticed the movement, and couldn't take his eyes off the corner of notebook still in his sight.

"So tell me, what is it you write in there?"

"It's not that exciting. I don't know why you want to know so bad."

"Because you won't tell me, so therefore I have a hard time believing you when you say that it's nothing, or that it's not exciting."

"It'd be nothing to you."

"Then why not let me see?"

"Because, it might be nothing to you," Matthew said with finality. "But it's everything to me. What's the assignment again?"

"Huh?" Alek had temporarily forgotten what he was supposed to be doing—that he was in school right now. "Oh, reading this area," he opened his book and flipped through the pages until he got to the one detailed on the board. "And answering these questions."

Alek could see Matthew was dismissing him again, trying to get his mind off things he'd rather not talk about and do his class work like a good little boy. Still, Alek tried again.

"So, since it might be nothing to me, that means I can see it right?"

Matthew was not having it. The little bugger could be determined when he wanted to be. He steadfastly ignored Alek's prodding and continued to look down at his book. He even seemed to be reading it. He wrinkled his little nose and wondered, "Why do we need to a partner for this...?"

Alek resigned for now. He glanced down at the book. "Because, this question says 'in a group, compare and contrast you and your partners' opinions', that's why." Either he hadn't been reading and only pretending to, or he had yet to reach that last question. Whatever the case, Alek was sure Matthew was still dodging questions. For now, he'd let off. But he'd find answers eventually. He watched Matthew looking over the poem, a little wrinkle in his forehead as he read. Alek got the feeling Matthew wasn't a fan of poetry.

"Well, in the second stanza, he's talking about a lost love, right? And he's trying to forget about her by reading, but it's not working..." Matthew regarded the poem before him with frustration written all over his face. His hand swept through his auburn hair, and Alek finally realized why his hair was usually so unkempt. He must make a habit of running his hand through his hair when thinking or frustrated. Alek made another mental note.

"Of course not, when ones love is lost, that is all one can think about."

"I wouldn't know."

"Neither would I. I'm just guessing from the way he's always thinking about her and all." Though Alek thought he had a good idea what it was to think about someone you lost. He hadn't been able to get his parents out of his head for some time after their deaths. But now… Well, he had to learn how to deal with it and move on. Pushing it into the back of his mind was one way of dealing with it. Despite what counselors had to say.

"I…don't really like poetry," Matthew confessed. Just as Alek had suspected.

"It's all right," Alek said with a shrug. He had his personal favorites, of course. "But I like the medieval stories better, like Beowulf."

Matthew was still looking down at the book with a frown, fingers in his hair, palms pressed against his forehead. "Why can't they just say what they mean?"

"Because they want to make you think." Alek rather liked thinking about the meaning behind a poem. It wasn't much different than thinking about what was behind a person he was studying. Anything to do with investigating usually piqued Alek's interest. He could see Matthew was not the same in this aspect.

"I'd rather it just be plain and straight to the point. That's why I like math."

Alek made a face. "I don't really like math. I like science and history better."

"How can you be in Calculus and not like math?" Matthew gave him a look like he thought he was criminally insane.

"My memory." Alek tapped the side of his head. "But yeah, I can't wait till Chemistry; blowing things up is going to be fun." He rubbed his hands together.

"I don't want to be your partner in Chemistry."

"Why?" Alek asked, wondering if Matthew was fed up with him.

"Because! You like to blow things up!"

"Oh come on, like you don't want to blow things up in chemistry? Why did you take it then?" Alek thought everyone loved Chemistry, just for the chance to blow things up and learn how to make stink bombs. Among other things. Chemistry was definitely one of Alek's favorite classes.

"Because, it was the next step up in Science classes," Matthew replied matter-of-factly.

"Well there you go, answer to your question about Calculus." Alek settled back, tossing his pencil into his English textbook. He was shocked to see Matthew's lips curve into a smile at his answer, but it quickly faded and he went back to his work, acting like it never happened, scrawling answers into his English notebook. He still seemed less than thrilled with the poem.

"My opinion on this poem is that it's long winded," Matthew also set his pencil down. He looked at Alek, as if expecting an argument.

"And mine is that I think it compares the man and the raven wonderfully."

Matthew looked down at the poem again, as if wondering what he'd missed. Alek smiled. It seemed the symbolism went way over Matthew's head. Another note to file away.

END OF EPISODE FIVE

Year 4 Encyclopedia Entry: Koen Schuyler

Age: 26

Looks: Very good looking, I can see why the ladies love him. He has a natural charm, good looks, his shoulder length dark brown hair is almost always pulled back into a loose ponytail, the rest of his hair feathering around him and his small framed glasses, giving him a smart look. He's tall, which I guess girls find attractive. He seems to always wear dress pants and dress shirts, but the first two buttons are always unbuttoned.

Personality Quirks: He seems laid back, doesn't really seem to care too much, but he does seem to lecture a lot. He seems a little... slick... I don't know what it is about him, but girls always seem to flock to him after class. He is kind though, to girls...

Likes: girls, obviously. Cake (he always seems to be eating it during lunch) reading, he always seems to be carrying a book around with him.

Dislikes: I really don't know, normal food? Guys, he seems to pick on the guys in class more than the girls.

Thoughts: I want to learn from him, just something about him that makes people attracted to him, what is it? I mean, he's not that attractive, I mean, for me anyway since I don't swing that way, but damn, what is it about him that makes all these girls flock to him?