The teenager glanced up, still keeping his hands folded tightly, his fingers almost white from lack of circulation. He had not meant to stay this late, but he had no family... at least none that would be worried about him or wonder why he wasn't at home. Sure, it was the day before Thanksgiving and almost everyone else on campus had gone home for the long weekend, but despite the Altons' kindness and hospitality, their small house on Chestnut Avenue still didn't feel like home to him. It never had.
"Victor?" Dr. Shasthri leaned over next to the teenager. Despite the fact that the boy's student identification read an entirely different name, Priya Shasthri knew quite well that when someone requested to be called something, it was a wise idea to comply. She knew Sharpe went by his middle name... and had since at least the beginning of his freshman year. The professor seriously doubted whether anyone other than a few of the faculty members and the teenager's family even knew his first name. "Listen, I don't want to disturb you, but don't you have anywhere to go?" Even she had something to do tomorrow; she had signed up on the volunteer list to help feed homeless people when their pastor had passed it around the church congregation.
Sharpe's dark eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "I have a paper for Frasier's toxicology class that I am going to finish writing tomorrow." He had already done nearly all the research for that project; now all that was left was writing the eight-paged paper, something he had chosen to put off all semester.
Priya frowned and shifted her weight to a more comfortable position, letting her shoulder bag drop to the ground. Inside, she was carrying the weight equivalent of at least three text books. Something told her that prying was a bad idea around Sharpe; the university sophomore had been more than secretive over the past year that she had gotten to know him. But like anyone else, she was curious. "Do you not have anywhere to go? Doesn't your family live nearby or anything?" She could have kicked herself in the shins for that comment; as soon as she had spoken, Sharpe's face paled to the color of parchment.
The teenager bit the end of his tongue, almost hard enough to draw blood. Yes, his family did live near... well, as much as he could call them family. "Not particularly," he lied. The Altons had chosen to go down to San Diego for the break; they had left that morning and were now in southern California, visiting people Sharpe had only met once and honestly could care less about.
Dr. Shasthri sat down on the linoleum floor, thankful she had chosen to wear jeans to work that day instead of a skirt. There was so much she understood, yet so much she had no idea about at all. For a long moment, she studied the quiet student who had proved himself to be an enigma. She had been told that she was good at reading people and she decided to put this theory to practice. As she looked into his dark eyes, he glanced away, resorting to counting the speckled dots on the floor. Her glance followed down to his hands. Scars. Somehow, this didn't surprise her much. There was a short pause. "Well, you're more than welcome to come and join us. We're helping serve homeless people at the church."
Sharpe stood up with such quickness that surprised Professor Shasthri. She had never seen anyone who was not an athlete move so quickly. She watched as Sharpe recoiled into the shadows that were provided by the stairwell. "No!" This was spoken with more force than he had ever used around an authority figure before, other than perhaps Alton. Josiah Alton had heard him yell before, but few other adults had. The back of his fist hit the wall just hard enough to cause redness. There would probably be a bruise there tomorrow.
"I..." The professor was nearly speechless. She knew not everyone at the school was religious - in fact, she was one of three professors in the greater sciences department who held Judeo-Christian beliefs - but she had never imagined anyone getting so upset at the mention of a church. "I'm sorry." Those were the first words that came out of her mouth. "I didn't mean any offence." Priya thought for a moment. She had taken a lot of flack from her co-workers whenever the subject of religion came up. As if being both a woman and an ethnic minority in the sciences wasn't enough. The professor had learned not to take offence at anything that was said.
"I don't take any offence, but I can't." There was a certain aspect to Sharpe's voice that Priya had never heard before. Normally, the sophomore was quiet and his reactions were measured and composed carefully. He hadn't been inside a church building since before he graduated high school... not even on Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday. Especially not Christmas Eve. He could not go back. Not now or ever again. He had promised himself never to set foot in a church building as long as he lived and the young man intended on following through. A promise was a promise, even if it was only to yourself, right?
Dr. Shasthri glanced over at him, but decided not to press... for information or otherwise. If Sharpe was going to tell her what was going on, it would have to be his own choice, not her pressuring him to do anything. "Are you sure everything is alright?"
Sharpe nodded. "Fine. Just perfect." Sarcasm was dripping from his voice and Professor Shasthri caught that and frowned, her thin lips drawing together. Sharpe moved forward slightly and clasped his hands behind his back.
Before she could stop herself, Professor Shasthri decided to take a chance and ask a question that she would probably regret later. "You don't like anything that has to do with religion, do you?" Her question was innocent enough and her voice, non-accusing. It was the same tone she frequently used in the classroom or talking individually with her students.
"Religion is stupid." As the three-word response came, Priya couldn't have been more surprised. She was used to him being far more eloquent or at least less blunt. However, she had to agree with him... to a certain extent. Religion for the sake of religion - as she had pointed out so often to Lewis from the philosophy department, with whom she enjoyed long talks over coffee - was pointless.
Although common sense told her not to, she decided to press. Part of her inner core told her that she was closer to getting the young student to talk than anyone else had been, but Shasthri knew she would have to tread carefully. Amongst the general population, topics including religion were deemed as controversial at best. Even though she and Frank had talked extensively on the subject, both were respectful adults, capable of civil conversation, despite not always agreeing on any particular subject. "Perhaps it is..." These words were more of a muse to herself and a ploy to get Sharpe to explain his comment. "But surely anyone who dislikes religion must have a reason." As a scientist, she held to the philosophy of having some reason for every decision she made, no matter whether her reasons were logically oriented or not.
Sharpe was quiet for a long moment and his long fingers ran along one of his scars on his right hand and up his arm a few inches. "I don't hate religion. I hate Him." The last word he spoke was emphasized and the teenager nodded towards the ceiling. Sharpe's voice had lost its previously present sarcasm.
Dr. Shasthri glanced up at Sharpe. For the past several minutes, he had been standing and she, sitting. She nodded towards him and he sat down, leveling her with his dark gaze. Priya was quiet for a long moment. "If you don't mind me asking," there was a short pause as she studied him and she leaned forward, supporting herself with her hand, "please do explain." Not only had she assumed he was non-religious, but she was aware that at least one of the other faculty members was under the impression that Sharpe was an atheist. It didn't bother her one bit, but something in her said that there was more to him than what met the eye. Such was the way with everyone.
She knew she should have been expecting a question in return. She had seen this strategy before, mostly in students who preferred not to talk about a certain subject. They would ask questions in response to questions or try to change the subject; some were better at it than others were. "Your esteemed philosophy professor seems to think that you are an atheist." She was speaking of none other than Dr. Lewis.
Sharpe's eyes narrowed so much that he looked like he was squinting at something. "That is illogical." His lips drew together into a thin frown and he sunk to the floor, leaning his back up against the brick wall. "It's impossible to be angry at someone if you don't believe that person even exists." In the back of his mind, he was pretty sure there was a God somewhere, but he was sincerely doubtful that God was anywhere near caring. His life had taught him that this was most likely the case.
Dr. Shasthri nodded. She was about to say something, but she stopped herself as she caught a glimpse of something shiny in Sharpe's eye. Maybe it was the way the light from the lamp post outside was hitting his face, but she doubted it. "Are you alright?" She almost reached out to put a hand on his shoulder to comfort him, but decided against it.
Sharpe shrugged. "I will be." He was always alright. Never great, rarely horrible. Just alright. He always would be.