I don't go far, and my thought can't focus. I don't cover much ground, physically or metaphysically. My thoughts and feet bring me down to the pool, and then out to the edge of the property, by the stables. I skip dinner, choosing nicotine over sustenance by a long shot.
When I get back to the room, the sun is getting low and the sky is getting dark. As my fingers curl slowly over the knob, the sounds of conversation ink out with the stream of light under the door.
Uh, whoa. What is going on here?
I stare at Hugh, and at Noah, for a long time before I realize that I haven't vocalized the thought. I try to, but it comes up nothing, my throat raw from too many cigarettes.
"Ahem." I shake my head and spit. "Uh… wh-what's goin' on?"
Noah's big eyes lock on to me for a long, long second, and then return to his hands in his lap. Hugh's dart over to me; he takes it upon himself to answer. "I, uh… I came to check in with you. See what's up." He gestured his arms out without inputting too much effort. "Met… uh, Noah…"
I nod, slowly. A plausible story… It's not that I doubt him, by any means. Just… I don't know.
I look between the two again. I can't read any signs of an interrupted conversation. I doubt it. That they were talking, I mean. Hugh's very stoic, doesn't let anybody in, I don't know why he'd talk to a perfect stranger about his problems if he won't talk to me.
Still, I don't know if I like them being so… alone, together. I know he's new, but Jesus, can't the kid get his own friends?
I turned around, locking the door behind me. The keys jingle against the hardwood table as I discard them. I shrug off my jacket, place it on the back of my desk chair.
"You weren't at dinner." Hugh informs me.
I should probably invest in a lie, at least make it seem like I'm trying. "Wasn't hungry."
He looks weary as he shrugs, shakes his head. "Alright." He sighs heavily. "Whatever."
Okay, he's annoyed at me. And I know why. Why am I being so rude? I am not trying to be such a dick. It's like, I can't fucking help it. Brain filter function? Off.
"Um…. What's your schedule like tomorrow?" I lean forward, near-blushing at my stupid attempt at an apology.
He runs his eyes over me, weighing in how pissed he should be at me. I'm about to pull out the big one, play my Thom card, when he extracts a folded up wad of paper from his pocket. "Today: Psych with Miller, Brit Lit with Burke, and Semantics with Leonard. Tomorrow: History, English, and Advanced Math/Trig."
I smirk. "They would put you in the retard math class."
I dodge out his path to avoid a swift smack in the head. "You're just jealous. AMT's where all the hot girls are."
The giggle in my throat is probably not as suppressed as I'd meant, but. "Um. Yeah. Hot girls. That's where I want to be." And I keep the smile plastered as he throws his arm around my shoulder and hugs me tighter than most other guys would be comfortable with.
"Okay, okay, watch out." I chuckle, pulling out of the embrace. "Any closer and I'll probably infect you."
"Don't worry about it. I'll let the ladies and men alike feel the McEnrue charm." His teeth shine in a grin perfected to show off that very charm, nudging me with my elbow.
Suddenly, I remember another presence in the room. Both Hugh and I look over to Noah, who has shrunk into himself so much, I could package him into a box and ship him to India. Not an unpromising offer…
Hugh frowns at me, as if reading my thoughts. Perceptive son of a bitch. Some days, it is a pain having a future psychologist for a best friend.
"Walk with me." He tells me. I would refuse, if it were humanly possible. Without even considering that I might, though, he immediately turns and waves to Noah. "Nice to meet you."
"Y-you, too." He sort of half-smiles. "Um, bye." The click of the door closing drowns out his whispered words.
Hugh crosses his arms and stares at me expectantly.
"You look nice today."
Apparently, my charming smile is less heart-stopping than his.
"Would you like to explain why that child looks like an abused puppy?" He queries, even-toned. I focus my gaze on the quirked eyebrow on the left side of his face, and sigh.
"Dunno?" I venture.
"Mm-mm." Hugh shakes his head. This is not an acceptable answer. "That is not the appearance of a boy who sits comfortably, knowing he has at least one friend at his large, strange, new school. That's the look of a boy that thinks he has done something terribly wrong, by accident, and made an enemy for life."
"You're such a good psychologist. When you grow up—"
"Cut the shit, Christian."
He glares at me, in silence. He uncrosses his arms, and recrosses him. Trying to figure out which is more threatening. Not that he needs anything to make him intimidating. He's fucking 6'2", sun-crisped all winter long, with eyes so brown the pupils and irises fade into one black well. Ironic, for a lad hailing from the most Irish family I've ever met.
I don't want to face him, or his judgmental looks, so my eyes stay firmly locked on the ground beneath us.
Again, he sighs, and he sounds like this is beating him up inside. Even though in reality it has nothing to do with him. "I mean, c'mon, Chris. It's not like he can do anything. Like he did anything."
"I know". I mutter uncomfortably as I scratch at the skin behind my ear. He stares, gesturing for me to go on.
And that's it. I give up. I sigh, and throw my hands into the air. "It's not fair, though. It's not fair that he's in my bed, and it's not fair that my friends are talking to him like they're his and not mine, and it's not fair that he's here when he's not."
There it is. Everything that everyone in the world can read right off my face, finally said out loud.
And Hugh already knows all of this, of course. He looks at me, relieved but unsurprised, some weight off his chest that I've finally said something. I'm a case to him, something to analyze, sure; but more than that I'm his friend and I know, I've always known, that it really gets to him when I went go catatonic.
He shares in my depleted exhale. "Okay," he says, taking a seat next to me on the cement barrister that leads into the courtyard. "One, don't be a dick. Your friends-- Colin, me, whoever—are never gonna stop being your friends, so shut up. Two, this kid has been uprooted, lifted out of his home, thousands of miles away, to start at a new school, and it's a goddamn boarding school, at that. Cut him a little slack."
I consider that. I also consider how I felt on my first day, and how relaxed I felt once I knew I was at least somewhat friends with my one person—my roommate.
"And three," he continues, patronizingly, "three, he doesn't have any friends. That sucks. He already looks like he wants to pretty much shrivel up into himself. You might as well toss a few polite words his way, per day."
"I did talk to him, you know." Even I hear how weak the words sound. If I could see them trail out of my mouth, they would flop and flail with deadweight.
I don't need to look at Hugh to get the impact of his eye roll. "For two minutes."
"Weren't you just telling me that a few words is all it takes?"
"Don't be cute, Christian." He scolds.
Of course, I can't help myself. "Oh, you think I'm cute?" I sing playfully, forcing an extra giggle into my words to distract him. "Maybe I am rubbing off on you. Tell me, when did you first start having this feelings about other boys?"
I feel his arms pushing me away, and the next thing I know I'm alone with a view of Hugh's shrinking back. My head falls into my hands, I sigh.
"But keep that on your mind, you know." I hear his voice closer than he seemed. "How your first day was. What your roommate said to you."
I raise my head to explain how clearly to him that is an entirely different situation, but I'm the only one left.
Seth looks up as he hears the door click shut behind me. His expression… ias so priceless. He does that a lot. He keeps making these faces that instantly make me feel like crap.
"Hi." I cock a half-smile his way.
The green of his eyes is reflected by the lamp beside him, and they are even brighter than before as they suspiciously take me in. "Hey," he responds vaguely.
I toss off my coat and flop onto what is now my bed. Considering what Hugh had just said, I decide to facilitate a slight amount of talk. "How was your first day?"
His shoulders slump and his face relaxes into a smile. The relief on his face makes me feel ten times more comfortable. "It was okay. Only a half day, I mean, so it couldn't be over stressful. Haha."
His attempt at an offhand chuckle is pitiful. I'm surprised to find another smile on my face, this one without even thinking.
'What classes did you have?" I brush a finger though my hair and tug gently on the ends.
"Oh, um…" he fumbles through his pockets for his schedule. "Calculus… Biology… and English, obviously." Another nervous laugh. "And tomorrow is History, Drama and French."
"In that order?"
I nod. "I think we have History together. And French, maybe. Languages get mixed together between grades, so I'm not sure about that one."
"Really?" He beams up at me. "I mean, it'd just be great to have… someone I know in one of my classes. Everyone here has all their friends already, and they all form these little groups. And they stare at me and whisper, like I don't know what they're talking about…. Not that you have to talk to me, or anything, in class, but it'll just be nice to know someone there."
My face falls slightly. "Of course I'll talk to you, man."
He looks up, a little shocked, and then forces an uncomfortable smile. "Yeah. Yes. Of course."
From someone else, it would sound sarcastic. But his fucking face. It's just so wide-eyed, like he's perpetually caught off-guard. He keeps going, "Sorry. I didn't mean…"
"Noah?" I venture awkwardly.
Equally hesitant, he returns, "Yeah."
I didn't really know what to say, or even how to say it. So I just start with, "I'm sorry."
Looking to him for a response, I find none. His face is a smooth, unreadable surface. We both knew an apology was in order, I think. I pause for a moment. "It's weird... I was really close with my old roommate. And now that he's not here… I think I maybe had some weird misplaced resentment towards you-- for replacing him, or whatever."
Noah bolts upright in his chair. "I would never try to—"
I try my best to smile comfortingly at him. "I know. It's my own issue… I'm an asshole. Heh." I chuckle softly, under my breath, and hear Noah share in the moment. "So, just know that's why I was weird to you. And that I'm sorry. It must be hard for you-- starting your senior year at a new school, right?"
He shrugs, his eyes listless. His head kind of shifts back and forth, awkwardly on his shoulder. "Yeah." He murmurs, not wanting to indulge anymore. Or afraid to, maybe.
The conversation kind of… hangs in the air. The air of the room had lightened considerably. And I have to admit I am a little glad. It was a pain expending energy on disliking someone. Especially someone who's so undeserving, I guess. No, I mean. He is. Underserving, that is.
I rouse myself from my thoughts, looking over to find Seth similarly dazed. "So where are you from?"
He flashes yet another shy smile, but this was I could tell was more for him. "Illinois."
"Woah." I stare wide-eyed. "You're a long way from home."
I remember my first year at St. Eisley's. As excited as I was to be getting away from my parents and all the crap of my younger life, I still had this terrified awe at being so far away from the city. It's a two hour drive. Seth probably had to take a two hour plane ride. And, he seemed like one of those kids that actually liked his parents. I'll bet they told each other everything and had like, family game night once a week.
I become aware of an unflattering grimace on my face and that feeling of disliking the poor kid came creeping back, so I knock the thoughts out of my head.
"Do you miss home?" I ask after what must have been a gigantic pause.
Surprisingly enough, he seems to have to mull over the thought. "Yes", he finally answers, but with a tentative element to his voice. "I miss it." It sounds like hearing the words out loud was some kind of trippy experience for him. He turns his head and faces me straight on. "But… I think that this could be interesting."