It's not like I didn't know that I was a freak. At twelve, I was painfully, acutely aware of it with every breath I took. By fifteen, I was defiant about it, sneering slightly as I looked down on the beautiful people like they were the ones who were screwed up. By eighteen, it was comfortable, accepting of the fact that I would always be that pale, skinny nerd who was obsessed with horror movies and knowing how things work. It was safe. I could count on rejection, on raised eyebrows and wrinkled noses.
I should explain now that it's a bad idea for me to become comfortable with anything because I invariably decide that even the slightest variation in that situation is a bad thing and stubbornly cling to it until it is ripped away from me. If I know that something has to change, then I try to control every aspect of it and have a tendency to get depressed when things don't go according to my meticulous plans. Couple that with extreme social awkwardness and you have a basic feel for my personality.
Don't get me wrong. I wasn't a serial killer in the making or anything. I didn't kill animals or have fantasies about hurting people. I just liked being by myself and I really liked the status quo.
Also, I may have mentioned this once already but I really, really liked horror movies. Again, this was not a psycho thing. Mostly, I enjoyed the shock value and the adrenaline rush that a good horror movie provided.
My mom kind of hated it. That was fine with me, since we've never been close anyway. It was more like a bonus, actually. Annoying my mother is still one of my top ten favorite things to do. Back then, it was in the top three.
Considering all of this, imagine how I felt when my mother announced the day that I graduated high school that she would pay for every aspect of my college education- as long as I went and lived with my godmother and her son, virtual strangers- and as long as I left all of my horror movies, clothes and decorations behind. I thought long and hard about it, considered my lack of job skills or other means of acquiring the funds to fulfill my dream of becoming an astrophysicist, and made a deal with the devil. And by extension, with my godmother.
Nora Lake was my mother's best friend in high school and college. I had met her and her son, Chandler, who was two years older than me, exactly twice. I vaguely recalled climbing trees in the back yard with him when I was six and our mothers yelling at us to get down immediately.
The second time we met, he was thirteen and far too cool to hang out with an eleven-year-old, particularly one like me who was already shaping to be a reclusive nerd. He hardly spoke to me at all, except for the night we watched a gory Japanese movie after our moms had gone to bed.
My mom had a strict policy of no sex or violence in my television programming so it was ridiculously easy for Chandler to goad me into watching it with him. After all, the more forbidden something is, the more appealing, right?
Before it was over, Chandler's dark head was buried against my thin shoulder, looking away from the worst of the gore. My eyes never left the screen. My heart was pounding, my palms were sweating and for the first time I felt really alive. It was exhilarating. In that two hour time period, I became hooked.
After it was over we went to bed but it was less than an hour later that I was woken by Chandler coming into my room. "Just checking on you, kid. That movie gave me nightmares."
"You can sleep in here if you want," I offered without thinking. I was mostly asleep so I didn't think to try to save his pride.
For a moment, I thought he'd get angry. Then he smiled and "Thanks" softly before climbing under the blankets. He pulled me tight against him like an oversized teddy bear and tucked my head under his chin. Then we slept.
I admit, I was kind of thinking about that night as I pulled up in front of the big house that Nora and Chandler shared. My hopes weren't too high but I secretly wanted the Chandler from that night to be the one who greeted me here.
Nora was a corporate lawyer and was rarely home. Chandler's dad had been divorced from her since Chandler was seven and was living overseas with his new family. Unless one or both of us had class, I'd be spending most of my time at the house, with Chandler.
My mom had let it slip that she and Nora had made some sort of deal with Chandler concerning that but wouldn't say what it was. That was okay. I was too concerned with how to get around my own deal with my mom. I couldn't live somewhere else without Nora informing my mom and my bags had been searched for contraband horror stuff before they had been loaded into my car. I supposed that I could still watch movies if I kept the volume low while alone in my room but that seemed too much like watching porn: the enjoyment is ruined if you're too worried about being caught.
In any case, all secret hopes I had about Chandler being nice to me were dashed when he opened the front door. He looked like an older version of my memory of him, tanned skin stretched over the lean muscles, three inches shorter than my six feet four inches, with nearly black hair and bright hazel eyes that were looking at something several miles behind me as he said, "Oh, it's you. Your room is up the stairs, take a right, first door on the left," and then promptly turned and walked away from the open door.
Without all my horror stuff I didn't have much to move. I got it all in two trips. Then I went looking for Chandler.
I'd been trying to think of a reason to talk to him, or even something to say, since I got there and I finally came up with something. Chandler was sitting in the living room, typing furiously on his laptop.
"Hey, where should I park my car so it's not in the way?"
His eyes never lifted from the screen. "There's a house key and a key fob for the garage door opener on the table. My mom hired some guys to move some of her crap and make room for your car."
The garage had four separate doors. The third opened when I pressed the button on the key fob and I parked my green Sentra in there. To my left, a work bench with tools was set up in the fourth parking spot. To my right, a shiny black Z3 was parked in the second. The first spot was empty and was probably Nora's. By process of elimination, that made the Z3 Chandler's. I was jealous. My mom had bought my car used for my sixteenth birthday. It was a good, reliable ride but it wasn't even comparable to the Z3. I resisted the urge to leave fingerprints on it, figuring Chandler would kill me.
When I got back inside, the whole house was quiet except for the tapping of the keys coming from the living room. "Nice ride," I noted, hoping to get him talking about his car so that at least he would be talking to me about something.
"Thanks. I just got it last week." That was all he had to say, even about the new car. I concluded then that he was as against the move as I was and was not even slightly interested in talking to me.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in my room obsessively planning for all of the things I needed to do before I started school. There was still nearly a month before summer vacation was over but there was nothing else to do, so I organized. I had a supply list, a to-do list, a budget, a calendar of important events and a printed map with the locations of all my classrooms highlighted.
When I finished that, I moved on to my room, rearranging everything in it to my liking. I took down all of the girly decorations that Nora had obviously picked out and found a storage closet to hide them in. I put my own sheets and comforter on the bed and put the unused ones back in the linen closet. I was arranging my new desk for maximum efficiency when Chandler appeared in the doorway.
I saw his eyes sweep across the room, noting the changes without comment. It was nearly unrecognizable as the same place thanks to my aggressive pruning of fake flower arrangements and cutesy knick-knacks and the swap to the plain, dark comforter. "Mom's here. She brought food."
"Thanks, I'm coming," I replied, a bit absently. Part of my mind was still rearranging things. I really needed to get different curtains. Nevertheless, I followed him down the stairs and into the kitchen where Nora was waiting.
There were pizzas on the counter that she had brought with her. "Hello, Marcus. I'm so glad you made it safely. Your mom told me you like veggie pizza so I picked one up for you."
"Thank you, Auntie," I replied without thinking.
She actually smiled a bit. "Auntie?" she questioned.
My eyes dropped in embarrassment. "I've been watching too many Japanese dramas," I muttered to myself. "Sorry, it's a habit I've picked up somewhere."
"That's all right. I don't mind if you call me Auntie. This is yours, over here." She gestured to one of the boxes and handed me a plate.
We all three ate dinner together that night, a rare occurrence thankfully, since it mostly consisted of me answering all her questions about my studies and past accomplishments and Chandler staring off into space and ignoring us both.
I had just finished giving a brief, well-rehearsed overview of a first-prize winning science fair project when her expression became a little wry. "I understand from your mother that there are some…challenges to living with you."
Chandler's head turned toward me then, as though he was wondering what she meant. I didn't have to wonder. I'd heard the complaints often enough.
"With all due respect to her, my mom seems to lack the scope of imagination it takes to deal with someone who is both a horror movie fan and a vegetarian. She's also a little high strung. I mean, I'm sure she told you about the time I took apart the vacuum cleaner when I was twelve but did she tell you that it worked when I put it back together?"
"Not until I asked her. I wanted to talk to you about a related subject, actually. I know your mom is putting a lot of pressure on you to change your way of life, and incidentally, I agree that it wasn't healthy. However, I'd just like to see you pursue a more balanced lifestyle. I think it's fine for you to have and pursue your own interests but your world seems a bit narrow to me, Marcus. I think Chandler can help you figure out ways to expand your horizons. I hope you'll let him."
I couldn't help the dubious look I cast at her son. It was reflex. Also, I didn't have much in the way of a poker face, which led to Auntie immediately guessing what was on my mind.
"Chandler," she asked with deceptive calm, "what did you and Marcus talk about today?"
I got up and put my plate in the dishwasher as Chandler began to stutter some excuse to his mother. I figured that if I left, he could at least be honest and tell her I was too big a nerd to waste his time with. She might not agree, being a middle-aged woman like that, but at least she'd see that it was useless to try to force him.