All standard disclaimers apply. If you are below your local age of consent, or if material such as this is illegal where you live, don't say I didn't warn you
Well... I guess it's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry about that, folks. <sheepish grin> But hey, I've had the college admissions process to deal with, so I've kept myself occupied. =) Not a whole lot to say this time... but thanks to everyone who's written to me about the story, especially those telling me to get a new chapter out! The next one won't take nearly as long, I promise. So, enjoy!
I live for feedback of any kind! Email me, drop me an IM, whatever. I love talking to the readers. I read all stories sent to me, as well. Send comments/suggestions/critcism to RedRockerVH@aol.com.
Chapter 4 is dedicated to Kieran. Love ya, man!
Since it's been a while since the last chapter...
What has gone before:
Jake Anthony, a "faith birth" or "God Child" and Tom Hobbes met on the bus on the way to Augusta Preparatory Academy, a private High School in Maine, and became friends. Tom accepted Jake in spite of the fact that he's a God Child. Such acceptance is rare - there is a social stigma against those who are not of "advantaged birth". Jake and Tom are rooming together, along with a mysterious person named Senjen whom Jake has only seen at a distance in an assembly on the first day at school. Jake finds Tom attractive, but feels drawn to Senjen, as well. He thought that he and Tom were going to have the same English teacher that they had last year, a teacher who made the year a living hell. Luckily, that teacher announced his transfer at the afformentioned assembly. Jake had a very odd dream that involved an enigmatic threatening stranger and his ex-girlfriend, Kara. He thinks he's made partial sense of the dream, but he might just be wrong. Jake writes to Kara to admit that he is gay, then has the strange dream again, however this time Kara appears in an odd desert setting. Jake meets Marc, the son of the new English teacher. Jake finds comfort in his new friend Tom, to whom he also admits that he is gay. At the conclusion of chapter 3, he receives a letter back from Kara, rejecting him and telling him never to contact her again.
A friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself.
Tom managed to pull me through the rest of the night. I made tough too, God bless him. It wasn't that I was out of control; more the opposite, in fact. It took him a full half-hour just to get me to acknowledge his presence, then another half-hour to coax the full story out of me. I think what finally brought me back to a semi-functional state was when he said "Jake, if your relationship meant little enough to her to forget because of this, she's not worth your tears." It wasn't the most logically flawless statement ever made, but it was the right thing to say to haul me back to the world of the living. After that, we talked for a while about my confession last night. Tom told me that he was amazed at my courage. I personally thought that what I did wasn't as courageous as it was foolishly risky, but Tom said that if he'd been in my position, he'd never have been able to do what I did last night. As much as I appreciated the sentiment, I realized that he really couldn't say that and be totally truthful. He meant it in the best way, I'm sure, but he wasn't gay. He had no idea how painful it can be to keep it secreted away for so long. Still, I loved him for the effort.
6:30 came far too soon, and I still didn't feel quite ready to face the day. Nevertheless, I had little choice in the matter. I took a quick shower and threw on the uniform, leaving the bathroom for Tom. I walked out into the common room and sat down to think. I didn't get very far, though, so I got up and walked over to the cryofridge and poured myself a glass of OJ. This would be breakfast, as I certainly didn't feel like going down to the cafeteria and fighting the crowds. I didn't think Tom would either. The door to the other room opened, admitting a rather groggy-looking Senjen into the common room. His hair was a shaggy mess, and although he wore his uniform, it looked like Helen Keller had dressed him. The tie was tied too long, one of the jacket's sleeves was halfway rolled up, and he'd missed a button on the shirt. I smiled in spite of myself. The rumpled puppy-dog look gets me again. Damn. He didn't notice me at first, but when he did, he jumped slightly.
"Oh, hi, sorry, I didn't know you were out here," he stammered, looking at the floor again.
"Hey, it's fine," I said soothingly, "don't have a coronary or anything, huh?" I grinned at him, and he returned it with that peculiar half-smile again. I took my OJ to the chair and sat down, sipping at it idly. Senjen opened the cryofridge and took out an apple. He bit into it with healthy crunch, and, as he did, something I still can't quite explain happened to me.
My vision blurred totally white for a fraction of a second, and along with the strange flash of whiteness came a thought. Before I could process the thought, though, it was gone, and everything was back in focus. Had I seen a ... face? Senjen was looking strangely at me.
"Are you okay?" he asked timidly, looking slightly concerned.
"Oh yeah, fine why?" I asked, still trying to place myself in what was supposed to be reality.
"You looked kinda weird for a second," he replied. "Your eyes went really wide, like a shuttle was bearing down on you or something."
"Huh, weird " I said, trying to avoid having to explain to him what happened to me, since I couldn't explain it to myself yet. "Guess I just phased out. It's too early for anyone to be awake, anyway."
"I hear that," he said, semi-smiling yet again. He smoothed his hair down with his free hand, continuing to attack his apple held in the other.
"You might want to check your shirt, too," I said, winking. He looked down, saw the skipped button, and sighed. Yeah, definitely too early.
Senjen told me that Marc had been up early and gone out for a run, then had breakfast in the cafeteria. I made a crack about what malicious, violent things I would do to early morning people given the chance and he laughed at it. I bet it was just a sympathy laugh, but it was the sweetest sound I'd heard in quite a while. It gave me a glimmer of hope, faint though it was, that maybe he would loosen up. Tom came in just then, looking as charming as ever in his uniform. His hair looked so soft that I thought he might have washed it in holy water, and his smile was brighter than anyone's had any right to be at this hour. Another morning person. Damn. I thought to myself in jest that perhaps this sleeping arrangement wasn't going to work out, after all. He plopped down on the rock-hard sofa next to the chair.
"Morning zombies, don't look so happy to see me. I made myself up nice just for you two." He chuckled at his own joke and punched me in the arm as he sat down. He DID look especially nice today, the rotten tease. Senjen looked a little bit uncomfortable for just a second, but it seemed to pass. We all downed our various forms of morning refreshment, taking idly about nothing. I even managed to, if not forget, at least suppress the lingering pain caused by Kara's letter. The warning bell shattered our conversation, leaving us with five minutes to get across campus to the English department. We all jumped up at once, frantically scrambling for our datapads and sprinting out the door. We descended the steps to the ground floor of our dorm house by threes - I think I nearly fell twice. We broke out into the fresh, dewy air of the morning, but didn't have time to enjoy it. We took off in a dead sprint, Tom leading the way, me right on his heels, and Senjen bringing up the rear. We made it across the courtyard-commons, past the hideous fountain that passed as "modern art", to the English building in just under four minutes, and skidded into room 307 with about thirty seconds to spare. Tom, Marc, and I were winded, but Senjen was a little worse off. His breathing was very deep, almost to the point of wheezing. I wondered about it, but wrote it off.
"Gonna have to lay off the cigarettes, Senj," Tom joked, delivering one of his trademark arm-punches. Senjen smiled ruefully through his heaving. Most of the seats were taken, but the three that remained all happened to be around Marc, who was chuckling at the suddenness of our entrance. It was good of him to think of us. We took our seats just as the teacher walked in. I had forgotten that it would be Marc's father, but one look at the man, and I couldn't have thought otherwise. He was just as impressive in person as he had appeared at the assembly, if not more so - tall, dark ebony skin, a rigid yet inviting countenance, and obviously very much in shape. He wore charcoal slacks and a slate dress shirt with a lighter gray tie - all business.
"Gentlemen," he began, speaking in the same smooth baritone as Marc, "welcome to English Literature. My name is Dr. Page, and as you all know, I've replaced Dr. Kuhn, who has moved on to a better position. I believe in being as up front with my students as I possibly can, so let me just get this out of the way now. Dr. Kuhn taught everything he was told to, and I'm sure he did an excellent job of teaching you the mechanics of writing and literature. However, Dr. Kuhn and I differ greatly in our instructive philosophies. We've worked together in the past. Without going into gratuitous detail, I'll simply say that we didn't get along very well. Whereas he is satisfied simply to produce students who can write a coherent essay and define the word 'synecdoche', I see that as only half my job. I feel that it's also my responsibility to see that both your writing and your reading have an effect on you - that it 'lives' for you, if you will. That will require me to become very involved in what you write and read, but the burden ultimately lies on you. What you get out of this course is directly proportional to what you put into it. I'm willing to do everything I can to help you find yourself in your literature, but you have to be willing to work. I think you'll find that if you do put forth the effort, you'll enjoy this class more than you might expect, and you might just discover something about yourself in the process. So, now that I've said my piece, I'd like to give you the opportunity to get to know me. Questions, anyone?"
I was impressed, and apparently so were some of the others, as I saw several heads nodding quiet approval. And to think, I had dreaded English class. Several hands went up. He fielded the usual questions such as what his favorite book was (Conrad's Heart of Darkness), how he felt about politics (Independent), and the ever-popular boxers-or-briefs (none of our damn business, chuckle-chuckle). Only one hand was left, and I looked over to see who it was. As I did, I heard Tom inhale sharply. When I saw whose hand it was, I instantly knew why. Travis Manning, grade-A asshole and among my chief tormentors last year. It sounds a little trivial in retrospect, I suppose - the classic, harmless High School bully/prey relationship - but somehow it was so much deeper than that. There was something really, truly dark and profoundly disturbing about Travis. I didn't know what exactly it was at the time, but that would change. It was so strange - he looked like a prototypical all-American niceguy with his flaxen blond hair, azure bedroom eyes, and Varsity Captain's body - but his entire nature was so radically different from his personage. He had also been on the soccer team, the only freshman last year to earn that honor, and this year? Had he been among Dr. Page's cuts? Considering his reputation for on-field behavior (or lack thereof), I guessed he was among those eliminated. This could be nasty, but as Dr. Page called on Travis, I thought I caught a hint of amused anticipation in the big man's penetrating brown eyes.
"Yes Mr. Manning?" He asked pointedly, a look of familiarity on his face. I don't know how he learned them so quickly, but he had addressed everyone else by their first name. But not Travis - he was "Mr. Manning". This would be good. I could taste it in the air. Travis grinned his sadistic 'watch it, asshole' grin.
"Is it true you're a freaklover like my boy Jakey over there?" he asked, leaning back in his chair and smirking at me like he was the Cheshire-fucking-Cat. His insults were never elegant or witty, or even remotely intelligent come to think of it, but it didn't matter. He was Travis. I shrank a little in my chair and sensed Tom tensing up beside me. Marc, however, skipped tense and went straight for 'homicidal rage'. He stared across the room at Travis with such a terrifying, apocalyptic glare that I thought he'd melt under the scrutiny. Senjen just shifted in his chair nervously. Then, the last thing I expected to happen happened. Dr. Page looked at Travis curiously for a minute, then started laughing. This wasn't just a chuckle; this was a full-blown belly laugh.
"So now I know where I stand," he said after he'd stopped laughing. Travis was starting to look a little edgy. "My career is ruined. I might as well go back to New Orleans and spend the rest of my life waiting tables in a two-bit gin dive because Travis Aaron Manning just told the world that I don't choose to hate people because of the way they were born. So Jake," he looked over at me and went on without pause, "what say we hop a plane out of here before the riot starts, hmm?" Travis looked downright angry, and much to my delighted surprise, people were actually laughing. At Travis, not me. Of course there were a couple of people staring daggers at me, but they were guys who traveled in Travis's circle (or, should I say, lived under his thumb), and probably blamed me for his public humiliation. "Now that we've settled that," Dr. Page continued after pausing a second, "does anyone else have any startling revelations that they'd like to make public?" Someone in the back raised his hand. Dr. Page's eyebrows perked up. Someone had guts, I thought. "Yes Mr. Long, you have something to add?"
I was suddenly on-edge again. Brian Long. Did I mention him earlier? I don't remember. He was the one friend I'd had last year the one I told about being faithborn the one who ditched me and avoided me like a Typhoid Mary for the rest of the year. He'd sort of latched onto Travis after that, so I was understandably nervous as to what he'd have to add to this jolly little dialogue.
"Yeah," Brian said, "I just wanted to get Travis to tell his mother that I won't be needing her tonight." There was a round of poorly restrained laughter, but I didn't join in. I was in a mild shock. Travis sneered it off with a nervous sardonic chuckle, but I could tell it got to him; he wasn't used to being on the receiving end, even if it was just a simple I'm-fucking-your-mother joke. He'd turned so red that I thought he'd start bleeding from his pores. Dr. Page tried to look reproachful, but he wasn't doing a very good job of it. I could see traces of a smile about to break through his stern facade.
"That will be quite enough Brian, I'd like to start the lesson, if I may," he said. First he'd been 'Mr. Long', but now, despite the apparent scolding, he was 'Brian'. Travis was still 'Mr. Manning', though. I really liked this Mr. Page. He began to lecture, but I didn't pay attention. I was too busy trying to make sense of what was happening to the classroom dynamic I was so used to. I looked over at Tom and Marc, who both wore smug grins. Senjen, as he apparently often did, looked oddly intense. I sat there for a while in my own world, imagining Senjen and I somewhere far away from Maine; somewhere warm with loincloth-clad waiters and free unlimited Rum Collins. I floated back into reality long enough to catch Dr. Page talking about literary devices or something. I think he'd gotten to symbolism by that point.
" don't doubt that all of you consider symbolism some sort of ethereal force that's so far removed from reality that you'll never understand it," he was saying, "but it can be as simple as black for death, or an apple for one of life's forbidden " and it happened again. The classroom suddenly lost all its sharpness and swirled into a murky white haze and again, some sort of strange thought or image lit up every synapse in my brain. For a second, I saw a huge face leering down on me with a lopsided sneer? Smile? And a voice. I heard a voice. It whispered to me.
Please. Please, Jake.
And then it was gone.
The classroom was back, and I heard Tom whispering over to me.
"Jake? Jake, are you okay? You got that weird 'out to lunch' look all over you again."
"Yeah, I'm fine," I whispered back. "Just didn't sleep enough last night, y'know?"
"I feel you, guy," he said, wearing a beleaguered look.
Class seemed to go pretty quickly after that, and yes, I did pay attention, believe it or not, and yeah, Dr. Page definitely seemed to have it together. The class emptied pretty quickly, and I found myself out in the hall beside Senjen, waiting for Marc and Tom. Senjen was looking at me strangely.
"What's wrong, do I have shit on my nose or something?" I asked him, grinning. He smiled slightly, and again, it nearly broke my heart.
"Hehe, no, umm, I was just wondering what was up with that Travis guy."
"Ahh, Travis " I sighed the name. I went on to explain the situation in English last year yet again, and just as I finished, Tom and Marc appeared.
"Hey, great news!" Marc said. Both of them looked pretty excited. "I told my dad about meeting y'all last night, and he pulled some strings and got us in the same classes!" As soon as he stopped, Tom jumped in.
"There's only like one class that we don't have together now! The rest of the teachers are just gonna love this, huh?" He chuckled evilly, steepling his fingers in an exaggerated comic gesture.
"What do we have next?" Senjen asked, taking the pink slip of paper that Tom was passing around and peering at it. "Hmm, Geometry. Best to get it out of the way early in the day, I guess." Beautiful AND a positive mental outlook - what else could I ask for? As we were walking towards the math building, Senjen actually spoke again! If he wasn't careful, he might make a habit of it! "Hey Jake, what happened to you right after Dr. Page made-"
Marc cut him off. "Stop calling him Dr. Page! He's my dad that's so weird!"
Senjen favored him with a look of bemused indulgence. "Right. Gotcha. What should I call him? That really huge guy who scares the shit out of everyone? Anyway, Jake, what happened to you when Dr. Page started his lecture? It looked like your brain took a vacation from your head." I considered a witty retort, but hey, Senjen had just made a joke! Two, in fact, if you count the brain-vacation thing a joke. Neither were particularly memorable, but I was so happy that he was opening up that I decided to let him have his victory. Tom looked at me too, obviously curious about my episode as well.
"I dunno," I answered them, "it's happened twice today already. It's like I'm suddenly totally myopic. Everything turns blurry and white, and I get this weird well, 'echo' I guess. Like a fraction of a thought or memory or something, and well, yeah." I decided to leave off the strange image of a face and the voices, fearing they'd think me some sort of lunatic. For all I knew, maybe I was.
"Huh, weird " was all Tom had to say at first, and we walked in silence for a while before he decided to go on.
"It was really strange to see it. One second, Dr. Page was talking about apples and forbidden fruit and shit, and then, BAM, you were gone for like 10 seconds. I don't even know what exactly it was about you that looked so far away, but you just did." I heard it all, but for some reason, my mind fixated on the forbidden fruit, swirling around the concept as if it were a giant black hole in the center of my head. We walked the rest of the way to Geometry without saying anything. I think they were all a little concerned about me, and to be fair, I was concerned about myself too, but all I could really focus on was the forbidden fruit.
Geometry and World History passed without a recurrence of whatever it was, but there was still a corner of my mind that wouldn't let it go. All four of us had 4th period off for lunch and break, so we found ourselves sitting in the commons, nibbling at club sandwiches and talking about nothing. During a particularly divergent period in the conversation, someone walked up behind us.
"Hey, I hope I'm not interrupting," he said. We turned around to see Brian Long standing there, shuffling his feet and balancing a tray in one hand and his datapad in the other. Tom, Marc, and Senjen, who didn't know any more about him than they'd learned from his joke at Travis's expense in English, seemed to perk up.
"Hey, not at all," Tom said, appointing himself our ambassador. "Have a seat." All three of them were smiling, and I tried to do the same, but I felt distinctly uneasy. Sure, he'd let Travis have it earlier, but that didn't mean he wasn't here to humiliate me.
"Umm, actually, I wanted to talk to Jake a second if I could?" That familiar cold dread made its presence known in my chest, but I stood up anyway.
"Be right back," I said to the others. Brian and I started to walk slowly across the commons. Once we were far enough away not to be heard, I looked straight at Brian, determined to get this over with. "What is it, Bri?" I asked pointedly, involuntarily using the nickname that I'd become so comfortable with calling him last year. He sucked in an uncharacteristically nervous breath. I remembered him being very confident. It was one of the things that I'd admired about him. I think I may have even had a bit of a crush on him the year before, although at that point I'd never have admitted it as such.
"Jake I, uh this is hard for me." He paused. I just looked at him. This was his show. If he wanted to say it, he would. I wasn't going to try to pry it out of him. He finally realized I wasn't going to bid him to continue, so he pushed on himself. "I really enjoyed rooming with you last year, you know."
My brow furrowed. "You sure had a funny way of showing it," I said evenly.
"Funny, hell. I was an asshole," he said. I wanted to shoot back with something bitter like 'yeah, you were', but I couldn't muster enough spite to do it before he continued. "For that, I'm really, really sorry. I'm not trying to make excuses, but when the whole faithborn thing came up, it kind of shook me up a little. Okay, it shook me up really bad." He lowered his eyes to the pavement. I glanced over at him, a little more interested than I had been. He looked up after a second. "See um my parents had just told me th- th-that " his voice seemed to catch as he stopped abruptly, clenching his jaw. I looked at him, more kindly this time, laying my hand on his shoulder.
"Go on," I said.
"They had just told me that I was that I was a faith. I'm a God Child." His lungs seemed to collapse at that point as he heaved out a massive sigh. I stopped us at an open bench and sat him down beside me. I was trying to find something comforting to say, but he started talking again. "I hated them for it. I couldn't believe that they'd do something like that to me. It's just sheer fuckin' luck that I'm here. A good GQ one chance in ten of making the validity cutoff as a faith, so they say. But Jake, I really hated them, and I hated myself, too. When I saw you so comfortable about it... and I mean you were so at ease man, it hit me hard. I just couldn't deal with it. I shut my parents out, I shut you out. It was ugly there for a while. But I got over it. I read a lot about it on the 'Nets this summer. There's a helluva lot more God Children out there than the SBC [he meant the Selective Birth Commission] wants everyone to think. But hey, I'm babbling. I'm sorry. I just wanted to let you know that it's great to know that there are people who don't think that all of us faith births have to live in shame. And, if you don't mind, I'd still like to be y'know friends, if that's okay." He bit his lower lip nervously. I smiled insanely at him and wrapped him in a crushing hug. He returned it, and as we separated, he chuckled, and I laughed in pure joy. What a world this was.
We talked for the rest of lunch, sharing our experiences. Sure, Tom was great, he even knew I was gay, but Brian was the only other faithborn person my age I'd ever met. It was so great. We laughed a lot, talking about fond memories of last year, rehashing all our old inside jokes that shouldn't have been funny anymore, but suddenly were. Towards the end of lunch, we heard a whining, electronic pitch ring out across the commons, and snapped our heads around to see where it was coming from.
"Aww fuck, there goes Manning and his stupid band again," Brain said, sounding really and truly exasperated. On the other side of the courtyard, I could see Travis and some of his friends sitting behind synthboards painfully reproducing some of the electronica that dominated popular music. I guess by the popular standards, they were pretty good - at least the sizeable crowd surrounding them seemed to think so. They called themselves 'Apathy', and generally racked up all the awards at school talent shows, but I really couldn't stand their stuff. At times I could tolerate the genre, but the whole trance-ish tone really grated on me. Sure, you could stone out or binge-drink to it, but that wasn't my style, and besides, the stuff just had no personality. I needed something more robust. If I did listen to music, I'd usually stick with powerful classical stuff like Wagner or Beethoven or Mussogorsky, but that was really my only alternative. Apparently Brian shared outlook on matters musical. We got off on that for a while. He told me to remind him about it later, saying he had something to show me, so I filed that away in the (not so) trusty memory banks. 4th period was about to end, though, so we made our way back to Tom, Marc and Senjen. I made the introductions. The bell rang, and we headed off to gym. Brian had gym at that point too, so we all walked there together. The circle was growing, and I loved it. Hell, if you'd told me at the beginning of this year that I'd have four good friends by the first day of class, I'd have called you a delusional psychotic.
"Hey, you know that required intramural thing that the Phys Ed goon was talking about at assembly yesterday?" Brian asked us. We all nodded. "Well, one of 'em is this awesome wargame thing sponsored by the Young Patriots Corps. I know the YPC's kinda crazy, but this game is awesome. It's like laser tag, only better. You wear these full-body impact suits and you've got like three or four different objectives every time you play. There's a tournament for it every year run through the intramural program. I was on Travis's team last year, and we racked up. Despite the company, the game was a helluva lot of fun. I'm guessing I won't be invited back onto his team this year, so whaddaya say we form our own?"
"Doesn't sound too bad " I mused.
"Doesn't sound too bad?" Tom shouted, "It sounds pretty damn cool!! Running around in the woods shooting at people and shit, right?"
"Hehe, right," Brian replied, grinning at Tom's enthusiasm. I guess it was decided, then. It couldn't be TOO awful.
When we got to gym, they were holding the intramural signups, so Brian steered us to the booth for the YPC Wargames. We signed up as a team, but they required six, so we were told that we'd be placed with an extra, should one be available after the signups were over. It sounded fine to us. That dealt with, we goofed around for the rest of the period, shooting the shit. Senjen was even talking! He was so cute when he spoke! (Heh heh, I'm so GAY!)
We made it through Biology (although Brian had Geometry that period) after gym, and all met in the commons after the final bell. Once we were all there, Brian got our attention.
"Hey, I was talking to Jake about this earlier. There's something I wanna show you guys tonight. You gotta come, it's gonna be really cool. I need to run attack this Geometry shit, but meet me here at 7:00, huh? Oh, and wear civvies. This isn't a dress-up event." We all promised we would, curious as to what he was so excited about. All of us, save for Marc, who had to go talk to his dad about canceling evening plans with him, all headed back to the dorm, intent on finishing our own homework. My suggestion of a bit of a 'collaborative effort' on what Brian so aptly termed 'this Geometry shit' went over pretty well, I think. I was distracted the whole time we were working, reflecting on just how good life could be, if you gave it a chance.
Well, all the players are in place... now things can really start to happen! I hope you enjoyed it! Again, address any feedback, positive or negative, to RedRockerVH@aol.com. You can reach me via AIM at RedRockerVH, or via MSN Messenger at firstname.lastname@example.org, but if you intend to email me, please do it through the AOL address (my browser doesn't like Hotmail, so that address is used only for Instant Messaging). Thanks for reading!