Firstly, I know this is taboo. I have fallen so hard for you. Very scary, but it is true, Even a boy can love you too.
Love, Admirer X
What kind of love note is this? It's not even a good poem, Elijah thought with a goofy smile on his face. It's strange to read. It feels forced and awkward. It very much doesn't feel like someone's putting their heart into it. Still, whoever wrote this did their homework, at least. Elijah had a lot of love for both poetry and mysteries! And this was from a boy, no less. Sounds like I have a secret admirer! He frowned as he read through it one more time. Taboo? Falling fast for you? Weird? A boy can love you too. Hmm. Elijah wasn't so sure he'd use the words taboo and weird. In an all-boys boarding school, it wasn't as though some of the guys didn't experiment with each other after lights out. All four sentences had eight syllables and they all rhymed. He sat for a while on his bunk, reading it over and over. There was no hint as to who it was. No name, no number.
"Woah, who drew that?" Reggie asked curiously as he entered their dorm room, carrying his cello in its case with him. It was nearly as tall as he was.
He would have come from his afterschool tutoring, as Elijah had with his English Literature tutor. Every boarding student in Oakfield was strongly encouraged to use the tutors to better themselves for two hours after school concluded for the day - or at least do their homework in that time. Most students took advantage of the generous resources at their disposal. Afterschool classes were independent of the lessons taught during the week, allowing the teenage boys find fulfilment in challenges and hobbies.
"Drew what?" Elijah replied, tearing his eyes away.
"The picture, dummy," Reggie pointed at the back of the note, and Elijah turned it over for the first time. He hadn't even thought to do so!
He gasped. It was a picture of him and his friends in the cafeteria. Elijah, Reggie, Tiger and Owen. A sketch with a pencil, but the detail was... incredible. They were sitting at the table together. Elijah was laughing, his wavy brown hair falling to his shoulders, holding two fried chips in his hand. Even the braces on his teeth were visible! Owen had his earphones in his ears while he ate soup, with the most unruly hair and untidy uniform in the whole school. It was so accurate! Tiger's dark skin and wild hair were so beautifully highlighted, and the boy's playfulness was present in the sketch of his eyes and grin. Reggie had his tongue hanging out of his mouth as he was drawing while he was supposed to be eating his breakfast. Elijah looked between the drawing and his friend, his bewildered friend, and marvelled at the likeness. Uncanny. Almost freaky.
"Did you draw this?" Elijah asked, the poem in the back of his mind. Someone wrote me a love letter, and this drawing is on the other side!
"Heck, I wish!" Reggie looked at it from the other side. "Wasn't me, man. I like drawing up comics. This is different and I ain't ever seen anything like it before. It must've taken someone weeks to draw this!"
"You wanna know the freakiest bit?" Elijah asked him, a chill coming over him. "I actually remember this day! It was like, two months ago. Owen spilt his juice on your comic, and you punched him."
"He should have paid attention to what's going on around him!" Reggie scowled, remembering how angry he'd been and how many afternoons he spent in detention for breaking Owen's lip. "But yeah, you're right! That totally did happen. Where'd you find that? What's that on the other side?"
"It's kinda private," Elijah replied, transfixed by the pencil sketch in front of him, but Reggie snatched it away. "Hey!"
"Oooh, a love letter! You dawg," Reggie teased him, his black hair slicked back on his head and his glasses too big for his little face. "A boy, huh?"
"Well... yeah," Elijah took it back. "I don't see any girls from down the road sneaking in here and leaving it on my bed."
"I didn't know you swung that way, Silverman!" The Asian boy cooed obnoxiously, wiggling his thin eyebrows and grinning with a set of perfect white teeth.
"I don't," Elijah replied, turning pink and folding the picture and the note up before putting it into his drawer with care. "It's a nice drawing, though. Creepy, but nice."
"Oh, bonkers! What if you have a stalker?" Reggie's wild imagination was usually a point in his corner, but Elijah didn't appreciate it right now. "What if he's gonna hunt you down and kill you and stuff you and hold you like a teddy bear at night?"
"You watch too many movies, you weirdo!" Elijah rolled his eyes and began to undress, swapping out his uniform for some more comfortable tracksuit pants and a cotton tee.
"It's weird, Silverman," Reggie loved to call people by their last names for some reason. "It wasn't just you that he drew. It was me too! And Tiges and Marsh."
"Yeah. Do you know anyone who can draw like that?" Elijah asked, curious about who would send him such a thing. "Like, you and Tiger are in art class. He must take art, graphics or visual, right?"
"It's a safe bet I guess," Reggie replied, leaning on his elbow on his bed as Elijah threw himself down. "I also bet he's a boarder!"
"So, who do you know that are both in art classes and boarding here?" Elijah asked. He did not take art. He had no skill in that area unless stick figures and asymmetrical faces became mainstream.
"Laghari, Ericsson, Stone, Veal, Patel, Li, Kim, Rashidi... there are more, but that's off the top of my head," Reggie answered. "It could be anyone from Year Seven to Year Twelve."
"Alright. At dinner, we're going to keep an eye out!" Elijah turned over and pointed at him. "Look out for the guys in the art classes!"
Reggie winked at him and clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. Cường Nguyễn was an overseas student from Vietnam, but he simply went by Reggie. Elijah's mother insisted on trying to call him by his Vietnamese name and butchering it every time. It was embarrassing! There were twenty-nine boarders at the Oakfield Private Boys School in the city of Sydney. Like many of the other boarders, Elijah's family lived five hours out of town in the countryside. He was an only child, and he saw his parents once every month or two during extended weekends and school breaks. He didn't mind it so much. Once he made a group of close-knit friends like Reggie, Tiger and Owen, he began to enjoy himself.
Oakfield was picky with its students. It was a place for gifted adolescent boys that would likely not find a regular school environment challenging at all. It was Elijah's ninth year of school and the third in Oakfield. He was fourteen going on fifteen. Before Elijah even finished primary school he was reading at a Twelfth-Year level. He chewed up around a dozen novels a week and completed extremely difficult crosswords and cryptic codes with speed that frightened his mother, who bragged that her own obsession with such puzzles must have sunk into him during her pregnancy. At their usual table, Reggie and Elijah arrived first, followed then by Tiger and Owen a short while later.
"What are you guys doing?" Owen asked, looking like a drug addict who slept in the same clothes for a week. Mr Kingston, the deputy Principal, was always on Owen's case about his appearance. He was a terrific swimmer, though. He swam like a fish and he was eager to break into Olympic territory, often spending time between the end of school and dinner with the swim coach and a few other boys. "What are you looking at?"
"Nothi--" Elijah went to lie, but Reggie couldn't keep his damn mouth shut.
"Silverman got a love letter!" He blurted out through a mouthful of butternut pumpkin. "It was a poem, and there was a drawing of us guys eating breakfast. Like they took a photo with their mind and drew it!"
"Reow!" Owen laughed. "So a mystery lover, hey? One of the guys? Wait, you're gay?"
"I'm not!" Elijah exclaimed, turning pink. "But someone is, and apparently they dig me. I'll show you the picture after. It's amazing. Like, in a creepy way. It's almost like a photo but all in pencil! The poetry leaves a lot to be desired, though."
"Someone drew us?" Banjo chortled, his long, unruly black hair streaked with orange - the hairstyle that inspired Tiger as his nickname. The administration was not happy about his hair. Unfortunately for them, Tiger's parents were practising lawyers and his eldest sister was attending law school, and he intended to follow in their footsteps. Legal loopholes were his speciality, and he had an eidetic memory. He drew attention to the fact that the school's code banned hair colours that were unnatural, but the rule was not specific as to what unnatural hair colours actually meant. As there were students with orange hair attending Oakfield, the deputy Principal was left without a leg to stand on.
"Yep! Best drawing I ever saw!" Reggie claimed, pushing his glasses back up his nose. "Better than you and me, Tiges! Or you, at least."
"Rude," Tiger grinned, spooning more of his mashed potato with plenty of salt and pepper into his mouth.
"So someone draws us having breakfast?" Owen twisted his neck around to give the least subtle scan he possibly could. "Why?"
"That's the fun question!" Elijah tapped his finger repeatedly on the table in front of him, his brown eyes perpetually looking at the guys he knew that went to the art classes. "Do we know anyone here who's gay?"
"If anyone's gay, they're keeping their mouth shut," Owen returned to his meal. "Probably just someone playing a joke."
"You didn't see that picture yet, Marsh!" Reggie insisted. "No way someone spends that long on a picture just to give it away."
Hmmmm. Elijah wasn't sure what to think. All he knew was that when he went to his room, he found a note on his pillow. Afterwards, with dinner finished, he showed Tiger and Owen the picture. They marvelled over it but their awe was brief, and when the image was old news, the group ventured off to the recreational room. While Owen and Reggie played billiards together with some Eleventh Year boys, Elijah sat and read one of the novels he checked out from the school's library while Tiger read the same book a little slower. Elijah would pause after a chapter for a little while so his friend could catch up, and the two would compare impressions and discuss both the plotline and the author's method of storytelling. It was great to be able to have deep conversations about the art of telling a story rather than re-capping a plotline, Elijah thought happily. At home, neither of his parents nor any of his primary school friends were quite capable of discussing such things. Even his English teachers fell flat sometimes.
Bedtime was at ten o'clock for Ninth Year students. It was fifteen minutes later than last year! Elijah packed up early and bid Tiger, Owen and many of the other boys good night, then he retreated to his dorm so he could enjoy some quiet until Reggie, who would probably try and stay out later before getting caught by Mr Huang, the headteacher of the boarding house, would come and bring the noise with him. When Elijah walked in, he immediately saw another piece of paper on his bed. What? Another one? He could see words written there. What?
Silly I feel. Creepy as well! Everyone, I worry you'll tell. Vexing, it all is! Eager to be his! None have ever known such sweet hell.
Love, Admirer X
Okay, whoever wrote these was undoubtedly no poet, Elijah thought once more. This one was in limerick format. Eight syllables a line, four for the shorter ones. He turned it over and to both his shock and delight, there was another picture! Drawn with such precision and detail... it gave him chills. This time, nobody else made an appearance. It was just Elijah! He was reading on the couch as he often did, crosslegged and his hair tied up into a messy bun on his head. The shading, contouring and lighting were all just... beautiful. He could only imagine how much time and care went into sketching something like this. This time, Elijah felt flattered moreso than violated. This was sweet. Unlike the other picture, this one had a heart shape drawn in the vacant paper space underneath.
He brought out the other note from his drawer and studied it again. Whoever was writing these did it in pencil, but it looked very much like they were using a stencil to disguise their handwriting. Every individual letter was identical. Clever. Someone's a smart cookie, but this is Oakfield! It could be any of them! He flipped it over to compare the two drawings. Definitely done by the same hand, he thought. The amount of tiny, fine details was almost obsessive. It looked genuinely like a black and white photograph. Did they take pictures of me and draw from that? Is that what happened? Hmm. Elijah wondered what would happen if he deduced who this person was. Were they serious about this? Or was it just a game? If they were serious and they were in love with him, how would he react to that? Sure, even though he told his friends otherwise, he was interested in guys, but he wasn't ready to open that can of worms. His hormones were all over the place during the throes of puberty. It seemed smarter to ride out the storm and focus on studies until he was ready to come out.
He made sure to put the first note back in his top drawer, but he hid the second note in a different drawer underneath his shirts. He did not want Reggie to find the next drawing and poem, or he would never hear the end of it. Whoever it was probably heard Reggie, Owen and Tiger talking about it at some point and that could have been the message in the second poem. Maybe I should leave a note of my own, he thought as he stripped to his pyjama bottoms and hopped into bed, another novel in his hands. I should let Admirer X know that I appreciate what they're doing.
In the morning they got up a little past seven and Reggie was quick to run to the communal showers. Elijah took this time to put pen to paper, scribbling on the side table.
Hey Admirer X, I'm not sure what to think. Part of me thinks this is all a big joke and you're setting me up as the punchline. The other part of me appreciates what you're doing! This is exciting haha. You're the best artist I've ever seen. For what it's worth, you always choose a good angle for me! If you have other pictures, I'd be happy to see them, but you could work a bit on your poems. Speaking of, what's the idea with them? Drop me a hint? I'd like to know who you are. Elijah
To finish it off, he drew a quick smiley face after his name. Good. I can leave this behind, and if it's Reggie, Tiger or Owen who find it instead, it doesn't sound like I'm interested in this person. Just their art. He folded the paper into a smaller square and tucked it under his pillow while he went to the shower to scrub his scrawny body, wash and brush his tangled hair and put on his athletic uniform. He had physical education - both theory and practical - then English Literature and advanced Mathematics today. Elijah loved school. He loved learning. There was so much knowledge to squeeze out of Oakfield, and there were no classes he didn't enjoy. The boarders stuck together like glue - rural children and overseas students that relied on each other for family. It was deeper than friendship, something the local students couldn't possibly understand. They went home to their parents every night. Elijah, Tiger and Owen saw their families every now and then during extended breaks, but Reggie's family lived in Vietnam and he often went home with Elijah as a guest - the brother Elijah never had.
When he returned to his dorm room to throw his laundry in the hamper and drop his note for whoever was sneaking in and leaving behind poems and drawings for him, he caught someone standing over his bed.
"Got you!" Elijah grabbed them on the shoulder, excited to find out who had such a crush on him.
Chad Stone, an Eighth Year, jumped so far out of his skin that Elijah was briefly worried he found his secret lover just to inadvertently kill him.
"Don't do that!" Chad squealed in his breaking voice, his hand on his heart. "What are you doing? You'll give me a cardiac!"
"Sorry," Elijah furrowed his brow. "A better question is what are you doing? This is my dorm."
"I know!" Chad reached down and grabbed the copy of Pride and Prejudice that he'd put down. "I'm just returning this! What the heck, Eli? Are you looking for a burglar or something?"
"Oh..." Elijah couldn't help but feel disappointed. He'd lent his Pride and Prejudice to Chad a week ago because the school library's copies had been checked out. "Yeah. Sorry. I had a weird dream, and I guess I'm on edge. Sorry, man!"
Elijah wasn't sure what to think. Chad took classes in both English Literature and Art. He was a smart cookie. Was he returning the book so he had a convenient excuse to be here if someone caught him? Chad clearly didn't enjoy the look he was getting.
"Er... yeah, see you at breakfast," Chad sidled his way out of the room and ruffled his spiky blond hair.
Well... if it is Chad, then I could do worse, Elijah supposed. He hadn't left anything behind except for the book, and Elijah thumbed through the pages to make sure nothing was hiding in there. Oh, look at you, he scolded himself. You're losing it over this business! It's just a couple of bad poems and brilliant drawings. Go to breakfast. Reggie had already come and gone, so Elijah fished the letter to Admirer X that he'd written from under his pillow and left it on top of his pillow instead. Whoever came to leave something would see it and read it. He smiled when he wondered again who it could be. Chad Stone? Chad wasn't much younger than Elijah was. It stood to reason he'd be incredibly nervous making a move like that.
"So... I got another note from Admirer X last night," Elijah whispered to his group of friends as he picked out the parts of the fruit salad he liked and scoffed them down with yoghurt. It seemed to me ninety per cent melon. He didn't like melon.
"What? Like the one you got yesterday?" Reggie asked, all of a sudden totally switched on after looking like a zombie that took too much medication. "A poem? A drawing?"
"Both," Elijah shrugged, and the boys on the other side of the table looked just as interested. Tiger and Owen shared a dorm too, just the both of them. "A limerick this time and they drew me reading my book on the couch in the rec room."
"Am I in the picture?" Owen asked eagerly, grinning with his unruly hair all over the place. He had so many cowlicks that would not and could not be tamed.
"No, just me," Elijah grinned back. Such a narcissist. "None of you guys this time. It's a great picture. You should see it. It wasn't there when we went to dinner, but it was when I went to bed, so that means someone must have delivered it during rec time."
"Oh, the thick plottens!" Tiger chuckled, his dark brown lips parting to reveal pearly whites.
"You're saying it wrong!" Reggie slapped the table, making the other boys laugh. "Stop saying it wrong!"
"When it annoys you so? Never! You'll have to sue me," Tiger winked at him. "So Admirer X is a boarder in art class, but they also vanished from rec time last night. Anyone got a lead?"
"It could have been anybody," Reggie shrugged. "I wasn't paying attention to who wasn't in the rec room. I was busy reccing it up."
"Now you're the one talking nonsense!" Owen pointed at him with his fork. "You're both awful! If the poems are so bad, it's probably one of you two writing them! Especially since you're both from art class!"
Tiger and Reggie both obnoxiously cooed, but Elijah had to pause. Could it be one of them? He didn't know. Tiger seemed to charm all the girls when the head teacher granted them leave to travel the city together. Reggie had no game in practice, but he wasn't shy about his desires with girls.
"Gimme a kiss, Silverman!" Reggie teased, and Elijah rolled his eyes.
"Don't," he pleaded. "Please don't draw attention to this. I don't want to hurt Admirer X's feelings."
"Why? Do you think you might be interested after all?" Owen asked mischievously, wiggling his bushy eyebrows.
"That's not what I mean," Elijah replied softly, thinking of the picture with the heart drawn underneath. Maybe. "I just mean that someone's baring their soul to me and it would be awful to make a joke out of it. You know?"
"Awww," Tiger had his wild, multicoloured hair in a little ponytail today. He was Indigenous Australian and had warm, dark brown skin, a wide, flat nose and eyes nearly black in colour. "They struck gold when they picked you, Eli. Anyone else might have laughed them out of the building."
"You guys didn't tell anyone about this, did you?" He asked quietly, and all three of the boys looked at each other and shook their heads.
"We might've been a bit loud last night, but I haven't talked about it with anyone other than Owen," Tiger shrugged, and Owen nodded to confirm.
"Reg?" Elijah turned his head to the boy who remained guiltily silent. "Reggie? What did you do, buddy?"
"Okay! I told Paul!" Reggie blurted out, and Elijah rolled his eyes. The gossip king strikes again. "But he won't tell anyone!"
Elijah shoved him with his arm but grinned. "You couldn't help yourself. Well, keep it quiet, alright? I don't mind you guys knowing. You're like my brothers. But let's not upset whoever it is by turning it into a joke. I can't imagine how hard it must've been for them to do something like this in a place like Oakfield."
Tiger, Reggie and Owen all pledged their silence and loyalty. They're nice guys, Elijah thought. They wanted to see the new poem and picture, but Elijah decided to wait until rec time to give it up to them. When he ducked back to his dorm on his way to physical education class, he was sad to see that nothing had been left for him. The note remained precisely where he dropped it. Oh, well. Why am I so excited? Am I into this person? Or am I just loving their art? Am I interested because this is the first time someone's been interested in me? Even if it is a guy? Elijah had no idea. His interest in boys or girls wasn't something he'd ever given much thought.
Healthy bodies and healthy minds was a big part of Oakfield's philosophy. It was mandatory to play a sport after school or take physical education - with a preference for both. Elijah did not play sports this year. He wasn't good at them, and he was happier to remain a bookworm. Tiger played football and Owen swam every day, but Reggie played three instruments and thus, avoided sports so he could learn at the music club. All four of them took physical education, and they were inseparable. Five other Ninth Years boarded at the Oakfield dormitories, and although they were a group that kept to themselves, the seven of them would merge into a single clique during classes with the local students. It was sad, but the segregation was bound to happen. The local students seemed to think the boarders were strange or stuck-up, and Elijah and the others found it easier to stick with their own. While Elijah did not have much interest in sports, he did enjoy the athletics with his friends. Running, stretching, dodgeball!
The day passed without much incident - although Owen got sent out of mathematics for talking too much - and by the end of the day, Elijah decided to spend the next couple of hours in the library to complete his English Literature homework. He was far from alone; many students, boarders and locals, stuck around because teachers gave up their time to help anyone for an hour or two in the library. Elijah sat with Chad Stone, Rajesh Laghari - Tenth Year and Christian Li - Eleventh Year. All three of them took English Literature and at least one of the art subjects, according to Tiger and Reggie. Elijah still has his eye on Chad after their encounter in the morning.
"Do any of you guys like poetry?" Elijah asked nonchalantly as he scribbled down pages and passages he from the text he would likely use as citations for his essay in the following week.
"I dunno," Chad replied quietly, too busy reading from After Darkness. Christian shook his head.
"Poetry's fine," Rajesh replied in his Indian accent, looking up from the revision sheet he was drawing up for his test. "Why?"
"Do you like to write poetry?" Elijah asked him, looking up into his eyes.
"Sometimes?" Rajesh shrugged, clicking off his pen and setting it down perpendicular to his paper so that it was even with the other pens he had set up. He was very organised, as far as Elijah could see. Obsessively so. "I write some sonnets now and then."
"Do you?" Elijah studied him. The artwork on the back of the poems was obsessively drawn, as though the artist could not bear to miss even the smallest of details. "You're in art class too, aren't you?"
"Art and visual design," Rajesh folded his brown hands in front of him. "Why the sudden interest?"
"Never mind," Elijah was beginning to blush.
If it were Rajesh, that would be lovely. He was well-spoken, kind-hearted and easy on the eyes. Still, he did not want to spook Admirer X. It might not be Rajesh. Ergh. I'm becoming as obsessed as Admirer X is! Is it part of their plan to draw me in? Heh. Well, it's working! When he returned to his dorm, Reggie was there, wearing only his shorts and staring at a piece of paper.
"Silverman! You got another!" Reggie eagerly told him, and Elijah's heart leapt in his chest.
He snatched it from his nosy friend's hands and looked for himself. This time, Elijah was asleep on a bus. His wavy hair framed his face, and he rested his head against the window, eyes peacefully closed. Nobody was sitting next to him. He was wearing a collared shirt underneath a buttoned cardigan and long pants with lace-up leather shoes, his clothes crinkled as he tried his best to curl up on the awkward seat, his legs over the armrest in the middle. The lighting was shaded so terrifically well, but the highlight of the piece was the view out of the window. A sea of trees. Hundreds of treetops, all uniquely and beautifully detailed, stretching out to a jagged horizon. This was on a school trip. But which one? Apparently, I was sleeping at the time, he thought.
"Freaky, hey?" Reggie was staring obnoxiously over his shoulder, and Elijah turned it over.
Now I believe you bear no ill, If trust wins you, then so I will! Not yet, though. I am much too shy. Every time I see you, I sigh.
Love, Admirer X
Elijah looked to his bed, but the note he dropped on his pillow had gone.
"How did you find this? Did you see the note I left?" Elijah turned to Reggie and looked him in the eye. "Did you know it's rude to look at my things?"
"I couldn't help myself!" Reggie pushed his glasses up his nose and backed off. "I'm sorry, man. This is just so... cool!"
"Yeah, but answer the question," Elijah was a little suspicious now. Who would have better opportunity to slip things onto his bed than Reggie Nguyễn? His roommate. Reggie, who had no way with words but brilliance when he put pencil to paper and drew from his heart. Reggie, who designed comics for fun and took a hundred pictures a day with his phone. "Did you read the note I left for whoever this is? Was this on my bed when you got here?"
"Hey man, I didn't see any note from you. I came in, stripped off and saw it on your pillow. Sorry. I should have left it, but I had to see!" Reggie pleaded for forgiveness, and Elijah couldn't help but give it to him.
"This isn't you, is it?" Elijah had to ask, and Reggie shook his head violently.
"You're a handsome devil, Silverman, but you're not my type," Reggie grinned, and Elijah had to chuckle. "It looks like Admirer X is drawing from real angles of you, though, and I'm in the first picture. So it can't be me."
"I didn't think of that," Elijah wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed. He'd toyed with the idea that it might have been Reggie or Tiger, but Reggie brought up an excellent point. They were like photographs. Drawn freehand, but capturing Elijah in specific moments. In the first picture, the four of them were having breakfast. He didn't imagine his friends could accomplish such a feat. "Do you know where this is? It was a school trip, right?"
"I suppose," Reggie returned to Elijah's side and looked again at the picture. "Man, this is awesome. Marry this guy, Silverman! I guarantee they're gonna make a mint one day. These drawings are perfect."
"If I fall on hard times, I'll consider it," Elijah smiled. Someone put so much care into their work. It was inspiring and so sweet. "But my point is, this is drawn from the seats opposite me, right? So I think that whoever Admirer X is must have sat there."
"Oh, right!" The Asian boy was now as obsessed with the mystery as Elijah was. "Do you know where that is?"
"Do I look like I know where that is?" Elijah slapped his friend on the arm and gestured to the picture. "I'm asleep, you dolt! So that doesn't look familiar to you?"
"Nah, but I know someone who might!" Reggie winked, and Elijah nodded before the two of them got up and almost dashed three doors down.
"Tiges!" Elijah knocked on the door until their Aboriginal friend opened up. "Tiges, you have a photographic memory, right?"
"No," Tiger grinned as his friends barged right in. He was holding a few small jars of paints in his left hand. "It's called eidetic memory, and it doesn't work the way you seem to think it does. Why?"
Elijah noticed that Tiger had his easel with a canvas set up in the corner on top of a mess of newspapers, and he was holding a jar of yellow paint and a jar of red. Tiger loved to paint in the style of his ancestors. His art was unique, portrayed in thousands of tiny dots in gorgeous patterns and colours.
"Do you know where this is?" Elijah pulled up the drawing for his friend to see and tapped on the window that showed a particular view.
"Cradle Mountain," Tiger replied immediately and put his supplies down on his desk.
"You're sure?" Reggie asked, and Tiger flashed a grin, his orange and black hair all over his face.
"November 9th. Tasmania trip last year," Tiger was incredible sometimes. He remembered things that most people would forget, but he would forget things most people would remember. "You," he pointed at Reggie with the wooden end of his paintbrush, the one he dipped into paints to dot on his canvas. "Got motion sick early on and had to go and sit in the front. You," he pointed to Elijah. "Slept most of the way up. I can't believe you guys have forgotten! It was only a few months ago."
"So who sat in the seats opposite me?" Elijah asked, excited at the prospect of finding the boy who was playing such an interesting game with them. "Did they take a photo of me?"
"Umm..." Tiger grimaced. "I dunno, buddy. That bus ride was like a game of musical chairs. Half the class sat there at some point. Even some of the locals. Owen and Reg started off there, but they weren't there long. I was next to you to start, but you went to sleep, and I hung out with Jimbo instead."
"Hey, yeah!" Reggie giggled. "Mrs Johnson was hungover and pretended she was just tired! So she didn't do anything about you guys up the back."
Wait. That absolutely could have been Reggie! Elijah didn't say it out loud, but Reggie's penchant for taking photos could have come into play there. He could've taken a picture like this. But what about Tiger? He always put a lot of care and detail into his paintings, and he had a freaky memory. Hmm. But they were both with me in that first drawing. They can't very well have been with me and taken a picture of me at the same time, could they? At least he was confident it couldn't have been Owen. Like Elijah, he didn't have a single artistic bone in his body. On top of that, all three of his friends were with him all night in the rec room. None of them left. The note arrived on his bed after he went for dinner. This was all so confusing!
"But I can tell you it's a Ninth Year!" Tiger noticed Elijah deep in thought and brought him back to the waking world. "Only Eighth Years last year went on that trip. So if you only count Ninth Year boarders who take an art class, that narrows it down to five. Three if you don't count the two of us."
"Good thinking!" Reggie gasped. "It has to be Ericsson, Veal or Kim!"
Lane Ericsson, Bernard Veal and Dong Hoon Kim. He'd seen them both earlier today in physical education. Lane was a sports buff who took art because he didn't like English Literature. He was masculine and fit, attractive by any standards. Bernard, like Elijah, came from wealthy parents that owned a farm. He was an artsy person, taking all three art classes much like Rajesh did. He wasn't conventionally attractive. Puberty had given him pimples and greasy hair, but Elijah was beyond thinking about that right now. He wanted desperately to know who was enamoured with him so much that they would spend so much of their time drawing him in this way. Dong was slim and a total video game nerd. He was always the champion at Street Fighter night. He expressed interest in studying art and animation for video games when he graduated. Dong was cute! He was a local student in the beginning, but he was now boarding because of circumstances at his house that he did not like to speak about. Lane, Bernard and Dong. Oh, this was too exciting!
"Thanks, Tiges, have a good one!" Elijah waved him off, and Tiger gave a thumbs up before returning to his corner.
He returned to his dorm and sat on his bed, bringing out the others notes too, so he could compare them. Reggie took no time in snatching the second drawing - Elijah reading on the couch - and complimenting the artist's technique. This third poem was very much the same as the others. Eight syllables per line, but this followed the format of the first poem rather than the limerick from last time. Admirer X clearly read the note that Elijah left behind for them. This indicated that between physical education and returning from the study session in the library, someone found the letter, read it, wrote this poem and delivered it all before Reggie got back from his piano lesson. If trust wins you, then so I will. So this person trusts me? That's sweet of them. They're shy. That's a shame. That can almost rule out Lane Ericsson, then. He was the most aggressively outgoing person Elijah had ever met. Bernard and Dong were considerably quieter people. Timid. That sounds more like it, he thought to himself. Bernard or Dong. Hmm.
"What are you doing?" Reggie asked as he watched Elijah grab a pen and another piece of paper.
"Writing another note," Elijah replied softly. "Go away. This is private and I know you'll read it."
"I'm starting to think you might be looking forward to meeting your lover boy!" Reggie commented with an obnoxious grin on his face.
"What if I am?" Elijah challenged him defensively, and Reggie paused.
"Are you... like...?" Reggie couldn't bring himself to say gay.
"Does it matter?" Elijah replied, turning pink. "I still want to know who it is and I want to thank them for giving me all these drawings. Please, man. I'll be out for dinner soon. Save my spot."
"Alright," Reggie, a little subdued by the trade between them, left the room and closed the door behind him.
Hello again Admirer X, I hope you don't feel like I've been making fun of you with my friends. It's hard to keep secrets in a place like Oakfield, so I have to say I'm impressed that you've managed to stay under the radar this long! I think I'm closing in on your identity, but don't be afraid to cut the middle-man and just say hi to me. I won't bite. I want to talk to you about the drawings and the poems! From Elijah
He added another smiley face, and he folded it up and left it on his pillow. He was excited to be exchanging love notes. Wait, I'm not sending love notes! Mine are only notes; not love notes!
The dining hall was reasonably empty, Elijah noted. Because it was Friday night, the boys had a lot of freedom. Many liked to go out to the city and have dinner there with friends. Some didn't enjoy eating as early as six and came back to heat up some noodles or something later on. Owen was missing. Tiger arrived with paint on him and was forbidden from eating at the table by Mr Huang, who sent him away until he washed his hands and face, much to the amusement of his friends. Elijah looked around to see who was here and who wasn't. Lane Ericsson was eating with Dong Kim and some other friends, but Bernard Veal and James Inglis were missing. Hmm. I'll remember that. If a note suddenly appears in my room, then I'll know where to look!
"Do you know where Owen is?" Elijah asked Tiger when he returned, wearing a clean tanktop and having cleaned his face. How he got paint everywhere was beyond Elijah's understanding. Tiger painted dots with the other end of his paintbrush. He didn't sling the contents of the jars at the canvas.
"Does anyone ever know where Owen is?" Tiger replied with an easy shrug, happily picking up a piece of pork crackling. "He's so busy swimming he forgets to eat most of the time."
"Shouldn't you go and get him?" Reggie giggled, and Tiger snorted.
"Why? I'm not his mummy!" Tiger replied with a cheeky grin. "He'll be in at some point. Any progress on Admirer X?"
"Lane and Dong are both here," Elijah informed him, and Tiger was much better at being discreet when he scanned the room than Owen was. "Bernard's not. You think it might be him?"
"Could be," Reggie often alarmed Elijah's mother with the amount of food that seemed to end up on his face rather than in his mouth. She often asked how anyone with a mouth so big can miss it so often! Elijah had given up telling Reggie when he needed to wipe his face. He figured if he waited until the end of the meal, he would only have to do it once. "He's a Ninth Year, and he takes all three art classes! If anyone can draw like that, it's him!"
"Ehh I don't necessarily agree," Elijah replied thoughtfully, remembering the three pictures in his head. "I mean, this person definitely takes art seriously! So they almost definitely take one class. Just because they drew those pictures doesn't mean they take all the classes, though."
"Well, if you get a new drawing, then Bernie's the obvious suspect, hey?" Reggie concluded.
"Unless Admirer X has an accomplice!" Tiger's eyes widened, and he stopped noisily crunching on his stick of crackling. "Then we're back to square one!"
"Oh, yeah! What if they're getting a friend to drop these notes off so they can have an alibi?" Reggie said a little too loudly, and Elijah's head fell into his hands.
"And the thick plottens again!" Tiger gasped, he and Reggie comically dropping their jaws together.
"Too many movies, Reg!" Elijah was beginning to feel overwhelmed. "Both of you! Too many movies! This isn't Agatha Christie!"
"Oh come on," Tiger grinned. "It's at least Nancy Drew!"
"Or the Hardy Boys!" Reggie helpfully put in, and Elijah wearily picked up his plate.
"I think I need a rest," he said quietly. "Sorry, guys. I'm a bit too tired for this. It's been a long week."
"Sorry," his friends replied morosely at the same time.
They're good guys, Elijah reminded himself as he scraped his leftovers into the disposal. They just think this is all some big joke. I don't. Elijah, as he returned to his dorm, saw someone going inside and closing the door behind them. Adrenaline and excitement pounded through him. I'm going to catch them this time! He skidded along the corridor and threw the door open, and Owen jumped, turning to him with a look of horror on his face.
"Oh, gosh!" Elijah wasn't expecting it at all. Owen did not know how to draw! Did he? He certainly didn't take any art classes. "It's you?"
"Me?" Owen looked down at the drawing he was holding and turned red. "No! It's not me! No! I found this on your bed!"
"You found it on my bed?" Elijah raised his eyebrow, taking the paper from his stunned friend. "J'accuse!"
"Jackwhat?" Owen frowned. "I literally did, Eli! I promise."
"Right. So you miss dinner to come to my room? Why? I want a good explanation," Elijah demanded of him. He was disappointed. He was hoping that if he caught this person, they'd confess. It'd be nice. It'd bring an end to this whole affair! Not knowing who was giving him such things was slowly driving him crazy. "Either you're Admirer X, or you're just snooping. Doesn't matter which one! You're busted both ways."
"I'm snooping, okay?" Owen ran his hand through his damp, unruly hair. It stuck up in every awkward angle. "I'm not gay, and I'm not in love with you. You never showed me the other pictures and I wanted to see them. This one was on your bed."
"Well... I suppose that explains it," Elijah looked to his bed, and the note he left Admirer X was gone! So they have been here! "Owen, I'm gonna need you to empty your pockets."
"Why?" Owen raised an eyebrow.
"If you don't have the note I left, you have nothing to worry about!" Elijah explained, a cheeky grin on his face.
"You've lost the plot, man!" Owen grumbled and began to turn out the pockets in his trousers. There was nothing there. "See? I'm just here to see the drawings before I get some grub."
"Alright! You win! I'm sorry," Elijah groaned and managed to laugh. Owen slapped him on the back. "I'm not gay. I mean... I'm just keen to know who's doing this, right?"
"I get it! If I were gay, you'd be my first pick, buddy," Owen quipped with a grin. He had a narrow face and very pale skin with a swimmer's body. No matter how much he tried to tan, all he ever did was burn, peel and end up even whiter than he started. Soon, he'd probably look like a snowman. "Can I see the drawings?"
"Go for it," Elijah pointed towards the drawer he kept them in. "Don't mess them up."
Elijah was looking at himself once more. This time, his sketched counterpart was sitting at his desk, pen in his right hand, propping up his head with his left. His brow was furrowed in concentration as he wrote on his paper. It looked like he was writing an essay. He could see the letters on his open book if he looked close enough at the paper. His pencil box was open, and every pen and pencil inside had been drawn. Even the sun's glare off the pen he was using! Apparently, this was a bad hair day, Elijah thought with a chuckle. Loose strands fell everywhere. When was this? Must have been this year. I haven't had a haircut in a long time. What class is this? English? English Literature? History? Biology? Psychology? It can't be Mathematics or Chemistry. Who sits to the right of me in these classes? Owen, Tiger, Reggie, Dong and... Bernard Veal. Those were the people who saw Elijah from that angle. If the note arrived here during dinner, then it had to have been Bernard Veal, because Dong was there the whole time. Bernard Veal is Admirer X! Feeling shaky, Elijah turned the paper over to see if there was another poem. Of course, there was.
Elijah, please don't give up yet. I'm not playing with you. We've met! Gorgeous pink lips, lovely brown eyes! How do I win such a grand prize? To show me, tie up your hair tight. Eyes will see. You like me tonight! Easy proof for me; this is key. No more hiding. Brave, I will be!
Love, Admirer X
Oh, wow! Elijah blushed a deep red. Admirer X - Bernard - was asking him not to be impatient, and to wear his hair up tonight if he was interested. Do I like Bernard Veal in that way? Elijah wasn't sure. He didn't know a lot about him. A farm kid. Very into paintings and design. Light brown hair cut short, green eyes and a bit skinny, but muscles already defined thanks to hard work on his parents' farm. Sure, he had pimples and his face was a bit asymmetrical, but he wasn't ugly. And from what Elijah saw here, he had a beautiful soul. That was the critical thing.
"Can I read the poem?" Owen asked, and Elijah shook his head.
"This one's private. Sorry," Elijah held it close.
"Ohh, you dawg," Owen winked at him and gave up. "Well, good luck with your romance, Eli. You kids have fun."
"Shut up!" Elijah shouted at him as he left and closed the door behind him.
He was so fixated on this mystery that he was starting to forget to deny that he was into guys. Bernard. Okay. It made sense! Bernard had opportunities to plant all of these papers on his bed. He was on that bus trip to Cradle Mountain. He was in art classes, and he was a boarder. He sat to Elijah's right in Psychology.
Elijah shoved it to the back of his mind, too excited. Maybe Bernard didn't expect him to deduce Admirer X's identity so quickly. Indeed without the help of his friends he wouldn't have. He made his way down to the rec room. Bernard wasn't there, but his friends were.
"Tiges!" Elijah found his friend playing Pokémon on his 3DS on the couch. Reggie and Owen were playing table tennis with their Eleventh Year friends. They lost nearly every time, but they never gave up.
"Sup?" Tiger asked, raising an eye to his friend.
"Can I borrow a hair tie?" Elijah asked, his excitement almost spilling from him.
"Mm? Course you can!" Tiger nodded. "On my desk in the corner. Excuse the mess. My paint's not dry yet."
"Thanks!" Elijah grinned.
"Are you getting all pretty for someone?" Tiger teased, and Elijah turned beet red, shooting a glare at him.
Tiger was smirking, and Elijah decided not to draw any more attention to himself than he needed to. He darted off and made his way into the dorm Tiger and Owen shared. He made sure not to touch anything other than the bundle of elastic ties - Tiger got irritable if people other than him made a mess in his room - and fished out a black band, gathering up his thick mop of curls and tying it into a dense, massive bun on the crown of his head. Am I that transparent? I didn't think I came across as gay. This stupid Admirer X stuff has been messing with me. I'm not as careful as I usually am. He sighed. Maybe this is a bad idea. But in Oakfield, when do chances like this ever come around? He went to return to the rec room, in hopes that Bernard might notice him and decide to talk to him, but on his way past the kitchen, he saw the young lad in question boiling the kettle. In the kitchen! Alone! Did he orchestrate this as well? How could he know I would come this way?
"Hey," Elijah smiled at him, his heart burning with joy and desire. He didn't quite know what else to say!
"What's goin' on?" Bernard asked, smiling back. "Digging the man-bun."
That's it! Those words were the clincher.
"To show me, tie up your hair tight," Elijah's eyes gleamed happily as he repeated the line from the poem Bernard wrote for him.
"I'm sorry?" Bernard turned his head in confusion, pouring the boiling water from the kettle onto the teabag in his oversized mug.
"The poem?" Elijah furrowed his brow. "The drawings."
"What poem? Drawings?" Bernard looked away. He was uncomfortable. "I don't read poetry. What about drawings? My drawings?"
"You've been sending them to me?" Elijah's elation was rapidly turning to dread. I think I've made a mistake.
"Yeah, no," Bernard snickered. "Sorry, mate. You alright? You and your boys get your hands on a bit of booze? Maybe a bit of Mary Jane?"
"I... no..." Elijah felt his heart crumbling. "Please don't tell anyone about this."
"What's to tell?" Bernard asked, picking up his mug and turning on his heel. "I have no idea what's going on. If you feel like sharing, gimme a buzz!"
Elijah was devastated. Too embarrassed to show his face in the rec room, he fled back to his dorm and shut the door. This was all just an enormous prank, wasn't it? They knew he was gay, as much as he denied it, and they used that to make a fool of him! He covered his face with his pillow. Humiliated, heartbroken and utterly furious with himself for being so stupid, Elijah broke down into tears and sobbed. For a long time he cried. How could his friends do this to him? Were they all on it? It was cruel. Heartless! He thought they were his family. Reggie was a brother to him! He even came to spend extended weekends with Elijah's family. So I'm gay. Why do they have to humiliate me like this?
Someone knocked on his door, startling him.
"Go away!" He shouted, furious and upset.
If it was Tiger or Owen, he did not want to see them! If it was Reggie, he could bloody well spend the night in another room! He sat up when someone silently skidded a piece of paper underneath the door and heavy footsteps as they dashed away. Of course, Elijah was too late when he made it to the door and looked out to an empty corridor.
"This isn't funny anymore!" He yelled, then he shut his door again, holding his pillow to his chest.
His curiosity got the better of him after a short while, though, and he had to pick up the paper and look at it. It was like looking into a mirror. He was looking at himself as though they were sitting across the table from each other. There were shelves and shelves of books behind him. It must have been the school library. This is by someone I've done homework with. Eyes open, mouth smiling. Another pretty picture. Full of detail, of course. One that must have taken a week at least to draw. It seems weird that they would draw these just to mess with me, he thought, wiping the tears from his face. He was depicted with such care. Love. What must have been months of work. How could it be a joke?
To fail you kills me, I fear. Will you let me try again? Here. Each note you have, numbers are found. Numbers are fun! Mix them around! Tells you the truth. Tells you a lot! You could love me. Or you could not.
Love, Admirer X
Wait. So this was just a mistake? I got the wrong person? Is that it? My friends aren't horrible people? From what he could understand, this person knew that Elijah made a fool of himself. Who knows what Bernard told everyone in the rec room? Each not you have, numbers are found. With that clue, Elijah looked back to the first poem and his eyes bugged. The first letter of each line. It spelled something! Five. He grabbed the second poem. Seven. The third? Nine. Eighteen. Now Twenty. No wonder the poems seemed odd and forced! The truth is in the numbers. Mix them around. Wait. Wait. Elijah's eyes opened and his jaw dropped. I've got it! The code! This isn't a joke! I got the wrong person because I jumped the gun! He turned the paper back over to look at the picture again. The library, hmm? I bet that's where he is. After Elijah wiped his face and steeled himself, he was ready to go and find out. At least if it is still a joke, I'll be prepared for it this time. There was a light on in the library when he arrived. Mrs Pope was there behind the desk.
"We're closing at seven, love," she reminded him in her husky voice, and he nodded at her.
"Wow. It really is you," Elijah spoke softly when he came across the boy, carefully shading another drawing with his pencil.
"Me," he replied quietly. He looked petrified.
"I can't believe it," Elijah grinned, sitting down opposite him.
"And once more, the thick plottens," the boy managed to smile in response. "What do you think? Do you hate me?"
"I could never!" Elijah reassured him. "I just don't get why you'd pick me. I don't get why you'd do all this."
"I didn't pick you. You picked me," he replied, sighing and slumping his shoulders. "I wanted to tell you, but if you rejected me I'd lose you as a friend, you know?"
"I wouldn't stop being your friend," Elijah claimed.
"But I might not be able to get over you," he continued his sketch. It was already looking beautiful. A black hand holding a white hand from the perspective of the black person. "You took your time working out my codes, Eli. I'm surprised at you!"
"I was way too excited about some guy being in love with me to think about the codes in the poems properly!" Elijah chuckled, still embarrassed about the way he approached Bernard earlier. "It's so obvious now. Using the first letter of each line to spell a number? Using numbers as letters of the alphabet? That's not even original! Though at first, I was like what on Earth is an 'egirt' and then I remembered to swap them around." The other boy giggled merrily. "I had no idea you could draw like this. Neither did Reggie or Owen, apparently."
"I don't usually," Tiger admitted, shading the skin of the hand that belonged to him as he poured his heart out. "It's you, I think. You inspire it from me. You're just beautiful, you know? I see you in a certain way or in a certain light and I feel like I have to draw. Do you get me?"
"Yeah," Elijah smiled at him, and before he knew what he was doing, he reached across and touched the brown hand in front of him. "So... I want some answers!"
"Sure," Tiger ran his thumb lovingly over Elijah's hand. "That's the least I can do!"
"How did you sketch yourself into that first drawing you gave me? How did you get the second picture onto my bed when you were with me the whole time? Same as earlier tonight! And... when I asked you for the hair tie... why didn't you tell me the truth then?"
"I cheated. The other four pictures I drew all from memory, but that one was to throw you off. Christian took a photo of the dining hall a while ago and put it on his Facebook, so I drew that up. I needed you to think it couldn't have been me. And I'm just down the hall from you, Eli! All I had to do was wait for you to walk past and I could just stroll down and slip a note onto your bed! And... that was my mistake, I guess. I'm so sorry about that. I wanted to tell you it was me when you asked for that hair tie. I really did, but... I wasn't brave like I promised I would be, and that's my biggest regret. I got scared, and then I heard you crying earlier and I've never felt worse in my whole life."
"I don't know..." Elijah liked the feeling of Tiger's hand touching his, he decided. "I think it was all worth it. I had no idea you felt this way about me. I was glad when I thought it was Bernard, but I'm much happier that it's you. Aside from when I screwed up, it was a lot of fun! You'd be an amazing serial killer."
Tiger burst out laughing, and Elijah blushed.
"It was fun for me too," Tiger smiled, brushing his orange and black hair from his face. "I'm sorry I ran you around. I needed to see for myself how you'd react to a boy being in love with you before I could ever be brave enough to tell you... you know? Then you were so nice about it."
"Did you always know I was gay?" Elijah had to ask that question.
"Yeah," Tiger chuckled. "So... Eli? What now? You know how I feel. What about you? You wore your hair up, and you came to find me. What does that mean?"
"I'm not quite sure yet," Elijah admitted to him. "It's all pretty sudden. I think I need to work a few things out first. But I'll always be your friend! And... I don't know... maybe more than that?"
Tiger looked at him for a while with a goofy, shy smile on his face. He slid the drawing over to his friend.
"You found me crying in Seventh Year in this library remember? I remember it like it happened yesterday. And you took me by the hand, picked me up and told me it'll all be okay!" Tiger tapped on the picture. It clicked. This is what Tiger saw that day. He's holding my hand! That memory of his was something else! "I fell for you at that exact moment and never looked back. It's been two years. I suppose I can wait a little longer. I meant every word I wrote, by the way. All of them."
The Aboriginal boy got up from his seat and his hand warmly squeezed Elijah's shoulder on his way past. Wow! Tiger all along. He knows how much I love poetry. Mysteries, too. And he gave me a heck of a mystery to be sure! And... more than that. I don't feel so alone anymore. I'm not sure how I feel about Tiger yet. Maybe I do feel the same way. Perhaps I need some time to work it out. At least neither of us is alone here on Oakfield. I'll always have him as a friend.
He looked fondly at the half-finished sketch on the table in front of him. Our hands. Habit overtook him, and he flipped the paper over to see if there was a poem. There was! When he read it, he almost began crying for the second time that day.
It's been quite a ride. It's been tough. Look... I'm not good at this love stuff. Or being gay. Just being brave is hard. Vying for you has left me scarred. Each of us chooses. I choose you. You choose me, I will love you true. Or choose me not, I'll let you be. Unless you want it: you and me.