Learning to trust - 5. Chapter 5
"Well, at least I don't need to worry about getting a partner." I thought as I looked over the material Brandon and I were assigned to present to the class at a later date. Apparently I had been slightly wrong when I thought the main focus of the presentation would be cell division; apparently the entire life-cycle of a cell was to be examined, by different groups. My blunder might as well have been prophetic, for our part would be mitosis, aka cell division in scientific terms. I looked through the folder of materials our teacher, Mrs. Peterson, had provided us. It was apparently supposed to be only some "motivation" to whet our interest in the subject so we would actually use the school's library for the rest of our research for once. I glanced over at Brandon who was reading the sheets I had read already. He looked less than enthusiastic. I guess he really didn't like biology.
"Okay," I started, "how do you wanna do this?"
"What do you mean?" he replied, looking genuinely confused. He looked down at the "meatloaf" the school served and grimaced. Of all the schools I had attended, not one had offered real food. Food believably from the animal they claimed it to be. It was drowned in a brown sauce which smelled suspiciously of nothing and a side of mashed potatoes with a sickly grey hue to them.
"I owe you a presentation. I suggest I prepare everything, send you your part in time for you to memorize and we present it." I said.
He frowned. "I didn't mean for you to do my work. I'm gonna pull my own weight in this thing."
I raised an eyebrow at him.
"What?" he asked, defensively stabbing his slab of meat with his fork, "Just because I want to have a smart partner who can help me out with this stuff doesn't mean I want to bully someone into doing my work."
"Okay, okay, calm down man." I sighed. This sure would complicate things. It's easier to do this without having someone meddling. In the end what would probably happen is I would have to double-check his work all the time to make sure he at least doesn't mess up the facts, never mind the phrasing and language of the presentation. Oh well, I guess I should give him the benefit of the doubt. Just because he doesn't particularly like the subject, doesn't mean he is terrible at it. I don't like English either, still I achieve an A or a B on every paper.
"And don't sigh at me, either. I'm not some idiot who is going to be trouble for you, iceberg. We are going to do the work together some time after school. You can come to my place or I can come to yours. When we're done we can just hang out or something. And you are going to enjoy it!" Brandon explained rather heatedly and pointed at me with his fork. He raised an eyebrow in challenge, daring me to protest.
"Whatever you want, boss." I said, a smile tugging at the corners of my lips. Perhaps my reaction had been somewhat mean.
"By the way," Lucas, who had just arrived to hear the last portion of our conversation, chimed in, "where do you live anyway? Downtown where all the new houses are?" Apparently Lucas eats wherever Brandon does. Since he did so at my and Matt's table today, I suppose it was assumed an invitation was extended to him as well. We hadn't really talked much after our first run-in, but I guess there is a certain bonding aspect about having a mutual dislike for someone. And his sharp tongue was always a source of entertainment.
"No. I live at 251 Rosewood Avenue." Brandon pulled up his eyebrows in surprise.
"Isn't that where Mike lives? Mike Benet?"
"Yup." I replied, not really liking the direction of this conversation. Brandon seemed to pick up on my discomfort, but Lucas wasn't blessed with the necessary social skills to recognize an awkward situation. So, as usual, he ignored the signs and continued Brandon's line of questioning.
"So how come you live with him? Are you related?" Lucas asked curiously.
"No." I tried to make the word sound sharp and to make him back off without actually saying it. I hoped eye-contact and a hard stare would help, but he probably saw it as a prompt to continue.
"Do your parents live there, too?"
"No." Seriously, my gaze could not have been friendly. I certainly didn't feel anywhere close to enjoying this conversation. Brandon must have picked up on it, because he shoved an elbow into Lucas side, but he seemed undeterred.
"Really? So how come you and Matt don't live with your parents?"
Okay, that's it. What kind of harebrained question is that? When was there ever a good, non-personal or even non-private reason for someone not living with their parents? I was feeling seriously angry at this point. When I get angry, I become sarcastic. Brandon's words of protests at Lucas brashness barely even registered with me.
"Oh, I would love to, but the graveyard is kind of drafty at night, and I would so hate to catch a cold." There was more than a little acid in my voice and I tried to keep all emotion off my face. I mean, sure, Lucas is a naturally curious person with a mouth faster than his brain. But there are some questions you just don't ask someone you barely know!
Finally my opinion on this conversation seemed to be coming across, even to Lucas. He looked at me wide-eyed and Brandon had a similar look of shock on his face. A comment like that usually shuts everyone up. I know it's disrespectful to speak of my parents this way, and Matt always disapproves, but he was still in line for food and I was angry. Besides it's easier to say it in a snide way than being all emotional about it, which really are the only two approaches I have. Two and half years are a long time, but it's still painful to think my parents are gone.
"Or if you mean their metaphysical location, if you believe in such a thing, it's either a place with very low air pressure or pretty damn hot. Or maybe they went different ways. I wonder how split custody would work…" As soon as the asinine words left my mouth I knew they were a mistake. Not only were they truly biting, in a way which made even me wince, but Matt had apparently been quicker to move through the line than I had expected and heard what I said. And if the thunderous look on his face was any indication he was pretty damn mad.
Instead of sitting down with us at the table, he turned around and sat with some kids from his own grade.
"Aww, shit. I've fucked up." I groaned and rested my forehead on the heels of my hands. Brandon and Lucas had followed my gaze toward Matt and seen his angry departure in all its glory. Having Matt angry at me was never good. When I tease him, he explodes for a moment and after a minute everything is millhouse again. But once you've made him really angry, like truly pissed, and with somewhat of a good reason, he just clams up. Always been that way. Even getting him to talk to me would probably require hours of groveling.
"Hey man, it's okay." I heard Brandon say, at the same time as a hand lowered on my shoulder. I stiffened and followed the arm toward the body it was attached to. Brandon, who was sitting across from me, was apparently trying to console me.
"Huh?" I asked and met his eyes with one of my trademark flat gazes.
"Oh, uh… sorry. You kinda looked like you were crying there for a moment." He seemed decidedly uncomfortable at having misjudged the situation and pulled his hand away after I looked at it pointedly.
"Don't worry about me. Just for your information, my frustration is about my fuck-up, not Mr. foot-in-mouth-syndrome's demonstration of symptoms." I couldn't suppress a sigh, "Matt is sensitive about me, or anyone, for that matter, talking about our parents the way I just did. I've done it before and told him I wouldn't anymore. Now he's gonna be insufferable for days. Anyway, moving on from this disaster of a discussion. Brandon, are you free tomorrow after school?" He looked to be reeling for a second at the sudden change of topic.
"Shouldn't you try to talk to Matt?" Brandon asked.
'"Nope. Right now he would just ignore me or make a scene. I'm not really too keen on either. I'll give him some time to cool off first, then talk to him." My answer sounded nonchalant, but was more bravado than truth. I really hate it when Matt and I are fighting. Sure, I like to yank his chain just to get a reaction, I figure it's my job as his older brother, but when he is really upset it ruins my whole day. All of that is compounded by the fact we don't have anyone else to really talk to. Back when our parents were alive one of us could vent to Dad and the other to Mom. They would tell us we were being boneheaded idiots for whatever petty little thing we were fighting over and make us see reason. We usually ended up apologizing within an hour or less.
Now however, there was no one to mediate. Whatever conflicts arose between us we had to clear ourselves, but seeing as we were both stubborn as mules sometimes, it could be a long and tedious process. At least, this time I know I messed up. No way around me apologizing to him. I just hope he stays in the same room long enough for me to do it.
"Ehm, okay." Brandon said, "Yeah, I'm free tomorrow. How about I take you home with me after school? I live about 5 miles away from here, so you can just hitch a ride with me. We'll do as much as we can and then later I can take you home. Sound okay?"
"Uh huh." I hummed absentmindedly.
"I'm sorry." Lucas said throwing me a somewhat shy glance.
"Nothing for you to be sorry about. It happened two and half years ago, I've had time to get used to it. Just a little tip: when you ask a personal question, think ahead."
"Yeah." He said, drawing out the syllable. "I'm not really good at the whole thinking ahead thing, as you might have noticed." And gave me a lopsided grin.
"And I didn't mean I'm sorry about your parents, though I suppose I am, but about asking inappropriate questions."
I looked at him for a second. He seemed genuine enough, at least.
"Don't sweat it. I guess I overreacted a little." I conceded with a shrug.
"So, do you play on any of the teams?" Brandon asked, "I don't, but I can just wait for you in case you have training or something."
"Me neither. We can get going right after… what was it again?" I asked, looking at Brandon.
"English, ice cube." He said with a smile.
The rest of the school day was a drag. The Civil war is boring, trig is easy and if I have to discuss the same chapter of 1984 one more time, I thought I would burst a blood vessel. Brandon kept distracting me throughout most of the classes though, which was kinda fun I suppose. Sometimes, before he even said anything, he got this mischievous twinkle in his eyes and you knew immediately; whatever comes next will be hilarious. He was no class clown though, most of those jokes were directed at me alone. I guess he figured I wasn't paying attention to the class anyway, so it was okay to mess with me a little. For example, in math class, he drew this little comic-strip-like thumb movie into his book. He was scrawling into it during most of the 45 minute class, and I kept stealing glances at it, but whenever I tried to get a good angle to see and whispered, "C'mon, show me!", he would shoot me a dirty look and mouth "wait" and proceed to position his free arm so I couldn't see anything at all. The suspense was positively killing me!
Then, finally, when I was close to kicking him, he looked up from his diligent scribbling and inclined his head down toward the book. He took a bunch of pages in his hand, hooked them behind his thumb and let them flap back down rapidly. It showed Mr. Williams taking a drawing of the unit circle, which he had used to demonstrate where sine, cosine and tangent can be seen, folding it a couple times and shoving it up… some place the sun doesn't reach. Hopefully. I could identify the teacher, even though it was more like a stick figure, because Brandon had endowed it with Mr. Williams' bushy mustache and eyebrows.
My eyes must have looked a lot like saucers and I had to bite my lip pretty hard to keep myself from guffawing loudly. Brandon gave me a toothy grin, making me smile, too.
The walk home later in the day was tense, to say the least. When I met up with Mike and Matt the latter promptly turned away from me and started walking ahead of us at a brisk pace. Mike shot me a questioning glance at the less than warm reception I had received. It was obvious something was going on he wasn't privy to, because our greetings usually involve grinning, high-fives and stupid jibes.
I sighed and shook my head, indicating I didn't want to talk about it right now. Mike's face took on a blank expression before he shrugged and resumed walking in silence. He tried to spark up a conversation once or twice during our 10-minute walk, but Matt walked in stony silence, which made my own mood too shitty to be a good conversationalist. I was almost at a point where I would be ready to start the groveling right then and there, but decided it was a sport which really wouldn't benefit from having an audience. Once home, Matt promptly toed off his shoes, walked toward our shared bedroom and, while not quite slamming the door, certainly closed it with gusto. My shoulders slumped. Matt was REALLY angry. He hated door-slamming with a passion, just like I did, courtesy of The Toad, who had done so at almost every opportunity. We suspected the sound tickled his fancy. Mike shot me another look, obviously curious but not comfortable enough to ask. Even though he was a couple inches taller than I and packed more muscle, I think I intimidated him with my standoffishness. It was something I was beginning to regret.
Looking at Mike right then made me think. From all I had seen of him so far, he was a good guy. He was always nice, had an easygoing personality and hadn't said a bad word about anyone. Mike was always smiling about one thing or another and never seemed to be in a bad mood. It was something he had in common with both Janie and Henry, who I had yet to see being even mildly discontent. At most, they had been busy.
I, on the other hand, had blown him off several times when he tried to bond with me, and while I had never been insulting about it, I’m sure it must still have stung. He was never mad at me though, he simply invited me again some other time. So, I decided to try and get to know him a little better. Besides, with my being on Matt's bad side, it would be nice to have someone to talk to.
"Yeah?" He replied, looking at me with the same open expression as back when we first met. It hid nothing and was all invitation.
"I have to try and patch things up with Matt for now, but I thought, maybe, if you aren't busy or anything, we could watch a movie or something tonight. I could fill you in on how I fucked up today. If I do enough brown-nosing until dinner, Matt might even join us." I said with a smile.
"Sure!" He said, giving me a wide grin, "May I suggest an investment in knee-pads? You know, for the more comfortable begging experience?"
I tried to give him an indignant glare, but it dissolved into smirk and a sigh. I seem to be doing a lot of sighing today. "You mock me, good sir, but I might need them."
"Damn, what did you do to get him so mad? I mean, he usually adores the ground you walk on."
"Later, Mikey, later." I said and started toward the now closed door. I slipped inside, relieved at finding it unlocked. For a moment I had feared he wouldn't even let me in.
No reply. He was lying on his bed, demonstratively facing the wall, ignoring me. I walked over to him and sat in front of his bed, crossing my legs in front of me.
"Come on, Matty, please talk to me." Again, no reply.
"I'm sorry Matt. I really am. I didn't mean to upset you." Silence.
"Say something, M&M. Why won't you even say anything? You know how I hate it when you just shut me out." My voice was low, almost a whisper, fitting the somber mood.
"Stings, doesn't it?" He asked bitingly. I lowered my head at the obvious rebuke, "I'm not talking to you because I'm younger." A clear sign he didn’t want to talk about it, same as I had used our first night in this house. The tradition first started when a six year old Matt kept pestering me about why water grew hard when it was cooled and in my frustration I used the nonsense-answer “because I’m older!” to try and shut him up.
"Just leave me alone, Jason." I recoiled as if slapped. I didn't even remember the last time he called me Jason, not Jay. I swallowed hard.
"I… okay." I said, stood up and left.
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