Authors: Suki Fleet
If this was the direction the conversation was going to go in, I was going to my room, with or without a shower.
“Molly at work says her nephew is anorexic…,” Corinne said tentatively. “I didn’t even know boys could be anorexic…. I mean, when I was at school it was mostly a girl thing, wanting to look like a model and all that… but apparently it can be a control thing with food too…. Sasha,
I’m worried about you
“I’m not anorexic,” I said flatly. I could see why she might think that, though. I knew she wasn’t being ridiculous. “I just…”
don’t feel like eating most of the time.
I had no obsession about food or my weight—rather, I felt completely apathetic about eating, and Corinne had never been much of a cook, so there was never anything particularly appetizing to eat. “I eat chips.”
“You’re still growing. You need to eat better than that.”
Corinne turned on the tap, filled a glass of water, and handed it to me.
“I know this past year has been hard on you.”
I stared at her, my insides shriveling so much I doubted I’d even be able to drink the water.
“It’s been hard on me too…. I had no idea what a sixteen-year-old boy might need…. I still don’t, but if you don’t talk to me, how—”
I got up.
“I’m sorry I got dumped on you… and I’m seventeen,” I mumbled as I strode toward my bedroom. She knew nothing about me, not even my age.
“Fucking hell, Sasha!” she shouted, darting past me and planting herself in front of me, stopping me dead. “It was a fucking awful thing Mum did to you. But I want you to know I
to look after you. I
social services if you could come here. You were never dumped on me. But….” She swallowed and shook her head, her messy hair falling in her face. “I’m not sure I made the best decision for you. I’m not sure I haven’t made it worse for you somehow. You’re my brother, and I just want to help you…. It wasn’t just her leaving, was it?” Corinne took hold of my shoulders, gripping my upper arms in her hands. It made me want to run, to get as far away from her as I possibly could. She searched my eyes. “You were in trouble before that. I know you weren’t happy. Mum said something about a teacher at school…. Did he… did he
something to you?”
I didn’t want to hurt her—even though I was slight, I was taller and stronger than she was—but I shoved her off all the same and ran to my room, bolted the door behind me, and then curled up on the carpet.
Yeah, there was a long-ago incident with a teacher at school, but all he had been was kind to me.
sleep. Every so often I picked up my phone and stared at the screen. I thought about calling Thomas, just to hear his voice, but my mood felt unpredictable, and I didn’t want to end up doing something stupid that I would regret—like crying down the phone or bleeding out all my sickly secrets to him.
Only when the yellowy-blue dawn light flooded my room did I doze. I heard Corinne leave for work and pulled the duvet over my head, safe in my silent cocoon of darkness.
When I woke it was 10:00 a.m. I’d missed the start of school. It was too late to go in now—I didn’t have the strength to face it. I thought about what Thomas said about my missing too much school. Maybe they would chuck me out this time. I was only good at one thing, my art, and it was hardly going to get me a job. I wasn’t even sure I was actually good at it—I just did it because it took me out of myself, gave me… peace, maybe. When school finished I’d probably end up working down in The Happy Mart with Corinne, living our sad existence in parallel until we flatlined. What was the point in taking my exams if I was just going to fail them anyway?
I stayed in bed.
I went back to sleep.
A knock at the door woke me. I knew it was late afternoon because the light left my room blue and cold.
I looked around apprehensively, wondering who the hell was knocking on the door.
Thomas. Again. He didn’t sound so out of breath this time. But he did sound a bit pissed off.
Reluctantly I opened the door.
Thomas blinked at me. He might have sounded annoyed, but he didn’t look it. He looked sort of relieved, as if he had been worried and now wasn’t so much.
“You didn’t come in to school.”
“Oh,” he said with a sigh, drawing his eyebrows together.
“Do you want to come in?” I held the door open.
It was only at this point I realized I was dressed in garish blue boxer shorts that hung loosely from one hip and a ripped white T-shirt.
Oh well, he’d seen them now.
I led him through to the kitchen. “Do you drink tea?” I asked, thinking back to Corinne’s questions yesterday and needing to know Thomas’s preference.
“Yeah, tea would be nice.”
He looked like he’d drink tea. It pleased me in a tiny way that I’d assumed right.
He hovered behind me as I washed the two least dirty cups that were sitting in the sink and picked two tea bags out of the box.
“You can call me whenever you can’t sleep. I sleep too much. I don’t mind. I promise.”
“I almost did,” I admitted.
“So why didn’t you?”
“Couldn’t subject you to my patheticness,” I huffed and sort of smiled.
“I would be honored if you’d subject me to your patheticness, anytime.” He smiled back, looking at me with a strange intensity.
“Don’t tell me you’re my knight in shining armor come to save me from this tower block,” I joked as I turned to switch the kettle on.
Weirdly I felt a hundred times lighter with Thomas there. I felt I could say stupid stuff and not worry about his reaction at all. I wasn’t second-guessing myself with every word. I’d never felt like that with anyone before.
“If I was, would you let me?” he asked.
“Ask me tomorrow,” I said, turning away with a grin. It was as close to yes as I was ever going to get. The feeling was giddy and wonderful. I wondered if this was flirting.
on the sofa, half a cushion apart, drinking our tea. Thomas liked his milky and sweet. I liked mine strong with hardly any milk at all. There were so many differences between us. But they didn’t seem to matter.
I was still wearing my boxer shorts. I couldn’t move closer or even think about it if I didn’t want to risk an obvious physical reaction. I imagined I could feel the heat of his body as it was.
“Missed you in art,” he said before taking a sip of tea.
My heart sped up at his words, but I covered my reaction with a sigh. This was crazy. I had it so, so bad. Was it normal? I wondered. Surely it couldn’t be normal to feel like this.
“It was stupid, my not going in. I know.”
I had so little time and so much to do with my sculpture, I wasn’t sure if I was going to have it finished in time.
I stared at the tea in my hands. I had this mad impulse to shift closer and rest my head on Thomas’s shoulder.
“You said you had a bad night…. Did you have a nightmare? My… my dad suffers from them whenever he comes back. With him it’s like post-traumatic stress, but a nightmare is a nightmare, and they’re pretty awful.”
Yeah, I could bet being an aid doctor in some war-torn country would give you plenty of nightmares. I shook my head.
“Thinking too much to sleep,” I said.
“What about?” As soon as he’d asked, Thomas bit down on his lip.
I didn’t say anything. He was pushing, but it wasn’t bothering me too much. We wouldn’t get anywhere at all sometimes if he didn’t.
“Sparks cleared all your glass out of the tumbling machine, even though no one else wanted to use it,” Thomas said, changing the subject.
I opened my mouth to swear. I needed that glass. All the other glass I had wasn’t near smoothed enough to be ready.
“I took it. It’s in my bag,” Thomas added quickly. “He’s a pretty rubbish teacher, you know,” he said, looking down.
Thomas was right, Sparks was rubbish…. He was possibly the worst teacher I’d ever had….
Unbidden, the thoughts that had consumed me last night spilled over, filled my head. The teacher who had been so kind to me all those years ago, the best fucking teacher I’d ever had. Samuel Felix.
I gulped down the rest of my tea, but the memories wouldn’t go away.
Samuel Felix had taught me art when I was thirteen. We’d just moved to a different part of Brighton, and I’d had to change schools again. I was desperately unhappy. When I didn’t want to go home sometimes, Samuel Felix let me stay after school and make collages and sculptures out of cardboard while he sorted the art room out or marked papers.
I wished I knew him now. I wished he was our art teacher instead of Sparks, but I had no idea if he still taught at all after what had happened.
I put my empty mug down on the floor and held out my hand.
“I want to show you something,” I said, hoping Thomas would get up quickly before the coward inside me took over and I changed my mind.
I had no idea what I was doing, only that it felt necessary and somehow right.
I pulled him with me. In my room I let go of his hand and crouched down on the floor and reached under the bed. The glass I kept there shifted and clinked as I brushed it aside, as if I was the wave and it was the sea. I dragged out the large brown envelope, dusting off any stray shards.
“Why do you have all this glass under your bed?”
“That’s where I keep it,” I replied dismissively. I sat back on my heels and took out the heavy cream card.
I held the drawing out to Thomas.
“Wow, this is beautiful,” Thomas said, looking it over, clearly impressed. “Who drew it?”
“A teacher I had once. His name was Samuel Felix.”
“He’s a great artist. If I’d known you then, I would have been staring at you in class probably as much as I do now.”
It was a simple head and shoulders in profile. It surprised me Thomas had recognized it as a drawing of my younger self so quickly.
“It doesn’t look like me.”
With one eyebrow raised, Thomas looked between me and the picture. “Yeah, it does.”
Samuel Felix was a great portrait painter, but I didn’t think he was an honest one. It was only a sketch, but the boy in the picture looked innocent and wistful. I liked looking at him, though I barely did anymore. I didn’t need to. I loved this picture so hard, it was imprinted on my memory.
“He drew twelve in total. But this is the only one left.”
“So what happened to the other eleven?”
“My mum burned them.”
I wasn’t sure how to find the words to talk about what had happened. I took the picture and put it back in the envelope before shoving it under the bed where it belonged. I hadn’t noticed I’d cut my finger. I sucked on the blood before it dripped and stained anything.
Thomas crouched down beside me before bringing his hand up off the floor and picking off a shard that hadn’t quite punctured his skin.
I took his hand and looked at it closely, making sure he’d gotten rid of all the glass.
“Sash, you have a ton of broken glass under your bed. It’s freaking dangerous.”
“It’s a thousand possibilities.”
Thomas would know what I meant by that—this glass was all potentially a sculpture of one sort or another. And
. Really? I smiled.
“I like that you’re too polite to swear,” I said. I was just taking the focus off the fact he’d called me Sash, and from anyone else but my dad, I’d usually hated it. But I hadn’t hated Thomas saying it. At all.
“I can say fuck. I just don’t want to.”
There was a strangely confident look in Thomas’s eyes.
“Fuck,” he said again, and I looked away, knowing I would blush if I didn’t, and I had no idea why.
The little displays of confidence that he showed me made my knees weak.
Thomas sat down carefully on the bed. The navy sheets were rumpled and needed washing. Corinne never washed anything other than absolute essentials, and I had too vivid an imagination to want to venture down into the basement, where the washing machines were kept, any more often than I had to. But if Thomas was disgusted, he didn’t show it.
“So you were probably pretty upset your mum burned the rest….”
“You could say that.”
I no longer wanted to talk about it. There was a restless churning going on in my empty stomach, all cold tea, anger, and regret. I regretted bringing the whole subject up, showing Thomas. But I had brought it up, I had shown him. Perhaps this was just another way of hurting myself.
I sat on the bed next to him.
“Why would she do that?”
“She thought he was a pervert and had been abusing me,” I said tonelessly. I really, really didn’t want to think about it.
“Did he?” Thomas whispered. His eyes searched my face as if the truth were written there, spelled out in my blood and nerves and skin.
“No.” I caught sight of a stray shard on the floor and picked it up, pressed it lightly against my bare leg. “He just made the mistake of being kind to me.” I swallowed. The words were there—I just wasn’t sure I could say them. Thomas’s fingers touched mine where I was gripping tight to the edge of the bed. It was as if his body were trying to tell mine I wasn’t a coward. But I was. I was such a coward. But I didn’t want to be. I opened my mouth.
“He was a portrait painter, and I asked him if I could model for him one day, if he’d draw me. They were just sketches, head and shoulder shots, mostly of my profile as I sat in a chair, one of me as I was sculpting something, and one of my face straight on. There was nothing perverted or seedy about them. Samuel Felix gave them to me as a present before the summer holidays. Well, all of them apart from that one,” I pointed to the envelope under the bed. “He’d only just drawn that, and it was in the art room.” I’d gone back the next day and stolen it.