My thanks to Cole for editing and Ricky for beta reading.
Harrison and I went to his car and he directed the driver to my address. I sat back in the soft seat which was still new enough an experience to me that I could enjoy the difference between it and the hard bus seat. And the smell of all those people crammed onto a crowded bus; the squeeze as you tried to make it from your seat to the door before they closed and the bus moved again. Not to mention if you didn't get a seat, the random swaying that knocked you into other strange people.
“Thanks. For the ride,” I said, suddenly.
“You're welcome,” Harrison replied. “So, Holden seemed to hit it off well with you?”
“He seemed nice,” I said by way of agreement.
“He's crushing on some beefy fellow, I can't remember his name right now.”
“Oh? So you like older women with large breasts and no brains and he likes beefy guys?”
“No.” He turned and his mouth twitched into a smile. “This particular one has large breasts and is, undoubtedly, the dimmest bulb on the tree. She's so dim...”
I rolled my eyes. “How dim is she?”
“Thank you. She's so dim she makes the lights around her look like stars by comparison.”
“Just as a note? Not really funny.”
“No? Oh well.” He said it with a sigh. “Holden's interests are far more varied, as well. He is simply crushing on someone's, as he puts it, cuddle factor.”
“Their what?” I said with a laugh.
“He claims it's a measure of their ability to cuddle well, or to invite cuddling. Or something equally silly.”
“I guess your cuddle factor is pretty low, then?” I teased.
“Pre- or post-coitus?”
“Never mind,” I said, waving a hand. “I don't want to know.”
“Shall I ask him your cuddle factor? For future reference?”
I felt my face flush, “No, that's all right.”
“A blush? How charming, I'll ask him just in case you change your mind.”
“Sounds like you're the one that wants to know.”
“Maybe I do.”
I turned to look at him and a teasing smile crossed his face and he laughed. “All right, maybe not.”
We arrived and as I opened the door, Harrison stepped out of his side of the car. He walked around and gave me the curl at the end of his mouth again.
“Do I have to pretend an immediate need to use the bathroom or can I simply come up for a moment?”
I froze. It hadn't occurred to me that he'd ever want to come up. In fact, I had been sure that his curiosity had been sated by having seen the outside of the building – and I covered to buy time.
“I do think it would be funny to see you crossing your legs on the sidewalk.” I realized that it really didn't matter if he saw how I lived – it wouldn't change anything. Perhaps this was the source of his curious relationship with me, a perverse need to know how others lived that weren't in his social strata? Again, it didn't really matter so I might as well get it over with. “Come on.”
“Plainly, you'd rather not. Next time?” he said as he turned to go.
“Harrison,” I said with a sigh. “You'll see it sometime anyway, I guess. The place is a hole and my dad will be passed out, drunk, on the couch. He might be only partially dressed.”
“I see,” he said, no longer moving towards his car.
“Not anyone's proudest moment. So come on, it won't be any prettier later,” I said as I turned from him.
“No. That's all right. I should go.”
“Seriously?” I said, now exasperated. “I told you, it's fine.”
“I have no right. If it was something you'd wanted me to see, you'd have invited me. Despite that, you're willing to show me anyway. This conversation said a lot more about me than it did you.”
“This was another test?”
“It didn't start that way.” He smiled and shook his head, “But sometimes I realize, after I open my mouth, what I sound like. Normally, I don't care.” Harrison looked down, momentarily flustered.
“See you tomorrow, Sean. 7:45,” he said while climbing back into his car. I shook my head as I started to climb the stairs – I never really knew just what was going on with Harrison. I thought on Harrison and Queen and Holden until I reached my floor, a little out of breath.
“Ah, the scholar returns!”
“Mr. Phillips! Hi!” I smiled widely as he extended his hand to shake. “I wasn't expecting you to visit.”
“I know, it's very spur of the moment. But I've been so curious, and with no way to reach you with you in a new school – well, I'm just dying to know how it's going! What are your impressions?”
“More homework than before,” I said with a smile and holding up my bag with the school's computer. “I made a friend, I think.”
“Let's run downstairs and grab a bite to eat. You can tell me all about it,” he said while putting a hand on my shoulder.
“I really have a lot to do, it's a school night.” I said.
“You wouldn't deny me this, would you?” he said softly, looking down at me through his glasses.
I looked down. “You don't have to do this, Mr. Phillips. You've already done more than anyone else.”
His finger pushed up on my chin, forcing my eyes up. “Having to and wanting to are two different things. Besides, Mrs. Phillips won't let me through the door if she doesn't get to hear how you're doing first hand – and I think she's making peach cobbler.”
“I should check on dad – or did you already?”
“He's sleeping. I watered down his bottle a bit, perhaps that will...help,” he said uncomfortably.
I sighed and smiled at him as we turned to begin to journey down the steps. “She says she only makes that for me.”
“Well, when she knows you'll be there,” he said with a chuckle as he threw an arm around my shoulders. “She won't make it for me – says it's bad for an old man.”
“So,” I said, “You're using me to get peach cobbler?”
“See? I told you that you were smart.”
“So, tell me about this fancy school!” Mrs. Phillips said enthusiastically as she placed a bowl loaded with a piece of peach cobbler and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
“Fancy is the right word. There's dark wood everywhere with marble floors and computers for homework...” I replied. “It's a little intimidating.”
“I can imagine. I'm sure no one is smarter than you are in there!” she said firmly.
“How do you find the classes? Are you adapting well?” Mr. Phillips asked while accepting a bowl of dessert.
“Well, it's only the second day. The groups are smaller so, I think, it's easier to get the information and ask questions. The other kids seem to be a little more focused, but still manage to act like kids, I guess.”
“What do you mean, 'act like kids'?” she asked while taking her seat at the table.
“Gossip, mostly,” I said with a shrug and filled my mouth with the warm and cold mixture.
“I think that's just human,” she said with a smile. I helped her to clear the table when we were done with dinner and the excellent cobbler and she shooed me out of the kitchen, so I joined Mr. Phillips in their formal living room. He was in his chair sighing with contentment and patting his stomach.
“I'll run you home in a few minutes - just let my meal settle a bit,” he said with a satisfied look.
“Sure,” I said while taking a chair. “Thanks for having me. I'll have to stay up to do my work, though.”
“Yes, the workload's heavier than you expected?”
“I'm not sure what I expected. It's more than the old school, for sure.”
Mrs. Phillips brought out a tea service and we all had a hot cup – the Phillips' believed it was good for the digestion. Tea and classical music in the formal living room, that was their mantra. I tapped my foot to a piece I didn't recognize and asked about it.
“Oh, well, it's interesting you like that one,” Mr. Phillips said as he set his teacup on the saucer. “It's called 'Procession of the Sardar' by Ippolitov-Ivanov, from his Caucasian Sketches. What makes this version special is that they play it faster than it's called for. You know,” he said setting his drink down and pulling his glasses off, “you may like a selection of marches and faster, more powerful classical music as opposed to quieter pieces.”
“Oh, you did it now!” Mrs. Phillips chuckled.
He was digging through his CD's and ignoring his formidable vinyl collection as I stood, placing my empty cup and saucer on the table.
“I can't stay for your conversion attempt tonight, Mr. Phillips. I really do have a lot of work to do.”
“Yes, yes, you're right...of course...” he said while flipping through his discs. “Aha! This one,” he stood triumphantly clutching a CD.
“What is that?” I asked suspiciously.
“A doorway to your love of classical music, of course.”
I accepted the disc, taking in the title. “Thunderous Classics?”
“I should probably clarify that I didn't buy this disc, but as an introduction it may yet serve a purpose. You see,” he said while retaking his seat. “Classical music is much like a great novel. The composer creates a story with the music and, when you take bits and pieces out of context, you remove some of their beauty and power.”
“I'm not sure I understand,” I replied slowly.
“Well, think of this CD as a book excerpt, something to whet your appetite for the rest of the story. If I were to, for instance, pull a random selection from the middle of a book - or the end, heaven forbid! - and you were to read it, without the context of the story that came before it...well, it may be interesting but it's not nearly as meaningful without the story about how the characters arrived at that point. It's like...” he waved his hands around in the air, searching for a correlation to better make his point.
“I know,” he said while pointing a finger in the air. “This CD is like a movie trailer. You get a sense for what's going on, but not the whole picture. My hope is that, listening to these 'movie trailers' of powerful music will give you the impetus to hear the rest of what they had to say. Of course, I think these compilations are a travesty in most cases, but if it does this for you...”
“Makes me love classical music?” I said with a smile.
“Yes. It gets a young man's blood pumping in a way other types of music can't. I'm not taking anything away from other musical forms, of course,” he said while lifting his cup and finishing it one gulp. “But different kinds of music speak to different parts of us. Classical music speaks to your soul, Sean. Do you know what it says?”
“That I'll never get my homework done tonight?” I said with a grin.
“Perhaps, if you love it,” he said with a smile. “Come on, wise guy, let's get you home.”
We walked to his car, after Mrs. Phillips had gotten her hug and I'd thanked her for the meal. The Phillips' lived in an older section of town that had once been stately, but was now slowly running down amid changing times and demographics. His pride and joy was his vintage 1966 Lincoln with the suicide doors. His one accommodation to the modern age was the upgraded sound, from which even now the digital strains of some classical piece played – almost as if it cocooned us in a different era, what with the classic car and the lack of foot traffic.
“Mr. Phillips, can I ask you a question?”
“I don't know, can you?” he replied. Even with the limited light from the dash I could tell his eyes were twinkling.
“May I?” I amended, falling into an old routine.
“I've been thinking a lot. I made a friend at school, I think, but it's a very unusual relationship. He made the comment that he's never seen anyone do anything that wasn't – what were his words?” I reflected as I thought for a moment. “I can't recall exactly, but it was something like, unless it was going to benefit them, people didn't do anything.”
“I suspect, in his world, that is frequently true. However, I doubt very much that the rule is absolute. We, as humans, will sometimes do things that are not planned out to be in our interests – knowingly or not.”
“Why would he say that, then?”
“A sense of bravado, perhaps? Some attempt to paint a bleak picture for motives unknown?” he said as he shrugged. “It's hard to be sure without knowing more. My advice would be that he may say things to see how you react – to gauge you.”
“Well, that statement got me thinking. I hate to ask this, in a way, but it has made me wonder...why have you helped me so much?”
The car was filled with singers in a foreign language while the sounds of what sounded like anvils being struck or railroad spikes being driven thundered in the car. Mr. Phillips pursed his lips and blew out a few times before turning down the sound a touch.
“When I started teaching, it was a respectable position. Much like a policeman or fireman, there was a certain amount of gravitas – an air of knowledge and respectability that came with being an educator. It was, clearly, a different time. As years became decades there were gouges cut from that notion – teacher scandals, the rise of the idea that someone's ignorance was comparable to a college education...the church scandals...police brutality...well, times changed.”
“I don't understand.”
“I know,” he said quietly as he brought the car to a stop in front of my building. “As the things I mentioned occurred, the standards of the school system fell as well. There were fewer students willing to learn and fewer parents pushing them – or caring that they even had children. So when a student comes to my class and has a desire for knowledge, I do all I can to satisfy that desire.”
He sighed and seemed to grow smaller behind the wheel of the old car. The dash lights cast their glow on his face, showing lines and wrinkles that I hadn't, perhaps, bothered to notice. In some way it made him seem less vital, less...alive.
“But there is only so much one teacher can do. With your situation – your poor father, the dangers of the school... a mind that could compete with the brightest of them. But you'd never have been able to shine in that school – yours would have been a penlight in the all consuming darkness. But, now, perhaps one day people can say to their children – Mr. Stanley grew up in the Selwick Towers, and if he could make it then so can you.”
“That's kind of a grand plan,” I said softly.
“It's a hope, Sean. For you and any other minds that thirst for education.” He smiled at me, looking tired – worn. “And, too, for old educators like myself who still cherish and are inspired by minds like yours.”
We sat in silence for a moment, processing the conversation perhaps. I felt the pressure to succeed which had been placed on me, Mr. Phillips's hopes all riding on – what? My graduation? My future profession? Or was I misreading that entirely?
“Did you know your father was once my student?” he asked in a voice so quiet I might have thought I'd imagined it.
“Yes. He was a good student, bright. He wanted out of here, wanted to be a poet.”
“My father?” I said, unable to reconcile the wreck in my living room with the boy he was describing.
“Yes. But he got a girl pregnant. Joined the army and, something many of us thought would never happen, went to war.” Mr. Phillips pulled the glasses from his face and wiped his eyes; a streak of moisture ran down his face and glowed eerily from the dash lights. “The boy who went to war came back a shattered man, poetry gone, no joie de vive left. His young bride couldn't handle the pressure, a young baby and a shell of a husband and so she left.
“I can't completely fault her. One must take care of the self if they are to take care of another. But, in so doing, she left you – still so young – with a father whom you'd never really know.” He brushed the back of his hand across his cheek and replaced his glasses. “Sometimes, when I look at you – concentrating, solving, thinking, I see your father and all he might have been.
“You are the hope of his past, but I hope you are also the joy of your own future.”
Thursday, Harrison gave me a ride to school, and we arrived with time to spare. I put away my coat and whatnot in my freshly cleaned locker and joined him for homeroom. Holden, Anthony and the Queen were all there, though Angelina was chatting up someone at a different table.
“She's such a slut,” Queen commented.
“You're just mad she sleeps with everyone but you,” Anthony teased.
“I wouldn't fuck her with your dick,” Queen replied with a snort.
“What do you think, Sean?” Holden asked. Harrison quirked an eyebrow as he waited for me to reply.
“I'm with Queen on this, I wouldn't fuck her with Anthony's dick either,” I replied. Holden chuckled and Harrison turned up the end of his mouth again.
“You are all obsessed with my dick,” Anthony said with a wide grin.
“Yeah, we're all in awe of how small it is!” Queen laughed raucously and Anthony flipped her off. Mr. Edgington called the class to order after first chime and another day began. One odd quirk of the schedule was that you had three days of gym one week and two days of it the next – balanced out by an elective. I was spending that time in the library as I currently had no elective, but this week I would have two days of gym – Thursday and Friday.
I spent time during the day, listening to the chatter between Harrison and who I thought of as his friends, even though it seemed like Holden was the only one that could truly be called that. We hit the locker room for a combined gym class – apparently this was one of the few times that tracks crossed and our time was combined with another track – and my old friends from 'G' were there.
I stayed with Harrison and company – especially once I spotted Carl. The two tracks seemed to stay largely separate while changing, and I was relieved about that. If he couldn't see me, he wouldn't come after me while I was half naked. I hung my shirt, pants, tie and blazer in the locker and was about to step into my gym shorts when Harrison nudged me. With a glint in his eye he pointed at Holden with his chin.
Holden was sitting on the bench, shirt pulled up and just waiting to go over his head. It seemed, though, his body had gotten stuck – or more likely his eyes had – on a fellow in the other track. I followed his eyes to whom I thought he was interested in. The fellow was a bit short with hair that made me think of things both fuzzy and soft. I imagined his hair would be rather fine to give off that impression, but his body was kind of at odds with that.
Stocky, to me, implies some level of blockiness. Husky also seemed inappropriate as that was a euphemism for overweight. This guy appeared to be mostly muscle, but before he'd broken out in full body-builder, pumping-iron type muscle mode he'd switched to toning. As a result he projected an overall air of simply being solid. Dependable, even. Like a Die-Hard battery. The ones that start a car in the antarctic. I assumed that, if he lifted, he'd soon reach the muscular stage I found least appealing – the one that looked as if large tumors had formed where your pecs and biceps should have been. The fellow pulled his shirt on and that seemed to be the key to getting Holden moving again.
Harrison shoved him playfully and Holden merely grinned at his friend.
“I think he's dating Becka Wallingford,” Harrison said to Holden.
“He is. She was scrambling for the morning after pill a few weeks ago, according to her cousin. I guess he lost a condom inside her.”
“Well,” Harrison said with a smile, “One presumes it wasn't lost forever.”
“Are you kidding?” Holden giggled, “There are long lost mysteries deep in that well used girl. Things that will never see the light of day. Like big bands? Never coming back – they are all lost in there.”
“Jesus. The way you guys talk, every girl here is a slut.” I said with no small amount of shock.
“Well, there are a few,” Holden said, “but I'll have to concede that there is plenty of rumor to fuel that. But her cousin swears about the condom.”
“I was telling Sean about your cuddle factor theory,” Harrison said while shooting me a curl of his mouth.
“Well, it's not a theory like, you know, a scientific theory,” Holden said seriously. “I mean, to do that I'd need to have a whole lot more empirical evidence. I'd have no problem assessing guys, though. No problem at all!”
“You, sir, are a cuddle slut!” Harrison said and he and Holden broke down laughing. I liked Harrison when he was with Holden. He was less guarded than when he was with Queen or Anthony. Speaking of which, Anthony was with another group of people from our track – I found it odd he sat with Harrison and friends while at lunch – a social setting – but wasn't nearby in gym. The gym coach called the class to gather near him on the tiled floor between the lockers and the showers. An assistant shadowed him and, always oddly I thought, was dressed as though he was about to do something very active. In my experience, coaches dress like athletic professionals while acting like couch potatoes.
“Okay, this week and next week we will finish up our unit on weightlifting and toning. Next Wednesday will be the last day of the unit and we'll have the written test – all pertinent information is in your email. As a reminder, no screwing around, the weights can be dangerous if mishandled. Ask Mr. Johanssen or myself if you need a spotter or help with equipment – make sure to swipe your card for credit on each machine you exercise on. Stanley? Come here, the rest of you head up to the lifting room.”
I approached the coach and he held a card out to me, similar to a credit card, with a mag stripe. There was a hole punched through it with an elastic cord attached.
“Each piece of machinery we are using in this unit has a swiper on it; this is to track your use. If you screw off or don't remember to swipe then you don't get credit for participation. Keep it on your wrist or ankle so you don't lose it. The written test will be most of your grade for this, since you started this unit so late – but I will knock off points if you don't show reasonable participation. See either of the coaches if you need help. Who is your sponsor?”
“Harrison St. Cyr,” I replied.
“Great.” He lifted a hand to his forehead. “Look, it's participate or fail.” I nodded and followed him up to a gym that had rubber mats and canvas ones laid out over the hardwood floor with a plethora of exercise equipment spread around the room. Free weights were being lifted, exercise machines of all stripes were in motion and many of the participants had music players plugged into their ears while they focused. I drifted around until I located Harrison and joined him on a vacant treadmill next to him.
“Did you forget an iPod or..oh, right.” Harrison turned away before fully fleshing out the question.
I simply started up the treadmill, after swiping my card, and began a preset program. I glanced around the room, trying to keep an eye out for the troglodyte trio and, alternatively, for Holden and Anthony. Perhaps not so much Anthony. Harrison's machine entered a cool down a few minutes prior to my own and, as his breath became more normal, he decided to chat.
“So, have your eye on Queen or will it be Holden?”
I stumbled and caught myself on the handrails of the treadmill. Glancing at Harrison, I saw he wasn't able to limit his mirth to lifting a mere corner of his mouth – no, he was grinning openly.
“Sometimes I think you spend all your quiet time thinking of something shocking to say,” I told him.
“Sometimes I do,” he agreed.
“I'm curious,” he said with a shrug. “I like to know the quirks and personalities of my contemporaries. Imagine, if I followed the old saying of keeping my enemies closer than my friends, what I'd ask them?”
“Have you asked Holden these questions?”
“Nothing embarrasses Holden,” he said with a wave of his hand. “He smiles disgustingly and takes it all in good natured stride. It's not natural.”
“What about Queen or Anthony?” I asked as my treadmill came to a stop. Coach blew his whistle and yelled for us to hit the showers. I fell in next to Harrison as we headed towards the locker room stairs and Harrison was just beginning to answer when my world went gray. And wet. And smelly. Someone's sweaty, gray workout tee was around my head and I was being pulled backwards. I flailed, reaching to uncover my face when the garment tightened further and Carl's voice filtered through the material and to my ear.
“Me 'n you had an appointment Tuesday morning. Switching tracks won't save you, but I want to let you know what happens when you don't do what I tell you.” A punch crashed into my kidney and the pain spread quickly. I struggled to maintain a grip on myself and not panic. Twisting I slammed my foot down on Carl's instep, which caused him to relax his grip a touch and grunt. I bowed out like a fish on the line and kicked backward, my foot skidding off his shin bone.
Another massive hit crashed into my side, but not as square on the kidney this time. I began to list to that side, my body tensing for another blow. I distinctly heard Carl grunt as the tee was pulling away from my face. I turned to be able to avoid Carl's next punch only to find him bent over, huffing deeply. Harrison stood over his bent form, making a 'tsk' sound, and he slapped Carl on the back – hard.
“I hope your insurance covers testicle retrieval.” Harrison looked at me and grinned, “I heard a rumor once that Sumo wrestlers practiced a technique where they could pull their testicles inside their bodies and hide them behind their pelvis.” He glanced back down at Carl and leaned in a bit.
“Carl, next time, the doctors will be lucky to find a testicle anywhere on your body. So unless you want to be Carla, knock your shit off.”
So saying, he pushed me along towards the changing room.
The last session was a tad of a blur. The instructor had finished early and the class degenerated into personal discussions almost immediately. Anthony and Queen were arguing, and it sounded like she was disparaging his manhood again. Harrison was attempting to flirt with the aide, but it seemed like she was distracted and his charm was having less of an effect than he'd hoped. Holden was caught up with another boy in the class, flipping through something on their phones and talking animatedly.
I didn't mind, truthfully. My episode with Carl had soured the day, and while I was relieved that Harrison had stepped in and helped me I was wondering if it changed anything between us. That is, if his initial commentary about no one doing anything without it benefiting them could be believed. I think that was just another one of his tests, if I was being honest with myself, since he'd been giving me rides to school and brought me into his circle.
Once class ended and Harrison and I were in the car, he told the driver to go to Middington's. I raised an eyebrow and he did the lip curl thing. I decided against asking – it just played into his hands and he enjoyed that too much. Instead I watched the passing traffic as we moved through the business sector and then into an area of higher end shops and restaurants that served the well-to-do. Middington's had a sign with a raised gold lettering on a sparkling black field. There was a small rectangular cutout in the same colors that gave a business start date – 1897 – but no other information about the actual business that existed here.
Harrison exited and I followed, curious. As we entered, a small bell chimed over the door – just like in an old movie – and a caricature from book and film appeared, complete with measuring tape draped around his neck.
“Master St. Cyr, so nice to see you.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Middington. I need to have something fitted for my friend, here. We'll be dining at the club tomorrow evening and you know my grandparents' standards with respect to being seen in public.”
“Excuse me?” I said, realizing Harrison was talking about me. “What's this about a club? You asked for help with homework tomorrow night.”
“True,” Harrison said as he walked over to one of the velvet chairs and took a seat. “However, Friday night we have dinner at the club. I can't send you home without a meal, it's impolite. But the club has strict requirements and you'll need a proper suit. Now,” he held a hand up, “I'm sure you have something serviceable at home but I'm guessing it would need alteration and as we don't have the time – and I neglected to ask you to bring it – we'll just have to ask Mr. Middington to work his magic.”
“Harrison,” I said urgently as I closed the distance between us, “these suits aren't free!”
“Sean, please, let's not discuss something like money here, shall we?” he asked with possibly the smarmiest smile I'd ever seen. I was about to turn on my heel and stomp out when the tailor held the tape across my shoulders, and then down my arms, etc. I bubbled, embarrassed, because I knew I couldn't buy this myself and Harrison...well, he knew damn well I didn't have anything of quality that would need altering at home. Was this his idea of being nice?
“Are you thinking black, sir? I find the club members usually prefer a dark suit this time of year,” the tailor asked me. I glanced at Harrison who nodded slightly.
“Yes, please.” I said quietly. I didn't like the feeling of this; my pride was wounded.
“I have a very soft dark wool in a twill pattern with a super of 400. Would that be acceptable?” the tailor asked. Once more I glanced at Harrison.
“Does it have the waistcoat to match the pants and jacket?” Harrison asked.
“It does, and I do believe it will need the smallest of alterations to be ready. Will Sir need a shirt and tie as well?”
“Oh, I think a new one to match the material is absolutely required. Nothing worse than a tie that clashes with the suit, right Mr. Middington?”
“As you say, Master St. Cyr. I'll be right back.” The tailor disappeared behind his counter and through a hanging curtain. I turned to face Harrison.
“What is going on?” I demanded. “You know this makes me feel like shit. I can't afford this!”
“You don't have to. Please, consider it a tool that you can employ not only tomorrow night but when we have occasion to go out socially. It's also a thank you for your help tomorrow – and the fact I know it irks you that I am 'kidnapping you'.”
“But Harrison...this is really expensive. He said a super of 400. I don't even know what that means! But it sounds expensive!”
“Sean, I regularly get items here and this suit will be added to my bill, which my grandparents pay each month. Please, let's set the cost aside for a moment and let me educate you on this new suit.” Harrison began a smile, and then held it in check when he saw how unamused I was. “Look, a suit is an investment – if you like, consider it my investment in you. Now, with this suit, wool is a good choice because it breathes well and the club does run its thermostat a tad high.
“The pattern will be conservative and understated, but still add a very nice effect to the fabric. I didn't ask him, but I usually prefer merino and I'm sure he'll select that for you as well. The cut is also important, and I'm sure he'll give you a three button blazer because you have a trim figure and enough height to carry it off. Don't say it!” he pointed at me, “I am not short!”
I closed my mouth.
“The super number is the thread count. Just like sheets, the higher the count, the finer the fabric.”
“I'm assuming 400 is high?”
“Yes, excellent quality, but not the absolute best. I find the 400 to be quite comfortable, no doubt which is why he suggested it,” Harrison said while lounging in the chair.
“This is what I had in mind,” the tailor said as he returned with the items on hangars. “I may have to narrow the shoulders, but perhaps not, it is a close fit. The pants are a low rise which will take advantage of your long torso, and this tie will go well with the suit color as well as break up the cream color of the shirt. Will sir need shoes and socks as well? I have them here just in case.”
“Yes, please – who knows? A dowager may ask you to tilt her about the dance floor.” Harrison said without bothering to hide his smile, a smile that only grew as he saw my look of shock.
“What?” I yelped. I was lost in the fussing of the tailor as he led me behind the curtain and had me partially disrobe and put on some of the items so he could make more accurate measurements. I stood and felt silly in my tee shirt, socks and underwear while he measured some more and made marks on the cloth. When he was satisfied we departed in the car with an appointment to pick up the clothes the next day. I sat quietly in the car on the way home, my emotions a mixture I couldn't clearly label – except that it didn't exactly feel good, but it didn't exactly feel bad either.
“Are you angry with me?” Harrison asked.
“Yes and no,” I said quietly.
“I can see that you were offended, at some point. I do apologize for that, but I assure you it was quite necessary.”
“I guess I don't really understand how things in your world work.”
“It's not mine, I…well, it's not mine. It's really more my grandparents and their social and economic peers. But I do know the requirements and I didn't want you embarrassed.”
“Oh,” I said with a smile, “so that stuff about being sure I had a perfectly good suit at home was all crap?”
“Huge, steaming pile of it,” Harrison said while nodding. “I thought I was being rather clever with that.”
“I guess you were, at that.” I sighed. “Kind of weird, a shop like that. Suits and socks and shoes?”
“He's quite possibly the last haberdasher in the state.” Harrison said and so I fell into silence for a few blocks until he sighed theatrically and tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention.
“Well then, as long as that was acceptable.” He reached into his messenger bag and pulled out a cardboard box about three by six inches. “I wanted to speak to you last night and was very annoyed to find I didn't have your phone number. I then recalled you didn't have a phone with you at any point, so I concluded you didn't have one.” He held a hand up as I opened my mouth to protest. “It's not really for you! I'm doing this for me, so I can speak to you when I want to. It really is a pain in the ass to not be able to text someone, you know.”
“So giving me an expensive phone is, according to you, a selfish act?”
“Why do you say it's expensive?”
I tilted my head and stared at him.
“All right, fine, it was expensive. But only because I decided it should have the capacity to carry music. You'll want it to work out with and – oh, I don't know – when you do homework. I noticed you didn't have any music for gym today and you already said you didn't have an iPod.”
“I don't, but...”
“No, no.” Harrison forestalled me. “If you had a phone this would have been unnecessary. But you forced my hand and I really do need you to be at my beck and call. And text. Besides, we have open spaces on our cell plan.”
“You're mocking me.”
“I am.” Harrison grinned.
“Harrison, I feel...bad. I like the items but, this feels wrong.”
“Only if you were using me to get the items, which you're not.”
“How do you know?” I arched an eyebrow. Harrison just stared at me until I smiled and he allowed the corner of his mouth to curl.
“Besides, I told you. Giving you these things is a benefit to me – and we both know I do things for my benefit, not anyone else's.”
“What about kicking Carl so hard he may need testosterone shots?”
“That was just fun. Not everything is about you, you know.” Harrison allowed the other corner of his mouth to curl. I just shook my head at him and accepted the phone. “I didn't have time to program it, I dashed next door while Mr. Middington was groping you. I did write down the number and I'll text you later so you can add mine in.”
“I'll have to ask the others for theirs, too,” I said absently.
“Really? You like Queen and Anthony enough to want to speak to them outside of school? Or did you only want Holden's number, but didn't want it to sound that way?”
Shit. That was the truth, all in one shot. “Well, I figured Queen might teach me some new ways to swear. She is also pretty good at putting Anthony down. She could be a strong resource in verbal pugilism.”
“Please, she's a cudgel while you're a boning knife...wait a minute, do you want to bone Holden?”
“What?” I squeaked.
“No? Well, filleting knife might be a better description then. Are you sure you're not interested in Holden?”
“I've known your friends for what, three days?”
“You're stalling.” Harrison said with a smile. The car pulled to a stop in front of my building and I opened the door.
“Nine!” Harrison yelled out the open door. I turned to look at him, leaning across the seat and smiling at me.
“Nine what?” I asked cautiously.
“Out of ten. On the cuddle factor scale.” Harrison grinned widely. “Thought you should know.”
I closed the door firmly in his face. Entering my apartment minutes later I found my father awake, on the couch, an old fashioned glass in front of him with a couple fingers of bourbon in the bottom. He was slowly swirling the liquid, watching it move inside its glass prison, enthralled. He hadn't made it as far as socks today, but he wasn't passed out yet, either.
“Hi, dad.” I said to him while placing my bag on the kitchen table. “Are you hungry?”
He continued to stare into the glass, and then I noticed the tears. Twin streaks running down his face as he stared down at the swirling liquid. On the table was a book of poetry, one he'd had on a shelf for a long time. I'd rarely seen him with it, usually only in his more sober moments. The cover of the book was gone, the title on the spine lost to poor treatment. But now he opened it, and flipped to a page. He sipped from the heavy glass and lifted his eyes to mine. Then he spoke, softly.
“Music, when soft voices die
vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.
Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heap'd for the beloved's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone
Love itself shall slumber on.”
“That was beautiful, Dad. Did you write it?” I asked quietly, afraid to break the fragile spell evoked from his words.
“Write? Write that?” He shook his head slowly, “No. That was Percy Bysshe Shelley.” Then he burst into tears, stopping only to drink, and then he resumed. I knew I couldn't comfort him, I knew it from past experience. I couldn't stop the ghosts that haunted him – the ones that were born in the sand, half a world away, nor the ones in his beloved book of poems. Perhaps he saw bits of his lost self in their pages, and could only weep for what might have been.Next Chapter Previous Chapter