Okay, so since I"m going to be gone for two weeks and there won't be any new posts here, I thought I'd put up one big honking huge post. It's the prologue and first three chapters of my novel ALL THE COLORS OF LOVE. I appologize for the formatting. I'm doing this Sat. morning, I haven't packed yet and we're supposed to be on the road by 10. It's gotta be quick and dirty. Comments welcome. So read, and discuss!
Legal Notes: This work is copyrighted by Anne Harris. The work is freely given and may be freely distributed on a non-commercial basis, in whatever electronic format you please, as long as the work remains intact and unaltered and is attributed to me, Anne Harris. All other rights are reserved by me, specifically commercial and derivative rights. If you are interested in commercial and/or derivative rights, contact me.
All the Colors of Love
By Anne Harris
Prologue -- Ygrasil's Disease
Richard sat in Dr. Jonah's examination room, dressed in a flimsy paper gown that gaped open in the back. The tissue paper covering the examination table crinkled against his ass as he shifted his weight. For what this Dr. Jonah was getting paid, you'd think there'd be some amenities. Soft cotton gowns and table covers, maybe freshly squeezed juices and computer games to while away the time while you waited.
And that was another thing. Why did he, Richard Ygrasil, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men on earth, have to wait for this Dr. Jonah? Well, he knew why. It was a power play. So was the gown and the Spartan surroundings and the faint reek of antiseptic. It was all calculated to put the patient in a position of supplication and dependence upon the all-powerful doctor.
What a crock of shit. If this guy was so all-powerful, why wasn't Richard cured yet? Why was he in here, yet again, for more tests, more cryptic procedures, more non-answers? He fought down the frustrated rage welling inside him. It would never do to lose his temper, to become emotional. And the truth was, there was very little that he could do. He really was at the mercy of Dr. Jonah, the sixteenth doctor he'd seen in the last six months. Jonah was at the pinnacle of a rising hierarchy of specialists Richard had been climbing since the seizures began. If this guy couldn't help him, there was nothing to do but fall. And it was a long way down...
The Old Man hunched over the table in their one-room cabin, eating the last slice of Wonder Bread. Richard, a scrawny seventeen-year-old, watched it disappear into that quivering, fleshy maw. He swallowed against the hunger that stirred inside him.
The Old Man lifted the empty bag to his stubbled face, his tongue rolling out to catch the last crumbs. He wadded up the bag and threw it on the floor, grunted and fixed Richard with his rheumy blue eyes. "We need more ore," he said.
Richard's hands curled into fists at his sides. "There isn't any more."
The Old Man scowled, his brow beetling. "Get off your lazy ass and go dig more ore!"
Richard, who'd been on his feet all morning, shifted restlessly and said, "I told you there isn't any more copper. Last time there was just the dust on the walls from the last deposit, and I pulled it off the rock with a wet rag, and it was barely enough to buy that loaf of bread." He pointed at the crumpled bag on the unswept floor. "Heikki says he can't buy such small amounts from us any more, but it doesn't matter, because there's nothing left."
"Lying fuck!" growled the Old Man, his voice rising to a defiant shout. "There's plenty of copper left! You're just too lazy to go out there and get it!" He got up, and came around the table at Richard, his pale eyes glowing with rage, his hands unfastening his belt.
Richard watched those hands carefully. Was he taking the belt off to hit him with it, or was he unfastening his pants for service? The Old Man took the belt off and doubled it in his hand. The first one, then.
"I've had enough of your lip," he said as he swung the belt.
The buckle caught Richard across the mouth and he tasted blood, but he'd be damned if he was going to cringe for the Old Man now. Desperation made him courageous. Richard looked him in the eyes and said, "There's no more copper."
The Old Man didn't hear Richard now any better than he'd heard his neighbors ten years ago when the mines of the Keweenaw had started to dry up. He just grimaced and spat in Richard's face. "This is just a taste of what you'll get if you don't come back with some ore tonight," he said, and turned away.
Richard wiped the blood and spittle off his chin with the sleeve of his dirty flannel shirt, picked up his bag of tools from beside the door and went out into the perversely sunny northern Michigan spring morning. The rain-scrubbed air was such a sharp contrast to the fetid claustrophobia of the cabin that it made him reel. No, wait, that was the hunger.
It had been at least a week since he'd had anything more than dandelion greens picked on the way to and from the mine. He should have eaten the Wonder Bread on the way back from town and taken the beating it would've gotten him, but he'd honestly thought the Old Man would share it with him. He wouldn't make that mistake again.
The opening to the mine was a black mouth that swallowed him whole. Wearily, Richard switched on the lantern and trudged down the tunnel, following the last vein to where it ended. He closed his eyes, leaning on his pick, and the rock pressed in around him, implacable. The copper was all gone. Any fool could see that. But still the Old Man wouldn't give up. They'd sent all their miners packing years ago. They'd been working it themselves ever since, barely eking out enough to survive, and now, not even that.
Richard hoisted his pick and swung it into the rock, but after a few swings he was exhausted. The Old Man ate all the fucking bread. All of it. And there'd be a beating when he got back. And here he was, pounding this fucking rock for absolutely no reason at all, because there was no more copper here.
He leaned against the wall, shaking, his breath shallow. He was going to die. He was going to starve to death in this god forsaken hole if he didn't get something to eat soon, or he'd lose his balance and fall down a shaft, or the Old Man would finally kill him. Anger made him shake all the harder. Goddammit. No. No way was he giving them the satisfaction. Not his old man and not this barren, indifferent rock. The whole world wanted him dead maybe. Then fuck the world. He was going to live anyway. Fueled by sheer rage, he swung his pick into the hard flesh of this bitch mother earth, again, and again, and again.
He wasn't sure how long it was before he realized the rock had changed color. Richard dropped the pick, staring at it; faint streaks of bluish silver against the slick blackness. It wasn't copper, that was for sure.
The town of Hammer was a tiny shadow of its once glorious self. On Main Street, the Great Lakes Copper Co., once the heart of a thriving industry, had been converted into a museum servicing a small but steady trickle of tourists and history buffs. It was managed by Nils Heikki, who still ran a tiny mineral brokerage from the back of the souvenir shop. Mostly he bought crystals and Petoskey stones these days, but he still took the smattering of copper Richard brought him.
Heikki was a middle-aged man with stooped shoulders, a potbelly and a drooping, salt-and-pepper moustache. He looked up from the counter in the souvenir shop, saw Richard standing in the doorway, and sighed. "I'm sorry kid, I told you already, unless you have something bigger than an ant's behind, I can't help you."
Richard always got the impression that Heikki was sorry. Sorry for him, but not enough to actually do anything about it. He hated Heikki. Now he just nodded and walked up to the counter, put a fist-sized chunk of the new mineral on the counter and said, "Can you tell me what this is?"
Heikki's lank hair fell over his forehead as he studied the sample. He made intrigued muttering noises under his breath and glanced up speculatively at Richard. "You find this in your old man's mine?"
Richard nodded. His heart beat very fast, high up in his chest, and his head felt like it was floating about a foot above the rest of his body. He was afraid Heikki was going to cheat him, and he wasn't sure he had the strength or the wit to stop him.
Heikki picked up the sample again, peered at it, humphed to himself and then turned toward the door to the back room, where he kept his mineralogy equipment. Richard tried going around the counter to follow him, but Heikki saw this and shook his head. "You know the rules, kid. Have a seat. This won't take long."
"I'm not leaving again without that." Richard pointed at the sample, all but vanished in Heikki's hand. His voice was thick. He suddenly realized he was on the verge of tears. Oh for fuck's sake.
Heikki gave him a sympathetic smile, the bastard, and said, "I'm not going to cheat you. You should know that by now."
Not terribly reassured, Richard sat down and tried to quell the shaking in his limbs. He watched the hands on the Yes! Michigan Tourism Board clock above the door to the back room. In fifteen minutes Heikki was back, with the sample, which he dutifully handed back to Richard. "Is there much more where you found that?"
Richard took a deep breath and steeled himself to remain expressionless. "What is it?"
Heikki leaned an elbow on the counter. "It's Bauxite. They use it as a refractive. You know what a refractive is?"
Richard shook his head.
"Means it doesn't melt even under really high temperatures. They use it to line furnaces. Doesn't sound like much, but let me tell you, a good source of domestic bauxite is in very high demand. Right now it all has to be imported." Heikki licked his lips. "You got much of it up there?"
Richard stared at him. He needed Heikki, but maybe not for long. He tightened his grip on the Bauxite and stood straighter. "You want to work for me?"
Heikki blinked. "Well, I mean, your old man -- we go back a long way, him and me. All I mean is if you need any help up there..."
Oh, so now you want to help. "What will you give me for this piece, right now?"
Heikki sniffed and cleared his throat. "Well, you're going to need quantity if you want to interest the big money, but I'll tell you what. I'll give you twenty-five bucks for this piece here, and if you bring in more, I'll add it on to that. Sort of an advance against future profits, if you get me."
Richard kept from smiling. "I've got you."
He took Heikki's twenty-five bucks and went across the street to the Coppertown Saloon, where he ordered a hamburger. Just the smell of it when the barmaid set it down in front of him was enough to make him reel. Juices oozed from the meat and soaked into the bun. He wanted to gobble it all down at once, but he disciplined himself to take a measured bite, and chew it slowly. It was glorious and he gave himself over to it entirely, lost himself in the luscious glory of the fat trickling over his tongue and down his throat, the sheer joy of chewing on something more substantial than Wonder Bread. He gave himself to all of it. And then he stopped.
He took a sip of water and another and another. Six sips. And another bite of burger. Another wild pornographic ride through the gastronomic system. And six sips of water. And then he wrapped the hamburger up in a paper napkin, tucked it inside his shirt, paid up and left.
God how he loved food, Richard thought, ignoring the painful squeeze to his bicep as a nurse took his blood pressure. It would have been so easy for him to become fat. But he didn't, just like he didn't get sick on that burger. Because no matter how extreme his pleasures, he always exercised control.
And it had worked, both in recovering from starvation and in becoming one of the richest men in the world. Christ, he could market the thing if he ever got desperate enough. Richard Ygrasil’s Miracle Weight Loss Program: Be dirt-eating poor for seventeen years and then discover a rich vein of bauxite. You’ll look great and have your energy back in no time. He giggled, and that startled the nurse, who was just removing the blood-pressure sleeve. She gave him a funny look, and he said, "Tickles."
This nurse -- Tanda -- was beautiful, as those in the employ of these big-shot doctors so often were. He dropped his eyes, quite obviously, to her generous bosom, and then looked up again into her cornflower blue eyes. He tilted his head and gave her his best winsome smile. "You ever make house calls?"
How prettily she blushed for him. Truly, she was a radiant example of feminine nurture. "Not ordinarily," she said, in a way that made it clear she understood just how extraordinary he was. Richard smiled. He could have said anything. It was true what people said about power being an aphrodisiac. He never had any trouble getting anyone he wanted in bed. He could have a different lover every night if he wanted, but he didn't. Pleasures waned with overuse. Before Tanda even left the examination room, he had decided against taking her. Too, too easy.
Because it wasn't -- had never been -- about greed with him. All that he did, he did for the savor of the thing. Power was to him what a bar burger is to a starving man. He relished it, and he knew how to pace himself.
It wasn't long before the door to the examination room opened again and Dr. Jonah came in at last. Richard just prevented himself from leaning forward in eager supplication. Dr. Jonah was a tall man with a long, angular nose and a high forehead. He gave Richard a smile that achieved both friendliness and detachment. He was good.
He pulled a chair out from the little counter where the cotton swabs and antiseptic pads were stored and sat down facing Richard. "Good afternoon, Mr. Ygrasil. I have the results of the latest tests and I can now say with all confidence that we have isolated your problem. It's a mutation we've never seen before, in your paternal mitochondria."
"The little organisms that swim around in our cells."
Dr. Jonah nodded. "The same."
"I though those were inherited from the mother."
"In most cases yes, but not all. A few people wind up with their father's, and some -- like you -- are a mosaic. Some of both. There's no inherent problem with that, except that in your case, the mitochondria you got from your father are damaged, and that's what's causing the seizures and pain crises you're experiencing."
Richard felt like he was staring down a very deep, very dark hole. He swallowed. "How do you fix it?"
Dr. Jonah looked down. "I'm afraid your condition is refractive."
"I'm sorry, that means it's unresponsive to treatment. There is no cure. I'm very sorry."
And now he was falling. He felt his heart beat; once, twice, three times. Dr. Jonah was leaning toward him, one hand reaching toward his arm, to comfort him. Oh fuck no. Richard breathed deep and sat back, forcing himself to focus on Jonah's face. "So, what's the good news?" he asked, curving one side of his mouth up slightly.
Dr. Jonah was relieved to join him in grim, brave humor. He smiled with the perfect mix of gravity and cheer, and spread his hands in reassurance. "The good news is that there's no indication of mental impairment and your overall physical condition is remarkably good, probably due to your healthy living habits. You don't smoke, you're not overweight, and you're physically active. Keeping up with those things is going to be a big determining factor in slowing the progression of the disease."
Richard nodded. "So what is the prognosis, anyway?"
Dr. Jonah inclined his head to one side. "No one can read the future, Mr. Ygrasil, but my guess is that over the next six to eight years you will experience a gradual increase in the frequency and severity of the absence seizures and pain crises. Within that same time frame you will begin to experience complications due to metabolic deterioration. You're strong now, and that's good, but over time your body simply won't be able to replenish the energy it's losing from the malfunctioning mitochondria. Sooner or later, your organs will begin to fail. We can replace them, up to a point, but once brain function is compromised, there's no going back." He hesitated, then went on. "The end stage will progress very rapidly, if that's any comfort to you."
No, Richard assured himself, his hands flexing as if to wield a pick against the implacable dark that would consume him. No. He'd beaten death before. He'd tricked the Old Man. He'd do it again. He focused on Dr. Jonah. "That's not acceptable."
Dr. Jonah gave him that compassionate-detached smile again. "I understand, Mr. Ygrasil."
"No you don't."
He sat back and regarded Richard a moment. "Maybe I don't. But I do understand mitochondrial diseases. Probably better than anyone else alive today. Even with the most common forms -- Alpers' and the Complex deficiencies -- the most we can do is treat the symptoms."
Richard snorted. "You're a researcher, Jonah. Come on, you guys live on unsolvable problems. You can't sit here and tell me that you have no angle on this whatsoever. It's insulting."
Jonah took a deep breath and looked at the jar of cotton swabs on the counter. Richard continued to stare at him in silence, watching his inner struggle play itself out on his face. There was a slight blush on his cheeks, and a hungry look flickered briefly in his eyes. He breathed deeply again and appeared to be about to master himself.
"Or maybe you like giving people bad news, and you're not really trying to find a cure," said Richard.
Jonah's nostrils flared and he unleashed a glare at Richard. Atta boy. "I don't care who you are," he said, his voice low. "Don't ever suggest such a thing again, not if you want to continue as my patient. I've been working for a cure for mitochondrial disorders my whole adult life, and time and again I've been thwarted, sometimes by the diseases themselves, and at others by regulations that have prevented my most promising theories from ever reaching clinical trial. No, Mr. Ygrasil, I don't like giving people bad news, but I'm afraid bad news is all I have to give."
Richard smiled sympathetically. "Regulations. Rules. Shackles on the talents and aspirations of great men, Doctor. It would seem you and I are chained together. But I can remove those bonds, for both of us, if you have the courage and the dedication to embrace the unorthodox."
Dr. Jonah gazed at him a long moment. At last he said, "I'm willing to hear you out, but not here."
Richard stood, and began dressing. "Of course not. Come to my hotel tonight, Jonah. We'll have a drink -- mineral water for me, yes, I know," he added with a small smile, "and we'll talk about the future of mitochondrial medicine." He finished buttoning his shirt, and shook Dr. Jonah's hand.
With a fog Richard hadn't even realized was there lifting from his mind, he made his way home through the woods. On the way he hid the rest of the burger and the money under a rock, then doubled back toward the mine, in case the Old Man saw him coming. He ran up to the door of their cabin and threw it open. "Dad! Dad! You'll never guess what I found!"
His father sat at the table, muttering over a stack of bills they couldn't pay. He looked up, his eyes bright with hope. "You found a new vein?"
Richard grinned for him. "Yeah, and it's huge! We're gonna be rich! Come on, you've gotta see!"
It wasn't hard to lead the Old Man into the mine and down the tunnels, to the edge of a shaft from the old days that dropped one-hundred and seventy-five feet down into a cavern long since denuded of copper. And then there was a still moment, with only the sound of their breath in the darkness, and his father looking around anxiously for the copper that wasn't there. With one solid shove, Richard ended that moment, ended his life as it had been, and started his new one, his real life.
It had been a lifetime since Richard stood at the edge of that mine shaft. He wasn't a starved boy anymore. He was a rich and powerful man. And still the Old Man could touch him. He could reach right up through the darkness and the years and wrap his bony, trembling fingers around Richard's very cells. Richard had killed the Old Man, and now the Old Man wanted his revenge.
But it wasn't going to happen.
Chapter 1 -- Hairy Fits
The Arctic Avenger's blue cape billowed behind him as he lifted his hands to send glowing silver freeze-rays at his nemesis, Captain Chernobyl. "Feel the fury of the arctic, nuclear ne'er-do-well!" he cried.
"Zrack!" The freeze-rays struck Captain Chernobyl in the chest, right in the center of the radioactive warning logo on his lime-green leotard. He staggered back, his mouth a tight grimace beneath the purple helmet that covered the upper portion of his face.
He regained his footing on the snow-covered plain and clenched his fists at his sides. Glowing green energy accumulated around them until his hands were wrapped in spheres of chartreuse fire. He threw twin balls of nuclear rage at the Arctic Avenger, shouting, "Your deep freeze is due for a thaw, Snowflake! Broil in the blast of a thousand exploding suns!"
"Wompfff!" The Arctic Avenger was enveloped in atomic plasma. He threw his head back in agony, his hands clawing at the semi-transparent goo.
Antonin Karganilla, age fourteen, bit the end of his stylus and stared at the screen of his notebook. No question, the green atomic plasma stuff was cool, but it was tricky to get the right distortion on the Arctic Avenger's face beneath it. At the moment he looked like he had his tongue stuck up his nose. Antonin sighed and dragged the zoom icon over the face, so he could work on that section pixel by pixel. The cab he and his mother were in hit a bump and Antonin's stylus stabbed the surface of the screen. Shit. Now the Arctic Avenger was missing an eye.
"We're almost there," said his mother, Rose, seated across from him in the cab. She was dressed in what he always thought of as her business uniform; dark blue suit and jacket, white blouse, pearls. Her shoulder-length hair was sleek and curled under slightly at the ends. She sat with her spine straight, her hands knotted in her lap, tension radiating from every pore.
Antonin sighed and hit undo. He'd have to fix the Arctic Avenger's nose later, after he got to his room... depending on whether Jackson was there yet, and what he wanted to do.
Excitement and fear chased each other around his stomach at the thought of seeing Jackson again. Antonin had emailed him a few times over the summer, but never got an answer. He didn't know if something had happened to him, or he was just weirded out all of a sudden, 'cause they'd fooled around a little during the school year.
It was no big deal. It wasn't like they were in love with each other or anything. Just a couple of guys messing around 'cause it felt good. That's all. Antonin stared for a long time at the Arctic Avenger's broad shoulders and narrow hips, and then he saved the panel to his page folder and shut the notebook with a snap.
The cab pulled through the elaborate wrought iron gate of Saint Bartholomew's Academy and up a winding drive, past sycamore trees and gently rolling turf. The main building hove into view like something out of a gargoyle's nightmare. Ribbed spires, crenellated gables, flying buttresses; no ornament of gothic architecture had been neglected, but the stone gave it away. Clean, smooth, grey plastiment. The place had been constructed thirty years ago, not during the Middle Ages.
"I'll walk you in," said Rose as the cab pulled up in front of the building.
"No Mom, you're not walking in with me," said Antonin, trying to make it sound like it was his decision to make. "You did that last time and the other kids teased me about it for the rest of the term. You can't do that to me again."
A dark look flashed into her eyes, and hardened into stoicism. "All right. Give me a kiss now, then."
He sighed and leaned forward, letting her pull him to her. She kissed him soundly on the lips, and then his forehead, and then she crushed him to her with that terrifying fierce strength of hers. Antonin exhaled, and found he could barely draw another breath.
"Be safe," she murmured into his hair. "Please, please, please be safe."
To his alarm, Antonin heard her sniff. Abruptly she released him, nodding and blinking. "You'll be fine. Study hard. Stay out of trouble."
"Yes mom, of course I will." Antonin rubbed his forehead to dislodge the imprint of her lipstick. He frowned briefly at the reddish smear on his hand, grabbed his suitcase and opened the car door. "I'll dial you tomorrow," he promised, bribing his way out of the car.
With his notebook under one arm and his suitcase clutched tightly in the other, Antonin walked up the shallow steps to the main building of Saint Bartholomew's Academy.
Kids stood about in clusters on the broad steps and the manicured lawn on either side of it. Antonin searched the crowd for Jackson, or at least Sari or Ted. Who he found, however, was Marcus Hanover, leaning against one of the fluted pillars of the main archway, surrounded by cronies and admirers. A year older than Antonin, Marcus was tall, with wavy chestnut hair and an upturned nose. Marcus was the most popular of the popular clique, and he maintained that position through the ruthless application of ridicule and, when necessary, brute force. Accidentally, Antonin caught his eye. He looked away, but it was too late.
"Hey, Garglezilla!" he called out. "How're things at Monster Mansion?"
The other kids snickered. Antonin pretended to ignore them and went on through the large, carved wooden double doors to the school's main hall.
When he first came to St. Bart's, Antonin had made the mistake of telling everyone the truth about his family. He really did have an aunt who had died and was reincarnated in the body of an organic robot, and an uncle who was an aquatic plant-man with a twenty-foot tail, and they really did all live together in a big mansion in the middle of Polish Siberia. Okay, so maybe they weren't all related by blood, but they were his family, just the same. Now everybody thought he was a big fat liar making up stories to make himself look cool. Marcus had dubbed him Garglezilla, and it had stuck. But it wasn't the name part that bothered him. It was that no one, not even his friends Sari and Ted, believed that Tumcari, his uncle and his best friend, existed. Antonin sighed and turned down the hall to the north wing and the boys' dormitory.
The first thing Antonin noticed when he opened the door to his room was the punching bag. When had Jackson gotten a punching bag? he wondered, walking over to where the large, oblong object hung suspended from the ceiling. The low round table and brocade upholstered chairs that usually sat in middle of the room had been shoved aside to make room for it. A jagged hole in the ceiling and a dusting of plaster chips on the thick burgundy carpeting attested to its recent installation.
An action figure stood atop the dingy canvas bag. Antonin recognized his green and purple outfit and his golden cape. It was Captain Invincible. "Cool," he whispered under his breath, setting his suitcase and notebook down on the displaced table. He picked up the figure. Since when was Jackson into superheroes? Antonin glanced around the room. Jackson's desk and his bookshelves were bare. A duffel bag lay on the lower bunk, unzipped and spewing forth clothes. Something was wrong. Jackson always took the upper bunk.
Antonin looked back at Captain Invincible. He was dingy and scratched. His hands and his face and the edges of his molded plastic cape were worn smooth and shiny and almost colorless. The comic book and the cartoon series had been cancelled years ago, but Antonin still recalled his epic battles against the evil forces of Dr. Contagion and the Poisonauts.
From out of nowhere an arm wrapped around Antonin's neck and another hand pushed his head to one side and suddenly he was in a chokehold. "Drop it," came a rough voice from behind him. It wasn't Jackson.
"Shit!" gasped Antonin. All his mother's paranoid imaginings raced through his mind. She was right, he thought, I am going to be kidnapped by organ-leggers. He brought his heel down on his attacker's foot and threw his head back, connecting with something he hoped was a face.
From the groan behind him he gathered he hit his mark. The grip around his neck loosened and Antonin turned to face a boy about his age, though taller, with short blond hair and a muscular build. A little blood trickled from his right nostril but he didn't seem particularly fazed by it. He wore jeans and a black T-shirt that said "Maniac" in big white block letters. Fair enough, thought Antonin, swaying a little under the glare of the boy's pale blue eyes.
"Give me that!" The kid pointed at Captain Invincible, still clutched in Antonin's left hand.
"What, this?" Relieved that it wasn't some masked assassin, Antonin jiggled the doll in his hand. "Make me," he said, and lifted his right leg while pivoting on his left to drive his heel into the kid's stomach.
But the other boy was fast. He slid out of the way and grabbed Antonin's foot, twisting the ankle painfully against the joint. Antonin lost his balance and landed on his back. Teeth bared, the kid dove at him, punching him in the nose and wresting Captain Invincible from his grasp. "Don't make me do that to you again," he said, walking away, shoulders hunched like a mountain range. He placed the doll back on top of the punching bag, wedging it between the canvas and one of the three chains that connected it to the hook in the ceiling. "Leave my stuff alone."
Antonin sat up, rubbing his stinging nose and blinking away tears of pain. "Who the fuck are you, and what's your fucking problem?"
"I don't have a problem, but you will if you mess with my stuff again."
Antonin's stomach clenched as the awful realization washed over him. He glanced at the duffel bag on the bottom bunk, the bare shelves, and then the punching bag. Maybe Jackson hated him now, and had asked for a different roommate. Or maybe the headmistress found out what they'd been doing and assigned them to separate rooms. Either way, he was stuck living with this freak now, and it was so unfair that fresh tears rose to his eyes, forcing him to pretend that his nose hurt worse than it did.
The kid gave the bag a roundhouse kick that made Antonin's attempt look like the schoolyard-kung-fu-showoff-bullshit that it was. This kid was good, really good; fast, powerful, not to mention built like a brick shit house. Antonin caught himself eyeing his biceps and looked away.
He could have gotten a lot worse than a bop on the nose. He was going to have to be careful. He remained sitting, but couldn't keep his mouth shut. "What's the big deal? It's just a doll. I was just looking at it."
The kid frowned and ceased his assault on the punching bag. "It's mine, and it's not a doll, it's an action figure." He picked it up and made it swoop through the air.
Why Antonin was pursuing this he couldn't even say, but it was better than thinking about the possible reasons he wasn't rooming with Jackson. "I know what it is. It's Captain Invincible."
The kid paused and gave him a look of surprise. "Yeah, that's right."
"I used to watch the series. Read the comic book too."
The kid wrinkled his nose in a sneer. He was tan, with freckles. A white scar bisected his right eyebrow. "Oh yeah? Well who did he defeat to save the metropolis of Vargos from plunging into the sea in the second season?"
Antonin crossed his arms. "That's easy, the Tectonic Terror."
The kid shrugged. "Anybody could know that."
"Oh yeah?" countered Antonin. "Well maybe you can tell me what secret weapon Dr. Contagion used to defeat Captain Invincible in issue #187 of the comic book."
The kid put the toy back on top of the punching bag and turned to face him with a glower. "Captain Invincible was never defeated."
Antonin shrugged. "Not in the cartoon, no. But the comic was different. Lots of villains got the drop on him there."
The kid's face turned red and a vein popped out on his forehead. "You're lying!" He clenched his fists at his sides and stalked toward Antonin.
Cripes. Antonin scrambled to his feet and got ready to defend himself, mentally running through all the moves his Aunt Magnolia had shown him. "Remember," he heard her voice in his head. "Unless it's a sparring match, always fight dirty. Disable your opponent as quickly as possible. Best way to do that is cause them a lot of pain."
"You're lying!" the kid repeated. "I never read the comic book. That's not true."
Antonin shook his head slowly, waiting for him to get close enough so he could kick him in the balls. "If you didn't read it, then you wouldn't know. Of course," he added, "Captain Invincible was always triumphant in the end."
The kid stopped advancing, and some of the blood drained from his face. He stared at Antonin for a while, deciding what to do next. Finally his hands relaxed and he nodded. "See, that's what I'm saying."
He went back to the punching bag, grasping it by the chains it hung from and levering his legs up between his torso and the canvas. Then he hooked his feet on the chains and leaned back. He hung that way, upside down, and swung for a little while, then started doing sit-ups. His shirt slipped down, revealing a rock-hard abdomen.
"Whatever," muttered Antonin, tearing his eyes away and attending to the task of unpacking his clothes.
"You won't believe this kid they stuck me with, what a freak!" Antonin told his friends Sari and Ted in the student lounge that evening. The lounge was probably Antonin's favorite place at St. Bart's -- with a twelve-foot high ceiling and dark oak beams, it reminded him of his family's mansion, Wotroya House. Though Wotroya was not quite so grandly furnished. Here, the fifty-square-foot room was generously equipped with overstuffed sofas and chairs, study and game tables, vending machines, even a fireplace.
He'd come down there looking for Jackson, and instead found Sari and Ted at one of the sturdy round tables, engaged in a two-player game of PerilQuest, their tense faces lit with furious colors from their open notebooks. They didn't look up, but Antonin went on anyway, throwing himself down on a burgundy leather couch that also faced their table. "First thing this kid does, he attacks me 'cause I'm looking at this doll he has. A Captain Invincible action figure. He put me in a headlock and shit, but I got out of it, right?" They both paused their games and looked up at this. Antonin licked his lips and leaned closer. "He's all like, 'Put it down, give it back,' and I'm like, 'Make me,' right? Then we got into it over the comic book. He thinks he's some kind of Captain Invincible authority or something. I thought he was going to jump me again, but he didn't. And he's got this punching bag that he hung in the room, and he's all the time beating up on it. What a spazz! Where's Jackson, anyway?"
Sari looked up at Antonin, her hazel eyes wide. She had straight, short brown hair and a tan from her summer on the kibbutz. "Didn't he dial you?"
Antonin's breath caught in his chest. The way she was looking at him, it was obvious Jackson had dialed her. He looked down. "No."
"He's not coming back this year,” said Sari. “His parents hired a tutor so they could take him along with them on their dig. He's so lucky."
Sari was lucky, thought Antonin. She'd heard from Jackson. Antonin hadn't gotten so much as a text message from him all summer. And now he wasn't coming back. And Antonin was stuck with this freak of a new roommate. He slumped back against the couch. Life wasn't worth living.
"Hey, don't worry man, that guy was a jerk anyway," said Ted, shoving his thick dark hair back from his pale forehead. Antonin knew Ted was only saying that because Jackson was always capping on him, but he appreciated it anyway.
"Yeah, forget about him, there's lots of other cute boys here," said Sari, nodding to where Jeremy Ungunande sat talking to Beryl Weishopft and Hilal Vasananda.
"Ptch, he's straight," said Antonin. "Him and Beryl have been together since like sixth grade.”
“So?” Sari tilted her head to one side and continued staring, dreamy-eyed, at the tall, dark-skinned boy. "He’s also lusted after by every straight girl in St. Bart's. That makes him equally unattainable to both of us, and therefore, perfect."
“Hey you guys.” It was Shawan Gordon, Ted’s roommate from last year.
“Shawan, my man! Whassup?” Ted jumped up, raising his hand high in the air.
Rolling his eyes, Shawan indulged Ted and gave him a high five.
“Hey, you been by our crib yet?” Ted enthused. “Did you see the dope holo player the homeys laid on me? That shit is fly!”
Shawan leveled an exasperated look at Ted. “Look man, I thought I explained this to you last year. Nobody talks like that anymore, and even if they did, it sounds flat out ridiculous coming from some skinny little white kid, okay? Talk like yourself, man.”
Ted sat down again. “Sorry man. Forgot.”
“S’alright.” Shawan reclined in an armchair, hooking one leg over the side. “So, you all hear about this new kid? Big blond dude, Harry Fitzsimmons?”
Antonin raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "That's his name? Oh my god. No wonder he's such a spazz." He snorted with laughter. "Hairy Fits, more like."
Sari and Ted laughed.
"Hairy Fits. That's great," said Mark Witherspoon, passing them on his way to the vending machine. He stopped and talked to Jeremy, Beryl and Hilal. They laughed, and Antonin heard the words Hairy Fits being repeated.
“Looks like you’ve coined a nickname,” said Ted. “Good for you.”
Despite himself, Antonin felt his chest swell with pride. He’d never coined a nickname for anyone before. He had to admit it felt good. Besides, this was different. This kid deserved it. “Yeah, well, I’m stuck rooming with the nut job. There has to be some compensation.”
Shawan leaned forward. “You’re rooming with him?” He ran his thumb down the side of his nose. “Well listen Antonin, if I were you I’d watch my sweet cherry-fairy-pie self around that guy. Word is he killed a kid the last school he was at.”
"What?" said Antonin, feeling the blood drain from his face.
"Oh yeah, over at Holyoke, he beat some kid to death with his bare hands. Mmm-hmm. He’d be in prison if his daddy didn’t have more money than God. Instead they send him here, which figures." He gave Ted a pointed look. "We get all the rejects. Anyway, he is cra-zay, and he’s got the power to back it up, you know what I’m saying?”
Antonin swallowed. He knew exactly what Shawan was saying.
Chapter 2 -- Fights
Antonin sat in Mr. Roth's Contemporary History Class, trying to keep his mind on the 1992 World Trade Accord and its impact on national identity and governmental authority. His eyes kept straying to the back of the room, where Fits sat jiggling one leg. He had two pencils, a red one and a yellow one, set in the groove at the top of the desk, and occasionally he'd bring his knee up to bump the underside of the desk and dislodge them. It had taken Antonin three bumps before he realized Fits was racing the pencils. So far red was winning.
Staring at the kid's self-absorbed face, Antonin wondered if the rumors were true. Fits seemed innocuous enough now, and he'd left Antonin alone last night. But Antonin remembered him yelling about Captain Invincible. He remembered his face turning red and that vein popping up on his forehead. That face had haunted him all last night, at least when he wasn't running down all the possible reasons for Jackson's silence. He hadn't slept well.
"The dissolution of economic borders brought about by the Accord led to the privatization of government services. Can anyone tell me what privatization means?" said Roth, a slight, grey-haired man with a receding hairline and old-fashioned round eyeglasses. The glasses were an affectation. No one wore glasses anymore. Corrective laser eye-surgery was effective and cheap, but Roth was a traditionalist. He didn't allow computer notebooks in his classroom either. They had to take notes by hand, with pencil and paper.
Beryl raised her hand. "Privatization means hiring a private company to take over a job that was previously performed by a government agency."
"That's right, Miss Weishopft. Now who can tell us how those government agencies were funded?"
Simultaneously several students, their voices full of loathing, cried out "Income taxes!"
"Okay, scholars, calm down," said Roth. "That's right. Government services were paid for with taxes paid by the citizens of a given country. Generally speaking, people were taxed based on how much they earned. The more money you made, the more taxes you paid. Some people thought this was unfair. Can anyone tell me why? Ms. Vasananda?"
"Because poor people used the services too, but they didn't pay as much for them."
"That's right. In 1991, a United States Senator named Headlee introduced a bill to abolish income tax and privatize all government services. That bill was called the Headlee Partition Act. Can anyone tell me why the word Partition was used in the name?"
Antonin raised his hand. "Because they'd already passed a similar act in the State of Michigan, and since in poor neighborhoods, no one could pay for services, they got really bad, and people put big fences up around them, and everyone who could afford it moved out. They called those places tax partitions."
Roth raised his eyebrows. "Very good, Mr. Karganilla. You know all about this, it seems."
"My aunt grew up in the River Rouge Partition," he said.
"You mean your aunt the robot?" said Shane, two desks over, and he held his arms out stiff in front of him. "Seek and destroy, seek and destroy." The rest of the class laughed, except for Fits, who frowned in concentration as he balanced three more pencils in the slot at the top of his desk.
"That'll be enough, Mr. Billus," Mr. Roth said to Shane. "That's very interesting Antonin, perhaps you'd like to do a report on your aunt's experiences, for extra credit."
"This isn't creative writing," Beryl whispered to Hilal. They sniggered and Antonin's cheeks grew hot.
Mr. Roth turned and paced in front of the blackboard. "So, with the spread of privatization--"
A loud thump and a clatter from the back of the room interrupted Roth and sent the students' heads swiveling around to stare at Fits, sitting there with about ten pencils on the floor all around his desk. His blank look turned to a glower as several kids snickered. Two desks away from him, Marcus grinned and said, "Don't have a hairy fit!" Everyone laughed, including Antonin, until Fits shot him a dark look and his heart froze in mid-beat.
"Mr. Fitzsimmons," said Roth in a steely voice, "What was the name of the bill which abolished income tax and privatized government services in the United States in 1991?"
Fits shrugged and looked down. He placed the lone pencil that remained on his desktop in the pencil rest and bumped his knee against the underside of the desk to dislodge it.
Roth stalked down the aisle to stand next to Fits' desk. "Mr. Fitzsimmons. I asked you a question."
Fits looked up at him slowly, and Antonin found new admiration for Mr. Roth for not flinching. "I don't know," he said.
Roth nodded. "That's because--"
"Because you're a freak," said Marcus.
It happened so fast Antonin could barely follow it. As Roth was turning to Marcus, Fits launched himself out of his chair, leapt over the intervening desk and body tackled Marcus. They both fell to the floor, along with Marcus' desk. Antonin heard at least one meaty smack before Roth and Shane got in there, pulling the two of them apart. Marcus, his nose bleeding, was happy enough to go along with Shane to the front of the class, but Fits threw Roth off and ran out of the room.
Roth dashed to the doorway as Shane and Marcus started after Fits. "Everybody sit down," he said, straightening his glasses. "Just sit down and calm down." He took a deep breath himself, then pressed the intercom by the door and called security.
Well, he'd done it again, and on the first fucking day, too. Harry Fitzsimmons slowed to a walk once he was out of the school building. He'd taken the back way, grateful that he'd scoped it out the day before: a hallway that led past the kitchen and the utility room and then let out into a little concrete yard with a couple of sheds and a chain link fence surrounding it. Harry hopped the fence and sat down, leaning against it and looking out across the rolling countryside. St. Bart's was built on top of a hill, and the green grass swept out below him, dotted with trees and traced with foot paths. Off to the west he could see the soccer field, and beyond that, the bell tower.
Harry sighed and leaned his head back against the fence, which squeaked in sympathy. The old man was going to be pissed. At least he didn't hit the teacher this time.
It was peaceful out here, nobody around. Harry wished he could just stay out here forever, with no one to bother him. But pretty soon the authorities, the principal or headmaster or whatever, would come. And then there'd be a lot of lectures and yelling to sit through, and then eventually, his dad would send somebody to pick him up and take him to the next place. Nothing to do now but wait.
Listlessly, he rolled a pebble around in the dirt with his finger, wondering where his father would send him next. It didn't matter, really. These places were all pretty much the same. Still, he'd just put his punching bag up and intimidated his roommate and all that. Just settling in, really.
Harry gazed up at the bright blue sky, wondering who would come and get him. If it was Hong it would be cool. Hong always let him buy DVDs when they stopped over in Miami on the way back to Belize. If it was Connor it would be a different story. He hated Connor almost as much as he hated his dad.
This was all his roommate's fault. This Antonin kid was smart. Harry hated smart kids. He'd rather deal with a dumb, tough kid like himself any day of the week. There, it was just a matter of who could beat the snot out of who. But smart kids were different. Smart kids always found a way to screw him over, way worse than anything Harry could do to them. For a moment Harry regretted jumping the kid right off the bat like that, but what could he do? He couldn't let him get away with touching his stuff, could he? He had to protect himself, didn't he?
Anyway, true to form, the smart kid wasted no time getting his revenge. Harry had heard the name "Hairy Fits" whispered around him in the cafeteria this morning, and when that Marcus kid said it, he'd seen Antonin's dark, mobile face glow with satisfied glee. Of course, anybody could have come up with that, but until just now, his roommate was the only one Harry had tangled with. Besides, as nicknames went it was lame in a brainy kind of way.
He'd definitely been called worse things, but that wasn't the point. The point was that Marcus had started in on him and Harry had known many Marcuses. There'd been at least one at every school he'd ever been to. Marcuses liked to poke things with sticks. If you didn't stop a Marcus right off the bat with all due and necessary force, he'd leave stick marks all over you.
Antonin was at his desk doing his Latin homework when Fits got back from the headmistress's office. His outburst was the talk of the school, already taking on mythic proportions. In the cafeteria line at lunch Antonin had actually heard Amanda Chun tell Nathan Billingstoke that Fits had swung from a light fixture and landed on top of Marcus. According to Amanda, the assistant headmaster, Mr. Honig, had found Fits in a tree, and it had taken him and three custodians plus Ms. Abersham the gym teacher to get him down. So it seemed possible that the whole thing about him killing a kid was just as bogus.
Still, when the door opened and Fits walked in, Antonin froze, remembering the speed, the fury with which he'd attacked Marcus. The change had been instantaneous; one moment he'd been sitting there looking up at Mr. Roth, the next he was on top of Marcus, pounding the shit out of him. Utterly unpredictable, completely overwhelming. Maybe the rumors about him were just rumors, but he was dangerous. Antonin had witnessed that first hand. Twice.
Dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt, Fits went over to his punching bag and started working out on it. Punch, punch, kick. Punch, punch, kick. It was the only sound in the room. Antonin tried to get back to conjugating the verb audio, but it was hard to concentrate.
Sari told Antonin he should talk to the housing director and get moved to a different room. Probably a smart move, but there was one problem with it. The school would notify his mom of the change. Then she'd want to know the reason why, and when she found out, she'd worry. She'd start calling him all the time, to make sure he was safe. She might want him to go to another school or come home altogether. He'd worked so hard to put her fears at rest, to get out from under her ever-watchful gaze. He couldn't throw all that away now.
Punch, punch, kick. Punch, punch, kick. Punch, punch, kick, ring! It was a cell. Fits' cell, no doubt, since Antonin did all his voice and text messaging on his notebook. Antonin abandoned his Latin for the moment, watching Fits surreptitiously as the other boy rummaged through his duffel bag to retrieve the phone.
"Yeah?" Fits sat on his bunk. He held the cell to his ear with his left hand, shielding his face from Antonin's view, but there was no mistaking the sullen fearfulness in his voice when he said "Hi Dad."
Antonin looked back at his homework. Audio, audiens, audituris, oh screw it. He was going to listen.
"I guess," said Fits, and then there was a long silence during which his breathing grew increasingly unsteady. At last he uttered a husky, half-choked "Yeah." Then there was an even longer pause, and a flat, dead "Yeah," from Fits. Suddenly his tone turned to softly desperate protest, "No." There was a brief pause, while Antonin could hear him taking a shuddery breath. "I know," he said quickly, and then, "Yeah, I will, I promise."
Antonin pretended to need something from his backpack, which was slung over the back of his chair. As he pawed through it he watched Fits covertly from under his eyebrows. Fits switched off the phone and sat there staring at it. He looked too scared to move. Antonin wondered what could scare a kid like Fits. Then Fits looked up and saw Antonin watching him. He stared back with that particularly focused, abstract look he had; blue eyes as distant as mountain peaks, and as lonely.
Antonin didn't know what made him say it, what inner well of foolishness he'd unconsciously tapped to allow him to say anything to Fits, especially now. But he did. "Are you in trouble?"
For a moment the blank stare just continued. And then Fits lifted the corner of his mouth in a sneer, and said, "What do you think?"
Antonin lifted one shoulder. "I think you just got chewed out for beating up Marcus."
Fits tilted his head and shrugged in admission. "So? What's it to you?"
Good point. "Nothing."
Fits nodded, then sighed and lay back on his bed, turning onto his side with his back to Antonin, who returned to his homework.
The St. Bart's cafeteria was a bright, busy, noisy place in the morning. Sunlight slanted in through the wall of windows on the east side of the dining room, opposite the hot food service. Students sat at the square tables scattered about the dining room, or stood in line for scrambled eggs and oatmeal. Everyone was talking, about the day's upcoming classes or tests or the latest gossip. Antonin sat with Sari and Ted, all three of them observing Marcus' new morning ritual.
The tall, dark-haired boy waited until Mr. Honig had his back to the table where he sat with his buddies, Shane and Jean, and then he chucked a tater tot at Fits, sitting alone by the window. The glass behind Fits was marked with the greasy residue of past, failed volleys, but this one found its mark, hitting him square on the nose. Marcus and his friends laughed. Fits plucked the potato missile from where it had landed in the middle of his scrambled eggs, placed it beside three or four others resting in a small pile in the middle of the table, and went on eating. He never once looked up or acknowledged Marcus in any way.
"I still can't believe it," said Ted. "I'm seeing it, but I just can't believe it."
"I think Marcus' aim is getting better," noted Antonin.
"Well it should be," said Sari. "This has been going on for three weeks now. Ever since Nathan bumped into Fits coming out of the dinner line and spilled Fits' macaroni and cheese."
"I know," said Ted. "I thought Fits was going to kill him, but instead he just cleaned up the mess and went on about his business. He cleaned it up. And now, this shit that Marcus has been doing, hassling him in the halls, all of it. And Fits just takes it. I don't get it. He can kick Marcus' ass. He did kick Marcus' ass. Why is he just putting up with it? Not that I mind, you understand. It's taken a lot of the heat off of me. Marcus has been so busy with Fits that he barely has time to call me fag anymore, let alone corner me in the bathroom and give me swirlies. Much appreciated, really, but. . ."
"It's weird," said Antonin.
Ted nodded. "Yeah, definitely weird."
"I think it has something to do with that call he got from his dad," said Antonin. "After that he was different."
"So much for him being some kind of homicidal maniac," said Sari.
Antonin shook his head. "You know, I wish I could say that my mind was at ease on that point, but it's not. If anything, he's even scarier this way. I keep waiting for him to explode. Back at the room? He's just working out all the time. He never says anything, but he's taking some shit out on that punching bag, I can tell you that. Last night I thought he was going to knock the thing loose from the ceiling. He's like a mountain lion, man."
Sari tilted her head to the side, her chin on her hands. "My boyfriend's so dreamy."
Antonin's face went hot. "Shut up!"
Sari frowned at him. "Oh come on, Antonin, tell me you don't want to eat Jet Whip off those shoulders of his. Oh, wait, that's me." She gave a little shake of her head, then gave him a shrewd look. "But you're living in the same room with him. You must be going insane. Have you told him you're gay yet?"
Antonin started, then leaned over and lowered his voice. "Are you insane? I want to live to see the end of term. Besides, even in the highly unlikely event that he's gay, and not a really scary straight guy who'd kick my ass if he knew. . ." Antonin trailed off for a moment, watching Harry brush off another tater tot. He shook his head. "It'd be a bad idea. I mean, look at him--"
"I'm looking at him," Sari said warmly.
"--issues," said Antonin.
But that didn't stop Antonin from following when he noticed Marcus, Shane and Jean shadowing Fits in the hallway that afternoon after classes. They were walking in a tight cluster about five yards behind him, whispering amongst each other and laughing. As far as Antonin could tell, Fits wasn't even aware of them.
Fits turned down the hallway that led to the utility yard, and sure enough, Marcus and his buddies went that way too. Antonin hesitated. This was none of his business. Fits was more than capable of taking care of himself. There was no reason to get involved. Antonin was still telling himself these things when he reached the end of the hallway and went out into the utility yard and crept past the tool shed.
Even before he turned the corner, Antonin could tell the fight had already started. There was just no mistaking the muffled grunts and thuds, or the mocking voices of Marcus, Jean and Shane. He poked his head around the corner and saw Fits reeling back into the chain link fence surrounding the utility yard. Marcus was in front of him, Jean and Shane on either side. Antonin watched in astonishment as Fits hung there, fingers twined in the swaying, squeaking fence, breathing hard, head bowed.
"Come on," raged Marcus. "What's the matter with you, you freak? Fight!"
Antonin wasn't sure which was more shocking, the depth of Marcus' death wish or Harry Fitzsimmon's refusal to cooperate. Marcus swung again, an upper cut to the face that sent Harry's head flying back and brought a rivulet of blood streaming from the corner of his mouth.
Antonin was halfway there before he even realized what he was doing. "Hey, cut it out! Leave him alone!" he yelled as he ran. Marcus and his buddies stared at him with amused astonishment. Harry looked puzzled, and wary. Antonin skidded to a halt between Marcus and Harry. "Leave him alone."
Marcus grinned, apparently thrilled with this development. "And what are you going to do about it, 'Zilla? Are you going to fight us instead?"
Antonin tried to keep from shaking. "Yeah, I'll fight you. If he won't fight for himself," Antonin whipped his head around, bared his teeth at Harry in frustration and continued, "for some insane reason." Harry just stared at him blankly.
Antonin looked back at Marcus again. "I'll fight you. I'll get my ass kicked, and you'll have the honor of having bashed a gay kid. Administration'll be all over it, but if you want it that way, sure. Let's go."
Marcus shook his head and grinned wider. "You can't play that card here, Garglezilla. No one's around. If you say anything, we'll tell Headmistress it was the two of you fighting again. Everyone knows he punched you in the nose the first night, even though you didn't report it. And even if you manage to give one of us a scratch, we'll all say we were trying to break you two up. See? Two for the price of one." And with that he tackled Antonin around the waist, lifting him up and shoving him toward the chain-link fence.
Antonin felt the cool autumn air rush through his hair as he hurtled backward into the fence. It rang like the Halleluiah Chorus and he slid down it, aided by Marcus' fist in the front of his shirt. Marcus jerked him forward and punched him in the stomach. Antonin tried to curl up around the appalling, nauseating pain, but Marcus' grip prevented it. He was reeling Antonin in for another one when Antonin heard a guttural snarl from behind him and then out of the corner of his eye, he saw a blur of movement. Suddenly Harry and Marcus were rolling around on the ground and Antonin was standing there with his shirt torn.
Harry pinned Marcus with a wrestling move Antonin had seen Magnolia use upon occasion. "Get out of here!" he screamed over his shoulder at Antonin. Jean and Shane leapt on Harry and he disappeared in a hail of punches and kicks.
Antonin knew all too well how bad even one of those hurt. He shook his head. No fucking way, he thought, and threw himself on Shane, grabbing him by the hair and doing his best to knee him in the side.
Chapter 3 -- The Green Memory
Antonin sat up from where Shane had been kneeling on his chest, bitch-slapping him. He wiped blood and grit from his lips, and looked up to see Harry, standing, panting, his arms stiff at his sides, watching Marcus and his friends limp off in the direction of the school. He whirled around and glared at Antonin. "Are you all right?" he demanded.
Antonin's guts ached from Marcus' punch, and he had a split lip and a bloody nose, but thanks to Harry's efficiency as an ass-kicking machine, he wasn't badly hurt. He nodded his head.
Harry had the beginnings of two black eyes and blood still oozed from the corner of his mouth. He nodded back stiffly, still glaring, and said, "Then you can tell me what the fuck you did that for? You know for a smart kid you're a real dumbfuck. What's the matter with you?"
Antonin blinked. "What do you mean? I was standing up for you. What's the matter with you? Why were you letting those guys beat on you like that?"
Harry shook his head, his jaw clenched in frustration. "Those kids are amateurs. Another few minutes and they'd have been done. And things could have just. . ." He shrugged. "But now-- You have no idea, no fucking idea the depth of the shit I am in now, because of you." He looked out in the direction Marcus had gone once again, waving one hand as a hopeless look came over his face. His hand shook and he dropped it. "Fuck!" he suddenly screamed, jumping up and down and lifting his face to the sky in despair. "Fuck!"
Antonin was both baffled and irritated. He hadn't been that much help in the fight, it was true, but he had stood up for the guy. Harry should be grateful for Antonin's gesture -- a brave and as it turned out quite painful gesture. "What are you talking about?" he said crossly.
Harry swung to face him, pointing at the school again. "I'm pretty sure I broke Marcus' nose. He's going to see the doctor, who's going to report the fight even if Marcus doesn't. The school will call my dad and . . ." He dropped his hand to his side again and stared at the ground, shoulders slumped.
"And what?" demanded Antonin, getting to his feet. "What is so bad that you'd let those guys beat up on you to avoid it?"
Harry gave him a weary look. "My dad said if he heard from the school about me one more time he was going to bring me home. Not another transfer to another school this time. Home, for good."
Antonin frowned. "Is that so bad?"
Harry stared at him a moment, then turned and started walking toward the school.
Antonin took a deep breath and trotted to catch up with him. "But we'll tell Headmistress Maitle what really happened. That it wasn't your fault. You were just trying to keep those guys from kicking my ass."
Harry smiled sarcastically. "It doesn't matter.
She'll have to notify all the parents, no matter who started it. And he said if he heard from the school about me, just heard from them, that was it. That's all that matters. And she will. She'll notify him. She's probably doing it right now."
"Well, maybe not," said Antonin stubbornly. "Maybe Marcus won't say there was a fight. Maybe he'll make something up to save face or stay out of trouble himself.
Harry eyed him skeptically. "Maybe." Antonin saw hope warring with defeat in Harry's face. Hope gained a momentary edge and Harry straightened. "In that case our chances will be better if we get cleaned up. Come on." He started walking faster, toward the entrance to the boy's dorm.
They stopped at the vending machine in the hallway and Harry bought three cans of Orange Crush. Antonin was mystified but he wasn't about to argue. Instead he followed Harry down the hall to their room. "Get washed up and change your clothes," Harry ordered, shutting the door behind them.
Antonin tried to ignore the visceral thrill those words gave him as he obeyed, pulling off his ragged blue shirt and his scuffed jeans.
"Wait a minute," said Harry as Antonin was about to put on a fresh shirt. "Let me see where he hit you." Harry had stripped off his T-shirt. There were bruises already visible on his rib cage. Antonin froze as Harry peered critically at his abdomen. Harry put one hand on the small of Antonin's back and pressed gently into his stomach with the other. His hands were warm. Antonin swallowed against the sudden dryness in his mouth. "Does that hurt?" asked Harry.
Antonin shook his head. "Not really, a little sore, I guess."
Harry looked him in the eye. "No stabbing pains?"
Antonin shook his head again. Harry nodded in evident satisfaction and moved away again, taking off his jeans and putting on a fresh pair. "Gut punches are dangerous," he said. "If you have any trouble in the next couple of days -- you know, going to the bathroom or whatever -- go to the doctor," he said. He went into the bathroom and washed his face.
Antonin finished dressing and leaned in the doorway of the bathroom, waiting for his turn at the sink. Harry turned around. Water ran down his face and neck, down his chest. Stop it, Antonin told himself sternly, and still he watched, mesmerized, as a bead of water collected under his roommate's left nipple.
"Want some of this?" Harry asked.
"Huh?" Antonin looked up, blushing and woozy. Harry held out a tube of antibiotic ointment.
"Oh, uh, sure." He took the tube from Harry and was about to start washing his face when he saw the scratches on Harry's back. "Hey, wait, you've got some scrapes back there. Probably from the fence. I'll put some of this on for you."
"Nah," said Harry. "My shirt'll cover it up. We're just worried about what's visible."
Antonin bit his lip. He shouldn't take advantage of the situation, he knew, but when would an opportunity like this ever come again? "So what?" he admonished, "You want them to get all infected?"
Harry paused in the doorway of the little bathroom. "Fine, go ahead, but be quick about it. We haven't got all day, you know."
"Yeah, yeah, sure." Antonin uncapped the ointment and dabbed it on the scrapes scattered across the broad, muscled expanse of Harry's back, knowing in a kind of hopeless, guilty way that he would recall every moment of this later, when he was alone.
He finished with Harry's back, and washed his own face and arms. Walking back into the room, he found Harry sitting on his bunk, dressed in a clean white T-shirt, holding two cans of Orange Crush to his face, one over each eye. "Here," he said, setting one of them down for a moment and tossing the third can to Antonin. "For your lip."
Antonin caught the can and didn't embarrass himself by dropping it. Thank you, gods. He put the cold can to his swollen lip, winced a little, and then sat down backwards in the chair at his desk. They sat for a while in silence. Antonin couldn't see much of Harry's face, but he knew he was thinking about what might be happening in the Headmistress' office right then.
The can was cold against Antonin's lip. He lifted it away and said, "So, is it true you killed a kid? At Holyoke?" Gods, why did he ask that? What was wrong with him?
Harry took the cans from his eyes and gave him a long, considering stare. Finally he said, "I haven't killed anyone yet."
Antonin nodded, a tad unnerved at the "yet" part. But before he could stop himself, his next question popped out.
"How come you're scared to go home?"
"I'm not scared," Harry said quickly. "I just don't want to go back yet." He put the cans back to his eyes.
"'Cause I hate my dad, that's all."
"How come you hate him?"
"'Cause he's a wad," said Harry, as if it should be obvious.
"Oh. My dad was a wad too."
"Yeah, right," said Harry, his voice full of contempt. "You probably don't even know what a real wad is. What'd he do?"
Antonin shrugged. "Mostly he knocked my mother around a lot. Made her. . . made her do a bunch of stuff she didn't want to do -- I'm not exactly sure what but she'd cry a lot afterwards, you know? He stole money from her. Oh, and then he was gonna sell me into prostitution."
Harry took the cans away from his eyes again and stared at Antonin with surprise and a new hint of respect. "Wow. That is pretty bad."
Antonin nodded. "Yeah. He was an asshole. I'm glad my aunt killed him."
Harry opened his mouth to say something but a loud knock at the door cut him short. "Mr. Fitzsimmons? Mr. Karganilla?" It was Mr. Honig, the assistant headmaster. "Open up. Headmistress Maitle wants to see you both right away."
The interview went exactly as Harry had predicted. Antonin had pleaded Harry's case for all he was worth, painting a moving account of his roommate's innocent heroism, but despite everything, Maitle calmly informed him that school policy was school policy, and all the parents would be informed of the fight. Somewhere in the back of Antonin's mind was the awareness that he was going to be in trouble with his mom, but it was easy to ignore for the moment.
No sooner did they get back to their room than Harry dragged his duffel bag out from under his bed and started packing. He didn't say anything to Antonin, no blame, no yelling, nothing, just silence as he shoved clothes pell-mell into the duffel.
"Maybe he'll change his mind and let you stay. Then you'll just have to unpack again," said Antonin, knowing even as he said it how idiotic it was. Why did he think he knew better than Harry what his own dad was going to do? Why was it so hard for him to believe that what Harry said was the truth?
Harry, who had just plucked Captain Invincible from the springs of the upper bunk, paused with the toy in his hand. "I'm not waiting for him," he said.
"What do you mean?"
Harry gave him a look that surveyed the depths of Antonin's ignorance. "I'm making a break for it. Do you want to screw that up for me too?"
Antonin shook his head. "But--"
"Yeah, I know." Harry placed Captain Invincible in the duffel and faced Antonin, his fists on his hips. "I know, he'll find me. It won't make any difference in the long run, but in the meantime..." He shrugged. "In the meantime maybe I can do some cool stuff. You know, like climb the Eiffel Tower, or go to Africa and dig on the zebras or something. I don't know. It's better than just sitting here and waiting. I might as well make him work for it."
Antonin licked his lips. Before he even knew what he was saying, his mouth was moving again. "What if I talked to your dad, explained that you were just trying to keep me from getting hurt. Maybe he'd reconsider."
Harry shoved a pair of socks in the duffel and gave Antonin a sharp look. "Why would you do that?"
Antonin gaped. It was a good question. Up until a couple hours ago, he would have liked nothing better than to be rid of Harry. But now... now he didn't have time to think about that. "Because I didn't mean to get you in trouble," he plunged on. "Because I was just trying to help in the first place."
Harry snorted and tossed the socks into his duffel. "Right." He walked over to his punching bag and gave it a few desultory, farewell punches. A puzzled look came over his face, and he paused, giving Antonin a long, searching look. Finally he lifted one shoulder in a kind of half-shrug. "It won't do any good," he said, "but if you actually want to talk to my dad, here's his number." He walked over to Antonin's desk and jotted it down on the cover of his chemistry notebook. "Knock yourself out," he said, hoisting his duffel bag over his shoulder and heading out the door.
Antonin sat at his desk, his notebook in front of him, staring at the blank window of the dial screen, waiting nervously for Harry's dad to answer. He licked his dry lips and glanced over his shoulder at Harry's empty bunk. He wondered how far Harry could get on foot. Would it be too late?
"Antonin Karganilla." The voice softly insinuated itself in Antonin's ear as if the man were leaning right over his shoulder.
Antonin shivered and turned back to his notebook. Swallowing, he pushed his hair out of his eyes and focused on the face in the dial window.
He had Harry's eyes, bright blue and focused, but other than that he didn't look all that much like his son. His face was narrower, his nose longer, his chin less blunt. His deep chestnut brown hair skimmed his eyebrows in stylish loose bangs. He smiled and leaned in towards his camera. "Hellooo?"
The man laughed and tilted his head to one side, staring at Antonin in frank amusement. "You called me."
"Uh, I'm Antonin Karganilla." Shit, he already knew that.
"I know." His eyes held Antonin's. He started slowly, as if explaining something to a simpleton, but his words picked up momentum as they went. "I have caller ID like every other fucking Cro-Magnon that ever crawled out of a cave. I also know that you're my son's roommate." His gaze moved to a different window on his notebook and Antonin saw his fingers typing. When he spoke again it was with an air of distraction. "So what has that dumbfuck done now?"
Antonin felt his jaw drop. He blinked and shut it with an effort. He found himself staring at the keyboard, afraid to look up. Shit, this guy was scary. "N-nothing sir. That's why I'm calling you." After Antonin had shoved the first few words out, he gained strength from them. He looked back up, and met the man's eyes. "Harry didn't do anything. Those kids were trying to pick a fight with him, but he wouldn't do it. It was my fault. I went and got into it, and they started beating me up. He only fought them to help me. There's no reason why he can't stay. The school understands. They're not marking him off for this. And he's doing great here. He has lots of friends and he's studying hard."
That elicited a bark of laughter from Harry's dad and gained his full attention once more. "Kid, you're priceless. You almost sold it until that part at the end." Harry's dad shook his head, an amused smile playing across his lips. "Friends, studying? Please. I know my son." The smile vanished. "And now I know you're lying, and that gets me thinking that maybe you're making the whole thing up, and he did start that fight."
Antonin's heart raced, his cheeks burned. "No! He didn't. It was my fault."
Harry's dad sat back and crossed his arms. From this distance Antonin could see that his dusty blue tie and khaki shirt went beautifully with his mocha brown silk suit. He stared thoughtfully at Antonin, who became conscious of beads of sweat running down the sides of his face. "I'll tell you what, Antonin. Since it seems that by some miracle, Harry's actually managed to make one friend at St. Gidget's or whatever the fuck it is, I'll let him stay, under your supervision." He leaned forward. His blue eyes bored into Antonin's, irresistible. "You keep him out of trouble now. Understand?"
He smiled and reached for the keypad. "Bye," he said, and the window went blank.
By running the whole way, Antonin was able to catch up with Harry on the far side of the school grounds, just before the highway that ran from Brussels to Liege. "Harry!" he shouted. "Wait! It worked! He said yes!"
Harry, still a few yards away, stopped in his ground-eating stride and turned, staring at him with a puzzled expression, as if it took some time for the words to fall into coherent meaning. And then his expression turned to one of pure wonderment. "It worked?" The duffel bag slowly slid from his shoulder.
Antonin leaned over, his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. He straightened again and nodded. "He said you could stay, as long as I kept you out of trouble."
Harry smiled, and it was like the first sunrise after the long night of the Siberian winter. It transformed his face utterly, making what was cold and dark open and bright and full of life. With a sudden, lost feeling, Antonin knew that he would do anything to make it happen again.
And the next thing he knew he was caught up in a bone-crushing hug, his face mashed against Harry's chest. He breathed in the smells of clean cotton and Dial soap, and felt the rumble of Harry's voice. "I can't believe you did it. Thank you."
He was released as suddenly, Harry stepping back, still looking at Antonin as if he'd made an elephant materialize out of thin air. "How did you do it?"
Antonin shrugged. "I just told him the fight wasn't your fault, that you were doing good here, studying hard and um... making friends."
Harry nodded and a quarter-sized dot of red appeared on each of his cheeks. There was an awkward pause. "Well, thanks."
"Uh, I guess we should get back."
Antonin nodded, and Harry picked up his duffel bag again, and they walked back across the rolling countryside toward the school. They were almost at the soccer field when Harry said, "So your aunt killed your dad, huh?"
Antonin nodded. "Yeah. Well, he was going to kill my mom and me, see."
Harry nodded solemnly, then cast Antonin a sidelong glace of tentative concern. "Did he whore you out?"
Antonin blinked. He wasn't used to people taking this stuff at face value. Most of them thought he made it all up. He shook his head. "No. He never got the chance. We got away from him, but then he caught up with us again and he kidnapped me. My mom came after me, and he was gonna kill us both. That's when my Aunt Magnolia shot him."
Harry looked at him speculatively, and Antonin braced himself for the inevitable scorn and disbelief. But all he said was, "That sucks man," and they went on in to the main hall.
Harry awoke from a dream of smothering darkness, his heart pounding from the effort of escape. He sat up and looked about in panic, uncertain of where he was for a moment, and then he remembered. The new school. He was still at the new school.
Harry's heartbeat slowed. He was slick with sweat and shivering, so he lay back again and pulled the blanket up under his chin. He retrieved Captain Invincible from the bedsprings of the upper bunk and held him against his chest. He wasn't in the dark: moonlight filtered in through the blinds on the window, casting pale blue shadows on the walls. And he wasn't alone: Antonin slept in the bunk above him, his breath slow, soft and even, like waves on a beach. Harry sighed and snuggled deeper into his pillow, soaking in the comfort of these facts.
Antonin grunted gently in sleep and flung one hand over the edge of his bunk. Harry stared at that hand; fingers delicately curled and limned in moonlight. In the dim quiet of the night, he allowed himself to experience a rush of wonder at the memory of Antonin, his skinny back straight and rigid as he placed himself between Harry and Marcus. He'd never seen anyone so fragile and so brave.
It was too much to try to think about why Antonin had helped him. Enough to know that he had done it, and more than enough to let the soft glow of that knowledge warm him through and through.
When he had good feelings like this Harry tried to pay attention so he could remember them later. He breathed deep, noting carefully the silver moonlight, the steady sound of Antonin's breathing, the softness of the blanket under his chin and the faint smell of damp laundry from the open door of the bathroom.
It was like sleeping on the beach back home. Harry's eyes closed and his mind drifted to a memory so old it was really a whole bunch of memories laid one over the other. His Green Memory. Full to brimming with sunshine and the smell of clipped grass. Her blue eyes shining and her arms warm and encompassing and her smile all for him. How she used to pick him up around the middle and run around the yard with him and he'd stretch out his arms like he was flying. Then they'd swoop down to the grass and she'd tickle him and hug him and kiss him. Baby stuff, sure, but no one had to know how much he missed it. Harry sighed and tucked this new Silver Memory next to the Green one, curled himself around them both and went to sleep.