Nov. 11th, 2009 08:23 am
backdrifter: I won NaNoWriMo 2009! (nanowrimo 2009)
[personal profile] backdrifter
INTERVIEWER: Are you ready to continue, Ryan?
SUBJECT: I can do it now.
INTERVIEWER: Talk to me about Victor.
SUBJECT: I don’t know what you want me to say.
INTERVIEWER: It’s not about what I want you to say, Ryan. It’s about what you want to say, what you want me to know. The choice of what to say is completely yours. I understand, of course, your medication may affect your verbosity, but I’m interested in whatever it is you have to tell me. Please.
SUBJECT: [long sigh]
INTERVIEWER: Whenever you’re ready.
SUBJECT: Victor, um... [long pause] [sigh] I think I loved him, when I was little. When I was eight.
INTERVIEWER: How did you know that when you were so young?
SUBJECT: I don’t know, exactly. I know I liked to look at him. I liked to be with him, and I liked to touch him, but I didn’t know why, exactly. Why I liked to touch and look, I mean, I know why I liked to be with him.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you like to be with—
SUBJECT: He made me feel like I didn’t have any siblings. Like I was the only one that mattered, because he paid me so much attention. That might have been the beginning of why I loved him. The way little kids can love, anyway.
INTERVIEWER: It’s not inconsequential.
SUBJECT: Ask me another question.
INTERVIEWER: Alright. [pause] When did Victor begin to reciprocate?
SUBJECT: When I was almost nine. Near my birthday.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me about that, if you’re comfortable.
SUBJECT: It, um, was in my bedroom. I— [pause] It was— [longer pause]
INTERVIEWER: You need only answer if you’re comfortable, Ryan.
SUBJECT: I’m not comfortable.
INTERVIEWER: Would you like to take another break?
SUBJECT: I guess so.
INTERVIEWER: Then we’ll do that.

[5 minute break]

“Victor?” Ryan knocked at the door to his own bedroom, calling his babysitter’s name through the wood. “Victor!”

The bedroom was no longer occupied by Ryan’s grandfather; he’d gone back to Japan ages ago. It was December now, with Ryan’s ninth birthday on the 12th looming. The problem now, as in right now, was that Victor had barricaded himself in Ryan’s bedroom as soon as they’d arrived at the apartment. Danny and Kenny didn’t care, and since Victor had become the official babysitter, Maya was never home until late. Both Ryan’s parents were at work, too. So he was left alone to bang on the door, shouting Victor’s name.

“I’m sorry, you can have your room back in a minute,” came a soft voice. “Just hold on, Ryan, okay? Hold—hold on.”

But Ryan couldn’t hold on, because for one thing, there were things he wanted to put down in there, like his coat and bookbag, and things he wanted to get out, like a sweater to wear around the chilly apartment. For two, it was his room, his room. So he ran into the master bedroom, where he filched one of the empty Metrocards his father kept around, despite their uselessness. He forced the thin plastic card into the doorjamb, and though it took him a couple tries, he finally unhooked the little latch that held the door in place on the other side, and he threw the door open.

“Ryan!” Victor snapped, looking at the card in his hand. “I told you to give me a minute, Jesus Christ…” Victor didn’t look right. His eyes were red, puffy, and he looked much more tired than he had when he’d picked the brothers up from school.

“I need my room,” Ryan mumbled, tossing his belongings in the corner. He walked over to the dresser where he picked out a dark green sweater, and as he pulled it on over his head he watched Victor.

“I just needed a minute alone,” Victor said, long fingers squeezing his own elbows as they rested on his thighs. “I’m sorry I took over your room, okay?”

“What’s the matter?” Ryan asked as he adjusted the hem of the sweater, and sitting next to Victor on the bed.

“It’s nothing,” Victor said, smiling weakly as he mussed Ryan’s hair. “Don’t worry about me.”

“You look sad, though,” Ryan pointed out, and he hugged Victor’s arm nearest him. “What happened?”

“Nothing I’d wanna make you think about,” Victor sighed, looking away. “Gross stuff, nasty stuff. Like out of a scary movie.”

“There’s a cut on your mouth.” Ryan had always prided himself on being an exceptionally observant child.

“What?” A finger flew to his lips, but Victor was touching the wrong spot, so Ryan rose to his knees and touched it himself.

“Here. There’s a cut on your lip here.”

“Oh,” Victor said, and he enveloped Ryan’s hand in his own, removing the finger that way. “It isn’t anything.”

“And…” Ryan pulled at the raggedy collar of Victor’s t-shirt, exposing a yellowing bruise marring the strong collarbone there. “Who hit you?”

“Listen, I think you should do your homework,” Victor said abruptly, yanking his t-shirt back into place.

“Tell me what happened,” Ryan begged, retaking his hold on Victor’s arm. “Please, Victor, tell me why you’re sad.”

“I’m not sad! I’m fine!” Victor barked, and Ryan pulled away, startled. “Wait—Ryan, no, I’m sorry—” Ryan was already getting off the bed, but Victor pulled him back, and that sign that he was wanted was all Ryan needed. Victor wrapped him in a strong hug from behind and kissed the crown of his head, shushing him, and Ryan curled his fingers around the forearms that encircled his shoulders, leaning back.

“I didn’t mean to yell at you like that, it’s just been…a day,” Victor said with a sigh, rocking them back and forth together. “I missed school, and, ahh… It was just a dumb day.”

“It’s okay,” Ryan said in a small voice, and Victor rocked them now so they fell as one on their sides, lying facing the wall on the mattress. “It’s okay,” Ryan repeated, and Victor brushed his lips against the back of Ryan’s neck. He was suddenly very aware of the stillness in the room, of how his brothers were the only other beings in the apartment, and how they were in their own rooms, oblivious to what was happening here.

“It’s okay,” Ryan whispered a third time, but he didn’t know why he was saying it anymore. Victor’s hand traveled to the hem of his shirt, and then crawled under it, a giant bony creature on his belly with a warm center and frigid fingertips.

“I never mean it when I yell at you,” Victor murmured into his skin, the hand under Ryan’s shirt caressing his stomach lightly. “You’re the best thing in my whole life, Ryan.”

“Really?” Ryan asked, because he felt like this couldn’t possibly be true. Victor was practically an adult, with friends and responsibilities. Ryan wasn’t even related to him, and he was just a child. He couldn’t be the best thing in anybody’s life.

“Really,” Victor assured him, and a long leg came over Ryan’s, locking an ankle with his. “Really.” Victor kissed the nape of his neck again, stronger this time. “I’ve had such a shitty day, Ryan, I have a lot of shitty days, and you always pick me up…” The hand began to move in concentric circles now, rubbing Ryan’s belly like he was a dog, and the other hand lay still under Ryan’s side.

They lay like that for what felt like forever, and Ryan was afraid to breathe, to break the moment. He was hyper-aware of every part of Victor’s body pressing against him, of the defined chest, of the strong arms, of the lean legs. Of the narrow hips and wide shoulders, of the long face that exhaled hot breath that wreathed his neck like jewelry. Of the rapidly cooling tears that rolled off the precipice of Victor’s nose to their deaths in Ryan’s hair.

When Ryan woke up, he hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep in the first place, and felt disoriented, especially when he discovered Victor was no longer on the bed with him. When he exited his room he found the teenager sitting on the red couch, watching Seinfeld on TV. He looked bored by it.

“You let me fall asleep,” Ryan said accusingly as he joined Victor. Victor seemed to ignore him, focused on the screen blaring in front of them both. “Now I have less time to do my homework, you know.” Ryan showed no sign of going to do his homework, though, instead crawling closer to Victor. Victor did nothing. “Victor, listen to me—”

“Go do your homework,” Victor said tersely, not looking at him. When Ryan didn’t move, looking stunned, Victor hugged him, fast and hard, and said only, “I’m sorry.”

Ryan did his homework in his quiet room, waiting for either his parents to come home or Victor to stop acting weird, and he thought about how the stillness of the air in this room would always remind him of what happened today between him and Victor.

Victor finally came into his room, or rather he came into the doorway, leaning against the frame of it.

“I’m sorry I didn’t wake you up,” he said, rolling the toe of his sneaker on the wooden floor. “I’m sorry about everything that happened today. I didn’t mean to make your day crappy, too.”

“It’s okay,” Ryan said one more time, though he didn’t get up from his cramped little desk. “It’s okay.”

“You keep saying that, maybe it’ll come true,” Victor said with a sigh. “Anyway, your dad’s due home any minute, and I didn’t wanna leave on a weird note. Be good to your brothers, okay?”


“You’re a good kid, Ryan.” Victor approached him, put his mouth to the spot on Ryan’s scalp from his hair spiraled out. “Don’t forget that.”

His father’s keys jangled in the front door lock, and Victor left him alone with the stillness.

Maya surprised him the next day when she showed up to pick him up from school, Kenny in tow.

“What happened to Victor?” he asked, jumping off the bench nevertheless. Dillon had left him alone since Victor’s first intervention, and was glaring at him from across the yard. “He always picks us up.”

“Victor’s sick today, or something,” Maya said, jamming her hands deeper into her coat pockets. “Come on, we’ve gotta get poor Danny, he’s probably freezing.” Ryan didn’t know why Maya bothered trying to get him to pity Danny when she knew none of her brothers got along with one another.

“What do you mean, sick?” Ryan asked as they started trekking toward Danny’s school.

“I don’t know, Jack didn’t say a lot about it,” she said with a shrug. Her boots made loud clonking noises on the sidewalk as she tried to hurry. “Just that Victor didn’t make it to school again today, and he didn’t return his call. He probably just has a bad cold or something, Ryan, stop worrying so much. He’s a big boy.”

But Ryan couldn’t stop worrying. He wondered if he’d said something wrong, somehow offending Victor without even realizing it. Stupid! He must have said something dumb. No, he must have not done something he was supposed to have done when Victor held him close yesterday. Stupid, stupid! Stupid kid. He didn’t know anything.

Victor was out sick for the next three days after that, and Ryan pined for him, the worry that he’d done something wrong making his stomach roil. He pushed away his food when before he would have eaten it obediently, and he couldn’t concentrate on his homework. Or anything. He gave dumb answers to simple questions at school, and at karate he accidentally punched one of the dull-witted white boys in the back of his blond head.

“Eat, Ryan,” his mother would say, firm and gentle at once, and Ryan found himself unable to do much more than stare at the spear of broccoli he was expected to eat.

“Wash the dishes,” his father would say, and Ryan dropped a plate on the linoleu
m, after which he was hurried out of the kitchen and sent to his room.
It was when Victor showed up at three o’clock the fourth day, holding out a white Zabar’s bag in one hand while he ate a knish in the other. “I picked you up something,” he said with a smile.

“Where’s Kenny?” Ryan asked, though it was only brief curiosity; he was thrilled not to see Kenny today. It probably meant they weren’t going to pick up Danny, either.

“Your sister’s taking care of that. It’s your birthday tomorrow, right, little man?” Ryan accepted the white Zabar’s bag to find his own cheese and broccoli knish inside, and he bit into it with little appreciative noises. And it was true that in all his worrying about whether Victor would ever come back again, he’d forgotten his own birthday.

“Yeah,” he agreed slowly, chewing. “Yeah, it is.”

“So it’s gonna be just me and you today, you got me? You can celebrate with your parents tonight, and have a party on the weekend when it’s your real birthday, but until tonight, you’re all mine, you got me?”

“Yeah,” he said again, swallowing.

Once they both finished their knishes—welcome warmth in the middle of a cold December—Victor took Ryan to see Men in Black, though it had been in theaters for over a month. He bought him popcorn, soda, candy, the works, even though most of it went uneaten. In the dark of the theater, Ryan lifted his feet off the sticky floor, and leaned into Victor’s side, the arm of the seats digging into his own ribs. Whenever the roach alien made a particularly scary appearance, Victor would cover his eyes with both hands, even at Ryan’s (laughing) insistence that he was old enough to watch scary scenes. Ryan couldn’t help but think, though, whenever Victor did this, of where those hands had been, what they had done. What they might do.

“The stars,” Agent Kay said onscreen, a massive face looking upward in concern. Victor’s hand slid down from Ryan’s waist, cupped his hip as he mouthed Agent Kay’s lines along with him.

“What about them?” Agent Jay asked.

“They’re beautiful, aren’t they? I mean, they really are—just—beautiful,” both Kay and Victor said. Victor’s thumb brushed Ryan’s pelvic bone that stuck out through his jeans, then did it again. Stroking. When Ryan looked up, Victor looked wistful, his eyes unfocused and far away.

“It’d be nice, wouldn’t it,” Victor said as they left the theater, “to be able to forget exactly what you want to forget. Like going back in time.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be exact,” Ryan said. “You can’t pick and choose your memories, it’s just whatever your memories are from one point in time to another that get erased. You’d lose all the good stuff you had in there.”

“You find every goddamn loophole,” Victor grinned, grabbing Ryan by the shoulder and pulling him close suddenly enough to make him stagger a little. “It’s like, God looked down and was like, let’s give this kid extra brains, why the hell not. You’re so right.”

The apartment was empty when they got there. Victor paced down the hallway and into every room, calling names at random, but nobody answered.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Victor said as Ryan joined him in the kitchen, snatching a Post-It off the fridge. “‘Hi Victor and Ryan, couldn’t wait for you, went out to dinner with relatives in town for Ryan’s birthday. Seems silly to go without Ryan, doesn’t it?’ Um, wow, you think? ‘There are leftovers in the fridge, please help yourselves and have fun.’ I can’t believe this.” He slapped the note back on the fridge door, shaking his head. “Your birthday, and they took off without you.”

Ryan made a face like this information disappointed him, but if he was honest with himself, he was thrilled to have the rest of the day alone with Victor. He could already imagine what they were going to do for the rest of the day: Play Danny’s Nintendo, eat cupcakes (from where? It didn’t matter so long as they were there), watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, roughhouse, play the Nintendo again. Eat pizza and ice cream. The components of a proper day of fun.

“Well, I guess it really is just us today,” Victor said, putting his hands on his hips. “What do you wanna do, Ryan?”

“Play Danny’s Nintendo,” Ryan said, pointing excitedly at the gaming system in question. “I wanna play Mario Brothers.”

“Yeah?” Victor grabbed him by the armpits, swung him up. “Jeez, Ryan, you’re getting really big, like really tall. You keep growing at this rate, you’re gonna be like the Japanese Michael Jordan.”

“No I’m not,” Ryan said under his breath, embarrassed. He was already sure his brothers would outstrip him in the race to be the tallest. Victor laughed, kissed him on the cheek in a way more befitting a toddler. Ryan made noises of protest, pushed at Victor’s face, which only made Victor laugh louder and try again.

Victor fell back onto the couch, still holding Ryan, and he kissed him again, on the forehead. It struck Ryan as strange that Victor still hadn’t let go of his torso, and stranger still that the hands under his arms were squeezing gently. Ryan squirmed, ticklish.

“What, you don’t wanna be tickled right now?” Victor asked, grinning big. When Ryan shook his head no, Victor tickled him anyway, pinning him to the couch. “I forget how tickling goes, though, I gotta figure it out so I know what not to do. Is this it?” Ryan shrieked, limbs flailing as Victor tickled him relentlessly, and Victor didn’t even seem to notice when Ryan kneed him in the ribs.

The tickling subsided, suddenly, though Victor’s fingers didn’t go away. His touch stayed light, up and down Ryan’s sides, and then suddenly up his stomach and onto his chest. Ryan’s laughing slowed as he regained his breath, Victor’s sudden gravity confusing him. His eyes were hooded, like when Jack looked at his sister, and his breathing was like a heartbeat.

“Shhh,” Victor said, the noise a warm breeze on Ryan’s neck. The hands, the giant hands that covered half his ribcage each, traveled down again, the fingers this time making their way under his shirt to crawl up his skin, the cotton yielding to the bony wrists. The thumbs brushed over brown nipples, and Ryan inhaled sharply, stopped breathing.

Victor shushed him again, and again and again, but it didn’t make Ryan want to hold his breath any less. A hand rubbed his sternum, and Victor kept making that shushing sound, but he couldn’t relax.

“What’s wrong, Ryan?” Victor asked softly, still rubbing. “Relax, relax, no one is hurting you, no one is ever going to hurt you…”

“Nothing,” Ryan said in response, a tiny voice without conviction. There was that stillness in the air again, the silence that thrummed in his ears and made them ring. He didn’t like the change in Victor’s behavior, the alien way he spoke to him. The look in Victor’s eyes frightened him, made him feel like prey. “Nothing’s wrong,” he tried again, and Victor took it as a sign that Ryan was relaxing, because he placed a kiss just below the hollow of Ryan’s collarbone.

“No one,” Victor said in a shaky voice, his hands never stopping their movement, “is ever going to hurt you, Ryan.” He put his lips where Ryan’s jaw ended and his earlobe began, though his mouth remained slack. “I will never hurt you.” Ryan stayed frozen, unable to move not just because of the teenager on top of him, but because he simply couldn’t.

One hand made a brief venture downward, the fingers just barely touching the top of Ryan’s jeans, and Victor suddenly pulled back as if electrocuted. His face was flushed dark, and his fingers tangled and untangled nonstop. His eyes brimmed with shame, and some of that shame dotted his Nirvana t-shirt. He yanked Ryan’s shirt back into place, and then he turned on the couch to face the TV, head held in his hands. “I’m sorry,” he told the floor. “I’m sorry, Ryan, I’m so sorry…”

Ryan pushed himself back into the corner of the couch, a knot of a person. He didn’t say anything.

“What I did just now… I’m sorry, Ryan, please believe me, I’m so sorry…”

Still Ryan said nothing.

“You can’t…” Victor sniffled. “Please don’t tell your parents. Or Maya or your brothers, please don’t tell, please don’t tell…”

Ryan softly agreed he would keep quiet.

“I can’t be your babysitter anymore.”

It was that statement that filled Ryan with panic. No matter how much Victor had just frightened him, he couldn’t forget, either, how Victor was most often the only one who paid him any real attention. He could stand a few scary moments if it meant Victor would stay. He lunged toward Victor on the couch, grabbing hold of his arm. “Don’t go,” Ryan said, looking up at Victor with a pleading look. “Don’t leave me.”

“Ryan!” Victor said, pulling his arm out of Ryan’s grasp. “Listen, you have to understand! What I just did to you—no one should ever—”

“Please,” Ryan begged, replacing his hands. “Please, don’t leave me alone, Victor, please.”

“You’re so little,” Victor whispered, looking at the far wall instead of Ryan. “How can you even know…”

“Please, Victor,” Ryan implored again, swinging Victor’s arm slightly. “You’re the only person—” He took a deep breath. “—That really cares.”

“Don’t say that,” Victor scolded him. “Your parents care a lot about you, and Maya adores you. And maybe none of you can tell yet, but your brothers love you, just like I know you love them.”

“They don’t pay me any attention,” Ryan said, never letting go of Victor’s arm. “You don’t have any brothers or sisters, you don’t know what it’s like when nobody pays you any attention. Please,” he asked one more time, “don’t go. I won’t tell anyone anything, just please stay.”

“You mean it?” Victor asked, looking him in the eye.

“I promise.”

Victor didn’t say anything else, but when he gathered Ryan in his long arms and held him tight on his lap, rocking the pair of them back and forth quietly, Ryan took it as agreement. He reached up and wove his fingers into the hair next to Victor’s ear, staying just as quiet. Anyway, Victor hadn’t meant to scare him. Victor would never hurt him. It was Ryan’s fault for not understanding.

He had to believe that.

His birthday party the next day involved his parents, siblings, and a number of relatives whose first language was not English, making their big Manhattan apartment seem crowded. Thankfully, his grandfather wasn’t one of them; these relatives were from no further away than New Jersey. There were older cousins, born here and fluent in English, but because most of the talking was done by the adults, it didn’t seem to matter.

Ryan didn’t know much Japanese. Most of his relatives’ chatter flew over his head. He barely identified as Asian; Asian was what he was, not who he was, unless he was in karate class, in which case he was the Asian who was better than all the Upper West Side spoiled white boys. What he did know was limited to phrases like hello, goodbye, and what time is it? Simple things like that. That, and that one sentence he heard a lot about his fluency, and that other one he heard even more cracking on his height, and how he’d never be as tall as his father. He tried retreating into his room to sulk, but he was given no such choice, because he was the birthday boys and birthday boys were not allowed to sulk.

Victor was not there. Victor was at home, with his own family, of course, probably doing important things that couldn’t be done with a kid hanging off of him. Instead Ryan had an uncle who liked to say all their names and laugh, especially because he found the contrast between Ryan’s very American name and Kenny’s full name—Kenichiro—to be funny. Ryan didn’t find it funny.

His birthday gifts were a lot of clothing, Japanese novelty toys, books in Japanese that he couldn’t read. His family was pushing a message. He smiled appropriately, if briefly, at each gift, thanked each relative in turn and hugged the ones he was expected to know well. (He didn’t.)

The cake was chocolate, and he didn’t care. The trick candles were supposed to be funny; he gave up after the first try, annoyed, and laughing relatives pushed him back to the cake to try again and again, until one of them spoke some Japanese and pointed at the candles like she’d just gotten the joke. He escaped at that point, sprinting to his room and shoving a chair under the doorknob. He fell against the wall, sliding down and sighing loud.

The relatives got more and more drunk as the night wore on—because, as his father often said, the Japanese made a ceremony out of getting drunk—and more than one crashed against his door, laughing obnoxiously. He wondered whatever happened to the premise of a child’s birthday being celebrated with a children’s birthday party, in which the child in question got to invite children their own age to come and play silly games until 5pm, when they were to be bundled off by their respective parents. It wasn’t that Ryan really wanted to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but right then it seemed miles better than waiting until his parents sent the last drunk relative home to New Jersey. He played the Gameboy he’d stolen from Kenny and Danny’s room, trying to ignore the thumping coming from the hallway.

Around midnight, when things seemed quiet, he finally unhooked the chair from under the knob, and edged out into the hallway. His mother was waiting outside, and she patted his head gently. “I’m sorry about that,” she said. “This was supposed to be your party.”

“It’s okay,” he mumbled, not for the first time that day. “I played Kenny’s Gameboy.”

“This is for you, by the way,” she said, and she held up a white paper Zabar’s bag. “Victor said he couldn’t stay, but he dropped it off for you because he knows you like them.”

Ryan snatched the bag from his mother, and inside he found a broccoli and cheese knish. “Sorry it’s a little cold,” his mother added with a little rueful smile. Ryan was torn between excitement that Victor had thought of him on a day off from work and anger that his mother hadn’t thought to get him to see Victor. In the end, though, he settled on just enjoying the knish. His mother put a hand on his back and followed him as he went to the kitchen, and he ate it while they sat quietly.

“What happened to Kenny and Danny, and Maya?” Ryan asked before taking a bite.

“Oh, Kenny and Danny are asleep already,” she said. “And Maya went out with Jack… I don’t like his attitude, but he does always bring her back exactly when he says he will, and she seems to like him…” She looked at the knish thoughtfully. “That Victor is such a nice boy. I almost wish Maya were dating him instead, but then I wouldn’t have such a good babysitter.”
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June 2011

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