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Nov. 29th, 2009 10:35 am
backdrifter: I won NaNoWriMo 2009! (nanowrimo 2009)
[personal profile] backdrifter
Blood was leaking from Jeffrey Bergstrom's nose. Jeffrey wheezed for his asthma medication, the magic inhaler that would keep him from death's door, dark arms reaching up. Respa held his bookbag high above Jeffrey's head, regarding him coldly.

"Please," Jeffrey said, his voice a strained exercise in breathing, "please, I think I'm gonna die, please man, please, my inhaler..."

"Why?" Respa asked, eyes half-lidded.

"Wh—why?" Jeffrey choked. "Don't do this, man, please, I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die, don't kill me please, please, my fuckin' inhaler!"

It would be fun to watch Jeffrey gasp himself to death, Respa thought. To exert that kind of control over someone, to sentence them to life or death, that would be a good thrill.

But Jeffrey wasn't nearly worth it, so Respa let the bookbag go to land on Jeffrey's face with a heavy thudding noise. "Fine." Jeffrey took a moment to recover from the pain of the weight of all his books hitting his face, and then he was digging frantically through his belongings to pull out his inhaler. He inhaled greedily, and Respa left before he could see Jeffrey relax.

The trip to Castle Hill was a long one. School was on the upper west side of Manhattan, so he could either take the M86 crosstown or walk to the 6 train on Lexington Avenue. Then he sat alone on the 6 for a good hour or so, after which was more walking to get to his part of the suburb.

On the outside, his house was just as nice as the others around it, with a stained glass and oak door, and both a front and back yard. Inside the house was another story.

He pulled off his sneakers slowly in the entryway, hissing quietly with relief as he eased his feet out. The sneakers were more than one size too small, and it was only the tears in the sides of the canvas shoes that made them bearable. The jacket that he hung up next was stolen from someone at school, and since he generally picked small kids with a low chance of retaliation, it wasn't the best fit.

He was quiet as he moved into the dusty interior of the house, pressing his lips tight to keep from expressing how good his feet felt to be free of his sneakers. In the kitchen, he opened up a side cabinet to reveal bottles upon bottles of supplements and vitamins, and he picked several kinds to drop into a teacup. He pulled vodka from the freezer, and he filled a second teacup halfway with the alcohol. He hooked fingers through each handle, and then he was padding upstairs, turning into the master bedroom.

"Who's there?" a voice asked from the dark of the room, sharp and female.

"It's me, Ma," Respa said, monotone as he waited for his eyes to adjust. He rarely turned the light on in this room. "You need to take your vitamins."

"Good boy," the voice croaked, and when he could see again, his mother was sitting up in bed. "Come sit over here while Mama takes her vitamins, baby." He obeyed, wincing when she caught his arm with a claw of a hand. "How was school?"

"Fine," he lied, picking a pill at random and pressing it to her chapped lips. She opened her mouth, a line of saliva connecting top to bottom for a moment before Respa brought the cup of vodka up. She tried to tip it back, cupping both clammy hands around his, and he pulled it away. "Come on, Ma, leave enough for the other pills."

"You could always pour me more," she said, her voice vaguely hopeful.

"No, Ma." He raised another vitamin to her face. "Come on, take your medicine."

"You got my good body," she rasped, swallowing a couple more times after she was finished taking the second vitamin. "Look at you," she said, leaning an unsteady hand on his chest. "Not an ounce of fat to you. Just like your mom." When she tried to smile, it was more like a grimace. "What a handsome, handsome boy. Not like your brother Eric," she added, her expression darkening. "Where is he?" He could feel her stringy muscles tensing in the hand she'd left on his front.

"Eric moved out, Ma." He dabbed at her chin with the corner of her flat sheet; it wasn't as though she particularly cared about the state of her sheets, though she would never be out of them long enough to have them washed. She had retired to bed when Respa was ten years old, claiming to be fed up with everything around her, and had never really come out. She could crawl out to use the bathroom when she had to, although if her son was home she always wanted him for a crutch; her body had wasted away without movement or proper nourishment. She turned down real food with the exception of a weekly Slim Fast bar, and when Respa became old enough to understand what was happening to his mother's body, he began taking money out of her dusty purse to buy her the vitamins that she refused to take without alcohol. When that ran out, he turned to his father's wallet, though he had to be much more careful about that.

His father wasn't home, thankfully.

"When was that?" she asked, cocking her head as if listening for something far off. Respa picked up a third capsule, instructed her to open up. She tried to pick up the cup of vodka on her own, and Respa was just in time to keep her from spilling it all over her lap.

"When I was eleven. You don't remember?" Her hands were like ice around his. "It was a big thing."

"Honey, I can't keep track of these things," she snapped. "What're you now, eighteen? How did I miss that?" There were more vitamins to take, but she signaled her disinterest in further doses by lying back down.

"I'm fourteen." It didn't matter; she wouldn't remember that either. Eric was a figment of her imagination, dreamed up by her starved mind in the long, dark hours when her husband and son were out of the house. By her math, she'd had Eric when she was seventeen, but there was no point in bringing this up to her.

As his mother lay on the musty sheets, listless, Respa ran his fingers through the long black hair that fanned on her pillow. It was brittle now, but he remembered a time when it had been silky and healthy, and when she'd been much the same. He got most of his looks from her, the daughter of Muslim Egyptian immigrants. In her youth she'd been scouted by modeling agencies, a career she had given up when she'd gotten pregnant.

"Go do your homework," she murmured, stroking the side of his face with fingers possessed of too-long nails. (Respa had tried trimming them, but she would always forget she was being attended to with a sharp object, and he had to give up. They trimmed themselves, more or less, by breaking very often.) He left gladly, shutting himself into his bedroom. There were technically only two, but since his mother's takeover of the master bedroom, his father had converted what was probably meant to be a study into his own bedroom, leaving Respa and his mother upstairs.

His door clicked behind him, and he pushed his desk chair—only ever used for this one purpose, these days—under the doorknob. He stripped off his shirt, taking the deep breath he'd been dying for all day, and then he peeled off his child size jeans. This left him in shredded Ninja Turtles underwear, meant for a ten year old boy and choking him south of his waist. That came off too; he'd rather be naked than trapped in children's clothing. There was a free-standing, full-length mirror in his bedroom, leftover from the days when the whole family would pack off to IKEA to pick out household odds and ends. He stood before it now, regarding his nude body with mixed feelings. There were the scratches where Jeffrey Bergstrom had, not a couple hours earlier, tried valiantly to struggle and escape Respa's merciless onslaught. Tried, and failed. On his upper arm was an ugly green bruise, and he put its origin out of his mind like raising a hand to block the sun. Curly black hair crawled from his pubic area up past his navel and into a small thatch in the center of his chest, and in contrast, his legs were thick with straight black hair. His feet and hands were enormous with thick ankles and wrists, a mess of bones with skin stretched over them.

The mirror generally brought him feelings of self-disgust, thoughts of wondering who would ever see this body of his. Some days, he felt like he still inhabited his childhood body, and the image in the mirror shocked him on those days. Today, though, he thought of the newest figure in his life. Ryan Kamizaki had been in his homeroom since September, true, but Respa had never had reason to take notice of him before. Now Ryan had practically inserted himself into Respa's life. What his victims all had in common was something his own life lacked, but he wouldn't lower himself to envy them their one-track lives.

The difference between Ryan and his other chosen targets, though, was that only Ryan made him sink to his knees now, one hand on the mirror frame steadying him as he masturbated with the other. He didn't think of Alex stripped down and writhing on the twin bed behind him, didn't wonder what Jeffrey's skin felt like when heated by desire. He hated himself for the way he grunted as he touched himself, the way he couldn't help but throw back his head. He wanted to hit Ryan until he stopped breathing; he wanted to pin the muscular body he'd felt, when grabbing Ryan by the collar the day before, to the wall and—

The small amount of white fluid on the mirror was an admission of something Respa never wanted to admit. He stared at it as he got his breath back, for a moment, and then he wiped it away furiously with the T-shirt he'd worn to school. He wasn't going to think about it. He was going to put Ryan Kamizaki out of his mind. He wasn't going to get dressed, either, but he wouldn't touch himself again today. He refused to. He couldn't let himself.

When he heard the front door slam downstairs, he reluctantly pulled his jeans back on, forgoing the shirt after what he'd used it for. He tried, desperately, to button the top of them, but his pelvis seemed to creak in protest, and eventually he just gave up. He came down the stairs quietly, and headed into the kitchen, where he waited to be noticed just as quietly.

"Your jeans are open," was the first thing his father said, spreading mayonnaise on slices of bread. The planned innards of the sandwich lay to the left of his hands.

"I know, Dad."

"Don't tell me you went to school like that." He lay a slice of American cheese on the mayonnaise-slathered bread. "Where's your underwear?" he asked, giving his son a hard glance. "You forgot how to put it on?"

"It broke," he lied. "Shredded."

"Didn't I buy you underwear before? I know you have more than one pair." He waved the butter knife in the air dismissively, not looking up. "Go put some on, you're being a moron. And put on a shirt, while you're at it."

"When I was ten," Respa said, belatedly.

"What?"

"You bought me underwear, um, when I was ten."

"Well, what're you now, twelve? Do I need to buy you underwear that often? Go get changed, this is not up for discussion." His eyes narrowed dangerously as he looked over his shoulder. "Get going."

And just as there was no point in telling his mother he was fourteen, there was no point in reminding his father, either. It wasn't that his father was crazy, but rather purposefully negligent, ever since he was ten. The less he had to do with his child, the better, but if Respa didn't check in with him every evening, as he just had, things went downhill fast. Respa went back upstairs, and gratefully barricaded himself back into his room. He disrobed again, crawled into bed, and against everything he'd promised himself earlier, he found himself thinking about Ryan once more.


"Good afternoon, Ryan."

"Hi, Doctor Sobel."

Doctor Sobel motioned him in, smiling gently. She was a brunette in her mid-forties, taller than Ryan and on the thin side. Her uniform was a cardigan with a knee skirt, in various shades of grey and brown, and she wore a chain on her glasses that made her look older than she was. Her black penny loafers squeaked as she crossed the floor to her own seat, a leather armchair with brass studs in the arms. Ryan settled into the blue butterfly seat in the corner, slumping down until his bottom neared the edge of it.

"So, what's new?" she asked, crossing her nylon-covered legs and leaning her notepad against the higher knee. "At school, at home, anywhere, anything."

"Respa talked to me," Ryan said to his clasped hands on his stomach. He'd told her about Respa the very first day of school, the echoes of Victor he'd seen in him. "But it wasn't good."

"Oh no?" He barely even noticed Doctor Sobel when she wrote things down anymore, though he was always aware of that scribbling sound of graphite on paper. "Tell me about it."

"Um, he told me to stay away from him, basically. He slapped me."

"Is that where that came from?" she asked, pointing with the eraser end of her yellow pencil at the healing bruise on his face.

"Yeah."

"And your parents didn't notice it?"

"I told them it happened when I fell asleep. It's not unlikely." He could have smacked his face falling asleep on a desk. He thought, anyway. He wasn't entirely sure of its plausibility.

"Uh-huh." She wrote again. "And do you still want to talk to him?"

"I don't know," he sighed. "I don't know that I ever wanted to talk to him, it just... It made me miss all those things."

"All those things?" Scribble, scribble. "What things?"

"I dunno, nothing, I guess." He didn't particularly want to tell the doctor about the way he missed Victor's presence, if not his after-school sessions. "Respa put me up against the wall in the bathroom. He thought I was saying bad things about him."

"He misheard you?" She always looked at him so expectantly.

"I don't know, I don't know." He pushed his hands into his face. "I don't even know what I want from him. He just looks so much like—"

"Maybe, then, you shouldn't be seeking this boy's attention," Doctor Sobel observed, not unwisely. "Your medication is fairly stable right now, but schizophrenics have been known to have been triggered by something reminding them of their past. In a best case scenario, Doctor Schumacher would have to adjust your dosage, probably raising it. At worst, well... I don't even want to consider it."

"Well, whether I should or shouldn't anymore, he's noticed me, and he doesn't like me, that much is clear," Ryan said, letting his hands fall away from his face. He clasped them once more over his middle. "So I'm stuck with him now, unless I transfer out to a new school."

"Maybe you should discuss that option with your par—"

"No!" Ryan interrupted. "I mean...ugh. No. I want to be normal."

"I can understand that, Ryan, but if there's a possible danger to your current mental balance, then sometimes that desire for normality has to be put aside." She looked concerned now, instead of expectant, and it was a little bit of a relief.

"No. I'm not transferring out. I haven't even been at that school for an entire semester." He shook his head for emphasis. "Absolutely not."

"Well, I can't say anything to your parents, so I suppose it's your prerogative." She smiled toothlessly, as she often did, and Ryan often wondered if that was a passive aggressive move on her part.

The rest of the session was spent discussing Ryan's interactions with his family, with his perceptions, and there was a five minute tangent about the habits of cats. She advised him one more time to consider transferring schools, he told her again what he thought of that idea, and she bid him farewell. When he got home, both his brothers and his parents were home. He could smell the stir fry his father was making from the front door, and his mother was sitting in the living room with a copy of New York magazine, where Kenny was still doing his homework. Danny was nowhere.

His mother greeted him from her seat and Kenny ignored him. Ryan's toes wriggled inside his sneakers—roomy, because his father had bought them for him under the delusion he'd grow into them, and so far there seemed to be no chance of that—knowing what he was supposed to say. Hello. Where's Danny? He couldn't make it come out, though. He stood there for a good five minutes, and neither of his family members looked up, not disturbed a bit. They expected this from him.

He went to his room at last, having never said a word, and he settled into his desk chair at the hand me down computer that had once been a fixture in his parents' bedroom-slash-office. With the advent of a newer, speedier computer, Ryan had been the one to receive the old computer over his brothers. His mother said it was to keep him engaged; he didn't understand the logic. He opened up the instant messaging program, which was pointless since he didn't talk to anybody, but it made him feel a little less alone, even with other people in the apartment.

When he woke up, his face had typed a long line of lowercase J's into a new message window with no recipient. There was also a bowl of stir fry someone had left on the desk for him, and when he tasted it, it was lukewarm.

He wished, the next day when his homeroom teacher shook him awake to go to his first class, that he could trade the Seroquel's soporific effect on him for something that would get rid of his constant feelings of disconnectedness. He almost wanted to stand outside of history class and watch the teacher from the hallway, in clear sight, just to see if there would be any repercussions. It was tempting, and that temptation lasted until he realized he was already sitting down in class, in front of Cassandra.

Cassandra tossed a little ball of paper over his head to land on his desk, and he caught it just before it skittered off onto the floor. When he pulled it open, it was blank, but it gave Cassandra an opening to reach forward and flick him in the back of his head, hard. The teacher ignored them both, even when Cassandra catapulted a piece of a pencil at the top of his back.

Cassandra followed him when he departed class, always five feet behind him and stopping whenever he did. Finally he turned, and said, "What do you want?"

"Nothing, asshole," she snapped, keeping her distance.

"Then why are you following me?" When he tried to close the distance, she took equal steps back.

"Fuck off!" And she finally left for her own next class, leaving Ryan feeling confused. When he turned back, Respa was blocking his path, and the confusion was mostly gone. Aha.

"You're coming with me." Respa grabbed him by the wrist with both hands, Ryan's arm miniaturized in his grip. Ryan thought he was breaking the hold; when he looked at his wrist, he hadn't moved. Respa pulled him to the very same bathroom Romy had led him to before. Ella was standing watch just outside the door, though she seemed to be reapplying her mascara until they reached her.

Inside the blue bathroom, Malachy was holding Alex Steinbrenner's arms behind his back. Alex was on his knees and staring at the grout in the tiles, already looking defeated. Respa slammed the door behind them, and then Malachy let go of Alex to lean against it. Alex didn't even try to move.

"So you feel bad for Alex, right?" Respa asked, scratching his head rapidly as he gestured at Alex with his free hand. "'He needs his keys, wahh, he doesn't have ten dollars, boohoo,' right?"

"What—"

"You heard me." Respa crossed his arms. "So listen. I'll strike you a deal." He stuck his chin out. "You give me..." and he looked Ryan up and down, one foot tapping. "You give me your keys. Give me your keys, or Alex gets it."

"Gets it? What do you mean, gets it?" Ryan snorted nervously. "You can't mean you'd kill—"

"It means Alex Steinbrenner here," and Respa walked over to grab Alex by the jaw, lifting his face up, "gets the beating of his fucking life if you don't hand over your keys." Alex looked Ryan dead in the eye, his gaze pleading with him even as it told Ryan that Alex had already given up, was gearing himself up for pain.

"I... I don't know," Ryan stammered, taking a step back. Alex closed his eyes. He thought of sitting outside the apartment or waiting in a Starbucks for hours, missing his second dose of the day, the bad feelings that would follow. He didn't know Alex all that well. "I'm sorry, Alex, I need my keys," he said in a small voice.

"Just remember," Respa said, still bent over Alex but looking at Ryan, holding a finger up. "Remember that you did this, not me. I didn't do this." He released Alex's jaw, and stood up straight. "You did this to Alex Steinbrenner." And Respa brought his leg curling up, and snapped his foot into where his hand had just been, knocking Alex over with a shout of pain.

"Please help me," Alex sobbed, trying to crawl toward Ryan. "You can stop this!"

"Nahh, Alex, it's too late for that, now I don't care about his keys anymore," Respa said with a grin, and the top of his foot connected hard with Alex's ribs. Alex groaned and tried to ball up around the pain, but Respa just danced around him and booted him in the lower back. Alex came undone like a worm in the rain, groaning through the tears that were starting to leak out of his pale eyes. "See this, Ryan Kamikaze?" Comma-kozzy again. "You did this to him. You are hurting him, this is all your fault. You could have stopped this." He hauled Alex up by the armpits to prop him up against the wall, and then he socked Alex in the nose, cracking the back of his head against the wall before he fell to the floor again. Alex was sobbing now, trying to shield his nose even as he tried not to touch it.

"Help me!" Alex wailed, staring at Ryan. "Please, I know you're not a bad guy, please—!" Respa swung his leg back dramatically, and then brought it forward to slam into Alex's crotch. Alex sang a high note that might have been comical in different circumstances; Respa found it funny, and Malachy was guffawing to the point of doubling over, though he still kept his body against the wood door.

Ryan screwed his eyes shut against the image of Alex Steinbrenner's torture, and suddenly he felt long, cold fingers on either side of his face. "Don't shut your fuckin' eyes!" Ryan's eyes flew open to see Respa's only inches away, intense pools of ink below angry brows. "Look at what you've fucking done! Look!" Respa wrenched his hands away, and Ryan was once again confronted with Alex on the floor, twisting and crying in his pain. "Look!" Respa pulled Alex up by his noodle arms, and threw him against the large metal trash can. Alex landed like a rag doll, and fell like one too.

"You did this," Respa breathed as he stepped away from the very broken Alex. "You made this happen. You go home today and think about that. Enjoy your keys." Malachy stepped away from the door, and both boys gestured toward it, as if politely inviting him to leave. "Go on."

Ryan couldn't leave fast enough.

As he swallowed his dose later that afternoon, sitting at the hand me down computer with the empty buddy list, he thought of all the ways he could have stepped forward and ended that. He could have intercepted one of Respa's kicks with a low block, flipped him onto his back and kept him there. He could have blocked the punch Respa delivered to Alex's nose even as he aimed his own punch at Respa's face. He could have even just blocked continuously, and it still would have been a better decision than what he'd done. It wasn't all the Seroquel's fault, no; Respa's looks didn't help the situation at all.

He would change things around. And he knew just how.

June 2011

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