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Dec. 2nd, 2009 08:45 am
backdrifter: I won NaNoWriMo 2009! (nanowrimo 2009)
[personal profile] backdrifter
"You made friends with him?!" Romy screeched, hands like a flock of panicking birds around his head. "Oh my god, are you retarded?"

Romy was tailing him again, especially after hearing about Alex's latest beating (apparently straight from the horse's mouth, because so far there had been no authoritative action from any of the adults in the school). Romy said something ridiculous about worrying for Ryan's safety, and Ryan wanted to know just why Romy gave a shit, when Romy had never cared before Respa took an interest.

"I didn't say I made friends with him, exactly. We're on speaking terms." He tried to walk faster to shake Romy, but Romy had longer legs, and he barely had to change his pace to keep up.

"That is not someone you should be on speaking terms with," Romy said, snorting with disgust. "Oh my god. Didn't you hear anything of what I told you a couple days ago in the bathroom? Did none of that, you know, sink in?"

"I heard you fine. I have gym class to get to," he said, wishing Romy would take a hint. Romy was loud, painful to be around.

"You're unbelievable, I can't believe you would do something like that," Romy continued, ignoring what Ryan was saying and fanning himself with a flat hand. "God!"

"Bye, Romy," he tried again, even as he started to descend the stairs.

"I mean he is a nightmare! He's barely human! What could you see in him that—"

The stairwell door swung shut, cutting Romy off, and Ryan gratefully raced to class.

At lunch, Ryan was the one to find Respa, sitting alone again; nobody in his little posse had this lunch period, and either way he figured after the tongue-lashing he'd given Ella and Cassandra the day before, they wouldn't be too keen on being around him.

He took the seat next to Respa, laying down his tray, and Respa looked up, clearly surprised. "Hey," he said, sounding confused as Ryan settled himself.

"Why don't you have a lunch?" Ryan asked as he punched his spork through its plastic wrapper.

"I keep forgetting my lunch money, I guess," Respa said, looking at the empty spot of table in front of him. "Whoops."

"You can have some of mine," he offered, though to be fair what he was offering wasn't much. The only thing worth eating was the square knish, which still paled in comparison to the real thing; the hamburger was sad, and the fruit salad was mushy.

"You only have one spork," Respa pointed out.

"Are you sick?" He used the spork to divide the hot knish. He had to not think about it; he'd grabbed the tray with the knish because he remembered liking the potato pastries, but once he'd actually said something about splitting it, it was hard not to remember where he'd acquired that taste. Whatever, it's just food. It's not even a good knish. It's just food.

"No," Respa said, reaching for one half of the knish that Ryan had managed to cut pretty evenly.

"Then it doesn't matter, right?" He took the other half, taking a bite. "Whatever, it's just food."

They ate in silence for a couple minutes, interacting only to pass the spork, before Ryan spoke again. "I asked my mom last night if you could come over sometime this week. If you want." He took the second to last bite of fruit salad.

Respa seemed to freeze, and Ryan found it difficult to read the expression on his face. "Come over?" he repeated, looking at Ryan. "Come over?"

"Um, yeah, can't you?" Ryan wondered if he'd said it the wrong way, somehow, and he looked down quickly.

"No, um..." Respa's train of thought seemed to stop between stations, his eyes glazing over, and then he shook his head quickly. "No, um, no. No, I can. I can, don't worry. What day's good?"

Today was art therapy class, and tomorrow was Doctor Sobel. Respa couldn't know about either of those things. "Thursday would be the best," he said, chewing slowly. "Friday I have karate to go to after school, but you could come after that, too."

"No, Thursday's good," Respa agreed, not even asking why today or tomorrow weren't.

He managed to avoid Romy for the rest of the day, and after school he rushed off downtown, where his art therapy class was held. It was one large room in a small building, run not by a large group but by a few well-meaning women with psychology degrees. The walls were a warm, buttery shade of yellow, and the women all dressed in a quasi-uniform of jewel tone cardigans and ponytails. In a corner was a circle of easels with tall stools, and for the lower-functioning students (or for those who just preferred it), there were also two rows of flat desks with regular chairs. There were already several regulars present.

One in particular, a large man named Cody, was scribbling away on a large piece of construction paper, the crayon so small in his tight fist it looked as though he might snap it any time. Cody was definitely lower-functioning, on older typical antipsychotics with side effects that struck Ryan as significantly worse than anything the Seroquel could dish out. Cody also didn't like anybody in the class but the women running it, so Ryan steered clear.

Ryan climbed up onto a stool, unpacking several pencils. He didn't like working with color often, content instead to draw black outlines, shading them half the time. Lydia, one of the three women behind the class, came up to him as he laid pencil to paper. She checked off his name on a clipboard, and then she set it aside to clasp her hands. "Good afternoon, Ryan," she said, her voice similar to the color of the walls in its warmth. "I see you already have something in mind, huh?"

Ryan had drawn what to him was the outline of a jaw, a line growing from it to form the front of the neck. "Yeah, I guess I do." A line going up from the chin formed the cheek, the cheekbone, the brow.

"Are you drawing anyone in particular?"

Ryan didn't actually know the answer, or rather, he didn't know the correct answer. He knew, if he asked himself but once, who he was drawing. "Victor," he finally said, and Lydia grew solemn.

"Ryan, why are you drawing Victor?" she asked. "I thought..."

"I don't know," he said, grimacing even as he formed an eyebrow that became the bridge of the nose. He scribbled in the other eyebrow, dark and angry. "I just... I've been thinking a lot." The eyes were black and lightless, hooded under the thick brows. "Things lately remind me of him." The bulb of the nose was delicate and short, and the mouth he drew under it was just as small, the corners turned down.

"Things will always remind you of Victor," Lydia said, laying a narrow hand on Ryan's back. "Unfortunately, he will always be a very important part of your life; Victor is, if nothing else, a turning point in your life." She patted the spot her hand was on. "But it's one thing to be reminded, and another to actively remember. When you see... What's one thing that reminds you of Victor?"

"Knishes." A sharp cheekbone led to a large ear. "Knishes remind me of Victor." He drew in the back of the neck, which led into the trapezius.

"When you see a knish, that's being reminded of Victor. But this," she said, putting her other hand on the paper, "this is remembering Victor. There's a difference."

"I thought the whole point of this class was for me to draw what I felt," Ryan muttered, wavy lines creating the outline of hair.

"Yes, Ryan, but we want you to feel healthy feelings, have healthy thoughts. It's art therapy." She smiled briefly. "I know you can draw something else." She stood by him, hand still on his back, waiting for him to turn the page over.

But when Ryan leaned back to inspect his artwork, he found he'd not drawn Victor. "This isn't Victor," Ryan said, frowning as he looked. "This is not Victor at all."

"Isn't that what Victor looks like?" Lydia asked.

"This is Respa," he breathed, touching two fingers to the newsprint paper.

"Who's Respa?" Lydia wanted to know, leaning in.

"Um, a friend from school," Ryan said, shaking his head as if to clear it. He grabbed the sheet from each side, and he tore it from the pad to ball it up. "That's all."

"I see," Lydia said. "Here, Ryan, I'll get rid of that for you." She held out a hand for the large crumple of paper the drawing made. Ryan knew she had no intention of throwing it out, but to refuse might label him uncooperative, lower-functioning, and if there was anything Ryan wanted, it was to be considered a fully-functioning human being. He handed it over.

As Lydia walked away, trying to pretend she was going to a garbage can in the hall—passing an empty garbage can on her way out—Ryan hopped down from his perch, and sat himself down next to Andy. Andy was one of the lowest-functioning in the class, with a myriad of tics and a nonlinear thought pattern. Sitting next to Andy, it was true, made him feel better, smarter, more human, less like a schizophrenic.

"What're you—what're you, what're you doing here?" Andy asked, wrapped and rewrapping the cord of his hoodie around his index finger. Ryan wondered who gave him that hoodie. He knew Marigold and Lydia had consistently mentioned to Andy's brother that Andy should not be allowed drawstrings like that, even if the cord was in the edge of the hood rather than around the neck.

"You know you're not supposed to have strings, Andy," he chided the man, though he kept his hands to himself.

"You're not the boss of me," Andy said, and he grabbed the black crayon to draw big black lines all over it. "See that? That's you! Leave me alone!"

"Ryan," Marigold said gently, appearing behind them both. Marigold was the second of the three psychologists. "Leave Andy alone, I'll talk to him about the string."

"I was just talking to him," Ryan said under his breath, but he did what he was told.

Jeanette was Andy's opposite, making him feel stupid. He wasn't even sure what Jeanette was doing here. The worst side effect she suffered was that she'd gained about a hundred pounds—as she made sure everyone knew by carrying pictures of herself, pre-medication—but when she sat and painted with watercolors, she seemed deft and focused. Her face was serene, her posture relaxed, her dark brown hair swept back into a sleek ponytail that made her face seem rounder. Her work made Ryan feel like a hack.

"Do you wanna see what I did?" she crooned, inviting Ryan to join her with by crooking her finger. "Come here, sweetie." That part grated on him, too, when she called him patronizing names like honey and sweetie. He was not her sweetie. He came over anyway, the better to not make a scene. Jeanette gestured widely at her work, and Ryan felt his jaw tighten at the sight of it. It was a portrait of him, beautifully rendered in swift lines of rich color (how had she managed that? Watercolor paint only ever gave him a pale, drippy mess). Swirls of various tones of green and blue surrounded his visage like a cameo frame, and perhaps most maddeningly of all, a rising sun with distinct red rays was depicted behind him. "See that? That's you." As if he were retarded, not schizophrenic. He scowled.

"Sweetheart, don't you like it?" She beamed at him, which only deepened his scowl. "I'm doing a series of portraits of everybody in the class."

Marigold came to his rescue now, just as she'd come to Andy's, pulling Ryan away by the shoulder. "That's beautiful, Jeanette, but I think Ryan isn't in the right mood for that at the moment, okay? Come with me, Ryan." She led Ryan away, Jeanette's smile dropping for a look of confusion behind them. Elaine, the last of the psychologist trio, came up to Jeanette to speak to her in hushed tones.

"Why didn't you like Jeanette's work?" Marigold asked. "Has she said something to you in the past that made you feel that way?"

"No," Ryan said, sighing. "But I don't like how she makes me feel. She makes me feel retarded."

"You're not retarded, nobody in this class is," Marigold said, touching the top of his hand reassuringly. "But Jeanette needs approval, and a lot of it, especially since her weight gain. I think," she said, biting her lip pensively for a moment, "it would behoove you, as one of the highest-functioning students in this class," and Ryan's face brightened, "to give Jeanette that approval, whether you like the artwork or the way she treats you or not."

He nodded, feeling infinitely better.


Thursday came quickly. The evening before, Doctor Sobel had gotten very little out of him past his interaction with Jeanette, and he didn't tell her, either, about the drawing of Victor-turned-Respa. Thursday morning in homeroom, Respa was actually smiling, which produced uncomfortable looks from the students within a two desk radius of him. Ryan also managed to avoid Romy, though the problem there was that Romy had managed to see him change direction in order to do so.

He met Respa in the yard outside of school after last period, and after a quick Ready to go? they set off to the uptown 1 station. The train was packed, and Ryan found himself once again pressed between two or more bodies, at armpit level with all the men. Respa was on the other side of one of those men, trying to keep eye contact with Ryan over his shoulder, since he didn't know where to get off.

Respa took deep, exaggerated breaths when they got off, laughing a little bit as he did, and it struck Ryan again how human Respa had so quickly become. "I thought I was going to die of air loss in there, or something," he said, and Ryan nodded with a short burst of nervous laughter.

Kenny was always home when Ryan arrived, and today was no different. Today, though, Kenny kept quiet when Ryan entered with his new friend, making no snide remarks or rude gestures. For once, he was not the tallest person in the room. When Respa took off his shoes, he winced, and when he hung up his jacket, he rolled his shoulders, though Ryan couldn't imagine the little T-shirt that had burst in places on the side seams was any less constrictive.

"Why do you dress like that?" Kenny finally asked Respa as they came further into the room, unable to keep silent for long.

"Why do you look like Yao Ming?" Respa retorted, and Kenny shut up again. He hated that nickname, and Respa had somehow managed to home in it right away. (Not that it was hard; Yao Ming was probably the default nickname for any taller than average Asian man or boy.) Kenny rolled his eyes and glared at his homework, but he had nothing else to say.

"This is where I live," Ryan said, his arm sweeping around at the living room. "That on the couch is my little brother Kenny, and you should ignore him."

"Not a problem, I never liked basketball anyway," Respa said with a smirk, and Ryan gave him a perplexed look when Respa was still focused elsewhere. There was that bully persona again, even if it was a lighter version than at school.

"Um, down the hall is the rest of everything. The bathroom, the bedrooms... We have a dining room again since my sister moved out, but it means my brothers fight a lot since they moved into her old bedroom." He walked into the hallway accordingly.

"But where do you sleep?" Respa asked, following him.

"Oh, I have my own room, it's a converted study," he replied.

"How come?"

Oh. He hadn't considered the answer to a question like that, at least not if he was going to pretend to be a normal boy. "Uhh..."

"Because he's the middle child, and he has to get something," Kenny interjected from the living room. Ryan would have to thank him later, even if he knew Kenny would probably want something in return for covering for him like that.

"Yeah, that," Ryan agreed, and they entered his room. "This is my room."

"Wow. No windows, huh?" Respa asked, tossing his bag into the corner as he looked around. "Interesting choices of colors." He sat on the bed, bouncing slightly. "That's some fucking cabinet, holy shit."

"Yeah," Ryan sighed. "It's, um, leftover from when I was a kid. Nobody has time to take it down, so we just leave it there."

"What do you keep in it?"

"Books," he lied.

"What kind of books? Can I see?" Respa asked, standing to go up to the cabinet. "Believe it or not, I like to try reading books. I'm not good at it, but it's a good challenge. Or something."

"They're just boring kids' books," Ryan said quickly, darting to the cabinet to stand between it and Respa. "You wouldn't wanna even look at those, much less read them." Thankfully, the computer nearby distracted Respa from the ugly yellow cabinet, and he turned to face it.

"Man, you have your own computer? That's fuckin' boss," he said, grinning. "You have Internet on this thing?"

"Yeah," Ryan said, looking at it as well. "It's an old machine, though, it's kinda slow in comparison to the ones at school, or the one my parents got to replace it in their room."

"Whatever, at least you get Internet." He sat down in the desk chair, obviously fascinated by the presence of the computer. "Do you keep a lot of porn on this thing?"

"What?!" Ryan yelped. "No, of course not!"

"Oh, please, I bet you do," Respa said, laughing and spinning a little in the chair. "It's nothing to get worked up over."

"I don't," Ryan snapped. "I don't, okay?"

"Whatever you say," Respa said, still laughing.

"I don't!"

"Yeah, right, and you don't jack it, either. It's okay, I really don't care, every guy does." He spun a full three sixty in the chair. "Whatever."

"I don't," Ryan muttered, but by then Respa's focus had shifted away from the computer.

"Um, where's your bathroom?" he asked, rising from the chair.

"It's, um," and Ryan leaned out the door, "down the hall, right there." Respa left the room, stepping down the hall in the direction he pointed, albeit slowly. "Right there, yeah."

With Respa out of the room, Ryan slammed the door shut and tore open the yellow cabinet, where he opened up the bottle of Seroquel in record time, tossing the dose down his throat and washing it down with a big gob of saliva. He put the pills away and shut the cabinet just as quickly, and then sat on the bed, feeling relieved. He would be able to survive the rest of the evening. He lay back on the bed, relaxing until Respa got back from the bathroom.

"Are you tired or something?" Respa asked from the doorway, watching him. Ryan sat up immediately, scratching the back of his head.

"No, just...relaxing a little bit, after school and everything." He hoped he wasn't being transparent.

"I gotcha," Respa said. "Do you have anything to eat? That I can have, I mean?"

The rest of Respa's visit was spent doing mundane, normal things, like making sandwiches and booting Kenny out of the living room so they could watch TV. Ryan couldn't help but feel like he was a letdown as a host, but Respa seemed happy enough, watching Static Shock as he ate a cheese sandwich and potato chips on the couch with Ryan. What Ryan didn't like, sitting so close to Respa, was the familiar feeling he got from watching after-school cartoons while looking up, way up, at dark skin and shaggy hair. There were differences, of course, like the way Respa seemed to be growing out a wide mohawk, and the silver piercings that rimmed his ears, but Ryan still moved to the other corner of the couch. When Danny came home, they all convened around the Gamecube to play Mario Kart, Kenny rejoining them.

"I thought you liked Pikmin," Kenny said, nudging Ryan in the ribs.

"I like Mario Kart, too," Ryan said, trying to ignore his brother.

"You never want to play it with me," Kenny accused.

"That's because you're a douche," Danny interrupted. "Ryan, for chrissakes, pick a character."

"He can play instead, then, I don't know who I want yet," Ryan said, passing the second player controller to Respa. "Here."

"Fuck yes," Respa said, grinning wide. "I am taking Bowser, motherfucker." He scooted closer to the TV, all of them sitting on the floor, and Ryan scooted back in order to give him space. What Ryan appreciated about this turn of events, even if it meant he was sitting on the proverbial bench, was just how...regular this all seemed, just exactly what a group of teenaged boys would do when faced with time alone together and a video game console. Nobody was worrying at him about his medication, about triggers, about monitoring him. All anybody cared about right now was coming in first in the Star Cup races.

When Ryan's father came home from work, they shut off the console, and Respa declared it was probably time for him to go home. He shook Ryan's father's hand, thanked him politely for allowing him to stay (which only amused Ryan's father), and then he turned to Ryan.

"I'll see you at school, huh?" he said, shrugging into his undersized jacket.

"Yeah, I'll see you at school." He unlocked the door.

"Bye, then." He walked out, shoes in hand.

"You're not gonna put on your shoes?"

"Oh, uh, I gotta rush, man. I'll put 'em on in the elevator," Respa said, laughing nervously as he pushed the elevator button rapidly. "Don't worry about it."

"Alright. See you, then." Ryan shut the door, completely lost as to why Respa couldn't just put his shoes on in the apartment.
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