Life Would Go On, As It Does. As It Must.

Kieron stood at the window and watched his father hand over the bundle to the carrier. The carrier looked at the red writing across the envelopes, and began to argue, for just a moment — this is the right address, and that’s his son’s name, isn’t it? But one briefly stern look from Ellison and the carrier went right on his way. The post looked like it hadn’t been opened; it would be processed and put back. He struggled to keep himself from showing his triumph, his smug satisfaction.

He wanted to rub it in his father’s face — he wanted to jump in front of him and dance, mad with glee. You can’t take this from me; I won’t let you. I will never let you.

That day, there was no tutoring; briefly, Kieron worried that Garrett would not return, but the next night, Garrett showed up, and Ellison sat in the room with them, while Garrett went over tactics, calculus, and history. Nothing untoward was said — the conversation never strayed.

Tutoring went on that way for a solid week, and then Ellison left them to do their work alone. He had things to take care of, and he couldn’t babysit the boy forever, plus… plus it seemed that the earlier conflict had passed in the way he’d hoped it might. It came to an ugly head, but that only served to make his point. He felt a keen sense of despair, thinking of his lonely son, his broken heart, but he knew, still, that it was for the best — that it would work out as it should.

Once the boy’s studies were completed, he would be able to take him on, show him all the ins and outs of the family business, get him used to the needs of it, and how to meet them. Life would go on, as it does. As it must.

A few days later, Kieron found himself sitting on the edge of his desk, glancing off toward the window. The snow outside seemed perpetual; the world had been dimmed, made small and quiet by the heavy blanket that would not stop falling. He attempted to make himself get up and check the for carrier — but once he did, he simply felt worse than before: the man had either come and gone, or there was nothing to deliver.

That night, Kieron stole down to his father’s office once more, and opened the drawer where the letters had been hidden. Nothing new was to be found there. With a heavy heart, he closed the drawer, and went to the liquor cabinet, and poured himself some of his father’s brandy. He drank it down in stiff, choked swallows, and felt his eyes burn, and his throat seize fiercely enough that he had to hold his breath for long moments. When he could breathe again, he looked around, expecting new eyes, expecting things to be clearer, sharper, or perhaps easier. When they were neither, he poured himself more of the brandy, grateful that his father went through at least a decanter a week, more when he had guests over. He downed another glass, and it burned just as violently as the first, but he didn’t have to hold his breath as long.

He thought about a third glass, but knew that if he took it too far, he’d wind up waking up on the floor in a puddle of his own vomit, as he’d seen cadets do, during graduation. He carefully put the glass and bottle back where they belonged, and sat himself at his father’s desk, and took out a sheet of Ellison’s personal stationery, and began to write.

He started with Jet’s name, and then simply stared at the page for a long while, holding the pen, unable to come up with anything that made sense, anything that sounded good enough to follow sending back the dozens of letters Jet had sent him for weeks, considering Jet likely believed that’s all it was.

“This is stupid,” he said aloud to the paper. “I need you.” When it didn’t respond, he made a disgusted face, and put away the pen. He got up, and threw the paper into the dying fire, and watched it flare into brilliance, and then darken into ash.

The next morning, Kieron’s mother kept pestering after his health. “You simply look so pale, my darling. Your eyes are all sunken, and you haven’t eaten anything. Have you gotten a fever?” She fussed and flustered over him, and he could not decide if it was welcome, or wretched — he watched his father with owl eyes, and sank into his mother’s care, preferring the sometimes annoyance of her attentions to the constant low burn of fury he felt every time he heard his father speak.

* * *

“You don’t seem to be paying much attention today, Brody,” Garrett noted.

Kieron didn’t answer, for a long time; he simply stared at the professor, his eyes dulled, dark. “Apologies, professor. I think I might have caught something. I’m feeling under the weather,” Kieron said, and his voice bore the same dullness as his eyes. He kept his gaze on his papers, or glanced toward the window, but not once did he look at Garrett. He had used the professor, had made him believe his father wasn’t trying to keep him from Jet, precisely so the old man would try to destroy the letters, and ultimately force Kieron into some kind of battle of wills… which he purposefully lost.

Which meant he won.

Except Jet wasn’t sending letters anymore, and Garrett was both hurt and cold, distant — he wanted to help, but he no longer wanted Ellison’s ire.

“I’ll leave you with your work, then,” Garrett said, airily enough. “Get some rest and we’ll look again tomorrow.” He got up, quickly packed his things, and headed for the door, leaving Kieron slumped at the table.

As he was leaving the grounds via the unmanned gate, he heard footfalls on the flagstones behind him. He turned to see Kieron in his houseclothes, running up.

The boy’s breath steamed in the cold night, and his bare feet were reddened from the cold and the snow. “Professor,” he said, his voice urgent and low, reaching to try to touch Garrett’s shoulder. “Garrett, please,” he said, and in his voice was something so raw, the older man could not refuse it.

Garrett turned, lips pursed, and said, “You’ll catch your death out here, Brody.”

“Is he all right?” Kieron said, panting, swallowing to soothe his throat from having run from the house in the raw winter air. “Jet. Is he all right, sir? I haven’t… he–” He didn’t seem bothered by the cold; the fire in his eyes, the need to know consumed him. “The letters stopped.”

“As far as I am aware,” Garrett said carefully. “I believe he is fine. I am minding my own business, as I should have before, when it comes to the two of you,” he said, not unkindly. “Your father’s a formidable man.”

“He is,” Kieron said, tension leaving him in a great exhale the instant he heard that Jet was all right. He raked a hand back through his hair and said, painedly, looking to Garrett, “I don’t want to be him.”

Garrett nodded once, and said, “Understood. You should get back inside, either way.” He turned to go, but paused, not yet looking to Kieron, his eyes narrowing slightly.

Kieron had nodded, but didn’t leave, and was watching Garrett, his hands clenching and unclenching. How he wanted to apologize — Garrett was all he had left to tie him back to Jet, and that connection was wearing perilously thin. “Yes, sir,” he finally answered, and when Garrett glanced back, words hesitating behind his teeth, he saw Kieron running back through the boxwood maze, headed for the house, his breath steaming in the cold, under the moon.

This Will Pass

Kieron’s mood improved drastically after finding the letters; though he was wounded beyond belief at his father’s actions, though he was furious beyond words, he showed none of it, and simply soothed himself by reading and re-reading the letters he’d found. He knew Jet had been worried about writing anything that could get either of them in further trouble; he traced over the words and doodles, laughed at the stupid jokes, and felt himself less disconnected than he’d been in weeks.

It felt like a thousand thousand years since the night Hoyt Redwell knocked him unconscious for saying those vicious things about that summer day at the family lakehouse.

“You’ve been improving. Your mood has lifted,” Garrett noticed, one afternoon.

“Recently heard from an old friend,” Kieron said guardedly.

Garrett nodded, quirking a brow. “Ah, you’ve gotten letters, I presume?”

Kieron cleared his throat and worked on carefully resolving a calculus error before he looked up at Garrett and said, “Yes, my father had been …holding them for me.”

Garrett’s expression grew thoughtful, and he said, “There was some speculation, I am certain, that he might not appreciate it. That’s resolved, then?”

“Entirely,” Kieron breezed, then gestured to his proof. “It was a matter of forgetting the sign, as usual,” he said, changing the subject.

“Why so it was,” Garrett said, nodding. He felt awed, pleased for the boy, who would likely be able to come back to the Academy, if his father had finally managed to let go of his worry for the boy and his friends.

* * *

“Good evening, Professor.” Ellison shook the man’s hand, smiling warmly. “How’s my son doing, with his studies?” Kieron stood nearby, grinning easily; he lifted his brows in an expectant expression, proud and hoping to hear enough to brag about.

“He’s doing phenomenally well,” Garrett said, pumping the man’s hand, his cheeks flushed from the cold. “Couldn’t be more proud,” he said, and he let the butler take his overcoat, and stepped from his snowy boots into a set of proffered house slippers, for his stay.

Kieron positively beamed. Maybe his father would relent, after all. Maybe he would see that the episode was only a brief blip, that he was well enough to return to the Academy.

And then Garrett kept talking.

“I think what’s made the biggest difference is you, and how you’ve enabled him to talk to Jet again,” he said.

Kieron’s expression shifted from delight to shock, and then fear. He turned to look toward his father just as his father cocked his head to the side and turned to look at him. “Oh?” said Ellison. Kieron was the only one in the room who knew the shift in Ellison’s tone was dangerous. He looked back to Garrett, hoping the man would meet his eyes, giving a tiny headshake, pleading with everything he had. Shut up, shut up, for the love of everything, shut up!

“The two of them have obviously bonded over their years at the Academy, and it’s not hard for anyone to see they’ve been influential to one another’s success–” Garrett said, looking slightly startled.

Ellison released his hand and swung an arm around to grab his son and march him down the hall, fiercely. “What an interesting thing to hear,” Ellison said, his voice full of forced cheer. “Let’s keep talking — my office, yes?”

Kieron looked over his shoulder at Garrett, his expression panicked, his heart thundering in his chest.

Garrett went after them, worry now plastered over his features. “Sir I–”

“Come along, professor. It’s even warmer in my office. Lovely fireplace. Brandy. I’m sure you can use the table in there to work with Kieron,” Ellison boomed. Ellison shifted his grip on Kieron carefully, turning his face back toward the way they were walking. In a much lower voice, he said, “No, no, boy. The professor can’t help you with this.”

Once they got into the office, Kieron’s father released him, and walked toward his desk. He opened the drawer, and pulled out the two bundles, and set them on the desk in front of Kieron, then wordlessly walked away to the liquor cabinet, where he pulled out a crystal decanter, and poured a glass of brandy with a heavy hand, knocked it back, poured another one, and drained that as well. He cleared his throat as he set the glass back down, and returned to stand near the desk.

“Kieron, my son, when your mother and I first learned of your condition, we were bound and determined to save you. We explored and thought of every opportunity, but until your recent episode at the Academy, not once did it occur to us to send you away,” Ellison said, his jaw working as he looked to the fire.

“I am… beyond grateful, father,” Kieron said, glancing to Garrett. The professor stood there, looking faintly helpless, watching awkardly. “Truly, I know that you’ve done so much for me; I’ll never be able to repay you.”

“If I did things for you merely to be repaid, I’d be a terrible father.” Ellison began to pace, sighing. “Son, I do for you because it is what fathers do. But this last time, your stay in the Academy, the friends you’ve made… In the course of your life, and in dealing with your condition, I have had to make many hard decisions, some of which I’m sure you’ve disagreed with. Some I can look back on, and know I might have done differently, but couldn’t have, at the time, based on what I knew to be true.”

“I understand,” Kieron promised, trying not to be impatient or frantic. “I trust you,” Kieron said, nodding, and it was that statement that turned Ellison’s head. He looked to his son, and his expression was pained and loving, all at once.

“Then trust me now, and forgive me later, for this,” Ellison said, and he picked up the bundles, and tossed one into the fire, letting it flare up and burn fiercely. The envelopes lettered in Kieron’s gentle hand blackened and crisped, fell to ash quickly.

“NO!” Kieron shrieked, throwing himself toward the fireplace. “No, no, Father!” It was only Garrett’s quick movement that caught Kieron; the boy was held firmly in the professor’s grasp. Tears fell, and Kieron dashed them angrily from his eyes, gasping through his panic.

Ellison lifted the other bunch, to throw them in, as well.

Kieron fought against Garrett’s iron grip, but finally sagged, panting. “Father, why?” he begged. “Can’t you at least tell me why?”

Ellison sighed, and the hand that held the letters dropped to his waist. “Kieron, first, you have to understand that the life we live was born on the backs of sacrifice. That it wouldn’t be possible for you to live in luxury if I’d gone off half-cocked and done whatever I wanted, when I was your age. Luckily, I listened to my father, even when I didn’t want to. Even when I thought it would end my world.”

“I don’t understand,” Kieron said, relaxing only a little, his eyes ever going to the bundle in his father’s hand.

“You have a responsibility to this family, son, and it is to keep the line going, keep the business, going, find a beautiful girl and make an honest woman of her. Have children. Get them involved in the family business. Follow in the footsteps of your father, my father, his father — the legacy we’re building is something larger than ourselves,” Ellison said, an almost feverish need on his face. It wasn’t delight — it was something darker than that, something heavier.

“I can… I can do that,” Kieron said. “Sure, it… I’ll make you proud of me,” he promised, his heart in his throat. “Any-anything, Father, just–”

“End it, Kieron,” Ellison said, gruffly.

“He’s a friend! It’s just friendship!” Kieron struggled to keep himself from sounding too frantic.

“It’s a dangerous relationship, too full of fancy. It’s kid stuff. You’re becoming a man, son, and you need to cut away those pieces that will hold you down.”

Kieron’s expression was stunned; he cleared his throat, saying, “End… end it? I don’t–” He looked up at his father, a plea on his face that he couldn’t find the words for, his expression going stricken. Don’t. Don’t make me. Don’t do this. The knowing look on his father’s face, the love and hardness in his eyes didn’t make it any easier, any less horrifying.

“I’ll burn these, and you’ll just hate me, like I hated my father for making the hard choices,” he says. “That Harrington boy is what’s causing your sickness to–”

“Sir–” Garrett began, flushed, looking angry. “You can’t possibly believe–”

Ellison turned a baleful eye on Garrett, and spoke carefully, calmly, through gritted teeth. “One word from me, Garrett, and your tenure will be revoked. You thought the Redwells could be a bone in your throat? Don’t cross me. And don’t you dare do a single thing to drag this out any longer than it ought. Tonight’s session is over. Go back to the Academy. We’ll send for you again tomorrow.” He turned his gaze back to his son, and the expression was a mix of so many things: love, hope, determination. He did not turn away to make sure Garrett exited; he knew the man would.

Kieron pled, watching Garrett go, “I’m not sick, Father. I’m not, I–”

“I love you, Kieron. I do. You are my son, and I love you. But this is for the best. I swear to all I know, this is for the best,” Ellison said. “I don’t want to, but since it’s come to that, I’ll tell you what my father told me: If you have to hate me for awhile to become the man I know you can be, if you have to hate me while I save your life and make sure you can hate me for a good, long time… I’ll do it.”

Kieron grabbed for the stack of envelopes, tears in his eyes, but Ellison held tight. “Don’t–” Kieron begged. “I’ll end it,” he sobbed through gritted teeth, bowing his head. His father sighed heavily as he released the bundle, and Kieron walked to his desk, and sat down. He picked up a pen, and carefully wrote out ‘Return to Sender’ on each and every letter, dashing tears from his eyes as he did so. When he was done, he tied the bundle back up, and thrust them out at his father, saying, “There. It’s done.”

Ellison took the envelopes from his son and nodded. “Good. Good, I know it’s hard, son. I know,” he promised, reaching to embrace him, to kiss his forehead as he had not done in some time. “This will pass.”

Kieron stood silently, leaned into his father, and didn’t ask if he still hated Ellison the first.

Both of the Brody men watched the fire, and felt an echoing burn in their chests.

Ellison wondered if his son would ever forgive him for denying him his only friend.

Kieron wondered if his father would ever forgive him for refusing to be denied.

Reader’s Choice

So you’ve seen all kinds of stuff on here so far, now I’m going to ask you what you feel like reading. Can’t promise I’ll bow to the whimsy of anyone but myself, because the muse might get crazy drunk on RedBull and inspire me to write odes to chevrons and kitchen knives, but I’d be lying if I said I ONLY wrote for myself, so what the hell — why not ask? If you’ve got something not listed above that you want to see done (live pictures of me capturing wild boars, recipes for gluten-free pickled hipster feet) then you should say so in the comments.

He Slept Heavily and Well

“No, no,” Kieron said, sounding knowing, wagging his finger at the people cornering him. “I know what help means,” he said, panting as he balanced up atop the cabinet. “I know what your help is,” he told them, baring his teeth. “Not happening. You don’t understand. I have to talk to Jet. It’s important. Just… just ask my parents, okay?” he said, trying to bargain, holding his hands out as though to show how he was unarmed.

“Let’s be reasonable. I’m not… there’s nothing wrong with me,” he said. “I just have to talk to him.”

“Sorry, kid,” one of the men said. “We’ve got our orders.”

“Fuck your orders!” Kieron cried, panicked. “Jet’s going to die — I saw it! I have to stop it! Just… just call my mom and dad!” he pleaded. “They’ll tell you! They said I could go back to school. I’ve been doing good. I’m not sick. I’m not sick!”

“C’mon down,” the other orderly sighed, sounding resigned. He reached for Kieron’s foot.

Kieron kicked out, snapping his booted foot at the man’s hand and stomping down, pinning it, grinding his heel. He leaned in, getting almost face to face with the man, and shouted, “CALL. THEM. I HAVE. TO GO. BACK!”

“Son of a — !” Shocked, the orderly pulled his wounded hand out from under the boot, swearing furiously. His other hand shot out, reaching up to grab a handful of Kieron’s hair. “Who the hell do you think brought you to us?” the man shouted as he brought Kieron even lower down to face him. “Get your ass down here, cadet. Your parents are signing you over right now.”

Stunned, Kieron turned to look toward the mirror that was a window into the room, and it was all the orderlies needed to get a solid hold on him. “No! I have to go back!” Kieron insisted, his voice raw, his expression frantic. “You have to let me go back!” he shouted, struggling against his captors. “No. No! NO!” he screamed, thrashing, wild-eyed and hooking his fingers into claws to tear at the men who tried to restrain him. He lunged for the window, screaming at the people on the other side. “I hate you! I HATE YOU!” he shrieked, his hair pasted to his face and neck, sweatslick. “You’re killing him!” he accused. “You’re killing him! You have to let me go back!”

The orderlies tightened their grip on him, while a doctor stepped in, and administered a sedative, enough to take down a man three times his size.

Kieron howled in rage, tossing his head, and arched his back as though he could tear himself loose of the very fabric of Here-And-Now…

…and then he slumped, his eyes glassy, and he shook his head, trying to clear it, his words slurring. “Y’can’t, I can’t– Jet,” he said, blinking widely, struggling to stay conscious. “Somebody. Somebody save him,” he said, and finally, he sagged in the grips of the orderlies, who moved to lay him in the bed, and restrain him thoroughly.

Through the windows, his parents watched, and wept, holding to one another. The very thing they’d feared had come to pass — their son was lost to them.

“We’ll provide him the very best care,” the man in the white coat explained, turning them away from the scene, once they’d watched it play out. “I know it seems hard, right now, but this is for the best — for him. He’ll be helped. We’ll help him,” he promised them.

* * * * *

“Brody, Kieron?” The nurse’s voice was flat, even as she questioned Kieron’s existence.

“Here,” he said dully, making no move to go to her side.

She crossed to him and held up the little paper cup. “Meds,” she said.

He put out his hand, and she put the cup in it.

He took the meds, and handed the cup back.

He put out his hand again, and she put another cup in it.

He took the water, tipping it and the pills down his throat, and handed the cup back.

It was their own little ritual, five times a day.

He waited around twenty minutes or so, and then shuffled off to the bathroom, where he carefully peeled the capsules away from where he’d tucked them against his cheek, and flushed them down the toilet.

He had learned his lessons, in the first few days of this hell.

He no longer had to be held down. He no longer wore restraints in bed. He did not struggle. He did not fight. He gave up, and nursed the tiny spark left in him, waiting and waiting. This couldn’t last. This wouldn’t be forever. He spoke quietly in group, and he parroted back what he knew they wanted, and he was as good a student for the institution as he was at the academy — better, even, because his brilliance could stand out here the way it couldn’t as much in a field full of other brilliant, undrugged, unrestrained students who believed in the ferocity of conformity the Academy expected.

His parents came after only two weeks, after hearing a glowing report from the doctors. He was told of their visit and made sure to behave as the rest of the inpatients did. They visited their son and found him glassy-eyed and compliant, so much of what made him Kieron stripped away, and they could not leave him there for further treatment. He was signed back out again, against medical advice, though the doctor did consent, at last, to allowing Kieron back for therapy if necessary. “But if he must come back, Mr. and Mrs. Brody, I need your assurances you will leave him with us until I deem him fully recovered,” the doctor said, patient but firm.

After agreeing, Kieron found himself back home, in familiar clothes, with familiar love surrounding him, and he imagined that perhaps life could get back to normal, the way it had been. Surely after five years of school going decently well, they would not take it all away from him, only one year from graduation. While he waited, he wrote brief missives to Jet; short notes about his health, and questions about the Academy. He wasn’t allowed to leave the house, and he never managed to catch the carrier, so he always handed the letters over to his parents to mail.

He assumed they would read them, so he wrote nothing about his episodes in them, nor anything that would even bring suspicion. But days went by, and he would hear nothing in response. Still, he sent the letters out into the world, via his mother, via his father, hoping.

One morning, his parents were fairly beaming, and his mother said, “And today, we’ll finally get you settled back into your studies.”

Kieron’s heart leapt. “I’m going back?” he said, his eyes wide, his whole body trembling as he fixated his attention on them.

His mother and father looked worried, glanced at one another, and both tried to talk at once.

“Now, honey,” his mother began.

“Son,” his father said, lifting up a ‘Be Calm’ hand.

Then they both paused, and after a moment or two, it was his mother who offered, “Professor Garrett will be coming to tutor you. Privately.”

Kieron’s shoulders sank, and with them, his heart. He tried not to let the disappointment show on his face. “All right,” he sighed, shrugging, trying to offer them a smile, at least to dull the concerned expressions on their faces. He didn’t want to fight. He didn’t want to end up back in the institute — he knew any fits, be them the episodes he knew, or any of just rage or misery, would land him right back there.

Instead, he complied, as he knew he had to. Go along, to get along.

The next few days were a rush of getting used to new routines, with Professor Garrett, with yet another doctor who wanted to poke and prod him, give him supplements, and have him stand on his head in the sauna for fifteen minutes three times a day, and through it all, Kieron struggled to remain placid, tried not to beg Garrett to advise his parents to send him back to the Academy. The first thing Garrett mentioned, when they were alone, supposedly working through calculus, was “I don’t know as your parents informed you, but Redwell was expelled.”

Kieron looked horrified, paling out, and Garrett reached out a hand, putting it on the boy’s shoulder. “You’re safe here, you know. Your house is a bit of a fortress,” he said, not unkindly.

“Jet,” Kieron breathed, shaking his head. “Not me, Jet.”

Garrett pursed his lips, glancing around, and then said “He’s fine. He’ll be fine as well. You would do well to focus on your work.”

Kieron dropped it, feeling the stirrings in his gut that foretold an episode, sometime that day. Or perhaps it was an odd sense of disappointment that Jet would be fine, but not have written back. If he was going to slip soon, to witness another death, he didn’t want to bring it on any quicker, and didn’t want to push Garrett away by arguing. The man was his only link back to the Academy, back to Jet.

* * * *

Some time later, he happened to be in the front hall when a carrier arrived, offering out mail and packages. Kieron signed for them, and noticed one was for him. His heart soared when he saw Jet’s careful lettering, and he went to set everything down in his father’s office so he could take his letter to his room, and read it. Finally, a response! Just as he dropped everything off on his father’s desk, he heard a sudden and terrible crash, and then his mother was calling out, urgent, pained.

He rushed off to her, and found her tangled in a small ladder, her ankle twisted grotesquely, her orchid planters fallen in disarray. A call was made for the family medic, who showed up quickly, and made sure that the injury was a terrible sprain, and nothing more. It took the afternoon to get her settled, to get things cleaned up. When all was said and done, and she was comfortable, Kieron finally remembered what he’d been about, and he ran to his father’s office to get his letter, so he could read it before Professor Garrett showed up.

When he went to his father’s office to find it, however, the mail was sorted, most of it opened, and the letter nowhere to be seen. He looked on the floor around the desk, in his father’s wastebasket, and could not find it. When his father came in, looking for him, to let him know Garrett had arrived, he found his son under his desk, shining a penlight beneath the feet, using a letter opener to try to reach beneath it. “What, pray tell, are you doing?”

Kieron sat up quickly, smacking his head on the underside of the desk, and climbed out, sheepish. “I was the one who got the mail today,” he said. “I thought I’d seen…”

“Yes?”

“I thought there’d been a letter for me,” Kieron said, watching his father’s face.

“For you?” Ellison Brody said, pursing his lips, looking thoughtful. “I don’t believe–”

“I saw it. It came in an Academy envelope–” Kieron began.

“There was nothing,” Kieron’s father insisted. “I’ve been through all the mail myself,” he said, reassuring. “If you get mail, we’ll make sure you get it.”

Disappointed beyond measure, Kieron nodded, and went off to meet Garrett for tutoring. Go along, to get along.

That night, however, once he was certain everyone was in bed he went to his father’s office, and began to search through his desk — the letter had to be there. It just had to. He opened the doors and drawers of the big mahogany desk, feeling a thrill of excitement move through him, as he carefully searched in forbidden places. The last drawer was locked, but he knew the key was kept beneath the paperweight, so it wouldn’t get lost. When he opened it, he was stunned to find not just the letter, but two bundles of them. He pulled them out, and looked them over, heartsick. One bundle held all the letters he had written to Jet — unsent. The other held letters Jet had written him, including the latest. Two weeks’ worth of daily correspondence, hidden from him.

His heart thundered, and the love of his parents warred with rage — how dare they keep these things from him? He was home, but in truth, this place had become little better than a prison, no different from the institute; this cage was simply prettier.

He paced in front of the fire, thinking, thinking, his mind and heart racing. What could he do, to get beyond this, to use it to his advantage? His father would notice if he took the letters, and would take pains to keep them better hidden. No — this would require something far more planned, far more subtle. At length, it came to him, and he nearly stumbled over himself in his efforts to get started quickly.

Checking the time, he put on a kettle, and as it steamed, he used it to open the letters from Jet, setting aside the papers carefully. He then steamed open the letters that were to be sent, and swapped the contents, putting his carefully handwritten letters into Jet’s envelopes, and then sealed them shut once more. He burned his fingers once or twice, refilling the kettle as he worked into the wee hours, and grew sick with fury over his family’s betrayal.

Finally, he put the kettle back, cleaned up, and went to bed, reading and rereading the letters from Jet, carefully tucking them into his schoolbooks, getting them settled into his texts, flattening them carefully so they wouldn’t be noticed. After so long, he felt like there might be some way through this isolation, and he slept heavily and well.

Pen Something Thoughtful

“Take heart, Harrington.” It was the first time he’d been addressed directly, since that night. People had begun to avoid him. Teachers had stopped calling on him. Jet faded, slowly, from view. He kept up his grades well enough, but grew silent and unresponsive.

“Sir?” Jet said, packing up his things after bell.

“Brody’s alive,” Garrett said.

Jet’s head snapped up. He watched Garrett with keen eyes, gripping his notebooks tightly. “You’ve seen him?”

“His parents don’t want him attending, but they want him to keep with his education,” Garrett explained. “I’ve taken him materials and privately tutored him.”

“How did he look?” Jet asked, flushed with excitement, ignoring the pang of disappointment he felt at hearing that he wouldn’t be coming back to the campus.

“Pale,” Garrett said, pursing his lips. “Sick. I dare to say it, Harrington, but I fear he had a fit once, while I was there. He seemed to have dozed off, then came to, then he had to run off to be sick, and then he spent the next while muttering to himself, shaking, sweating. He was adamant I did not call his father. He said it was mild, and I would do well to ignore it, as he was trying to.”

“He’s not sick,” Jet said, defensively.

“Well he’s not well,” Garrett retorted.

Jet had no reply, but simply let his shoulders drop. He went back to packing his bag, and then asked, “Was there anything else, sir?”

“I believe he would do better here, or at least with some manner of communication with his peers. He… You might write him, Harrington,” Garrett offered.

“Write him, sir?” Jet looked up again, his expression confused.

“Yes. A letter. Pen something thoughtful, perhaps a get-well missive, to Mister Brody, and pop it in the carrier’s?” Garrett said, not unkindly, even if it was slightly patronizing.

“Do you imagine his parents will allow it?” Jet wondered.

“Perhaps his mother and father will receive them, and let him read them, if they see they are simply missives of friendship,” Garrett offered, a thinly veiled warning left there, for Jet to pick up or dismiss, as he would.

And so, at first, he sent letters. They were mailed, and then disappeared into a great void. No answer. No response of any kind. Not even a notice from Kieron’s parents for Jet to stop writing. He wrote, and the letters were short notes to share the weather, a joke, a hard session at games, a particular philosophical conundrum, brought up in meditations. He sent drawings, and he wrote long screeds of nothing, pouring out of himself all the desire to connect with his friend, and filtering it into something he knew could not be used to shame him or his father, if it were read by Kieron’s parents.

At first, there was nothing in reply. No letter, no note, no call at the office.

Then, all at once, a flood. Jet was told he had mail — letters — and his heart leapt. He all but ran to the mailroom, and when the clerks handed him a canvas bag full, he held it to his chest, feeling his heart thunder. He ran back to his room, careful not to drop his treasure, and when he returned, he locked the door, ran to Kieron’s bed, and upended the mailbag onto it, excited to stick his hands into the pile, to sift through them

The letters fell from the bag in a snow of confusion; Jet knelt and grabbed one up, lifting it to his eyes.

And then his face fell. He dropped it and grabbed for another, then dropped that and grabbed for another, and another, and another. “Oh,” he breathed, and uttered a low sob. The letters weren’t new; they were the letters he’d sent over the past days and weeks. Each and every one of them had been sent back, with ‘Return To Sender’ written in big red letters across the front. They were still sealed. He gripped them up and held them to his chest, and then he got up, and deposited them all in the waste basket near his desk. He walked the mail bag back to the clerks, and handed it over without a word, then went back to his room, and sat on his bed in the dark, staring down between his feet for long hours.

He missed evening vespers. The next morning, he received a firm warning from the Headmaster, and nodded respectfully in all the right places, but his heart and mind were elsewhere.

Time began to slow down; days took weeks to get through — Jet could barely hold his head up, after awhile. Professor Garrett called his parents, who sent him a letter reminding him to buck up, that break was coming soon, and he would be able to rest at home for a bit, if he wanted. The lines from his mother were comforting, while those from his father carried faint scolding. Don’t get soft. Don’t give in. Work hard. Don’t stop. He dropped the letter into the same wastebasket that held his returned letters.

One morning, Jet simply didn’t get up. He turned his head and looked over at the empty bed, the tight linens, the flat pillow, and laid still, even as the light brightened from dim gray to sharp silver.

A prefect was sent in to check on him, but Jet would not respond. Eventually, Professor Garrett opened the door with a master key. He knelt at Jet’s side and checked his pulse and temperature, and said guardedly, “You’re not ill.”

“Exactly,” rasped Jet. “Please leave me be.” He turned his eyes away from the professor, but the man grabbed his chin and turned Jet’s face back toward him.

“What are you trying to accomplish?” Garrett asked.

“Nothing. I’m not trying anything, anymore,” Jet said dully. He stared at Garrett without any real fire in his eyes, waiting to be released.

“The Headmaster will want to make an example of you,” Garrett murmured.

“Let him,” Jet said, lifting his eyes toward the ceiling. “I don’t care anymore.”

Garrett gave the boy a rough shake, which brought Jet briefly out of his reverie. He stared at the professor, shocked at first, then simply angry. “What do you want from me?” he hissed, to which Garrett’s reply was simply another rough shake. “Stop! Stop it!” Jet snapped, moving to try to get away from the man. “Leave me be!” The fury rose, and as Garrett held the young man down, Jet writhed and twisted and then finally lunged to the side and moved to sink his teeth into Garrett’s forearm.

The professor shouted, releasing Jet, who then hauled off and punched him.

They scrambled apart, and Jet stood, feet apart, panting, shaking out his fist, angry, while Garrett scrambled to his feet, just out of arm’s reach, rubbing his jaw. “Good,” Garrett said, nodding. “Good. Come here, son.”

Jet shook his head minutely, defiant, still panting. “No. N’don’t you come near me.”

“Harrington,” Garrett sighed. “Jet, boy, come here,” he said, earnest.

Something in his voice caught Jet’s attention, and instead of running away, he slipped closer, and then closer, and then he felt himself wrapped up in Garrett’s arms, held close. He could feel the beating heart of the man, and smell the warmth of him, and it startled him enough that his composure slipped once, fell away, and Jet felt himself sag, folding in against the welling sadness. “A part of me is missing,” Jet said, his voice muffled against Garrett’s robes. “It’s the only way I can explain it. I don’t know how to get up, how to keep breathing, how to be, without that part.”

Garrett sighed, stepping back, and said, “Why did you stop writing to him, then?”

“Sir?” Jet wondered, looking baffled.

“You wrote to him, and he came alive again, during tutoring. He looked determined, during my visits,” Garrett explained. “But two weeks ago, he withdrew again. He wouldn’t meet my eyes. His parents have told me they may discontinue the services. When I left, he begged me to tell him if you were all right, because he had not gotten a letter in some time.”

“Because he wasn’t getting any of them!” Jet said. “They–they all came back,” he said, pointing over to the corner, where the wastebasket held them. “They came back return to sender, no such addressee — It was his writing. It’s not even that his parents are keeping them from him. He got them. He just… he sent them back.”

Just then, the Headmaster stepped in, to take stock of the situation, his eyes narrowed, his expression pinched. “Professor Garrett. Your students are wondering where you are. You had best return to them,” he snapped.

“Certainly, Headmaster,” Garrett said, straightening up and jutting out his chin, his expression grown instantly cold and hard. “I was merely… advising Harrington to get out of bed, and make haste, before he missed another bell. It would not due to waste opportunities,” Garrett said archly. “Boy — you had best work harder if you want to avoid punishment,” he said to Jet, pursing his lips. He stepped closer and glowered over Jet, who stepped back, looking chastened. Garrett advanced, and lifted a finger, reaching it out to prod Jet’s chest, emphasizing his words. “I suggest you open your eyes and study your letters, young man. You’ve relied on my kindness too much. It will not come again.”

Jet nodded, his cheeks flushing. He bowed his head and closed his widening eyes, not daring to glance toward the wastebasket, feeling his heart in his throat.

Garrett then strode from the room, past the Headmaster, who nodded, looking smug, and turned to leave as well, saying “You’re expected in classes by next bell, Harrington.”

“Yes, sir,” Jet said, swallowing roughly. He closed the door behind the men and locked it, and moved to get dressed. All he wanted in the world was to take another look at the letters — but he had to get to sessions before the next bell… or risk further contemplation.