"Finished," I sighed, clicking the save button. If I continued at this pace I would be done in the next few months.
"What do you think?" I asked my greyhound, Roxanne settled down beside my wheelchair. She then sat up, barking in approval as she wagged her tail. Giving her a pet I proceeded to shut down my laptop.
I got up pushing my wheelchair aside, I could deal without it most of the time. I was an arthritis sufferer, not crippled. Stretching my hands out over my head I wondered what I'd eat for lunch.
Rice, with a little sauce... no that'll surpass my calorie limit... fruit salad? I thought, walking out the study, Roxanne hot on my trail. Walking into the kitchen, I took in the morning song of the birds outside through the window. I turned to open the fridge only to bump into Roxanne.
"Damn," I muttered, feeling the burn on my ankles. The kitchen was smallish and just enough for me and Roxanne to get around, but that was okay. My cabin had everything I needed to write and stay alive. There was a supply store down in town. I had my solitude and I had Roxanne.
I'd moved here about two years ago from D.C. I had grown tired of the action-filled life that my sore bones couldn't keep up with.
Or was it him?
I ignored my thoughts, and instead fished out some leftover frozen salad and some dog Keble from the above cabinet. I moved to the counters to warm up the cold salad in a pot since I didn't have a microwave.
Is it so hard to admit you're running away?
I'm not running away from anybody, I'm not running away from anything. I mean why would I? My royalty checks were getting better each week, I had the peace and quiet I've always craved. I tried to convince myself as I dropped the salad container into the pot filled with a cup of water.
"You don't get out enough, come back home..."
I frowned, remembering my mom's words from her call last week. What did she mean? I get out enough. I see enough people when I went to town for supplies. I even offered to relieve the Literature professors sometimes in the local universities by taking some classes.
I sighed, placing Roxanne's bowl of Keble on the floor. I watched her eat for a while before turning back to my salad. I knew I should be eating more, but I didn't want to be the guy that gained back all his weight, it was bad enough that I was as plain looking as they got.
My ears perked up and Roxanne barked at the sound of the living room landline ringing. I sighed, turning off the heat of the stove. Taking a hand towel, I wiped my hand before heading out the kitchen door.
"Hello?" I muttered into the phone, not bothering to check the number.
I thought, bringing my free hand to my forehead.
"Drew? Speak to your Uncle, won't you."
"What do you want?" I asked in a frustrated voice. I don't like my uncle. He's a thorn in the neck and an even worse one when he wanted something. He was about to get married to his fiancée, she's going to be his sixth if I counted correctly.
"Harsh aren't you? Well, if you ask I want you to accommodate my soon to be step son for a while. He—"
"No," I said sternly. Review his benefits to go into a deal with a company, sure. Do that. No.
"Please, he's been newly enrolled in that college... Den... Um..."
"It's Denfort," I corrected, rolling my eyes. Why would he enroll someone- his soon to be step son to a school he barely knew the name of?
"That's right. I need you to help me out with his keep."
"I can't. If he's of college age why don't you just get him into the school dormitories?" I asked, looking for a way to slip out of this. I couldn't let someone invade my heaven.
"The costs are too expensive for what they're providing."
"Oh really..." I trailed sarcasm staining my tone. I leaned on the wall, feeling the strain of my weight on my ankles. I wanted to get this talk done and over with.
"I can't help you," I said, closing my eyes in frustration.
"Drew you just have to, he's going to be at the train station tomorrow."
I cursed, balling my hands into fists in disbelief.
"Tomorrow? Tomorrow?! What's wrong with you?!" I screamed into the phone.
"I assumed you'd be easy to convince..." I groaned. It's just like him; always 'assuming'.
"I'll make it up to you, I'll send money for his keep I just need him away until I marry his mother." He tried through the phone. I sighed, so that's what this is about.
"I'll do it."
"Yes, forget the keep money just send the details of his enrollment and arrival." I sighed not quite believing I was helping my uncle with woman problems again.
"Of course, that's my nephew..."
"Goodbye uncle," I sighed, hanging up. Why couldn't my father have had more normal brothers? Looking around the living room I wondered if a seventeen, maybe eighteen year old would want to live here. It was reserved small simple town, and it was a little far from the college.
I shook my head, trying to get the doubt out of my head. I already agreed to this, and I'm not the one turn back on my word. Wondering away to the extra room, I turned on the lights to take a look. I frowned at the pile of dust building on the bed and furniture. Shaking my head I wondered what exactly I had been expecting, no one had really used the room.
I walked to the windows opening them to let in light and fresh air. I undressed the bed taking the bed sheet and pillowcases with me out the room. I needed to get fresh sheets, maybe clean out the drawers and do some light dusting. The bathroom would prove to be a problem too.
I walked into the small laundry, dropping the bed sheets in a hamper. Roxanne walked in waging her tail.
"Rox," I muttered, squatting to pet her.
"Seems we'll be having a visitor," I muttered, stroking her fur.
I groaned in annoyance, bending my head. I've been sitting here for the past twenty minutes. If I was to take a wild guess, it'll be that this 'guardian' or whatever fancy name my mum's fiance addressed him as, was just as bull shitty and irresponsible.
"Ethan?" I heard a low toned voice say from above me. I looked up at the person in question. It was a skinny man in a red turtleneck sweater and faded blue jeans. He had a full head of dark hair. Its smooth waves making it almost wavelike in appearance.
"Ethan Lightwood?" he asked more definitely this time. I nodded giving him a confused look. He didn't look much older than me. He looked around the age twenty-four to six.
"Hi, I'm Andrew. If you quite remember I was asked to pick you up," he said stretching out his hand. I looked down with an inspecting gaze. It was just as skinny as the rest of his body.
"Nice meeting you," I said out of obligation rather than actual feelings. I took his hand in a brief short handshake, almost expecting it to shatter from my touch.
"Your things?" he asked, looking about.
"Just this," I said plucking the strap of my rucksack.
"Well then..." He trailed, looking towards the parking lot with a smile on his face. It kind of made him look different — the smile that is. It distracted you from the fact he was literally a bag of bones.
He started walking towards the parking lot, making me get up in haste to follow him. We walked to his gray SUV, the tires and back bumper covered in road dirt.
I blinked when he indicated he was going to get the door. Watching him, I squinted noticing his slight limp as he walked over to the other side of the car.
Hearing the door unlock I attempted to open the passenger seat only to hear a low growl making me back up both in fear and surprise.
"Sorry she likes the front seat," Andrew said rolling down the window glass. The dog stuck out its jaw to growl at me.
"I see..." I trailed as my irritation picked up again before heading to the back seat.
"Sorry about that," he apologized before starting the car engine and adjusting the driver's mirror. I could see his features from the mirror more than I did face to face. His brown eyes adorned with thick lashes sat hallow on his pale face. He was exactly what his uncle referred to him as — skinny and plain looking.
"You'll have to tell me what you like eating, I don't have much," he said without taking his eyes off the road.
I let my eyes wander from Andrew to the dog, still wondering what in the world it was doing up front while I was at the back. But it's okay. if I was up front I'd actually have to make conversation.
"You might like it here..." He trailed as I watched him smile from the driver's mirror.
"Quiet town, polite people," he said, chuckling lightly.
The rest of the ride was quiet apart from the occasional question or comment.
I squinted as we came up an isolated cabin, my supposed residence while his uncle knocked up and eventually married my mother. I hugged my rucksack to myself, observing the place. The walls were painted a pale cream, and a small shed was visible at the side. It was partly open and showing an array of gardening tools. A hen was parading around the compound as her brood of chicks tried to keep up with their tiny legs. The place was more or less a country home.
"We're here," Andrew said, pulling the gear to park before reaching out to pet his dog's head. The greyhound closed its eyes, barking in pleasure.
I opened the back door, getting out. I casually threw my rucksack over my shoulder. I didn't have much, just a three pair of jeans, a few t-shirts and the needed cosmetics.
I raised my hand to block the light. I might not enjoy this place at all, but I could exist casually for a while without bickering from my mother.
"I'll go put on the heater," Andrew muttered absently as he got down too, puffing out air and running his palms up and down sweatered arms.
I followed him to the door and waited for him as preyed the door open with a key.
"I'll give you the spare latter," he said as the door flew open. " Meanwhile, I'll advice you getting comfortable while I look for something you could eat."
I nodded following him into the small cabin. It wasn't as horrifying as I expected it to be. It gave of a homey feel, along with a dash of maturity.
"Your room's the one to the right, the other is mine. If you need anything ask me," he said heading to a room I assumed was the kitchen. From his description, I assumed there were only two rooms in the cabin, so I just walked around to find out that was exactly the case.
I walked into the small room and switched on the lights. Looking around I figured he did do some light cleaning. The bed and pillows were made. The windows were open, and there was soap and tissue in the bathroom. I dropped my rucksack on the bed and headed to the bathroom to wash my face. I drained myself reading a book by my favorite author afterward until I got interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Dinner's ready," Andrew said from the other side of the door making me groan in irritation. I got up to head to the dining table anyway.
Walking into the sitting room and towards the dining table at the corner, I scrolled at my plate.
Seriously? I thought, pulling my chair out before sitting down. I picked up the fork looking in condemnation at the salad mixed with corned beef.
"Sorry, I didn't have much you'll just have to tell me what to buy when I head out tomorrow," he sighed from the other end making me towards him. The fact that he was nibbling at a toast of bread and not an actual meal puzzled me.
"I knew you didn't want to come here, don't worry the stay will be over before you know it," he said giving me a small smile. I nodded taking a fork of salad into my mouth. I chewed watching with slight interest as my dark hair dangled around me. I've been trying to grow it out for a while and it seems to be actually working.
I finished the rest of the salad not feeling full but satisfied. Looking over at Andrew I raised a brow realizing he had barely gone half way into the toast.
"I'm not hungry, I ate in the afternoon," he said almost defensively as he got up. I watched as he whistled for his dog and feed her the remaining toast.
He walked over to one of the sofa's taking a sit, his dog following behind before settling beside his feet. I got up and walked towards the main sitting room too.
"I noticed there was no cellular service here. Is there a way I could send an email here? It's to my mum..." I asked, sitting on the opposite sofa from him.
"Of course, you can use my laptop there's no password, it's in the study room; my modem should be in the second drawer," he said switching the channels. I watched him scowl as he moved his feet. His dog whimpered adjusting slightly before licking his ankle.
"I'll get going," I said, getting up before heading out of the living room. I'd wandered into the living room why looking for my room. It was a small dimly lit room. The floor was carpeted with fur, and at the corner sat a small study table overcrowded with books. I could see the laptop in the midst of the disarray and headed for it.
Like he said, there was no password, and I had no trouble logging on or finding the modem. I had already prepared the wordings to my hate mail to my mother. I wondered why I even bothered considering I could write a book on how much I hate her in a chance.
I groaned realizing I'd clicked an open icon instead of the one for the browser. I looked at the MS word page that had popped up. I was about to click minimize when I spotted a familiar name.
'George looked down at the dead body of another woman the sixth time this week. She was one of the many victims of the mass serial killing...'
George? As in George Graham from the seeker series? My interest suddenly picked up. George was a prominent character appearing in most of my favorite author's books. Ironically I wouldn't have found them if I hadn't strolled into my mother's last husbands library.
But why in the world will he have something like this? I asked myself, scrolling through the apparent chapter; I hadn't read any like this. I sighed minimizing the page finally. I sent the angry hate mail and closed the computer.
I looked around the table, expecting some sort of answer to pop up, but none did. Why did he have that on his laptop? I thought helplessly before deciding to look around. Finding a dusty package in the first drawer, I dusted it to read the card attached to it.
Here's a complimentary copy of your latest novel, Controversy, enjoy!
Controversy? It can't be... I thought, pulling the wrapper off in a way I could re-wrap its content, and soon, right before my eyes was Kalian. A. Sheldon's book. My eyes widened in shock as the puzzle piece came together. He was Kalian. A. Sheldon. I stood up and paced around in a brief panic attack. I'd had the chance to make a good first impression and at blown it.
I could still change that. I could go apologize for being grumpy throughout today. I though calming myself down. I'll just do that and hope it clouds the first impression I must have given him.
After arranging the study table and re-wrapping the novel, I headed for Andrew's room. It kind of intrigued and baffled me that he was able to write such genius in such a secluded area. My mum's fiance hadn't told me his nephew was an author; a quite acknowledged one at that. Maybe he didn't just care about literature, or knew about it himself.
Stopping at the front of his open door I paused. He was inspecting his collarbone by a standing mirror. His pale skin looked a tad unhealthy, and I gasped silently at the sight of his spinal bones as he turned. I don't know why I didn't say something, just stared.
"Look at you..." He trailed giving himself a sad smile as he inspected himself in the mirror.
"Fat or slim you're still ugly," he said, sighing slightly. I watched as he touched his shoulder blades in an inspection. I felt my cheek get warm slightly. I didn't see it; see the ugliness he was talking about. Sure he looked a bit ill, not ugly. In fact, if he gained a little more weight he'll be more than handsome.
"Why were you so surprised he was repulsed at you?" he asked himself, chuckling softly before gasping.
I watched as his face twisted in pain before he raised a foot from the floor. Was something wrong with it? I watched as he limped away from my view. I blinked wondering if I could still go ahead with my apology. Wouldn't he put one and two together? I decided against it, and headed off to my room instead.
Lying on my bed I thought deeply about Andrew, about what he told himself in front of the mirror. Was that why there was no photo of the author on his website, or any interview I searched up? I turned on the bed looking out the window at the evening sky.
I still couldn't believe I was sharing the same house with the man I'd admired for years. Couldn't believe the self-conscious man in the room right next to me had penned down such genius.
I hugged my pillow to myself remembering he'd said someone had been repulsed by him. I'd been staring at him — stark naked and I hadn't been repulsed. I sighed, taking a novel from the bed head. Using my hand to brush the cover, I frowned in rage. Why would anyone say that, and to him of all people?
I let myself calm down, falling in and out of sleep, most of the time being awoken by the cries from the next room.
I woke up to the sound of knocking. I groaned turning over, using my pillow to block out the sound. I'd barely sleep last night. I'd been awake most of the time wondering if I should go over to Andrew's room to ask what was wrong.
"Wake up, you have to follow me to the supermarket, so we can pick what you like to eat. I'd like us to also check out the university," I heard Andrew say from the other end followed by barking.
"I'm coming!" I said sitting up on my bed. There was no response but the knocking died down, as well as the barking. I sighed in relief, getting out of bed even if it felt like I was still half asleep.
I walked into the bathroom to wash my face, catching a glimpse of myself on the bathroom mirror. I looked unbelievably tired and worn out from the lack of sleep last night. My mind drifted off to Andrew, wondering how in the world he managed to cry through the night and still have the energy to walk about in the morning.
He's probably used to it.
A voice said in my head. I frowned. I didn't want to believe last night was a frequent occurrence. I cleaned my teeth before heading out to the living room. Andrew was sitting on the sofa, his left ankle being tenderly licked by his dog. I frowned, wondering what exactly was wrong with the thing.
"You're here! Let's head out," Andrew said catching a glimpse of me.
"Go where?" I asked watching him get up slowly, his dog whining and still fussing over the ankle.
"Downtown to get supplies, didn't I tell you?" Andrew asked walking over to the front door.
"You did, it's just..." I trailed wondering if he'd already had his.
"It's just what?" he asked looking at me with clear confusion. I sighed, scratching the back of my neck.
"We — I haven't had breakfast," I said, looking at his skinny figure by the door.
"Oh, sorry. I didn't remember," he said as he fumbled with his hands, looking down at the floor like a child caught in the act. I raised a concerned brow at him. Did he forget to eat?
"It's no problem we can grab a burger on the way, can't we? I haven't taken a shower I'll take a quick one and meet up with you in a while," I said while he just nodded.
I got out of my room in a pair of clean blue jeans and a gray t-shirt. I found Andrew in the sitting room looking around nervously like he was expecting something bad to happen.
"I'm ready," I said, catching his attention. He looked up, muttering a small 'oh'.
We left the house and headed for the car, and this time I made it to the front seat before the dog. She growled, making me gently shove her away with my foot. She whined running to the other side towards Andrew.
"Just let her stay in front please?" Andrew asked looking down at the dog that was whining at his feet. I frowned closing the door behind me. I can't believe he actually suggested that.
"No," I said firmly, looking away from him. He sighed and before I knew it a snout was poking my arm. I turned to find the dog sitting on his lap as he closed the door. He ignored my stare and started the engine.
"We'll get caught, this isn't safe." I tried to reason as he pulled into the street.
"She won't agree to be anywhere else. Besides, she knows not to touch the gear," he said as we began to drive down the hill. I gave him a puzzled look before turning away. We came in view of the town soon after. It was small, sparsely occupied and as tucked away as his house.
I looked at him from the corner of my eyes. He brown eyes look tired and stressed out. His lips were pursed in a whistling motion. I turned away, a little scared at the odd effect the simple action had on me.
He pulled over at a small convenience store before unlocking the doors. I looked out the window towards the small secluded building.
"Come on, I promised we'll check out the college after this, don't want to drag everything," I heard Andrew say as he got out of the car. I followed suit moving to walk beside him and his dog. I watched his limp from the corner of my eye, the dog must have been too much weight for him to handle.
"Andrew!" A man looking in his early thirties said from behind the counter as we walked into the store. Andrew turned to wave at him before approaching the counter with the dog hot on his tail.
"Who's this fine fella?" the man asked, giving me an examining look. I could feel my face heating up so I just looked away.
"Not so friendly, is he?" I heard the man say, followed by a laugh. My ears perked up at the beauty of it, the laugh that is. I turned to find Andrew still chuckling. Was that how he sounded when he laughed?
"He's just new around here. Can I have a stool? I don't feel so good Claude," Andrew said, leaning on the counter as a weak smile on his face. My mouth drew into a thin line when the man reached out to feel Andrew's forehead.
"Geez, have you been seeing the doctor?" he asked, taking his hand away before bending over to retrieve something. I used the time to observe the place. The place looked a bit worn down; the shelves on the aisles were worn out and decorated with scratches, and the floor looked as if it had been over waxed for the past year. I raised a brow at Andrew's dog who was now sniffing a teddy bear in the bottom row of a nearby shelve.
"Thank you," I heard Andrew say. I turned to find him collecting a small stool.
"Come on," he said dropping the stool in a trolley before moving through the aisles. He stopped at the trolley when we got to the aisle with edibles. He took the stool out of the trolley before sitting on it.
"Go ahead," he muttered, holding his forehead.
"Pick what you like," he said as the dog came to settle itself beside him. I moved around a bit picking cans of beef and sardine. I looked around hoping to find some cheese or chocolate bread. I left the aisle and Andrew behind wondering around the store picking bags of chips and sweets. When I got back to place them in the trolley I noticed Andrew was giving me an odd look.
"What is it?" I asked putting one bag of potato chips after the other into the cart. He shook his head before giving me an inquisitive look.
"Are you sure nothing's wrong?" I asked holding the trolley.
"No nothing... err, do you really need all that?" Andrew asked giving the filled up cart an awkward look.
"I... I can put stuff back if you want," I said realizing I'd probably crossed a line.
"No, no, no. It's fine... I was just... You can have them," he muttered getting off the stool. I moved to carry it, and blushed when he muttered a small thank you.
We got into the car, with the dog still sitting on Andrew's lap. I gave him a worried look before offering to carry the dog myself.
"I don't know..." He trailed as he pats the dog's head.
"It's not a problem," I assured whistling before patting my lap. It gave me a funny look before scrambling into my lap. Andrew murmured a small thank you before starting the engine.
"We're heading for the university. You'd like it there, I spent my last year there..." He trailed, keeping his eyes on the road. I pat the dog's head, resisting the urge to ask him why he only spent his last year there.
The rest of the small trip was silent, save for Roxie that keep whining and adjusting on my lap. We pulled into the university complex, and felt rather relieved at the look of the place; well keep and simple. Definitely better than the run down group of buildings I expected to see.
We parked and I let Roxanne out, spending a few minutes to rearrange my hair. I would have cut it short, but the pleasure of annoying my mother with it was just overweighed the pleasure of a trim.
"Come on, you're not going to see anyone special," Andrew laughed. I sucked in some air, trying to get the sheer effect the laugh had on me. It rang out like a new bell, smooth and lovely. I got out the car and ran to catch up to him, blushing at the grin he gave me as I got to his side, I wondered why he didn't smile more — laugh more.
We took a quick tour of the place with a crowd of about ten people. We ate in the cafeteria during the tour. I noticed Andrew was picking at his food but I didn't mention it. We completed the Tour late in the afternoon, and I must admit that at viewing the lecture halls and facilities I realized the place wasn't as bad as I thought it was.
"You're starting tomorrow, just thought you should take a look," Andrew said when the tour was over. I nodded looking down to the floor, trying to be careful and not trip over Roxie who was running around us in circles. She seems to have taken a quick likening to me. Odd, considering she wasn't so accepting of me yesterday.
"I've murdered someone here," Andrew said stopping in his tracks. I looked over at the grand field, watched the flags swaying on their poles at the corner.
"Not literally, fictionally," Andrew said, shaking his head. I nodded already knowing that. The place reminded me of a crime scene from one of his books; 'Buried truths' if I remember clearly.
"I've read some of your work," I said casually. He gave me a confused look.
"You know my pen name?" he asked. I blinked at the realization of what I implied.
"Your uncle told me. He saw me reading a work of yours." I lied. I don't think I want to explain how I found out.
"He talks about me?" he asked awkwardly, as if acknowledging the oddity of the possibility, but he didn't say anything further.
We drove back to the cabin in silence, Roxie on my lap. I unloaded the car, noticing Andrew didn't feel too good on his leg.
"I'll make dinner." I offered as I walked into him washing an apple.
"I... There's no need for that," he said, waving it off. I ignored him taking our supplies for a stew. I noticed him giving me a wary look before exiting the kitchen.
The stew didn't take too long to make. I was done rather quickly and dished out two bowls, placing them on the wooden dining table. Andrew was giving me a strange look, as if he was worried about something. I sat at the edge of the table waiting for him to join me.
"Won't you eat?" I asked. He blinked, nodding before muttering a small sure. Roxie that had been preoccupied with nuzzling his ankle rushed to the table, Andrew following behind her.
When Andrew finally got to the table to seat I concentrated on my own food. From time to time I'd look towards Andrew to find him awkwardly spinning his spoon in his bowl. I finished mine and pushed my bowl aside to watch him. He looked towards me for the first time throughout dinner.
"Won't you leave?" Andrew asked.
"You haven't eaten anything." I pointed out looking towards his full bowl.
"I'll eat it," he said still spinning the spoon in the bowl.
"But it's already cold." I pointed out. I watched as his lips quivered.
"I'm not hungry," he said pushing his bowl.
"How can't you be hungry? You haven't had anything all day," I said getting up at walking towards him.
"Look, I appreciate your concern but I'm really not hungry," he said, sighing before bringing his hands to his face.
"What are you trying to do, kill yourself?" I asked squatting beside him.
"Look, it's none of your business! Damn you and the calories!" He said his voice coming out violently.
"I..." He trailed covering his eyes. I pulled his hands away, surprised at the sight of him crying. I was blank about what to do, what to say.
"I'm pathetic, I'm sorry about this," he said trying to smile through his tears.
"Don't say that," I said taking his face in my hands. I could feel myself shiver as I ran my hand through his hair. He looked from my hand to me, his now glittery lashes flickering gently. I could feel my heartbeat in my chest as a wave of curiosity took over me.
"What are you doing?" he asked gently. I bit my lip not knowing what to say before acting on instinct and reaching up to kiss him.
I expected some form of retaliation; maybe a shove or even a slap. I could feel my heart slam in my ears as I deepened the kiss. He didn't pull away, just whimpered. I gasped, moaning into the messy kiss. I could feel his fingers creep into my hair, pulling me closer. We kissed until our lips turned red. We pulled away softly. I looked into his eyes ready to apologize, but he smiled and asked for another bowl of soup, saying his was cold.
I did get him another bowl. I also watched him drink half the bowl. We didn't talk about what happened after that, just went about our own businesses. But I did notice something late that night I didn't hear him cry like the night before.