Learning to Trust
By Chris the Blizzard
By Chris the Blizzard
The rest of my first day at school was, thankfully, uneventful. I met up with Matt for lunch and the mystery meat sandwich we had was edible, though not quite what anyone would call tasty. I was startled to find I had 3 more classes with "Brandon". I mean, wow, 5 out of 7. Overlapping schedules like ours were so unlikely, considering how huge this school was, it bordered on planned. He made no other attempt at approaching me, for which I was grateful. It's not like I enjoy being an ass toward people, it's just what's necessary at the moment. Being friends is just not something I want. Leading people on however, being just close enough to make them think you might be friends then walk away without a word would be downright cold-hearted. And though at times I wish I was, I never got there.
With nothing much happening, the next couple of days passed. School was boring as ever and at "home" things were downright peachy. I felt like I was suddenly thrown into an episode of "The Brady Bunch" and everyone was expecting me to act the part, without actually giving me the script. But even as I felt out of my element, Matt seemed to be sucking it all up. Janie, her usual cheerful self, asked Matt about his day and he would happily tell her about everything, from what he learned in classes to people he met. She asked me, too, but I found myself giving uninvolved answers, with the intent of distancing myself directing my tongue and sometimes she would give me these strange looks, almost like she was sad. What the heck was that about? Was she thinking of sending us away already? It had barely even been two weeks. Not like I was entirely against getting the move on, since, personally, the environment here put me on edge. This place, pretty much everything about it, seemed too good to be true. Which is why I kept thinking of another lesson I learned: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Matt and I were given a weekly allowance, just like Mike, and the chores were done quickly and easily, especially since the work was split between the three of us. Janie kept preparing food all the time and at one point I wondered how Mike and Henry managed to stay fit with the way they dug into the pot roasts, roast beef, lasagna, cookies, pies and everything else, because despite of the crazy amounts Janie made, there were almost never leftovers. Okay, fine, I was a teenager and so was Matt. We pigged out just as badly, because after all, who knew what the food would be like at the next family. Might as well prepare for the bread and water to come, but for now, delicious food was readily available.
As I had expected, Mike always wanted to spend time with us. He had invited Matt and me to go to the movies with him and his friends, which I had declined. He wanted to play basketball with me all the time, too, but I mostly wiggled out of it by claiming to be tired. One thing I did pick him up on though was working out together; the Benets had a really great home-gym in their basement with pretty much any machine you could wish for. Henry used it regularly, too, but I wasn't about to be sweaty and underdressed with him in the room. So, instead I worked out with Mike and, with his help, I cajoled Matt to join most of the time, too. Once again, where I tried to maintain some kind of distance, Matt was open and welcoming to Mike. They seemed to be becoming friends pretty quickly and I was starting to worry. Well, maybe worry wasn't exactly the right word, I just knew how sad Matt would be once it was time to move on and say goodbye to Mike.
"Jay, why do you keep avoiding Mike?" Matt asked me one night, after we had gone to bed. I don't know why, but most of our important brother-to-brother talks happened at night. It was something about the atmosphere; dark and quiet, lying in a horizontal position. It always made us think of the past and the future and generally what was on our minds. It was something we had in common since we were little kids and our night talks were extremely important to both of us.
I sighed. "You know why, Matty."
He seemed subdued, almost sad.
"Do you think it will happen again?" He asked, dejection clear in his question. Hearing the longing in his voice, the longing to be loved by a mother, to get a prideful pat on the back by a father after winning a trophy, the longing to just feel safe, broke my heart. I felt a sudden hatred. At the world, for all the people who had sent us away, or worse. At all which had happened to us. And most of all at myself, because I wasn't able to protect him from all the hurt.
I stood up and went over to Matt's bed.
"Scoot." I whispered to him and he did. I lay down next him and hugged him close, running my hand through his hair the way Mom always did when one of us had a nightmare as he hugged my torso tightly and buried his face in my chest. Times like these were the only ones I allowed myself to let go of all my resistances, of all the ways I had invented to keep people away from me. He was crying softly as I kept muttering encouraging words to him. Oh, all the little lies I told him. I hated lying to him, about how everything was going to be okay, how everything would be good. But I would never stop, if it meant he believed, even just a moment longer.
"It's okay M&M. It's okay. I'll always be there for you. I'll never leave you alone. Everything is going to be alright. Just one and a half years, Matty. I'll be 18 and we can live on our own. No more moving. No more goodbyes." I whispered to him about how awesome it would be, kept drawing pictures with my words of the great apartment we were going to have and allowed myself to dream, just a little. After a few more minutes he calmed down and stopped crying.
"I miss them so much, Jay. Why did they have to die?"
"I don't know. I miss them, too." I said. My own voice was a little shaky and my eyes were stinging. His breathing slowed and deepened and I thought he had drifted off to sleep.
"I'm sorry, M&M. I wish I could do better. I love you so much. I wish I was a better brother." I whispered into his hair and planted a little kiss there. I was mistaken. He was still awake and heard me.
"No, Jay!" He said in a whisper, but fierce vehemence permeated his voice. "Never say that again. You're always protecting me and I know how hard you try. Even when The Toad got drunk and beat you. You always taunted him so he would leave me alone, didn't you? I tried it, too, remember?" He said, almost laughing. "But you were a better asshole than I was. And I remember how mad you were when I did it. I swear, I thought you'd never calm down."
"Hmpf. It wasn't all that effective, after all, it worked once. I'm still mad at that." I huffed.
"And I'm not even sorry." He replied cheekily.
I shivered as I thought back to the beatings. They had been brutal, but not only because of the pain. After all, The Toad knew he needed to leave me functional. No, what was the most terrible, what had stung far more than the belt or his hands had been the words accompanying every hit. The way he had tried to make me feel, like I was worth less than the dirt under his fingernails. Piece of shit. Worthless orphan. But I hadn't let him. Whenever he looked me in the eyes I would glower at him. He told me if I asked and begged he would stop, but I never did. I knew the moment I gave way I would have been truly broken, I would have sold all my self-respect for a little less pain. But it was a moot point now, anyway. Perhaps if I had let it happen then, it would have been easier later on.
The Toad had also been surprisingly regular in his drunkenness. Every couple of weeks he would go out and get shitfaced drunk. Then, when he came home, he would start looking for something. I didn't get it at first, but I realized it rather quickly; he was looking for a reason. He would come into our room for a "surprise-inspection". The first time he did, there were some socks lying around and he threw a tantrum about how the place was a pigsty and how we disrespected him and his home with our behavior. I tried apologizing, but it was already too late. Once his hatred had something to focus on, he was almost unstoppable. The next time, I was prepared. Matt and I cleaned the house from top to bottom while he was out drinking. His wife was out of the picture for most of our stay, because she was always working late hours as a waitress. But when he started ranting and whipped himself into a frenzy, I realized not finding a reason would not satisfy him. He needed to hit something, something soft that could scream for him. In my panic I did the only thing I knew; I taunted him and provoked him best as I knew how, so if he went for it, at least I could hope he left Matt alone. Granted, at almost fifteen I wasn't quite as quick-witted as I was now, but it was enough to get the asshole started.
Matt's next words were less than a whisper, like he was afraid to even say them, "How… How often did he… you know..?"
I stiffened. Nightmares about those particular evenings were rare now, but the memories were still anything other than pleasant.
"I don't remember." I replied, my voice hoarse.
"Please don't lie to me." Matt said. "I know you lie to everyone else. And I know why you do it. Just please, don't lie to me. I want to be there for you just as much as you are for me. You're always so strong. Just please, Jay, don't push me away like you do everyone else." The need in his voice made me ache all over.
I sighed, but his words stung in their truthfulness. Perhaps, in a way, I had pushed Matt away. I just couldn't help it. If he knew ALL what had happened, he wouldn't think I was strong.
"Okay, Matty, I promise. I won't lie to you. But I don't think I can tell you everything either. It's not because I don't trust you or because I push you away, I… I just can't talk about it. Maybe someday, but not yet." I whispered. I was worried that last comment would be too much and he would keep pressing, but he didn't. He had probably felt the shiver that had accompanied my promise.
"It's okay." He muttered, using my own lies against me. "So, how many times? I know it's at least four."
"Six times. Once while you were on the school trip and once when you were on that sleep-over birthday party and, well, the other four. Not counting the one time he started in on you and I jumped him." Recalling those events and talking about them made me feel uncomfortable, but I knew Matt needed to know. Not because he could make it better, but because he wanted to share it with me.
"Okay." Matt said with a suppressed sob.
"Don't cry Matty. It's over now, we don't live with that ass-hat anymore." I felt close to Matt at that moment, closer than I had ever felt to anyone else. "It's alright now. I hardly remember it." Another little lie. Soon I heard the soft snoring again and knew for sure he was asleep. Before I knew, I was as well.
The next morning I woke up and for once I actually felt well rested. The nights I slept through were few and far between, but it was nice to not be tired in the morning. I was lying on my back, Matt snoring somewhere to my left. I thought about whether or not to play a prank on him but decided against it and let him sleep some more. We still had an hour before we would have to get up and get ready for school, but I didn't want to lie around anymore. I stood up and went through the usual routine of showering, getting dressed and all. When I was done I still had almost forty minutes left, so I decided to make something for breakfast.
The talk with Matt the last night still had me thinking. He said I pushed everyone away, and he was completely right. I couldn't let them get close to me, since all they would do was leave me again. And every time someone left me, they took a piece of me with them. How many times could I let it happen until there was nothing left? Keeping them at arm's length was the only logical solution. But every time I thought these thoughts I heard the sadness in Matt's voice when he told me I pushed him away, too. It was something I would never do on purpose, but apparently it had become a habit, and one which was hard to break. And the way he had described me… Pushing everyone away because I was strong… Well, that was nonsense. My weakness was what forced me to cut everyone off.
I sighed as I made sure the bacon and eggs I had on the pan didn't burn. The thoughts kept spinning in my head, but I couldn't make sense of them any more than I could sprout wings on my arms and fins between my toes to live the rest of my days as a penguin.
When Janie made breakfast like this in the morning she always used a dozen eggs and almost a whole bag of bacon, so I made sure I made the same amount. I started up the coffee maker for Henry and Janie, prepared a can of tea for Matt and myself and poured some orange juice for Mike. For the umpteenth time I wondered why I always remembered this stuff. Give me a few days in close confines with anyone and I would be sure to know their habits. It's something I always did. For example I knew how, after Henry came down and ate breakfast, he would read the sports and the business parts of the newspaper. After he was done with them, Mike would read the comics and Henry would drink his coffee, even though it was poured at the same time as when he started eating. I suspected that Henry liked it when his coffee had a temperature somewhere between hot and lukewarm and reading the paper and eating his breakfast gave it enough time to cool down just right.
Mike would eat anything that was put before him, but in the morning the only thing he would drink was orange juice, so there was always some around. Janie rarely joined in the more hearty breakfast meals and usually just drank a cup of coffee and ate a piece of fruit.
"Why Jason, good morning!" I heard Janie say behind me. She was probably surprised her job of making breakfast was practically done. "I see you already made breakfast. As the mother of Mike, a boy, I have to ask: Are you running a fever? Did you perhaps receive a sharp blow to the head? Do I have to worry about you reenacting the movie Freddy vs. Jason?" She asked me with her trademark smile and laughed and winked at me.
"Good Morning, Mrs. Benet-" "Janie" "-I just woke up and didn't know what to do with myself this early in the morning." I replied, suppressing a laugh when she interrupted me to correct me. It was almost becoming something of a tradition; whenever I would call her or Henry anything other than their first names they would casually throw in their name. At one point I was more than a little frustrated and just ignored it when Henry did it for the third time in one conversation, which had him practically roaring in his chair with laughter.
"You are teaching me bad habits by the way, Jason." She said looking at me sternly.
"What habits, Ma'am?" "Janie" She said almost immediately "See? That's what I'm talking about. Recently one of our clients called me Mrs. Benet and simply out of habit I corrected them. As you see, your overly respectful behavior is negatively impacting my work. You will have to stop."
I snorted into the cup of tea I had poured myself while she talked and almost had some running out of my nose. Damn me, but I liked Janie. That was a problem.
"And there you go again." She said with a cocked head.
"With what, Ma'am?" "Janie. With putting yourself down. Whenever it looks like you are having a good time, instead of enjoying the moment you look down and get yourself in a bad mood."
Damn, was I this obvious? Probably, if she had noticed. And she had the right of it, I was consciously trying not to have a good time whenever one of the Benets was involved, because I didn't want to get attached.
"I'm sorry Mrs. Benet-" "Janie. I'll have to get myself a spray gun one of these days." she mumbled the last part under her breath even as I talked over it. "I didn't mean to insult you or Mr. Benet." "Henry." She threw her hands in the air, "Great! Now you have me doing it for my husband, as well." She shook her head in exasperated amusement, then looked me straight in the eyes.
"That's not why I ask, Jason. I want to know why you do it." I considered simply denying it at this point, but with what I said earlier it was probably too late. I looked for a good way to deflect her but drew a blank, so I just shrugged. We locked eyes for a long moment and she seemed to dissect whatever she thought she found there. I kept my face purposely expressionless. The look in her eyes shifted from pondering to sad, a look she had given me before. I broke the gaze by looking down at the cup which was still in my hands and took a sip. It was peppermint tea, my favorite, as well as Matt's. I was so engaged in the conversation I had absolutely forgotten there was bacon and eggs on a hot pan, sizzling away. I remembered with a start and quickly turned back toward the stove, afraid I had burned everything, but I was lucky. Okay, the bacon was extra crispy. Whatever.
Conversation lulled at this point until the rest of the Benets and Matt joined us. After everyone had eaten their fill and Mrs. Benet had informed them I had prepared the food Henry asked,
"Jason, do we need to worry? You don't need a trip to the ER, do you?" I gave him a flat stare while everyone laughed.
"Don't worry, Henry." Matt snickered and answered for me "Jay wouldn't admit it, but he loves cooking. He always finds an excuse, though, something like ‘I was bored and didn't have anything to do.' Or the occasional ‘Someone has to.' Or – ouch!" I discreetly kicked him under the table and Matt glared at me. I met his stare with my own. The Benets, who had watched the exchange, laughed at us.
"So, kids, what are your plans for the weekend? Anything exciting going on?" Henry asked, looking at the three of us expectantly. "I mean, after you are done with school today." I looked at Henry when he asked his question. So far, he hadn't done anything, but it didn't help my apprehension. Around him I always felt like I was setting myself up for a fall, like I just couldn't let my guard down. Maybe I should try harder, but I just couldn't trust him.
"Well," Mike said, "I have a project to turn in on Monday, so that's what I will be finishing on Sunday. Tomorrow I'll go meet the usual crowd at the mall. Oh and Jason, Matt, you really have to come along this time! The others are going crazy about finally getting to meet you! If I don't bring both of you along, I think they will skin me."
"I really don't want to impose, Mike…" I began.
"Impose? You need to save me!"
All protests died on my lips. I sighed and looked at Matt. We shared a silent conversation and he basically begged me to agree with Mike. Knowing how important it was to Matt I said,
"Alright. We'll come along."
Even as Mike and Matt whooped, I wondered if I had just made a mistake.