Learning to Trust
By Chris the Blizzard
By Chris the Blizzard
The rest of the day was just as tense as its start. Matt didn't acknowledge my existence, much less talk to me. When we had spaghetti for dinner, the mood was decidedly cooler than usual, though all three of the Benets were doing their best to raise the chilling temperature. Matt, however, was having none of it and after eating as quickly as possible, excused himself to go back to our room. Henry shot me a questioning glance which starkly reminded me of how similar he and Mike were, both in looks and behavior. I don't think Henry meant for me to see it, but when Janie was about to ask what was going on, Henry quieted her with an almost imperceptible shake of his head. After dinner and doing the dishes, it was my turn tonight, I did some homework, using the dinner table instead of going back to our room. Mike had gone to his own room after dinner and Henry and Janie retired to the living room to watch some TV, so I had the table all to myself. Just as I finished my trigonometry assignment Henry came back, with a small package in his hands.
"Here." He said, handing me a box which, if you believed the label, contained a new phone and sat down across from me, "Janie and I want you to have this. I gave one to Matt, earlier, too."
I looked down at the fairly heavy package, spinning it around a little and ogling the box of the new Samsung Galaxy S6. It was a really generous gift. Maybe I should have just said 'Thank you.' and been done with it, but my suspicious nature got the better of me once again.
"Why?" I asked, setting the box down between us on the table and looking at Henry intently. I felt as if I were standing at a crossroads, each path leading somewhere else, but with no signs to tell me where each road led.
"The phone? So you have a way to contact us or the police in case of an emergency." He said seriously, then grinned, green eyes shining, "Plus, I have included a year of Spotify Premium in the package. I think every teenager should have a way of listening to music the parental units would vehemently disagree with. You can use the same account on the laptops I dropped off in your room, too."
I sat back in disbelieve. "Laptops?" His grin widened at my surprise.
"Yes, laptops. You are going to need them for school anyway, so I bought you the same model Mike has. I think it would be unreasonable to make you share a single laptop between the three of you. You'll have to set it up yourself, though."
The phone was still packed, the laptop not set up, which meant they were clean, no tracking software or parental supervision installed on either device.
"Besides, have you never heard of the expression, “Don't look a gift horse in the mouth?”"
"Yeah, right," I muttered under my breath, "ever heard of Troy? They should have checked the horse's mouth." He looked somewhat surprised, but it quickly changed to mirth and he laughed a little.
"Now Jason, there is something I have been meaning to ask you." The smile was gone, a solemn and sincere expression occupying its place.
"You are withdrawn. You exchange pleasantries but even then you avoid talking about yourself, pulling away from pretty much anyone other than Matt." His expression was almost pained when he said the next part, "And you lock your bedroom door at night. Now, before you ask," He said when I opened my mouth, "I did not try opening it, I simply heard the click when I went to bed about a week ago. I've heard it several times since. I am reasonably certain it's not Matt's doing."
I stayed silent throughout his little speech. I looked into his eyes, searching. I was ready to bolt at the merest hint of anything dangerous. I was not backing down, meeting his eyes stare for stare. I saw the question in them before he uttered it.
"Why?" So many choices. Lie. Put up a smile. Wave the question away. I was scared to trust him, but damn me if I didn't want to be able to; I wished I could trust this man, wished it fiercely, but caution stopped me. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a moment, making my decision. Picking a path. Honesty. I opened my eyes and looked straight into his. No bullshit, no fake smile.
"I don't trust you." It came out as hardly more than a whisper. I didn't mean for it to be malicious, nor did I want to hurt him, Janie or Mike. It was the simple truth. I might want to trust him, but I couldn't. The last time I had trusted one of our foster parents it had broken me and now I was scared. He looked at me, his expression softened. Once again, he reminded me of a teddy-bear, like he had the first time I had seen him and I could see only kindness in his expression. He gave me a small smile and nodded once, preparing to stand. I raised my eyebrows in surprise.
"Wait, what? Don't you have anything to say? No speech about how I have to trust you? Demand my respect, maybe ground me?" Now my voice was full of challenge. Even admitting this much was hard for me and he would do nothing? Just go his merry way? He halted in mid-rise, then straightened and smiled at me again.
"Is there anything I could say to make you trust me?" He asked, eyes trained on me.
"No. Trust, like the respect you mentioned, is earned, not demanded. I could stand here and flap my gums all day and still couldn't make you trust me. I will simply have to prove that you can." With those words he departed and left me in almost total confusion.
I stewed over our conversation for a short while, then decided I had enough of doing homework tonight. I thought about going back to our room to set up my laptop, but I really wasn't in the mood to be around Matt right then, so, instead, I found myself knocking on Mike's door.
"Come in!" he hollered out. I opened the door to find Mike sitting on his bed in a relaxed position, computer on his lap. He didn't look up from the screen and just asked, "hmm?" Not really paying attention to me.
I was suddenly a little insecure. Was I intruding on something? Maybe I should just go, but I'd at least try.
"Hey Mike, are you busy right now?" I asked him, shifting from one leg to the other. He looked up at me, suddenly startled. His face lit up into a smile.
"Hey Jason! Sorry, I thought it was just Mom or Dad. Anything you need?"
"Weeeeell, we wanted to watch some movies, remember?" Had he really forgotten? It's not like we made the plans last week, just a couple hours ago.
"Oh. Sure!" He said, but then his face fell a little, the smile tinged with resignation.
"You don't have to do this, you know? I mean, I know you don't like spending time with me, you really don't have to force yourself."
Those words made me feel really guilty. My dick-attitude made him think I really didn't like him, and now that I think back on it, I hadn't given him any reason to believe otherwise. He and Matt practically had to force me to go to the mall with them! I swiped a hand over my face, then plopped myself unceremoniously on Mike's bed, right next to him.
"Okay, here it is. Mike, I'm really sorry I made you think I dislike you. Actually, I think you're a cool guy and I'd like it if we could be friends. I know I can come off as a jerk, it's just…" I trailed off, looking for the right words to explain. I wasn't sure why, but I felt like I needed to try and make him understand. Trusting Henry was out of the question, even if the talk we had resonated with something deep inside me. Mike however, was someone I was on the fence about already, and Henry's words gave me the final push needed to extend Mike an olive branch. Or rather take the branch he has been holding out to me for weeks.
"The last two and half years, we spent being shoved from one foster family to the next every couple of months. Just when you start getting used to the people around you, something happens and you have to uproot your life all over again and leave everything you knew, good or bad, behind. And believe me when I say there was plenty of either. It really messes with my head sometimes." The explanation left out a good part of what else messed me up, but at least it was something. It would have to do for now.
He gave me a considering look, seemingly weighing my words, "Matt doesn't seem to mind it too much." If the tone had been any different, it may have sounded like a challenge, but from Mike it was simply an observation as he easily accepted my words and took them at face value.
I looking up at the ceiling, relaxing against the wall. "I don't know why. I used to think he's naïve, and in some ways I suppose he really is. And don't get me wrong, I like him just the way he is. But recently…" I shrugged, "Maybe he's just better at dealing with it than I am." We sat in silence for a minute, shoulder to shoulder, each lost in his own thoughts, until I decided I had enough meaningful soul-searching for the moment. I got up, turned around, grinned at Mike and offered him my hand to shake. "Let's start over. My name is Jason, but you can call me Jay." Mike beamed at me, then gave me a mock grumpy expression and said, "Michael." I kicked his leg lightly.
"Hey now. Michael is way too formal for a gluttonous joker like you."
He held a hand over his heart, grinning.
"Your words wound me. But you're right of course."
He laughed, shaking his head, "Can you imagine it? Everyone calling me Michael?"
He snickered, not waiting for an answer.
"Alright then, what are we gonna watch?" He asked, waving toward a bookshelf occupying one of the walls which had several rows filled with DVD's. I scanned the titles, which were of a wide variety and offered a colorful mix of genres, actors and even countries, but what really caught my eyes was the last of the DVD-filled shelves. It was occupied by terrible, grungy, corny horror splatter movies, the kind which go full-circle on the horror and land right back at hilarious. The titles were a study in zoology, as every kind of animal with even the slightest potential for disaster was featured in all its tacky glory, ranging from killer insects to mutated fish-human hybrids. I pulled out the movie "Sharktopus" and presented it to Mike with a grin.
"I can explain those…" he said, somewhat embarrassedly.
"Don't bother. I love horrible horror movies!"
Apparently it was a guilty pleasure we shared. They're perfect for when you want to just shut off your brain and let the screen dictate your thoughts, especially when those thoughts involve people being ripped to ribbons by half-shark, half-octopus monsters with both teeth AND tentacles! It was a movie I wanted to watch for quite a while but I never got the chance to actually do it, especially since you really can't watch it on your own, since its entertainment value rises proportionally to the amount of people laughing at the gory special effects and the absolutely terrible 'science' presented in the premise of the movie.
Mike put in the DVD and proved to be the perfect company for watching these types of movies; he laughed when it got ridiculous, he didn't mind me commenting every once in a while and, most importantly, he was not one of those people who scoff and roll their eyes at the movie every five minutes. We all know it's not some deep philosophical work that will change the world, we know it's stupid, unrealistic or whatever adjective one wants to use to make themselves seem smart.
We finished watching the movie, both of us thoroughly enjoying it and lulled into a bit of silence after watching the credits.
"Earlier you said good or bad… What exactly did you mean?"
"Ehm, could you be more specific?" I asked, wondering what he was talking about.
"Bad how? I mean, were there foster parents who didn't take care of you or something?"
Well, that's a polite way to put it, I thought.
"Most of them were just regular people. I suppose they couldn't have children or whatever, so they decided to help the "wards of the state" out. Usually they were okay, maybe a little wary of taking in two teenagers at once, but they kept us fed and clothed, so I couldn't complain. They wouldn't want a permanent arrangement, so they only took care of us for a couple months each. Others wanted something lasting, but it never seemed to pan out the way it needed for it to last."
"Some though… some shouldn't be foster parents at all." I said pensively, thinking back to The Toad and the Weatherlys.
Mike looked at me with obvious curiosity and I could see the gears turning between his ears as he pieced together the meaning of my words. Before we could get any deeper into the subject I reminded him of something
"So, I promised to tell you what I did to piss off Matt."
"Right, so, what happened?" he asked, seemingly okay with me changing the subject. I relayed the important bits and pieces of what I said and how Matt heard it.
He whistled appreciatively, "Okay, I suppose I can see why he is angry."
"Which is why I've been trying to apologize to him."
"Why did you do it in the first place?"
"I don't know why I do it!" I said in frustration. "It's just when someone springs these questions on me I start rambling all this bullshit. For fuck's sake, I implied Mom or Dad might have gone to hell! If someone else said that I'd probably deck them." He nodded at the last part.
"Okay, you mentioned you did it before. Did Matt always get this angry?"
"So, what's different? Is it just because you talked this way about your parents again?"
A very good question, actually. He was angry at me before, but never this upset. I couldn't really put into words why, but I was certain the answer to Mike's question would be important to understanding what was going on Matt's head right now.
Still thinking, I bid Mike a good night and went back to our room. There, I saw Henry had indeed gotten another two laptops, the same model as Mike's. I booted it up, expecting I still had to install the operating system, but to my surprise it started just fine. When I saw the desktop background, it was immediately obvious Matt had set up mine as well as his own; it was a very crudely drawn middle finger, courtesy of Paint, with the words "Fuck yooooouuuuu!!!" framing it. I suppressed a laugh and knew Matt and I would be alright.