Castle Roland

Learning to

by Chris the Blizzard

In Progress

Chapter 8

Posted: 18 May 15

Learning to Trust
By Chris the Blizzard

We spent a while looking through online sources on the material, compiling notes on what we needed to do and explain to the class. We settled on making a slideshow, because we found a bunch of very descriptive sketches of the whole process and slides would complement the material by allowing us to explain the process step-by-step. After working on it for a while, I was a little surprised Brandon worked as diligently as he did; from our interactions at school I would have thought he'd be more goofy about work and not take things seriously, but he carried his own weight and made sensible suggestions. He had some trouble with the material, as he had warned me beforehand, but he got it fairly quickly when I explained it to him.

We got quite a bit of work done, but the school day and the continued studying soon took a toll on us and productivity took a plunge as we got sidetracked by conversation. Well, conversation might have been a tad exaggerated, as Brandon did most of the talking, but it was nice and comfortable, which was a surprise to me. He talked with a confidence I found endearing, without straying into arrogance. His sense of humor was wacky and though I tried my best, I couldn't help but smirk at some of the jokes he told. Those went a like this, "Want to hear a pun?" He would ask me.

"No." He simply ignored me and continued. "What's the purpose of reindeer?"

I contemplated saying 'I don't care' just to spite him, but I closed my mouth again and cocked my head. I actually wanted to know.

"I don't know."

"It makes the grass grow." He looked at me expectantly, a wide grin splitting his face. I made a sound somewhere between a snort of laughter and a groan of annoyance. A real "Badum-tss" moment.

Notably, Mrs. Whiskers never left my side. Whenever I'd shift positions or sit elsewhere, she would follow me obediently. Most of the time she would simply roll up close to me, or even on me, if there was space for her to do so, and though I think she was really only trying to use me as a heater, the glances Brandon threw the cat's way were nothing short of baffled. Those alone convinced me he hadn't been lying when he told me about the cat's regular behavior and it made me wonder why Mrs. Whisker took to me the way she did. Brandon even asked me once if I had rolled in some catnip before coming over.

At one point there was a lull in the conversation and I heard the sound of at least two pairs of little feet running up the stairs. Brandon must have heard it, too, because he looked at the door and narrowed his eyes. Suddenly the door was practically flung open and two little girls rushed through.

"Branniiieeee," they yelled as they flung themselves toward Brandon, who had stood and braced himself for the impact, like a football player about to be tackled. They crashed into him and he scooped them up, one under each arm and bounced them up and down a little, while they giggled madly, obviously enjoying the ride on Brandon.

"Brandon, you know you're not supposed to do that!" A male voice shouted from downstairs, playfully. Brandon rolled his eyes and jiggled the girls defiantly even as he hollered, "I'm not doing it!"

He set them down on their feet and held up a finger, "Remember, Twevils, snitches get stitches," he said and winked at them. ''Twevils?'' I wondered. ''And why isn't he supposed to toss his baby sisters around?''

"Brannie, Brannie, Mommy and Daddy bought us new dresses!" They relayed excitedly.

"That's great!" Brandon replied. "Girls, turn around." They did and were a little startled to find me in Brandon's room, Mrs. Whiskers curled up on my knee.

"Twevils, meet my new friend Jason. Jason, my twin sisters, Katie and Julia." Brandon made introductions, gesturing toward each when he told me their names.

They looked to be about 5 or 6 years old, had the same shade of brown hair as Brandon, and, despite their slightly darker eyes, the family resemblance was undeniable. Both of them turned very quiet and shy when they looked at me, probably uncomfortable at the unexpected company and attention. I pushed the cat off of me, which meowed indignantly, to squat in front of the girls and held out my hand to each of them.

"Hi. Nice to meet you." I said with my nicest smile. Katie blushed and giggled when I shook her hand, but Julia recovered from the initial bout of timidity. She gave me a once over and I had to suppress laughter when she raised a critical eyebrow before leaning into her sister. They whispered for a moment. I was a little uncertain about what to do, so I looked toward Brandon, who seemed entirely too amused by the display, but he just gave a smile and a shrug. After a moment the quiet discussion was apparently over as Julia offered me her hand to shake. I took her small hand, which practically vanished in mine, and she shook it up and down vigorously.

"We like you." She said, "You can stay." That was definitely one assertive kid. I heard Brandon chortle and saw his hand rubbing her head.

"Like you have a say." He said good-naturedly.

I just said, "Thanks, I like the both of you, too."

After we were through with the introductions, they returned to the original reason of storming and conquering Brandon's room, their new dresses. Lucky for Brandon and me, his father came to our rescue.

"Come on girls, let's get you cleaned up for dinner." He said cheerfully, although he seemed to be pretty tired. He noticed me and said, "Nice to meet you, Jason!" He said holding out his hand to me. He was a fairly tall man, at least a few inches taller than me, with what I supposed was the standard Williams-family look, since he shared his brown eyes and hair with all of his children. He and Brandon looked a lot alike, though his father wore rimless glasses, giving him a somewhat bookish look, which was only augmented by his neatly combed and parted hair, as opposed to the unruly mop on top of Brandon's head.

I shook his hand, "Hello, Mr. Williams." He let go of my hand, then looked at his son. "Dinner's going to be ready soon. Are you going to be joining us, Jason?" He smiled at me when he asked.

"Thank you, Mr. Williams, but I promised Mrs. Benet I would be back for dinner." He raised a questioning eyebrow at the "Mrs. Benet", but didn't say anything. Apparently Brandon hadn't told him about my parents. His friendly disposition didn't change in the slightest and he just said amicably, "That's too bad. Maybe next time, then. Girls!" He used a fake drill-sergeant voice which made the girls giggle as they followed him.

"Wow, who would have thought you had it in you to be friendly, icicle!" Brandon said with a grin when we were alone again. I ignored the remark and rolled my eyes at him.

My new phone rang, signaling a text-message.

"J, Mom asks if you're gonna be home for dinner, let her know – M" I swiftly saved Mike's number as a new contact and when I looked up, I saw Brandon giving me an almost disgruntled look.

"Didn't you say you don't have a phone?" He asked. It seemed to genuinely bother him, I realized with some wonder. Insulting him to the face didn't put a damper on his mood whatsoever, but when he thought I lied to him about possessing a phone his panties bunched up?

"When you asked me, I didn't." I said, "Mr. Benet got one each for Matt and me yesterday. Not that it's any of your business." He seemed to perk right back up and, before I could put it back in my pocket, he snatched it right from my hand.

"Hey!" I protested and tried to get it back. I had just gotten that phone! Emotional attachment to electronics can come swiftly for a teenager, even me. He fiddled with it for a moment until I managed to reclaim it, but the satisfied grin on his face told me had already done whatever it is he wished to accomplish with this little stunt. A second later it became it evident, as his phone, deposited on his desk earlier, vibrated.

He picked it up and tapped a couple times. Suddenly there was a flash, which startled me and made me blink hard.

A picture! The idiot had taken a picture of me, just like that!

"For your contact." He explained with a grin. I scowled at him. He raised the phone again and there was another flash.

"Okay, this one is for your contact. I just had to get you to give me your trademark scowl. I wouldn't recognize you if I used the picture without it. Or even a smile, God forbid!" He tried to imitate me, I assume, but it just made me hope I didn't look like as much of an idiot when I scowled as he did right at that moment. He relaxed his features into the leisurely grin he often wore and said, "C'mon, let's get you home before dinner."

He went out of the room and down the stairs, leaving me to follow him. Before going out the door, Brandon quickly popped his head into the kitchen.

"Hi, Mom. Bye, Mom" He said, then moved toward the door.

"Hold it!" His mother stepped out of the kitchen after him. "At least introduce me to your friend before you take him home."

She was a short woman, but also undeniably beautiful. She wore simple faded jeans and a yellow blouse, auburn hair bound in a ponytail.

Brandon sighed. "Mom, Jason – Jason, Mom." She approached me with a cheerful smile and held out her hand. How come I have to shake like a million hands today? I wondered briefly, then shook the hand, mentally resigned.

With that I had met the entire Williams family.

In the car we continued talking about inconsequential things, or rather he continued talking about them while I listened. Somehow we got onto the topic of music and I found out he and I shared a taste. Both of us preferred alternative rock, bands such as Paramore foremost among them, and I found myself pulled into a debate on the pros and cons of different songs and performers.

After the short ride I was back at the Benet's, and Brandon and I had made some loose plans on when to finish the work on the project. I was in pretty good spirits, until I remembered I was about to enter basically hostile territory, the enemy being Matt. The very fact we were at odds tore at me; Matt and I just weren't supposed to be fighting and I hated every minute of it. This was the second day in a row and the silence was becoming intolerable to me. I took a deep breath and went inside.

"Hey, Jay." Mike greeted me with a lazy wave of his hand.

"Oh great, you're just in time for dinner, Jason!" Janie said happily when I entered the kitchen, pulling a dish filled with meatloaf out of the oven. Matt and Mike had apparently already set the table, so we all just settled down to eat. The meatloaf and mashed potatoes were as tasty as anything Janie prepared, which meant they were amazing. I could definitely get used to eating like this all the time! Conversation around the dinner table was fairly lighthearted, except when Matt and I had to talk to one another; you could cut the tension with a knife. Every time I tried to ask him something, like whether he had a good time with his friend or what his name was, I got terse one-word answers, if that.

As the evening progresses I grew more and more angry with Matt. He was behaving so damn childishly! Whenever I tried to steer the conversation toward what was going on and why he was mad, he just shrugged me off or ignored me outright. He practically wolfed down his food and said, "May I be excused?"

Janie just nodded at him, shooting me a sympathetic glance. The message was clear; whatever was going on between us, Janie couldn't really do anything to help, we would have to clear it on our own. I sat seething for a moment, which the Benets politely ignored, until I finally snapped. I stood up rather abruptly, barely remembering to thank Janie for the food, and stormed over to our room. When I got there, Matt was doing something on his laptop, completely ignoring me once again. I picked up the signed basketball from under my bed, commencing my plan to find out what crawled up Matt's butt and died in there.

"Matthew." I said to get his attention. He looked at me, at the ball and back at me, his expression somewhere between sad and resigned. At least he didn't seem angry anymore! Certainly conducive to my plan. I pointed at the door and he wordlessly got up and followed me outside. We passed the others, who seemed to be discussing something, probably Matt and me, since all talk ended when we were within earshot. Mike saw us getting ready to go out and asked, "Where are you going?"

"We're just gonna throw a couple hoops." I replied. Mike looked somewhat incredulous, seeing as we were at each other's throats minutes ago. "Just give us a couple minutes, ok?" Mike nodded and turned back to join his parents in the living room.

In the driveway I turned around and fixed Matt with my most serious stare. "The usual rules. We play one-on-one, you score, you get to ask any question you want. Loser has to answer truthfully and to the fullest ability." This kind of game had been our own brand of truth or dare, only that there's only truth, but I had since appropriated it to my own purpose, namely making Matt talk when something is bothering him. For some reason, sometimes, instead of coming to me directly, he bottles shit up and lets it fester. I think being "forced" to answer me via the rules of a fair game made it easier to say what was on his mind. The only problem with my tactic was, I needed to ask the right questions to accomplish anything.

Matt nodded and got in position. I dribbled a few times, making eye-contact with my brother, letting him know I meant business and would not go easy on him. We were both aware basketball was "my" game and I was better than him at it, just as I didn't really care for football. But winning or losing wasn't really the point at the moment, and we both were aware of it. I rushed him, feinting to the right, then spinning around the left side instead, keeping my back to him during the turn. He tried to make a grab for the ball but was too late as I had already rushed past him and placed the ball through the hoop with a layup. I caught the ball and threw it to Matt.

"Why are you mad at me?" I asked. He thought for a moment, biting his lip in contemplation. He shook his head. "I'm… not mad, really."

I wasn't sure what to make of that. What did he mean he wasn't really mad? What the hell was he blowing up at me for, then? I frowned, hoping he would elaborate on his statement, but no explanation was forthcoming. We got back into position, Matt on the offense this time. He attempted copying my move, but he lacked control over the ball and I managed to grab it from his hands. I turned, making a simple throw and sunk the ball once again. Matt got the ball and passed it to me.

"Why did you yell at me this morning?" He shrugged, "You were mothering me." So not helpful. I know WHAT I did, I was there after all, but I didn't understand why it set him off! Okay, maybe I should have worded the question differently, but dammit Matt, give me something to work with here!

I won three more times, but he always answered the questions as simply as possible without breaking the rules. The exertion was causing both of us to sweat, especially since neither of us was wearing work-out clothes, just regular everyday stuff. I was wracking my brain what to ask him next, but I couldn't come up with anything that would get us closer to the crux of the issue. Suddenly I had an idea. Matt came at me more carefully this time. I blocked his way every time he tried to get past me, but when I got the chance to steal the ball, I let him slip instead. He scored, turned around and looked at me, raising an eyebrow in an I-know-what-you-did-but-I'm-not-gonna-call-you-on-it kind of way. This was a last ditch effort for me. I had no idea how to get through to him beyond this point, and the simple truth of the matter was, if he didn't want to resolve the issue, I had no real way to force him. The ball was in his court now, literally and figuratively.

Instead of saying anything, he walked toward the garage door and plopped himself against it, basketball between his knees. I sat down next to him, listening to his elevated breathing and waiting for him to say something. My thoughts were starting to drift off a little, as I thought back on playing with Dad. We only had an apartment in SF, so we didn't have our own hoop like the Benets do, but there was a nice public one very close by. Every once in a while, the three of us would go down and Matt and I would team up to play against Dad. Since Matt didn't particularly like the sport, we would alternate it with other stuff, something of Matt's choosing, such as football or baseball. Dad always made sure to divide his time between us fairly, and unlike other kids I heard from, I never felt like all the attention was on Matt, even when we were little and he was still "new". Right at that moment I was missing him terribly and wondered what he would say if he could see us. Would he be proud of how we were dealing with things? What would he have done in my place?

"Jay?" Matt ripped me out of my musings.

"Yeah?" I looked over at him. His expression was anxious, almost a little fearful even, and he wouldn't look me in the eye. I bumped him with my shoulder in what I hoped was a consoling fashion.

"If something happened to me tomorrow, would you talk about me like that, too?" I didn't have to ask what he meant. I also didn't give the answer coming to me first, that if something happened to him, I would probably soon be following him. I didn't think he realized how much I relied on him to ground me and give some kind of purpose. Unbeknownst to him, his presence had already stopped me from making a very big mistake once already. Before I could answer he began talking again, and things started bubbling from him, as though a dam had been broken, all his thoughts trying to race out.

"It's just, I feel like such a burden sometimes. You always have to take care of me, like the other night. I'm such a crybaby, and I feel like you would be better off without me, and I'm just waiting for you to realize that and I'm scared you're going to leave me behind. And then you started asking me these things like Dad would, like where I was going and who I was spending time with and all and I just… I just snapped, I don't know! I'm sorry I yelled at you." He stopped to breathe and before he could continue I shushed him.

"Matt, stop," I said, and I think he misinterpreted my stern demeanor, reading it as anger. His eyes were wide open and he seemed to expect me to rip into him, by the expression on his face.

I stood and crouched in front of him, while his pants still seemed to hold the meaning of life.

"Look at me, Matty." I gripped his shoulders. He met my eyes and it struck me once again how similar we looked. Same blue eyes, same blond hair. He was a proverbial carbon copy of me!

"You're my brother and my best friend. Nothing's going to change that. You are not a burden, you are the only relative I have left. I've never said anything bad about you, other than to your face." That got a smile from him.

"Why did you say those things about Mom and Dad?" he asked. I let my hand drop from his shoulder; it was now my turn to look down in shame.

"Because it's hard for me. I really hate people asking me about them, so I'm an ass about it and they stop." I sighed, "I stop thinking before I say anything. I just say the most aggressive things I can come up with and roll with it.  And it's easier to say stupid shit than to answer seriously. It feels less… real."

"And what's that about being a crybaby? I mean, where does the idea even come from? It's not like you spend every day slobbering all over me or something," I said, raising a quizzical eyebrow at Matt.

He looked me in the eye, imploring me to understand, "I can't even count how many times I've cried at night, and you were always there to hold me. I've seen you cry pretty much once, at the funeral. Compared to you, I'm the Niagara Falls! I couldn't even sleep at the damn group home they sent us to at first, remember? I had to sneak over to your bed."

I remembered those nights. Matt had confided in me how scared he was I would be next, that I would die, too, somehow and he'd be left alone. No matter how much I promised, it seemed at night the only thing he could think of was losing me. Apparently those fears still resurfaced every once in a while, though in different forms and shapes.

I sat back down next to him, flinging my arm over his shoulder and pulling him close, not caring about both of us being pretty sweaty.

"I did cry, Matty, more than you would think," I said. He looked up at me, "Really?"

"Yeah. I just didn't let myself cry where you could see. Now don't get mad," I interjected, seeing his frown, "Do you remember much of those first days, right after they died? You were in daze Matt, totally shocked. I was so scared, you know. You didn't eat right, and at night all you did was cry. Sometimes you wouldn't even answer when I spoke to you, and everything I could think of was trying to cheer you up somehow. I didn't want to make it even worse by having a break down around you, but it happened anyway."

Matt seemed surprised at that, "What happened?"

"It was at the funeral home," I said, "They asked me to pick out a headstone." I took a deep breath, remembering the feeling of loss. No, that's not right. "Remembering" is not really an adequate description, since the pain never really goes away. It was more like… becoming aware of it again, like an itch you can't scratch, but managed to ignore for a while. Until something happened to focus your attention on it again and it's all you can think about.

"I ran into their bathroom and locked myself up for half an hour. I was a total mess."

I shrugged. "And about those nights when you sneaked to my bed? If you hadn't come, I would have been the one doing the sneaking," I told him simply, "I needed it just as a much as you did."

I gave his shoulder a squeeze, but we didn't need to say anything else for the moment, just enjoying the comfort of each other's presence. I think we both felt the shift in our relationship, how I had to realize Matt wasn't a little kid anymore and how he had to stop putting me on a pedestal. And it felt good, opening up to Matt. It was hard for me to show vulnerability like that, even to Matt, but the thankful smile on his face was worth it. We sat quietly for a few minutes.

Until I poked him in the side, that is, making him draw in a sharp breath as he tried to wiggle out of my grasp, but I held him fast and poked him again and again. "And next time, you ding-dong, TALK TO ME, or I swear I will make you eat dirt again like I did when you were eight!"

He snorted at me.

"If I recall correctly, you had such a guilty conscience you made me cry, you ate an entire fistful, compared to the little pinch you fed me and had a stomach ache," he reminded me between gasps, as I continued my assault on his ribs.

"I'm over that," I replied flatly and soon we found ourselves rolling around trying to pin the other. Matt put up a considerable effort, laudable, really, but I was still bigger and stronger than him. I finally managed to subdue him, straddling his chest, one knee on each bicep. We were both breathing heavily as I grinned down at him.

"Say uncle," I said, poking him in the face. He struggled some more, bucking under me, trying to kick me or throw me off, but I held on, flicking his nose, ears and forehead repeatedly. Instead of giving up though, Matt looked over my shoulder and yelled, "Mike, come here and help me!"

I looked over my shoulder and saw Mike standing there, who looked relieved. We must have been fairly loud and he had assumed we were actually fighting. He probably came outside to break us up. He really has a heart of gold, I thought and said, "Don't you dare!" while pointing a finger at him. The playful tone of my voice added, "walk away" to my earlier statement, though, and Mike grinned, happy to be included, and tackled me. The three of us rolled around all over the yard in a three-way wrestling match far more balanced than Matt's and my earlier one-on-one, giggling and laughing all the while. Janie walked out onto the patio after a while, cheering us on sometimes, or muttering, "Boys," under her breath at others, even as she brought us some refreshments.

After we were done being little kids, we went inside to watch stupid movies and be little kids some more, gorging ourselves on popcorn, soda and chips until all we could do was groan. That night we went to sleep with glowing smiles on our faces and happy thoughts in our heads. Only the next morning did I notice I forgot to lock our bedroom door.

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