Eye to Eye

Chapter 1

Eye to Eye

Written By: XPud © 2018

 

Credit goes out to NeverAnywhere for helping with formatting, editing, and suggestions.

 

 

Isaac Brooks stares at the page, having read the words nearly a dozen times. Around him, the three other students at the table are quietly discussing what the author could have meant by the line, “Most people are nice when you finally see them”; to Isaac, though, it simply makes no sense.

“What do you think it means, Isaac?” asks Angelina, a girl with a long brown braid.

Isaac doesn’t answer. Isaac doesn’t even look at her. He has nothing to say, and looking at her will only be more uncomfortable. Hunched over the book, he unconsciously runs his fingers in a line through his short blond hair, hoping that maybe she’ll get the answer from someone else.

One of the other table mates, Jamar, a dark boy with very short black hair, says to Angelina, “He doesn’t talk. Ever. Maybe he can’t hear, I dunno.”

Okay, I got it,” claims the third kid, a boy with a hoarse voice and wavy black hair named Javier. “Knock once if yes, two if no. Can you hear us?”

“How about you knock it off?” Mrs. Stone, a woman with long blond hair--and who was not made of stone--looms over the boys. “Why don’t you tell me what you think, first, and Isaac can decide if he agrees or not.”

The boys look up at her, but don’t say anything in return. Isaac darts a furtive glance at their faces, careful not to look in their eyes; he tries to figure out what they’re thinking, but it just doesn’t compute for him. They give her some answer, but by this point he gives up: he takes his glasses off, folds the arms carefully together, and places them on the desk near his chest. Then he puts his head down, the signal to the teacher that he is overwhelmed. She makes a call to Mr. Coleman, his homeroom teacher and case worker, who comes and escorts a teary-eyed Isaac out of the room.

Back in Mr. Coleman’s room, Isaac sits down on an old, upholstered couch under a window. In the room are a few other kids, all different like him, but in different ways. Some of them stay in this room all day long, which almost makes Isaac jealous, if not for the fact that he actually liked some of his classes.

Mr. Coleman sits next to him, staring forward instead of at him. “Can you tell me what happened in class?”

Isaac takes a moment, analyzing the situation and calming his nerves. In a timid voice only barely touched by puberty, he mutters, “My classmates said that maybe I can’t hear, and then th-they asked me to knock on the table if I could hear them.” He stutters a few times here and there, but says the rest of it in a measured, almost metronomic manner.

“Is that what upset you?” he inquires.

“I didn’t understand the reading thing we w-were doing, and then th-they were all looking at me, and they wouldn’t leave me alone.” His voice wavers by the end.

“Were you in a group with them?” Mr. Coleman asks. Isaac nods silently. “And did they try to include you in the discussion?” Nod. “Did you say anything back?”

Silence.

“Isaac, when you are in groups, you need to respond, even if you can only just say, “I don’t know.” They were probably asking if you were deaf because you didn’t respond to them.”

“But if I do, they look at me, and then th-they want me to look at them, and...” He doesn’t finish the sentence. Instead, he mumbles, “I hate reading class.”

Well, your mom requested that you stay in regular classes, so we need to figure out a way to make things work for you. I’ll talk to Mrs. Stone and see if there’s a way we can modify the curriculum to better suit your needs, but I think you can do it, if you get some help from others.”

The only part of all that that matters to Isaac is that he has to stay in the class. Reading class has always been a nightmare: reading poems or stories and trying to figure out what the author meant was completely impossible, and this whole “inference” thing they kept trying to make him do was a great way to get him to have a breakdown. Why didn’t they just say what they mean? Social studies isn’t much better, either, though at least it’s just memorizing facts, which he is okay at. At least science and math are predictable and constant: if the sun evaporates the water, it has to come down later as rain, and fourteen squared is always one hundred ninety-six. Even in eighth grade now, neither one is really any harder than it’s been before, while reading just gets more and more confusing.

Isaac spends the rest of the class period in his homeroom, practicing long division on piece after piece of scratch paper. Words may be confusing, but numbers don’t say one thing and mean another. Numbers just are; they fit together like pieces of a patterned puzzle. He just chooses random numbers to divide, and in no time at all, he has a tapestry of divisors and remainders spread across the table in front of him.

When the bell rings, Isaac’s insides twist. Reading may be hard, but he is about to go to the worst class this year: gym class. Not because he has to do physical activity, even though Isaac isn’t any sort of athlete. It’s not even the worst because of all of the people that already started picking on him, both for being shorter and for being...different. No, it’s the worst because he has to dress out. Granted, he has had to dress out for years now, but never in the other years has he had the problem he does now: when he dresses out, and all the other boys are dressing out, he feels things that confuse him. He hates when he confuses himself, and that just makes things even worse. He already knows that he’s supposed to start feeling a certain way toward girls, or so his mom tells him. That hasn’t happened yet, but boys are making him feel almost somehow excited and nervous, and then he just starts feeling confused and frustrated, and the whole thing just ends up as a bad experience.

As a result, he takes his clothes into the bathroom stall in the showers and changes clothes there. When he can’t see anyone, and they can’t see him, he can at least pretend that they’re not there, even if they’re obnoxiously loud in the locker room. He quickly takes off his shoes and socks, his shirt, and his blue jeans.

Just as he reaches for his gym shorts, he barely gets a chance to see multiple pairs of feet sneak up to the bathroom area when someone pounds furiously on the stall door, making Isaac screech like a scared girl. Suddenly there’s a burst of laughter echoing through the showers; a pair of hands darts under the stall door and suddenly yanks all of the clothes out of the stall!

Isaac panics; having nothing but his white briefs on, he quickly unlocks the door and flings it open to see the boys dashing out of sight around the corner. He could chase them, but then what? He would have to talk to them, first off, and secondly, they would probably just stuff him into a locker. Thinking frantically, he does the only thing that makes sense in the situation: he closes the stall door, sits on the toilet, and cries as quietly as he can.

Soon, the shrill, jagged sound of a whistle cuts through the cacophony of the locker room, and all the boys head out into the gym. As the din slowly migrates out, the area becomes quieter and quieter until the only sound is the occasional sniffle reverberating through the tiled bathroom.

Isaac sits on the closed toilet, slowly rocking back and forth, a motion he often does when distressed. The rocking soothes him to where he no longer sniffles. He just listens to the low creak of the toilet lid each time he leans forward, and the drip of that one leaky shower head that hits the tile after every third rocking motion he makes. One, two, three-drip. One, two, three-drip. He times his rocking to make sure it hits halfway between movements, which calms him more.

Then, he hears the tiny squeak of a rubber sole on the floor of the locker room, and he freezes. The squeak pairs with a muffled footstep of a nearly noiseless other shoe as the owner of those shoes moves about in the main locker area, followed by the squeal of old hinges on an old locker opening and then closing with a gentle, rattling clang. Another locker. Squeal, squee-clang. A third locker opens, and does not close immediately. The squeak-pat squeak-pat of only one noisy sole pounds in Isaac’s ears as it increases in strength, rounding the corner into the shower/bathroom area. Soon, he sees the origin of the squeaking: a pair of dirty white sneakers, the left of which squeaks as it approaches the stall door.

“Are...you still in there?” a quiet, lower voice asks from every hard surface in the bathroom.

Isaac does not reply, but he moves slightly, causing the toilet lid to creak again.

“Hey,” the voice continues, “sorry about those assholes who took your clothes. I found them in one of the lockers...they didn’t lock it or anything.” With that, his clothes flop to the floor in a pile, which the right sneaker slowly slides under the stall. “Oh. Uh, I hope the floor is clean...sorry if I...yeah.”

Isaac slowly extends a foot out to the pile and drags it closer to himself on the toilet, causing the lid to complain noisily under the constant movement. When the clothes are close enough, he quickly changes back into his regular outfit, confident that he isn’t going to participate today. He waits a moment to see if the other boy is going to leave, but he doesn’t. Isaac thinks to himself, okay. This person helped me out, so he probably won’t try to trick me. But what if he does? He shouldn’t, but sometimes people just do. He debates it a moment longer before he finally takes a deep breath and, picking up his gym clothes, he opens the stall door to see a rather tall boy, but he doesn’t look up to see what kind of hair he has. If he did that, he might see the boy’s eyes, and that always makes things worse.

“You gonna be okay?” the boy asks in a slightly husky tenor voice as he squats down to look up (though with the height difference, it’s close to being eye-to-eye) at Isaac.

For a fleeting moment, Isaac meets the boy’s gaze. As he does so, he feels a strange feeling, like a huge bundle of emotions all tied together. He notices that the boy’s short hair is golden-brown and combed forward, and that his eyes are different colors: his left eye is more blue, and his right eye is more brown. His nose turns upward a little bit, too, though Isaac almost never notices noses (he knows people have them, of course, but he just never looks at them). He finds it almost impossible to tear his gaze away from the boy’s eyes, but he finally nods quickly and whirls around to face the opposite direction.

The other boy nearly loses his balance and has to use the wall to steady himself as he stands back up. “Whoa, I...sorry. I think I got a little lightheaded there. Happens when you’re tall, heh.” After a short silence, he stammers, “We, uh...have to go. The coach only let me come in to find you.” He quickly adds, “Oh! I’m Irvin. You can just call me ‘Vin.’”

Isaac slowly turns around. Is this boy being nice to me? Why? The thoughts and anxieties about new people churn within him while that strange new bunch of emotions and feelings prods him to seek more contact with this person. Looking at the ground, he says in a crackly, raspy voice dried out by fear and stress, “I’m...Isaac.”

“Isaac?” Irvin asks, for clarification.

Isaac nods.

“Well, Isaac, we should go, yeah?”

Isaac looks forward at the boy’s white gym t-shirt and nods, heading over to his locker. When he gets there, though, he thinks about it for a second, and decides to go ahead and dress back out anyway. Since there’s only one person here and he’s already been nice to Isaac, Isaac takes the risk and strips down to his underwear in front of the boy. He takes great care not to look at Vin, instead concentrating on dressing out as fast as he can. When he’s done, he quickly and carefully folds his pants and shirt so that they fit perfectly into the locker without touching the walls, meticulously folds the arms of his glasses and places them perfectly in the middle of the clothes, and heads out into the gym without waiting for Vin.

In spite of himself, Isaac does end up playing some games; as long as he keeps his eyes on the ball, he can usually catch it pretty well, and he doesn’t have to worry about other people as much if they’re all doing the same thing. So he joins a group of boys that are just tossing a ball around a circle. Some of them are talking to each other about various things, like Fortnite and annoying girls, something else about a Youtuber and the like. Nobody tries to talk to him, and he doesn’t try to talk to anyone else, but as long as he catches the ball when it comes to him and throws it in someone else’s direction, nobody questions it. He does sometimes have to look at other peoples’ eyes when he throws the ball, but it’s much easier to handle without his glasses, since he can’t see the details of their faces. On one throw, he looks away only to catch sight of the tall Vin boy once again, who is quite a ways away playing basketball with a couple of other tall boys. Even though he can’t see him clearly at all from this distance, the same knot swells up in his chest, a completely tangled, indecipherable mess of emotions. Vin stops and looks over for some reason, and ends up staring long enough to get pegged in the head with a basketball from the side, breaking both of them out of their reverie.

“Hey!” Vin yells at the other kid, who immediately runs over to him saying, “Sorry, dude! I thought you were going to catch it! Are you okay? Man, I’m sorry!”

Similarly, the ball that Isaac and the other boys are tossing about comes sailing over to Isaac, but it bounces right through where Isaac was as he staggers to the left, as if he had been hit squarely with a basketball on the other side of the head. It’s not painful to him, but he is keenly aware of exactly how it would feel, down to how long the pain would throb and ebb away. He smooths the hair on his head where the phantom basketball would have hit; then he looks around for the ball that he was supposed to catch, wondering how it sneaked past him.

Isaac starts to go after the ball, but the sharp blade of the whistle cuts through the air again, followed by the coach calling for everyone to dress back into regular clothes. Isaac turns immediately around and rushes into the locker room to be the first to grab his clothes and hide again whilst he dresses back into his shirt and jeans.

This time, the other kids don’t come and bother him. He dresses out and waits for the bell to ring; when it does, he quickly darts out ahead of the others, making sure to have plenty of running room in case he needs it.

He makes it safely out into the main area, where there are way too many kids around for someone to bully him, and slows down to his usual pace--still quick, but not in a hurry. He walks down one hallway and turns the corner to the mathematics hallway, already plastered with colorful symbols and student work in only the second week of school. Walking down the hall with his eyes cast to the floor as usual, he sees a pair of feet wearing closed-toe black leather sandals standing by the first door on the right. The owner of those shoes says, “Good morning, Isaac.”

He stops, but does not change where he’s looking. “Good morning, Mrs. Davis.” Mrs. Davis was his math teacher last year. She was one of the few teachers that he liked talking to, and she never made him look at her directly.

“Headed to math class?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Do you still love math, even in eighth grade?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Even though it’s algebra now, and has letters in there, too?”

He pauses to think. “Yes, ma’am, because they’re just letters that represent a variable, not letters that make a word. And then th-the word problems are not hard to understand.”

“I’m glad to hear it. And did you grow an inch over the summer? You look taller.”

“I don’t know, ma’am.”

She laughs, though Isaac isn’t sure what’s funny about that. “Okay, well, I’ll let you get to class. Have a good day.”

“Have a good day, Mrs. Davis.” He continues his path exactly as it was before, and well before the bell rings, he is in his classroom, at a desk separated from the others, working on the warm-up problem from the board.

As always, he finishes his work early in math; Mr. Crawford asked him once if he’d like to help tutor, but even the thought of teaching another student fills him with anxiety and dread. What if they made fun of him for how he looks, or the way he talks, or that he never looks at them? He wants to help--he’d love to talk math to anyone who would listen--but the fear of potential ridicule closes him up like a clam.

Sadly, math class has to end eventually, but on the brighter side, Isaac has first lunch (which is good, because he’s always starving by this point). Packed up and ready to leave within seconds before the bell rings, he is the first one out the door, walking briskly down the now empty hallway, ahead of the raging river of children soon to cascade down it.

He gets to the line with only two others before him; he wonders if they were waiting here before class ended. He gets his tray of food--a ham sandwich, milk, chocolate pudding, carrots, and a small box of raisins--and heads to the far back table in the lunchroom. He realizes that being all the way over here makes him stand out more, not less, but it’s still less overwhelming when he has a corner on one side instead of being surrounded by people. He sits down and contents himself eating in threes: three bites of sandwich, three carrot slices, three raisins. The pudding is harder to divide, so he waits for that last.

In the middle of his meal, he sees a shadow pass across the table as a person sits down across from him. “Hi Isaac,” a slightly nasal, pointed sort of voice says to him.

“Hello, Christian,” he says perfunctorily. Christian is one of the boys in his homeroom; they’re somewhat good friends, but really only at school. Christian likes to talk a lot, almost nonstop if you let him, which is fine with Isaac since it just means he doesn’t have to say much in return. All in all, they work well together.

Christian starts talking about everything that happened today: “So, I was just working on my science project about the cell which I think you probably did last year when you were in seventh grade, but so when I was working on it, I saw you come into the room, and you were all crying--I could tell because even though you weren’t making any crying sounds, your face was still all wet. I wanted to make sure that you were okay, because you’re my friend and I hate to see it when you’re crying, but I was too busy trying to put my shoe back on that came off when, ‘cuz I was kicking my foot really fast like when I get really excited about something and I really like this project. Um, so my shoe came off, and...”

As Isaac gets to the end of his meal, he sees that he only has about two good-sized bites of ham sandwich left, so he carefully bites only a third off at a time, just to be sure. By the time Isaac is done with the main course and sides, he doesn’t even have room for the pudding, so he gladly leaves it on his tray as he goes to throw his trash away.

“Isaac!” Christian barks.

Isaac stops in place.

“Can I have your pudding if you’re just going to throw it away? I like the pudding and I’m still kinda hungry, so I would eat it if you gave it to me.”

Isaac doesn’t smile outwardly, but he really does like spending time with Christian, even though he always talks. Especially since he always talks. Around Christian, he feels like he’s in a small room of sound that nobody else can get into, and Christian would never make fun of him for being different. Isaac takes the pudding and puts it on the table before walking off.

As he passes by the table closest to the lunch line entrance, he hears a kid yell, “Hey Mime Boy! Still stuck in your box?!” That kid and a few others laugh; if it’s a joke, he doesn’t get it now, and certainly didn’t get it last year. Back then it bothered him, but now it’s just more noise to tune out.

He returns to his seat, and Christian goes off on a rant: “Can you believe how rude that boy is? He should be hit with a belt like Pow! Pow! Pow! until his parents think he’ll stop being like that.” He emphasizes each hit by pantomiming the whipping action. He also mentions some other, more painful-sounding physical abuses, but that’s just something he does when he’s angry about something. He’d never actually do any of those things. Isaac just shrugs, tunes the rest of what he says out, and absently picks at one of his fingernails until the bell rings.

“Oh. That’s the bell for class,” Christian points out. “I have to go to class now. Bye, Isaac!”

“Bye, Christian.”

The next class, US history, is boring. Then to art class, where things at least get a bit more fun. They had started out with boring essentials, but now that they have started talking about perspective in drawings, it has become much more interesting. He’s not the best artist when it comes to drawing, but the teacher keeps complimenting his shading and linework, so Isaac is content with his work.

And, finally, science class. All about matter and energy these first few weeks, which is actually kind of interesting, more so than all that trash about “the cell” was last year. He cheerfully reads the science book--no hidden messages, here, just facts--and fills out a worksheet, happy to do something decently engaging for a change.

When the bell rings, he quickly packs everything up into his binder and heads to his locker, grabbing his backpack and reaching inside to get his cell phone. He paces quickly over to the choir room, where he makes a quick call to his mom.

“Hello?”

“Mom? Can I stay for an hour and play on the pianos?”

“That’s fine. I’ll be there in an hour, then.”

“Thank you, Mom.”

“Love you.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

He actually asked at the beginning of the day about staying after school, but he liked to re-ask at the end of the day, just in case. He takes his stuff and walks through the main choir area and heads to the practice rooms, each one with its own piano and an extra chair. Sometimes, people would have voice lessons in them, or maybe be playing another instrument, but usually nobody was on the pianos themselves. Until today.

Halfway to the practice rooms, a melody starts up from one of them, freezing Isaac in his tracks. Isaac stands there, spellbound by the entrancing cascade of notes and harmonies. To Isaac, they were not simply frequencies and sounds. They were colors, shapes, textures, even tastes sometimes. Entire tapestries of interwoven sound would paint themselves in Isaac’s mind, and he could almost feel the smoothness or jagged edges of some sounds. When Isaac had mentioned this effect to his therapist, he was informed that he has something called synesthesia, but he cared less about the name of it and more about how it affected him.

The melody starts in a beautiful aqua blue ribbon, dancing up to soar down across a burgundy series of notes, a deeper aqua return to a soothing green exhalation. Suddenly, an accompanying harmony of rich mahogany stairs become the playground of a spritely, dancing starburst of colors.

He plots a course directly to the sound, climbing over the choir risers to get closer to it. The entire time, he furrows his brow and focuses on the interplaying melodies, exploring every nook and cranny within them. The melody begins to rush down like a vibrant waterfall, then again; it loses its way within the forest floor of the woody left-hand chords, but soon finds the light and flies off into the distant keys of the right-hand side.

Again the aqua-burgundy-aqua-green section breathes in and out, in and out, becoming a calm explanation of the previous dance, bringing up a few good points, but eventually laying the first part of the song to rest just as Isaac reaches the door. He looks inside the small window on the door, and a wave of panic and confusion grips him as he sees Vin playing the music, his fingers flowing across the keys like the river of harmony that Isaac has been listening to.

Isaac crouches down instinctively, not wanting to be seen--not by Vin, not by anyone at all. What do I do!? he thinks frantically. I can’t just let him see me, can I? What if...what if... He is unsure what could possibly happen after the “what if,” but it certainly couldn’t be good.

He takes a deep breath, trying to figure out why he is so anxious. Meanwhile, the music becomes rainbow bridges and and golden, swirling spires reaching into the sky, which then become the parapets of a regal castle of chords. Okay, calm down, he says to himself. Vin is friendly, and he helped you. He is playing really beautiful music, and you want to go inside and listen to it. There is nothing wrong with a person playing music, or listening to it. Yes. That sounds right. It makes him slightly less panicky, but no less confused.

Suddenly, the music stops, and the panic surges again into Isaac’s brain, gripping his heart. Why did he stop? What happened? He doesn’t have any more time to ponder the thought when the door swings open and bowls him over onto his side.

As he scrambles to his feet, Vin exclaims, “Oh my God! Did I hit you? I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you, I--!”

Isaac immediately turns around, his cheeks blazing with embarrassment, and he begins to hustle out of the room until he hears Vin call out, “Wait! Please?”

Isaac freezes stock-still, shoulders hunched, face turned directly toward the floor; as he hears the gentle squeak-pat of Vin’s shoes approach him, he starts muttering, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry...” over and over.

“Sorry for what?” Vin asks, though Isaac doesn’t stop chanting. “You don’t need to be sorry; I’m the one who hit you, right?”

Isaac stops chanting, but keeps panting; his heart is beating over one hundred forty beats per minute, according to his count.

“Hey, dude, it’s okay,” Vin says, placing his long-fingered hands on Isaac’s shoulders.

Isaac tenses up for a few seconds, but slowly relaxes as he realizes that Vin isn’t going to try to hurt him or anything. Why would Vin hurt me? he tries to convince himself. He helped me, and he has only been nice to me. I should trust him. After a few more seconds of psyching himself up to believe his own thoughts, he turns around, though still staring at the floor. Vin’s dirty white sneakers have another little spot on them; it looks like maybe a bit of mustard from the ham sandwiches at lunch. Isaac takes a deep, shuddering breath, and mumbles, “I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry, man?” Vin says with a hint of laughter in his voice. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I was eavesdropping,” he replies with a bit more strength, “and that’s rude.”

“I really don’t mind,” Vin emphasizes. “I was just gonna go get a drink of water. Why--what were you doing here? Before I hit you with the door, I mean.”

“I was going to play on the pianos.”

Vin pauses a moment. “You know, you can look at me. You don’t have to be embarrassed.”

Isaac glances up at Vin’s chest, and then neck, and finally mouth, but averts his eyes back to Vin’s neck. “I don’t like looking at people’s eyes.”

Another pause. Vin asks slowly, “Is it because of my eye color?”

Isaac instinctively looks at Vin’s eyes when he mentions their color; that knot of emotion swells up larger than ever, threatening to take up every space in Isaac’s chest. The same blue eye and brown eye stare back at him, and for a moment, Isaac could swear that he can see the colors of that piano song cascade within Vin’s eyes. They’re even the right colors for each side--brown on the left, and sky blue on the right.

Vin breaks eye contact, looking over Isaac’s head at the door. Blinking a few times, he rubs his eyes and says, “I’m sorry. Something kinda...I’ll...be right back.” He heads to the side door of the choir room and out to the water fountains in the hallway.

After a moment, Isaac begins to feel vulnerable in the large, open space of the empty choir room, so he ducks into the open practice room, sitting at the piano. Vin takes a moment to come back in, so Isaac begins to play around on the piano. He has some formal training, with scales and the like, but most of what he can play comes from figuring out what he hears. He envisions the aqua ribbon of the beginning of that song, and climbs his way chromatically up the piano until he finds the note with the same color as the start of that ribbon. The next notes were purple and orange apart, he thinks to himself; even the space between two notes has its own color in his mind. He begins to tinker around with the piano, putting the song together as he goes.

Vin comes back a few minutes later. “Sorry, I needed to go to the bath--oh, I didn’t know you knew how to play that song, too.”

Isaac stops, turning his head slightly toward Vin. “I’ve never heard it before. It’s beautiful, and then so I wanted to play it. What’s it called?”

“So wait, you--you’ve never heard it, but you just played like the first 10 bars of it right now.”

“I was just trying to figure it out from hearing it.”

“Wh--there’s, there’s no way.” Vin seems to have trouble finding the words he wants to say. “You just figured it out from hearing it, like, just right now.”

Isaac pauses, processing. “I don’t know it all yet, but only maybe the first sixteen measures.”

“You even know how many measures it is? You’re totally jerking my chain here, aren’t you?”

“I didn’t t-take your...that means ‘playing a trick,’ doesn’t it?”

Vin doesn’t answer. Instead, he sits down in the chair next to the piano bench. “Um, don’t take this the wrong way,” he begins, but hesitates before continuing, “but are you...do you have a...” Vin struggles to form the end of his sentence. “Are you like, autistic or something?”

Isaac doesn’t answer. If I say yes, he will make fun of me. If I don’t answer maybe he’ll think I didn’t hear him, like those boys in class thought I was deaf. He wouldn’t think I’m deaf, since I was talking to him earlier, but--

Vin interrupts his thoughts, “Sorry if I, I mean, it’s okay if you are, or if you’re not, I’m sorry. I just, y’know, you kinda act a little...y’know.”

“You’re trying to say that I’m different.” Isaac says the sentence without a hint of relish.

“Well, yeah!” Vin agrees. “But I mean, that’s fine, I don’t care. Really. In fact, a lot of musicians are kinda, well, eccentric people. Maybe it’s just an artist thing, right?” After an awkward silence, he abruptly says, “Oh, by the way, that song is called ‘Arabesque No. 1’ by Claude Debussy, in case you wanted to, like, look it up or anything. Hey, do you...know any other stuff? Other songs?”

Isaac reviews the songs he knows, and selects the Moonlight Sonata to play. Deep, rich oaken notes from the left hand provide the stage for the dark crimson of the opening arpeggiated minor chord in the right hand. Lightning strikes as the left hand moves down; the thunder rumbles through the scene once again as the left hand moves down farther, but the right hand offers some respite from the storm in a series of hopeful beige chords that eventually coil in upon themselves, removing all pretense of cheer from the dismal, roiling movement.

He makes it all the way through the first movement, holding the last chord out extra long to savor the colors and velvety texture before it all disintegrates into the musical aether. Vin waits a moment longer, then claps so suddenly and loudly that it makes Isaac jump a little bit.

“Bravo! Bravo!” Vin says, clapping energetically. “That was really good! You really make that song come to life.”

Isaac doesn’t dare look at Vin’s eyes again, but he still smiles. “I like you,” he says simply. “Can we be friends?”

He looks up far enough to see a grin grow across Vin’s face. “Yeah, that’d be awesome. Friends.” He holds his hand out. Isaac puts his hand in Vin’s, which is almost comically larger than Isaac’s. They shake hands, and Isaac pulls out his cell phone. “I have to be ready for Mom when she gets here.”

“All right, bud,” Vin says. “Hey, good playing. Maybe we can show each other more songs tomorrow, yeah?”

“Okay.” Isaac’s smile grows into a grin.

“All right!” Vin cheers. “Have a good one, Isaac!”

“Have a good one, Vin.” With that, Isaac shifts his backpack on his back and exits the room.

As Isaac heads to the front doors to wait for his mom, he thinks about Vin’s face: its upturned nose, the wide grin, and those two different eyes. The knot of emotion rises up into his chest again, but it seems to be less tightly anxious, and more warm, almost comforting...but exciting as well. It doesn’t make sense to him, but for once, he doesn’t care about that. He just knows that Vin is a good friend, now, and being around Vin makes him feel happy and safe.

He gets outside and realizes that it must have rained for quite some time today: the air feels thick with humidity and everything is slick and wet. There is a large group of kids sitting around outside, some of them on benches, some of them on the wall that runs down the middle of the stairs in front of the main doors. A few kids are on skateboards, riding around and trying to do tricks across the pavement.

Isaac feels his phone vibrate in his hand, and looks down to see a text message from his mom. Unlocking his phone, he sees, “I’m a few minutes away." Looking for his mom's dark blue sedan, he hastily steps down the stairs, avoiding any seriously wet spots; however, when he attempts to cross over the large black-and-gold eagle painted on the cement in front of the stairs, his shoe cannot grip the slick surface and he immediately flies forward, landing harshly on his face, slamming his nose into the cement. His backpack only worsens it as the momentum pushes him forward slightly, dragging his nose forward another inch.

Immediately, most of the kids that were sitting around start cracking up wildly. “Did you see that?” one of them screeches. “DAMN! He ate it!” yells another. The rest of what they say is lost in maniacal laughter.

With his breath knocked out of him, Isaac is stunned for a few seconds. He eventually regains his movement, rolling to the side and holding his nose; it trickles blood down his fingers and throbs in agony.

“Man, you ate it like a BITCH!” A pair of bright red Nike sneakers walks up to him and stops. “Wait. Guys! Mime Boy is crying!” He crouches down to get closer to Isaac. “I thought you didn’t make any noise!”

Isaac is definitely crying, but he was not usually one to wail or the such, unless he was having a meltdown. Still, the pain of his nose, combined with the embarrassment of tripping in the first place, and now the outrage of this jerk coming over and calling him names, all begin to smolder within Isaac.

“Here, lemme help you up,” he says, offering a hand.

He hasn’t helped me before, but I’m hurt, so maybe he is really going to help me up. Isaac considers it, but with the tears in his eyes and blood on his hand, he doesn’t have much choice: he offers his clean hand to the boy.

The boy grabs on and starts pulling, just enough for Isaac to get his other foot in place. Just as he is trying to push himself up to standing, though, the boy lets go, causing Isaac to lose his balance and fall forward, landing on his elbow. The boy howls with laughter; everyone else joins in, chanting “Mime Boy” and talking about how he “ate shit twice.”

Isaac’s smoldering emotions ignite into a solid rage. He gets to his knees, stands slowly, and drops his backpack behind him. Blood dripping down his face, elbow and nose crying out in pain, he locks eyes with the boy who tricked him. The boy is light-skinned with weird, light-brown hair that looks like tangled tubes hanging down from his head; his eyes are hazel-brown and currently his mouth is twisted into a huge grin.

The boy looks back and says to him, “What, you gonna fight--?” He stops short, grabbing his nose. “Ow, what the fuck?” he says through his hands, wiping at his nose and looking at his hands. He looks back at Isaac and opens his mouth to say something, but he grabs at his elbow and yells, “Ow, ow! Shit, what the fuck?! Is this some kind of voodoo shit?!”

Isaac refuses to back down; he walks closer, staring the boy down the entire time. “Why w-would you laugh at me?!” he yells, his voice spiking at the top of it.

The boy backs up; nobody else joins in, but some of them yell, “Beat the shit out of him! Get him, Ray!”

Ray looks at Isaac, then the crowd, and then back to Isaac. Suddenly, his face contorts and he rushes at Isaac. Just as he begins approaching, a woman screams, “STOP! STOP!” from the parking lot.

Ray makes it to Isaac and tries to punch him in the face; Isaac manages to put an arm in the way, and Ray’s knuckles slam into Isaac’s forearm. The impact staggers Isaac, but he looks back at Ray directly. Ray locks eyes with Isaac again, and Ray’s fist suddenly falls slack as he grabs that arm with his other hand. He stares with wide eyes at Isaac as the strange scrunch-nosed expression he had morphs into a high-eyebrow, open-mouthed look. “How the fuck...?” he says, much more quietly.

At that moment, Isaac’s mom rushes in and sweeps Isaac back and away from the others. “Get out of here! Now! Or I’m calling the cops! ALL OF YOU!” The crowd starts to slowly scatter, different groups splintering off in different directions. Ray grabs a nearby skateboard, but sprints off with it in his hands. Isaac’s mother squats down eye-to-eye with Isaac. “Are you okay?”

Isaac refuses to look at her in the eyes. Sniffling back blood, he mumbles, “Yes, ma’am.”

“You’re bleeding. I have tissues in my purse in the car. Let’s go, honey. We need to get you some ice packs.”

Isaac lets her lead him off to the car, and they drive away quickly home. On the way, she throws a barrage of questions at him, too fast for him to even consider answering. As the adrenaline leaves him, he cannot stop the flow of tears and sobs that erupt, which is fine, seeing as he wasn’t talking, anyway.

When they finally get home, Ms. Brooks immediately gets an ice pack for Isaac’s nose and arm. Isaac says, “I also hit my elbow.”

“Oh, you poor baby,” she laments, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.” She grabs more ice and another sandwich bag. They go to the living room and sit on the couch; she instructs Isaac to hold the ice pack to his nose while she puts the other ice packs on his forearm and elbow. Since they’re both almost out of hands, she uses a tissue as a plug in Isaac’s right nostril until it stops bleeding. “Now tell me, please: what happened? Why were you in a fight? What--I’m sorry. One question at a time. What happened?”

“I slipped and fell, and then th-they laughed at me.”

“Is that how you hurt your nose?”

“Yes, ma’am, and my elbow.”

“So how did you end up in a fight?” Her tone of voice changes, though Isaac isn’t sure what that means, if anything.

Isaac takes a moment to respond. “I was trying to get up, and then he h-helped me get up, and then he let me go and I fell on my elbow, and then...” he pauses. His mom doesn’t start talking, so he continues, “And then he made m-me m-mad and I looked at him.”

“That’s it?” she asks. “You looked at him? Did you say anything?”

“No, ma’am. Um, I asked him why w-was he laughing at me.”

She sighs. “Did you hit him first?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, ma’am. I didn’t hit h-him at all.”

“It sure looked like he was in pain.” Isaac doesn’t respond. She continues, “Why was he in pain if you didn’t hit him?”

Isaac cannot find the words to answer this. It’s the main reason he doesn’t like looking in people’s eyes: sometimes, he gets lost. It feels weird, and his emotions are hard to understand, but just as sometimes he can feel what happens to others, others can feel what happens to him when they are looking eye to eye. It’s uncomfortable, even embarrassing sometimes. It only started happening about a year ago, shortly before all the other changes began to happen to him with puberty. He never really liked looking at people’s eyes even before that, but now it almost seems...somehow too much, or too close, or something like that. The words escape even Isaac’s mind, certainly never making it to his lips. So, he just says, “I didn’t hit him, ma’am.”

His mother doesn’t respond. Instead, she waits a while and says something different: “I hope you had a good day other than the fight.”

Isaac considers everything: on the bad side, there was the reading class problem, the gym class bullying, the lunchroom name-calling, and the trip and fight. On the good side, there was always math class, science was nice, Christian is a good kid, and then there was the piano...and Vin. Lots of bad things happened today, but somehow, just having met Vin and talked to him seems to outweigh all the other things. “Yes, ma’am, I did.” He smiles.

Apparently his mother notices. “Oh? Is that a smile I see?” Isaac quickly tries to stop smiling, but she says, “Oh no you don’t--I saw that smile. I saw it!” Isaac’s hidden smile bursts forth into a grin and a giggle. She remarks, “It’s so rare to see a smile on you without me teasing you, so it must have been a really good day.” When he doesn’t reply, she continues her assault, “Did you meet someone? Maybe a girl?”

The smile quickly fades from Isaac’s lips. “No, ma’am. I talked to a girl in reading class, but she’s not my new friend.”

“Oh,” she responds. “Well, who is your new friend, then?”

Isaac realizes that he gave it away already. Oh well, he says with a mental shrug. “His name is Vin. He’s really tall, and then he’s nice, and he plays p-piano. And then he taught me a song.”

“Remember that we only say ‘and then’ if it’s something that happened, not if it’s just a fact.”

Isaac knows this, but it’s just a bad habit, especially if he doesn’t think about what he’s saying. “I know, ma’am.”

“But that’s great!” She sounds more excited than before. “I’m glad you’re making new friends. I always worry that you’re closing yourself off. You’re a wonderful boy, and there are a lot of people out there who would love to be your friend.”

Isaac remains silent, but considers her words. Finally, after a long pause, Isaac says, “My nose is cold.” So is his arm and elbow, but ‘nose’ is what he said and he’s sticking to it.

His mom takes the tissue out of his nose to check on the bleeding. No blood seems to come out, so she doesn’t put it back in, thankfully. “You can take it off for a little bit, but I want you to sit here for awhile and put the ice back on it. You don’t want to go to school with a huge swollen nose the size of your face.”

“Noses don’t do that,” he states matter-of-factly.

“No. I was exaggerating.” She gets up and heads to the kitchen. Isaac can never tell when people are exaggerating. It’s kind of annoying, really. On her way out of the living room, she says, “Oh, and you should probably take a bath. You smell like a boy who had a fight out in the rain.”

Isaac does as instructed, keeping the ice packs on his various bruised areas for a while longer, and then going to the bathroom to take a bath. He strips down and turns on the water, waiting until it’s a nice temperature before plugging the drain. He would take showers, but the sensation of the shower water hitting him all over is too stimulating, and it gets uncomfortable very quickly.

When the tub is partially full of water, he gets in and slowly lowers himself down into the water. It’s very warm, but not quite hot; he draws an imaginary plane of sensation through his body as the water tickles his skin all the way down. It especially tickles on his privates, even more so now that they’ve grown a bit. He starts to get an erection, but that happens to him nearly every time he sits down in the water, so it’s not out of the ordinary. It stands up and points outward, almost directly at the showerhead from where he’s sitting. He drags his foreskin slowly downward, causing it to stiffen up much faster from the sensation.

He turns the water off and starts washing himself, starting with his face and working down, being careful over the sore spots. He makes sure to scrub under his armpits thoroughly, which have started to smell (his mother warned him about this). He washes down each inch of his skin, including the three of them pointing to the showerhead, and the little bit of pubic hair that has started to grow, as well.

He waits until the end to wash his hair, though; he likes to take an extra long time massaging the lather through his short hair. The feeling of his fingers through his hair is at once comforting and luxurious, one of the best feelings he knows about--and that still counts orgasm as a contender. He spends at least a few minutes shampooing his hair, rinsing it out, rubbing conditioner in it, rinsing that out, and doing the whole thing again.

Feeling nice and clean, he also feels like he needs to jack off, as well. It used to be just something he would do sometimes that felt nice, but recently, he has more and more felt almost like it was a need, like he just really needs to do it. His mom is aware that he does this; she found him doing this back a few years ago, and told him that it’s a normal thing to do in private. (Thankfully, she also started knocking on the bathroom or bedroom door before coming in.)

He starts moving his foreskin up and down over his glans (he prefers to use the technical terms--all those weird words that people make up to talk about it just don’t make sense to him), closing his eyes and loving the feeling as he does so. It becomes almost a form of meditation to him as he focuses purely on the feeling of it, the foreskin lighting up every nerve in his glans on the way up and back down.

He could do this for a very long time if he wanted to, just enjoying the feeling, but usually he needs to think of something to make it go to where he can have an orgasm. Most of the time, he would think of the feeling of messing with his hair. That, combined with the sensations of jacking off, would usually be enough.

This time, he thinks about the girl in reading class with the long braid. He focuses on that image for awhile, but it doesn’t attract his attention. Maybe he’ll feel something about girls later on, but for now they do nothing for him.

He thinks about those emotions that always seem to crop up when he’s dressing out, following that trail to thinking about the boys in their underwear. Recalling how they look is exciting to him, and it brings heat to his face and groin. He begins to stroke more vigorously.

Then his mind drifts to Vin. Thinking about looking into Vin’s eyes, those eyes the color of a beautiful piano song; his short, forward-combed light brown hair; his huge hands; all of these thoughts make his heart start beating much faster. Where there was confusion before, now only desire and excitement sit in his chest, spurring him on to stroke faster.

And then, an interesting idea comes to him: he imagines his hair being rustled and caressed by Vin’s long fingers, and a wave of intense need--of utter desire--rips through him as a violent orgasm clenches his ab muscles together and throws his head forward. He bucks his hips and shoots a drop of cum straight onto his chin as more spasms dribble cum over his fingers and into the bath water.

It takes a moment for his head to clear and his heart to calm down. He thinks for a moment, making a connection: if thinking about boys is exciting to me, then maybe I won’t like girls. Maybe I was supposed to like them already. This is not a conversation he’s had with his mom, but he’s heard plenty of things in school about being ‘gay’ or ‘bi’ or those kinds of things, so he understands that sometimes people are different.

He wipes off his hand and chin, washing them off in the water as he pulls the drain plug. But, he thinks, I’m already different. I don’t need to be more different. The thought makes him feel even farther apart than he already did from everyone else. Thinking about Vin, though--as friendly as he was, as much as he helped Isaac today, and as nice-looking as he was--brings Isaac some comfort in that respect; he could just hide the fact that he might like Vin in that way, and they could just be really good friends. Maybe.

He gets out of the tub and starts drying off. Maybe it’s just a phase. Mom had spoken of plenty of times when Isaac was just “in a phase,” like when he was interested in SpongeBob for a year or two and everything he owned was SpongeBob-themed. Maybe I’ll like girls later, he supposes.

Putting it out of his mind, he spends the rest of his day playing games on his phone--at least until his mom makes him read for an hour. He chooses to read the word problems in his math book; she didn’t ever specify what he was supposed to read, so he figures this is still good enough. Eventually he grows tired and gets into his flannel pajamas, curling up in bed for the night. The main thoughts running through his head as he drifts to sleep are of that song, Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1, and of Vin with his long fingers and unique eyes.