Richard's Redemption

Chapter 3

I survived that first day, and the last few weeks as well. It hasn't been comfortable, though. A little easier, perhaps, as the never-ending round of classes and homework and study sessions reabsorb most of the class, but it still isn't comfortable. Some of the others are talking to me again, but it's in the form of polite greetings and the occasional question about a class assignment. I'm no longer in any study groups, because no one in my section wants to associate that closely with me anymore. So I sit alone with my books in the corner of the dorm lobby, working alone and listening to the snatches of conversation swirling about me.

One such conversation catches my attention. I hear Knox Overstreet talking to Todd, Meeks, and Pitts about the upcoming St. Valentine's Ball with Henley Hall. “Chris is coming,” he tells them with a smile, referring to local girl Chris Noel, a Ridgeway High cheerleader. She used to date Chet Danburry, but she's been with Knox since the night Neil died. “This will be our first time officially appearing as a couple, and not just casually dating,” he adds proudly. “Oh, and she tells me that Ginny Danburry is going to Connecticut for the weekend, as Nuwanda's date for the Choate Valentine's Ball.”

“How's he settling in down south?” Meeks asks.

“Pretty well, from what I heard,” Knox chuckles. “And he sends his thanks to you, Todd. He remembers that Neil tried to fix you up with Ginny when they were in rehearsals together, and he's eternally grateful that you declined the opportunity.”

Todd looks uncomfortable. “I... yeah. She seemed nice and all...” he mumbles. “Just... not really my type, I guess.”

Knox laughs. “Right, what you really mean is, you'd rather go stag to the dance, so you don't have to look at the same girl all night!”

Todd flushes a bit as the others laugh. Pitts elbows Knox, “As if you were any different last year, Knoxious!”

Knox elbows back and the two get into a mild scuffle, earning themselves a demerit apiece from Dr. Hager, looking in to remind us that lights out is in half an hour. I pack up and head upstairs, figuring on getting my shower before the mad rush for the bathrooms starts.

I stop off at the room to leave my books and grab my pajamas, then I pause for a moment. There's a piece of paper on the floor near the wastebasket between the desks. I pick it up and smooth it out, unsure at first if it's a piece of scrap that missed the basket, or class notes fallen out of a book. Todd's writing leaps out at me.

Smile in my memories
Your warm eyes gazing into mine
The brush of your hand on my neck
Dreaming of the day you would be mine.

The dream shattered in a smell of powder
And a pool of blood.

I hastily toss the paper into the wastebasket and grab my pajamas, escaping into the bathroom before Todd can come upstairs and find me reading his poetry. The implications of what he'd written pound through my head. The poem is about Neil, has to be about Neil. Todd and Neil. Todd and Neil. Damn. But nothing else makes sense. The image of Todd's notebook flashes into my mind... the heart with the letter N inside. Todd nearly breaking down in class that first day back, whispering that the sonnet was one of Neil's favorites. Todd laughing with Neil, helping him with his lines. Neil coaxing Todd out of his shell from the moment they met as roommates.

I reach out with a muffled sob, cutting off the hot water and standing under the freezing spray for a long moment, hoping the cold will distract me from my thoughts. But there's no real escape, no way of avoiding the obvious conclusion. Todd is in the room when I get back, stacking his books on his desk in preparation for tomorrow's classes.

He ignores me as usual, but I watch through slitted eyes as he pauses to gaze at a picture of the Dead Poets Society that he keeps on his desk. We were out on the soccer field when it was taken. Knox and Charlie... Nuwanda... are clowning around in the photo, giving each other rabbit ears with their fingers. Meeks and Pitts are holding their crystal radio parts and looking sheepish. Neil is in the center of the photo, smiling steadily at the photographer. Todd and I are on opposite sides of the picture, turned slightly so that we're looking as much at Neil as at the camera. Todd brushes a finger over Neil's face in the photo as he sets it back down.

In that moment, I'm sure. Todd is hiding the same secret that I am. I roll over to face the wall, afraid he might see something in my face before he turns out the light. Besides, I'm not sure what my face might be showing right now... surprise and even relief that I'm really not the only one, or jealousy that Todd was so much closer to...him... than I ever had the chance to be.

For once in my life, there in the dark dorm room, I let the tears come.


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