What is it like when those closest to you are not there any longer?
Friday, March 29, 2019; Early Morning
Kevin woke at 6:00 when his clock radio played some currently popular song. He recognized it, but couldn’t recall the title. He reached over and turned it off and got out of bed.
He stretched and yawned. He felt sort of drained. “I have a chemistry experiment and an exam to do with Alex at 7:30, so I’d better wake up and get ready,” he thought.
First, he had his morning run. When he got back, he took a quick shower. On the way to his room, he remembered that he’d sort-of promised Dr. Ranse that he’d finish at least one of the major items on his To Do List.
He’d opened the door to Kathy’s bedroom a couple days ago. But he hadn’t walked in. He couldn’t walk in, back then. Today would be different, and he’d be able to tell Dr. Ranse what it was like.
So, this Friday morning, he walked into her bedroom and sat down at her desk. The musty smell he had noticed the other day was gone. Keeping her door open had helped clear the air.
He turned the chair so he could view the rest of her room. He thought of her: that she’d been in college, was eager to continue her education. None of that would happen now. He started to tear up — he didn’t want that.
But that was wrong! He needed to think about his sister, to be sad that she wouldn’t be able to do all the things she’d planned for her life, to cry because she’d been taken from him. He couldn’t hold them back, he didn’t want to hold them back, so he let his tears flow unabated.
He turned back to her desk and looked at what was on top. There was a stack of textbooks at one side. A spiral-bound notebook was in the center, folded open to a page marked ‘Psych-225 Social Psychology’ and the date ‘1/22/2019’ written at the top. That was the day his family had been murdered. There were notes on the page, including reminders about assignments and quizzes with dates in her future. A future stolen from her.
Now Kevin’s tears and sobs wouldn’t stop. He was glad there wasn’t anyone who could hear him crying. Then he realized that was wrong, so completely wrong. He wanted someone who would hear him crying and understand why. Someone who knows him, knows Kevin Young, sixteen-year-old high school sophomore. Kevin Young, who has no parents, no sister, no brothers. Kevin Young, who’s totally, desperately alone. Not just lonely, but alone.
He got up from the desk chair and walked around the room. He looked at the trophies Kathy had won playing softball. He looked at the open closet door with her clothes inside.
It was too much. He threw himself face-down onto Kathy’s bed, letting his tears be absorbed by the bedspread. He noticed her scent on the bedspread, the scent of a cologne she used, or maybe of her shampoo. Perhaps both. Something that reminded him of Kathy.
Kevin took several deep breaths. Collecting Kathy’s scent into his body, making him feel she was now part of him. What would she say to him right now? He knew what she’d say, that he needs to get on with his life. To show why he is still here. To do the things that would have made his family proud.
Kevin’s crying finally ended. He got up and went to his room, collecting the books he needed for today’s classes. Then he went downstairs to the kitchen and fixed his usual breakfast, organic high-fiber cereal with a sliced banana and blueberries. When he finished eating, he went back to his bathroom and brushed his teeth, then washed his face with cold water so it wouldn’t look like he’d been crying.
He pulled his bike out of the garage, closed and locked the garage door, and rode to school.
Friday, March 29, 2019; At School
When Kevin arrived, Alex was already waiting for him in the chemistry lab. Alex smiled when he walked in, and so did Kevin — though his was just a wan smile.
“Everything is set up so you can complete your experiment. This is a milestone, Kevin. It’s the last experiment that you have to make up. From now on, the only experiments you’ll be doing are the ones you’re assigned by Mr. McBride to do with your lab partner.” Alex grinned and pointed. Kevin turned and looked where Alex was pointing. Donna was sitting at the side of the room, and Kevin hadn’t noticed her. Other than him and Alex, she was the only other person in the chemistry lab. She got up and walked to the lab bench she and Kevin used and sat down on one of the stools, facing him.
“Hi, Kev,” she said. “I decided to come in and watch you run your experiment. But mostly to meet your tutor.” She looked at Alex and smiled. “I promised not to give you any tips about how to do the experiment. And he’ll make me leave before you start your final make up exam.
“Kevin, I have a question for you. Do you remember what I asked you when you saw me after you’d completed your first day being tutored?”
He thought for a few seconds, then shook his head. “Nope, sorry. What did you ask me?”
“If your tutor was cute.”
“Oh, yeah, now I remember that.” He laughed.
“Now that I’ve seen him, I can answer that question myself. Alex is really cute! Of course, so are you! The other thing I want to say about him — and you — is this: ‘Why is it that all the cute guys are gay?’”
Kevin wheeled around and stared at Alex; his expression showed he was shocked. “You told her that we’re gay?” he snarled.
“No, he didn’t,” Donna said, and Kevin turned to look at her. “I figured it out all by myself. So when I saw Alex, I added it up. I told him that I’d assumed that you’re gay because you never had a girlfriend and never went out with girls. Also, I have amazingly accurate gaydar, and looking at Alex had it buzzing in my head. And it was loud, too. So I asked him if the two of you are boyfriends. He said yes.”
Kevin turned back to look at Alex and asked him, “Why did you tell her that?”
“You said you didn’t want to hide the fact that you’re gay, and if someone you knew asked you, you’d say yes. Well, the way she asked me if you and I are boyfriends was basically asking if I’m gay and if you’re gay, too. And you know her. So, I said yes. But what was most important and that she didn’t tell you, was that she promised that she’d never tell anyone else.”
“Kevin, I really did tell Alex that I’ll never tell anyone else. And I won’t, period. It’s just between the three of us. And I’ll never mention it again.”
“So the cat is out of the bag, right?” Kevin asked Donna.
“No,” Donna replied. “If the cat were out of the bag, it would mean that I would go around telling others what I’d found out about the two of you. I am absolutely not going to do that!”
“Okay, okay,” Kevin said. “Thank you for keeping this just between the three of us.” Then he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Now I’d better do my experiment. You want to watch? I promise that I won’t burn down the chem lab.”
Alex had the experiment set up and ready for Keven to figure out what the correct steps would be, follow those steps, then record the results and his conclusions in his notebook. Then he’d let Alex look at and grade what he’d written.
Kevin started and finished the experiment. And, as usual, he didn’t burn down the chem lab. Now it was time for him to take the last of the make up chemistry exams.
“I’m going to leave now,” Donna said. “I’m going to get some orange juice. My treat, if you’d like me to get some for you two.”
“Thanks, but I’m good,” Kevin replied. Alex added, “I’m okay, too. But thanks, anyway.”
“Kevin, I’ll be back by the time our class is about to start. Make excuses for me if I don’t get back before Mr. McBride gets here.” She grinned, left for the cafeteria, and waved on her way out.
This exam was shorter than most of the other chemistry make up exams. Despite the discussion they’d had with Donna, Alex had plenty of time to check the answers. As usual, Kevin answered all the questions correctly.
“How’d I do on the experiment?” he asked.
“Same as always. Your steps and the results were both correct. You should consider taking AP chemistry when you’re a senior.”
“I’m not sure about that. But thanks for the suggestion. You and I should probably talk about Donna and what she figured out about us. And if there’s any way that it could cause a problem,” Kevin said.
“When would you like to get together?” Alex asked.
“How about during academy period?”
“Don’t you have your Spanish 3 tutoring then?”
“Yes, but we should have time after I take this week’s exam. It’s not a typical exam. It’s a translation. It should take me less than a half-hour to finish.”
“What room do you use?” Alex asked.
“Room LA-117 in building 400.”
“Okay. Then I’ll see you at around…?” Alex looked at Kevin to suggest the time.
“How about ten forty-five?”
“Works for me. If I arrive a little early, can I come into the room? Or will your tutor tell me I’ll have to leave?”
“I don’t know. It’ll be the first time anyone’s come into that classroom when I’ve been taking one of my make up Spanish exams. I don’t think there’ll be a problem. I’ll let my tutor know you’re going to come in so he won’t be caught off guard.”
“Okay. I’ll aim to arrive at ten forty-five. If I’m early, then we’ll see if your tutor kicks me out. What’s his name?”
“Okay, I’ll see you then. And now, I’ll head to my English 3 class.”
“Oh! Wait a minute,” Kevin said. “I want to show you the book that Mr. Sommers is having us read in my English 2 class.” Kevin opened his backpack and pulled out the copy of The Dream Weaver he’d purchased, and handed it to Alex. “This is my personal copy; I also have the loaner assigned to me from the school library.”
“You bought your own copy?”
“Yeah. It was only six bucks, used. Plus tax. Free shipping because I’m an Amazon Prime member. It looks new. I bought it because I’m not sure when we’ll have to return the library copies, and I want to continue reading it.”
Alex opened the book to a bookmark on page 35, the beginning of chapter two. This chapter was titled ‘Self, Mind, Soul.’
He turned the page. There was a sidebar on page 37 titled, ‘What is Self?’ Alex read it without verbalizing.
“Wow, this is interesting. It’s a quote from an eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher.” Alex read the highlights from the sidebar, this time, aloud.
‘David Hume argued that there was no such thing as a ‘self,’ …that ‘personal identity was just a concept conjured up by people to explain how things seem,’ …and ‘people are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement…’ and he goes on, ‘The identity which we ascribe to the mind of man is only a fictitious one.’”
He looked up at Kevin. “Wow, that is harsh, isn’t it?”
“That it is,” Kevin said.
Alex closed the book and looked at the front and back covers, then at Kevin again. “And Mr. Sommers assigned your Sophomore English 2 class to read this book?”
“Well, not the entire book. But our first assignment was to read the prologue and chapter one then discuss it in class, and we started the discussion, and we’ll continue it today. Our next assignment will be to read chapters two and three. I assume we’ll discuss them in class, too. But I don’t know when.”
“How did it go over? I mean, how many of the kids in your class participated in the discussion?”
“I think all, or almost all, of them. Most didn’t want to stop the discussion to go to lunch on Tuesday. They wanted to continue right then. But Mr. Sommers put it off until today.”
“What’s your opinion of it?”
“Assuming you mean the book, It’s making me think about what it means and how it relates to me.”
“Kev, can I borrow your book and take it to my English 3 class? I want to put it on my desk and see if Mr. Sommers notices it. I sit in the first row right in front of his desk.”
“Okay. I’ll need it by the end of the day. I’m going to loan it to Dr. Ranse, and then I’ll discuss it with her next week. Tell you what, let me write my name on the inside of the front cover, and at the top of page 159, too.” Kevin grinned. “That’s my house number.” Kevin carefully wrote his name, address, and phone number on those two pages.
“I’ll see you during academy period. I’ll return your book then,” Alex said.
“Okay. Feel free to read some more if you have time. I’ll be interested in what you think about it.”
“Okay. I’ve really got to get going now. See you during academy period.”
“I’ll see you then, Alex,” Kevin replied.
Donna arrived with a can of orange juice for Kevin, and she handed it to him.
“Uh… thanks, but….”
“I know, you said no, but the company that bottles the orange juice is switching from plastic bottles to aluminum cans because they are better for recycling. Anyway, it was a two-for-one deal, this morning only. So, I brought you the free can. It’s still cold.”
“That explains the can you handed me. It’s… different. The only thing, it must cost more to use an aluminum can than a plastic bottle. But it is better because it can be recycled and not end up as little micro-shards of plastic in the oceans. Thanks, Donna. I’ll have it with my lunch. Mr. McBride wouldn’t be happy if he caught me drinking it now.” He slipped the can in his backpack, just as the teacher entered the classroom.
After ninety minutes of a lecture covering everything about solutions, including how to calculate concentration, concentration problems, molarity, molality, molar and molal solutions, non-aqueous solutions, and so on, everyone exited the chemistry lab, and Kevin left for building 400 and his Spanish 3 exam. It wasn’t really an exam; it was to write a translation of a short story from Spanish to English, without having a Spanish-English dictionary to assist in the translation.
When he got there, Alex had already arrived and was chatting with Jason. Alex told Kevin that they knew each other from middle school.
It took, as Kevin had guessed, about a half-hour to do the translation. That included Jason’s review. His result was 100 points on a scale of 100.
When Jason said goodbye and left, Kevin and Alex talked about Donna. It was a short conversation. They agreed that their other friends would probably guess about them. If it were a close friend who asked, they’d answer yes but ask that they keep it private. If it were a casual friend, they’d say they were friends or that Alex was tutoring Kevin.
“That was easy,” Alex said.
“I agree. Easy and a perfect way of telling people,” Kevin added.
Alex returned Kevin’s personal copy of The Dream Weaver. “Mr. Sommers saw the book then looked at me and looked at the book a second time. He asked me what I thought about it. I said I just got it, and I’d only read through chapter 1, and it was different. A good different.”
“Did you get a chance to read any more of it?”
“Yes. I read the prologue and chapters one through three. It is different and interesting. I’ll see if I can buy a copy from Amazon.”
They left for their next classes.
As Kevin was walking across campus to the computer lab, he saw Rick Burney walking toward him, and Rick waved. Kevin stopped and waited as Rick walked up.
“Hey, Kevin. You have a minute to chat?”
“Sure. You want to sit down, or….”
“Not necessary. I was wondering if you’re going to be available to meet with me and go over the computer science classes I might be interested in taking online and at Diablo Valley College. Like we talked about on Monday.”
“Sure. When would you like to get together? And where?”
“Maybe at your house, and when Alex won’t be there.”
Kevin wondered what was going on between Rick and Alex. “You don’t want Alex to know what computer classes we would talk about?”
“No, it isn’t that.” He paused for several seconds, then he blushed and looked at Kevin. “I don’t want him to think I’m trying to steal his boyfriend. Because I’m not!”
“Steal his… do you mean you stealing me?”
Rick nodded. Kevin was incredulous. “You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to. But are you gay?”
“Uh-huh. I think so. More or less. Probably pretty much gay. Or maybe a little bi, too.”
“So, does Alex know?”
“Yes, about you.”
Rick bit his bottom lip and sat thinking for a while.
Kevin grinned. “So, there are two options. One is, Alex knows that you’re gay. Two is, Alex isn’t really plugged in, yet. Which is it?”
“Yeah. That. The ‘Alex isn’t really plugged in yet’ thing.”
“Do your folks know?”
“About me?” Rick asked.
“You’re the only one we’ve been talking about, so… yes, about you.”
Kevin was trying to stifle his laughter, but not very effectively.
“Are you laughing at me?” Rick growled.
“Yeah. More or less.”
Both burst out laughing.
“Oh my god! Are you always like this?” Rick asked.
“A better question is, are you always like this?”
“Absolutely not. But… maybe sometimes. Actually, quite often,” Rick replied.
“Well, I’m enjoying both of us being ‘like this’ right now. So, to repeat, do your folks know that you’re gay?”
“No. That’s the n-o spelling, not the k-n-o-w spelling.”
“Okay, my lips are sealed. Both with Alex and with your folks. To answer your question about when we can get together, Alex is coming home with me on Mondays after school. We’ll do homework, eat dinner, watch a movie on TV or play video games, and maybe sleep together and go to school the next morning. On Tuesdays, my friend Laura will come home with me, and we’ll do the same except we won’t sleep together and she’ll go home instead. On Thursdays, another friend, Jeff, will do the same as Laura.
“On Wednesdays and Fridays, I have sessions with a therapist. She’s helping me get through what happened to my family.
“So, the question is, when is the best time for us to get together? That would be after I get home on either Wednesday or Friday, though Wednesday would be better for me. My sessions with Dr. Ranse start at three-thirty and last about an hour, sometimes a little longer. I walk to her office from school, then walk back to school to get my bike. It’s about a ten-minute walk each way. So, why don’t you meet me at the bike racks at about four forty-five… actually, five o’clock would be better because my session will definitely be over by then, and I’ll be back from her office. Then we can ride our bikes to my house. You don’t ride home along with Alex, do you?”
“Okay. Wednesday is also probably best for me,” Rick said. “Can we do it next Wednesday?”
“Sure.” Kevin pulled out his cellphone and added the meeting with Rick to his schedule, noting the time and place they’d agreed to. Rick did the same on his cellphone.
“Thanks, Kevin. I’m looking forward to getting together with you on Wednesday,” Rick said. “Now… I have a question. On Monday, when Alex stays over, do you have sex?”
“You know I can’t, I won’t, answer that question.”
“Because that’s too personal. A better question is, why do you want to know?”
“I want to know if he’s getting any.” Rick smirked.
“To repeat an earlier question, are you always like this?”
“I can believe that. So, explain to me why you don’t want Alex to know that you and I are going to meet to find computer classes online and at DVC that you can take during summer session.”
“He’ll want to come over and end up wasting my time and your time.”
“So, tell him why we’re going to meet. When he hears it’s about computer classes for you, he’ll know he’d be bored out of his gourd if he were there. He wouldn’t even think of coming over.”
“It’s better for me if he doesn’t know.”
“I really don’t understand.”
“It’s a big brother, little brother thing. I’m the little brother, and he thinks he has to watch out for me no matter what it is I’m doing.”
“Won’t you have to tell your mom where you’re going?”
“Yes. I’ll tell her where I’m going, but I won’t tell Alex.”
“If Alex asks your mom, ‘Where’s Rick?’ will she tell him?”
“No, because I’ll ask her not to tell him I’m meeting with you. I’ll ask her to tell him I’m at a friend’s house. That’s you.”
“So, your mom is going to lie for you? Really?”
“It’s not really a lie, but, uh-huh. Yup. I’ll have to think of a reason, but that’s my problem and not yours.”
“What if Alex decides to drop by at my house next Wednesday?”
“Why would he do that?”
“I have no idea. But, as you know, since you live in the same house as Alex, we live really close, and Alex might decide to just stop by at my house to say hello.”
“So, we tell him the truth. We should have the DVC schedule open on your laptop, so it’s not any kind of lie.”
“Except if Alex asked your mom and she told him the lie you asked her to tell him, then Alex drops by to see me, and here you are, then Alex is going to want to know why your mom lied to him.”
“This is getting too complicated. Screw it, I’ll just tell her, if Alex asks where I am, tell him that I’m at Kevin’s house going over the summer class schedule for computer classes at DVC.”
“And I don’t think that Alex will think that you’re trying to steal me from him. That ain’t gonna happen, anyway.”
Rick wiggled his eyebrows. “I’m not so sure about that!” Then both boys laughed.
“You know, I think I’ll like being your friend. You make me laugh,” Kevin said.
Rick smiled. “Thanks. And ditto.”
“I think I’ll be able to help you pick some good online classes as well as some classes at DVC. Right now I have to get to my next class, so I’ll see you next Wednesday!”
“See you then!” Rick replied, then he turned and rushed across campus in the other direction.
Kevin continued to his AP Computer Science class where he was able to finish the PHP project that he’d started on Wednesday.
Lunch was relatively quiet. The Tennis Team lunch was a large salad, and it was excellent with veggies, avocado, radishes, and the typical lettuce, tomatoes, and other things usually in a salad. There was even a choice of salad dressing; he picked Italian. Kevin had so many things on his mind he didn’t get involved in the conversations and discussions going on among the other kids at his table.
What was on his mind was this afternoon’s session with Dr. Ranse. That would definitely be intense.
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