Monday, November 6, 2017

09 ~ You Won't Last Here

Trigger Warning: This chapter pertains to thoughts/acts of suicide.



Robert shifted awkwardly in his seat across the desk from his adviser. “Yes, I’m sure that’s what I want to study.”


Professor May looked at him with what appeared to be annoyance. She carefully wrote something in her notes and nodded. “What made you want to study spirits, Mr. Egan?”
Robert bit the inside of his cheek and took in a deep breath. “I grew up near the Spirit Spring in Dragon Valley.” He could feel the depression gnawing up his gut, clawing as it tried to reach his mind.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to him anymore that talking about this would make him emotional.


The Professor looked up, her voice flat as she spoke. “Fascinating.”
Robert tried to remain sitting tall in the chair, yet her gaze made him want to shrivel up inside of himself.
She sighed and put her pen down. “We have classes twice a week from two to four on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which conflicts with your scheduled classes. Perhaps you should reconsider your field of study?”


He felt his gut sink. Was that it? He would be forced out of the field just because of one conflict on Tuesdays? He couldn’t let that happen. She was the one who had provided him the schedule! “It’s only by a half an hour, I can talk to Professor Clemence about leaving early to make it.”


“I cannot advise you to leave a class early, Mr. Egan. I’ll go ahead and put this to the side and until a solution is found or a new field of study is selected we’ll have you marked as undeclared. You’re dismissed.” Professor May folded her hands in front of her on the desk, smiling at him blankly as she did so.


Robert opened his mouth to protest when there was a knock at the door and Professor Luken entered. “Professor May, do you have a minute? Ah, excuse me.” He nodded at Robert carefully. “I didn’t know you had a student meeting. I just had a quick question.”


“We’ve wrapped up, don’t worry.” Professor May moved to stand and nodded at Robert. “We’ll find a time in the future to discuss the changes to your study.” The motion she made had Robert nearly being lifted from his seat as he suddenly stood. Magic pushed him forward before pushing him out the door and shutting it tightly behind him.


Robert clenched his fists as he stood, dazed, outside of the doorway. His eyes burned and he bit his cheek so hard it hurt.
Had he come all this way for nothing? Had he survived and carried on for nothing?
Was this it? He would just change his major and throw away all of the hard work he spent studying spirits every day since he was eight years old?


It left him frustrated and bitter as he clenched his fists. His eyes burned and he made his way for his room. He needed to go to class but he was too blinded by his emotions to think clearly. He hadn’t felt like himself in so long he’d forgotten what it meant to not feel this volatile.
Robert wanted to scream. He wanted to fight back and demand his place. He was so tired of things being out of his control.


He walked past his room and dug into his pocket for the storage key Cain had given him. He walked faster with the door in sight before he pulled it open and slammed it shut behind him, collapsing into his rage and grief.
Why was the world so unfair? No matter how hard he tried everything was always ripped from his grasp. He couldn’t stand it!


He gripped at his legs and gasped, trying to even get control of his own body. Grief was a hungry beast that was never sated. It was like there was no light left in his mind as it preyed on him.
It was just too hard to breathe.
Several minutes passed as he slowly ran himself out of tears and subsequently, anger. He wasn’t entirely sure what was worse, the spikes of raw emotion, or the quiet numb he would sink into afterwards.


Robert rested his head on his knees when the doorknob seemed to zap and the door swung open suddenly. He jumped to his feet, backing up to the wall as Professor May shuffled through one of the nearby bookshelves, seemingly not noticing him.


He remained still as a statue, only moving so much to wipe the rest of his face off against his shoulder. He tried to pull his eyes away from her but they only ever came back as she gathered whatever it was she needed and turned to leave.


He was slowly relaxing when Professor May turned suddenly, her cold eyes connecting with his as she held the door. “Whatever this is-” She gestured to him. “-if I were you, I would get it together or you won’t last here, Robert.” She looked him up and down before shaking her head and closing the door once again.
Robert collapsed down onto the floor of the storage room. Why couldn’t he just catch a break?

~

Robert had arrived late to his next class, and he looked pensively down at his textbook.


After that the first week was over, his real classes began and due to the rolling enrollment the Academy held Robert had been thrust into the middle of the curriculum. Cain had warned him about it on his first day, and everyone in their group consolidated to bring him up to speed as best they could, yet despite it all Robert still felt like he was drowning.


It didn’t help that he couldn’t shake Professor May’s cold glare from his breakdown in the storage closet. That room was officially no longer a safe-space. Not that it mattered, he couldn’t afford another mental break like that.
He needed to get himself together but it felt like he was scattered. Every time he moved to pick a piece up, he would drop another.


Everyone else carried on, but he was stuck in place.
Robert’s head was snapped up as the professor began to pass around papers. A quiz?
He cursed under his breath and began scrambling to find a pen in his bag. Life just couldn’t get any worse for him, could it?
He overturned each pocket to no avail when something tapped him.


Robert jerked his head over to see Jacob holding a pen for him.
Robert sunk slightly in his seat with defeat, yet he tried to smile slightly as he took the pen and mouthed ‘thank you.’ Jacob continued looking at him with an unreadable expression before turning to the paper that had been given to him.


Robert stared at the page in front of him with his eyes burning. No. Not now. Gods damn it, not now!
He swallowed hard and stared down at the test below him.
“You won’t last here, Robert.”
I’m doing my best.

~

The clock ticked mercilessly on the wall as Robert reread the same page in his textbook for the fourth time. His eyes hit the bottom of the page and he still hadn’t read it.


He clenched his hand into a fist and brought it down to his desk with a thud before he raked his hands through his hair.
Jacob looked over from reading on his bed and frowned. “You ok, Robert?”


Robert jolted, his eyes meeting Jacob’s concerned look before he shrugged. “Yeah, just… not making much progress on this reading.”
“Tell me about it,” Jacob sighed as his book flopped down beside him. “What time is it anyways?”
Robert glanced up at the clock. “Eleven-thirty.” Saturdays meant no classes, but unfortunately that didn’t mean no studying.



Especially not with how poorly Robert had been doing in said classes.
“Let’s go get some lunch, we’ve been going at this all morning.” Jacob threw his legs off the side of the bed. “I mean… we’ve been reading a lot. That’s all.”
Robert grimaced as he looked down at his book that was still on the first page. “You saw the grade I got on that quiz last week, Jacob. I need to make progress on this stupid reading!”


He knew it was bad the day he had gotten the quiz back and it had more red marks on it than his own pen marks. He was sure everyone had to have seen how poorly he had done.
"You won’t last here, Robert."
"Get it together."



He was biting his cheek when Jacob’s hands hit his shoulders in a sudden movement and began to shake Robert slightly. “You’re. Going. To. Lunch. With. Me! Either that or I’m dragging you.” He paused and let go of one of his shoulders to ponder it. “Er, well… I don’t think I could actually drag you, that would hurt, but I mean I’m not giving you an option.”


Robert was tempted to shrug him off but he didn’t have the strength to. Sure, he probably could shake Jacob off easily, but even speaking felt difficult as his throat constricted with emotions. He had a meeting with Professor Millgrim about that quiz he completely and utterly bombed in the afternoon that he wasn’t looking forward to.


Jacob had grabbed the back of Robert’s chair and began to tug on it, slowly pulling him away from his desk with the slight screech of old wood against old wood.
It was mildly annoying almost, thinking that Jacob wouldn’t leave him be, yet Robert couldn’t help but feel a little glad for it. “Oui, oui. I’m coming.”

~

Everyone chatted merrily while Robert pushed his sandwich around on his plate, his mind was just too busy to try to make conversation with everyone. He still hadn’t picked another focus of study, and he knew Professor May would be calling on him soon to see if he’s gotten it together yet.
It was nearing a month at this point and he had yet to get his footing.


The only classes he wasn’t struggling with were Professor Clemence’s literature course and his etiquette classes - both of things were seemingly basic and wouldn’t come in much handy for what he actually wanted to study.
“Ro-bert! Hey-o! Anybody home?”


He jerked his head up and Mincia was waving her hand in front of his face. “Huh? What?”
“Mincia, no!” Sam swatted at her loosely from across the table. “I was this close to swiping his sandwich!”
Stefan was shaking his head at Mincia and she snorted a laugh in response. “You do realize there’s perfectly good sandwiches still up for grabs in the buffet, right?”


“But that’s all the way over there!” Sam groaned.
Stefan sighed. “Yeah, Mincia, how did you forget what a struggle it was for Sam to do any sort of exercise?”
Mincia laughed again. “Right, right… but you interrupted me!” She turned her attention back on Robert. “Are you ok? You’ve been seriously spaced out all lunch!”


“Yeah, you have been pretty quiet.” Stefan noted, and Sam was nodding.
All of the eyes at the table were pinned on him then and he swallowed. “Uh… yeah. I’m fine.” He lied. “Just tired… you know, adjusting to classes is difficult.”
Sam nodded seriously before leaning his head onto Stefan’s shoulder. “I know, right?”


Stefan smirked, “yeah, Sam. Must be so hard not getting your usual 20 hours of sleep a day after being here for over a year.”
Robert pushed a smile onto his face as he shoved his plate towards Sam. “Anyways, have at it. I’m not really that hungry anyways.”


Sam perked up immediately and jumped for the food. “Score!” He had already devoured half of the sandwich by the time Robert had begun to stand.
Stefan watched Sam with slight amusement. “Could you chomp any louder? They can’t hear you in Bridgeport.”
Sam began to sputter slightly with a laugh before he coughed vigorously.


Mincia was about to stand up. “Ah, shiitake! Don’t choke on it!”
“Or do.” Stefan quipped. “Your body will be a great offering to the pit.”
Sam finished his bite and all of them laughed - all of them except for Jacob who was eyeing Robert with the same unreadable stare he had been for the past week. “Where are you headed off to, Robert?” His voice held a layer of concern to it.


This got the attention of the others and they turned on him once again. Robert shifted in the spotlight and rubbed an itch by his eye. “I have a meeting with Professor Millgrim I have to go to.”
“What’s the meeting for?” Mincia asked curiously and Robert felt his gut sink. Jacob was the only one who shared Biochemistry with him; no one else knew what a failure he was making of himself and he had intended to keep it that way.


He shrugged and tried to lie. “Not sure.”
Jacob cleared his throat, seeming to realize that he was the one who brought the attention of the others to the subject. “Well it could be because she needs help with storage stocking. It’s just been her and I keeping track of all the chemicals in the closet this cycle and I remember her saying she thought there were more people signed up for that chore. Maybe she’s trying to… I dunno… recruit you or something? Not that you don’t do your chores or something… just that some of the chemicals have been going missing and she thinks some of the students could be using it for uh… recreational purposes or something.”


Robert gave Jacob a relieved smile for redirecting the conversation. “Yeah, I guess I’ll have to see.”
“Recreational? What all can you do with shit like cyanide besides die?” Sam snorted.
Mincia pursed her lips. “Well there’s got to be other chemicals in there, surely.”


Stefan had snapped into attention and began shaking Sam vigorously. “What the hell are you doing with that cyanide, Sam?! Were you planning on leaving me?! Who else would fish me out of the pit at two in the morning?!”
Sam let Stefan continue shaking him as he answered. “Calm your fangs, Steffy. Chemical storage stocking was my scheduled chore last fortnight.” Stefan slowly stopped shaking him as Sam continued. “She makes us count all the deadly chemicals grain-by-grain to be sure the students aren’t taking them.”


Stefan nodded, “well yeah, that’d be one high they’d certainly regret. One cyanide capsule and bam, into the final pit you go.”
Sam closed his eyes as if mimicking a formal silence.
Robert swallowed as he watched them joke and laugh together, feeling like an outsider in a strange way. “I should get going so I don’t keep the professor waiting too long.”


“Hey when you’re done come and join us at the pit!” Stefan called. “You’re coming too, right Mincia? Everyone else bailed on us today.”
Sam looked around. “Sarah’s doing some extra labs with Chrys, but where’s Cain and Ming?”
“Studying together.” Mincia emphasized with a laugh as Robert had begun to walk away.


If only this meeting was just about chores or studying. His stomach soured as he walked.
“You won’t last here, Robert.”
He gritted his teeth.


I just need a little more time…
Time was a precious commodity; it was doubtful he’d ever see any more of it.

~

Professor Millgrim was standing behind her central counter-top island carefully examining something as Robert entered the empty lab room. Her head shifted up and she gave a warm smile. “Robert! Thank you for stopping by. Don’t mind me, I’m just finishing up my counts from my last class. We’re short one capsule today and that can have very horrific consequences.”


He had approached her and could see the pills all along the counter that she carefully nudged around with her gloved hand. He thought about saying something, but decided to just wait for whatever it was she planned on saying to him.


“That one capsule! Where did you go?” She pushed some things around on her station as she shook her head. Finally she sighed, touching the back of her gloved wrist to her forehead. “Did I give out an extra capsule to one of the groups and just not remember it?” There was a slight groan. “I left my notes back in my office.”


Robert spotted a small white pill perched on the counter hidden quietly behind one of the many books on her workstation.
“What all can you do with shit like cyanide besides die?”



“What do you use it for?” Robert finally spoke, breaking his eyes away from the one stray pill as Professor Millgrim continued digging around and recounting the pile she had.
She looked up at him, a little startled before she smiled again. “Metallurgy, mostly. It’s used when electroplating or separating ore.”


The words were foreign to him. “Oh,” he said quietly. “Right.” He already felt stupid enough with how poorly he was doing in Biochemistry, the last thing he wanted to do was really show that he didn’t belong here. Granted, neither of those words seemed to be related to Biochemistry at all.
Professor Millgrim was shaking her head. “I’m so sorry, I just cannot find that capsule. Maybe I’m just losing my mind.” She laughed a little and shrugged. “Well, losing it a little more every day, as I always say.”


His eyes fell on the lone capsule once more and he swallowed.
“One cyanide capsule and bam, into the final pit you go.”
“Well, I don’t want to have you just standing here for my silly miscalculation.” She stood up straighter.


Robert could barely pull his eyes away before he finally cleared his throat. “Is that it?” It felt like his voice was weighted down when he spoke.
Professor Millgrim moved her book slightly and visibly relaxed. “Oh my goodness! Good eye, Robert! Thank you so much! I knew it was around here somewhere. A pill like this going missing would have horrific consequences, especially given that it’s unlabeled. The students here may be the brightest the world has to offer, but strangely enough that makes them all the more likely to lick items they can’t identify.”


She laughed at her own joke and Robert forced a smile on. “I can see how that might cause problems.”
“Well it doesn’t help that sometimes that is an acceptable way to identify things… just depends on your field of science!” She laughed a little more before sighing. “Anyways, right! Now that that’s done, I wanted to talk to you about the quiz you took last week.”
He swallowed and felt his stomach sour further. “Right.”


The professor leaned forward over the counter. “I know it’s rough when you’re first getting adjusted here, but the material we’re going over now is critical to all the material in the next few months. Are you having trouble with the readings or hearing the lectures in class?”
Robert shifted in his stance and felt a chill run down his back. “I… I’ve… I guess I just… didn’t understand the reading as well as I thought I did.”


What else could he possibly say?
Perhaps he really wouldn’t last here.
“What parts are you struggling with?” She persisted. “What can we do to help you get to a better place of understanding?”
He was starting to feel like an insect cut open and pinned up for examination and he shrugged, his eyes dropping to the floor. “I don’t… I guess…”


“Do you need help with the reading? Should we look into getting you a different textbook?”
The questions just kept coming and his eyes burned with humiliation. How in the world was he going to get out of this one?
“Get it together.”
I don’t belong here.
What am I even doing?



He clenched his fists and silenced his head before looking up to meet Professor Millgrim’s concerned gaze. “I don’t think so, but I appreciate the offer. I’m going to try to reread that section and see if I pick it up any better. I… maybe I was just… not very attentive when reading the first time. If not… I guess I’ll… I can… ask Jacob to tutor me.”
Yes, those words seemed to form a coherent sentence that would hopefully sate the professor’s concerns.


At least until he failed again in class.
It was a when, not an if these days.


Professor Millgrim seemed appeased by this and she smiled at him warmly again. “I think that’s a good idea. If you have any questions please feel free to stop me whenever you see me around! I have classes pretty much all day until 4 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I always stay late on Fridays to double check the counts for the week. The door is always open! Plus some of the other professors can get in contact with me too, so you can always contact me through your advising professor!”


Robert resisted a dark laugh at the thought. Yes, like he needed to give Professor May more fuel to use against him. He tried to smile normally despite the thought. “Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind.”
“I’ll see you in class Monday!” Professor Millgrim gave him a cheery smile before she joked again. “Don’t be late!”


He nodded and tipped his head down towards her. “Thank you for talking with me.” He didn’t really mean it, but Cain had been right about one thing on his first day: those etiquette class practically made manners automatic.
The less people he had breathing down his neck, the better.


“Have a great afternoon, Robert!” She called to him as he walked towards the door of the classroom feeling worse about himself than before.
“You too.” He called back rather weakly before opening up the door to the last person he needed to see.



Victor’s gaze was merciless and his smirk told Robert he had more than overheard a good portion of the conversation that had gone on with Professor Millgrim. Victor shook his head with arrogant disdain. “Already struggling with the easiest portion of science, Egan? How in the world do you expect to study spirits if you can’t even comprehend humans?”



Robert clenched his fists, his temper flaring. “Va shier, trou de cul”
Victor continued to look smug. “Poor firmut, did I hurt your feelings? Do you need to cry about it in the storage closet?”


Robert’s eyes widened.
Victor noticed the reaction immediately and shook his head once more. “What? You didn’t think you were being secretive about that, did you? Professor May walked in on it herself - how embarrassing that must’ve been for you.”


Robert’s eyes burned and he was seeing red. He began to retract his arm like he might take a swing when someone called from down the hallway. “Robert! There you are!” In a heartbeat Jacob had jogged over and swung an arm over Robert’s shoulder. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
Robert immediately snapped to look at Jacob, his chest heaving with emotions.


Victor rolled his eyes. “Lucky break, Egan. You should watch your temper before it gets you expelled.”
Jacob’s grip on Robert tightened, sensing Robert’s desire to lunge. “Oh shove it, you cow-handed fop.”


Victor’s face resumed its emotionless state and he sighed. “Classy, Damata. Very classy.” He straightened. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have better things to do.”
Jacob tugged on Robert in the opposite direction Victor had intended to go. “Yeah, yeah, run away you white-livered wrinkler.” His accent inflected hard on the last word. He continued to pull Robert away until they were long out of earshot. “What a sorry bum he is. My mama would’ve died if she knew the language I used today.”


Robert said nothing and instead focused his gaze forward as his whole body ached with emotions he didn’t want to feel.
“Then again, she would’ve told me I should’ve gone harder, too. He’s not worth wasting your time on, Rob. I promise you that much.”


Robert clenched his fists so tightly he could feel his nails digging into the skin on the palm of his hands. He wanted to knock that smug smile off of Victor’s face and it ate at him more and more as his mind replayed everything back to him.


Victor was right.
“Already struggling with the easiest portion of science, Egan?”
What would maman think of me now?
Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all.

~


Robert had feigned shaking off his encounter with Victor enough to get Jacob off his back as they joined up with Sam, Stefan, and Mincia down by the pit. It was technically off-limits to be there, but none of the professors seemed to enforce it, as students often came to the pit.


So long as no accidents happened, it would likely remain that way.
Stefan was happily careening over the fence as he looked down into the hole. “Sam, grab my feet! I want to look further in! I wonder how deep this thing really is?”
Without question, Sam was gripping the bottom of Stefan’s legs as Stefan tried to careen even further over the pit.


Mincia made a look questioning their sanity before putting her head in her hand.
Jacob was laughing along with Sam and Stefan before running over to help Sam hold one of Stefan’s legs.
“Hoo-hoo!” Stefan called with a slight echo as his voice carried into the pit. “I’M ON TOP OF THE WORLD!”


Sam snorted as he struggled to hold up one of Stefan’s legs. “More like the bottom.”
Jacob laughed and nearly lost his hold on Stefan which sent both he and Sam scrambling to stabilize him as Stefan let out a yell.
Robert watched numbly from where he leaned against the fence, his mind churning endlessly.


“How did the meeting with Professor Millgrim go?” Mincia was suddenly next to him, giving him a cheerful smile. “Are you on counting duty now?”
Robert scrambled to find a quick lie. “Huh? Oh… no.” He swallowed. “She just couldn’t remember if she handed out an extra cyanide capsule to my group or not the other day. We found the lost capsule though, so that’s all.”


Mincia’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Wait I thought you and Jacob were in Biochem, not Geology and Metallurgy?”
Robert’s eyes widened slightly at being caught in his lie and he gripped the fence a little harder. “I… uh…”


Mincia’s attention was grabbed as Stefan slipped a little further in and he yelped before laughing as he was caught.
Sam’s eyes were wide as he and Jacob were gripping Stefan with all of their strength.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit!” Sam chanted. “STEFAN, do not give in to the pit! I repeat, do not give in to the pit!”


“I can’t feel my face anymore!” Stefan called, his voice echoing back up to the surface.
Mincia had rushed over to try and help, and the second she had a grip on Stefan she had ripped him up to the surface and set him down on his feet.
Robert hadn’t even had time to react, but what good would he have done for the situation?


Stefan suddenly leaned down onto Mincia’s shoulder as he tried to catch his breath. “You… you have beautiful biceps… Mincie.”
Mincia smirked. “That's the wolf in me!” She straightened with pride as she mentioned her Werewolf ancestry; it was also her main focus of study, so she tried to bring it up whenever she could. It helped 'spread awareness.'


Sam snorted and Mincia swung at him playfully.
“Don’t be gross, Sam!” She tried to scold as she laughed.
Stefan, who was still slightly out of it nodded in agreement. “Yeah! Don’t… don’t be gross. Wait… no I’m supposed… to side with you.”
Sam feigned being hurt and he put his hands to his chest. “You’ve broken our brotherhood vows…”


“Would you feel better if I fell into the pit again?” Stefan pulled himself up and tried to straighten himself.
Sam faked a sniffle and looked away. “I don’t think so, brother. The damage is done.”
“You can have my cakes I’ve got stashed away.” Stefan gave him a playfully apologetic smile, his fangs gleaming in the dim light.


Sam turned back quickly. “Did you say cake?”
Robert stared down into the darkness of the pit as they talked.
How far was it to the bottom?


Robert knew from the time he had known Stefan that Stefan had never actually fallen into the pit. He wondered how badly hurt someone might be if they fell in.
Would they die?
They were interrupted when the door came open and Professor May entered with an even angrier face than usual. “What are you doing in here? This area is restricted!” She began to point to the door. “Out! All of you! Out! You’re lucky I don’t write you all up! Go!”


Her eyes locked onto Robert and her face said it all.
“You won’t last here, Robert.”
He pulled himself off the fencing and shuffled out of the door behind everyone else.
Tell me something I don’t already know.



Jacob Damata had never made friends easily.


It wasn’t for lack of trying on his part, though.
The other kids were always faster and found him to be awkward.
He found himself to be awkward most days, too, but Lewis never let him sit in it for long. He’d always pick Jacob right back up and dust him off, telling him those kids didn’t know what they were missing.


It always made him feel a little better, talking to Lewis, and Lewis was all he had - well, Lewis and Mama, that is. His papa had left them when Jacob was too little to really remember. Lewis remembered, though. It was a big contributing factor in what would come later.


Coming to the Academy had been rough, especially with no real transition in. Jacob had written four letters to his mama he ended up scrapping in those first few weeks before he met Robert. Letters telling her he was going to come home, that he was too awkward to be here. It was hard to not feel like a failure each time he started a new letter, which is why most of them landed themselves in the garbage.


He would see Cain’s group walking around but he never had the guts to introduce himself. All of his confidence got buried the day he and Mama had to bury Lewis.
Robert never minded that Jacob was awkward though, and Jacob saw a lot of his brother in his new friend.


He wondered at first if he was projecting what he saw onto Robert - or whatever those psychologists would call it.
He wasn’t here for psychology, clearly. It was math he was the best at - a… savant is what his mother called him.
Math came incredibly easy to him; people skills? Not so much.
There was one thing he could grasp well with people, and he was watching his first real friend sink into it in the exact same way Lewis had.


It had been four days since he and Robert had that confrontation with the Ice-Boy and Jacob had taken to hovering behind Robert without him noticing.
Yeah, maybe he was just ‘projecting’ or whatever it’s called, but it still left him with a sick feeling in his gut.


He had tried pressing Robert once or twice, but Robert brushed him off. Jacob knew he didn’t mean anything by it. He could tell Robert was hurting. He had lost his mama, and most people at the school couldn’t understand how deeply that could leave marks. Jacob had his own marks from losing his brother - and he couldn’t even fathom how much worse it could’ve been if it had been one of his own parents he had lost to the dirt.


Jacob knew that if he pushed Robert any harder he could end up pushing him away. Maybe he had accidentally done that to Lewis and not realized it? He was only eight when it happened though.
Lewis had told him to be good and to listen to Mama the night he disappeared into the woods with Papa’s old revolver. Jacob hadn’t thought much of it at the time. Hindsight was a painful thing.
Watching Robert’s reactions was painful and familiar. Jacob knew he had seen it before.


Lewis had gotten real good at lying, too, right before that night.
Lying was easier than having people try to fix you, that much Jacob did understand. He just wished there was an easier way.
Jacob hadn’t realized how badly he’d been praying for this to all be projection until his Wednesday afternoon chemical count came and they were short one cyanide pill.


Jacob had thrown off all the stuff on the nearby workstation and dumped them all out on the clean countertop.
Gods tell him he dropped it. Please, just tell him it’s still in there somewhere. Tell him he miscounted - anything.
This morning had been extremely hard on Robert when they announced that the weekend following this one would be Family Day. Everyone was allowed to have their families come to visit them for the weekend and show off the school.
Jacob just had his mama coming… but Robert didn’t have anyone at all.
He frantically counted the pills four more times, coming up short one each time.


Robert had been in here earlier, claiming to be looking for Professor Millgrim, but she had long since posted that she was taking her middle class out to collect samples in the woods. It had been announced and posted since Monday.
Jacob wanted to be wrong. He wanted to have miscounted.
Maybe Robert really was in to get help from Professor Millgrim?


Maybe Jacob had simply miscounted the capsules from the day before? He hadn’t even needed to count these pills today, but something in his paranoid guts told him he should and now he knew why.
He was shaking like a cricket’s leg as he scooped the pills back up and put them back in their container before stowing them away. The cabinet was always locked. Surely Robert couldn’t have gotten in, right?
Except that Robert had the keys to the storage room, what if that key worked here?


Jacob locked up the cabinet tight before he sprinted out of the room. Everything felt urgent.
He was gasping by the time he threw the door open to their shared room and Robert looked at him with a strange expression.
“Are you ok, Jake?”


Jacob wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the situation. Was he expecting to find a body instead? He slowly caught his breath and looked around the room. It’s not like Robert would just keep the capsule out in the open if he had it.
If he had it.


“Oh uh… yeah. I uh… just… decided to go for a run. Indoors. I’ve been eating too much. I wanted to… get more exercise… going up the stairs.” Lying had never been his strong suit, so he changed the subject before Robert could question him. “Did you talk to Professor Millgrim at all? I know you were in looking for her earlier. She and her class should be back in the exam room to write about their findings.”


Robert looked confused before his face changed and he swallowed. “Oh… right. No, I uh… figured out the reading on my own with… enough time.”
Jacob’s heart was pounding in his intestines. “I thought you mentioned it was for that homework page we got?”
Robert straightened, clearing his throat. “Oh, yeah, that’s what I meant. I sorted it out.”


Jacob could feel his whole body wanting to melt into a puddle on the floor. Robert had said it was about the reading. He was lying. Jacob couldn’t shake it from his gut and it made him angry.
It made him angry, and it made him scared. He took a deep breath as Robert turned back to staring at his desk. “Hey… you know… I know you’re having a bit of a rough time with science and honestly… I am too. That class is way intense - like really intense. I don’t know how a lot of those kids are keeping their heads above water!” He laughed but it was a slightly hollow sound.


Robert had turned around and was looking at Jacob curiously.
Jacob knew he probably looked a little delirious and he cleared his throat. “I just thought you should know that you’re not alone. Maybe we can hash through some of the reading together? You know… two heads can be better than one… or maybe worse, but then we can… I dunno… laugh about how bad we are at it?”


Robert gave him a smile that didn’t touch his eyes. “I don’t need to study anymore, maybe some other time?”
The wording struck a chord with Jacob and he swallowed. “Oh… yeah. Right! Sounds… sounds good! It’s always good to take breaks and stuff. We can always pick it up tomorrow!” He looked over at the clock and was relieved to see the time. “It’s getting late anyways, we should go get dinner! We can beat the gang there and hide all the sandwiches so Sam thinks they’re all out!”


Robert shrugged as he struggled to keep his smile on. “I’m not really hungry, go on ahead. You can always tell me about it later.”
Jacob sucked in a hard breath, trying not to panic. “You should really eat something! You’ve been studying real hard all day. Come’on it won’t take-”
“I said I’m not hungry!” Robert half-snapped.


Jacob recoiled slightly, breathing a little hard from his anxiety. “...you could… always come down just to have some company?”
Robert rubbed his face with his hands before looking at Jacob with a worn expression. “I’m… I’m sorry Jacob. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. I… I just need some time alone, that’s all.”
Jacob was backed into a corner now; he couldn’t push any further. He had hit a wall already and internally he could feel himself growing more emotional. “I understand.” He nodded slowly. “I just… you’re my best friend and I wanted you to know that… if you need anything at all… just let me know. I know I’m real awkward and all, but I don’t want you to think you have to do this alone.” He could feel his eyes burning a little and he tried not to sniffle.


Robert’s face faltered slightly, showing cracks in the mask he was hiding behind. “Thanks, Jake.” His voice also broke as he spoke and he took in a deep breath. “That means a lot to me… I just… I just need some time.”
“Whatever you need, Rob.” Jacob nodded before looking around anxiously, his eyes still burning. “I’m going to head down for dinner… do you want me to sneak you up anything?”
Robert gave a weak smile and shook his head. “No, thank you. I’m good.”


Jacob nodded and turned for the door when Robert’s voice stopped him.
“And Jacob?”
Jacob turned to look back at him.
Robert was giving him a sad but genuine smile. “I don’t think you’re awkward.”
Jacob pushed a smile onto his face and nodded slightly before leaving their room.


Lewis had said that too.

~

Jacob was the first of the group to get into the dining hall, and he used the quiet to snatch up a sandwich and a pastry he knew Robert loved. He wrapped them up in a napkin and shoved them into one of his pockets. Food wasn’t allowed to be taken outside of the dining hall unless there was a formal, but Jacob didn’t care.


There were more important things at stake here.
Slowly the rest of the group arrived, minus Robert, and began eating. Of course they asked where Robert was and Jacob lied.
He was a shit liar, so he lied the only way he knew how to - by omission. Robert wasn’t feeling good. It wasn’t false. He just needed to be sure he didn’t accidentally over-explain himself. Yet he wasn’t too worried about that for once.


When Ming and Sarah asked why he wasn’t eating much either, he feigned the same excuse - he wasn’t feeling well either. Once again, it wasn’t false.
He sat and stared at his food wondering if Robert would still be up in their room when he would go back. Every minute he was away he was calculating the odds of finding a body instead. He could count the number of times his heart pounded in his chest between each shallow breath he took, and every tap his jittering fingers made against the tabletop.


Numbers were comforting, there was little room for interpretation with them. People were so much more complicated.
He had waited 25 minutes and 34 seconds when he finally excused himself to go lay down in his room. Everyone wished him well and told him to feel better and to say the same to Robert.
They were such well-meaning people.


Yet even well-meaning people could accidentally push someone over a ledge, and Jacob felt acutely aware of that fact. Was he pushing Robert too close to that ledge?
Why couldn’t people just be more like numbers?
He had made it to the second floor when someone called his name. “Jacob? Is that you? Oh good! I caught you!”


Professor Millgrim was waving at him from down the hallway and Jacob felt his gut sink.
“I was doing a random mid-week count when I noticed we’re short one cyanide capsule. You did the counts today, right? Was there anything unusual about the numbers?”
Jacob felt put on the spot in that moment and he shook his head nervously. He hadn’t written down the missing cyanide capsule out of fear and now it may come back to bite him. “No professor… I hadn’t seen anything… unusual.”


He saw Robert’s wide-eyed face as he had caught him in the lab in the first place that morning. Gods, Robert, why?
Professor Millgrim’s face grew more concerned. “Oh dear… we’ll have to conduct a search of the school immediately. I don’t know how one of the students could’ve gotten into the cabinet but I always get paranoid when I pull out the heavy-duty chemicals for my classes. Probably with good reason, this stuff is deadly. I can’t take any chances-”


Jacob began to panic more. He should just tell her what he knows.
But does he really know anything? Robert hasn’t outwardly said he has the capsule. He was already getting such crap from Victor for having trouble with his classes - imagine how bad that would get if he really did have that cyanide capsule?
It would make everything worse.
But if he didn’t say anything, Jacob could lose his first real friend he’s ever had.
“Professor?” Jacob sputtered, his eyes burning.


She looked at him immediately. “What is it, Jacob?”
His eyes dropped to the ground and the words came rushing out. “I dropped one of the pills by accident and didn’t realize it. I stepped on it and panicked so I cleaned it up and threw it out. I’m so sorry.”


Professor Millgrim visibly eased. “Oh! That’s such a relief! Thank goodness! I was really worried one of the students may have gotten their hands on a pill with bad intent in mind. Call me crazy, but I’m already a little batty and I worry about these things. With all the heavy exams going on I know how hard it can be for students to keep up. I’d feel horribly responsible if they felt that was their only way out.”
“I’m so sorry for worrying you.” Jacob swallowed, yet he was still shaking. Professor Millgrim was his advisor, and thus far she had been so good to him. He felt guilty for lying to her. “I can pay you back for whatever it was the capsule was worth…”


“Please don’t worry about it Jacob. You’re already paying me with peace of mind. Accidents happen, and I much prefer these accidents to those that involve losing a student’s life.” She straightened herself and let out a long, relaxed breath. “I think I’m going to take the Cyanide out of the school for a while now that my classes won’t need it for a bit. I think I’ll sleep better at night knowing there’s nothing deadly in that closet that can go missing.”
“I’m sorry if I’m causing you extra work.” Jacob whispered, hardly able to find his voice.


Professor Millgrim shook her head. “No, no! It’s not you at all, dear. I actually misplaced a pill last weekend but Robert pointed it out to me while we were having a discussion about the reading. It was terrifying to me to think I could’ve lost a capsule myself, which is why I was so paranoid and thought to check on them again. I think it’ll be one less thing on both our minds, right?”
Jacob nodded, yet he didn’t feel relieved. “Yeah, I definitely agree.” It wasn't going to leave his mind anytime soon.


Professor Millgrim nodded then and stood up straighter. “Well I'm going to go ahead and move those capsules. Have a good night, Jacob! I'll see you tomorrow in class!”
“Have a good night, professor.”
They parted and Jacob ran up to his room where he watched Robert like a hawk. The evening was quiet and Robert seemed intent on laying in bed, reading. Or, at least, it looked like he was reading. Attempting to read, maybe? Jacob would catch Robert eyeing him equally as often as he was caught eyeing Robert.


It was almost like a dance they did, but Jacob wasn’t certain if whether or not he was imagining it.
What if he had gotten it wrong? What if Robert didn’t have the pill? What if someone else did and by lying to Professor Millgrim he’ll end up getting someone killed?
It wasn't long before they each turned in for the night, yet Jacob lay awake for what felt like hours before he finally drifted off unintentionally. He wanted to stay up until he was certain Robert had gone to sleep.


He hadn't meant to fall asleep himself.
“I don’t need to study anymore.”
The words were so final and they jolted Jacob awake.
His head spun around to find Robert’s bed empty.


Panic filled him, and he was out the door before he had even put regular clothes on. He hadn’t even checked to see if Robert had left a note.
There were only so many places Robert could go, but he went to the first place he could think of: the pit.
Doubt filled Jacob’s mind as he realized how ridiculous he would look if he was caught running into a restricted area in his pyjamas - especially if Robert wasn’t there.


What if he just went to the bathroom?
No. His bed was made. Why would someone who was going to the bathroom in the middle of the night make their bed unless they weren’t planning on coming back?
He tried to steel himself but his eyes were burning.
What if it was too late?
How long had Robert been gone?
Why did he have to fall asleep?


He ran for the door that lead to the pit and slammed into it, pushing it open immediately. “Robert!”
His chest heaved as he nearly collapsed with relief, seeing Robert sitting on the edge - still very much alive.
“Don’t do it!” He breathed as he resisted leaning forward onto his knees.


Robert’s eyes were wide and he wiped his face quickly before clearing his throat. “Don't… do what?”
Jacob straightened himself, slowly calming his breathing. He needed to be calm for this, so he would be. “I know you have that cyanide pill.”
Robert shifted almost like he was trying to hide something.
“I counted them five times today after I saw you in the lab. I overturned everything.” He took a step closer to Robert who had resigned himself to looking down into the pit. Jacob waited quietly to see if Robert wished to talk.


In the silence around the pit he could hear Robert crying. “I can’t do it anymore. J'abandonne, Jacob.”
Jacob moved slowly and sat down heavily beside his friend, their legs dangling into the pit. “You remind me a lot of my brother, you know.” He swallowed and kept his eyes on their feet. “He was my hero - his name was Lewis.”


Robert had grown quiet, hopefully listening.


“He was eight years older than me and he was just… good at everything! It’s hard to explain. I was always picked on a lot. Kids would tease me because I guess I missed the point of a lot of things. I would… I would get real excited about something and the other kids would play on that. What’s that word…? Gullible?” He let out a long breath. “Lewis always told me to not pay them any mind, that they didn’t know what they were missing. He never played tricks on me, and you know, big brothers usually do that… but not him.”


“He was smart too, real smart.” Jacob sniffled a bit, remembering it. “He was smart and brave and strong and… in pain.”


It was hard to breathe remembering it all. “I never knew how much pain he was really in until it was too late. It started when our papa left us and Mama had to work more. Mama was real smart, and we were well-to-do; but that’s one thing I learned real early on is that it doesn’t matter how many things you have, or how great you are… it doesn’t stop you from hurting something awful.”


“When I was eight I started catching Lewis in all kinds of lies - lies that didn’t make sense. He told me that lying was easier than having people try to ‘fix you.’ It didn’t make sense to me at the time. It wouldn’t for a long time.” Jacob finally turned his gaze onto Robert. “One day he couldn’t do it anymore, though. He took the gun our Papa had left in the closet and disappeared into the woods. I never… I… I never saw him again.”


They both sat in grief for a moment as they cried together. Jacob shook his hair from his face; he had no idea what to say that might make Robert change his mind and that was the scariest part.
It was Robert that broke the silence as he wiped his own face. “I-I got rejected from my focus of study. Professor May won’t let me in.”
Jacob stared at him in confusion. “That’s... that's not allowed though! That cow of an adviser is keeping you out? How?!”


“She said there was a scheduling conflict.” Robert ran a hand through his hair. “I’ve come all this way… for nothing. I’m getting horrible grades where it matters, I can’t even keep myself from a mental breakdown every day, and my parents are… my mom… she’s…” His voice broke off as he put his head in his hands. “I just… can’t do it anymore.”


“You don’t have to do this alone.” Jacob put an arm on his shoulder. “Your mama was a good woman, Robert. She wouldn’t want you to be pushed to this point, because you’re worth so much more than these problems. Grades aren’t worth jack-shit in the real world - it’s what’s in here that matters!” He pressed a finger to Robert’s chest. “Victor and Professor May may be smart, but even combined they don’t have half of your passion. They don’t care the way you do.”


Jacob wiped at his face before looking back at Robert intensely. “You’re my first, real friend, Robert. I’ve already lost my pa and my brother… I’m not going to lose you too.”
Robert leaned forward heavily as he began to sob. Jacob tugged on him with the arm that was around his shoulder; it was terrifying coming so close to losing someone he cared about. They both cried sitting on the edge of the pit, staring into the darkness.


After several minutes, Robert shifted and shoved his hand into one of his pockets before revealing that painful, white pill in the palm of his hand.
Jacob watched Robert with careful, concerned eyes when Robert finally spoke, struggling to keep his voice level. “I-I… I need to… to get this back before… before Professor Millgrim realizes it’s gone.”
Relief flooded him and he gripped Robert’s shoulder tighter before shaking his head. “She already knows. She was paranoid or something and she counted them. She came to ask me about it and… I speculated it was you, so… so I told her that I had stepped on one by accident.”


Robert looked at him with eyes wide. “Y-You did that for me?”
Jacob nodded slowly. “I didn’t want to make your life any worse by having some brigade of people claiming to know what’s best for you knocking you over. It wouldn’t have helped.”
Robert nodded, his voice softer as his gaze looked at the little pill. “You’re right, it wouldn’t have.”
They both stared at the cyanide pill before Robert slowly closed his fingers around it, taking a jagged breath as he leaned against Jacob’s shoulder. With slight hesitation he slowly pushed his fist forward in front of him, turning it so his knuckles faced up.


Little by little, Robert opened his fist and the cyanide pill dropped from his clutches, vanishing completely into the belly of the pit.
The relief that flooded Jacob could’ve made him fall to his knees to thank the gods and he looked at Robert with a weak smile that was growing stronger.
Robert looked at him with uncertainty, but a weak smile pulled on his lips as well.


They both turned back to stare at the pit, feeling equally drained and Robert, once again, broke the silence. “Jake?”
“Yeah?”
Robert looked at him with emotions pulling on his features once again. “Thank you,” he paused to catch his breath before continuing: “-for caring.”


Jacob smiled at him and shifted, his eyes looking up at the dim tower they were in. “You know, I didn’t think I was going to make it here before we became friends. I was ready to give up and go home a failure. I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad I met you.”
Robert frowned slightly and let out a breath. “I'm glad I met you, too. Professor May told me I wasn’t going to last here if I couldn’t get it together.”
Jacob’s eyes widened and he scowled “What a cow!” He shook his head. “To hell with her and that… fribble.”


Robert looked at him blankly for a minute before he snorted and covered his mouth. “Fribble?”
“Yeah, fribble… you know, bollux? Nattering? Hogwash?” Jacob rapid-fired all the synonyms he knew.
Robert laughed a little harder and Jacob did too. They were both delirious with exhaustion and relief. Finally Jacob shook his head. “She really is full of it though. If there’s anyone who’s guaranteed to make it… it’s you.”


Robert’s laughter quieted and he smiled weakly. “I hope so.”
“I know so.” Jacob nodded. “You’re graduating from here even if I have to drag you there myself!” He paused and shrugged. “Well, I mean dragging you would hurt but-”
Robert laughed and shook his head. “Don’t worry, Jake. I get you.” He was quiet before he spoke again. "I'm lucky to have you as my friend."


Jacob felt himself smiling as he sniffled. "Ditto, Rob."
He had lost one brother eight years ago but he gained another one that night in the darkness by the pit.
He and Robert would last here and they would be a part of something bigger.
They just didn’t know it, yet.



~ Next Chapter Coming Soon ~


Big thanks to Mpart and Blamsart for letting me borrow their Sims/Characters to adopt into the Academy life.

Blamsart is responsible for Mincia and Cain, two incredible characters from her legacy Light the Way to Heaven. I did everything I could to bring their personalities to life in Atalan, but they're far more wonderful in their original forms. Please go check it out and support her work - it's incredible!

[This chapter is dedicated to those in the world who have struggled with feeling good enough, and those who have contemplated, or have committed, suicide. 
You're not alone.
I hope you never forget that.]

~

French Translation:
“Va shier, trou de cul” - "Fuck off, asshole"
"J'abandonne" - "I give up." 

3 comments:

  1. There was so many wonderful things in this chapter. First I was going to comment that I wanted you to hold my coffee while I strangled that ice cold hearted little bitch and Professor that can't grasp what the fuck i means to be a human being. Second I was going to comment about Stefan and Sam's wonderful friendship but...
    I cried like a baby watching Robert go through that all.
    You did it justice and never said it, but you showed it so damn realistically.
    You showed the slow downfall and how it just added up slowly, but surely to push him to that point. Not going to lie, still emotional from it so maybe this comment won't be coherent. Words can not express this chapter truly, but you offered him a support system and hope when there was none by introducing Jacob.
    You didn't just write someone thinking about killing themselves; you wrote hope for those reading showing that someone out there CARES.
    It hit pretty hard when Jacob talked about what mattered in the inside.
    Well, I usually don't like getting emotional, but this chapter just was...
    Wonderful wouldn't be the word for it.
    It was painfully realistically tragic in a beautiful way.
    I'm not sure how to exactly describe it, but it just was written damn well.

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  2. In all complete and utter honesty
    I'm a hard sucker to bring to tears

    This chapter brought back emotions and thoughts I put aside ages ago, but doesn't change that they existed and affected me a LOT. And the fact that this chapter brought them back so easily just goes to show how AMAZINGLY you've captured the spirit of 'suicidal thoughts'.
    I can feel Robert's vivid pain, it's evident. Even in the presence of REALLY amusing characters, I feel Robert's ever present depression as if it were my own. My heart was beating intensely, mirroring Jacob's fears. And that last emotional scene brought me to REAL tears and STRUCK me harshly, right where it hearts the most. I can count on one hand how many times something has evoked this kind of emotion in me.
    You're an incredible writer Livvielove and this was a master piece. Beautifully executed, and emotionally received.

    I'm in awe and in tears.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't have enough to say to make a response of my own, so, I'm just going to [s]hijack[/s] reply to this one and say that I agree wholeheartedly with B. To read thoughts you've had yourself. To deal with the emotional fallout that those feelings and memories bring. It's... Words just can't do it justice. Unlike Blams, I'm a marshmallow when it comes to feels, but, this was truly gut wrenching. I think anyone who reads this and thinks you're glorifying the suicidal ideology, hasn't ever had a suicidal moment in their entire blessed existence.

      I think I'm going to stop here and let the tears dry and hope the echoes from the past can dissipate sooner rather than later. Well done, Liv. You truly are a Master of your Craft.

      <3

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