Friday, April 12, 2019

20 ~ The Complex Study of Love

Robert had pulled many late nights that week, most of them just helplessly researching or sitting up with Stefan. He hated what this trial meant for everything, but he knew he needed to keep his emotions in check. It wasn’t him going through it. It was one of his best friends.


So he would be the support Stefan needed, and he would get all the answers he possibly could. Anything to make this easier.
Robert had worked in shifts with Sam and Jacob - everyone alternated around Stefan so he’d never need to be left alone with the impending weight of the trial incoming. Hesper was there regardless, it seemed, though she didn’t mind.


Robert admired their relationship.
Word eventually spread around the Academy and a whole weight seemed to settle on everyone - almost like a sort of mourning. Besides a few questions here and there however, most people let things be.
Classes were even going easier on them, as the Professors seemed to be more lenient about their half-awake state. It was only temporary. The trial was tomorrow. Gods, Robert couldn’t wait for it to be over. He was exhausted. So exhausted that he-


Robert jolted awake on the table, hastily wiping his face. “Huh?”
Catrina had poked him, knocking him off the precarious elbow which he’d apparently fallen asleep on. “Morning, sleeping beauty. Got a word in French for ‘good morning?’”
He sleepily rubbed his eyes and cleared his scratchy throat. “‘Bonjour…’ How long was I out?”


“Bonjour? That’s ‘hello,’ though! And however long it took me to finish the chapter. I summarized it for you.” She pushed a folded paper into Robert’s book and slammed the cover shut on it. “You can read that when your brain is less frazzled.”
Robert resisted a yawn. “Wait… you wrote me a summary?”



He had moved to open his book but Catrina closed it again with her hand. “Yeah, but you’re in no state to read it now. When was the last time you ate, anyways?”
“Um, this morning?” He scraped to remember, but wasn’t certain. Everything was blurring together.
“No, you told me you were too busy for breakfast. Think harder, Egan.” She had a strict look in her eyes.


“Probably last night, then.” He shrugged sheepishly. “I’ll be alright… everything is just a bit hectic. We’ve only got one more day though-”
Catrina was already shaking his head as he was halfway through his thoughts. “Com’on Rob. Let’s get you some food… and a shower.”

~

Catrina was waiting for him outside the men’s bathroom when he finished and shook some remaining drops from his hair. He hadn’t expected her to be waiting outside.



“Making sure I washed behind my ears?” He smirked.
She made an annoyed face and crossed her arms, “more like making sure you didn’t pass out in the shower, slip and die.”
He wiggled his shoulders a bit, “I knew you loved me.” It was nice to be with Catrina. Things weren’t as heavy with her and Jacob as they were with Sam and Stefan, and in that moment Robert hadn’t realized how much Catrina had been doing for him these past two weeks.



Catrina had straightened at that remark, her face red. “Well… well duh!”
“Yeah, well… thank you, Cat.” He approached her and she avoided his gaze. It made him grin a bit - she was always like this and in a way it was comforting.
She rolled her eyes, “whatever, Egan.”


That was just how they were - teasing and getting under each other’s skin. She hated when he got sappy with her, but he felt he needed to say it. “No - I mean it. Sometimes it feels like you’re one of the few people keeping my head on straight. You’ve been looking after me and making sure I eat and helping me with my studies even though you’ve got stuff you have to do too.” He nearly lost his train of thought when she looked back at him with her eyes wide. It was a look he’d only recalled seeing maybe once on her face.



“And… I…” What was he saying? Oh right, he was thanking her, but why was she looking at him like that? Maybe it was best if he just wrapped up the sentiment before it got weirder. “I just thought you should know that you’re really incredible for it.”


Catrina’s stare was getting under his skin but he couldn’t place why. “Y-You mean it?” Her voice was so much softer while he’d expected a teasing response.


An easy smile came over him and he nodded, “of course I mean it, you’ve been the best fr-”


She had leaned up, and suddenly Robert was way too aware of how close she was which was only getting closer by the second. He leaned back as she leaned in, his own eyes growing wide.


Then it dawned on him.


She was trying to kiss him.
What?
It’s like his own mind couldn’t process this in time to react and his body reacted for him, putting a careful hand on her shoulder to stop her.


Her closed eyes came open wide and her cheeks flushed deeper red. He watched the emotions shift on her face from surprise, to hurt, to anger. He scrambled to find something to say, but it was too late.


Catrina shoved him and took off down the hallway.
What? 

~

“Hey Rob.” Stefan had his head back onto Hesper’s legs, he looked worn but he still smiled.


“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Sam immediately poked, likely because Robert had meandered around the Academy hallways twice trying to wrap his head around everything that happened before winding up here.


He couldn’t imagine his face right now. “Cat just tried to kiss me.” There was no point in keeping it to himself.
Sam made a face as Jacob started to grin.


Hesper laughed into her hand.
Stefan snorted. “And?”
“And what?” Robert frowned.
“How was it?” Jacob inched closer from his spot.


“How was what?”
“The kiss!”
“I don’t know! I… I panicked and pushed her away!”
Jacob’s eyes doubled in size and his mouth fell open. “You didn’t!”


This got a laugh from Stefan, “why are you so surprised, Rob?”
“Why aren’t you surprised?” Robert shot back, feeling strangely aware of how unconcerned everyone was.
Jacob laughed with a shake of his head, “and I’m the dense one.”
Hesper nodded softly, giving her sympathetic smile. “Catrina has had a crush on you since she got here.”


“Probably longer than that since you knew her before.” Stefan snorted.
“What?! No!” Robert recoiled. “We’re just friends. We’ve been friends since we were kids! I’m that annoying neighbor boy she couldn’t get rid of!”
“Oh, clearly, that’s why she tried to kiss you. Nothing but platonic feelings there, mhm.” Stefan’s shoulders shook with laughter.


“Didn’t we talk about this already, Rob?” Jacob shook his head. “You two would be really good together!”
Stefan shook his head, “I don’t know, that’d mean Rob would have to stop leading her on.”
Robert frowned. “Leading her on?” Had he been leading her on? What? How?


“Hey, lay off him!” Sam spoke up, having been quiet up until that moment. “Don’t listen to these love-struck pups. It’s not worth it to pursue.”
“Someone sounds jealous!” Jacob shoved Sam’s legs.
Yet Sam only shook his head with disinterest, he had nothing more to say.


Robert hadn’t been paying any attention though as his mind wrapped around what Stefan said. “No… but you think I’m leading her on?”
The room was quiet and all the eyes landed on Robert. Stefan looked up at Hesper from where he sat and she pursed her lips.


“I mean, you hang out with her really often… and you’re very touchy with her.” She offered out with a shrug.
“He’s touchy with everyone.” Sam jumped in to defend and Robert nodded.
At least, that’s what he’d always told himself.
Sure, he leaned on Catrina, but no more than he did on Jacob or Stefan or Sam.


“He doesn’t do that to Hesper or Mincia.” Jacob pointed with an amused grin.
No, he didn’t. He didn’t feel he knew them as well to find it acceptable. Besides, Hesper was dating Stefan and Mincia is engaged to be married…
Click.
So relationship status is involved.


Does that mean he considers Catrina available? Robert’s head was spinning in this information.
“You rotate around her whenever she isn’t rotating around you!” Jacob carried on and Stefan nodded.
Robert groaned and rubbed his face with his hand. “I’ve not even thought of her romantically, though. Isn’t that a thing that’s required if you like someone? You think about them romantically?”


“Not if ya don’t realize you’re doin’ it.” Jacob nodded with sureness that Robert couldn’t combat.
“That’s dumb though! How can Robert not realize if he’s thinking about something.” Sam intervened.
“She’s just my… my friend.” Robert’s voice implied that even he was starting to question it.
“Love isn’t always some… spontaneous thing that hits ya and knocks ya over!” Jacob nodded. “We can’t all be like Stefan! It’s about a… a lasting partnership! And who better to be a partner than someone ya consider a friend? Ya already know each other!”


Hesper nodded along. “That’s very true! My parents were friends for years before they decided to get married. They say it’s just like having your best friend with you all the time!”
“We’re in school! We shouldn’t be thinking about marriage!” Sam shook his head. “Besides, Rob’s got a huge future with the God of Knowledge! That’s... huge!”
“Yeah, and Cat already knows all about it! She can help support him! It’s a perfect match!” Jacob argued.


Robert was helpless to do anything but listen.
It’s a perfect match!
Catrina.


“Oy, Sam, you know something we don’t?” Stefan nudged Sam’s foot with his own.
“All I’m saying is it doesn’t seem like he likes her any more than a friend.” Sam crossed his arms. “Telling him how he thinks or feels is bullshit - only he knows what he thinks or feels!”


“Point!” Stefan pointed at Sam and then swapped his point to Robert. “So how do you feel, Robert?”
“I mean…” Robert frowned, leaning hard on the doorway for support. “I don’t know…”
“Does she make you happy? Can she make you laugh?” Jacob inched forward, eager to uncover more.
“Well, yeah, she does. We’ve been friends for ages, so I feel like that’s a given.” Robert shrugged.
“Are you attracted to her?” Hesper put forth hesitantly.
Attracted?


Attraction.
“I don’t know.” It was his answer for everything now. Je sais pas.
“Do you think she’s pretty?” Hesper clarified.
“Oui-yeah, she’s beautiful! Her hair and eyes are so bright! She wears them well… she dresses nicely… and she’s clearly very popular in town.” That all felt very obvious, though. Robert had always loved the way the light hit her hair and made it seem like it caught fire.


Loved.
Had he just used that in his own thoughts? Maybe Jacob was right? Could he love someone and not realize it? What is love supposed to feel like?
“See!” Jacob pointed enthusiastically. “I told you! Not to mention he stares at her sometimes!”


Does he? Robert ran a hand through his hair and groaned. This made his head hurt and it was getting harder to understand what his friends were saying with all the stress hindering his comprehension.
“Well, whether or not you like her is something you should work out on your own.” Hesper finally held up a hand before smiling sympathetically. “Despite this, you should probably be careful around Catrina. She’s probably feeling really hurt and rejected right now - regardless of how you feel about her.”


It hit Robert like a sack of bricks then and he leaned onto the wall behind him for support. He’d rejected her. Ouch.
“Non! Ç’est pas ce que je voulais dire! It just… happened so fast! I didn’t… I didn’t know what was going on!” He rolled his head back until it hit the wall with a thud and pain radiated in his head. “Je me sens vraiment mal!”


There was a knock on the open door and Robert slowly rolled his head to see Professor Luken eyeing him in particular with slight amusement. “Mauvais moment?” He echoed to him in French and Robert was grateful. It was easier to think in French when he was stressed.
“J’ai foiré!” Robert lamented.


This made Luken nod, “ah. On peut en parler.” He looked to the room and gestured. “Mind if I borrow him for a bit?”
Though it’s not like they could disagree, everyone gave a nod or a wave and Luken gestured to Robert before gently tugging him out of the room as Robert continued to rub his own head gingerly. Luken kept a hand on Robert’s shoulder as he turned back to Stefan. “Do you feel confident for tomorrow, Stefan?”



Stefan nodded. “I think so. Thank you, sir.”
Luken gave another nod, “it should be quick and mostly painless. Renigard will make sure of that. Tomorrow I’ll also be attending to the other piece of the equation while you’re gone.”
“The God of Magic?” Stefan queried.


The Professor only nodded and that started a soft whisper in the group to pick up. Robert was too exhausted to try and parse it out.
He felt a slight push and began walking automatically as Luken ushered him from the room.


Why did everything have to start falling apart now? 

~

“So, do you have your head on straight yet?” Luken moved the chair across from Robert so they were facing each other. He’d been in the Academy’s office for the past fifteen minutes now as Professor Luken had worked on preparing for the God of Magic, likely waiting for Robert to stop looking like he was nursing a horrible head injury.


Robert felt numb and continued to rub his head. “I don’t know.” He’d said that phrase more times than he could count in the last few hours. “I’m sorry.” He started, before Luken could say anything else.
This prompted a look of surprise and intrigue on Luken’s face. “Do tell?”


“I shouldn’t be lost in all… this... when Stefan is literally putting his life and future on the line tomorrow.”
“Hm.” Luken pursed his lips, yet leaned forward in a relaxed manner. “What is this ‘this’ you’re talking about?”
Robert also slumped forward, only into his own hands where he buried himself and attempted to speak. “I think I lead Catrina on? Or I have feelings for her? I don’t know.” His voice was muffled through his hands. “It’s so stupid to be worried about right now but everything is falling apart!”


Luken was watching Robert, and he felt keenly aware of it. Yet instead of judgement, Luken nodded. “Emotions are complicated, and they never wait until the ideal time to cause all sorts of problems. Denying them now won’t make them go away, though.”
Robert slumped back in the chair and groaned. “I don’t understand what I feel for Cat, though. She was always just my friend, but everyone keeps saying it’s obvious there’s more…”


Luken had to resist a chuckle but he straightened himself to cover it up. “Did something happen?”
“Je sais pas.” Robert blew air out through his lips and thumped his head against the back of the chair repeatedly. “Je sais pas, je sais pas, je sais pas!” He finally stopped and stared upward with a slump of his shoulders. “I fell asleep again while we were studying and she took notes for me to read over later. She made sure I ate and got cleaned up and I just realized… she had been doing this all without any expectation of gratitude for the past week. I just… appreciated her for all she’d done… and I told her that… and she tried to… kiss me… and I panicked… et j’ai foiré!”


“You messed up?” Luken probed curiously.
Robert nodded, “I froze up and stopped her…. And she…” His head hit the chair again in frustration. “She looked so hurt and upset.” Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. He’s normally so much more aware of others’ feelings. Why was today different?
Why did she have to have feelings for me?


“Putting that to the side, how do you feel? And don’t say you don’t know.” The professor adjusted in his seat to be more comfortable.
Robert snorted weakly, “like a jerk.”
“Why is that? It sounds like you were merely caught off-guard.”


It was a good question. Why did it catch him off-guard? “Because… because…” Because I should’ve known. “Because it shouldn’t have caught me off guard. Because it wasn’t the first time someone implied that Cat and I should… be involved… romantically. Because Cat had this weird… look on her face when I was telling her how much she meant to me. Because her brothers used to tease her when we were little about how we’d get married one day and she’d always go these deep shades of red. Because sometimes I feel weird when we’re close together and she makes those faces. Because I care about her and I want her to be happy and I know that I acted stupidly without thinking and hurt her because of it!”


Luken nodded sympathetically, “love makes fools of us all.”
“So you think I love her, too?” Robert was at the point of just giving up this stupid fight in his head. If so many people were convinced that he loved her, then maybe he did.
“Don’t you? Love doesn’t always mean romantic, Robert. Love just means you care about someone with your heart - which you clearly do for Catrina. You’ve been friends since you were little, I’d be concerned if you didn’t love her in some way by now. You love your parents, and I’m sure you love your other friends, too. There’s nothing antagonistic about love, my boy. Fighting a completely normal and healthy state of being isn’t going to do you any favors as you sort through how you really feel. Now whether or not you actually love Catrina romantically is something no one can tell you but you.”



Robert sat on the words for a moment before nodding. “I do love her, then. I love all my friends.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that.” Luken reaffirmed.
“But how do I know if I love her romantically?” Robert was scrambling in his own head to organize his thoughts. “What does that feel like?”





Luken leaned across the gap some with a genuine look in his eyes. “It’s different for everyone, son. Some people feel attraction the first moment they meet someone, and some people feel attraction after they’ve known a person for a long while - plus a whole host of variations in between. It’s complex and always changing. No study you do will ever fully give you concrete answers about it, and there’s no such thing as a ‘correct answer’ to the questions love makes us ask. My dear Robert, people dedicate their entire lives to the complicated study of love and have been since the dawn of time yet they’re no wiser than when they started. I could never tell you if you loved Catrina romantically, and I’m one of the most powerful people in our known world. I can’t tell you what it feels like for you… or anyone else for that matter, but I can tell you what it felt like for me.”



This pulled Robert up in his seat. “For you?” The God of Knowledge in love? That book he read said nothing about any romantic relationships for Lord Aadish.
Luken only laughed dryly. “Yeah, surprising, right? No, I’ve been around long enough to have experienced a thing or two with love.” He sat up straighter and sighed almost wistfully. “I was a few years older than you when I first figured it out. I was eighteen and stupid. Unreasonably stupid, given my title now. I wouldn’t get that until later, though.”


“I had a group of friends, acquaintances - they’re all long gone by now. They were dragging me to the library to cause trouble - as that’s what we did at libraries, certainly not read.”


“There was a girl from the town over studying there. I’d seen her before, and had likely heard her name at least once as our towns were close enough. She was always in a different circle from me, though… and… in a way that never changed. She was studious and stern… and she had been known to reject all suitors that knocked on her door - of which she had a fair few.”
“Suitors? Like courtship?”


Luken outright laughed, “oh dear, my age is showing again. Yes, this was before the first wave of feminism had struck, so women were certainly property. This is also why she rejected those idiot suitors. They sought to own, and she simply wanted to own herself and mind her books - a crime most heinous for a woman.”


Robert made a face and Luken nodded. “Precisely. It was a very gross time, but no one really thought much of it. At least, I didn't. As a man, I had the fortune of being able to waltz into the library and cause mischief whenever I wanted and when I went home to tell my parents about it, they’d praise me just for showing up. That… was not the case for Lucy.”
“Her name was Lucy?”


“Lucille.” Luken nodded with a smile of remembrance. “She was stern about people shortening her name, which is why I did it. She did her hair up into a tight bun, wore conservative clothing, and wanted nothing to do with an immature, eighteen-year-old moron… but that moron wanted everything to do with her.”
Robert laughed, “did you talk to her?”



“Only every, single chance I could get. She’d shoo me away or ignore me with her business eyes. I’d respect it, of course, but it didn’t make me less determined. So I did the most appalling thing ever… I started reading.”
“Reading?”


“Yes, reading. Anything and everything she read, I read too, and I’d talk to her about it. I butchered the language or names most of the time. She thought it was a trick at first, but after a while… she started to warm up to me, if only a little.” He beamed as he spoke. “At first it was all just a ruse - a chance to get her to talk to me. I couldn’t say anything about love at that time, just that I really wanted to hear her thoughts. When she spoke… it made me want to listen. The things she cared about became things that I cared about too… and the more I looked at her face the more I realized that seeing her smile was enough to make even the darkest, dreariest days… brighter.”



“So Robert, I never had this lightning bolt of awareness that printed the words ‘you’re in love’ on my forehead, but rather I grew to realize that without her in my life… I would be hollow. Normal days would be dark and those darkest, dreariest days would swallow me whole. In a way it’s like she became a part of me and that part of me drove me to be a better person - to get my life together, to stand for something worthwhile… to be a man that I felt would be worthy of her.”
Robert let the words sink in, yet he nodded. “What happened then?”


Luken smiled distantly. “I asked her to marry me.”


It was in his tone that Robert frowned. “She… didn’t say yes?”


“No. She did not... but it wasn’t because she didn’t want to.”
“Huh?”


“Her parents had disowned her, it was her biggest secret. We lived in an era where I needed to get permission from her parents to truly be allowed to marry her, and seeing as they disowned her for her love of books we could not be married, and she did not want me to tie my life to someone who would shame my ‘good’ name.”
“That’s stupid!” Robert said it quickly and adjusted, “ah, sorry.”


“No, you’re right. It was stupid… which is why I didn’t listen to it.” There was something about the way the professor said it that made him seem more proud. “I told her the world could believe whatever it wanted, and ‘damn my good name.’ I wanted to be with her, and accepted whatever that meant.”


“Did she agree?”


“She told me I was mad.” He laughed. “But yes… she did.”
Robert made a slight face as he contemplated how rude it might be to ask why he never brought up being married before, as it likely implied he wasn’t anymore. “Did… something happen?”


Luken’s face was more somber. “J’ai foiré, Robert. Not just once, either, but I messed up several times.” He gave a resigned sigh. “Godhood happened, which is some sort of irony, isn’t it? I would’ve given anything to have the Knowledge that would impress her… yet it seems I got too much. Power is a consuming beast in low amounts… and in great quantities it is an unrelenting storm.”


“I was consumed by the need to amass knowledge. I needed to know it all. I was the wielder of Knowledge now and that meant the world would look to me to fix every, single problem. The expectations were so high and I cracked under every demand. Lucy tried to help me. She tried to learn with me, but I always left her behind. A lot of it was out of my hands, to be fair to myself, but there’s always a choice and I picked wrong. I didn’t prioritize her. I didn’t listen. I messed up and by the time I finally got my bearings as a God and as a man… I had lost her.”




Well, that was heartbreaking. “Did you try to get her back?”
Luken nodded, but it was obvious that it hadn’t worked. “Many times, but then I woke up.”
“Woke up?”


“Indeed, Robert. I realized how selfish I was being. I had dragged her along through all of those adjustment years of my step into power. I kept promising her it would get better and never following through. Then at the end of it all I just expected her to get over it and come back to me? No. I made my bed and I realized that if I truly loved her, I had to let her go.”


“Did she not feel love for you anymore? I thought… if you loved someone you’d make it work?”
Luken held up his hand with a more stern look in his eyes. “Of course she loved me - that’s what made it worse. She loved me, but she had to love herself too. I hurt her immensely and she had to make the hardest decision to walk away for herself… and I truly hope if she were given the option again she’d do the same thing.”
“You’d want her to leave you?”


“Yes, because she deserves better than what I gave her.” He straightened and put on a friendlier smile. “But that hardly applies to your situation, I think you should take tonight and ask yourself some hard questions. The answers won’t always be obvious but sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. I… I wish I had.”



Robert nodded, feeling a little heavier but also a lot more certain. “Thank you, professor. That… helped a lot.”
Luken gave him an easy smile. “I’m glad. Hey, maybe one of us should learn from my mistakes, hm?” He paused. “Don’t get caught up looking at the little details, Robert. Sometimes the answers aren’t as complicated as we think they are.”


If only it were that easy.
Maybe it was?
Robert began to shift in his seat as he imagined the conversation was about to move on, yet he couldn’t shake one last question. “You really loved Lucy, didn’t you?”


He barely finished it before there was a knock on the door and the door came open. Professor Luken shot upward, standing up rapidly as Robert turned to see who was coming in.


Professor Clemence stood in the doorway, looking a little dazed.
“Lucille?” Luken had said it quietly, but Robert heard it.


“I… I’m sorry to interrupt. I… have your report.” Professor Clemence swallowed nervously as she set the paper down on the desk.
It hit Robert then.


Lucille
Professor Clemence.
His eyes bounced back and forth from the expressions of his two professors.
Luken cleared his throat and straightened, his expression mildly pained. “Thank you, Professor Clemence.”


The tension in the room was palpable. Had she heard all that? Probably. It was strange to see Professor Clemence through the eyes of Luken. He had been right about that, love really is a complex thing.
After a long moment in silence, Professor Clemence bent her head, turned, and left. The tension in the room deflated upon the door closing and Robert sat stunned in his seat.



Luken reached down and touched the new paper on his desk before sighing. He tipped his head towards Robert. “I still do, Robert.”

~

Robert stared at his ceiling and listened to the sound of Jacob lightly snoring.


“Egan!”


Maybe he was too stuck in the details.
So how did he feel about Cat?


She was brilliant.


She was beautiful.


She was stubborn and passionate.


But… how did that make him feel?


He felt comfortable around her.


She helped him and understood him in ways no one else seemed to, sometimes.


When he lost his mother, she was there.
Consistently.


He worried for her when she was down.


He wanted the best for her.


He loved her.
Perhaps everyone else is right.


The only question was, what does he do about it?



~ Next Chapter Coming Soon ~

~
French Translation:
"Bonjour" - Hello/Good Morning
"Je sais pas." - I don't know (informal). Formal is written as "Je ne sais pas" and reads like "I do not know."
“Non! Ç’est pas ce que je voulais dire!" - No, that's not what I meant!
“Je me sens vraiment mal!” - I feel really bad!
“Mauvais moment?” - Bad time?
“J’ai foiré!” - I messed up!
“ah. On peut en parler.” - "Ah, we can talk about it."


Thanks (again) to Somebodysangel for the Sim that is Lucy! 

1 comment:

  1. J'aime ce chapitre. L'amour est définitivement compliqué mais simple et l'anglais ne le fait pas justice!

    Google Translate is a wonderful thing, however I do love what you've written here, in whatever language you choose. :)

    ReplyDelete