Boarding School Blues
Cooper had never been so alone.
From the moment their headmaster outed him as the scholarship student, Cooper’s stomach was tangled knots. The rest of dinner was nothing but stuffy silence or whispered conversations that didn’t include him. None of the other Valentias would even look at him. Not even Anakin.
Getting back to his suite was the longest ten minutes of Cooper’s life.
The moment they reached their bedrooms, Naveen and Julian slipped inside and slammed their door shut. Why was it such a big deal to them that he got the scholarship? Was it something they wanted instead?
He stared blankly after them, his heartstrings ready to snap as he fought against every urge to call his parents and have them take him from this awful, stupid place. They would be there by the morning, and then Blue Ridge would be nothing but a painful memory. But then that would only make him a quitter, and Cooper swore to himself that he would never give up on anything he tried.
At the top of the steps, Anakin pretended to find interest in the old portraits hanging on the wall.
How could everything have gone so wrong? He had been willing to give the school a chance, trusted his parents’ advice, and where did that get him?
Legs numb beneath him, Cooper barely registered the walk to his bedroom. Their belongings were stacked in the center of the room, and Cooper dragged his suitcase over before sitting against the side of his bed. Inside his suitcase, his favorite, well-loved copy of Detective Dackery lay on top of his clothes.
Cooper clutched the book to his chest, hanging his head as the tears finally spilled out. What would his hero do in a situation like this? Had the famous detective ever been in such a hopeless situation? Every time Cooper thought he might be done crying, his heart hurt all over again, and the tears continued.
He ignored Anakin’s voice, even as the door closed and he heard the sounds of his roommate sliding down against the wall across from him.
Cooper wasn’t sure how much time passed, but he knew his shirt was soaked, and he was dribbling snot from his nose. When he wiped his forearm across his face, Anakin was still seated. The yellow scarf normally around Anakin’s neck was held out in his hand.
“I don’t want your scarf,” he said through a stuffy nose. “Besides, that’s really gross.”
“Take it anyway,” Anakin said, holding it out. “It helps me feel better.”
“What do you care?” Cooper spat.
Anakin slowly lowered the scarf and released a heavy sigh. “Cooper, I’m sorry I ignored you. I just didn’t know what to say. And then everything got really awkward with everyone, and I guess I got cold feet…but I know that’s just a lame excuse.”
Cooper wiped more snot from his nose but said nothing.
“Who cares about the scholarship stuff? It’s bullshit anyway. Anyone who makes a big deal out of it doesn’t know you.”
“You don’t know me, either,” Cooper said weakly.
“I haven’t known you long,” Anakin corrected, “but long enough to know I like hanging around you. Cooper, I’m a big, freakin’, dummy idiot, but please. I want to be your friend. Please, will you forgive me?”
The book grew tighter against Cooper’s chest. He wanted so desperately to have someone at Blue Ridge he could call his friend. But it hurt so much still.
Taking a slow, shaky breath, Cooper wiped his nose one more time before setting his book down in his lap.
“Do you think the others hate me?”
Anakin scratched his temple as he stared at the wall dividing their room from Naveen and Julian’s.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “At least, I hope not. But it might take some time for them to come around. I guess some people are just weird about money stuff when it comes to Blue Ridge. We just have to show them how much they’re wrong.”
“We?” Cooper asked.
Anakin smiled. “Totally. Cooper, I meant what I said. I want to be your friend, and that means sticking by your side no matter what. I messed up, but I promise, I won’t let it happen again.”
When Anakin held out his fist, Cooper wasn’t sure he could do it. Wasn’t sure he could build up the courage to open himself up again. What if it all came crashing down in the end, and he was left humiliated? There’d be nothing but broken pieces left.
Be brave, he told himself. Brave like Detective Dackery. Like the time with Sawyer and the dog.
Bumping fists with Anakin was the hardest thing Cooper had ever done, but the moment he did, Anakin crawled over and gave him a hug. Even though his snotty face was buried in Anakin’s shoulder, his roommate didn’t seem to mind.
“Thank you, Cooper,” he said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I promise I won’t let you down.”
Later in the evening, as they spent time unpacking their bags, Cooper finished much sooner than Anakin, who easily had three or four times the amount of bags Cooper brought. By the time all his clothes were sorted, Anakin grimaced as he stretched out his back from hunching over so long.
“Why do you have so many clothes?” Cooper asked.
“Uhh, duh,” Anakin said, gesturing to the mismatched clothes all on his body. “It’s kind of my thing. Wouldn’t you be bored wearing the same thing all the time?”
Honestly, it had never crossed his mind. Sure, his parents packed his favorite shirts for him, but after that, pants were just pants, and nobody could see his socks and underwear, so what did those matter?
“I guess,” Cooper said with a shrug.
“Here, I’ll tell you what. If you ever want to wear something different, you can borrow some of my clothes since we’re about the same size.”
“Really? Thanks,” Cooper said and picked up the student handbook from his nightstand.
When he opened to the rules section, he expected to find a page or two at most, but instead, the list kept going, page after page after endless page. What kind of monster took pleasure in making so many rules for them to follow? It would take ages to memorize everything!
Some of the rules were generic, like how they were responsible for their own laundry on their assigned day or making sure they were taking care of personal hygiene. There were entire pages set aside for extracurriculars: rules for the lake, for the stables, for swimming, archery, and more. Did those even matter? Cooper couldn’t imagine himself doing half the activities he skimmed through. The rules continued on and on: classroom rules, homework rules, rules for trespassing in staff housing, rules for curfew and wandering campus after lights out. So many that by the time Cooper read through them all, his brain was mushed bananas, and he’d already forgotten half of them.
He groaned and fell back on his pillow with the handbook flopped over his face.
“Cooper, listen,” Anakin said. “Relax. All you have to do is follow my #1 Rule: Don’t Do Stupid Stuff. You do that, and you’ll be fine!”
Easy for him to say. Anakin didn’t have anything to prove to the people at Blue Ridge. Cooper slid the handbook from his face as Anakin pulled a spiral bound notebook from his bag, the kind that flipped over the top rather than side to side. The way Anakin cradled it in his hands reminded Cooper of his Detective Dackery book.
“What’s that?” Cooper asked.
The dark green cover showed a pencil adding the finishing touches on a beautiful hand-drawn tree in the sun.
Cooper’s eyes lit up. “I didn’t know you liked to draw! Can I see your pictures?”
“No!” Anakin shouted, pulling the book to his chest.
“What? Why not?”
“It’s just,” Anakin paused, “it’s embarrassing. No one’s ever seen them before. Besides, they’re not even that good.”
“Show me, anyway?” Cooper asked.
For a second, Cooper thought Anakin might shove the spiral notebook back inside the safety of his luggage, but in the end, he flipped open the cover and handed it to Cooper.
“Just be careful with them, okay?”
Cooper traced his thumb along the textured paper as he admired the detail in Anakin’s work. The first drawing was a sketch of a boy hanging from a tire swing. His body was craned back as he grasped the rope with one hand, mouth wide open in a grin as his hair danced across his face. Leaves fluttered down from the tree, adding to the scattered piles on the ground, and despite the sketch being in pencil, Cooper knew right away it was autumn.
Anakin was faced the other way, unable to look over as Cooper flipped through more of the pages. Pictures of landscapes, portraits of people, all in motion. They weren’t perfect, obviously, but there was so much love and care and detail in each one that Cooper couldn’t help but stop and admire them all.
“You’re not saying anything. I told you they were bad.”
“Anakin, these are some of the best drawings I’ve ever seen!”
His roommate turned around then, a dark blush painted across his cheeks as Cooper looked through a few more. On the most recent pages were sketches of clothing: scarves, shirts, tops, pants, shoes, all with notes jotted beside them.
“I want to be a fashion designer one day,” Anakin explained, gesturing to the tablet like it explained everything.
“Anakin, these are really good. I wish I knew how to draw.”
A smile spread across his face. Anakin called him Coop. No one, not even Sawyer, had ever given him a nickname. And it felt so natural, like that was the way Anakin had always said it.
Suddenly, a massive yawn betrayed how tired he was, and Cooper had to wipe away the blurriness from his eyes as he handed Anakin back the sketch pad. The clock on their nightstands only read 10:30, but the day had been jam-packed ever since arriving.
Anakin slipped off his yellow infinity scarf before removing his shirt. The skinny, bare-chested boy set them neatly in the corner hamper. When Anakin unsnapped the button of his jeans and pulled them down, Cooper gulped.
Like most of Anakin’s clothes, his briefs hugged his body like they were molded especially for him. It didn’t take a genius to spot the curvature of Anakin’s soft penis inside his snug briefs, and Cooper turned away in embarrassment, grabbing his pajamas before darting quickly out of their dorm and into the open bathroom.
Closing himself inside the private toilet stall, Cooper quickly shed his shorts and underwear before sticking his foot through the leg of his pajamas. No way was he risking anyone seeing him undress! His bare penis flopped against his balls as he pulled the waistband up to his belly button. At any moment, he expected a head to peek above or below the stall door, but it was only his paranoia. Uggh, why was he wigging out so much? By the time he left the stall, the bathroom was just as empty as when he started.
Back inside the room, Anakin was already under the silky red sheets.
“Why’d you leave?” he asked.
“Uhh, had to use the bathroom,” Cooper lied. “I figured I’d change in there, too.”
“Oh, okay,” Anakin shrugged and then adjusted the throne of pillows propped behind his head.
After the lights went out, all Cooper could see was a blade of pale moonlight slicing against the window. Other than the occasional chirping cricket or cicada, all was still and silent. He was nearly asleep when Anakin’s voice cut through the dark.
“Hey, Coop?” he asked in a loud whisper.
“I’m sorry again about before. I really am glad we’re roommates.”
Cooper choked out the words, “Me too,” before he quietly cried into his pillow, his heart swelling with happiness. No, Anakin wasn’t Sawyer. No, Blue Ridge wasn’t the perfect way he imagined starting middle school. But maybe that was okay. Maybe there was enough good here if he looked for it hard enough.
The first time Xavier left for Blue Ridge, Roman was nine years old, crying his heart out as he clamped on to his brother’s leg.
Roman would have done anything to stop him from leaving. Gone was the person who spent countless hours playing video games with him when their parents weren’t around. Gone was the person who always knew how to make him laugh with a funny joke, or the person who let him crawl inside his bed when a fierce storm swept through. It was agony, and Roman made sure to write Xavier anytime he had the chance. He even stuffed some of his crayon drawings inside his letters. Anything to remind Xavier of home.
When Christmas break came, Roman begged to ride in the Tesla with his mom to pick up Xavier from school. He didn’t even care that his dad was going to miss Christmas as long as it meant Xavier was home. A couple weeks was better than none at all.
Xavier might have crushed him in a bear hug if Roman wasn’t squeezing his brother twice as hard. By the time they made it back to the house, Roman’s head was stuffed like a turkey with all the amazing things Xavier told him about Blue Ridge. Xavier even got to have his own roommate for sleepovers every night! It only made Roman want to go even more. After the two weeks of winter break finished, Xavier left again for the rest of the school year. To his nine-year-old self, May was an eternity away.
Later that summer, after Xavier finished 6th grade, Roman was shocked when the top of his head didn’t reach as high as he remembered. It was only a few inches, but Xavier had hit a growth spurt. A little cloud of gloominess seemed to follow Xavier, and Roman wondered if his brother would have rather been at Blue Ridge instead of spending his summer at home. Over a game of horse one day, Roman asked him.
“It’s not that, it’s just—” Clang! Xavier’s shot bounced off the rim as Roman chased it down. “People like Logan, Professor Bell, and my other professors, they’re always…I don’t know, there for me, you know?”
When Roman missed his next shot, he frowned as the ball clattered off the backboard. “I’m always here for you, too.”
Xavier scratched his forehead. “No, yeah, I know. I don’t mean it that way. But I never have to wonder who’s going to be around, because at school, everyone always is. I don’t know, I just miss that, I guess.”
Roman grabbed the basketball and held it by his side.
“You mean like Dad.”
“Mom, too. I mean, it’s summer break! How many days have they even been here? Dad even missed last Christmas!”
“That wasn’t his fault,” Roman snapped back. He swiped away the sweat stinging his eyes. “He had to work.”
Xavier sighed in the way that said, This is why I don’t tell you big kid things, because you don’t understand.
“I know. It’s fine, Roman.”
It’s true their parents weren’t around much, but when he couldn’t count on them, Roman had Xavier, and the two brothers spent the hot, summer days hanging out with each other until the day arrived when Xavier had to leave for his second year.
That’s when everything changed.
That winter, their reunion was a quieter one as they picked up Xavier from Blue Ridge. It was like he was suddenly less interested in the amazing things he got to do at school. He was still Xavier, but he was also somehow different. Not in some weird body snatchers kind of way, but more like a piece of his personality had been chipped apart.
Over the holiday, Xavier only wanted to spend his free time locked inside his bedroom. It didn’t matter how often Roman banged on his door. Pleaded for his brother to play with him. Begged him!
When Xavier finally ripped his bedroom door open and shoved him, Roman smashed the back of his head against the wall. It shocked him more than anything, and Roman felt like a baby for crying in his mom’s lap on the living room couch.
Xavier was getting older, she told him, and needed his privacy, but Roman didn’t understand. It didn’t make sense why Xavier didn’t want to spend time with him anymore. Maybe if their dad was around, he’d know how to cheer Xavier up, but only a few days after Christmas, he was gone for another long movie shoot.
When Xavier left again, it was the first time they didn’t hug goodbye, and Roman’s heart stung the whole ride back. This time there were no letters from either of them.
Things hit their worst point after Xavier finished 7th grade. Their house was a ghost town, and the only time Roman ever saw Xavier was sometimes at breakfast or dinner or whenever they passed each other in the hallway. Without Xavier to hang out with, summer break meant nothing, and boredom was gnawing at him like a dog on a bone.
During an early June afternoon, Roman had reached peak boredom and wanted to swim in the pool. Already in his swim trunks, he draped his towel across his shoulder as he left his bedroom. Roman’s curiosity was piqued when he saw Xavier’s door cracked open.
Xavier never left his door open anymore. Roman knew it was possible his brother was somewhere else in the house, but a groan from inside squashed that theory, and Roman pressed his eye to the crack.
The last time he’d seen Xavier naked was a few years ago when they still bathed together. Now, Roman’s mouth hung open when he saw how Xavier’s mood swings weren’t the only thing different about him lately.
With the sunlight streaming through Xavier’s window, Roman could just make out the darker blonde bush of hair around the base of Xavier’s penis as his brother panted in short, sharp gasps. He lay spread eagle on the mattress as he tugged and twisted his hard dick.
Roman wasn’t stupid. He was nearly in middle school. He knew his brother was doing sex, or at least, some form of it. Xavier’s moans made it sound like he was in pain, but if he was, why would he keep hurting himself? Instead, the moaning increased as his toes curled and his hips lifted off the mattress.
All at once, Xavier tensed, peering down his torso as several sharp bursts of something white spewed from the end of his penis. Whatever it was plopped on his abs with a wet splat before his brother’s sweaty head hit the pillow.
Shocked to feel a tightness in his swim trunks, Roman reached down and squeezed the tiny nail poking up inside his shorts. It happened to him sometimes, but he’d never made a connection with being hard and what Xavier was doing to himself. As Roman leaned closer, the towel slipped from his shoulder and crumpled to the floor.
Roman’s body turned to ice. When Xavier’s head whipped his way, Roman barely had enough time to step back before Xavier stomped forward, his still-hard dick wagging away, and slammed the door shut with the loudest bang Roman ever heard.
Xavier didn’t talk to him for three days after that.
The next weekend, however, Xavier wanted to play games on the Playstation with him. Roman worried if he questioned it, the one chance he had at having his brother back would be squashed like a bug. For a few hours, it was like old times: playing, talking, joking around, but then Xavier set his controller down and asked if Roman wanted to swim. When Roman came back, ready to go, Xavier was still dressed.
“I was waiting for you,” his brother said in his scratchy, raspy voice, yet another sign of getting older, like his short hairs.
“Waiting for me?” Roman asked, but Xavier said nothing as he removed his shirt and stripped from his shorts and underwear.
Seeing his brother’s junk up close, there was way more hair than Roman would have guessed. They were only slightly darker than the faint, pale color of Xavier’s eyebrows. Roman thought it was awesome the way they scrunched around the base of his penis, accentuated by his brother’s smooth, bronze skin. Xavier’s penis stretched and lifted from his drooping balls until its veiny stalk twitched outward a thin five inches. It looked enormous.
“You can touch it if you want,” Xavier said in a low, breathy voice.
He was about to reach out, when something caught Roman’s eye. All along Xavier’s hip were little crescent moons indenting his skin.
“What are those?” Roman asked and pointed.
“Don’t worry about it,” Xavier said as he shielded his hip. “It’s nothing.”
Roman didn’t want to disappoint his brother, and he was curious about the steely hardness in front of him, so he ignored the marks and carefully reached out until his fingers brushed against the velvety skin of Xavier’s erection. It was hot and spongy, different than when he poked and flicked his own tiny rod. Interested to see the reaction he would get, Roman curled his fingers around his brother’s boner and moved his arm like Xavier did a few days before.
Xavier’s eyes fluttered closed as he released a breathy moan, and Roman was encouraged to continue, especially when Xavier gently ran his fingers through Roman’s soft hair. The touch made the hairs on Roman’s neck stand, and he shivered as his own boner perked up against the inner lining of his swimsuit.
After a couple minutes, his brother started panting before his body clenched and he shot the white stuff again. When he did, his face grimaced, and Xavier’s fingers clutched too tightly around his hair.
“Let go,” Roman whined, wincing as more of the white liquid pulsed on his hand before spilling to the floor.
After that, Xavier didn’t want to swim, his demeanor suddenly shifting as he demanded Roman leave his room. When the door shut in his face, Roman was left alone to clean the sticky, drippy remnants on his hand. Swimming didn’t seem so great to him anymore either.
As Roman’s summer before Blue Ridge went on, Xavier went through the same cycles: warming up to Roman, getting what he wanted, and shunning him right after.
Why he let Xavier use him, Roman couldn’t answer. Maybe he wanted so desperately to get his brother’s love and affection back that he was willing to do anything it took to feel connected again. But he hated his brother’s mood swings. Hated the way he lashed out at him and hurt him. Why couldn’t Xavier just be nice like he used to be?
Fast forward to that morning when they were ready to load their bags for Blue Ridge, and Roman wasn’t really shocked when Xavier sucker punched him in the ribs. Hurt, of course, but not surprised.
Xavier loomed over him as Roman clutched his stomach and gasped for air on the bedroom floor.
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from me at Blue Ridge.”
Roman awoke from his dream with a startled gasp. His forehead was damp with sweat as his heart jackhammered inside his chest. His sweaty, sleeveless t-shirt stuck to his chest, and it took Roman several seconds to remember he was in the safety of his dorm room.
He steadied his breath and flopped back against the pillow. From his dresser, the clock read 4:37, far too early to wake up or start the day. Still, he couldn’t sleep.
Roman tossed the comforter back to let the cool air kiss his skin.
A whisper across the room made him jump.
“Roman, are you okay?” Fielding asked.
“I’m fine,” he whispered. “Just a bad dream.”
There was a long quiet that followed, so long that Roman thought Fielding might have gone back to sleep, but eventually he asked, “Who’s Xavier?”
Roman swore in his head. There was no way to know what he let slip while dreaming. And how could Roman even begin to explain?
“No one,” Roman answered. “Don’t worry about it.”
Another long pause.
“Okay…” Fielding finally said.
It was better to lie than face the truth. That was how it had to be. It hurt less that way.
With a sigh, Roman closed his eyes and tried to focus on the better days, back when Xavier still loved Roman as much as Roman loved him.
End Chapter 4
Copyright 2023 – Levi Holland
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