A quick announcement before today’s chapter: I created a Twitter profile, @zillahwrites, to share when a new blog post is live, as well as writing articles I find interesting and behind-the-scenes stuff. I’d love if you followed me. 😊
Also, I’m so excited because a story I’ve been co-writing with Dizzy for months is finally finished! It’s a crossover with her wonderful Teardrop Lake Resort Seminar Series, and you can read it here. (Just a note, there are major spoilers for Of Churros and Anger Management.)
“Aren’t you supposed to be the one who comes up with the brilliant plans, Z?” I asked, frowning.
He slouched in his desk chair and crossed his arms over his chest with a heavy sigh. “Yeeeesss, I am, and it’s soooooo frustrating. That kid foils the every single strategy I’ve got. Put him in charge of fighting ISIS. They’d give up within a day, I swear.”
I rolled my eyes. “Stop sulking. You can’t get your way with everything.”
“So what’s the use being a Top?” he asked, and stuck his tongue out. Then he straightened. “Seriously, though, babe, I’m desperate for suggestions here, and you’ve always been better at getting him to open up. What do you think?”
“I don’t think I’m better,” I said, remembering my semi-disastrous last string of emails with Bradley. “I’m just less pressure, and I think he needs more pressure now, not less.”
“I’m worried if I give him more, he’ll shut down completely. Can you just try getting him to talk to you? Meanwhile, I’ll go directly to the source: Myrick. Whatever the hell happened on that cruise, I need to know one way or another.”
“Do you think Myrick approached him about… y’know, a relationship?”
Zain shook his head. “He’s too cautious to go straight for it like that. But maybe he tried to make friends and it went wrong somehow. We all know how easy that is with Platypus.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll write him again and see if he answers.” I had no idea what I’d say, though.
Hi. I’m so sorry I didn’t write more this summer. Time slipped away from me, I guess. How was your leave?
Chewing my lower lip, I read it again. Should I add more? Tell him how my summer went, maybe? I added my last name to the closing, then deleted it. Too formal. Stop overthinking, just send it! You’ll be late for your very first class of the semester if you delay anymore. Quint had already departed for work, and I was supposed to leave at the same time as him. I closed my eyes and hit send.
The message replayed in my head as I got off my bed. Yeah, it’s good enough. It’ll have to be, won’t it?
I’d almost reached the apartment door when Theo’s voice broke into my worried thoughts. “I said have a good day.”
He sounded irritated. Flushing, I spun to face him sitting at his keyboard. “Sorry. I was… spaced out, I guess.” I didn’t want to get into the situation with Bradley right then. “Thanks.”
“Uh-huh,” he said, and went back to playing.
Oh, merde, he was really mad at me! “Um. I didn’t mean to be rude, I swear. Je suis très désolé.”
A discordant note sounded as he let his hands drop off the keys and looked at me again. “I know. I’m sorry, too. Didn’t get enough sleep last night. You should leave so you aren’t late.”
“Yeah, I should,” I agreed. “Are… we okay, though?”
“Fine.” He smiled, but it looked strained. “Go on.”
I put my shoes on and left as quietly as possible, trying not to disturb him more.
Between classes and studio work, I was out of the apartment most of the day. Theo and Jagger weren’t home when I came back to make dinner. I unloaded my groceries and started mise en place: setting up and prepping everything to begin cooking.
Quint arrived first. Smiling as he hung up his coat, he said, “Hello, mon chaton. How was your first day?”
I shrugged one shoulder and continued mixing grated carrots with the other ingredients using my hands. “Okay so far. I have the evening class still, at seven.”
“Oh, yes, that’s right.” He shut the pantry after putting his shoes away and asked, “Will you be able to finish dinner and eat before you leave? I can take over cooking duties tonight, if needed.”
“It’s a quick recipe,” I said. “I’ll be done in about fifteen minutes.”
He glanced at his watch and nodded before picking up his briefcase and carrying it to the master bedroom.
A few seconds later, the doorknob jiggled again. I pulled my hands out of the bowl and went to rinse them in the sink so I could unlock it for Theo, but the deadbolt slid open as I took a step towards it.
He came in with Jagger by his side, saw me, and said, “Oh, thanks for the help.”
“I– s-sorry,” I stammered a little, blinking. It felt like I just stepped on a branch I expected to hold my weight, only to hear a crack. I tried to point to the bowl to show why I couldn’t come right away, but he was already focused on unclipping Jagger’s leash.
The dog rushed to me as soon as he was free, with his tail wagging like mad. Then he spotted Quint walking into the living room, so he bounded to him instead. Quint bent and rubbed him behind the ear. “Yes, you’re a good boy.” Turning his attention to Theo, who was now putting his shoes away, he asked, “How was your day, angel?”
“Fan-fucking-tastic!” Theo snapped, banging the pantry door shut.
Jagger and I both jumped. Quint straightened up to his very imposing full height and said, calmly, “I’m sorry to hear it didn’t go well. Would you like to talk about it, or would you like to stand in the corner until you’ve curbed that attitude?”
I would’ve retreated quietly to my bedroom if they hadn’t both been standing in my path. As it was, my gaze dropped to the bowl of grated carrot, so I didn’t see their faces in the couple of seconds’ silence that followed. Then Theo muttered, “I need to use the bathroom,” and went down the hallway.
Cautiously, I glanced at Quint.
“It’s alright, mon chaton,” he said. “Keep cooking, please. I don’t want dinner to be delayed.”
So I started to form the mix into fritters to be fried. Meanwhile, he stood at the end of the hallway—not exactly blocking it off from the living room, but close enough that Theo would have to walk right by him to pass—and crossed his arms over his chest as he looked down it, waiting.
My heart skipped when Theo reappeared. I don’t know how he got the nerve to even come to face his husband instead of locking himself in the bathroom. Though he did, I noticed, stand just out of Quint’s reach. Glowering, he said, “Everything’s gone to shit today. I didn’t hear back on a gig I was expecting, the recording studio double-booked my time slot so I couldn’t finish the vocals of a track I’m working on, and my website crashed. I was just at Zeg’s seeing if she could fix it. Not that it matters if I don’t have music or shows to advertise on the fucking thing. So excuse me if I’m not feeling very friendly right now, okay?”
Quint nodded. “That does sound like a terrible day, and I’m sorry. However, it does not excuse your current tone, or taking it out on us.” He looked briefly back over his shoulder to me. My cheeks heated up. I wished he’d leave me out of it. “Do I do that to you?” he asked Theo.
“No, you’re Mr. Perfect.”
I flinched. Part of me wanted to pull out the frying pan so I could turn around and face the stove, but I also didn’t want to draw more attention to myself with the noise. I stayed frozen where I was. So did Quint, for a moment. Then he said, “I see we’re going with the second option after all. To the corner, please.”
Theo went, and stood with his hands balled into fists and his ears going red. All my insides squirmed with secondhand embarrassment for him. I almost didn’t notice Quint walking towards me until he was in the kitchen squeezing my shoulder.
“No need to worry,” he said, quietly. “Would you like me to set the table?”
I nodded. He gave me a kiss on the forehead before starting.
Theo stayed in the corner until after I’d done my test and insulin and Qunt and I were sitting down. Quint folded his hands together under his chin and looked beyond me. “Are you ready to apologize, young man?”
“…Yes, sir,” said Theo, softly wobegone.
“Then you may turn to face me. I’d like eye contact, please.”
I studied the fritters and salad on my plate closely as I heard, “I’m sorry, sir. I shouldn’t have acted that way.”
“Thank you,” said Quint, and then, to my surprise, “Seb, turn around, please, so Theo can apologize to you as well.”
“Oh! It’s okay,” I said, breaking off my study of the food to look up. “I don’t mind.”
Quint’s eyebrow rose, and my stomach flipped. “You minded very much,” he said. “Theo’s actions made you uncomfortable, loathe as you are to admit it, and he owes you an apology. Turn, please.”
I didn’t point out that accepting the apology was going to make me uncomfortable, too. Zain would call that uncomfortableness ‘growing pains.’ Slowly, I twisted in my chair and made myself meet Theo’s shamefaced gaze from across the room.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You really didn’t deserve me snapping at you.”
Wanting to raise his spirits, I said, “That’s alright. You had a bad day, and on top of not getting enough sleep.”
Very mildly, Quint asked, “Not enough sleep?”
I could’ve bitten my tongue off. Theo’s head ducked. Neither of us said anything.
“Theodore, how much sleep did you get last night?”
“Uh… about six hours?” he said to his sock feet.
“What happened to the other two?”
“I woke up around one,” Theo admitted, “and couldn’t fall back asleep until after three.”
“Was there any particular reason you didn’t wake me after fifteen minutes, as is our rule?”
Theo shrugged. “…Dunno.”
“I see.” Quint finally unfolded his hands and picked up his fork. “Come sit down and eat, please,” he said, nodding to Theo’s chair. “The sooner you’ve finished, the sooner you can get ready for bed.”
“Quint!” Theo said, head coming up indignantly. He also stomped his foot, but it didn’t make much noise with his socks on.
“No arguments, young man,” said Quint, with a level of sternness I don’t think I’ve ever heard directed at me. My gut clenched. “You are in desperate need of an early bedtime, and today’s setbacks will seem more manageable in the morning. You have to the count of three to be sitting and eating. One.”
His Brat gave a disgruntled, wordless sound.
It seemed Theo darted across the room to his chair in the blink of an eye. He snatched up a fritter just when Quint would have said ‘three.’
“Thank you,” Quint told him, evenly. Then he transferred his attention to me. “Mon chaton, eat please, or you’ll be late for your class.”
“Oui, monsieur,” I mumbled, starting on my salad.
We ate silently. A calm sort of silence from Quint, but not from me. Theo took tiny bites and chewed each mouthful at least twenty times before swallowing. He hadn’t even touched his salad by the time I cleared my plate. Thankfully, I had to leave then.
I went to retrieve my bag from my room, and when I came back out, Quint was waiting for me by the door. He watched me slip on my sandals before folding me into a hug.
“It’s alright, mon chaton,” he said against my temple, quiet enough for his husband not to hear from the table. “Theo and I have been through this many times before. We both know exactly what we’re doing.” Pulling back, he caught my eyes and smiled a little. “It’s his version of giving me the pink kitten plushie. Understand?”
After a surprised moment’s thought, I nodded.
“Does that make you feel better?”
“A little,” I said, truthfully. Some of the tension eased, though I didn’t understand why they had to draw it out so much if it really was that simple. Zain tried to never let me linger this long in the build-up. But what were they supposed to do with you sitting there?
“Good,” said Quint. “Enjoy your class, and don’t worry about us.”
He gave me another forehead kiss before I left.
“This course is organized chronologically, beginning with the Industrial and French Revolutions, but it is far more than a history course,” my professor said, pacing in front of us as the stack of syllabuses was handed around the room, slowly making its way to me in the back. “We will explore key political, social, and intellectual developments leading to the bases of our present-day society, in a global context.”
She turned to the whiteboard and picked up a marker. As she continued to speak, she started writing out some of the words. “Focus will be on reading and thinking critically, as shown by responses in essays, in class discussions, and in presentations and debates. D-E-B-A-T-E-S.”
Each letter hit me like a blow.
“These,” she said, stepping back to point the marker at the huge, imposing words across the board, “are what your final grade will be based on.” And then she wrote numbers next to each.
Class Discussions 10%
Presentations and Debates 50%
“A detailed breakdown of the weighting for each assignment is found on page two of the syllabus. Does everyone have a copy?”
Someone whistled softly on my left. I looked over and saw the girl sitting next to me was holding out the stack of copies for me to take, waving it a little like she’d been trying to get my attention. “Sorry,” I whispered. My hand shook as I took it and peeled one off the top before passing it on.
“Ah… good,” said my professor, as the last person received theirs. “Turn to page two, please”
I was already flipping past it, to the schedules for each week. Today’s just had Overview and video, followed by a title. Next week listed readings. The week after that….
Presentation: Napoleonic Era/Industrial Revolution (topic to be assigned, minimum length 10 minutes)
And just three weeks after that, a debate, and another presentation the month after (minimum length 15 minutes).
It felt like my blood sugar had plummeted by fifty points. My professor was explaining how each of these things would make up a certain percentage of my final grade, but I couldn’t pay attention.
How do you talk for fifteen minutes straight? Or even ten minutes?? I thought. I can’t! I’ll have a panic attack in front of the entire class!
“Hey, you alright?” whispered the same girl who had whistled.
I closed my eyes tightly and nodded. I was having to concentrate very hard on not hyperventilating into an attack there and then. She didn’t say anything else, yet I could feel her eyes on me. “S-sorry,” I said, reaching blindly for my bag underneath the desk. “Need a bathroom.”
Thank the gods I’d sat far enough back that I could slip out relatively unnoticed. I found the nearest bathroom and shut myself in the handicapped stall. Zain’s number was pulled up before I thought, And tell him what? ‘Hey, your neurotic Brat can’t handle simple assignments so turns out I’m gonna fail this class and not have enough credits when I transfer to MICA, so let’s just call off the whole moving thing’?
And it wasn’t like he could do anything to fix it, either. All I would accomplish was making him feel helpless. He’d been getting enough of that from Bradley.
I put my phone away, sat down on the toilet, and tried to meditate. It didn’t work, really, but after a few minutes the threat of a panic attack faded somewhat, to lurk in the back of my brain rather than stampeding through like a frightened horse.
Reading the words Presentations and Debates 50% on the whiteboard would spook it again, though. I couldn’t return to the classroom. I snuck through the empty halls until I was out on the sidewalk and, with guilt twisting inside me, headed home.
I completely forgot about how I’d left Quint and Theo. It didn’t occur to me until I had the apartment door halfway open and heard an unmistakable series of cracks, interspersed with Theo sobbing out, “Oww-ww-w, p-pleaasse!”
I slammed the door shut again. My face burned as I stared at the number tacked neatly to the wood on the hallway side, my heart racing a mile a minute. Merde, did I really just do that?