Note: I’ve also added the emails Platt and Seb sent after Plebes No More as a comment to that story.
“Seb? Theo said you’ve been in here all day. How are you feeling?”
I look up at him with just my eyes. My head stays on my pillow, cheek mashed into it so it hides half my face. “Don’t know.”
Quint frowns and steps fully into the room. He sits on the edge of the bed. “No?”
Shrugging, I roll onto my side. I don’t even care that he’s looking down at my sketchbook, open beside me. The page is full of half-finished doodles. None worth the effort to complete. I try to think of any feeling word at all, but nothing fits. The best is, “Itchy.”
Zain would understand. I glanced at the calendar on the wall, which hasn’t changed since the last time. He’s still on a boat going up the coast somewhere, cut off from communication. Still won’t be here for days.
“How have your blood sugars been?”
“On target.” The same idea occurred to me, which is why I’ve been testing more often today, but the results offer no explanation for the sluggishness or restlessness simultaneously eating away at my insides like some kind of hungry parasite.
“Hm,” he says again, studying me. “Well, I’m about to start making dinner, and I’d like you to come out and spend some time with us, alright?”
I don’t want to. I know I’ll be lousy company, and I’ve been avoiding Theo for the same reason. Quint’s harder to avoid, though. I nod, and when he stands to go back out, I follow him. There’s really no point in bringing my sketchbook—drawing has felt like fighting with a stubborn goat all day—but I take it with me to look like I’m doing something. Maybe it’ll trick my brain into having an interest.
Theo grins as I sit down in the arm chair and pull my knees up in front of my chest. “Seb, wanna see the new routine Jagger and I have been working on? He’s got some new tricks. Watch!”
He launches into the song I’ve been hearing through the wall since mid-morning, and Jagger starts prancing around his feet. A few of the dog’s moves I recognize from what he does when he’s ‘doing yoga’ with me. It’s cute, like all their routines. At the end, though, when I say, “Nice,” Theo’s face falls a little.
“It’s just a start,” he says. “We’re still working on it.”
“It was good,” I say, but I still sound only mildly enthusiastic. I can’t help it. He looks almost hurt, and I feel terrible.
Before I can try to fix it, Quint speaks from the kitchen. “Come here, angel.”
Theo goes to him. I can’t hear what the Top says then, and I avert my eyes when he gives his husband a kiss. Standing, I start for my bedroom. Removing myself from social situations until this fogginess leaves me is the only responsible thing to do.
“Seb, stay out here, please,” Quint says. “We’ll be eating soon.”
I look over my shoulder, but more at the counter between us than at him. “I’m not very hungry. You can put mine in the fridge. I’ll have it later.” And then I take another step towards the hall.
The fog clears in a flash, leaving only chills in its wake. Cautiously, I glance back again.
Quint is pointing at the bar stool closest to him. “Sit down,” he says, completely calm.
I can’t explain why I don’t. Or why I hear myself saying, “I’m just getting a book from my room.”
“Alright,” he says, taking a towel from one of the cupboard doors and wiping his hands on it. “I’ll go with you.”
Behind him, Theo looks like he suddenly doesn’t know who I am. I’m not sure I do, either. Doing what Quint says would be so simple, except I don’t want to, just like I haven’t wanted to draw or read or hang out with Theo or do anything else for this whole frustrating, mind-numbing day. The itchiness is strong enough inside my skin now to make me squirm as Quint approaches.
He takes my elbow, turns me, and moves his hand to my upper back to steer me ahead of him into my room. Once inside, he shuts the door behind us and sits on the edge of my bed. I gulp. His face, though, is compassionate instead of stern. “Can you explain what’s the matter, mon chaton?”
Why is he doing that? I don’t deserve it. I basically told him ‘no’ just now. Twice. And I still can’t bring myself to make eye contact. My gaze lands instead on the pink kitten plushie, sitting on my nightstand like it has for weeks. Quint follows the look. He nods and reaches for my pants’ drawstring.
Without thinking, I step back out of his reach. He has to stand for a moment to get a grip on the fabric. His other hand delivers a sound swat. I don’t dare try to fight him to take my own pants down, and he’s got them undone and around my knees in moments. Then he strips my underwear off my butt, too, and pushes firmly on my back so I bend over his thigh. He barely takes the time to pin my legs before he starts. It all happens so fast, stealing my breath and making it impossible to cry out at the first few stinging smacks. I squirm again, harder, and feel his arm tighten around my waist to tuck me against his torso.
It feels satisfying to have something physical to struggle with at last. I grunt and kick. Fighting seems to take the edge off the itch. When he redoubles his efforts on my upper thighs, the pain quickly does away with the rest. My body collapses as I begin to sob. Muscles ache all over me, from the top of my head down to my calves, and heartbeats pulse in my ears.
He swats twice more, then lifts me up to sit in his lap. The wool of his pants prickles my red skin, but I don’t care that much. Hiccuping, I wipe at tears until he catches my hand and starts rocking gently back and forth with his palm cupped over my head so I have no choice but to lay it against him and listen to his murmurs through his chest. My eyes fall close as my breathing evens out.
The first recognizable words I hear are, “Feeling better?”
“Mm-hm,” I admit, blushing, and then, with an echo of vexation, “I still can’t explain what’s the matter.”
“I think you’re missing Zain,” he says.
I mutter, “I’m always missing Zain.”
“Yes,” he agrees, still rocking, “but you haven’t been able to speak to him for over a week now. It’s been nearly a year since you’ve had to go this long, from what he told me. You’ve also lost the routine of school, and I’m sure you’re eager for his leave to start, and already thinking about finding a house to buy with your parents, as well as your plans for next year, but at the moment you can’t make progress on any of that. You’re in a holding pattern without much to distract yourself. It’s natural to be restless and out of sorts. I’m going to give you a list of things to occupy your time with when you’re not sure what else to do, alright?”
What he says makes a lot of sense and fits completely, but… “It’s more that I didn’t feel like doing anything.”
He stops the gentle swaying and looks down, catching my eyes at last. “These are not going to be optional tasks, so whether you’d like to or not won’t be a factor. Understood?”
“Oui, monsieur,” I say as my stomach flips over.
“Thank you.” Putting me on my feet, he dresses me again before getting up himself and saying, “C’mon, let’s wash your face.”
It’s when the cool cloth is pressed over my eyes as I stand in front of him by the bathroom sink that I manage to say, “I didn’t mean to hurt Theo’s feelings earlier.”
“I know, mon chaton. That wasn’t your fault.” He lowers the washcloth and pauses, seeming to consider his words. “Have you ever heard the phrase ‘damning with faint praise’?”
“Theo is more familiar with it than he ought to be, and as a result, he’s overly sensitive to comments that appear that way, especially from people he cares about.”
The things Theo has mentioned about his father come to mind. I duck my head.
Quint catches my chin and makes me look up again. “I’m only telling you this as something to keep in mind, alright? I know it’s not what you meant to do, and so does he.”
“D’accord,” I say, not entirely believing that last part.
Yet when we go out into the living room, Theo smiles at me and keeps bobbing along with some music I can’t hear playing from the headphones he’s wearing.
“Okay?” he asks as he dances. “Back to your normal, freakishly well-behaved self?”
I nod and sit where Quint is pointing—the same bar stool as earlier. Meanwhile, he rounds the peninsula and joins his husband, who tries to get him to join his gyrations.
“No,” Quint says, laughing a little as he pushes him off. “Remove those, please. We’re spending time together.”
Theo pretends he can’t hear for a moment, but then takes the headphones off. “Song’s over, anyway,” he says. “I only put them on so I wouldn’t, uh, overhear.”
I flush, and Quint changes the subject to one I can join in with a lot more easily. Especially with the fog and itch both gone.
Seb’s To-Do List
- Sculpt something in Play-Doh (I’ll buy you some)
- Go to the Met and take pictures of as many different types of non-mythical animals as you can find
- Take a bubble bath
- Meet me for a picnic lunch at Inwood Hill Park
- Visit Zeggy with Theo and play with the kids
- Walk in a part of the city you’ve never been (use this website: http://www.walkingoffthebigapple.com/p/nyc-self-guided-walks-by-area.html)
- Invent a board game for all of us to play, drawing the board yourself
- Create a new recipe