He had long ago lost contact with his mother and his siblings. He had barely known his older sister; by the time he had begun high school, she was out of college and away. His older brother had been the handsome, athletic one in the family; he had been "tough" where Jonathan was not. To be beaten up by one's own brother eventually became little different than being assaulted constantly at school.
So there was really no one to tell when he prepared for graduation, magna cum laude, from Gotham University. He had no idea if any of his family was still alive, much less in the city; the last time he had spoken with his mother had been her good luck gift of $50 after he had been accepted to college on a full-ride scholarship.
He didn't need her. He didn't need anyone.
He had made some friends in college, though none of them could be called close. The teasing had merely changed directions. Stung throughout high school by the epithets of Freak and Dirty, it was the adult Crane's strict professionalism that now earned him jibes—not always unkindly meant, he admitted.
"Lighten up, Jon; you make me positively depressed brooding around this place with that expression."
Jonathan Crane had specified upon accepting his scholarship that he would have to live on campus in the dormitories, but he had insisted on not sharing a room with another student. Visions too potent to be ignored had run through his brain: being bullied by an oafish jock if not outright beaten. They had matched him up with a roommate anyway.
Hugh Wardley had single-handedly restored Crane's faith in mankind; as a species, they were redeemed. Hugh was tall and burly, blonde and attractive, and could have beaten Crane to a pulp at any time. Instead, from their first meeting, Hugh had been convivial but neither pitying nor crude. To Crane's immense relief, he did not pry, he did not force Crane to go to parties and he did not bring girls into their bedroom. He treated Crane with little deference, and Crane basked in the feeling that, to Hugh, he was just like everybody else.
Crane removed his glasses and rubbed the hollows under his eyes. "I can't lighten up, Hugh. It's just not in my nature."
"Oh, that's right. Mr. Gloom and Doom."
Crane cracked a smile and then bent over his psychology study notes. "You should be studying, too, you know. If you get anything less than a ninety on your chemistry test—"
"Aww man," said Hugh, popping some vending machine candies into his open mouth. "That test isn't until Thursday!" He crumpled the candy wrapper into a ball and tossed it in the wastebasket. "Guess you're the only one in this school who works harder than me."
Crane smiled out the corner of his mouth and inclined his head. He heard the left bed creak as Hugh threw himself onto it. "So," he said brightly. "What are you working on?"
Crane flipped to the next page of his two-pound psychology text, then opened the library-bound thesis titled The Psychological Effects of Positive Reinforcement. "Just a paper. Psychology and thought processes. You wouldn't be interested."
Hugh laughed, and Crane turned back to look at him. He was paging through a Popular Science magazine. "Which class is this for? Developmental psych?"
Crane said nothing, turning back to his book stiffly.
"Jon . . ." Hugh's voice rose with annoyance and curiosity. "This is for a class, isn't it?" Crane blinked, anger rising almost before he could give it a name. He bit back a snide reply.
"There's nothing wrong in getting started a little early on papers for scholarly journals," he said in what he hoped was an even voice. "Do you know they pay your way to conferences? Hotel fees, plane trips, everything?"
Hugh shrugged. "If conferences are your thing. Me, I'd rather play with my chemistry set." He fired off a wicked look. Crane knew he was only half-joking; he was a Chemistry-Biology major. "Man, what time is it?"
Crane sighed in relief, the awkward situation diffused by Hugh's calm. He glanced at his wristwatch. "A few minutes after two."
Hugh yawned loudly. "Well, I think I'm going to get ready for bed. I've got a nine o'clock class."
Crane smirked; his first class was at eight. Still, Hugh had never kept him up and had always respected his personal space. As Hugh got off the bed and dragged his bag of toiletries from the bedside table, Crane marked his place in the book and stood up to stretch. As he cracked his neck, he felt the scratch of stubble on his cheeks. He shrugged and resumed his seat. He would shave later. He had to get this paper done. He gathered his books and notebooks and rebuttoned the top of his shirt. The third floor lounge would still be open this late. At least there were tables and light. That was all he needed.
Hugh reentered, carrying his t-shirt and jeans over an arm. He was wearing black boxers with red printed chilies on them. "The room is all yours," Crane said dryly.
Hugh threw his clothes onto the nightstand next to the bed. "What ? You're not going to bed?"
Crane shook his head. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Whatever," said Hugh, shrugging and shaking his head.
Crane turned off the light as he went. The third floor was lit dingily though the walk to the lounge was short. Crane heard some soft giggling from one of the rooms. The lounge door came open with a loud creak. The room smelled strangely, as if something had gotten overcooked in the microwave set along the wall. Despite the pale lighting and bad smell, Crane was grateful for the silence and the calm. Studying with Hugh was not a problem, as he generally kept quiet and focused. But sometimes, even the cheery voice of his roommate grated on Crane.
He set up his books on one of the six low tables in the room, flicking crumbs off as he took a seat on the rickety chair, "Jenny + Todd" carved into its plastic frame. He resumed reading. About two pages into the sixth chapter, he removed his glasses. "Dammit," he muttered. He didn't want to admit to anyone that he was exhausted, that he would like to sneak back into the dark room he shared with Hugh and, without undressing, fall asleep in the soft folds of his bed. He checked his watch. 2:40. He would rest his eyes for a minute. Just one . . .
The next thing he knew, he was looking up into the blotchy red and white, dusted with gold, of Hugh's unshaven face.
Crane jumped out of his chair. "Whoa, there," Hugh said, leaning down to pick up Crane's papers, scattered all over the floor when Crane accidentally sent them flying.
"Wh-What time is it?"
Hugh was wearing a knotted blue bathrobe over his boxers. "Six-thirty. Don't worry, plenty of time to get to class."
Crane checked the room, trying to figure out where four hours had gone. He wasn't prepared—the day couldn't start yet! "I must have fallen asleep," he said with resentment.
"Yup. There's a puddle of drool on the table you might want to clean up."
Crane looked back in alarm and wiped the wet spot with his sleeve. "Thanks," he said stiffly, picking up his books. He gazed quizzically at Hugh. "Why are you up so early?"
"Someone's alarm clock woke me."
Crane noticed no resentment, only a self-deprecating smile—though Hugh's eyes were circled in black, he wasn't angry that Crane's alarm had woken him. "Sorry," Crane muttered.
"No problem," said Hugh. "Gives me time to study for that test before breakfast. You wanna come?"
Crane was cleaning his glasses on his shirt. "What?"
"Do you want to get breakfast before class? It's Tuesday; they're serving Bavarian sausage with the secret sauce."
Crane shook his head. "No, thanks." He moved for the door.
"Why not?" Crane stiffened, somehow feeling bad to have to turn Hugh down.
"I'm not hungry," he lied. "Besides, I've got to get my stuff ready." He rubbed his chin. "I have to shave."
"Jon. How many times have you snuck in here and fallen asleep?"
Crane was silent, looking guiltily down at his scuffed leather shoe.
Hugh gave an incredulous smile. "In three years, I can't remember a time I've seen you in your own bed. You always go to sleep after me and wake up before me." Crane moved back unconsciously, not meeting Hugh's eyes. "Is there—?"
"I appreciate your concern, but it really—"
"Is there some reason you won't sleep in the room? I'd hate to think it had something to do with me."
Crane's glance shot up. Hugh was no longer teasing; he looked slightly guilty. "You don't understand," said Crane, his fists involuntarily clenching. "You can't understand . . ."
"Jonathan Ignatius Crane!"
He knew his mother was angry, as it was the only time she bothered to use his full name. He quickly thrust the book he had been reading under his pillow. A listless breeze blew the thin curtains in the window above him; being in the lower bunk of a rickety metal bed, he felt almost none of the air. The oppressive July heat of the city was unbearable. Rain had not yet broken, and the humidity was almost as uncomfortable as the temperature. He would have slept in the top bunk, belonging to his older brother Larry, but if Larry came home and found him there—a bloody nose, at least.
His mother slammed the door. She looked down at him disapprovingly. "Why is this light still on, young man?" She pointed to the low glow of the ceiling bulb. "You were supposed to be asleep an hour ago."
"Mom," the ten-year-old Crane said, "I couldn't sleep. I was just—"
A melodramatic shriek escaped Mother's lips. "Jonathan! What are you wearing?"
Crane looked down, unfazed. He was wearing a pair of purple and red dinosaur underwear.
"Are we some kind of savages here? Why aren't you dressed?"
Crane crossed his arms over his chest. "It's hot, Mom." He looked up toward the broken ceiling fan. "At school we have air conditioning . . ."
"Now look here," said Mother, hands on hips. "Your mother is respectably dressed, even though it's hot." Mother was indeed wearing a satin negligée, with a worn pink terry cloth robe. By the looks of it, she was sweating as much as Jonathan was.
"What if there was a fire? What would people think, if you had to run out, half-naked like that?"
She held up a silencing hand, shuffling toward his cracked wooden dresser. She rummaged through a drawer until she held up a pair of cotton pajamas, patterned in plaid with the initials JC clumsily embroidered on the left breast. The smell of dust and moth balls filled the room.
"Don't make me wear that," Crane blurted.
"Why not?" Mother's eyes grew wide and livid. "Your Aunt Connie made those pajamas especially for you! She went to a lot of trouble. You told me your birthday that you would wear them!"
Crane shifted uncomfortably, sweat collecting on his upper lip. "They're itchy and too tight. I don't like them."
Mother strode forward and seized him by the waist, giving his backside a hard slap. "Your aunt made those for you! You had better wear them, or—"
Crane jerked out of Mother's grasp, falling back into bed. His eyes welled with tears. "Why?"
"I'm not discussing this!" Mother snapped, wiping her sweaty hand on her robe. "Let me see you put those on."
Crane winced, sniffing and smearing the tears across his forearm. "Mom, please—"
"Put them on!" Mother hollered. "Honestly, Jonathan, you're impossible sometimes!"
Grudgingly Jonathan slipped the shirt over his head and pulled on the pants. They were too tight; the pants ended above his ankles. Mother smiled. "That's a good boy. Now go to sleep."
She turned off the light and closed the door. Jonathan lay on top of his covers, still as he could possibly be. His hair was soaked with sweat, and his eyes burned.
It was the first time he was certain he hated his mother.
"Jon . . . did you hear what I said?"
Crane stepped back, shivering at the memory. Hugh was looking at him questioningly. "I've got to get ready for class." But he did not move. He wrapped his arms around himself, holding his chest tightly.
"I've got an idea." Hugh put a hand on Crane's shoulder. Crane shrunk back instinctively. No one ever touched him without the intent to hurt, to maim. "I'm not going to ask you anything—it's your business. But you're graduating from college, Jon, magna cum laude, and you're not even twenty yet. Go to the store and buy yourself some pajamas, okay? Ones that you like, that you'll want to wear. You owe it to yourself."
Crane felt anger, shame, and gratitude well up inside him. Hugh didn't know—how could he presume to lecture him on—? It's a good idea, he thought. He was going to graduate school, and would soon be a professional with a job and an apartment of his own. It wouldn't do to sleep in his clothes at his desk; he would have a reputation to uphold. Besides, he couldn't let a childhood trauma have sway over him for the rest of his life—he was going to be a psychiatrist, he was going to listen to other people's problems.
He looked up. "Thank you, I will."
He tried to hide his nervousness upon entering the department store. Shopping for clothes was another entry on the long list of things he did not enjoy. As he strode across the ground floor, cool blue eyes vacant to the passerby, his heart was pounding.
This is ridiculous, he thought. What am I doing here?
He had not spent the $50 his mother had given him three years before. It was in his pocket. He had decided this would be the most appropriate use for it.
"May I help you find something, sir?"
He looked down and saw a small, plump woman, her blonde hair fading into grey. Her beige-colored nametag said Annie.
He cleared his throat, working the muscles of his jaw. He couldn't quite manage a smile. "Yes, I'm looking for pajamas."
Annie looked up at him quizzically, then her face became a mask of professionalism. "Right this way, sir."
He followed her bustling figure past pressed suits, racks of socks, polo shirts and button-down flannels. Somewhere between Isotoner slippers and rows of clean white Fruit of the Loom, she stopped. She turned back to him and asked, "These are for you, sir?"
He stared at her coldly, biting the edge of his lip. "Yes."
"Very good," said Annie, taking a turn down an aisle. Crane found himself facing a mannequin wearing a pair of flannel long johns. "We have a selection here," said Annie cheerily, sweeping from the long johns to several thick, monogrammed robes.
"I'm just looking for something simple."
Annie looked back at him, her glance appraising. Crane matched her gaze, his eyes glittering malevolently. He dared her to say something disparaging. "What size are you? Small?" He nodded. She indicated a folded pair of red-striped pajamas. "We have these in small. These also."
She handed him a folded pile of plaid. "No," he snapped. "I don't want these."
She stared at him. She moved on. "There are these." She handed him a pair of chamois pajamas, dyed a deep blue. He examined the lapels; they were wider than most he had seen, almost like those of a smoking jacket. Simple, slightly elegant. He glanced at the price tag; and in his price range, too.
Something behind the saleswoman caught his eye. He reached his hand out absently and came into contact with black silk, smooth and yielding under his fingers. The softness was unimaginable, tingly on his fingertips . . .
"They match your eyes." Annie broke him out of his half-daze. She was still holding the blue chamois pajamas. Crane swallowed and let his hand drop from the silk.
"Yes," he said humorlessly. "I'll take them."
He tried to forget his new purchase that Saturday afternoon, as he worked rigorously, studying silently in the library and then in his dorm room. Somehow he felt it was indecent to attribute so much importance to a piece of cloth. But around three a.m., with Hugh still out, Crane carefully crept to the bathroom to brush his teeth—and came back to the room in the brand-new pajamas.
When he reentered the room, Hugh was lying face down on his bed. Crane could tell he wasn't asleep, but his whole posture communicated exhaustion. Without wanting to, Crane wondered if Hugh had been out with his girlfriend, Megan.
Hugh lifted his head, and Crane froze. He swallowed and neatly put his toothbrush and toothpaste away, dropped his neatly folded clothes in the dirty clothes hamper. "Nice, I like them," Hugh said sleepily.
Crane was rooted to the spot. Part of him was angry, certain that Hugh was being insincere. He's mocking you, said a dark voice. He's just laughing at you in your pretty new clothes. So fastidious, Jonathan, you little faggot.
"Don't say I'm a faggot." The words were out almost before he knew it. He clenched his fist until it turned white.
Hugh sat up, clearly shocked. "Jon . . .? You know I don't think that." He grimaced. "That's a nasty word, man."
Deeply ashamed, Crane looked at his bare, skeletal feet. He tried to examine his feelings rationally: plain happiness to finally have a pair of pajamas that he liked; self-conscious to a fault; and now worried he had alienated the only person he could begin to trust. "I—"
"Would you turn out the light, if you're going to bed?"
In darkness, Crane crept into bed and was reassured to hear Hugh's snores.
At six-thirty-one, the fire alarm in the Wittemeyer Boys' Dorm went off. Later it came to light that some drunken prankster had pulled it, but at the time, to many of the residents who had just gone to bed, it didn't much matter.
The first thing Crane heard after the buzzing, ear-piercing alarm was Hugh's curse. The sound of Hugh stumbling was followed by a blinding light. Crane put on his glasses. "Come on," said Hugh, yawning.
Crane put on his slippers and grabbed his keys and wallet, running a hand through his ruffled hair. Hugh followed him down the stairwell after having thrown his dingy robe over his boxers and bare torso. The two of them joined the rest of the boys of Wittemeyer down on the front lawn, avoiding the damp spots in the grass where the sprinklers had pooled. The sun was rising but the air was still cold; a few students on bicycles were riding down the street across from the lawn.
A loud wolf-whistle startled Crane. Two girls on bicycles were loudly whooping at the boys in their various states of undress. The majority were dressed like Hugh was; one skinny kid from the third floor had just managed to throw a towel around his waist as he'd come out of the shower. Crane colored slightly, both embarrassed and relieved to be wearing pajamas.
He heard some giggles, and saw Megan, Hugh's girlfriend, walking by with another girl. Megan was very slender and tall with auburn hair she had dyed to a golden-red. To say she was pretty was an understatement; to say Crane was attracted to her was a secret he would never tell Hugh.
The friend had the same willowy frame, but her proportions were less perfect, her bleached hair less convincing. Megan jogged over to Hugh, wrapping him in her embrace. "What are you doing out here?" she asked.
"There's been a fire, apparently," said Hugh with a smile. "Hi there, Joanna."
"Hi." The other girl stared at Crane. Megan turned to him. "Hi, Jonathan."
"Hi," said Crane.
Joanna burst out laughing, and Hugh and Megan looked at her disapprovingly. "Oh, come on!" she said. "You have to be joking! Who wears things like that? My grandfather does. What does he got to hide, anyway?" Her eyebrows quirked up. "Not much there."
Crane focused on drowning out her mocking laughter; although he had no respect for Joanna, and considered what sadistic methods he could use to shut her up, he wasn't sure this would reflect too well with Hugh.
"I'll see you later," said Hugh coldly, squeezing Megan's hand but locking Joanna with a frosty stare.
Megan looked at Crane impassively, and the girls walked away.
Crane's pajamas were not mentioned again. Hugh had the decency to say nothing about them as the stress of midterms drew near. In fact, they barely spoke, spending long hours in the library or study lounges around campus. Crane's mind was bursting with facts and dates, formulas and chemical compounds, disorders and definitions. It was a relief to change into his pajamas whenever he could no longer postpone sleep, as they were comfortable and soft. He found he slept better when wearing them.
He held his cheap black umbrella over his head, walking through a light drizzle on the way to the mail room. He had been waiting for weeks to hear definitively about the internship at the Sarah Trilby Memorial Facility for Women, where he'd been offered an unprecedented partnership with an important doctor and researcher. Shaking out his umbrella, he moved over to his mailbox.
"You Jonathan Crane?"
He looked up, avoiding the fog on his glasses. The stocky, crew-cut guy at the mail desk was looking at him. "Yes."
The mail desk attendant turned around and pulled out a brown paper package. "This is for you."
Baffled, Crane moved to the mail room window and took the package from the attendant. There was no address on the paper, only his name. "What is this?" he asked.
The boy shrugged. "Dunno."
Crane ran his fingers over the crackling paper. "Where did you get this? There's no address."
Slightly annoyed, Crane inquired, "Is there any other mail for me? A letter, perhaps, from Sarah Trilby—"
"No, that's it," said the mail room attendant, already bent over a comic book.
Crane stood silently for a moment, contemplating the handwriting. For one searing moment he thought it was from his mother. But the handwriting was too spindly, too elegant. He felt strangely nauseous.
He tucked the package under his arm to protect it from the rain and walked to Wittemeyer dorm.
Satisfied that Hugh was nowhere to be found, Crane took a seat at his desk and unwrapped the package. Black silk. He held it up. A pajama top and bottom, practically identical to the one he had almost bought at the department store.
His eyes filled with tears, and he didn't know why. He touched the smooth silk fabric, his hand traveling from the lapels down to a single pocket on the right side. It was so soft . . . he couldn't imagine wearing anything so soft, so caressing against his bare skin . . . He self-consciously placed the fabric against his cheek, rubbing gently; waves of thrilling pleasure moved ecstatically through him.
You disgusting pervert, what are you doing? You pathetic freak! He let the fabric drop from his cheek. What kind of sick joke was this? Who wanted to make such a fool of him? His heart hardened with memories of high school. He had thought college-age students would beyond hurtful, stupid pranks like this one. Who wanted to hurt him so much that they were willing to spend money on silk pajamas? He was suddenly very angry; rage pummeled his temples that he had just stroked with the silk.
There was a preemptory knock on the door, it opened, and Crane heard: "—that's fine. See you tomorrow." Hugh, wrapped in an enormous grey scarf over a Gotham U hooded sweatshirt, entered. "Oh, hey, Jon."
Crane got to his feet, bristling with anger. It was Hugh. Hugh wanted to mock him. Hugh wanted to hurt him. Hugh wasn't his friend. Crane held up the pajama top, his jaw working in a frenzy.
"What's that?" Hugh asked, throwing his backpack onto his bed. "New jammies? I thought you just—"
"Don't play stupid, Hugh; it's futile. I know you better than that."
Hugh stopped removing his books from his bag and looked at Crane, his eyebrows bunching in confusion. "What?"
"How much did you spend on these? How much was my humiliation worth to you?"
"Dude, I've never seen those before in my life. I didn't buy them. Why would I buy you pajamas?" Hugh asked, a smile on his face but an undertone of anger in his voice. "You have your own."
"You don't have to lie," said Crane sharply. "Who else would have bought them for me? Who else knows my size?"
"Your mother, maybe?"
Crane narrowed his cold blue eyes. "My mother hasn't spoken to me in three years. Do you think she'd buy me pajamas?"
"Well, I don't know! It wasn't me, I can promise you that."
"Who did you tell about them? Who did you blab to, that I didn't have the balls to sleep in my underwear like you do?" Crane was shaking now, uncontrollably. "What else have you told your friends?"
"What's your problem?" asked Hugh, getting to his feet. They were the same height, though Crane was a flimsy silhouette compared to Hugh's bulk.
"My problem!" Crane gripped the desk with white knuckles. "What are my problems, Hugh? Am I too weak? Too girly? Am I an ugly scarecrow? Do you delight in telling your friends that I've never invited girls over? Do you tell them I'm some kind of freak?" Crane's pallor was replaced by a heavy blush of furor and embarrassment.
Hugh looked worn, unhappy. "I . . . I don't . . . I can't imagine what you went through, Jon, to make you this paranoid—"
"What!" Crane growled.
Hugh's voice was louder. "—and uncomfortable. You haven't told me, and I'm not going to ask. I'm not the type of person to question my roommate's sexuality, his interests, why he feels guilty, or why he may not have a girlfriend. I thought it would make you feel better to buy something you were obviously denied as a child. No, Jon, I'm not a psychology student, but I understand more than you think."
Crane was silent. He was furiously repressing tears. He knew Hugh was right.
"But for the last time, I'm not out to embarrass you, and I didn't tell anyone about your pajamas. I certainly didn't buy you any." He stuffed his books into his backpack and wrapped up his scarf again. "I'm going to the library."
Crane folded the silk pajamas and hid them under his bed. He went to sleep that night in his clothes.
It was Crane's last class of the day, developmental psych. He had studied for this midterm all day, intending to ace the exam, and had just opened the door to enter the examination room.
He looked up, still smarting from Hugh's outburst, to see Megan in a dark burgundy sweater and a striped scarf walking toward him, holding her books close to her.
"Megan." He didn't especially want to speak to her now. He had tried to be indifferent toward her, but he found her attractive and couldn't master his feelings, even though she was Hugh's girlfriend.
"Do you have a minute?" She had caught up with him, her cheeks flushed and rosy. Her green eyes were thickly lashed.
"No, not really," he said, clearing his throat. "I'm about to take a test—"
"Did you get them? Did you like them?"
Crane froze. "What?"
"The pajamas. I meant it to be a secret but I couldn't wait to know. Hugh didn't say anything, if you'd gotten them or not."
Crane's expression turned dark. He felt queasy. Her pretty smile shimmered before his eyes. "You . . . sent them, then?"
Megan nodded. "You did get them? I'm glad."
Crane looked down at the dirty tile of the hallway. "Why would you give me pajamas?" he asked slowly.
"Well," said Megan, evidently caught a little off-guard, "when I saw you that night—the night the fire alarm went off—I—" She shouldered her backpack as he stared at her with impassive blue eyes. "Well, what Joanna did was so rude. I wanted to make it up to you."
His smile was inhuman, unbelievably cold. "They must have been an expensive purchase. Why spend so much for someone you know so little about?"
Her expression faltered. "I . . . just thought it would be a nice gesture. Hugh said—"
"Hugh said what?" His voice was not a shout, but the potent whisper carried all the power of one. Megan backed up, clearly surprised. Crane suddenly felt a stab of pleasure. She was frightened of him. Let her be afraid.
"Hugh just said that . . ." She looked down, now clearly embarrassed, "that you'd had some hard times growing up, and I thought that—"
"So you pitied me, Megan? Is that what you feel for me? Pity?" He advanced on her, watching her frightened eyes with interest and avarice. She will never want you. Make her suffer. Make her suffer as you have suffered.
Megan backed up. "No, Jonathan, it's not like that."
"What is it like, then?" He saw her caving under the cold weight of his words. He was enjoying seeing her squirm. "How dare you pity me? You have no right." She hugged her books to her chest, cringing in fear. He reveled. "I am sorry to be frank, but I would have preferred your friend Joanna's stupid mockery rather than your simpering, cloying pity." He spat out the last word.
She said nothing. She looked miserable. Her lip trembled. Good. She'll cry. Make her cry. Make her sob!
"If you'll excuse me, I have a test to take." He turned on his heel with a cold sense of triumph. The sensation of power and ecstasy did not wane throughout the test, and he flew through it with fervor and clarity.
With a feeling of exultant satisfaction, Crane climbed up the steps to Wittemeyer dorm. He had performed remarkably on the exam, he was certain. He wasn't as pleased with his behavior toward Megan. What he had said was true: he was not going to tolerate anyone's pity. But he hadn't been sure what was taking over him. It was uncalled-for, the way he had frightened her into a cowering, submissive object. He didn't want to admit that he had felt it due revenge, that she loved Hugh and not him, that he had taken pleasure in making her suffer.
Crane knocked on the door, and hearing no response, entered. He put down his books in the dark room, moving toward the light. He saw Hugh hunched over on his bed, face in his hands. Crane's triumph faded. He felt cold and ashen. "What is it?"
"Megan is dead." Hugh's voice was far away. He wasn't shaking with sobs, but Crane knew tears were pouring out of his eyes.
She was dead? He shivered and his limbs began to tingle madly. "What? How? She can't be!"
Hugh looked up, blowing loudly into a handkerchief. "She was driving to visit her grandmother in the nursing home. She did that every week." Hugh's voice was rough, as if he'd been screaming—or crying—for hours.
Crane fell into a chair. He could no longer stand.
"She wasn't paying attention. She didn't stop at the red light. The car was—" He stopped abruptly. "The police thought she'd been drinking, but I know she wasn't. She never drank. She was a careful driver. Something must have distracted her, something must have been bothering her."
Crane swallowed, whitening to a death-like pallor. He couldn't tell Hugh what he had said to her. Misery filled the pit of his stomach, and he wanted to vomit.
"I was going to ask her to marry me, you know." Hugh stifled a sob. Crane had never seen him cry. "Once we graduated." Crane timidly reached a hand toward Hugh, hesitantly putting it on Hugh's shoulder. He left it there, fidgeting uncomfortably, until Hugh blew hard into his tissue again.
Crane left Hugh in the dorm room and took halting steps until he reached the men's bathroom on the second floor. After making certain there was no one else inside, he locked himself in the gloom of one of the stalls. He braced his long arms against the door. "No." A tear answered, muddying his vision. "No . . ." Another tear.
What are you crying for, you little pussy? She didn't love you, she didn't want you.
"Go away!" Crane shouted. "You killed her, not me!"
She deserved to die.
"She didn't. She was kind. She did something nice for me, and I . . ."
She pitied you. You didn't want her pity. She wanted to coddle you, to use you to make her feel good about herself. You wanted to throw her on your bed and—
"No!" He crossed his forearms over his face and wept. He knew that he could not silence the dark voice in his head. But he could resolve never to feel anything for anyone again. Then no one would get hurt. The dark voice wouldn't be able to hurt anyone . . .
Dr. Jonathan Crane, Director of Arkham Asylum, wore only one kind of pajamas. They were black, and they were silk.
Persuaded by readers and my own insatiable imagination, I decided to write another Crane fic. Go figure. There have been calls for prequels and sequels, and the mind just does not rest. My sincere thanks to Ciaran and the others at CM Fan Forum—you know who you are.