To Live And Let Live
"You ever kissed a girl, Todd?" Neil asked quietly from across his side of the room.
Todd was lying on his back, huddled under his blankets, and he turned his head on the pillow to look across to Neil. Not that he could see him all that well through the darkness; just a vague outline of Neil's body under the covers. Neil had been talking about how head-over-heels Knox was for Chris, which was what randomly prompted that question. Todd was much too shy to ever consider the horrifying idea of asking a girl out, let alone kissing one. Besides which, he was certain that no girl would ever be interested in him, anyway.
Todd felt his face redden. He hated how easily embarrassed about things he was. It made him feel awkward and stupid. "N… No," he just as quietly replied.
"Huh," he heard Neil remark. There was a pause, as though Neil was thinking about this, and then, "Me, neither."
Todd kept his eyes trained across at Neil for a moment before he looked away, up at the ceiling. With how confident Neil came across, Todd had found it surprising that Neil had never kissed a girl, much less dated one. Then again, with a father as strict as Mr. Perry, Todd could see why Neil hadn't, at the same time.
It was as though Neil read his mind. "I think I'll be the fully-qualified doctor my father wants me to become before I ever get the chance to even ask a girl out," Neil said with a distinct tone of bitterness to his voice.
"You… you could probably tag along to one of-of those frat parties Knox gets invited to," Todd suggested timidly.
He heard Neil snort. "Yeah, right. Do you have any idea how angry my father would be if he ever found out I went to one of those things? He'd kill me." Todd heard Neil sigh dejectedly. "He'd probably send me to military school."
Todd turned his head on the pillow to look across to Neil again. He hadn't known Neil a great deal of time, but in the space of time that he had, Todd had grown close to him. The very thought of Neil being taken away and more or less enlisted into military school made Todd's stomach twist in an unpleasant way. Who would he share his room with if Neil ever got taken away? Who'd be his friend and confidante if Neil was no longer there? There were the other boys in the Society, but they weren't Neil.
"Wh- What does it matter if you ever kiss a girl while you're in school, anyway?" Todd asked.
Neil scoffed quietly. "It's yet another thing that I can't have the possibility of experiencing, because of my father."
Todd remained staring across the room at Neil, and he knew by the silence that had fallen between them that Neil was bitterly staring at the ceiling or the wall, brooding over how trapped he felt. Todd hated it when Neil became like that; he always felt useless. He hated Mr. Perry even more for the way that he could cause Neil to be like that without even being a presence in the room, even though Todd knew it was wrong to hate people. People never deserved to be hated, even people like Mr. Perry, but Todd just couldn't help it.
He finally looked away, back up at the ceiling once again, and he sighed. He heard Neil sigh, too. "Do you ever wonder what it's like to kiss a girl, Todd?"
Todd thought about that for a moment, before he nodded. He knew Neil couldn't see his nodding, so he reluctantly said, "Y… Y-yes."
Todd wasn't dare going to mention that there'd been nights, when Neil was asleep, where Todd would kiss the back of his hand, pretending he was kissing a girl. No one in particular; he didn't really know any girls to fantasise about, but he secretly liked to pretend all the same. He'd close his eyes and imagine that the back of his hand was the soft, warm lips of a girl who liked him, and that he was the best kisser in the world, sometimes kissing his hand softly and slowly, and sometimes open-mouthed; a French kiss, he'd heard that kind of kiss was called. Just like sometimes, when he was certain Neil was asleep, he'd touch himself, sometimes rubbing his palm over his penis through his pants, and sometimes pushing his hand into his pants to stroke himself. He'd only ever come once, doing that, and had never pushed himself to that point since, because it was messy and when he'd got up to go to the bathroom to clean himself up, he'd woken Neil, who'd asked him sleepily where he was going. Todd had never been so embarrassed. He'd stolen away to the bathroom, where he shamefully washed up and procrastinated in going back to their room, fearful that Neil knew what he'd done. Of course, Neil was fast asleep when he finally returned the room. Still, he'd decided not to let himself go that far ever again.
"Yeah, me too," Neil wistfully replied. Todd heard him sigh again, followed by the quiet squeaking of bed springs as Neil shifted onto his side. "I wish this stupid school had girls in it. Trust my father to send me to a place where there's no girls. He probably thinks they'd distract me from my studies."
"Well, look… look at Knox," Todd said, turning his head in Neil's direction again. "He doesn't exactly, you know. Focus on anything but Chris."
"Yeah, but at least he can," Neil protested. "He was allowed to go to Chet Danburry's house, he was allowed to go to that party. Even if my father knew someone like the Danburrys there's no way he'd let me go to a frat party like the one Chris invited Knox to."
Todd opened his mouth to reason against Neil's statement, but he stopped himself and decided that Neil was probably right. He closed his mouth and looked away. He didn't really know what to say, come to think of it. Once again, he felt useless, and if he'd chosen to argue against Neil's point, Neil probably would've grown indignant.
"I just wish I could experience something like that," Neil continued. "Kissing a girl. Like the way the poets describe it. Like how they describe love."
"Wh… Wh-why does it matter?" Todd found himself replying to Neil, and the moment the words were out of his mouth Todd wished he'd not said anything at all.
He heard the abrupt rumple of sheets and the bedsprings squeaking loudly as Neil suddenly pushed himself up to a near-sitting position. Todd could picture Neil staring across at him in disbelief.
"Why does it matter?" Neil echoed, incredulously. "Todd, does anything that Mr. Keating teach us mean nothing to you?"
"Well, y-- Neil, I--"
"Don't you ever wonder what it is that these poets were writing about?"
Todd felt his face burning again, and the way in which Neil was more or less reprimanding him was making Todd feel defensive. ""Well, o-of course I do, but they're just poems, Neil."
From the silence that followed, Todd knew Neil was looking at him with his jaw clenched tight, with a defiant look on his face. "What about sucking the marrow out of life, Todd? What about going into the woods to live deliberately? What about what Thoreau said about coming to die and discovering that he'd not lived? What about the Dead Poets Society?"
"It's just girls you're talking about kissing, Neil, not about anything Thoreau said, or… o-or about sucking the m-marrow out of life," Todd indignantly replied, though he was rapidly backing down, not wanting this to turn into a confrontation any more than it already had. He hated fights, especially with Neil.
"I'm talking about wanting to experience things that everybody experiences, except me. Because my father even controls my life experiences, too."
If Neil wasn't keeping his voice hushed, Todd knew Neil would've been near-yelling by now. He could hear the anger and frustration in Neil's words, and Todd found himself huddling in against himself protectively. He didn't want to discuss this anymore. He didn't say anything in response.
"God, Todd," Neil exclaimed in exasperation, and from the loud rumple of the blankets, Todd could tell that Neil had thrown the blankets back. That was followed by another squeak of the bed springs, and when Todd glanced at Neil again he saw that Neil was sitting on the edge of the bed, obviously brooding in frustration.
Todd decided to try and diffuse the situation. "N… N-Neil," he began gingerly.
"It's not just about wanting to kiss a girl, Todd," Neil cut in; Todd heard Neil's voice cracking slightly. "It's about wishing I had control over my own life. I… I don't have that. I'll never have that. Is it so wrong to want to just experience something that everyone is allowed to experience?"
Well. Todd couldn't argue with that. He wasn't going to argue with Neil, either. He shook his head. "No," he replied quietly.
He heard Neil sigh, followed by a brief, wry laugh. "It's so unfair. I can't even be what I want to be. I want to act, and if it wasn't for this play at Henley Hall…"
Todd could see from the outline of Neil's face that Neil was looking pensively at the window. Todd timidly shifted on the bed until he'd hefted himself up onto his elbow. "Neil," he said softly.
Neil shook his head and looked down to his hands. "I'm sick of feeling so trapped," he murmured.
Todd didn't know what to say. He looked away, that feeling of uselessness greater than ever. He didn't know if he should go over to Neil and sit next to him, whether to lie back down and let Neil get over this himself, or what. He wasn't good at this kind of thing. That's what Charlie was best for -- he'd always have something funny or smart to say that would bring Neil out of his mirth until Neil seemed to push whatever was troubling him aside and got on with it.
He heard the bed springs creaking again, and Todd assumed that Neil had decided to get back into bed. Todd started to lie back down, when a large shadow suddenly loomed over him, and he looked up quickly, realising Neil was standing beside his bed. He was just able to make out Neil's face looking back down at him.
Neil sighed and turned, sitting himself down on the edge of the bed. Todd had lain back down, drawing the blankets up near his chin uncertainly. "Todd, I'm sorry."
Todd frowned. "For… for what?"
"For…" Neil let out a breath and reached a hand up to the back of his neck. He rubbed it for a moment and then dropped his hand back to his lap. "For going off at you like that."
"It's okay," Todd quickly replied.
Neil shook his head, though he didn't say anything in return. Todd watched him looking down at his hands again. They stayed like that in silence for what felt, to Todd, like ages. Todd felt too uncertain to say anything and Neil seemed to be in deep thought.
Neil finally looked at Todd. He wasn't sure if it was because of how little he could see in the darkness, but Neil's face looked expressionless; impossible to read. "I just wish, for once in my life, that I could experience something that I want to experience," he said quietly.
"There's… there's the-the Dead Poets Society," Todd suggested.
Neil shrugged. "I know. But… sometimes that's not enough. I want to know what those poets are talking about." He paused, looking back down to his hands again. "And on stage: I mean, how can I act, if I don't know what things feel like? If I've never lived to know what life is like?"
Todd didn't have a clue. He didn't know what it felt like to act. Maybe it felt like the way it felt when Mr. Keating had forced him to go up in front of the class to give that barbaric yawp -- terrifying, yet… accomplished once he'd been forced past his fear. But he didn't know, which made Todd realise that Neil's point had a lot of merit. He gave an awkward, clueless shrug.
"It's not like I'm ever going to be a real actor," Neil continued sullenly. Todd was immediately taken by surprise -- it was uncharacteristic of Neil to let himself become so glum over something he loved so much, something like acting.
Todd frowned again. "You don't know that," he replied. He hated how unconvincing he sounded.
Neil gave a small, ironic smile. "Yeah, I do." The smile slowly faded and Todd found Neil looking at him again, studying his eyes even though the room was dark. "Don't you ever wonder what it feels like to suck the marrow out of life, Todd? Carpe diem?"
Todd thought about that for a moment before he hesitantly nodded. "Yeah. 'Course," he said quietly.
He watched Neil watching him for a moment. Todd had no idea what Neil was thinking, and he certainly had no idea what Neil was doing when he realised Neil was suddenly stretching his hand out towards him, to his face.
"Wh…" Todd darted his eyes sharply to Neil's hand. He felt Neil's palm, warm and soft, lightly smooth over his cheek before Neil's hand was then reaching up to push Todd's hair away from his forehead. Todd felt a surge of panic welling in him. "Wh-what are you doing, Neil?"
Neil didn't answer him; he was running his fingers through Todd's hair before his hand was back on Todd's cheek again, his thumb stroking over his cheekbone. In a way it reminded Todd of the way his mother used to caress his cheek when he was younger, when she'd tuck him into bed at night, except it didn't feel like that at all, at the same time. It felt… tender, gentle, like Neil was deliberately trying to learn the way Todd's cheek fitted into the palm of his hand.
Neil was stroking Todd's cheek with the back of his knuckles now; slow, almost affectionate strokes. "I just want to know what it feels like," Neil murmured.
"What what feels like?" Todd replied, his eyes wide and his voice tense with uncertainty.
Neil reached his other hand out and braced it against Todd's pillow, and then started to lean in towards him, his palm now cupping Todd's cheek.
"Neil?" Todd tried again. He was starting to recoil from Neil, trying to urge himself back against the mattress and pillows as if the mattress and the pillow would swallow him whole to protect him from whatever Neil was aiming to do.
"Shh," Neil shushed. He was so close now that Todd could feel Neil's breath against his chin and lips. "It's okay, Todd."
Todd wasn't convinced it was okay at all. His hands had found purchase on the blankets and he fisted them nervously, staring up at Neil with obvious fear. He felt Neil's hand smoothing over his cheek again and then back into his hair, pushing it back until Neil had managed to slip his hand to the back of Todd's skull, cupping it.
"N…" Todd attempted, though his throat felt so tight, he could barely speak.
"Shh." Neil's lips brushed against his, and Todd's first reaction was to turn his head away sharply. But before he could, Neil's mouth was firmly but gently pressing against Todd's mouth. His lips were soft and warm, nothing like the way the back of Todd's hand felt. Nothing like the way Todd imagined lips would feel, and in spite of all those nights he'd spent kissing the back of his hand, he didn't know what to do now. The rushing, roaring sound of his pulse in his ears was blocking out his ability to think of anything but the fact that Neil's mouth was against his.
It seemed Neil didn't quite know what to do, either, because he uncertainly moved his lips as if trying to work out if that's what he was supposed to do, and then stopped. Neil pulled back and Todd licked his lips, suddenly realising that he was breathing quickly as he stared up at Neil in bewilderment.
Neil leaned back down again and their lips met, Neil gaining a small bit of confidence in the way he carefully tried to engage Todd into the kiss, and Todd losing himself enough in the kiss to let his eyes fall shut. This second kiss was, at first, awkward and uncertain, though as Neil gently kneaded his lips against Todd's, Todd found himself instinctually letting his lips mimic Neil's and soon the kiss had merged into something long and slow, regardless of the fact that it was a little clumsy and uncoordinated.
The kiss naturally tapered off and when Neil pulled back, Todd realised he was lightly gripping the back of Neil's head, while Neil's hand was still gripping the back of Todd's. They stared at each other for a moment, Todd breathing heavily while Neil swallowed thickly. Todd didn't know what to say, much less do; he hesitantly let Neil's head go and dropped his hand back down to the mattress just as Neil pulled away from him to sit upright. Todd shifted nervously on the bed, realising that he was hard. He felt instantly embarrassed and ashamed, definitely confused, and though he was under the safety of the covers, he had this urge to cover himself up and hide his arousal from Neil.
Neil must've picked up that Todd felt uncomfortable, because he said quietly, "Hey. Todd, it's okay." Todd just nodded quickly, though he wasn't sure if it was okay. He needed space to regroup himself. Neil seemed to pick that up, too, because he added hesitantly, "Good night, Todd."
"G… Good night," Todd managed in a tight voice.
Neil stretched his hand back out and briefly caressed Todd's cheek again before he stood up and silently made his way back to his own bed. Todd listened to the squeak of the bed springs and the rustle of sheets as Neil climbed in. He was glad for the space. He let out a breath he didn't realise he was holding and burrowed his hands under the covers, one hand instantly moving down to his groin. The ache in his crotch felt frustrating and Todd didn't know what to make of it. He pressed the flat of his palm against his erection and he couldn't help shifting his hips up against his hand, before he lightly squeezed his penis and then let it go reluctantly, trying to will the arousal to ebb away. It didn't help that he could still taste Neil's lips against his, nor could he shake the memory of what Neil's mouth felt like on his.
Todd flinched at Neil's voice, and replied in a quick, nervous voice, "What?"
There was a pause. "You okay?"
"Y-Yeah, I-I'm…" Todd forced himself to take in a deep breath and he let it out slowly. "Yeah," he repeated. "Yeah, I'm okay."
Todd paused to swallow, and then licked his lips. "Yeah."
"Okay." Neil didn't sound convinced. He didn't say anything else, though, which Todd was grateful for. He heard Neil shifting about on the bed, getting comfortable, and when silence had fallen in the room again, Todd focused on calming down. His erection finally subsided, and after a small while he heard Neil had fallen asleep; his breathing was deep and rhythmic.
Todd rolled onto his right side so he was facing the wall, and he sighed as he closed his eyes. Behind his eyelids he could see Neil's face, the way Neil had leaned in and the way their mouths had met. At least Neil got to find out for himself what it felt like to kiss somebody, even if it wasn't a girl. As did Todd and while he wasn't sure why his body reacted the way it did or if that meant anything, one thing he did know was that he liked the kissing. It was… nice. He felt wanted. That was a nice feeling, no matter how scared he'd been at the time.
Todd found himself smiling slightly as he began to slip into sleep.