The Certainty Principle
The light went out. She sat in the dark with her hand over her eyes as though there was still something to shut out. She'd neglected to close the door completely; by the dim glow from the hallway, the massed objects in the room were only tangible ghosts of themselves: student's desks and student's chairs. She should be sitting there, she thought, catching a glimpse of them as she swiveled in her seat. No, but here she sat, in the teacher's chair, in her teacher's chair, and she wondered what she's looked like to him, from here, all this time.
She hid her eyes to the palm of her hand once more.
There was no telling how long she sat there before a slight movement, a tiny noise alerted her to the fact that she wasn't alone. He was just a dark shape when she looked up, standing there just inside the doorway with hands behind him, leaning against the wall; the light showed only a thin sliver-moon slice of dark hair, the beginnings of sideburns, and for a moment he could almost have been anyone. But he wasn't, of course— she quashed the leap of her heart with a healthy dose of realism. Charlie would still be in the lecture room, halfway through his presentation, caught up in a magnificent obsession of numbers and statistics. She doubted that he'd even noticed she left.
Someone obviously had, however, and he was out of place in the classroom.
"Anything wrong?" she said, breathing carefully.
"I should be asking you that," said the spectre, and she half-smiled. He stepped forward towards her, walking with a measured tread, and perched himself on the side of the desk, tilting his head to look at her. In this light, his familiar profile showed clearly, as distinctive as his brother's yet, despite the fact that the eye searched automatically for familial correspondence, completely unlike.
"I'm fine," she said, drawing her hands down her face, leaning back in the chair and folding her arms. "I'm just— I'm fine." She smiled at him, and when the dim light showed him smile back, she took in a deeper breath and concentrated on other things. It wasn't a leap in her heart— not like with Charlie, who appeared stubbornly if unknowingly dedicated to doing rather cliched things to her— but it was a slow burn that approached her from a great distance, like a fire at the edges of her aura that became embers and sparks traveling up and down her arms and legs, creating a flush on her skin. It wasn't Charlie, who was expected, somehow, and safe; it was Don, who was unpredictable and who, apparently without the slightest bit of effort, perpetrated a series of silent yet devastating attacks on her body and mind.
Sometimes she was horribly afraid that he knew it, too.
He rubbed his hands together absently and leaned towards her. "Anything going on I need to know about?"
She shook her head, but it was more a reaction to his persistence, not an answer. "You know, if it had been anyone else who'd left, you would have assumed they got bored with all those numbers. Yet its me— and you're convinced there's something going on."
"Of course," said Don with a grin. "I know better than to expect a simple explanation where you're involved."
She made a wry face at him. "Thanks."
"Seriously though, Amita— if there's anything you want to talk about— anything I can help with."
"I appreciate that." She nodded, and when he made no move to leave, made up her mind of a sudden and leaned forward. "Its Charlie. You know that."
"I had a hunch," admitted Charlie's older brother.
"You know how he is— you know— look, I've dedicated a lot of my time and effort to my studies."
"Of course you have," he soothed. "You're very intelligent. Charlie says you're one of the most dedicated and brightest people he's ever met."
"But I'm not like Charlie. I don't— I don't know how to be that, to let things— to let an obsession take over you the way he does. Lets face it, when Charlie opens his eyes, everything he sees is an equation. Everything's numbers. I like that he sees the deeper, more complicated beauty of things, but sometimes I wish he could see the surface as well." She finished in a rush and sat staring at her hands, folded on the desk a few inches away from Don, who took a deep breath.
"He sees the surface of some things," he assured her quietly, and smiled gently. "It would take a very stupid man to fail to see how beautiful you are, for instance, and Charlie is anything but stupid. He hasn't missed you."
She looked up at him then, and he, who was adept at reading expressions from years spent developing the talent, went on hurriedly, "So you're just thinking of things like that in the middle of a lecture, you get overwhelmed, and come sit in a dark classroom to clear your head? Or were you thinking he'd follow you?"
"No," she admitted. "I didn't expect anyone to follow me. And especially not Charlie." She was looking at her hands again. "He didn't— all evening, Don, he didn't look at me once. He's preoccupied, I know, but still— I wish he'd pay me some attention, Don. At least give me some indication of how he—"
She broke off and wiped at her eyes. Don looked at her in consternation, leaned forward and drew her hand away from her face.
"Hey— hey! Listen, you know perfectly well how Charlie feels about you. Everyone knows it, its written all over his face. Every time he looks at you—" He paused, and while she caught her breath, all she was aware of was his finger tracing a careful line from her temple to her chin, fingertip following the errant path of tears. He took in breath but couldn't go on.
"I used to know," she said softly. "I used to be sure. I didn't think— I don't think I took him for granted. He's too— he's wonderful, Don, you know how great he is. Maybe all my confidence is undermined by the fact that I'm not positive I could ever deserve him."
"I know how my brother is," said Don sharply. "And I know how you are, Amita— I know how wonderful you are. You're great, you're intelligent, and beautiful, and quick and funny and—"
That was all it took to make her burst into tears. It wasn't just uncertainty about herself— but she couldn't very well tell Don the truth. How could she be worth Charlie when she felt like this about his brother? That's what it was, though. And that horror that Don knew was compounded as he leaned towards her.
She closed her eyes.
Everything was feel.
He slid off the desk and to his knees at her side, hands on either side of her face, and talked to her softly. There was a roaring in her ears and she didn't know what he said; everything was still sensation, and as her sobs quieted, she felt that burning draw closer and wasn't taken by surprise to open her eyes and see him so close, just there, eyes carefully unreadable, face calculatedly blank, lips still moving, now soundlessly. He was doing his best to look like a man without purpose, but even a man with years and years of training in the FBI has a moment of truth.
She could bring it on him.
She leaned that last tiny bit forward, put her lips to his. He whispered the last bit of silent invocation— her name— upon her lips, and they held for a minute in shared breath before the moment came.
His hands slid back into her hair and he tilted her head, bringing her forward, straightened his back and let go of everything, everyone else. Her hair fell past his fingers and spilled onto his shoulders, his neck, a curtain that cut them off from the world for far too brief a time. She brought her hands up to cover his, pulled them down and around till she was cradled in his arms and was, for the first time in a long time, held.
The presentation closed with a demonstration of Ankhburgher's Principle of Certainty, which could be used to literally count chickens before they were hatched. Charlie took a bow to confused applause, smiling and formulating a plan for a Math-For-Dummies lecture circuit. He was tired of getting blank stares.
For the nth time he searched the audience for Amita, but all he found was the cool gaze of his older brother, watching him, still and unmoving amidst the dispersing crowd.
Are we going to tell him?
A pertinent question, and one that wasn't answered. It was up to him— it was up to her— it was up to fate and whatever turned out to be right.
"It doesn't mean much to you?" she suggested.
"It was dark," he said. "I admit that. But whether or not you could see the look in my eyes, honestly— you couldn't tell what it meant, what it means to me?"
She had to be silent then, and contemplate that for every action there was an equal and opposite, and that Don, who would do anything for his brother, found her as unpredictable and beguiling as she found him.
He just fought it harder.
A few minutes in the dark had changed everything and nothing, made her more aware of being and breathing. But it was nothing tangible; she had nothing to show for it except a constant replay in her mind and knowledge in his eyes. All there was now was a certainty of uncertainty; and that's all there ever had been to begin with.