Title: A Little More Comedy
Summary: have Edgar, will AU.
Notes: This here first chapter is actually the interlude chapter from Eternity in a Pickle Jar. I found that about as soon as I had written it, I wanted keep going on and on in this universe. Solution? This. So. Let's hope I amuse you as much as I amuse myself!
The first time he saw Jimmy, Edgar Vargas had one boy in an arm-lock and another boy curled up, swearing at his feet. He didn't really get a good look at the punk in question until reinforcements came bursting up the stairs with walkie-talkies swinging, and managed to drag the two standing teens far enough apart that violence was no longer an issue. It was then, backing away from one opponent, that Edgar got his first impression of the other. One Jimmy Eurige, restrained by two more teachers, met his gaze for a single moment—all rage and spiked hair and tense, repressed fury.
Edgar was blinded.
They dragged the kid away, and one of Edgar's collegues patted him on the back offering pleased and somewhat surprised complements for the man's quick action. None of it registered, though, because his mind was still staring down the delinquent with the dark, dark eyes.
Who was that kid?
The first thing he did when he got back to his office was send an email out to his friend—to use the term loosely—at the main office. He wanted to know what exactly he'd broken up that morning, and who exactly had been involved. Results proved interesting.
Fight: two against one.
Responding Party: Chad Brighton and Joe Manuel. Senior and junior respectively. History of petty misdemeanors.
Initial Aggressor: Jimmy Eurige, senior. Recently transferred to the academy and in that time accumulated three detentions and a warning for a fight just off school grounds.
Edgar leaned back in his chair, eyes fixed on the photograph. Something about the smattering of freckles and the crow-black spikes of hair had him mesmerized, and he could sense a story behind that forever-frozen expression. Hell if he could name it, but something was pulling him like a magnet and he dearly wanted to know why.
So, when the academy suggested—suggested being a loose term—that it was about time this Jimmy kid got some hands-on therapy, Edgar couldn't even pretend to complain. He simply let Damon know that he'd be busy on Monday evenings from here on out and grabbed a couple more files for some now-legitimate research.
Farther probing proved no less intriguing. His previous schools counted one public and two Christian, which implied that Jimmy had not been sent here for the same reason as most of his peers. Apparently, Mr. and Mrs. Eurige didn't much care about religious affiliation or lack thereof. If Edgar could venture to guess, he'd say that Jimmy's obviously wealthy parents had simply wanted him out of the house for one reason or another, and the Academy of Science was a good boarding school—close enough to drive to if you had time, from their isolated homestead, but far enough away to guarantee no further mingling of the family.
Fingers hovering over the mouse, Edgar debated something with himself. While far be it from him to turn down an interesting subject, that intense feeling of the day before had him still wary. There would be no inspecting of causation—he'd years ago decided against examination of anything internal in case the results were not-so favorable—but the sensation was nonetheless just familiar enough to put him on guard.
Something was afoot.
Edgar had first managed to nab a long-term job at the age of twenty-five, after spending a year as a social worker and four before that helping on and off with the local mental hospital. You could call it a sort of natural nitch, the psychology field, which stemmed from an innate fascination with problems and an equally innate sense of compassion.
He was a natural.
When he was fourteen, his mother's best friend had suffered a psychotic break in the middle of a complicated illicit affair with her boss, sending Madre Vargas down to the hospital with a basket and a paperback on what would come to be a regular trip. Edgar went along that first time, and most times after that, not because he particularly liked Madre's friend but rather because his mother had asked him to.
"Anne's crazy," Edgar had protested, thinking back to one book in particular which he'd finished a week before—The Red Dragon. "She's dangerous. And besides, Madre, you know I don't like her."
Mrs. Vargas had turned around from her jewelry table and looked her son dead in the eye. "I will not have you insulting my friends, Edgar. Anne loves me and she's always been there for me, and now —" she sighed. "Edgar, you take care of the people you love no matter what. Anne needs me now. You're coming along because I'm not leaving you alone in the house, and that's that."
And so Edgar found himself in his first psych ward. What memories remain generally concern the lack of flowers or visitors anywhere, and the hospital scents that seemed to be thinner there than you might expect. Patients mumbling to themselves or staring glassy-eyed at the ceiling were pretty much everywhere, and he remembered thinking that someone should fix them—that surely someone could fix them.
After that, the few empty shelves in the house started filling up with psychology books—everything from Freud's works to old college texts that his dad picked up at a used-book store. When he was eighteen, one of his father's clients hooked him up with a small job at the same psych ward where Anne had landed years before. That job had been hard, emotionally and physically. He remembered that his favorite nurse had left somewhere along the way, after she suffered a back injury holding down a particularly volatile patient. She never did come back.
That was about the same time his mother died. About the same time he started attending church.
If the ward ever taught him anything, it was that he couldn't handle the inevitability in its sterile walls. Edgar wasn't a weak man, but there's only so much a caring person can take before they burn out completely. The patients didn't get better. No one expected them to.
So the young man had stepped away from the profession, sinking back into the world of books. For a long time, the ward had been the only place where he really sank his nails into the world and left a mark, where people knew his name and he knew theirs. The next couple years left him cocooned in the world of literature, paper theories, hypothetical universes. Healing. And after graduation, he got a job as a social worker. That almost killed whatever he'd managed to resurrect after the ward and his mother. One particular memory stood out, of a horribly obese woman in the back of his car, screaming that the seatbelt was killing her baby.
She wasn't pregnant.
It didn't take him long to figure out that his latest job was spiritual suicide. At that point, he sat down and thought about what exactly he could do, to make a difference in the world without wringing himself dry. He couldn't take the final result of mental decay, the end of the line psych wards where the incurable went uncured. He couldn't take the sheer insanity of social work, not without cracking. And then what use would he be?
But maybe… the beginning?
If he could cut into the beginning, where the problems started, he knew he could make a difference. He was good, after all. And he wanted to help; he wanted to do something, something that he could devote his life to. Make a difference. The eyes that had stared at him through hospital windows once upon a time, there was no escaping that. And with such things in mind, Edgar set a number of balls rolling—one of which landed him with a rather unique position at the fanciest school in town.
Academy of Science—the only anti-denominational school Edgar'd ever heard of. That was their hook, the atheist gig, with a liberal dose of boarding school appeal and high academic standards. It was really a fluke that he ended up working there right out of college, mostly owing to a rash of suicides and one panicked man with the stack of resumes. They needed a councilor. In the end, everybody gets lucky at some point during their life and Edgar figured it was about time he got his turn anyways.
So, the office was nice. The class he'd picked up last year—psychology class, of course—was unexpectedly fun, and there was his little side project, and he was making good money all things considered. But.
Something niggled at the back of his head, every so often—a kind of fuzzy nonentity lurking in that place where conscious fades into subconscious mind. It was a lot like feeling empty. He couldn't remember it from before his mother's death, but hey, maybe he'd just forgotten. The memory is a rather unreliable machine. So the sensation caught up with him between classes, drank tea with him after the last bell rang, took up that empty seat in his apartment, sat beside him in church. It rested cold fingers on his chest in the darkness, when he tried to sleep and let reality go. Life was good, other than that, but…
As content as Edgar Vargas was, and as lucky as he had been, the sensation—more of a lack than a something—would not rest. A life without it seemed, by this point, beyond even fantasies. Maybe if he knew what the heck it was or where it came from, but at the time, he was basically clueless.
And so, the most startling thing about his first run-in with Jimmy had been that, at the moment when their eyes met, how notempty everything felt. The change in perception was as if he had been watching life through a widescreen, and suddenly the boy with the eyeliner and the dark, dark eyes came along and flipped it to full screen.
So you can understand if he was curious. And you can understand if he might have wanted, just a little bit, to have that full screen view back again. There was a problem here, a puzzle, and Edgar was good at those.
Edgar was a natural.
Monday arrived bright and tense, for Edgar at least, and he avoided talking with his coworkers for the better part of the day just in case they might let something slip that he didn't want to hear. Apparently Jimmy was free seventh period, which put Edgar in the interesting position of counseling during teaching hours. The appointment was scheduled for half way through the period, meaning that Edgar was duty-honor-compulsion bound to spend every free minute before the kid's arrival cleaning and reexamining papers and generally trying to prepare for whatever might fly his way.
Nothing would have prepared him anyways.
The teen came bursting through his door at ten minutes past two, early, boots pounding on the tile like irritated hammers. He marched down the rows of desks and threw himself into the empty seat across from his new councilor, scowled and threw his boots up on the tabletop. Edgar raised a brow. In the back of his head, he realized his heart rate had just sped up and his vision was a touch fuzzy around the edges- Adrenaline. Interesting.
"What an impressive set of manners you have there," the older man said, pushing the—rather nice—pair of shoes off his desk.
The teen snorted. "Manners are for pussies."
With a quick sleight of hand, Edgar hid the rosary he'd been worrying just before Jimmy burst in. Old habits die hard, and he'd always figured that you should never discard something useful anyway. "Well then," he replied, "allow me to drag you down to my effeminate level. I'm Mr. Vargas—Edgar Vargas. Pleased to meet you."
Jimmy eyed the proffered hand with blatant suspicion. "You already know who I am. Fucking file's on your desk."
The teacher pushed his hand out a little farther. "Psychology lesson for the day: the point of an introduction isn't just to tell me your name; it's to give me a taste test of your personality. The handshake..." he smiled, "...is to make sure you're unarmed."
That must have thrown the kid a bit off kilter, because he tentatively took Edgar's hand and shook. A little jolt passed through the skin, racing back to his central nervous sytem for another good hit of adrenaline. Absolutely fascinating. He had a bit of insight, right then, that he might have taken one step too deep into his own problems, which was a place he'd tried very hard to avoid. Fortunately or unfortunately, there was no backing out now regardless.
"Excellent," the older man murmured. "And now that I'm certain there's nothing sharp in your hands, maybe we can get down to why you're here?"
Body language says a lot more than words do—at that moment, Jimmy's whole body basically folded in on itself. Judging by the crossed arms and legs, this was going to be one tough nut to crack. Something about him reminded Edgar of a dog from his old neighborhood, one of the strays. He'd spent weeks one summer feeding it, slowly gaining its trust, only to have it balk and never return on the day when he finally tried to pet it.
He hoped Jimmy would be a little easier.
"Now, you took on two opponents at once in that fight the other day, so of course I'm obligated to ask you if you have any particular suicidal tendencies. These things have been known to start small."
Jimmy looked at him like he was crazy. "You're just gonna ask me that?"
"That's a no?" Edgar made a note to himself. "You don't strike me as the type."
"What kinda psychiatrist are you?"
Ah, now there's a question. Edgar looked up and caught his guest's eyes. "I am whatever you need me to be. Some people need parents, some people need enemies, some people just need a hand. I'm good at what I do."
It wasn't hard to tell that Jimmy was a little intrigued despite himself.
"So, say they need somethin' you can't give them?"
"Generally, I can. But, I do try to avoid the pharmaceutical venues, and we don't go in for Freudian interpretations around here."
"Sex and violence."
The student laughed out loud—the sound was slightly off,the kind that might raise hairs on your neck with the right background music. "But that's exactly what I need! So how'r you gonna help me out with that?"
Now it was Edgar's turn to scowl. "Fighting is what got you sent here in the first place. I'd venture to say that more of it won't do you any good."
"How 'bout the sex then?" Jimmy pressed, more interested now. "Hook me up with some fine ass? Or…" he half leered over the desk between them, "would you take care of it personal like?"
Edgar picked up his desk-calendar and threw it at Jimmy's head. "Do you comprehend the fact that I'm a teacher?"
"That's not a no!" the boy crowed, leaning forward. "You know what? I bet you're gay. Y' look gay. Your desk is way too neat and you've got a manicure. Ever screw a student?"
Edgar felt his face heat up like a stovetop. "I certainly have not, would not, and will not. Also, I'll thank you not to make inquiries into my personal life unless it concerns your therapy somehow. And I'm not gay," he added as an afterthought.
"Suuuure you aren't. What, don't want anybody to know? I can keep a secret, Mr. Vargas. I'm good at keeping secrets. Does your daddy know? He ask about your girlfriend? Nobody tells their father anythin', yeah? Bet he has no idea."
"Personal inquiries," Edgar repeated, narrowing his eyes. "Anything else you want to ask me, before I send you down to the deputy's office for disrespecting a teacher?"
"Deputy doesn't scare me," Jimmy laughed. "I'm not gonna be like those other kids you work with. 'M not half as easy to read, an' there isn't a fuckin' thing you can do for me anyways."
"Is that so?" Edgar asked. He reached into his bag and pulled out a notepad. "Alright then. Jimmy Eurige, age eighteen. Gay or bisexual, suffering emotional strain, has father issues. Past suicidal thoughts, though none currently."
"What the fuck?" his student demanded, standing up quickly. "Where the hell'd you get that shit?"
"Also, desperate need for acceptance," Edgar added, setting down his pen. He looked up at Jimmy, a sardonic smile on his face. "Do you think I'm wrong?"
"Course you are," the teen answered hotly. "You're a fuckin' quack too."
"Then I'll see you Friday afternoon, and then on Monday. That is, if you want to prove me wrong."
Jimmy looked at him, the picture of a stunned kid. His black eyeliner formed an 'O' around his wide eyes, nicely matching his slack jaw. The teacher packed away his notes and allowed himself a grin, thinking of all the interesting—and doubtlessly annoying—things that were to come. He was looking forward to it. Oh yes, he was looking forward to it.
"I don't know what you need, yet," he remarked, looking up again, "but I assure you that when I find out, you won't say no."
"Uh…" After a second, Jimmy visibly shifted back into his usual asshole-nonchalance. "Whatever. Here's hopin' what I need is a good hard fucking, eh Mr. Vargas? Sure wouldn't say no to that."
As Jimmy strode out the door—where did the boy learn to swish his hips like that?—Edgar decided he was going to need a whole new set of rules for dealing with this particular kid. While that had actually gone quite well, and he was still coming down off the (inexplicable) adrenaline high, there was no doubting that this wasn't going to be like anything he'd experianced before. He was going to need a whole new set of reflexes.
He was also… going to need a better come back than "I'm not gay."
In the teacher's lounge, Tuesday, Edgar had a conversation with Angela. History teachers are an interesting breed, and Angela Fisher happened to be running in that theme—as if the average Academy instructor wasn't strange enough by nature. She was also about the same level of jerk that Edgar had come to expect from the universe.
"So, Edgar," she started, sidling up beside him.
The man made a grab for the sugar, noticing too late how very low the stock was. Angela beat him to it, snatching up the last two packets for her fruit salad—honestly, who put sugar on fruit salad? Edgar stared morosely at his own unsweetened tea.
"I heard you're taking on The Darkness."
Edgar looked up, puzzled. "The what now?"
"The Eurige kid," Angela qualified, pouring sugar over her cantaloupe. "Heard some of his pinhead friends call him that a while back. His car parks next to mine—one of these days, he's gonna scratch the paint and I'm gonna scratch his eyes out."
That was… interesting, Edgar thought. "So you know him."
"Yeah. He's got my sixth period. He isn't stupid, but he's damn near close. Spends the whole time arguing with Clarissa."
"Yeah, her. Think you know what his problem is?"
Obviously, client confidentiality meant nothing to the woman. Though Edgar could imagine that he'd be just as interested in her place—who, after all, could resist the puzzle that was Jimmy? Not to mention, there was a kind of black charisma, something twisted and compelling about the boy with the dark, dark eyes.
"I've only had one meeting with him," the male teacher replied, aloud, "and technically, I'm not allowed to tell you anything he says."
Angela sniffed. "Not like you owe him anything. Kid is a bad influence on the whole damn school, if you ask me. He got into a fight with Brad Olsen."
"The, uh, the one in sewing club?"
"Yes," his coworker replied, moral indignation thick and pungent. "Hate crime, I'm sure of it."
"Er—" Edgar grabbed his cup of bitter tea and headed back for his room, "—well, it was certainly some kind of hate."
But personally, he figured it had a lot more to do with a proclivity for pink polos than sexual preference.
Those polos annoyed him a little too.
Friday afternoon, Edgar was humming the theme to Moonlighting when Jimmy burst in the door and fell into the seat across from him. A confidential file quickly found itself deposited in a random drawer.
"So how come you don't have one of those couch things?" the teen demanded right off, sliding on one fishnet glove.
Edgar shrugged. "Once again, too Freudian. What we do here isn't worth much unless I can see you."
Jimmy kicked back in his chair, managing to look quite at home in someone else's office. "So, I'm guessin' you prefer missionary."
Edgar almost responded with an I'm not evangelist. Then he took a second look at the smirk directed his way and groaned. "You really are a teenage boy, aren't you?"
Holding up his hands, the student replied, "I'm just studying up for when you decide to take me up on my offer."
"Wait, wait," Jimmy pointed a finger, "haven't got there yet." The boy slid forward and leaned across the table, chin resting on his hands. Something amused sparked in his eyes. "So, Teach," he said with absurd formality, "wanna fuck me into the floor?"
"No!" Edgar shouted, exasperated.
"No floor? Fine, mattress then. My place or yours?"
"I'm not going to sleep with you, Jesus Christ!" The older man knocked his patient upside the head with the nearest book. It happened to be a copy of Pride and Prejudice. "What part of 'not gay' and 'ethical code' do you not understand?"
"How about the whole concept?" Jimmy shot back, grinning.
Edgar narrowed his eyes. "You're just doing this to distract me, aren't you?"
"Nah," the younger man responded, his smirk impossible to read, "I'm just a bitch for authority."
Edgar came very close to beating his head against the computer screen. "You're a clever little twit, I'll give you that."
A fleeting, mildly surprised look told him that not many other people would agree.
Monday afternoon, they discussed Jimmy's parents.
"Dad? Yeah, he wasn't too happy when I tried to run away. Or maybe it was 'cause I stole his car? I dunno, I never asked him."
Edgar had a cup of tea in his hands—long island tea, but sweet nonetheless—and a notepad open at his elbow. In practice, he wrote very few notes during an interview, as it tended to stunt the natural flow of conversation and it made interaction feel artificial. Besides, it had been clear since the first day that Jimmy needed a very light touch, very informal. Thus, Edgar put up with all the jabs at his sexuality and the come-ons that usually followed. After a while, the rhythm started to feel natural.
"How far did you get?" Edgar asked, peering over his tea.
"About a town away," Jimmy shrugged, eyeing the cup between him and his councilor. "Ran outta fuckin' gas, if you can believe it. Man, if I'd just remembered to fill'er up before I left, who the Hell knows where I'd be?"
"Lying in a ditch somewhere, no doubt." Edgar took sip of his tea, savoring the faint alcoholic taste as it sapped the tension out of his muscles. It was a Pavlovian response at this point, because his tolerance was far too high for a cup of laced tea to make a difference—the flavor was merely comforting. He'd had a bit of a rough day.
"Yeeeah no. I can fuckin' take care of myself."
"Regardless, there are a number of factors you appear not to have considered. Cash flow being one, and then quickly followed by car breakdowns, sickness, lack of destination, and the high murder count in this part of the state. Also, might I mention the homeless…?"
Jimmy changed the subject. "The hell is in your cup, Mr. Vargas?"
"What, you English or somethin'?"
"My mother was southern. It happens to be a family tradition."
"So's marryin' bimbos," Jimmy replied, jerking a thumb towards himself. "But y' don't see me chasin' blond twats 'round the school."
Edgar ignored the profanity, a task becoming easier all the time. "That's because you're gay, Jimmy."
"Look who the fuck is talkin'," Jimmy spat back. "For your information, I like a good pair of tits as much as the next guy."
"Then why the lack of bimbos?" Edgar inquired, sensing something important.
"Just 'cause it's a family tradition doesn't make it smart. The stepmother proved that well enough for me. So, seriously, that's not tea is it?"
Fair trade was fair trade—and somehow, for all his delinquency, the kid didn't seem like the type to turn somebody in. Maybe Edgar was making a bad call, but he really wanted to trust the teen across from him. Why, he couldn't say, he only knew that he would be almost heartbroken if Jimmy turned out to be less trustworthy than he was guessing.
"It is tea," he muttered, "it's just not all tea."
Jimmy looked a touch impressed. "Look who's breakin' the rules now, Mr. Ethical Code. Gonna let me have some?"
Edgar raised a brow. "You are definitely not legal."
"I'm legal in Mexico," the student protested, making grabby motions.
"We aren't in Mexico, are we?"
"Well, no… but it's frickin' teafor cryin' out loud. B'sides, the moral ground's all the same anyways—if I'm old enough in one geographical location, I oughta be old enough in all of them."
"That's not a bad argument, actually. But you still can't have any."
Fishnetted hands clasped in front of him, Jimmy affected a disturbingly innocent look. "Please, Mr. Vargas? I won't tell no one, you know that."
Edgar looked down at his drink. In actuality, his own father had given him wine when he was fifteen, claiming that it was a Mexican custom—personally, he thought it was just his dad trying to finish off the bottle. But, Edgar had turned out alright, more or less, and it was kind of hypocritical to take the high ground on this one.
"Fine," Edgar sighed, holding out his cup.
Jimmy snatched the thing up and drank the rest, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Well, obviously he wasn't exactly new to the aqua vida, if that was the speed he could drink at. Edgar put a finger on the rim and told his student to slow down, at least try to enjoy the taste. Jimmy gave him a look but complied, staring out the window and into the gray afternoon.
And Edgar kind of hoped that the moment would never end.
Time passed like that for a while. Mondays and Fridays, after school, Edgar slowly picking through the layer upon layer of motivation cupped in Jimmy's skull. He learned about the kid's mother, what little he could remember: she'd been Mr. Eurige's business partner, been there when he broke into the dealership trade back in the early eighties, and owned half the partnership too. She had some old money, enough to make the dream possible back when the two were just friends with some big plans and a passion for cars. Apparently, Mr. Eurige had told that story often, before he met his second wife.
Edgar learned about the student body back home, particularly the way they'd treated his patient—some of the stories came in an ironic wrapping, some of the stories came in tattered tones of repressed fury. The world that Jimmy was born in might have been a nice one, but the world that he grew up in was a pretty ugly place. The sort of place that the Columbine kids might have been familiar with.
And Edgar learned about Carmella, Hansel and Gretel's stepmother come again. He got the low down on everything from her fake nails to her two-face attitude. Hate was thick in every syllable. But though he got the full story of Mr. Eurige and Carmella's first meeting, even the unpleasant Christmases and the car that should have been the kid's, Edgar couldn't help but feel that something was missing. And judging by the way Jimmy danced around certain topics, the subtle fury when he talk about her, it was something big.
Of course, everything was tit for tat—for the mother, Edgar traded stories of his own. He talked about the tea she used to make and the stories she would tell from Cuba, which her mother had told to her. He talked about how bleak everything had been after she died, how he was pretty sure that her years of working with ghetto schools had worn her down to the point of cancer.
For the middle school and high school stories, he traded his own: the one girlfriend he'd had, how everybody pretty much ignored him, how sometimes he kind of wished that people would hate him because it would be better than the goddamn invisibility.
For Carmella, he traded a promise not to talk to anybody about anything, not even the principal. He traded insults, a blind eye, and a whole lot of genuine concern.
Mostly, he was lucky that Jimmy liked to talk about himself so much.
A couple months passed. Somewhere in the middle of November, they both stopped watching the clock. It was a pretense anyways, seeing as Edgar wasn't paid by the hour and neither of them had anywhere to go on a week night. And so, December arrived.
"Look, I'm just saying he's a creep," Damon shot back, exasperation thick in his voice.
He sat in the chair opposite Edgar, tapping a binder with a nervous finger. Edgar had long ago learned to ignore those tics, realizing that they were just a part of the boy's demeanor—always moving, talking, thinking. No patience. That was alright, though, because Edgar had patience enough for them both. And he really liked Damon. A lot. So he could put up with anything for the sake of their unusual friendship.
Right now, though, he was at the edges of that patience. "And I'm just saying that you shouldn't judge people so quickly."
Damon's dark brown finger stopped mid-tap. "I'm not doing anything unreasonable. Have you seen the way he looks at people? It's like he's trying to figure out where to stab you first—or worse, what you'll taste like with barbeque sauce. No joke, Edgar, that guy is bad news."
"He's been through some bad stuff," Edgar replied, turning back to his folders. "He's got a right not to trust people too easily… and he is strange, I'll admit. But he's not dangerous."
Damon stood up, fist clenched around his binder. "I know you like him, for whatever reason, but I don't want you to end up regretting anything. It's your job on the line if he pulls something—and I don't trust him. I don't like the way he looks at me. Jimmy is—"
Edgar and Damon both turned to the doorway, where Jimmy himself was leaning up against the frame. His eyes were narrow, and his arms were crossed over his chest tightly, and there was something disturbing about the way the hall lights pushed against his silhouette. Edgar figured, in the back of his head, that he ought to turn on some lights in the room now.
Damon glared at the boy in the door. "Nothing," he muttered, teeth clenched. With a quick look back to the outside world, the darker boy leaned close and whispered, "Watch your back for godsake, Edgar."
"You don't believe in God," Edgar whispered back, retrieving his good humor.
Damon stood up and tried to smile in return. "Won't stop me from coming by tonight. Five? Heard Rogers is out today."
"Five," Edgar agreed, looking back at the lighter boy in his doorway. Somehow, he was more interested in his new guest than his side project. Odd. Typically, it was the highlight of his week… well, it had been in any case.
Damon walked out as Jimmy walked in, their shoulders bumping in the middle. The glares sparked like flint on flint, sending momentary fires blazing through the room. The exchange made Edgar uneasy, particularly when Jimmy looked back at his nervous teacher and grinned. Damon tossed a suspicious look over his shoulder as he disappeared into the hall.
"Doesn't like me too much," Jimmy noted, tossing himself into the recently vacated seat.
"You don't exactly go out of your way to be likable," Edgar pointed out, still somewhat uncomfortable.
"True 'nough. Still, 's got no business lookin' at me like that. Acts like I killed his fuckin' cat. Anyways, what's this thing tonight?"
Edgar smiled again, a little more at ease now. "A little venture I've got going on the side. It's kind of a secret… it could probably get me fired, too. Damon's been coming by since September, and he's been really cool about the whole thing."
Jimmy grunted at the mention of his fellow student. "Fired, huh?"
Edgar nodded. "It's kind of… religious. Actually a lot religious. You'll understand if I want to keep it under wraps?"
Jimmy looked like he was going to protest, but his expression crumpled in the middle of the first syllable and his hands balled into fists. "Shit," he muttered, "I feel fuckin' terrible."
The older man leaned over his desk, reaching out for the teen's forehead. "Are you sick?"
He batted the hand away. "I dunno, maybe. I'll be fine. What you wanna talk about today?"
Though he wanted to ask why Jimmy had come by if he felt that bad, Edgar kept the question to himself. Partly because he thought he knew the answer, partly because Jimmy would just lie anyways. "Well," he started, hoping to distract his student, "how about you tell me what you were planning when you tried to run away. I'm curious. Where were you going?"
The kid looked interested now, whatever pain was creeping over him forgotten for the moment. The reasons for his attempted escape, escape being Edgar's term, were just vague enough to raise more questions than answers. But the plans? As it turned out, Jimmy had a pretty solid plan for the where and the how.
"So I figured I'd come here, eventually," Jimmy finished, looking over Edgar's shoulder and out the window. "It's a decent big city, and some of the people I new back home knew people up here. Goth network, y'know. Thought I'd get some shitty job an' rent some shitty apartment… eh, maybe live out of my car. Probably the second one, since I wanna be able to leave if I wanna."
"So…" Edgar rested his head in his hands, "you basically ended up just where you wanted to be, but with a decent mattress instead of a car."
A visible wave of pain swept over the kid's features, and then subsided. "Yeah, funny huh? I don't like school too much, but whatever puts some miles between me and Carmella, I'm cool with it."
They talked for a while longer, performing their usual dance around the real subject—Edgar tugging him towards the problem, Jimmy sidestepping into something else. One of these days, Edgar was going to put all the pieces together, but for now all he had was a hand full of ideas. He admitted readily that he was not doing this for the school anymore—if he ever had been—and these days, he was just indulging his curiosity.
And, ah, perhaps enjoying the company.
At four o'clock, Jimmy halted in the middle of a rant about the local age limits and curled into a kind of ball, bent over at the waist. Edgar stood up quickly and made his way around, dropping to the boy's level. Damnit, the nurse left at two-forty. It was four now.
"Jimmy, you live on campus, right?"
The boy groaned an affirmative, and Edgar wrapped one hand around his wrist—then pressed the other to his forehead. Fever. Damnit. It must have just kicked in fully, or he would have felt some of the heat when Jimmy first mentioned feeling ill.
"Can you stand?" Edgar asked, taking away the now uncomfortably warm hand.
"What are your symptoms?" the older man murmured, pulling his student to his feet.
"…Headache… really cold… feel fuckin' disgusting…" Jimmy tightened his grip on Edgar's hand, leaning into the offered shoulder. "Shit. All up on you an' I can't even enjoy it."
"Well, your hormones haven't quite given up so I suppose you can't be too badly off."
They struggled for a moment to balance the new center of gravity and then left the room, making a slow way down the corridor. If Jimmy had just gone back to his room when he started feeling bad, this wouldn't be necessary—but then, that was just typical stubbornness, Edgar supposed. And it was better that he cracked in Edgar's classroom than out with some of his delinquent friends. "Friends" being another loose term, from what he'd gathered.
At the front of the school, Edgar spent a minute fumbling for his set of key before the door flew open in front of them. On the other side, Principal Rogers wore a matching mask of surprise.
"Mr. Rogers!" the teacher exclaimed, automatic. "I thought you were out today!"
"Well I came back," his boss replied, shortly. "Why are you latched onto that student, Mr. Vargas?"
Edgar felt his face go almost as hot as Jimmy's. "Er, he's sick, you see. I'm taking him back to his dorm."
Rogers gave him an 'oh really?' sort of look, but Edgar had pushed his student out the door and scrambled after him before any further questions could be asked. Unfortunately, Edgar had a tendency to look like he was guilty even when he was cleaner than an obsessive compulsive's apartment. He'd give some kind of report later, when he wasn't frazzled and Jimmy wasn't giving him the most amused look he'd ever seen on a sick kid.
Immeasurably later, with some time-outs for the ill party in the middle, the two men wound up on Jimmy's threshold, searching for a key.
"Hide it," Jimmy was muttering, "different place every day. Snot nosed little… fuckers, got in one too many times. Stole my… goddamn text books."
"Is that why you're failing?" Edgar responded, plucking the key triumphantly out of the stair-rail.
The kid gave his best attempt at a laugh. "I'd fail either way…" he sucked in a breath, "…just this way, I got an excuse."
The door swung open easily and Edgar took his student by the arm, pulling him into the dorm carefully. Inside was about what you'd expect from a teenage boy, leaving the details up to the more imaginative. Edgar was more of the clean sort himself, so he ended up dragging Jimmy's now near-useless body back into the bedroom the long way, avoiding the worst patches of mess.
"You need me to stay here?" the older man asked, shoving a mess of clothes and detritus off the bedspread.
"Nuh-uh," the kid managed, crawling into his bed. It was weirdly cute. "Come back sometime… not sick… make it up to you…"
Edgar decided not to take that as some kind of innuendo—though knowing Jimmy, he'd be half dead and still propositioning people. He pulled the covers up over the kid, flashing back to his own teen years. Not pleasant flashbacks, since at this age Edgar had been well on the way to his current orphaned state. When he was eighteen, he'd been tucking his mother into a hospital bed.
"Too bad I… messed up your ev'nin'…" Jimmy muttered, about as close to apologizing as he'd ever been.
"It's alright, it's—" Edgar cut himself off. No, this was not his job. There was no reason he had to help, no obligation; he did it because he wanted to. "It's fine. And hey…" The older man remembered his unexpected meeting with the principal, "…if you hadn't sent us out into the lobby when you did, I wouldn't know Rogers is back in town. Speaking of which, I need to call Damon, let him know we aren't meeting tonight."
Edgar smiled down at the kid, the kid with pale skin turned fever-pink and dark, dark eyes unfocused from pain. He just looked like a child right now. He wasn't a child, not in the usual sense that an eighteen-year-old was, but for now the unwarranted years had melted away.
"Hey, who knows," Edgar whispered, "if it weren't for you, my secret might not be much of a secret come tomorrow."
Outside the bedroom, he looked around at the dorm and at the bizare shape of his life with a sort of amused sigh. He supposed some things just had to be.
Christmas break was just a day away when Jimmy burst in the door to Edgar's office—by this point, the kid and the door were close personal buddies—bitching about his plans for the holiday. Between the curse words, Edgar was able to pick out something about him not wanting to go home. And also, something about popcorn.
Handing his student a cup of tea, Edgar thought back to all the things he'd been told. He thought about the things he hadn't been told. He thought about how Damon was going with his family to New York, how full and impersonal his church got this time of year, how he was going to have to visit his parents' graves before New Years.
Edgar pulled off a sticky note and scribbled a number on it, pressing it into Jimmy's leather-gloved hands.
"My number," he said, almost wistful. "Call me if you get bored… if anything happens with your family. I spend Christmases at home, so I'll get your call."
Jimmy looked at him. The number slipped into his pocket, and after a moment of silence, he managed a 'thanks' and walked back out the door.
It was the first time he'd ever thanked anybody for anything, to Edgar's knowledge.
Jimmy called him almost every day, complaining and talking about how he never thought he'd wish to be back at school but what do you know? And sometimes, Edgar thought he might have heard something in the kid's tone that was shakier than usual… it might have been the connection.
But he was suspicious.
In late January, Jimmy left his backpack in the office one afternoon. Somebody called him on his brand-new cell phone and he went dashing out of the room, calling something about tomorrow over his shoulder.
So, for about ten minutes, Edgar sat in his office, staring at the backpack. What to do with it? He couldn't just leave it in here over the weekend, but he didn't like the idea of leaving it outside Jimmy's door—if they stole his binders, whoever they were, they'd surely steal his bag. The key, he'd been told, was hidden somewhere new every day, so it wasn't like he could get inside the dorm even if he was okay with that scenario.
Then a thought occurred to him.
He'd always had a problem with fixation—a thought occurred to him and then there was nothing to do but roll with it. So, blinded to any other option, Edgar found himself picking up the backpack and heading out to his car.
Jimmy'd told him where he went after school, where all his delinquent, Goth/punk not-friends hung out in their free hours. It was worth a try, he supposed. It wasn't till he was about halfway to the mall that poor Edgar realized he could have just held onto the bag until the next morning to drop it off—and by then, he figured he might as well go through with this plan.
Edgar parked and slid out of his car, troublesome artifact swung over one shoulder. Now, where did he say it was…?
The cluster of kids—the oldest one probably a sophomore in college—tucked into the alley outside a theater hardly noticed Edgar approach, not surprising since they were pretty much focused on the fight going on further down the alley.
The one standing beside Jimmy happened to glance back, spotted the advancing form and elbowed his companion in the ribs.
"Think he wants you," the stranger said, gesturing with a smoking cigarette.
Jimmy turned around, nearly choking when he saw the older man.
"Who's that?" one of the others asked, this one with more studs than a piece of machinery.
Edgar looked from Piercings to Cigarette and back to Jimmy. What colorful company… "You left your stuff back at my place," Edgar explained, cocking a brow. "I thought I might as well try to get it back to you."
"The fuck're you?" demanded Cigarette, sounding more curious than anything else.
"None of your goddamn business," Jimmy cut in, evidently finding his voice again. "Uh, thanks Edgar. Can I talk to you for a sec?" The boy pulled him away from the main group, scowling. Behind them, it sounded like somebody was winning the impromptu battle.
"You should not be here," the student muttered, tugging at his fishnets. "These guys find out you're a teacher, it ain't gonna be pretty. They can barely keep from killin' each other, I don't even wanna think about you an' me."
Edgar glanced back at the motley crew. "They aren't the most social people, I take it."
Jimmy snorted. "You're just lucky you're wearin' black today. I mean, I 'preciate you bringin' me my stuff, yeah? But I got a rep an' you got a nice face. Let's see if we can both keep our assets in order."
Somebody called out to Jimmy- "Hey, you're gonna miss out on the good shit if you don't get your ass back here!"
"Chico's my man," Jimmy explained, apparently talking about Cigarette, "'s got an eye out for my interests. Hold on, man," he called back, "just give me a minute!"
"Dude, talk to your fucktoy later! We got a limited supply!"
Edgar looked at Jimmy. Jimmy looked at Edgar. He'd been here for less than five minutes and already God was dousing him with irony. "Are you going to tell them I'm not gay?"
Jimmy shrugged, a horrible look of amusement lurking in his eye. "Round here? You don't have to be." He leaned in close, almost as tall as Edgar himself. "Sooooo… no. I think I like this version of things better. Wanna give me a kiss before you go?"
Edgar glanced back the little crowd behind them, an idea taking shape. "The good shit. It's drugs, I presume?"
The kid looked thrown. "Uh, maybe? I don't think I oughta be tellin' a teacher that."
That snap-decision making took over again, and the older man noticed his heart beating abnormally fast now. "I'll tell you what. You promise not to have whatever they've got over there… and I'll give you that kiss."
Jimmy's eyes went wide. "No way. You serious?
Edgar looked his student over. Moral codes, lawsuits, and labels all went spinning past him, leaving two things in their place: one, fear for Jimmy's body, knowing the sorts of things that real drugs do to people. And two, the adrenaline buzz rushing through his own veins, the inexplicable high and the wonder of what Jimmy's lips would feel like.
"I'm serious," he replied.
The kid grinned, all teeth. "You got yourself a deal."
About a month later, Jimmy was digging through stacks of graded tests while his councilor searched for a moonpie underneath the contents of his inbox. He couldn't remember the last time his office had been this messy, though it might have been during his first semester at the Academy. He'd been a little frazzled, the first time around.
"What? Jamie Nox? The hell did she end up with an A?"
Edgar plucked the stack of papers from his companion's grasp. "Since she studied for it. I wish you wouldn't belittle my students like that. You know, they haven't done anything to deserve it."
Jimmy scowled and slipped the missing moonpie out of nowhere. "They just haven't had a chance yet. Not everybody's as nice as you, Mr. Vargas. Think you'da learned that by now."
"Look," the teacher said, grabbing the pastry too, "I know we long ago gave up the pretence of having actual therapy sessions, but I have to break form on this one. Prejudice is nasty business, Jimmy. You say people judge you before they even talk to you—well, guess what you're doing to the rest of the world. It's not good. Hypocrisy is bad enough, but you're not even giving anyone the chance to prove you wrong."
The younger man narrowed his eyes. "Uh-huh. An' while that may be true, you don't seem to've thought about why exactly I'm closing shit out. Can't trust people, Mr. Vargas. A chance at some lousy interpersonal contact just isn't worth the risk of getting' burned. An' I been burned plenty enough for a good long time."
"Then why are you sitting here, Jimmy?" Edgar took his own seat, feeling the old chair give under him.
A sort of wary look crossed over Jimmy's face. "You really gonna ask me that? Shit man, I don't know, you just kinda snuck up on me. Made a good first impression. I. I dunno. Can't explain it, I guess you just sorta struck me as different. Plus, you're fuckin' hot, in a librarian-ish way."
A clock ticked and Edgar sighed. Well he couldn't call the kid out on that, considering he himself had no idea why they got along so well. The fact that Jimmy trusted him at all—despite his misanthropic sort of attitude about life in general—could be considered progress of a big kind.
"Heh, speaking of which," Jimmy went on, "some of the guys been asking about you… wanna know who you are, where I picked you up… why they haven't seen you 'round since last month."
Edgar feigned disinterest. "Oh? And what have you been telling them?"
"Told 'em you're my main squeeze," Jimmy grinned, mean-spirited glee pooling around his chair. "Told 'em you're all straight edge an' I been goin' light 'cause you won't sleep with me otherwise."
Edgar raised a finger, and then dropped it. "…Oh have you?"
"An' I'm not even lying," the kid cackled, leaning back. "Way I figure it, you wouldn't."
"Except that you left out how I'm your teacher, your councilor, and eight years your senior. Oh, and that we aren't actually dating. Yes, but other than that you're clean as a saint."
"Not tellin' 'em I'm dating a teacher. You wanna torch my reputation or what? As for the rest of it, 's none of their business even if they cared. Been exercising my literary skills too—you oughta hear some of the stories I been tellin'."
"I'm sure I can think up a sufficiently foul substitute for myself," Edgar replied, ignoring the tremor that went through his finger when he took a second to consider such a substitute. "You know, if word manages to get around to Rogers, I'll be fired faster than you can say 'code of conduct'."
"You don't seem particularly worried," Jimmy retorted, resting his elbows on the desktop and his head in his hands.
"Well. I don't think you're stupid enough to say anything like that to the kids here, and I'm not worried about your little clique mingling with them either. Other than that, there's the matter of nobody particularly liking you… a situation you do little to amend, by the way."
"So what you're sayin'," Jimmy replied, leaning closer, "is nobody'd know if you did try to pull somethin' on me. You could… get away with it."
Edgar pulled back. "Well, yes I suppose. If I were inclined to take advantage of my students, which I'm not."
Jimmy leaned even closer, pressing against the top of the desk. "You remember when I said I was a bitch for authority?" he asked, a sultry tone creeping through his voice. "I wasn't lying."
"Er." Heart beating quickly now, Edgar had a moment—just a moment, mind you—where he could really imagine throwing his student down on the floor and taking advantage of his age and position in a way he'd never dreamed of doing before. And then he looked back at Jimmy.
"You were too lying," he murmured, sitting forward so that they were now only inches apart. "Are you testing me, Jimmy? Do you think I need testing?"
A half-smile ghosted across the boy's lips. "I guess not," he said. He sat back now, draping his arms across his legs. "You wanna know why I trust you? You wanna know why I like you?"
Edgar tilted his head.
"It's 'cause you're a good guy. I never ran across one of those before, I'll tell you truly. But mostly, it's 'cause you really do care about me, an' I can tell."
Something glittered in his eyes, something a lot deeper than people gave him credit for. Jimmy was no idiot, and neither was he shallow. Things ran deep in him, sliding into secret places where the meaning lost the words that went with them. The jumbled mess of shadows and dreams wove through his brain, waiting on a kind of precipice, waiting to be tugged one way or the other.
"Do you remember when you first saw me?" Edgar asked, finally, eyes fixed on empty space. "You were still trying to beat the living hell out of Joe Manuel, and you had two teachers trying to drag you away. You know what I thought, when I first got a good look?"
Jimmy quirked a brow.
"I thought nothing. Literally, I couldn't think. It's kind of like when you get high for the first time, and you see all the colors and the shapes like you were living blind up until then—really see them, how they connect and how they're really all part of the same thing. Well, no, maybe that was just me? The point is… the point is… I don't have a point. Some things just are what they are."
"So we're agreed, then," Jimmy said, peering out from under black-rimmed eyelids. "I trust you, you trust me, even though we got no business doin' it. You're a shit psychiatrist by the way."
Edgar grinned, suddenly, and spread his arms out wide. "But Jimmy," he replied, "I'm exactly what you need!"
The kid started to respond and then stopped, mouth open mid-syllable. "…You sneaky fucker," he managed, an amazed smile tugging his mouth. "An' all this time I thought it was me givin' you the go around."
It was funny how everything was different with Jimmy.
"You know what?" the student went on, shaking his head. "I graduate end of May. Let's see you slip out from under me then."
Edgar sighed and closed his eyes. "I think… I think I'll just have to let you have that one, this time."
Right now, he didn't feel like arguing.