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Reply to Livia or visit her websitePosted to the RoswellSlash mailing list March 6, 2001
Title: Too Well
Archive: Yes to RSA
Rated: PG-13, with a warning for heavy angst.
Spoilers/Summary: Takes place in a possible imaginary future after Viva Las Vegas. Jim Valenti POV.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Feedback: oh please please. :)
"Kyle?" I said, looking up at the hall ceiling. After giving his room to Tess, Kyle had moved a cot and his clothes up into the attic, and stayed up there. I kept meaning to fix things up so it wasn't quite so spartan up there, but what with work and the aliens, there had just never been time. And Kyle had always said it was no big deal. Something about his Buddhism, he said, and not being attached to material objects.
"Kyle!" I called again, but he still didn't answer. With a sigh, I tugged down the ladder and climbed it, pushing the trapdoor open. The attic looked the same as it had before Kyle had moved up, with cardboard boxes and old junk shoved against the angled walls. Kyle was sitting on the floor by his camping cot, wearing old, gray sweats and his letterman jacket. His feet were bare, his knees were pulled against his chest. He clutched a few sheets of paper in his hands. There was a lamp standing amid a stack of books, but it wasn't turned on.
He looked up as I pushed the trapdoor open. His eyes were dark and swollen in the reddish, late-evening light that shone from the attic's one gabled window. "Dad... sorry. Were you calling me?"
"Yeah. Can I come up for a second?" I figured it was up to me to reach out, here... it had been almost two days since the accident, and Kyle hadn't emerged from the attic, except to eat or use the bathroom.
He nodded, and reached for one of his books, sliding the papers inside it and shutting it as I settled down next to him on the floor.
"How are you doing, son?" I asked.
He tilted his head back and smiled a little, fresh tears spilling down his face. He didn't bother to wipe them away. "It's not fair."
"Why should I get a second chance and... and he... it's not fair," he said, and I reached for him, but he flinched back. "Don't."
We sat for a while, keeping company in silence. Finally I spoke. "I didn't realize you and Alex were such good friends."
"We weren't friends," he said, his voice wrung-out, and looked up at me. It wasn't his words or tone that made the realization dawn in my mind, but the fear, the pleading in his eyes. I had never seen that look in my son's eyes before, not when he was looking at me, and I stared back, shocked wordless. With a twisted smile, Kyle reached for the book that he'd slipped out of sight, under the bed. Pulling out the folded sheets of paper and unfolding them, he handed them to me.
The first piece of paper was lined, ragged along one edge where it had been ripped from a notebook. The edges and creases were soft and well-worn from being folded and unfolded. The first half of the page was filled with Kyle's blunt handwriting, so much like my own. The words themselves cramped and small, almost two lines of text fitting in between each line on the page.This is probably going to be really stupid, it began. I might not even give it to you. But hey, Halifax said free write means write whatever comes into your mind, and for some reason that's you. We did Walt Whitman in Lit and I thought about you. Probabilities in Trig. Thought about you.
I'm thinking about 417.
Think about it a lot. Mainly because I get so PISSED about the way things are in the real world. I want to come by your locker and touch you. That spot on your neck. Make you blush. I want people in the hall to know you're mine. God, that sounds bad. I don't mean it in a jerky, caveman way. You know what I mean.
Come over tonight. My dad has all this quarterly paperwork-- he hasn't gotten home before midnight yet this week, and if I give T. twenty bucks she'll leave us alone. There's a double feature at the Shrine, she can hang around the Crashdown after... Come over tonight, you can make me listen to your stupid mix tapes and I can bore you with pointless Zen stories. We can play blackjack. Strip blackjack. I bet you're blushing.
I get so damn afraid that you'll get sick of this, all this sneaking around and shit. I can't see why you'd want to stick with it. Not that I don't want to, because I DO. Don't get me wrong. It just sucks. I HATE it. I want everyone to know. I want to be all pathetic, freshman-girly, tape pictures of you on my notebooks so I can carry you around with me all the time. Oh, god, I'm definitely never giving this to you. This is a damn sickness. I'm a freak. HELP.
I get out of wrestling practice at five. Come over tonight. If I can't have pictures for real, I want some pictures in my head.
--You know who. HW from LV. Rm 417.
The second half of the page was filled with unfamiliar handwriting. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I'd put two and two together while reading, but with a sudden clutch I realized what it really meant. This was a love letter. A love letter that my son had written to Alex Whitman.
And Alex Whitman was dead.
I swallowed hard and began to read Alex's reply.
HW (took me a minute to figure that one out. Funny)--
You think I don't get pissed off about how things are? You think it doesn't make me want to just hit something? Believe me, I do, and it does.
God, I wish I could write something that would blow you away, because I'm sitting here in Calc. and thinking you just slipped me some 'meet me in the storage room' note. And instead I get this. I totally bombed a pop quiz thinking about you kissing me in the hall, you bastard.
Look, I don't need the PDAs. We don't have to hold hands or sit together at lunch. I just need you to look at me with that funny smile you get. You know the one, it's the same smile you get when you win a hand of blackjack. It makes me feel like... okay. Getting sappy. Not going there.
I'm not playing strip anything with you. You cheat. And my mix tapes aren't stupid.
You want to hear something crazy? Sometimes I wish I'd known years ago that you were... that you had all this craziness and feeling and sweetness going on. Don't argue with me, jerk, you are sweet. I wish we could have always been friends, even if we still didn't get together till two months ago. I just feel like, the more I get to know you, the more I want to get to know you. So you're not the only one who thinks of weird things.
You don't know what I almost wrote just then instead of "want to get to know you." I've never said that to anyone before. But I kind of want to. You freak me out, this totally freaks me out. Believe me.
About tonight-- I have a thing with M & L but I can cancel. I'll tell them you're flunking Trig and need help. So. That means it's six hours and thirty-two minutes till I can touch you. Damn, that's a long time. Don't talk to me till then. I won't be responsible for what I might say out loud.
-- TC, 417
P.S. Just thought of something. Remember that digital camera I bought in LV? Yeah, well, look sharp tonight, pretty boy.
Slowly, I shuffled the first piece of paper behind the second. It was plain white paper, with six pictures printed on it in three rows of two. The pictures were poor in quality, high-contrast and had been printed on an old, stuttery color printer. The background of each picture was a wash of pixelated dark blacks and greens, with the boys' faces and shirts standing out brightly. But the page had carefully been folded in uneven sections so as not to crease any of them.
In the first row was a crooked candid snap of Kyle laughing, leaning into a squinting, studious-looking Alex who was apparently trying to figure out the right angle and distance to get a picture of them both. Next to that, Kyle pressed a kiss to Alex's cheek, eyes slanted wickedly towards the camera. The angle was better, but Alex's head was half-turned away from my son, annoyance in the set of his mouth, but amusement dancing in his eyes.
In the middle row, the boys were on the living room couch, heads tilted towards each other, both smiling. Another picture with the same pose followed, but someone had said something to break the light-hearted mood. This time when Kyle looked into the camera his eyes were narrow with anger. Alex had glanced towards Kyle just as he took the picture, and his jaw was set tightly with something that looked like defiance.
For the last two pictures Kyle had apparently commandeered the camera. One arm wrapped around Alex's shoulders to pull him close; his head was mostly hidden, but he was obviously trying to kiss Alex's throat. Alex was laughing, a hand stretched out, trying to block the shot, but Kyle had gotten the picture anyway.
The next picture, the last, was serious again. One of Kyle's arms was still outstretched to hold the camera, but his other arm came around Alex's neck, hand wrapped in his collar, pulling him close as they kissed. Alex's hand cupped the side of Kyle's face, and both their eyes were closed.
"That's all," Kyle said softly, and I looked up at him, startled. "I mean that's it-- if you burned those two pieces of paper you'd never know, nobody would ever know. It's like we were never..."
Silently, I gave the pictures back, and he folded them carefully, squinting as more tears rolled down his cheeks. He slid them back inside the book-- Zen and the Open Mind-- and turned around, slipping the book under his pillow before turning back to face me.
"I miss him, Dad... I miss him so much... and he was right. We wasted so much time. That's what kills me. We wasted so much goddamn time..."
"Ah, Kyle," I said softly, pulling him against my chest. He knotted a hand in my shirt and cried, harsh sobs shaking his body. I rocked him gently, my heart hurting as his pain spilled out. How old had I been, the first time I'd had to deal with the death of a friend? Not much older than Kyle. And now it was the death of his... his first love. Jesus, Kyle was right, it wasn't fair. You never wanted your child to be in pain, but you couldn't protect them from everything. You couldn't protect them forever.
"Why did he have to leave me?" Kyle choked out. "God, I feel so damn angry, I know I shouldn't..."
"You feel how you feel," I said.
"I keep having these thoughts," he said, his voice congested, as he pulled away from me. He pressed the heels of his hands to his eye sockets. "Moments when I feel like I'm going to die. When I want to die, when I can't see any reason to..." He snuffled, let out a deep sigh, and looked at me wearily. "Don't worry about it. I'm not gonna do anything stupid. It... it just..."
"It hurts so much, Dad."
"I know, son." I said, and squeezed his shoulder. "I know." We sat there for a while in silence, and finally I sighed. "Do you think it would help to talk to someone?"
"What, you mean like a shrink?" Kyle shrugged listlessly. "I don't know."
"Would you go if I asked you to?"
He shrugged again, and mumbled, "I guess."
"Son. Look at me for a second." I said, and Kyle lifted his head warily. Slowly, I reached forward and brushed his hair out of his sweaty, tear-stained face. "This... comes as a shock, and I'm gonna have to take some time to wrap my head around it. But I want you to know a few things that haven't changed. That aren't going to change. I love you, son. I'm proud of you. And you know I'll always be here for you. For this... for anything."
Kyle's eyes brightened, but he set his jaw, and nodded wordlessly.
"Okay?" I asked, and tousled his hair, just a little. He sniffled once, pulled his knees up to his chest again, and his shoulders began to shake. I sat there, stroking his back, until the sky grew dark outside, and then I patted his shoulder. "You going to come down for dinner?"
He glanced out the window, into the night sky. "Maybe," he said after a while. "Maybe I will."
In the kitchen Tess is peeking into the oven. The smell of homemade meatloaf fills the kitchen before she lets it slam shut. Green beans simmer in a pot of water on the stove, and homemade mashed potatoes whir in the mixer. They're all favorites of Kyle's, and Tess looks up at me as I enter the kitchen. "Is he coming down?"
"What?" I look up. "Oh. He said maybe."
Tess flips her feathered hair, a touch arrogantly. "Give me five minutes to finish these potatoes. He'll come down."
"Okay." I reach over and tousle her hair just a bit. Tess makes annoyed noises, but as she combs her hair back into place with her fingers, I can see her smiling, maybe for the first time since we got the news about Alex. The table is already set, but I ask anyway, "Anything I can do?"
"No, don't touch anything. I have it all under control," she says, checking everything one last time. Territorial, we Valentis. Protective.
I sink into my chair at the kitchen table and study Tess as she flits from oven to mixer and back. When she wants a bowl for the mashed potatoes, she has to pull the stepstool up to reach the cupboard, which surprises me momentarily. She's had such an effect on this house, on my life and Kyle's, sometimes I forget how tiny she actually is. Valenti women are tall and lean, weathered by life, with little taste for luxuries. Nothing like this little elfin-featured alien creature, with colored bangles on her wrists and those extravagant platinum blonde waves.
I have the paperwork on my desk, just waiting for the right moment. I sign on the dotted line, and I become Tess Harding's legal guardian. It's just the wisest course of action, something to give me a little official leverage in case Tess ever needed to be hospitalized, or something like that. The truth is those words on paper won't make a damn difference to how I feel about Tess. We Valentis love like the poem says-- not wisely, but too well. If you want to be nice, you could say we're loyal, but the truth is we're just a damn stubborn breed.
It doesn't matter that she hatched from a pod, that she's not our blood, that she's not even a hundred percent human. In every way that counts, Tess is a Valenti.
I stand up, tapping Tess on the shoulder, and she makes a funny squeak as I hug her. It's the first time, I think. Even when we heard the news about Alex it was Kyle that she turned to, Kyle that she hugged... "Tess," I pull back, putting my hands on her shoulders. Her eyes are wide and wondering and blue. "Whether I'm your legal guardian or not, you're a part of this family."
She turns away, but not quickly enough so that I don't see her eyes growing bright. Surreptitiously, she reaches for a dishtowel, then simply clutches it in front of her. "So... you knew. About Kyle and Alex."
Her shoulders come up, and she turns to look at me, bright-eyed. "He told you?"
She nods, and now the tears do come. She hardly acknowledges them, just dabs them away angrily with the dishtowel as fast as they drip from her eyes. "He didn't mean to lie. He just wants you to be proud of him," she tells me insistently. "He wants to be just like you."
I smile crookedly, looking across the kitchen. "I guess... I just never realized before."
"How much he is like me." Sitting up there in the attic, alone with his grief, his pain... I keep thinking of that last damn picture. The way Kyle's fingers tangled so desperately in Alex's collar, and the camera, seemingly, forgotten... not wisely, but too well. When I look back at Tess, it's with a weary smile. "Go on, then." I give her a pat on the shoulder. "Call him down for dinner."
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