The next morning, when he woke up, Tal was more than exhausted. He had no recollection of how he had made it to the classroom in one piece. His friend Scar gave up trying to talk to him after the second hour of failed conversation attempts. It wasn’t that Tal didn’t want to talk but he just couldn’t. He felt paralysed, as he had been in his dream, unable to speak or think straight. Sometimes he wondered if he was still stuck in that awful nightmare. Even the teachers avoided picking him for answers during class. He was either very lucky or looked so dead that they didn’t want to approach him out of fear. He couldn’t blame them. His own reflection had scared him earlier that day.
Right when he dragged himself out of bed for the last time to wash himself, he had met his own gaze in the mirror and almost screamed. He had the appearance of what could only be described as the lovechild of a vampire and zombie. No amount of makeup had been able to fix his face. After that horrible dream he had spent the rest of the night throwing up repeatedly until there was nothing left to throw up. It was no wonder that he looked as he felt: like shit.
Tal initially didn’t plan on going to his lessons at all but not going would have meant that he couldn’t meet Nik in the evening. And that wasn’t an option. He had to meet Nik tonight. He needed his questions answered, now more than ever. And if he really wanted to cancel their meeting he’d have to text Nik about it. The thought alone stressed him out. Besides, what would he tell Nik was the reason for his sudden change in plans?
‘Sorry, I dreamt about you brutally murdering Sally and vomited my heart out for the rest of the night, let’s take a rain check?’
No, this wouldn’t do. So, instead Tal had forced himself to go to his classes even if he felt like he was going to die any second now. He was unable to focus on anything. At least Scar was taking notes for him. They were really the best friend Tal could have. He would have to thank them later when he got rid of the paralysing feeling.
During the first four periods and breaks Tal noticed the lack of Nik. It seemed almost as if they were avoiding each other on purpose, which for Tal was definitely the case but he couldn’t think of any reason why Nik would want to avoid him as well. Or did he too have a nightmare about Tal going on a killing spree and kissing him with blood on his lips? The memory sent a shiver down his spine.
Everything had been fine before this stupid nightmare. He had been able to ignore what he’d seen. All the murder and madness. But now he couldn’t keep ignoring it. He had no idea what he was going to say or do when Nik told him that he actually kills people for him. Was there even a way for Tal to convince him not to do that? Maybe his murder sprees were part of something bigger, maybe these people were evil and deserved to die. Tal bit down on his lip. Who am I to decide who deserves death?
While he was busy with his own thoughts Tal didn’t realise someone was approaching him. They crashed into each other, and Tal stumbled to the ground. “Fucking hell,” he cursed out loud and rubbed his bum. The other guy cleared his throat. “Language,” he warned Tal and the boy craned his neck upwards in shock. “Mr. Hemlock!” The director reached his hand out to help Tal get up. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you.” “Ah, it’s alright.” Mr. Hemlock waved him off with a quick hand gesture. “I just hope this is not your usual reaction to bumping into someone, Tal.”
“No,” Tal quickly said while nervously scratching the back of his neck. “Of course not. I was just surprised. Anyway, what are you doing here Mr. Hemlock?” “Actually,” the director began and Tal noticed concern in his eyes. “I came here for you.” “For me?” He blinked once in surprise and pointed at himself in confusion. Tal couldn’t think of any reason why the Academy director would be looking for him. Did he miss an exam? Did the coach change his mind about Tal’s practice break? Was he in trouble?
“Your biology professor sought me out. He mentioned that you looked rather…” He searched for the right word and then gave up. “Dead, he said you looked dead, Tal and I… I must agree. Taliesin, what happened to you?” The director inched closer to feel Tal’s temperature. For a short moment Tal leaned into the cool touch of the director’s palm against his forehead but then he drew away just as quickly. They were still in public and the other students already disliked him because of the way Mr. Hemlock biassed him. Him showing his concern so openly would only make the rumours worse.
“I had a rough night.” Tal explained and rubbed his eyes as if to show him that he was still tired. It wasn’t the whole truth but at least he didn’t have to fully lie to Mr. Hemlock again. “Tal, if there is anything bothering you–“ “I know.” He interrupted the director with a smile. “I can always come looking for you.” “Exactly.” Mr. Hemlock put his hand on Tal’s shoulder and gave it an encouraging squeeze. “I certainly can’t fix every problem but I would prefer it if we could deal with it together. I don’t want you to go through something on your own. Those days are over, Taliesin.”
Tal felt a bit warmer now. He had always hated the idea of a family thanks to those in his past that have dared to call themselves that, but ever since Mr. Hemlock had become his guardian he started to see the appeal of it again. Just once he wanted to gather his courage and call him Dad. Mr. Hemlock hadn’t officially adopted Tal when he let him stay at the Academy and personally Tal was fine with that (he hated the feeling of being owned by someone and having a kind of receipt that you could use to return him when you got bored with him) but truthfully, becoming a part of Mr. Hemlock’s family was his dream.
Was that a weird thing to wish for? Sometimes, when Tal daydreamed about the future, he imagined himself coming home from a holiday trip with his lover. He’d open the gates to the front porch and greet Mr. Hemlock with a warm hug. His grandparents would be sitting on a bench in the background. They would exchange exciting news, plant flowers together and cook before gathering in the living room to watch the newest blockbuster. It was such a childish dream but it gave him hope that one day he could live a normal life, surrounded by normal people with normal jobs. One day he would lead the life he had always dreamed of. One day for sure.
The school bell rudely interrupted his daydreams and reminded him that Mr. Hemlock was still in front of him waiting for a reply. “Thank you D–“, he coughed to cover up the mistake he almost made and looked away. “Director. I have to go back to my lessons now. Please don’t worry about me.” He gazed at the marble tiles on the floor while silently moving away from Mr. Hemlock. “Tal?” He lifted his head carefully to face the director one last time. “I’m proud of you, kid. Rest after classes.” “I-I will.” Tal reassured him and then rushed down the corridor to catch up with his classmates.
Mr. Hemlock’s words echoed in his ears. I’m proud of you, kid. He glanced over his shoulder, but the director was already gone. “Thanks, dad,” he muttered under his breath and tried to ignore the aching feeling in his chest. One day he’d have to build up the courage and be honest with himself. Mr. Hemlock was the only person he’d ever felt that way for. No other foster family had a link to him, no other parents tried to be there for him as much as Mr. Hemlock did. He was special and most importantly, he cared. He was the first person to give Tal the feeling that he was normal and that he deserved to live a normal life. Before that he’d always been reminded of his lost parentage. But now, thanks to Mr. Hemlock, he wasn’t an orphan anymore. The director was his family and the Academy his home.
“What did you say?” Tal almost screamed when Scar threw their arm around his shoulders. When did they appear? From where? “Did you say ‘daddy’, Taliesin?” “What? No!” They huffed in response. “Weird,” Scar mumbled and rubbed their chin. “I clearly heard you saying ‘daddy’ though…” “I did not say ‘daddy.” Tal declared through gritted teeth and caught Scar breaking into a smug smile. It took more than half of the next lesson to convince his best friend that he did not have a weird daddy kink.
“Hey, don’t blame me for assuming.” They mumbled and poked Tal between his ribs. “You have enough parental issues for both daddy AND mommy kinks. Why not throw in some Oedipus complex as well?” “Scar, I will murder you. I will actually murder you, if you don’t stop.” The conversation went awfully downhill from that point on. At least it kept him distracted and even drew out a few careless laughs and chuckles. When he left the classroom and bid farewell to Scar, he felt a little less exhausted than before. He even stumbled towards the library for detention with an awkward grin on his lips.
There were less students gathered in the middle of the library than last time. The only people beside him were Jean and Ben. Apparently, they got caught in the men’s shower room making out (with only a few clothes still on their body). They were generally known at the Academy for their risky make out sessions and shameless behaviour. It didn’t matter where they were; when they felt horny everyone would witness it. They kissed and groped each other in the cafeteria, sent weird voice messages during lessons and of course sometimes vanished to occupy bathroom stalls or shower rooms. Once they even tried to talk their P.E. teacher into a threesome.
Tal wondered how much money their parents had to spend to make sure that their overly horny kids could stay at the Academy. He wasn’t keen on walking right into one of their crazy make out sessions so he decided to avoid them as much as he could. Jean and Ben were giggling next to him. They held hands and leaned closer to kiss each other. Tal averted his eyes but he couldn’t help but feel a tiny pang of jealousy.
As a closeted gay it wasn’t easy for him to find love. And his only crush didn’t seem to be the best option anymore either. Tal sometimes hated that he wasn’t brave enough to stand up for himself and tell the world who he is and who he likes. On other days however, when he walked through the corridors and noticed all the microaggressions and subtle homophobia he was glad to be in his own little safe space. Even if it was a lonely place. At least he would survive there.
The teacher wasn’t on time which meant that the students had to stay at least fifteen minutes longer than expected. Tal grabbed the first book cart and walked over to the closest bookshelf. He wondered if it would be necessary to text Nik and inform him about the delay. Thinking about him brought back Tal’s uneasiness and his stomach turned. If it weren’t for his nightmare this would have been the perfect opportunity to pretend that he was going on a date with his long-term crush.
He could have lived one of his (most embarrassing) fantasies. A date with Nikandros. The most handsome student at the Academy, a smart prankster with charm and adorable freckles. That was a dream. But Tal knew what reality looked like. Those cute freckles and his excellent mind were dangerous. He had blood on his hands. Images flashed through his mind and Tal had to lean his forehead against the stone pillar to calm himself down. The cool marble was refreshing and gave him enough strength to push the thoughts about his nightmare away.
“He’s not a monster, Tal. He’ll explain everything. Get it together, man.” Just as he finished reassuring himself, Tal’s phone vibrated in his back pocket. Tal cautiously glanced around the hall to see if the teacher had really left. He then fished out his phone and tensed when he saw Nik’s name.
<< I took Maxwell’s car, so he’ll pick you up with his motorcycle. You’re cool with that, right?
A second message arrived as he was about to reply.
<< I might be a bit late. Sorry about that. Maxwell will keep an eye on you.
Nik had added a winking emoji and the peace sign. Tal was a tiny bit confused about the choice of emojis but since it was Nik he decided not to question it. Instead, he responded with a short reply, telling Nik that it was fine, and he’d be late too, and then put his phone away again.
He let out a soft sigh and continued to sort the books into the shelves. Jean and Ben seemed to have vanished into a quiet corner to unleash their sinful behaviour and left all the work for Tal. He didn’t mind that. He just hoped he wouldn’t accidentally run into them and be traumatised for the rest of his life. He had enough trauma for one lifetime, he didn’t need straight people adding to it.
His eyes wandered towards the huge antique clock on the wall and he gnawed on his lower lip. He had less than an hour left before he would face Nik again. With every second Tal grew more anxious and jittery. He wasn’t ready for the truth and he suddenly doubted that he’d ever be.