This is Issue #11 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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Kieron stood at the window and watched his father hand over the bundle to the carrier. The carrier looked at the red writing across the envelopes, and began to argue, for just a moment — this is the right address, and that’s his son’s name, isn’t it? But one briefly stern look from Ellison and the carrier went right on his way. The post looked like it hadn’t been opened; it would be processed and put back. He struggled to keep himself from showing his triumph, his smug satisfaction.
He wanted to rub it in his father’s face — he wanted to jump in front of him and dance, mad with glee. You can’t take this from me; I won’t let you. I will never let you.
That day, there was no tutoring; briefly, Kieron worried that Garrett would not return, but the next night, Garrett showed up, and Ellison sat in the room with them, while Garrett went over tactics, calculus, and history. Nothing untoward was said — the conversation never strayed.
Tutoring went on that way for a solid week, and then Ellison left them to do their work alone. He had things to take care of, and he couldn’t babysit the boy forever, plus… plus it seemed that the earlier conflict had passed in the way he’d hoped it might. It came to an ugly head, but that only served to make his point. He felt a keen sense of despair, thinking of his lonely son, his broken heart, but he knew, still, that it was for the best — that it would work out as it should.
Once the boy’s studies were completed, he would be able to take him on, show him all the ins and outs of the family business, get him used to the needs of it, and how to meet them. Life would go on, as it does. As it must.
A few days later, Kieron found himself sitting on the edge of his desk, glancing off toward the window. The snow outside seemed perpetual; the world had been dimmed, made small and quiet by the heavy blanket that would not stop falling. He attempted to make himself get up and check the for carrier — but once he did, he simply felt worse than before: the man had either come and gone, or there was nothing to deliver.
That night, Kieron stole down to his father’s office once more, and opened the drawer where the letters had been hidden. Nothing new was to be found there. With a heavy heart, he closed the drawer, and went to the liquor cabinet, and poured himself some of his father’s brandy. He drank it down in stiff, choked swallows, and felt his eyes burn, and his throat seize fiercely enough that he had to hold his breath for long moments. When he could breathe again, he looked around, expecting new eyes, expecting things to be clearer, sharper, or perhaps easier. When they were neither, he poured himself more of the brandy, grateful that his father went through at least a decanter a week, more when he had guests over. He downed another glass, and it burned just as violently as the first, but he didn’t have to hold his breath as long.
He thought about a third glass, but knew that if he took it too far, he’d wind up waking up on the floor in a puddle of his own vomit, as he’d seen cadets do, during graduation. He carefully put the glass and bottle back where they belonged, and sat himself at his father’s desk, and took out a sheet of Ellison’s personal stationery, and began to write.
He started with Jet’s name, and then simply stared at the page for a long while, holding the pen, unable to come up with anything that made sense, anything that sounded good enough to follow sending back the dozens of letters Jet had sent him for weeks, considering Jet likely believed that’s all it was.
“This is stupid,” he said aloud to the paper. “I need you.” When it didn’t respond, he made a disgusted face, and put away the pen. He got up, and threw the paper into the dying fire, and watched it flare into brilliance, and then darken into ash.
The next morning, Kieron’s mother kept pestering after his health. “You simply look so pale, my darling. Your eyes are all sunken, and you haven’t eaten anything. Have you gotten a fever?” She fussed and flustered over him, and he could not decide if it was welcome, or wretched — he watched his father with owl eyes, and sank into his mother’s care, preferring the sometimes annoyance of her attentions to the constant low burn of fury he felt every time he heard his father speak.
* * *
“You don’t seem to be paying much attention today, Brody,” Garrett noted.
Kieron didn’t answer, for a long time; he simply stared at the professor, his eyes dulled, dark. “Apologies, professor. I think I might have caught something. I’m feeling under the weather,” Kieron said, and his voice bore the same dullness as his eyes. He kept his gaze on his papers, or glanced toward the window, but not once did he look at Garrett. He had used the professor, had made him believe his father wasn’t trying to keep him from Jet, precisely so the old man would try to destroy the letters, and ultimately force Kieron into some kind of battle of wills… which he purposefully lost.
Which meant he won.
Except Jet wasn’t sending letters anymore, and Garrett was both hurt and cold, distant — he wanted to help, but he no longer wanted Ellison’s ire.
“I’ll leave you with your work, then,” Garrett said, airily enough. “Get some rest and we’ll look again tomorrow.” He got up, quickly packed his things, and headed for the door, leaving Kieron slumped at the table.
As he was leaving the grounds via the unmanned gate, he heard footfalls on the flagstones behind him. He turned to see Kieron in his houseclothes, running up.
The boy’s breath steamed in the cold night, and his bare feet were reddened from the cold and the snow. “Professor,” he said, his voice urgent and low, reaching to try to touch Garrett’s shoulder. “Garrett, please,” he said, and in his voice was something so raw, the older man could not refuse it.
Garrett turned, lips pursed, and said, “You’ll catch your death out here, Brody.”
“Is he all right?” Kieron said, panting, swallowing to soothe his throat from having run from the house in the raw winter air. “Jet. Is he all right, sir? I haven’t… he–” He didn’t seem bothered by the cold; the fire in his eyes, the need to know consumed him. “The letters stopped.”
“As far as I am aware,” Garrett said carefully. “I believe he is fine. I am minding my own business, as I should have before, when it comes to the two of you,” he said, not unkindly. “Your father’s a formidable man.”
“He is,” Kieron said, tension leaving him in a great exhale the instant he heard that Jet was all right. He raked a hand back through his hair and said, painedly, looking to Garrett, “I don’t want to be him.”
Garrett nodded once, and said, “Understood. You should get back inside, either way.” He turned to go, but paused, not yet looking to Kieron, his eyes narrowing slightly.
Kieron had nodded, but didn’t leave, and was watching Garrett, his hands clenching and unclenching. How he wanted to apologize — Garrett was all he had left to tie him back to Jet, and that connection was wearing perilously thin. “Yes, sir,” he finally answered, and when Garrett glanced back, words hesitating behind his teeth, he saw Kieron running back through the boxwood maze, headed for the house, his breath steaming in the cold, under the moon.
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