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Posted: May 28 2015, 02:21 PM
Joined: 21-February 11
It was a Wednesday afternoon when Mako first noticed the change in Adrien's eyes. His eyes were blue, and sunken into his skull: year-round, there was a hollowness to his face and black circles around the blue, and he laughed long and often about how he could never seem to gain any weight or get enough sleep. The blue of his eyes was watery, like melted ice. They whispered of a lost fortitude.
That Wednesday, walking with Adrien to grab lunch between their lectures, she noticed they were a little colder, and a little harder. He was quieter. They stepped off the pavement, crossing the tree-lined street to the little cafe that faced the west side of campus.
"You have another student argue a grade with you?" Mako tilted her blonde head at him, glancing away as the white stick figure on the WALK sign transformed to a flashing orange hand. STOP.
"Hmmm?" Adrien glanced up from the street, and blinked at her once. "Oh, no. Why?"
"You look different."
He laughed suddenly and shrilly as they exited the crosswalk, throwing his head back up to the cloudless blue sky. Mako startled, adjusting her canvas messenger bag on her shoulder. "Do I?" he murmured.
"I see there's something you're not telling me," Mako said testily. She was annoyed, and disconcerted by Adrien's laughing. It reminded her of a dying animal, caught in a trap.
"Oh, um, well." They began their second crossing, as the cafe was caddy-corner to the campus. "You see, Mako..." Adrien trailed off, and rubbed his pale face with one hand. "You see..."
Mako narrowed her almond-shaped eyes, and waited. Adrien fell silent as they headed into the cafe, speaking only to order his drink, then his food. He smiled weakly at the cashier. When they were alone, he set both his elbows on the wooden table, and folded his hands. He began to absently twist the gold wedding band on his finger.
"You see, Mako, I'm trying to quit."
Mako felt a hole open up in the pit of her stomach. She picked up her water and took a long sip of it while she gathered herself. When she set the glass down, she said in an exhale, "That's great Adrien -- that's really great." Then she paused. It sounded too good to be true, and asking why it was true might break the magic spell. It was superstitious, of course, but it had been a long time since she'd seen that look in Adrien's eyes.
"What made you decide?"
Adrien leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. He had turned forty last year, and the first wisps of gray had started to creep into his sandy brown hair. He was handsome in a curious Eastern European-but-not sort of way, though it was curtailed by his persistent thinness. He always seemed to have a day's worth of stubble attached to his face; he was almost always smiling. The fondness of his students and the faculty alike had earned him his tenure three years ago. They all thought him very decisive.
Adrien took a deep breath, looked ready to say something, and then breathed out silence. He tried again, crossing his arms tighter around him. "Supplies have been getting -- a little short. And I--" He moved one hand to cover his mouth, as if to stop the secrets from flowing out.
Mako leaned across the table. "And?"
He dropped his hand. The words came in a whispered rush. "I looked into the mirror and I saw myself, and I thought, 'Is that me? Is that really me? How long has that been me?' And I was so afraid of myself I thought I might die right there on the spot. So I decided I had to quit. Somehow."
"There are places you can go, Adrien. There are doctors."
"You know I can't do that. I--"
Mako looked up. Another professor from the Anthropology department was waving at her from the door. He started to come over.
Mako glanced back to Adrien. "Hold that thought Adrien."
Adrien dropped his hands from his face as the other professor approached, rotating his jaw once before fixing his lips in a smile. "I'll try."
Professor Adrien Fabel could be positively insufferable: Walter Haroldson knew this for a fact. He knew it because he has been friends with Adrien for half a decade now, and because Walter was one of the first people Adrien came to with his insufferable inner monologues. It was the way of the world: Adrien worked himself up into a fit, he sought Walter out, and he went on about his feelings for an hour every day, in lieu of finding a therapist, until he finished sorting the issue out. The world was not tilting on its correct axis when Adrien was not seeking Walter, and it was his silence that prompted Walter to stalk him to his office prior to one of his classes.
Walter came prepared with hot tea, an open mind, and his unending wealth of patience. He expected Adrien to laugh at him. What he did not expect was to find Adrien Fabel with his head down on his desk, shivering in a cold sweat, clutching his head and moaning softly. The shades were drawn against the bright, happy daylight. Walter shut and locked the door behind him.
"What have you gone and done to yourself now?" Walter managed to sound simultaneously irritated and deeply concerned.
"I think I'm dying, Walter." His hair askew, his face hidden, Adrien rubbed his nose back and forth across the desk. His framed degrees watched him with silent pity from the walls. "I haven't-- I haven't--"
"You haven't what?"
"I haven't taken any today. I left it -- I left it all at home." And he let out a sob, like his soul was withering in the cage of his body.
Walter sat down across from him. His heart began to pound. "None at all?"
Adrien made a sad, sniveling sound in response.
"I'm going to stop, Walter. I'm going to stop." Adrien's voice shook with doubt. He sounded more like a petulant child than a grown man. "I don't -- I don't want to need it. I want to be free."
There was silence for a minute, interrupted only by Adrien's sniffles or coughs. Then, Walter asked, "Does she know?"
Adrien picked his head up. His blue eyes were ringed with red, but there was something different about them. The blue reminded Walter of melting polar ice caps, only the ice had melted in reverse -- from falling into the water, it had picked itself back up, reattached to the glacier, and frozen over again. There was new coldness to them, and new wholeness. "She knows."
Almost as soon as he said it, a cellular phone began to ring on the desk. The ringtone was Debussy's Gymnopedie No. 1. Adrien reached for it and silenced it.
"She's been calling?" Walter asked.
Adrien nodded. "I haven't picked up. She keeps leaving me voicemails. I can't talk to her, Adrien. I don't know what I'll do." Then he shook his head, and laughed bitterly. "No, that's not true. I know exactly what I'll do."
"You can't go to class like this," Walter said gravely. "Call it off."
"And what? Go home? She's waiting for me. I'm sure she's waiting for me."
"We'll go get you a hotel room. Take you somewhere." Walter clasped his hands and rubbed them together. "Stay here. Drink your tea. I'll go cancel your class."
Adrien sat up, then sat back in his chair. "Why are you friends with me, Walter?"
They were as different as could be, Walter shorter but stouter, his hair black and short, his face round and smooth in contrast to Adrian's sharp roughness. "You have your uses."
That got another laugh out of Adrien. Walter stood up and left the tea, and headed down the corridor to the classroom.
When he arrived, there were already several students waiting, even though class didn't start for another fifteen minutes. Sometimes Adrien would come early and answer questions, make conversation. He was ever sociable, despite his private agonies.
Walter scrawled on the whiteboard in red marker, PSYCH 4120 CANCELED FOR TODAY. LECTURE SLIDES ARE ONLINE. He could feel the students frown at his back as he wrote it. Walter worked in the admissions department; he had a great dislike and an even greater love for students. When he finished writing, he left without further explanation, though the faces of the early arrivals expressed a desire for it.
He might finally be going to do it, Walter thought to himself, as he walked back to Adrien's office. He might do it. And then he might leave. As he just dared to imagine it, he tried to open the door to Adrien's office.
It was locked.
Walter's blood ran cold. He turned and headed back out of the corridor, and down the central staircase between the offices and the lecture rooms. Where was he? Where had he gone? He headed out to the outdoor stairs, charging through the door like a lost rhino.
At the bottom of the outdoor stairs, Adrien Fabel was talking to Dahlia Fabel, still in her nurse scrubs. They were a pale pink and printed with little black cats; her Crocs matched her scrubs, in a darker shade of pink. She had her Chanel purse over one shoulder. In her other hand, she had a small, brown paper bag. Her olive-colored face was tilted up towards Adrien's like a sunflower seeking warmth, and she smiled as she spoke to him. Walter could read her lips from the top of the stairs.
"I brought you lunch. You weren't picking up your phone."
"I'm not hungry," Adrien whispered.
"Take it. Just in case."
Adrien shook his head slowly, but with one trembling hand, he reached for the bag. Shaking, he brought it to his chest. It crumpled slightly against him, mostly empty.
"Pick up your phone when I call you," she said.
"I'm sorry. I was distracted. I'll pick up next time."
"You can't keep saying you'll do these things for me and not do them."
"I know. I know. I'm sorry." Adrien's hands moved over the paper bag as if he was caressing a puppy or a kitten. His eyes were lowered to the sidewalk. "I love you."
"I love you too, Adrien." Dahlia stood on the tips of her Crocs and kissed his cheek. Then she turned to go.
She caught sight of Walter as she was turning away. She raised her hand in a wave, and offered him a sunny smile.
Walter waved back. But he did not smile.
"I don't know about him, Walter. I just don't know."
Mako Saito sat with Walter Haroldson on a wrought iron bench outside one of the dormitories, staring out at the quad. In the center of the green there was a large fountain; it was a bright, sunny day, and many people had gathered around it to read textbooks, work on their papers, or throw Frisbees or footballs. The wind carried the sweet smell of freshly cut grass. The world was bright and alive. At that moment, Mako did not know where Adrien was. She was afraid to know.
"You have to let him find his own way, Mako." Walter sipped his paper cup of coffee. "He has to decide it all for himself."
"I'm scared, Walter. I'm scared that I'm going to wake up tomorrow and read about the local psychology professor that's dead of a morphine overdose."
Walter shook his head. "You can't save him. He has to save himself."
"Why, Walter? Why doesn't he see it?"
"Maybe he does. Maybe he sees and he isn't sure whether he wants to see." Walter shrugged. "We don't know what happens when he's alone with Dahlia."
"I've been there, Walter! I know he feels like he can't get out, but--"
Walter turned his head, pulling his mouth to one side. His eyes darted away when a swarthy sophomore shouted at him to throw back the Frisbee that had landed at his feet. Walter doubled over to lift it gently, then hurl the red disc back across the green. He watched students trickle out from the library on the other side of the fountain, and shield their eyes against the sun. They were so young, and so alive.
Mako took a breath, and started again. "We could intervene. We could do something."
Walter shifted on the bench, moving to face Mako more fully. "Mako. Do you think you stand a chance trying to convince Adrien Fabel to do something he doesn't want to do?"
She grit her teeth and crossed her arms. "He's wasting his life away."
"What do I know?"
The pair of them started, then looked over their shoulders to see Adrien leaning over them. His face had a little more color to it, as well as a little more flesh. Mako was relieved to see that today, his eyes were clear and hard, void of that telltale glaze.
"That you're the center of everyone's universe," Walter said smoothly. "The king of all our hearts."
"You tell me the most splendid lies, Walter." Adrien clapped the other man hard on the shoulder. "It's why we're such great friends."
Something started to buzz and ring in Adrien's pockets. Mako recognized Debussy. Adrien pulled his cell phone from his pocket, and answered it without turning away.
"Hello dear! Oh, I'm just headed out to lunch right now. Yes, just left. Going out with a few of my colleagues, I think it'll be long. No, you don't have to come by, I'm fine. I'm sure! Is your day going okay?" As he spoke, his eyes tracked the red Frisbee whizzing across the lawn. His lips were pulled back in a forced smile, and his voice had a pleasant, cheerful lilt to it. "I have to run now babe, I'll see you when I get home? Mmm'mm. Of course. Love you!" As he hung up, the smile dropped away, and his eyebrows came together to a crease.
"Headed out to lunch?" Mako inquired.
"No. I just finished."
The silence was filled with faint laughter and the splashes of the fountain.
"Lying to Dahlia?" Walter nudged.
"Like any husband does," Adrien answered breezily. His eyes broke with Walter's.
"For how long?"
"Until she catches me." He took a breath, then closed his eyes. "Six days now." He blew his breath out his nose. "She'll know."
"And when she does?"
"Mmm. Maybe I'll run away." Adrien opened his eyes and wove around the bench. He took off in a run, as if fleeing his conscience, to intercept the next pass of the Frisbee. One of the students playing, a blond girl with doe eyes, glanced shyly at him. Adrien didn't think anyone was looking, so Walter watched as he beamed winningly at her, then winked.
The sky was black with rain. It poured out its wrath upon the campus, raging on into the evening classes, where the rain turned cold as the sun vanished. Adrien had promised to go out with him for beer, his treat, and Walter waited for him outside the lecture auditorium. Friday nights were his longest. He had begun to make them longer, with all the rest of his days. This one was the last of the semester. Walter waited outside, checking his phone.
The students filed out quietly, clustering in the halls as they debated whether or not to wait out the storm. Walter let himself in, as Adrien collected his things.
He took him in a moment, at a distance. His black raincoat was already buttoned up to his neck as he logged out of the lecture room's computer, shutting down the monitor and the projectors. He looked sick again, another sweat creeping from his brow, but his eyes! Walter thought he'd never seen anything like them. They burned with cold, like dry ice or the hottest part of a flame. It occurred to Walter that beneath the warm glow of the morphine, beneath the golden high that had carried him through the years, Adrien Fabel was an unspeakably angry person.
"Something on your mind, Adrien?"
"I'm not going back." Adrien straightened up from leaning over the monitor. His fists were clenched at his sides. "I'm not going back, Walter. Not tonight. Not ever." He blinked rapidly, flexing his jaw.
"What is it?" Walter came forward and set a hand on Adrien's arm.
Adrien's hand went into the pocket of his raincoat. He checked his messages, swallowed and shoved the phone into one of the coat's inside pockets.
"If it kills me I'm not going back." He started sniffling, then strode towards the door, slapping the light switches into the 'OFF' position. Walter was forced to navigate to the exit in the dark. "I'll die first. I'll let all those parts of me die." He took a deep breath. "I'm taking the summer off, Walter. I'm going somewhere. To get better." He was quiet a moment, in the dark. "I hit her, Walter."
"Why?" The question echoed.
"I was angry. She asked me if I thought it was her fault, the way that I was."
Walter stumbled forwards, led to the door by the promising glow through its narrow, rectangular window. "And what did you say?"
"I said 'no'."
"Did you believe it?"
"Yes and no." Adrien set his hand on the door handle, but did not turn it. "I feel like... I feel like I have been asleep for a very long time, Walter. And it's not her fault that I wanted to go to sleep to start with, even if she helped keep me asleep. But..." Adrien closed his eyes. The light from outside sharpened the harsh hollowness of his face. "It's her fault that I started to wake up. And now there isn't any going back." He took a loud, quick breath. "That's just how it is. Let's take your car." He adjusted the umbrella under his arm, and held the door open for Walter. The two of them braved the thunder and the rain in silence.
Walter felt sorry for Dahlia, though he was not her friend. She had been married to Adrien quite some time now, before Adrien had ever known Mako or Walter. It was Dahlia who had borne the burden of Adrien's strange fury, his queer temper. He wondered if she'd cut Adrien off on purpose, hoping to be rid of him. She was clever, if that was the case.
As they came near to Walter's car, Walter glanced across the parking lot through the sideways rain. Parked next to Adrien's car, still running, was Dahlia's car. The white glow of her phone lit up her face in the dark. Walter's car was on the other side of the parking lot, and Adrien made his way toward it without looking around. When Walter reached the driver's side of his car, he shouted over the storm, "She's waiting for you, Adrien."
"I won't go back!" He raised his voice as if objecting to his own kidnapping. From the corner of his eye, Walter saw the head jerk up from its concentration on the phone. Adrien folded his umbrella and let himself into the car. When Walter sat down inside, Adrien shouted at him, "Drive!"
Adrien returned in the fall, presumably from a very serious vacation, or an even more serious academic venture. A great change had come over him: he spoke more softly, he had gained weight, he smiled less. Something brooding and mysterious had come over him, making him no less charming but much more grave, weighted down with the sins and secrets of the world. He told Mako that more of his students were falling in love with him, and asked what he should do about it. When his friends asked if he was all right, Adrien smiled with all of his sharp, white teeth. He was better than ever. Couldn't they see?
She came to his office one day, just to talk. When Mako found him, Adrien was sitting at his desk, spinning his wedding ring like a top or a coin. The gold band whizzed in rapid rotation, until Adrien clapped it down, slamming it into the desk and motionlessness. He seemed rather preoccupied with the venture.
It occurred to Mako, watching him pick up the ring to spin it again, that Adrien had prevailed over himself only because he had been unable to prevail over Dahlia. Had he conquered her successfully, he would not have seen the need to turn upon himself.
"Do you still talk to her at all?"
He looked up, noticing her for the first time. A small broke out over his face. "How long have you been standing there?"
"A minute, maybe two."
He turned his head slightly to the right, and his smile became sly. "See anything you like?"
"I said, do you still talk to her?"
The smile shrunk. Adrien caught the ring on the table, and put it into his pocket. His eyes, when they met hers, were terribly cold, and terribly clear. She felt a chill pass through her. "No." After a second of pause, he added, "I am free."
And for a moment, Mako wondered whether the world was better off that way.