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## LMS VI: The Halls of St. Julian's

Gender:
Points: 1992
Reviews: 142
Mon Feb 06, 2023 3:56 am
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looseleaf says...

Week Twenty-Two - Chapter 7.2 - 1171 Words

Chalk scratched against the chalkboard. Eduard’s mind ran wild.

George DeMund, responsible for the death of a black girl?

That couldn’t be possible; he had so much to lose. Any respectable college would not accept such a troubled soul and, even before that, St. Julian’s would not hesitate to expel him.

So why did he do it?

Eduard shook his head to shake the thoughts away. It was a bear, he reminded himself, Ibronke Gbadamosi “was an unlucky girl who happened to have an argument with her date the night a bear decided to take a walk.” Those were the facts; anything else was baseless speculation.

“Mr. Klement, do you have the answer to this equation?” Mr. Thompson asked.

Eduard was awakened from his daze. He had been frozen in time while the class had moved on without him. He examined the equation on the board. Mr. Thompson’s handwriting seemed sloppier than usual and his brain struggled to understand the equation.

“Do you?” Mr. Thompson questioned again. His blue eyes turned glum with disappointment.

Eduard scanned the board again. He could feel the gears in his head moving. Beads of sweat formed at his hairline. His pencil tapped against the mahogany desk. He spotted Cameron out of the corner of his eye.

He was waiting to pounce, to raise his hand and upstage Eduard.

Eduard dared not write the equation on a piece of paper; that would be showing weakness. He finally cleared his throat and responded, “Would it be… 6x squared, minus 6x, minus 36?”

Mr. Thompson’s eyes returned to normal as he nodded, “Very good, Mr. Klement. Can everyone see how he got that?” The teacher turned back to the board. He began to draw the steps that Eduard supposedly took to come to the answer.

Eduard breathed a sigh of relief. This was the first time he had slipped up, yet his adrenaline was still high. His classmates at Creighton never made him that nervous. Most of the time, he would not try to recover when the teacher called him out. Why was it that the status of his peers made a difference?

He leaned back in his chair. His back cracked against the cool metal. Eduard peered at Cameron. His friend was looking straight ahead, scribbling the equation on the board. He had not known the answer. Eduard, miraculously, had.

The leaves fell from the tree as Eduard refocused his attention to the lesson at hand. More pervasive thoughts about George’s whereabouts entered his mind, but he pushed them out. He had no evidence on the football player besides a few coincidences. George deserved a fair chance. Everybody deserved a fair chance.

The bell rang and half the class stood in unison. They began collecting their bags. Mr. Thompson stood in front of the door.

“Don’t forget we have the mid-year awards ceremony after school and practices today. That is no excuse for you to not do your homework for this class,” several boys groaned as Mr. Thompson exclaimed, “Plan out your evening around the ceremony and make sure you get all of your work done! Other teachers are not as forgiving as I am.”

The boys mumbled a few “thank yous” and “have a good afternoons” to their teacher before bolting out of the classroom. Cameron collected his things. He began walking but, realizing his shadow was not keeping pace behind him, he leaned against the bookshelf. He tapped his foot impatiently.

Eduard took extra care packing his bag. He did not want to leave the room, not when so many questions were left unanswered. He would question George tonight, of course, but he wanted the answer now. He needed it now.

Eduard walked to the front of the room and had nearly escaped when the man who reminded him so much of his father began to speak.

“Mr. Klement, excellent job in class today,” Mr. Thompson said with a twinge of sarcasm in his voice. He stood with the homework sheet outstretched in his right hand, “I am impressed you were able to answer that question without solving it on paper.”

“Thank you, sir,” Eduard said, knowing Cameron was listening to his every word. Mr. Thompson opened his mouth to object to the formal title, but the Czech continued talking, “and I apologize for not being in my top form today. It was rude of me and I promise I will act better in the future.”

Mr. Thompson chuckled, handing the homework to his student, “It was no problem. I was a boy once, too. I know math class is not the most invigorating subject.”

“And yet you teach it,” Cameron scoffed. Mr. Thompson made no effort to respond.

“Thank you for understanding, sir.”

“I have already told you that you don’t need to speak so formally to me, Ed–”

“Well, that is the appropriate thing to do, sir,” Eduard replied. He straightened his back and held the straps of his schoolbag tightly in his hands. Cameron’s eyes were staring needles into the back of his neck.

“But–”

“Sir, we are going to be late for our next class,” Cameron interjected. His arms were crossed. He was glaring at the man who was supposed to be superior to him.

Mr. Thompson sighed, “Very well, boys. Have a good rest of your day and I will see you at the ceremony.”

The teacher held out his hand to shake. Eduard stared at it for a moment, contemplating the consequences. Two sides were actively tearing him apart. One of them represented all of the values that had been instilled in him by his parents, an overarching belief that assets and status did not matter. The other side was what he had truly been sent to St. Julian’s to be educated on, whether his mother was aware of it or not. In the past months, he had learned the importance of rank and wealth. It was not something to turn your nose at.

Eduard turned back to his friend. Cameron’s body language was unreadable.

The Czech cleared his throat. His hand furtively met his teacher’s and shook it for less than a second. Yet, in that second, their eyes met. The glum had returned to Mr. Thompson’s eyes, a fog settling over the magnificent blue of his irises. The same color as Mr. Klement Sr.’s.

Cameron exited the classroom, Eduard quickly on his heels. The silence between them was unbearable.

“I don’t know why I shook his hand. I mean, it was awful of him to just put me on the sp–” Eduard started, but his friend interrupted him.

“You shook his hand because it was the polite thing to do, not because you agree with what he was saying,” Cameron said, looking back towards Eduard only when he tacked on, “Right?”

“Absolutely right.”

“Good,” Cameron nodded, and they made their way to their next class.

But Eduard knew it was not right. Something, in the back of his mind, was growing troubled of what he was becoming.

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Points: 1992
Reviews: 142
Mon Feb 13, 2023 5:31 am
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looseleaf says...

Week Twenty-Three - Chapter 7.3 - 1151 Words

Lunch and dinner tables were a delicate matter. Specific friend groups basically owned specific tables; any attempt to change that ownership was met with heavy pushback. Sons sat at the same tables their fathers did unless there was some drastic difference in personality.

You could know any basic fact about any person by the number of their table.

Likewise, Eduard had refrained from sitting with Cameron and his friends. He felt more connected to them than with George and the others, but he did not want to mess with the natural order of things. So, the ownership had remained the same. At least, for a little while.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Cameron said to the lady after she served him a piece of steak. Fridays meant fancy food–especially when there was an event that night, “How is Elizabeth doing?”

“She’s doing very well, thank you. She would love it if you called for her sometime soon,” the woman said, taking the steak that Eduard had pointed at.

“You know, ma’am, a lot of people would get farther in life if they were as direct as you,” Cameron smiled, the sentence rolling off his tongue as if it was the highest compliment he could ever bestow. If one didn’t know Cameron, and they didn’t listen to the actual content of what he said, they would believe it was. And whoever the woman was believed it was a compliment.

“You are so sweet, Cameron, thank you,” she replied, “Your mother raised you right.”

“I will tell her you said that. It’ll make her day,” Cameron said. He smiled again, as a goodbye, and moved down the food line. Eduard moved slowly behind him.

He absentmindedly followed Cameron to the drinks, where they usually parted ways. He whispered in the blond’s ear, “Who was that lady?”

“Mrs. Schlarmann.”

“How do you know her?”

“Her sister is married to the 9th Duke of Devonshire… or was it the 6th Earl of Devonshire?” Cameron tapped his foot as he thought. The fact was of the utmost importance to him; why else would he care about Mrs. Schlarmann and her daughter?

“Whichever it is, she sounds mighty important,” Eduard replied. He took the pitcher of lemonade from Cameron, “Is Elizabeth her daughter?”

“Of course. My father rather likes their family. He thinks it’s a noble one or something along that line.”

“Well, obviously, if they’re related to actual royalty.”

Cameron left without replying. His mind had gone elsewhere; Eduard could see his brain working through some problem. Months ago, back when he was delivering his mother’s meals back in Omaha, he would have thought Cameron’s problems were pointless and fake. Now he was beginning to realize how important they truly are.

So Eduard mindlessly followed Cameron. He followed him past table number ten, past number nine, all the way up to number four. George sat at number four: so did William, and Leo, and the rest of them.

George’s eyes met Eduard’s.

Eduard had not spoken to him for weeks, except for the hour or two they were together in their bedroom. Mr. Klement always had an excuse to sugarcoat the fact that her friend had stopped talking to her. “He knows that I am busy, he doesn’t want to bother me,” he would say, or, “He has five children to raise, he has no time.” All excuses that never mattered when they were friends.

George and Eduard had just accepted that they did not talk anymore. And Eduard was okay with that.

Eduard quickly examined the two boys in front of him. Cameron and George were very similar. Besides them playing different sports, they were practically carbon copies of the same boy. Why, then, had Eduard started to gravitate towards one rather than the other? Why was it that George’s appeal had slowly diminished over the course of the school year?

“Are you coming?” Cameron asked. His group sat at table one. Being invited to sit at table one, no matter how informal, was a sign of truly making it in St. Julian’s society. At least, that’s how Eduard saw it.

“Yeah, I am, sorry,” Eduard said. He kept his head down as he walked past table four. He could feel George’s eyes burn into the back of his head. If only he could understand. But, that was it. George could not understand; he was born at the top of the social ladder, so he had no incentive to keep climbing.

The moment Eduard sat down in his chair, the moment his plate clinked down on the table, he knew he had made it. He had completed his true goal at St. Julian’s. He was seated next to the sons of important Congressmen and Senators: those from New York and Massachusetts, not unimportant places like Ohio or Nebraska. Eduard grinned to himself; his father would have been–should have been–proud.

“Anyways, Cameron,” Eduard said as he cut his steak. It was perfectly cooked and garnished in such a way that he hadn’t seen since his tenth birthday, “Why does your father think so highly of Mrs. Schlarmann and her family? Is it just the royal connection?”

Cameron looked at Eduard as if he was a child with no knowledge of how the world truly worked. In a way, he was one.

“Schlarmann? Like Elizabeth Schlarmann?” one of the other boys cut in before Cameron had a chance to respond.

Eduard nodded.

“Let me tell you something,” he said, leaning in as if he was going to tell Eduard a secret. Yet, he said the following sentence louder than in a normal conversation, “That girl’s fatter than a pig.”

The rest of the table, save Cameron, burst out into laughter. Eduard chuckled a little at the joke since he did not really know the subject of it. The laughs subsided and Eduard continued.

“Everybody does. I believe Mr. Schlarmann is the ninth richest man in Virginia.”

Cameron snapped his fingers, “That’s where I got the ninth from! Her sister is married to the sixth duke of something.”

Eduard was in awe at the other boys’ capability to memorize such small details. How could they possibly know these things? He wanted to ask the question desperately but did not want to risk looking like a fool again.

“Elizabeth is not good-looking at all. She’s in the sixth form over at Saint J-F. But, her sister,” the other boy did a cat-call whistle just quiet enough that the teacher supervisor for the night, Mr. Thompson, could not hear it, “man, is she attractive.”

“Shut your mouth, Kip,” Cameron almost snarled. He gripped his fork, his eyes glaring at Kip with a burning hatred–almost jealousy–that Eduard had never seen from him before.

“I only said that she’s attractive, and I know you agree with that.”

“And I said to shut your mouth!”

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Points: 1992
Reviews: 142
Mon Feb 20, 2023 5:35 am
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looseleaf says...

Week Twenty-Four - Chapter 7.4 - 1229 Words

A silence fell over the table, but, besides not talking, the other boys remained unphased. Cameron’s enraged shouting was not an uncommon occurrence. They had learned to live with their friend’s spouts of anger.

Eduard buttered his bread and observed the room. The conversation eventually picked itself back up. The boys’ voices had an unintentional melodramatic air to them. They exaggerated their voices without thinking, their sentences growing more dramatic the longer it carried on. Perhaps it was a side effect of having to over-embellish their problems to make them seem important.

“Are you ready for the awards ceremony?” Eduard asked. He assumed he had waited enough to resume speaking.

The boy on the farthest end of the table dropped his spoon in his bowl. Soup flew up onto his face. The one across from him, who Eduard believed was the boy with the house in France, worriedly stared at Eduard.

Cameron continued to cut his steak.

“You all don’t have to act like that,” he said, chuckling at the end of the sentence as he wiped his mouth with his napkin, “I’m not going to kill him.”

“I would hope not.”

A sly smile grew on Cameron’s face. He had met his match, whether Eduard knew it or not.

“I am ready for the awards ceremony. I always look forward to it. In fact, it’s the one day during the school year that my dad comes to visit me.”

A sad pang struck Eduard’s heart. His father was dead, but Cameron’s relationship with his father was practically the same. He couldn’t imagine knowing that your dad was out there, alive, actively choosing not to see you. It was one thing to be shipped out to a boarding school. The governor of Massachusetts refusing to see you despite traveling all over the state was even worse.

“Cam takes home all of the awards,” Frank, the rower, interjected. He had found the perfect opportunity to increase his reputation with Cameron, “The only one he didn’t get was two years ago and it was religion.”

“Thanks for reminding me. I should have gotten that one. I had earned it far more than Marcel did,” Cameron said as if it was a wild accusation that he had to vehemently deny. Marcel, the boy with the house in France, started aimlessly looking around the dining hall, “I will get it this year, though.”

“I bet you will. I hope I get something.”

Cameron’s lips contorted into a smile. The gears in his head were turning. Each possible outcome of the awards ceremony played through his mind, each possible way that Eduard could beat him. He started planning how he would hide his furious reaction.

Eduard also smiled. He sensed that Cameron finally saw him as an equal. And with that fact in mind, nothing else could bother him.

“I hope you win one as well.”

The conversation drifted over to sports for the next couple of minutes. Frank was ready for the river to thaw and for his time on the indoor rowing machine to be over. Marcel anticipated a great soccer season. St. Julian’s worse sport was soccer, but they had managed to make it to the state championship for the past twelve years, even if they did not have qualifying scores. Coincidentally, Marcel’s oldest brother started at St. Julian’s twelve years ago.

Mr. Thompson blew his whistle. The heads of each table stood up immediately. George DeMund towered over most of them. Cameron towered over George DeMund.

“Boys, you have ten minutes to clear your tables. You all need to be in the Church for the awards ceremony in twenty minutes.”

“You have to be shitting me. Twenty minutes? He could have given us a longer warning,” Frank said, picking up his silverware and passing it to Cameron. Cameron placed everybody’s tableware on a tray.

“You’re a rower, Frank. I bet if you really try you can run to the Church in twenty minutes,” Eduard spat out. He had not thought of the statement before saying it. In fact, he was not quite sure where it came from. But it felt right. His mother would chastise him for how rude and unprompted it was, but it flew off his tongue like it had done so a thousand times. It felt right.

Cameron unleashed a large laugh from deep inside of him. At least a dozen boys turned to face them. Eduard only noticed George and Mr. Thompson. A deep red grew on Frank’s cheeks and he fiddled with his ginger hair out of embarrassment.

The blond governor’s son picked up the tray and carried it to the food window, where Mrs. Schlarmann was collecting dirty dishes. Eduard wondered why she would volunteer to do dirty work in a high school cafeteria when she had such a comfortable life. And why would she volunteer at a school whose students had such strong opinions about her daughters?

Eduard turned to Frank. His head was ducked down. He stood behind his chair, his hands gripping the top of it. His eyes examined the cracks on his fingers.

Eduard knew what he should do. He knew what his mother would want him to do, what his father would want him to do. Mr. Thompson was in earshot and Cameron was not.

“I’m sorry, Frank.”

Three simple words.

“No, you’re not.”

Three more simple words. And that was the end of the conversation.

Cameron returned and the boys put on their coats. They exited the room as a group. Their peers looked up at them through rose-tinted glasses; Eduard looked at them with rose-tinted glasses.

The remaining snow had turned into grey mush on the roads of St. Julian’s. It turned the grass into mud; mud that could damage leather shoes. The boys avoided it like Hedvika did back home. Eduard smiled at the memories of his sister, in frilly Sunday dresses, dodging certain places on the ground so as to not ruin her clothes.

The Church was situated behind the lake and in front of the religion and art buildings. Eduard wanted to cut straight across the grass, past Lake Flanagan, and to the front doors of the Church. Instead, he followed the crowd of his classmates to the main roundabout, where they turned right at the library and winded through their school buildings. Vanity was not only a girl’s worry.

The Church was a large, dark grey structure. Above the foreboding front doors was a circular stained glass window with the face of Mary as its center. It reflected the light of the moon, sending lines of color through the night and onto the boys below.

Eduard shuffled into the building with the rest of his group. They found their spots at the front of the right pews. The front of the left pews was reserved for the sixth form.

The Czech suddenly relized he had not gone to the mandatory five o’clock Mass.

“Did they cancel Mass today?” he asked frantically.

“No,” Cameron responded.

Eduard furtively glanced around the Church. The priest was in the corner behind the altar. They briefly locked eyes.

“Does the priest keep track of who goes? Or is it the teachers?”

“Mass wasn’t canceled today because it’s always right before the awards ceremony. That’s why we are wearing our best uniform,” Cameron explained, “Don’t be such a worrier.”

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Points: 1992
Reviews: 142
Mon Feb 27, 2023 4:36 am
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looseleaf says...

Week Twenty-Five - Chapter 7.5 - 1266 Words

Eduard breathed a sigh of relief. He had told his mother that he would never miss Mass at St. Julian’s, and he planned on keeping that promise. His mother…

“Remind me to write a letter back to my mom tonight,” Eduard said. The congregation stood. The chorus started their ominous opening tune.

Cameron did not respond. His hands clasped together in reverent prayer. They looked as if they wanted to cut off oxygen to each other; the veins on his hands were bulging from their tight grip. Eduard had never thought of him as a very religious person. He elbowed him in the ribcage.

“Will you?”

“Yes,” the other boy hissed, his voice so low that Eduard had to stoop to hear him, “Now shush.”

“In nomine patris, et filii, et spiritus sancti…” the priest interrupted.

“Amen,” the boys replied in perfect unison.

The Mass went on like any other. When it was time for the prayers to the faithful, Eduard prayed for his family and his father’s intercession. During the Our Father, he held hands with the boys in his row. And, when the Priest called for the sign of peace, he did as he was told. It had become a routine. He followed the instructions and stayed still. Nothing was special about going to Church anymore: not at St. Julian’s Academy.

“Ita, missa est.”

“Deo gratias.”

The Priest processed down the aisle. The bottom of his alb touched the floor as he walked, picking up dirt and grime from the cold stone. Mr. and Mrs. Klement’s wedding photo flashed through Eduard’s mind. There were speckles on the bottom of Mrs. Klement’s dress. It had been raining on their wedding day and Mrs. Klement had not been prissy enough to avoid the mud.

“Good evening, students,” Headmaster Alarie spoke into the microphone. It was one of only a few microphones Eduard had ever seen in person. It was the only microphone Eduard had ever heard of at a school. Its novelty had worn off since September.

“Good evening, Mr. Alarie,” the Church vibrated with the sound of the students’ reply.

“Before we begin, I would like to thank Monsignor Lansing for presiding over today’s Mass,” the Church followed his example and began clapping, “Your homily was thoughtful and intriguing, as usual.”

That had to be a lie. Or, perhaps, Eduard did not have the same mindset as his classmates. To him, the homily was as boring and dry as The Picture of Dorian Grey. He hesitated to clap until he heard the symphony of other boys’ hands.

“Anyways, to the main order of business,” Headmaster Alarie said, shuffling his notes in his hand, “The semester award ceremonies are meant to commend the greatest and most accomplished among us. This has been a longstanding tradition at St. Julian’s and St. Jane Frances’, since their founding.”

“The St. Jane Frances’ awards don’t even compare to ours,” Cameron mumbled his opinion to no one in particular.

“How come?” Eduard asked, “Aren’t they for the same things?”

Cameron scoffed, “That’s what they say. It does not mean it’s true.”

Eduard frowned. Hedvika was smarter, if not as intelligent, as him. Why should she be put down for achieving the same thing?

But Eduard did not say anything. He would save his anger for another time.

“–impressive group of boys sitting in front of me. Yet, today, we will honor the very best among you. These are the boys who embody St. Julian’s values. These are the boys who become governors, senators, heroes. These are the boys you should aspire to be.”

Headmaster Alarie glanced at the crowd of boys expectantly. He had the very best intentions for all of them, whatever his definition of “best” was.

One student from each grade got an award. Henry DeMund was honored out of the third-form students and received an outlandish standing ovation from a few of his friends. Headmaster Alarie snapped and stopped their behavior.

There were no separate European or American or World History awards–you were expected to be the best at everything, so you were awarded as such.

“For our fifth form… Cameron Flanagan,” Headmaster Alarie exclaimed. He was the first to clap.

Eduard patted his companion on the back and joined in the celebrations as he walked to the front of the Church. Headmaster Alarie handed Cameron his certificate and shook his hand. His mouth moved silently. It was longer than a “Congratulations.” It was longer than anything he had said to the other winners. Eduard paid no attention to it.

The next award was religion. Cameron’s breath stopped. Out of the corner of his eye, Eduard could swear he saw the other boy cross his fingers.

“From our fifth form… George DeMund,” Headmaster Alarie said. For a split second, he looked confused. His eyebrows scrunched and his mouth stayed open for a moment too long. He quickly composed himself and politely clapped his hands.

All the Headmaster said was “Congratulations” to George DeMund. Eduard smiled at his roommate, and received a smile in return.

Cameron’s face was as red as some of the stained glass. Colored light from the windows above them streamed down, hiding his rage. The veins on his hand bulged and his grip on the side of the pew only grew tighter.

Sensing an issue, Headmaster Alarie announced the English awards.

Cameron won that one. Henry DeMund won it as well.

The language awards were announced. It was the only category where you could receive an award for specific classes.

Cameron won German. George won Spanish. Marcel won French, but that was a given.

“For our fifth-form Latin award goes to… Eduard Klement!”

Mr. Thompson began clapping as soon as “Eduard” left Headmaster Alarie’s mouth. This time, Cameron patted him on the back. He pushed past his friend to get out of the pew. He knew his feet carried him to the front of the Church, but it felt like he was floating. St. Julian’s was cheering for him. And that felt good.

A rolled sheet of paper landed in Eduard’s left hand. It was tied with a blue ribbon. Headmaster Alarie grabbed his other hand and shook it.

“Congratulations, Mr. Klement,” was what Headmaster Alarie said.

“Welcome, Mr. Klement,” was what Eduard heard.

He was lifted back to his spot next to Cameron. The sound of applause rang in his ears after he sat down. He looked over at Mr. Thompson. He was as proud as a father and his joy only increased after seeing how happy Eduard was.

If he knew the true reason why I’m happy, Eduard thought, he would not be as proud.

The next award was Art. Cameron won it. Eduard had never seen him do anything artistic or even discuss art.

Science and athletics were next. Both went to Eduard. The look of surprise on Headmaster Alarie’s face stayed on for a few seconds longer. Cameron kept himself composed. Mr. Thompson swelled with pride.

The final one was math. Mr. Thompson’s subject. The award would tie Eduard and Cameron. It was bad enough that Cameron had not won all of the awards, much less half of them. The students could not leave having heard Eduard Klement the same amount of times as Cameron Flanagan.

But that was what happened. Cameron did not pat him on the back.

“Congratulations again, Mr. Klement,” Headmaster Alarie said as they shook hands for the fourth time, “You have really thrown us for a loop, haven’t you?”

“Yes, sir, I suppose I have.”

Gender:
Points: 1992
Reviews: 142
Mon Mar 06, 2023 4:40 am
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looseleaf says...

Week Twenty-Six - Chapter 8.1 - 1073 Words
Warning: brief mention of death, probably unrealistic depictions of teen boys

Eduard’s bed felt softer than usual. He did not struggle to find a comfortable position, and his pillow felt like a giant cloud beneath his head. He was at peace. He was happy.

He lifted his glasses off the crook of his nose. He set them down on the pile of books on his bedside table; books he would never read again once he was finished with them. Eduard sighed as he saw the top book. He needed to finish annotating it, but that could wait. What he needed was sleep.

George hurried to change out of his formal uniform into something more casual. Eduard watched the other boy’s blurred form sift through his armoire.

“Are you going somewhere tonight?” Eduard said. He checked the clock. It was either 9 pm or 11:45 pm. One or the other.

George grunted. He selected a light blue shirt and threw it on.

“I tell you where I am going,” Eduard replied, laying on his back, facing the ceiling, “It would be nice if you could do the same.”

The other boy did not respond. He hastily combed his hair but it had so much grease in it that it made no real difference. He slung his coat over his shoulders like the men in the movies did. DeMund was strange in that sense; he always impersonated others when approaching girls, and never let them see his real personality first.

Eduard had learned that George was not like their other classmates. He stopped to pet people’s dogs on the street. He wrote long, sappy letters back home to his mother. He never treated anybody in any way except with love. He drove a Packard older than Eduard’s Ford and a complaint never came out of his mouth. George was soft, George was thoughtful, George was forgiving; George was everything a St. Julian’s boy should not be.

And so Eduard despised him. George would never know that. In fact, Eduard would die before George ever learned that the Czech hated him for nothing more than being different than Cameron. But that was beside the point.

“Cameron has a date tonight,” Eduard said with his hands folded over his chest like a corpse in a casket. As long as he lay on his back he would not fall asleep but, just in case, he put his glasses back on, “He did not say anything about it before the ceremony, so I think it was kind of impromptu.”

“Do you know where he’s going?”

“No. Where are you going?” Eduard tried a second time.

George sighed and shook his head. He sat down on the edge of his bed.

“Do you promise not to tell Reggie?”

“Why, are you sleeping with his sister?” Eduard quipped. He could not believe the vulgarness of his question even after he said it. His mother would have shot him, but he thought it was funny.

George hurled his pillow full-force at Eduard’s head. It also felt like a giant cloud and barely hurt as it smashed against Eduard’s face.

“God, your such a twit,” George said, holding back a laugh. They would have been good friends back in Omaha, “I’m seeing Wilma tonight. We’re going to dinner and a movie.”

“Wilma? The flirt?”

George sighed again and reached for his socks. They had a blue diamond pattern on them the same color as George’s shirt.

“I love her, Eduard, I really, really love her. I know that is both completely sappy and stupid of me to say–but I do,” George said, “I know that’s hard to understand.”

Eduard shrugged, “It is not hard to understand at all. I love my sister. I know you love Wilma in a different way than I love Hedvika,” he chuckled to himself, “but I know what you are talking about. I would die for Hedvika, even though she gets on my nerves sometimes.”

“That’s a tad extreme,” George said as if it was something he was forced to say, but not necessarily agreed with. He slipped his last shoe onto his right foot and stood, “but I would die for Wilma, too. Even though she’s a flirt.”

Eduard tilted his head up and smiled at the other boy, “At least you admit it.”

“I never denied it.”

George reached for a small, cardboard box on top of his bedside table. The Mamomer logo was emblazoned on its side in bold letters.

“Actually, I found this box in the trash,” George said matter-of-factly, “Please don’t tell anyone this but–”

“So many secrets,” Eduard mumbled jokingly. If George had another pillow to throw he would have thrown it.

“Be quiet. I bought Wilma a gorgeous necklace and gift-wrapped it box myself. I didn’t want anyone to think I’m a sissy so I put the necklace box in this.”

“Huh. Neat.”

George snickered and walked over to the door. The top of his head nearly scraped the doorframe as he exited the room.

Eduard took his glasses off for the second time and switched off his lamp. The sound of distant chatter flowed through the dorm room as boys celebrated their awards and went off to their evening events. One after another, cars started up and left the premises. A little bit of Eduard wished he had evening plans: that he had a girl to hold and dance to Bing Crosby or Duke Ellington with. But he was already lucky to attend St. Julian’s Academy. He already had enough.

His eyes started to feel heavy and he contorted into a ball to sleep more comfortably. The footsteps in the hallway subsided as the first wave of boys left the premises. The hum of the ceiling fans lulled the Czech to bed. He would not wake until the wave of non-boarding came to pick up their friends and recount the night’s escapades.

When the St. Jane’s girls returned to their dormitories that night, none of them would notice that one of their crowd was gone. Her roommate had fallen asleep, as Eduard had, and would be oblivious to the empty bed next to her. She had dozed off before Katherine had left for her date, meaning no one knew who Katherine Mallory had gone out with. And no one knew where he had taken her.

That was until another body was discovered in the woods next to the main road.

Gender:
Points: 1992
Reviews: 142
Mon Mar 13, 2023 2:48 am
looseleaf says...

Week Twenty-Seven - Chapter 9.1 - 1182 Words

Intricate carvings of flowers spread along the sides of the dark wood casket like vines on a wall. White bouquets covered the lid, shielding everything but the name plaque.

Katherine Mallory
May 23, 1919 - January 19, 1935

Her parents had chosen a closed-casket viewing. It only caused rumors to spread about how disfigured she was. Regardless, during the visitation, Eduard’s eyes remained glued to the plaque. Everything Katherine ever did in her life was represented by the dash between 1919 and January. Same with his father’s. Same with Ibronke’s. No one would remember them in a hundred years, or even fifty.

Eduard could not let that happen to himself.

Katherine was buried in the same cemetery as Ibronke, but in the front, in a beautiful family plot that was bought long before the Klements came to America. The two girls were in the same place, yet nowhere near each other. One was in the cheap, new, buy-the-plots-as-they-die section, and the other would look up at decades-old oak trees for eternity.

All the St. Jane Frances’ students were crying. Mr. Mallory was stoic and silent as the priest sprinkled holy water on his daughter’s casket while her classmates sobbed wildly in the background. His feet were glued to the ground, his back straighter than a needle. No signs of remorse showed on his face.

The St. Julian’s boys followed in his example. They stood, hushed, avoiding eye contact with any of their companions. They had all been invited to Katherine’s funeral, seeing as she was a St. Jane Frances’ student from a respectable family. It had been determined that she deserved mourners. So that was why, in the front of Calvary Cemetery on January 22nd, 1934, upwards of five hundred teenagers were crowded around a hole in the ground.

Cameron was on Eduard’s left. His eyes were frozen on the casket. His hands were clasped in front of his chest in devoted prayer. His face was paler than usual, but his regular confidence masked any discomfort that he felt. He was trying to fight back some unknown emotions.

Eduard’s hand found itself patting Cameron’s shoulder. It was the same action he had performed on Hedvika during their father’s funeral. No tears flowed down Cameron’s cheeks, no sobs tore out of his mouth; yet a great sadness emitted from him. He was the silent sufferer. He was someone Eduard could help.

“I am sorry this happened,” Eduard whispered.

Cameron shifted uncomfortably in his spot, as if he had just noticed a sniper’s laser pointed at his heart. His gaze fluttered briefly over to Eduard. The two boys were one and the same. Their intentions were one and the same. They both wanted the best for themselves. They wanted the best for the people they loved. Cameron and Eduard were brothers born not out of blood, but out of a special type of greed.

The blond nodded. Eduard interpreted it as “thank you.”

“I do not know who Katherine was to you. I know nothing I say or do can cure your grief. When my father died, all these people claimed, or at least insinuated, that they could fix everything.”

Eduard met Cameron’s eye. Cameron gave him the approval to keep speaking.

“My uncle Oskar started taking me to football games every Saturday. Cousins I had not spoken to in years suddenly wanted to have lunch, give me gifts, take me fishing–things that they thought cured my sorrow when, instead, they just distracted me from it. It worked for a little while. And if you want me to distract you for a little while, I would be happy to do so.”

No response came from Cameron.

“Grief does not go away. It stays with you forever. Here,” Eduard reached into his pocket and carefully removed the slip of paper that he copied from his home’s doorframe. He handed the piece of paper, the piece of himself, to Cameron.

Eduard Klement Sr. and his son Eddy Jr.
1924

“He called you Eddy?”

“He called me it every day… jako by mi každý den chyběl,” Eduard replied.

Cameron did not bother to ask what the phrase meant. Eduard sensed that the other boy knew it was something emotional, so he did not inquire further. The slip wound back in his hand and he placed it back in his pocket.

“There’s this wonderful Walt Whitman quote.. ‘these are the days that must happen to you.’ It’s the truth. My dad and Katherine had to die eventually, why when they did I don’t know, and you just have to deal with that. Knowing it had to happen has gotten me through it.”

Cameron’s mouth contorted into a half-smile, “Katherine did have to die.”

“Yes, I believe so, but why in such a cruel way is a mystery to me.”

Cameron held his hand out and, inconspicuously, shook the other boy’s hand. The priest concluded the final prayer. Monsignor Lansing invited the young relatives to take a rose from the casket. The St. Jane Frances’ girls followed.

People began moving. The stillness of the funeral had ended; reality resumed. The students were not required to be there any longer and none of them wanted to stay.

Eduard burned the scene into his brain, lingering on every detail. He treasured memories. He cherished the past. But there was another reason; In twenty years, when Katherine’s siblings were famous, he wanted to be able to honestly say he attended her funeral.

A familiar form stood still at the back of the crowd. A sea of people streamed past him to their cars but he remained anchored to the ground. A rock in a pile of leaves; uncaring amongst the caring.

Eduard wanted to talk to him. He wanted to ask, “Are you not moved at all, George? Have you no empathy? Why do you stand there, cold and hard, while a mother mourns her daughter and a best friend mourns a part of herself?”

But Eduard could not ask that. He could not bring himself to talk to a killer.

There were many differences in the murders of Ibronke and Katherine. One was covered up as a bear attack and shoved under the rug. The other caused fear and outrage. Ibronke did not matter; Katherine was suddenly everybody’s friend who they had cared deeply for. Eduard was not allowed to talk to the police about Katherine’s death. They were investigating it as a murder and no one could interfere with a murder investigation.

The puzzle put itself together in his mind. Pieces appeared that he had not considered before. They flew from the back corners of his brain and allowed him to view the whole picture.

George went out the night Ibronke died and did not appear until after Eduard had fallen asleep. George had covertly left the school during class hours. George had been out the night Katherine was killed, “seeing Wilma.” And now George was standing emotionless at the back of her funeral.

It was him. Eduard knew it was him.

He just needed proof.

Gender:
Points: 1992
Reviews: 142
Mon Mar 20, 2023 4:08 am
looseleaf says...

Week Twenty-Eight - Chapter 9.2 - 1050 Words

Maybe Cameron could find proof that George did it.

Eduard’s head swung around and scanned the crowd of despair. There was Leo, starting the MG his parents bought and shipped to him from England. It had had a bow on it when it arrived and a note from mother. William was to the Brit’s right fidgeting with the rim of his cowboy hat. The best leather on the market, he had told Eduard late one night, a gift from my best friend back at the Judson School.

“Nobody worthy of being anybody’s best friend goes here,” William had replied, “Even George Mr. Perfect DeMund.”

Ironic now, funny then.

Finally, a beacon of light bobbed up from the sea of darkness. Eduard squinted through his glasses. There were two beacons of light. Cameron’s blond head was nodding furiously to what another blonde head was saying. The other’s golden hair was twisted into a dozen small coils, which swayed in the breeze. The centerpiece of the hairstyle was a black bow tied to separate the top, straight part of her hair, and the curls. It was a style Eduard had not seen since arriving in Massachusetts, as ribbons and bows had grown wildly unpopular in the two high schools.

The last person he had seen wearing hair like the blonde’s was Hedvika.

Eduard raised his hand as high as it could go. As soon as Cameron’s eyes drifted close to him, he waved and tried to coax his friend to stand by him. Cameron obliged.

Soon enough two blonds were standing in front of Eduard. Cameron’s hand was awkwardly wrapped around the other’s waist as if he wanted it to be there more than his companion. The girl looked vaguely familiar as if she had been an elementary school classmate or the daughter of a friend. But Eduard could not place her face anywhere.

“Eduard, I would like to introduce you to Ethel,” Cameron said, motioning between the two of them as he spoke, “Eduard Klement, Ethel Schlarmann. Ethel Schlarmann, Eduard Klement.”

As he had been taught to do, Eduard stuck out his hand in Ethel’s direction. Ethel took it in hers and shook it slowly, politely. Her hand was as soft as a nice pillow. The Czech examined it in his periphery vision. Her skin was not dry, and there were no distinguishable veins or sunspots on the back of her hand. The only thing special about it–and to Eduard at that moment, they were wonderfully special–were the three freckles below her thumb, arranged in a perfect isosceles triangle.

“How do you do?” Ethel asked, partially breaking Eduard out of his trance.

She was not gorgeous or exquisite. She was not one of those explosive, blonde bombshells that graced the posters on the walls of boys’ bedrooms. No, those were nothing like Ethel Schlarmann. Her face was round and her nose was just big enough that, deep down, she was self-conscious about it. More freckles showed through the too-thin layer of make-up she had on. In a movie, she would play the sister or maid: the comic relief who was pleasant to look at, but never the apple of the hero’s eye. Yet, her softness and the kindness that exuded from her made her the most beautiful girl at St. Jane Frances’.

“Fine, fine,” he said after a few moments. Then, suddenly remembering where he was and why he was there, he tried to salvage any chance he had, “Well, of course, given the circumstances. I am so sorry about Katherine.”

Cameron’s grip tightened ever-so-slightly on Ethel’s side. Enough that she probably did not notice. But Eduard did.

“Oh, please, thank you, but you do not have to say you’re sorry,” Ethel laughed, her gloved hand playfully waving any worries Eduard could have had away, “I did not know her very well. And, besides, I know most of you St. Julian boys only came because you were required to.”

Eduard and Cameron chuckled simultaneously. Cameron’s was genuine, like his father had told an old, improper joke that he wasn’t supposed to laugh at. Eduard’s was more uncomfortable.

“Don’t give us such a hard time. If you knew what Eduard’s been through, you would be surprised he’s even at a funeral!”

Eduard did not know how to feel. Was Cameron acknowledging his grief, or using it against him? After Eduard’s whole spiel about grief, Cameron had to know that Mr. Klement’s death did not disrupt his daily life. Cameron was his best friend. And, furthermore, Cameron’s dad was almost as dead as Mr. Klement. Emotionally, they were on the same level. So, Eduard decided that Cameron was acknowledging his grief and smiled politely.

“Oh! Now I’m the sorry one. Whatever happened, if there is anything I can do to help you, please, let me know.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Eduard said. He put his hands in his coat pockets and swayed a bit in his spot. After a minute, he continued, “So where are you from?”

“Here! I live about ten minutes from school, close enough that I can walk. You may know my mom, Mrs. Schlarmann? She volunteers at your cafeteria sometimes.”

Eduard could have slapped his forehead. Of course! The cafeteria lady. The one with the overweight daughter and the pretty one. Ethel was the one Kip had teased Cameron about. Attractive, which Kip had used, was the right word; she was physically attractive: nothing more, nothing less. Personality was a different story.

“Yes! Yes, I do. She’s incredibly nice, always gives us the best pickings,” Eduard replied. Cameron’s smile faltered for a split-second, then returned to its usual position, “You have a sister named Elizabeth, right?”

“I do, and a baby sister. I absolutely adore them, well, most of the time,” Ethel chuckled, the pearls around her next moving slightly as she did so, “I only wish them the best.”

Eduard grinned. It was nice seeing someone else appreciate their siblings. He knew it was a rarity but, despite that, he still hated to see disagreements and rifts between brothers and sisters. The DeMunds were a perfect example, although Henry was now perfectly justified in whatever he was mad at George for. Maybe Henry could nark on his brother.

Gender:
Points: 1992
Reviews: 142
Mon Mar 27, 2023 4:01 am
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looseleaf says...

Week Twenty-Nine - Chapter 9.3 - 1091 Words

“Do you have any siblings?” Ethel asked. She tucked a stray strand of hair that escaped her hairspray behind her ear. One day, Eduard hoped he could do that for her. Maybe, someday in the future, they would be lying on the couch and Eduard would notice her hair was messed up, and he would fix it for her. He would fix anything for her.

But, for the time being, she was Cameron’s. That was how it would stay.

“A little sister,” Eduard nodded as if she had asked a yes or no question he had to furiously agree with, “Hedvika.”

“That’s a unique name! I like it. I really do,” she replied.

“I’ll tell her you said that,” Eduard said, and he actually would.

Days later, Hedvika would receive a letter with the sentences: “There’s a St. Jane France’s girl, Ethel, who is the nicest creature on this side of the Mississippi. Perhaps in the Northern Hemisphere. She said she liked your name. She really does.”

And for the next several months Hedvika prepared herself for life with a new sister. She told everybody at school about the Mary Miles Minter lookalike her brother was going to bring home. The blonde-haired beauty who had instantly, unintentionally, stolen the baseball player’s heart.

Cameron looked over his shoulder at the rest of their friends, who were congregating near his Auburn Speedster. The car had begun to blend into the background. It was once the most expensive, most outlandish item Eduard had ever laid eyes on; even the Joslyns did not have one. Now it was simply an everyday thing. There was Cameron’s Auburn Speedster. It could go over a hundred miles an hour, it was “supercharged.” And it sat outside their dormitories every day until the weekend.

Kip waved at him as Eduard had done minutes beforehand. Immediately, his attention was directed elsewhere. A dog who found new food.

“I will be back in a few,” Cameron said. He gave Ethel’s side a squeeze, “Take good care of her while I’m gone.”

Eduard nodded again. Cameron mumbled a “thanks” and walked to his other friends. As soon as he was not facing her anymore, Ethel rolled her eyes. A flaw in a flawless diamond.

“I take it you are not fond of him,” the Czech said. He felt a pain in his heart. The perfect girl did not like his perfect best friend.

Ethel sighed and rubbed her forehead in annoyance, “I like him in the way I like my male cousins–I love them to death but I can hardly stand to see them even twice a year.”

“He made it out like you are as close as two peas in a pod,” Eduard said. It was not the exact truth, but he wanted to help his best friend. If he could be the lover then he would be the wingman, “He considers you one of his best friends.”

A smile briefly appeared on Ethel’s face, but it was gone as quickly as it had formed. The compliment did not stick. She knew Cameron, she knew his inner workings and quirks like only a former childhood friend could. She knew how he had changed and evolved, how traits he exhibited in his youth had hidden and then reappeared.

“I know that is not true, he would never admit to someone being his best friend out loud, but that is nice of you to say. Truly.”

Ethel and Eduard’s conversation flowed like Bach’s Prelude In C Major. The both of them shared the same values despite coming from two opposite surroundings. Ethel could effortlessly fit into the Klement’s hectic, loud home life back in Omaha. Eduard could take her brother’s place as the next in line for the ninth-largest fortune in Virginia. But none of that mattered. What mattered was that they were two people who got along in their environment.

“Why on Earth would you do that?” Ethel said, unsuccessfully trying to hold back a fit of laughter. They were at a cemetery. The Mallorys had left moments before, but it still felt wrong, to be happy. Not when the soil had been pushed back into its spot and the white flowers had been laid on the ground to wither.

“Ask me ten years ago, I don’t know!” he had just recounted the time he and Hedvika had decided to roast hotdogs under their hollow front porch; their hollow, wooden front porch that began to burn above the tiny fire. It was only Mr. Klement, who in his usual, friendly fashion, came out to join what he thought was the neighbors’ barbeque that prevented their house from going up in flames.

Cameron turned to face Eduard and his blonde girl. Ethel met his gaze. Eduard was not close enough to the governor’s son to notice it yet, but there was a layer of jealousy under Cameron’s cool facade. Ethel recognized it. She quickly turned back to the Czech.

“We better keep it down,” she said, her mouth still forced into a smile by Eduard’s story. His own cheeks hurt from grinning and laughing, but not the ingenuine grins and light chuckles he had grown used to inserting in a conversation whenever it felt proper.

“How come? He’s not going to be mad at us for being happy.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Ethel shrugged. She would rather not play guessing games with the son of Joseph Fergal Flanagan, “Anyways, your father seems like a nice man. It’s no wonder, really, since his son is so friendly.”

Eduard could not help the grin from growing on his face. He had never felt this way before–not since he left Omaha, not since he had left the girls at Duchesne Academy behind. Up until now, he had not met a St. Jane France’s girl who did not use her status to her advantage or cared about her father’s position in society. Ethel was the type of girl Mrs. Klement would tell Eduard to say hello to after Church and he would act annoyed by it but, deep down, he thought she was the loveliest girl on the face of the planet.

“Thank you. Thank you very much, actually.”

“You’re welcome,” Ethel replied, “Wait, how do you say ‘you’re welcome’ in Czech?”

“Nemáš zač.”

“Nemáš zač, then, Eduard.”

The words felt like a breath of fresh air coming from her mouth. It was the first time in a long time that someone outside of his family had spoken to him in his native language. And it felt good.

Gender:
Points: 1992
Reviews: 142
Mon Apr 03, 2023 3:30 am
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looseleaf says...

Week Thirty - Chapter 10.1 - 1087 Words

There was a song stuck in Eduard’s head. Annette Hanshaw’s silvery voice had lulled him to sleep and was there when he awoke in the morning. He did not know where he had heard the song before, or if it was just a figment of his imagination, but it was there nonetheless.

George was already out and about. The sun basked his empty bed in golden light. Eduard shuddered. The room shrank and he suddenly felt a wave of loneliness wash over him. He reached up for the blinds. They snapped shut and the dorm returned to normal.

His outfit for the day was strewn across the floor. Mrs. Klement’s lessons had worn off on him in the five months he had resided at St. Julian’s. His pants were rarely folded, his dirty socks rarely left his shoes, and his iron had stayed in his closet since his arrival. He checked the clock–nine-thirty in the morning. There was not much time. His iron would have to remain there for another day.

Eduard sprung out of bed, nearly forgetting his round glasses on his bedside table. He picked them up to put them on his nose as he had done every day, but paused. His vision was not that bad without them and they tended to make his face look rounder. He threw them onto his bed. He did not need them today.

The Czech slipped into his nicest white sweater and beige pants. The sweater had an arrow-shaped collar, which had a yellow line sandwiched by two navy blue ones. Hedvika had thought it provided a nice barrier between it and his white undershirt; hopefully, Ethel agreed. Eduard stuffed his wallet, fattened by more loose change than he needed, into his back pocket. He slung his schoolbag over his shoulder. He scanned his room one more time before leaving.

Boys mingled in the hallways. Dormroom doors were flung open to accept visits from wandering friends.

It was Saturday morning at St. Julian’s and everybody was happy.

George and the others in that group were congregating on the stairs landing. The boy himself was sitting on the bench beneath the stained glass window. They were enveloped in their school books. St. Julian’s students’ joy was not affected by the amount of homework they had; it was simply something that needed to be done. There was an untold belief that true happiness would come at some unknown time in the future, and you must work to achieve it. Work was a necessity, no matter what type of “work” it was.

“The Tigers are going to win it all. I promise,” George said matter-of-factly. It was in no way related to the Chemistry homework on his lap.

Reggie scoffed and set down his pencil, “That is complete malarky. Absolutely not, DeMund.”

The boys all turned to Eduard as he descended the first set of stairs. Their faces turned neutral and stoic. The unwanted one had arrived at the gatherings of unwanteds. George was the only boy whose smile remained intact.

“Hey, Eduard! You going somewhere?” George asked. The two roommates made eye contact with each other. Eduard had not intentionally spoken to him in a week. Well, he had said “hello” and other generic responses to George’s questions, just enough to sustain their relationship.

“Brunch,” Eduard replied.

“With who?” the murderer questioned further.

“Cameron, Ethel, and my friends.”

“Ah,” George said, nodding his head slightly, “Have fun with them. She’s a riot.”

Eduard paused for a moment as he neared the end of the landing, “How do you know her?”

“Through Wilma. They used to be friends until… well, they used to be friends.”

Eduard’s eyes narrowed at the football player. What was he omitting? What did he think Eduard should not hear? He shook his head and began walking down the stairs, giving his former group of friends a small wave goodbye.

“Hey Eduard!” George called after him near the bottom of the steps.

He turned around, “Yes?”

“Who’s going to win the World Series this year? The Tigers?”

The Czech thought for a moment, “I hope the Cardinals do but, unfortunately, probably the Cubs.”

Eduard heard George laugh as he walked away. Not condescendingly or meanly, but as if he understood what Eduard said on a personal level. There was not much to understand in Eduard’s statement, but something he had said connected with George. And he hated himself for it.

He signed out of the dormitories on Mr. Thompson’s clipboard, not staying long enough to hear another speech on the importance of Eduard’s background. Instead, he practically strutted out of the building.

The Auburn Speedster and Cameron were waiting on the cul-de-sac. The car’s black paint shimmered in the sunlight, its curves and chrome trim only accentuating its beauty. Eduard closed his eyes for a brief moment. One day it would be him behind the wheel of a car like that; a car that was both minxy and sophisticated. One day he would make it. He was nearly there.

“Hurry up, welch!” Cameron exclaimed in a joking tone, but it was not as comforting as George’s, “We were supposed to pick her up ten minutes ago!”

“Sorry,” Eduard replied, “I could not find this sweater.”

Cameron simply shook his head and opened the passenger door for his friend. He was careful not to yank at the door handle, so as not to damage it. A boy after Mr. Klement’s own heart. Eduard sat down on the right side of the seat. It was as nerve-wracking and exciting as the first time he had done it.

“Připraven.”

Eduard gripped the top of the door as Cameron accelerated. Other students stopped what they were doing and stared at them as they turned out of the roundabout. Even to St. Julian’s standards, Cameron Flanagan’s car was special.

They made it to the intersection with the main road. To the left of them was the library and classrooms, and in front of them was the lake. Lake. Flanagan.

“Say, is Lake Flanagan named after someone in your family?” Eduard asked. Cameron jerked right and accelerated even faster on the straight road. No one would do anything to reprimand him.

Cameron nodded, “My father.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. It was renamed after he was elected.”

“It must be nice to have a school that appreciates you so much,” Eduard said. He was not quite there with St. Julian’s yet, like he had been at Creighton. But he knew it would happen eventually.

Gender:
Points: 1992
Reviews: 142
Mon Apr 10, 2023 4:45 am
looseleaf says...

Week Thirty-One - Chapter 10.2 - 1093 Words
a/n: ok so, trust me, i know this week's part is not good at all. i thought i could stay on a schedule and then life got really busy with easter and everything. i will eventually edit this when i edit the book as a whole but, for now, this will have to do, and i'm sorry that it's not the best quality!

Cameron shrugged as if to say “I guess so.” It was no big deal. What could a lake do for him?

The gateman rolled open the gate as they approached it. He, too, was unphased by Cameron’s car. Flanagan went out so often that he had seen it practically every weekend. He waved at the two boys as they exited the premises. Cameron did not wave back. Instead, he took a hard left turn instead of going directly down the main street.

“Wait, aren’t we going to the diner?” Eduard asked, turning around to face the road behind them. They were supposed to be going in the opposite direction. They were supposed to be going past where Ibronke was found.

“We are picking Ethel up first,” the other boy replied.

Eduard’s eyes went wide. They were doing something he had never dared to do since arriving in Massachusetts, “We’re going to St. Jane Frances’?”

“You say that as if it’s a sin,” Cameron laughed. His voice was harsh, “And why do you always call it St. Jane Frances’? Just say JF.”

The Czech nodded and looked out of his side of the car. The woods was growing denser by the day. A few rays of light made it through the canopy and onto the forest floor, but there would be none by the beginning of April. The only sun came from directly above the road. Several deer wandered around the underbrush, but they scampered farther into the trees as the sound of the powerful engine hit their ears. Eduard did not think about the lingering effects the engine’s roar would have on his ears.

It did not matter anyways. He would not live long enough for the effects to set in.

The trees slowly molded into uniform rows the farther they traveled. Wrought iron fences zig-zagged amongst the trunks. They entered a part of the forest that was barren of deer. And, then, the trees grew sparser.

“Wir sind angekommen,” Cameron said, in his award-winning German, as if he sensed Eduard had never been to St. Jane France’s and, therefore, did not know what it looked like.

Cameron was correct.

A gate appeared out of thin air in front of the Auburn, effectively dividing the normal pavement from the smooth, herringbone brick. Most of the gate was painted gold—Eduard had no doubt in his mind that it was real gold—leaving only the initials in the middle bare iron. The cursive “JF” was a striking piece of handiwork that undoubtedly took days for one man to make. And there it was, welcoming Cameron and Eduard into the most expensive girls’ school in the country, if not the world.

The school buildings themselves were practically identical to St. Julian’s, minus a single dormitory that had just been completed in 1928 that stood alone amongst the dazzling brick. It was a noteworthy attempt at adjusting to more modern students and a more modern world; a modern world where a growing population of people was turning their noses up at St. Julian’s and St. Jane France’s Academies. Yet, the building would have seemed like a relic of the past to the Eduard he left behind in Omaha. Its streamlined, white plaster facade and gold-colored windows were built in a time of happiness and prosperity when Eduard still had his father and the country still had its hope. That time was gone, but the building remained.

The property was hillier than the three-hundred-fourteen acres St. Julian’s took up. As a result of this, St. Jane France’s buildings were much more sporadically placed than the boys’ school’s. There were a dozen roads that grew off of the main road like Mrs. Klement’s crabapple tree sprouting new branches in the springtime. Cameron masterfully turned to the left and the right as if the path to Ethel’s dormitory was plotted out in front of him.

As the Auburn winded its way through the school buildings, the better Eduard could see the cracks in the stucco, the ivy creeping up the walls, and the mismatched flowers below the windows. The door was a shade too dull. There was a brick that was missing from the steps.

The gorgeous, stucco dormitory was falling apart, and the girls went on with their lives around it.

Cameron slammed on his horn the moment they rolled to a stop. Eduard instinctively slipped down into his seat, so as not to be seen by any of the Jane France’s girls. Then he remembered that it was Cameron Flanagan who was making the nose, and he straightened his posture.

When all the girls looked towards the Speedster, he smiled smugly and pretended to ignore them. He was Cameron Flanagan’s best friend. He had to be earned.

But, when the pretty blonde girl named Ethel skipped out of the too-faded door, all Eduard’s feelings of superiority and worth disappeared. She was Cameron Flanagan’s girl. She could not be his.

“Hey doll,” Cameron said, leaning forward to open Eduard’s door. He mumbled, “Get out, Eduard.”

“What?”

“Get out and let her in,” Cameron repeated, “She’s sitting between us.”

Eduard let out a small “Oh” and slid out of his seat. He held out his arms ceremoniously as Ethel stepped into the car.

“Thank you, sir,” she laughed. It was fleeting, but it made Eduard’s heart flutter. She was special, he knew that, but as soon as she scooched closer to Cameron on the bench, the flutter inside of him was squashed.

Cameron slung his arm around Ethel’s shoulders as Eduard climbed back in and shut the door, careful not to slam it because of his father’s voice that lingered in the back of his head. He had not rid himself of that yet.

As soon as they arrived, they were on their way once more.

“How was your day?” Ethel asked after a bout of silence. Cameron had not said a word since they left and they had already arrived at the golden gate again.

“Fine.” Cameron said, “This guy over here keeps outshining me on the baseball diamond,” he punched Eduard playfully in the shoulder. Eduard feigned being annoyed by rolling his eyes, “but otherwise life has been pretty good.”

Eduard noticed how Cameron squeezed Ethel’s shoulders when he said “pretty good.” The feeling in his stomach turned sour. Ethel nodded politely. She did not expect Cameron to as her how she was in return, even though it was the polite thing to do. She knew him and she knew that he would not ask it for whatever reason.

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Mon Apr 17, 2023 4:09 am
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looseleaf says...

Week Thirty-Two - Chapter 10.3 - 1131 words
a/n: also absolute garbage. sorry.

A banditry of chickadees barely kept pace with the car as they returned to the main street. Eduard snuck glances at Ethel, taking in every freckle on her face, every loose strand of hair. He hoped to tattoo her toothy smile into his memory and never forget it.

“Did you get a haircut?” Eduard asked after a few minutes. He made sure enough time had passed from Cameron’s “pretty good,” so it did not seem like he was upstaging his partner.

Ethel grinned. She made sure that she had shortened her hair by running her hand through it, and twirling the end of one strand.

“I did, thank you for noticing.”

“You are welcome” was at the tip of Eduard’s tongue but, before it came out, Cameron spoke.

“It looks nice on you. Very chic,” Cameron said without looking away from the road. Yet again, his arm tightened around Ethel’s shoulders. Chic was not the right word. Her hair had been cut, but only to one or two inches above her shoulders; not chic, flapper, 1920s short. If he had just glimpsed at her, actually paid attention to her, he would have realized that.

The ride to the diner was shorter than the drive there. After all, time flies when you’re having fun, and although Eduard was not doing anything–he was just sitting in the passenger seat of his friend’s car–but he was having fun. The sun was shining, there was a slight breeze, and the birds were singing their happy songs. It was perfect. That singular moment in March of 1935 was perfect.

Jamison, Massachusetts, was one of the only towns practically untouched by the Great Depression. It was a safe haven for executives and politicians, aged debutantes and war-torn writers who all had one thing in common–they all attended St. Julian’s or St. Jane France’s at some point in time. Everybody who lived in Jamison was associated with the schools in some way. Jamison was like a private club where, even if you could afford to join, the other members would scare you away if you did not make more than ten thousand dollars a year. It was an achievement in itself to be accepted into Jamison’s society, and Eduard knew he was already done it.

Expensive cars lined the road in front of the diner: Lincolns, Packards, Cadillacs, a Duesenberg. The boutique shops resembled those in many towns across the East Coast, except for the lack of cardboard and closed signs in the windows. Boys and girls ran about the stores. St. Jane Frances’ girls, free from their relatively prudish uniforms, strutted down the sidewalks as if they were one of Schiaparelli’s prized models. The owners of the cars, most of which but not all, were teenage St. Julian’s students, responded positively.

“This is it,” Cameron said as he parked beside the Duesenberg. Eduard tried not to drool. The money to buy the chassis of the car alone, not including the body, could feed his family until the end of the decade. Uncle Oskar could take time off to find a new job without worrying, and Hedvika would not have to work. Life for them could go back to “normal.” Eduard shook his head. Life was not about his family anymore. His life was about him; his status in society and success in the future was all that mattered.

Immediately, Eduard felt ashamed of himself. He reached for the slip of paper in his pocket, the one remnant he carried from home and from his father, but it was empty. He had left it in his other pants.

The Czech followed the other two out of the car. He offered to carry Ethel’s books but she refused, and he trailed behind her through the diner’s doors. He did not linger a moment to look at the Duesenberg. Cameron did not give it a second thought, so he would not either.

Kip and their group of St. Julian’s boys were already seated at a table with girls by their sides. Cameron spotted them and brushed past the hostess. Ethel and Eduard hurriedly followed suit, Eduard out of a desire to be seen with Cameron, and Ethel out of a desire to get the date over as soon as possible. Cameron stole the middle seat from Kip, leaving Ethel and Eduard across the table from each other at the end.

The first round of milkshakes quickly appeared in front of them. Ethel, like everyone else, ordered a burger and fries to go along with it. Eduard just ordered fries.

The Czech mentally counted the money in his wallet. He still had two dollars from the bet he and Cameron had made, plus a couple of loose nickels and dimes. It was just enough to appear like he had money. At the end of lunch, he would take out an excess of coins and make sure the others saw him. Yet, when it was time to collect the money, he would only put enough coins for what the food that he ate. He would not, could not, be generous with his money. It was not that he was cheap. As much as he hated to admit it, he could not afford to live the way the other boys did.

Ethel placed her notebook on the table in front of her. She balanced her math textbook on her lap. Eduard watched as she studied the problem and solved it in her head, copied the answer in her notebook, and repeated the process. It was the same textbook that Eduard and Cameron used.

“You are very good at that,” Eduard finally commented. Everybody else at the table was not truly studying. Their books were out but none of them were focused on them. Cameron’s eyes were not looking at his book or Ethel. So, Eduard took his opportunity to talk to the blonde genius.

“Thank you,” she said, hunched over to examine her next equation.

“I mean it. Those are the same problems we are doing.”

She looked up. The toothy grin returned to her face, “Really?”

“Absolutely,” Eduard replied. He gestured to her notebook, “You are speeding through them like they are simple algebra!”

Ethel giggled. The sound would be stuck in Eduard’s head forever.

“Well, I don’t want to boast–” Ethel started. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Eduard wondered if that was a habit she did before boasting.

“‘It ain’t bragging if you can back it up’,” Eduard quoted. The second giggle in a row told him that Ethel understood who he was quoting. That she, too, was interested enough in baseball that she had read the same interview with Dizzy Dean. And that similarity made his heart swell, but, he quickly corrected himself, “Sorry, I interrupted.”

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Mon Apr 24, 2023 3:22 am
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looseleaf says...

Week Thirty-Three - Chapter 10.4 - 1111 words

“You’re fine!” Ethel replied, “I was going to say I actually skipped a grade, math-wise. I’m in the junior math class instead of the sophomore one.”

The Czech smiled at her use of normal grade names. It was not proper at all, as he had learned during his time at St. Julian’s, but it felt natural rolling off the rich girl’s tongue. Like she knew that her saying “junior” was as out of place as Louis XVI only eating bread, despite it being the norm. Like she was trying to be normal.

She was trying to be the exact opposite person that Eduard was trying to be, but he set that aside. Unlike DeMund, she was worth ignoring their different opinions for.

“That is impressive,” Eduard said, “So what will they do when you’re a seni–in the sixth form and you’ve already taken the sixth form class?”
Ethel shrugged. Each time she took a sip of her milkshake, a mustache of sorts would form above her top lip, and she would wipe it off with the back of her right hand. She did the same before answering the question.

“I don’t know what they did with the last girl,” Ethel finally said. Eduard’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. There had been another girl who had moved up a class? Such a thing was unheard of at St. Julian’s.

“Her parents probably bought her a new motorcar,” he shrugged as if receiving a brand-new car was not extraordinary.

Ethel laughed harder than Eduard had expected her to. It was so loud that their classmates on the other end of the table turned to look at them, and Cameron stared daggers into his girlfriend’s neck. It was not genuine laughter but, instead, seemed to mock the very premise of receiving such an expensive gift. Eduard’s eyes went wide. Six months ago, that is how he would have reacted to his comment. But Ethel was not him six months ago, trapped in the monotonous, lower-class hole that was Omaha, Nebraska. No.

She was a one-percenter.

She was not the person at that table who should have been mocking the rest of them; Eduard was.

Ethel met Eduard’s eyes and immediately stopped. She was blind to Cameron’s glare as she had become numb to it, but the disgust, of superiority, painted across Eduard’s eyes was enough to get her to stop and think. She could not allow another boy to turn into Cameron.

“What’s wrong?” she asked innocently. She knew what was wrong, she had deliberately laughed derisively, but she wanted Eduard to admit it.

“Nothing. Does something look wrong?” Eduard said, his eyes squinting in false confusion. Now he was acting ignorant.

“You looked repulsed by me all of a sudden,” it was Ethel’s turn to shrug, “I could be wrong.”

“No, I–,” Eduard groaned as his cheeks flushed red, “I am sorry if I looked at you rudely. I just,” he paused, “I did not think that you would find getting a new car as a reward so far-fetched.”

“And you don’t?” Ethel’s arms were crossed now. If someone were to read a transcript of their conversation, they would think it was an argument, that their voices were raised, and that they hated each other with a burning passion. Yet, neither of them felt that way. It was a civil debate in which both of them were arguing against what they were raised to believe in.

“No, I do not. A car is very useful, after all. It gives you freedom. It gives you status. And, besides that, basically any family at St. Julian’s and St. Jane Frances’ besides mine would not miss the money it would take to buy a car.”

“So you’re not speaking from experience, then?”

“Neither are you.”

Ethel chuckled. They were on equal planes.

“Look, I am very aware of my privilege. Unlike some of these assholes–” she lowered her voice and leaned closer to the Czech as she said the last word. There was a point that she would not cross.

Eduard gasped playfully. He was not shocked this time. Instead, he felt warm nostalgia envelop him. The feeling had been there the whole time, radiating from Ethel like a star, and, as the blonde’s layers peeled away, it only grew in potency. He tried to shake it off, but it clung on like wet asphalt to a car tire. Ethel was his connection to home–his crass, edgy, amazing connection to Omaha–despite her never stepping foot in the place.

He whispered back, “You vulgar girl,” and laughed. She joined in.

“Alright, alright,” she said, then shushed him. Kip had noticed their banter and glanced at them. Both of their schoolbooks both remained untouched, “As I was saying, unlike some of these people, I know how people are struggling. The average household income nowadays is less than five hundred dollars. It is totally insensitive to buy a car, let alone one for a teenager who is just going to wreck it, in times like this. That’s why I don’t have one; my parents think the same way I do.”

Eduard nodded. He should have agreed with the girl’s statement. Part of him did agree with the girl’s statement. It was the part of him he had tried so hard to hide and bury, the part of him Cameron had sneered at in the first math class of the school year, and the part of him Mr. Thompson related to. Ethel appealed to Eduard’s integrity, the part of him Mr. Klement had been so proud of.

“I am glad I met you, Ethel,” Eduard said with an authentic smile, not one of the phony ones that his classmates had perfected their entire lives. The first cracks were forming on the wall he had built around his true self, and he was heavily considering throwing away the plaster and sitting back to watch it crumble.

“Me too, Eduard, me too,” she paused for a moment, her mouth open as her question tried to force itself out. Eventually, she shook the thought from her head and leaned back in her chair. Eduard watched as she reached her hand into her empty milkshake glass for the cherry and threw it into her mouth as Hedvika always did.

“Can I call you Eddy?” The nickname flowed out of her mouth like music from Beethoven’s piano.

Eduard’s mouth opened slightly. He stuttered and every thought he wanted to say came out of his mouth in an embarrassing garble. Eddy was reserved for his father and Hedvika. But, Ethel was like both of them.

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Mon May 01, 2023 3:29 am
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looseleaf says...

Week Thirty-Four - Chapter 10.5 - 1564 Words

“It’s alright if I can’t, Eduard,” Ethel said. Eduard suddenly felt uncomfortable coming out of her mouth.

A flood of thoughts crashed through his head at a kiloliter a second. He didn’t let his mother call him Eddy. She had called him that the day after Mr. Klement’s funeral, and he did not come out of his room for three days. He barely touched the food she slid under his door. He didn’t read the apology notes she passed him, either.

That was a year ago. Life had moved on. He would never hear his father call him Eddy again. Yet, he was not ready to move on.

“No,” Eduard said slowly, “I am sorry, but my father called me Eddy, and the only person who still does is my sister.”

Ethel nodded solemnly. She was not a part of the club, “Well, she’s a lucky girl.”

“She is,” Eduard smiled a kind of awkward half-smile that told her he acknowledged her statement but did not properly know how to respond or, more likely, the correct response was too deep for her to understand in one lunch date. She had known him for less than a month. “Eddy” had known him for sixteen years.

There was silence for a while. Eduard paged through his textbook, looking at everything yet remembering nothing. He could not think about school. The numbers blurred as if his glasses had fallen off.

He had changed. His life was vastly different than Hedvika’s although, only months ago, they were practically the same. He sparsely called his friends from Omaha anymore; the latest copy of The Creighton Prep his mother had sent him was stuffed under his bed. DeMund had asked to read it, saving the newspaper from being tossed into the waste bin, never to be opened. Throwing it away would have sealed Eduard’s fate.

“You ready to go?” Cameron asked. He addressed Eduard only. His eyes never glanced at the girl he wanted to be his girlfriend.

“I am,” Eduard replied. He turned to the girl across from him, “Are you?”

She nodded and smiled. Cameron glared at her, then slid out of his chair. He rounded the table and held out his hand. Ethel accepted it.

The Czech took the final sip of his milkshake. The taste was not special. It was like every milkshake across the country, ones exactly like it were available at the corner store a short walk from his home on 22nd street. Eduard took one final look around the room. It was also nothing special. He had been excited to have lunch here the day they found Ibronke and he had not made the journey again until now. He had not been missing anything extraordinary.

Eduard followed his group of friends to the front door of the diner. None of them exclaimed “Thank you!” or “See you soon!”–to them, the staff had simply done their job, and praise was not necessary for the bare minimum. Ethel cued in on that quirk, too. She kept glimpsing back at Eduard expectantly. Her eyes begged him to say something.

“Thanks for everything,” he said, just above a mumble. The workers stared at him for a brief moment. It was the first time some of them had received gratitude from a St. Julian’s student. Yet, they would have said his thanks did not count if they had known his circumstance. But they didn’t, and they quickly averted their gaze and resumed their work.

The three of them piled into Cameron’s Auburn again. Cameron pulled Ethel closer than before. Hardly a centimeter of space separated the two.

Ethel looked at Eduard.

“Say something polite,” they pleaded, “Don’t act like him.”

But Eduard would not thank Cameron for their meal. He would not remind the other boy that they were really, innately different any longer.

The drive back to St. Jane Frances’ was silent. Cameron’s grip on Ethel tightened each time Eduard turned to either of them. The birds were singing loudly, but the girl was the only one who looked up to admire them. She was the only one who saw them swoop around in circles, who saw their beautifully colored feathers shine in the sunlight.

The gates were more welcoming than before. The gold was less shiny than before. Eduard could spot the dull spots and the places where gravel had been thrown up by car tires and dented the iron. It was not perfect anymore, not shocking.

More girls were mingling around campus now that the sun had started its journey down. Their dresses were becoming lighter in color and fabric as the days passed. Their beauty only increased. But, in each girl Eduard looked at, he only saw Ethel: beautiful, brilliant, down-to-Earth, naive Ethel.

The Auburn pulled around the round-a-bout for the second time that day. The girls’ stares landed on them for the second time as well. Cameron saw them, too. The car came to a halt and Cameron’s words started spewing out of his mouth.

He did not say goodbye to Ethel.

He did not open the door for her.

So, Eduard exited the car. He opened the door. He motioned at her to say it was time to exit the car. She slid out of her seat silently, holding his hand, whether out of politeness or affection, as she did so.

“You’re a breath of fresh air, you know that?” Eduard whispered. Cameron was enveloped in conversation, but Eduard wanted to ensure that he did not hear his friend’s comment.

“No, I don’t think I am,” Ethel replied.

“What do you mean?”

“I think I’m a breath of old air,” she said slowly, then nodded affirmingly as if agreeing with her own statement, “and you’ve been missing your old self.”

*****

Eduard rounded his dormitory steps. The grandfather clock on the landing ticked every second as it had done for a hundred and eight years. Eduard squinted at the Roman Numerals. Lights out was in five minutes, but the lights were already off.

He scampered down the steps. Getting a glass of water at the last minute had become a nightly habit for him lately. It always slipped his mind and, even though DeMund kept cups in their room, he liked the feeling of walking down the hallways alone in the dark of the night. Mr. Thompson was starting his rounds. Eduard would race to the top of the steps to meet him there after getting his water, say goodnight, and wander back to his room. DeMund would already be asleep; he valued his rest.

“Where did you read that?” he heard a voice say from the hallway. It was an angry whisper, one that would have come out as a yell if not for the need to keep quiet.

Eduard shook his head. Some of his classmates were already famous through their parents and, periodically, the tabloids would publish something scandalous (and sometimes true) about their personal lives. Last time, a St. Jane Frances’ girl discovered she was the “other woman.” The boy’s parents, wealthy because of inherited industrial-revolution-era money, quickly resolved the issue.

He tiptoed to the cafeteria and selected a glass cup. They would not miss it during the night. Eduard hummed to himself as he retraced his steps, on time for his rendezvous with Mr. Thompson. He would dream about Ethel tonight. He just knew it.

Then the voice rang out again. It was eerily familiar, like the voice of a neighbor that had moved years ago and that Eduard had never heard angry. Eduard searched his mind for any memory of who the sound could belong to, but he could not. If only the boy would speak normally.

Eduard abandoned his usual path up the stairs. He snuck down the other side of the hall to the common room. Attached to the common room by large double doors was the library but, just beside the door frame, were two of the five telephones in the dormitory. That was where the other student was.

“Well, maybe if you visited me once in a while. You are out here all the damn time and, yet, I never see you. Do you know what it’s like to know your father is less than half an hour away and is choosing not to see you?”

The Czech slid along the wall. He leaned into the archway a few centimeters. The fireplace was on, as it would be until Mr. Thompson retired to his room, and no other lights were on.

The boy was about Eduard’s build, but a little shorter. His hair was slicked back even after the boys’ showers, and he donned an old letterman jacket that was a size too large but made him appear bigger. It was his father’s, no doubt; the father who he was speaking so rudely to now.

Footsteps sounded on the floor above them, rattling the chandelier. Mr. Thompson was almost to the top of the stairs. He would be expecting Eduard. He would have to wait until he came to the common room to extinguish the fire.

The boy on the phone turned around. His eyes appeared red in the light.

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Mon May 08, 2023 1:59 am
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looseleaf says...

Week Thirty-Five - Chapter 11.1 - 1208 Words

It was May now. Washers were rubbing the winter soot from the fireplaces off of the exterior brick. The water from their buckets trickled down to the blooming Columbine flowers under the windows. Baseball season was in full swing, and Eduard and Cameron had become ruthless soldiers in the battle to defend St. Julian’s perfect record.

“Goddamn Andover,” Cameron hissed as they trekked back from the baseball fields. The walk was not usually arduous, but it was their day to carry the supplies back to the gym. The weight from the bags was more than either of them was trained to carry and, by the time they were on the way to the dormitories, their limbs were screaming with pain. DeMund would have scoffed at their trouble.

“So you’ve said a million times,” Eduard said as he rolled his eyes. Cameron had been on his nerves for a while. Albeit, the Czech had been pestering him with the same question for the past few weeks, but it was a simple question with a simple answer. There was no reason to keep it from him.

“And I’ll say it a million more times if it makes them go away! We have a record to maintain, Ed,” Eduard winced at the nickname. He knew Eduard wanted to go by his full name and nothing else, “and I’m not letting some good-for-nothings from Andover break it.”

Eduard nodded along in agreement as if he was completely oblivious to the fact that Phillips Academy was as good as, if not better than, St. Julian’s Academy. Of course, the thought did not cross his mind. To Eduard, Jamison, Massachusetts, and its included schools were the best in the world. All others were below them.

“They should not even be playing with us,” Eduard went as far as to say as the boys stepped through the threshold of their dormitory, “They are not on the same level as us.”

Cameron laughed and slapped the other boys back, “Now you’re getting it!”

And there was Eduard’s monthly reminder that he was not from the same place as the other boys.

The blond took a slight right at the stairwell towards Mr. Thompson’s room. It was like a mini-apartment within the boys’ dormitory, reserved for single teachers who were paid extra to keep a 24-hour watch over the boys. Eduard frowned when he thought of it; what a sad life to have indeed.

“Expecting anything?” Eduard asked as Cameron entered the small mailroom next to Mr. Thompson’s. He leaned against the archway. The left wall held fifty small containers that acted as mailboxes and almost all of them were in use. Only about a dozen of them had envelopes in them.

“Not in particular,” Cameron said as he fished several envelopes out of his box. He flipped through each of them quickly. Each of them was donned with cutesy, feminine cursive, so he stuffed them mindlessly in his pocket. No letter from his father, again.

The other boy started moving farther down the room. He occasionally examined a random boy’s letter, or shook a parcel to guess what it contained. He came upon DeMund’s and pulled out the tiny box inside.

“I wonder what this is,” Cameron said as he shook it. He tried to peek inside the wrapping paper but could not do it without ruining the package, “You know?”

Eduard did know what it was. It was new ring for Wilma. She had pointed it out on one of their walks and spent some time talking about her parents would never buy it. DeMund bought it out of love. Eduard thought he was a sucker.

“No, I do not. I don’t talk to him,” Eduard lied. He had spoken to DeMund the night before, in a sore, half-asleep stupor. DeMund saw right through the painting Eduard constantly shielded himself with. Since the football player did not tolerate Eduard’s disingenuousness, he could not pretend to be like the others in front of him. Their conversations were so real that they scared Eduard.

Cameron laughed again, “As you should.”

He flung the package on the ground. It made a crinkling sound as it stopped against the wall. Cameron scanned the remaining pockets.

“You have mail.”

“I do?”

“That’s what I just said, Ed,” Cameron said. He took the two envelopes out of the box marked “E. Klement” and handed them to his friend.

“Thank you,” Eduard mumbled. Cameron nodded and walked out of the room.

The Czech hesitated for a moment. He stared at the ring box on the ground. It was still there when he exited the room.

*****

Eduard examined the two envelopes in his hand. He sparsely checked the mailroom anymore since the only people who wrote him was his family; everyone else called.

He checked the postmarks. Maybe they hadn’t used separate envelopes. He thought that maybe he hadn’t collected his mail in so long that it had piled up. He was wrong. Mrs. Klement’s was postmarked on April 30th. Hedvika’s was from May 1st.

His finger grazed the stamp on Hedvika’s envelope. They were not a lot of money, but Hedvika was so economical. An extra two cents worth of stamps had dissuaded her from using a separate envelope all school year. But now two separate letters were situated on Eduard’s lap, and one had an airmail stamp on it.

Hedvika had meant for it to arrive before his mother’s.

He ripped open Mrs. Klement’s. He needed the background before he read about the problem.

The Czech words instantly comforted his eyes. The effort he used in his daily speak disappeared in an instant, and an ounce of stress was lifted from his shoulders. He nearly forgot that something was amiss. Nearly.

He fiddled with his watch as he read.

My dearest Eduard,

How are you, honey? How are your studies? I assume you are busy with work now that there are less than two months left of the school year. I hope it’s not too hard. I’m praying for you daily, but I know you will be just fine. I am so proud of you–

“–and your father would be, too,” Eduard whispered out loud to himself. Would he be? He hoped Mr. Klement was looking down at him with a smile, but what if he was frowning? What if the past week’s thunderstorms were Mr. Klement yelling at his son in disguise?

Eduard shook the thought from his head and continued.

We have been passing the days as normal. Hedvikas continues to follow after your father and you with her studies. She wanted to tell you this herself, but she is ill in bed. I promise she will write you next time. Anyways, Hedvika has been named this month’s top student! Every day we tape more and more of her tests on the fridge. Will you send some of your exams? I am pleased with both of my children and I want to show it.

Do you remember Mr. Dostal, the man who you delivered food to before you left? Well, he-

“Ah, Eduard,” Mr. Thompson’s voice interrupted Eduard’s thoughts. The boy groaned quietly but he maintained the happy countenance on his face, “Did you receive some letters from home?”

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Sun May 14, 2023 10:17 pm
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looseleaf says...

Week Thirty-Six - Chapter 11.2 - 1207 Words

“Yes, sir, I did,” Eduard responded, “One from my mother and my sister.”

“I told you not to call me ‘sir.’”

“But it’s polite and proper language, sir.”

Mr. Thompson squinted. Eduard’s hands were folded neatly in his lap. One of his elbows rested on the armrest. His left leg was crossed over his right, and his shoes were perfectly laced. His shirt was not messy or ripped, despite coming from the baseball diamond. He ran his hand over it to smooth a wrinkle as Mr. Thompson stood there.

“What’s happening at home?” Mr. Thompson probed.

Eduard shrugged and gestured with his hands before returning them to their position in his lap, “Not much, sir. My sister is keeping her grades up and was named this month’s top student.”

“That’s excellent for her. Is she planning on going to St. Jane Frances’?” Mr. Thompson asked.

“If everything goes according to plan, yes. She really wants to.”

“Well, maybe I’ll get to meet her then.”

“Perhaps.”

A minute of silence passed. Eduard wanted to resume reading the letters–he was dying to know what was happening at home–but it would be rude to ignore the teacher who was standing right in front of him. He mentally willed the man to walk away.

Instead, Mr. Thompson remained in his spot under the archway, hands clasped behind his back. Eduard grew less fond of him every day and, every day, his resemblance to Mr. Klement deteriorated. Eduard glanced at his tie. Stained. No man should wear such a dirty item of clothes to their job. St. Julian’s had a laundry room for him to use; he had no excuse not to use it.

“Did they tell you anything else?”

“I haven’t read that far, sir,” Eduard replied. He held up Hedvika’s unopened letter.

“Oh,” Mr. Thompson said, “You know, I have a little sister and an older brother.”

“Really?” Eduard said in the most interested tone he could feign.

“Yes, I do. My sister’s name is Josephine. She moved to California with her husband about a year ago. My brother’s name is Peter,” Mr. Thompson’s voice dropped when he said his brother’s name as if the word “Peter” caused pain in his heart.

Eduard deciphered Mr. Klement’s statement about his sister. There was no doubt in his mind that Mr. Thompson’s sister and brother-in-law were Okies. He had known people like that in Nebraska; people who moved West to find employment, only to become more impoverished and more unstable than they were back home.

How stupid of them, Eduard thought. He tried not to frown.

“What does he do?” Eduard asked purely out of politeness.

“My brother?” Mr. Thompson paused. A thin line of water formed under his eyes, ready to turn into tears at any moment. He tapped his foot for a few seconds, “He’s handicapped–very handicapped. He fought in the war and was injured in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in ‘18. Then, when he came home, his wife saw how dreadful he looked and, probably terrified of the life she would have if she stayed with him, got up and left. She left their son with them, though, so at least he has him.”

Eduard stared blankly ahead and processed the information he had just been told. It was too much information to dump on a student, especially one who had suffered a similar loss in his life. He pushed thoughts of his father out of his head.

“I’m sorry, sir. I did not mean to make you so upset.”

“No, you did not, but one can not help but be sad when you think about the life he could have led.”

Eduard nodded in fake agreement. Poor man, he thought, no wonder his opinions are what they are

“My brother-in-law is a farmer,” Mr. Thompson continued speaking in an attempt to transition to a different subject, “My sister used to be a nurse, but now she cares for their kids and the ones who live in that Hooverville with them. I miss them desperately. I miss when we all used to live in Virginia. We used to have Christmas together, the three of us and our parents, but now my father and I celebrate alone in the apartment he shares with my brother.”

“Do you miss Nebraska?” he ended on.

And Eduard responded, “No.”

And the Czech shrugged as he responded once again, “No. I have these letters; that’s enough for me.”

Eduard watched as a leaf fell from the tree outside of the window. It could not make it through even a few weeks of summer. None of the boys studying or playing football outside noticed it.

“You should not think that way,” Mr. Thompson said.

“Pardon me, sir? What do you mean?”

“Well, I mean while you have those letters, they are no substitute for the real thing. Don’t take your family for granted. You are extremely lucky that you came from a middle-class household that were more concerned with their family than with their status.”

Eduard’s mouth hung open. His eyebrows scrunched, and his eyes darted back and forth. He was appalled. Why did Mr. Thompson think he had the authority to give him advice on his family? He was a teacher, sure, but not a proper one. He was not someone Eduard looked up to; at least, not anymore.

“Many boys here come from broken homes where their parents are divorced and neither one pays attention to their children. Do you know that you are probably one of a dozen St. Julian’s students who were actually raised by their mother and father and not a nanny?”

Mr. Thompson paused for a response despite the question sounding rhetorical. Eduard thought of Cameron, the living embodiment of the boys Mr. Thompson was referencing. But he could not admit the man was right.

“Eduard, I am just saying that many people from this school, myself included, would be fortunate to have what you have. Look at Mr. Flanagan, for example–”

“Mr. Thompson,” Eduard exclaimed to catch the man’s attention, and the attention of any boys who were in the library or halls, “As I said before, you should not be talking to me about the personal lives of other students and your opinions on them.”

Mr. Thompson’s eyes went wide, but unless you were looking directly at him, you could not tell how uncomfortable he was. He had become used to awkward moments at St. Julian’s and could handle them much better than the students on the other side.

“Okay, Eduard, I will not talk to you about this subject anymore,” he said as he stopped leaning against the archway and unclasped his hands, “But I hope you know that me discussing this with you means I respect you and enjoy your company more than your peers’. That is all.”

Then he exited, and Eduard was left sitting in the empty common room. There were books strewn on top of the coffee table. Glasses of lemonade with ice still in them dotted the mantleplace and side tables. Eduard stood quickly. He did not want to be interrupted again.

Veni, vidi, scripsi ~ I came, I saw, I wrote
— steampowered