Gabe - SeventeenA Chapter by emily
I got the story of what happened between Jim and Rebecca second-hand, so I was never exactly sure what to believe. According to Erich, who had admittedly threatened to punch Jim back to America unless he told him the truth, one thing led to another when Jim caught Rebecca taking a bath in the laundry tub. It seemed a little far fetched, but I could usually tell when Erich was lying, and in all honesty he didn’t lie often, at least not outright. So I took him at his word. It was better than getting all the bleeding specifics from Jim, anyway.
Sex was not something I would ever be comfortable talking about them with, that much I knew. It was certainly for the better that they still thought I was a virgin, an inexperienced kid who they could heckle about being a pansy but otherwise leave out of the discussion when it came to things like that.
But that week, all anyone wanted to talk about was Jim’s encounter with " as she had been named by Erich in the moment of panic when Jim couldn’t come up with a title for his imaginary girl " Janice Stove. And while Jim recounted the (often excruciatingly thorough) details, I found my mind drifting towards my own memories. Memories of hot, sticky nights between threadbare sheets. I’ll admit now, despite what the guys believed, I was absolutely not a virgin.
So it was hard to listen to, Jim’s story. I wasn’t like Erich or Hersch; I couldn’t just put up a wall and block out the past like they could. The constant, nagging feeling that the truth was on the tip of my tongue, ready to reveal itself to them, was forever in the forefront of my mind. Sometimes I felt like I might break down in tears right there at the breakfast table. As if doing that wouldn’t expose everything all by itself.
The nightmares got worse, too. They were never exactly the same, but always a similar idea. Sometimes it would be in the vineyard at night, or the wine cellar, or a place like the gardens at my old home, or even in my own bunk at Wellington’s " places that made no sense because we had never, ever been there together. There would be hands, familiar hands. Then familiar arms, a familiar mouth, familiar body. There would be a familiar feeling, familiar touch and then… the shadow on the wall in the cellar and my own pitiful wailing.
I knew I had a sleep talking problem, but since none of the guys had mentioned it, I figured they slept through it somehow. I sure am glad, too. I can only imagine the things they would hear, if they were to listen.
So for the next few days, I hunkered down and kept my mouth sewn shut. Luckily, things got back to normal pretty quick. Hersch and Erich got bored with Jim’s adventures between the sheets (or, more accurately, on the floor. No more bare feet for any of us, ever). Jim gave it a rest without mush resistance, obviously running out of lies.
He and Erich got more chummy than usual. I knew it was because Jim thought Erich was the only one he could talk to about Rebecca, since Erich was neither her brother nor a useless virgin. But it made me just the littlest bit jealous. In spite of myself, I found out just how possessive of Erich I had become. Our friendship wasn’t normal, but it was all either of us had. I wanted to protect him as much as I needed him to protect me. I was the one he called kamerad. The night they got to drinking and talking about their past f***s while Jim finally took the stitches out of Erich’s hand, I exiled myself to the music building without being noticed, feeling lower than I had in a long time.
Other than that, like I said, things went just about back to normal. At least until Wednesday. In the music building third period, I was obsessively screeching out Paganini’s twenty-fourth caprice. I had found the sheet music stashed in the corner of the store room a few weeks ago, and I had been ecstatic. It had always been my dream to master a Paganini. I used to have a record of Jascha Heifetz playing the very same piece, back when I used to lie on the floor of my room and imagine that someday I might grow up to be just like him. I had already reached a point where it no longer sounded absolutely disastrous, and I desperately wished someone could hear me play. Still, I was cloistered away in a corner practice room, since there’s no way on earth to not look like a madman when you’re playing music like that, when Professor Crackers, the actual lunatic in the room, charged over to me.
“Morrison!” I had tried on more than one occasion to tell him that the name was Moretti, but had long since given up.
“Yes sir?” I relaxed my bow, hoping that he might observe I was attempting one of the most difficult violin pieces ever written. I stretched my aching hand, both for effect and because the finger work on that piece was killing me.
“Professor Knight has sent for you. You’re to meet him in his office.”
I groaned, knowing he wouldn’t notice or care. Of course Knight would call me out of this class. “Now, sir?”
“Indeed so, Mortimer. Now, desist your butchering of that Beethoven and for Jesus Christ’s sake tuck in your shirt! You’re not in a brothel.”
I didn’t even know which part of that order I was supposed to correct, since my shirt was tucked in and I was clearly neither playing Beethoven nor named Mortimer. In the end, I didn’t say anything. I tried to show Crackers some respect. I knew at this rate I was more likely to end up like him than like Jascha Heifetz. He was a lonely old queer, I could tell that much, usually too drunk or too drowned in self pity to tell the difference between a violin and a tuba. And somewhere deep inside I knew that was where I was headed.
That was a really awful idea, and once it was in my head I stewed over it all the way back to the main building. It didn’t help that the music building was literally about a half-mile away from the rest of civilization. All the way down the path I pictured myself in Crackers’ office, wearing his worn out old jumpers and listening to his scratchy old records. I shuddered, thinking I would string myself up before I let that happen.
My mind wandered in that direction until I reached Knight’s third floor office. The Irish receptionist told me Knight was with another student and would see me shortly before sitting me down outside the door. She left hardly a second after I arrived, a lunch sack in her hand.
I wouldn’t have known he was there right away, if they had just been speaking English. But it was clear from the moment I sat down that Hersch was the student in the room with Knight. He was yelling in Polish.
“Nie masz pojęcia! Nie masz pojęcia, co się stało z nami!”
I couldn’t resist. I was so curious about Hersch’s life; I had to know what was going on. So I got up from my seat and pressed my ear to the door. Knight’s crisp British accent was quieter and more controlled. He was obviously trying to subdue Hersch. I smirked, thinking that even Knight got scared when Hersch got worked up. “Now, Mr. Abrahamson, do calm down and speak so I can understand you!”
“I won’t!” Hersch roared, jumping " thank God " back to English. “I won’t just stand here when I know all you want is to try and change my mind. You, you have no right! You might have known my father, but you don’t know the first thing about me.” That much I had known already. Jim was pretty bad at keeping secrets.
Knight paused, and I realized Hersch had made him angry. “I did know your father,” he said coldly. “And I know the last thing he would want would be for you to throw your life and your sister’s life away on this fantasy of replacing him.”
“Don’t bring my sister into this,” Hersch responded shortly.
“Well you certainly aren’t going to. Rebecca’s told me she doesn’t want to go back. You’re to disregard her wishes completely then?”
“That is her decision, Geoffrey.” Bloody hell! Did Hersch just call Knight by his first name? “You know Rebecca. She’ll stay if she wants to.”
“But you know she won’t let you go alone.”
“I told you. It’s her decision.”
“I’m going back!” Hersch roared suddenly. “I’m going back and I don’t care what you or Rebecca or anyone else says! You don’t understand. These are the people I’ve known all my life, and I abandoned them to die.”
Knight remained calm, as far as I could tell. I imagined him, sitting behind his desk with his hands folded, watching as Hersch pitched a fit worthy of Erich. “Herschel, your father charged me with your care in his… absence. I can hardly let you simply-”
“F**k that!” There was a thump, and I pictured Hersch pounding his fist on the desk. “F**k that! I’m nineteen goddamn years old! I’ll be twenty in a few months!” What the hell? No time to figure that one out. “And, with all due respect, Professor Knight, my father is not ‘absent.’ The Nazis killed him. They took him and my Ma in for questioning and when they wouldn’t give information about the resistance the soldiers shot them in the street and threw them in a hole. Understand?”
Everyone was silent for a moment, although I only managed that by stuffing my fist in my mouth. Knight didn’t respond, and Hersch went on after a second, calmer now. “You were his friend, Geoffrey. How could you not want retribution for what they did to him? How can you tell me to abandon the cause he believed in with everything he had? He did, not me.”
“Herschel, he would never want you to meet the same end.”
“Well maybe that’s what I want. All right? I’m done living with the guilt, Knight. If it comes to it, I will die for the resistance. Like they did.”
Knight was silent for another long minute. “Herschel, you understand that I can’t let you…”
But he had set Hersch off again. “You don’t have the right to let me do anything! F**k, you were his best friend! You knew he was a Jew. You knew he had a family! And what did you do? You could have sent for him, at least for him if you didn’t care about the rest of us, before the country was invaded.”
“I sent word as soon as I could. I took you in. It was the best that I could do.”
Hersch was past any sense of boundaries now. “He used to talk about you like you were his brother. He would talk about his best mate Geoffrey and how much I would love him when I got to England. Ha! As if you cared about him. If you ever cared about him as much as you cared about yourself, you would have done something. You killed him just as much as they did.”
“Herschel! Sit down now!” Knight roared. Hersch quieted and I heard the squeak of the chair against the floor. There was a long, tense silence before Knight went on. “Try to listen to reason, Herschel. If not for me, for your friends.”
“My friends are back there! Didn’t you hear me? That’s why I’m going back. I told you, Peter said…”
“Not your friends from home,” Knight cut him off. “Your friends downstairs.” I had no idea what he was getting at, but I jammed my ear even harder against the wood. “Did you know, Herschel, that it’s because of you that your roommates were accepted here?”
“Don’t give me that s**t, Knight.”
“It’s the truth. When I received your letter asking for help, I asked my secretary to send you a letter of acceptance. Only, the other three had also written within the few months prior, and she assumed that I intended to accept all the late applicants. By the time I realized the mistake, you had all confirmed that you would be attending. Their situations sounded just as dire as yours. Well, excluding Banhart, of course.” Hersch snorted. “He was simply so intelligent I couldn’t justify denying him. Regardless, I couldn’t bear to be the one who turned any of them away.”
Hersch was quiet for a minute, but I couldn’t imagine that he bought any of that. Hell, I was having a hard time buying it. “Even if that is true, what does it have to do with anything?”
“I’m trying to say you have a responsibility to them too. You brought them together. Don’t you owe it to them to tell them the truth?”
“F**k! I didn’t bring anyone together. Your moron secretary brought us together.”
“Believe it or not, Herschel,” Knight’s voice was insistent but softer than before, “I am of the belief that the four of you were meant to come here together. There is something wonderful about the four of you together. Admit it or not, you’re all great friends. None of you could have survived here alone. Think, Herschel! It’s a miracle that you all landed here of all places, together, just when you all needed real friendship!”
Hersch growled, and I could practically see him bristling in his chair. “I don’t believe in miracles. Hell, I don’t believe in God, Knight! And how is any of this supposed to be keeping me from leaving.”
“Because I’m trying to make you see that you don’t want to leave. If you took one minute to think about the value of your friendship with those boys, you wouldn’t go.”
“You’re wrong.” The chair scraped across the floor again, and I sprinted back to my seat. “I’m not an idiot. I know what the three of them mean to me. I’m still leaving when the semester is out, Knight. And there is nothing you can do to stop me.”
Hersch stormed out of the office and, thank Jesus, didn’t seem to see me. I pressed myself against the back of the chair, trying to make myself invisible. I was good at that. He slammed the door behind him and stalked off without looking back. I was sure I had gotten away with listening in.
I stayed in my chair for a minute or two after Hersch had gone, not wanting Knight to know I had been there the whole time. I took the time to mull over what I had learned. Hersch was going back to Poland; he had made that about as clear as he possibly could. His parents had been murdered, as we had all suspected, and he wanted to return home to lead a resistance that they had started against the occupation. Rebecca didn’t want him to go, and neither did Knight, who must have been about the closest they had left to family. Hell, I didn’t want him to go, after listening to the way he talked. He didn’t think we would let him go, if he told us about it, so he wasn’t going to. He would leave without a word when the semester finished off and we would never see him again.
I sat there for a long few minutes, trying to think it through. But Hersch’s tantrum wasn’t what came to mind. Thinking about it, I realized I believed Knight’s story, the one about Hersch being the reason we had all come to Wellington’s. It was no secret that I was the most religious of the four of us. My whole family was Catholic, and had been for a about as far back as Catholics existed. Being Catholic was like breathing for me. I’m not saying I spend every spare moment on my knees, but another thing I could never admit to the guys was that I really was deeply faithful. Besides my violin, prayer had been just about the only thing that got me through the first lonely year in Italy. After you’ve been through something like that with God as your only companion " and you’ve come out all right on the other side " there’s no going back. Nowadays, I prayed more than I liked to let on, when the other guys were not around. Usually, I prayed for them.
So maybe Knight was right. Well, I certainly liked the idea that something better than utter tragedy had thrown us together. Hersch may not have believed in God, but not even he could deny that the odds of all four of us coming to Wellington’s at the same time were simply inconceivable. Not even he could deny that there was something miraculous about the against-the-odds friendship of four people who couldn’t possibly be more different.
I thought, maybe we’re meant for something special, the four of us. Maybe we’re meant to do something great together. I put a hand to my chest, feeling my rosary through my shirt, something I did automatically whenever I felt scared or sad. It was always comforting, knowing it was there.
With a deep breath, I got up out of my chair. Knight’s door was still open, but I knocked anyway. “Professor Knight?” Knight had pushed his glasses up and pressed his fingers to his eyes, though he straightened up when he saw me. He looked as defeated as anyone I had ever seen. “You asked for me?”
He righted himself, sitting up straight behind the desk. “Ah, yes, Moretti,” his voice was hoarse. “Come in. We have received a rather official piece of mail for you, and I thought it would be best for you to deal with it here.”
My stomach dropped. This could only be bad news. Knight shuffled through the papers on his desk, handing me a thick white envelope. The letter was from a law firm in London, and on it was written my full name: Gabriel Rafaello Giovanni Moretti. It had been originally addressed to my uncle’s vineyard in Italy. I looked, puzzled, at Knight. “Apparently, it was supposed to have reached you shortly after you turned seventeen. But, as I understand it, you were traveling then.”
I nodded, gazing at the letter in my hands. My seventeenth birthday had come and gone just a week after I left Italy, when I was too destroyed to even remember, and God knows there was nobody else to care. I was the youngest of the guys, actually. Erich and Jim were both eighteen and apparently Hersch was headed for twenty. I jammed a finger into the envelope, but Knight stopped me. “Before you read, I believe you should hear the news, uh, out loud.” Bloody hell, this could really only be bad news. “Mr. Moretti, your uncle Lorenzo is dead.”
It felt like I had dropped through the floor. Uncle Lorenzo, dead? Never. He had been alive as could be, only " what? " twelve weeks ago? Oh, God, was that all it had been? Was that all it had been since I had been in Italy, when I had last seen his heavily lined, sunburned face, scowling unforgiving from the car outside the train station?
“How?” was all I managed to say.
“Well,” Knight cleared his throat uncomfortably, “Officially, he was executed for conspiracy against the empire.
“That’s not true,” I responded immediately. I didn’t want to defend him; I hated the man. But my uncle had absolutely no political inclinations of any kind, and he espoused it as often as he could. He had put up with Mussolini for almost twenty years without complaint. All he cared about in the world was living quietly and not rocking the boat, and making sure everyone else in his power did the same.
“I understand that you’re upset. The Italian government is guilty of countless unreported deaths, and…”
“I’m not upset.”
“I’m not upset,” I repeated. And I wasn’t. Uncle Lorenzo may have taken me in for two years, but, after what happened, the man could have burned in hell for all I cared.
Knight looked concerned. “Well, I suggest you open the letter, then.” I did.
Dear Mr. Moretti,
With the recently reported death of Lorenzo Moretti, our firm is obligated to inform you that, in accordance to will of your late father, Casio Moretti, you now stand to inherit Heathshire estate and the one hundred and twelve acres of adjoining property.
There was more, but I didn’t read it. It was all I could to keep my hands from shaking, to keep my lips from trembling, much less make my eyes focus on the page. Heathshire, the family estate, the place I had grown up, was mine. I could go back, back to the stone mansion in North Yorkshire, with the gardens and the forests and miles of corridors that I knew by heart. Back to my own bedroom, where I had spent years just sitting by the window playing my violin. My own bed, just the thought of that made me want to cry. I could go home.
My parents had loads of money, from selling my father’s half of the vineyard to my uncle. But my father had made the will when I was a baby, long before they had thought about me inheriting. And back then, my father still dreamed that his idolized older brother would join him in England. So the will left the estate and everything in it, including me, to my uncle’s care. God forgive them that. The lawyers had said Heathshire would be mine when Lorenzo died, but then it had seemed eons away, and I was still so shaken by the loss of my parents I hadn’t even cared. I was fifteen when they died, still to young to even think about fighting the will or trying to stay in England.
“The school was notified recently, when the firm realized you were here,” Knight snapped me out of my embarrassingly emotional moment. “Technically, you defied the legal will by leaving the care of your aunt and uncle before the age of seventeen. But, from what I understand, the firm was unable to find proof that you had left the country before your birthday, with the Italian government being what it is now.
He looked me in the eye with a small, encouraging smile, and I realized he was happy for me. Maybe Knight wasn’t such a b*****d. He was trying to keep Hersch alive, wasn’t he? “Of course you understand that as the heir and owner of significant property, you will be an exception to the evacuation mandate. You can contact the firm to obtain the deeds, and you’ll be allowed to leave for Heathshire no sooner than June first, understood?”
I smiled. “Y-yes, sir,” my voice was starting to shake, and I wanted to get out of there before I broke down. “I-is that all, Professor?”
“Yes, yes that will be all.” I stood, relieved, but he started again. “Please,” I sat immediately, “please tell the others to keep an eye on Herschel… Mr. Abrahamson. I do believe he is in need of some guidance.”
I nodded, probably harder than I needed to. In about five minutes I had managed to forget what I had learned about Hersch. “Yes, sir. Yes, certainly, sir.” Now that I knew I was going to be all right, I couldn’t forget that the others still needed help.
Knight waved me towards the door. “Very good. You may go.”
I made it out the door, through the corridor, and halfway down the stairs before the reality of the situation, the relief and joy and amazement all hit me at once. I could go home. Everything would be all right. Everything would go back to normal. This would all be over in just a month.
It would be all over.
I might have been able to hold on to my unbelievable happiness if I hadn’t thought of Erich. Erich, who would have nowhere in the world to go after this. Erich, who trusted me, who needed me, even if he would never admit it. And I thought about Hersch, who was going to drag his battered self back to Poland to die for his father’s honor the second he could hop the train. Jim, who would go back to some awful, boring life in America, without Rebecca, and didn’t even know it yet.
Everything wouldn’t be all right, not for them. At that second I suddenly felt so deplorably guilty for having found a way out, when the three of them were stuck with the same s**t they had come here with. When this was over, their lives would be over. And without them, I thought mine might be too.
The realization knocked me to my feet, and before I could stop myself, I collapsed, falling against the wall. I crushed the letter in my hand as the horrible, bittersweet understanding of the situation washing over me. The tears rolled down my cheeks as I clutched my rosary, praying for strength, for guidance, for God to help them, and most of all, that no one would come along and see me like this. No one did. I just sat, crumpled, in that dark, abandoned stairwell, crying for the loss of my friends, for the loss of every person I had ever cared about. Crying for a loss that hadn’t even happened yet.
© 2012 emily
Added on February 27, 2012
Last Updated on February 29, 2012
Sons of Thunder: Part One
AboutHello all! My name is Emily, I'm 18, I am definitely not at home in this tiny MN town, and soon I will be the most famous author my generation. I go to Barnes and Noble to see where my book will sit .. more..