Chapter 4 : Confused About Confusion
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Confused about Confusion
Riley left his parents alone in the dining room and sped up to his bedroom. They didn’t try and stop him; they were too busy dissolving into their own grief. Riley wondered why he didn’t feel as sad as they did. He wasn’t sure if he was in denial or not, but all he truly was experiencing was numbness. He felt as though he was in a daze, as though he was always waking up in the morning after too little sleep. People and things felt far away. He used to find security and peace in the fact that his bedroom was lavish and welcoming. But now he sat on the corner of his bed as though he was a stranger to the surroundings. “They would have found out sooner or later,” he told himself miserably. He just wanted to spare them a little time. He wanted to let them say goodbye to Conner. He wanted to say goodbye to Conner before he had to start thinking about what was in store for him.
Conner had been his parent’s favorite, and probably for good reason. Conner was always bright and happy, while Riley felt called to be more sullen and reflective. He was not depressed or angry with his life, but he had just never been as happy as Conner had been. Conner’s happiness fueled a positive attitude, so he excelled in many areas and failed gracefully in others. Even though Riley had been older, Conner seemed to be the one who was setting the good examples and teaching lessons. When Conner had been sick, Riley often wondered if his parents would rather he was dying instead of his younger sibling. “Well, now they don’t have to choose,” he thought grimly. He knew he was rather lucky to have the parents that he did. His mother fussed over him, and his father taught him self reliance. However, he was always brought down by the fact that he was not the favorite. How could he have ever been the favorite?
Riley waited for a good while in his room. He thought his parents would come up to see him and begin discussing a course of treatment. He would already be scheduled to see specific healers on specific days. He was actually looking forward to the treatment. He knew already that he wasn’t going to get better, so there was no hope or disappointment. All he had to look forward to was relief from some of his symptoms. However, the minutes turned into hours, and his parents still had not come up to see him or speak with him.
Slightly concerned and slightly intrigued, Riley left his room and headed down the large staircase. He could hear the quiet murmuring of voices coming from the dining room. Apparently his parents still had yet to leave the room where the truth had been revealed. He crept closer and peeped in through the door crack. The dinner plates with Riley’s pathetic piece of beef were still on the table; his parents had not even allowed the servants in the room to clear the table. His father was standing, his brow furrowed with anxiety. His mother was still in her seat, blotting tears away with her napkin.
“We almost did it for Conner, but we ran out of time,” his mother was saying shakily. “Mr. Compson comes very highly recommended. He’s a genius.” His father moved to one of the windows and stared wistfully out of it.
“I don’t know if I can agree to this,” his father responded. “It sounds dangerous. And after it’s over…nothing will be the same. His life will never be the same. If you can even call it a life.” His mother’s next words were full of new tears.
“William, please. I’m begging you to do this. I can’t…I can’t watch another member of this family die.” Her voice became more firm. “Do not ask me to bury the last of my children. I won’t do it.” Riley watched his father move towards his mother and place a hand on her shoulder. It was a motion of pity and tenderness, one Riley was not used to seeing from his parents.
“I’ll see if he can be here tomorrow.”
“Thank you, William.” Riley slipped back up the stairs before his father left the room, and went back to his bedroom. He crawled into his bed fully clothed, and stared up at the ceiling.
Mr. Compson. He thought he remembered his parents mention the name before when they had been discussing a course of action for Conner. He supposed that Mr. Compson was some kind of unorthadox healer, one that used very strange methods to heal his patients. His father seemed to think that Mr. Compson used dangerous methods, so Riley truly had no idea what to expect. He would try the treatment though, what did he have to lose? Maybe it was not so foolish to hope a little bit.
Mrs. Larson, the maid, bustled into Riley’s room early the next morning.
“Good morning, sir” she said going to the drapes and throwing them open. Riley stretched and yawned, looking at her through his rumpled hair. He was confused. Lately his parents were in the habit of allowing him to sleep as long as he wanted to.
“Morning,” he croaked. He had not slept well. Mrs. Larson tottered around the room for a few minutes before exiting and reentering with a fine looking suit on a hanger.
“Your mother told me she would like you to wear this today, sir.” Riley finally slid out of bed and took the suit from her hands.
“Did she mention the occasion?”
“Oh no, sir.”
Fifteen minutes later, Riley descended the stairs in his new clothes. Considering he no longer had anything to hide, he had dressed his hand in a white bandage. It took him awhile to find his parents, but eventually discovered them in the library. Riley personally loved the library, but his parents rarely spent time there. He a feeling of disquietude coursed through his body, and it was one that he could not shake away. His parents were not alone in the room. A man in a white suit was with them, and he appeared to be setting up an artist’s easel. The only word that came to Riley’s mind when he looked at the man was…stiff. The man had the ability to keep his legs and arms remarkably close to his body at all times, and did not let them bed at the joints very much. His hair was slicked down with so much gel that hurricane winds probably would not disturb it. His parents were standing nearby looking as though they wanted to jump out of their own skin.
“What is this?” Riley asked his mother, gesturing to the man in the white suit. He expected his father to answer, he usually did, but his mother stepped forward instead.
“Riley…we thought it would be just lovely if Mr. Compson painted a portrait of you this morning.” Riley shot his father a perplexed look. He only nodded, affirming Mrs. Linder’s words.
“Are you two alright?” Riley asked, wondering if the sanity of his parents was still in check.
“We’ll be fine…soon,” was the response.
“I’m all ready,” Mr. Compson, said gruffly. Riley’s mother practically leapt forward as she gathered her firstborn into her arms. Riley was nearly strangled by the hug, but he was more concerned about what was going on. Everything was so strange. So strange and final.
“Love you,” his mother whispered, and kissed his cheek. “We’ll see you soon.” Riley’s father came up to him and shook his hand firmly. There were no words. He then turned and followed his wife out of the room.
This was unbelievably strange. The whole situation had a Twilight Zone kind of feeling about it. His parents had found out that he was suffering from a life-threatening illness, and they wanted to paint his portrait? What did that mean? Was it something they were getting to remember him by? Was it what they were going to look tearfully at once he had….died? Mr. Compson tapped him lightly on the shoulder.
“Take a seat, sir.” He pointed to a chair in the center of the room. Riley was not sure why, but he found himself glaring at the man.
“What’s going on?” he demanded. He expected Mr. Compson to bring a lifesaving treatment plan for him.
“I’m just here to paint your portrait.” Riley couldn’t believe it. He scanned Mr. Compson’s supplies and everything seemed to be in order.
“I think I have a right to…” he started again, but Compson cut him off.
“Just sit,” Mr. Compson said, pushing him towards the chair. Riley rolled his eyes, and went to the chair and sunk into it.
And so it went. Mr. Compson stayed silent, frequently looking from his easel to where Riley was sitting. Riley wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be smiling or not. He chose not to, and Mr. Compson did not ask him to change his expression.
The painting went on for awhile. Riley was just getting restless when a prickling sensation gathered at his fingertips. He shrugged the feeling off, figuring he was just uncomfortable that Mr. Compson was devoting so much attention to him. But the sensation just got worse. Riley tried to wiggle his fingers but realized that it was difficult to. Perhaps this was a new symptom. The prickling sensation was in his toes too; working up his legs. His head started to get foggy. He put his hands to the arms of the chair and managed, with struggling, to push himself to his feet.
“I think… I need…” he stammered, in a voice that sounded pale and weak. “…a healer.”
“No you don’t,” Mr. Compson responded firmly. “You need to sit before you hurt yourself.”
Riley was so confused, but his swimming brain did not want to let him think about what was going on. He fell back into the chair as the prickling sensation moved across his chest and seemed to centralize itself near his heart. Then, in a rush, Riley couldn’t breathe. There was no tightness or straining in his chest, he just couldn’t breathe. Everything seemed to be hurting and fading all at the same time…and then it all stopped.
Remus couldn’t help but stare at the lips of Shelley Shultz. There was so much lip gloss piled on them that he was almost certain he could see his own reflection in them. He was on the promised date. He knew he should have heeded Peter’s advice and cancelled, but went anyway. It was just as bad as he predicted. Shelley suggested going to Madame Puddifoot’s instead of the Three Broomsticks. Unlike much of the male Hogwarts population, Remus did not really mind the quaint tea shop. He liked drinking tea, and he really didn’t have a problem with the color pink. But the very second Shelley suggested the tea shop, the idea seemed unappealing. However, even though the date itself seemed very unappealing, Remus went anyway. He decided to give Shelley a chance. She certainly looked very pretty. Strawberry blonde curls and long eyelashes. However, as she sat across from him chattering away, he could not pay attention to her.
He felt like a jerk. Shelley really wasn’t a bad person, she just seemed to be concerned with things that Remus would never even imagine thinking about. Fashion, celebrities, and gossip seemed to be her favorite topics. She had been chattering on and on, clearly excited to be out with one of the Marauders. She insisted on taking the table right near the window. Remus assumed she wanted the rest of the school to see them together. When he finally managed to get a word in, he asked her hopefully,
“What’s your favorite subject in school?” Unexpectedly, she reached forwards and put her hand on his.
“Hmmmm,” she murmured, pondering his question. As she did, she rubbed her thumb gently back and forth over his hand. Instead of answering she asked,
“What’s your favorite subject?” Remus desperately wanted to move his hand from her touch.
“Umm…” he answered. “I’m fascinated by the range of Charms, though the usefulness of Defense Against the Dark Arts can’t be denied.” Shelley gushed in response.
“Those two are my favorite too! We have so much in common!” Remus was pretty certain (and he would be right) that those classes just became her favorites. He really wanted to leave, but they had only been out for about fifteen minutes; they were only on their first cup of tea. He knew that if James or Sirius had been in the same situation they would have high-tailed it out of the tea shop ages ago. In fact, he doubted if they would have even walked through the door. But he, Remus Lupin, could not bring himself to do it. Even though Shelley seemed more interested in the idea of dating a Marauder than in actually dating him, he was still invested in her feelings. He cursed his good nature. His gaze drifted and he found himself staring outside at the pleasant spring evening. She just kept talking. Even though he was making no eye contact, or even nodding, she simply kept talking. And the way she was kept examining her hair for split ends was driving him crazy. Remus thought he might actually lose his mind, but then he noticed Ava Carmile, Sirius’ girlfriend, and her best friend Tom Bergson outside.
Perhaps it was because he was staring so hard at them, but Ava suddenly met his gaze through the teashop window. With his eyes full of desperation, Remus mouthed the word “HELP” to the two Gryffindors. Tom looked rather perplexed, but Ava grinned in understanding. Remus let out a sigh of relief when he saw the pair head for the door. Shelley interpreted the sigh as a response to her story.
“I know, right?” she continued, to his utter confusion. “I was so frustrated that I had forgotten my purse.” Remus nodded in spite of himself, and felt his heart lift as Ava and Tom came over to the table.
“Remus,” Ava said brightly. “Tom and I were just walking by and saw you two in the window. Would you mind if we joined you?” Remus gave Ava a grateful smile.
“Please,” he answered, and Ava and Tom pulled up chairs. Ava sat across the table next to Shelley, and Tom put his chair next to Remus’. Shelley looked sulky that her private time with Remus had been interrupted.
“So, how are you Remus?” Ava asked, smirking. Remus couldn’t help but grin back; she knew he was having an awful time. Shelley answered for him.
“He’s having a wonderful time, aren’t you Remmy?” There was a snort to Remus’ left and he glanced over to Tom, who was trying to hide his laughter with his hand.
“That is just so nice,” Ava continued, putting her short blonde hair behind her ears. Shelly suddenly looked over at Ava with new curiosity.
“Hey!” she exclaimed. “You’re dating Sirius Black right?” Remus smiled brightly at Ava, now Shelley’s attention was on her.
“You know something, Shelley?” Tom remarked. “She is.” Ava kicked at Tom from under the table. Shelley looked a bit confused as she looked at Ava.
“Weird,” she remarked, still staring at Ava.”
“I beg your pardon?” Ava answered glaring. Tom shot Remus worried look.
“Duck and cover, mate,” he whispered. Shelley shrugged carelessly.
“Well, hun. Tens usually don’t go out with fours. But good for you.” Remus exchanged an alarmed look with Tom, feeling horrible for asking Ava to come to the table. Ava didn’t snap back or show any signs of hostility.
“You are so right,” she said, laughing hollowly. Then, with the simplest of gestures, Ava leaned forwards and sent Shelley’s cup of tea into her lap with her elbow. Shelley shrieked as the hot liquid hit her legs. She was out of her seat so fast and running to the bathroom before Remus could even register what had happened. Ava rubbed her hands together.
“Well…that was unfortunate,” she grinned. Remus and Tom laughed heartily. Tom turned to Remus, putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Why on earth are you dating her?” Tom asked, flicking his brown hair from his eyes. “Have you suddenly gone deaf?”
“I wish,” Remus answered jokingly. “She seemed nice, I thought I would give it a try.”
“Come on, you’re smarter than that,” Ava pressed.
“I don’t know,” was the answer Remus gave, and he really didn’t know why. “I don’t really want to talk about it, it’s been horrifying enough. What’s going on with you guys?”
“Well,” Ava whispered, moving her chair away from the spilled tea. “I found a fabulous guy for Tom, but he won’t take my advice and date him.”
“Him?” Remus couldn’t help but gasp the word. Wait a minute. Tom was…whoa. Ava and Tom’s eyes widened in shock.
“Oh…my…god,” Ava gasped, looking horrified. “You didn’t know!”
“I was supposed to know?” Remus asked, feeling just as horrified as Ava looked.
“Ava!” Tom exclaimed, turning red. “What the hell?!” Ava clapped a hand to her mouth and mumbled through her fingers.
“It’s just that James knows, and Sirius knows. I thought maybe they told you.” An awkward silence to an extreme extent fell over the table.
The rest of the time Remus spent in the tea shop went by in a daze. Shelley came back from the bathroom, and Remus quickly announced that they were leaving. Shelley seemed more than pleased to be leaving the company of Ava and Tom. Ava whispered an apology to Remus as they headed for the door. Tom was sitting in his seat with his hand over his face, shaking his head in embarrassment.
Remus kept thinking about Tom and the events in the tea shop as the date continued. Shelley did more talking, they did some walking. Finally, Remus felt it was alright to call it quits. He said goodnight, and Shelley pressed a sloppy, lip glossed kiss on his lips.
Remus wandered towards Riley’s portrait feeling confused. And the real problem was that he wasn’t even sure what he was confused about. He needed some clarity.
As he rounded the corner, he found himself fervently hoping Riley had not found a way to have his portrait moved to another location. If it were up to Riley, he would probably have himself moved to some remote place in the dungeons where Remus would never find him again. Remus knew it shouldn’t matter to him what happened to the painting, but he couldn’t deny the fact that he cared. He felt his heart lift when he saw that Riley was where he always was. He heard a distinct groan as he approached Riley, and he couldn’t help but grin. He found the chair he had used last time and sat down near Riley’s portrait.
“Hi,” he said. Riley was rubbing his temple with his fingers as though he had a bad headache.
“Ok, I’ve had enough with trying to figure…you out,” he commented. “Obviously you are mentally unstable or you don’t understand plain English. I want to be left alone. I’m begging you. Please…just go.”
“I said please.”
“My name is Remus, by the way.”
Riley rubbed his temple harder. “I truly don’t know why you think I would want to know that.”
Remus shrugged. “I thought you were going to have your portrait moved.” Riley didn’t answer right away, so he pressed on. “You’ve done almost nothing but try to get rid of me, but I don’t think you really want to move somewhere else. Something tells me if you really wanted to have yourself moved, you would have.”
“So that’s your theory?” Remus felt himself smile. Of everything that Riley had ever said to him, those words seemed to have less hostility in them. As if for a moment Riley admired Remus for trying to figure him out. However, the hostility and sarcasm were back in full force for Riley’s next comment.
“You could not be more wrong. Let me explain something to you, Remus.” He really spat his name when he said it. “You are the first person, mentally unstable or not, that I’ve spoken to in years. It might shock you to know this, but not many people come back here. Even the caretaker doesn’t come to clean back here anymore. There is a reason these books are covered with dust. Nobody cares about the things that are back here. And that’s fine with me. So no one but you has been back here, so I have not been able to make my request for a move. I would ask you, but I doubt you would help me. I would move myself, but as I am a painting, I can’t walk!”
“What’s that like?” Remus asked curiously. He always wondered if individuals in the moving portraits felt anything.
“Its lovely, like a summer vacation,” Riley muttered.
“No, you moron.”
Remus laughed out loud. He knew it was a silly thing to do. He had just been rudely insulted. But he couldn’t help but laugh at the way Riley said it. He thought he heard Riley mutter something about “mentally unstable” under his breath.
“I know you don’t care,” Remus began, causing another Riley groan, “but I had a pretty bad night.” Riley rolled his blue eyes.
“Congrats on the bad date,” he said dryly.
“How did you know?” Remus inquired.
“It was mostly a guess,” Riley answered, and then pointed at Remus’ face. “You’ve got lip gloss smudged on your lip, and I was pretty sure you didn’t wear makeup.” Remus wiped at his lips with his sleeve. Gross, he hadn’t known it was still there.
“Are you gay?” Riley asked suddenly.
“I’ve got a girlfriend!” Remus sputtered, caught completely off guard. He felt his heart rate quicken, and his fingertips tingle with nervousness.
Riley twisted his lips thoughtfully. “That’s not really an answer.” Remus tried to collect himself.
“No,” he managed to say. “No, of course not.” Riley didn’t answer, he just slouched a little more in his chair as he continued to think. The two sat in silence. Remus knew the burning question he wanted to ask…but did he want to know the answer? Before fear got the better of him he blurted,
“Why would you think that?” Riley was all prepared with an answer.
“Well, for awhile I’ve been trying to figure out why you keep coming here. What benefit could you possibly be getting from being insulted by a guy in a painting. Then the idea occurred to me that maybe…you have the hotts for me.”
Remus gaped at Riley in horror.
“I really hope that is not the case. Even if you aren’t gay, having a thing for a portrait can’t be healthy on any level. Freud would have a field day with you.” Riley pressed on. “But I just look for answers.”
“Well, that is certainly not the right one,” Remus responded firmly. “And I’m supposed to be the one who’s mentally unstable. I thought you were done trying to figure me out.”
Another minute of silence passed.
“I think that’s enough emotional scarring for now,” Remus whispered, feeling as though he might choke on his words. “I think I better go.”
“I’ve been trying to tell you that since the beginning.”
Remus walked away without another word. He didn’t feel well. His legs felt shaky and his heart was still going way too fast. He didn’t know why he suddenly felt so upset. It wasn’t true, none of it was true. He was dating Shelley Shultz, and he was going to keep dating her. That was the healthy thing to do.
Not much else to say, folks. I really hope you are enjoying the story and that your summer is really wonderful.
And it's two bare feet on the dashboard
Young love and an old Ford
Cheap shades and a tattoo
And a Yoo-Hoo bottle on the floorboard
Perfect song on the radio
Sing along 'cause it's one we know
It's a smile, it's a kiss
It's a sip of wine, it's summertime