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Jeramie Slater

You are more than what you have become

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Jeramie Slater

The clock ticked on, and the night grew deeper, but Jeramie still did not sleep.

 

The boy lay awake in bed as the house grew quiet, hugging a pillow to his chest and feeling like he was going to throw up. The Christmas vacation had reached its final night. That meant tomorrow it was back to school. Tomorrow morning it would be off to the train station to face all of his classmates. It was the only thing he could think about, a sickening dread in his gut, and even if he could sleep he wouldn't have wanted to because that would make it time to leave. But sleeping or not, the clock kept ticking. Unable to take it anymore, he came out of his covers, slipped eagle slippers onto his feet, and set off down the hallway.

 

Jeramie walked slowly through the darkened hall, tiptoeing so as not to make a sound. He passed the doors to his sisters' rooms, pausing only when he heard the tiniest creak, and made the familiar walk to his parents' doorway. 

 

The door stood ajar, letting a sliver of light in like a path. Jeramie walked it slightly, then froze inside. He stood there for a little while, listening to the sounds of his parents' breathing, and the light whistle of the outside wind. "Mum..." the boy whispered. He sniffled once and waited for an answer, but didn't get one.

 

"Mum..." Jeramie called out softly once more, a small figure in blue pajamas standing in the doorway, still hugging his pillow.

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Everett Slater

Everett slept, but it wasn’t very restful. Before bed he’d gone to each of his children's bedrooms and peeked in. Abi had fallen asleep with her two way mirror in hand, probably chatting with Sabine, and the lights were still on. He waved his hand over the panel on the wall, fingers catching the switch and sending the room into darkness. Then he’d gone to Angel’s room. She’d kept the nursery that the twins had once shared, with whisper soft pastel tones and some lingering scent of similar gentleness, like clean linens. She was asleep, too, with a book on her nightstand.

 

With a heavy heart, Everett softly pulled the door closed and paused before walking down the hall to stand before the bedroom door of his only son. He paused again. If the boy was sleeping, he didn’t want to risk waking him by opening the door. It was shut tight against the world, the way it had been for most of the holiday. 

 

Taking a deep breath, Everett stepped away from Jeramie’s door and walked back down the hallway to his own room, where Maddie had already toppled into bed, her curly hair wrestled into a knot for nighttime. After brushing his teeth in the adjoining bathroom, Everett looked in the mirror, rubbing eyes so tired they almost refused to stay open, then joined his wife in bed.

 

He had no idea what time it was or how long he’d slept when the soft, pleading voice alerted his parental instincts. Historically this was usually followed by Abi announcing that she’d thrown up. She was now seventeen but you could never rule it out. Everett sat up and rubbed his face with both hands before opening his eyes, but when he did he was surprised to see the smaller silhouette of his son, who hesitantly climbed onto the bed.

 

”Hey kiddo,” Everett said quietly, sitting all the way up and trying to keep his voice down, but preparing to usher Jeramie back to bed and possibly muster some cleaning spells. “What’s the matter? Are you sick?”

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Jeramie Slater

It was Jeramie's dad who woke up first. When Jeramie saw him stir he came forward slowly, before climbing up onto the bed. He planted himself down, sitting there with legs crossed and the pillow held between them, leaning down into a ball. 

 

“What’s the matter? Are you sick?”

 

Jeramie lowered his head and gave it a tiny silent shake, though his face told a very different story. For a little while he stayed quiet on the bed, staring down and fidgeting just a bit, the swaying of his feet bringing his knees up and down.

 

Maybe he should have said yes. He'd almost wanted to say yes, in the hopes that doing so would mean he could stay home in bed, but he knew that it wouldn't really help. Nothing short of a lucky bout of dragon pox was going to get him off of that train. Jeramie had read about dragon pox, and even heard that some kids who got it stayed out of school for ages, but the symptoms would be hard to fake. He'd thought about it of course, and even wondered if they had any pesto or guacamole for the green skin, but it had been a desperate plan that would never fool anybody and he didn't think he would be able to keep up the lie for very long even if it did. It was just never going to work. 

 

The only thing to do was to tell the truth.

 

"Dad," Jeramie started. He spoke quietly, not just because it was hard, but because he didn't want to wake his sisters. Both of them, for very different reasons. "I don't want to go back to school tomorrow."

 

His voice quivered for a dangerous moment with the threat of more tears, but for the moment he managed to hold them in. 

 

"Dad, listen..." he interrupted before any objections could be voiced, or before any words could be spoken. He wanted to get it all out at once, while he could. "I've been thinking about it a lot okay?" he said, taking great care to sound very mature and serious, and most of all reasonable. "I know I need a education, but you and Mum could teach me. I don't really like any of my professors anyway...Mum and you would do a better job, I just know it." 

 

"I would do extra chores," he offered. "I could help out a lot. I'd keep my room clean. I wouldn't leave books lying around. And I'd be very good. I'd be no trouble at all, I really wouldn't."

 

"We could spend more time together," he pointed out. "All of us. And...I won't lock myself in my room this time. I promise."

 

He paused. He had thought of many more reasons that it would be a very good idea, and many things that he should say, but as he looked back up at his dad he found himself resorting to the simplest.

 

"Please..." 

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Everett Slater

Everett could barely discern the soft head shake indicating that no, Jeramie was not sick. There was a silence, and Ev, usually impatient--especially in the middle of the night, not wanting to wake Maddie--sensed that he should not try to usher the boy back to bed quite yet. Just as he felt his own voice rising in his throat, feeling like he'd given his son enough time to spit it out, Jeramie managed to speak.

 

"Dad, I don't want to go back to school tomorrow."

 

Everett's heart sank. Even as Jeramie plowed forward (quietly, a skill his older sister did not possess) with his carefully planned solution, Everett's mind spun, trying to grasp for a way that he could possibly make this horrible situation less daunting to his gentle son, who did not deserve to dread returning to his education.

 

"We could spend more time together,"

 

At this, Everett couldn't help smiling. When Madeline had graduated a year ahead of him, he'd straddled the bench in the Great Hall beside her at breakfast and listed all the reasons that his education was secondary to their relationship, and why she should let him drop out a year early and go on to be with her wherever she went. His own mother gone, his father consumed with his grief, he'd had nobody to force him to prioritize his education. When Maddie had taken the task upon herself, he'd seen it as a sign that she didn't love him the way he loved her.

 

He knew he had to tread carefully so that nothing he said could be misconstrued by Jeramie in this way, because it couldn't be further from the truth. 

 

"Please."

 

Everett gave a soft sigh through his nose and quietly swung his feet out of bed, giving Jer's thick dark hair a tousle before whispering, "Come on, let's go talk," and indicating that the boy should head out to the hall. He herded Jeramie out of the room and on his way out, grabbed a hooded sweatshirt and pulled it on over his head. With familiarity the Slater boys moved through the house without turning any lights on and with gentle touches to the shoulder Everett steered his son to the kitchen. 

 

He took milk out of the fridge and poured it into a pot, then set out some mugs, preparing to make cocoa. While the stove was heating, Everett turned back to Jeramie. 

 

"I can see why you don't want to go back," he said quietly. "Especially now that you won't have any privacy."

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Jeramie Slater

Jeramie looked up with pleading eyes as he waited for his dad's answer. He had said his piece, even if it had ended up a much shorter speech than the one he'd been imagining. Now that the words were out there he knew that his last strand of hope was out and vulnerable, thin and wavering, ready to be severed with one two letter word. 

 

Instead, his dad tousled his hair, and told him 'let's go talk'. Hesitantly, Jeramie followed. He didn't know if that was a good sign or a bad one, but it wasn't a no...not yet. 'Let's go talk' meant that maybe there was a chance. It meant that maybe he was going to be listened to. As they left his parents' bedroom, he half expected he was going to be led to his own to be tucked back in bed, but instead his father gently prodded him towards the kitchen. This was a surprise, and Jeramie walked the way. It was dark in the house, though that was not something that Jeramie had ever feared. He had struggled just a little in the attack's immediate aftermath, but that hadn't lasted long. Now, the darker the better - no moon. Nevertheless he kept holding his pillow, even if it didn't provide him much relief. 

 

As they arrived in the kitchen, Jeramie instinctively walked over to his chair and took a seat at the table. He watched his dad take out some mugs. His dad knew his way around a kitchen, but Jeramie didn't feel like having anything - even if hot cocoa (which it seemed from the milk in the pot his dad was about to make) was something he had always loved. He didn't take his eyes off his dad's face, anxiously awaiting what he was going to say. He had brought Jeramie here, instead of to bed. He was serious then, about talking. Jer held onto the faintest glimmer of hope. When his dad finally did speak, Jeramie didn't know what to make of it exactly. He said that he could understand why Jeramie didn't want to go. That sounded like it was a step towards coming to an understanding. But the reason he said had been conspicuously missing from Jeramie's own argument. 

 

"Well...Yes," Jer looked back down at the table although there was nothing there, nodded his head and went quiet. If he had to talk about it then he had to talk about it. Without even raising his eyes he spoke. 

 

"Everybody's gonna know," he said quietly. "They already do. It was on the radio. We heard it. Other people heard it. And if one person knows, everybody knows." The second he showed up at the train station they'd all be staring at him, whispering, probably worse than that. It had been hard being at school and keeping it a secret, constantly feeling sure they suspected, or being scared that if they didn't they'd find out soon...now he would give anything to have that back. Back when he still had a secret to be scared of.

 

Now it was everybody else who was going to be afraid.  

 

"I just can't Dad, I don't want to. It's better that I don't." He curled his feet up onto the chair, feeling the sickness once more. 

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Everett Slater

Everett ached as he watched Jeramie try to articulate his plight, the words simple, the themes not complex--but the emotions, the turmoil, were evident. Everett felt an almost physical, phantom pain in his arms, which he wanted to wrap around his son and never let go, but he mentally willed them to be leaden and obey him--perhaps the source of the phantom pain--knowing that this was not the time for shelter. 

 

"They do," he agreed when Jeramie asserted that everyone knew his secret. "Which is a terrible thing, because it wasn't anyone else's to know or to tell. They had no right." He felt anger flaring in his throat like acid reflux and swallowed hard, returning to the heated milk and using a wooden spoon to stir it, to stir his bubbling emotions, keep them from curdling. He didn't want to feed his boy something burnt, bitter, a waste. 

 

Everett retrieved two hearty chunks of Honeydukes chocolate from the cabinet and plunked one into each mug before pouring the hot milk over them and then turning back to Jer. 

 

"But you can't hide from people your entire life," he said finally, setting one mug in front of his son and wrapping his hand around the other. "You know why I made you go to that Christmas luncheon?" he asked, after a moment of thoughtful quiet.

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