It’s Impossible to Know the Right Thing to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving, But It’s Often the Trying that Matters
“Jackie, why is magic so hard?” Isaac complained, leaning on Jackie as they left Juno’s class. He’d been officially placed in the advanced Dark magic class and he agreed that it was a good idea because intermediate had been boring and easy, but advanced was fun and hard and as much as Isaac normally liked fun and hard things, he thought that it could also be fun and easy.
“Because if it was easy, anyone would do it?” Jackie asked, trying to lean back on Isaac and failing because he was shorter than Isaac. He was wearing a black armband, which Isaac was too. The king had died the other day. Isaac was more upset about it that he’d thought he would be, but it shouldn’t be a surprise. He knew Gavin and his family would be upset. And Yancy was really upset. The last time Isaac had seen him he’d obviously been crying.
“But that’s not true,” Isaac said. He sighed. “Because no matter how easy magic was, most people can’t just start touching the Pillars. So they could make it easier for the rest of us, is all I’m saying.”
“You’re Juno’s favourite student,” Jackie accused.
“That’s not true, Edith is Juno’s favourite student.”
“Well.” Jackie nodded. Edith had started in the same year as him. Everyone except Isaac had started the same years as Jackie. “Yeah, I mean. That’s true. But you’re a close second. Juno’s never let anyone skip the intermediate class.”
“Well she shouldn’t have let me skip it either,” Isaac said. The class was held in Juno’s study since there were only a few of them, and Isaac let Jackie pull him into the stairs without thinking about the lift. There, he saw the back of someone going up the stairs. “Hope, is that you?”
It was definitely the boy from Techen’s Stand, but he ignored Isaac, moving out of view pretty quickly. They were a floor up from the room the boys were staying in. “Something wrong?” Jackie asked.
“Yeah,” Isaac said. “Well, I don’t know. But something weird, anyway. Can you do me a favour?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Go down and tell Lee that Hope is going upstairs by himself and that I’m going to make sure he’s okay.”
“Okay. Is he okay? I’ve never seen him before.”
Isaac smiled at Jackie. “He’s not doing great, but Lee’s taking care of him and his friends. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
Jackie nodded and went downstairs, and Isaac went up, hurrying without running. Of the three boys from Techen’s Stand, Hope was the one who was doing the least well. Aiden and Alexi were a little better and could probably go home soon, but Lee said that Hope’s mental scarring was worse than theirs. Aiden said that Hope had been Drew’s favourite priest.
Isaac couldn’t see Hope anymore and maybe he was just exploring, but the more he went up the more Isaac worried, and so he started to take the stairs two at a time. He heard a door open and close and he kept going, using Air and Water to make a sphalloid net that he threw on the walls. It helped him find which door had moved most recently, and he followed Hope out onto the seventeenth floor. Isaac didn’t know what was on this floor, he’d never been up here. It was a few from the top.
Another net showed him which room Hope was in, and Isaac opened the door quietly. It was a crescent-shaped room with a big table in the middle and a lot of chairs, and basically nothing else. It must be where they had faculty meetings.
Hope had opened one of the large windows and was sitting on the windowsill, legs dangling outside. “Hope?” Isaac asked. “It’s me, it’s Isaac.”
“I know who you are,” Hope muttered, looking down. Isaac wished he wasn’t looking down. “I remember you. I remember things. Go away. I want to be alone.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Isaac said, slowly moving closer. He had to go around the table. It was so big. “I’d like to let you be alone, but I think you should come out of the window first.”
Hope nodded, and didn’t move. “You guys always say you respect our space and you don’t want to force stuff on us. Respect my space and let me be alone.”
“Okay,” Isaac said. “I will. As soon as you climb down from the window.”
Hope snorted, and it sounded like a sob. His back was to Isaac. “I can do whatever I want, until it’s a problem for you, I guess.”
Isaac hoped Lee got here soon. He didn’t know what to do. But this conversation wasn’t productive and there was no point in arguing with someone in a destructive mental loop. Isaac had to get him out of it. “Hope, why’d you decide to come up here today? What happened? Maybe I can help.”
Hope gave a small shake of his head, and maybe it was Isaac’s imagination that he moved further outwards, or maybe it wasn’t. Isaac was gripping Dark to catch him, but all that would do would encourage Hope to try again. He needed to talk him out of this. “Nothing happened,” he whispered. “Nothing happened.”
“I don’t think someone decides to come sit in a window on the seventeenth floor if nothing happened,” Isaac said, mostly around the table now.
“Maybe I won’t jump,” Hope said, to himself. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Okay. Maybe you could come sit in one of the chairs while you’re deciding?”
“Stop acting like you care about me,” Hope said, arms around himself. “You’re only here because it would look bad if I died and you didn’t stop me.”
“I’m sorry,” Isaac said, chest aching. He felt like he was going to be sick. “That I made you think that. I do care about you.” He hadn’t spent enough time with the boys, he knew that. He should have gone to see them more often.
“Nobody cares about me. My birth parents hated me. Everyone in Techen’s Stand put up with me because they had to. My dad was the only person who loved me, and I killed him. Even Drew didn’t care about me.”
That was obviously the core of what had driven him up here. “Drew didn’t care about anyone,” Isaac reminded him quietly. That wasn’t true, probably, but this wasn’t the time to remind Hope that Drew had been victimized too.
Hope nodded. “He told me he loved me, sometimes. I loved him. Even before he…” He pointed at his head and made a circle with his finger. “I had a crush on him. Or I just thought he was cute and wanted him to suck my dick, I guess. I was kind of a piece of shit to him. I pressured him into stuff. That’s why he…” he broke off into a sob.
“No, it isn’t,” Isaac said softly, trying to keep his voice soft. It was like talking to an injured dog. Isaac felt bad thinking that because Hope wasn’t an animal, he was a person, but it was the same thing. He needed to convince him to calm down and not hurt himself. “Drew and Lyren hurt you because they wanted to, not because of anything you did.”
“I was his favourite,” Hope said, voice distant. “I guess that means I was the most useful. Or the one who was under his control the most. He was so warm. Being around him was so warm and light and easy. I could feel how much he loved me. But he didn’t.”
“I don’t know what Drew thought.” Isaac was a few paces away from Hope now, and Hope had gone tense. “I wish I did. Can I come a little closer?”
Hope shook his head.
“Do you promise not to move if I stay here?”
The only sound Isaac could hear was his own heart crashing in his head. He was shaking all over. He was trying to tell himself not to. He’d catch Hope if he did jump. There was nothing to be afraid of. But still, he was shaking all over.
“Drew escaped,” Hope said, voice barely audible.
He had. Lee had told him that Drew had vanished from his jail cell on the first, during the big wedding. “I know. He can’t come here, Hope. There’s so much security at the academy, he’d never get in. You’re safe from him here.” Daniel had gotten in somehow. But Isaac ignored that. He wasn’t magical. “We have big wards on our walls, magical shields. They’d have detected someone like Drew the second he’d come near the school.”
“He never even tried to come here?” Hope asked. There was a strain in his voice.
“No, I promise.”
“Okay. Why? I thought I was useful for him. I thought…I thought if he ever escaped, he’d come get me. Try to take me back, make me a priest again. But he didn’t even try. I thought that even if he didn’t love me, he’d at least want me back. But he doesn’t, doesn’t even care about me a little bit. I killed my father for him, and he doesn’t even care about me at all.” Hope was openly crying now, shaking in the window.
“We don’t know what Drew thinks,” Isaac said again. “But Hope, we care about you.”
“You want me to get better so I’ll go away,” Hope accused. “Aiden and Alexi want to go home. Robby went to be a knight. Matthias is a sailor. None of them are my friends. They all ran away from me as soon as they could.”
“They are your friends. They’re not running away, they’re trying to get better, just like you.”
“I’m not going to get better,” Hope said. He slid forward. “I’m never going to get better.”
“You will. You won’t feel like this forever, I promise, Hope.” Isaac was crying now.
“How?” Hope demanded, looking at Isaac for the first time. His face was puffy and red and his eyes looked so lost. He sounded angry but he looked scared. “How do you know that?” His voice cracked.
Isaac hesitated, but he couldn’t hesitate for long. “I don’t,” he said. “I don’t know that. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week or in a year. But don’t you want to feel better?”
Hope nodded. “I just want to be happy again, like I was when…”
“You won’t feel better if you kill yourself,” Isaac told him, interrupting him in purpose. Hope went stiff. “You won’t. You won’t feel anything, and maybe that’s what you want, but you won’t feel better. Don’t you want to at least try to be happy again? Even if it takes a long time, isn’t it worth trying?”
“I don’t…” Hope was shaking so much Isaac was now worried he’d just fall. “I don’t know how.”
“I don’t either, but please come out of the window and we’ll figure it out together, okay? I promise we’ll figure it out together.”
Hope was still for a second, and then he awkwardly turned, putting one leg back into the room, then the other. And he slid down. Isaac raced forward and caught him before he fell, holding him tight, tears on his face. “Thank you, Hope. Thank you.”
Hope hugged him. “Is this tower bigger than the one Drew wanted to build?”
Isaac nodded. “Yeah, it is.”
“How do you know?”
“Because.” Isaac took in a breath, trying to get his tears under control. He pulled the window shut with Dark. “Because the tower Drew wanted to build was old as fuck and they didn’t know how to make tall buildings back then. People like him and Lyren only want things to stay the same, not get better. Our towers are bigger than theirs because we want things to be better.”
“O…okay.” Now Hope started crying again, sobbing into Isaac’s shirt. “I want things, I want things to be better too.”
“I know,” Isaac said, rubbing his back. “I know you do. And they will be, someday.”
“I don’t think I believe you.”
“I wouldn’t believe me either, if I were you. I’m not going to say I know how you feel, but I do know this feels impossible to you. But I do impossible stuff all the time, okay? So let me help you with this impossible thing. We can do it together.”
The door opened and Lee was standing there panting, Jackie behind her. Isaac held the crying Hope tighter. “It’s okay,” he told them. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
He didn’t know that, he really didn’t. Nothing he said was going to bring Hope’s dad back, just like a black armband wasn’t going to bring the king back to life. But if he just kept saying it, if he just kept saying it would be okay, he could make it true. He was sure he could. He had to.
Otherwise what was the fucking point of being the chosen one?