(This entry was delayed for a few days by food poisoning).
Stephanie looked at her friend with worry as he idly gazed out of the window, spinning a pen between his fingers. His lack of sleep was evident from the heavy circles surrounding his eyes. His face was haggard and he seemed paler than usual but when she tried to pry an explanation from him she was met with a blunt dismissal. Though it was a few days after the event, the fight with Ash still weighed heavily on Peter’s mind. It was his first loss and he found it hard to get rid of the bitter taste. Defeat was like poison, and the more he dwelled on it the more it spread through his soul, blackening his heart and causing him to look at the world through a dark filter.
Peter’s dark mood was only exacerbated by the atmosphere outside. Winter evenings invaded the day and the whole world seemed to be shrouded in gloom. Twinkling stars which offered bright sparks of joy were hidden by thick, heavy clouds, powerless juggernauts being slowly pushed along by the inexhaustible wind. Even though Peter’s eyes seemed to be fixed on them he was really staring deep into his own mind. He replayed the fight over and over again trying to think of what he could have done differently. He thought about it so much that it would have seemed to anyone else to be the defining moment of his life, which was naturally absurd, it was merely magnified because he failed to meet the lofty, and often unattainable, standards he set himself. He was so wrapped up in his own musings that he barely paid any attention to the class.
“Was Odysseus a hero?” Mr. Lee asked. The first student to raise their hand was Samantha, a slim girl with frizzy blonde hair who was ordinarily quiet but spoke with passion about literature.
“I don’t think it’s fair to compare him with modern heroes.”
“But I don’t think he’s necessarily heroic anyway. He puts himself and his own needs above his crew sometimes, like when he shouts to the Cyclops or when he stays with Circe. He blamed the gods for his cruel fate but in some ways it was his own fault too. He tortured Penelope by taking ages to reveal his identity and he remained in disguise to fool his poor father. He’s a good warrior and he’s smart, but I’m not sure he’s all that likeable, at least I didn’t find him to be. As a protagonist he’s fine, but as a hero? I’m not sure about that.”
“Interesting, does anyone have any other opinions? Peter?” He waited patiently for Peter to respond but he was utterly oblivious. “Peter!”
The young student was shaken from his thoughts.
“Would you like to respond to Samantha’s comments?” Due to his abilities Peter was able to process more than one thing at once even if he wasn’t paying attention to them, so he had to think hard but he was able to recall everything Samantha said.
“I think she’s wrong. Odysseus suffered a lot, first at Troy and then on his travels. The point of a hero isn’t that he’s perfect all the time. It’s that he overcomes his flaws in the end. If he did everything perfectly he wouldn’t be nearly as interesting a character.”
“But that’s not really the point. He is an interesting character; I just don’t think his redeeming features are redeeming enough. I sympathise with him but I don’t particularly like him and I don’t consider him heroic.” She adjusted her glasses as she finished speaking and immediately looked down at her desk, as if she was only just aware that she had been speaking and was ashamed that anyone had to hear her voice.
“Try thinking about what it must have been like to be Odysseus. All those years away from home at Troy, and then more years being hounded by Poseidon it’s no wonder that occasionally he made a mistake. It’s easy to criticise him but you can’t imagine what it was like to breathe through his lungs and endure all that he had to suffer,” as he spoke Peter became more animated and appeared to be far more invested in the subject than anyone expected. His fierce eyes bore into Samantha’s, unsettling her, but he wasn’t really talking to her. He was addressing some unseen critic, a hidden force to which he felt the need to justify himself, “how could you know? Sat there in your quiet life, how could you know what it’s like to sacrifice yourself and put yourself on the line? Maybe the fact that you can’t see how Odysseus is heroic says more about you than him. What’s heroic about you?”
“What’s heroic about you?” she quickly shot back and Peter’s face twisted into an ugly snarl, his red lips ready to spit out a venomous verbal assault and make her the victim of the bitterness which had been building up since his defeat to Ash.
But before he could speak Mr. Lee strode across the room and towered over Peter, glowering.
“MIS-ter Rogers I will NOT tolerate that sort of behaviour here. This is a classroom of respect and I have not liked your attitude the past few weeks. Today’s class is over for you. Take a time out and come see me in my office tomorrow.”
The whole class was stunned into silence. Such an outburst had never been witnessed. Although they knew Mr. Lee had a powerful voice he had never erupted so vociferously and Peter was so shocked all he could do was sullenly walk out of the room. Stephanie looked on, wishing she could go after her friend but everyone in that room was so tense they were afraid to move, just in case Mr. Lee felt like subjecting anything else to his wrath.
The air was cooler in the corridor. Peter felt instantly refreshed. He felt stupid for blowing up like that, and he wasn’t at all sure why he did but his pride wouldn’t allow him to go back into the room and apologise. Instead he sighed and trudged away, wondering where the meandering road of life was taking him.
Every time he left college he passed the headmaster’s office. Ordinarily he didn’t pay any attention but that day he stopped in his tracks when he saw a familiar figure sat on the wooden bench. Even though they had only met briefly, Emma didn’t strike him as the type to be called to the headmaster’s office. She had her head bowed, but as he approached he saw that her face was bruised. Her lips were swollen and her eyes red and raw. The youthful beauty was still there but it was buried under splotches of dark colour. As he looked down her arm he saw red lines which had been left by deep scratches. A pitiful thought flashed through his mind and he instantly regretted it, for as soon as he thought it her eyes glanced up, wet and glistening with tears.
“It’s okay,” she said, accepting his apology before the thought became words. He sat down beside her and she found it a comfort to rest against him.
“What happened?” he asked.
“You’ll think I’m stupid,” she said, anxiously playing with her fingernails.
‘Of course I won’t.’
“Of course I won’t.”
“I tried to be like you. I saw a fight starting and I thought I could stop it. It didn’t go so well.”
Peter lifted his head back and chuckled.
“I don’t think you’re really the type that should be getting into fist fights.”
“Maybe not. God I feel so stupid.”
“Don’t be, at least you tried.”
“Yeah, and then people thought I started it so I got sent here.”
“It is the gift and the curse,” he said dramatically.
“You don’t have to wait here. My sister will be along soon.”
“It’s okay, I don’t mind waiting. I got out of class a bit early…” as soon as he spoke he felt foolish for trying to be obtuse with the truth. But, she accepted the discretion and didn’t make any further mention of it. They engaged in more smalltalk while Emma waited for Mr. White but then a tall, broad-shouldered man strode through the hall, his trench-coat billowing out like a cape as he walked. Peter recognised him as a detective from the crime scene, but this was the first time he had seen Alan Lang in close quarters.
The detective barely paid any attention to the two youths as his fist rapped sternly on the door. Peter and Emma looked up at him, his weary, lined face bore the worries of a thousand men His hair was neatly clipped short and his piercing blue eyes revealed an unflinching determination. The door opened.
“I’m Detective Lang.”
Mr. White stuck out his hand and Alan took it without changing the expression on his face.
“Ah yes, please come in,” Mr. White said, his face reddening. Almost as an afterthought he turned to Emma and said, “I’m sorry but I have some important business to attend to. Re-schedule with my secretary.”
Emma looked at Peter and shrugged. The detective’s presence inspired an unsettling feeling in the pit of Peter’s stomach and he was glad their meeting hadn’t lasted any longer than it did. Emma was about to ask him what was wrong but then she sensed Katrina was near. Even though he knew they were twins Peter was still surprised at all the similarities and differences between them. Emma’s hair flowed down long past her shoulders but Katrina’s was cut short, ending just below the ears. She wore darker make-up than Emma too, and held herself in a haughty manner. While Emma was often twitchy and nervous Katrina stood steadfast and projected an arrogant air. She eyed up Peter and evidently wasn’t impressed by what she saw.
“He do this to you?” she asked nonchalantly. He couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.
“Oh God no! I just uh…”
“No, Katrina, he didn’t. This is my friend Peter. Peter, this is Katrina.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, offering a hand but she gazed at it with contempt.
“We should go and get you cleaned up. Come on.”
Katrina walked away without a second thought and Emma dutifully scurried after her, only looking back and offering Peter an apologetic look. He didn’t begin to try to understand their relationship, but his first impression of Katrina was not a favourable one. He was about to leave when his hearing latched on to the conversation in the other room.
“What can I do for you Inspector?”
“I prefer Detective,” said Lang in a deadpan fashion, “I want to be delicate about this, but we have very good reason to believe there are drugs circulating in your college.”
“Oh, well, we try to keep a lid on things you know but there will always be rebels and they’ll always want to smuggle some weed in. I assure you we keep a vigilant watch but we do run on a budget, we don’t have the staff to be everywhere at once.”
“I’m not talking about weed. I’m talking about a professional network distributing class A drugs. I suggest you adjust your budget and make room for more eyes around campus. I just wanted to make you aware of the situation. I’ll be in touch.” He rose without any ceremony and marched out of the office, leaving Mr. White flustered. As soon as Peter heard the heavy footsteps he moved away, not wanting to let the detective know he had been listening. The news troubled him greatly, and it seemed that being on the fringes of the social cliques meant he was unaware of the dark underbelly of the college. Perhaps it was time for him to try and expand his social circles, but as he was formulating his plan Stephanie caught up with him.
“What happened today?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” He turned his back to her and carried on walking.
“No dammit, I’m your friend. Talk to me.” He stopped, guilt tugging at his conscience but he couldn’t bring himself to tell her all the complex and conflicting emotions residing within him. Even though she was his best friend there was a barrier preventing him from sharing his innermost thoughts. He wished it wasn’t so, but he wanted to work things out on his own before he shared them with her.
“I’m…sorry. I can’t,” he said meekly without turning around. He walked off into the darkness and Stephanie was left confused and worried.