Hey there!! I apologize a million times for the amount of time it has taken to get this chapter up and running. I know it’s been months, heck perhaps it’s been a year! I’m deep in the education program now in college and it’s starting to get pretty insane so I suppose that is my excuse for being absent for so long. Anyway, I’m here now and I hope you enjoy chapter three of More Than Just a Brushstroke
Desperation and Neediness
It had been raining on the day of Conner’s funeral. It seemed to be a pretty cliché thing for the weather to do at the time, but as Riley and his parents had stood at the graveside, the rain appeared to leap down from the heavens. Riley was standing next to his mother, holding a black umbrella over their heads. The rest of the family was gathered closely around them, huddled underneath a mass of umbrellas. Riley tried to concentrate on the service, but he was in too much pain.
In supreme devastation, his mother had taken hold of his left hand and was squeezing the life out of it. Even though the hand was covered by black gloves, the red sores that covered it were sending searing pain waves throughout his entire body. Since he desperately wanted to hide the truth from his parents so they could properly grieve for their second born, he kept his mouth shut. His discomfort had continued to cloud his mind for the rest of the service. He tried, oh how he tried to pay attention to the words that were being said. He wanted to hear his father speak about Conner, and he wanted to hear the words of comfort and pearls of wisdom offered by the minister. But he couldn’t. All he could concentrate on was pain. The more he tried to push it from his mind, the more he found himself thinking about it. He bit his lip so hard throughout the service that he could taste blood in his mouth.
Now, as he sat at dinner the same evening he felt beyond miserable. Not only had he lost his younger brother who had been a good person and a good friend, but he had missed the chance to properly say goodbye to him. During the service that was supposed to be all about Conner, somehow he had just been focusing on himself. Even though it was because of intense pain, Riley still felt insanely guilty.
He glanced around the expansive dining room. His parents were sitting at opposite ends of the long, oak table and he was sitting closer to the middle. His father was twitching his short pointy mustache, and his mother was twirling a strand of hair continuously around her finger. They kept their eyes down, staring intently at their plates of beef and peas. Riley hid his infected hand underneath the table, and did his best to ignore it. He knew it was a stupid thing to do; to hide the fact that he had contracted the same disease as Conner.
He told himself that he just didn’t want to further upset his parents, but at the same time he didn’t want to further upset himself. If he went to his parents, they would have him meeting Healers within seconds. Then they would diagnose him with Vanishing Sickness, just as they had with Conner, and then it was only a matter of time. There was no cure for Vanishing Sickness, just ways to ease the pain. The sores first presented themselves on one part of the body. Tiny, red, itchy sores that no amount of cream could help subside. The sores went through two main phases. After the itchy phase ceased, the skin became so insanely dry that it would crack and bleed. And then, almost miraculously it would get better; the skin would repair itself and it would appear as though nothing had ever been wrong. Then the sores would arrive on other parts of the body; usually in an amount double to what had appeared the first time. As the sores became more frequent and more substantial the disease became accompanied by a raging fever. Vanishing Sickness was so dangerous and so impossible because one was never sure as to what part of the body would be attacked next, and how much damage would be done. And then, finally, there would be one fatal occurrence where the infection would be too much for the body to handle and it would simply shut down.
Riley felt his stomach churn as he began to think over those details; he had followed Conner throughout his entire illness so he knew exactly what was in store for him. He twirled his fork mindlessly in his right hand and he was glad he wasn’t feeling very hungry on that evening. The beef they had been served was tough and overcooked. Since he did not want to reveal his afflicted hand to his parents, he was unable to use his knife to cut at his meat. Instead, he ever so slowly forked one pea into his mouth at a time. Once the peas were gone he turned to staring off into space. He had been sitting like this for fifteen minutes before his mother’s voice startled him back into reality.
“Riley, is there something wrong with the beef?” Riley snorted. He knew his mother knew full well that the beef was overcooked. On any other day she would have sent it back to the kitchen and demanded something else for the main course. The servants would be forced to scramble to attempt to prepare a dish suitable to their mistress’ liking. Riley was surprised to see that his mother’s plate was completely clean. Even when Helen Linder approved of the night’s meal she rarely consumed all of it.
“It’s quite alright,” Riley lied. “I’m just not very hungry.”
“Don’t be a fool,” his father grunted from the other end of the table. “You have barely eaten anything the past week. The last thing we need is to lose another son.” Riley refused to meet his father’s gaze as he felt hairs on his neck prickling in alarm. He would eat the beef. He didn’t want any more attention on him than was necessary.
“I’ll have them make something else for you, dear,” his mother tried, about to signal one of the servers by the door.
“No, no,” Riley protested quickly. The last thing he needed was something else brought to him. He would finish the small piece of beef on his plate and escape to the safety of his room. To suffer in peace, he thought glumly to himself. He was still, however, presented with the struggle of eating his beef with only his fork hand available for use.
As he began to work at the beef with the edge of his fork, he cursed the cook mentally for choosing this day to make the beef so difficult.
He had been sawing for a few minutes when he realized his father was still looking at him.
“You know, son, you have a perfectly good knife that might assist you with that.”
“Indeed I do.” Now what? If he left the room now, his parents’ gaze would follow him out and they certainly would see his hand. Perhaps he could pull his sleeve over it. Either way, he knew he had to escape the room a bit earlier than he intended.
“Please excuse me,” he murmured. He knew he did not need to offer an explanation to his parents; they would probably just assume he was grief stricken. He tucked his sleeve discretely around his hand under the table, and hid it slightly behind his back as he made his way to the door.
He filled up with relief as the dining room door got close, but it was dashed away as his father stood up to block his path.
“Look, I know this has all been extremely trying on you…” His father continued to speak but Riley was so nervous that he didn’t comprehend the words. He just nodded numbly until his father’s mouth stopped moving. He moved past his father and made for the door once more, but then something terrible happened. His father had been reaching out to put a comforting hand on his son’s arm, but Riley’s movement caused his father’s touch to land near his wrist instead.
Riley was not expecting the touch or another bout of pain, so he cried out as his father’s hand landed in precisely the wrong place. After that it was all over. His father jumped back in surprise at the outcry, but soon collected himself. Riley knew he was putting the puzzle pieces together; why he had not been using his knife, and why he was now hiding the hand behind his back. His father extended his hand again and more gingerly grasped at Riley’s left wrist. As he brought the hand out into the light, he let out a wounded breath.
Riley pulled his hand away and made a break for the door, but his father got in his way yet again.
“Let me pass,” Riley insisted, keeping his hand behind his back. He watched as his father stewed in anger; his nostrils flaring as they always did when he was upset. When his father didn’t say anything, Riley made a motion to push past him.
He yelped in surprise as his father gripped his shirt collar with an iron grasp and pinned him against the wall. Riley struggled against the hold, but he knew it was futile. The sores on his hand throbbed endlessly, as he attempted to avoid his father’s glare. He could not see where his mother was or how she was reacting.
“What were you thinking!?” There was a lot more Riley knew his father wanted to say; there was a lot any parent would want to yell about at a time like this. A few examples: Why didn’t you tell us!? We need to get you treatment?! We need to have this diagnosed!?
Instead, his father’s grip slackened and he fell forwards into his son’s arms. Riley staggered slightly, and he almost lost his balance completely when he heard his father burst into sobs.
Remus felt like an idiot. It was throwing him off because he rarely felt like an idiot. He was kind, even tempered, but emotional. He would have liked to handle situations calmly and efficiently. But, there was no denying it; he had done something idiotic based on his overpowering emotions. He had been obsessing over his current…er…girl situation. He really didn’t want to let it bother him; he was a good guy and he would know it when the right girl came along. Right? He sometimes hated being so in tune with his emotions because that meant he had to address them. So, since he truly wanted to change the feelings he had about his situation he decided to proceed with the Kathleen plan.
The first thing he did was ask Sirius if it would be alright for him to ask Kathleen out on a date. She had been Sirius’ girlfriend, and he just wanted to make sure. Sirius, who was more than happy with his Ava, had told him that he was free to ask Kathleen out on a date.
Even though Remus normally was nervous to ask a girl out, he did not feel many nerves when he had approached Kathleen. He couldn’t really explain it, but he had been fairly certain that Kathleen was going to say yes. She and Remus always got along well and he loved that she was easy to talk to. He lost interest quickly when there was nothing to talk about with the other person. However, Remus knew he was in trouble when he had spoken the words.
They had been walking through the corridor, heading for the Great Hall when he had stopped her. He asked her politely if she would like to join him for a date in Hogsmeade on the upcoming weekend. Kathleen’s pretty little face drooped and Remus could tell she was trying to come up with the right thing to say.
“Remus, I know you’re intelligent enough to take this the right way. You’re wonderful; one of the most decent guys I have ever met. In a lot of ways you’re perfect for me. But there is one thing that is holding me back, and it’s something that I think is going to keep me from saying yes. Remus you love taking care of people. You love being the person they need. I’m pretty independent. I’m terrible in relationships for the most part. I don’t pour myself into it the way I know you would. I can’t reciprocate your feelings in the way you need. The truth is Remus, I like you too much to get into a relationship that is not going to last. You need me to need you, and the truth is that I don’t. I’m sorry.”
That was what her answer had been. It had been the most beautiful rejection he had ever received, but he still felt quite stupid. He had never really thought he was a needy person, but perhaps he was. When he was younger he had worried so much about being accepted by others that perhaps it had developed into an intense need of other people and their love. As he pondered this possibility a cute Hufflepuff girl named Shelley came around the corner. She was practically the opposite of Kathleen. Kathleen was a brunette, Shelley was blonde. Kathleen was sophisticated, Shelley was…not. Kathleen was insightful, Shelley said “like” every other word. But, she liked him. Well…she liked the Marauders. But it would be a step from being alone, he had to admit that. So Remus decided to so something else totally idiotic.
“You asked out Shelley Shultz?” James asked loudly; the four Marauders sitting at a table at the library. There was a killer potions essay due later in the afternoon and James, Sirius, and Peter had barely started. Remus, with his completed essay tucked safely in his bag, presented his best friends with his situation.
“Moony, you like totally like despise her like right?” Sirius said in a girly voice, twirling one of his longer pieces of hair around his finger.
“Whoa, that was creepy Padfoot,” Peter remarked, without looking up from the enormous textbook he was reading. Remus wanted to tell Sirius to shut up, but it was rather true. He had mentioned a number of times that he couldn’t stand Shelley Shultz. She was one of those girls who cared more about the color of her lip gloss than anything else. And he, Remus Lupin was taking her out. She had jumped up and down and giggled when she accepted his offer. It did not increase his opinion of her; it felt as though he had just told a little child he was taking her to the amusement park.
“Why would you ask her out?” Sirius inquired, using his own voice once more. “I mean I don’t exactly know this girl very well, but it just doesn’t seem like you two make a lot of sense together. “ Remus couldn’t help grinning a little bit at how thoughtful Sirius had made some of his comments lately. Ever since he started dating Ava, he had become much better at giving good advice. Remus wished he could have a relationship like Sirius and Ava; one where there was construction and likeability.
James, however, was much blunter.
“You can’t stand her. She’s whiny, annoying, spoiled as hell, and it’s not a mystery that she’s not the brightest crayon in the box.”
“I know, I know,” Remus admitted in a whisper, for he was worried about being caught for being too loud. “It’s just that she’s pretty and nice. And she’s excited to be with me. Which is nice? Lately I feel like there’s something about me that repels women.”
“Come on mate,” James answered loudly. “You’re a good looking guy, the nicest person I know, and you’re a Marauder! I can think of about fifty girls who would love to go out with you.”
“You’re an eligible bachelor, no doubt,” Sirius winked.
“Let me rephrase,” Remus continued. “I think there’s something about me that repels the right sort of…person. I think…I’m too needy. Sometimes I think people can…” Remus lowered his voice even more, and it wasn’t the library silence he was worried about. “Sometimes I think people can just tell I’m a werewolf when they look at me. They don’t know exactly what’s going on, but they realize that there is something about me that they don’t want to be around.”
James, Sirius, and Peter spent the next ten minutes telling Remus how ridiculous he was, and how untrue that statement was. They told him he wasn’t needy and that any girl would be lucky to have him. It was all very nice, but Remus still didn’t feel settled by the end of the conversation. James and Sirius headed off to finish their essays down by the lake, which meant they would lie in the sun and probably take a nap. Remus and Peter, who had managed to finish his essay, hung out in the library returning the books used back to their proper places.
“So you’re really going to keep that date with Shelley, then?” Peter asked, books in his arms.
“Yeah,” Remus responded. “Maybe I need to try something new. Maybe what I’ve been looking for is the wrong thing.”
“But Shelley isn’t the right thing. I don’t know what the right thing is, mate. But I don’t think you should go on a date with a girl you probably could never like. That’s fair to no one.”
Peter bid Remus farewell and headed for the door. Remus started to wander about in the library. He had a lot to think about. He really had no idea how it had happened, but he wandered further and further back until he realized that he was near Riley’s portrait. Riley. The annoying guy who made Remus feel like a moron, no scratch that. The annoying painting that made Remus feel like a moron.
He couldn’t explain why he wanted to see Riley again, for the guy was endlessly rude and upsetting. But for whatever reason, Remus found himself moving closer and closer until he was in front of Riley’s painting once more.
Riley was still sitting in the chair, but he was now holding one of the books in his bandaged hand.
“What?” Riley snapped instantly. He didn’t wait for a response. “Look if you’re set on always having these heart to heart talks, let me know now. That way I can request to be moved to a new obscure location.”
“I’m just walking by,” Remus muttered, lying.
“Yeah, that was convincing,” Riley smirked. “I like to think of myself as insightful but I must admit that I am baffled. You’ve returned for a reason I cannot come up with. People only repeat habits when they get something out of it. I was horrible to you, I’m horrible to everyone. You must have gotten something out of our conversation that made you come back.”
“Nope,” Riley interjected. “Don’t care why. I was just thinking out loud. I’d recommend saving your breakthrough for someone who might actually listen.”
Remus tried to be persistent. “Look, if you would just let me…”
“Here’s the bottom line,” Riley continued sarcastically. “I think we need to break up. And I think honesty is important so I’m not going to say something like fake and comforting to make you feel better. I can’t stand you. Bye, bye.”
Riley gave Remus a little wave. Remus didn’t know what made him do it, but he pulled an abandoned chair over and sat down in front of Riley’s portrait.
“Do I come off as needy to you?”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Riley muttered, snapping his book shut. “Shouldn’t you be running in the other direction by now?”
“Do I come off as needy to you?”
There was about a minute pause before Riley realized Remus wasn’t leaving unanswered.
“Alright, yes. Yes, you come off as needy.” Remus was about to ask why, but Riley had already launched into an explanation. “I don’t think you could have asked a more obvious question. You’re worried about being needy, which means you think you come off as needy. If you think you’re needy you probably are. Also, you’re discussing this with a total stranger, I’m guessing you’ve already talked about it with your friends. Your friends obviously gave you answers that did not satisfy you. They probably said that you are not needy and never need to change. But those answers did not make you feel better. That leads me to believe that you are not looking for someone to tell you are not needy, rather you are looking for confirmation that you are indeed needy. So, yes I think you are needy.”
“I see,” Remus answered, as he tried to put together exactly everything Riley had said.
“I may be a jerk, but I’m an honest jerk,” Riley answered. “Now can I get back to pretending to read my book please?”
“Alright,” Remus said. As he replaced the chair and started to leave, he said over his shoulder. “I’ll see you later, Riley.”
“Seriously?” Riley replied, clearly dumbfounded. “Why would you come back?”
Remus didn’t answer, because he didn’t know the answer himself. All he knew was that he was coming back, he was definitely coming back.
Well that’s it for now my dears! I hope you enjoyed this chapter, I really think it’s going in a good direction. I really hope that it hasn’t been too confusing. I hope you liked it, and I hope to see you again!
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