In Linc's world (NOTE--THE ENTIRE CHAPTER'S CHANGED)
I AM SOOO SORRY! This entire chapter has changed, after a reader noted that I wasn't giving Linc enough air-time. Hope you guys don't mind so much. And if any one out there is still reading this...sorry for the confusion.
To Rush: Er...hello? (sheepish smile) Turns out I'm still alive after all. Hope you're doing fine. (I've slowed down a bit, was forced to take it easy on the caffeine after nearly a week of downing at least three cups a day...was edging past "stone-cold sober" to "pink elephants dancing before my eyes".
Five minutes into the lecture was enough to remind Linc why he disliked school. He had taken a window seat in the back of the lecture hall as usual, but the picturesque view of a tree-lined field set aglow by the mid-afternoon sun only heightened the feeling of claustrophobia that was creeping up on him. His body remained carelessly slouched, a pen stuck in his mouth, but in his mind's eye he saw himself yanking at the metal grate on the windows, trying to break free of this concrete cell with its sterile white walls and over-enthusiastic air-conditioners. The words 'pointless' and 'a waste of time' drifted through his mind as he watched the professor fuss with the projector and mumble about the molecular structure of various proteins, while his classmates turned into human statues one by one, except for the nerds in the front row. He didn't understand why the hell he was getting peptide bonds talked into his head, anyway, when he should have been parked at the nearest cafÃ© with his laptop in front of him, typing until his hands cramped up--
Linc's face, which had been fixed into the glazed, sullen expression of someone being held against his will, suddenly turned blank. Somewhere in the back of his skull, the golden presence that had lain dormant for the past couple of days pulsed into life, taking in everything that was filtering in through his senses. He sighed inwardly, feeling both aggravated and relieved to find that he wasn't alone inside his head anymore. She was back; everything was normal again.
Well, as normal as it got for someone who had once been accused of having psychotic episodes, anyway.
Plugged in again, are you?/ he said lightly, enjoying the confusion that rolled off her at his choice of words. /You can listen to this if you want to; good luck trying to make heads or tails of it.
...stay in school...learn a trade...
Oh, shut up/, he retorted. /Moralistic crap, I don't need from you. This time, he could feel annoyance flicker from her, although the emotion was faint, like light shining through several layers of cloth. She was probably awake and preoccupied with something else, and only a part of her mind was linked to his right now, for which he gave thanks to any deity who was currently tuned in. She would not have been shy about expressing her displeasure at his rudeness otherwise.
He smirked inwardly. Geez, her unconscious mind was really giving it a go, wasn't it? She was going to whine about the confusing barrage of imprints she was picking up from him later, and he was so going to enjoy reminding her that it was her fault--
An electronic rendition of the opening theme of the X-Men animated series cut loudly through the hush of the lecture hall. Heads turned and eyes glared at Linc, who hastily dug his cell phone out of the pocket of his jeans, muttering, "Sorry, sorry."
The professor cleared his throat. "Mr. Orosa, while it's good to have a healthy social life, kindly keep the evidence of it out of my classroom."
"Right, sorry," he said again, while a voice inside him--his/ this time, since it came from /his side of his brain--sarcastically congratulated him for having successfully broken the tedium. As the lecture continued, he glanced down at his cell phone and scrolled through the text message.
It was from Jon-Jon. meet u at qball marlon sez drinks on him.
He allowed himself a little grin. Now that/ was good news. He didn't bother wondering what the occasion was. As far as Marlon was concerned, buying a new T-shirt qualified as an occasion for boozing. Just as he was typing his reply, his cell phone shivered in his hand. This time, the message was from Xandra. /i called u last night. where were u?
His grin vanished. He'd been home last night, just as he had been for the past couple of nights, but he'd been much too absorbed in what he was doing to answer his calls. He couldn't even remember if his cell phone had rung; last night, there had been nothing but his laptop and the world he was watching unfold behind his eyeballs. Too bad he couldn't just tell Xandra that he was more interested in the stuff going on inside his head than he was in her.
His cell phone quivered again, apologetically. why didn't u answer ur phone? i TOLD u i was going 2 call.
His eyebrows lifted. He'd once said, in all seriousness, that Xandra had probably been supreme dictator of her own totalitarian regime in a past lifetime. Unfortunately, he'd been drunk enough to say that while sitting right beside his gorgeous, possessive and increasingly offended girlfriend. Needless to say, it had taken him an entire day to coax Xandra out of her sulk. Now she was showing every sign of getting up on her high horse again, which was truly unfair because Linc was, for once, innocent. He typed an appropriately reassuring and tender response together with a promise to meet her later; how he was going to manage that and still be at Marlon's booze-fest was something he would have to figure out later.
"And that includes you, Mr. Orosa."
He looked up, confused. "I'm sorry?"
Several of his classmates tittered, while the professor gave him a disapproving frown. "I was telling the class to turn to page 176 of the readings," he said, waving a thick binder in the air, and Linc belatedly realized that everyone else was already leafing through similar-looking sheaves of paper. "I urge you to join us, Mr. Orosa, for once in your life," the professor added dryly. "This is the second time you're taking this course. Apply what little brain cells are still active despite nights spent clubbing or whatever it is you and your peers waste your time over. The last thing I want is to see you haunting my classroom again next year."
The class laughed again, and Linc felt his guts contract into a tight, hard knot, sending a wave of acid up his throat. Reflexes honed through the years kicked in, rescuing him. Smile/, his mind commanded. /Don't think about it. Laugh with them. Be in with the joke. It's such fun watching someone get humiliated, isn't it? Now look apologetic. Not too much, though. Don't want to look like a cringing worm in front of these bozos. "Right you are, sir," he said, as earnest as the next Boy Scout.
He dug in his backpack for his set of readings, glad that he'd actually remembered to pick up his copy at the department's office. The haphazardly stapled sheets of paper came up bringing a prize; his new Superman/Batman graphic novel, still in its plastic bag, had gotten trapped between the pages. He glanced surreptitiously around the room, but the little bout of hilarity at his expense had apparently used up the class' interest in him. He smiled, his thumb already scratching against the tape on the plastic bag.
Shut up/, he thought savagely. One word, and I'll spend the rest of the week watching /The Matrix trilogy over and over again. He slipped the graphic novel out of the bag and set it upon the biology readings, careful to keep the darkly inked pages out of sight.
...i hate superman...
He knew she did; it had been a long-standing point of contention between them. Still, he couldn't resist rising to the bait. Bull. Who in their right minds would hate Superman? He's a world icon, you know.
...he's indecent...his clothes are too tight...
He nearly laughed. If she only knew the jokes about superheroes and their questionable fashion sense; then again, if she had access to his brain, then she probably did, even if she didn't know it. Too bad/, he replied. /I'm a DC fan, and you're squatting in my head.
...linc, it's all right...
His hand froze in the motion of turning the page. The golden presence rested warmly against the morass of his thoughts, a small beacon against his darkness. Something inside him relaxed, and he closed the graphic novel, slid it back into the plastic bag and returned it to his backpack. Fine, you win, he sighed.
...i want the princesses...
He knew what she meant by that, too, and he inwardly rolled his eyes. Sure, I'll get you your Disney fix.
The presence subsided, content to hover in the back of his head and observe his world--his invisible companion, whom by all rights he should have gotten rid of years ago. At least, everybody else thought he had. The truth, however, was that he'd grown so sick of those stupid sessions with that stupid head doctor that he'd found it easier to just go along with everything he said and pretend to be cured. He thought longingly of his laptop again, absently doodling words and pictures on the margins of his readings. It wasn't until later, when class was finally over, that he realized he'd drawn a rough portrait of a girl with long, black hair held back by a bandanna, upon whose shoulder was perched a little winged creature that looked ridiculously familiar to him. Underneath the image of the girl was written the words:
But it was the picture he'd sketched on the other side of the sheet that truly perplexed him. He'd drawn a crude oval that he'd colored in with his black pen, with two tentacle-like protrusions reaching out on either side, one pointing downward, the other pointing up, like an child's version of a spiral galaxy. In the center of the black blob was a smaller, white oval bisected from top to bottom by a black stripe. It looked, at a first glance, like a slitted eye.
Written underneath that particular doodle was:
not the only one
He stood stock-still, staring down at his doodles, while the rest of the class filed out. The warbling of his cell phone snapped him out of his bemused trance. It was Xandra again, informing him that he could atone for his transgressions by picking her up after her 7 p.m. class and taking her out to dinner at TGI Fridays. Which meant that after bringing her home, he'd have to drive like a NASCAR contender on crack to Q-Ball in order to make it to Marlon's booze party. Oh well, he thought with a mental shrug. It wasn't as if he'd be leaving a great, gaping hole in anyone's life if he crashed into a telephone pole and got himself killed. Hell, his siblings would probably throw a party on the day of his funeral.
Except...he'd never be able to see her again. His imaginary friend, this lively fragment of his broken, irreparable mind. His black-haired, black-eyed little witch-girl.
And he'd never be able to finish his work. Nobody would be able log into his laptop and access his personal files, and nobody would care enough to make the effort.
He sighed, packed up his stuff and departed the room, seriously considering holing up with his laptop in his car at the parking lot while waiting for Xandra. He wondered, too, as he registered the sweetly familiar touch of the presence against his mind, if his girlfriend wasn't right to be suspicious after all.