The classes were not what Tyler expected. Although he was only a few months older than Connor, he was a full year ahead of him school-wise, and he’d figured he’d have to sit through lessons he’d already learned. Not so. Students at the Academy made up their own schedule according to what they were interested in. Connor’s classes included the most advanced science courses the Academy offered. In three of them he wasn’t even following the same curriculum as the rest of the students but had his own advanced work and experiments set up in a corner.
Tyler also thought he’d need to interpret for the teachers, but he soon realized they’d worked up a system to teach and test Connor without him needing to say or write anything. Seeing how he sometimes went with no interpreter for months at a time, those multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble sheets were essential. Or at least, the teachers pretended they were. In at least two classes, Tyler had a strong suspicion that Connor was doing work so advanced that the teachers didn’t fully understand it. Then again, neither did Tyler.
He had to work hard—very hard—to catch up with the rest of his peers, and he didn’t bother trying to catch up with Connor. It occurred to him that, with everything he learned here, he could easily get on track for a science career after…
Two years seemed like forever, at times.
But mostly it felt like it’d be over in a flash.
The same day Tyler punched Stevenson, Connor talked to him at lunchtime. Usually, he kept his nose stuck in various advanced textbooks while munching on a piece of fruit, never bothering to even acknowledge that Tyler was sitting across from him at the otherwise empty table. Today, he looked up from his reading just long enough to meet Tyler’s eyes and say, “Counterstrike is a feminine word in French.”
Tyler blinked. He wasn’t sure what surprised him the most: that Connor had talked to him twice today, or that he’d bother giving Tyler a warning.
And it was a warning.
Caroline Martin would try to get him back for what he’d done to Stevenson.
“Why her?” he asked, frowning.
Connor rolled his eyes and returned to his reading.
Suddenly uncomfortable, Tyler shifted his shoulders and glanced at the table across the cafeteria where Stevenson sat with his clique, a mix of boys and girls. Martin sat on the other side of the table, although not directly across Stevenson. She was chatting with her girlfriends, but every so often she glanced at him. The way she looked at his discolored nose… Understanding came in a flash.
“Huh. They’re together?”
Without looking up, Connor snorted quietly. The Message was a very obvious, Of course they are. Are you blind?
“Hey, I’ve only been here four days and we only have one class with both of them. Not everyone can…”
Tyler trailed off when Connor’s eyes found his again over the edge of his book. He didn’t say a word, didn’t make a sound, but it was right there, in deep blue that looked more like a storm than a summer sky. This wasn’t the Prophet talking, only someone who had eyes and knew how to observe. After all, Tyler had figured it out too, hadn’t he?
“Point taken,” he said.
Connor shrugged and returned to his reading, taking another bite of his apple.
“Although that is a problem,” Tyler muttered, glancing across the room again. “Her coming at me, I mean. I don’t hit girls.”
Connor didn’t look up as he said, “The emperor doesn’t stare out of mirrors.”
Tyler’s breath caught in his throat. As far as Messages went, he wouldn’t have needed to be an interpreter to figure out this particular meaning. How did Connor know, though? Had someone told him about Tyler’s family? Was it something he’d Seen? Or was that something inscribed in Tyler’s very body, in the way he moved and looked around him, like Martin’s crush was laid out in the way she looked at Stevenson? He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. The least he thought about his father, the better.
“No,” he said, a little choked up. “I damn well hope I’m not like him.”
They ate in silence for a little while after that—well, Tyler ate at least, while Connor continued to nibble—but soon the Dean of Students approached their table, empty save for the two of them. It was always empty. Tyler strongly suspected that, before his arrival, Connor had been eating on his own every day.
“Hello, boys,” the Dean said affably as he sat down, setting a clipboard in front of him on the table. “I couldn’t help but notice you were having a little chat. Is there anything you want to share?”
He had phrased it as a question, but it was more a demand than a request. This was what Tyler was here for. Listen to Connor, interpret his Messages, and share them. It didn’t matter if it concerned the fate of the world or if it was something innocuous, Tyler had to divulge it. If he didn’t, his stint as an interpreter would end much faster than Connor had predicted.
He was starting to understand why Connor didn’t talk. They’d barely exchanged a few words before the Dean descended on them like a hawk on its prey. How tiring was it, really, not to be able to say two words before an adult asked to know your private thoughts?
Before Tyler could figure out what to tell the Dean, Connor spoke again, his eyes flicking toward the other end of the room where Martin was laughing rather shrilly.
“Warm baguette isn’t always blue.”
Tyler, who had reached for his glass of water to give himself a second to think, swallowed the wrong way and started to cough violently, his lungs burning. Connor raised an amused eyebrow at him over his book.
“Yes?” the Dean said before Tyler had caught his breath again.
“Caroline Martin,” Tyler said, still coughing a little. “She and Stevenson… Well, if she’s not pregnant yet, she will be soon.”
The Dean’s head snapped up, his smile disappearing instantly. He looked around the room, and his eyes narrowed when he found the right table.
“Excuse me,” he said as he stood, and was already striding away before Tyler could decide if he was supposed to say something.
Tyler watched, bemused, as Martin and Stevenson followed the Dean out of the cafeteria, both of them looking rather stricken.
“La Marne won’t flood,” Connor commented absently.
Tyler nodded. “Apparently not, no. Thank you.”
Connor didn’t reply, but the same tiny smile from that morning made a fleeting reappearance.
… continued in You Promised Me Two Years