He’s Not Broken
A Glint an- Er, Salem and Whitney story
Whitney Brigams was born the daughter of doctors. Her mother was a talented Neurologist, and her father was a well-to-do Diagnostician specializing in Infectious Diseases. Her parents always expected her to be bright, and raised her with strict emphasis on her academic career. She was always pushed to achieve the best, and she always strove to make them proud. So much so that when they paid to have her attend the Blue Pokémon Academy, she entered knowing she deserved to be there.
She knew medicine all her life. Her parents’ studies were filled with books, and as a child she always flipped through them whenever they were doing long shifts at work to examine every single diagram. When she got older, she read the words, and by the time she was able to fully understand them, she had already grasped some rudimentary knowledge in a lot of what she had already seen. It was only natural that she would pursue an area of medicine, and she had selected psychological studies in particular. She was fascinated with how people thought, and found some enjoyment in worming into people’s heads.
“Now that we’re a few weeks into the year, we’re going to start doing some psyche profiling exercises.”
When her professor told her class that they would be able to apply what they had learned in an actual study, Whitney was excited. She hoped that for the first time, she might feel like a real doctor… even if she knew being a ‘real doctor’ meant anywhere up to ten more years of school.
“You’ll select your subjects personally, and as long as they agree to assist you, you will record them. You’ll observe their activity and delve into their minds in conversation to understand what makes them tick,” The professor continued, “Then you’ll present your findings to the class. I will be looking for each and every note you take, and I expect them to be in proper format…”
It was clearly an exercise that Whitney didn’t think would weigh too heavily on her mark. By the sounds of it, she wasn’t going to be checked for total accuracy in her reports and findings, but rather just observed for the reports themselves. Even so, Whitney opened her day planner and penned in a note reminding herself that she needed to find a subject to study. She finished just as class was ending, so she gathered her things and made for the halls.
Whitney’s looks were telling of her bookish personality. She dressed conservatively in long socks and fluffy sweaters, and favoured a modestly short skirt and a pair of Mary Janes. She wore red-rimmed glasses when reading or writing. And somehow the mass of cottony fluff that poured from her head in traditional Whimsicott fashion only drove the look home. She always seemed to have books clutched to her healthy chest, and her clothing did a wondrous job in glossing over a frame that could have been considered over-weight. Her bronzed flesh had more weight than strength, and the way her golden eyes peered out at the world around her from their seemingly sunken position framed by her cottony hair and the small, green horns at either side of her head… it was telling of her introverted personality.
Her attitude and her looks never stopped her from being intelligent… it simply stopped her from having many close friends. But she had made peace with that fact during her childhood. In her teenage years, she never let it bother her. She had more important concerns, like preparing for tests and keeping well on top of her grades. How the other students could put such a focus on weekend frivolity was totally beyond her – well, not entirely. In fact, she knew it to be many of them doing whatever they could to satisfy the base instinctual desire to be part of a group. To be accepted. Whitney simply thought herself above such needs.
So while her peers filed out to escape the monotony of their classroom day, Whitney’s eyes scoured the halls to find the perfect subject for her project. She had many choices – she could have challenged herself to discover the deeper workings of someone totally normal. She could have profiled one or both of her parents, or simply observed someone’s behavior from afar. But what she really wanted was a type of subject no one would ever have thought to do, something unique just to her.
What she didn’t expect was that her subject would sooner find her.
It came in the form of the most god-awful screaming she had ever heard. It grew louder in the hallway as people cleared the way. It emanated from an imp of a child, no taller than up to Whitney’s hip, perhaps smaller. He dashed through the halls with his hands in the air, and someone seemed to be chasing him. Whitney stepped aside, expecting them to simply pass her by, but that simply wasn’t to happen. Rather, the boy’s strange eyes seemed to lock on her – though it was hard to tell due to the fact his eyes were actually gemstones – and he came straight for her. Whitney’s heart jumped in her chest as she clutched her books tight and clenched her eyes shut. The boy… began to climb her.
He scurried up her body with amazing dexterity, and with his small form he managed to burrow into Whitney’s fluffy cotton hair. Whitney could feel him clinging to her back, but when she turned her head to look, he was completely and totally hidden. It helped that in her fright her cotton seemed to floof outwards, outside of her control. The boy’s pursuer had seen where the boy hid though, and the woman hurriedly approached Whitney, looking to be out of breath. She was an avian Pokémon – a Pidgeot, if her luxurious hair with the golden streak was any indication.
“Salem… Salem get out of there this instant…!” She huffed, “Your mother is waiting!”
“Salem is not home!” The boy answered, “You should try later.”
“No more games, Salem!” The woman barked. She then looked down to Whitney with a sorry expression.
“U… Um…” Whitney could find nary a word.
The women shed a sorry smile and shook her head. “Please don’t worry, Salem won’t hurt anybody, he’s just… rambunctious,” She said, “I’ll get him away, just give me a moment.”
“I… I’m sorry… but why is he like this?” Whitney asked almost by reflex.
The woman paused for a moment and seemed to worry over what to say next. “He’s… different,” She finally answered.
“Different…” She murmured as her eyes cast to the crowd that was watching the scene unfold now. They stared with such intrigue; she could almost see the smoke coming from their ears as they ached to understand what was going on. They whispered to one another, many of them having seen Salem before and simply casting him off as a strange kid who wasn’t to be spoken to.
The woman had tried reasoning with Salem for a while, before she moved around Whitney to try and gather him up. When she apprehensively reached into Whitney’s cotton mess to untangle him, his head simply popped out from the mass and he… belched, right in her face. He gasped, looked terribly embarrassed, and then hid once more.
“… Perfect,” Whitney whispered to herself.
“Excuse me, Salem?” Whitney finally spoke up, “Could you please not be in my hair?”
“It smells like fruit!” Salem chimed, “Salem likes the floofy hair!”
Whitney shed an uneasy smile. “Please?” She’d implore him.
“Nope! Salem wants to ride in floofy hair!” Salem refused, making Whitney’s fluffy hair shake and rustle as he moved around like he had ants in his small jeans.
The Pidgeot woman sought to protest, but Whitney simply looked up at her and shook her head. “No, it’s fine… Did you say his mother is here? I can take him.”
The woman looked surprised, but simply nodded. “She would be around back at the student pick-up area,” She said, “If you would please…”
Whitney walked with her new passenger and his care-taker in tow, able to carry Salem is if he weighed nothing. Though, Salem was a unique species of Ghost Pokémon, so it was likely due to that fact that he was so light. As she walked, she introduced herself and asked if he would like to help her with a project. She wasn’t sure how Salem would react to such a thing, but she saw no harm in asking.
“Whitney wants help with a project? Is it super secret? The fate of the school depends on it!” Salem barked as his head once more was revealed from Whitney’s soft, cuddly mass of hair.
Whitney had a hard time not giggling with Salem speaking the way he did. The way he referred to himself, and her, in the third person, and how he was prone to sudden outbursts that would elevate his voice… It was possibly the strangest behavior she had ever bore witness to; and she wanted to know why. There had to be a reason.
“No, it’s not that secret… And the only thing that’s depending on it is me, really. I just want to impress my professor… All I need from you is letting me spend time with you next week,” She said, “To learn more about you.”
“AH-HA! Salem is finally getting his auto-biology!” Salem cackled.
“Um… Auto-biography,” Whitney corrected, “And no, but… it is about you.”
“Salem accepts! Whitney will etch his name in stone to stand the test of time!” Salem said with a massive grin.
Whitney stepped outside to the student pick-up area. It was a small area that allowed very little parking in a half-circle driveway rather than a parking lot. Parents who picked up their children there were encouraged only to linger for a short time, and often their kids were waiting there long before they arrived anyway. As Whitney stepped onto the walk, Salem let himself fall from her hair, landing on the ground and hurrying towards a lone blue car that had its engine going.
“Zooooom~!” Salem hurried to the passenger side door and opened it, jumping inside and making sure his little backpack and all of his black t-shirt were in the car before closing it. It was a quick motion; Whitney didn’t really get to see Salem’s mother’s face. She didn’t seem to want to wait any longer though, and the car set into motion not long after Salem was inside.
As the car pulled away, Salem opened his window in a hurry and poked his head out. “BYE BEST-FRIEND WHITNEY!!” He practically screamed, flailing his hand in an excited wave. The car pulled out, turned the corner down the street, and was gone… but Salem waved the whole time.
“Thank you, dear,” The Pidgeot woman said with a gentle pat to Whitney’s shoulder before she turned to head back inside.
Now alone, Whitney fumbled with her shoulder bag to search inside. She produced a voice recording device from within, and she held it towards her mouth as she pressed the record button. “Subject: Salem Matthews. Species: Sableye. Age: Presently unknown. Height: Roughly in the area of three feet tall, suspect less. Displays possible signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and possible Schizophrenia… Asperger’s also possible. Need to narrow down.”
She stashed the recorder away and smiled to herself before departing for home.
Whitney’s home was a perfect reflection of her parents’ stature in society. It was nestled nicely in the higher end of town, amongst similar high-quality home. It was beautiful brick masonry with a dash of Victorian. She was proud of her home, of the space it provided, of the hardwood floors it had, and the completely finished basement. Inside, the television was rarely on, the house smelled faintly of cigarette smoke at times, and company was rarely, if ever over.
Whitney stepped in the door and slipped off her shoes. Her socked feet made no noise as she walked through the house. She checked the living room and the kitchen, before turning to head up the spiral staircase to the second floor. She stopped near a slightly ajar door to peer into her father’s study. He sat at his desk, the computer monitor glowing, his lamp lighting the room almost like an old-fashioned oil lamp. She stepped inside quietly, trying to see what he was doing. He was clearly working… the Ursaring male had that tell-tale posture about him, not to mention he was wearing a dress shirt and fine pants.
“Father? I’m home,” Whitney’s voice was soft.
“Huh? Oh,” Whitney’s father turned his head only a moment to regard his daughter before he got back to his work, “Welcome home.”
“Working?” She’d ask standing with her books at the door.
“Paperwork,” He answered briefly.
He seemed to always be drowning in paperwork… at least, whenever he wasn’t at the hospital.
“Where’s Mother?” She asked.
The Ursaring paused for a moment, shrugging his shoulder. “Dunno. At work I guess,” He said.
There was a pause.
“… Today I got my first assignment in Psyche,” Whitney continued, “I’m supposed to profile a boy from school.”
“He’s a bit strange,” She said, “But I can already tell that he’s…”
“Look, can we not do this right now?” Her father cut in, looking back at her out of just one eye as he turned his head, “I’m really busy.”
Whitney’s words caught in her throat and she reeled back immediately. “Right, I know, I’m sorry…” She apologized, getting a nod from her father before he turned back to his work.
“I’ll just… I’m sorry,” Whitney repeated, stepping back out of the office and slowly closing the door.
Whitney sighed and decided to retire to her room after making herself some canned ravioli to eat. She took off her sweater to sit around instead in the orange, loose-fitting spaghetti strap top she wore beneath it. Her skirt rest as well in the small pile on the floor as she sat cross-legged on her bed with her books open, and her food and drink on her night stand. She spent the remainder of the night filling out math equations and thinking about how she was going to deal with Salem… Perhaps, she thought, she would work on a schedule to keep with him. If she was lucky, her Psyche professor would allow her time during his class to instead spend time with Salem – it would have qualified as work.
With that in mind, she toiled away into the night, and by the time she was ready to sleep, she had it all figured out.
The first day she spent simply getting to know Salem. She spent a single lunch hour doing so, and he seemed thrilled to have her.
He was always accompanied by an adult it seemed. Salem’s attitude was telling of deeper-seeded issues. While he liked all the things a normal boy would – video games, movies and the like – his inability to hold still, much less maintain eye-contact for more than a brief time convinced Whitney that he had ADHD to the umpteenth degree. While she let him ramble, she recorded all her observations in a small notebook she planned to turn in to the professor when the time came.
She also learned, true to his nature, that Salem had a rock collection. He seemed to love rocks and gems, far more than a simple interest, it was a fixation. Normally his speech was cluttered and disorganized, but it became horribly so when he started talking about rocks and minerals. He knew their Latin names, he knew their chemical compounds, he knew the melting point of virtually any ore one could name, and he could tell anyone far more than they needed to know about the cuts of gems. The lunch was spent with the hyper-active Sableye talking Whitney’s ear off.
The noisy environment of the school’s lunch room seemed to promote Salem’s behavior too. If anyone near him was loud or ill-behaved, he seemed to try and top it. He yelled and shouted, sang and danced, and generally made a spectacle of himself much to his care-taker dismay. The Pidgeot woman, who Whitney learned was simply named Sarah, would always step in when Salem was acting out and remind him sternly that he was to behave. To his credit, Salem always apologized and settled down right away… it just never lasted long.
By the end of the lunch hour, Whitney had some good base information. Salem was her age, and he lived with his single mother. His father left them when he was younger, and his mother simply worked at a grocery store. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was plenty to go off of. Theories were already bouncing around her head about how his home life could have been related to his activity. Ultimately it was enough for one day, and she left it at that.
By the third day of the assignment, she was granted time during Psyche class to work on her project. She arranged at that time that Salem be allowed to leave his class and accompany her to the school library.
It was no surprise to Whitney when she learned that Salem was enrolled in the Special Education class. It was a classroom dedicated to more personal attention for… gifted students. Salem seemed about as gifted as they came, and his uniqueness wouldn’t have meshed well in a regular classroom setting. Instead, he had Sarah to help him with his schoolwork, and put him through a step-by-step schedule each day.
When she got Salem into the library, Sarah had to accompany them. That was fine, however… To Whitney, bringing Salem there was a simple test of self-control. She wanted to see if, or when, Salem would be unable to contain his usual boisterous behavior when in a setting that required him to act in a specific way.
“What did you get?” Whitney asked as she sat at one of the many work-tables around the school library. It wasn’t unlike any other library really – a room with stacks upon stacks of books and dewy-decimals. Sarah had helped Salem find everything he had been looking for, and took a seat with him and Whitney when Salem opted to return.
“Rock books!” Salem announced as he slammed the small stack of books onto the table.
Sarah held a finger to her beak. “Shh, Salem, you need to be quiet here,” She said, “Whisper-voices, all right?”
“Sor-!” Salem paused and hushed himself, mocking a shout in a whisper volume, “Sorry!”
“You sure like rocks,” Whitney said as she kept her notepad open, “Have you ever thought of becoming a Geologist?”
Salem’s expressionless eyes still somehow conveyed his confusion as his brow furrowed. “What’s a Geomotrist?” He asked.
Whitney smiled softly. “A Geologist, Salem,” She corrected, “It’s a scientist that studies the solid and liquid matter that constitutes the Earth. I think you’d probably fit in well in the field of Metamorphic Petrology – that’s the study of the effects of metamorphism on rocks and minerals.”
Salem looked like he was about ready to burst a vessel just trying to follow what Whitney had to say. “Whaaaaat?”
“I’m sorry, it’s hard to explain,” Whitney said with a soft smile.
Seeing her smile made Salem smile. But his smile was a wide-spread grin of razor-sharp teeth, and his stare put Whitney off in a weird way. When her smile faded, his did too, and he looked momentarily confused before he jumped up onto his seat, and then climbed onto the table.
“Oh…! Salem!” Sarah gasped, trying to usher him down off the table.
Salem held his arms up and announced triumphantly to the entire library, “Salem will be…. GREAT GEO-MOTORIST!”
Whitney looked shocked… but was scribbling away in her notebook anyway.
All the students in the library had their attention torn from their studying to pay attention to the ramblings of the small Sableye as he went on to explain how great he would be. He said he would be “the best at rocks,” and that no one would be “more mineral than him.” Some particularly uncouth students cheered for him, and Salem ran with that encouragement. He had completely lost all focus, and ignored his primly-dressed Pidgeot caretaker’s attempts to settle him. Eventually, Sarah had to pick Salem up off the table, and carry him literally kicking and screaming from the library. Whitney was hot on their heels as they left.
Whitney met Salem on the fourth day before classes. She saw him get out of the same blue car he had been picked up in when she met him, and when he walked towards her, he smiled big. He seemed to always be wearing a little blue pair of jeans and a t-shirt… it must have been hard to find clothes in such a small size, Whitney figured.
“HEY WHITENIE!” He cackled happily.
Whitney kind of pouted. “My name is Whitney, Salem, not Whitenie,” She said, “Are you all ready for another day?”
“Sorry! Salem have the dumbs…” Salem slumped his shoulders, “Whitney. Whitney. WhitneyWhitneyWhitney.”
“It’s okay,” Whitney said, “Let’s go find Sarah, okay?”
“OKAY!” Salem clapped his hands together and walked alongside Whitney for another day of school and learning.
As they walked, a small group of boys seemed to hurry to catch up to them. The Squirtle, Elekid, and Nidorino spotted Salem and seemed to grin collectively. Whitney simply watched them from the corner of her eye, but didn’t pay them any mind… at least not until they spoke up.
“Yo lil’ freak!” The Nidorino said. His tone wasn’t hateful, but Whitney cringed a little at the words. Even if someone didn’t sound mean, there weren’t many ways one could call another person a freak and actually mean it in any good way. This was normal for Salem. His differences made him a sort of outcast, but not the sort that was quietly set aside. No… Salem was anything but quiet.
“Hi hi!” Salem waved at them happily as if nothing wrong had been said.
They shared a chuckle at the Sableye’s expense, and then took off into the school, not even holding the door as it shut in Salem’s face. The smaller Pokémon instead just reached up and grunted to pull the door open for Whitney, struggling thanks to his miniscule height. But, he got the door open, and he waved Whitney inside like an excited gentleman. Whitney stepped in, and looked curiously to Salem as he followed.
“You don’t mind them calling you that?” She asked.
Salem looked confused, “Call Salem what?”
The girl was hesitant to repeat the words, but she had to pry. “Little freak,” She reiterated, “That’s not very nice of them.”
“They just forget Salem’s name!” Salem said with a smile, “It is much hard to remember, Salem knows. That’s why Salem says it all the time!”
Whitney was… blindsided. Salem was legitimately ignorant to the belittling he suffered from his peers… just as he was blissfully unaware of the pity stricken across Whitney’s features. Oh, she recorded it of course, but she couldn’t imagine going through life tormented like that and thinking everything was fine… just letting people do it. To let people get away with it with nothing but a dumb smile… it almost seemed like some kind of torture.
Before Whitney could get any further into it, she had run into Sarah, who opted to escort Salem to his first class.
“BYE WHITE- Er, Whim… Um…”
“Whitney,” The Whimsicott repeated her name with a lopsided smile.
“WHITNEY!” Salem snapped, “Heh! Have fun with your brain-science stuff!”
Whitney watched Salem disappear into his classroom, and she frowned. She finished writing in her notebook and closed it. No sense dwelling, she had classes of her own to get to…
Almost a full week into the project, Whitney had already gathered a number of notes and voice recordings documenting Salem’s behavioral patterns and theories on his possible psychosis. Finally she had weaseled her way into visiting his home. Seeing the home life was important to something like that. School was just one single aspect after all – Whitney still had to see what Salem did in his off time, and meet his mother. It seemed that day would be the day she got to do those things – it would wrap her project up in a nice little bow.
Salem’s house was nestled in a co-op. It was a conjoined home, with a few others just like it along the same strip of road. It was two-story with simple paneling and a garage. Salem’s mother’s car was gone when she arrived. She took the bus since her parents were both working that night, leaving her to spend as much time at Salem’s house as she needed to.
Salem let her in and shook took a good look around the home. It was small and clean, and very well-organized except for one or two things that Salem got into that were left out-of-place. He no doubt had gotten bored with his video games or the television, and as such his living room had a controller for his console just sitting in the middle of the floor. The television’s remote was actually sticking out from between the couch cushions, jutting up into the air. Everything else however was neatly organized… Whitney had no doubts that Salem’s mother worked tirelessly to organize everything so that Salem had no difficulty finding anything.
Salem’s room was clean too. He had comic books littered on the floor, and also school assignment pages and text books. It seemed like everything he touched, he left out and about. Everything else, though, was clean. His bed was neatly made, his desk and computer were organized, and he even had a note on his screen reminding him how much ‘computer time’ he had to spend each day. He seemed to be allowed a couple more hours on weekends when there was no school.
Salem was ecstatic. He told Whitney that no one ever came over to his house to spend time with him, a point which Whitney could understand. But she was more-or-less lead around like the sheep she resembled as Salem showed her every single room in the small, cozy house. By the time he was done, she probably wouldn’t have even needed to ask what was in the pantry… because he showed her that too.
They sat and watched TV for maybe an hour before they heard a car pull into the driveway. Salem bolted up to hurry to the door as his mother stepped in. “Momma!” He shouted, jumping up and giving her a big hug.
Salem’s mother was a Sableye as well, but much taller. She was still short for an adult woman, but not nearly s tiny as her son, who she held in her arms nice and snug. A smile lit up her face that looked as jagged as Salem’s, but she seemed much more calm. She had obviously just gotten off work, but was dressed very casually, with her white shirt simply saying “Good Foods” on it, the store where she worked as a cashier. She set the boy down, and finally let the screen door close behind her before she spotted Whitney.
“Who’s this?” She asked.
“This is Whitener!” Salem chirped.
Whitney stood from the couch and approached Salem’s mother, holding out a hand politely. “My name is Whitney Brigams,” She introduced herself, “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Right!” Salem blushed, scurrying into the house quickly.
Salem’s mother shook Whitney’s hand, staring down at her with those same, unblinking gemstone eyes on the lizard-like humanoid woman. “You’re Whitney?” She asked, “Salem told me about you…”
She was quiet for a moment, looking past Whitney to her son, then back to Whitney once more. “Salem, sweetie, go to your room for a second,” She said, though she didn’t take her eyes off Whitney, “I need to talk to your friend, alright?”
“Okie-day Momma!” Salem said as he turned, firmly saluted his mother, and then marched like a little soldier to his room.
With him gone, Salem’s mother’s face turned into something of a scowl. “Sit,” She ordered, gesturing to the couch. Whitney was a bit uneasy at the change, but she obliged and sat herself back down on the couch as Salem’s mother set her purse by the door and stepped inside.
“What sort of project are you doing with my son?” She asked firmly. Honestly, hearing her speak so clearly was a surprise. Somehow Whitney thought that Salem’s mother may have been a little… like him. But she seemed to stand in stark contrast to her son.
“A… Um…” Realizing how bad it might have sounded to say it out loud, Whitney shrunk a little, “… A simple profile, Miss.”
The woman stood, and carefully crossed her arms. “I see. Then listen,” She began, “Salem was born with complications. When he hatched, he was in critical condition. He nearly died on the day he was born, he wasn’t breathing. He clotted. The fact that he’s standing here today in any capacity is nothing short of a miracle.”
Whitney’s eyes widened with intrigue, and she quickly opened her notebook to write that down. In her haste, she didn’t see Salem’s mother eying the book.
“Salem is my baby,” She said, “He’s my little miracle. He’s also developmentally challenged. But Miss Brigams… there is nothing wrong with my child.”
“No, well…” Whitney looked up from her book, then back to it. There was plenty ‘wrong’ with Salem, and she’d been writing all about it.
“There is nothing wrong with my child, and I don’t appreciate people like you poking and prodding him as if he were some sort of lab animal,” Salem’s mother’s voice grew firm and her tone… frightening, “He’s fought all his life to go to the same school as you, to learn the same things as you, and he’s tried, so very hard, to be where you are… yet he gets treated so differently. So much so that you are writing a Psych profile on him?!”
When Salem’s mother began to yell, Whitney shrunk back into the couch, “W… Well, um…”
“How dare you?!” Salem’s mother shouted at the frightened younger girl, “How high are you on your horse that you think you can record my son and display him to someone like some sort of animal?! Do you really think yourself so much better?!”
“What? I, no…” Whitney choked. She couldn’t believe this was happening.
Salem’s mother continued the assault, stepping closer to Whitney if for no other reason than to strike a chord of fear in the girl that might make her words ring all the more true. “My son never wants anything but for people to be happy, Miss Brigams. On his first day of school, he was ignored, and when people paid him any attention, he was ridiculed. I later discovered that he once fell in some mud outside, and the children laughed at him…”
Whitney listened in mortified horror. Salem’s mother practically shook in anger.
“… When he saw them laughing, Miss Brigams… when he saw them smiling, even at his expense, it made him so happy…” The woman shook, her voice wavering for a moment, “… So he continues to make a fool of himself. He continues to make you laugh at him… because how is he going to get anyone to pay attention to him otherwise?”
Whitney swallowed a lump in her throat. There had been many times even she couldn’t stifle a giggle around Salem… he was ridiculous. He was so out there, it was hard to keep a straight face. She never thought that he was making her smile… on purpose.
“And what’s so wrong about that?” Salem’s mother asked, “Salem is simply… trying to show the world the beauty that’s there. It’s just that no one will look. So, you write that in your little notebook… Write it! Go ahead! But make sure to include what a little monster you are for looking down on my sweet little boy, and thinking that just because he’s not like you that he can be paraded around the way he is.”
Whitney’s pen wouldn’t move. She instead closed her notebook silently and hung her head. What a fool she’d been. She was so focused on impressing her professor, on doing well for her first big assignment that she never even thought about how… unethical it seemed. Perhaps in a different situation, it would have been more harmless… but instead, she went out of her way to wade into a metaphorical minefield… she never thought it may have blown up in her face. Now this woman, who clearly lived a lengthy life of raising a child by herself, of helping him cope with the struggles she hardly worried about, was making it seem like she was the one with something wrong with her.
“Get out,” Salem’s mother whispered, “And stay away from my son.”
Whitney stood on shaky legs. Passing by Salem’s mother to the front door felt like she walked by some sort of cold flame. It sent chills up her spine. She opened the screen door and rushed out, letting it simply slide closed behind her on its own.
Whitney sat in Psyche class, her eyes glued to her books. Her feet shifted nervously as she bit on her lip, and she couldn’t stop fumbling with her glasses. Then she heard a whisper.
She looked up to the door to see Salem. He peeked in like the creepy imp he was, but Whitney couldn’t hide her smile. And when he saw her smile, he smiled back.
“Sir?” Whitney spoke up, “I… I’ve finished my project; I’d like to present it.”
The professor stopped what he was talking about mid-lecture and looked to Whitney. “Miss Brigams,” The Noctowl hooted, “Could this not wait for later?”
“I… I have my subject here,” Whitney said.
The professor looked to the door to see Salem standing there. He looked back to Whitney, and despite his obvious agitation, he sighed and nodded. “Very well,” He said, “Miss Brigams, you have the floor.”
Whitney stood from her desk and took a deep breath to compose herself. She walked from her desk to the head of the class with all her things, her peers looking on. Some weren’t interested, but others were all too interested because she interrupted the class. They really wanted to see what she had cooked up for them. So, she gestured for Salem to enter the room, and he did – and he was alone. For a moment, Whitney wondered where Sarah was, but… it didn’t matter. She’d take Salem back to class by herself.
Whitney faced the group with Salem standing at attention next to her.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce Salem Matthews,” She began, “He is a junior student at the academy with us, and the subject of my profile project.”
Salem beamed with pride and took a bow.
“… I spent many days with Salem. Upon first meeting him, he displayed extreme hyper-activity, and was prone to outburst,” Whitney reported, her hands folded in front of herself with her recorder in her hands, “I… introduced him to social situations to gauge my theories. I took him to the library one day, and even stopped somewhere for coffee with him on the way home to see how he would act in situations depending on whether or not there were adults supervising him or not. From my observations alone – his short attention span, his difficulty remembering names, his obsession with rocks and gems, his outbursts and his difficulty discerning emotions and tones in others – these all assured me that Salem suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He is autistic, and has extreme difficulty making connections with others, and knowing how to behave in social situations.”
Salem’s expression sort of screwed. He didn’t like hearing people talk about him like that. But the little Sableye, true to his nature, looked up at Whitney and looked so happy for her. She was doing her presentation! Regardless of the fact that it was about him, putting him under a magnifying glass, he couldn’t have been more thrilled. He loved to help.
Whitney looked down at him, and the corner of her lip twitched.
“… But there is nothing wrong with Salem Matthews,” Whitney then announced. Confused murmurs washed over the other students. Obviously, to them, there was plenty wrong with Salem.
Whitney swallowed and continued. “… The time I spent with him alone, with no one to watch him… it was the best time. Salem is a kind and compassionate person… He… just wants to make people smile. He is the most fulfilled when the people around him are having a good time. Happiness is the one real emotion Salem registers… and that doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Salem comes from a home with a mother who loves him dearly,” Whitney’s voice cracked, “She works hard for him, and has raised him to be a fine young man. I… I’m jealous of him. Me? I have problems… I can never get my father to talk to me. My parents spend more time arguing with one another than they do talking to me. I drown my sense of isolation in my books. I wanted so hard to make this project the best I could to get a good grade… to finally get something out of my parents that like… a pat on the head isn’t as good as ‘I love you,’ but… it works for me. I have no friends, and have walled myself off from everything… Classic denial. I refuse to be hurt by anything, and in turn only hurt myself.”
She hung her head, and the tears started to fall. They streamed down her bronze-skinned face, getting soaked up in the cotton fluff that framed her neck. Finally, she held up the recorder, and pushed the play button.
“But make sure to include what a little monster you are for looking down on my sweet little boy…”
Salem’s mother’s voice played from the machine, and Whitney stopped it silently. She was shaking as she cried, and her classmates looked on in shock of what they heard. The professor stared as well, and couldn’t seem to muster a professional look if his life depended on it. And Salem… he stared up at Whitney with a quivering lip.
“… Salem Matthews… i… is the… the greatest boy I ever met…” Whitney sniffled, her eyes cast to the floor, “And… he deserves better.”
She dropped the recorder, and it broke on the floor, pieces flying every which way. She ran. Pushing past Salem she ran for the door, and out into the halls much to the shock of everyone in the room. Salem seemed panicked, looked all over the room, his head jerking this way and that, before he ran out into the hallway too. He stopped with a slide and cupped his hands over his mouth to yell after her.
Ms. Matthews heard a knocking at the door, a frantic knocking that had roused her from her afternoon nap. It was rare that she got a day off, perhaps only taking two a month as she worked to support herself and her son. She groggily got out of bed and tied the ruby red house coat she had around herself, and he rubbed her bare, indigo head in lieu of having hair. She yawned and stretched as she made her way to the door, the incessant banging echoing all through the house the entire way. Finally, she reached her front door, and opened it in a huff.
“What do you- ?” She paused in her frustration to look down and see a familiar cottony wad of hair. “Oh… what do you want?”
She took a short moment to look closer, the girl standing on her doorstep holding in her hands the tattered remnants of a notebook. All around her feet were tattered, ink-strewn pages. The older woman took pause when she realized that tears were streaming down the girl’s face, and she was sobbing.
“I… I am a little monster…” Whitney sobbed, “I’m… I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry…”
Ms. Matthews looked at the girl, unsure of what to do. “Why didn’t you go home?” She asked.
Whitney just shook her head over and over as her legs trembled.
Ms. Matthews reached out and wrapped her arms around the girl. Whitney dropped what was left of her notebook and surrendered to the embrace. She clutched to Salem’s mother as tightly as she could, and continued to sob and tell her how sorry she was, over and over again.
“Come inside, let’s clean you up,” Ms. Matthews said as she ushered Whitney inside, “I’ll call your parents.”
Whitney sat at the student pick-up area, just resting on the curb, her head hung low and her eyes cast down to the pavement.
After she’d gone home, she clammed up. She shut herself up tight and assured her parents that she simply had a break-down from stress when they asked what happened. She took the rest of that day off to gather her thoughts… and now she was waiting there, for… some reason. She wasn’t entirely sure what she was meant to be doing, but it felt right to simply sit there and wait.
Salem’s mother surely explained to him what happened to her. She probably told Salem everything.
She didn’t even hear Ms. Matthews pull up in her car to drop Salem off. Salem climbed out of the car and saw Whitney there – Ms. Matthews saw her too, and paused for a moment. Salem didn’t look back at his mother, and instead walked right to Whitney and stood in front of her. When the Whimsicott finally saw his feet, her head jolted up, and she looked him in the eye. All she could see was her sorry expression reflected in his smooth, glossy blue, gemstone eyes.
“I’m sorry,” She said.
Salem wasn’t smiling. He simply looked Whitney in the eye, staring at her for a long while in silence. Whitney waited; it felt like she waited forever, just staring back at herself in his eyes…
She nearly jumped out of her skin when Salem suddenly shouted at the top of his lungs at her like that. It made her squeal almost adorably.
“Whitney says she has no friends… But Whitney wrong. Salem is her friend,” He said smiling just a little.
Whitney looked hurt. She… expected to be yelled at. She expected to be scorned by Salem himself, and instead he was standing there forgiving her… did he even know better? There was plenty there to suggest that perhaps Salem didn’t quite know what she did, and didn’t know how she felt.
“Salem, I… used you,” She said.
“So?” Was his only response, with a cant of his head to one side.
“So? W… What do you mean ‘so?’” Whitney asked.
Salem shrugged. “Whitney needed Salem. Salem there for Whitney.”
Whitney let out a sort of gasp at just how blunt Salem was. He… said whatever was in his mind. No filter. He didn’t know any better – it just wasn’t programmed into his brain. And as she thought it all out, she stared at him, just about level with him as she sat down and he stood in front of her. Carefully, she reached out and wrapped her arms around him in a hug, pulling him close and holding him. He was light and barely warm… but she held him tight anyway.
“You’re the best friend anyone could ask for, Salem,” She said with a small smile.
“URP~” Salem opened his mouth to say something, but then just… burped into her ear.
Whitney’s lips screwed into some sort of lopsided grin, and then she just burst out laughing. She let go of Salem and leaned back on the walk, closing her eyes tight and simply suffering from the biggest giggle-fit she’d had in a good… many years, if she thought about it. She laughed until her sides hurt, and Salem… couldn’t have been happier. It made his face light up in a smile as well, and he joined right in with her. The two of them laughed uproariously.
Ms. Matthews smiled to herself and slowly pulled away. “The greatest gifts come in small packages, Miss Brigams,” She sighed, looking into the rear-view to see the two of them together still, “… Be good to my boy.”