culture shock

He stares at me, wide-eyed, fascination almost dripping off of him in waves. I could laugh if he wasn’t so serious in wanting to learn more about me. It doesn’t really move us along in helping him to control his gift but I guess my presence gives him someone to talk to, some anchor to cling to as he works through slowly letting go of his past lover properly. I don’t mind really, it’s good to feel needed this way and I more than willingly tell him what about he asks to know.

“It must have been so different!” He’s animated, up until he moved into this apartment in our building I hadn’t seen his eyes be that bright. Now he actually looks alive, not half as strained as he used to be. Of course the bracelet helps with that currently but that’s just one of those things. It’s warming to feel like I can actually help him.

I don’t honestly see his handicap. I haven’t asked or dug around in his brain to know if he was born that way of if it was an accident, it’s honestly none of my business. If he ever brings it up, he will but I won’t ask anything of him. It has to come freely.

Now I look at him for a long moment, he’s almost squirming in his chair he’s so curious and I laugh softly, shaking my head. I have to be somewhat careful about what I say though, he still thinks I’m like him, human, eventually to die, just gifted.

“Well, I most certainly hadn’t been expecting any of what I saw when I got off the train. The place looked different, the folks were different, not as friendly as I’d hoped. I had to stay there for six months and you can believe me, it was quite the culture shock. I never really got over it to the point where when I came back home, I had to turn around and face the same shock. I mostly just settled back into my old life.”

For a while, I tell him about the people, how different from us they were, the habits, the food, the music, everything I had learned over those first six months. Of course, that trip happened when I was much younger, almost a hundred and fifty years ago but things hadn’t changed that much in that part of the world in all this time so I didn’t feel too bad about this.

As I’m heading towards his door to head back up to my working lover, he actually reaches out, touches my arm with his hand, the touch is uncertain but he doesn’t budge. I turn carefully in case he’s closer to me than I might have expected and he looks up to me with those wide, slightly vulnerable eyes.

“I’ve been trying to move on. To let him go. I have his things in boxes but I just- I can’t get rid of them yet.” He pauses and I know he’s telling me this because he wants to be as open and transparent with me as possible. I’m his mentor, he doesn’t want to keep anything from me.

“It’s really hard, I try. I archived his last message from my phone, even to this day I’d still listen to it often, I wanted to hear his voice, it made me feel like I wasn’t completely alone but I know I was holding myself back. I can’t delete it but at least I’ve archived it.”

I smile at him, reach out, rest my hand carefully to his cheek and he leans against the touch. I sigh and shake my head gently. “You’re doing well, Armin. It’s a little bit at a time. If you want, when you feel ready, we can take his boxes of things and drop them off somewhere, an organization that might find some use for his things.”

He nods against my hand, his eyes are closed and a few tears fall. I let them. I leave my hand where it is. I know he needs the comfort and I have no issues with letting him have some of my presence to help him get stronger.

After a few minutes, he sniffles slightly but leans back, breaking contact. He tries for a smile and it wavers but it still is there. He wipes at his eyes a moment and shakes his head. “I’ve been practising on closing the windows like you told me, too. I take the bracelet off at night when I’m preparing to get to bed, I still hang onto it, but I close the windows for a few minutes, just working a little longer each time. I can keep the voices quiet for almost fifteen minutes now.”

He’s farther along this road than I thought. He’s strong willed, I have to give him that and I’m surprised. It must show in my eyes because his own widen and his smile brightens. I laugh softly and reach out, just carefully mussing his hair. “That is absolutely wonderful, Armin. I have to admit I didn’t know how fast you would learn the control, this is really good. I’m proud of you.”

He beams now, his eyes bright, the tears gone though I know there still is a lot of ache in that big heart of his. “Keep on getting stronger.”

“He’s such a quick study.” It’s not so strange to have these conversations through walls. Usually when he’s in the shower I tend to join him but I know he’s in a bit of a hurry, something about need to deliver a big piece for some girl’s sweet sixteen. I might just go with him, I had my shower before I went down to see Armin.

“He’s already up to fifteen minutes without the bracelet. I know it doesn’t seem like much but considering how quickly things went from bad to worse with his gift, I’m pleased with his progress.” He laughs as he steps out of the bathroom, towelling his hair dry.

“It sounds like you enjoy teaching him, have you ever thought that maybe you have the makings of being a teacher?” I stick my tongue out at him. I wouldn’t know where to start with that. It could be an interesting sort of idea but it would force me to live the life he does. To live only a decade or two in the public and then pull back and away from the world so they wouldn’t realize I’m not aging with them.

I don’t know how he does it but I don’t know if I could ever.

“Can I come with you?” I know I sound hopeful, it can’t be helped and he laughs again as he goes about getting dressed.

“I was hoping you would offer as is, this piece is huge and I don’t really trust its solidity on its own while we’ll be travelling it to its destination.” I blink, a little confused.

“Aren’t your bigger pieces usually, you know, in pieces until you get to your destination where you set it up as a whole?” At least that’s what I thought he’d told me last time.

“Usually, except this time the guy decided to change things last minute and he’s just not letting me come in to work to get it up together, something about how I’d be in the way of the rest of the decorators. So he wants the full piece delivered to him, wants me in and out of there in at most fifteen minutes.”

“Sounds like an asshole.” He probably is and I probably won’t like him. Even more and better a reason to go with Lex to get that thing delivered. Some of his clients, I swear, I loathe them to itty bitty bits.

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