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Todd is lonely.
He doesn't like being with people. He likes being alone, but not being lonely.
He doesn't like the raw agony and panic he suffers each day, just by walking down the street.
He doesn't like the marks and rivets his fingernails make in his dry (much too dry, why don't you put lotion on that?) hands, or the Hello Kitty Band-Aids he presses over them.
He doesn't like being pushed into lockers, although it shows that people notice him and sometimes that eases the loneliness gnawing at his stomach.
No one cares.
(Well, Gregory does.)
Gregory likes pain.
He likes guts and gore, and ripped open chests and exposed rib cages and beating hearts, cooling in the gaping chest cavity.
He thinks red is the perfect color on everything, the color of fresh blood from a fresh, warm body. It contrasts well with everything.
He likes screams and the pain that cat was in as it twitched in the road, after that bright blue motorcycle crushed it beneath its wheels.
In this way, Todd is the perfect plaything; terrified of everything, low pain tolerance, and a caring heart.
Not everyone can live forever.
Even after he moves, Todd bikes ten miles to Gregory's house and stands on the doorstep until the taller boy answers, grinning widely.
"I got punched in the eye today," he'll say, or "Torque pulled out my loose tooth" or something along the lines of "I was almost eaten by a dog, but the neighbor chased it away."
Gregory just stands there, smiling and nodding, and then they go off to play Cops and Robbers or chess or ninjas.
Gregory's mom is named Ania.
One day when Todd comes over and Gregory's not there ("Playing with his daddy," Ania says, sighing happily. "What a wonderful family I have."), Ania is there and offers him food. She is from a rich family in Poland, and a wonderful cook. Todd accepts.
"He won't be long," she promises.
Ania is in her mid-twenties and her bright blond hair looks limp in the florescent lighting, her face shallow and too made-up. She fiddles with the large silver cross hanging around her neck, and Todd tells himself she's just worried that her son will play too rough.
"I don't like myself much." Todd tells Gregory one day over a snack of crackers and cheese.
"I like you," Gregory says. "I'm the only one, though. No one else does."
The ride to Gregory's house is long and harrowing from Todd's new city, full of rabid dogs and child molesters and bumpy roads. He wishes he owned a helmet.
Todd isn't the best bike rider, and falls down and scrapes his knees a lot.
But it's all worth it. The only person who truly cares about him is at the end of the trail, smiling and waiting with Hello Kitty Band-Aids.
Gregory is an artist, and when Todd comes over they break out the crayons and draw.
Gregory never lets Todd see what he draws. Todd notices the red and black and brown crayon, the one the color of his eyes, are the ones that are run down the quickest.
He doesn't see anything, he doesn't want to.
Gregory smiles. He waves. Todd grins.
Puberty hits, and his obsession turns sexual.
Gregory dozes off in class, dreaming about running his claws down Todd's skinny chest, leaving rivers of red behind. He imagines slicing his stomach open with his teeth, one perfect line down his ribs. He counts each one by snatching them out, and his breath is coming shorter, the red is so pretty—
He wakes up to hear the teacher yelling at him and a heat between his legs that wasn't there before.
He is the artist.
No one else understands how perfect Todd is.
Olga is the one that finds Todd in front of the sink, scrubbing the redness from his eyes.
"Todd." she says shortly.
Todd doesn't say anything.
"Why are you leaking?"
"I don't know." Todd answers. Olga stands there for a moment, then leaves, muttering something about Americans and their stupid feelings.
Gregory says that he'll never have to worry about dating mean people, now. He will protect him.
Sure, Todd has thought about sex. He's thought about that pretty girl in class 45C, too.
Gregory is always there for him. He's the only one Todd trusts enough to do this with.
They're only fifteen.
Ania looks more and more sick every day.
"Are you okay?" Lissa asks one day.
Todd glances up, eyes black and brown and wet.
"It's not like I care, you're just quiet." Lissa explains, eyes narrowing.
Todd glances back down at his book. "I'm always quiet."
He sits with Lissa and her brother, sometimes. They haven't been that close recently. He wonders if they were ever that close to begin with.
It's okay when Gregory holds him this tightly.
"There are so many things to be scared of," Gregory whispers into his bruised ear. "I'll protect you. I love you."
Todd doesn't say anything, just screws his eyes shut and kisses back.
"You're not going to commit suicide or anything, are you?" Patrick says, watching Todd fiddle with his shoes.
"Um… no, not really." Todd answers, smiling a bit.
Patrick stares for a minute, eyes all too seeing, much like his sister. "We care about you, you know? You're always there for us."
Todd blinks. Todd smiles.
It isn't true. "Thanks, Pat."
Ania vanishes one day, and nothing changes. Todd still rides his bike ten miles to Gregory's house, Gregory still loses at checkers, and the kisses are still brutal.
"He doesn't care about you." Lissa spits.
He shrugs. "Yeah." He smiles. "I know." The smile doesn't quite reach his eyes.
Todd is still lonely.