The next practice I was just as quiet as Sutton. I was picking up, for the first time, on the slightly mournful look hiding behind the guardedness of his exterior. Even his breeding couldn’t hide the occasional flash of pain in his eyes. I thought of the hours he had spent with me in hospital and wondered how many times he had to do the same for his sister.
I wondered about how he felt every day, with everyone around him talking about insignificant things and the fear of losing a loved one clouding his mind. In his circles he probably came across people drinking and smoking and dabbling in drugs for fun – I wondered if it had taken its toll.
Raphael was rich. He could very easily have an entire staff working around the clock with his sister (he probably did) and yet whenever she did so much as give the word he would drop what he was doing and rush to her side.
I thought a lot that day. About people, about society, about money. About honour and what it really meant. I thought about Sutton – about preconceived notions and biases. I thought about pride, and prejudice.
Clearly I wasn’t the only one who’d been thinking.
“Why are you so quiet?” Raphael asked me when we’d finished, a remote curiosity in his voice.
I pretended to cough.
“Bronchitis. I caught it from you.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” He started, before continuing, “But I distinctly remember that my strain didn’t involve any coughing.”
“That can only mean one thing,” I said with mock seriousness, “It’s been evolving in my system.”
“How horrific.” He replied, “It’s only a matter of time before the virus takes over the city.”
He couldn’t seem to find anything on a larger scale and I smirked for a second, triumphant.
“All of reality.”
It took me a second to reply to that.
“I think that’s on the same level.”
He cocked his head to the side and sighed.
“You found out about Lily, didn’t you?”
I blinked in surprise.
“Don’t worry,” he replied, “It’s not exactly a secret. My parents tried to keep it hush-hush but some of it leaked onto the net anyways.”
“You’d be right in assuming they practically disowned the two of us after that incident. My sister for her scandalous lifestyle and me because I chose to go into dance rather than continue their automobile business, which they thought of as a low-class field for degenerates.”
“What happened then?”
“They’d thrown enough money at us to last a lifetime. I made investments, but Lily burned through her share as her addictions grew worse. She showed up on my doorstep, broke, and I promised to help her if she did her best to become sober. I built my name again, from the ground up.”
He smiled a little.
“Now, could I ask you a question?”
“Shoot.” I replied, his words running through my mind.
“Why do you hate me so much?”
That took me by surprise.
“What do you mean?”
“I know I’m not exactly an agreeable person sometimes, but I remember, even from that year my parents thought they could straighten me out by sending me to public school, before I even said anything to you, the way you would send me dirty looks and avoid any contact-“
“-whoa.” I interjected, “You remember me from school?”
“You’re not exactly easy to forget.” He admitted, making my head spin, “But please, I’d love an explanation.”
“I don’t really know myself.” I said after a while, “I guess...I just...money was something I had to work so hard for...and when I saw anyone with piles of it lying around...”
“You hated them for it?” he offered, making me sigh.
“I hated how unfair everything was. I hated how they got the better end of the deal, and I ended up trying to make ends meet. I hated how when I was flipping burgers and cleaning toilets they were lounging in their pools or having their designer dogs washed for them.”
“That’s not what it’s like.”
“Really?” I asked, my chest burning, “Were you ever near-molested by your employer and had to go to work the next day because you couldn’t afford to miss the wages? Did you ever have a broken bottle cut across your back when you were trying to get home in the middle of the night? Did you ever have to select the lowest income bracket on a welfare form, and stand by while you watched it being read over?”
“No,” he replied calmly, “I didn’t experience any of that. But I watched my friends drop like flies around me to narcotics, car racing and their own stunts. I watched people I knew, people I thought I knew, turn into monsters when they became obsessed with their money. We both have seen ugliness in our own worlds. I’m not saying that I’ve suffered anything like you have, but privilege isn’t all a perfect world.”
“It seems a hell of a lot better than poverty.” I shot back, “I had no childhood. I had no future.”
“But it’s made you stronger. You’ve risen into a world usually reserved for the elite, for the wealthy. Not because of anything you were born with, but because of what you were born without. You have determination and the will to succeed anywhere. That’s something that barely anyone can attest to having. And I admire you greatly for that.”
“I-uh, thanks.” I muttered, surprised that he had said something nice to me, “I...appreciate it.”
“I’m only saying the truth.” He replied, gathering his things, “I’ll have to take your leave. Good day.”
I was baffled, but got around to changing into my normal clothes and heading home. Sutton was like a jack-in-the-box. Whenever I’d built a solid set of expectations surrounding him he’d go and shatter them for fun. And that half-formal half-casual way of speaking he had was so bizarre that it drove me up the wall.
And he knew how to shut me up. That was never a good sign.