I honestly had no idea how much time passed before Professor Mason finally made his way out of the therapist’s office and left. It could’ve been thirty seconds or five minutes. All I knew was that I spent the entire time in a near-blinding rage, and it was all I could do not to throw myself out of the wall and confront the man directly. Such a thing obviously would’ve ended badly on every conceivable level, yet I could still barely stop myself. My logic and my emotions were pretty much pummeling each other.
Eventually, however, the man did leave. Which left only Klassin Roe in his office when I emerged from the wall. I didn’t even bother going onto the outside of the office and then knocking on the door or any such production. Instead, I literally popped right out of the wall inside the room without any warning.
Klassin was standing on the other side of the office, looking out a window with his back to me. As I emerged, before I made any sound or even moved an inch, the man spoke quietly. “Hello, Flick.”
For all the anger and other emotions that had been rampaging their way through me since the moment I realized what he and Professor Mason were talking about, I finally stopped for a second and thought about what had just happened. I thought about not just what I’d heard, but why I’d heard it. And I came to a sudden realization, my eyes widening. “… You knew. You knew I was there, that I’d hear all of it.”
Rather than responding right away, Klassin remained silent. His gaze was still focused on the window. When he finally replied a few long seconds later, his voice was quiet and calm, not at all like the accusatory and inciting tone he’d been taking with the other man a couple minutes earlier. “Yes, I did.”
My mouth opened and shut before I managed to get another sound out. “You—I–you wanted me to hear all that. You started that whole conversation just so I could hear it. Why? And how?! I’m half an hour early, how could you possibly know that I’d show up in time to hear you guys talking about it?”
Finally, the man turned away from the window to face me. As he did so, I saw something in his eyes. Emotion that he was quickly blinking away while replying. “For the latter part of that, when you passed that painting of Lord Kelvin in the hall out there, my spell let me know you were coming.” His faint smile then seemed more sad than proud. “Just a little trick I learned from a.. from an old friend.”
That time, I didn’t have to think about it. The answer spilled from my lips immediately. “My mom.”
His eyes flicked downward briefly before the man gave a very slight nod. Then he looked back up to me. “Yes. Your mother and I had a complicated relationship. But I… I came to care about her a lot.”
The rage that I felt, the anger and frustration and… all of it kept trying to spill out of me. I clenched my hands tightly, staring at him from across the office. “Why set it up like that? Why trick that—Professor Mason into talking about all that stuff instead of just telling me yourself if you wanted me to know?”
“Several reasons,” Klassin answered quietly. He looked at me for a moment before stepping away from the window, moving across the room to pick up a glass of what looked like whiskey from his desk. “First, I didn’t think you’d believe me if I just told you. Better for you to hear it from his own mouth.”
Folding my arms tightly across my stomach to grab onto my own elbows, I stared at him. “A-and?”
He glanced away briefly at that, his eyes finding the floor before he looked up again. His voice was soft, yet firm as he explained. “And I didn’t want to back you into a corner. I wanted you to know, but I didn’t want you to have to talk to me about it if you didn’t want to. I wanted to get the information to you without forcing you to open up to me. This way, you could hear about it and then never say a word if you didn’t know that I knew you were there. I wanted it to be your choice. You deserved that much.”
My throat was dry, my hands wouldn’t stop twitching, and I felt even more shivers running through me. “From his own mouth,” I echoed before shaking my head quickly. “And the rest of it? Why? Why would you want me to hear all of that in the first place? Why would you want me to know about him?”
“Because you deserved to know,” the man replied, his gaze meeting mine. “You deserved to know what happened back then. You deserve the truth, Flick. Especially since Liam’s been…” He trailed off.
Swallowing hard, I gazed back at him evenly. “He’s been what? What has Professor Mason done?”
“He’s been talking about moving his girls off your team,” the therapist answered after a pause. “He’s afraid of everything that’s been happening, to you and to Avalon and he’s been making noise about moving them to a different team where they’ll be safer, switching them with a couple other students.”
My eyes went wide at that, and I blurted without thinking, “Son of a bitch! He can’t—that’s not—I don’t–” If my emotions had been a mess before, they were worse now. “We’re training to be Heretics!” I blurted. “And he’s been one this whole time, for decades, at least! Did he just fucking now realize it’s dangerous? And what the fuck, he thinks it’s too dangerous for Sands and Scout to be on the team, but he’s just absolutely fine with shoving a couple other students onto it instead? What about them?!”
“Sands and Scout are his kids.” His soft voice was a calm oasis in the wake of my turbulent emotions. “He’s not thinking straight when it comes to them. It’s not that he thinks it’s okay for others to be in danger. Hell, he doesn’t even want you to be in danger, or Avalon. But when it comes to his daughters, especially after what happened to Larissa, he’s not rational. All he can think about is protecting them.”
Shifting my weight back and forth, I held myself tightly while trying to think straight. “I—what about…” I trailed off, looking down at the floor as I struggled my way through all of my wild thoughts.
After a few seconds of silence, Klassin spoke up, voice even. “I don’t know all of what’s going on with you, Flick, but I do know most of it. And you need to be able to talk about it with someone, if you want to. You deserved to know that I know that stuff, that I can talk about it if you want. Because everything happening to you, everything you’re dealing with, you should have a safe place to vent about it.”
Unable to stand still any longer, I started to pace back and forth. I had more nervous and emotional energy than I could contain, and so many questions, demands, and rants that I didn’t even know where to start. Eventually, however, one thing stuck out above the others. “He called you Johnny. Why?”
There was silence for a brief moment before he answered, his voice holding a note of obvious emotion that he was mostly suppressing. “Because that used to be my name. I was Jonathan. Jonathan Ruthers.”
Well that made me whip my head around, stopping short from my pacing as I stared at the man. “Ruthers?” I blurted, my voice louder than I intended. “You said your name was Ruthers, as in–”
“As in the former headmaster, yes.” Klassin met my stare. “He was my father. Or, I suppose, is. He’ll always be my father, even if I’ve tried to divorce myself from him as much as I can. He is my blood.”
He took another swallow from the glass, his eyes staring off into the distance before he spoke again. “That’s why I changed my name, why I have nothing to do with him. Because I don’t agree with anything he’s done. After I found out what he did to your mother, what he did to Joselyn, I… well, I basically disowned him, Flick. As much as a son can disown a father. I walked away, I told him I never wanted to see him again, and I changed my name. Hell, I tried to change everything about myself.”
“You changed your name,” I echoed, feeling even more turbulent emotions running through me in spite of myself. It was all I could do to force myself to think straight by then. “You didn’t agree with him.”
“I despise him,” Klassin replied flatly. “Not always. I—when your mother and I met, I was my father’s son. I was a piece of shit. I was spoiled and—and wrong. And your mother didn’t stand for it. Hell, that’s what first got Jos on my father’s bad side. She laid me out in the cafeteria in front of everyone.”
Gazing off into the distance, he actually smiled a little bit at the memory. “I deserved it. I was—well, let’s just say I thought I could do whatever I wanted, just because of who my father was. But your mom, she uh, she didn’t put up with it. She put me on the floor and from that moment on, my father hated her. Even before the um, even before the rest of it, he had it out for Joselyn. Not that she cared. Pissing off the headmaster was just… par for the course. If your mom thought something was wrong, she made sure everyone knew it. She didn’t care who didn’t like hearing it, or how powerful they were.”
For a few seconds, the man was silent then as he gazed off in the distance, obviously lost in his own memories. Finally, he shook himself and straightened while putting the glass down. “Gaia’s the one that got Joselyn to calm down and think strategically. Your mother was… she’s incredibly passionate, and Gaia helped make sure that she didn’t give my father enough ammunition to expel her. Or worse.”
There was so much I wanted to ask, so many thoughts and questions swirling around in my mind. Finally, I settled on starting with a simple, yet important one. “What changed? You said that you and my mom fought at first, that you were a—well, that you were a spoiled dick. What made you change?”
Again, there was a long silence as the man clearly lost himself in his memories. His smile flickered and I saw more emotion in his eyes than I knew a single person could have in such a short time. When he spoke, I wasn’t sure he even knew he was talking. He was just putting voice to his thoughts. “When we were seniors, I knew Joselyn was up to something. I mean, I didn’t know all of it. I just figured she was spying on us for Eden’s Garden, that kind of thing. So, one night when she snuck away from the place a bunch of us were assigned to stay at for internship, I… followed her with a camera. I figured I could prove she was a traitor and get her kicked out. And that time, not even Gaia would be able to save her.”
Gesturing to one of the nearby armchairs, Klassin waited as the thing slid across the floor to him before he sat down and continued. “So, I followed her, trying to stay out of her sight. I knew what powers she had, so I could avoid her extra senses. She went to this motel. It was supposed to be closed, but there were people there. I saw her go in, so I went up onto one of the nearby roofs and watched with my camera. I thought she was meeting with her Eden’s Garden contact. But um, I was wrong. About a lot.
“As it turned out, your mom was there to meet with some Alters. There were families living there, families that didn’t have anywhere else to go, who were being hunted by—well, us. That’s the whole reason our group was assigned to that city, to find the nest of Strangers and flush them out to be… killed. But your mom was making sure that we didn’t find them. Every time we got close, she’d warn them to move somewhere else. She was protecting them, protecting the… families that were in there.”
Somehow, I managed to speak through the thick, hard lump in my throat. “I bet you loved seeing that.”
He accepted that with a nod and a pained look. “Yeah. I… I thought I hit the mother lode. I figured your mom wouldn’t just be expelled, but probably even imprisoned. Yeah, I thought it was great. So I started taking pictures. I probably would’ve taken them to my dad. Your mom would’ve been… well, everything would’ve been different. Either he’d take her in and the rebellion never would’ve started, or maybe it would’ve started early, before she graduated. But the point is, things would’ve changed a lot.”
Leaning back in the chair, he gazed at the ceiling, voice soft. “Fortunately, something else happened. There was an attack, a raid on the motel. Not from Heretics, from… you know what Nocens are?”
My head nodded. “Sure, evil Alters. It’s from um, the Latin word for wicked or… whatever, isn’t it?”
“Something like that,” he confirmed. “There used to be a few different words for them. All means the same thing. Nocens, Nequam, and lots of others. Mainly they use Nocens now. Anyway, this group of Nocens attacked the motel. And, since I was there, I got caught up in the middle of it. Not that I knew they were any different from the Alters who were already there. I figured they were all attacking me.”
He chuckled softly at his past self before continuing. “I didn’t last very long, not the way they took me by surprise. I ended up hurt pretty bad, unconscious in the basement of the building I’d been watching from. I probably would’ve died down there, except… except that a couple of the Alters found me after everything was done. They beat the Nocen that attacked, with your mothers help. Then a couple of them found me after she left. They found me, they knew what I was, but they took me in anyway. When I woke up, I was… in one of their rooms, and this… this woman, an Alter, was fixing me up.”
His silence stretched on after that for awhile, the man obviously thinking back to what had happened and the people he had met. “They took care of me,” he said quietly. “They mended me, got rid of the poison that would’ve killed me, helped give my body time to heal itself. I cursed them so much. I threatened them, screamed at them, but they held me down. They stopped me from not just hurting them, but from hurting myself. They made sure I healed, even though I would’ve killed all of them.
“I was almost better, almost healed when some of the Nocen came back. This time your mom wasn’t there. They um—they were there for me. Somehow, they found out that there was a Crossroads Heretic in the place, so they came to get me. They wanted… well, they wanted to make an example out of me. But the… the family that took me in… Truvan, Iona, and little Exa, they wouldn’t give me up. None of them would. None of the Alters, the ones I would’ve killed, they refused to give me up. I um, I wanted to fight. I tried to fight, tried to get up so I could deal with the Nocen. But Iona knew I’d fail, that I’d lose. I wasn’t ready for that yet. So she—she gave me something that knocked me out. She knocked me out and the last thing I knew, she and Truvan were hiding me.”
There was a crack in his voice as he went on, and I could see the anguish in his eyes. “When I woke up, they were dead. All of them. Not just the family that hid me, every last one of the Alters that your mom had been protecting. The Nocen killed all of them. Because of me. Because they protected me.”
He looked up to me, his eyes wet, yet fierce. “I knew from that moment that we were wrong, that Crossroads was wrong. So I did what I could to help Joselyn. I wanted to quit, I wanted everyone to know I was on her side, that I changed. But… but your mom thought it would be better if I worked as a spy, on the other side. So I did. I played the part enough that my father had no idea. And I tried to do everything I could to undermine him.
“But in the end, it wasn’t enough. He took your… your brother and sister. He took them and I couldn’t do anything about it. So your mom—she… she came in, and… and I did what I could. But when I found out that they were going to remove her, that they were going to destroy the rebellion by erasing her from everyone’s memory and violate people’s minds like that, I… I couldn’t pretend anymore. I told my father what I thought of him. I told him how much I hated him, and I… quit. I quit being his son, I took off, changed my name, changed… everything.
“I owe your mom more than I can ever repay her. I couldn’t save her twins, I couldn’t save her from prison, or from being erased from everyone’s memory. I couldn’t do anything. But I can be there for her daughter. Anything you want to say, anything you want to talk about, I can be there for you. Or not. It’s your choice. I’m not going to force you into anything, Flick. If you never want to talk to me again, if you want a different therapist, I can have someone else come in for your sessions. You deserve that kind of choice.”
For a moment, I didn’t say anything. I stood there, arms folded as I stared at the floor. Then I slowly took a step over to the other chair and sat down. “Could you…” Hesitating, I looked up. “Could you tell me a little more about my mother, what she was like? Could you just… talk about my mom some more?”
There was a slight, sad yet happy smile from the man. “Of course,” he answered quietly.
“I’d love to talk about your mother.”