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Orson spent a lot of time in his head as a child. It led to a series of creative writing projects and crudely drawn comics that earned him a series of impressive grades and awards, as he took the worlds he created when left alone and put them down on paper. Or he did, until something [i]changed[/i] and suddenly, the worlds in his head became worlds he could reach. He didn’t know how it happened the first time. One moment he was spinning lazily circles wishing he had something-anything-to do, nothing in his room but him and his thoughts (and his mother’s dog, Seymour, who had been napping on Orson’s bed) and the next, he was spinning around to see something that definitely hadn’t been there just moments before. Where there had once been open air, there was now a shimmering strip; a tear in the fabric of his world. Ten year old Orson, left alone for the first time one summer, approached it with a reasonable amount of caution. He poked it and prodded it and slowly, it got bigger. At first only his fingers fit. His hand followed, then his arm, and then Orson was attaching a leash to Seymour’s collar and taking the dog with him because there was something on the other side of that tear but there was no way in hell he was checking it out alone. Seymour was a big dog, some weird collie mix that could eat kittens whole if he wasn’t such a softie, and even if he was a scaredy cat and mostly harmless, Orson felt better going somewhere unknown with him. If it came down to it, Seymour would have probably been able to fight off any threats they encountered.
No threats were encountered. Not the first time at least. On the other side of the tear, Orson found not the black void he’d been expecting or some terrible monster like he had been fearing. He instead found the lush forests, wide rivers, and bustling cities he’d been coming up with in his head for years. Together, he and Seymour tentatively explored, coming back hours later as his parents pulled into the driveway in their respective vehicles. It had been a good day, and Orson had come back with so many ideas, so many things to write down.. The tear closed-thankfully, because he had no idea how he was going to explain [i]that[/i] to his parents-and Orson went down for dinner. Seymour, he said, had gone on the best walk of his life, when his parents asked why the dog had a leash still on, and they were going to go again tomorrow.
They didn’t go the next day, only because Orson couldn’t quite figure out how they'd gotten there the first time. Seymour did go for a walk, but it wasn't the best one of his life and it had only been around town. Nothing exciting, nothing the two of them hadn’t already seen before. Eventually, around the time he turned eleven, Orson had figured it out. The journeys became more frequent-as long as his parents weren’t home and he wasn’t in school all day, Orson was there, with Seymour dutifully following along. Sometimes, nothing happened. Sometimes, they had to fight monsters and solve problems, but all the time, Orson came home with his head full of ideas and his hands itching to write them all down before they were lost. As Orson wrote, the world expanded. As the world expanded, new ones came. With new worlds came more practice for new tears-portals, really, but named by a child who recognized their shape as something familiar as a rip in a newish pair of jeans-.and soon Orson had no problem going whenever he pleased, wherever he pleased. Within reason. Always within reason.
Now if he could have just portaled out of math class, he would have, but going through involved his actual body leaving the place he started from, and that would have been impossible to explain and probably would have lead to some horror movie situation where people in white coats poked and prodded at him, and that just wasn’t worth skipping even just five minutes of algebra, Even if he really, really, hated algebra.
Right before he was set to start the sixth grade, the Rockwells picked up and moved shop. His father had been offered a permanent position in Chicago, one that seriously cut down on the amount of time he spent traveling from place to place, but only so long as the entire family settled down there. This was fine with his mother, who was excited about the prospect of a job in a bigger hospital with better tech and resources than the one she had worked in since before Orson had even been a thought and it was fine with Seymour, who was a dog and really didn’t care where they lived as long as he had a bed to take over and food to eat. It was not, exactly, fine with Orson who was maybe a bit terrified of moving to a big city where he knew no one, but he was powerless to stop it because he was twelve and really, no amount of complaining from a twelve year could convince his parents they needed to stay in a tiny village in Rhode Island, even if they had an excellent view of the water that people would kill to have in their front yard.
They drove, only because packing Seymour onto a plane seemed impossible. Orson’s father flew ahead, so it was just his mother, Orson, the dog, and a u-haul. Orson and Seymour slept for most of it, the dog making an excellent pillow for a dozing preteen who was already missing the comforts of home. Moving was uneventful. Even Orson eventually felt better about it, because the house they’d found had an even bigger bedroom for him-which meant an even bigger bed for Seymour to steal- and it had an absolutely massive yard. Unpacking was the worst, but they managed. And then the thing Orson had been both waiting for and fearing happened: middle school in a brand new place, in a building big enough to swallow his old one whole, surrounded by more people than he had probably ever seen in his life.
He loved it.
It was just another world to tackle. One he had to tackle without Seymour, who couldn’t go to school because he was a dog and also not a very smart dog, but nonetheless, it was something Orson eventually acclimated to with little problems. He missed his old school and his old friends dearly, but he fit right in as if he’d been in Chicago forever, and was soon that smiley kid who could probably write that english paper for you and get you an A if he wasn’t so damn polite. But before he earned a reputation as that smart but also sporty (a whiz kid at whatever athletic pursuit happened to seize his attention) kid who would help you with your homework but who refused to do it for you (even if you really needed that A), he had to go and get punched in the face. Which, really, hadn’t been how he’d seen his first day going.
He can’t remember now what started it, but something happened. Something had set this other boy off and Orson left school that day with a very sore, but thankfully not broken, nose and the beginnings of a black eye.
Normally a very peaceful person, Orson was surprised to find out just how irritated he was by that turn of events. He hadn’t been doing anything wrong, just going from class to class and trying to make friends as quickly as possible because he didn’t really want to be alone, and the someone he hadn’t even had a chance to introduce himself to was trying to fight him. He’d been about to say hello, even, and he’d been perfectly cordial like he’d been raised to….the next day, in a fit of frustration, he tracked that same boy down, summoned up what courage he had-because he’d never raised a hand to anything or anyone that wasn’t something he’d made up himself and this was rather frightening to do...what if he hit back again? Orson didn’t think his poor face could take another hit.-and he punched him.
In the arm, because he wasn’t mad enough to give them matching battle wounds.
They became best friends after that, a turn of events that Orson has never truly been able to explain. Day one they’d been set to be enemies. Rivals, like something out of his stories, and then on day two, it was if Orson and August had been together forever somehow, like they’d always been meant to be friends but the world had hiccuped at the wrong time. For years, it was August and Orson, Orson and August. If you saw one, the other was never far behind. If they didn’t have a class together-which sometimes happened-people could bet that was the one class where they were the most fidgety and restless students in the room. They did everything together, shared everything. Orson, who usually on saved his best work for writing competitions and prize money (because college was expensive and he wanted to be prepared, had wanted to be prepared since day one), even shared his stuff with August. He didn’t share the portals, didn’t take his best friend into that world, but he wasn’t sure if he was ever going to be ready to share that with anyone. He didn’t know if it was ever going to be safe.
Eventually, Orson discovered girls. And by “girls”, it was really just one girl. Her name was Hazel Atkins, and she, like him, moved to Chicago at the start of the year. Of course, he’d beaten her there by a few years, but it didn’t really matter. She was pretty and when she even so much as looked at him at first, he found it impossible to talk in complete sentences and not sound like he’d lost the ability to speak in an unfortunate accident of some sort. He did manage to pull himself together to ask her out finally, and from that point onward August and Orson became August, Orson and Hazel. Where the boys went, Hazel went, and the trio drifted through high school as easily as three teenages could. High school might not have been an experience Orson would like to live through a second time, but he was lucky enough to leave it with more fond memories than bad ones. All throughout, Orson was happy. He still visited the places he felt most at home, the ones he had made for himself, though not as often. They had still grown vast, the material the generated seemingly endless because as long as Orson could imagine something, his imagination could expand these secret places. He even took Seymour along, until the dog began to get too old and too slow. Even then, Orson would carry him in and sit him down in a sunny patch of grass. He would write. Seymour would doze, and things were good.
Orson and Hazel were the poster children for a perfect couple of high school sweethearts. Even in a school as big as theirs happened to be, people knew about them. They expected things from them and the couple was more than happy to deliver. They ate together, went on dates together, and attended school events sitting side by side. Hands were held as they walked through the the halls, though one arm was always reserved for it’s place over August’s shoulders, a spot they had occupied from very early on in their friendship. And, of course, they went to prom together. Well...they went as a group, because of course Orson wasn’t going to leave his best friend out, but he danced primarily with Hazel and Hazel alone. It was a good night, a great night. At some point he had lost track of his best friend, as Hazel could be very distracting when she had it in her mind to be so, but she made it so he didn’t have time to worry about where August had gone until the next morning. He meant to apologize when he called, because he had a feeling he hadn’t been the friend he should have been, but explaining that he’d been distracted by his girlfriend led into talking about why she had been so distracting and then he was talking about what they had done after prom had ended...and he’d maybe confessed that he was in love with her. But August seemed happy for him, didn’t seem mad...it was okay. Life went on, and Orson started writing love into his stories. It was relevant to him, to put the people he cared about in without actually letting them see his world.
He graduated. They all did. He was going to go to school back on the east coast, where the ocean was simply a drive away (a few hours, but worth it) and Hazel was going to go with him, August wasn’t, but that was okay. It would only be for a few months at a time that they wouldn’t see each other...and they always had facebook and phone calls. They’d make it work, but Orson promised he’d miss his friend. A lot. And he did, but not before he made the biggest leap of his life. He loved Hazel. It all seemed so clear. Of course they were going to get married before they left. Of course, she said yes, and of course, he was going to ask August to be his best man because who else in the world was more perfect for it? Seymour, bless his soul, lasted long enough to take part in the wedding. The old dog, who had slowly become Orson’s instead of his mother’s, was the one who carried the rings down the aisle, pulling them along in a little wagon. He hadn’t been surprised when Hazel had agreed to let the old mutt take on such an important job. She had grown to love him as much as Orson did.
Orson was beside himself when he lost that dog, but he pulled through. As soon as he had the time, some of Seymour’s ashes were sprinkled in a field he had found and loved on one of Orson’s childhood adventures, the one he had napped in while Orson worked his way through high school and college applications. Orson and Hazel went off to school, and soon it wasn’t hard to focus on something else instead of grieving because he had mountains of homework and projects to work through. There was always a feeling of something missing, but it always seemed to go away when he went back home. He found himself always apologizing when he did. He never called as much, and it was all his fault, but he was just so busy. Busy with school, busy with work, busy with Hazel, just busy with life. But then he graduated, and Hazel was just so happy where they were that he didn’t have the heart to make her leave. His visits were limited to holidays, when their families called them home for gifts and too much food, and it became harder and harder to make time for everyone. Vacations were so limited, his time so scarce. He’d managed to gather up the nerve to polish up his earliest work and send it off to hopefully be published, because the world he’d made was so important to him that it just made sense to make it even more a part of his life. And things were good. It got picked up. It lined bookshelves, and they wanted more, so he had to sit down and fix up what he had until he ran out of old material.
For the longest time, he didn’t need to go back as much. He had plenty to live off of for a while. Only recently did he start to run out of material, and then, when he had to go back, he decided to bring his wife along. It was high time he let someone in, and this was going to easier than lying about where he was going to be for hours at a time. Or so he had thought. He’d opened a tear and gone to get his wife. He’d expected one reaction when he’d lifted his hands from her eyes-something happy, something excited because Hazel had only ever embraced who he was, this endlessly creative soul- and he got another entirely. Fear. Maybe repulsion. He couldn’t understand the look on her face. She left the room. He closed the tear. They stopped talking.
Stopped sleeping in the same bed. She flinched when he tried to come close.
It wasn’t exactly a surprise when he found the divorce papers on his desk, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt any less. He signed them, because the only way to fix things was to stop being who he was, and Oron wasn’t sure that was possible. She wanted the house they had moved into; that was fine. He couldn’t stay there anymore. It hurt too much to look at things and remember how, only recently, they had been so perfect. They split as amicably as they could, telling everyone else it was simply because they had fallen out of love and nothing more, and Orson packed up his clothes, and his books, and the things he wanted to keep. They were packed into boxes and placed in his car, and he went back to the only place that he could think of.
Chicago felt like an old friend, somewhat distant but still welcoming and familiar. He moved into the home they had bought when his family had first arrived. His parents no longer needed it, having decided to downsize now that it was just the two of them. They had meant to sell it, but when Orson had announced that his marriage had dissolved and he was coming home, they gave it to him. He moved into their old room, turned his old room into an office, and for a while….he just didn’t really do anything. He slept. He ate. He cried a bit more than he’d like to admit, and then he opened up a pathway to a place that felt like home and went there. He’d packed a bag, let his family know he was going on a trip (to where, he did not say) and that he’d be back when his head was clear.
He stayed for two weeks, and came back feeling better than he had before. Still a bit brokenhearted, but better. He’d buried his ring in the dirt, which made the load he carried on his shoulders feel lighter, and he began to write. He needed to, because he was being asked for more, but he also needed to, because it was therapeutic. Maybe things weren’t fine...but they were going to be.
His next goal: To reconnect. There’s a hole in his heart and all he wants is the comfort of something familiar. For all he knows, familiar wants nothing to do with him. Who would, after what he had done? But it’s worth a try.
And maybe he’ll get a dog. It’s been so long since he had one.