Soul was born silent. The doctors were worried when he refused to scream when they first blew in his face, then slapped his tiny bottom. He simply watched everything with wide, bright green eyes, and didn’t utter a sound until he was nearly five. He was considered to be a bit slow, but he could read, he devoured books and wrote with a steady hand from the moment he could get his hand on a pen. His drawings were as haunting as they were beautiful. Soul didn’t speak consistently until he met Michelle and David, twins who moved in across the street. He was fourteen years old.
When Soul began high school it was only with Michelle and David at his side that he made it through the day. If one or the other were not at school for the day, he could immediately leave and go home. Soul was fairly intelligent, both book smart and possessing common sense, but school and social interactions couldn’t hold his interest. Teachers often realized that their time was better spent ignoring the odd quiet boy. He slipped though the seams, but never far enough for it to make a difference. He sat in the back of classes and drew, never raising a hand or speaking, but somehow passing each test.
David and Michelle together were Soul's rock. They were inseparable, the three stooges. It was an odd group, none of them particularly outgoing, or into similar things, but none seeming to be able to function without the others. It was because of this that it had ever occurred to Soul that when high should come to an end, they would not go to the same university. Michelle sang, and David played piano, and Soul painted, he assumed they would all be going to the Art Institute, but when April first came along the news dropped like a bomb.
“I got into Cornell! I’m going to study genetics, see how how we can fix so may of these diseases, I don’t understand how I got in but I’m definitely going to go!” David was so excited. He had almost gotten hit by a car on his way across the street to share the news. Soul didn’t say a word.
“Hey, don’t use up all the the air,” Michelle shoved her twin, “David isn’t the only ivy bound Green, I am going Cornell too! We both got in, maybe because we are twins and they want to do experiments on us, but still I can't wait” Soul was stunned. Devastated. How was he going to survive without them?
“Well say something.” Michelle was the more perspective of the two, and realized that Soul's silences was more than his more than his his usual quietness.
“You aren’t going to the Institute?” Soul's voice was hardly audible. They had never discussed this but he had always assumed. Always he had assumed they would be together.
“Well no- You are so good at drawing, I've had nightmares about what you draw, I just play what other people compose, it isn’t some great talent, dude, like I can't make a living. I thought you knew I wanted to go to Cornell.” David took a step toward Soul, maybe to give him a hug, Soul took a step back. He felt a lump of graphite begin to compress in his heart. A little more heat, a little more time, pressure and maybe I would have a diamond. He though. Maybe he could sell it, sell his heart, he wasn’t really using it. Then he couldn’t lose, it it couldn’t be broken.
“Oh Soul, you didn't really think that we would be here with you forever did you?” Michelle ignored Souls body language and wrapped her arms around him. “You had to know that one day we would all get married, all have families and move away from here. All end up in different places. We will come visit.”
“But you will be together. Both of you at Cornell. I won't know anyone here.” Soul hadn’t used to mind being alone. He used to crave it. But ever since four years ago when the moving van had opened and the almost identical boy and girl had run across the street to look at Soul's chalk on the sidewalk he hadn’t wanted to go back to that completely silent world.
“You'll meet people, you just have to say something, most people like to hear themselves so it won't take much to get them going.” David indicated his sister, who in turn elbowed him in the ribs. But by this time Soul was ignoring them. If they weren’t going to be there with him later, he might as well get used to them being gone now.
“Hey, don’t be mad now.” Michelle tightened her hold, Soul leaned his head on her shoulder, but in his head he had already begun his life without the twins.
The rest of senior year passed in a blur, without his rock Soul floated even more than he had before meeting the twins. His notebooks contained next to no words, only sketches of empty landscapes, abstract swirls that almost looked like watching eyes and flourishing scrawls of the alphabet, repeated until each letter blended into the next, losing all meaning.
“You will be fine Sweetie, I know you will.” Soul's mother kissed him on the cheek after she finished making the bed in the tiny dorm. His roommate still hadn’t arrived and Soul couldn’t help but hope he would never arrive.
“Please stay,” he whispered.
“What was that Sweetie?” Soul shock his head. He couldn’t make his mother stay with him. He had gotten used to being alone. Or he told himself so. Michelle and David had left earlier in the month for orientation. Soul sat on what would be his new bed for the next year at least, it was hard, and lumpy, and laid out his new sketchbook. He couldn’t think what to draw. Finally he was somewhere where drawing was what was expected of him and he had nothing to draw from, no muse, no imagination. Flopping on his back Soul watched other new and returning students find their rooms and lug their stuff through the un-airconditioned halls, laughing with each other and calling out to old friends. It looked so easy for them. He didn’t see anyone who looked nearly as lost as he felt.
“Hey! I guess you're my roomie, I’m Jon.” The door banged open and a tall gangly boy with a shock of orange and yellow hair stood in the door pulling two huge suitcases behind him. Soul looked at him silently. “I'm a theatre major, I hope you don’t mind musicals, I really love the music from a lot of them, though I really hate dancing, so I haven’t really auditioned for any recently. What do you think you are going to major in? Oh drawing maybe, or are you just planning, so painting? Do you like acrylics or oils better, I like the look of oil paints, but even if I could draw, I mean paint, I would have to use acrylic cause I’m so clumsy I would get it all over me-” the boy had to pause to take a breath. “Sorry, I keep talking, I’m just really nervous. I’ve never been on my own before.” This was nervous? Soul wondered if he had ever spoken so many words.
“I'm Soul, I like drawing, and I hate paints.” Even that was a pretty long sentence for someone he didn’t know.
“Awesome name, my name's pretty lame compared to that. I’m just named for my grandfather. Where'd your name come from?” Soul blushed. He didn’t know how to do this small talk thing, but Jon had begun to put his clothes away in the drawers left open by Soul's mom, and talking to his back wasn’t as hard as to his face.
“My dad, well I never knew him, I don’t know if my mom really did either- she said when I was born I looked at everything like I could see its soul. so.” No stranger had ever gotten that story, eve as bare bones as that telling was. But Jon didn’t feel like a stranger. He felt like a friend. Almost more than David and Michelle. They were steady, but Jon felt real.
“That's amazing, you do have intense eyes. If I could paint, I would want to paint them.” Jon looked right into Soul's eyes, then blushed. “Well I can't so I guess it doesn’t matter does it. Wanna go and see if the dining hall has anything decent to eat?”
The first week passed amazingly painlessly, even though Michelle only texted once, and David none at all. Soul assumed they were busy and spent all his time getting to know the campus with Jon. Even though it was close to home the campus was like a world of its own. Even though he didn’t speak more than a few words with anyone other than Jon, he felt like he was somewhere he could belong, for the first time in his life. It felt like he was living in a cliché, an artist among artists, finally home. But it was wonderful. He smiled at the leaves and the sculptures scattered among the buildings. He even didn’t mind the bland dining hall food. The only problem was he couldn’t draw. He tried to sketch every day, but nothing would come. His pencil was frozen above the page. He even tried to do the dull exercises some of his high school teachers had recommended, but not classically trained his attempts to draw from observation were horribly amateur and shaky. All too soon the fun was over and the work was to begin.
“I have Freshman Writing first, what do you have?” Not only was Jon an amazingly bubbly person, he was also an early riser, and a morning person. Soul looked at the other boy over his coffee and shrugged, he pushed his schedule across the slightly sticky dining hall table. “Ooh you have the same- oh you have a different one, I have Shakespeare and you have, well Art History? I didn’t know you could have that as a Writing Lab.” Jon also had the tendency of thinking out loud.
“Well you can.” Soul took another sip of his coffee. His stomach hurt, so he probably shouldn’t be drinking coffee, but a 9:00 am class was just too cruel to face without caffeine.
“Then I have Calculus. Eww I hate math. Then tomorrow I don’t have any class Wednesday I have more Writing Lab then I have more Calc, then-”
“You know I won't remember this right?” Soul rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock on the wall. “We should probably get to class, meet you for lunch?” He stood without waiting for an answer and wandered toward his class. He had met the professor on an admitted students weekend and had gotten the impression she was a bit of a hard-ass and really didn’t want to be late on the first day.
“Hello, welcome.” The professor began three minutes till nine, Soul had been right to be a bit early. “I know the vast majority of you did not come here with the the intention of writing many essays, but writing is a skill that everyone needs to master. Those of us who want to earn a living through our art will often find ourselves begging for money. I say this not because I am trying to discourage you, but because in order to do this, you need to be able to describe your art and intentions in an articulate and compelling way. The best way to practice this is to describe other's art.” She brought up a PowerPoint with a photo of a shattered window. “We will begin by describing this beautiful window. I say we because I will be doing the assignment with you, we will be grading my description so you will have an idea what I am looking for. I will give you five minutes. Begin.”
The class was not at all what Soul was imagining but he realized that he loved it. The Professor was smart and funny, but sure what she wanted from her students. Soul left the class glowing and almost ready to sign up for more writing classes. He couldn’t wait to tell Jon about it. But when he found Jon in the dining hall the other boy seemed less than ready to hear what Soul had to say.
“Oh my she was so ugly, and she wants to be Juliet? I would be more likely to get the part!” A handsome boy was lying across the table in front of Jon, who was laughing.
“She wasn’t that bad.” But the look on his face told another story.
“Don't lie.” It was a girl, sitting across from Jon. Sitting on either side of her were another girl and boy. “She is the ugliest thing you have ever seen in your life, her eyes were totally different sizes and different heights.”
“She did have a nice voice.” Said the boy.
“She could be in the chorus maybe.” said the other girl.
“I heard they are doing Wicked in the spring.” Said the boy on the table. “Maybe she could be Elphaba, no- even she's supposed to be kinda pretty.” The whole group laughed, Soul could feel his high slipping. Still he had to eat.
“Hi.” He spoke so softly he almost didn’t think they would hear him.
“Hey Soul!” At least Jon looked genuinely glad to see him, the others seemed a bit upset there hate-fest had been interrupter. “This is my roomie Soul, awesome name right? Anyway these guys are some of my fellow majors, Dale, Rose, Sarah, and Scott. Scott was the boy on top of the table. There was something off about him, something other than his casual dislike of the other girls homeliness. Something deeper.
“Hello Soul, cool name, do you have special soul reading powers?” he looked into Soul's eyes and for the first time Soul felt how is mother must have felt when he was born. His heart fluttered, it was not a good feeling.
“Not that I know of, anyway, nice to meet you all. I’m going to go do some homework.” He turned on his heel and left. He didn’t know what it was, but he knew sitting at that table and eating with that group would not go well.