Character Study: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
It had been a brilliant morning, the start of a great day, until Jamie Crawford ruined it. Seb drove up to the street next to his school, relishing the looks on the faces of the teens he passed. What luck, there was a space right next to the building and he slid the car in smoothly. He sat there for a moment basking. The car was a lat model, very clean, and Gerald had said that he could use it whenever he needed to.
Getting out of the car, his good mood drained away rapidly. Jamie Crawford walked by chattering madly to his crazy sister. Seb’s breath caught for a moment at the sight. They were both rather weird. The older sister was well known for her riotous hair—pink this month—her rebellious attitude, and her love for anything counter-culture.
The brother was actually the quieter of the two, wearing neat button-down shirts and pressed trousers. Crawford, a slight, rather awkward boy, was the same age as Seb but seemed at least two-three years younger. His blond hair, arranged artfully into short spikes, created a sun-kissed aureole that was dazzling, but the smaller boy’s wide brown eyes always caught Seb’s attention. What caused a slow burn of resentment in Seb’s gut, however, was the male Crawford’s attitude. Traipsing around in his lavender shirts and gold earring, his privileged air of wealth and ease conflicted with the shy, rattled look he affected almost constantly. However, what eclipsed the life of ease, the flamboyance that the little poofter flaunted—what really made Seb angry enough to want to lash out was the power that semed to surround Crawford like a short-circuited electric blanket. Jamie Crawford was different: he was a magician, and a powerful one, too. Seb could tell, because he was a magician, too.
Seb had always known that he was different. Back before the disaster struck, back when they were all still happy, Seb didn’t know that different was bad.
“Gurgle!” Up Teddy went, down Teddy came! Five-year- old Seb clapped his hands, delighting in the light glinting off Teddy’s fur. He looked at Gareth’s truck and Charlie’s cars, and called them over too. Soon Teddy was followed by a line of dancing toys. Up Teddy went, down Teddy—
“Oh!” There was Mummy at the door. Her eyes were wide and her mouth looked funny, all open and wet.
“Look, Mummy,” Seb cried. He waved his hands, and up Teddy went, down Teddy—
‘Ow!’ Seb’s ears rang with Mummy’s screams. He watched her face turn mottled red and white, her body shuddering like crazy. He called Teddy to himself and curled up in the corner of the bed. Seb was frightened, though he didn’t know why, and began sobbing quietly.
Daddy, who had run in, try to hug her, their voices loud and fast. Mummy was still screaming about Seb and Teddy and Daddy looked really angry. Eventually, even with the noise, Seb, tired and cried out, fell asleep.
Seb knew that he’d killed his Mummy and Daddy. They had left Seb and his brothers alone while they’d gone for a drive. Then their car had wrecked and they’d died. Then there’d been a funeral and Mummy’s sister taken them to her home to care for them. But she grew scared of Seb, though he tried to keep from making his toys fly anymore.
Seb looked at the sparkles drifting in the air. Just when they’d start to fall back down, he’d blow the dust on the windowsill and they’d float up again, catching the wan, late-afternoon sun. He giggled, the first time since they’d left Aunt Sarah’s.
At the age of seven, Seb still wasn’t sure what ‘foster’ homes were, but this last place was nice. Mrs. Kirk, a plump woman with a large house and yard, was really nice. She smiled a lot, and was amazed at how smart Gareth was, and how sweet and funny Charlie was. She wasn’t amazed at Seb, but smiled at him all the same.
Seb tried to be nice. He tried to do his spelling words and sums. He tried to smile sweetly and say funny words. But, it was hard. He was often sad because of Mummy and Daddy. Sometimes, though, when the light was pretty and sparkly, he could forget that he’d killed them, that he wasn’t smart or funny, or that he would do strange things.
Seb was so engrossed in watching the dancing dust motes that he didn’t hear Mrs. Kirk’s little terrier enter the room. When there was a really, really high spurt of sparkles, he clapped his hands, startling the dog, who barked at the sudden sound. Startled, Seb threw up his hands and watched with dismay as Duffy was tossed out of the window.
Fortunately, the little dog landed in the soft growth of Mrs. Kirk’s flowerbed. Unfortunately, it appeared to Mrs. Kirk, who’d been weeding said flowerbed, that Duffy had been tossed out of the window. Seb couldn’t explain what had happened without telling her that he was ‘different.’
The three boys were moved yet again to another foster home. And another. And another. Seb tried, he really tried, but he was never good enough with his schoolwork or good enough dealing with other people or good enough at not being ‘different.’ The foster mothers never seemed to like Seb, who had grown more sullen and withdrawn with each new placement.
The warm summer sun awakened Seb. He stretched in the bed, looking around the room he shared with his brothers. This foster home wasn’t as nice as the last. There were many more children here, for one, and the food wasn’t as good or plentiful. Mrs. Ross was okay, but she didn’t have much time for them, preferring to watch the telly to watching the children. Life was actually better when Mr. Ross wasn’t around.
It was another visitation day. Most foster homes hosted them, in which people seeking to adopt older children would come and spend time talking with them. Seb remembered that several of the children had been adopted through such events over the years. Sighing, he got up and gathered his supplies for his washing up. He had several chores to do before the afternoon’s festivities.
Seb stumbled back up to the room, which seemed so much larger without Gareth’s and Charlie’s stuff. His brothers had been adopted. The foster people had tried to keep the boys together but every time prospective adoptive parents came to see the boys they seemed repelled by Seb’s unhappiness. When the social worker explained that Gareth and Charlie could find a nice home and when Seb ‘felt better,’ he could join them, he could see the hopeful sheen in his brothers’ eyes. Seb smiled sadly and hugged them for what he hoped wasn’t the last time. Gareth and Charlie, already dreaming of real curtains, soft beds, and good food, tried to dislodge Seb who was clutching them desperately, and his brothers’ goodbyes were distant and rather hurried.
That night, alone for the first time in his life, Seb tried to float his spelling book. It never stirred. He was abandoned, he was sad and hurt and angry, he was still not good enough, but at least he was no longer ‘different.’ It was poor consolation.
Over the next few years and the next few foster homes, Seb realized that he would never be placed with his brothers. Even though he was no longer doing strange things, he was still sad and resentful. As he got older, the foster homes were poorer and rougher, with foster parents that cared only for the subsidies, and with children who worked out the pecking order amongst themselves.
Seb quickly figured out those who he could intimidate. He also learned to recognize those with whom he had to keep his head down, waiting and praying for them to move on to another home or a detention centre or for he himself to be transferred. He grew tougher, learned to fight, learned to ignore pain and pretend he was fine. In this, he fit in with the other foster kids. In this, at least, he was normal. He’d also found himself falling in with older, tougher kids in school, and begun acting out angrily.
At every new school, Seb would learn who the tough kids were. He knew that he would have to establish himself to avoid challenges from others. When he moved to a new foster home in Exeter, the process was laughably easy. He soon developed a small circle of boys that he felt he could eventually call friends. So even thought this foster home was the worst so far, the school situation was much better. Until he met Jamie Crawford.
The blonde was strange and fascinating—reminding Seb of the warm sparkling lights that had mesmerized him for years. Crawford could apparently natter on some bizarre observations for hours on end, driving his freinds to stare at his antics. He slouched through classes in a manner that suggested he was doing the world a favor by existing. He was blatant about his homosexuality, inviting ridicule and abuse in the schoolyard.
That was the part that really drove Seb crazy. The boy had magical power pouring off of him in waves. It was salty and rich and Seb could feel his own magic responding. The problem was that Crawford seemed unaware of his power. When confronted or even hassled by the other boys, Crawford affected a quite convincing helpless attitude that was so at odds with his level of power that it caused Seb’s teeth to itch.
Who the hell was this spoiled little brat to pretend to be so innocent and vulnerable? Why didn’t he use his power to help himself? Why did he allow himself to be so harassed when he could easily defend himself? It bothered Seb so much that he got angrier with each encounter, becoming the small boy’s most determined attacker. He wanted to see what the little idiot would do when pushed. Would he make things fly like Seb used to be able to do? Would things explode? Disappear?
Seb had noticed that Crawford was growing thinner and paler over the past few weeks. Something was definitely up. When the boy, who’d previously never missed a day of school, was absent for over a week, Seb tried to ignore the clenching that took hold of his stomach. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed his favorite target until the boy returned, seemingly none the worse for wear.
It was then that Gerald came into Seb’s life. He’d seen the slightly older, rather forgettable man with sandy hair and clear blue eyes, talking with Crawford one day after school, soon after the boy’s return. Crawford had turned to leave, and Gerald had watched the boy walk away. Turning back to the street, his eyes caught Seb’s, and with a stab of electricity, they both recognize each other as ‘different.’ Seb wanted to run to hide from this man, but he was frozen to the spot.
“Hullo there,” the man said, gently, a soft, kind of self-joking sort of manner wrapped around him. He talked like Seb was a wild animal about to bolt.
“Hullo,” Seb responded. He refused to get excited. There was a lot of danger in allowing himself to think about his difference.
“Do you mind if I talk with you for a few minutes? I think that I may be able to answer some questions that you may have had.”
Seb snorted at that. How could this stranger know anything about a boy he’d never met before?
Well, apparently the man, Gerald, could tell him quite a bit. The two of them were magicians, as was Crawford. They were able to use their power to do magic in many forms. In fact, Gerald said that even though Seb had ‘sublimated’ his ability to survive in a non-magical world, once he had some lessons, he could regain his ability to make things fly, and more besides.
In fact, Gerald, with Seb’s permission, could take him to live in the house that belonged to the local magician’s circle. They would be his new foster family. He could live in comfort, continue to go to school, but also take lessons in magic. There were apparently ways that could boost Seb’s power to allow him a lot of variety in his magical practices. Gerald was a little vague in those ‘ways,’ saying that they would get to that all in due time.
Seb was ecstatic. After years of being forced from one foster home to another, to actually be asked if he wanted to join a group of people who would be like ‘family’ to him was a dream come true, as was living with them. They were nice and helpful. He got his own room, down in the basement of the beautiful house, near the circle’s power stones. He felt his power grow even stronger just being so close to their focal stones.
Seb’s heart felt full to bursting. He’d never imagine that life could be so full of promise. The Obsidian Circle thought that Seb had potential. For the first time since his parent’s died, someone other than his brothers thought that Seb was worth something. Crawford’s sister thought that Seb was handsome and funny and sweet. He was more than good enough.
Mae, Crawford’s sister was beautiful. She had deep, beautiful brown eyes, a pixie face, and except for her pink hair, was quite breathtaking. He’d never liked any one girl before, but she was really special. It was a little bizarre that one day, she’d decided that they were dating. He was never quite sure what to do when she touched him, as it felt really felt strange, but he was sure he’d get used to it.
He’d also discovered in art class that he was quite talented. He’d been sketching landscapes and people—well, mainly Crawford. He’d turned out to be such a wonderfully rewarding subject that he was easy to capture. Seb had amassed a number of sketches of his classmate in different settings and situations. It was unbelievable how complicated the boy was, and Seb hoped that drawing him would give some insight.
Crawford was beginning to accept his power—Seb knew it was just a matter of time. The boy was powerful and smart, so much that everyone in the circle was determined to recruit him. Seb hoped so. The smaller boy was just beginning to warm to Seb, complimenting his drawings and sitting next to him and smiling that secret smile at Seb. He was sure that once Crawford joined the circle they would become really close friends.
Seb finally belonged, he was no longer ‘different,’ he was enough. His life was finally going beautifully. Nothing could stop him now.