Getting kicked out of boarding schools together becomes a sport for Charlie and Jed, though Jed suspects in reality it's anything but. Charlie does it because he wants to stick it to his guardian; Charlie always has something to prove and a point to make, even with seducing housemaids or painting a moustache on the portrait of the school founder. Jed does it because he suspects the rest of his life will consist of him doing what every Leland since generations has done, and depressingly enough, that probably includes a rebellious adolescence. Neither of them has to worry about not being able to finish school, of course; not Jed Leland with his old name, and not Charlie Kane with his new money. There will always be other boarding schools.
(It's only ten years later that Jed wonders whether there were also new jobs for the housemaids, whose last names were neither Leland nor Kane.)
"This is all getting a bit predictable," he says at one point, unpacking in Vermont, or maybe Massachusetts.
Charlie shrugs. "Weren't they always?"
"Not them," Jed says, because he's curious whether Charlie takes his gestures of rebellion seriously enough to be insulted. "Us. We've become a system of our own, son."
He can actually watch it, the sting of his words getting under Charlie's skin, eyebrows drawing together, lips thinning, and it's oddly exciting, because when Charlie is upset, things happen.
"Really," Charlie drawls, his newly adult basso voice feigning nonchalance, but Jed can tell he's bluffing. Still, that's all Charlie says until the evening meal, which they take in the common room together with everyone else. No privilege of dining in your own room yet; it's the latest boarding school's attempt at demonstrating everyone and their very well paying parents is equal here.
Jed comes in a bit late, not because he wants to but because he couldn't find Charlie anywhere. As it turns out, Charlie is sitting in the dining room already, holding court with a few youngsters who appear to be impressed despite the fact they can't know him from Adam, which is Charlie for you. When he spots Jed, he rises.
"Jedediah," he says loud enough for the entire room to hear, which given the noise level can't be easy, "at last!"
Jed has just a second of warning, that "I dare you to dare me" glint in Charlie's brown eyes, and then Charlie grabs him and kisses him on the lips in front of everyone. It's not a particularly good kiss, too much Charlie Kane with his small teeth and plundering tongue and not much Jed at all, but he is far too surprised to push back. At least that's what he tells himself later, when, setting a new record, they're kicked out of this boarding school as well.
"So much for being the system," Charlie says smugly as they pack, or rather, as Jed packs while Charlie is lying on the bed, fingers laced behind his back, radiating victory. What will become of Charlie when he doesn't find anything to prove anymore?
"So much for me rooming with you again," Jed says lightly. "Brush your teeth more often, will you?"
Actually, he's far from in a joking mood, but if he lets Charlie see the whole thing has genuinely upset him, he'll never hear the end of it. Sarcasm, needling and unshakeable attitude: this is what defines Jed. Charlie is the one who acts out in response.
"What's next, advice to keep my nose clean? You really are becoming institutionalized, Jed."
"No," Jed says and then he has it: the perfect response. With a mixture of weariness and disgust, he adds: "I'm just getting tired of infantile posing. It reminds me too much of my stepfather making a big production of ranting against the President and then going to White House receptions anyway. All in all a bit cowardly, don't you think? All those gestures and nothing behind them."
There: he can see it again, his words getting under Charlie's skin, every single one with a sting and a hook to tear out more victory and smugness as they leave. Charlie gets up, and this time, Jed is prepared.
You can make Charlie do almost anything if you know which buttons to press, and if you're really good at it, you don't have to admit he figured out what you wanted him to do first, Jed thinks, and his fingers curl in Charlie's dark hair, pullling just enough to hurt, as Charlie kisses him again.