July 3rd, 1985
Remy sat in his closet, hands pressed against his ears in a futile attempt to block out the noise. Tears streamed down his face as he could hear his parents’ continued argument. His mother was acting out again, because of course she was, and his dad was trying to deescalate the situation, which only ever wound up Mom more. The screaming started up, and Remy flinched, desperate for the continued argument to stop, just for a second, just so that he could feel safe enough leaving his closet to go to the bathroom.
He knew, though, that he was going to have to wait for a while to get anything he wanted, let alone that.
September 8th, 2000
Remy looked around the campus he was on with a sigh. He really didn’t know why he was doing this. College just seemed like one of those things you did just because; it wasn’t like he was going to get a job just because he had a degree. But here he was, at his parents’ insistence.
He was sipping his coffee on a park bench, watching the leaves on the trees. He had some time before his next class, and it wasn’t like he had anything better to do. “Pretty, isn’t it?” a man asked from behind him.
Turning, Remy found a man with a curly mop of red hair and bright green eyes. “Yeah, I suppose,” he said, looking back at the leaves.
The man sat down next to him with a smile. “My name’s Emile,” he said.
Remy offered his hand. “Remy.”
“Nice to meet you, Remy,” Emile said. “Mind me asking why you look so down in the dumps?”
Remy shook his head at Emile and said, “It’s nothing important.”
“It’s affecting you, so obviously it has to be important,” Emile said with a frown. “Everyone’s feelings are important, no matter what they are.”
Remy inwardly sighed and outwardly bristled. This guy was clearly intent on making friends, something that Remy didn’t want, or need. “Please. That’s the sort of thing only overly-sensitive people think. Normal people don’t need to talk out their feelings every second of the day.”
Emile blinked. “I was just trying to strike up a conversation,” he said, and his eyes looked hurt.
“Have you considered that not everyone here wants to be your friend?” Remy asked, sipping his coffee.
“Well, not everyone has to be my friend, but you’ve hung on the outskirts everywhere I’ve seen you during orientation,” Emile said. “I figured you might want to know one or two people here, just to have a familiar face around campus.”
“Touching, but I’ll be fine,” Remy grumbled. “I don’t need any friends.”
“I don’t believe you,” Emile said simply.
Remy jumped like he may has well have been stabbed. He snarled at Emile. “You don’t know anything about me! Why would you even suggest that you know my social habits better than I do?!”
Emile had his hands held up in surrender, his eyes wide. Remy sighed. This kid clearly had lived a very sheltered life. Someone had to toughen him up so he didn’t break the hard way the second someone pushed back against him. And Remy didn’t know anyone else on this campus who might be able to teach the kid anything about life, so it looked like if he wanted Emile to not get destroyed on campus, he would have to be the one to toughen him up, bit by bit. “I’m sorry,” Remy said. “I don’t...have good experiences with people trying to be my friends in the past. No one stuck around longer than it took for them to get blackmail material on me.”
“That’s terrible,” Emile gasped.
“That’s life,” Remy said, voice dull and hollow. “If you want to be my friend, I guess you can try. Just don’t be surprised if I don’t follow you when you jump off a bridge.”
Emile sat there in stunned silence for a second, before he whimpered out, “You never did answer my question.”
Remy ran a hand through his hair and took another sip of his coffee. “Why I’m upset? I don’t want to be here. College is just...extra school that you go in debt for. I don’t know what I want to do with my life; I’m taking business classes because I had a knack for math in high school, but so far the textbooks I’ve read haven’t taught me anything. I don’t have anyone on this campus that I know, and you’re the only person who’s even bothered to stick around me for longer than twenty seconds. No friends, no learning, and thousands of dollars of debt. That’s why I’m upset.”
Emile shrugged. “Well, why are you upset about having no friends if you don’t want any friends?”
“What?” Remy asked, glancing over.
“Why are you upset about having no friends if you don’t want any friends?” Emile repeated. “That would seem like a blessing, wouldn’t it? Not having to deal with people faking being your friends after high school?”
Remy shrugged. “I appreciate company. Not friendships, but I don’t like being stuck with my thoughts all the time.”
“Well, there are a couple people who I know who are throwing parties later, if you ever want to...you know...party? Have something to do outside study and not make friends?” Emile offered.
Remy glared at Emile. “And now you’re mocking me?”
“What? No!” Emile said. “You said you didn’t want to make friends? So I just...aw, shoot, it wasn’t supposed to come out that way!”
Remy scoffed. “Emile, you clearly don’t have the right social skills to be compatible friends with me. I suggest finding someone else to hang around with, because I’m certainly not your ‘pal.’”
“Actually, provided you don’t mind, I’d like to stay right here, talking to you, thanks,” Emile said, pulling out a book from his backpack and settling into the bench with a sigh. “We don’t have to be friends, but I’d still like to be a familiar face to you.”
Remy blinked. This kid...wasn’t backing down? Remy assumed he’d scurry away and regroup and Remy would have some time to figure out how to toughen Emile up, provided he came back. But he was...staying? Even after Remy had snarled at him? “Why?” Remy asked, before he could stop himself.
Emile looked up from his book, briefly shocked, before he smiled. It was soft, and kind, and nothing like Remy had ever seen directed at him before. “Because everyone deserves to be comfortable, and familiar faces tend to make people relax a little more.”
Remy frowned. “I don’t...I don’t understand you.”
“That’s okay,” Emile said, turning back to his book. “Learning to understand other people is half the fun of making friends.”
“But...I don’t want to make friends,” Remy said.
“Okay,” Emile said. “But would you want to make a friend?”
Remy scoffed. “Changing the noun in question from plural to singular does not change my sentiment.”
“It was worth a shot,” Emile said, smiling into his book. “I figured I may as well try. And it didn’t work, but now I know where you stand.”
Remy shook his head. “An optimist,” he muttered. “Of course you’re an optimist.”
“Why would that be a bad thing?” Emile asked.
“Because there’s not a silver lining to any and every situation,” Remy said, wrinkling his nose. “And I fear for the sanity of anyone who believes otherwise, because clearly, their head must not be on straight.”
“What situations aren’t there silver linings in?” Emile asked. “Every time something bad happens, it leads to something else in someone’s life, and sooner or later that ‘something else’ is something good. Something that you wouldn’t have gotten without the bad.”
“You don’t know that for a fact,” Remy warned. “You could have even gotten to the good thing faster without the bad.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Emile said. “After all, you might never have met me or anyone else on this campus if you didn’t come to college.”
Remy barked a laugh. “That full of yourself, are you?” he asked Emile.
“Well, I’m not saying I’m the epitome of good things, but a friend is always a good thing in my book. Or even just a familiar face. I’ll be around, you know. And I’m always up to help if you need a hand,” Emile offered.
This kid was sickeningly sweet, and Remy didn’t know how he had tolerated that attitude for this long. “Whatever,” Remy brushed off. “I’m fine on my own. Be a familiar face if you must, but we are not friends.”
“If you say so, Remy,” Emile said.
“I do say so, Emile,” Remy said, voice dripping venom on Emile’s name. “I need to head to my next class soon.”
“If you have a phone, we can exchange numbers?” Emile asked hopefully.
Remy arched an eyebrow. “That desperate to pester me, huh?” he asked with a sigh. “Yeah, I have a phone. Don’t really feel inclined to give you the number, though.”
“Oh,” Emile deflated, and Remy didn’t expect to feel bad for making a jab at the kid, but he did.
He groaned. “You’re making this hard,” he griped.
“What, being alone?” Emile asked.
“Not caring about anything here,” Remy grumbled. “Granted, the caring is in the sense that I hate this place and most if not all the people in it, but I was hoping I could just...apathetically make my way into getting a degree and moving on from this hovel.”
“You worry me,” Emile said.
“Do I?” Remy asked. “How so?”
“Well, I know we’ve only known each other for like, ten minutes, but I’m studying psychology so that I can become a therapist and—”
“Hold up, hold up, hold up,” Remy said. “Hold. Up. You’re studying to become a shrink?”
“Uh. Yes?” Emile said, tilting his head to the side. “Is that a problem?”
“It means we definitely can’t be friends. I don’t need you shrinking my head every chance you get to try and get me to reveal my ‘troubled past’ or find out that I’m secretly in love with my mother, or whatever. No, thank you. I hate shrinks and I loathe therapists.” Remy took another sip of his coffee, but it tasted bitter on his tongue.
“Why?” Emile asked. “They’re incredibly helpful.”
“I don’t need ‘em,” Remy scoffed. “Everyone I’ve ever met who’s talked to me for a while is like, ‘Oh, you should go see a therapist!’ And that has been the end of many a small friendship. I don’t need a therapist. Never have, never will. Just because I was the baby in the line of three, doesn’t mean I was neglected or some crap.”
“Wow,” Emile said. “Okay. There’s a lot to unpack there, for sure. But, uh, if you don’t want me to...uh...listen, that’s okay. I wouldn’t ‘shrink your head’ if I were your friend, though. Number one thing I’ve learned from talking to therapists when I ask them about what the job is like is that you can’t be a therapist to your friends. You’re too attached to the situation to make an objective observation and help the person see things from another perspective. You’re not in trouble when it comes to that, if you want me to be more than a familiar face.”
“Well, I don’t even want you to be a familiar face, you’re the one who keeps insisting on talking to me,” Remy griped. “No one ever seems to get that I just want to be left alone!”
“Well, I know extroverts don’t understand that,” Emile said. “I’m an...eccentric introvert, I guess? So I understand wanting alone time, but you’ve been alone for at least a week and a half. That’s...not necessarily healthy.”
Remy put down his coffee and groaned into his hands. “Oh. Come on. You care. Too much. You don’t even know me!” he exclaimed, turning to growl at Emile directly. “Why would you even try to get to know someone who is very obviously trying to push you away?!”
“I like the challenge, and I worry about what being isolated does to a person,” Emile responded, without missing a beat or flinching. “If you want to be left alone right now, just say so, and I’ll leave you to get to your next class or wherever you need to go. But know that when I see you again and it’s clear that you’re just hanging out and not doing anything important, I’ll come back to talk to you. Because you’re definitely on my ‘potential friends’ list now, if for no other reason than spite.”
Remy snorted at that. “Yeah, whatever. You keep telling yourself that you’re making a difference, talking to me. If it makes you sleep easier, you can call us friends. But I don’t consider you anything more than the guy who won’t shut up about friendship and being alone.”
“I can live with that,” Emile chirped, standing up. “I really have to get to my next class, but it was nice to meet you, Remy! I hope that maybe I could see you in the student lounge sometime, or maybe on the quad? I’d love to continue our discussion about whether or not friends are beneficial!”
And without another word, Emile left, humming something to himself as Remy watched on. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to toughen up Emile. He was entirely too cheery for Remy’s tastes, and he couldn’t imagine what Emile’s poor roommate must deal with. He just hoped that the guy was more patient than Remy was, because otherwise they might have a homicide on the campus.