The next day, classes went by in a flash. My mind was so occupied by the turkey project that I could not recall anything I learned in class that day. Although I was sure nothing too serious would happen to Tutto, an unpleasant feeling kept poking at a corner of my heart. Something was going to go horribly wrong, I could feel it, but I wish I knew what it was.
Tutto’s unusual fragility of last night also added to my anxiety. Although he had finally opened up to me again, he still wasn't his old self. What happened to the obnoxious laugh, the dancing limbs, the endless talks? Why did he seem so weak and pale? Why was he staggering when we were walking down the stairs from the roof? All these questions clogged up my brain and prevented me from noticing that classes had already ended and my three buddies were all standing beside my seat, trying to wake me up from my thoughts.
"Jamey!" Paul was literally shouting into my ear.
I jerked up. "Sorry! I...was thinking about something."
"You alright, man?" Albert slapped me hard on the back, but immediately realized that that wouldn't help and started rubbing my back to ease the pain.
"I think we can safely assume it has something to do with Leona?" Daichi tapped his chin thoughtfully. "I've noticed you two haven't been talking to each other for a while."
I shook my head. "I'm fine. Let's go! We're late."
The four of us filed up to the top of the roof, where a once again overdressed Tutto sat waiting for us. Not only did he have his toque, scarf, and thick jacket, he also wore ear muffs and wool gloves. Huddled in front of the wall he had sat against the night before, he seemed to be shivering uncontrollably.
"Hey, Tutto Freeman! How's it going?" Albert greeted the bundle of clothing.
"Wow. You must really hate the cold! Youalright?" Paul helped the shuddering boy to his feet. Being the most considerate of the three, Paul must have also sensed something peculiar about Tutto’s behaviour.
"This ought to help with the chill." Daichi held out the giant turkey costume. "I hope this didn't come out as too much of a surprise for you."
All this time, Tutto didn't say a word, nor did he respond to anything. He stood motionlessly as Paul and Daichi put the turkey costume on him. The costume fit nicely over the multiple layers of clothing already piled onto the skinny boy, and the giant red wattle hung comfortably on his thick wool scarf.
To be honest, he looked rather adorable.
"Well. You look better than I had expected." Daichi nodded his head, quite impressed with himself.
Finally, I opened my mouth to ask the question that had been clawing on the walls of my scalp all day. "Hey, guys. Do you mind if I did the choreography instead?"
The guys looked to one another before Paul put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Break a leg, Jamey."
After some quick reminders from Daichi and a couple hard slaps on the back from Albert for good luck, my three buddies disappeared behind the iron door of the roof, ready to start the show. I stared at the closed door for quite some time, my mind exploding with questions and anxieties yet empty at the same time.
"Tutto is excited." The quiet voice from behind me jerked me back to the real world. I'm really daydreaming a lot today.
"Jamesy and his friends are amazing." I spun around and was met with air. "Tutto?"
"Down here." I looked down and saw that the giant turkey had nestled itself against the brick wall again. I sighed a sigh of both relief and frustration, and plopped down beside the pile of feathers.
"Tutto, are you really alright?"
The orange-eyed boy gave me a small smile but didn't say anything. I could see that he was still shivering a little.
"Let's get you inside." I offered to help him up. "You'll be warmer there."
Tutto rejected my offer with a gentle shake of the head. His wings hugged his bulky knees, and he tucked his chin on top of the padded red wattle. His large orange eyes peered towards my direction, his expression telling me that he was comfortable where he was and had no intention of moving anytime soon. Or it could have been the look of someone who was completely helpless and was silently calling out for help. I've never excelled at reading people's faces.
I sighed again unconsciously. "Thanks for coming. You didn't have to."
Tutto continued to stare at me with those blazing eyes, but he didn't utter a sound.
"Especially since you know what we're going to do to you." I suddenly felt extremely tired. The day had been long and nerve-racking.
Tutto smiled a meek smile again and shook his head slowly. "Tutto likes Jamesy’s friends. They play fun games with Tutto."
I threw a sympathetic look at the turkey monster, but before I was able to speak, the bird said softly, "Besides, Tutto trusts Jamesy."
My half-opened mouth snapped shut. Guilt rushed through my body like contaminated blood. But I held up a firm fist and gently gave Tutto’s feathery shoulder a friendly punch. "You'll be fine. I made sure they didn't plan anything horrible."
Tutto smiled again.
Suddenly the iron door swung open and Paul stood at the doorway, gesturing to me that it was time for the turkey to show up. Paul and I helped Tutto to his feet and down the stairs. None of us said anything during the descent: Tutto, as usual, would not be speaking in front of Paul; I was preoccupied with a plan to both satisfy what my buddies expected of the Turkey Monster, yet still keep Tutto unharmed; Paul, on the other hand, had something surprising on his mind.
“Hey, Jamey.” Paul said after we finally reached the designated level. “I know you’re always gentle to people, but be easy on Freeman, eh?” I glanced over to the shorter boy, confusion and gladness written all over my face.
Paul put a hand on the feathery shoulder of Tutto. “He wouldn’t say anything but I can see he’s not feeling the best. He might have caught a cold or something.” Paul peered up at the turkey’s blank expression with a frown. “I know we’re bullying him and everything but we don’t want anything horrible to happen to him. Besides, he’s a weird dude but he’s a good dude. I’m getting to like him a lot.”
I gaped at Paul a second too long, my mouth hung open, stunned. But as I looked to Tutto, I was shocked even more. Behind the gigantic red wattle, behind the thick wool scarf, and underneath the soft, light amber bangs pressed down by his olive green toque, Tutto was gently smiling. This was the first time I had ever seen Zombie-Boy smile in front of someone other than me.
“Hey!” Paul had seen the smile as well. “Look, he’s smiling!” I laughed. It was a pleasant sight.
After some more reminders and a couple friendly fist bumps with Tutto, Paul left us to help Albert with his superhero scenes.
“Okay. So when we hear the crowd walking past the hall, you’re gonna go out and pretend to attack some of the people.” I grabbed the turkey’s hands and held them up high. “Something like that, like you’re a bear, you know? And I’ll make some monster turkey noises for you.”
I couldn’t see Tutto’s mouth behind the wattle, but I could sense there was a smirk somewhere in there.
“I think this is stupid too, alright?” I sighed for the enth time that day.
“Oh yeah, and when Albert comes out and starts punching at you, you gotta be careful and dodge properly. He doesn’t want to actually hit you, but the guy has problems knowing his own strength.”
From the far end of the hall, the laughing and chattering of the audience was becoming audible.
“Last note. When Albert pulls you with the chain, make sure you follow him. I don’t want him to break your neck.” The noise of the crowd announced the entrance of the turkey. “Okay. Go!”
I pushed the turkey out into the hall and started growling and snorting. Tutto kept his hands in the air and walked slowly towards everyone. The people in the audience were screaming and laughing at the same time. They had been expected a turkey, but rather a cooked one, and not a giant ball of feather staggering towards them.
“No fear, my dears! The Turkey Slayer is here!” Albert in the mask “flew” out from one of the classroom windows and stepped in front of the giant turkey. He pointed a finger at the monster, “Terrorize us no more, Turkey Monster! It is now your time to surrender.” He started throwing fists at Tutto, who still kept his hands in the air. One of the punches landed on Tutto’s right shoulder and he fell backwards. The crowd roared with laughter.
I quickly helped Tutto up and maneuvered his bulky body around so as to avoid Albert’s ever-so-unnecessarily-strong hits. Finally, after what seemed like a century, Albert’s fight routine was over, and I hooked the long chain to the collar on the turkey costume and threw it over to the masked hero.
Catching it, Albert held his end of the chain high in the air and declared, “The turkey monster has been conquered! My dear friends, you no longer need to fear!” With that, he “flew” back towards the stairs to the roof, dragging a chained Tutto along with him.
“Slow down, Albert. He can’t even walk properly…” I silently pled.
Daichi and Paul emerged from the crowd and walked up beside me as the audience all cheered and applauded for us. After the clapping died down, Daichi cleared his throat and announced that there was going to be cooked turkey after all. As everyone followed my two buddies to the promised food, I spotted a head of shimmering blond hair in the midst of the crowd. Instead of going along with the flood of people, the blond head stood dead still in its place, like a stubborn crystal rock keeping its ground, fighting against the rushing river. When the people disappeared around the corner of the hallway, I stood face to face with that stubborn rock.
“Leona.” Was all I could say. I haven’t talked to her since the Halloween incident; rather, I haven’t seen her at all since that day. The fact that she suddenly showed up in front of me proved enough to beat the words out of my head.
“I see you’re still finding pleasure in people’s suffering.” She said coldly. “You’ve moved on too. You’re not merely a spectator anymore, but you’re part of the show now.”
“Hey, Leona.” I said, trying to lighten up the mood. We hadn’t officially broken up, so I didn’t want any more bad feelings. “I asked Tutto and told him everything we were planning. He agreed to participate.”
“So you just take advantage of his trust in you.” Leona’s eyes were like sharp knives ready to carve me to pieces. “You’re the only one he opens up to and you take advantage of that.”
I frowned. “How do you know I’m the only one he opens up to? How did you even find out that he talks to me?”
“James. I’m your girlfriend.” Leona combed a hand through her smooth hair in frustration. “When you go creeping up onto that roof, don’t you think at least someone would notice? Your buddies could find you up there; don’t you think I could too? I’m not stupid!”
“Wait.” I held up a hand to stop her. “So you’ve been spying on us? How many times have you been up there?”
“I got a bit worried when you were half an hour late that morning. You said you were meeting someone and there was guilt written all over your face, so I decided to follow you the second time.” Leona crossed her arms in front of her chest. “That was when Freeman got dumped by water and flour. You had run off in a hurry when he disappeared from the cafeteria. Never did I expect you would be running off to meet him on the roof, but at least it was a relief. You were helping him, so I left you two alone.”
“You still didn’t answer my question.” I said, a little upset that she would be suspecting me of things.
“A few times.” Leona admitted. “I went up there a few times to see what you were doing.”
“Why?” I pushed my fists into my jeans pockets to calm myself down. “You knew I wasn’t seeing some girl, so why did you still follow me? And why don’t you just show yourself like my buddies? Why did you have to spy on us?”
“You turn into a completely different person up there. Both of you.” Leona hugged herself. “He’s so open, and happy. And you, you become so honest.” She hugged herself tighter. “You’re never that honest in front of me.”
The fists in my jeans pockets loosened. I peered over to the slender woman standing in front of me. Her blond hair, although still beautiful, seemed a bit disheveled from all the frustration; her stance was still elegant, yet her shoulders were slouched. At first glance, Leona may look her usual, proud self, yet when I looked closer, she seemed as helpless and fragile as a kitten stranded on a tree. I felt the urge to hug her, but stopped myself, knowing that intimacy isn’t her strong part.
“Leona…” I dug through my brain for the right words. “I’m sorry” was all I could come up with.
Leona stood where she had been the whole time, hugging herself, looking to me, waiting for me to say something, to start being honest to her.
The fists in my pockets tightened again. I knew that what was going to come out of my mouth wasn’t going to be pretty.
“I want to break up.” I blurted. I lowered my gaze for it was impossible to look her straight in the eyes. I heard a soft gasp.
“I just can’t seem to treat you truthfully. Believe me, I’ve tried many times, but there just always seems to be this gap between us that I can’t cross.” I let my eyes wander to one of her glistening earrings. “I really liked you, so I tried my best to be intimate with you without making you uncomfortable, but it’s just so hard.” I finally brought up the courage to look her in the eyes; her sharp, piercing eyes. “I’m exhausted.”
To my surprise, Leona’s glance softened. Her beautiful emerald eyes seemed to loosen like unraveling fists. I noticed that they started to water, but she held her dam up long enough for her to nod and turn around.
“I understand.” She whispered, her back towards me. Then she swiftly pranced off.
I stood and stared at the empty space where Leona had stood; the shadow of her delicate figure still lingered in the air where she had been. I had been thinking about saying those words to her for some time already, even before the Halloween incident when we had stopped talking to each other. The words had been rehearsed in my head a million times, but I had never gotten the courage to spill them out.
I had expected the strong, gushing feeling of finally letting out something I had been holding in for a long time, but I was surprised when I realized I wasn’t feeling anything. The day had been a full day of anxiety and nerves, perhaps my body had already grown numb with fatigue.
However, it felt strange not being able to feel anything after a break up. I didn’t feel the guilt that should had come with those selfish words I had just uttered. I couldn’t feel the sadness that should had overcome me after breaking up with a girl I had been dating with for a year. I wish Leona could have been more emotional; perhaps her making a big scene would have brought out something in me too. But she had hid her tears and told me that she understood. Such a rational, calm response, not unlike her.
I finally took my hands out of my pockets, and slowly massaged them for they had started to hurt for having been clenched into fists for too long. I wandered aimlessly through the hall, not knowing where to go to, nor was I really looking for a place to be. I didn’t want to go to the turkey party, and I knew Tutto and possibly Albert were still on the roof, getting Tutto out of the turkey costume. I didn’t want to go too far down the hall, for Leona might still be there somewhere. I ended up walking in circles, just for something to do.
Suddenly, I heard a soft shuffling sound coming from the other end of the hall. It sounded like someone was slowly dragging their feet across the floor. The footsteps were quiet and uncertain, and the rhythm was uneven, as if whoever was walking was carrying something twice their weight and four times their size. As the footsteps drew closer, I could hear breathing. When I listened closer, I realized that it was more like somebody was quietly gasping for breath. I quickly walked towards where the sound was coming from and was met with two large, orange eyes.
“Jamesy…” Tutto’s voice came out a mere, breathless whisper. He was clutching his chest with his left hand and leaning against the wall with his right.
“Tutto?” I ran up to the struggling boy and held his trembling body. His face was pale as snow and he seemed to be having trouble breathing. “Hey, man. What’s going on?”
All of a sudden, his knees gave way and he collapsed. Still gasping for breath, he clutched at his heart as if it were about to explode. I laid him on the floor and rushed over to the nearest courtesy phone. My trembling finger managed to find the right numbers and the phone started to dial. The ringing of the phone tormented my head as I hopped anxiously, hoping something I was doing would get the agent to pick up faster.
Hang in there, Tutto. Help is coming. I’m not gonna let you die…
-羅寗 Michelle Ning Lo