And more importantly, he didn't have those anxious urges to do something. In fact, he didn't want to do anything. And so, beyond what the facility asked him to do, he relaxed into doing as close to nothing as possible. I don't have to do anything. I don't need to do anything. My life has probably lost most of its meaning now...
There was knock on his door. A quick but not exactly loud rap. Nick almost let out a groan. He had only just woken up and had decided on a nice long - day-long, in fact - lie-in. But even he realised he was being a bit ridiculous. He would just open the door, make the exchange as brief as possible, and then head back to lying down ASAP.
Nick swept aside the bedsheet and swung his legs over. He stretched a leg out so it cracked, and then walked over to the door, which had been silent right after the series of knocks.
"Oh, Nick," said Tessa. She looked almost surprised to see him. Why was that? He wouldn't be rude enough to not answer the door. However, this was a first. Her coming to him like this. Perhaps she assumed - perhaps not unreasonably - that he'd still be asleep.
Nick raised his eyebrows regardless. Why knock on his door anyway?
"Hello?" he said.
She just looked at him for a moment. A searching and familiar look. One that made him wonder if he had said something stupid, or had a scruffy collar or something on his face. To his immediate annoyance, he looked away abashed.
But in the corner of his eye, he noticed that she had looked away too. Looked downwards, in fact.
"I wanted to talk with you."
They looked back to each other. "About what?"
She bit her lip. Looked up and down the hallway. "Can I come in?"
This gave him some pause. "Alright." He stood aside. After an awkward moment, he gestured for her to come in.
"I broke the chair, so I threw it away," he said. "You can sit on my bed. If you want."
She laughed. "I remember that."
There was another awkward pause.
"I guess I should be more chairful," Nick said dryly. What else was there to say about that? He couldn't help but fill such awkward or pointless moments with some corny joke. Just to show he didn't care. But in spite of himself, he found himself smiling at her and waiting for her reaction.
She looked to the side with a static smile. As if a sigh was on her lips. Nick was satisfied. This was the correct reaction. You couldn't trust the ones who laughed nervously, trying to look as if they found the joke funny. Trying to curry favour.
"Alright, I'll sit on the bed then."
She went over and sat, brushing down her denim overalls. Nick joined her on the bed but tried not to sit too close.
"My score is 6.8 now," she said. "It's getting ridiculous."
"Mine is 3.6. It's not getting anywhere near ridiculous."
He gave her a wry smile. He hadn't expected her to open up like this. It was surprising, frankly. And by her manner, it looked as if she was similarly surprised.
"I don't get how you can be so casual about it. Do you not wonder about my rocketing score? About how it's much higher than anyone else's? I thought I was pretty normal before...all of this."
"You are normal."
"Evidently not. I have to admit, I'm not even trying at this point."
"Okay. Not really trying anyway. I'll still do my best each session...but I don't try to push myself beyond my limits. I don't do exercises outside the tests."
"What?" She laughed. "I'm serious."
"I believe you," Nick said. "I just don't really care about any of this. Yes, it's peculiar that your score is so high. Especially when 'Tasha tries so hard. But that's just life, isn't it? Some people are just more talented at some things. Or more talented at a lot of things. Perhaps they're just smarter overall. And they can seem completely normal, just like everyone else."
"So... You really think I'm normal?"
"Probably. Besides your talent. Sure. Why are you so bothered?"
Tessa looked down, frowning. Her long lashes shielding her eyes. She interlocked her fingers, released them, and then repeated this pattern.
"I used to feel completely normal. I never had the desire to feel special. But now I am. Special. Now I have myself wondering what I am." She paused. "Now I have people like Natasha who envy me. Hate me for it. I don't like it."
A silence descended on them, and he used it to think for a moment.
"I don't get it, honestly. Why you would feel that way. You seem...nice. As for Natasha, f.uck what she thinks."
She lifted her head and her gaze met Nick's once more. Big, strikingly blue eyes. They bordered on watering, but perhaps that's just the way they were like normally. He hadn't looked into her eyes like this before. He didn't tend to look into people's eyes. It made him feel strange. Warmth tickled his neck. What was this feeling again? It seemed familiar.
"Thanks," she said. "Really, thank you."
"Uh, it's fine. I am kinda wondering why you would tell me this though. And not, you know, Rita."
She looked over, somewhat surprised.
"I have told her. I tell her everything. It's just that, she doesn't always give me the answer I want. I know, that sounds weird. Selfish of me, even. But more and more, she's telling me that I'm wrong, or that I should stand up to Natasha."
"Maybe you should." The words tumbled out of Nick's mouth. Like boulders on a cliffside after someone yells a bit too loudly. Too late to cover up his mouth in either case. "She has no power here. You're the one with the top score. And besides, pretty much everyone here likes you more than her. And you're taller. She should be looking up to you."
"I guess." Tessa fidgeted.
"Just my opinion. I mean, doing nothing is fine too. I mean it. If the motivation isn't there, then why force it. Right?"
"Right. I suppose that's the approach you take." She grinned at him. "Only joking. I'm sure you just don't care for these tests."
"I just don't care for anything at all."
The words just tumbled out again. Nick wasn't used to talking like this. The frankness of this conversation opened him up. But it wasn't just the conversation - it was hard to describe. He felt a certain aura from Tessa, a power. Or perhaps it was something else.
"That's sad," she said.
The tone wasn't mocking. It wasn't pitying either. It was just a statement.
"I um, I enjoyed talking to you," Tessa said. "You're a good listener. You seemed that way to me, which is why I came to talk to you now. I'm going to go now, but it would be nice to talk again."
"Yeah, that would be cool," Nick said. "Anytime."
"See ya, Nick. I hope you find something to care about."
But Nick already had. He decided he had to get his score up.