It began with the fidgeting in the morning. As early as breakfast, Koschei would twiddle the utensil in his hand: left-right-left-right. Hold. Left-right-left-right. Hold. He wouldn’t strike anything. Just wave it slightly in the air, eyes glued to some text while he chewed.
By second period it was the tips of his fingers on the bend of his knee, beneath the desk where it wouldn’t bother anyone. Tap-tap-tap-tap. Anyone but him.
At lunch he’d be tapping his stylus on the page between written words, the stops of his sentences always bold and obvious. Anyone who wasn’t well familiar with him and his compulsion would start to roll their eyes and find a new seat, if the tapping didn’t stop.
And if he couldn’t stop by afternoon, it would begin to hurt his head.
Today had been one of those days.
It wasn’t always quite so loud, so maddening and painful, but sometimes he couldn’t help it, and he’d have to leave his classes, nearly in tears.
He lay for hours in the infirmary, in a darkened partition, cool cloth laid over his eyes. He pressed his hands to his ears and tried to shut the horrible sound out, but, as ever, it was an exercise in futility.
When classes were released, he was finally able to leave. The sound, though it had not left him, had ebbed at last.
His eyes were shadowed underneath, his complexion pale, and his dark, shaggy hair was mussed from the pillow and his own hands. Stringy in the front where the cloth had left it damp, and in the back where sweat had.
Some of the other pupils in the halls pointedly avoided him, as though whatever was wrong with him was something they could catch. He shot them glares and shuffled past, looking for the one person who could always make him feel at least a little better. Who, most the time, could at least distract him.
“Theta!” Koschei called out, waving a thin hand to catch the eye of his friend.