The forest was wonderful, as ever. The smell of wet leaves, the cool air—if I only knew it was so nice in the mornings I would have sneaked here more.
Jesse walked to my right, climbing over the fallen trees, slipping on the black wet leaves, cursing quietly. About twenty meters to my left, walked a couple of seniors, dutifully combing the ground with the beams of their flashlights. About the same distance to the right from Jesse, a burly figure of some unfamiliar villager appeared and disappeared among the trees. We were supposed to keep a ten meters distance between us but I found myself gravitating to Jesse until we were walking just a few steps apart.
"Can’t keep away, huh?" The light from his flashlight brushed the leaves under his feet. "I have such effect on people."
"Yeah." I stopped to examine the space under the trunk of an old fallen tree. There was nothing there but rotting leaves and a few beetles that scattered away from the light. "What do you think has happened to him?"
"Who, Owen? I don't know. I don’t care, too, just like ninety nine percent of others here. I'm sure everyone here just hopes to find his body and get their five minutes of fame, as well as a story to tell their future children."
"A body?" I glanced at him, surprised by such a bold admission of what everybody feared but no one had so far said out loud. "Why would he die?"
"I don’t know." He shrugged, looking under his feet. "I heard some student once hung himself in the forest. Couldn't deal with the pressure of exams. They hired a psychologist after that to provide counseling to students. Another one has broken his leg when walking in the woods, that's another scenario." He slipped and cursed again. "I'll surely break something, too, before we're done here."
"I didn’t know this school was so dangerous."
"Accidents happen. Like that guy who lived with Mathew before you? The one whose place you've taken?"
I glanced at him. "What about him? I thought he just dropped out. Enrolled in some better place."
He chuckled, shook his head. "No, sweetie. He died. I guess you could still say he enrolled in a better place, though."
I stopped and stared at him. "Died?"
"Yep." He paused to swipe his flash light along a moss-filled crack in the ground, then moved on. "Some kind of poisoning. He spent a lot of time in the chemistry lab, and he took some shit from there and apparently committed suicide." He glanced at me with a grin. "That's why they're raising hell now. They're still getting shit sued out of them by the first boy's family, so if something happens to another student in the same year, people will just stop enrolling here."
I blinked at him, not sure how I felt about the fact that I'd been sleeping in a bed of someone who had actually died.
"Aww, the air is awesome." Jesse took in a deep breath. "Don’t worry, I'm sure Owen just ran away or something. He's not the type to kill himself."
"I wouldn't mind if he did," I muttered.
"Oh?" He turned to me. "Still angry about your scuffle in the Dining Hall?"
"I'm angry about him hurting you," I blurted, and paused, suddenly feeling colder than could be explained by just the weather and the early hour.
"What?" He stopped. "What're you talking about?"
"Nothing," I said, but it was clearly too late.
"Just spill it out." He scowled at me. "Now."
"I know…" It didn’t matter anymore, and a part of me wanted my dirty little stalker secret out in the open, even if just to see if he could forgive me. "I know you've been meeting in the utility room. I know he's been…hurting you, at least some of the time."
He gaped at me. "How do you – why – have you been following us?"
"I've been there."
"In the utility room," I said, knowing I should stop, but unable to.
"What? You? You were…in there?" He blinked. "What were you doing…wait, you've been watching us there?"
"Hearing you, more like. It was pretty dark."
He blinked again, his mouth agape.
"Holy crap, Gordon!" His voice rose up and I could see the village man stop and look in our direction. "You've been watching us? Oh my, you're such a creep!"
The two seniors stop to look at us, too. I raised both hands palms out to show them that everything was fine, and then repeated the gesture for the man at the other side.
"Holy shit," Jesse said, quieter now. "Why did you do that?"
"I wanted to be with you," I said, beginning to walk again, hoping he would follow. I'm sorry. I'd never tell anyone about it. I just couldn’t get near you in any other way."
"You're such a creep, Gordon." Still, he was moving again, judging by the beam from his flashlight jumping about on the ground. I glanced back only to see him disappear behind the thick old tree lying on its side, it's earth and moss-covered roots forming a kind of a cave.
"Do you need help?" I called out, climbing on the huge lying trunk, careful not to slip.
"No, I'm fine." He appeared on the other side of the tree, shaking his head. "I don’t know what to say. You just freak me out. How many times have you seen us there?"
"A couple of times. The first was by mistake."
He shook his head. "Still. If Owen found out, he'd beat you bloody."
"I know. Owen was an asshole."
He glanced at me. "Was?"
I shrugged. "He's gone, isn't he? Hopefully for good."
He kept staring. "You're kind of scaring me, Gordon." He didn’t look scared, though, more like puzzled.
"You know I'd never hurt you," I said.
"What about other people?" We continued walking but our eyes remained locked as if connected by an invisible bond. "Could you possibly hurt other people?"
"I have," I said. "In the past."