After lunch, Sae stopped at the washroom on his way back to his classroom. He took care of his business and was about to wash his hands when he caught a glimpse of a familiar figure reflected in the mirror before him.
Shum Deil sauntered in, looked around, and went to kick every cubicle’s door. He wore a zipped-up hoodie instead of his uniform blazer with a bag carelessly slung over his chest. After he was done checking, and made sure they were alone, he went to open a window.
Sae turned back to the tap to wash his hands, unaffected.
A male classmate came in just as Shum Deil was about to light a cigarette. That classmate went to the same year as them, but was in another class. Sae recognised him as they occasionally had physical education together. Classes usually got combined if the teacher was off for one thing or another.
Sae nodded over his shoulder at the classmate frozen in place.
At this point, Shum Deil went up to the boy and grabbed at his shoulder, unlit cigarette still squeezed between his fingers.
“I’d like you to look out for us, and send anyone away for the time being.” He told the boy with confidence, “You can do that, right? It won’t take long.”
The boy wasn’t happy to be on the lookout for a complete stranger, but the hand grabbing at him dug into his shoulder blade, igniting a sharp stab of pain. Besides, he knew whom he was dealing with. Shum Deil’s name travelled to every class in their year, and it travelled thoroughly. The boy moved back and puffed out a sullen fine, leaving the pair alone in the washroom once again.
Sae raised a brow at the scene playing out before him but did not say a word. At a glance, he could see the boy’s figure loitering outside of the door’s tinted glass surface.
“Hoh Saering,” breathed Shum Deil. Seconds later, the click of a lighter echoed off the tiles.
Since Sae knew exactly what this was about, he did not find the other’s dilly-dallying particularly charming. His eyes found Shum Deil’s in the mirror. “Did you finally remember?”
The boy nodded, indifferently blowing smoke from his nose. He bit the side of his thumb, the cigarette dangling between his index and middle fingers. “Aren’t you going to tell me how I can’t smoke on school grounds?”
Sae turned around, drops of water clinging to the end of his fingers. “I’m not that interested in school policies.”
Even with the opened window, the rising smoke quickly filled the enclosed space. It made Sae frown.
“Why?” The boy asked with mockery. “Are you interested in policies in your downtime? Is that why you called the police that night?”
“I didn’t,” Sae responded with resolution, then narrowed his eyes. “Is that what this is about? You think I snitched you out?”
“No.” Shum Deil blew smoke towards Sae with provocation. “But there are people who are sure that you did.”
“Really...” Sae patted his hands dry on his trousers. “And how are they so well-informed that they know of things even I don’t?”
Shum Deil shrugged. The movement was somewhat broken up – more like a series of small jerks, rather than one fluid motion. He winced at the pull on his ribs.
“You,” Shum Deil broke the silence first, every thread of humour absent from his tone. “Look out for yourself.” It was rather embarrassing to listen to, or say things of this nature out loud. Deil got flustered right away, which made it much easier for him to lose his cool.
Sae shook his head, lowering it with a faint smile almost lifting the corners of his mouth. Have to be kidding with me, he thought. But what he said was, “You can’t be this idiotic.”
Two boys stared at each other doggedly, their collided gazes equally unpleasant and stubborn. However, the grim tiles and the lingering stench of piss mingling with smoke set back this stare-down from reaching its peak tension.
“Fuck,” Sae cussed. It kind of blew his mind, seeing this outline play out in person. Being part of it. He only ever saw such cringe-worthy, tryhard actions on bad TV programs. Why did he have to indulge in this eighth grade syndrome scenario?
Shum Deil didn’t take the offensive remark upon himself. He inhaled some smoke. “Can you–– Could you defend yourself? In case they happened to come after you.” Sae could almost hear the unsaid words: Rumours said yes, but rumours were only that. Who’d trust them wholeheartedly?
“Dude...” He wanted nothing more than to laugh into the other’s face. “What are you on about? Is this something concerning me in any way?”
Of course it concerned him if he was the target of the boys scuffling with Shum Deil from that night. Sae wasn’t stupid; he did not need others to spell things out for him. Other than Shum Deil, only those boys would give a damn about who set the police on them. If they saw him, phone in hand at that time… it wasn’t unreasonable that they assumed he was the one who called the authorities.
However, that was untrue.
But did it matter with these kinds of people? Hardly. They had a dispute to settle, so they naturally felt the right to go after it.
“Your legs look like twigs.” Shum Deil looked at him from top to bottom. Pulled a long face. “Can you even land a good kick?”
“Why?” Sae asked, “Want to try it personally? I’ll smack you as a gift. Free of charge.”
Shum Deil pressed his lips into a thin line. It looked like a shadow of a smile. “Just… look out for things, ok?” He had to squeeze the words out through gritted teeth. “Don’t loiter around. You usually go home with your girl, right? You won’t want to pull her into something.”
“I’m not in anything to pull anyone else into it with me. And I don’t have a girl.”
Shum Deil stubbed out his cigarette on the grubby tiles then threw it into a urinal. He brushed his fingers together, like he wanted to get rid of the trace of tobacco. Considering this conversation to be settled, he kicked off the wall he had been leaning against. “Then... keep your distance,” he said over his shoulder and headed for the door.
Sae moved to block the boy with partly raised hands. He held his palm up to Shum Deil’s torso in a ‘stop there’ motion, ready to push, but without actually touching the other. His hands did not even get in contact with the clothes Shum Deil was wearing. “You really think just because you strode in here I’ll listen to whatever you say––”
Shum Deil pushed Sae back and fisted a hand in his hair. Then, he pulled. Sae’s head jerked back and the sudden stimulation made him swallow the rest of his words. Shum Deil got so close that his chest almost touched Sae. His hand was still gripping his hair, his elbow resting on Sae’s shoulder.
The silence made Sae squirm, while the only noise around was Shum Deil’s shuddered breathing through partly opened lips. The boy leaned in so that their eyes were level with one another. Sae’s glasses slipped down his nose a fraction. He looked up, gaze colliding with the other’s unflinching, intense one. Although his hair got tugged on and gripped, it did not actually hurt.
“Unhand me.” There was violence in his voice, under his skin, craving to get out.
“I get it. I
understand,” Deil said slowly, his voice wavering, “….So take care of yourself.
This isn’t a joke.”
He unfurled his fingers and swept his palm to the back of Sae’s head, cradling it for a moment, before gently gliding it down to the nape of his neck. Deil squeezed some, initiating Sae to move to the side and out of his way. After he cast Sae aside, Deil opened the door to leave.
“Shum Deil! Shum––” Sae called out without success in stopping the other.
The boy standing guard in the hallway looked at him, uncomprehending. He hesitated for a few seconds before asking, “Can I… go?”
Sae nodded his head, without paying much attention to the other. He wanted to kick something, but at the last second, flexed his leg back, opting to grab at his hair instead. But that wasn’t enough, nearly not enough. The movement only reminded him of how he just got handled in the washroom.
Really... Just who the hell did Shum Deil think he was?