“A rare illicit love, an intense yet brilliant romance… such human desires are not for me.”
Day 2 – Morning
The silence of the school stupefied me.
It was not the literal silence, not the absence of sound, that stunned me. It was the opposite – noise beyond salvation, yet to my surprise, I wasn’t in any part of it.
If I wasn’t feeling melancholic, I might have found things curiously amusing. The students ignored me – scratch that – all the students, even some of the teachers ignored me either deliberately or by coincidence. I was walking like a shadow phantom among them, unseen, unheard, unnoticed.
What I expected didn’t come. Where were the snide comments? The rude stares? The infuriating laughter? Where was Marcy Ryan’s flying water balloon? Gary Hanson’s petty prank in my locker? Vanessa Hopp’s degrading morning antic?
Had things changed again?
While I was driving on the way to school, I had already told myself over and over again to compose myself for what was to come. Behind my shield of indifference, I knew I could protect myself effectively. Why, I had no one but myself to rely on. They said that no man is an island but here I am fighting alone, struggling by myself against the wild, gushing current of my peers.
So, was I the only exemption, the special case?
Why was it always just me?
I could remember the revulsion of the criticisms I was about to suffer again. Being called a loser, a snot, a freak and every other indecent name they could think of was killing the little dignity I had. Once was more than enough for me, and I knew that if I wanted to live through this day, I had to be tough.
And when I say tough, it's iron tough.
I had to endure everything again. At least this time, I was prepared.
Or so I think.
Was I really ready to face them once more? Was I strong enough to keep my cool? Or was I going to war unarmed and injured?
I was weak, only made weaker by the foolish emotions that currently held me in viper-like grip. It was like I was hit in the gut, kicked in the head and left to bleed alone on the ground. It was more painful than anything else I experienced since I ran away from my past.
Why, oh, why was this happening to me?
I knew it, have known it from the very start... but why was I hurting again despite everything?
It was the realization that the only thing I wished for, the only guy I cared for, the one person who had somehow made my day a little more bearable, was beyond my reach.
All I needed was to smile, to pretend that I enjoyed his company, to talk mindless talk like other girls did... but I didn't. I was too foolish to keep up the facade. I didn't allow myself to dream longer, to preserve the rare quality of the brief time we actually talked.
I was pretty stupid, ain't I?
But I couldn't let myself be near him. I shouldn't interact with him. It was wrong. Painful. My one-sided feelings never reached out to him, and the splinters of my mangled heart made every breath hurt. Inside me, seeing him was tearing me apart.
Could you blame me for acting irrationally?
He was only a dream... a dream that couldn't come true.
He’s so far yet so near.
There was no middle ground. We are clouds and otters – we don’t mix. Unlike the sky and the sea, there was no horizon in between us, no link to connect us. There wasn’t even a barrier between us, unlike those written in books with the stereotypical star-crossed lovers. If there was a force trying to separate us, I would be more than happy to destroy it. But there was none. Why? There was nothing to separate.
What was I thinking?
There was no us. Never before, never ever.
Since when have I even thought – imagined – that we have a chance? A shot in heaven? Huh. I honestly couldn’t remember. I’ve been watching over him since the first time I saw him. Almost like an epiphany, I knew he was different from the rest. I thought back then that the young boy I’ve met was in the same predicament as me – broken family, heart issues, flawed childhood and such. I sympathized with him, appreciated him and treasured him.
We shared the same sentiments even without speaking much… but that special memory was mine alone.
To him, it was something long forgotten. That one night by the beach was only significant to me, someone who for the first time met a person who had somehow understood me.
But he had changed. When I came back three years ago, he was not the same person anymore. He was better, brighter… and alarmingly superficial.
My memory of the strange boy who encouraged me to be happy paled in comparison to the new him.
He didn’t remember me. He didn’t remember the beach. It was trivial. I was trivial.
Wait. Why was I thinking such sad thoughts? Past is past. Living in the past is embracing what is dead. I had to forget that memory too, just like what I did to his earlier appearance in my house.
I difficultly locked away the unawanted incident with Ae– no, no. Forget that line of thought. I promised I wouldn’t even speak his name.
I shook my head to clear my mind, but it only made me dizzy.
The important question: Had things changed again?
I had braced myself for the insults as soon as I entered school. I was waiting for everything to happen like they're supposed to. The hysterical rerun of the food fight. The much-awaited return of the Veggie girl. But I was greeted by nothing, not even an eye.
It was like I was invisible.
That’s a good thing, right?
Instead of sighing in relief, I clenched my fists tighter knowing that I couldn’t let my guard down. Not for anyone, not for anything. I couldn’t will myself to believe that I would be off the hook this easily. Perhaps, Satan’s spawns had hatched a ploy to trick me into believing that I was safe, and then torture me like they always did.
I entered my English class and sat at my permanent seat, a seat that wasn’t really the reject seat, but was far enough not to be around the jungle animals. As soon as I sat down, the students around me scooted away, and if I didn’t know better I would’ve thought it was not because of me. They left their seats like it was the most natural thing to do in the world.
Oh, I know now what they were doing.
It’s the good old silent treatment. Wow. How very original. I wonder how Vanessa managed to convince the teachers. It must’ve been a feat.
Unfortunately for her, this was actually a favor to me.
To someone like me, cold-shoulder treatments were useless and harmless. I hated attention. Always have, always will.
What greater gift could she give me than ignoring me?
Vanessa’s really stupid.
I couldn’t help but smile a sad smile.
* * *
No matter how good everyone acted, I’d noticed all the little slips they made.
“– yesterday, that salad girl ran away and she – “
“– pretty done in by Aeth because that Lil girl– “
“–like, keep your mouth shut. She’ll hear you!”
“– he totaled Rek’s baby in one blast – “
“– don’t mess with Captain or else she – “
What I’d pieced together didn’t make sense. It seemed like I was missing vital information. Everyone was particularly careful, especially when I’m near. Like they were afraid of something… or someone.
Well, I couldn’t blame them. Vanessa’s a scary witch.
“Next time you’re late, Aethan, I’m giving you detention.”
“Yes, Mrs. Dammond,” replied a voice that broke the haze of my mind. When I looked up from the book I didn’t realize I was holding, he was leaning against the doorframe, waiting for our Government teacher to admit him to class.
It was already my last subject for the day and this was the only class I have with him aside from Calculus. Oh, I should’ve known he was coming. Why didn’t I realize this sooner? I didn’t notice how fast time flew. And I didn’t notice how long I’ve spaced out.
“What are you waiting for? Sit down, Mr. West,” our teacher instructed.
Ae – I mean, he scanned the faces of our classmates as if he was searching for something. Was he looking for me? My nervous heart picked up double rate. When our eyes met, he didn’t stop to gawk or glare.
For reasons I hated, I was thoroughly devastated.
Why did I even expect?
Stupid, stupid, stupid!
I am a nobody. He is a somebody. Those alone defined everything.
In other words, what I did earlier in front of my house – the irrational outburst, my childish defiance – was insignificant to him, not even worth an acknowledgement or even his anger. He probably forgot it like he forgot everything about me.
Not worth remembering.
I bit my lower lip.
“There's no seat,” he stated flatly as his gaze roamed the room again. My shoulders felt heavy as he spoke those words.
Mrs. Dammond, the second of the powerpuff girls, sighed loudly and irritatingly. “We have two new students today, if that's what you mean. I believe there’s a seat beside that brunette there in the back… What’s her name?” She scrunched up her face as she read her seat plan. “Here. With Evans. You sit beside Evans.”
My world stopped.
“With who?” he asked unthinkingly.
“Are you blind, Mr. West? We have only one seat left, and if you don’t go there right now, I’ll send you straight to our principal.” Only Mrs. Dammond could pull that threat off – she’s our principal’s third wife.
For some odd reasons, the atmosphere of our classroom rapidly changed.
Casually, he walked towards me and it took me all my will power just to keep my eyes glued to my trembling hands. I felt it when the empty chair beside me was pulled back. I felt the warmth of his body sent weird tingles across my skin. Despite the insistent urge, I didn’t look up, afraid that I couldn't contain the rage of emotions inside me. His proximity was enough to give me a heatstroke. His mere presence brought a rich color to my cheeks which I hid under the thick curtain of my hair.
What’s wrong with me? This shouldn’t be happening. Believe me, my blushing glands were normally passive. I was the ‘nice’ girl, the person with a flawless poker face.
What happened to good, old me?
Was he talking to me?
“Are you okay?”
I didn't notice until then that I have stopped breathing.
“Do you feel sick?” he whispered.
“I-I am… no, I mean, I’m okay. Good, yeah, good.” Awkwardly, I risked a quick glance his way, but when my eyes locked with his, I couldn’t pull away.
His green eyes are so beautiful…
He hesitated for a moment before he spoke again in a low murmur. “Hey, look, just try to ignore me if I’m a bother. I’m sure tomorrow I could change seats with someone else. Do you want someone in specific?”
Translation: You’re such a loser; I don’t want to be seen sitting with you.
“I-I’m okay,” I answered back at once, “don’t worry.”
I bit my lower lip. Do you want to get away from me that badly? Am I that unwanted? Undesirable?
I had to cut the chase.
“If you don’t want to sit beside me, just say so,” I snapped, sounding angry although in reality, there was no fire in me, only despair and self-loathing.
He appeared to be taken aback. “I’m just seeing to your preferences.”
Like hell I would believe you.
“Did I do something to offend you?”
Now, I’m the bad guy?
“I am truly – “
“Just leave me alone,” I hissed, my voice not showing the turmoil inside me. “I don’t like you so go away. Even a jock like you can understand that, right?”
He gazed at me with his achingly beautiful eyes, making me feel as if he could read into my lie. I couldn’t comprehend the expression he wore, but it was scary.
Scary because it’s empty.
“Okay” was all he said.
Government ended with neither of us speaking again with each other. As soon as the bell rang, he left. I sat there until I was alone in the room, silently grieving and regretting every single word I said.
You had no idea how much I hated myself for that.
Robotically, I stood up and headed for the comfort room to wash my face, but Vanessa's piercing cry made me stop in mid-stride. She was inside a nearby classroom, and even with the door closed, her voice was loud enough for me to hear.
"He broke up with me! Can you believe that? And we've only dated for a week!" she screamed to someone, probably her blonde friend.
"Chill? Chill?! We haven't even got into his bed!" Vanessa screeched. "He was too into that basketball game –!"
"Like I said, you better chill, Nessie." I heard a bubble gum pop. "You better avoid him from now on. You know he's pissed with what you did with that Veggie girl."
Vanessa snorted. "Huh. That guy's crazy."
"That's the reason why everyone like him," her friend laughed. "He's nice to everyone. Even the trashes."
"But he went overboard yesterday."
"Yeah, totally. I'm pretty sure Derek would love to avenge his mustang. Want to bet?"
I stood frozen on my spot in disbelief. Their words slowly registered in my mind, letter by letter, not making sense. I feared that I was only having delusions, that I was reading their words the wrong way. I was terrified by the thoughts springing into life, dreams I knew were far-fetched from reality.
Still... was it really possible...?
When the door opened, I broke into a dead-run, not stopping till I reached the parking lot.
Aethan West... did he really protect me?