Lunch. The time when students would either head down to the cafeteria for a quick bite, or, in the event that they had a homemade lunch, remain in the classroom and eat with their friends. Some students also went to their clubrooms.
Since most people didn’t like me, I often ate my lunch on the rooftops. This time, however, I had someone with me. Alicia. She and I had pushed our desks together and were eating the homemade bento I had prepared this morning. Normally, I just eat the store bought stuff, but I didn’t want Alicia eating the unhealthy foods that I consumed on a daily basis.
“What do you think?” I asked. “Is it all right?”
I watched as Alicia frowned at my food, poking it with her chopsticks, my anxiety spiking as she continued to stare at the meal. It was a bit unusual watching Alicia use chopsticks. She didn’t seem to know how to hold them. I guessed they used forks and knives in the Underworld. Chopsticks were a strictly oriental thing.
“Well, it certainly smells good,” she admitted, poking at the pickled vegetables. “It’s just…”
“I’m allergic to plums.”
I don’t know why, but in that moment, I could’ve sworn a gong had just gone off in my head.
The food that I had prepared was a single-tiered bento. All of the food was separated. One section had white rice, another had fried chicken, and the last third was for the vegetables. I had used a plum sauce on the chicken.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know that.” I looked down at my own food. It was a yaki-soba sandwich. While I had made Alicia a bento, I hadn’t bothered making one for myself. “Do you want to trade the chicken for my sandwich?”
“I would like that. Sorry to be so fussy after you took the time to make me lunch.”
“It’s okay. Next time I make you a bento, I’ll remember not to add anything with plums in it. Are there any other foods that you have allergies to, or that you don’t like.”
Alicia shook her head as she traded her bento for my yaki-soba sandwich. “Just plums. By the way, why didn’t you make a lunch for yourself? You made me a nice bento, but you brought convenience store foods for yourself.”
“I don’t normally make bento,” I admitted as I plucked a piece of fried chicken and popped it into my mouth. After swallowing my food, I leaned in and continued in a softer voice. “I generally buy convenience store foods for lunch, but I thought I’d make you a lunch so people didn’t get suspicious. If people saw us with the same bento, they might come to realize that we’re living together, and that would cause all kinds of problems that I would rather avoid.”
“Makes sense,” Alicia said as she bit into his–now hers–yaki-soba sandwich. She blinked. “This is unusually good.”
I grinned. “Right?”
Lunch time soon ended and class resumed. I paid a bit of attention to my teachers as they lectured us, took some notes, and followed along in my textbooks, but for the most part, I let my mind wander. I thought about Alicia and her problem. Someone from the Underworld was after her, and they would continue to hunt her down until she was either dead or they defeated whoever was chasing her.
I wasn’t about to let Alicia, who, from what I could tell, had done nothing to warrant such hostility, die on my watch. Even so, I didn’t know who was after her. I could protect her all I wanted, but if I didn’t know who was attacking her, there wasn’t much I could do. I was also worried about what she would think of me.
When I had rescued her, Alicia hadn’t been cognizant enough to see me use my powers. However, if we were attacked again, and I was forced to use my powers, she would see it. What would she think when she saw my abilities? What would she say when she realized that I was a monster? She’d curse me and leave. That was what she would do.
Maybe that was the defeatist in me talking. However, I’ve been in a similar situation once before. The circumstances had been different. The other person hadn’t been getting chased by demons. However, she had been in trouble, and I had used my powers to save her. Afterward, she had called me a monster and told me to never come near her again.
When class ended, Alicia and I stood up with the others. Sadly, I wouldn’t get to leave just yet.
“Here.” I turned to Alicia and discreetly placed a key in her hand. She looked at the key resting on her palm, and then looked up at me. “I have cleaning duty today, so I have to stay after school. You can use that to get into my apartment. Just be careful on your way home.”
Alicia nodded as she placed the key in her left breast pocket. “I will. Thank you.”
Cleaning duty was something that every student had to do. We were assigned days where we would stay after class. Our job was to clean the chalkboard, clap chalk off the chalkboard erasers, straighten the desks, water the plants, and sweep the floor. Today was my turn.
It took a little over an hour to clean everything; someone had made it difficult for me by sticking gum on the bottom of their desk. I also found a few notes that had things like “go die!” written on them inside of the desks. One person had even been creative and created a collage on the bottom of their desk using old newspaper scraps and superglue. I threw those away and kept cleaning.
The sun had set by the time I was finished. The sky, painted with reds, oranges, and purples, cast shadows along the empty hall that I was walking down. I thought I heard footsteps behind me, but there was no one present when I turned around.
I turned into the staircase, and I was about to take my first step down when something slammed into my back. My eyes widened as the world tilted. I turned my head. Someone was standing behind me. Three someones. It was the boys from before, the ones who were picking on that kid. One of them had their hands outstretched.
The world seemed to slow down as I fell. Wind whistled by my ear, blocking out everything else. The boys above me got further away. Time reasserted itself, and my vision went white as pain rippled through my skull like someone had taken a sledgehammer to the back of my head. I blinked several times in a vain attempt to restore my finish. It didn’t work. Rather, it didn’t matter because something hard crushed my nose with their foot and everything went white again.
“How do you like that!” a voice shouted. “You think we’re afraid of you! Take this!”
A loud crunch! echoed on the stairway. My nose didn’t break. The attack was too weak, but I still felt it. It still hurt.
“Eat this!” Pain exploded in my gut when something struck me. “We’re not gonna cower in fear of you!” My teeth clacked together as something hit the underside of my chin. “Why don’t you just go ahead and die!”
I could have fought back. I could have stopped these kids in their tracks. They were only human. It would have been so easy to unleash my power, or even to just grab their attacking limbs and break them.
I did none of that. I remained where I was, on the ground, against the wall, and let them hit me. The pain meant nothing to me anyway, and it wasn’t like they were wrong. I was a monster. I had accepted that a long time ago.
“What the fuck? He’s not fighting back.”
“Che, this is boring.”
“Come on. Let’s go.”
“Stop hanging around Alicia, or we’ll beat you even worse next time.”
I waited until I heard their footsteps fade before standing up. Slowly dusting off my blazer, I glanced at the nearest window and stared at my reflection. Despite having been struck numerous times, there wasn’t an abrasion, bruise, or even a contusion to show that a bunch of kids had just ganged up on me.
Picking up my bag, I walked down the stairs and toward my shoe locker, which I opened. With nary a glance at the graffiti drawn all over the interior, I pulled out my shoes and changed into them. Then I inserted the slippers into the locker and closed it. I didn’t bother locking it. Someone would come along and break in anyway.
I exited the school and walked to the gate. A person stood just outside of the gate, leaning against the wall, waiting. Her crimson hair and eyes gave her away. She had crossed her arms, which caused her breasts to pop out in a way that was pleasant but distracting. I blinked.
“Alicia,” I started, “what are you doing here?”
Alicia tilted her head as if my words had confused her. “Waiting for you. Why else would I be here?”
I was nonplussed. “But I thought you had gone home.”
Alicia shook her head. “After everything you’ve done for me, I wasn’t going to let you walk home by yourself. It wouldn’t be right. I… Jacob?” Alicia had a questioning and almost worried expression on her face. “Are you… are you crying?”
I wiped at my eyes, ridding it of the gathering moisture. “I’m sorry. I think some dust blew in my eye or something. It was probably from the school’s poor ventilation.”
“We’re outside,” Alicia pointed.
There was nothing I could say to that, so I did the only thing I could think of.
I walked ahead of her to hide my blush.