About a month passed since the event where Connie tried to drag Valerie from the library happened. And in that time, nothing really changed. The only thing that I noticed was Connie’s interactions with Valerie. Valerie still rushes to the library to study after swiftly eating lunch, and Connie still tries to stop her. This still happens, but I noticed that Connie tries stopping Valerie less often. It makes sense that the event in the library lessened Connie’s attempts, but what confused me was that it did not completely stop it.
Today was the day we were receiving our midterm marks. As usual, we were getting them during our last class of the day, and for Connie, Valerie, and me, it was during Mrs Torrez’s class.
“Hey Ren, what did you get?”
I showed him my transcript.
“Damn, man! Hey, why’d I even suspect that you’d get anything less? You’re the smartest guy I know, so of course, you’re getting a fantastic mark! Ah, you’re so hard-working, I love it!”
“Yeah, thank you…”
We have received report cards a couple of times in the past, and this time was no different. I always get the same mark, Connie always asks for what I got, and he strangely always adds that last part where he says I am ‘hard-working’ and emphasizes it. It is nothing out of the ordinary, but personally, it feels odd.
I looked around the room. Many of my classmates were checking out their marks, and some were sharing them with their peers. I could tell from the expressions of joy or displeasure who got poor marks and who got favourable marks.
“Hey Ren, let’s hang out after school. You did exceedingly well again and I did decently according to my standards, so let’s celebrate!”
“Celebrate? Okay, I am not-”
I was interrupted when a cry of dissatisfaction rang out from the middle of the room. The girl sitting there was tightly gripping her transcript and holding it up close to her face. She seemed to be examining it closely. Her eyes moved from the top to the bottom slowly, and when they reached the bottom, they would go back to the top and start again — I think she was repeatedly re-reading it.
Some of my classmates started talking amongst themselves.
“Valerie? Wait, that was Valerie, right?”
“What’s up with Valerie?”
“What? Did she fail or something? Ah, then she’s in the same boat as me…”
“Hah, she failed! What? She’s one of the good students — a candidate for entering Laurent’s Top — who gets good marks! I think she needs to know what failure tastes like…”
“Isn’t she one of the smartypants? Is she crying about a mark that’s just a couple of points off 100? C’mon, get real and check your ego…”
Mrs Torrez slowly walked to Valerie and calmly asked in a soft voice.
“Ms Boateng? Are you okay?”
Valerie jolted her head up, and…
Fear… Fear was the feeling that radiated from Valerie. Why did I sense that feeling? What was she scared of? Did she do poorly in one of her classes? I… I doubt that. After all, she usually does extraordinarily well. But if she indeed did poorly, unless it was a major mistake, her mark would still be acceptable. So why is she scared?
Valerie stared at Mrs Torrez.
“Huh? O-Oh… Sorry Miss, I was… um… I was…”
Mrs Torrez raised an eyebrow, but Valerie stopped her.
“Ah, sorry, I just gotta go to the washroom real quick.”
“Well, it’s the end of the day, so I can’t really stop you… Go ah-”
“Thanks, see ya tomorrow!”
Valerie quickly ran out of the room. She left behind her binder and only took with her the transcript.
After a few seconds of processing what happened, Connie tapped on my shoulder.
“Hey Ren, go after her, would you?”
I looked over at Connie. Oddly, his smile was absent — instead, I could feel that he was legitimately serious about his request. But what was so different about the situation that made him so serious?
But as if he read my mind, Connie turned to answer my question.
“Why? Well, it’s obvious…”
His smile reappeared, but he was still serious.
“I can’t find a runaway girl — I don’t possess the IQ level that you have!”
“And bring her here, she forgot her stuff…”
I found Valerie outside of the school behind a set of bleachers.
Since it is the end of the day, the hallways are usually packed with people because those are where the lockers are. I expected that a small gap or alteration would be present in the crowd if someone walked through it. So, I went down the halls that had chasms; there were other people going through, so I kept Valerie’s general size in mind as I determined the size of the divides I went through. And since Valerie’s supplies were left behind, I avoided going towards her locker.
I walked up to Valerie crouching behind the bleachers.
She did not turn.
“Huh? W-Who’s there?”
“This is Ren. Connie asked me to get you.”
“I, um… I see… What does he want me for?”
“Oh, he did not tell me. But, he told me to bring you back to the class because you forgot your things…”
“Yeah, I know… Yeah, I’ll be… Yeah…”
She had a hard time speaking — she was being interrupted by the sniffing of her nose. I looked slightly closer and noticed the paper that was tightly in her hands. It had a few small circular water stains on it.
“Hey Ren, answer my question, please. You mainly get the highest marks in your classes, so answer my question — how!?”
She promptly turned around and stood up, but she was still looking down. She tightly gripped the paper in one hand — her feelings were intense, but I did not know what the feeling was.
The intensity of her voice gradually increased.
“How do you do it!?”
What does she mean by this?
“What am I doing wrong!?”
My obliviousness compelled me into listening keenly.
Valerie’s breathing grew heavy due to her screaming and desperation.
“How do you do it!? Tell me, Ren, how do you stay like this!? Ren, no matter the subject, no matter how tough it gets, you always come out on top… I guess it’s because you’re amazing, huh? But I wanna know how you keep your composure…”
She locked her eyes on me. Tears formed and started to rapidly fall.
“How can you continue like this!? We’re only humans, so we are supposed to crack under pressure, but you don’t! It’s like you aren’t affected by the weight, but I know that’s not true. No, you always rank the highest academically, but at the same time, you’re laid-back and hang out with Connie… Ren, please tell me! Please… It’s tearing me apart, so tell me, Ren! Ren!”
After confessing her feelings, Valerie was left breathing unsteadily for a few seconds.
I stuck my hand out. In it was a small handkerchief that I carried in my pocket.
“Please compose yourself with this and we can talk properly.”
“O-Oh yeah… Thanks.”