Chapter 0:

PART I - Remembering Dearly

Gifted Education Project (GEP)

When Erica told me she had an embarrassing question to ask, I imagined it being along the lines of "Do you have a girlfriend?" Coolly, I would’ve told her no, and in response she’d mutter "Thank goodness…" while blushing. "So, does that mean you’re fair game? Teehee ♥” would be the natural follow up to that, of course.Bookmark here

She slit my throat instead.Bookmark here

“Darren, how many learning disabilities do you suffer from again?”Bookmark here

“Wh-what kind of bullying is this?”Bookmark here

“You always get so defensive. It’s just a question.”Bookmark here

Sitting opposite me in my classroom was a raven-haired girl whose bangs framed a ridiculously perfect face. I wish I could end the description there, but the truth was that Erica Park was no mere beauty. Not only was she a looker amongst lookers (for there are no fitting synonyms for the noun "beauty"), she was also an exemplary student, a talented pianist, a skilled athlete and a voracious reader. In short, Erica was a genius. It would be disingenuous of me to give you the impression she was an average girl.Bookmark here

Sadly, this superiority came at a dire cost.Bookmark here

The cost of her social intelligence.Bookmark here

“Defensive? Look, my reaction has nothing to do with my personality! It’s your question that’s screwed up!”Bookmark here

She tilted her head quizzically. “Examples?”Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“Did you just make a point without supporting examples? If this were an essay, you would most certainly get a failing mark. P-E-E-L. All you did was pee. No wonder your grades are so bad.”Bookmark here

Okay, maybe all of her social intelligence was a dishonest way of phrasing it. People who lack EQ are generally incapable of being snarky. So, call my remark a white lie, or a euphemism, or unreliable narration, because the reality was that if Erica Park (birth name Jiwoo) actually wanted to, she was perfectly capable of having a polite conversation with no insults mixed in. In fact, she was immensely popular with the teachers for this reason. So what gave? Did this particular classmate hate me or something?Bookmark here

The short answer: I had no idea. Trying to figure out Jiwoo (Christian name Erica) was a fool’s errand.Bookmark here

After all, it’s silly to think humans can understand one another.Bookmark here

“Come on,” I said. “My grades aren’t that bad.”Bookmark here

“So you do admit to having multiple learning disabilities after all.”Bookmark here

“How is that an admission of anything? If you’re angry about something, just say it.”Bookmark here

She had called me to our classroom after-school under the guise of an ‘embarrassing question’. Without context, that doesn’t mean much — but once you factor in the date being February 14th plus the fact I was (regrettably) her closest male friend at school, you couldn’t fault me for thinking it would be something romantic. Though I should have realised by now that the Jiwoo effect transcends all conventional logic.Bookmark here

“I’m not angry about anything,” she pouted. “I just need your help.”Bookmark here

“And if I refuse, because you’re being a prick?”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry? Was your input really necessary? I could’ve sworn that I made a statement, not ask a question.”Bookmark here

“...Erica, with all due respect, I—”Bookmark here

My sentence was cut off with a forceful slam of a desk. It was amazing a girl could generate that much power.Bookmark here

“Listen, Darren. Would you rather work as a servant, or suffer as a slave? Because if you refuse my initial kindness, then there will be nothing in it for you except despair. So, which will it be?”Bookmark here

“What does that even mean?”Bookmark here

“It appears you haven’t learned your lesson. Slavery it is.”Bookmark here

For someone who had such an intoxicating smile, this girl sure had a lot to learn in the realm of maintaining appearances. Perhaps she simply didn’t care about the whims of peasants. While I certainly hated how the situation had turned out, it wasn’t like I had no part to play in her growing dependence on me — and so, as I stared into her obsidian eyes, I found myself thinking back to the first time I met Erica Park.Bookmark here

To four months ago: the day I learned about the Gifted Education Project.Bookmark here

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