Chapter 13:

I Wouldn't Have Imagined I'd Miss That (2)

Gifted Education Project (GEP)

Erica lied to me.Bookmark here

No… why was I feeling angry? I already knew this. I’d known this the moment I saw the exam results, from the moment I let her play God, from the moment I’d decided none of this was her fault.Bookmark here

Of course. Bookmark here

Park Jiwoo.Bookmark here

Park Jiwoo.Bookmark here

Park Jiwoo.Bookmark here

Park Jiwoo.Bookmark here

Park Jiwoo.Bookmark here

Park Jiwoo.Bookmark here

Park Jiwoo.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

From 1 to 3 o’clock, the tropical sun is merciless. Just sitting with your skin exposed for more than ten minutes leaves you irradiated and crispy, and more importantly, the canopy of cultivar trees and other leafy greens is useless because of sunlight’s ability to curve during these hours. It is for this reason that nobody chooses to meet outdoors in the year 2056, where shaded areas heat to 36 degrees Celsius in the afternoon, humidity clocks in at 91%, and school dress codes consist of long pants and button-up shirts. Unless, of course, you are Marie-Anne Lee.Bookmark here

The idea is simple: you want to be secluded with your target without making it suspicious, and therefore you hide in plain sight. People don’t speculate over a boy-girl pair coming home from the park the same way they doubt them leaving an empty classroom. But it’s actually even more ingenious than that — higher temperatures lead to poorer decision-making, whilst a constant drone of cicadas and unobstructed approach lines lead to near-impossible 3rd party snooping. It’s a significantly better interrogation spot compared to, let’s say, a handicapped toilet.Bookmark here

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Marie-Anne Lee Pros:Bookmark here

No doggy roleplay.Bookmark here

No BDSM motifs.Bookmark here

No drinking out of a toilet.Bookmark here

No risk of accidental blunt force castration (speculative).Bookmark here

Marie-Anne Lee Cons:Bookmark here

I hate the sun.Bookmark here

Marie’s not my type.Bookmark here

Sweaty public sex. Ew!Bookmark here

The call.Bookmark here

The call.Bookmark here

The call.Bookmark here

I can’t keep putting up this bullshit facade forever if I want to live.Bookmark here

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“I’m so glad you took the time to come, Darren. Teehee.”Bookmark here

She fiddled with her pom-pom earrings as she greeted me from a park bench. I was half-expecting her face to melt off in this heat.Bookmark here

“Hurry up. We have an exam next period.”Bookmark here

“Aw, don’t remind me. Can’t we just enjoy ourselves?”Bookmark here

Marie-Anne excitedly patted the empty space next to her.Bookmark here

“I know I’m not Jiwoo, but come on.”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

I took off my blazer as I sat.Bookmark here

“Listen. I called you. I did what you asked. I came to this place. Now tell me what I need to know instead of pretending like—”Bookmark here

“Shhh.” She put a finger over my lips. “Let’s take a selfie first. I want to remember this day forever.”Bookmark here

“What the hell..?”Bookmark here

Before I could say anything, she pressed her body into mine. Her exposed skin stuck to mine with the aid of sweat, and a thick smog of strawberries and pheromones smothered me like fumigatory smoke. Then, she held up her phone, facing towards the rain tree that was my last bastion between the sun and severe skin damage.Bookmark here

I grimaced a bit.Bookmark here

I need to be honest; I don’t like my face. It makes me start thinking of my parents, which makes me start thinking of genetic inheritance, which in turn makes me think of the purpose of a “meritocratic school” like NHS. It’s fundamentally just a lottery that children unknowingly play at birth. But that’s a can of worms I’ll kick down and address down the road: For now, the important thing is what I saw on Marie’s phone felt considerably worse than triggering a bout of semi-PTSD.Bookmark here

“Cheese!” she said.Bookmark here

Her behaviour so far was considerably more normal than she’d sounded on the phone, and so for a split-second I got my hopes up. Maybe she really did just want to take a photo as a courtesy act before telling me something completely innocuous about the school and Erica. Bookmark here

Deep inside, however, I knew the few hours I’d wishfully dreamt of Marie-Anne Lee as a dense girl with good fashion and high work ethic were officially over. Bookmark here

There were no faces on her phone. Instead, there was a map with a few red dots on it, and one of them was named “Abel Nguyen” with the number 20 floating above.Bookmark here

Radar.Bookmark here

“We look so good together, Darren.”Bookmark here

She brought her lips to my ears.Bookmark here

“But you fucking let someone follow you.”Bookmark here

“Wow,” I replied. “You weren’t lying. I think you’re carrying most of the photo, though.”Bookmark here

Marie-Anne broke away. “C’mon, don’t say that!”Bookmark here

20 metres. If I looked around, I could definitely find Abel. I wanted to listen to my instincts, but Marie-Anne had probably foreseen that — her hand was still on my thigh, pressing down with force, and she began to caress me paradoxically as if begging me to pay attention or else. Bookmark here

I felt no choice but to stare into her eyes: iridescent, just like her true colours, which I’d just confirmed were constantly in flux.Bookmark here

“You’re not as good of an actor as you think you are, Darren.”Bookmark here

“Really not the time for insults.”Bookmark here

She brought her face to mine. This close, I could see every imperfection she’d covered with foundation, every individual glitter on her eyelashes. She was still unbelievably beautiful.Bookmark here

More importantly, it lowered our volume.Bookmark here

“You’re self-centered and arrogant,” Marie-Anne whispered. “You’re good at hiding your own emotions, but you never stop to think about people’s feelings or how they’ll react. That’s why you’re so easy to read, and why you unknowingly brought a stalker along with you.”Bookmark here

“Should you be risking it all by saying this out loud?”Bookmark here

“Ahaha. You also have a bad habit of questioning everything except yourself.” Her hand was creeping up my chest like a vine. “But it’s okay, Dar-Dar. I’ll help you using an exercise. Say for a moment I didn’t stop you from looking around just now, and you’re Abel. Marie’s just showed Darren her phone, he’s not smiling at the camera, and after that, he’s anxiously turning his face in random directions looking for something… even if you’re confident you don’t give physical tells when you’re panicking, Darren, you’re not the only intelligent person in this school. Abel can put two and two together just like the rest of us. And based on that exam earlier… probably faster than you.”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“Have you ever kissed a girl before?”Bookmark here

“Get the fuck away from m—”Bookmark here

“Shh. Don’t get angry. I sensed that you were, so I changed the subject. See? I care about people’s feelings. That’s why I’m getting so close to your sweaty virgin face and pretending like I’m whispering sweet nothings.”Bookmark here

“…You’re trying to trigger him into coming out?”Bookmark here

Marie-Anne bit her lip. “You don’t have to get rhetorical.”Bookmark here

The heat of everything was rushing to my ears.Bookmark here

“That’s a terrible idea. I don’t know him that well, but he’s obviously not that naive if he figured out the exam.”Bookmark here

“So you’re saying he has a mask on.”Bookmark here

“That’s precisely why—”Bookmark here

“Then make it crack. I’m not asking you to make him horny, I want you to get him to come here. What do you think makes a guy with a sister uncontrollably angry?”Bookmark here

The last sentence that came out from her mouth sounded so dissonant, it genuinely shattered my thoughts. Bookmark here

“Or do you not trust me?”Bookmark here

“…What kind of question is that? Of course I don’t trust you. I’m only here because you fucking used Erica’s name like a carrot, not because I want to get framed for sexual assault.”Bookmark here

Marie-Anne smiled. “You’re overthinking. Bryan, Jiwoo, and I — half one. You, Abel and Giselle — half two. The person I was assigned to wake up was neither of those two siblings. And why would I be baiting you when you’re recording this with your phone?”Bookmark here

That’s why she was feeling up my body.Bookmark here

“…Call her Erica, please.”Bookmark here

“Why? That’s not her name. She’s been lying to you.”Bookmark here

I pushed Marie-Anne away.Bookmark here

“I’m sure she has her reasons.”Bookmark here

Right on cue, like she had some sort of internal prism she could shift at will, her colours altered. “Okay, now Dar-Dar’s just being silly and meaaaaaan!Bookmark here

“Stop that.”Bookmark here

“So, do you want to kiss me?”Bookmark here

“Stop that too.”Bookmark here

I reached for my blazer where my phone was sitting. If Marie-Anne could intuit I was recording and still showed me both sides of her, then maybe she was genuine about trying to expel… no. Someone as dangerous as her definitely had more than two sides. It’s this unwarranted focus on “bipolarity” and “two-facedness” that tricks people into thinking there can’t be multiple layers of ulterior motives.Bookmark here

What did she want from me?Bookmark here

Think. Bookmark here

I needed to think. It was difficult from the heat and noise, but I’d already overcome something similar to it hours ago. I just needed to go back to that mental— Bookmark here

My face suddenly moved on its own.Bookmark here

The next moment, I found Marie. Her hands were on my neck. Then, our lips moved together in an unstoppable motion like it was the natural thing to do.Bookmark here

It felt good the same way being shoved down a slide sometimes feels thrilling.Bookmark here

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She was suddenly back where she started, staring into my soul again, challenging and breaking every layer of self-defense I’d expertly honed, these infinite concentric circles of pseudophilosophical teenage hormones that I keep pretending to feel so that I can avoid confronting the real point at the centre.Bookmark here

“Either we do this long enough that Abel thinks we’re a couple in heat, or you get him here. I want the rumours to be specific.Bookmark here

“...”Bookmark here

I didn’t know what she was saying. It might as well have been static.Bookmark here

Marie’s eyes were getting bigger.Bookmark here

But in all honesty, this girl is right.Bookmark here

My breathing was completely ragged. Bookmark here

It’s the unfounded belief that I’m the smartest here that’s holding me back.Bookmark here

She pressed her lips into mine. Bookmark here

Maybe I need to take inspiration from people more knowledgeable than me.Bookmark here

I was doing more than just not stopping her.Bookmark here

Bryan Koh would sit down and take this in stride.Bookmark here

I was kissing her back.Bookmark here

Erica Park wouldn’t.Bookmark here

As my hands searched around her body, I settled on her neck. Bookmark here

Then I squeezed firmly.Bookmark here

“D-Darren..!”Bookmark here

Her nails dug into my flesh and seared my skin. That was a good thing. Pain is good; it’s the most basic proof that we’re alive. I had to get pseudophilosophical to distract myself. I mentally gave Abel one, two seconds, and when I couldn’t hear movement over the sounds of Marie’s choking, I slammed her into the park bench.Bookmark here

Scheming as she was, Marie-Anne was an ordinary girl, and I was an ordinary guy. I easily overpowered her. This is a basic truth of the world some people refuse to acknowledge. Women constantly live in fear that the men around them will snap one day and break the societal contract of goodwill; right now I was that man. Marie looked vaguely concussed. I dismissed it as an act, then I put one hand on her neck again as I violently untucked my shirt. Still no reaction from the voyeur. Maybe it was because the girl couldn’t scream. So, I pulled down my zipper and reached for her chest, ripping off one of the buttons, and that's when I finally heard rustling from the bushes from behind me.Bookmark here

I instinctively ducked the moment I heard the noise, then let go of Marie. I turned around afterwards.Bookmark here

I’d rehearsed that sequence in my head.Bookmark here

It was an incorrect sequence. Bookmark here

Abel had no interest in killing me from afar. He was just running at me in a straight line. I guess there was a small chance a rock could’ve hit Marie by accident.Bookmark here

In any case, the time it takes to run 20 metres for a male athlete is roughly 3 seconds, significantly less than the time it takes to recover and dodge from a ducking position as a malnourished teenager.Bookmark here

I’m dead.Bookmark here

His figure accelerated at an alarming rate.Bookmark here

There was no way I could avoid him.Bookmark here

I had to steel my body. I had to hope I didn’t break too many ribs, and angle my head so I wouldn’t instantly die if I hit concrete.Bookmark here

But I was wrong again.Bookmark here

Abel wasn’t going for a tackle.Bookmark here

He was trying to decapitate me.Bookmark here

I’m fucking dead.Bookmark here

“Got you now, you idiot peeping tom!”Bookmark here

But just as I accepted death, I heard Marie’s voice ring out from behind.Bookmark here

She pushed me to the side using her leg, milliseconds before Abel’s was going to connect with my temple. I heard a sharp gust of air as I haplessly rolled to the floor, and then, the spray of aerosol.Bookmark here

“Gah! My fucking eyes!”Bookmark here

I bumbled around on the pavement as my heart worked overtime to circulate blood. Bookmark here

Fuck. Bookmark here

I’m not dead. Bookmark here

My vision was blurry from all the sudden movement, and my eardrums sounded like something had exploded in the vicinity. Marie must’ve noticed, because she wasted no time in picking up her blazer and whacking Abel with it. She seamlessly pried away the acting baton from my shaking hands.Bookmark here

“Who sent you here? Huh? Who?!”Bookmark here

Every question of hers was punctuated with a dumb thwack.Bookmark here

“F-fuck! Shut up, there’s fucking deodorant in my eye!”Bookmark here

“I’m not going to calm down! You’re a pervert who tried to injure Darren!”Bookmark here

“Weren’t you just getting choked?”Bookmark here

“And a kink shamer!”Bookmark here

This time, instead of hitting him for dramatic effect, Marie took the metal can and slammed it right into his face.Bookmark here

“AHH! My fucking nose!”Bookmark here

“Leave me and my boyfriend alone!”Bookmark here

Boyfriend.Bookmark here

“Fuck, I didn’t know, okay?” Abel blindly held his nose. “I followed Darren because he left the cafeteria and randomly started arguing on the phone, okay?!”Bookmark here

“Who sent you?!”Bookmark here

“No one! No one, I swear! And stop hitting me, you stupid bitch!”Bookmark here

“Not Giselle?”Bookmark here

“NO! She'd kill me if she knew I was here!”Bookmark here

Marie sighed. “Fine, you jealous pervert.”Bookmark here

She tossed the deodorant can onto the bench. The sound of it rattling masked the sound of the footsteps she took towards me, but I saw her pink hair and sky-blue eyes poke slightly into my vision. I didn’t think too much of it. I was more worried about how to pass this lie off to Abel. But based on how well Marie and I acted, we could probably guilt trip him or hold his reputation hostage from now on.Bookmark here

Even she was surprised when I held her neck.Bookmark here

“You okay, Dar-Dar?”Bookmark here

“Y-yeah, I’m fine.”Bookmark here

“You sure?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Mhm. Good!” Marie beamed. “That’s really, really good.”Bookmark here

Without warning, she raised up a leg.Bookmark here

My eyes snapped to a particular spot.Bookmark here

Blue and white stripes.Bookmark here

Oh yes. The mythical third piece of Cum-Exo—Bookmark here

Splat.Bookmark here

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Did you know? During early development, it’s impossible to determine a fetus’ gender due to the fact their gonads are the same. Males are, from a biological perspective, indistinguishable from females at the very early stages of life. What would constitute ovaries for a female then becomes testicles for a male through exposure to hormones in the mother’s womb, developing gradually in the abdomen near the kidneys, before dropping below the penis to form the male reproductive system. The nerve endings are still maintained, of course. And this is why I felt pain in my stomach even though Marie had stomped on my cock.Bookmark here

“AHHHHHHHHH!”Bookmark here

Under the cover of two guys moaning and groaning, Marie-Anne squatted next to my ear and whispered:Bookmark here

“Give me a fucking warning next time, you imbecile.”Bookmark here

L. Moonlight
Kuromaru (クロまる)
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