Gifted Education Project (GEP)
Erica lied to me.
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.
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.
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.
ON THE AESTHETIC DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MARIE-ANNE LEE AND ERICA PARK (JIWOO) THROUGH SEXUAL ANALYSIS OF THEIR METHODS OF INTERROGATION:
Marie-Anne Lee Pros:
No doggy roleplay.
No BDSM motifs.
No drinking out of a toilet.
No risk of accidental blunt force castration (speculative).
Marie-Anne Lee Cons:
I hate the sun.
Marie’s not my type.
Sweaty public sex. Ew!
I can’t keep putting up this bullshit facade forever if I want to live.
“I’m so glad you took the time to come, Darren. Teehee.”
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.
“Hurry up. We have an exam next period.”
“Aw, don’t remind me. Can’t we just enjoy ourselves?”
Marie-Anne excitedly patted the empty space next to her.
“I know I’m not Jiwoo, but come on.”
I took off my blazer as I sat.
“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—”
“Shhh.” She put a finger over my lips. “Let’s take a selfie first. I want to remember this day forever.”
“What the hell..?”
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.
I grimaced a bit.
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.
“Cheese!” she said.
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.
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.
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.
“We look so good together, Darren.”
She brought her lips to my ears.
“But you fucking let someone follow you.”
“Wow,” I replied. “You weren’t lying. I think you’re carrying most of the photo, though.”
Marie-Anne broke away. “C’mon, don’t say that!”
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.
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.
“You’re not as good of an actor as you think you are, Darren.”
“Really not the time for insults.”
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.
More importantly, it lowered our volume.
“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.”
“Should you be risking it all by saying this out loud?”
“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.”
“Have you ever kissed a girl before?”
“Get the fuck away from m—”
“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.”
“…You’re trying to trigger him into coming out?”
Marie-Anne bit her lip. “You don’t have to get rhetorical.”
The heat of everything was rushing to my ears.
“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.”
“So you’re saying he has a mask on.”
“That’s precisely why—”
“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?”
The last sentence that came out from her mouth sounded so dissonant, it genuinely shattered my thoughts.
“Or do you not trust me?”
“…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.”
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?”
That’s why she was feeling up my body.
“…Call her Erica, please.”
“Why? That’s not her name. She’s been lying to you.”
I pushed Marie-Anne away.
“I’m sure she has her reasons.”
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!”
“So, do you want to kiss me?”
“Stop that too.”
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.
What did she want from me?
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—
My face suddenly moved on its own.
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.
It felt good the same way being shoved down a slide sometimes feels thrilling.
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.
“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.”
I didn’t know what she was saying. It might as well have been static.
Marie’s eyes were getting bigger.
But in all honesty, this girl is right.
My breathing was completely ragged.
It’s the unfounded belief that I’m the smartest here that’s holding me back.
She pressed her lips into mine.
Maybe I need to take inspiration from people more knowledgeable than me.
I was doing more than just not stopping her.
Bryan Koh would sit down and take this in stride.
I was kissing her back.
Erica Park wouldn’t.
As my hands searched around her body, I settled on her neck.
Then I squeezed firmly.
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.
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.
I instinctively ducked the moment I heard the noise, then let go of Marie. I turned around afterwards.
I’d rehearsed that sequence in my head.
It was an incorrect sequence.
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.
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.
His figure accelerated at an alarming rate.
There was no way I could avoid him.
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.
But I was wrong again.
Abel wasn’t going for a tackle.
He was trying to decapitate me.
I’m fucking dead.
“Got you now, you idiot peeping tom!”
But just as I accepted death, I heard Marie’s voice ring out from behind.
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.
“Gah! My fucking eyes!”
I bumbled around on the pavement as my heart worked overtime to circulate blood.
I’m not dead.
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.
“Who sent you here? Huh? Who?!”
Every question of hers was punctuated with a dumb thwack.
“F-fuck! Shut up, there’s fucking deodorant in my eye!”
“I’m not going to calm down! You’re a pervert who tried to injure Darren!”
“Weren’t you just getting choked?”
“And a kink shamer!”
This time, instead of hitting him for dramatic effect, Marie took the metal can and slammed it right into his face.
“AHH! My fucking nose!”
“Leave me and my boyfriend alone!”
“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?!”
“Who sent you?!”
“No one! No one, I swear! And stop hitting me, you stupid bitch!”
“NO! She'd kill me if she knew I was here!”
Marie sighed. “Fine, you jealous pervert.”
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.
Even she was surprised when I held her neck.
“You okay, Dar-Dar?”
“Y-yeah, I’m fine.”
“Mhm. Good!” Marie beamed. “That’s really, really good.”
Without warning, she raised up a leg.
My eyes snapped to a particular spot.
Blue and white stripes.
Oh yes. The mythical third piece of Cum-Exo—
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.
Under the cover of two guys moaning and groaning, Marie-Anne squatted next to my ear and whispered:
“Give me a fucking warning next time, you imbecile.”