Chapter 2:

I'm Weird and Dumb

She Can't Be That Perfect!!

Amy can’t shake the embarrassment off her face. It’s not the piggyback ride. Ray’s done plenty of damning ‘couple stuff’ with her and, besides, it’s not like anyone cares enough to spread rumours about her. He grunts slightly, passing the steeper slope of the hill leading to the grand maple tree. Sadness purses her lips. She nudges his side with the tip of her shoe.

“What?” he snorts.

“I’m sorry.”

She feels the breath in his chest. He didn’t expect her to say that, not this sincere anyway.


“Because! I’m… weird… and dumb.”


“Urgh, what do you mean?” she hits her head against his shoulder blades. Amy speaks in his blazer, hoping that it’ll be too muffled to hear, “I’m annoying you… I don’t like thinking about how much shit I’m putting you through on the daily.”

He coughs and she looks at his face. He’s stifling a laugh and he coughs again to make his voice raspy and his eyes aloof.

“Then don’t think about it. I’ll tell you if you step out of line. Besides, I don’t give piggyback rides to annoying Amy.”

Amy chuckles. He has his way of making her happy that no one else does.

“You are though. Because you like her,” she tries teasing. Not very effective.

“She has her odd, platonic charms. Can’t say the same thing about Mia, though.”

It’s an attack she wasn’t ready for. Has he caught on? She feigns ignorance.


“What about her interests you?”

She bites her lip. Pretend. The truth doesn’t have to slip out.

“What doesn’t interest you?”

“A self-absorbed wunderkind with an asteroid belt of groupies around her? I’m just fascinated how she lives with herself.”

His voice stings her. It’s an accusation without being one, but it’s fine. He doesn’t know what she knows, nor does he have to.

“Harrumph!” Ray says, plopping her on a bench. “We’re here,” he adds to her confusion. She turns on her knees and leans over the backrest.

Astella Academy. An enormous compound of spotless white buildings, but just a couple of unintimidating bricks from this far away. A cold breeze blows from there, drying the sweat on her forehead. The leaves of the Grand Maple Tree rustle in a pleasant symphony. Now she understands why it’s a common confession spot. Whispers in this atmosphere would always be in perfect harmony.”

Ray plops next to her, “Still waiting.”

But he’ll have to wait a bit more. Sean and Mia are there, the distance between them threatening to vanish at a moment’s notice. He’s talking and she’s listening with vague interest. They’ve known each other for so long, he has nothing new to tell her. At least until he stops smiling.

Amy’s toes curl uneasy as she watches Sean’s awkward prance towards Mia. His confidence is gone, but he still holds on to their embers. The sun’s farewell lets him stare at the stars, seeing Mia in them. He’s too afraid to look her in the eyes, as if her once soothing gaze would burn him now. When he collects himself at last, his mouth open without a sentence coming out. But when one does, Amy can all but hear it.

I love you.

Come on, do something, Amy thinks, staring at Mia. She’s heard him, she’s taken his feelings and they’re working their way through her system. But they do nothing to her calm. She extends a hand and pats his head, lending him a bit of brazenness, only to take it back when she locks Sean in a tight hug. The kind you give someone you’ll never see again, not in the same light. Her lips form a round rejection.

When they separate, they’re sharing the same expression. A veil of happiness, a storm behind the eyes.

Amy flashes an uneasy smirk. Today just wasn’t meant to be.

She rouses Ray from his boredom, “The real her.”

He scoffs, “There’s nothing real about Mia.”

“Nobody wears a mask to hide a lie.”

She watches Mia descending, her blonde locks mixing with the glow of the street lamps turning on. Amy can only guess her face is as picturesque as ever.

“Surprisingly salient remark,” Ray chuckles.

“Surprisingly witty retort.”

“Imagine if you were like that all the time.”

“You’d really stop being funny.”

He issues a laugh, faker than a celebrity marriage, but a laugh nonetheless. He’s not mad. Ray straightens up, slinging his bag on his shoulder and waiting with open arms. She launches in a tight embrace, relishing the passive aggressive pat he lands on her head.

“You’re weird,” he says.

“I know.”

“Don’t change that, okay?”

With that, he peels away, taking the road that leads to the bus stop.

What was that? It sounded like a foreboding warning. Did he sus her out? The crows caw overhead, forcing her to look at the sky. The moon is rising. She’d better go, there might not be any time left.

She leaves the park, re-entering the academy’s grounds through Idol Alley, a narrow footpath peppered with statues of Astella’s finest alumni. If it weren’t the quickest way back, she wouldn’t be caught dead here. Their lifeless stares always make her feel judged, like she’s an unworthy interloper. Her steps quicken, only to stop right before the entrance. She pulls at the door and it doesn’t budge.

Great. Amy glues herself to the tiny window, knocking a tired rhythm on the glass. Security guards usually patrol the hallways at night, but she can’t see any now. It’s like they’ve all decided to go on break at the same time. With a groan, she pounds harder. Her hope dwindles and dwindles, but it doesn’t weigh on her. This place has ignored her for so long, why would today be different?

She flashes a defeated smile and slows her efforts en route to quitting. But just as she lifts her hand off the door, it opens. Amy blinks in disbelief. Words rush to her mouth, but she can only manage a strangled squeak.

“Miss Astella!”

It’s Mia, blue eyes piercing through her with quizzical intent. She grins, “Please, only servants call me that. It’s Mia.”

She takes a deep breath, like she’s a little winded? Did she rush here? Doesn’t matter. Being looked at like a circus freak reminded Amy of the sorry state of her dress. She hotfoots past Mia and makes for the staircase. Only Mia follows right after her.

“Amélie, was it? Whatcha doing?”

“What are you doing?” Amy retorts. There’s no way she’ll answer that honestly, but she can’t think of excuses on the spot.

“I asked first.”

“I’m… cosplaying!”

“This late?”

“Psht, yeah? Ever heard of the golden hour?”

“Fair enough,” Mia coos.

A long, uncomfortable pause, sprinkled with the twin pitter-patter of footsteps. Amy still hasn’t received her answer. What is Mia doing? It’s like she’s chasing after her, a hungry hound ready to maul her if she trips.

“Did you go the Grand Maple Tree?”

Shit. “N-no! What? Where? Who?”

“Over there!” Mia replies, pointing behind her. The Grand Maple Tree rises in the distance like a harrowing husk, the moon’s disc like a ghastly aura around it. A grievous tactic, confronting criminals with visuals of their crimes. What kind of school has floor-to-ceiling windows in their stairwells?

“Absolutely not.”

Mia chuckles. Did she buy it? Another bout of silence, now punctured by Mia’s humming. A cutesy tune, soft like a nursery rhyme. It’d make her innocent, were it not for that devilish smirk. At long last, they reach the top floor. Amy stops before a door with a handwritten sign hanging next to it. It’s an illegible smudge, but fragments of frilly letters still poke out at the sides. To this day, Amy hasn’t bothered remaking it.

With a sigh, she opens the door, squeezing her eyes at the sharp creak. She hopes Mia won’t enter, but at the same time, she suspects her job with her is not done yet.

“What is this place?” Mia asks.

“It’s –“ Just tell her, it’s not like she cares. “– my club.”

Your club?”

She sounds impressed, but without due cause. It’s more of a storage closet, the whole room being nothing but ancient junk collected over decades, if not centuries. Amy disappears behind a tall stack of cardboard boxes, where she finds her bag and uniform undisturbed in a milk crate. A tiny yelp comes, followed by the moan of springs. Mia must’ve sat on the broken sofa.

“Welcome to the Advisors Hall!” Amy says with a mock cheer in her voice. She’s sticky, tired and she just wants Mia to leave her alone. This tired trick always worked. She tears the maid dress off her and tosses it in the air. It lands somewhere, fitting in perfectly with the rest of the trash.

“What is that?” Mia asks, right on cue.

“Well… do you ever feel like something’s weighing on you and you just want to talk to someone about it?”

As expected, no response. The springs moan again. Just as expected. A little happier, Amy slides on her tights.

“You’re not alone! A lot of the time, I feel like shit! Afraid, alien, anxious, you name it. I started this club hoping I’d find other people like me, people who find it hard to –“ Fight through the tears. Pretend. “–open up. I thought I’d just… be there for them. Listen to them, maybe offer some advice from someone with plenty of experience.”

Amy’s heart drums in her ears. Footsteps go through the room and she hears the hinges squeal. Mia’s gone, but she can’t start something and not finish it. It’s her usual catharsis. She’s garbage surrounded by garbage. No one can judge her here. She zips up her skirt and wipes her eyes.

“I was so pumped to do this, I asked everyone if they’d be interested. They looked at me like I was from a different planet, but that didn’t deter me. Coping mechanisms and such. Even if you needed five people for a proposal, I emailed mine to the headmaster with just me on the member list. You can’t imagine how loud I screamed when he emailed back saying he looked it over and decided to bend the rules for me. In retrospect, he was just… feeling sorry for me. He probably knew that, well… no one in this school is like me. I’m… very alone here.”

She listens to the sounds of emptiness. A tear tries escaping, but she holds it back. And scene.

“Sorry,” she mutters, “I got a little carried away. You’re a good listener.” A sad chuckle, “As if.”

A cloud passes over the moon, shrouding the Advisors Hall in darkness. With a bittersweet weight off her heart, Amy bends down, searching for her shirt. That’s when a warm touch bristles the skin off her bare back.

Amy shrieks and turns around, only to find Mia has never left. She’s staring, mouth flickering open and closed, searching for words. When those fail, she makes a half-step towards Amy, then retreats and freezes.

Both their eyes are just as wide. Amy can’t believe it. There’s something so pure, so raw, so vulnerable about Mia. The very thing she’s been searching for the past year. Now she doesn’t know what to do with it.

Mia reaches her hand out, almost to grab her chest. She flinches, then moves it to her face, the top of her head, her hand, only to settle on the shoulder.

“Tap, tap,” she stammers, almost to herself.

“Mia? Are you okay?”

“Wanna come by my place?”

They both cringe, Mia surprised at her own words and Amy at their volume. They both wait, Mia for Amy’s reply, Amy for Mia to take it back. When nothing changes, they both flash a troubled smile.

“Ummm, sure?” Amy says. It’s an invitation she can’t pass. Not now.

Mia calms at once, then swivels on her toes like a robot. The mask tries slipping back on, but it’s hard when she looks genuinely happy. Mia starts towards the door, twiddling her thumbs as if she’s forgotten something.

“Brilliant!” she says. “I’ll… text you? More details!”

“Can’t wait.”

She doesn’t leave. Why is she still here?



“You’re not alone.”

It sounds too serious to not be a joke. But why is there no laughter following it?

“And your breasts are very cute,” Mia finishes, deadpan like a metronome, then flees like a criminal caught in the act. Suddenly self-conscious, Amy crosses her arms over her chest. Pink flushes her cheeks as only one thought bounces in her head.

My boobs are not cute!