Chapter 15:

I Wouldn't Have Imagined I'd Miss That (4)

Gifted Education Project (GEP)

The first test on the start of each day was the most difficult, involving the greatest exertion, highest stakes, least ethical considerations, and was always accompanied by a medical checkup split across genders. Erica would use those trips to the school infirmary to slip away from the rest of the class, and then after casually acing the exam (or getting last place with a suspicious N/A score), she’d disappear for the rest of the day.

At first I tried waking up early, thinking that I could just stake out the school entrance until she showed up. But that never worked. Not because I couldn’t commit to the lifestyle of a stalker — frankly, I didn’t care about social image, because half of my groupmates would be gone in a month and I’d most likely be shuffled into a different class from the survivors. It had nothing to do with shyness. In fact, I was an extremely diligent stalker. My daily routine consisted of waiting by the school entrance from 6:00 till 8:19, two breakfasts in hand, then once 8:20 would hit I’d eat the second curry puff (with the assumption that Erica ate at a human pace) and make a mad dash to 1-A, usually arriving at 8:27, sometimes 8:28 because the insomnia was tiring out my muscles. It was like clockwork. I was a machine. Regrettably, Erica always insulted these efforts by arriving at 1-A at exactly 8:29, no sweat at all, her expression tranquil, no eye contact, no remorse, just a generic scissoring lesbian face. On the one day I decided to push back as late as I possibly could before heading to class, the both of us simply ended up missing the exam.

Okay then.

In my desperation I went to Bryan. There was no point in staking out other “necessary” places like one of the 10 grocery outlets or the cafeteria, because the school was designed such that you had twenty different locations to choose from at any given moment when it came to food. Why they’d build a sprawling city block for a student population that theoretically only hit 480 at peak capacity was beyond me, but the point is that I didn’t know what Erica liked to eat or when she shopped. She could also check my exact location whenever she wanted. The only chance I had with my primitive, 20th-century stalking method was to stick to the one place I knew she absolutely had to go to — the exam venue — but even then, she simply prioritised avoiding a confrontation with me over her life.

Which, once again, brought me to Bryan. At first he asked to meet at the same bench Marie molested me on, but I said no for obvious reasons. We ended up negotiating in broad daylight at the cafeteria.

“Can you give me Erica’s number?”

“Hell no, dude.”

“Can I buy it from you?”

Bryan took two spoonfuls of his high-calorie meal set. “800 Points.”


Bryan untook two spoonfuls of his high-calorie meal set.

Cough, cough cough, cough.

A sip of water.

Patting his chest.

“You okay?” I asked.

One more cough. Ack.

“…No man, are YOU okay?” He started wiping his mouth with a serviette. Even whilst shocked, Bryan Koh maintained his table manners. “What is wrong with you? You’re not supposed to hand over money for a phone number at a fuck off price, Darren.”

“Well, if someone’s willing to pay, then it’s not really one.”

“Bro, I wasn’t serious.”

Schrodinger’s douchebag.

“Alright, look.” At what? Your jackass earring? “You know people can just spoof their locations, right? It’s 10 per hour. Nothing changes if I give you her number.”

“Do it, then.”

“Yeah, but it’s gonna accelerate whatever she’s trying to prove. Don’t you get it? Decide if you’re trying to talk to her or kill her, Darren.”

The rest of the conversation wasn’t important — just a back and forth between Bryan and I regarding hypothetical situations. Things like, Even if you confront her, what are you gonna say? Do you genuinely think you can beat her in a fight? Or my favourite, Do you even know what you want from Park Jiwoo?

NO you fucking dumbass. That’s why I’m looking for her. Also I bet you spend too much money on hairspray.

Bryan didn’t cooperate, which brought me to the only other “friend” I could scrounge up from this sexless place: Marie-Anne Lee. Though in hindsight, I should’ve expected as much from Bryan, because the first thing he ever genuinely got mad at me for was gloating at Erica, and here I was, some wide-eyed, ignorant, ostensibly horny guy, asking a white-knight jock with dyed hair at 15 for an attractive girl’s number. It was obvious this wouldn't work. He was also the type of person to try and guide someone using roundabout analogies instead of actually telling them what they needed to know, so I should’ve realised he was a useless prick. Later! But actually there’s no Later, because I’m never talking to you again.

So now it’s Marie, not Bryan. But if I really thought about it, maybe Marie was worse than Bryan, because Marie had all these weird criteria I had to meet before she’d meet (based on a sample size of two), like telling me to rehearse the “cover story”, telling me to call her instead of text so there’d be “plausible deniability” and no “trail of evidence”, asking if I was “recording the call”, to which I’d always respond “why the fuck would I do that”, and then she’d ask me to “calm down or I’ll kick your balls again” like I was the paranoid one, “hee hee just kidding”, whereas Bryan was chill with it. But at least Marie made me feel like we were both serious and on the same page, whereas Bryan didn’t even try to hide the fact he wasn’t empathising.

Daft cunt.

But to be fair, how could he? He remembered his past. He lied to people, not the other way around. He also had more than 2000 Points. There are tiers to people’s existences, and Bryan Koh was living as Taiping Heavenly King. And sure, maybe I should have noted this earlier, but running out of money in this place gets you expelled. Every exam also results in a net negative Points change when you sum up the prizes and penalties. So, Points weren’t actually money, they were our lifelines as students, and Erica was skipping exams over and over just to avoid me.


Anyway, getting back on topic — I was at this restaurant with Marie the other day — one of the few places in NHS where you actually had to pay for the food. She was wearing a necklace I’d never seen before, a burgundy dress that only covered one shoulder, and black heels. Perfume too. I was wearing my school uniform. After all, I had ten sets of it. I found myself wondering if she actually spent money on clothes as we ordered food that also cost money. Mental illness. Actually, how were all these geniuses affording dyed hair and jewellery?

I disliked thinking, so I said, “We could have done this over the phone,” not really thinking. When you dislike the ambience, fill it with your own voice. When she doesn’t reply, look down at your meal that isn’t high-calorie, high-protein, diet or no-carbohydrate in nature, just an entreé which costs you 1% of your life, and keep talking. “And definitely not at whatever this place is.”

“Aw, why? You don’t like the food?”

When she replies, say, “Nevermind.” Then cut open the meat. Very red. Comment on the food. Think later. This step is very important. “Sometimes, I struggle to figure out which Marie is the real you.”

“That’s not something you say on a date.”

Oh, you were supposed to comment on the food.

Oh, but I didn’t.

Oh wow, your tenses are slipping again.

“Ahaha,” she laughed. Snap back to reality. “Are you nervous because of my hair?” She made a show of throwing her hair around. Long. Wavy. Ahaha. “They’re extensions, Dar-Dar.”


“It’s me, the same Marie you know and love.”

“Okay, so can we talk about the real stuff now?”

Marie smiled. “Have I ever stopped you from doing anything?”

Déjà vu. Now there’s a guy on the floor in my mental snapshot. But hey, at least she didn’t phrase her rhetorical questions the same way, even if her eyes were doing the same thing as that day.

Keep talking and no one dies. “Can you physically restrain Erica after the medical checkup tomorrow?” Talk faster to get rid of the Monday vignettes. “I’ll pay you in advance. Get your girlfriends to corner her, then let her out of the infirmary when I give the signal.”


Her cutlery rattled against her plate. On it was allegedly a salmon and leek parcel.

“Do you have a price in mind?”

“Slow down,” Marie said. Hahaha. She made her laugh sound more uncomfortable than usual. “It just occurred to me that… wow. You know what? I’m glad we chose to discuss this in person.”

She reached across the table to hold my hand, but fine dining tables aren’t that small, so then she brushed against the sleeve of my leg with her foot.

“See, you’re asking for a price on a hit, yet you’re still calling her ‘Erica’. You do realise no one calls her Erica except you, right?”

Do you always touch people before saying fucked up shit?

“How is this relevant?” I ended up asking.

“Off-topic, but do you trust me?”


“Do you trust that I care for you?”

“Definitely not.”

“How about in a transactional sense, do you trust that I’d try to keep you happy for future business?”

“If you’re trying to say I’m going to spend so much money I might end up dead because of it — first of all, no, and second of all, I can do my own budgeting, thank you very much. And get your fucking leg off me.”

“First of all, wrong. Second of all, move it off if that’s what you really want.”

Okay, you win.

“Third of all, I’m not going to let you scam yourself.”

“Scam myself?”

“Do you even know what you’re going to say when you see her?”

Okay, show’s over.

The rest of the conversation wasn’t important — just a back and forth between Marie and I regarding how useless everyone was.

Marie was useless. Bryan was useless. Marie and Bryan were probably working together. Friends, generally speaking, are not your friends: there are no eternal allies, no perpetual enemies, only permanent interests.

Let’s meet at the vending machine at Block D. I have a favour to ask.

Who is this?

I know what happened to your brother.

So now it’s Giselle.

Andrei Voicu
Pope Evaristus
Robin Paharya