Outside the cabin, Ren was speechless at the scene unfolding in front of his eyes.
“You’re so tall, Adam! How tall are you? Can you reach all the top shelves in the library? Do you have to use a stool?”
Emma was fearlessly bombarding Adam with nonstop questions while bouncing in place.
“Ah!! Do you remember that stool from that one animated movie that acted like a dog? The one about the guy that turns into a beast and all the furniture in his house are his servants? I loved it so much! Hey, do you have any pets? Do you like dogs? I have a dog named Red Ultra Metal Ranger, but I call him Red for short! Wait, do you like superheroes? Who’s your favorite?”
Adam simply stared at her with a blank expression.
Ren couldn’t read him properly - he didn’t think he was upset, but he knew there was no way anyone wouldn’t get overwhelmed by Emma's enthusiasm.
“180 centimeters,” Adam suddenly blurted out.
It took Ren a second to react.
…That’s the answer to her first question!
“...I can reach the shelves. I do not need a stool.”
And now he’s answering them in order!?
“I haven’t seen that movie. I have a bearded dragon. I don’t mind dogs—”
“Whoa! You have a dragon?”
Emma quickly gripped Adam’s shoulders - her eyes were wide and shiny, obviously picturing something very different in her head.
It was, however, the first time Ren saw Adam make any kind of real facial expression - his eyes wide and startled.
Emma and him were looking at each other’s eyes, and despite the height difference, it looked more like Emma had him cornered than the other way around.
Ren didn’t know how to feel about that.
“It’s… a type of lizard…” Adam explained in an awkward, uncomfortable tone, but never took his eyes off Emma.
Ren decided to step in, gently placing his hand over Emma’s arm to coax it away from Adam.
“You’re getting in his personal space, Emma.”
Emma pulled away from him, still swaying on her heels.
Adam fixed his sleeves, his expression back to being unreadable.
He couldn’t tell if he was disappointed that Adam stopped showing human emotion, or relieved that Emma listened to him.
He turned to look at the main cabin a few steps behind them.
They were waiting for Rika and Julius, and while they waited, Ren closed his eyes.
No matter what, he had to keep a cool head on his shoulders.
If the rest all had their own agendas, then it was up to him and no one else to fix this.
He knew this, but the stress of not knowing how to fix it was starting to weigh heavier by the minute.
And then, it got worse.
A myriad of voices echoed from nearby.
“It’s the guy that killed someone, isn’t it?”
“Whaaat? Fuckin’ scary, man”
“Yeah, his name’s Adam Stoker.”
“You mean Adam stalker?”
The other students were starting to get out of their cabins and were heading their way to grab their own meal, talking to each other as they approached.
The whole point of waking up early was to avoid everyone else in the morning rush - it was less about circumventing the crowd, and more about keeping Adam away from them.
Ren, Adam, and Emma stood a few steps outside the cabin while Julius and Rika exited right behind them, bantering over something or another.
“Indeed, I must,” was the last thing Rika said before she turned her head and saw the group of students approaching, walking right past her and Julius while laughing annoyingly.
Some delinquents pushed at them - from the front lines where Emma and the two boys were, to Rika and Julius right behind them.
They didn’t address the five - instead they just walked right past them and into the cabin, completely disregarding them.
Once the hoard was all inside, the cabin instantly got loud.
The five of them could hear their boisterous laughter and how quickly they recharged their energy after a good night’s rest all the way from outside the door.
“Man, they’re all animals,” Rika remarked.
Ren agreed with her in his head, but he was more pressed about Adam.
He glanced at him.
Adam looked impassive as usual.
His eyes were fixed on the ground, but Ren knew there was no way he didn’t hear all those guys talking when they approached.
Of course a rumor like that would spread like wildfire, he thought.
But whether it was true or not, it didn’t change the fact that they were bad-talking Adam right to his face, yet weren’t brave enough to say it to him.
It was upsetting to Ren, at least, so he concluded it must be upsetting to Adam as well.
“Hey,” Emma innocently approached Adam.
“Who’s Adam Stalker? Is that your brother?”
Ren went pale.
S-She asked him about his cruel nickname just like that!?
Adam slowly raised his gaze from the floor to Emma’s eyes.
His eyes were dark and sharp like those of a beast, but not the type that lives with talking furniture.
Ren felt a drop of sweat drip down his forehead.
Adam looked at Emma quietly for a few excruciatingly long seconds before opening his mouth at last.
“...If it were my brother, we’d share the same last name, not the same name.”
“Oh, you’re right!”
Rika burst out laughing as she and Julius joined them.
She was casually resting her elbow on Julius’ shoulder.
“Oh, Emma. Never change.”
Julius pried her arm away from him, but Rika simply put it back on him until Julius gave up.
It ended up being a moment like many others, except Ren realized he was holding his breath.
He felt incredibly guilty for letting fear overtake him the moment he thought Emma was crossing Adam.
Why did he have such a knee-jerk reaction and immediately assume Emma was in danger?
Isn’t he supposed to be on Adam’s side?
I’m a hypocrite.
“Hey, so,” Rika interrupted his thoughts, pointing at the woods with her thumb. “We’re gonna crash Agatha and Airi’s little private party. Wanna tag along?”
“Absolutely not,” Julius was the first to answer, prying Rika’s elbow away from him one final time.
“I wasn’t talking to you, princess," Rika stuck out her tongue at him. "You probably couldn’t survive a single day in the woods.”
Julius scoffed at her name-calling, but at least she finally took her arm away from him.
“I’ll have you know I’m quite adept at basic survival skills, Rika.”
“Oh yeah? Does that mean you’re coming, too?”
“Only to prove my point.”
“Haha. Your pride’s gonna be the death of you, bro.”
She snickered at how easy it was to get Julius to do what she wanted.
She looked at Emma who was all ready to go, then her eyes landed on Ren.
“Though I was actually talking to you… and Adam.”
Adam looked at her with no expression at all, but Ren looked surprised enough for both of them.
“Um, we were actually going to wait until the teacher—”
“I’ll go,” Adam interjected.
“Cool,” Rika nodded.
“Wait, you want to go foraging with them, Stoker?”
Ren needed to make sure Adam knew what he was agreeing to.
“I’ve never done it before," Adam replied dryly.
“W-Well, me neither, but…”
“So you’re also coming, Dahl?”
Ren didn’t exactly feel like going, but he wasn’t about to leave Emma alone with both Adam and Agatha - much less if she was tagging along the other dead kids.
He sighed, defeated.
“...Sure, I’ll go. We can’t just leave in our uniforms, though. We gotta go get some stuff from our cabin, first.”
“We’ll get going and wait for you two along the road, then.”
“Thanks. Take care of Emma.”
“What was thaaaat?” Rika sneered at him, teasingly.
Ren felt a surge of heat rush to his face.
“...I meant you should make sure she doesn’t wander away and get lost.”
Ren quickly turned away from her.
“Let’s go, Stoker.”
Adam nodded, walking behind a blushing Ren back to their cabin.