Chapter 8:

Learning To Say

Life Eats Us Now

The notes of the piano filled the corridor, capturing my attention and drawing me irresistibly towards the music room, as if finding a calm refuge amidst the otherwise mundane school environment. Each note seemed to reach out, gently urging me to step inside.

As I drew nearer, the melody became clearer and more enchanting, wrapping around me like soft, inviting knots of colorful strings carried along the floating notes. It was a magnetic pull that filled me with curiosity. I couldn't resist the urge to discover the source of this captivating sound.

Inside the room, I could hear a few voices, almost like it was woven into the very music itself. 

"Your playing has improved a lot..."

"Thanks, but I still don't think it's good enough."

"No, no... it's already quite impressive, the way it is right now."

Their words lingered in the room, like gentle notes dancing between the piano's keys and the echoing walls. I leaned in, my body still pressed against the wall, eager to catch the detail of their conversation.

"So, are you going to participate this year too?"

"No... actually."

I inched closer to the door, easing it open with great care to avoid making any noise. The narrow gap allowed me to glimpse inside, though I couldn't see the whole scene. In that soft afternoon sunlight, I saw Emma, standing by the window with a lively expression. Her gaze seemed to wander to her right, where the piano was placed. The top board was raised with the lid prop, making it hard for me to see who's playing the piano. If Emma's here, then the person at the piano had to be Adica. She did mentioned heading to the music room to Emma when they left the classroom today.

All of a sudden, the music stopped all of a sudden, hanging like an incomplete sentence. I startled, instinctively sliding to the side, away from the partially open door. Did they see me? Why else would she stop playing so suddenly?

Heart pounding, I slid the door a tiny bit more, cautiously peering through the slender gap once more. Yeah, I was right about Adica playing the piano, as she had now risen from her chair, her fingers suspended above the keys, as if frozen in time. "Adica?" Emma gave her a pat on the shoulder, as she jittered out from her frozen state. Sliding the lid of the piano down, Adica slung her bag over her shoulder.

"We're leaving already?" Emma's voice broke the silence again, as she too reached for her bag.

I let out a relieved sigh, thankful that I hadn't been caught eavesdropping. Even just catching a glimpse of Emma made my heart ache, wondering what she might do if she spotted me spying. Maybe she would make me her slave for the rest of my high school life. Man, I wouldn't want that.

As I observed Emma and Adica getting ready to leave the music room, I realized it was time for me to beat a hasty retreat. I carefully moved away from the door, retracing my steps. I quickly descended the stairs and made my way out of the school grounds.

Perhaps you've had moments like these, even if only once in your life. For me, it seemed to happen more times than I could count. Moments when you can sense a looming disaster, one you've carefully planned to avoid. But when that moment finally arrives, your actions betray your intentions, and you find yourself in a bewildering situation.

Adica's family lived right next door to us, so we took the same path to school every morning. Surprisingly, we never seemed to cross paths on our way there. Maybe because I had a knack for oversleeping, narrowly making it to school on time. Those rushed mornings hardly left room to run into anyone.

However, the journey home was a different story altogether. After the final bell rings, and everyone begins heading back home, I would often linger in the corridors for an extra quarter of an hour. Not like I'm up to anything meanwhile, just a well-thought-out strategy to avoid bumping into Adica, particularly because she's always accompanied by Emma on her way home.

After hurriedly running of from in front of the music room, my sole focus was on evading their attention, especially Emma's. I quickened my steps, feeling my heart racing like a galloping horse, desperately trying to make it home before running into them. Yet, in my haste, I had overlooked one crucial detail: the timing of it all.

Suddenly, a voice shattered the air, shocking me like an electric jolt. "Hey, aren't you the one from last time?"

My body straightened by itself, and after faltering one or two steps, I instinctively avoided making eye contact, keeping my gaze fixed firmly on the path ahead. However, he seemed determined not to yield, standing right in my way.

"What's wrong?" he asked, seemingly undisturbed by my attempts to avoid him. "I can't recall doing anything that would make you so determined to steer clear of me."

"I...I'm in a hurry," I stammered, struggling to keep my voice steady. I'd forgotten to take the other route back home. It's already close to sunset, and in this crimson world, safety was a rare commodity—a lesson that had come crashing into my reality on just my second day here.

"Why the rush? You see, I'm alone today. None of the others are with me."

It didn't matter to me whether he was by himself or surrounded by a crowd. I had no intention of getting involved in his peculiar world. "Y-you warned me not to come here again. So, please, just let me go..."

His mood underwent a sudden shift, and his grip on my shoulder tightened, pulling me closer. "Oh, you remember that?" His voice took on a menacing edge, as if he had marked me as his target with no way out. "And still, you dared to come back here."

I struggled to break free from his grasp, but his strength was overpowering. "I didn't mean to. It was a mistake."

He sneered, "Well, then, as a consequence, why don't you spend some time with me? I doubt you'd object."


"I strongly advise against it," he persisted, his eyes growing darker with a dangerous intensity, as if he had already determined my fate. But just when I felt utterly trapped and helpless, salvation arrived in an unexpected form.

"Hey, isn't that you, Bryant? What are you doing here!?" A voice chimed in from behind. It was Emma's voice. Startled, he released his grip, and I staggered backward, trying to catch my breath.

Bryant, did she say? It was as if a thunderstorm had ignited within my mind, lightning flashes of curiosity and confusion illuminating the shadows of my thoughts. Why does Emma know this person?

"Are you deaf? I'm talking to you, Bryant!"

"I can hear you just fine, no need to yell."

"If you can hear me, then explain what you're doing here."

Bryant, seemingly unperturbed, flashed a sly grin and draped his arm around me once more. "Can't you see, Emma? I'm just spending time with my friend here. Any issue with that?"

"So, you haven't learned your lesson, huh? After causing all that trouble?"

For an instant, Bryant broke his composure, like a momentarily eclipsed sun, and he appeared to be sifting through the vast expanse of his thoughts, seeking the perfect words. "My lesson...? What did I even do? Someone else used my name to cause a ruckus, and I'm the one who needs a lesson?"

His reluctance to respond placed me squarely between the lines of an unspoken feud. It was like being caught between two trenches in a war zone, with verbal gunfire flying from both sides.

"If you're truly innocent, then it's best for you to keep quiet and avoid further trouble."

Bryant clicked his tongue, pivoting on his heel to march in the opposite direction. As he cut straight past them, I could see him and Emma exchanging venomous glares before the Adica and Emma turned and began walking towards me.

"Uh... um..." I attempted to express my gratitude, but my words fell short. They just walked past me, as if they hadn't even acknowledged my presence; like I wasn't there at all.

"Adica, can you help me with those assignments?" Emma asked, shifting the subject abruptly.



My eyes drifted downward, unable to meet anyone else's gaze, and my fingers clung tightly to the strap of my bag. In the end, I hadn't uttered a word of thanks... it was intensely humiliating to have been rescued by her, to be in a position where I couldn't even protect myself.

It wasn't so much about what Bryant might have done to me physically; what I regretted most was not having summoned the courage to resist, even if it was just with words. I felt like I had let myself down, like I had failed to stand up for myself. But what else could've I possibly done? Just the thought of rising a fist alone gave the chills... who knows what he may do to me for the rest of my stay in this town. 

After a moment, my legs began to regain their strength, and I resumed my journey home.

As I pushed the front door open and entered the house, my senses were instantly besieged by the noise coming from inside. The TV in our living room blared at an ear-splitting volume. It couldn't be my father; he didn't like the TV so loud. Then, who else could it be?

Without wasting a moment, I rushed into the living room, and there he was, stretched out on the couch. My astonishment bubbled over, and my words spilled out in haste, "Brother, when did you return?"

It was my older brother, Liam, reclining on the couch. He sat up and greeted me with a warm smile. "Oh, Reol, you're back already? I arrived just this afternoon. How's everything with you?"

"Yeah... um... I'm fine," I said, trying to keep a smile.

"How's your new school? Getting along with others?"

"Yeah. And what about you? How long are you going to stay?"

"Well, I'm just over with my mid-terms. Maybe a few days?"

I felt a bead of sweat forming on my brow. He had this uncanny way of digging into my thoughts, seeing through my walls of silence. Despite this, I remained cautious not to reveal too much, though. It felt safer to keep certain things to myself. 

"You seem to be sweating a lot? You're quite late too... Did you have club activities or were you hanging out with friends?"

I bit my lip. "None of them, actually. Just had some stuff..."

Mom strolled into the room, carrying a bowl filled with biscuits. "Reol, you're back home? Go get changed and come downstairs."

Following her instructions, I trudged to my room, exerting just enough force to close the door firmly behind me. My bag fell to the floor with a thud as I flopped onto my bed, overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions. Mom seemed unusually happy today, but I couldn't blame her. Liam's back home after a really long time, meaning our family was complete again. I wasn't unhappy about it either. In fact, I was genuinely pleased to see him. Liam had always been kind to me, perhaps the only person who had treated me that way for as long as I could remember.

However, his presence also had an unusual effect on me. It made my own life seem shallow and awkward, as though all my flaws were on display for everyone to see. It was even worse when Mom would constantly compare every tiny fault of mine to his perfections. Perhaps that's why I had felt a sense of relief when he moved out to live on his own while attending university. His brilliance, his effortless success, it was all too dazzling for me.

I didn't want Liam to sense my feelings, so I made a concerted effort to wear a smile during dinner. It had been a long while since we all gathered for a meal together after all.

"So, Reol," Liam began, curiously leaned forward with his forearms on the table, "have you thought about joining any clubs at your new school?"

"A club...?" I hesitated, my fork hanging in the air as I thought about his question. Clubs hadn't been on my mind much, but today, I did sign up for the literature club. Should I mention that?

"Yeah... I think you should. Believe me, you'll regret it if you don't. My time in the drama club was some of the best."

I was about to voice in again, when my mother posed through, sounding as if she were trying to protect me from some unseen danger. "What are you saying, Liam? I think he should just focus on his studies. Can he handle all that?"

Liam seemed to take notice of where it was heading and got ready to respond. Gathering my courage, I inhaled deeply, not giving much thought to anything drawing me down. "Actually, mother, there's something I need to tell you."

My mother's gaze shifted to me, her eyes narrowing slightly. "What is it, Reol?"

"I... I actually joined the literature club today."

The silence that followed felt like a scene from a suspenseful movie, building up tension for an impending climax. The words dangled, as if caught in a fragile web of silence. The ticking of the wall clock seemed louder, as if it were counting down the seconds of my mother's growing disbelief.

"What?!" Her voice exploded, shattering the silence like a thunderclap. "You did what, Reol?"

My father tried to defuse the situation. "Honey, let's calm down. Maybe it's not such a big deal. He can always change his mind if he doesn't like it." But my mother wasn't having it; she continued to voice her displeasure. "No, this is unacceptable! Reol, how could you do something like this without even talking to us? You know how crucial your studies are."

"Mom, I think you're reacting strongly. It's just a club. He can give it a try."

My mother's anger flared even more. "And what do you know about it, Liam? You're not the one who has to worry about his future!"

My father intervened again, trying a bit harder to get his voice through. "Let's all calm down. Reol, why did you choose the literature club?"

I swallowed hard, feeling trapped like a cornered animal. "Well, my teacher sort of... pushed me into it. I didn't really plan on joining."

"What kind of teacher is that, anyway? Can't they just focus on the students' studies for once!?"

In the end, I found myself silenced by the ongoing exchange between my mother, father, and Liam. My desire to voice my own thoughts remained out of question, like a whisper lost in a mess of noises. I hadn't asked for this; the choice to join the literature club wasn't entirely mine. Yet, a part of me felt an unexpected excitement about it. The idea of meeting new people and diving into an entirely unfamiliar experience held a certain allure.

It was like getting caught in the crossfire, swayed first by my teacher's suggestion and now by my mother's firm disapproval. Stuck between two opposing forces, I felt like my own voice didn't matter anymore.

I pushed my half-eaten plate to the front of the table and rose abruptly from my chair. I couldn't take it any longer. It seemed like no one was willing to listen to what I had to say, no matter how important it was to me. I needed some space.

As I retreated to the refuge of my room, I could hear my mother's worried and angered cries continue to reverberate throughout the house. But as I firmly closed the door behind me, those urgent calls gradually dissolved into the distant hum of my surroundings, casting upon me heavy feeling of isolation.

I slumped onto my bed, my fists clenched in a white-knuckled grip of anger and sadness. With a frustrated growl, I grabbed a nearby pillow, squeezing it tightly as if trying to wring out my emotions. My breath came in ragged, uneven bursts, and the fabric of my sheets bunched under my grip. Each heartbeat pulsed with the weight of my sorrow and frustration, echoing in the quiet room. But after a while, Liam's voice suddenly sounded from the other side of my locked bedroom door. "Reol, are you okay?"