Chapter 23:

Opening Up

Life Eats Us Now

Surrounded in the soft, warm glow of hanging lamps. As we spent hours poring over our books and notes, I was kind of missing the old, though not so old, club hours already. But this group study thing is fun in its own way too, in the books and in the occasional hushed whisper brimming through. And of course, the invaluable assistance I received was undoubtedly propelling my academic progress forward too.

As we concluded another day of studying, we began to pack our books and bags. John subtly tugged at my sleeve, signaling for me to come closer. "Reol," he spoke in a hushed tone, "can you stick around for a little while after the others leave?"

"Why? Is something wrong?"

His tone was quite serious. "I've got something important to discuss with you."

Emma and Adica rose from their chairs and turned towards us. "Are you both coming, or should we wait?" Emma inquired.

John swung his head side to side. "You two can go ahead. Reol and I have something to discuss."

"Are you sure you don't want us to wait?" Adica asked too, "It's not a bother for us."

"No need, really. You'd just end up waiting too long."

With Adica and Emma departing ahead of us, I watched their retreating figures as they exited through the library's front door. Turning to John, I leaned against the table. "Alright, what's this about?"

"Sit down first. It'll take a bit of time..." His eyes wandered toward the rows of bookshelves that surrounded us as if he were collecting his thoughts. Finally, he faced me with an almost earnest look on him. "Reol, I want you to be completely honest with me, okay?"

I nodded, though I was growing increasingly puzzled by the conversation. "Sure, John. Just tell me what's on your mind."

He drew a deep breath, then exhaled slowly, his hands fidgeting. The prolonged silence began to make me feel uneasy. "John?"

"Reol, what are your thoughts on Adica?"

I blinked in surprise. Adica? Why was he suddenly bringing her up? "Why are you asking about Adica?"

John's gaze intensified, as though he were bracing himself for my response. Leaning in slightly, he lowered his voice. "Just answer honestly, Reol. What do you think of her?"

I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, trying to read John's intentions. "Well, she's a great student, and she's been really helpful with our studies. Why?"

John sighed, his shoulders relaxing a fraction. "No, I mean, what do you think about her, personally? How do you feel when you're around her?"

His question caught me off guard. I hadn't really considered my feelings towards Adica in that way. We were friends, and she played a crucial role in our study group. But beyond that, I wasn't certain how to respond.

"Why are you asking this?" I deflected, hoping to gain some time to gather my thoughts.

John didn't waver. "I'm asking because I've noticed something, and I need to know if I'm just imagining things, or, if you've noticed it too."

 "What have you noticed?"

John leaned in even closer, pitching his voice further down. "It's about how you behave around Adica. I've noticed it from the beginning. You seemed... well, I can't quite find the right word for it... tangled? But there was definitely something. And over time, it's like you two have become more at ease with each other. You seem really comfortable in each other's presence. Why is that?"

I stared at John, my thoughts racing to process his words. Was he implying that I had feelings for Adica? It couldn't be possible; I had never considered such a thing in my life.

But the more I dwelled on it, the more I couldn't deny that there was something different about my interactions with her. Was it because of the things Emma had mentioned about her, things that no one else knew? But that didn't mean I had feelings for her. It couldn't be.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I replied, trying to maintain a casual tone. "Adica's just a friend, like you and Emma."

John didn't seem satisfied with my response. "Reol, there's no use in trying to hide it... and I can tell when something's bothering you. I've noticed the way you look at Adica sometimes, and it's not the same way you look at the rest of us."

I squirmed in my seat again, as if I was being exposed. "I really don't know what you want me to say, John. Adica's a good friend, and I appreciate her help with our studies. That's all."

John studied my face for a moment longer before nodding slowly. "Okay, Reol. I just had to ask. Let's just forget we even had this conversation, all right? Now, let's get to the real issue," John said, his expression turning serious.

"The real... were you just messing with me earlier, then?"

"No, Reol, I didn't mean it that way. But that's not the issue here. Let me get straight to the point."

"Alright," I replied, growing increasingly uneasy. If what John had asked earlier wasn't the main point, I had no idea what he was getting at. "Just please don't keep me in suspense."

"Don't worry. Just think and tell me. Is there anything about Adica that strikes you as strange? Something about her that doesn't quite add up."

I was completely baffled by the sudden turn in our conversation. I gave John a blank look, conveying my confusion. John seemed to sense my bewilderment and continued, as if talking to himself, "I've been observing her since the day she joined our class. She emits a different kind of energy compared to others. Energy... doesn't sound right... it's just that the air around her felt different. Initially, I just thought that's her personality, so I didn't dwell on it. If someone prefers to keep their personal space, it's best to respect that. It's for both our sakes, really."

He's not wrong about that... I had initially just assumed Adica as someone who preferred solitude too. But if you were to ask me now, my answer would be completely different. Observing her in this moment, relishing the company of others, laughing and smiling, no one would interpret her that way. Not even me. People change, the same was for me too, and as for her, she sure had her reasons too.

"So, what are you getting at?" I pressed him to continue.

"You know, whenever we're not directly observing her, it's as if she reverts back to her old self. I've caught glimpses, just a few, but when we're all caught up in laughter or looking away, she seems like she's in a world of her own. She keeps it hidden from everyone... but behind our gazes, I somehow get the feeling that she's silently breaking down. And... lonely. I can't say for certain if I'm right or wrong; it's just a gut feeling."

My thoughts whirled as I tried to make sense of John's words. Adica, lonely? "What are you trying to say, John?"

"Reol, you can sense that I'm serious about this, right...?"

"So, what are you suggesting, then?"

"You know I can't just approach her directly... she won't open up to me," John admitted, and I started to grasp the gist of his thoughts. "I want to help her, if there's something that's troubling her. And that's why I'm asking your help. She always seems so at ease when you're with her. Has she ever shared anything personal with you?"

"No... that's highly unlikely," I replied slowly. "She doesn't usually discuss personal matters. But maybe, if she trusts us enough, she might consider it. We could try asking-" my words cut off instantly as I considered my next thought. For some inexplicable reason, I hesitated to bring up Emma's name, feeling an unexpected urge to not let him know anything. Nothing.

"Who could I ask, then? Emma?" John shook his head, dismissing Emma as an option. "No, not her. She's too close to Adica. Even if she does know something, she'd keep it under wraps for Adica's sake. "

I let out a sigh of relief. I was really relieved that John had ruled out Emma for asking about Adica. After all, considering Emma, if John were to try to convince her, it seemed unlikely that she'd keep everything bottled up. 

Yet, what had John been doing all this time then? Coming out of nowhere and then saying that he wants to help her now? Adica had always made it clear that she didn't want anyone prying into her personal life, but Emma had willingly shared so much with me. I had hoped that Adica would eventually feel comfortable enough to confide in me willingly, not because someone extended their kindness out of pity.

In my own way, I had encountered a glimpse of the emotions and challenges that Adica had faced. This shared understanding had paved the way for our comfort around each other, and to me, that's the essence of genuine friendship. It wasn't built on pity or forced assistance; it was rooted in empathy and authentic connection.

With that understanding, it became clear to me that my initial reservations about John's intentions were not entirely unfounded.

"You see," John continued, his eyes focused on something in the distance, "I don't know from whom I picked this up, but when I see a friend, or someone I care about, going through a tough time, I can't help but want to help them. With Adica, it's the same. I'm not even sure if she considers me a friend, but I want to help her, genuinely. I don't want to push her into telling me anything; that would be unfair and insensitive."

Is that why he suggested we ask Adica to join our study group?

For some reason, John's words weren't ticking well with me anymore. It was as if his words and intentions weren't entirely fitting together in my mind. Was it just his inherent kindness leading him to reach out, or had there been a purpose behind his budding friendship? The nagging thought swirled in my head. Is he just... always helping his friends in trouble? Did he befriend me too... out of pity... because I struggled to make friends with anyone?

"Can you think of any other approach, Reol?"

My words came out harsher than I had intended, but the turmoil inside me demanded answers. "Who knows. Why don't you figure it out for yourself?" It felt as though a shadow had descended upon me once more, those familiar, dark swirls forming a barrier around my emotions. "It's late. I have to leave now."

"Already? Alright then, see you in class tomorrow."

"Yeah, see you," I muttered, my words feeling choked. I didn't want to say or do something I might regret, so I summoned all the strength I could muster and walked away swiftly, clutching my bag tightly.