Chapter 24:


Life Eats Us Now

I practically bolted out of the library, my steps longer and faster than ever, as if trying to outrun my own thoughts. All I wanted was to escape from that situation and retreat to my room and bury my face in my bed.

But my mind continued to whirl in circles.

It wasn't as though I didn't appreciate what John had done for me. He had been there for me countless times, a friend in every sense, offering his help without hesitation. Yet, as his words echoed in my head, it became increasingly difficult to accept his kindness now.

Was it fear? Fear that if I continued leaning on John's pity or kindness, I'd never be able to change myself. It's like... I had grown comfortable in my own misery, and any help felt like it might hinder my progress toward becoming a better version of myself. The more I depended on others, the harder it would be for me to stand on my own two feet. Or at least, that's what I told myself.

But there was another emotion, one I hadn't quite acknowledged, even to myself: jealousy. I found myself envious of someone like John, who effortlessly extended his help and kindness to others, a realm that seemed so distant from my own abilities. While I had poured considerable effort into getting closer to Adica, understanding her, and offering my support, John seemed to possess an innate talent for assistance, performing acts of kindness almost effortlessly.

What troubled me most was his lack of hesitation. John could openly declare his willingness to help and support, while I struggled to convey my feelings. I felt trapped within my own inhibitions, unable to bridge the gap between myself and others. John's natural kindness served as a glaring reminder of my own weaknesses.

Yet, deep down, I couldn't help but wonder: Did John befriend me out of pity? Perhaps he saw something lacking in me and extended his hand of friendship out of sympathy. That thought stung, and I couldn't bear the idea of being someone's charity case.

No, I didn't want that... I didn't want pity or obligation.

I hastened my retreat, the library's glass doors swinging shut behind me with a soft, echoing thud.

The streets were quiet, my footsteps echoing through the quietness. The usual mundane route, taken countless times, held no surprises until that moment. As I approached and intersection, the rhythm of my steps came to an abrupt halt by a blur of motion in front of me. Right before my eyes, three figures rushed past me. It happened so fast, yet my eyes caught the glimpse of the first one – Bryant. What on earth is he doing, sprinting through the streets like that? Is he being chased or something? It was like a scene from a thriller.

I peered around the corner of the intersection. There, I spotted Bryant leaning against a telephone pole, his pain almost visible on his contorted face. His hands were marred with cuts and scars, along with a few cuts on his face and lips too. Yet, what alarmed me even more were the other two individuals who stood menacingly near him. It was evident that they were the ones responsible for his injuries, and they appeared ready for another round of confrontation.

I strained my ears, desperate to catch even a snippet of their conversation. The distance between us, however, was too much, rendering their words as muffled whispers in the wind. Panic began to creep into the corners of my mind, its tendrils curling around my thoughts. What should I do in this situation? Should I wait and hope they would leave? But Bryant was in no condition to defend himself, and there was a nagging fear that something worse might happen if I just walked away.

My fingers found their way to my forehead, delivering an almost involuntary smack as I brushed a few unruly strands of hair from my face. What am I even thinking? The last time I tangled with Bryant's underlings, I ended up battered and bruised. These two looked even more menacing, and Bryant himself seemed incapable of putting up a fight in his current state. It would be sheer madness to intervene.

But as I watched, my conscience engaged in a fierce battle with my fear. My eyes, despite my internal protestations, remained trained on the unfolding scene. One of the assailants had ensnared Bryant in a vice-like grip, while the other drew back his fist with malevolent intent. The blow landed with a sickening thud, striking Bryant square in the gut and eliciting a painful, blood-soaked cough. It was a brutal tableau, one that wrenched at my heartstrings, even for a man as troublesome as Bryant had been.

When they released him, he collapsed onto the asphalt, clutching his stomach in agony. I felt a surge of helplessness. What should I do? I couldn't just stand here and watch. But at the same time, I couldn't let my emotions override my judgment. It was a dangerous situation, and those two looked nothing like highschoolers.

Just what kind of problems does he like to get involved in?

I couldn't bear to witness that brutal scene any longer. I turned away, collapsing to my knees as my trembling hands moved instinctively to shield my face. My initial instinct was to get up and walk away, to escape and put as much distance as possible between myself and this nightmarish sight. Yet, as I prepared to execute my retreat, John's words echoed in my mind. 

"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."

Yeah, maybe it was all just a recurring pattern. Even if I were to intervene, Bryant wouldn't welcome it – help from someone like me, who may not even make a difference in the end. 

It's the same feeling...

The same feeling, yet... I could also hear another voice within me... screaming aloud...

"H-hey! You two, I've finally caught you!"

Their eyes snapped toward me like predators sensing prey, sending an icy shiver down my spine. "What the hell are you?"

I took in a deep breath, trying the calm myself the best. This is a risky gamble, and if they catch a hint of anything, it could spell disaster. However, there was also a glimmer of hope too. Bryant and his gang seldom frequented this part of town. This path was my own daily route home from school when I was running late, and I had never once encountered them here. So the fact that he's were here, seemingly chased all the way, suggested that Bryant had been isolated deliberately.

My heart hammered in my chest like a jackhammer, its frantic rhythm echoing in my ears as I clutched my phone with trembling hands, hastily dialing John's number. He was the only one who came to mind at that moment, the one person I could think to call for help. After a few agonizing seconds, John's voice crackled through the phone, and I began shouting, the words tumbling out of me in a frantic rush.

"Hey guys, A-I've found Boss, and the two snitches too. Y-yeah, Santner Street, just a block ahead of the corner store. I'll deal with the two snitches first; you guys come immediately! D-don't worry, I won't kill them, you guys will get turns too."

John, on the other end, didn't say anything back, maybe trying to make sense of my frenzied words. But before he could respond, I abruptly cut the call. My hearts pounding was so loud in my ears that I could barely hear myself think. My gaze remained locked onto the two assailants before me, and I knew I had to keep my wits right now.

"What the hell do you want?" One of them spat out.

I steadied myself, taking a deep breath before I continued, my trembling fists rising in a show of shaky determination. "It s-seems like you guys have been quite rude to my boss..." I stammered, fighting to keep my voice steady while silently pleading with myself to stay calm. "D-don't worry though, I won't kill you guys... I'll hold back until the gang arrives."

The attackers exchanged bewildered glances, their rage momentarily giving way to confusion. One of them jabbed an accusing finger toward Bryant. "So, it was your plan all along, huh!? You'll pay for this, bitch!"

With that, they bolted, sprinting away from the scene as fast as their legs could carry them. I remained rooted to the spot, my fists still raised, as I watched them disappear into the distance. The tension drained from my body like water escaping a punctured vessel, leaving me feeling as limp as a discarded ragdoll. If they hadn't fled just now, I would have surely suffered a heart attack. And the way I had been stammering... how did they even buy my act? Guess they only had brawns over brains.

John stared at me with a mixture of concern and confusion, as I struggled to pull myself together. I finally managed to stagger toward Bryant, extending a hand to help him up. However, he chuckled, slapping my hand away, and rose to his feet on his own.

"When did I become your boss?" Bryant quipped, despite his battered appearance.

My legs felt wobbly, and I leaned against a nearby lamppost for support. The adrenaline rush was fading, leaving me feeling drained and disoriented. I hadn't expected to find myself in the middle of such a violent encounter, and my mind was still racing to catch up with the events that had unfolded so rapidly.