Laughing with the kids
On sunny mornings,
Eating at a round table
With a view of the sky.
I know this is the path to you. Continue reading
Laughing with the kids
On sunny mornings,
Eating at a round table
With a view of the sky.
I know this is the path to you. Continue reading
and pave your own path
for if we all choose the same
roads would be crowded
It was winter when our paths first met. The fog aligned and settled itself around you; you in your beige sari, with a red shawl wrapped around your arms, blowing on the cup of tea in your hands. Even in 8 degrees Celsius you were looking so warm, so filled. Your eyes kept wandering to the little puppy playing around, and each time you put the strands of your hair, back in your bun, your cup would tremble in your left hand. I could see specks of paint on your fingers and a poster tube on your back. You were like the first dew drop falling on freshly cut grass, lone and grand.
It was raining when we first kissed. The drops were resting on your eye lashes, as they closed. I could taste the rain on your lips and it felt like ice cream in cold winter mornings. Nothing necessary, but completely exhilarating. I remember, how your bangles broke that day, and how it got stuck on my shirt, while you tried to lean away from me. We walked for a good four hours that day, the same path over and over again.
Sometimes I like to believe, that we all have different paths to take, each laid out in front of us in the shape of decisions we make. These paths lead us to many different places, and these paths separate us from many different experiences. We may be the ones choosing the path, but the destination is something nobody ever figures out. Sometimes these paths meet, collide and separate, and sometimes the collision results in an explosion, leaving all else in ruins.
Four years after, I’m back here, in ruins left behind. Only this time the sound of your nupur was missing. It felt deafening. I took my first step, on this path where I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve walked. But for the first time ever, you weren’t here.
It was summer when you died. I have failed to forget how you looked that day. We were driving to come to our path. To walk for hours again like we used to before. Your hair was open, and blowing in the wind. The smoke from your cigarette getting into your kohl lined eyes. Your smile had the softest shade of pink that day. The pink that got stained with my blood when the car crashed.
They say you’ll get over it. They say you’ll move on, to a different path, to a stronger path. But my path had stopped with you.
Sometimes, certain people pierce into your soul and never leave. They create this small little hole inside you and they reside there forever. Each time you’re with them, you’re gathering memories and storing them in the gentlest way you can, filling this hole. But once their presence leaves, this gaping hole inside, devours you from within. Destroying each fiber one by one. Stabbing you with each little moment, you had stored inside. But that is precisely why you must learn to let go.
That is exactly why; I’m here alone trying to walk off the edge. How can I possibly go on, when my path had ended before me.
One last walk wouldn’t hurt anyone right?
and then I bleed.
and still, I bleed.
and quietly, I bleed.
Down the road, not across the street
Will I die or will I bleed?
As the dream faded, she chased it, forlorn. She tried to fall back asleep, twisting and turning in her bed. The cushion felt soft to her touch, the temperature was cold, and the blankets were just right. But she felt this weird state of frenzy. She had always been a very calm sleeper, but tonight she couldn’t stop fidgeting.
She had dreamed of him coming back to her, cradled in her mom’s arms. Like the very first time she saw her. It was a pleasant kind of nostalgia, but it was black and white and cold. For the first time in her life, this memory of hers, felt to her very foreign, as if it was never her memory to keep. Failing to fall back asleep, she woke up and made a cup of coffee, lights turned off, the entire house was pitch dark. She walked around the kitchen table, tracing the edge of it with her red nails. She remembered the time when his head could barely reach the table. How he almost hit his head, when he first stood up holding on to this very edge. She used to make coffee the same way, as his small eyes would peak at her, trying to jump and catch a glimpse of his waffles and chocolate syrup.
She turned the lights on in the doorway, as she walked with the mug in her hands sipping on her coffee. She lit her cigarette and paused past each picture on the wall. They were all him. The first baby cot, the first little birthday cake she made for him, his first walker, his first bike and finally his first girl friend. They weren’t exactly together anymore; she had apparently disliked his taste in slimes. But it was too pretty a picture to take down. She was in a little pink dress, and he had his Dragon Ball Z T-shirt on. The next picture right next to his room was from the time they went to the beach. This memory was still very fresh. She had him in her arms, holding him up high, against the sunset. This was a year and a half ago and he was 6. She touched the dust on the frame with the hands of her sweater, as she thought how light he was back then. They all thought he wouldn’t grow. But he did.
She turned the knob on his door, and slowly opened the door to him. He was still the cutest little kid she had ever seen. He had very faint similarities to his dad, and he was rather identical to her, she always told herself even though no one would ever say he looked anything like her. She tip toed across his bed, and turned on the lamp and his face lit up. She looked at his lashes, so long and blonde; and his little baby cheeks, she kissed them. As she was leaning on him, she felt something drip on her toes. The blood from his body was leaking down to floor, crippling down the bed sheets. She can’t possibly get a stain on the floor, she thought. She would have to clean this mess up as soon as she could.
But her little boy looked so peaceful; she didn’t want to move him an inch. But her OCD was getting to her. She looked at him once more, before going over to the kitchen. This time she turned on the lights. She thought she should clean the knives first. As she turned the tap on, the water trickled down the dried blood on the knife. She would have to get her hands dirty it seemed. She sighed, as she took a dollop of dish washing liquid and started cleaning the blood off with a sponge. She took her time with it. The water falling down was ice cold, and her hands had gotten numb. The ashes from the cigarette on her lips were now dropping off into the sink.
When she was finally done, she took a mop to his room and turned the air conditioning on. She began by taking the blanket off as she regretted stabbing him through the blanket. It was such a waste to throw the beautiful blue color away. She stripped his clothes off, one by one, carefully folding them and keeping them in the laundry basket. Finally, she cleaned the wound in his gut and stopped the bleeding with a lot of gauze and bandage. Her hands were perfectly calm again, not like when she awoke. Then she picked him up, and sat him in the chair; the same chair where he first wrote his ABCs and on the same desk, where she had helped him carve her name. She noticed that his medical reports had blood on them. She wiped them off, with her white sleeves, and put them away in the trash. He had been diagnosed with Medulloblastoma last year. Right in front of her eyes, he had changed from her little ball of sunshine to a ticking bomb. She couldn’t take it anymore, seeing him die little by little. So she took matters to her own hands.
She changed the bed sheets, and for the last time she put him to bed. She put out a fresh new blanket she had brought for him yesterday and kissed him on his soft blonde bangs and whispered “Happy Birthday, Love”.
The clock on the wall continued to break the thick, steady air of silence.
Which was honestly slightly annoying. After all, time doesn’t concern him.
His world is limited within this small room with it’s white walls.
Bed, pillows, blankets.
A wardrobe and bookshelf.
One human sized mirror that was always covered.
That’s all his “current world” consisted of. His thoughts were rudely interrupted by a fly which thought it was perfectly fine to sit on his long wooden nose. The doll felt like swatting it with his hard hands but unfortunately his movements were extremely limited.. It was rather sad. Considering the fact that he was designed after some fairytale character, his life didn’t turn out the same way.
It was then he heard a small click.
His lifeless eyes caught the figure pushing the door open.
That person entered the room, the other inhabitant.
Round face, thin lips.
Back here finally with a one-shot. It’s a fanfic centering a character from a kpop group named BTS. Hence why the names are Korean here. Victorian era setting. My OC is here. Eh, that’s about it. For those who do know this guy, please imagine him in BTS’s “Blood Sweat and Tears” look.
#bts #bloodsweatandtears #AU
A thick forest of oak trees guarded the stony castle in the middle of nowhere. The stones had long since lost their once silvery color, now reduced to a shade between grey and black. The grand iron gates of the castle had been reduced to a rusty, creaking mess almost on the verge of falling apart.
Thick moss and poison ivy grew around the castle walls, some parts of the castle almost representing a tree house. Overgrown grass covered the large courtyard filled with insects and whatnot. Lights had virtually been nonexistent inside the castle for more than a century.
‘Don’t venture into the woods,’ the villagers said.
‘Don’t try to find the ancient castle,’ they said.
Min Yoongi laughed dryly, tired eyes scanning over the pages of the book in his arms; the binding was torn and the pages were falling apart.
Well, it was a century old after all.
He closed the book without any disregard for its condition not bothering to pick up the loose pages that had scattered to the wooden floor.
What did it matter, anyway?
There was no one to scold him.
He spared a second to reminisce the last time he had been reprimanded.
That was roughly about three centuries ago.
He glanced around the room.
Silk curtains once the color of soft cream had turned grey and were torn, some missing completely while the rest somehow were still hanging. The walls now had visible cracks on them. The wooden floor creaked whenever he walked, as if it was ready to give away at a moment’s notice. The paintings on the walls were long since disfigured, now just a blur of faded dry paint.
Dragging himself up to a standing position from the couch, the raven head staggered to the miraculously functioning mirror on the wall – albeit with dark fringes here and there.
He stared at his reflection.
Messy raven hair, an ironed, creaseless white shirt, a pair of black pants, a black and silver blazer and black polished shoes – all cladding a pale young man who stared back at him.
He smirked, shaking his head.
After a century later and the only thing that had changed was his pale skin that had turned just a bit more paler.
His hand roamed across his features, fingering the sharp canines in his mouth to his sharp jaw line down to where his beating heart should have been.
Only silence engulfed him.
Of course it wasn’t there. Who was he kidding?
His dark eyes shone a bright shade of scarlet.
Vampires didn’t have hearts.
And he didn’t pine for one either.
What he pined for though, was something completely different.
Completely irrational yet, understandable.
Hot, human blood.
He swallowed thickly.
Except, in the span of a century – of one hundred boring years – he had not found one human, one female who he deemed the slightest bits of interesting.
Not a single woman that had his fangs tingling with a burning sensation.
Naturally, he had just about given up on finding someone.
Min Yoongi was convinced that there was no bride out there for him.
So, you can imagine his surprise when his heightened hearing allowed him to hear the faintest traces of rapid footsteps across the forest floor and ragged breaths.
The faint smell of violets wafted to his nose.
His eyebrows rose.
Probably another village woman out to kill herself; nothing new.
Except, the stench of violets was getting closer and closer and that made things irritating because the last thing the vampire wanted was his sanctuary being discovered by some stupid human – woman or not – and then having the village people come and attempt to burn his home down.
He clicked his tongue in annoyance as he opened one of the barely hanging windows and rolled his eyes at the cringing sound that emitted from it.
With one last glance at his room, the vampire jumped and disappeared.
When he ventured into the forest, a few new smells had appeared – the stenches of a few men.
Yoongi paused in thought.
He already had an idea as to what was happening.
Concentrating on the sound of the footsteps, he decided to go and take a look himself.
Sure enough, from his stance on one of the high branches of the oak trees, he spotted a cloaked figure – the woman, surely – running at top-speed while a group of rugged, nasty looking men chased her, leers across their faces.
Disgusting, Yoongi idly thought.
Should he save the woman?
He crossed his arms in front of his chest.
Well, it had been a total of seven days since he had his last meal and these were just easy pickings, these men so, why not?
And so, he did just that.
The manly cheers had faded into silence, their bodies lay scattered on the forest floor as Yoongi licked at his blood-stained fingers with mild interest; quite disgusting if he said so himself, but hey, at least these thickheads would keep him filled for at least three weeks now.
Out of the corners of his eyes, he noticed the cloaked woman standing a few feet from him and the bodies and immediately sensed her fear.
Ah, this is where things usually became messy.
Probably one of the reasons he hated helping humans.
Turning around, he attempted to raise his hands into the human’s ‘surrender’ position but instead watched the woman take a few rapid steps backwards before her legs tripped over an overgrown oak root and she fell, the string of the cloak around her neck snapping open causing her cloak to fall off of her and the vampire’s eyes widened in the moonlight.
Silky, long tresses of blonde hair cascaded down her head to her waist as if it were bands of white gold. A simple white dress clung to her body accentuating her slim figure and curves, the fall backwards revealing her slender legs up to her knees. Eyes as dark as hot chocolate concentrated with fear and shock stared back at his scarlet ones as her lean arms held her up from completely falling against the forest floor. Trembling pink lips were parted in shock.
Yoongi’s eyes scanned every detail on her; from her white gold like hair to her slender figure to her piercing eyes to her soft lips.
The moonlight made her an almost ethereal being – like an angel from heaven.
A buzzing tingle from his fangs jolted him out of his trance and he felt his throat burn.
He watched as the woman tried to gather herself, gripping the black cloak tightly in fear.
Suddenly, her attention turned to something behind him and he saw her lips move but the ringing in his head cancelled out her voice as he absentmindedly gripped the thing behind him without sparing a look back.
Ah, it was one of the men.
Odd, he was convinced he had slit their throats for good measure.
His skills were probably getting rusty.
With a snap, the man’s neck crumpled in his fist and he watched as the woman gasped, her hands coming to cover her mouth in disgust and fear.
Throwing the man away, he took a few steps in front of the shaken woman, his eyes never moving from hers.
It was probably utter undiluted fear that kept the woman from running or screaming when he was finally looming over her – the vampire idly remembered reading about it from a human psychology book.
Her smell almost made him nauseous.
It was intoxicating.
Never averting his gaze, he crouched on one knee in front of her; his bloodied fingers traced her dress in a languid manner, the blood staining the white fabric.
He could hear her heart rattling within her ribcage; the sound was strangely soothing.
His fingers brushed across her collarbone – soft, soft, soft skin – and he could feel his lips trembling when his thumb brushed the nape of her neck.
After an entire century….
His fingers ghosted over her chin and then finally above, dyeing her soft, plump – kissable, his mind supplied – lips in hot, red blood.
He removed his hand to admire his work and licked his lips, a smirk breaking across his face, his fangs glinting in the moonlight.
The fear in the woman’s eyes increased ten-fold and her heart raced spasmodically.
Lifting one of her violet scented tresses, he pressed it to his lips.
“My bride,” his voice was meant for her ears only.
David took a step back, as broken pieces of the glass vase bulleted across the kitchen door, and fell on the floor of the hall. He was not sure if he was quiet enough, but hoped his abrupt steps had been boycotted behind his mother’s scream, and his father’s roar. There was nothing unusual about the shouts and the beating anymore. It had become the story of every night lately. But never had his father been this monstrous before, never this cruel. Had he not given a second thought before dragging the glass vase across her face? Sharper than those dripping edges, were the wounds engraved on David’s heart that night.
The family had seen better times. His father had not been like this before. He had been a respected man before the war, had a small store where he sold hand-made sculptures, by carving wood. In fact, he had been the benchmark among sculptors in the village. Everyone admired his work, and he too had pride in it. However, no one was hurt more than he was, when the first bomb in the village fell on his shop, and the fire destroyed all his work and money. That had not been all. David’s father was also a freedom fighter in the war. He stood with many other brave souls to defend his village, and his family. He paid for their victory with an arm. He could still move it, but it became impossible to do heavy work with his left arm. Thus, he had no other option, but to give up his passion. He gave up carving, and that punched a hole in his heart. He had to carry this consequence of war as a burden, for the rest of his life. He was a victim of war, and at the end, he had nothing. That was when he picked p the habit of drinking. He started taking out the grudges against the war on his family, his wife and David.
David hid under the staircase, as his father went out the main gate. He waited till he heard the footsteps fade, then he walked to the kitchen. His mother’s face was covered with blood. Her tears made the vibrant red blood look pale. Like every other night, without any reason, she was victimised to his rage. David treated her wounds, washing away the blood with tears in his eyes. But she refused to rest till she cleaned up the mess on the floor. She never blamed David’s father.
David’s father returned after midnight. The roaring and screaming started again. This time it was more intense. David heard crockeries break, and slams on doors and walls. Finally, there was a gun shot. It seemed like the world mourned at her loss. Everything turned quiet. When David went downstairs, the whole village had already gathered up in their house. He saw his father tied to the pillar of the staircase. And on the once-spotless floor and carpet, lay his mother. Dead. His right of having a mother, a simple family, was ceased. The completeness of the family was torn and burned down, and he remained the successor of all the pain passed down.
The comment is here on the sub.
Naomi scrolled through yesterday’s accumulation. They were darker today than usual. Almost all of them were depression, uselessness, fear, nervousness, frustration. The spot below the hairline on the back of her neck tingled. She reached behind and rubbed as close to the spot as possible, taking care not to touch the cable that connected to the source of her emotions. It felt like a large lump of hair being shifted around if it touched anything while she was plugged in.
Warmth seeped through her fingers from the mug of coffee. Opening a new window, she began a list of the lightest emotions that had come in. The first on the list was a tiny amount of frustration. The donor was a regular. He got frustrated really easily but could let go of it just as easily. He’d…
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This is the second part of the story I wrote for farhinhusain’s birthday.
Vivid portrayals wrapped themselves around his mind, engulfed his senses, drowned out the rest of the world around him. They calmed the crushing need to be recognized, to be understood.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he laughed at the irony. He was using the action as a means to escape from the consequences of the action.
There was a shove to his side, and he almost fell over from his chair, not so much from the strength of the shove as from shock and momentary panic. His arm throbbed. Ishti and Dip stood over him, glaring, and their expressions demanding attention. The rest of his surroundings slowly came back into focus. A cacophony of white noise, the faint aroma of many different types of food mingled together.
His mind was still repeating the last three words he’d read.
“What?” Sami croaked.
“We’re going to check on Adnan. He sent his friend to say he was feeling feverish,” Ishti supplied.
Sami looked from one to the other, their demanding expressions unrelenting. Dip grabbed his arm. “You’re coming with us.”
Before he could protest, he was dragged out of their class.
It was a blessing that he didn’t have to make eye contact with anyone. Ishti did most of the inquiring directing. But the curse was that he had to be in such close proximity to so many people. It made him self-conscious, and in turn guilty because this wasn’t how he should be feeling while visiting a fellow teammate and junior.
As they entered Adnan’s classroom, the entire place seemed to go quiet. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing to stare. As if they had never seen the school volleyball team before. As if they hadn’t seen seniors before.
He couldn’t really blame them. Everyone in his class got quiet too if any seniors showed up at their doorstep. The people staring at them now were horrible at realizing how weird it felt to at the centre of such attention. One boy refused to look away even after Sami made eye contact. A lot of them seemed to have bought biriyani from the cafeteria. The place was practically swimming with the aroma.
And there were so many girls. Dip nudged him in the ribs with his elbow. “This is why he’s so good with girls,” the wiggling of his eyebrows seemed to say. Sami rolled his eyes and maneuvered out of the way of a girl passing by.
That Adnan knew how to have a normal conversation with a girl was nothing unknown. What he hated was how Dip and Ishti rubbed it in his face every chance they got.
He had the momentary urge to tell them about the one conversation he’d had recently. But it hardly even counted as a conversation. She’d done most of the talking. Plus, the thought of using Orthi as leverage against all the friendly torture felt mildly sick.
Ishti spotted Adnan at his desk. They moved toward him, and he raised his head and looked up toward them with half-lidded, bloodshot eyes. His friends parted around him, giving them space like worried parents when their child falls ill and the doctor’s called in.
Ishti, Dip and Sami reached his desk to be greeted by a weak “How’re you guys?” followed by a fit of coughing.
“We’re okay,” Dip replied. “You should really be more worried about yourself.”
“Yeah,” Ishti joined in. “How’d this happen?”
“He doesn’t really know, apparently,” one of his friends said. He stood at the far right of the circle surrounding Adnan. Beside him stood Ishti, then Dip, then Sami, all with their hands in their pockets. “He was fine this morning.”
While Ishti and Dip continued the conversation, Sami stifled a sigh and scanned the room for some form of stress relief. The walls were painted the same drab color as their class. Two boards on one wall had art and some charts containing the things they had learned that term. He had those things almost memorized by heart.
His eyes feel on the side of a cheek. Recognition hit. She raised her head from the reclined position over her hands on her desk, his heart skipped a beat.
She looked tired, almost like Adnan did. His eyes assessed her surroundings. Her bag was slung behind her seat and a half-empty flask of water was on her desk. Feeling the pull of eyes on him, he turned his gaze around to find a girl staring with suspicion oozing out of her features. She was walking toward Orthi’s desk.
He turned back to ishti and Dip just as the girl reached Orthi’s desk. Their conversation with Adnan came into focus. The world was as boring as ever again, but now, with a probability of excitement. From the corner of his eyes, he saw the girl whisper something in Orthi’s ear. He couldn’t really see her expression from this angle.
What was up with him? He wanted her to notice him, talk to him, maybe. Maybe he should talk to her? But he didn’t exactly want it either.
There was a lull in the conversation just then. Sami took the chance to make small talk, however much he sucked at it. “Drink lots of water,” he said just as Orthi raised her face in his general direction. “Water heals everything.”
Dip snorted. “Yeah, classic Sami,” he said, “not paying attention and trying to make it look like he did.” Sami glared.
“Water does help, though,” Adnan croaked with a small smile.
Everyone in their little cluster turned toward the source of the voice. Sami plastered a grin on his face, his heart in his throat.
Yep. She was look straight at him. She was waving enthusiastically, a big smile lighting up her features, driving away the tiredness he’d seen only moments before. He waved back, all too aware of his friends’ gazes boring holes into the back of his head. Her friend stared at her like she’d gone mad.
“Do you know her?” Dip whispered in Sami’s ear. Sami turned around a bit. Everyone was staring him. No just Ishti and Adnan and Adnan’s friend (Safwan was his name, probably), but almost everyone else in the class as well. Any who wasn’t too preoccupied had their eyes on him. “…yeah,” he replied, “this is her, you know, the one I told you about.”
Dip and Ishti exchanged glances. It was Adnan who spoke up now. “Oh, I should have guessed it’d be Orthi you ran into.” Sami furrowed his brows, to which Adnan attempted a laugh, and failed miserably.
“She always has her nose in book whenever she can spare it.” Probably-Safwan explained.
Orthi came up to them, or should I say, up to Sami, now. “I had no idea you knew Adnan,” she said.
“I had no idea you knew him either,” Sami blurted. He cringed. If ishti had bored holes before, he was slicing Sami’s head open to check for the existence of a brain now. Think before you talk, loudmouth.
Orthi chuckled. “But technically this makes you my senior.”
Sami scratched his head, racking his brain for a reply. Nothing. He settled for a nod.
“Orthi, please don’t get everyone on our team sick,” Adnan said between coughs.
She shook her head in exasperation. “If anyone can do that now, it’s you, Adnan,” she said. “And I’ve apologised already, haven’t I? It’s not like I knew I was sick that day.” Adnan glared and Probably-Safwan sighed. “He probably caught the cold from me,” she said to Sami by way of explanation.
Sami blinked, and then sucked in a breath in realisation. Of course. That made so much sense. “Oh,” he said. “Are you okay now?”
She nodded. “These must be your friends, right?” she said gesturing behind him.
“Uh… yeah.” He introduced them, and internally berated himself for wanting her to see him. Things had never been this awkward between him and his friends before. It was a miracle that neither Ishti nor Dip mentioned him mentioning her.
“Did you finish Fangirl?” he asked her while Ishti talked with Adnan some more. “Go home and rest, and get a mask or something in case it really is viral,” he was saying.
Orthi shook her head. “Two more chapters. I’ll be done today,” she said, almost bobbing on her feet in excitement.
“That’s great!” He couldn’t keep the smile from spreading across his face.
“I’d love to talk about it once I’m done,” The tone of her voice made it seem like they were in a private bubble of their own. “But, you guys have practice today, don’t you?”
All the fluttery excitement stopped and fell to the floor inside him. His smile fell along with it. He glanced at Ishti and Dip, wondering if they’d let him bail out today. They were already one member short. Maybe…
A voice at the back of his head said no. See if they let you get back to class in peace.
He pursed his lips, unsure of what to say.
“It’s okay,” Orthi said, retrieving a pen from her desk. “Do you have any social media accounts? I could add you up.” She poised the pen over her palm. She was left handed. He only knew one other left-handed person. He told her his facebook ID, and what time he would be free. She scribbled it down. He felt hope begin to flutter its wings again.
The bell rang then. He told Adnan to rest up and get well soon.
As soon as the three of them were out in the lobby, Ishti and Dip each swung an arm around Sami’s shoulder, effectively caging him in.
“Why did I start seeing pink around you as soon as she jumped in, hmm?” Dip asked poking a finger between his ribs.
“Are you planning on ditching us, Sammy-boy?” Ishti said. It sounded more like a threat than a question.
Sami grimaced. “It’s not like you think,” he said. “We just talk.”
“About what?” Dip said.
“Books?” He replied.
“Yeah, we can foresee the future when it comes to you, Sami,” Ishti said. “There’s a lot more to it than just talking about books.”
Sami wanted to retort, but they’d reached their class. Whatever it was, he was sure they meant well. He’d known them for years now. But more than anything, he didn’t want to ruin the happy feeling he’d had building inside him since seeing her ten minutes ago.
Sami flipped through his notebook, looking at month-old notes. Almost as if his mind were more pliant, the voice at the back of his head read every word out with cheer and an edge of happiness. No matter how many times he commanded it to say, I am humble and unimportant, it would bring it up in different words. It would be the fond glances everyone was throwing him at home, or the smile his class teacher from fifth-grade shot his way. It would be the sunny yet breezy atmosphere, or how the noisiest of his class were somehow absent today. Everyone remembers, the voice would say. You are important.
He shook the thought out of his head. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t some sort of blessing to this world. He forgot to throw candy wrappers in the bin, he ignored the hungry kids on the streets. He could be a far better person, and if he managed to do everything he wished he could for this world, then maybe he’d allow the thoughts into his head.
A deep breath managed to clear his head for a moment, although the background décor in the imaginary room was still sparkling painfully in his mind’s eye. He grimaced at the first mistake he caught. That was going to cost at least five points on the test from the morning.
The door creaking drew his attention. He looked up to find Orthi entering. Their eyes met, and he couldn’t keep the smile from forming on his face.
In the months since first meeting her, they’d bonded more and more over the books they read. Sometimes they would compete to see who could finish first. He’d lost more than once, what with his volleyball practices thrown in between everything else. Sometimes one would read something and tell the other. They’d gone from sitting at adjacent tables to sitting at the same table. It had been more convenient, when near the beginning they were both reading the same things and couldn’t wait to talk to the other.
Then, it had become habit.
It didn’t feel right to be reading anything in the library unless Orthi was sitting across from him, and she seemed to save all her reading for this time too. Sometimes even her studying.
She made her way to their table and placed her bag at the foot of it. “Homework?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Just looking through the notes for today’s test.”
Her mouthed rounded into an ‘oh’. She’d seen him do that once before. She eyed the shelves around them, tapping her fingertips on the tabletop in a rhythm. Sometimes Sami couldn’t look away from the way her hair spilled from the ponytail past her shoulder and almost onto her lap. Sometimes it was the way she seemed coiled to jump right into whatever world her mind was in. Most often, though, it was her eyes. The way they lit up when she smiled, or when he said something that made her laugh (usually something about a book, sometimes about the volleyball team, sometimes about their friends).
Say something, the voice in his head was saying. Anything, just don’t make it stupid. The sparkles were too loud for him to protest.
“Um,” he started, without really thinking, and then stopped when she looked at him. He felt heat rising under his collar. Great. What was he going to say now?
“Oh! Thank goodness I remembered,” she said, and crouched to rummage in her bag. Sami breathed a sigh of relief. She’d saved him from embarrassment, for the moment at least.
As she came up, there was something off about her. Was it how she wouldn’t meet his eyes? There was a package in her hand, and with the other she was combing the end of her ponytail. He’d only seen her do that last week, when they’d run into each other in the morning. She’d admitted to being nervous about the monthly tests.
He watched her take a deep breath. There was a tension in her shoulders. Yes. She was definitely nervous. She thrust the package into his arms and looked up. “Happy Birthday,” she said, her voice lower than it was even a few moments ago.
He looked from her flustered face to the brown-paper wrapped present and back again. He cleared his throat. “O-oh, you remembered?” The weirdness of her behavior was throwing him off track as well. He hardly knew what to do with his hands or his notebook from before, let alone this new addition to his possessions.
She shrugged. It was nowhere near as effortless as her usual shrugging. He detected a small smile on her face, and she was looking at anywhere but him.
“Can I open it now?”
She barely nodded, and he busied his hand in the task of undoing all the folds and taping of the wrap. His heart leaped when his fingers found the spine of a paperback. He pulled the book out, and couldn’t help but stare at the glossy cover. The title was written in orange and green, two words, on a background the color of old faded paper. The cords of two headphones intertwined. He didn’t even need to look at the bottom. The lettering of the title seemed to scream the author’s name.
It was a copy of Eleanor and Park.
“It’s not the best quality,” Orthi said. “But I checked inside for any printing mistakes. And…uh…I own an exact duplicate…”
The sparkles were becoming too blinding now. Sami rubbed the back of his neck, unsure of what to say. The heat refused to drain away. “Um…thank you,” he said.
Ishti had gotten him a new set of kneepads. Dip had forgotten completely. The rest of the volleyball team chipped in together and held a mini celebration during lunch. They’d bought most of the tiny pastries form the cafeteria, and messed up his entire classroom. It was all maddeningly frivolous, not to mention really consuming, time-wise and energy-wise.
But that wasn’t to say it didn’t make him feel good. It did make the sparkles a bit too bright, but it was nice being at the centre of attention.
And he didn’t know why, exactly, but this felt like the crowning glory of them all. The past few months, he’d gotten to know Orthi like he’d never known any girl before (with the exception of his mother and some of his cousins, but even they seemed enigmatic at times). Orthi was simple and happy, and jolly and excited by all things that excited quiet souls. She was different, but she made him feel like he’d finally found a niche, like he wasn’t alone.
She made him want to hold onto her for dear life (metaphorically, of course. He’d only ever seen her at school, it would be beyond rude to do what he imagined in his head).
She scratched the back of her head, still refusing to meet his eyes. His eyes followed her as she walked to a shelf and picked out the book she was currently reading. He flipped the pages of his new treasure, closing his eyes to bask in the scent of the printed page. When he looked up, she quickly threw her glance from him to the chair, pulling it out.
Say something, you idiot, the voice was saying again.
He took a deep breath. “Orthi,” he started, making her look up from the page. “This…really means a lot to me.”
There was a solemn look in her eyes as she looked up. She hesitated for a moment before saying, “You…make me feel understood.”
Sami’s eyes widened. He sucked in a breath. “A-and you me,” he muttered, not even bothering to smother the grin anymore. The sparkles began to dance.