Take My Hand | 5 |
Mr Jackson pushed up his glasses that threatened to slip down his nose.
“You know why you’re here?”
I nodded, already bracing myself.
“But I am willing to hear you out. For the last two years you’ve studied here at Spring Day High, you’ve held the perfect record. Save for one time you were absent due to a hospital stay, you’ve always managed to attend every single school day. Which leads to the question Miss Eun-bi, where did you go yesterday and why?”
I looked down at my shoes. Watched the faded white of my Converses stand out against the carpeted floor of the teacher’s room.
Mr Jackson noted my silence. “Let’s start with something simple then. Did you go to the bathroom?”
I shook my head.
His eyebrows nearly rocketed off his forehead as he couldn’t contain his disbelief. “Miss Park Eun-bi, you lied? ”
“No! I – I intended to go to the toilet. But . . . I got side-tracked. I really wasn’t lying when I left the classroom!”
“Why did you get side-tracked?”
Because I heard voices in my head and pissed off our school’s residential weightlifting fairy. “I . . . I don’t . . . it’s complicated,” I finished lamely.
Mr Jackson exhaled and pulled a hardcover notebook close. “Well since you can’t offer me an acceptable reason, Miss Park, this will go into your record. And it’s a big pity, because you could have graduated without a single black mark. As punishment, you will help out with community service this afternoon, at 3 pm. Be punctual.”
I nodded, trying to ignore the lump that was forming in my throat.
“I hope I don’t see a repeat of this. Frankly speaking, your recent behavior has been quite a surprise and rather displeasing. Don’t think I didn’t see you yawning and falling asleep in class.”
My face turned a furious red and my toes squirmed. Mr Jackson’s eyes softened a little at that.
“If you have any problems, our school counselors are always ready to help. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone. And remember to lay off those late-night Korean dramas.”
I nodded obediently and got up from the chair. The door of the teachers’ room closed behind me and immediately I felt the urge to yawn. It was true that I had been feeling lethargic lately. Sometimes I wondered if the tiredness came from the physical side or the emotional and mental side.
I shook my head. Turning around I began to walk back to class. My footsteps came to a halt however, when I saw Areum rounding the corner from up front.
She stopped too when she saw me. I searched her eyes for a hint of any hostility, feet already prepared to run in the other direction. My lip curled in under my teeth nervously. The charged moment lasted only a second before she resumed walking forward. I hesitated, but in the end shuffled forward as well, head ducked low, not meeting her gaze.
“Sorry,” I stuttered out as she passed. She ignored it.
I was about five footsteps away when suddenly I heard her speak.
“He can’t protect you forever. One day, you’ll be alone. So watch your back.”
I heard her move away and my heart started to drum.
There goes my name, sitting on another hit list.
⚜️ × ⚜️ ×
“But why are you a different color?”
“Bora! You can’t just ask someone why they’re a different color!”
I laughed. The kids were adorable.
“That’s alright,” I said, as I painted the corner of their classroom wall a navy blue. “Well. Because if everyone was the same colour it’d be really boring, wouldn’t it? Imagine a world with only giraffes. That’d be boring. You’d get tired of seeing the same thing every day.”
“That’s true. I’d get bored.” A pause. “Unless it was a world of dogs. Then I wouldn’t get bored. I’d play with them all day!”
“So are you like, special, Miss Eun-bi?”
I dipped the brush in the can. “Well. I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I think you are!” Bora cheered.
I smiled. “If you believe in me so much, I must be then.”
“I like your height,” a little boy piped up. He was the smallest of them all, short with chubby cheeks, and a dimple that went in and out when he smiled. “You’re taller than anyone I know! You’re taller than Miss Hyuna!”
“And Mr Xiumin!”
“And Mrs Ji-Eun!”
The aforementioned teacher popped her head out of the classroom door. “Kids, recess’ over. Stop bullying Miss Eun-bi and let her get to work! You guys are too noisy!”
Bora laughed. “We can’t bully her, Mrs Ji-eun! She’s too tall! When I grow up, I wanna be like her. Tall and strong! I won’t be afraid of anyone! No one can bully me! Huzzah!”
“Huzzah!” everyone yelled.
They ran off. I watched them go, smile small. Watched them pushed open the door and clattered back into class.
“I wanna be like that too when I grow up,” I whispered.
⚜️ × ⚜️ ×
The evening breeze sent dried leaves scurrying across the roads. The sun was dipping low, and I wondered if my mother was home. Her company didn’t believe in regular hours; if your work for the day was done, you were free to go. And if she was home at the moment, I wondered what excuse would I say. Covering up my bruises was one thing, but to lie outright about detention was another. Yet to tell the truth would lead to that look of disappointment in her eyes, and she would dig, dig into my school life and the sudden twist in my model behavior. She would dig, and perhaps she would find out about Areum, find out that I had never really fit in, and that Hana was about the only school friend I had.
If you could even call it that.
The wind whispered and I felt a chill travel down my spine. Involuntarily I sent a look backward. The nearest bus stop was a fifteen-minute walk away, the next bus due in half an hour. There was no worry of missing it, but I quickened my pace just a little. What happened downtown haunted me, it’d seeped within me a phobia of going anywhere alone. Well I was alone now, and I wanted to be not alone as soon as possible.
My mind flashed back to yesterday. Had it only been 24 hours since that incident in the alleyway? If the boy on the roof had not come – I shook my head. Waking up this morning I had been firm about the whole thing; I wanted none of it, no boys with beautiful eyes, no skies that rained money and definitely, no voices in my head. It should have been a big clue to me in the very first place, voices in the head were never a good thing, and now I had plenty of evidence to support that fact.
There was a crunching sound of shoes on leaves behind me and I froze.
I listened to the wind sigh. Heard the distant sound of cars on the main road. Heard my own breathing speed up. Mustering all my willpower I turned around. The street where I had come from stretched before me, cold and empty of anyone saved myself.
Ten more minutes. Ten more minutes to the bus stop, five more minutes out of this neighborhood. Five more minutes and I would be into the roads where people and vehicles mingled. I turned back around and almost began to run.
I was twelve steps in when I heard the crunching again. Louder this time, and closer. Taunting me to look.
Adrenaline coursed within me and I bolted. Dead ahead was a junction, the left turning melding with the main road. Even from here I could see the cars zooming past. I just had to make it there. It didn’t matter who was behind – a murderer, an old man, a stray cat, I would have no part of it. I never wanted any part of it.
The crunching disappeared and now came the footsteps. Steady and sure, a thud thud thud as the owner decided to take a leaf out of my book, fast-paced and nearing as he too, ran. I was contemplating whether or not to scream when a hand came down on my left shoulder, spun me around and I did scream, giving my best imitation of a deranged banshee –
“Whoa! Calm down! It’s me!”
I stared at him, adrenaline ebbing down from its high. Incredulity blossomed. “What is wrong with you? Stop stalking me!”
Taehyung raised both hands in surrender. “I wasn’t stalking you. I live here! I saw you from behind and thought you looked familiar!” He frowned. “Which reminds me. You owe me 7000 won for lunch.”
I glared at him. Straightening my bag I walked away.
“Hey! Where are you going?”
I ignored him and kept walking. Three more minutes, I figured, and I would be on the main road.
Taehyung tried again. He placed a hand on my shoulder to slow me down and I whirled around.
“Stop it!” I hissed. “I don’t know you, okay? And I don’t want to know you. Ever since yesterday I’ve been hearing voices in my head and I’ve been attacked and saved and attacked again and Areum is looking to impale my head on a pole! So thank you very much for helping me the first time but please don’t do anything again. Please! Just – go away.”
I made to move but Taehyung’s grip on me became iron. I opened my mouth to snap at him and faltered when I saw the scarlet tinge in his black irises.
“Attacked again?” His voice was quiet. Too quiet. “What do you mean? When?”
I looked down at my shoes, and noticed the front of it was scraped. A souvenir from yesterday.
“Eun-bi?” His voice was steel, yet persuasive. “Look at me.”
When I didn’t, his index finger found my chin and pushed up. “Tell me what happened.”
His eyes were gentle and I found myself spilling it out, the memory threading itself into words, and words into sentences; the letters spinning out the nightmare, the fear, the terror that I had felt. Halfway through I clammed up, and could go no further than just shaking my head. He watched me and I felt the back of my eyes prickled, no amount of willpower could hold them back then. My tears fell.
He swore, and next thing I knew his arms was around me, and I was enveloped in the embrace of a boy I’d met for just one day. When he spoke his tone was enraged, berating himself, his lips buried within my hair, close to my ears.
“I shouldn’t have let you run out. I should have chased after you, I should have made sure you were safe – if something had happened – “ He swore again. “I’m sorry, Eun-bi – hell! ”
He pulled away, and his eyes swept me all over. “Did they hurt you? Were you hurt?”
My voice was small. “No. I managed to get away, someone helped me.”
Something in his face changed. “Someone helped you? Who?”
Someone like you, I wanted to say, but suddenly I wasn’t so sure anymore. There was a hardness lining his jaw now, and maybe it was just the setting sun, or maybe it was something else, but he looked . . . he looked . . .
Unholy. That was the word.
I forced a smile on my face. “A woman. She was very kind. She came into the alleyway waving a rolling pin and yelling about the cops. They ran away real fast when they heard that, let me tell you.”
His eyes were searching. “Really?”
I nodded. “Yeah. If it wasn’t for her, I – well.” I smiled lightly. “Maybe next time I can buy her japchae.”
The joke seemed to relax him a little. “Yeah. Maybe.”
The atmosphere shifted to awkwardness when he realized he still had his hands on my hips. He drew them back immediately, eyes darting elsewhere. He let out a cough. This was my opportunity.
“Um. I should go. Need to catch a bus, so . . . “
“What? Oh yeah. Sure! I should, uh, go home too. Right.” He took a few steps backward. “See you in school tomorrow!”
My reaction came a little late. “What?”
He was already a few feet away when he grinned. “Didn’t you know?” He winked. “I just enrolled today. I’ll be in your classes. Fancy that.”
He turned around to skip away, but not before his voice filled my head.
You won’t be getting rid of me this easily, Miss Silver Rain.
© Emrys Parker