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Chapter 40: Weakness (1)
I woke up that morning with an aching body. Our training yesterday was focused with Ethan’s ability. It was not easy. Even though we trained together on several occasions, it’s still difficult to avoid and counter all his attacks; especially, when he would seriously use everything around him to his advantage.
I sat on the edge of the bed and hazily watched the clock. It’s just about dawn. I will not be late even if I do that thing. I quickly grabbed my coat hanging by the corner and wore it before going out of the room.
The corridor was still void of anyone when I passed by. Everyone seemed to be still sleeping. I deliberately woke up early today, anyway. I just didn’t want to break the tradition.
Even if Lucas is no longer with me now.
I stepped outside of the Castle and welcomed the break of dawn. The surrounding was wrapped in a thin fog while the grass was wet under my shoes. I went to the side of the Castle where the highest part of the Hill could be seen. I almost jogged up there. There were some trees by the top just like how I’ve noticed them by the window from my room.
When I nearly reached the top, I looked back to the foggy grass below, to the way back to the Castle. I breathed in relief. Somehow, I felt like I made it; I got away, far away, from all of it.
My walk slowed down when I was about to reach the top. The fog was thicker here but I could still see around—the castle just behind me, the surrounding walls in Titan Academy, the forest sitting in the middle of the Hill and the town, and of course, the town of Hesperia, itself.
I watched the town below amidst the fog. Slowly and as if not with myself, I sat on an exposed root of a tree near me. Dazedly, a deep breath blew from my mouth which made a thin smoke flew into the air. I hugged my knees as I continued on watching the town below.
How are they? What are they doing now?
How are those people with me in my former life now?
How are you, Lucas?
Every year, on this same day, Lucas would barge to my house. With his tattered bag hanging by his shoulder, he would knock incessantly until I woke up.
Then, I would open the door drowsily with my fist clasped, ready to smack him to stop. But he was not afraid of it. In our almost ten years, he already knew which was true, which was a joke, and which was my defense mechanism.
He would pull me out even with my pajamas and bed hair; even though my eyes were still half-closed. Then he would take me by the hill, but not to admire again his dream school—the Titan Academy, but to watch instead the foggy town below with me.
He would point a part of the town and he would ask if I can remember what happened in that area this year. I would answer him with a scoff as if to say, what do I care about what happened. But he would just smile at me; ruffled my hair, and answered his own questions.
Everything he would tell me would be good news. All just about the wonderful things that happened this year. He would try to remember only the beautiful things and then pointed them out to me zealously when in all honesty, in a town such as Hesperia, good news were in short supply.
Once, I thought that he was compiling all those news for a whole year, writing them down even, just to tell me all of them today in a huge gush.
“See, Shia?” he would say as he finished the story-telling. “A lot of good things happened this year.”
He would face me and smiled. “We were there to witness all of them. So don’t you ever think that we’re worthless, okay? “
He would then open his old and tattered bag and took out his stocks—the specially cooked breakfast of his mother just for today and a piece of bread which he made to imitate a cake.
“I’m sorry. This is all I could save this year. Don’t worry, next time, it will be a real cake served to you.”
I stared at the bread which he held in front of me. Each year he would say that—that it would be better if he can offer a real cake instead of just bread to me. But I know that the said bread came from the well-known bakeshop from town and that he bought it through his savings.
I wanted to tell him to never do it again but whenever I saw the joy on his face as he lit the candle; as I heard his gentle voice singing the birthday song; as he waited for me to make a birthday wish—all my strength to rebuke him was lost.
“Happy Birthday to you.” he would start.
“Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday, my dear, Shia.” He would smile at me before kissing my forehead. “—Happy Birthday to you.”
Then he would push the bread closer to me. “Make a wish”.
On those times, I would look at him before I closed my eyes and his smile was branded in my mind.
Please don’t ever disappear from me, Lucas.
I stayed in that position at the top of the Hill until the sun rose completely. I was sitting under the tree while hugging my knees and my head resting on them.
I wanted to point out the good things about this year as Lucas did on my every birthday. I wanted to tell myself that I was not worthless. But as I sat on this hill, as I watched my old life below, as I remembered all the bad things since I entered this place, as I saw their vile faces through my mind staring at me—I couldn’t help feeling that for the first time, I was all alone.
I’m alone in this god forsaken place.
It’s where I was a toy—something unique, interesting— but in fact, no one was really concerned.
Soon, I fixed myself up and went back to the Castle in time for breakfast. The entire group was almost there when I arrived. For the first time in a few weeks, we got all together.
I sat in my usual spot as the members looked me. Luna mumbled a ‘good morning’, as well as Cain. I managed to greet back a small ‘morning’ before I started eating.
Gin was on my side and I felt his stare. But just like before, he didn’t say anything to me. In the recent days, I felt that—he’s avoiding me. I don’t know why or when it began. I just felt that he’s no longer the same.
He would no longer scold me when I made mistakes; he wouldn’t reprimand me when I was late in our trainings; he didn’t even care if I called him in his name, not calling him Team Captain in front of the others; he would talk to me like he did with everybody in this place—no more teasing, no pestering, not even sarcastic remarks―no more Gin.
I should not be surprised. What was I waiting for? That he would change his approach to me if he remembered that kiss? That he was really sincere in everything he said that night?
So stupid, Shia.
You should have known. You were just a substitute; they can toy you around in this place if you let them be. And you would end up being a scrap while they continued with their real prodigal lives.
The breakfast was almost done when Gin spoke. “As we all know— today is Principal Bin’s 60th Birthday. Tonight is its celebration. All of us are required to attend the event.”
I noticed the moment Gin’s gazed slightly shifted to my direction— but he quickly retracted it.
“No excessive training for today. Just go with the strategy and tactic. “
He got up after that, followed by Ethan and Cain who seemed to have something to talk over. Victoria walked away after a few minutes. Luna and I were left on the table.
“Another event.” I heard her says. “Do you have a dress?”
I had the sudden thought of the white dress in my room. “I’m not going,” I replied.
She abruptly turned to me. “You can’t do that.” she almost exclaimed. “This is an important event, Shia.”
“You might receive the wrath of Team Captain if you do that.”
I shrugged. “I don’t care.”
The panic in her face disappeared and was replaced with an expression I couldn’t understand.
“Are you—” she didn’t seem sure on what she’s about to say. “Are you afraid that the same thing like the meeting will happen?”
I scoffed. But deep inside somehow, I was also worried about that. I was not afraid but I just didn’t want another row to happen. Just for today―spare me with their bullshits.
“Shia, that won’t happen again,” Luna assured me. “You’ve seen it, right? You made your point clearly and they respected it. “
I wanted to laugh at what she said.
“And besides— we won’t let it happen again. We won’t let you stand alone before them again.” Luna smiled at me. “Please?”
Regardless of my effort to not care about the people around me in this place—how much I tried to rebuild the wall inside me to protect myself just like in my initial days here—I just know I can’t disappoint Luna.
“I will try.” my short answer.
Her face beamed. “Thank you!”