Make A Mistake With Me - Chapter 1: Bite the Hand - by MistakeAnon

>”HEAAAAT OF THE MOMENT!” >Your hand flies out from under the covers before you even realize it, and hits the snooze button. >Goddamn Asia. >That so wasn’t the first thing you wanted to hear in the morning. >Mumbling curses under your breath, you throw off the blanket and get up. >You are Anonymous. >Your life used to be only about cigarettes and coffee. >Now, it was about way, way more. For good and for bad. >Not that it makes getting up any easier. >Only about a month in, and you were already sick of high school again. >The crowds, the lessons, the fact that you were expected to learn something there. >You knew there was a point to it, but you had lost your ability to care somewhere along the way. >A good example of that is your apartment. >It’s a veritable landfill. >Trash bags everywhere, half-finished take-away meals, beer bottles lined on the table. >Oh, and a magnificently overflowing ashtray. >Shit, you’d need to empty that at some point. But not today. >A quick peek over to the fridge reveals the inconvenient truth. >There’s nothing but a half-eaten burrito slowly gathering mold in there. >Somewhat hopeful, you sniff it. >About 0.3 seconds later, you open the window and throw the burrito as far as you can. >That would have turned into WMD in just a couple of days. “Coffee-only breakfast it is, then..” >You mutter to yourself as you switch on the coffee maker and the radio. >While your life’s elixir begins slowly gathering in the pot, you listen to the news report. >Nothing out of the ordinary. >The typical blend of politics, wars and economic troubles topped with a dash of local disappearance. >You swear this was the fifth time you had heard this exactly same report, with only the names switched around. >World really trudged in the mud of time, sometimes. >The black-and-white clock on the wall, though, mercilessly marches on. >Eventually, you have a steaming cup of boiling hot coffee before you. >As you do your best to whittle it down with small sips, you light up the first cigarette of the day. >Immediately, you can feel the phlegm in your throat start clearing up. >It was like Mentos. >The only difference was that it tasted like ash and death. Such a freshmaker. >Indeed. Nicotine and caffeine. The breakfast of winners. >You could only imagine the horrified expression Sonata would make if she knew. “And that’s why she shall never know.” >As the morning rolls onwards, you are eventually jostled out of your drowsy thoughts by a muffled explosion coming from below. >It shakes the building a little and causes the windows to rattle. >However, it barely gets a reaction out of you. >Just a sigh. A long and tired sigh. >These explosions coming from the basement floor are nothing out of the ordinary for people living in this house. >In fact, they are the reason why the rent was so cheap. >It’s not that the booms were dangerous, but when they happened 3am in the morning, some people get a little upset. >You, on the other hand, have just adapted. You know things could be much worse than having to get used to sudden, loud sounds. >Of course, the first time one happened, you had freaked out and nearly dove off the balcony. >Thankfully you managed to regain your senses when you realized the building wasn’t crumbling down. >That, and your neighbor, who was at the moment watering her plants shot you a pitying look that made you quickly slink back inside. >In any event, by the time the shaking has stopped, you have already returned to finishing up your coffee. >Humming the tune of Miami Vice absentmindedly, you head to the bathroom. >Time for a shower. >Damn Jan Hammer. >He could make even washing one’s nether regions exciting. >You entertain daydreams of slipping through time back to 80’s while you start cleaning yourself. >It’s a bit after 7am that you’re out of the front door. >You throw on your leather jacket to shield you from the cold of early November. >There wasn’t any snow yet, but the temperature had started a rapid nose dive. >As you walk down the stairs to the main entrance, you swing by the basement door and knock loudly. “You okay there, Strangelove?” >You hear a bit of a scuffle from the other side of the door, before a weary voice answers. >”Yes… mostly.” “Good. Don’t blow up the house while I’m gone or anything.” >A vaguely agreeing groan echoes from the other side of the door. >That’s good enough for you. >With a bit more zest in your step, you head outside, exiting the apartment building. >You are greeted by the typical scenery of your new “hometown”. >A bit too bright sunshine, sounds of birds and traffic and the alluring fragrance of the coffee shop down the street. >Resisting the temptation for another cup, you instead head to the parking lot, where your car awaits. >Saturn Yellow Buick GSX. >It had been your baby for just about forever, and after some work last month, it was finally back in your hands. >Despite some memories that floated in the back of your mind whenever you saw the car, you were still glad to have it. >If only for the fact that it made the journey to school and back a cinch. >Still humming to yourself, you hop in the car and thrust the key into the ignition, twisting it. >The familiar roar of the V8 fills the parking lot, awakening a flock of birds in the nearby tree. >Meanwhile, inside the car, the familiar roar of Ozzy fills your ears. >Grunting, you eject the cassette from the radio and fumble through the glove compartment. >A minute later, you found what you were looking for: a cassette with the words “Led Zeppelin III” written on it. >You pop it in and hit play. >Immediately, you hear the howl of Robert Plant. >God. Even after all these years, Immigrant Song gave you the chills. >By the time you pull up to the parking lot of Canterlot High School, you’re halfway through of “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” >Plenty of time to stop by your locker and then head over to the classroom. >If you remember right, it was history first. >Not that bad. At least you had some company during it. >And speaking of which… >”Hey! Anon! Good morning!” >You turn off the engine and glance towards the side window. >Unsurprisingly, you see that Sonata has found you once again. >She’s squashing her face against the window, peering into your car. “Hey, Goof. Move over a bit, or I can’t get out.” >”Oh! Sorry.” >She giggles sheepishly and scoots out of the way. >After a bit of scuffle with the seatbelt, you’re out and about, and join the steady flow of students with Sonata. >She does a pretty good job keeping up with your stride despite how much shorter she is. “So, what’s up?” >Ah, yes. >Sonata Dusk. >A girl a layman on the streets would call “Deceivingly Cute.” >After all, the slight mean streak she had hidden was so obvious even up front anyone could call her “Deceivingly Something-or-Other.” >That did not mean she was an evil person, no. But, well, let’s see… >Old habits die hard, I suppose? >Still, she had no ill intentions. Just one look at that smile she gave you reassured you of that. >It’s a bit of a weird coincidence how you’ve managed to become friends with someone like Sonata, but that’s just how it is. >In fact, you could call your whole relationship with Poofy, Goofy and Aloofy a “mistake in progress.” >Not that you complained. >Talking with three headstrong girls that obviously were up to no good in the past felt far more familiar than attempting awkward social contact with rest of your “classmates.” >You still remember your disastrous meeting with the girl who showed you around the school. >Less said about that the better. >”You mean in the rumor department? I gotcha covered, Boss!” >Sonata mocks a salute and grins at you. >It’s become something of a routine for you to get the latest rumors every morning from Sonata. >Depending on what lectures you have, you don’t even tend to see Aria or Adagio till the lunch break. >Therefore, it’s a good thing that Sonata Network keeps tabs on just about every stray bit of conversation she hears. >”Well, first of all: it seems the Rainbooms are planning something for Christmas, and the school’s abuzz about it.” >Rainbooms? >No, wait, you suddenly recall a vague mental image to accompany that foreign name. >CHS’s current power-clique, or so they say. >Girls to stay away from. >”It’s most likely a party or something, but knowing them, something big’s gonna happen anyhow. With them that’s given.” >There’s something quite self-sardonic in the look in Sonata’s eyes. >Like there’s a hidden joke only she could understand. >”Well, other than that… Oh! There’s one about you, Anon!” >Wait, what? >A rumor about you? >Somehow, that did not sound promising in the least. In fact, you were grimacing already. “A rumor about me? Spit it out.” >Sonata leans in closer with a wicked glee in her eyes. >”Apparently *someone’s* been taking midnight strolls around the town lately, sneaking about here and there. Really Anon, if you were going to do something like that, at least make sure you aren’t spotted.” >Midnight strolls…? >You rarely even left your apartment after you had bunkered in for the evening. >And hell, if you needed to go somewhere, you had your car. >Everything is so off in this rumor that it naturally catches your interest. “That can’t be me. I usually hit the hay around ten, or a bit later than that. I’m a heavy sleeper, after all. My apartment also has a slight… noise problem, so there’s no way I’d try to add even more stress to my schedule.” >Now it’s Sonata’s turn to look confused. >She tilts her head quite cutely as the two of you enter the main building. >”But from what I heard, the description of this ‘lone midnight wanderer’ matches yours perfectly, Anon.” >Sonata folds her arms and pouts a bit. “And I’m not that common in looks, yeah, I gotcha.” >You stroke your chin. >This rumor just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. “Well, whoever it is, they’ve got a good taste in fashion. But in the end, if the only thing they are doing is midnight strolls, I don’t think it’s that note-worthy.” >”Nah, it’s not because they like to walk. It’s because lately there’s been—“ >Suddenly Sonata backpedals in her words almost like she remembered something that outweighed everything else in importance. >Her hand reaches out and catches you by the shoulder. >Wow. Those eyes are just sparkling with excitement. >”Oh! I totally forgot! Adagio finally managed to get a job over the weekend!” >Okay, getting bit too excited there, Sonata. >To protect yourself, you start slowly pushing Sonata’s approaching face back again. >Best not to give the bothersome type of rumors more fuel to the fire. >”Then we had a taco party to celebrate it on Sunday, but Aria got sick and threw up in the fountain, and now the janitor’s been hunting for her and she’s been busy hiding—“ >You raise your hand to stop Sonata’s babble. “Wait. First of all, Adagio got a job? Now ain’t that great news? Where’s she working now?” >”You know that old record store few blocks away from here? There! Adagio said she’s gonna raid your cassette collection to get herself up to date with the albums they sell there.” >For a moment, you felt an incredible urge to run back to your car just to check if the doors were really locked. >However, a stray thought stops you. “A record store? You mean the place owned by old Grimey? Damn. How’d she manage to get a job there?” >”Oh, she said she just ‘did her best Anonymous impression’, and they immediately took a shine on her.” >You nearly rip out the door of your locker when you hear that. >Damn Adagio. One of these days you’d get your payback. >You’re about to comment on what Sonata said when you see what waits inside your locker. >Another note. >Another collection of big red letters written with fury. >You don’t even have to read it. >They’re all the same anyhow. >Ever since that day when you met Sonata, you’ve been getting these occasionally. >And always they demand the same thing. >”Anon? Something wrong?” >You hear Sonata call for you, worried look in her eyes. >Instead of answering, you just take the note and crush it in your hands, stuffing it in your pocket. “Yeah. Everything’s fine. Don’t worry.” >”Umm, Anon…? Was it another—“ “So, anyways, taco party? And Aria puked? Damn, I wish I would have been there to see that.” >Sonata gives you an odd look, but eventually smiles. >“Yeah! I guess it all got caught on tape, since Aria’s had to avoid the janitor the whole day. Last I heard, she was bunkered in home economics class.” “Home Ec? Should except lemon pie, then.” >Talking this and that, you and Sonata head to your classroom. >As you walk, you can’t help but to notice the odd looks you occasionally gather. >Or rather, Sonata does. >Most of the students look wary. Others are clearly uncomfortable and some… well, some try the classic trick of bumping to either her or you with their shoulders. >Your sweeping glare is enough to keep them at bay, though. >They’ve heard enough rumors about where you were before moving to this city. >And rumors are way better in creating fear than actual truth. >Even if the truth and rumors were practically identical. >Few minutes of small-talk later, you two arrive at the classroom. >Sonata hesitates a bit on the doorway. >You take that as a signal and act. >With the blue-haired girl trailing behind you, you step inside. >Immediate and awkward silence falls to the room. >Letting your eyes scan the perimeter, you spot your places and lead Sonata there. >Without saying a word, you two sit down. >After some coughs that try to break the silence, the rest of the classroom eventually return to whatever they were talking about. >Still, you can easily notice that everybody is trying their damnedest not to look at you two. >To be honest, that’s mighty fine with you. >”Anon…” >You look at Sonata, who sits there, biting her lip. >Dammit. >While you might not be bothered by people acting like this, that didn’t mean Sonata— >”Um, did you do your homework? I… kinda forgot. Can I copy them real quick?” >Your forehead is quick to meet the desk. >This girl is gonna be the death of you some day. >While Sonata is busying herself with cheating, you enjoy the cool surface of the desk. >Lazily, your eyes wander around the classroom. >Everywhere you look, only one thing greets you. >”Distrust.” >Antonym of “Trust.” >Word with roots in the Old Norse word meaning “Protection.” >Yes… right now in this school your three friends were, in a way, with no one to protect them. >Therefore, without actually meaning to, you had taken that role upon yourself. >You had been cast as a villain. >Monster that followed the whims of those others viewed as “bad.” >The mere thought makes you chuckle. >Just like was typical, the audience was projecting their hatred of the characters unto the actors themselves. >But no matter. >You look over to the other side, where Sonata is happily humming to herself and copying your homework. >That sight was enough. >The hatred of others was meaningless when you knew what happened behind the curtain. >Most of the lesson was just a blur to you. >At some point you think you answered some questions. >But mostly, you felt like sleeping. >Just like always. >Only sleeping. >Seeing strange pictures that filled your daydreams floating by, never quite being able to place them in right order. >The slight sting of inconsistency somewhere in the back of your neck. >Like, for example… >Green grass growing from within the snow. >Like, for example… >Evening that cannot turn into night. >Like, for example… >Rain warming you up on a cold morning. >Slight paradoxes that kept piling up and becoming phantasm you saw in your slumber. >A Midsummer Night’s Dream. >In the middle of this harsh winter. >Yet, as if it was something agreed upon beforehand, no one questions it. >No one questions and everybody forgets. >Even you must’ve forgotten it at this point. >Yes… what were you even thinking about? >Just daydreams. >Daydreams to pass the class which had turned out so boring, like you had heard it before. >You yawn quietly and slump on your desk. >It would be quite a while before lunch break. >You might as well get some sleep while you were at it. >That’s how you mostly felt these days. >Sleeping. >”Ugh. I can’t believe that old fart. Chasing me down the hallways like I was some common criminal…” >”Look at it this way, Aria. At least it’s over for now.” >”Yeah! And only thing you got was a stern talking-to from Principal Celestia!” >Aria doesn’t look the least bit happy about that. >In fact, if looks could kill, her mashed potatoes would be dead right about now. >… Whatever that means for mashed potatoes. >You and the Dazzlings were currently enjoying your lunch at the corner-table of the school’s cafeteria. >This was the fifth time you had been actually allowed to join them. >It was the reward for helping them out with some… personal problems a week ago. >Or as Sonata had eloquently put it: “shutting them in the band room and waiting until everyone had yelled, apologized and cried enough.” >You had not pried further than that. >But at the very least, you had been pretty much accepted into the esteemed social circle of the Dazzlings. >Trial by fire, or how they call it. >”Helloooo~? Anon? You still with us?” >You snap out of your thoughts only to find Sonata staring straight at your face. “Oh, yeah, right. Sorry about that. Sorta… spaced out.” >”Not the first time, as we’ve come to notice. You are rather good at ignoring your surroundings.” >Adagio looks at you with a raised eyebrow and sly smile. >You return the expression. “I blame the lack of interesting people surrounding me.” >As a reward for that comment, Aria jabs you playfully, a small grin now on her face. >”Shut it, Roadie. Without us, you’d just be hunching in some dark corner again, making snarly-faces at anyone who tries to approach you.” “I refer to your opinion on that. You’re the master of snarly-faces, after all.” >Everyone gets a chuckle out of that, even Aria. >As the conversation starts up again, you use your fork to skewer one of the many chicken nuggets on your plate and devour it. >Really, after the horror-show that was your breakfast, you could practically eat a poultry farm. >You didn’t even mind dipping the nuggets in that horrible excuse for “spicy” sauce that came with them. >The looks of the female trio, however, told you that there was something wrong with the enthusiasm you were displaying. >Adagio, especially, seemed appalled. >”I will never understand how you can eat that filth…” >You simply shrug your shoulders and shovel another nugget form your plate into your mouth. >Mmm. Grilled production waste. >Your favorite. >”It’s because Roadie here has no interest at all in what he eats. I once caught him chugging down a whole bottle of expired milk from the salvage yard’s fridge.” >Aria shoots you a pitying look. >Well, she has you there. >And you paid for that milk dearly. >In fact, your stomach hasn’t really forgiven you to this day. “Eh, I don’t need to justify it. I eat to fill my stomach. The taste and healthiness ain’t really my concern.” >“Oh, I get it! Like ‘A bad taco can taste good in the right company’?” >No, Sonata, you’re a bit off. >In fact, you’re just about as off as one can be. >However, you’re not in the mood to start arguing about detrimental effects of a bad dietary plan. >Thus you pop in another chicken nugget to your mouth. >”Or, in a way Anon would put it…” >To your abject horror, Sonata suddenly hunches and adopts a bored, taciturn expression. >You know that face. >After all, it stares back at you whenever you look into a mirror. >”Hmph. I think the food itself is inconsequential. What matters is the company it is enjoyed with.” >… Oh goddammit. >That slightly pompous and overly serious tone of voice... >She’s got your speech-pattern down to a T. >The other two aren’t even bothering to hide their snickers. >Annoyed, you skewer another nugget. >”Wait, why are you just ignoring me, Anon? Did you get angry?” >Trying to appear calm, you concoct a quick revenge plan. >”Anoooon? Don’t be like that!” >Showing surprising amount of self-restraint, you continue not reacting to Sonata’s pleads. >”This isn’t funny anymore! Answer me, Anon!” >This seems to be enough. >You gesture towards the blue-haired girl with your fork and look at the other two. “Did you catch that, Aria? Adagio?” >The two of them look at you, surprised. >You continue your explanation, like a researcher at a seminar. “It’s bit like tuning from one station to another. You just gotta keep turning the dial in your head until you can no longer hear the idiocy.” >Finally, they understand what you’re getting at. >Adagio gasps exaggeratedly and hits her palm with her fist. >”Ah, that’s useful! I need to try it someday when the dimwitted atmosphere gets to me.” >Aria grins wickedly. >”That, or just switch from FM to AM. No change of her reaching you anymore.” >At this point, Sonata looks like she’s ready to cry. >”Y-you guys are the worst!” >Unable to keep straight faces anymore, the three of you burst laughing, Aria even tousling Sonata’s hair for good measure. >”We’re just joking, you numbskull. Don’t take everything so literally.” >”F-for realsies? Aw, here I thought— Hey, not so rough!” >”Too late! Noogie-time!” >While the duo of Aria and Sonata engage in ritualistic head-meets-knuckles bonding, you and Adagio exchange glances. >You see that the smile playing on your lips is reflected on hers. >”It’s like having two younger sisters, right?” >Her voice is quiet enough for only you to hear. >… And to be frank, it’s a bit surprising. >The way Adagio worded it… it was almost like you were already counted as a ‘brother’ in this messed up family. >The title didn’t sound nearly as horrible as you would have expected. >Finding Adagio still staring, you simply nod at her. >No need to put into words what goes without saying. >And thus, the lunch break rolls on. >Sometimes troublesome, sometimes cheerful, sometimes awkward… yet, at all times, cozy. >Just like all the times spent with these three. “So? What’s the plan today? You guys want to practice after school, or…?” >To your surprise, both Aria and Adagio shake their heads. >“I have a job now, remember? It’s still part-time, but I’ll have to head there immediately after school.” >Adagio makes a vague gesture, seemingly not too enthralled with the prospect. >”Something about showing me the ropes. As if restocking and working the counter could be that difficult…” >Some rather unfortunate memories from record stores float into your mind. >Heaving a pitying sigh, you pat Adagio on the shoulder. “Just remember: even if LPs make for good weapons, they’ll dock that out of your pay. Just stick to fists.” >Adagio nods, though not sure why. >“Uh… alright?” >”Meanwhile, I’ll have to swing by your uncle’s place. Apparently some veteran hippies stashed an old Splitty at the yard. We’ll be going through it with a fine comb to see if there’s any hidden compartments with unfortunate surprises.” >Aria makes somewhat dissatisfied face. >You knew that even though she didn’t admit it, she liked working at the salvage yard. >Apparently, your little lecture about engines had put something of a car-fever into Aria. >Still, true to her nature, she complained even about things that she liked. >Sonata had dubbed such comments “Love Grump.” “Just don’t let Uncle Bobby pocket anything you find. The last thing I need is him behind the bars. There’s not supposed to be some revolving door for our family when it comes to that place.” >The Dazzlings chuckle, but you notice some awkwardness in their eyes. >You weren’t dumb enough to think they hadn’t heard to the rumors, too. >However, they didn’t investigate any further, and you didn’t set the record straight. >Still, you didn’t want to start hiding your past from them. >They had been honest with you so far, so it was only fair. >In other words: >’Leave well enough alone.’ “Well, what about you, Sonata? Up for a little jam session?” >You turn to look at the blue-haired goof, who is currently stuffing her face with remains of her salad. >She ponders a bit, before shaking her head, just like the other two. >However, there’s a smile on her face. >“Umm, you know… I thought that I should head to town and see if I can’t find a job too. It’s not fair that both Aria and Adagio are working, right?” >Her smile suddenly grew into a grin. >Too bad there was a big piece of lettuce jutting from between her front teeth. >”Plus, if I do get one, then we can start looking for an apartment! One with actual shower and everything!” >Damn this girl. >Her earnest passion is downright criminal at times. >Even Adagio and Aria can’t hide the gentle expressions they get after hearing about Sonata’s plans. >You hide your desire for a sudden showcase of affection and instead yank the lettuce out. >Sonata yelps and puts her hands over her mouth, blushing in embarrassment. >A ball of cuteness, this one. >She’s bad for any man’s heart… and judging from the body language of the other Dazzlings, for most women’s. “Well, in that case, no sense for me to remain here either. I’ll give you a ride to town, Sonata. It gets dark out quickly, after all.” >Sonata’s eyes widen. >”Egads, for realsies!? Thanks Anon, you’re the best! With all the super worrying rumors lately, car feels a lot safer.” >Wait, what? >More rumors? >And this time, worrisome ones? >That’s the first you heard of something like that. “What rumors? Is something going on in this city?” >Now it’s the Dazzlings’ turn to look surprised. >”You mean you haven’t heard? It’s been all over the news recently.” >Adagio leans a bit closer and lowers her volume, clearly not wanting anyone to overhear. >”She’s talking about the disappearances in the town lately. You know, of young people? There’s been even two in this very school.” >Wait, now that she mentions it, you did hear about this. “That’s right, the news said something about that this morning. A kid from some another high school disappearing in the middle of the night?” >Adagio nods with a rather stern look. >Suddenly, you realize that the conversation has taken a rather grim turn. >”Indeed. There’s no talk of it being a murder or anything, but really… there’s been six victims so far in total.” >Aria clicks her tongue. >“Totally creepy, if you ask me. Apparently police are piecing together some sorta profile, but so far, the only pattern is that all the victims disappeared in the middle of the night.” >Before she can continue, Adagio takes control of the conversation once more. >”Well, that isn’t exactly true either. Some people have claimed there’s been sightings of some strange animal wandering around the town at night. That could very well be connected.” >”Sightings? More like hearings!” >Sonata chuckles. >”The only thing people say is that they’ve heard just some odd animal call. I bet it has nothing to do with the disappearing kids.” >Adagio sighs, but concedes with a nod. >”Well, be that as it may, people are starting to talk how the streets aren’t safe anymore at night. If any more teenagers go missing, I bet they’ll put up a curfew.” >This is a rather morbid topic, you have to admit. >Sure enough, since CHS is a high school, rumors not unlike this one are created daily. >But one centered around actual disappearances? >Not that great of a topic to talk about during lunch. >… In fact, you find that you have lost your appetite already. >With a grumble, you push away your plate. “Well, if that’s the case, maybe I should drive you back as well, Sonata? No sense in taking unnecessary risks.” >Sonata beams at you. >”For realsies? Thanks, Anon! I’ll give you a call when I’m ready, so you can come pick me up.” >Thus the lunch break comes to an unsatisfying end. >You can’t really blame any of the Dazzlings for that. >They were just recounting rumors of late to pass as a catalyst for conversation. >But still… >For some reason, you found the idea of the disappearances slightly unsettling. >Maybe it was the fault of the memory tugging your mind persistently. >It wasn’t exactly the same. >But something about the whole thing was… familiar. >Not the situation itself. >But the mood it created. >Maybe you should tell about it to the trio, just in case. >But the moment you were about to open your mouth— >”Enough about unpleasant topics. How about we drop outside to catch some fresh air before the lessons resume?” >Adagio’s suggestion is met with agreeing nods from both Aria and Sonata. >You can’t help but to go along with the new change in the mood, and nod. “Sure. Maybe I can have a smoke while we’re at it.” >Adagio frowns at the idea. >”Anonymous, please. If you were planning on committing crimes on school property, at least do it when there’s no chance being caught.” >Sonata is quick to agree with her. >”That’s right! Plus, it’s not healthy for you, you really should quit!” >Aria on the other hand… >”Ugh, just let the idiot do what he wants. He’ll grow out of his rebellious phase eventually.” >To summarize your habits in such a blunt way… >This might be a bit off-tangent, but in a sense, wasn’t Aria the cruelest of this trio? >Maybe you should be a bit more careful in the future. >Throwing your hands up in the air in defeat, you follow the three out of the cafeteria. “Alright, alright. I’ll refrain. Just… just don’t run your mouth how you please.” >You grab your chest to emphasize what you mean. “It hurts. Somehow. A bit.” >The Dazzlings chuckle at the theatrics. >”Ah! Anon’s all Love Grump now, too!” >Sonata, never again imply me and Deep Purple are more similar than I’d care to admit. >The rest of the day at school became just short moments during which you jostled out of your typical boredom-induced stupor. >Mostly because you had to divide your attention between lessons, friends and the lingering morbid mood. >After the lunch break, there weren’t really that many lessons anyway. >Just maths. “Sonata, stop doodling in my notebook. These tacos are looking damn obscene.” >English. “Sonata, stop sleeping and drooling on your desk. Miss Cheerilee is about go all Cy Young on you with that piece of chalk.” >And chemistry. “Aria, ever heard ‘Duck and Cover’? Because that should be our course of action right about now.” >By the time the school had ended and you were on your way to your locker to drop off some stuff, you felt exhausted. >Like a man that had stared at a red light at an intersection for last three hours. >Adagio and Aria had already went ahead, both heading off to their jobs. >What was left was working as Sonata’s chauffeur. >’Driving Miss Goofy’ had a nice ring to it. >Speaking of which, where was she? >Toilet again? >All of the Dazzlings, Sonata especially, had these times their faces contracted in pain and they clutched their stomachs. >They claimed they were ‘hungry’ but that couldn’t be right. >You had seen it happen during lunch of all times. >Most likely stomach cramps… but from what? >Unlike you, they were careful about what they ate. >Was there something in the air of the school that didn’t sit well with their bodies? >Or was it something completely else? >They always reassured you that there was nothing to worry about, and it’d pass, but… >You didn’t want to pry further. >You never did. >But seeing the faces of your friends in pain was enough to make your own stomach cramp. >If things went on like this, you’d be one big cramp family. >How delightful. >Thinking these useless thoughts, you finish up preparations to head out and close the door of your locker. >You turn to leave, content with waiting Sonata outside. >”Um, Anonymous… right?” >However, your attempt is soon denied. >Tutti Frutti? >No, Baconswirl. >Yes, that’s it. >A girl wearing a black leather jacket is blocking your way. >And behind her— >”Sorry, can we talk a bit?” >Rainbooms. >The five girls that the rest of the school talk about like they were bunch of animal-morphing heroes. >The popular types, the admired types, a group of girls that was apparently as thick as thieves. >One could say they were school idols, in a way. >In other words, just the type of people you never wanted to associate with. >Instead of answering immediately, you size each of your ambushers up. >There was Baconswirl, the girl who had shown you around when you first arrived, and whom you had— >Ugh. >You didn’t even want to remember it. >You bet half the school had heard you two argue. >Right behind her was Hart of Dixie. She might have dressed like a goddamn carnival-time Yankee, but at least she seemed to have the attitude down right. >Still, you were pretty sure she had never dipped down to Deep South. >Next to the Stetson-wearing blonde was the neon-nightmare jock. California Games here was wearing a rather aggressive expression. >Behind them was the rest of the group. >The shy-looking animal activist, Woodstock. >The admittedly pretty but clearly high-maintenance Cosmopolitan. >And then there was the final one. The Pink One. Fairground Fairy. >This one was dangerous. >And scary. >And currently rummaging through your locker. >Wait, what? “Hey! Hands off!” >You grab her by the neck and throw her back to her friends like a kitten. >The Pink One just giggles. >The rest of her friends exchange worried glances. >With a huff, you lean back and close the locker, folding your arms. “So? Whaddya want?” >”Um, well, we came to talk to you about… ehm…” >Baconswirl is off to a slow start, but California Games intercepts. >”We wanna know what you’re conspiring with the Dazzlings!” >Her angry index finger is pointed at you. >”Now hold yer horses, Rainbow Dash. We’re not here to accuse Anonymous of anything. We just… wanna know what’s what. Ain’t that right, girls?” >Hart of Dixie is quick to play the mediator. >However… Rainbow Dash? Supposedly that was California Games’ actual name. >Baconswirl looks thankful for the intervention. >”Yes. We simply wanted to know what’s going on with the three of them and you. After all, the Dazzlings have had some past… misgivings.” >The smile on Baconswirl’s face couldn’t be any more awkward. >”Yeah! And people are saying lots of suspicious things about you, too! Like how you were in ju—“ >Hart of Dixie is quick to slam her hand into California Games’ mouth to silence her. >”Pay her no mind. Rainbow here is just… little agitated, that’s all.” >Cosmopolitan says that and drags the neon jock away from the frontlines. >Still, you can’t help but to feel your already lukewarm mood take a turn for foul. >This is really not a conversation you want to have. >Not with these people. >Baconswirl takes reins of the conversation once more. >”We’ve noticed some positive changes in the Dazzlings lately, and the only difference between current situation and that of two months ago is, well, you.” >Her smiles changes from awkward to encouraging. >”So, for us it seems like you’re good influence for the three of them. It’s just that… we wanted to be sure of it. You can understand that, right?” >No. >You really can’t. >First of all, it seems Baconswirl here has a completely wrong idea about what’s going on. “’Positive influence’… hah. You’re the type that gets all emotional about how people can change, right?” >Baconswirl seems surprised by your annoyed tone. “You know, I ain’t a therapist for my friends. I didn’t get to know them just so I could nudge them to better themselves.” >At some point, you started to grip your arms tighter. >But you can’t even feel it. “If you think of me as some sort of Good Samaritan out to save poor souls, then our conversation here is done. That’s not it in the least.” >Baconswirl cocks an eyebrow in confusion. >”Then what is it?” >The fact that she has to even ask makes you grit your teeth. “I’m just a guy. A guy who, by a chance, happened to meet some people who he got involved with. And we became friends.” >The words feel like spitting acid. “If you can’t understand a concept as simple as that, then there’s no way for us to talk.” >It was an insult. >There was really no way around that fact. >Even Baconswirl seems to understand this, as her expression hardens. >Her posse shares the sentiment. >”It’s not like I can’t understand just becoming friends through a chance encounter. But even you can’t claim the Dazzlings haven’t changed because of you.” >You stop leaning to your locker. >Instead, you take an assertive step forward, staring down at the girl. >She looks defiantly back. “I can. I don’t know what you know of the world, Baconswirl—“ >Dang. Looks like blurting out your personal nickname for her made her angry. “—But no person can save someone else. You can only save yourself. And that’s it. If my friends have changed in any way, that’s their own doing… their own choice. Don’t just attribute it to someone else.” >Your face distorts into an expression of distaste. >You’re far past the point of lying how you feel about this encounter. “That’s the same as ignoring their effort to fit in.” >Your stare-off with Baconswirl is eventually interrupted by Cosmopolitan. >”Do forgive me, but that’s part of the problem. As much as the Dazzlings have changed their ways, they are still, ehm, rather far from fitting in. They choose to ignore other students and avoid any attempt of socializing with anyone.” >California Games suddenly shoots you an angry glare. >”Just like you.” >The words they throw against you feel like a tide rushing in. >It’s pretty and awe-inspiring to look at… >But in the end, it’s just that. >A tide. >It can’t accomplish a thing against a sturdy cliff. “So that’s what this is about.” >You finally begin to understand. >And you feel like you just bit into something rotten. >These girls… their self-righteous attitude churns your stomach. >You’re not even sure they realize it, or perhaps it’s different for them. >But to you personally, what they are saying… >… It’s sickening. “It’s not that we aren’t acting the way we’re supposed to.” >Accusation. >This conversation is past the point of being coy and using metaphors. >They’ve made their point clear. >It’s time you did the same. “… It’s that we ain’t acting the way *you* think we should.” >Baconswirl looks absolutely appalled at this suggestion. >”No! We never said you’d need to—“ “But you did. Or, that’s what I can see between the lines. We’re not acting like the rest of the students, so automatically, that makes us a problematic gear in the otherwise perfect machine.” >It’s an age old story, really. >Any anomaly in the system is quickly identified and dealt with. >Difference is rarely tolerated. >Not just the obvious differences between people. >But also the cases where the problem lies on a more subtle level. >If the overall population is treated as “good” and “normal,” then… >… Then the outcasts are given their own label. >Villains. >Abnormal. >Baconswirl is starting to look like she wants to shake you by your shoulders. >Funny. >You feel like doing the exact same thing. >”Anonymous, we aren’t saying you can’t live your lives the way you want. However, by being standoffish and rude towards everyone outside your own little circle, you’re refusing to see the actual problem.” >Jesus. >You feel like punching something. >You’re not even sure why this whole conversation is making you this agitated. >It simply does. >Like an old scab that just keeps on itching. “And what’s that? That we don’t want to be friends with you lot? Have you thought that maybe it has nothing to do with being good or bad?” >Your voice is almost a snarl at this point. “But that we simply don’t like you at a personal level?” >That causes some gasps. >It’s like you hit the whole group below the belt. >Of course you did. >Groups like this place a whole lot of value on friendship and interpersonal connections. >So when someone rejects their values, it’s no longer just disagreement. >It’s a slap in the face. >”B-but, you don’t even know us!” >Baconswirl is now hovering somewhere between anger and distress. >You brush it off with a cold hand. “And I don’t want to. And judging from what I’ve heard from the Dazzlings, neither do they. Is that so hard to understand?” >Apparently it is. >Just what sort of candy-colored marshmallow world do these six live in? >The mere idea of not wanting to be chummy with them is apparently outlandish. >You’re not sure if that’s naivety or arrogance. >Maybe both. “Stop trying to ‘save’ us, idiots. We don’t want any of it.” >You do your best to convey your scorn through your tone and expression. “We’ll do things our way. And that’s that.” >It’s the law of the nature, really. >If you try to pet a wounded dog, it’ll bite your hand. >And yet these morons won’t take a hint. >Just let us lick our wounds in peace. >”I don’t get it! We’re only trying to help! Why do you have to act like such a *jerk*!? Again!?” >Apparently, Baconswirl is just as agitated as you are. >But she’s right in one thing. >She doesn’t get it. >She doesn’t get that there’s no point in taking a hand offered to you when you’re lying face down in the mud. >That hand may help you up, but afterwards, you can only go to the direction where that hand takes you. >It guides your every step. >At that point, it stops being a hand. >It becomes like a chain, restricting your movement and deciding what you should be. >A pig-iron leash chafing around your wrist. >That’s why… that’s why… >No matter how hard it is. >No matter how long it takes. >… It’s always better to inch and crawl yourself out of the mud, to push yourself up and to shoulder whatever it is that’s holding you down. >That way, you yourself can decide what it is that you want to do. >Only that way can you really be free. “And *I’m* saying we don’t want your help! Can you get it through that thick skull of yours!?” >Shit. >Now you’re both shouting. >What a nice scene this must make for everyone else. >”Fine! If you’re really okay with it, then do as you please!” >Something glimmers at the corners of her eyes. >”But, just know that if you don’t accept the help of other people at some point, then you’ll spend the rest of your life as the cold bastard you are now!” >Those words are enough. >You’re seeing something red. >It’s like you remember that scene all over again. >Living hell. >Somebody screaming. >It’s been a while since you heard screaming so loud. >Something at the back of your mouth cracks. >Did you break a tooth? >You hate this. >You hate this sickeningly sweet promise they keep shoving to your face. >Fuck off. >You’ve gotten enough of other people’s ‘help’ long ago. >This time, you’ll do things the way you want. “I swear to God I’m gonna—“ >Suddenly, you feel it. >A small hand holding your wrist softly but firmly. >”Anon.” >… Ah, crap. >Sonata. >When did she get here? >When did you raise your arm in a fist? >When did you take another threatening step towards Sunset Shimmer? >When did she start looking so scared? >And when did her friends step in, as if to protect her? >”Let’s… let’s go, Anon.” >Sonata’s words are just like her grip on you. >Unrelenting. >Yet, you feel the need to try and struggle a bit. >Anyone who refuses to listen deserves a good hit or two. >Right? >You weren’t in the wrong here. >People could call you or your friends ‘villains’ all they wanted. >But you weren’t the bad guy. >… Right? >”Come on, Anon. Let’s go.” >However, no matter what you do, Sonata’s hold is too strong. >Somehow, she subdues your trashing anger. >You let your arm fall against your side, limp and without strength. >Sonata takes over from there. >She guides you away from the scene, and you two leave the Rainbooms behind. >You can still feel their stares. >They burn like cigarettes stumped against your neck. >But, what keeps you calm is the presence of the girl walking next to you. >Cradling your arm as if to pacify you. >You’d never say it out loud, but… >You’re glad she’s there. >”It’s okay, Anon. Calm down. Everything’s fine.” >Sonata keeps whispering stuff like that as she guides you towards the main entrance. >To be honest, you can barely hear the half of it. >But the message gets through. >Whatever took over you back there… >You can let it go now. “Thanks, Sonata. I’m… not sure what I—“ >Thud. >Your words are cut off by something you can hardly believe you felt. >A bump against your left shoulder. >A rude, invasive tackle. >You felt like laughing. >It was all for nothing. >All the anger Sonata managed to pack away roared and flooded your mind again. >It was most likely an accident. >No one would have done it on purpose after the show you put on for the whole school to see. >But really, you didn’t give a damn anymore. >Somewhere, in the back of your mind, you hear the words you always associated with your childhood hero. >You’ve done it now. >You’ve gone and made a big mistake. >There was no other way to put it. “Motherfucker!” >You react in a split second, before anyone can even realize it or stop you. >Including yourself. >You grab the blue-haired guy who bumped into you by the throat and ram him into the lockers on the wall. >Metal dents. >Someone screams. >You think you heard yourself growl. >You don’t see blood, but that’s no guarantee. >At least you know you drove all the air out of his lungs, as he falls down to the floor. >Two, three seconds later you snap out of your stupor, and find yourself breathing heavily. >There’s a grave silence in the hallway. >The Rainbooms are all staring at you like a freak. >You see the yellow one silently crying. >But, more importantly than that… you can feel a desperate weight on your right hand. >Sonata’s clinging to you like a drowning man to a piece of floating wood. >Or, perhaps… >You’re the one drowning at this point? >”Anon… please…” >You can hear the silent sobs in Sonata’s voice. >”We need to go, now…!” >You can’t even argue anymore. >A horrible weariness takes over you. >Without putting up any resistance, you allow Sonata to drag you through the exit and into the outside air. >There, you’re greeted by the mockingly fresh breeze and the sight of a copper-colored sunset. >You hated it. >That color… you despised it. >The very image created by sunsets, its color, felt like it soaked to the back of your eyes. >It made you want to throw up. >Maybe that’s why you were afraid of sunsets so much. >To the point you ran away. >Again. >The ride to town was a quiet one. >Neither you nor Sonata spoke up. >Which was just fine with you. >The last thing you needed right now was useless wading through what had just happened. >In fact, when you phone rang for the fifth time, you simply shut it off. >There were handful of people who knew your number. >The only two whom you had answered to were at work, and had no way of knowing what had transpired. >The rest of the options were… best left for tomorrow. >You simply didn’t have the energy to handle any more shit right now. >New day, new thoughts. >That was what you were counting on. >You simply couldn’t trust that you had cooled off until then. >”Um, you can drop me off here, Anon.” >Grunting in response, you swerve to the side and stop before the coffee shop not far away from your apartment building. >Sonata takes a good while to get her bag. >As if preparing for something else entirely. >”Anon… you know…” >Shit. >Here we go. >You knew this talk was coming sooner or later during this trip. >You simply had the naïve hope that Sonata would go easy on you this time. >Unable to look at her, lest you see disappointment in those raspberry eyes, you just stare at the road. >”I’m… I’m not the best girl to help with stuff like this, Anon.” >Sonata’s voice sounds, of all things, guilty. >”I can try to calm you down, and I really hope you trust me enough to do that, but… I dunno what to say to help you.” >You sneak a peek at her under your brows. >You feel like someone just gutted you. >She looks like she’s holding back tears. >”This is the worst… I wanna help, but I can’t. I’m not smart enough.” >You try to say that it’s not her fault, but she presses on. >”So, um, Anon? You should talk to Adagio. For realsies.” >Adagio? >What? >Why her? >”I might not be that smart, but I know where we all stand.” >Sonata draws a deep breath. >”I know you always drag me with you, helping me whenever I have trouble with something.” >She scratches her cheek sheepishly. >”And I know Aria always pulls you to her pace, hoping you’d manage to keep up.” >A soft touch. >Sonata puts her hand on your shoulder, and smiles wistfully. >”But Adagio… I know how she looks at you. And how you look at her. You two are so similar it’s sorta funny. It’s like you two are standing back to back. No matter how strongly one pushes, the other can always match it.” >Her tone of voice sounds a bit odd. >Like something she doesn’t want to admit was mixed in. >”Unlike me or Aria, you and Adagio are equals for realsies.” >Her hand grips your shoulder with a bit of strength. >As if to reassure you. >”So, you should totes talk this out with Adagio. If there’s anyone in the school who can really understand you, it’s her… Because only *you* can really understand her.” >That smile grows. >”It’s a two-way street, yeah?” >You don’t know what to say. >Was it really as Sonata said? >True enough, the way she described herself and Aria rang a bell. >Sonata was like a little sister you kept teaching things. >Aria, on the other hand, was someone you had to run after. She just kept pushing on. >But you and Adagio… >It was true. You two were alike. >On that one evening, at the stone steps behind the school, you had felt it for the first time. >The way you two kept driving each other to greater and greater lengths. >Just because you had found someone who was finally a match for you. >”So, um, give it a thought, okay?” “… Sure. I will, Sonata.” >She removes her hand from her shoulder, and opens the door. >”Okay. That makes me feel a bit better.” >Jumping out of the car, Sonata twirls around and gives you a one last look. >”I’ll give you a call once I’m ready. I dunno how long it takes, but—“ “Yeah, I gotcha. I’ll drop by home, eat some food and wait. Don’t rush it, Sonata.” >”Alright. I’ll see you later, then.” >Sonata hesitates for a moment. >”And Anon? Um, cheer up, okay? What Sunset Shimmer said… we’re all on your side, you know?” >It’s like a boulder rolled off your shoulders. >You had been saying a lot of stuff, but you didn’t know if it was all true. >However, now you knew that at the very least, you had allies when it came to this argument. “Thanks, Sonata. That… that means a lot.” >”You got it! See ya~” >And with that, she closes the door and runs off. >Leaving you alone in your car, with nothing but the sounds of the slowly darkening city to keep you company. >In other words, there’s no one to watch you anymore. “Crap…” >With a defeat sigh, you slump against the steering wheel. >You feel nothing but shame. >It’s like a great big lump pulsating in your chest. >After what happened at the school, you feel like just ramming your head against a block of concrete again and again. >What happened there… it couldn’t be called just “losing control.” >You had gone full-on berserk. >And why? >Because of the words a girl you barely knew said. >If anyone else had told you the same story, you would have called it lame beyond belief. >Now you couldn’t do anything but stew in your own misery. >What a great new start at a new town, in a new school, Anon. >Really, a model job. >The guys back at juvie would be laughing their asses off. >They told you that there was no changing your nature. >But you had wanted to prove them wrong. >Hell, you yourself believed you could prove them wrong. >But now? >Just how was this any different from before? >Sure, you had friends who didn’t immediately abandon you. >But still, this was pathetic. >For a moment, you contemplate on switching on your phone and calling Adagio. >The idea put in your head by Sonata was persistent. >To just let it go and confess everything to that copper-haired girl… >… It didn’t sound as unpleasant as it should have. >But what could she do? >Were there any magic words she could say to fix what had happened? >Yeah, as if. >You bang your head once against the wheel, only to have the horn of the car blare out. >It scares some old granny out walking her dog. >Goddammit. >You can’t even do your moping right. >This was how low you had gotten. >Muttering curses for no one in particular, you open the glove compartment. >The mismatched pile of cassettes is revealed once more. >With no real choice in mind, you just shift through them to see if something catches your attention. >Suddenly, your hand stops. >A worn-out looking tape sits there as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “Oh man… did Uncle Bobby really fish this out of the wreck?” >Looks like something had survived from back then. >The old white mixtape with a single sentence written on it. >’When you’re feeling blue’ >And a small heart after it. >All with handwriting much more graceful than your big hands could ever hope to produce. >It really was the same damn thing. >The one tape you had never listened to before. “Might as well…” >With another heavy sigh, you eject the previous cassette and insert this one in the player. >As you start your car back again, you can hear the faint click as the tape starts. >And then you hear familiar male voice. [Embed: Travist Tritt - Best of Intentions] >Jesus Christ. >Travis Tritt, of all things. >There would be no end to the ridicule if Adagio or Aria heard you listening to this. >Grimacing at the thought, you drive the car back on the road. >Time to swing by that old Chinese place close-by and then head home. >There was a bottle of Jack with your name on it waiting there. >By the time you make it home, with your take-out in hand, it’s gotten considerably darker out there. >A stray thought about Sonata wandering alone makes you a bit worried, but since she hasn’t called, there’s not much you can do. >However, whatever thoughts you had are quickly swept away as, when you step inside the building, a familiar boom emanates from the basement. >Grimacing, you walk to the basement door and knock loudly. “Hey, Strangelove! You alright?” >There is no answer. >Goddammit. >Did that mad scientist go and kill herself? >You knock again, this time with more force. “Strangelove! Everything okay?” >You hear what sounds suspiciously like a struggle to move particularly large piece of electronics. >After few seconds, a fatigued voice calls out. >”Y-yes, quite. I’ve survived yet again, Anomalous.” >Oh god, here we go again. “Don’t insinuate I’m an irregularity from what’s regarded as normal. The name’s Anonymous.” >”You’re the one who keeps calling me ‘Strangelove’.” “But I don’t even know your real name!” >”And thus, here we are.” >What follows is an awkward silence. “So? What is it this time? You working on some new type of landmine in there?” >Strangelove laughs in that weird, somewhat nasal way of hers. >“If I told you what I was experimenting with, I’m afraid big scary men in black vans would come and take you away in just under two minutes.” “T-two minutes!? That’s a scarily fast reaction time!” >”Don’t underestimate us state-funded scientists.” >While your mind races with thoughts of MiB busting your door in for snooping around Strangelove’s work, you hear some more thuds and bangs from the basement. >Most likely she’s cleaning up the aftermath of whatever she was doing. >”So? What’s wrong with you, Anonymous? It’s unusual for you to more than greet me, let alone sound like you are searching for an outlet for whatever emotional problem you are facing.” >Sharp! This mad scientist is too sharp! “Wait. How can you tell that much just from my voice?” >”How? Well, that would be because you clearly sound like you are sulking. Yet you are here, talking to me. That contradiction alone tells me enough. If I’m not completely mistaken, there’s a word for people like that in Eastern Asian popular culture…” >Don’t say it! >You feel that something inside your heart and mind will break if she says that word. >”Something about turning and sweetness…” “Enough about turning sweetness, that’s not important right now.” >”What are you talking about, Anonymous? Turing Sweetness is an integral part of the test! If the evaluator cannot differentiate between a human and a computer by licking them, that’s a big step!” >No, that would just indicate the evaluator is a goddamn pervert! “I’ve never heard of such test, and really, I don’t wanna hear. The less I know about licking computers, the better.” >”Ah, shame. And here I was about to invite you over for a dinner.” “I’ll never ever dine with you after this!” >You realize she’s laughing again. >You also realize that you’re currently yelling at a basement door. >Ah, of course. >You had thought you couldn’t sink any lower. >Yet here you are, having an argument with a crazy person whom you have never even seen. >An argument that doesn’t even begin to make sense. “This cannot be real…” >Muttering that, you fall to your knees, defeated. >There’s no way out of this. >The emotional rollercoaster of today is like a particularly bloodthirsty seesaw. >She’s getting you riled up, but in a completely different way from Baconswirl. >Strangelove… just what sort of evil mastermind are you? >”Well, the taste of computers aside; what’s troubling you, Animalious?” “Don’t call me like I’m the second highest taxonomic rank. The name’s Anonymous.” >”Manimalious?” “I’m not an 80’s TV-show either! Just call me Anonymous!” >”But, as said, you call me Strangelove of all things.” “Like I said, I don’t *know* your actual name!” >”And thus, here we war.” “Is our relationship already that bad!? Is that why you keep tormenting me like this!?” >”Hear me roar?” “Helen! Is that you!?” >You fall on your back against the cold stone floor. >Too much. >This is simply too much. >It’s like you are trapped in some sort of infinity loop. >Goddammit, since when had you become Blick Winkel? >It seems that no matter what you try, every word you speak drags you deeper into this quicksand of conversation. >And at the bottom, an antlion lying in wait. >In other words: this insane scientist currently prodding you with pins and needles of verbal communication. >Just when you thought you had regained some vigor, it’s all being sucked out by this nonsense. >Maybe this is the point where you should choose “Quit Game” instead of “Continue”? >”Well? Feeling a bit better, Anonymous?” >Strangelove’s voice comes from the other side of the door again, but this time with noticeably more warmth. “Huh?” >”Since you sounded so somber, I merely thought a little conversational fatuity would cheer you up. Release some of your stress, in other words.” >What. >This… this whole non-stop sparring of drivel was just to… cheer you up? >It actually served a purpose? “Strangelove…” >You had no words. “I… thanks. I suppose. Yeah, I think I feel a bit better.” >You’re not even lying. >It was a distraction, sure, but an efficient one. >More than that, it allowed you to let out some steam. >Only in a good way. >”Great. I would hate for all that hard work to be for nothing.” “Wait. Does this mean your personality isn’t really like this?” >”Mm, who knows? Like you keep saying, I *am* a mad scientist. You can’t expect me to follow whatever norms you normal humans play by, right?” >Wouldn’t that make *you* Anomalous? >”Admittedly, this is the best I can do. Whatever is bothering you is something I cannot fix. Only distract.” “Huh? What you mean by that?” >You hear a small thud against the wooden door. >Most likely she’s leaning against it now. >”Anonymous, in case you have not noticed, I’m a woman of science.” >Somehow, her voice echoes a bit on that last word. >How did she do it? >Do you even want to know? >”In other words, if you started opening your heart to me, I would simply treat the whole event as nothing more than an experiment. Such is my nature. In other words, I would be more likely to pry you open and leave you bleeding out on the table rather than fix you.” “… That’s a scary way of putting it, in more than one way. You sure it’s okay to call yourself that heartless?” >”I’m merely stating my observations. It has happened few times before. And considering you take the time to talk to me every day despite everything, I would like to avoid breaking you.” >In other words, she’s being considerate. >She knows the extent of her abilities. >Or rather, her own personality. >Like a master craftsman, she can look at herself and realize: ‘yeah, this tool’s not gonna cut it.’ >And that’s why she’s simply waving that tool before your eyes, like keys to a baby, to distract you from your problem. “Well… I appreciate it, nonetheless. Like I said, I do feel a bit better. Not a whole lot, but… it’s a step in the right direction.” >”Perfect. Then my work here is done.” >The shuffling of clothes indicates she’s about to head back to… whatever laboratory she has hidden in the basement. “Just tell me one thing, Strangelove: if someone like you would only break me, then what sorta person should I talk to?” >You also get up from the floor. “You know, to fix me.” >She laughs again. >This time, it’s a strange sort of sound. >A bit muffled, like she was a teacher going over basic maths with a particularly stupid kid. >”Well, isn’t that obvious?” >With your mind’s eye, you can almost see her correct her glasses matter-of-factly. >”Someone who is your equal.” >There’s that word again. >’Equal.’ >You’ve gotten the same answer from two sources already. >And you know where that road leads to. >That sly smile. >That fire in her eyes. >That magnificent hair, like a mane of a proud lion. >Sure enough, she’s someone who makes even the most normal of days a challenge. >But did that truly mean you two stood back-to-back? >Were you really that similar? >”Judging by your silence, you’ve already got someone in mind.” >You chuckle. “You could say that. I’m just not sure if it’s the best idea to confess everything to her. The fallout could be… troublesome.” >”Then think of it this way: if that person told of their problems to you, what sort of fallout would that create?” >You didn’t even have to think. >That had already happened. >Weeks ago, on those stone steps, playing harmonica with her. >You knew where that road had led her. >To a better understanding of the ‘family’ she now had. >Strangely enough, that thought calms you down more than anything. “… Yeah. I guess I’m worrying for nothing. Again, thanks, Strangelove.” >”You’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work.” “Sure. I’ll talk with you tomorrow.” >”I’ll be looking forward to it.” >And with that, the presence of the mad scientist disappears. >You’re alone again. >But this time, you don’t feel a crushing shame pushing down on you. >With a hint of a smile on your lips, you head upstairs. >Once in your apartment, you throw your bag to the corner and head to the kitchen. >Popping open the bottle of whiskey, your pour yourself a glass. >Just to have something to drink while eating. >You didn’t want to get actually drunk. >You still had to drive Sonata back to school. >In silence, you eat your mediocre noodles and chicken, all the while sipping the golden brown liquid. >The burn in your throat feels good. >It reminds you of the burn you felt while listening to Baconswirl’s preaching. >Only without the blinding anger. >After all, the alcohol didn’t directly attack your weak points. >Grimacing with distaste, you munch on the flavorless meat. >What did she know? >A pampered schoolgirl like her only had a world-view narrow as her own experience. >She didn’t know how cruel the world could be when it wanted to. >Friendship was nice, sure. >Having a savior, too, was nice. >But that kind of stuff… it could all disappear in a blink of an eye. >That’s why it was important to learn to stand on your own. >Just like you and the Dazzlings. >Each and every one of you had a solid footing. >Sure, every once in a while one of you felt like toppling over, but that was just momentary. >What was important was that none of you relied on others. >Only then could you approach each other without any reservations or hidden agendas. >You weren’t friends out of necessity. >You didn’t rely on each other like a house of cards, ready to fall from the slightest of breezes. >If one fell, the rest of you would still stand tall. >And that was the major difference between you four and the Rainbooms. >You weren’t friends because you needed to be. >You were friends because you *wanted* to be. >Alone or together, you were still strong. >Unlike those morons. “Ugh. Disgusting…” >The noodles have turned into a soggy mess. >You push the box away and pour yourself another glass. >You also light up a cigarette. >The smoke softly drifts towards the ceiling. >Outside, evening slowly makes way for the eager night, painting the town in ultramarine colors. >Winter’s just behind the corner, and soon you should start wearing a heavier jacket. >You hope that by the time the first snow falls, the Dazzlings have found themselves an apartment. >It wouldn’t do them good spend nights in the cold school. >It was all up to Sonata at this point. >Hoping her search for a job will be successful, you reach out for the radio and crank it on. >Immediately, a familiar tune flows out of the speaker. [Embed: Tracy Lawrence - Find Out Who Your Friends Are] >Tracy Lawrence, the old coot. >Smiling to yourself like an idiot, you pour yourself a third glass. >Without even meaning to, you find yourself singing to the tune of the song. >It’s catchy, you admit that. >And fitting, in a way. >The solemn atmosphere from before is finally beginning to evaporate. >You know what you should do. >Maybe it’s just the whiskey talking, but the idea of heart-to-heart with Adagio doesn’t sound too bad right now. >Of course, there’ll be repercussions for what you did. >Baconswirl, for starters. >Then there’s the boy whom you assaulted. >Principal Celestia’s probably going to get on the case. >You didn’t look forward to that talk. >But… that would be tomorrow. >Today, you could just lean back and breathe. >You would take those problems head-on after getting some sleep. >Guilt didn’t crush your heart that bad anymore. >And for that, you had Sonata to thank for. >… And Strangelove, you suppose. >For a neighbor whom you had never even seen, she had been surprising amount of help. >Top that with asking advice from Adagio, and, well… >Things could be worse. >Way worse. >Soon, you notice your glass is empty again. >Time to reload. >By the time you wake up, the whole room is dark. >As well as the city outside. >In your drowsy stupor, you gaze around. >The radio’s still on. >Gilbert O’Sullivan’s singing about being alone. >You chuckle and glance beside you. >There, half-empty bottle of Jack looks at you with blame. >You didn’t mean to drink so much. >Honest. >However, the moment was just too good to pass up. >At least you hadn’t left a cigarette half attended. >All five were in the ashtray next to the bottle. >… As well as the remains of the noodles. >Blargh. >More to add to the growing landfill that was your room. >Lastly, you look at the black-and-white clock on the kitchen wall. >Almost 2am. >Time to move to the bed, it seems. >You would need some actual sleep before tomorrow. >Humming to the tune coming from the radio, you get up and head towards your bed. >The lull of sleep and slight inebriation made your brain pleasantly fuzzy. >Perfect mood to catch some Z’s. “Wait for me, Little Nemo. I’m gonna join ya in a sec…” >You mumble nonsense as you throw yourself down on the bed. >The off-white ceiling stares back at you. >Strangely, it emanates the same blame as your whiskey bottle. >You close your eyes and wonder why. >Was there something you needed to do before sleeping? >Had you forgotten something? >Take a leak? >Take off your shoes? >Connect your phone to the charger? >… >Wait. >Phone? >Yes, your phone. >The phone you had shut off since someone kept calling you after your escape from the school. >The phone that you needed to keep an eye on in case… >In case… >In case what? >In case someone called it? >Haha. >Who would call you at this hour? >Satisfied, you snuggle deeper into your bed and heave a soft sigh. >Sleep is sure to take you soon. >… >… >… >Your eyes snap open. >Sonata. “Shit!”