Insecurity is something tenacious that only grows unless soothed.
She quickly jotted down her teacher’s lecture into the open notebook, not entirely paying attention to what exactly she was copying down from the whiteboard. As a result, she had to constantly glance up and down, giving herself a slight headache. She couldn’t seem to concentrate no matter how hard she tried; her mind kept wandering elsewhere outside of the lesson. It didn’t feel right, staying distracted. She always paid attention.
Finally, she finished the strangely arduous task of taking notes and placed her pen down. Her teacher had already continued with the lesson, talking on about how a revolution had started. Ib glanced around the classroom. All of her classmates were listening intently, hooked by the woman’s storytelling. Feeling like the odd one out, she hastily looked back at her teacher, trying to stay focused… to no avail. Without realizing it herself, her thoughts had already drifted back to yesterday.
“Ma,” she had tugged at her mother’s shirt. “May I use your phone?”
The woman had her shoulder-length hair held back behind her head by one hand. She took the rubberband held between her lips with her free hand and turned to look at her little girl, smiling helplessly. “Calling Garry again hmm? You really like him, don’t you dear?” Alysha said as she tied her auburn hair into a small ponytail.
“Yeah.” Ib answered with a faint smile. “May I? I want to eat macarons with him.”
“Didn’t you two eat together just yesterday?” Her mother bent down and gently patted her head. “But alright,” the gentle woman took out her phone and held it out to her child. “Just make sure you do your homework before going.”
“I will. Thank you, Ma.” she said quickly, receiving the device with both hands, before taking hurried strides to the stairs.
Alysha could only smile as she looked on, shaking her head at how active her little girl become when the young man was involved.
Ib took her mother’s phone to her own room and closed the door behind her. She liked her privacy. Even if it was only her parents, she wouldn’t want them listening in on her conversation with Garry.
The little girl flopped down on her bed, dialing in Garry’s number from memory, and put the device to her ear. She listened to the long monotonous beeps. Once, twice, thrice… Garry still hadn’t picked up. Normally, he would pick up very fast, even more so if it was his cell she was calling, since he always kept it near him.
She put her free hand between her thighs and started dangling her legs; her fingers playing with the hem of her blue shorts. Ib breathed out as she straightened up to adjust her string tank top. Her eyes scanned around the room, finding some form of entertainment from her stuffed animal friends.
At the tenth beep, a pang of dejection hit her. She brought the phone from her ear to look at the screen; her face devoid of expression as usual.
She canceled the call and slowly lied down on her bed. Ib rolled onto her side and stared blankly at the colourful background of her mother’s phone. Suddenly, the device started vibrating, and a small melody soon accompanied the motion. There was no caller ID, but the number…
Ib instantly pressed answer and put the phone to her ear. “Hello, Garry?”
“O-oh, Ib. Hi…” He stuttered, his voice trailing slightly; he sounded lethargic.
“… Is something wrong?” She asked, concerned.
“Eh, no… Everything’s just fine.” He said cheerily, his voice pushed so high she could imagine his beaming face in her mind. “Now what did you want to call me about?”
“Um well, I was wondering,” Ib said, rolling onto her stomach and propping herself up with her elbows. “Can we meet up this afternoon? I want to-“
“Ay, sorry honey.” Garry had quickly replied. Maybe too quickly. “I’m busy today. Sorry, maybe some other day.”
Left alone in the changing room, Ib leisurely put on her PE uniform. Her classmates had already gone ahead to the school ground for the next period, but she was in no hurry to join them. She had never liked exercises, so she always purposely lagged behind to skip out as much of the lesson as possible. Ib slipped on the pair of black shorts, then proceeded to pull the white shirt over her head. The girl took her sweet time neatly folding the uniform she’d just changed out of and placed it inside her locker.
She stared listlessly at the door of her locker for a few seconds, closed it and walked outside. The hallway was quiet, only the muffled voice of the kids on the school ground was audible, telling her the next period had long started. She did not panic, however. The girl glanced down at her wrist, taking notice of her bracelet that was given to her by Garry. She had forgotten to take it off.
It was immediately decided in her head she would return to the classroom to put the bracelet away. She wouldn’t risk losing it during the two PE periods.
Ib placed her hand over the bracelet, rolling the small silver chain between her fingers. She’d never got to talk with Garry again after that phone call, which ended shortly after he’d declined her request. It felt strange. Lacking. It wasn’t like this was the first time Garry was too busy to see or call her, but somehow Ib could sense something was entirely off.
The feeling kept nagging at her, refusing to relent, and she only grew more anxious. A part of her sulked, another part dismayed. She silently scolded herself for feeling that way. It wasn’t like Garry could indulge her anytime. Being an adult, he obviously had more to worry about. Still, she couldn’t shake off these negative thoughts.
She couldn’t wait for school to end so she could go see Garry and finally clear these unfounded worries plaguing her mind.
Ib closed her backpack after putting her accessory away and headed out of the classroom. As she reached for the knob, it turned and the door was pulled away from her. Her eyes shot up to meet with a dark pair, and she instantly became wary. It was a classmate of hers, one that was always saying mean things to her.
The dark-haired boy, Lorrance, narrowed his eyes at her. “Red-eyed freak.” He hissed as though disgusted as he glided past her.
She was so used to that insult it barely marred her feelings anymore, but annoyance still rose in her mind. Her expression didn’t change in the slightest as she turned around. “Are you skipping?” She asked after the boy. “You shouldn’t do that.”
Lorrance halted his trek and glared at her over his shoulder. “Oh, and you’re not?”
“No.” She replied simply. In her opinion, she was only being late for the period, which was more justifiable than skipping the whole lesson altogether.
“Well, good for you.” He snorted, brushing her off. “Just don’t go blabberin-”
His dark eyes glowered at her dangerously. The boy sauntered back to her, towering over her as he grated. “What was that?”
It wasn’t like Ib wasn’t afraid, but she stood her ground. She didn’t want to let the bully have the pleasure of oppressing her. Taking up a straighter stance, she lifted her chin to stare right back at him. “I’ll tell.”
Ib was in no way a tattler, but she wanted to make Lorrance feel uncomfortable, just as he’d been making her feel.
“Don’t you dare.” He warned.
If she was the slightest bit unnerved by him, it didn’t show. She looked at him with bored eyes, then turned to walk away. However, before she could even take one step out of the classroom, Lorrance grabbed her shoulder and spun her around to face him.
“Say you won’t tell.” He ordered.
She stayed silent, hiding her frown, and tried to pull away. Amidst the struggle, she heard him clicking his tongue, and before she knew it, she was shoved back. Her right arm scraped hard along the edge of the door as she fell, but she didn’t care about checking up on it. Ib raised her gaze to Lorrence, feeling her heartbeats quicken. The corners of her eyes were burning, but she pressed her lips together, refusing to cry.
“Hey, what are you doing?” A familiar voice shouted as hurried footsteps could be heard.
Ib turned her head, and her heart was thrown into a greater chaos as she recognised who it was. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, she scampered to stand up in haste.
“Lorr, are you bullying her again?” The blond demanded as he came to a stop before his two peers.
“Mind your own business, Ray.” Lorrance shoved his hands into his pockets, looking away.
“You’re always like this. The teacher told me to…” Ray’s angry voice died out as his green eyes fell on her, or rather her arm. “… Ib?”
Even Lorrance seemed to have gone pale from following the blond’s line of sight.
“Your arm’s bleeding!” Ray exclaimed, alarmed.
Her brows raised slightly at his words, and she raised her hand to check. There was a long slit stretching from near her wrist to her elbow, oozing with dark red blood. “… It is.” She affirmed.
“Sheesh. How can you not notice that? Does it really not hurt?” Her classmate asked skeptically as they walked down the hallway to the infirmary, his eyes fixated on her wound.
Ib only nodded. She had her right arm held to her chest, her other hand pressing a clean towel to the cut. It did hurt, actually. After she was informed of the slit, it began to hurt, but she saw no reason to comment about it. She could ignore this. This was nothing compared to the gallery.
“Okay…” Ray muttered, unconvinced. “Well, next time, don’t hesitate to tell me if Lorr says anything. I’ll teach him a lesson.” He held up his fist to make his point.
She nearly smiled at that. Garry had also said he’d teach the kids who bullied her a lesson. It felt nice having someone on her side.
“… But he’s your friend.” Ib countered quietly.
“So?” The blond raised a questioning brow. “You’re also my friend.”
She averted her gaze, masking her abashment. They were considered friends? The notion made butterflies rise in her stomach. She had never had a friend at school before. It was new.
“I see…” She mumbled, at a loss for words.
“What? You don’t wanna be my friend?” Ray asked with a chuckle.
“N-no, I want to!” The word had already escaped her lips before she could stop herself. Was she being too excited? Ib immediately clammed up and fixed her gaze to the ground, feeling a flush gathering at her cheeks. Her wit worked at full speed for something to say and remedy her embarrassment “I mean…”
“That’s great.” He grinned at her, then brought his gaze forward. “I wanna be your friend too.”
Ib did her best to keep her expression neutral as her mind was in a cacophony. She wasn’t at all used to conversing with kids her age, and Ray was so straightforward.
She stole a glance at the boy that walked next to her. Strange. Ray was nothing like Garry. They talked differently, acted differently,… they had nothing in common. However, she felt that they were somehow very similar. Maybe it was because of the things they said to her, things that… made her emotions flutter.
“Okay, you’re done.” The dark-skinned nurse said to her with a small smile as the woman pressed a large bandage over the cut that was still stinging from disinfectant. “It shouldn’t leave a scar. Refrain from stretching the skin and it’ll be gone completely in a few weeks.”
“Thank you, miss.” She said, running her fingers over the bandage.
“Don’t touch.” The woman lightly hit her hand away, then went to put away the first aid kit. “It seems you’re having PE?”
“Yes. We have PE for the next two periods.” Ray answered from next to her on the bed.
“Well, I don’t think you should be exercising so I’ll write a note to your teacher.” The nurse said as she pushed her long black hair behind her shoulders. She took out a pen from her coat’s pocket and sat down behind desk. “What’s your name and class?”
“I’m Ib… Lowell.” The little brunette replied. “Class 6B.”
The nurse wordlessly scribbled down on a piece of paper before holding it out to her. Ib hurriedly slid off the bed and courteously received it with both hands. As she read over the almost illegibly small writing that all adults were mysteriously fond of using, an idea came to her.
“Um, then…” She hesitated, gaining the nurse’s attention. “May I take an early leave?”
The woman seemed to give the question a bit of thinking as she stared back at Ib. “… I guess it’s fine. As long as you have a guardian to pick you up.” She took the cell phone left lying on her desk and gave it to the little girl. “Here, do you want to call your parents?”
“I do. Thank you, miss.” She accepted the device, inwardly wincing at how eager she was acting. However, she just brushed her self-consciousness to the side and began dialling.
“Eh, then you’re really leaving?” Ray asked from behind her.
“Yeah.” Ib put the phone to her ear as she turned around and nodded.
“Bummer.” The blond shifted his stance and knitted his hands behind his head. “I thought we could pair up for practice.”
She blinked laconically. He wanted to pair up with her? Nobody wanted to practice with her before. The girl was at a complete loss at how she should respond, in the end, she settled with a single “Why?”
“… Er, because I want to?” Ray tilted his head in confusion.
“Oh…” Was the only follow up she could contribute. Ib couldn’t think of anything to say to disperse the awkwardness that was starting to build up in the room. Ray kept staring at her as if expecting something more from her, which greatly unnerved her. It was times like this that she actually appreciated her unexpressive nature.
Suddenly, a soft cough broke the pregnant silent in the room, and the two kids turned their attention to the taciturn nurse still sitting behind her desk. “Boy, I believe you can head to class now.” The woman took a sip of her water bottle, then continued. “Ib can stay here until her guardians come, so would you mind bringing my note to your teacher?”
“Yeah, I’ll do it.” Ray said as he took the piece of paper from her hand. “Remember Ib, next time you have to pair up with me okay?”
The boy smiled and waved at her at her before sprinting out of the infirmary, leaving her staring on in befuddlement. Ib couldn’t seem to describe what she was feeling, she wasn’t even sure what she was feeling. If summed up in one word, maybe it was ‘happy’? All she knew was that she really, really liked Ray right now. Almost like-
“Hello,” a familiar groggy voice jolted her back to reality.
“G-Garry,” Ib hurriedly cup the phone to her ear with two hands, trying to regain her composure. “Um, hi.”
“Ib?” Surprise was evidential in his voice; there was a soft ruffling noise in the background that suggested he was getting out of his bed in haste. “W-what’s up? Where are you calling from, dear? Whose phone are you using? Are you alright? Nothing happened right?”
“Calm down, Garry.” She said, almost giggling, as a sense of relief washed over her. Garry was still his overreacting self, still used his effeminate tone that sounded so natural to her, still cared for her… nothing was wrong. She was worrying for naught. “I’m at school.”
“Oh, okay.” Ib gave a faint smile as she heard him exhale on the other side. “So, er, why are you calling me during school?”
“You see, I’m leaving early and I need a guardian to pick me up.” She tried to speak slowly, barely containing her excitement. She wanted let him know about her new friend, about the cut, wanted to hear him talk. She simply wanted to stay in his company. “Can you-”
“Then why didn’t you call Ma or Pa?” He asked, cutting her off. His tone was… different.
“W-well, I thought we could… eat macarons at your place…” She hesitated, her mind trying to comprehend the situation. “Can’t we?”
Another sigh could be heard through the speaker, but it wasn’t the same as the last. Her heart tightened, gripped by a great discontentment. She could already hear the unsaid answer, but a small hope still lingered that Garry would change his mind.
“Aye… sorry, hon.” His words hit her like a brick, shattering any glimmer of hope left in her. “I can’t come pick you up… Just… I’m a bit tied up at the moment… No, no… I, er… Look, I just… Can’t.”
Garry sounded tired. Wasn’t he in bed just now? Hadn’t he been stressed out by something recently?
“I see…” Ib tried to dismiss her selfish thoughts and said, albeit very unwillingly. “I understand.”
“Good girl, now you call Pa and get home safely for me?”
“Okay…” She replied, feeling lost. “Get better soon, Garry.”
“Thanks, sweetie.” He chuckled dryly. “I’ll hang up now, kay?”
And the line went dead before she could input another word.
- Alysha didn’t have Garry’s phone number because
plot holeGarry changed phone number and had only told Ib
- Ib never really got bullied by boys in class, until Lorrance transferred in and started pestering her. Sadly, monkey see monkey do…
- Garry skipped school that morning