Chapter 1: Connect.
Smartphones. Social Media. Internet.
These are used to easily connect with other people, surpassing even great distances. It is a time where technology works instead of us - where technology bustles with energy so we live life without any difficulty. That is how the world strives, and that is what humans revolve around.
It was Saturday morning and I was browsing my Facebook on my way to school. Yes, it was Saturday. Yes, I was walking with my phone in hand. Yes, we have school today. I mean, I had school today to do extracurricular activities. I needed it.
“What?” I suddenly stopped when I saw my friend’s post, and it was a picture of him and a pretty girl. With wavy dark brown hair and gorgeous green eyes, it went perfectly with her nice smile.
Apparently, that pretty girl was both our childhood friend and my long-time crush. They were eating together at a restaurant called Sambokojin, and it was just the two of them.
“Why didn’t they invite me?” I muttered to myself, staring at the picture. I bored my eyes at the little gap between Mike and Beth. It was yesterday evening when Mike posted it.
“And they’re so close to each other...”
I gazed at it a little while longer, and I felt some people looking at me on the street. They must have thought I was crazy for glaring at my phone and mumbling to myself. I sighed and gave my reaction to the picture. I was sad, so I chose the crying one. No point in hiding my feelings. I typed my comment and clicked send.
You forgot about me. You should treat me next time. I want a buffet too.
I continued my way to the train station and scrolled downwards. What I saw next, made my heart skipped a beat. And it was painful.
Elizabeth Grace is in a relationship with Michael Andrews.
I stopped again and just stared blankly at my phone. I read the comment section and it was full of congratulations and praising cheers for both of them. People that I didn’t know were commenting. Maybe they were from their college department. Or maybe, this was just a bet? High unlikely.
“So that’s why...” A trail of grief followed me, and I couldn’t help but look away from the post. I hid my phone in my pocket and walked down the street. I breathed a heavy sigh and looked up at the cerulean sky. It was so clear, and the smell of the morning breeze told me that it was going to be a nice weather today - good for running at the oval track. The clouds were peaceful, too.
“Why is it so bright?” I asked myself, still looking up while walking at my usual route. This was my subdivision and it was full of huge houses with an annoying mixture of colorful paints. It was too bright for my own liking.
Usually, I ignored my surroundings and just went on my way. But I knew what was making me like this. And I didn’t know how to deal with it. ‘Now, I don’t feel going to school today.’
I sighed once again, and a pang of heartache still lingered. It was making me so frustrated. I sulked even more.
“Aaaarrghh!” I shouted with all my might. What am I even doing?
The backpack I was carrying abruptly fell on the ground. Why do I feel like this?
A high school guy in a uniform on a Saturday morning in the middle of the street was going insane; throwing a fit on a beautiful day like a stubborn child. But I just didn’t care.
“I don’t care at all!”
What if they’re together? “So what?”
What if they went on dates? “So what?”
What if they hold hands and laugh together? “So what?”
What if they kiss and confess their love? “So what?”
I was tired.
My vision went blurry for a second. I put my hands on my knees and stopped myself. My breathing was hard yet in no time I caught my breath. Flashes of memories invaded my mind, and it just made me so crazily defeated.
‘Beth, I like you.’ She looked surprised to hear me say that. But so quickly, she looked at me with pity.
‘Gab, you know that you are my friend, right?’ She smiled at me like nothing happened. ‘I just want the three of us to be happy together. ’
Now, I was the one surprised. ‘The three of us? Michael?’ Why is she involving him?
She nodded gently and stared at me with her beautiful emerald eyes. ‘The three of us are friends.’
I went silent as she said that. Friends.
I gazed at her for a second, memorizing the details of her face. I lose my breath and gave her a small smile. ‘I know. I just wanted you to know how I feel about you.’
Her smile vanished, and she meekly asked me, ‘So you aren’t going to ask me out?’
I had the urge to tell her what I really intended to do from the moment she reached my eyes, and down to my heart. But I hesitated, and I let the opportunity go.
I laughed lightly and ruffled her soft brown hair. ‘No, you silly. I told you I only wanted to let it out.’
She stilled for a moment, but then she laughed together with me. She smiled at me so warmly, and the night quickly turned so bright to my eyes. And so did my world, every time I’m with her.
She sighed quietly but I caught it. I stared at her for a moment and I knew the look on her face.
Before I could say something, I walked away from her and headed towards her home. ‘Come on, I’ll walk you home. It’s already dark.’
She ran up to me and said, ‘Okay.’ She gave me a friendly smile. And I returned it back.
During the way to her house, on my way home and even in my dreams, the look on her face was plastered in my mind. I knew her so well.
She looked relieved.
“Why?” I heard my voice and it sounded so restrained. That memory was from over two years ago. I always understood Beth. Even though I’m asking why this and why that, I always knew. I always did. She liked Mike from the very beginning.
The three of us were friends, so we were close to each other. I observed that Beth was treating us equally but I always noticed her and the meaning behind her actions. And I understood it so well.
But what about Mike? The perfect student? The perfect child? The awesome friend? Did he understand her so well, like me?
“No! He doesn’t... Beth, he doesn’t understand you...”
All of these thoughts swirled around my head while I am trying to stop myself from doing something stupid. It was embarrassing for a guy to just punch an imaginary Mike - especially in the middle of the street.
“Stop it, stop it,” I whispered to myself. But still, I kept on thinking about them. Beth, Mike... Why are you doing this to me?
I was like this for a minute before I got a grip on my feelings.
Stop it, you selfish bastard! They’re your friends, right?
The realization hit me like a dumb fool. With one last puff, I stood up and fixed myself. I picked up my bag and searched for my towel. I was soaked with sweat. I wiped it off and walked on as if nothing had happened to me.
“They’re my friends,” I whispered to myself. “I need to understand them because they’re my friends.” But my consciousness, as typical of him, argued with me. ‘But what about you? Did they ever think about you?’
I found myself flinching at that. I stood still like a damn statue, contemplating what my consciousness told me. “What about me? Nothing ever worked for me.”
My consciousness agreed with me. ′If only you were like Mike, maybe you’d be in college too.′
I felt my lungs were going to burst but I ignored it as usual. I sighed again and decided not to think about it anymore. I still had school today. D*mn it!
I shook my head a little to snap myself out of it. My hair was out of its place and my hand automatically combed it to the right. I didn’t like it when something was messy. But my hair was, and it was greasy. What a way to start the day.
Friends, girlfriend, my hair, school... heartbreak... Stop it, dude!
I looked at my watch and found myself grimacing. “Great, it’s 7:15 and I’m going to be late.”
“I know,” I replied unknowingly. What?
A cat was sitting in front of me, staring with its golden eyes. It was a small Maine Coon cat, with its shiny black fur, and a soft white mane whirled around its neck. Its ears were perched up and I sensed that the cat was scrutinizing me while it sat like royalty. Again.
“It’s you. Why are you there? Are you hunting again?” I heard a squeak and I let my gaze land on its paws. I saw a tiny mouse, wiggling to be free.
I chuckled lightly and spoke, “I see. Doesn’t your owner feed you?”
It remained quiet and I gave the cat a smile. I wondered if it was a stray cat since it had no collar, but I often ignored many things. “Goodbye cat. Although I get the feeling I’ll be seeing you like always.” The cat was always there on the street since... forever?
I let the thought go when Beth suddenly popped up in my mind. “Great. I thought of forever and you were up and running in my mind. Just great.”
Get a move on, Gabriel. You’re going to be late.
I ran towards the gate of our subdivision, crossed the road, and found myself in the strip market. There was much of a crowd here, like flies attracted because of a damn sale. Every time I walked by here, my senses were overloaded with various smells – both pleasant and unpleasant ones and babbling noises from vendors and customers.
It was going to be tough leaving here since it was morning and that meant mothers chatting in every corner - lovely ladies who didn’t seem to be getting enough of the chatter and gossip. Every morning, they huddled around and watched anyone going out of our subdivision. Their looks were something I didn’t like. I ran and like an idiot, I had bumped into too many people since I was a little bit distracted. Hooray for my stealth. I quickly muttered an apology and saw the Grail Station in my sight.
Without a second to waste, I dashed hurriedly out of the strip market and climbed the stairs. I crossed the long overpass and felt the air rushing in. I saw a few vehicles, cars, buses, and trucks on the road and they were crazy enough to speed up a little bit.
I hastily climbed down the stairs and beheld the entrance to the Salver Mall. It was a bit of an olden architecture with renovations going on here and there to keep up with modern appearance. The mall was close since it was still early, but there were already a few people at the covered path walk. While I was running, I noticed that many people looked at me from their phones as if I was eliciting unusual behavior. Whatever. It was 7:25 a.m. and I needed to board the train in five minutes if there were too many people in the Grail Station. Construction noises were palpable as I ran but soon I tuned it out and only felt my heartbeat and breathing. I was focused on my running and the way my limbs moved.
I gave a sigh of relief when I saw that only a few people were in the Grail Station. It was Saturday after all, and a lot of students were at home. The students were a majority to why the train stations were so packed here. I noticed that there was no line and I slowly walked inside.
“Idiot, why did you forget it was Saturday?” I passed through the station’s entrance, the metal detector, and the body scanner with no problems.
The Grail Station was very modern and sleek, beautifully designed with arches, a reflection of marble, and had a white intensity. It was just my style and I found myself relaxing in the vastness of the Grail Station. I looked up and I was damn happy that there was no blue sky, no clouds, but only the metal covering of the station. The ceiling was very high and white columns were there to support it. It was a work of art. Whoever designed this had a taste for contemporary architecture. Unlike colorful houses...
I let my eyes wander around and the huge board caught my eye. I frowned with disappointment. “Fifteen minutes until the train arrives.”
I trudged towards an empty bench, feeling exhausted from all the running I did. I dragged myself and sat with a heavy sigh. I snatched my sports bottle and gulped its content. It was refreshing. Water is life. I put it back on my bag and looked in front of me.
It was peaceful and quiet with only a few people waiting around for the train. The rail was sitting passively, and the cables were still. It was too silent for me without the noise of the crowd, and the buzzing energy of technology. It wasn’t there.
How could I say it? It was too unusual.
I observed the people around me. They were different from me; they had company and I had none, and I was surprised - they weren’t even holding their smartphones. They were just standing and sitting, talking to each other, sharing stories, and laughing - quite contentedly I might add.
Still, I wasn’t used to it. I often saw people with their faces on the screen - typing furiously, scrolling hastily, and clutching their smartphones tightly. I often do it.
“It’s Saturday.” I closed my eyes and rested for a minute. I counted to a hundred and before I knew it, I was reaching for my pocket and turned on my phone.
I couldn’t stop myself from reaching for my phone, not when I needed a distraction right now. My thoughts were filled with both Beth and Mike. And it was making me bitter. Great.
I successfully connected to the server and I was grinning when I saw my turf. I downloaded the app last week, and I had gotten stronger. The game was called Lords Mobile and I was addicted to it. I even invited my friends to join my guild Deus Vult.
I chatted with my guildmates for a while and soon, I’d forgotten everything about Beth and Mike. And it was a good feeling.
The minutes quickly passed, and I heard the train. A robotic female voice announced that the train bound for Enix had arrived. I saw the people come and go and I hurriedly arranged my belongings. I stood up from the bench and I only noticed now that there was a person beside me all this time.
It was strange, but I quickly turned the idea down, since my reasoning ability said I was too absorbed in my game, so I didn’t notice her then.
She also wore a uniform; a red sleeveless vest atop a white long-sleeved polo, paired with a white knee-length skirt. Her long black hair was flowing as she ran towards the train. I measured that her height was average for a high school student. And she had that standard issued sling bag on her side, meaning she was from a private high school just like me.
I knew that uniform. It belonged to one of the Eastern Region. What was it again? It was at the tip of my tongue.
The Crossfield High School Academy – that’s my school; was part of the Central Region. Her school and mine were placed near the boundaries of the Eastern and Central Region so it made sense that we were both going to Enix - a bustling city where buildings stood high and were full of people in their business suits.
I guess you could say that the school we both belonged was a prestigious one.
People lined up, and they had no trouble getting in. Soon enough, I stepped inside the train. There were many vacant seats, but I didn’t find myself to be happy about it. Beth and Mike were still on my mind and I had about 25 minutes to think about them. Great.
I let my eyes wander for a while, picking where was the best seat on the train. I wanted my seat far away from the doors. I chose one and I moved. But I only managed to make one step.
I was too surprised when I saw it - or when I felt it. I didn’t know what it was.
How could I explain this? It felt like we... connected.
’Are you an idiot, Gabriel? How could you connect with a person?′ My consciousness remarked.
I stood still there at my place, frozen - too dumbfounded to move.
Just by staring at her hazel brown eyes, we connected.