The Artist

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Chapter Three

The last day of school was comparably busy to the other days coming up to it at the last week of the school year. The hallways were clogged, teachers were talking to students and parents that had tagged along alike, and students that weren’t seniors were picking up their results. Most seniors had to wait a bit seeing as they took an out of school exam, while others might have already gotten theirs since they took the exam earlier in the year. Most seniors I saw moving from class to class seemed happy — they were joking about and laughing, but I could sense the tension in some. It was obvious that some of them were afraid of failing.

Throughout the day I had to remind myself to drop into the art room to tell Mr. Dave that I’d be free to help out during summer. The day went by slowly, with checks on our lockers, and the student council trying to get people to take part in organizing the prom night and graduation or providing donations. I wasn’t really interested, and spent most of my time at the back end corner of any room I was in to avoid being seen and confronted.

Sometime in the afternoon, I decided that it was time to head to the art room. I slipped into the room through the two end wooden door, a little surprised to find the place rowdy, until I realized that some people from the student council were having what looked like a meeting at the corner, while Mr. Steve was helping some of them make what looked like decorations at the design bench.

I looked around the room for a bit, feeling my face grow warm when I turned to find Toby giving me a smile. The feeling gave me second thoughts. Maybe I can’t actually survive three more months around him.

“Caleb!” I blinked at the sound of my name, turning to the side to find Mr. Dave approaching me with a wave and a small smile. He looked stressed despite the smile he had on. It was understandable. The end of the year events was a strain on the small art department the school had.

“I thought you wouldn’t come to give me your answer,” he said, making me give him a small smile. I stayed quiet for a bit, not wanting to say anything, and let the noise from the nearby students fill the awkward silence I’d created.

“So?” Mr. Dave said when I didn’t say anything. I blinked, muttering a string of apologies under my breath.

“Sorry,” I muttered, watching as he waved it off.

“It’s okay,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “Well?”

“I can help out during the summer lessons. I don’t really have anything doing this summer and I’ve already submitted my portfolio to the art college I’m going to, so that has been taken care of,” I said, watching as he smiled.

“That’s great, so you just have to talk to Toby and figure out your schedules. I’ll mail you the school’s information on payment and the rest—”

“I...” I trailed, cutting him off when what he said registered in my mind. I didn’t say anything afterward, which made him give me a confused frown. I muttered an apology under my breath before asking him to continue.

“So you’ll be discussing schedules and the like with him. I think you should do that now, or at least get started,” he said, giving me an encouraging pat on my shoulder before walking towards the crowd of students at the design bench. I let my gaze move to Toby, and I could already feel my chest ache from nervousness, and the small thumping sound of what I suppose was my heart filled my ears in the midst of all the noise in the room. He soon looked up from his computer, giving me a friendly smile when he noticed that I was looking his way. I looked away from him, taking a couple of breaths before making to sit on the chair beside his table. It’s been a while I’ve been on the chair — sitting next to him.

“Thanks for agreeing to help,” he said, his voice soft as he continued to type into his laptop. “I’m drawing up the schedule now, you can suggest changes if you like.”

I nodded, not really trusting my mouth to say anything useful at the moment. I leaned in a bit so I could watch what he was doing on his laptop better. Sure, he was building the schedule, but I hated myself for not being able to concentrate, and instead listened to the sound of his breathing, or just watched his fingers move against the keyboard.

What are you doing? I asked myself, trying to do away with my odd tunnel concentration in attempts to concentrate on what he was doing that was actually important instead.

“Is something wrong?” I heard him ask, making me stiffen up in my seat before I shook my head. It was an obvious lie. Everything wasn’t fine — nothing was fine. Questions I couldn’t decide whether I wanted answers to were still swimming in my head. I was both happy and annoyed that he seemed to pretend that me telling him how I felt was a non-issue, and something not worth addressing, but rather ignoring.

“Okay then,” he said, turning his laptop a bit so that I could have a better look at what he’d done. “I mostly gave you freshman and middle school classes. I’m sure you can handle that?” he said in part question and part statement. I nodded, watching as he sighed in relief and closed the tab.

“I’ll mail it to you. By the way, do you still have my email address?” he asked, making my face grow warm. Of course, I still had it. Our correspondence through email might have stopped completely after I’d told him how I felt. I hadn’t even been able to bring myself to talk to him face to face unless I absolutely had to, but I was sure his email address was sitting somewhere in my contact list.

“I do,” I finally managed to say, watching him nod at that before turning back to his laptop. “Can I have your number as well? So that it’d be easier to talk to you,” he said. I bit my bottom lip, trying to unsuccessfully calm myself down mentally. I ended up taking my phone out of my pocket, and we exchanged numbers. Having ‘Toby’ as a contact sitting on my phone list made me a little happy but yet uncomfortable at the same time.

I’m tired of mixed feelings.

They were tiring, and from the look of things, what I’d tried to subdue in the past few months will probably come back in full force in the following months.

“Are you okay?” I nodded at Toby’s question, realizing I’d zoned out again. This wasn’t good, maybe I shouldn’t have said yes.

“If you’re nervous because of that time...” I heard him trail, making me frown a bit before I realized he was making a reference to my confession. I let out a small breath, not being able to look him in the eye.

“I don’t hate you or anything. You are—were—a wonderful student, and I don’t want you to overthink things around me. You seem uncomfortable, I don’t like that.” I ran a hand through my hair, not saying anything in response. He eventually turned away to his laptop, leaving me to sit in silence by his desk, thinking.

I got up from the seat after a while and headed for one of the school libraries. I spent a lot of time on Deviant Art, and I did exactly that in the library. The place was packed today, seeing as people were making payments for lost books, or returning overdue books and paying a fine in other to get their clearance sheet signed by our year coordinator.

I spotted Ben, Wyatt, and Ji-Hun standing on the line. I raised a brow in confusion, knowing that Wyatt would never lose a library book and that was the same with Ji-Hun. I then came to the conclusion that Ben must have lost something, and was probably just dragging Ji-Hun and Wyatt along. Noticing the trio, I decided Aiyana must be around the library somewhere—and she was—reading on her phone as usual, and seated at a table a couple of tables away from mine. For a moment I wondered if it would be odd if I got up to say hello or something along that line, or whether it was better to just stay put.

Just looking at them did eventually get Ji-Hun to turn and wave at me. I turned away, a little embarrassed to have been caught staring. I sat in silence without looking up for a few minutes, but I soon heard the sound of a chair being drawn, and I looked up to find Ji-Hun taking a seat across from me.

“Hey,” he said with a smile, making me mirror his action and repeat the greeting.

“What are you doing?” he eventually asked, breaking the silence that had covered us after my mumbled greeting. I looked up from my Deviant Art profile on my phone before shrugging.

“Nothing much,” I eventually said, watching him nod at my response.

“We’re here to return and pay for a library book Ben borrowed three months ago, and just found yesterday.” I found myself letting out a laugh. So I was right. I thought, shaking my head as a grin formed on my face.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I mumbled when I realized that my laughter might have seemed out of place.

“It’s no problem. I mean, it’s actually funny that Ben just found it,” he said with a chuckle of his own. I nodded, smiling.

I didn’t talk to Ji-Hun much, but when I did, it felt like we were distant friends that only got to talk to each other once in a while.

“So how has your day been?” he asked, making me come out of my thoughts.

“Fine, nothing really happened...” I trailed. “I’m going to help out with art lessons during the summer so there’s that,” I added soon after. I wasn’t sure why that was, but there was something about Ji-Hun that made me want to have an actual conversation with him. We talked for a while, and I did run out of things to say, but Ji-Hun knew how to make a conversation out of thin air, so that wasn’t a problem. Eventually Ben returned his book and Ji-Hun had to leave with the rest.

I spent the rest of the school day on my laptop, and I admit to checking my mail to see if Toby had sent me anything yet. I wanted to talk to him and not talk to him at the same time... I’m not sure if I’m making sense, or if the feeling was normal on any count. He’d upset me and was still upsetting me by treating my confession as the by-product of a phase that’d pass by sooner or later, but at the same time, I personally wanted to forget that the incident ever happened and wanted to prove him wrong one way or the other.

I had begun to wonder what teaching side by side with him would be like, and whether I’d still be considered a ‘kid’. I also started to wonder if I’d just come and go and hope time passed by fast, or if I could make him consider — I knew it was wishful, but it was an option that had become a seed in my mind and didn’t seem to want to go away.

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