Chapter 1: Breaking Out
Even though I stayed up all night preparing for this exam, I still can’t focus. Maybe it’s the fact that after this semester, I’m one step closer to being a college graduate with two majors. I wanted to savor this last semester before winter break, but it’s slowly coming to a close. As I read the questions on the test, I sigh and then glance at the one person in the room that I’ve been dying to talk to for the last few weeks. Ryu, as usual, is solely focused on the test. Of course, my final exam is important, but if I am going to break out of my shy shell and explore new things, then I need to figure out how I am going to ask Ryu out. Glancing at the model-like man below me, sitting in the corner of the row, feels as if I’m watching the sexiest thing in the room. And for months, I kept thinking, when I ask him out, I hope he will say yes.
Focus, Lena, focus. I shake my head and flick some of my hair off my eye, hoping to finally finish the exam. Networking is a pain, and after this exam is done, I’ll finish the first half of the networking classes for my major.
A few students who finish are getting up first; the sound of their rustling echoes through the room, signaling me to hurry my ass up. If I don’t complete the exam before Ryu, then I’ll miss my chance to ask him out. With a low groan, I slump my head, wishing this were over already. Only a few more questions left, and I’ll be free to practice my speech. Just thinking about the conversation with him causes my heart to thump in my chest and my throat to go dry. So many what-ifs flow through my mind that for a second, I even worry a fire will break out, and we will be forced to evacuate.
Ryu’s cough snaps me from my thoughts. And to my own surprise, I had been staring at him this whole time. Damn it! He noticed me! Heat rises to my cheeks, and instead of looking up, I drop my eyes to the white sheet of paper in front of me. Another day in Networking 101, and again, I’m an idiot.
Eventually, more students get up, leaving the classroom emptier than before. As I work my way through the last few questions, Ryu twitches. Curiosity takes over me, causing me to roam my eyes around the room, but nothing has changed. He is such a strange guy. Inside I laugh at the cuteness, imagining all the different scenarios he could be thinking about.
Focusing on the exam again, the sound of movement catches my ears. Glancing again, I don’t miss Ryu grabbing his backpack off the floor and picking up his exam.
With an A already in the class, the exam isn’t my concern. If I miss this chance, then I may never have the courage to ask him out again. Ryu gets closer to the teacher, nearly handing the exam in. I quickly scramble about, yanking my bag and wooden sword off the floor, nearly toppling over. Thankfully, I recover my balance just in time to not embarrass myself.
For a second, Ryu shifts his stoic gaze to me and then goes back to turning in his exam. With his brown locks reaching his shoulders, his grass eyes, and unique taste in Gothic fashion covering his form, I can’t help but look at him. Watching him reminds me of listening to my favorite metal band live on stage, with the lead singer dressed in the most fashionable dark apparel. Even the shape of his muscles line his shirt, showing off his lean, yet muscular build. When I watch Ryu, I always wonder what he could be. His skin isn’t pale, more like an off-color white, mixed with a slight tan. Those almond-shaped irises that remind me of the various colors of green plants are narrow slits, and yet, his pupils are still wide. Ryu’s features are so odd—a mix I have never seen before. I shake my head again.
Staying in imagination land is always fun, but reality is something living creatures cannot avoid.
Shrugging his shoulders, Ryu rolls his eyes and begins to walk away. As his body leaves the room, I can’t help but think I blew it. Instead of being disappointed, I rush down the stairs and place the exam on the teacher’s desk.
“It is now or never!” I mutter under my breath, hoping no one else can hear me.
Pushing past the classroom doors, Ryu comes into view. Across the hall, Ryu leans against the wall, wearing black pants with a matching button-up shirt that is slightly open at the top. He watches the passersby with a blank expression, which I have come accustomed to.
“Okay, be strong, Lena. If you can’t ask one guy out, then how do you expect to handle the real world?”
I exhale a breath, hoping to ease the anxiety whirling within me. Once I weave my way past the students walking through the hallway, I inch closer to Ryu. Almost right away, he notices me. His gaze bores into mine, and in a monotone voice, he says, “Why do you keep watching me?”
Frozen in place to his words, it is obvious he isn’t happy with me. Maybe I should just walk away. A fool. A giant fool. That’s how I feel. Of course, why did I ever think this was a good idea.
I part my lips to speak; however, growing impatient with my silence, Ryu clicks his tongue and raises from the wall. “I’m leav-“
“Wait!” I take another step towards him. It is now, or never, I remind myself. Even though the halls are filled with the chatter of different voices, everything goes silent. Right now, it is just Ryu and me. Panic hits my chest, and the ache inside me grows, almost leaving me speechless. You don’t conquer anxiety by giving into it. It is all or nothing.
“I was wondering if…” He turns back towards me and lifts an eyebrow. Him staring at me is almost too much to handle. The saliva on my tongue dries up, and my legs nearly buckle beneath me.
“Yes,” he snaps.
“Are you available?” I rush out as I try not to be too frantic.
“Available,” he repeats. Confusion floods his face, and then he sighs, almost as if this isn’t the first time he has been asked out. I’m sure it’s not.
Waiting for his response is like a diagnosis. If a doctor says how long you have left to live, you know the answer may not be wonderful, but you have a slim chance of good news.
“I’m not interested.” His tone is cold like ice, and instead of saying anything more, he walks away. Tears threaten to stream from my eyes, but I hold them back. I don’t want my disappointment to show, especially since I knew it was coming. My mother always told me black women were seen as less than other races of women, and sometimes, I believe her. As Ryu heads away from me, another woman runs up to him with a smile lacing her face. His little sister, who has the same brown hair like him, albeit short, and her eyes are gray. Unlike her brother, her style isn’t of dark and mystery, more feminine with colors. For a second, she glances at her brother and then looks back at me. She laughs. I suppose it is funny how pathetic I look. A brokenhearted girl who knew it was coming.
Doing the only thing I can, I grip the handle of my sword, along with the strap on my shoulder and do my best to escape from the other students’ prying eyes.
“I’m so stupid! Of course, he wouldn’t want someone like me. No one ever wants the black girl.” All the anxiety and sleepless nights preparing my question for him were for naught. At least the noise of talking students distracts me from my own internal pity party. Focus on your studies. You can worry about boys later. At this moment, my mother’s words are the earworm that won’t go away.
“Lena! There you are! So, how did it go, he said no, right?” Only two people know how much I like Ryu, and Lyla, my so-called best friend, loves heartbreak. If I didn’t know any better, I would think she actually enjoyed hearing about salty tears.
She loops one arm around mine and blinks her ocean eyes at me. Her blonde locks are pulled back into a bun, and as usual, she is wearing a dress that I consider too short for going to class. Then again, Lyla always dresses like it’s club night, with something shimmering and revealing. She never shied away from showing off her goods. Maybe I should start taking her advice.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I mumble as I reclaim my arm from her grasp.
She looks at me for a second, covers her mouth, and proceeds to chuckle.
“Okay, funny, right? I’m leaving.” Even though I hear Lyla pleading for me to stay, I stomp away, not caring who is in my way.
“Lena, stop! Lena!” She catches up to me and grabs my arm again, looping hers back around mine. “I’m sorry, okay? That guy is an ass anyway. Why don’t you come to the BDSM event with me tonight? We are going to a club in Baltimore, and rumor has it they are going to have an orgy,” she says as the corner of her lips curl upwards.
“Are you being serious right now? I get rejected, and you want me to go to a sex orgy?”
She blinks a few times and says, “Yes, duh. You want to stop being shy, right? So, what a better way than meeting new people the best way possible, with pleasure and pain,” she says, matter-of-factly.
I groan and loosen our arms. “Thanks for the invite, but that is your scene, not mine.”
She shrugs. “Suit yourself, then, but Mark is also going, and you’re going to miss out on a good time. Seriously, though, Lena, you need to lighten up. A quick fuck will do you some good.”
To those words, I grimace. “Bye, Lyla, have a good time at your orgy.” I give her a dismissive wave and make my way towards the building exit. Behind me, I hear her groan, but I don’t care. I want, no, I need fresh air. In life, you don’t always get your way, and it’s something I must live with. Being the child of rich parents didn’t help teach me that lesson.
When I finally get outside, free from all the students and sounds, only the moon’s faint glow greets me. A chill breeze goes through the air, blowing my hair from side to side. Instead of standing around and feeling sorry for myself, and freezing my ass off, I speed walk to my car, which is thankfully only a few minutes away.
Once I reach my red VW Bug in the sea of cars, I grab my keys from my bag, unlock the door, and slip into the driver seat. Placing my bag and sword down next to me, I can’t help but recall the conversation with Ryu. I’m not interested. His cold voice and icy stare were clear enough without the hurtful words. Rumor had it that Ryu was a man who didn’t want to be bothered, and he only hung out with the same group of people for the last three and a half years: his sister and two male friends.
I let out an exasperated sigh and place my car key in the ignition. As I turn the key, the car roars to life. Another day is over, which is another day of disappointment and lack of progress. At least the sounds of EDM from the XM radio calm me down. I glance at my dashboard and read 7:30 PM. At this time of night, in MD, most people are off the road.
Instead of taking the highway, I decide to take the longer route home using the back roads. After today, there is no reason to rush home. If my roommates are home, I won’t be able to practice my Kendo anyway.
Like I expected, the two-lane backroads are quiet, with only the forest on each side to keep me company. Ahead of me, the roads are empty, and only the moon’s light and my headlights are lighting my path.
“Maybe I’m just doomed to be single,” I mutter. As Zedd’s Clarity comes from the speakers, I can’t help but think of the lyrics.
’Cause you are the piece of me
I wish I didn’t need
Still fight, and I don’t know why
In a way, it’s like even the song is laughing at me. Not able to hide the frustration anymore, my foot presses down on the gas pedal. Speed increasing, I don’t even care if I’m breaking the speed limit. I keep going, increasing my pace with every second as the pedal almost touches the floor.
“I just want to get home already!” I yell out. Then, from the corner of my eye, something darts into the road. Gripping the steering wheel, I maneuver the car. Boom. Crash. Thud. My head slams into the wheel, and the taste of iron settles on my tongue. I groan.
“What was…that?” I place my hand on my forehead and roam my eyes around. Everything is blurry. Bang.
“Help me! Please help me!” A voice, a female voice, comes from the side of me. Whoever it is, they are nothing but a blur. Bang. My window is hit.
“Let me in! Please let me in! It’s coming!”
“It…” I repeat as I try to understand what is going on, but the sound is a mixture of voices and rings. The car shakes, rocking back and forth. My vision begins to fade, and only a high-pitched noise comes from within my ears. A scream then reverberates around me, and the pleas from outside grow louder than before. I try to move about, but my headache grows, and more pain trails down from my head to my chest and then to my legs. Sitting back, my body rocks from side to side.
“You have to run! Run!”
The banging stops. As my head rests in the seat, through blurry vision, a female form comes into view. She’s running. Then she falls, her scream is if anguish had a sound, a desperate cry for help. My car shakes and shakes some more. A bloodcurdling yell echoes in the air, and as everything goes black, silence has returned.