It is fall, summer has just ended and the days are getting colder but the sun still shines brightly in the early mornings. At this moment it is creeping through the window of an apartment on the twentieth floor of a massive complex in the upper middleclass part of town. The yellow light lands directly on the face of the occupant within, fifteen year old, Emi Spiller, a freshmen just starting at Chester High, one of several high schools in the city of Edgeburn Heights.
A clock on her dresser top ticks away the seconds as Emi tries to avoid opening her eyes. She has been awake for the past twenty minutes, pretending not to notice that it is time to go back to school after having enjoyed her extended weekend after getting sick on the very second day of the new semester. It was not a serious illness in the slightest but Emi made sure to take full advantage of it, staying home for a full three days before the weekend.
The thoughts running through her head at this moment are quite clear. She does not want to return to school. It is not that she is having difficulties adjusting or anything along those lines; she simply finds school to be a waste of time she could be spending doing something else. She has already assessed the attractiveness of all of the boys in her class and discarded each one of them as inapproachable due to flaws in appearance or attitude. It is a shallow point of view but she sees no other reason to even attend high school. In her opinion, it is a place to socialize, not to learn.
As the ticking of her clock becomes louder and louder, Emi begins to wonder if her mother had to leave for work early as she often does. If she were still here she would most definitely have busted through the door to the bedroom and practically shoved Emi out of bed and bustled her into the bathroom to prepare for school. As this has not happened, Emi confirms that her mother's boss must have screwed something up again and required her more capable secretary to fix it.
Finally, Emi opens her hazel eyes to meet the day. Though she did not want to go to school, she has no intention of actually playing hooky. She is as close to being a delinquent as she can be without breaking what she considers important rules. With the realization that her mother is no longer at home, a whole new list of responsibilities has just been laid on her. She is now the one who will have to make breakfast for herself and her good for nothing older brother Isaac, a second year student at the same school.
With some effort, she flings her legs over the side of the bed and allows herself to slide onto the floor as if her whole body is melting. Her white nightshirt rides up over her stomach which is red from rubbing against her sheets in the night. Her long brown hair sticks to the blankets as she stands up, pulling on the roots slightly and causing her pain. For a moment she contemplates cutting it shorter but resists the thought in the end as she always does. If and when she finally does find a good looking boy with the personality to match, it will most definitely be an advantage to winning his heart; that and her excellent cooking skills.
After taking a short and cold shower to wash off a week's worth of sweat, built up from staying in bed or sitting on the couch in the living room bundled in a blanket while pretending to be sick, Emi dons the white blouse and blue plaid skirt that represents the uniform of Chester High. Not wanting to bother curling her hair or braiding it she simply ties it on the side of her head in a ponytail draped over her right shoulder. Appearance is something Emi prides herself on. She uses very little makeup and lipstick but it is still effective, giving her a cute overall appearance with her dark eyelashes accented greatly.
"What took you so long?" Isaac asks with a yawn when she finally leaves her bedroom. He is lounging sideways on the couch in the living room, holding a game controller in his hands and squinting at the television screen.
"How long have you been up?" she asks him a different question instead of answering while crossing in front of the TV as slowly as possible.
"Four or five," he answers with a shrug while trying to lean around her.
"And you went to bed at two, right?" she accuses him.
"So?" he does not see a problem with his behavior.
"And you wonder why you're always tired," she grumbles as she allows herself to be pushed out of the view of the screen. Isaac almost falls face first into the coffee table between himself and the TV when he loses his balance due to Emi walking off, leaving his hand pushing on nothing. He manages to catch himself though but drops the controller in the process. Emi can hear him groaning as she enters the kitchen, accompanied by the sound of a virtual car crashing on the television. Whatever race he was playing, he has no chance of winning now. Emi does not care as she is sure he has been playing since he got up.
"What are you making?" Isaac enters the kitchen a moment later. He has given up on his game and is now realizing how hungry he is.
"Eggs," Emi answers without looking up from the stove where she has already started heating a frying pan.
"Eggs… and?" Isaac waits for the name of the next part of their breakfast.
"Toast," she answers calmly.
"And…?" Isaac's eyes dart to the table in the center of the room where Emi has already placed several different condiments including ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, soy sauce and wasabi paste. "Um… what are you using that for?" he asks nervously.
"Flavor," she answers while grabbing a spoon and dipping it in the paste.
"Hell no, you can't put that in the eggs." He tries to grab her hand but she spins around skillfully to avoid him. Just then two pieces of crisp browned bread pop out of the toaster. She grabs one and spreads the wasabi paste over it and takes a bite before returning her attention to the frying pan on the stove which is now hot enough to use.
"How can you eat that?" Isaac cringes as he watches Emi devour the spicy toast.
"It's good," she mumbles while licking off the spoon.
"There is something seriously wrong with your taste buds." He shudders.
"Would you like to cook breakfast?" she asks sarcastically while cracking two eggs at once in one hand against the spoon in her other hand and pouring them into the hot pan.
"Not really," he admits while sinking into a chair at the table. Whether or not he would be any good at cooking is yet to be determined as he has never done it even once. He has always let his younger sister or his mother cook for him; and when they could not, he would simply eat store bought junk food. His skill at taking care of himself is practically zero.
Despite their clear differences, Isaac and Emi look quite similar. Isaac's brown hair is darker and much thicker, sticking out in all directions because he never combs it, but they have similar faces. Both are round and somewhat cute, which works well for Emi but annoys Isaac, who wishes he had a more masculine appearance.
As Emi slides the eggs out of the frying pan and onto a plate, Isaac grabs the wasabi so she will not be able to put it on top of them. She rolls her eyes but does not argue. She knows that her obsession with the spicy paste is not normal but she pretends not to just to tease her brother. While Isaac is busy stuffing a whole piece of toast topped with an egg into his mouth, Emi retrieves the wasabi and drops a large spoonful onto her own egg.
Just as she has taken her first bite, the stove clock chimes with the hour signaling eight o'clock. Both siblings freeze as they realize they are officially late for school, which begins exactly at eight in the morning. Rather than running for the door, they stare at each other cautiously, waiting to see what the other will do. After a full minute Emi finally gives up and swallows her egg whole before grabbing a final piece of toast and lathering it with wasabi on her way out the door. Isaac tosses her schoolbag to her as she runs before shutting the door behind her.
It is not uncommon for one or both of the two siblings to be late but whether or not they even care depends on the day. Isaac has even less desire to attend school than Emi as he has almost no friends to speak of. His grades reflect his disinterest and both he and his mother have agreed that it will be a miracle if he graduates, let alone attends college. Emi on the other hand has higher expectations from her mother. It does not feel fair sometimes but she knows it means she has not given up on her like she has with Isaac.
After descending to the ground floor in the hallway elevator, Emi dashes out of the front lobby and down the sidewalk in the direction of Chester High. She lives a good ten minutes away from the school by car when there is no traffic and twenty minutes away on foot, which is how she normally commutes. No matter what she does she will not make it to her first class before it is already half over. A normal day at Chester High lasts seven hours, eight until three, with six classes and one free period.
Eventually Emi slows to a normal walk rather than continuing to run. There is no reason to rush when it will not change anything. When she finally reaches the school campus she glances up at the giant clock on the side of the main building to see how late she is. As expected, it has been more than twenty minutes and it is almost eight-thirty. The front gate has been closed and locked but it is no obstacle to the physically fit teenager who simply shimmies her way up the barred entrance like a cat or a monkey, dropping down on the other side in a crouched position to break her fall.
As soon as she stands up though she bumps into someone she did not notice before, standing in the shadow of the gate, starring at the school building with a longing expression and holding a massive lumpy duffle bag filled to the brim. "Um, sorry." She quickly bows apologetically. "I wasn't looking where I was going."
"I see." He nods to show he understands. He gives off an eerie vibe as his dark blue eyes meet her hazel ones. "You look familiar," he mutters to himself.
"Really?" She grabs her hair and runs her fingers through it shyly. He is not exactly gorgeous but he is a lot better looking than any of the boys in her class, save for a few pompous ones with horrible attitudes. This boy seems to be extremely polite though, exactly her type. He is taller than her brother with thick black hair with smooth slightly tanned skin and a narrowed jaw, the complete opposite of Isaac. "Are, are you late as well?" she tries to strike up a conversation but she does not know what to talk about.
This is pretty much how it always goes whenever she meets an acceptable boy. She tries too hard to impress him immediately and ends up making a fool out of herself. She has a slight reputation for being flippant in her class. "I guess I am," he responds to her question in a serious tone.
"Are you lost perhaps?" she asks. "Just tell me where you need to go and I'll help you," she offers hopefully.
"I'm supposed to be in the hall for second year homerooms," he explains. "I guess I just lost track of time. It's so big, isn't it?" He is still staring at the school building.
"Um, are you new here?" She eyes his uniform up and down. It looks exactly like her brother's proving that he does attend Chester High.
"How could you tell?" his response is not sarcastic, he is seriously surprised by her intuition.
"Honest to a fault, aren't you?" she can not help but snicker. "If you head through the front doors there and head right you'll be in the freshmen hall. Walk to the end of it and turn left to find the second year rooms, got it?" She places her hands behind her back and leans forward so she can stare up at his face cutely.
"I see. Thank you." He turns to leave without even looking her in the eyes.
"Hey, wait," she calls after him while reaching out her hand.
"Was there something you needed as well?" he spins around to face her again, showing her a calm and unemotional expression which startles her greatly. She was only half serious when she first decided he was her type but his mysterious and cold behavior is making her more and more curious. Even without any ulterior motives she is still interested in knowing more about him.
Just as he stops moving, her hand bumps into the large duffle bag he is carrying, tipping it sideways and spilling most of its contents. Emi is shocked at the sight of the strange objects, which includes part of a human anatomic model and an entire box of chalk. "Um, what is that?" She points a shaky finger at the items as he bends down to retrieve them.
"School supplies," he answers as if it should be obvious.
"Who brings their own organ dummy to school?" she snaps at him before she can stop herself.
"Isn't it necessary for learning?" he asks while staring at her blankly with his calm blue eyes, which almost seem to be shimmering in the morning sunlight.
"You'll learn everything you need to know about anatomy in the biology room and they have their own model," she explains.
"I see." He nods to himself as he passes across the campus with the model in hand.
Emi watches in disbelief as he simply tosses it into a dumpster behind the cafeteria. "What'd you do that for?" she demands in a high pitched voice. She is finding it increasingly difficult to remain calm.
"You said I didn't need it," he reminds her.
"But it must have been expensive, right?" she argues.
"I really don't know the cost of it," he admits.
"Are your parents rich or something?" she asks hopefully.
"I wouldn't say that." He shrugs.
"Then you shouldn't waste their hard earned money." She climbs on top of the dumpster and reaches down inside. "Return this to the store it came from and get their money back." She manages to pull the model back out.
"Hey you, what are you doing?" the angry voice of Mr. Plasic, the school gym teacher, startles them both.
"Oh no, run," Emi hisses at the boy.
"Why?" He cocks his head in confusion instead of obeying.
"You don't want to get caught by him. He'll make sure you are punished horribly even if you've done nothing wrong." She drops the model back into the dumpster before leaping back down and grabbing the boy's hand so she can lead him away. He allows himself to be dragged after her easily. Emi can almost see a slight smile on his face as they round the corner of the school.
"Aright, hide." She shoves him head first into a large bush underneath the wall of a long outdoor hallway. He drops his bag in the process but she grabs it and drags it into cover just before Mr. Plasic runs past, still shouting at the students he has yet to identify.
"Why are we hiding?" the boy whispers in her ear. She almost screams when she feels his warm breath on the back of her neck but he covers her mouth. After breathing through her nose for several moments she finally pries his hand off and begins to gasp deeply. "Oh, sorry." He seems unaware of his strength. She can tell that he is at least as strong as her brother.
"You really are new here if you don't know to avoid Mr. Plasic," she sputters as she catches her breath. "He's like the devil."
"The devil lives in a castle," the boy mutters something strange to himself. Emi considers asking him to repeat himself but decides not to. It has been almost ten minutes since she arrived on campus and her first class is almost over. She is wasting too much time on this strange boy.
"Look, I really have to go now." She stands up properly. She gasps when his hand latches onto hers, preventing her from exiting the waist high bush they have been crouching in.
"Um, sorry," he quickly apologizes while letting go. He does not seem to know why stopped her.
"I'll see you around," she extends an empty courtesy before sprinting off in the direction of the main school building. Her heart is beating incredibly fast and her face has turned bright red. At first when she was the one grabbing him it was different but whenever he touched her on his own it was surprising and exhilarating. His grip was strong and his attitude mysterious. His intentions were impossible to guess but she still wants to know more about him.
After getting scolded by her teacher for missing the first class of the day and spending ten minutes getting yelled at by the guidance councilor and subsequently missing the beginning of her next class, Emi spends the rest of the morning pondering her encounter with the mysterious new student. All she knows about him is the he is in his second year. She does not even know his name.
She is not shaken from her thoughts until the bell for lunch finally rings. With a short sigh she realizes that in her morning haste she did not prepare a sack lunch. She will have to eat in the cafeteria today, something did not plan to do at all this semester if she can help it. On the very first day of school, she had a rather public disagreement with several upperclassmen in the cafeteria and remained home sick for the next three days. She is not looking forward to meeting the three annoying girls again.
As she enters the lunch room, she glances around cautiously, hoping to avoid encountering the upperclassmen at all cost. "What are you doing?" One of the girls from her homeroom slaps her on the back, causing her to stumble. "It's been a while, Spiller, are you feeling alright?"
"Janet Parker?" Emi spouts the girl's full name inquisitively, hoping she is not mistaken.
"That's right, try to remember your classmates' names, will ya?" she laughs. She is a slightly shorter girl with long curly dark hair and a lot of makeup. She is usually seen with her books pressed to her chest when she walks in the halls to hide her rather large bosom. Unintentionally Emi's eyes travel down to stare at the self-conscious girl's chest. "Hey." She crosses her arms.
"Sorry," Emi chuckles nervously. "Mine are just so small I wondered if there was some kind of secret to getting them to grow."
"Trust me, you don't want them to grow. They are good for nothing other than attracting the unwanted eyes of horny teenage boys."
"Not just them." Emi gestures to the school custodian who has stopped in the middle of mopping the cafeteria floor to ogle the girls passing him in the lunch line.
"See what I mean, men are absolute pigs," Janet shudders.
"Not all of them," Emi disagrees while glancing around at the tables. She is searching for the face of the boy she bumped into that morning for reasons she herself does not understand.
"Got a crush on someone?" Janet can read her expression on her face.
"N-no," she sputters as her cheeks turn red.
"Hey, hey, it's alright, I'm not going to make fun of you," Janet assures her. "Sorry about what I said. I'm sure if there's a boy that has caught your pretty eyes then he must be a respectable human being."
"My what?" Emi takes a cautious step back. It almost seemed as if Janet was attempting to hit on her.
"Oh, you didn't know, all of the boys in our class won't shut up about your eyes," Janet informs her. "They are not quite brown or green are they? They match your cute face too."
"Really?" Emi sighs with relief as she lets her guard down again. "I had no idea it was that big of a deal."
"You must have gotten complimented on them before," Janet pries.
"My brother and I have the same eyes and we get told that a lot." Emi tilts her head in thought.
"Is he cute too?" Janet asks immediately.
"I guess he's a little cute." Emi shrugs. She has never really tried to gauge her brother's attractiveness.
"Blech, cute boys are weird." Janet sticks out her tongue. "I can just image him getting mistaken for a girl when he was younger." Emi tries to think back and is able to remember a time when her cousin Sasha forced Isaac to wear a dress just for the fun of it. "I'm right, aren't I?" Janet smiles proudly. "You have such a look of pity on your face."
"I think I may have dragged him into the wrong bathroom once." Emi stares down at her feet guiltily.
"Oh wow." Janet's eyes bulge for a second. "Well, I'm sure he's forgiven you for it."
"Yeah," Emi does not sound convinced.
"Out of the way, Parker." An upperclassmen girl shoves Janet out of the lunch line without warning.
"Ouch, that was a little bit much, Fine," Janet refers to the girl by her last name.
"I'm not talking to you right now." She holds up her hand to silence Janet. "It's been a while, Spiller. Done playing hooky?"
"Do you need something, Casey?" Emi asks in a bored tone while pretending to examine her fingernails.
"Pay attention to me when I'm talking to you, Spiller… and don't call me by my name. We are not on good terms, you and I." She turns her nose up pompously.
"Really? I hadn't noticed," Emi yawns sarcastically. "How's your boyfriend doing? He still chasing underclassmen around?"
"Don't talk about Travis." Casey stomps her foot.
"Hey, Spiller, what's going on?" Janet moves so she is standing behind Emi. "Are you and Casey Fine having a fight?"
"Casey can't keep her stupid boyfriend on a tight leash," Emi answers with an uninterested shrug.
"God, where does this attitude come from?" Casey demands. "You're just a freshmen. Where do you get off acting so high and mighty?" Janet holds her breath as she waits for Emi to respond. In truth she is equally curious. She chose to approach Emi because she thought her mysterious and intriguing but now she is seeing a more rebellious and delinquent side to her.
"I'm not really being high and mighty though," Emi denies the accusation. "I'm just not really good at dealing with people."
"That's a poor excuse." Casey points at her accusingly. "You started a fight with us on the first day of school and then you skipped for the next three days. You've got a bad reputation, Spiller."
"Why do you care so much?" Emi asks in a genuinely confused voice. "What a freshmen girl does shouldn't matter to you. Why exactly do you know how often I come to school anyway?"
"It's not like I'm stalking you," Casey rushes to explain.
"Yeah, just taking a general interest in someone doesn't mean you are a stalker," Janet takes her side. Emi raises a confused eyebrow at her. She was unaware of the boy-hating girl's reason for approaching her and did not assume she was a stalker at all. "I'll shut up now," Janet can tell she has tipped her own hand.
"Okay, I'm just going to leave now." Emi starts to back away. She is feeling incredibly uncomfortable between the two girls she barely knows.
"Hey, who said you could leave." Casey grabs her by the wrist. "I'm not done talking to you. Have some respect for your elders."
"I thought you were wearing a bit too much makeup. Hiding some nasty wrinkles maybe?" Emi makes a quick remark that startles Casey into releasing her grip. She takes the chance to spin on her heels and run for the exit of the cafeteria but she almost immediately bumps into the same boy from that morning. "Oh god." Her face turns bright red. "I am so sorry. I really need to look where I'm going more. Are you okay? You're…" her voice trails off when she recognizes him.
"Ah, it's you," he recognizes her as well.
"No way," she gasps as she stares in disbelief. "Did you… you didn't hear all that, did you?" she desperately hopes he was not able to witness her cruel remarks. She does not want him to think of her as a rowdy girl who likes to make fun of others.
"You insulted the girl over there," he confirms her fears.
"Please don't misunderstand. There was a reason for that," she rushes to explain.
"I see." He nods understandingly before turning to leave.
"Wait, where are you going?" She reaches toward him but he is already out of her reach.
"I'm going to eat," he answers blankly without turning around.
"Can you please stop?" she raises her voice.
"Did you want something from me?" He finally turns to face her again. His expression is not of confusion or annoyance. He seems completely indifferent. She stares at him with a dumbfounded expression without knowing what to say. She can not understand his behavior at all. He stares down at her with his ocean colored eyes for a long time before suddenly snapping his fingers. "Wait a moment, are you trying to get my attention?" he asks stupidly.
"What?" Emi does not know how to respond. How can he not have noticed her intentions until now?
"Hey, Spiller, what's with this guy?" Janet walks up alongside her while glaring at him.
"Just you wait, Spiller," Casey growls at her while stalking off. "I'll be back to finish this when your boyfriend's not around."
"Boyfriend?" Emi's face turns even redder. She knows she should deny the accusation but she can not bring herself to.
"I seem to have offended you." The boy draws her attention back from her thoughts.
"What no." Emi shakes her head rapidly. "I just wanted to make sure you didn't think I was some kind of vulgar girl who picks on others.
"Are you?" He tilts his head inquisitively.
"No!" she sputters.
"I see." He turns to leave yet again.
"Your name?" Emi shouts before he can walk off.
"My name is Culvin, Culvin Caster," he answers while rounding the corner and disappearing from sight.
"Culvin," Emi repeats in a low and dreamy voice.
"Yuck," Janet shudders. "Was that the boy you like?"
"No," Emi squeaks immediately. "We only just met today."
"He's pretty handsome, I guess." Janet shrugs. "You could do better but if that's what you like, I'll permit it."
"You'll permit it?" Emi stares at her in confusion. Janet's overly familiar attitude is slightly unnerving.
"I'm not going to let my friend date just any old loser," Janet explains.
"Friend? We're friends?" Emi is taken aback.
"Of course we are," Janet does not give her an option. "We're best friends. We're gonna eat lunch together and talk about what you like about Culvin, which is a really weird name, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is." Emi can not help but smile. She is still surprised by Janet's sudden declaration but it is not unwelcome. Having missed the first week of school, she had lost out on the chance to make a good first impression with her classmates. That morning she had noticed how they had all already formed into their new groups, leaving her on her own. She did not want to admit it but it made her feel lonely and left out. Even if Janet is a little too friendly at times, Emi is more than happy to have at least one friend. Perhaps going to school will not be a complete waste of time like she assumed.
"Say, can you pay for my lunch today, I didn't bring any money." Janet claps her hands together in a pleading motion.
"What, really?" Emi gasps. "What were you planning on doing if you hadn't bumped into me?"
"Asking someone else," she admits while gesturing to a table full of other girls from their class, all of whom wave to the pair as they step back into the lunch line.
"Wow, you sure have a lot of friends," Emi gulps nervously.
"We have a lot of friends," Janet corrects her.
"Yeah, all of them are just dying to get to know you," Janet explains.
"Why me?" Emi is skeptical.
"Because you're cute, you're mysterious and you've got the attention of a lot of guys," Janet gives her a list of reasons.
"I'm really nothing special," Emi tries to disagree.
"Well we think you are. You're kind of the class idol. Everyone's been asking where you've been for the past week. We were all overjoyed when you came back. We thought you might quit or something."
Emi shakes her head constantly as she listens to Janet. She can hardly believe anything she is hearing. It all sounds incredibly fantastic. She can not remember doing anything to gain such attention and she is not sure she likes it. "Come on, you'll love everyone. Just let them introduce themselves."
"Al-alright," Emi finally gives up. In truth she is partially looking forward to having friends. Something is still eating away at the back of her mind though. She has just had her second encounter with Culvin and has finally learned his name. Whether or not she will ever meet him again is still a mystery but she is ever hopeful. Something about him intrigues her to no end.
After talking with the rest of the girls from her homeroom and getting to know at least all of their names, Emi spends the rest of the day quietly smiling to herself. Somehow things have turned out better than she expected. She has made several friends and is apparently extremely popular amongst both girls and boys in her grade. She is finally looking forward to coming to school and not just with the intention of meeting boys.
Her good mood remains intact until the end of the day when she is about to leave the campus. Just before she reaches the gate, someone calls out to her. She turns around to see a group of second year boys of which she only recognizes one. "Hello, Travis," she mumbles quietly.
"Hey, girl." He hugs her without warning. She can feel the stubble of his shaved beard rubbing against her cheek and she does not like it. She quickly jerks out of his grip and takes several steps backward to distance herself from him. He is taller than her yet shorter than Isaac with greasy black hair and a cleft chin. His beady black eyes make him look slightly menacing and his open uniform shirt and lack of school tie give him the appearance of a delinquent. "Oh, come on, don't be like that." He tries to reach for her again but she backs away even further.
"How's Casey," she brings up his girlfriend in hopes of distracting him.
"We're kinda on the outs right now, because of you." His expression darkens.
"Me?" she is genuinely surprised. "What did I do?"
"Girl, all I did was ask if you wanted to hang out with us the other day. You didn't have to tell her I was making moves on you."
"I just thought…"
"You're awfully full of yourself, aren't you?" he cuts her off. "You think just because you got a dozen boys mystified by those pretty little eyes of yours that everyone one who talks to you is trying to get in your panties."
"You grabbed my ass," she reminds him while instinctively grabbing the hem of her skirt and pulling it down.
"There you go again, making assumptions," He growls while grabbing her wrists and prying her arms up over her head. "I'm begining to think you actually want it really bad." He pokes the front of her skirt with his left hand while keeping her wrists held in his right one.
"No, let me go," she pleads. His friends laugh at her as she glances at each one in turn, silently asking for help.
"Come on, boys, let's show this tease what all the guys she leads on really want to do to her." Travis starts to drag her back toward the school. He seems to be intending to take her to the storage shed behind the gymnasium.
"No, please." She begins to kick wildly. "Isaac! Janet!" she shouts for anyone she can think of.
"Isn't that your useless brother?" one of the boys recognizes Isaac's name. "What's he gonna do? All he does is talk about video games."
"Culvin!" Emi resorts to shouting for the boy she only just met today.
"Who?" Travis is confused by the strange name.
"Yes?" someone actually answers. All five boys have to crane their necks to look up at the balcony above them where Culvin is standing with his duffle bag dangling from his shoulder.
"Who the hell are you?" Travis demands.
"I'm Culvin," he answers as if it should have been obvious.
"Culvin, help me?" Emi gasps.
"Why?" his response is not what she expected.
"Why?" she repeats in shock. "Well…"
"Get lost," the boys try to shoo him off when they realize he has no immediate intention of intervening.
"I'm in trouble here," Emi sputters. "Don't you feel obligated to do something?"
"No." Culvin shakes his head.
"Oh god." Her eyes begin to well up as she realizes how foolish she was to even think he would help her. They hardly know each other. They only met this morning and she has done nothing to convince him that she is someone worth even paying attention to. In fact, in all of their encounters, he has done nothing but try to leave every time she talks to him.
"Hey, were you listening, we said to get out of here!" the boys repeat themselves.
Culvin leaps off of the balcony and lands several feet behind Emi, between her and the gate of the school, almost as if to block her route of escape. The thought crosses her mind that he might actually decide to help Travis and his friends in exchange for a chance with her as well. "Please don't," she begins to sob. She does not want to believe he is the type of person who would do something like that.
"What is wrong with you?" Travis is becoming unnerved by Culvin's refusal to leave.
"I'm confused," Culvin answers with a shrug. "Is there a reason I should help you?" he directs his question at Emi.
"No," she has already given up on being saved. She just wants him to leave so she can keep her glorified image of him intact. She will not be able to handle it if he decides to help Travis and his friends.
"I feel like you've been trying to talk to me a lot today," Culvin continues. "Perhaps you assumed I owed you for saving me from Mr. Plasic?"
Emi is beginning to lose her patience. Why can he not just leave so Travis and his friends can get this all over with sooner? Why does he even care if he is not going to help her? "Where the hell are you from?" she finally snaps at him. "Where are people so cold that they won't help a girl when they see her in trouble?"
Culvin is taken aback for once. He ponders for a moment before responding. "Perhaps you did something to incur this," he counters. "I have no way of knowing whose side to take."
"Isn't it obvious?" she shrieks. "You help the girl in this sort of situation."
"Why?" he asks calmly. "Does your gender grant you favorability? For all I know, you may have done something horrible to these boys before I interrupted you."
"I'm not asking you to hurt them, I'm asking you to keep them from hurting me!" she explains desperately.
"That may be so but what if they end up hurting me instead," he counters. "Why should I take that risk for someone I do not owe anything."
"I will owe you something after this," she offers.
"Yeah, she'll let you do this and that to her whenever you want," the boys taunt him. Culvin eyes her up and down, apparently assessing her worth. "Whoa, he's actually interested," the boys laugh. "Look at your white knight now, Spiller." One of them pinches her cheek teasingly.
Suddenly Culvin's blue eyes shoot opening in shock. "Spiller?" he repeats inquisitively.
"Yes, that's me. Amelia Spiller!" she sputters. "I would be most grateful if you could help me, Mr. Caster."
"Done," he does not even hesitate this time.
"What the…" Travis barely has any time to react before Culvin has whacked his right arm with the side of his hand, knocking it hard enough to make him lose his grip on Emi's wrists. Travis begins to scream in pain immediately as he falls to the ground cradling his appendage after his elbow is almost dislocated.
"What just happened?" his friends all crowd around him. "What did he do?"
"Thank you?" Emi sobs as she falls to the ground as well. Without warning Culvin scoops her up in his arms and dashes away from the boys. "Hey, put me down," she wails as they leave the campus.
"Can you walk?" he asks skeptically.
"Of course I can, so put me down." She pounds her fists against his chest until he finally stops running and drops her on the ground unceremoniously. She groans in pain as she slowly climbs to her feet again. "What is wrong with you?" she sobs as her eyes start to well up again, this time with relief.
"Goodbye." He turns to leave again. This time she does not tell him to stop, she simply grabs the sleeve of his uniform. His expression is not cold this time when he looks back. Instead it is filled with worry and a slight amount of panic. He is genuinely concerned for her for some reason.
She presses her forehead into the back of his shirt without a word. He gulps nervously as he waits for her to calm down enough to speak. "Thank you," she repeats when she is finally able to swallow her tears.
"You're welcome," he mutters in an uncertain tone before stepping forward and breaking her grip on him. She stares down at her feet as she rubs her bloodshot eyes, refusing to look up at him.
When she finally lifts her head, he is already gone. She is actually relieved as she has no idea how she planned to face him. Whatever his reason for saving her was, it definitely did not warrant her sudden show off affection. In fact, she should despise him for very nearly leaving her to her fate but instead her interest in him has only grown. She can hardly wait until she can see him again and she is more than a little upset at herself for thinking this way.
Emi spends her time walking home recomposing herself. By the time she reaches her apartment complex, she has all but erased the stressful events of the day from her mind. Her eyes are no longer bloodshot and she has managed to perfect a fake expression to use when she sees Isaac or her mother so they will not realize anything is wrong.
The first thing she notices upon entering the apartment is Isaac laying on the couch in the living room holding his gaming controller exactly the same way as that morning. "Did you even go to school?" she asks as she stalks around the side of the couch in order to block his view of the television. He pauses his game and sits up properly so he can face her when she stops in her tracks at the sight of his face. "What happened?" she gasps when she notices a bruise over his right eye.
"Stuff," he responds vaguely.
"Did you fall down? Did you get into a fight? Did someone hit you?" she rattles off a list of potential causes for his injury.
"Something hit me," he answers with a shrug.
"What? What hit you?" she demands while shaking him by the shoulders. "Is it okay? Do you need to see a doctor?"
"It's not as bad as it looks," he grumbles. "It didn't even look that bad at first. It just kinda got bigger after I got home."
"Have you been poking it?" she accuses him.
"Of course not." He frowns at her. He does not like that she assumes he is stupid simply because their mother has given up on him going to college. "Just let it go," he urges her.
"I won't let it go," she refuses.
"Why not?" he raises his voice. He is getting slightly annoyed with her. "It's none of your business."
"No, but how can I ignore it when you're so blatantly asking for help," she argues.
"I am not!" he snaps at her.
"You wouldn't be out here if you didn't want attention," she accuses him.
"I…" he struggles to come up with an excuse.
"You normally play that massive multiplayer game in your room on your PC, don't you?" she reminds him. "What is it called again… Mage Craft or something?"
"Yeah, that's it." He nods while staring down at the controller in his hand dejectedly.
"See, you do want attention." She leans forward over the coffee table and kisses his eye.
"Yeah, I guess that's right," he mutters unconvincingly. Emi frowns as she realizes that he must actually be out in the living room because he had another fight with the online friends he plays Mage Craft with. It is a game of strategy that requires multiple players to perform in tandem just to achieve anything worth mentioning. On more than one occasion he has had to boot players he thought of as friends out of his party because they did not agree with his game play style or simply wanted to replace him as the leader. It seems he has once again come to a disagreement with someone in his group and is now avoiding logging on.
"I'll get you some ice," Emi sighs as she enters the kitchen. She is slightly dejected that he is not willing to rely on her but at least now she knows that his bad mood is not about his eye. His online friends are almost more important to him than his real life ones, which Emi is not even sure he has many of if any.
"How was your day?" Isaac asks when Emi reenters the living room with three popsicles in hand, one still wrapped in plastic so he can use it for his eye.
She takes a deep breath as she contemplates what to say or how to lie to him. She does not want to pour all of her problems on him but she is already having trouble hiding the fact that something is wrong. With a long sigh she drops down onto the couch next to him and leans against his arm. "I made a friend," she announces calmly.
"Is that so," he can tell she has more on her mind but he does not want to pry, not after the hassle he just gave her about his eye. "Is she nice?" he shuffles the conversation along.
"She's very nice," she answers while biting down on her popsicle just enough to hold it in her mouth so she can take the controller from him and hand him his two popsicles. He uses his right hand to press one against his eye while eating the other with his left one. She un-pauses his game and begins to play as they continue to talk. She is not as obsessed with video games as him but she is by no means bad at them. She has grown up in the same house with Isaac for her whole life. There is no way she would not have picked up on them from him.
They continue their conversation for several hours as they take turns playing. They do not even stop to eat supper. Instead Emi tries to make Isaac eat more wasabi covered toast but he refuses outright. They laugh and joke together until nighttime without ever touching on the serious subjects of Culvin or his eye. When they part for bed, she kisses his head again with a sad expression. When did these two siblings start keeping secrets from each other? If there is anyone in the world she can trust with her problems, it should be him. Why can she not just be open with him? Why will he not be honest with her?