I've written the following after a very long and tiresome life, investigating and questioning and interviewing all those involved. You might think that some of these stories are connected, as if some of these arcs take place before or after others arcs or stories. That's okay. You might also think that none of these stories are connected in any way, shape or form, each and every single one of them existing in their own miniature universe. That's also okay.

There is no correct answer but what you believe in. I want you to remember that, no matter what happens.

Either way, I've done my job.

- From the Grand Library of the University of Versal

Did I ever say how much I hate people who go up to you and say something like "Smile!"

Don't get me wrong, those people mean well. I get it, you see someone who's looking down in the dumps one Monday morning, and you think to yourself "I'll do my good deed for the day and try and make that person's day better!" I can get behind making people feel better, I understand that part. It gives you a sense of self-worth. Something that makes you feel like a better, nicer person. Completely different from all the other people around you, am I right?

It's the part that happens after it that I dislike. What if that person was just having their neutral expression on their face? They weren't feeling sad or depressed or suicidal or anything. In fact, they might have been someone recovering from depression. And they were just walking in the hallways one day and you come in and go "Smile!" and now, you fucking asshole, you've just made someone recovering from depression become really self-conscious about the way they look, and then they're going to go home and get really fucking sad and probably spent some time looking in their bathroom mirror wondering and trying to change how they look.

That's probably not what you were intending, right? Make someone who was just having a really normal day suddenly get self-conscious about the way their face looks? Because if it was, then you're just an asshole and you should probably stop trying to talk to me. My best solution, if you're a nice person, is to not try and cheer up random strangers. I know you mean well, yes, but do you really want to alienate people at the drop of a hat?

Now, what if you wanted to compliment someone who you knew for a fact was happy, or at the very least, didn't look like they were having a midlife crisis at the tender age of teenagers? I, too, am a dreaded hater of the people who interpret a compliment the wrong way.

"You look good today," followed by a hasty "I don't look good any other day? Asshole".

"Your shirt looks good," followed by an angry "Why the fuck are you looking at my shirt, asshole? My face is up here."

Immediate solution is to work on a phrase that can't possibly be interpreted a second way. My personal favorite phrase, mad-libs edition, for when I compliment people is "Hey, that [article of clothing/face] really suits you." Feel free to use that one if you want, if you're secretly a lazy asshole who can't be bothered to make up your own phrase that can't be misinterpreted for trying to compliment people. Seriously, dude, it doesn't feel as good or sincere if you can't be bothered to put in like ten minutes of trying to come up with one phrase yourself.

Also, don't tell anyone this, but I stole that phrase myself.

Because the easiest solution to not having to deal with strangers misinterpreting your compliments is to not compliment them at all.

What, you think someone came up to me this morning and told me to "Smile!" and made me really self-conscious about the way my neutral face looks? How'd you get that stupid idea? Shut up. Fuck off.

I walked into the high school from the pouring rain, and into my regular seat beside Emily in the corner table of the noisy cafeteria. Friends and acquaintances were noisily talking to each other as I made myself comfortable at what I thought was the best spot at the table.

A usual case of the Monday morning's hung over my head. I mean, I've been told I'm occasionally a walking PMS meter stick, but I've always assumed they were exaggerating. Hopefully.

School would begin in about half an hour, but I always came early, as it was my usual habit. Jesus, my girlfriend will probably like me 80% of the time and hate me the last 20.

We were that group of friends. The ones who dabbled sometimes in things we shouldn't be. No, nothing like hard drugs or prostitu- okay, no, I can't speak for everyone here. Point is, we were those guys, the dozen or so of us that occupied the corner table of the cafeteria, away from the spotlight of everyone else's high school lifestyle fantasy.

Only about half of us were there yet – as it was normal. It's hard to get all of us in a single table at the same time if it wasn't lunch yet.

"What's the commotion about?" I asked, folding my arms together on the table.

"Dude, you won't believe what I found at that antique store at the mall this weekend!" Oscar said excitedly, looking right at me. "You were the main character of a story there! You!"

"Ignore him, he's being an idiot," Jiajia said, shaking her head. "It's just a big coincidence is all. Or he was hallucinating,"

"It's not, all of us were honestly there. All of us," Oscar said, saying that last part with an almost growl in his throat.

"Yeah, and what exactly were we doing?" she asked.

Oscar cleared his throat, and began to speak. "Get this, guys. It was a story about trying to hunt down some drug or whatever, and we were all friends or in a group or something – I don't remember but it was something real fucking stupid. But the important part was that we were all in it. All of us."

He turned to me then to Jiajia and Cyrus. "You three were like snipers or something – no, Cyrus and Jiajia were snipers, you just shot a crossbow a lot."

I raised an eyebrow at him, but I knew Oscar ignored it.

Cyrus spoke for the three of us, yelling out, "We're on the fucking archery team."

"Are you sure you weren't just really fucking high?" I asked.

"No! Trust me, I had the book in my hands and everything, it was like some sort of compendium or something."

I smirked to myself, and beside me, I noticed Emily did the same. When we were alone, we had frequently discussed the possibility of Oscar being the kind of person to take recreational drugs. I had argued that, no, he wasn't, as he was an honor roll glasses-wearing walking stereotype. Emily, conversely, had argued that yes, he was, because goddamn he absolutely was the kind of person to break the stereotype. While he hadn't outright confirmed or denied it, his lack of denying had given us some more information. And despite being wrong, I had smirked because we were one step closer to solving the mystery of Oscar's hobbies, and therefore, one step closer to talking about another person – talking about whether or not Oscar smoked weed for two weeks straight was enough to drive anyone insane.

That, and, despite being a stereotypical honors student, he probably didn't know what a "compendium" was. Just something I could chuckle to myself later if I ever felt down in the dumps. Wait, what's a compendium again? That's like a collection of porn movies ripped from DVDs all on a single blu-ray disc and sold in stores, right?

To be honest, I wasn't quite sure how Oscar and I were still friends in the first place. When we were both in elementary school, he and I were inseparable. We had watched the same anime titles, played the same video games, got the same marks on tests. We were best of friends.

When high school came around, Oscar stopped slacking off and consistently got on the honor roll, while I put in the same amount of effort that matched the benefit. Getting 100s would take up too much time and effort, and I never really saw the point in getting such a high mark. Congratulations, a pat on the back and a thumbs up, good job. Spending hours upon hours reading the material just for that kind of lackluster reward wasn't my kind of thing, so I just put enough effort to get 70s and low 80s.

Don't follow me, kids.

Sometimes Oscar and I got put in the same class together, but he'd always sit around other students, and I would become the awkward kid in the corner, never really talking to anyone. Not that I cared about being alone, but I still wanted to be friends with Oscar. At one point, we had basically become strangers with some memories.

Until, at one point, he had slid into the seat beside me just before a lab experiment. My other group partners were curious, but then welcomed him aboard in no time.

"Hey, sorry for brushing you off for so long," he said, putting on his goggles.

"Didn't even notice," I said, warmly. "Why're you here though?"

Oscar shook his head sadly, and then looked over at the other group he had just left. "They started talking about shit I didn't want to get into. You know, gossip, who was fucking who, where to get an abortion. I don't want to hang with them anymore."

I smiled, then looked over at the rest of my compatriots. "You wanna fuck with those guys over there?"

They agreed, and two minutes later, we had mixed together some phosphorus stink bombs that had "accidentally" gotten lit on fire. We, "in a panic," threw them at the Oscar's old group of friends, laughing at them stupidly. It was a good thing our chemistry teacher was dumb as nails, and wasn't in the room at the time, or we probably would have been suspended.

It would turn out later that those other two lab partners of mine were Jiajia and Cyrus.

"And get this too," Oscar said. "The whole time, you and Emily were basically dating and fucking the entire book."

Almost immediately, I felt the eyes of Jiajia, Cyrus, and Millicent – or, Milly, if you want – on Emily and I. Emily cocked an eyebrow at them, whilst I was silently wondering if they were really taking Oscar's obviously high story seriously.

"I dunno," Jiajia said with a shake of her head. "Voted Most Likely to Dabble In Voodoo and Most Likely to Be Hired As a Door together? I just don't see it."

Millicent nodded eagerly in agreement.

And, simultaneously, Emily and I said, "Sorry to disappoint."

With that, four pairs of eyebrows went up in a crease at us.

I immediately rolled my head back and sighed, staring up at the ceiling.

Don't get me wrong, Emily was a nice girl. She was mostly silent and kept to herself, only opening up to people she considered friends. Didn't smile often, or if she did, I wasn't around to see it. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen her actually genuinely smile out of happiness. Most I've ever seen was a sarcastic or evil, snide smirk she'd put on as she, say, takes all my stars in Mario Party 6.

Basically only the dozen of us. You know. Introverts. Whatever.

If I remember correctly, she was the one who was sitting at this corner cafeteria table when the dozen or so of us walked in. We quickly took over the table (a mob of smelly, sweating human teenagers against one nice smelling, quiet bookworm girl wasn't much of a fight) and basically assimilated her into our culture. One could probably argue that we had ruined her life.

If you had locked Emily and I together in a room for two hours, and then walked back in, we'd probably be playing Risk or poker together, or doing homework while talking about whatever show we had watched together last night whilst talking on the phone. We wouldn't be making out, our tongues down each other's throats, eagerly trying to get rid of our clothing and getting more intimate than most married couples. Emily was honestly just a good friend, and I considered her only as such.

No. No dating each other, I swear. This isn't me trying to convince you because I secretly have a subconscious, masculine need to fuck her. I don't see her as that.

Now, if Emily and I were the only two humans left on the planet a-la Adam and Eve? Yeah, I'd fuck her. I'm not about to pass up a free chance to begrudgingly restart the universe and complain about having to spend the rest of my life with Emily but secretly be content and happy with the way life was going. Besides the, you know, fact the rest of humanity was dead.

Jesus, I'm not THAT beta.

"See?" Oscar said. "They don't even finish each other's sentences, they say them together. Don't tell me they wouldn't actually work together as a couple."

"By the way, I wasn't fucking a book this weekend." Emily returned back to the book in her hands.

Millicent look hard at me, then at Oscar suspiciously. "John, you and Oscar aren't trying to pull something over us, right? If you wanted to ask out Emily and needed our help, just ask."

Cyrus and Jiajia giggled together, while Oscar rolled his eyes, apparently annoyed that no one was taking him seriously and that the conversation topic had been derailed.

"If I wanted to ask Emily out," I said to Millicent, turning to face her. "I'd ask her out."

Part of me felt a little odd for saying something like that aloud. No, don't get me wrong, I meant it when I said I would have asked her out if I wanted to. But secretly, I did notice certain things in Emily's behaviour that had changed as of late. It's hard to explain, as it was mostly subtle things.

1) More hair tosses away from my general direction allowing me to see more of her nape, usually when we're alone together. God, why do I even notice this?

2) More recommendations on what books to read while we were in the library alone together.

3) I've been catching her looking at me while we were walking home alone together, when usually both of us are supposed to be looking straight ahead like normal people.

4) She's been saying "I love you, baby!" more as she wraps her legs around my waist while I'm pounding at her pussy when we're alone together, followed by her powerful and torrential orgasm sweeping me away off my feet and away from her – literally blowing me away – until it fills the room completely and we both drown to death in her juices.

I'm clearly joking about that last one. Wow, I hope that didn't ruin your mental image of her because that is absolutely nothing like her. If anything, that would probably be Jiajia, who we all agreed earned the tile Voted Most Likely To Earn the Nickname "Street Meat".

Honestly, the above were probably just things that Emily was subconsciously doing as she warms up to me and considers me a better friend then the rest of the dozen of us, and my adolescent hormone-fueled mind assuming that she wants to fuck me. I'm not sure how Emily feels about me, and I'm fairly sure it's platonic between us, but on the off-chance that Emily did like me, I wanted her to feel comfortable about asking me out. Saying something like "If I wanted to ask her out, I'd ask her out," just makes it seem like I didn't see her as a potential mate.

"Mate." Wow. Thanks hormones, just for that and literally this whole essay about Emily, which I'm about to title "Does Emily like me? 4 Reasons Why I Should Go Fuck Myself" and hand in as my English essay.

Back to the action.

"Bullshit!" Cyrus said, pointing his index finger at me and sticking his arm across the length of cafeteria table.

If there was anyone in the group you could count on for theatrics, it had to be Cyrus. I had to admit, theatrics wasn't for me. It was loud. Rude. Obnoxious. I disliked it, but my like of Cyrus outweighed it. Still, I wish he wasn't so flamboyant sometimes.

He continued, "If you wanted to ask someone out, the most you'd do would be to go home and masturbate to it."

"Don't sully my name," I said, feigning shock, and putting on a stereotypical Victorian accent. My theatrics were more subtle. "I could so too ask a girl out, if any of them here fancied my interest." I paused, and then added, jokingly, "Even if, you know, you're right and I probably would masturbate to Emily."

Groans erupted from all around the table at my candidness. Emily didn't groan, but did look up at me and cocked an eyebrow before going back to her book.

Mostly I had said that, just so Emily, if she did like me, would still think she had a chance.

Man, I am really getting over my own head here, huh?

Cyrus started again. "Except for that one time you wrote that love let-"

"Cyrus, I'm going to have to ask you to shut the fuck up."

"Or that tim-"

"Cyrus, you know I know about that one time you vomited on that one gir-"

"Okay! I get it!" Cyrus threw his hands in the air in a mock surrender. Eager to change the conversation topic, he moved back to Oscar. "How about you? What were you doing in this shitty book?"

Oscar thought about it for a moment, almost embarrassed, debating whether or not he should tell us. Finally, he said sheepishly, "I was kinda the villain for basically the second half of it, heh."

"Lemme guess, you rode a motorcycle and had a chainsaw, right?" Jiajia asked.

"Actually, yeah, yeah, how'd you know?" he asked.

Jiajia threw her hand against Oscar. "Because obviously you'd have a power fantasy like that for yourself while dreaming. This whole book is just made of bullshit!"

"NO! It's really not, I swear," Oscar said, then turned to me. "You won't even guess what was like the worst part."

I leaned in closer, just in case the worst part had something to do with me. He continued. "So like, Seth and Anna are dating, right, and at one point, she brin-"

I jumped forward almost immediately, half of my body occupying the cafeteria table on my way to slam my hand over his mouth.

Remember what I said about theatrics, and how I thought they were obnoxious a little while ago? I recognize when I'm a hypocrite. Looking back on it now, maybe I should have just sat down and kept listening to Oscar – at least then, I wouldn't have loudly attracted the attention of the other 30 people occupying the nearby cafeteria tables, or gotten the curious looks of the others sitting at the table.

I like to consider myself something along the lines of a croupier or a poker dealer. Usually there to insure the game is played according to the rules, occasionally engage in some quick cheap banter with the players, and overall make sure people are having fun.

However, mostly, I'm there to make sure the rules are enforced, and that I'm in complete control of the game. Also make some quick beer money on the side, but that's just a bonus. I'm not usually in complete control, or even in semi-control, or even in any form of control at all, but a man can dream, right?

But let me explain why I had to get Oscar to shut up.

Don't talk to me about Anna. Don't. She's a good student about my age, but she's done something to me that I haven't forgiven her for. And let me be clear: I will never tell you it.

She doesn't go to this school, thank whatever god exists, because my life would probably be a waking nightmare if she did.

Oscar shut up immediately and got the message, remembering who Anna was to me. Being one of my earliest friends, he was there when Anna had done it. He wasn't a direct witness to it, and didn't know exactly what had happened, but he was around for the effects of it.

Millicent, Jiajia and Cyrus looked at me curiously, and Jiajia was about to ask me a question when the morning bell rang.

"I'm going to interrogate you later on this," she said, throwing her makeup bag into her school bag and pulling that out from under the table.

"Try it, bitch, you won't succeed," I said with a frown.

We all pulled our school bags out from under the table and went our separate ways. At least, most of us did. Emily and I walked together to trig, or as I liked to call it, "Hell, by Jerry Mathsworthgood." No, really, that was his name. As far as I had knew, he hadn't changed it or anything, he was just simply born with that terribly fitting, but also terrible, last name.

And as we walked into class, I recognized the papers that were laying face down on each of our desks. It was a pop quiz.

"I should have studied this morning instead of listening to Oscar's stupid-ass story," I groaned to Emily.

"You're fucked," she said, taking her corner seat closest to the door.

I sat beside her, hoping I could bum some answers off her sheet. She raised an eyebrow at me for the umpteenth time that day, and moved her paper to the other side of her desk with an evil grin.

Man, was I fucked that day or what?

Was the universe out to get me?

Somehow I felt like my unfortunate luck was spread out across the multiverse, a giant "Kick Me!" sign on my ass no matter where or when you looked in the massive web of threads that was our worlds, inviting whoever ran the universe to go ahead and kick my behind.

I briefly entertained the thought that somewhere, sometime, in another set of circumstances, Oscar's book was a nonfictional account of what had happened in a different universe, one where I was a hero dating Emily and Seth dated Anna. I shuddered in slight horror.

And then faced real horror when the class simultaneously flipped the quiz papers over and came face to face with the question, "Calculated the formula of the circle that forms when the defined plane intersects with the defined sphere."

Halloween was about two days later, and I already planned out my costume for six months now. Actually, to tell the truth, I've been doing this for every Halloween I've been in high school, but I like to at least think about how I'll dress differently every year. It always ended up not mattering though, as I just wore the same thing again and again.

Let me tell you something about why I love Halloween: free fucking candy, cute girls in cute costumes, cute girls in revealing costumes, a social excuse to stay out until midnight. Not like we needed an excuse, though, but no one would call the cops on us anyways. I mean, sure, adults would look at me wondering why the hell an older teenager was out getting treats intended for children, but hey – free calories and Kit Kat bars, so I can't complain too much.

It was lunch hour as I stood in the matrix with my dinosaur of a Polaroid camera out. I was wearing a simple plain white dress shirt, black jeans, and a clip on tie. A hand mirror clipped onto my side pocket. All this was topped off with a piece of cardboard hanging by a paperclip chain off my next that simply said "Instant Pictures – 1 dollar."

All around me were various other students in ridiculous attire. Some females wore flirtatious bunny rabbit costumes that revealed far too much to pass a high school dress code, but let's be serious, no male teacher at this school was going to do the incredibly awkward "You're wearing too little," speech, even though it was technically part of their job. Some males wore their obnoxious sports equipment around, and unfortunately, many of the football players hadn't thought of actually washing their pads before going to school in them. I, too, was supposed to be wearing my archery club uniform, but I didn't want to walk around with a Polaroid camera looking like a jogger on the day we're supposed to come in with costumes.

I could see the conversations now: "Hey, happy Halloween, why'd you come in wearing your jogging suit?" followed by my awkward "I'm part of the archery club, actually." Cue awkward silence as the conversation ends, and they slowly check their cellphone and back away.

But at least wearing this, admittedly half-assed attempt, semi-formal suit with the cardboard hanging around my stomach would inspire some sort of conversation. "Hey, happy Halloween, what are you supposed to be?", then my response of "I'm dressed as a photographer, actually, want your picture taken for a dollar?", "Yeah, sure, I'd love to give you some spare change for doing basically nothing at all. I'll take 12."

Somewhere along the way in the middle of them talking, I'd mutter quietly "No refunds," before taking their picture and handing them the film.

I know, I'm basically a genius. Want your picture taken?

You might ask, "Isn't 1 dollar for a picture kind of a rip off?"

I wholeheartedly agree, absolutely, 1 dollar is way too expensive. I was going to go with around 50 cents, but then I'd have to start keeping track of quarters and dimes and nickels, and let me tell you, I'm not sticking my hands in my pockets all day, fumbling around for people's change as they awkwardly stare at me. Maybe I would have gone for 25 cents, but at a price that low, why bother taking pictures?

I handed the upperclassman her picture – she was cute dressed in her pink full-body pyjamas. She said a quick "Thanks!" as she handed me a dollar, her Polaroid film picture held gingerly in her hands.

The hubbub around me had increased from a few minutes ago, as students started coming down for the Halloween festival. Candy apple stands and haunted houses and an eldritch take on Shakespeare's Macbeth were just some of our completely unique attractions. The principal anticipated kids from other schools would try and sneak into our festival – he wasn't wrong about that – and had asked his board to get about 20 police officers to roam aimlessly around the premises, sidling in that way police officers do with donuts and a coffee in their hand. Unfortunately, that didn't do diddly-squat about kids sneaking in beer and vodka or weapons that were technically part of the costume.

Myself included.

"Hey," a familiar voice said behind me.

I turned around, readying my camera in mid-turn, and took a picture of Emily in her witch costume when I was at rest.

Not a sexy witch costume, no, Emily wouldn't do something so flirtatious. Although, if she was forced to, I'd imagine she could do it. Nor was this an ugly witch costume, with a green mask and hairy warts on her hands. Nope. Just Emily wearing a full black robe, a pointy hat, and a slight amount of pale makeup, whilst wielding a broomstick.

"Nice witch outfit," I said. "You look nice."

She frowned. "I'm not paying a dollar for that picture, you know."

I chuckled to myself, waved the film picture like a fan, and then placed it gently into my shirt pocket. "I know. Wanna head into the café and grab a spider cookie?"

"You're perverted," she said, already leading the way, slamming her broomstick on the ground in rhythm.

I caught up and walked beside her, one hand wielding the camera in case anyone wanted to have their picture taken. "I'm not gonna masturbate to this picture, what the hell?"


"What, you don't believe me?"

"Unfortunately not."

"Anything I can do to get you to change what you think about me?"

Emily bit her bottom lip gently as she walked, trying to figure out one way. "Uh, sorry, no, nothing comes to mind. Happy fapping."

I sighed loudly, then used my free hand to grab hers as we walked into the cafeteria together. From the corner of my eye, towards the far corner of the café, some of our friends were already ignoring the Halloween festival, choosing to set up some card games to play at the corner cafeteria table in the meanwhile.

Emily gripped my hand as we walked to the kitchen, where the lunch ladies claimed their lair/piss cavern. They hardly cleaned up their mess of a kitchen, their sole form of decontamination was the heat from the ovens, keeping the food sterile.

"By the way," Emily said as we got in line together, still holding each other's hands. Completely platonically. "Sorry, but I don't see you as a romantic interest."

I cocked an eyebrow at her and her sudden statement. "Pardon?"

"I don't think I can see you as someone I can fall in love with. I mean, even if we were the last two people on earth a-la Adam and Eve style, I still wouldn't fuck you."

I could only stare at her, my mouth ajar. "Wow. I mean, I don't even like you any more than a friend, but that just hurts." I loosened my grip on her hand, but she didn't let go. Actually, she held my hand more firmly.

She chuckled to herself, the faintest of smiles dancing on her lips. "Sorry, but I just wanted to get that out of the way. You… sort of gave away a hint, earlier, when Oscar was talking about the book."

I was about to speak when she continued, "And don't let go of my hand, you child."

"I'm not a child," I pouted. We moved up a spot in line, someone up ahead getting their hands on a spider cookie. "And what did I do earlier that would make you tell me something like that?"

"First, you said something along the lines of 'I'd ask out Emily if I wanted to ask out Emily, which I would totally do if it wasn't for my early onset of erectile dysfunction after masturbating so much!'" she said, quoting me with a high pitched childish voice. "And then you a few seconds later, 'I'd masturbate to Emily, sure, she's an amazing woman that I can see myself falling in love with!' or something like that."

"I said NOTHING like that." We moved up again in line. I tried to get a carton of chocolate milk from the cooler, but Emily's grip was steadfast, and I didn't want to put my camera down on the greasy counter.

"No, maybe not those exact words, but it was something like that. Point is, you said one thing, and then another that contradicted it, for whatever reason, and I picked up on it immediately."

"Let's just pretend you're right- why would you think about it like that? Isn't that a little selfish?"

Emily bit her lip again. "No, no, not really. I mean, it's not that hard to think like you," she said with a smirk.


"And so I thought about it for a few minutes, and came to the conclusion, that, while you didn't want to date me, you did think I liked you, and you thought you'd go on a date with me if I asked. Keeping your options open like that, I like it, it's got a hint of Machiavellian in there."

I sighed in defeat, as the line moved a little closer. Only about two more people now. "You know, if you were born in an earlier time, they'd actually burn you as a witch."

She gave me a small sideways glance, before looking back to the dinosaur-costumed student in front of us. "You're paying for me, by the way."

"You mean you're not mad?" I asked. "About the whole, 'keeping options open' thing?"

She looked at me. "No. I mean, I did get to burn your heart, so at least I got that out of it."

It was my turn to smile at her. "You know, most people at least give me a dollar and let me take a photograph of them before going that deep in me."

"….. is there something you need to tell me, John?"

Two transactions, four stacks of fifty cents, and four spider cookies moved across the counter later, we stood outside of the kitchen, still somehow holding hands, the pile of cookies sitting haphazardly atop the camera. I was afraid to walk anymore, in fear of the cookies falling onto the ground.

Emily shook her head at me. "I can't actually believe you didn't buy me a single cookie," she said, disappointedly.

"I was joking, god, take two of the cookies."

"I don't want them coming from you."

"Jesus, christ, take the cookies, please, they're about to fall."


"At least let go of my hand."

"Fuck no."

And just like that, the top two cookies fell of the side of the camera, shattering upon impact on the ground. I sighed loudly into the open air, and a few female underclassmen laughed at us from their table. I moved my camera up towards me and placed my chin atop the remaining spider cookies as Emily got to work sweeping the cookies back into the kitchen with her broomstick. One of the cafeteria ladies looked at her angrily, but couldn't do anything because she was behind the counter. Hey, at least Emily was doing her best, which was far more than what I could say.

We walked together to our regular corner table, where now only Jiajia and Oscar occupied.

"What's with the hand holding?" Jiajia asked, looking up from her card game of seven-hand with Oscar.

"Emily's stupid," I said, taking my usual spot.

As it stood then, Emily's usual spot just so happened to be right beside mine, and we still locked hands.

"He held my hand first, so I thought, why not go along with it?" Emily said, still not letting go.

"I don't believe John has the balls for that kind of thing." Oscar played an ace in the middle, revealing and battling Jiajia's dummy four, wasting an ace in the process. "But why?" he moaned loudly.

"Card draw," Jiajia explained.

"Hold up, are you guys really going to ignore us?" I asked them. Emily snickered to herself.

"Yes." Jiajia drew four cards from her own pile.

"I told you I'm not surprised, you guys did fuck the entire book." Oscar drew his own four cards, and organized them in his hand, before throwing them at Jiajia in surrender.

About 30 minutes later, after Emily had let go of my hand, we still stuck together, aimlessly wandering the school hallways and avoiding the occasional Halloween prop that had been carelessly mounted in the middle of the hallway. I had the suspicion that the upperclassmen had mounted it there just to screw with the younger students.

"Why exactly wouldn't you date me?" I asked. "I mean, not like it really matters to me or anything, I'm just, you know, kinda curious why, like, you wouldn't even fuck me in an End of Days case where it's just us a-"

"Stop talking already, holy fuck," she interrupted. "And I won't date you because, I don't know, you're too much like a poker dealer or something. You never really get involved with stupid shit, you know? And I never really get involved, either, so can you imagine what our child would be like?"

I thought about it for a few moments, and then found myself helplessly agreeing. We were far too much alike, and there was no way either of us could actually date. What would be our date anyway? Sit at the library playing board games? Jesus, that would be fucking terrible.