Chapter 3: In Spite of the Torment

Sooner or later, I stepped into my third year in middle school. Taka and I had been hanging out for months already. The two of us would get looks, but we would always turn a blind eye to other people's opinions about us and just enjoy each other's company.

One time, I lost my student handbook. Taka and I went out to look for it. We walked around the corridors, the courtyard, and every other place in the school. With the result of our futile efforts, we decided to buy some drinks and sit ourselves on one of the benches at the courtyard.

We were enjoying the peace, then it was broken by a distressed scream of a girl. It sounded like it was nearby. Taka and I looked to the direction of the huge cherry tree and found a junior girl, short-haired, thin-eyed, and short in stature. She was being harassed by a bunch of guys most likely from the same year level, some were taller than me while the others were average. They were playing catch with her notebook. All she did was shriek at them, her face wet with tears. The boys laughed at how she looked.

"Hey, pass it to me!" one boy commanded. Before the note was passed onto another hand, I grabbed it from behind.

"That's no way to treat a girl," I said with a serious look.

"Come on! We're just having a little fun," they complained. I stared at them angrily. They walked away looking annoyed.

I scanned the notebook first. All it had was doodles. The name I found in the notebook was Kaoru Yasuhiko. Though her drawings were childish, they were fine and had potential. That's coming from someone who draws to pass the time.

I handed it to her. She still looked terrified, as if I might be another predator. It was only natural. After she got her notebook back, Taka and I left her by herself there.

From what I heard, she had autism. Every day, the same thing would happen to her. She would often be bullied by the same group of boys, and there were times it was someone else who would harass her. I always had to cut in on their fun. Eventually, they started picking on me, too, teasing me that we should get married. Others even say I'm trying to be a hero.

It happened again. She was being picked on. This time, a lot of people were present at the courtyard, including my classmates. It was the same bunch picking on her. I stood in between them, protecting her.

"Here comes Haruyama-senpai being a hero again, protecting his wife," one of them scoffed. They laughed, and worse, the others on the sidelines watching it happen were also laughing.

Me? A hero? I didn't care about that nonsense. I wasn't protecting her neither to look like a hero nor because I had the slightest feelings for her. It was because I was sick of all the bull crap. They were laughing at Yasuhiko-san who screamed at them while she was being harassed. Apparently, that is what "normal" people do. Once again, the world looked grey, but this time, every one of them was a stringed puppet, puppets that were manipulated by the concept that is called "being normal."

A teacher arrived at the scene, sending us to the principal's office and reported what happened. The principal gave them some lecturing, that what they did was shameful, degrading an individual for having a peculiarity.

"Once again, I will have to call your parents," the principal threatened.

They panicked and dropped on their knees. "No, please! We beg of you, principal!"

"In that case, you should all apologize to Haruyama-kun and Yasuhiko-kun, and vow to never harm anyone again."

They knelt in front of me and Yasuhiko-san with their foreheads touching the floor and their voices shaking. "Sorry, Haruyama-senpai, Yasuhiko! It won't happen again!"

I forgave them, but they had to keep in mind that regardless of anyone's attempts to torment me, I would not allow someone to be mistreated for being different.

The following days were peaceful. Yasuhiko-san was always alone, but no one again dared to harm her. That way, I could stay calm and not worry about her.

I went out to get a drink when a junior walked to me, a short girl with brown short curly hair and blue eyes.

"Haruyama-senpai?" she said sheepishly, her hands behind her.

"Yes?" I answered as I opened the soda can, letting out a fizzy sound.

"Umm… I might have something that's yours," she showed me what she was holding behind her back. It was a student handbook. "It had your name on it, so I'm pretty sure it's yours."

I took the handbook from her and scanned it. It was mine. "Thank you so much!" I said with a flustered smile.

She smiled at me with her cheeks flushed. She replied in a soft shaky voice, "You're welcome… Bye now!" She ran away with her face cupping her cheeks. She passed by Ai-chan who was surprised for a second to see a girl running away, then walked to me.

He looked at me with a serious face. Then, he smiled at me with sad eyes. It had been a while since we talked face to face with each other.

"Ai-chan…" I said in a soft tone.

"You really are an idiot, Marion," he said in a somewhat angry tone, then his voice softened, "But you know… you're amazing, the way you defied Kanade, and how you protected Yasuhiko-san. I envy your courage. To be honest, I still feel guilty that had you had to see Kanade beat up Hirano-san when I could have stopped him myself."

I responded to him with a warm smile. "You're kind, Ai-chan. You didn't want to hurt Kanade-kun's feelings so you just stayed in the sidelines instead."

"Still, I could've done something," he replied, still looking guilty.

"Ai-chan, I haven't told you why I like you back then. It's because out of everyone in our class, you're the cutest, and most different. If you want to change, do it for yourself. Don't do it to please others."

Otherwise, you'll end up losing yourself.