Person of Pride and Character
“What the hell are you doing here?!”
“I came to walk you home.” Hiro confirmed simply from the bench. “Is there something wrong with that?”
“Uh, yeah! There is, actually!”
Rory felt her face grow warmer as the throng of girls behind her openly pointed and giggled. Hiro, Rory had begrudgingly learned, possessed the unique (and highly irritating) ability to pop up ay any given time or place and frighten the living crap out of her.
Friday night, he had appeared a her bedroom window again. Monday morning, he had accompanied her on her walk to school. Thursday afternoon, Rory was forced to fabricate an extravagant story to explain his sudden appearance to Natti at the grocery store.
It was almost as if he was warning her he was always there.
Typically, Hiro matched her stride whenever she was alone, as if his presence was purely natural. He would ask her pleasant, detached questions such as:
“How was your day?” “Where are you going?” “Do you have a test tomorrow?”
Rory’s rebellious demeanour was snuffed out at these times. She would open and shut her mouth until the words hobbled out. She had never been so uncomfortable with her words. She was constantly frightened that she would suddenly say the wrong thing and she’d be submerged into that horrible, mind-nmbing pain again.
Today, however, all thoughts of pain were eradicated as she stared incredulously at the pale figure leaning nonchalantly against the school fence.
“Look, you can’t just… you can’t just appear in front of everybody I know!”
The voice sounded from behind. Immediately, Rory’s heart rate quickened. Of course, she would recognise that voice anywhere. Noah Landgraab.
Noah was the pampered son of Bridgeport diplomat Malcolm Landgraab and his artist wife Bambi. While undoubtedly handsome, what attracted Rory to Noah out of all the other boys in her school was his kindness. He always asked her about her day and while he did so his lips would compose a soft, bright smile that affirmed he actually cared to know; that it wasn’t just another reason to flaunt his perfect white teeth.
“Oh, I… uh… hey, Noah.” Rory stammered, feeling her entire face kindle with heat as she returned his smile with a goofy grin.
“So, how do you think you did on that math quiz?” He asked.
Rory’s mouth muscles twitched with the effort to remain locked in place. Well, she had answered most of the questions with wicked-looking smiley faces.
“Pretty good,” she lied. “It wasn’t that hard. How ’bout you?”
“Okay I guess, but I don’t think I got number 37 right…” He trailed off as his eyes landed on Hiro. “Oh! I’m so rude! I barely even noticed your friend, Rory.”
“H-he’s not a friend!” Rory cried.
“I mean… um, he’s not really— um—“
She stole a glance back at the smirk slowly blooming on Hiro’s face. Bastard.
Noah’s eyes seemed to brighten momentarily. “It’s nice to meet you, Hiro.”
This was far too strange, seeing Hiro, with this tangible reality to him, in the sunlight with Noah beside him. It made Rory’s chest constrict for reasons she couldn’t even begin to explain.
Noah’s lips conducted an iluminating smile once more.
Rory felt her heart melt all the way to her knees…
… but that smile…
….it wasn’t directed her way.
A sudden torrent of jealously propelled Rory to seize Hiro’s wrist, ignoring the tepid flow that rolled through her upon contact with his skin. She dragged the irritating attention-stealer away, sparing Noah a rather rushed explanation over her shoulder.
“Sorry! We’re late to—uh, to basketball practice! Later!”
Noah watched the pair hobble away, bickering loudly. His pale, blue eyes suddenly dampened into a darker, emptier hue.
“But you don’t play basketball…”
When they were at least a safe mile away, Rory finally released her white-knuckled grip on Hiro’s wrist. He rgarded the red blotch blankly, rubbing it with his long, pale fingers.
“Just what the hell were you doing at my school, Hiro?! There’s absolutely no reason for you to even be there!”
“You’re jealous.” Hiro deduced. Rory turned to see him smirking knowingly. “You like Noah.”
“N-no! He’s just nice and kind… and… and an all-around good person.”
She hurriedly walked into an alley between two apartment buildings. Many of the kids that went to her school lived close by and the last thing she needed them to see was her interacting with Hiro. Her communications with the boy did not exactly go ‘well’.
“If you like him so much,” Hiro continued,”Why did you lie to him?”
Eyes widening slightly, Rory found herself feeling abruptly sick.
“You completely failed that math test. I watched you— you hardly finished any of it.”
Rory squirmed uncomfortably. The fact that Hiro had just casually admitted to ogling her for the past several hours made her feel violated and used; as if her skin were transparent and anyone could see anything they pleased.
“I wish you’d quit that.”
“It’s not as if I want to, in fact, usually I don’t.”
Rory blinked. “What else do you do while I’m at school?”
But really she was yearning to discover what else she could do.
“On a typical day?
I go to the library and conduct research.”
Rory’s eyes popped open as she stared incredulously at her companion.
“But when I went far from you I—“
“It’s all about intentions. You wanted to run from me, something forbidden by the curse.”
Hiro peered at her; one dark eye mustered a vast intensity that drew enough stifling silence for two.
“So it took action: it stopped you.”
It stopped you…
The words rang coldly through Rory’s brain. Involuntary shivers racked her body as she recalled the ghost of the pain from that night.
“However, I go the library and research, knowing full well that I will return to you. In this instance, the curse slackens its proximity.”
Rory frowned. “This all sounds like absolute bullshit, you know that?”
“Yes,” Hiro sighed, “I know.”
A crowd of students from her high school passed the mouth of the alley, giggling and chatting about some hot guy who had been stood by the school’s gates. Rory watched them longingly, a pang of loneliness crossing her chest.
She felt so isolated, with only this boy for company. Asa still hadn’t come back to school since he had betrayed her to Natti. Rory needed her lazy friend now more than ever.
Normally, Asa would nag her endlessly until she at least attempted her homework; under his influence, Rory had always teetered over the low B, high C grade threshold, but without Asa her grades had taken a rather dramatic plummet.
Rory suddenly remembered.
“I have a science test tomorrow.”
“You should study for it.” Hiro suggested. “I don’t think your grade point average can take another failing grade.”
Hiro smirked slightly. “Well? What are you covering?”
“I have no idea. Cellular perspiration or something like that.”
“I can’t even get the goddamn name right. Shit. I’m so going to fail.”
“Not necessarily. I can help you study.”
A quiet moment passed and Hiro’s smile twitched; his mouth appearing as if it desperately yearned to be back in its standard frown again.
“… this is where you grab my hand and we skip happily off into the sunset.”
Rory’s eyes narrowed.
“Why are you being … nice?”
Hiro’s mouth slipped back into its comfortable, stern line again.
“What are you talking about? I’m always nice.”
Rory’s distrust deepened.
“No, you’re not. You’re a dick. Why are you suddenly acting nice?”
Hiro sighed, turning away from her.
“To be completely honest, my research has sort of reached a dead end. I think that we might be locked like this forever.”
Rory gaped, horrified. “You mean—“
“Now, would you like to know the finer points of glycolysis rare you just going to sit by idely and watch your grades drop?”
Hiro began to stroll away purposefully. Rory began to amble behind after him somewhat more inelegantly.
“Huh? What’s glycolysis?”
Hiro sighed raggedly. “You’re hopeless.”
— and after four hours of dutiful studying, Rory was beginning to believe it.
“So… ATP was converted to oxygen in the transport train?”
“No,” Hiro’s voice portrayed his exasperation and weariness. “NADH and FADH2 are converted to ATP when—“
“Hold up! Is this still on the transport train?”
Black eyes flashed with irritation. “On the electron transport chain.”
“And this is the Crab’s cycle, right?”
“Kreb’s.” Hiro corrected coldly.
It was during Hiro’s fifth simplified speech on ATP and the electron transport chain that Natti entered the room.
“Hello, Rory. I’ve been home for a while, but I didn’t want to disturb you, but I thought you could use a break. “
Rory’s stomach dropped when she saw Natti glance over at Hiro’s emotioness face.
“Especially you, um— you’re the boy from the grocery store, right?”
This was certainly not a scenario Rory was happy about. The whole situation seemed off-centre… wrong, somehow. Usually it was Asa beside her, Hiro’s presence felt so… different. It was so strange that her mouth could not even rally up a proper lie to explain the sudden appearance of his boy in her life.
It simply hung there, like a open man-hole until Hiro stood to introduce himself, face smooth and flawless.
“I’m Hiro Yui, ma’am. I go to school with Rory.”
“Well, I want to thank you for taking the time to help Rory study, Hiro. I know how stubborn and hard-headed Rory is sometimes, but I’ve found she’s a perfectly capable student. She’s actually quite good at science, she just gets bullied into thinking she isn’t.”
Natti frowned, her focus shifting to Rory again. “He hasn’t said anything mean to you lately, has he?”
Rory sighed. “No, Natti.”
At that moment, all Rory wanted to do was bury her face into her hands, to escape the situation entirely. She didn’t really know what he was so embarrassed about; she wasn’t ashamed of Natti -or even Hiro, but there was something about their meeting that felt as if it shouldn’t occur.
Regardless, they seemed to get along fairly well, and soon enough, Natti was enlightening Hiro on all the dastardly science teachers that had bullied her into failing grades in the past.
“—then there was this one jerk last year who just wouldn’t leaved Rory alone! Whenever he marked a test, he would tack the highest and lowest grades to the wall. And even if she didn’t earn he lowest grade, Rory’d still end up on it!”
Natti’s cheeks had collected an angry flush. “What did he call it again, Rory?”
“The wall of fame and shame…” she uttered quietly.
“What an idiotic name.” Hiro intoned.
Rory noticed he seemed slightly less rigid than he had before. Natti had that effect on people; she was an incredible host who could make a sultan feel at home in a pigsty.
“Isn’t it? Well, I went to the principle and, of course, got written off! They say she is a trouble maker who needs to be reprimanded like this. They say it will make her a better person later in life— ‘a person of pride and character’.”
“Well, let me tell you, Rory already has more character than the entire faculty and student body put together!” Her eyes gleamed proudly as they landed on Rory again. “And as for pride? It’s never done anybody any good!”
“… but that man is nothing compared to this year’s biology teacher! He is a truly horrible, horrible man.”
Hiro was a picture of polite interest. “Oh? How so?”
“Well, other than failing Rory for no good reason, he openly humiliates her in class, calling her an idiot—! Oh, what did he say again, after you told him how hard you worked, Rory?”
Rory adopted an unnaturally slick, wispy voice and spread her lips in an attempt to emulate an insulting leer.
“Tell me, how does it feel to know that hard work and sacrifice does not have to be repaid in the end? That everything you believed was false? Does it hurt? Does it burn?”
Her face and voice resumed its normality, and she slammed her fist onto the table.
“Gah! He’s such a dick!”
Natti gasped, chastised. “Rory!”
“Oh come on, you know it’s true!”
“Yes,” Her guardian agreed, “But that is not a nice word. Use jerk, or meanie—“
“Meanie would be appropriate if I was eight like your students, but seeing as I’m almost 17, ‘dick’ is pretty much conducive to my age.”
“Rory, what am I going to do with you? Well, I’ll leave you two to your studying. It was nice meeting you, Hiro.”
Rory returned to the table, glad for the jovial intermission. She felt looser and more relaxed than she had several moments ago.
Hiro, however, looked tenser than she had ever seen him. His back was stiff and his shoulders were clenched; his eyes narrow.
“Rory, tell me more about this particular teacher.”
“Well, he’s tall,” she began absently. “He’s young for a teacher, I guess. Asian… you know, like you: black hair, dark eyes. Some girls think he’s hot, but that’s only because they’ve never had him as a teacher. He’s a total ass—“
Hiro growled demandingly.
“Tell me his name.”
Rory was momentarily speechless, struck by a sudden lack of confidence in her own words.
Hiro’s eyes widened. Rory was utterly surprised to see a crack in his smug facade, to see the slight… fear that was sputtering through.
“I don’t really remember his first name, but it was on the sheet we got for—“
“I have to go.”
Hiro declared at once, climbing to his feet and unlatching the window.
“Wha—? But why?”
Rory’s stomach twisted uneasily. She looked up at him expectantly, feeling somehow… hurt by his abrupt exit.
Hiro hastily glanced back over his shoulder.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be back. I promise.”
And with that, he leapt from the window, climbed gracefully down the ladder and melted into the dark streets with their flickering, orange lights, leaving Rory utterly alone once more.
Did she even want him to come back?
Rory thought forcefully, returning to her textbook once more, where diagrams and indiscernible words waited to mock her.
A/N: I’m ALIIIIIVVVVVEEEEE!
Hey! So, it’s been a while since I’ve done
any much posting, but I’ve finally finished one! Anyhu, Suitor chapter up coming up next 😀