Chapter Twelve: Guilty Conscience and an Unexpected Introduction

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Content Warning:  mentions of violence, mentions of bullying

When I arrived in homeroom, I spotted an empty seat at the edge of the classroom. I sat down and let my backpack slide off my arm and on to the ground. What was happening out there? Was Gabriel okay? Was he hurting? Did he need help?

I shouldn't have left him out there by himself, but...

I crossed my arms on the desk and pressed my forehead into them, hiding my face in the crook of my elbow. I wished I didn't have to leave him. I wanted to go back there and make sure he was safe, but I was already here. I could only hope that he wasn't hurt—that he could handle it by himself.

A loud bang sounded and multiple sets of footsteps screeched to a halt inside the classroom. The students quieted immediately. The urge to look up burned inside me, but I kept my head tucked down. I didn't need to bring any more attention to myself after what had happened, both today and yesterday. My public humiliation quota had already been met.

The footsteps started up again, moving towards me. My heart pounded a mile a minute. This didn't involve me, right? It was just someone walking by. There was no reason for me to pick up my head and look.

"Sang," Luke breathed.

My heart shot into my throat. I felt like I was going to choke.

I didn't want anything to happen to Luke like what had just happened to Gabriel. I didn't want people to look at Luke like they'd looked at Silas this morning. I didn't want that for any of them.

I had to ignore him... I had to.

I had to.

"Sang?" Luke asked. His voice was laced with confusion and I pictured what he must've looked like: eyebrows raised, hands knotted together. I didn't want him to look like that. I didn't want him to sound like that.

"What's wrong? Sang..." His words were so soft I almost hadn't heard him.

Tears welled in my eyes. I was making him sound like this, so unsure... so confused. I was making him like this. I hated myself for it. I wanted so badly to just look up at him and smile. But I couldn't allow them to get hurt like that. Not because of me.

"Come on, brother," North said quietly.

Their footsteps faded to the back of the classroom and the other students began talking again.

Wetness coated my lashes, transferring under my eyes as I squeezed them shut. I hated what I had just done; turned him away like that, turned them both away. But I had to. At least here, at school... I had to. They couldn't get hurt because of me.

I'm sorry, I thought. I'm so sorry.

The bell rung loudly, cutting off the conversations of the students in the classroom. I blinked back my tears and rubbed my face against my sleeve.

I raised my head.

Mr. Ferguson stood at the front of the classroom at the podium, flipping through a bunch of papers to find his attendance sheet. He didn't waste any time and started calling out our names. I cleared my throat quietly, preparing myself, and then when he called mine, I imbued as much normality as I possibly could into my voice.

To Luke and North, I was sure it was completely obvious how fake it was, but I hoped the rest of the class would be fooled. Mr. Ferguson cycled through a couple more names before he got to Luke's. My throat tightened at how fake his voice sounded, too.

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