Chapter Twenty-One

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"I'm so glad I packed properly for this thing or I'd have nothing to wear for our date." Trace said in our hotel room as he unpacked his things. The hotel room was like a small apartment suite and Trace hung up some of his different outfits in a closet while debating on what to wear.

The awkwardness from the ride over was mostly gone even though I still had questions. Like, how long had Trace been bullied? Had it really been because he was half? Was he okay? The thoughts kept swirling around my mind as he stood there seemingly without a care in the world, just casually arranging his wardrobe. There seemed to be so much he had gone through that I didn't know anything about.

Silence fell across the room and Trace seemed comfortable with it even though I wasn't. I fidgeted, playing with a particularly curly strand where my head met my neck. I needed a haircut, but none of the hair people at the Baking Beasts facility knew what to do with black hair so I was reluctant to have them anywhere near me.

"Uh—" I started, looking at Trace and then looking away. "Can I ask about your childhood?"

Trace smiled but it didn't reach his eyes. "Sure."

"You can say no," I stammered out.

Trace's face softened and he gestured to a love seat in the corner of the room. "Let's sit."

We sat on the couch and Trace curled contentedly against my side. "What do you want to know, Darius?"

"Are you okay?" I asked softly.

Trace closed his eyes, and I appreciated the length of his eyelashes. "Sometimes, I wanted to die." He opened his eyes to look at me. "Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"We don't have to talk about this," I said quietly.

Trace made a pained expression and splayed his hand over my chest. I was sure he felt how fast my heart was beating. "I'm sorry," he said genuinely, "I'm being an ass. Sometimes, I get prickly when things are hard to talk about but I know you mean well. The bullying didn't last that long. It was just a very difficult year."

"Did your sister know about it?"

Trace shook his head. "In Japan, middle school and high school are different than here. You have one class and the teachers come in to teach the different subjects. So, we were put in different classes and we didn't see each other all day. I come from a wealthy family, so that complicated things. My father is from a prominent Bangladeshi family and my mother is a well known celebrity in Japan so the bullies would coordinate to make things as secretive as possible since I was one of the more famous kids at the school. They knew I had too much pride to tell anyone the extent of things, Iwas small for my age, and it was a private school so the idea of keeping up appearances was another factor. It was just a clusterfuck of things that made it easy for them."

"But, what about teachers? Did no one notice?" I asked, wondering how something so awful could be hidden.

Trace shrugged. "Some teachers noticed but they didn't do anything. Halfway through the year, it became really obvious that people were fucking with me and they started blaming me for being difficult. It's a common tactic to call non-white hafus difficult, violent, or combative. And bullying victims especially are looked at as problematic even if they're full Japanese. Not fitting in is a you problem." He shook his head and his voice started to thicken with emotion, "don't get me wrong. I love my culture and where I come from, and it's not like that everywhere but it's definitely a problem. Everything would've been so much easier if I looked more like my sister. And it's stupid to complain to you about my skin being 'dark' since you're black. It's fucked up."

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