What was it that drove you so far into a corner?
If someone asked you right there, right then, you would’ve had more answers than you could put into words. In the end, the issue was yourself. Because you’re yourself, you keep having to suffer over and over again. It made you angry, and then upset with the people around you for not reaching out to pick you up, even knowing that you didn’t deserve it. And that made you even more aware of your self-centered core. If someone were to tear you open and take a look inside, you were sure all they would find is a bunch of rotten junk where there should have been a heart. You know you started off with better. The problem is you didn’t take care of it, and look where that got you.
Since you were young, you would clench your teeth and tuck in your chin every time you cried. Other children could open their mouths wide and let the tears spill down their face openly to get the sympathy they needed to grow and thrive. You never got that chance. It was rare enough for you to actually show that side of yourself to others that your family would brag that you never cried, as if it were a sign of strength—
When the cards fell and you found yourself between a rock and a hard place, you decided that you were alone, and having never truly liked yourself, you didn’t see why you would keep fighting when your mind made itself up that nobody else wanted you to. Like a cockroach, you hid yourself away in crevices where light never shone. But that’s not a way to live. So you decided to stop living.
Malicious laughter rings in your ears loud, too loud to process anything else. The only thing you can feel is your breath hitch in your throat.
“I can’t hold it in anymore! It’s just too funny!” exclaims the redhead that had been so kindly explaining the world to you just moments ago. It takes a while for him to simply finish laughing at you and your monster partner Grim.
“What’s that look for? You look like I just dumped a bucket of water over your head or something. You should be thanking me for holding it in this long, after the show you put on yesterday,” he continues after catching his breath. It’s hard to read the sudden sobered expression on his face - it’s almost like he genuinely is asking for an answer.
You try to open your mouth to respond but you find your teeth grit instead. Your lips quiver and you try, boy do you try - but they end up welling up anyway, hot tears that stream down your cheeks. You stare down the boy for a few moments before letting your eyes fall down to the cobblestone path of Main Street, head hanging.
“Dude!” you hear the boy exclaim from above your head. A tinge of panic peeks out from underneath the bravado. “You’re not even gonna say anything?”
In the corner of your mind, a more analystic self considers the possibility that the boy hadn’t expected to cause this kind of reaction. That idea is irritating to you, that someone might speak without thinking about the harm their words might cause. But you can’t say much yourself. You’ve probably caused hurt to others without even realizing, too.
“Apologize,” you hear a voice speak from beside you.
“Apologize to the girl,” Grim repeats with such fury that blue fire sputters from his maw. “Apologize!”
“Right, the girl,” Ace echoes, rolling his eyes. He seems to have not taken Grim’s description of you literally. “Wait—forget that, I don’t have anything to apologize for!”
The commotion is enough that you can see people begin to gather from the corners of your eyes. You lower your gaze again as if it could tune out the situation. You know you should stop Grim, but the upset churning inside you is creating an invisible barrier between you and that decision. You think about your world just to escape the moment—think about how you’d do anything if it meant you could be back. Even if you didn’t want to be here or anywhere at all. If you couldn’t even disappear, at least you could be in a place that is more familiar—
Your eyes open.
You vaguely register a snoring from a short distance away. You shift your body and hear a high-pitched squeal from the springs underneath you. You look evaluatingly at the aging roof before a faint presence floats into sight.
“Boo,” it whispers.
You blink a few times, staring it down.
“No reaction as usual,” one of the Ramshackle Dorm ghosts laments before continuing in a normal volume. “You were kicking in your sleep. Don’t catch cold, or you might end up like me!”
The threadbare blanket is laid over your body, but you let it slide back down as you sit yourself up.
“I’m gonna get ready for school,” you say and inch your way around Grim on your way out of the room.
You tell the ghosts good morning as you throw your stuff together. When you’re done, you sit beside your backpack and stare into space. You can tell the ghosts are hovering nearby, but are choosing not to interrupt your thoughts.
When you first came here, you felt a familiar vibration in your pocket. Your phone. It wasn’t until much later that you were able to check it, but when you did, you were frozen in shock.
You had texts and voicemails from friends and family.
The notifications are all missed calls and voice mails. The most recent ones are from unknown numbers, but after scrolling to the bottom, you see the start of all of it: seven missed calls from your mom.
When you open your voice mails, you start from the beginning. There's a rustling from your speakers before the sound plays strong and true.
The familiarity of your mother's accent washes over you, filling you with a momentary feeling of reassurance you didn't even know your mom could give you. Even as the woman honeys her voice, there's a frantic pitch that clips her words as they leave her mouth and are picked up by the recording.
"Hi Jun, it's Mom. I just got off work. Where are you?"
The simple seven words are a punch to the gut.
You listen to more and more of the voice mails, an unseen hand gripping your heart tighter and tighter. Your brother's voice is casual while he asks about your whereabouts. He coolly informs you that Mom's called the police and he's been calling around himself, somehow managing to get in contact with your friends through his network of friends.
Your dad's voice mail is a minute long, a call that might sound like a regular check-in from a parent if it weren't a costly international call from someone on a business trip. His voice is gentle and tone measured in a way that contradicts his usual carefree nature. He ends the recording with a simple request.
"Please give your mom a call and let her know you're alright."
The warmth of a large hand caressing your hair flashes through your head. The relief of two solid arms that were there to lift you up when you were a child - though it had diminished and disappeared over the years, now even those threads weren’t available to you anymore. Only the cold feel of crystal screen of your smartphone.
That first night, the numbness hit you before anything. You stood there, unmoving. It seemed like an eternity—you weren’t even in your body anymore, you were somewhere else, watching the scene unfold as a bystander.
Then you heard Grim’s voice.
“What’re you doing?” he asked.
You looked at him in surprise, pulled back into the moment. Then your knees buckled from underneath you.
“Mnagh?!” he exclaimed. You shook as you struggled to take in breaths as the sobs wracked you. Salty tears blinded you, falling with such force that every word you could’ve used was caught strangled in your throat. Even as Grim talked to you, you couldn’t pick up a word.
You heard him leave the room and come back with other familiar voices, but you didn’t respond. You simply stayed where you were, with your face buried in your arms. The volume of the voices lowered into something gentle before falling silent altogether.
A furry body, hesitantly, leaned against you. Seeing no response, it pressed full force against you, paws against you in what could have been an attempt at a hug.
That was about a month ago, before the chandelier incident. Since then, countless things had happened, enough that your own days in the world you’d known your whole life seemed impossibly far away.
These thoughts follow you as you find yourself walking down Main Street with Ace and Deuce on either side of you, after meeting up with them at the Hall of Mirrors.
“You look out of it,” Ace remarks while glancing at you. “Though you usually do. Not that it matters but are you getting sleep?”
“I had a dream of the first time we met,” you reply. “When I cried and then you lit the Great Seven on fire.”
“That was Grim!” he shouts. “I mean, not the crying part… ugh, can you not bring that up now? That’s in the past.”
“Oh, I heard about that,” Deuce cuts in. “You made a girl cry around this part of school then started attacking her pet cat with wind magic.”
“What the hell? That makes me sound evil,” Ace grumps. He continues, making quote marks with his fingers. “And that girl is Jun! And the pet is that furball over there!”
You mimic the quote marks motion. “Why are you doing this?”
“What?” he says.
“What?” you echo back.
“I wonder why the rumors made Jun out to be a girl,” Deuce says.
“What?” you squeak.
“What?” Deuce echoes you.
“I’m a girl,” you say.
“What?” Deuce says.
“What?” Ace says.
“Jun’s a henchwoman,” Grim assents.
“You… You thought I was a guy?” you ask hesitantly.
“Hell no! You look like a girl. But so does Epel—don’t tell him I said that—you know how he is. You were called in by the Dark Mirror and who’d think it would mess up not just one time but two times?!” Ace exclaims. “Wait—you didn’t even react weird when we were looking at that swimsuit mag the other day! You picked out your favorite girl like the rest of us!”
“She was cute,” you reply.
“She was,” Deuce agrees and then goes as still as stone. You and Ace stop to look at him curiously.
“Y-Y-Y-You’re a girl?” is all he manages to sputter before averting his eyes from you and staring into space, returning to being as still as The Thinker.
“I’m going to class, guys,” you sigh. The current conversation is starting to get to you. At least Grim is on your side. “Let’s get going, Grim.”
“Look, I’m not in the wrong here!” Ace calls after you, but you don’t turn around. You let your mind wander instead, sinking back into memories.