Suddenly A Star - Part 4
The next day begins like usual, well, my new usual. With a bow, Grandpa and I end our training session. With his words of praise and the exhilaration behind me, I clean myself up before I decide to head to school.
The moment I enter the courtyard, I can sense others taking notice of me. It’s an odd feeling. But as I lazily drift towards the school, a group of people approaches me. They ask me all kinds of questions, none of which would have been expected. They didn’t ask me why I was gone for so long, or anything else that would make sense. No, these people were interested in the me of now.
It was only due to the interruption of the chime for classes to begin shortly, that they finally dispersed. Once I made it to the entrance, I find a laughing Jamie.
“If you were watching, you could have helped.”
“I could have, but that wouldn’t have been as entertaining,” she tells me.
“I hate you.”
“You love me.”
At this, she sticks out her tongue. For a moment, flashbacks of her in her dress come to mind. With her tongue hanging out like that, the thoughts that come to mind… my god, I feel like I’m turning into Gee or something. This, of course, gives me a start. Just last night her candor, her looks- none of it did anything to me. Yet today such a simple action sets my mind racing.
I push those thoughts to the side, hoping Jamie doesn’t notice my burning face.
“I wonder why everyone’s so curious now?”
“Probably because you’re amazing.” Her confidence in her words does nothing but confuse me more.
As we move through the halls, careful not to bump into anyone else, I feel the gazes growing. Once we slide into the classroom, I feel better. At least at the Academy, people hardly paid me attention. I can't help but let a sigh escape my lips. I need to stop remembering that world. It was an accident, and I'm home now. That place is gone.
A voice I do not recognize, calls out a question to me. I look up to meet piercing hazel eyes. They're enveloped in a soft face, meeting plump lips, tinted a shade of pink. Brown hair, cropped close to her head, sticks up from being styled. Apparently my staring comes across as forgetfulness. She tells me her name, but honestly, I forget it immediately.
“No. Just feeling nostalgic,” I tell her.
“I know the feeling. But cheer up alright?”
With that, she heads over to her desk and takes a seat. I think to myself, how different people can be. She knows how I feel, yet she can't possibly feel it the way I do. But still…
A classmate? I don't recognize her. Now that I look around, besides a few acquaintances, I don't actually see many people I actually recognize- Jamie notwithstanding. I can't believe I spent so long with these people without getting to know them. I'll make that a goal after I get my happy ending today.
“Nothing ever really ends,” a wispy voice echoes inside me. One I haven't heard in a long time. The whisper that takes pleasure in my misfortune. I can't help but jump out of my seat; the force of it, tipping my chair. The class all turns to look at me. I give a bashful smile, and quickly fix up my desk and chair, as Mr. Gordon walks in with the chime. He gives me a look of concern before I wave him off.
When class ends, I tell Jamie I'll see her later, I wanna go to the library.
This may be the first time I've ever came into this school's library. I usually just look up everything online. But I'm in a mood today and want touch the rarities of physical books. Being a student is one of the only ways to get permission to touch real books in my world. My trip to the library was annoyingly long because of how far away the building is from the campus.
After ten minutes I manage to come upon a massive, if outdated building. Physical books serve little function, so the library has fallen into disrepair. But the little old man there does his best to run it because of his belief that the students should never forget the rush of that “book smell.”
I walk up the building's steps- what were once fine wood, yet now dusty and angry in their protest at the newly applied weight. The door opens easily enough as I make my way inside. The inside immediately surrounds me on all sides with shelves of books. They raise easily twenty feet high and ten feet wide with three levels filled with the same layout.
“I wonder how many books this is?” I ask aloud in wonder.
“Three-hundred and fifteen thousand, six hundred and four books are within here presently,” a voice calls out to my side.
When I look towards it with a start, I see an older man standing about my height. Were it not for his hunching demeanor he’d probably have half a foot on me. What hair remains around the sides of his head is the white of old age- a rarity seeing as how so many opt-in for the aging treatment to keep themselves young nowadays.
“Afternoon,” I call out to him. A smile stretches across his spotted skin.
“It certainly is. My first visitor in several years. What can I help you with?”
“Do you have a book on…”
What am I looking for exactly? I can't imagine I’d find anything related to Arsea here. Maybe there's still something interesting I could find though. I rattle my brain trying to find something to justify being here. It's strange that I even felt the urge to come here at all. It would be even worse to leave awkwardly like this, however. Like the old man said, I'm the first fresh face he's seen in a long time after all. Just then, a thought runs through my mind.
“Have you got any material on Gehenna?” I ask him.
He gives himself a nod, and rubs his hands together for a moment. “This way,” he tells me.
We pass deeper into the library, and I watch the books pass me by. Oddly enough, I feel a pang of guilt at that. So many stories and so many words destined to never be seen. The old man is a good tour guide, giving a brief overview of each section while listing off his recommendations of each. Before long we reach a section dedicated to historical fiction.
“This section is where the beliefs of our ancestors go. This is where heretics go to die,” he gives a laugh at his own joke.
“Thank you, um,” my appreciation hangs in the air.
“Bartholum is fine. And no, thank you for entertaining an old man. I'll be around if you need further assistance.”
I begin to turn around, when what he said registers with me. I spin around as fast as possible, but he’s nowhere in sight. Did he just say, “Bartholum?” As in… no. Couldn’t be. It’s an odd last name, sure, but it can’t be the only one of its kind. Even across… dimensions? I can’t help but notice a feeling of dread wash over me. It has to be a coincidence. It wouldn’t make sense any other way. So I push those thoughts, and this sinking feeling I’m developing, away and focus on books.
It takes hours, far longer than what my lunch period is; hell, longer than even the amount of time I had left in school today, but eventually I stumble upon something that actually mentions this, “Gehenna.” I don’t know why I’ve felt so compelled to learn about it, but here I am.
Supposedly, in a historical context, Gehenna is the place where an old king, Ahaz of Judah, sacrificed his sons either literally, or metaphorically for… reasons? Something to do with very old religions and practices starting around the time of the Rabbinic literature and a couple of other religions diverged. But basically, the general meaning is, “Hell.”
Hell is an old concept of most religions, even if the word itself changes between the old languages. But basically, Hell is where bad people go when they die. I suppose in the old days, savages needed something to hold them accountable for their actions, seeing as how they couldn’t be good just for goodness sake. One more reason we have nothing to learn from them. We’re much better now.
I would never avoid doing good- I don’t need a punishment to keep me straight. Yet at that thought, I freeze, fingers still on the words of the book.
I… am good. I know I am. My circumstance is merely different than anything anyone else has ever had to deal with. Yet… when you look at the sheer odds of it, what are the chances that I, specifically, am the one to have gone to another world, and been chosen to lead some bullshit life? In all of the universe, or maybe universes, if something like crossing them had to have happened eventually, then the chances of it being me is an almost zero number.
I mean, the odds get even slimmer when you realise that the chances of me even have been born are almost non-existent. Then compound that with the fact that I am the one who crossed dimensions, and you approach as close to zero as you could ever be. So, obviously, no one else’s circumstances could ever be even remotely close to mine. That does make me special. Domnis is wrong. And anyone who disagrees with me is wrong.
Yet again, if anything is ever going to happen once, it will most likely happen more than once, given enough time. If we assume all of time and space, and even universes, are infinite, then it stands to reason that I’m not the first, nor the last. Perhaps there’s others out there who could understand what I’m going through. If that’s the case, if even a single person could understand me, could I face them with pride in my choices?
Yet… thoughts of Rei are always within me, if only at the back of my mind. She said she was real.
Rei told me she does exist, and that she wasn’t in Arsea. That means we were communicating between dimensions, universes, whatever it is you wish to call it. Which means-
I slam the book shut and stand from my chair. In a flurry, I’m shelving the book, and practically running from the library before I know it, not having seen that man again.
Once outside, I run. I run from the thoughts inside my mind, and the judgement unfolding within. Yet as my breath runs ragged, a whisper floats through my mind, “You know it, deep inside don’t you. They needed you, and you abandoned them.” The words pierce me, and so I run harder.
Before I know it, I’m home. Sweat covers me like a thick sludge, and a bath is all I want at this point. I want to clean away my filth, even that which I cannot see, and relax my muscles, that are sure to be sore in the morning.
As the sting of the hot water accepts me, the bathroom door opens. In the doorway stands Gee, as natural as can be. I can’t help but cock at eyebrow at her. But that’s all I do. I don’t feel flustered… or aroused. None of the feelings I would have thought I developed from Arsea touch me. Perhaps the effects of that world are finally fading.
“I expected a better reaction,” she calls out. I can’t help but give her a shrug.
“You coming in?” I make room for her. This seems to get to her, as her brow furrows.
I may not be feeling anything for her, but that doesn’t stop old habits from acting up. It’s odd to say it’s a habit, but I guess a year of doing something counts. I can’t stop my eyes from darting down, then up her form. Her stomach is tight, showing the barest hint of abs. Her legs are long and tone, and meet with wider hips than I would have expected. They end in well kept feet, ones that don’t seem like they’ve ever been used for walking.
Further up, past her abs, is a set of perky breast- if on the small side. Yet they suit her. Her chest gives way into beautifully long arms, that end in well-manicured hands.
It’s only when I meet her eyes, as I admire her face, that I realize she has caught me checking her out. A mischievous smile crosses her lips and she slides up next to me as she steps into the tub.
“See something you like, my Zero?”
“You’re objectively beautiful, that’s all,” I tell her, as disinterestedly as I can. She doesn’t seem to know how to respond to me being blunt, instead of flustered.
“Ara, ara, then-” she leans in, and her lips connect with mine.
The spark I was expecting isn’t there. This kiss feels soft, and sure, nice even, but not electrifying. But she’s taking the time to offer it to me, so I’ll respond in kind. Afterall, I’m the reason she’s stuck here in this world. I have to take what responsibility I can. So I reach around her neck, and pull her into a deeper kiss.
Startled, she tries to pull back, letting her guard down. I don’t miss the opportunity, and slide my tongue into her mouth. It’s only after I’ve had my feel of violating her mouth, that I let her go. She’s breathing heavy, and her face is red from something other than the bath.
“Wow,” is all she can say before looking away sheepishly.
I have to admit, she may not do it for me, but she’s definitely capable of being cute. Though I have to doubly admit, I’m surprised at how calm I am after all of that, even if I did it for the sake of responsibility. I guess the Zeroth’s influence really is all but gone. I don’t feel anything for another woman. I guess… I’m really me again.
Guilt washes over me. I feel like my lie to the others was even deeper than I realized. I thought, deep down, near the end that maybe, just maybe, I really was capable of liking them, women or not. I thought deep down that maybe, even if I didn’t wanna admit it, that they could have made me happy. But it would appear that wasn’t the case. It seems that in the end, Rachel was wrong. You can’t like someone only for their personality.
I've spent most of my life with a story in my head, wanting to be told. But the environment I grew up in wasn't conducive to this mind of thing. Its only now that I'm older, and with a push from a good friend, that I start my journey to write stories I enjoy. My only hope is maybe some of you will enjoy them too.
I'm aware I'm not the best. But I will improve, given time and critique.
Currently life has gotten hectic due to summer apprenticeship so I'm releasing as I can. I am also updating older chapters to make them flow better, and to just be more structurally sound. The core of the information will remain the same, but I feel like the older content isn't nearly as whatever level of, "acceptable" my current content is.
Please follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/ozefen0