Back when I was a teenager, when Vincent and I joked around and had fun, I was jealous of the relationships others had. Humans, as social animals would always seek company, I was not an exception. While Vincent’s presence helped soothe the urge for companionship, it was not enough. I wanted to be surrounded by many, loved by people that I could call my own. However, due to the nature of my disposition, such a wish was a fantasy, and I watched others living my dream.
Vincent was everything I had except for my parents and the only person that I truly liked when they were gone. Still, that didn’t mean that I didn’t get jealous when others were talking about the most mundane things, laughing about dumb events, or making stupid bets. I observed their behaviors, trying to recreate them and feel like I, too, was normal. It only backfired as my observations weren’t discreet enough and only earned me the reputation of being a voyeur.
Conversations needed input to keep on going, but I was quiet, content listening to what other people had to say. When Vincent was talking to others, he was carrying the conversation, I felt no need to interrupt and listened to his voice until everybody had stopped talking. As such, Vincent’s friends believed I was eerily quiet, even some thought I was mute.
This time, as I watched Fuchs and Vert, I didn’t want to figure out the secret of their charisma or how they kept the conversation so smooth and flowing. I was paying attention as if it was Vincent telling me one of his adventures before he left or when Corpo told me that one time he scammed a noble—A tale as memorable as it was enjoyable. Unlike those times, I wasn’t enjoying it, just searching for any scrap of information that would be thrown my way.
“Did you hear? Terry did it again.” Fuchs said with a satisfied smile, lifting the fork towards his mouth. He finished chewing the scramble eggs and continued, “You owe me five Ambers, Vert.”
“I thought he’d last another month,” Vert wiped the corner of his lips with a napkin repeatedly, until his skin was slightly red.
“Tough luck, you should have known better,” Fuchs laughed, Marie eyed his fangs, sure that if Fuchs wanted to, he would be able to tear muscle and sink into skin. Instead, he sipped the warm chocolate from the porcelain mug.
“I’ll go to Terrance's room later,” Vert grumbled, reaching for his napkin. He wiped the chocolate mustache above Fuchs’ lips. The action didn’t seem like a gesture of care, like a mother looking for their child, rather, it looked like Vert just wanted to get rid of something that deeply bothered him.
“Stop it,” Fuchs swatted his hand away, but when Vert kept doing it, he gave up, knowing his friend was too stubborn.
“Do you want to go with me?” Vert asked.
“Nope, every time he looks my way, I feel he wants to dissect me. The man’s eerie.” Fuchs said with distaste. He was silent for a second, then as if coming up with a great idea he added, “Take Marie with you!”
When Fuchs mentioned my name, Vert narrowed his eyes, the air around him turning frigid, “why should I?”
“You know, give her a tour or something along the way”
I shared the same opinion; we were sitting at the same table, but we weren’t friends.
My roommate had woken me up, the yawn he had let out was enough to stir me awake. The paranoia rested heavily on my shoulders. I didn’t sleep well, as every noise —no matter how muffled or barely audible it was—was enough to make all my muscles tense.
I was able to catch a glaze of my roommate as the latter left, showing his exposed back. Had I had less self-control, I would’ve attacked the man, not wasting the opportunity. Nevertheless, I was not stupid, knowing attacking deviants, on what was essentially my second day in the tower, was stupid and would only earn me the ire of others.
He had bronze skin, black hair, and a scar on the palm of his hand, a patch of white like a protuberance. It didn’t look appealing but what really unsettled me the most was how he carried himself. His posture was straight, and there was a certain elegance in his gait—one that only belonged to those educated enough.
I was sure the man had worked for aristocrats or used to be one himself, now falling from the pedestal all nobles placed themselves in. Even though the Zorad Tower was a prison, distinctions would be made between those born from calamity and the descendants that conquered it.
I waited until he left, feeling, or rather, knowing that I would hate that man—he was Lemberg, deducing by what Fuchs had told me.
If you think about the devil, he will appear. After there was no trace of Lemberg, Fuchs dragged me to the cafeteria alongside Vert.
They had taken a liking to me, or at least Fuchs did, but I didn’t know why. I hadn’t even answered any of his questions or tried to even talk to him. He wouldn’t know my name had he not snatched that paper. Was it curiosity? Pity perhaps?
Whatever it was, at least I was able to listen to their conversations and felt the gazes of the deviants lessen. well, most of them, as there were still some that looked at me with vitriol, and Dael’s gaze that refused to leave me.
“Fair enough, I know I won’t be able to convince you,” Fuchs continued talking, I listened to him while staring at Dael, sitting alone at the other end of the cafeteria. She wasn’t even eating anything, why was she here?
“Marie, when you have time go to the 10th floor and ask for Terry. If you want, I could also show you his room, but I won’t go anywhere beyond that.”
Dael turned her head, looking at something else. I followed her eyes and found that she was looking at my roommate, each one of his movements exuded elegance. Dael looked at him with the same expression she looked at me—with the same expression she looked at everybody else.
Lemberg, too, met Dael’s gaze and his smile quivered. He had been talking with a group of people, all of them flattering him. Every single one of them had their hair neatly arranged, no hair out of place, smiles too perfect, as if they practiced them every day in front of a mirror we did not have. They looked like mosquitos, begging him to let them taste just a drop of his blood.
I had seen those types of people before. They were pests.
“I guess that’s a no then.”
“Why do you even bother, Oscar?”
Dael looked back at me, and Lemberg followed her gaze.
“I mean, maybe she’s shy! You know how I was in my first week.”
“At least you talked.”
I ignored their conversation, focusing in Lemberg instead.
Unlike Dael, he didn’t give the impression of being able to see past me or like an unapproachable secret no one would ever be able to decipher, less myself. He calmly looked at me, and his face broke into a smile so sweet, so gentle, that I could only call it sickening.
I returned to my breakfast, it was plain bread and water. Delicacies of all kinds had appeared out of nowhere in one of the tables, and every deviant had served their portion as if it was a buffet. Everybody except Lemberg, as his food was brought by one of the people orbiting around him. Servants would be a better way to describe them.
“Oh shit, is he approaching us?”
I raised my head again and saw Lemberg coming right towards me.
What did he want?
“Good morning.” Lemberg greeted.
I continued chewing.
“Hello, Berg,” Fuchs said.
“Morning,” Vert greeted.
“Are you deaf? Don’t you realize your gra— I mean Lemberg, is greeting you?” One of his followers scolded me. Just as I thought, they considered Lemberg as their leader. Any disrespect, no matter how small, wouldn’t be overlooked.
“Everything is all right, Taylor. There is no need to get angry on such small matters.”
It looked like Taylor had a lot more to say but restrained himself.
“How has your stay been so far? Only pleasant, I hope.” Lemberg said amicably.
Not thanks to you.
My small response made Lemberg smile even more.
I wanted to throw up.
“I have not introduced myself yet, I am Adrian Lemberg. You may refer to me as Adrian if you like.”
I rolled my eyes internally, thanks for the honor.
Apparently, his followers really thought it was an honor, I wasn’t blind enough to not notice their burning jealousy.
“May I ask your name?”
The more words he said, the more irritated I got to the point that I even considered it irrational. However, nothing was rational with people like him. The prickling that I had been experiencing before, worsened. It crawled towards my head and dug itself into my skull.
My voice croaked. I tried to keep it steady.
I only gave him my last name, I didn’t want his lips to form my name, as I felt I wouldn’t be able to control myself. If he did, I would pounce and rip his vocal cords straight out from his throat.
Lemberg nodded, his smile told me he understood nothing. “As roommates, I hope we can get along. A new friend is always welcome. If you have any problem, I will gladly assist you to the best of my capabilities.”
My main problem right now is you, bastard. I can’t even sleep.
My anger threatened to spill over, it was the kind of irrepressible rage that would set ablaze everything in its path, including its owner. I grasped my glass of water and gulped it as quickly as I could, not caring for the water that spilled all over my chin, wetting my clothes.
The icy water did help, although I felt it would only be temporary.
I stood up. Lemberg’s followers were clearly irritated, if looks could kill —maybe some did, who knew if any deviant held that kind of power—I would already be inside a casket.
Lemberg didn’t seem startled at all, his smile without any ripples. I wished I could erase it.
“You appear quite busy, my apologies if I bothered you.”
“Lemberg, there’s no need to apologize. She doesn’t even deserve….”
I ignored everything—every sound, every sensation.
If anybody saw me, they would likely say that I was fleeing.
They would be half-right, but at the same time completely wrong. I wasn’t fleeing from Lemberg or the situation—I was fleeing from the urge compelling me to surround my hands around his neck, knowing that the moment would be sweet and sickening, in the same way, Lemberg’s smile was.