It had been a while since I had attended a school, yet there were few differences from before, except for some additions. The Sorcerer, like any teacher, taught lessons, but it was the way that he taught them that distinguished him from other teachers. He never used notes or textbooks. He only used his memory. He never had set plans. He was spontaneous and taught whatever he felt was needed from wooing ladies to playing instruments. There were no official tests since he believed they were unnecessary. He always said, “The most important test you will face will be surviving in court. Everything I am teaching you will help you. It is fine if you choose not to learn. It is your life after all.”

          I chose to listen, to absorb all that he had to offer. Perhaps, if it were before, I would have daydreamed. If I had known how precious life was, I would never have lived like that. If I were naïve again, I would have stayed the same, be Trenton, who played pranks and joked every day. I didn’t want him to change even though his brother, Verrill, kept insisting that Trenton needed to mature.           
          “You are bringing shame on the family name,” Verrill constantly reminded.
          Trenton would scratch the back of his head as well as flaunter his tongue out. “Who wants to lead a boring life like yours?” he would then counter.
          Their dispute would persist until Cael interjected, “Now, there is no need to fight over this. Trent is fine the way he is. There is no sense in asking a donkey to become a horse.”
          “Precisely!” Trenton would first happily proclaim before realizing what he had admitted. “What? I am no donkey!”
          Then, we would all laugh.
          Laughter ceased as always for joy was momentary and as usual, happiness switched to one of its antagonists, abhorrence. I had forgotten that whatever was foreign was bound to be hated by others to some extent. I was a stranger in the boys’ class; I could be accepted by many, but targeted by some. I had somehow attracted the attention of a certain group, which was led by Raul. Raul was the King’s favourite child since his mother, Lady Penelope, was the King’s adored lover. Raul could have been omnipotent if he hadn’t been illegitimate. Illegitimacy, however, did not mean that he was without supporters. In fact, he had more supporters in number. The poorer nobles followed him, which also meant that their sons also followed Raul.
          From the start, I had already noticed the tension between Raul and Cael. The class was almost divided into half, one side for Cael and the other for Raul. I was already assigned to Cael’s side, indicating that I was against Raul. Frankly, Raul was nothing more than a spoiled brat. Although I’ve been told of the inaccuracy of first impressions, I had to confess that Raul looked like a nuisance. He had burnt orange hair that ran wild in all directions like Medusa. His freckled face matched his hair colour and his prominent, yet bumped nose was gangly. His smile too was distorted with his teeth too perfectly straight. The worst part to Raul was his voice, which was too high for a male’s, yet too low for a woman’s. It reminded me of a discordant violin piece, full of screeches. To exacerbate matters, Raul loved to voice his thoughtless opinions in class.
          Prolonged exposure to Raul’s brainless ideas enervated me. There was a limit for tolerance and I had reached mine when Raul uttered, “If there is a drought, why do not the people just plant more plants?”
          The Sorcerer had given us a real-life situation and in this case, he wanted to know what we would do if the country suffered from a severe drought.
          I accidentally blurted, “Why do you not try planting crops on dry soil in that little garden of yours?”
          “Hahahahaha!” The whole class burst into laughter, while Raul’s face tinted to the shade of his horrendous hair. When he made a hysteric face by squeezing all of his features together, I knew there was to be trouble.
          Trouble came behind the scenes from a coward, a coward like Raul. It did not come as a surprise when he went behind me to push me down to the ground and circled me along with his gang. They were looking down at me with their menacing eyes. Raul spat on me first, “What are you looking at? You low-grade mutt!”
          Wiping my face of his slimy saliva, I smiled, knowing that would enrage this fiend. I wasn’t going to give what he wanted.
          “I would fight you, if you were worth fighting,” I stated.
          Then, I took a chance to slip through their wide apart legs. Their stances were firm, but still easy to break through for a small girl like me. I had thought about it. I could demonstrate my skills or still mask them. Who said cowardice was cowardly? I could be bullied. I could be used. I could be lost. These were momentary. What mattered was the future, so I ran. I ran as far and as fast as I could. I ran senselessly into the garden, where I felt the safest.
          “Get him!” I kept hearing. “Get that shameless bastard!”
          Looking around, I hunted for a place to hide. There was no way I could climb up a tree that rapidly. There was no way I could hide behind a bush. I ended up seeing him, Cael, straight ahead. He was sitting at a bench placed in the centre of the pool of water. This was a small sitting area constructed for a previous lover of one of the past Kings. It was said that after the King fell out of love with her, her tears kept flowing until that lake formed. This lake that I had visited on numerous occasions was officially known as the Well of Tears. Cael was just sitting where maybe she had sat before and he was sipping his tea. Slowly, he turned his head to my direction and then he just smirked in a condescending manner.
          I knew what that meant. He was merely a spectator. How many times had I wanted help but received none?
          Stay strong. Just wait.
          “There he is!” one of the followers shouted and pointed at me.
          I did what I had to do. I took a deep breath and then dived into the pool of water. I held my breath for as long as I could. I couldn’t see anything or hear anything. I just recalled closing my eyes and feeling the cold water pierce my skin and drench my clothes. It was dark, too murky for me to endure. It was all too familiar; I was reminded of everything I wanted to forget. I took another gulp of water and I slowly felt at ease.
          I was no longer thinking.  
          Everyone was doused in black, even me. The only shades of colour came from the flowers placed along a dark casket. Now, it was my turn to place a bouquet of flowers, and when I glimpsed at the steps leading to the coffin, I saw him.
          “You’re here only to ease your guilt, right?” he asked.
          His eyes pierced at my stinging chest, and I knew that he was right. I shouldn’t have been here, but I knew that being here was right too.
          “Eury! It’s not even Renelle’s fault!” Alanna coarsely whispered, tugging at his locked elbow. “It’s not even anyone’s fault!”
          “If it’s not anyone’s fault, then why’s Zander dead?” Eury shrieked, blasting me with another icy glare. “Why isn’t Thayne here? If he’s so innocent, then why isn’t even here to attend his best friend’s funeral? Huh?”
          Alanna argued, “Eury, don’t say that. Zander wouldn’t have—“       
          “Zander wouldn’t have wanted to be dead and Alanna  . . . I’ve misjudged you.” Eury snapped at her before ripping the flowers from my hand, cutting my finger in the process.
          “Ow,” I quietly mumbled to myself.
          I felt a few droplets of blood trickle from the tip of my finger to the marble floor. Bright crimson tainting the ashen, perfect palette. I didn’t dare look upwards to face him nor did I dare to sob. I wasn’t allowed to cry in this situation. I had been part of Zander’s death. Allowing Thayne to drive even though he had consumed too many glasses of wine was my fault. Zander, who sat in the passenger seat and had only drunken a bottle of beer, was punished for our crimes. Because Thayne’s pride could not be denied, we had agreed that he could drive. I had agreed too that he could excuse himself from this funeral.
          “You should go, Thayne,” I had tried my best to persuade him early in the morning. “Zander was your best friend in high school.”
          “That’s why I can’t go,” Thayne had covered his face with his hands and croaked. “I can’t face him. I still can’t believe . . .”
          I had hugged him, believing that he was in pain too.
          “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here for you. You can lean on me,” I told him.
          But . . . I knew too well that Thayne had only wanted to escape from his guilt. He couldn’t face Zander because he knew that he was at fault. He had unintentionally caused Zander’s death.    
            “I’m sorry, Renelle,” I remembered Alanna escorting me to the door, and saying, “but, maybe . . . you . . . shouldn’t be here. I’m so sorry, but . . . I can’t . . . hurt . . .”
Her eyes glanced backwards, and I knew what she had wanted to say.
“Eury,” I stated. “I understand. I’m so sorry for your loss. I know I don’t deserve to be forgiven, so I . . . promise you that I’ll never see you in the future, and . . . you can hate me.”
I felt Alanna’s arms wrap around me and in a broken voice, she whispered, “I want you to know that I’ve always thought you were my best friend, and . . . that it’s hard on me too.”
I believed the two of us had sobbed in each other’s arms, and when I realized what had all happened, I was in my car, buckling my seatbelt. My hands curled on the steering wheel. The pang spread from my injured finger to my heart and then, I felt the tears slither down my cheeks again. Xander had joked once that I always gripped onto the wheel too firmly and that I needed to relax when I drove. Driving was supposed to be enjoyable, not nerve-wracking, he had reminded.
The car door suddenly flung open, and I heard his voice again. “Give me your keys, and get out. You’re in no condition to drive.”
My vision had already been blurred by my tears, but I still recognized him. I just didn’t understand why he would help me. I remembered asking during the hushed car ride, “Why? Why . . . are you doing all this?”
   He only answered once he had parked in front of my house, “Because I don’t want another tragedy to happen.”
“I’m sorry, Eury,” I told him with tears watering my eyes. “I really am.”
I heard a rare chuckle creeping from his lips before he dwindled to a sigh. “There’s nothing you . . . or I can do about this, so . . . just forget it.”
            His voice had splintered, and his eyes had sunken to dullness. He was breaking, and I couldn’t bear seeing him dwindle. I could just imagine his next piece being filled with darkness and forlorn. So, I declared, “Eury, as long as you remember, then I won’t forget. You shouldn’t be the only one suffering.”
            He didn’t say anything to me. In fact, we never saw each other for a while. I was only informed of Alanna moving to New York several months later during a high school reunion. As for Eury, I didn’t ask what had happened to him. I probably wasn’t strong enough to confirm my predictions. He had probably become even more elusive and reclusive, the sort that did nothing, but work. That was his way of forgetting or moving on, but his silence had told me that he would always remember, and that I would eventually listen to him and forget.
            And I had . . .
Chapter 12                                                                            Chapter 14