RECOMMENDED FOR MATURE READERS
The teacher scanned the classroom and set his eyes on me.
“Mr. Yamaguchi,” he hummed. “Please share your piece with the rest of the class.”
Our task was decidedly complex, or it would have been to most; choose a classical English text and to read a passage from it, then elaborate on the meaning. The other students were sweating, but I was not.
I stood and straightened my blazer, opened the dusty book, turned to act one, scene two and cleared my throat. I enunciated, rounding the letters like an actor from a European movie.
“All but mariners plunged in the foaming brine and quit the vessel, then all afire with me. The king’s son, Ferdinand, with hair up-staring; then, like reeds, not hair, was the first man that leaped, cried, ‘Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.’”
Silence fell on the room and mouths fell open.
The teacher blinked before reclaiming authority. “That was an interesting selection, Mr. Yamaguchi. Shakespeare, yes?”
I nodded. “Yes, sir. The Tempest.”
He paced and rubbed his chin. “That was a very ambitious choice. William Shakespeare boasts the use of over twenty eight thousand words in his literary work. Some believe his personal vocabulary exceeded one hundred thousand. Very impressive, Mr. Yamaguchi.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now for the second half of the task,” the teacher continued; “can you discern the meaning of the passage for the rest of the class?”
A grin cracked the corners of my lip. “Yes, sir. The character laments the fear of her fellow passengers, all of whom jumped from a boat. Among them was a prince who declared that demons had ascended from the underworld, and that Hell had come to them.”
“Morbid, but powerful,” he inclined, as though he were tasting wine. “Excellent work as always, Mr. Yamaguchi.”
I took my seat and lost the smile. Nobody was looking. Father was right; people only care about what they could see, and so long as my disdain lived in the corners all was right with the world.
Another student had chosen to read from Huckleberry Finn, but my interest was elsewhere.
It was then I noticed the girl across from me, stealing glances from her place beside the window. She wore glasses, but in a fashionable way; not like the mousey girls that I knew. She didn’t seem the type to titter and gossip, but there was no questioning her smile. A man would have been oblivious, but another girl just knew.
My suspicions were confirmed when class had ended, and she bounded to my side with both hands clasping her satchel in front of her. I tried to walk past, pretend I didn’t notice, but she made sure to be an obstacle.
“Excuse me, Yamaguchi; can I talk to you?”
She brushed her hair behind an ear and shone with enthusiasm. I suppose that might have passed as cute on any other day.
I forced a smile and looked up to her. “Hello. Inoue, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but you can call me Reiko.” Her first name; such familiarity.
“Reiko.” Her boldness swirled on my tongue and gave me pause. “How can I help you, Reiko?”
“I’m not going to waste words, Yamaguchi,” she smiled. “I like you very much, and have for some time. I think that you and I would enjoy spending time together, and I would like to go on a date with you.”
A confession; it wasn’t the first I’d received, though it had been a while.
“Thank you,” I told her, “but I’m not interested.”
“Not interested in girls?” she retorted.
I grinned. “You’ve been reading too many boy-love comics.”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” she pressed. “I’ve been watching you, Yamaguchi. I know there’s more to you than the smart, cool, kuudere type; there’s something else.”
The smile faded. “And that attracts you to me?”
My stomach turned. I started to walk. This conversation didn’t need to continue.
“We all wear masks,” I mused. “I’m not taking mine off for anyone, and it’s not that I don’t like girls; I don’t like girls who like guys like me.”
All appearances of enthusiasm vanished as she contorted her brow. “So that’s how it is.”
I sighed and adjusted by satchel. “Go home, Inoue. Study hard. Don’t waste time on people who wouldn’t waste theirs on you, especially boys.”
As I passed down the hall I took refuge in the male restroom; how ironic. My chest was tight and my hideous skin stuck like toffee. Looking in the mirror I could see how it covered me, how it made me into a thing of dread; I had to get away from this costume.
To be continued…