Chapter 3


Max's cheek stung as he blankly stared back at Demitri. She raised her hands up to her mouth, her eyes showing her shock and guilt. She looked as if she couldn't even fathom the thought of hitting Max, let alone actually doing it. He didn't even know what reason she had, but if his gentle, pacifistic childhood friend had struck him, he must have done something worthy of getting kicked in the shin twice as hard.

"I...I'm so sorry..." she murmured, hardly able to even talk.

With a slight shrug, Max turned around and headed over to one of the cafeteria tables. "I don't know why. If you're hitting me, I deserved worse." He sat down near the back of the cafeteria and began poking his mashed potatoes with a spoon. "At least tell me what I did, though."

Demitri kept her eyes fixed on her tray of food as she took a seat across from her friend. "I-I'm sorry... I can't..."

"Why not? If it's something I did, then it's not like I'm not going to remember doing it."

Demitri opened her mouth, but closed it and dropped her gaze to the table. "Well, it''s not like you know what you did... I shouldn't be holding something against you if I can't even tell you what you did wrong."

Instead of irritation or anger being sparked at the girl's want to remain secretive about whatever happened, Max was only curious. "Naturally, one would casually share a secret they weren't meant to or spread rumors if they had a motivation, and that kind of motivation is usually ignited by envy, hate, or something similar. Now if, say, there was a person who was emotionally deprived or don't experience emotions very easily, there would be no source of motivation, thus eliminating the risk that they would leak secrets almost entirely. The risk is eliminated entirely, aside from a very slim margin due to the nature of how the human brain functions unpredictably sometimes, since I'm—"

"I'm not as smart as you, sorry." Demitri took a sip of the orange juice that was served with lunch before speaking. "I...You may have... W-well you did... What you said to Katin on the bus..." She swallowed hard and leaned forward, lowering her voice to a whisper. "You made him cry. Not just a little bit, either. He sent me a text saying that he slipped into the girls' restroom and wanted me there with him, and he was...he looked so hurt and vulnerable."

Not many things caught Max off-guard,—he could easily calculate most things and predict how certain people would react to certain things by observing them—but he was genuinely surprised to hear that his words had such an impact on Katin. He was hardly acquainted with the feeling of guilt, but he'd experienced it enough to know the sudden feeling that crashed down on him was exactly that.

"That makes no sense," he stated, trying to maintain his usual flat tone. He managed, but just barely. "I understand that the Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me thing is faulty, but I could have never been able to make a calculation like that. Katin isn't one to be affected so heavily by the words of others, especially not mine. I couldn't see signs of anything other than frustration."

The girl stared down at her hands folded on her lap. "Remember when we went to the park all those years ago? You climbed up a tree and slipped. I was so worried about you, but you told me that you weren't hurt and that we could keep playing. I didn't know until Syria called me and asked what happened because you were crying. You lied and said everything was okay because you didn't want me to worry."

"I didn't want to make you worry because no one else mattered to me more than you. Katin despises me."

"He said something to me recently about it... He said he would only hate himself more if he let other people see him cry, and that's why he's so detached. He thinks maybe, if he can deal with everyone coldly and distantly, matching whatever insults thrown his way with better ones, then no one will ever know what he goes through."

Something inside Max began churning violently and he felt sick. He wanted to believe he caught a virus of some sort, but he wasn't stupid—it was what Demitri had said. His lack of understanding was beginning to make him anxious.

"M-Max? Are you all right?" She got up and put both arms around her friend, hugging him lightly.

"Yeah, don't—" Before he could finish, his stomach jumped into his throat. He shoved Demitri away and stumbled to the trashcan at the back of the cafeteria, nearly collapsing as he emptied his stomach of all its contents.

There was a high-pitched cry from behind him, but he didn't bother turning around. "Max! You need to go to the nurse's office right now!"

Trying to swallow back the awful flavor in his mouth, Max shook his head. His ragged breaths would make it difficult to say anything that she would understand, so it would be illogical to try. How was he supposed to explain, anyway? He didn't fully understand what was happening, so there was no way he could expect anyone else to, either.

"I'm going to get your sister at least, okay? She's better at knowing how to deal with you in situations like this."

He coughed violently and his legs gave out from under him. A pair of slender arms caught him, struggling under his weight. It took a few moments for him to regain his balance.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "I don't know what just happened..."

"It's not your fault," Demitri murmured. She kissed his forehead gently and frowned. "You don't have a fever, so maybe you just ate something bad. Maybe there was dairy in something and you didn't know."

Max shook his head, trying to clear any thoughts that were threatening to cloud his rationality. "It's something entirely illogical."

"What is it?"

"It isn't important. I'm going to have to call you later. I have a few things I need to think about right now."

With a concerned smile, Demitri nodded. "But first, you need to promise me you'll tell me if you can't sort things out on your own."

He didn't want to make a promise like that—he was certain that he was unable to comprehend anything that was wrong with him without the help of someone who didn't suffer the same lack of emotion he did, and it because of that, making a promise would be fairly risky. After all, he may have been a tad sneaky and underhanded with his methods of doing things and getting what he wanted, but he couldn't ever quite bring himself to lie to his best friend.

"I...I promise."

With a quiet sigh, Max made his way down the hallway and ducked into the bathroom. He leaned over one of the sinks, supporting himself with the sides of it. There was no reason for him to care so much—no reason to care at all. Attachments to others didn't come easily to him, and they certainly didn't ever come out of nothing, so it made no sense.

He turned on the faucet, took a deep breath, and splashed the lukewarm water on his face. For a few seconds, the confusion disappeared and the jumbled thoughts fell into order, but it wasn't nearly long enough to figure anything out.

"I don't care, I don't care, I don't care, I don't care," he chanted. "I shouldn't care. I don't care. I can't care. It's impossible for me to care. I'd need a reason. There's no point in it, so I'm unable to care."

He brought his gaze up to stare into the mirror. His cheeks were flushed, his bangs were plastered to his forehead, and his chest heaved from his heavy breathing. He was out of breath and he felt warm enough to be suffering from a fever.

And then it was gone.

Katin was crying because of Max. He was hurt and vulnerable. All the suffering he had supposedly gone through left a wound that was easily reopened. Despite Demitri's obvious inability to lie, he doubted her words. He doubted that Katin could be so easily hurt by a few insults from someone who he felt far more significant than. He doubted that someone could be strong enough to put on such a convincing act when in so much pain. It was a ridiculous notion.

And somehow, that led to a spark of desire. A desire to break him in some way—force him to have a mental meltdown to find his breaking point. He hardly felt any kind of strong determination, but he felt almost as if it was a requirement.

Standing up properly and making sure his tie and collar were straightened, he killed off any strong emotion he had. While he would need it later, it was entirely useless at the time being.

The End

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