Don’t trust a guy that sweeps you off your feet.
Go for the one who waits for you to walk with him.
Don’t you think you’ve had enough
Do their claws make sores
Take my hand and come away
“We have with us a fresh face from Seoul, where many of you were from. Make him feel welcome. Please come in, Max.”
Stoicly, Max stepped in. He scanned the classroom, his gaze never faltering when his eyes met several unwelcoming faces. There were hurried whispers amongst females of the cohort who wore admiring gazes.
Mr Joo cleared his throat to be heard. “Max is a year younger than most as he is a transfer student. But he’s deemed suitable for our level. In other words, he’s brilliant. Let’s welcome him with a round of applause shall we?”
Several girls erupted.
“Oh my god. That’s him! He’s in our class!”
“He is even more good-looking up close!”
“Sit next to me, Max!”
“No, me!” A plump arm waved excitedly.
Who the hell are these girls? He had overheard outside the gates of school and now seated right up front in the first row. A few stood up, flung their backpacks onto the floor, thus freeing the next seat.
“He can sit next to me.”
Max sighed at having to put up with more girly nonsense.
Behind this row of adoring girl, students in thick black glasses rolled their eyes, clicked their pens against note-filled binders. Class was due to start so could The Girls just shut up and sit down? Max felt more at ease looking into their indifferent faces.
Two distinct groups occupied the last rows of seats, as if a physical gulf separated them. In the left, punks in leather jackets had ditched the mandatory school blazer. A handful left bike helmets lying around while others simply had their feet on the table, or were sleeping in plain sight. Not a single book nor pen was spotted.
More tough looking guys occupied the other side of the divided classroom. Girls too, as Max observed further, though one of them had their hair cropped and shaven. Another had all her hair tucked into a cap. Amongst them, Max found familiar looking faces belonging to his roommates Sora and Thierry. Both grinned at him.
“Max, would you like to say something to everyone?” Mr. Joo asked.
Max raised his chin, hooked both thumbs into his pants, then shook his head coolly.
“Alright how about you introduce yourself to everyone?”
He shook his head again.
“Anything to say at all?”
Max turned to Mr Joo, and scowled.
“Oh alright then, welcome to 6A. I am your form teacher and you can call me Mr. Joo. We are a very … hardworking class. Now let’s get you a seat…”
Before he could even look around for empty seats, a commotion in the back caught everyone’s attention.
Suddenly, a girl stood up, her chair mercilessly scraping the floor with a sharp screech. With her left hand, she shoved someone next to her off his seat. His chair tumbled as well.
“Here, Max. Sit over here.” She gestured towards the now empty chair. A smile tugged at one corner of her mouth.
Mr Joo jumped at the sudden gesture, then patted his own chest as if in relief. Everyone glared in shock. The Ice Princess Devynn hardly ever welcomed any new students.
Wary of every breathing soul, she only trusted a handful. Something tells me he will be one of us, Devynn thought.
She treated her friends well, demonstrating her tough love at times by pushing them off their seats (she would tell Thierry that his butt will sting painfully for a couple of weeks but this only makes him stronger). Their friendships were hardened by adversities shared in junior high. Devynn was someone who never bailed on her friends.
Somehow, she just wanted to know Max.
She sat back down and looked around her friends. “Get a grip, guys. I like his face, alright?” Devynn’s gang hooted with laughter, and a couple of guys stood to arrange the fallen chair and table. Though puzzled and surprised, they trusted Devynn’s judgement enough, and were fiercely loyal.
“Well, that is very…nice of you Devynn. Thierry, get up and find another chair,” Mr. Joo patted Max’s back and nudged him towards the seat, “Go ahead. Take a seat and we’ll begin with calculus.”
There was a general groan of protest. Thierry stood up, rubbing his ass and moaned with displeasure. Sora disappeared to the next classroom and dragged a chair for Thierry.
Max hesitated, gazing at Devynn.
What a gorgeous girl, all fair white skin and black silky hair. But why, if her friends looked ready to stab a fork in my face, did she do this for me?
Devynn kept her gaze fixed on Max.
He is hesitant.
All eyes were on Max as he walked towards his new seat. As he sat down, Devynn lifted a side of her lips, breaking her image of aloofness.
What made Devynn instantly warm up towards the younger boy?
Class went on, and halfway, Max felt a sharp glare bore into his face like a dagger. He found the source, and was instantly eye to eye with a pair of dark, piercing eyes.
They held their stares, each unwilling to look away in defeat. Max was confused by the obvious hatred in his eyes. Could it be possible that he knew that guy?
Finally, Max looked away, convinced it was impossible that they knew each other.
He felt a breath of warm air beside his ear. “That’s Justin Jung, bad boy number one in the streets. He has back up, all of them in that corner and even more out there. Don’t mess.” Devynn whispered in his ear, before she sat back to pay attention to class.
Max turned to inspect Justin, who now had a deck of playing cards in front of him. They were gambling right out in the open.
It was none of his business anyway. Max settled back down in his seat and was grateful for a few minutes of uninterrupted peace.
Lunchtime soon came. The class broke into their various cliques. The Girls whipped out bentos wrapped in colourful cloths and presented them to the guys and girls they admired. Many bento boxes were thrust in Devynn’s direction. She accepted them all out of courtesy. A few were given to Max.
They headed out into the courtyard to enjoy their meals. The rowdy boys pushed and shoved at one another, competing for attention from the neighbouring all-girls’ college.
Thierry jostled Max. “One day, I’m bringing you into Koizumi. It’s the college dormitory next to our campus. You’re gonna get an eye-feast.”
Sora overheard the conversation, whipped her head around and linked arms with a blonde boy with big eyes.
“Bomi gave bentos to Max today, and not me!” Sora complained.
“Figured.” The blonde, known as Sungmin, chuckled, and shrugged. They arrived at an open courtyard that Kikokushijo shared with nearby colleges, and they sat down on concrete steps leading up to the dean’s offices.
“Dig in.” Devynn said as she passed round the gifted bentos. As she picked up a set of cutlery, she removed her trucker cap, revealing a rough tumble of jet-black locks that fell in pretty waves around her shoulders. The cap had masculinized her, giving her a boyish look accentuated by an oversized school blazer and boy trousers instead of the school skirt. Her entire look softened. There was a gentler aura of femininity around her, accompanied by the scent of jasmine that caught the breeze as it weaved into her hair.
The rest of the boys ate in silence for a while, sneaking looks at the untouchable goddess. Thierry and Sora was inhaling the array of food that the girls had prepared, digging in most happily.
“I think we should all introduce ourselves to Max now that he is one of us,” one of them said. “I am Jjong. And as you already know, she is Devynn.”
Jjong had milky chocolate dark skin, as if he had spent all of his free time working up a sweat at an outdoor gym, or a pool, or basically any form of sports, for he had the built of an athlete.
Max nodded, glancing over at Devynn who was watching all of them, while eating in silence.
“I am Sora! Remember me? Your roomie! So is Thierry, whose chair you took. But he isn’t unhappy, aren’t you Thierry?”
Thierry mocked a sulk, then laughed. “Of course not. Anything for Devynn. She welcomed you and so we welcome you as well.”
One by one they introduced themselves. Devynn, Sora, Thierry, Jjong, Sungmin.
“Max. From now on we are friends alright? You can be comfortable around us and no matter what we will always stand by you. That’s what buddies are for.” The one called Jjong with the amiable smile said, clapping a hand on Max’s biceps. The latter merely smiled, nodded and ate a forkful of mooshu pork.
“Yup, come on Max! You’ve been so quiet all day since you’ve stepped into our class. We are your friends now. Tell us about yourself!” Sungmin probed.
“If you are not comfortable then it’s alright…” Jjong said.
“Of course he is comfortable, right Max? Come on tell us about yourself! Why are you here in Japan? Where are your family members? Why do you live in the hostel like Sora and Thierry?” Sungmin probed further.
Sensing Max’s discomfort, Devynn looked up at Sungmin. “Shut your trap. Why do you always have so much to say?”
“I’ll help.” Sora pushed a huge roll of sushi into Sungmin’s open mouth and laughed at his surprised expression. Half the length still dangled out from his lips. A tiny drip of sauce trickled past his chin, and Sora dabbed at it with a napkin.
The rest laughed, except for Thierry, who was a little sullen at the attention Sora was paying to Sungmin.
Max looked to Devynn with gratitude.
In that instant, she felt protective of him.
Poor kid acts so tough but he has that wall around him, even he himself can no longer get past. But this isn’t an insurmountable wall.
They resumed lunch, dwelling into light-hearted topics like class, girls, booze and after-school hangouts.
A bell signaled the end of the school day. Max turned down their invitation for karaoke at a nearby lounge.
“You sure you don’t want to come, Max?” Sora asked, putting a hand on Max’s arm.
“He doesn’t. Now come on Sora, catch up with the rest.” Thierry grabbed Sora’s hands and led her away. “See you later, Max! Call us if you have any problems, remember.”
“Goodbye!” Sora shouted over her shoulders as she was being led away.
Devynn glanced in his direction before she too turned to leave with the rest.
Max held up a hand to signal goodbye. He watched his new friends leave before turning to walk in the other direction. And then there he was, Justin Jung, alone and leaning against a pillar ahead. With folded arms, he was watching the younger boy. Undeterred, Max proceeded in Justin’s direction.
Before Max could past, Justin shot out an arm, blocking his path.
“You’ve got guts.”
Max was forced to stop in his tracks.
“You’ve got guts.” Justin repeated. “Do you have any idea who I am?”
Sensing trouble, several students picked up their pace as they walked past, and made no attempt to acknowledge that the pair were now standing eye to eye, fists clenched, locked in battle stances.
“Nobody warned you about me?”
“It was so insignificant a conversation, I must have forgotten.” Those were the first words Max had spoken all day.
“And I thought you were mute. Nice force, but don’t force me to take it away. Listen up, I have my eyes on you. I don’t know what you’re up to coming into this school and befriending Devynn.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Justin laughed. “Jeju Island in Korea is a lovely place isn’t it? Beautiful, beautiful Jeju. We both have lovely hometowns don’t we?”
Max’s eyes widened, and Justin followed with maniacal laughter.
“Just watch out, Max Shim”
With that, Justin lowered his arm and walked away. Max stood rooted to the ground, confused by Justin’s words.
There’s something I did not notice in his words, something I should have noticed but did not. What is it? What does he mean by ‘I have my eyes on you’?
It struck him then, that unless Justin had known him before, there was no way he could have known Max’s family name.
“Just watch out, Max Shim.”
“Devynn, what do you want to sing today?” Sungmin asked, thrusting a microphone in her direction.
“I am not in the mood.”
“Aww come on! You have the best voice!” Sungmin whined. “Of course Sora has a great voice too. But yours is that of an angel!”
“You guys go ahead, I’ll head home.” Devynn got up from her chair. Sungmin stood up, surprised, and was about to stop Devynn when Thierry pulled him back.
“Alright, take care. Call us if you need us.” Thierry said.
Devynn trudged out silently.
“What’s the matter with her today? She is especially icy.” Sungmin complained.
“She was alright when Max was around.” Thierry lifted an eyebrow conspiratorially.
“She must have her own reasons. She is entitled to privacy alright? Let’s not let that interrupt our session. Take it away, Sungmin!” The mike was given to the next singer.
Sungmin happily accepted and proceeded to choose the song he wanted to sing. Everyone cheered when the tunes of “No Pain No Gain” filled the room.
Devynn wanted to be alone so that she could organise her thoughts.
It was on impulse and instinct that made her want to know Max, but no doubt there was something more.
The image of Max as he first entered the room occupied her thoughts. Instinctively, Devynn identified with the kid with an exceptionally tough exterior. Devynn desired to understand all of him, under his wall of aloofness. Despite being spoken to all day, with much attention showered upon him, Max had done nothing but planted sharper spikes on his invisible armour, and withheld his speech. All Devynn wanted to do was hug and ease away the pain that was killing him inside.
Without realising so, Devynn had walked into the student hostel where Max now lived. Recalling that he was Sora and Thierry’s roommate, she swiftly climbed the stairs to their room. Seeing that their room was unlocked, she walked in.
Max was on his bed with a stack of photographs scattered before him.
Startled, he slammed a pillow on his photos and hopped off the bed.
Devynn smiled. “You have a lovely voice. I’m sorry for not knocking, I didn’t know anyone would be here. When I visit Sora and Thierry, I don’t knock either. I hope you didn’t mind.”
Devynn sat on Sora’s bed and looked across the room at Max.
“No one’s giving you trouble, I hope?”
Max looked into her eyes, and almost wanted to ask about Justin but stopped himself before he could speak.
Devynn frowned. “Is that a yes?”
Max shook his head.
“No, really, just tell me anything. I am your friend Max.”
“Were you always so nice to people?”
“Do you always reject kindness out of suspicion?”
“Why are you so good to me? You don’t know me at all yet you’re like an old friend. It’s a feeling I get though we’ve only just met. You gave me rights to a tight knit group of friends who clearly will take a longer while to warm up to me. Why?” Max asked.
Devynn was silent for a moment.
“Everyone looked at you when you walked in, and thought ‘he’s freaking sexy’. But when I looked at you, I saw despair. Deep inside you are so, so afraid and I wanted to know why. How can I help?”
Max was speechless. Someone was offering him security and friendship with no strings attached. Someone trusted him, not knowing who he was. Someone found his heart lying cold in the winter night, and draped a warm blanket over it.
He felt hot suddenly. Heat was coursing through his veins.
Perhaps for the first time, he was genuinely touched.
Max smiled, a glint of tears showed in his eyes.
Devynn felt a pang in her heart.
“Don’t cry.” She moved to gather the younger boy in her arms. Max’s hands were cold. Devynn had her arms around Max in a strong embrace, as if protecting him from all the elements of harm and danger.
He knew he could have made a wrong choice trusting Devynn and baring his weakness.
But it did not matter anymore.
For Devynn, he was willing.
✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.