(A/N): The beginning of this chapter was inspired by an AMV called "The Age of Man" ― go watch it. It's a spiritual experience.
I wanted to start out with something so broad and significant in scope, and then narrow it down to two single individuals. This is not a typical love story about teenage drama; it's a story about life. I want it to be thought-invoking, despite the fact it's set in a high school setting.
For my readers who are teenagers: just because you are a teenager, doesn't mean you are too young to treat life seriously. You can be mature as any other model adult, if you know what you want in life and are aware of the consequences ― the risks and sacrifices involved, and the actions that must be taken.
Don't let youth ever be an excuse, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Don't be afraid of being different ― even if it's a lonely existence. It will be hard, and impossible at times, but in the end your life will feel much more fulfilling (than if you were to do nothing meaningful early on).
Chapter 2 - Soulmate
"Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies."
One person dies every second worldwide, at least one. One hundred and eight people die every minute worldwide. Seven point four billion people die each year of cancer worldwide. There are more than one hundred types of cancer; any part of the body can be affected. In the year 2011, there were a hundred and thirty-nine bombings in Sudan; each bombing attack caused fourteen casualties. One person commits suicide every forty seconds. There are two bullets for every person on the planet.
In a world such as this, full of lies and harsh realities ― a compound of "man" and "age" ― how can one even begin to hope for better days when today's tragedies will always casts its shadow on the light of tomorrow?
Crime, famine, murder, disease ― we are all victim to mortality.
You tell yourself, "be brave"; you tell your loved ones, "I'll wait for you" "stay safe" "I miss you" ― but does it do you any good? How do you know when words carry solid guarantee? How do you know your life has any meaning?
You don't. However...
About four to five people are born every second worldwide; two hundred and sixty-seven people are born every minute worldwide. Two hundred million couples make love every day. Ninety-two million blood donations are collected annually. Love has more search results than fear. The average person laughs thirteen times a day. While one scientist is creating a weapon, one million moms are baking cakes. One septillion snow crystals drop from the sky each winter.
In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, "You must be the change you want to see in the world."
"What are you writing?"
"My thoughts, and experiences..."
Marking the date, Baralai closes the notebook and swivels around in his chair. Yuna stood by the bookshelf while he wrote down his reflection for the day, admiring his collection of novels, before walking over to check what he had been doing. He smiles, looking up at her. "That was a marvelous video. What did you call it again? An AMV? I never thought something compiled together from various anime could yield this kind of profound effect on me. Thank you for showing me."
Yuna smiles, twining her hands at her back. "You're welcome. Doesn't it feel historical? I thought it would fit with our discussion."
"Definitely. I feel... after watching this video, I've come to realize the true value of my life. After all, you only live once. You never know when you will die. Life is too short... to squander away." Baralai stops there, winded by the depth of those words, and falls silent.
He thinks about his great-grandmother, a strong and healthy stubborn woman whose years are catching up to her. She outlived her children and raised her grandchildren, and now she lives in the care of her great-grandchild. The only one old enough and willing to look after her, at any rate. Her husband had passed on before her many years ago, and it surprises him she didn't follow him in the afterlife. What drives her to hang onto the diminishing last thread of her life?
And Baralai wonders how brainstorming for essay ideas led to this.
For the past hour, they talked about history. The Civil War, its significant effect on slavery, and the freedom that followed in the aftermath, which shaped their modern world. Important points made caused them to dig deeper into the nature of things. Would either of them still exist today without that war or would they still be alive somewhere, living in the country of their ancestors? They tried to imagine their individual lives without American freedom, could not, and shuddered to think about it.
In the topic of History, they also talked about how the Civil War resulted in the ambulance they know now. Before the time of modern vehicles or advanced medicine, injured soldiers were carried off the battlefield on wagons with their raw bullet wounds and amputated limbs. Yuna expressed her utter discontent, heartbroken by the death count each war racks up, and Baralai chose not to sugarcoat the reality, because "yes, nobody likes war, except maybe the truly bloodthirsty ones who prefer violence over peaceful negotiation, but... I'm afraid that's life."
Yuna refused to accept this bleak truth at face value, which made her determined to provide a counter-argument in the form of an animated music video titled "Age of Man" on youtube.
Baralai never expected an afternoon quite like this, but he enjoyed it nonetheless.
"Do you mind if I lie down? I'm a little tired..." Somewhere during his moment of contemplation, Yuna moved to seat herself on the foot of his bed, and Baralai feels guilty for neglecting to entertain her.
"...of course. I'm sorry, I..." He sighs, the smile weary on his face. "I didn't mean to drift off like that. I was just... thinking."
"That's okay. I don't mind you being quiet. We did talk a lot..." Yuna giggles, yawning.
Taking the invitation to relax on his bed, she stretches out her body before curling her legs close to her chest. Once several moments of comfortable silence have come to pass, he realizes that she dozed off and he had been watching her. Baralai smiles a little, standing to go fetch a blanket. Pulling one from the closet, he returns to spread it over her, only to stop.
Yuna looks so adorable in her vulnerability, mouth parted in a slight smile, the red scarf draped around her neck, that he decides to capture this priceless moment on camera. Careful not to awaken her as he places the blanket on her body, he pulls out his phone and takes a picture, saving it to storage. Good thing he disabled the sound, or else she would have woken up to catch him in the act. If she ever found out, well... he could always explain himself later.
'Yuna will understand. I think.'
After one last fond look, he heads downstairs.
"Look. I know you don't need anyone in your hair right now. I spent the last couple of days getting everything sorted out. It's mostly notebooks. He dated them all. Now that I've got them all sorted out ― darn it! It should be 'in order,' 'in order'..." Baralai paces the living room, snapping his fingers twice to the words as he recites them out loud, before proceeding. "Now that I've got them all in order, I don't have to stay here ― no, work here. I don't have to work here. I can take some stuff home, read it, and bring it back."
Falling out of character, Baralai stops in his tracks, giving himself a moment to breathe and go over the lines in his head. Before he can resume from where he left off, he hears footsteps descend from upstairs and turns toward the entryway. Baralai smiles.
"Why, hello there, Sleeping Beauty. Have you finally risen from your eternal slumber?"
Yuna stifles a yawn, giggling a little. "I'll have you know... that I don't sleep all the time."
"I never said anything before. The fact you are defensive about it tells me people tease you for your..." Baralai trails off, searching for the right word. "...napping tendencies. Am I right?"
"...Maybe." Her smile fails to mask her amusement as his mirth remains ever present. "Are you reciting lines for a play? Sorry if I was interrupting your concentration."
"You weren't interrupting. You remind me I should be taking a break soon anyway. I haven't been able to meet with my partner lately to rehearse our scene due to conflicting schedules. Memorizing my lines is all I can do by myself..." Baralai rubs the back of his head, frustrated. "Also, my teacher told me I need to get accustomed to physical contact."
"Oh, are you playing a kiss scene?" Yuna has the decency to blush, and he retaliates quick with a cool response.
"Fortunately, no. But I have no doubt that when we go up to recite our lines in class, my teacher will make us do something incrimina― ahem, I mean, intimate. Considering the nature of our characters' relationship, I suspect flirting, slow dancing, or maybe even seducing..." All uncomfortable things he can't imagine doing with his flamboyant partner, and dreads to imagine the day where they will have to do those things. Will he be able to make it through the hour with his chastity intact, let alone his dignity?
"Sounds fun! Or, I mean, the teacher sounds fun." Yuna amends her innocent cruelty with light-hearted compassion. "If you don't mind, I would love to help with anything you need. Maybe even your phobia of human contact."
"It's not a phobia," he says, suppressing the inevitable snort. "I think it's impolite to touch someone without permission."
"That's not what Rikku tells me."
"And you are inclined to believe everything that comes out of her mouth?"
"Maybe." Yuna mellows her teasing. "We can slow dance, since it's not as bad as seducing each other, and I'm not very good at flirting..."
He arches an eyebrow, surprised. "Really? It's not as hard as it sounds. You simply talk to someone you like. At least, that's what Gippal told me... Here, why don't we try it?" Baralai steps forward and takes her hand, lifting it to place a chaste kiss on her knuckles.
"Greetings, my lady. You are looking quite fair on this fine afternoon."
She blushes, giggling behind her free hand as she attempts to articulate herself. "You sound like such an English gentleman..." Clearing her throat, she curtsies with her long skirt. "You are quite dashing yourself, Sir Baralai. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"May I bother thee with a dance?"
Leaning forward to position his left hand on her waist, he sweeps her off her feet and she manages to catch herself on natural reflexes. Round and round they spin in a circle, a grand revolution of graceful movement ― until he dips her low and Yuna laughs, both collapsing onto the carpet.
"Hey, you did that on purpose!"
"You enjoyed it nonetheless," he says, and stands to offer a hand, steading Yuna onto her feet. "You are a good dancer."
"Thank you. I took ballet when I was little, but stopped when it costed too much money. Right now I'm taking Jazz dance in school."
"You, too, are an artist."
"Oh, no, I'm not an artist..."
"Of course you are. Dancing is an artform, too, just like acting and writing. Art is not only restricted to the picturesque form." Yuna becomes quiet, and Baralai wonders why she looks away out of shyness when he only complimented what deserves to be praised.
"Who..." Yuna clears her throat. "W-Who is your partner? Do you think I know her?"
"Perhaps. No, actually, I'm sure you do." Baralai sighs, crossing his arms. "It's LeBlanc ― why are you laughing?"
"N-No reason... pfft, I'm sorry, I just..." Unable to contain herself, Yuna keels over in a fit of giggles. He doesn't know whether to be embarrassed or amused. The urge to exact his revenge starts to take root again and he holds no qualms in letting it loose this time. "I-I'm trying to imagine you w-with LeBlanc and... she'd be all over the place! And, and you'll be so awkward, it's f-funny ― eek!" The moment he picks her up by the waist, she squeals in surprise and he throws her onto the couch. She sits upright, delighted by the playful gleam in his glare and moves to jump off, but Baralai captures her in a tickle attack before she can escape.
"What's so funny? What's so funny? Tell me, tell me what's so funny~."
"No, stop~ please~," Yuna says, laughing, writhing, and gasping for air, "I beg you, have mercy~." She flails in search of a pillow, and manages to chuck one at his face. Baralai picks it up, and throws it right back. Laughter bounces along with soft instruments of pillowy destruction until thunder rumbles the atmosphere and ceases their horseplay.
Silence, and then they break out into soft laughter.
They managed to sit down at one point to construct the outlines for their essays. After some hours have passed for them to complete their rough drafts and work on other assignments, they looked for fun things to do. Yuna ransacked his iTunes library upstairs, discovered to her great delight they shared similar tastes in music, and incited a silly karaoke session. Dancing also accompanied the impromptu competition, and Baralai can still feel the bruises in his calves. He should have paid more attention to the annoying corners of his bed.
But Yuna proved to be quite the formidable adversary! Baralai may have been able to hit the notes with greater accuracy and possessed the stamina to outlast her, but the power found in her voice blew his mind away as well as her extraordinary grace. He caught himself smiling more than once while going about his household duties, reliving the hours of passionate leisure. The day has been good to him so far, but the same can't be said for the weather. Sudden bright flashes of light would ignite the cloudy sky every now and again. Rainfall still pelts the rooftops and city streets without relent, and Baralai moves to draw the curtains aside.
Peering through the window, he hears the echoes of thunderclap. "It's pouring outside..."
Yuna sits up from her cozy spot on the couch and smiles. "Can we go outside? I want to watch the storm."
Didn't they have a conversation about this the other day? Baralai leans on the window seat and crosses his arms, indifferent towards her glee. "We should stay inside. It sounds dangerous."
Yuna sighs, collapsing on the armrest. Genuine disappointment can be found in those eyes full of longing. "...but it's so pretty. Just a few minutes?"
"I'm sorry, but we will have to pass. The lightning is too close."
"You said you would watch it with me..." The utter defeat in her tone makes him want to reconsider. Almost.
"Watching thunderstorms outside sounds romantic in hindsight, but in reality we would be endangering ourselves. You could wind up getting struck by lightning, resulting in sure death." He puts his foot down on that matter and chuckles when hearing her sigh again. "I've been meaning to ask you... what time are you planning to leave today?"
"I told my mom seven."
"Seven? Didn't you arrive here around one o'clock?" Yuna nods, sitting upright to smooth out her skirt. Baralai sits down on the opposite end and lounges against the armrest, letting his legs relax after an hour of cleaning. Yuna spent the duration of his household chores watching television, and he caught snippets of Game of Thrones on rerun while he vacuumed the living room. "Why did you stay so long, if all we agreed to do was study?"
Tearing her eyes away from the current episode, she steals a pillow for herself and smiles in that mysterious coy fashion of hers. He doesn't know whether he should be curious or suspicious. Females are strange creatures, after all. "I wanted to spend time with you. We've known each other for awhile, because we have the same friends, but... I don't think we've ever hung out together by ourselves. I guess... I wanted to get to know you more."
This confession steals his breath away and he blushes, flattered. Baralai resigns himself to listen, finding Yuna more interesting than the season finale. "You like books like I do, and enjoy having deep conversations about anything. We keep certain things private, but at the same time we're not afraid of talking about them with people we trust. We have a lot in common, but we are also very different."
"Like how I tend to be logical, and you are emotional?"
"Yeah. Don't you think it's strange that we haven't gravitated to each other sooner?"
"It might have been because we are too similar. We find ourselves more attracted to people who are our opposites. Paine and Gippal are like that for me."
"Rikku is like that for me, too," Yuna says, giggling. Baralai becomes concerned when she falls silent. "He... He was like that for me, too. Often I thought he was my sun and I was his moon. Sometimes things just... don't work out the way you want them to." Baralai has never seen Yuna let her guard down over this particular story and feels the urge to comfort her.
"Do you... want to talk about it?" When she says nothing, only fiddles with the hem of her blouse in silence, he sighs and crosses his arms. Glancing at the TV, he gets an idea. "I notice you like Game of Thrones."
She exhales a visible breath of relief, grateful for the change in topic.
"Yes. It's really in-depth and full of dynamic characters. My family loves watching it."
"Out of everyone in the show, who do you think you resemble more?"
"Hmm. I don't know. I don't think I belong in that kind of world. Game of Thrones would eat me alive."
"True," he says, amused, and stares at Yuna in thought, "However, to be honest... I can see a little bit of Daenerys in you."
"The dragon princess? Really?"
"Yes. You both have experienced similar hardships in the name of love. You were a girl very much in love with someone who made you very happy. Until unforeseen circumstances brought the death of your relationship, that is. But you see, Daenerys grows as a character despite those hardships. No, it is because of her marriage to Khal Drogo and the khalasar lifestyle that she has become an independent young woman who still harbors kindness and compassion in her heart. I can see that in you."
"I... I don't know what to say."
"I do not think it's too cynical to say that things happen, whether or not you want them to. Regardless of the reasons why your relationship came to an end, you should be able to look back on those days and appreciate them. Don't mourn over your memories ― allow them to make you stronger. You were happy with him for however long you two were together. I doubt you could have asked for more, considering the fact it could have been worse, right?"
Yuna stares, perhaps surprised or impressed by the weight of his words. 'Did the words sink in at all, or have I said too much?' Baralai considers the possibility she might not have liked what she heard; after all, she never asked him about what he thought of her teenage love life. "...but I understand that this kind of thinking is hard to accept. I don't know how it feels to fall in love, so I am in no position to talk. I just hope that what I said helped you in any way."
"...yeah." She nods, managing a meek smile. "It does, kind of." Pulling her legs up close, she hugs her knees and rests her head on them. "You seem to know exactly what you're talking about. I wish I can be more like you, decisive and confident."
"Ah, it's true that I do not like talking about things I don't understand. However, I'm afraid that I am too logical for matters of the heart. You would know what to do better than me."
"Don't sell yourself short. Your words make a lot of sense. Love usually doesn't make sense, and doesn't have to make sense, but... you make me want to believe love can make sense." Baralai does not look away when he spies the beginnings of a real smile on her lovelorn face, does not know why he cannot bring himself to look away, spellbound by the soft intensity in her glistening eyes.
"Thank you, for being so understanding."
He smiles. "You're welcome."