(A/N): Happy New Year's! This is my belated Christmas present to you all. Happy holidays. :3
Chapter 7 - Distance
"Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure."
~ Henri Nouwen
vrrr vrrr vrrr vrrr
Baralai awakens to the God awful sound of his phone ringing, and he shifts around to search for the source of this injustice. Dragging the phone to his ear once he found it, he huffs. "Gippal, if this is you, I am going to kill you."
"H-Hi. It's me, Yuna."
Her voice sounds timid all of a sudden, vulnerable and afraid, and yet sympathy does not quell the murderous intent in his voice.
"Yuna? Why did you call at such a late hour? It's..." He pauses to check the time on the blaring bright screen of his phone, and groans. "It's almost midnight. I'm already in bed. Shouldn't you be in bed also?"
"I'm sorry..." The apology fails to alleviate his irritation. "I am in bed, it's just... I can't sleep."
He groans again, not bothering to hide the fact he hates late phone calls, and shifts around a bit more in his blanket, torn between getting comfortable and staying awake. When he stops to salvage some semblance of thought, he realizes that Yuna would never call this late on a school night unless it had been important. She knows full well he goes to sleep early, and she has no excuse for making the mistake. "...Yuna, what's wrong? You had a reason for calling. Talk to me."
"Oh, no, I – I woke you up. I'm sorry. I should let you sleep."
"Don't you think it's a little too late to be apologizing?" Silence. Baralai sighs. Rubbing his eyes, he folds his arm to pillow his head and stares off into space. He imagines Yuna in front of him, lying on her own bed, alone in the dark. His chest tightens from the mental image. "I know something's on your mind. Or else, why would you call me?"
"...I-I can't sleep. I keep thinking about my mom," she says in a small voice, and Baralai wills himself to wake up in order to pay attention.
"It's your first night back home without her. I can see why you would feel stressed." He takes a moment to gather his words together, and sighs again. "Look. I... I can't pretend to know how it feels to almost lose a parent you love. I don't know what to say to make you feel better. I wish that I can do more for you... instead of being grumpy, and... stuff."
"That's okay. I..." Pause. He hears her breathing on the other end, a steady and soothing rhythm that lulls him to sleep. "I just... I wish you were here."
This confession steals his breath away, and Baralai feels his face warm. His pounding heartbeat echoes loud in the silence, and he sits upright, scratching his head. He panics for a moment because he doesn't know how to respond to this, whether she wants him to respond at all. 'I can't say that I've ever had a person make me feel so wanted or... needed before. What if I am reading too much into things? What if it turns out she wants nothing more than friendship?' It takes a single moment to justify Yuna's behavior as attachment, something anyone would have developed under the same circumstances she went through, and he relaxes.
"I was able to sleep at your house somehow, because you were next to me. It felt comforting."
"Oh." Still trying to recollect his thoughts, he rubs his face, leaning against his propped leg, eyes fluttering shut longer than they can stay open. "Yuna. If anything ever happens... will you let me know? I worry about you."
Baralai senses the tentative smile on the other end, and smiles.
"Do you feel better? Would you like to talk some more?"
"Mm... a little bit, but I think I'm okay for now."
"Try to get some rest, okay?" He takes a deep breath, sleepy. The words are struggling to get out now.
"I'll try. This is the first time I'll sleep in the house without her. She feels so far away... like you do, but worse."
"Yuna..." Her loneliness resonates so deep and powerful despite the distance, Baralai begins to hesitate at the thought of ending the conversation. "...I have an idea. Why don't we simply leave our phones on like this, so we can hear each other's breathing? Would that help? It might not be as good as being in the same room, but..."
"I love it! I-I love the idea. I was scared of suggesting it because I thought you wouldn't like it."
"Well, good thing I said it first." Baralai's smile widens at the sound of her giggle. "Never forget I'm here for you. If you ever need me, just call. I will answer."
"...really? You wouldn't mind?"
"Yes, really, and no, I wouldn't mind."
He places the phone down beside him after switching to speakerphone, snuggling the pillow closer to him as he listens to Yuna getting settled into bed, her movement as quiet as static. For a moment, the world feels right again. For a moment he can forget that he slapped her out of pure anger, for a moment he can forget her mother sleeps alone and half-dead in a hospital room, and for a moment he can forget the great physical distance that separates them from one another's embrace.
Baralai remembers only the sound of her rhythmic breathing, before falling asleep.
Yuna walks into class, Chemistry textbook in hand. Looking around, she only sees half the class present, mingling or getting ready for the lesson five minutes before the bell. Yuna notices Baralai standing by his desk, organizing his folder, and she smiles a little. Out of all the juniors and seniors in the classroom, she only knows Baralai and Tidus best, and she always sits close to the former because Ms. Lulu likes to organize the seating chart by last names. Although Tidus loves to steal her attention whenever he can get away with it, lately he hasn't for obvious reasons, and so she usually gravitates to Baralai for small talk. They pair up quite often for group assignments and always have each other on call in case one of them misses a day of school. Since the school year started, they have formed a strong partnership based on work and trust worthy of jealousy and much teasing.
Yuna remembers when the two of them exchanged numbers for the sake of convenience and that made Tidus upset. At the time it annoyed her, but now when she stops to think about it she doesn't know what to think. Her feelings for Tidus and where she wants to stand with him confuse her, and she doesn't know what to do. Saddened by this new train of thought, she trudges to her seat and plops down. Baralai looks up in the middle of writing his agenda, curious.
"Greetings. You look blue today," he says, smiling a little and resumes his writing. "I take it you didn't sleep well last night." Yuna places her chin on his desk, pouting. This motion obstructs his view of the top half of his binder and he tries to tug it out without much success. "Will you please remove yourself from my property?"
She sticks her tongue out at him, allowing herself a moment of mischief. "I'll think about it." Her mood shifts back to her previous thoughts soon enough and she sighs. "No, you didn't keep me up or anything last night, but – ow!"
"Quiet," he says in a violent hush, retracting his foot, "Careful how you say certain things. People will misunderstand."
"You started it…" Yuna says, messaging her shin, and giggles at the flustered look on his red face. He soon cools it down by sheer force of will, which never ceases to amaze her.
"Oh, I wanted to ask you, would you mind if I worked with Lucil on today's lab? Her partner is absent, and I offered to help. I talked to Ms. Lulu already, and she told me she will partner you with someone else."
"Oh. Okay, then. No, I don't mind." Yuna forces a smile, surprised by this unexpected development. She had been looking forward to working with him today, and the fact he switched partners without consulting her, let alone with his ex-girlfriend, kind of makes her feel left out.
"It's just for today. Apparently Lucil's partner sent a text he might not show up."
"...I see. I forget. Who's her partner again?"
"Last time I checked, it was Tidus."
"Oh, him… That's right… Wait, why can't she join our group instead?"
"Because we always work ahead of the class. We don't have much to finish except for the closing reflection. Lucil and Tidus, however… They're falling behind because she works at his pace. That's why Ms. Lulu approached me about the switch the other day and I talked to Lucil about it right before you came in."
"Oh, so it wasn't your idea?"
"Ah. Never mind. It's not important." Baralai looks at her, inquisitive, and before he can inquire further the bell rings. Yuna sighs in pure relief, having dodged a bullet this time, and faces forward right away to write down the agenda, hoping to cool down her red face. He doesn't need to know that it bothers her when they are just friends, just like how Lucil and Baralai are "just friends."
After Ms. Lulu closes the door and starts the lesson, everyone prepares to continue yesterday's lab. Yuna begins to organize her lab materials, standing alone by her station as Lucil explains to Baralai her current progress with the experiment. Fifteen minutes in, the door opens and all eyes turn to see Tidus strut in, smiling and trying to appear apologetic as he tosses his bag into his seat (and scores at the successful throw). Right when he snatches a lab coat and hurries to slip it on, Ms. Lulu stops him.
"Thank you for finally joining us today, Tidus."
"Sorry I'm late, Ms. Lulu. You know, there's never enough time in the break to finish my–."
"Frankly, I don't think anyone cares about your First World problems." The class explodes into giggles and Tidus stands there feeling embarrassed. "I've re-assigned you today. You will be working with Yuna who will help you move up to speed. Please take your place and try to catch-up."
Yuna's breath freezes in her heart the moment she saw him enter the room. Once his cerulean colored eyes find her in the crowd of people, she feels the sun shine down on his beautiful face. 'There he is, the love of my life.' With sun-kissed skin, spiked blonde hair, and radiant sky blue eyes, Tidus symbolizes everything Yuna adores in a man. He has a sense of humor that can make anyone laugh. His bright smile can melt the iciest of hearts, and his athletic talent can blow anyone's mind.
Yuna gets so nervous whenever he's around, always self-conscious of what she does, afraid he might find her weird. Seeing him approach, Yuna turns away quickly, tucking a hair strand behind her ear. 'Act natural, act natu–'
"Hi, Yuna." His toothy smile shines too bright for her poor heart to handle, especially given the way he rests his arm on the counter and leans his whole body forward, tilting his face to look up and capture her in his gaze. He even flutters those wonderful dangerous eyelashes of his, which slays her heart wide open for his irresistible charm. "Looks like we're lab partners for the day."
Yuna nods, and giggles. "Yeah. Super." She lifts a reluctant, clenched fist, scolding herself for making such a lame comment.
"Cool. So, would you mind taking the notes for us? I'm not exactly sure what to do."
"No problem. You can handle the exciting part."
"Hell, yes! Can I mix this and that?"
"Um, as long as the solutions are compatible– wait no–."
Glass shatters following the inevitable small explosion and Yuna shuts her eyes out of instinct, expecting sharp projectiles and hot acid to bombard her. Someone slams into her first, tackling her down, and Yuna can feel them collapse beside her, Tidus who got pulled down alongside her, and Baralai who moves to stand and toss his stained lab coat to cover the broken glass and stray chemicals.
"Are you two hurt? Did you get scalded or cut?" He kneels to pull them away from the mess, checking their lab coats and exposed clothing for spills. Yuna runs her hand through her hair, disoriented by the speed of events, and flinches at the sting on her cheek. Touching her face, red smears her fingers, and she realizes in dull surprise some of the glass must have nicked her face. Baralai notices it, too, and guides her to the sink. "Your face – wash it right away, before it becomes infected."
Yuna cannot register the panicked voices of her peers or the teacher's failed attempts to pacify the commotion, vaguely aware of Tidus and his concerned touch as she vigorously rubs water and soap on her face. Worried over Baralai's well-being, Yuna risks a glance in his direction, and finds him bent over on the other sink with his head below the faucet, soaking his hair and scrubbing it with soap.
Did he get hurt? How did he manage to react in time to shield them both? Was he observing them during the lab exercise? Why?
Too much happened way too fast, and Yuna can't begin to make sense of it all. She puts her head back down and repeats the process until she feels enough time has passed. Taking a long moment to recollect her thoughts, she stands straight and inhales.
"Yuna, I'm glad to see you're alright. You and Tidus were lucky that Baralai acted fast on his feet." Ms. Lulu hovers by her side and Yuna turns to smile.
"Yes, I–." The words are lost on her tongue when Lulu's frown disappears to make room for suspicion and Yuna gulps, scared of her sudden glare.
"Yuna, what happened to your face?"
"My face...?" From behind the teacher's shoulder, Yuna can see Tidus's face contort into shock. Baralai won't even meet her eyes and it occurs to her why. She lifts a hand to cover the bruise, horrified. 'Oh, no! The foundation, it must have come off!' "W-What about my face?"
"That is one nasty bruise."
"I-I fell on my face. While I was outside. Running... Running from a rabid animal. A rabid dog, yes. A rabid dog."
"Really." Lulu looks unconvinced, slender eyebrows knit together in a perfect picture of disbelief. The whole class has fallen to an excited hush, whispering amongst themselves, pointing and looking in her direction. Baralai does his best not to attract attention to himself, standing rigid in the pretense of calm and indifferent curiosity. Her heart sinks and she struggles to swallow. "Yuna, might I have a word with you after class?"
She nods, unable to trust her voice. The moment Ms. Lulu looks away, Yuna flees the classroom.
Everyone fell silent after Yuna's dramatic exit, breaking out into a riot of excitement before Ms. Lulu can even attempt to regain control of her class. Baralai sighs, angry and conflicted.
"You should all be ashamed of yourselves. Return to your stations at once! I said, return to your stations! Mr. Bevelle? Where are you going?" In the midst of the chaos, Baralai had moved to grab Yuna's backpack, putting her notebook and utensils away, and his own, before slinging them both over each shoulder.
"I apologize, Ms. Lulu, but Yuna left her things. I doubt she will want to come back, and I wish to spare her the trouble."
"No, I'll do it!" Tidus says, stepping up to the plate, "She needs a friend–."
Baralai tugs the bag out of his grip and narrows his eyes, annoyed. "No. I can do it. I am her friend, too."
"Don't boss me around! Besides, I'm a better friend than you are."
Something within him snaps and Baralai walks to stand in front of him, taking advantage of his height to stare him down. "And who are you to judge the integrity of Yuna's friends?"
"Huh?" Tidus tries his best not to look intimidated and stands a little taller, "I've known her longer, so I can say whatever I want."
"If what you meant to say was that you are closer to Yuna, then yes, I will agree. However, I do not like the way you worded it. Has anyone ever told you how arrogant you are?"
"Okay, you know what, you're starting to piss me off."
"The feeling is mutual."
"Boys, that is enough. Baralai, as pleased as I am to see your concern for a fellow classmate, I must ask you to remain in class until the bell. The same goes for you, Tidus."
"What? But Ms. Lulu~."
"If I cannot ask to be excused," Baralai says, irked at this point, "I will simply give you my leave. Dock my points as you see fit. Again, I apologize for disrespecting you."
"...you do understand what you're doing, right?"
"I wouldn't be doing this otherwise."
"Detention after class."
"Wait, I'm going, too! I don't care if I get detention!" Before Tidus can get a word in edgewise, Baralai grabs his shoulder and reels him back. "Hey! What's the big idea? Let go of me!"
"Oh? But aren't you falling behind in class? I don't think you can ill afford another misdemeanor with Ms. Lulu."
"Th-That's none of your damn business."
"Doesn't that also stand to reason," he says, ignoring him, "the notes you will be taking on today's lecture is that much more important? You see my point. Excuse me." Without waiting for a proper retaliation, Baralai exits the classroom. He hears Tidus throw a fit in the background and rolls his eyes at the drama he left behind.
"What the – Ms. Lulu! You're just gonna let him leave like that? Who the hell does he think he is?!"
'The person responsible for Yuna's humiliation.'
Baralai assumes Yuna must be seeking refuge in one of the girls' bathrooms. She wouldn't want people to see her, and he stalks towards the closest one he knows, uncertain and conflicted. He can text her to determine her location, but she might not want to respond. Does she even have her phone on her? Sighing, he stops by the doorway, and calls out to her.
"Yuna? Are you in there?"
Silence. When he cranes his ears to listen, Baralai can hear crying obscured by the sound of running water. "Yuna, is that you? It's me, Baralai. I have your backpack." He picks up a voice, but it doesn't sound like her. Someone must be talking to her, and he backs away when he recognizes those familiar clicks of high heel boots. Paine emerges from the bathroom, fuming. He sighs.
"What do you want?" she says, scowling.
"I think it's obvious." Baralai holds up the backpack for emphasis. "Unless she didn't tell you."
"How did she get that bruise?" Paine cuts right to the chase and he scowls, nothing short of annoyed by her lack of tact. Does she really want to talk about this in a middle of a public place where anyone can walk by and overhear?
"Why are you asking me?"
"Because it looked like somebody hit her. I call bullshit on that being an accident, and she didn't have it before she came to your house. What happened?"
"It's none of your concern."
"You bet it is. You hit her, didn't you?"
"Oh, for the love of – Not so loud. Anybody can hear you."
"What could she possibly have done to piss you off? Yuna's not the type to make people angry."
"Nothing. Now will you give this to her?" She rolls her eyes and uncrosses her arms, trudging forward to reach for it. Before Baralai can let go, she jerks it forward, dragging him to eye level.
"You hurt her, and I want to know why. Yuna won't tell me."
"What makes you think I will?"
"For all that high and mighty crap about honesty and communication, you never follow up on your own damn words."
"Don't twist my words around." He rips away and straightens his shirt, ticked off. "What happened between Yuna and I is of no consequence to you."
"Bullshit! She's my friend, and the kind of asshole who hurts my friends will have to say hello to the end of my knuckle sandwich."
"Flattering," he says, impassive. "I did not come seeking to fulfill your vendetta against me. I simply wanted to return Yuna her things, so she wouldn't have to come back for them later and face the humiliation waiting for her."
"Well, aren't you the gentleman."
"I'll be going now." Re-adjusting the strap on his shoulder backpack, Baralai ducks his head and walks around her to continue on his way. He pauses for a heartbeat, but doesn't even look back. "And tell Yuna, I'm sorry."
Baralai piles his textbooks on the side of his desk, done with homework for the night. His focus keeps escaping him for the better half of the day and it didn't help with his studies in the least, and so he decided to end it early. Thoughts of Yuna won't leave him alone and he wants to call her, but the guilt hinders him from dialing her number. People kept talking about her today, spinning various rumors behind the exact cause of her bruise, and the news spread like wildfire courtesy of Twitter and text messaging. He stands to stretch his body, tired of sitting and brooding altogether. Pulling out his phone to check the time, he sighs. Will Yuna call him today like she did last night? He doubts it. Not after what happened in Chemistry class. The look on her face when everyone began pointing fingers at her, mocking her, laughing at her, the fear and the ridicule – it kills him inside.
'If only there existed a way to reverse the day and do it over. I would do anything to restore the smile on her face.' He wishes he can return to that moment where Yuna felt comfortable and free to fall asleep on his bed. Thinking about that particular memory reminds him of the photo he took. Opening the gallery app on his phone, Baralai views the image and allows for melancholy to settle over him. 'She looks so peaceful...'
He almost drops the phone out of surprise when the screen changes, showing Yuna's name as the incoming call. It doesn't vibrate or emit a ringtone, because he had silenced it as per his daily ritual to focus on his homework. Baralai answers at once, apprehensive.
"Yuna. Good evening."
"Oh! Baralai, I... I-I wasn't expecting you to answer..."
"Hm? And why would you assume that?"
"...because, I thought you'd be mad at me, or at least be too guilty to talk to me."
"You are not that far off." He chuckles to try and alleviate the awkward air. Folding one arm across his chest, Baralai walks to lean his back against the desk. "I do feel that way, but the reason I answered is because I want to know how you are doing."
Silence. A quiet cough breaks the ice. "I-I'm fine."
"I know you're lying."
"No, I'm fine. I really am."
"Please don't lie to me, Yuna."
"...you've heard what people have been saying about me."
He hums, grim. "I try not to. To be honest, I was afraid you would be mad at me. After all, it is my fault. You have every reason to scorn and resent me."
"I don't want to blame you, or scorn you, or anything!" she says, vehement, "I just want to thank you... for pushing me out of the way earlier. I could have gotten seriously hurt if it wasn't for you. It meant a lot to me."
In a moment of silence, he can feel the burden on his conscience lighten after sensing Yuna's warm smile from the other end. He smiles. "You're welcome."
"How did you know that was going to happen?"
"Oh..." Baralai frowns, self-conscious. "Well, I was keeping an eye on you. Tidus was making far too much noise, distracting those of us trying to work."
"I'm sorry..." It irks him that Yuna would feel the need to apologize for someone else's shortcomings, and he sighs. At least they are no longer dating; it would have felt more awkward to criticize the guy otherwise.
"Anyway, because I had been paying close attention, I predicted the outcome."
"Wow... You're so thoughtful and observant."
His pride swells from the praise, and he blushes. "Thank you."
"But please don't think badly of Tidus. It's just hard for him to concentrate when it comes to schoolwork."
"That's still not an excuse to disrupt others. However, if it really bothers you that much, then I will stop."
"Thank you. I really appreciate it. Also, can you promise me something?"
"Of course, if it is within my power."
"Please don't blame yourself for what happened today, and especially on Sunday." All sense of peace and calm he managed to develop during their brief conversation vanishes, and he exhales, remorseful. Baralai chooses not to answer, unsure whether or not he can uphold himself on such a kind and merciful request that he believes he does not deserve to accept. "I get sad whenever I think about how hard you must be beating yourself up inside, and what's worse – you won't even tell me."
"You assume too much."
"...I can't promise that."
"Will you do it for me?"
"How can I say no after you go and say it like that?" Baralai huffs, upset. He hadn't realized he had been pacing the room until he stops to plant his feet firm on the ground, glaring down at the carpet he keeps forgetting to vacuum for the past week. After five long minutes of stubborn dead silence, Baralai sighs. "I will try, but there is no guarantee I–."
"Thank you! That's all I wanted to hear. I'm happy as long as you give yourself a chance."
"Yuna, why do you do this to me?" Baralai paces the room again, restless.
"Because I am your friend, and you are mine." This, this confession, these confessions of hers – it makes him stop in a heartbeat, because she always does this whenever he least expects it, and she has no idea how much power her words have over him. He sighs, heart aflutter and constricted.
"You are persistent, I will give you that. I think I may have just met my match." The thought of that makes him smile, and he chuckles.
"...I wish I can see you."
"Yuna, I..." The smile vanishes in an instant, leaving behind an aching heart. "I know you feel lonely, but I can't be there for you the way you want me to. I–."
"But you already are." He falls silent, speechless. "You may not think so, but I do."
"Tell me, Yuna. Why am I so special?"
"Because you were there for me. I'll never forget that night you held me in your arms. I don't think I will ever find anyone as gentle and kind as you are."
"Please, stop... Yuna, please..."
Silence settles. So much lies unspoken, too much for mere words to express. Baralai wants to end the call and be done with this uncomfortable and intimate conversation, but it feels wrong to leave the issue hanging, an issue neither have the courage to confess. Baralai hears a door open in the background, and Yuna excuses herself to address the person talking to her. Going by the soft male voice, it must be her father.
"My dad came in to say goodnight. He told me to say goodnight to you, too."
"Tell him I said goodnight also. I should be going to bed now anyway. This is usually the time I start getting ready."
"Oh, already? But I want to talk to you more..."
"About what?" he says, not intending to sound annoyed.
"I just... I want to keep listening to you, even if you're quiet..."
This girl. Baralai sighs, walking over to the open window. Peering out into the night, he leans forward to rest his arms on the sill and breathes in the fresh air. The silence calms him, even more so knowing Yuna likes the silence, too. "Hey. Are you in your room right now?"
"Can you go look outside? I want to show you something."
"Give me a second." Pause. "What do you want to show me?"
"Look up at the sky. What do you see?"
"...I see the moon, and the stars."
"Can you say that we are looking at the same thing? We share the same sky, the same moon, the same stars, and the same time, and even the same connection. This is as close as we can get to one another. At least, during this time of day." Baralai surrenders to the lull of conversation, content with the silence. At the sound of tears, however, he straightens up a little out of concern. "Yuna, are you crying?"
"N-No, I... I'm not sad. I mean, I am sad, but not about that." She sniffles, and he can hear the phone shift as she rubs her face. "What you said, it really moved me... You're such a wonderful person, you know that?"
"Yuna, when you say things like that..."
"...nothing. Never mind. Goodnight. I'm ending the call here."
He stops, alarmed. "Yes? What is it?"
"Are you, um... mad at me?"
Sensing his confusion, she breathes out a sigh of relief. "Oh. Okay. I was afraid you were angry at me again."
"If you keep persisting in this manner for a talk that spans late into the night, I will be," Baralai says, nothing short of amused. "Do you know what time it is? Time for bed. Goodnight. And just to clarify, I am not angry at you."
Yuna giggles. "Okay. Goodnight."
"Do you mean it? I won't be receiving any late night calls, will I?"
"...hmm, maybe~." It takes some real effort to sigh as loud as he does, and she laughs. "Okay, okay, I won't. Will you be keeping your phone on tonight?"
"Keep my phone on? Why? Should turn it off just in case you have something planned that I don't want to know about?" he says, amused by the possibility.
"Huh? What are you talking ab–? Oh, no, I mean, um... are we going to do the thing we did yesterday?"
"What thing – oh, you mean when we left that call running as we slept? Perhaps. Do you want to? I don't see the point, though."
"Yay! Yes. It felt really nice, and I want to do it again. Do you mind?"
"It's not a problem for me, since I have free minutes between nine pm and seven am. But I will only allow this if you go to sleep, understood? I have a strict curfew to maintain if I want to wake up at five o'clock and still receive my eight hours of sleep. I need you to respect this."
"I can just picture you smiling right now," he says, poking fun at her, feeling the resonance of her smile intensify. And Baralai wonders if she can picture him smiling as well.