The softness of your eyes
to unfiltered sunlight,
and tremble to any cloud
But I’ll kiss
every shard of amethyst
the thunder may break from them.”
Yugi rubbed her thumb across the cursive, as though she could feel the fingers of the writer through them. She couldn’t help but smile. Even if it were a horrible prank, she could believe it for now, couldn’t she?
Joey, however, took out the red rose from Yugi’s locker with a frown.
“I don’t know why, but I gotta bad feel’n ’bout this guy.”
“You got a bad feeling about every guy.” Which, knowing Joey’s history with gangs and her abusive drunk of a father, wasn’t surprising.
“Someone’s gotta. If it weren’ for me, you’d go out with the first fellow who asked, even if he had ‘Yay Date Rape’ on his forehead.”
“I’d like to think I’m not that stupid.”
“Naïve, Yug. If you ever call yourself stupid I’m punch’n your lights out, best friend or not, especially after beat’n me at Martian Rails by $2,500 last night. I’m still pissed off at you for that.”
What she didn’t know was that it was actually $5,500, but Yugi had kindly ignored that and told her friend the lesser number. She had to, otherwise Joey might not play another game with her, and then where would she be? Tea wouldn’t anymore, that was for sure—even if Yugi had just blessed her with an entire week of personal voice lessons with Mr. Atem.
Come English class, however, Yugi was presented with a far bigger problem than Mr. Keith’s torment when Tea ran out of the classroom and didn’t come back. She sent Yugi a text saying she had to go home sick, and Yugi didn’t ask for details. Joey texted back that it was probably a bad case of the runs, followed with a little cat-lipped smiley.
This left Yugi to walk into the empty choir room on her own, her hands clammy and her mouth dry, and no second singer to hide behind. Mr. Atem waited at the baby grand as usual with his hands picking out chords.
“Where’s Tea?” he asked, stopping mid G-Major scale.
Yugi mumbled something that she hoped sounded enough like ‘she’s sick’ to make sense, but sounded scrambled even to her. Mr. Atem looked concerned, but then smiled softly.
“I’m proud of you for coming anyways. It’s okay if you’d rather go home.”
But Yugi didn’t move. For some reason, she kept thinking of the doggie bag on Mr. Keith’s desk, and then the lines of the poem she had received that morning. Quiet, now…but I’ll kiss every shard…
She looked down at her sweaty hands. The sight of them almost made her cry. Even as she thought of her own nervousness and how awful it felt to always have her stomach twisting up or her face getting hot at the smallest provocation, she could feel her eyes burn.
No, no, she couldn’t cry. She hadn’t even done anything yet.
She heard a squeak of Mr. Atem’s leather boots. He always wore the same leather boots, no matter if he wore jeans, slacks, or shorts. “Yugi, is everything okay?”
No, everything wasn’t okay.
The moment Mr. Atem made a move to stand up, Yugi knew she would flee, and there would be nothing to stop her. She was just too scared, scared of everything, and it was so pathetic. It was already bad enough that she was small as a mouse, forget being as timid as one.
But Mr. Atem didn’t stand up. Rather, he spoke in a gentle voice, barely more than a whisper.
“I won’t laugh.”
And before Yugi could stop herself, she blurted, “I hate me.”
“I-I-I hate how s-shy—I’m f-freaking terrified of everyone, it’s…it’s so stupid, it’s so dumb, I’m so pathetic. I really hate me.”
And there it was. The tears. Oh God, she’d never live this down. She should run right then, right there, and she even turned to do so—
But a warm hand on her wrist stopped her. Just as quickly as it appeared there, it vanished, as though her skin burned him. She dared to look up past her blond bangs.
Mr. Atem wasn’t laughing. Rather, the sharpness that so intimidated all his students had softened with a look Yugi couldn’t decipher; something akin to pain.
It flashed away and Mr. Atem had on a gentle smile instead.
“I’m not going to tell you how silly you are to hate someone like yourself,” he said, still at that low volume as though he were talking to a frightened deer. “But I can say I can help you work on it. You don’t have to be so shy if you don’t want to be.”
Yugi wrinkled her nose in disgust, then sniffed and wiped her eyes roughly. “I don’t know, I’ve never heard of a case as bad as mine.”
“How about we make a bet, then? If I can’t help you overcome your shyness by the end of the year, I’ll pay you $500.”
Yugi’s eyes widened. “What?”
Mr. Atem’s grin had broadened. “Just think of all the games you could get with $500. You do like games, don’t you? I saw you and one of your friends playing in the cafeteria once. Duel Monsters, right?”
Despite all her inhibitions and the thousands of voices screaming at her not to, Yugi’s brain had already started calculating how many packets of Duel Monsters cards she could get with that money. Heck, she could buy a whole box, even, maybe several. She could even pay for a day out with Joey to the arcade, where they could do any game they want until the arcade closed.
Her mouth didn’t feel so dry anymore.
Mr. Atem, still smiling, held out his hand. “Well?”
Yugi gulped, then clasped her teacher’s hand. It was just as warm as it had been before, and the knuckles of his fingers didn’t hurt hers when he squeezed them lightly in a shake, as though they were carved to hold tiny hands like hers.
“Great!” He returned to normal volume, and Yugi flinched. “In that case, I’ll inform miss Tea that her lessons with me are concluded. From now on, it will be just you and me.”