The Monster of July

Damian's life changes when one of his professors turns out to be an acquaintance he had erased from his memory. Demons from the past will come haunting him again as their relationship evolves, dragging them both in a rollercoaster of drama, angst, and yes, sometimes a bit of joy.

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8. Blackmail (part 2)

Later that day, I went to study with Clara at the library as planned. It was pretty crowded, clearly a symptom that midterm season was approaching. We were sitting at a small table, facing each other. All around the vast room, other students were studying silently or speaking in hushed tones. I debated whether I should tell her about what had just happened. On one hand, there was nothing she could do. On the other hand, maybe there was something she could do? I tried to bring up the subject in a subtle manner when we were both silent and apparently focusing on our respective notes. At least, Clara made it look like she was focusing on her notes, but I knew she was secretly determining the best way to get gossip material out of me. However, I beat her to it, "Hey, Clara, have you heard about some students who make other students write their papers for them?"

            "Yeah, why?"

            "What do you think of it?"

            "Well, this counts as plagiarism, right? And the school policy is tolerance zero, so anyone caught doing it, whether they're the ones who cheated or did the work, will be kicked out of the university. So I think it's better not to risk it at all. Are you going to be sick?"

            I guess she said the last part when she noticed me becoming all white and reeling a bit. Plagiarism? I risked another question, "But what if the person doing the work was forced to do it? Would they still get kicked out?"

            "I'm not sure about that... Maybe they would go in front of a board and have to explain themselves, but I don't see why in such a case the person would not just report the cheaters in the first place?"

            "Maybe they were being blackmailed?"

            "Blackmailed? Well... Wait a minute, this is about you, right? What's going on?"

            "Nothing, nothing! Just wondering... Oh sorry, I've got to pick up that call, see you!"

            "What call?"

            I gathered my stuff and left, pretending to be having a conversation on my phone. Clara was fuming at the library table, the cogs turning in her head.

 

            I said earlier that I would think of something to get me out of that situation. Well, that was a lie. All I did over the next few days was to become very involved in the situation. We'd been given a month and a half to do that assignment, but now I had less than two weeks to finish my own and two more. Because of that extra work, I was barely sleeping. I felt like a zombie all day long and became slightly paranoid. The world seemed full of people just waiting for the right moment to start rumours about me. Meanwhile, my mother had to keep calling me every other day to make sure I was studying well, sleeping well, eating well, so that her only child could finally get into med school and become a proper human being.

 

            It soon got down to the week of the deadline, and I spent most of my time writing up the papers at the library. Seeing other students looking like the living dead and working frantically on their own stuff made me feel more normal. It had been a long day and I had skipped all my classes. Every time I thought of taking a break, I was reminded that those thugs wouldn't think twice about ruining my life and Daniel's if they weren't satisfied. I was deep down in my misery when a pair of hands fell on my shoulders from behind me. I let out a manly yelp and turned around on my chair. Manbun was standing there.

            "Shh, we're in a library," he whispered with a smirk as he sat on the chair beside me.

            "Hey, how's it going?" I greeted him half-heartedly.

            "Have you been working on this assignment all day? I thought you'd be done ages ago."

            I just shrugged. I tried to seem unconcerned, but he was sitting very close to me and I was afraid he would be able to tell what I was up to just by looking at my file, so I minimized the window. There, gone.

            "It's getting late... Will you go eat dinner at some point?" he asked.

            I looked back at him to reply, and that's when it hit me... The strangeness in the atmosphere. The lights became dimmer, the air, too dense to breathe properly, too cold and too hot at the same time. The ghost was there.

            "Hey, what's wrong?"

            I shook my head to make the feeling go. Now was not the time to go crazy. I couldn't wait until this whole story was over so I could start sleeping again.

            "Nothing. I'll leave soon, I just need to fix this paragraph..."

            He chuckled, leaning over slightly. I thought he was going to get up, but instead he slowly and deliberately put his hand on my thigh. I stared at him in shock. Judging by the amusement I read in his steel blue eyes, he seemed to feel like his hand was just where it should be. He murmured, "Don't push yourself too hard," giving my leg a gentle squeeze before getting up, grinning like he was taunting me to do something. Who knew what went on in that guy's head? I waited a few more minutes to make sure he would be gone, and then I left the library myself.

           When I got outside, I kept looking around me, half-expecting Manbun to be lurking around in a dark corner, or the boss and his sidekick to come pouncing on me out of nowhere. It was difficult to shake off the fear of being found out, and somehow even harder to shake off the fear of never being found out and having to live with this guilt for the rest of my life. I paused on a viaduct and leaned on the balustrade. It always gave me a sense of relief, watching the stream of cars below me, the red sky glowing in the distance. I took in a huge breath. The wind suddenly changed direction and my scarf became unwound from my neck. I made a futile gesture to catch it, but it was already being carried away by the strong breeze, like a blue wreath of smoke. I sighed and started walking again.

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