The next day, you were walking to school with a tiny bit of nervousness and anticipation stirring inside you. You knew it was going to be awkward for you to walk up to Gilbert and tell him that you wanted to be friends after your rejection of his offer for so long, but it was something that you had to do no matter what.
Besides, this is for my childhood friend. That was a thought that made you even more determined in finding Gilbert and accepting his request for friendship. The fact that you knew it would've brought happiness to your best friend to know that you had made a friend just as he had wanted made you smile. Sure, Gilbert had caused you a lot of pain in the past, but all of that was over, right? The most important thing that mattered was that he regretted what he had done and was asking you to forgive him, meaning he wanted things between the both of you to finally be right.
When you arrived near the front of the school, you looked up towards the front steps to the entrance, somewhat expecting Gilbert to be standing there at the top eating his breakfast or whatever he had been doing on previous occurrences. To your slight disappointment, he wasn't there. You figured that if he was, you would've been able to talk to him in private and accept his request without anybody there to see or possibly interrupt. Still, that didn’t mean you weren’t going to be seeing him in the halls in between periods during the school day, when you normally had interactions with him. There was still a chance you could've been able to talk to him in private.
It turned out that you never got the chance to see Gilbert all the way up until the beginning of lunch. The hallways were almost empty as you were heading towards the cafeteria doors, but froze when out of the corner of your eye you were able to spot him heading towards you and towards the doors which you were currently standing in front of.
“Oh, hey _____,” Gilbert said casually as he walked up to one of the doors and was about to open it.
Before he had the chance to do so, however, you quickly grasped his wrist and pulled him back. “Listen, I need to tell you something.” You kept your gaze fixed on the floor, refusing to look up and meet his now confused one.
Gilbert, who was a little surprised by this sudden interaction between the both of you, blinked. “Yeah?”
A few moments of silence passed between the both of you before you finally let go of his wrist and lifted your gaze up, briefly looking around you to make sure nobody was around to hear. You motioned him to a corner a few yards away from the doors, and once the both of you paused, you lifted your gaze to look up at him. You were able to feel the rapid beating of your heart in your chest, making you wonder why you were feeling so anxious. “Look, last night I realized that turning you down every time you asked for forgiveness was wrong. I realized that the best thing to do was just accept your request of friendship, since now I understand that what you had done to me before was the past, you became a completely different person, and you’ve changed. So I know that the best way to create a convenient and suitable relationship between the both of us is if I just forgave you for everything you did and we became...friends.”
You saw the expression in Gilbert’s eyes fill with surprise, confusion, and a bit of relief. “But...why?” he asked quietly. “Why are you saying this? What made you think like this when you’ve been rejecting me for weeks?”
You stayed silent for a few moments, uncertain about whether or not you should've told him about your dream. Finally, you took a deep breath and replied softly. “Well...last night I had a dream about a moment from my childhood....A boy was talking to me, and he told me that after I leave him, I should make new friends. And I realized that I hadn’t had a single friend like him throughout my school years. And I figured that since you’ve wanted to be my friend for nearly a month...I figured it would've made both you and him happy if I just accepted your request, even if he’s not here anymore.”
For a moment, you were able to detect conflict in Gilbert’s eyes, as well as an unusual emotion that you had not seen before. Finally, he let out a sigh and looked at you longingly. “Does that mean you...forgive me?”
“Yes,” you said with a small nod. “Though it’s still hard for me to imagine you as a truly nice person considering all you’ve put me through for the past three years...I think that my view will be able to change within time. So I forgive you.”
A smile instantly made its way to Gilbert’s face. “Thank you, _____. You have no idea how much this means to me....I-I'm sorry for everything...”
He reached out and grasped your hand, but as soon as you sensed the contact, you let out a small whimper and shrunk back, shutting your eyes tight and feeling nervousness pound through you. “Don’t...Don’t touch me...”
“Oh, sorry,” Gilbert muttered a bit hurtfully as he drew his hand back.
You opened your eyes again and stood upright. “It...It’s just that...My instincts have gotten used to the fact that your touch has caused me pain for so long, so I can't help but shrink back as if you were still hurting me...”
“Oh...” he said quietly, a saddened expression coming across his face. “S-Sorry...”
You shook your head. “It’s nothing. I'm sure my body and mind will get used to it soon.”
A somewhat awkward moment of silence passed between the both of you, during which you lifted your head up to look at Gilbert, who was presently staring down at the floor. Now that you forgave him for everything he did and were his friend, you began to look at him in a slightly different way. He no longer seemed as much as a fear and an enemy to you as he was back when he was bullying you. Now, you saw a possibility of establishing a new relationship with him, one much calmer and safer than the one you had before.
“By the way,” you said, causing Gilbert to lift his gaze to look up at you, “I never got the chance to tell you earlier, but...thank you for carrying me to the infirmary when I was unconscious.”
“Oh, uh...sure,” he muttered, his cheeks reddening only the slightest amount. After a few moments of silence, he spoke up again. “Hey, _____, by any chance...did you...bring a lunch with you today?”
You shook your head, looking up at him in confusion. “No...I don’t usually bring lunches.”
“Did you bring money, then?” When you shook your head again, Gilbert gave you a look of slight disapproval. “If you want...I can buy you something to eat from the cafeteria,” he suggested.
You frowned. “I don’t need you to do that.”
“Well, I don’t want you to go hungry,” he retorted. “Even if you're not, you still need to eat something. I'm going to be buying lunch anyway, so it’s no big deal for me to buy you something. Got it?”
“Okay...um...” you stayed quiet for a few moments before you looked down at the floor in befuddlement and a bit of surprise.
Unsatisfied with the uneasy expression on your face, Gilbert asked, “What?”
“Oh, nothing,” you murmured. “It’s just that...it seems so weird that now you're offering to buy lunch for me and actually mean it when only a few months ago, when I was stuck without a lunch, you offered to give me your sandwich but acted like it was a joke and took it away from me when I was about to take it.”
“Oh...” Gilbert said softly. “I...I’m sorry, _____.”
“It’s fine,” you said a bit bitterly, dismissing it with a wave of your hand. Pushing past him, you began to head towards the cafeteria doors. “I don’t need any more apologies from you, because they’ll just make me annoyed. Let’s just go and get lunch.”
For the next couple of weeks that followed, you continued to interact with Gilbert, though the friendship that occurred between the both of you was still a bit tense and distant. You still didn’t completely trust him and still didn’t feel like you could have gone to him to help you with any problems that you might've been having, but you were already starting to feel the relationship between the both of you start to get better. You no longer saw him as annoying as you did when he was pestering you to be his friend, and with each passing day that you saw him and he treated you nicely, you were seeing him less and less as a bully and more as someone who was kind and protective towards you.
Kind of like...my old best friend....
You were still extremely uneasy of bringing up the subject about your childhood friend to Gilbert. You doubted you were ever going to be able to tell him about him, since that was a topic that was very emotional to you and you often kept personal and hidden, even from your parents. The closest you had ever gotten to telling Gilbert exactly about your best friend was when you were recalling the dream you had had the night before you accepted the albino’s forgiveness. Other than that, you were probably going to refrain from mentioning your friend to Gilbert for a long, long time. Just because the two of you were friends didn’t mean he instantly gained your trust and you felt like you could've told him every single thing that was important to or bothered you.
Before you knew it, the end of May had arrived, meaning summer vacation was getting closer and closer to finally starting. You were always relieved when summer started because that gave you three whole months of healing your scars and staying away from Gilbert in peaceful relaxation, even if you knew those wonderful moments would've come to an end eventually. Now you saw summer as a way to take a break from all the schoolwork you had been receiving, as well as trying to put all of this bullying behind you once and for all.
One morning, as you got out of bed and were dressing for school, you once again turned your gaze over to the picture of you and your childhood friend sitting on top of your nightstand. You paused, staring down at it with a look of nostalgia and longing. You remembered that whenever summer was in place, you and your friend always spent time together at the park, where sprinklers were constantly running, or you were invited to his house where you two often took a swim in his backyard pool together.
Those were the days...you thought with a yearning smile as you approached the picture and grasped it. This picture held so much meaning to you...It was one of the few memories of your best friend that weren’t stored away somewhere in your parents’ photo albums. You thought about taking this picture out of its frame and bringing it to school with you, secretly looking at it in times when you were alone and could've remembered the happiness you shared with your best friend instead of the difficult times you were currently facing.
But...what if Gilbert sees this? You didn’t want him, or anyone else, knowing about your childhood best friend, but since it seemed like most people in the school couldn’t have cared less about your personal memories, you didn’t see much of a problem in taking the photo along with you and secretly looking at it in between periods, even for only one day. Besides, you needed to figure out at least some way you would've been able to communicate with him again, and maybe being in a school setting with other kids might've helped.
Carefully taking the photo out of its place in the picture frame, you tucked it securely in your sweater pocket before you took your backpack placed next to your chair, slung it over your shoulder, and began to head downstairs for breakfast.
Later on that day, a short while after the school bell rang and you were walking down the hallway to your next period, you took the photo out of your pocket and examined it quietly, briefly looking around you to make sure nobody was there to see, especially Gilbert.
You knew that you would've stopped at nothing to try and see your best friend, no matter how much time it took. Your desire to see him kept on growing and growing with each passing day, and with summer coming up in only a few weeks, you saw the perfect opportunity to spend the vacation trying to look for him so maybe, possibly, the two of you could've met up in some sort of way. Unless, of course, he happened to go on vacation for the whole season, but you certainly hoped that wouldn’t happen.
Walking at a slow pace so you wouldn’t have bumped into anybody, you kept your gaze lowered to the picture as several thoughts continued swarming through your mind. Such a shame it was that no matter how hard you tried to think, you simply could not remember his name. If you did, you probably would've had more information as to where he currently was. Not only that, but you didn’t even remember the hometown of where the both of you had lived in during your childhood. You two had lived only a few blocks away from each other in the same neighborhood, and you bet that if you remembered the name, you would've been able to visit and see if he still might've been hanging around there.
Your thoughts were interrupted by a forceful hand suddenly shoving you against the lockers, causing a surprised gasp to escape your lips. The sound of obnoxious laughing filled your ears, and you shakily lifted your head to see a group of about four boys surrounding you, looking down at you with menacing expressions on their faces.
“Watch where you're going, you idiot,” the boy closest to you smirked. “You almost made me trip over your feet!”
“Oh, uh...sorry,” you mumbled as you stared down at the picture you still held tightly in your hands. You seriously didn’t want to have to deal with any more bullies in your life, and now was definitely not a good moment for you to have to do so.
“Sorry doesn’t cut it,” the same boy growled. The other three changed positions so that they were all surrounding you before he noticed the picture you held in your hands and snickered. “Hey, what's this?” Quickly, before you had time to react, he reached forward and roughly snatched the picture from your hands, causing you to look up at him with wide, surprised eyes.
“Hey, give that back!” you yelled, trying to take back the photo from the boy who snatched it from you. Instead, he only laughed as he raised his arm up so that you were unable to grasp it even if you jumped. “You can't take the photo!” you cried. “It’s—” You were interrupted from your sentence when two of the other boys on either side of you grabbed both of your arms and pushed you back against the locker, leaving you pressed against there with clenched teeth and tears threatening to come out of your eyes as you helplessly watched the boy in front of you examine the photo.
“Hmm...Two stupid little kids playing in a sandbox together, eh?” He smirked. “How babyish.”
“I-It’s not babyish!” you cried. “It’s none of your business!”
“Oh, is this you?” the boy asked, pointing to the younger you in the picture as he showed it to you. “Who’s the other kid?”
“I-I don’t remember...”
“Oh, really?” he smirked again, and the other three boys gathered around the photo to look at it with the same menacing expressions on their faces.
You were powerless to do anything as they took turns looking at the photo, and you prayed over and over in your head that they wouldn’t have ripped it.
“Hey, he kinda looks like Gilbert!” one of the boys said.
“Yeah, he does,” said another, and the rest of the boys nodded their heads in agreement.
You clenched your fists and growled. “Well, it’s not him!”
“Oh, really?” the boy holding the photo asked, looking up at you with an evil smile. “How do you know? Do you even know this kid’s name?”
“N-No...” you murmured softly.
“Well then,” he said, lifting the photo up again as he took out a cigarette lighter from his pocket and turned it on. “Since you don’t seem to remember much about him, I suppose you wouldn’t care if I do...this?” Slowly, he brought the ignited lighter closer to the picture he held up in his hand, that same smirk never leaving his face.
You let out a gasp as your eyes widened, your heart racing in panic. He can't! Somehow, you found that you were powerless to move, helplessly watching as the boy drew the cigarette lighter closer to the precious photo of you and your best friend. Suddenly, something came over you that made a rush of energy fill your body.
“No!” you screamed and ran up, leaping into the air and quickly snatching the photo out of the boy’s hand while managing to burn your arm in the process. You fell back down to the floor with a grimace, wincing as you held your burnt arm while still holding the picture tightly in your hand.
The boy whipped around to face you, anger evident on his face. “Hey, you give that back!”
You looked up at him with a terrified expression before you got back up on your feet and quickly ran away from them, tears falling freely from your eyes as you clutched the picture tightly to your chest. That was close!
You didn’t stop running, and vowed not to stop running until you safely made it to your next homeroom period. You would have continued to run if it weren’t for you knocking into someone and instantly falling to the ground, your grasp on the picture escaping once again. Instantly, you felt a wave of pain run through you as you lie there on the floor with closed eyes and occasional moans escaping you. Finally, you found the strength to prop yourself up on your elbows and rub the back of your head with your hand, slowly opening your eyes.
“Oh, _____, I'm so sorry,” you heard a familiar voice say. Opening your eyes, you saw Gilbert sitting on the floor a few feet away from you, rubbing his arm with his hand.
You sighed. “It’s my fault, really. I was running and I didn’t see you there.”
He nodded before he drifted his gaze over to the picture that was lying on the floor a few feet away from you. “Hey, what's this?” he asked as he reached out and picked up the picture, looking down at it with a confused face.
You gave him a befuddled look for a few moments before you saw him staring down at the picture of you and your childhood friend and a horrified expression instantly came across your face. “Don’t look at that!” you screamed, immediately leaning forward and snatching the picture out of his hands, but not before he had time to thoroughly examine everything about it.
As you stood up on your feet while looking down at him with anger visible in your eyes, you were instantly able to see the expression on his face change. Instead of showing confusion, it showed surprise, horror, and another emotion that you were unable to detect as he still kept his gaze fixed on his hands that once held the picture.
“Hey, are you listening to me?” you asked, putting the picture in your pocket. “Don’t look at my stuff without asking, okay?”
Gilbert seemed not to have heard you, since his entire body seemed frozen as he still stared down at his hands with a troubled expression on his face, his mouth slightly open.
“Gilbert!” you yelled impatiently, leaning forward and waving your hand in front of his face. “Hello? Are you dead to the world or something? Listen to me! Gilbert!”
Finally, he seemed to snap out of his trance and slowly turned his head, looking up so that his eyes were able to lock with yours. “Are you okay?” you asked a bit irritably. “Because you—”
You instantly found that you were unable to finish your sentence as you saw him staring at you with an expression that you had never seen him carry before. His eyes were slightly wide and filled with an emotion that you were unable to detect, and he seemed to be examining you in a way that made you uncomfortable.
“Wh-Why are you staring at me like that!?” you gasped, backing away from him a little bit. “If you want me to help you up or something, then just say so!” But as a few moments passed and he still did nothing but stare at you, you felt the last of your patience wither away. “You're so weird!”
Quickly, you turned on your heel before you resumed running to your next class, not even bothering to look back at Gilbert as he still stared after you with a look of pure shock and astonishment.