Author’s note: wellll I’m back! Just realized I had a lot of cousins who are potatoes here in the province, and I just can’t help but keenly observing their personalities, constantly asking the mothers, “How old did she/he start talking? Walking? First word?” ? kind of reminds me of my acting classes in the past. Funny how it’s so useful now! I’m glad my little cousins ages vary too, so I have a background for the next arc which I’m already starting on fufufu~
Once we arrived at the base of the mountain, the teachers had us trek up the five mile hiking trail to the top. At the top, they said, were cottages that waited for us by the scenic lake. I hoped the view was enough to take away our exhaustion.
“Give me your bag.” I turned to Sarielle and extended my hand. She was a small woman, only reaching my shoulders, and I did not want her to carry such a heavy load while we trekked.
Sarielle blushed and then said stiltedly, “I…I can take care of myself.”
Ah, he still kept his manly pride, I see.
“It’s okay,” I said. It didn’t matter to me if he lost his dignity by this much. He was a girl now and I cared about his health. Back when I didn’t know she was Jin, I had let her do many gentlemanly things for me because I didn’t want her to be upset. Now that I knew she retained Jin’s memories, I finally saw why she kept doing those things. But I wanted to return the favor this time around.
I took the knapsack from her shoulder despite her protests. I weighed it in my hand. It was quite heavy for her standard.
I looked over my shoulder to see how Gary and Kina were doing. Kina looked like she was struggling with her duffel bag as well, and I was about to take it from her hands until Gary spoke.
“Here, let me carry that for you.” Gary took Kina’s bag from her hands without her approval, and she pouted.
“Thanks,” she said reluctantly.
“No problem,” Gary replied.
I nodded my head. “Let’s go.”
As we climbed the trails, we saw that the sun was beginning to set. The yellow-orange glow peeked through the tree branches, bathing the floor with color.
“I wish I brought my camera,” Kina whined as she stopped in front of us.
“Too bad,” Gary said as he grinned.
The trail was rocky as well as a little muddy, as rain had fallen on the mountain a couple of days ago.
“Careful,” I told everyone. I looked behind me to see if any of my classmates were struggling with the trails. I was glad they were clustered in groups, permitting them to rely on each other if one ever fell.
When I turned my head back to the front, I did not realize I had stepped on a particular slippery portion of the ground, and I started losing my balance. I thought I was going to fall backwards, but I suddenly felt hands on my elbows and back. I realized that three people had immediately supported me as soon as I looked like I was about to fall.
I grinned sheepishly and thanked them as I fixed the two bags on both shoulders.
We continued on, and I made Gary, Kina and Sarielle walk in front of me in case any one of them were to fall. At least I would be behind to catch them.
“I’m going to stay beside you if I can’t stay behind you,” Sarielle asserted as she stopped in her tracks.
Gary and Kina remonstrated as well, but I didn’t concur. With the current body I had, I was a good meaty support. Suddenly, Gary looked at Sarielle and I with a look of understanding in his eyes, and he took Kina’s arms to walk further to the front. Did Gary actually think I wanted to spend alone time with Sarielle, hence his change in attitude? I was actually trying to be a gentleman here, not someone with ulterior motives! Ah, my good intentions were misinterpreted.
“Do you want to hold my hand?” Sarielle asked, holding out a hand towards me with a demure smile.
“Just so you won’t lose your balance,” I made a prompt excuse to make it seem like I wasn’t so eager. However, I grabbed her hand quite eagerly.
“Riiiight.” Sarielle shook her head at me with a helpless expression.
The terrain became fairly rugged on the final leg to the summit, and I was glad I was holding Sarielle’s hand, or she would have fallen over thousands of times. Because she had a small stature and was not in any clubs, preferring to stay and wait for me to finish my practices, her muscles were not defined and her stamina was lacking. In this life, I was her rock, and I could not deny the smug feeling of satisfaction of having her lean on me like this.
We arrived at the summit before the sun had completely set, and the cottages that the Academy had constructed especially for us were quaintly surrounding the tranquil lake like sentries.
“Good job everyone for arriving on time!” Our PE teacher was the head of this excursion, and he was also the class adviser for our class section. “Now, I’m sorry to disappoint you youngsters, but gender will be segregated! Boys on the left side lake cottages and girls on the right . Each cottage has two rooms, with five students per room. Dinner is served at 8pm! I’ll see you in the main lodge’s mess hall!”
After the teachers called out the student’s names for the respective cottages,
we were allowed to have a brief one hour rest before dinner.
“I’ll bring your bag back to your cottage,” I told Sarielle. I had already let go of her hand when we arrived at the summit, as I didn’t like how it brought so many curious glances from my peers.
Gary, who had also shouldered Kina’s bag, went with me to the female’s cottages as well. As if it was fate, Kina and Sarielle ended up sharing a room together and so did Gary and I. Perhaps the groupings were settled by determining cliques within the junior batchmates, to prevent unnecessary discord.
Before I left, Sarielle gave me a pack of hot-packs, saying, “It gets chilly at night.”
I was grateful for her concern. It was then Kina pulled out a woolen blanket from her bag and gave it to me.
“It also gets cold. Here,” Kina said while stuffing the blanket in my arms.
“Huh? But aren’t you gonna use it?” I asked, dumbfounded. Her bag didn’t seem to be carrying another extra?
“I have an extra,” Kina said as she hid the deflated duffel bag behind her legs.
“No, it’s fine,” I said as I returned the blanket to her.
Kina stomped her feet, looking quite upset. I honestly didn’t know what to do.
“Just take it Ryle,” Sarielle said. “Kina has an extra blanket with her so you don’t have to worry.”
Kina looked like she swallowed a fly. If Sarielle defended her in order to preserve Kina’s dignity, then I couldn’t help but think that Sarielle was a really good friend to her. I was glad their relationship didn’t seem so strained after all.
Because Sarielle had supported Kina, I had no choice but to carry the blanket with me back to our cottage.