"Casey?" I hear someone calling for me through my own darkness. I ignore them and hope that they'll just leave me alone.
"Casey?" the voice calls for me louder until I come back to reality once again.
"What?" I answer groggily through my now sore throat at the annoying person waking me up from my own misery.
Benji. I start to see red. It's all his fault.
"You!" I yell at him throwing all my rage and frustration at him.
"What?" he says really flustered.
"It's all your fault! You just always had to be in my face. Always in my life. You could never just let me be. Because of you," I gasp for breath.
"What are you talking about?" he asks like he doesn't know what I'm talking about. This infuriates me even more.
"What do you mean you don't know what I'm talking about? The whole reason I'm in this mess is because of you. You told my parents that I wasn't with you this morning, didn't you?" I accuse him and stab my finger into his chest.
"What do you mean?" he asks me. "I never talked to your parents this morning."
"You're lying! How would my parents find out that I wasn't tutoring you this morning? You always pop up without asking all the time! How do I know that you just didn't pop up at my house?" I accuse him.
"Casey, I didn't go to your house this morning. You have to trust me."
I don't want to hear whatever he has to say. "Because of you I don't even have a chance to choose! A chance to live my life! A chance to freedom! It's all your fault."
"What happened?" Benji asks me.
"Everything happened. Because you couldn't just leave me alone, my father took the initiative to sign my future away. He's making me go to the college he wants rather than I want," I start getting on a roll and release all the thoughts that have been plaguing me. "I just wanted to be able to make this one decision. Just this one. I wanted to be able to choose my college, and I would be the doctor that my dad wanted. Just this one choice. I worked so hard… so hard… for nothing."
Suddenly, I feel tired. I collapse on the bench as my buzzing thoughts finally calm down. Finally, reason washes over me, and I feel ashamed for yelling at Benji like that.
"Casey, what happened?" he asks me patiently again.
I take a deep breath and tell him everything that has happened today.
"I've always been a good kid," I continue. "I've always listened to whatever my parents said. Get good grades. I'm the valedictorian. Be a model citizen. I'm the president of the Red Cross club. Everyone thinks that I'm this perfect wonderful person, but I'm not. I'm a mindless robot built by my parents. If I were so smart, then why do I always mindlessly follow them? I think I'm the biggest dumbass in the world."
We both fall into silence. He absorbs my words, while I'm processing my own thoughts. "Why am I even telling you this anyways? You know what? Forget everything I just said," I quickly get up to escape from him.
"Wait," Benji calls for me and grabs my arm. "Why are you leaving?" He asks me sincerely.
"I should've never unloaded all my emotional crap onto you. Just forget everything I told you, and I'll see you tomorrow," I tell him quickly with a halfhearted smile and try to walk away once again.
"Wait, Casey, listen to me," he says and holds me from leaving again. "Hey," he tries to get my attention. "You are not a mindless robot. If you were a mindless zombie, you wouldn't be feeling what you are right now. Also, you're not a dumbass. Do you think it's easy to just become the valedictorian cause someone says so? You actually have to be smart. Other people would kill to have your brains. And, I don't understand why you are so upset about this."
"What do you mean?" I ask him slightly offended. Does he think that my problems are miniscule?
"You can always contact your college and explain the situation. They could always cancel your admittance and go back to deciding your future," he says.
His advice hits me. I can just do that.
"I… can. Can't I?" I say slowly as realization hit me.
"You're not confined by the decisions made by your father," he tells me as he looks at me straight in the eye.
"I… You're just saying that to make me feel better," I blush.
"No. You are not confined by the decisions of others," he repeats again. "You are only confined by your own decisions," he says.
"What do you mean?" I ask him curiously.
"You are the only person who can make decisions of your own life. Whichever path you take because of these decisions is the burden you must bear because that's the price of freedom," he says with wisdom that I never expected to see from him.
"Benji," I start to say something, but he cuts me off as he hugs me by surprise.
"You should stop worrying so much. Because whatever decision you make, you'll be alright," he reassures me.
I could feel the intense heat radiating from his body that cancels out the cold wet April weather. The warmth comforts me, and I can't help but to lean into his chest even more. It's refreshing to hear such support from someone else. Benji rubs reassuring circles on my back as if to remind me that there is someone here to listen to me.
"Benji," I croak through my sore voice after all the crying and talking, "I'm alright now," I tell him. He finally lets me go, and I take a step to distance myself from him. "Thanks Benji," I tell him sincerely and smile to show him that I feel a lot better now.
"Any time, mien schatzi," he tells me.
"I don't know what I should do now," I admit. Although it's really easy to make the call or email the admission office to deny my admittance, I still have to go against my dad to do so, which is not something I'm so eager to do at this moment. I also have no intention to go home and confront my parents yet. But, I have no idea where to go right now. I don't have money, my phone, or any form of transportation.
"You know what," he declares and grabs my hand, "Let's go somewhere," He drags me to an unknown location.
"Wait, Benji," I try to stop him only through words but my body willingly follows him. "Where are we going?" I ask him.
"I don't know," he gives a carefree answer.
"I really should head back home," I make a weak excuse.
"What are you talking about?" he tells me with a mischievous smile. "You don't want to go home yet," he sees right through me. "I don't want to go home yet, so let's just go where our feet lead us," he grips my hand tighter in reassurance.
I laugh at the prospect of adventure and pure freedom to go anywhere I want to. "Alright," I tell him and respond to his grip.
We casually run through the damp park passing by trees that have finally gotten rid of the last traces of winter and animals slowly starting to pop out to see if spring has arrived yet. I could feel my chest bubbling at the sense of exploring the unknown forest that I never dared to venture in before at the reprimand of my parents. As we slow down our pace, Benji points out the different plants in the woods that surround the park. As we walk through the peaceful and quiet forest, we arrive at a clear spot in the woods that has a mysterious rock formation.
"I've never seen this before," I tell him in awe as I walk around to examine the strange boulder.
"There are a lot of beautiful places in this forest," he chuckles as he sees my wonder that is similar to a child's.
"I don't think I really looked at this park like this before," I tell him, "I usually take the same trail for a jog and come quickly back home because I have something to do," I sit on a flat part of the rock to rest.
We fall into a peaceful quiet as we listen to the sounds of nature and enter the serenity of the forest.
"What do you want to do now?" he asks me gently as we both get up and walk back to civilization as the sky becomes darker.
I sigh as we enter this conversation once again.
"I guess I'll just go back home and think about what I'm going to do," I say with dread.
"What do you mean? I thought you're going to revoke your admittance," I asks me.
"It's just that it's not as easy as you think. I have to go against my dad, and I have to gather a lot of courage to do that. I've never done that before."
He nods his head and says encouragingly, "Just know that you're not alone. You can always ask me or anyone else for help."
I don't know why I'm feeling so emotional, but I almost burst into tears again from his words. I move my head the other way so that he can't see my teary eyes. Once, I calm down, I look back to him and say, "Thank you" again.
"Any time," he says with a genuine smile.
"You know," I tell him. "You're a good kid," I ruffle his hair. "I wish I could have a little brother like you." I smile sadly.
I hear him growl softly, which takes me aback from his unusual gentleness during out talk. His smile quickly turns upside down at my words.
"I'm not a kid," he tells me seriously and kisses me on the lips.
I feel my heart flutter unconsciously as my cheeks turn a very bright pink. When his lips part from mine he says softly, "Don't ever forget that," before walking away.
Did Benji just kiss me?
And, why don't I hate it?