A Serenade for the Innocent Chapter 71: Friend

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I wasn't really prepared for anything, but I am already thinking about what this conversation with Mike would entail.
































"This is going to be one of those recruitment shit," I mumbled to myself as I lazily wore a black T-shirt that I had pulled from a plastic basket in the corner filled with unwashed laundry. It doesn't smell bad or anything, so I guess it's okay. "Probably religious shit." I sighed as I dusted my black jeans. I tried rubbing my sweaty hands on a white stain around the cloth near my pants' zipper, but not even the wetness of my hand could remove it. I frowned in disappointment, but I wasn't particularly surprised. I decided just to pull my shirt down to hide that white stain, which worked somehow.
































I groaned, wanting to cancel the meetup while I still have some time, but we already planned this thing days before today, so it's just ugh... It's quite embarrassing now to suddenly cancel it out of nowhere. I know that this will only be some kind of religious talk that is meant to lead me to their church and be a part of their religion or some shit. I haven't been invited to this kind of religious meeting stuff before, but I have heard it a lot after reading about it on the internet. Friend A and Friend B never met after a long time, and suddenly, Friend B wants to meet for a "friendly" chat.
































I know that you think I'm being a huge dick for thinking about Mike like this when I haven't even met him yet, but I saw his Facebook profile after our little chat on the phone, and let me tell ya, it's got nothing but Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! We even chatted a bit yesterday in our private DMs, and he kept telling me about his problems with social media and how he never really uses it because it severs his "spiritual ties with the people from above," and I think that's just bullshit indoctrination made by some old people in his church! Again, I don't have a problem with Mike because I know that he is a chill kinda guy, cool dude. Still, I just don't think it's really worth both of our time for me to listen to his preaching when I know deep in my heart that I wouldn't budge no matter how much he talks about the stories I already read in the bible. This is the thing I hate the most about our fucking stupid society. The church and the state will always dictate what you have to do, and you're never really free as a human because you put your faith in this nonexistent old dude in the sky and a bunch of corrupt fucks trying to work you hard for your money. If I have a choice, I would love it if I wouldn't have to pay my taxes anymore and force the church to pay all the people's taxes instead, so gullible fucks like Mike would actually feel like his "faith" is helping him.

































Haa...



















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It doesn't matter anymore now anyway. I've already made this appointment with Mike, so I'm just hoping that we will only be having a friendly chat just as he promised.
































I took another look at the mirror before leaving my room. I noticed a few orange stains at the upper right corner of my t-shirt near the collar, which I haven't seen earlier, but I just rubbed it with my sweaty fingers again in hopes that it would disappear. It did, for the most part, and I'm okay with that, so I guess it's time to go now.
































I did as he told me. I booked an Uber and went straight to this mall that Mike kept pestering me about. Funny enough, I just realized that this Plural Heights mall and the Plural Heights I saw in the porn ads came from the same company! I saw it somewhere in Google after searching about the mall; there's this article where the headline says that the Plural Heights and the porn ads are the same, which made me laugh, so I just left it like that. I'm not sure if this "Plural Heights" is the same as that one I heard in that convenience store, though.
































After a few minutes, the Uber driver finally told me that we have arrived at the destination, which is cool. I checked my belongings if I didn't forget anything in the car and thanked the driver, noticing that he had been whining and rubbing his nose for the entirety of our car ride. I wonder what that was all about.
































It didn't really matter. Luckily, the driver let me step out in front of the 7-11, where I was supposed to meet Mike. Right out of the bat, after seeing the car driving away, I saw Mike sitting on a bench outside of the store. He looked quite neat with his green polo shirt, blue pants, and the thick glasses that I never saw him wear before in high school. He was too busy looking at his phone and listening to the music coming out of his earphones that he didn't notice me approaching.
































I tapped his shoulder, which made him flinch and jump up after noticing that I had arrived. I laughed at him after seeing his comical reaction, and he did the same, embarrassed at how easily I made him tremble.
































"How are you?" Mike nonchalantly greeted with a carefree smile while putting his phone and earphones in his messenger bag.
































I chuckled after seeing how relaxed he was contrary to how tense his vibe was when he called me on the phone. "I'm doing okay," I said, sitting on the bench in front of him and putting my bag on the table between us. "How about you? I haven't heard much about you anymore!"
































"Yeah, it's true. I'm doing okay, though." He chuckled while tapping his finger on the table with his eyes cast down on the ground. "I'm doing well, really. How about you, though? How are you?"
































I chuckled at him with a look of confusion. "I already told you that I'm doing alright, dude."
































Mike's eyes widened, and his body pulled away from me slightly after realizing the mistake that he had just done. "Oh, yeah. God, I'm sorry!" He tried to act cool, but based on the way he's awkwardly slumping his back, I already knew that he's killing himself in the inside because of how embarrassed he's feeling.
































"It's cool, Mike. Settle down. We have a lot to talk about, don't we?" I said, gesturing him to calm down with my hands.
































He showed me a bright smile that he had never really shown back then when we were younger, which surprised me a bit because I knew how gloomy he was. Well, I'm happy that he's doing well.
































"I don't really have a lot to talk about," said Mike with the same bright smile. "I actually just invited you here out of nowhere, but I have no clue what to talk about!"
































What a pleasant surprise! Well, I guess I judged Mike so quickly just because he posts a lot of bible verses in his timeline. I chuckled in response and started talking about my life, my job, my family, and the lack of exciting things happening in my life.
































"I'm not sure it's true that your life isn't interesting!" Mike replied after hearing my anger-filled rant about my current life. "You've always been a friendly guy; you've always had a fun time, too, when we were still in high school."
































"That was all in the past, man, all in the past! I'm not like that anymore, no more parties here when you're already a capitalist slave!" I whined while tapping the table lightly. "But I guess, that's just the way it is. I lived my life surrounded by people, and I'm so done with all the noise now. I just want to get away from all of it as fast as I can. I'm living in a really quiet life now. I like it that way."
































"How nice," Mike mumbled with the same gloominess that I used to see from him. Ah, finally, the Mike that I know! He continued, "I also have a quiet life too, but I guess I've always had that kind of life, so it's kind eating my insides up, you know? Not in a good way, too!" He tried to speak jokingly, but the pain in his eyes shows a deep-seethed sadness.
































"Oh? Is that the reason why you disappeared?" I said with a raised eyebrow in a rather tactless tone.
































"I..." Mike slumped his back even further, now looking at the floor with nothing but disdain painted on his face. "I didn't disappear."
































"Look, it's okay, Mike. I'm sure you're not comfortable about it one way or another, but it's all in the past now, right? Everyone was talking about it even until now, and your parents contacted me a lot throughout those five years where you were just... gone. And now, you're here!" I said with a sigh while thinking about the way the life in his eyes disappears. "If you don't want to talk about it, then it's fine, but I just want to say that you should have seen this coming, especially since I saw your mother crying when she thought you were dead."
































"I'm sorry," Mike replied as he moved his fingers around like he was tangling ten ropes together.
































"No need, man," I said with a smile to reassure him that I didn't really mind. "But if you ever wanted to talk about it. Just tell me, okay?"
































Mike once again showed a bright smile as he slowly raised his head to look at me directly. He looked like he was about to say something when an old, chubby guy, who was wearing a checkered polo shirt and a white baseball cap, sat beside me. The man had his back facing my direction, so I didn't really see what he was doing, but I can infer that he's texting someone right now based on his body language. I found it odd that he would sit next to me of all places since there's a lot of other benches around us, but I also realized that all of those said benches were presently occupied.
































I just ignored him and allowed him to keep sitting there on the edge of the bench as I directed my gaze back at Mike.
































I furrowed my brow when I realized that Mike was acting strangely all of a sudden. He was now gazing at a far off distance behind me, looking all tense and distracted. He was looking at somewhere at my right side while the chubby man who suddenly sat beside me was on my left. I also noticed that Mike was suddenly pinching his fingernails with his other fingernails while a blackness swallows all the life within his eyes.
































"I think..." Mike mumbled to himself while still looking at somewhere behind me. "I think it's time for us to talk about why we're really here right now." He said with the same relaxed tone that he was using earlier, but his eyebrows were all curled up like he was blinded by something bright.
































I moved my gaze on the man beside me and noticed that he was just sitting there, not giving an ounce of his attention towards the two of us as he kept on using his phone.
































"And what is the reason why we're here, then, Mike?" I said, still with a friendly smile, in hopes that it would lift his spirits once more. It didn't.
































"See, I made a lot of friends recently. A lot of good friends. They told me a lot about me; they told me a lot about themselves; we were all having a great time!" Mike said with what I could only describe as a manufactured smile as he spoke in a tone similar to that of a child.
































I gulped my saliva after seeing the sudden shift in his behavior like he was some kind of a different person altogether. The man must have noticed this, for he suddenly stood up when he saw another chubby man from a distance. He then departed away towards his companion while my eyes were still set on this new and different Mike in front of me.
































"Do you want to hear a story, friend?" Mike said with his hands clasped together while I see his eyes widen, perhaps to imitate that of an enthusiastic person, but it turned into something twisted instead. I don't know why it frightened me so, but the way he raised his eyebrow all of a sudden after saying the words that he had just said made me shiver.
































"Sure." I tried to play it cool, although I already wished that I had canceled this plan instead, after all.
































"There's this young boy. He's very, very sad! But Mother found him! And now he's a very, very happy boy!" He said with a chuckle in between his sentences.
































"Okay?" I said with a raised eyebrow, trying to chuckle with him so that he wouldn't feel so uncomfortable.
































"Mother told the boy to meet her friends! The boy did, and now, he's an even more happy, happy boy!" Mike continued, disregarding my awkward chuckles as I saw a few drops of sweat dripping on his forehead.
































"I don't understand, Mike." I chuckled again as I grabbed my bag, readying myself to just bolt out of there if he keeps this weird act.
































"I..." Mike said as he slowly moved his gaze towards me while tilting his head. "I'm sorry." He blinked twice, and suddenly, I saw his eyes literally changing from that of a dead fish into that of his usual hazel, lively eyes.
































In the distance, I saw that the chubby man who was sitting beside me earlier was now walking towards the two of us with his companion, another chubby man who's wearing a blue polo shirt. I didn't look at their faces, but I saw that Mike was gazing at a far off distance again. The only difference was that he is now looking above my head.
































I grabbed my bag and Mike's hands as I quickly stood up with so much vigor that the bench I was sitting on almost fell. I didn't give it a few thoughts and just pulled Mike's hands, imploring him to leave this place wordlessly.
































"Where are we going?" Mike replied as he blinked twice once more.
































"I just thought that maybe we should talk." I dusted my pants off and pulled my shirt down before showing Mike a nervous smile. "My ass hurts already after sitting on that hard ass bench. Come on. It's good exercise too."
































Mike smiled as I noticed a hint of life gleaming in his eyes once again. "Should we go inside of the mall?"
































"Good idea. Let's do that!" I hurriedly pulled his hands forcefully when I saw that the chubby man who was wearing a red, checkered polo shirt sat on my left side again.
































Mike then swiftly followed me, almost tripping, so he could follow my pace.
































I then looked behind me to see what's the deal with those two men were. Whatever it was that they were doing, the weird shit started when they came, and I didn't like where my conversation with Mike what going when he's doing that Dora Explorer sounding ass storytime. I hurried my already swift steps when I saw that the chubby man who was wearing a blue checkered shirt sat on the right edge of the bench where I sat earlier.
































"Hey..." Mike said while panting heavily, which prompted me to walk a bit slower.
































"Yeah?"
































"Um... About me disappearing..." Mike said with a downcast gaze.
































"Maybe we can talk about it when we're in the mall, okay?" I replied while still staring at the two men who were sitting on the edges of the bench I used earlier.
































"I disappeared after meeting this guy in Plural Heights."
































I stopped my steps entirely when I heard that.















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