I’m still slightly pissed at Alvarrez for making out with Georgia on the balcony, but being this close to her, our bodies swaying to the rhythm of the music is just too good of a moment to be ruined by my ex-girlfriend’s cousin. And as much as I hate to admit it, I can’t stay mad at Alvarrez for too long.
I inhale Alvarrez’s boyish scent, my lips twitching at the familiarity of it. Suddenly, I get the urge to bury my head in her chest—not that I can actually do it in front of all these people. Especially Jan.
Once the dance was over, Alvarrez’s rough, calloused hands take mine and plants a light kiss on it. For a brief moment, her sea-green eyes lock with mine. Handsome. So handsome.
Alvarrez leads me back to our table. “Thank you for the dance, Julia.” She grins.
“Wow,” Geneva muses, looking at Alvarrez. Her braided hair has become slightly messy. “You actually made Alex dance. In all the years I’ve known her, it’s the first time I’ve seen her dance with someone aside from her family.”
Alvarrez looks at me. I can almost see her eyebrows arching behind her black mask. “Really?”
I don’t want to have to deal with any of this right now. “Don’t flatter yourself. I just felt like dancing.”
I scan the area for Jan, but there was no sign of her anywhere. I stand up from my seat and make my way to the restroom. Jan is sensitive when it comes to me being too close to someone aside from her. I need to make sure she’s not that mad at me for dancing with Alvarrez.
As I was nearing the restroom, Jan intercepts me. Her mood has somehow changed from annoyed to unusually pleased. Before I could ask her any questions, she cuts me off by placing a finger over my lips. “Come with me.” She orders as she takes my hand and leads me outside the hall.
“Where are we going?” I ask her as we stand in front of the elevator doors, waiting for them to open.
Jan smiles. “I prepared a little something for you.”
The elevator dings and we enter. Jan removes my mask and pulls out a white cloth from her pocket. I can’t help but smile. “A blindfold? Really, Jan? Since when were you such a romantic?”
“Shh, I’m trying something new.” I laugh and let her put the cloth over my eyes.
I hear the elevator ding again. Jan takes my hand and guides me to our destination. Excitement fuels my veins. I lick my lips in anticipation of what the girl walking beside me has done this time.
“We’re here.” She whispers before taking the blindfold off.
My breath hitches at the sight before me. I cover my mouth with both my hands. We’re on the rooftop of the building. Red flower petals are scattered everywhere. A red carpet is laid on the center of the floor, leading to a set of red candles placed expertly on the floor. They seem to form letters, but I’m too far away to be sure. “Come.”
As we near the end of the carpet and the candles on the floor, I feel my heartbeat pick up its pace. Not because of excitement, but because of anxiety. I get the feeling that whatever is at the end of this walk is something I’m haven’t prepared myself for.
We stop. I look down and read the letters formed by the candles. “Come back to me,” Jan says, reading the words formed by the candles aloud. Her mask is gone, showing me her perfect, beautiful face. “I know I’ve been gone for a while, but I promise you, I’m still the same person you fell in love with. In all those years, my feelings for you never wavered, never changed. Please, Alex, give me another chance.” She cups my face and stares directly into my eyes. Her green eyes were full of hope, sorrow, and longing.
My eyes blurred until I couldn’t see Jan’s face clearly anymore. Tears run down my cheeks. Once upon a time, this was all I ever wanted. To be with Jan—the only woman I ever loved. But why is it that the tears that are falling aren’t of joy but of pain?
It would be so easy to say, yes, Jan, I will come back to you, but as I open my mouth to give her my answer, the words get stuck in my throat.
Alvarrez’s face comes to mind—the face she unknowingly showed when I rejected her offer to dance with me—that painfully, innocent hurt face. I imagined what kind of face she will show when someone tells her that Jan and I are together. I don’t want to find out. And I don’t ever want to see that face.
I remember the way I felt when I saw her with Georgia a while ago, how my heart felt like it was pricked my a toothpick when they held hands as they passed me and went inside. I remember thinking, was I too late?
My trembling hands rest over Jan’s for a second before I remove them from my face. Her hands are soft, unlike Alvarrez’s. Even softer than mine. But in these hands, I’ve never once felt the warmth and comfort that Alvarrez gives. I keep my mouth shut, rendering them unable to utter the words that will surely break someone’s heart. I’m torn. My heart is breaking into pieces.
“Alex?” Jan asks, her voice wavering. “What’s wrong?”
Jan stiffens, the hopeful look in her eyes, gone. Replaced my shock, terror, and disbelief. Her eyebrows draw together. “What?” She asks softly, but her voice trembles.
I shake my head. “I can’t.“
There’s a kind of pain that goes with knowing you hurt someone else. The kind that is laced with guilt for hurting that person. In some ways, it’s worse than being on the receiving end of that pain.
Jan’s hand falls to the side. “Why?” She searches my face for an answer. “I thought we were okay. I thought you only needed time to adjust.” She looks me directly in the eyes. Her words were barely a whisper when she says, “I thought you love me.”
“I do, Jan. I do.” I tell her and wonder, why does it sound like I’m convincing myself and not her?
“Then why?” She asks again, her voice turning more desperate. “Am I moving too fast? Do you need more time? I’ll wait for as long as you need.”
Jan takes a deep breath. “Is it because of that girl?”
I don’t need to ask her to know who she’s talking about. I avert my gaze and focus on a single candle on the ground. My silence is all Jan needed to answer her question.
When she speaks again, her voice was hard. “I knew from the moment I left that there was a possibility that you will find someone else. Hell, just thinking about it made me want to unpack my bags and stay with you.” I look back at her. “But I trusted you. I trusted that your love for me will be enough to overcome whoever tries to get your heart. Now I regret that decision. If I knew you’d replace me with that piece of trash, I never would’ve left.”
It wasn’t until I felt the stinging sensation in my hand that I realize what happened. “How dare you.” At that moment, all the pity I had towards Jan turned to anger. “You can insult me all you want, but don’t ever, ever say anything against her.”
I wipe my tears with the back of my hand. If Alvarrez were here, she’d no doubt bring out a magic handkerchief from one of her pockets and offer it to me.
“You’re going to regret this.” Jan threatens. And there’s that look again. Those foreign, calculating eyes, devoid of any kind of warmth. When she told me she put her own father in jail, she had those same eyes. At first, I thought that maybe I’m still not used to her being around, but as I spent more time with her, the more I realize that the feelings I had for her were not the same anymore.
I scoff. “If anyone’s going to regret anything, it’s you. You no longer have me in your life, and you will regret ever leaving me for the rest of your life. We’re done.”
When I wake up the following morning, I felt like a heavy burden has been lifted off my chest. Ever since Jan told me the reason she left, I felt like I’ve been tied to her in some way. A part of me wants to take responsibility for what she did. I was too caught up in the pain she caused me that when she came back, I had to turn it into something else—something I thought was love. After all, the hatred I felt for her in all those years won’t be possible if I didn’t love her.
Only now do I realize that what I missed wasn’t Jan. It was the feeling of familiarity that comes with her. The childhood friend that lives in front of my house. The lover that did crazy things with me under the table when our parents weren’t looking. The girl that made my heart race whenever she kissed my lips.
I was so captivated with the idea of Jan that I pushed aside the idea of having feelings for Alvarrez. My seatmate. The girl who had sea-green eyes and mischievous smile. The only person who looks at me with love in her eyes.
The door to our classroom swings open. Alvarrez steps in with her bag slung around one shoulder. She sees me, and her eyes smile before her lips follow. “Morning, Julia.” She beams, our classmates giving her curious glances. They must be wondering who that is, considering no one in this school calls me by that name.
She slumps her bag on her seat and takes a seat. “Let’s go on a date this Saturday.” Alvarrez proclaims out of nowhere.
I raise an eyebrow at her.
She chuckles. “Kidding. I found the perfect place to do our sepak takraw interview. It’s a two-hour drive from here.”
I look at her in surprise. “You set up an appointment?”
“Not yet, but I’ll let them know as soon as you’re good with it. They said we can go anytime we want.” She explains. “So, you good on Saturday?”
“Yeah, sure.” I nod.
“Do you wanna have lunch together before going there?”
Alvarrez’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Really?”
“You’re the one who asked, why are you so surprised?”
“I thought you would turn me down,” she smirks. “Are you starting to fall for me, Julia?”
I roll my eyes. “I changed my mind. Don’t call me that anymore.”
“Okay, I’ll call you babe instead.”
I narrow my eyes at her. “I dare you.”
Alvarrez laughs. “You realize you just gave me permission to call you that, right?”
A blush involuntarily creeps up my face. I hate this girl. “Shut up, Alvarrez.”
“You can call me babe, too, to be fair.”
“Everyone calls you that.” I lean back on my chair and cross my arms in front of my chest. “Isn’t there anything unique?”
“You can call me your girlfriend.”
If I had a drink, I would have sputtered it all over my shirt again. “You wish.”
“I do.” I can never win against her, can I?
My eyes catch sight of her forearm. I narrow my eyes and look closely. It’s full of red scratches and what looks like bite marks. I instinctively reach out and trace them lightly with my fingers. “Are these because of Percy?”
Alvarrez smiles sheepishly. “Yeah. I searched it online and it said that it’s normal for puppies to do this.”
“Don’t let him get used to it, especially if it hurts.”
“It’s fine, and speaking of Percy, when are you planning to visit him? James also misses you.”
My lips turn down. I feel like a bad momma for neglecting my baby boy. I can’t help it. Ever since Isa found out about my feelings for Alvarrez, I haven’t stepped foot in Books and Brews. I’m too embarrassed to show my face to her.
Alvarrez brings out her phone and after a few seconds, shows the screen to me. “Look at him. He’s so cuuuuuuute!” It’s a photo of Percy lying on his belly in the middle of their living room, his black fur and long tail almost makes him look like a rat.
“He’s gotten bigger,” I comment, a smile forming on my face. Alvarrez swipes to the right, and it shows Percy chewing on a small stuffed toy.
“I know!! Is that normal?” She asks and taps on her phone so it shows the album and not a single photo. She scrolls for a bit, letting me see some pictures of her with some other girl, and when she finds the photo she wants, she shows it to me again. “Look, he was this small when you gave him to me.”
I smile at the picture of Alvarrez holding Percy like a baby, the happiness in her eyes unmissable. “Yes, and soon, he’s gonna be as big as my dogs,” I tell her and swipe right to see other pictures of Percy, but instead, I see a picture of me sleeping.
I turn my head to glare at Alvarrez only to see a guilty but unapologetic face looking back at me. She bites her lower lip, trying to hide a smile. “You looked cute,” she says—a sorry excuse for an explanation.
“Delete that,” I order.
Alvarrez sticks her tongue out. “Nope. That’s the only pic of you I have.”
I try to snatch her phone away, but her fast reflexes allow her to pull back a split second faster. “Give it here, Alvarrez.”
“Take it if you can, babe." She smirks.
I stand up from my seat. “Alvarrez,” I warn her.
“Call me babe.” Alvarrez slowly gets up from her chair, her eyes watching my every move. “I might consider it then.”
I lunge forward and she runs away from me. Alvarrez runs around the classroom with me on her tail. After a minute of running around and disturbing people, she runs to the front, behind the teacher’s desk. I stop in front of her, the desk between us. “Come on, you have to be faster than that.” She lifts up her phone, showing my picture. She’s barely breaking a sweat while I’m gasping for breath. It’s unfair.
I stand up straight and place a hand on the table. Then, with the sweetest voice I can muster at the moment, I say, “Baby, can I please borrow your phone?”
Alvarrez freezes. Her ears turn pink and she looked like she was about to say something. The room turns eerily quiet. She licks her lips and hands me her phone. Then the room erupts. Some oohs, others cheer, and I hear someone whistle.
I take Alvarrez’s phone and delete my picture before handing it back to her. “Oh, so you like baby better? Okay then. I’ll call you baby.” She manages to recover.
Before I can say a rebut, someone clears his throat. I turn around and see Mr. Castor in the doorway, grinning at us. “Well, congratulations, Alvarrez. I knew you’d be able to tame Elsa over there.” He gestures to me. “Playtime’s over. Go back to your seats.”
When Alvarrez checked her phone after getting it back, I thought I saw her smirk. It wasn’t until before lunch break that I understand why.
Calculus is our last class together for the day because we don’t have any other classes together after lunch. Just before Alvarrez leaves the room for lunch, she calls me.
“Baby,” she teases, but I don’t look at her. “Babe,” she tries again. “Love,” this time, the way she says it sends a shiver down my spine.
I snap my head angrily. “What?” Alvarrez is holding her phone, the screen showing the same picture I deleted during first period. “How did you—“
“You should’ve deleted it from the recently deleted album too, baby,” she snickers and puts her phone in her pocket. “Better luck next time. Take care on your way home later.” She winks before sprinting out the room, giving me no time to react.
Damn it, Alex.