“Nuh-uh. Where do you think you’re going?” Alyssa ambushes me as I was leaving the cafeteria after buying my lunch.
“To eat my lunch?”
Mika appears out of nowhere and snatches my burger. “Nope. You’re not going anywhere.” She gestures to our usual table where Diane and Leah are waiting for us. “You owe us an explanation.”
I let out a sigh. These days, I’ve been spending most of my time in the office with Julia. I knew this would happen eventually, but not this soon. There’s no getting out of it once they're this forceful. “Fine.”
I make my way to the table with both of them on either side, making it look like they’re my bodyguards. As soon as I take a seat, I open my mouth to say, “No, we’re not dating.”
Diane raises an eyebrow. “We haven’t even asked anything.”
“I knew you were going to ask me that anyway. Is that all? Can I have my lunch back now?” I say a little too harsh.
Leah hands me my burger. “You haven’t eaten with us lately, so we just assumed you guys were dating.”
“I was shookt,” Mika admits. “I didn’t even know Alexis was gay. I mean, is she?”
Unsure about how Julia feels about other people knowing about her preference, I keep my mouth shut. It’s not my secret to tell. “Dunno,” I shrug.
“You guys seem awfully close,” Diane pushes.
“We’re working on this project due by the end of the year, so yeah, we’ve been spending a lot of time together.”
Diane bites her lip. “Do you like her?”
“What if I do?” I challenge.
“Then she’s one lucky girl,” she sighs, a trace of regret in her words.
Alyssa clears her throat. “That’s enough drama. We actually wanted to ask if you’re playing for the regionals.”
“You already know my answer to that. I’m only playing if Dee’s playing.”
Diane perks up. “You’re still hanging on to that?” She asks, referring to the promise I made back before we even started dating.
After a year of playing with the team, I eased up a little too much. I got bored. Thinking I’m better than most of our players, I neglected training. I started letting myself go. I was too confident in my skills that I thought things were going to stay that way forever.
This is where Diane comes in and proves me wrong. She got more aggressive towards me, always asking for one-on-one and crushing me ultimately. That was okay for me, at least. I knew the difference in our skills, and I respect her as someone better than me. However, it was when she started taunting me that I snapped. She put me in the right place when she said I could only have the right to slack off after beating her.
I did beat her. A few times now, but who’s counting? However, the feeling of knowing there’s someone out there who’s much better than you stayed with me. She drilled the feeling of wanting to get better and improving my skills into me hard, and I can’t thank her enough for that. If it weren’t for her, I would’ve stopped playing long ago.
She shakes her head. “I’m not playing this year,” she bites her lip before adding, “I’ve been invited to play for the national team.”
“What?!” We all cry out in unison.
“Dude, that’s insane!”
“Why didn’t you tell us earlier?”
“I knew you had it in you!”
They say all at once. I’m staring at Diane, a warm feeling blossoming in my chest. This has been her dream all along. To reach greater heights. With her skill, I never doubted she’d get into whatever team she wanted. But it’s different when it’s already in front of you. She’s being showered by praises from our friends, and she’s only looking at me, her eyes brimming with tears.
I scoot closer to her and give her the biggest hug I know she deserves. “I’m proud of you.”
Diane hugs me tighter. “I wanted you to be the first to know,” she says, her voice cracking. “I still can’t believe it.”
I caress the top of her head. “I never doubted it for a second. You know, I should ask for your autograph and sell it once you’re famous.”
She breaks the hugs and wipes the tears from her eyes. I reach into my pocket and hand her my handkerchief. She laughs. “You should keep your accounts private, then. They’re going to look into my history and know you’re my ex.”
I pondered over the thought. “I didn’t think of that. You think they’ll call me stupid for breaking up with you?”
Diane shakes her head. “No. I’m the one who’s stupid for letting you go.”
“You both look pretty stupid to me right now,” Alyssa speaks, her arms crossed, eyebrows raised. “We’re supposed to be celebrating, not crying and arguing over who’s more stupid because we all know it’s Leah, who has yet to pass a single exam on her Math class.”
“Hey!” Leah protests.
Alyssa laughs. “Get Alex to teach you, man. She’s a genius,” she points her thumb at me.
Leah cringes. “Tried that already. Didn’t work. I’ll learn more from an eighth-grader than Alex. She’s a horrible teacher.”
“Tell me about it,” Diane snorts. “I asked her to tutor me one time...” she stops. Bites her lower lip. “Actually, let’s not talk about that.”
I know what made her stop. The only time she asked for my help was before finals last year. I came over at her place. At first, I really tried my best to teach her. But there’s only so much I can do while she’s breathing down my neck, wearing a tank top and shorts.
You can guess how it ended. Here’s a clue: it doesn’t involve tank tops and shorts.
“Your birthday’s coming up. How about we have a double celebration?” Diane asks expectantly.
Right. My birthday. I still haven’t planned what I’m going to do. "Where?"
"You decide. It's your birthday."
"I celebrate my birthday every year. Getting into the national team, however, is a much rarer occurrence."
Dee smiles. "Fine, then. Rad will do. Do you want to do it on Saturday or Sunday?"
"Saturday it is."
After my last class, I make my way to the office.
“There you are,” Max greets as soon as I step in. The whole team is present except for Leandro.
“Hey, Max,” I greet her. “Miss me?”
She chuckles. “Not me,” she turns her head in Julia’s direction. “We missed you at lunch.”
“Yeah, my teammates ambushed me,” I scratch my eyebrow. “Sorry.”
Gwen rolls her chair in front of me. “Alex kept on looking at the door earlier like she's waiting for Santa to appear and shower her with gifts.”
Julia is facing her computer, her back to me. I make my way towards her and place both hands on her shoulders. “Miss me?” I ask and bring my face close to hers.
“I saw you three hours ago,” she turns the chair around to face me. “You don’t have training today?”
I shake my head, straightening up. “Nope. Training’s cancelled. I'm yours for the rest of the day." I turn to her friends. "And before I forget, you guys come to Rad on Saturday. Dee and I are holding a double-celeb.”
“For what?” Max asks.
"My birthday," I can’t help the smile that spreads on my face. “And her getting into the national team.”
"The national team?" Gwen reacts first. “Damn, that’s really cool.”
“I know, right? She’s amazing.”
“For someone who’s had a past with her, you look happy,” Max says with her eyebrows scrunched.
“Of course, I am. We’re friends. I can’t kick her out of my life just because she made a mistake.”
She laughs. “Your future girlfriends are going to go ballistic because of jealousy. If I’m your girl, I’d hate to be constantly watching over you and your drop-dead gorgeous ex every time you hang out.”
“Oh, I don’t think Julia minds. Or do you?” I turn to Julia, who has a nonchalant expression on her face.
“You guys are dating?!” Gwen bursts out.
“No,” Julia answers at the same time I say, “Not yet.”
Max raises an eyebrow. “Judging the way you’ve been treating her, my money’s on ‘not yet.’” She tells Julia. “I have to go. I’ll leave you lovebirds to argue about it.” She picks up her bag and leaves the room.
“Me too,” Thea stands up from her chair, followed by Gwen. They all leave the office, leaving me alone with Julia.
As soon as they were all gone, Julia speaks. “You should be considerate of Thea’s feelings. You know she has a crush on you.”
I take a seat next to her. “She’ll get over it,” I wave it off. “You’re the one I like.” Love.
Julia takes her eyes off of the papers in front of her. “You must be so used to this.”
“Kinda, I guess?”
She smiles. “So, how do you handle all the girls?”
“I flirt with them.”
Julia’s smile turns upside down. “Oh.”
“They stop liking me after that,” I explain. “You see, I’m someone who is constantly wanted but never loved all the way through.”
Julia looks at me, her eyes suddenly serious. “What do you mean?”
“Exactly what I said,” I lean back on my chair, trying to look passive about it. “People get tired of me easily. I’m the type of person people like to admire from afar, but once you get to know me, you’ll realize I’m nothing special. People want what they can’t have. Once they see I’m not out of reach, they leave.”
Julia remains silent. I take that as my cue to work on our documentary.
“You didn't tell me your birthday's coming up,” Julia says in a low voice, not looking at me.
"You never asked," I say.
"What do you want for your birthday?"
Julia rolls her eyes but smiles afterward. "How about something I can actually buy with money?"
"Nothing I can think of at the moment," I tell her honestly. "You don't need to get me anything. Just be there."
We both leave school early. As we were walking to the parking lot, a question pops in my mind. “Do you care if people find out you’re gay?”
Julia looks at me. “I don’t really mind, but I like to keep my business private. What made you ask?”
“Well, the people from my team were teasing me about you, and they were asking if you were gay.”
“And what did you tell them?”
“I told them I don’t know,” I shrug. “I wasn’t sure if you’re okay with people knowing.”
She relaxes. “I appreciate that. I don’t like people finding out about it from someone else. Although, if someone were to ask me directly, I’d tell the truth.”
“As if someone has the balls to ask that,” I chuckle. “Anyway, are you okay with me hanging out with Dee?”
Julia raises an eyebrow. “Why are you asking me?”
“I don’t know,” I shrug. “You might get jealous.”
“You’re not my girlfriend,” she says. “You can hang out with whoever you want. And besides, there’s nothing for me to get jealous of, is there?”
I smile. “I don’t know. Dee gets really flirty sometimes.”
“So, if Diane flirts with you, will you flirt back?”
I look at Julia, but the expression on her face was unreadable. “Maybe.”
She rolls her eyes at me and stops beside her car. “You’re such an idiot.”
I laugh out loud and hug her from behind. “I’m kidding. Of course not. I’m yours, love. All yours.”
“I hate you.”
“Are you jealous?” I ask, resting my chin at the top of her head.
She doesn’t make a move to break the hug. “No. You’re not my girlfriend.”
“If you give me a kiss before going home, I promise to behave.”
“Kiss my ass,” she breaks away and opens the car door.
I block her way. “If I kiss the back, I’m also kissing the front.”
“You’re so lewd,” she laughs. “Stop trying to make me jealous, it's not working.” She then makes a move to kiss me on the cheek. I've been anticipating this after what she did yesterday and I'm not going to let her score this time.
Just as she tilts her face upwards and her lips were about to touch my cheek, I snap my head faster than lighting. Her lips land on mine. Julia's eyes widen.
"Too slow," I say and run to my car before she can react.
"Alvarrez, you sneak!" Julia shouts just as my windows were rolling down and was too busy backing out of the parking lot to say a retort.
"Expect more of that coming until you become my girlfriend, Gray." I wink at her before speeding away.