Chapter 23 - A Birthday Present
"Oh hi Daniel!" Aunt Lizzy greeted me as soon as she opened the door. "Good morning! Tina's still getting ready. Why don't you go and have a seat while you wait for her?"
I smiled at her as I stepped inside, taking her on her offer. I walked into the living room while she ran off to the kitchen, making something that smelled sweet. Pancakes, probably.
Not a moment later, Poopy came running down the stairs, looking like she was in a very good mood. She didn't realize I was sitting on their couch yet.
"What's that?" She closed her eyes and let the sweet smell invade her nostrils. I hid a smile. "It smells amazing."
When she was about to skip into the kitchen, she finally saw me. It took her about three seconds to react.
"You." She said, forgetting about the pancakes and now walking towards me. "You're early."
I sent her a wide smile. "Of course. You feeling better now?"
She still looked suspicious of my sudden punctuality but nodded her head anyway. "Yeah. That onion worked. Thanks by the way."
"Anything for you." I grinned, earning a scoff and an eye-roll from her.
We heard a squeal and when we followed the sound, we saw Aunt Lizzy smiling at us while holding a wooden spatula.
"Come have some breakfast my beautiful lovebirds!"
I chuckled quietly as Poopy stifled a groan. Her mom was funny.
After breakfast, we drove straight to school. Her good mood gave me a good mood too. It was just satisfying seeing her that lively.
Was she that happy her cold was gone?
When we arrived at school, a couple of familiar faces approached Poopy, greeting her and telling her about the things she missed. The usual group came as well, and gave her some papers and some reminders and blahh.
The small crowd that she had gathered separated us, and I decided to just go ahead to the classroom. Meh.
In the hallways, I noticed that a guy kept staring at me. I didn't mind it at first but when he followed me to my classroom, and I was sure he wasn't in my class, I grew suspicious.
Before I stepped inside, he approached me by the door, holding his phone up.
I raised a brow at the unfamiliar face.
"You're Daniel Curtis, right?" He asked. I nodded, and as soon as I did, he smiled excitedly. "Can I take a picture with you?"
I just stared at him, forcing my expression to stay composed.
I looked around and luckily the rest of the student body wasn't paying attention to any of this. I sighed as I looked at the guy again. He looked younger than me; probably a freshman.
"Why?" I asked, trying to confirm what he knows about me. It'd be bad if he spread some rumors, and those rumors just becoming confirmation for the press that I really did attend this school.
His grin grew wider, and I could only see pure admiration in his eyes. Honest eyes. "Because you're amazing. I read about you in a lot of articles-- you're a real prodigy! You won first place in every Math and Science quiz bee you were forced to participate in, you skipped some grades because your scores were too advanced for your age, you're the youngest person to ever--"
"What do we have here?" Tops suddenly appeared beside the door, from inside the classroom. He was looking at the boy with a friendly smile. "A fan?"
The boy bit his tongue when he saw him. And in stutters, he acknowledged my cousin's presence. "K-K-Kristopher Walls! Wow. I just can't--wow. I still can't believe you two attend this school. This is so unreal. Amazing. Wow."
"He's a stalker," I sighed, pointing at Tops. "He just followed me here. And don't be so star-struck. He's actually an idiot."
Tops chuckled, unaffected as I suppressed a sigh. Good thing he showed up. Though I'm used to it, I'm not good with these things.
Tops casually pointed at me with his thumb. "My cousin here doesn't like all the attention. But if you want a picture with him, go ahead. As long as you don't post it in any social media account."
I narrowed my eyes. Why was he making the decisions for me?
The boy nodded excitedly. Oh great. "Of course! I won't spread it or anything. I just wanna show it to my sister. She's a fan too, but she won't believe that I attend the same school as you two. So, can I have a picture with you guys?"
"Sure!" Tops happily agreed, overshadowing the reluctance in my face. He was accustomed to these stuff; of course he knew how to handle these naturally.
Since Tops and I were taller than the kid, he stood between us and held his phone up high in front-cam. They were both smiling so wide and it would be rude if I didn't do the same. I tried my best to put on a decent smile as well.
After it was taken, he thanked us a couple of times before running off, tripping on his feet along the way.
Tops chuckled again as he patted my shoulder. "You should be nicer to your fans."
I made a face before I went inside the room as well. He followed me to my desk. "I don't want fans."
"Too bad, you don't get to decide that." He replied, smugly.
He sat on Poopy's desk beside mine since she wasn't here yet. We made small talk about her cold, how she got better, and how I gave her the food he bought and that I didn't take a single bite from it. He didn't trust me with food at all.
"By the way," I said as I remembered what Ella told us yesterday. "Is Mr. Watanabe's son's name Daichi Watanabe?"
Tops scowled when I mentioned his name. I wasn't sure which name though; maybe both.
"Yeah," he replied. "How'd you know?"
I pressed my lips together as I held my head. I knew it. "Ella's seeing him."
Tops' eyes widened from surprise. Guess he wasn't expecting that. "Seriously? Damn, I feel bad for her."
"Do you think he knows we're friends with her?" I asked. "Do you think he's using her to get to us?"
"I don't know," he said unsurely, irritatedly. "If he's that low of a person, maybe. But then again, maybe he just met her by chance and grew interested in her."
I nodded. It wasn't good to doubt people, but with our history with his family, it was hard not to.
Poopy finally arrived. And as soon as she stepped inside the room, Ella greeted her immediately with a hug. Seeing her laugh so loudly with her best friend made me smile.
And then I heard snickering beside me.
"Damn, you got it bad."
The smile disappeared from my face completely as I tried pushing Tops off the desk. He looked like he was enjoying this. I'm gonna have my revenge when he meets Anne again, just wait.
"Hey," Poopy said as she saw us shoving each other, and Tops laughing cheerfully at my stoic expressions. "Nice to see you two getting along."
"Oh hey Tinz!" He said, already forgetting about me. I shrugged his hands off my arm and sighed. I need a nap. "So, did you give him an answer yet?"
My heart stopped.
"My... what?" She looked confused at first, then she looked surprised. She glared at me accusingly. "You told--"
"Oh look!" Tops abruptly stood up, cutting her off and attempting to escape this horrible situation he just created. "The teacher's here. Everybody back to your seats!"
Lucky what he said was true. I just stared at my desk in guilt, pretending I didn't notice the weird looks she kept sending me.
I haven't confessed directly or seriously yet, so of course she wouldn't have a reply. He completely misunderstood, that prick.
Oh man. Damn it, Tops.
Classes were dismissed.
Ella left in a hurry saying she was late for a date. I hid a frown. I hope that Chie bastard isn't just playing around.
Poopy was fixing her stuff, getting ready to go home. She said she wasn't gonna stop by the council room today since her members took care of everything. They told her to rest since she just got better from her cold.
When only Poopy, Tops and I were left in the room, I felt like something bad was about to happen. I felt like Tops was gonna open his damn mouth again.
He approached us with a wide grin on his face and I just didn't trust him.
He was hiding something behind his back. What's he scheming this time?
"Are you two leaving now?" He asked, trying to sound innocent. I sure as heck didn't buy it. "Gonna have a date, perhaps?"
"Just go home, Tops." I sighed. I don't have enough energy to bear his annoying teasing today.
"Whatever," he laughed, obviously not caring about what I had to say.
Poopy was looking at us happily, like she was so relieved that we weren't acting like total strangers anymore.
Tops revealed what he was holding behind his back, and I almost took cover in case it was a bomb or something. It was a box. A present. He threw it at me and I caught it with one hand.
"Happy birthday, Danny."
Poopy whipped her head towards me so fast I thought she was gonna break her neck. "It's your birthday?"
"It's my birthday?" I asked as well, trying to sound like I didn't remember.
"Are you really a genius?" Tops shook his head. And without another word, he adjusted his bag on his shoulder, waved his hand at Poopy and left the room, escaping again.
She was still staring at me, expecting an answer.
Of course I knew it was my birthday today. It just didn't matter to me, actually. Whenever I see my date of birth on the calendar, I just see it as an ordinary day.
Dad was always busy when I was a kid, but he never forgot my birthday. Every year, he just cooks a good meal for me and that's that. Tops and Anne buy me presents or cakes too. I didn't ask for anything at all.
And so what, I was born today, eighteen years ago. This was also the day my mom died, so what's there to celebrate?
I just nodded, answering her question. "Well, yeah."
And then she hit my arm. Ow.
"Why didn't you tell me?!"
I rubbed my arm. "Why'd you hit me?"
She groaned as she quickly grabbed her bag and then my hand. I haven't even prepared myself when she started pulling me to my car. She looked pissed.
"Do you have plans with your dad later?"
"No. Why?" I said, cautiously.
"Good." She replied. "Because you're gonna have dinner with us. Tell him to come over tonight. Stupid butthead. It's your damn birthday!"
I still don't get why she's mad. If she knew earlier, would she have prepared a present or something?
Ahh. I shouldn't get my hopes this high.
"Mom!" I called out as soon as Daniel and I arrived at my house. I was still holding his hand, pulling him along as if he'd escape or something. "I'm gonna cook dinner today!"
Mom immediately came rushing over when she heard that. She saw me holding his hand and squealed again, almost forgetting what she was about to say.
"Why, what's the occasion?" She asked, still giggling.
I pointed at the guy beside me. "It's his birthday."
Mom looked as surprised as I was when I found out earlier. Truth be told, she didn't know how to react properly either. It was so sudden. "Oh! Of course, today is Nat's... Happy birthday Daniel! Oh my. Well. Do you need help, honey? What're you gonna make?"
"Thank you." He replied.
"I don't know," I shrugged. "I'll just look something up in your old recipe books and make do with what ingredients we have in the fridge."
Mom nodded unsurely and I just know she mouthed something to Daniel, something like don't leave her alone in the kitchen.
Ugh. She taught me a few things after that accident with the burger steak. I think I've experienced enough failure to try succeeding now.
I pulled Daniel towards the kitchen and made him sit down as I put on an apron. I at least have to make him something since I don't have a present for him.
Even though he gets on my last nerve, everybody deserves to be treated special on their birthday.
After scanning the recipe books, I decided on making a luxurious dish, steak. We had enough beef and I guess I'll just have to divide it equally to feed everybody.
My first attempt was a failure. I overcooked it. Maybe. I don't know, maybe it was because of the seasoning? It was charred though.
My second attempt was a failure too. I accidentally poured dish-washing liquid in the marinating bowl, mistaking it for sauce. Oh God, who does that?!
It was lucky I used small portions of beef when I tried cooking it. I didn't trust my cooking abilities after all. Daniel seemed to notice my dilemma and told me he'll help.
I felt bad. I was so useless.
So I assisted him as he did everything that needed to be done. It took about an hour until we finally finished. Everything looked and smelled amazing.
This butthead was a damn chef.
"There's blood coming out of it," I said, noticing the pale-red liquid oozing out of the finished dishes. "Maybe it's too raw?"
"That's not blood," he said, and then began explaining. "That's just water colored by an oxygen-carrying protein called myogloblin."
I gawked at him, and he just went off to set the table like he just said something in an everyday conversation. How does he even know these things?
Well, he does read a lot. Even though most of what he reads are comic books.
I felt challenged. I have to read a lot too.
Uncle John came over for dinner, and as soon as he saw the food for tonight, he immediately knew that Daniel made his birthday treat himself.
I just felt worse. Where can I get a proper present before this day ends in such short notice?
We all ate dinner after singing him a happy birthday. He didn't know how to react so he just looked around the room until the song ended. I suppressed my laughter. He was actually embarrassed.
When we were done eating, the adults stayed in the table for a little chat. And by little, I mean they were gonna take hours so I silently told Daniel to meet me in my room.
I went up first and searched all over my room for what I could give. I had absolutely nothing to give him. I feel so terrible. If only he told me yesterday or a week before.
I heard a knock on my door and I knew it was him. He entered after I told him to come in, and he cautiously looked at me as he sat down my bed.
I folded my arms against my chest as I stared at him with narrowed eyes. He's so infuriating. If only he told me. I would've gotten him something nice. This damn guy. This butthead.
"Um..." he mumbled. "Did I do something wrong?"
I want to kick his face.
I want the dinner to be my present for him, but since I sucked at cooking, he ended up cooking his own birthday treat. That can't be considered as a proper present at all.
Since I had no idea what to get him, I just went for it and asked him. "Is there something that you want?"
There was no change of expression in his face. "It's fine. You already treated me dinner."
"That doesn't count," I replied. "Just tell me what you want for a present and I'll get it for you, if I can afford it."
He smirked. Oh no, don't tell me weird things are spinning in his head again. But seconds later, his smirk faded and he just shook his head.
"Thanks, but it's okay," he said. "It's just a birthday. You don't have to get me anything."
I groaned from frustration. Was it so hard to just tell me what he wanted?
I marched towards him and he straightened up in his seat, as if he was preparing himself in case I'd actually do something to him.
I held his shoulders and leaned closer, looking him in the eye. No special reason. I just wanted to do it. "Just tell me what you want, and I'll give it to you."
Why did he gulp? Was I too close? Did I sound misleading?
He blinked as the corners of his lips curled up into a mischievous smirk. Here we go. "I might want to do inappropriate things with you."
I smacked his shoulder, making him laugh. Why does he keep making those jokes? They're giving me very bad ideas--ugh.
Staring quietly at his laughing face for a while, I took a deep breath. Was that really what he wanted?
I pushed his shoulders down, and since I was doing it out of impulse, I couldn't control my strength. I ended up pushing him down on my bed, the mattress bouncing a bit after I succeeded. His leg was between my knees, and I tried to steady my balance.
I earned a shocked look from him, like he couldn't believe what I just did. I was pretty shocked myself. What the heck was I doing?
I didn't withdraw though. Usually I would, but this time I didn't. His eyes just kept pulling me, telling me not to resist-- I don't know.
I saw him gulp again.
I laid my chest against his, cupping his cheek and narrowing my eyes at his. I could feel his fast heartbeats. I hope he didn't feel how faster mine were. Because I was so nervous, my voice sounded like a whisper. "Would a kiss be alright?"
I had a feeling he'd ask for that sooner or later. And he did say he wanted to kiss me a lot when I got better. I guess I can allow a few tonight.
Who am I kidding. I wanted it for myself too. I'm so selfish.
A grin broke out from his face when he closed his eyes and sighed. Did he think I was ridiculous? Because I did.
"You're hard to resist, and the offer is tempting. But it's alright." He said, opening his eyes again. "I don't think I'll be kissing you for a while."
I made a face. I didn't get it.
"Why not?" I sounded too surprised, more than I had intended. He chuckled teasingly.
I kept quiet as I awaited his explanation. This wasn't like him. Was he tired of me since I didn't give him a reply? Should I even give him a reply? What did Kristopher mean? What did he tell him?
"Trust me, I want to kiss you, badly," he said, tenderly as he touched my face. My hair kept falling down from my shoulders so he pushed them away from view and tucked them behind my ears.
"Then why won't you?" I asked, finding my fingers playing with his hair as well. I almost laughed at what we were doing. I almost laughed at myself for doing this too.
"Well, I thought about what you said yesterday," he said, matching the volume of my voice. I was too distracted at how his eyes were slowly narrowing to pay full attention to what he was saying. "About us not being in an official relationship yet."
I bit my lip. Oh that.
Daniel brushed his thumb over my cheek, giving me a quiet smile.
"I don't want you to see me as some guy who just likes kissing you, or that I only hang around you for those... benefits," he explained, carefully and quietly. His eyes were captivating. Why did his pupils seem to expand as he looked into my eyes? Was I just seeing things? "Me kissing you all the time, sometimes without your consent, is selfish. I don't want you to think that I like you just because of that. So I'll restrain myself until we get there. I'll try wooing you without using such tactics."
He was just smiling at me kindly and patiently as he said this. I almost couldn't believe he said those things. I was both surprised and touched. He really thought about what I said yesterday.
I wonder why I feel like my insides are squeezing. Now I'm the one who feels bad for pushing him down and thinking that's all he wanted.
I mentally slapped myself. And I was so ready to give it to him. This is so embarrassing.
Noticing the series of expressions in my face in which I clearly couldn't conceal, he chuckled. He held my shoulders as he sat up, carrying my weight and adjusting my position so now I was sitting on his lap.
Normally, I'd stand up at once and get as far away as possible, but right now, I didn't mind the contact. There wasn't any ulterior motive to it. Just pure comfort.
He smiled at me as he fixed my hair again, clearing it out of my face. Why was he being so gentle today? Was it because it was his birthday? And what did he mean he was selfish? He wasn't selfish at all. After all he's done for me.
I on the other hand haven't done anything for him at all. I'm the selfish one.
"If you still feel bad about it," he said, slowly blinking as he looked at my face. "Then just give me a hug while greeting me. That's all I want for a present. I promise I'll be happy with just that."
He isn't selfish at all.
I sent him a weak smile as I nodded, agreeing to his wishes. If that's what he wanted, I'd be glad to give it to him. I wrapped my arms around him, giving him a full hug. He, in turn, did the same, and held me still in case I fall off balance from his lap.
It was a nice feeling. Comforting, warm, relieving.
"Happy eighteenth birthday, Sir Peanut Butter," I quipped, calling him by his childhood nickname just for the heck of it. I was gonna turn eighteen in a few months too. He laughed as he rested his chin on my shoulder.
"Thank you, Poopy."
The moment was nice and the hug felt amazing. That was until, the door burst open with my mom looking for us.
"Honey, is Danny with y--"
When we heard her voice, we quickly whipped our heads to her direction and found her smiling so wide I swear her skin lifted. Daniel didn't let me go yet because I might fall off his lap.
I should move, but I was too surprised to do so. She clasped her hands together as she giggled like a teenage girl.
Dad and Uncle John just happened to pass by as well. And I swear, my dad almost fainted.
Oh my God.
This was so embarrassing!
Daniel and I quickly let go and stood up straight. I hid my face with my hand as he acted all nonchalant about it, but his ears were beet red.
Why, timing? Why?
"So you were here, Dan," Uncle John said, not at all surprised. In fact, he sounded too proud.
Oh God, please just stop making it so obvious. Normal parents would ground their kids or pretend they didn't see anything after witnessing something like that; even when we weren't doing anything inappropriate.
"Time to go?" Daniel inquired, forcing himself out of that subject.
I want to hide. Oh gosh people just leave already so I can cower in my blankets in shame.
"Oh, no," Uncle John said. "If you two still want to--"
"Time to go," Daniel said again, this time not as a question. He held my arm shortly before he left the room in a rush, avoiding all eyes. "See you tomorrow."
"Yeah, see you," I replied, sounding as casual as possible.
Aaaaahh this is just too embarrassing!
Sheepish grins were in mom and Uncle John's faces as they closed the door. Dad was petrified on the spot. I'm so sorry you had to see that dad...
I could still hear them teasing Daniel as they went downstairs. I jumped in my bed and screamed in my pillow.
I'll try my best and erase that crude memory. I don't want to remember that at all. And then after more screaming, I resisted a smile. I'm going crazy.
Well, I'll erase the memory that came after he told me those sweet things.
And also, I'll remember to lock the door next time. I've had just about enough with it.
"Tina!" Ella hugged me as soon as I sat on my desk. It was still so early and she's already this hyper.
I can only guess why.
"How was the date?" I asked. She looked like she was going to explode with happiness as she told me everything.
Daniel, Kristopher and Sean were also chatting beside my desk, and as soon as Ella started talking about Chie, they listened in.
I ignored them and smiled as my best friend continued with her story. I haven't seen her this happy for a while. I mean, really happy. I hope this guy Chie is the one. Ella deserves to be as happy as the couples she hooked up, if not, happier.
I noticed that the boys kept giving each other looks, and I couldn't tell what it meant. Kristopher looked annoyed, Daniel troubled and Sean...
Sean looked like he didn't hear anything Ella said at all. In fact, he was trying to force a conversation among the three of them, trying to overpower her voice.
Did it bother him?
I looked at my best friend, truly happy as she went on with the story, as if she was reliving every moment of that date. And then I glanced at Sean again.
I told Ella I was glad for her, and I told her to just keep me updated. She nodded excitedly.
The teacher came in and everybody went back to their seats. Before she began with her lesson though, she cleared her throat and gave an announcement.
"We have a new student," Ms. Stanford started. "Again."
Silent murmurs were heard across the room. Again? Didn't our class have enough students to fit the quota? What was with this class that every new student had to transfer here specifically?
"She just got here yesterday from London, so I hope you guys treat her well. Come in, dear."
Everybody looked towards the door to see the new student. Ms. Standford said she, so it was a girl this time, huh.
And as soon as she entered, I myself held back a gasp.
The first thing I noticed about her was her clothes. They were so fashionable and hard to describe. I don't know, simple but elegant but pretty? She was a new student so of course she wouldn't have the official school uniform yet.
The next was her hair. It was jet-black and it looked so shiny and full of volume. It was perfect. And then her skin--flawless.
The whole class was quiet as she stepped on the platform. I gasped when I saw her face now that she was looking our way.
Her features were girly, her face symmetrical and her smile was lovely.
This girl was gorgeous. Was she a model?
"Hi there," she began. She had an accent too. Oh wow, she had a ten out of ten rating for first impressions. "My name is Daniella Jennings, just call me Anne. I transferred here from London. Hmm. I'll cut the shit, I'm looking for somebody."
Everyone was confused at what she suddenly said. All of us looked at each other. I looked at Ella, and she was already looking at me, shrugging her shoulders.
Anne? Did she just say her name was Anne?
"You looking for your boyfriend?" Someone from the class joked despite the confusion. She took it pretty well.
"No, I'm engaged."
Again, the class got loud. Was she for real?
I looked at Daniel for confirmation and my heart sped up when I saw his reaction. He looked too shocked to even say anything. Then I turned around to look at Kristopher. He had the same expression, mixed with a little hurt and guilt.
I looked up front again and held my breath when I noticed she was looking right at me. Oh God.
Why do all the new students look at me like that every time they introduce their selves?
Her face lit up when she saw my seatmate, and I definitely had a bad feeling about this.
"Danny!" She exclaimed as she ran over to him, hugging him as soon as she was close enough to do so. "I missed you so much!"
Daniel looked doubtful and unsure as he slowly patted her shoulder, glancing at me a couple of times as the girl continued hugging him.
Get your hands off him.
"Anne..?" Daniel began, noticing my expression and politely breaking the hug. "What are you doing here?"
"You left me back at London, you dummy. Of course I'd come and find you here!"
Ms. Stanford cleared her throat loudly, reminding everybody that she was still in the room. She replaced her stern face with a smile.
"Thank you, Anne, for that, erm, warm introduction." She said. Why was she pretending like she didn't just witness all that? "Now Kristina, you know the drill."
"Yes ma'am," I replied as I stood up cautiously. All eyes were on us.
The new girl faced me and sent me a pretty smile. Why does she have to be so gorgeous? This is so annoying.
"This is Kristina Karlins, the class and council president." Ms. Stanford told her.
"Cool!" She looked at me in awe. She somehow reminded me of Ella. "You're the president of both the class and the council? Awesome. You must have some kind of super powers."
Her accent was just so nice that I didn't want her to stop talking. She was Daniel and Kristopher's friend, she must be here for that reason.
But why did she only greet Daniel? Didn't she see Kristopher?
"Just talk to her if you have any questions." Ms. Stanford told her.
"Sure." She replied. She held out her hand excitedly as she peered over her shoulder to smile at Daniel before smiling at me. "Hi! Call me Anne. I'm Daniel's childhood friend and fiancee. Nice to meet you!"
This girl said what?
I didn't let my emotions and confusion get to me. I took a deep breath and discreetly let it out.
I took her hand and gripped it firmly, forcing a calm smile of my own. Our classmates were going nuts. I even heard Ella say some kind of profanity out loud.
This was not something you see everyday.
"Nice to meet you too," I said, glancing at the butthead once, and then at her. "Call me Tina. I'm Daniel's childhood friend and fiancee. I'm sure we'll get along just fine."