Chapter 24 - Introducing Anne
• 6 years old •
The door opened, revealing a little boy about my age, wearing a plain red shirt and blue shorts. He looked so happy to see my mum that he didn't even notice me standing right beside her.
I tried to give him my meanest look. This was the boy who kept stealing my mummy.
"Mrs. Jennings!" He yelled, running towards her. I quickly stood up in front of mum and opened my arms really wide to protect her from the monster.
I'm a princess, but since the Queen, my mum, is in danger of getting stolen by the enemy kingdom, I don't mind being her knight.
But my armor's gonna be pink and full of glitter if I'm gonna be a knight. And I'm still gonna wear my tiara, and then ride on my rainbow pony unicorn--
Oh right, focus on the mummy-stealer first.
He stopped almost immediately when he saw me, his brows going so high I thought they were gonna fly away. He looked at me, then at mum, then at me, then at mum again.
Mum knelt down and held my shoulders, giving him her usual friendly smile. "Kristopher, this is my daughter, Daniella."
The kid turned red when I glared at him again. Ha! He looked scared. Maybe because I was taller than him.
He did a lot of weird stuff too like looking around, scratching his head, scratching his back, stepping and crushing something under his foot.
What a strange kid.
"H-Hi!" He yelled, surprising me. Boys were so weird. I wanted to ignore him, but I know mum would get mad at me for being rude so I didn't.
"Hello." I replied politely, lifting my dress slightly to make a curtsy, like how princesses did. I smiled to myself, satisfied with my perfect curtsy.
When I did that, the boy let out a short laugh, and he was smiling so wide it was even weirder. Mum was giggling when she stood up.
"Kristopher, is your dad here?"
"Yeah!" He nodded excitedly. "He just got home last night."
"Alrighty then," mum said, still giggling. What was so funny? "While your dad and I talk, why don't you show your guest around the house?"
She's gonna leave me with him?
"Okay!" He replied after a few seconds of staring at her. His eyes were sparkling and stuff. After mum left, he quickly turned to me, so I turned around and ignored the kid.
Hmph. No way I'm talking to a mummy-stealer.
"Umm..." He mumbled. "Daniella, do you wanna look around my house?"
I huffed and held my nose up. "No thank you. Uncle Richard's house is bigger and prettier than here anyway."
"Ohh. Okay," he mumbled again. He was quiet for a while so I thought he already left, but when I peeked from my shoulder, he was still there, looking at the ground, sadly. I gulped. Was I really mean? Was he gonna cry?
Was he gonna tell on me?
I was about to apologize but then I remembered that this was the kid responsible for my mum always leaving home early and coming home late. And mum always talks about him like he's so special.
He's an enemy.
"Are you smart?" I challenged. He made a sound like he was surprised I actually asked him something. I'm pretty sure I know a whole lot more than him.
"No. Not really. I hate studying."
I huffed again. He's just wasting mum's time then!
"Then why are you taking my mummy away from me?" I turned around to face him completely. I made my voice louder, letting him know I was really really mad. "Don't you have your own mum?"
He didn't flinch or anything. Instead, he slowly looked at his feet with a really sad face and then laughed a bit before raising his head to look at me. He was smiling like earlier.
"Mum's not here," he replied. I looked at him weirdly.
"When's she coming home then?"
He just smiled wider. "Mum's not coming home."
I tilted my head sideways, confused. Shouldn't he be sad then? Why was he smiling? "Did you do something bad?"
"I don't know..." He mumbled. "But I think dad did. I don't really remember, but dad said mom's not coming home."
His smile faded away from his face when he looked away. I felt really bad now even though I don't completely understand what he meant. All I knew was that he didn't have a mummy like I did.
"Oh," was all I could say. Kristopher was sad. His daddy was sad. Now I'm sad.
This kid wasn't a monster from the enemy kingdom. He was just a lonely prince from a nearby kingdom.
I wanted to cheer him up somehow. I think I liked his smiling face better than his sad one. And then I thought of something. I took his hands and looked at him seriously, he looked really surprised again. "We can share mummy!"
I giggled before giving him a big hug. Don't be sad, little prince. Me and mum will make you happy. We'll be your mummies!
"Don't worry, don't worry!" I patted his head the same way mum did whenever I was sad. "I'll take good care of you from now on!"
I don't know if he knew what I meant, but he just hugged me back, like he didn't have anyone to hug before.
"I-I'll take care of you too!" He yelled in a panicky voice when we broke the hug. His face was really red again. "When I get bigger, I'll take care of you!"
"Okay," I smiled, patting his head again and making him wince. I felt good. I hope this lonely prince won't be lonely anymore.
It had been a few months since I started tagging along with mom to play with Kristopher during his breaks. It was fun. He was fun. And he's super nice; but not that smart.
"Hey, Daniella," he mumbled. We were jumping on their stepping stones right now, racing while trying not to fall.
"What?" I mumbled too, trying to concentrate.
"Can I call you Anne?"
I looked over my shoulder. He was right behind me.
He shrugged his shoulders while looking away, his face turning red again. "Daniella's a pretty long name."
I giggled. Our little prince was already growing up, wanting to give me a nickname already. I nodded while looking at the pretty sky.
"Anne. Anne. It sounds pretty! Okay. But I should call you something too."
"Really?" He said, happy that I accepted his nickname for me, and even happier that I was gonna give him one too. "What are you gonna call me?"
It took a few seconds for me to come up with something.
"Kris... Top-- er... Tops!"
"Tops?" He asked, confused, but still excited.
I nodded. "Yup. Tops!"
"Why Tops?" He asked again.
"You got Anne from my name Daniella right?" I asked. He nodded before I explained. "So I took Top from your name Kristopher. But Top is singular, a nickname for a lonely prince. Since you're not alone or lonely anymore, I made it plural. So Tops!"
He still looked confused. I smiled as I put a hand on his shoulder, telling him a simpler explanation. He'll figure it out when he grows up.
Aww, but I hope he doesn't grow up. Grown-up boys are so boring. "Tops is much cooler than just Top."
"Ooh!" He clapped his hands with a wide smile, nodding his head so hard. It made me smile too. He was so cute. "Cool! I love it! I'm Tops!"
"And I'm Anne!" I giggled, pointing at myself. After that, we went on with our game, laughing and happy with our new nicknames.
• 12 years old •
"Sweety, can you call Kristopher for me please," mum said, sighing after she saw Tops' results on their last quiz.
"Okay," I said, hiding a laugh. He's so gonna get in trouble for slacking off again.
I walked to his room and before I knocked on the door, I fixed myself up. No special reason. I just wanted to look my best at all times.
"Tops?" I called out softly as I opened the door. To no surprise, I saw Danny with him again. They were playing video games as usual.
After I delivered mum's message, I closed the door and left. Ahh. This was so boring. I wanted to hang out with them too but I don't like playing those noisy games.
I waited for him in the hallways, and after a few minutes, he still didn't come out. What was taking him so long?
I walked to his room again and before I knocked, I overheard his and Danny's conversation. Well, part of it.
"Did you say you liked her or did you say you loved her?"
My brows raised and a giddy feeling stirred inside. Were they talking about Danny's first love? Ooh! He rarely talked about her, that Poopy.
"Why does it matter?" I could already imagine the annoyed look in Danny's face. Oh God I wish I can join their conversation. I wanna tease Danny so much.
"Well there's a difference right?" Tops said. "I wanna say it right the first time I confess."
I don't want to get my hopes up or anything, but was he planning to confess to me? That kid? Pft. I mean, I might be just assuming things but I'm the only female friend he has, after all.
I didn't want to hear the rest of their conversation. I felt so nervous all of a sudden.
"Tops! Mum's waiting!" I blurted out.
My heart won't calm down.
After a few seconds, the door opened, revealing a surprised Tops. I sent him a cool smile before I ran inside his room and sat right next to Danny on the floor.
Calm down, calm down.
We almost bumped into each other, literally. Although I called him a kid or a little boy in my mind since forever, he was still a few months older than me. And he's so tall now too.
The little prince grew up. A flashback hit me, his words when we were still kids.
"When I get bigger, I'm gonna take care of you!"
Calm down. Get a grip, girl.
Why do innocent words change meaning as we grow up?
Danny and I started talking about what happened at school since we were classmates. Not for long though, because I heard he was gonna graduate in advance for being too darn smart. But truthfully, talking to Danny was just an excuse. I could see Tops staring at us before he left. I have to pretend I didn't overhear their conversation.
Danny wasn't even interested in what I was talking about. Yeah, I was doing most of the talking. As usual.
When Tops finally left, I cleared my throat and punched Danny's shoulder.
"Ow! What was that for?"
"What were you guys talking about before I came in?"
I knew he wouldn't tell Tops anything since he wasn't a squealer anyway. I trusted him. Even though I was trying to make him squeal myself.
He looked at me, already exhausted. "Why would you ask if you already heard us?"
"Not all of it. Who was he planning to confess to?"
"Why don't you ask him."
"Danny!" I groaned, pulling his sleeve. "C'mon!"
He sighed heavily before climbing up the bed to take a nap. This damn sloth!
"Lazy arse." I mumbled.
"Why are you so interested? Hmm." He said, obviously attempting to tease me, in a boring, unmotivated manner of course.
"Well duh." I rolled my eyes. "He's my best friend. I want to know. But he never tells me anything."
"Hm," Danny replied. I almost thought he was convinced... until he continued. "We'll go with that excuse then."
I grabbed a pillow and threw it hard right at his face but he blocked it just in time. I stuck my tongue out and ran out of the room.
• 15 years old •
"What happened to you?" My uncle said, worried as he approached me. Uncle Richard and my cousins were visiting, and with perfect timing. Great. They just had to see me in this pathetic state. "Who did this to you?"
"It's nothing," I laughed a bit to conceal the hurt in my voice, but it was pointless. I was already exposed. Chie was looking at me quietly. I was afraid to tell him. He was like my older brother. If I tell him, he might go to Tops' house and beat him up for me, which really wasn't what I wanted. "I just got into an argument with my friend that's all."
I honestly didn't want to explain any further.
At times like this, I knew I could still hold it in until I reached my room. But then Chie stood up, walked straight towards me and simply gave me a full hug. Without even asking anything, without even saying anything, he just hugged me.
I was frozen for a few seconds, until I felt my vision getting blurry, and my cheeks dampening with my tears.
I cried again damn it. My eyes were already swollen enough.
I cried my hardest for almost an hour until I finally told them everything. Everything that happened in Tops' house. His words, his actions, my feelings--everything.
I was vulnerable. Sensitive. Like a weak child, I needed to be comforted in order not to go insane with going through this alone.
At least telling somebody gave me even just a tiny sense of relief.
After I had calmed down, uncle gave me a hug and a pat on the head. He was a strict man, but he treated me like his own daughter.
When my father walked out of our family and left my mum and I with an overwhelming debt, Uncle Richard stepped in and saved us.
Just when I was about to lose faith in this so-called family, he took us under his wing without a second thought and cared for us.
His wife and my mum were sisters. I heard my Aunt Emily didn't even have to convince him to help us out. He did it all on his own. He was an honorable man.
I've acknowledged him as my father and am forever grateful for what he did. His children were like my real siblings as well. I promised myself to repay him in the future, when I'm capable enough.
I'll follow all his wishes for the rest of my life. I want him to be happy. He had no idea how my loyalty ran deep in my veins.
He didn't comment about Tops after I told him about it. He just quietly reassured me that everything was gonna be okay before he stepped out of the room so Chie and I could talk.
I was still sniffling when Chie flicked my runny nose and made a disgusted face. I scoffed before hitting his arm. He laughed. He was always playful, this brat. I'm glad he's here.
"You know, when you fight with a boy, you shouldn't tell your family. At least not with complete details." He said, thoughtfully.
I glanced up at him. "Why not? I trust you guys."
Chie chuckled gently while shaking his head. His gaze was soft as he looked into my eyes, and tried to comfort me by patting my head. But I saw a flicker of a glare flash in his eyes when he talked about Tops. His smile was still the same, and he was calm as he said this. But it scared me just a little bit.
This calm kind of anger.
"This guy, Kristopher." He started. "I know you'll forgive him eventually. But your family won't. We will never forget what he's done to you. Remember that."
I had a sudden chill when he said that. This was the first time I heard him say something so seriously. I smiled, shrugging that chill and replacing it with warmth, realizing how much my family loved me. I gave Chie a kiss on the cheek before hugging him again.
It's hard to believe that we were actually related. He was half-Japanese after all. We had no resemblance in our physical features at all, but mentally speaking, we resembled each other a lot.
"Talk to him," he told me. Though in his tone of voice, it sounded like he just wanted me to get the hell away from Tops and never see him again.
I took a deep breath and released it slowly. I nodded.
"NII-CHAN!" We heard a loud voice from outside the house. "Otou-san said we're leaving now!"
Chie and I snorted. I gave him one last hug before sending him off. "Go already, your twin's calling you."
"Good luck Annie," he smiled at me helplessly. It was a tease. When I told him that Tops gave me that nickname, he altered it a bit and started calling me Annie since then. "See you soon."
A whole week passed, and I finally gathered up all the courage to go to Tops' house. I didn't tell Danny about it. I wanted to settle this matter between Tops and I before Danny gets dragged into it again.
I knocked on his door and after hearing no reply, I opened it. I thought he was not in the room and was about to leave when I noticed that his room now looked... empty.
I opened the door completely, only to see boxes all over the floor, his bookcases empty, and his bags packed. He was currently packing the last one on his bed. I clutched my chest, preventing myself from breaking into a sob.
"Tops?" I made my presence known. He made slight movement to acknowledge me and just went on packing in his usual pace, as if my being here didn't affect him at all. I stepped forward, keeping my breathing steady. "Tops I--"
"Remember," he suddenly chuckled humorlessly, cutting me off. "Remember that time when Danny cried because we asked him to open that jar of peanut butter?"
I pressed my lips together. That was a precious memory when we were still six.
"Yeah," I carefully replied. Seeing all his stuff packed in those boxes, I tried to remember what his room looked like before this.
He's gonna leave me?
Tops was quiet for a while, but only for a while. He shrugged it off with a light laugh. "He's so weird."
I held my breath, gripping the hem of my shirt tight. What was he trying to say?
"He is," I replied again. "And yet you guys are best friends."
He snorted, as if I just made a joke. What the heck did that mean? "He's amazing isn't he?" He continued, disregarding my comment just now. "He deserves his reputation as a prodigy for--"
"Why are you talking about him?" I interrupted, cutting him off. He still wasn't looking at me. Why won't he look at me?
If only he just looked at me, damn it.
"What else should we talk about that'll matter to you?" He said, laughing humorlessly again.
I felt anger seeping out of my system. He's being ridiculous again. I wanted to punch him to get him back to his senses.
"Why are you even here?" He asked, sounding helpless. I could see how his eyes turned dull, even when they weren't looking at me. "Why are you pitying me? Don't you know that just makes it all worse?"
"I know you love him," he said, sounding like he was gritting his teeth. "I've actually known for a while now. You don't have to deny it just to comfort me. Stop pretending to care already."
I love you, you idiot.
I love you, not Danny.
But I couldn't tell him that right now. Not in this situation. Not when I'm still pissed and heartbroken as hell.
"Are you jealous?" I asked, my tone hopeful yet piercing. "Are you actually jealous right now?"
He just scoffed before zipping his bag close. I walked towards him and pushed his shoulder harshly, to make him look at me by force. When he finally met my eyes, he looked away quickly, his brows knitting in irritation.
I wanted to punch him or knee him or something. He's just making everything difficult. Was I that insignificant that he won't even spare me a glance?
"Do you like me?" I boldly asked. I don't know why I did. A part of me knew he did, and that he was just acting out of pure jealousy, but a part of me wasn't so sure. Maybe I was just projecting my own feelings into him.
Tops scoffed before bursting out in mock-laughter. After that little fake laugh, he took a few steps away from me and looked at the window, completely avoiding my eyes. He had no expression in his face at all.
"You're kidding me, right? How presumptuous could you get?"
His words were like knives that stabbed and sliced me from inside, but his tone of voice was even worse. The way he said it without regret killed me. I clutched my chest again, holding back my tears.
"Anne, you've always overstepped your bounds," he said to me coldly. "You think just because you're my home-tutor's daughter, just because we've know each other since childhood, that you know everything about me? And that I like you? Amazing."
My knees were trembling. I shouldn't have come here. I shouldn't have come to see him. I shouldn't have asked that stupid question. I shouldn't have loved him. I should've just stayed home while mum worked. I should've... I should've...
"You are pathetic, Anne," he said. This wasn't the boy I grew up with. This wasn't the Tops I knew. This was a complete stranger. The huge lump in my throat was about to explode. "I would never, never come to like a person like you."
I dug my nails into my palms hard I swear it bled. I gritted my teeth just so I can stop the quivering from my lips. I held my breath so I won't have to scream in frustration.
Don't you dare call me Anne again.
He wasn't looking at me, so I thought of this as an opportunity to get back at him. He won't be able to see my tears, that's good. At least he won't see how pathetic I truly look right now. But still, if what he was saying was the truth, how dare he put it in that way?
Even if he didn't like me, how could he say all those terrible things? How can he attack me verbally continuously without any sign of emotion or even remorse in his face? So what if he hates me this much? Has he lost his decency as well?
Just who the hell did he think he was to treat me like this?
I wanted to hurt him too. I wanted to hurt him so bad. I wanted him to feel how I was feeling right now.
Humiliated, used, betrayed.
I took a deep breath and forcibly swallowed that lump in my throat. I had also blinked back my pointless tears. I held a strong gaze and clenched my fists to restrain myself.
"Alright," I replied, keeping my voice strong and steady. It was fate's mistake for letting us meet. But I give up. This is pain was enough to last for a decade at least. "Forgive me for asking. It was just in consideration for our years of friendship. Forgive me if I sounded presumptuous."
He didn't bat an eye. He was just stiff as a rock. I continued, keeping my tone firm and cold.
"Now that I know you don't harbor such feelings for me, then I will come clean. I won't hide it anymore." I took another deep breath, preparing myself to say a big lie. "Yeah, I love Danny."
He winced. I felt something pierce my heart but my mind was dead-set on getting back at him.
"I loved him for a long time. Whether we date or not is none of your business. So don't concern yourself with us anymore. You're leaving now? Great. Just disappear from our lives."
I wanted to hurt him. I don't know how saying those things would, but I just went with it. I was too mad to think straight. I was too sad to understand him. I just wanted to hurt him. I won't love him anymore. It hurr too much. It was a huge mistake.
I regret ever meeting him.
After everything I said, he was just silent. He probably didn't expect me to say those things He probably thought I would just quietly listen to his words. He probably thought I loved him enough to forgive him for acting like this spoiled brat.
I bit my lip. I don't even know the truth in that last one.
With one last glance at him, I took a step back and prepared to leave. He didn't move from his position, his face was still emotionless, but I could notice how his clenched fists were trembling. I scoffed.
He didn't even try to stop me.
A great sense of pride consumed me and it almost burned my soul.
This was goodbye then.
"Thank you for pretending to be our best friend for the last nine years. Have a safe trip."
• Present •
"Nice to meet you too," she said, glancing at Danny once and then at me. Her firm grip on my hand made me raise my brows. "Call me Tina. I'm Daniel's childhood friend and fiancee. I'm sure we'll get along just fine."
After noticing that everybody was gaping at us silly, I smiled at Tina unsurely. Was that a joke? Was she just going along with my little prank?
I glanced at Danny and saw that he had already buried his face in his hands. Realization hit me, and my jaw met the floor as I broke our handshake and covered my mouth.
"You're..." I made a horrified gasp, looking at her from head to toe. Oh shit. I screwed up. And I just got here! "You're the Poopy?!"
After hearing that nickname, a boy from class started laughing boisterously and then followed the rest of the spectators. Oh my gosh, I just created a huge scandal.
Tina cleared her throat, and with just that, the class shut up. What power this girl has...
"Yes." She replied. Her eyes had fierce determination and I couldn't hold my gaze any longer. Oh crap. Danny's gonna kill me.
Instead of cowering in shame like a normal person would, I felt strange excitement course through me. I almost forgot my original goal. I really didn't expect to meet her when I decided to go here. And then after a few seconds of collecting my thoughts, I mentally hit myself.
That's why Danny came here. I found it weird when I heard the news that he was attending school again even when he already graduated early. What other reason could there be except for her. The Poopy.
I couldn't suppress my giggles. Oh my gosh I finally met her. She's gorgeous! Her silly nickname doesn't give her any justice at all!
The teacher cleared her throat loudly to get everybody's attention. She was doing a very poor job at it. We all sat down as the teacher began her lesson; surely no one was paying attention. I knew where everybody's attention was.
I was seated near Danny and Tina's desks, so he was only a few desks back from where I was.
Normally, I wouldn't be able to transfer into this class since it was already full. But my mom had great influence in the field of education so she made it possible. She understood my reasons for deciding to enroll here in such a rush too.
Even though everyone was staring or burning holes at the back of my head, I just shrugged it off. I didn't care.
I peered over my shoulder a bit and watched him from the corner of my eye. He was the first person I saw in the room full of people as soon as I entered.
I noticed that his shoulders got broader, his hair got longer and his features were sharper now. He definitely wasn't the little prince anymore. The thought that the three of us were in the same room after three years excited me, saddened me and made me feel just a bit afraid.
I wonder if those two are friends again. I wonder if we can restore our old friendship.
I closed my eyes and released a sigh. Of course, I won't ever forget Tops' words. I came back here to throw those words back at him. Only after that will I finally forgive him.
He was staring lifelessly at his hands on his desk, not noticing that I was watching him from a short distance for a while now. After a few seconds, he groaned, scratched his head furiously and hit his forehead on his desk. Everybody turned around to see where that loud sound came from.
He groaned but refused to get up. Was he remembering the past? Was he regretting it?
I rolled up eyes as I returned my attention to the teacher. I watched Danny's and Tina's backs and hid a smile. They were so cute. I noticed something though.
Danny was glancing at her side from time to time, and she was obviously ignoring him. After a few minutes, he outstretched his leg only to kick her seat to get her attention. She was still ignoring him. I snorted and pressed my hand against my lips.
Oooh he's so in trouble now. Though it was partly my fault too.
Hearing that snort, he looked over his shoulder to send me a small glare. I wanted to laugh even more. I shrugged my shoulders and did what Tina did; ignored him. It was so amusing too.
I sighed quietly, calming down my heart. Now that I'm here, there's no telling what's gonna happen next.