Chapter 28 - Four Minutes
Poopy was at her best friend's desk to chat. The teacher just wrote 'Study Hour' on the board before leaving in a hurry.
Who the heck studies during Study Hour?
So now we had one whole hour to ourselves. Not gonna use it for studying, obviously.
After last night, Poopy and I avoided the topic of me sleeping over at their house next week. Maybe it wasn't such a big deal, but I keep getting nervous thinking about it. Maybe even a little excited.
Okay, maybe a little more than just a little excited.
Unholy ideas, begone.
Not a moment later, Tops along with Sean entered the room. Huh. I thought they were gonna skip today too.
As soon as they saw me, they walked straight towards my desk before even leaving their bags in their own seats. Their faces screamed defensive already.
Before they could say anything, I stared at them both, shaking my head in mock disappointment.
"You weak, weak people."
I was referring to how they skipped school for their hangovers.
Tops groaned, not even trying to fight back. "Ugh. I threw up a lot man."
"Me too." Sean said, holding his head.
I snorted. Then said something to make them feel even better because I'm a sensitive guy.
"Ella has a video of everything you guys did while drunk. Everything."
They looked at each other, color draining from their faces quickly.
Tops looked at his hands unsurely. "I only remember getting home and falling in my bed."
I nodded. So he forgot about how he kept crying out Anne's name like a sissy, how he got all emotional when she told him off and how his bodyguards dragged his heavy ass back home.
Sean groaned while wincing and scratching his head. "I only remember my bro getting mad at me... ugh... I don't remember why though."
I nodded again. He forgot about how he challenged the wall into a duel, how Ella peeled him away from his lifeless opponent, how Ella called her sister to call his brother to pick him up, and how his brother literally pulled him by the collar and dragged him to the car like a dead weight.
"What did we do?" Sean asked, innocently. He looked afraid to hear the answer though. The two of them were staring at me, eagerly waiting for me to tell them the truth.
Being a good friend with great morals and conscience, I told them eveything, with little side comments about how lame they were here and there.
When I was almost through telling them, they both covered their faces with their hands and suppressed their screams of pure humiliation.
I enjoyed watching their reactions though. It was fun.
I didn't tell them that I got drunk too and passed out in Poopy's bedroom floor. My situation that night was much, much better compared to theirs anyway, so I had insulting rights.
"Oh. My. God." Top released a heavy breath as he pressed his hands harder on his face. He took a small peek at Anne chatting animatedly with the girls and then looked back at me with an accusing glare. "Why didn't you stop me Danny?!"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I had my hands full with a drunken Poopy."
"Oh God that was so embarrassing. Oh God what will Anne think of me now?"
"She didn't think highly of you in the first place. What are you getting worried about?" I snorted.
He narrowed his eyes at me. "You could at least try to comfort me, my dear cousin."
I grinned at him deviously. "Where's the fun in that?"
Before he could reply, Sean called our attention by waving his phone to our faces.
He looked like he recovered from his earlier shock already. Or maybe he's just pretending to look cool about it? Was he changing the subject in case we asked him questions about Ella?
Anyways, we went along with him. He must feel rather uncomfortable. Unlike Tops' whiney ass.
He cleared his throat before reading something in his phone. "Did you know? Sharks kill about 1 person per year on average. People, however, kill around 114 sharks per hour."
Tops and I nodded slowly, letting that new piece of knowledge sink in our brains.
Sean made a face while tapping something on his phone. "Poor guys."
"Yeah I know right?" Tops said, shrugging our other topic aside for now. "I mean, they eat people, but c'mon. Man's not being fair."
Sean nodded quickly, agreeing with his statement. "Not only sharks, but chickens too."
Tops was confused. "What?"
I had a feeling this discussion was gonna take a major turn.
"People kill millions and millions of chickens in a year. But chickens never, never kill people. Like, where's the justice in that?" He had this really convinced expression on his face. Then he turned to look at me, seeking my agreement. "Right Dan?"
It took me several seconds to reply. He had a point. But...
"...chickens are delicious." I said.
A horrified gasp escaped his lips. "How could you!"
"That's Danny for you." Tops snickered.
Sean shook his head as he folded his arms against his chest. "Dude. Chickens deserve more honor."
"Do you eat chicken?" I suddenly asked. He blinked a few times before nodding.
"Yeah. But I honor them."
"How?" I asked again, sighing and sinking to my seat to a more comfortable position. "By smothering their flayed carcass in the embryonic fluid of their unborn children before deep-frying them?"
Sean just stared at me. And then at Tops. And then at me again.
"I just had a great idea." He said, shrugging off my previous comment, which he probably didn't get or had no answer to. "Clash of the Chickens. Doesn't that sound great for a blockbuster movie?"
I don't even have the energy to make fun of him anymore. It's too early in the morning. I just wanna sleep.
"Sounds interesting!" Tops replied cheerily. He looked too excited. Just looking at him was draining my energy.
He stood up straight and gazed into the distance as he made weird hand gestures, earning the attention of half the class.
"Chickens, domesticated from wild junglefowls, birds that can't fly high. Long has the question lingered in history: are chickens related to dinosaurs? Did their evolution over the past centuries degrade them from being once great feathered beasts, into man's dinner on the table? Will they rise for the excessive, unjustly deaths of their kin? Will it result into the biggest cockfight in the history of the universe? Find out in the Clash of the Chickens."
Sean was applauding so hard and the rest of our classmates were just giggling and snorting.
"I'd totally watch that dude!" Sean laughed, bumping fists with my cousin.
I need to change my DNA.
"Right?!" Tops snickered. Well, guess these two are recovering quite well from the humiliation they felt just minutes ago.
"I'm hungry." I sighed as they continued to joke around.
"No wonder you guys are friends," somebody suddenly said. I looked up from my seat to see Poopy walking back to her desk beside me.
I sent her a small smile and she returned it quickly.
"Ella said we're going to her house later," she announced, sounding quite exhausted.
"Why?" I asked, glancing at Sean to his reaction a bit. He was looking away, his usual cheeky grin fading from his face.
Poopy gave me a look. "To be her sister's Guinea pigs."
Tops and I just looked at each other. Sean quietly stood up and walked to a group of guys across the room. Anyone could tell he didn't want to be part of the discussion, and we respected his decision.
"It's for her sister's Psychology project. We're just gonna be observed or something. She said details will be explained later." She sighed.
Again, Tops and I just looked at each other. Why the heck would we agree to be her Guinea pigs?
Poopy stared at us. "There's gonna be snacks."
"We're going." I said with finality.
Tops heaved a deep sigh before chuckling and hitting my shoulder. "Danny you're easily bribed whenever something involves food."
"So you're not going then?" I asked him.
His chuckle got cut short when he sent me a serious look. "I'm going."
"Oh hey Tina!" Peyton smiled at me widely as she opened the door for us. I gave her a smile in return and she nodded before glancing at the people behind me. "You guys must be my little Ratata's friends. Come in, come in!"
Daniel and Kristopher looked at each other unsurely as Anne went ahead and stepped inside the house along with me and Ella.
I had a bad feeling about this. This'll be so awkward for Anne and Kristopher won't it? I don't think I told Kristopher that Anne was coming along as well. As soon as he heard that there would be snacks, he and that butthead agreed quickly.
When we reached the living room, there was a guy there doing something with a camera. He looked like he was trying to adjust the lenses or something. I have no idea.
I gulped when I saw the camera by the way. And it was on a tripod too. So this means they were gonna film all of us or something?
"That's Mark," Peyton said, calling his attention. He left the camera and grinned at all of us. Oh so it was him. "My boyfriend. He'll be helping me with the experiment. You might know him as Sean's big bro."
Mark gave me an acknowledging smile before he looked at all the new faces. He folded his arms and sighed. "Hmm. You guys are that little Squirtle's friends that drank my liquor."
I heard a gulp behind me. It was Kristopher.
"I met you all not so long ago. But you probably don't remember. You guys were wasted." He shook his head and went back to doing something with the camera. He didn't ask or even look surprised when he noticed that Sean didn't come with us today.
Peyton clapped her hands to call our attention. She looked so excited. She gathered the five of us and began to explain the whole experiment and what we should do to get the free snacks.
"It's a test for pairs. It'll determine what's going on in the brain during a consistent duration of eye contact. I'll record if there are any changes in emotion during the experiment--if your blinking did indeed synchronize or if you fired up your right inferior front gyrus once you've established eye contact." She said quickly.
We all looked at each other.
"Based on the enhancement of behavioral and neutral synchronization during mutual gaze, we'll know if shared attention is hard to establish without eye contact."
Again, we all looked at each other. Except Daniel of course. He either looked uninterested or he already knew what she was talking about.
Peyton giggled after seeing our reactions. "You don't need to understand all that shit. Just do what I say and I'll give you food."
"Done." Daniel and Kristopher said in unison. I held back a sigh. I could hear Mark snickering behind us.
"It's really simple. Even Mark and I will participate in this experiement, so don't worry." She waved an airy hand and then looked at each of us seriously.
"I'll be picking two people by random. All you gotta do is stare at each other's eyes for four uninterrupted minutes. I'll record the whole thing and tell you the results as soon as we're done. Easy right?"
She sounded so persuasive that we didn't even realize that we kept nodding at everything she was saying.
Peyton gave us fifteen minutes before we start the experiment. She was still fixing the plain cloth that would serve as our background and then she placed two seats that were facing each other in front of that cloth. Mark placed the tripod in a good angle that could capture the whole thing.
Ella was having small talk with Anne so I went to the two quiet boys that came for the snacks.
After fifteen minutes, Peyton called our attention.
"Mark and I will start. Be quiet when the camera starts recording alright?"
All of us nodded.
Mark pressed something on the button as Peyton sat comfortably on the chair. Mark then walked over to the other chair facing his girlfriend.
They had set a timer before they began the experiment.
For the first minute, it was pure silence among all of us, but Peyton and Mark were all smiles. They just kept smiling at each other. Anyone could tell they were in a world of their own right now.
The next minute, I noticed how Mark took a deep breath a released it slowly. A gentle smile was on his face as Peyton resisted giggling.
After four minutes were up, Mark stood up immediately and hugged Peyton, giving her a chaste kiss on the forehead.
I was at a loss for words. What was that all about? What happened?
"Next pair, Tina and Daniel." Peyton announced.
After a few seconds of hesitation, I obediently walked to the chair Peyton sat on, and Daniel on the one facing me.
I tried my best to ignore the camera and the mischievous looks Ella and Anne were shooting us.
Daniel kept looking at his feet though.
"Okay." Mark said. "In three, two..."
Our four minutes started, and Daniel looked at me immediately.
Only a few seconds passed but my heart was already beating erratically. We have to stare at each other for four whole minutes. This is gonna be so awkward.
I steadied my breath as I watched his eyes. They seemed focused on mine. I wonder what he's thinking about right now.
I noticed that the corner of his mouth twitched, and after a few more seconds, he groaned and covered his face with his hand, breaking eye-contact.
"Cut!" Peyton yelled. "What the heck was that Daniel?"
"Umm." He mumbled, looking anywhere but me. "I suddenly had a headache."
Mark started coughing, as the word bullshit not-so-subtly rolled off his tongue.
I heard Kristopher snickering from afar. Peyton rolled her eyes and adjusted the timer. "Nice try kid. Do it again. From the start."
I held back a snort.
"Okay, start!" Peyton said.
Daniel sighed before he looked at my eyes again.
This was harder than I thought.
It was kinda tense for the first minute, because Peyton was staring at Daniel intensely, silently threatening him to not look away. And Daniel, doing his best to do so.
I noticed that he kept playing with his hands without breaking eye-contact. His doe-like eyes were blinking unusually slower than usual, and I didn't realize I was mirroring the way his eyes moved and how he blinked.
My chest suddenly tightened.
Looking at him right now made me feel rather bubbly. Lonely.
I guess he's really special to me.
No one's ever made me feel so many complex emotions before. And though complex, I'm bold enough to say that I adore it.
I adore him.
This guy. This butthead. This amazing guy. This annoying person. This genius. This idiot. This... This person I don't think I deserve.
I spent most of my life without him and yet I can't even imagine what I'd do if he ever goes away again. The thought of it made me feel like my heart was being ripped apart. I felt like crying somehow.
A voice was screaming in my head when thoughts of a car disappearing into the streets began prickling my chest. I looked at Daniel sincerely, unable to voice it out.
Please don't leave me.
How many minutes were we at? Four minutes was too long. My knees are shaking.
I'm tired of denying it already. But I'm scared. I'm nervous. I have no idea what I should do.
Daniel... He's too good for someone like me. Why does he like me?
I held my breath when I saw him breathe slowly. His brows creased slightly, as if he was responding to the look I gave him just now.
What are you thinking right now?
After a few more seconds, I noticed that he blinked faster. But there was a tender look in his eyes. A gentle gaze. It was like he was embracing me through that gaze.
He still kept fiddling with his fingers, unable to keep them steady.
I felt like I was looking at the little boy in my memories.
I couldn't help but smile.
And with that, the corners of his mouth twitched up into a smile as well, but he quickly hid it with his hand as he abruptly broke eye-contact again and stared at some random object.
I could see him suppressing a laugh but it seemed like he had a hard time doing that.
I suppresed a giggle, convinced that he was actually more nervous than I was. It made me really curious to what he was thinking about during those few minutes.
Stop acting adorable in front of everybody.
Peyton groaned loudly and started scolding Daniel again. She made us do it again and this time, we finally finished the whole four minutes without him looking away.
When she yelled cut, I swear I heard him release a breath. Was he actually holding it the whole time?
He's definitely not human.
I did my best to fight back a huge smile. My chest feels heavy yet light at the same time I don't understand. I felt both happy and sad.
Daniel quickly went to the side to hit Kristopher, who repeatedly made fun of him. Ella was grinning from ear to ear and I couldn't contain it anymore. I made sure Ella was the only one looking at me when I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt.
She let out a small laugh as she pulled me in for a hug.
Still, things were gonna get quite awkward with me and him later. Not looking forward to that at all.
But at least, I had the upper hand this time. Maybe I'll tease him a bit.
"And our last pair, Kristopher and Anne."
My thoughts about later stopped abruptly. Ella and I broke the hug and exchanged worried looks. I forgot. Were they gonna be okay?
I saw Kristopher take a deep breath as he sat on the chair. Anne looked like she didn't even acknowledge the presence of the guy sitting in front of her.
Why am I envisioning her punching him in the face?
"Guys," Peyton sighed. "Please don't do the same thing as Daniel and look away. Just don't. It's just four minutes. Don't break eye-contact. Bear with me, okay? For the snacks."
Anne slowly nodded at her and Kristopher was already looking at Anne. He looked rather lonely.
Will they be able to take this? Should we tell Peyton about their relationship? Should we stop them?
This was practically torture for the both of them. But Peyton doesn't know that. Why aren't they complaining?
The moment Anne looked into Kristopher's eyes, his brows raised, as if he couldn't believe she'd actually look at him. The way she looked at him though was distant, detached.
The first minute went on like that. The air between them was noticeably heavier compared to ours when we sat there. Peyton was glancing at Ella, raising her brows and demanding to know what was going on. She noticed it too.
Ella just sent her a weak smile.
In the second minute, Anne took a deep breath and seemingly held it in. Kristopher's brows raised slightly.
I watched Daniel from the other side of the room. He was looking at the two worriedly as well.
In the third minute, Anne's cold gaze slowly, slowly melted into a soft one. Her brows raised weakly as her lips quivered.
Her eyes quickly filled with water. She pressed her lips hard as the tears raced down her cheeks.
She looked really hurt.
Kristopher stood up from his seat, panicking and in a loss for words. He was about to reach out his hand when the timer beeped, meaning the four minutes was up.
Anne quickly got up and ran outside. Ella and I chased after her. Peyton followed us after she told Mark something.
When we reached the front porch, Peyton closed the door. Lucky there were no people today. We could have some privacy even though we were outside.
"I'm sorry." Anne quickly wiped her tears away and looked at Peyton, forcing a laugh. "I couldn't help it."
Peyton hugged her and rubbed her back soothingly. "You should've told me. I thought you two were just classmates."
Anne let out another laugh despite her situation. "We are. But I guess you already figured out the rest after this."
Ella and Peyton continued to calm her down, but it took almost no effort at all because Anne recovered quickly. Or maybe she did her best to act okay.
That Kristopher. I hope seeing Anne like this gave him a wake-up call. The both of them need to talk this thing out.
But if just looking at each other hurt the both of them, what would happen if they did talk?
Will they be able to take it? But what other way can they resolve this?
I have so many questions today. And they're the only ones who can give me answers.
She held Peyton's hands and sincerely apologized. "I didn't expect this. I thought I'd be able to hold it in. That experiment proved me wrong. I'm so sorry for causing a scene."
"Honey," Peyton giggled. "Don't you know a scene's what all college students doing this project wants?"
They exchanged a small laugh before Peyton continued. "Just tell me if you want me to delete that video. It's okay."
"No!" Anne quickly said. "I'm sure it'll be useful. And I'm glad I could help. At least I finished the whole four minutes right? Unlike Danny."
She sniffled after she made that light joke. We laughed to lighten up the mood. Peyton hugged her again and kept asking if she was sure with her decision.
I kept wondering. What if Sean came? What if he and Ella sat on those seats and did the same as us? Would Ella break down like this too?
I clenched my fist. I think I'd need a restraining order after that.
"I..." Tops mumbled, unable to leave his seat after Anne ran outside. "I made her cry."
Yeah. You deserve an award for that, dumbass.
But I didn't say that out loud.
"I don't mean to sound rude or anything man," Mark said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "But you must've really screwed up big time."
"I did." Tops replied, slowly covering his face with his hands. "But she's smiling everyday, of course not at me but... I thought she was happy now. I thought she didn't care about me anymore. I thought--"
"Of course she's gonna pretend to look happy in front of you, you idiot." I said, shutting him up. "You know how she's always been. Of course she's gonna continue faking her smile. Of course she's gonna pretend not to care about you anymore. But Tops, did you see the way she looked at you earlier?"
He slowly peeled his hands away from his face as his eyes filled with pure guilt and regret. "I broke her."
I wanted to comfort him, but not with lies. So I agreed with his answer.
"She'll never want to see me again. I ruined everything for her again." He said, sounding more and more depressed and hopeless. Before I could give him my advice, Mark smacked my cousin upside the head.
Tops and I looked at him surprised and confused.
"Ow?" Tops mumbled, unable to comprehend the situation at hand.
Mark sighed upon shaking his head at us in disappointment. "You kids don't know anything about women at all."
We were quiet as our idiot classmate's big brother showered us with his wisdom.
"Boys, if you really want her, you have to do your best to pursue her without caring about how stupid you'll look. It's not putting on a show, it's called being sincere. And do you know what they really appreciate?" He said, staring us down and stepping all over our egos. "Apologies. Explanations. Patience. If you know you're wrong then apologize. Don't hold on to your damn pride just to look good or to save yourself from embarrassment. Girls value sincerity above all else, and it earns their trust, which is one of the most important things in a relationship."
I nodded, agreeing with his words. Seeing his good relationship with Peyton convinced us that his words were true.
He held the top of our heads and ruffled our hairs. "Don't think too much and just go for it. Go after her, little Squirtles. Don't be a wimp like my bro."
I still can't decipher whether this guy was mature or immature. But nonetheless, his words gave us some encouragement somehow.
"The snacks are in the kitchen. I'll go check on the girls." He said before he left us.
Tops looked petrified still, so I left him for a few moments to grab myself some snacks from the kitchen.
I started eating, wondering how the girls were doing, and what we should do once they come back, if they come back.
Seeing no reaction from Tops even after I kept munching right in front of him, I opened his mouth and shoved a handful of chips inside.
I should at least feed him since I was a good relative.
He was too stunned to chew or even close his mouth for that matter so I did it myself and manually operated his jaw.
After a few moments of entertaining myself, I got bored and sighed. "This is disgusting. Swallow it already."
Hearing no response whatsoever, I sighed again. I covered his mouth and pinched his nose. After a few seconds, his eyes widened and he swallowed the crushed chips that stayed way too long in his mouth.
He sent me a glare before sighing heavily.
I put the chips aside and sipped on some soda. "What?"
He looked at me seriously, and I knew more than anyone that that wasn't his lame acting anymore. He looked determined.
I raised my brows as he stood up from his seat, clenching his fists.
"I have a favor to ask."