Chapter 34 - The Photograph
I woke up with a rather heavy heart. I feel like I had a sad dream but I couldn't recall it no matter how hard I tried.
After taking a quick shower, I ate some fruits for breakfast then brushed my teeth right after.
I checked my watch; I still have half an hour left until I leave for school. Mind as well clean the place up a bit.
I turned on my robot vacuum and then rearranged a few things in my bookshelf. I also wiped my windows and watered my indoor plants.
It took my mom a lot of convincing before she allowed me to move here alone and transfer schools. Even though I was a responsible teenager, I was still just a teenager.
I still can't believe she allowed me and is now fully supportive of my decision. I think Uncle Richard had something to do with it though. He knew my situation after all.
Plus, mom was rarely home anyway. I adjusted to coming home to an empty place quicker than most people.
I went inside my room to retouch my make-up. Then I checked my watch again; about fifteen minutes left before I leave.
I sat on my vanity dresser and idly stared at my reflection at the mirror. How should I kill the time?
When I stretched my legs, I hit a box right under the table. I blindly kicked it again to make sure.
I stood up and knelt down on the floor to pull the box out. I had enough time to arrange the contents of this box to certain shelves and drawers.
I opened it and found my old notebooks and some random stuff that looked like trash but I didn't have the heart to throw them away.
I picked up my old notebooks and went on my way to my bookshelf. I knew just where to put them.
As I was arranging the notebooks on the shelf, something slid out of one of them and flew a couple of feet away from me.
Curious, I set the notebooks down and went to pick that item up.
It took me a few seconds to realize what it was, and when I did, the dream I seemingly forgot hit me like a brick.
I dreamed about Tops.
I dreamed about telling him that I hated him, that I never wanted to see his face again. I dreamed about the hurt in his eyes when I said those cruel words.
I dreamed about the time we broke each other's hearts.
No. It wasn't a dream. It was more like a nightmare.
I held my breath to try and control my heartbeats. The item that slid out of the notebook was a photograph of Tops and I when we were fifteen.
This was taken just a week before our huge fight.
I released the breath I was holding. I almost wanted to crumple the photo but it was too precious.
Look at how happy we were in this photo. Look at how innocent we were back then.
Why did we have to grow up?
I shook my head as I found myself getting deeper in my thoughts again. I still had school. I can't deal with this right now.
I didn't bother checking my watch and just took my things, locked my apartment and went to school.
I was walking across the hallways when I saw Danny and Tina just a few feet away from me. They were talking and didn't see me yet.
Tina gave him a small smile before waving him a subtle see you later. Danny smiled back and did the same.
She went ahead to perform her council duties I suppose.
"Danny!" I called out loudly, but he didn't seem to hear me. He just walked ahead. Was he possibly ignoring me again?
I tried calling him a couple of times but he didn't even turn around.
Weird. It didn't feel like he was purposely ignoring me. It felt like he literally couldn't hear me. Did he have earphones on?
I decided to follow him. I had nothing better to do. I was wondering why he was walking to the opposite way to our classroom though.
After a few more minutes of stalking him, I noticed that he was just walking straight ahead. I didn't think he was stupid enough to walk straight towards a post.
But I was mistaken.
He was stupid, despite being a genius.
I winced when he hit his head. A few people turned around to look at his little accident. Some even asked if he was okay. He didn't respond to anyone, held his head and just walked away like nothing happened.
I couldn't help it. I burst out into a fit of laughter right in the middle of the hallways, earning the attention of half the student body.
What the heck was he thinking so hard about?
I seriously couldn't control my giggles. The students passing by me made sure to keep their distance.
I wonder what Tina said or did to him last night to make him act like this. I have to find out.
When I got to our classroom, I left my bag on my seat and proceeded to Ella's desk. She greeted me cheerfully as usual and I did the same.
I glanced over at Danny's desk. It was empty. Guess I'll have to wait until he finds his way back here. I hope he doesn't bump into anything again.
I mean, not without me witnessing it.
"Is this movie good?" Ella asked, showing me a movie poster on her phone. I quickly nodded and gave her a thumbs up.
"I saw the trailer. It is awesome. But I have no one to watch it with, so I guess I'll just have to watch it online."
Ella smiled and nodded at me. "That's cool. Chie and I are gonna watch this after school. Wanna come with?"
My smile instantly fell off my face.
No no no.
"Are you asking me to be a third-wheel? Because I'm so not gonna be a third-wheel on your date." I laughed, trying to play it cool.
That wasn't the issue. I just can't meet with Chie yet. I wasn't prepared to lie and act like I didn't know him in person.
God I need to control my facial expressions. But I was just so surprised that she invited me.
"Not at all. Trust me, I know how that feels." She laughed in reply. "You and Tina can come with. Daniel too."
I almost gasped but I held it in.
"Ella, dear," I said as I placed a hand on her shoulder. "What makes you think being a fifth wheel is any better? And also, I think you should introduce us some other time. This is your date. I don't think Chie's gonna be happy if you bring your friends along. I'm pretty sure he wants to be alone with you."
I'm pretty damn sure he's gonna make a move, that brat. I have this urge to kick his leg as soon as I see him again. I don't know. Seeing Ella this happy makes me feel so protective for some reason.
She looked up to think and slowly nodded her head. "You're right. I haven't actually thought of that. I'll introduce you guys some other time then."
Now, I have to ask him later where he's staying at so I can interrogate him.
I'm not gonna let him hurt Ella.
Danny stepped inside the room, wearing the same expression from when he hit the wall. He went to his desk and stared at space.
Whoa. Why was his head so full of thought today?
I told Ella I was gonna talk to Danny for a while. She nodded and went back to texting Chie, most probably.
As I approached my robotic best friend, a giggle escaped from my lips. Oh my God.
"Oh Danny," I sang, putting a hand against my mouth, suppressing my laughter. "Why art thou forehead pink?"
I know I was supposed to say wherefore instead of why, but it's just funnier that way.
Danny turned to look at me with a mild glare. "You told her something yesterday, didn't you?"
I giggled. Oh my God. So did that mean Tina stepped up? Did my little push work? Oh my God. Oh my God! I have to know what happened!
"Maybe?" I giggled, unable to control feelings. "Did I do well?"
His glared softened up a bit, transitioning into a small smile. He looked at his desk before I could tease him about it. He obviously looked happy. "You did, but you didn't have to."
I rolled my eyes. "Just thank me."
He made a face before breaking out in a huge smile. My eyes widened. Oh, wow. This is the biggest smile I've ever seen Danny make in the many years I've known him.
I couldn't contain it. I squealed and jumped like a total fangirl.
Did their relationship progress? What happened? What happened?
"Well, thank you." He mumbled. "Now stay out of it and let me handle our situation."
I scoffed before I folded my arms against my chest. "Sure, I can see you're handling it pretty well, attacking walls with your face and stuff."
Alas, the glare returned.
It was short-lived though. He was practically glowing. Nothing can kill his good mood.
After persistently asking what happened to them last night, I sighed and gave up.
I wasn't gonna get anything from this lazy arse.
"Well, anyways," I pushed my hair to my back as I showed him an open palm. "Lend me your wallet."
He looked at me suspiciously, but took his wallet out anyway. True friendship right there. "Are you gonna rob me?"
I rolled my eyes. "No. As if I want your money."
I was just gonna check if that thing was still here.
Mum bumped into Danny a couple of months ago in the supermarket as they were paying for their groceries. She told me she saw an old photo of a little boy and girl in his wallet.
It caught her attention because she thought it was of me and Tops, but when she looked closely, she said it was of little Danny, and she wasn't familiar with the little girl.
I just smiled at my mum. I knew exactly who that little girl was.
When I opened his wallet, my smile went up until my ears, and my heart warmed at the sight.
He really did keep a photo of them when they were kids. This robotic best friend of ours was always so sweet whenever it comes to Tina.
Despite being a lazy arse, that is.
"Whipped as cream Danny. Whipped as cream."
I was still cackling and admiring the photo in his wallet that I didn't realize that he had actually grabbed my notebook from my desk.
I wasn't worried because I didn't have anything embarrassing written in there, but then something slid out of the pages.
That's when my blood ran cold.
He picked the old photo from the floor and a wide smirk appeared in his stoic expression when he realized what it was.
I thought I left that thing in the apartment. Why was it still in there?
His brows shot right up when he recognized the kids in the photo, then the corners of his mouth twitched up into a smirk.
"Huh. Look who's talking." He said so smugly.
I scoffed and tried to reach for it but he outstretched his hand to his back so I couldn't. I hit his shoulder out of embarrassment.
"I just found that this morning. Now give it back."
He swatted my hands away as he looked at the photo more closely.
"Never knew Tops was this ugly back then."
I resisted a laugh. "He wasn't. Shut up."
He grinned at me. "Still defending the little prince, I see."
Now I felt my cheeks turn into a bright pink. Why did he have to mention that?
"Shut up Danny and give it back."
I was this close to reaching it when a hand snatched it behind Danny's back. We were both surprised and when we looked to see who the culprit was, my knees trembled.
Sean snatched the photo from Danny and I saw Tops slowly walking towards us. I'm guessing he was a bit reluctant to come along because of my presence, but he came anyway.
"What's this?" Sean asked like a little kid who wants to join in the fun. "What are you guys getting all excited about?"
Before I could make a coherent sentence or a proper reaction, Sean raised his brow at the photo and snorted. He then showed it to Tops, who was looking at the photo with wide eyes beside him.
"Hey. This kid kinda looks like you."
Sean, I will smash your head into the wall if you don't shut up.
I watched Tops as he slowly peeled his eyes off the photo to look at me. He made some sort of grimace, like he wanted to say something but I couldn't handle it so I looked away.
Stop looking so sad.
Stop looking so pitiful.
Stop looking at me like that.
I almost felt like crying on the spot.
Before Danny could say something, another hand snatched the photo from behind.
I breathed a sigh of relief. It was Tina and Ella.
She didn't even look at the photo. She was glaring at Sean the whole time as she returned it to me.
She didn't say anything at all when she did this but Sean was petrified.
I don't know if it was because of Tina or because of Ella. Ella was just casually ignoring him.
Well this was awkward.
"Alright everyone." She raised her voice. "The teacher's coming. Back to your seats."
Danny hit the back of Sean's head as Tops just quietly went back to his seat. I wonder what he was thinking.
Tina just smiled at me as Ella put a comforting hand on my back. I smiled in turn at the two.
They didn't even know what was going on but they came to my rescue. One more minute in that situation and I might have actually cried.
Danny also gave me an apologetic look but I shook my head, saying it was okay. In any case, him seeing that photo gave me the perfect opportunity.
The perfect opportunity to finally swallow my feelings and face Tops.
I don't want things to drag any longer. I just want us to be okay again.
I just needed a little more time to organize my thoughts and feelings.
The teacher went inside and everyone was back to their seats. I held my breath as I mustered all my strength to look over my shoulder and look at him sitting at the back row.
He was already looking at me.
I bit my lower lip to stop myself from looking too surprised. He sent me a small smile and me, feeling encouraged of that simple act, returned the smile.
It was small, but it was a step.
I then returned my gaze at the blackboard. My heart was going crazy.
I held a hand to my chest as I breathed and opened my notebook to see the photo again.
I miss him so much.
Class just ended. I was still pestering Tina with questions of what happened to her and Daniel because I sensed a different kind of energy from them since this morning.
I mean, they both looked like they were in great moods, but they were so discreet about it.
Well, Tina was. I saw Daniel hit a post earlier at the hallways. I hope he's okay.
But that made me all the more curious. I wonder what Tina told him that made him act like that.
I wonder if they made progress.
But ughhh my best friend isn't telling me anything. I need details. Details!
"Not now." She said. "I don't wanna jinx it."
I looked at her. "What do you mean jinx it?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "You'll know soon."
I groaned again as I felt my phone ring. I answered shortly and told him I was on my way out.
"Is Chie picking you up today again?" She asked when I hung up. I nodded.
"Yeah. We're gonna watch a movie."
She nodded in turn. "Okay. Be careful."
I put a hand around her shoulder and grinned at her. "You be careful. You're the one living with a guy right now. Ah, the temptations. My poor innocent best friend."
She laughed. "Only for a few more days. And shut up. I'm not that innocent."
That's why Danny's having quite a hard time.
We reached the parking lot. Danny was already waiting for her in the car. She waved me a goodbye before entering the vehicle.
As they were driving away, Danny honked again and I waved at them enthusiastically.
I don't know what happened, but I feel so proud of them. I don't know.
Anne went home early today. Kristopher left with Sean as soon as class ended.
Something tells me there's a lot more going on without my knowledge. I don't like it, but I'll find out about it soon anyway. Everyone has their own issues to deal with.
"Hey," I heard a voice from behind. I turned around to see Chie and a smile just automatically appeared on my face.
He looked pretty laid back today as well. He always wore a plain shirt, a pair of pants and shoes whenever we go out, yet he always looks so dashing.
"Hey." I said.
He smiled back before motioning to the car that just left. "Who were those guys you were waving goodbye to?"
"Oh them?" I couldn't control my giggles. "It was my best friend Tina, the one I've been telling you about. And her boyfriend Daniel."
Boyfriend. He-he. Well. I'm not sure if they made it official yet, but they were going to get there anyway so.
"Ah, okay then." He replied, putting a hand over my shoulder and gently leading me to the opposite side of the parking lot where he had his car parked, probably. "I can't wait to see this movie."
"I can't wait to eat the popcorn." I truthfully replied, earning me a chuckle from him.
I don't know what it is, but I feel comfortable around him. Like I can be myself.
But then again there's still this feeling. This weird feeling that he's not being completely himself. I don't know if it's just due to the fact that we just started dating recently, or if I'm just thinking too much because my dating brain cells were practically dead.
Nonetheless, I just went with it. I'll figure it out in the long-run. I don't want to rush things, and I definitely want to know this guy better.
When the girls introduced him to me back then at the beach, I wasn't expecting that I'd be this attracted to him. Not just physically, but I also love his sense of humor, and there's this sense of maturity to him that made me feel protected.
Then again, I don't wanna place my hopes up too high. I know he was gonna go back to London soon. These sweet moments might be cut short any time soon, so I'm trying not to get myself too attached.
Somewhere in my heart, I already know it wasn't gonna work out. But I'm still going along with it. Who knows? There might be a wonderful plot twist in my life where I'll finally be happy with the right guy.
We arrived at the mall, bought tickets and popcorn, and watched the movie. It was indeed as good as Chie had said.
I love that he didn't complain when I comment a lot about the characters or the story. It's a habit I'd like to get rid of because I know it annoys people, but he adored it. I don't know why, but he did.
Sean... He used to complain. That's why I'm surprised that Chie didn't mind. He even responded to my comments truthfully and humorously.
After the movie, we just walked around the mall for a bit to stretch our legs. It was gonna close in an hour so we went back to the car soon after.
"Did you have fun?" He asked, looking at me with hopeful eyes. His smile was that of a little boy's, and I couldn't help but smile in turn. It was contagious.
He sighed in relief and sunk a bit in his seat, making me tilt my head in confusion. "Oh thank God. I thought I was boring you to death."
I chuckled as I shook my head. "What? What makes you think that?"
"Well," he started, sitting straight up again. It was dark in the mall's parking lot, but there was a lamp post just in front of us. The light that went through the car's tinted windows was faint, but it reflected in his light blue eyes. "You're obviously a fun person. I'm a bit of a bore sometimes since I don't know what I should say. I don't think I'm quite doing this right. I mean, am I doing it right? Are you bored? Because I usually do better than this, I swear."
I started laughing when he kept rambling. He looked pretty confused.
"I don't know what the heck you're talking about." I said. "I had a great time, Chie. Really. Thank you."
He still looked unsettled but he just nodded and smiled at me. I don't get why he looked so defeated. I didn't even do anything to him. Why did he think I was bored?
He drove me home and we had a small chat along the way. In a matter of no time at all, we reached my house.
I felt like the date wasn't enough, but it was already getting late. There was still school tomorrow.
"Well, thanks again. I had a great time." I said while I unbuckled my seat belt. I was wondering why he wasn't moving or saying anything. When I turned to look at him, he was staring at the wheel, looking like he was having some sort of internal debate. "Chie?"
"Can we um," he started, slowly turning his gaze to me. "Hang out for just a bit? Your parents are home, right?"
I tried my best to hide my smile. I don't get why I'm so happy he asked.
"No, but my sister and her boyfriend's inside."
He slowly nodded and I laughed when he actually looked shy as he awaited my response.
"Alright." I said. "Come inside."
His eyes brightened when I said that but he quickly cleared his throat and forced a cool expression. I just snorted.
"There's our little Ratata," Peyton said just as I entered the living room. She was lazily lying on the floor as Mark sat comfortably on the couch, busy using my sister's phone. "You brought company today. Hey there Chie!"
"Hey Peyton," he politely greeted my sister. I already introduced them before. "Hey Mark."
"Hey dude." Mark replied, not taking his eyes off the phone.
"You guys had dinner yet? We ordered pizza." Peyton asked, smiling at us all lovingly. She adored Chie. My sister's approval of him already earned him more brownie points.
"Yup." I replied. "We're just gonna go upstairs in my room since you guys are hogging all the space down here."
"Don't do anything stupid," Mark finally took his eyes off the phone to look at Chie with a slight grin. "Don't forget we're down here."
I rolled my eyes as Peyton kicked his leg. "Chie is a gentleman. Now leave those kids alone and finish that level. I want to fight the boss."
"How can you fight the boss if you can't even finish this level?"
"I can but I don't want to waste my time fighting low-level beasts. Now hurry."
Mark sighed in a lazy manner. "Anything for you, my queen."
Chie and I looked at each other and laughed before I took him upstairs. It's the first time he'll be seeing my room. I'm kinda conscious now that I think about it.
We entered my room and I told him to sit on my bed since my chair was full of clothes. I apologized since I wasn't expecting guests but he shook his head and chuckled.
"You should see my room. It's like another dimension."
I laughed. I don't even wanna imagine it.
I climbed up to my bed and lied down. My legs were quite sore from all that walking and I was tired.
Chie was just sitting on the edge of my bed, observing my room.
He looked nervous. It was adorable.
"Come here," I said, laughing. I wonder if I should tease him a bit.
He looked like a player, actually, so seeing him act genuinely like this was a treat.
It took him a couple of seconds before he finally sat beside me. He kicked his shoes off and relaxed on the bed with me.
With him this close, I couldn't help but look at him and smile. He did the same.
This was quite dangerous, but I still went with it. I didn't want to back away just yet.
"While we're here, tell me something about yourself." I said. I feel like I always talk about myself and my friends. Chie doesn't share much unless I ask him. "Do you miss London?"
He looked up as if to think. While he was doing this, I took his arm and placed it on the back of my head so I can rest on it.
I liked the warmth. It was so comfortable.
"Hmm, not really, I guess." He replied. "I mean yes, I miss home. But I don't miss my work. I'm still actually doing work while I'm here, but it's peaceful here since there aren't any buggers following me everywhere I go."
"What sort of work?" I asked, at the same time wondering what buggers he meant.
He narrowed his eyes so he could look at me. I adjusted my position so I can look at him properly and placed my hand on his chest.
"My family owns a few businesses," he replied. "It gets pretty noisy sometimes. But that's business."
I nodded. "So you're rich."
"I am not," he chuckled. "My otou-san is."
I nodded again. "Said every rich kid ever. Otou-san is Japanese for dad, right?"
He made a face and I just stuck my tongue out, making fun of him. "I don't really care much for the wealth. As long as I help my otou-san achieve his dreams, I'm satisfied."
"What about your dreams?" I asked, genuinely curious. I didn't realize that his hand had already found its way to mine. He slowly opened my palm and interlocked our fingers together in a gentle grip.
"Hmm, well," he said, looking up again. "No one's asked me that before. I haven't really thought about it."
"You're serious?" I asked, my eyes widening.
He chuckled when he saw my expression. "Why are you so surprised?"
"Nothing. Just..." I looked into his eyes, wondering how I should say it. "Wow. You're just a really good son, aren't you?"
He raised our interlocked hands up to his lips and brushed his lips on the back of my hand. "I don't deserve such praise."
Before I could retort, my light flickered a few times before completely going out. I heard Peyton groan downstairs.
The electricity was out again.
This kept happening for the last few days. I'm sure Peyton's gonna go Hulk on the electric company again. And Mark will just casually eat his pizza beside her.
I explained the situation to Chie and I felt him briefly nod. It was too dark to see anything. But I felt comfortable.
My heart was racing.
We didn't move a muscle as soon as the lights went out. But after a while of chatting in the dark, he slowly sunk in the bed and pulled me into a sweet embrace.
It was a gentle and romantic gesture. I could feel how careful he was. That's what I kept feeling whenever I was with him.
He was so careful.
I found myself snuggling my face to his chest and just enjoying the warmth. We didn't speak for a few moments and just remained in that position.
I was getting sleepy already, actually. But I should be up until the lights turn back on. I didn't want Chie to leave just yet.
He shifted a bit but I couldn't see anything. I only felt his a warm breath on my best after.
My heart beat faster when I realized we were face to face. I could feel his nose poking mine.
I didn't move. I was just paralyzed. My eyes were wide open, trying to see his features but it was just too damn dark. Even the street lights outside didn't help. My curtains were too thick.
In a matter of seconds, I felt a soft pair of lips press against the corner of my mouth. I blinked. Then those lips found their way to mine, and settled there in about a few seconds.
It was so soft. I couldn't comprehend the situation. My eyes just automatically closed even though it was already dark.
Did he just kiss me?
I was still wondering about that until he kissed me again, this time longer.
It was just an innocent smack, I suppose. My lips were closed the whole time. I didn't know how to respond.
I felt faint.
After a while, he kissed my forehead and then place his chin on the top of my head.
I was so afraid. What was going on? This wasn't good. This just wasnt good. I can't do this.
I just can't fall for this guy.
It won't work out. I like him a lot, and I know myself. I know I'm gonna like him even more in the future. But what if he gets sick of me? What if he isn't really interested in me? What if I'm just a fling to him?
I know I'm just gonna get hurt again in the end.
His hands that were wrapped around me tightened for a moment until he said something under his breath, his rich British accent pricking my heart with every word.
"I'm sorry, Ella."