LXXII. One Baby, Two Babies, Two Babies Plus
It finally happened.
Hailey is my girlfriend!
Well, it’s fake, but at least I know she still likes me. I mean, which other guy does she know that has black hair, blue eyes, tall, junior, smart, athletic, handsome, and lives in the Golden Dormitory?
How cute of her trying to hide it.
Unless I overlook someone who meets all those requirements, it’s definitely me, right?
I’m not one to tote my own horn, but I fit all of those criteria.
I look around the bright room.
That guy isn’t tall enough.
That guy is not athletic.
That guy isn’t as good looking as me.
That guy isn’t even a junior.
That guy’s black hair is fake.
I love how she invited all these strangers to divert my attention.
I blame Juliette. She was most likely getting ready to confess, but the sight of Juliette embracing me must have shocked her. I also concluded that she snapped at me out of jealousy the first day we saw each other. It was too blatantly obvious. When she chose to sit with Ricardo on the trip back, it was also to spite me.
Either that was the case, or I’m putting myself on a pedestal.
“Kiss her!” Ahmend shouted.
I may have the look of annoyance on my face, but at that moment, I’m thankful I know Ahmend Laghari. The arrogant loose pants prince. That’s the closest thing to a compliment I’m willing to give him.
I look down at Hailey’s beat red face. She’s not ready. Instead of kissing her, I kissed her forehead, causing her body to tremble. I should end this. “That is all,” I said into the microphone. I grabbed her hand and led her away from the audience. She probably hates standing up there.
We hid behind the mountains of gifts. I can’t wait to see her open everything with her mouth gap open, saying: “Woah! Joshie Pooh! Look at this!”
Hailey puffed her cheeks, “Why didn’t you kiss me?”
What? Did I hear correctly? Did she question why I didn’t kiss her? “You wanted me to kiss you?” I asked. I didn’t kiss her because I didn’t want her to pass out or, worse, run out of the room. Then, she’ll trip, which can embarrass her even more.
That’s one of the things Hailey dislikes the most, too much attention. It’s also one of the many walls between us. One of the many reasons why Hailey doesn’t want us together. She understands, consciously or not, that being with me meant the world would keep an eye on you.
The photo on the school gossip page was proof enough.
And slowly, they will dig up more of Hailey’s past and expose it to the world until there’s nothing left.
It can either make her stronger or crush her.
When I saw Hailey’s bruised face a few weeks ago, I finally understood how dad felt. The desire to overly protect mom. I love mom. But, she isn’t exactly the strongest woman I’ve met. Our lives are still foreign to her.
Sometimes, at night, after a party, mom would sit beside the fireplace. She would have this look on her face - this empty look. Dad would embrace her the whole night and told her: “It’s okay, sweetheart. I’m here. Our family is here.”
I never understood it.
What they were doing - until now.
He’s comforting her, apologizing to her, for pulling her into this type of malicious life. A life where she can’t trust anyone around her. A life where she would continuously be slander for everything she does. Defame. Degrades. Devalue. No one would allow her to forget she’s married into money.
It’s easy for someone to say: “Just don’t listen to what others say.”
But, they would never understand - how isolated she is in dad’s world.
Mom doesn’t entirely approve of my feelings for Hailey. It’s surprising, I know. Particularly with all the teasing she gave us. But, with time, she couldn’t reject what I feel was more than a crush. So, the teasing minimized with time, but she wouldn’t dismiss it if I ever got together with Hailey. She doesn’t entirely approve because she cares about Hailey. She doesn’t want Hailey to enter our world.
There’s a part of me that also doesn’t want to bring Hailey on my side.
I’m afraid I may lose her if I do.
That’s the reason why I proposed that she comes to Pandora Academy. To slowly expose her to my world. Right now, the young generation around us isn’t as vicious as their snake-like parents. And with time, hopefully, Hailey becomes immune to their venom.
And maybe, I won’t lose too much of her.
“Nevermind,” Hailey mumbles. Hailey’s eyes cast downward - a bad habit. Her nail digs against the nail polish. She’s doing it again. She’s overthinking.
I stroke the blonde hair behind her red ear, and without control, I lower myself. Hidden behind the mountain of gifts, out of sight from the world, I kissed her.
It’s soft like I remember.
I didn’t know it was possible, but Hailey’s face got even redder.
“Josh!” Crystal calls for me. “Why are you two hiding back here?” Crystal looks at me. “Auntie asks for you.” She hands me the phone.
“I need to use the restroom,” Hailey mumbles and dash for the exit.
“What did you do to her?” Crystal question.
I smile, “Nothing.”
“Creep.” She huffs a breath. “Give me my phone back later.” She heads back towards the crowd.
“Joshua Lynn Greyson! Did you steal one of my tiaras?” Mom’s voice does not sound pleasant.
“What?” I question. “Stole? I asked you if I can have it for Hailey’s birthday. Don’t you remember?”
“No, you did not.”
“Mom. I did.”
“Before I left, while you and dad were bickering over date night.”
There’s a long pause. “I did?”
“Yes!” I lied. Mom didn’t permit me to have the tiara. There’s no way she would approve it if she knew the reason why.
I wanted a tiara to impress the girl I like.
She would probably smack my head.
Mom exhales, “I really don’t remember.” Mom had the twins, Landon and Logan, over the holidays. After the twins arrived, the house turned upside down.
Mom poured all of her attention into the twins, and no one is happy. Dad and mom bicker every night over ridiculous things. Such as cancellation of date night, deprivation of sleep, and many other things. In conclusion, dad is deprived of mom’s attention. The boys hated the twins, nagging that they always cry throughout the night.
One baby crying is bearable.
Two babies crying is annoying.
Two babies plus five boys crying is intolerable.
Two babies, five boys, and parents bickering is insanity.
I couldn’t wait to pack up and leave. Many sleepless nights are probably why I came up with the idea of stealing a tiara for Hailey as an apology gift.
“It’s okay, mom,” I said. “You still have four more. Plus, you never wear them anyway.” I’ve never seen her wear them except the day dad gifted them.
Mom exhales, “Yes. But your dad got them for me. Each of them meant something, sweetheart.”
Guilt. She is definitely guilt-tripping.
“I’m sorry, mom. I’ll ask for it back.”
“You already gave it to Hailey?”
Mom exhales, “No, it’s okay. But Josh. I thought we talked about this. You don’t do bad stuff to get girls. Such as-”
“Smoking, stealing, and anything that pokes the conscious.”
“Yes. Josh, you know I don’t disapprove of your emotions for Hailey. Your dad and I appreciate that you came to us. But-” she exhales.
“Mom. I’m not going to push Hailey. I won’t do anything that she won’t permit me to do.”
“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. Because of the twins, I haven’t slept in a while. And they would constantly cry when I’m not near-”
“It’s okay, mom.”
“I love you, Joshua.”
“I love you too.”
“Have fun at Hailey’s birthday.”
“I will. Try to get a good night’s sleep, mom. Say hi to dad and the boys for me.”
The call ends. Do I still feel bad about stealing mom’s tiara? Somewhat. Do I regret it? Hailey’s red face appears in my mind. No. Not really.
Well, it appears I do have a bad bone in my body.
Crystal’s phone buzzes. I lift the device and look at the screen. Then, it happens. The world seemingly came to a stop.
Ricardo fucking Winston.
Spaghetti: Where are you?
Why the fuck does Ricardo want to know where Crystal is?
Then, it appears.
A phone call.
No, I shouldn’t pick it u- oh fuck it. I’ve done enough bad things lately.
I answered the call.
“Hey, where are you?”
Even hearing his voice makes me want to punch his face.
“You haven’t been to the library lately.”
What? Library? Did he call the wrong person?
Ricardo exhales, “Nothing is going on between us.”
There better be nothing between you two!
“Hailey hugged me because I wasn’t feeling well.”
“I don’t understand why you’re upset. I believe we agree that if we start anything, feelings won’t be involved.”
“Or are you still angry about what happened during the ski trip?”
Ski trip? Ski trip! What the fuck happened? I know I’ve been occupied and haven’t talked to Crystal often, but nothing should’ve happened.
“I’m outside the building right now. Let’s talk.”
“No,” I said.
There’s a long trace of silence between us.
The phone call ends.
I lowered the phone from my ear and took a few steps away from the pile of gifts, and analyzed the room. Crystal was in the right corner of the ballroom, surrounded by people. Guys are flirting with her. I know they are. I can tell. Our eyes made contact, and the guys took two steps away. Everyone at school knows better than to mess around with Crystal.
Ricardo is outside. I hope he freezes to death. I don’t know why, but the moment I met him, I hated him. There’s something about him - something wrong.