Just As You Are

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Chapter Sixteen

KIKI

Orange and soft pink hues seep into the room, but I still can’t see the sun. I’ve been trying to spot it from this window to watch the sunset, but no matter where I look, I can’t seem to find it.

“Found you!”

Ian’s voice surprises me, and I pull away from the seal to meet his eyes. His hair reflects the warm end-of-the-day colors, making it stand out like flames. He stands before me in his soccer uniform, breathing heavily and drenched in sweat, and he looks so hot I can’t seem to tear my eyes away from him.

When he steps closer, I notice the blue ring in his eyes had turned purple, and the smile tugging on his lips is growing broader, making my heart race faster and faster.

It’s his lips that make the light in the rest of the room get a little bit darker. I can’t move, and I can’t find my words. My tongue is lodged to the roof of my mouth, and my eyes are just lingering on him, watching as he moves closer, cups my face in his hand, and kisses me.

“Waah!”

I scramble up like a corpse coming back to life then glance right and left frantically, checking that no one is around. I’m alone in my room, and it’s silent except for my thudding heart. My body heats up, and my lips tingle. I touch them subconsciously, and now I’m all on fire.

“Oh my God!” How did these indecent thoughts take form? How did they slip into my subconsciousness? I shake my hair outta my eyes and groan. How am I gonna see Ian today? I won’t be able to look at him. Ugh . . . that would be so embarrassing.

I rub my face and move on to shower. I’ve gotta calm down.

“Breathe, Kiki. Breathe,” I say to my reflection in the mirror. My face is flushed and my eyes have a look that I’ve never seen on me before. I pull my hair into a bun and strip. “It’s not like someone will hack my brain and read my thoughts or something,” I mumble as I wash my hair. Then it hits me. “God!” The soap slips outta my hands and slides across the tub floor. “Mika! Mika can do that! No wait, Mika specializes in brain waves, does that mean she can read my thoughts? Are thoughts a form of brain waves? Why? Why would that happen to me?” I ramble on for few minutes then wash my body and hair, step outta the shower, dig my hairdryer outta a drawer, and dry my hair.

“I could so easily freak out right now!” I’m already in ultra-panic mode. It’s not just that I hafta avoid Ian, but also I hafta avoid Mika. And this won’t easily happen because they will notice I’m acting weird and distant and they will ask about it. I put on my shirt and legging, zip up my skirt, tie the pink bow that identifies me as a junior, and fix two thin yellow ribbons in my hair, leaving it tumbling down my back.

Taking a final look in the mirror, I shake my shoulders. “Calm down, Kiki. Everything will go the way it’s supposed to go.”

Then I grab my vest and bag, and run.

It seems that no matter what I do I’m not able to stop thinking about it.

I passed by Sweet ’n Spicy, tried their Mint Chocolate Cream cupcake, and bought a dozen for my friends. I saw a black cat and took a detour after it, and I even counted the cement blocks of the sidewalk. But whatever I did, I couldn't stop thinking about Ian and the kiss and what he would taste like. It’s driving me crazy!

I’m practically dragging myself to school so I would arrive as late as possible. No, scratch that. I’m dragging myself to school hoping that if I arrive late, I won’t come across Ian. But no matter how slow I walk, I’m now two blocks away, and I can see the black gates. It’s hopeless, I’m gonna meet him, and my feelings will ignite as two heat spots on my cheeks, betraying me. I look up at the sky; it looks like it’ll rain today.

Since that day I saw him at school, I was head over heels for that smile. At first it was a feeling of admiration more than a liking emotion. But when he helped me out and we hung out together more than once, I got to see more sides of him that I hope no one ever saw. Ian strikes me as a refreshingly blunt person. Like a very calm and cool breeze amidst a desert.

He might sound annoying to some people, but I can’t find a person who is both honest and modest more than he is. This is the first person in my life who takes a big chunk of my mind. And heart. My heart is recklessly beating nonstop because of him who is odd at times. All of this isn’t a sign that it’s the start of something, right?

I sigh loudly and stop walking like a zombie as I enter through the gates, hoping for some company before homeroom starts, when Ian passes by. I flinch and look away. “Waah . . .” He didn’t notice me. Thank God. Because of that dream, I absolutely won’t be able to look him square in the face today. What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do? We sit next to each other; I can’t avoid him forever!

I think I’m way too deep in my own head, but a loud thunk halts my train of thoughts. Glancing up, I catch Ian crouching on the ground, his head in his hands, and I’m instantly alert and running to his side. Few students stand about us in shock.

“ . . . Ouuuuuch . . .” he whines.

“Ian, are you okay? That was a really loud bang,” I ask.

He holds his head, his body shaking from impact. “The doorframe . . . That sure woke me up . . .” he mumbles in a shaky voice. He must’ve been spacing out and hit the doorframe on his way in.

I bite my lip to hold myself from laughing; I must not laugh in such a situation. “Is your head okay? Does it hurt?”

Ian glances at me, half wincing–half smiling. He shakes his head slightly as I help him up.

“Are you okay? You were spacing out. Did you not get enough sleep?”

He opens his mouth to say something, but gets interrupted by an overly sweet chuckle.

We turn around simultaneously, spotting Rachel in her full glory. Her tall frame and slender body are like that of a Victoria secret model. Her blue eyes, like the sea, are calm and emotionless. Black, short bobbed hair, and fierce red lipstick. Rachel suits to be a model, and she’s both sweet and intimidating. I give her a smile that I hope doesn’t visibly tighten as she saunters in our direction in her high black heels, linking her arm through Ian’s and pulling him towards her. Away from me. A knot forms in my stomach as I watch her next to him, while Ian’s face shows his usual impassive expression. They look good together.

“Oh Kiki, sweetie you’re so funny!” Rachel waves her hand at me and smiles. “Isn’t she funny, Ian? She sounds like a mother!”

The knot in my stomach tightens when she flashes her perfect teeth at him. A mother? I sound like a mother?

“Of course he was spacing out. Of course he didn’t get enough sleep.” She looks at him with dancing eyes, and my stomach flips when Ian’s expression doesn’t change.

What’s this hollow pit in my heart? What isn’t he reacting? Why does it feel as if there’s a gap growing between us?

“That’s because he was thinking of me all night! Right, Ian?” Her voice rises a pitch, catching the attention of passing kids.

Not a flicker of light in his eyes, not a muscle twitching, Ian doesn’t even reply. He rolls his eyes and ever so gently, frees his arm from Rachel’s grip and looks at me as if she’s not even there. A look that would’ve certainly melt me if he was closer.

“Let’s go. We’re going to be late,” he mumbles as he passes by me.

I look back at Rachel; she seems a bit deflated but quickly retains her composure and smiles again. “Oh, Ian. Isn’t he so lovely? Being all shy about the fact that likes me?” Then she peeks at her phone and her eyes widen a fraction. “Oh no, I gotta go sweetie. They need me in the cheering practice because you know”—she flicks her short hair, and the blue in her eyes turns into ice as she looks over my shoulder—“I’m the leader.”

And that’s it. Rachel walks off, and I stand by the double doors, frosted cupcakes melting in a cardboard box, heart burning in a tight chest. I’m left on a roller coaster of emotions I’ve never experienced before, and I think I need an explanation from Ian even though I don’t have the right to ask for one.

Does he like her? Or is Rachel doing that to mess with me? Does she know I like Ian, or is she doing that because she’s obsessed about him? I dunno if I can ask him any of this.

I mean yes, I like him, but I never told him—I don’t think I have the courage to—and he was only helping me. It’s not like he’s helping me because he likes me, right? Ian’s helping me because I’m a friend who needs help. And how am I supposed to know how he feels if he makes a face like that? I take a deep breath to calm my heart and follow him inside until I fall in step beside him.

He’s walking oddly fast and I hafta skip to keep up with his pace. He was talking to me earlier, right?

“Ian. Ian. Ian!” I call his name several times but he doesn’t seem to hear, so I grip his sweater and halt him to a stop.

Ian looks at me and blinks, as if not expecting to see me. “Ah, since when are you here?” he asks in a gruffy voice.

“A while ago. I’ve been calling your name and—”

“I’m sorry.” He flips his hair backward, passing his fingers through it in an exasperated manner, and I notice the small scar at his hair line. “What?” he asks when he notices me staring. “Is there something on my face?”

My cheeks flame. “N-No. You just have a small scar here.” I reach up and trace it with my fingers, and when I snap back to it, Ian had already gripped my fingers, and my face had lit with thousand shades of red.

“I’m sorry. I-I didn’t mean to!” I look away. “I-I didn’t . . . mean to . . .” My voice drops to a whisper; I dunno what to say. With my heart beating a loud tune, I can’t quiet my mind at all.

“It’s okay. I’m fine. It’s just a small one, right?”

“Y-Yeah. But are you sure? You bumped into a doorframe.” I smile, trying to make the fact that Ian’s hand is on mine a little less impactful. “It was unexpected. Should we visit the infirmary? You shouldn’t neglect it even if it’s this—”

To my surprise, Ian smiles, and my breath catches as he pats my hair. “Don’t worry,” he says softly, “I’m okay. Just a slight headache. We’ve got to go.”

And like that, he puts his hands in his jeans pockets and walks ahead of me, and I fall in step behind him. It’s easier if you just say you’re in pain during truly painful times. It’s not like enduring it unreasonably is okay. I wanna tell him this, but I’m very busy burning the feeling of his skin on mine into memory that I don’t notice we arrived at class until the girls crash into me as I go inside.

“Kiki!”

Gilda and Marsha greet me at the door, blocking my way so that I can’t see anything.

“Kiki! There’s something on your table,” Marsha says, then she exchanges a glance with Gilda, and they both look at me.

I cock my head to one side. “What? What’s on my table?” I ask, trying to look behind them.

“Umm . . .” Another incomprehensible glance.

“Is there garbage on my table? It’s okay if I have garbage on my table, I’m used to it.” I try to pass between them but they look at me with teary eyes and pull me into a sudden hug.

“What are you talking about?” Marsha asks.

“Oh, you poor thing!” Gilda mumbles sweetly, “You must’ve had it rough.” They smooth my hair, and I allow myself to bath in their genuine kindness even if it lasts for few seconds. They lemme go and walk with me to my table where I find it crowded with all kinds of snacks: muffins, biscuits, chocolates, pokey sticks, popsicles, papico—PAPICO!—even yogurt cups, and little candies.

I glance at my friends in confusion. “What is . . . going on . . .? Is it someone’s birthday today?” Oh my God! If it’s someone’s birthday, how tactless it is of me to come empty handed! Are the cupcakes enough?

“Nope,” Mika answers from behind, “it’s not for a birthday.” She looks at everyone and smiles. “This is a little gift from all of us.”

“Aha . . .” I blink.

Mika’s face cracks into a grin. “It’s for you, Kiki.” Everyone nods and smiles at me kindly, and when I look at Ian, his face is still expressionless, but his eyes are the softest blue I’ve ever seen.

I blush and try to hold back my tears; why would they gimme a present? I didn’t do anything to be praised for.

“We decided that it would be a thank-you for tutoring us for midterms,” Mika adds.

“B-But what if you guys didn’t do well? I’d feel really bad about it. And the grades aren’t out yet, you know,” I mumble, but deep inside, a warm bubble is growing its way to my heart.

“It’s fine, darling,” Akuni says softly, “even if some of us might fail, you did your best teaching us, and the rest of it should be done through our efforts.”

“As expected of Akki!” Marsha squeals.

“Come on, just take it!”

“Come on Kiki!”

“You deserve it!”

My friends stare at me pleadingly, and I can’t help but accept it. They squeal and pump their fists in the air like elementary school kids, and they don’t even allow me to thank them. But inside, I’m deeply grateful for them and their kind gesture in regard of my insignificant efforts.

“I have a question.” Roy, the ace of our soccer team, Ian’s best bud, and the guy who sits to my right props up on his elbow and studies me with his light green eyes. “Why are all the snacks lemon-flavored?” He looks past me and his eyes linger there.

I turn around in my seat to find all eyes on Ian who is still, by the way, staring at me. I try not to blush.

“That’s because this idiot here”—Mika ruffles Ian’s hair violently—“was late, so basically, he lost and he had to pick up the gift,” she says with a toothful smile.

“It’s because you cheated and left early today,” he mumbles without looking at her.

“I thought I told you to buy a drink too.”

Ian’s eyes widen for a fraction, and his neck reddens. “I bought one,” he says sheepishly, “but I got thirsty and drank it on the way to school.” Then he looks at me. “I’m sorry, Kiki. I’ll make sure to make it up for you.”

The little bubble of warmth bursts, and heat runs wildly through my veins. Tears spring in my eyes, and blood rises to my cheeks.

“Hey.” Ian sits a bit straighter. “You’re crying. Should I hide it?” he whispers between our tables. But he doesn’t wait for me to answer. Ian takes a textbook from his table and hides our faces from others, then traces his fingers over my cheeks, brushing my tears away.

I blush so hard I hafta look away. How am I not supposed to like him when he’s always distracting me? “I’m fine . . . I’m just . . .” I’m happy. “Thank you.”

“Guys!”

A loud voice catches our attention, and all the eyes land on Serina who is supporting herself at the doorframe and breathing heavily. “Guys . . . the . . . the . . .” She points outside.

“Geez, calm down,” Roy mumbles.

“Can’t . . .” She slides down and sits by the door. “The degrees . . . are out . . .”

“Oh no . . .” Mika whines.

Everyone starts murmuring and fretting about their grades as we scramble out of class and head to the aisle where our rankings are displayed.

“Are you going to stay here forever?” Roy grabs Serina’s arm and pulls her up on his way out, clearing the way for everyone else.

“Oh my God, I never saw this coming. Why today? Why today of all the days?” Mika mumbles under her breath.

“You’re so loud,” Ian mutters.

“I’m loud in your head!” she snaps.

“Please calm down both of you. I’m sure you did great,” I whisper.

Mika hugs me. “Oh Kiki, that’s so sweet of you. I hope you’re right.”

I hope so too. I hope I did great despite all the distractions. It would be a huge embarrassment if I failed or if my grades dropped because it’ll be a disappointment for both me and my friends, and it’ll be a disgrace for all the school to witness. I take a deep breath and push these thoughts away as we approach the student council where juniors from all the classes are gathered, fighting their way to reach for the bulletin board to see their degrees.

“Okay everyone, let’s calm down!” Serina says. Her hands are shaking, and she earns some anxiety-wearing laughs from multiple students.

I stand on my toes and try to see the board when Ian takes my hand. “Whoa!”

He pulls me through the crowd until we reach the front and stand in front of the board, looking for our names. It’s so hard to find your name in a list of 300 students, but I think I know where to find it.

“Did you find it?” I ask. My eyes linger on the right edge of the board.

“Yeah. Did you find yours?” he asks.

I nod.

“That was pretty fast.” A smile seeps into Ian’s voice as we look at my name ranking first in all junior classes, and I smile too even though it isn’t something new. I always ranked first, but this is the first time someone shared my happiness about it.

“What’s your rank?” I ask.

“Fourth.”

“Pretty good.” I can’t stop smiling.

“Not as much as you are,” he counters.

“Not as much as I am,” Mika pipes up to my right. She points at her name at the board and smiles, dimples and all nine yards. “I got in the second rank!” And if it wasn’t for this crazy crowd, I’m sure she would be jumping and dancing around right now.

“You’re not the only one.”

A deep voice falls on us, and Mika’s expression changes visibly. The blue in her eyes surfaces, and she whips around, her hair floating around her.

On the other side there’s a guy of light brown hair and hazel eyes, staring at Mika with a tight expression. He points out his name on the board and looks back at her. “You’re not the only one.” They stare at one another as if there’s no one here but them.

“Zel,” Ian mutters from behind.

“Well well well, Ian’s not the only one in the fourth rank.” The three of us look over Ian’s shoulder, where the owner of the sugary voice stands with one hand on her hip, biting her perfectly red-polished nail.

“Oh no,” Mika whispers.

“I know,” Zel says.

“You know?” she asks, her eyes trained on Rachel, who is obviously goading us with her eyes.

“Believe me, you don’t wanna miss a moment,” Zel comments. He rests his arms over Mika’s head, but she doesn’t seem to notice.

“What do you mean?” Ian asks Rachel.

Uh, finally he spoke to her!

“I’m saying that it is fate that made us both rank fourth on the entire grade.” Rachel runs her fingers over his arm, and Ian’s face darkens a shade.

“You’re being silly. It’s a mere coincidence,” he replies in a serious voice.

“It’s not, honey.”

Honey? HONEY? And why is she saying it in this silky voice?

“It’s our destiny! Don’t you see, we are fated for each other since that moment.” She laces her fingers through his, and Ian pulls away as if hit by electric shock.

There’s a moment? THERE’S A MOMENT! God, I’ve gotta calm down.

“Seriously, stop being silly.” Ian snorts. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it’s not funny.” Then he turns to us, “Come on you lot, let’s go.”

We are weaving our way through the crowd when Rachel takes a step in front of Ian and pulls him closer. “I think this will make you remember.”

The four of us tense as we watch her red-polished nails grabbing his necktie, pulling him to her. And when she presses her lips against his, I swear a loud thunder booms outside, and the lights flicker out. It’s like the universe is warning me that something bad will happen. Every present student gasps, and my body drains of blood as I try to keep the floor under my feet. Rachel pulls away with a loud smacking sound, and Ian pushes her aside and walks away. It’s all a matter of seconds, but in my mind, it felt like forever.

“Oh. My. God . . .” Behind me, Mika stumbles backward, falling right into Zel’s arms.

“Got ya!” he mumbles, holding her close.

I shake my head violently, hoping it would be a nightmare, but it’s another living one, and I never saw it coming.

My head feels so light; it’s probably because of the kiss I dreamt about, or the kiss I witnessed earlier, or because I’m eating the third cupcake in a row. I let the cupcake roll out if my hand, and look up at the glassy roof. The sky is crowded with clouds, and it’s been raining unstoppably for a while now. I knew it.

“Finally! What’s the news?”

Tabitha and Zel from class 2-7 appear at the double doors and join us. After the nerve-wrecking and stomach-roiling romantic display by the student council, and after Ian took his leave “in raging madness” as Mika said, we—as in soccer people and Zel—found him lying down in the soccer field, staring aimlessly at a sky that is grey—the color of his eyes, and mad—the color of his heart.

Now we are sitting in a circle, snacks between us, but Ian is still staring at the sky, the look on his face unreadable.

“Oh my God!” Zel exhales as he sits down next to Mika. He takes a swig of water and wipes his mouth with his sleeve then points at Ian. “The guy will snap any second now.”

Mika looks between the two guys and sighs loudly. “What happened?” she asks.

“I have good news,” Tabitha claims, “your fan club is under control.” She looks at Ian as if expecting a response, but none comes. “We filed a report with the help of Mrs. Louise”—our supervisor—“and she said she’ll reach out to the school principal, and make sure none of the videos recorded and photos will get leaked.”

“That’s . . .” Gilda risks a look at Ian. “Do we consider it as good news?”

“I don’t know,” Ian mumbles. And those are the first words he said after what happened.

It’s as if Rachel’s kiss had wiped his mind out or enchanted him. For a second there, I thought he would just sit and clam up forever. Mika squeezes his hand in concern. I wish I can elaborate, but the crunching feeling in my stomach and the tightness in my chest forces me silent. I have no right to question him, and yet I need to hear him out.

“Who would have thought that RayRay would do that?” Marsha takes a bite of Malted Chocolate cupcake. “It never crossed my mind that she’d be the girl for Ian.”

“Sure it won’t, because you always thought you’d be the girl for him.” Gilda mocks.

Nice, another Ian maniac.

“What? No, I didn’t.”

“Of course you did! We all see how you bug him unstoppably.”

“Me? Bugging him?” Marsha’s face scrunches into an icky expression. “Seriously guys, I’m just trying to put up with him.”

“Yeah, I’ll believe ya,” Tabitha says with a cock of her head.

“Come on you guys! I’m just trying to be nice to him for Roy’s sake, otherwise I would’ve beaten the pulp out of him long ago,” Marsha whispers the last bit, then glances at Ian. “No offense, but you’re so annoying.”

Ian sighs irritably. “No offense taken.”

“Why would you do that for Roy’s sake anyway?” I ask, trying to steer my mind away from all the Ian-Rachel drama, and speaking up so they won’t think I’m dead.

“Because he’s Roy’s best friend,” Marsha replies.

“So? What does Roy have to do with this?” Mika asks impatiently.

“What? Roy is my boyfriend. Of course I’d do that for him.”

. . . Huh?

A few beats of silence linger between us as we try to absorb the new information. Other than the sound of the howling wind and the rain, the girls are whispering in a frantic manner.

“Are you even listening?” Marsha scowls.

“Yes, it just takes me a while to process so much stupid all at once,” Mika mumbles.

Marsha turns to Roy. “Tell them. We’ve been dating since freshmen year, right honey?”

Everybody gasps collectively as Roy nods and smiles at her, then they make a show of kissing deeply in front of us to prove it.

“Eww eww eww.” I lie on my side.

“Oh, I don’t wanna see this!” Zel looks away.

Ian keeps looking up without a comment, and Mika’s face scrunches. “Get a room, love birds,” she mutters.

And they do. Roy and Marsha stay entwined in their kiss as he carries her bridal-style and walks off the field. Thank God they left now, otherwise they would’ve inhaled each other right here in front of us.

“So, what will you do?” Gilda asks Ian, “Gonna start dating Rachel?”

“Nope,” he mumbles.

“Why? You like her, and it’s clear that she does too.”

Mika bites her lip and looks at Ian. My stomach drops and I’m as heavy as lead all of a sudden. I close my eyes.

“I’ve never said I like her.” Ian’s voice cuts through my chaos, and I could hear my heart beating again. Mika exhales next to me.

“You hafta tell her that,” Zel adds cautiously, “no one wants to see you get kissed in public.”

“Don’t make it sound as if you like me, you freak!” Ian snaps.

“I don’t like you. It’s just an eyesore!”

“Honey, Zel is saying that you have to tell her so she would stop sticking to you,” Mika says softly.

“Or, you can date her. Maybe you’ll like her,” Tabitha suggests.

“I don’t want to.” He pauses for a breath that takes the air outta me. “There’s a girl I like.”

My eyes flutter open, meeting his over the small distance. A blue light shines on us and I look up. The rain has stopped, and patches of pure blue peek between the clouds. But all I can think is; his eyes are everywhere.

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