Just As You Are

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Chapter Twenty Eight


I’d probably crush you someday with those feelings. If you come to hate me and leave me . . .

I love you. I can’t live without you.

Without you, I’d be so insecure that I could not stay sane. I wanna lean on you . . . cling to you. I want you. I want all of you . . .

My desire continues to compound.

I don’t know how I agreed to this because I don’t recall saying: I agree.

I remember kicking Rachel in the stomach, spouting nonsense, and bawling my eyes out for about an hour or so, then kissing Ian like his lips were air and I couldn’t breathe.

God, I’m so dramatic!

Where were we? Oh, yeah.

I don’t recall agreeing to this, but since it’s his gentle fingers passing through my hair, since it’s his hands brushing the back of my neck, because it’s him, I think I’ll let it pass.

Ian and I are back in the kitchen, where all the drama happened. I thought the trauma would stop me from coming back here, but here I am, drugging my emotions and sitting on a stool by the counter as if this place wasn’t about to become my grave.

Ian cleans up the mess, and I anxiously watch him sweeping locks of burnt chocolate and dusting them in the bin. Then he comes behind me with a silver pair of scissors. I try to keep calm.

It’s Ian. It’s your boyfriend. He’s not gonna kill you. He’s gonna fix your hair.

“Do you do this often?” I ask, trying to veer my attention from the emotional hell I was in. But then Ian’s fingers graze my neck as he traces the length of my tresses and cuts at the tips, leaving a trail of goosebumps. I blush, and everything feels like another kind of warm. A soft kind. Who said I drugged my emotions? I gave them endorphins. Particularly oxytocin.

“Yeah, I cut Mika’s hair.” His voice is so close to my ear. So low-key.

“You don’t go to a hairdresser?”

“Our house is far from the country, and we were almost always alone so we weren’t allowed to go somewhere far without Sadie,” he replies.

“Hmm . . . Do you ever cut yours?” I ask.

Ian stops for a few seconds then resumes cutting.

“I mean, your hair is too long for a guy.”

He snorts. “It’s not that long! Plus, it’s been a long time since Mika did it for me. If I asked you”—he tilts his head to meet my eyes—mine a deep emerald, his a blue-grey sky after a black storm. I know he’s so tired, yet he smiles. “Will you cut it for me?”

I mirror his smile. “I dunno, I think I’m gonna miss the ponytail.”

“Hmm?” His smile grows to a mischievous grin, making me blush. “Now should we give you a pixie cut, or keep it shoulder-length, milady?” he asks.

I wave my hand emphatically. “Dunno. Whatever you see, Mr. I-want-my-girlfriend-to-cut-my-hair.”

“Ehh? A change is really good sometimes!”

I blow at my bangs. “And some other times it’s not.”


A few moments sponsored by an ocean-deep silence and the sound of scissors snipping at my hair fall on us, through which I consider telling Ian what happened. I hadn’t told him that Rachel was the one who cut my hair yet, and he didn’t ask. I wonder if she’s still in the lodge. How brazen of her to stay.

“But you wanted to change,” Ian says all of a sudden, “why did you want to change?”


“Remember that day at the library when you were talking in your sleep—”

You don’t have to mention that!

“—and said that you wanted to change?”

“Yeah . . .?” My cheeks flame.

“Why did you want to change? Was it because you wanted to find a place where you belong at school? Because you wanted to be able to stand up for yourself?” Ian drops the scissors on the counter and sits on the stool next to mine.

“There was that but then . . .” I blush and fiddle with the hem of my jersey.

“Then . . .?” He cocks his head and leans closer with that smile again.

“Then it was so that I can grow closer to you . . .” I look down. “Even if it’s just a little bit.” Blood trickles to my face and heat floods my body. Ian’s intense gaze falls on me.

“It’s so hard on me to not kiss you right now.” His whisper is laced with a smile, and I hide my face in my hands and look away. “But there are things that I should do first.” And he goes back to fixing my hair.

“So, what happened?” Ian asks as he tosses a few locks behind my back. I look up at the ceiling, but Ian quickly tilts my head down back to position. “Whoa! You’re going to ruin it. Say it. No need to chew it over,” he says.

I laugh at that then blurt it out, “It was Rachel. Rachel cut my hair.”

Ian tenses behind me, and I wait for him to say something.

When he doesn’t, I continue, “I think she ambushed me, because it was when Mika had left that Rachel came and started talking to me.”

“Rachel, huh?” His voice sounds edgy.

“She accused me of bumping into you on purpose that first day we met even though I did not. You were the one who splashed me with soda!”

“Credits to lemons!” Ian half cheers.

“Yeah! Then Rachel said that I bewitched you. Ah . . . and then she snapped and”to make long story short—“called me ugly and other things. Ugh . . .” I blow at my fringes again. “This sounds childish, it’s like I’m telling on her. I gotta stop. Can we change the subject?”

“No, we can’t.” He passes his hands through my hair one last time then lets it fall, brings me a mirror, and sets it on the counter in front of me.

I swing my head left to right, tossing my hair that now falls at a shoulder-length. “Oh wow, you’re so good at this,” I say with a smile.

“Always at your service.” Then he grabs a stool, sits behind me, and suddenly bumps his forehead to the back of my head.

“You okay? You’re not having a fever, are ya?”

“Hmm . . .” Ian mumbles to my back, “I don’t know.”


“I have to know why she did that.”

Oh. We’re back to Rachel. “Because she thinks I’m an easy target”—which was the case—“and . . . because she thinks you’re one of her possessions,” I mumble sheepishly.

“God . . . That crazy royal kid. Is that all what she said?”

“Rachel said you liked me because of my pretty hair.” Even though Ian never said I like you in the first place.

“I think she was jealous, because your hair is really pretty.”

I blush. “Is that why you like me? Because of my pretty hair? You know, it’s not that pretty anymore.”

Ian wraps his arms around my waist, making my insides melt. “It’s pretty,” he assures.

And it’s one of the million reasons I like you. Say that!

“Do you think I deserve it?”


“Your feelings, I mean.” My voice breaks, and tears well up in my eyes. I blink them away.

“You do,” he says it firmly. It’s definite. It’s solid. It’s true. “I believe that if you’ve been brutally broken, but still have the courage to be gentle with others then you deserve a love deeper than the ocean itself,” he adds softly.

The fuzzy feeling creeps into my chest as I lean backward, my head resting on his chest, and look up at him. “But I’m not that brave. I’m scared. I could fall in the same troubles as before.”

Ian rolls his sleeve up a bit, revealing a silky red thread tied to his wrist. My ribbons. He takes them off, and plays with my hair. “So what? You can face them just the same way you did before.”

“Why do you like me?” I ask as he gathers my hair into twin tails.

His eyes flicker blue, and a small smile tugs on his lips. “Do I have to have a reason?”

“Huh?” I swivel around so fast that I flick his face with one of my twin tails. “Excuse me! Of course you have to!” I scowl.

Ian laughs, and pink tinges his cheeks. “You’re the reason,” he says in a serious tone, “you little brunette idiot. It’s just that I want you. Just as you are.”

“W-W-Wha—?” My heart skyrockets. Oh my God! I’m sure my face is the exact shade of a ripe tomato right now. I’m the reason he likes me? Waah, my heart. He didn’t say he likes me but MY HEART! The room tilts.

“Whoa! You okay?” Ian steadies me with both arms.

I nod into his shirt; I can’t look at him, my face is so red. This is so embarrassing. “But you know what?” I whisper. “It’s thanks to Rachel that I realized something.”


“That I could survive despite what I pass through.” It’s not like I suddenly became stronger, nor did anything change. My body still trembles, but I’ll keep facing my fears. What’s important is the desire to improve, which stems from weakness.

“Sounds reassuring.” Ian wraps me in a hug.

I look up at him. “It makes me want to hold onto you and never give you to anyone,” I say, even though my face is burning.

A soft blue color surfaces in his eyes, and he leans closer. “What am I going to do with you?” he says with a smile. My hearts thuds loudly as his hands cup my face, then his lips meet mine, sending little electric sparks throughout my body. With my palms resting on his chest, I savor his lemon taste, feel his erratically beating heart as it synchronizes with mine, and melt away with his touch. When you cherish someone, there may be times when it gets hard, or when you get lonely. But it brings joy as well.

I wanna keep you for me. I wanna cherish every moment with you. Your face is the only thing that takes me from me and drowns me in it, your features have always been the reassurance of my heart, I return to it and love it every time without getting tired or bored.

I will gather all the little steps and it will pile up more than now.

I want to get closer to your heart . . .

“Where have you been, love birds?”

My stomach plummets, and I blush and trip on my own foot, falling right into Ian’s arms.

“Hey, you okay?” he whispers.

“Y-Yeah, I-I’m just . . .”

“Ugh . . . Kiki.” Mika gives herself a facepalm. “What did we say about knowing when people are messing with you?”

Ah . . . now I remember.

“Now I can say that obviously you guys have been kiss—”

AAA! Heat makes me sway again, and simultaneously Ian tenses, and Mika’s face glows a very attractive shade of red when Zel puts his palm to her mouth, cutting her off and saving us the embarrassment.

“Give them a break,” Zel mumbles, his face inches from hers. Then he sits back in his side chair, and continues reading the book in his lap. Mika pushes her hair backward in embarrassment.

“Now you have your nose in a book,” Ian mutters.

Why does it feel like he’s emitting deadly vibes? Don’t tell me they’re gonna fight now. Do they ever agree on something? I think we need to work hard to make these boys get along, otherwise it’ll be a major headache.

“Leave me alone. I’m not in a mood to argue with ya,” Zel grumbles.

“Yeah, but you are in a mood to touch my sister.”

“Ian!” I hiss. This is not good.

Zel slams the book shut and glowers, his one eye becoming a fierce hazel. “You’re the one who handed her over in the first place, and now you’re objecting!”

“Don’t talk about my sister like she’s an object!” Ian snaps.

“Guys?” I try to hold Ian back, but he’s towering over me. Mika presses her fingers to her temples and shuts her eyes.

“Who the hell said that?” Zel mutters.

“Don’t snap at me!”

“Guys!” I yell on the top of my lungs, and that seems to stop them, partly because I surprised them with a high pitch. “Stop with the bickering! Look what y’all are doing to Mika!”

Mika releases her head from her hands and smiles at me. “I’m fine. Usually, I don’t back down from a wave fight,” that makes the boys blush, “but I don’t think I’ll be able to receive your lunatic waves for a while.”

“Mika.” I sit on the mattress and take both her hands in mine. “You scared me out there. What happened? Where did you go?” I ask in concern.

She smiles gratefully and pats my hands. “Thanks for worrying about me. I’m sorry I scared you, but I don’t remember what happened. One second I was looking for lemons, and the next it was all dark. And then . . .” Her eyes flicker to Ian’s, and she trails off, pursing her lips together.

Ian rocks back and forth on his heels, walks sheepishly to the other side of the bed, and the moment he sits down, Mika had already thrown her arms around him and burst into tears.

It takes him a second to recover from the shock before gathering her in his arms and smoothing her hair. “I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry I left you, okay? You’re fine now. I’m here. You’re fine,” Ian whispers the words in Mika’s hair like a chant, and it feels as if he’s reassuring himself as well. It unfurls before my eyes how close Ian and Mika are, how they can’t live without each other.

Like two pieces of a whole. Blues. Greys. Reds. Mingling together.

When Mika’s breathing evens, she pulls away and looks up at her brother. “It’s okay, I’m fine. They told me you had to look for Kiki.”


I wave my hands in the air as heat creeps into my cheeks. “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry! I had no idea what . . . was going on . . .” I look away sheepishly. “I’m sorry I kept him long.”

“Kiki,” Ian whispers.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” I flinch and look up to find Mika rubbing her eyes and frowning. “Do you know how much I was worried about you both?”

“Sorry,” Both Ian and I mumble. Zel smiles in the corner.

“And what happened to your hair?” Mika asks pointedly.

My face burns. “That’s an entirely different story,” I whisper.

“Hmm . . . ? Okay, you tell me.” She fixes her hair into pigtails and turns to her brother, a knowing look passing between them.

Without any words being said, Ian’s eyes widen a bit and he shakes his head. “No, you did not.” Then he turns to Zel. “Right, Zel?”

Zel stares between them and shrugs. “I . . . dunno what y’all are talking about.”

Mika twines a loose lock behind her ear, rose-red fusing her cheeks. “Did I say anything when I was passed out?”

Zel’s face darkens visibly, and his one hazel eye becomes a dull brown. Then all of a sudden, he gets up. “I-I dunno what y’all are talking about. I-I gotta go.” And just like that, he’s out.

“That was . . . out of the blue,” Ian mumbles.

“I’ll get him later,” Mika says, still staring at the door. Then she turns to me. “Now tell me, what happened?”

I glance at Ian and swallow the lump in my throat, should I tell her?

He twines his fingers with mine across the mattress, and my skin sparkles. “Tell her, or she’ll destroy the magnetic field of your brain.” He mocks, and Mika shoves him playfully.

Taking one last look at our intertwined fingers, I smile, take a deep breath, and replay the sour memory for what I hope will be the last time.

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