Just As You Are

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Chapter Thirty Two

IAN

There’s the soft humming of the machine that pumps medicine vapor into my lungs, and the whispers outside my door of voices I know by heart.

I’m fine.

The past few days had passed in a haze, leaving me with blurry memories of concerned faces, a soft crying sound, and a gentle hand smoothing my hair. I remember Sadie’s instant panic when she saw me getting off the bus. I remember Kiki and Akuni coming home with me. And I remember Mika—undoubtedly—running away.

Mika ran away.

Despite the exhaustion that robbed my mind and body, I could still tell that my sister didn’t want to come home directly after arrival because she knew she’d get stuck explaining the irrationality of the decisions she took without our mother’s consult. But I couldn’t do anything to cover for her idiocy this time; I slept all the way home, and now I’m tucked in bed with my nebulizer connected to my face. I don’t know if a doctor visited or not, and I don’t know if the day ended or not.

I don’t know anything.

“Excuse my intrusion,” says a soft whisper.

Kiki. The last thing I remember of her before passing out was the genuine horror on her face.

“I’m really sorry for imposing on you during such a tough time.”

God, she’s always sorry. She’s always polite. I like that about her.

“Oh sweetie, not at all. It’s in tough times that real friends show up,” my mother says rather sweetly when she should be kicking herself for not using her supposedly-existing mother intuition to guess what was happening to us. It’s half her fault for having a job that forces her to stay away from home almost all the year. “Plus, I had no idea Ian has such a cute girlfriend to come and visit him.”

Dammit. I can’t pretend I didn’t hear that. I’m dying to see what expression Kiki is making.

“A-Actually everyone wanted to come, but they’re having a meeting with Coach right now. I’m sorry.”

“Really? Oh, don’t apologize sweetie. Come on, go inside!”

“Ah! T-Thank you! Thank you so much.”

The door clicks. Opens. Closes. Someone walks over and sits beside me on my king-sized bed.

There’s the humming of the machine, pumping medicine into my system, and the soft and silent cries of the dearest person to my heart.

Kiki’s floral scent engulfs me as she drapes her arm over my head, her fingers brushing my bangs away. My body feels heavy, and I can’t move or even talk. All I can do is open my eyes. They open slowly, and when my vision clears, I see Kiki’s glinting emeralds and a pink smile.

“I missed those eyes.” Her soft whisper pulses warmth in my veins.

I open my mouth to tell her how much I missed her, how sorry I am for making her worry, but nothing comes out. My throat is sore and words are lodged in there.

Kiki notices my failing attempt and pats my hand. “It’s okay. You don’t have to say anything.” She smiles warmly, and I return a weak smile. “You told me once to speak up more. Here, I’ll speak for ya.” Her smile grows to a grin, and I mentally punch myself for seeing my girlfriend’s first grin in this pathetic state. I wanted to be the reason for this grin. Somehow, I am.

But then Kiki’s eyes brim with tears. “As much as I’m worried about ya”—her lips purse, and she hides her face—“I’m mad at ya.” She sobs, her tears dripping on my mattress. “You could’ve said you’re not fine. When things are hard, you don’t need to endure it. Silently enduring and forcing yourself isn’t a brave or a strong thing to do.”

Oh, Kiki. With the last ounce of strength I have, I lift my hand to her face and take her hand.

Surprised, her eyes flutter open. “Ian.”

“I’m . . . sorry.” I manage. She had a lot going on, and she needed me by her side—everyone did—yet all I did was ditch them and fall ill.

Kiki smiles softly and wipes her face. “Ah look at me, being a nuisance all over again.”

You’ve never been a nuisance, I mouth.

Kiki blushes and leans closer, her lips pressing a cold kiss to my forehead. “Still hot. Go back to sleep.” Then she rests her head to the headboard and closes her eyes. “I’m not going anywhere,” she whispers, reading my thoughts.

Satisfied, I keep my eyes trained on her until I drift to sleep.

“Where have you been till this hour? Why the hell didn’t you call when Ian became like that?”

“Calm down, Mom. He’s sleeping.”

I’m not sleeping.

My mother and my sister are yelling right outside my door, and I’m definitely not sleeping. My family needs a lesson in patient hospitality and anger management.

“You want me to calm down? Now you want me to calm down? Do you know how worried I’ve been when I knew that he collapsed? And you didn’t even bother telling me that your brother had another attack! Are you trying to kill me?”

My eyes open upon my mother’s heaving, and they come face-to-face with the ceiling. Kiki had left, obviously, but her scent lingers in my dark room.

“Oh, Sadie. Come here,” Mika whispers. “It’s okay. I promise I’m fine and Ian is fine too. Lots of things happened one after the other, and I swear I still don’t understand anything.”

“Why didn’t you call me? I told you to call me if something happens.” Mom’s voice is muffled. Mika’s hugging her.

“I know Mom, I know. I didn’t want you to worry.”

“That’s not an excuse.”

It is.

“It is,” Mika voices my thoughts, “you had a lot going on and you needed a break. Plus, we couldn’t leave the team alone; we’re like their pillars. They depend on us.”

“Whatever. Even if I had the universe on my shoulders, I wouldn’t take a break from you kids,” Sadie says softly.

“Mom . . . I’m sorry, really. I promise I’ll tell you everything, but now I have to see Ian. Come on, let’s get you to your room.”

Outside my room, I hear my mother and my sister walking, a door being opened, then closed. Then my door opens, then there’s a soft click.

“You’re up,” Mika says before walking over to my bed. Her voice is small and broken, and I know she doesn’t want me to see her crying. “I know you’ve been listening to us,” she adds.

I lift my hand and motion for her to come closer.

Mika walks to my bedside and sinks down, then takes my hand in hers. I try to lift myself up a bit, but Mika jerks up and helps me to a seat. “You okay?” she asks.

What happened? I mouth through the mask as I dab her face. My throat still hurts but I can move around a bit now.

“Nothing. I’m just worried about you.” She keeps looking at me, waiting for me to say something, and when I don’t, she starts crying again. “I’m sorry! I really am. I’m sorry for putting you through all this! If I were more careful, none of this would’ve happened.”

Scooting closer, I wrap my arms around her. “Shush. Don’t apologize again, you already did at the bus,” I croak. I get a light punch and a smile for that. I pull away and look at her. “Now tell me, what happened?”

Mika blinks in confusion.

I gesture to her hand that’s wrapped in bandages, wondering how she managed to hide it from Sadie. “You left with Zel.”

She shivers visibly, and her face burns.

“What did he—?”

“No, it’s not Zel,” she says defensively. Fiddling with a stray string on her sweater, Mika contemplates telling me what’s on her mind.

“Mika.”

“We met Zel’s mother,” she mumbles.

“So? What’s the big deal? She didn’t approve of you as his girlfriend?” I tease. I’m oddly in a good mood for this.

“His birth mother.”

Three words were enough to send my heart plummeting. My body goes rigid, my breath catches in my throat, and I start coughing immediately.

Mika rubs my back then helps me lie down. “I’m sorry! That must’ve shocked you,” she says as she turns on my machine.

I have to take a few deep breaths before I can relax again. “Oh. Oh my God. It must’ve scared the hell out of you both.”

She nods. “She’s a freak. A total freak. You have no idea how freaky she is.”

“What did you do about it?”

Mika gulps.

“What?”

“Just don’t get mad, and don’t tell Mom. And remember, everything ended really well.”

I nod.

“I-I’m not sure I should talk about this when you’re in such a condition.”

“Just say it,” I mutter irritably.

Mika gulps. “Zel . . . he . . . I can’t!” she blurts in one breath, her hand clutching her heart space. But I don’t have to ask again to know what he had done. It’s in my sister’s eyes. It dimmed the silver in them.

“What the . . .”

Mika releases a held breath. “He was so scared. So hopeless. I felt that if I didn’t go after him, he would never come back.”

How could he do that? Is his life that insignificant to him? Does he think we don’t care about him? Maybe I hate Zel and I don’t speak to him that much but that doesn’t mean I don’t care.

Mika cups her face in her hands then pulls her hair back irritably. “I swear I don’t know how things happened. It just . . . happened.”

“Is that how you got your injury?” I ask.

Mika nods and wipes her tears again.

“Do you really have to do this?” I squeeze her hand. “Do you have to stay by his side?”

“Ian, what are you talking about?”

“I know it’s your choice and everything, but look at you.” I wipe her face and stroke her hair. “Look at you. You look miserable. You’re always crying. Since we’ve known Zel, you’re always crying.” My voice is hushed and tired, but Mika understands each word I’m saying.

In my mind, she’s curled up in the corner of her room with a pale face and dead eyes. I remember walking to her room every day and hugging her, waiting to hear something. Sometimes she would bawl her eyes out, or lean towards me and stay still to the point that I’d wonder if she was breathing. Now that I know her biggest fear appeared before her eyes, I’m not ready and I’ll never be ready to see her lose her loving soul again.

“I can’t,” I mutter, madness seeping under my skin, “I can’t let you do that.”

“Let me do what?” Mika asks in confusion.

“I can’t see you like that again.”

She takes a staggered breath.

“If that bastard is going to cause you troubles all the time, if he’s going to make you miserable, then I’d rather kill him with both hands than watch this happening.”

Mika shakes her head. “He might make me miserable.” She smiles. “But that is what love is about. It’s not all happy moments.”

“Mika—”

“Zel is so scared. You have no idea how scared he is. Imagine he’d never thought of anyone in his life as a solid person that would support him no matter what. Imagine he thinks we might abandon him.” Mika’s eyes are so fierce and angry, making guilt gnaw at my insides. “Imagine how fragile he is. How much reassurance he needs.”

“But are you okay with it,” I ask, “to deal with a person who always needs to be reassured that you’re not going to leave him? To deal with trouble every day?”

Her lips purse and the blue in her eyes blaze.

“Don’t tell me you’re fine with that!” I snap, and a coughing fit hits me again.

“Ian! It’s okay, can’t you just breathe and stop talking?”

“Huh?”

“Weren’t you fine with it too? Didn’t you hang on with me even though I was nothing but trouble for years?” she hisses.

Heat rises in my chest.

“Didn’t you deal with my continuous nightmares and panic attacks all the time?”

“That’s different! You’re my sister!”

“I love him!” Mika blushes, but doesn’t look away. “I love him, okay?” she says again. “Isn’t that what you do for the person you love? You stick with them. Isn’t that what you did for Kiki?”

Now it’s my turn to blush and I can’t look away otherwise I’ll knock down my machine.

“Didn’t you say you’re not going to leave her and that you love her no matter what?” Mika is half screaming, and I have to sit up so she won’t pounce at me. She looks at me really hard that I really have to look away. “Oh my God!”

Oh no . . .

“You didn’t even say I like you!” It’s not a question. It’s a statement. A reality. A fact.

I blush. “It’s hard to say for some people!” But I do like Kiki. A lot.

Mika glares at me. “And you’re the one who’s being a smartass.”

“I’m . . . sorry?”

“Anyway.” She sits beside me and twines a lock behind her ear. “I promised I’ll never leave him.” Red trickles to her face. “I chose not to leave him, and be with him no matter what.” Then she looks at me, “You chose that too, right?”

I nod and smile.

Mika extends her legs and rests her head to the bedhead. “You know, Zel is going to talk to his birth mother.”

My eyes widen. “Really? That’s unexpectedly . . . brave.”

“I know. See, I think he needs a closure to have a new start.”

“That’s going to be hard, but you’re going to be there for him, right?”

She gives me a quizzical look. “I still don’t know if you hate him or what.”

“I don’t hate him. I’m just not necessarily excited about his existence.”

Mika punches my shoulder. “Shut up!”

I laugh. “So?”

“Of course I’ll be there for him. As long as he calls for me, no matter where I am, I’ll be sure to go meet him. Since that is the kind of promise that I would keep to myself.”

I smile. And I’ll be there for you too. I’m your other half. I’ll carry your heartbeat in mine.

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