Just As You Are

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Chapter Thirty Four

IAN

“Captain! You’re still alive?”

Did that sound like a question, or was my mind playing tricks on me? What a way to greet someone who spent his night on the rink of death. Okay, fine. I know I’m dramatic.

“Hey! What are you doing here, shortie?”

“I’m not a shortie, you simple-minded curly blond head!”

“Who are you calling simple-minded, you shrimp!” Marsha throws her arm around Lucifer and squeezes his head until he starts yelling and struggling so she would let go. “Ha! Got you!”

“Ow! Owww! Captain, tell her to stop!”

“So loud,” I mutter, slumping down in my seat.

Last week’s illness had winded down, and I’m finally able to breathe and talk without problems. But I’m still the same person. I still hate noise and excessive contact with human beings.

“Hey!” Mika yells at them. “I don’t want unnecessary noise, my brother had a tough week.”

We both had a tough week.

“Sorry,” they mumble sheepishly.

“And Lucy!”

Lucifer instantly brightens up.

“What are you doing here? Don’t you have a class?” Mika asks.

“I came to check up on Captain,” he says.

“I’m fine. Go away,” I mutter.

“Yes, Captain!” Lucy salutes me, and with that, he leaves.

“Wow, that was . . . suspiciously easy,” Mika says as she takes her seat. “Wait, why is Kiki not here yet?” she adds.

I blush and look out the window. I can’t seem to forget how close she was to me yesterday, neither how pathetic I was. No one but my sister and mother had ever seen me like that. Ugh . . .

“Yeah, stay in your own melodrama,” Mika mumbles from behind.

I turn around and glare at her. “You have no idea how embarrassing that was,” I hiss.

She leans closer and arches her eyebrow. “Well, last week was brimming with embarrassing moments. Believe me, I had the best fun any esper person would wish to have. The waves were so delicious.” Then my sister licks her lips like a vampire, and I swallow.

But it’s really weird that Kiki is late. Did she oversleep?

“Where’s Kiki?” Marsha asks. “Is she away today?”

“That’s unusual,” Mika replies.

I turn to the front when our homeroom teacher and our supervisor enter the class.

“Ah, Mrs. Louise, is Kiki away today?” Gilda asks. “Is she sick or something?”

“You got a call or something?” Serina asks.

Mrs. Louise looks down grimly.

“Oh my God. She didn’t die, right?” Mika hisses.

I kick her foot under the table. What’s with the seriousness? Just spill the beans already.

“Ms. Baudelaire will not be attending school for a while,” she says.

“Huh?” Serina mumbles. “Why?”

“According to her father . . . he wants her to transfer school.”

What? My heart clenches.

It takes a few moments of silence for us to absorb the shock before the class becomes a moving chaos.

“WHAT?”

“WHY?”

“Is it because of our school image?”

“And one more thing,” Mrs. Louise catches everyone’s attention, “he says that his daughter is being bullied in this class.”

“W-What . . .?” Mika utters.

“Yeah, that’s what he said.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. I push my hair back. As if we hadn’t had enough.

“WHAT?”

“Who said that?”

“We are bullying Kiki?”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Please calm down,” Mrs. Lydia orders. “Apparently, some students saw her crying in your class and said that you’ve been giving her stuff. Her father said you’re constantly insulting her and mocking her because of her early curfew. He said you’re looking down on her and pitying her.”

The looks on my friends’ faces are priceless, and the silence is heavier than I thought. Then they start yelling all at once.

“We never insulted her!”

“The hell? We weren’t making fun of her or looking down on her!”

“Did Kiki’s father really say that?”

“That’s horrible. He’s trying to pin things on us because of what happened before.”

“Did Kiki say that too?”

“No way!” My sister’s voice booms in the class, her eyes burning holes in the back of my head. She slides her chair back and gets up. “She wouldn’t say that! There’s no way Kiki would say that about us.” Her voice breaks. “I wonder if her father is still around.” Mika walks past our teachers and outside the class.

Ian, keep your mouth sealed if you want to come, her voice whispers in my head.

“Wait! We’re coming too!”

“Wait, Calm down!” Mrs. Lydia yells, but everyone had already left.

I walk past her to the hall, partly because I can’t run yet, and partly because my mind is zeroing on one thought: Kiki. What is she doing now? Does she know about this? Is she really okay with it? What happened between last night and today? Why didn’t she say anything? My mind is all but thoughts about her.

We find a man exiting the teachers’ room in the first floor. My friends approach him, while I hang back and listen.

“Sir, excuse me, are you Kiki’s father?” Mika asks.

He is. I can see her eyes on him, big emerald orbs framed in thick dark lashes.

“So good you’re still here.” Everyone stops running and makes a circle around him.

“What do you want?” the man asks dryly. Seemingly, he recognizes us as Kiki’s classmates.

Akuni takes the lead to talk because she’s the least expected to snap. “Sir, excuse us, but there must be a misunderstanding, we are not bullying Kiki. You must’ve heard only from other classes, that’s why you have it all wrong,” she says calmly and confidently, “So, please sir, hear us out.”

“There’s no reason for me to listen to you,” he says with a cold glare.

Akuni flushes a bad red and steps aside in dejection. I’ve never seen her like that before, and it’s making me mad. Calm down, Ian. Don’t rampage here. Don’t even think of opening your mouth.

“Ahh! We never bullied her before! We just joke around. Don’t you know how to read the mood?” Marsha snaps.

“Wait, Marsha!” Mika warns.

Ugh . . . you’re the one who should read the mood!

“That’s for me to decide,” Kiki’s father mumbles, “and you’d better mind your words when you’re speaking to elders.”

“Who the hell you think you are?”

“Marsha!”

Someone make her stop!

“I mean, it’s true that Kiki was bullied in middle school,” Mika speaks up, her hands shaking by her sides, “but could you please not put us together with those people?”

“Huh?” Kiki’s father stops and stares at my sister. She shouldn’t have brought that up now; not everyone knows about it and it’s beginning to raise questions.

“Middle school? Bullying? What are you talking about?” He walks out the double doors and everyone follows him. “Kiki enjoyed her three years in middle school very much. She had perfect attendance and perfect grades.” Then he glances over, “Now get back to your class. I will have Kiki transfer. She’ll have no further contact with you.”

“Wait!” Mika yells.

Akuni holds her back. “Calm down, Young Mistress. You’d probably make him angrier.”

“Looks like it’ll get worse,” Gilda adds.

“More importantly, it seems he doesn’t know that Kiki was bullied back then.”

Kiki’s father stops to open his car, his gaze cutting to mine. Crap. The man recognizes me.

“What method did you use to brainwash her?” he asks me.

What the hell? I take a deep silent breath. Keep calm. Keep calm. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”

“I don’t wanna see you near my daughter ever again,” he mutters coldly.

That’s it! I’ve had enough! What the hell does he think he’s doing when he apparently knows nothing about his own daughter? Why didn’t Kiki tell them about the bullying? Doesn’t he know how hard she worked to get here?

I blurt the first thing that comes to my mind, “Is that your plan to lock her in again?”

Mika shoots me a surprised look, but I don’t regret it or take it back.

“Shut up you damn brat.” Absolute rage appears on his face. “She doesn’t need you anymore.”

We spend the after-school time reflecting on the commotion we caused by writing a two-page apology in the counseling room. Actually, everyone writes a two-page apology. I scrawl I’m sorry across a page then stomp out of the room, my nerves twitching.

I’ve got to see Kiki.

“Ian. Ian!”

“Ow!” A pebble hits the back of my head, and I turn around. “Mika.”

“Where are you going?” she asks, falling in step beside me.

“You know,” I mumble.

“Not when I’m this confused.”

“I’m going to talk to Kiki. Stay here.” I take a few strides ahead. “Things are going to be fine,” I yell as I run ahead.

Kiki’s house is eight blocks away from the café that is six blocks away from school. So, by the time I reach her house, the sun had already set and there’s a marvelous haze of orange and royal purple. I wish I could make her see this. Her father’s car is not in the garage and there are two lights turned on: one that I assume is the kitchen, and the other is, undoubtedly, Kiki’s room.

After jumping over the fence and into the backyard, I climb the large oak tree outside Kiki’s window then jump into her veranda. Ugh . . . that’s the extent of exercise that I can do all week. How am I going to keep up during the game? I wipe my sweat, pull my hair into a high ponytail, and knock on her slide door.

Moments later, the lavender-purple curtain is opened, and Kiki appears on her knees, her big eyes a turbulent emerald, distinctly variant with her decorous demeanor. They always take my breath away, and I’ll never get used to their exuberant beauty.

When she realizes it’s me, Kiki slides the door open, and instantly breaks into silent tears.

I kneel down before her and brush her cheeks. “It’s okay. Don’t cry now.” There’s no way she would say that about us, otherwise she wouldn’t let me in. “Did your father take your phone? I couldn’t reach you.”

She rubs her eyes and nods. “I’m sorry.”

Here we go again. “Don’t be. More importantly, Kiki”—I will her to look at me—“do you know what your father said at school today?” I ask. I want to know; does she know he said that and she’s okay with it?

Kiki shakes her head vehemently and utters a firm No. Thought so.

“He said that you’re being bullied in our class and that we’re looking down on you,” I mumble.

She falls back as if someone slapped her. “W-What . . .?”

“You’re father mistook teasing and joking around and well . . . helping, for bullying; and apparently someone saw you crying in our class and thought we were making fun of you or something.”

“Crying? M-Me? Before announcing our grades?” Kiki blushes so hard at the memory to the point that I blush, and look away.

Clearing my throat, I add, “It’s not like I don’t see what he’s trying to do. I know he’s trying to protect you and he has all the right to. Anyway, we told him he was wrong about us, but he didn’t listen.”

“Do you think—?”

“I doubt Rachel has anything to do with it. She was as shocked as the rest of us when we heard about your transferring.”

A shaky breath rattles through her, and she starts crying again. I put my arms around her, muffling her voice.

“Why?” she asks in a broken whisper. “How did it come to this? I got everyone involved and made them feel unpleasant. It’s so frustrating.”

“Shush . . .”

“I just . . . don’t even know what I’m supposed to protect anymore.”

“You don’t have to give up either of them.”

“Huh?” Kiki looks up, her eyes glistening with tears.

How did I forget that even at her worst state she looks this pretty?

“I see you’ve been torn between pleasing your parents, and staying in the place you chose on your own.”

“H-How do you know all that?”

Instead of answering, I cup her face in my hands and twine locks of hair behind her ears. “Listen, Kiki. The feelings a father has for his daughter, and the feelings of your friends for you, neither of them is wrong,” I say with a smile, “This means that you have no choice but to protect both of them, right?”

Kiki’s face colors like a rose blooming in the midst of a lily field, and a smile tugs at her lips.

Maybe it’s the wrong time to notice, but I like how her face floods with color whenever she feels strongly about something. It makes her look twice as alive as most people, and more distracting than she already does in her baggy sweater and bare legs.

“I swear I dunno what to do without you.” Then she does the most unexpected thing in such a situation; Kiki scoots closer and plants a kiss on my cheek. “Thank you,” she whispers.

I cover my face and stand up. “So you’re okay now?”

“Yeah.”

“You can handle it on your own?”

She nods and smiles.

I pat her hair and stand by the railing. “Very good. I’ve got to go now.”

“Okay.”

“I’m looking forward to it; how you’ll change from here on.”

With red tinting her cheeks, with sparkling emeralds, and a pink smile in mind, I jump and pull off.

I’ll be waiting for you.

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