Just As You Are

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Chapter Thirty Five

KIKI

It’s as if he’s whispering it, softly and slowly breathing it in my ear, saying it over and over again until it becomes the only thing filling my mind.

I’ll be waiting for you, Kiki.

I brush my hair and pull it into a ponytail, the ends of which graze the back of my neck. I might never get used to its new length, I might even get into trouble when my parents know the story behind it, but eventually, I’m gonna tell them. Eventually.

Today, I plan to talk to Papa no matter what. I won’t give up until I’ve got my feelings across.

“Good morning, Mama.”

Mama looks up from the vegetable board, and a smile spreads on her face when she spots me. She wipes her hands on her apron and gives my cheeks a rub. “Oh sweetie, you okay now?”

I don’t smile back. I don’t wanna lose my grip on things or surrender to my feelings. I gotta be tough for once. Or for the second time in my life. But given that I instantly surrendered when it came to my parents, I don’t think the little fight with Rachel counts.

“Where’s Papa?” I ask, turning for the door. “I hafta talk to him. I have something I need to tell him.”

“I think he went out somewhere,” Mama says.

“Really? Where did he go?” Did he go to work? But his bag and work shoes are still here. Did he go walking? Either way, I hafta go. “Mama, I’m gonna look for Papa,” I say as I run out the door.

I hafta find him. I hafta tell him. If I properly explain things to him, he’ll definitely understand. How far did he go? What is he thinking about? He might still be worried about something.

Come to think of it, I’ve always been hiding and lying. I never told my parents about the bullying during middle school. I always said I was fine and having fun, but none of it was true. Then, I ended up enduring it and suffering on my own because I thought I shouldn’t relay on them my entire life. I didn’t want them to worry about me, and I thought I was able to get over with it on my own.

That was all I thought about until I met Ian and my friends. Ian taught me that it’s okay to ask for help when needed. It’s okay to be weak. I shouldn’t run away. I should be facing things head-on. I will tell Papa how I feel.

Ugh . . . where is he? I ran around the neighborhood three times and I can’t find him. Maybe if I go back home and borrow Mama’s phone to call him, I’ll know.

“Ah! There he is.” I meet Papa at the front gate of our house, and to my surprise, Mama opens the door as if she knew we came back. “Papa!”

“Come on in. We’ll talk inside,” he says. I follow him into the house.

“Actually, we have company,” Mama says from behind.

I see them when I walk inside: Mika, Ian, and another girl are lined up in my living room. Oh my, is that Rachel? It’s her! At first, I couldn’t recognize her; she’d given herself a pixie cut; but her icy blue eye and red lipstick are like hallmarks.

“Kiki!”

“Mika!” We hug each other like we’ve been apart for a thousand light years.

“I thought I’d never get to see you again,” she says.

“Kiki, what’s happening? Why are they here?” Papa asks in an edgy voice.

“Excuse us—”

“Papa!” I catch his attention before anyone else, and his eyes mirror mine. I have to tell him my answer. Now. “I have something to tell you. Please hear me out.” Mustering the last bit of my courage, and keeping a leveled smile on my face, I tell him what’s been buried for so long. “Back in middle school, I was bullied.” My heart drums in my ears, but I have to go on. “The truth is, I was always bullied. I never had a single friend, and I never thought school was fun. But I always lied to you, so that you won’t worry. I’m sorry but now—”

Ah . . . what happened?

Papa is crying. Mama is kneeling down with her head in her hands, and Mika is sitting beside her. “S-Since when? Why didn’t you say anything?” Mama says in a shaky voice.

The tears are coming. Stay strong. This isn’t what’s supposed to happen.

“Got a second?” My stomach plummets upon hearing Rachel’s voice. Why is she here? What does she have to say? Why now after she ran away?

“Basically, I’m one of the people who bullied her,” Rachel says in an even voice, even though her hands are shaking. She’s scared.

“Y-You!” Papa yells.

“Before you report me or whatever, I wanna say that even though I despised her and ruined her hair”—I subconsciously reach for my hair and Rachel’s face blanches—“even though I said all these bad things to her face, and even though she was hella scared, yet Kiki stood up for herself. She fought and gave me an ear-full even though she could barely breathe against the ones who were bullying her all the time.” Then she spreads her arms wide, “What changed her wasn’t just someone, it was all those people she met. The reason she came to our school was to meet these kinds of people.”

I’m fine, it’s because I like it that I go there. I wipe the tears off my face and brace myself.

“Th-That was the first time Kiki talked back at me,” Papa whispers.

“I understand . . .” I tell my father, “I understand what you’re worried about,” I understand that you want the best for me, and I’m happy that you still take care of me. “But I’m not going anywhere. I can do much more than you think. I’m fine now. I’m an adult and I’ll make sure you’ll be proud of me. So, please trust me. You don’t have to worry about me anymore.”

“Kiki . . .”

“Please continue watching over me, Papa,” I say, bowing to my father, “starting Monday, I’ll return back to my school.”

“Kiki, raise your head sweetie.” Papa gives me a soft look then turns to my friends and bows his head. “For everything I said previously, I’m deeply sorry. I misunderstood. I should’ve been a better parent and trusted my daughter.”

“Papa . . .”

“Please take care of my daughter from now on.”

Mama is crying. Mika and even Rachel are crying too. I can’t help it. I burst into tears. I always thought what wrong I did. I always thought what’s important to me. What I wanted.

“I’m not doing that because I like you or anything,” Rachel says bluntly, her face flushing. “It’s just because you’re my rival, not my friend. Got it?”

I smile. “Got it. Thanks, Rachel.”

“You did well,” Ian whispers from behind, his hand gently patting my hair.

“Thank you . . .”

Mama, Papa, I finally found the place I belong to.

“Ugh . . . that’s unfair. How did it end up like this? Me cleaning up the entire class and Mika going on a date! That’s absurd!”

That is absurd.

Ian flings the door open with his foot and pushes the bucket and the mop into class. He looks grumpy after the set of dramatic episodes that happened, and definitely no one wants to spend their weekend night on cleaning duty. Ian doesn’t know I’m here. I’m standing by the window, behind the lacey pink curtains, gazing outside. Sunset from here is spectacular. All the fiery hues had collected in the sky, and my emerald eyes catch the hottest pinks and oranges.

Now, I’m that person who sees sunset every day and still gets amazed by it.

“Screw it. And then I have to do the dishes tonight too.”

A giggle bubbles in my belly, and I cup my mouth as the image of Ian in an apron and rubber gloves pops into my head. I think he won’t look any different from now; he’d already tied his hair and rolled up his sleeves and is sweeping the floor and wiping the windows.

Oh no, he’s wiping the windows! I can’t stay here all the time. I hafta show myself.

I’m grabbing the curtain to open it, when Ian’s hand covers mine. He opens the curtain and stares at me wide-eyed.

“K-Kiki.”

“Uh-huh?”

He blushes and turns to sweep the floor again. “Y-You’re here,” he stutters.

“Uh-huh.” I look away, otherwise I might burst out laughing. He looks so funny.

“Why didn’t you come in the morning?”

“I had things to clear out with my parents,” I mumble, twining a lock behind my ear. “You know, they wanted to know every single detail and make sure that I’m really fine.”

“Must’ve been tough on you,” he says.

I glance at him, my eyes fixed on his.

He smiles. “But you’ve become stronger than expected.”

“Thanks to a certain someone,” I say with a smile.

“Aren’t you going to help that certain someone?”

I shake my head.

“Why?” he asks.

I point at the board. “You see, it reads your name under the Cleaning Duty banner, not mine.”

“So, you’re not going to help me.”

We hold each other’s gazes as I hold back a stream of giggles. I’ve looked at him too much in this outfit. “Nah-huh.”

And that’s Ian’s cue. He releases the mop, the handle of which clatters to the floor, as I giggle and run before he speeds towards me.

We run the length of the class, then I rush through the back door and into another class with Ian in tow, and we stop to catch our breaths, a couple desks separating us.

“You’re making fun of me, huh?” he says.

I giggle and shake my head then start running toward the window when Ian catches me around the waist, knocking air out of me.

“Got you.” His husky whisper lands in my ear, and I’m living the same dream I had before leaving to camp, my heart pounding in my ears.

“Kiki,” he whispers.

“Uh-huh?” Ian releases me, and I turn around slowly. Our abrupt closeness makes me flustered, and I can’t look at him so I just look down at my own hands.

“You okay? You’re not hurt right?” he asks. “Why are you looking away? Are you scared?”

My gaze cuts to his. His eyes are close, a perfect mix of grey and blue with little freckles of black swimming in them. “I’m not scared.”

“Really?” He smirks.

My face reddens but I don’t look away. “I’m not!”

“So, you’ll not shy away of whatever will happen now?” I could see his eyes twinkling with mischief.

“Not at all.”

Ian’s silver-blue eyes regard my emeralds for a moment longer, and when he steps closer, the wind picks up, and the curtain sways between us. The distance between us had disappeared, and Ian’s lips are on mine, the only thing holding them from touching is a piece of lace.

Despite that, my eyes go wide, fixed on his, and my heart drops right out of my chest, every cell screaming for air. When he pulls away, I can’t help but cover my mouth with my hand, and he smiles. He walks closer and brushes my hand away. My heart flutters.

“We need a re-do,” Ian whispers softly, taking the curtain and letting it billow around us.

No wait, my heart doesn’t flutter, my heart is already orbiting around Earth. It’s begging me to find his lips again and never let go. I take a deep breath. “Yeah we sure—”

He stops me with a kiss, catching my elbows in his hands, and I gasp. I close my eyes and concentrate on the faint pulsing of blood under his skin. Ian slides his hand up my arm, circling my wrist, the touch of his fingers entwined in mine spellbinding me, then holds me closer around my waist. He tastes like honey and smells like lemon, and my mind zeroes on this moment, the warmth and the sweetness and the feel of his body against mine making me drown.

Maybe he’s a silent one. Maybe he doesn’t speak a lot. And maybe he will never say it. He will never say he likes me. But he’s by my side, always looking after me and supporting me with each step I take. The light in his eyes, and the way his fingers thread in my hair, his gentle touch, are all enough.

His actions run a thousand words in my veins.

Yet I still wanna hear it, and I let the hope soar within me as he slowly breaks the kiss to stare in my eyes.

“And they say you’re a stone,” Ian says, and I don’t look away. “You’re not any stone, you’re a gem.”

We kiss again, the sun shying away from us, and then kiss some more, and then finally, just another long kiss, three short kisses, and a scattering of little ones.

I love you. I love you. I love you. You’ll remain a soul that differs in all its details from the rest, a soul that I love more every day. I’ll always keep my chin up, with firmness and courage, looking at you . . .

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