Just As You Are

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Chapter Thirty Six

Seventeen months later

ZEL

“Hey! Where are you going? It’s picture time!”

“Honey! Wait, let me fix your hair!”

“You’re gonna curl it, aren’t you?”

“Should we take a selfie or ask someone to take it for us?”

“Is my makeup too much? Check my cap.”

“Ahh . . . It’s so loud. You could’ve chosen a more secluded spot,” I mumble grumpily.

Under a cherry tree for example.

Cherry trees are fully bloomed now; it’s breathtaking, and silent. But no, she had to make us sit in the middle of the school garden where everyone I know—and don’t know—had gathered. I can see girls fixing their makeup and helping a few guys to look more presentable, and there are students who are already huddled together with family and friends to take photos. It’s so noisy I almost wanna cut my ears off, but the mood and the weather are perfect for today’s occasion.

It’s graduation day.

“I can’t hear you,” Anna mumbles.

Anna had arrived with Lucifer not so long ago, saying that she wants to make sure I’m presentable and handsome by herself, and when she saw me, she practically screamed and sped up in her wheelchair until she was close enough to knock me down.

“I can’t believe you were gonna take photos with your hair like that,” she says for what feels like the hundredth time.

I wince. She knows there’s a pink scar across my eye, and that I have a zero desire to show it to people, yet she forced me to sit down before her so she can fix my hair.

Annabelle isn’t walking that much yet, but she’s taking physical therapy sessions to help build her muscles again. Hopefully soon, she’ll be walking and moving around, then she will enroll in our school.

“Mom might freak out if she sees you like that.”

“I don’t care. Where did Lucifer go?” I glance sideways.

Anna grabs my face. “He said he has something to do.”

“Oh wow! Who’s that pretty boy?” someone says from behind.

I tilt my face and scoot closer to Anna.

“Who is it? Oh my! So hot! Is he in our grade?”

Dammit.

Anna laughs. “I had no idea you’re that popular.”

“Shut up,” I grumble.

“Zel!”

I glance up. “Mom!”

Mom, Dad, Windy, and the baby walk over to the grassy spot where Anna and I are sitting.

“Oh my God, look at you!” Mom cups my face in her hands. “You look so sweet.”

I blush. “Mom!”

“Hehe, have you seen yourself on a mirror? Windy, do you have a mirror on you sweetie?”

Windy rolls her eyes at me. “Do I look like someone who carries a mirror? Stop treating me like a princess,” she says with a frown.

I smile and turn to Anna. “I need a mirror.”

“Here’s the magic mirror, milady.” She fishes a compact mirror from her purse and opens it before me. “Magic mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?” she quotes in a dreamy voice.

“You know, you should join the drama club when you enroll here,” I say to Anna.

“You think?”

“Yeah.”

Looking at my reflection in the mirror feels like looking at someone entirely different. It feels like the first time I see my own eyes, and my scar is wrinkled but isn’t that hideous. Anna had combed my hair out of my eyes and made a side part, making my forehead and eyes stand out.

“Should I cover the scar? I have powder,” she suggests.

I shake my head. “No. I’ll keep it. This is the only way she will recognize me.”

“Huh?”

Standing up, I put my graduation cap on then reach out in Windy’s direction.

“What?” she asks, taking a step backward.

“Not you, idiot. The baby.”

The baby stares at me with starry blue orbs and a two-teeth rosy smile, then reaches out for me and wraps all her little chubby fingers around my thumb. She’s eight months old, and she can’t walk or talk that much, but I can tell from her eyes and smile that she has pure love for me. I love her too. Very much. “Come on, Hope. Let’s go.”

“Where are you taking her?” Mom asks, instantly switching into protective mode.

“We’re gonna visit Mika.”

“What about the photos?”

“We’ll take as much as you like after the assembly.”

Walking away, I watch Hope’s eyes twinkle in amazement by the colorful scenery before her. Cherry trees shower us with soft pink blossoms. Red roses and colorful tulips and lilies stand gracefully in the flower garden.

“Um . . . Hope, now you and I will meet someone you love very much. But hey,” I tickle her tummy and she squeals and giggles, “don’t love her very very much because I don’t think I can compete with ya.” I make a silly face, and Hope giggles again.

We walk through the flower garden until my eyes catch a wisp of red. Every color seems new and vivid now that I my bangs aren’t in my eyes anymore. Mika’s hair is a wine-red, pulled into a half-up–half-down crown of braids, and cherry blossoms are caught in her loose waves. She’s standing in the middle of the garden, obviously nervous about asking who’s taking care of her lilies.

“Hope.” Hope looks up with questioning eyes as we hide behind a tree. “You see, that redhead there, that’s Mika Lilium Roselie, my girlfriend. She’s a lily.”

Hope blinks at me, her lashes caught in her unsteady black curls.

“Now, I’m supposed to be telling her this, but I can’t because I’m sure my heart can’t carry it all.” Hope must understand because she gives me a crooked smile. “I’ve never been this close to anyone before. There’s no distance between us. No boundaries. I used to be terrified of that.”

I was so scared of that, Lilium. You know, I had no idea I could feel so many different emotions. I don’t think any of us knew how scary or nerve-racking being yourself around others could be. But you made me realize all of it.

“What can I do to make her smile?” Hope tilts her head, her eyes as wide as saucers. I smile. “What can I do for her? Mika is so much stronger than I think she is. She’s so much weaker than I feel she is.”

You’re delicate. You’re fragile. That’s why wherever you go, light follows after you. For years, the only person I knew this well was myself. I never knew that a world like that existed. Thank you for shattering my reality. Thank you for wanting to be with me. What can I do for you?

“How can I pay her back for saving my life?”

Because she feels me, because she hears every word I’m saying, Mika spins around, her waves fanning about her face, and her silver-blue eyes unmistakably looking right at me. Oh, how much I missed her eyes. They were hiding all year behind her thick glasses.

She smiles and rocks back and forth on her heels. “Come on, Zel!”

My heart picks up pace and a giggle escapes me. “She’s so unexpected. I can’t predict her at all.”

Oh . . . the spring sky looks bluer than I’ve ever seen. If only I could gift you this wonderful sky. For it’s as wonderful as your soul, that carries mine along.


MIKA

Light as feathers, beautiful yet fleeting, the sugar-pink blossoms never fail to enchant me. In an A-line wine-red dress and my high-heeled cut-out boots, I’m ready any second to leave for the assembly.

Of course, that comes after finding the secret identity of the lily caretaker.

I weave between the juniors and sophomores who are sitting around the garden with fellow seniors from their clubs, trying to make it through the crowd in order to reach the lily bed. I miss my lilies . It’s been a long time since I saw them because I’ve been prohibited from coming here. I groan. I’ve been busy studying for exams, filling and sending my collage applications, and tutoring the new managers of the soccer team. Ian said that if I want to do what I want with all I have, I’ve got to do what I don’t want with all I’ve got too.

I still don’t understand.

“Who’s that?” a girl whispers from behind.

“What is she doing here? Isn’t she graduating today?” another girl says.

“She’s been looking around here for a while now.”

Ah, people will never stop talking about me even after I leave this school.

“Ah! I think I know her!”

Here it comes.

“Really?”

“Yeah she’s that senior with the . . . what do they call it? Ah, the wave thing. I heard that if you screw with her friends, you’ll get ***** by electric shocks.”

“Oh my God!” Seriously? Is that what they’re saying about me? I can’t stop giggling as I walk away.

By the rose beds, I spot two juniors snickering and watering the flowers. “Um, excuse me?”

They glance up and when they spot me, the blond one gasps. “Whoa! She’s so beautiful.”

I giggle, and the other girl—a brunette—nudges her friend in the ribs. “How can we help you?” she asks shyly.

“I was wondering if any of you girls know the person who takes care of the lilies,” I say.

The girls exchange a glance then nod. “Yeah, I know he’s a blond guy,” the blondie says.

It’s a guy?

“With blue or green eyes,” the brunette adds. “And he doesn’t allow anyone to water the lilies in his stead.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, he said something about not affording to lose any more lilies.”

Hmm . . . So a blond guy, with blue or green eyes. Can’t lose the lilies. Has a crush on them? Or . . .

“Okay girls. Thank you so much!” I give them a smile and wave as I walk away. Run away. Run to the lily bed to see him. The guy who can’t afford losing more lilies. I know this guy. He’s kneeling down at the edge of the bed, softly touching the petals of a White Heaven lily, his eyes a sad blue hue.

“Lucifer!”

Upon hearing my voice, Lucifer falls backward awkwardly, and I can’t help but laugh.

“Mika.” He gets up, dusts his pants, and wipes his hands, then ever so chivalrously, takes my hand and kisses it. “You look fabulous.”

“Thank you.” I look up at him with a smile. “I hope you don’t grow any taller than this. My neck hurts.”

He laughs. “I still have a chance. Too bad you reached eighteen without growing past five foot one.”

I blush and shove him playfully. “This is the perfect height for girls!”

“Fine, I’ll play along just because no one wants a mad redheaded graduate.”

“Hmm? So?” I look him in the eye. “A couple girls told me that you’re taking care of my lilies.”

Lucifer nods.

“Thank you so much,” I add.

“You’re welcome, milady.”

I can’t stop smiling. “They told me you can’t afford to lose any more lilies.”

Lucifer’s eyes widen and his face lights a bright red. “Crap,” he mutters, covering his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Do you have something to tell me?”

“Well . . . I-I’ve been meaning to tell you for so long.” His eyes meet mine over the lilies, a blue as clear and vivid as the sky. “I like you, Mika.” The absolute certainty in his voice turns the smile on my face into a grin, making him uneasy. “What? Why are you grinning? Oh my God, you know!” He looks away shyly.

“I don’t know!” I lie because hell yeah, I know! but I don’t want to embarrass him. “Hey, hey Lucy, look at me.” I take his face in my hands. “Look at me.”

“Uh-huh.”

I smile. “Thank you. Thank you so much for liking me. Your feelings are so important to me. It makes me happy to know that. I promise I’ll treasure your feelings.”

“Thanks, Mika,” Lucifer mumbles with a cute blush. Then he frees himself from my hands. “I should probably go because—”

“Because Zel is by the cherry tree behind us and he’ll kill you,” I finish for him.

“How do you know that?” he asks.

I laugh. He’s been talking to me for a while. Ah! What a pleasant maelstrom of waves.

I turn around and look at him. “Come on, Zel!” I yell. “Oh, is that Hope?”

But . . . who’s that? Is that really Zel?

Lucifer takes Baby Hope and leaves, while Zel and I keep staring into each other’s eyes as he walks over to me. He’s wearing the black graduation gown over a white shirt and black pants, his hair combed neatly in a side-part do. But my eyes are just fascinated by his. I can’t look away even if I have the will to.

Zel’s eyes are so captivating; they’re glazed like honey, turning into million shades of gold as sunlight reflects off them. They’re like melted chocolate, framed by thick long lashes, and the wrinkled scar across his right eye makes him more charming. My heart pounds painfully, reminding me that I stopped breathing.

“Is there something on my face?” he asks when he reaches me.

“Huh?” I blush and purse my lips together. “Y-Your eyes, I can see them,” I mumble dubiously.

To my surprise, Zel laughs and reaches for his hair.

I take his hand. “No. You’ll ruin it.”

“Do I look good?” he asks mischievously, stepping closer.

I tilt my face up. “Yeah. Haven’t seen your eyes this clear all year.”

“Consider it a graduation present then.” Zel smiles, a smile that makes my heart skip successive beats, and without prior notice, my heels are off the grass and my lips are on his. I’m utterly still, but I feel my pulse tap several times against his lips, and then he releases my hand, and runs his fingers through my hair. It lasts for so long until someone passes and clears their throat.

“I-I’m sorry,” he whispers, “that was awkward.”

“So awkward.” So breathtaking to the point that I don’t know where my voice is coming from. “Do you want to take a photo?” I ask to ease my nervousness.

“Sure!” Zel takes off the gown and kneels down a bit. “God, you’re so short even with those heels!”

“Shut up!” I mutter as I open the camera on my phone and bring the phone close to our faces while the lilies serve as the background. My heart skips again.

“Mika, could you not look like someone is trying to kill ya?” Zel mumbles irritably.

“Huh?” I spin around. “Z-Zel, these are . . . blue heart lilies.” I look at him. “How did they—?”

We exchange shocked glances, and Zel laughs.

“They’re lilies, flowers like ya.” For a moment, I see little Zel before my eyes, but then he kisses me again, and I can’t stop blushing. “They come to me whenever you’re with me.”

“Lucky you then,” I whisper.

“So don’t leave me.” Zel’s voice becomes serious.

It’s been over a year since he last said that, but I could read it in his eyes every day. It’s been over a year since we opened the lids to emotions no one had shed a light on. It’s been over a year since we got together and my life since then has been so colorful.

Maybe Zel didn’t meet his mother yet, maybe he’s still scared and maybe he will never get over with it, but despite all that, he’s still fighting. He never once surrendered to his own darkness and he’ll keep fighting for his life, and for my life too.

And I’ll keep fighting for him.

I’ll never leave him. My heart will stay along his as long as I’m breathing.

Forgetting about my phone and the photo, surrounded by the radiant blue lilies, I whisper the words against his lips.

“I’ll never leave you.”

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