Just As You Are

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Chapter Seven

IAN

Is it only me, or I’m really being left out of things?

It is still rowdy in our class, but the whispers about Mika and the note we found on her desk had receded, and everyone is back to performing their usual tasks.

The class president is sorting tasks, girls are huddled in masses, trying all kinds of make-up and chatting about their recent or ex-boyfriends/crushes—me included—while boys are copying each other’s homework, and preparing to prank Mrs. Lydia; our homeroom teacher.

Our class is still rowdy except, there’s one person missing, and two people out of place.

I pick up the lily and turn it around; the white petals are soft and delicate between my fingers—a perfect message to Lilium from our damned childhood friend, Zel Lemercier. My sister is looking for him around the school, while I’m hunched over my desk, mourning about the fact that I’m so dense to the point of missing that my childhood friend is enrolling in our school, and that he might be right across the hall.

I close my copy of Cornelia Funke’s Inkspell, placing the stem of the flower between pages 121 and 122. If he were here all this time, why didn’t he try to contact us? After all the sleepless nights we had because of him, why did he appear now of all the times? Where did he go in the first place? I mean, one day he was there, and the other day he just vanished, and never came back. I’ll give him a good fist to the face when I see him.

“Ian!”

Did I mention that I hate sweets?

I hate them all regardless of the kind, and I hate sweet people, like those who butter others up and sugarcoat their words just to get what they want. People often tell me I’m not a nice person, and that I’m annoying. I’m not offended by that. Akuni once told me that my personality is refreshingly blunt, and that she enjoys seeing me piss people off. I don’t know what that means, but I just like honest people.

Anyway, back to overly sweet people, with sugary voices that make me gag.

I scan the face in front of me, trying to piece the names in my memory with it. Perfectly arched eyebrows, icy blue eyes framed by thick dark lashes, bob-style jet black hair, and perfectly contoured lips. She’s lanky, and wears all sizes of rings in one hand. If I’m right, this girl is showy, which means she’s either a cheerleader, or some arrogant and freaking rich girl. Or in worst cases, both. Let’s see, this is—

“Raquel.”

She frowns. “Rachel.”

“Close enough.”

What can I do? I’m not good with people who have nothing to do with my daily life. In other words, I have nothing to do with my fans.

“Any plans today?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply automatically. I always have plans. I always make plans when I don’t have plans, and make myself busy to avoid my fan club.

I must have steered away because she asks, “What are you staring at?”

A girl.

I’m staring at a girl. I can’t help but notice how simply beautiful she is. She’s color-coding her textbooks, and writing on a small red notebook. The girl is focusing amidst the chaos. From my spot, I could tell her face doesn’t have a hint of makeup and that she’s organized and serious. She stands out a lot between all these Barbies.

“Shit!”

Marsha startles me with a kick under the table. Rachel’s gone; hopefully she got fed up with me; and the girl across the class glances at me before returning back to her books. Sitting next to Akuni, across from me, Marsha is chewing a bubble gum, and scrolling through her phone.

“What?” I mutter between clenched teeth. “What. Do. You. Want?”

“You do have a short fuse,” she says with a smile.

“Get to the point,” I say impatiently.

“Apparently Mika and Zel from class seven made a scene,” she mumbles without looking up.

“What?” I bolt up. “When did that happen? What did he do to my sister?”

Now she looks up, curling a spring of her blond hair around her finger. “Calm down, siscon. Your sister punched him square in the face then they left the floor together.”

“She did what? Wait, what? Together?” I can’t register the words coming out of my mouth.

“Young Master, please calm down.” Akuni slides the novel across the table, and sneaks a peek on the phrases I wrote on the margins.

“God, That’s even worse!” I mutter to myself.

“Why would that be worse?” Akuni asks.

I rake a hand through my hair. Is that why Mika’s late? And they left together? They could’ve gone anywhere. That bastard took my sister somewhere. My head hurts. I spring off my chair. “I have to find her!”

“No. Way.” Serina—our president—whips around from her position at the board, all four eyes on me. “Ian Roselie, you are not going anywhere!”

“But—”

“No buts. Our homeroom teacher is absent—”

“All the more reason to let me leave.” I argue. But she’s smarter and stricter than a normal council member should be.

“All the more reason to use our time for good.”

“Like?”

“Like seat changing, and planning for your training camp.”

Bummer. She got me there. I slump back in my seat, cursing under my breath. I don’t want some girl telling me what to do with my free time.

“Don’t worry, Young Master.” Akuni touches my arm lightly. “Young Mistress will be fine on her own.”

“How do you know that?”

She closes the book and smiles. “Well, she already gave Zel a punch, so she is fine.”

I hold her gaze.

If there’s someone in this world who knows Mika as well as I do, then it has to be Akuni. I could’ve said Sadie, but the latter is almost always busy.

Mom works as a flight attendant and travels from one place to another all the time, and when she comes back home, she slumps in bed till noon, so we don’t see much of her. But as a single mother, she made a huge effort raising two kids by herself until they turned nine. Because once we turned nine, Akuni joined our family.

Sadie took custody of Akuni and adopted her from a private maid’s school in the other side of the town; one: because she wanted someone to help her take care of us and two: because at that time, Mika was a hollow shell, and we needed someone to bring her back to life.

And despite being our age, Akuni was clever and handy in almost everything. She would teach us all sorts of things that we weren’t used to, like chores, gardening, cooking, and even karate. She would listen to us and help us do our homework. She’s a genius. She’s our guardian. And I’m proud to call her my sister.

“You’re right,” I say with a smile. But still, something feels off, and the pain swirling in my chest is enough to prove it.

Our seats are assigned through a lottery system. Serina sketches thirty seats with random numbers on the chalk board, then each student picks up one paper with a number and gets their assigned seat. Since Mika is still nowhere to be seen—of course still alive—I get to pick the seats for both of us. Lucky me, no one can tell when I pick for me and when I pick for my sister.

“Ugh . . .”

“What? What seats did you get?” Roy asks, wiggling his eyebrows. He had already moved his stuff to his new seat in the front row and settled down.

I look at the numbers in my palm; both seats are by the windows, one in the first row, and one in the second. I could hear Mika in the back of my mind telling me that she’ll kick my ass if I bail on her and make her sit in the front row. Since she sleeps in almost all the classes, I could make her a good cover. So, I hump my bag and books to the front row, and take my seat by the window—one seat away from Roy’s.

The scenery outside is quite capturing.

Autumn has dressed itself for the coming season, donning its most vibrant hues. It has swept into streets and woodlands with a humble boldness that invites the eyes to see more than they otherwise might. From my spot, I can see the surroundings had lost their colors. The sky is clear, and the red and yellow-dyed trees of the school yard stand gloriously. Leaves float about as if dancing, and on the other side, the lilies would be turning yellow, surrendering to the power of cold. Soon, Mika will harvest the bulbs and save them for next spring. It’s weird, to see a lily removing another.

“Good morning.”

The voice comes as a silent whisper, and I turn around. Apparently on the seat to my right, the scenery is more than capturing. It’s all gold and hot chocolate.

It’s mesmerizing.

An avalanche of dark chocolate hair tumbles about the girl as she sits, framing her petite features. From under her bangs shine eyes that sparkle like a bright, clear emerald lit by the flames of beauty itself. The girl has a small nose whose bridge is so low-profile as to be barely there at all; it’s like a bump just above her dusky pink lips. There is no two ways about it; she’s cute. Her smile is warm with a hint of shyness. I love her already. She’s the girl from earlier, and now that I’m looking at her from this distance, I think I’ve seen her somewhere.

I think I’m staring too much because she blushes all together and mumbles, “E-Excuse me.”

I lean towards her. “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you, your voice is so small.”

“Excuse me!” she yells, making me flinch.

“Now this is too loud.” I press two fingers to my ear. Her voice shook me out of my senses.

“I-I’m sorry,” the girl whispers, her face bright red.

“Yeah, I heard you. Don’t apologize. How can I help you?” It’s my first time seeing her. Is she really from our class?

She fishes in her bag and brings out a small blue paper bag and shoves it at me. Nice, another fan. And I thought I had enough of Raquel. Rachel, dammit!

I’m about to turn her down when she says, “I-It’s your jacket. I washed it and h-here I am returning it.”

“Huh?”

“Th-Thank you!” Then she stumbles out of her chair and runs out of class.

“Wha-What was that?” I say.

“Ah . . . was that Kiki?” Roy stares at the spot where the girl was sitting a second earlier.

“Yeah, that’s her. The girl Ian helped the other day, remember?” Marsha sits right behind us, on the desk beside Mika’s, snapping photos of herself. This blondie will never get off my case. “I know her; she’s kind of shy and different from everybody else.”

I helped her? When was that?

“When you accidentally splashed lemon soda all over her.”

“Shit!” I whip around. “Mika!”

“Yuhuu, my sweet brother! Did you miss me?” Mika says with an overly sweet gesture.

I squeeze her face between two fingers. “Where have you been you stupid brat? I’ve been dead worried here you know!”

“Oh my, Young Master, this is so sweet.” Akuni teases.

My face flushes. Can’t a guy worry about his sister?

“I’ll tell you later,” my sister whispers with a wink.

I turn around and pull my chair to her desk. “I want to know. Now!”

“Ian, don’t be such a baby and turn back to your seat,” she mutters.

If there was a bit of sweetness, it’s all gone now. I’m not a sweet person too. I grab her wrist and pull her a little bit hard that she winces.

“Okay, okay, I’ll tell you, just don’t make a scene.”

“Just tell me one thing; did that bastard do anything to you?” I don’t realize what I’m saying; anger boils in my veins, blocking every other sound around us.

Mika’s face darkens a shade. “What’s wrong with you? You’re the one who sent me to find him, and now you’re snapping at me!”

I wave that away. “He did, didn’t he?” I ask again.

Mika shakes her head and puts a hand on my curled fist, her face crumpling a bit. “Zel is fine.” She takes a staggered breath, and I know something must’ve happened. “I’ll tell you everything at home, I promise.” She squeezes my hand.

I squeeze back. “Okay.”

“Good.” Relief washes over her face, and she smiles warmly. “More importantly, when Kiki comes back, make sure to thank her for washing your jacket.”

I nod.

“I can’t believe you forgot about her. You just helped her the other day,” Mika adds.

I rub the back of my neck nervously; I can’t believe I forgot about her either. I’m not that good with new people to start with.

“What do you use that big brain of yours for?” She mocks.

“To tutor my sister who sleeps during classes?” I tease.

“Oh, shut up!”

I turn back to my seat, a smile on my face, and there she is, Kiki Baudelaire, the girl I splashed with juice and then forgot about. The girl who made sure to wash my jacket with a damned charming flowery detergent and return it back to me. The girl with the small voice and zero existence who is now sitting to my right. The girl with the chocolate bangs and emerald green eyes that I’m positive they glitter gold under the sun.

I girl I still think is cute.

Ugh . . . What a jerk I am.

“Um, excuse me.” What am I doing? What. Am. I. Doing?

Kiki glances at me then looks away, her bangs brushing her long lashes. “Y-y-yes,” she stutters with her eyes closed.

Oh God, she’s so cute I might die!

“About the jacket, thank you. And um . . .” I clear my throat; this is way harder than I expected. “Sorry again for splashing you.”

Kiki’s blush sears through her cheeks and for a moment, I think her face is on fire. It starts to get awkward when our math teacher arrives to class.

I can’t concentrate. This is the first time in my life that I feel like I’m in a daze. God, I’m still staring at her. The girl obviously has regal bearings. I could stare at her all day long and nothing would stop me.

“Roselie!”

Nothing but Mr. Brown. Good grief. I sit up, pretending to concentrate on my textbook. “Yes, sir.”

“Not you, Ian. I meant your sister.”

Thanks God.

“Yes, sir.” Akuni glances up from her textbook, a red sharpie in her right hand.

Mr. Brown clears his throat. “Not you too, the other sister,” he says, and some students laugh.

Turning around, I find my twin sister asleep on her desk, a perplexed expression on her face. Zel is definitely taking a chunk of her mind, and I hope she’s not having another nightmare. I stir her lightly until she opens her eyes. “Mika, Mr. Brown is asking for you,” I say, biting back a laugh.

She sits up, rubs her eyes, and holds her textbook.

“Problem thirty-two,” Marsha whispers.

Mika squints at the text. “Oh, my glasses.” Everybody laughs as she fishes for her silver-rimmed glasses and puts them on. “Oh my God, I can’t solve this!” she yelps.

“Well, detention it is,” Mr. Brown announces.

Mika stands up. “Well, I really don’t want!”

We have soccer practice this afternoon, and it would be bad if Mika wasn’t there to look after us.

“You can ask a friend . . . Well, it’s probably useless—”

“Anyone!” Mika looks around the room frantically. Whoa! Detention is obviously not an option for her. “Ian, help!”

I shrug. I don’t know the answer either; I wasn’t paying attention. But Mika’s eyes become the size of saucers, telling me she can’t handle another detention. She looks around anxiously, but it seems no one is willing to help. Then all of a sudden, Kiki turns around in her chair, pointing out something in her notebook.

“Kiki!” Mika yelps out of desperation.

“Here,” Kiki whispers, pointing at the answer.

“Huh?” She looks from Kiki to the notebook. “x= 3√2?” Then she looks at our teacher for affirmation.

Mr. Brown clicks his tongue. “That’s correct. You’re so lucky.”

I blink. What was that?

“Wow, Amazing! Kiki!” Rachel pipes up.

“Thank you, Kiki,” Mika says with a smile.

“She’s a nice person,” Marsha adds.

I glance at Kiki, her face is bright red again, but her velvet lips are set in a grateful smile.

“Ian. Ian!”

“Uh-huh.”

“If you can hear me, then get up.” Mika pokes her head between my desk and Kiki’s, blocking the view. “Spare the girl of your looks,” she whispers, “you’ve been staring at her the entire session.”

“Oh what do you know? You’ve been sleeping the whole time,” I mumble.

She gives me a knowing look. “Do I look like I’ve had any sleep? Your waves are quite disturbing,” she says softly.

I blush, so hard I have to shy away from my twin sister, my other half. I’m no match to her wave system.

“You can like her all you want. You don’t have to wait for me to find someone,” she whispers. Then she walks by my desk and out of class as if what she just said is no big deal. “Come on! We’ve got to change classes,” she says with a smile. “And Kiki.”

Kiki glances up.

“You too, come on! Let’s go!” Mika adds.

It takes Kiki a full minute of wavering between leaving with us and leaving alone, but then she clenches her fists, wears a serious face, and comes with us.

“So we’re going to the science lab now,” Mika says matter-of-factly. She’s trying to make little talk with Kiki to make her more comfortable around us, and I really hope it’ll work because Mika seems to like Kiki, which is rare because usually girls hate my sister; so I’m really hoping Kiki would like her too.

“Thanks for earlier,” Mika adds with a warm smile.

Kiki blushes and nods.

“It really helped me out. I’m so happy I didn’t get a detention. It was going to be like the end of the world to me.”

Don’t ramble. Don’t ramble, I shoot.

Shut up, my sister shoots back.

“Hey, isn’t that Stone?”

“Huh?”

A couple girls and few guys come into view, and they all stop to look at Kiki.

“Ah, seriously it’s her!” one of the guys says, “Who thought we would meet again, huh?”

Kiki’s entire demeanor darkens, and she shifts uncomfortably.

Stone?”

“Yeah, that’s her nickname from middle school.” One of the girls points at her. “She’s slow and always zones out. She would always stand still in gym class. Such a pain in the ass.” She clicks her tongue. “She never talks and she always freezes up. It was easy to tease her all the time.” The girl keeps talking as students gather around us, whispering and chattering between one another.

I look between her and Kiki, grabbing Mika by the wrist to stop her from acting irrationally; and trying to control my madness all at the same time in hope that Kiki will react or do something.

But she does nothing but hang her head down, and dash into a run.

That girl is cute, and pretty good at running.

She’s so good it’s annoying.

“Mika.”

After school, I barge into my sister’s room in an intention to know every detail I was left out off, but she doesn’t seem to notice. She’s staring absently at the white ribbon and looping it around her hand. I lean on the door frame and knock, and that’s when she looks up.

“Oh, Ian.” She places the ribbon next to the jewelry box on her vanity top and ushers me to the bean bag. Then she stands up from her vanity chair and sits on the edge of her bed.

The more I stare at her, the more the expressionless look on her face clears into anxiety. She curls a lock of her dark red hair and sighs loudly then flops back on the bed.

“You don’t forget anything, do you?” she mumbles.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, my face breaks into a smile. “I may know everything about you, but you still have to tell me,” I start, “I don’t want you to end up overthinking everything.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I don’t want you to get sick because of me too.” She sits up and looks at me. “To cut it short, Zel is fine. He got adopted the moment he left that house.”

My eyes widen, and I need a few seconds to process what she just said. So he’s fine. He’s with a new and a good family.

“As long as he’s fine, I’m not going to bother him anymore,” she adds.

I register a sad tone in her voice and find myself asking “Is he happy?” surprising both of us.

She nods.

“Good for him,” I mumble.

“Yeah, good people saved him.”

I smile. “You saved him, Lilium.”

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