The rain spilled like beads of pearls loosened from its string as the tides rushed violently against

the shore. It screamed, bellowed, cried for vengeance, droplets dampening the sand until it seeped deep into the ground. As your fingers are, clawing as it dug; as if to prepare a grave for your living body. I merely stood aside to see your covered face; your brown locks hiding the tears that silently slid down your cheek. I realized then that your smile was more important to me than your tears. Chapter One: Chance and Happenstance The bottle spun as the laughter amplified around the hollow clubroom. “I never thought Rick liked Toni,” someone choked behind the cacophony before a harsh “Shut up, dork!” silenced him into small stolen laughs. A cough and a sound of someone clearing his throat caught everyone’s attention. The bottle has chosen its hapless victim, the snout positioning for the kill at a red head within the circle. The red head leaned back and gave the blond in front of him a knowing smirk. “All right, what will it be this time Larry?” His voice was determined yet confident. His friend has done this to him a million times. He would usually say “dare” and make him do almost anything that ranges from absurd to derogatory. The man, he finally admitted, had a knack for creating almost anything solely for the purpose of seeing someone suffer. A sadist, so to speak. The blond man reached for his growing stubble, caressing his chin as he contemplated. His brows knotted, eyes narrowing to the side; a pensive gesture. It was something rather odd for his friends to see. It seemed as if he was trying to think of something near to life-threatening. It took him a while before a wide smirk crossed his features, it brought out the extent of deviousness in the man. Looking the red head straight in the eye, he motioned for him to move towards him. “Rye,” he leaned close, his voice loud enough for the others to hear. “I want you to do something for me. Let’s say it’s a mission to sate our curiosity.” A laugh immediately followed his remark before he gestured for silence. “Well, at least mine. I want you to get close to Jermy Richards.” The red head made a face. “What? You don’t know him? For god’s sake! Who doesn’t know Richards?!” “Apparently, I don’t,” the red head sighed, giving his blond friend a wary look. “But in any case, you don’t need to expound. I suppose I can look him up in the University’s archives.” He leaned forward, fingers twining with each other. He was not amused. “What about him?” Larry gave him a nod of approval. “Before that, I want to give you a little background of your prey…” His grey eyes sparkled with mischief as he spoke, “Richards is one of the richest men in the University yet there is something odd about him. He hangs out at the back of the gym, listens to music, and spaces off. He’s not goth, not emo either. He barks at anyone who tries to touch him and after the incident two years ago, no one has ever tried to.” “What happened two years ago?” the man in front of him looked at him suspiciously. Larry gave him a reassuring pat. “Hey! Don’t get so serious on me all of a sudden—“ intense green eyes glared at him—“All right, all right. I’ll tell you. Although god knows why you don’t know about it.” The crowd fell silent as he retold the story. “Remember Carey?”

“Yeah. And?” “Carey tried to mess with him. Remember he usually said he had somewhere to go?” The red head nodded. “Well, he went out to pester Richards. A week after that we heard that Carey was sued for verbal abuse and was actually detained in prison. Since then, no one has ever tried to cross that kid’s path.” “Interesting,” was the red-head’s dry comment. Leaning away, he gave an inaudible sigh, “So what do you want me to do? Beat the crap out of him and see if I’ll really be sued and put to jail?” His friend’s face became pensive, his smirk widening. “Oh, and I won’t forget to ask Carey for an autograph while I’m there, right?” “No. Not exactly.” The red head was puzzled. “What is it then?” “Make him love you.” Chapter 02: Complicate Me I understood the laws of nature but never had I even dared to fathom what Larry ever thought. Make him love you... I could tear my hair out now and grind my body against burning coal. Was he out of his mind? Or was I out of mine? Either way, both of us needed a good mental check-up; him for making such an outlandish dare and me, for actually accepting the deal with a handshake. How should I explain my drive to one-up the bastard? Spur of the moment or the lack of ability to deliberate a situation? It’s just for a week, anyway, I told myself that while sealing the deal. Besides, it would make me look like a coward if I actually declined it. There are too many connotations had I rejected it in contrast to my pliant acceptance. In the end, it was just my own desperate act to preserve my male pride. Other than that everything could just go to hell. For the moment, the only solace I have is the thought that even if I won’t be able to make him fall in love with me within the seven days I was given, I could still wring out my revenge by letting the cat out when the tenure ends. When that happens, I would come out as an innocent victim, and those pig heads will end up sending me postcards of apology. From jail of course, if the rumors are true about him. I grimaced at the memory of his spotless record as I walked out of the library, the automatic door closing behind me. Deryck, you shall be facing the prince of Russia, I told myself as I traced the path to the gym. If Larry’s information is correct he would be staying behind the locker room… I turned on my heels and walked through the cobbled steps towards the back and true as I was told, he was seated there, wearing an orange zip-up sweater, headphones dangling over his shoulder, arms crossed and head leaning against the painted wall. His eyes were closed but the humming that came from his lips betrayed his wakefulness. The volume from his player was also to its highest level, screaming Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. “Hey,” I called out, my voice suddenly caught in my throat. “Hey you!” I tried again, a bit more forcefully. I waited for nearly two minutes before I walked towards him. I would have to commend Larry, his tasks actually teach you values while you’re figuring a way to get it done.

He moved his head slightly, eyes lazily opening to reveal smoky grey orbs. It stopped me on my tracks; he was, well, a pretty boy. Hazel brown hair matched with grey eyes amplified by the darkness of his lashes. I wondered how long I stared at him, transfixed by the oddness of his— how should I term this?— beauty. Was Carey into this thing? I thought in panic as the build up in my throat became worse. “Hey.” He blinked. “What?” Thank god his voice was masculine, not something squeaky and girly or I would have died. I stopped in front of him, attempting to look friendly. But with the way I was looming down on him, I think it was hardly seen as that. “Hey, you like Bach?” I gave him a small smile, I was happy I was familiar with the tune if I wasn’t then, my bad. He stared at me for the longest time and a hint of a smile actually animated his dull face. “It’s Beethoven. But good try.” With that he pushed the earpiece back on and closed his eyes. He leaned resolutely against the wall, a gesture that clearly meant, “Get the hell out of here.” My brows twitched. My bad then, I thought as I realized how smug his face looked. The soft smile on his content face made me want to hurt him badly. A thought came to mind, Damage his pretty, pretty face. But that had to wait. I’ll just keep tabs for now. “Yeah? The beat reminded me of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. I must have mistaken it when I was walking around.” I moved to his side, waiting for his permission. I wanted to be as cautious with him as possible. This was a mission I cannot possibly screw up. Thoughts of the events that happen in prison cells haunted me that very moment. I am admittedly a handsome man and I still have a lot to live for. Silence greeted me. Was he even listening? Did my ‘nice guy” attempt fail? “By two notes, it does. The rest is different,” the brunet answered without even opening his eyes. His concentration was impeccable, but my determination weighs out more. I took the liberty of my free country to sit twelve inches away from him. Sighing loudly as I rested my back against the painted concrete, I turned to face him. Surprisingly, our eyes met. He was examining me; earphones yet again dangling over his shoulders. “You’re giving me wrong impressions, commoner. What do you want?” he spoke slowly, weighing his words as they escaped his lips. It must have been “making a fool out of Rye” day for that very moment, my throat dried and my voice left me. My heart was thudding faster by the minute. How was I going to answer something so straightforward? At that very moment, Larry’s face sparked an emotional chord in my heart. What I’d give to humiliate you just once, Rye. And it occurred to me. I had no other choice but to carry this dare as seriously as I carry my life. In truth, my reputation matters more to me than anything… Even my life. I closed my eyes, opening them only when I was sure that it would meet the clear blue sky. “A place to hide,” I closed my case then. From that moment on, I realized, my world had to be filled with lies. In order to protect myself from everyone else’s expectations, I had to remake who I was for him. A darker more serious Rye. A Rye totally apart from who I truly am. He smiled kindly then. “Then you’re at the right place,” he held out his hand to me, full of kindness. “It’s Jermy.”

“Deryck.” Allow me to absolve myself later. In the name of self-preservation, this is all I can afford to do. Chapter 03: Six days and one night “Where are we?” A shuffle caught my attention. The dark enclosure was cold and her hand, colder. She had led me somewhere, into a labyrinth it seemed. “Shh…” she cautioned me carefully as I clumsily stumbled into something. “Oh!” she giggled as she pulled and pulled me. “Where are we going Charise?” I was more than annoyed, playing the blind mouse. “Further! Further! We’ll get there soon.” As always, Charise and her knack for surprises. I caught myself smile at the thought. Wait till she finds out I’m trying to woo a lower classman. She’ll no doubt throw a fit. Her hard pull brought me back to the darkness as, at last, I found a stream of light. “Here it is!” She wrestled with the obstructive bushes ahead of us. “Help me!” I immediately ambled forward, clearing the path for my lady. Succeeding, I smugly offered the path to her, observing her passage with mock solemnity. She giggled then. “You’re such a gentleman, Rye. I never thought you had a side of you that was ever, well, gentle.” I flourished her blushing face with one of my best smiles; guaranteed to woo any woman from a ten mile radius, as my friends said. “Well, there’s a lot about me you have yet to find out.” What greeted us was something near a dreamland: The stars hanging brightly against the cloudless and moonless sky with the breeze sweetly caressing the low grasslands. If only most relationships made by man were without consequence, like the scenery that presented itself to me then, perhaps everything would have been simpler. The next day knocked me back to the hard reality of my musings. As I entered the cafeteria blissfully remembering the sweet moment I shared with my girlfriend, Larry greeted me with his arms folded against his chest. “Good noon,” I walk past him, aiming for the open line of the counter before he pulled me back. His smirk had a sadistic feel to it as his grip around my arms tightened. “Yes, Larry. I see you.” “How is it coming along?” the blond tilted his head to the side as he released my arm. “Or have you forgotten the bet. Deliberately?” “I assure you, I haven’t. But tell me,” I straightened my back. “If you’re so curious then why don’t you find out for yourself?” He laughed. “I’m not curious about him. I’m curious if you’re actually going to do it. You’re the daredevil man in the frat. I posed to you a challenge. Why so defensive?”

My brows knotted. “It’s not that I am. It’s that I don’t feel right about it.” “How so?” “You know I have someone else.” “Then step down and admit defeat,” the blonde’s smirk widened. He was obviously relishing every moment of my discomfort. “That’s all there is to it.” I snorted as I shook my head. “It’s not that simple if it’s you, Larry. You are a man of consequence. I can’t be too careless.” He chuckled as he guided me to the empty counter. “I’m happy to know that you still have some fear left. Or you’d have left and the frat would have lost someone as intelligent and as cunning as you. That is why you have to endure this for me,” He pointed his fingers against the glass, “That one, Miss, please.” “I’ll have Lunch B, miss,” I supplied at the attendant’s expectant look. The lady smiled as she held the tray to me. “Thank you,” I smiled back as I proceeded to the counter. “Is that all you’re going to eat?” “Hmm… It’s dessert,” he waved me off as he paid his bill and guided me to an empty table. “So what do you plan to do?” He asked as he sat in front of me, placing his tray down. “Not quite sure. I never really thought of that.” I waved my fork absently as my spoon scooped a tiny portion of mashed potatoes. “I never really thought that I’d be trying to woo a man in College. Unless I’m gay.” “As I said, step down,” he commented coolly as he looked out the glass walls of the cafeteria. I chuckled, “You seem to be in a more merciful mood today. Scared I might really turn gay?” What scared me then was his expression. He looked serious without a hint of malice or sadism. “Will you?” I bit down on my spoon, trying not to laugh my anxiety out. “Well, I never really thought of it. But if you were to ask me, I’m rather content with my girl, thanks.” I scooped another spoonful of mashed potatoes into my mouth. His grey eyes traveled around the room. At first I thought he was randomly picking out faces but when I turned to see where his eyes were fixed on I understood. It was Jermy. “Well, good luck,” he stood up, placing a hand over my shoulders before he left me.” What was Jermy doing here? The brunet was walking towards me, his face expressionless as always. It seemed as if I’ve forgotten something vital. He took the seat Larry vacated and placed a mini CD on the table. “I guess you’ve forgotten,” he said, annoyance lacing his voice. “But in case you still intend to borrow it, here.”

I blinked, quite surprised as I inspected the case. It was a Bach. I remembered that we talked about classical musicians yesterday, and belatedly realized that I had asked him if he had any records by him. “I’m terribly sorry,” I blurted, completely embarrassed about standing him up. He merely nodded, folding his arms against his chest as he leaned back. He gave me a rather skeptical look as if he was about to ask questions but thought against it. His grey eyes traveled down my lunch before he pointed at it. I concluded then that he was too polite. “Mashed potatoes,” I supplied as I scooped another spoonful. “They’re edible.” “Is that all you’re going to eat?” He overrode my statement. “Well, it’s part of my diet,” I returned his look of skepticism. “How about you? Lunch?” “Not hungry,” he moved his gaze back to the CD case. Something seemed to be bothering him, but I felt as if it was not in my place to intrude. He picked the CD up and inspected it. “Do you really listen to Bach? Or is this your way of trying to get to me?” I nearly choked. That statement was both true and false but the extent for both polarities was still to be determined. Weighing them, I decided that there was more truth in it than I wanted there to be. “What makes you think of that?” I made it a point to look straight into his eyes. No, I will not be caught lying. He released the case, hands moving towards his face as his point finger touched the very center of his forehead. “Everyone knows the stigma I carry. That is why no one comes close to me. You’re not entirely new here Mr. Garnet and I doubt you aren’t privy with Mr. Jacobson. You of all people should know what mark your fraternity has given me.” Mark? What is he talking about? I thought for a while, my brows knotting. “Though it is true that I am not new to this University, I can only sadly say that I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Are you insinuating that I’m plotting something against you?” I reached for the opened case, placing the CD carefully back to its original place. Closing the case, I gently pushed it towards him. “If what you have for me are mere suspicions then I suppose my interest in that ends here.” The man. The boy. The idiot. Laughed. He…laughed. Let me get back to you on that after I re-attach my jaw mentally. I’ve deduced that an hour was not even enough to bring me back to equilibrium. He was crouched over, hugging his infernally small waist with one of his hands fisted, hitting the table as gently as he could. Wait a minute, I have never met someone with that small a waist. “What’s…what’s so funny?” I demanded, getting irked. As if the prompt brought him back to Sanity, he turned his gaze back to me. His eyes wide and teary “I like you already.” He seemed rather pleased. I’m in deep shit, aren’t I? Chapter 04: Uncomplicated

I woke up feverish and drastic for air as if the bed underneath me turned into my watery grave. It was only five in the morning; too early for nightmares. I replaced my alarm clock under my pillow and dropped back to bed, but I found myself unable to drift back to sleep. His peculiar choice of words sent shivers down my spine. Somehow, it was rather anticlimactic. ..I like you already… “Ah! That irritating smile… It’s mocking me all day!” I bolted out of my bed annoyed by the resonating sound of his laugh. “Mock me, will you?” I grumbled as I decided to wash my face. “When this week’s over I’ll make sure to damage that pretty face of yours severely even if I go to jail!” I nearly screamed as I splashed water all over my face. In the end, that oath came back to me in the form of sniffles. In no manner did I know that five a.m. water was that freezing. “Hey Rye, you don’t look so good,” Larry commented as I took the seat across him on the lounge. I nodded, not intending to offer any explanation as I placed a handkerchief over my nose. “Something happened?” he pried. Somehow, his tone sounded rather worried. “Colds,” was my curt answer as I bellowed an ‘achoo!.’ The blond, sadistic man laughed. “Just now, you sounded like a dainty woman!” That was the last straw. Not only did I have to contend with Richards’ mockery, I have to identify with this idiot who for the love of him can’t even sympathize with my position. I stood up, grabbed him by the collar. I wanted to vent this pent up frustration and anxiety! “What? Can’t do it?” I had to pause. My nose was itchy and I wanted to… sneeze. “Rye you bastard! Don’t get any of your snot on my face!” He pushed me away as he grabbed for his handkerchief and wiped his face. “That was extremely disgusting you ass!” It was my turn to laugh, but in between sniffling. “Your fault you barracuda.” “Oh, it’s my fault now? And I just shaved you ingrate,” Larry stood up and sighed, “I’m going to the bathroom.” But before he motioned to leave he paused and asked, “Well, how’s your mission?” I made a small wave. I was in no mood to discuss that with him right now. “Why don’t you wipe your face? It has my bacteria swarming on it.” “Haha… Funny joke, Garnet,” But he left anyway. That was the aim. I slumped against the couch. This was just not my day at all. Contented sighs escaped my classmates’ chests as they received their marks on the previous tests. I gave my test paper a bit of a shake. Getting an A plus for a test I didn’t study for must make me a genius of some sort. Or maybe I’m just plain lucky. I stuffed my paper back into my pocket and buried my face against my folded arms. Damn this cold. Now I can’t gloat over my victory. ****

“You don’t look too well,” Jermy remarked as I settled beside him. Against the freshly painted walls behind the locker room, my sniffles became colds. I placed my soiled handkerchief over my mouth. “I have colds, don’t come near me.” I think I even shooed him away since he looked kind of pissed afterwards. “What untoward manner of expressing gratitude,” he chided, brows knitted disapprovingly. Seriously, he is a prince. With the manner he talks and gestures. So please, good God in heaven, send me an angel to save me from both these men; the blond prince of hell and this ice emperor of doom. I am so ill, I am driven to ingratiation. “Hey Deryck, Deryck!” he called out. “Are you sick?” But his words were a faint echo from reality, whereas I was already saved by the merciful dreamless sleep. It was peaceful and in a sense, too stagnant and unmoving. I am, unfortunately, a child of the world. Always ready to seek and try new thrills. I think I even sighed. What’s life without a little thrill? It would be something pointless. Something unwanted. Something… Deryck? That familiar voice summoned me awake. It was the most angelic tone. Could it be…”Charise?” But when I woke I saw the angry face of someone who would have been the demon from my nightmares. “Who’re you calling ‘Charise’ you decrepit?” he gave me the kick of doom. The pain shot from my stomach to my ribs. “Hey, that hurts you…!” “If it hurts, you idiot then go home and rest,” he pointed at me. “If you’re sick then stay at home.” I struggled to my knees, tiredly brushing the grass off my shirt and jeans. “If I’m sick, you ought to be a little gentler on me.” I paused and luckily managed to turn away when I sneezed. I slowly stood up, reaching for my handkerchief. It was soiled with both snot and grass. I sighed inwardly. Maybe I should just go home; away from all my persecutors. “Fine. I’m going home.” I didn’t mean to sound curt, but I think it turned out that way because on my way to the hallway, a cold hand wrapped around my wrist and led me to the entrance of the school. “This way,” Jermy muttered as he led me further, towards the parking lot. “I’ll drive you home.” My jaws nearly dropped open. He was driving me…home? What was I missing? I racked my brain as he led me to the passenger seat. Did I cough on him too? Did my virus infect his frigid brain? Or is he plotting to send me to prison? “Hey, your seatbelt and your home address so I know where to drop you,” he closed the door to the driver’s seat and started the car. “Quick.” I think I dozed off after I gave him my address. I’m not quite sure how it happened but I woke up in my bed. I wanted to delude myself and say I was dreaming but the small tray of chicken soup on my bedside table was enough proof that someone had been around.

“Get well soon,” the card I picked up from the tray read. A small scribble was affixed near the edge of the card. Jerry. Chapter 05: I Care Ever found your favorite ring tone annoying? The polyphonic sound screeching through your dreamless sleep, disturbing the peaceful voicelessness of your eardrums until it bolts you awake in the foulest of mood? Yes, it would be better to throw it off and destroy the source of the untimely disturbance once and for all except that the source is quite expensive once broken. I grumbled as I reached for my phone, mustering my most genial of tones without bothering to notice the unregistered number flashing on the LCD screen. “Hello?” What the hell do you want? You’ll die in seven minutes! I scratched the back of my head languidly as I trudged towards the bathroom. “Hey, it’s Jerry. We have a project for Literature due on Friday.” “Uhm. I see. What’s it about?” I asked, I felt groggy as I leaned against the sink and reached for my toothbrush only to realize that I wasn’t feeling too well. I placed the toothbrush back in the plastic cup before my reflection caught my attention. I looked as if sleep eluded me, that I badly needed to shave, that I haven’t had a decent meal and that I’m direly in need of that shave. What a time to get sick. I sighed in both exhaustion and helplessness. “Deryck, are you listening?” the crisp tone of the voice on the other line jolted me back to the conversation. “I am. I just got distracted…” I leaned against the mirror and tried to suppress a yawn. “I feel a bit dizzy right now.” “Deryck? Are you up?” his voice sounded desperate. I swore I heard a rustling noise accompanied by the smooth noise of a well oiled engine. “Get back to bed. I’ll head by soon.” Before I could even ask what he meant by that, the call was already cut off. I shrugged. What the hell? I’m not in the mood. I set my phone into silent mode, willing prank calls away. A few minutes, I found myself on the floor. The insides of my head hurt, as if someone was forcing pins into my brain like an emery bag. I tried to stand up but found that it was harder than I thought. My vision was ridden with the virus; everything was coming out as if it doubled. I pulled myself up and hauled my body to bed. In the back of my head I was thinking how pitiful I looked, being so powerless. I fell asleep after a few minutes of moaning. I was awakened by the sweet smell of jasmines, lemon and the soft lap nestling my head. I felt a pleasant rush of warmth run through my body as a damp cool cloth brushed over my forehead. I sighed in contentment, slowly opening my eyes as I smiled at the beautiful woman cradling me close. “Hi there,” I greeted, my voice weak. “Hey there,” Charise smiled as she carefully squeezed the water out of the cloth before dabbing it gently on my forehead. “How are you feeling?” “A bit better,” I answered gruffly, attempting to sit up but she pushed me down the bed and gave me a firm squeeze on my arm.

“Rest,” she ordered firmly before she disappeared into the kitchen. Perhaps it was only a sick man’s dream, I thought as I leaned against my pillow. Richards could not have called. I don’t think it’s even possible for him to care for others. He’s been so isolated he’d more or less be self consumed. I turned to the side and hugged an errant pillow to my chest. Somehow, that dream bothered me. Perhaps I was expecting too much. It was nothing but a dream. I fell back asleep a few minutes later without noticing that my phone was ringing. The same unregistered number flashed on the phone’s screen. As fate would put it, everything was never as easy as a walk through the field. It seems as if the field, in how all idioms relate to it, isn’t as friendly as writers portray them to be. If omission was a sin, then those writers are well on their way to perdition. So, my walk on the field started rather silently and non-eventful; just a couple of roadblocks namely Larry and his incessant badgering about “how’s it going with you-know-who.” In retrospect, I’m starting to feel bad about the whole bet. I mean, last night, I contemplated about just telling Jermy that this entire ‘friendship’ thing was just a hoax out of Larry’s curiosity. I wish it were easy but I had to rebuff my own thoughts just because I do not want to join the ranks of Carey who was sent to jail for attempted molestation. And that was under the guise of curiosity too. Well, I wouldn’t mind if it were Larry instead of me who would be put to jail... wait, what am I thinking? My thoughts raced as I pushed the door to my classroom. For some reason, I feel guilty. I attempted to somehow shake the thought away but somehow, I found myself back tracking on the whole event as if everything depended on it. I just need to think positively. Positively for my incapacitated brain. Or something like that. Everything’s fine. I was sick, disoriented and disorganized. I would never have acted the way I did (what? Sleep over a phone call?) Okay… so I’ll just apologize for not being able to answer his call. “Mr. Garnet, about your assignment..” Jermy’s voice seemed to boom from behind him, his whole voice amplified by the sudden lack of noise in the conference room. “I’ve asked Missus Jacobson to give you a special task in lieu of your inability to pass her requirement for today.” He walked around my seat to face me. What transpired next just scared my hair off. He slammed what seemed to be two tickets onto my desk with the tone of an executioner announcing my sentence. “Tomorrow evening. Eight sharp. By the boulevard. Semi-formal wear. Do not be late.” I wanted to say something witty but failed. Miserably at that. I was so dumbfounded I couldn’t even say a word. My mouth just hung there, suspended, shocked and frizzled. I would not even dare imagine what the tickets were for but at least he had enough courtesy to ask me to wear something presentable for my own demise. “Oh,” he added as he picked up one of the tickets and hid it in one of his pockets. “My mother is coming with us. It’s a Brahms concert. She’s expecting you. So is Missus Jacobson. She wants a commentary by tomorrow.”

Of all the rebuffs I managed to direct to Larry when he attempts to overwhelm me, what came out of my once witty mouth was a simple, submissive, “All right.” Tough luck on my side. Chapter 06: Truth and Dare This has got to be the longest week I have ever experienced, I sighed as I pushed the dress shop’s door open. I had to look for the right clothes for a semi-formal occasion with the object of my unending pain and torture. Let’s not forget to add the cause of all things possible, the mother. “What will you have, Sir?” the attendant drawled as he followed me around the shop. “Something black. Dark. Grim.” I mumbled. “For a funeral, Sir?” the middle-aged man queried. “Yes, a funeral.” And thus starts the longest day of my longest week. To begin with, I feel as if I’ve been acting with futility these past days, bounding around without aim or purpose. Before this, I had no trouble taking circumstances in stride. Now, I am left with an incurable fever that is called anxiety. At times, I wished the whole week was over. At times, I wished that everything never occurred. The middle aged attendant nearly gave me a heart attack as he crept behind me with what seemed like Corpse Fashion Weekly’s monthly cover. “Will this fit your needs, Sir?” Even the attendant’s slur reminded me of the waiting area near the gates of Hell. “Do you have a black leather jacket? That’s all I really need,” I skimmed over the array of displayed clothes and wondered how formal was semi-formal, exactly. After one agonizing hour of looking for an affordable and passable get-up, I left for school to check my attendance with Missus Jacobson and rushed to the library to start my historical background on Brahms. I felt weak and utterly powerless as I lifted book after book until I settled for the net. “Hey,” a sweet feminine voice called out. I lifted my head and found Charise by the cubicle in front of mine. I smiled. “Hey.” “I’ll be out tonight. Will you be all right on your own?” She leaned on the edge of the partition, careful not to knock anything over. “I’ll be out tonight too. For a concert,” I chuckled as she raised an inquisitive brow. “It’s in lieu of my paper for a certain class.” She smiled whimsically, allowing her lips to curve into a half-smirk. She nodded absently, “Uh-huh…Just take care, okay? If you think you need me, just call. I’ll pick you up right away.” Straightening up, she gave me her usual small wave before she left me musing in the library. Somehow I found that suggestion so

unlike her appearance. She seemed so feminine to act so decisive. Then again that may just be my male pride talking. I glanced at my watch and wondered when the short hand will strike ten. I wanted this night to be over. Besides, it couldn’t be that bad, can it? It’s merely watching a concert. After that, I can rest easy. With the tickets in my pocket, I ventured to the back locker to find some peace of mind. It was still three-forty five. Enough time to roam around before donning up the ridiculous outfit I rented from the dress shop. “Feeling better?” Was Jermy’s greeting when I found him behind the locker room. He was wearing a suede coat instead of a parka, back hunched to the wall with his mp3 headphones capriciously hanging around his neck. The music was blaring which allowed me to listen to what was more like a techno-beat with indecipherable lyrics. “Yeah.” I sat some few feet away from him, crouching hesitantly at first. I was afraid that he was insulted by my overlooking his phone calls. “That’s good.” He replied curtly, shoving his hands to his pockets. “You know Carey, right?” “I’ve heard of him. But I never got to meet him.” A conversation? Maybe I was just being too full of myself. He couldn’t have been pushed to anger just because I ignored his calls. “You’ve heard what happened, right?” He turned to face me. “That he was placed in jail for a year of probation.” Carey tried to mess with him… he went out to pester Richards. A week after that we heard that Carey was sued for verbal abuse and was actually detained in prison. “I remember. Larry—He told me about it.” “He’s out of jail. He was finally released yesterday.” I felt my heart skip a beat. A strong nausea came over me before I could reel myself back to focus. I felt somehow…protective of him, in that odd sense. “He’s my best friend.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t understand. “Your best friend?” “He was caught with charges of marijuana possession. And I can’t blame him.” He let out a tired sigh as he leaned into the wall. “We’ve been together since first grade. Someone tipped him off. He wasn’t the happiest of people.” I nodded absently. I was confused. Jermy said one thing and Larry, another. I’ve only met this Carey person indirectly and I never had a chance to talk to him. I never really cared. But suddenly, I found myself rolled into this mess because of a simple dare. Is Larry trying to teach me something or is he attempting to deface me? I couldn’t catch what he was saying anymore. I could vaguely remember him inviting me to a nearby diner to grab something to eat. He was already on his feet when I realized what he said. “Come on. Let’s get something to eat.” The brunet commanded as he walked back inside. I scrambled to my feet, still contemplating the shock of what I’ve heard. My heart felt like it was being stabbed by a thousand needles. I was lied at. I didn’t know everything. I followed him to the parking lot, silently wondering what I have been doing all this time.

All my dread left me as I entered the brightly lit diner. It felt surreal, if not utterly unreal. Was I progressing? Were we just confiding to each other? What the hell am I doing? We sat around a U shaped seat by the window where, after a few minutes, a tall blond man tapped on the glass to call our attention. He mouthed something which Jermy nodded at. He even smiled. I felt utterly lost. “Jerry!” the blond man hugged Jermy when he found his way in the diner. He was rather skinny and wore tight clothes; his pack of cigarettes peeking from his back pocket. “S’been ages! Ah, this is Rye?” He gave me a once over and chuckled. “He looks gay. Or someone who’s going there. What with his obviously angry expression right there. Might you be jealous?” And then he laughed before he reached for my hand. “No offense. Just me. Carey. Nice to meet you.” I had no choice but to comply though I was admittedly taken aback by what he just suggested about my sexuality. “Deryck or you can just stick with Rye.” “Rye, then.” The blond grinned. “So, what’s up with you, Jer?” he turned to the silent brunet who was regarding us with passive scrutiny. “Been up to anything much?” The waitress gave us complimentary coffee. It seemed as if the two of them are regulars at this place. I smiled at the waitress and silently thanked her. I looked at the two as they continued their conversation, heavily wondering what I was doing, listening in on their conversation. I sipped some of the brewed coffee, looking away. And I’m not gay. For chrissake I have a girlfriend and I’m not scared to prove it. He pushed his hair back and shook his head, “Nothing. There isn’t much to do. Deryck will be accompanying us to the concert tonight. I just wanted to introduce the two if you. Since both of you needed it. It seems that a friend of his insinuated that you were gay.” He casually tilted his head towards me. Carey raised a brow. “What if I am? At least I’m not blaming others for my own sexuality.” I choked. Larry’s gay? “Yep. That’s what no one knows about. I’m openly bisexual and I do admit to sleeping around…” he caught himself as the brunet jabbed his elbow to his rib. “All right. I’m done with my exploits. Anyway, if you asked me about it, he’s willing to do anything to know that someone in his proximity is gay.” “I just wanted to clear that idea up, Deryck. I haven’t been passively accepting his insults, if that is what you think,” Jermy casually picked up the coffee cup. He made a small gesture before he tapped his fingers on the table to call my attention. “If I were you, I would do what is logically correct.” This was another side of Jermy. He wasn’t exactly the silent awkward type I’ve always thought him to be. “Anyway, have you prepared for this evening?” Carey called the waitress and was ordering a ton of things. The waitress merely giggled. “Yes, I have.---“ “What will you have Rye?"--“Anything will do.” I turned to Jermy again, “It’s at eight sharp right?” Carey mimicked my order. The waitress giggled again as she took it down.

“I’ll have a strawberry parfait,” Jermy retorted curtly at Carey’s inquiry before he turned his attention back to me. “My mother wants to have dinner with us. If you don’t mind, we’ll be meeting at six before the concert.” I absently nodded without fully absorbing the detail. There was too much shock, not to mention that there were no in-betweens. “We’ll meet at six sharp, then. By where?” I reiterated to retain the information. I wasn’t sure if I was listening anymore. Jermy was pensive for a while. I’ve always wondered how he can keep his face expressionless. “Just by the Boulevard. I think we’ll be eating at Eureka Kline’s.” I nodded. Well, he was well off and Eureka Kline was a just venue for dinner with someone who is as wealthy as Jermy Richards. And I’m not gay. Larry’s not gay. What is that “Carey” implying? I find the whole idea absurd. And I’m not angry. My brows knotted. I’m indignant. I placed the cup on the table and crossed my arms against my chest. Leaning back, I gave a small sigh and replied, “At six, by the boulevard.” The blond man finally dismissed the waitress he was flirting with and turned his attention back to us. “A date?” I wanted to punch the man. “Yes, as a matter of fact it is, Carey.” Jermy didn’t help the situation any. Has he no heart? The guy was labeling me as gay! “Thought so. Ophelia there?” The brunet sipped his coffee gingerly before he answered. “Yes, she is. Would you be interested to come?” He placed his cup gently back on the table. “It’s Brahms’ concerto after dinner.” The blond man made a face and I have to admit, he looked quite charming if you paid enough attention to his face. It’s just that his hair gets in the way most of the time you try to look at him. I looked away when his eyes regarded me with faint amusement. Like hell he’s going to think I’m checking him out. I can’t even look at someone politely and in peace. “Maybe. If Aunt Ophelia would finally consent to watching Metallica live shows with us, why not?” he quipped, glaring at his coffee. “Not to mention how bad rehab was…all those praise and worship songs were driving me crazy.” Jermy laughed. He covered his mouth and simply laughed. “Reminds me,” he paused to catch his breath. “Reminds me of that time Sylvia asked you out in spite. You told her you wanted to go to Underground to listen to Kiss being remade.” Carey gave me a sheepish look. “Sorry. Sylvia was Jermy’s fourth ex-girlfriend.” He turned to Jermy and mimicked a woman’s reaction to ‘let’s watch a re-make of some weird band spewing nonsense.’ Jermy was laughing merrily and I was left stunned as I gawked helplessly at the two of them imitating Kiss. Jermy had four girlfriends? “That was when we were in secondary,” Jerry gave the blond a funny look. “I can’t believe you still remember.”

It was refreshing to see Jermy’s other side. He wasn’t so icy or cold or anything else I’ve been lead to believe. Perhaps, if I met him before this dare, we would have been good friends. I leaned back and regarded them silently. We would have, wouldn’t we? Absently, I stood up. “I better get going,” I muttered as I gave both of them a small wave. Somehow, that last thought worried me and I felt like an interloper while they were having such a good time catching up. I made my way back to my apartment, trying to clear my mind. While turning the keys to my room I finally decided that whatever Carey said about Larry should wait until I tell Larry that the deal is off. I can’t take it anymore. “I need a shower.” Some hours later I found myself leaning against the wall, waiting for Jermy and his mother. I felt overly conscious with what I wore; a white long sleeve tucked in tight black leather pants with a black long cotton overcoat over my right forearm. The night breeze was ironically absent which made the whole evening feel humid. It felt like rain. And I slicked my hair back and borrowed knee high buckled boots too. I sighed tiredly and turned to look at the encased posters mounted beside me. I felt odd. I looked so formal yet so casual at the same time. I wanted to laugh at myself but instead I opted to read the poster’s details. In my haste to get the night over with, I didn’t realize I was an hour early from our meeting. I thought to myself as my eyes roamed around the two-by-five meter poster that what I was doing was absurd and that it was something I shouldn’t have taken up in the first place. Besides, if Carey was indeed telling the truth then it would explain why he is interested in Jermy. If that’s the case, he’s using me to make Jermy gay. I shook my head to tear the thought away. What was I alluding to? A contagious disease? Up until now I never really cared about homosexuals. They were… a menace to society. It made the whole system dysfunctional. I sighed inwardly. Right now, it’s enough that I have established my friendship with him. “Hey, you’re early,” a heavy hand on my shoulder jolted me out of my thoughts. And there I was, being brainwashed by mere suggestion. I turned and regarded him with a nod. “You left abruptly. Did we offend you?” His tone was surprisingly soft and concerned. “No,” I replied. “I wasn’t feeling too well.” He looked at me pensively. I was a little taller than him that he had to look up. “Maybe we should cancel this concert. Would you want me to give you a compact of the line up instead? It’s not exactly the concert but it’s the same piece line up and arrangement.” I stared at him. I found it rather odd, how he was so different from the Jermy I met five days ago. “Deryck? Are you listening?” Maybe I’m still sick…but what the hell. One kiss won’t kill me. And I leaned in and kissed him.

Chapter 07: Sky-gazer His grey eyes turned cold. I pulled back and shook my head, about to say something. But I kept my voice muted until the throng ebbed. And there she was. Standing still on the other side of the road, hands clasped over her mouth and tears streaming down her cheeks. And I couldn’t care less. I looked up to examine the sky as the clouds covered the streaming light. I’ve only been hanging out here for a couple of days but I feel like I’ve always been here, all my life. The huge open space outside of the locker room made me feel uneasy at first, but it may have been just my own inhibitions that dictated those feelings. I closed my eyes as I allowed myself the indulgence of the fresh scent of grass. The earth was warm and it made the air feel gentle against my skin. Charise’s face simply would not leave me. It haunted me even in my sleep. It made me feel inexonerably guilty. And how I managed to carry the kiss as if it never happened made me feel rather at peace. It didn’t happen, did it? I sighed contentedly, feeling horrible by the second. How could I feel so content when I hurt my own girlfriend by accepting something out of male pride? Was I becoming too desperate to preserve myself? “Have I become as despicable as Larry?” “Indeed.” The voice jolted me out of my reverie. It made me bolt up and sit. He didn’t even give me enough time to register who he was when he grabbed me by the collar and connected his large fist to my stomach. I dropped like a sack, crouching and stunned as he pulled my head up by the hair. It was Carey. “Listen,” His voice was calm. “I’m not exactly the stupid type. But I know what your kind is like and it’s something that reeks out from Larry’s closet. And I won’t repeat it so listen carefully.” He tugged my hair hard, directing all his anger towards his hand as he pulled my face closer to his. “If Larry tries to do anything to Jerry again, I won’t stop at castrating him. I’ll break his bones.” He threw me to the ground and placed his shoe over my face. “You disappoint me, Deryck. And I thought you genuinely liked Jerry as a friend. I misjudged you.” He pushed his heel against my face and kicked me soundly in the stomach. I crouched against the pain. But I felt numb. In truth, I felt nothing. He crouched right in front of my vision, pulling my head up by the hair. “Let me give you a piece of advice, kid. If you’re going to try to embarrass Jerry in public, don’t jump in the gutter as well. Do it discreetly. Like what your leader did. And oh, your girlfriend was watching.” He dropped my head so suddenly I felt my neck snap when my forehead hit the ground. It took me a while before I recovered from the physical onslaught. My mind yet again in cold pieces, I struggled up to my knees, rubbing the sore parts of my body. I realized then that there was so much in the bet that I didn’t consider. There was so much I allowed for the sake of my so-called pride. I faltered and fell back on the grass as I attempted to stand. My knees felt weak. It shook unbearably. And he never came.

I managed to find an ice pack and placed it over my face. I was somehow glad that I managed to find my way to the student’s lounge without too many encounters. Sighing, I leaned against the back rest and felt even more guilty. And oh, your girlfriend was watching. The words were slurred in my ears. A snake, I decided, was hissing those words over and over in my end. I was losing it. I kissed Jermy Richards. And I allowed myself to be used. “Man, that looks nasty,” Larry’s voice was ordinary yet easy to catch. My brows involuntarily twitched at the sound of his voice. “What happened?” “Carey’s back in town.” I answered silently as I lifted the ice pack to look at him. He was unmoved and unimpressed. “I talked to him. He told me you were bullying Jermy. And that you’re gay.” The blond merely laughed. “Are you saying you believe him?” His expression changed upon realizing the meaning behind the absence of a response. “You actually believe him, don’t you?” A worked up Larry only meant one thing. “You actually believe his marijuana-crazed fantasies?” As my experience with him taught me. “I have half the mind to think you framed him, Jacobson,” I commented silently, pressing the compress against my throbbing lip. He glared at me indignantly, “YOU BELIEVE HIM?!” I closed my eyes. I felt cheated suddenly. Angry. “At this point, I don’t know who to believe.” “So you think I’m some sort of freak?! You think I’m a FAG?” My eyes flew open and all I saw was Larry’s panicked face; beads of sweat were gliding down his cheek, the veins on his temples were throbbing and his eyes were wide open. I gently placed the cold compress on the table that separated the two of us and shoved my hands into my pockets as I rounded the table to face him. I wanted him to be able to notice that I was there and that I was as much a witness as the silent walls and sofa-seats that were arranged around us. But it took me a while to look at him. It took me forever to get over the anger and the pain. “Clarence Jacobson. Tell me, were you using me all this time to confirm if Jermy Richards was gay?” It amounted to that much. I knew him to be calculating but I never expected him to approach it in such a subtle manner. To have used my one vulnerability as an asset to his cause made me feel sick. He gave me an incredulous look. He was about to deny everything. He was about to tell me that I was foolish enough to take him up on his dare. That it was my fault. That I was responsible for my actions. That I was an adult. That I knew what I was doing. That I intentionally hurt Jermy. That it was of my own accord to hurt him.

It’s easily broken, you know? That silly white thread. Larry found himself pummeled to the marble floor, blood painting lacquered grey. The sky looked so blue today. It was a pity I never noticed how beautiful it was until now. It made me wish I never had this male pride to begin with. But I was hardly content. There was so much that physical satisfaction cannot give you. But the shivers, at least, left me. I felt vulnerable and sick of being so empty when just a while ago, I felt an indescribable rage. My stomach crunched. I expected to see blood as I released the pressure from my stomach. Empty vomit. My hands felt shaky against my bruised lips. I turned the faucet off and felt the wrenching once again. Empty vomit. The dry wound on my upper lip left me speechless as soon as the impact caught me. I did not expect anything out from it. But I had to do it anyway. That kiss. It was on impulse. I looked up at my reflection and laughed as I sagged against the lavatory. I’m ten-folds a fool. Because I allowed myself to be confused. Although all my thoughts were muddled at that time, when the realization hit me, I felt as if I lost my momentum. I kissed him in front of Charise. And I didn’t even notice. Or even bothered to notice. And her tears. They brought my warm senses to numb. I leaned against the tiled wall, gingerly pressing my fingers against my lower lip. “I did the unthinkable.” I fell in love. With Jermy Richards. Chapter 08: A formula out of torment It started with a kiss and granted it never really ended there. But what I had then were my petty sentiments. I never really wished to grasp anything when I sealed that bargain. It reminded me of a contract with the devil. Remembering that made me sick to the stomach. It made me realize how blinded by my own dignity I was. I am a sick and lowly creature. I want to disappear. “So…That incident…means…” she choked, head bowed low. People passed by us, momentarily looking our way before snapping their attention back to the polished hallway floor. The locker-doors slam shut and the hubbub of the incoming fourth period accumulated within the empty space. Her choking breathing made

my heart ache. If I had the choice, I would lie. But in lying, I am only digging her grave deeper. I wanted to hold her, tell her she’ll be all right but I couldn’t bring myself to. I didn’t want her to be embraced by my shallow self. “I’m sorry.” It wrenched my heart but I am powerless against the truth. “I…” Please, slap me. Hate me. Abhor me. I deserve it. But please, do not cry. “So…everything was…” her hands were small, barely even able to cover my face. And I hardly even noticed. I can notice now, how she has heard my silent plea. She was being strong and it broke my heart to do this. “…a lie…” she choked again, a stray tear slipping down her cheeks. “How many times…have you…” she attempted to smile but ended swaying against me, clinging to my clothes as she buried her face against my chest. “…lied to me..?” “When I said I loved you.” Slap me, darling. I deserve it. “Oh...” At that very moment, I felt the insane urge to hold her tight but instead, I let her go. But at the most crucial moment, someone bumped against me and darted away before I realized it was Jermy. “Charise…I…” my mind was a confused mass of apologies. I wanted to apologize to Charise but I also wanted to apologize to Jermy, for everything I have done. When I returned my attention to the crying lady in front of me, she had a sad smile on her face. Her hands were dangled helplessly at her side, “Go.” I hugged her impulsively before I ran after Jermy. My heart raced at the thought, both in anxiety and in fear of what he might be thinking. “Jermy!” He rounded the entryway to the parking lot, finally catching him as he was about get in his car. “Jermy! Wait!” I lunged onto his car’s hood. “Let me explain…” The brunet got out of his car and leaned his elbow against the roof, regarding me steadily. “Explain what?” I tried to catch my breath, wondering what I was saying or what I should be saying. “About…” “—the kiss? Don’t bother about it.” He said offhandedly, and that hurt me. I shook my head. “I want to apologize, regardless.” “I’m hearing you out.” He retorted, matter-of-factly. And I couldn’t help but notice how cold his demeanor was. And somehow, I felt as if my heart bled. I bowed my head, unable to tell him what I was meaning to say. Even until that point, after all the rehearsals, I could not bring myself to even whisper those words. All that came out of my mouth were a string of meaningless apologies. “I know.” Was his final decree. “I didn’t allow you to befriend me without knowing your real intentions, Deryck. But you proved to be more malleable than heated steel.” He laughed ironically, “Sometimes, I wished you weren’t so dense.” At that remark, he placed a hand over his mouth. He made an effort to look away, it seemed but I wasn’t quite sure if I was imagining things. “Anything else?” His voice sounded deeper, with his mouth being covered.

I bowed my head. “No, I’m sorry for wasting your time.” I turned around, weary-hearted and I didn’t want to turn back. Ironically, it was Carey who found me by the back of the locker room. I didn’t even have the chance to cry out my rejected feelings. But I never expected him to even mutter a word to me after what happened four days ago. I flinched as he sat beside me. “How’s your stomach?” “It’s fine,” I answered curtly. “Your kick hurt me pretty bad. I thought I was really heading for internal hemorrhaging.” He laughed and gave me a small pat on the shoulder. “I guess I was being a bastard.” “You sure were.” I didn’t have the decency to lie. “But you had a worthy cause.” “I sure had.” Now we’re even. A few moments of silence ensued before he engaged me back to conversation. “Do you really like Jermy?” I nearly choked. How can I possibly answer something so straightforwardly asked? “I’m not sure,” I faltered, “…about what you’re trying to get at.” Carey chuckled. And here I was thinking that he might just pull my hair again. “I guess Larry couldn’t trick you on one thing. Your sexuality. It’s something that is inborn. But I never thought you would punch him so hard. He went straight to the ICU. You saved me a lot of trouble, you know. Thanks, buddy.” He snaked his arms around my shoulder and gave me a quick hug. I didn’t know whether to turn pale or to be happy I appeased his greater reason. “Uh... you’re welcome?” “Great!” he exclaimed quite merrily as he tapped his free hand to his side. “That means I can count on you to do the dirty work, eh?” You have got to be kidding me. I remained silent, lest I anger the heathen god. After a pause of merriment, he retrieved his hand and rested it on his lap as he leaned against the white-washed wall. “You know, I feel rather angry about the whole incident and I really owe you an apology for everything,” he sighed as he pulled out a cigarette stick from his back pocket. He placed the butt between his lips, “You have a light?” I shook my head. “I left it at home.” “Are you inviting me over?” he teased as he reached for his lighter. Coincidently, it was on his breast pocket. I made a face at him which he shrugged off. “I’m kidding. On the topic, I’m sorry. You’re just an unwilling piece in all the conspiracy Larry and I have been up to these past four years.” He puffed white smoke from his mouth. “All these years, since we first met, Larry and I have been up to no good. We’ve been pushing a lot of people around. It was only when he tried to corner Jermy that I came to my senses.”

I listened and tried to remain silent. With an effort. I wanted to cry in indignation for whatever the hell they have been brewing. And for making me an ignorant accomplice. “Of course, it was too late. And I’m saying this because I realized everything I’ve done since my freshmen years have been a big mistake. I broke Jermy’s confidence. Larry was merely an object of it. I knew he was up to no good but I allowed him to get acquainted with Jerry. In so doing, I pre-empted Jerry’s long suffering.” “I didn’t know you were so eloquent, Carey,” I bit my lip but it didn’t stop him from hearing it. “I am. It’s just that, I got in the wrong crowd, you know?” He looked at me shyly, almost sheepish in his expression. “I left him alone. That night, by the beach when he was crying for lost confidence, I realized that his smile was more important.” He looked up, his eyes nearly tearing. “But it was too late. Although he regards me with the same empathy, I know we can never be as we were before. I’ve lost him to my ego.” “Whatever happened back then must have transformed him into his icy self. You described him to be so much brighter back in your middle school days.” “---I was a fool back then. I’ve smartened up a bit after that one year. He never stopped writing me letters. He was a friend but I disregarded him.” “It seems like it.” “Off handed comment. And you’re not making this any easier.” He chided, but the irony in his voice told me he wasn’t that offended. He was too lost in his reverie. “What I’m saying is, I wasn’t there for him when he needed me. I wasn’t able to defend him. In other words, I allowed it to happen because I knew it was going to happen. You know what I’m saying?” He had covered his face with both his hands. He was in genuine despair. “I don’t deserve his friendship.” “Neither do I.” I hesitantly reached out to pat him on the shoulder, but he shook his head. “I have no idea what your relationship between Larry was but I can assure you, I have made my point. I won’t be used.” “You already were.” “Let’s put that behind us.” I grimaced. How can he afford to make remarks like that? “In any case, what I’m trying to say is… I’m sorry for allowing the mess to continue. I certainly didn’t help. I should have done my homework before I struck the victim.” He giggled half-heartedly. “I guess this makes for a peaceful reconciliation?” I quipped, jokingly and reached for his hand. “It’s Deryck Garnet. You can call me Rye.” He held my hand in a firm grip, “Carter Hughes Anderson. You can call me Carey for short. And keep the Hughes to yourself or I’ll make a flowery re-make of what happened four days ago.” I laughed tensely. He was kidding right? “Nice to finally meet you. Properly.”

“Same here.” We stood up and gave each other a reconciliatory hug. It was refreshing to say the least and it didn’t end up with a crying session. Instead, I felt a little better. “Are you going to be looking for Jermy?” “If to apologize, yeah. I didn’t get to tell him everything.” I bowed my head as we walked back to the hallways. “You can visit him at home,” he pulled out a piece of paper and wrote what seemed to be an address. “And tell him whatever you mean by everything.” I snorted as we made our way out of the Commerce building.”Stop teasing me.” He waved the remark off. “Just remember that I’m deeply apologetic about everything. I never got to tell Jermy that. But I will when I have the courage.” He breathed in, deeply. “So, good luck to ya. You’re even lucky he allowed you to talk to him. He didn’t talk to me for a week before I got myself in jail.” I gawked. “You were the one who tipped the police?” He just smirked. “Never said Larry was the bad guy, did I?” I couldn’t believe the audacity of this man. He was not only apologetic, he was also inexonerable. We walked towards the Arts building’s cafeteria before I stopped on my tracks. I shoved my hands into my pockets. “So, is Larry really gay?” I asked off-handedly. He paused for a moment and looked at me. “Well, I never really said that he was. But it’s up to you to decide if he is.” He smirked as he spoke. “You shouldn’t worry about him being gay. You should worry about yourself.” My jaw almost dropped. “I mean, Rye. What are you doing following me to the cafeteria? Don’t you have something better to do?” He hinted. “Shoo.” I wanted to smack the guy if it weren’t for the fact that we just made peace a couple of minutes ago. “All right, all right. You didn’t have to be so defensive.” I turned on my heel and was about to head off when he called out to me. He didn’t even turn his back when he said, “And this is off the record. You-know-who was my boyfriend.” I think I tripped and fell face first on the dusty pathway.

Epilogue: I can’t quite explain the feelings that override all sense and logic. They called it “love” but such things are merely petty talk made by little children who whisper to lost dreams. What has made all of us bitter as the years grew on? I wanted to know.

The knocking sound reverberated against my eardrums. I didn’t expect Jermy’s house to be this… small. It wasn’t even a house. It was more like an apartment-type complex with a small jewelry shop, facing the street. I knocked again, my heart becoming more anxious. After what seemed to be an eternity, the doors creaked open and Jermy stood there, eyebrows raised inquisitively. “May I come in?” I heard myself squeak. “For what purpose am I graced with this untimely visit?” he mocked. His grey eyes were bitingly piercing for someone whom Carey described as warm. “Just a greeting. And why are you speaking so formally?” “Come in.” his tone was curt as he led me inside. The interior of his apartment was surprisingly warm and bright. The foyer was empty but the walls were well decorated with musky colored wallpaper. He walked me to the living room, which was surprisingly full and topsy-turvy. Boxes and strings were scattered everywhere, even scissors and threads came out from their hiding places when the fire from the hearth flickered. The living room was so homey and yet so dangerous to be in. “Take a seat..ah.. not there.” He gestured to the only one-seater Victorian styled chair beside the hearth. “It’s un-used.” I obliged quickly. I didn’t like needles at all. I felt as if I was in a witch’s cove. My hair was ready to stand on end. “What are all these for?” “Strings... for the pearls I inherited from my great grandmother.” He picked up one stray box and held it to the light as he opened it. The pearls glistened. They were colored black. They reminded me of onyxes. “Are you making them into jewelry?” “No. I’m making a long string for them. To keep them somewhere safe and away from my mother who would otherwise sell them if they hadn’t been strung already.” Oh. “Oh.” I felt…dumb. “Enough of my past time. What is your motive?” “You make me sound like a criminal…” I bowed my head. “I apologize. But, what made you visit me? Carey?” So Carey was a ‘what’ now… Is he naturally this unforgiving? It’s understandable though. I can’t blame him. “Partly, yes. But I’m not here to dwell on the past.” He placed the box down on the low table by the telephone stand. “I’m here to apologize.” “You’ve done your part in apologizing, Deryck. I don’t think you need to do more.” His voice was quiet which made the whole visit more tense on my part. I wish he would break the mood with a joke or something. Or anything. “Just. Just let me make you understand.”

“Understand what?” “Uhm…” I faltered. “The whole bet. You were right. I was forced into it. Because before Larry gave me that dare I didn’t even know you existed. I was…happy. I was happy with my life. I finally accomplished everything I needed to get through a successful college term. I had good grades and I was able to hang out with people who were considered popular.” I paused for breath. “I never expected that all those dares Larry gave me would make me realize that in the end, none of all those things I aspired for really mattered.” After a considerable moment of silence, he picked up a pair of maroon scissors and chided, “You’re apologizing to the wrong person. You should apologize to Mr. Garnet.” I fell silent because, again, he was right. What was he doing? Staying here, talking to me about all my regrets when I could just do myself a favor and atone for my own misgivings? “I guess you’re right.” “Why doesn’t that make me feel extra special?” He hummed as he cut some strings into pairs and slipped some pearls in. “I’m not sure…” Why was he being so bitingly sarcastic? “It’s just that…uhm… I love you.” He froze. The pearl he held between his fingers slipped and fell onto the carpeted floor. “Excuse me?” “Uhm..” I stammered. “N-nothing. I was just saying something out of reason.” I looked away, drastic to place the attention somewhere else. “Uhm.. isn’t it a bit hot in this room?” He narrowed his eyes. “If you haven’t noticed, it’s quite cold here. We don’t have a heater.” “But you’re so rich. Why can’t you buy one?” “That’s because my parents are rich. I’m living alone, if you haven’t noticed.” He rolled his eyes as he knelt down to look for the stray black pearl. “Oh. It’s to your right.” “—so what about what you said just now and what you did five days ago?” he asked casually as he reached under the couch he was sitting on. I wanted to play dumb. How can I possibly tell him I fell for him within the week we knew each other? “I love you?” He froze for a mid-second and nodded. “Right.” “And what are we going to do about it?” I asked nervously, my eyes wandering around the room. I wanted to look for something to distract me from wanting to bolt out of the apartment and away from Richards. I felt his hand on my knee which grabbed my attention instantly. Of all the places, why there?! “Y-yes?” Blood rushed to my brain. Blood rushed to my brain and somewhere else. I blushed profusely.

He extended his closed fist towards me and slowly opened it. It was the lost black pearl he was looking for. I gave him a small tense smile. “Uhm…” I didn’t know how to react when it comes to Jermy. Honest. “It’s okay Deryck Garnet. I mayhaps will learn to love you.” I think I hugged him too tightly because after some minutes, he punched my stomach.

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