Chapter 2: It Wasn’t Easy
Playing basketball in a skirt wasn’t easy, so when I took my first free throw, I missed.
“Oops, bad start,” Jake reacted, catching the ball. He stood under the basket and started dribbling. “What’s your full name?”
Haha. Looks like this guy lacked imagination. “Margaret Ann Altamirano,” I answered. “Your turn.”
He grinned, showing a perfect set of white teeth. I caught my breath at how gorgeous his smile was. If only he did that more often. He always wore a scowl on his face, as if moving the muscles near his lips was too hard for him.
Speaking of lips…
Don’t stare, Marge, I warned myself.
He went to the charity line and took a shot. Swish! It sank neatly into the basket. Then, he chased the ball without any effort before it could bounce twice–rules say it shouldn’t bounce twice after making the free throw or you’ll miss your turn–and rifled a jumper. Nothing but net.
“Three-zero,” he announced, going back to the free throw area.
He scored eleven points right away. When he tried to make a jumper from an awkward position for his twelfth point, it barely touched the ring.
“Ask away,” he said, throwing the ball at me with another grin on his face.
I stared at him and thought for a minute. What do I want to know about this guy? He was so mysterious, so a lot of questions popped quickly into my mind. In an effort to be creative, though, I couldn’t pick any.
Or maybe I was just too busy thinking about how a tough-looking guy like him can turn into a softie just by smiling.
“How old are you?” was the first thing that came out of my mouth. Talk about being creative. Way to go, Marge!
Jake chuckled (another first). “Really? That’s the best question you can come up with?”
I shrugged. “It’s better than ‘What’s your full name’ or ‘What’s your favorite color.'”
He kept a smile. “Fine. I’ll answer them all,” he said. “I’m nineteen. Took a year off before I transferred here in Luna East. Stupid K-12 program. I should have been in college by now.”
He spun the ball with the tip of his finger for a few seconds, and then caught it with both hands. “My full name’s Jacob Noah Madrigal–”
He threw his head back with a soft laugh when he saw the surprised expression on my face. “I know, it doesn’t fit me, right? It sounded too holy… too biblical. But my mom loved that name.” His face brightened at the mention of his mom.
“And your favorite color?”
He was so mysterious, so a lot of questions popped quickly into my mind. In an effort to be creative, though, I couldn’t pick any.
Or maybe I was just too busy thinking about how a tough-looking guy like him can turn into a softie by just smiling.
His forehead wrinkled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, come on. You always wear those fitted black shirt, dark jeans and leather boots every ‘Wash Day Tuesday,'” I said, referring to the first Tuesday of the month where students were allowed to wear casual clothes instead of the prescribed school uniform.
A corner of his lip curled up as he passed the ball to me. “So, you’ve noticed.”
Oh my god, was he flirting? I tried not to look affected, but the way I felt my cheeks get hot told me I didn’t succeed.
I cleared my throat. “It isn’t hard to spot an all-black outfit in the crowd,” I said in defense and dribbled my way to the free throw line.
I focused on the game the way I always did during interschool football matches, hoping it will help me from getting distracted at his charm. I was a striker on the football team; scoring goals using my feet should be no different from using my hands.
I found a technique right away and immediately trimmed my deficit. But as I gunned for my eleventh point, I had to scramble for possession. I managed to seize the ball after I missed my free throw, but only after it rebounded twice on the floor.
“Sorry, my turn. Eleven-nine,” Jake announced, taking the leather from my hands. I got a sniff of his cologne–musky and intoxicating, the kind that reminded me of a seductive perfume ad on a magazine–combined with cigarette smoke. So, he smokes, I mused. It wasn’t surprising, judging by his traditional you-don’t-wanna-mess-with-me smirk and all-black fashion style.
“Sorry, what?” I was distracted by his smell that I didn’t hear his question.
“I said, what’s your number?”
I was standing so close to him that I had to pull my head away to get a better look of his face. The way I measured up in front of him–I am five-foot-ten–told me that he must be six-foot-two, tops. Unnatural for a Filipino teenager. He must have some foreign lineage or he might have come from a family of tall people like me.
We locked eyes at that moment, and it gave me the chance to study his features. Behind his tough-guy look were the warmest brown eyes and thickest eyelashes I’ve ever seen. A sprinkle of freckles dusted the bridge of his pointed nose, but it only looked noticeable if you peered at him closely. And his lips. I didn’t want to start with those lips; they were too inviting. Instead, I focused on his cleft chin, his strong jaw, and his sharp Adam’s apple.
I blinked and broke away from the spell of his oh so handsome tanned face. “Whoa, not so fast there, buddy,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant as I took a few steps away from him.
“Fine. I’ll look you up on Facebook, then.”
“You have Facebook?”
He looked at me as if I had grown another head. “What do you think am I, a hermit?”
I gave him a sheepish smile. “Sorry. You don’t look like the friendly type of guy.” It was true. I might have noticed him a few times over the last two years and I’ve never seen him hang out with anyone.
“I’m not friendly,” he said. Then, before giving me again one of those knee-buckling smiles, he added. “Until today.”