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Clara Romance

 

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Chapter 3: What Happened To You?

We struggled with our free throws after that. Rather, I struggled. I was pretty sure that he was deliberately missing his shots so I could have my turn and I would miss and he would fill me in with more questions. He asked me about my favorite football teams (Real Madrid and Manchester United, duh), favorite football players (Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi, and Didier Drogba), and which team I rooted for during the previous FIFA World Cup (Spain). He was so amused by my passion for football that he let me babble on and on about the sport.

“I was surprised you didn’t pick David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo as your favorite players,” he observed.

“You should have asked who my favorite football hotties are,” I joked. “And I will gladly include both of them. Plus, Iker Casillas and Gerard Pique and Fabio Cannavaro and Yoann Gourcuff… Well, I have a long list.”

His mouth twitched. “I can see that.”

I found myself sharing personal things to him even though we had stopped playing: about my cool parents and my three crazy older brothers, my ultimate dream of watching a live World Cup match, and how awkward it felt when students started noticing me in the hallways after I won the Most Valuable Player plum in the interschool league for the first time last season. He didn’t interrupt my ramblings as he listened attentively.

“You’re a really good football player,” he said when I stopped chattering about my plans of getting an athletic scholarship in college.

I lifted an eyebrow at him. “You’re not pulling my leg, are you?”

He let out a soft laugh. “No, of course not. I watched that match against Preston High where you made a hat trick. That was impressive.”

He really knew how to make me blush. That was impressive. “Thanks,” I mumbled.

He was so interested in my life that he asked me more about myself: my favorite things to do, what excites me most aside from football, who are my friends, and what I thought about the teachers and the after-school activities in Luna East. He said he didn’t join any clubs in school, and that he spends most of his free time at the library (sleeping, not reading) and at the back of the Student Center.

“Odette Belmonte and I shared a stick or two once at the back of the Student Center. I’m surprised that she smokes,” he said. “So, you’re friends with her.”

“Yup. She’s nice.”

“And Carly Gonzaga, the library assistant. She always wakes me up when I snore too loudly at the library,” he shared.

I chuckled. “Yeah, that’s Carly.”

In return, I also asked personal stuff about him and he didn’t mind answering them. I learned that he was one-fourth Australian (his maternal grandfather is from Sydney), he has a Golden Retriever he calls Hafeez (a Muslim name meaning “protector”), he loved boxing and mixed martial arts (the latter, just recently, to help him channel his aggression), and he has two older sisters living in Melbourne and Perth. He also said he loved to sketch. He once considered joining the art club, but he changed his mind because the last time he drew something was four years ago.

“It was a tribal design,” he told me. “I had it tattooed on my back recently.”

“You have a tattoo?” Why was I surprised?

“Yeah, I got three. Wanna see?” He didn’t wait for my reply. He tossed the ball to the floor, took off his vest and started unbuttoning his polo shirt.

“No, it’s okay. You don’t have to…” I raised my hands in a hurry, but it was too late. He was already peeling off his shirt.

I swallowed hard as I felt my pulse quicken. My eyes trailed from his broad shoulders, to his chest, to his abs. How in the world can a nineteen-year-old get a hot body like that?

He turned his back at me, glanced over his shoulder and tried to show me that tribal tattoo on his shoulder blades. He said he was inspired to make his own tattoo design after getting a henna tattoo during one of his family’s summer trips in Boracay. I observed that the design was professional-looking. He seemed really good with his hands.

“Oh yeah, I see it. Cool.” I nodded, trying not to get distracted by his half-nakedness.

He turned around and faced me–which was worse because I couldn’t stop gawking at his chest. I held my breath as he showed me his two other tattoos: a Chinese character near his heart and a sun on his right torso as a sign of his love for the beach.

Those are really fine abs, I thought to myself. I wonder how many crunches he does everyday.

“A hundred. At least,” he answered, flashing me another flirty smile as he started buttoning up his shirt.

Oh my god, I can’t believe I had said that out loud.

We went back to the game and kept tabs on our scores. After I missed a jumper and he asked me about what I do on weekends (hang out with Carly, watch my favorite TV shows, and sleep all afternoon), he dribbled back to the charity line. He was going for the clincher–the score was nineteen-eighteen in his favor and he needed only a free throw to win–but he missed.

“What happened to you at your previous school?” I asked casually.

A shadow passed over his face, like I had opened up a touchy subject.

“You know what, never mind.” I waved my hand in the air. “I’ll ask about your favorite band instead.”

He stared at me with a clenched jaw before he relaxed and sighed. “No, that’s okay. I’ll answer your previous question.”

“You don’t have to, Jake…”

“But I want to,” he insisted, resting his hands inside his pockets. “I got kicked out for almost killing my classmate.”

My eyes widened. Did I hear him right?

“It wasn’t like I intentionally want to kill him,” he explained. “I’ve always been a troublemaker in school. One day, he and his two friends cornered me behind our school building. I’m really into boxing–well, you know that already–and in the end, I just lost it there, you know? I went home like I had been run over by a truck: broken ribs, lost tooth, blackeyes… His two cohorts chickened out when they realized I could take care all three of them, so it was just him and me in the end. He spent a few days at the ICU.”

I gasped, covering my mouth with my hand.

“Yeah, I’m a horrible person, am I?” He said with a small, sad smile.

“But they just provoked you,” I reasoned out. “I mean, I know you’re not a bad guy.”

He took a step closer to me, searching my eyes. “You really think I’m not a bad guy? That wasn’t how you looked at me at the parking lot during prom night.”

I averted my eyes at him, blush creeping across my cheeks as I remembered the dim lot and what happened that night.

“That’s okay.” He took a step back. “Most students here think I’m a badass. Couldn’t blame them. As I’ve said, I’m not really friendly until now.”

He took a step closer to me, searching my eyes. “You really think I’m not a bad guy? That wasn’t how you looked at me at the parking lot during prom night.”

I wanted to tell him that his badass reputation was a compliment. Some girls, particularly the Elites, dig it.

“But why? Why did you do that to your classmate?”

He turned at the other end of the court with a faraway look on his eyes. “They didn’t like me from the start because I was different. I was never bothered about it until…” His voice trailed off. “Until my mom died. When she passed away, I was just angry all the time.”

I wasn’t expecting that.

“It was just so unfair. I kept asking why my mom had to get cancer and suffer and die. She was a good mom. She deserved to live longer than a lot of people,” he continued.

I caught a big lump in my throat. It surprised me because I have only known him for less than an hour and I was beginning to get affected by what happened to him and his family.

“Jake…” I reached out for his hand. He didn’t protest and gripped it tightly.

“Don’t worry, it happened four years ago.” He assured me with a thin smile. “But it sucks big time, you know. I won’t be able to say the word ‘Mom’ anymore. Like, ‘I love you, Mom’ or ‘I’m sorry, Mom.'”

He glanced at me and pressed a hand to his left chest. “That’s why I have this tattoo of a Chinese character near my heart. It stands for ‘mother’.”

He looked away and traced the back of my hand with his thumb absentmindedly. It distracted me for a second, but I looked back at his sad face.

“I’m so sorry,” was all I could say to console him.

He forced a smile and straightened up. “Anyway, the parents of this jackass whom I sent to the ICU didn’t sue because they knew their stupid son and his friends started the fight. And I was in bad shape myself. But the principal of our school expelled all four of us, so my dad flew me to my grandparents in Australia for a year to give me some space. I had a hard time dealing with my mom’s passing and he said I could use a break.”

We stood there silently, our hands entwined. He stared blankly on the floor for what seemed like a long time, before his face lit up.

“This talk is hurting my badass reputation,” he teased, walking away and picking up the ball from the floor before tossing it to me. “Your turn for the win.”

The ball almost slipped from my fingers. I was still reeling from Jake’s story. Now I knew that behind that scowl was a lonely guy who was hurting with the loss of his mom. I wished there was something I could do to make him feel better.

I shook my thoughts away and went behind the free throw line. I drained a perfect shot for my twentieth point, but missed my jumper.

He clicked his tongue, shaking his head as he catches the ball. “Almost,” he said, dribbling towards me and looking at me in the eye. I can feel the question coming, and I knew I was not going to like it.

“So,” he started. “How are you after the prom?”

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Issue:
Head First, Fearless

Kristel S. Villar covers sporting events for a national broadsheet by day and tries to write fiction by night. In between, she takes care of her husband and son. She has also penned Blast from Two Pasts, a contemporary romance novella, and “The Rumor About Me”, her first short story for the Luna East anthology. “One on One” is her second Luna East story.

2 Responses to “One on One”

  1. Nina

    I know it’s a short story, but I’m kind of wishing that there’s a novel instead so I’d know what’s gonna happen next. Hmmm… Kind of feel what Hazel Grace from TFIOS felt with AIA. I want to know what will happen to the characters next. Haha.

    Reply
  2. Florence Joyce

    This isn’t really the typical badass guy meets prim-and-proper girl (at least that’s how I’d like to call her). But somehow, I kind of wished this was longer. I mean, I’d like to see more of their journey together as they finally became closer, even just a friends.

    Reply

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