His Pen-and-Ink Flower, Ch. 3: On Stumbling Upon a New Mystery

Fran stood in the hallway, heedless of the after-class hubbub going on around her as she stared at an innocuous-looking piece of paper tacked onto one of the bulletin boards. But no matter how hard she willed it, the list of names and sections of the applicants who’d been accepted into the Creative Writers’ Circle refused to open up to make room for another name—hers.

Disappointment lodged like a rock underneath her ribcage, and she squeezed her eyes shut and hugged her books to her chest, suddenly glad that she was alone. Yumi hadn’t come to school that day, while Lisette had to rush home as soon as class ended because her grandfather had instructed her to help their new stay-at-home family driver settle in. At first, Fran had felt lonely at the idea of celebrating her acceptance into the CWC without her friends but now—now she was just glad to be able to keep this humiliation to herself, at least for the moment.

“Hey, Fran, you okay?”

She felt a touch on her shoulder, and opened her eyes to find Ren looking at her with concern. Behind him, several of his basketball teammates waited. “Oh yes, I’m fine,” she replied. “I—I was just checking the names on this list to see if there’s anybody I knew, but I guess there isn’t.”

Ren nodded, accepting her answer. “By the way, uh, do you know what happened to—uh, th-that is, how is she?” he said in a low voice, a flush tinging his cheeks.

“How is who?” she asked innocently.

“You know.” Ren glanced about, then leaned closer as if to keep from being overheard. “Curly-Top. Yumi. She didn’t come to school today.”

Fran hid a smile. “Oh, well, she texted earlier to say she was staying home to sleep off a headache. She got it when she accidentally touched someone’s hand during a jeepney ride last night. But don’t worry. She said she’ll be fine enough to come to school tomorrow.”

“That little idiot,” he muttered, scowling. “You’d think she of all people would be more careful about whom she touches.”

“I’ll tell her to get well soon, Ren,” she replied. When he gave her a complicated look, she let the smile emerge fully. “And yes, I promise I won’t tell her you said it.”

He opened his mouth, but his teammates chose that moment to call his name impatiently. “I have to go,” he said instead before trotting off to rejoin his team, smiling at a group of girls who waved at him as they walked past. Fran gazed after him, her hands clasped in front of her, her smile fading. Sometimes, she wondered about that boy. How could he act so cool and calm and fearless about everything—everything, that is, except her best friend? Maybe she ought to sit him down and share some tips on she’d gleaned from the heroes in her favorite romance novels and shoujo manga. Then again, she admitted with a sigh, Ren probably wouldn’t welcome it.

She glanced at the bulletin board again, just to make sure her name hadn’t magically appeared on the sheet of paper. Then she shifted her grip on her books and school bag, pushed her glasses up and took a deep breath, then set off purposefully down the hallway. Her steps didn’t falter until she reached the open door of the English Department faculty room, whereupon she ground to a halt, suddenly overcome with doubt. Inside, she could see several teachers sitting at their desks, some of them grading papers, others chatting with one another. Ms. Gomez, her own English teacher and the CWC’s faculty advisor, sat at the desk nearest the doorway, typing something in her cellphone. Should I go in there? Fran wondered. Ms. Gomez looked kind of busy. Maybe she shouldn’t bother her about this. Anyway, the issue wasn’t that important, was it?

No, I have to know why. “I can do this,” she muttered to herself, taking one step forward.

Only to stop dead in her tracks again. Because, if she were to be honest with herself, she wasn’t sure she could deal with whatever Ms. Gomez’ answer would be. Finding out why she’d been rejected—just the thought of it frightened her. “No, I can’t,” she moaned, taking another step back.

Then she froze as her back bumped against somebody’s front and her foot came down on somebody’s foot. As she lurched forward with a squeak, she heard a familiar, sardonic voice say: “Can, can’t—make up your mind, otaku-girl. Or move out of the way so I can get in.”

She turned to find Angelo peering down his nose at her, a sheaf of paper bound neatly in a semi-transparent folder tucked underneath his other arm. For a moment, she let her gaze roam over his face, her mind collecting tiny details about him as if picking flowers in a garden. His hair had grown a bit longer since the summer, and brown strands had begun to curl over his ears and nape, his bangs forming C-shaped curves over his glasses. Her hand itched to brush his hair back, and only the knowledge that he’d probably take a bite out of her if she tried to touch him kept her from attempting it. In the angle of the light, his eyes looked more amber than green, and she was frankly amazed at how his eyes could be such a warm, entrancing color yet look so cool and distant whenever he looked at her. Contradictory eye-color. What a weird gift he had.

Then she blinked. Oh, was that a tiny hole in his left earlobe? His ear was pierced? He wasn’t wearing an earring at the moment, but she found herself imagining him with a tiny stud or a hoop glinting at his ear. Oh my, she thought, feeling a bit breathless, he wouldn’t look bad at all.

The corners of his mouth turned down in a frown as a flush spread across his face, and Fran abruptly became aware that not only she was still blocking the doorway, she was now gaping up at him like a beached fish as well. “I—I’m sorry,” she stammered, shifting aside to let him pass.

But when she tried to turn and escape altogether, she found herself stopped by his hand flat on her back. Startled, she glanced wide-eyed up at him. He smirked back at her just before he gave her a firm shove, sending her stumbling into the faculty room. She straightened with a gasp and shot him an outraged look as he walked past her.

“Looks like you can after all,” he drawled in response.

Ms. Gomez was still bent over her phone, and while Fran waited for her to finish, she took the chance to watch as Angelo headed over to the other side of the room where Mr. Delgado, one of the English teachers for the junior classes, sat sideways at his desk chair talking with another teacher. Their conversation was interrupted when Angelo all but tossed the folder onto his desk.

“There. My first quarter term paper,” he announced coldly.

Mr. Delgado, who’d been eyeing the folder as if it was a fly that had drowned in his coffee, glared up at him. “Watch it, boy. You better show more respect to those in authority or else—”

“—you’ll make me regret it. Of course you will. My apologies, sir.” Angelo sketched a mocking bow, then before Mr. Delgado could sputter a reply, turned and strode out of the room. Fran stared after him, aghast. What in the world was that? Around the head librarian, Angelo behaved like a pouty little boy, but when he addressed the teacher just now, he acted borderline insolent. Just what on earth was his problem?

At the other side of the room, Mr. Delgado was loudly agreeing with her sentiment. “Did you see that? Did you see the disrespectful way he talked to me? I swear, if it were up to me, that delinquent would have long since been expelled from this school.”

“Our principal apparently disagrees,” the other teacher remarked.

“Hah! Valdez is too soft, if you ask me. But I’ve gotten the better of that delinquent,” Mr. Delgado added, his expression shifting from incensed to cunning as he waved the folder in the air. “I’ve given him no chances to cheat under my watch, after I make him submit all his requirements at least a week ahead of the rest of the class. The other departments should take note.”

“Oh hello, Fran. Did you want to talk to me?”

With some difficulty, Fran turned her attention away from the rather disquieting discussion going on at the other side of the room and focused on Ms. Gomez. “Oh, um, y-yes, Ma’am,” she stuttered, scrambling to recall why she’d come to the faculty room in the first place. “I just saw the list of the CWC’s new members, and I didn’t see my name. And, well, I was just wondering why,” she went on, twisting her hands together in front of her.

Ms. Gomez folded her own hands upon her desk. “Yes, I thought you would be. Fran, do you know how the CWC screens its potential members?”

When she shook her head, her teacher continued: “I may be the club’s adviser, but my assessment of the submitted story only counts for twenty percent of an applicant’s score, with another twenty percent coming from the head of the English department. The remaining sixty percent is up to the officers and board members of the CWC, and they told me they were giving priority to senior and junior applicants this year.”

“Oh.”

“As you know, this year is a special year for the CWC, what with the partnership with Crown Publications. So this is the reason the officers decided to limit the membership to the seniors and juniors that they believe show the most potential. But you’re welcome to try again next year.”

“Oh. Okay. Thank you.” Fran started to leave, then stopped and glanced back at her teacher. “It’s just that…”

Ms. Gomez looked up from her papers. “Hmm?”

“…It’s just that I saw Charlene Jacinto’s and Jessa Cruz’ names on the list, and they’re both sophomores, like me.”

“Oh, those two are special cases. Charlene is our faculty head’s niece and Jessa is the daughter of the PTA vice-president, who arranged the partnership between the CWC and Crown Publications to begin with. You see how it is.”

“Did they submit stories, too?” Fran asked dully.

Ms. Gomez blinked. “Well, I suppose so.”

“How did their stories compare? How come their stories passed while mine didn’t?” What on earth is wrong with me? Why am I asking all these questions?

Ms. Gomez sighed as she leaned back in her chair to pull open a drawer at her desk. “Fran, your story was critiqued by the CWC officers, just as all the other stories were,” she said as she rifled through her files. “Oh dear, they’re not here. We made copies of all the applicants’ stories with our comments scribbled around the margins, but they must still be with Vanessa, our president. If you want to find out what the others thought about your story, you have to get the copies from her.”

“B-but what about you, Ma’am? What did you think about my story? Did you like it at all?” I’m suicidal, Fran thought. That’s the only explanation for my pestering her like this. 

“I’m sorry, but without a copy of your story, I can’t give you a critique,” her teacher replied, to Fran’s unparalleled relief mixed with disappointment. “I’d read so many stories, it’s hard for me to remember anyone’s in particular. You really have to go to Vanessa and get your copies back.”

Fran nodded, thanked her again, and exited the room. She plodded dejectedly along the hallway, fighting against a wave of self-pity. It’s so unfair, she thought. I wish I hadn’t tried out for this club. I wish I hadn’t even heard about it. That way, maybe I could still fool myself into believing I can become a writer.

She sighed and wiped her eyes underneath her glasses, wondering morosely what she was going to do now. When she lowered her hand, she became aware of a presence beside her, matching his pace to hers. “So that’s what you’ve been up to,” Angelo mused, pushing his glasses up his nose.

“Waaah!” Fran stumbled sideways, nearly dropping her books, then blushed in embarrassment when he raised an eyebrow at her over-reaction. “Wh-why are you still here? I thought you’d already left,” she croaked, glancing around self-consciously.

“I was texting someone just outside the room and couldn’t help overhearing.” He waved his cellphone in the air meaningfully before shoving it into his pocket. “So. The CWC.”

Fran scowled and turned away. “Yes, the CWC. Yes, I was stupid enough to believe I could make it in. You can make fun of me if you want, but trust me, nothing you can say can possibly make me feel any worse than I feel right now, so you might as well save your breath.”

“I won’t make fun of you, Frances Marie. In fact, you’re lucky you weren’t accepted.”

“Huh?” She ground to a halt and stared at him as if he’d just spouted something crazy, which he had. “And how do you figure that?”

He stopped as well, turning to face her. “Before I explain, give me your books first.”

After a moment’s hesitation, she passed her books over to him.

“And your bag.”

She did so, now totally confused.

Then Angelo smiled. “Good girl. Now come with me.”

He set off at a brisk pace, and it took Fran a few seconds to process the fact that the guy was basically running off with her belongings. The sight of his smile had hit her square in the chest, causing her thoughts to scatter and her heartbeat to turn erratic. She took off after him, but had to stop a short while later, panting from the effort. “Wait!” she gasped, bending over to try and catch her breath. “Angelo…slow down. And give me back…my things.”

A pair of black school shoes appeared in her field of vision. She glanced up to find Angelo gazing down at her. “Sorry about that,” he said, holding a hand out to her.

She eyed his hand with wary surprise, then looked up at him again. His eyes glinted with a challenging light as he waited for her response, and for some reason, she found herself slipping her hand into his. He turned away quickly, but not before she caught the tinge of red spreading across his face. Nor did he release her as soon as she straightened up, as she’d expected. Instead, he kept her hand firmly in his as he began walking again, albeit at a more manageable pace. “And no, you can’t have your stuff back just yet,” he went on, still keeping his face averted from hers.

Fran noted the few curious glances thrown their way, and her own face grew distinctly warm. I wonder if we look like a couple right now, came the wayward thought, and she shook her head to dispel it. No, no, of course we don’t. That’s ridiculous. He hates me and everything I stand for, and I…and I… 

…and I don’t really care anymore where he’s taking me as long as he keeps holding my hand.

She was spared from having to chase that alarming notion down to its inevitable knot of disturbing possibilities by the fact that she’d already figured out their destination. “The library?” she asked when the familiar building came into view. “Why are you bringing me here?”

“It’s about the promise you made. As I was saying, you’re lucky you didn’t make it in the CWC, because now you’ve got no excuse to go back on your word.”

“My what? What promise? The only promise I ever made to you is to never bother you again, and that’s a promise I would keep if you’d just let me.”

He stopped so suddenly she walked right into his back, and a couple of library-goers who were exiting the library gave them strange looks as they skirted around them. As she readjusted her glasses, he dropped her hand as if it had scorched him, and when he turned to face her, his eyes had turned into chips of green ice embedded in stone. “Let me be clear. I don’t give a frig about any promise you made to me, especially one you made on your own,” he stated in a low tone.

Fran blinked at the hostility radiating from him. Oh, there it is again. Angelo Marasigan’s Mr. Hyde persona. Wait a minute, does he mean—? Did he just say—?

“Besides, it’s not a promise you made to me,” he added as he pushed through the library doors, leaving her standing on the other side, the doors swinging shut in her face. Sighing regretfully at his inevitable transformation into his monster-form, she pushed through the doors after him, then stopped and stared in shock. All the librarians, from sweet-faced Ate Tessie from behind the circulation desk, to tall, skinny Kuya Ben who paused on his way to the audiovisual room with a roll of electrical cable looped around his arm, and even scarlet and orange-clad Mrs. Santos merging from her inner office, turned to her and smiled in welcome. Well, all the librarians, Fran amended, except for Angelo, who took his place at the reserved-books counter after dumping her things atop one of the other librarians’ desks, all without a single glance at her.

“Well, well, he finally agreed to bring you in. Come here, child, let’s not waste time,” Mrs. Santos said, opening the little doorway cut into the counter and beckoning her inside, and Fran found herself stepping into the inner sanctum of the South Crescent High’s library.

She looked around her, taking in the computers, the photocopier in its separate niche, the rows of room-use only books, the stacks of books to be sorted and shelved and repaired, the newspapers, magazines and journals to be archived, boxes of office supplies, and fresh library cards arranged in colorful boxes, interspersed with more personal items such as coffee mugs and small picture frames. She gazed out at the reading area, and marveled at how different the library seemed with just a simple change of perspective.

Ate Tessie signed one last book then turned and smiled warmly at her. “Thank you for coming, Fran. We weren’t sure you were interested, but as you can see, we could really use the help,” she admitted as she pushed herself up from her chair, revealing a very rounded tummy underneath her yellow blouse.

“Oh, wow, congratulations, Ate Tessie,” Fran exclaimed, clasping the young librarian’s hand.

“Thank you. Well, as you can see, it won’t be long now before I have to go on leave. And with Dina working only in the mornings so she can finally finish her thesis for her masters’ degree, we’re a little shorthanded right now,” Ate Tessie went on.

“I guess it is a bit hard for you,” Fran replied, “but, um, what does that have to do with me?”

Mrs. Santos reappeared with what looked like an application form and an SLA ID dangling from a red cord, identical to the one around Angelo’s neck. “It has much to do with you, as our newest Student Library Assistant,” she said, beaming as she pressed the items into Fran’s hand. “You see? I told you it’s a tradition for your family to serve as SLA at the library, child.”

“An SLA?” Fran stared down at the SLA application form the head librarian had handed to her, belatedly recalling the noncommittal agreement she made last summer to consider applying as an SLA this semester. This is the promise he meant? she thought, glancing over Mrs. Santos’ shoulder at the back of Angelo’s bent head.

Following the direction of her gaze, Mrs. Santos added with a resigned sigh, “Yes, all right, I understand that this is only for this afternoon—”

“This afternoon?” Fran echoed.

“—so you can consider this a trial period. You can give the job a bit of a tryout, to see whether or not librarianship is something you can do.”

“O-of course, I can do it,” she retorted, straightening her shoulders and pushing her glasses up determinedly. “And I will do it, if it’s just for today anyway. What do I do first, Ma’am?” she asked smartly as she slipped the ID over her head.

Mrs. Santos smiled like a scarlet-and-orange cat with a feather sticking out of her mouth. “Very well. Angelo,” she called over her shoulder. “Teach Fran how to shelve the books. Include her job in your work schedule for now. By Wednesday, she’ll have her own work schedule to fill up.”

But it’s only for this afternoon, Fran wanted to say, but Angelo’s cold look of warning as he moved past her smothered her protests. She gulped and decided to just follow his lead, helping him pile books onto book cart and listening attentively as he explained the library’s shelving system to her, which books belonged to circulation and which should go to the reserved books section, and how as a newbie she should shelve books with their spines facing the ceiling to make it easier for the other librarians to check her work.

They trundled the cart around as he gave her a quick tour of the library, shelving books and straightening up the rows as they went. Fran found herself staring at him curiously over the tops of her lenses. He was such an enigma. His dislike of her was obvious; she could hear it in the coolness of his voice, could see it in the way he refused to meet her gaze for long. But he answered her questions with a kind of patient gravity, never once raising his voice or rolling his eyes or showing any sign of irritation when he thought she was being slow—unlike her brothers, who were prone to yelling at her if she so much as drew in a breath in the middle of the grunts and monosyllables they sometimes tried to pass off as comprehensible language.

And once, when she had to return a book to the top shelf but couldn’t quite reach it, Angelo simply took the book and shelved it for her, showing no sign of disgust when his hand covered hers for a moment, even as he instructed her to use the stepping stool if she needed to reach the top shelves. For all that he was so vigilant in maintaining at least a foot of space between them—Fran imagined they could wedge about a dozen books between their bodies and manage not to drop any of them—it was also clear that he didn’t mind touching her nearly as much as he wanted her to believe.

And what was it he’d said earlier? I don’t give a frig about any promise you made to me, especially one you made on your own. So he wasn’t going to hold her to her vow to stay away? She’d only promised him that because from the way he acted around her, it seemed as if her mere presence was making him physically ill, but instead of being glad or relieved that she knew how things stood—or didn’t stand—between them, he’d gotten mad at her for making such a promise…

Fran smiled to herself. Oh for goodness sake, she thought, both exasperated and amused. Honestly, he’s just as silly as my brothers.

Angelo narrowed his eyes at her. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing,” she answered, wiping the smile off her face.

“Do you understand everything? I hope for your sake that you were paying attention, because I’m not going to repeat myself.”

She shook her head. “No need. I’ve got it, and if I run into problems, I can just ask Ate—”

“Ask me,” he interrupted, then flushed and looked away again, pushing his glasses up with a finger. “Just ask me, okay? Or Mrs. Santos or Kuya Ben, especially if it’s about audiovisual stuff. Let’s not worry Ate Tessie any more than we have to.”

Fran felt something inside her melt into a warm puddle. “You’re right,” she murmured softly. “I’ll ask you first.”

Angelo nodded, his blush deepening. Just then, Kuya Ben stuck his head from the doorway of the audiovisual room and waved him over. “Hey, Angelo, I need some help here.”

Angelo gave her one last, warning look. “Don’t screw up.”

“I won’t. And Angelo.” When he glanced back at her, she smiled again. “Thank you.”

He gave her a one-shouldered shrug and walked off without another word. Still smiling, she set about her own work, collecting books and periodicals from the reading tables and stacking them in her cart, then shelving the books and returning the periodicals where they belonged. While other people would have considered the work boring and tedious, she found it wonderful. The sight of the cleared reading tables, the neatly arranged rows of books, and the periodicals hung properly on their racks filled her with a sense of satisfaction. She’d also found several interesting books in the process, and created a personal stack of her own in one corner of the book cart. Even better, she discovered hidden nooks and previously unexplored shelves in the library, making her realize that even in this place she’d considered her territory, there were still plenty of mysteries left to uncover.

She also found that the SLA ID lent her an air of authority, as not a few library-goers approached her to ask for her help in locating a book. She was proud of herself for being able to answer the questions for the most part—she did know the library pretty well, relatively speaking—but once or twice she had to consult with Mrs. Santos or Ate Tessie, since Angelo still hadn’t come back from the audiovisual room. In fact, Mrs. Santos promised to get Angelo to teach her how to use the library’s online database and create an official account for her when she returned to work on Wednesday, and Fran didn’t have the heart to remind her that the arrangement was for this one afternoon only.

Her shift ended at six o’clock, as did Angelo’s. Since it was getting dark, Mrs. Santos decreed that he would walk her home.

“Oh no, it’s all right,” Fran said hastily, looking up from her inspection of her stack of books to borrow. “I’ve already texted my dad to tell him to come pick me up in a few minutes. His clinic isn’t far from here. I just have to wait for him outside the school gates. Ouch!”

She glared at Angelo, rubbing the back of her head where he’d bopped her. He merely gave her a bored look as he walked past her, heading toward the circulation desk. “It’s no less dangerous whether you’re walking down the street or loitering outside the school, otaku-girl. I’ll wait with you. Hold on, are you checking out all of these books?”

She nodded, ignoring the way her cheeks had warmed from his words. He eyed the stack she was pushing across the counter toward him, then crossed his arms over his chest. “No. Impossible.”

“Why not?” she whined.

“Because students are allowed to check out only a maximum of five circulation books, remember? I’ve seen your library card. You’ve already borrowed four books for the next two weeks.”

“Wait, when exactly did you see my library card?”

He adjusted his glasses, his face reddening. “Forget about that. You still can’t borrow these.”

As Fran’s face fell, Ate Tessie winked at her from behind her desk. “You can borrow all of those and more, if you become an SLA. So would you please consider coming back and applying as one? Isn’t that what you wanted to say, Angelo?” she said slyly to Angelo, who gave her a thunderous frown.

In the end, Fran was able to check out only one book in her collection, and was forced to return all the others among the books to be shelved. As Angelo waited for her outside the library, she waved goodbye to Mrs. Santos, Ate Tessie and Kuya Ben, thanking them for their time. The two of them walked through the dim hallways of the school, listening to the distant cries of the different sports teams as they wrapped up their practice sessions.

“Oh, Ren’s still here,” Fran spoke out loud, recalling her promise to call Yumi and relay his wish for her to get better soon. All anonymously, of course. When Angelo gave her a questioning look, she smiled and shook her head. “It’s nothing. I was just thinking about a classmate of mine.”

His shoulders went stiff. “Ren Navarro? The one on the basketball team?”

Fran giggled. “Yes. It’s funny how popular he is. Everybody seems to know him.” Maybe one day, Yumi’ll be here as well, waiting for her own boyfriend, she thought. And then maybe the four of us can…oh no. No, no, no, that’s just wrong. Don’t go there, Frannie girl. That way lies trouble, and you know it.

Blushing, she sent Angelo a surreptitious glance, and was dismayed to find him looking all stone-faced again. Uh oh, Mr. Hyde is back. “Um, you know, I can carry my own books. You don’t have to bother with them if they’re too heavy,” she said meekly in an attempt to improve his mood.

It was clearly the wrong thing to say, she realized, when his icy green gaze slashed at her. “Don’t you have a limit on the number of idiotic things you say in a day, Frances Marie?” he said, his arm tightening around her books as if she was about to snatch them away from him.

“I beg your pardon? I was just being concerned, you complete bonehead,” she snapped back, goaded by his ill temper.

“I’ll tell you what you can do with your ‘concern.’ You can take it and shove—”

“Oh no, don’t you dare get nasty on me now.”

You’re the one who turned nasty first.”

By the time they reached the jeepney shed in front of the school gates, they were both fuming in silence, with Angelo glaring at some point in the distance and Fran scowling down at her feet. As sanity seeped back in, she found her frown fading away into a sigh. Looks like he did it again, she thought ruefully. How on earth can he push all my buttons so easily? But really, now is not the time for it.

“Um, Angelo?”

“What?” he barked.

She had the satisfaction of seeing his annoyance turn into surprise when she smiled at him. “Thank you,” she said softly. “You did this for me, didn’t you? You did it to cheer me up.”

She watched as several emotions chased one another across his face. She’d pieced it all together earlier—how he’d brought her to the library to distract her from her misery over being rejected by the CWC, drawing her in by using her promise as bait. The biggest hint came when Ate Tessie revealed to her that since the school year began, Mrs. Santos had been nagging Angelo to hound Fran about applying as an SLA, but up until that afternoon, he’d simply endured the head librarian’s badgering, refusing to trap Fran into committing herself to something she really didn’t want to. And when he called them earlier—after listening in on her conversation with her English teacher—he warned the other librarians not to force her to agree to anything, only to give the SLA job a try. He’d given her a different experience this afternoon to make her feel better, but made sure there would be no strings attached.

He tried to cheer me up. And now, even though we just argued about it, he still carried my books for me. She smiled again. “Angelo, you’re really a nice guy, aren’t you?”

His mouth opened slightly as a wave of red crept upward from his neck. She waited for him to deny everything and cite daily quotas on idiotic statements again. Instead, he swallowed and pushed his glasses up his nose with an unsteady hand. “S-so, are you feeling better now?” he mumbled.

“Uhuh.” She nodded, her smile brightening. “Thank you. Oh, but there is one thing, though.”

“What is it?”

“You don’t have to call me by my full name, you know. You can just call me Fran like everyone else does.” She’d also long since figured out that he’d found out her name from her library card, although the fact that he remembered it at all filled her with wonder…and other, far more dangerous feelings.

His eyes behind his glasses were honey shot with green, and they filled her with a warm, shimmery haze. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I kind of like ‘Frances Marie.’ It sounds pretty.”

“Oh.” Oh my gosh, what is he saying? “T-to you, maybe, but not to me. To me, it just sounds like my mom’s about to yell at me again. In short, not pretty in the least,” she said with a laugh, fighting against emotions she’d believed she wouldn’t have to deal with again—emotions she really didn’t want to feel for anyone, let alone a guy who’d repeatedly declared how much he couldn’t stand her.

Right now, though, he sure isn’t acting like he can’t stand you, a voice in her mind whispered. He’d turned to face her, and she became aware that he was violating the boundaries he’d carefully established between them. He was definitely standing less than a foot away from her, and she found herself tilting her face up to meet his gaze.

He gave her a warm smile. “Then maybe I can change your mind,” he said huskily.

Her heart skipped a beat, then began pounding away again at twice the intensity. Unable to resist, she lifted her hand and touched a finger to the little mole on his chin, mirroring her actions that rainy summer afternoon when she’d nearly kissed him. His lashes drifted lower, and he began to lean closer to her—only to freeze when he caught sight of something over her shoulder.

He stepped away from her, his expression closing up as tightly as a steel door as he handed her books to her. “Here. You don’t have to come back,” he said tersely before he turned and walked away in the other direction, leaving her blinking after him as headlights swept across her and her father’s car horn blared from behind her.

A short while later, she stared out the window of her dad’s car, oblivious to the lights and passing scenery. Oh no, this can’t be happening, she thought, awash in a welter of wonder, disappointment, a bewildering sense of loss, and coldly thrumming fear. Not this feeling again. I can’t possibly be this stupid. Haven’t I learned anything from that debacle with James?

But she couldn’t deny that she was drawn to Angelo, although God alone knew why. He was rude, obnoxious, insulting, and prone to fits of irrationality. So what if he had a secretly cute, kind, hardworking, sweet, even flirtatious side to him? It didn’t change the fact that he was still a total bonehead.

Then again, it wasn’t hard to figure out why she was attracted to him. After all, she’d loved stories all her life—romantic stories, mystery stories, tales of fantasy and adventure, drama and triumph. And right now, Angelo represented the biggest mystery in her life. He was an unopened book just begging for her to start turning the pages and read on. He was an anime series so brand new that nobody had written an accurate review about him yet. He was—she flicked the blue, winged cat plushie hanging from her study lamp in frustration as she ran out of metaphors with which describe him—he was someone she found endlessly fascinating, not in the least because so many things about him didn’t make sense.

I’ll figure you out, Angelo Marasigan, she vowed as she sat at her desk, the laptop she’d gotten for her birthday open in front of her, the filled-up SLA application form sitting atop her homework. Just you wait. I’ll find out why your classmates think of you as someone to they have to warn me away from…why your teachers talk about you with such contempt and why you’re so eager to return the favor…why they call you a delinquent when you’re nothing like a delinquent at all. I’ll find out why the Angelo I see seems so different from the boy everyone else sees.

And after I’ve figured you out, then I can finally get you out of my head, before I end up making a complete fool of myself again.

+  +  +  +  +  +  +

Snapshots from a Megane-Girl

Blog Post No. 22

Date: June 29, 20xx

Subject: What I’m Grateful For

 I’m grateful for: 

  • My family. Even my crummy brothers. Even (do I need to say it?) my dummy of a little brother, who ate the chocolate pudding I’d been saving for days.
  • My two best friends, who’re blessed their own wonderful gifts, even though one of them would probably argue with me over this.
  • My new laptop, even if it’s a hand-me-down. I can write my stories and update my blog anytime now, even first thing in the morning, without having to wage war with my dummy of a little brother.
  • School and my classmates, because I’m lucky enough to be in a great section this year.
  • My new job as Student Library Assistant at our high school library—the work is so much fun! And I can borrow all the books I want! In fact, I think I’m going to need a cart of my own soon.

 Special Reason to be Grateful:

 I got the most special birthday gift last night, in the comments section of one of my previous blog posts. But because the comment was submitted anonymously, and the artist didn’t sign his or her name in the artwork he/she did, I’m going to have to just thank you here.

 Thank you, whoever you are, for the most beautiful drawing of me I’ve ever seen. It makes me wish I look as lovely as you seem to think I am.

 

 I was walking to school a few days ago when I saw a twenty-five centavo coin lying on the street, glinting like gold in the mud. Finding money is supposed to mean good luck, but I wonder if that still holds even if the finder didn’t pick up the money. I left it alone, figuring that somebody else might need a dose of good luck that day, too, but then it occurred to me that I might just have negated the good luck with my unwillingness to accept it.

 Later, I did regret not picking up that coin. It certainly felt like bad luck that I didn’t make it to the CWC. But here’s the thing: Leaving that coin there turned out to be even better luck than if I’d taken it away.

 From now on, if I ever find a coin lying on the ground, I’m going to leave it there. In the midst of all that mud and dirt, it’ll be a bit of brightness and good luck to cheer someone up.

Read the next chapter.

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