Chapter 20
Quit Playing Games with My Heart

It was dark inside the auditorium as we pushed open the door and entered inside. My heart started thumping in wild anticipation.

I'd never been inside before but I did hear from people that it was quite small and cozy with many chairs lined up together. It'd be difficult knowing where we were going unless we'd turn on the light.

'I can't see a thing,' I muttered, turning around to find a switch. 'Can you?'

'Nope, nothing,' Michael agreed. 'Bet there's a switch somewhere near, though.'

'Wonder how many times Mofiz fell over here?' I wondered, extending out my hand and trying to get hold onto something so that I wouldn't fall.

It happened to be Michael's back.

He laughed, leaning backwards with his arm softly hovering around my shoulders. I felt thrilled and fearless by the close proximity and the darkness.

'He's quite a teacher,' Michael chatted slowly, shaking his head in disbelief. 'I can't believe he fell for my call. You'd think he'd know by now how things like that work, right?'

'Well, I suppose so,' I acknowledged. 'But what exactly did you say?'

'I was pretty bad, to be honest,' Michael replied. 'I sort of mentioned that I was your dad and then Mofiz asked me where you lived. I was sure he'd see that I was lying because I really don't have much clue about the streets here and I don't think I exactly sound like anyone's dad. But surprisingly, he didn't get it. I must have really good acting abilities that I have no idea about.'

I laughed, feeling every part of my body twinge with excitement at the conversational tone. Maybe this was crazy and romantic.

'Well, thank you,' I said quietly, looking away. My throat started to feel dry. Gosh, one moment I'd feel incredibly fine and excited and the next second I'd turn very shy and mushy. I'd have to be crazy feeling so many things whenever I was with him.

'No problem,' Michael said. There was a soft smile on his lips as if he was glad and surprised at the turnout of the events.

That certainly made two of us.

Our hands almost immediately interlocked as they roamed around the walls to find the switch. One glance, however, was enough to make us forget everything else. We pulled each other forward; the motion was slow and for my part, clumsy. Then we began kissing as if we had no time remaining in the world.

I felt the door quietly shut itself from behind. Not that I really cared about it. I was too busy feeling the moment as Michael's arms went around mine, his hands leaving a fiery and electrical trail around my waist. I stood on my tiptoes to clutch at him; my knees felt as if they were about to buckle at any second.

We kissed slower this time but it was much more passionate and energetic. We pressed our lips hard, our hands going through each other's hairs and my heart throbbing violently against its ribcage.

However, when we moved backwards and broke apart to catch our breaths, we fell over a seat. And tumbled on top of each other.

Both of us laughed aloud in surprise. Michael, lying on his back on the ground, perched up on his elbows to glance at me. He ruffled his hair, smiling amusedly at himself.

'We really need to find the switch,' I announced, not getting up. I was grinning too. This reminded me of a romantic comedy scene, except it was much more real and amazing than I'd ever thought possible.

'You okay?' Michael asked, sounding as if he possibly couldn't care about what'd just happened.

I smiled in the dark as we continued lying on the carpeted ground for a few seconds in silence. Thoughts started swirling inside my head. How did we end up in this position? Would we ever talk about what made us reach towards each other? Particularly, would I ever have the guts or words to ask him why exactly he liked me?

It shouldn't matter so much now since we were finally getting somewhere. But it'd be nice to have a meaningful and reassuring conversation about it. Just to clear away any confusion and doubts.

Then the realization hit me—we had days ahead of us to talk about these stuffs.

'Yeah, I am okay,' I replied in a determined voice. To me, it sounded like the beginning of a promise.

But I couldn't spend any more time musing about the future because Michael got up, gently pulled me to my feet and kissed me once again. And it felt so incredible and breathtaking that I just let him, knowing for sure that this was what I wanted more than anything else in the world, at least in that moment.

However, we kept on bumping into seats as we made out and ended up falling over each other a couple of times again. I couldn't help laughing at the scenario, even though after a while, we both admitted that our heads hurt. What were we two doing?

Michael, smiling nonetheless, grabbed my hand again to pull me up for the umpteenth time as he fished out his phone from his pocket. He held it above his head, trying to use the light to figure out where the switch could be.

'Why didn't we think of it in the first place?' I said, amused. 'We really needed to find it!'

'We had better things to do,' Michael replied, smiling. His voice came out rough.

I smiled back, curling my fingers around his as we began walking across the aisle amidst the rows of chairs. There was a small platform serving as the stage at the end of the auditorium. A couple of stools and music stands stood across from each other upon it.

I let out a deep breath, feeling nervous and excited. This was where I'd perform for the first time in my life. It would one of the most memorable moments ever, I considered.

I had to nail it.

Sure enough, we found a switch at the corner of the small stage.

When Michael turned it on, the whole auditorium didn't become as bright as I'd expected. The spotlight was very dim and only fell upon the stage while the surroundings remained dark.

It added to the cozy ambience of the auditorium.

'Wow, this is it!' I exclaimed quietly as I got up on the stage and glanced around at the chairs lined up in front. 'This is where I'm supposed to perform.'

The room would be filled with so many people the upcoming weekend. My parents would be there too, all watching as I'd perform for the first time.

It was so important that I perfected it for my parents and myself.

'You okay about it?' Michael suddenly asked, nudging me with his shoulders.

'I don't know,' I admitted, sighing. 'I-I was pretty scared when Joy told me to perform today. I did fumble through most of it.'

'Hmm,' Michael responded, turning away. I arched my neck; his voice seemed strained. 'But the guy can't teach well, though.'

'I know,' I said, nodding. I looked at the rows of chair again, inhaling and exhaling repeatedly. I knew my nerves always got the better of me.

'I mean, it's funny seeing someone get that worked up over a simple thing but it's not exactly good, especially for the younger students,' Michael said seriously.

'Michael, I know,' I admitted, wondering what point he was trying to make.

'Well, I mean, maybe he is just better off being a normal assistant or something,' Michael continued in the serious tone. 'He should help with the office work and filing. But teaching the kids like that— I'm just skeptical about how many people would want to stay after a while. I mean, Mofiz is fine at teaching but—'

I couldn't help it. I had to smile. He sounded adorable.

And I wanted to clear away the thought that I'd liked Joy. I had a gut feeling about why Michael's expression changed and he'd begun ranting. And I wanted to show him how ridiculous I was being at the class.

I sat down in front of the wall, crossing my legs and pulling my knees up as I smiled at him, shaking my head in disbelief at what I was about to do. He stared back with raised eyebrows as he came to sit next to me, still talking about Joy's flaws.

All I remembered from that moment was when I reached out and kissed him in the midst of a sentence. As hard as I could.

I could tell that he was surprised since his body became rigid. I tried to be reassuring as I initiated the first step, hoping that he'd get it. I pulled myself closer, placing my hand on his shoulder.

When he responded back, we kissed some more. He cupped my cheek with one of his hands; my thoughts felt extremely hazy as our lips moved slower and slower as if we were trying to prolong the moment.

When we'd broke apart, we sat there next to each other in silence for a while, our breaths gasping.

But he didn't say anything.

After we'd calmed down, Michael took my hand. He pulled the fingers apart and said, with a smile ringing in his voice, 'Well…'

'Yeah.' I deadpanned, not sure what to say anymore.

I wanted him to say something or show that he'd understood. I continued to wait breathlessly for his reaction.

'You know, uh.' Michael stopped. Then he cleared his throat and started once again. 'Okay, I'm probably going to say—I'm not an expert in this particular field, though—but anyway. Okay the point is…'

Michael started scrutinizing my hand. I couldn't even feel surprised because I was so taken by how nervous and adorable he looked.

I could've have kissed him right there again. For a thousand more times.

'I know how to read palms,' he said swiftly.

I'd to admit that the skepticism showed on my face.

'It's a real skill,' Michael assured, nodding. But he was smiling too.

'Um, okay,' I said slowly, biting my lips to hold in my laughter. I wasn't laughing because what he was about to do was so weird. I'd done my share of taking part in weird things.

I was reeling from happiness because it felt comfortable being with him and trying out random things.

'So what does the future have in store for me?' I asked, curious.

'For instance, this is your fate line and this is your life line,' Michael explained, holding my hand firmly and motioning with his fingers. I knew I wasn't paying much attention; I was too busy staring at him and the way he'd made me shiver with just a touch. 'The more zigzag your lines are, the more trouble you're supposed to encounter in your life. But your lines are pretty straight forward. So you're probably fine. It's not all garbage…I mean, okay it is. But it's kind of interesting. Don't laugh—'

'No, it's just that—I don't think my friend Alison has any lines,' I blurted out, suddenly remembering and almost doubling over with laughter. 'On her hands.'

Michael stared at me, speechless.

'You're kidding,' he said after a few seconds. He laughed, too.

'No, I am not,' I said, wishing my voice wouldn't break as I tried to hold the giggle in. It wasn't really working, though. My voice came out raspier. 'I have seen it.'

'You are—' Michael squeezed my hand, shaking his head. He closed his eyes and pressed his lips together. 'Unbelievable.'

'I don't know…' I trailed off, blushing. It sounded like a compliment. 'But um, you should teach me how to read them.'

'I have a feeling you two are going to do something,' Michael said, sounding wary and impressed at the same time.

'We have nothing on our hands now,' I said, holding my hands up in front of him in a resigned fashion. 'Or minds.'

I'd to roll my eyes at myself. 'That was a terrible pun,' I muttered. 'Sorry.'

'That kind of was,' Michael admitted. But he smiled back as he started instructing me on the art and intricacies of palm reading. I tried paying attention again, but it was so hard when he was sitting near me. I could feel the heat of his body as he'd come even closer to hold my hands together.

I just knew that I'd had to say something. As much as I wanted to launch myself at him, I had to admit that the kisses were draining and frankly, I didn't have the energy or guts to do that now.

'Where did you learn it?' I asked instead. 'I'd never met or heard of anyone who could read palms. It's really cool and interesting.'

'Uh…' Michael abruptly looked cautious. 'From my ex.'


'She knew a lot about it,' Michael continued in a matter-of-fact manner without glancing at me. 'She was so…I mean, I'd heard about it for the first time from her. But she seemed adamant in teaching me. Yeah, she was crazy when it came to certain stuffs.'

I wanted to snatch my hand away from his but just couldn't.

Why did we keep on coming back to it? Why did he keep on mentioning his ex? More importantly, why was he doing things with me that he'd done particularly with her?

It escaped my mind that he could've been quite nervous too. Perhaps, he was only doing what he'd done in the past to not mess up the future.

At that moment, however, hearing him talk about his ex and insinuate that palm reading was something he'd done with her—especially when we'd reached a milestone in our awkward relationship—just made me angry.

I tried not to think of her but I couldn't help egging back into the conversation.

'That's cool,' I muttered. 'Um. How long were you together?'

'Till the end of camp and a few months afterwards,' Michael replied quietly. 'We tried the whole long-distance thing. Didn't really work out. She had that part right. Apparently, she read it on our palms…she was so crazy.'

'Right,' I said, gritting my teeth. 'Long distances can be quite a nuisance.'

Not that I'd know anything about it but I felt imperative to say something.

'Hmm, yes,' Michael said, sounding as if he didn't really want to talk about it any more. 'It's cool though. We're still friends.'

I expected him to say something along the lines of how it was all in the past and that he'd completely moved on now.

Except he didn't.

And that stung.

I didn't want to hear or learn about the stupid palm reading anymore. I felt close to crying and hurling my guitar at him. I'd tried being reassuring when he'd talked about Joy even though it was a ridiculous idea that I liked him. But Michael hadn't even bothered saying anything to that effect when the tables were turned.

All he did was stand up, stretch himself and ask if I'd play the guitar for him.

'I—' I started sentence in an emotionless tone, trying my best not to expose any feelings. I'd to clear my throat. 'Don't know.'

Everything had happened so fast today. I needed to go home, take a breather, drown myself in a cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows till I could feel alright once more.

'Come on, it'll be okay,' Michael coaxed. 'There's no one here.'

I said nothing but decided it'd be a good way to distract myself. I didn't even know how I was going to react at the bus ride home. I'd need to stop wondering and comparing the extent of his feelings with mine. I was getting more and more disillusioned by the second.

I hastily took out my guitar and started strumming the hardest piece that I'd learned.

'Not when many people will be there,' I said, looking at Michael in response to his statement.

I'd rather talk about my queasiness than dwell over the way he just couldn't tell me that he'd moved on from his dratted ex, whose interests in palm reading was something I'd momentarily found fascinating.

'You can pretend that they are not there,' Michael said, sounding utterly oblivious to the thoughts raging inside me. Was it a guy thing to be that clueless? I couldn't help wondering. 'Or you know…don't look at them.'

I gave a wry smile.

'At home, when I'd play, I'd just get so lost in it, you know,' I responded. 'I don't know when will that happen or if ever. Because if it does…'

I didn't want to sound arrogant but I'd a feeling that if I could actually lose myself in music—the way I'd been able to do so at home—I'd never dread performing in front of people. Ever.

'Look,' Michael said, making me glance at him. He came near, squatting down to get to my height. 'It's your first performance. It's not going to be that great. Don't worry about it.'

'I—right.' I stopped strumming, feeling dejected at the way he'd off-handedly said that that it wasn't going to be that great. He sounded so sure about it that I couldn't feel a twinge of irritation.

I knew my performance wouldn't be great and I wasn't deluding myself to think it'd be the best one I'd ever give. But there was another reason why I wanted to invest so much time and energy into it. I wanted to tell Michael how much of a big deal it meant to be performing live for the first time. It was almost as if it could cement all those years of hard work when I'd stay cooped inside my room, practicing my piano and singing for hours at a stretch.

People made it seem easy and effortless when you'd step onto the spotlight. For me, it was the utter opposite feeling.

It was a gargantuan moment of excitement and a curtain call to the past.

I knew right then that Michael, who'd spent all his summers tutoring kids and excelling at public speaking, just wouldn't get it.

'The place is going to close down soon,' I muttered instead, praying that my feelings wouldn't get the best of me yet. Emotionally, it'd been a roller coaster of a day. What with the kiss and the conversations. 'We should go.'

'Alright,' Michael said, turning around. 'You okay, though?'

He did look concerned.

'I'm fine,' I lied. ' Just great.'

'Good,' Michael said, sounding relieved. Damn, wasn't he oblivious. 'Anyway, I'm going to turn off the light now. Can you use your phone? My one's almost out of charge.'

'Sure,' I said, taking it out and placing it on the stool as I started putting my guitar into its bag.

There was a sudden click.

I stared up at him in shock.

'Wait, what are you doing?' I asked.

'Just wanted to take a picture of you and the guitar,' Michael said, smiling.

'That must have come out weird,' I commented. 'I was putting it in my bag.'

'I took it when you're holding it,' Michael disagreed. 'The light really catches on to your hair.'

I felt a small smile come back. He did once mention that my hair was pretty.

'Can I see it?' I couldn't help asking. I quickly knelt down to zip the bag and then thrust it over my shoulder.

'How many pictures did you take of me holding the guitar?' I couldn't help joking as he stood there frozen with my phone in his hands.

It took me a while to realize the immense stupidity of my actions.

'I should ask you that,' he finally said, looking up at me with a shell-shocked expression on his face.

My heart leapt out of my mouth.

I could feel every fiber of my body turn cold.

Be calm, I tried to tell myself. Don't make a big deal.

How could I have been so stupid to forget about the pictures? I had never forgotten about them at home or at the bus.

Today, the kisses had taken every sense and carefulness away from me.

How could I have been so reckless? How was I supposed to explain them to him when I'd already decided that such an incident would happen much, much later on?

Gosh, this was sounding like the beginning of the world's worst first date. I'd taken so many embarrassing pictures of the two of us. It was terrible and hilarious to look at them now with Alison. I couldn't even imagine how he must've been feeling at the revelation.

'Why do you have so many weird photos of me sleeping and you doing…things?' he asked as slowly as possible. He seemed to be digesting the news himself. 'What are they supposed to even mean?'

'I—you think it's weird?' I couldn't help saying out loud, finding my tongue at last. It hurt to hear him say that about the project, which I'd started so long ago and which had perpetuated my crush on him.

Crazy would've been less hurtful. But weird?

I didn't find his palm reading weird. I'd thought that it was cool and interesting.

'Weird? Are you kidding?' Michael said, staring at me as if I'd come from another planet. 'How many pictures did you take? What the fuck...'

He didn't yell the words out, though. He just looked immensely shocked and confused.

But he was pissed, I realized, wincing. Damn it.

'Can you just give me the phone back?' I said quietly, not wanting to cry. I'd imagined telling him about the photos someday but I'd thought we'd been able to laugh it off by then.

Was it too soon to think that we'd not be okay if we'd got together?

'I don't even know what to say.' Michael tossed the phone back at me. A bit roughly. I caught it, quickly pocketing with my shaking hands.

I'd not expected this conversation after we'd kissed and had so much fun.

Gosh, this was humiliating.

'Why?' Michael edged on. 'Why would you do something so creepy?'

'It's not creepy!' I blurted out even though I knew that was the wrong thing to say.

Michael looked even more confused, shocked and quite enraged.

'You don't think it's creepy?' he said bluntly. 'How come?'

'I—just—' I couldn't even formulate a coherent sentence. Instead I looked away, feeling painful and agitated. How was I supposed to explain anything?

'Imagine if you were in my place,' Michael continued loudly. 'And you found out that—I—don't know. What were you thinking?'

'I didn't mean it in a bad way!' I almost wailed out.

What was going on? How did we get from making out so passionately to actually fighting with each other now?

On the other hand, was it because of that? I'd no idea.

'What did you mean?' Michael said after a few seconds of agonizing silence. He gave a slightly hollow laugh. 'Because to me, it just seems as if you are making fun of someone you don't know. Is that your idea of pulling a prank?'

'No, I—' I stopped. I couldn't tell him the real reason, not when he looked so confused, mad and hurt.

'Imagine if you were in my place,' I finally said softly.

Michael stared at me questioningly for a few seconds in silence.

'How is that supposed to explain anything?' he asked.

'You don't get it, do you?' I cried out. 'I—you think it's creepy and it's—'

I stopped and then blurted out what was bothering me as well.

'Why do you keep on talking about your ex like that?' I said. And my voice did sound snappy. 'Do you still like her?'

I'd a faint feeling that I was being ridiculous but I just couldn't stop myself. He was being stupid and judgmental, too.

'What?' Michael said, looking at me in utter confusion.

'Joy was entirely faking it,' I replied, looking back at him stoically. 'You don't get it.'

'Why are you bringing my ex into it?' he said in a blank tone, ignoring my previous statement.

Michael suddenly looked as if he didn't know whether he should be alarmed or find the whole thing somewhat funny. Unfortunately, the alarmed expression took over.

I swayed on my feet, shivering.

'You keep on talking about her,' I pointed out, staring at the ground.

'I'm not,' he argued back. 'I thought you should just know about it. It was just a freaking piece of information. It wasn't supposed to mean anything. You're overreacting.'

'I—' I stopped inhaling, trying to gather my thoughts.

I knew that I was overreacting but how could I not? He'd no idea why I'd taken the pictures. He wasn't going to understand why I thought that his feelings weren't perhaps equal to what I'd felt for him.

The fact that he couldn't get it made me feel infuriated and heartbroken.

Except at this point, I was coming off as a coward and creepy stalker.

'I thought—' I blinked the tears that were forming. Gosh, I just couldn't cry.

'I think I need some time,' I announced. At least till the performance was over. I'd need to focus on that. Not the pictures.

'Alice, what are you saying?' Michael asked, sounding confused and this time, concerned.

'I-I don't know,' I deadpanned. 'I don't know.'

I wanted to give a sad laugh. This sounded like a miserable breakup.

'You're over thinking this,' Michael insisted again. 'You're overreacting.'

'I am—I can't help—'

'This is just like the performance. Why don't you just do it instead of being so scared? How many times did you consider not doing it?'

I was taken aback by his vehement, impatient tone.

'I never thought of backing out, Michael, ' I said softly. It was the truth. I'd been scared and I still was. But I'd never thought of avoiding it.

But he thought I would? Was that the impression that I gave to him? Did he really think I was like that?

I must've sunk right into the spot because his expression softened.

He reached out for me as if to apologize but I stepped back quickly.

'Alice, I am sorry,' he said, looking guilty. 'I didn't mean it like that.'

'No, you're right,' I muttered, trying to keep my voice steady although it trembled. 'I get scared. A lot. And nervous. And what I did was really creepy. But those things mean a lot to me. This performance means a lot to me and if you don't even get that—'

'I was out of line about the performance,' he interrupted solemnly. It hurt even more that he didn't contradict the part where I'd admitted that the photographs were creepy. 'I'm sorry.'

'Michael, I-I don't think you get it,' I continued, my voice raising. 'I don't think you'd ever get it. It's just…it's just I am not like you.'

'I know that,' he said quietly, his voice strangled. 'What's your point?'

'My point is…I don't think we feel the same way about each other.'

'I'm not sure what you're supposed to mean, Alice?'

He shook his head, waiting.

'I mean that…the photos, Michael,' I said, almost crying. 'Why don't you get it? You were the craziest thing I'd ever done.'

I wanted to say much more but that'd make me look like an even bigger loser than I'd already felt.

Michael's face was devoid of every emotion except surprise.

Then I bolted as fast as I could, leaving him behind in total confusion.

He didn't come running or saying out my name. Luckily, I'd caught the bus before I'd the chance to see him again.

I'd absolutely no idea how or when I could ever tell him about why I'd taken the pictures and never deleted them afterwards.

Author's Note:

Thank you so much for the reviews: dear-llama, Guest, Cree, Gold MF Digger and Latinus. XD
As usual, free to let me know what you're thinking! You guys are all awesome and amazing.
And also a big thumbs up for the new follows and favorites.

I feel that Alice may come across as pretty annoying in this chapter. However, as someone with a lot of experiences dealing with unrequited love, I wanted to bring out the raw pain and insecurities that come with liking someone who you think is better than you and would never want to be with you or would never like you the same way as you like them.

I also hope Michael's reactions didn't come out as too harsh or anything!

Let me know your opinions regarding this chapter and the story.

A Little Bit of Reality.