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Life As Told by Nerdy By Shim Simplina All rights reserved.

2012

Prologue "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." Antoine de Saint-Exupry And they lived happily ever after - six words that illustrate how everything ends in every fairy tale known to man. It was what every girl strives for throughout the centuries. The perfect love story with the perfect man; who gives roses when she's irate. A man, who after stargazing with his love professes that no star would brighten his life more than her smile. Someone to embrace her tightly despite her struggle and during her worst days would kiss her, look into her eyes and tell her she's beautiful. And most of all, one man whose love withstands the test of time in the hope of being gray-haired and old together. I could only dream about this pettiness.

I have long given up on finding romance. Let's get this straight. I am not your average heroine who would probably be one of the following; one, the face that sailed a thousand ships; two, a vampire or the mate of the alpha; three, filthy rich; four, amazing in sports, martial arts or other skills of the sort; five, possess a certain magical ability; six, extremely lucky and lastly combination or all of the said qualities. In fact, I don't exactly fit in any of these categories. I wouldn't probably get a date in the Junior Prom. If it had you wondering, well I would say you are wrong. I am not an alien or something from beneath the surface of the earth for that matter. I am in fact a human, but a strange one at that. Or at least that's what I assumed since everybody treated me differently. Who knew a measly pair of glasses could be such a powerful thing? It could either make or break you. But mostly break you... through high school... and for life. I should know. And yes, I am a glasses-wearing nerd to admit it; category seven. You might lose interest at this point and you are free to do so since it would save me another humiliating, traumatic but mostly idiotic recount of my life. All I wanted to do was get to college, earn a degree, become say a teacher or a doctor, get an apartment far, far away from my mother, live with a golden retriever and

stay alone for the rest of my pathetic existence. I was so sure about my future, until he came with his secret. From that day, my life was never the same. "Sarah Littman?" The teacher called my name. I raised a hand glancing up at the Geometry teacher Mr. Collins. "Present, Sir." My second year in Hopkinton High School was about to end in not more than three months, yet the teacher still didn't remember me that well. I couldn't blame him. I wasn't particularly remarkable in many ways. I get flat A's except in his subject, but I would not consider myself smart. It was all hard work, plus I got nothing to do but study. As the teacher continued the roll call, my best friend Rebecca Tyrone-also known as Becky-who was sitting behind me prodded my back with her notebook. She motioned for me to lean closer. "What is it?" I hissed. Becky watched the teacher and shrugged. "Have you heard of the rumors?" "Apparently not," I muttered bemusedly.

She sneered seemingly proud of herself. "You won't believe it, I bet!" There was excitement in her voice but Becky tried her best to keep it down. "Spit it out and get it over with, will you?" I blurted glumly, scribbling nonsense on the back of my Geometry notebook. Becky paused a little longer as if to torment me then cupped her chin with both her palms. "There'll be a new student. And guess who it is?" I scowled at her and didn't say a thing. Becky has this annoying habit of making a fuss about everything. "Leon Walden!" She beamed. "Leon what?" I had no idea who she was talking about. She rolled her eyes. "Leon Walden. The Leon Walden. Jeremiah? The Foreboding? Treasure Island 3? Ring any bells?" She continued mentioning phrases that meant nothing to me. "Oh come on... Leon Walden? Who sang Be Mine?" "Okay." I finally remembered a video I once saw on TV. "Even I know that song." I said picturing the young blond singer who happened to star in a few movies. Don't get me wrong. I love music, but I listen to those with sense,

like Chopin or Beethoven or Michael Learns to Rock (old, I know, but Mom owns a ton of them so...), not to some teenager blabbering about conceited puppy love. I furrowed the gap between my eyebrows. "And you expect me to-" "Are you out of your mind? I could just picture it. Leon Walden. He could be my seat mate. Isn't that a dream?" Becky's eyes twinkled. I gave her a smirk. "Yeah. Right, Rebecca." Soon enough I would eat my words. I call her by her real name whenever I wanted to tease her since the fourth grade. Becky hated it so much but we've been the best of friends since. We could cast Becky in the category eight; the kind-hearted hopeless romantic who attained a low profile, not by choice. The teacher paused after calling the last student then eyed suspiciously at me and Becky. I pretended to scan the pages of my Math textbook though I never did like the subject. Mr. Collins cleared his throat then tilted his head to the door. "You may come in now," he said. The door opened and the class went very silent seeming to have been expectant of some extravagant event to happen. Everyone must have been aware of the rumor

about Leon Walden. But to everyone's dismay someone else stepped in front. "Class, this is a transfer student from Rogue River High School, Leonard Dunn. Please make him feel welcome," Mr. Collins said. "You can ask him questions, if he's okay with it." The bespectacled boy pulled the gray and black striped beanie closer to his eyes and nodded without a word but it would not be hard to notice that he wasn't quite alright with it. I immediately classified him under category seven. Welcome to the club! I sniggered silently, throwing Becky a peevish look. Leon Walden my butt! If I was that obtuse, I'd probably think that this would be the part when someone would exclaim, "Bless my soul! You're Harry Potter," and expect him to pull a wand from behind his pants. Again, I sniggered quietly. Becky nudged my back again. "Guess rumors are just rumors." She smiled wryly, disappointment obvious on her freckled face. I shrugged blankly. It didn't matter much to me whether it was Leon Walden or not. The truth is I couldn't really

understand why some people make such a big fuss over it. Did they really expect some Hollywood star to begin throwing pebbles onto their windows at night and profess his undying love or something? Leigh Murough flitted her auburn hair before raising a hand. "You're not Leon Walden," she blurted and the class burst with laughter. The teacher's eyes narrowed. "It is quite obvious that Miss Murough isn't on earth with us. Give my regards to the winged ponies, will you? Of course he isn't Leon Walden." Mr. Collins wiped the beads of sweat across his balding head. "I just told you his name. So... Any more questions? When I said questions, I meant significant ones." "If he's not Leon Walden, then let's see his hair!" Charrie Bolton yelled as the rest of the class jeered. Even Becky was screaming at the top of her lungs; "TAKE IT OFF! TAKE IT OFF!" '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' '''''' Chapter 1 - I am Nerdy

I'm Sarah. But everyone in school calls me Nerdy. Only a handful; including teachers and my friends (there aren't many of them) call me by my real name. Maybe because people actually thought some stupid parent would actually put Nerdy Littman on the birth certificate of her only child. It wouldn't be difficult to guess that I am indeed a nerd. But that wasn't the only reason they gave me the nickname. It all started in the first year of high school and I couldn't blame anyone but Matt Adams-the football team captain and leader of the populars-but that's another story. After all the years of being called Nerdy, I didn't mind it anymore. I take it more as a nickname rather than an insult. "What is wrong with you people?" I muttered under my breath in pity for the new kid, only to catch cruel glares from the girls in the third row. "Your face," Charrie chided, her hair whipping as she turned away from me with a disgusted look. Some of the girls on the other side of the room sniggered in unison and coughed a muffled "nerd". I paid no attention to them as they threw small bits of paper at me. Instead I looked down, breathing in and out in silence

despite the fact that my insides revolted with annoyance. Denial was my best friend. Shaking my head, I sighed sheepishly at the commotion. I could only sympathize with poor Leonard Dunn. Being a nerd was hard enough but being bullied was another thing and it was just his first day here. Leonard Dunn hesitated, then after about half a minute he slowly pulled the bonnet off his head, revealing very dark brown, almost black disheveled hair that covered almost half of his face. "S-sure... I- I'm Leonard Dunn, f-from Oregon," he said, revealing the pair of brackets on his teeth making his pronunciation of S sound funny. "Definitely NOT Leon Walden," Becky exclaimed and the class stared at her. "I didn't just say that out loud, did I?" Her cheeks blushed as the class went into a laughing fit again. "Okay," Mr. Collins clapped his hands twice. "Settle down. Mr. Dunn, take the second seat to the left, third row." Mr. Collins had this habit of calling us Miss or Mister to remind us all that we are already responsible adults. "Err... Just call me Leonard," he grunted as he pulled the beanie back on his disheveled head. "If it would not

trouble anyone, I'd please like a seat near the window." "Mr. Jensen, do you mind?" The teacher asked the lanky red-haired boy seated on my left. "Not if you give me an A plus on our next pop quiz." Robbie Jensen sneered, slinging his rucksack on his back, and then headed to the third row. "Very funny..." The teacher muttered with sarcasm. As the class resumed with a bunch of math problems to solve, Leonard Dunn shuffled uneasily on his chair as he sat beside me. I tried my best to ignore him and focused on the word problems but he kept rustling every now and then. It felt like I was shouting the words inside my head but couldn't understand anything because I could not keep the noise out of my mind. Somehow he looked familiar, though I couldn't be sure since I was practically blind all morning after a couple of jocks-Matt Adams' cronies-threw slush balls at me, breaking my glasses in the process. As if being called four-eyes wasn't annoying enough, I didn't need people staring at the cracks on the lenses of my glasses. I grunted then cast an ominous look at Leonard hoping that he had figured out that I was very irritated at what he was doing but instead, he met my gaze and threw a mind-your-own-business look at me.

I tried counting one to ten before I could throw a chair at him. When I finally calmed down, I tore a piece of paper from my note book and scribbled something on it. Please keep it down, I wrote. Then I slipped the piece of paper on his desk. He furrowed his brows when he read the note, then crumpled it, threw it onto my desk and sighed staring at the window uninterestedly. Calm down, I told myself, then huffed and puffed focusing back on my seat work. After a minute or so, he started tapping his pencil on his desk. The rhythmic taps started to get on my nerves again. I glared at his direction and gestured for him to stop whatever it was that he was doing. Leonard Dunn stared back at me, then yawned revealing his dental braces and started tapping louder. Mr. Collins, seeming to hear what was happening lifted his gaze from the pile of papers on his table, and then shaking his head as if deciding to ignore Leonard, buried his face again. Mr. Collin's was my least favorite teacher because, one, he taught Geometry which I loathe with all my heart and soul and two, because he was one of those teachers who believed in the premise, as long as it doesn't bother me, you're free to scratch your butt in public or something like that.

But I couldn't ignore it anymore. The formulas whirled inside my head like a tornado of torture. They should've called the subject Tortumetry instead of Geometry. Curse the man... or woman who invented Math! I didn't need Leonard Dunn's annoying mannerism to grate on my angry nerves. It was hard enough figuring the surface area of a cone and the volume of one half of a cylinder measuring twelve pont five inches tall and the specific angle of... "Aaaahh!! Stop it! Stop whatever it is you're doing!" I threw my note book aiming at his face, which he dodged, caught then threw back at me hitting my forehead. And for the record, it was a bull's eye! An irritating smile suddenly trailed on his lips and he seemed to be enjoying my embarrassment. "S'that the best you got?" he said with a mocking tone. "You little-" Before I could hurl my chair to Leonard's direction, Mr. Collins stood up. "You and you!" He pointed to both of us. "Detention! After class." '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' ''''

Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant, filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like. ---~Lemony Snicket

It was a good thing Leonard Dunn was seated very far away from me. Or else, there might've been a round two. What a relief! But he kept glancing at me every now and then when he thought I was unaware. His face was as bemused as ever, though I could almost hear a voice at the back of my mind saying that he was smirking behind those thick glasses. The two long, tedious hours ended calmly. Except for those jocks at the back with serious cases of ADHD. I was making my way to my locker after being shoved into the hallway by someone whom I did not dare look at, when I heard shuffling noises at the rear of the next corridor. I listened closer when I thought I was imagining it since the place was almost deserted. There were hushed voices but I did not dare look either. I edged my way to a corner, intent on listening, making sure I wasn't discovered but I could not make out what they are talking about. From what I can hear, there could be three people, maybe more; a woman and two male voices. Slowly, I took a peek less than a foot from the turn to the hallway and caught glimpse of the three. I didn't know what came over me. I typically don't meddle with other

Chapter 2 - Leon Walden

Detention was uneventful. No need to say that it was such a colossal waste of time. I mean I could be doing my Biology report by now, or better yet try to catch up on my Geometry in which I pretty much suck at. Not to mention that I had to miss a crucial meeting in chess club. Duh. Even detention was better than chess club meetings. Surely, I'd hear tomorrow from Ricky Burns, chess club president tomorrow first thing in the morning about my unprecedented absence. I should remember to think of an alibi so Ricky Burns, chess club president wouldn't make a big fuss about it all day.

people's business or I simply just don't care. But I did it anyway. There he stood. Leonard Dunn seemed to be arguing with a tall man, clad in tight gray suit paired with a black tie with red polka dots on it, like Ronald McDonald about to head to his day job as a pencil-pusher. The man shook his head disappointedly and wiped the sweat off his creased forehead. The woman beside them stayed silent for most of the time, nodding and patting the man in the suit every once in a while. There was a stern look about her face with those horned-rimmed glasses and bundled wavy auburn locks. "This is an outrage!" The man's voice boomed across the hall. He huffed then managed to contain his temper as he hissed through gritted teeth. "What if the media finds out? It will be the end of all our hard work!" Leonard shrugged and sighed seeming to grow weary of the conversation. "They wouldn't have the slightest idea. I'd still be able to do my work... Given that Moira would help me with my school work and my schedule. I think can really pull this off!" He said with a mesmerizing but familiar grin. I squinted against the dimly lit corridor just to make sure.

My heart raced as the speculation cluttered in my head. Could he be... My eyes almost popped out of their sockets at the realization. I might be mistaken, but things would be messy if I get tangled up. Carefully, I backed away. Whatever Leonard and his adult friends were talking about, it shouldn't concern me anymore. "Gerald, I think we should trust Leon on this." The woman spoke to the tall man. Her voice was surprisingly gentle for her faade but what stunned me more was the fact that she called Leonard Leon. It just helped prove my theory. It occurred to me that it somehow made sense. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that the woman called him Leon since his name is Leonard. I mean, how can a geek like Leonard Dunn be the same Leon Walden I see on T.V.? As I backed away, something struck me. Was it really just a coincidence? If it is, then, why would the media be involved? I took a few careful steps back, preventing them from being alerted to my presence, then discreetly scurried away but before I could cover a few meters, I tripped on a lose tile on the flooring. I made a quick turn to keep my balance and stumbled colliding with the nearest locker.

The echoing thud reverberated throughout the hallways. "What's that?" Gerald huffed alarmed. "Who's there?" he said trying to sound harmless but I was not about to stay to find out if his voice was as nonthreatening as his actions. I didn't answer. Instead I scrambled to my feet and scampered as fast as my limbs could carry me. Surprised at how fast I managed to dart pass hallway after hallway, I grinned and kept my pace. From behind, I heard Gerald bawl a couple of curses then started chasing after me. Just my luck! My feet started to give away. No wonder I suck at P.E.! But this wasn't the time to regret all those years of being a wimp. I turned to the next corridor and practically hurdled down the stairs, taking three steps at a time, desperately hoping that I had somehow lost or outran Gerald. I could call for help but it would give away my position plus, the school grounds might have been deserted for the last few minutes for all I knew. "Stop!" Gerald yelled between his labored breathing, as he paused to lean on the railings of the stairwell. "For God's sake... Stop!" He cursed again panting. Dragging my aching limbs, I headed for the next hallway to the exit but spotted the woman whom Leonard called Moira heading towards me, both shoes on her left hand. Reacting swiftly, I changed

my course to the gym. Soon I saw the tall doors and swung them with much effort, darting inside as fast as I could, closed the doors again and bolted them shut with the metal barrel. I fell on my knees, still panting, hoping my pursuers would tire soon and leave me alone. "That was close." I heaved a deep sigh of relief. "Okay..." A hesitant silky voice said from behind me. I spun around, petrified to see Leonard Dunn sitting on the bleacher, arms crossed in front of him. From behind the thick glasses I could see a blurred but magnificent view of him; a set of perfectly arched brows touching the delicate wisps of the dark tousled hair, the subtlety of the angles of his boyish face, the rosy lips that I had rarely seen pulled up to a smile and the tantalizing pair of blue crystal eyes. "This is awkward..." he said wryly. Blinking my eyes rapidly, I realized that I was gawking, big time. Silence filled a couple of minutes or so and I spent the time staring around the gym with no particular thing in focus or looking at my shoes pretending to shake the dirt off-weighing the chances to run or fight back. Perhaps the first option would apply. I've seen a few Judo moves in Nat Geo but I didn't want to push my luck.

"Okay..." I pretended to clear my throat. "Well I have to go home now," I said nervously, hurrying to unbolt the door. Leonard grabbed my arm and stared at me intently, his face just a couple of inches away from mine. His turquoise eyes smoldered against mine, and all of a sudden I felt the inclination to stare back. "Let go of me!" I said firmly though my knees were weakening. "Not until you tell me what you've been up to." There was a grim look about his face as I tried to shake off his grip. "Quite far off whatever you are doing." I met his gaze letting him know that I am not a wee bit afraid though my knees were actually shaking. He pulled my arm forcefully then gripped on my shoulder tightly. "Who sent you!? Spill it!" There was rage in his eyes, but I could see that he was somehow frightened. "No one! Let me go. You're hurting me!" I retorted. Backing away a few steps, Leonard freed my arm, pulling the beanie lower over his guilt-stricken face. "I..." He stuttered. "I didn't mean to-" Then he fell silent.

"You... are Leon Walden, aren't you?" I asked out of impulse. He stared at the basketball ring for a few seconds then shrugged. "That depends." "On what?" I replied curiously. He paused as if pondering. "That depends on your ability to keep secrets and the price of your silence." I smiled amused at his words. "Price? What do you take me for?" "I need to be here." His words were desperate and his eyes were pleading behind those thick rectangular glasses. I started to unbolt the door once more weighing things inside my head. The barrel clicked softly and the door swung inward. "Look... I can give you money." He grabbed my arm once more, but this time more gently. "I can arrange front row tickets for you... to my... concert," he mumbled vaguely. I freed my arm from him and met his gaze. "I don't want your stupid tickets! In fact I don't wish anything from you," I said before storming out of the gym to the corridors and away from the school half expecting Gerald

or Moira to appear out of thin air in front of me. To my relief, they did not attempt to pursue me further. That night, it took me several hours thinking about what happened. About Leonard Dunn and Leon Walden. I wondered if I should keep his secret and more importantly, if I could. I have nothing against him... Well except that fact that I received the second detention in my entire life because of him. It was not that much big of a deal, aside from another fact that this may blemish my well-kept permanent records. Apart from that I hold no grudge for him. I decided I'd act as if nothing happened, resume my routine activities and never speak about it to anyone. Yes. That would be best for both of us. I fell asleep late that night, with Leonard's eyes constantly boring their way to my dreams. Never had I imagined that my normal nerdy life would change from the day I met Leonard Dunn. "Hey, Nerdy!" Matthew Adams slid next to me as I opened my locker after the second period. I didn't notice him immediately. My thoughts still lingered on what happened last night - trying to make out if it really happened or was it just a chunk of my mischievous imagination? "Nerdy!" he grunted, stroking his black hair which waved at the sides of his head. It had been a requirement for football players for several years now to have decent hair, and as the team captain, he must set a good example to his team mates, but Matt Adams wouldn't be someone you would want to be in the same room with when talking about morals and responsibility. "Hey, is that my biology report there?" He smiled delighted and snatched the folder from my hands sending pieces of paper flying in all directions. There goes my report. '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' ''''''' Chapter 3 - Hotshot Matt I kept my gaze down and nodded. Resistance would just cause more nuisances for me. "I... have to go now," I mumbled as I shut my locker close. "What's with the hurry? Won't you let me thank you?" A

sarcastic smile curved the corner of his lips. "Hmmm... Lunch it is!" he said slapping me hard on my back before he swaggered his way through the crowd of students beaming arrogantly. Stooping, I rubbed my shoulder where he hit me and coughed. I shook my head in frustration. As much as I hated being bullied and making his reports from time to time, it was quite difficult to assert myself without facing trouble. Sighing heavily, I headed to my Biology class and sat without so much as a glance to anyone who stared at me. I kept my head down all the time. It was easier that way although I would prefer it if I could pretend to be invisible. Anyone lend me their invisibility cloaks! The Biology room was all gray and white with two rows of sleek workbenches about a yard and a half long that was supposed to be occupied by two people. Most of the time the experiments were done in two's. Leonard Dunn, also known as Leon Walden sat silently next to me. Unfortunately, my last Bio partner Chris Robson had just moved to Colorado. Consequently, the teacher thought I needed someone to irritate me or the class would not be much fun. For example, Leonard Dunn. Sigh. I could see at the corner of my eyes that he was uneasy though he concealed it rather well. But I didn't dare look directly. I resolved to forget everything so we could both

carry on with our not so nerdy lives. "Sarah," Becky tapped my back. "Are you okay? You seem to be spacing out a bit." I managed a wry smile. "I'm fine." Lying was never my thing so I averted my gaze from hers-I was worried my eyes would sell me out. Class went slowly. I don't know if it was just me or did the clock just seem a bit sluggish than usual? I was so absorbed musing about the encounter with my fraud seat mate, I gawked at Mr. Collins for a while before realizing that he was calling me for recitation. The teacher shook his head in disappointment and muttered under his breath. The bell rang. It was lunch break. Hurriedly, I gathered my books intending to go to the only place Matt Adams would hopefully forget to search for me-the library. But before I could walk away, Becky caught me and tried to interrogate me once more. I was tempted to tell her about Leonard's secret but I knew all too well that she couldn't keep this a secret even if it meant my life... or hers. "I've been reading a novel last night I hadn't noticed the time. I slept like two in the morning, that's why." I lied again but I could see that she wasn't all that convinced.

"Really? What book?" She tried me. "Lord Loss," I said instantly. "Author?" Becky added dryly as she watched the lunch lady scooped yellow stuff that was supposed to be our lunch onto her plate. "Darren Shan," I replied almost annoyed and hoping I said correctly, though I was sure I've read all of Darren Shan's book before. My hands are all sweaty and shaking but with that I thought she finally believed me and nodded as we seated ourselves at the rearmost table where no one else wanted to sit. The revolting stuff on my plate churned my insides. How could they serve something like this? I sighed helping myself with the apple and the canned coffee I managed to snatch from the trays before the hungry students came in and devoured them. I was almost thrown off my seat when Matthew Adams hauled himself beside me. Hotshot Matt, as he was known to most was quite a rough guy. He wouldn't normally notice if people are getting hurt because of his sheer inhuman strength. Let's put him between categories four (amazing sports) and six (extremely lucky). I smirked at the thought. He had to be lucky or that tiny brain of his would have hemorrhaged long time

ago with the number of times he crashed his head during football games. Edging slowly, I leaned closer to Becky who threw me a bewildered look as if asking have we done something wrong? I shook my head at her, shuddering and took one nervous bite on my apple. "Food here's gross," Matt shifted his buff built which made the bench wriggle a bit. Beaming, he set three small packages on the table and opened each one. The first paper bag contained two large chocolate banana muffins, the second an abnormally larger fruit tart and the last have croquettes in it. "So here's lunch as promised." I gave him a perplexed look and half-expected him to hand me a list of new reports he had to submit on a deadline. Perhaps that was why he was bribing me but he needn't do that. The mere thought of being in his bad books terrified me inside even though I find rather difficult to admit it. To my relief, the list didn't appear. "It's yours." He shoved the food to me as he grabbed a croquette and munched like there's no tomorrow. "I didn't bring enough for your friend. You didn't help doing my report, did you? Err... Bonnie right?" he asked Becky sounding genuinely worried. Becky shook her head almost amused with Hotshot

Matt's weird thoughtfulness. "It's Becky and no. It's all Sarah." She teased me with a strange smile. "Thanks, but... I'm not that hungry-" My stomach grumbled. Argh! I smiled sheepishly. Becky giggled beside me. I gave her a blunt nudge. She half-giggled again then gawped when she saw who was coming. About half of the football team led by the Vice Captain, Mike Sullivan came heading to our direction. Oh great, the category four people-the populars. Most of them were tall (but not taller than Matt) that when they finally stopped in front of our table, a big shadow was cast on us. "We were looking for you, Captain," Mike said with unmasked sarcasm. Matt continued to gobble up the last of his slice of the fruit tart as if he heard nothing then sighed. "I'm so full! Thanks for the lunch and bring some more for me tomorrow okay?" he said as he rose to his full towering height so the he could look at Mike on the level. "You know how I hate cafeteria food, good thing these two have extra. Is it time for practice already?" Lie then change the subject. I'll be sure to remember that one strategy.

Matt went on with his team mates without so much as a glance at me and Becky, discussing about some tactics in football which were pretty much gibberish to me. When they disappeared from our sight, we simultaneously let out a sigh of relief. "Weird, isn't he?" I said. "Very much," Becky agreed.

The last few periods have passed uneventfully. The whole time I prevented myself from looking at Leonard and even denied the fact that he was sitting beside me. Everything will go smoothly, I hope. I was gathering my things when I saw Leonard go. Good. Perhaps he saw it my way and decided to pretend I didn't know the truth about him. I headed home alone since Becky had to leave earlier to help her Dad close their pet shop. It was a lazy late afternoon; the streets were empty since they became slippery with the puddles of melted snow. I rubbed my hands together and breathed on them to keep them warm. When I reached the next block heading to my house, I saw a black car pull over. Passing guardedly, I tried to see who the passengers were through my peripheral vision but to my dismay, the

windows were tinted heavily. "Sarah Littman?" A voice of a man called me and I instinctively turned to see who it was. Before I could comprehend what was about to happen, the car door in front of me swung open. A pair of big firm hands clasped on my shoulders, then yanked me into the car. With all my might, I tried to thrash and wriggle free of the man's grip but I was too late to react. The car's engine revved then sped to the streets. I opened my shivering mouth to shout for help but no words came-all I could manage was a pathetic croak. So I writhed with all the effort I could muster to free myself off his grip. "Don't waste your energy," the man said without looking at me. Because of the dimness inside the vehicle, I could not see clearly who it was. His grip loosened a bit. "We would not hurt you if you cooperate. Let's have a little chat, shall we?" My head hurt from thinking and my heart was racing out to my throat. I was determined to show off that I'm not a wee bit afraid but my emotions betrayed me. "P-please... let me go," I begged. "We will... after we settle our matters at hand," the man said encouragingly and suddenly my brain sent sparks to

my spine. Gerald! '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' '''''' If fate means you to lose, give him a good fight anyhow. ~William McFee

Chapter 4 -Help!

I squinted against the dim light just to have a good look at him, glare at him if possible and prove to them (and more importantly to myself) that I was not even in a teensy weensy way scared of them. The car halted after half an hour or so but no one in car spoke to break the deafening silence that seemed to linger for a while. The driver was a stranger to me. I could definitely tell that he was a tall man with medium built and a pale complexion. Although, I would not say that with his cropped dark hair and clear blue

mesmerizing eyes that he was in any way unattractive. Judging by the laugh lines on his strong face, he must be in his late thirties or early forties. Somehow, there was something familiar about him though I could not point my finger on it. Leonard Dunn kept his eyes straight on the road, shifting occasionally on the front seat. He dared not to even get a glimpse of me being restrained constantly by Gerald. As if I could actually jump right off the car while it's moving! A fuse of hatred towards Leon or Leonardwhoever the hell he really was- lit inside me. It was not like I wanted to be there when they were having their argument that night! In fact I shouldn't be in detention at all. No thanks to him. And now he abducted me and what next? Kill me and stuff my body somewhere far, far away? The car pulled over in front of a secluded building about twenty minute drive from home. I cursed at myself silently. I had been so engrossed with loathing these people who kidnapped me that I hadn't bothered to look where they took me! The building was relatively new, painted with a very light hue of chrome yellow with dark brown embellishments and window panes. There was a small carved wood sign board at the side of the door that read Chateau Le Fleur.

The tall driver parked the car near a drive-through-like slot near the entrance where a man in maroon uniform greeted from the window and handed the driver a small plastic card. "Here it is my good sir! Just as you requested," the man in uniform said. The driver nodded and maneuvered the car into a dim parking lot. Several other cars were lined in such a small area. I didn't need to be a car expert to notice that most, if not all of those were luxury vehicles. Gerald came out first and dragged me along with him. I should've called for help, knowing that we must be in a public place but something urged me not to. An elevator nearby opened. Moira emerged muttering "Oh dear, oh dear," under her breath, half-ran to me, her stiletto tapping loudly against the ebony-tiled floor. She led me gently all the way to the elevator, glancing remorsefully at the boys who were treading behind us silently. "I didn't believe it when you blokes planned this. Now you've done it and I still couldn't impel myself to believe that this is happening!" She appeared rather scared and ashamed for the boys' work. The elevator music was surprisingly Leon's song "Be Mine" and I suppressed the sudden urge to cackle like mad at the irony of it. He must have notice me tapping

the tip of my shoe on the carpeted floor to keep myself from laughing and with that I thought I saw him blush behind his thick wide glasses. I didn't know what came over me but I nodded my head gently to the beat of the song and tried to hum the melody (which I found amusing since I only heard it like a couple of times) just to annoy him. Moira muttered under her breath as we went through the floors and kept on it until the elevator reached the penthouse. The elevator finally opened and she led me again, putting a gentle arm on my shoulder to the last door at the end of the incandescent corridor. "Arthur, won't you open it?" Moira glared at him when she saw the man with the dark hair spacing out. Arthur reproduced the plastic key card and opened the door. A carpeted flight of stairs stretched before us. As we reached the top, I smelled something cooking in the oven. The penthouse's interiors were mostly made of fine-looking dark wood. Golden lamps and paintings of gardens and still life hung everywhere. The red velvet couches were lined with frames of thick wrought bronze, a marble table centering the room. Moira seated me in front of the fireplace that looked like granite with angellike creatures carved on it. The two adult men sat in front of me, face hardened, apprehension rising. Leon just stood in a corner, arms

crossed in front of him, gazing blankly at the floor as if examining it. Moira went straight ahead to the kitchen giving the boys a fix this look as she did. "So... What are we supposed to talk about?" I grunted dryly when I decided to finally break the silence that occupied the room for a couple of minutes. Arthur cleared his throat. "It's about Leon," he said rather nervously, then nudged Gerald who seemed to have been woken from his deep thoughts. "Since we know you know about Leon's true identity, we are ready to bargain for your silence," Gerald replied straightforwardly folding his hands under his chin. "I don't want anything from you people! I've told him that! Why don't you ask him?" I retorted, feeling awkward about mentioning Leon's name. The men exchanged looks then stared at Leon who shuffled uneasily where he was standing. Gerald looked surprised but skeptical at the same time. "Then why were you spying on us that evening?" I sighed exasperatedly. "For the nth time, I was not spying. I was merely there because your precious little celebrity got me a golden ticket straight to detention. And I don't care who he really is. All I know right now is that really hate him." My temper flared. Once I get angry, I

can't stop my mouth from blabbering and broadcasting anything and everything that is in my mind, which is utterly and exceptionally stupid. "Well, I tried to shut her up with some concert tickets, but she's a hard one," Leon said in a matter-of-fact tone. His words just added more firewood to my beacon. My temples started to throb but instead of hurling a figurine at him, I drew a deep breath and counted to ten inside my head. But before I reached six he spoke again. "If this comes to worst case scenario, we could always consider stuffing her inside a bowling bag and throw her into a lake or something," he said thoughtfully rather than with arrogance. Leon puzzles and infuriates me at the same time. I didn't know if he was naturally conceited or simply congenitally dense. Either which way, I figured that it must be a trend for child stars to somehow be deluded to some extent. With that thought, my anger which boiled menacingly reduced to sympathy. "So, you did not have any intention of divulging who he really is?" Arthur replied hesitantly. I nodded firmly. "Are you sure you don't want those tickets? They're front

row," he smiled convincingly. "Yes, I am positive." Arthur seemed like a perfectly reasonable man to me but with Gerald, I wasn't entirely sure. "Now can I go home?" I demanded calmly. Gerald did not seem convinced. "Perhaps. But I got my eye on you," he warned. "Come on Ger," Arthur patted him on the shoulder. "She's just a kid." I've had a few threats conjured inside my mind as well but I dared not speak of it. "Can I go home?" I said dryly. "Not after dinner, you can't." Moira dragged me to the kitchen and beckoned the guys to come along or else... I did not stay to find out and helped myself to a plate of baked potatoes and roast pork ribs. When we're done, Arthur threw the car keys to Leon, who replied with a puzzled look. "You wouldn't let the young lady walk all the way back, would you?" Arthur smiled. Young lady. I think I blushed on that note. Ugh.

Moira grunted with disapproval but her thoughts did not materialize. "What? It's a small town. What could possibly go wrong?" said Arthur, tousling Leon's dark hair. Leon grinned widely revealing a perfect set of ivory white teeth. "Thanks Dad!" He jiggled the keys on his fingers like a little boy with a new toy. So pop stars do have parents! I thought sarcastically. And that was why he seemed familiar. Leon must have gotten his looks from his side of the family. "Do you even have a license?" I said rather worried. "I'm old enough." He beamed excitedly. We rounded through the parking lot in silence until he spotted a sleek black sports car, with a silky matte finish. I wouldn't have to be a car enthusiast to know that it looked expensive. When he practically hauled himself inside the cab of the car, he sat there for a few moments, holding the steering wheel as if admiring it. Now I know why he was all giddy about driving me home. It was the driving part. Seriously! I could never understand boys and their relationship with cars.

He started the engine, revved it then drove smoothly to the street. Again, silence was upon us for ten minutes or so. It was on my favor since it has been my theory that every time Leon opens his mouth, my rage meter goes up a notch, plus I couldn't think of anything to say without feeling and appearing awkward in front of him. All the while we both fixed our eyes forward, sensing the uncomfortable atmosphere, scrutinizing each other's move or was it just me and my imagination? Possibly, I have been egotistical all the while assuming that he suffered my company the way and vice versa. I began to remind myself yet again who I am-that I am but an unremarkable kind. The world had never revolved around me and it never will. Perhaps, it was for the best. I despised attention, especially the awful feeling of being studied. "You've been here a while, I reckon," Leon finally broke the silence, his gaze still glued on the wet slick road. I could not help but feel surprised at his first attempt to open a small talk. "Since birth," I replied dryly. He appeared to be in deep thought for a while. "I can't remember my home town anymore." A sense of nostalgia gripped his features. "We kept on moving since I was five."

The gap between my eyebrows furrowed. As if it wasn't strange enough that he actually started a conversation with me. Now he's giving me an autobiography! "Moving from town to town... then to the city," he continued. "It was getting lonelier every time I make new friends... but had to leave them. This is even the first normal school I've enrolled in, can you believe it?" There was a spark in his ocean blue eyes. I was at a loss for words. I opened my mouth but nothing seemed to form from my lips and instead gave him something between a nod and a shrug. I was never good at this sort of small pleasantries but I felt awkward and mostly guilty for no concrete explanation. Leon shifted his gaze back on the road, face hardened, both hands tightening on the steering wheel. Perhaps, he assumed I was excessively indifferent to be concerned or to even just pretend to. I felt like the selfish, insensitive idiot that I was-far too concerned with my grievances and my own emotions. After what felt like a several minutes, I looked at him hesitantly. "Sh-should we talk in class?" I started. "I mean... we could just ignore each other... that is, i-if you want to," I stuttered unable to avert my eyes from him for some reason unknown to me. But he kept his eyes on the road and kept his thoughts to himself with an exasperated air about him.

"O-okay... I get it," I said almost a whisper as if choking. The whole time I stared blankly at the window, a whir of green and gray passing through my eyes until we arrived to a street having a row of identical houses and the lush gardens in front despite the melting snow, most with a couple or more variety of trees. I was home. The car came to a halt but not gently that my head almost banged on the windshield. So I said my hurried thanks and got out without so much as a glance to Leon Walden. He didn't bother to see me off and drove away in haste. I felt stupid yet again, being left alone to think poorly of my social competence.

"It's late. Where on earth have you been?" Mom interrogated me when I came in. I sighed heavily. "I had to go to Becky's for our homework." I lied. I knew I wasn't good at it but I tried my very best to avoid further confrontation. My mom and I live in a two-story house. It wasn't anything grand but I consider it home. The truth is, it was far too big for just the two of us and I liked it. That way mom and I wouldn't have to see each other all the time. Mom and I don't exactly see eye to eye. We don't agree about pretty much everything, but she's the only family I

have. Beggars can't be choosers. "There's spaghetti and meat balls in the fridge. Heat it up." "I'm not hungry," She continued muttering under her breath which gradually faded until I reached my room, shut the door close and hopped in the tub of warm water. I made up my mind to write everything that happened these last few days in my diary which I forgot to update for a week now. Today I met someone interesting. Interesting in a way I couldn't easily define. I started to write then ended with this-perhaps I was being biased. But today I saw a side of him I hadn't expected. Before I knew it, I was smiling as I looked out the window, at the waning moon and the flickering stars. ''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' Chapter 5 - Invisible to His Eyes

had always been a nerd since I could remember. The truth is I didn't really think it was all that bad. But most people treat us nerds like we were some kind of primitive species from some undiscovered alien planet. Since I was a kid, I've always been fascinated by stories of fiction and fantasy and more often than not, spent my free time reading books. I'm not much of an academic person. School subjects didn't appeal to me at all, especially Math. But since I had nothing better to do, I took the typecast and embraced it. One of the reasons why people call me Nerdy was because I had worn glasses since I could remember. I used to be legally blind-not really blind but you've got to wear a cervical collar so you could stay upright with the weight and thickness of the glasses you would have to wear twentyfour seven- which was before I had the laser surgery. After finishing middle school I grew tired of being the push over, undesirable, boring girl that I was and resolved to reinvent myself. Back then I had this notion that everything goes back to zero in high school. And that presented me with an opportunity to be someone I have always dreamed off - a fresh start. It happened back when I was in my first year in high school. After having a three-day row with my mom, I had my braces taken off (they had been there for ages!), my

I consider myself a stereotypical nerd and I lived with it. I

glasses replaced with contacts and my unusually long black hair-that flowed several inches down my waist, cut to a more desirable length. Overhauling my wardrobe was the hardest part. I had to go shopping which I totally loathed, not to mention that I was not too keen on chucking my favorite overalls into the bin. All summer, me and Becky practiced every single day to talk, walk and think in the most non-nerdy way. I was making progress, losing the croaky laugh and the dorky walk. But the hardest part was trying to think like a normal teenager. But I guess, I managed to lessen my geekish ways to some extent. I was having the time of my life! My plan totally pulled off. I wasn't Nerdy anymore. I became the Sarah I longed for; normal and tolerable. People weren't glowering at me. No one stuck a "pinch me" or "geek-wad" sign behind my back. And I could carelessly walk along the hallways without the fear of being shoved against lockers or bulletin boards. I began to think that if I'm really lucky, I might even have a date to one of those dances every now and then. People greeted me and I'm not just talking about the ones I already knew... until Matt came. Yes. Hotshot Matt. Was it just a big coincidence, or was it just me that we have been in the same school since kindergarten? I was quite convinced that he would not recognize me

immediately but he did. He was at the entrance of the cafeteria yelling to me. "Nerdy! Hey! Nerdy!" he called, waving as he did over and over again to my direction. My new found companions began to be inquisitive about him. "Is that Matt?" A girl named Michelle leaned over to me with a suppressed smirk. Becky answered giddily before I could nod. "Matt Adams, he is," she said grinning, checking him out; batting her remarkably long lashes (I think they were extensions). "Oh my gosh! He's coming this way," she hissed animatedly trying to avoid gawking at Matt who paused in front of our table, hunched a little as if to scrutinize me, eyes squinting. "It is you!" He sneered triumphantly as I tried to avoid his gaze. "H-hi... Matt," a sigh of resignation left my throat. He chuckled as he patted me on the back with his big hand so vigorously, the impact made me cough the fries I just swallowed. "I thought my eyes were fooling around with me. What's with the new look Nerdy?" It felt as though every eye was focused on me. My socalled new friends argued about the matter silently as soon as I was out of eavesdrop, except for Becky who knew all along. Those who knew me before high school

seemed to be reminded of who I was and how I looked back then. I bet my scrawny, dorky image burned in their minds, imprinted in there for permanent reference. And I knew Sarah was back to being poor old Nerdy once more.

eyes and dark hair rarely matched. I got those features from my dad but I was never eager to recount details about him. I wore a blue plaid jacket over a dull beige knee-length tunic, comfortable knitted tights and a pair of faded leather boots. Before I half-ran to school, I slung my bag on my shoulder and hastily grabbed a piece of toast before Mom could come out of the kitchen and remind me of my late arrival last night. The bell rang as soon as I reached my home room, of course after Matt Adams and his team mates nearly tripped me on the way, leaving me to pick up my books that had sprawled all over the floor. I loathed every day that I had to suffer the kind of treatment but I kept my silence and stared down. I sat on my chair panting; thanking that the first period had not started yet, avoiding the demeaning sets of eyes that seemed to fix on me. Leon sat silently next to me leaning as far away as he could, staring blankly outside the window, his skullcap still on his dark head even though he was inside the class room. I bet he thought he looked cool. A smirk formed on my lips. I pretended he did not exist, grabbing my notes from inside my back and pretended to review my Geometry home work.

I opened my eyes. Oh, that dream again, I thought. It happened a year ago and I still wondered somehow. What could have happened if I ceased being Nerdy and became the normal and likeable Sarah. Sarah, the ordinary girl - or could I have been popular? No. Not in a million years possible. The clock flashed seven thirty. I would be late. Not minding to tidy up my bed, I jumped out like a cat dropped into a tub of water, then went scurrying and shuffling all over my room (which was now an overturned mess) to get ready as fast as my clumsy hand-eye coordination could manage. Opening the door, I managed to get a quick glimpse of myself in the mirror. I didn't bother with contacts anymore. If I couldn't read something, my reliable old glasses should do the job. My grayish eyes stuck out too much against my oddly pale face. My hair stretched out almost three finger breadths short from my waist. Gray

During Biology Lab, we had to be partners yet again in microscopic analysis of amoeba from the water specimen. Ugh. Amoeba. How exciting. It was annoying how every time I tried to point out some details to him, he would resume whatever it was that he decided to do; I was but a ghost. It was like I did not exist, though I was right there sitting beside him. I might as well be talking to a rock to get a response. "Look," I started in a low exasperated voice when he accidentally nudged me. "If it's so inconvenient for you that I'm your partner in this stupid experiment, believe me; the feeling is mutual." He continued to look at the specimen through the microscope adjusting the lenses as he did, as though I didn't say anything. I gritted my teeth in silence and gave up on working with him. A ghost, certainly; but with a grudge so huge so as to wish him the worst of luck in the world. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. So that's how you want it to be. Fine by me. Sooner or later I'd be caught not participating with the activity so, to while away time, I got the turbid mossy water from which we obtained our specimen, lifting the beaker to an eye level to study it against the light from the window while Leon kept ignoring me. Murky. I wrote

on the experiment checklist asking for the properties of the specimen. "Ms. Littman!" Ms. Eisenhower, the Biology teacher exclaimed, her voice screeching all over the laboratory. I was so startled that I hadn't realized that the beaker slipped from my hand, straight to Leon's pants, then smashed onto the floor. He jumped out of his seat in surprise. His eyes smoldered at me with much outrage as he realized that he was wet with muddy water from pants to his feet. Dozens of pairs of eyes immediately fixed on him and the class burst into laughter. It was hilarious. He looked like he peed with his pants on! "I... I'm sorry," I suppressed a giggle. "I didn't-" Leon stormed out of the class before I could make an apology and skipped the next few subjects, then returned only after the lunch break with a fresh pair of pants. It made me giggle at the thought. It was immature and I couldn't help but feel sorry for him but yeah... It was hilarious and the class went on and on about it, with gibes such as "wet crotch" and "pee buddy". Geometry was the most tiring part of every day. The teacher scribbled a ton of numbers, symbols and figures on the board, none of which made any sense to me. This is why I can't stand Math. It was always too complicated.

Every equation is a problem that has to be solved and the answers ought to be exact every time. I despise absolutes. The rest of the day resumed as normal-as it ought to be. No strange people abducting me, no new set of reports I had to do for bullies and especially, no superstar pretending to be a nerd to irritate me. Though I almost constantly felt an oddness as though a pair of eyes stalked my every move and when I was looking away, boring through my head with piercing intensity it made me shudder. Truthfully it was dreary; repetitive. But it is the kind of life only nerds have the privilege of living. No fancy parties. No dates. No fun. The lengthy cyclic routine stretched from a few days to a few weeks highlighted only by my occasional row with Mom who never seemed to fail in seizing the chance to perceive any bit of flaw I manage to conjure every single day. I could live with that. I congratulated myself for learning to pretend Leon Walden or Leonard Dunn, whoever he really was-did not exist in this world. It was hard at first but I saw how he did it rather exceptionally well and copied how his looks passed through me, or how he acted as if nothing happened whenever we bumped on each other, I sort of got the hang of it. Nerdy was back to business.

Or so I thought.

'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' Chapter 6 - Check Mate!

I stood up after finishing a quick bowl of unsweetened cereal when I caught glimpse of the black car parked at the other side of the street. There was a strange familiarity about it but I couldn't be so sure. "Mom, I didn't know the Robson's were back. I thought they moved abroad," I called out. Her strawberry blond head protruded from the laundry room. "They weren't. Apparently, a new family bought the house." I nodded before she could narrate her encounters with the Robson's, grabbed my backpack and walked to school hurriedly, pausing a couple of seconds hoping to see any signs of life in the newly sold residence to no avail.

Class went on smoothly. It was quite tedious really, and I was so glad to hear the bell signaling lunch break, I almost jumped out of my seat before the Biology teacher dismissed the class. Becky and I strode side by side in silence. Perhaps this was one of the reasons we got along quickly. We don't bother with the chatter and probably, like me she preferred to steer clear of small pleasantries and the awkwardness of such. There were only a few times when she got really inquisitive and when she does, she really knows how to get on your nerves. We sat at our usual table at the back of the cafeteria, both staring ruefully at the repugnant stuff that was again, supposed to be lunch. Ricky Burns, chess club president and one of his buddies, Al Mackintosh sat with us. Birds of same the feather. I sighed and gazed pensively at the other tables. Same went with the all the strata of students. Popular and good-looking kids stay together with their own kind. Athletes did too as well as the cheerleaders, the punks, the nerds; and there were those who did not belong to the said castes. They tend to stick together. The world is unfair. I have accepted that a long, long time ago. Sometimes I wondered if I hadn't worn glasses and wasn't branded as a nerd. I imagined myself shopping or spending hours to curl my hair or put make dark makeup on my face and I chuckled at the thought.

Sad to say, I would never have passed for any other category other than a nerd. I don't even wear glasses all the time anymore and people call me Nerdy. Becky and I parted for electives. I took Studio Art while she did Wellness. Those were the only classes we had not been together. I practically ran away when I read the course description: Cooking for Life beyond High School. No thanks. The next period was English Literature. I wore my glasses this time, tied my hair up into an untidy bun, sticking a pencil in between the loops to hold it in place. This being my favorite subject, I wanted to focus. Accidentally, I caught Leon glance over me for a quick while then withdrew his gaze upon noticing that I was aware. There was a hint of vagueness in his eyes. I kept on scribbling on my notes, suddenly becoming aware of my surroundings. I could hear it as he shifted uneasily on his seat. I could see at the corner of my eye, when he pretended to rest his temples on his hands so he could look at me freely without being caught. Perhaps there was dirt on my face. Do I look funny to him? That was a rhetorical question. I was fighting hard to take a glance at him for several

minutes but I still did it out of impulse and sheer stupidity. To my surprise, he met my eyes with his; clear as crystal, a smirk forming at the corner of his lips. With that, I scowled at him rather incredulously. What's the matter with this guy? First, he talked about his past, yada yada yada, then sulked and ignored me for a few weeks and just now, was he trying to annoy me to death yet again? The period ended and left me flustered. Something was reawakened inside me. I strongly insinuated that it was nothing more than blind boiling fury. "Sarah," Becky revived me from the deep thoughts that submerged me. "Aren't you coming with me to gym class?" "Uhh... Yeah, I'll meet you in the locker room." I still sat there unable to stand with the strange sudden wave inside my stomach. Perhaps it was indigestion. The next thing I knew, I felt the pencil I used to secure my hair being tugged gently by someone. I turned to who it was as my hair fell down my back and caught a glimpse of Leon holding the pencil appearing as dumbfounded as I was. "Don't wear it up. I like it... better that way..." he muttered more to himself as if in a trance as though someone was

hypnotizing him. Maybe it was the chemicals in Bio Lab. It must be hazardous to his superstar brain. I snatched the pencil from his hand, glowering at him. "So are we speaking to each other now?" The invisible hypnotist must have snapped his fingers because with that note, Leon seemed to blink in a curious manner, the gap in between his perfect eye brows furrowing slightly as though he had been doused with cold water. Clearly, he wasn't himself. His face dimmed, jaws clenched and without a word trudged his way out. Once again I was alone in the room, left to gawk and fume at the absurdity of it all. I was not normally a violent person but I found it utterly difficult to restrain myself from the urge of toppling my chair down. I was still seething with an inexplicable rage as I changed into my gym clothes, just to find that Mr. Myers was on leave due to a transient ischemic attack and no one was able to relieve the class from him. But as usual, we weren't allowed to go early as the school would be held liable for whatever, if any, would happen to the students outside the school grounds when it was still a class hour. The class automatically divided into two on their own accord-more than half joined the unofficial dodge ball

tourney while others; the athletically unblessed, concurred to a game of chess. As much as I loved chess, I was in the mood to channel my newfound fury through a rough game of dodge ball. To my dismay, no one wanted to take me in their team so I crawled back moping to the chess arena. Ricky Burns, chess club president (yeah, you have to mention that every time you say his name) had already wiped the floor with two of the geeks on the line that was formed by the people who wanted to challenge him. Ricky yawned and scratched his nose as he had beaten another three quickly with one of his ten-move or fourmove games. "You're all no challenge for me!" He said checkmating another opponent. "Sarah!" He called me with an air of authority. I didn't like his tone. "Won't you play?" "No. Too lazy to do anything." I said dryly, seating myself beside Becky, slouched on the bleachers and leaning on the wall as if all my life-energy has been sucked dry out of me. "You're not afraid to lose, are you?" he taunted. He knew all too well that I would not refuse such an arrogant dare. I stood up stormed my way to the stool opposite his and sat glaring at him. "I never lose in chess, Ricky Burns, chess club president. More importantly, I never lose to

you." "Let's see about that," he muttered. In a matter of minutes, I could see the beads of sweat forming on his wide forehead. I smiled a crooked grin and moved my queen in front of his king. He couldn't do anything since I created a web of trap for him plus I supported my queen with the other pieces well. "Check mate." Becky shrieked in excitement while a hum of mutterings filled the air. Ricky sighed and congratulated me acidly. A smile curved the corner of my drying lips. Chess was one of the very few things I'm proud about myself. I would gloat about it, but I could never compel myself to add insult to injury. Somehow I felt sympathetic for Ricky. He scratched the back of his copper hair and adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose to hide his disappointment then walked to Leonard Dunn. Ricky patted him on the shoulder pausing to mumble something to his ear as if passing an ugly secret, then thrust him toward the chess table. Ugh. Now the boys were fraternizing against me. I am so going to kick Ricky's butt next Chess Club meeting!

Leon shook his head hesitantly as he sat in front of me and started to arrange the white pieces in their respective positions without so much as a glance at his opponent. I found myself gawping at his sudden participation. This is going to be good... and personal. I smirked. So you'd like to be on the offensive? That's how you'd like to go on about this? My mind raced. The fury was fueled by annoyance as I put my pieces back to their places, fingers trembling, smoldering at him. A waved a hand to signal that he was free to start. Leon shrugged, his face unreadable, leaning forward to move his knight. The whole while I was glaring at him and this time I thanked God that I didn't have to pretend to ignore him. I could see through his glasses and found his crystalline turquoise eyes as they flickered through his dark lashes - his slightly angular face, perfect nose, flawless complexion and lips that curved in an outlandish manner whenever he smiled, much more mesmerizing. It troubled me how easily one could see through his disguise and smirked at how dense my classmates were for buying his scheme. But then, I marveled at his idea of pulling off the nerd cover. For us nerds, no one goes to the trouble of looking closely. We were the eyesores and the unwanted. I secretly congratulated him inside my head. Or did I just say that out loud?

"Your turn." He averted his gaze from me as if doing otherwise would contract him some contagious disease. I finally remembered how to breathe, then as though doused with cold water, made a hasty move with the pawn in front of my king. How long was I day dreaming? I nagged at myself silently and reminded my brain how I loathed this person. Clenching my fists until my nails dug on my palms, I chanted inside my head, focus, focus, focus! But I struggled hard to my surprise to fight the urge to scrutinize his every move. Instead of focusing on the game I was lost in deep unsettling thoughts. We exchanged a few hasty moves for what seemed like hours to me. I was too eager to finish him but every time I pick a piece, a sneer forms on his face, taunting me, unnerving as if I was about to fall into one of his traps. I breathed nervously and closed my eyes. Whatever he was doing, he was good at it. To tell the truth, I had no idea what I was doing now. I kept moving pieces without thinking about it. "That's a rook you're holding," he said bleakly. "So?" My voice was supposed to be sarcastic, instead I sounded terrified. He curbed a smirk, and instinctively pressed his fingers

to his lips, elbow resting on the table. "Err... It isn't supposed to be moved diagonally." Ugh. I fumbled there like an idiot, eyes still fixed on him, nearly toppling down the pieces near my trembling hands. "I knew that." I tried to sound like everything was under control feeling the rush of blood through my cheeks, wondering if I look as worse as I had imagined. After a few more exchange of moves, his eyes fixed at me intently then moved one of knights then tipped my king down with a small smile. "Check mate," said Leon with an incomprehensible tone. The chess club members - mostly composed of dorks rushed to Leon to cheer and congratulate him, but he continued to look at me intently with no apparent reason. I stood up blinking my eyes rapidly as if doing so would make me absorb pretty much everything that happened in that short period. I walked up to the group to congratulate him so as not to appear a sore loser. "You've w-won." That was the closest thing to a praise I could muster. Pathetic, I know. He smiled widely. If it were not for his fake braces, the room would have lit a notch.

I shook my head gently and watched the chess club members as they hurried to the boys' locker room and left us. I knew I was gawking again. "And that's supposed to be a compliment?" He sounded rather amused than sarcastic. "You weren't even playing." That was not an insult. He was telling the truth as though he could tell what I was thinking. "Yes I was," I lied and avoided looking at him. "Not really. You've spent half the time gawking." "Well, as you can see I have lots of free time," I retorted, disdain evident now. "That was a meticulous way to stick out like a sore thumb for someone who's supposed to stay inconspicuous." I might have gone overboard, but I didn't care at the time. I knew it was unfair to blame him for making me miserable. That was partly my fault. Every agonizing second I spent near him should be easy without my stomach churning every now and then. There might be something wrong with me. Too much anger could be bad for my health. Again I attributed everything to the indigestion. His eyes glowered at me narrowing into slits of blue

gems. Ugh. What am I thinking? I scolded myself over and over again. Leon stepped nearer, his tall figure casting a shadow on me and I felt a sudden wave of fear. He opened his lips to say something but paused in frustration and turned away kicking angrily. I could see his shoulders rising and falling as he breathed deeply to conquer his temper. When finally, he composed himself, he turned to me. "Perhaps you're right." There was resignation in his voice. I was quite used to retaliating every time he spoke so, by force of habit I opened my mouth intending to let out a few more bickering lines that I made up quickly inside my head, hesitated, then let the matter drop. "We should go," I looked around noticing that everyone has left, still avoiding his eyes. He half-nodded, half-shrugged then stepped away glumly to the boys' locker room. I did the same and changed my clothes, almost unaware of my surroundings, as if in state of trance; deep thoughts about Leon Walden lingering, flashing in rapid succession inside my head. Becky waited for me at the corridor near the changing room, silently observing. There were questions in her eyes, but none translated to concrete words. She knew me too well to interrogate me at this point.

I sighed, managing a smile to hide the frustration that welled up inside me. I couldn't figure him at all. Leon Walden seemed like a blank canvass to me. "You've been here a while?" "Not that long," She smiled analyzing my face. "Are you okay?" "Err...Yes I am." I lied once more. I hated lying but it was inevitable. ''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' Chapter 7 - The Worst Day of My Life

If my life was some kind of a fictional story, this chapter would have been entitled "The Worst Day of my Life". Those pages, I would gladly skip if I were to read. If you were me, you would have preferred to be in a coma just so you could save yourself from the suffering that was about to come. Sadly, I could not have known in advance what was bound to happen and secondly, this is real life. Not just some form of entertainment that could be revised at will.

"Do I look like I was following you?" He smiled in an insulting way. Becky waved a hand as I walked away. Her house was straight ahead while mine was a turn to the left. My steps were heavy as I was preoccupied yet again. I hated thinking this much. I wished I could stop before I went mad, but couldn't. I heard footsteps behind me; light, striding and slow. Thinking it was Becky who might have changed her mind and decided to finally probe me with her questions, I spun to convince her to save her curiosity for tomorrow. Perhaps then, I would have already thought of some believable alibis. To my surprise, Leon Walden stood before me, both hands in his pockets throwing a piercing look at my direction. "Are you following me?" I said trying to be as casual as possible. Leon grunted, a sneer forming on his irritatingly flawless face. It was as though the overly thick glasses, his braces and woolen cap were always invisible to my eyes and I couldn't force myself to see him as Leonard Dunn anymore. That might have even been more convenient. I hesitated when the wave of realization came crashing through me. He didn't need to be so arrogant. I knew what I am. "Well... why are you here then?" "I'm going home." "Really?" I challenged him. He shook his head as though he saw something funny on my face and started to step ahead. I watched him absent-mindedly as he treaded lightly and stopped in front of my house. Leon took a quick glimpse at me then headed to the house across the street that used to be the Robson family's home. My jaw dropped in disbelief that I did not worry anymore if I would look like a total idiot. Before he closed the door of his home, he mouthed unobtrusively with a smile. "I told you so." Upon reaching my room I threw my things mindlessly and changed into a pair of pajamas. Normally, I would stay locked inside my room where my mom wouldn't pester me or just so I could not here her constant muttering about stuff that I did and didn't do. But today, I was glad to risk my peace to find answers. "Mom," I called as I practically jumped from the stairs. "You don't happen to know who moved in across the

street, do you?" A smile formed on her face. That couldn't be good. Even in the physical aspect, we didn't have very much in common. She has big blue eyes, wavy strawberry blond locks and thin lips. Every detail of her features was gentle, except her voice which seemed too livid, not to mention, shrill most of the time. "Why so suddenly curious?" She was in a good mood. "No specific reason," I lied. She didn't seem to notice. Good. "You'll get to meet them sometime soon." "Err, okay." "I invited them over for dinner." "Really, w-why?" I blurted with utter incredulity. "Why not?" A smile curved her lips once more as she concentrated on drying a wine glass. "You never invite people over," I gritted through my teeth. "That's because we didn't have new neighbors. Not until now."

I ran to the kitchen in panic. Everything was stunningly spotless. A set of four wine glasses that rarely took the trip out of the cupboard were lined in front of me along with a bottle of red wine that my mom had kept for ages, it got me wondering if they ever expire. The roomed smelled of meat roasting and thyme and parsley while the stove sizzled as the risotto cooked. "Why all the fuss?" I hissed. "Come on, mother," I call her mother whenever I get exasperated about her antics. It was hysterical! Why would I have to endure Leon Walden's presence in my own house!? Am I being punished for all the wrongdoings I committed since birth? "They could be terrorists or kidnappers... or smugglers for all we know. You barely knew that those people! In fact, you have no idea who they are!" Mom kept humming to herself then lifted her gaze up to me. In her normal days, she would have matched the octave of my tone, or narrate all the mistakes I've done for fifteen years, but she was in such high spirits. She was enjoying every bit of it. "Then we would get to know them tonight." Touch. I was sure I could not persuade her to cancel the dinner.

"Fine, but don't expect me to be down here when that happens." It was a selfish move, but the thought of the tormenting rapport between Leon and me churned my stomach. "Why?" She smiled again. "I think I have indigestion." I retorted bitterly. "I have just the thing," she replied pensively before she went rummaging in the cupboard and finally found a jar of herbal tea. She heated the teapot on the stove then threw two tea bags to steep in the water. I watched silently in resignation. I knew her stubbornness could not be opposed by reason. She set a cup on a saucer and poured steaming hot tea in it, pushed the cup to me and glared as fiercely as her features permit. "Be down here at seven or you'll be grounded for life." Seemingly pleased with herself, Mom resumed on stirring her risotto with a small grin on her face. I stomped my way to my room, forced to carry the cup of tea with me, slammed the door and thrashed violently on my bed until I got really exhausted. After a long soak at the tub (my fingers were already pale and crinkled when I got out), I changed into a gray long sleeved shirt paired with a navy blue jogging pants,

dried my hair, then tied it up in a messy bun. The tea had gone cold but I gulped it down nervously. I was amazed how it calmed me almost at once. The fluttering in my stomach seized for now. It wasn't long before I heard the laughing and the exchange of small pleasantries down stairs. They finally came. But what was their motive? Moving close to the school seemed reasonable but was it just a coincidence that they bought the house across the street? Reluctantly, I trudged to my door to sneak a quick look at the guests and prayed to God that my mom forgot her threats and let me live in peace. "Sarah, come over here sweetie!" There was a melody in my mom's voice that terrified me. She's insane. I headed down the stairs, almost tip-toeing as I did. There they were; Leon and Arthur at my door step. Fighting back the urge to dry-heave, I managed a wry smile. "Let me take care of those." Mom assisted them as they shrugged away their coats, and gladly hung them in the closet, though I didn't see the point of wearing jackets when they lived practically across the street. Arthur wore gray slacks and a beige turtle neck that

emphasized his buffed stature. I immediately saw how Mom stared at him. She was checking him out! My mouth almost fell open. So that was why she was in such a good mood. Ugh. I rolled my eyes. Arthur smiled at her. "Thank you for inviting us over." "The pleasure is mine," said Mom. Clich. "Shall we proceed to the living room?" She motioned with her hand to lead them. Arthur nodded, then seeming to have caught a glimpse of me, beamed fondly. "Hello, Sarah. Nice to see you again." "You too," I replied smiling back. I find it surprising that I actually meant what I just said. He perched gently on the couch beckoning Leon who trailed after him. Then my heart raced. Mom shifted her gazed to me, bewilderment in her face. "You know each other?" I sighed. "Well, we sort of met before," I said remembering how we actually met. Arthur gave an apologetic smile at me. "Yes. Len-len

goes to the same high school." I blurted a sudden chuckle. Len-len? Isn't that a girl name? Who could have believed it? Leon Walden, superstar, heartthrob, was called Len-len! Mom shot a few sharp glares at me as I tried to restrain myself from laughing harder. If this had happened while I was drinking water, I might have spit it out to everyone's faces. Leon's face flushed with embarrassment. He averted his eyes and stared angrily at his knuckles. I couldn't quite compose myself so I just pretended to cough a little, managing a decent faade in the end. "Actually Leon-ard and me sit next to each other in class, Mom." I turned to Leon waiting for any validation but he opted to keep his silence. Mom finally broke the silence that lingered for a while. "So, who wants dinner?" she said standing up to head to the kitchen. "I'll set the table," I volunteered but Mom waved a hand. "No need dear." She's being ridiculously charming today. It was almost creepy. "Let me help you." Arthur followed her, folding up his

sleeves then winked as he left me and Leon in the living room. I stood there foolishly fidgeting with my hands, watching his reaction through the corner of my eye. It was awkward. He finally moved, adjusting his thick glasses on the bridge of his nose, taking a quick glance at me through his lashes then looked away. My heart almost jumped out of my throat, racing. It was the most dreadful feeling. My stomach stirred in protest and I had to hold on to the baluster that lined the flight of stairs, to keep my feet steady. Suddenly, my mind raced. They've come for my mom this time! And it was all my fault. Anger started to flicker inside me again, fixing my eyes on Leon. I didn't realize that a tear rolled down my cheek as I glowered at him. He met my gaze, appearing startled at my sudden emotional outburst. "W-why-"stuttered Leon as he hurried to me desperately trying to figure out what I was thinking. I almost choked as I tried to speak, and then fell silent. The realization that these people were potentially dangerous struck me. And suddenly, I feared for my mother's safety.

"Why?" I croaked, mirroring his words though I did not intend to mock him at all. "I... I promised I won't tell anyone. Why my mother? Please... spare her." I mumbled in between the stifling hushed sobs. I was not normally emotionally fragile. If it was just me involved, I would bicker and fight back to death fearlessly, but the thought of my mother being in jeopardy because of the mess I made unnerved me to the bones. "Not her... not my mom," I pleaded almost a whisper. "I wouldn't tell anyone, I swear. Just... just-" He looked me in the eyes, hesitant, remorseful, appearing as afraid I was, panic evident on his face then gently clasped his hands on my shoulder. "Sshhh..." he hushed, closing his eyes as if to calm me, the tip of his face leaning very delicately on my forehead. I froze. I forgot to breathe. Panic gripped me. My stomach lurched; my heart skipped a few beats, queasiness took a hold of me. I heaved. I could not remember what happened next... or at least I refused to. Mom came rushing to my aid. "Oh my..." She took my

shoulders from Leon who looked petrified and startled at the same time. "When you said you have indigestion, I didn't think you were serious!" I shook her hands away and let myself tumble on the couch, mistakenly stepping on the pool of sick on the floor. "I'm fine Mom," I said rather surprised. I did feel better. "Are you sure? You look rather pale?" Arthur said worriedly. There was no way he was the bad guy I was quite terrified of. Gerald, maybe. But Arthur? I managed a weak smile hoping to convince everyone. "I'm always pale. I'm feel better now, thanks Arthur." My eyes caught Leon who stared at his own pants. "Oh God," I blurted. He was wet from knee down possibly from the tea I just hurriedly drank before I ran downstairs. Ugh. I felt blood rushing to my face, I must have turned scarlet. If could shrink or vanish on thin air, I would. "Let me fix that for you, dear." Mom tried to pat the bottom of his pants with the kitchen towel she was holding but was apparently unsuccessful. "It's fine. I'll just run across the street to change," he replied politely, a hint of disbelief on his face as he

turned to my direction. "I think Sarah needs a good night's rest." Arthur said waiting for my validation. I nodded hesitantly, thankful for his intervention. I couldn't bear the humiliation any longer. More importantly, I was too ashamed to face Leon. All I wanted to do was to lock myself in my room and deliberately bang my head on the wall until I finally forgot everything that happened today, especially tonight. If amnesia is real, I wretchedly needed it this instant. Mom walked me to my room silently. I could sense the worry in her eyes. It was new to me. "I'm fine Mom. I think I'm just a bit bushed," I assured her. She nodded though unconvinced. "Do you want anything to eat? I could-" "I'm fine, really." I was relieved when Mom finally closed the door. I closed my eyes tightly but the picture of my very recent blunder flashed in the blackness under my lids over and over and over again. Hyperventilating, I restrained myself from thrashing my limbs to exhaust all the frustration that has built up inside me. I thought I could explode.

Leon! Focusing on the light chatter downstairs, I closed my eyes again, covering my face with warm blankets as though doing such would hide my shame. Ugh. Can I just die this once? Arthur chuckled softly. Mom giggled with him. They must have been waiting for Leon to come back. Sleep hadn't come over me. How long had it been? An hour? Two? Leon's piercing eyes, the touch of his chin on my forehead, his shocked face flashed inside my head every time I tried to close my eyes. I buried my face on my pillow, annoyed, embarrassed, perturbed and angry at the same time. I would go mad soon. The tinkling sound of cutlery against porcelain plates and the chink of wine glass diminished gradually. I wondered if the dinner was over. I could still hear the faint outbursts of pent-up laughter, probably in the living room. They must be having a great time. Faint footsteps began to grow more perceivable. I could tell it was getting near. My door swung gently and before the intruder was able to enter, I buried my face under the thick sheets again and pretended to sleep, peeking through the crevices of the ruffled blanket. I tried my hardest to keep my breathing slow and rhythmic, but it was more as though I was having a seizure. He wore a pair of sweats now, midnight blue with white stripes on the sides, elongating his tall outline. He seemed to stare at me for a while, probably, to verify that I was indeed asleep. He stepped closer until he was less than a foot from the edge of my bed. My knee twitched involuntarily. I prayed to God that he didn't notice. I thought I heard a soft laughter from him, as he left discretely then closed my door with an inconspicuous thud. Out of reflex more than out of impulse, I sat mechanically gasping for breath. My theory became even more factual. I therefore conclude; the nearer I am to Leon Walden, the shorter my life would be. My approach was systematical. I did not need further experiments to validate my hypothesis. I have got to stay away from Leon Walden. End of story. I glanced at my clock. It was already ten in the evening. I grabbed my diary to at least vent my frustration in it, and

as I did, noticed an apple sitting on my side table. An involuntary force curled the corner of my lips. The smile did not fade as I wrote. Leon finally talked to me today, but still, when he spoke, I hurled a chair at him... in my imagination. I wrote some other things too private to divulge and ended the entry with a smile. P.S. He gave me an apple.

thought was a dream, was in fact a reality. For once I dreaded going to school. If I could just bury myself under the ground, I'd go straight to our backyard, next to my dog Shaggy and the other two gold fish I had tried to raise with not much success. I forbid myself to recall the past several hours. Rubbing the grain of sleep from my eyes, I went straight to the shower, jumped into my school clothes and combed my hair haphazardly. Before I could hobble out of my room, I cursed, throwing my bag back to the old dresser that used to be my mom's and sat slapping my hand on my temple. It was a Saturday. I moved in a languid attempt to change again, groaning as I undressed and muttering curses as I pulled the long sleeved shirt down my head. At least I still have two days to delay my next encounter with Leon. My face turned warm and red again as I curled up and buried my face on my knees, rocking in an austere, futile attempt to clear my mind. I yawned. I slept late last night but I did not hear the guests leave. They must have had a ton of fun. My mind raced in a sudden flicker of fear. Mom! I hurdled down the stairs swiftly, (I didn't know I could run so fast!) my heart racing in my chest in a frantic gallop.

'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' "Well, I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies. It seems that they are very beautiful." --An excerpt from The Little Prince Chapter 8 - Disaster Magnet

I opened my eyes just to find out that the horrible night I

"Mom! Are you there?!" I bellowed almost indignantly. No answer. Mom was gone! Arthur might have kidnapped her to use her against me. Why else would he befriend my mother? "Mom!" I scuttled to the living room. No Mom. "Mom, where are you?!" My voice let lose the panic that welled up in my chest. "Mom!" I screamed, running aimlessly, toppling a flower vase as I did. To my relief, Emma (also known as Mom) came stomping from the kitchen, both arms folded on her chest, glaring at the pieces of the white vase on the floor. "Sarah Johannes Littman!" Mom groused furiously. "You better explain yourself young lady, or I will have to ground you 'til college!" "I... I was-" I desperately racked my brain for any excuse; to stray the topic off the broken vase. "I had a nightmare..." I mumbled hesitantly. A hint of astonishment painted on her porcelain face. I didn't usually tell her about my dreams or nightmares. In fact I rarely do tell her anything. For fifteen long years we coexisted in an inevitable, distant liaison. Emma cocked her head, curiosity in her eyes.

"In the dream, you were kidnapped... because of me." I avoided her eyes. She seemed to overcome her curiosity and headed to the kitchen beckoning me to trail behind. I sat stiffly, folding my hands over the table, watching Emma pull out a rectangular tin baking pan from the oven then carefully placed it on the wire rack in front of me. It was a huge chocolate cake that smelled like hazelnut and vanilla. "And why was that?" She finally spoke as she set a plate of carbonara for me. I twirled the pasta on my fork, and stared at it blankly for a few seconds. "I... don't know." "Was I rescued?" She thumbed thoughtfully through her hair. "I don't know..." Emma paused for a while as if pondering. "Well, there's no use brooding over it all day, is there?" I nodded. I felt stuporous; thinking about everything and nothing at the same time. "Eat up." A small grin lit her face. "I have errands for you later," she said eyeing on the cake with a satisfied smile.

The pasta tasted incredible-which was a once in a blue moon thing since Mom's cooking is practically horrible. Before I knew it my plate was licked clean although not literally- that would be gross. Mom was definitely in a good mood. Somehow, her emotions had a direct invisible link to her cooking. I left the plate on the sink after she practically shooed me to my room so she could frost her cake without any distractions. I was glad she didn't probe me again about my dream. It was late in the afternoon when I finished with all my reports and homework for the next week. I've done advanced reading on the lessons we would tackle for the next month. And I got nothing to do. I have got to get a life... and soon. All this unnecessary thinking could probably send me a one way ticket to a mental institution in no time. Suddenly, I regretted not having to do Matt's report. Ugh. I turned the TV on, pushing the channel buttons on the remote impatiently with a lethargic sigh, scowling as I caught a glimpse of Leon's new house across the street through my window. Turning off the television, a light bulb flicked on top of my head- not literally of course. I shambled to my desktop computer and turned it on, impatiently tapping my fingers on the light wooden table that held my PC set consisting of a modem, printer-

scanner, pen tablet and a web cam that I almost never used; attached to a jumbled braid of wires. When the screen finally finished setting up, I clicked on my favorite search engine and typed as fast as I could. Leon Walden. Then I pressed enter so forcefully, I wondered how my keyboard withstood everything. I clicked on a fan blog on the top of the search result list. Leon Walden was born in Ireland, in April 4, 1994. It wasn't until at the age of the eight that his acting career started when he starred in 2002 film Jeremiah, which in turn plummeted him into stardom. Young "Jeremiah" as he was known to most of the population received recognition from different award-giving bodies. A picture of an eight-year old dark-haired Leon Walden flashed below. I wondered if he had been a blond too long that people seemed to have completely forgotten how he truly looked like. Pop culture, I guess. His innocent angelic face was smiling genuinely, though there was something in his eyes that got me stumped. After a couple of years, he side-kicked Tommy Steinfeld in the action-packed fantasy movie, Treasure Island 3, with his role as Sketch, a common street thief, turnedover-a-new-leaf. This time, his fame grew even brighter,

though some issues and speculation concerning his family resurfaced through the media. It was a matter of Leon's custody; whether he'd be in the care of his mother Elizabeth Grest or Arthur Walden; his low-key father. I closed the window clicking furtively as though someone could see me then laid my head back, closing my eyes with a sigh. It didn't feel right, reading his life through another person's eyes. It wasn't the most decent thing to do. As I read those statements about his life, I felt an estrangement toward him - as though he wasn't of this planet. The Leon Walden I've known for more than a month now abruptly became unreachable, unreal, just like an alien from another universe. And there was a hollow feeling that curdled in the pit of my stomach. Once again, I blamed it on indigestion. I tumbled on my bed, burying my face on the mattress, trying not to breathe for as long as I could until I've gotten myself lightheaded. Mom knocked on my door but asserted her authority by coming in anyway, without my permission. "Sarah," she called eyeing around my untidy room, sighing heavily. "Dr. Mason called. He said they badly needed my help in the clinic. Kevin was, for some mysterious reason, out of town and-"

"Okay, Mom." She didn't need to finish. "I'm fine by myself." Emma nodded as she pulled the white overcoat that was her uniform over her shoulders. Mom worked as a dentist specializing in corrective and surgical areas. Dr. Mason, her colleague, was an older orthodontist who was responsible for the braces I wore throughout most of my childhood. Go figure. Mom headed for the stairs then went back panting. "Before I forget; the cake is in the fridge. There is a box right on the kitchen table. Put the cake in the box and bring it to Arthur's house. Give it to Leonard and apologize for last night." Her instructions were clear and she wasn't asking me to do it. It was an order. Once again, she put me on a mandatory suicide. Before I could whine and retort and object, she sped to her car and the front door slammed shut. I did as I was told. "Put the cake in the box." I muttered with an unnerved mockery. "Way to go Mom." After tying the box with a long piece of blue ribbon I managed to scavenge from Mom's stash, I sat there stiffly and eyed the box for what seemed like hours; picturing the worst case scenario and practicing the words inside my head.

"Hi Leonard. Sorry about last night. Here's a cake to make you feel better." I shook my head. No good. "Leonard. Here's a sorry-cake just for you." I grunted. This just clearly proved how socially incompetent I was. "Hey there!" I tried to smile. "I was worried about last night. You know, when I accidentally- Definitely not!" I scolded myself. "I wouldn't dare make any mention of it. I forbid myself to!" My cheeks turned warm again. Ugh. Great! Just great. I stood up, almost angrily as I slipped in my jacket. With a ninety-five percent probability of failure, it would turn out into a huge mess anyway, so I might as well get it over with. I snatched the box and headed outside, slamming the door grudgingly behind me. "Sarah, you can do this." Some encouragement wouldn't hurt. I breathed in and out with extreme force I felt like passing out. "On three. One... two... two and a quarter... two and a half... two and three quarters," My delaying tactics weren't of much help. "Three." The sun was already setting, painting the sky with a medley of indigo and ginger. It took me five long minutes to ogle at the front door before I could muster enough courage and shamelessness to finally push the door bell.

The loud buzzing sounded like the honking of a huge truck and startled me, making me jump a step back, miscalculating my landing on the edge of the two-tiered stairs in front of the porch. I landed on my butt, against the surprisingly spongy Bermuda grass which cushioned my fall. It still hurt though especially in the bum department. I tried to shamble on my knees, wincing as a streak of pain darted through my flank. At least the cake was unharmed. The caramel colored wooden door creaked open, with Arthur finally rushing to help me up. "Are you hurt?" He practically hauled me to my feet with one large arm. "That blasted door bell needs some serious help, really." "I'm fine, thanks." I managed to twitch the corner of my lips into a weak smile. "You don't look fine at all," he said already leading me inside, a strong hand supporting me as I waddled; the box safe in my arms. "Uh... is Leon-ard in?" I asked awkwardly as he settled me on a soft couch in black leather covers. Arthur nodded. "He's in the kitchen. I'll go call him. You sure you're alright?" He asked again worriedly. I nodded blushing. Way to go Nerdy! You proved

yourself a certified accident prone area once again. I might as well wear a sign board warning people about it. I smirked bitterly, placing the cake on the table cautiously, just in case another wave of bad luck reach me. Leon came patting his hands with a towel, eyeing on me with an unreadable air about him. It was the first time I've seen him without the woolen cap and the fake braces. But the glasses, they were there; obscuring his perfection but it didn't really matter to me. My heart raced and I avoided staring at him. But he had his blue eyes fixed on me; a huge contrast to his dark brown, almost black hair that made me want to stare much more. It was his fault, really. That wasn't right. I realized that I was gawking like an idiot again. It was a potentially evil person I was talking about and I had no further intent to patronize him. Ugh. He flipped the towel over his shoulder and stood in front of me crossing his arms impulsively. "So... what brings you here?" It was a though his tall shadow loomed over me with an ominous hue. I stood up panicky, intimidated by his height, my head colliding with his face with a discrete but excruciatingly painful snap, knocking him a few steps back. Breathlessly, I fell back on the couch, dazed by the impact as a throbbing pain dimmed my vision for a while.

"Ow!" He winced rubbing his now scarlet chin, taking another few steps back. I blinked the blur from my eyes and hobbled my way to him despite my confusion. "I... I'm really sorry!" I shrieked in panic and tried to see how bad it was. I didn't mind the heaviness on my skull, nor the ringing sound the deafened my ears or that there were two Leon's in front of me. "I didn't mean to-" He shook his head angrily which was in turn replaced by amusement. "You really are a walking disaster magnet, aren't you?" I must be hallucinating but I thought I could see one corner of his lips being pulled upward into a curious smirk. "Yes," I nodded sluggishly, my vision quite in murky disarray and I didn't comprehend what he was saying though he looked brilliant, no, divine with that smile. I felt my knees weaken as the throbbing started again, everything whirring around me. What the hell was I thinking? I must have bumped my head too hard. Leon didn't appear quite as awful as me though. "Hey!" His arms swiped both mine before I hit the floor and pulled me back to the sofa. "Dad!" he called, still smiling with such incredulity on his perfect face. It made me wonder if he found pleasure in my every agony. "I think we have a situation here."

I opened my eyes in panic. Carefully, I stared at the ceiling of dark mahogany adorned with a small crystal chandelier. I found myself lying on the black leatherskinned sofa in front of a polished granite and brick fireplace. This isn't my room, is it? How long was I out? "Feel any better?" Leon sat perched on the arm rest of the long couch, eyeing at me with a sneer. "Yep. Was I out that long?" Slightly alarmed, I rubbed the top of my head and found an ice pack securely placed over the ridiculously huge bump on my head. "Nope. Just some five minutes, maybe ten." He rubbed his reddish chin impulsively. "Sorry about that," I said remembering to breathe casually as a rush of blood made its way to my cheeks. I focused staring at the wooden tiled floor. He gazed at me for a while pensively. "Err... My mom baked... a cake," I stammered, reaching the box on the table with my sweaty hands. "I... About last night... Yeah... Sorry about that."

He shifted his gaze between the cake and me with an unreadable faade. He opened it gingerly. I thought I kept it safe inside the box but the frosting on one side was smudged against the container. I sighed, wincing at him. "Sorry about-" "You always say that," he cut me in mid-sentence. "What?" I gasped, when I realized I was holding my breath. There was a lump in my throat that made my voice raspy. "I bet five bucks, you'd say it again." He snorted; seemingly pleased with himself which made my heart skip a few beats. "Huh?" I gulped, pressing my drying lips together. I really didn't know what he was talking about. "Yeah... Sorry about that." I had no idea what I was saying either. My vision narrowed and blurred at the edges as though my gray eyes were some sort of framed camera. My hand unthinkingly reached to the bridge of my nose to adjust my glasses. "That." He slumped beside me and placed an open palm on my lap, the cake resting on his other arm. "Pay up." He sniggered lightly, in a melodious, otherworldly manner, like music humming in my ears. My hand

mechanically reached up to my chest as though to prevent my heart from jumping out. "W-what?" I mumbled in a bewildered reproach to myself. Wake up! I shook my head in frustration. Leon just sat there, scrutinizing my reaction with much amusement. He thinks I'm a lunatic. I don't care! "You lost the bet. Pay up!" His soft chuckle made my stomach flutter again. I may have to find some plausible way to get him so exasperated, just so my heart could stop hammering inside my stomach. Yeah. When he was furious, he was rather easy to deal with. I would delightedly choose feeling irritated and outraged for long periods of time than this... anything but this. "Are you serious? I didn't even know bull to agree to that bet in the first place. That didn't count." I snorted sarcastically, rolling my eyes as I did, my train of thought circling on seven different ways to behave like a jerk in the hope that my agonizing encounters with Leon could, with a bit of luck be healthier or better yet, end. I crossed my fingers behind my back, praying to God that I sounded as obnoxious as I intended to. "Now that you know, the next ones would." Instead of a head-on retort, he smiled excitedly at the cake as if to ignore my attempt to enrage him. "Looks good. You sure

you hadn't made this?" There was an insulting tone in his voice. I grunted. "No. Not a chance." "Good. Just checking," He sniggered again as he headed to the kitchen. "What exactly do you mean by that?" My voice hit a few octaves higher as I scowled at him. He scratched his head, disheveling the dark silky hair that ran bordering between his perfectly defined eyebrows and his forehead. I gasped involuntarily with a sudden urge to comb his hair back into place with my trembling fingers, which was both utterly stupid and dead humiliating. I clenched my hands as I pocketed them just in case they moved on their own. "Well, let's say, I would love to live longer," he said almost seriously then chuckled softly in the end. Leon had done much laughing today; so much that made me lightheaded for the longest possible time I could imagine. I had enough, though deep down, I was ambivalent about it. It sent the same shivers down my spine whenever he laughed and I was literally shuddering when he disappeared into the kitchen. Obviously, the plan to annoy him seemed to backfire at me.

I finally sighed. I called to Leon turning hesitantly for the door. "Well... I guess I can go now. About last night, I'm really sorry." I bit my lip. I did it again. I stared at the doorknob for a while before I turned it slowly. A hand caught my arm and pulled me back. The heaviness in my chest lifted at once and now a galloping sensation took its place. The most bizarre feeling launched from my fingers propelling all throughout my body as though I accidentally shoved my finger into a power outlet. "Sarah," he called my name with a hint of tenderness that I thought I was in a livid dream, and there was nothing but bliss. It sounded melodic to my ears as though the name did not belong to me at all but to some majestic being about to materialize out of thin air. I just stared at him; my mouth parting half-way to speak but no words came out. "Now you owe me ten bucks." Leon rubbed his chin again almost automatically. I felt the sudden urge to apologize again. But I didn't like the thought of being fifteen bucks poorer so I pressed my lips together in a useless attempt. "I... haven't any money on m-me." I stuttered.

He grinned widely, and then furrowed his eyebrows, still scratching his chin as if to ponder about my pennilessness. "I do accept favors. So do me one and stay for dinner. Dad's out and it gets unbearably dreary being alone here... Err... You know what I mean." Should I stay or should I step away like my brain was telling me half an hour ago? My mind raced stupidly to a familiar feeling. It was as though I was back to being five, crying for my favorite book-The Little Prince which was my Dad's last memoir to me as a child- as I watched it being hurled into the boys' toilet by none other than Matt Adams. (I know. It's sort of gross to be recalling those things at such a grave moment, but what can I do?) The loss kept me crying for weeks, feeling miserable for the things that I had not managed to keep. I dreaded that feeling that I would probably mull this thought over at some later time, wondering with my "What ifs" and some "What could've beens". "Seize the day" was my father's motto and this time, I decided to condemn myself to it. I nodded wryly. It wasjust dinner after all. Or at least that was what I would've thought. "Brilliant!" He snatched my hand forcefully and dragged me like a limp rag doll to the kitchen; flushing as I did, my arm weakening against his grip. The Dunn's kitchen was exactly the opposite of Mom's.

Everything was not as organized but it has an inviting ambience to it. The light maple colored cupboards, the glass-paned windows, the sleek black stove, the matching blue plates, cups, teapot, salt and pepper shakers, the beige-painted walls and the small wooden table surrounded by four wooden stools in the center of the room gave the impression of a cozy cabin. However, it could only do so much to ease my apprehension. We sat there silently, avoiding each other's gazes, mostly staring at the plate of curried chicken with a side of steamed rice, Leon set for us. The lovely aromas caressed my sense of smell, it made my palate water but I was too petrified; too fearful that the fork would rattle in my hands if I hold it. "So, Arthur cooked this?" I said, my stomach growling at the appetizing smell of the food. "Nope. I did." "So even you lot do normal stuff... and such," I hesitated against his untimely defiant stare. Leon grunted in exasperation. "Yes. Even my lot are humans after all." His ocean blue eyes glowered at me for a while. Suddenly, I had the urge to say sorry all over again but I bit my tongue to put off the words, and then gulped.

"Why aren't you eating up?" He wolfed down a couple of mouthfuls then chomped grudgingly. I could not have believed such a perfect thing like him could eat like a caveman. "I... I'm n-not hungry," I fumbled for words as a loud growl interrupted the silence and I realized it was my stomach. I must've gotten all red on the face because Leon almost choked on the piece of poultry he was gnawing on-I realized he was chortling, amusement almost evident on his faultless features. When he finally composed himself or at least managed to forge his face into pretense lack of interest, he put down his fork and patted the corners of his lips with a table napkin with utter refinement that made my lower-lip drop a notch. "Really?" he challenged. "I was checking." His perfectly arched brows furrowed. "Let's say I would love to live longer," I scoffed, mimicking his words. "Ha-ha... Very funny." He muttered sarcastically. I forked a piece of potato, rolling my eyeballs.

"Sarah," he called back softly. Before I knew it, the curry was gone. I was so focused on the glaring match with Leon, I hadn't became aware that I've eaten every bit of it. He could actually cook edible food. I frowned at the discovery. Cooking was a bit of a tragedy for me. "So... where's Arthur?" I shuddered at the realization that we were alone in the house. But what could happen? He couldn't possibly... I chuckled humorlessly at my lack of common sense. I'm a nerd! He's like... a superstar from planet Hollywood or something like that. "Business..." he replied glumly with not much intent to elaborate on the topic. I nodded as I watched him slice the cake for both of us. He did it with precision and carriage, lithe just like a surgeon would. I prevented myself from hyperventilating and shook my head to clear the thought off my mind. It was wrong in all sense of the word. I stood silently, the chair protesting with a gentle screech against the wooden floor, mustering every strand of courage to avoid his confused eyes. I stepped away, slowly to my resolve before I lost every voice of reason in my head. "I have to go," I whispered, hoping he wouldn't hear it. It felt though I was about to crumble but I fought harder to stay on my feet. I hastened my pace, breathing raggedly as a lump surged though my throat making my eyes fog a bit. His hand caught mine before I could even step out of the kitchen. I didn't dare to look back since I was terrified that doing so would leave me weak on my knees. I tugged my arm to shake his grasp to no avail. Leon tugged me back gently. I didn't anticipate how wimpy I was, pivoting involuntarily as he pulled, landing feebly onto his chest. If my heart was a car, I'd have gotten a ticket tonight for it raced beyond my imagination, threatening to fling itself out of my chest any moment now. My face was buried on his chest. From the loss of personal distance I could hardly breathe. His breathing was ragged but soft against my forehead. I pushed against him to regain my freedom with all the effort I could gather. One of his arms wrapped against my shoulders and hauled me harder back to him as his other hand held mine softly. I felt my heart doubling up into a throttle but I realized that it wasn't my heart that I was hearing. It was Leon's. "Please," he sighed, almost begging and it made me want to surrender to him.

I froze. My mind went blank for a while as we stood there in silence. He didn't speak, yet, I felt as though I knew exactly what ran in his mind. A serene feeling flowed within me despite the galloping in my chest. Slowly, he loosened his arms which mindlessly found their way to my shoulders as though he was terrified to lose his grip. Leon gazed at me with his mystified sapphire globes and I met them cautiously for what seemed like eternity, struggling to catch my breath. Leon's eyes were questioning, content and longing as mine probed through the infinite blue that gazed like that of a little boy upon opening his presents on a Christmas morning. The corner of his lips slowly curved into the most dazzling smile I have seen in my entire existence. I knew from that point in time that I was dreaming. No. I was sure of it. My eyes widened and dared not blink for the fear that doing so would send me back to reality. I heard the front door open gently and close shut with an audible thud. The adrenaline rushed as I pushed myself away from Leon with a surprising success evidenced by the two feet of distance that gaped between us. "Leon?" Arthur called from the living room. The sudden turn of event seemed to have petrified the both of us, both our feet glued to the floor.

Arthur came into the kitchen shrugging his coat. "Oh, there you are." Leon and I exchanged a quick glance then shifted to Arthur who appeared bewildered by our reaction. I gawked at the man for half a second and scrambled to my feet, amazed that I even managed to say my flustered goodbyes. Mom was sitting on the living room when I arrived. Lifting her eyes from a D.I.Y. magazine, she appeared to scrutinize my pale, troubled face. "Been to Leon, I hope. What did you do this time?" She accused me without so much as a twitch on her humorless face. My voice croaked. "Nothing, mother," I muttered not intending to linger for another minute in an attempt to prevent a row. "Aren't you having supper?" "No! Not hungry," I said not mentioning the dinner with Leonard Dunn. I was afraid she would ask further. Instead, I hustled to my room pausing only to unlock my door which seemed impossible to budge against my trembling arms. It wasn't until I was in the comfort of the four walls of my room that I was able to breathe freely. After my evening routines, (even nerds do this, you

know) which I did virtually in a daze, I grabbed the diary which I rarely bring up to date and started skimming the pages. There had only been three entries since that day I met Leonard Dunn, also known to me as Leon Walden. Then pen on my hand quivered and for a while I thought I wouldn't be able to restrain my nerves. Dear Winfred, I wrote holding my breath. If someone else read my diary (which is hypothetical thing since I would never let anybody even glance at it unless, of course they're over my dead body), it would probably seem like a collection of unsent letters to a certain someone named Winfred, which was exactly what it is. Winfred is my Dad who I've loved more than anyone in the world. But he's long been gone and I couldn't find any other way to tell him all these things except for this blank music composition book that was his only memory to me. As I wrote the things that happened to me during the days he wasn't able to see himself with his gray eyes, and never will, I'd imagined him frowning and laughing silently beside me; but never sad. I couldn't remember his face being miserable or gloomy. He was always smiling and chuckling and ruffling my hair. I told Winfred everything, detail by detail and he nodded at me with curiosity. Sometimes he would furrow his dark brows, especially those things I reckon he would not approve of in a million years. I was about to sleep when I

caught a glimpse of the apple Leon left on my side table the other night. My heart skipped a few beats at the simple mention of his name in my brain. The apple stayed sitting on my table innocently. I hadn't dared touch it for fear that it might disappear against my trembling fingers--and I was just imagining everything.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ We don't believe in rheumatism and true love until after the first attack. --Marie E. Eschenbach

Chapter 9 - Leon's Confessions

It's Sunday, late in the afternoon and Mom urged me to go out or do something when she noticed that I was fully intent on spending the rest of the day staring defiantly at the ceiling and brooding about internal issues that wouldn't reach her knowing.

I grunted in an enervated manner at her sudden demonstration of concern. "I'm not going out, mother," I yelled as she poked around, passing by every now and then. I sighed, exhaustion claiming me for no apparent reason. Perhaps it was owing to the fact that I had not been able to get a decent sleep last night. Leon's bedazzling face kept appearing on the darkness behind my lids. It troubled me how untrue Leon could get; how fictitious it was that he might, in some unknown universe like me. Yes. I must be having delusions the whole time. That assumption was much easier to accept than that of last night's. I rolled over listlessly and reached for the apple on my table. It felt very real to my fingers, smelled quite real too. But somehow the contemplation of me and Leon... his hand pulling me to him... I couldn't stand thinking of it much longer. My stomach fluttered and the thumping on my chest grew louder. It was driving me mental! I focused on the apple, so red and sweet smelling; somehow bringing me to an assumption. If the apple was real, thus, there was at least a ninety percent chance

that Leon and that entire blunder last night were true. The ten percent was to the benefit of the doubt and I didn't quite trust myself when it comes to matters such as these. Shambling my way down the stairs, I surveyed the perimeter for any presence of Mom, still clutching the apple between my hands, grabbed a sticky note beside the fridge and wrote a on it. Off limits. The note attached snugly to the apple and after convincing myself with another thorough check, I stuffed it into the very rear of the fridge, unbelievably pleased with myself. I stood there after a minute or so admiring my work, when Mom entered the kitchen. Alarmed, I hastily threw the refrigerator door shut. "I see you finally got up." Mom eyed behind me. I slid to the nearest seat beside the counter. "Mom... H-how long can an apple last? I mean if it's in the refrigerator?" I asked inconspicuously. Mom gazed at me with studying eyes and sat across the table as she scribbled something on the small piece of paper. When she finally raised her gaze, she pushed the paper to me with some cash. It looked like a shopping list.

"Two, maybe three weeks tops," she replied unswervingly. Nevertheless, there was a suspicious guise about her face. I nodded silently staring at the little piece of paper on my hand. "Go and pick those up before dinner." She stood, replaced the chair carefully on its alignment then headed to the garden. I stalked her stomping my way as I did. "For the nth time, I am not going out today, mother." I knew it was her pathetic excuse to get me out of the house because she didn't fancy the thought of being around with a moping adolescent. Knowing Mom, she would always try to shun things that she could not deal with. "I am not asking you Sarah. I need those tonight or else, you and I will sleep with empty stomachs." Her dismal excuse just added to my exasperation. "Then why don't you do it?" I demanded feeling exceedingly horrible about myself and the way I treat my mother. But in the end, I didn't really know how to negotiate with her without a perfectly good dispute which she, without fail countered with pleasure. She closed her eyes as a vain bulged and started

pulsing visibly on her forehead. "I can't. Look Sarah, I only have one day... one day to spend my hours not having to deal with work and schedules, so please, do me a favor and get your sulky butt out of your room. Get some fresh air. It will clear you head." I grunted infuriately. "Fine!" I stormed my way to my room took a quick glacial shower which nearly froze my brain then slid bitterly into some warm wintry clothing. A glance in the mirror made me feel more miserable. I stared at the scrawny, pallid girl in the mirror. My hair was dripping wet but the blower wasn't doing any progress so I just threw it away. The red purplish puffy bags under my eyes were the worst; I could probably pass for some ghost character in those Japaneseadapted horror movies. I grunted. "I give up!" I bellowed indignantly at my own reflection. It was curious that I suddenly felt the necessity to look pleasant; an overstatement I could never achieve a million years; not that I ever needed to be reminded of it. It just confirmed why I doubted myself; how I considered it with utter incredulity that a heavenly being such as Leon Walden would actually like me. What were his motives? Why would he make my already miserable life a living hell?

I slammed the door shut and avoided my mother's disapproving eyes as I left. "I'm going now." I muttered with refuelled anguish mostly to myself. "Be back before dark," she called, her eyes stalking me. "And Sarah, be careful," The guilt of ignoring her gnawed at me as I trudged through the slippery side walk. The snow was almost gone but the wind was chilly all along. The evergreens shook off the white crystals that accumulated on their branches over the winter with a renewed glow for the impending spring. The melting snow from the gutters of the somewhat identical houses in the street dripped melodiously against the damp ground. I pocketed my hands in my jacket and hugged myself tightly as I walked through the cold windy lane. The blurred sphere that was supposed to be the sun hung low near the horizon among the bleary clouded silverygray skies. Great! Just what I needed to cheer me up. I took a right turn on the next block and reached the main street, teeth chattering; my breath fogging my spectacles. "It will clear my head, she says," I muttered sourly. "Try freeze to death." The main street was practically empty when I reached the bench near the bus stop. The trees on both sides of the road swayed with the frosty, dancing to a mute tune,

the dreary weather giving it a more dramatic effect. Who would want to go out in this cold? I was dragging myself on the edge of the bench into a comfortably languished slouch when I heard my name being called from a distance. "Sarah!" the voice called. I would have known that voice from anywhere; mellifluous, gentle, now with a hint of rasp-perhaps due to the cold. I would've closed my eyes and sit there blissfully for the rest of my miserable life, listening to his voice. Instead, I staggered to my feet and froze at the sidewalk, too afraid to glimpse the one who called my name. "Sarah!" he panted, hands leaning on his knees as soon as he reached where I stood. "I was... waiting for you... to get out." I stood there in silence, brawling with the urge to look at him but after two seconds, my eyes betrayed me. Leon was in his nerd suit again-thick wide-rimmed glasses, fake braces, a brick red woollen cap over his dark locks, a dark brown corduroy jacket over a gray turtle neck, faded baggy pants and white sneakers. But all of it didn't matter to my eyes. It was his mere presence that took the wind out of me; that had me gasping discretely when he stepped nearer to where I stood.

"Are you alright? You seem pale." He placed a warm palm on my forehead worriedly which I mindlessly shoved away, taking a couple of steps back. His touch made my brow tingle which immediately flooded to my spine. "I... I'm always pale. Err... I have to go now." I mumbled in a pathetic attempt to avoid a longer dialogue. His blue eyes fixed on me narrowing into slits as frustration took over his concerned smile. "W-wait! Are you avoiding me?" There was resentment in his voice that made me want to burst into tears for some unknown reason. I breathed deeply against the surging lump in my throat that was choking me, blinked my eyes rapidly to dry out the haziness that formed on them and took the quick steps aimlessly with the intent to get away from Leon as swiftly as I could. I thought I saw him kicking at the air and assumed that that was his way to vent out frustration. I quickened my pace when I realized that he was jogging to catch up with me. Once he did, Leon barricaded his body between me and the rest of the road. "What's wrong with you?" he muttered with much exasperation when I averted my gaze from his daunting eyes.

It felt like my lungs were collapsing; my chest in a tight grip that made me afraid my heart wouldn't work anymore. The pain was clawing its way out of me. "Everything," It left my lips, not much more than a whisper. My voice started to break as I rambled. "I can't... I can't do this. I'm clearly no good... for you... So why do you have to make everything so difficult? Are you afraid I would blow your secret? That's the only reason why you're suddenly being so kind to me and even pretend to like-" "Shut up!" His voice rumbled through the vacant main street, as he closed his eyes to control his frustration. I clammed shut, flinching half a step backward as he glowered, clenching his fists. "You are the most insecure, self-torturing, pigheaded girl I have ever known, you know that?" he growled, his intense eyes mellowing to a tender gaze. "Yet, I find it ironic that I am so drawn to you-that I feel normal when I'm with you. For the first time I felt human." Leon fixed his gaze on me, hunching until his faultless face came level with mine then lifted my chin with his fingers. I was aware now of the tears I've fought so hard to hold back welling from my eyes. His thumb ran through my cheeks as if tracing where the tears flowed freely. His face lit with a sad little smile that made me

want to melt in front of him, despite the fact that it was actually freezing. "B-but you're Leon Walden." I croaked in a desperately hushed tone that made me marvel that he was able to hear it. Leon's brows furrowed, his jaws tensing on both sides one after the other, then gave me that look again; questioning, diffident, almost begging. "What's so wrong with me?" My eyes met his for a moment of silence, trembling with the fear of losing control. "Nothing," I sobbed breaking down eventually. "You're perfect. Too perfect... that's what's wrong. You're so unreal... too good for someone like me. And I-" He caught my lips with his thumb before I could go on rambling for ages. "Sshh..." The corners of his lips twitched upward into a lopsided playful grin. "Is that what this is all about? Is that all?" He sighed with relief as one of his arms looped on my nape. My heart jolted violently inside my chest but the tears never ceased streaming from my eyes. Nonetheless, the reason was now an unexpected gush of exhilaration. A soft chuckle left his lips as his arm finally freed me despite the fact that I wasn't struggling against him this time. We locked gazes for what seemed like eternity; at

least that was exactly how I felt whenever I probed into his magnificent blue eyes. "I honestly wish you could peek through my eyes..." He pulled me again without any resistance (I'm transforming into a stupid, stupid limp rag doll a lot whenever I'm around him). I could feel his breath playing with my hair and I almost jumped when he stooped closer to my face. "So you could finally realize how perfect you are to me," he whispered. I stood there petrified, my face only a couple of inches from his face. Slowly, he inched closer and closer. Almost a hair's breadth now... I closed my eyes (yes, well a stupid thing to do) as if expecting something wonderful... I dunno... A kiss, maybe? Any moment now... Three... Two... One! Screech! A big light blue bus stopped in front of us, startling me, making me jump, my head bumping onto Leon's chin again. Well, you get it... the problem of me being so short. He chuckled softly seemingly amused then pointed a finger on the tip of my nose. "Disaster magnet, indeed." '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' Chapter 10 - The Lockers of Doom

the small of my back but not actually touching me. Constantly, his eyes drilled through me as though he found it rather amusing to analyze my every move. "Sarah, you're going to be late! Leonard's here!" Mom called from the foot of the staircase. Hurriedly, I took one last glance at myself in the mirror, patting down my hair. My denim overalls felt a little short today, or maybe I was just growing. I've read that girls continue to grow taller until the age of twenty-one. I wish. The gray fabric of my cardigan against the white undershirt, a pair of faded grayish blue jeans in addition to my dark brown hair, gray eyes with a green tinge behind black-rimmed glasses and insipid face; I could pass for some black and white photograph from some sixties' yearbook. "Coming!" I yelled back, my chest pounding. With all due respect, I think Leon and I were now an item. However, he didn't mention anything about it when he went with me to the shopping district last night and I was too afraid he would suddenly wake up from his horrific dream and change his mind so I didn't open the matter. I just spent every minute of it gazing freely at him (and sometimes gawking) admiring his every move and getting a fright whenever I felt his nearness. He rarely spoke, walked a step behind me, his hand propped at Maybe he was having second thoughts. Maybe he thought I was weird. I hurled myself down the stairs, to the porch where Leon sat in an awkward silence with Mom, who was so intent on studying him. Leon stood up smiling which proved once again that all that happened yesterday wasn't merely a chunk of my lush imagination. My heart was racing frantically; choking with exhilaration. I couldn't bring myself to return his smile. After a few polite exchange of words with Mom (which I didn't comprehend given that I was overly preoccupied gawking at Leon yet again), he bid goodbye-all I could make out was his mellifluous voice and the perplexing, yet charming modesty. "So what strange mushroom have you eaten for breakfast?" I managed to blurt out as we walked, pleased that I sounded exceedingly sarcastic this time. He let out a soft chuckle. "Okay... I believe that is your bizarre way of thanking me for walking you to school, so you're very much welcome."

All I could manage was a pathetic groan. It was hard enough not to appear like a total idiot in front of him, much more respond to his outlandish, insufferable yet alluring humor. All I could do was hyperventilate. It was a life saver when his mobile phone rang before we reached the school gates. "Yes Ger," His brows furrowed once Gerald spoke on the other end of the line, a glum expression erasing the smile on his face. "Yes," he nodded turning away then spoke in a hushed tone, sighing and mumbling as he did. Leon stepped silently ahead of me. There was that constant brooding air about him which was quite unreadable after that phone call. "Le-Leonard," I called him, not really knowing what to say. He paused for a while and hesitantly met my gaze; eyes searching for something unknown to me, then towed me gently to the school gates. My shoulders stiffened with his nearness, yet there was coldness with the way he treated me. The detachment in his eyes crumpled my tummy like I was never to be happy ever again. I wanted to know badly whatever it was that might be bothering him.

We walked in silence until we reached my locker, where he excused himself with that agonizing melancholy still in his eyes. I watched him go, wanting to comfort him - tell him that I would listen; that everything would be alright. I needed to stop him, all the same I couldn't bring myself to even touch his hand for the fear that I would crumble once I do.

"Nerdy!" Matt Adams appeared as I bolted my locker. His lips stretched to a grin apparently pleased that he succeeded to frighten me as always. "Who's that?" said Matt cocking his head to Leon who just disappeared along the crowded hallway through the tangle of students. "New kid," I said distantly as I made my way to my home room, Matt still treading beside me. "Your friend?" he muttered nudging his way through the morning chaos. I hesitated. "I guess." "Okay... So is he like your special friend or something?" "I think that's none of your business, so just get lost, will you?" I blurted before I could reflect if it was the wisest

choice of words. He snorted darkly, his dark intense eyes smoldering. The arrogant smile was replaced with anger. Only now did I realize how immense and tall he is. I could see his jaw tensing from one side to the other as his large fists clenched. "None... of my business," he echoed my words with much fury and exasperation, he was literally shaking when he took two lungfuls of breath. He raised his huge, strong arm and swung to my direction. My eyes involuntarily shut tight at the anticipation of impact and all I could think was how the school nurse would put the parts of my head together when he was done with me. Fear struck my core and the thought of antagonizing Matt Adams froze my heart for a few seconds. To my relief, the excruciating pain of his blow did not come. All that I could comprehend was the deafening crash of his hand against the nearest locker. The thin sheet of metal that used to be Miranda Videbeck's locker door knocked down on the floor with a loud thump, dented; no, just about scrunched up. The commotion along hallways seemed to cease now. I could feel eyes piercing through me and it only made everything worse as my heart pounded in my temples.

"So that's how it is..." he glared at me, stepping a little closer, perhaps to intimidate me, shuddering with rage. I flinched mustering all the courage I could conjure to finally make a stand but was too terrified at the possible consequences. Finally, I met his glowering eyes and even managed to straighten my stooping stance. "Yes, that's how it is..." My voice sounded astoundingly firm considering that I was trembling with fear. Since the first grade, I've been bullied by Matt Adams. I could not endure it any longer; having to do his homework and projects day by day and having to put up with him. My life should have been easier if not for him. I could be Sarah, not Nerdy, but he just had to devastate everything. He just had to flush The Little Prince in the toilet. He just had to destroy one of the last few effects that reminded me of Winfred's brief existence in my life. Matt filched my arm and dragged me along the corridor, through the gawping maze of students. There was a menacing scowl on his face and I knew I would not stand a chance against him. However, I resolved to get this over with once and for all. "Sarah!" Becky called as she pushed forward to my direction. There was a hint of apprehension in her eyes, but mostly terror for my sake.

I desperately struggled to thrash Matt's massive grip from my arm. "Becky!" I cried. Becky finally made it out of the swarm and hurdled herself between Matt's hulking build and the rest of the crammed foyer. "Please," she tugged Matt's free arm with her trembling hands. "Let Sarah go." Her eyes were misty. "No... Becky," I mumbled feebly. Matt glowered at Becky and trounced her arm off of him, hurling Becky straight to the floor. From the side of my vision, Charrie Bolton sniggered with her annoying friends. It made me sick having to deal with these people every single day of my life - so high and mighty as if they're all that, making fun of everybody else so they would feel good about themselves. "Let me go!" I gritted through my teeth but he kept a strong clutch on my arm. "Get your filthy hand off me or else..." "Or else what?" He growled with amusement. "Or else I'll... I'll..." I stuttered overwhelmed with the muddle of panic and animosity inside my head. "This!" I stomped on his foot with all my weight and thrust my free knee between his legs to his soft spot which sent him

sprawling through the hallway, letting out a stream of foul curses as he hobbled his way out through the sardonic smiles and mocking laughs from the crowd. Incredulity weaved its way through my brain. Could have I really done that? There was the severe adrenaline rush, it provoked the hatred that was buried, rooted within me. Well I suppose watching a few moves from Discover Channel paid off. "Way to go Door Matt!" A curly-haired guy from the football team jeered as Matt disappeared through the throng of students, chorused by the chortle of the rest of the players, led by Mike Sullivan. Before I could even feel sorry for Matt, I ran to Becky and helped her up. "Are you alright?" Becky smiled wryly, eyes shifting nervously. "I guess so..."

Class was pretty much tedious and the whole time I was thinking about the repercussions of my previous encounter with Matt Adams. It would've been more convenient if he had just hobbled his way out straight off to the road traffic and got hit by a truck or something (morbid, I know) since I could just imagine how vile he would be when he lived another day to exact his

vengeance on me. I shuddered at the thought and kept on wallowing in it that I didn't notice Leon's empty seat soon enough. Whatever that phone call was about, it seemed absolutely serious. Leon, what are you not telling me? I panicked silently on my chair, hoping the clock would tick faster. The afternoon bell finally rang, making my stomach churn as the anxiety finally sank through. Becky parked herself next to me as the other students filed out of the room. She stroked my shoulder. "Thanks," said she, managing a tentative smile. "For what?" I smiled back struggling to conceal the dread that was gnawing inside me. "Matt... He just earned what he deserved." Becky stiffened and became pale as if all the blood was drained off her face. "Sarah, I'm afraid... for you." I stared on the floor, shuffling uneasily on my seat. "Me too... Perhaps it would be better if you keep your distance from me, just until everything is... sorted out." "I don't know about that. You know Matt. He's not going to let this pass. He'll get back at you... and it's entirely my

fault for interfering." "Don't say that! It wasn't your fault at all. It's awful, really. But in the lighter side of things, at least I don't have to do his schoolwork." I chuckled humorlessly. Becky let the matter drop but in spite of everything appeared pretty unconvinced. The rest of the day elapsed uneventfully although the contemplation of Matt possibly materializing in the cafeteria, the gym or even through the alleys when I walked home haunted me. It kept me on the edge of my seat, on my toes, jolting and flinching with every startling blare. The nausea crept through my stomach, my breathing ragged.

It took me three minutes before I was able to conjure inside my head various dismal excuses to pay a visit at Leon's house. The doorbell buzzed (honked actually) once, twice... thrice now. The dark wooden porch, embellished with an antique natural driftwood bench, a hammock neatly twisted into a bun hanging from the wall posts. I traced the vine-like carvings on the wooden door. The golden beige tapestries were unmoving beneath the dark-framed windows, the automatic steel flap to the garage shut closed.

No one was home. Where could he be? Maybe they'd moved out to someplace far, far away from me. Forcing my feet across the street, a familiar rumble of engine made me lift my gaze. The black car (an Audi R8 according to the internet but I couldn't be so sure) screeched, its tires protesting against the asphalt concrete as it skidded to an abrupt swerve to the left and parked right in front of me. The startling confusion prompted me two steps back, Arthur's dirty blonde head protruding from the window as the shutter rolled down, bringing me to let out a sigh in great relief. "Arthur!" I hobbled closer. "Arthur, I'm so glad to see you." I gasped, stiffening when I noticed the empty seat beside him. "Err... Leon-ard, he suddenly ditched class... so I was-" Arthur beamed radiantly as he got out of the car and patted my head with his enormous yet gentle hand that reminded me of Winfred. "You worry too much Sarah. Len had matters to straighten out so he took the fastest flight to L.A. this morning." He hesitated as though he just disclosed something I wasn't supposed to be aware of. I nodded without prying and said my hurried thanks

before I excused myself, hopeful that Arthur hadn't notice my glum disposition as I stepped away. Of course he'd be in Los Angeles. He's a celebrity after all, but he could've told me so I didn't have to lose sleep over his unexpected disappearance. "Ahh what the heck! That kid is killing me." Arthur bellowed cursing as he kicked exasperatedly. Like father, like son. My lips twitched upward impulsively. "Sarah!" He jogged after me. "Come in, we'll have coffee." It wasn't exactly an invitation but I gladly followed.

Arthur sat across the kitchen table stirring his coffee while I stared at mine. He sipped his coffee. "So Len left you clueless about his absence, I presume." My lips twitched. I still find it rather amusing whenever Arthur calls his son Len. "Yes, sir. B-but it's not like... he's obliged to. I mean-" "Ridiculous, that boy is. He should've at least informed you that he'd be gone for three days-" "Three days?" I said stunned by how I suddenly wondered how I was going to get through those days without his smile. My stomach fluttered. I perished the thought mainly because it was stupid and secondly

because it was really stupid. It wasn't like I had been with him for forever. I wasn't even sure if we're on the same level on this relationship, if it should be considered as one. Arthur appeared pleased with my overreaction. "Yes, three days. Len might've some reason why he hadn't told you. I didn't want to intrude with whatever it is that he's planning but hey, since you're Len's girlfriend," I blushed at the mention of the G-word. "I think you have every right to know." "I'm not so sure... a-about that," I stuttered, my face still warm. Arthur smiled, creasing the few slight lines bordering his clear blue eyes, which unlike Leon's had an air of ease and nonchalance. "Sarah, Len had quite a rough childhood. He isn't quite capable of expressing himself and in addition, he hardly ever mingles with kids his age. But I know well enough that he learned to smile a lot more when he met you. He might not be vocal about it but I'll let you in on a secret..." he beckoned with his hand. I stayed silent, rather intent on listening, hoisting myself on the stool so I could hear it clearer. "You know, when Len is extremely nervous," He raised

his right index finger. "Or excited, he does this." Arthur twirled his index finger as though he was doodling in circles on an invisible sheet of paper. He folded his arms in front of him and rested his chin on the back of his hand. "Len almost never gets nervous... or excited." "Okay..." I hesitated, creasing my forehead. I didn't really get his point but I nodded enthusiastically.

Dear Winfred, I'm dead. First, I angered Matt Adams. You know, Matt whom I was friends with in preschool. But he's a big stupid moronic bully now and I hate him more than anyone else in the world. If he ever recovers from the curses and spells I got from Becky's Wiccan guide, I'd have to consider my short life a history. Secondly, Leon's gone. Some knight in shining armor he is. My stomach lurched at the mere thought of it. Maybe I'd have nightmares. He didn't tell me a thing! That's how insignificant I am to him. Sadly, you're not here to punch him to death, as if

I'd allow it. I wonder if I could have amnesia if I hit my head on the wall so very hard. Dad... A tear rolled down my cheek. I don't know what to do. Love, Sarah

and there it was; a piece of paper that looked old torn, yellow on the edges, perhaps due to moisture. No, it was a page from The Little Prince, ripped from the bind. My hand trembled as I picked it up, memories of Winfred reading it over and over to me as he tucked me to bed flashing through the damaged parchment. I squinted to read the lines, which, though muddled by mishandling was still decipherable. Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. I instantly recognized that phrase from my book The Little Prince; the same book Matt Adams dumped in the toilet when we were in elementary school. The rest was impossible to interpret owing to the hideous clawing penmanship in angry red. My heart started to thump violently in my throat as fear nibbled me little by little. GYM. 3:30. BE THERE OR ELSE...

As expected, I had nightmares though I couldn't quite remember what it was about. But I woke up crying, my chest, wrenching the air out of me. The morning was rather gloomy, considering that spring was almost at hand. I walked alone to school with not so much improvement on my mood. Mom said I was sulking for no apparent reason. She had no idea. The hallway was just about to be jam-packed with students so I yanked my unwilling feet to the lockers to get my things. I paused. There was something wrong. The bolt has been hacked - my locker swung open when I touched it

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