My eyes fly open to the sound of my alarm clock playing Justin Beiber’s ‘Baby’.
Quick as lightning, my left hand shot across my bedside table and fumbled for the demonic thing playing the devil’s song, desperate to turn it off. There were a lot of things on the table besides the clock and combined with my still hazy vision, it took me 20 seconds to find the source of my frustration and with a satisfying soft click, it stopped. I rubbed my eyes and looked closely at the digital display of my clock. 6:00 am, S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y. How could I set my clock so early on a weekend?! I grunt and fall back on my own bed made of fluffy clouds.
“What…the…hell..?” asked a deep voice that wasn’t mine.
I turned my head to the sound, my eyes adjusting to the morning light coming from the balcony’s glass doors. My eyes met another pair of eyes. They were strikingly blue; the kind of blue the sky has on a cloudless summer day, the kind that matches perfectly with black raven hair, making whoever this person is achingly handsome.
Who is this?!
I sat up too quickly and scrambled out of bed, staring at the boy who wore the same expression of horror and confusion and disbelief as I am. He had a black t-shirt that hugged his frame, jeans and cool shoes that’s currently staining my white bed sheets. For a brief moment, I was glad I’m not like other girls who only wear underwear in sleep.
Without thinking, I grabbed the first object nearest to me from the table and sent it flying to the intruder. It was my alarm clock. There was a loud crash followed by a string of curses from the boy who also got out of bed. His blue eyes were blazing with pure hatred. A slim river of dark liquid ran down the side of his face.
“Who are you?!” we both asked one another.
He wiped the blood from his face with his hand, a murderous look crossing his features. Without breaking my gaze from him, I reached for my pencils and held it in between us.
“Why are you in my room? How’d you get in here?” I demanded.
“What?” he asked, clearly confused. “I could ask you the same thing! Where am I? And please put that thing away, you already did some damage on my face. I’m not a murderer, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Actually, I think you’re a very handsome murderer.
“Like I said, you’re in my room,” I replied. The pencil now lowered to my sides but I refuse to let go of it.
“Alright,” he answered. “I have no memory of ever coming here and I certainly don’t know you. Who are you?”
“Cami. Cami Clarkson. You?” His honesty dragged the truth out of me.
“Etheridge. Lance Etheridge.”
The world stopped. My pencil clattered to the floor when I don’t even remember letting go of it.
This…this can’t be happening.
12 hours earlier
“Crystal’s stupidity is getting out of hand. Someone should slap her.” I declared, closing Things Will Never Be rather loudly that Genevieve—my friend/teacher/partner-in-crime—jumped a little from whatever she’s doing.
“Now, don’t treat the book like that,” she said, eyeing my one and the last copy of TWNB. She and I could be sisters; redheads, green eyes, though mine was a shade lighter than hers. She pushed aside her work, happy to have some distraction and break from her stressful life, and eyed me with knowing eyes. “Tell me, what’s this new story about?”
I sighed. “Okay, quick summary. Crystal—the heroine—wants to find her first love from that time when she was still 10 years old. Now that she’s 18 and is attending this new school, she found a boy named Lance that coincidentally looks like her first love. Boom! Eyes glued to him. In class, the same boy also has the same subjects as her. When she asked for his name, he told her that his name’s Matthew. Turns out, Lance was Matthew’s older twin brother. The big bad brother who’s now taking advantage of Crystal’s feelings,” I smacked my fist to the table; releasing my pent-up frustration and making Genevieve furrow her forehead.
“Oh, Matthew’s dreamy. He’s got all the good his twin doesn’t have plus the good looks. I know he’s in love with Crystal but he’s still stuck in the friendzone,” I added.
“Don’t just ‘hmmm’ me. I’d really like it if Lance would be out of the picture, you know. Honest and sincere feelings are ignored and taken for granted all because of some misguided affections for the wrong boy.” I pouted.
Abruptly, Genevieve stood up, her hand opened and stretched, demanding for the book. “Give that to me. Just for a moment.” She smiled.
“Why? What’ll you do?” I suddenly feel overprotective of my special book.
She snatched it from my arms. “Hey!” I protested.
“Oh, shush.” Then she left the room, my book together with her.
I waited, absentmindedly reading her upcoming lessons for our Literature subject when she returned after 20 minutes. She offered me the book, which I gladly took, and smiled at me like a mother excited to give her daughter a present.
“So,” she trailed, “what’s this thing I’m hearing. You and Blake, huh?”
“What?! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” I exclaimed. “I mean, he’s a nice guy—if you like those go-with-the-flow type of guys. But that’s where he stops, he’s just nice. He’s never something more. Our relationship status is this: just friends.”
Genevieve placed both of her hands over her heart, her expression showing pity and said with a sad voice, “Oh… That’s got to be the worst lines I’ll ever hear from you, Queen of Friendzones.” We both laugh at her ridiculous joke over my taste in men. “But seriously, sometimes you just have to stop looking for something that isn’t there and start realizing that what’s presented in front of you is the one that really matters.”
I held up the book in front of me. “Things Will Never Be is the one that really matters,” I said in monotone. I got up and gathered my things. My watch proclaimed it was already 6:30. “Genevieve,” I said in a grand manner, “your company never ceases to entertain me. I’d come back here if you desire.”
“Yes, yes,” she answered in a bored tone, “You always let yourself in anyway.” She shooed me with her hands and yelled when I was already at her door, “And don’t be like Crystal!”
“I’m not stupid!” I let myself out.
By the time I got home, I ate and finished my assignments in only 2 hours. I didn’t bother opening the television and watch shows but I did turn my speakers on and played Imagine Dragons in full volume. A glance at my clock showed that it’s 9 pm and meant that I should be in bed. Everything is scheduled and in order.
I crawled into bed, dragging TWNB with me. Being in bed doesn’t mean that I should sleep, so I kept the lamp turned on and started reading.
Before my eyelids weighed like a ton, the last of the chapter revealed Lance Etheridge getting into his shiny black car, waiting for the slutty girl’s signal to start the race in the middle of the streets. When it was time, both cars ran at top speed. It was then that Lance made a mistake. His car drove out of the curve and crashed into a jewelry store.
And now, he’s totally out of the picture, was my last thought before I succumbed to sleep.
My mind refuses to produce coherent thoughts about this manifestation. There’s no way that this Lance is the same with the Lance on the book. I stop my pacing and ask him, “You don’t happen to have a twin brother named Matthew, do you?”
This startled him. He was busy putting pressure on his wound that he didn’t mind my walking back and forth in the room. He answered, “As a matter of fact, I do.” Realizing I just asked him a personal question, he asked in return with the voice that made me hate him in the book, “How did you know that? Are you one of my stalkers?”
“Urg, get over yourself!”
No, no. No, this can’t be happening. This shouldn’t be happening. It’s not possible! How can a character of a book come to life?! I gasp. That’s right, the book! Frantically, I search my bed for it, ignoring the look Lance is currently giving me. Pillows were thrown out of way, blankets were flipped and sheets were torn. Where is it?
“Is this what you’re looking for?” Lance held up TWNB in his other hand. It must’ve joined the pillows when they made their flight. I scrambled out of bed yet again and made my way to him.
“Give me that,” I said, reaching for the book.
Annoyingly, he held it higher just in time when I was about to grab the book. I was suddenly aware of how close we are. Only a few inches apart and I could already catch his scent. He smells like expensive cologne and sweat and blood. I’m suddenly conscious of how I smell that I backed up a step. Blood rushes to my face and I hope he’ll interpret this as my rage.
“That’s mine! Give that to me.” I gave him my death stare.
“Tell me what’s going on first!” He stared back at me with equal intensity.
We stare each other down for a full minute, neither of us backing down, both of us willing the other to break or melt. We could’ve been a pair of idiots to anyone witnessing this moment. I sighed. “I could if you give me the book,” I said through gritted teeth.
He handed it to me. If he’s really the Lance Etheridge from the book, somehow, this affects the whole story of TWNB and if it really does, there’s bound to be some changes in the plot. I flipped the pages frantically, desperate to get to the next chapter. And I did.
The next pages were also blank. I gasped too loudly that Lance’s eyes darted from me to the book and back again. The entire half of the book was wiped clean till the last pages. The horror of not knowing the ending struck me more than the impossibility of Lance coming to life.
“Hey, girl, are you okay? You look like you wanna puke, or faint.”
“I’ve never fainted before.” There’s always a first for everything, maybe this is it. I can’t think clearly. I need water. I need someone to slap me back to reality. I need… Genevieve! Ignoring Lance’s concerns, I picked up my phone and dialed Genevieve’s number. She didn’t pick up at first so I tried calling her again. On the fifth try, she finally answered with a hoarse voice, “Someone better be dead.”
“Genevieve,” I said, my voice afraid and uncertain, “something’s happened. He got out and now he’s here. What am I supposed to do?”
There was a long pause and I was about to check if she’s still there when she responded with a much clearer voice, “Ah, the boy. Lance, was it?”
“How did you know anything about this?”
“Because I brought him here,” she stated like how one would describe the world round, or the sky blue.
“Come here, and bring him and the book. I’ll explain later.” Then she hung up.
I stared at my phone like it’s an object from the future, and decided I’d get rid of it. As I poised to throw it, quick hands snatched my phone from my grasps. Lance held it in his hands, dialed something and brought the phone to his ear. He waited, sighed, and then stared at the phone with the same look I had.
“You can’t contact anyone you know. They’re not here.” I informed him.
“Of course they’re not here!” he exploded. “That’s why I was trying to call Matthew to make him pick me up. Hey,” he grabbed my arm as I made my way to my closet, “what is going on?” he demanded.
“You don’t understand. Matthew, your friends, even Crystal, is not here in this world. This is my world. This,” I held up TWNB, “is yours. You have to come with me if you wish to go back.” I looked him in the eye as I said it. Handing him my first aid kit, I instructed him to go wait in the garage as I change my clothes. Oh, Genevieve, what is this you’ve gotten me into.
I drove, and patiently explained the situation in a voice one uses when one tries not to scare a cornered cat. My veins nearly erupted from hearing Lance swear at everything I’m saying.
“That’s bullshit!” he shouted when I told him he was fiction.
“You’ve lost your mind. Your grasp of what’s real and what isn’t!” he spitted.
“Crazy bitch is crazy,” he murmured in his seat when I told him Genevieve brought him here.
I always reminded myself that in order to win an argument, one must improve one’s reasoning and not one’s voice but hearing all those curses coming from Lance’s mouth, it tempted me to stop the car and throw him on the pavement. Miraculously, we made it to Genevieve’s house unscathed. Carefully moving one of the flower pots, I picked up the spare key for the house, gave the doorknob a masterful turn and shoved it on the way in. We found Genevieve sprawled in her sofa with a mug on her hand.
“I know you’ve always been eccentric and even peculiar at times,” I started, pointing a finger at her, “but I never thought you’d do something like this!” I pointed at Lance who gave an offended look.
“Look, Cami,” Genevieve gently placed the mug on the small glass table and stood up. “It’s the weekend! Go have some fun—I hear there’s a carnival in town—and by ‘fun’ I don’t mean making a nest in your apartment with books and drawings and manuscripts.” She gave me a pointed look. Her eyes leave mine and found Lance’s. Then she made her way to him and extended her hand. “Hello Lance. It is so nice to meet you,” she said and smiled.
To my utter astonishment, Lance took her hand into his and shook it once. I would’ve expected him to swat her hand and shout at her face but this obvious display of manners diminished my bad opinions of his bad qualities.
“Likewise,” Lance answered. “I’d really like it if you’d please bring me back to my own reality.”
And he’s straightforward. Did he really just say ‘please’? My opinions of him are getting better, I think. Now I’m deliberately confused of who really Lance Etheridge is. Was this the person who slacked at school and played Crystal around? I could hardly tell.
“And I really like to finish the story,” I chimed in.
“Ah,” she answered as she made her way back to the sofa. “That part is totally up to you. The both of you, actually.” She took a sip at whatever she’s having, made a face, then added, “If you want to go back, one of you must complete a task.”
“What task?” asked Lance.
“Before the clock strikes 12 this midnight, one of you should fall in love. Only then can Lance go back and Cami finish her story.”
I’m speechless. Words have completely left my mind and before I could form a response, Lance beat me to it.
“Don’t,” he said with warning in his voice, “fucking go Disney on me, lady.”
There. Right before my eyes was the Lance I hated—I mean, hate. Hated? Sigh…
“Genevieve,” I said in a quiet voice, “you can’t just force love on someone who’s not ready to feel and suffer its consequences.”
It was Lance’s turn to point at me and did it while saying, “She’s right.”
“Fine,” she threw her hands up and pouted. “But seriously, I have two tickets for a carnival downtown and I’ve got work to do so it’d be a waste if no one enjoys them, right? I’m giving those to you two. It opens at 11:30 so in the meantime,” she glances at her clock that proclaimed it was 8:15, “you guys still didn’t have your breakfasts, right? Cami, you know where the kitchen is. Guide Lance there and make something.” She grabbed one of her books and indulged reading.
“A sandwich,” said Lance with mockery in his voice.
I scowled at him but led him to the kitchen where Lance surveyed the area, chose a place to sit and waited like a boss. Meanwhile, I scoured Genevieve’s refrigerator for anything to eat. 30 minutes later, the kitchen was filled with the sweet aroma of hot chocolate and bacon. Lance and I helped ourselves, never really speaking to one another.
“Well, this isn’t awkward,” I decided to break the silence.
“It’d be more awkward if I won’t answer,” he said.
“Sure will.” Now I couldn’t think of anything to add.
After a moment, I heard him whisper, “’Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.’”
I dropped my fork with a clang that he looked up at my startled expression. “You just quoted Twelfth Night.”
“Did I?” a small smile played at the corner of his lips.
“I didn’t know you read.” Of course you wouldn’t know. TWNB is in Crystals’ POV and she’s oblivious to this kind of information, scolded my common sense.
“I don’t. That was just one of the classics my brother Matthew handed to me. Besides, it was a long time ago.”
Before I could ask what other classic literary works he’s read, Genevieve appeared by the kitchen’s door and waved the carnival’s tickets. “Here are your tickets,” she gave them with a smile, “And dinner will be here. I will prepare it for my lovely guest.”
“Great,” I said halfheartedly.
“You still have more than an hour before the carnival opens to the public…” her voice trailed, eyes searching ours for answers to a question never asked.
“We’ll just hang out here for a while,” Lance said with a smile. “And I appreciate the gift. I could use some vacation time. The last thing I remember was the jewelry store slamming into my car.”
“You mean you slamming into the store.” I talked back.
“Whatever,” he answered in the same tone Genevieve has when she’s bored. “Then the next thing I know is waking up beside this gorgeous girl who’s got terrible taste in music”—I protested at his comment but nevertheless continued to listen—“and also quite violent. I woke up in a dream.”
After that I apologized for hurting him with my clock in which he stated that it wasn’t a big deal. Then I scrutinized his taste in music, one I found quite shocking because it turned out we liked the same genre though of different bands. And because his fictional world was very much the same as mine, he was able to keep up with me when a debate launched on which band is better than the other: Imagine Dragons or The Script.
Slowly knowing Lance surprised me more than it should be. It’s different—not relying on Crystal’s opinions of him, that is—and exhilarating with me discovering things about him by myself. Like how long his lashes actually were, his deep throaty laugh and his gentle voice when he talks to people seriously. Talking to him pulled my mind off things that normally causes me stress. And as I watch those lips start to form his small smile, I couldn’t help but wonder, is he one of those misunderstood antagonists?
We stayed at Genevieve’s house ‘till it was time to go, and when we did, we bid her goodbye.
“Wait,” Genevieve called before I could close the door; Lance was already standing by the car, “listen to this. ‘Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossible, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.’” She looked at me with expecting eyes and I closed the door before her words could sink into me. I walked to the car, and saw Lance slowly forming a mischievous smile. Oh no, I’m starting to believe Genevieve.
The time we spent together was a song, and this was the verse I’d repeatedly listen to.
This small vacation seemed to be full of surprises. Before we went to the carnival, I stopped for gasoline and was surprised to find Lance paying the bill. “I ride shotgun,” was all he said. The carnival was easy to find, people were already milling and forming a line by the time we got out of the car. We passed the gate, handed the ticket to the one in charge of the rides and again surprised to know that all rides were free for the two of us.
“Wow,” I commented. I looked at Lance, and to my disbelief, his eyes were shining like stars on a cloudless night sky, his mouth smiling like a child receiving a gift for the first time. Before I could protest, he grabbed my hand and dragged me to the first ride he saw. The roller coaster. My heart skipped a beat. For a girl like me—who spends her time locked on her own apartment reading, writing, drawing and even studying—riding thrill rides were the last thing on my list yet here I find myself sitting beside a fictional boy wearing a wide grin, who’s quite eager to feel the wind on his face and the gut-wrenching pull of gravity. The engine started and we started moving. Alright, I thought, time to put my big girl panties.
I screamed during the first 20 seconds while Lance laughed so hard his eyes water. My hands desperately clutched the handles that they turned white and cold. Astonishingly, Lance reached for my hand and covered his own with mine. Warmth spread at his touch and our eyes met and suddenly the pulsing beat of my heart no longer signified my fear of the ride. Smiling mischievously, he lifted both our hands in the air just in time the train took a dive. We both screamed.
“I hate you,” I muttered at him as I catch my breath.
He laughed. “Well that was fun. Next!” Again, he grabbed my hand but this time, I let him.
We ate our lunch on one of the food stalls at Lance’s courtesy then spent the whole afternoon trying all the rides—from carousel to booster to bumper cars. I beat him at shooting gallery and won half of the puzzle games. We were unbeatable at ring toss and both flushed and walked the opposite way when we saw a kissing booth. Time sure flies when you’re having fun yet it flies faster when you spend it with someone.
Genevieve called me by 6:30, telling me to ‘bring the guest and we shall feast’. By the time we got there, the smell of grilled beef filled the air and both our stomachs growled with anticipation.
“Welcome, welcome,” Genevieve said as she waved for us to sit down. She really outdid herself this time. Centered on the table was the grilled beef cut in thin slices, her own recipe of buttered fried rice, vegetable salad and sweet and sour fish.
“Goodness,” I exclaimed. “Thanks for this Genevieve,” I said with a grateful smile.
Lance’s attention was completely enamored by the excessive display of food that he forgot to pay his graces and thank Genevieve. The three of us ate merrily and when Lance finished, it was only then that he expressed his gratefulness to our humble host. I did the dishes while the two of them moved to the living room and chattered. I was curious of what their topic was and tried to listen in but all I could hear was soft murmurs that eventually, I gave up.
“Hey,” Lance called, “hurry up or we’ll miss the fireworks.”
Yes, there was such thing. The carnival offered a fireworks display for their first day of opening but it will not start till 11:45pm.
“I was just finishing up,” I answered. “And besides, we still have to wait for two hours so there’s no rush.”
“By then we’ll miss the good spots for the viewing. And if we do, I’ll be blaming you,” he glared and added, “Also, we still lack one more ride.”
“Fine.” I gathered my keys and told Genevieve that we’ll be going back to the carnival.
It was as Lance predicted. The good spots for the fireworks viewing were full of people and nowhere near comfortable.
“Don’t say ‘I told you so’ ‘cause I’m already feeling dreadful.”
He didn’t. Instead, he pulled me to where the Ferris wheel was and stood in line. This was the only ride we didn’t get earlier because of the long line of people waiting for their turns.
“This is where we’ll get the best view,” he said.
It was a brilliant idea and while the two of us sat side by side, we waited for the ride to be full.
“Man, I really enjoyed this vacation,” he mused. We were almost at the top by now, and the air up here felt colder, making me shiver. Without warning, Lance draped an arm around me. I stiffened. “Relax. I know you’re cold. I’m cold too so if it makes you feel better, think of it as you saving my life from hypothermia.” He smiled his dazzling smile. Then his eyes turned serious and his voice dropped a few octaves when he spoke, “Seriously. Thank you for this day.”
“N-no worries,” I stammered then shivered—either from the cold or because of how close he was that I caught his sweet scent, I couldn’t tell. And like every song, there’s always that turning point when the melody changes into something more upbeat—a bridge—that prepares for the final hurrah of a chorus. This must be it, I thought. My heart pounded against my chest, rapid and frantic, causing me to cast a glance at Lance’s calm face waiting for the fireworks. My heart thunders, my blood travels my body twice the normal cycle, and suddenly it dawned on me. Suddenly I feel liberated of the fact that, as impossible as it may be, I like Lance more than I thought I would that the realization sent a dreadful feeling. He’s going to disappear by midnight.
“Too bad,” he started then looked straight into my eyes, “I don’t have much time left to spend with you,” his voice so sincere and sweet that at first it startled me. How could he have known? But he doesn’t know about my feelings and I realized he’s referring to his own.
Boom! And the sky exploded with big circles of light that rained down like shooting stars. He turned at the sight, but I hardly cared about the fireworks anymore. Seeing his face light up together with the sky, his lips forming a peaceful smile, this sight was much precious that I memorized this exact moment.
“‘I should’ve made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you’,” I murmured. Jane Eyre had never been so right.
He smiled at that. “It is hard for me as well, but…there might be a time. We don’t know. Things are uncertain.” He reached for my face, wiped a tear that escaped my eye and leaned in. I closed my eyes and feel his lips touch my forehead. Somewhere, a clock announced midnight and when I opened my eyes, he’s simply…gone.
1 week later
It was as if the universe stole a whole day—my most unforgettable day—from me. After that, I spent the next day curling on my bed, leaving stains on my pillows. The day after, I resumed my daily duties of going to school and studying and stuff but no matter how I distract my mind, it always goes back to those piercing blue eyes. Knowing that there’s no escaping it, I opened TWNB and found the rest of the story. I finished it in less than a day. It turned out that the three of them—Crystal, Matthew and Lance—did meet when they were children and the issue of Crystal’s first love was cleared when Lance told her the whole story; that it was Matthew whom Crystal had loved and not him. Crystal and Matthew got closer and eventually their story led to a happy ending. Mine didn’t.
Shaking off my frustration, I decided to take a walk. Fall just started and the air smelled like decaying leaves. When I opened my gate, I had to blink a few more times to make sure that the person standing before me with his half-raised hand wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.
“Hi,” he said.
He flashed my favorite smile. “Remember our dinner? When you were out there washing dishes and being the good girl you’ve always been, I asked Genevieve to work her magic and bring me back here when you finished reading the story.”
“Yeah?” I asked though I couldn’t hide the happiness in my voice. “What’s the catch this time?”
“It seems that as long as we feel the same way about each other, I’ll be here,” he opened up his arms.
“Piece of cake.”
Without hesitation, I step forward and claimed my own happy ending.