I lay still on my bed; my eyes squeezed shut. I didn't want to cry. I never allowed it. I believed it was a sign of weakness. But even if I didn't want to, tears were forming behind my eyes. I tried to block out my mother's screams. Yet covering my ears didn't help. My dad continued to shout, and my mom yelled back. They always fight. Sometimes I wish they'd just get a divorce. It's certainly better than hearing them shouting all the time.
I turned over and looked at the clock on my bedside table. It was already two in the morning. They've been at it for hours. I sighed. Tuning them out, I tried to sleep. Then finally, I did. But I didn't know that it was long after my parents went to bed.
It was summer, but the start of the school year coming closer. Sitting outside the house on the porch steps, I watched the sunset, forgetting about the time. Something told me it was almost dinnertime, but I stayed unmoving, as if in a trance.
I snapped back to reality when I heard my mom calling. Slowly, I stood up and walked back to the front door. I didn't like dinners in this house. It was uncomfortable silence all the time. I always remembered the times when we'd just eat together as a family, no problems, no fights, just us three. I miss the times when my mom would buy me caramels and say they remind her of my eyes. I miss the times when my dad would carry me on his shoulders and bring me to the park. I miss the times when we'd sit under the huge tree by the lake behind our house and have picnics. But most especially, I miss the times when we were together. When we were a family.
I stayed to help my mom with the dishes then walked back out the door. I always stay on the porch steps because that's where I escape from all the noise inside the house. I watched as my only neighbor, a girl about sixteen, same as me, opened her door and sat on the steps of her house. Her name was Lila. I didn't think she noticed me, or even knew me at all. But I see her in school sometimes and was surprised that she didn't have much friends. She looked like the popular type. Lila had long, straight, raven-black hair and emerald eyes. She was beautiful, no doubt about that. In the hallways at school, I never saw her without a smile on her face. Everyone was her friend, but I doubt they considered her theirs. The kids in school always avoided or ignored her, as if she was invisible in their eyes. I watched from afar and I never made a move to talk to her. I was afraid people would treat me that way, too. So I stayed away.
Lila was the kind of girl who would say 'Hi' to every person she passed in the halls, say 'Good morning' to every teacher, who was kind to everyone. She gave little gifts to everyone who had their birthday, stayed with the sick people in the school clinic, and her eyes always showed sympathy and kindness to those hurt. When I see her doing things for people, it broke my heart to see that they didn't even acknowledge her presence. She was like an angel--selfless and giving, sensitive of other's feelings, yet unaware of her own. She was always careful not to hurt people, but she never cared that they ignored her. She was mindful of other's needs, but she never minded that they avoided her. She continued being nice, and she gave her smile of infinite kindness and understanding to so many other needy souls and my guess is that's why everyone hated her. A small part of me did, too. She was always acting like some sort of saint, like she was better than the rest of us. It was like she wanted us to feel guilty of not being more like her. Of not being as nice and wonderful as she was.
I was staring. I looked away, afraid that she noticed. But when I looked back, she was smiling. Uh...I guess she did notice.
"Hey Hayden. Wanna come sit with me?" she called, the smile still on her lips.
I was surprised. I didn't know she knew my name. I nodded and walked over to her.
"Hi. It's Lila, right? I said.
"Yeah." She smiled. Oh, how I loved that smile. I cleared my throat.
"So...uhm, are you excited for school?" she asked me.
"Me? School? Excited? Nah," I answered. "What about you?"
"Me? School? Excited? Nah," she said, eyes sparkling.
I laughed. "No, really. Don't you want to go back to school?" but what I really wanted to know was if it bothers her that people don't talk to her. But I can't ask that, now can I?
She looked into my eyes and I saw that she was serious. "No, I don't. You think I like being shunned by classmates? Don't look at me like that. I know they hate me. I hear them talk about me. I hear their words; not aimed at me directly, but meant for me to overhear. Stop staring, will you? I'm not blind, you know. I see the way they look past me, as if I'm not really there. I see the way they clear the way as if I'm some sort of disease. I see that, and more. I see the people I considered friends turn away from me. I try to be everyone's friend, but they never accepted me. And I see you being just like them," she finished, an impassive look on her face. I couldn't see what she was feeling. I didn't know what I expected, knowing now that she had known all along but chose to ignore them, but I thought she would cry. I seriously expected a sobbing girl after her little speech. Lila stood up suddenly. I stood up, too. I was still dazed. I stared at her retreating back. She was just about to open the door. Then she stopped and walked back to where I stood. She got my hand and placed something on my palm then closed it.
"Goodnight, Hayden." Then she kissed my cheek and disappeared.
I stood there, stunned. She practically said she hated me, and then afterwards, kissed my cheek? Weird.
I walked back to my house and ran up the stairs to my room, ignoring my parents who were -guess what- fighting again. I shut the door behind me and jumped onto my bed. I unclenched my fist and saw--a caramel. Just like the ones I used to love as a kid. Caramel eyes. I laughed. My mom used to call me that. I stopped laughing. But why would she give me a candy? I shook my head in wonder, a hint of a smile tugging on my mouth. Who cares, I thought, fully smiling now. The next morning, I realized that last night was the only night I slept through hell.
The last days of summer went by fast. It was already the first day of school. As I was dressing up, I thought about Lila. She never went out again. I waited every night for her to sit on the steps, but she never came. Well, why would she? I was just like everyone else to her, right? It was strange how that hurt me. I ignored the pain inside and just ran out the door. I kissed my mom goodbye and made my way to school.
I went to my homeroom and saw Lila sitting in the front. I sat in the back. She was smiling and talking to some guy who you could see just wanted to her shut up. I looked away. It was only now I noticed how good she was at ignoring that she was being ignored. I smiled slightly, shaking my head. If I was her, I'd scream at the people ignoring me. I'd hate them for all I was worth. I'd get back at them for all the years they pretended I wasn't there. But I wasn't. Good thing, too. Because if I were really her, I'd cry my eyes out and feel sorry for myself. But Lila, she didn't do all that. She was strong and was still nice to them. And that made me admire her even more.
The last bell rang and people ran out the doors of classrooms and were out of the school even before it stopped ringing. I took my time fixing my things. As I was walking in the hall to the front door of the school, I heard someone walking behind me. I turned and saw Lila. I waited for her to notice me and say hi or something, but she just smiled and looked straight ahead. She walked past me but not before she said, "You should trash the mask you know. I'd understand," and placed a caramel on my palm. I stared at her back. How many times have she done that? Freezing me on the spot? Sheesh. A caramel. And again, like the last time, I just stood there like an idiot.
I was sitting on the steps again. I guess I was waiting for Lila to come out, too. Why? I didn't know myself. The night I talked to her was the only night I slept peacefully. It was like I needed her there. I never felt that. I never had the need to be with someone. I never felt like I couldn't sleep without seeing someone. I never felt like I needed someone. But ever since I met her, I always did.
I have many friends. We have fun together, yes. But we never really talk. I didn't really know them. And they didn't really know me. They didn't understand me, and I guess they never will. But with Lila, I felt she was different. I felt that maybe she could. And I felt maybe I could understand her, too. If only she'd let me.
The next day, after school, I saw Lila again. She walked past me, just like the other day, but not before she said, "For once, allow the tears to fall. I'd understand," and placed yet another caramel on my hand. And like the other times, I just stood there. I know I shouldn't be surprised by her strange actions, but every time, I feel like I'm glued to the floor.
The third day of classes, she did it again. But this time, before she could walk away, I grabbed her arm. She looked at me and smiled.
I didn't know what to say. Emeralds stared calmly back at me. I felt like I was falling into her eyes. I shook my head. Snap out of it, I said to myself. Say something, stupid, a voice in my head said. But I just stood there. Then I smiled.
"You're not like everyone else, are you?" I said, more of a statement than a question. I was thinking about her odd ways and caramel candies. I walked past her and left her standing behind me.
"Yeah. I'm not," she whispered. It was soft, but I heard her.
Lying on my bed, I stared at the ceiling, lost in thought.
"You should trash the mask, you know. I'd understand."
"For once, allow the tears to fall. I'd understand."
"Yeah, I'm not."
Her voice rang through my mind. But one thing that hit me was that she kept saying, "I'd understand." Those words were what my many friends can't say. Didn't say. Those words were what I was looking for. Those words were what I needed. And she was the one who said it.
Every thing I thought was nonsense, just random words, made sense now. They were aimed at me. Said for me to understand. Intended for me to hear. All those things she said. It was like she knew me. As if she knew my feelings. It's like she wanted me to open up to her. It's as if she knows I'm hiding. Like I know she is. It's like she's saying I'm just like her. And she's just like me.
I remembered I told myself one time, that maybe she could. She herself said she would. But then suddenly, I realized, she already did. She did what none of my other friends did. Saw what my other friends didn't see. She understood me.
The digital clock on my bedside table read 1:50 am. I groaned and rolled over on m back. I placed my pillow over my head, trying to block them out. But like always, I knew it was no use. I could still hear them fighting. Don't they ever get tired of it? Ugh. I really, really wish that they'd just split up. Sitting up, fully awake, I crawled out of bed and walked quietly to the door. Knowing that my parents were in their bedroom, I was careful and made no noise heading toward the back door. I sat on the steps, feeling relieved that peaceful silence replaced the noise I was hearing inside.
Just then, I saw a lone figure. A profile of a person sitting under my favorite tree by the lake. Happy memories flashed before me. I remembered sitting under the shade of the huge tree with my parents, swimming in the lake and laughing while we picnicked. I sighed. Those days were over, I guess.
Curiosity got the better of me. I stood up and slowly approached the person, uncertain. As I walked closer, I could see it was a girl. Her back was facing me, so she didn't see me approaching. I stood just behind her, and this time, she sensed someone behind her. I could see the way her back arched as if she knew she was being watched. She slowly turned. Her beautiful green eyes were familiar. Like it makes you want to fall into them. Even in the dark, I recognized that face. I saw it every night. How could I forget? It haunted my dreams. In fact, it was what I dreamt of every night ever since I saw it.
The face belonged to Lila.
I quietly sat beside and faced her. When I looked into her eyes and saw that they were brimming with unshed tears. Lila had been remarkably poised and expressionless whenever I talked to or saw her, starting from her little speech down to the fourth caramel she placed on my palm. But now, for the first time, I saw the aura of composure beginning to crack. She looked away suddenly, as if she knew I figured it out. I held her chin toward me, my eyes inquiring, begging to please let me in. Looking deep into hers, I silently told her that she could trust me. Her eyes showed the hurt and sadness that I did not see by day. My heart broke when I saw how she had kept this all inside, unable to trust anyone with her feelings, afraid that she might get hurt again. She broke away from me, turning away so I could not see her face. I don't know why, but I wanted to comfort her. To let her know I care. I reached for her again.
"Don't," she said, her voice quiet, but firm.
"But why..." I started.
She cut me off. "Just...don't. Please."
I stayed silent. I did not wish to leave her alone, but I didn't want her to be angry, either. I decided to stay a little while. I am not good in comforting a crying person, and my first impulse was to leave them alone and give them time, but with Lila, my instinct was to stay with her. I didn't push her to tell me anything, but I'll be there if she wanted to. I didn't expect her to actually tell me the reason. I just wanted her to know I was there. Silently, I looked at the stars above us, shining like diamonds on a black cloth of the night. I sat thinking about everything, anything, and that included my problems. I was in a trance-like sate at that moment and I didn't notice Lila until she spoke.
"I didn't want you to touch me," she whispered, her voice hoarse.
I looked at her, confused.
"I was afraid that if you did, I would cry," she said, staring at her lap.
I didn't know what to say. But I knew I didn't want her sad. I tried to turn her face to me again, but she stopped me.
"I'm okay," she said, again turning away.
I was unconvinced. I doubted she was telling the truth, especially since I saw a tear roll down her pale cheek just before she turned away.
I tried again.
"No, really, I'm fine," she whispered now. I faced her toward me and I could very well see she was not.
"I'm alright," she said quietly.
"No, Lila, You're not. What is it? Why are you crying?" I asked.
"I-I'm not okay..."she said, more to herself than to me, then finally accepted it. She threw her arms around my neck and let the tears fall freely. I instinctively held her close and was surprised when she held on tighter. I did not whisper it's-oks or you're-fines, because I knew that would not help. I just let her cry.
Moments passed and her sobs finally subsided. I didn't know how long I held her, or what time it was. All I knew was that I wanted her to be happy. I didn't like hearing her cry. Because surprisingly, it made me want to cry with her.
I lay on my bed; it was now 3:14 and I didn't feel a bit sleepy. It turned out I was with Lila for more than an hour. I thought about the time she finally spoke. She did not blurt out the reason why. Like I expected she won't. But she thanked me. I memorized what she had said to me. It was printed at the back of my head.
"Thank you for understanding," she said. Then she stood up and ran to her house and disappeared.
It was strange, actually. I remembered the times she said she'd understand me. And the time I said maybe she would understand me, too. If only she'd let me. I wished she would, too. Then it dawned on me.
Tonight, or rather, this morning, she did.
With that, I fell asleep. It was the second time I slept peacefully.
Not surprisingly, I found myself staring at the ceiling and lying on my back, wide-awake. Again. Like always. Giving up on sleep, I dragged myself out of bed, feeling the need to get out of the house. I tiptoed down the hall and stairs, careful not to step on the creaky floorboard in the last rung. I went out the back door and sat on the porch once again. Like I hoped, I saw the outline of a person by the lake. I knew at first glance that it was Lila. Walking over to her, I noticed she was curled up beside the tree. She was crying.
Then it came to me.
This was her spot. Her place to think and cry without anyone seeing her. And in the middle of the night, too. I stopped suddenly. I wasn't sure if I was wanted. Unsure, I debated whether I should approach her or leave her be. It was hard.
"Hayden..." a voice whispered.
The thoughts of leaving her abandoned, I went to where she sat.
It was long after 3 when she stopped. I noticed that she cried longer tonight than the last time. I wondered why. I looked at her, eyes quietly asking the question. She hesitated, then spoke.
"Last night, I cried for myself," she paused. "But tonight, I cried for you."
Then she was gone.
Every night, or rather, morning, we sat by the lake. And always, every time I see her, I slept peacefully after.
One night, as I sat by her side, I noticed she wasn't teary eyed as usual, but she had a faint smile on her lips. I shot her a questioning look.
"It's your turn now," she said.
I thought she meant it was my turn to tell her my story, like she started to tell hers after the second time I met her at midnight. So I did. I told her everything. From my parents and their endless fights to my friends who can't and never will understand me. From the times I feel alone even when many are around to the times I just wanted to feel nothing--no hurt, no pain, no sadness. While I talked, Lila sat there, her eyes trained on mine, never letting me go. I felt the tears behind my eyes, threatening to fall. It was then I realized what she meant when she said, "It's your turn now." It was my turn to cry.
I wasn't used to spilling my guts to a friend, much less to a girl I just met, and then crying right in front of her. I wasn't even used to crying. I didn't cry. Never allowed myself to. Sure, there were times I wanted to. Because when I did, my eyes hurt, but still, I didn't cry. I became an expert in hiding what I feel and stopping the tears from falling. And yet I also knew, that there would come a time when I wouldn't be able to keep it inside any longer. And my guess is that my eyes picked this very moment with Lila right in front of me. Damn.
I tried to stop them. Willed the tears to wait, at least until I get home to the safety of my room. But just then, Lila said something that made me forget about and give up on hiding from her.
"I'd understand," she said.
I knew she would, too. Those very words caused me to break. Finally allowing the tears to fall, I did so in front of Lila, the first one who understood me. Who saw though me. Who looked behind the mask I wore, of contentment and happiness, saw the hole inside, but understood me. And unknowingly, she also filled that void.
Just by being there.
The first few nights we met each other by the lake, we didn't speak a word. Lila often cried on my shoulder and sometimes, I would. But as the days passed, I noticed we didn't cry as often. We talked. And eventually, we learned how to laugh. After crying over our problems, letting it all out never made me happier. I laughed more. So did Lila. And we didn't talk about depressing things anymore. I knew we could have our fun in school or during the day, but nighttime was OUR time. We wore masks by day, showed ourselves by night. Night, you see, was the time we were ourselves. Night, was the time Lila thought about things and cried where no one can see, and night, was the time I did the same. But I only did so with her.
One night, while we were talking, a thought suddenly occurred to me. It was a question, actually. I was surprised I forgot about it, since I wanted to ask her about it ever since.
"Hey Lila?" I started.
"Hmm?" she said. "What is it?"
"Well, I was just wondering..." I hesitated, before continuing. "Uhm...why did you give me caramels?"
She looked at me mysteriously, a devilish smirk on her angelic face. Ironic, don't you think?
"You mean like this?" she asked as she placed a caramel on the hand that she was holding earlier. My head was on her lap but then I sat up when she gave me the fifth caramel.
"Stop playing, Lila," I said, and kissed her entire face playfully. She giggled when I did that. Lila knew the drill. She would tell me whatever she was hiding or I would be forced to kiss it out of her. I was laughing now. I kissed her nose, then her cheeks, then her chin, then her forehead, then her lips. Just when she was responding, I pulled away.
She pouted. "Haydeeen!" she said, annoyed now.
I just laughed. I love it when I make her mad. Her face was so cute when annoyed. I laughed even harder. I was still laughing when she slapped me on the arm playfully.
"Tell me," I managed to say, as I was still spurting with laughter.
"You really wanna know?" she asked, eyes dancing.
"I wouldn't ask if I didn't," I said.
I leaned over to try to tickle it out of her instead. She was gasping for breath before I was finished with her.
"Fine! Fine! I'll tell you!" she screamed, still laughing. I stopped tickling her.
Lila glared at me, her green eyes flashing. She appeared to be angry. Ha. I can see past what you show, dear Lila, or do you not remember? I smiled inwardly, playing along.
"Why do you wanna know anyway?" she asked, her tone anything but serious.
I cracked. I couldn't help it. I laughed out loud. Ha. Her poker face needs work. She glared at me, and this time, I knew she meant it. I stopped laughing and answered.
"Because I don't know anyone else in the world who would give me my favorite candy??? Wait. Wait. Here's a better reason. Coz you were simply...weird. Sheesh. Giving out caramels, what were you thinking???" I said, shaking my head.
She smiled widely. "Caramels are your favorite?"
I looked at her, confused. I thought that was the reason. She knew it was my favorite. Well, apparently, it was not, as I soon learned afterward.
"Uhm...yeah. I loved them since I was little," I said, still puzzled.
She laughed, her eyes glimmering, black hair reflecting the light of the moon above. I swear, she looked like an angel. I smiled.
"I was weird, wasn't I? Well, I gave you those because I had them in my pocket and I felt like sharing." She laughed at the face I made. "Okay, okay. I gave you those because your eyes reminded me of caramel candies. Those kinds, especially," she smiled at my amused expression, her green eyes twinkling, obviously because of the next words she was about to say.
"I loved them since I was little."
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