The Trouble With Love

—Chapter One—

"Is that her?"

"No, the other one."

"In the bikini?"

"Nope, the one next to her."

"With the pony tail?"

"Nuh-uh. The one in white, stupid."

"Zac, you do realize they're all in white."

"Oh yeah."

I sighed and slumped back on the comfortable seat of Zac's black SUV. He had bought it during the middle of our senior year and already it was filled with junk; old Burger King wrappers, magazines—most of them dirty—and even used tissue paper. When I stepped in I even tripped on a rubber duck—yes, the one similar to Ernie's—and Zac explained it belonged to the sister of Yule, his best friend. What a lousy excuse since I knew it was the same squeaky toy he had played with since he was ten and enjoyed extra-scented bubble baths.

Slowly, I swivelled my head over to the window, trying to, once again, figure out which one of the many women outside the Starbucks stall we were in front of was Rhea. We've been in Zac's stupid, smelly car for thirty minutes now and so far all the progress we've done is that we've managed to cross out—from the list of Rhea Possibilities—exactly ten girls from about thirty. All this because, instead of just introducing me to her or just for Zac to pass by and say hi so I would know who she was, Zac oh-so-please, insisted we do this as discreetly as possible. By that, of course, he meant we hide behind the heavily tinted glass of his car, in even darker shades that covered our eyes and, most hilariously, in black. I really didn't see the logic of any of that since the only good it gave was to get me sweating like hell—even with the a/c on full blast—as the sun outside blared like hot, molten lava.

Surly, part of the reason why we were getting no where was because Zac, being himself, was easily distracted. He would constantly switch the radio stations, make calls on his phone or even comment on every passer by. It also didn't help that his descriptions were all but lucid and that he refused to simply point at her direction saying, and I quote, that 'it is against chivalry to ever raise even a finger or a nail towards the direction of feminine perfection.' Whatever he said and whatever point he had made at the beginning, it was really starting to seem like utter bullshit to me.

"I'm going down," I said, placing a hand on the knob. Zac, clearly ready for this, merely pressed on the lock switch and instantly put a cease to whatever means of escape I had. Again. Evidently, luck was on the other side of the rainbow for me.

I was trapped. A prisoner, I have become, ever since two days ago when I agreed to my little brother's eerie scheme.

So far, it was pure torture.

"Yule, I'm telling you I left the yogurt in your fridge!" Zac screamed at his phone over to Yule, his best friend, who was on the other line. They'd been going on, ranting about the mango flavoured dairy product mentioned earlier, for almost the whole time we've been here. Yule, apparently, was on a strict diet and all he could eat was the healthy stuff his mother—who was a doctor—prescribed him. Unfortunately, my dear brother was a suspect of eating the last of Yule's yogurt since, yesterday, he was caught red handed searching through the food pantry of the Medici's, a trace of milk on the sides of his mouth.

I heard Yule shout his angry reply. I tried to block their voices out, rolling my eyes. I liked Yule and all but sometimes I really just didn't get him. First of all, I had discovered that his real name was really Orlando Archibald Medici. None of those, as you noticed, were close to what people were used to calling him. Second, he was smart but acted dumb. Which was, in my opinion, completely stupid. Third, he was always at our house, finishing everything in our pantry from the chips, to the tangerines and even the Oreos—which just happened to be one of my favourite snacks. I knew this behaviour was just a result of him being overly underfed over at his home but hey, that didn't mean he had the right to finish all our groceries right? And finally, fourth and foremost, he was just every bit like my brother, chasing chicks around and thinking about nothing more than his testosterone.

It took Zac approximately another five minutes to end the call, admitting, in the end, that he indeed had eaten the yogurt. And after promising Yule a lifetime supply of Ruffles and Rice Crispies, he shut his phone and sighed. By then of course, I was totally worn out by waiting. And it was only ten in the morning, for heaven's sake!

"I always knew Yule never really trusted me," Zac muttered loud enough for me to hear. I fanned myself with my hand and snorted.

"Zac, you did eat his food," I pointed out. My brother raised his sun glasses up on his forehead and closed his eyes, inhaling a long, deep breath.

"It was just some freaking yogurt," he mumbled, eyes still shut. "Plus, he always gets food from our house."

"Right." I plopped my elbow on the armrest and rested my chin on the palm of my hand, continuing to search out the window. "By the way, does Rhea have black or blonde hair?"

Pause.

When Zac didn't reply quickly and I feared he had fallen asleep—it was impossible he hadn't answered because he didn't know. I tuned to him and was relieved to find that his fingers were trotting along the dashboard and although he hadn't still opened his orbs, I knew he was conscious somehow.

"Black," he said finally. This word alone was enough to make my day. Because the person who came out from the clear, entrance door of the coffee shop was a girl in white with long raven hair, all curled naturally in the end. This, of course, could be just another girl and not who we were looking for but somehow, I had a really strong feeling I was right on my guess. I didn't know why I felt so certain, I just did.

"That's her," I said in a tone that indicated I was more of stating a fact than uttering a question.

At this, Zac instantly leaned forward and pushed me out of the way so he could see. His eyes, which were now warm and vibrant instead of lazy and bored, shot up in a second and I could feel him shaking, as if he was laughing silently at his triumph. My triumph, actually, but I didn't care as long as we'd served our mission.

"Ain't she beautiful?" he asked me, still gazing at her dreamily. She was, actually, stunning. Even more so than the made-up cheerleaders that sashayed around school as if they owned the place. No. This girl was…authentic. Natural. Original. Her skin was shiny and tan and, judging from a few of her features, she had some Asian blood in her. We were parked close enough for me to see that she wore no make-up and that her earrings were not the usual loopy dangling ones that made me want to pull them off. And none of the glitters or the excessive belts as well. Just a simple—and a little too loose—shirt and uncomplicated khaki pants.

And really, this made me proud on behalf of my brother, who was just usually with ditsy blondes who liked to twirl their hair around, sticking their tongue out like dogs and giggling like the world was soon to end. But, then again, I was being slightly superficial. Maybe she seemed different but what if inside she really wasn't?

That, I have yet to find out.

"Go say hi," I said to Zac, who I knew would be drooling any second. On me, if I couldn't help it.

My brother shook his head vigorously, returning to his seat and crossing his arms. "No way, Jaiden. Parvati and Skye's with her."

I looked back at Rhea, who had emerged from Starbucks alone a while ago, and saw that she indeed, was now with two other girls. One was with chin-long copper coloured hair I had seen a while ago smoking in the corner down the block and the other was an African-American beauty who had her long hair in dreadlocks and had two shopping bags in hand.

"Ok then," I told him dismissively since there was nothing else I could say anyway. "Let's go."

"Hell no," Zac said, smiling at me. "I'm not going there, you are." And with that he unlocked the locks of the car, opened my door and pushed me out. Quite successfully, I might say, since, even though I wasn't lanky and super thin, I was not really so much of an athlete like he was either.

I crashed on the sandy pavement, but not hard enough to leave a mark. People were staring strangely at me, though, but if there was something I was really used to, it was the fact that people tended to look at me all the time. And I don't mean that in a good way.

"Good luck," I heard Zac say as he slammed the door shut, driving off somewhere with a better view, I think. Gradually, I stood up and dusted my pants, taking my shades off and slowly folding them so I could put it in my pocket. I was in the middle of doing that when I realized, I was Zac. And what Zac would do was he'd put the sun glasses on his head like some superstar and walk around feeling as if he was king of the world. No offense. So I positioned the glasses on the mass of my unruly hair and smoothed the shirt Zac had lent me this morning. I tried walking the way Zac did yesterday, as I rehearsed what exactly I was going to say and do, but moving like him made me appear like a Hulk impersonator, with my chest out and all. So, today, I trudged across the street, checking, of course, for cars first, in the same manner I, Jaiden, would, when I came in this part of town to fetch my boss Holly's daily coffee.

I saw the three girls take a seat in front of Delifrance, a French bakery right beside the café, just as Zac stopped his SUV right in front of them. They couldn't see him, of course, but I could imagine him right there, looking straight at me with the thumbs-up sign and a matching wink.

Oh God.

As I got nearer and nearer, I could feel my pulse racing faster and faster, doing crescendos that made me want to explode. Even though I had practiced and practiced for this moment, I wasn't ready for the real thing. I mean, I've only had one girl friend in my life and that was during sixth grade. And even then, she was the one who asked if we could become an official couple just so her ex-boyfriend would get jealous and take her back. (Her plan worked and in the end of three weeks, I was beaten like I've never been beaten before by the guy she so desperately wanted back.) After that, nothing. Nada. Zit. I had promised myself not to get in the trouble of the whole relationship ordeal. Or the trouble of being in love and that crap.

Until now, I guess.

But this was different. It was all business, no feelings attached. I was doing all this for Zac and for no one else. Not even for me.

Ok, breathe, I thought as I reached the sidewalk she was in. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, in—

Crash! I had been so caught up in my own little world that I had failed to see a young girl about my age with long wavy blonde hair and dazzling—but irritated—brown eyes running my way. Our heads collided with each other, leaving me with a mild headache, the world spinning slightly around me.

"Watch it," she said after cussing out loud at our impact. Fortunately enough, even though I wasn't physically fit somehow, this girl managed not to send me off my feet—which would've been really embarrassing especially since I was Zac now. Humiliatingly so it had happened to me once already. A cheerleader had just experienced a really terrible break-up and it just so happened that I was in the way of to the bathroom. Boom. Before I knew it, I was on the floor, face flat on the ground.
Worse thing was, that girl's complete squad had seen it and I was clearly the laughingstock of the school not long later.

"Sorry," I mumbled, touching her arm slightly. "Are you alright?"

"Marvellous," she said sarcastically, rolling her eyes. "Next time please just watch where you're going."

She looked up at me and I gazed down at her. For a moment, she seemed surprised to realize who I was. I took her appearance in as well, noticing that she looked somewhat familiar, with her skinny body and baggy clothing. I just couldn't place a finger on her name.

"Listen, sorry again," I told her, patting her should like Zac always did when he 'accidentally' banged into a lady. "Do I know you?"

The girl smiled suddenly then shook her head. "Of course you don't." Her voice, this time, had a trace of amusement. "But I know you, Mr. Jaiden Siv."

I opened my mouth and began to ask how she knew me before the fact that I wasn't Jaiden Siv at the moment got to me and stopped the words from coming out. How'd she know I was Jaiden, though? Only about three people could be able to differentiate my brother from myself. Two of those we my parents and the other one was Trey and they could only tell us apart because we'd spent our whole lives together. Here, though, in front of this stranger girl, in Zac's clothes and his hair do, I was suddenly awestruck at her confidence in knowing who I was. And a little upset, since I had spent majority of yesterday practicing on how to act and dress and how to do just about everything.

"First of all," I said, crossing my arms over my chest, "I'm not Jaiden."

The girl nodded, unconvinced. "But it took you a minute to deny that so I'm guessing, no, you are Jaiden."

Snap. Why'd I have to bump into someone with a keen eye and not some kinky blonde who couldn't tell a rat apart from a cat? This, clearly, is not my lucky day.

"Final answer?" I asked, trying to sound sly and nonchalant and not the nervous wreck that I was. So if this girl could see through my disguise, would Rhea be able to do the same? If she did, what would I say then? That this was all Zac's fault and it was his scheme to do all this? Or maybe that she was dreaming. Yes, maybe I could woo her into believing that she was not awake yet and everything that was happening was all a part of her unconscious brain's desire to entertain her while she was still deep in slumber.

Exactly.

Oh, who am I kidding? This whole this was not as well thought of as I imagined. Out of all the things to leave out, Jaiden, it was Plan B that you had to forget. Wonderful. Applause for dear old me, please, the senior valedictorian. Bravo. This is just how someone who aspires to be a great lawyer someday should think. Like a total airhead, failing to remember one of the most important aspects of planning. Yes, fantastic, Jaid. Fantastic.

"Are you alright?" the girl asked, looking at me strangely. At her voice, I quickly snapped out of my trance, slowly pulling myself back to the reality I had to face. Then I realized I've been mumbling incoherent statements to myself for the past minute and I had even smacked my head twice. Great. Now she was probably thinking I was nuts.

"Y—yeah," I told her. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a moment then opened them again, slightly downhearted that all this was real. Oh well. "Um, what did you say your name was again?"

"I didn't say anything about my name," she said. "But it's Corin Surya. I had English, Chemistry, Music Appreciation and Theology with you for two years and Health once, before I dropped it."

I nodded and suddenly recalled her face in all the classes she had mentioned. Corin had topped my scores in the exams once, I suddenly remember, and I was devastated that semester because I was beaten. After that, I worked two times harder. Another thing I also recollected about her was that she was the girl who was always picked on by the 'popular group' and the only girl who took all the criticisms in without crying or sulking around. At school, her hair was always either braided in two pigtails or was clasp in a messy bun, her clothes baggy and she wore rimless glasses that made her seem even more sophisticated than she already was. That was one thing that made her stand out. Obviously, she was not someone who fussed about her appearance at all. Good.

"Now he remembers," Corin said, smiling upon witnessing the shadow of realization upon my face. I chuckled sheepishly.

"Yeah." I looked around. Rhea, I noticed, had finished her frapuccino and had gotten on her feet, ready to leave. Nearby, Zac pressed hard on the horn of her car. Beeeepp!

It was time.

"Hey, I gotta go," I said to Corin. "Nice to meet you." She grinned at me and I beamed back, walking away. Three steps to it and the phone in my pocket vibrated, causing me to jump back in surprise. I was still new to the whole cell/ mobile stuff, see, I never had one in my life until this morning.

The screen, lighting up, said that my caller was none other than Zac. Figures since he was the only one who I had a phone already, him being the person who gave one to me in the first place.

"I'm going," I told him. When he didn't respond, I realized I hadn't pressed RECEIVED. Brilliant. "I'm on my way," I said as I heard him scream my name on the opposite side of the line. I turned the damn thing off and raced to keep up with the pace of Rhea and her friends, who were now taking long strides towards the beach.

"Rhea," I called to her, her name sounding weird on my lips. She didn't hear me. "Rhea," I said again, this time in a louder voice. She hastily looked behind her, the mass of her raven hair flipping off to her left, shampoo commercial effect and all. When she saw me, she smiled and waved.

"Oh. Hey Zac," she said while I approached her. Phew. So my cover was not blown.

"Hey." Up close, I saw that she was even prettier. Her cat like Asian eyes stared at me, gleaming in the sunlight and her tan skin glowed. All of this, I tell you, did not help my pulse slow down. Definitely not good. I was nervous as hell since, hello, I've never had much experience on this whole courting arena.

"Hi," Rhea's African-American friend, who I knew was named Skye, said.

"Hello." By then, all these hi's and hello's were starting to sound so strange. I had to convert the conversation. Fast.

"So, where're you girls heading to?" I tried to say this as if it was the most natural thing that could come out of my mouth but really, my heart felt as if it was about to explode. And any minute now, I could tell it would.

"The beach, Zachary," Parvati, Rhea's other friend said, her tone bored. "As if you didn't know that already."

I chuckled tentatively. "Yeah. Right."

"So you want to join us?" Skye asked, giggling. Before I could even open my mouth to answer, though, Parvati elbowed her gently, rolling her eyes.

"Skye, please." She sounded extremely irritated and I wondered what impression Zac had set upon her that caused her to act so…hostile towards him. Or me. "You know all he wants is to get into Rhea's pants."

"Hey, hey," I told them, holding my hands up. "That's the last thing I want to do. Honestly."

For a moment, they all looked at me strangely. Rhea had raised her brows, her lips twitching slightly.

"What?" she asked, evidently dubious. This caused me to realize I had said the wrong thing. The wrong of the wrong things.

I shook my head. "Nothing. Forgive me, I'm not feeling myself today." Then I ran a hand through my thick brown hair. "You go on ahead," I told Rhea, feeling that this could be enough for the day. Tomorrow I would start anew and hopefully they would have already forgotten my bad choice of words a while ago.

"Ok," she said hesitantly. "Nice seeing you Zac."

"You too." And with that, they turned their backs towards me and trudged away, leaving me and the remains of my pride in the middle of the sizzling sidewalk. This, I thought, was going to be way harder than I thought.

Three years ago, on the summer before sophomore year, Trey and I discovered a place near the mountains we called The Point. It was a vast and grassy piece of land with trees here and there. In the middle of the field, when we first spotted it, there were loads of junk. Old couches, broken lamps, busted televisions and even a large trampoline with a hole at the center. It seemed that to the villagers nearby made that place a dumpster for all their useless appliances but to Trey and I, it was peaceful sanctuary.

It took exactly fifteen minutes to get over there—because the roads were empty—and by the time I did, it was nearly dusk, the sky tainted different shades of orange with a mix of pinks around and the incident pertaining the One for Zac seemed as if it happened years ago.

I had received a lot of scolding from my brother once I told him the mistake I made, of course. Nothing I didn't expect. I told him, after a rather long sermon, that if he didn't appreciate my efforts, then the plan and our pact was over. After that, he shut up, quietly drove me home and stormed off to Yule's, probably to take all his anger out on his friend instead.

For the whole day, I did nothing but think of my next move and the move after that. This whole thing seemed as if it would never end. How in the world will I get her to fall in love with me as Zac? The idea, I knew, was preposterous.

I had called Trey at about five in the afternoon, after I had finally mapped out everything and finished the book I'd been reading. He was out though, band practice or something, and I left him a message saying that I was at The Point if he ever wanted to meet up.

I pulled up right in front of The Point and got out of my father's beat up Camry, banging the door behind me. I felt the summer breeze, hot and humid, ruffle through the strands of my hair and on my face as I walked to the place I went for refuge during the times I felt most depressed. Those times were usually when I was feeling particularly pressured on something like a long test in Bio or an especially difficult project in English. Never had it been for something like this, for a girl.

I sighed and made myself comfortable on the trampoline Trey had his father patch up. I bounced on it and then, when I finally got balance, rested my head on the black material, putting my hands behind my head, wondering, like I always did these days, what I had gotten myself into.

Part of me, I guess, did it to prove to myself that whatever expertise Zac had in the area of dating, I excel at as well. Since, although I hated to admit, there really were times that I found myself envious of my brother no matter how many times I said to myself I was smarter and had more common sense. Because no matter how I denied it, he really did have the better life. The fun life. While I was so serious about everything, uptight and solemn, Zac was just out there, making most of his time on earth. That, I knew, was something I could never learn to do. Unless, of course, someone taught me how. I sincerely doubt that, though, because my parents and Zac had been persuading me to loosen up ever since eighth grade and all the good they've done is to make me drink a bottle of beer. Occasionally.

The bigger part of me, though, did this for Zac. Because—and this was another thing I wasn't proud of—I know I've not been the best brother in the world for him. Sure, I try to help him out with his homework now and then, but there were more frequent times that I deliberately tried to block him out of my world, creating a barrier between us and forcing myself to believe that it wasn't my fault we weren't so close. I mean, if I hadn't been on a good mood—and by that I mean a mood better than what I had most days—I wouldn't have even listened to him blabber about The One. Nor would I have agreed to any of this.

For about ten minutes or so, I just lay down there, like I did during most nights, and contemplated on things that have been happening. It wasn't till I heard footsteps that I stopped thinking.

"So we meet again." I sat up and came face to face with Corin, her vibrant brown eyes wide and her mouth twisted into a small smile. Which I returned most graciously.

"I guess so," I said as she made herself comfortable on the space beside me, the trampoline recoiling along with her every movement. For a while we just sat there and stared at the picturesque countryside view.

I've never been the one to start the conversations—even with Trey. But the quiet between me and Corin was unbearable that I fished my brain out for something to say. "What're you doing here?" I asked, majority of me curious. Our town was half an hour away if the traffic was bad. And usually it was since today I just happened to cruise along the roads on the right hour, when all the vehicles were parked in the garages of their own homes, the owners probably sitting at the table, ready to eat dinner. Plus, this side of the country was not very popular among us, especially since it was known for endless stinky cows and their 'business'.

Corin shrugged. "I'm with my grandparents for the summer. They live over there." She pointed a finger to the direction of a red barn house to our left. "And you?"

"I just like coming here, I guess," I said, lying down once more and breathing in the smoke free air. "My friend and I have been driving down to this place for almost four years now."

Corin rested herself beside me, her back to the sky so that she was plopped on her elbows, her chin cupped in her skinny hands. "Oh. Well, I just saw you pass by while I was cleaning the stable and I decided, since I was bored like hell, to drop by and say hi."

"Hmm." I shifted positions and rested my head on the palm of my right hand, facing her. "How'd you know I was Jaiden and not Zac?"

Corin, as if she had seen the question coming, smirked. "Let's just say it's female intuition." Then she chuckled, a cute little laugh so unlike the girlish giggles of the girls that were usually at home. I raised my brows and stared at her, silently telling her I wasn't convinced enough. She got my signal and sighed.

"Ok, ok," she said, turning her head towards me. "It's your scar. The one across your eyebrows."

Automatically, I reached towards my brows and touched the part sewed twice by the doctors when I was eight. It was only a small cut, I barely even noticed it anymore and that was probably I was surprised she had even seen it.

"Is there a story behind that?" Corin asked. I nodded and then realized she's probably want me to elaborate. (Told you I wasn't good at this stuff.)

"Well, it happened a long time ago, when Zac and I were playing in the park near our house. We were fighting over a shovel and I was grabbing it away from him. At one point, I think he finally gave up and simply let go without even a warning, thus sending the shovel over to my face and hitting me hard here." I traced the small scar again as I said the last few word and Corin nodded.

"You were probably mad at him for days," she said. I smiled.

"Yeah, I was. I didn't talk to him until I really had to, because I was reaching towards a book and he was in the way."

Corin laughed and I cackled along. This girl—who a stranger only hours ago—was such a good listener, I realized. Plus, she was easy to talk to and I, who would often go rigid around newly met people, dreading awkward silences all the time, found myself relaxing at her presence. Maybe it was because I already knew her somehow, with all those classes together and everything.

"So, just out of interest, why'd you deny yourself Jaiden anyway?" Corin stared at me with her round orbs, probing me to tell her the truth and nothing but.

I sighed. I didn't know why. Ok, maybe it was because she was being such a good friend that I found myself filling her in with everything, from Zac entering my room up to my thoughts moments ago and my intentions when I entered this mess. I even told her about what happened with Rhea minutes ago and she made all the necessary comments and reactions. When I was through, I felt as if boulders were suddenly lifted off my shoulders. It felt good.

"If you ask me," Corin tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and released a deep breath, "all of this is stupid. And not to say hurtful as well."

Stupid, I knew. But hurtful? "Why'd you say so?"

"Because what if you end up falling for Rhea? What if, in the end, when she starts to love you too, she finds out that she was tricked into it? I don't think that's fair at all, you know."

I took what she said in and noted that she, indeed, had a point. And a really, really good one. But I shrugged everything off, as if it were that easy to dismiss. "It won't happen. I'll be careful and I know it, Corin. And she's not falling in love with me, it's Zac who she's going to end up with."

Corin looked sceptical, but she no longer debated on. Something, weirdly enough, I found quite disappointing.

"Whatever you say," she said.

When I drove back home, it was already ten to nine and the roads, unfortunately, were packed with cross-state travellers who wished to spend their summer away from home. I had walked Corin to the place she was living in and although her grandparents had graciously invited me for dinner, I said I really had to leave. Which was true because somehow, I wanted to be by myself. To be able to think. Which I did while I was sitting on the driver's seat of the Camry, waiting patiently for the lights to turn green.

Somehow, I couldn't get Corin's words out of my head. This, I thought, was yet another thing I overlooked. What if I did end up falling in love with Rhea? I knew that it was impossible because for many years I've been surrounded by gorgeous girls and I've never felt the feeling but, what if? Would I be able to just set it aside, give it up for Zac? Maybe I could. Because if Christ could hang on that cross for the sake of humankind, then I could give infatuation up for my brother. No matter what the circumstances were. Easy-peasy.

Right?

—Chapter Two—

"Catch."

At the signal, I quickly put my hands in the air, ready to receive the ball. When I did, I stumbled a few steps back, regained balance, dribbled the ball over to the basket and shot it in the easiest possible angle right under the goal. Then missed.

"Jaid, that's the eleventh goal you've missed." I looked over at the other side of the court, not so far away, where Trey was standing fully clad in his varsity jersey and black basketball shorts. His hair, an untamed mass of blond, stuck right up in every direction possible over the sports band on his forehead and his eyes, a piercing blue, stared at me disbelievingly.

"And usually," he continued, "you shoot at least one basket in the second half."

I rolled my eyes and threw the orange ball over to him. It was Saturday, our usual 'sports day'. Every month, we took something up like golf or swimming. Last month it was badminton. This month, sadly, it was the sport I was exceptionally worse in. Basketball, I say, is the most difficult thing I've ever encountered. Next to courting girls out anyway.

"Look, let's take a break," I said as I walked to where our bags were, taking my jug out and taking massive gulps of it. Trey, behind me, shot one last three point. Swoosh. It sailed right in.

Natasha, the girl sitting beside our stuff, guarding it for the last thirty minutes, clapped her hands and cheered loudly for Trey, her year long boyfriend. True, it had been exactly twelve months since they've been dating, something that positively surprised me in a good way—if there was one. Trey, unlike me, was not an introvert. He went out clubbing with a few of his friends from outside school and went out with a couple of girls—although not as much as Zac did. Natasha, I knew, he met at some party. She, then, was with the party host but, then, golly gee, she and Trey fell in love and eloped.

Well, not really but you get the point. The jock who had thrown the party, however, did not, thus sending Trey a dozen death threats he never made true. Not that I was complaining or anything.

"Don't tell me you suck because of this chick you're dating for Zac, Jaiden," Trey mumbled as he trudged to us, cupping Natasha in his sweaty arms and giving her a sweet, long kiss.

"It's not that," I said, wiping my forehead with the towel I brought. "I'm just really, really bad at this, ok?"

Trey shook his head. "Not last week, you weren't. Dude, you scored thrice then, right Tash?"

Natasha nodded robotically and gave Trey another peck on the lips. Again, I tried not to stare.

"Whatever," I muttered, pulling my shirt off. Trey glowered.

"Hey!" he hollered although we were in only a foot's vicinity. "Not in front of my girl friend, you don't."

I laughed and quickly put on a fresh white shirt care of my brother. Today, I was trying my luck with Rhea once more. Hopefully, things would be better.

"You afraid Natasha likes my body better than yours?" I teased, winking playfully at Natasha, who, aside from Corin, was the only other girl I felt close to. She'd been hanging around for a year so how couldn't I?

"Baby, you don't feel that way, do you?" Trey cooed, pouting.

Natasha was silent for a second. "Of course not," she said after a while, emphasizing her pause.

I burst out with chuckling once more. Natasha joined me as well, giggling as she wrapped her arms around Trey's neck.

Trey rolled his eyes, pretending to be unnerved by this, like he always did when we teased him.

"Hey, I'm taking off now," I said, changing the subject. "Duty calls."

Trey nodded then saluted me playfully. "Aye, aye, captain. Go kick ass with those pictures." He laughed and I smiled.

Before senior year ended, I had gotten a job at You're Perfect, where I was to take pictures of people as they dressed up in the same costumes the store provided everyone in the past five years. Usually, the people that went there were families that wanted their Christmas cards made as early as now, putting on rental sweaters and posing in front of the snowy sceneries we had. But there were times when the job got interesting, like when there were big fat ladies who wanted shots of themselves in their incredibly small lingerie visited. Or during moments when there were couples around—mostly during Valentine's season—and they posed sweetly in front of me. Those were probably the things that kept me in this job—because I got to take portraits of happy people, developing images that can remind them of the joys of life.

When I arrived at the shop, which was just a five minute drive, bike or car, it was packed. My co-worker, Geoff, was behind the counter, reasoning with an elderly couple, who were looking very impatient by the second.

"Sir, the shot can be replaced for a dollar's worth," Geoff was saying, pointing towards the cardboard beside the register which had our mechanics written on it.

"I'm not paying," said the guy, "because I didn't make the mistake!"

Geoff winced. One thing he hated, I knew, was angry customers. Moreover, people who shouted at him.

"What's the matter?" I asked as I slid next to my partner, putting the black polo shirt—You're Perfect's uniform—over Zac's white tee.

Geoff sighed. "When Mike took their shot, his hand was on the flash and the picture came out all red. Now Mr. and Mrs. Scott want another take for free."

I nodded, pinning my name slate—which said HI I'M JAIDEN, HERE TO MAKE YOU PICTURE PERFECT in big bold letters, my name blurry and barely readable already—and looked over at Mr. Scott.

"There's no need for a retake, sir," I said in my formal we-can-handle this voice. "The shot can be digitally enhanced using our computer. No worries."

Mr. Scott continued to look dubious but one nudge from his wife—who seemed to just want to go home—made him recoil and agree. "Just get it done by tomorrow," he said and stormed off. Beside me, Geoff sighed.

"You lifesaver," he said, leaning back on the white wall beside him, adjusting the cap on his head. "I totally forgot we had that program on the laptop now."

"You'll get used to it," I said just as Mike, the cameraman, shouted my name from the back room and the next customers stepped forward, ready to be assisted. "Be right back."

As I entered the sliding door to the place where the images were taken, I noticed that there were people inside. A family of three, I saw, was posed, all formal and poised, on the park bench in the center of the room, the starry night background behind them. What surprised me was not this, however, but the fact that one of the people positioned there was none other than Rhea.

"Yeah?" I asked Mike as he wound the camera. I glanced back at Rhea but, even though she had definitely seen me, she gave no hint of acknowledgement towards my presence whatsoever.

"I need you to cover for me," Mike whispered. "My bladder's going to pop any second now, dude, I have to go."

This situation has happened more than once to us already, and it was usually me who took Mike's place behind the lens. And, typically, I was excited about it. This time, however, I felt uncomfortable about the notion.

"Can't you hold it?" I asked and Mike desperately shook his head.

"Three more shots, man," he said as he ran out the room, holding three fingers up. I rolled my eyes and sighed, trying so hard to plaster a nonchalant smile on my face as I faced Rhea and her family.

"Ok, ready for another shot?" I asked perkily, just how our manager oriented us to do.

The man beside Rhea, who I figured was her father, nodded. I sat myself down in front of the camera and peered through the lens, swivelling it gently so that the family was directly at the center.

"One, two three," I counted as Rhea and her parents smiled brightly at me. Click.

"Could we change places?" asked Rhea's mother and I stood up straight and nodded. They fixed themselves, taking up exactly a minute, and I wished for Mike to hurry up. No luck.

"We're ready, young man." I positioned myself behind the tripod and counted once more. Click. Click. Finally, it was over.

The family stood up, soothing their clothes. Rhea, I saw, looked extremely bored, like all the other teenage girls who were forced to pose with their families. When her father turned to her, however, she smiled.

"Rhea dear, kindly ask the young boy when we can get the pictures," he said, touching her arm. "We're paying up outside."

Rhea opened her mouth, probably to protest, but her father gave her no opportunity to disagree, striding out the room without another word.

I had no idea if Rhea knew if I was Zac or myself. My nameplate was no giveaway since I, myself could barely make out the name written there anymore. If she thought I was Zac, then good. If she didn't, better since I wouldn't have to go through apologizing at the moment.

Too bad it was the former and not the latter, though.

"So how long will it take, Zac?" she asked, not making any eye contact. I, however, continued to stare at her.

"Until tomorrow afternoon," I replied, retrieving Mike's clipboard from the floor—where he usually left it. "You have to sign here, by the way."

Rhea looked up but she saw right through me. God this girl could really hold a grudge.

I handed her the pieces of paper and she took it from me, our fingers brushing against each other as she got the pen from my hand. After a second or two, she returned it to me and I could see her name, Rhea Anne Pridelli, written in neat cursive, on the three blanks bellow. When I looked up from the clipboard, she was already opening the door. Fast.

"Hey!" I called out and I was relieved she stopped moving for a moment. I walked until I was right behind her. "Look, I'm sorry about the other day."

"Whatever," she said, sliding the door further, and stepping out. I stopped her, though, gently gripper the upper of her arm. She turned to me, her eyes glowering.

"I said I'm sorry, Rhea." Again, her name sounded so weird as I said it. "The words I used were…well, I used the wrong words."

"So you do want to get in my pants?" She continued to stare at me accusingly. Hey, at least she was looking at me.

"No, no," I said, then realized this was leading to the same fate as our other conversation had. My goodness, I didn't know it was so hard to have a girl accept your apology. "I mean, I'm not thinking of that."

She raised her right brow—a feat I have never been able to perfect—and I could see her defences going down. "Yeah?"

I beamed reassuringly and withdrew my hand from her arm. "Yup, I swear."

She nodded and then smiled, ever so slightly. "Ok then." Then she walked out.


A/N: sorry for the typos, gramatical errors and such. :)) i didn't have the chance to edit! and forgive me for not adding too much romance!!! haha.

Tell me what you think!