1. A person or thing that takes or can take the place of another
2. An athlete who plays only when a starter on the team is replaced
3. Someone who takes the place of another (as when things get dangerous or difficult); A stand in
I have always been the next best thing.
I'm always the unlucky candidate my dad would call out for, if Lucky, my (bastard, lame excuse of a) dog, decides to throw a tantrum and not pick up dad's newspapers from the door.
My mum would only let me, her absolutely lovely youngest son, get an extra helping of treacle pudding if my older brother, Zack isn't in town trying to ruin my life by winning everything. And rubbing it in my face.
The only girlfriend I have ever had only talked to me when her favourite anime, Prince of Tennis wasn't on and her mum wouldn't let her go shopping.
And you know what was so sad about it? She didn't even like shopping.
Ms. Roberts gave me the leading role in Shakespeare's act last year, solely because our drama class' top seed, Alex, mysteriously broke his ankle (which had nothing to do with me whatsoever. Really.), and had to miss the entire rehearsal and final play.
So basically, I'm second place to a dog, an ass of a brother, anime and shopping, goofball Alex, and that was just listing a few.
Even the name Joey Louie Guttenberg sounded so horribly second place.
But those didn't really matter to me. Well, not as much.
I rub a hand soothingly up and down her back as I try futilely to calm her loud, choking sobs that reverberated throughout the pale white living room.
If there is one thing about being a substitute that irk and wounds me, it is being the temporary substitute to all the worthless guys Amanda dated and got dumped by.
This time it's even better.
It was my narcissistic arsehole of a supposedly best friend, Poo.
Okay, so maybe that's not his real name, but hey, since we're badmouthing him, might as well make full use of it, right?
Icing on the cake, man.
"I t-thought he l-loved me, that stupid, m-moronic jerk!" She wails for what seemed like the umpteenth time, burying her head on my tensed shoulders and soaking the thin (very new) cotton shirt I am wearing.
Yeah, Dee. Of course he loved you, because he wrote you one freaking poem and gave you a bouquet of white lilies after that one phone call.
Oh, and by the way? Guess who wrote the poem?
"He's just being stupid right now, Dee." I comfort her and pass her another piece of tissue. She tactfully ignores it and blows her nose using my shirt. My new, cheap –but that's not the point- shirt. Gah. "Give him some time, and he'll come around, I'm sure."
Amanda peers up at me through her adorably red, puffy eyes, and manages a watery smile.
You see? This is the part where she tells me she loves me, because I'm the most awesome guy on earth.
"Thanks, Joey, you're such a wonderful friend." She mumbles quietly, now wiping her tears with my completely drenched sleeve. I smile, trying not to look too eager or excited. "I really don't know what I'd do without-"
"Closed off from love, I didn't need the pain; Once or twice was enough, and it was all in va-"
My smile falters a little.
Stupid Leona Lewis.
"You really don't know what you'd do without…?" I urge, ignoring the persistent ringing in the background. Amanda, on the other hand, picks up her phone from the living room table and stares at the Caller ID in daze. Shit. I nudge her lightly, hoping she would get the hint. "Oh, come on, Dee, finish your sentence!"
She turns towards me and shoots me an apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry, Joey, but I really need to yell at him and ask him to get lost." Oh. That's good. Getting lost would be good. I nod in approval and she presses the talk button. "Hello? Oh, hey, baby boo."
My mouth falls ajar in disbelief.
Hello? Baby boo? What the hell happened to the yelling part?
"Yeah… Yeah, baby boo, I missed you too. Wait, give me a second, okay? I just gotta shoo some really annoying cat off." She says to the other line, the sadness in her voice completely gone now. She stands up from the couch, starts pushing a completely bewildered looking uh, me, towards the door and mouths, "I'll call you later Joey. Promise."
And before I could protest (Because the last time I checked, I had testosterones, not scary whiskers and haunting cat eyes), she shuts the door quietly behind her, leaving me out cold in the dark, with absolutely no transport home.
So… Guess who walked the remaining ten miles home and got chased by some stray dog at the very last mile?
To say that I was flabbergasted and horribly depressed would be quite a bit of an understatement.
For one, Amanda darling did not call back. Nor did she return my calls, my endless text messages, my pestering voice messages, and even my slightly desperate-sounding emails.
And two? Poo (Fine. His name is Kevin. What a boring name.) called me up merely a few hours ago to cancel off our weekly basketball game, because he had to go somewhere with a very important someone.
Which is really fine and all, really.
Only when he called me, my mum already dropped me off at the basketball court, a good fifteen minutes drive away from home.
Which leaves me alone now, with an orange foam ball in my hands, and absolutely nothing to do except bouncing the ball, shooting the ball, and completely missing the hoop.
Yeah, I have a pretty damn cool routine going on here, alright.
I shove a hand into my basketball shorts' pocket and take out my phone to check for messages.
Nope, none from Amanda.
I heave a sigh and tuck my phone into my pocket again. And then I take one good look at the hideous basketball in my hands.
Suddenly, Kevin's ballooned head replaces the plain orange colour of the ball, and before I know it, my hands starts punching the ball. Again and again.
Now, I know it isn't exactly a mature or a manly thing for a guy to do, but hey, I'm a wounded man. Cut me some slack here.
So I continue punching the Kevin-ball, even more so as I feel a bead of sweat slide down my forehead to my eyelashes.
This feels good.
"Stop torturing the poor ball, Joey." A familiar voice drawls out, and I look up, momentarily distracted by the new presence. "At least let it take five, or something."
I roll my eyes as I set my eyes upon the brunette midget.
It's just Ally.
Sweet, caring, patient, kind, wonderful, wonderful Ally.
Just look for the antonyms of the words and you'll get the true her.
But she's a friend you can count on. Has been since fifth grade, when I first decided to try the whole punching-the-locker thing (Amanda ditched me for some guy. Long story, don't ask), and managed to change my knuckle colour for one whole month.
"Hey, Al." I call out casually and bounce the ball casually a few times before aiming for a shot. And perfectly missing it.
I'm just such a talented basketball player, I know.
Ally just laughs and sits on one of the old wooden benches, lightly kicking her converse sneakers against the sand.
"Got ditched?" She asks, obviously trying to make a decent conversation. Obviously failing.
I shake my head.
"Kevin cancelled out on you?" She continues, obviously ignoring my response.
I shake my head again.
"Amanda and Kevin are dating again?" She pesters, and I shoot her a glare.
She smiles demurely in return.
I would've ignored her, but the thing about Ally is, well, ignoring her is never the key.
"Yes." I answer after a while, punching my fist in the air when I finally got the damn ball through the hoop. "But I don't care."
She arches an eyebrow.
"Oh, really." She mutters dryly. "So all that ball-punching I witnessed barely a few minutes ago… They all came from my vivid imagination?"
"They all came from your vivid imagination." I confirmed.
She sighs and hugs her knees to her chest, her eyes staring penetratingly at me. I avoid her gaze by taking another shot at the hoop, my heart soaring a little as the ball made countless circles around the rim and… And…
…And falls out.
"You can never aim properly when you're annoyed or depressed, Joey." She comments from the side, humour evident in her tone. She asks again, "You really don't wanna talk about it?"
"It's nothing," I assured her. "Amanda just got into a major argument with Kevin and got really upset about it because she thinks he doesn't love her, so she called me to go to her house immediately, which I did. I don't even know why, when I already know half the things she would say, but yeah, we all know I'm just a genius like that. And so I went there, helped her waste two boxes of tissue and let her ruin my pink cotton shirt, and suddenly Kevin called, and suddenly she realizes I'm some really annoying… cat, and quite literally shooed me out of the house. So I walked home. End of story."
I spare a glance at Ally to see how she was reacting towards this, but felt genuinely affronted as I see that look on her face.
That bored expression.
"So she ditched you." Ally points out blankly.
You can't not love her for her subtlety, really.
"No, she did not ditch me." I insist, emphasizing on each word with a bounce with the ball. "She just… Needed to talk to Kevin. Really badly."
"And did she thank you for being there for her?" She asks, and for the first time ever, I see the ever-smiling Ally frowning.
"…She hinted it?" I try, still feeling nonplussed by her sudden change of expression. "Anyway, it doesn't really matter, Al. I like her too much to demand gratitude from her, you know?"
"You're a substitute to all the other guys she date, you do realize that." Ally murmurs quietly, her eyes glancing towards her shoes. I say nothing, because really, what's there to say to that? She looks up and gives me a wry smile. "Why are you being such a fool, Joey?"
"I don't know." I say automatically in response, and then stop to think over it.
I'm not being a fool… Am I?
"It's not easy to like a girl who doesn't like you that way. You watch as she gets herself into relationships after relationships, getting her heart broken every damn time by some stupid guy who's only using her to get something way above him, and you'll want to make her feel better. So what if I'm just a substitute? Just a temporary replacement before another guy comes along? I just want to be there for her through her hard time, comfort her, hug her, make her smile, even if I realize that maybe tomorrow another guy would be doing the exact same thing. It doesn't really matter, Al. Not to me."
I breathe slowly through my nose, suddenly overwhelmed with emotions.
"Maybe I'm being stupid. Hell, I know I'm crazily stupid, because despite everything that's proving me wrong, I'm always hoping that she'll notice the things I'm doing for her. I would still wish that one day she wakes up and realizes that I've always been the one for her. She doesn't know that I like her, though. I've never really built up enough courage to confess to her." I turn to Ally, laughing forcefully. "You're right. I'm being such a fool, aren't I?"
She nods stiffly.
"A complete, utter fool." She agrees, now shaking her head. "I didn't know you were such a wimp."
"Oh, stop teasing me, I'm feeling rather vulnerable at the moment." I say weakly, and she laughs quietly.
"What is it about her that you like so badly, anyway?" She asks after a short moment of silence. "I mean, there are so many girls out there, waiting to be liked by you. Why not them? Why her?"
It wasn't her question that caught my attention. It was that look on her face. That sombre, deadly calm look.
I've only seen this side of Ally a couple of times before, and I liked none of it. I prefer her smiling. Ally is pretty when she smiles.
Like that time when she positively beamed upon seeing the ice-cream cone I bought for her birthday, and that time when we went to the concert in New York City, and she couldn't stop smiling when she managed to catch the bottle of her favourite bass player…
Anyway, I push the thought aside and start to ponder over her question.
Well, for one, Amanda is gorgeous.
And yes, I know that it's horribly shallow of me to like a person based on her looks, but that was the first thing that attracted me to her. Her blonde hair and slightly greyish eyes.
And she's a nice person.
When she really, really wants to be. She could be really caring, like that time I was down with a terrible flu, and she called just to ask if I was feeling okay.
… Well, and after that she asked me for Kevin's number, and that's how they started talking to each other, but that's not the point.
I remained standing there, suddenly lost in thought.
What the hell. Why do I like Amanda again?
Shit. This is so embarrassing.
I look up, only to see Ally staring pointedly at me, expecting an answer.
"Stop asking me questions, Ally." I grind out, walking over to sit beside her with the ball tucked under my arm. "Were you one of those persistent, annoying kids who asked their parents where you came from, or something?"
Suddenly, Ally grins and takes the basketball from me, bouncing it lightly against the ground.
"No," She answers me, her green eyes focusing intently on the ball as she replies. "But I did ask them what 'making love' meant when I was seven, though. I don't think I've ever seen them blush that much since Christmas, when I complained about the weird groans and moans that emitted from their room."
I am surprisingly fine with the fact that Kevin and Amanda reconciled, and became the best couple in our school again.
I mean, I only crushed a water bottle once when I saw them making out in the parking lot; Accidentally let out an agonised groan when I unintentionally read a small part of the love notes they passed in class (Don't even bother asking me what they were talking about); And turned slightly sour every time the name 'Kevin' comes out of Amanda's mouth.
Oh, and I've stopped talking to Kevin.
Not because he's with the girl I've crushed on since fifth grade. Oh, most definitely not.
It took Ally quite a while to be convinced, though. (Actually, she still isn't convinced) Wonder why.
So anyway, life has been boring (a helluva heartache, but otherwise a total bore), until Amanda decides to show up in front of me in the hallways on a bright and shiny Monday, her face completely smudged with tears and make-up.
Oh, not again.
"Are you okay?" I pry gently, my eyes taking in her miserable appearance.
The thing about Amanda is, even when she cries, she'd still look like an angel. A fallen angel.
She stares up at me with bleary eyes, and I already know what she's going to say.
First, she would wipe her tears angrily with one of her hands (Which is exactly what she's doing now), sniff loudly (right on cue), and then she would launch herself into my arms.
And then, she would say, 'Kevin is such a jerk.'
"Kevin is such an asshole!" She wails, her arms clutched around me tightly.
Oh, damn. Her word-of-the-day is 'asshole'. I didn't know that.
"Hmm?" I say with concern, running my hands soothingly through her tangled blonde hair. "What happened, Dee?"
"I saw him with another girl." She says, her voice relatively calm and composed, but tears were still running down her eyes like an overflowing tap.
I should know, since I can feel my shirt getting wet again.
"It's a free world, Dee, it's perfectly normal for Kevin to talk to a gi-"
"They were kissing, Joey." She interjects me with a weak smile. "Do you consider that under the talking category as well?"
What the fuck?
I detach myself from the embrace and stare into her grey eyes, my hands clenched into balls.
"And you're sure that guy was Kevin." I say, seeking for a confirmation. She nods slightly. I grit my teeth. "I'll kill him for you."
"Don't." Amanda gasps, putting her hands over my fists to stop me from going anywhere. Tears were still running down her eyes, but they were stopping. I raise an eyebrow quizzically at her. "I broke up with him. I'll be okay."
I watch silently as another tear streaked down her cheek and she struggles to control her rasped breathing.
Does she really think I'm a daft cow or something?
"Don't lie to me to protect him, Dee." I mutter, my shoulders stiff and rigid. "He isn't being very fair to you."
"Neither am I being fair to you." She counters suddenly, and I blink in surprise. "I've been thinking things through the past few days, Joey. And, well, I realize you've always been there for me. You've always been the one. I've just… I've just been too blind to notice it."
I'm sorry. I think my jaw just dropped to the ground.
Then, to my utmost surprise, she leans in and kisses me on the lips.
"I just want to say thank you, Joey."
And with a final watery smile, she left.
I lick my lips slightly, the slightly salty taste of her tears prancing through my taste bud.
Remind me to write Kevin a nice thank you card for screwing his relationship with her.
"You what?" Ally yells really, really loudly the next day, when I told her that I'll be going on a date with Amanda.
For the first time.
As her official date.
Damn, that sounds so good.
"What on earth were you thinking, Joey Louie Guttenberg?" She demands, now stomping around the basketball court, her denim skirt stretching with each stride she took. "Or was your brain even present when you asked her out?"
"You know you're just a substitute! You know she's just gonna play with you for a while until the next guy comes along! You know she doesn't like you in that way! You know she's just using you to feel better!" She cries angrily, now turning to glare at me. I flinch a little. "She was crying when she came to you. She just broke up with Kevin. And now she can't wait to date you, and it's only like what, a few hours after the break up? You can't possibly tell me that she just took one glance at you and realize she's in love, can you?"
I stare blankly at her.
"Uh, why not?" I ask, clearly befuddled.
Why is she getting so riled up, anyway?
"Argh." She forces out, then slumps against the bench. "You know what? Fine. I'm not gonna give a damn."
"But don't come crying to me, telling me I'm right." She warns, breathing heavily, her cheeks flushed from all that yelling.
"And don't you dare call me in the middle of the night to complain about whatever problems you have with her." She continues, her eyes darting towards me angrily.
"Do I look like I'd do something like that to disrupt your beauty sleep?" I ask, trying to inject humour into the situation.
She groans and covers her face with her hands.
My humour was completely lost on her.
"Damn it, Joey," She mutters after a while, her face with the expression of utmost disbelief. "Why are you always so stupid?"
Because I'm a man, I shall not go into the sappy details with how the date went.
Yeah. I won't.
But God damn it, she looked gorgeous, the dinner was gorgeous (don't really know, didn't actually taste much of it), the kisses were gorgeous, everything was just… gorgeous.
Today would be our fifth date. After school, movie marathon. Just she and me.
I let that thought sink around in my mind happily and walk joyfully to class, with a very disgruntled-looking Ally walking right beside me.
She has eye bags under her eyes, and she looks like shit.
"Are you feeling okay?" I ask gently, poking her playfully by the ribs.
She forces a weak smile, and then continued trudging forward like nobody's business.
"What's with the eye bags, then?" I continue asking, rushing to catch up to her (which isn't very hard, to tell the truth). "You look horrible."
"Long night, assignment datelines, you know the drill." She answers briskly, then halted abruptly. "You think I look ugly?"
I blanch at her icy tone, but nevertheless, took one good look at her.
To tell the truth, she's just a normal brunette, with normal green eyes, a normal nose, normal pink lips, normal body figure, normal, normal, normal…
I use my index fingers to touch the sides of her lips, then raise it upwards.
There. A smile. Everything brightens up with that.
"You look gorgeous when you smile." I tell her reassuringly, and she blinks in surprise.
"You have a girlfriend, Joey." She reminds me, and almost instantly I removed my fingers from her face.
"Yeah, I know." I mutter absentmindedly, and then open the door to my class. "Anyway, I'll, uh, see you around."
"Hey, Joey!" She calls out, and I turn my head, only to see her fidgeting a little.
"Thank you." She mutters shyly, then runs down the hallway into her class.
I laugh lightly, then turn into my class, replaying a particular scene over and over again in my head.
I don't know why, but when I touched the side of her lips in the hallways and watched as she blinked her eyes in confusion, I had the sudden urge to pull her into an embrace and stay that way.
I shrug that thought off.
She's just a friend. She's just a friend.
She's just a friend, damn it.
Amanda ditched me for cheerleading.
Which is something I can totally understand, because cheerleading plays a very important part in her school life, but still.
I mean, damn, talk about a big blow.
So here I am again, in the basketball court, bouncing the stupid, orange ball, with Ally sitting at the same bench again.
"... I mean, I'm fine with her going for cheerleading practice and all, but shouldn't she at least tell me a day before or something? Aren't cheerleading practices fixed on certain days and all that?" I complain to Ally.
"Mm." She mutters, her eyes following the birds in the tree, eyeing their every move.
I groan angrily and pull her up from the bench.
"If you don't wanna listen to me, you can just go home, you know." I managed to say in a relatively calm tone.
She stares at me.
"Break up with her."
"I said, break up with her."
"Because I want you with me." She breathes. Wait, what? I stare at her, completely befuddled. She holds my gaze and continued, and for the first time ever, her lips are quivering.
"You don't know how hard it is to listen to your talks about her, what you think about her, how you love her, simply because. You only remember the things you do with her, the clothes she wear, the words she say… What about me? What about the girl who's always here? What about the things we did? Do you remember the first time we argued? The first time you cried because your girlfriend dumped you, and we held onto the embrace for so damn long? The first time you said I have a gorgeous smile, even?"
She stops to collect her thoughts, and I really wanted to tell her that I remember everything.
The first time we argued, it was over art, when I spilt the entire bottle of blue paint over her drawing. We never talked for two weeks. She apologized in the end for being so childish.
When my girlfriend left me, I had Ally in my embrace for two whole hours. I know, because there was a clock right behind her.
I first told her she has a gorgeous smile on her fifteenth birthday as a redemption for not buying her any gifts. She was fine with it.
I remembered, but I don't understand her point. Why is she bringing this up now?
"Being her sub has turned you into a blind moron, Joey. You don't see anything anymore," She whispers, and I suddenly realize how close she is to me. "You don't see how much I like you at all."
And she closes the distance between us and presses her lips against mine, releasing it a mere second later.
"I have a girlfriend, Ally." Is all that came out of my lips. My mind is completely boggled and hazed, and all I could do is just stare blankly at her.
She wipes her lips and turns away.
"That's what I thought, too, until I saw her kissing Kevin in one of the empty classrooms an hour ago." She smiles weakly. "Wake up, Joey. Wake-"
I brush past her and started to run.
"I can explain."
Ally was right after all. They were kissing in an empty classroom. Getting to second base, even, had I not step into the classroom and stopped them.
There she stands, in a dishevelled shirt and denim skirt; There Kevin sits, his shirt unbuttoned and his hair striking out at odd angles.
I raise a hand to stop her for continuing any further.
"No, listen to me, Joey! I really didn't mean to-"
"Shut up." I growl, creating an instant effect.
I force a smile and stare at her, from her red lips to her guilt-filled eyes.
"Can I ask you one question?" I say calmly, my eyes burning holes in her head.
Amanda looks up from the ground, but not at me.
"Have I always been a mere temporary substitute to you?" I ask, fighting to keep the anger out of my voice.
She bites her lips nervously, but says nothing in reply.
I take that as a yes.
"Can I ask you another question?" I say again, my hand reaching towards the doorknob.
She remains silent.
I turn the doorknob.
"What would you do if even your substitute walks out on you?"
And that was exactly what I did.
Would it be a big surprise to you if I said I sprinted (again) out of school and ran all the way to look for her?
Because I did.
Not knowing how many blocks I've ran past, now knowing the time, not even knowing if she would still be there.
And yet I ran like a mad lunatic on the loose, heading towards one particular direction only.
The rain started pouring, causing my black hair to stick flat on my head and for my shirt to cling awkwardly to my body as I ran past yet another building, yet another row of houses, yet another playground.
After what seemed forever, I sprinted to a halt in front of a very familiar basketball court, my heart racing even more as I see a very familiar figure standing in the middle of the court, completely drenched.
The thing is, I never even realize how she has always been there for me, like how I've always been there for Amanda. She isn't sweet or adorable or anything, but she has always been the sarcastic and humorous one. She makes me forget all the worst things and scenarios, even if for a brief moment.
Love and crushes come when you least expect it, in ways you never deemed possible. But when it comes, it comes.
Mine just came.
I walk silently up behind her, watching as her body shivers against the cold, heavy rain, and all I feel like doing is get her under a shelter and wrap her body in blankets to make her warm again.
God, I want to be the one to protect her from it all.
Taking my final steps until I stand diagonally behind her, I slip a hand into her quivering left hand, smirking as she jumps a little in shock.
"Hey." I say with a smile, lacing my fingers with hers.
After what seemed like forever, she smiles, and tightens the grip.
And everything starts from there.
a/n: The idea of this story came after my friend and I had a talk about being second place/a substitute/something along those lines, so yeah.
I hope you guys didn't die of boredom or anything. XP
Again, HAHA. Read and review?