Oh, wow. I am very sorry for the delay. College and stuffs. Don't mean to put it off the way I do, but I'm lazy, what can I say?
Yeah. Happy holidays to all and please enjoy the ridiculously delayed third chapter of Limerence.
Chapter 3 – Reflection
"Umm...good morning." Aila waved at Joi with a small, if awkward, smile.
Joi smiled back brightly."Good morning Aila."
Aila took a deep breath as silently as she could. 'Gee...how is Joi so...calm about this? He's the one that should be nervous...I never knew he had such a pokerface.'
Joi glanced over to her. "Aila? Are you alright?" He asked, snapping her out of her thoughts.
She fought off a blush. "I-I'm fine." 'Just sorta freaking out since I don't have a faint idea what I'm gonna tell you!'
Joi stared at her silently for a moment. "Aila...you know...You don't have t-"
"W-Well! That's school coming up" Aila cut him off with an excess of energy.
"L-Let's hurry!" She ran in, leaving Joi behind.
"..." Joi smiled softly. 'I guess she doesn't want to back out of it.'
"Geez...How is Joi so freaking calm?" Aila groaned, her face pressed down hard against the table. Her fingers were running through her hair in frusteration, which was slung forward over her head.
"Heh. He doesn't want to make you any more nervous. Doesn't seem like it's working though." Lauren laughed.
Lauren and Aila were alone in their classroom. All the other students were out for recess.
"It's not funny." Aila grumbled.
Lauren intertwined her fingers under her chin, resting her head on them. "Why did you go and say something rash like that anyway?"
She paused and turned her head away from her. "...It just...I felt like I should have..."
"Why? Joi said he would wait."
"Joi...he said he would wait years just for me to turn him down and for us to stop being friends." Aila paused a moment. "...It just didn't sound fair for him to be afraid of me rejecting him for that long. It's...not right." She murmured.
"..." Lauren suddenly slipped close to her. "I love you~" She whispered hotly into her ear.
Aila blinked a moment before her face turned a deep shade of red.
Aila tipped her chair over and was an the ground across the table from Lauren blushing madly while clutching her ear. "W-W-What are you s-saying!"
Lauren clutched her stomach while laughing hysterically. "Sorry, sorry. You just sounded so sweet and adorable just then." She winked. "I was only saying it since Joi isn't here to do it himself."
"He'd be thinking it."
Aila's face was burning red. "Y-you..."
"Ay~n...a sweet guy like Joi and a beauty like me. You're monopolizing all the good people." Lauren sang while holding her cheeks in mock shyness before laughing.
"T-That's not funny! I-It's just a bad joke!" Aila cried out.
"Yes it is~" Lauren giggled. "And it's only half a joke. Joi probably really would do that."
Aila reddened further and looked away. "N...no he wouldn't. Joi would say that I shouldn't think like that and let things flow naturally with that serious but plain expression."
"Hee hee. I suppose you know that from experience?"
"N-no...It's because...he's my friend..."
Lauren shook her head and leaned uncomfortably close to Aila's face. "Maybe he would say that, but on the inside, he'd be doing backflips in joy."
Aila sat further back as Lauren smirked confidently. "You might be his best friend, but I'm his confidant." She held a hand over her chest and sighed with a fake love-stricken sound. "She's so kind...That's why I love her so much..."
Aila fought back her already burning blush.
"That's definitely what he would think." Lauren's statement made Aila sigh.
"...How am I gonna get out of this mess?"
"I would have thought you'd come up with an answer last night after you pull a stunt like that."
"Don't you think I tried?"
"This forget-it thing isn't working. I can't do it. Give me one day to think things through a bit more. I'll tell you tomorrow evening in front of my house." Aila declared with an intense stare while she straddled him.
Joi stared up at her in surprise. "O...kay..."
She nodded before getting off him. "..." Her face got redder and redder as what she had just done soaked in. Eventually, a nervous, awkward, and thoroughly embarassed Aila darted home as fast as she could.
She hugged her knees to her chest as she leaned back against her front door. Her head hung over her knees as she sulked at the impending stress. ' Saying something like that...I'm so stupid. What am I gonna do...?'
For the next two hours, Aila sent her time flailing around on her bedroom floor. "Gah!" She pulled on her hair.
'If i say no, it seems too cruel...But it'd be so weird if Joi tried to kiss me...But Joi's not a bad guy so it's not a bad choice...But I don't really like him like that...But...but...'
"Wahh..." She pulled her sheets over her head in frusteration. "But I'm stupid."
Aila scowled. "Because of my stupid words and that stupid confession, I got like three hours of sleep last night."
"Hehe...I could've told you that you were slow." Lauren chuckled, earning a glare.
"It's not funny! What am I supposed to tell him?"
Lauren shook her head. "Just go with how you personally feel."
"But the entire problem is because I don't know! I've never thought about Joi like that..."
"Hehe...then you should find out soon. Maybe you should try thinking about your history together. I bet you might find a few things that'll make you feel even more stupid for not noticing."
"...How would that help?"
"It'd make me laugh."
"..." Aila shook her head. She sat down. My history huh...?
"Since when did he...anyway?"
"According to him, since he was nine." Aila rested a cheek on her palm. "Let's see...did he act any different back then...?"
Aila blinked in surprise when she saw Joi outside. "Joi? What are you doing here? Aren't your classes half an hour earlier than mine?"
"Ah! Aila!" Joi smiled widely. "I changed my classes to be a later one!"
She blinked curiously. "So we'll get to walk to school together now?" She smiled when Joi nodded. "Yay!"
Joi was startled and reddened when Aila suddenly jumped up and hugged him. "This is going to be fun!"
"...? Joi?" Aila pulled away with a questioning look. "What's wrong? You've never been so stiff when we hug."
"A-ah...? I'm the same as usual..."
"Ugh..." Aila banged her forehead against the table. "I'm a moron..."
"That you are. I could have told you that." Lauren nodded in agreement with a casual sip of her bottled water before she rested her chin on intertwined hands. "Wasn't going out of his way to have the same schedule as you enough of a clue?"
She didn't look up. "...He said he wanted to be able to sleep in a little..."
"And you bought that?"
"I was ten!"
"Pfft. Excuses, excuses "
"Thank you! And you're dense while Joi's obsessed. We're peas in a pod. Stuck with each other for life whether we like it or not. You know, unless you decide to ruthelessly tear out your close friends heart."
"Hee hee hee~"
"Why don't you get a boyfriend for yourself?"
"Mmm...I was sorta hoping to scavenge off your prey if you decide to shoot him down."
"I'm a vulture."
Aila stared. "I could have told you that. You're really annoying you know that?"
"Joi doesn't seem to mind "
"He's Joi. He doesn't mind anything. Once, he got sick-"
"HUMPH!" Aila pouted as she walked with a laughing Joi.
"So you dropped the tray all over the floor and the rock-cookies rolled around." He chuckled. "You just need practice in the kitchen. More than most people."
She glared at his laughing figure from through the foggy snowfall. "N-Not funny!" She averted her gaze with an embarassed flushed face.
Joi smiled at her. "I think it's cute. Even though you can't make tasty food, I can still enjoy your...cooking."
Her face turned red with anger. "J-JERK!" Aila roughly pushed him.
Aila winced and glanced in his direction. Joi was splashing around in the park pond. "G-Gah! H-HELP!"
"Oh my god! Joi! I didn't see the pond!"
"Ah. I remember that. Didn't he get, like, a month of pnemonia from that?"
"S-shut up...it was just a cold...that happened to go to 106 degrees..."
Lauren laughed more. "You did know he was talking about how much he likes you right?"
"...I thought he was being a sarcastic jerk...I feel dumb..." Aila banged her head on the table once more.
"You are." Her friend grinned. "I knew Joi should've gone with my neon light idea."
"...I don't like you."
"UGHHH! Why me!"
"I agree. Wrong girl at the right place at the right time."
"Growing up with Joi." Lauren grinned. "You don't remember?"
She tried to think. "...I'm stupid! Okay!" Aila glared at the wall indignantly.
"Well then...I'll leave it for you to recall in that case~"
"Huh...? Recall what? What are you talking about?"
She glanced away sneakily. "Hee hee~ You were the one that was there."
"Say 'pretty please, wonderful, super gorgeous Lauren'~" She sang.
"..." Aila gritted her teeth. "Pretty. Please. Wonderful. Super gorgeous...Lauren."
"...Nah." She laughed and walked away. "Why spoil the beautiful memory of your meeting~?"
Aila sighed and slumped her face into her hands. 'What the heck happened when we met! How did that even happen...?'
Aila tugged a 7-year-old Joi towards her house. Back then, Joi was a lot more timid and hardly smiled.
"Come on! Come on! Come on!" Aila squealed. She, back then, was also a lot more...energetic.
"A-ahh...! Are you sure this is okay...?"
"Mommy and Daddy said it was fine!" She beamed. "You'll sleep next to me right?"
Joi blinked. "A-ah...? With you? Why-" He was cut off by Aila pushing the door open with a scream. "WE'RE HOOOOOME!"
"We can hear you sweetie." Her father rubbed his ears.
"Daddy! Daddy! Joi's parents said it was okay!"
"Oh?" Joi nodded.
"In that case, enjoy the sleep-over." Her mother came in with a smile.
That night, Aila would lead Joi along on her every whim up until bedtime and even then.
Aila was sweeping the floor of the classroom. '...all I can freaking remember is a sleepover I was way too hyper for.'
Joi had offered to go on ahead without her so they could both think by themselves a bit more before the...event. To this end, Aila had volunteered at cleaning duty to delay her return home. Lauren was wiping the windows a few feet away.
"Frankly, everyone always thought you would say yes. You grew out of it your first year here, but you two were inseperable back then."
"What are you talking about..." Aila muttered.
"Your mom said you stuck to him like superglue when you first met. You cried when he had to go home for the first time." Aila shook her head. 'Now that I think about it, I guess I was always a bit clingy in the beginning...'
"Waaaa! Don't go!" An adorable young Aila was wailing while clinging to Joi's waist, causing him to stumble.
"A-ack...A-Aila...I'm just going home...I've slept over for three days now..." He shook her around in surprise.
"Aila, Joi's parents said yes, but we think that he should at least spend some time with his own family..."
"T..then make him my family! Can't you adopt him?" She whined. "Or-or I can marry him!" She added, earning a stare and laugh from her parents.
"W-what's wrong? Stop laughing!" She glared and pouted. Joi was staring at her with a confused look and slight pink in his cheeks.
"Please say Joi? Pleeeeeeeeeese?" She gripped his waist tighter.
"Yay!" She let go before tackling him.
"...Only a little bit." Aila blushed. 'O...kay...I guess saying something like that was bound to send the wrong message...But he couldn't take that seriously could he...? Even if he remembers? Ugh...I'm an idiot.'
Lauren laughed. "Or remember that time you asked him to marry you when you were kids?"
Aila blushed furiously. "I-I did no such thing!"
"Not according to what you've told me before~" She snickered. "You told him 'not to cheat on you or else' and punched his arm? Ring any bells?"
"..." She opened the door and ran out. "I-I'm done!"
James, another mutual classmate, walked over. "She really did that? Gee..."
"She punched his arm, and she told him not to cheat, and Joi told me about one time she mentioned marriage to keep him in her house." Lauren grinned mischeviously. "Just not at the same time~"
"...You are hilarious."
Aila slowly marched towards her own house as if it were a death camp. "..."
'Great. 8 hours to figure things out and I don't manage to do even that.'
She sighed. To be honest, she and Joi went out for fun a lot anyway. Up until she got old enough to figure out she'd never get a boyfriend while hanging out with him, they'd go to the movies, amusement parks, and all sorts of parties together.
She paused and sighed.
"She'll say that it would be too odd to be more than friends and refuse. And then we would slowly drift apart from then."
Aila frowned. Was it really doomed to fall in one of those categories? That...sucked. For such an all-smiles guy like Joi, he made a pretty depressing prediction.
...No, she wouldn't let things turn out like that. So her options were-
"Yo~ Aila~ Are you out of your mind yet?" Her thoughts were interrupted.
She exhaled in exasperation. "Go away Lauren."
"I will My stop is half a block from your house. 'The confession spot' rather~"
"...Shut up." She glared. "For your information, I know what to do now."
Lauren arched a brow in curiosity. "Oh?"
"...Joi was wrong." Aila said lowly, earning a laugh from Lauren.
"That'd be a first. So? What's your answer?"
Aila glanced at her and thought a moment. "...That's a se-cret~"
In this chapter, we examine Joi and Aila's existing relationship a bit more deeply and she comes to a heavy conclusion. I hope it's clear to all of you that Aila does love Joi very much as a friend.
My favorite scene is when she explains her motives for responding to Joi so soon despite her way out; that being that it's out of concern for Joi himself. She does care deeply about his well-being since they grew up together and as a result are very close. in the same scene, Lauren accurately jokes that the way she's acting is one of the very reasons Joi loves her and, if he didn't worry about bothering her, he would be more than happy to reproclaim his feelings there.
I don't know about you guys, but when I first got into romance, everyone had to be a couple to me. Many times in romance stories, I think that it's easily forgotten that there's also a middle ground between "Love" and "No Love" called friends. That ground is where Aila is on. She doesn't feel the same as Joi, but she stills likes him a lot as her best friend. Enough to try to stay close to him even right after a rejection.