CHAPTER 4

Only you and you alone, can thrill me like you do, and fill my heart with love for only you.

[Only You by Alvin and the Chipmunks]

"Teacher, may I have a look at them?" After the bell rang, I went to the podium in front of the classroom, where our teacher was arranging her things and generally getting ready to go.

She smiled at me and handed over a sheaf of paper. "Of course, here you go."

I glanced at the content, flipping through the paper before coming to rest on the page I was looking for.

There. His photograph, two of them, in fact, floating above paragraphs of text.

Scanning the English words, I found what I was searching for, smiled contentedly, and handed the stack back to our English Reading and Writing teacher, who also happened to be the English teacher of the MEC.

As a practical joke, or so I thought, she'd made both the Experimental classes do an English report: take three photos and write a story about them, one section for each shot.

The first picture showed him cowering in an exaggerated fashion from a glaring guy, the second showed the door of a toilet, and the third: him standing proudly over the other guy, looking mighty pleased with himself.

Their story went something along the lines of: a poor little boy got bullied in his class, so he went to find a great martial arts master who happened to reside in the toilet. After intensive training, he returned and finally bested his foe.

Indeed, I got a good laugh out of it, but that wasn't the point.

I went through the pile of homework to find one thing, and I succeeded.

His name.

His English name. It was, by some miracle of coincidence, exactly the same as the one I had made up for him in an absence of information:

Howard.

Only you can make the darkness bright

On with the parts about our two classes.

There was a singing contest, "Pop Music Star", for all the high school students in the region, and a few people from my school were going to compete.

Since a bunch of people I knew very well, including Howard, were going to cheer them on, not to mention that a girl from my class was going to be singing, I decided to go too.

As was my custom, I ended up with a group of people from other classes; thankfully, two of them, Juby and Nick, were pretty friendly with me. In fact, the two of them might be the people I knew best in school.

Anyway, after having dinner with Juby, Nick, and three other people, we set off for the place, the first-choice high school for boys. We had to change MRT trains once, and by the time we got there, it was almost seven.

I called the girl in my class (being a contestant, she'd gone there earlier) to ask who was there. When she told me that apart from a few people from our class, Howard was also there, I couldn't help feeling a twinge of anticipation, even as I felt annoyed that he hadn't gone there with us.

It took us a wrong turn and roughly twenty minutes on foot to reach the school. Once there, we followed the directions stuck on the floor to the fifth floor, a hall of some sort, of the library building.

We almost didn't get in; we were a little late.

The place was pretty stuffy, bright, and filled with straight-backed wooden seats. It was also deathly silent.

After a bit of looking 'round, I spotted my classmates and went over to say hello. The bunch of us put down our heavy school bags and went to stand next to the window. There was a gentle breeze there, not much, but better than nothing.

As soon as we settled down, I started scanning the crowds for him. I found Howard sitting with four guys from his class a few rows in front of us.

For some reason or other, he turned around and saw us. Face lighting up, he came over.

I poked him and asked, "How long have you been here?"

He walked around our little cluster and came closer to me. "Half an hour, I think. We came here right after playing basketball," he gave me a silly grin. "We haven't had dinner yet."

"Oh well, at least we ate before coming here," I said softly. Juby was making shush-ing motions at me, so I smiled and made a zipping motion around my lips.

Not long after, we went back to our respective seats (Juby and I were so tired from all the walking around that we had to sit down), and I watched, trying hard to suppress audible laughter, as he and one of his classmates, Gary, tried to harass each other.

When he wasn't doing that, I could tell that he was playing games on someone else's phone.

My own smartphone had been borrowed by Nick to play games/use Facebook on. Then unexpectedly, the people on stage announced that there was going to be a ten-minute break. My classmate, the one going to be singing, was nervous as hell.

As it was break time, all of us clustered together, and for some strange reason, half of the boys there kept asking me for my phone. Sigh. That's what comes from keeping too many games on a newish phone, even if most of them hadn't been downloaded by me.

I rarely play computer/cell phone games of any sort; I get tired of them pretty quickly, and I'm convinced that they're a waste of time.

But I don't think anyone (of the male variety, anyway) agrees with me.

Anyway, in the end, of course I lent my cell to Howard. He found the paper toss thingy game, and when I told him that it was one of the few games I myself had actually played, he said, grinning, "I'll top your high score, then!"

The end of the break signified that it was already pretty late into the contest, so there were a lot more empty seats. He sat down to my left and started flicking away at the imaginary paper balls. However, his marks didn't seem to be advancing a lot, so I leaned over and whispered to him, "Not making much progress, are we?"

"Wait, just wait; I'll show you," he replied, his eyes still on the game.

As we listened to the various contenders, it occurred to me that a lot of them weren't actually better than us. An idea struck me, and once it did, it wouldn't let go.

"Hey, we should really do this next year," I couldn't resist whispering to Howard. The prize money was quite good as well.

I was much gratified when he nodded his agreement.

Not believing he was serious, I asked flippantly, "What could we sing?"

He appeared to give the matter serious thought. "Not Love of Millennia,I think, but maybe…"

Unfortunately, I can't seem to remember the name of the song he suggested at this present moment.

I sincerely hope that Howard won't forget about it next year; for I sure as hell won't.

Gary, suddenly turned around and started teaching Juby and I a language invented by a girl in their class, "Bulu bulu-nese". Let's just say that it was comprised of silly sounds strung together, but had an undeniably funny effect when spoken aloud. Howard could speak it too.

When the girl we were supposed to be cheering for (for some reason, no one was allowed to make any noise, clapping included, so the bunch of us felt a little silly sitting there silently) went on the stage, all of us put away our electronic devices and sat up attentively, staring at the stage.

Unbidden, Howard and I both kind of leaned forward, so that my shoulder was pressing against his. What can I say? I like body contact, well, most of the time, anyway. And yes, I know, I was becoming fast besotted with this guy.

As soon as she was finished, we settled back, with me restraining the strong urge to clap (I've been to so many classical concerts that the habit has become deeply ingrained in me), and most everyone except me resumed use of electronic devices again.

About ten minutes later, we'd listened to the other contestant from our school, and we decided to leave. It was something approaching eight twenty already, if memory serves.

We filed out, and I discovered an interesting fact: my classmates were going on their own, but as always, I was sticking with people from random classes and the MEC.

All the way down the five flights of stairs, Howard had his head buried in the game.

Suddenly, he turned to me and asked, "How do I make it go back to normal?"

I studied the screen. He'd accidentally touched an ad and got himself carried away from the game. Sighing, I pressed the "back" button. "It's not hard, why don't you know how to make it okay?"

He looked at me with an expression of mock-offense on his face and said, "Are you saying I'm stupid?"

Now that was a good one. Laughing, I replied, "Of course not! How would I dare? I just meant…oh, forget it."

Another guy from the MEC, Aaron, was laughing at us too.

Only you can make this change in me

Due to the fact that Howard was, well, still occupied with the game, he was walking kind of slowly. And due to the other fact that is was my phone he was using, I had a legitimate excuse to stick to him and keep an eye on my property. But we started to lag behind.

"Hey!" I yelled to the people up front. "Wait up!"

Discussion ensued when we reached them. Since none of the MEC guys had eaten, someone suggested going for some ice or noodles. In the end, ice won out.

The school was so dark that I could hardly make out where the main gate was supposed to be, but thankfully, Nick or someone else knew the way, so we were soon walking the pavements outside the place.

My time was divided between chatting with Juby or Howard and his classmates. For some reason, the MEC guys started singing for me and Juby. It was quite fascinating; they sang a few really funny songs (from a children's animation called Yoyoman, they said).

All of us started discussing music, and when I lapsed behind the bunch of guys with Juby, Howard kept turning back to tell me this or that about some singer or other.

Roughly fifteen minutes of wandering around with no sign of our destination later, the MEC guys said that it was getting late, around nine, and they should really start going home.

A moment's indecision later, the rest of us conceded defeat and caught up with them.

However, we had managed to cover quite a respectable distance, and there was still quite a journey back to the MRT station.

Someone remarked that he'd like a drink, so we stopped at a drink shop to buy some. Let me just say that their service was unbearably slow.

When they were finally done, Gary kept bugging Howard for a sip, but Howard ignored him and continued talking to me.

For some incomprehensible reason, Howard suggested we start singing. Of course, I agreed enthusiastically. I think he had no idea how drunk with happiness he made me with that little gesture.

We were originally walking with the four MEC guys, but as we started singing (with him supplying the words I didn't remember), I suddenly noticed that they'd put on the speed and were now a distance ahead of us.

Being a little slow on the uptake, I was a bit puzzled when Howard started running, but I automatically followed him, keeping up with his long stride best as I could.

Realization dawned when I heard him start yelling at Gary for behaving really childishly, so of course I joined in berating the lot of them.

Gary explained, with a dopey grin on his face, "No, no, we didn't mean what you thought we did. It's just that your singing sounded so good that we had no choice but to leave you alone in peace."

What kind of stupid reason is that? It doesn't even make sense. And all of them were laughing uncontrollably the whole while.

But I have to admit that I couldn't stop myself from convulsing with laughter either. And I couldn't deny that I felt secretly pleased.

Hmm, this is the second guy who has been teased by his classmates because of me (you'll know the first guy if you've read my journal: epic fail). What really endeared Howard to me was that, although I seem to recall him flicking them the finger, he didn't utter one sentence to the effect of "She's not my girlfriend!"

Most of the rest of the journey back I spent with either him or Juby. I'll admit that I kind of couldn't help myself when it came to him…my defense was that it was already late, I was pretty tired, and when I'm tired, my mind goes, um, weird.

In case you couldn't notice, this was one of the best nights of my life.

You're my dream come true, my one and only you