"Seriously, Zaire, you should stop staring at him."

By him, my best friend, Suki, was referring to Travis Colbert.

I ignored her comment. Probably because she says that all the time that my ears have grown used to it already, most especially when we're at the cafeteria wherein she'll catch me giving the guy a discreet look of admiration.

But what in the world is wrong with looking at him?

"What did Travis ever do to you for you to hate him like this?" I asked her with a straight face before directing my attention toward my yet untouched food.

Suki rolled her eyes. "I don't hate him. I'm just wondering why you like him so much. And you've liked him since sophomore year."

Bewilderment was evident in Suki's voice. I just wasn't sure if it was from the fact that I liked Travis, or that that like for him had gotten for as long as two years.

"I mean," Suki went on, brandishing her hand as she explained, "sure, there's nothing wrong with being a nerd, but look at the way he dresses. An orange short-sleeved shirt over a green long-sleeved one? And what is the print on that tee? An alien?"

Travis has a bit of an obsession with extraterrestrials. And so what? I think aliens are fascinating.

"You're being unbelievably judgmental, you know that," I replied, scowling a bit at her in disdain. "Since when did you become so critical when it comes to fashion?" Especially that Suki herself wasn't really establishing a good sense of style in the way she dresses up. Actually, we both are. Everything about us screams average—or so what Suki says. But I prefer the term 'simple.' And if truth be told, I like it that way. I honestly wouldn't trade simplicity for loud, trendy clothes just to be popular.

"I'm not being judgmental," Suki denied. "I'm just…concerned. For you. He is way out of your league, Zaire."

I drew a longing sigh as I slid my gaze back to Travis. He was about five tables away from us, eating his lunch while reading a Dan Brown book. "He is, isn't he?"

"You make it sound like he's above you," Suki replied, a bit annoyed and disgusted. "I did not mean it like that. Travis is a nerd who badly needs a wardrobe stylist, while you…you're pretty. You just need to work on your self-esteem."

I snapped my head to look at Suki, surprised and flustered. How many times has she given me that compliment before? If I'd consider the length of time we've been best friends, which is 11 years, then the answer is countless. But on every occasion, for some weird reason, I've always found myself astounded. And this time was no exception. Maybe because I refused to believe that I was pretty.

Because I wasn't.

"Thanks, Suki. But Travis being a nerd is exactly the reason why he's above me. Why I am the one who is out of his league."

Suki looked immensely incredulous. "Oh, my God! Look at Travis and tell me that that guy is turning you on."

I conceded to her dare. And instantly, my heart raced and pounded.

Actually, it had been that way since sophomore year—when I badly needed help in Algebra and Ms. Kim, our teacher, assigned Travis to tutor me. Two weeks of spending time with him at the library after school and I realized how he's so cool to be with. Underneath the terrible fashion sense, the timid gait, and the silent mysterious air that envelopes him, he's a good conversationalist, a true gentleman, and plain nice. Plus, he's funny. Which is a characteristic on the top of my 'What I Want In A Guy' list.

I liked him to the point I was secretly wishing he'd like me back. Then again, what would he like about me?

(Darn, Suki was right. I need to work on my self-esteem.)

But anyway, after those two weeks of tutoring me, we never really got to hang out as friends. He tried to reach out to me though, but my feelings for him had escalated already and I kind of had gotten extremely shy every time he's too close to me. Moreover, when I was having the upsetting thought that he would never like me niggling at the back of my head, I kind of started avoiding him.

And so, he never talked to me again.

It was clearly my fault. And now I'm suffering the effects—adoring him from a distant while my heart silently breaks.

Sometimes I wonder, if my pessimism didn't kick in maybe we'd be close friends right now. Who knows, maybe lovers…

I shook myself out of my absurd imagination. Absurd, indeed. Darting my sight back to Suki, I told her with a naughty smile on my face, "Travis is turning me on."

Suki faked to gag. "That is the grossest thing I've ever heard." She pushed her food away. "Thank you, you ruined my appetite."

I just chuckled at her. But it was true; that I was turned on by Travis. While the majority may not consider him to be the sexiest and most good-looking senior in the campus, to me he was. He was my very own version of Chris Hemsworth, Channing Tatum, and Ian Somerhalder all rolled into one. And so, needless to say, yes, I do have wild fantasies of him.

When the atmosphere between Suki and I turned serious, I decided to bring up a subject that had been bugging me for the last three nights. "So I was thinking," I began, "prom is coming up and I know the guys are strictly supposed to ask the girls this year, but…what if I ask Travis to be my prom date?"

Suki laughed hysterically. "Are you kidding? The last time you tried to talk to him, and that was merely to congratulate him for making it into the Mathlympic Regionals three months ago, you vomited your guts from extreme nervousness. And you're going to ask him to be your prom date? You are just not hilarious, Zaire, you are also, officially, harebrained."

I struck her a deadpan look. "You know how much I am already feeling discouraged when it comes to Travis and you're here discouraging me even more. You're my best friend, you know. You're supposed to support me no matter how crazy my ideas are."

"Well at least you recognize the fact that asking Travis to the prom is a crazy idea," she muttered in between her teeth, although I still clearly heard every word.

I glared at her. Suki was doing a truly fantastic job at being the worst friend ever.

"You seriously want my opinion?" she asked, disbelief still apparent on her face.

I nodded.

"It's not that I'm letting you down with this whole Travis thing. I'm just saying that if you can't talk to him about the little stuff, then there's no way you'd be able to spurt out something as grand as inviting him to the prom as your date. In other words, you don't have the guts, Zaire. You just don't."

Suki was only telling the truth and meant no harm, but her last words kind of stung. And I also knew I didn't have the right to be openly hurt because what she said was awfully true.

I was a damn coward.

"I dare you, Zaire," Suki said, her voice turning challenging. "I dare you to walk up to him now and ask him to be your prom date."

I fell into complete silence right away, confined in the bubble of my shock.

Suki went on. "If you don't get to do that and make Travis say yes at the same time, then you're giving my father a foot scrub every month for the whole year."

That wasn't an attractive deal. I've seen Suki's dad and let's just say, a lion could crunch into his soles and he wouldn't feel anything. But, wait. How about me? What if I can get Travis to say yes?

"What's in it for me?"

She looked at me with a duh expression, like I just asked the most idiotic thing. "You are going to spend one of the most romantic nights for a high school student with the guy of your dreams, dance with him so close you could feel his breath, and if you're lucky you could also get to kiss him. That's what's in it for you. Hello-o!"

I discarded the part where Suki just regarded me as the densest person in the world for my mind had totally drifted to a different thought. The picture that she said played in my mind—dancing close to Travis, feeling his warm breath on my cheeks, and then sealing the night with a kiss from him.

It was tempting to say the least. And so maybe, I should accept the dare.

I breathed in, squaring my shoulders as I felt my audacity instantly renewed. "You know what, I'm accepting your challenge." I stood up boldly, head held high. "I'm going to go there right now and ask him to the prom."

. . .

So far, so good.

Halfway toward Travis's table, I was still okay. With my heart racing, knees and hands trembling, and my stomach tying in every knot possible—this couldn't have felt more…normal.

When I finally reached my destination, without asking for Travis's permission, I sat on the chair across him. Amidst the words I was forming and gathering in my head, I took in what his expression outlined into the second he found me. Obviously surprised and confused.

"Uhm…," I tried to begin. Unfortunately, like any of those very few days in the past wherein I had attempted to talk to him and then in all of those occasions my mind had shut down, that's exactly what is happening right now.

Shit.

My eyes accidentally swept over to the book he was reading, and I realized that it wasn't one of Dan Brown's as what I had assumed and would typically see him buried into.

"How To Make Her Like You Back?" I sputtered, my gaze locked to the title of the paperback, which he then quickly hid by placing the thing down to his lap.

I was so puzzled and astonished that even if the book was already out of my view, I remained silent.

"I—it's for research," Travis suddenly reasoned, and I lifted my eyes back to him as he finished his sentence, "in English."

And I was enlightened. Mr. Lee assigned us a research project, of whatever topic we choose and to be passed in a month. I haven't entirely organized my own yet, which is about the environment, how it's already dying and what the human race needed to work on preserving it.

But going back to Travis, I must admit I was floored by his topic. I was expecting something political or scientific. You know, something life-changing, or world-moving it would furnish him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. Better yet, the award itself.

Not something about how to attract girls.

I mean seriously?

My musings ended when Willow approached us and sat beside Travis. I immediately felt envious of her, particularly as to how casual and relaxed she could get with him. But Willow, she may not be a nerd, but she was an overachiever herself. She's the student council president, leader of so many school committees (including the prom's), and head of the cheerleading squad. Which makes her completely loaded of that self-esteem stuff—something that I was truly short of.

Plus, she's really pretty and has a body to die for.

Oh, and did I mention she was also Travis's best friend? Which let me tell you they make quite an odd pair because they differ in quite a lot of things.

But anyway, my boldness, the audacity—as I would have predicted—depleted effortlessly. From a lion, I deflated instantaneously to a wet, defenseless kitten.

"Hi, Zaire," Willow greeted me with delight and a big smile so infectious I just had to smile back at her. It may not be the mirror image of her own, but at least it hid the envy and the lack of confidence growing inside of me.

"Hi," I greeted back to her quite awkwardly. I almost slid out of the chair and bolted out of their sights, but that would only make me look stupid. I invited myself to Travis's table only to what? Leave without saying anything?

If that didn't make me a dunderhead then I don't know what I was.

I guess I should just have to go on with what I came here for in the first place, keep up with the challenge Suki dared me with. Then again, although I didn't dream (and will never dream) of giving her father a foot scrub, and I still wanted that very enticing dance and kiss from Travis, I also had no idea how I would ask him to be my prom date.

I mean it was half-easy two minutes ago—before Willow came into the picture and without meaning to do so, sucked out all the courage and little confidence I had. Now, asking Travis was colossally difficult.

Why oh why did I agree to the challenge to begin with? Wasn't I already contented with admiring Travis from a distance? Fantasizing about him only in my dreams? Why do I have to go ahead and ask for more?

"So what are you guys talking about?" Willow asked as she leaned on the table, excited and curious.

"Nothing," Travis and I spurted out jointly, and it surprised us both that we darted each other our shocked expressions.

"Nothing?" Willow repeated, looking every bit in doubt of our response.

And then I realized, since I was the one who marched into Travis's space, I should be the one doing all the explaining. Which I did. But it was done with a lie.

"I—it's just that I'm having problems with Math again, and…and I wanted to ask him," I looked at Travis, "if you could help me? I mean, that is, if you're not busy. But then of course you must be, so I'm really sorry I bothered you and I'm leaving now."

Before the two could have anything to reply, I quickly stood up and scampered away. I only relaxed, drawing a relieved sigh, when I made it outside the cafeteria.

Then again, seeing Travis bursting out of the cafeteria doors after a few seconds, the nervousness instantly returned. Pretending I didn't see him, I turned the other way and walked as fast as I could. Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough to disappear from his sight.

"Zaire, wait up!" he yelled from behind me.

Deeming there's no more sense in pretending, I stopped in my tracks and swiveled around to face him.

"Yes?"

"I'm not busy," he said, a gentle and sincere smile on his lips. "I—I would love to help you in Math."

Not that I didn't really need help in that subject, but I didn't need it yet. If I hadn't mentioned it before, asking him to tutor me was a lie. So it's rather understandable, at least to me, why I wasn't thrilled to hear this news.

I faked it anyway. "Thank you."

And then came the awkward silence. He didn't respond nor neither of us moved or walked away from each other. Typically, I would have turned around and leave. But I was kind of tired of running away from him already. I should grant myself this—a few heavenly seconds to be this close to him. And then relish this very moment because it will probably never happen again.

"The book you saw me reading," Travis suddenly said. "It—it wasn't for our English project."

I let out a short relieved chuckle at his revelation. "I kind of have discerned that."

"It's actually for me," he disclosed, his voice hinting of hesitation. I just couldn't tell whether it was because he was embarrassed with his admission or just plainly reluctant to reveal more. "I—I've been meaning to ask this girl I've liked for two years to go out on a date with me. But I never really had a chance because she's avoiding me like the plague. And then I thought there must be something wrong with me, hence, the book. I—I almost gave up…but seeing her every day, I just couldn't."

My heart cracked before it blew up to pieces. The very same boy who made me the happiest person in the universe with his mere presence at school had just also made me now the saddest.

What he just divulged was already a confirmation. Of many painful things.

That he liked someone else.

That I won't have a place in his heart.

That he won't be my prom date.

And that I will never get to have that highly-coveted dance and kiss from him.

Hurt, regret and misery all at once exploded inside of me. But with everything I can, I still whipped up a smile in front of him. "There's nothing wrong with you, Trav," I assured him. "in fact, she's very lucky to have you liking her. So don't give up, okay? I'm sure she'll come around and realize that you're someone she needs in her life."

"Really?" Travis's eyes lit up, enormously pleased by my encouragement. As much as I hate to admit this, it pained me to see him in that state. Because no matter how much I was contented with just loving him from a distance, once or twice in the past I've tremendously ached to have him near me every minute of every day.

I swallowed the painful lump that formed in my throat. "Absolutely." I answered. Then I felt imminent tears at the corner of my eyes. But before my emotions could push them over to the edge, I quickly told him, "Uhm, I have to go now."

"Of course. So I'll see you later at the library after school?"

"Like old times…"

"Yeah, like old times."

But I never met with Travis after school. I went straight home. And although Suki was never a huge fan of the Zaire/Travis pairing, she was there in my bedroom with me, watched every tear that fell from my eyes, listened to every sob that I made, and mourned for my heart that died earlier that day.

"It just hurts so much, you know…," I cried on the Kleenex tissue Suki handed me for the umpteenth time. "I mean of course, it's possible for him to like another girl, but to hear it straight from his mouth…it just hurts…"

Before I could blurt out another phrase that would pertain to the pain that was eating me at that moment, my sister called out from the other side of the door and told me I had someone at the front porch looking for me.

After wiping my tears dry I headed out of my bedroom, leaving Suki behind with the company of my tear-stained, snot-smeared tissue papers scattered all over the carpet. Once I opened the front door, I couldn't have been any more flabbergasted when I found who my visitor was.

I perfectly knew that profile, even if his back was turned against me.

"Travis?"

When he spun around to face me, his features were painted a blend of darkness, frustration and disappointment.

It looked as if he was about to wage war. And no doubt, it was with me. I got why, but it still didn't stop me from getting scared.

This was the first time I saw him angry. With me.

And I didn't like it. Not one bit.

"I'm so sorry, Trav," I said, feeling dreadful now that I didn't turn up at the library without informing him. I should have told him earlier that I had another important matter to take care of. But does crying over a broken heart constitute an important matter? "The truth is—"

"No," Travis quickly cut in, raising his palm. Then he bowed his head for a second before lifting it up and looking at me with a glum and serious expression. "Here's the truth: I like you, Zaire. I like you so much it hurts to see you avoiding me. But I understand why. I do." He breathed deep. "Because I'm not your type."

Oh, no.

"Of course not, right? I mean why would someone like you want me? Which is why I'm not really expecting anything in return from this confession. I just wanted to let these feelings out—these feelings I've been keeping for two years now. And it's just damn hard to keep them any longer! You, seeing you every freaking single day, are just making it hard for me!"

So I thought he was upset and angry because I didn't show up at the library. But it was totally for a different reason. A reason I must say that bound the pieces of my heart back together and made me the happiest person alive again. Though the happiness didn't show up on my face yet because I was still stunned and amazed.

But deep inside, fireworks are exploding. And I felt like doing somersaults. Even if I don't really know how to do them.

This was unbelievable. In a good way!

"I'm sorry," Travis apologized, completely distraught as he bowed his face again. "I—I didn't mean to shout at you. And I hope you won't hate me for admitting I like you."

Then he put one foot down the stairs of the porch, aiming to leave.

I held him off. With a question. "Will you go to the prom with me?"

Travis swiftly whipped his head back to me, and although he didn't express it out loud, his face clearly spelled of bewilderment.

"Because the truth is," I went on, "I like you, too, Trav. I've liked you for two years. And you must be crazy to believe that you're not my type when I think you're the sexiest and most good-looking guy I've ever laid my eyes on."

If my best friend was hearing this, she must be throwing up by now. Well, suck it up, Suki!

A smile crept on Travis's lips, widening by the second as he marched closer to me.

"So," I said, "for the second time, will you go to the prom with me or not?"

When he finally reached me, he leaned forward. His face so close to mine I could feel his warm, minty breath fanning my cheeks when he spoke. "Will I get to kiss you there?"

My own smile went large, eyes flitting from his' to his lips and back. "If you want, you can kiss me now."

And that's what he did.

He kissed me.

And I kissed him back.

And it would have lasted for a blissful, breathless minute if Suki didn't annoyingly appear out of nowhere and made a gagging sound.

"I'm out of here," she added, stomping furiously out of the door to the porch and then to the front yard. Then she wheeled around and said grumpily to me, "You are still giving my father a foot scrub, you know!"

"I am so not!" I yelled, sticking my tongue out at her which only made her crankier.

"What was that?" Travis asked curiously at our little, childish banter.

I grinned at him, shaking my head. "Nothing. So where were we?

"I believe we were kissing."

"Then kissing we shall go back to."

"Wait…" Travis stalled, his hands traveling to my waist. "Will you go to the prom with me?"

I slightly frowned, confused at his question. "Didn't I ask you that?"

"Well, yeah, but I still haven't said yes yet. Besides, I wanted to be the one to do the asking. Yours was invalid anyway because girls weren't supposed to ask the guys. So…?"

He had a point. And it was just plain sweet of him to still ask me even though I already did. And even though he already knew the answer.

I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him closer as if he wasn't already close enough. "Yes, I would love to."