I seriously want to scream. I know Im walking all confident, the sound of my boots prominently heard as a take a step, but to say that Im nervous is an understatement.

Knowing how to pretend how you feel in front of your parents payed off for me as I completely do not look anything like someone who is about to piss their pants.

As I get closer to the wooden door, a large one and I look like an ant in front of it, my heart beat gets faster and faster.

I take a deep breath, hand holding the door handle. Once I knew I was ready, I opened the door slowly. And /god/, I thought I was dreaming.

I see books everywhere, I smell the familiar scent of newly printed ones, I see people smiling while accommodating the children with a smile on their faces.

And not long after, someone approaches me. I didn even notice how dazed I was, standing there with a small smile creeping on my face.

”Hi! Good Afternoon, ” he says with a smile on his face. Hes wearing a white shirt just like everybody who was ushering the other people. A black lace was around his neck, an ID, I suppose. With a brown trousers which seems loose to him and a black sneakers, he looked lovely.

I slightly shake my head. What am I even thinking about? Ogling over a stranger, a very attractive stranger. Okay, lets stop it right there and think straight.

I clear my throat and offer my hand for him to shake. ”Gem Lenz. I got here first since Mr. and Mrs. Lenz will still be arriving later on. ”

He chuckles in a low tone and reaches for my hand. ”Theo. Theo Villa. ” He flashes me with a small smile. ”While you wait for your parents? ” he asks for confirmation and I nod. ”Ill be the one keeping you company. ”

I follow behind him and thats when I notice how tall he was. /Very/ tall. He directed me towards a table for sponsors and I sit there quietly. Just when I thought he was going to leave me here, he grabs the chair beside me for him to sit on.

”So, are you interested in writing or were you just dragged here unwillingly by the parents? ” he chuckles again. He should really stop doing that. Its weirdly attractive.

I just shrug. ”Who knows, Mr. Villa. ”

I cannot help but steal quick glances at him when I should be focusing on looking at the kids. Is it just me or does our outfit match? With me wearing a oversized white button up polo and tucked in a brown suit pants as well, black chelsea boots, it seemed like we planned this.

”Earth to Gem. ” He waves his hand in front of me. I didn even notice I was looking at him for long.

I clear my throat and shift on my seat. ”Sorry, what was that? ”

He shakes his head. ”Your mind seems to be flying somewhere else. Are you okay? ”

I nod. What else am I supposed to say? Im okay but you look so distracting thats why I keep zoning out?

He seemed to not believe me but dropped it nonetheless. ”Anyway, ” he looks around and smiles as he wave his hand to a small girl across. ”We
e volunteers. We
e in a group who teaches children, those who don have enough money to go to a school, how to read and write. And some, to pursue their dreams of being a writer one day. ”

It seems like he caught my attention with his small speech, so I look at him while he looks at the playing kids. He looks happy. ”Ah, that explains how comfortable you are talking to people. ” I chuckle softly, enough for him to catch it.

”Oh— ” he probably realized what I meant and his eyes grew large. ”Im sorry! I didn mean to make you feel uncomfortable by talking too casually. Its.. a habit. ” He smiles at me shyly, hand on his nape.

I wave my hand at him, telling him its totally okay. ”Its okay. Its once in a lifetime that someone talks to me like Im someone normal. ”

Probably saying that wasn a great idea. Was it too much? Does it make me seem like a person whos deprived of friends? Was it too personal?

”Hmm… you look pretty normal to me. Im sure people talk to you normally. Unless, you talk with, ” he gapes, ”You talk with robots! ”

That makes me laugh. As in a laugh, laugh. ”What makes you think that, Theo? You are so weird. ”

He gapes once again and covers his mouth like I said something bad about him. ”You do not call someone older than you weird. ” He tsks.

I hum in response. ”Well, Im pretty sure I can call you weird. ” Im surprised myself because Im talking more than usual. I feel comfortable talking to someone. Im not usually like this. I don entertain people around me, especially if its not about business.

”Gem, you totally don get it! You can call me weird because Im older than you! ” He jokingly rolls his eyes and crosses his arms in front of him.

”Ah, I thought you were younger. Considering you talked about me being friends with robots. ” I cross my legs and I smile at him mockingly.

”And you say I easily talk to other comfortably. You
e doing it with me, too. ” He looks at me with his hazel brown eyes which almost gets covered by his fluffy, wavy hair.

”Well, its odd for me, too. Don worry. ”

Having Theo beside me the whole time, I totally forgot about the time. It felt like minutes when we actually talked for hours already. Hes 18, 2 years older than me. He told me about their organization, his hobbies, the course hes going to take, and a lot more. A whole lot more.

It made me think if it was really necessary for him to tell me all that when well only be seeing each other for one day, today. And hes just keeping me company.

Instead, he treated me like a friend. Like hes my long lost friend whom Im catching up with. Talking to me about everything I missed about his life when we weren together.

”And, yeah, thats when we decided to do this workshop. ” He shrugs. I was taken aback when he leaned closer to me. ”Don tell this to anyone but we invited some authors that the kids know. ” He chuckles while pulling away but his deep, deeper than earlier, voice vibrating on my ears and sends shiver down my spine.

He smells like… /lavender./

Trying to hide the blush thats forming on my cheek, I look ahead to try and distract myself. ”Yeah, yeah. Sure. ”

He grimaces at me like I said something peculiar. ”Back to the weirdly short and somehow formal response again? ”

I sigh and laugh at his childishness. ”You act like weve known each other since diaper days. ” I shake my head.

He giggles. ”Huh… I don remember wearing a diaper. ” He holds his chin, pretending to think.

I roll my eyes, not because Im annoyed, but because I find this Theo person very amusing.

”And isn it good to talk to someone who pretends to know you well? No awkwardness and all that first meeting stuff, ” he adds.

I shrug and raise my brow. ”Point made, ” I decide to stand up and naturally, he did, too. ”So, would you like to take me on a tour, Theo? ”

And being the Theo he is, he bows down at me like some kind of butler and raises his hand for me to hold. ”Will gladly do, madam, ” he says in a british tone that totally made us both cringe.

We look at each other, both having disgusted looks on our face, and laugh.

”Do not do that again, I guess? ” I remove my hand from his hold.

”Well, I did try my best. ”

As we finally walk to the center where all the kids were gathered, I feel it again. The nerves that magically flew away when Theo started talking to me earlier.

But I cannot hide the fact that Im excited, Im exhilarated. The kids just look so cute holding books, reading, and some just playing with other kids with a huge smile. Made me think if Ill be able to smile that wide again in the future.

”Gem! Gem! ” I hear someone call me. It was Theo, I was left behind and I didn notice that I was just standing there.

Though flustered, I jog to catch up to him. ”Sorry. Im— Its… a lot of things in my mind. ” I laugh breathily.

He fold his arms in front of him and furrows his brows. ”Yeah, I figured. ”

And for the first time ever, there was a long silence between us. All we could hear was the kids giggling, screaming, talking.

We were still walking, not to the kids anymore but to a pile of books, organized ones.

I look at him with curious eyes and he maybe felt my eyes burning the side of his head, so he looks at me. ”Ill show you something. ”

I furrow my brows in confusion but follow him nevertheless.

”You
e nervous, ” he quietly says as we approach the books.

Huh. Was I too obvious?

I chuckle. ”Maybe a little. ”

He scoffs at me like I said something wrong… unbelievable. ”Sure. You
e not /maybe a little/ nervous. But, sure. Whatever you say, madam. ”

I furrow my brows more, if thats even possible. ”Its really just a little! ” I defend.

He nods at me multiple times. ”Yes, I heard you loud and clear. ”

We finally stop in front of the table. And that made me stop thinking about the argument with Theo. Well, not really an /argument/.

I raise my hand to touch the pile of books subtly. ”Which, uh, which books your favorite? ” I ask, not pulling my gaze away from the books as I skim through them.

He shrugs. ”Can really pick one from these,
o? I like all of them. ” He smiles, picking up one book and opens it.

”All… of them? ”

He looks at me and nods. ”Yeah. I didn read all of these when I was at a certain age. These are books Ive read while growing up. Perfect for these kiddos as well. ”

I chuckle. ”Well, I guess I can say that you are a man with taste. ”

He shrugs at me cockily. ”What can I say? ” He smirks.

We finally let go of the books and he decides to introduce to some of the kids. To be honest, Im not really a kid person. I don know how to deal with them. Thats why this, all of this makes me nervous a ton.

A cute little girl with a pink dress comes up to us, specifically to Theo. Her smile wide, showing her incomplete set of teeth, but I find it cute.

”Theo! ” she enthusiastically calls him, and he responds with the same energy.

”Lara! Wheres mommy? ” He ruffles her hair and she giggles in response.

”With her friends! I was with my friends but saw you! ” she giggles cutely once again. She seems fond of him, and they seem to know each other already.

”Aww, missed Theo already? ” he coos at her.

I was just there, standing and smiling while watching the whole interaction of the two.

And she nods! Even her, nodding is cute. Theo just laughs and lifts her for him to carry.

”Wanna have fun with Theo and your other friends? ” He bops her nose.

Expectedly, she nods frantically, a wide smile still on her face. ”Who she? ” she points at me when she finally notices me standing beside them.

”Oh! Sorry forgot to introduce you, ” he says shyly, matching it with a shy smile as well.

I shake my head. ”Its okay. ” I shift my gaze at her and put on the kindest smile I can. ”Hi, Im Gem. I like your dress, its pretty. Like you! ”

For a moment she just looks at me which makes me nervous. /God, Gem. Did you say something wrong again? You are so awkward./

But then everything melts. The nerves, the thoughts, gone when she smiles at me. ”m Lara! You
e pretty, too! ” she places her small hand on my face and looks at Theo. ”Friend? ” she asks.

He nods.

”Wanna play with us? ” she asks me.

”Can I?? ”

”Yes! ” she cutely pats my head which made me giggle softly.

”Lets go! ” Theo lifts her again which caused her to shriek in excitement. He placed her behind his head, shorts legs on his shoulder.

When I was just about to walk with them, I see my parents enter the venue, already talking to some people.

Theo looks at me with confused eyes.

”Sorry. I, you go on. Parents are here. ” I give him an apologetic smile. Lara wasn looking at me so she doesn see me walking away from them.

I look back and still see Theo standing there, placing the girl down. She instantly runs to her friends.

I motioned him to go to the kids and not mind me. But he didn seem to budge. This person is really weird.

”Go. ” I mouth at him with a reassuring smile. I turn my back at him to continue walking to my parents which seem to be finding me as well.

I flinch when I see a pair of black sneaker walking beside me. Confused, I look at my left to see him, walking with me.

”Are you serious? How about Lara? ” I whisper as we get closer.

He smiles. ”Don worry, she won notice Im gone. ”

I shake my head. ”You are unbelievable. The kids gonna hate you. ”

”Nah. Im kidding. I told her Ill go with you. She was too preoccupied to even answer me. ” He laughs.

But my laugh, the happiness earlier, instantly fades when I stand in front of my parents. Theo totally slipping out of my mind.

”Mother, Father, ” I greet them formally. My face going back to its default mode.

”Gem. How is everything? Have you done everything I asked of you to arrange? ” she asks, eyes roaming around the venue.

I nod. ”Yes. Everythings been taken care of. I believe you received the final copy of your speech? ”

She nods firmly. ”Yes. Anyway, where do we sit down? ”

Father didn seem to care about our discussion as he was finding someone from the crowd.

”Excuse me, dear. I need to talk to someone. ” He holds my mothers arm and walks away, eyes totally glued to one of his business partners.

”Ill take you to our table. Its ov— ”

”Ill usher you to your table, maam. ” He politely cuts me off. I was taken aback hearing his voice. I totally forgot about Theo following me.

She raises her brows but follows him anyway. I walk beside my mother, not walking too close beside her, though.

”Here we are. The opening program already finished earlier. The main event will begin shortly. Please make yourselves comfortable. ” He smiles.

She takes a seat, crossing her arms. Before I take a seat, I look at Theo and coincidentally, he was looking at me already.

”Thank you. ” I mouth.

He nods at me. ”See you later. ” He whispers. And I squint my eyes, hoping that my mother didn catch that.

Shell probably be mad when she discovers I became close with someone. She won get mad about me talking to him, but shell probably get mad at me for… making friends that won benefit me in anyway.

I see Theos shoulder move, hes chuckling. And I just roll my eyes as I sit down. Hes really peculiar, never met someone like him.

Just like what Theo had said to us earlier, the main event did begin shortly. My father finally seated beside my mother and other people were seated around the table we were in.

The kids seemed to have fun with all the games, books, challenges they were given. And shortly after that, some authors were entering the stage. Surprisingly, the kids knew them and ran like lightning speed to greet each of them.

My phone suddenly vibrated from my pocket so I open it to see a message from Geleen. She informed me about the money which was successfully donated to the organization, books safely delivered. I write a short reply of thanks and put it back in my pocket.

I listened to the stories the kids made as one of the games with a smile on my face. They shared their favorite books, drawings for their book cover, and what they dream of writing in the future.

It was absolutely endearing to see them so euphoric, so… free.

When I feel myself choking up, it was exactly the time when my parents were going to stand on stage, deliver a motivational message for the children.

I silently push my chair back and stand to exit the venue for a few minutes, to let myself breathe.

Once I step outside, I can feel my lungs clear out. Finally breathing comfortably. This often happens, its normal for me at this point. Im not jealous of them, I just wished I had a childhood like that. And Im happy for the kids, enjoying what they like to do, smiling.

Though it wasn part of my plan, I start walking away from the door. I start to roam around the mall, watching my feet stepping on the white tiles, avoiding the space between them.

My mind was blank, I was totally absent minded and defenseless and when someone spoke from behind me, I naturally threw a punch.

When I looked at who it was, I pull my fist back. ”Sorry! Oh my god, ” I laugh when I saw his face totally distorted because of the pain.

”You may or may have not broken a rib or two, ” he chuckles, still holding on his side.

”I am really sorry, Theo! You scared me. ”

He puffs out air. ”Someone scared wouldn throw a punch. ”

I shake my head and turn my back at him, continuing what Ie been doing earlier. I can feel his presence behind me, following me but not saying anything.

I don mind the silence, though. It was much needed for me, its where I am most comfortable. /Silence./

And he breaks it after minutes of not saying anything.

”Who are you really? ” His tone serious.

I don look at him. ”What do you mean? ”

”Are you this, the smiley, happy, awkward person. Or are you what I saw earlier? Stiff, straight-faced, too formal. ”

I chuckle. ”Don know what you
e talking about. ”

He sighs, feeling totally heavy about what he saw earlier. ”You know what I mean, Gem. ”

And thats when I turn around to face him. ”Yeah, I do. But I don think we
e that close for me to tell you anything about that, ” I say in a calm manner, careful for him to not be offended.

He sarcastically laughs. ”I guess you are right. ”

I turn my back again. ”Yeah. So lets just drop it. ”

I hear him take a deep breath and I take a step forward again. He was still behind me but suddenly walks faster to stand in front of me. So, I stop on my tracks as well.

”For the record, I think a smile suits you better. ”

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