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Games of the Heart

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Blurb

In a quiet town nestled between the sea and forest lived three friends, Alex, Eliza and Anthony. Popular, easygoing Alex and quiet, unassuming Eliza have been best friends since childhood. The duo became a trio when snarky, sarcastic Anthony became their friend during junior high. Marred by the different ugly sides of love, each of them wished to just graduate from high school peacefully. But with the transfer of a new student, it seems that their wishes would not be granted. And since his arrival, strange things have been happening to the three of them. Especially to Eliza.

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A Short Daydream

Eliza Rosa wished she could have stayed in bed all day.

But the alarm clock on her night stand was beeping nonstop and her mother was already hollering for her to get up from downstairs.

She sat up her bed groggily, rubbing at her eyes. The alarm was still blaring loudly and she let out a small sigh. Leaning over to hit the snooze button, she clamored out of her warm bed and slipped on her slippers.

“Eliza!” Her mother was knocking on her door. “Are you awake?”

“Yes, Mom!” she shouted as she shuffled to the bathroom.

“It’s your first day back to school! Hurry up, okay?”

“Yeah!”

Squinting drowsily to the mirror, she saw a tired girl with long black hair squinting back at her, the results of staying up late watching Korean dramas apparent on her face. She was still so sleepy that she felt half-dead. Briefly wondering if she could convince her mother to let her stay home, she stripped of her clothes and headed inside the shower.

Okay, now I’m awake, she thought, shivering under the freezing-cold stream. And as soon as she was finished showering, she stepped out, wrapping herself in a towel before looking at the mirror again.

She definitely looked awake now.

Eliza was about to leave the bathroom when her eyes honed onto something. A long, jagged scar, marring the surface of the skin of her right upper arm. It still had that raw look of a fresh wound considering it was still fairly recent when she got it. And looking at the scar still brought dreadful memories into her head so she averted her gaze away, covered the scar with her hand then went out to change into her school uniform.

Breakfast was a chaotic affair. Her mother had her hands full trying to make her twin brothers finish their meals so her father could take them to kindergarten. She, on the other hand, was trying to eat her breakfast in peace while trying to remember if she had everything she needed in her backpack. When she was done eating, she grabbed her backpack, kissed her parents goodbye and hugged the twins. Then she walked out of the house.

Alex, her best friend since childhood and her next-door neighbor, was waiting for her outside the gate. He was looking at his cell phone, his thumbs furiously tapping the touch screen, a strap of his backpack over his shoulder. His short spiky hair was still wet like he had just gone out of the shower but his uniform, a long-sleeved white button-down shirt, red tie and black pants set, was immaculate, perfectly worn and showed his athletic, lithe form.

“Good morning, Alex,” Eliza greeted, swinging the gate back.

“Morning, Eli—“ His voice abruptly cut-off when he looked up and saw her. He blinked. “Who are you?”

She started to laugh at the surprise in his face.

“Seriously.” Alex slid his phone into his pocket and gave her a slow once-over. “Who are you and what have you done with Eliza Rosa?”

Eliza knew what her best friend was seeing. Her long black hair tied in a flawless French braid down the back of her head. Not a wrinkle on her button-down shirt or on her tie in sight and her navy blue school skirt perfectly pleated. Even her black leather shoes were newly cleaned and polished.

“Oh,” she chuckled, “You actually noticed.”

“Who wouldn’t? You barely even combed your hair back in grade school and junior high.”

“I just thought it was time for me to change,” she said with a dainty shrug.

Alex narrowed his eyes down on her. “And is that lip gloss I see?”

Rolling her eyes, she pulled on her arm to get him moving. “We’ll be late if we dawdle here for longer.”

“You even powdered your face.”

“Oh, shut up, Alex.”

His booming laughter filled the air and made the birds in the nearby tree shoot up to the sky. Eliza elbowed his side and only then did he stop.

A comfortable silence descended upon them as they made their way to school which was a fifteen-minute walk away from their neighborhood. Eliza let her eyes roam around her, taking in all the beautiful scenery around her. Living in a small town on a hill nestled between the sea and forest, one could either see the stretch of white sand and the blue waters of the sea down below the hill or the lush green trees of the forest on the other side of town. The town itself was charming, the historical town center even more so. Eliza couldn’t imagine herself living in another place.

She let out a yawn and Alex noticed. Feeling him bump her shoulder, she swung her gaze around. Being 6'2 and she 5'2", she had to crane her neck just to look at his face.

“You slept late again, didn’t you?” he said in an accusing tone.

She grinned, unrepentant. “I wanted to finish the series before I go to sleep.”

“No wonder you’ve got bags under your eyes."

“I actually wanted to stay home today instead,” she admitted. “I even considered pretending to be sick.”

“You can’t pretend sick on the first day back.”

“Well, I wish I did.”

They stopped to let a car pass before crossing the street. Eliza saw a group of students from their school up ahead, laughing and talking with each other. They sure looked excited about going back to school. Her? She dreaded it.

“It’s not because of what happened that you don’t want to go to school right?”

Eliza licked her lips and adjusted the straps of her backpack over her shoulders. “No,” she mumbled. “I’m already over it.”

Alex didn’t say anything but she could see the clenching of his jaw. He was trying not to show his anger and for a brief moment, she was worried that he wouldn’t control it. She truly was over it. Or at least she was trying to. What happened three months ago needed to be forgotten and they couldn’t let it dictate their lives and emotions. And Eliza was afraid that while she was trying to move on, Alex was still stuck in the past, wallowing in guilt and self-hate.

“You better keep your promise, Liz,” Alex reminded her quietly after awhile. “That the moment something bad happens again, you would tell me right away.”

She gently nodded her head, feigning a small smile. Walking down the street with him, Eliza said a small prayer in her mind.

Please let this year be better than last.

**********

Alex Fernandez wished his best friend had really pretended she was sick.

Then he’d have a reason not to go to school.

He and Eliza could have just spent the day playing video games in her house. Or have a movie marathon together. He was even willing to watch her Korean dramas. Anything to get out of having to go to school.

He hadn’t even wanted to wake up but his little sister had kept jumping up and down his body after he threw his alarm clock on the opposite wall and broke it. Apparently, she was on a mission to wake him up, a mission given by their mother who knew that this would happen to his alarm clock.

If he didn’t know Eliza would be waiting for him, Alex wouldn’t even bother to get up from bed. If he didn’t know Eliza needed him to be there for her, he wouldn’t even bother waking up at all.

They were nearing the school when Alex saw it. A black, sleek car parked at the side of the road next to the school gates. There was curious mob of students gawking at it from afar, mostly girls. Alex stopped walking and felt Eliza bump into his side. Ignoring her grumbling, he pointed at the car.

“What’s that all about?”

Rubbing her nose, Eliza peered around him. “I don’t know. A celebrity?”

“A celebrity?” he chuckled. “That’s the best you can do?”

“It’s an expensive car.”

“You really think a celebrity would show up here?”

A deep frown was plastered on his best friend’s face as she thought about it. Alex grinned down at her. He still couldn’t believe the change in her appearance. It wasn’t drastic by all means. She did barely comb her hair but she always put it up in a messy bun that made her look pretty. And she may not have worn her uniform properly, she had always hated wearing the tie and removed it whenever she could, her uniform was still clean and crisp. The only real difference was she actually remembered to polish her shoes and she was wearing a tiny bit of make-up that made her even prettier.

Eliza tilted her head to the side and started to speak, “If it’s not a celebrity, then it’s probably… a new teacher?”

Before Alex could answer her, a voice took his attention.

“As always, Rosa, your logic never fails to astound me.”

He turned his head around to see a familiar boy making his way towards them. His lips curved up. This was going to be fun.

“Why the hell would they ogle a new teacher?” the boy went on to say sarcastically, pulling his earphones out of his ears. “Unless they're attractive, which would be real suspicious because why would a teacher waste their looks in a public school situated in a backwards town like this?”

“Semi-public,” Alex corrected. “And I see you woke up on the right side of the bed again, Anthony.”

“Whatever, tallass.”

Alex had known Anthony since the second year of junior high. He was one of the few people Alex considered a true friend in their small school and town. Problem was, this snarky kid didn’t feel the same way.

Eliza was frowning up at Anthony's unkempt black hair and uniform and Alex knew what was going on his best friend’s head. The shorter boy looked like he had just gone through a tumble cycle in the clothes dryer.

“Did you even iron your shirt?” Eliza asked Anthony. “And watch your language. We're at school.”

Anthony rolled his eyes. “We’re still outside. And, as always, you're too naggy.”

“Give him a break, Eliza.” Alex grinned down at her. “You should be proud of him instead. He actually didn't come late to school. It’s worth celebrating.”

But Eliza wasn't listening to him anymore. She was staring down at Anthony's uniform again. “Tony, do you want me to iron your uniform?”

“Stop being naggy. And don’t call me Tony.”

“I'm not being naggy.”

“Then stop being nutty.”

“I’m not nuts,” Eliza exclaimed. “I just can't stand seeing you look so disheveled.”

“Just because you actually tried to make an effort today doesn’t mean I have to."

Eliza scowled at him. Then she slid her scowl to Alex.

“It's because you put up with this behavior that he's like this.”

His eyes going wide, Alex lifted his hands and took a step back. “I don't put up with his behavior,” he protested.

“As his friends—“

“His only friends,” he cut-in with a grin.

“—it’s our job to look after him and make sure he doesn't get into trouble,” Eliza continued, still scowling. “Or cause trouble. Am I right?”

“Um, wrong,” Anthony interjected. “I don’t have friends and I’m especially not friends with either one of you. I’m never going to be friends with an overly friendly jock and a nutty class president. And it's definitely not your job to look after me.”

“I’m not the class president,” Eliza denied.

“Yet.”

Alex winked at him. “Oh, come on, man. You know you love us.”

Scowling in disgust, Anthony pushed past them. “Stop being f*****g ridiculous.”

The two best friends grinned as they watched him leave.

“He totally loves us,” Alex murmured, sliding his hands deep into his pockets.

Eliza giggled. “Not if you keep irritating him.”

Shaking his head, he entered the school gates. Eliza kept glancing at the crowd as she followed closely behind him. A feeling of foreboding stole over him, making him feel uneasy. He didn’t know why he was feeling this way. Maybe he was turning paranoid because of the s**t that happened to them three months ago. Still, he wasn’t letting his guard this year. He wasn’t going to be a clueless, useless piece of garbage that he was last year.

Heaving a long sigh, Alex stared at the blue sky.

And he began to hope.

He hoped this year would be better than the last.

**********

Anthony Maxino wished he hadn’t come to school.

He wished he had just locked himself in his bedroom, even if his mother would try to get him out by banging incessantly on the door, and stayed at home all day or all week, even.

And he definitely wished he didn’t need to go to the toilet before checking which class he was going to be in this year. Then he wouldn’t have to encounter the two absurd best friends.

“Damn,” he heard Alex mutter as he walked up to the school bulletin where all the class lists were. “I’m not in the same class as you. I’m in Class C.”

“Really?” he heard Eliza’s disheartened reply next. “That’s… that’s too bad.”

There were too many people in front of the bulletin but Anthony was tall enough to see the class lists. He also stood quite near Eliza and Alex because he was overhearing their conversation.

“I’m going to talk to the teacher,” Alex said.

Eliza sounded horrified when she asked, “Why would you do that? We're not even under the same track.”

“I don’t want to be separated from you.”

“Alex, I’m going to be fine. Look,” Eliza pointed at the Grade 12 Class A list, “Anthony is in the same class as me.”

And he was. Anthony saw his name just as she pointed it out.

f**k.

“Woe is me,” he mumbled and the two bickering friends turned. “I get to have a nut job as class president.”

Eliza began to look irritated.

Especially when Alex said, “Yeah, good luck with that, man.”

“I’m not a nut job and I don’t want to be the class president,” she muttered.

The fierce frown on her face suggested hell if Alex dared to contradict her. So Anthony was surprised when the taller boy nodded furiously to appease her. But Anthony wasn’t on the same page as he was and didn’t feel obliged to keep the frown off her face.

“Yeah, good luck with convincing your moronic classmates that,” he pointed out to her. Though he never has been classmates with either one of them, stories still reached his ears about them.

Eliza gritted her teeth. “It’s Alex’s fault.”

Alex winced. “Why me?”

She glared up at him again. “You made me class president freshman year in junior high because you thought it would be funny. Now everyone wants me to be president every year.”

“This will be the first time we're in different classes,” Alex hurriedly changed the topic when he noticed the beginnings of a foul mood on his best friend’s face. “Fortunately, my classroom will be in the same floor as yours.”

Alex sent Anthony a quick look to keep his mouth shut. Anthony rolled his eyes in response. He noticed Eliza glumly looking at the class list. Then her eyes hit his and she looked decidedly cheerful. He easily guessed what she was thinking. And it didn’t make him happy.

“I know what you’re thinking, loopy loo,” he said with a displeased scowl. “And I don’t like it.”

Tilting her head to the side, she smiled widely at him. It only served to make his scowl deepened.

“I’m just glad I have you with me, Anthony,” she said with a flutter of her lashes.

“Stop trying too hard to be cute. It’s not working.”

“Take care of her, Anthony.” Alex patted his shoulder, hard, and Anthony being on the thinner side, winced in pain.

“I'm not her nanny,” he snapped, pushing Alex away. “She's 16. She can handle herself.”

Eliza was quick to agree. “He’s right. You worry too much, Alex. Stop fussing over me.”

“The same way you fuss over me?” Anthony scoffed.

“Just… just shut up, Anthony.”

Alex seemed like he would have kept grumbling and complaining but Eliza was looking so earnest now that he held his exasperation for her.

“I still don't like this,” he declared. “But knowing Anthony’s with you does make me feel better.”

Eliza’s smile indicated she was pleased with his evaluation. Anthony wasn’t and he was about to tell the pathetic pushover just that when the warning bell rang overhead.

The remaining students in the hallway began to disperse to their respective classrooms. Eliza checked the time on her wristwatch then straightened her shoulders.

“Let’s go,” she declared with false bravado, moving to the end of the hall where the stairs were.

Alex let out a long sighed before he followed her.

Anthony rolled his eyes, still wishing he hadn’t come to school at all.

Then he followed the two up the stairs with a single thought in mind.

This school year better not suck again.

**********

Philip Vidal liked to read school bulletins.

Maybe it was because he was the president of the school’s newspaper club. Maybe it was because of his inquisitive behavior. Or maybe it was because he liked to be updated on what was going on in their small but prestigious school so he could have the upper hand at mostly everything.

Whatever the reason was, this Grade 12 short statured boy from the ABM track was a useful person to have around. He knew that. He actually monetized on that. This well-known fact made him one of the student body’s least favorite people. But he didn’t care. He had always been a self-serving person. And no one would dare harm him. After all, he had dirt on mostly everyone in this school.

But what Philip didn’t know was that he was going to be in a position where he had no choice but to stay and obey. Or leave with great consequences.

Philip was reading the lists of the senior high students, memorizing them actually for future reference, when a low, deep voice spoke behind him.

“Is that them?”

He jumped, startled. He thought everyone had left the hallway for the stairs since the bell had rung. Then surprise turned into fear when he realized who owned the voice. He clutched at the straps of his backpack for dear life, quaking in his shoes. He dare not look around, terrified.

“Y-yeah,” he stammered. He pointed at the girl climbing the stairs who was being followed closely by two boys. “T-that's Eliza Rosa. And the guys behind her are Alex Fernandez and Anthony Maxino.”

“Eliza Rosa,” the voice repeated quietly, the rumbling anger apparent in his tone.

He swallowed. He almost pitied the three. 

Almost. 

Because he was more concerned with his self than their well-being.

How the heck did he get into this situation?

“I... I did what you said,” Philip ventured slowly in a shaky voice. “It's done.”

Silence.

Philip stood there for five minutes before working up the courage to turn around. His eyes widening, he started running for the stairs.

Because there was no one there.

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