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3: ELEVEN YEARS LATER

Third Person's Point Of View

11 years later... 

Andie's eyes fluttered open for the nth time in the morning, as he stared at the ceiling of his room. How funny that he felt exhausted even though he had just awoken minutes ago. And though his mind was occupied by confusing things, a smile broke out from his face when he remembered one thing.

After minutes of laying on his bed, Andie finally decided to get up, as he immediately picked his phone up. His brown eyes bulged at the sight of the time, telling that he laid for too long and now he'll surely be late. Andie's heart hammered inside of his ribcage, as he hurried up to move. “I'm gonna be late…”

Rushing, he picked his towel near the dresser before immediately walking towards the bathroom that was located downstairs. He didn't even mind making his bed like he always does due to the lack of time. He hurried his way out to his room, as his Mother with folded clothes on her hands welcomed his sleepy eyes

“Oh, Son? Where are you—” Anastasia hadn't even finished her sentence when Andie ran passed to her, towards the bathroom. He immediately stripped his clothes off when he made sure that he locked the door before immediately taking a shower. He didn't mind the coldness of the water anymore, as it washed away his drowsiness.

When everything was settled, Andie went down and passed to their living room until he made it out of their tiny house. He doesn't know how many minutes he still has, but that doesn't bother him. What bothers him was his professor's definitely going to scold him, though he knows it was his fault.

11 years passed, and almost everything around Andie seemed to change. They sure do. The growth and changes did not seem to appear in Andie's appearance. He stayed clumsy, short, jolly and he became more secretive to the world. Everything seemed to change, but one thing stayed. It's not him being poor, but it's him, having his best friend on his side.

They're now stepping on senior high, which is two steps ahead before their college life. The two became more comfortable with each other and they became inseparable through the years. And because of that, they chose to have the same strand. Their bonds became strong, as the two unknowingly created a string. A string that was tied around their wrists.

The course they chose was called HRM where a strand called TVL, also known as Technical-Vocational-Livelihood. There, students will learn how to work, not just cooking, but also managing a household. And most of the part of their decision was made by Andie himself. Best friends things, eh?

After meters of walking, Andie stopped on a street to gasp for air and to regain his strength. He swept all the sweat that formed in his forehead, thinking that he doesn't want to go to school with dirt in his face. “I'm almost there, pheew.” Cheered Andie to himself. He was about to take another step, but his stomach suddenly growled.

“Aish, I remember I haven't eaten anything yet.” Sighed Andie while patting his growling tummy.

To Andie's luck, he saw a street food chain on the corner of the street, selling different varieties of street food. He sure knows that he's already late and he would be very late if he decides to buy some, but he couldn't do anything because his stomach was yearning for food. 'Aish, I'd be dead when I get there.' He thinks.

Andie fished his tiny wallet and picked up some money before carefully handing it to the vendor. “Ten pieces of Fishballs, please. '' Said Andie, and the vendor was fast to hand him a plastic cup. The hungry latter did not waste any time and he immediately scooped the right count of Fishballs. There, he poured some sauce in it, without knowing it was spicy.

After that, he immediately makes his way down the street, leaving the vendor shouting. “Hey, you forgot your change, kid!” 

The spicy sauce immediately burned his mouth once the Fish Balls dipped in his tongue, but he didn't stop hurrying on the street. But it seems like the spice doubled up, as tears started forming in his eyes, with his face heating up. That time he regretted not reading the label of that freaking sauce.

“Fudge. Why is it so spicy?!” Hissed Andie in trance, as he threw the cup along with the Fish Balls away. He knows how he can't take spicy foods, and now he can't do anything but to keep on hurrying towards their school.

He was about to step inside the huge gates of the school when a security guard stopped him. There, Andie felt nervous at the sudden, though he knows he didn't do anything that's against the school policy. Well, except for always being late. He then checked his ID, but his forehead creased when he saw it on his neck. 'what's his problem?' He asks mentally.

The security guard stared right into his face, before scoffing at the kid. “Hey, kid. Take that off of your face right now. I won't let you in if you don't take that off, and take that lip tint off of your lips. You're at school.” Said the guard, making Andie confused.

And there, he saw what the guard was telling him when the guard gave him a tiny mirror. It was because of how red his face was, and how red his lips were.

“B-but, sir. I'm not wearing anything! It's because of that food! The food was spicy!—Please, sir. Let me in 'cause I'm very late now.” Explained Andie, almost begging at the security guard.

But the guard did not buy his excuse, “You teachers will also scold you if they see you with those. Take that off now!”

And there, Andie forcefully swept his lips with a scowl in his face, as he mentally blamed the spicy food that caused those. Andie took a deep breath before he let it out with carefulness. And after minutes of waiting, he looked at the mirror and saw that his face was now on its normal color.

He mentally thanked the Gods that the guard finally let him in, as he started running towards their building, not caring if he trips anymore. Some just glared at him, but he couldn't care less anymore. “Shit, I'm so late now!” Cursed Andie to the air.

And there, he reached their classroom, and that's where his heart started hammering inside of his ribcage, as he grew nervous. He took a deep breath before he knocked on the door. He could hear the professor discussing, as he knocked again. Silence dropped, and the door opened, revealing a fuming teacher in front.

He felt embarrassed, as the eyes from the class stared straight to him. He just wanted to get swallowed by the ground at embarrassment. The professor looked at him with an angry expression, making him gulp the lump on his throat. Some students at the back started whispering to each other, but there was a pair of worried eyes, looking at him. Jaden.

The professor motioned him to proceed. “Go inside, I don't have much time.” Said the professor.

Unsure, Andie walked inside, as he immediately walked towards his seat. He put his backpack down, but he remained standing while ducking his head in embarrassment. The professor before him crossed his arms while looking intently at the kid.

“Mr. Francisco... May I know your reason for today?—Wait, I might as well ask why you're always late. Especially in my subject? Huh?” Asked the professor, seriously, making the student nervous on his spot.

And there, Jaden noticed the nervousness in his best friend's face. He reached Andie's hand before giving it a light squeeze. If only he could, he would help his best friend, but there's no reason to 'cause it's true. He's always late.

“I-I woke up late, Sir. I'm very sorry.” Explained Andie while looking at his feet. He couldn't afford to look in the professor's eyes. The middle aged man before him nodded slowly before he paced towards his desk. 

“And we all know that your reason is unacceptable, Mr. Francisco, right?” Said the professor while looking at him. “That's always your reason. Nothing new!” He shouted, making the poor student flinch.

“I-I'm very sorry, Sir. I promise it won't happen again.” He said. He then let out the breath that he didn't not know he was holding.

The professor couldn't help but shake his head in disbelief, but he nodded in agreement. “Make sure that you will, Mr. Francisco. You're not only my student, Mr. Francisco. Look, we wasted a lot of time. You can't just go there and disturb our class, can you? I could've discussed more if you were early." Explained the professor.

“Remember that you guys are not kids anymore. You're not a kid who we should scold for being late anymore. Next time, wake up earlier. Be responsible, Mr. Francisco.” He lectured, as Andie nodded silently. “Are we clear now, Mr. Francisco?”

Andie was fast to nod and agree. “Yes, Sir.” He said.

“You can take your seat now.” After that, he immediately sat beside Jaden. He noticed that Jaden was still holding his hand, making him smile thinly.

He mentally thanked the professor that he didn't do worse, like the last time he threatened Andie's grades. Jaden on the other hand looked at Andie, worriedly, as he decided to ask him.

“Hey, shorty.” He started, making the male glare at him before he spat his hands away. “Jeez, calm down. I'm just worried. Why are you always late, huh? I wanna know.” Rambled Jaden, as he looked at his best friend who started jotting down some notes.

“I just said that I woke up late. Don't worry, I'm all fine.” Muttered Andie, making his best friend nod.

“Really? Why did you wake up that late? I told you to just go with me. I can fetch you every morning. You're so stubborn. I don't know that short people are stubborn.” Rambled Jaden, earning an elbow to his side.

Andie rolled his eyes. “No thanks, Jaden. As much as I want to take that offer, I don't want to add my weight on your bike. Remember when you forced me to stroll with you? We ended up rolling on the grass. And how could you insult my height? I'm not short, you're just taller than me.” Jaden cracked up, but he covered his mouth, not wanting the professor to notice them.

He then throws a serious look at the male, “But, Andie. I'm just concerned—” Andie was fast to shut his best friend's mouth, annoyed. He doesn't have time to talk, and they're in the middle of a discussion. Besides, his body was too exhausted.

“Jaden, listen. We will talk about this later, okay? Don't bother me, just for now. I know you're concerned, okay? But let's just listen to the professor first. Gosh, you never changed.” Sighed Andie in disbelief. But there's a pinch of happiness in the pit of his stomach that he did not change through the years.

And until the class ended, Jaden didn't have the chance to know what happened to his best friend. Though he tried asking him every minute, Andie would always shrug him off. Hell, he did not even care if the professor saw them. And also when their break time, he tried treating him lunch and asked him, but got nothing as response.

And there, he decided to just let it slide, again. He knows that Andie will tell him everything someday.

The sky has begun to change its color, and the shadow of the trees have appeared on the street. And under those shadows, Jaden and Andie were walking slowly. Andie, appreciating the scenery, and Jaden, staring at the busy street with his bicycle on his side. 

They didn't care about the kids, busy running and chasing their friends, while the gossipers, consisting of ugly old ladies filled some corners with their whispers. The two appreciated the cool breeze, not giving a fuss on everyone around them.

“Hey, Andie. What's your score in General Mathematics?” Asked Jaden, trying to start a conversation.

Andie nipped on his lower lip before answering his best friend. “9 over 10, maybe? You?” answered Blake.

“10 over 10.” Muttered Jaden, hiding a smirk in his lips.

“You? You got 10? Really? Are you on drugs?” Asked Andie, randomly, making his best friend look at him in amusement. “You got higher than me? I can't believe what I'm hearing right now.” Said Andie, dramatically, as Jaden bursted out laughing, thinking of what he had done that time.

“Well, I saw your answer earlier, but I noticed that your sign was wrong so I changed it. Just admit that I'm now smarter than you.” Said Jaden with pride, effortlessly teasing his best friend. He couldn't help but snicker at the look in Andie's face, which he earned with a slap on his calloused arms.

“Whatever! I won't let you peep on my answers anymore! Freaking butthead!” Said Andie, laced with anoyment before he walked faster than earlier. He did not expect Jaden's hand to grip on his arms, making him hissed and stop in trance.

Jaden on the other hand was surprised when he saw a bruise on the spot that he touched, as he became worried again.

“What's this?” Asked Jaden. He didn't mean to change his voice into his serious tone, making his best friend gulp. “Why do you have a bruise, Andie? You better tell me right now, Andie.” He asked, voice full with authority.

Andie on the other hand hissed in pain, as the grip on his arms tightened. “U-uh, it's n-nothing—”

“Andie Francisco?! Tell me it's nothing again and I won't talk to you anymore! Just tell me what's going on! I'm here for a reason!” Jaden didn't mean to shout, but he didn't know what to do anymore, but to ask him seriously. A bruise is not a joke.

Andie gulped in trance, he didn't expect that Jaden would see it. “It's really nothing, Jaden! I promise! It's probably because of my blanket. I noticed that it was coiled around my arms and didn't take it out immediately.” Explained Andie to the male, as he tried to hide the hurt in his face.

Jaden's face softened when he saw the expression in his face before he noticed that he had been gripping so hard on his arms, making him let go quickly. Though he knows inside, his best friend was lying.

The two continued to walk in uncomfortable silence until they reached the corner of a street, which usually separated their ways towards their houses. The two shared a look before waving at each other. One thing that became their thing, was no one will be allowed to go when they're still arguing about something.

Andie was about to turn around when he heard the latter shouted. 

“I want you there later, Andie! Don't make me wait for too long!” Shouted Jaden with a wave of his hand, making the latter nod in agreement. 

Andie knows where it is. Under the Mango tree. Their spot. It became their spot since they were just young kids. Andie couldn't help but smile before a sigh escaped from his lips. ‘I'm so lucky.’ He thinks, mentally.

It did not take awhile for that spot to be occupied. Jaden was the one to come first, using his bicycle. That's always their settings, especially when they wanted to talk about something. Jaden knows that his best friend loves trees, grasses and the breeze. Besides, he found it calming too.

Jaden's eyes wandered up on the now orangey sky. He could tell that he came at the right time. It's the usual time that they chose because of its calming view. The view where darkness would start to fight for dominance. After some time, he was able to see the small frame of his best friend, walking towards him.

He was wearing a grey sweatshirt, paired with gray sweatpants. He couldn't find an excuse not to call him short because everyone could tell that he's really short. It complemented his innocent features. Smiling, Jaden waved his hands to his best friend.

“You're late, Mr. Francisco!” Said Jaden, mimicking their grumpy professor. Andie on the other hand laid on the grass, causing his eyes to close at the fluffiness of the grasses.

“Sorry, I had to buy some things for Mama.” Said Andie, apologetically, though he knows that Jaden was just messing around. “Pheeew… Finally, this day ended well. I'm so exhausted.” Sighed Andie.

Jaden nodded in trance. “Yeah, me too. I'm already excited for the school break.” Agreed Jaden.

“Vacation? Silly, we still have a long way to go before the school break. Don't be a lazy ass. Aish! I really won't let you copy my answers again.” Said Andie, threatening his best friend. Jaden just laughed at him because he knows he can't say no to him.

“Anyways, are you dine with the research? I haven't picked any related topic for mine. It's really frustrating.” Said Jaden, whining at his friend while picking up some scattered leaves.

“I'll help you, don't worry.” Mumbled Andie, making his best friend's eyes widen in surprise.

Jaden knows that Andie was limiting him from copying everything because he wants him to learn. He knows his best friend's doing the right thing.

Suddenly, silence started to take place between the two, as they savored the calming breeze. The only noises that can be heard were the sound that the leaves are creating, along with the swooshing sound of the wind. Andie knows that Jaden wasn't used to this kind of silence, and he was already expecting for him to break the silence. And Jaden did.

“Hey, Andie. My birthday's coming soon. What do you want to do?” Asked Jaden. Tell him he's being Ridiculous, but it's just the way he used to. He always celebrates his birthday with him. So why would he be weirded out when it became normal for them?

“Oh, yeah! I almost forgot about your birthday.” Said Andie, as he facepalmed. If it wasn't because of Jaden, he really would've forgotten about that. “You? it's your birthday, after all. You decide.” He muttered.

“I don't really know what to do. I don't have any Idea in my mind.” Answered Jaden. “How about we eat outside?” Said Jaden, suggesting.

Andie on the other hand shrugged his shoulders. “Up to you. I'm in, as always.” Said Andie. He beamed a reassuring smile to his best friend while thinking about a present for him. 

Jaden stared at his best friend, as the male closed his eyes before smiling in trance. Jaden watched, as his chest heaved up and down. He didn't know why he found calmness in watching his midget best friend. 'Midget' Jaden chuckled at the thought.

To be continued…

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