A/N: This book is a spin-off/prequel to "Dear Stepbrother". Look out for special appearances and easter eggs for those who love Ryder & Kara's love story. Enjoy <3
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TEN YEARS AGO
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"You mess with her again, I will kill you!" Ryder growled as he slapped the side of the kid's head and the kid trembled in response. His two other friends cowered behind him.
Those three kids were the usual bullies that liked to steal Taya’s lunch, and Taya never even knew their names. There was the tall fat one, the short fat one, and the fat one with glasses, that was how Taya would refer to them.
"Now get outta here!" Ryder shouted again and the three kids scrambled away.
"I think you're too much, Ry. You're scaring them off," Taya said to Ryder, her older cousin, and they watched the three kids ran and fell on top of each other.
"That's the point. This is what you gotta do to bullies. You stand your ground, show them that you're not afraid. Show them that they're the ones who's gotta be afraid of you," Ryder explained.
Ryder was in the second grade while Taya was in the first grade. He felt compelled to help his cousin because he thought she was such a pushover.
"Why does anyone have to be afraid?” she asked innocently. “Why can't we all just be friends?"
Ryder gave her a look as if he pitied her. She was far too kind and too naïve. Those kids had been stealing her lunch for the past month and all she could think about was how to be their friend.
She used to come home and cry every day because of these bullies. They made fun of her eyes, made racist jokes, and took her lunch. Kids around her weren't so nice either. No one helped her. Instead, they made fun of her for being a crybaby. That made things even worse for poor little Taya. And that was when Ryder knew that he had to step in.
Shaking his head and letting out a sigh, Ryder pointed to an area just a few feet away and said, "I'm gonna be over there. I'll keep an eye on you,"
"You don't have to..." Taya started, but Ryder had already left.
Taya was grateful for her cousin's protection and care, but she was starting to feel uneasy about it all. One day she was just a normal first grader. She was part of the crowd. But suddenly, with the arrival of second-grader Ryder at the playground, she was feared by everyone.
Being inside Ryder's protection bubble felt safe, sure. But also it got very lonely.
Her one and only friend, Viviane had stopped being friends with her too, and she had no idea why. They used to play with their Barbie dolls every day until suddenly Viv got angry at her for something and she bit her doll's head off.
Today, like any other day, Taya was deadly bored, playing on her own. She let her eyes wander along the playground, trying to see if anyone would be interested in playing with her in this lonesome afternoon. But it was apparent that everyone's already got someone to play with.
She was about to give up on her search, when something suddenly caught her eye. Those three bullies were standing in a circle, and a small little boy was in the middle of it all. The bullies were laughing at him, calling him names. That did not sit well with Taya. So she packed her lunch, grabbed her things, and walked right over to the bullies.
"Are you guys bothering him?" she called out to them.
For once in her life, she stood up to her bullies. But she was only this brave because she knew that Ryder was somewhere in the back, watching.
"Uh, no," the fat one with glasses said.
The three bullies looked at each other knowingly before they pushed the little boy in the middle and he fell to the ground. Using the momentum, they made a dash out of there and ran for their lives.
"Stupid bullies," Taya commented as she bent down to help the little boy.
He was scrawny and small. His dark amber eyes looked terrified, and he didn't want to look at Taya in the eyes when she tried to talk to him.
"Hi," she said.
He just looked away.
"Are you okay?"
"No," he said coldly to her.
Judging by his body gesture, it didn't seem like the boy wanted Taya's company around. But she ignored it completely.
"Here, you can have some of my lunch," she made herself comfortable, sitting right next to him as she unpacked her lunch.
"What's your name?" she said again as she handed a rice ball over to him.
The kid just stared at the rice ball for the longest time. Perhaps he had never seen anything like it before.
"You're not alone, you know? Those bullies used to take my lunch too. But, just forget about them. There's more to this playground than fat annoying kids," Taya rambled on as she took a bite of her own lunch. The little boy found himself smiling a little, although he didn't mean to.
"It's gonna be okay. I'll be your friend. I'll protect you," she said again with her mouth full. She was trying to smile with that mouth full of rice, which was kind of funny to watch.
"Oh, you're bleeding," she gaped suddenly when she noticed that the boy had scraped his arm.
"Here, this should help for now," she raided her little backpack and took out a pink Hello Kitty Band-Aid.
The little boy cringed at the little pink thing, and he wanted to protest, but he couldn't bring himself to speak up. Meanwhile, clueless Taya had decided to put the little Band-Aid over the scar on his arm.
"There, all better," she said proudly.
The boy didn't know what to do or say. It seemed as if he was torn between the words 'thank you' and 'no, thank you'.
"Do you wanna play with me?" she said again after a while of silence.
The boy did not reply. He was extremely shy and awkward, as Taya might have noticed by now.
"Look, I got stickers," she said cheerfully as she took out her bright purple sticker album from her bag.
"I'm gonna be Cinderella, because she's a princess... ah wait, no, I'm gonna be Mulan today. She's a warrior. She's so cool. Here, you can pick one, what do you wanna be? Let's see... we have Toy Story... or Stitch? Oh, you don't really like them, do you? Don't worry, I have other ones too. I have animal ones. Here, you can be the lion. It's Simba, from The Lion King. I think it suits you,"
The girl talked and talked, as the boy listened and listened. It wasn't an ideal friendship for the both of them. He was far too quiet and unresponsive for her, and she was way too loud and chatty for him.
But they're all each other's got.
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Since then, day after day, these two would spend their afternoons together. She would share her lunch and he would share his friendship. He'd let her get away with everything, from tea parties to Barbie dolls, he'd let her do it all.
Other kids would tease him, of course, because he wasn't playing soccer or robot cars like the other boys. They'd call him a girl, gay, and every other name in the book. But he didn't care. Because they weren't his friends. And he only cared about his one friend's opinion.
"You shouldn't care about people calling you names, that's what my daddy says," she explained to him one time. "People can say whatever they want, but you know in your heart who you are and what's your truth,"
He nodded meekly, listening attentively to her.
"My daddy says that the truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself,"
The boy nodded his head again as he lifted his small teacup and pretended to drink.
"Don't forget, pinky's up," she reminded him and his little pinky went up in response.
She had a proud smile on her face, and he smiled a little too. He realized that his tea-party-loving friend was a very wise girl and that she was completely right.
For the longest time, he had been a scared little boy. He was ashamed of who he was, and he never got the approval from other people that his heart so longed for. But all that changed now, with the arrival of a girl with pink Band-Aids and Disney stickers.
Every time she stared into his eyes, he found his heart beating so fast like it was about to jump out of his chest. And one time, he finally had the courage to look her back in the eye. There was a glint in her eyes. It was mesmerizing to watch. She had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. And he promised himself he would tell her that someday.
He realized that he never said more than one word to her throughout their friendship. But it seemed as if words didn't even matter, because despite all that, she still knew him best.
"I will talk to her, tomorrow," he thought to himself.
For the first time, he was hopeful. He was brave. Because finally, he found someone in his life that believed in him.
It was a belief so real and so true, adults wouldn't have a clue.
To Be Continued.
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