Chapter 1: Puppy Honey Is A Go!
It was a miracle that the dean was allowing "Puppy Honey" to continue for another year. Porshe couldn't be happier and he was more motivated than ever to keep the club going strong. Just because the dean had given them the green light to continue their activities didn't mean that they no longer faced the threat of the club closing down.
"Emma." Rome waved his best friend over and motioned for her to take a seat next to him before handing her the camera. "Can you help me pick out the photos for the recruitment drive?"
"Sure." They pored over the shots and finally decided on ten different ones.
Emma scooted her chair closer to Rome with a meaningful expression on her face, "You've been hanging out a lot with P'Pick lately. Did something else happen after..." The brown-haired girl looked around furtively. "...you know."
The only person that Rome had divulged to about the kiss was Emma. He had made her swear not to tell a single soul about it, not even Porshe. Pick would maim him alive if word of it got out.
"Now that my best friend's got a boyfriend...do I look like I have a choice?" Rome feigned an upset sigh. He shifted his gaze to where Pick was blatantly flirting with the newest addition to their club – a first year freshman from the law faculty. "I don't think it meant anything to him, Emma."
Pick refused to discuss the kiss and Rome didn't want to upset the delicate friendship that they had forged. Rome couldn't exactly blame the senior since he was the one who had kissed the other out of the blue. What was he expecting anyway? For Pick to reciprocate his feelings?
"I should go and get the photos printed." Rome pushed his chair back and stood up. "Don't you have to go and feed Tooey?" He asked, referring to the club's dog (pretty much Emma's other best friend now).
Emma was out of her seat within seconds and shouted a thanks over her shoulder at her best friend. Rome slung his camera around his neck and walked past Pick, pointedly ignoring the other since he was so busy chatting someone up.
What he didn't notice was how Pick stared at his retreating back until Rome disappeared from view.
It was getting pretty late when Rome returned with the printed and laminated photos, handing them to a grateful Porshe. The recruitment drive was important this year with the number of members in their club diminishing.
"Thanks a lot, Rome. I really appreciate your help." Porshe said earnestly, more than pleased with the junior's work. "Do you need a ride home? If I remember correctly...you live a couple of blocks away from Emma, right?"
"It's okay, P'. I'll take the bus home."
Sitting in a car with a couple? Nope, he'll avoid that for now, thank you very much. Pick's messenger bag was on the table, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Emma stopped at the table, "Are you going home with P'Pick? Sure you don't want a ride home?"
"And act like a third wheel? No thanks."His answer earned him a playful smack on the shoulder.
They exchanged goodbyes and just as Rome was about to leave a few minutes later, Pick entered with a stack of freshly printed flyers in his hands.
"Porshe left already? Damn that bastard...I got all these printed for nothing." Pick complained under his breath as he placed the flyers in the filing cabinet. "Are you going back already?"
"Yes, P'." Rome slung his bag over his shoulder. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Wait!" Pick called out. "Do you want a ride home?"
On any other day, Rome would have jumped at the chance. Not today. If he had to be honest, his heart was still smarting from seeing Pick flirt with someone else. Also, he wasn't in the mood for any conversations whatsoever.
"It's fine. I'm taking the bus back today. It's past peak hour so I don't think it's crowded."
Pick sidestepped and blocked the way to the door before the junior could leave, "What's wrong? You've been looking so fucking constipated all day.
"I'm just tired, P'."
Mentally tired from the feelings that I have for you.
"Rome.P'Pick." Din's eye contact with Pick lasted less than five seconds (he knew the senior still didn't like him after what he did). He lifted up his spare motorcycle helmet, "Are you in a rush? I need some help picking out some new stuff for my camera. Think you can help me out? I'll give you a lift back after that."
Rome looked at this watch. He was tired, yes, but he wasn't in a rush. And hanging out with Din didn't seem like a bad idea. Their interest in photography had forged a friendship between them, and Din had helped Rome out a couple of times in the darkroom as well with his mini projects.
"Sure, I'll help you out, P'."
Pick was dumbfounded. Perhaps a little pissed. Make that very pissed. Confused too. Rome had turned him down, but then accepted all-too willingly when Din offered him a lift back?! When had they even become friends anyway?!
Why are you so annoyed anyway, an amused voice in his head asked.
"I'm not annoyed!"
Great, now he was talking to himself. It was all that kiss's fault. All these years, Pick had identified himself as straight. What was there not to like about girls? Curves, luscious wavy hair, pretty smiles, plush pink lips.
Until Pick discovered that Rome had all of those listed above too (minus the long hair). That had completely thrown him off balance. Including the brief kiss they had shared a couple of weeks ago. Pick's been trying his best not to think about how it had felt like at that point of time...but it's not really working out in his favor.
"Damn it." Pick muttered irritably, banging the heel of his palm against the steering wheel.
Damn it all to hell.
Rome stapled the flyer to the board and added a couple more just in case. Emma and he had offered to help Porshe in putting up and giving out the flyers around the different faculties.
"Sorry." Rome turned around when he felt a tap on the shoulder. "Mind if I get one from you?"
"Sure!" Rome handed the male a copy of the flyer and the other thanked him with a polite smile before walking away.
Emma still wasn't back yet when Rome returned to the clubroom an hour later. Porshe was on the phone with one of the club's sponsors and Pick was busy going creating the list of stuff that they would need for their upcoming visit to the pet shelter.
"P'Pick, do you know who left this here?"
There was a bottle of chilled lemon tea on his desk. Not just any brand, but his favourite. Only a few people knew that Rome favoured this brand over the rest.
"How the hell would I know?" Pick answered without even lifting his gaze up from the list he was creating.
Rome sat down and looked around the room, still wondering about the person who had left the drink for him. It couldn't be Emma since she still wasn't back yet. Porshe had no reason to buy him a drink. Weird.
"Rome!" Din startled him with the cheerful greeting. "Thanks for helping me pick out the stuff for my camera yesterday. It's not much, but I bought you a drink. I saw you going round putting up the flyers." Din took out a bottle of jasmine green tea from the plastic bag he was holding. "Take this."
Pick's ears rang in irritation at Din's voice. He didn't like this kid, not after what he did had nearly ruined his best friend's relationship with Emma. Now he was trying to act all chummy with Rome?
"Rome doesn't like green tea." Pick interrupted rudely.
Din's expression faltered, "Ah...I didn't know that. Sorry, Rome."
"It's fine, P'Din!" The junior took the bottle anyway. "Thanks for the drink!" It'd be rude of him not to accept it just because he didn't like it.
Someone called Din over to help unload the pet food and he excused himself. Pick plucked the bottle of green tea out of Rome's grip and slid the lemon tea towards the other instead.
"I want this." He uncapped the green tea bottle. "You should drink that since someone went to all the trouble to buy it for you."
"But I don't even know who bought that for me. It might not even be mine, P'Pick."
Pick kept the bottle out of the junior's reach, "You hate green tea. Why do you even want to drink this? Just because Din bought it for you?"
Rome gave up and childishly pulled a face at the senior. He twisted the cap off and wrapped his lips around the rim of the bottle, not noticing how intently Pick was gazing at him.
"Aren't you going to offer me some?"
"You already took my green tea,P'Pick. Now my lemon tea too? Besides, you hate drinking from the same bottle as someone else." Rome pointed out.
Pick gripped the back of the younger male's chair to pull him in closer, one hand already reaching out for the bottle. Rome twisted to the side with a laugh as he tried out hold it out of reach.
"Shouldn't the person who bought this drink be entitled to at least one sip?!"
"You bought this, P'Pick?"
Pick intently flipped through the pages of his list and grunted, "It's just a drink. There's no need to act so surprised."
Of course he would be. Without Rome saying anything or pointing it out, Pick had actually noticed that the junior only drank a specific brand of bottled iced lemon tea. Sure, it wasn't a huge deal or anything, but he'd take what he could get for now. Rome took another sip of the drink to hide the smile that was threatening to stretch his lips.
Chapter 2: A Little Bit Of Suffering
"You've been hanging out a lot with him lately."
(Great, Pick. Could you sound anymore jealous?)
Who's up for more Pick suffering? Me me...and me.Don't worry, I won't make him suffer...too much.
The next few days was a whirlwind of activity for 'Puppy Honey'. Application forms for new members were starting to come in and along with the preparations for the upcoming fundraising event, the small group that had remained in the club were taking on double roles. Emma and Rome found themselves rushing down to the clubroom at least four times a week instead of the usual too. Even Pick was starting to pull his weight as vice president of the club by helping Porshe with the errands and taking charge of the members.
''Rome, can you do me a favor please?'' Porshe looked at the junior beseechingly. ''Pick and I need to meet the professor for a project meeting...and I completely forgot that I scheduled some interviews today. Can you help me? Please?''
The junior readily accepted and Porshe handed him a thin stack of application forms, profusely thanking Rome. Pick and he were out of the door in seconds after that. While waiting for the interviewees to turn up, Rome and Emma worked on the club's budgeting. Aside from the budget that the dean had accorded to them, most of them were contributing whatever they could to the club fund as well and surprisingly, they were faring pretty well in terms of funds this semester.
''Uh...hi, is this Puppy Honey?''
The first few interviews, in Rome's opinion, was a total and utter failure. The freshmen either had the wrong idea about the club or decided that it wasn't what they wanted to do after hearing the explanation about the club. Exasperating would be the exact word to describe it.
''Is there still a lot to go?'' Emma asked as she started to prep Tooey for their usual evening walk around the campus.
Rome rifled through the application forms, ''Nope. Two to three left.'' He rubbed his face tiredly. ''Now I know how P'Porshe feels. He must have felt frustrated when he tried to recruit us into the club.''
Emma gently secured the tan leash around Tooey's neck, cooing at the dog when he yipped as if to say that he was ready to go. ''Hang in there. I'll get you something to eat on the way back.''
Tooey rubbed himself against Rome's ankle as if to wish him luck as well before trotting off next to Emma. Rome was distractedly going through his own assignment guide on the laptop when the door swung open and someone stepped in, glancing around the room uncertainly.
''Hey.'' The stranger smiled when he spotted sight of Rome. ''Is this...Clubroom 403? The last two digits outside are kind of faded...''
Rome laughed and motioned for the other to enter, ''Sorry about that. We keep forgetting to replace the sign.'' He gestured to the empty seat opposite his. ''Are you here for the interview?''
Judging a book by its cover was something that he shouldn't do, but Rome couldn't help but to think that this guy didn't seem like the type of person to be interested in joining a club like theirs. Rome flipped through the application forms and picked it out when he finally found the photo that matched the stranger in front of him. The male pulled the chair out and sat down, and even seated, he was still taller than Rome. Some people are just so lucky.
''You look pretty young to be the president of the club.'' The male remarked in a friendly tone.
Rome emitted a sheepish laugh and fidgeted in his seat, ''Err...I'm not the president. I'm just a club member filling in for P'Porshe. He had to step out for a project meeting.'' Politely, Rome placed his palms together as a greeting. ''I'm Rome.''
Rome briefly scanned through the first page of the form and noted that Nai was a Year 4 student majoring in Political Science. That was weird since it was usually first years who applied to join the club.
''P'Nai...you're a Year 4 student. Not to sound rude or anything...but isn't it weird to just join a club now? Were you a part of any club before, P'?''
''Ah yeah...I should really explain.'' Nai folded his arms on the table. ''I've been in Track & Field ever since I was a freshman, but I dropped out of the club a couple of weeks ago. Personal reasons. Now...I need a new club to join since it'll affect my overall grades. Er, you don't remember me, do you? I was the one who asked you for the flyer that time. Outside the Social Sciences faculty?''
Rome thought hard and when it finally hit him, he snapped his fingers, ''Ah! I remember now! But P', isn't the switch from Track & Field to a club like ours a bit extreme? We're not really well-known and there's a possibility that the dean might ask us to close down.'' Best to be honest rather than candy coat the fact that their club were still in the midst of picking itself up. ''Our focus is more towards the unfortunate pets. Those in pet shelters, adoption centres and our focus is to educate the public about these animals.''
Nai listened intently to the explanation, ''If it helps, I used to volunteer at a pet shelter back in high school. And I have two stray cats which are my pets now-''
Rome excitedly leaned forward at the mention of felines, ''You like cats too? I've always wanted to keep one, but my name is allergic to them. Our club has a dog, Tooey, but he's out for a walk now. Sushi's at the vet for her usual monthly checkup.''
''It's the club's cat! Don't ask me why it's named Sushi, P'. P'Porshe was the one who named him.''
They discussed a little more about the objectives of the club and what meetings usually consisted of and after listening to Nai, Rome decided that the senior would be a great addition to the team. His passion for animals reminded the junior of Porshe. Anyone who adored pets that much would surely be an asset to their team.
''I'll pass your application to P'Porshe to look through first since it's not really up to me to decide. Thanks for coming down for the interview, P'Nai.''
They exchanged goodbyes and Nai left. Rome interviewed the last three candidates and by the time he was done, he was tired from explaining the same content over and over again. Din wandered over after the interviewees left and plopped himself down into the seat that Pick usually occupied, shooting his friend a sympathetic look.
''How did it go?''
''I think I should just tape myself and play it back instead of repeating myself for each interview.'' Rome's complaint earned him a laugh from the senior. ''I think I've probably memorized it enough to even dream about it tonight.''
Din was a fun person to hang out with as a friend. He was nice to everyone in the club and also a natural jokester which really livened things up. He was older than Rome by a year, but always insisted that the junior shouldn't act so formal around him. Din had Rome in stitches from laughing over a joke when Pick and Porshe entered.
Pick dropped his bag onto the table, "That's my seat." He pointed to the chair that Din was occupying.
Din gestured to the other chairs, "There's a lot of other empty seats there, P'Pick. Besides, this doesn't have your name on it."
"That's my seat." Pick repeated slowly. "I want to sit there. Now, are you going to move your ass or do I have to make you?"
For Rome, he thought that Pick was being a prick (no pun intended,really) to Din because of what the male had done. If it wasn't for their intervention, Emma and Porshe wouldn't have got back together. Little did he know that Pick couldn't explain the irritation that surfaced at seeing Din with Rome.
"P'Porshe." Rome passed the application forms to the other. "I've written down my comments for each interviewee. Um, there's two that particularly left a good impression. I hope you'll consider them."
"You're a lifesaver, Rome. Really. I owe you one."
Pick reclaimed his chair with an air of smugness. He found an unused piece of paper and with a red marker, he scrawled his name in capital letters before taping it on the back of his chair. Let's see if anyone will try to sit next to Rome after this. Hah.
From that day on, no one else dared to occupy Pick's usual seat, especially any seat next to Rome. It was like an unspoken rule that any seat next to Rome would be Pick's. None of the members dared to pick on the younger male either. The last time someone had tried to bully Rome into doing some extra work, Pick had called him out and gave him a stern talking to.
For someone who insisted that he had no personal feelings whatsoever towards Rome, Pick sure spent a lot of with the other. Porshe and Emma definitely noticed that. They were aware of Rome's affection towards the older male, but it was clear enough that Pick wasn't being completely honest with himself.
"Rome. Can I ask you something?" Din asked.
Both of them had been working on one of the rough sketches for the posters to be used for the fundraising event when Rome's stomach had grumbled loudly in protest, which led to then Din asking the other if he wanted to head down to the mart near the building.
"Sure, P'. What is it?"
Rome took a careful bite of his matcha ice cream cone (Din's treat), looking expectantly at the older male.
"Are you..." Din hesitated briefly. "...and P'Pick together?"
"No." Rome managed to answer, genuinely curious by the question. "What makes you think that we are?"
"He's very protective of you." Din pointed out. "And he takes care of you too. If you've noticed, he doesn't give a shit about the other juniors. You're the only one he pays proper attention to."
"Are you sure we're talking about the same person here, P'Din? Because...I don't think we are."
Both of them chuckled, "I think he especially doesn't like me. But I guess it's because of what I did the last time." Din sighed regretfully, looking genuinely chastised. "That was stupid of me."
"It's all in the past, P'. Besides, you did apologize. And if it makes you feel better, I think what happened doesn't define you as a person. You're a great senior to us. What's important is that you've learned from your mistake."
Din smiled warmly at Rome, the weight off his shoulders dissipating at those words.
Pick was resting at the seating area outside the clubroom, wanting to get some fresh air since he was getting tired of being cooped up inside.
"Okay, guess this is where we part ways." Din muttered to Rome when Pick caught sight of them. "I'll see you inside." He greeted Pick with a quick wai and hurried inside.
Rome sat down next to Pick, completely oblivious to the older male's mood, "Ice-cream?"
"Did he buy it for you?" Rome nodded his head. "Then I don't want it."
Rome shrugged his shoulders, "Okay. But I bought this for you." He held up the plastic bag. "I guess you don't want this chocolate pudding then, P'."
He placed the bag on the older male's lap and leaned back against the chair, happily swinging his feet while he worked on finishing his ice-cream.
"You've been hanging out a lot with him lately."
Great, Pick. Could you sound anymore jealous?
"We're majoring in the same course...so it's a given that I see him everyday. And we're in the same club too." Pick was really stating the obvious. "I hang out with you everyday too, P'."
Pick pulled open the lid of the pudding and stuck his poon into the wobbly-like dessert, "Whatever. Not like I care who you hang out with."
Rome wanted to call Pick out on how contradicting he was being, but the other would just deny it anyway.
"I like hanging out with you the most, P'Pick." Rome said quietly after a stretch of silence.
Pick coughed around a mouthful of pudding,"Don't say embarassing shit like that, Rome. Geez, someone might get the wrong idea about us."
Rome regarded the older male with a serious expression, a hint of hurt laced in his tone, "What's so embarrassing about that? You can be unsure of your feelings all you want, but I'm sure about mine, P'." The younger male stood up and curtly said, "I'm going in first."
You just had to say that, didn't you, Pick?
Pick wanted to call out to Rome...but what could he say? He was left with a sour taste in his mouth and the pudding which he usually found sweet didn't even taste that delicious to him at that moment.
Fuck, this is really giving me a headache.
Chapter 3: What Is It About You?
Pick does a little thinking on his part and Rome makes a difficult decision.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The question here was:
What was it exactly about Rome that attracted men to him?
Was it his petite frame? Rome didn't seem to mind it when people referred to his looks as "pretty" or "delicate", even thanking them for the compliment. To add on, Pick has noticed on more than few occasions that the junior attracted a lot of attention when it came to guys. Even in the club, most of them would rush to help Rome whenever it came to the heavy-lifting work. Anyone could see that Rome was doted on in the club, even by the older female members.
You're one of them too, his inner voice supplied unhelpfully (sounding all too smug).
Was it because of Rome's easygoing personality? If it was, Pick could see why the junior seemed to have a ton of male friends. He was bubbly and easygoing, not to mention naturally cute-
Whoa, whoa. Stop there, Pick. You're getting carried away here.
Pick didn't find other guys adorable even if they were petite and pink-cheeked like Rome. If anything, he mostly found them meh. Lately, even those girls that he usually found cute seemed kind of...plain in his eyes.
Fuck, just what is it that I want?
Track & Field had been one of Nai's passion ever since middle school. He's great at running and he likes doing it, which was probably why he had excelled in it. Which led to the question: Why quit Track & Field after three years of being on the university's team?
The answer was simple. Nai had lost interest in it all of a sudden. He still enjoyed running (during his own personal time), but found that being competitive took out all the fun. The burden and the pressure that weighed on each shoulder during each competition had started to stress him out and before Nai knew it, he was starting to get sick of it.
"I still can't believe you quit track & field. Quit. Just before the heats too!" Zee complained for the nth time as he laced his running shoes.
Nai gazed out at the tracks where the team was getting ready to practice. He felt nothing. No sadness. No longing to get back on the track.
"You totally deserted me. Coach's pissed and he's taking it out on all of us."
"Oi,Zee. Are you still bitching about that?" His friend groaned when he heard the coach blow into the whistle. "You'd better go before he makes you run extra laps."
Nai had been surprised when Porshe had called him up to inform that he had been accepted into the club. It was a bit too late to switch clubs since he was already in his fourth year. Most of the clubs that had interviewed him wanted only freshmen. Nai was
grateful that "Puppy Honey" was willing to take him in.
He was about to reach the clubroom when the door burst open and a hamster came scurrying out as quickly as his little legs could carry him.
"Damn it, Din! I told you to feed him, not let him loose!"
Two boys ran after the hamster just as someone inside yelled, "Sushi, no!" A grey cat came hurtling out but before he could get far, someone quickly dove forward and picked it up. "Gotcha!"
It was Rome. The cat instantly relaxed in his hold and purred happily as it flicked its tail back and forth.
"Is a runaway hamster an everyday thing or...?"
Rome laughed at Nai's question, "Depends. I swear the hamster spends its time plotting how to escape. Last month, we found him hiding inside someone's pencil box. Oh! Congratulations on making the club, P'."
Nai followed him inside and compared to the day that he had gone for the interview, there were more people around this time. His arrival earned him a couple of curious looks and whispering.
There was an empty chair next to Rome, but there was a sign with a name scrawled on it with big, red letters.
"Trust me. You don't want to sit there." Someone said from across.
Nai looked down at the seat again, "People here actually get territorial over their seats?"
"Just him. Anyway, I'm Din." He then raised his cupped hands. "This little guy who attempted a prison break is Zeezee."
Nai fought down the urge to laugh. Wait till he tells Zee that there's actually a hamster named after him. They did a round of introductions before Nai did his, the members warmly welcoming him with a round of
Seeing that Porshe wasn't around to brief Nai, Rome figured that he'd help do it so that Porshe could work on his other tasks later.
"Everyone's here really nice." Rome said earnestly as he sat back down in his seat and pulled a chair over for Nai.
"I have a feeling that I'll fit in just fine over here."
The matter at hand was that Rome was clearly giving Pick the cold shoulder after what had happened a few evenings ago. His greeting was short and polite at best, and he only spoke to Pick when required. "P'Pick, can you please pass me that folder?", "P', P'Porshe wants to know if you're done with the logistics spreadsheet."
It was all club-related and it was driving Pick up the fucking wall. The LINE messages stopped as well too and Pick knew he had fucked up royally this time round. How the hell do I apologize when he doesn't even want to talk to me? Pick slouched into the clubroom and spotted Rome talking to someone that he hadn't seen before.
Porshe looked up from his phone, following his friend's line of sight, "Oh, that's Nai. He's the new member I was telling you about. Were you even paying attention when I told you that yesterday?"
Pick clucked his tongue, "I have better things to do than hear you yap and yap about the club."
"What? Like moping around? Don't think I didn't notice. You've been so fucking grouchy the past few days. What happened?"
Pick wasn't ready to pour out his troubles to Porshe. He simply muttered a "nothing" and slunk off towards his usual seat. Rome barely even glanced at him and he left his seat soon after to show Nai around. Pick dropped his head into his hands and heaved a frustrated sigh.
How could he fix this?
His gaze kept darting towards the door, impatience mounting at how long Rome was taking to come back from showing the newbie around. After what seemed like forever, the younger male finally returned, not uttering a single word to Pick as he sat back down. Fuck, who knew that the cold shoulder treatment could fuck him up this bad?
"Are you pissed at me?" Pick blurted out all of a sudden.
Rome uncapped his pen and started writing in his planner, "No."
Okay, he's definitely pissed.
Pick wheeled his chair closer, "If you're not pissed at me, why aren't you talking to me?"
"Because I don't want to say more than what is necessary since people might get the wrong idea about us." Rome replied in a bland tone which was proof enough that he was well and truly pissed at the senior.
Okay. Pick had to admit that he deserved that.
"I didn't mean it that way-"
Rome finally raised his head up and he gazed straight into Pick's eyes as he spoke, voice surprisingly steady, "Like how I didn't mean to have feelings for you. I'm sorry my heart got in the way and complicated things for you. You know, you don't have to pity me."
This was going nowhere. What the hell was it now?
"Pity you? What the heck are you talking about?"
Rome shrugged his shoulders, "I know you don't feel anything for me." The junior's voice wavered a little. "It'll take time, but I'll come to accept that. I know it makes you uncomfortable that people think you're gay and that there's something between us. I think it was just wishful thinking that maybe...as time passed by, you'd feel the same way about me." Rome
forced on a smile which didn't quite reach his eyes. "You don't have to force yourself to hang out with me or anything. I'm sorry if I caused you a lot of trouble."
Every single word that left Rome's lips felt like a slap to Pick's face. How had his intention to apologize led to this instead? Shit, how could it go so horriby wrong?
Say something, Pick. Tell him that he's
wrong. That you liked spending time with him.
Rome's smile was entirely too fake, and Pick could sense that the younger male was trying his best not to make the situation any more awkward than it already was. Rome hastily pushed his chair back and cleared his throat, his eyes a little red as if he was trying to hold back his tears, "I'm going to go to the washroom."
But the junior was already briskly walking out of the room, leaving Pick alone with his thoughts and all the things that he wanted to say but couldn't.
Isn't this what you wanted? He's practically giving you a way out by telling you all those.
Then...why are you so disappointed?
Why does it hurt so much then?
[Few days later]
Pick grunted in frustration when his seventh call towards Rome went unanswered. He tried to peer through the tinted door, but it was futile. Pick didn't have access to the room since he wasn't a Comm Arts student. Was Rome that hellbent on avoiding him?!
Whatever. I'll go home first.
The photo developing process had taken longer than expected and it was close to late evening when the professor finally dismissed the class. Emma had picked another specialization class, so Rome had to settle for going home alone every Wednesday. There were two missed calls from Emma and...seven from Pick.
Rome ignored the little twinge in his chest. He didn't need a replay of the conversation that had taken place a few days ago. He had made up his mind and he was going to stick with it, no matter how painful. It wasn't fair of him to force his feelings on Pick anyway. It was a bruise to his ego, but Rome was confident that time would heal everything.
It was simply a question of when and how long. Just his luck to fall in love with a straight guy of all people. Hah.
He was just about to return Emma's call when Nai called out to him.
"P'Nai, what are you doing all the way here?"
"I had dinner at the canteen here with some of my friends. We're starting to get sick of the food in our own faculty. Are you just about to head home?"
Rome nodded his head, "Yup. You too, P'Nai?"
"Yeah, me too. It's getting pretty latr. Are you waiting for someone?"
"Let's walk together then. How do you usually get home?" Nai asked as they started walking towards the direction of the main staircase.
"Emma drives me back sometimes. But now that she's dating P'Porshe, he drives her home these days. I usually go back with P'Pick."
Nai seemed intrigued, "He didn't wait for you today? In that case, how about I send you home?"
Rome thoughtfully mulled over the offer. It was close to 7.30pm...which meant that the bus would be pretty packed. If he reached home earlier, he could rest for awhile before working on his assignments.
"Er...P'Pick has something on today. Are you sure, P'Nai? As long as it's no trouble for you."
They walked to the carpark where Nai had parked his motorcycle, a sleek dark blue Kawasaki model. Nai handed Rome a spare helmet and slung a leg over the bike, slotting the key in and twisting it to the side to rev the engine up. Rome didn't leave too far and it was a mere twenty minutes ride before they arrived in front of his house.
Rome pulled his helmet off and combed his mussed up hair with his fingers, carefully getting off the motorbike and handed the helmet back to the senior.
"You live in this area too?" Nai tucked the spare under his arm. "I live a couple of blocks away. The house after the church. Hey, we can travel to campus together that way."
Rome really didn't want to trouble the older male. Sure, they were club members and sort-of friends, but he'd feel bad if he was imposing on Nai.
"But...don't you have to send your girlfriend to school,P'?"
From their casual conversations at the club, Rome had learnt that Nai had a girlfriend who went to an all-girls school near their university.
Nai smiled blandly at the question. "Not for the meantime. And before you say anything about it being troublesome for me, it's not. Isn't it more troublesome to squeeze into the bus every morning?"
That was true. It was the only bus that actually dropped them off directly in front of the campus gates. Rome had nothing to lose here. He thought that Nai looked sort of weird over the question about his girlfriend, but Rome felt that it wasn't his place to ask.
"Okay then,P'.Thanks a lot!" Rome thanked the other gratefully and directed a wide smile at Nai.
Nai took his phone out from his pocket and handed it to Rome, "Here, key your number in. It'll be easier for me to contact you that way."
They exchanged numbers and Rome waited until Nai drove off before entering the house. He checked his phone and was surprised to see that there was a message from Pick. The senior rarely took the initiative to do so. It was Rome
who usually sent the texts first.
Are you home yet?
Rome's fingers hovered over the keypad. Why are you making this so difficult for me, P'Pick?
He sighed and closed the chat window, leaving the message unanswered.
No one said taking the first step back would be easy.
For those whose heart is hurting for Pick, I'm sorry....but it had to be done! :') Besides, one usually learns to treasure someone/something after losing it...and that's the lesson that Pick need.
Chapter 4: We Can Live A Lie
If Porshe sensed that something was up with Pick's moodiness, he didn't need to guess who was the source of it. Something had obviously happened between Pick and Rome considering that the weren't hanging out together as frequently as before. While it wasn't unlike Pick not to concentrate in class, Porshe couldn't help but to notice that his best friend seemed more distracted than usual lately. The lecturer ended the session with a brief summary and opened the floor up for a short Q&A session before dismissing them for the day.
''Are you going home with Rome today?'' Porshe asked casually as they filed out of the hall.
''No. Why does every goddamn person think that I'm doing everything with Rome? He's not a kid and we don't need to be together 24/7.'' Pick flared up all of a sudden. ''I'm so fucking sick of people assuming that we're doing everything together.''
Porshe didn't appreciate being yelled at when he had asked so nicely. He pulled his best friend aside, ''That's because you two are usually joined at the hip. Look. Something is obviously eating you up from the inside. Are you going to tell me or do I have to force it out of you?'' He asked in a straightforward manner. ''I'm sick of your shitty attitude. It's affecting the club members, Pick. The juniors are too scared to approach you and shit doesn't get hone.'' Done with his rant, Porshe took a deep breath and released it as his expression softened. ''I'm asking as your best friend, Pick.''
It wasn't that Pick didn't want to share his troubles with Porshe...but would his best friend really understand what he was going through at the moment?
''It's something that I have to deal with myself.''
''Whatever it is, get your shit together. We didn't work our ass off just for the club to get closed down again.''
Pick had to clean this mess up by himself. He could speak to Emma, but something told him that the girl wouldn't be too receptive of what he had to say. Grudgingly, Pick had to admit that the lack of Rome's presence and company in his life was starting to bug him. He hadn't realized how he had gotten used to having the junior around, and now that they were on 'polite' terms...Pick found that he couldn't really concentrate on anything.
It was as if they were strangers. There were no more LINE messages, Rome spoke to him only when spoken too, greeted him politely and kept his distance instead of being all up in Pick's personal space like before.
Had Pick officially fucked things up for good?
Rome took a big bite of the peach frozen yoghurt topped with crushed oreos and grimaced when the cold treat numbed his teeth for a moment. He stuck the spoon into the cup and slid it over to Emma. it was nice to finally have some time for themselves after a day of classes which was why they were at the mall. It reminded Rome of how often they used to hang out back in freshmen year.
''Do you want to catch a movie after this?'' Emma asked around a mouthful of frozen yoghurt. ''There's a new horror movie playing now. I think it's called ''Don't Knock Twice''.''
Rome mustered his best apologetic expression, ''Ah...I'm watching it with P'Nai later. Sorry!'' He knew Emma wouldn't be able to resist if he showed her his puppy eyes. ''Maybe we can catch something tomorrow?''
Emma set the spoon down, mild surprise etched on her face, ''Is P'Nai the new P'Pick these days? He's been sending you to school and all too, right?''
''Before you tease me, let me just say say that the both of us are strictly friends and that P'Nai has a girlfriend. I think he sees me as a younger brother figure...since he's the only child and everything.''
''Fine, but you can't deny that the two of you are close.'' Emma spooned another mouthful of yoghurt into her mouth. ''Doesn't P'Pick mind that you're spending so much time with someone else?''
Rome hadn't told his best friend what had happened between Pick and he, but he figured that Emma probably had an inkling that something was wrong between them. Emma was like Porshe in a way. They weren't the type too pry too much and Rome was grateful for that.
''Is P'Porshe picking you up later?'' Rome asked so that he could purposely change the subject.
''Yup. I told him that we're here.''
Porshe arrived fifteen minutes later and Rome was so very tempted to hide beneath the table when he realized that Pick had tagged along as well. He greeted the older male and quickly averted his gaze away when Pick set his stuff down and sat in the vacant seat opposite of Rome. Porshe and Emma exchanged a wordless glance.
''Hey, we're going to go look at some stuff for awhile. We'll make a move first.''
Emma pointedly ignored Rome's betrayed expression and mouthed, Fighting~. Great. Just great. Now Rome was stuck with the last person that he wanted to be with. Talk about awkward. Rome fiddled with the empty cup of yoghurt and he heard Pick 'tsk' softly in annoyance.
''How long are you going to give me the cold shoulder treatment?''
Rome finally lifted his gaze up, ''I'm not, P'Pick. If I was, I wouldn't be sitting here right now.''
''Don't give me that bull, Rome. Why didn't you reply to any of my messages? Did you even read them?''
The nerve of this guy. ''I've sent you countless of messages and you don't reply to most of them anyway, P'Pick. Did you see me complaining? Besides, you didn't use to bother before. What's the issue now?''
Pick level his gaze with Rome's and waited a beat before answering, ''Fine. You want to know what's the issue here? I don't know what the fuck I want, okay? Between both of us...I didn't ask for this confusion.This fucking uncertainty. Shit. I don't even know if what you feel for me is simply because we've been hanging out together-''
''You don't think what I feel for you is real.'' Rome stated calmly as he stared at the male opposite him. ''Is that what you're saying?''
If Porshe was around right now, he'd be telling Pick to shut his mouth before he dug a deeper grave for himself.
Pick rubbed his face with his palms in clear frustration, ''We're both men. We're good friends that hang out a lot. It's normal that you think you have feelings for me-''
''I can't believe i'm hearing this.'' Rome laughed, but there wasn't any humour to it at all. ''It's fine if you don't feel anything for me, P'Pick. I can accept that. But don't insult me by saying that I'm confused about what I feel for you. I never was.''
Guilt washed over Pick at the junior's hurt-laced words and he sighed audibly, ''What I'm trying to say is...between us, I don't think...'' Pick trailed off as the words got stuck in his throat. ''Can't we go back to how it was before?''
Before you kissed me, Rome heard the silent words.
''What you're trying to say is that you feel nothing for me and that it's impossible between us. Am I right, P'Pick?''
Rome would rather say it himself than hear it from Pick. That didn't mean it hurt any less.
''We're still friends...aren't we?''
Rome took a shuddering breath and exhaled, doing his best to keep his composure. He wouldn't cry. He refused to cry. There was no point in washing his tears any longer. Rome would harden his heart if he had to. Pick wanted them to remain as friends?
Rome would fake it until every ounce of affection he had for Pick disappeared. Until he could look at the older male and feel nothing.
Pick seemed surprised by how readily Rome answered, as if he was actually expecting the younger male to argue with him. Rome was exhausted. Perhaps Pick was right. This uncertainty and confusion was tiring. Unhealthy too.
Rome had done what he could and this was clearly Pick's answer. There could be nothing between them. What the older male felt for him didn't go beyond brotherly affection and Rome would accept that.
''If what's what you want.'' Rome shrugged his shoulders. ''We can pretend that none of this ever happened and go back to how it was before.''
Rome knew when he had to give up on a lost cause. This was one good example. He'd treat it as a lesson learnt.
And what a painful heart-wrenching lesson it was.
Pick hadn't expected such a calm response to his words. Why exactly had he said that? Instead of arguing with him like Rome usually would, it was as if the younger male had given up.
Just what you wanted, right? No more confusion. No more uncertainty.
Then...where was that feeling of relief? Instead, Pick felt as if things had somehow worsened between them. An apology sat on his tongue, but what he supposed to apologize for? I'm sorry that I'm too much of a coward? Pick didn't dare lift his gaze up for fear of what he'd see in Rome's eyes. Before Pick could say something to ease the terse silence, a shadow fell over their table.
''Hey, Pick. You're here too?'' Nai lifted a hand in greeting and offered the male a friendly smile. ''Rome, you ready to go? I collected the tickets already. I think we still have time to queue for snacks if you want any.''
Pick snapped his gaze to the junior. The both of them were watching a movie together? Since when were they so close? For some reason, the fact that Rome had asked someone else to go with him stung...especially when Rome usually asked him first.
Rome stood up and gathered his belongings, flashing his usual smile at Pick which, for some reason, made the older male want to tell him not to go.
''I'll get going first, P'Pick.''
''Wait.'' Pick grabbed Rome by the wrist. He deliberated for a moment before asking. ''The both of us...we're okay now?''
''Yeah.'' Rome answered with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. ''Friends, right?''
If that was Rome's answer...why did Pick find it difficult to believe him?
He didn't know which hurt more: Rome giving him the cold shoulder treatment or seeing him walk away with someone else.
''The part where the cops were chasing him while he was in a woman's dress was pretty funny, huh?''
Rome hummed distractedly as they made their way towards where Nai had parked his motorbike, ''Yeah...the movie was really good.''
''There's no such part in the movie.'' Nai stopped Rome in his tracks and gazed down at his younger friend. ''What was the title of the movie that we watched?''
''I figured.'' Nai chuckled at Rome's deer-caught-in-headlights expression. ''I feel like it isn't my place to ask, so I won't ask what happened. But if you ever need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on...'' Nai patted his own shoulder. ''I'm here.''
Rome was lost in thought throughout the entire ride home and he didn't realize that they were already parked in front of his gate until Nai pushed the stand of his bike down. Both of them got off and Rome took off the spare helmet and placed it on the seat of the bike.
''Call me if you need to talk, okay?'' Nai reminded Rome as he patted the younger male affectionately on the head. ''Sometimes, we think that we're strong enough to handle things by ourselves. But leaning on your friends doesn't mean that you're weak.''
Rome felt choked up all of a sudden at the older male's words, the emotions that he had been suppressing earlier threatening to overwhelm him from within.
''P'Nai...'' Rome uttered quietly. ''It hurts. It hurts and I don't know how to make it stop hurting.'' He choked out brokenly. ''I don't want to feel like this anymore.''
A tear slid down Rome's cheek at his own admission and he hastily wiped it away using the pad of his thumb. This was so stupid. Now that he had started, the tears just wouldn't stop. What was he crying for? Pick's rejection? His bruised feelings? The fact that he'd have to pretend that he had no problem with everything going back as to how it was before?
Rome was startled when Nai suddenly took a step forward and enveloped him in a hug, arms wrapped tightly around the younger male's narrow shoulders.
''Cry it out. It'll make you feel better.''
It was pointless for Rome to try and stifle his sobs. He allowed the pain to wash over him as he cried into Nai's uniform shirt, dampening it with his tears. Here he was, crying like a baby in his friend's arms while right in front of his own house. His mother would worry out of her mind if she saw him in this state right now.
''Sorry, P'Nai.'' Rome apologized meekly. He used the sleeve of his shirt to wipe at his eyes, managing a watery smile as he took a step back. ''Now I'm embarrassed.''
The older male drew out a packet of tissues from the back pocket of his pants and handed it to Rome, ''Do you feel better now?''
''Much better. Is there any chance of you forgetting how ugly my face is when I'm crying?'' Rome joked.
''Not a chance.'' Nai countered back with a loud laugh, his expression turning serious a second later. ''I'd say ''don't think about it'' about what's troubling you, but I know it's easier said than done.'' He squeezed Rome's shoulder reassuringly. ''Think of it this way.''
''Whoever that guy is...it's definitely his loss.''
Chapter 5: Erasing Him
Rome tries to move on while Pick is too busy second guessing himself.
Pick made a beeline for his bedroom the moment he reached home, taking the stairs two at a time, declining the helper's offer of preparing lunch for him. He locked the door behind him and dumped his messenger bag on the chair before plopping down on the bed.
Fuck, his head hurt.
What was worse was that Pick couldn't seem to erase the image of Rome's shuttered smile when they had parted. What do you expect? You trampled all over his feelings and rejected him. What do you want? A standing ovation? An award for being the biggest prick of the year? Pick closed his eyes to try and ease the dull throbbing in his head. Nai and Rome appeared behind his eyelids and that further intensified his headache.
Nai and Rome.
The thought of Nai was enough to irk him. Though the other had joined the club for quite some time, their conversations were limited to club-related topics. Without realizing it, Nai had somehow managed to worm his way right into Rome's life. To the point where they were comfortable enough to watch a movie together. When had that happened?
Pick blindly groped for his phone and unlocked it, pulling up the LINE app. His last message to Rome had been one that he had sent last week: Are you home yet? Pick ignored the rest of his unread LINE messages and tapped on his chat with Rome, fingers hesitating over the keypad. What did he want to say?
He finally decided on a simple, Text me once you're home.
There still wasn't a reply by the time Pick was done with his early dinner and a shower, and the tick at the side of the message showed that Rome had read it. It made him regret all those times that he hadn't bothered to reply to the younger male's messages. Without thinking, Pick tapped on the 'Call' option, but just like his text, it went unanswered.
Why was he so desperate to talk to Rome anyway? Did he really need the assurance that things were going to be okay between them?
Desperate to keep his mind off the thoughts plaguing his mind, Pick scrolled through the notifications on his phone and noticed that there was one informing him that Rome had uploaded a new photo on Instagram twenty-five minutes ago. He tapped on it.
And immediately regretted it.
It was a picture of Nai and Rome, with a motorcycle in the background and what seemed like the front gate of Rome's house. The male had captioned the photo with a simple, ''Thank you, P'Nai'' along with a smiley emoji. The sudden jealousy that flared up in him caught Pick off guard for a brief second.
''Why did you tag me in this photo?'' Pick demanded, referring to his Instagram feed where Rome had uploaded a sort of 'candid' photo; Pick hadn't even realized that his photo was being taken as he looked at something at the side, and Rome had his head tilted slightly to the side towards the older male's shoulder. ''Why did you even upload it?''
''Why not, P'? It's normal for friends to post these kind of photos on Instagram.''
''Whatever. It's weird. You'd better delete it.''
Pick had a sudden urge to scroll through Rome's Instagram and it was then that Pick realized that the younger male had deleted all the photos of them that he had uploaded before. Even those that he had uploaded a year ago. There was....to put it simply, no trace of Pick at all.
Just like Pick wanted, Rome was erasing him from his life and going back to how things were before.
If this was what Pick wanted so badly, why did he feel so shitty all of a sudden?
Life still had to go on for Rome.
He woke up feeling like he wasn't ready to face whatever life was planning to throw at him, but Rome forced himself out of bed nonetheless. All he wanted to do was curl under the covers and wallow in self-pity, but it didn't make sense to act like that just because he had been rejected.
Pathetically enough, Rome had cried himself to sleep in the darkness and comfort of his own bedroom the night before. It was difficult not to when Pick's words had resonated in his head all night long.
Pick yourself up and live each like you normally do, Rome thought to himself as he got ready to start preparing for the day after his shower.
Rome had no idea how it was going to be like when he had to face Pick later (hiding or running away wasn't an option), but he was determined to follow through his act of being just friends to a T.
Gazing into the mirror, Rome could see that his eyes were pretty much swollen from his cry fest yesterday. He sighed as he dabbed some cream over the area.
''You can do it.'' Rome said determinedly to his reflection and deep inside, he was struggling to believe even in his own words. It was definitely easier said than done, that was for sure. ''Fighting, Rome!''
''Rome!'' His mother called for him from downstairs. ''Your friend's here!''
''Coming, mae!'' He hurriedly styled his hair with his fingers and then strapped on his watch before grabbing his messenger bag and slinging it over his shoulders.
Rome hurried down the stairs, jammed his feet into his usual pair of black shoes and kissed his mother on the cheeks. She gently stopped him before he could leave and cupped his face in her hands as she gazed at him tenderly.
''Why are your eyes so swollen, dear?''
''Er...'' Rome couldn't possibly tell her that it was because he had cried himself to sleep yesterday. He didn't want to trouble her with his minor problems. ''Some...dust got into my eye just now....and I kept rubbing it.'' He assured her. ''I'll get going first, okay? Love you!''
Rome's steps slowed a little as he reached the gates. Recalling how he had blubbered like a baby all over Nai the night before was enough to make him cringe in embarrassment. He managed a soft, ''Morning, P'Nai'' and was surprised when the senior held out a bottle of his favourite Meiji's coffee milk.
''I figured you'd need a little pick me up. Feeling better today?
It was a small gesture, but it made Rome feel touched nevertheless. That someone else, apart from his friends, cared enough to ask.
''Much better. Thanks, P'Nai.'' Rome slipped the bottle into his bag and took the spare helmet that the other offered to him. ''And...er, for...yesterday too.''
Nai shrugged his shoulders, ''Anytime. If you need me, you know where to find me and my shoulder.''
Rome nodded his head and managed a wane smile, ''I'll get over it somehow, P'.''
This is the first step that I'll have to take.
Pick thought that he wasn't being obvious, but it was way obvious how he kept glancing around as if looking for someone. Porshe nudged his knee against Emma's under the bench table, discreetly tipping his chin in the direction of his best friend.W
Weird. Rome usually arrived at least forty-five minutes early on days that Emma and he had classes at 10am. Not like Pick had memorised the male's schedule or anything. Nothing like that.
''We should get going.'' Porshe chastely kisses his girlfriend on the cheek and wished her a good day, and Pick was too distracted to tease Porshe like he usually did whenever his best friend was acting cheesy.
''Pick?'' Porshe called out when he noticed that the other was still distracted glancing around.
Pick had no idea why, but he felt like he had to see Rome that morning. The guilt that had settled over him yesterday had yet to dissipate, and Pick had tossed and turned the entire night as their conversation played on loop in his mind.
The quickest way to get to their faculty building would be to cut through the carpark, and with only fifteen minutes to spare, it wasn't like there were any other alternatives. Pick was oddly distracted while Porshe talked to him, fingers hovering over the keypad of his phone and just as he was about to type out a text,
''Look, there's Nai and Rome.''
He looked up so quickly that it was a surprise he didn't get a crick in his neck. Rome was laughing over something Nai was saying, and the ugly monster that was jealousy reared it's head when the male reached out to unclasp the helmet for Rome. What was the deal with Nai? Didn't that guy have a girlfriend?! The pair didn't seem to take any notice of Porshe and Pick as they walked in the direction of the building. That meant that Nai was walking Rome to class since his own faculty building was located on the other side.
Pick found that it was impossible to concentrate on any of his lectures or lab sessions throughout the day. All he could think about was whether he had made the right call where their...friendship-sort-of-relationship was involved. What bugged him most was his own indecision. Now that Pick had achieved what he wanted, why did it seem like the worst decision all of a sudden?
It didn't make any sense.
Their friendship resumed once more as the days passed by, but not in the way Pick expected. Rome still talked to him, but their conversations were mostly limited to general and club-related topics. Determined to steer their friendship back towards the path that he wanted, Pick still offered to drive the younger male home on most days, but Rome would politely turn him down each time. What was infuriating was that he'd say yes to Din or Nai whenever they offered him a ride.
Serves you right.
''What should we eat later?''
Rome pondered over Emma's question as the pair walked back towards the classroom.
''Something spicy? How about that stall outside the university? The one with the really spicy noodles.''
Emma brightened up at the mention of spicy food, ''Call! And...it'll just be the two of us this time. No P'Porshe.'' She affectionately looped their arms together. ''I miss hanging out with my best friend. I'm sorry if I've been neglecting you lately.''
''There's nothing to apologize for. I'll just do the same thing once I find a boyfriend of my own.''
His cheek earned him a laugh and a pinch from his best friend, and Rome could feel his spirits lifting up a little. A few weeks had passed since 'that' incident, and day by day, Rome was learning how to deal with it. It wasn't easy, not when Pick and he were part of the same club and had to spend a few hours together at least three times a week. They were...well, friends, but Rome made sure to not go beyond the line of friendly. This was for the best.
Both Emma and Rome stopped just as Rin, a first year member from their club came up to them with a warm and polite smile on her face.
''Um...P'Rome. Is it...okay if I talk to you in private?''
Emma lightly touched her fingers to Rome's elbow, ''I'll head to class first.''
Rin shot the other girl a grateful smile and she finally relaxed a little when Emma was out of earshot. Rome wasn't exactly sure what the girl wanted to him. Other than their involvement in the club, they hadn't really interacted outside of it before.
''This err...'' She lowered her voice to an uncertain whisper. ''It's kind of embarrassing...but um, I was wondering if...'' Rin exhaled nervously. ''I noticed that P'Pick and you are really close and I was wondering if you could tell me a little about him, P'. Like...maybe some of his favourite food or drinks?''
Judging by the blush on her cheeks and how she had bashfully asked that question, it was as clear as day that Rin had a crush on Pick. So life was going to drag him through the mud again, huh? Like it wasn't bad enough that Rome was just starting to pick himself up. Rin mistook Rome's silence as annoyance and she hurriedly added in,
''I'm so sorry to trouble you with this! It's just...P'Pick isn't very approachable. I mean...the only person that he really bothers talking to is you.''
Pick's always flirting with her. It's a given that he'll react to it positively if she confesses. Rome could be selfish, but was he even in a position to act that way? What right did he have to stop her when Rin was clearly attracted to the senior? It wasn't her fault in anyway. Just like Rome, she it wasn't as if she could stop herself from falling for him. Lucky that she was a girl then.
''No, it's no trouble or anything.'' Rome assured the girl, trying his best to keep his tone light and friendly. ''P'Pick doesn't like sweet stuff...so if you want to get him a drink, bitter coffee is good. That's the only thing he'll drink actually. Make sure it's not too sweet, but at the same, it can't be too bitter either. He's fussy like that.''
''Thank you so much, P'Rome!''
Rin seemed so grateful that Rome almost felt glad that he could help. Almost.
With that, the smallest of hope extinguished itself.
As luck would have it, the first person that Rome came face-to-face with the moment he stepped foot into the clubroom was Pick himself. Both of them stared at each other awkwardly for a couple of seconds, and Rome was severely tempted to turn around and run in the opposite direction.
''Don't do that.'' Pick said all of a sudden in an irritated tone.
''Look like I kicked your puppy each time you see me.''
Rome wasn't sure what to say next and he settled for fiddling with the strap of his bag instead. He stepped to the side so that he could enter, but Pick was quick to grab him by the wrist to stop in his tracks.
''Don't do that either.''
''Don't run from me each time I try to talk to you.'' Pick cut him off sternly. ''It's been weeks.''
Rome boldly met the senior's gaze, ''I'm not. I'm just doing what you wanted me to do, P'Pick.''
He's been friends with the other long enough to spot the telltale signs of annoyance and frustration. Rome wasn't even regretting the fact that he was acting like a smartass.
"Please let go of my hand, P'Pick." Rome was proud that he managed to keep his tone calm and steady, even with his heart beating rapidly against his chest at how tightly the other was gripping his wrist. "People are going to get the wrong idea if they see us like this. I know how much you hate that." Rome couldn't resist adding.
"Rome. This isn't us being friends. This is you pretending that we're friends."
"Wow, look who's Mr.Observant-let's-talk-about-feelings now." Rome quipped with sarcasm lacing his tone. "Congratulations, P'Pick. You're finally human like the rest of us."
Rome wasn't going to let this tear down the wall that he had managed to build around himself. He couldn't afford to be sucked in into the mess once more. Harden your heart, Rome.
"What if I told you that what I wanted was a wrong decision?"
Chapter 6: Regrets
Pick has doubts of his own.
"What if I told you that what I wanted was a wrong decision?"
This was too cruel. How could those words reopen a wound that he was so desperately trying to heal? Here he was, trying his best to live up to what Pick wanted. Just friends. In a mere matter of seconds, Pick had managed to upset the balance Rome thought he had found. When was this going to end? Just when he thought his life would finally go back to how it was, Pick had to drop this kind of bomb on him?
''P'Pick. Please.'' Rome pleaded. ''I'm really tired. Tired of chasing after you. Tired of my own feelings. To understand myself.'' He was mentally exhausted. ''What is it that you want from me, P'?''
''I-'' How could Pick phrase it?
He missed Rome. There, he admitted it. Not out loud, but still, that was progress enough. Pick had no idea that the lack of Rome's presence in his life would affect him this much. He was grouchier than usual, easily irritable and most importantly, it irked him that Rome was going on with his life as if nothing had happened between them. Had Pick been easily replaced by Nai then?
''You can't answer me, can you, P'Pick?''
Pick gave a harsh sigh of frustration, ''Must everything be said in words? Can't you see for yourself how I feel? Don't you know?''
''It doesn't work that way, P'Pick! I'm always expected to understand you, but it's never the other way round!" Rome cried out. ''How do you expect me to know when you don't tell me?'' He tried to wrench his wrist out of Pick's grasp, ''Until you figure out for yourself and that you're certain what it is that you want from me, from us, I don't want to talk about this anymore. I'm not some puppet on strings that you can play with, P'Pick.''
Pick tightened his grip on Rome's wrist, not out of anger for the younger male, but out of anger at himself. How had things deteriorated to this point?
''Rome, you're making a big deal out of this-''
''Let go of my hand. Now.''
With a heavy heart, Pick slowly relented and Rome rubbed at his wrist.
''Is everything alright here?''
Nai was kind of early since club activities wouldn't commence until about twenty minutes later, but he had wanted to put his stuff down first before grabbing a quick bite. Judging by Rome's blotchy face, the two were obviously in the midst of an argument. Nai didn't like the way Pick was always making Rome upset and while it wasn't in his nature to butt into other people's problem, there was something about Rome that sparked a sense of protectiveness in him.
''Rome. Go inside for awhile.''
Rome opened his mouth to argue, but something in Nai's eyes told him that he shouldn't bother. He avoided Pick's gaze and did as instructed, shutting the door behind him.
''It's not my place to say-''
''Exactly. It's not your place to say. This is me being nice: fuck out of my business. It's between Rome and I.''
Playing nice obviously wasn't Pick's forte. Nai stepped in between them and stared down at Pick with a measured gaze, ''It is my business when you're hurting him. Haven't you caused him enough of that, Pick? Are you only going to be satisfied once you've fully broken him?''
''You don't know a thing about us, or what I feel for him, so don't fucking bullshit me.''
Nai laughed in disbelief, ''Do you even hear yourself? You told him you didn't like him and he accepted it. You clearly don't know what you want. Do you think it's easy for him to come here and face you and act like nothing's wrong? You weren't there when he cried his eyes out because of you, so don't tell me that I don't know anything.''
''You're awfully concerned for someone who already has a girlfriend.''
''It's simple. I don't like the way you treat him.''
''If you're so fucking concerned, feel free to date him.''
You weren't there when he cried his eyes out because of you...
Pick didn't want to remain there a second longer. He needed to clear his head. Instead of heading back inside the clubroom, Pick's feet carried him away from it. He hadn't even known that Rome...the younger male had seemed okay to him a few days after their conversation, so Pick had assumed that nothing was wrong. You're a huge idiot.I'm embarrassed to be your inner voice, the voice in the back of his mind piped up. Rome was right.
Pick hadn't even spared a thought for him.
''P'Porshe, can I talk to you for awhile? Er...privately?''
Porshe nodded and both of them headed outside. The first person that Rome had discussed this with had been Emma, and she hadn't been too pleased with it. He could understand why. Maybe Rome was being just a tad extreme, but for the sake of his own peace of mind, it seemed like the best decision.
''Is everything alright? Anything that I can help you with?''
''Um, P'Porshe...'' Rome wrung his hands nervously, wondering how he could break the news to the vet tech senior. ''I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I'd like to leave the club.''
The older male gawked at him in alarm, ''What?! But why?! You're doing great here and you've been a huge help to the club. I don't...'' Porshe trailed off in disbelief. ''Are you unhappy about something? Is it the way that I run the club or-''
Porshe stopped the senior before he could go on, ''No, no. It's definitely not you, P'. You're a great president and an even better friend. It's...I'm leaving because of personal reasons. I don't think I can concentrate and I don't want it to affect the performance of the club.''
''Has this got to do with Pick?''
''I know you're lying, but I'm not going to pry.'' Porshe ran his fingers through his hair, clearly stressed out by Rome's decision. ''How about this? Why don't you take a short break from the club? A few weeks, clear your mind and after that, you decide if you still want to leave the club or not. I'd hate to see you do that, Rome. Especially after everything you've helped me with.''
''Please? I'm asking as a friend, Rome, not as the president of the club.''
Rome considered Porshe's suggestion. A few weeks away from club activities. Maybe the older male was right. He could use the time to rethink his decision and see if his answered remained the same.
''Okay, P'Porshe. I'll do it your way.''
Porshe smiled and squeezed Rome on the shoulder, ''Thanks, Rome.'' He paused for a second. ''I know that Pick isn't exactly the easiest person to be friends with and I'm not saying this just because he's my friend, but whatever it is that's going on between the two of you is affecting him.''
''I should go inside and finish up my stuff, P'. Thanks for hearing me out.''
Porshe sighed. This was more messed up than he thought it would be.
Inside, Rin was uncertainly hovering around where Pick was seated and Rome quietly took his seat next to the older male. After what had transpired between them, they were back to simple hi(s) and bye(s) once again, and Pick didn't attempt to ambush him again. Rome didn't know if he was supposed to be relieved or not. He was just thankful that they were still on speaking terms at least. Rome wasn't cruel enough to subject Pick to the cold treatment again.
''Are you doing anything after this?''
''I'm going over to Emma's to work on a project.''
Pick idly tapped the butt of his pen against the table, ''Oh. What about tomorrow?''
''P'Pick!'' Rin appeared next to their seats with a sweet smile and Rome half-heartedly smiled back at her.
She was genuinely sweet and friendly, and it wasn't fair for Rome to dislike her just because she had feelings for Pick. Besides, all's fair in love and war and all that shit, right?
''Er...I wasn't sure what you liked and I was getting some drinks...here.'' She set down a cup of takeaway iced coffee on the table.
Pick seemed bewildered that the junior had bought him a drink for no rhyme or reason at all. ''Thanks.''
Rome rifled through the samples that Din had passed to him, uncapping a pen so that he could write down the comments while he reviewed the other's work.
''P'Pick, do you want to have dinner together later?''
Pick assumed that some other juniors would be joining them and he wasn't really thinking too much about why Rin was asking him all of a sudden.
''Sure, why not?''
''Really?'' Rin's eyes widened in obvious surprise.
He didn't even need to think twice before answering, Rome thought to himself. But he had expected that, didn't he? Pick liked girls and there was no reason for him to reject Rin. She was exactly his type. They'd be compatible together. The two continued chatting at the side and Rome was so lost in thought that he didn't realize that the ink blot on the piece of paper was getting bigger.
P'Pick deserved his own shot of happiness.
Yeah, keep telling yourself that, Rome.
''Rome, ready to go?''
''Yep, let me just pack my stuff first.''
Pick turned to him, ''You said you were going to Emma's to do a project.''
Rome stuffed his pencil case inside his bag along with his files, ''I am. P'Nai's driving me there.''
Pick narrowed his eyes at Nai, but the other male was unperturbed. He wasn't going to stoop to the other male's level. It'd be a huge waste of time. He had his own problems to deal with.
''Enjoy your dinner with Rin, P'Pick.''
"Hey, Rome. Sorry to bother you. Are you about to head to bed?"
Rome tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder, "It's okay, P'Nai. I'm just doing research for one of my assignments. What's up?"
"I...sorry, didn't know who else I could turn to." Rome frowned a little at how distracted Nai sounded. "I'm actually outside your house right now. "Sorry, I know it's late-"
"P'Nai. Stop apologizing." Rome chastised gently. "I'll be out in a minute."
He ended the call and hurriedly slipped on a jacket over his thin sleep shirt, careful not too make too much noise as he went down the stairs since his parents were already asleep. The chilly night air bit into his skin and Rome zipped his grey jacket up,
Rome sat down next to Nai on the curb and he was starting to regret coming out in just his sleep shorts. The mosquitoes were going to have a field day sucking his blood.
"It's painful loving someone, isn't it?" Nai asked all of a sudden, tone tinged with heavy sadness.
Rome gave a little nod, "The worst kind of pain to exist."
Nai stared into the distance with an empty gaze, "I found out today that she's been cheating on me all along. Actually, I suspected it a couple of months ago." The male laughed drily. "The text messages, when she told me that there wasn't a need for me come pick her up at home or from school...she said she didn't want to tire me out. Being the idiot that I am, I believed her." Nai turned to face Rome and the younger male could see the anguish reflected in his friend's eyes. "I saw them today. She saw me too. She looked away like she didn't even know who I was."
How could someone actually have the heart to cheat on Nai? He was a big man with a soft heart, and Rome knew that Nai loved his girlfriend with all his heart. It was so obvious in the way he smiled whenever he spoke about her.
"She made a fool out of me. Now, she won't answer any of my texts and calls." Nai balled his fingers up into a fist, his voice tightening with anger. "If she had the cheek to fucking cheat on me, then she should be brave enough to face me and answer to her actions. What does she take me for?"
Rome closed his fingers over Nai's fist, "She's a coward. And I think...I think that it's her loss, P'Nai. She made the mistake of taking you for granted. Sure, she might feel like she's happy now, but one day, when she realizes that he's not capable of doing the things that you did for her, she's going to regret it. By then, it'll be too late."
"Where did I go wrong? What am I lacking, Rome?"
It tugged on Rome's heartstrings to hear his friend sound so broken. Nai always seemed
so dependable, as if nothing could penetrate him but here he was with a broken heart.
"It's her loss, P'." Rome murmured as he wrapped his arms around Nai, enveloping him in a comforting hug. "It's going to hurt, and it might take a long time...but time heals all mwounds, P'. Just like how you were there for me, I'll be here for you too."
Nai cleared his throat and he looked away when his eyes started getting a little watery. He had no idea how he was going to get through this. Phan and he had been dating since their high school days and the fact that she had cheated on him didn't sit very well with him. She had so easily thrown away their relationship and had crushed his pride and ego without even batting an eye.Wasn't even feeling remotely guilty about it.
"P', come on..let's go in. I'll get you something to drink." Rome stood up and tugged at Nai's arm.
"It's fine. It's getting late too."
"Precisely." Rome pointed out. "It's late and I don't think you've even had anything to eat. Why don't you stay over tonight, P'Nai?"
Rome knew for himself how difficult it was to be alone in such times, and he wanted to extend the same form of comfort that Nai had offered him before. The older male stood up and brushed the dirt off the seat of his pants, allowing his junior to tug him towards the direction of the house.
Inside, Rome flicked on the kitchen lights and got round to heating up the leftover food from dinner. Nai could only manage a few bites before setting his utensils down, willing the contents in his stomach to settle down. Thinking about Phan was enough to make him nauseous.
Rome led Nai to his bedroom and excused himself a moment later to search for clothes that Nai could use as sleepwear. He briefly took in his surroundings. There was a corkboard above his study table, filled with polaroids, ticket stubs and what seemed like other memorable tickets/notes that Rome wanted to keep.
"My dad is around your height, so I think his clothes should fit you just nice, P'." Rome said as he returned with some spare clothes. "You can use the bathroom down the hall."
If Rome noticed Nai's red-rimmed eyes twenty minutes later, he didn't many any comment about it. The sleeping pants were a bit too short at the ankles for him, but other than than that, Nai was decently comfortable.
Nai took a seat at Rome's computer chair and tiredly rubbed his face with his palm, "If by "better" you mean, do I still feel beating someone into a pulp? Maybe ask me again tomorrow." He managed to joke. "I don't know why, but you were the first person that came to mind."
"I'm flattered?" Rome crossed his legs and laughed. "But seriously, what are friends for, P'? It's my turn to lend you a shoulder." He patted at his own shoulder. "It's not as strong as yours, but it'll do. I hope."
Two lonely souls can always seek comfort in each other.
Porshe thinks that his best friend is doing an ultimate shit job at hiding his feelings. Really, a dog could probably sniff Pick's jealousy from a mile away. Rome and Nai were oblivious to the other male's displeased glare, engrossed in their own planning of the club's next activity.
"Stare any harder and you might just burn a hole through the wall."
"No idea what you're talking about."
Porshe smirked and started singing under his breath all of a sudden, "Please don't be angry with me,that much, any longer and I might die." He spun around dramatically in his seat, holding a pretend microphone to his lips. "And it's not that I don't trust you, my heart's anxious if anyone looks at youuuuuuuu."
Pick narrowed his eyes at his best friend, "What the hell, Porshe? No one wants to listen to your lousy ass singing. Are you trying to make my ears bleed?"
Porshe leaned forward and asked, "Are you sure it's not your heart that's bleeding?"
Pick set his pen down and crossed his arms, "What are you trying to say?"
"Don't let your ego and pride blind you, Pick." That was the only advice that Porshe could give his best friend.
Pick remained quiet and he shifted his attention back towards Rome. The male was openly laughing at whatever it was that Nai was saying, and he was gazing at the older male like how he used to gaze at Pick. Warmth.Affection. Two things that he had taken for granted.
"I don't know if you know this, but...Rome told me that he wants to quit the club."
Porshe shushed him immediately, "Keep it down! I told him to take a short break first to think over it, but I think he's going to stick with his decision. Emma tried to talk out of it, but you know how stubborn he can be."
Leave the club? Why? Rome had invested a lot of time and effort into 'Puppy Honey'. Was it because of what had had happened between them lately? Or was it because Rome wanted to avoid him?
Pick tried to maintain his facade of not giving a shit, "Let him leave if he wants to. He's not a kid, Porshe. He can do whatever the hell he wants."
"I know you don't mean that. You're a shitty liar, Pick, and you know it." Porshe grabbed the back of his friend's chair when the other turned away. "He'll listen to you if you're the one talking to him."
"What makes you think he's going to listen to me? I'm not his mother. I don't have time for this shit, okay?"
Pick pushed his chair back and stormed out of the room, causing a couple of juniors to scurry out of his way lest they incur his wrath. Rome glanced up and gnawed on his bottom lip worriedly, wondering what had happened for Pick to react in such a way.
"Fuck!" Pick cursed once he had slammed the door behind him, the loud banging sound echoing in the empty corridor.
Why are you fucking doing this to me, Rome?
Chapter 7: Biggest Asshole Award
Pick's a bit of an A Grade Asshole.
''You don't have to do this, you know.''
Rome rolled over to his stomach where he was comfortably sprawled on Nai's bed, the older male gazing at him from where he was seated on the computer chair.
''Do what, P'?''
''Spend time with me. You have a lot to do at the club, right?''
Turns out that Rome's effort to spend as much time as possible with Nai hadn't gone unnoticed afterall. Having gone through a rough patch of his own, Rome knew firsthand that being left alone with one's thoughts wouldn't help matters at all. He propped himself up on his elbows and regarded his friend with a steady gaze.
''We're friends, so too bad. You can't get rid of me that easily. Besides, I can't let you mope around alone, can I?'' He retorted jokingly though his shoulders slumped a little at the mention of the club. ''I don't feel like turning up for activities.'' He planted his face against the pillow.
It wasn't that he was avoiding Pick (he couldn't even if he wanted to). Being in the same room as the other was something that he didn't look forward to anymore. Not with Rin always hovering around the senior, asking him this and that and both of them blatantly flirting in front of the entire club. Thus why Rome had skipped the previous three meetings. He had replied with a short and simple, ''Sick.'' when the older male had texted him asking where he was.
Rome felt the mattress dip and he lifted his head up to get a proper look at his friend. Nai was a little gaunt from lack of sleep and loss of appetite, which was why Rome made it a point to hang out with the male often. At least he could nag at the other to eat his meals. Mainly, he didn't want his friend to do anything stupid. Like going after his ex-girlfriend's current boyfriend and beating the shit out of him. It wasn't worth the trouble.
''It's Pick, isn't it?''
''Why ask when you already know the answer, P'?'' Rome grumbled under his breath. ''I'm trying my best, but...it's difficult.'' He admitted after a few seconds of silence. ''Being around him. Trying to act normal. It feels fake.'' He heaved an exasperated sigh and rolled over to his back instead when Nai nudged him to scoot over to make some space so that he could lie down as well.
This was one of the reasons why Rome was so comfortable with Nai. The older male was aware of his sexual orientation, but he didn't seem particularly bothered by it. For instance, Rome knew he had the tendency of being extra affectionate with friends he was truly comfortable with. And Nai didn't seem to care whenever Rome accidentally leant it too close or used his shoulder as a pillow and it was...frankly, it was nice to be friends with someone without worrying whether the other individual was comfortable or not being around him. With Pick, Rome always felt as if he had to be careful about the way he acted. One wrong move and Pick would distance himself like Rome was the carrier of an infectious disease or something.
''What are you thinking about?'' Nai asked all of a sudden.
With Nai, Rome could also be honest with his thoughts, ''Do you ever feel burdened being around me, P'? I mean...you know I like men. I've had friends who stopped being friends with me because of that.''
''That's just stupid. So what if you like men? Sexual orientation shouldn't matter at all in this day and age.'' Nai rolled over to his side and jokingly tweaked Rome's nose between his fingers. ''I'm friends with you because of your personality. As simple as that. You're just like my friend Zee. He used to be really self-conscious about that until I knocked some sense into him.''
Hearing those words was enough to lift the burden off Rome's shoulders and all he could manage was a smile filled with warmth and gratitude. He couldn't understand how someone could have the heart to cheat on Nai. He was honestly the nicest person after Emma. Then again, it was probably his 'Mr.Nice Guy' personality that made him an easy target.
''Let's strike a deal.'' Nai suggested, his eyes brightening as an idea formed in his mind. ''I'll stop moping around and you start turning up for club meetings again. I know you told Porshe that you want to take a break, but running away doesn't solve anything.'' The male added in when Rome opened his mouth to protest. ''Don't let your personal feelings affect what you love doing. From what I've heard, you've invested a lot of time and effort into the club.''
Nai had a point. A very, very good point. But...
''If it's Pick you're worried about, you're not alone. You have me. I'll be there and I won't leave you alone with him if you're still not ready to face him.''
Rome gnawed on his bottom lip as he mulled over his friend's words. There was no doubt that running away wouldn't solve matters at all and Nai was right. He loved the club too much to actually leave it.
''Promise?'' He stuck his pinky finger out.
The corners of Nai's lips curved up into a pleased smile and he hooked his pinky with the junior's,
Rome was relieved when he saw Nai waiting for him outside the clubroom as promised. Usually, he'd have Emma with him but since she had a dental appointment, he was glad that he had another good friend that he could glue himself to. Half the members were already present and all of them seemed genuinely pleased at the junior's arrival. Relieved that they weren't bombarding him with questions yet, Rome took a seat at his usual place and booted his laptop up. Pick was nowhere to be seen and he allowed himself to relax (for now).
''Roooooooooome!'' His relief was short-lived when he heard Porshe's loud voice before the senior dramatically flung himself at Rome.
''P'Porshe, is there really a need to be so dramatic...''
''Of course! I nearly died without my best right-hand man. Pick isn't counted since he's a useless vice president.''
''Porshe, you fucking ass. I worked my fucking ass off the past few weeks and this is the thanks I get?!''
''I don't need you anymore now that Rome's back.''
Rome caught Pick staring at him over Porshe's shoulder and he met the other's gaze head on instead of dropping it, mentally patting himself on the back when he even managed to muster up a polite smile. He wondered how long it was going to be like this - experiencing this sort of prickly sensation to his chest whenever he caught sight of Pick.
Nai stood next to Rome and purposely placed a hand on the junior's shoulder, ''I need to step out for awhile.'' Will you be okay by yourself?
Rome nodded his head as an affirmation that he could manage by himself and the other reached a hand out to affectionately ruffle his hair, ''Great. I'll get you something to eat on the way back. Call me if you need anything.''
Both of them could hear Pick's audible scoff at the exchange between them, but paid no heed to the disgruntled male. Once Nai left, Rome kept his gaze trained on the screen of his laptop, dutifully checking the checklist that Din had forwarded to him to work on.
''Feeling better?'' Pick asked gruffly as he dropped into the seat next to Rome, busying himself with the strap of his bag.
A pause. ''Have you eaten yet?''
''Want a drink?''
''No thanks, P.''
Suddenly, Rome felt his swivel chair being turned around until he was face to face with Pick's dissatisfied expression.
''Why won't you look at me when I talk to you?''
Because I don't want to? Because looking at you reminds me of what I can't have? Because it reminds me of your rejection?
Rome kept his tone level when he answered, ''Sorry, P'. Is this better now? I'm all ears.'' He quipped with a hint of sarcasm.
''Let's talk. About us.''
Pick's swearing was audible when Rin's cheery voice interrupted him and the junior widened her eyes at the both of them, ''Sorry, am I interrupting you two?''
Rin's expression crumpled at Pick's harsh tone and Rome instantly felt bad towards the other. This was so typical of Pick. Forever oblivious to the emotion of others.
''Rin, it's fine. We were just discussing some club matters. Here, why don't you sit here with P'Pick?'' Rome stood up and shifted to the other seat, ignoring at the murderous glance thrown his way.
He made up some lame excuse about making a call outside and hurried outside. No way was he giving Pick an opportunity to 'discuss' things with him. Not after seeing what Rin had posted on her Instagram.
''Rome! Damn it!''
Rome whirled around, furious all of a sudden, ''Just what do you want from me, P'Pick?! I'm doing what you told me to do. I'm keeping my distance just like you want me to! Can't you just leave me alone and stop making this so difficult for me?!''
Pick seemed genuinely surprised at the junior's outburst. Anyone would. Rome was always so sweet and pleasant. Meek even.
''Look, if it's about Rin and you, you don't need to clarify anything. I saw the photo on her Instagram. I know the both of you are dating now. It's better if I don't hear it from your own mouth, P'. But really, from the bottom of my heart-'' Rome's voice wavered a little and he clenched his hands together. ''-congratulations.''
This was all going to hell. Pick had made one hell of a huge mistake and he had no idea how he was going to rectify it without digging a deeper grave for himself. But he had to try.
''It was a fucking mistake, okay?! I tried. I went on all those dates with her too see if...if the feeling was the same, but it felt wrong. I had to see for myself if it was like being with you. I thought it was what I wanted, but not anymore.'' Pick exhaled in frustration. ''I made a mistake. There. I've fucking admitted it.''
If Pick thought that Rome wasn't going to be happy by this sudden declaration, he was mistaken. So, so mistaken.
''How could you do that to her, P'Pick? She...oh god, she genuinely likes you. You used her just because you were unsure of what you wanted. Just because you think it's a mistake, you come running back to me like I'm a fucking second option?'' Rome pushed the senior away when the male reached for him, taking a couple of steps back to create some distance between them.
''You're such an asshole, P'Pick.''
Rome wasn't sure why he was tearing up. For Rin perhaps. Because he could sympathise with her in this situation. The poor girl didn't even know that she was simply an 'experiment' for Pick. That Pick wasn't even serious about her. Pick's declaration was what he had wanted to hear all along...but not like this. Not at the expense of someone else's emotions.
''I...Rome.'' Pick seemed helpless at the sight of a teary-eyed Rome. ''What do you want me to say? That I like her?''
''Don't. Just...just don't, P'Pick.''
Rome walked away with determined steps and he felt sick at the thought of how Rin would feel if she ever found out about this. He could hear Nai's voice in his head chiding him, ''Why don't you worry about yourself first instead of someone else?''.
His first thought was that he wanted, no, needed to speak to Nai. There was no way that Rome could return to the clubroom. He couldn't face Pick after that conversation.
How did things even get tot his point?
Chapter 8: Back To Square One
Pick couldn't defend himself even if he wanted to. He couldn't blame Porshe for not being sympathetic to his current plight. Thanks to his everlasting idiocy, it wasn't only Rome's wrath that he had incurred. Emma was giving him the cold shoulder treatment and Porshe definitely wasn't going to back his ass up this time round.
''You fucked up big time this time round, friend.'
Pick couldn't defend himself even if he wanted to. He couldn't blame Porshe for not being sympathetic to his current plight. Thanks to his everlasting idiocy, it wasn't only Rome's wrath that he had incurred. Emma was giving him the cold shoulder treatment and Porshe definitely wasn't going to back his ass up this time round.
A week had passed and each attempt to speak to Rome had been futile. While he was still present at the club meetings, it was hard to catch the junior alone. Nai had taken it upon himself to shadow Rome like a fucking bodyguard and there was no way that Pick could steal a chance for himself with Emma present as well. All of his calls and texts were ignored (no surprise there), Rome barely stayed till late on campus these days and Pick might or might not have lingered outside the junior's home on a couple of occasions.
Sad to say...he couldn't muster up the courage to ring the doorbell and face Rome's parents should they greet him at the door. He was too ashamed of himself. It tasted bitter on his tongue and fuck, he could shower Rome with a thousand apologies, but that particular hurt and pain-filled eyes would haunt him forever.
Witnessing Nai and Rome becoming progressively closer by the day wasn't helping matters at all. On top of his own guilt, there was the feeling of jealousy and uneasiness that Pick had to contend with. Was Nai simply looking out for Rome as a close friend or did his feelings run deeper than friendship?
''They look so adorable together, don't they?'' Rin gushed when she caught Pick sneaking a look at the pair. ''Don't you think it's sweet how P'Nai is so protective over P'Rome?''
At this point, Pick was practically tasting burnt ash on his tongue. He grunted an unintelligible answer, noticing how Rome easily leaned against Nai whenever he laughed. An uncomfortable sensation flooded his gut when Nai draped an arm around the younger male's shoulders, affectionately pinching the other's cheek between his fingers.
It made him think of those days when Rome used to act like that with him. Always so carefree with his easygoing laugh...but Pick would always feel weird whenever the male got too close. He liked it, but it was just...he was just too bothered about how others would perceive their actions. He always ended up pushing Rome away and snapping at him for being 'too close'. Now, Pick knows that he'd pretty much do fucking anything just to have Rome close to him again.
''What's the matter, P'Pick?'' Rin peered at him with concerned eyes when he let slip a harsh sigh.
He still had this issue with Rin that he needed to work out. He didn't exactly agree to 'date' her officially. Then again, Pick couldn't deny that Rome was right. He had made use of Rin without meaning to. He couldn't drag this on without hurting both Rin and Rome. But he had to end things with her if he wanted to pursue Rome properly. Shit, a miracle would be godsent right now.
With how badly he had fucked things up, Pick was lucky if Rome even looked in his direction.
Porshe thought Nai was a more-than-okay guy. He was genuinely nice and helpful, always willing to lend a helping hand. Not to mention that he did most of the heavy lifting work for the club. Initially, he had doubted the male's interest to join the club. From Track & Field to dealing with animals? He was well-liked by the other club members (of course the girls adored him). If there was one thing that Porshe was most grateful for, it was that Nai seemed to be the reason why Rome was coping decently well.
Fine. Pick may be his very best friend, but that didn't mean Porshe condoned his actions. He could understand that Pick was still struggling with coming to terms with his feelings for the junior, but that didn't mean that he could be an ass about it. Porshe was lucky that Nai had managed to talk Rome out of his decision to quit the club. Judging by the looks of it, Nai was taking on the role of 'protective friend' very, very seriously.
As much as he liked Nai, Porshe still had a responsibility to help his best friend move things along. He sighed as he tapped his pen against the surface of the table. He'd have to place them in a situation where they'd have no choice but to talk to each other. Somewhere out of their comfort zone where they'd have to rely on each other. His gaze fell on the calendar on the desk. Man, like he wasn't busy enough. He still had to plan and co-ordinate the yearly club bonding activity and...THAT'S IT!
The yearly club bonding activity!
It was perfect! He was a genius, damn it. Emma would be so proud of him for thinking up of this plan.
''Hey guys. What do you think about a camping trip to Khao Yai for this year's yearly bonding activity?''
''Have you been to Khao Yai before, P'Nai?''
Rome excitedly clasped his hands together, ''You'll love it! P'Din and I went once to take photos for a photography competition. It was hilarious because P'Pick was there and he was grumpy throughout the-'' He trailed off when he realized just who he was talking about. ''Um...yeah, it's a really great place.''
The rest of the members seemed excited about the prospect of conducting their yearly bonding activity at Khao Yai. The excited chattering dwindled down to a murmur when Porshe called for their attention, already starting to assign the roles.
''Okay...'' Porshe scribbled something down on his clipboard. ''Emma and Rin will be in charge of the daytime activities. Maybe you two can look into the hiking routes or places where we can do certain activities.''
Rome shot a disappointed look at his best friend. They had been paired up together last year and it had been a huge blast.
''Nai, is it alright if you take charge of the logistics?''
''Sure, no problem.''
Porshe flashed him a thumbs up sign and then looked around at the remaining members, ''In that case, I'll leave the nighttime activity planning to Pick and Rome.''
Am I hearing things?!
Rome raised his hand up and politely asked, ''Er, P'Porshe...maybe P'Din and I can plan it together instead?''
''I need Din to help me snap photos throughout the trip.'' The senior answered in an apologetic tone. ''Besides, you did a great job last year. I'm sure Pick and you can come up with something great for this year.''
Rome slumped in his seat and nodded weakly. Being the innocent sweetheart that he is, Rome had no idea that this was all part of Porshe's plan to help them reconcile. Rome had more pressing matters at hand. How was he going to work with Pick without it being extremely awkward between them?!
''Porshe, I think Rome and I can run the night activity together.'' Nai voiced out. ''I'm new to the club, so maybe I should take on this role.''
Porshe scratched at his head with the tip of his pen, ''It's just that...we're always short on logistics. Last year, Din nearly forgot to pack the tents.''
''That one time you forget to do something and someone doesn't let you forget it-''
Pick cleared his throat and levelled his gaze with Nai's, ''I think Rome and I will do fine.''
Rome stared intently at his shoelaces, wondering what sort of sin had he committed to end up in this plight.
''Great! We can brainstorm for ideas and we'll share those during next week's meeting. Thanks, guys! I'll see you guys next week.''
Rome headed back to his seat with a heavy heart and he was lost in thought as he distractedly packed his stuff, barely even hearing the, ''Bye, Rome!'' directed at him. He sighed heavily when Nai rested a hand on his shoulder with a concerned look, his own bag slung over his shoulder.
''Let's go eat.''
''I don't think I can stomach anything right now, P'.'' Rome moaned, clutching at the strap of his bag like his life depended on it. ''I think I'm going to throw up. What am I going to do?''
Don't panic. This is nothing, Rome. Just act professional, throw around some ideas, decide on one and execute it. That's that. Easy peasy, right? Right. That's what I'll say to P'Pick, ''Let's just focus on what we have to do and push everything aside for now.''
He swallowed drily when he spotted Pick making his way over to them and Rome partially hid behind Nai's bigger frame as if doing so would keep him hidden.
''Do you want me to wait?''
''No...it's okay, I can do it, P'.''
''Okay, I'll wait for you outside.''
Rome nearly dropped his textbooks when Pick finally came to a stop in front of him, uneasily darting his gaze towards the older male like a skittish person.
''Rome, about what happened last week-''
''P'Pick, let's focus on what we have to do for now.'' Rome cut in briskly, mentally patting himself on the back. ''My last lecture ends at 4pm tomorrow, so we can meet up after that to brainstorm some ideas for the night activity. Is that okay with you, P'?''
''Whatever you want, Rome. About last week-''
Rome raised a hand up to stop the male from continuing, ''Not now, P'Pick. I don't want it to affect our planning for the trip.'' He heaved a quiet, resigned sigh. ''We can talk about it after the trip.''
Pick looked as if he wanted to argue, but he must have thought that Rome's answer was better than nothing. He reluctantly nodded his head and Rome slung his bag across his shoulder, gathering his textbooks against his chest.
As promised, Nai was waiting outside for him. They were halfway down the stairs when Nai recalled something, ''I think I left my shoe bag in the club room. Why don't you wait for me at the carpark?''
Nai waited until Rome disappeared from view before he briskly made his way back towards the clubroom. His plan to make Porshe change his mind had failed...so what he was about to do next was the least that he could do to make things a little bit easier for Rome.
''Pick. Can I have a word with you?''
Chapter 9: Making Amends
Rome deliberates over the senior's words, torn between wanting to hear his explanation and leaving, unsure if he really wants to put himself through this all over again. As cold and unhappy he is towards Pick, Rome's nowhere close to admitting that he doesn't have any feelings for the other anymore. That'd be a huge lie.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
''Seriously, Pick. Don't fuck this up. I don't care what you have to do. Beg. Grovel for his forgiveness. I did my part, so make sure you clean up the mess you made.''
Pick couldn't be more grateful to Porshe for creating an opportunity for him to make amends. He was done with being an asshole. Seeing Rome and Nai becoming closer was a painful lesson on its own and while it had taken some time for him to come to terms with himself about his feelings for Rome, he was finally ready to admit that there was no way in hell he was going to lose the younger male.
''What are you going to do about Rin?''
''Come clean with her, I guess.''
The doors to the lecture hall swung open and students started streaming out, Pick keeping an eye out for Rome. The male finally emerged with Emma, his eyes widening a little when he caught sight of the senior, surprise and confusion etched on his face. They hadn't spoken since the last club meeting and he definitely wasn't expecting for Pick to be present.
''Emma.'' Porshe raised his hand and gestured them over. ''Let's eat lunch outside today. There's a new place that I want to try out. You don't have any afternoon lessons today, right?''
''Well...'' Emma looks over at Rome, silently asking him if she should go ahead.
''It's okay, Emma. I'll get something to eat on the way back. I need to head to the lab after this anyway.''
Porshe mouths, ''Good luck!'', to Pick and slings an arm around his girlfriend to steer her away towards the other direction. But not before Emma directs a piercing glare towards Pick as if daring him to stir up shit again. That's one scary girl. I'm glad I'm not the one dating her.
(Now he knows why Porshe's so well-behaved most of the time around Emma)
Rome fiddles with the strap of his bag and Pick finds that his mouth is dry all of a sudden. He's nervous as fuck, repeatedly reminding himself not to say some stupid shit that'll ruin this for him.
''Are you busy now? We need to brainstorm some ideas for the Khao Yai trip.''
If Rome is surprised that Pick's actually taking the initiative to do work for once, he's certainly not showing it.
As they make their way towards one of the study benches near the back of the campus, Pick realises how much of a gap there is now between them. Rome's always been the affectionate one, always walking too close for comfort, but now that there's distance between them, Pick feels it like a punch to the gut. Rome doesn't try to initiate a conversation, both of them walking in silence until they reach the bench. They seat opposite of each other and Pick flips the flap of his bag open.
It's Rome's favourite brand of iced lemon tea.
Funny how Pick's starting to drink it more often lately.
''Thanks, P'.'' Rome looks uncertain and slightly confused, but he accepts the drink anyway, unscrewing the cap and taking a small sip (he tries to hide it, but Pick notices how the corners of his lips curves up just the slightest bit). ''About the night event for the team bonding...do you have anything in mind?''
''How about we make them do a solo walk through the woods and scare them shitless?''
That earns him a laugh and the awkwardness between them chips a little, ''I knew you'd come up with something like that, P'.'' Rome jots the idea down on a piece of paper anyway. ''We could make the girls go in pairs and the guys can do a solo walkthrough. Something like a, ''Test Your Courage'' kind of thing.''
''Porshe's going to have my ass for this. He's going to be screaming his head off when he does the route, that scaredy cat.''
The conversation flows easily between them after that and Pick finally feels like Rome's slowly lowering the wall that he's put up. Pick's too busy staring at Rome to understand half of the things that he's suggesting, wondering why it had taken him this long to realize the depth of his feelings for the younger male. How could I have pushed him away so easily?
Rome points to the words that's written on Pick's paper, ''You just wrote down the same thing twice.'' He snaps his fingers in front of the senior's face. ''Are you even listening to me?''
I'm trying, but you're being very distracting.
''It's okay. We can continue this tomorrow during the club meeting. It's nearing five anyway.''
Pick opens his mouth before he can lose his nerve, ''Wait. Rome.'' Pick clears his throat and musters up his nerve, palms clammy. ''Can I give you a lift home today?''
''P'Pick...what you're doing isn't helping me, you know.'' Rome sighs and gestures to the bottle, also referring to Pick's offer of sending me home. ''It's giving me hope. I don't-''
Pick can't let this opportunity slip, not when he's fucked up over and over again, trampling all over Rome's feelings like the jerk he was. He's done second-guessing himself, done with putting himself through conflicting feelings.
''What if I tell you that I've made up my mind? That I already know what I want?'' Pick rakes his fingers through his hair, regret and frustration bleeding into his tone. ''Shit...I don't know how to say this.''
Rome deliberates over the senior's words, torn between wanting to hear his explanation and leaving, unsure if he really wants to put himself through this all over again. As cold and unhappy he is towards Pick, Rome's nowhere close to admitting that he doesn't have any feelings for the other anymore. That'd be a huge lie.
Finally, he cracks a small smile and says, ''I'm all ears, P'.''
Pick looks so relieved that it's almost comical. It's a look which doesn't suits him, one that Rome rarely sees, considering that Pick's so...well, everyone knows what Pick's like. It's not like he has to elaborate (coughassholecough).
''I...shit. I'm a huge asshole, alright?''
''Well, glad you know that.'' Rome quips under his breath, crossing his arms against his chest. ''A Grade A asshole to be exact. One of the worst.''
Pick kicks his foot under the bench.
''No. Seriously.'' Pick regains his seriousness again. ''All the things I said to you, everything I've put you through-'' Pick's not exactly a man of words and it's not like he's the best at expressing his feelings, but for Rome's sake, he's going to fucking try, damn it. ''There's no excuse for it. I was a fucking cruel bastard. I think I sometimes take it for granted that you're always going to wait for me. That no matter how shitty I am for a person, you'll always endure it.''
''You are a shitty person, P'. Really.'' I (still) like you anyway.
Pick resists the urge to lean over and flick Rome on the forehead, ''Thanks for pointing that out, you little shit. I can't take back what I said, but-'' He nervously licks his lips, throat going dry as the words hover on the tip of his tongue. ''-I thought about it a lot. The...'' He swallows thickly, rubbing his clammy palms against the fabric of his pants. ''Feelings that I have for you.'' Fuck, I said it. Before he can lose his nerve, Pick continues, ''It took me a long time. To admit it to myself. That what I feel for you goes beyond friendship.''
He sees every emotion that flits across Rome's boyish features; confusion, surprise and disbelief all at once, as if he wasn't expecting to hear those words from the older male.
''I can't promise you anything, but I hope you can give me a chance to mend things between us. Before we decide to take another step forward.'' Pick's alarmed when Rome's eyes starts getting teary all of a sudden, wondering if he had said something wrong without realizing it. ''Fuck. Wait. Why are you crying? Did I say something wrong?''
Rome hastily dabs at his eyes with the sleeve of his uniform and lets out a watery laugh, sniffling a little, ''Sorry, P'. I kept pinching myself on the thigh to make sure that I'm not dreaming and it hurts. That's why I'm crying.''
It breaks whatever tension that's left between them and Pick feels like a huge load has been lifted off his shoulders. It's not much, but it's a step forward to mending their friendship.
''Then...'' Rome fiddles with the strap of his bag uncertainly. ''What about Rin?''
''I'll talk to her tomorrow to set things straight between us. Do you think she'll hit me?''
''Well, she should.''
Pick shrugs his shoulders, ''I'd rather have her pissed at me than you.''
It's the first time in awhile that he's seeing Rome's bright smile and it makes Pick feel all sorts of things at that moment. Shit...I've never really realized how cute he is when he smiles like that. It's terrifying in a way, acknowledging his feelings, but Pick's determined to do right this time round.
''Come on.'' Pick stands up and slings his bag across his chest. ''Let's go have dinner.''
Rome mirrors his actions, ''Where do you want to go, P'?''
''The usual place.''
''The usual place...'' Rome furrows his brows, recalling something. ''Wait. Didn't you say that the food wasn't nice the last time we went there with P'Din?''
''That's because he was there.''
''Oh. So does that mean the food will taste good only if you're eating it with me? And not with anyone else?''
''Drea-'' Pick considers denying it, but decides that he really doesn't want to this time round.
(Pick doesn't think it'll be good for his heart in the long run if Rome keeps smiling at him like that, but it's a smile that tells him that everything's going to be just fine between them)
Okay, I admit it. I suck at angst and I honestly cannot bear to make Pick suffer any longer. I HAVE SUCH A SOFT SPOT FOR PICKXROME OKAY. So you can expect more happy times ahead of them in the next few chapters...can't wait to see their now-mended friendship blossom into something more.
We didn't get to see Pick's elaborate on his feelings in Puppy Honey...so this is the only way I can make it happen. HAHAHA. Hope you guys enjoyed this chapter!