Jethro meandered amongst the throng of people, swallowed by the crowd, thinking he almost got slapped by a woman whom he thought looked familiar at the beach. He really didn't mean it to be creepy at all, but apparently approaching women and then apologizing because of his misunderstanding was a common belief of them thinking he was one of those guys who were trying to pick up girls.
He hated those kind of guys, and shouldn't there be a line to distinguish genuinely sorry males and the creepy ones? Luckily he escaped before they could do anything…which probably didn't help either because then it would seem as though he really was guilty of it.
Jethro could have told Pierre whom he saw, but he wasn't even sure if that was her.
Yeah, that's who he thought he saw. I must have been hallucinating.
There was no way Brooke would go to the beach, he thought, considering how she hated it. She would much rather sleep in, go shopping or visit the bookstore – for manga. At least, that's what she does back home. That girl may not look it, but she was an avid fan of all things anime and manga.
Still, he thought to call her just in case he hadn't been conjuring an image of her. There was only a voicemail.
Yeah, she's definitely sleeping in, he nodded to himself, thinking of a conversation that happened long ago between them – well, a year before he came here.
"Brooke, come on. We've got to work on that project." He tugged on her comforter, but it was to no avail. Brooke had a death grip on it for someone who was barely awake.
She mumbled something, but he thought it sounded like "donkey's ass". Peeking out from under her sheet, she squinted an eye at him before saying, "Who let you in here?"
She let out a gasp of disbelief. "What ever happened to well-bred ladies and minding their decorum?"
"I guess she trust me around you." He shrugged.
Brooke glared at him. "Which would be her worst mistake ever. And I keep telling her too!"
Jethro rolled his eyes. "Quit with the dramatics. Now get up. Oh, and let me correct myself. We have to finish your essay before Monday…unless you don't need my help…?"
She sat up, her hair in disarray, but she did not care. She was slowly coming around, checking her phone for the time and day, before whining, "Ugh, don't bail on me now. It's just Saturday, though. We've still got tomorrow?"
Jethro hid a smile, trying to appear annoyed. It was a little hard to do since she was so unguarded and well, if he had to say so, pretty cute with her pout. But he really needed them to get it over with since he had to attend some relative's wedding at who knows where.
"Can't. Holden's getting married tomorrow."
"I don't know, a relative? My mom's sister's son?"
"Your cousin, then."
"And 10 points for figuring it –"
"Don't patronize me." Her voice was flat, a fluffy pillow ready to aim at him.
He laughed. "Okay! Brooke, how did you even get into that fancy school with this attitude?" He pondered, crossing his arms and giving her a frown.
She rubbed the sleep in her eyes, before smiling contentedly at him, and he felt an odd stir within him. Jethro ignored it because it was only nine thirty in the morning and he hadn't really had a proper breakfast yet.
"That's because I am an ace student." She proudly told him.
"How? I don't see it." He narrowed his eyes in curiosity.
"Here. I'll show you." She said before throwing the fluffy pillow at him, barely hitting his chest with a soft thump.
Jethro grinned before making the thumbs down, loser sign.
"Ugh! Get out of my room, Jethro."
"You'll get ready, right? No more sleeping in until you're done with this."
She waved his comments off, "Yes, I know, I know." before sighing. "And to think that I could sleep in on the weekends. Damn paper." She grumbled.
"Well, it's your fault for volunteering to write about your experiences in working as a part timer. You're not even working."
"Oh gosh, thanks so much for being obvious! That's why I need your insight on this." She was determined on this matter. Besides, Jethro wouldn't bail on her at this very last minute, she thought rationally, considering he even came to check on her.
"Why, though?" He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"Why did you volunteer?"
Brooke's expression went from confused to realization and then embarrassment. He was really dying to know what the reason was.
Finally, she said, "Oh God, don't judge okay. I know it's a dumb thing now."
He gave her a look. "You think so little of me."
She took a breath, exhaled then said, "I was trying to impress this guy –"
"Pfft. Aw, Brookie. I thought you were better than that." He gave her a pitying look and Brooke felt her muscle twitched near her temple.
"You're such a hypocrite! Now get out." She pushed him out. "I'll be glad to leave this town for that fancy school once my break is over. Then, I'll never have to see you again." She smiled breezily, as though she knew she had won.
But he didn't frown or looked annoyed. Instead, Jethro looked just as victorious as she was, and that made her reared back in suspicion. Was there something she didn't know?
"Never is a heavy word, Brooke. But sure, you have your fun…at least, until I transfer there in the next couple of months."
"What?" She didn't hear him right. She couldn't – he must have said something else. "What did you just say?"
"I said…" He drew closer to her, reaching to her height even though they're both tall. "I am going to that private school of yours next semester. Black Bridge Academy, right?"
He had never seen her looked so confused before, and thought she was going to descend Hell on him for not mentioning it sooner (he knew about it a month ago from his parents). But she only laughed, so amused was she by what she thought was his lie to get her.
When next semester came though, she wasn't laughing.
He smiled at that memory, shaking his head at their sixteen year old selves then. Jethro vaguely registered the interested and appreciative looks thrown his way but ignored them as he wasn't in the mood to flirt. His feet directed him to what looked like a beach hut – a tiki café? It could be a restaurant or just a resting shack.
Upon closer look, he decided it was definitely a shop selling food and drinks. It was a cool idea, and one which inspiration was blatant based on the straws used to patch the roof, a mountain of coconuts piled at a corner, the open space and relaxing music lulling the beach goers into a sense of tranquillity.
Jethro wasn't hungry but he was growing thirsty from all the work under the glaring sun. The place crawled with people, and it was no surprise there, since it was peak hours or whatever hour the beach goers decided to grab food. Walking towards the dine-in counter, he sat on a bar stool, surveying the chalked-written menu on the blackboard, colourful letters and drawings of food beverages decorating it. Some were familiar, and others just sounded like the name generator had thrown in a bunch of ideas. He couldn't help but eye the coconuts though…
He sipped the clear liquid from the husk, relishing the taste from nature herself; an alternating taste of lightly sweet and something inexplicable but damn well refreshing, he couldn't even stop himself until his mouth was full. The cooling sensation on his sweaty skin from the large fan above added to him feeling blissful. He scraped pieces of the white flesh in the husk, and thought that he could live by this for one whole week if it came down to it.
In the midst of swallowing, he glanced to his right and saw a girl smiling brightly at him, holding what seemed to be an iced lemon tea with the classic umbrella in it. While he had only wanted to enjoy his coconut water and be swept into the gaily atmosphere with his thoughts, he wouldn't turn down a good companionship.
"Hey." He smiled before taking another sip.
She gestured to the empty seat. "Mind if I sit there?"
He shook his head and when she struck a conversation, he turned his body slightly to show that he was listening.
"So, you're new around here?" She raised a brow, smiling.
He looked at her funnily. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it's just that I've been to this beach about a hundred times and I've never seen you here."
Jethro mulled over that. Ah, this sounds like one of those common pick-up lines he's heard before. Hell, he had definitely used it once or twice. The question here: was she really just a friendly but interested girl or was she really, really interested in him?
He let out a small laugh. "Then I think you've got your answer."
She blinked before giggling. "I guess so. I'm Laura."
"Jethro." He held out a hand and she reached to grasp it. "Do you go here?"
"Yeah, Grove High. Just about half an hour from this beach. What about you?"
He knew where that school was. In fact, he had dated a couple of girls from there. Some were nice girls, though. "Black Bridge Academy."
Her eyes widened, one of surprise but elation as well. "The one on the hill? Hidden by massive, thick trees?" When he nodded, amused, she continued, "Whoa. Is it true you guys have a built in recording studio and a theatre the size of the coliseum?"
Jethro raised his brow at the latter's exaggerated description.
How could such a size fit in his academy? At the very most, it could fit a thousand people like the Théâtre Marigny in Paris.
"We have a recording studio, but I wouldn't know anything about the theatre." He laughed.
"Oh, so it's just rumours then." She sounded disappointed which led him to think in bafflement if she thought all elite schools have magnificent amenities in them. He had seen a few, and in his opinion, they vary greatly.
The conversation felt like a dying ember from then onwards. What was the matter with him? Whereas he would usually be up to talking with the ladies, this time he felt as awkward as a pre-pubescent boy. Uncertain. Worried about making mistakes. This was one of the sides no one gets to see. Well, except one.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her glancing over her shoulder, and when he threw a glance to where she was looking at, Jethro knew for sure what she was here for.
She chuckled a little to herself before saying, "Have you heard about the fireworks and a bonfire happening tonight? Some of my friends are doing a little gig for a friend's birthday and since it's an open party, do you want to maybe come?"
Alright, he should have seen where this was going, but he had thought differently of it. Now that he was really looking at her, and taking in her features, Jethro could admit that she was really pretty. Quite possibly, she would beat some of the girls he had gone out with, but there was a part of him that didn't really feel like himself since the past hour.
Why did it feel like his chest had a gaping hole in it?
With an apologetic smile, he said, "Ah, I'm really flattered, but sorry, I'll be out of town tonight. Maybe next time?"
Laura's cheeks flushed and though she was disappointed, her smile didn't deflate. She was smiling in a way that she wanted to stop the wide grin, but also couldn't quite manage it. When she got her act under control, she nodded, "Oh, okay! That's cool. And yeah, maybe next time. Jethro."
He smiled lazily, nodding at her. "Later, Laura."
When she returned to her friends, whom then gushed with her, Jethro made to leave the place by paying for his drink. Before he could, a voice stopped him.
"Wow. I thought I was seeing things for one moment but nope, you're actually here."
He turned and found himself mesmerized at the vision before him. After a moment looking like a open-mouthed fish, he had to blink a few times before exclaiming in disbelief, "Brooke?"
Brooke cocked her hips, wearing a look of obvious displeasure on her face. She could not believe that today of all days, was the day she had to see Jethro – her annoying, but somewhat close friend – at the beach. She wasn't particularly mad that he was here, she just didn't want him to tease or mock her when she tries to hook up with a guy.
Brooke may be a lot of things, but extremely confident when in the presence of the one person who knew a lot about her weakness was still something she's trying to work on.
Besides, she had arrived just in time to see him turning down a girl's invitation – a rare moment if not the first! – and quite frankly, she was surprised and bemused.
There were two sides of him that she knew; one was a humble version and the other – the one that seemed to triumph even the humble side of him since he came here was a shameless flirt who took every interaction with other females a conquest. She had never thought she'd witness the moment he actually turn a girl down, but she did. And she was curious as to why.
She also noticed his eyes roving over her, as though he was taking his time but still unaware that he was caught.
"Did you just check me out?" She quipped in amusement, raising a brow at him before casting a glance at the girl who used to occupy the seat beside him. The girl and her friends too were aware of her, and they threw curious glances as they made their way out of the hut.
Jethro blinked before a sheepish smile stretched his face. He nodded cheekily.
Brooke wore a burgundy red bikini - her chest being one of her prides, besides her personality – and a black sarong wrapped around her waist. She gave him a droll stare. "Jet, that's gross." But under her breath, she said, "At least, don't make it obvious." before saying offhandedly, "I thought I'd never see the day where no girls would be flocking around you, but here we are. Are you really going to be out of town tonight?"
Jethro didn't need to put a front in front of Brooke, they go quite a long way back, technically speaking. Yet, there was this small part of him he didn't want to acknowledge, but couldn't ignore – the tiny spark, like his spirit was lifted or something when he saw her here.
"Eavesdropping? That's unlike you. How much did you hear?"
She sighed in annoyance. "I wasn't eavesdropping. And I literally just caught that."
He swept his hair back before smiling devilishly. "Yeah, I am. We're going out on a date tonight, remember?"
As expected, Brooke's pleasant expression turned into one of surprise before it changed into hopelessness. "Very bold of you to assume that, Jet." She shook her head, but there was a flicker of amusement in her eyes. She took the seat beside him and ordered an iced peach tea. "We've been through this before. If you're trying to impress me….well, don't. Because I haven't been impressed with anything you've done so far."
Jethro found himself falling into the easy banter whenever he was with her. With Brooke, there was no need to put on a different façade to woo her, no need to put on a filter, he could just be himself. She was cool like that. But this also meant she was about one in a million of girls who was immune to his charms.
Sometimes he counted that as a curse – a guy's ego tend to be bruised.
"Well then, what can I do to impress you?" He lightly asked, his devilish smile still present.
Instead of snapping a quick response, Brooke was quiet for a moment. And then, as one would ponder on a possible solution, she said, "Nothing. Unless you can just be yourself?"
He gave a confused look. "I am being myself. You know how I am, and so does everyone."
"Yeah, but I mean the other genuine, regular Jet that I know is hiding from people he wants to dazzle. I don't know, it just feels like you've been putting on a front for everyone rather than letting them know the real, unassuming guy you are." She shrugged as though it wasn't a big deal, but he knew there were only a handful things that weren't a big deal with her.
This didn't seem like it, because he caught onto her tone - and it was an attempt to sound indifferent. Brooke cared too much, or was just serious about things that he rely on her opinion more so than they both realized.
To say he was taken aback was an understatement. Jethro didn't feel like he had changed that much; he thought he had always been the same, except maybe better than who he was back at home.
"I think you're overthinking it, Brookie. This is the regular me that you've known since middle school." He said eventually. But when he pondered on it, he started to feel like maybe there was more than she let on. Glancing sideways at her, he said with a teasing smirk, "Wait...could it be that you're jealous?"
She was drinking her peach tea contentedly when he said that – and so shocked was she that the liquid went down the wrong pipe. She spluttered, coughing, but still managed to exclaim, "The audacity!" When she got herself together, she continued in bemusement, "Jethro Enzo Hunters, whatever made you think I was even jealous? I have better things to focus on, thank you very much."
And that was how Brooke managed to make him feel accomplished (a surprised reaction from her) and a failure (a somewhat implied insult) at the same time. He sighed, sobering up, getting too used to her reaction that he shouldn't feel hurt by her responses – because these are how they have always been.
He patted her back lightly, feeling a little bit guilty because she had choked on her drink – her cheeks were a pink peach and she kept thumping her chest too. "Shit, you alright? I'm so sorry, Brooke."
She narrowed her eyes because he was grinning. Taking a deep breath and exhaling it, she muttered, "You don't seem sorry at all."
"Aw come on, I really am." His grin grew wide, and Brooke couldn't keep up the façade. She rolled her eyes, a titter of chuckle escaping from her lips.
Glancing around, she observed the loud and chatty environment around them. There were a crowd of people cheering on a couple and when they kissed, the cheers grew louder. To him, she said, "I thought you were sleeping in today. You're never really a let's-do-something-on-the-weekend kinda guy. "
Jethro laughed. "I have my moment. And I thought you were sleeping in today. I didn't peg you as a beach goer, Brooke. Didn't you hate the beach?"
Amused, she retorted, "I like the beach just fine, just nowhere close to the waters, or it touching me." before raising a brow. "So, what are you really doing here?"
"Volunteering with the guys." He, too, was surveying his surroundings. He missed Brooke's frown, having remembered to text Pierre that he was at the hut, but all he got was an 'OK' and a picture of him grinning triumphantly pointing to a vinyl record of a band he didn't know. Jethro chuckled and showed the picture to Brooke.
"Pierre? That's Pierre, right?" Brooke exclaimed and when Jethro nodded, she still couldn't believe it. "I have so many questions."
"Fire away, woman –" He said, solemnly before letting out a small screech. "Ow! Quit doing that, it hurts."
Brooke had pinched him when he said that. It didn't usually bother her, but these days she had become a little bit more sensitive than the usual that even the littlest things nagged at her – and this time, it was Jethro's common use of 'woman'. It just…it sounds so disrespectful and vexing to her.
She scowled. "Well, don't call me a woman! I know I am one, but hearing you say that every time feels like an insult."
His brows furrowed and Jethro adopted a defensive stance. "But I'm not insulting you."
She sighed. "Yeah, but it feels like you are, so can you just…just not say that anymore? I don't know, I don't like it."
He paused in thought, assessing her and trying to understand why it bugged her so. And then he nodded and continued, "Now what about the questions? I love quizzes." He was giddy in excitement.
And just like that, Jethro bounced back like the sunshine he always appeared to be even after a moment of dissonance.
This was one of the reasons why Brooke always felt comfortable with him – despite their odd friendship – he never ponder on things too much, and he was thoughtful too. She could just be upfront with him without fearing a backlash – he was great like that.
And now it made her think about her earlier statement; how she hoped he would be more like himself instead of the try hard, flirtatious guy that sometimes gets on her nerves for absolutely no reason at all. It was like the version of him and the version he portrays most of the time, especially in front of strangers were too different that she couldn't grasp which was really him these days.
Maybe…maybe he should just be whomever he feels comfortable in being.
She turned so she faced him fully. "Okay! How the hell did you volunteering on a Saturday – I repeat: you, volunteering, on a Saturday," Jethro chuckled at this. "with a bunch of guys happened? And Pierre just sent you a picture? I…I can't understand what's happening. Start at the beginning." She demanded.
Still finding her reaction hilarious, he managed to explain without his chuckles getting too much in the way, and with each explanation, even though whoever from the outside had no idea what he was saying to her, her expression itself was a story of its own.
"Hold on, so you're saying you invited Pierre and he's got Max to come along, and you're all volunteering for something Sid brought up?"
"You're forgetting Zach." He held a finger to point that largely important information.
But all she said in a nonchalant manner was, "Oh, I know he's here. We already met."
"Hmm. Well...yeah, that's how it went down. Brooke, you wound me with that shocking look on your face. I'm pretty active too, y'know." He said, sounding offended before adding, "And not just with girls. Get your mind out of the gutter, you nasty."
"Gross! And I didn't even say anything." She was indignant – because he caught on to her.
"Your face tells it all." He retorted. "Now, what are you doing here? I know you were shopping for prom but what are you really doing here, in this hut?" He sounded knowing and she ignored the urge to pinch him – on his cheeky cheeks this time.
He was so annoying.
"What, can't a girl get a drink in this place? Or am I supposed to just buy them from the carts down there?"
He shrugged. "It's not that you can't. Just, if you're looking for dudes to hook up with, I'd save the effort."
Taken aback by how bold he was at guessing it, she bit her lip in irritation before saying, "Yeah? And why is that?"
He was waiting for that opening.
"Because there's no one worthy of your attention, but me."
"Wow." To say she was surprise could not even do her feelings justice. "You're unbelievable."
"Well, I can be even more unbelievable." His elbow on the counter, he looked at her like one would in adoration. "Do you think I'm attractive?"
She stared at him, suddenly feeling a little bashful before scoffing and looking elsewhere. Brooke was at a loss at what's gotten into him. Jethro flirts, even with his friends but there was always a limit. He knew how to make people blush, laugh, and brush things off as though it was all a harmless fun. He knew people doesn't always take him seriously, and he intended it.
But why does it feel like the lines have been blurred? He…was unusually persistent. She had no idea how to gauge this, so she went with the usual.
Brooke shook her head and smiled. "You know you are."
He let out a chuckle before meeting her gaze, tapping one of her fingers lightly. "Naw, come on. I asked if you, Brooke Faith Chamberlain, find me attractive. Not your pet cat or your grandma."
When he said it like that, well, he had her tongue tied. It was seldom that she didn't have a retort on her lips especially when it's him, but somehow whenever they were alone, it was like she forget how words were formed.
She tried to guess what he was up to. He didn't betray his thoughts.
Maybe for the first time ever, Brooke looked at him. Really looked at him – his stubborn jaw, the way his deep set eyes seemed to bore a hole into her soul the more they were staring at each other, and…
…and that lopsided grin on his face.
Ah, I see.
Angling her body to him – close but just barely touching – she closed the inches of space between them, her eyes never breaking their gaze. She wanted him to be just as enamored as he had done to all the other girls. Just as he knew how to be charming, she had a few tricks under her sleeve as well.
"Actually, I do." Her voice was sultry and she watched as he widened his eyes a fraction. And then she saw doubt flickering in his eyes before deciding to hit it home once and for all. Just like he tapped her finger earlier, her touch on his lips were feathery when she said, "When you talk less."
Brooke paid for her drink before giving him a dazzling smile, knowing she had left him speechless for a moment. He was rooted in his spot, blinking a few times before laughing a little into his hand, as though he had been rendered hopeless.
This was a layer of scene that no one – not even their friends – get to see of them. Outside, they would banter well and no one would even guess there was anything between them – there wasn't – but when it was only the two of them, things get a little more intimate, closer, and dangerous.
She had no idea how it all started, only that she was already deep in this strange arrangement and pastime between them. No one brought it up anyway and before they knew it, it was kind of like a game.
As she left her change and walked away from the hut, she pondered on something. The thing that many, if not all guys, failed to understand about her…was that Brooke may be affected by a compliment or coquetry every now and then – she may even be an active participant in initiating it – but these aren't the way to her heart.
Brooke was too good to fall for any of these cheap tricks – she couldn't – because she had seen and experienced it too many times that there seemed to have no meaning in them.
She didn't know what game he was trying to play with her now, but she knew it was going to be a long time before either of them came out victorious.
Being impressed…well, she may be the hardest contender to win over.ns184.108.40.206da2