Chapter 2:

Not So Calm Before The Storm

Don't Miss The Target♥

After the last event, everyone started focusing more on the upcoming exams rather than the summer trip we had planned. Communications were still open though. We still chatted over Lime, and I would try to get Arty involved in a conversation with Tabitha whenever I can, but everyone’s priority was studying. There were only short periods in the evening where the group chat was active, and having the two being available at the same time was completely up to luck.Bookmark here

I could not really blame anyone for that. After all, the exams were going to come first.Bookmark here

Furthermore, the summer trip would also still depend on our academic results.Bookmark here

It was not that anyone was going to forbid us from going if we failed. It was more like we would be forced to participate in summer classes if we did, and they were held from Monday to Saturday. Truancy was not an option because attendance was strictly monitored and it was tied to passing these extra classes, or so I heard.Bookmark here

I have not experienced summer classes yet, so I was just going on what others who have attended it before has told me.Bookmark here

Alternatively, it would not have been a problem had our planned summer escape was just a day trip. If that was the case, then we could have just gone on one afternoon if any of us were to become stuck in school for the break since the classes only take place in the mornings. Bookmark here

Now, I know what you are thinking. If someone does get thrown into summer classes, why can they not just come afterwards?Bookmark here

Well, I guess let me start by telling you a bit about the outing.Bookmark here

For starters, we were not going on a weekend. I have mentioned this before, but our trip was taking place on the fifth day of summer vacation. The break starts the very Saturday after the exams, so our trip was on the following Wednesday.Bookmark here

It was going to be a two-day, one-night excursion to the beach. We planned to depart early morning, then return home maybe mid or late afternoon the next day, depending on everyone’s mood.Bookmark here

The travel would take around two hours by car from our little part of the city, and public transport may take at least an extra hour longer, or so I was told. We planned on going by car with Dana’s elder sister agreeing to take us all on the trip.Bookmark here

If someone were to try catching up, they would have to leave as soon as school is over at noon, then return by night so they don’t miss class the next morning.Bookmark here

It sounds doable, but that was really only a couple of hours participating in the fun. It was still a weekday and adults still had to go to work, so having a parent drive them to and fro is out of the question. Taking public transport means they arrive around mid-afternoon, and if they don’t want to return home too late, they would have to leave by early evening. The limited time will very likely only be spent by resting from the commute, maybe snack on some food, having a quick splash, then going home. Who would want to waste a trip for that?Bookmark here

Furthermore, they still miss out on most of the happenings. For overnight beach trips, the greatest fun is participating in the preparations, the fun and games played under the sun, and the bonding at night. Arriving in the middle of all that to eat and run will make anyone feel that they did not become part of the fun.Bookmark here

Then again, it was not like the girls were in danger of failing in any of their classes, so that was very unlikely going to be their motivation to study. In fact, they were all in Class A, the cream of the crop. They were most likely focused on their studies for the sole reason of doing well.Bookmark here

On the other hand, there were us guys. While we were not the worst performers, we were all in Class D. In our year, the classes go up to H, so our class was basically the middle of the pack. Bookmark here

Now, you might think being average means that we just have to do our usual to pass because average is still a passing mark, but you’re not thinking outside the box. Being an average student does not necessarily mean we can do each subject well enough to pass comfortably. Maybe some can, but for the rest of us, it means we were good at some things, and we were bad at other things, which brings an equilibrium to our grades and making us appear average.Bookmark here

Arty, Charlie, Eric and I fell into that category. While none of us has had a failing grade before, all of us have already cut it close at least once. The possibility of extra summer classes was still real, especially on our weakest subjects.Bookmark here

I was bad at social studies. Arty was, unsurprisingly, bad at languages. Charlie was bad at math and sciences. Eric is... Bookmark here

Well, I guess Eric was not in danger. He was weakest at PE, but he was decent at everything else. Bookmark here

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone fail PE. You can pass just by showing up even if you were bad at physical activities.Bookmark here

Anyway, seeing that us guys may need a bit of tutoring, I figured I could ask the girls for help in that regard. I thought that we could study together and perhaps it could bring our relationships a little bit closer. Arty and Tabitha especially.Bookmark here

I still had to do my job as a cupid after all. Bookmark here

The weekend before the exams, I tried organizing a study session through the Lime group chat with the people for the trip. I could just set it up that Arty and Tabitha can be alone studying, but I figured he might just chicken out. No, I was certain he will. I thought being in a group would make him more comfortable, so having other people join in was the best course of action.Bookmark here

“Study group at the library tomorrow morning, anyone?”, I messaged the gang.Bookmark here

The first one to respond was Fran. She said she could not go as her parents did not allow it.Bookmark here

I expected that, so it was no big deal.Bookmark here

Although, I could not help wonder if she was bored out of her mind being forced to study all day long by her parents as she replied to my message so quickly. I imagined she has her phone hidden between some book so she can have easy access to the outside world every time she wanted a break.Bookmark here

Arty confirmed without as much as a complaint, thankfully.Bookmark here

Charlie and Dana were game. They were already having their own study sessions anyway and did not mind having the extra people.Bookmark here

...Charlie, you lucky bastard.Bookmark here

Beth confirmed and also left a teasing remark as usual. “Way to go getting girls tutor you.”Bookmark here

I ignored her. I was not sure on what she meant when I have not said anything yet about being tutored.Bookmark here

Eric declined by just messaging “I’m good”.Bookmark here

Only Tabitha was missing, but she has left the messages in the chat group as “Seen”, meaning she has read the message chain.Bookmark here

I sent the message around 10:30 in the morning, and everyone else replied within thirty minutes. The afternoon came, and Tabitha still has not replied in the group chat. I was getting nervous about my plan. It would not work without her there. Bookmark here

I have already specified that we do it at the library and regretted being hasty about it. I wondered if I could still change the location of our study group to my house and have the same people come. Because if it was here in my home, I can drag Tabitha into studying with everyone whether she wanted to or not. My last resort would be peer pressure. I knew where she lived. Our homes were only two houses apart after all. I could send Dana and Beth to convince her to come.Bookmark here

As I was busy considering my plans, my room’s door burst open along with a loud voice exclaiming “I knew it!”Bookmark here

Like a detective catching a criminal red-handed.Bookmark here

To my surprise, it was Tabitha in her old track suit charging through my room towards me, who was seated in front of my computer.Bookmark here

“I had a feeling you weren’t studying!”Bookmark here

I silently cursed. I knew where this was heading.Bookmark here

“You can’t just start studying tomorrow”, she scolded me. “You have to study now if you want to pass!”Bookmark here

I put up some resistance for a bit, explaining that I planned to study later that night, but she was having none of it.Bookmark here

“That’s too late!” she argued and we had a little back and forth.Bookmark here

After losing all arguments, I was dragged down from my room. Or to be more specific, I was nagged to come down. Tabitha did not really have the physicality to strong-arm me.Bookmark here

Downstairs in the dining room, I found a rare guest. A girl with a ponytail who was dressed casually in a light pink tank top and black shorts. It was Beth. She and Tabitha were probably together before ambushing me in my own home.Bookmark here

How did they get inside the house? Well, my mom readily invited the two girls in. Bookmark here

My mom obviously knew Tabitha because she was a neighbor. Bookmark here

My mom recognized Beth because she had already visited a few times in the past for some projects back when we were in grade school. Bookmark here

My mom knew the pair enough to let them hold her very own son prisoner in their very own dining room.Bookmark here

There, I was forced to study. Social studies especially were the focus as that was my weakest subject, and they knew of this fact.Bookmark here

Sometimes, I hate having a childhood friend.Bookmark here

From an outside perspective, it may seem nice being tutored by two cute girls, but let me tell you having a strict and diligent tutor is never fun if you were not the studious type. Now, imagine having double that.Bookmark here

Of course, Beth being Beth, she has not passed the opportunity to tease me about it.Bookmark here

“So how does it feel having two girls tutor you?”Bookmark here

I gave no comment. But, I recalled the message she sent earlier that day, and thought I finally got what she meant. They probably assumed I was going to ask for help during the study group because I was putting off studying until the last minute, so they got ahead of themselves and forced me to study today instead.Bookmark here

Instead of answering Beth, I asked both girls what made them do this sudden study group.Bookmark here

“Funny story actually”, Beth remarked cheerfully. “Tabby and I were at her place studying when we saw your message”.Bookmark here

Tabby was Beth’s nickname for Tabitha by the way.Bookmark here

“Then she thought that you only planned to cram tomorrow, so she quickly gathered up materials and-”Bookmark here

“Beth!”, Tabitha interjected.Bookmark here

“Ah ha ha. Sorry. Sorry.” Beth apologized to Tabitha for some reason. Then she turned back to me to say “Basically, we’d be in a bind if you failed a class because we will lose a pair of hands to carry our luggage.”Bookmark here

Ouch. I knew that was the reason they added boys to their plans, but it still hurt when she said it like that. At least tell me you don’t want to leave me behind or something!Bookmark here

“Which is why you really need to study right now”, Tabitha commanded.Bookmark here

I complied. Even if I did not get the full story from Beth, what she said was enough to make me think my assumptions were close.Bookmark here

Anyway, I thought this situation I suddenly found myself in would be a good chance to do some work with Arty and Tabitha’s relationship. I figured I would invite him to my home, baiting him for some reason I haven’t cooked up yet, and get him to join this guerrilla study group.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, I left my phone up in my room. I tried getting to it, but Tabitha’s guard was too tight as she already knew how to prevent me from sneaking my way out. Bookmark here

As you would have guessed from our interaction when she raided my room, this was not the first time she has forced me into studying. Bookmark here

In grade school, she was already the studious and diligent type, but strict and expected everyone to keep up to her standards. She was a very uptight kind of kid, but most of her friends were smart and had similar attitudes, so she had no problems fitting in. Bookmark here

I say “most” because she still had a friend who were not in the same category as her, namely me, so she usually took it upon herself to try bringing me up to her level. But, I used to always manage giving her the slip. Bookmark here

I stopped ditching her to go out and play around fifth grade though. I spied her once in our dining room crying by herself while doing some math problems. I felt really bad about it, so I stopped running away from her.Bookmark here

By middle school, that changed. By that time, she had already softened her stance that everyone should take school seriously. Consequently, she started gaining more friends. But, she was still strict with me and my studies. I also have already stopped feeling bad about that one event, so I started sneaking away from our study sessions again.Bookmark here

“You’re not a little kid anymore, your tears won’t work on me!” were my exact words to her when she caught me heading for the front door once.Bookmark here

Before, whenever she catches me trying to sneak away, she would only plead for me to come back, sometimes teary-eyed. After I said those parting words, she started working smarter. Being a kid my age, she knew where to hit me where it hurt the most.Bookmark here

At first, she started holding my handheld gaming console hostage.Bookmark here

“I’ll delete all your saves”, she threatened. Bookmark here

She was not bluffing. I knew she also owned the same exact device, so she knew her way around it. Stashing them somewhere where she could not get her hands on it turned out fruitless since she had the cooperation of my mom, who somehow knew all of my hiding spaces.Bookmark here

When I got my first personal computer, she once again adapted.Bookmark here

“I’ll reveal your browsing history to all our friends in social media.”Bookmark here

Again, it was not a bluff. She was not tech illiterate. Her family has had a computer since she was young, so she would know how to do it.Bookmark here

I tried securing my computer with passwords, but-Bookmark here

“Hmm? Are you sure that keeps it safe?”Bookmark here

Now, that one I had a feeling was a bluff. However, her dad worked with computers and the impression I had of him was he was some sort of wizard with it. I thought it was not impossible that he knew how to break into computers locked by passwords, and if he did, she had easy access to that knowledge.Bookmark here

I did not risk it. After that, I quietly gave in. At least, at first.Bookmark here

I started playing the long con. I had already realized the reason she kept forcing me to study with her was that because she did not trust me to study on my own. So in order to gain her trust, I started taking studying a little bit seriously. Sometimes, she would find me studying on my own, in which she would join me without fuss.Bookmark here

At some point, she stopped bothering me about studying. That did not mean I was free yet, however. Instead, she started making surprise inspections to see if I was actually hitting the books, but essentially, she was off my back for the most part. But the truth was that I was no longer studying as much when she was around, and she was none the wiser. Bookmark here

I wasn’t sure if she was aware of it, but she followed a pattern whenever she was about to get me to study. When she was still forcing me, she always came around just after lunch. The timings were not exact, but the time frame was around that general period. That didn’t change when she went from tutoring to merely checking what I was doing, so I knew when to bring out the books and pretend. She never caught on.Bookmark here

By the time we were in high school, she stopped with the inspections. The ruse worked, though it had taken more than a year, and a switch to a higher level of education for it to succeed. Bookmark here

Although, I almost screwed it all up when I barely passed a few classes in the first semester of our first year. I actually got the lowest passing score in them. Luckily, I managed to avoid having been forced into studying by promising to do better. She had her doubts, but by the end of the following semester, I did improve. Well, it was only by a few marks, but that was enough for her to not push the issue further.Bookmark here

So going back to the present, I was being tutored by Tabitha for the first time since starting high school. But, because of her past experiences with me, she was very well verse on how to deal with me if I try to sneak out, which prevented me from even taking a quick trip to my room to get my phone.Bookmark here

This time though, she was not threatening me with anything. I guess she has matured from being a kid who thinks it is okay to resort to sabotage to get her way.Bookmark here

There was just a lot of nagging now.Bookmark here

Anyway, she would not let me pass even when I told her my intentions, that I just wanted to go to my room to pick up my phone, invite Arty, then obediently return to the dining room to study with them.Bookmark here

“I’m not buying it”, she said. Bookmark here

Even though that was the truth.Bookmark here

Even when I told her that she can come with me to my room, she would not allow it. Bookmark here

“If you go up first, you might run and shut the door on me. If I go up first, you’d be free to run towards the front door”, she explained.Bookmark here

I think I did pull both tricks on her before.Bookmark here

Apparently, my only options were forcing my way through, or giving up completely. If I did not have that mission from Aphrodite, I might have just chosen the second option. But, that vague feeling of knowing there might be some sort of penalty if I failed made me choose the first option.Bookmark here

I had something I want to protect.Bookmark here

I did not try hitting or shoving Tabitha though. My mom did not raise me to hit girls. Bookmark here

Instead, I swept her off her feet, carried her through the dining room, then through the hallway, up the stairs, and into my room. All the while, she was protesting, struggling, asking me what I was doing, and telling me to put her down.Bookmark here

I planned to put her down when we got to my room, but it felt that I might accidentally drop her when she was struggling so much. Through some quick thinking, I instead carefully put her on top of my bed.Bookmark here

By then, she had stopped protesting. I had a good view of her face, which was already as red as a tomato, as she wore a look of embarrassment and bewilderment. Bookmark here

Our eyes locked, then I said “Now, I’m just taking my phone, okay?”, and that was what I did.Bookmark here

I then called Arty to invite him to come over without telling who was present, of course, because he might chicken out. But apparently, his relatives were visiting and he could not get away from them.Bookmark here

The plan was a bust from the beginning.Bookmark here

When I finished my call, Tabitha had already gotten up from the bed and was sitting, leaning forward with both her hands on her face.Bookmark here

“Told ya I was telling the truth”, I tried saying to her.Bookmark here

She did not react.Bookmark here

I started becoming concerned because I thought she was crying and asked “Are you okay? Did I bump your head on to something?” Bookmark here

I inched closer to take a look if she was hurt somewhere, but then I was suddenly hit by a pillow.Bookmark here

“Stupid!” she said as she continued to attack me with the pillow. “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”Bookmark here

She was more mad than anything.Bookmark here

After she’s had enough, we went back down. I went straight to the dining room while she took a detour to freshen up.Bookmark here

In the dining room, I found Beth diligently going through her notes as if nothing had happened. At least, until I sat down at the table to start going through my textbook.Bookmark here

She began teasing meBookmark here

“Oh hey, lover boy”, she said as she stopped what she was doing. “I never knew you were so bold, doing all that even with your parents in the house.”Bookmark here

“Whatever you’re thinking, I did nothing of the sort”, I said without making eye contact.Bookmark here

“Do you really expect me to believe that after all the bumping I heard coming from upstairs?”, she said with a knowing smile. She had already come up to my room for a visit when we were kids, so she knew my room was above the dining room.Bookmark here

“Those sounds you heard probably came from her hitting me with a pillow.”Bookmark here

“Oh, so a pillow fight, huh?”Bookmark here

“Wait, is that word even used for what you’re implying?”Bookmark here

“I guess this solves the mystery of why Tabby hasn’t been dating anyone”, she said, suddenly getting somber. “I had my suspicions, but even I, her best friend, didn’t know the real reason.”Bookmark here

“We’re not dating if that’s what you’re saying. She’s still technically not seeing anyone at the moment.”Bookmark here

“What? Really? Because it certainly doesn’t look that way to me after what happened.”Bookmark here

“That’s the truth. We’re not secret lovers or anything. We’re just close childhood friends.”Bookmark here

“In that case...” She paused for a moment before getting what she wanted to say out fully. “If that was really the case, do you think I have a chance with you?”Bookmark here

I was so surprised with what I heard that I wasn’t able to answer immediately. I looked up from my textbook and tried to look at her facial expression, but she was looking the other way so I had no way of knowing if she was just teasing me.Bookmark here

Before I could respond, Tabitha entered the dining room.Bookmark here

“I hope you’re ready”, she declared looking straight at me.Bookmark here

I was switching my attention between the two girls until I noticed Beth was looking back at me with a wide grin. Bookmark here

She whispered “I’m joking”.Bookmark here

So she was only teasing me as usual. Bookmark here

I was about to calm down, but Tabitha appeared beside the table with her arms crossed and a scary smile on her face. She had already composed herself from the earlier commotion, but evidently the anger remained boiling inside. Bookmark here

“We are now about to begin a more rigid study session.”Bookmark here

That made me nervous. I was expecting she would give me more work, but luckily nothing happened of the sort.Bookmark here

She forbade me from standing up until it was over, however.Bookmark here

Our study group went on until six in the evening, which by then the two girls have excused themselves and went home. Or rather, they went to Tabitha’s. Apparently, Beth was staying over.Bookmark here

As soon as they were out the door, my mom tried to squeeze some information out of me. She asked what the earlier commotion was all about. Naturally, she had taken a look when she heard all the noise we were making and saw me carrying Tabitha up to my room.Bookmark here

I told her the truth. I did not want my mom to have unnecessary misunderstandings. But, that didn’t stop her from sharing all the wild speculations she had about Tabitha’s feelings for me, all of which were just her projecting her opinions of me as my mom.Bookmark here

Once my mom finished trying to tell me that I should just make Tabitha my girlfriend, only then was I allowed to go to my room to pick up my phone, but there would have been no point contacting Arty anyway. The chance was gone.Bookmark here

There was still tomorrow at least.Bookmark here

However, the tomorrow that I had planned for did not really work out as I had hoped.Bookmark here

Tabitha and Beth continued to be strict with my studies, not showing any concern from what transpired from the day before on their faces. They were primarily glued to me whether I liked it or not. So much that rather than being my tutors, they felt more like two prison guards watching over me, the inmate, so I do not escape.Bookmark here

The two girls also figured Arty did not need their help as he was only struggling in the languages. Charlie was actually the best at those, even among the Class A girls, so everyone thought that he should be the one helping Arty. Bookmark here

Because of that, I could not convince them, or at least Tabitha, to also tutor Arty and focus less on me. The latter being my most immediate concern as I could already feel my brain burning from all the information going into it.Bookmark here

We finished around mid-afternoon, but everyone agreed to go home immediately to rest since the day after is the first day of the exams. The studious girls wanted to relax at home so they would not feel tired for it, so there were no stopovers as a group after the study session.Bookmark here

“And that is why I haven’t made progress”, I stated.Bookmark here

I was not saying that to myself though. I was video chatting with Aphrodite for the first time in months. It was not a friendly talk either. We were having an online meeting to ask me how I was doing with the mission she gave me.Bookmark here

I have not mentioned it yet, but she had been asking for biweekly status reports through email. Bookmark here

(Yeah, I was surprised, too, that an ancient god is now so methodical and organized. I guess that’s modern technology enabling it.)Bookmark here

There was nothing notable about it since I would usually reply that there was no progress, the male target kept chickening out, and there really was barely any development.Bookmark here

But, three months have passed since I was given the task. While I was given no time limit, she was probably getting impatient, which is why she has sent me an invite for a chat on the first morning of summer break.Bookmark here

I did not ignore and mark it as spam this time, knowing full well what will happen if I do.Bookmark here

“The average time it takes to complete a mission is one month”, she said, sounding unhappy. “Two for the hardest tasks.”Bookmark here

“The mission is pretty hard, actually”, I nervously tried reasoning.Bookmark here

“Calm down”, she said. “Three months is not unheard of, I am not about to reprimand you.”Bookmark here

I perked up and straightened my back when I heard that, thinking I was not in hot water.Bookmark here

“At least, not yet”, she said.Bookmark here

I slouched back down on the follow up. It seems I was still in trouble.Bookmark here

“However, heed my warning. The longest time a replacement cupid has fulfilled their mission is six months.”Bookmark here

“But when you gave me the mission, you haven’t given a deadline!”Bookmark here

“Indeed, there is no time limit”, she assured. “Yet, in order to motivate you humans and assure you carry out your tasks properly, there must be sanctions for poor performances.”Bookmark here

“But that wasn’t on the fine print either!”Bookmark here

“You are again correct. However, I am informing you this now, am I not?”Bookmark here

What an arbitrary goddess, I thought. But it was obvious I did not have a say in things.Bookmark here

“You have been warned. I trust you know what will occur once you fail?”Bookmark here

I reflexively reached for the part she took from me before with both hands and closed my legs. “Y-yes”, I anxiously answered.Bookmark here

“Use your remaining three months well if you do not want to meet punishment.”Bookmark here

I silently nodded, but still in the same weird pose.Bookmark here

“Any questions?”Bookmark here

“What happens after the punishment? Will I be removed from the mission?”Bookmark here

“Nay. As I said, there is no time limit. The sanction is more like a whip, you see, but I will still be employing you for the task.”Bookmark here

“Will there be another performance review if I still haven’t finished the job by another six months?”Bookmark here

“You assumed correctly.”Bookmark here

I was not sure what she will be taking by then, so I just tightened my hold on the first body part that I know she will take.Bookmark here

She chuckled upon seeing my reaction.Bookmark here

“Rest assured. Once you’ve accomplished your tasks, I will reverse your punishments. I am not so cruel as to not reward a completed quest.”Bookmark here

Then that was the end of the video call. Bookmark here

Her parting words weren’t reassuring at all!Bookmark here

That call confirmed what I had feared. Actually, it was worse than I expected. I thought that, if I failed, I would meet some form of punishment, but I was not expecting to be potentially penalized more than once.Bookmark here

In any case, I needed to pair up Arty and Tabitha within three months or I lose my little brother. The trip were a handful of days away, and I was not planning on doing anything except wait it out, but the conversation with Aphrodite gave me a sense of urgency that I had to do something until then.Bookmark here

So what can we do for the three and a half days before the beach retreat? Bookmark here

No, more like this Saturday afternoon, Sunday, Monday, and maybe Tuesday morning. We were going to leave early morning Wednesday after all. Some of them will probably want to do some preparations on Tuesday afternoon then hit the sack early so they can wake on time.Bookmark here

The problem, however, was I no longer had any spending money. I have already spent it all on games because I thought I would spend my time playing until the day of the trip. Bookmark here

I have not spent all my money though, but all the cash I had left I have set aside for the trip. I could not use it because it was absolutely vital I go to the outing as it was my best chance of getting Arty and Tabitha to fall in love with each other.Bookmark here

But for the present, forget asking anyone to hang out somewhere because I would not even be able to afford the fare!Bookmark here

I wracked my brain for something we could do without spending money, but all I had were ideas that I could not follow through.Bookmark here

Invite them to my home for some gaming? I could if I had a gaming console. I only have my desktop computer for that purpose, which did not have party games.Bookmark here

Invite them for a LAN party? I could probably get the boys to come, but I was sure that will not bring the girls in.Bookmark here

Invite them for board games? The only board game my family owned was chess, and I think it was even missing pieces.Bookmark here

Basketball at a nearby court? I was not sure if Tabitha will show up, she was not a basketball fan.Bookmark here

Study at the library? Who the hell would want to study on summer break? I sure don’t.Bookmark here

MetFlix and chill? Wait, I don’t have lewd intentions! Bookmark here

Although, an all-day movie marathon could work. Bookmark here

My dad was a movie buff. He had a large collection of Blu-Ray and DVDs of movies from different genres. We could even watch something that was not in the only online streaming service we were subscribed to.Bookmark here

However, since he was such a movie fanatic, he kind of holes himself up in the living room to watch movies on the TV when at home during the weekends. I could only try inviting everyone on Monday when he was out for work. My mom would also not mind if I invite them over then.Bookmark here

So that was one day taken care of. Now all that was left was to fill the remaining time, which I unfortunately lacked any more ideas on how to spend them. Bookmark here

The afternoon came, and I gave up coming up with more ideas, which is when I started inviting the gang for my planned movie marathon in the Lime group chat. I guess everyone was bored because all of them answered within ten minutes. I received positive responses.Bookmark here

Charlie and Dana said they were going, but since they both had shifts in the morning, they will catch up in the afternoon.Bookmark here

Arty initially said he was not coming, so I had to do a little bit of convincing before he finally said yes.Bookmark here

Beth confirmed, but strangely without a teasing remark.Bookmark here

Tabitha said she will come once everyone else who were coming in the morning has come. That was one perk of being so close by the meeting place, I guess.Bookmark here

Surprisingly, Eric said he will also participate. But similar to the other part-timers, he will have to catch up in the afternoon.Bookmark here

Even more surprisingly, Fran also said she was coming.Bookmark here

Oh wait, she was only forbidden from going out by her parents because of the exams, so now that they were over, it should be no surprise that she was now allowed to come out and play.Bookmark here

Although, it seemed like she was still under some constraints. Her attending to the get together came with a condition. Bookmark here

Her dad only found out recently that the summer retreat she was going to included boys. He had thought it was an all-girls trip, which was actually the initial plan, and was why he readily allowed her to go before. When he heard that the plans had changed, he immediately wanted Fran to cancel on us. But after some convincing by her and her mother – who apparently was not as strict as her husband, he compromised by asking to meet some of us.Bookmark here

Basically, Fran going to the movie marathon and the summer trip was now dependent on us meeting her father for lunch the next day, Sunday.Bookmark here

Now, this may sound heartless, but I initially thought that Fran’s dad was none of my concern. He sounded intimidating and was someone I would not want to be acquainted with, so I stayed quiet in the chat.Bookmark here

The three part-timers were the first to chime in saying they could not come because, again, they have work. Bookmark here

Beth said she would go, and there we have our representative.Bookmark here

I figured we could just leave the matter to her so I remained silent.Bookmark here

But then Tabitha said she would also go.Bookmark here

Immediately switching to cupid mode, I scrambled my brain to think of a way to get Arty to participate in this.Bookmark here

Luckily, what Fran said next was a godsend. Bookmark here

“Father says to bring a boy, too”, she said.Bookmark here

“Hey Arty, don’t you live close by? You should go, too.”Bookmark here

I lied. I did not actually know if he lived near Fran’s home, but I said it anyway to put his name in the hat.Bookmark here

I was expecting his excuses, so my mind was busy coming up of counterarguments to the things he might say to get out of it. But, I was not anticipating others to rebuke my idea.Bookmark here

“I’m not sure if Arty should”, Tabitha said.Bookmark here

“Yeah, you should go instead”, Beth followed.Bookmark here

That caught me off guard. Instead of being on the offensive trying to convince Arty, I found myself on the defense trying to weasel out of the errand.Bookmark here

“Wait, why?”Bookmark here

“Arty doesn’t seem like he can handle Fran’s dad”, Tabitha replied.Bookmark here

Apparently, the other girls have already met Fran’s parents a few times, because they all seem to be in agreement with that statement.Bookmark here

“Arty lives closer.”Bookmark here

“Actually, it doesn’t seem so”, he finally called my bluff. “She’s two stations away from me.”Bookmark here

“She’s two stations away from here, too, and I don’t have money for the train anymore.”Bookmark here

“I’ll lend you money”, “I’ll pay for your fare”, Tabitha and Fran said respectively at almost the same time.Bookmark here

At that point, I realized I had no more avenues to sneak through.Bookmark here

“Okay already. But why me?”Bookmark here

“Because you’re dependable”, Tabitha answered.Bookmark here

“Yes, Mr. Dependable”, Beth teased.Bookmark here

Arty even took a shot. “Hey, Mr. Dependable.”Bookmark here

“I hate being dependable, man.”Bookmark here

On the bright side, I filled my Sunday with an activity. Just not with something that could progress my mission in getting Arty and Tabitha together as he would not be present.Bookmark here

Regardless, the following morning, Tabitha and I went on our way to this errand. (She lent me the fare.) We met Beth at the station, and now found ourselves in an affluent area with large houses and small mansions. Apparently, Fran’s family was rich.Bookmark here

When the gate opened for us, I could see why the girls said Arty may not be up to the task. Fran’s dad was more intimidating than I imagined. He had an aura of importance like he was some sort of big shot in a company or a politician. Paired with the fact that he was rich, he was three times more intimidating than the average overprotective father. Arty would have definitely run away from him.Bookmark here

Fran was also there to meet the three of us, but she was barely noticeable behind her dad.Bookmark here

I have already met her at this point in time, by the way. Arty and I continued to haunt the school’s hallways even during exam week. One time, she and Dana went out of their classroom together, and that was when she was introduced to us because Dana knew Fran had not met any of the boys yet aside from Charlie. Bookmark here

Long straight hair, slanted eyes, and tall, she was a familiar face all thanks to Arty and I frequenting the hallway. Actually, I’ve seen her with either Tabitha or Beth before, sometimes with both of them. But, that was the first time I was able to connect her face to her name. The two could have introduced us before, but they just assumed I already knew her name for some reason.Bookmark here

Anyway, the meeting with Fran’s dad really just took over lunch. He only wanted to find out who his daughter was going to the trip with. He just asked questions about all the boys who were going. Who were they? What do their parents do? How were they doing in school? Who was dating who? Who was courting who? Stuff like that.Bookmark here

Of course, since I was classmates with them, I was the one giving most of the answers, including the questions about me, obviously. Fran’s dad glared at me the entire time, however, so that made me nervous. I also wasn’t sure if I was speaking coherently because of it.Bookmark here

The three girls were also in the conversation, but they were mostly just adding to what I’ve already said.Bookmark here

By the end of the meal, Fran’s dad was satisfied and announced at the table that she could go with us on the trip. We three guests were also free to go. Bookmark here

Or rather, I was free to go. Tabitha and Beth decided to hang out a bit with Fran in her home. They also told me I could stay if I wanted, but decided against it. I was mentally exhausted from Fran’s dad glaring at me, so I wanted to go home where I can relax instead of staying at a place where I feel like I wasn’t welcome.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, my trials were not over yet. On my way out, I was escorted by Fran’s dad, and it seemed like he has got something more to say.Bookmark here

“You kids have a fun and wholesome trip now, you hear?”Bookmark here

“Yes, sir. We will.”Bookmark here

“Now, by ‘wholesome’, I hope you know what I mean”, he said somewhat threateningly.Bookmark here

Of course, I got the message.Bookmark here

“I-I do, sir.”Bookmark here

“Good. But if I ever find out that something inappropriate happens involving my daughter, I will hold you responsible.”Bookmark here

I wanted to protest that what he was demanding was unreasonable, but I was highly intimidated and too mentally exhausted to argue.Bookmark here

He continued “If something ever happens, I will cut your dick off.”Bookmark here

Great, just what I needed. First, a slave-driving goddess was threatening to take my manhood, now a violent overprotective father was telling me he would mutilate it.Bookmark here

But when I had the time to think about it during the commute home, I realized I was not in danger because none of the four boys will be making a pass at her. Bookmark here

It was not because she was unattractive, mind. In fact, she was pretty, and with her height, you would be forgiven to think she was a model. Bookmark here

But, Charlie already had a girlfriend he was head over heels with, Arty’s crush was Tabitha, Eric was not the flirting type, and I did not want my little brother to be beheaded.Bookmark here

Logically thinking, I was the only one who could potentially try something with Fran. But since I know myself so well, and am so sure that I will not do nothing anything of the sort, especially with the threats thrown at me, I had nothing to worry about.Bookmark here

I pressed on with the day to prepare for tomorrow’s event. I still had to make a set list for the movie marathon because everyone in the chat group said they were fine with whatever, so I was told to surprise them.Bookmark here

That was the worst answer to give had I lacked any ulterior motives. But since I did have such motivations, it became easy to pick what I wanted to show for the marathon. Bookmark here

I selected a couple of titles with some romance in them to watch in the morning and the afternoon so the topic of love can be raised in conversation naturally as we watched. Not necessarily chick flicks or romantic comedies, but at least something with a guy and a girl, or a group of them interacting for a majority of the movie. Bookmark here

Between those two, I decided to pick an action film for some variety.Bookmark here

As a finale, I chose a famous classic horror film that everyone has not seen before for one reason or another. I knew Tabitha hated horror, so my intentions were to make her scared, and on the way home, I could have Arty escort her. Even if she’s like two houses from where I live. But, something might still happen during that short walk! Bookmark here

Of course, I also checked with the participants about the other films, but the answers were varied. We just made a pact of no spoiling the others.Bookmark here

The day came, and the first to arrive were Tabitha, Beth and Fran. I was not expecting them to arrive together, but apparently, when they were hanging out at Fran’s the day before, they decided they would stop by Tabitha’s and go as a group. It was quarter to nine in the morning, they were about fifteen minutes early, but we decided to start ahead of time since most of the people who were going to be there was already there.Bookmark here

I had already set the snacks in the living room beforehand, so all that was left was closing the curtains for some atmosphere, and setting up the large screen TV and the player. Meanwhile, the three girls occupied the couch, chatting. When I was done, I sat on the chair beside them.Bookmark here

Just when the video started, Beth called for my attention to tease me.Bookmark here

“How does it feel being surrounded by girls?” she asked.Bookmark here

“Best feeling in the world”, I replied. I was in a sort of playful mood because of the event.Bookmark here

The film started and the three continued to talk about random topics. All had their phones out and they were gossiping about some and such, what was posted on social media, and stuff. The movie was just background noise to them apparently, but they took a glance from time to time and making comments so it was not like they were completely ignoring it.Bookmark here

I was not sure if this was normal for movie marathons among friends. This was my first time inviting people over for such an activity after all. But, I was the only one who seem to be interested in watching the movie despite me already having seen it a few times before.Bookmark here

They did try to get me to join in their conversations, but since I was not interested in the people they were talking about, I only gave lukewarm responses.Bookmark here

More than halfway into the movie, Arty arrived. He overslept, or so he says.Bookmark here

Way to impress anyone by coming in an hour late.Bookmark here

I had hoped to sit him beside Tabitha while the movie was showing, but due to circumstances, it was impossible at the moment. She was in the middle of the couch with Beth to her right and Fran on the left, so I could not exactly just place Arty between the girls. There was still space in the sofa for one more, but I figured being seated beside three girls would be too much stimulation for him, so I had him settle in the empty two-seater chair opposite from where I was sat.Bookmark here

I intentionally left him there alone so he could not hide behind me when talked to. I also wanted him to be talking to one of the girls even if it was not Tabitha because I found during the movie that when you talk to one of them, you talk to all of them.Bookmark here

While he was not starting conversations, sure enough, one of the girls were. Thankfully, he seems to be responding properly now unlike the last time.Bookmark here

The movie ended and I was not sure if anyone got what the story was trying to convey, but regardless, it was lunch time. We did not order takeout as my mom was more than happy to prepare something for her “future daughter-in-law”, which I assumed she meant Tabitha, and her friends. I was broke, so I did not try correcting her as it might make her not want to do it anymore.Bookmark here

I had a seating arrangement planned where I sit Arty and Tabitha either beside or across each other. That was shoved aside by mom’s enthusiasm to pair me and Tabitha together, however. She forcefully but gently ushered Tabitha and I so we both sat alongside each other at the table. Bookmark here

Everyone else egged on us as they took their seats. But, Arty sat to my left putting me between him and his crush. I tried motioning for him to go to the other end of the table, which would place her beside Tabitha, but before either of us knew it, my mom occupied the seat.Bookmark here

Over lunch, no one was talking about the movie we had watched. That was because my mom had completely taken over the mealtime conversation. She kept asking questions about love and stuff, if we were seeing anyone, and if we were interested in anyone, especially among the group. She also asked what each of us thought of one another, and if there was potential for those thoughts to grow into love.Bookmark here

We were all answering vaguely, so she just kept grilling us. But, all of that was buildup for that one question she wanted to ask the girls. Bookmark here

“So what do you girls think of my son?”Bookmark here

“He’s an idiot”, Tabitha replied. Bookmark here

Harsh.Bookmark here

“I don’t know, I’ve only met him recently so...” Fran meekly said.Bookmark here

Then Beth threw a bomb. “I would take him if he wasn’t with Tabby.”Bookmark here

“I’m not with him!”, “I’m not with her!”, both Tabitha and I exclaimed as we jumped up from our seats.Bookmark here

My mom stared at the two of us victoriously as she cried out “I knew it!”Bookmark here

Beth was laughing heartily. “Sorry, I’m kidding. I’m kidding.”Bookmark here

Mom seemed to be disappointed that Beth was only joking, but it did not let her down as she started digging up old stories involving me and Tabitha to our embarrassment.Bookmark here

That brightened up the mood though.Bookmark here

One thing I noticed during the exchange is that Arty, instead of looking forward with a weird grin on his face as he usually would, was deep in thought.Bookmark here

But anyway, after the meal, we started the second part of the movie marathon. This time it was a superhero flick that came out the year before, but was not yet available for streaming online for one reason or another. The girls said they have not seen it before. I have not seen it either because I was not into the genre, but Arty has. Bookmark here

When I picked the movie, I figured it was a way for him to get to talk with the girls as he could answer any questions about the plot and the characters that may pop up.Bookmark here

During the opening credits, Eric arrived. Bookmark here

“Am I too late for the second movie?” he asked.Bookmark here

“No, it’s just starting. You haven’t missed much yet.”Bookmark here

Apparently, he was also a fan of the series like Arty. He was looking forward to the second movie as he has not seen it yet, and was only waiting for it to come up online. Bookmark here

Upon entering the living room, however, he stopped for a moment like a statue. He was staring at the girls, or maybe the couch, I was not sure. I realized he probably did not recognize some of the girls as he had only been talking to them through Lime, so I quickly introduced them to him. Then I and ushered him to sit beside Arty.Bookmark here

Seating positions were still the same by the way.Bookmark here

Also, when I entered, Arty was talking to the girls before I interrupted him to announce Eric’s arrival. He apparently was explaining some back stories about the hero and the villain.Bookmark here

I was proud as he seemed to be enthusiastic with his talk, but I wished he was the same in other situationsBookmark here

I heard the doorbell rang again. This time, it was the couple who arrived. Bookmark here

I ushered Charlie to the seat I was occupying before, and I showed Dana to the couch who sat next to Fran, which was the furthest left seat of the sofa, to be near her boyfriend.Bookmark here

So that I would not get in between the two lovers, I went to the opposite side of the couch to sit on the arm rest. I was between Beth and Arty.Bookmark here

Seeing this, Beth quietly told everyone on her left to move over a bit, then patted the free cushion – or at least the unoccupied half of it, motioning for me to sit. Bookmark here

The sofa’s capacity was four, but I knew it could fit five if we squeezed in enough, and so I took her offer. We were crammed but no one seemed to be uncomfortable.Bookmark here

The movie continued, and I started noticing Eric had took over the task of explaining things about the story. He seemed to be as enthusiastic as Arty about the show, but he was quicker to answer any questions the rest of us asked about it.Bookmark here

Arty was still adding stuff to the conversation, however, so I did not see any need to intervene.Bookmark here

The action movie ended, and it was now time for the third part of the marathon.Bookmark here

The third film I prepared was a romantic comedy, which Charlie and Dana seem to have already seen, but for the rest of us, we have not watched it yet. It cast some really famous actors, who everyone was familiar with, but apparently it bombed in the box office so it flew under some of our radars. Since then though, it has somewhat become of a sleeper hit, so I thought it could be a good choice.Bookmark here

This time, the girls have put down their phones and were more engrossed in watching than the previous two showings. Dana had also taken over giving some explanations about some scenes.Bookmark here

Meanwhile, it was now us guys who were distracted as the film shows. Charlie had moved from his seat to sit on the armrest beside Eric, so we four boys were having our own conversations independent from the girls.Bookmark here

The movie went by uneventfully until the ending scene where there was a wedding and it showed a still of the two main characters posing in bridal carry.Bookmark here

“That looks familiar”, Beth teased, pertaining to the previous incident when I carried Tabitha. “I’ve seen that thing in this very house before!”Bookmark here

Both Tabitha and I ignored her, but Beth was not done. Bookmark here

“Am I in the way? Do you want me to move?” She asked both of us.Bookmark here

I was hoping someone would bring up the topic of romance when I picked that film, but I guess it backfired on me.Bookmark here

“I’m just going to play the next movie”, I said as I left my seat to switch the disks in the player.Bookmark here

When I turned back to return, I found Beth had moved to the right, opening up a space between her and Tabitha. Tabitha was protesting for Beth to quit her teasing, but was ignored. When Beth and I made eye contact, she again motioned for me to sit on the now free space in the sofa.Bookmark here

But through some quick thinking, Tabitha shifted to her right to close the gap between her and Beth, so now I had no place in the couch.Bookmark here

The only seat left was the chair that Charlie had vacated at the start of the third movie, so that was where I sat during the fourth and final part of the marathon.Bookmark here

Everyone was now more focused on watching this last show. I was not sure if it was because they have already exhausted every topic that they could talk about so there was no longer anything left to say, or all of them were genuinely enjoying themselves watching the film. In any case, everybody was glued to the TV.Bookmark here

The soft chatter and muffled laughs from the last three films were now replaced by loud shrieks, mostly from the girls. Well, except Fran, who seems to be enjoying all the scary stuff shown on the screen. Bookmark here

As for the boys, Eric seemed stoic and calm while snacking on some chips, Arty had his usual grin, and Charlie, who has since moved to sit on the couch beside Dana, was laughing at the reactions of his girlfriend. Bookmark here

That went on until the credits rolled. We discussed a bit about the film, which was the first time we did such a thing the whole day, before deciding to clean up.Bookmark here

As I had expected, Tabitha was shaken from all the scares in the last movie, so at least one of my plans for the day was going as I had hoped.Bookmark here

The goodbyes were coming next, so before we finished the cleanup, I pulled Arty aside to say he had to go with Tabitha on her way home.Bookmark here

Well, she was only a quick walk away from where we were, plus the other girls will likely come with her, but his presence in the trip no matter how short was better than not being there at all when it comes to his chances with love.Bookmark here

I told him that word for word, and he seemed to have acknowledged it quietly. I also instructed him to crack some jokes if he can. All I could do after was hope he doesn’t clam up like usual.Bookmark here

When I was done talking to Arty, I suddenly found Eric behind me. I was surprised. I had not noticed him.Bookmark here

“You’re trying to set Arty and Tabitha up, right?”, he asked. But before I could respond, he continued “Can you help me with Fran?”.Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“I plan to confess to her on the trip. I’m not looking for someone to encourage me like what you’re doing with Arty, I just want someone to talk to about ideas.”Bookmark here

From my understanding, Eric was going to ask Fran out regardless of my answer.Bookmark here

I felt my manhood retract, sensing the new danger it was in.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.