Chapter 7:

Dare You To Move

Don't Miss The Target♥

Summer break ended. Back to reality. Back to normalcy. But even then, the things that have happened during the break would carry over and influence what lives we were living in the classroom. Bookmark here

For example, there was some guy at the front of our classroom sporting a fresh new haircut. Before the break, he seemed to have been hiding his face with his bangs, but now he had it cut short and clean you could even see his forehead. That was not the only change either as he seemed to have switched to a trendier set of glasses. Bookmark here

His face was still average though.Bookmark here

Still, this guy had the symptoms of a life-changing summer vacation.Bookmark here

“Is that to Fran’s tastes?” I asked as I approached the guy to tease him. As you may have guessed, it was Eric.Bookmark here

Although he may have changed his appearance, he was still the same inside so his answer was as dry as you would expect it to be, and as hostile to me as I would expect him to be.Bookmark here

"What's it to you?" he responded. Bookmark here

"I'm just happy seeing a former loner finally coming out of his shell", I teased. I even pretended to wipe a tear out of my eye. Bookmark here

"Shame, I thought your previous hairstyle was cool", Charlie commented as he approached. Of course, he would think that when his favorite musicians probably wore their hair similarly. Bookmark here

“Too bad you’re not the one he’s trying to impress”, I told him.Bookmark here

Eric just let out a loud “Hmph” and snubbed me.Bookmark here

As for Charlie, there was not much to comment on. Something happened with him over the break, but he was pretty much the same before and after. From an outside perspective, he would have no reason for a summer makeover.Bookmark here

Meanwhile, there was one other person who seemed to be trying something new. It was not due to some budding romance though. That I know of because he had barely made any progress at all on that front.Bookmark here

“I hope that means you’ve finally decided to grow some balls”, I told Arty. Bookmark here

He just grinned.Bookmark here

I have not seen him since the last time the gang had come together for karaoke during the break, and somewhere in between that time he had dyed his hair brown for some reason. I actually would not have minded not seeing him for most of the break though, but since I still had my job as a cupid, I had a need of getting him somewhere romantically with a certain girl. An urgent need, too, since I will be facing a penalty in less than two months for taking so long to accomplish my mission. But, somehow it was hard to get a hold of him, which caused the lack of progress.Bookmark here

I still hung out with the others from time to time since I was regularly inviting the group to do stuff in hopes of dragging that one guy out. But with that one particular guy not being present, there was nothing to report.Bookmark here

It gave me time to reflect on what I have been doing wrong with Arty though. At the beginning, I thought I should just give him a bit of push and create opportunities for him to talk to his crush, and it would be smooth sailing from there. What I had not considered then, and have not yet tried to address, was his tendency to clam up, or outright chicken out. I figured that in order to save my own actual balls, I had to be less passive in my approach.Bookmark here

The first day of the new semester was a half-day so I invited the gang out to a fast food chain for lunch. Everyone did not feel like going home early, so they all came.Bookmark here

At the restaurant, I explicitly instructed Arty to wait for the two couples to sit and for him to take a corner seat. The couples were sure to sit together. If he had sat first, then there was a chance that one of the couples would sit beside him and put a divide between him and Tabitha. If the couples sat first, then the chance of him sitting beside his crush was high.Bookmark here

Actually, it would have been certain Arty and Tabitha would be sat next to each other as Beth would surely try to place herself beside me. Her game of acting like my girlfriend was still on, so she was sticking to me like glue. In fact, she had not left my side since leaving school grounds.Bookmark here

But sure enough, the seating arrangement went as I had hoped. Charlie, Dana, Fran and Eric were in one corner, and on the other, it was me, Beth, Tabitha and Arty.Bookmark here

I gave Arty a thumbs up to sort of encourage him.Bookmark here

“Somehow it feels weird for all of us to be together after school”, Dana commented.Bookmark here

“I know, right?” Charlie agreed. “We played so much during the break it feels like all eight of us had been friends since the start of the year.”Bookmark here

“We did have that study session before the exams”, Fran said.Bookmark here

I chimed in “I really wouldn’t count that”. Even though I would admit it helped a bit on my grades, it was not something I look back to fondly.Bookmark here

“Ah, so it must be the magic of summer”, Charlie stated, being sappy.Bookmark here

“No, it’s this guy’s fault”, Beth said as she poked me on my side.Bookmark here

“Nah, I didn’t do anything”, I said. Also being sappy, I parroted Charlie. “It’s the magic of summer break.”Bookmark here

Not that I believed that existed for a second.Bookmark here

“I never thought you were the sentimental type”, Eric reacted with a bit of bite in his tone.Bookmark here

Sensing the hostility, I began with the teasing. “Hey Fran, what do you think about Eric’s new look?”Bookmark here

Fran smiled and answered shyly but honestly. “He looks good.”Bookmark here

Some of us jeered as the two turned red in their faces.Bookmark here

I had not followed up on the teasing because it became hard when the reaction was an honest one.Bookmark here

After that, it was mostly idle chatter. The girls were gossiping about their classmates. Who went where over summer, what they did over there, stuff like that. Us guys were listening in and would comment if the topic was someone we knew.Bookmark here

Well, except, again, for one guy who was smiling silently to himself. But this time, I was trying to get him more involved in the conversation.Bookmark here

When a person who I know Arty is familiar with becomes the topic of gossip, I would pipe up “Hey, Arty, wasn’t she the girl who rejected whatshisname?” or “Weren’t you classmates with them last year?” to get him into the conversation. I was also asking “Hey, isn't that the person who did something? How did that go again?” to get him to start telling stories.Bookmark here

But, as usual, his answers were just “Yes”, “No”, and “I don’t know”, so he was still not making a case for himself as an interesting person to talk to. He was like that until we all decided to head home for the day. Bookmark here

I was fed up with his attitude, so the following day at lunch, I dragged Arty to some isolated place in school for some pep talk. Bookmark here

“Are you still serious about Tabitha?” I asked him.Bookmark here

“Y-yeah”, he meekly answered.Bookmark here

“I can’t hear you!” I exclaimed, raising my voice a bit, feeling like a drill sergeant from a military movie. Bookmark here

“Yes!”Bookmark here

“Then what have you been doing this past month? You've already hung out with her a few times, but you still won't talk to her."Bookmark here

"But I don't know what to say" was his excuse again. Bookmark here

"I keep telling you to talk about anything," I said, trying not to show any annoyance. "You already have a few shared experiences, talk about those!" Bookmark here

"I-I'll try." Bookmark here

"Don't try. Do it like your life depends on it." Bookmark here

I also scolded him for not following up on the conversation starters that I laid out for him yesterday. They may have been conversations for the group, but those can still count if you were trying to build an impression on someone.Bookmark here

“Do it like you did when you were explaining things back when we were watching that superhero movie”, I said to Arty.Bookmark here

I was not sure if my lectures were getting through to him, but he seemed to have been taking it to heart. I would not really know if it really had any effect on him until the next opportunity though.Bookmark here

The first Friday of the semester came and I asked everyone if they wanted to hit the arcade. Dana had some student council work so she could not go. Charlie wanted to wait for Dana instead so he passed. Everyone else was game, so it was six of us who made the short trip to have fun.Bookmark here

I had no instructions for Arty since I knew he would just chicken out of doing it himself. Instead, I was going to rope him into an activity with Tabitha so I challenged everyone to the dance game.Bookmark here

But, the day being a Friday, the arcade was crowded. We had to wait our turn.Bookmark here

Fran and Eric wandered off somewhere.Bookmark here

The four of us watched the two people currently playing the dance game, but not silently. I was taunting Tabitha. I knew she liked to play the game in the past. She was good with it in fact. I was telling her that she could not beat the ones currently playing.Bookmark here

“We’ll see about that”, she said, looking a bit irritated but still she maintained a smile.Bookmark here

When the game we were watching ended, Tabitha went up to challenge the winner. Not only was she not rusty with the game, she ended up beating her opponent by hitting her notes all perfect.Bookmark here

The crowd that was watching gave her a round of applause for the feat.Bookmark here

With a smug on her face, she pointed at me and motioned for me to come. It was a declaration of a challenge.Bookmark here

I raised my hands to decline, but it seemed like I had no choice but to accept. Bookmark here

Tabitha motioned her finger for me to come once more. The crowd cheered for me to go. I was not sure what they were expecting, but after seeing Tabitha's skills, they were probably thinking they might see a battle between top players because she was calling me out specifically. The thought just made me want to rise up to the challenge even less, but Beth pushed me.Bookmark here

"Go", she said. "You wanted to play this, didn't you?" Bookmark here

I did, but not under the current circumstances. I was not able to say that to Beth because Tabitha pulled me to the platform. Bookmark here

The game was on – whether I liked it or not. Bookmark here

Then I was thoroughly schooled in the game.Bookmark here

I fumbled my way through the song as Tabitha again played flawlessly. I could hear the crowd's disappointment as they just witnessed a pro wiping the floor with a complete amateur.Bookmark here

I stepped down from the platform and told Arty it was his turn. He wordlessly went up seeming confident. I did not know how good he was with the game, but he gave the impression that he would be at least better than me. Bookmark here

Except, he did not do better than me. He also struggled keeping up with Tabitha. Bookmark here

The crowd this time seemed disinterested at the new challenger, however. Bookmark here

Of course, not forgetting my actual purpose of bringing everyone here, I told Arty that "This can be a good topic to talk about later". Bookmark here

I decided to point out things that could serve as a topic for conversation so he can never use the "I don't know what to talk about" excuse he kept on giving me. I just hoped he was in the habit of making mental notes and not forgetting them. Bookmark here

Beth came next, and the crowd went wild as the two girls were very skillful in the game. That, or they were excited about the two fluttering skirts of their uniforms. Thankfully, they were not too short that it exposed their underwear when playing the game, but seeing that most spectators were teenage boys, I could sort of relate why the view of the skirts were exciting. Bookmark here

Although, with that realization, I told Arty to prepare to escort the two away from the game once they were through without explaining why. Bookmark here

"What about the challenge?" Beth asked as I ushered her away. I put Arty in charge of Tabitha. Bookmark here

"You two won", I said to Beth. Bookmark here

I also said the same thing to Tabitha so they do not push the issue anymore. Bookmark here

"If we won, that means you two are treating us to something, right?" Tabitha asked triumphantly. Bookmark here

"Yeah", I replied with no hesitation. I had not planned for a penalty, but I thought it could serve as a secret apology for putting them in some situation they were not aware of. Bookmark here

Afterwards, we tried finding Eric and Fran who had not returned. We found them in the more quiet part of the arcade where the kiddie games and the crane games were. Fran was carrying some weird looking rabbit plushie which Eric had won for her in a crane game.Bookmark here

Seeing the two, Beth dragged me to one of the crane games. “I want one, too”, she said.Bookmark here

“I thought you weren’t going to expect me to do boyfriend stuff?” I asked her.Bookmark here

“Don’t mind the small details”, she said. “If you’re really against it, just think of it as my prize from earlier.”Bookmark here

When she put it that way, I could only oblige to her request. “So what do you want?”Bookmark here

“That one”, she said as she pointed at one corner of the box.Bookmark here

“The dog?”Bookmark here

“No, the one beside it to the left.”Bookmark here

“The cat with black spots?”Bookmark here

“That’s a panda, silly.”Bookmark here

Well, only one way to find out.Bookmark here

It took me a dozen tries, but I somehow managed to make it drop. The first handful of times, I was failing badly. The crane would simply just not keep hold of the animal plushie’s head. Bookmark here

Eric, seeing my failures, was smug. Condescendingly, he said to me “It only took me two tries”.Bookmark here

But, he was not too far up on himself to give me pointers. With his advice, I managed to grab what Beth wanted after a few close calls.Bookmark here

I took the prize out of the slot and took a good look at it. I still could not tell whether it was a panda or a cat with black spots, but Beth seemed happy enough with it.Bookmark here

“I’ll treasure it”, she said.Bookmark here

She did not really have to, but I kept that thought to myself.Bookmark here

I spotted Tabitha looking into the glass and I was wondering if she wanted something, too, like the other two.Bookmark here

“You can ask Arty if you want one”, I told her.Bookmark here

“I’m good”, she said.Bookmark here

Afterwards, the penalty for losing the game earlier was just treating the two girls to some tapioca milk tea.Bookmark here

“I thought the plushie was your prize?” I asked Beth.Bookmark here

“Aw, I thought I could get away with it”, she replied while giggling. Then to try to get away without paying one last time, she asked in a cute way "Would it be fine if I let you drink from my cup instead?" Bookmark here

"Maybe if I was your boyfriend”, I scoffed. She should be happy with the plushie since it ended up more expensive than the tea, I thought, but I kept it to myself. “But I'm not your boyfriend yet, am I?" Bookmark here

"True", she conceded and laughed. As she paid me, she continued with just one word. “Yet.”Bookmark here

I wondered if that was a threat.Bookmark here

Regardless, I asked everyone if they wanted to make going out as a group a regular thing on Fridays. It was part of my plan on getting more opportunities for Arty and Tabitha to do things, maybe not together alone yet, but at least as part of a group.Bookmark here

“Well, if you’re treating us to the arcade each week...” Tabitha posited, maybe as a joke. I was not sure. There was a hint of seriousness in it.Bookmark here

But, it was not possible. Even if I was just spending them on myself, I would lose money real quick if I played at the arcade weekly. I was still dependent on the allowances my parents gave me after all. Bookmark here

Besides, why would I treat everyone? Although, I kept that to myself because that would have been a pointless argument.Bookmark here

“I’m not saying we go to the arcade every week”, I explained. “I was thinking we should just, you know, hang out.”Bookmark here

“Sounds like you’re asking all of us out on a date”, Beth commented. Then she joked, “You player.”Bookmark here

That was actually the idea, except it was more of a group date than me trying to get with all or any of the girls around me, but I kept my mouth shut. I did not want any weird misunderstandings towards me, nor did I want them to start excluding someone because of the word “date”. Although ideally, it should really be Arty asking this to his love interest.Bookmark here

“Nothing wrong with hanging out with friends, right?” I said. “If there’s somewhere any of you would like to go, we can go as a group.”Bookmark here

I was also running out of ideas after some of the activities we had done over the summer, so some input and suggestions from the gang would be more than welcome. I did not want to tire them out doing the same stuff even if I plan them out every other week or two.Bookmark here

“Of course, Charlie and Dana included”, I continued.Bookmark here

The two girls, Tabitha and Beth, agreed. Eric seemed reluctant, but Fran was also game to join in with her friends, so he had no choice but to agree.Bookmark here

I turned to Arty and told him “You’re going, too.”Bookmark here

He nodded, probably thinking it was a question instead of a statement from me.Bookmark here

After that conversation, we called it a day.Bookmark here

The next day, a Saturday, there was nothing happening, but there was a lot to do. I took it upon myself to lecture Arty on the art of conversation. Not like I was a master of it, but I was obviously better than him with regards to it.Bookmark here

Furthermore, despite the talk I gave him the other day, there were no changes to him when the six of us went to have fun at the arcade. I could understand not having a conversation in the arcade since it was noisy and we had some activity in front of us, but afterwards, he just kept to himself with his usual stupid grin.Bookmark here

He needed more lecturing. Bookmark here

I was not doing it through Lime or an online game like I did when hearing him out with his love problems before the summer break. I actually went to his house to give him a lecture. Bookmark here

“A crash course on conversing with Tabitha”, I told him as I entered his room.Bookmark here

Basically, it was a Saturday spent on the topics that Tabitha would be interested in. I have also pointed out instances in the past where he could have started conversations.Bookmark here

“Like yesterday when we were at the cafe drinking tea, you could have complimented her on her skills on that dancing game”, I said to him. I told him how he could make the conversation flow afterwards. I also told him how to follow up on other conversation starters.Bookmark here

“But what if she thinks the conversation is dumb?”Bookmark here

“I think I’ve told you this before, but that doesn’t matter as long as you’re talking. Play it off as a joke or something. As long as you don’t offend her, you’re good.”Bookmark here

I was so into it because my manhood depended on this one guy getting together with a girl that I did not notice I had been lecturing until the evening. Arty’s mom was nice enough to let me join them for dinner after also having me for lunch. It was there that I only found out that Arty had an older sister who was in college.Bookmark here

After dinner, I asked him how he was talking to his sister when normally he had trouble talking to girls.Bookmark here

“Normally”, he said. “We just have normal conversations.”Bookmark here

“Do you get nervous or clam up like you usually do?”Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

“If you take away the fact that she’s your sister, she’s a normal girl. Talk to Tabitha the same way you talk to your sister and you’ll be fine.”Bookmark here

That was the last advice I gave before going home.Bookmark here

Monday came, Arty and I were back at our regular haunt in the school hallway near Class A, the homeroom of the four girls. Well, we’ve been there a few times since the first full school day, but we were out there with renewed confidence. Or at least, I was. Bookmark here

I was not sure about Arty as he seemed more nervous than before. That was a good sign though, since that means he has decided on doing something finally. Although, I had told him that he could call out to Tabitha if he wanted to, but he just froze there as usual, so his nervousness could still be something else.Bookmark here

One change we had after summer break though, was that Beth also started hanging out with us. Of course, the reason why she started doing it goes without saying. But since she was there, Tabitha started staying longer than she had before.Bookmark here

However, as usual, Arty was not one for starting conversations, so I had to set some up for him to join in.Bookmark here

“You guys also have that teacher for math class, right? She was hinting at a pop quiz last week, did you have them?”Bookmark here

"We did", Beth answered. Bookmark here

"We're not giving you the answers or the questions though", Tabitha followed warily. Bookmark here

Now, what followed next, if this was a movie and I was directing it, I would play some suspenseful music over the few seconds before the scene happens. Arty finally made a remark on his own. Bookmark here

"Was it hard?" he asked. Bookmark here

The two girls looked surprised that Arty had said something other than his basic responses.Bookmark here

I thought that Arty might just go back into his shell thinking he should not have piped up in the first place once he misunderstands the silence, so I quickly picked the conversation back again so the awkwardness does not linger. “You have to be more specific than that. You know their ‘hard’ is different from ours.”Bookmark here

“Well, if we did find it hard then you would know it’s impossible for you”, Beth teased.Bookmark here

“Hey, I’m not that bad at math”, I defended myself. “Maybe it would be a struggle at best if it’s actually that hard, but I think I can get a few points.”Bookmark here

“Me too”, Arty commented.Bookmark here

From then on, Arty slowly became part of the small talk. He still could not start a conversation to save his life, but that was good enough as a start. It had been a long time coming, but I should not complain, especially to him.Bookmark here

Friday came and everybody from the gang was available to play. Charlie, who we had informed of this weekly gathering the week prior along with Dana, had suggested we go to a newly opened patisserie shop that was nearby.Bookmark here

Charlie, of course, had a sweet tooth, so none of us were surprised he had come forward with this idea. Still, everyone was game and we went.Bookmark here

The cafe did not have a single table for the eight of us. The largest table they had could only seat four at most so we occupied two adjacent tables. Of course, as I could not trust Arty to not just stay as a smiling accessory on the table yet, I had to place myself where he was. The pairs were guaranteed anyway, so that was easy.Bookmark here

As for our food, we had agreed that we would order differently so we each had distinct desserts on our plates. We did that because the two girls wanted to sample as many things on the menu without ordering more than the one serving. Bookmark here

The other table had no similar gimmick since Charlie had ordered half a dozen slices of different cakes, which he was willing to share with everyone. He was not fat. In fact, he looked slim so I was wondering, if he can eat that much sweets, where does all that extra sugar go?Bookmark here

Anyway, for our table, I had an apple pie, Beth had a chocolate cake, Tabitha had a cheesecake, and Arty had a strawberry shortcake. We took our first bites and started commenting on the taste. Of course, since we were not professional critics, all we could say was "It's good" and "It's so sweet". Bookmark here

Like clockwork, when I was done telling about mine, Beth took a piece of my apple pie. Before I could react, she remarked "This one's really good". Bookmark here

Tabitha did the same and agreed.Bookmark here

I offered up my apple pie to Arty and he ate a piece without comment.Bookmark here

Then without hesitation, Beth took a piece of her cake and held it in front of me. "Try some of mine", she said. Bookmark here

I preferred taking a piece off her plate, but she insisted I take the one on her fork. I complied anyway since there was no harm to it.Bookmark here

"Chocolatey", I commented. I really had nothing else to say since my vocabulary was limited when it comes to describing food. Bookmark here

Beth and Tabitha sampled each other’s cakes, and they had much to say, mostly comparing the cakes to the other shops they have been to.Bookmark here

I took a piece of Tabitha’s cheesecake when she offered it up to me for sampling, and before I could give some thought on what to say, I blurted out “Too sweet!”Bookmark here

It actually was too sweet that not only my tongue was tingling, my entire head was, too.Bookmark here

“What? But it’s so good”, Tabitha said. She also seemed like she stopped short of blaming my own taste buds for not liking it.Bookmark here

“It’s not that it’s bad. In fact, it’s actually tasty. But it’s just too sweet for me”, I explained.Bookmark here

The two girls then looked at Arty and offered the cheesecake to him to see if he would like it the same way they did.Bookmark here

He looked hesitant. Bookmark here

In my head, I was hoping I could send a message to him telepathically. I wanted to say “Don’t go chickening out because of a childish thing like an ‘indirect kiss’ or some other reason”.Bookmark here

To my relief, he took a piece and ate it, albeit slowly that you could almost hear a drum roll as he landed his fork on top of the cake.Bookmark here

But, to the girls’ disappointment, he agreed with me. “Yeah, this one’s too sweet”, he said.Bookmark here

Beth then called to the other table to ask them to sample the cheesecake.Bookmark here

“Oh, I ordered one for me”, Charlie remarked. “I didn’t think it was too sweet.”Bookmark here

“Fran and I liked it”, Dana said.Bookmark here

“But Eric said it was also too sweet for him”, Fran followed.Bookmark here

“So the cheesecake is too sweet for three out of four guys”, Tabitha lamented.Bookmark here

“Charlie doesn’t count because his taste buds have a higher tolerance for sweets than the normal guy”, I commented.Bookmark here

“In any case, we can conclude that the sense of taste between boys and girls are different”, Beth said as if she made a profound remark.Bookmark here

Then Arty chimed in to say “I know a place where they sell cheesecake that isn’t as sweet but just as good, maybe we can all go there some time?”Bookmark here

I telepathically messaged him “Smooth! Good job!”.Bookmark here

“Sure, maybe the next time around”, Tabitha replied. “Although, I don’t think I want sweets for the next few weeks after seeing Charlie gobble up all those cakes.”Bookmark here

The other four were behind me so I could not relate.Bookmark here

After having our fill, we called it a day and went home. Bookmark here

As for me, I could feel my mission was getting somewhere at last. I could finally write something else in my regular reports to Aphrodite other than “no progress”.Bookmark here

However, pressure was still mounting on me. I only had six weeks left until I got the penalty for taking six months to do the mission. But, seeing Arty finally making moves on his own, I felt that I could afford being patient.Bookmark here

I still held another crash course at Arty’s house the weekend just in case. There was no scolding this time and I gave praise on what he had done for the past week and asked him to keep it up.Bookmark here

The following week was more of the same. Arty and I hung around the hallways, we would talk to anyone who would stop to chat. Beth and Tabitha were our regular customers, mostly because the former was still doing her trial girlfriend bit.Bookmark here

Then Friday came and the gang got to hang out again. Although, for this week it was less about playing around. Dana this time suggested, or more like requested us to participate in a puppet show for the local orphanage. Our school’s student council organizes these puppet shows every month, and the usual people were not able to come for one reason or another, so Dana asked us if we could stand in for them.Bookmark here

We did not need to memorize our lines since we would be hidden behind a table with the small makeshift stage so we could bring our scripts and read our parts as it goes. Because of this, we could afford to draw lots on what roles we would be playing to make the casting fair. Bookmark here

As fate would have it, Arty and Tabitha drew the prince and the princess respectively. Basically, they had the leading roles.Bookmark here

Seeing this, I knew the guy would be helluva nervous about this pick and he might want to back out, so I took him aside for a short pep talk. Well, I did not really tell him much apart from saying he would be fine if he just read his lines properly. I wanted to tease him that his last lines would serve as good practice for him when he eventually confesses his feelings to his co-star, but I held back because it would defeat the purpose of me encouraging him for his role in the puppet show.Bookmark here

As a side note, I drew Bad Guy A so I did not have much of a part in the story. Eric drew Bad Guy B though, so we kind of went off-script as we started bickering over personal space behind the table which caused our characters to fight each other even though we were supposed to be allies in the story.Bookmark here

I was not sure if he still held a grudge on me for making him promise to not go to Fran’s house during the summer break, but the time frame I gave him should have already passed.Bookmark here

Anyway, the play ended with Arty fumbling over his lines. “Princess, I lovft tyu” he said.Bookmark here

Apparently, he bit his tongue just when he was about to say “love”. We all had a good laugh about it.Bookmark here

I later teased him that he finally got some practice in confessing to Tabitha, so he now knows what he needs to improve on. I was not sure what his reaction to it was as I said it over an online game we were playing and he just stayed quiet when I told that to him.Bookmark here

The puppet show seemed to have given him more confidence though. One day during the following week, I told him to go ahead to our spot in the hallway because I had to go to the teachers’ room to pass some forms that I was put in charge of. As I was heading back to join Arty in the hallways, when I turned the corner from the second years’ staircase, I spotted him talking to Tabitha and Beth by himself.Bookmark here

I took a step back and hid behind the corner to take a good look. I was thinking that the two girls were just passing by and making quick hellos before they returned to their classroom, but that had not been the case. The three seemed to be chatting with each other without me there. Bookmark here

The following day, I sent Arty by himself again. I made the excuse of stopping by the teachers' office, but this time I was going to sneak behind him and see if the previous day was not a fluke. Bookmark here

I hid behind the door frame in Class C. I probably looked suspicious to its inhabitants, but I paid them no mind. My view was a bit limited as I could not see the entire hallway with my angle, but I could see Arty clearly by the windows. Bookmark here

Eventually, I spotted Arty waving to someone, which I assumed were Dana and Beth as they were the ones who approached him for what seemed like a quick chat. They were not the ones I was interested in seeing Arty interact with though, so the waiting continued.Bookmark here

Some moments later, he waved to someone again. This time, it was Tabitha and Fran, and similar to his interactions with the previous two girls, it was also a quick chat.Bookmark here

I had not noticed, but upon seeing the scene, I started crying. The people in Class C who knew me started approaching me and asking if I was alright.Bookmark here

“These are tears of joy”, I told them.Bookmark here

They just looked at me like I had gone insane.Bookmark here

Another Friday came and this time it was Eric who made the suggestion. Actually, he was trying to excuse himself and Fran out of it because they were going to buy a new release from one of their favorite authors. But, much to his displeasure, I proposed to make it a trip to the mall with a side trip to the bookstore.Bookmark here

I did not mind that they had something else to do, actually. I just wanted to annoy Eric, and annoyed he was that I got in his way with some quality alone time with his girlfriend.Bookmark here

Fran did not seem to mind bringing the whole crew with them though.Bookmark here

Anyway, it was mostly a window shopping spree. We went around shops and boutiques just looking around. The girls were trying things out without buying anything. Us guys were only looking around but also not buying anything. Dana was dragging Charlie into some shops and asking for his opinions on certain outfits. Fran and Eric did not seem to be at that level yet, so she stuck close to Tabitha when looking at clothes. Beth, however, was also dragging me around to ask for my opinion on certain outfits.Bookmark here

Yet, we still had not bought anything. The only two people who had bought something were Eric and Fran who had bought the same book.Bookmark here

The most important thing for me on this trip was to make Arty become more comfortable with talking to Tabitha anyway, and that he seems to be doing. Even though some of the conversations were awkward, at least he was doing it.Bookmark here

I almost shed tears of happiness again.Bookmark here

The next week, there was more progress with Arty. He was already starting conversations with the girls, so I had no need to begin one for him to join in. Most importantly, he was talking to Tabitha normally. They were even starting to have their own little in-jokes.Bookmark here

I only had three weeks left to work on the mission before judgment day, but I was starting to feel I could make it. Well, it was four weeks at best since the six-month anniversary of my mission falls on a Thursday and I would not have to make a report until the following Saturday, but I thought it was best I prepare for the worst case scenario.Bookmark here

Friday came, and this time we went bowling. Fran wanted to try it out after reading the book she and Eric had bought the week before because apparently the main character in it was a bowler.Bookmark here

Regardless, this was an opportunity for Arty and Tabitha to grow closer. We decided on a match with pairs, and the teams were pretty much set on who was dating who. Bookmark here

Well, except Beth and I, who were not technically a couple, but her game of acting like my girlfriend meant that she stuck to me like glue in these outings. That also meant she would automatically pair up with me for this.Bookmark here

Of course, Arty and Tabitha were also not dating, but that also meant they were the leftovers and were forced to pair up. Oddly enough, they were the best team. Well, Arty was the best individual bowler so he carried Tabitha who was below average in the scores.Bookmark here

High fives were shared between the two, and they seemed to be having fun together.Bookmark here

The following week on Monday, I pulled Arty aside to some isolated part of the school and told him it was time for him to go at it alone to our haunt in the hallway. I said to him “It would be better for you if I was not there”.Bookmark here

“But…”Bookmark here

“No ‘buts’”, I interjected. “You do know the girls see you as my sidekick?”Bookmark here

He had no reaction, though I could see that what I said had a bit of impact on him.Bookmark here

“It’s time for you to move on from who you are to who you could be. You have momentum from last Friday, use that to get even more closer to Tabitha.”Bookmark here

He only nodded in response, but this time his nodding was not as meek or reluctant as he would usually do, so I was convinced he got the message.Bookmark here

Of course, I was still not going to leave him alone just yet. Whenever he made the trip to the hangout, I would sneak up and spy on him while hiding in Class C to see how he was doing. No one was approaching me, probably because they thought I was crazy.Bookmark here

To my relief, Arty was doing well. He was trying to converse with Tabitha each time, and they seemed to be hitting it off. I felt like I could fire the laser on them and be finally done with it, but my gut told me to wait until Friday. Besides, I did not have a clear shot from where I stood, especially when they were standing sideways from my point of view.Bookmark here

The awaited Friday came, but we canceled. I regretted following my untrusty guts.
Bookmark here

Dana had student council work, so she could not come. Charlie wanted to wait for her, so he passed like the last time. Tabitha was asked by her mom to stop over somewhere for an errand. Fran had relatives visiting so her parents wanted her to come home early. Eric did not want to go when his girlfriend was not coming. So, it was only Arty, Beth and I who were left.Bookmark here

“I don’t mind if it was just the two of us, really”, Beth said to me flirtingly.Bookmark here

“I’d feel bad leaving this guy out”, I replied, pointing to Arty.Bookmark here

“Then you can bring him if you’re feeling shy”, she taunted me.Bookmark here

It was not much of a taunt though. I was still not warming up to the idea of her being my trial girlfriend, so I would actually feel better with Arty around.Bookmark here

I asked her “Where do you want to go?”.Bookmark here

She was just craving for some ice cream, so the three of us went to a nearby ice cream parlor and hung out for a bit. Bookmark here

The following week, it was more of the same. I stopped going with Arty, but he had become fine on his own. There were even days when it was just him and Tabitha talking until the bell indicating that lunch was over rang. I watched it all while hiding and being ignored in Class C.Bookmark here

A new Friday came, the last Friday before I hit the six month anniversary of my mission, and this time only Dana and Charlie were missing for the same reasons as the week before. There was a new flavor of coffee at Starbox that the three remaining girls wanted to try out, so that was our agenda for the week.Bookmark here

For me though, this was also the day I try to hit Arty and Tabitha with the love laser pointer. The two had looked like they were hitting it off the past couple weeks or so, and I felt that the time, or their love was ripe for the picking. Bookmark here

At the coffee shop, I purposefully chose to seat the group at the counter overlooking the windows so I could have a clear shot at the backs of my targets, not to mention I could point at them without them suspecting anything. My plan was to excuse myself to the washroom, and while returning, I would shoot.Bookmark here

I took a few sips of my iced coffee before executing my plan. Beth had excused herself to freshen up beforehand, so I thought that was lucky since she might spot me using the laser pointer. Or worse, she might grab it from me again and cause chaos in this place where there were couples enjoying a break together.Bookmark here

I went and entered the men’s room and washed my hands so it would not be awkward in case someone spotted me suddenly turning away from my supposed destination. I exited the room and took out the laser pointer. My view was clear, and there were no obstacles. I could see that my targets were idly chatting with their backs wide open.
Bookmark here

I fired once to get a bearing on where the laser was pointing at. Bookmark here

I fired a second time, and this time it was to the back of Arty’s chest where the heart should be.Bookmark here

I fired a third time and I hit Tabitha at the same place.Bookmark here

But before I could celebrate the successful hits, Beth, who was just returning from the ladies’ room, was sneaking up on me and grabbed the laser pointer from me – again.Bookmark here

“What are you up to?” she asked as she fired the laser on my chest. Of course, she could still not see the pointer, but I could clearly see the light right around where my heart should be. “Wait, you're still carrying around this broken thing?”Bookmark here

I was not able to process her question as my mind was busy wondering if the notes that came with the device said anything about hitting three people.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.