For the second time, Beth woke with a start. This time however, she could see sunlight creeping in from behind the curtains. The clock on the wall confirmed it was morning. She guessed Eros must have come back and it was him that had woken her up but when she began to search the room with her eyes, there was no sign of him.
The voice was gentle and familiar but was enough to make her nearly jump out of her skin. It didn’t sound like Eros though, not how she remembered him sounding from last night. She climbed to the foot of her bed - where the sound had come from - and when she peered over the edge, she found the owner of the voice sitting on the floor with crossed legs. As the person smiled up at her and she saw the feminine face, the shoulder-length pink hair, the matching pink eyes, they reminded her of someone but she couldn’t think of who.
“Good morning,” the person said cheerfully. The voice was almost androgynous, deeper than a typical girl’s but cute and feminine.
“Who are you?” was all Beth could think to say. A part of her knew she should be scared - either a random person had broken into her room or she was hallucinating - but there was something so beautiful about them that it seemed to be occupying all of her thoughts.
“You don’t recognize me?” they said with a slight frown. “It’s me, Leigh.”
Leigh. Of course! That was who they reminded her of. The character in Lovely Boys, the otome game she had probably played a million times. Leigh was her all-time favourite character. In the game, he was a male high school student who was often mistaken for a girl. He was cheerful and friendly and although people sometimes made fun of him, he wasn’t ashamed of wearing the cute clothes that he made for himself from scratch. Judging by the fact that the person in front of her was wearing a pink sailor outfit, Beth figured they had much the same attitude.
“You look just like Leigh.” Beth stated, in awe.
He giggled. “That’s because I am Leigh, stupid.”
“I mean, your cosplay is really good,” she clarified.
“That’s because it’s not a cosplay, I am Leigh,” he repeated.
Beth shook her head, still dazzled by the beautiful being before her. “How did you get into my room?”
“It was your wish,” Leigh said as if it were obvious. “That cupid guy bought me out of the game but only until the end of today, then I’ll go back.”
“This can’t be real,” Beth said, more to herself than Leigh. He seemed to have already grown bored of the conversation anyway, and was now wandering around the room, peering at all of the posters on the wall and flicking through a random manga he’d taken from the shelf. “Hey, that one’s me!” he beamed, indicating a figure on the top shelf of the bookcase.
“Yeah, that one’s my favourite,” Beth smiled as Leigh gazed up at the figure in amazement.
After a while, Leigh turned to Beth with a look of slight impatience. “Well, aren’t we going out today then?”
“Where?” Beth asked dumbly.
“To meet your friends, duh,” Leigh said. “Did you forget? It’s Valentine’s Day? You made a wish? I’m your boyfriend now? Keep up.”
“I can’t take you with me!” Beth spluttered.
“Why not?” Leigh pouted.
“Because! They’ll ask questions. Like how we met, where you’re from. I can’t tell them he jumped out of my computer because I made a wish!” Beth cried.
“So, just make something up and I’ll go along with it,” Leigh said. “Come on, you’ve only got one day with me. You don’t want to waste it by leaving me here, do you?”
“No,” Beth grumbled. “Alright, I’m probably going to regret this but I’ll take you with me. Just…try and act normal, okay?”
Leigh giggled mischievously. “You know better than anyone that that’s one thing I can’t do.”
Beth wished she’d thought to get Leigh some more normal clothes before leaving the house, but she’d had to hurry him out the front door so quickly (so that her mom or brother wouldn’t see him) that she hadn’t had time to think of anything else. They’d gotten a lot of weird looks on the train but thankfully no-one said anything. She guessed they must have thought he was in costume, like Beth herself had when she’d first seen him. The two of them hardly spoke for the entire journey but she’d try and sneak the occasional glance at him, still starstruck by his beauty. He’d catch her looking and smile that little mischievous smile of his and Beth would find herself unable to stop blushing.
When they exited the train and made their way over to the front of the cafe that Beth had agreed to meet her friends at, they had more staring to look forward to. This time from Heather and Eva, who were chatting happily until they’d seen Beth approaching with the strangely-dressed figure. Now their mouths had fallen wide open but no words were coming out.
Beth was looking down at the ground, face red. Heather and Eva were gawking at Leigh. Leigh looked between Beth and the two girls, confused. After a while, Eva was the first to speak.
“Who’s this?” she asked Beth.
Before Beth could string a coherent sentence together, Leigh was already speaking. “I’m Leigh, Beth’s boyfriend. Nice to meet you!”
“You’re a boy?!” Heather blurted out.
“Heather!” Eva cried in horror.
“You were thinking it too,” Heather said. She began to look Leigh up and down. “Are you a cosplayer or something?”
Leigh opened his mouth to answer but Beth swooped in. “Yeah, he’s really into nerdy stuff like that. I told him to wear something normal today but he wouldn’t listen.” she spoke at a mile a minute, finishing it up with an awkward laugh.
“Oh okay,” Heather said, sounding unimpressed.
“I like your hair colour,” Eva offered with a friendly smile. “Or is it a wig?”
“Thank you,” Leigh beamed. “No, it’s my real hair.”
“Wow, when I dye my hair it never comes out that vibrant.” Eva said appreciatively.
“So where are your boyfriends?” Beth asked quickly, interrupting Leigh’s response. She was eager to steer the conversation away from her so-called-boyfriend, worried that he would say something to make the two girls suspicious.
“Oh,” Eva said suddenly as if she’d just remembered why they were all there. “He should be here soon.”
“Mine too,” Heather put in.
The group waited in silence. Only a few minutes had gone by when Leigh suddenly huffed, puffing out his cheeks cutely. “I’m bored! Can we go inside and wait?”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Eva agreed.
The group sat in a booth inside the cafe with Beth next to Leigh and the other two girls opposite. Beth wondered if there would be enough room for the boys when they arrived but decided not to say anything; the less she spoke, the less likely she was to say something stupid that might give her and Leigh away. Several minutes went by as Heather and Eva were tapping away at their phones, probably asking their boyfriends where they were. Beth couldn’t help but feel anxious, as if the awkward atmosphere was somehow her fault. Bringing her out of her panic, she then felt an arm draped around her shoulder. She looked round at Leigh and he pulled her closer to him in a sideways hug.
“Are you okay?” he asked softly. “Don’t be nervous. Everything will be fine.” He gave her a little boop on the nose with his free hand.
Beth had been blushing from the moment he’d put his arm around her, but when she noticed that Heather and Eva were watching she thought she might explode. Leigh didn’t seem to mind the attention and was grinning from ear to ear.
“Aww!” Eva swooned.
Heather said nothing, still wearing her usual unimpressed look.
The silence continued then for what felt like an eternity until Eva suddenly stood up. The whole table looked up at her questioningly.
“I have a confession to make,” she said, not meeting anyone’s gaze. “My boyfriend’s not coming. Well, I don’t actually, technically, even have a boyfriend. I lied because I didn’t want to be left out. I’m sorry.”
Beth’s mouth fell open in shock. Stunned into silence, she looked at Heather for a reaction. Heather was smirking and Beth braced herself for the attack on Eva that she thought was sure to come, but much to everyone’s surprise, Heather’s expression softened.
“I -, neither do I,” she admitted. “Boys are always asking me out at school but really I’m not even sure I want a boyfriend yet. I made it up at first so people would stop asking me but then the lies got out of control. I don’t know what happened. Please don’t tell anyone.”
Eva returned to her seat and placed a reassuring hand on Heather’s shoulder. “It’s okay, your secret’s safe with me.” she said.
“And me,” Beth added.
Heather smiled then, turning to study Beth and Leigh. “I can’t believe the only one of us who actually has a boyfriend is Beth. No offense.”
Beth laughed. “Actually, before today, I didn’t have a boyfriend either. I pretended to so I would fit in with you guys.” she admitted sheepishly.
“I can’t believe all of us have been lying to impress each other,” Eva laughed with a shake of her head. “Since we’re being honest now, I’m really a bit of a geek. I think I prefer anime boys to real boys at the moment. Where did you find Leigh anyway?” she asked Beth while smiling at Leigh. “He looks just like an anime character.”
Leigh seemed pleased with the compliment but Beth however, thought she couldn’t get anymore shocked. “You like anime too?”
“Yeah but I don’t really talk about it at school because I’m scared people will think I’m weird,” Eva said.
“I’ve always thought cosplayers were so cool but I never had the confidence to try it myself,” Heather admitted.
Okay, now Beth thought she couldn’t get anymore shocked. “No way!”
“Where did you get your costume from?” Heather asked Leigh. “Or did you make it? Could you show me how?”
“Of course,” Leigh said eagerly.
He then went on to explain with all three of the girls hanging on his every word. When he’d finished, the conversation turned to anime and games and Heather and Eva were gushing so much that if Leigh had said anything that gave his origins as a fictional character away, they wouldn’t have noticed. It was almost time for the cafe to close when the group finally left, Heather and Eva making their separate ways home whule Beth boarded the train with Leigh. Heather and Eva had both been eager to meet up with Beth and Leigh again and though Beth knew that there was no way that could happen she never said anything, deciding she’d cross that bridge when she came to it. She’d have to make up some kind of story that he’d moved away or something later. She was just happy that for the first time she was excited to see her friends at school on Monday, without the tiny hint of fear that they’d find her out tainting it. For the first time she could really be herself.
When Beth and Leigh arrived home, she managed to successfully sneak him back up to her room. Despite everything they’d shared in the cafe, they still hadn’t run out of things to talk about. She told him about what she was learning at school, her family, the new games she was playing. He listened intently but would get a little jealous whenever she brought up another character that she liked. He told her more about his life inside the game and how different and strange it was compared to real life. Then finally, just before the clock struck midnight he stood up.
“Looks like I’ll be leaving soon,” he said sadly.
Despite herself, Beth found her eyes welling up with tears.
Leigh bent down and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “I’ll always be here for you, inside the game if you need me but you won’t, you have so many amazing people out here in the real world.”
Beth sniffled and closed her eyes momentarily as she wiped away her tears but when she opened them again, he was gone.
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