Chapter 20:

Storm Brewing Within

Would You Paint My Dunk

As I thought, there was no way they'd stay silent about this. On our arrival, they turned rowdy and playfully welcomed us.

“Wow, the newlyweds have arrived.” Carlos laughed. “Okay, let’s get out of here.”

Hearing that, Jessica had a perplexed look on her face. To be honest, I don't like Carlos' exaggerations, but I can't say that to his face. All I could do was put my hand to my face and shake my head. They had really blown the whole thing out of proportion.

Meanwhile, Brandon chuckled at me and tapped my shoulder.

“I see, our junior has already grown up. Well… Tony, Sean, let’s go!”

Brandon turned around to look at the gigantic guy, still enjoying his food undisturbed. I started wondering how he could just focus on his meal without getting distracted. He deserves an award for his unyielding focus.

“Sean, come on, let’s go! Finish your second round already!” Brandon made a military hand gesture to follow him.

Wait, this is his second round already? Ah, yeah… Sean is a big guy, so it makes sense if he eats more than normal people do. Is that the secret behind his monstrous power? Only he and God know.

However, seeing that Sean was slowly enjoying his food, I thought that Sean should take it slow, instead of being rushed by Brandon.

“Wait, let Sean finish his meal first, why are you so eager to leave us alone?"

“Keith, we shouldn’t disturb your wedding ceremony, you know?” Brandon smirked.

While I was taken aback by their nudges, Sean swiftly finished his pasta and gulped his drink in one go. They stood up, leaving their seats open for us. The giant, who had been silent, finally talked to me.

“Keith, we are off, see you at the basketball club later!”

“Have fun with your wedding party, junior! Let us know how it goes later.” Brandon teased.

They waved their hands as they left, leaving me and Jessica alone. The atmosphere became awkward as we looked at each other. As we ate, she tried to ease the tension by striking up a conversation with me.

“Keith, thank you once again for helping me out. The rumor that I’m ‘taken’ should have spread by now. No more getting hit on by random dudes, yey!”

“Nah, it’s nothing. Other than other people making a fuss, that is.” I chuckled at her.

“But it’s good, right? It made this facade even more convincing.”

“Yeah, good for you.” I smiled.

“Oh wait! Before I forget, here is your change.” She hands me the money from her purse.

“Thank you, Jess.” I received the money politely.

We talked until our lunch break was over, parting ways to go to our own class. Because I had my usual seat in the back, I was able to sneak in and occasionally chat with her during the lecture. The topic was just random stuff, but it was enough to warm my heart in the middle of the boring session.

With the clock reaching five, classes ended and I rushed to the Sport Aula 3 and joined the team practice. However, the aula felt emptier compared to the first day I went there.

As the ball flies, so does time. Two hours just flew by, and now it was time for me to go home. Once there, I had a hearty dinner with my parents and a much-needed bath to wash my sweaty body.

Under the gaze of the moonlight, I enjoyed having a chat with Jessica. It was as if the phone was a wire connecting our souls. Getting late, I said my goodbyes to her and threw myself into bed, saving my energy for tomorrow.

The sun rose, marking the beginning of a new day. I awoke from my slumber and raised my arms, letting out my morning groan before I followed my daily university routine.

Another day, another cycle of university life. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Or so I thought at first before I noticed something was different. And behold, the girls in my class were grouping up, gossiping into each other's ears.

“Hey! Did you hear, I heard there’s a girl hooking up with a tall basketball dude.”

Slowly, I began to feel disturbed by them. It wasn’t just one or two of them, but it was all of the girls in my class.

Seriously, the only thing that could seal their mouths was the presence of a lecturer. Otherwise? They were like chirping birds, constantly exchanging their tweets with each other.

I could only shake my head, thinking that this is probably normal for those girls.

With the girls denying my common sense, I decided to stop thinking about it. Heeding them no more, I closed my eyes and ears, conserving my energy for the upcoming basketball practice.

Time passed. The sun sat atop the sky at midday, its hot gaze gave the signal for the lecturer to check his wristwatch, which both of its hands point at twelve. He ended the lecture and pardoned himself out of the room as lunch break started.

It didn't take long for the classroom to become rowdy. I rushed out of the room, seeking refuge from the talkative girls' mouths.

Thinking about the rumors, I remembered that I had promised her that we would pretend to be a fake couple. Our cover would be blown if people realized that we were not really dating, and we would have to make consistent efforts to fool them. A slight crack hinting otherwise would destroy everything.

Realizing that I should pull my own weight, I took my phone and started typing.

"Jessica, I think we should meet in the cafeteria and have lunch together. I'm just afraid that people will think we're faking this whole 'dating' thing if we don't keep it up."

Shortly, the phone rings with a message notification. Reading her reply, I was left flabbergasted.

“Keith, thank you for your help, but now we have a bigger problem to deal with. I’m not sure if we should continue this farce, maybe we better just clear up every misunderstanding that we made. I don’t want to trouble you, after all.”

I was thrown into complete confusion. With my mind in disarray, I swiftly asked her to explain her situation to me.

“Jessica, I don’t understand what you mean. Let’s meet up and talk about this.”

It didn't take long for her to reply with another message, which confused me even more.

“Didn’t you read my message? Keith, I appreciate your concern and your willingness to help me, but I don’t want to drag people down with me. If you keep going with me, you will get a bad reputation too.”

Thinking that it would be best to hear directly from her, I decided to ask her to meet one more time to hear the whole thing.

“Jessica, I wanna know what this is about for myself. Don’t leave me dumbfounded like this. At least I should know what I’m entangled in, right?”

Another notification arrived.

“Fine, let’s meet in the cafeteria again. I already took a seat and I put my bag on the next seat at the table. I hope you don’t regret it.”

When I finished reading the message, I went down to the cafeteria and ordered my food. Carrying my food tray, I began to look for her. I easily spotted her as she was sitting in the middle of the room.

As I approached her table, I could see that she was eating her lunch with her head down. Her sad expression conveyed her depressed mood even more. She was so wrapped up in her emotions that she didn't even notice me sitting in front of her. Seeing her this sad made me curious about her situation.

What drove her into this state? To think that she would say that we should stop this facade, it must be really serious. She also said something about bringing me down and getting a bad reputation or something like that. Whatever is bothering her must be something big, and I wanted to know what it was.

But my curiosity was restrained by my conscience. I didn't want to stick my nose where it didn't belong. She'd probably think I'm a rude person who's trying to pry too much.

I mean, I have a right to know if I'm involved, but I didn't want to make her more depressed by digging into her secrets.

After weighing my decision, I decided to politely ask her about it.

“Hi, Jessica.”

When she heard my greeting, she jolted in surprise. She looked at me and smiled, but I could tell something was wrong with her. Her eyes looked swollen and her smile seemed forced.

At a glance, I could easily tell that she was having a hard time, but she was trying to hide it with her fake smile.

“Oh! Hi, Keith. I didn’t know you were there.” She waved her hand at me.

“Yeah, I’m here. Jessica, if you don’t mind, may I know what’s going on? Since you said that we should stop pretending to be a couple, it must be serious, right?”

“It’s those girls, they spread nasty rumors behind my back.”

I was shocked when I heard that. I vividly remembered those girls gossiping in my class, and now I realized they were talking about her.

While I was still in shock, she continued.

"Keith, I appreciate your concern, but I don't think I should bother you anymore. If we continue, it will turn for the worse. You shouldn’t involve yourself with me any longer, and we shouldn't meet again like this."

Perplexed, I asked her for more information.

"Jessica, what’s your problem? Tell me, I'll help you."

"Ha-ah." She shook her head and sighed. "Well, since you insist, I'll tell you."

She took a deep breath before continuing.

"So... Those girls called me a 'slut', a 'gold digger' who preys on basketball prospects to squeeze their earnings later. I never approached you with such intention, Keith, believe me."

Suddenly I realized that I had overlooked the power of girl gossip. I never expected it to turn out like this, the problem turned from her being hit on to her being tormented like this.

As I looked at her, a feeling of guilt enveloped my heart. As the saying goes, 'There’s no smoke without fire', this shit started because we pretended to be a couple. If we hadn't done that, this clusterfuck wouldn't have started in the first place.

I know, I started a chain reaction that I shouldn't have, and now there's no way to stop it. All I could do was to rack my brain to come up with a solution. But no matter how hard I overclocked my brain, I couldn't find a way out.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

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