Chapter 21:

Mending a Wounded Heart

Would You Paint My Dunk

The situation hadn't changed. She still put on her fake smile to hide her frustration and depression.

Thinking about what course of action to take, the first thing that popped into my mind was to ease her burden for the time being.

The idea was good, but I had just one problem: I didn't know how to console a girl. After giving it some thought, I decided to try comforting her. Better to try than not do it at all, I guess.

“Jessica, you shouldn’t pay attention to that gossip.”

Before I could finish my sentence, she cut me off. Her smile finally faded from her face and was followed by an angry expression.

“Keith, you don’t understand how harsh the girl world is! Those girls’ tongues are sharper than knives, they could humiliate someone to the point they wish they were dead!” She shouted back in anger.

“Yeah, I understand what you mean.” I nodded softly, expressing my sympathy. “I know it’s frustrating to have people spread nasty rumors behind your back like this, but in the end, it's up to you to decide how you feel about it. Just don’t pay attention to them…"

My reply got trailed off as she fumed with anger.

“Keith, it’s easy for you to say that!” She retorted. “You don’t know how painful it is…”

“I can imagine, Jessica. I can imagine.” I cut her explanation short. “If I were you, I would probably hate it, too.”

“See?!” She opened her arm wide. “Now you know…”

"But..." I pointed my finger up as I cut off her sentence. "Eventually I would stop caring and move on. Ultimately, it’s up to us to decide if it bothers us or not. They are probably bad-mouthing you out of envy anyway, just ignore them."

She put a confused look on her face as she looked at me.

“Envy? How did they get envious of me? I don’t have good looks or grades, and now my reputation is in the gutter. I have nothing that people could be jealous about.”

My conscience took a hard hit as she frowned in front of me, showing her depression. A feeling of guilt swirled in my heart. This 'pretend to be a couple' was my idea, after all.

To make matters worse, I'm the one who caused her suffering. Her heart was covered with dagger marks all over because those girls' tongues wounded her heart. Since I have found out that I am to blame, I must heal her heart as soon as possible.

“Jessica, you are a pretty and hardworking girl, stop putting yourself down.”

“Ha-ah!” She sighed as she looked at me. “Keith, I know that you are trying to cheer me up, but my life isn’t as easy as you think. I appreciate it, but you don’t have to flatter me…”

"No, no, no." I shook my head. "I mean it. I could tell from your right hand that you are such a hard-working girl. You probably work on your painting skills all the time, honing your skills every day, to the point that your right hand started to harden like that. That's something you should be proud of.”

Hearing my reply, she was speechless, looking at me with a perplexed look.

Maybe she thought that I wouldn’t notice the condition of her hands... Well, that should calm her down a bit, I guess?

Nope! It wasn't the case this time. In a short time, her anger erupted like a volcano.

“But what’s the point of hard work if you don’t get any results from it? All that time I could have spent my time hanging out and having a fun youthful life, I took my brush and practiced my painting skill all day long. Look what I got? Nothing!”

Tears welled up in her eyes, but she refrained from crying, trying to act strong until the end. However, she couldn't hide her frustration, which was apparent on her face. Clenching her fists, she went on.

"And now these girls... are gossiping about me as if they know my pain and struggle. Why do they want to gossip so much? Don't they have anything better to do than waste their time talking behind someone's back? Instead of using their time to do something productive, they spend their time ruining someone's life.”

She clenched her fist even tighter as she continued.

"No matter how hard I work, it's never enough. And if that's not enough to bring me down, now I get these shitty rumors. Fuck my life!"

Seeing her struggling this much, I decided to share my own experience with her.

“Jessica, you know what? I was like you, comparing myself to other people. I was a star in my high school basketball, dunking left and right, winning a lot of competitions. But now here I am, being put on the reserve because I’m useless compared to others."

“Then,” I continued, “I compared myself to Carlos and Jamal who were off to a great start. But the more I compare myself to them, the more I sink into depression, stunting my own growth. It was only when I stopped comparing myself to them that I was able to pave my own path.”

I walked toward her, patting her shoulder in an attempt to comfort her.

“Jessica, you are not alone. You can share the load with me, we are experiencing the same thing. Since the rumors started because of my suggestion that we should pretend to be a couple, I will take responsibility to the end and stay with you through this storm. So... if you want to cry, just let it out. I’m here with you.”

She sniffed as tears began to cascade down her cheeks, unable to hold back her overflowing emotions any longer. With all the pent-up emotions building up inside her, she cried out loud as if the O'Shaughnessy Dam had burst.

She must be really hurt. There’s nothing I could do but comfort her, is there? Those girls spread rumors like crazy, they would be able to make a hot topic with little proof…

Suddenly, I felt a switch had just been flipped in my head. I don’t know why, but for some reason, my brain was grinding like machine gears as I thought about this situation. A question popped into my head:

What would happen if we circulate a rumor that she is a basketball enthusiast, trying her hardest to see her university team wins?

People love new things. New bags, new games, or even, new rumors. So, what happens if there’s a new hotter rumor that emerges out of nowhere? They will forget the old one, as they pick the new trending topic.

We could easily create a solid ground for the rumor by making her visit basketball practices and matches. And to top it off, her boyfriend is said to be a basketball player on the team. Is it weird for a university girl to cheer for her boyfriend and her university team? Nope, I don’t think so.

Knowing that the solution was so simple, that a basketball maniac like me could even figure it out, I laughed in silence. After all, I didn’t think that someone with a basketball for brains like myself was capable of making a viable solution for her.

As I envisioned the solution in my head, I looked at her enthusiastically to present my thoughts. However, I stopped when I looked at her face which was still flowing with tears, deciding to give her some time for herself.

She cried for another few minutes before her tears subsided, which earned us a few stares from others. How could it not be? There's no way a girl crying out loud in a public place wouldn't attract the attention of the people around us. Despite that, we didn’t let it bother us. The only thing on my mind was to cheer her up.

With her eyes dried up, she wiped her eyes and calmed down. Considering that she began to stabilize her feelings, I decided to propose the solution earlier to her.

“Jessica, I have good news for you.”

“What is it?”

“I was thinking that I could help you with your rumors. We just need to make a new rumor that…”

“What?!” She shouted. She had a shocked look on her face. “Keith, what are you saying?! Don’t add more fuel to the fire!”

I looked her in the eyes and tapped her shoulder.

“Jessica, those girls are using little things here and there and escalating them further to make big news, right?”

“Yeah, as you said, they take even the tiniest action and speculate from there, why?”

“So, what would happen if we stir a new rumor that you are rooting for your boyfriend and basketball team? They will take the new rumors instead and your old rumor will dissipate. Just come to our practice in Sport Aula 3 and cheer our matches, make your friends spread the new rumor, and you are good.”

“But they could merge them together, it could be worse…” Her finger and thumb rested on her chin.

“That’s where your friends come in. You need to have your friends stir a rumor that brands you as a ‘basketball maniac girl’ instead of a ‘slut’ or ‘gold digger’, and convince those gossiping girls with it.”

“Hmm… I don’t like the sound of ‘basketball maniac girl’, though.”

“Do you think it’s better for you to be branded as a ‘slut’ or a ‘gold digger’ then?”

“When you put it like that… No, ‘basketball maniac’ sounds better.”

“Well, my mom called me a basketball maniac so I don’t think that’s really bad. After all, these rumors will dry down sooner or later, don’t worry about it.”

“I see… I guess I could trust you on this one, Keith. I’ll believe in you.”

Looking at her, she put a wide smile at me, which made me remember my first meeting with her. She really looked like a fallen Goddess to me, the sight of her face radiates through my sight and warms my heart. Replying to her divine expression, I nodded back at her.

“Sure! Enjoy your life, Jess.”

“Yep, I will. Thanks, Keith! You are really a good friend!” She tilted her head and smiled.

As we took our time eating and talking, I realized that we had been together for quite some time. I pulled my phone out of my pocket to check the time. It seemed that our class was going to start in a few minutes. It was time for us to split up. Knowing this, I decided to tell her.

“Jessica, it’s almost time for class. We should get going.”

“Thank you once again, Keith! See you later!”


And so, we went our separate ways to our own classes. Time flies, it’s time for my basketball club again as the clock hits five o’clock. Arriving at the Aula, I could see her sitting on the spectator seat, waving her hands at me.

Now all we can do is keep moving forward, looking at what the future has in store for us.

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