Surprise! I went back and reread my reviews for the last couple of chapters for fun last night. I was so touched that I worked to complete this immediately afterwards. It's interesting because I remembered some of them nearly word-for-word, but others it was like reading a new review all over again. Thank you all so much. I can't tell you how much you motivate me.
A Losing Game
He was an impatient fellow. He had always been the go-go-go type, so the fact that Sora was dragging this out for so long clawed away at his inability to simply wait.
She had requested space, so that was what he tried to give her. Granted, it had only been a week, but it felt much longer to him.
At school, they were cordial, sharing the same class but their conversations lacklustre. Sometimes, he would make her laugh, and that would give him a boost of confidence, but most of the time, he wondered whether she was still attracted to him or just losing interest with each passing day. Her behaviour didn't denote anything, but he was aware that he wasn't the best at reading her either. After all, how long had she been "obvious" about liking him without he ever noticing?
He hadn't seen Matt all week either, and he couldn't be sure whether it was because he was avoiding them or simply because he was in a different class, therefore making it easy for them to go an entire school day without seeing each other. Tai guessed it was the former, but to be fair he hadn't really made an effort to reach out to him either.
Today, he and Sora were tasked with cleaning the classroom after school. This was a chore that he would usually rush to do as quickly as possible, but because he was partnered with Sora, he was purposely moving slower than usual to draw out the process.
"Did you even clean this?" Sora nagged, dragging a finger on the desk he had just wiped down. "It's still dusty."
"I did," he mumbled, going back to wipe it again. He purposely touched her arm with his own. He saw a hint of a blush form on her cheeks as she drew back.
The boost of confidence came back.
"Have you talked to Matt recently?" he asked her cautiously.
She shook her head no.
"Oh…" was his only response. He didn't have a follow-up question prepared. He hadn't told her about his own conversation with Matt either.
"It's still not clean," she said to him as he moved to clean the next desk.
He looked back, and she was wiping it for him.
"What is it?" she asked, focused on the desk that in his opinion was as clean as it was going to get.
"Do you want to go out with me tomorrow?"
She looked up at him. She appeared flustered, but he couldn't tell whether it was because she was excited or surprised or conflicted. His heart beat faster.
"It can be low-key," he continued. He was actively reminding himself not to babble but could feel it coming. "We can just hang out. It'll be just like hanging out with a friend."
He kicked himself mentally. That was definitely not what he had meant to say.
Like a friend, he had said.
Admittedly, it took the pressure off, but it also made her wonder if there was some hidden meaning behind it. Tai wasn't the type to conceal his feelings much, but at the same time she wouldn't have blamed him if he had lost interest.
In an attempt to be respectful to Matt, she knew she had been giving Tai mixed signals. She had relied on his kindness to understand, but of course that had a limit.
It was just that she couldn't reconcile the bridge between being considerate to Matt and moving forward with Tai. Whenever she thought about it, it made her head and heart hurt, and therefore her plan of action had been to pretend like nothing was happening.
Sitting next to Tai had been torture. Those puppy love feelings from before had come back in full force, no matter how much she tried to suppress them. In fact, she was probably making it worse by trying to pretend they weren't there.
When he looked her way, made conversation, or brushed against her skin, she felt excited, but immediately afterwards she felt terrible.
Because she had never felt that way about Matt.
She wanted to talk to him but couldn't.
So let's break up then.
Those had been his final words to her aside from telling her to leave. Their relationship status had ended, but she felt they had a lack of closure. She wanted to reach out to him, but a million thoughts stopped her. What would she even say to him?
She suddenly coughed. She examined her surroundings and saw Tai clapping the chalkboard erasers out the window, but the wind was blowing the residue back in the direction of the classroom.
"Tai!" she cried.
"Oops, sorry!" he exclaimed, suppressing his own coughs with his elbow.
She wanted to nag at him, but she realised that he had gone to do something else because she hadn't even responded to him.
On top of finding the balance between consideration of feelings for both Tai and Matt, she also found it difficult to envision the transition from friendship to romance with Tai. After wanting it so much, now faced with the prospect, she didn't know what to do.
What if in the end, she would do the same thing to him as she had done to Matt? Thinking back to the past few months, she couldn't help but blame herself. Tai had insisted it wasn't her fault, that his breakdown had been a manifestation of a number of events, but she couldn't see it that way. Instead, she remembered every opportunity where she could have helped him but hadn't.
She saw him clapping the chalkboard erasers with the window mostly closed. She found it so inefficient yet endearing. He could just wait for the air to still, but of course he was too impatient for that.
"Tai," she called out to him.
"Let's go out tomorrow."
She sounded unsure, and he looked surprised. He hit his hand as he tried to bring his arms back inside, dropping one of the erasers out the window in the process. He would usually swear, and she would usually nag, but neither of them paid it any mind.
He gave her that lopsided grin of his. He seemed excited, which excited her too.
"Great!" he said, laughing nervously. "Great."
"Great," she repeated. She smiled at him a little, and he stumbled in his spot. How long had she wanted him to look at her this way? It felt right.
He ran to the window. "Shit, I dropped the eraser. I have to get it. Be right back!"
She laughed as he ran out the door, finding the situation funny, but once he was gone and she was alone in the silent room, that feeling gnawing away at her came back.
So let's break up then.
Up until the last second, Matt had suppressed any emotional reaction. It was when she thought about that frozen expression of his that she couldn't tell whether her guilt was stronger than any feeling she had for Tai.
She spent an hour getting ready. Tai had told her it would be casual, but she found the art of making casual look good took much longer than anticipated. She tried on several dresses, overanalysed details such as length, fit, and whether it looked like she was trying too hard. She styled her hair differently, then brushed it out again to its normal appearance. She wondered if she should use lip product, just in case Tai tried to kiss her. The thought of kissing him set off the butterflies in her stomach as she remembered how she had felt the time he almost had.
None of it had even happened yet. She thought about how stupid she was being as she packed mints in her bag.
Even after spending so much time getting ready, she still finished too early. Too nervous to do anything else, she stared at the clock, planning her departure time so that she wouldn't be late. Just a few minutes before she was set to leave, however, her doorbell rang.
Matt had appeared on her doorstep.
"Matt," she called out, as if she needed confirmation that it was really him.
He eyed her outfit, and Sora wished he didn't have such a keen eye.
"Did I interrupt something important?" he asked. "You look like you're going somewhere."
"N-no, I'm not. Come in," she insisted, opening the door wider for him. He came in, careful not to graze her.
"Do you have time to talk?"
"Yes, of course," she agreed, heart pounding. She excused herself to use the toilet and used that time to call Tai. She told him she had to cancel but would tell him why later. He accepted with a feigned empathy in his voice, but he wasn't very good at pretending. She could tell he was disheartened.
"I'll make it up to you," she promised.
"You better," Tai grumbled. Then, more perkily, he added, "I'm kidding. It's fine. Let's go out next time, okay?"
She felt bad hearing the disappointment in his voice, but she thought it was important to listen to Matt too.
When she came back out to the living room, Matt was standing just where she had left him. She ushered him to sit and offered him tea. He sat but declined the drink.
"What was it that you wanted to talk about?" she asked him.
He remained silent, his expression unchanging, but she knew that inside there were many thoughts that he was processing how to express outwardly.
"Sora," he started, his voice now strained.
"Are you already dating Tai?"
She froze at his question. Technically, no, but it wasn't a complete no either.
He didn't wait for her to answer.
"I've been thinking a lot the past week," he continued, shifting between looking at her and looking away. "When I think back at our last conversation, I—" He stopped himself to grimace. "I really regret it."
"What do you mean?"
"I didn't express what I actually wanted to say. I—" He paused again. "I'm not great at talking about things like this, so this is difficult for me."
"Matt." She reached out to hold his hand. He withdrew it as if she were lethal, and she tried to not let that affect her. "You can say anything to me."
He made eye contact with her, and in the same instant looked away again.
"I know I've already missed my timing, and what I'm about to say next isn't fair to you. I hope you'll understand."
She couldn't tell where he was going with this. Even after the time they had spent dating each other, he was still unpredictable to her. She wondered if he thought the same of her, or whether he could read her so easily.
He almost appeared to be in physical pain.
"When you broke up with me, I couldn't say anything. Tai came over too, but I couldn't say anything then either."
She hadn't known that Tai had spoken to him.
"I was thinking about so much, but none of those came out. I thought it was fine, but I realised I want to have my say too."
"You can say it," she insisted. "I want to listen."
He was looking at her with such intensity that it almost looked like he was glaring at her. She would have thought it was virulent if it weren't for the fact that his words didn't match up with his supposed temperament. "I don't want you to date Tai."
Now she was the one who froze. She wasn't even sure what she looked like now, and he wasn't giving anything away either.
"I wanted to be the bigger person, but it's been driving me crazy. I can't take it anymore. It's all I ever think about, and I'm losing sleep over it. I told Tai it was all right, but I was lying through my teeth. I can get over you not wanting me anymore, but I don't think I can get over seeing you two together. Not with him. Anyone but him. Not Tai."
She was in a daze, as if her mind had failed to process his words, and therefore she didn't know how to respond or even what to think. She had been so afraid to start anything with Tai for Matt's sake, and he had just laid out exactly what she had been thinking, confirmed her worries.
She had never seen him so red.
"I know it's selfish, and I don't have a right to impede on your decisions, but I can't bear thinking about it. I didn't want to say anything, but I'm afraid I'll regret it forever if I don't. I really love you, Sora. I know you don't feel the same way about me anymore, but at one point you did. Don't you remember?"
She was just repeating his name to indicate that she had heard him. She didn't actually know what to say next.
"Wasn't there any part of you that once loved me too?"
"Matt," she said, with more defiance.
She had never seen him seem so embarrassed either. She could understand the feeling, but surprisingly the reactive instinct that finally kicked in was not to reciprocate that same emotion but instead feel a certain compassion.
Seeing him so emotive, she suddenly felt free.
She shook her head at him. "That must have been hard for you to say."
He gazed at her with a vulnerability that didn't match his brand. The tears that she had cried to him a week ago were now on the cusp of appearing on his reddened eyes, though he was doing all he could to keep them from falling, including not saying another word.
"But you're wrong," she said with a gentle disposition. "You never loved me, and you still don't."
She watched his Adam's apple constrict as he literally swallowed his emotions away. In an instant, they had disappeared visually.
"How can you say that?" he asked, sounding confused and even a little offended.
"You just told me that you've never been 100% honest with me, and that you've never opened up to me. If you loved me, you would have been comfortable enough to do so, don't you think?"
"That's just my personality. I've never opened up this much to anyone before in my life," he fought back.
"More than to TK? To your dad?" She paused, wondering if she should even bring up the next one. "Gabumon?"
The emotion in his face returned.
"You see?" she said softly. "We liked each other, but we weren't in love." She reached for his hand again, and this time he didn't draw it back. "Matt, you're going to find the most incredible girl for you one day. Someone who'll deserve you a million times more than I do, and she'll be the luckiest girl in the world."
He stared at her hand covering his own. He didn't seem convinced.
"But what if I just want you?"
She squeezed his hand. "I'll tell you what. Maybe we weren't in love, but you're right that I cared for you. I still do, and you were there for me when I was going through a tough time. I want to always think back on the last four months fondly. I don't want that time to be something we regret."
"What are you saying?"
"I really want to give Tai and me a chance. Maybe we'll end up being terrible for each other. Maybe that's a choice I'll look back to a few months down the line and regret, and maybe then I'll also regret letting you go…" She studied his reaction with the same intensity he had. "But a bigger part of me doesn't want to look back and wonder 'what if' either."
He didn't say anything.
"I like Tai a lot, but I also care about you just as much." She smiled weakly. "Your opinion is important to me, so if you really hate it, then I won't go out with Tai."
"You won't date him if I say no?" he asked slowly.
"I won't," she confirmed immediately, confidently. "If you really don't want me to, I'll call him right now and tell him that I can't."
Her heart beat against her chest as she watched him think it over. It hurt her to know she was giving him the decision, but at the same time she felt she had wronged him so this was the least she could do.
There was a long pause, them peering at each other, his hand limp against her own.
"Just do it," he said finally. "Why are you letting me decide your life?"
"I wasn't. I'm saying your input is important in my life."
He withdrew his hand from hers and wiped it against his trousers as he stood up.
"I should go. You look like you were ready to go out anyway."
She stood up too. "Matt, if you want to talk about it more—"
"I don't. I already said everything I wanted to say, and I've heard what you have to say too."
"Do you hate me?" she asked the back of his head.
"No," he answered immediately, not turning around. "It's ironic because I trusted you this entire time, and in the end, you were the one who changed your mind, but I don't hate you. I'm not even mad at you. But Sora—"
He had stopped himself.
"Yes?" she urged.
"I just want to say that I—" He stopped abruptly again.
"Matt, what is it?"
He finally glanced at her again, and this time the exchange remained in place. She watched as he softened from his tense position. "I really don't like chocolate cake."
After a moment's confusion, she understood that this was obviously not what he had wanted to say to her. She still couldn't read him, and she didn't have the faintest clue where he had originally planned to go with it, but that much was clear to her. In the end, he could still only say a fraction of what he had intended to her.
"That was our thing," she reminded him unnecessarily.
He put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "I never said anything because you seemed to like it."
She couldn't tell if he was trying to lighten the mood.
"I can tell your next girlfriend that," she offered.
"That won't be necessary. Next time, I plan to tell her myself."
She walked him to the door. They hadn't really ended on anything, but somehow she felt that sense of closure that had been missing before.
"Are you sure you don't hate me?" she asked him at the door.
"Yes," he answered stoically. "I actually feel somewhat better after embarrassing myself."
"You didn't embarrass yourself," she refuted.
He gave her a glimpse of his rare smile before focusing on putting his shoes back on.
"Maybe you can talk to Tai too," she told him. "You two need to make up."
"Why would I make up with Tai?" he asked, slipping his feet in both shoes.
"Because you two are friends," she answered. This was obvious to her.
When he looked up again, his steely expression had returned.
"Tai isn't my friend."
"He is," she insisted, alarmed.
"Have fun tonight, wherever you're going with him," he told her as he turned to leave. "You look really nice."
12 August 2020
This chapter was the reason behind my writer's block and procrastination, so it is such a huge relief that it is done. It was a major hurdle, but now I feel like I can finally complete this to the end. Just two (maybe three) more chapters left, and the next one is all Taiora.
I do feel a bit cringey, but I hope I was able to capture the feeling of high school youth… I thought back on my own experiences with high school love, how cute and melodramatic it had been back then, and how much I care less now haha… For the more adult audience (in terms of age, not sexual content), please check out my other fanfics: Paradigm Shift (Taiora, Mimato) and Serendipity (Takari).