The clock dings with a soft bird chirp when the hour hand points to twelve. I didn’t know time passed this quickly as I sit with my band members chatting and eating sushi. After successfully finishing the performance in the California Stadium, we were all drenched in sweat. So we crashed Von's house to disappear from the public and have our private time together on the last day of December.
I'm proud to say that I'm a musician. Our band, The Cadre, hit massive views on YouTube and was able to join the World Billboard Chart. Even though we came in last, our band name being displayed on the chart was the greatest honour we could get. And I know we have many opportunities waiting for us in the future to improve and spread our music.
I finish my last piece of California roll and lean against the seat with a sigh of satisfaction, brushing my dark blue jeans with my hands.
"Alina. Are you happy now?" Rico’s goofy smile brightens as he teases me. "Because I'm pretty sure you finished half of our food." He wraps his arms around himself like he’s disappointed in me, even though I know better.
"Don't exaggerate,” I shoot him a death glare, “I didn't eat that much. Ladies know how to take care of themselves." Then I scan some dishes on the table and calculate how much I've eaten. Half of the dishes were piled on my side while the rest were equally distributed to other members. "Okay... Maybe a bit more than half." I hear laughter as my face reddens every second.
"Hey, don't tease my girl," my boyfriend, Von, comes into rescue while he snuggles his head into the crook of my shoulder. He then replies with a smirk on his face like he always does before he says something naughty, "I'm the only one who can tease her and no one else. Cuz she’s mine." Someone whistles beside me, but I ignore it and slap his hand away like I’m disappointed. I know I’m not gonna succeed when my smile betrays my face.
I'm always like that with him. Even if I try to be angry with him, his big brown eyes and cute little dimples always catch me off guard whenever I look at him. And his lean muscles does not help much either when he back hugs me to rest his head on top of mine. Whenever his strong arms wrap around my shoulder, I get this sparks shooting across my skin as my body shakes in response to his touch.
"Hey, you're not the only one with a girlfriend." Lucas wraps his arm around his angelic girlfriends to prove his point. His girlfriend giggles in a shy voice while Lucas turns to plant a kiss on her forehead. She then picks up some chips and feeds him like a baby. I watch them feed each other for a while until I sense a desire for attention from my side.
Von looks at me with his puppy dog eyes like he wants something from me. His head was supported with his hand like a leaf on a rose while the other hand kept poking me on the side like he’s trying to act cute. I debate in my head if I should give what he wants or tease him a bit. My memory drifts back to the time when he used to make fun of me all the time and I think to myself, why not have some fun? I smile back at him and tilt my head to the side like I always do. When he does the same, I shake my head as cute as possible.
“You’re such a nice girl. You know that, right?” He clamped his lips as he brushed my hair back and forth. He manages to smile and hide his disappointment, but I can read his face like a book.
I then say in satisfaction, “I know I am,” and shove some Doritos into his mouth. All the members on the table burst into laughter with me while Von shoots me - I don’t get you- look. After a few seconds, Von joined the laughter as well.
We talk and play until our voice became hoarse. After a few conversations, I decided to learn more about Von.
"Tell me about yourself before you met me," I ask with genuine curiosity as I turn my head towards him. His face was masked with neutral expression but I know him enough to see his eyes waver with different emotions.
"You hated December, yeah?" Mylene, one of the members of The Cadre, breaks the silence first as every single pair of eyes turn towards Von.
"I did... Okay, except for the fact that there's this massive sale happening, December was not my month."
I look around as I see some members smile that doesn't reach their eyes. They know what's coming next as their eyes flicker with emotions I don't understand yet.
"I was a sad kid," Von lets out a sigh as he starts his story, "and December made everyone look forward to something surprising and happiness that made them look dumb."
His head turned towards me as his eyes searched something in my eyes. "And trust me, I know. Because that was what I saw of my reflection after seeing you." I smile in return as my heart fills with delight that makes me love him more. But I don't do anything as I continue to listen to him.
"I hated the streets especially. People full of joy buying gifts for their loved ones as if no human can interfere with their moment. Not caring about the time they have as they waste it on buying those ridiculous toys at the store. It made me crazy."
He stops for a moment to take a breath until his breathing calmed down.
"I didn't have the luxury to relax. I didn't even know which year of which month I was living in as my parents fought endlessly in the tiny one-room house. And all I could do was to huddle beside the garbage, waiting... Until one of them left with a bang on the door."
I try to picture him as a child sitting beside the garbage bag. But I can't imagine such a bright man trying to blend into the wall soo much. Too feel imprisoned, helpless, and to struggle, every single day hoping and disappointing himself every single time. I give him a stiff nod to let him continue his story.
"After several years of repeating fights and throwing fists, the woman left the world by hanging herself on the roof. I was left with a drug-addicted man on the night of December. The coldness I felt... The blood draining out of my head when I saw her corpse dangling side to side was, indescribable. I thought... I thought, if I stayed as still as a dead mouse, I would be fine. That if I stayed away from the person who brought me into this world, I would be left untouched. But when that man's hazy eyes landed on mine, it turned out... I was wrong."
Von's body shakes as if he remembers his childhood like it happened yesterday. And I try to help him by squeezing his hand to tell him that he's not alone. He squeezes my hand back as his shaky voice carries out his story.
"That addict just needed someone to release the anger, even if that victim is his only son. And that was the night I decided that no one deserved this hell, and promised myself I would never give my heart to anyone."
My lips wobble as I sink deeper into the seat.
"After the seemingly endless days of torture and studies, I was able to graduate from my third transferred high school. The music was the only thing I enjoyed during this hell. So... I decided to join a rock band. As I started to gain fame and money, I didn't want that addict to interfere with the only thing that helped me escape reality... I left the man who smashed me with the alcohol bottle every single day as soon as I had the money. I know I was supposed to feel something like guilt or satisfaction for leaving that man die slowly away from the world. But I felt nothing. Just an empty thought, carrying myself away from the shack that destroyed me inside and out."
He looked up and locked his eyes on to mine.
"Then I met you. Even though I promised myself that I would love no one, you kept surprising me. Whenever I think you will give up on our friendship, you do something unexpected that makes me want more. You always do the opposite of what I expect when there are problems. And that action alone brought back the feeling I tried to forget every damn day... Hope. The only feeling I tried to avoid. To not hurt myself even more from what I’ve endured. To not feel the pain and harden my heart. You melt it slowly with your trust and actions. Without knowing, I was looking forward to a new day with you and learned to value hope and love... And trust me this is the greatest compliment I can ever give."
A bubble of laughter escapes my mouth while my tears flow endlessly. He cups my face in his hand as he wipes my tears away with his thumb.
"So after countless observations and loving you in my mind, I decided to give what we have, a shot. And promised myself that if whatever we have ended, it would be my last... So, thank you." He says with a quaking voice. "Thank you for not giving up on me. And for giving a person who is broken inside and out a chance to know how to love. And I promise you that every broken piece of heart I have belongs to you."
I cry and cry as he holds me tight in his arms, not daring to let go. And I tell myself that this is what family is. A true family is the one you choose to fight with. To never let go of someone even in a devastating situation. The person who will cry with you when you're in pain and smile with you when you're happy. And that no one can stop you from loving someone even if you're born to one of the worst possible environments. That the people you choose to be with will be the ones who will shape you and guide you. And Von... He was able to rise from the doom when the world turned against him and never gave up on his life. Turns out his hope was the greatest weapon he tamed in a world full of darkness. And I promise myself that I will love every bits and piece of his heart until the very end.