It was not supposed to happen like this.
Damian Desmond was supposed to graduate top of his class at Eden Academy, attend a prestigious university, achieve accolades that even his father couldn’t turn a blind eye to, and then meet his future wife.
And of course, she would have fallen in love with him at first sight. How could any woman with even an iota of good taste resist him? His future wife would be enamored by his rugged handsomeness and charming personality, and she would be an elegant lady of high-breed society with an impressive family background, remarkable intelligence, and stunning good looks.
As the son of Donovan Desmond, president of the National Unity Party, it was only expected that attaining love would come as easily as everything else in his life had.
Again, he reiterated that it was not supposed to happen like this.
He was not supposed to meet anyone before he achieved his goals and dreams and accolades.
And certainly not when he was only 6 years old.
And then, he most definitely was not supposed to spend the next 7 years of his life quietly battling with not entirely…unpleasant feelings for Anya Forger.
Now at the age of 13 years old, the perilous juncture between child and teenager, the sad realization sprinkled like a light rain that he had spent over half his life dedicated to this one girl and this one girl only.
Anya Forger, the pink-haired, doe-eyed, airhead who was not enamored by his rugged handsomeness and charming personality, and certainly was not an elegant lady of high-breed society.
Anya Forger, whose parents weren’t anyone politically powerful and had a societal status that was far from impressive.
Anya Forger, whose intelligence wasn’t anywhere near remarkable and consistently landed in the bottom fourth of the class.
Sure, she was cute, and had shiny pink hair and sparkling seafoam-green eyes, but she wasn’t a stunning model by any means. How could she, with the way she always stumbled around on her stubby legs?
Damian looked up, his teeth biting at the tip of his thumbnail as he watched Anya a few seats in front of him, her head bobbing forward as she intermittently dozed off. It was their first period and she was blatantly sleeping in the front row of the class! The utter gall of this girl.
Damian heaved a deep sigh.
Anya Forger held none of the features of the type of person he was supposed to fall in love with, but he couldn’t help himself from…
Suddenly, she straightened up, her body swaying as she shifted back into consciousness. Like she knew she was being watched, she turned her head and stared directly at him, blinking innocently with her huge, round eyes.
Damian startled, she scrutinized him like his body was invisible and she could see into his soul. He quickly averted his gaze before she could pierce him any further.
Oh god, what terrible timing for her to wake up. He hoped she didn’t think that he’d been staring at her this entire time, because he certainly had not been. No way. Nevertheless, his face flushed hot and sweat pooled in the creases of skin between his fingers. Damn it.
Soft snickers came from beside him, and he begrudgingly looked over to see Becky Blackbell giggling into her hand.
Becky merrily swung her legs back and forth underneath her desk and teased, “You shouldn’t be surprised that Anya caught you. You’re not very discreet with your staring.”
“Shut up…” he muttered back half-heartedly.
“If it makes you feel better, Anya isn’t very discreet either,” Becky sing-songed, gesturing her hand in Anya’s direction.
Against his better judgment, Damian whipped his head up and found himself captivated by Anya’s pretty green eyes once again. She hadn’t moved a muscle since he dropped eye contact— didn’t this girl understand anything about polite social etiquette?! If two people were caught awkwardly staring at each other, both parties were supposed to turn away and pretend nothing had happened!
Instead, Anya tilted her head to the side, her tongue peeking out to wet her lips as she curiously observed him.
As usual, she had no sense of adherence to appropriate social behavior, but why was that oddly endearing…
No, no, no, focus Damian! It was only first period and he had goals and dreams and accolades to achieve.
But even as he forced his mind to snap back to the droning lecture and his hand to take copious notes, he couldn’t help but lift his gaze up one more time…
Anya wasn’t looking at him, or even turned back anymore. She faced forward, and considering how her head bobbed, apparently resumed her daytime nap like she hadn’t just spent the last 30 seconds engaging in a staring contest with him.
Which was fine of course, Damian had goals and dreams and accolades to achieve.
As he opened his locker, a tumbling mountain of heart-shaped boxes smacked into his forehead and then clattered to the floor. A stream of white envelopes followed soon after, fluttering back and forth before settling on top of the boxes of chocolate.
“Wow Boss-man! Another Valentine’s day, another great turn out!” Emile exclaimed as he and Ewen came up to Damian’s locker to marvel at the haphazard pile of boxes and crisp love letters.
“Hmm…yeah,” Damian acknowledged, rubbing the bruise purpling on his head.
Emile and Ewen exchanged glances, and then Ewen asked, “What’s the matter? You got a ton of Valentine’s as always! This might even be a bigger haul than last years.”
They were right, it was a bigger haul than last years.
But as the years had gone by, Valentine’s day had become less associated with heaping stacks of gifts, and more associated with waiting for one singular moment.
Without fail, every year since they were 6 years old, Anya would shamelessly offer him a box of chocolates, followed by bluntly asking if she could come over to his house. Of course, he always refused her chocolates and shot down the self-imposed invitation— who does that?! Who invites themselves over to other people’s houses without properly leading into it?
If he accepted Anya’s chocolate and accepted her bid to come to his house, that would mean he reciprocated…something, wouldn’t it?
No, no, no, he couldn’t give her the upper hand.
But then, if he accepted another girl’s chocolate…would she think that he reciprocated…something for someone else?
Damian didn’t quite know why, as he owed absolutely nothing to her, but the thought of Anya stopping her annual tradition because she thought he was unavailable carved a hollow pit in his chest.
So of course, the logical solution wasn’t to confront Anya about her intentions and ask if she really liked him or if this was just another instance of her obliviously teasing him with affection, but to simply not accept chocolates and letters.
Yes. This clearly was the most foolproof plan and had been completely effective for years.
As if he had summoned her with his thoughts, Damian noticed her distinctive pink hair like a cloud of cotton candy bobbing along a grey sea, and jolted as Anya turned the corner with Becky by her side. Springing into action, Damian hastily shoved all the chocolates and letters into a plastic bag and shoved them into a corner of his locker; they landed with an unceremonious thump.
“…Damian? Why’d you suddenly throw all your chocolate into a bag like that?” Emile asked, a perplexed expression on his face.
“Ants,” Damian quickly improvised, “I’ve heard that there’s been ants getting into the lockers, and I don’t want them getting into my chocolate.”
It wasn’t a lie per say, there probably were some ants in this school, and it wasn’t impossible for them to be hovering around the lockers.
From the corner of his eye, he noted Anya strolling down the hall and fixed his posture and held his chin high. Act cool, act cool. He was the most desirable 8th grader in the entire school, and she was just a plain and ordinary girl.
Schooling his face into the perfect picture of nonchalance, Damian shoved one hand into his pocket and examined his trimmed fingernails on his other hand. As expected, the pair of them slowed to a stop as they walked towards his locker— probably awestruck by the coolness he exuded.
“…Why are you awkwardly standing there? You know you’re facing away from your locker, right?” Becky pointed out matter-of-factly.
Damian blushed, then straightened up and folded his arms across his chest. “Yeah, I know that!” he defended hotly, “I was just stretching!”
From behind Becky, who was shooting him a look lathered with skepticism, Anya leaned forward and poked her head into view.
“Sy-on boy!” Anya chirped, her eyes widening as she realized why her friend had stopped walking. Wait, had she not even noticed him until now?!
A snappy retort lay waiting beneath his tongue, but then Anya beamed at him, smiling so unabashedly and genuinely happy that her eyes twinkled like stars had fallen in them.
Just like that, any inkling of insulting her died in his throat.
Instead, Damian turned his face to the side in a desperate effort to tamp down his flushed cheeks.
“What do you want?” he murmured grouchily, although he couldn’t find it in himself to really say it unkindly, lest she stop smiling at him.
“Here!” she exclaimed merrily.
What?! There was no way that Anya was giving him Valentine’s day chocolate right here. Here, in the crowded and very public hallway with her best friend and his friends and literally every student in their year watching. No, as strange as Anya was, even she couldn’t be that dense—
“Hey, Sy-on boy, can I come over to your house yet?”
“W-What?!” he stammered out loud this time, and instantly berated himself for not responding with more measured nonchalance. It was a little hard to do so, considering how heated his face had become and the sweat gathering uncomfortably in his underarms.
Anya tilted her head to the side, confused, and then pointed her index finger downwards. Damian reluctantly flickered his eyes towards the neatly wrapped heart-shaped box she proffered to him.
“Happy Valentine’s day. Here’s some chocolate. Can I come over to your house to play?” Anya summarized succinctly, as if he was a slow child who required step-by-step explanations.
Before Damian could even sputter a response, Becky squealed and wrapped her arms around Anya’s petite shoulders.
“Oh my goodness! Anya, how mature! Your feelings for Damian are so strong that you’re willing to put it all out there, even in front of the whole school!” Becky gushed, practically sparkling with excitement as she bounced on her toes.
Anya blinked once. “What feelings?” she asked inquisitively.
What feelings? Just what exactly was this girl playing at? He didn’t understand this girl.
He didn’t understand how she could look directly into his eyes without a shred of intimidation.
He didn’t understand how she could blow through every societal norm without a care.
And most of all, he didn’t understand how a girl who was so plain and poor and unremarkable could stir such turmoil in his heart without even realizing it.
What feelings? Her seemingly innocuous words echoed in the caverns of his chest, fluttering beneath his rib cage before finally settling uncomfortably in the bottom of his stomach.
“Why would I…I don’t…” Damian managed to stumble out, but then placed both hands over his face and emitted a sound that was a mix between a groan and a muffled scream.
“Y-Yeah! Damian doesn’t want your stupid Valentine’s day chocolate!” Ewen blurted out.
Oh right, those two were still here.
“He already got a whole bunch of better chocolates from other people. He doesn’t need yours!” Emile supplemented, eager not to get left behind in the action.
Damian bit his lip, still shielding his face from Anya and her big round eyes and piercing stares.
No, what Ewen and Emile were saying wasn’t quite right… However, he couldn’t bring himself to refute what his friends had assumed. It was the safe thing to do to let them deny her.
In a complete 180-degree turnaround from her previous disposition, Becky’s eyes narrowed and her demeanor frosted to ice.
“Oh yeah? Well, where is this supposed overflowing mountain of better chocolates?” Becky shot back.
Ewen and Emile puffed out their chests, and one of them confidently answered, “Rumor is there’s ants running around these lockers, so Boss-man stowed them away nice and safe in a plastic bag in his locker.”
Becky scrunched her face up and wrinkled her nose. “Are you sure? That’s the first I’ve heard about ants. Sounds like an awfully suspicious story to me…”
“Hey! Are you calling Damian a liar?” Ewen cried indignantly.
After swishing one of her long pigtails over her shoulder, Becky planted her hands on her hips and argued, “So what if I am?”
“He wouldn’t!” Emile fired back, “just accept that Boss-man doesn’t need smelly chocolates from your stubby little friend here!”
Becky bristled, then slung an arm protectively around Anya’s shoulder and hissed, “You guys are such jerks!”
Anya moved her hand up and lightly patted Becky’s arm. She gave her friend a cheerful smile and causally said, “Oh it’s okay, Becky, don’t get mad. Sy-on boy tells me no every year.”
“What?!” Becky gasped, the sharp inhale sounding as if she had been submerged underwater and had just come up to breathe air, “you’ve given him Valentine’s day chocolates in the past? How come you never told me?!”
“…Yes?” Anya replied.
“For how many years?” Becky probed.
“Err…” Anya paused, pressing her index finger and thumb to her chin as she ruminated on the answer.
Seven years. Every year since they met at 6 years old. Except for 2 years ago, when he hadn’t been at school during Valentine’s day, and the next time he saw her she had forgone the chocolate and moved straight to the unabashed request to come to his house.
Anya caught his eye, and shot him a smile that almost looked…grateful?
“Seven years. Every year since we were 6 years old. Except for 2 years ago when Sy-on boy wasn’t at school and I skipped the chocolate part,” she answered, even adding in a confident nod.
Whoa— it was like she had scooped her reply out of his mind. Since when were they synchronized on the same wavelength? Was this…fate?
Becky’s mouth dropped open in aghast shock. “Seven years, and he’s never accepted your chocolate?!” she shrieked. Damian winced, his ears ringing from her high-pitched voice.
The dark-haired girl whirled around and pointed an accusatory finger at Damian, her eyes sharpening dangerously.
“What is wrong with you?! How can you be so cruel to a young maiden’s heart! If you don’t like her back, then stop acting like you do and playing around with her feelings!” Becky snapped.
“W-What! I didn’t do anything!” Damian protested, his face flaming like a ripe cherry as his eyes darted wildly from Becky, Anya, and the crowd beginning to form around them.
“I’m not acting or playing or anything! Why would I like such an ug…ugl…” he trailed off, unable to finish his sentence. He glued his gaze to the ground, wishing that he could melt into the white marble floors and disappear from this conversation.
It was not supposed to happen like this.
As if sensing the growing tension in the hall, Anya gently moved Becky’s arm back down to her side and swiveled her friend away from glaring daggers at Damian.
“It’s fine Becky, Sy-on boy’s just like that. He’s not being mean on purpose,” she explained, defending him in her own strange way. Looping her arm through the space between Becky’s body and the crook of her elbow, Anya smiled brightly at her friend, “but thank you for caring so much about me. I’m really happy.”
Sparkles glistened off of Becky like she had been blessed by the sun, and forgetting all about Damian like he was a spoiled fish, she enveloped Anya in a crushing hug.
(How could girls change their moods so quickly like that? Another thing on his list of things he didn’t understand.)
“Awww Anya! You’re so adorable. You deserve so much better than Damian! Any man would be super lucky to receive Valentine’s day chocolate from you!” Becky boasted, side-eyeing Damian and turning her nose up with a snooty ‘hmph.’
Damian opened his mouth to reply with either a denial or apology, he wasn’t quite sure which one would have come out, but they were interrupted by a loud groaning sound.
“Why does Valentine’s day even exist?! It’s just another holiday to emphasize how unloved and lonely losers like me are when we receive no gifts! Oh, if only someone would bestow their homemade chocolates into my unworthy hands, then I think I could die as a happy man…”
In reluctant synchronization, Damian, Anya, and Becky all turned their heads towards George Glooman, who was conveniently pacing the halls and running his hands through his greasy hair.
“Darn…is there anyone else besides him,” Becky murmured, subtly pulling them away from George’s gloomy aura.
Anya, however, did a quick scan of George and then hummed contemplatively. Then, like a light bulb had switched on in her brain, she abruptly jerked her head towards Damian and asked, “Hey Sy-on boy, George’s family still works with yours, right?”
“Uh…yeah, they do,” Damian replied.
“Hmm….” she intoned, turning back to George and losing all interest in further conversation with Damian.
Wait—was Anya actually considering George?! Was George Glooman really her second choice after himself? Not that there was anything…wrong with George; Damian had merely thought that he and George weren’t exactly next to each other on the totem pole of popularity. Impossible, there was no way that Anya would re-direct her gift for him to someone—
“Alright, I guess so,” Anya decided, crashing a boulder directly in front of Damian’s streaming train of thoughts.
Irritation spiked in his chest, flickering like fire through his veins. Sure, they had a nonexistent romantic relationship and were barely considered friends, but he had spent over half his life dedicated to this one girl and one girl only, and he couldn’t deny that it hurt to be so easily replaced.
It’s not that he didn’t want her gift—because he did, he really did.
But if he accepted Anya’s chocolate and accepted her bid to come to his house, would that mean impressive societal status, remarkable intelligence, and stunning looks— everything that he revolved his identity around— didn’t necessarily matter? Could he really allow his affections for this girl to crumble his dreams and goals and accolades to dust? There were so many hurdles that the two of them would need to overcome, and Damian wasn’t sure that he was brave enough to acknowledge them.
How would his father feel about Anya? Could he publicly date her? Or, would they be star-crossed lovers in a secret relationship throughout their high school years, before he ultimately decided to cut his family ties and follow his heart?
Could he marry her? Would they live together in the manor? No no, Demetrius might be there too, and he couldn’t risk her falling in love with his brother over him. Okay—they would get their own little estate, cozy but private enough from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. Oh, but what about the kids they would have? It couldn’t be too little.
Her curious voice popped him out of his daydreaming, and he turned towards her with another fresh blush on his face. At this rate, his face was going to be permanently tinged pink.
“What do you want?” he instinctively blurted out.
Anya’s expression was soft, even slightly flustered. She pulled on a lock of hair from the side of her face and fidgeted with the tips. Pink dusted her cheeks, almost matching the shade of her hair, and she seemed to have a hard time looking him in the eye.
“Mm…nothing,” she mumbled, shifting her weight from side to side.
It was odd for Anya to ever be embarrassed about anything…had he said something out loud?
Leaving Becky’s side, Anya stepped a few paces forward and stooped down somewhere behind him. When she stood back up, she had an expensive-looking hi-polymer eraser in her hands.
Wait—wasn’t that his eraser?!
Trotting up to George on her cute stubby legs, Anya tapped the gloomy boy on the shoulder.
“Hey George, I’m sorry, but I can’t give you my Valentine’s day chocolate. But here, you can have this nice eraser I found on the floor.”
Damian scrolled on his social media newsfeed, his eyes aimlessly roving over the photos of his classmate’s fancy tea brunches and gorgeous vacation paradises. As beautiful as all of these filtered and photoshopped images were, Damian vaguely realized that…he didn’t care.
Anya didn’t have any social media accounts.
It was strange, she actually didn’t share much about her life other than the fact that she thought her Papa and Mama were the coolest people in all of existence. (Judging by the times he had run into them, maybe they were). Oh, and she did keep trying to talk to him about dogs and show off her giant fluffy white beast of a dog, Bond.
Damian poked his head into the open door of the classroom, squinting as he noted the distinctive sounds of Becky and Anya giggling and chatting in animated voices.
Gah, how long did it take for them to pack up their book bags and head home? Damian could only linger outside the classroom and occupy himself with his phone for so long before he started looking too creepy.
It wasn’t that Damian felt guilty or anything for what transpired earlier this morning. No. He just wanted to…check on how Anya was faring. Anya may be one of the most resilient people he knew, but Becky was right in that she was still a young maiden, and getting her chocolates rejected for 7 years was probably still damaging to her self esteem.
“…Why are you awkwardly standing there? Is this some new trend you’re doing where you stand at awkward places and then wait for us to show up?”
Damian startled, nearly jostling his phone out of his hands. “No! I mean, I can stand wherever I want.”
Becky looked down her nose with an unimpressed stare, and even Anya seemed perplexed by his loitering.
“…Okay? Whatever, Anya, let’s go home. Damian is acting super weird today,” Becky said.
Anya shrugged and turned to follow after Becky.
Panic flickered through him—she couldn’t leave already. No, not yet. Not before he had the chance to speak to her first.
“H-Hey wait,” he took a step forward and reached for her wrist, but then hesitated, and retracted his hand before he touched her. Was she angry with him? What if she didn’t want him to touch her?
Anya looked down at where his hand dangled awkwardly in between them, then blinked curiously at him.
She neither pulled away nor moved closer, but studied his outstretched hand. Finally, after a beat of silence, Anya said, “Hmm Becky, why don’t you go on ahead. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” Becky asked.
Anya nodded, “Yeah, I think Sy-on boy wants to tell me something in private.”
Becky’s eyes lit up and she placed a hand against her mouth. “Oh! Hehe okay, make sure you spill all the deets to me later.”
“I don’t see what beets have to do with this, but sure, I’ll spill them with you later.”
“Nooo, not beets. Deets! It’s just a slang term for ‘details.’ Oh, never mind, I’ll see you tomorrow Anya!”
Once Becky sauntered down the hall and out of earshot, Anya turned her attention back to Damian and inclined her head to the side.
“Yes?” she inquired expectantly.
Damian sighed, curling and uncurling his toes in his shoes. Well…here goes nothing, he couldn’t prolong it forever.
“Earlier today with the whole chocolate thing…I didn’t mean to embarrass you in front of everyone…” he wrung his hands nervously, squirming in the spot. “So, I just…I wanted to say that I’m…I’m sorry.”
“Is that all?”
Disbelief shot through him, and he clenched his hands into fists and stomped his foot. “What do you mean is that all?! I’m trying to properly apologize to you!”
Anya shrugged with one-shoulder. “Oh, it’s okay. I didn’t really mind. I knew that you were going to say no again anyways.”
“Well it certainly didn’t help that you made it into such a public spectacle! Who does that?! Who would give a Valentine’s day gift out in the open like that? You’re supposed to write a love letter and hide it in my locker or something! Or you know…give it to me in private when no one’s around,” Damian insisted.
Anya tapped her fingers on her chin, pondering over this new information. She swiveled her head from side and side, her eyes lighting up as she realized something.
“Do you mean like right now? There’s nobody around, is this private enough?”
“Right now? Erm…I suppose so, but it’s not like there’s any point in re-hashing—”
Damian blinked. “What?”
Mirroring her earlier actions, Anya pointed her index finger downwards and shook the heart-shaped box for unnecessary emphasis. “Happy Valentine’s day. Here’s some chocolate.”
Tongue-tied, Damian could only open and close his mouth like a gaping fish. His mind felt a little fuzzy, and heat crept up his neck like an irritated rash.
Anya edged it a little closer and practically nudged the package against his frozen fingers. “Please take it? You might as well, since it was only meant for you.”
His fingers twitched, and he took a tentative step forward. Anya didn’t push him, instead, she waited patiently for him to decide.
He looked up, a little taken aback that she had used his name instead of that accursed nickname that she had been calling him since they were 6 years old.
The edges of her eyes softened, and her eyes shined like gems glittering under the sunlight.
“I think it’s pretty cool that you care so much about your societal status, intelligence, and looks. You’re really ambitious! You already have so many goals in your life. But…” she smiled, showing off a bit of her white teeth, “we’re still kids! I think it’s okay if you sometimes just do the things that you want to do.”
It was not supposed to happen like this.
Anya Forger held none of the features of the type of person he was supposed to fall in love with.
But there were many things that he was supposed to do, and perhaps it was alright to deviate from some goals and dreams and accolades.
“Give me that!” he declared, caving in to the tumultuous cacophony of thoughts whirling in his mind. He tugged the chocolate box out of Anya’s loose grip and clutched it close to his chest, cradling it in his arms like a precious treasure.
“Please…and thank you,” he muttered as an afterthought. It was elegant to remember his manners.
The unexpected realization sprinkled like a light rain that maybe it wasn’t so bad that he had spent over half his life dedicated to this one girl and one girl only.
“Oi…why are these chocolates all burnt?"
“Ah…Papa was on a missi— I mean, Papa was missing in the bathroom the entire day, so Mama was the one that helped me make them last night.”
“…Has your mother ever tasted chocolate in her life before?”