Justin: “Where are you planning to take me exactly?”
I looked at Alexi as she pulled me by the hand further into the building. She shook her head, telling me she won’t spill until we get to where we are. I was actually amused she got the guards to open up for us—we are at one of the more famous malls in Manila (that is not under our family’s chain of malls) and it’s way past the closing time.
“You are not the only one with the money, the power, the connections and the glory, you know that, right?” Alexi teased, and she stopped in front of one of the amusement centers inside the mall. She momentarily released my hand and then did a theatrical clap, and the entire place lit up, the lights in all colors blinding me for a millisecond. The sounds of the gaming machines all turned on simultaneously were also a bit surprising, and I had to strain my ears as I waited for Alexi to speak.
Alexi handed me a plastic card. “I am not sure if you like amusement parks or whatnots, but this is where we’re spending part of the night,” she said, a warm smile on her face. When I looked at the card, it read VIP in all caps, and I looked up to ask Alexi but she was already weaving her way through the Guitar Hero and Dance Revo machines. I ran after her as she swiped her card at one of the Dance Revo machines.
“Challenge me?” she said, waiting for my reaction, and I didn’t move. “Come on, Justin, just a game,” she tried to convince me, and I shook my head.
“I need answers first,” I said, and she laughed, shaking her head. “Beat me first, and then you’ll get to ask me a question that I promise to answer.” I rolled my eyes and swiped my card, and she chose a relatively easy tune, Earth, Wind and Fire’s September. I lost to her by 100 points, and she saw the crestfallen look on my face. She patted my cheek and leaned closer to me, so close that I could feel her breath warm on my face.
“Ask away,” she said huskily.
“I lost,” I told her plainly. She nodded. “But, since I like you, I’m giving you one question free,” she answered. I stopped, trying to form a sane question with her this close.
“Why are we here?” I asked, and she shrugged, pulling away. “You should have thought of a better question, Justin. I am disappointed,” she said, and I looked at her, confused. She went to the Guitar Hero next and looked at me before doing anything to the gaming console. “It’s our first date. And I want it to be special—for you.”
I didn’t know that this was a date. All I knew was that she asked if I could pick her up from her office because her driver’s not around—that’s it. There was nothing along those lines that said DATE in all caps.
“What—” I began to say, but she waved me off. “Look, you have to beat me here to ask your next question,” Alexi said, and I stopped from sighing in frustration. I wanted her to answer my questions and it appears she is enjoying playing me at this point.
Well, if she wants to play this game, I’ll give her that.
I put my gameface on and took the fake guitar, and she selected Radiohead’s Creep from the playlist. I concentrated on the blue, green, red, and yellow “button” things that appeared on the screen.
“Ha!” I said when I had beaten her by plenty. She looked at me and clapped her hands, and then she said, “Ask.”
“You own this place?”
“Not this. The entire mall. More like we rent this place out, but we own it. Like your family, right? Well, Dad owns this particular amusement center, so…” Alexi’s voice trailed, but I continued to stare at her. Maybe she was bothered by my thoughtful silence, for she snapped her fingers at my face. “Justin?” she said, and I cleared my throat.
“Castillo,” I said, “as in your father’s Sandro Castillo of CGS Holdings?”
She nodded, a small smile on her face. “One of your two best competitions,” she said, and I shook my head. “Not my, per se. My lolo’s,” I said, and she shrugged. She pointed to the racing car games and pulled me to that. “Let’s not talk about family business and history and all that jazz, alright? Let’s enjoy this night,” she said, and I shook my head. She seems to be evading everything about herself.
Alexi cut me off by pressing me to the nearest Hit the Monkey game and kissing me full on the lips, her hands on my either side, trapping me. When she released me, I stared at her, her lips pink from the kiss, and her eyes wary. I cupped her face in my hands.
“You can trust me. I want you to do that, okay? But I will wait until you get that feeling that you can trust me. I will earn that, I promise,” I told her, and she gazed at me, her eyes blank, and then she nodded. “Thanks.” She tiptoed and gave me a light kiss before pointing to another machine.
“Let’s do Metal Slug,” she said brightly. “And then you’re going to play that—” pointing to the apparatus that has a lot of stuffed toys and a metal arm for grabbing one of the toys—“to get me that Elmo.”
I marveled at how quickly her moods had switched, but I followed her, determined to get that Elmo and to find out why she’s acting this way tonight.