Chapter 22: What Makes Your Heart Beat

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That was not how it really worked; Liam’s mind was too clouded with alcohol to draw up a more logical conclusion. Jered came to a halt in front of Kenny’s bedroom door. Honestly, what could you even say to a teenager who’s confused about his gender identity? Not to mention his daddy issues—or the suicidal thoughts he used to have before Jered came along. It was not only one problem, it was the f****** complete package.

Well, whatever. Make it or break it. “Ken?” he knocked, “Can I come in?”

The noises inside tapered off for an instant, whereupon only his friend’s light stride rang out. The door was unlocked and opened, just barely enough for Kenny to peek through the gap. “Oh… Jered… umhh…” he scratched his cheek sheepishly, “F-Fine… but don’t laugh.” his voice was uncharacteristically soft and syrupy, a telltale attempt at imitating a woman’s nuanced, cute timbre. He paddled back, averting his gaze in a shy fluster. 

Jered was not trained for these situations. He smiled, pushed the door aside, and stepped in. The room vouched for a more feminine décor, with a strong tang of perfume lingering about. However, that was not his main concern. Kenny stood quietly in the middle, clothed in a beige coat, a white undershirt, a box pleated skirt, and black knee-high socks. There was a faint trace of make-up on his face, with a swipe of glossy, cherry chapstick as well. “You look… astounding.” he said, and Kenny coughed to cover the growing blush—then again, he could have just blamed it on the cosmetic. “Sorry to ask but… why are you dressed like that?”

“Weeell…” Kenny twiddled with his thumbs, “It’s rare for me to go out… with someone, I mean. A-And… I don’t know… I just want to be myself with someone else for once… I-I’m sorry if that bothers you. I can swap back to my other clothes if you wa—”

“No,” Jered interrupted him with a raised hand, “It’s fine. You’re beautiful, male or female. It doesn’t matter. Don’t let what your father said to get in your head, he doesn’t understand you as I do. I’m your best friend, aren’t I?”

A giggle burst out of Kenny, “Wow…” he looked up at him, batting his long eyelashes in a way that could have sent the wrong signal. “Thank you, Jered. I really appreciate it… and yes, you’re my best friend. The only friend that I have, actually, hahaha… you’re irreplaceable.”

“Flatterer…”

“Says you!”

Jered smiled cheerfully, flopping on his bed. “Soo… you ready for tonight?”

“Ready for what? Aren’t we going to watch a movie or something?”

Heeeh… not really.”

Kenny wrinkled his nose, a socked foot tapping impatiently on the floor. “Then what…”

“It’s time I uphold my promise… don’t you remember? I want you to be there,” Jered spread his elbows, leaning back. “You said you had the money, didn’t you? We can settle the matter today. I texted around a bit, and caught wind of a party at Zayn’s… Carter, Victor, and Lloyd are going to be there, no doubt.”

“…”

“Come on… what’s up with that face, you’re not chickening out right now, are you?”

Kenny bit his bottom lip, “B-But… what kind of prank are you going to pull on them?”

“Ken, my beautiful, irreplaceable friend…” Jered stood back up, cradling Kenny’s face within his hands. He nuzzled his cheekbones, his earlobes, and then his neck. “Do you trust me?” his voice was soft, husked, and honeyed with the devil’s temptation. “Because I trust you… and I don’t want those assholes to hurt you again. You’re very important to me, and… I know you’ve been struggling a lot with your problems, but that’s why I’m here now. I want to help you, not because you need it, but because you’re my friend. Let me take care of it, okay? Just trust me… please,”

“Uhhh… umh…” Kenny’s brain went haywire. He hauled in a deep breath to slow down his beating heart, “I… I… o-of course I trust you! I was just worried…” 

“No need to be worried, we’ve got this. Also,” Jered drew out a sophisticated-looking car key, his lips curling up into a lopsided grin, “… your father lent us his car, haha, we’re gonna have a blast!”

“Ohhh… he did?”

“Why, surprised?”

Kenny broke into a rueful chuckle, “Oh no, I’m not. I know he doesn’t like me… he’s trying to be civil, and he’s trying hard. At least mom is there to make sure all that gunpowder between us doesn’t go… you know, BOOM!”

“Sounds rough…”

“I’m used to it, he’s not bad… he’s just… opinionated.” 

Jered answered with a non-committal nod.

“Anyway, the money huh…” Kenny skipped towards a drawer, opened it, and slid out an envelope between a pile of clothes. “… here, it’s time I uphold my promise as well, right?” he handed it to him. The nonchalance he did it with bespoke of how money was not an issue for him. There was a slight bulge on the paper. Jered unsealed it and stole a quick peek at the content inside. He didn’t know how much was there, but knowing his friend’s family’s deep pockets, he had a general idea. With that, he had finally cashed in all the money that was owed to him. 

“I hope this won’t get you in trouble,”

Kenny waved him off, tilting his head in an overly cute fashion. “No way, and even if it did, it would be worth it.” he shrugged with a mischievous smile, “I had to steal some of it from my dad’s wallet, but he won’t notice it. He never did anyway.”

“Look at you…” Jered narrowed his eyes, “… good old Kenny has fallen into the dark side,”

Kenny’s tone unrolled into a purr, “Oh, I’ve always been there.”

“Well, this makes what we’re going to do later even easier…”


The sky blinked with a stunning trail of stars—as if a clumsy Goddess had accidentally spilled all of her glitters over it. Jered had never fancied stargazing, “Tonight is a special night,” but he allowed himself the brief appreciation for the celestial bodies paving the way for the Jaguar F-type Coupe. Liam had grimaced when Kenny walked down the stairs, and hence emphasized one last knowing look at Jered before they adventured out. Oh, Jered was definitely going to get Kenny to have some fun, but it didn’t involve girls. 

“Anxious?” Jered didn’t take his eyes off the road. He could sense Kenny in the co-pilot seat, caught in the throes of a nasty leg-bouncing. “Don’t be… it’s gonna be alright,”

“Even if you say that…” Kenny chuckled to loosen up his tense muscles, “… I’m sorry… it’s just that I’m scared…”

“Scared?” 

“Yes, I mean… why aren’t you? They’re big and strong… if we get caught…” Kenny trailed off, already having second thoughts about the whole thing.

“Scared…” Jered was unfamiliar with the term. He could logically discern when a situation was dangerous or not, and thus flee if necessary—but there were no feelings involved. It was a rational choice, not an emotional one. You don’t run away because you’re scared, you do if the odds are stacked against you. Actually, even then, he would most likely risk it. “I told you, Ken. We’ve got this. Why? Because I came prepared… no, I’ve always been prepared.”

“What do you mean…”

“What do I mean?” Jered rolled down the window next to him, and stomped on the accelerator, “This is what I mean…” the wind whacked inside, flapping their hair around in a maddening dance as the surrounding vegetation flew by in an ever speeding up blur of colors. Fortunately, the road ahead was deserted, but that didn’t stop Kenny from clutching on the ceiling’s handle for dear life. 

“J-Jered, slow down!”

“Nuh-huh!”

“Jered!”

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“Hahaha, don’t be scared Ken, just enjoy it!”

The Jaguar’s wheels scorched across the asphalt as the car sailed forward like an arrow. Jered turned around momentarily, making eye-contact with a terrified Kenny. The blinding headlights of an oncoming truck washed over them, then came the warning honks. The Jaguar and the truck were on a perfectly straight route to a collision; nonetheless, Jered didn’t steer away. The gap between them and the truck shortened at a fast pace.

“Jered!! What the f*** are you doing!!” Kenny reached out for the steering wheel, but a sudden, invisible force pushed him back. “What… what… no… no…” his confusion gave away to fear. It was too late. The headlights were upon them. He glanced at Jered—who was staring ahead without a care in the world—and braced for impact. A continuous honk sounded out dangerously close to them, followed right after by the screechy wail of tires grinding furiously against the ground. Kenny clenched his teeth and waited for the worst to happen.

The truck struggled not to flip around after that abrupt maneuver. As for the Jaguar? It sped off without a flinch.

Kenny snapped his eyes open, clutching his chest, “Oh w-what t-the hell…” the hot rush of adrenaline had his heart pounding a mile a minute. His breath came in painful gasps, his limbs felt like jelly as he drank it all in. He was still alive, and the sheer notion behind it was absurd. It was all so out of the blue it left him puzzled. He whipped his head around, looking behind them. The truck was there, stopped by the side of the road, unscathed. “Jered! What the hell is wrong with you! Why did you do that!?” 

Death had come so close his hands wouldn’t stop trembling. 

“It was just to shake things up a bit, you know, to set up the atmosphere…” Jered smiled.

“W-Wha…” his friend was out of his rockers, more so than he had initially thought. “For f***’s sake, we almost died! A-Are you serious now?!”

“I can’t feel it…”

Kenny’s face contorted, “Feel what…”

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“What makes people human…”

“…”

Jered’s smile widened, “Life gives everyone a different set of cards, the winning ones, and the losing ones. You can be born with crazy talents, a rich family, a beautiful appearance, a high intelligence, incredible social skills. Hell, sometimes life goes all-in and you’re born with all of these traits. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Buuuut then… you can be born with nothing. Literally. Just an empty hole where your heart is supposed to be. And you go through life trying to understand what your purpose is… and why you’re so different…”

“…”

“What makes your heart beat? Because I was born with nothing. I have nothing to lose.”

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Title: World of Expertsd | Tags: Cultivation, Second Chance
Synopsis: The online game <> entered the whole world. It's a game about territorial construction and war to reconstruct alternate history. Although it's virtual, it'll change the world. Shi Hao, an ordinary freshman, decided to bravely enter <> in order to gain the approval of his beloved goddess's elder brother. He, however, accidentally got a super skill at the beginning because of a strange game-helmet.

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