Chapter 4

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Here's what I thought about Nicolas Tamayo after a week of sitting beside him at work—the ones that I didn't discover by cyberstalking him, that is.

One: Nico didn't arrive "a bit later" at the HQ on non-color coding days. He would come in last, with just a few minutes to spare. Based on experience, Nico's arrival time meant he probably left for work just as the morning rush hour hit. Just the thought of the heavy traffic he endured everyday exhausted me already.

Seeing him last weekend made me wonder where exactly in the South he lived. Did he live near my parents' house or did he just happen to hear mass there that day?

Two: Nico wasn't the friendliest-looking guy in the HQ. He looked far too rugged to be in the Education Program, in contrast to Billy who looked like a jolly teacher and had a booming cheerful voice, bright smile, and an overall clean look—someone the students easily identified with, and the teachers and school administrators liked talking to. He was now a principal at a public school.

Nico was almost his opposite. His clothes were proper enough to make him look kind of professional, save for the gray hoodie and the beat-up sneakers he usually wore—but everything else was a little too rough around the edges and made him intimidating. His hair was unruly, his face rarely clean-shaven, and tattoos decorated his arms. Sure, the one on his forearm was a cross, but it was still a tattoo, and that usually didn't score points with the people he had to work with.

"And by people you work with, you mean you?" April scoffed that Friday evening a week after I got back. She was filling me in with all that I had missed in the HQ, so the topic naturally went to Nico, and I had shared what I observed. "When did you become so judgmental, Faith?"

"That's not what I meant!" I slid a card into one of the envelopes after I checked the name, and handed it to her. We were preparing the holiday cards to our donors, which will be mailed out on Monday. "He's just...different."

"Well, we could use someone different here," she replied. April ran the glue stick on the flap and sealed the envelope, smoothing the edges down before adding it to the finished pile. "I loved Billy as much as you did, but Nico's doing a really good job so far. The schools love him. I bet you'd like him, too, if only you didn't get off on the wrong foot."

"Hey, that wasn't just my fault!"

April chuckled. "I said I was sorry about the photos! And besides, he caught you stalking him first."

"Ugh, don't remind me." I passed the last envelope to her before checking the name off my list.

"But really, you should give him a chance," she repeated, eyes focused on the envelope in front of her. "You never know what could happen."

She sounded nonchalant, but she had a playful grin when she looked up at me. I frowned, remembering Meah's advice to me when we met up earlier this week.

"You should date!" Meah had chirped, her eyes sparkling in excitement. We were sitting in a milk tea shop, waiting for Rain, who was stuck in traffic. I watched as Meah shook her nearly full plastic cup enthusiastically, the pearls swirling dangerously up the straw. "That will get you out of your funk!"

"I am not in a funk! And I don't need to date. I don't want to date."

"Or at least have a crush! A distraction will help."

"Meah, for the last time, I don't need to be distracted from anything," I said, trying to be as patient as I can. When she gets these ideas on how to help people, it's hard to stop her. Sometimes I thought she was channeling her lack of romantic prospects on us.

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