Nag-break muna ako sa pagre-review dahil parang sasabog na ang utak ko. Finals na next week pero ang dami ko pang kailangang aralin. I have to maintain my grades or else I’d be disappointed in myself.
“Gutom na ako!” Queenie grumbled as she turned the pages of her binder.
She stood up and ordered some snacks while I continued reading. Hindi ko nga alam kung bakit kasama ko ang babaeng ‘to ngayon dito sa café. She said she had to review for four subjects and the library was already full. Ako naman ang ginugulo niya ngayon.
Napasandal na lang ako sa upuan at bumuntong-hininga. I still couldn’t bring myself to tell them about my plans. Si Jazer lang ang nakakaalam. Maging sina Kuya Larry, walang idea sa gagawin ko.
I looked at Queenie, who was attracting attention from the guys near her, and she suddenly waved at someone. Sinundan ko ng tingin ang mga mata niya at muntik na akong malaglag sa upuan nang makita ko sina Iñigo at Jazer na kapapasok lang sa café. She mouthed something at them and they turned to my direction.
Damn that bitch. Why did she invite them without informing me? Ang kapal ng mukha, in-invite na nga niya ang sarili niya, humatak pa ng iba.
Iñigo stayed with her while Jazer walked toward me. Before I averted his gaze, I saw him heaving a sigh. When he arrived at our area, he sat right across me and placed his bag under the table. Tumingin ako sa kanya at nakatitig lang siya sa akin.
“What?” I asked.
He flashed a gentle smile. “Akala ko umalis ka na. Nawala ka kasi bigla sa bahay. Hindi rin kita ma-contact.”
Napatingin naman ako sa phone ko sa gilid. I put it on airplane mode so I wouldn’t be disturbed.
“I told you, after pa ako ng sem aalis.”
“Yeah,” he muttered. “I guess paranoid lang ako.”
My heart skipped a bit when he chuckled and his dimple deepened. However, I immediately felt a tug in my stomach when I saw sadness in his eyes. My hand instinctively reached for my necklace, the one he gave me as a present during my birthday, to calm my nerves down. These past few days, I was relying on it a lot. Somehow, fiddling with the pendant quell my anxiety.
“Alam na ba nila?” tanong niya naman habang nakatingin kina Queenie at Iñigo.
Umiling ako. “No need,” I said. “They won’t be bothered by my absence anyway.”
“Sigurado ka ba?”
He stared at me intently and I couldn’t respond anymore. It’s just that . . . I don’t want to burden them with troubles and worries regarding my departure.
Dumating naman na sina Queenie at Iñigo kaya nag-focus na lang ulit ako sa notes ko. The four of us continued studying but after some time, my mind started to drift away. I tried to push back those thoughts but it kept resurfacing.
My mind came back to the present when Queenie tapped my arm. Doon ko lang na-realize na nakatingin na silang tatlo sa akin.
“You seem dispirited this fast few days, witch,” she commented.
Napatingin naman ako kay Jazer at mukhang hinihintay niya kung ano ang sasabihin ko. I heaved a sigh and massaged my temple.
“I’m just tired,” I replied.
Pagkasabi ko no’n ay hinayaan na lang nila ako at bumalik sila sa pagre-review pero nakikita kong sumusulyap si Jazer every now and then. Few hours passed and Queenie and Iñigo decided to go. Naiwan kami ni Jazer at seryoso pa rin siyang nagsasagot ng problem sets sa Calculus.
These past few days, he was almost always beside me. After learning about my plan from Dad, it felt like he became more aware of my presence.
It was a different kind of strange. I knew we have something between us . . . a deeper connection yet a complicated one. He was my emotional anchor, my shield and someone I trust with all my heart. With him, I felt safe.
“Uwi na ba tayo?” tanong niya.
Dahil ang tagal na rin namin dito ay nagsimula na rin akong magligpit. Kahit papaano naman ay naaral ko ang matataas ang chance na masama sa final exams. Magrere-read na lang ulit ako bukas.
We left the café and started ambling toward the forest park which was just a five-minute walk from here. I suddenly remembered the first time we went here. He said he brought me here to let me breathe. Maybe he noticed I was getting suffocated by my thoughts so he led me here again.
The sky was gradually changing colors—from hues of orange that looked like burning fire to strokes of pink and purple, a reminder of the fading sunset. It felt like the days were getting shorter.
Nagulat naman ako nang bigla na lang niyang nilahad ang kamay niya sa harapan ko. I just stared at him for a few seconds until he held my hand and started walking again.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “Sa ganitong paraan, alam kong nandito ka pa sa tabi ko.”
He gave me a subtle smile and his grasp got tighter. My face felt like burning after he said those words. After that night, he seemed to be more straightforward and most of the time, I’d get flustered.
Tahimik lang kaming naglakad at thankful ako dahil hinayaan niya lang akong makapag-isip-isip. I guess strolling around the forest soothed my perturbed mind.
“Thank you,” bulong ko nang makalabas kami mula sa park at ngumiti naman siya sa akin.
Pagdating namin sa bahay ay sumilip muna ako sa kwarto ni Mom at nanonood siya ng family videos. She was still trying to remember us but I could see from her expression that she couldn’t recall anything. It was painful to look at but at least, she was willing to know more about her forgotten family.
Pumasok naman ako sa kwarto nina Czanelle at Clark at agad nila akong niyakap nang makita nila ako.
“Ate! You’re back!” Czanelle beamed.
They were playing with toys and coloring books but they already forgot about them when I entered their room. Nagpaalam muna ako na bumalik sa kwarto ko at saglit na nagbihis saka ako bumalik sa kanila.
“Come here,” sabi ko sa kanila at agad naman silang umakyat sa kama at lumapit sa akin.
I immediately hugged them tight and a smile escaped from my lips when I heard Clark giggling. Czanelle hugged me back and I felt a lump of emotions in my throat.
One of the reasons why I was hesitant about going to Singapore was them. I didn’t mind being alone for a long time but when they came into my life, I realized how lonely it was to be alone. I wanted to spend more time with them. I wanted to teach and protect them, but I guess that would be difficult, given our current situation.
Ni hindi ko nga alam kung paano sasabihin o ipapaintindi sa kanila ang kalagayan ni Mom. At ngayon, hindi ko rin alam kung paano ko ipapaalam sa kanila na mawawala ako nang matagal.
“Ate, are you okay?” she asked while looking at me with a worried expression.
I just smiled at her. “Yeah. I’m okay.”
Huminga na lang ako nang malalim at humiga sa tabi nila. I thought I would have a hard time falling asleep but having them beside me had a different effect. For the first time these past few weeks, I had slept peacefully.
“Damn it, I quit!”
“My head hurts.”
Nandito kami nina Queenie at Katrina sa library dahil katatapos lang ng finals namin sa magkakaibang subjects. I could hear the students grunting in frustration, their whimpers and last-minute scanning of notes. Hindi ko nga alam kung paano ko na-survive ang tatlong subjects na magkakasabay. My head felt like it would explode any minute now.
“How about a sem-ender party?” biglang sabi ni Queenie habang nakahawak pa rin sa ulo niya.
“Are you serious? Patay na ang mga mata ng mga tao, magpa-party ka pa?” Katrina retorted.
“Bakit, invited ka ba?”
“Sinabi ko ba?”
Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako dahil nakuha pa nilang mag-away kahit na pare-pareho nang masakit ang mga ulo namin. Hindi ko nga alam kung paano na nag-end up ang usapan na pupunta raw kami sa bahay ni Queenie dahil wala ang parents niya for a week.
“I can’t,” sabi ko naman.
I have to leave tomorrow morning, I wanted to say but I held back. Hindi ko pa rin sinasabi sa kanila na aalis ako at doon ko na-realize na ito na pala ang magiging huli naming pagkikita. My heart sank when I looked at how unaware they were.
Was I too selfish?
“Fine,” I muttered. “Sasama na ako.”
Might as well enjoy my last night with them.
Napangiti naman ako. Dati, wala akong pakialam kahit wala akong friends sa university. I mean, most people would just befriend you because they see you as someone beneficial or they need something from you. I hated the fact that these so-called friends would say sweet things in front of you but talk behind your back and make absurd stories about you. I never thought I’d find people who could accept my flaws, people who would straight up tell you what they dislike about you but would defend you in your absence. I didn’t have to adjust for them because in their presence, I could be myself.
“Wait, mauna na ako,” sabi naman ni Queenie. “I have to prepare the house.”
Agad naman siyang tumayo at naiwan kami ro’n ni Katrina.
“Dahil ba kay Jazer?” bigla niyang tanong kaya napatingin ako sa kanya.
“Kanina ka pa kasi wala sa sarili.”
“Ah. No. It’s just that . . .” I sighed. “Nothing.”
“I see. So it’s about your family.”
Ngumiti siya sa akin at lumubog ang puso ko nang makita ko ang lungkot sa mga mata niya. She was from a broken family and among the people around me, she was the person who could relate to me the most.
Actually, I was thinking about them. Iniisip ko kung sasabihin ko ba sa kanila mamaya pero naudlot ‘yon nang dumating sina Iñigo at Jazer. Sinabi naman namin sa kanila ang plano ni Queenie at sabay-sabay na kaming pumunta sa kanila.
Buti na nga lang at nakapag-impake na ako kahapon kaya mamaya ay uuwi na lang ako at magpapahinga. I was planning to leave early so that Czanelle and Clark wouldn’t see me. Hindi ko kakayanin kapag pinigilan nila ako.
Pagdating namin doon ay may iba na ring mga tao. I could see familiar faces who were there during her birthday party. Those were the people and fans who stayed by her side when she was criticized for being a two-faced bitch.
Masayang nag-uusap ang iba habang umiinom. They were talking about their answers in the final exams, their professors, classmates and their plans for the next semester. May nag-offer din sa akin ng cocktail drink pero hindi ko tinanggap dahil ayaw kong malasing.
Dumiretso na lang ako sa veranda sa dulo ng hallway ng second floor at tumingin sa langit. The sky was covered with clouds so I could only see a few stars.
Kahit hindi ko tingnan ay alam kong nandito na rin si Jazer at naalala ko ang gabing binigay niya sa akin ang kwintas na suot ko ngayon. That was the same question he asked me.
I sighed. “No. Just thinking about what will happen tomorrow.”
“Ang bilis ng panahon.”
Sumulyap naman ako sa kanya at nakatingin din siya sa langit habang nakapamulsa ang mga kamay niya. He looked serene with the moonlight reflecting on his face.
“Take care of Mom, Czanelle and Clark for me,” dagdag ko.
“Hindi ka rin ba magpapaalam sa kanila?”
“I can’t. I don’t want to cry tomorrow.”
“Pwede ka namang magtago sa akin,” he said while flashing a smile.
Napatingin naman ako sa kanya at ngumiti pabalik. “I don’t want to hide, either,” sagot ko. “I’ll just hate myself more if I continue doing that.”
“Hindi ba pagtatago rin ang gagawin mong hindi pagsabi sa kanila?”
“No. That’s straight up running away,” I joked. “But don’t worry, that would be the last one.”
Nagbago naman ang expression niya nang sabihin ko ‘yon at ilang minuto kaming tahimik lang na nakatingin sa langit matapos no’n pero bigla naman siyang lumapit sa akin.
“Chloe,” he called.
“Do you really hate yourself?” he suddenly asked while vacantly staring at the sky.
I couldn’t respond right away even though I already knew the answer.
Yes, I hate myself.
I hate myself for being vulnerable. For feeling too much. For not being good enough. For closing myself off to my own family. For being broken. And for being weak.
“I can’t help it,” sagot ko sa kanya. “It seems like I just know how to hate myself instead of loving it. Believe me, I’m trying, but after all that happened, it became too difficult for me.”
Bigla naman siyang humarap sa akin kaya napatingin ako sa kanya. He looked at me with a genuine smile pasted on his face.
“Kung hindi mo pa kayang mahalin ang sarili mo, hayaan mong ako ang gumawa no’n para sa’yo.”
The words he uttered made my heart skip a beat because for me, they were more than an ‘I love you.’ That moment, I hugged him tight because I knew it would be the last time I could hide in his arms.