Pagbaba ko sa sasakyan ay halos hindi ko na maramdaman ang paghinga ko dahil sa sobrang kaba. My steps were getting heavier. My heart was about to explode. I was too anxious to enter the campus as if I was back to being a freshman again.
Lumingon-lingon ako sa paligid dahil baka bigla na lang sumulpot si Kevin kung saan. After what he said last night, I doubt I can face him right now. Isa pa, hindi ako ready sa mapag-uusapan namin, lalo na't tungkol 'yon sa respective families namin.
Halos atakihin naman ako sa puso nang may humawak sa balikat ko, kasabay ng pagsigaw sa tenga ko. When I turned around, I saw Jon laughing like it was the funniest thing he did in his whole life. Sinuntok ko naman ang balikat niya dahil akala ko ay si Kevin siya.
"Bwisit ka! Akala ko kung sino!" I complained as I tried to calm down.
"Tara sa studio, may meeting daw," sabi naman niya kaya napakunot ang noo ko.
"Meeting? Wala namang in-announce ah?"
"Emergency meeting yata. Tara na."
Wala naman akong nagawa kundi sundan siya. He was typing something on his phone and I tried to take a peek but he immediately sensed me. Agad niya namang tinago ang phone niya kaya hindi ko nakita kung sino ang ka-chat niya.
"Ayaw mo talagang sumuko, ano?"
Ngumiti naman ako. "Malalaman ko rin 'yan later," I stated. Medyo may idea na rin ako kung sino. Kailangan ko na lang ng evidence.
Habang naglalakad kami papunta sa dance studio ay naramdaman ko na naman ang mga mata ng estudyante sa akin. I was getting used to it but sometimes, it felt distressing. Dahil sa "connections" ko sa mga campus prince at princesses sa batch namin ay nagiging laman na rin ako ng mga tsismis. I thought it would change since new year naman na pero gano'n pa rin.
Nauna na akong maglakad kay Jon para makatakas na ako sa mga titig nila pero pagdating namin sa loob ng dance studio ay napahinto ako dahil walang tao.
Napalingon ako kay Jon. "Akala ko ba may—" I stopped halfway when I saw him closing the door from the outside. "Hey! What are you—"
"Sorry," he interjected. "I was just doing someone a favor."
"Good luck, Als!"
Ilang beses kong kinatok ang pinto mula sa loob pero wala nang sumasagot sa labas. That guy! Iniwan niya talaga akong mag-isa rito?! Humanda talaga 'yan sa akin kapag nakalabas ako!
I was about to call him when I heard footsteps coming from one of the rooms. That was when I realized what was happening.
My heartbeat raced crazily when I heard music. It was one of my favorite .
When I was younger
I saw my daddy cry
And curse at the wind
The door to one of the dance rooms opened and there he was, the guy I was trying hard to avoid this day.
He was holding the same flower he gave me before everything went wrong. The same flower that made me feel like a real princess.
He broke his own heart
And I watched
As he tried to reassemble it
He was staring at me while walking toward my direction and I had to lean against the door because my knees felt weak. I wanted to avert his gaze but when he stood right in front of me, I suddenly couldn't take my eyes off him.
"Long time no see," he greeted with a subtle yet warm smile as he offered me the flower he was holding.
Hindi ako nakapagsalita. I was just staring at him, still in disbelief that after several weeks of ignoring me and making me worry, he was right in front me.
I should've been touched by his actions but the frustrations that bottled up inside me these past few weeks got the better of me. Sinuntok ko siya sa dibdib at hindi ko na napigilan ang luha ko. I didn't realize how hurt I was until this moment and what made it more painful was the fact that he knew what he did so he was letting me hit him.
"I'm sorry," he softly said as he hugged me, cutting me off. "I'm sorry, Alice."
Hearing his desperate and vulnerable voice made me cry harder. My curled fist gradually loosened. The agony and bitterness I felt a while ago were slowly melting. He continued to caress my hair as my head was buried between his shoulder and chest.
Hindi ko alam kung ilang minuto ang lumipas habang nanatili kaming gano'n. After saying sorry, he didn't say anything anymore. He was just there, soothing my emotions. When I finally calmed down, na halos kasabay lang ng pag-end ng kanta, inalalayan niya ako papunta sa loob ng dance room.
I still wasn't talking to him but the flower he got for me was already on my hand. Na-realize ko lang 'yon nang makita ko ang reflection ko sa mga salamin. My eyes were red from crying and my face was a mess, yet he was looking at my reflection tenderly.
"I was an ass for saying those disrespectful words to your Dad," pagsisimula niya, "and for glaring at you that night."
Naalala ko na naman ang mga nangyari noong gabing 'yon. Even though that was weeks ago, I could still clearly remember that scene.
"It's just that . . . I wasn't in my right mind when I learned about Mom being in a critical condition," he admitted. "No matter how hard I deny her existence, I know deep inside that I still long for her presence. And because of that, I've hurt people that are precious to me."
Pinigilan ko naman ang luha ko dahil ayaw ko nang maiyak sa harapan niya. I understood his pain, I really do. After all, her mother's life was on the line.
Nagulat naman ako nang bigla siyang lumuhod sa harapan ko. He looked fragile and my heart sank upon seeing his state.
"I apologize for hurting you," he said and it was getting hard to hold back my tears.
Tiningnan ko lang siya habang nakaluhod pa rin siya at nakayuko. I never thought I'd see that kind of expression from him. Hindi ko rin in-expect na ganito na kalalim ang nararamdaman ko para sa kanya dahil maging ako ay nasasaktan para sa kanya.
But this wouldn't solve anything.
Umupo ako para makita ang mukha niya. He raised his head and met my gaze. Our faces were just inches apart but I didn't panic this time. Instead, I reached for his cheeks and wiped the tear that fell on his left eye.
"I can't forgive you right now," I said and I felt his jaw clench. "I will accept your apology once you have forgiven yourself."
Mas mabuti nang ayusin niya muna ang problema niya sa Mom niya bago kami mag-usap. I could see that he was still struggling from accepting his Mom's decision and he would be stuck in that painful situation if he kept on lingering in the past.
"But I really appreaciate this," dagdag ko sabay pakita sa flower na binigay niya. "Thank you."
Pagkatapos kong sabihin 'yon ay tumayo ako at unti-unting naglakad palayo sa kanya. Nang nasa pintuan na ako ay napahinto ako at muling lumingon sa loob. He was still kneeling but his gaze found mine.
"By the way . . ." Napahinto naman ako sa pagsasalita pero agad din akong ngumiti. "Congrats for passing the qualifying exam," I commended.
Mabilis akong naglakad palabas at nang ilang metro na ang layo ko sa dance studio ay doon lang ako nakahinga nang maluwag.
Na-miss kita. 'Yon sana ang gusto kong sabihin at buti ay napigilan ko ang sarili ko. I just hope he'd be able to free himself from his own chains.
"Good luck, Kevin," I muttered as I walked toward my first class.
The next few days were definitely odd and made me too conscious.
Mukhang bumalik na si Kevin sa dati niyang ugali. His usual smirk and playful acts came back when he was with his classmates. Gusto ko nga sanang malaman kung ano na ang nangyari sa relationship nila ng Mom niya pero wala akong lakas ng loob para magtanong. Nahihiya rin naman akong itanong kay Karla.
"Nagiging suki ka na ng tingin ng students ha," pang-aasar ni Jess habang nasa garden kami.
"You're receiving the same attention a Campus Princess receives," dagdag pa ni Yna.
"Nagkaayos na ba kayong dalawa?" tanong naman ni Steff.
Hindi ko pa masabi sa kanila ang nangyari last time dahil hindi pa maayos ang lahat kaya naman gumamit ako ng excuse.
"Oops, class ko na pala," sabi ko at saka ako tumayo.
"Hoy, h'wag mo kaming takasan!"
"Next time na ako magkekwento!"
Hindi ko na pinakinggan ang mga pinagsisigaw nila at tumakbo ako papunta sa next class ko pero halos mapasigaw ako nang makita ko si Kevin sa corridor. Ilang segundo akong nakatingin lang sa kanya pero agad din naman akong naglakad palayo . . . but he followed me.
Ilang araw na niyang ginagawa 'to. Hindi kami nagpapansinan pero sinusundan niya ako lagi kapag nagkakasalubong kami somewhere. Isa rin 'yon sa mga dahilan kung bakit lagi akong pinagtitinginan ng mga tao. According to Yna, nakarating na naman ako sa top news ng portal pero hindi ko na pinakinggan pa kung tungkol saan na naman ang rumors na kumakalat.
Pagdating ko sa classroom ay nakatingin na naman sa akin ang classmates ko. I went to my seat and glanced outside. Kevin flashed a quick smile and left.
Huh. So meron ulit ngayon.
Napatingin na lang ako sa bulaklak na nasa desk ko. That was the same flower he gave me before. Another reason why all of them were staring at me.
Napangiti naman ako. That guy . . . he's persistent.
Matapos ang mga klase ko ay balak ko sanang dumiretso na ng uwi dahil ang daming homeworks at reading assignments na binigay sa amin ng mga prof. Grabe, kababalik pa lang namin pero tambak na agad ang mga gagawin.
I was about to book a taxi pero napahinto ako nang nakita kong tumatawag si Dad. Sinagot ko naman agad 'yon.
"Nandito ka ba sa company building?" tanong niya kaya napakunot ang noo ko.
"Huh? No. Nasa campus pa ako. Bakit?"
Hindi naman agad siya sumagot pero narinig ko ang pagbuntong-hininga niya.
"Dad? Anong meron?" tanong ko ulit.
"Nothing. It's just that . . ."
"Kevin Fuentez is in the lobby. My secretary said he wants to meet me."
Muntik ko nang mabitiwan ang phone ko nang marinig ko 'yon. Anong ginagawa niya ro'n?!