The thing that I hated the most was unwanted attention.
My parents and older sister had always been in the spotlight, and they had grown to like being there, but I loathed it. Mas gusto kong maging tahimik ang buhay ko. Kaya noong nalaman ko na kasali ako sa topnotchers ng incoming freshmen ay gusto kong mag-apply sa ibang university.
“Oh, come on, that’s no big deal!” my sister sneered. “I’m sure they’d be more interested to those who are in the top ranks.”
It turned out they were interested with everyone, to the point that they were already invading privacy. Parang lahat ng galaw, kailangan alam nila. Lahat ng kakausapin mo, gusto nilang makilala. This kind of social stratification in the campus promotes idolatry and elitism, and I hate how this has become the norm of this institution.
The first few weeks had been hard. Everyone had their eyes on us. Pakiramdam ko, bawat galaw ko ay may nakamasid. Some enjoyed the overwhelming attention; others did not.
Over the year, I learned how to escape the spotlight—finding safe spaces whenever I needed them and doing mundane and boring things. The rest of our batch’s topnotchers had far more interesting personal lives than mine and that had helped me steer clear of rumors . . .
. . . until I met her again.
Naglalakad ako sa hallway nang may makita akong umupo sa madalas kong pinagtataguan at pinagtutulugan. With careful steps, I looked over the window and saw a girl quietly browsing on her phone. But what caught my attention was the site she was looking at.
I remembered some of my classmates forcing me and the others to read stories on that site. They said most of the stories were either regency romance or fictions set in the Medieval or Renaissance period, while the other half were fanfictions. Siguro reader din ito?
I was about to walk away when I suddenly saw her username. It was the same one my classmates were talking about. Does this mean she’s a writer?
She slightly shifted her position, and a familiar face came into view. I remembered her from one of my classes last year. A smile escaped my lips as I recalled that encounter. Walang seating arrangement sa Kas1 kaya madalas ay iba-iba ang nagiging seatmates ko. I remembered her well because she was grimacing at the reading material, mumbling the words and somehow mispronounced most of them.
“Do you need help?” I asked.
She looked at me with a confused expression, but her face lit up a few seconds later. “Y-yes please.”
It turned out she couldn’t understand deep sentences and I had to translate most of the paragraphs to her. Hindi ko rin alam kung bakit kumuha siya ng Filipino elective kung hindi naman niya masyadong naiintindihan ‘yon. Maybe it was a required course? Or maybe she wanted to challenge herself?
My thoughts jarred back to the present. She’s also one of Tiffany’s friends. Madalas ko silang nakikitang magkakasama. Madalas din ay sila ang naririnig ko tuwing may practice kami sa band. Darryl would always talk about Tiffany and how cute she was. Minsan makikisali rin si Patrick. It was kind of weird to see those sides of them, but they looked happy.
“Oh. So you’re notaroyalty,” I blurted out, catching her attention.
She quickly turned to my direction as she tried to hide her phone. I chuckled at her action and the panicked expression remained on her face.
“Your fanfictions and stories are really popular among my classmates,” I added. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
There was a hint of panic on her face. Was that too much?
“Ah. We have met before, right?” I asked, diverting the topic, but instead of an answer, she scampered away. I had to suppress a smile when she almost stumbled.
What a strange person.
For some unknown reason, parang lagi nang nagku-krus ang landas namin matapos ang araw na iyon. She suddenly appeared in front of me while I was sleeping behind the bushes. Her frustrated expression was such a sight but I froze when I heard some students talking about me.
“Are you serious? Magco-confess ka?”
That was the last thing I wanted to happen.
I’d rather not hear any confession from anyone because I wouldn’t know how to turn them down without hurting their feelings. Therefore, when things like this happen, my first instinct is to run away.
“Ya!” she mouthed while I was dragging her away with me. She was speaking a foreign language, Korean maybe, and I hope she wasn’t cursing me. We ended up behind the library and she was fanning herself as she tried to catch her breath.
“Aish. I told you not to call me that,” she muttered.
I snickered at her response. “Oh, sorry. I haven’t gotten your name yet.”
“Yna,” she mumbled.
“Okay, Ms. Yna. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.”
She was still worried about what happened. I felt guilty because I realized I had invaded her privacy. If it were me, I’d be mad at me, too.
Sinabi ko rin sa kanya na sana ay huwag niyang sabihin sa kahit kanino ang narinig niya kanina. Those portal writers have eyes and ears everywhere and I wouldn’t want them airing my business.
“Oh, right. I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m—”
“Calvin Gisel Villanueva,” she said. “You’re the pianist of our batch’s band. Ah, and a Campus Prince.”
I stared at her for a few seconds. It was the first time someone thought of me as a pianist before a Campus Prince. One of the many things why I hated that title was because it became our label and we couldn’t get out of that box. Whether we like it or not, that tag forced us to be some sort of “public figure” and we couldn’t even enjoy our supposed private time.
“Nakakapanibago,” I mumbled.
“Nothing. Well then, see you around, Ms. Yna.”
I met her again when I was in the library. I was planning on reviewing our lessons in Advanced Stat for our exam next week when I saw her around the Filipino section. It felt strange. Why do I keep seeing her often after that time?
“ . . . what is yugto?”
“Stage,” I answered. “An act or part.”
She quickly turned her head and confusion came across her face.
“You need help?” I offered.
I thought she’d decline because it looked like she was wary of me, but her expression softened. It reminded me of that time when she was having trouble with our reading material in Kas1.
It was hard not to smile while she was trying her best to read the Filipino sentences. Her accent was not as heavy as I thought, but she still mispronounced some words. She was eager to learn and the determined look on her face was . . . cute.
If it weren’t for the meeting, I would have stayed. Somehow, watching her try her best made me want to look out and cheer for her. She also didn’t throw any sarcastic or scornful comments. May mga naging classmate ako na kapag nagtatanong o nagpapaturo, bigla na lang magsasabi na “Iba talaga kapag Campus Elite.” o ‘di kaya “Ikaw na ang magaling. Sorry, ha?” I would usually just smile at their remarks, but I think those were unnecessary.
Somehow, I seemed to be more aware of her after that. I tried reading her stories from that site, Nook. There were some grammatical errors whenever she’s using Filipino, but I could see that she was trying hard to be more comfortable with it. But I shouldn’t have read it while I was still in the campus.
Nagulat na lang ako nang ipinaalam sa akin ng ilang classmates ko sa major na may articles tungkol sa akin.
“Grabe ngiti mo rito, Gisel, ha,” Claire teased while showing me the photos they had posted. “This is why you shouldn’t read in public if you can’t even properly hide your expressions.”
The past few days had been hell. Pakiramdam ko ay nakatingin ang lahat sa akin. Everyone was speculating about those articles and had been blown out of proportions. And now I’m running away because a Campus Princess from the upper batch wanted to ask me out.
Napatalon na lang ako sa bintana para takasan ang dalawang kaklase ko na nagsabi kung nasaan ako. I was about to run when I suddenly saw Yna beside me. She looked surprised but I gestured for her to stay quiet. And she did. Sakto namang nakita namin sina Kevin at . . . Alice, I think, mula sa ‘di kalayuan. Was he confessing?
“It must be hard for her,” I murmured.
I know Kevin. He didn’t mind the articles written about him, but looking at the situation, she’d be the subject of contempt and negative articles, especially from students who admire Kevin. Sometimes, people live in the delusion that they “own” someone and when that person found a partner, those shattered fantasies would drive them to hate and harass that person.
That was one of the reasons why I had to be careful when I’m talking to girls. I didn’t want to create a situation where they would be sucked into the messy and suffocating place we were in.
“She knows the consequences of being with Kevin,” she suddenly said, “and she chose to be with him. I guess her feelings are stronger than her fears.”
Her words seemed familiar and I realized they were from one of her stories. There was also a hint of concern and sorrow on her face, as if what her friend had done was something she wouldn’t even think of doing.
That expression sent shivers down my spine. If someone saw us together, even if we were just talking, it would surely spark some rumors and I didn’t want her to get dragged into the spotlight.
I decided to steer clear of her for now. Besides, I was also busy with the band practice and qualifying exams. But the more I try to avoid her, the more I seem to see her, especially in the library.
Hindi ko napansin na nakatulog pala ako habang nag-aaral at paggising ko ay may nakatabing nang panyo sa mukha ko. When I removed it, her face came into view. It turned out some students were trying to find the topnotchers who were studying for the qualifying exams. An unfamiliar warmth spread in my chest with that small gesture. I wanted to do something in return and when I saw her studying another reading in Filipino, I offered to help, but she refused and said I should focus on studying for my own exams.
But the way she was struggling with the difficult words was adorable.
“Stop laughing,” she muttered.
“Sorry,” I said, still suppressing a smile. “Do you need help?”
She thought about it for a few seconds and finally gave in.
I never thought I’d be invested in romance stories. What I like about her works were the characters. They seem real and the conflicts were rooted from real problems that people experience—misunderstandings, miscommunication, differences in personalities, and their fears.
It already became a habit of mine to check if she had updated after studying, but the latest ones stressed me out. Misunderstandings could really destroy everything.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” Kevin sighed.
Huminto kami sa practice dahil wala sa sarili niya si Kevin. He kept on making mistakes and it turned out he and Alice had some sort of fight, though he didn’t tell any details. I ditched the practice since nobody was in the mood to continue. Besides, we had already practiced every day last week. I’m sure that would do. Balak ko sanang matulog sa likod ng building dahil dalawang oras lang ang tulog ko kanina pero nakita ko si Yna doon.
I wasn’t sure why, but her presence made me at ease. Hanggang sa hindi ko namalayan na nakatulog na pala ako. Pati na rin siya. We woke up after hearing some noise from the open field and I gasped when I saw the time. Agad akong nagpaalam sa kanya at tumakbo papunta sa field dahil nagsisimula nang magsalita ang MCs.
“Kanina ka pa namin tinatawagan,” Patrick grumbled while setting up.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I fell asleep.”
Nag-ayos na rin ako pero napatigil ako nang mapahawak ako sa buhok ko. I was wearing a cap. I was sure this wasn’t mine. Kay Yna ba ‘to?
We finally went up the stage and started playing songs. The crowd cheered as Darryl and Patrick sang. Their voices were surely the reason why a lot wanted to listen to us. But I was caught off-guard when he suddenly suggested that I should sing. Surely, this was their payback for my late appearance a while ago.
Wala naman akong nagawa kundi kumanta dahil halos lahat ng nanonood ay sinisigaw na ang pangalan ko. I apologized in advance since my voice was not as good as our lead vocalists.
“And I'd give up forever to touch you
'Cause I know that you feel me somehow.”
As I was singing, I caught sight of Yna in the crowd. She was just vacantly looking at the stage, like it was a faraway place. My stomach tightened as I saw her face. For a second, I wanted to call her name. I wanted to comfort her, even though I didn’t know why she had that expression. And that moment, among the thousands of faces, I suddenly realized why I easily noticed her. It was because I wanted to see her . . . and I wanted her to see me, too.
But I didn’t want to cause any unnecessary attention. More than anything, I wanted her to be safe and comfortable. And maybe watching her from this distance would be enough.
I was contented with talking to her through social media and her stories. At least, with this kind of setup, we were able to talk comfortably. I was getting used to it, but when I noticed her in the same café I was in, I realized how much different it felt whenever I see her in person.
She seemed to still be struggling with her Aral Pil subject, so I offered to be her tutor. I honestly wanted to take that back because she might think I was stepping over the line, but I was surprised when she agreed. Spending some time with her away from their eyes made me happy and anxious at the same time.
But that peace was disrupted when an article about us came out. It was the time when she fell asleep in the library and I looked after her. I was angry and worried when Kevin told me about it but thank goodness her face wasn’t shown. Hindi na ako nagpakita sa kanya dahil natatakot akong malaman ng mga tao na siya iyon. I didn’t want her to be in this mess. She didn’t deserve to be cursed at by people who didn’t even know her. I felt guilty for putting her into harm.
Yet I kept on crossing paths with her. And that was when I realized I was drawn into her. Whenever we see each other, all I could feel was bliss. If only I could keep those moments in private forever . . . if only people wouldn’t care about it, I’d like to meet her frequently.
It was hard to cross the line because I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, but when I saw her during Feb Fair, for the first time, I felt flustered. She was already cute and beautiful in her casual style, but her beauty got highlighted because of her dress and makeup.
I couldn’t help but smile every time our gazes met. Noong tumutugtog na kami ay pinipigilan kong huwag tumingin sa direksyon niya pero ang hirap.
“Bakit parang sa isang table ka lang nakatingin?” bulong ni Darryl habang nagsasalita sina Patrick at Kevin sa harapan.
I forced a smile. “Hmm?”
“Now I have a hint of who Sleeping Beauty is,” he teased.
During the break, they started shifting the topic on that specific article. Fortunately, they didn’t delve into it that much. Pagkatapos no’n ay nagsimula akong mag-ikut-ikot pero napahinto ako nang makita ko siya sa harapan ng isang stall. She was trying to shoot the hoops on a pole, and she would lightly stomp her feet if it didn’t go in. Cute.
Tinulungan ko siya at ibinigay ko sa kanya ang isang panda. She looked excited while pinching its face. Nakita ko rin siya sa bandang main gate noong balak ko na sanang umuwi. I sat right across the bench where she was sitting and decided to wait with her.
Noong masundo na siya ay nagulat ako nang tawagin niya akong Calvin. Huh. That was a first. The only ones who call me that were my family members. A smile escaped my lips. Somehow, it felt like we got closer.
We continued meeting at cafes for her lessons. I noticed that she would only pay attention to what she was reading whenever she was concentrating, and that earnest look on her face was adorable. Madalas din kaming magkita sa library pero kadalasan ay magkalayo o hindi kami nag-uusap kapag nandoon. But one time, I saw her sleeping with her eyebrows furrowed. Agad akong pumwesto sa katabing table para harangan siya mula sa araw. Her expression slowly turned peaceful but upon staring for a few seconds, she looked pale.
Pagkagising niya ay lumipat ako sa table niya. Wala namang tao dahil lunch na. She said Tiffany would be coming so I returned to my table even though I was worried. She had a fever and it looked like she would collapse in any moment.
Dumating naman agad si Tiffany. They started walking away but her legs were trembling. Before I could think, my body instinctively reacted when I saw her falling.
“Oh, god—! Gisel—!” Tiffany called, her voice trembling. “P-please help. Sa clinic, please.”
“Okay,” I mumbled while securing Yna in my arms. “Don’t worry, she’ll be fine.”
The nurse said she’d be okay after resting for several hours. Nakahinga naman ako nang maluwag. Akala ko kung ano na ang nangyari sa kanya.
My thoughts dissipated when I heard Tiffany. She looked at me with curiosity, but she didn’t say anything about her.
“Wala ka bang class?” tanong niya.
She gave me a quick smile. “Don’t worry, susunduin naman na siya.”
“Oh. Okay,” I muttered. “I . . . I’ll go ahead.”
Habang naglalakad ay na-realize ko kung gaano karami ang nakakita sa aming tatlo kanina. I might cause trouble again for her because of that. I hope they wouldn’t create rumors again because of that. I don’t want her to be a subject of nasty hearsays from that portal . . .
. . . but I didn’t expect that she was part of that.
Tiffany and I were walking on the hallway when we saw Yna at the back of the building with the portal on her screen, but what surprised me were the ‘pending’ articles she was checking.
Maybe it was because we just read an article about me, Tiffany and Darryl that for a moment, I got disappointed. Tiffany stormed away, quiet tears falling from her eyes. I walked away, too, but immediately regretted it when I heard her sobbing. I leaned against the wall and clenched my fist, cursing myself for not letting her say anything, but I couldn’t go back anymore because she had already walked away.
I messaged her in Instagram, but I wasn’t sure if she would see it. Upon sending the last message, I heaved a long sigh. Stupid. I’m such a stupid person.
When I saw her in the cafeteria with a guy, I felt relieved that she had someone by her side. At least, she wasn’t alone. Still, I felt stupid for what I did. When I took a quick glance at her direction, her eyes were red and swollen. The guilt I felt became heavier in my chest.
Nagulat ako nang makita kong pumasok si Alice sa cafeteria at dumiretso sa direksyon nila. I wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but she pulled Yna with her. The guy who was with Yna a while ago was left alone but it didn’t bother him.
I sighed as I looked at the swaying door. I hope she and her friends would sort it out. Makalipas ang ilang oras ay nag-message sa akin si Tiffany, which was a rare occurence.
steffdamian: hey, she’s okay na. we’re okay na rin.
steffdamian: nag-reply na siya sa’yo?
calvingisel: No haha
calvingisel: It’s okay. If she’s fine, then that’s enough for me.
steffdamian: I’m sure she’ll read your messages once kumalma na siya
calvingisel: No need, really.
calvingisel: It was my fault anyway haha. And I don’t think I can face her after that.
calvingisel: Break na rin naman kaya hindi ko na siya makikita.
steffdamian: Jeju, South Korea
steffdamian: consider it a gift
calvingisel: I’m lost
steffdamian: she’ll go there for vacation
calvingisel: wait why are you telling this to me?
calvingisel: won’t she get angry?
steffdamian: lol ‘di yun marunong magalit
steffdamian: but she’ll be happy if you’re there
steffdamian: don’t miss your chance :)
That day, I planned for my trip to Jeju.
When I saw her at the airport, all my worries started to melt away. Ngayon ko lang din nabasa ang replies niya dahil nag-offline ako for the past few days. Wrong timing.
I was glad she didn’t ignore me. Honestly, I was scared that she would just give me a cold shoulder because of what I did, though I deserved that.
Nauna ako sa Jeju at sa totoo lang, okay na sa akin na nakita ko siya sa airport. That was why I was surprised when I saw her walking outside when I was in a café. I thought my chances of seeing her would be slim, but luck was on my side this time.
Those three days were the happiest I had been after a long time. Because we were away from everyone’s eyes, we were away from attention, we could talk and move freely. All I could remember were the smiles and laughs; how my heart raced and fluttered every time she would move closer and look at my direction; how we would snap candid pictures of each other; and how I nervously held her hand while we were walking.
Everything felt so nice that I wondered if this was real. I wished it would be like this every single day.
Fear crept through my chest. If I let go of her hand, would I be able to hold it again? If we returned home, would we act like strangers again? If I told her my feelings, would she accept them?
My questions were answered when an article about us came out. This time, her face was shown, and people started calling her names. I felt sorry and scared for her because I knew how much she hated being dragged in the limelight.
It hurt when she told me everything was just a misunderstanding, but I understood where she was coming from. She must have felt exposed and invaded when that came out and I felt guilty for not being able to protect her from their harsh words. What’s more frustrating was almost nobody was throwing hate at me, and I’d rather have that situation than what was happening right now.
Three days had past and I could only watch her from afar. I was careful not to get caught looking at her. I felt pissed and sorry that even looking at her could spark more rumors and I didn’t want that to happen. She couldn’t even lift her head up while walking, afraid to meet everybody’s eyes.
I was already close to accepting that our situation wouldn’t be fixed anymore when I received a message from her.
ynashin: It wasn’t.
It was just a simple message, but it meant everything for me.
I immediately asked Steff for her number because I wanted to hear her voice, but I could only call her name when she answered the call. There were so many things that I wanted to say, but my breath was trembling. With a deep breath, I asked her to meet me at the café where we went before.
Waiting was the most nerve-wracking part. I was not yet done studying for the advanced courses examinations, but I couldn’t focus if this something between us weren’t resolved. When I saw her entering the café behind the thin veil of the compartment, it felt like a thorn was taken off my chest, and at the same time, it felt heavier.
Just like our previous setup, I monitored her while reading the materials from one of her classes, but my mind reeled as soon as I saw some words from there. The painful pounding against my chest almost left me catching for my breath, but the words that I held back for months finally escaped my lips.
“Gusto kita,” I uttered, almost a mumble.
I tried to act like nothing had happened because I was terrified to see her reaction, but he returned it with a question: Do you like me?
It felt like my throat had dried up because of the sudden question. It didn’t help that I was drinking my coffee and I looked stupid, almost choking, in front of her. Instead of answering her question, I picked the highlighter and marked two words on the printed material I was reading.
Maybe it was because we were in an enclosed space that it felt like the distance between us was much smaller and I could feel the tension much more intense. Her face was beet red and she just covered it with her readings. I thought she’d reject my confession, even walk out, but I was already contented that she stayed.
The worries and fear that had been creeping inside me gradually dissipated and got replaced with exhaustion. I had been pulling all-nighters for this week that had finally taken a toll on me today. My eyelids started getting heavy and the last thing I remember was staring at the words I highlighted.
The next few days, I was on cloud nine. After confessing, there was a shift in the degree of our interactions. It was cute to see her flustered over little things. Even those guys noticed a subtle change in my actions.
“Alam mo, ako ang nangangawit kakangiti mo,” Kevin said while we were in the practice room. This was our only break time for today so we decided to hang out here.
“Masyado na ngang obvious,” dagdag ni Darryl.
“Let him be,” commented Patrick. “Mas maingat naman siya kaysa sa’yo,” he said while glancing at Kevin.
Napailing na lang ako habang pinakikinggan ang mga sinasabi nila.
“What’s your plan?” tanong ni Patrick.
I shrugged. “I . . . I still don’t know.”
“Ask her on a date,” Darryl suggested.
I clicked my tongue. “It’s kind of embarrassing . . .”
“Wow, nahiya ka pa sa lagay na ‘yan,” Kevin retorted.
They started suggesting bunch of restaurants and tourist spots even though I still wasn’t sure how I would ask her out. In the end, I gathered the courage to message her and I heaved a sigh of relief when she said she was free.
The date was nothing fancy—just talking about our lives over a cup of coffee and strolling along the streets. But I remembered what she said in Jeju. She said she preferred seeing a flower field than receiving a bouquet of flowers, so I brought her to one. And I was glad I did because the glee and appreciation that came across her face was a view I wouldn’t be able to forget.
That same night, I asked if I could court her and she said yes. When I arrived at home, I couldn’t wipe off the smile on my face. Despite the hellish schedule for the next few weeks, I was happy this one day, I was able to rest and recharge. All because of her.
I couldn’t believe what happened. I didn’t even expect to get full marks in BA 115. It became the talk of the campus that I had to stay in my hiding places because people kept on staring at me. But all of that happened because she helped me focused on studying . . . and I wanted to prove myself to her.
Halos hindi na kami magkita dahil hindi nagkakatugma ang schedules namin. Weekends lang lagi ang available pero ayaw ko namang gamitin iyon lagi para magkita. She should spend that time for herself and her family.
That was why I got excited when the semester finally ended. They had already planned for a quick vacation and we ended up where the lines started to blur between us. I was kind of nervous when her grandmother wanted to talk to me in private, but I eventually followed her in one of their mansion’s veranda.
Yna said she was the matriarch and one of the most powerful businesswomen in Seoul. She was also very protective of her grandchildren and knowing that Yna was one of her favorites made me feel quite queasy.
“I already know about you,” she said in a stern voice. “I just have one . . . reminder.”
I swallowed back the fear that was starting to creep into my throat. She said it would be a reminder, but it sounded like a warning. I was getting ready to hear the next words when her expression softened, and for a second, I could see some of Yna’s features in her.
“Just don’t take away my granddaughter’s smiles,” she continued. “That is all I am asking.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I answered. “I will never.”
One of the things I dreaded during this time was the people who know us discovering our relationship. We were already contented with our current setup. We didn’t want the world to know because we wanted it to be just between us and our circle of friends.
When Darryl messaged me about articles with photos of us in cafes, narrating how we would meet, sometimes with our friends, I got worried about her. Before she could open her phone, I gently pulled it away from her hand.
“Don’t worry about it,” I whispered.
I thought she’d be distraught, but I was surprised when she suddenly smiled and put her hands around me. My heart started racing when she buried her face onto my chest and hugged me tighter.
“Let’s be together for a long time,” she mumbled.
Upon hearing that, I almost teared up. Several months ago, she was horrified to see her name to be associated to mine. She wouldn’t risk her privacy for this, and I would rather watch her from afar than bring her harm from the constant exposure and threats.
I planted a gentle kiss on her forehead. Seeing her accept those risks to be with me was enough of a reason to make me fall for her more. For me to hold onto her for a long time. And to make her feel secured and happy.
“Yna,” I called, still hugging her.
“I am too happy that I don’t know what to do.”
“Eh?” she chuckled lightly and sniffed. “Me, too.”
All the moments that we had shared flashed in my mind. Everything was simple and spontaneous, but those little talks, smiles and chuckles, and thoughtful gestures, led us here.
Right here to our happiness.
They say if you want to be happy, keep your personal life private. But sometimes, no matter how careful you are, some people will still learn about something, whether they intend to or just by mere chance.
“Oh god, I still can’t believe it,” Moon murmured.
Everything escalated quickly that I didn’t even have the time to process it.
An hour ago, King and I saw each other in the cafeteria. Steff and Jess were skipping lunch while Alice was with Kevin. Since we were both alone, we decided to share the same table. It had been more than a month since I last saw him, and I was happy that I got to talk to him before the semester ends.
“Whoa,” I gasped as I stared at his graded paper. “You aced it.”
“Because it’s critical writing,” he reasoned. “I do better in that than the objective and memorization type of exams.”
I smiled at his remark and he continued eating. Honestly, I didn’t expect for us to be this close. Besides those three, and by extension, their boyfriends, I didn’t have any friends whom I could talk to about matters that I wasn’t comfortable to say to them, so I was thankful that I got to know him, even though it was an unforeseen circumstance. In addition, we were alright with being silent together because it wasn’t awkward at all.
His phone suddenly lit up and I saw the portal’s notification by accident. He glanced nervously at me and lightly clicked his tongue as he turned the screen off.
“H-how’s the portal, by the way?” I asked in a hushed voice.
After what happened last time, he didn’t open any topic related to the portal anymore. I’m sure he was worried and conscious because I was with him when I thought I’d lose my friends. Still, it was also the reason why we became close. Besides, I wanted to know how they were doing.
He gave me a hesitant look but gave in after a few seconds.
“Halos wala namang pinagbago,” he said, “though they miss your presence a lot.”
I missed them, too. Despite not knowing them personally, I grew fond of them and they treated me well.
“Mugi and Mocha’s fighting every day, as usual,” he continued.
I chuckled at his remark. “Moon must be having a hard time, then.”
“Uhm, excuse me?”
A tall girl standing behind him holding a pile of books looked at us with a confused look. I started panicking when I realized she might have heard something about the portal. King was about to stand up but the girl suddenly gasped as if she just had a moment of eureka.
“Oh my god!” she beamed as she sat next to us. “Don’t tell me you guys are kingtrex and yeoshin?”
My heart thumped painfully upon hearing my previous username from the portal. King and I looked at her in bewilderment while she excitedly typed on her phone.
“Wait, are you . . .” King’s voice trailed off.
She grinned. “Oh, come on, it’s me, moonlight.”
It was like a cascade reaction. The five of us never wanted to meet each other to protect our identities and it was already the tradition passed through the generations of administrators from the portal. However, this time, since the three of us had already seen each other’s faces, Moon said it would already be pointless to hide and remain anonymous, so she informed Mugi and Mocha, too.
And now here we are, awkwardly sitting around the table.
Fortunately, Mugi and Mocha easily changed the atmosphere because of their outgoing personalities. In no time, we were talking like how we usually converse in the chatroom . . . and they realized I was in one of the recent trending articles.
“Shit, kaya ka pala umalis,” Mugi commented. “You are friends with and connected to a lot of Campus Princes and Princesses in your batch.”
I forced a smile. “Mm. It’s really hard, especially when there are articles about my friends.”
“Oh my, kaya pala lagi mong nire-reject kapag tungkol sa batch n’yo,” Mocha remarked. “Akala ko dati fan ka ng isa sa kanila or something.”
Moon gasped. “Oh my god, so ‘yong kay Gisel . . .”
“Hey, stop it,” King chimed in. “She’s getting uncomfortable.”
True enough, it was hard to stay composed because the topics were all about me. The rumors were starting to die down but I’m not sure how this unexpected meeting would affect everything.
Mugi suddenly narrowed his eyes at King. “So, magkakilala na pala kayong dalawa even before.”
“We met and discovered each other by accident,” he responded.
“Parang hindi ako naniniwalang accident—!”
He stopped mid-sentence because King held his pen and pointed it at his direction. Mugi hid behind my shoulders while the two sighed at their childish actions. I suppressed a chuckle as he kept on teasing King by calling me Angel.
They stopped bickering after a while and the topic went back to the trending articles. I hadn’t visited the portal for a while. The last time I checked it was when Calvin topped the exam in one of the advanced courses, which caused a buzz online.
“Sige, hayaan mo, as an ex-admin privilege, hindi ka namin gagawan ng articles,” Moon said while browsing all the articles on the portal.
“Hoy, biased ka masyado,” Mugi retorted. “Okay lang naman paminsan-minsan basta hindi masyadong negative.”
“Sabagay, hindi rin naman maiiwasan since ang group of friends mo ay mga Campus Princess tapos nali-link ka pa sa isang Campus Prince.”
“Speaking of Campus Prince, totoo ba ‘yong sa inyo ni Gisel?” asked Mocha. “Though parang hindi naman kayo nag-i-interact sa campus.”
I could feel my face getting hot. They would surely lose it if they found out that we were already together.
“Hey, you guys are making her uncomfortable again,” King said and I gave him a look of gratitude.
“Bakod ka ba, ha? Bakit masyadong overpr—oh, wait, sabi ko nga, tatahimik na!”
Moon laughed at King and Mugi’s banter. “Alam mo, hindi na ako magtataka if one day, mabalitaan na lang namin na namatay ka dahil sa saksak ng ballpen.”
After about an hour, the four of us had to leave because of our classes while King decided to stay in the library.
“Hey,” he called after I stood up from my seat.
“Don’t worry too much,” he said. “I’m sure they will keep their promise.”
I thought he wouldn’t see through it, but I guess it was pretty apparent. I was still worried about what would happen if the whole campus found out about us, but it wasn’t like before anymore. Surely, I’d still prefer to stay away from public attention, but if that time comes, if I’d be dragged in the spotlight again, I guess I just have to deal with it.
A smile escaped my lips. “It’s okay,” I mumbled.
“I see. Then, I hope you stay happy. Don’t let the opinions of others take away your happiness.”
“I will,” I replied. “You, too. Okay?”
He let out a gentle smile. “I’ll try. Sige na, baka ma-late ka pa sa next class mo.”
“Ah, right. Bye bye, King!”
The Christmas break was just around the corner and Alice and I planned our trip since all of them were busy with their final exams.
“Grabe, parang ‘di na nga natulog si Kevin,” she said while booking our flights. “Masyadong competitive ang mga tao ngayon. Ayaw magpalamang sa isa’t isa.”
“Anong feeling na hindi kayo belong?” Xander commented while sipping his morning coffee.
“Makapagsalita ka, Kuya, akala mo naging Campus Prince, ah?” Alice retorted.
“Excuse me, top 13 ako ng batch namin.”
“Hindi ka pa rin Campus Prince,” she returned.
Ate Mau, who just returned from the kitchen, snickered as she placed sandwiches on our table.
“Babe, you won’t ever win an argument against these girls,” she chuckled. “Just give up.”
“Ha. I’m just letting them win,” he muttered.
Good thing Ate Mau could keep my brother in check. I remembered how nervous I was when Calvin insisted on introducing himself as my boyfriend to him. Xander didn’t even let me join in the conversation and sent me in my room. I was still curious about what they had talked about, but they wouldn’t even tell me. Even Ate Mau.
Speaking of Calvin, it had been a week since we last saw each other. He wanted to do good in the examinations so he was studying diligently for the past few days. Alice and I got a lot of free time since we were already done with our finals. Hence, we were planning for a group vacation to help them unwind after this stressful sem.
“Wait, one week sa Korea, another one sa Japan,” she recited. “Saan pa? Greece, you want? Or ‘di na kaya sa time?”
“Mm. I think sa summer na lang ang Greece. That’ll be more enjoyable.”
We spent the whole day outlining our itineraries and sent it to the group, though we already knew they wouldn’t read it until the finals were over.
I couldn’t wait to be with them again.
Our flight was scheduled at 8:15 AM so we had to be there early. Calvin went to our house so we would arrive together but he seemed to be in daze. Fortunately, their driver was there.
I put my luggage in the trunk and went to the backseat with him.
“Good morning,” he greeted with a tender smile.
He looked tired but he tried hard not to show it. I’m sure the consecutive all-nighters he pulled last week was already taking a toll on him.
“Calvin,” I called.
“Tulog ka muna.”
He stared at me for a few seconds and shifted on his seat. “Alright.”
He rested his head on my left shoulder and my skin tingled when he laced his fingers into mine. One thing I learned about him when we began dating was that he likes to hold and caress my hand.
I still get flustered whenever he does that, but I like the gesture, too. Somehow, it reminds me that he’s not the unreachable Campus Prince when we’re together. That I could hold him and could stay beside him.
“Kuya,” I softly said to call the attention of the driver. “Slow down a little bit po.”
He nodded. “Okay po.”
He fell asleep in no time and I stared at his face. His long eyelashes, his cute nose tip, his supple lips . . . it was the kind of view that I wouldn’t get sick of looking at despite seeing it up-close for several times. I gently brushed the lock of hair dangling on his forehead and smiled.
“Sleep well,” I whispered.
We arrived at the airport and Patrick and Jess were already there. They both looked drained, too, so I volunteered to buy them coffee and some snacks. When I went back, Gisel and Jess had already dozed off.
“Thanks,” Patrick murmured after I gave him his coffee.
“You can sleep din,” I suggested. “I’ll keep watch of our things.”
“It’s okay,” he replied while looking at Jess who had wrapped her arms around his body. “She’s the one who needs sleep. And him.”
We quietly waited for the others and Jess and Calvin woke up after several minutes. They both perked up after having their coffee and I suddenly wished Jess would just remain asleep.
“Grabe sa sobrang busy ko wala na akong time asarin si Yna, nakakainis,” she said. “Hoy, Gisel, may ise-send ako sa’yo.”
She smirked at me and I somehow had an idea of what was she doing.
“Sent!” she beamed.
I turned to his direction and a smile grew on his face. “Cute.”
“W-what is that?”
“’Yong pictures mo dati habang natutulog,” Jess snickered.
I tried getting his phone from his hand but he was quicker.
“No, delete them,” I protested while he had his left hand raised away from me.
“But they are cute,” he returned, making me more flustered.
I had given up after Jess said that she’d just send another copy if I deleted it from his phone. My face felt hot as I watched him smile while browsing them and I just hope there weren’t any unsightly photos there.
Twenty minutes later, Steff, Darryl, Alice and Kevin arrived, and just like what happened a while ago, all of them slept upon sitting down, except Alice. She started taking photos and I had to hide my face because it was still a bit puffy.
“Picture naman sa new couple d’yan,” she teased and I glared in return. Still, she snapped some candid shots.
Everyone was finally awake after taking their coffee and it was quite funny how everyone was tensed. I assumed it was because of the final exams. One thing led to another and somehow, Kevin and Calvin got included in that bloody bet for our batch’s ranking for the semester.
“Hindi ba na-perfect mo ‘yong isang major mo?” Alice asked while looking at Calvin.
“Ah, that.” He gently stroke my pinky finger. “Inspired lang.”
“Ibang klase ka namang ma-inspire. Nakaka-perfect,” Kevin remarked.
“So, how’s Sleeping Beauty?” asked Darryl with a sly smile on his face.
They started teasing us and it was difficult not to get flustered when my friends kept on telling exaggerated stories. However, it was refreshing to hear some narratives from the guys.
“Remember when we were practicing before?” Pat said. “His eyes were glued on his phone. Kaya pala.”
“Simpleng pangiti-ngiti pa,” added Kevin. “May pinopormahan na pala.”
“Then he panicked when we picked on him during Feb Fair,” Darryl chuckled.
He was blushing hard but he kept the smile on his face. Thankfully, there was already an announcement for our boarding so we had to pick our things up and get ready.
Halmeoni arranged a limousine for us at the airport and she was too excited to see Steff and Alice again after a long time. We also introduced Jess to her, as well as the guys who were with us. But what surprised me was when she requested a personal audience with Calvin.
“Oh my,” Steff gasped. “Kuya Xander must have told her.”
I wanted to at least accompany him but halmeoni was adamant about meeting him in private.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“It’s okay,” he softly said. “I already talked to your brother. Besides, your grandmother seems nice.”
It took them almost half an hour and I couldn’t do anything but pace back and forth in front of one of the guest rooms in her house.
Everyone had already left since we planned different itineraries for the first two days and would spend the rest together. Calvin finally got out of the room and I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw him smiling at halmeoni. It looked like everything turned out well.
“Halmeoni~” I cooed as I hugged her.
I was thankful that she didn’t intimidate him (I think). Most of my cousins’ girlfriends or boyfriends get scared whenever they have to face our grandmother. Come to think of it, Ate Mau was the luckiest because she was already a close family friend before she got into a relationship with my brother.
“Eonje tteona? (When are you leaving?)” she asked while caressing my hair.
“Jigeum (Right now),” I answered. “Keum bang gatda olgeyo (I’ll be back soon).”
Calvin and I decided to go back to Jeju but he said he wanted to show me something first. I asked about it but he remained tight-lipped.
We booked a rental car and when we got into the back seat, I tried asking him again, but this time, about what happened earlier.
“What did halmeoni say to you?”
His gaze shifted to me. “Just some reminders.”
He let out a light chuckle. “Nothing to worry about, I swear.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yup,” he answered while ruffling my hair.
I didn’t push him anymore and just stared at the view outside. It started snowing and I realized it would be our first time watching the snow together. Watching the treetops along the road get covered with thin layer of snow kind of melted the worries creeping in my chest.
A gasp escaped my lips when I realized where we were. It was one of the most popular tourist spots in South Korea these days but I didn’t expect that he knew about it.
The Garden of Morning Calm was worthy of its name, especially during autumn and spring. Flowers, shrubs and trees of different colors and species bloom exquisitely and would make you feel like you were inside a utopian garden. In contrast, everything was covered in a snow blanket during winter, but it didn’t diminish its beauty. The snow-capped mountains and valleys surrounding the place made it look like a secluded kingdom in the past.
He smiled as soon as we got out of the car. “It kinda reminds me of your story,” he said and I was suddenly flustered.
I had forgotten how he knew about my writing persona and now that I was just a few chapters away from the ending, I wondered how he felt about the story.
“I remember the scene where the Prince and Elena walked around the palace’s garden at dusk so nobody can see them,” he continued. The sides of his eyes crinkled as he grinned at my direction. “Somehow, the ambiance is similar to that.”
He really knew that it was based on him. I suddenly wanted to disappear and delete everything. Still, thanks to him, I managed to continue the story and improve my writing. The readers’ comments also helped me understand how people see them.
I lightly squeezed his hand. “Then, Elena must be happy to walk with the Prince in broad daylight,” I mumbled, my cheeks burning despite the cold weather.
“The Prince is probably happier since Elena is finally meeting him halfway,” he reasoned.
“Ahh, stop it,” I complained. He was just casually talking about the story that I had written, and it was making me conscious.
He snickered in return. “Alright, alright.”
We arrived at one of the flower fields and I instantly remembered our first date. We hadn’t had the chance to visit another flower field after that because of his hectic schedule but I was glad we got to see a lot here.
“Yna,” he suddenly called.
My heart skipped a beat when he gave me the most sincere and tender smile I had ever seen.
“Thank you for making me happy,” he whispered. “This feeling scares me sometimes, but I’m glad we’re together. And I hope we can be together for a long time.”
Maybe it was because of his sincerity, or my own overwhelming feelings, but I teared up upon hearing those words from him. I was still terrified of the uncertainties and the looming anxiety of being found out, but whenever I am with him, everything is a paradox.
I feel anxious when he’s nearby yet my heart’s at peace with his presence.
I feel the happiest when I am with him yet I get sad thinking that this won’t last long.
I enjoy our moments in private yet I want everyone to know how charming he is.
I fall for him every day yet I feel drifting through the clouds when I’m with him.
My thoughts dissipated as soon as my phone lit up. When I turned to his direction, he was also checking something on his phone’s screen. I saw consecutive messages from King, Steff, Jess and Alice, and somehow, I already had an idea about what was happening.
He clicked his tongue and his face darkened. Before I could open the messages, he carefully pulled my phone out of my hand.
“Don’t worry about it,” he softly said.
There must have been articles about us, though I wasn’t sure how it happened. I thought I would panic to the point that I wouldn’t be able to focus but somehow, my heart was calm.
I looked straight into his eyes and smiled. With careful steps, I drew close to him and buried my head onto his chest as I pulled him into a hug. I felt his body tightened as he was caught off-guard with what I just did. Most of the time, he was the one who would initiate the contact, but this time, I wanted to show him how I feel.
He was just an unreachable guy for me before, but this time, I was the closest to him.
“Yna . . .” he whispered. I could feel his breath on my ears. Despite his usual calm demeanor, his heart was racing fast.
“Mm,” I mumbled. “Let’s be together for a long time.”
He thought me a lot of things and for that, I would be forever grateful. Because of him, I learned to express myself more. I learned to be brave. I learned to love and all the risks I had to take along with it.
If it weren’t for him, I would still be in my own tiny bubble, afraid to get out of my comfort zone. This time, I wanted to explore the unfamiliar places that could teach me a thing or two. Because this time, he’s with me.
I wouldn’t mind what others would say about us anymore. Just like what our close friends said before, this matter was solely between the two of us. I might not be brave for facing them head-on, but I wasn’t a coward either because I took the risk to be here. To be with him.
He leaned closer and kissed my forehead. “Ah. Too happy.”
And in the end, the heart of the most elusive prince finally got conquered.
I only had three hours of sleep after finishing two chapters last night. When I looked at the mirror, the bags under my eyes were too noticeable that I suddenly regretted sleeping late. However, because I was anxious and excited, I couldn’t even bring myself to sleep so I just decided to use that energy to write stories.
And that made me more fired up. Especially after reading the comments.
ladyindisguise: Oh my god!!! Finally!!! Elena’s opening up to the 4th Prince. I’m so soft for them~
queenofthenight: Don’t you just love how Prince Cairo didn’t force her when she said she didn’t want to live her life in the palace even if it meant not being together most of the time?
knightmare: I do like how Elena chose to be happy away from people’s eyes because she knows how cruel rumors could go
ladyinwaiting: I feel sorry for the prince tho since he’s the one who’s always adjusting. But glad that Elena’s starting to step into his world, too, so that they can meet halfway
It was a bit surprising that most of the readers were able to read and comment even though I posted it at 2 A.M. Well, I guess because it was already weekend.
Despite the sluggishness, I started preparing and took a bath. When I went to downstairs, Xander was already in the living room, drinking his coffee while checking his phone.
“What a rare sight,” he remarked. “Aga mong nagising.”
“Ikaw rin, ah,” I retorted.
“Of course, I have to be ready,” he said, a hint of sternness on his voice. “Dad’s not here so I’ll be the one talking to him.”
Somehow, he learned that Gisel asked me on a date and told me that he should meet me here instead of somewhere else. I didn’t want to burden him, but he said it’s alright. I want to know more about you, he added.
“You know, I checked his background and he seems okay,” he noted, still scrolling on his phone. He turned to my direction and gave me a suspicious look. “You sure this guy likes you.”
My eyes narrowed at his contemptuous comment, but also felt embarrassed because of it. “S-shut up, Xander.”
“Ya,” he interjected. “Where’s the honorifics? Watch your manners.”
“You don’t deserve it,” I muttered.
Before it could turn into an argument, I returned to my room and started thinking of a suitable outfit for today but gave up halfway. I didn’t even know what would look good on me. Among the four of us, Steff, I think, had the best sense in fashion but I didn’t want to disturb her because she might be studying.
Just when I was about to give up hope, I received a message from Ate Mau, asking if my brother is at home. It turned out they had a small argument last night and she wanted to make it up to him as it was her fault this time. So, that was why he seemed to be in bad mood today.
I told her he’s here and excitedly agreed to help me in choosing a nice dress. Since she lives in a nearby village, I came running downstairs when she said she was already in our village. Xander gave me a funny look and I smirked in return.
“What? He’s here already?”
I ignored his question and opened the door for Ate Mau.
“Ate!” I beamed.
“Baby!” she returned as she hugged me tight.
It only took him a second to choke on his coffee. His expression was so hilarious that I regretted not taking a photo of it.
“Come on, you need to get dressed!” she said, and before Xander could recover, I pulled Ate Mau upstairs.
Good thing Gisel arrived when the two of them made up. Xander asked questions, some were downright cringey and embarrassing. Thank goodness Ate Mau was there to scold him.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled as we got inside his car.
He snickered in return. “No, no, it’s okay. He’s protective of you and I thought that’s cool.”
It was kind of awkward when we both fell silent, but it was bearable. I could hear his deep and careful breathing while I chose to look outside. Honestly, everything that happened for the past few days still hadn’t sank in. My gaze slowly shifted toward him. I find it hard to believe that someone like him have feelings for me.
“May dumi ba ako sa mukha?” he suddenly asked.
He smiled. “You were staring,”
My face turned red almost immediately upon realizing that I was indeed staring at him. I shifted my gaze at the road in front of us, nervously fiddling with the hem of my cardigan, while he suppressed a chuckle.
I cleared my throat. “Uhm, w-where are we going?”
“One of your favorite places,” he answered.
His lips curved upward. “You’ll see when we get there.”
Maybe it was because I didn’t get enough sleep last night that I dozed off after a while. When I woke up, the sun visor was already flipped down and the car was parked.
“Ah, gising ka na,” he remarked.
I shifted on my seat and sneakily checked if I left a mark on it or there was something on my face. When I looked at the terrain outside, I realized where we were.
“Tagaytay?” I blurted out.
We got out of the car and a cute café came into view. I followed him inside and he started talking to the lady on the lobby as I gaped at the scenic view of Taal from where I stood. After a few minutes, we were given seats at the balcony and handed as the menu.
“So . . . how are you?” he asked, breaking the silence.
We were still awkward with each other, but we managed to talk about things without getting too overwhelmed or uncomfortable. It became less tensed when the food arrived. Fortunately, he was just opening topics about school or our daily activities.
After that, we went to a flower farm and it was honestly the best part for me. Despite being smaller than a field and the flowers were inside a greenhouse, I still felt happy seeing them growing beautifully.
“You said flowers look better in their natural habitat,” he said. “I figure you’ll appreciate this more than a bouquet.”
My heart fluttered upon hearing that. I couldn’t believe he remembered that even though it was just a random comment during a trip.
“Thank you for bringing me here,” I mumbled while we were on our way back.
He gave me a sweet and gentle smile in return. “You’re always welcome.”
When we arrived in front of my house, his expression suddenly turned serious.
“Yna,” he called.
“May I court you?”
His question caught me off-guard and it took me several seconds before the question sank in. My stomach churned and my skin tingled. I never thought he’d ask that question, but despite being flustered, I slowly nodded.
“Okay,” I answered, almost in a mumble.
He let out a shaky breath and finally broke into smile. “Thank you.”
I cleared my throat and opened the door. “G-good night . . . Calvin.”
“Good night, Yna.”
I wasn’t sure how my heart survived that day but one thing that I was thankful for was we were away from the people who know us. We could act like ourselves without getting any unwanted attention. Somehow, it felt like we were in Jeju once again, but this time, our feelings were clear.
And this time, I hope my feelings reached him, too.
The thing about dating secretly was the stark difference between our interactions in public and private spaces.
Whenever we cross paths, people would always sneak glances at us, observing even our subtle movements. But we were already used to ignoring each other when we’re in the campus. In addition, he was almost always busy because of his schedule this semester so I could only see him during weekends.
It had been a month since our “first date” but it still felt like it was just yesterday. I could remember how nervous we were. The way we stammered and spoke at the same time. How my heart throbbed so loud when he was walking behind me in the flower farm. The way our fingers touched when we both reached for the bill.
I realized I was blushing hard upon reminiscing the things that happened that day. I silently scolded myself for being sidetracked while studying.
Fortunately, the students in the library were too focused on what they were reading and studying since next week would already be the time for midterm exams.
I lightly tapped my cheeks and willed myself to focus on the pile of readings I had to study, but someone suddenly put some books on my table. When I looked up, a familiar face greeted me.
“May I sit with you?” he asked. “Wala na kasing free seats sa unahan.”
I nodded. “Yeah. Of course.”
It had been a while since I last saw King. He still had the same vacant expression on his face but he looked determined now. We stayed quiet while studying and his presence helped me to stay focused.
“You look way prettier when you’re happy,” he suddenly said after almost half an hour.
I looked at him but his gaze remained on the book. Few seconds later, it shifted to me. Somehow, I think he already knew what was going on. I remembered how he helped and accompanied me when I was too mortified to face my friends. He said he don’t want to see me cry anymore and I wanted to live up to that promise.
A smile escaped my lips. “Ki—I mean, Jervin. Thank you.”
His eyes crinkled behind his glasses. “Make sure you’ll be happy for a long time.”
“I’ll try,” I chuckled.
Being in the library after the article about Calvin and I got released became nauseating for me, but this time, I felt comfortable because of him.
“Ang sakit na ng ulo ko,” Alice complained. “Wala na talagang pumapasok na information.”
“Mag-aral ka na lang,” Jess retorted while flipping the pages of her notebook. “Kapag ikaw hindi nakapasa sa midterms, hindi mo na ‘yan mababawi sa finals.”
“You already survived yesterday. Just study the concepts that appeared on your problem sets,” added Steff.
Even I shared the same sentiment. It felt like my brain had already reached its full capacity. I just finished my exams on two subjects yesterday and I’d have another one later in the afternoon.
Jess suddenly groaned. “Advanced Stat is a pain in the ass.”
“Hindi ba forte ‘yan ni Patrick?” asked Alice.
“Kaya nga kailangan ko siyang mataasan sa exam.”
As usual, the four of them were fighting for the top spot. Despite being friends and lovers, I’m sure they won’t easily give up the chance to be the class valedictorian so they have to do well in every test.
At 10 AM, Jess and Steff left for their exams on their respective advanced courses, while Alice said she’d study with Kevin in the library. I decided to study at the nearby café and I’d just eat lunch there, too.
It took me fifteen minutes to arrive at the café. Fortunately, the table at the innermost corner was unoccupied. After ordering at the counter, I started reading my notes, hoping that I could still remember everything later.
Just as when the food arrived, I received a text message from him.
Calvin: Saan ka?
Calvin: Sa TRC?
Yna: Yup yup
Calvin: Punta ako dyan
He got here after about ten minutes and immediately found me. I almost blushed when he appeared in front of me because he looked good despite his simple and casual clothes. Also, he was wearing my cap.
It had been two weeks since we last saw each other. He said he’d been taking all-nighters because all of his major subjects were demanding.
He had two exams today and another one later. We were eating and studying quietly, but I was surprised when his fingers brushed mine. The next thing I knew, they were already laced into each other. He remained focused on his journals while my mind started reeling.
I took a sip of coffee and lightly tugged his pinky. “Uhm, mahirap ang subject mo mamaya?”
He let out a dry chuckle. “Yup. The hardest one.”
“Ohh. Sure ikaw na dito mo gusto mag-aral?” I asked. “Maingay slight.”
“You’re here,” he replied. “So, I’ll be fine.”
“Ehh?” What did he mean by that?
He suddenly averted my gaze. “Motivation,” he mumbled.
My face turned red when I realized what he meant. I remembered how Alice joked yesterday about giving him my answer so that he’d be motivated during exams. Would he really do good if I . . .
He was drinking his coffee when I finally got the courage to open that topic.
“What if . . . uhm . . .”
“Maging ano . . . boyfriend kita—”
I couldn’t finish my sentence because he was already coughing hard. For a moment, I was scared because I thought he wouldn’t stop, but fortunately, he calmed down after few seconds.
“I-I’m sorry, are you okay—”
He looked at me with a bewildered expression on his face. “Are you serious about that?”
“Eh? Uhh . . .”
My heart was already beating so fast that I couldn’t talk without my voice shaking. In the end, I just nodded.
“For real?” he asked in disbelief.
I had thought about it for quite some time, too. We both like each other and I am happy whenever I’m with him. don’t know what the difference would be now, but I want to step into that unfamiliar place. With him. And even if someone finds out about it, I guess it would be okay. The articles and reactions would surely be terrifying, but what matters the most is our own feelings.
Just like what he did last time, I pulled one of my prob sets and highlighted the word ‘yes.’ I turned it to his direction and smiled.
“Yna . . .”
He still looked dazed, confused even, and I lightly chuckled as I watched his gaze go back and forth to me and my prob set.
He finally smiled and that made my heart skip a beat. He pulled the cap lower to cover his flushed face and I tried peeking at it. For the first time in a while, he was the one who was flustered instead of me, and I found that cute.
“Now, I can’t focus anymore,” he mumbled as he squeezed my hand. He reached for my face and lightly pinched my right cheek. “You’re really something.”
I snickered in return. “Aral na tayo.”
“Paano?” he laughed heartily.
We went back to studying, and somehow, I became fired up.
And two days later, he became the talk of the campus after an article was written about him. He became the first Campus Elite to get a perfect mark in an advanced course examination.
I couldn't focus anymore.
My arms were getting numb because I held my reading between us and tried to read with that kind of posture. It was especially hard for my left arm because he was on my left side.
This was our setup for a minute now. After that happened, the awkwardness between us skyrocketed and we couldn't look nor talk to each other . . . yet we didn't move an inch from our positions.
I wanted to take a glance at him, but I was afraid he'd catch me looking. It took me few more minutes of wavering before I find the resolve to do it. However, I was stunned to see him leaning over the table, already asleep.
I was too focused on my own that I didn't even notice that he had already drifted to sleep. He must have been too tired that he dozed off in such an uncomfortable position, but the good thing was I could stare at his face without getting too embarrassed.
A smile escaped my lips as I watched him closely. He looked like a puppy. A cute one. His soft and gentle features got accentuated while sleeping. In moments like this, I wish I could stop time and just enjoy this kind of peace.
The first article that was written about us came into my mind. It was when I was sleeping in the library and someone snapped a photo of him sitting across me. Fortunately, my face wasn’t seen on that angle and nobody knew who I was.
I quietly took a photo of him and slowly sank next to him, my head resting on my arms as I continued staring at his peaceful face. Sometimes, I wonder how we would be around each other if he weren’t a Campus Prince. Maybe I’d still end up liking him . . . and maybe it would be easier to convey my feelings. There would be no pressure and fear of being found because people wouldn’t care about us.
But this is reality. Just like Steff and Jess, he’s someone who lives in the light.
And I’m close to stepping into that world.
“Nado,” (Me, too,) I whispered, remembering the first time I confessed to him while he was also sleeping. “Nado naega joh-a.” (I like you, too.)
My head was spinning crazily and I regretted pulling an all-nighter last night. I couldn’t believe I survived two morning classes without dozing off, but right now, I’m close to collapsing.
“Huy, kamukha mo na sina Steff at Jess,” Alice commented as I slouched on the table. “Mukha ka na ring zombie. Anong pinaggagawa mo?”
I couldn’t tell her I just wrote several chapters of my story last night because I was burning with ardor after that happened. It had been three days since that incident in the café, yet his words were still echoing loudly in my head. It felt like everything had happened few minutes ago.
“Yna, ano na, may sakit ka ba?! Bakit ka namumula?” She leaned closer and gave me a suspicious look. “Wait, dapat namumutla ka kung may sakit ka. Don’t tell me you’re drunk?!”
I didn’t have the energy to respond and I just weakly shook my head.
“Please . . . let me sleep first.”
Before I could hear her reply, I had already drifted to sleep.
The moment I opened my eyes, Jess’ phone came into my view. It turned out they were taking photos of me because I was sleeping for about an hour already. They arrived few minutes ago while Alice was watching over me.
“Dami ko nang pictures mo,” she snickered. “Send ko kaya kay Gisel?”
Despite her hushed voice when she said his name, I still panicked because someone might hear it. I almost snatched her phone, too, but she was quicker. Worse, that stupid action had earned me impish looks from the three of them and I knew the teasing would start.
“Masyado kaming busy these past few days,” commented Jess. “So, anong nangyari sa date n’yo?”
I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks as I relived what happened that day. It was especially hard to contain the overwhelming and unfamiliar feelings and writing had been my only outlet for the past three days. Now that there were ears ready to listen, I started telling them the things that came about that day.
Alice had been stifling her squeals while I narrated the whole thing and my arms were already numb after Jess hit them several times to express her feelings. On the other hand, Steff was just chuckling and occasionally throwing some side comments.
“Wait, ang lala ng kilig ko,” Alice said while huffing. “Kailangan ko ng tubig.”
“Grabe pala ang isang Calvin Gisel,” added Jess. “Hindi ko akalaing may tinatago pala siyang ganoong side.”
“Buti nakaya mo,” Steff commented, a smirk pasted on her face. “I thought you’d run away again.”
Jess looked at her. “Ano ka ba, kahit papaano ay may tinatago rin namang katapangan at kakapalan ng mukha ‘yang si Yna.”
Alice laughed at her remark. “Shy girl no more.”
The teasing continued and it came to a point where I just wanted to disappear because it was already too embarrassing. I was glad they weren’t present in any of our moments because I wouldn’t know how to control them.
“So, what will you do?” Steff asked after the chaos had subsided for a bit.
“I mean, he already confessed to you. What’s next?”
“She confessed, too,” Jess chimed in. “Pero noong tulog ‘yung tao.”
I blushed upon hearing that but I didn’t say a thing. It took me a cup of strong coffee and days of contemplation to confess to him while he was asleep. How could I even directly tell him my feelings if an indirect confession made me want to bury myself in the ground, hoping that I could take back the words I said even though he didn’t even hear it? People like me who get easily overwhelmed need at least a couple of days, or even weeks, to sort out their feelings.
“Pero nanliligaw na ba siya?” Jess continued. “O kayo na?”
Alice smirked. “Getting to know each other daw muna.”
“Ayain mo ng date,” Steff suggested, as if that would be an easy thing to do.
They threw several suggestions on how I could tell my feelings and how I could ask him on a date, but everything was just too assertive. I was finally able to breathe when they had to leave because of their respective classes. Meanwhile, I stayed in the garden as I still have thirty minutes before my Fil 40 class.
Speaking of which, I had to peruse and bury myself in the reading assignment for two nights because I couldn’t understand what I had read in the café. What’s worse was every time I read phrases containing the word ‘gusto’, his face would instantly flash in my mind, and I’d end up getting flushed and distracted again.
As if on cue, my phone chimed, and displayed on my screen was a text message from him.
Long time no see :)
My brows furrowed upon reading his message. I hadn’t seen him after we met at the café and that was already three days ago. Just like Steff and Jess, he was also busy with his acads.
Something had definitely changed between us after that, but I was glad that we could still keep talking like this. I wouldn’t know what to do if there was a sudden shift on how we interact.
Eh? Ano ibig sabihin mo? I replied.
His reply came a few seconds after I sent the message.
Lingon ka. Third floor, Guillermo Building haha
I did what he said, and my heart thumped when I saw him leaning over the wall barrier of the corridor with a huge grin on his face as he looked at my direction. Immediately, I turned my head back, my cheeks blushing so hard that they were tingling. Despite that few-second glimpse, it was still nerve-wracking because there were several students walking on the corridor. What if someone saw him smiling by himself and decided to follow his line of sight?
My fingers trembled as I hurriedly type a reply.
Noooo what are you doing? ><
I started clearing the table since I would leave in a few minutes. My phone vibrated just as I was about to stand up.
Calvin: May class ka na?
Yna: Yes. Fil 40.
Calvin: Ah, ‘yung may reading assignment.
Yna: Yes. Sana hindi ako matawag ng recitation ><
I left the garden and started walking toward my next class. For a moment, I wanted to take a peek at him, but too afraid to see that smile again.
Calvin: You can do it. You’ve already improved, after all :)
Yna: Hehe salamat sa iyo po, tutor.
Calvin: Alam mo ang cute mo haha
His reply caught me off-guard and I almost tumbled since I wasn’t paying attention to where I was heading. I had to put my hand on my chest and breathe deeply to calm my heart down, but it started racing again when I realized he must have seen my clumsiness.
With embarrassment overwhelming me, I shoved my phone inside my bad and hurriedly walked away.
For the past few weeks, Alice and I had been together for most of our vacant periods. With our batch’s Campus Princes and Princesses getting overloaded with homeworks, projects, exams, and even extracurricular activities, we hardly saw Steff and Jess enjoying their breaks. Most of the time, they were in the library or too immersed in the books and journals they were reading.
“Grabe, akala ko sapat na matalino lang sila,” Alice commented while eating a burger. “Kailangan din pala talaga masipag sila.
I chuckled. “If we were in the same situation, we’d be dead during the first day.”
“Baka nga first hour pa lang, suko na ako. Itatapon ko na lang sa hangin lahat ng readings tapos tatanggapin ko na lang na babagsak ako.”
“That’s not what a student should say.”
Alice’s shoulders flinched as Kevin stood behind her. We didn’t even notice him approaching. He plopped next to her and rested his head on her left shoulder.
She let out a nervous laugh. “Joke lang naman. Sino bang may gustong bumagsak?”
“Right,” he muttered, his eyes slowly closing.
Kevin wrapped his arms around her waist, and I could see the sudden panic on Alice’s eyes as she tried to look around. Even though they were already a couple, she would still get conscious whenever they’re together inside the campus.
“Hoy,” she whispered. “Wait, what are you doing—ang dami nang nakatingin—”
“Recharging,” he softly said. “Hayaan mo sila.”
Alice, and even I, blushed at his reply. She cleared her throat and tried to compose herself.
She lightly slapped his right arm. “Napakalandi mo,” she retorted.
He chuckled in return. “Sa’yo lang naman.”
She couldn’t retaliate anymore and they stayed like that for several minutes. I was already used to this kind of situation since the three of them were in a relationship, but somehow, it still felt like I was invading their personal space.
Kevin got up after about fifteen minutes and started telling the highlights of his morning to Alice. I was quietly listening to them when suddenly, he mentioned Gisel and smirked at me.
“So . . . you and Gisel, huh?” he remarked.
I immediately looked at Alice but she started getting defensive. “Oy, hindi ako, ha! Wala akong sinabi!”
He snickered. “Ang obvious ni Gisel these past few weeks lalo na kapag kaming apat lang ang magkakasama. I feel stupid for not realizing it before.”
“See? Hindi ako,” Alice added.
He leaned closer as his smirk got wider. “Kayo na ba?”
“N-No!” I retorted, completely flustered.
He laughed heartily and pulled back. “Bagay nga kayo,” he commented. “Ah, gusto ka niya yatang ayaing mag-date, I mean lumabas, pero nahihiya siyang magtanong.”
“Wow, nahihiya pa siya sa lagay na ‘yon?” said Alice. “Nabasa ko kaya messages niya kay Yna.”
“He’s not aware that he’s blunt sometimes, but when it comes to things like this, he gets timid.”
“Pasahan mo nga ng kapal ng mukha,” Alice commented.
“Si Yna na lang mag-aya,” he suggested with a teasing smile on his face.
As I was heading to my last class, Kevin’s comment lingered in my head. He must be exhausted with the schedule he had and I wanted to do something for him, too.
I was fiddling with my phone for a moment and after a minute of pondering, I started typing a message for him.
Do you have a free day this week?
He sent a reply after a minute.
Calvin: Right now haha
Yna: I mean, after class.
Yna: I’m sorry, nevermind.
I tried typing ‘date’ but I couldn’t send it. In the end, I dismissed that idea and tried thinking of other ways to tell him that I wanted to see him. I was still in the middle of deliberating about what words should I use when I received a reply.
Calvin: Are you free this Saturday?
My thoughts dissipated as I read his message.
Calvin: May I ask you out on a date? I mean, if it’s okay with you.
He must have been nervous, too, because that was how I felt when I typed that word. The thought of getting turned down, may it be because of his packed schedule or something else, made my heart sting a bit, so I decided against it. But reading his message made me realize how important it was to be direct in this kind of situation. Because taking risks is what makes an interaction or a relationship move forward.
Okay, I replied. See you this Saturday :>
And now, little by little, I am allowing myself to take those risks. This time, I’d be willing to risk my heart, instead of a lifetime of fears, worries and what ifs.
I didn’t know what to do or say so I just remained silent. He called my name again and it made my heart skip a beat.
“Yna? Are you still there?” he asked.
“Mm,” I mumbled, my fingers trembling as I tried to keep the phone on my ear.
There was another minute of silence between us, but I could hear his trembling breath. I was worried that he would hear my throbbing heart, too, but despite the tension between us, this moment felt less uncomfortable than the last few days. His mere presence made me feel secured and nervous at the same time.
“Pwede ba tayong magkita?” he asked in a gentle tone.
His question brought my mind back to our current situation and fear started creeping in my chest again. For someone as well known as him, articles would surely be written again once anyone sees us together.
“Please?” he added. “Gusto kitang makausap. I know I said I understand and respect your choice, but it’s hard.”
My face felt flushed and my heart was racing so fast it was giving me a hard time to breathe. I honestly missed his voice and I wanted to see him, too, but . . .
“I-I don’t . . . know . . .” I faltered. “I-I mean . . . t-the people . . .”
“Naaalala mo pa ba ‘yong café na pinuntahan natin noon?”
I furrowed my brows. “Café?”
“The one with the compartments,” he replied.
Memories from that day started flooding my mind. “Ahh . . .”
“If we’re away from the people . . . if we’re away from their eyes, would you let me see you?”
Despite not seeing his face, I could imagine his expression while saying those words and it was making my mind fuzzy. Now, I’m not sure if contacting him first was the right choice because this situation just left me flustered.
It took me a few seconds to finally respond. My friends’ advice lingered in my head as I tried to contemplate whether I should agree or not. I had to gather a lot of courage to send him that message and it must be the same for him when he made this call.
“Okay,” I mumbled.
“I-I want to see you, too.”
Before I could hear any reaction from him, I ended the call and stifled a scream as I tried to process everything that just happened.
I felt like my heart would jump out of my throat. I couldn’t believe I just said that. Oh my god, I don’t think I can face him anymore.
A shriek escaped my lips as someone tapped my shoulder from the window on my upper right side. I was too immersed in my own thoughts that I didn’t notice Jess creeping behind me.
“Anong ginagawa mo r’yan?” she asked and a few seconds later, a sly smile appeared on her face. “Oh, don’t tell me you’re finally talking to Gi—”
I gestured for her to stop, worried that someone might hear what she was just about to say. Fortunately, she stopped talking before she could speak his name. She leaned over the sill and craned her neck toward me.
“You’re blushing so hard,” she whispered. “That means something happened. Nag-usap na ba ulit kayo?”
It was hard to keep mum about it when they already knew what happened between us. Besides, Jess wouldn’t let go of this topic until I told her everything that she wanted to know.
She exited the building and arrived at where I was after a few minutes. I carefully told her what had just transpired and she squealed every time I say his name.
“Kinikilig ako, nakakainis!” she giggled while shaking my arm.
“What should I do?” I mumbled.
She raised her eyebrow at me. “Ano pa ba? Eh ‘di makipagkita ka!”
“He’s reaching out to you despite the risks. Gusto mo rin naman siyang makita, ‘di ba?”
My face had been hot for a while now, but I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks again. It felt embarrassing to hear someone speaking my mind and feelings.
“Are you still afraid and worried?” she asked and I nodded in return.
I knew they said this matter only involves Gisel and I, thus, I should care more about our feelings than the opinions of the people around us, but at the end of the day, the words thrown by those people would still affect the two of us.
“Alam ko namang ayaw mo ng attention, but that’s the risk of liking someone like Gisel,” she added. “If you don’t like him enough for you to step out of your comfort zone, then I guess you’re doing it right. Just stay away from him. Pero kung tingin mo, worth it, then go for it. Kasi what if he stops approaching you? Will you have the courage to reach out first? Will you still let your fears control you? Kasi sa huli, ikaw rin ang magsisisi once all your chances have slipped through your fingers.”
Jess was never the person whom I would run to when it comes to advice but what she just said made me think about the times we spent together . . . the moments we shared with each other.
She suddenly grimaced and shook her head. “Wow, I just sounded like Steff. Parang ‘di bagay.”
Her comment made me smile a little. “Mm. Hindi bagay.”
The atmosphere lightened up and she continued teasing me while fishing for more information. Few minutes later, she excused herself because her next class would be starting.
I stared at my phone and almost jump in surprise when I received a message from him. He just told me the time of our meeting and my heart started to race again as I thought about what would happen later.
With a deep breath, I silently cheered myself and went to my Fil 40 class.
I was trembling in fear and excitement when I got out of the cab. Entering the café was nerve-wracking. Fortunately, there were only a few people inside and most were inside the compartments. I stood at the entrance for quite a while, reluctant to find where he was, and for a second, I thought of leaving because I wasn’t prepared to see him. However, behind the thin veil of the compartment, I saw his face.
Something stirred in my chest. It had been a while since I last saw him and the worries that lingered inside me gradually dissipated as I stared at him from a distance.
With a restless heart, I carefully walked toward his direction. I stood in front of the veil and drew a deep breath before I stepped inside.
I was greeted by his tender smile and my heart skipped a beat upon seeing that. The nervousness I felt a while ago flared up as I sat right across him. The limited space wasn’t helping either. It felt suffocating now that I was this close to him.
“Hi,” he greeted and I immediately averted his gaze.
“H-Hello . . .” I returned in a mumble.
I had always been in jitters every time I’m with him but this time, my whole body was throbbing from every emotion that I was feeling. The atmosphere was filled with tension and awkwardness that I had to physically get away from him even for a few inches. Even he was feeling the uncomfortable air. He kept on fiddling with the papers in front of him, something that I just noticed. Were those readings?
“Ah, sorry,” he said as he gently moved the papers to the side. “I have an exam tomorrow.”
Then I shouldn’t have met with him today. I heard the advanced courses’ exams were so hard that no one from the Campus Princes and Princesses could get a perfect score.
He chuckled in response. “It’s okay. Nakapagbasa naman na ako noong mga nakaraang araw.”
“For now . . . this takes precedence,” he added as he stared at me.
I was quite dumbfounded at how he looked calm despite everything that happened. On the other hand, I was a bundle of nerves, not even knowing where to look nor what to talk about.
He asked me about my preferred coffee and food and he offered to order them along with his. He insisted so I gave in and quietly watched as he went out of our compartment and walked toward the counter.
I heaved a deep sigh, trying to calm myself before he returns. Staring at the papers he just brought, I realized he must not have much time to spare, yet he still wanted to meet me. Guilt started prowling inside me because it felt like I was a bother to him, especially during this time that he had to focus on his acads.
It took him about three minutes before returning and glanced at my bag right beside me.
“May readings kang dala?” he asked.
I instinctively reached for my bag. “M-mm. Reading assignment.”
“Oh,” he beamed. “Do you need help?”
I realized it would be hard to talk about the past incidents, so I nodded in response. Besides, he could also study, I think, if I, too, would be doing the same thing. I pulled the readings out of my bag and he started asking questions about the topics I needed to read, just as our orders arrived. The atmosphere lightened up as he started helping me with the words I couldn’t understand. Meanwhile, I urged him to study, too, and I would just tap him if I had any questions. He was reluctant at first, but when I said I’d read aloud so he could still monitor me, he finally agreed.
He sat next to me so he could hear me clearly but that made me anxious. I was afraid that he’d hear how fast and loud my heart was beating. I got conscious, too, that I stuttered some of the words that were hard to pronounce. After a few minutes, I finally calmed down and got better at reading.
“ . . . at sa kanyang kagustuhan na ma—”
I abruptly stopped reading upon hearing something, but I wasn’t sure if I heard that right as he said it under his breath. I slowly looked at him but his eyes were fixed on his own reading, as if he didn’t mutter anything.
“Hmm?” I mumbled as I wasn’t sure what to ask or react.
He turned to my direction and put his chin over his right hand. “Hmm?”
We silently stared into each other’s eyes, and my heart thumped so strong, it felt like it would break out from my chest. I tried not to lose my composure and asked once again.
“D-did you s-say something?”
He smiled and snickered in response, which made my heart flutter even more.
Jess’ words echoed in my head as I watched his eyes crinkled as he smiled. Honestly, I never expected him to feel the same way as I did because it felt like I wasn’t even worthy of his feelings. He was just kind to everyone, I reasoned to myself, but spending some time with him in Jeju confused me again.
Now, hearing those words from him, if I did hear it right, was beyond my expectations. Even if Steff said he must like me, too, based on his actions, it was still hard to believe. I had already conditioned myself that all of those were just assumptions from my side, and not his real feelings.
But this time, I wanted to know his, too.
I drew in a deep breath and gathered a lot of courage to ask one last question.
“D-do you like me?”
He almost choked on his coffee upon hearing my question. The embarrassment finally dawned on me after seeing his reaction and I wanted to slap myself for asking that. I was about to divert the topic when he suddenly uncapped my highlighter and marked two words on his reading with it: “I” and “do.”
He gave me a quick smile and his gaze went back to his reading, this time, more focused on it. It took me seconds before everything sank in and when I glanced at him, his face, ears and neck were beet read . . . and maybe mine, too, as our restless hearts pounded intensely, resonating the feelings we had kept from each other.