I should've picked another coffee shop.
My plan was to update my stories but I couldn't do that in front of him. It was harder to eat and pretend that I was reading something on my phone when I was just scrolling on my feed, not being able to read anything.
"Are you a regular here?" he suddenly asked, making me flinch.
He stopped typing on his laptop and picked up his cup of coffee on the side while waiting for my response.
"Uhm, not really," I replied in a small voice. "W-why?"
"Hmm. Ngayon lang kasi kita nakita rito."
Ah. He must be one of the regular costumers here.
"I go here whenever my other favorite cafe gets crowded," I explained. And because the ambiance is great for writing, I mentally remarked.
"Oh, I see."
I wanted to ask what he was doing but I felt like it would be rude since we weren't even that close. Besides, he looked serious about whatever he was doing.
He suddenly glanced at my direction and our eyes met each other. I averted his gaze and stared at my phone, hoping that he didn't notice I was internally panicking. My nerves were already a mess but hearing him sigh made it a lot worse.
"I give up," he mumbled as he rested his head on the chair with his eyes closed.
"Are you okay?" I asked. He looked tired and drained.
His eyes fluttered open. He went back to his position, closed his laptop and took a sip of coffee. "Yeah," he replied. "I'm just a little tired because of my sister."
"Yup. She wants me to check her files for her."
I thought he was an only child. It was kind of flustering since he was talking about his family with someone like me.
"Ah, sorry, that must have been an uninteresting—"
"Oh, no!" I interjected but I got too enthusiastic with my denial. "I mean . . . uhm . . . it's not . . . yeah . . . sorry."
He looked confused but he snickered after a few seconds, while I sank from embarrassment.
He started telling me about her sister and why he was here. His sister is a managing director in a large firm and when the year is about to end, she'd invite her friends in their house to drink. They were so wasted this morning that he had to escape to avoid interacting with them, especially with his sister since she, according to him, turns into a madwoman when drunk. So instead of being her 'servant,' he decided to do her paperwork.
Whoa. His sister was scary. She sounded way crazier than Alice and Jess, and I couldn't even handle both of them at the same time.
"For sure, parang nasalanta na naman ang bahay pag-uwi ko," he added but I wasn't able to catch that one word. What? What did he mean?
His brows furrowed and looked at me intently, followed by a smirk.
"Hmm. Kumusta pala ang AralPil mo?"
Ugh. So he noticed.
"Uhm, it was okay."
"It was ok—"
I looked at him, a bit annoyed because he seemed like teasing me. Heaving a sigh, I answered him once again.
He slightly nodded as he drank from his cup. I wished he would just continue doing the paperwork of her sister but with his laptop already closed and his attention shifting to my Filipino knowledge, that would already be impossible.
"I'm curious," he said. "How fluent are you in Filipino?"
I already expected that question yet I still couldn't answer it immediately.
"W-well, uhm, basic?"
"Basic, huh. It seems like you can understand sentences except when there are words which you do not know the meaning of."
I nodded. "Yeah. It's kind of hard, especially with the tenses and the affixes."
He tried suppressing a chuckle but failed. "I could see that, especially when I am reading your stories."
I couldn't retaliate because I knew it was true. Still, I felt embarrassed and irritated at the same time. Why did he have to say that?
"Then don't read them," I muttered.
It was hard to remain calm so I just ate a spoonful of cake to pacify myself.
"Hindi ka ba tinutulungan ng friends mo?" he asked.
Those three? Well, Alice is definitely out of question. Jess occasionally tries to help me but she has a short attention span so we always end up talking about something else. Meanwhile, Steff really wants me to learn but she's scary when she runs out of patience. When we were in high school, she tried tutoring me for our Filipino reporting but the words in Noli Me Tangere were just too deep that I couldn't understand most of them. We were on the same page for two hours and she sighed loudly while forcing a smile. That expression was just too terrifying that I ended up pestering my brother instead.
"They already gave up on me in high school," I said. But these days, their desire to hear me speak in Filipino was getting stronger.
He chuckled. "And they don't know you are writing on Nook. Akala ko pinapa-check mo sa kanila."
"No way," I blurted out. That would surely turn into a disaster. Imagining them reading my works gave me chills.
There was a minute of silence between us. The kind that wasn't suffocating but would still make your shoulders tense. I sipped from my cup to distract myself but I felt too conscious when I saw him from the corner of my eye. He was resting his chin on his hand, a smile pasted on his face as he stared at me.
"Want me to teach you?"
I almost choked on my coffee upon hearing his words.
"Well, I want to see you grow as a writer," he said. "And I'm already invested in your stories so I want to help you write better."
For a moment, I was touched. He sounded genuine and I, too, wanted to improve the technical aspects of my stories but I couldn't ask anyone without compromising my secrets. I remembered trying to ask Steff about sentence construction under the guise of an assignment but I failed since she wanted to see the details.
It felt weird that someone knows my identity, yet oddly relieved that it was him.
"But aren't you busy?" I asked, almost in a whisper.
"Second sem? No," he replied. "Third year, first sem would probably be the busiest."
He looked at me expectantly and to be honest, I was tempted. I really wanted to improve and he was the only person I could talk to about Kingdom Nook since he already knew me as notaroyalty. However, that might lead to something that I'd regret later on.
"Okay na ako sa kape," he added as he reached for his cup.
"As payment," he chuckled.
I don't know if I was palpitating because of the coffee or it was something else but that moment, I gave in. The worries I had were pushed at the back of my mind and I gave him a little nod. He looked a bit surprised but he smiled right after.
"P-please look after me," I murmured as I bowed my head at him.
"I will," he said, grinning.
His sincerity and thoughtfulness made my heart flutter, and this time, I was sure it wasn't because of the coffee.