My heart was pounding so loud I thought it would jump out of my chest. I was thinking on how to start the topic because it’s been a while since I last sent a message.
I told them that I was too busy to do any administrative tasks and too overwhelmed with negative articles. Moon said I should think about it carefully because if I quit, I’d be removed from the group.
mugiwara: hala ikaw na nga lang matino rito, ikaw pa aalis
cafemocha: excuse me ikaw lang naman ang hindi
moonlight: basta think about it first
moonlight: we’ll be giving you a week for your final decision
moonlight: is that alright with you, King?
yeoshin: thank you :(
mugiwara: aww king will be sad
cafemocha: wala na siyang angel
moonlight: tigilan n’yo nga ‘yan
moonlight: baka umiyak si king hahaha
I was thankful that they could still joke around despite the situation. I thought they’d be mad at me for running away and burdening them with more articles to review but they were considerate instead.
My head was pounding again after hours of staying in the library. I initially wanted to attend my next and last class but I decided not to because I wouldn’t be able to focus on the lessons anyway. I should have asked King for an extra medicine a while ago.
My phone vibrated on the table and I saw Steff calling.
“Mmm?” I said as soon as I answered the call.
“Where are you?”
“Library,” I replied weakly.
“Why do you sound sick?”
“Just . . . just a headache.”
“Until now?” she asked and I could hear the worry in her voice.
“Do you have meds?”
I shook my head. “None.”
“Papasok ka pa ba sa classes mo? Or are you going to stay there?”
“I’ll stay here.”
“Okay. Hapon pa ang break nina Jess at Alice. I’ll see you there mamayang lunch?”
“Sleep first. I’ll ask b—I mean, Darryl to buy you food later.”
“Matulog ka na. Bye.”
As soon as I put my phone down, the screen lit up and I thought it was an unread message from the group or another incoming call from Steff but my heart skipped a bit when I saw Gisel’s name on the notifications.
calvingisel: kumusta ang Aral Pil? :)
My heart did flutter but a wave of sadness washed the good feelings away. After what happened in the café, I couldn’t help but think I was just falling into a trap. I got used to his presence and didn’t like how I couldn’t get rid of that feeling, especially these past few days.
I heaved a sigh and put my phone down. It was getting hot on this place because of the sunlight and the curtains weren’t drawn. I didn’t have the energy to close it from each side so I just moved one table to the right. I rested my head on the table and wished the headache would just go away.
The sound of flipping pages filled my ears and my eyes fluttered open. Orbs were dancing in front of my eyes and a ray of light passing through the windows made me squint, but it disappeared before I could move. Something blocked it.
I tried to focus my vision on the table on my left where I sat a while ago . . . and it wasn’t vacant anymore. Someone was sitting there, hence, blocking the sunlight from hitting my face.
It felt like I was watching a drama when I saw Gisel’s face illuminated by the light. He was reading a book and I didn’t know he could still get more attractive when he was this focused. I kept my face rested on the table as I silently stared at him . . . and I realized he was still too far, still out of my reach, despite being next to me.
He turned to my direction and I wasn’t able to close or avert my eyes. Our gazes met each other and held it for a few seconds. During that time, it felt like we were the only people in the world. Everything just faded away and the only sound I could hear was my heartbeat.
Strangely, it felt calm. The air was comfortable and somehow, it felt like we were back to our old selves again . . . but then, he smiled.
My heart did a flip and I was so startled that I almost jumped from my seat. I shifted uneasily on my seat as I tried to steal a glance at his direction. He was suppressing a chuckle as he returned to reading.
My cheeks felt hot and I didn’t know if it was because of him or I just developed a fever or maybe both. I clutched my head and massaged my temple. My head was still aching but it was less intense than before.
A notification appeared on my screen and it was from him. I didn’t dare to look at him and quickly took my phone.
calvingisel: namumutla ka
I racked my brain, trying to remember what namumutla meant but my headache was getting in the way so I just replied a question mark.
calvingisel: you look pale
calvingisel: are you sick?
Headache, I replied.
calvingisel: may I?
Before I could ask what he meant, he was already walking toward my direction. My eyes widened as he sat right across me. I looked around to see if someone was watching but I heard him snickering softly.
“Walang tao,” he mumbled. “It’s already lunch time.”
“Oh,” I muttered.
He inched forward as he held his gaze. I wanted to lean back but my body froze when he put his hand on my forehead. My skin tingled and I could feel my face burning from embarrassment as his hand cold hand lingered on my head. I wanted to tell him I was okay but I winced as soon as his hand shifted to my left cheek.
“Ang init mo,” he whispered.
“I—I’m . . .” My voice faltered.
“You have a fever. Bakit ka pumasok?”
Thank goodness my body finally listened to me and I leaned away from him. How could he do that without getting embarrassed? Meanwhile, I felt like my whole body would combust the moment he touched my face.
“I’m okay,” I weakly said as I looked around.
Steff said she’d be here by lunch, so I was waiting for her but Gisel’s presence was making me anxious. She seemed like she had already figured out what was going on and I didn’t want her to see me with him.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I averted his gaze. “S-Steff is coming, so . . .”
There were a few seconds of silence between us. Just when I couldn’t stand it anymore, he finally figured out what I was trying to say.
“Oh,” he muttered, “okay.”
He returned to his seat and arranged the pile of books on his table. As soon as he left to return the books in their respective shelves, Steff came into my view. I waved at her and she headed to my direction.
The first thing she did was touch my forehead and I suddenly remembered what happened earlier. I could feel the blood rushing to my face again and I willed myself to stop thinking about it.
“May lagnat ka nga,” she said. “Let’s eat first.”
She carried my bag and held my hand as we got ready to go out of the library, but my sight suddenly turned dark and I got dizzy. I had to blink for a few times to get my bearings back and when my vision returned, Steff was looking at me with worried eyes.
“Are you sure you’re ok—oh my god, Yna!”
Before I could say anything, the whole room spun around me as I felt body falling to the ground, and the last thing I saw was Steff’s frightened expression . . .
. . . and Gisel who suddenly appeared beside her.
My head was throbbing in pain and I thought it would split open when I finished our Aral Pil exam. The first part was okay but the second was essay writing so I thought I was already doomed. Still, I tried my best to write simple and coherent sentences.
“Whoa, essay?” Steff asked.
I nodded and rested my head on the table. “Mm. My head hurts.”
“I don’t think I’ll pass.”
I heaved a sigh as closed my eyes. My eyelids felt heavy after cramming last night but I had to stay awake because of my next classes.
“Matulog ka nga muna, mukha ka nang zombie,” Steff commented.
“It’s okay,” she added. “Around 4 P.M. pa naman ang next class ko.”
“Thank you,” I mumbled and before I could hear her response, I already drifted to sleep.
Fortunately, there wasn’t any recitation on my remaining classes, or else, I’d be in trouble. I was so sleepy and distracted that I couldn’t understand any of the lessons.
“Oh my god, feeling ko bagsak ako,” Alice cried as she plopped onto her chair.
“Ayan kasi, puro lovelife inaatupag,” Jess retorted while eating her red velvet cake.
We went to a nearby café to celebrate the end of our exam week. I was quite confident with most of my majors but the general electives worried me, especially, Aral Pil.
Steff raised her eyebrow. “Pwede mo naman kasing pagsabayin.”
Jess nodded. “True.”
“Mga matatalino lang may kaya n’yan!” Alice retorted and then she looked at my direction. “’Di ba, Yna?”
“Hmm? Uhm . . . yeah.”
They continued teasing Alice since she went on a date with Kevin the other day. It was fun to see her so flustered and Steff and Jess weren’t holding back at razzing her.
“Buti pa si Yna, nakasagot sa essay sa Aral Pil niya,” Steff said while glancing at my direction. Alice and Jess looked at me with confused and shocked expressions on their faces.
I nodded. “W-well, nagbasa ako nang mabuti kahapon ng gabi pero ang hirap.”
Alice inched toward me, narrowing her eyes. “Gumagaling ka mag-Filipino, ha?”
“Baka may nagtu-tutor?” said Jess which almost made me choke on my coffee.
I was trying to keep my expression as confused as possible but I was also racking my brain for possible excuses in case they discovered something. I could feel my heart thumping painfully against my chest and the coffee seemed to amplify my anxiety.
Jess wiggled her eyebrows as she smiled playfully. “Perhaps that guy.”
“Woah, sino?!” Alice chimed in and her eyes lit up.
“May bumati sa kanya noong Feb Fair,” Jess continued. “What was his name? Jervin? I think Jervin nga.”
“May picture ka?”
“Wala but he’s handsome.”
Alice ruffled my hair and pinched my cheeks. “Dalaga na ang Yna namin.”
“It’s not like that,” I argued. “He’s just an acquaintance.”
“Malay mo ma-develop.”
“O baka naman iba ang tumutulong sa kanya,” Steff said.
My cheeks felt hot as the attention shifted to me. What’s worse was Steff seemed to know something and I wasn’t sure if it was about him or not.
Him . . .
That time in the café flashed in my mind. I remembered not being able to focus after what he did while he nonchalantly continued teaching me as if that didn’t happen.
After that day, we weren’t able to talk to each other, maybe because of the exams, or maybe because what happened broke some walls that we were carefully trying not to climb. Last night, I wanted to message him about some sentences I couldn’t understand but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even though we were exchanging messages for quite some time, it dawned on me that everything became awkward after that incident.
I was brought back to reality when I heard Alice’s voice and all three of them were staring at me.
“Alam mo, mukhang kailangan mo na talaga ng tulog,” Jess remarked as she pointed at my eyes. “Ang lala ng eyebags mo ngayon.”
We agreed to go home after finishing our desserts and I immediately crashed into my bed. Today was a tiring day.
I thought sleeping would make me better but a pounding headache woke me up. I would probably get sick for the next few days since I was already feeling sluggish and unwell.
It was just 8 A.M. but my energy was already depleted. I wanted to skip my classes but we would be given incentives if you didn’t have any absences and I badly needed that so I forced myself to get out of my bed.
My head was pounding painfully when I arrived at the campus. Since it was still too early, I went to the library to sleep for a few minutes, but before I could reach my favorite spot, I saw King browsing some books on the shelves nearby. We locked eyes and for a moment, I remembered his look during Feb Fair. His eyes had the same intensity as that night but I realized his eyeglasses and unkempt hair were masking his charms.
He nodded at me and I did the same but I winced halfway. The throbbing was getting worse.
I got to my spot and massaged my temples, hoping it could somehow ease the pain.
“Are you okay?” a voice asked and I just realized King was already standing across me.
“Headache,” I muttered.
Initially, I wanted to say I was fine but I couldn’t control my facial expression anymore. I grimaced as the pounding continued and it felt like it would explode any minute now.
He sat on the opposite side and put the books he got on the table. He started searching something on his bag and after several seconds, he placed a medicine for headache in front of me.
“For relief,” he said. “Maybe you should go to the health center.”
“Thank you,” I mumbled as I reached for the medicine.
Fortunately, I brought my water bottle. I took the medicine, hoping it would relieve the pain immediately but I knew I had to wait for a few minutes, which seemed like forever.
“Feeling better now?”
I nodded. “A bit.”
“May I study here?”
His question was so unrelated to the first that my mind lagged for several seconds. He seemed to realize that because I saw his lips subtly curving up.
“Oh. Um, of course,” I replied, flustered.
My headache was slowly melting away, which made it easier to focus on other things. He got two thick books and several answer sheets.
I frowned. “Math?”
He snickered in return. “Advanced Calculus. Math 123.”
“Wow. I think my headache’s coming back.”
“Now, we don’t want that.”
Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be this comfortable with someone I just met for several times. Yes, we were talking to each other online but, I never thought we would be like this in person. I mean, generally, the level of closeness in the virtual world wasn’t the same in reality.
“I noticed you’re rarely active in the group,” he said while writing a solution on his answer sheet.
Talking about the portal sent a wave of apprehension in my head. I had been thinking about how it would be better if I quit but I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it in the group.
I pursed my lips as I fumbled my phone. “Honestly . . . I don’t think I can continue being an admin anymore,” I admitted which made me feel guilty and vulnerable.
“Hmm . . . I expected that,” he replied.
His gaze drifted to mine and he must have seen how puzzled I was. King, along with Moon, was one of the earliest administrators in our batch so I thought he would be disappointed or even angry.
“S-sorry . . .”
“We all have dealt with that kind of thoughts,” he continued, “and for different reasons. I, for instance, want the articles to be more informative and inclined to concerns about the university that need to be raised and addressed, but majority of the students only read about celebrity gossips.”
I kind of felt guilty about that. At first, I would always get excited when the trending articles were about the campus elites or secret crushes, but when Steff and Darryl became the center of attention during our first year, I realized how distressing it was.
Of course, most of the hate was thrown to Steff because she was the girl. I had a hard time filtering every article and there were times I wanted to message the writers of destructive and malicious stories. Good thing the hate train was stopped short and months later, almost everyone were cheering for them. Same with Jess. Alice had it rough from the start because she was not a campus princess. After what happened at Feb Fair, the amount of positive comments soared but there were still about hundreds of hate messages.
Monitoring those kinds of contents were hard because they involved people who were precious to me. I thought, maybe, I was at least protecting them from getting more hurtful discussions about them by not allowing those to be published but in the end, I was still involved to every story in the portal about them.
“And I think I know where you’re coming from,” he said. “It must be tough reviewing articles about your friends.”
A melancholic smile escaped my lips. “Yeah.”
“Well, it’s entirely up to you,” he added, “The decision, I mean. But you should inform them, especially now that the sem will be over in less than a month.”
He started clearing his things after saying that. I drew a deep sigh, worried about how my decisions would affect everything around me.
I nodded at him when he was about to leave. Three steps later, he halted and turned around.
“Oh, and by the way, you should be more careful.”
He gave a quick smile. “You know, with getting your pictures taken with . . . “ he paused as his words hung in the air, “him.”
I stifled a gasp and I almost wanted to check the articles to be reviewed if there were anything about Gisel but King cleared his throat and my attention shifted back to him.
“Just a warning,” he added. “Don’t worry, aside from that one article, it seems like you’re still safe.”
My shoulders slumped with relief. I thought someone had written something about him again involving a mysterious girl.
He nodded at me but before he could completely turn around, I called him.
“King,” I cried out in a whisper and he fixed his eyes on mine. “Thank you,” I added as I gave him a smile filled with gratitude.
He smiled back. “No worries, angel.”
As soon as he disappeared from my sight, I opened our group chat.
“Hala siya, ngiting-ngiti,” Jess commented while looking at Alice who was failing miserably to control her smiles.
I chuckled. “Kilig siya.”
They abruptly turned their heads in my direction, their eyes twinkling.
“Mag-Filipino ka nga nang madalas,” Jess retorted. “Mas bagay sa’yo, promise!”
“Oo nga, Yna.” She clapped her hands which surprised me. “Okay, game!”
“Bawal ka magsalita ng English words starting today,” Alice suddenly challenged.
“Game!” joined Jess.
Before I could protest, they started talking in Filipino, even using words I didn’t hear before, and I wasn’t sure if they were real words or they were just making fun of me.
“Anong ginagawa n’yo?”
Steff sat beside me and placed a slice of chocolate cake, that must be from her favorite pastry shop, in front of her. Alice and Jess explained what was going on in Filipino and Steff looked interested.
“Heh. Okay, sali ako,” she said.
Alice snickered. “Mukhang lalong mahihirapan ang binibini,” she said as she glanced at my direction with a smirk on her face.
“Tila hindi na niya mawari ang ating winiwika,” Jess added.
I couldn’t even understand what she was saying but it sounded bad. They continued poking fun at me until the topic shifted back to Alice and Kevin. Thank god.
Speaking of the devil, I saw him walking toward our direction with his cousin Patrick, but Alice and Jess didn’t have any idea as they were on the opposite side. Several minutes later, they greeted us and sat beside their girlfriends. Darryl came, too, and that moment, I felt like I was the outsider.
They were still reminiscing what happened during Feb Fair and how Kevin stole the spotlight. Alice blushed and Jess started teasing her.
I flashed a quick smile while looking at them and the uneasiness I felt a while ago started dissipating. This was what I wanted to see. The three of them looked happy and that was enough for me.
“Uy, pero ang dami n’yong articles sa portal, ha?” Jess commented as she scrolled her phone’s screen.
Kevin grunted. I still don’t get it. Lahat na lang ginawan ng istorya.”
“Well, that’s the point of that website,” said Steff, “but the malicious and toxic articles and comments irk me.”
“Besides, we’re considered public figure,” Patrick added. “Kaso ‘yong iba, wala nang respeto sa privacy.”
Talking about the portal made me tensed and uncomfortable. I kept nodding despite the nervousness creeping through my throat. My heart grew heavier as they complained about the contents of the portal. I wondered how they would think and feel about me when they learned that I was one of the administrators.
“Imagine, even Gisel wasn’t spared,” Kevin remarked.
Hearing his name brought back some pleasant memories but immediately turned into misery when Kevin said Gisel got pissed about the articles written about him.
“But I’m kinda curious about his Sleeping Beauty,” Patrick chimed in and Darryl chuckled.
“Yeah,” he said. “He seems protective of her.”
Maybe it was just coincidence but Steff and Darryl both looked at me and I had to avert their gazes because it felt like they would see right through me.
Fortunately, most of them had to go their own classes already so that topic wasn’t pushed. I went to the library to study for Aral Pil but I couldn’t focus at all. My mind was still in the garden, thinking about their comments regarding the portal.
Just when I was about to give up, I received a message from the person I was thinking about.
calvingisel: okay ka lang ba?
His message confused me for a second. How . . .
I quickly looked around and inhaled sharply when I saw him one table away from me. There he was, with a bunch of books in front of him, and when our eyes met each other, he flashed a quick smile and returned his gaze to his phone.
Kevin’s words echoed inside my head. He said Gisel was pissed after reading the articles about him. Yes, I couldn’t control every article that would be approved but I still felt sad and guilty.
ynashin: yes :)
Lying was easier than telling him the truth. I was afraid of the repercussions of my actions but I don’t want him to worry about me. I don’t deserve it.
calvingisel: oh okay :)
calvingisel: Aral Pil ba ‘yang binabasa mo?
Fortunately, he shifted the topic to something else. Despite being a table away, he helped me understand some words and phrases I couldn’t figure out.
ynashin: oh, ‘yon pala
ynashin: Salamat ng marami
calvingisel: *nang dapat haha
ynashin: ay patawad
I glanced at his direction and saw him suppressing a chuckle. He bit his lower lip to keep himself from smiling but failed. My cheeks felt hot when I realized he must be laughing because of my mistake.
ynashin: mali nga ako, tawa-tawa ka pa :(
This time, I could hear him chuckling. He covered half of his face to hold back the noise but the way his eyes were squinting, I knew he was still grinning.
calvingisel: haha ay patawad
He was clearly mocking me. That guy.
I glared at him but he kept his eyes on the thick book he was reading and I realized it was a Physics book. Yikes. That was one of my most hated subjects.
Fortunately, he stopped teasing me and I managed to finish reading the materials. Our exam would be tomorrow, but I still had three readings to go through. I’m really doomed.
My phone lit up and I saw his name again.
calvingisel: una na pala ako
calvingisel: mamaya, ah?
He started clearing his table, returning the books from their respective shelves, and when he came back, he slung his bag over his shoulders. I replied to his message as he walked away.
ynashin: bye bye
ynashin: yes, mamaya
I was still unsure how to talk to him in person without feeling guilty, but I was already looking forward to another tutoring session.
Alice became restless when Kevin said his parents invited her for dinner.
“Kinakabahan ako,” she muttered as she fidgeted with her phone. “I mean, hindi natuloy ‘yong dinner dati dahil nga sa aksidente pero bakit naman ngayon, biglaan.” She looked at me with pleading eyes. “Oh my god, Yna, anong gagawin ko?”
Seeing Alice like this was quite amusing. She was never the type to get worked up over things like this but look at her now. She really fell hard for Kevin that she didn’t want to disappoint him and his family.
“Just be yourself—” Alice suddenly raised her eyebrow and I remembered her game. I almost rolled my eyes at her. “I . . . I mean, m-maging ikaw ka lang?” I huffed. “I don’t know how to say it in Filipino, okay?”
She started snickering and several seconds later, she pinched my left cheek.
“Cute mo magsalita, nakakainis,” she said in such a high-pitched tone I felt like a toddler.
Kevin arrived before I could say anything. Fortunately, Alice seemed less nervous than earlier. I just hope she would enjoy herself instead of trying to impress them.
I, too, left the table and booked a car. He said we should meet at another café since students started going to the previous one. Twenty minutes later, I arrived at the café and almost gasped when I came in.
There was only a long table with several partitions in the middle of the café, where most customers who were alone sat. And instead of café tables, there were compartments on each side, like mini rooms, covered with thin curtains. Inside the compartment, a low table and pillow seats were provided. I left my shoes in the anteroom since they weren’t allowed inside.
I was about to ask him if he was already here when I received his message.
calvingisel: fourth room :)
When I looked at the fourth compartment, I saw someone waving through the thin curtain. I approached the room and he greeted me with a smile.
“K-kanina ka pa?” I asked.
“Hmm . . . kararating ko lang din.”
After we placed our order, he told me to show him the rest of the readings. He carefully explained each paragraph in English and Filipino, even asking me if I understood it completely, as I took notes. Somehow, his way of teaching was easy to follow. Maybe being a professor suits him.
“Do you have to memorize the provinces where these folklores originated?” he asked.
“I think so.”
“Then it would be easier to create a table or a diagram for that.”
I tried highlighting everything that he pointed out, but he moved his finger abruptly and it got in the way. The next thing I knew, it was already stained with my pink highlighter.
“Oh my god.”
He simpered. “It’s okay.”
“I’m sorry,” I muttered as I tried to erase it from his finger, but I realized what I just did.
My mind was reeling, thinking of possible excuses, but nothing sounded right. In the end, I just slowly let go of his hand, extremely flustered, unsure of what to say or do. I hope I could just disappear from here.
His chuckle broke the silence and tension. I glanced at him and I had to lean back because his face was just inches away from mine.
With a huge grin on his face, he continued staring at me. But what he did next almost made me stifle a shriek. He reached for my face and gently pinched my right cheek.
“Cute mo,” he softly said.
I didn’t know what I looked like after he said that. On the other hand, he just continued explaining the next paragraph as if he didn’t say anything unexpected. But I couldn’t focus anymore.
For the rest of our stay here, those words continuously echoed in my head, hoping he didn’t mean it. Because if he did . . . I’d be in a serious trouble.
Breaking: Prince Kevin Fuentez Has Found His Princess
I was anxious while reading the articles. What happened during the Feb Fair gave writers, especially between the Campus Princes and Princesses, stories to write about. Almost all the trending articles were about them, their ‘sweet moments’ and how Kevin crowned her as her princess.
Fortunately, the malicious articles didn’t get any attention. I was so worried that Alice might receive negative comments but they were praising her look that night. Indeed, she looked beautiful that she could be mistaken as a Campus Princess, too.
mugiwara: ganda pala ni Alice no?
cafemocha: lol crush mo?
cafemocha: sorry ka may boyfriend na
moonlight: well, the articles are all about them now
moonlight: my fingers hurt
moonlight: dami kong in-approve
mugiwara: bakit parang ‘di na nagpaparamdam sina king at yeoshin?
cafemocha: maybe they’re busy
I quickly went offline after reading my name from their conversation and sighed. Approving and disapproving articles were okay with me but talking about them was getting harder, especially this time that both Alice and Kevin were thrown into the spotlight. I was afraid I might say something that could get the administrators suspicious of me.
A knock on my door brought me back to the moment. Xander was peeking and when he saw me looking at him, he entered my room and sat on the side of my bed. He eyed the panda beside him but shifted his attention to me when I talked.
“What?” I asked.
“Wanna go with me to the mall?”
He scratched his nape and averted my gaze. “Well, I want to buy a gift.”
“For Ate Mau?”
Since I couldn’t focus on writing and staying here would just drown me in my thoughts, I agreed to accompany him to the mall.
I didn’t want to wear tight pants, so I opted for a simple and billowing dress. Xander drove us to the nearest mall while I fumbled with my phone. The next thing I knew, I was already opening our last conversation.
My face felt hot after remembering what happened during the Feb Fair. Reading the messages, I realized how embarrassing they were, and I wished I could take back everything. Calling him Calvin just because everyone uses his second name was cringey to the point that I don’t want to face him anymore.
We got to the mall and Xander went to Tiffany & Co. As far as I remember, Ate Mau likes pink and there was one pendant that stood out.
“That,” I said, pointing at the pink circle pendant studded with diamonds. “It’s beautiful.”
He, too, looked fascinated with the necklace and immediately bought it.
“Are you going to ask her out?”
He tensed. “Maybe.”
Ate Mau likes him, too, but I don’t want to tell that to him. Somehow, I was enjoying his distress after how many years of teasing me.
“Scared of rejection?”
He remained silent, sighed and raised an eyebrow at me. For someone who’s confident with everything he does, he looked hesitant this time.
“Of course,” he muttered.
I was just about to start teasing him when he suddenly shifted the topic to Feb Fair and that caught me off-guard. As if on cue, I saw some notifications on my screen and his name was one of them. My heart pounded loudly and I had to put my phone out of sight to keep my composure.
Fortunately, luck was on my side and Ate Mau called him before he could notice any changes on my expression. He excused himself and I said I’d walk around, maybe shop, so he didn’t have to wait for me. I checked some outfits and dresses but halted when I saw a familiar face.
He was wearing a white shirt, faded jeans and white sneakers. But what caught my attention were the black cap that once belonged to me . . . and the girl walking beside him.
Our gaze met each other. I wanted to avoid him but my body wouldn’t move. He subtly smiled and waved at my direction, prompting the girl to look at me, too. For a second, it felt like I was an intruder, someone who shouldn’t be here, but before I could turn my back, the girl went to the other direction and gestured at Gisel to, maybe, call her.
Run, I thought, but it was already too late. He was already walking toward me.
“Hey,” he softly greeted and I nodded.
Unlike before, it was completely awkward. My heart started racing crazily and I was praying he wouldn’t hear it since he was just right next to me.
“I didn’t expect to see you here,” he said.
Another wave of silence. There was nothing to talk about and our exchange that night made it harder to act like nothing happened.
“Ikaw lang mag-isa?” he asked again.
“No,” I replied. “Uhm, kasama ko ang kuya.”
“Oohh. Pareho pala tayo.”
“Kasama ko rin ang ate ko,” he said while looking at the direction the girl went to, “pero mukhang marami pa siyang bibilhin.”
We started walking and slowly, the atmosphere became less uncomfortable. However, I stayed cautious since there might be someone who might recognize him. Maybe he felt the same, too, since he lowered his cap.
“Nasaan ang kuya mo?”
That question made me uneasy and I realized it would be messy if Xander sees us, especially since he was suspicious of me after the Feb Fair.
“Around there, maybe,” I replied reluctantly, pointing at the jewelry section at the third floor.
I caught a glimpse of Xander’s profile and Gisel couldn’t finish what he was supposed to say because I pulled him away. Despite the confusion on his face, he didn’t resist and let me lead the way.
“Okay ka lang ba?” he asked when we got outside of the department store.
We stood in silence, waiting for each other to say anything. I was the one who dragged him here but I didn’t know what to say.
“Cof—” He chuckled as we both spoke at the same time. “Coffee?”
He pointed at the café on the right side. I wanted to eat some sweets, too, so I nodded and we headed to the coffee shop.
“Ohh. Good luck,” he said after I told him we would be having an exam next week on Aral Pil. “Nakapagbasa ka na ba?”
I averted his gaze and sipped from my cup. Well, I got too invested with my stories these past few days that I wasn’t able to study our readings. A while ago, when I couldn’t focus with writing, I tried reading them but didn’t last for an hour because of the articles from the portal.
“So. . . no,” he concluded, chuckling.
We mostly talked about acads and truthfully, I was still anxious because it seemed like he, too, was avoiding Feb Fair as a topic, which was understandable.
“Hmm, free ako bukas,” he suggested. “Doon ulit sa dati?”
I nodded, grateful that he was willing to help me again. “Thank you.”
“Ah. Gawin ulit natin ‘yon.”
“Mag-usap tayo gamit lang ang Filipino.”
“Para tuluy-tuloy na rin ang practice mo. At para mas masanay ka.”
“Kaya mo ‘yan.”
He started talking in Filipino and I couldn’t argue anymore. I was still having a hard time with tenses and pronouns but he kept on encouraging me to converse even if my sentences weren’t perfect.
“Kumusta pala si Alice?”
“Ah. Masaya siya,” I responded. “Kilig siya.”
He grinned and chuckled upon hearing my response and I felt my cheeks getting hotter because of embarrassment. Did I use the wrong words?
He rested his chin on his right palm as he stared right at me. His grin turned into a mysterious smile and my heart skipped a bit upon seeing that expression.
“Ikaw?” he softly said. “Kumusta ka?”
All of a sudden, it felt like everything had stopped moving and then . . . there were only us. His question made me remember that night and the emotions I felt after talking to him.
I wanted to tell him I was okay . . . that everything felt normal . . . but his eyes were expectant. My heart felt like it would come out of my mouth but I tried to remain calm.
How do I feel right now?
“M-masaya ngayon,” I mumbled.
His smile widened and remained staring at me. I had to pull away, put some distance between us, afraid that he would see my emotions and hear my heart racing crazily.
“Ako rin,” he muttered as he adjusted his cap, covering almost half of his face, and his ears bright red. “Masaya ngayon.”
Silently, I wished I could see the expression on his face, but embarrassment got the better of me after remembering what I just said. We stayed silent for minutes, avoiding each other’s gaze, and wishing we could go back to the time before we said those words . . .
. . . words so sincere that they resonated deep in my heart. It was something I feared right from the start and yet . . . here I was . . . glad that I got to hear it from him.