My heart pounded painfully against my chest as I received my test paper in Aral Pil. I folded it in half to avoid looking at the score I got. When I returned to my seat, I slowly unfolded it while holding my breath, wishing to see at least a passing score . . . and I almost yelped upon seeing a 67/75 on the top right corner of the paper.
I heaved a sigh of relief, my lips curving into a smile, thankful that I got a high grade despite cramming everything. My prof even praised me because he didn’t expect that grade from me.
“Good job, Ms. Shin,” he said with a proud smile. “Malaki ang improvement mo sa pagsusulat ng essay.”
“Thank you, Sir.:
After our class, I immediately went to the garden and ate my lunch. Steff and Jess said they needed to check the advanced subjects they would take next academic year so they already ate earlier. On the other hand, Alice had a lunch date with Kevin.
Fortunately, there were only a few students eating here, maybe because it was already summer and it gets real hot and humid by noon.
I took a photo of my score but I was hesitant to send it to Gisel. He might think I was acting too close to him, but then, I realized, it was just right to thank him for his effort in teaching and helping me.
ynashin: Hello, mr. tutor, look
ynashin: *sent a photo*
ynashin: Thank you for all the help. I passed the exam T.T
Just a few seconds after sending the last message, he was already typing a reply.
calvingisel: wow that’s an impressive score
calvingisel: congratulations! :)
His compliment made me smile and my heart fluttered upon realizing what I just did. I gently tapped my cheeks and pressed my lips together, trying to control my expression before replying to him.
ynashin: really really thankful for your patience :(
I was about to invite him for a coffee as a token of gratitude but I was too shy and afraid to ask. Heaving a sigh, I deleted the message I typed something else. However, before I could finish, he already sent another message.
calvingisel: lingon ka sa kanan haha
I carefully turned to my right and almost gasped when I saw him sitting alone on one of the tables. I quickly looked back to my phone, suddenly nervous about replying.
ynashin: kanina pa ikaw dyan?
calvingisel: I thought you’d notice me a while ago pero dinaanan mo lang ako haha
Suddenly, I felt embarrassed. I didn’t notice him because I was too happy with my test result that all of my attention was on it.
ynashin: oh sorry
Though, I still wouldn’t acknowledge his presence even if I caught sight of him because there were a few students in the garden that would surely take notice if we did something.
He then asked if I was already okay and I said yes. My fever was already gone, so were the cold and runny nose, but I still felt a bit tired despite the long hours of sleep.
His concern gave me a bit of courage but that wavered when I saw some girls giggling at his direction. Several of them started sitting near his table but he was so focused on his phone that he didn’t notice them. Times like this, I felt like I don’t deserve to be close to him because he was a public figure, someone who was unreachable for people like me.
I was about to delete that message again but I inhaled sharply when I accidentally pressed the send button. My fingers trembled as I tried to click the ‘unsend message’ but a ‘seen’ notification appeared before I could do it. I screeched inside my head, wishing I could just disappear from here, and hunched my body over the table while hiding my face behind my arms.
My shoulders tensed when the screen of my phone lit up. I was unsure of what to do that I spent several minutes contemplating whether to check his reply or just ignore it. In the end, I got curious.
ynashin: uhm would you like to go out for a cup of coffee as a
calvingisel: as a?
calvingisel: but sure haha I would never say no to a cup of coffee
A wave of embarrassment washed over me again and for a second, I wanted to take back my message. I wasn’t sure what to reply or if I have to. I felt like I’d melt away if I stayed here so I hastily clean the table and ran to my next class.
“Hoy, Yna, nasaan ka?” Alice asked after I answered her call.
“Wala lang. Wala akong kasama,” she replied. “May inaasikaso pa sina Steff, eh.”
“Syempre kasama siya ro’n.”
“Oh.” I felt stupid after asking that question. Of course, he’s a campus prince. He’d be with Steff because of their advanced courses stuff.
“Ay, wait, uwi na pala ako,” she suddenly said.
She sighed. “Na-c-cr ako bigla. Paano si Kevin, napakaraming pinakain kanina sa akin.”
I snorted after hearing her reason and some students looked at me weirdly. “Yeah, go home,” I said, still chuckling. “Huwag magkalat dito, you might find yourself in the portal.”
“Hoy! Grabe!” she exclaimed. “Ouch, wait, ang sakit na talaga. Bye na, Yna, magb-book na ako.”
She already ended the call before I could reply and hearing her quivering voice made me snicker, but I had to suppress it because I was still walking through the corridor.
My feet steered me to Arts and Letters building and I walked toward my usual spot. I plopped down the grassy ground near the window and checked my phone. There were several notifications but I opened the group chat first and told them my decision.
yeoshin: Hello, everyone. I finalized my decision. I’m stepping down as an administrator.
yeoshin: Sorry for the trouble and thank you for everything.
I waited for several seconds and saw all of them typing their replies.
cafemocha: hala final na talaga? :<
cafemocha: shin, miss na agad kita huhu
mugiwara: wala na talagang matitirang mabait dito hay
mugiwara: wala na rin akong maaasar kay king
mugiwara: mamimiss kita
moonlight: okay if that’s your decision
kingtrex: you don’t have to be sorry
yeoshin: I’ll miss you too guys
mugiwara: pero sino pinakamamimiss mo?
yeoshin: everyone haha
mugiwara: awtsu everyone daw king
moonlight: alright, I’ll remove you as an admin na
yeoshin: let me look at the portal for the last time as an admin
I went to the underground website and checked the articles that needed to be reviewed. There were already additional 100+ articles for today and I felt a little bad for running away from these. But I also didn’t want to get involved with these kinds of stories anymore.
“This is for the best,” I mumbled.
Two years, huh? I spent two years of my college life reading and filtering stories and articles about students and professors, even about my best friends and classmates, and getting away from this place would surely give me a peace of mind.
I was about to close the portal and check the group chat when I heard a familiar voice behind me.
I quickly turned around and saw Steff standing by the window . . . along with Gisel.
My blood ran cold when I realized they were looking at my phone. I tried to hide it but it felt like it was already useless. I wasn’t sure if they were there for quite some time already but judging Steff’s expression, I knew they saw or read something they shouldn’t.
“You . . .” she faltered and I could sense anger in her voice. “That’s the portal, isn’t it?”
My throat felt dry. I wanted to speak but I couldn’t. My body was already trembling in fear and guilt but what made my heart sank was the expression on their faces—confusion, disappointment and anger.
“I . . .”
“Why?” she asked in a cold tone.
“S-Steff . . .”
I choked back the lump in my throat. I wanted to explain the situation to her but my mind suddenly went blank. Guilt was starting to eat me up and the fear of losing them overwhelmed me to the point that I couldn’t think straight anymore.
“What are those ‘pending articles?’” asked Steff again. “Please tell me you’re not part of that sickening site.”
“I-I’m . . .”
My words hung in the air, followed by a suffocating silence. I wanted to cry and sink beneath the ground. I wanted to tell her that I already quit but I couldn’t, because deep in my heart, I knew that not enough of a reason. Whether I like it or not, I was, indeed, a member of the group, and quitting wouldn’t erase the fact that I contributed in their distress and pain.
She gave me a smile that I hadn’t seen for a while. A smile she often uses to hide her anger and disappointment.
“You know, I was about to surprise you, but you surprised me instead.”
I wished I could explain myself better but seeing her lips trembling made me cower. Steff was always forgiving and tolerant of our antics, but this time, it was more than that. And I knew she wouldn’t forgive me easily.
She started walking away and looking at her figure slowly disappearing from my sight felt like a slap on my face. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I met Gisel’s eyes. He clenched his jaw and knitted his eyebrows. He just stared at me for a few seconds . . . and then walked away.
He left without saying anything and that was just as painful as what Steff did. But I couldn’t do anything because I knew it was my fault. I betrayed them and this was my punishment.
I lost him. And I would lose my friends, too.
The tears I was holding back fell from my eyes, and this time, I felt truly alone.
I wish teleportation is real so I could do that right now.
Steff was sitting beside my bed, her arms crossed, looking at me with suspicious eyes. I just regained my consciousness a few minutes ago. When my eyes fluttered open, I was already lying on a white bed and an IV line on my hand.
She said I had a fever and I was dehydrated that was why I passed out. She called my brother to pick me up and she was just waiting for him here . . . but she seemed to be holding back some details.
“Yna,” she called and my body tensed.
“You should thank Gisel,” she said. “Nakita ko kasi siya sa library noong pabagsak ka na sa sahig. He saw what happened, too. I told him to help me . . .” Her voice faltered and she narrowed her eyes, “but it looked like he already knew what to do that time.”
Suddenly, I wanted to pass out again so I could escape her impending questions. My throat was dry and it felt like my heart would come out of my chest every time she looks at me suspiciously.
“By the way, he’s here,” she said.
“Eh?!” I almost got up but Steff smirked at me.
“Joke lang,” she teased as she leaned to my direction. “I won’t ask any questions but be careful. Sige na, mauna na ako. May class pa ako. Sabi naman ni Kuya Xander, malapit na siya.”
I slowly nodded, still embarrassed about what just happened. She waved at me before leaving and I watched her back until I couldn’t see her anymore. I was just staring at the white ceiling for a while, trying to process everything.
My head wasn’t pounding anymore but I still felt sick. I pulled out my phone from my jacket and gasped at the number of notifications. Alice and Jess flooded the group chat with worried messages, but also asking how it felt to be carried by him. There were several missed calls and texts from Xander. There were also notifications from Nook, but what made me nervous was his message.
My hand trembled as I stared on my screen. After several minutes, I opened his message.
calvingisel: Tiffany said you're resting now. Sorry if I might cause you some trouble since there were a few students who saw me carrying you.
calvingisel: But I hope you're okay now. Rest well :)
My mind immediately played the worst-case scenario: getting mobbed by girls who admired him, being the subject of malicious gossips, and getting dragged into the messy world of the campus elites.
I sighed in defeat as I reread his message. I was grateful for his help but I was afraid of the repercussions.
ynashin: Thank you and sorry for the trouble, too.
ynashin: I should have been more careful.
Few seconds later, Xander arrived with a frown on his face. She talked to the health center staff who was monitoring me earlier and went to my direction.
"Masakit pa ulo mo?" he asked.
I was caught off-guard and wasn't able to answer immediately. I was ready to get scolded since he already told me not to attend my classes earlier.
"Hindi na," I answered.
He heaved a sigh and sat beside me with a worried look on his face. He placed his hand on my head to check my temperature.
"You still have a fever," he murmured. "Gusto mo na bang umuwi?”
I weakly nodded and he started carrying my things. Fortunately, I felt less sick and I could walk without getting dizzy. I followed behind him and I could see some girls glancing at our direction.
Though I didn’t want to admit it, Xander was quite attractive. Even my three best friends had a crush on her before. Walking with him was already making me anxious despite him being my brother.
I plopped on the passenger seat and leaned against the headrest. The car’s engine hummed. Xander stayed quiet the whole time while I kept my gaze outside. When we got home, I trudged to my room and collapsed on my bed. I wanted to sleep again but my mind wouldn’t shut up. Too many what ifs were floating inside my head and they were starting to overwhelm me.
I need a distraction, I thought, so I headed to my desk and opened my laptop.
Readers were already waiting for updates, so I started typing the chapters. Funny thing was I immediately thought of Gisel when I continued writing Prince Not Charming. Somehow, I could only get into the zone when I’m thinking about him, which was both frustrating and embarrassing.
I didn’t notice the time and only realized it was already 8 P.M. when I finished writing three chapters. I posted two on Nook and logged out right after.
Xander also brought me food but he got upset when he saw me in front of my laptop.
“Kasasabi lang na magpahinga,” he grumbled. “Don’t you dare complain if you get a headache again.”
“I can’t sleep,” I said, “and I’m feeling better now.”
He sighed in defeat. “Eat your food already. You’re sleeping early tonight.”
“You sound like Mom,” I retorted.
“Because you’re acting like a kid.”
I didn’t want to argue with him anymore, so I put on my earphones and turned the volume up. He was saying something, but I couldn’t hear him. In the end, he left my room in frustration.
The next morning, my headache completely went away. I slept early but I didn’t want Xander to know that or else he’d say I still listen to him whether I like it or not because I know he’s right.
The fever was still there but the medicines made me feel better. I skipped classes today, too, since I didn’t want to cause any trouble anymore.
The house was quiet the whole morning. Mom and Dad were busy with their own businesses and my brother had to meet investors for his projects. Yaya Lyn went to the supermarket and ran some errands so I was alone.
I stayed in the living room with my laptop and read comments on my recent updates on Nook. A smile escaped my lips as I browsed through their insights. It was quite fascinating to read different opinions about a situation involving a person’s feelings and her struggles to understand them.
My phone vibrated and I realized I hadn’t opened it since last night. When I saw the notifications, I almost dropped my phone. I checked our group chat first.
Jess: OMG Yna nasa portal ka!
She shared a screenshot of an article showing a photo of Steff and Gisel going out of the library carrying me.
Alice: buti na lang ‘di kita mukha mo
Jess: buti kamo kasama niya si Steff lol
Alice: yeah kung hindi lagot ka na sa “admirers” ni Gisel
Steff: I feel relieved na nakalagay sa article na nagpatulong ako sa pagbuhat sa kanya
Steff: and kasama ako sa photo kahit mukha akong haggard doon
Alice: wow haggard ka pa niyan ha kakahiya naman sa akin
Jess: hahahaha naalala ko ‘yung article na may candid pics mo
Jess: ‘yung mukha kang constipated
Alice: manahimik ka Jess kundi papakalat ko ‘tong stolen pictures mo sa akin
Jess: subukan mo lang ise-send ko kay Kevin lahat ng embarrassing pictures mo sa akin
After reading the conversation, I checked the portal and saw the article on the 7th spot. Thank goodness the top five articles were about the 4th year campus elites who would be graduating next month and had gotten thousands of views and comments. In addition, just like what Steff had said, the article mentioned Steff asking Gisel for help since they were both in the library. I closed the article and didn’t bother to read the comments.
Another chat box appeared and I saw King’s username.
kingtrex: hey, sorry that that article got published
kingtrex: I rejected it but the three of them approved
I remembered his warning about being careful when I’m with him. Even though it was an accident this time, getting my photo taken with him made me frantic.
ynashin: it’s alright haha it’s my fault anyway
kingtrex: it’s not
kingtrex: by the way, are you okay now?
ynashin: yeah :)
ynashin: still resting tho
kingtrex: I see
kingtrex: just rest and don’t stress over the article
ynashin: I will haha
ynashin: thank you again, king
kingtrex: you’re always welcome, angel :)
The last notification was from Gisel. These past few days, I realized how I easily get flustered when I see his name on my screen. However, after reading the article, the excitement I felt turned into uneasiness.
calvingisel: No, it’s not your fault.
calvingisel: If, by chance, Tiffany didn’t notice me, I’d still run to you.
calvingisel: There’s nothing wrong with getting worried about a person you care for.
For a second, I thought I was just seeing things. I blinked hard and read his messages again, and this time, I felt a lump in my throat. Part of me didn’t want to believe with what he just said. Another part felt guilty for being selfish, not thinking about the people around me.
ynashin: I read the article. Sorry. I know you hate being the subject of rumors.
Several seconds later, he replied.
calvingisel: Don’t mind that. Just focus on getting better.
ynashin: Yes, Sir.
calvingisel: That’s good. Listen to your tutor. Haha
I smiled at his reply and somehow, I could imagine him chuckling at his own words, his eyes disappearing into squints.
Their messages gave me enough motivation to write several chapters of my story. I also finalized my decision to step down as an administrator. Tomorrow, I would officially leave the group. For now, I would just enjoy this short rest.