I wasn’t sure how I managed to walk away from that place. My eyes were stinging from the tears. My heart felt like it was being torn apart. I wanted to explain everything to them but I was afraid. Too afraid to even call their names.
This was supposed to be my last day as an administrator. This day was supposed to be freeing. But it turned out this would be the day I’d lose everything I treasure.
“I-I’m sorry . . .” I mumbled as I trudged purposelessly.
I just wanted to disappear. I wanted to get away from here.
My feet steered me away from the building, but I started hearing students around me. I wished I had my cap to conceal my face because my tears weren’t stopping. I kept my gaze on the ground, hoping nobody would see that I was crying . . . but I almost stumbled when I bumped into someone.
“Angel . . .”
I abruptly looked at him when I heard that familiar voice. His gaze met mine and he looked surprised when he saw my face.
“What happened . . .”
Before he could finish his question, I hang onto his shirt, and bawled my eyes out. I felt so alone that I thought I wouldn’t have anyone to hold onto.
I didn’t know how long I was clinging onto him. The next thing I knew, he was already draping a jacket over me. He held my wrist and gently pulled me along with him.
All I could see were the grass and pavement since I was too scared to lift my head up. I wasn’t sure how long we were walking but he abruptly stopped that I bumped into his back. Despite the creeping fear, I carefully looked around and realized we were in front of a café.
He pulled me inside and we went to the farthermost table from the door. He pulled out the chair and let me sit while he went to the counter.
Realizing that I was in a café made it more painful. Gisel and I were supposed to go to a café later, but I knew that wouldn’t happen anymore.
King placed a glass of water in front of me and sat on his chair. Despite my throat getting hoarse and dry, I remained still and just stared at the glass.
“If you’re going to cry, please keep yourself hydrated,” he said.
His comment made me smile a little despite the tears coming out of my eyes. He sounded concerned but the way he worded it was kind of logical.
I drew a deep breath and reached for the glass. Gulping down the water, I realized how thirsty I was. I had been crying for almost an hour and the heat worsened it.
He let me calm down and minded his own business, which I was really grateful for.
“S-sorry . . .” I mumbled after minutes of silence.
He looked with a confused expression. “For what?”
“F-for . . . bothering you . . .”
“You aren’t bothering me,” he reasoned.
“But . . .”
He flashed a subtle smile. “At least, now, you’ve calmed down.”
I stared at him, wondering what would happen if I didn’t bump into him a while ago. Surely, I’d be in the home page for--
Ah. The portal. Despite quitting, my mind was still lingering there, especially after what happened earlier.
“Tiffany Damian . . .”
The mention of her name made my heart sink a little more. I looked at King and it seemed like he already knew what was going on.
“I saw her a while ago,” he continued. “I wasn’t sure what was happening but . . . she was crying. Then, I bumped into you and you were crying, too.”
The tears I was trying to hold back were threatening to come out again. I said I would protect them but in the end, I was one of the reasons why they got hurt.
“Is this because of . . .” His voice trailed off. I slowly nodded as my eyes welled up with tears. “I see.”
“S-she found out.”
“I’m sure they will understand if you explain your side,” he said.
Tears streamed down my cheeks. “B-but she walked away.”
He started fiddling with his phone and a few seconds later, he showed it to me. On the portal, several new articles were posted and one of them was about her.
“What . . .”
The writer was curious about her and Darryl’s relationship status because they were photographed away from each other, as if they just had a fight. Then there was a photo of her and Gisel talking and laughing during a meeting, maybe the advanced courses orientation they had to attend, while Darryl was out of the picture.
I felt bad and guilty even though I wasn’t part of it anymore. No wonder Steff just left.
“The new articles are all about gossips and theories regarding the campus elites,” he added.
I remained silent, trying to process everything. Honestly, I just wanted to run away. Confrontation had never been my strong suit especially with matters like this.
King didn’t say anything anymore after talking about the portal. I thanked him for everything and returned his jacket. I booked a car and waited with him outside the café. Few minutes later, the car arrived.
“Hey,” he called as I was about to get in the backseat. I turned to him and he smiled at me. “Everything will be okay.”
I pressed my lips and managed a subtle smile. “Thank you.”
When I got home, Xander asked what happened but I didn’t answer him and just walked straight to my room. I also didn’t check my phone because I was afraid of what I would read.
I wanted to sleep because I was emotionally and mentally drained but my brain wouldn’t let me so I opened my laptop and tried to type. However, I couldn’t focus on the stories. I just got frustrated and ended up shutting it down.
Just when I was about to return to my bed, I saw Xander leaning against the door sill. I didn’t even hear him opening my door.
“Gusto mo ng ice cream?” he asked as he walked toward my direction.
“No,” I flatly said.
“Sure? Looks like you need one.”
He sat on the edge of my bed and stared at me. I tried to avert his gaze but I was already too late. Seeing him reminded me of my friends and tears just fell down my face.
“Those three, I guess?” he asked and I nodded while sobbing.
I didn’t know how he figured out my problem but him being here and trying to comfort me triggered the happiest memories I had with them. And remembering them this time hurt more than what happened earlier . . . because I knew it wouldn’t be the same again.
I wasn’t sure how I managed to tell him the story and if he understood because I was sobbing every few seconds, but he continued listening. That time, it felt like he was really an older brother, just like how the three of them treat him.
“You won’t resolve anything by running away,” he said after hearing everything. “If I were Steff, I would also get disappointed, especially after seeing my name in those malicious articles. But they don’t know that your intentions are good. Just tell them the truth. Those girls will surely understand. You’re friends after all.”
“B-but what if they don’t?”
“Is your friendship that shallow for you?”
I was taken aback by his question and he just stared at me, waiting for my response.
“N-no . . .”
“I’ve seen how you treasure each other. I know how much they mean to you. So don’t let these misunderstandings ruin the very thing you tried to protect.”
Hearing his words made me cry harder and gave me a new perspective. I was about to say thank you but he suddenly pulled out his phone from his pocket and took a photo of my face.
“Ah. You look ugly here. Pwedeng pang-blackmail,” he snickered as he ran away from me.
I didn’t have the energy to yell at him or chase him so I just let him be. When he got out of my room, I lay down my bed and stared vacantly at the ceiling.
My head was throbbing and my eyes were already swollen from too much crying. I reached for my phone and carefully opened it. The first thing that came into my view was the notification for unread messages from our messenger group chat.
My heart pounded painfully against my chest as I stared at the screen.
Just tell them everything, Xander advised.
I breathed deeply and opened the chat without reading the ongoing conversation. It’s time to tell them the truth.
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.
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.