“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.