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.