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.