The worst thing about being in the portal was the amount of attention you had to endure days or even months after the articles were posted. It took me two days to lift my head up again because I was too afraid to meet anyone’s eyes. However, the first thing I saw was his figure.
My mind reeled as I shifted my gaze on my shoes, hoping that nobody noticed I was looking at him. Suddenly, it felt like I was back on that day.
Steff, Jess and Alice went to the café where I stayed after they bombarded me with messages. It took me a lot of courage to tell them about being an admin in the portal but this time, I couldn’t bring myself to talk about Gisel even though they had already read the articles about us.
“Wait, shocked pa rin ako,” Jess commented while drinking the coffee I just ordered. “All this time I thought it’s Jervin!”
“Oh my god, Yna, the epiphany! Hindi rin ako makapaniwala,” Alice added.
“Guys . . .” Steff said, a hint of warning on her tone.
I drew a shaky breath as I fiddled with my phone. My chest felt heavy after reading Gisel’s messages. I wanted to cry but I didn’t want to make them worry even more.
Steff suddenly reached for my hand. “Okay ka lang ba?”
The tears that I was trying to hold back started welling up in my eyes. No matter how much I tried to keep a composed façade, they knew what words would make it crumble.
“Wait, magbu-book na ako ng car,” Jess said. “Doon tayo sa inyo mag-usap.”
“H-how about your classes?” I asked in a strained voice.
“Wala na akong class,” she replied.
“It’s just an elective. Magt-take na lang ako ng makeup class if needed,” added Steff and Alice just shrugged.
Few minutes later, we left the café and ended up in my room. Xander was shocked when he saw the four of us coming home early but he didn’t ask anything anymore after Alice shushed him.
It was hard to talk about it at first but with Steff’s help, I was able to tell them some of the things that happened, but I left out the moment that were too personal to my heart.
“Oh my god so si Gisel ‘yong kasama mo sa Jeju?!” Alice exclaimed. “Grabe palihim at pailalim ka pala kumilos, Yna!”
Jess started massaging her temples. “Ship-ship pa ako sa inyo ni Jervin tapos Gisel pala all this time?!”
“You guys should learn to observe more,” added Steff with a smug on her face.
I thought I would cry after telling them but their reactions made the atmosphere lighter. And somehow, I was thankful for that.
“Wait don’t tell me ‘yong sinulat mo dati sa notebook ko . . . oh my god. Shet ka, Yna, I’m having goosebumps!”
Alice and Jess continued recalling instances where Gisel and I were on the same space and how they didn’t realize what was happening behind their backs. Meanwhile, Steff was just chuckling as she added details to some of those moments.
“Talagang mawiwindang ang buong campus sa scoop na ‘yon dahil maski nga kaming friends mo ay hindi alam na may landian na palang nagaganap!” Jess retorted.
“Pero mutual landian ba?” Alice asked while looking at me.
“As far as I can tell, yes,” Steff answered. “I mean, the whole Jeju thing is already enough to know his intentions, right?”
Alice squealed upon hearing that and tackled me with a hug. Jess jumped in, too, and squished my cheeks. It took them a few minutes to calm down and I had to massage my arms and face because they were too aggressive with their actions.
After talking about Gisel, the topic shifted to the articles that appeared on the trending list a while ago. The dread that I felt a while ago was gradually creeping on my chest again.
“Anong sabi mo sa kanya?” asked Alice.
I sighed as I laced my fingers together. “I . . . I said that it was just a misunderstanding.”
“I don’t want to burden him. And I don’t want attention from people.”
There were a few seconds of silence among us. They knew how much I hated getting involved in public attention. Alice and I had been getting a lot of side-eyes and animosity since high school from girls and boys who wanted to know her better because we were too close to Steff and she wouldn’t even entertain them. The same thing happened when we became friends with Jess.
The thing with getting involved with well-known people and public figures is that they would never be the receiving end of the hate and harassment. It would always be the unknown and ordinary individual.
I had always admired Alice’s nonchalance and positive outlook regarding those matters. Even when negative articles about her and Kevin were written, she remained true to herself and her feelings.
“Does he think the same?” Steff suddenly asked.
“What did he say?”
I remembered his message a while ago and how I felt unworthy of his feelings. And how heavy it was when he agreed on my decision to stay away. It was hard to explain it in words so I just showed them his last messages.
“Omg, hindi ko akalaing may ganitong side pala si Gisel,” Jess commented after reading my conversation with him.
“Nasaktan ako for him,” Alice chimed in. “Nasasaktan din ako for you.”
“Alam mo, Gisel doesn’t like attention, too,” added Steff while giving me back my phone. “You know how rare it is to see an article about him.”
I silently agreed. He had been nicknamed as the Elusive Prince because of how difficult it was to write about his private matters. He could only be seen hanging out with his friends and occasionally, with the other Campus Princes . . . until I came into the picture.
“But this time, he cared more about your safety and comfort more than his,” Steff mentioned. “He understood your concern and agreed with your decision. I know it’s wrong to assume but he clearly likes you.”
“Agreed,” Jess nodded. “Saka would you really let go of this opportunity just because of people’s opinions about you? In the end, this matter only concerns the both of you, not them. It’s your lives to live, not theirs.”
“Alam mo, naiintindihan kita,” Alice softly said. “I’ve been there, too. I admit, masakit makabasa ng negative comments galing sa mga taong hindi ka naman talaga kilala. Masakit na ma-judge ang buong pagkatao mo dahil lang sa isa o dalawang articles tungkol sa’yo. Pero at the end of the day, as long as you and the people involved know the truth, everything else doesn’t matter. Kaya sarili n’yo ang dapat intindihin n’yo, hindi ang opinyon nila.”
Hearing their takes on this made me realize some things, especially his side. I was scared of being dragged into the spotlight and the amount of attention I would receive, not recognizing how hard it was for him, too.
Maybe . . . maybe if I were brave enough to face him that time, everything would have been different.
My professor’s voice jarred me back to the present. I didn’t realize the class was already dismissed.
It had been three days since that incident happened. I stayed behind the Arts and Letters building during my vacant because the library had become crowded these past few days. Besides, I don’t feel safe there anymore.
Walking around the campus had been suffocating and if it weren’t for my friends’ encouragements, I would have crumbled already. I stared at my phone and instinctively opened my last conversation with Gisel. This had been my routine for the past three days. Whenever I feel uneasy and sad, I would read his messages and few minutes after, I would feel more relaxed.
However, this time, I missed his presence even more because I saw him from a distance a while ago. My heart raced as I stared at one of his last replies.
Was it just a misunderstanding?
Steff, Jess and Alice’s words that day echoed in my head.
At the end of the day, as long as you and the people involved know the truth, everything else doesn’t matter.
My fingers moved and it felt like my heart would jump out of my throat after typing something. With my eyes closed, I pressed the send button.
ynashin: It wasn’t.
ynashin: I’m sorry.
I wasn’t expecting anything so when my phone rang, I almost dropped it. Displayed on the screen was an unknown number, but somehow, I knew it was him.
With my trembling fingers, I hesitantly answered the call, and stifled a gasp when I heard his voice.
And with just saying my name, he made me recall the good times and secret moments we had shared together. He made me realize how his presence means so much more than everyone else’s opinions.
That this was solely between us, not them.
And this moment belongs to us. Just the two of us.