They say if you want to be happy, keep your personal life private. But sometimes, no matter how careful you are, some people will still learn about something, whether they intend to or just by mere chance.
“Oh god, I still can’t believe it,” Moon murmured.
Everything escalated quickly that I didn’t even have the time to process it.
An hour ago, King and I saw each other in the cafeteria. Steff and Jess were skipping lunch while Alice was with Kevin. Since we were both alone, we decided to share the same table. It had been more than a month since I last saw him, and I was happy that I got to talk to him before the semester ends.
“Whoa,” I gasped as I stared at his graded paper. “You aced it.”
“Because it’s critical writing,” he reasoned. “I do better in that than the objective and memorization type of exams.”
I smiled at his remark and he continued eating. Honestly, I didn’t expect for us to be this close. Besides those three, and by extension, their boyfriends, I didn’t have any friends whom I could talk to about matters that I wasn’t comfortable to say to them, so I was thankful that I got to know him, even though it was an unforeseen circumstance. In addition, we were alright with being silent together because it wasn’t awkward at all.
His phone suddenly lit up and I saw the portal’s notification by accident. He glanced nervously at me and lightly clicked his tongue as he turned the screen off.
“H-how’s the portal, by the way?” I asked in a hushed voice.
After what happened last time, he didn’t open any topic related to the portal anymore. I’m sure he was worried and conscious because I was with him when I thought I’d lose my friends. Still, it was also the reason why we became close. Besides, I wanted to know how they were doing.
He gave me a hesitant look but gave in after a few seconds.
“Halos wala namang pinagbago,” he said, “though they miss your presence a lot.”
I missed them, too. Despite not knowing them personally, I grew fond of them and they treated me well.
“Mugi and Mocha’s fighting every day, as usual,” he continued.
I chuckled at his remark. “Moon must be having a hard time, then.”
“Uhm, excuse me?”
A tall girl standing behind him holding a pile of books looked at us with a confused look. I started panicking when I realized she might have heard something about the portal. King was about to stand up but the girl suddenly gasped as if she just had a moment of eureka.
“Oh my god!” she beamed as she sat next to us. “Don’t tell me you guys are kingtrex and yeoshin?”
My heart thumped painfully upon hearing my previous username from the portal. King and I looked at her in bewilderment while she excitedly typed on her phone.
“Wait, are you . . .” King’s voice trailed off.
She grinned. “Oh, come on, it’s me, moonlight.”
It was like a cascade reaction. The five of us never wanted to meet each other to protect our identities and it was already the tradition passed through the generations of administrators from the portal. However, this time, since the three of us had already seen each other’s faces, Moon said it would already be pointless to hide and remain anonymous, so she informed Mugi and Mocha, too.
And now here we are, awkwardly sitting around the table.
Fortunately, Mugi and Mocha easily changed the atmosphere because of their outgoing personalities. In no time, we were talking like how we usually converse in the chatroom . . . and they realized I was in one of the recent trending articles.
“Shit, kaya ka pala umalis,” Mugi commented. “You are friends with and connected to a lot of Campus Princes and Princesses in your batch.”
I forced a smile. “Mm. It’s really hard, especially when there are articles about my friends.”
“Oh my, kaya pala lagi mong nire-reject kapag tungkol sa batch n’yo,” Mocha remarked. “Akala ko dati fan ka ng isa sa kanila or something.”
Moon gasped. “Oh my god, so ‘yong kay Gisel . . .”
“Hey, stop it,” King chimed in. “She’s getting uncomfortable.”
True enough, it was hard to stay composed because the topics were all about me. The rumors were starting to die down but I’m not sure how this unexpected meeting would affect everything.
Mugi suddenly narrowed his eyes at King. “So, magkakilala na pala kayong dalawa even before.”
“We met and discovered each other by accident,” he responded.
“Parang hindi ako naniniwalang accident—!”
He stopped mid-sentence because King held his pen and pointed it at his direction. Mugi hid behind my shoulders while the two sighed at their childish actions. I suppressed a chuckle as he kept on teasing King by calling me Angel.
They stopped bickering after a while and the topic went back to the trending articles. I hadn’t visited the portal for a while. The last time I checked it was when Calvin topped the exam in one of the advanced courses, which caused a buzz online.
“Sige, hayaan mo, as an ex-admin privilege, hindi ka namin gagawan ng articles,” Moon said while browsing all the articles on the portal.
“Hoy, biased ka masyado,” Mugi retorted. “Okay lang naman paminsan-minsan basta hindi masyadong negative.”
“Sabagay, hindi rin naman maiiwasan since ang group of friends mo ay mga Campus Princess tapos nali-link ka pa sa isang Campus Prince.”
“Speaking of Campus Prince, totoo ba ‘yong sa inyo ni Gisel?” asked Mocha. “Though parang hindi naman kayo nag-i-interact sa campus.”
I could feel my face getting hot. They would surely lose it if they found out that we were already together.
“Hey, you guys are making her uncomfortable again,” King said and I gave him a look of gratitude.
“Bakod ka ba, ha? Bakit masyadong overpr—oh, wait, sabi ko nga, tatahimik na!”
Moon laughed at King and Mugi’s banter. “Alam mo, hindi na ako magtataka if one day, mabalitaan na lang namin na namatay ka dahil sa saksak ng ballpen.”
After about an hour, the four of us had to leave because of our classes while King decided to stay in the library.
“Hey,” he called after I stood up from my seat.
“Don’t worry too much,” he said. “I’m sure they will keep their promise.”
I thought he wouldn’t see through it, but I guess it was pretty apparent. I was still worried about what would happen if the whole campus found out about us, but it wasn’t like before anymore. Surely, I’d still prefer to stay away from public attention, but if that time comes, if I’d be dragged in the spotlight again, I guess I just have to deal with it.
A smile escaped my lips. “It’s okay,” I mumbled.
“I see. Then, I hope you stay happy. Don’t let the opinions of others take away your happiness.”
“I will,” I replied. “You, too. Okay?”
He let out a gentle smile. “I’ll try. Sige na, baka ma-late ka pa sa next class mo.”
“Ah, right. Bye bye, King!”
The Christmas break was just around the corner and Alice and I planned our trip since all of them were busy with their final exams.
“Grabe, parang ‘di na nga natulog si Kevin,” she said while booking our flights. “Masyadong competitive ang mga tao ngayon. Ayaw magpalamang sa isa’t isa.”
“Anong feeling na hindi kayo belong?” Xander commented while sipping his morning coffee.
“Makapagsalita ka, Kuya, akala mo naging Campus Prince, ah?” Alice retorted.
“Excuse me, top 13 ako ng batch namin.”
“Hindi ka pa rin Campus Prince,” she returned.
Ate Mau, who just returned from the kitchen, snickered as she placed sandwiches on our table.
“Babe, you won’t ever win an argument against these girls,” she chuckled. “Just give up.”
“Ha. I’m just letting them win,” he muttered.
Good thing Ate Mau could keep my brother in check. I remembered how nervous I was when Calvin insisted on introducing himself as my boyfriend to him. Xander didn’t even let me join in the conversation and sent me in my room. I was still curious about what they had talked about, but they wouldn’t even tell me. Even Ate Mau.
Speaking of Calvin, it had been a week since we last saw each other. He wanted to do good in the examinations so he was studying diligently for the past few days. Alice and I got a lot of free time since we were already done with our finals. Hence, we were planning for a group vacation to help them unwind after this stressful sem.
“Wait, one week sa Korea, another one sa Japan,” she recited. “Saan pa? Greece, you want? Or ‘di na kaya sa time?”
“Mm. I think sa summer na lang ang Greece. That’ll be more enjoyable.”
We spent the whole day outlining our itineraries and sent it to the group, though we already knew they wouldn’t read it until the finals were over.
I couldn’t wait to be with them again.
Our flight was scheduled at 8:15 AM so we had to be there early. Calvin went to our house so we would arrive together but he seemed to be in daze. Fortunately, their driver was there.
I put my luggage in the trunk and went to the backseat with him.
“Good morning,” he greeted with a tender smile.
He looked tired but he tried hard not to show it. I’m sure the consecutive all-nighters he pulled last week was already taking a toll on him.
“Calvin,” I called.
“Tulog ka muna.”
He stared at me for a few seconds and shifted on his seat. “Alright.”
He rested his head on my left shoulder and my skin tingled when he laced his fingers into mine. One thing I learned about him when we began dating was that he likes to hold and caress my hand.
I still get flustered whenever he does that, but I like the gesture, too. Somehow, it reminds me that he’s not the unreachable Campus Prince when we’re together. That I could hold him and could stay beside him.
“Kuya,” I softly said to call the attention of the driver. “Slow down a little bit po.”
He nodded. “Okay po.”
He fell asleep in no time and I stared at his face. His long eyelashes, his cute nose tip, his supple lips . . . it was the kind of view that I wouldn’t get sick of looking at despite seeing it up-close for several times. I gently brushed the lock of hair dangling on his forehead and smiled.
“Sleep well,” I whispered.
We arrived at the airport and Patrick and Jess were already there. They both looked drained, too, so I volunteered to buy them coffee and some snacks. When I went back, Gisel and Jess had already dozed off.
“Thanks,” Patrick murmured after I gave him his coffee.
“You can sleep din,” I suggested. “I’ll keep watch of our things.”
“It’s okay,” he replied while looking at Jess who had wrapped her arms around his body. “She’s the one who needs sleep. And him.”
We quietly waited for the others and Jess and Calvin woke up after several minutes. They both perked up after having their coffee and I suddenly wished Jess would just remain asleep.
“Grabe sa sobrang busy ko wala na akong time asarin si Yna, nakakainis,” she said. “Hoy, Gisel, may ise-send ako sa’yo.”
She smirked at me and I somehow had an idea of what was she doing.
“Sent!” she beamed.
I turned to his direction and a smile grew on his face. “Cute.”
“W-what is that?”
“’Yong pictures mo dati habang natutulog,” Jess snickered.
I tried getting his phone from his hand but he was quicker.
“No, delete them,” I protested while he had his left hand raised away from me.
“But they are cute,” he returned, making me more flustered.
I had given up after Jess said that she’d just send another copy if I deleted it from his phone. My face felt hot as I watched him smile while browsing them and I just hope there weren’t any unsightly photos there.
Twenty minutes later, Steff, Darryl, Alice and Kevin arrived, and just like what happened a while ago, all of them slept upon sitting down, except Alice. She started taking photos and I had to hide my face because it was still a bit puffy.
“Picture naman sa new couple d’yan,” she teased and I glared in return. Still, she snapped some candid shots.
Everyone was finally awake after taking their coffee and it was quite funny how everyone was tensed. I assumed it was because of the final exams. One thing led to another and somehow, Kevin and Calvin got included in that bloody bet for our batch’s ranking for the semester.
“Hindi ba na-perfect mo ‘yong isang major mo?” Alice asked while looking at Calvin.
“Ah, that.” He gently stroke my pinky finger. “Inspired lang.”
“Ibang klase ka namang ma-inspire. Nakaka-perfect,” Kevin remarked.
“So, how’s Sleeping Beauty?” asked Darryl with a sly smile on his face.
They started teasing us and it was difficult not to get flustered when my friends kept on telling exaggerated stories. However, it was refreshing to hear some narratives from the guys.
“Remember when we were practicing before?” Pat said. “His eyes were glued on his phone. Kaya pala.”
“Simpleng pangiti-ngiti pa,” added Kevin. “May pinopormahan na pala.”
“Then he panicked when we picked on him during Feb Fair,” Darryl chuckled.
He was blushing hard but he kept the smile on his face. Thankfully, there was already an announcement for our boarding so we had to pick our things up and get ready.
Halmeoni arranged a limousine for us at the airport and she was too excited to see Steff and Alice again after a long time. We also introduced Jess to her, as well as the guys who were with us. But what surprised me was when she requested a personal audience with Calvin.
“Oh my,” Steff gasped. “Kuya Xander must have told her.”
I wanted to at least accompany him but halmeoni was adamant about meeting him in private.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“It’s okay,” he softly said. “I already talked to your brother. Besides, your grandmother seems nice.”
It took them almost half an hour and I couldn’t do anything but pace back and forth in front of one of the guest rooms in her house.
Everyone had already left since we planned different itineraries for the first two days and would spend the rest together. Calvin finally got out of the room and I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw him smiling at halmeoni. It looked like everything turned out well.
“Halmeoni~” I cooed as I hugged her.
I was thankful that she didn’t intimidate him (I think). Most of my cousins’ girlfriends or boyfriends get scared whenever they have to face our grandmother. Come to think of it, Ate Mau was the luckiest because she was already a close family friend before she got into a relationship with my brother.
“Eonje tteona? (When are you leaving?)” she asked while caressing my hair.
“Jigeum (Right now),” I answered. “Keum bang gatda olgeyo (I’ll be back soon).”
Calvin and I decided to go back to Jeju but he said he wanted to show me something first. I asked about it but he remained tight-lipped.
We booked a rental car and when we got into the back seat, I tried asking him again, but this time, about what happened earlier.
“What did halmeoni say to you?”
His gaze shifted to me. “Just some reminders.”
He let out a light chuckle. “Nothing to worry about, I swear.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yup,” he answered while ruffling my hair.
I didn’t push him anymore and just stared at the view outside. It started snowing and I realized it would be our first time watching the snow together. Watching the treetops along the road get covered with thin layer of snow kind of melted the worries creeping in my chest.
A gasp escaped my lips when I realized where we were. It was one of the most popular tourist spots in South Korea these days but I didn’t expect that he knew about it.
The Garden of Morning Calm was worthy of its name, especially during autumn and spring. Flowers, shrubs and trees of different colors and species bloom exquisitely and would make you feel like you were inside a utopian garden. In contrast, everything was covered in a snow blanket during winter, but it didn’t diminish its beauty. The snow-capped mountains and valleys surrounding the place made it look like a secluded kingdom in the past.
He smiled as soon as we got out of the car. “It kinda reminds me of your story,” he said and I was suddenly flustered.
I had forgotten how he knew about my writing persona and now that I was just a few chapters away from the ending, I wondered how he felt about the story.
“I remember the scene where the Prince and Elena walked around the palace’s garden at dusk so nobody can see them,” he continued. The sides of his eyes crinkled as he grinned at my direction. “Somehow, the ambiance is similar to that.”
He really knew that it was based on him. I suddenly wanted to disappear and delete everything. Still, thanks to him, I managed to continue the story and improve my writing. The readers’ comments also helped me understand how people see them.
I lightly squeezed his hand. “Then, Elena must be happy to walk with the Prince in broad daylight,” I mumbled, my cheeks burning despite the cold weather.
“The Prince is probably happier since Elena is finally meeting him halfway,” he reasoned.
“Ahh, stop it,” I complained. He was just casually talking about the story that I had written, and it was making me conscious.
He snickered in return. “Alright, alright.”
We arrived at one of the flower fields and I instantly remembered our first date. We hadn’t had the chance to visit another flower field after that because of his hectic schedule but I was glad we got to see a lot here.
“Yna,” he suddenly called.
My heart skipped a beat when he gave me the most sincere and tender smile I had ever seen.
“Thank you for making me happy,” he whispered. “This feeling scares me sometimes, but I’m glad we’re together. And I hope we can be together for a long time.”
Maybe it was because of his sincerity, or my own overwhelming feelings, but I teared up upon hearing those words from him. I was still terrified of the uncertainties and the looming anxiety of being found out, but whenever I am with him, everything is a paradox.
I feel anxious when he’s nearby yet my heart’s at peace with his presence.
I feel the happiest when I am with him yet I get sad thinking that this won’t last long.
I enjoy our moments in private yet I want everyone to know how charming he is.
I fall for him every day yet I feel drifting through the clouds when I’m with him.
My thoughts dissipated as soon as my phone lit up. When I turned to his direction, he was also checking something on his phone’s screen. I saw consecutive messages from King, Steff, Jess and Alice, and somehow, I already had an idea about what was happening.
He clicked his tongue and his face darkened. Before I could open the messages, he carefully pulled my phone out of my hand.
“Don’t worry about it,” he softly said.
There must have been articles about us, though I wasn’t sure how it happened. I thought I would panic to the point that I wouldn’t be able to focus but somehow, my heart was calm.
I looked straight into his eyes and smiled. With careful steps, I drew close to him and buried my head onto his chest as I pulled him into a hug. I felt his body tightened as he was caught off-guard with what I just did. Most of the time, he was the one who would initiate the contact, but this time, I wanted to show him how I feel.
He was just an unreachable guy for me before, but this time, I was the closest to him.
“Yna . . .” he whispered. I could feel his breath on my ears. Despite his usual calm demeanor, his heart was racing fast.
“Mm,” I mumbled. “Let’s be together for a long time.”
He thought me a lot of things and for that, I would be forever grateful. Because of him, I learned to express myself more. I learned to be brave. I learned to love and all the risks I had to take along with it.
If it weren’t for him, I would still be in my own tiny bubble, afraid to get out of my comfort zone. This time, I wanted to explore the unfamiliar places that could teach me a thing or two. Because this time, he’s with me.
I wouldn’t mind what others would say about us anymore. Just like what our close friends said before, this matter was solely between the two of us. I might not be brave for facing them head-on, but I wasn’t a coward either because I took the risk to be here. To be with him.
He leaned closer and kissed my forehead. “Ah. Too happy.”
And in the end, the heart of the most elusive prince finally got conquered.