The thing that I hated the most was unwanted attention.
My parents and older sister had always been in the spotlight, and they had grown to like being there, but I loathed it. Mas gusto kong maging tahimik ang buhay ko. Kaya noong nalaman ko na kasali ako sa topnotchers ng incoming freshmen ay gusto kong mag-apply sa ibang university.
“Oh, come on, that’s no big deal!” my sister sneered. “I’m sure they’d be more interested to those who are in the top ranks.”
It turned out they were interested with everyone, to the point that they were already invading privacy. Parang lahat ng galaw, kailangan alam nila. Lahat ng kakausapin mo, gusto nilang makilala. This kind of social stratification in the campus promotes idolatry and elitism, and I hate how this has become the norm of this institution.
The first few weeks had been hard. Everyone had their eyes on us. Pakiramdam ko, bawat galaw ko ay may nakamasid. Some enjoyed the overwhelming attention; others did not.
Over the year, I learned how to escape the spotlight—finding safe spaces whenever I needed them and doing mundane and boring things. The rest of our batch’s topnotchers had far more interesting personal lives than mine and that had helped me steer clear of rumors . . .
. . . until I met her again.
Naglalakad ako sa hallway nang may makita akong umupo sa madalas kong pinagtataguan at pinagtutulugan. With careful steps, I looked over the window and saw a girl quietly browsing on her phone. But what caught my attention was the site she was looking at.
I remembered some of my classmates forcing me and the others to read stories on that site. They said most of the stories were either regency romance or fictions set in the Medieval or Renaissance period, while the other half were fanfictions. Siguro reader din ito?
I was about to walk away when I suddenly saw her username. It was the same one my classmates were talking about. Does this mean she’s a writer?
She slightly shifted her position, and a familiar face came into view. I remembered her from one of my classes last year. A smile escaped my lips as I recalled that encounter. Walang seating arrangement sa Kas1 kaya madalas ay iba-iba ang nagiging seatmates ko. I remembered her well because she was grimacing at the reading material, mumbling the words and somehow mispronounced most of them.
“Do you need help?” I asked.
She looked at me with a confused expression, but her face lit up a few seconds later. “Y-yes please.”
It turned out she couldn’t understand deep sentences and I had to translate most of the paragraphs to her. Hindi ko rin alam kung bakit kumuha siya ng Filipino elective kung hindi naman niya masyadong naiintindihan ‘yon. Maybe it was a required course? Or maybe she wanted to challenge herself?
My thoughts jarred back to the present. She’s also one of Tiffany’s friends. Madalas ko silang nakikitang magkakasama. Madalas din ay sila ang naririnig ko tuwing may practice kami sa band. Darryl would always talk about Tiffany and how cute she was. Minsan makikisali rin si Patrick. It was kind of weird to see those sides of them, but they looked happy.
“Oh. So you’re notaroyalty,” I blurted out, catching her attention.
She quickly turned to my direction as she tried to hide her phone. I chuckled at her action and the panicked expression remained on her face.
“Your fanfictions and stories are really popular among my classmates,” I added. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
There was a hint of panic on her face. Was that too much?
“Ah. We have met before, right?” I asked, diverting the topic, but instead of an answer, she scampered away. I had to suppress a smile when she almost stumbled.
What a strange person.
For some unknown reason, parang lagi nang nagku-krus ang landas namin matapos ang araw na iyon. She suddenly appeared in front of me while I was sleeping behind the bushes. Her frustrated expression was such a sight but I froze when I heard some students talking about me.
“Are you serious? Magco-confess ka?”
That was the last thing I wanted to happen.
I’d rather not hear any confession from anyone because I wouldn’t know how to turn them down without hurting their feelings. Therefore, when things like this happen, my first instinct is to run away.
“Ya!” she mouthed while I was dragging her away with me. She was speaking a foreign language, Korean maybe, and I hope she wasn’t cursing me. We ended up behind the library and she was fanning herself as she tried to catch her breath.
“Aish. I told you not to call me that,” she muttered.
I snickered at her response. “Oh, sorry. I haven’t gotten your name yet.”
“Yna,” she mumbled.
“Okay, Ms. Yna. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.”
She was still worried about what happened. I felt guilty because I realized I had invaded her privacy. If it were me, I’d be mad at me, too.
Sinabi ko rin sa kanya na sana ay huwag niyang sabihin sa kahit kanino ang narinig niya kanina. Those portal writers have eyes and ears everywhere and I wouldn’t want them airing my business.
“Oh, right. I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m—”
“Calvin Gisel Villanueva,” she said. “You’re the pianist of our batch’s band. Ah, and a Campus Prince.”
I stared at her for a few seconds. It was the first time someone thought of me as a pianist before a Campus Prince. One of the many things why I hated that title was because it became our label and we couldn’t get out of that box. Whether we like it or not, that tag forced us to be some sort of “public figure” and we couldn’t even enjoy our supposed private time.
“Nakakapanibago,” I mumbled.
“Nothing. Well then, see you around, Ms. Yna.”
I met her again when I was in the library. I was planning on reviewing our lessons in Advanced Stat for our exam next week when I saw her around the Filipino section. It felt strange. Why do I keep seeing her often after that time?
“ . . . what is yugto?”
“Stage,” I answered. “An act or part.”
She quickly turned her head and confusion came across her face.
“You need help?” I offered.
I thought she’d decline because it looked like she was wary of me, but her expression softened. It reminded me of that time when she was having trouble with our reading material in Kas1.
It was hard not to smile while she was trying her best to read the Filipino sentences. Her accent was not as heavy as I thought, but she still mispronounced some words. She was eager to learn and the determined look on her face was . . . cute.
If it weren’t for the meeting, I would have stayed. Somehow, watching her try her best made me want to look out and cheer for her. She also didn’t throw any sarcastic or scornful comments. May mga naging classmate ako na kapag nagtatanong o nagpapaturo, bigla na lang magsasabi na “Iba talaga kapag Campus Elite.” o ‘di kaya “Ikaw na ang magaling. Sorry, ha?” I would usually just smile at their remarks, but I think those were unnecessary.
Somehow, I seemed to be more aware of her after that. I tried reading her stories from that site, Nook. There were some grammatical errors whenever she’s using Filipino, but I could see that she was trying hard to be more comfortable with it. But I shouldn’t have read it while I was still in the campus.
Nagulat na lang ako nang ipinaalam sa akin ng ilang classmates ko sa major na may articles tungkol sa akin.
“Grabe ngiti mo rito, Gisel, ha,” Claire teased while showing me the photos they had posted. “This is why you shouldn’t read in public if you can’t even properly hide your expressions.”
The past few days had been hell. Pakiramdam ko ay nakatingin ang lahat sa akin. Everyone was speculating about those articles and had been blown out of proportions. And now I’m running away because a Campus Princess from the upper batch wanted to ask me out.
Napatalon na lang ako sa bintana para takasan ang dalawang kaklase ko na nagsabi kung nasaan ako. I was about to run when I suddenly saw Yna beside me. She looked surprised but I gestured for her to stay quiet. And she did. Sakto namang nakita namin sina Kevin at . . . Alice, I think, mula sa ‘di kalayuan. Was he confessing?
“It must be hard for her,” I murmured.
I know Kevin. He didn’t mind the articles written about him, but looking at the situation, she’d be the subject of contempt and negative articles, especially from students who admire Kevin. Sometimes, people live in the delusion that they “own” someone and when that person found a partner, those shattered fantasies would drive them to hate and harass that person.
That was one of the reasons why I had to be careful when I’m talking to girls. I didn’t want to create a situation where they would be sucked into the messy and suffocating place we were in.
“She knows the consequences of being with Kevin,” she suddenly said, “and she chose to be with him. I guess her feelings are stronger than her fears.”
Her words seemed familiar and I realized they were from one of her stories. There was also a hint of concern and sorrow on her face, as if what her friend had done was something she wouldn’t even think of doing.
That expression sent shivers down my spine. If someone saw us together, even if we were just talking, it would surely spark some rumors and I didn’t want her to get dragged into the spotlight.
I decided to steer clear of her for now. Besides, I was also busy with the band practice and qualifying exams. But the more I try to avoid her, the more I seem to see her, especially in the library.
Hindi ko napansin na nakatulog pala ako habang nag-aaral at paggising ko ay may nakatabing nang panyo sa mukha ko. When I removed it, her face came into view. It turned out some students were trying to find the topnotchers who were studying for the qualifying exams. An unfamiliar warmth spread in my chest with that small gesture. I wanted to do something in return and when I saw her studying another reading in Filipino, I offered to help, but she refused and said I should focus on studying for my own exams.
But the way she was struggling with the difficult words was adorable.
“Stop laughing,” she muttered.
“Sorry,” I said, still suppressing a smile. “Do you need help?”
She thought about it for a few seconds and finally gave in.
I never thought I’d be invested in romance stories. What I like about her works were the characters. They seem real and the conflicts were rooted from real problems that people experience—misunderstandings, miscommunication, differences in personalities, and their fears.
It already became a habit of mine to check if she had updated after studying, but the latest ones stressed me out. Misunderstandings could really destroy everything.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” Kevin sighed.
Huminto kami sa practice dahil wala sa sarili niya si Kevin. He kept on making mistakes and it turned out he and Alice had some sort of fight, though he didn’t tell any details. I ditched the practice since nobody was in the mood to continue. Besides, we had already practiced every day last week. I’m sure that would do. Balak ko sanang matulog sa likod ng building dahil dalawang oras lang ang tulog ko kanina pero nakita ko si Yna doon.
I wasn’t sure why, but her presence made me at ease. Hanggang sa hindi ko namalayan na nakatulog na pala ako. Pati na rin siya. We woke up after hearing some noise from the open field and I gasped when I saw the time. Agad akong nagpaalam sa kanya at tumakbo papunta sa field dahil nagsisimula nang magsalita ang MCs.
“Kanina ka pa namin tinatawagan,” Patrick grumbled while setting up.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I fell asleep.”
Nag-ayos na rin ako pero napatigil ako nang mapahawak ako sa buhok ko. I was wearing a cap. I was sure this wasn’t mine. Kay Yna ba ‘to?
We finally went up the stage and started playing songs. The crowd cheered as Darryl and Patrick sang. Their voices were surely the reason why a lot wanted to listen to us. But I was caught off-guard when he suddenly suggested that I should sing. Surely, this was their payback for my late appearance a while ago.
Wala naman akong nagawa kundi kumanta dahil halos lahat ng nanonood ay sinisigaw na ang pangalan ko. I apologized in advance since my voice was not as good as our lead vocalists.
“And I'd give up forever to touch you
'Cause I know that you feel me somehow.”
As I was singing, I caught sight of Yna in the crowd. She was just vacantly looking at the stage, like it was a faraway place. My stomach tightened as I saw her face. For a second, I wanted to call her name. I wanted to comfort her, even though I didn’t know why she had that expression. And that moment, among the thousands of faces, I suddenly realized why I easily noticed her. It was because I wanted to see her . . . and I wanted her to see me, too.
But I didn’t want to cause any unnecessary attention. More than anything, I wanted her to be safe and comfortable. And maybe watching her from this distance would be enough.
I was contented with talking to her through social media and her stories. At least, with this kind of setup, we were able to talk comfortably. I was getting used to it, but when I noticed her in the same café I was in, I realized how much different it felt whenever I see her in person.
She seemed to still be struggling with her Aral Pil subject, so I offered to be her tutor. I honestly wanted to take that back because she might think I was stepping over the line, but I was surprised when she agreed. Spending some time with her away from their eyes made me happy and anxious at the same time.
But that peace was disrupted when an article about us came out. It was the time when she fell asleep in the library and I looked after her. I was angry and worried when Kevin told me about it but thank goodness her face wasn’t shown. Hindi na ako nagpakita sa kanya dahil natatakot akong malaman ng mga tao na siya iyon. I didn’t want her to be in this mess. She didn’t deserve to be cursed at by people who didn’t even know her. I felt guilty for putting her into harm.
Yet I kept on crossing paths with her. And that was when I realized I was drawn into her. Whenever we see each other, all I could feel was bliss. If only I could keep those moments in private forever . . . if only people wouldn’t care about it, I’d like to meet her frequently.
It was hard to cross the line because I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, but when I saw her during Feb Fair, for the first time, I felt flustered. She was already cute and beautiful in her casual style, but her beauty got highlighted because of her dress and makeup.
I couldn’t help but smile every time our gazes met. Noong tumutugtog na kami ay pinipigilan kong huwag tumingin sa direksyon niya pero ang hirap.
“Bakit parang sa isang table ka lang nakatingin?” bulong ni Darryl habang nagsasalita sina Patrick at Kevin sa harapan.
I forced a smile. “Hmm?”
“Now I have a hint of who Sleeping Beauty is,” he teased.
During the break, they started shifting the topic on that specific article. Fortunately, they didn’t delve into it that much. Pagkatapos no’n ay nagsimula akong mag-ikut-ikot pero napahinto ako nang makita ko siya sa harapan ng isang stall. She was trying to shoot the hoops on a pole, and she would lightly stomp her feet if it didn’t go in. Cute.
Tinulungan ko siya at ibinigay ko sa kanya ang isang panda. She looked excited while pinching its face. Nakita ko rin siya sa bandang main gate noong balak ko na sanang umuwi. I sat right across the bench where she was sitting and decided to wait with her.
Noong masundo na siya ay nagulat ako nang tawagin niya akong Calvin. Huh. That was a first. The only ones who call me that were my family members. A smile escaped my lips. Somehow, it felt like we got closer.
We continued meeting at cafes for her lessons. I noticed that she would only pay attention to what she was reading whenever she was concentrating, and that earnest look on her face was adorable. Madalas din kaming magkita sa library pero kadalasan ay magkalayo o hindi kami nag-uusap kapag nandoon. But one time, I saw her sleeping with her eyebrows furrowed. Agad akong pumwesto sa katabing table para harangan siya mula sa araw. Her expression slowly turned peaceful but upon staring for a few seconds, she looked pale.
Pagkagising niya ay lumipat ako sa table niya. Wala namang tao dahil lunch na. She said Tiffany would be coming so I returned to my table even though I was worried. She had a fever and it looked like she would collapse in any moment.
Dumating naman agad si Tiffany. They started walking away but her legs were trembling. Before I could think, my body instinctively reacted when I saw her falling.
“Oh, god—! Gisel—!” Tiffany called, her voice trembling. “P-please help. Sa clinic, please.”
“Okay,” I mumbled while securing Yna in my arms. “Don’t worry, she’ll be fine.”
The nurse said she’d be okay after resting for several hours. Nakahinga naman ako nang maluwag. Akala ko kung ano na ang nangyari sa kanya.
My thoughts dissipated when I heard Tiffany. She looked at me with curiosity, but she didn’t say anything about her.
“Wala ka bang class?” tanong niya.
She gave me a quick smile. “Don’t worry, susunduin naman na siya.”
“Oh. Okay,” I muttered. “I . . . I’ll go ahead.”
Habang naglalakad ay na-realize ko kung gaano karami ang nakakita sa aming tatlo kanina. I might cause trouble again for her because of that. I hope they wouldn’t create rumors again because of that. I don’t want her to be a subject of nasty hearsays from that portal . . .
. . . but I didn’t expect that she was part of that.
Tiffany and I were walking on the hallway when we saw Yna at the back of the building with the portal on her screen, but what surprised me were the ‘pending’ articles she was checking.
Maybe it was because we just read an article about me, Tiffany and Darryl that for a moment, I got disappointed. Tiffany stormed away, quiet tears falling from her eyes. I walked away, too, but immediately regretted it when I heard her sobbing. I leaned against the wall and clenched my fist, cursing myself for not letting her say anything, but I couldn’t go back anymore because she had already walked away.
I messaged her in Instagram, but I wasn’t sure if she would see it. Upon sending the last message, I heaved a long sigh. Stupid. I’m such a stupid person.
When I saw her in the cafeteria with a guy, I felt relieved that she had someone by her side. At least, she wasn’t alone. Still, I felt stupid for what I did. When I took a quick glance at her direction, her eyes were red and swollen. The guilt I felt became heavier in my chest.
Nagulat ako nang makita kong pumasok si Alice sa cafeteria at dumiretso sa direksyon nila. I wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but she pulled Yna with her. The guy who was with Yna a while ago was left alone but it didn’t bother him.
I sighed as I looked at the swaying door. I hope she and her friends would sort it out. Makalipas ang ilang oras ay nag-message sa akin si Tiffany, which was a rare occurence.
steffdamian: hey, she’s okay na. we’re okay na rin.
steffdamian: nag-reply na siya sa’yo?
calvingisel: No haha
calvingisel: It’s okay. If she’s fine, then that’s enough for me.
steffdamian: I’m sure she’ll read your messages once kumalma na siya
calvingisel: No need, really.
calvingisel: It was my fault anyway haha. And I don’t think I can face her after that.
calvingisel: Break na rin naman kaya hindi ko na siya makikita.
steffdamian: Jeju, South Korea
steffdamian: consider it a gift
calvingisel: I’m lost
steffdamian: she’ll go there for vacation
calvingisel: wait why are you telling this to me?
calvingisel: won’t she get angry?
steffdamian: lol ‘di yun marunong magalit
steffdamian: but she’ll be happy if you’re there
steffdamian: don’t miss your chance :)
That day, I planned for my trip to Jeju.
When I saw her at the airport, all my worries started to melt away. Ngayon ko lang din nabasa ang replies niya dahil nag-offline ako for the past few days. Wrong timing.
I was glad she didn’t ignore me. Honestly, I was scared that she would just give me a cold shoulder because of what I did, though I deserved that.
Nauna ako sa Jeju at sa totoo lang, okay na sa akin na nakita ko siya sa airport. That was why I was surprised when I saw her walking outside when I was in a café. I thought my chances of seeing her would be slim, but luck was on my side this time.
Those three days were the happiest I had been after a long time. Because we were away from everyone’s eyes, we were away from attention, we could talk and move freely. All I could remember were the smiles and laughs; how my heart raced and fluttered every time she would move closer and look at my direction; how we would snap candid pictures of each other; and how I nervously held her hand while we were walking.
Everything felt so nice that I wondered if this was real. I wished it would be like this every single day.
Fear crept through my chest. If I let go of her hand, would I be able to hold it again? If we returned home, would we act like strangers again? If I told her my feelings, would she accept them?
My questions were answered when an article about us came out. This time, her face was shown, and people started calling her names. I felt sorry and scared for her because I knew how much she hated being dragged in the limelight.
It hurt when she told me everything was just a misunderstanding, but I understood where she was coming from. She must have felt exposed and invaded when that came out and I felt guilty for not being able to protect her from their harsh words. What’s more frustrating was almost nobody was throwing hate at me, and I’d rather have that situation than what was happening right now.
Three days had past and I could only watch her from afar. I was careful not to get caught looking at her. I felt pissed and sorry that even looking at her could spark more rumors and I didn’t want that to happen. She couldn’t even lift her head up while walking, afraid to meet everybody’s eyes.
I was already close to accepting that our situation wouldn’t be fixed anymore when I received a message from her.
ynashin: It wasn’t.
It was just a simple message, but it meant everything for me.
I immediately asked Steff for her number because I wanted to hear her voice, but I could only call her name when she answered the call. There were so many things that I wanted to say, but my breath was trembling. With a deep breath, I asked her to meet me at the café where we went before.
Waiting was the most nerve-wracking part. I was not yet done studying for the advanced courses examinations, but I couldn’t focus if this something between us weren’t resolved. When I saw her entering the café behind the thin veil of the compartment, it felt like a thorn was taken off my chest, and at the same time, it felt heavier.
Just like our previous setup, I monitored her while reading the materials from one of her classes, but my mind reeled as soon as I saw some words from there. The painful pounding against my chest almost left me catching for my breath, but the words that I held back for months finally escaped my lips.
“Gusto kita,” I uttered, almost a mumble.
I tried to act like nothing had happened because I was terrified to see her reaction, but he returned it with a question: Do you like me?
It felt like my throat had dried up because of the sudden question. It didn’t help that I was drinking my coffee and I looked stupid, almost choking, in front of her. Instead of answering her question, I picked the highlighter and marked two words on the printed material I was reading.
Maybe it was because we were in an enclosed space that it felt like the distance between us was much smaller and I could feel the tension much more intense. Her face was beet red and she just covered it with her readings. I thought she’d reject my confession, even walk out, but I was already contented that she stayed.
The worries and fear that had been creeping inside me gradually dissipated and got replaced with exhaustion. I had been pulling all-nighters for this week that had finally taken a toll on me today. My eyelids started getting heavy and the last thing I remember was staring at the words I highlighted.
The next few days, I was on cloud nine. After confessing, there was a shift in the degree of our interactions. It was cute to see her flustered over little things. Even those guys noticed a subtle change in my actions.
“Alam mo, ako ang nangangawit kakangiti mo,” Kevin said while we were in the practice room. This was our only break time for today so we decided to hang out here.
“Masyado na ngang obvious,” dagdag ni Darryl.
“Let him be,” commented Patrick. “Mas maingat naman siya kaysa sa’yo,” he said while glancing at Kevin.
Napailing na lang ako habang pinakikinggan ang mga sinasabi nila.
“What’s your plan?” tanong ni Patrick.
I shrugged. “I . . . I still don’t know.”
“Ask her on a date,” Darryl suggested.
I clicked my tongue. “It’s kind of embarrassing . . .”
“Wow, nahiya ka pa sa lagay na ‘yan,” Kevin retorted.
They started suggesting bunch of restaurants and tourist spots even though I still wasn’t sure how I would ask her out. In the end, I gathered the courage to message her and I heaved a sigh of relief when she said she was free.
The date was nothing fancy—just talking about our lives over a cup of coffee and strolling along the streets. But I remembered what she said in Jeju. She said she preferred seeing a flower field than receiving a bouquet of flowers, so I brought her to one. And I was glad I did because the glee and appreciation that came across her face was a view I wouldn’t be able to forget.
That same night, I asked if I could court her and she said yes. When I arrived at home, I couldn’t wipe off the smile on my face. Despite the hellish schedule for the next few weeks, I was happy this one day, I was able to rest and recharge. All because of her.
I couldn’t believe what happened. I didn’t even expect to get full marks in BA 115. It became the talk of the campus that I had to stay in my hiding places because people kept on staring at me. But all of that happened because she helped me focused on studying . . . and I wanted to prove myself to her.
Halos hindi na kami magkita dahil hindi nagkakatugma ang schedules namin. Weekends lang lagi ang available pero ayaw ko namang gamitin iyon lagi para magkita. She should spend that time for herself and her family.
That was why I got excited when the semester finally ended. They had already planned for a quick vacation and we ended up where the lines started to blur between us. I was kind of nervous when her grandmother wanted to talk to me in private, but I eventually followed her in one of their mansion’s veranda.
Yna said she was the matriarch and one of the most powerful businesswomen in Seoul. She was also very protective of her grandchildren and knowing that Yna was one of her favorites made me feel quite queasy.
“I already know about you,” she said in a stern voice. “I just have one . . . reminder.”
I swallowed back the fear that was starting to creep into my throat. She said it would be a reminder, but it sounded like a warning. I was getting ready to hear the next words when her expression softened, and for a second, I could see some of Yna’s features in her.
“Just don’t take away my granddaughter’s smiles,” she continued. “That is all I am asking.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I answered. “I will never.”
One of the things I dreaded during this time was the people who know us discovering our relationship. We were already contented with our current setup. We didn’t want the world to know because we wanted it to be just between us and our circle of friends.
When Darryl messaged me about articles with photos of us in cafes, narrating how we would meet, sometimes with our friends, I got worried about her. Before she could open her phone, I gently pulled it away from her hand.
“Don’t worry about it,” I whispered.
I thought she’d be distraught, but I was surprised when she suddenly smiled and put her hands around me. My heart started racing when she buried her face onto my chest and hugged me tighter.
“Let’s be together for a long time,” she mumbled.
Upon hearing that, I almost teared up. Several months ago, she was horrified to see her name to be associated to mine. She wouldn’t risk her privacy for this, and I would rather watch her from afar than bring her harm from the constant exposure and threats.
I planted a gentle kiss on her forehead. Seeing her accept those risks to be with me was enough of a reason to make me fall for her more. For me to hold onto her for a long time. And to make her feel secured and happy.
“Yna,” I called, still hugging her.
“I am too happy that I don’t know what to do.”
“Eh?” she chuckled lightly and sniffed. “Me, too.”
All the moments that we had shared flashed in my mind. Everything was simple and spontaneous, but those little talks, smiles and chuckles, and thoughtful gestures, led us here.
Right here to our happiness.