As expected, exams were easier when you came prepared.
First day of midterms week and I could see some students getting stressed as they crammed reviewing for their subjects. One of those students was Alice.
“Sinabi ko na sa ‘yo na simulan mo nang mag-review a week ago pa,” I told her as she tried to escape the reality of her situation by slamming the book shut.
“I’m not like you, Steff, na magre-retain ang information sa utak for a week!” reklamo niya. “Minsan nga ilang oras lang ay nawawala na sa utak ko ang pinagsasabi sa lectures.”
Yna, on the other hand, was only having problems with Filipino classes. “I don’t understand this,” she muttered while pointing at a phrase on the book.
Jess helped Yna with her notes, while I tried to reason to Alice. Mabuti na lang talaga at medyo masipag silang mag-notes kaya at least ay madali silang matulungan.
Everyone was too busy this week that we barely had the time to even eat together. Mabuti na lang at last day na ngayon kaya kahit papaano ay nakahinga na ako nang maluwag. I just finished my last exam, too. The three still had exams ‘til afternoon kaya naman mag-isa ako ngayon sa garden na kumakain.
I was just munching on some chocolate bars that I bought from home since I had no energy left to go to the cafeteria. Besides, it was noon, and the sun was scorching hot. Idagdag pa na nakaka-drain ang exam namin sa Math 36.
Fortunately, we already had a newly hired driver after Dad finished personally screening the applicants. Naka-leave pa rin kasi si kuya Felix at magiging busy na rin siya sa company kaya kailangan na ng maghahatid-sundo sa amin ni Ven. I was about to text kuya Ronald, our new driver, to fetch me since I was tired, when a familiar face sat right in front of me.
Isang ngiti ang isinalubong ni Darryl at hindi ko alam ang dapat kong i-react. We were not supposed to bothering each other already, so how come he was here? But at the same time, seeing him was kind of strange since we weren’t on speaking terms since last week after what happened.
“Tapos na exams mo?” tanong niya at agad na kumunot ang noo ko.
I leaned closer to him to lessen the chance of people eavesdropping. “I thought we had a deal?”
Nagulat naman ako nang bigla rin siyang lumapit kaya medyo napaatras ako. “I’m treating you for lunch.”
I was taken aback that it took me a few seconds before I could reply. “W-wait. For what? And you said you’d honor our deal—”
“I did,” he said, cutting me off. “Hindi kita kinausap at ginulo for a week, but Mom insisted that I should treat you for lunch or dinner after that night. Plus, mataas ang nakuha ko sa project dahil sa ginawa natin.”
“That night? What do you mean?”
“The night we shot the videos. Dahil hindi ka raw nakakain at kasalanan ko.” I was about to reply, but his gaze shifted to the snack that I was eating. “Steff, don’t tell me ‘yan ang lunch mo?”
I immediately averted his gaze. “No.”
“You know, you are such a terrible liar,” he chuckled.
Pagkatapos ko siyang samaan ng tingin ay agad din akong napabuntonghininga. I admit, mataas din ang nakuha kong grade sa project at hindi rin ako nakapagpasalamat nang maayos that night dahil nagmamadali ako kaya a part of me was willing to accept it. However, dealing with him again would just entertain nasty gossips and rumors again.
“Oh, since favorite mo rin ang strawberries at chocolates, I can buy them and some desserts for you.”
Para namang nagningning ang mata ko nang marinig ko ‘yon. I couldn’t believe I was baited by that. Medyo nagc-crave pa naman ako sa chocolate cake ngayon.
“Fine,” I mumbled. “But this will be the last time.”
He replied with a toothy grin. “Alright. Tara?”
Since students were already gathering in the garden, we opted to leave immediately. Mabuti na lang at nandoon na si kuya Peter sa parking lot kaya makakaalis kaagad kami.
“Hi, Ms. Steff,” bati niya kaya nag-hello rin ako sa kanya.
Dumiretso kami sa mall at doon ko naramdaman ang gutom. I thought I could get through lunchtime with just a snack but getting a whiff of the food from the restaurants made my stomach grumble.
“Saan tayo kakain—”
Napatigil ako nang may napansin akong kakaiba. A group of girls were stealing a glance at us, and somehow, I knew they were from our university.
Agad akong napalapit kay Darryl. “Hey, I think they’re following us,” bulong ko.
“Don’t mind them,” sagot naman niya. “Kapag pinansin mo sila, mas lalo lang nilang gustong manghimasok.”
“Just act natural. After all, everyone thinks we’re dating,” sabay ngiti niya.
I glared at him. “And whose fault is that?”
“Okay, I admit it’s mine. Saan pala tayo kakain?”
I grumbled in return. Ang galing mag-shift ng topic. Pero dahil gutom na ako ay naghanap kami ng restaurant na wala masyadong tao. We ate at Chili’s and ordered baby back ribs for lunch. He also added chocolate cakes for dessert and that satisfied my cravings.
“Thank you for the treat,” I said after eating well.
“No worries. Puwede ko na rin sabihin kay mommy na bayad na ako sa atraso ko,” pagbibiro niya.
Napatitig ako sa kanya habang nakangiti pa rin siya. Since this would be the last time we would be talking to each other, I wanted to clear a lot of things.
“You know, you look more personable when you’re like this,” I remarked.
He stared at me in confusion. “Like what?”
“Like when you’re not acting like a jerk.”
Bigla naman siyang naubo nang sabihin ko ‘yon. Few seconds later, he cleared his throat and looked at me. “You really like throwing fastballs sometimes, don’t you?”
“I got stressed because of you. Ni hindi ko in-expect na mapupunta ako sa limelight just because I had an encounter with you.”
“Okay, I’m sorry about that. I have my reasons.”
“And? What are those reasons?”
There was that expression on his face again, but he tried to force a smile. “Because it’s fun teasing you,” he said with a smug face.
I rested my chin on my hand and raised my eyebrow at him. “You’re a terrible liar, aren’t you?” I returned.
Gusto ko pa sanang itanong ang tungkol doon pero mukhang ayaw na niyang magsalita. Sakto namang nag-bill out na siya kaya natapos na ang usapan. We were on our way to the parking lot when something caught my eye.
Napahinto ako sa tapat ng isang shop dahil sa nakita ko. It was a cute strawberry sling bag and I seriously wanted to buy it. However, I had already imposed a shopping ban since I wanted to save money for the upcoming winter collection of some of my favorite brands.
Sighing in dejection, I started walking away, but I bumped into Darryl. Pagtingin ko ay nakatingin din pala siya sa bag na gusto ko sanang bilhin.
“Do you want that?” sabay turo niya ro’n. “Want me to buy it for you?”
I gasped upon hearing that. “What? Why?”
“A consolation for being a jerk,” sabay tawa niya.
I insisted that I could buy it some other time, but he said it might already be sold out if I waited that long. Hanggang sa pumasok na siya sa loob ng shop at tuluyang binili ang bag.
“You really didn’t have to,” I mumbled while we were exiting the shop.
“Okay nga lang.”
It wasn’t. Pakiramdam ko tuloy nagkaroon pa ako ng utang na loob. And I wanted to buy it with my own money. Ang awkward ko tuloy habang pauwi kami. I wasn’t talking and he seemed to be thinking about something, too, so the whole trip was filled with silence.
Pagkarating namin sa tapat ng bahay ay mabilis akong bumaba pero bago ko pa masarado ang pinto ng kotse ay narinig ko ang boses niya.
“Steff,” he called. “I enjoyed this date.”
Agad akong napalingon. “A w-what?!”
He chuckled in response. “Ay, I mean, friendly date. O mas prefer mo ba ang pretend date?”
“Okay, you know what? You’re still annoying.”
Muli siyang tumawa. “Mami-miss ko ang mga ganyang rebuttals mo. Bye, Steff. I had a great time.”
I just watched as their car drove away until it disappeared from my sight. My mind was still reeling with the words he just uttered, and for the first time, I was completely flustered.
After all, it really seemed like a date. And that was my first one.