The sembreak felt too short that I could not believe the second semester would start in a few days.
Nahirapan din akong ibalik sa dati ang body clock ko kaya kulang ang tulog ko ngayong araw. Fortunately, I got all the subjects I needed for this semester at hindi ko kailangang mag-request for prerogative. I called the girls, too, but they were still in the middle of paying their tuition fees.
I was about to go to the library to wait for them, but Yna suddenly called.
“I need one more elective, but there are a lot of students lining up in the CAL building.”
Narinig ko ang worry sa boses ni Yna. Among the four of us, si Yna ang pinakamahiyain at for sure ay hindi no’n alam ang gagawin lalo pa’t wala kami para tulungan siya.
“Alright, where are you?” tanong ko. “Pupuntahan kita.”
“I’m in the CAL lobby. Sorry, Steff, I really need some help.”
“Okay lang, wala naman na akong ginagawa.”
Nang ibaba niya ang tawag ay agad akong naglakad papunta sa CAL building at totoo nga ang sinabi niyang ang daming students doon ngayon.
“Steff!” a familiar voice called, and I saw Yna at the corner waving at my direction.
Naglakad ako papunta sa kanya at sinubukan naming maghanap ng English electives na mayroon pang available slots pero mukhang puno na ang halos lahat ng classes.
“Oh no, what should I do?” she mumbled in worry.
She was still at 12 units and the minimum requirement was 15 for her not to be tagged as underloading. Nag-try pa kaming mag-request sa ilang profs na present, but they were not allowing additional students anymore. Dahil wala nang pag-asa sa English courses ay sinabi kong baka mayroon pang available na electives sa Filipino.
“Eh?! But I can’t take those,” she protested. “I wouldn’t understand a thing.”
“You have no choice,” sagot ko naman. “Besides, magandang practice din ‘to para naman masanay kang mag-Filipino.”
I tried reasoning with her and after a few pushes, she gave in to the idea. “Fine,” she pouted.
Nagpunta kami sa kabilang wing ng building at naghanap ng puwede niyang kunin na elective. Luckily, Kas1 had still available slots for enrollment. Hinintay ko siya sa labas at makalipas ang ten minutes ay sinabi niyang nakapasok siya sa isang class.
“Nice!” I beamed. “I’m excited to hear you talk in Filipino.”
“You’re going to help me with this subject,” she grumbled, but she was too cute to take it seriously.
Dahil kailangan niya pang magbayad sa Cash Office ay nagpaalam na siya habang dumiretso naman ako sa library para maghintay ulit sa kanila. However, it was packed when I got there. Sinubukan ko ring humanap ng space sa garden pero mukhang mas marami pa ang tao ro’n kaysa sa library. I went to the third and last place I could think of, and thank goodness, no one was there.
I sat on the grass and leaned against the wall. Mabuti na lang at malilim at mahangin ngayon kaya comfortable sa feeling kahit nasa labas ako. Tahimik akong nag-browse ng social media at napakunot ang noo ko nang makita ko ang biglaang pagtaas ng followers at engagements ko. I knew students from the university were constantly discovering my social media accounts, but this sudden jump started to disturb me.
Balak ko sanang i-visit ang portal para tingnan kung may trending articles na naman ba tungkol sa akin pero hindi ko iyon naituloy nang may makarinig ako nang footsteps. Lifting my head up, I almost yelped when I saw Patrick standing a few meters away from me and he looked taken aback, too, because I was here.
“Uhh, h-hi,” I anxiously greeted.
After what happened at the poolside that time, I wasn’t sure how to act around him. Patrick was such a comfortable guy to hang out with, but it just felt awkward when he revealed his feelings.
He started walking toward my direction and sat next to me. Isang malalim na buntonghininga ang pinakawalan niya bago muling tumingin sa akin.
“I can see that you’re trying hard not to show your discomfort toward me,” he remarked, and I flinched upon hearing it. Was I that obvious?
“I shouldn’t have told you that,” he murmured.
“I’m really sorry, it’s just that—”
He suddenly snickered, cutting me off. “Am I getting rejected this time?”
“No, no! It’s not what I’m—”
“Steff.” Napatigil ako nang tawagin niya ang pangalan ko. “I think it’s better if you forget about what I said.”
“But . . . how can I forget that?”
To be honest, that was the first time someone sincerely told me how they feel about me. I would always ignore and outright reject guys who tried to confess before because I knew they weren’t serious about it. Madalas ay gusto lang nilang ipagyabang na nag-confess sila, lalo na noong high school. They wanted to be the one who could conquer the “uninterested Steff.” Patrick was different. He seemed genuine when he told me that, and now I felt guilty for trying to avoid him earlier.
He smiled at me and gently stroked his right cheek. “I don’t want to ruin what we have right now. And I know you like someone else.”
Nag-panic ako bigla nang marinig ko ‘yon at agad akong napaiwas ng tingin. But it was kind of annoying when Darryl’s face instantly flashed in my head the moment he mentioned that I like someone else.
“You didn’t even deny what I just said,” sabi niya habang nagpipigil ng tawa.
“Let’s just forget that confession, alright? But may we still stay as friends?”
“Is that alright with you?” tanong ko. Gusto ko rin sanang maging friends kami pero pakiramdam ko ay ang insensitive ko sa part na ‘yon.
“Yes,” he replied blithely. “I’d prefer that than us getting uncomfortable with each other.”
“Alright. If you say so.”
Agad naman siyang nagtanong tungkol sa enrollment para mawala na ang awkward air sa aming dalawa at nalaman naming magkaklase pala kami sa Stat101.
“Terror daw ang prof na ‘to,” sabi ko sa kanya. “Sana hindi siya mababa magbigay ng grades.”
“Guess we just need to put more effort for this subject.”
“Oh, right. Second placer ka nga pala ngayon. Aiming for the first spot this sem?”
He scoffed at my question. “Not really.”
Kasabay na lumabas ng grades namin ang ranking ng campus princes and princesses. Everyone’s rank stayed the same, which was amazing in a daunting way. However, Tricia would not be included this semester, so Jess ranking first would have a high probability this time.
Nagpaalam naman si Patrick matapos naming magkuwentuhan nang halos isang oras dahil tinawagan siya ni Kevin. Ilang minuto lang pagkatapos niyang umalis ay tumawag na rin sa akin si Jess dahil tapos na raw siyang mag-enroll. Alice and Yna followed right after, and the four of us went to the mall to shop before the semester starts.
As expected, the first few weeks were the busiest. Halos wala na kaming time magkita-kita dahil hindi nagtutugma-tugma ang classes namin at kaunting oras lang din ang vacant periods.
I didn’t have same classes with Alice and Yna. Tig-isa naman ang mayroon ako kina Jess at Patrick, habang dalawa kay Darryl. And he seemed to be enjoying it.
Hindi ko alam kung naging mas conscious lang ba ako sa presence niya pero parang napapansin kong madalas siyang sumama sa akin lalo na’t pareho kami ng vacant periods. We were always getting glances from our classmates and most students who see us, and that was making me more aware of our closeness.
Nalaman ko rin kay Yna na halos kami ang laman ng trending list sa portal dahil doon. Last semester, the whole campus learned about our breakup because of Tricia. Now, they were creating their own narratives about what had happened. May nabasa akong articles about Tricia na nagsasabing kaya siya umalis ay dahil hindi niya napabalik si Darryl sa kanya. Some were saying I stole him from her, while others were just happy that we got back together.
Sa dami ng theories at versions nila sa nangyari ay ang hirap nang i-correct kung ano ang totoo sa hindi. And him staying with me all the time was just making the situation worse.
In addition to that, I was still not used to this kind of proximity as I just recently came to realize my feelings for him. Of course, I kind of liked how he was paying attention to me and not in an annoying way, but sometimes, it would just get so overwhelming. Should I assume that he felt the same way?
Oh, god, thinking about that gave me some sort of anxiety. Paano kung hindi? Paano kung assuming lang ako? Paano kung ginagamit niya lang talaga ako para tuluyang maka-move on kay Tricia?
I was lost in my own thoughts that I didn’t realize he was calling me for several times already.
“You’re spacing out a lot lately,” he said, almost in a whisper.
Nandito kami ngayon sa library dahil maagang nag-dismiss ang class namin at after an hour pa ang next. I wanted to distance myself from him for some time since I was getting used to his presence lately, but it was difficult.
“May ibibigay nga pala ako sa ‘yo,” sabi niya habang nakangisi.
Sinamaan ko naman siya ng tingin. Ito ang trip niya these past few days. He would say he’d give me something, but it would always be childish prank. Noong una ay binigyan niya lang ako ng crumpled paper at may nakasulat na ‘fooled you’ sa loob. The next one, he handed me a literal rock, and last time, he gave me a ladybug. Nakakahiya nga ‘yon dahil napasigaw ako habang naglalakad kami sa hallway. I thought he had changed, but he was still a prankster after all.
He chuckled after seeing my reaction. “Totoo na ‘to, promise.”
“Not buying it,” I coldly said as I kept my hands closed.
“Promise talaga,” sabay taas pa niya sa kanang kamay niya. “I’ll buy you anything if I’m lying.”
Hindi ko alam kung dapat ko pa ba siyang paniwalaan after ng mga pantitrip niya sa akin these past few days, but how could I resist if he was pleading with those eyes.
Ugh. I hated how I became too tolerant with him.
“Fine,” I grumbled as I extended my arm and opened my palm.
He flashed an excited smile, and he placed his hand on mine. Pagtingin ko ay mayroon nang nakalagay sa palad ko at napanganga ako nang ma-realize ko kung ano ‘yon. I looked at him, quite confused, but he just continued grinning at my reaction.
On my palm was a rose-gold necklace with a strawberry pendant on the middle.
“Wait, why are you giving me this?”
He shrugged while wearing a smug expression on his face. “Gusto ko lang.”
I found myself tongue-tied at his response. Suddenly, a hopeful yet frightening thought struck my mind. Could . . . could it be that he likes me, too?