Despite the heavy academic load for this semester, I was enjoying it a little too well, mainly because of Darryl. Although I didn’t want to admit it out loud. Pero parang binabawian ako ng universe ngayon dahil doon.
Second week na ng December at malapit na ang Christmas break pero mas lalong naging busy ang lahat dahil sa dami ng requirements na gusto ng professors na magawa namin before the break. Okay lang naman sa akin dahil mas gusto kong matapos na ‘yon kaysa problemahin ko pa during the vacation, pero medyo nalulungkot ako ngayon dahil busy ang friends ko.
I wanted to have lunch with them today, but they said they couldn’t. Sabi ni Jess ay may group meeting sila for a project habang busy naman si Alice sa pagre-review dahil daw may seatwork sila mamaya. Hindi ko naman matawagan si Yna at ‘di rin siya nagre-reply sa texts.
The next day, they declined my request yet again, and I was sure there was something going on. Jess and I had the same class today, so I cornered her after the lecture.
“Sorry, Steff, kailangan kong pumunta sa library for a group meeting sa isang major subject ko,” she said, but she couldn’t even meet my eyes.
“May kasalanan ba ako?” I asked. “You three seem to be avoiding me since yesterday.”
“Of course not!” she retorted. “Busy lang talaga ako ngayon.”
“Are you sure? Pakiramdam ko kasi parang meron dahil hindi n’yo ako pinapansin.”
“Sorry talaga, Steff, kailangan ko nang umalis,” she said, avoiding the conversation. “Later na lang!”
Friday na Friday pero hindi ako masaya. I kept on thinking why they were acting this way. Dahil ba mas madalas kong nakakasama si Darryl these past few days kaysa sa kanila? No, I don’t think that was the case. Minsan nga sila pa ang nantataboy sa akin para lang maasar nila ako sa kanya.
Did I unknowingly offend them? I could be straightforward sometimes, and I admit that had caused me some trouble. Bigla tuloy akong kinabahan. Baka may nasabi akong masama during one of those lunch meetups.
I trawled my memory, trying hard to remember if I did say something offensive, but the thoughts just got too overwhelming that I started to tear up. Hindi naman naiiwasan na magkapikunan kami minsan pero nagkakaayos din kami agad. But this time, I wasn’t even sure what went wrong.
Sinubukan kong kumalma dahil may susunod pa akong klase pero lalo lang akong nalungkot nang mapansin kong pati si Patrick ay parang iniiwasan ako. Even Darryl did not show up.
That day, I felt truly alone.
Nagmukmok lang ako sa kuwarto ko this weekend. I was so sad that I ate several packs of chocolate bars to make myself happy. Ni hindi ako makagawa ng homeworks nang maayos dahil nasa isip ko pa rin ang nangyari.
I wanted to visit them in their homes but coming there unannounced might displease them since they were clearly avoiding me. Sinubukan ko rin ulit silang tawagan pero hindi nila iyon sinasagot. They even left me on read on social media.
Buong weekend ay nag-o-overthink ako sa kung ano ang nagawa ko sa kanila, o kung pinagt-tripan lang ba nila ako. If it were the latter, I’d probably be miffed at them. They knew how much I dislike being pranked. I just hope it wasn’t the case.
Wala akong nagawa kung hindi ang maghintay sa mangyayari. When Monday came, I felt so down that I couldn’t even eat breakfast. Dad asked me if I didn’t like the food or if there was something wrong, and to avoid further questions, I told him that I was just feeling under the weather. Venice shot a curious look at me, too, and I felt she kind of knew what was going on, but I chose to ignore that or else I might not hold my tears back.
Wala pa ako sa campus pero panay ang buntonghininga ko. I wanted to see them, but I was also scared to face them. I braced myself upon entering the campus grounds, but was met with surprise when I saw most of the students smiling and glancing at me. Some were even taking photos and videos. That made me uncomfortable, to be honest, but confusion trumped it at the moment.
Maaga akong pumasok para sana tumambay saglit sa library or garden para makapag-isip kaya hindi ko in-expect ang ganitong sitwasyon. I initially thought I was just being too conscious, but something was really strange. Halos nakayuko akong naglakad patungo sa garden dahil na-a-anxious ako pero halos mapasigaw ako sa naabutan ko ro’n.
“Happy birthday, Steff!”
There they were, grinning like fools. My friends, Darryl, and even Patrick greeted me in chorus, and the other students followed suit.
I was frozen in my place, unable to react or process anything. One moment, I was down and anxious, now, my birthday was being celebrated. I actually hadn’t realized it until now because I was too lost in my own emotions. Ni hindi rin ako binati nina Dad and Ven kanina.
Hinatak ako ni Jess papunta sa usual table namin at may nakahanda roong chocolate cake. They started singing for me, but my head was still reeling. I felt relieved that they weren’t mad at me about something, but I felt played. Maybe it was due to the emotions that I had bottled up since Friday that I just started tearing up, and the five immediately showed concern.
“I told you, this was a bad idea,” Yna muttered while caressing my arm.
“Si Darryl may kasalanan,” singit ni Jess. “Siya nagpumilit!”
“Ayan, umiyak tuloy. Birthday na birthday,” dagdag ni Alice.
Agad ko namang pinunasan ang luha ko dahil ang daming nakatingin sa amin. I didn’t like this type of surprise, but what could I do? It already happened. Besides, I didn’t want to ruin their event. But they would need a heck of explaining to do later.
Halos sabay-sabay namang pinunasan ng tatlo ang mukha ko habang nakatayo lang sina Darryl at Patrick na hindi alam ang gagawin.
“Sorry, Steff,” Patrick whispered, “I didn’t know you don’t like this type of thing.”
Darryl chuckled nervously, and scratched his head. “Sorry, I guess it’s the wrong kind of surprise?”
I fought the urge to roll my eyes at him. “You don’t know a freaking thing about girls, do you?” I grumbled.
It was kind of hard to shift bearings, but I blew the candles anyway. I guess it would be better to get into a celebratory mood than spoil it.
“Uy, grabe hirap na hirap kaya ako last Friday,” sabi ni Jess pero agad siyang umiwas ng tingin.
“It was actually uncomfortable,” dagdag ni Patrick.
I narrowed my eyes at them and waited for their explanation. Apparently, Darryl wanted to have a surprise birthday event for me, and he tried to persuade the four to join him. Alice and Yna warned him that I did not like these types of surprises, but he was too stubborn, and they just gave in.
He might be one of the smartest people in the university, but he also had a lot of dumb and immature moments. Akala ko pa naman kahit papaano ay nag-mature na siya, but I guess hindi ‘yon ganoon kadali.
I did appreciate the thought and it even made my heart flutter, but the method was way too childish. Napaisip tuloy ako kung ito ba talaga ang taong nagustuhan ko.
They slyly shifted the topic to gifts, and Alice slid hers to the table.
“You’ve been eyeing this since last month,” she grinned, and hearing that kind of excite me.
Sumunod ding nag-abot ng paperbag si Jess at Alice. I tried to maintain my composure, but internally, I already wanted to open their gifts.
“Ipapadala ko na lang sa inyo ‘yong akin,” sabi ni Patrick. “It’s too big for you to carry.”
Napataas naman ang kilay ko. “That’s kind of suspicious.”
He snickered in return. “Oh, don’t worry, it’s just a stuffed toy.”
Wait, a stuffed toy that was too big for me to carry? Gaano ba kalaki ang binili niya?
“Ipapadala ko na lang din ‘yong akin,” dagdag ni Darryl.
I was curious and expectant about his gift the most, but I was also worried, especially after what had transpired today.
“If that’s another prank . . .”
He broke into a grin. “Hindi, promise. May kasama na ring instructor,” sabay turo niya sa sarili niya.
My heart skipped a bit upon seeing that smile, and I could see the trio suppressing their urge to tease me. I cleared my throat to calm myself down, and thanked them for the gifts.
Dahil may classes kami ay agad na rin kaming naghiwa-hiwalay. Panay naman ang bati sa akin ng students na madadaanan ko. It turned out Darryl announced that it was my birthday and encouraged everyone to greet me. Talk about overdoing things.
I wasn’t a fan of big celebrations, and being the center of attention, but it was quite refreshing this time. Lalo na kapag binabati nila ako nang nakangiti. It felt like it was really my day.
Dahil maaga kaming dinismiss sa elective class ko before lunch ay dumami ang vacant hours ko. I was planning to wait for them in the garden, but I might get uncomfortable there alone while people kept on greeting me. Kaya naman naisipan kong mag-stay muna either sa library or sa likod ng CAL malapit sa open field.
Habang naglalakad papunta sa CAL ay naisipan kong mag-record dahil panay pa rin ang bati nila sa akin. I would probably find it embarrassing for the next few days, but I wanted to document this moment since I felt grateful. Pinindot ko ang voice record sa phone ko at casual lang na naglalakad. I said a lot of “thank you” and smiled for a few minutes that my cheeks started to hurt.
Fortunately, kumonti na ang tao nang palapit na ako sa pupuntahan ko. Hindi rin gaanong mainit ngayon kaya puwedeng-puwede na mag-stay rito kahit tanghali. I was about to check the adjacent side when I suddenly heard voices from there. Aalis na sana ako dahil ayaw ko namang mag-eavesdrop pero napatigil ako nang marinig ko ang isang pamilyar na boses.
“Andrea . . .”
That was Darryl’s.
Who was he talking to? The atmosphere seemed tense. I hid on the corner of the wall, and waited with bated breath.
“I just got back, and you didn’t even spend time with me,” the girl complained. “Is it because of this certain Steff?”
Halos manigas naman ako sa kinatatayuan ko nang marinig ko ang pangalan ko.
“What? This has nothing to do—“
“Do you like her?” she suddenly asked.
“Please, just answer my question. Do you like this Steff, Ian?”
The three of us seemed to be holding back our breaths, all afraid of what has to come. I wanted to know how he felt for me, too, but this was all too sudden. What if--
Darryl let out a sigh. “No, I don’t.”
I wasn’t sure if it was because of shock, disappointment, denial, or pain, that made me stand there, unable to process everything after. Or maybe I felt all. Because if I weren’t, my eyes wouldn’t be welling up with tears right now.
Agad akong naglakad palayo habang mabilis na pinupunasan ang mga luhang tumutulo sa pisngi ko. God, I didn’t want to be seen by anyone. Especially right now.
Three words. Just three words were enough to ruin my supposedly special day.