Lumipas ang Christmas break at simula na naman ng klase. Mukhang ako nga lang ang excited bumalik sa campus dahil panay ang reklamo ng tatlo habang kumakain kami.
The truth was I wanted to distract my mind from him, and the only thing that could overpower those thoughts were acads. Kung magiging busy ako sa pag-aaral ay hindi ko na siya maiisip from time to time. Of course, hindi ko maiiwasan na hindi siya makita sa campus, but I could always ignore him when something like that would happen.
“So, kumusta ang Christmas?” sabay taas ni Jess sa kilay niya. “I heard doon nag-celebrate sina Darryl sa inyo?”
I wasn’t sure where she heard that, but since the secret was out, I had no choice but to tell them what happened. Umamin na rin ako sa kanila dahil wala na rin namang saysay na itago. But it was hard to narrate everything because they would squeal and hit my arm for every single thing that I’d say.
“Oh my god, so na-fall ka nga for real?!” tanong ni Alice habang nakatakip ang kamay sa bibig niya.
“The Steff who would rather pick strawberries over guys?” added Yna.
“And here I thought si Darryl ang mauuna,” Jess commented.
Ikinuwento ko rin sa kanila ang nangyari noong birthday ko at noong Christmas. Kung sino si Andrea at kung bakit gusto ko nang mag-move on.
Nang hindi siya bumalik noong gabing ‘yon ay tinanggap ko na rin na wala talaga siyang nararamdaman para sa akin. Na ginawa niya lang ‘yon para asarin ako o ‘di kaya dahil naaawa siya sa akin. Na hindi ko na kailangan pang ipilit ang sarili ko sa kanya.
I was tired of that cycle. Aasa tapos masasaktan. Aasa ulit tapos masasaktan na naman. I told myself that that was the last time I would allow such pitiful act. Ayaw ko nang umiyak nang dahil sa kanya.
“Pero friend lang naman siya, ‘di ba?” tanong ni Jess matapos kong ikuwento sa kanila si Andrea. “Malay mo na-misunderstand mo lang siya.”
“Hay naku, may ibang girl best friends talaga na ‘di makaramdam,” dagdag ni Alice. “O, baka naman may gusto talaga siya kay Darryl kaya ayaw niya sa ‘yo.”
“Maybe Darryl doesn’t see her that way?”
I heaved a sigh. “Please. Kinuwento ko sa inyo dahil gusto kong matapos na. Wala na akong pakialam sa kanila ngayon.”
“Sure ka ba?” taunted Jess.
“I am,” sagot ko. “Besides, I do not want to cross paths with her anymore. She and I are the worst match. I can’t handle her attitude.”
“Gusto mo ba—”
Hindi naituloy ni Alice ang sasabihin niya dahil bigla akong napasigaw. Someone just pulled my hair from behind, and if it weren’t for Yna holding my back, I would have tumbled backward. Maging sina Jess at Alice ay napatayo dahil ro’n. Paglingon ko ay nakita ko si Andrea na nakatingin nang masama sa akin.
“Stop talking about me, would you?” she said with a haughty look on her face.
I was left speechless because I did not know how to react. I mean, who in their right mind would pull someone’s hair all of a sudden? At hindi ko nga alam na nandito siya sa campus. Sure, last year, it looked like she was able to enter the grounds as a visitor but judging by her ID and the bag she was carrying, she seemed to be enrolled here now. Gulat pa rin ako at naghalu-halo na ang emosyon sa isip ko. Instead, Alice stood up for me.
“What the heck is your problem?” sabay harang niya sa pagitan naming dalawa. She towered over Andrea, but the latter did not budge.
“Tell your friend to stop badmouthing me,” she retorted.
Alice let out a scornful huff. “She didn’t badmouth you at all. Dinedescribe ka lang niya. At mukhang totoo nga.”
Andrea seemed surprised at Alice’s retaliation. I could see the rage burning through her eyes.
Her gaze shifted to me. “Ito lang ba ang kaya mo? Magtago sa likod ng friends mo? Coward. No wonder Ian does not like you.”
Kahit nakaharang sa pagitan namin si Alice ay para na niya rin akong sinampal sa mga salitang binitiwan niya. She really did know what would hurt me the most.
“You’re really crossing the line now,” Jess chimed in. Maging siya ay tumayo na sa pagitan namin.
“Totoo naman,” Andrea retorted. “And she’s desperate for his attention—!"
Napatakip ako sa bibig ko nang biglang sinampal ni Alice si Andrea. She would always save us from potential disputes, but she wouldn’t go as far as slapping someone.
“Surprised, aren’t you?” she sneered. “Masakit, ‘di ba? Lalo na kung biglaan mo lang ginawa? That’s for what you did to Steff. At desperada? Aren’t you describing yourself? Kasi kung hindi, bakit ka biglang nag-transfer ngayong second sem? Are you afraid that your so-called best friend will leave you behind? That he’ll fall for someone and it’s not you?”
Alice’s taunting must have worked too much because Andrea grabbed her hair in fury. Hindi naman nagpatalo si Alice at nakisali si Jess. Yna and I tried to stop the fight, but I froze when I saw Darryl running toward our direction.
“Andrea!” sigaw niya at biglang nagbago ang expression ni Andrea.
She stopped pulling Alice’s hair and acted like she was being pushed around. Napanganga na lang ako nang biglang may tumulong luha sa mga mata niya nang makalapit si Darryl sa kanya. What a good actor she was.
“Ian,” she sobbed as she reached for his arm.
He looked at me with a confused expression. “Anong nangyari?”
“They started grabbing my hair!” cried Andrea and Alice just laughed in disbelief. “Tara na, please?”
Iniwas ko ang tingin ko kay Darryl at kinuha ang bag ko. “Let’s go,” sabi ko sa tatlo at buti na lang ay naintindihan nila ang gusto kong gawin.
“Wait, Steff,” he called.
I halted and turned to his direction. “What?”
He was taken aback by my cold response, but I had no time to waste. It was getting harder to hold back my tears.
“Just believe her words,” I continued. “She’s your best friend after all.”
“Bakit? May kailangan ba tayong pag-usapan?” tanong ko pero hindi agad siya nakasagot. “Bakit ba natin pinapahirapan ang mga sarili natin? Let’s just stop this stupid setup. I’m not even your real girlfriend to begin with.”
My statement earned a chorus of gasps and murmurs from the students who were silently watching everything that had been unfolding. Tumingin ako sa students sa paligid at ngumiti.
“That’s right. Everything between us isn’t real. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I’m tired of this play pretend, so I’d like to end it now. Darryl and I aren’t together. I hope that clears everything.”
Agad akong tumalikod pagkasabi ko no’n dahil hindi ko kayang makita kung ano ang reaksyon ni Darryl. With a heavy and scarred heart, I walked away and hoped nobody saw the tears from the corners of my eyes.
For the past three days, all eyes were on me. According to Yna, articles about us exploded on the portal. Halos tungkol sa amin ang laman ng trending list. Somehow, I suddenly regretted announcing that in front of the students, but part of me was also relieved because I didn’t have to pretend anymore.
May ibang nagsasabing si Darryl ang nagsimula at nadamay lang ako. May ilan namang sinisisi ako sa sitwasyon habang ang iba ay nainis sa article writers dahil sila ang nag-assume na may something kami.
Fortunately, naging busy ako sa pag-aaral dahil midterms na kaya hindi ko na masyadong pinagtuunan ng pansin ang tungkol doon. Pero nakaka-conscious pa rin dahil nararamdaman kong laging tumitingin sa akin ang classmates ko sa mga klase ko, maging ang students na nadadaanan ko sa hallway.
I sought solace in one of my favorite places in the campus, but I saw a familiar figure lying on the grass when I arrived there.
Napailing na lang ako nang makita kong natutulog si Patrick pero agad niyang dinilat ang mga mata niya nang umupo ako sa tabi niya.
“I thought you were sleeping,” I remarked.
“Was trying to,” he corrected. “Wala kasi akong magawa.”
Napataas naman ang kilay ko. “Wala kang magawa? Midterms na, ah?”
“Tapos na akong mag-aral ngayong araw,” he explained. “Now, I’m bored.”
“Play with your phone then.”
“That’s the problem. Naiwan ko ang phone ko sa bahay.”
He nodded. “Again.”
Kaya pala balak niyang matulog na lang noong maabutan ko siya. Hindi ko tuloy alam kung matatawa o maaawa ako sa kanya.
“Do you have games on your phone?” tanong niya.
He pouted upon hearing my answer. “May I still borrow it?”
Dahil naaawa ako sa kanya ay pinahiram ko na ang phone ko kahit hindi ko usually ‘yun ginagawa. “Alright, but off-limits ang photo gallery, notes, at messages. Okay?”
Sigurado naman akong wala siyang mahahanap doon at mabo-bore din after a few minutes dahil basic apps lang naman ang naka-install sa phone ko. I was expecting him to return it after browsing it for a while, but I was surprised when I heard something.
He played one of my practice recordings of The Story of Us. Naalala ko kasing nag-record ako ng practices ko para sa music project. Hindi ko pa pala nabubura ‘yon.
“Wow, you really sing well,” he commented, and I blushed in embarrassment.
“Okay, off-limits na rin ang records,” I muttered.
“What? That’s unfair—”
Pareho kaming napahinto dahil nag-play ang sumunod na recording.
“Happy birthday, Steff!”
“Happy birthday po!”
It was during my birthday. I remembered recording when I was in the hallway because everyone was greeting me. But that was also the day I learned about his feelings. Somehow, it felt bittersweet.
Kukunin ko na sana ulit ang phone ko mula kay Patrick pero muli akong napatigil nang marinig ko ang sumunod na boses. Medyo mahina iyon kaya nilakasan ni Patrick.
“What? This has nothing to do—“
“Do you like her?”
I must have accidentally recorded their conversation that day. Sa pagkakaalala ko, nagtago lang ako sa likod ng building that time. Baka hindi ko napindot ang stop kaya na-record din iyon.
“Please, just answer my question. Do you like this Steff, Ian?”
“No, I don’t.”
My heart sank upon hearing that again. Reliving what happened that day was enough to make me teary-eyed. Ilang segundong katahimikan ang sumunod doon kaya akala ko ay tapos na pero napakunot ang noo ko sa sumunod kong narinig.
“Really?” asked Andrea.
“To call it like was too shallow,” he said. “I can’t even put it into words because even I can’t fully understand my feelings. Akala ko wala lang noong una. I thought it was just a silly attraction because we were playing as a couple, but as I spend more time with her, I realize how I’m helplessly falling for her. What’s funny is that Tricia realized that before me.”
“W-what? But . . .”
“I have fallen in love before, but this time, it’s different. My feelings for her runs deep that it scares me.”
Tuluyan nang tumulo ang luha ko nang marinig ko ‘yon. I couldn’t believe he said that, and I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t hear it at all.
For weeks, I grieved, knowing that Darryl did not feel the same way as I did. It turned out I just misunderstood everything. Because I ran away. Because I did not listen. Because I did not give him the chance to talk or express his feelings.
I was so stupid for creating my own narrative and concluding without even asking him in the first place. And now, I had already burned my bridges with him.