We were given a free time in the afternoon, and I opted to lounge in the living room while the three went out. Hindi ko alam kung saan nila nahuhugot ang energy para makihalubilo sa iba pagkatapos ng challenge. Idagdag pa na sobrang init sa labas. I’d rather stay inside.
Naglabas na lang din ako ng ballpen at notebook para isulat ang scenes na naiisip ko para sa story dahil sa weekend pa puwedeng makuha ang gadgets namin.
I was jotting down some thriller scenes after experiencing the horror house and murder mystery challenge, but hesitated midway. Would it make sense in a romance-adventure type of plot? Pero kung pagbabasehan ko naman ang mismong mga nangyayari sa show na ito, I guess hindi naman weird ang kalalabasan.
Pagkatapos kong magsulat ng ibang scenes ay lumabas ako sa porch para mag-stretch ng mga tuhod at paa dahil maghapon na akong nakaupo. As someone who has a sedentary lifestyle, parang paglalakad na lang ang form of exercise ko.
I saw Yena from their cabin’s porch, so I meekly waved, to which she returned with the same energy.
“Ikaw lang din mag-isa sa cabin n’yo?” tanong niya habang nakaupo sa gilid at may hawak na mug ng kape.
I nodded. “Nakipag-socialize sila.”
Yena gasped in return. “Even Zion?”
“I didn’t expect that.”
Kahit ako ay nagulat noong sinabi niyang lalabas siya kanina. I thought he was the type who would prefer to be by himself, but then I realized he could also easily be the center of the attention if he wanted.
“Umalis din sina Les?” tanong ko sa kanya.
“Yup. Sinamahan siya nina Brian at Lan sa camp store para kumain.”
I chucked at her answer. “Wow, may bodyguards.”
“True,” she snickered. “Ayaw na niya kasi ulit kumain nang mag-isa dahil one time, may writers na umupo sa table kung nasaan siya tapos ang dami raw tanong sa kanya.”
Knowing how shy Les could get, I could imagine the horror on her face after people she didn’t even talk to started bombarding her with questions. That must have been uncomfortable.
Isa rin ‘yon sa mga ayaw kong mangyari sa akin dahil hindi ko alam ang gagawin, lalo na kung isang beses lang o hindi ko pa sila nakakausap kahit kailan. It would be easier if I could tell them that I didn’t want to entertain them, but that might come off as rude.
“Buti sinamahan siya nung dalawa,” I commented.
“Bored na rin sila, eh,” she answered. “Saka mga tsismoso. Gusto nilang malaman kung sino ‘yung tumabi kay Les that time.”
This time, ako naman ang natawa. “Even Brian?”
“Right? I thought he’s not that kind of guy, pero ang bilis pala ma-curious sa buhay ng ibang tao.”
It was kind of funny to think Brian as someone who likes to listen to gossips, but then again, he had become close with Lan who could easily pull someone in his own pace. I was also quite happy that Yena and I could now talk comfortably with each other. Among all the participants, I wanted to get close to her because I thought we had the same personality and we could relate well to each other.
“Speaking of the devil,” she murmured while looking at the path from the camp store.
I followed her gaze and saw Brian running toward their cabin.
“Why are you here already?” asked Yena. “Saka nasaan na sina Lan at Les?”
He was trying to catch his breath before answering. “We forgot to bring coins—!”
Bigla naman siyang napatigil habang nagpabalik-balik ang tingin niya sa amin ni Yena. He looked quite surprised. Did he not expect the two of us talking to each other?
“Ah. H-hi, Elix,” bati niya.
I timidly waved at him. “Hi.”
“We were just talking about you,” said Yena with a teasing smile on her face.
His eyes went wide and almost pulled Yena close. “What—”
“Ask Elix if you want to know.”
Brian wasn’t able to speak right after. Meanwhile, I couldn’t believe that Yena could control Brian just like that. She and Arin would be fearsome as a team.
Napatingin naman ako sa pinanggalingan ni Brian dahil may naglalakad ulit papunta rito. Napakunot ang noo ko nang makita ko si Zion na parang hinihila na lang ang sarili para makauwi. He looked exhausted and fed up with something.
“You’re early,” I commented as he stepped into the porch. Akala ko kasi ay aabutin pa sila ng gabi.
He plopped on the seat next to me. “I’m done with my business.”
Napataas ang kilay ko nang marinig ko ‘yon. Business? I thought he just wanted to mingle with people. Don’t tell me may hidden agenda siya?
He glanced at Yena and Brian’s side before gesturing to me to come closer. Curious, I leaned a few inches toward him.
“I checked the rankings in the main pavilion,” he whispered. “We’re currently in second place. Green team is the first.”
My brows furrowed. How come he looked so tired when that was all he did. And he was gone for hours, too. Hindi rin ako makapaniwala na kahit rest hours ay competition pa rin ang iniisip niya.
“‘Yun na ‘yon?” I intoned. “And that took you hours?”
He looked at me in disbelief—almost as if he was betrayed. “I was scouting for the team. And that wasn’t the reason why I was gone for a long time.”
Naglakad naman siya papasok sa cabin at agad akong napatayo nang maalala kong nasa table ang notebook na sinulatan ko ng ideas. Pagsilip ko sa bintana ay nakabukas ang notebook at paupo na siya sa couch. I hastily waved goodbye at Yena and Brian while following behind him.
Fortunately, I managed to grab my notebook before he could even take a peek at it.
“Ano ‘yan?” tanong niya.
“Nothing,” sabay tago ko sa gilid ko. “So, what were you saying? Bakit ka pala nawala nang matagal?” I asked, shifting the topic back to him.
He leaned on the headrest. “Ah. May mga kumausap sa akin.”
Apparently, he wasn’t able to go back earlier because he was held back by several writers who wanted to get close to him. Mostly mga babae raw. I thought he’d be smug about it, but he looked uninterested.
“So, what did our dear investigator do while you were alone?” he asked right after.
I rolled my eyes at him. He was still teasing me about my role in our previous challenge, and it was annoying.
He craned his neck, trying to look at the notebook I hid from him, and flashed an impish smile. “Writing, I see. Naplano mo na ba ang isusulat mo sa weekend?”
As if his expression wasn’t irritating enough, I hated how his hunches were almost always right.
“And what if I did?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Wala lang. I just thought you already have an advantage if we were to compete for word count again.”
I scoffed at him. “I already defeated you, though? What’s the point of rechallenging me at that?”
“Oh~? Are you saying you won’t mind if we have a different challenge this time?”
Okay, paano napunta ro’n ang usapan? I just wanted him to stop the random challenges, but now, he was already thinking of another one? Gusto ko sanang tumanggi pero paniguradong sasabihin na naman niya na ako ang talo dahil inayawan ko kaagad kahit wala pa. Honestly, I hated that part of me. And it was frustrating because he knew he could use that against me.
That menacing manipulator.
I must have been making some weird faces because he suddenly snickered. “Silence means yes, I assume?”
Muli ko siyang inirapan. “What is it?” I muttered.
His grin widened. “You really know how to make things exciting, our dear investigator.”
“Hmm, how about we guess the genre for tomorrow’s challenge?”
Napaisip naman ako sa suggestion niya. That would be easier since we didn’t have to do much thinking. Pero ano nga kaya?
I tried recalling the genres that we did last week. If I remembered correctly, we already did challenges that fell under adventure, thriller, historical fiction, and romance. This week, we had horror and mystery.
“Fantasy,” I said after a few seconds of silence. “That’s my guess. You?”
He tapped his chin with his fingers while thinking of an answer. “I’ll go with action or teen fiction.”
“That’s not allowed,” sabi ko nang marinig ko ang sagot niya. “Just pick one.”
“Hmm, then, action?”
This time, ako naman ang napangiti. I was feeling a bit confident after winning against him last time, and I had a feeling he would lose again. And if by chance he won, the reward was only bragging rights, though that thought of him bragging even morewas already getting on my nerves. As if he were reading my mind, he said an outrageous thing. “How about we set a punishment for the loser?”
“To add more thrill? May suggestion ka ba?”
My mind reeled at his questions. Suddenly, there were endless ideas swirling in my head that would make him look like a loser.
Hindi ko napigilan ang pagngiti ko. “How about not being allowed to talk back or argue against the winner’s words for a day?”
“Sounds fun,” he replied while extending his right hand. “Deal.”
I received his handshake and nodded. “Deal.”
The next morning, a loud music blared through the speakers in the cabin. Dahil hindi na naman ako nakatulog agad kagabi ay hindi ako bumangon pero agad naman akong hinatak patayo ni Arin.
“Elix, wake up! Paunahan daw makarating sa pavillion.”
I was murmuring how sleepy I was, but Arin continued pulling me out of bed. Napilitan pa akong maghilamos kahit nakapikit pa ako. She was practically supporting my weight with her own body as she steered me out of our room.
“Roi!” rinig kong sigaw niya. “Buhatin mo nga ‘tong si Elix, ayaw magising ng diwa!”
“Ha?! Sigurado ka ba?!”
Kahit antok na antok pa ako ay naramdaman ko ang pag-alalay nila at ang pagsampa ko sa likuran ni Roi.
“Careful.” Was that Zion?
I was jolted awake when it suddenly felt like I was riding a rollercoaster. Pagbukas ko ng mga mata ko ay napahigpit ang pagyakap ko sa leeg ni Roi dahil ang bilis niyang tumakbo.
Tuluyan lang nagising ang diwa ko nang makarating kami sa pavillion at nang ibaba na ako ni Roi.
He glared at me after coughing. “Grabe ka makasakal, Elix. Akala ko may ahas na nakalingkis sa leeg ko sa sobrang higpit.”
Hindi naman natuloy ang pagso-sorry ko dahil biglang nagsalita si Ms. Hanna.
“Good morning, Challengers! The first two teams to arrive are White and Blue! You’ll have the advantage for today’s challenge.”
It took me a second to realize that we were the third or fourth team to arrive after learning about the announcement that I hadn’t clearly heard a while ago. Medyo na-guilty tuloy ako dahil na-late kami nang kaunti dahil sa akin. But I was still sleepy, and upon checking the time, I couldn’t believe that we were doing the challenge at six in the morning. Really?
“Today’s challenge is an exciting one!” giggled Ms. Hanna as the staff members revealed a table full of…paper bracelets?
Confusion crossed our faces. What would we do with those?
“Our genre for today is a combination of teen fiction and action. Divide your team into two and each group will be linked with these paper bracelets,” sabay turo niya sa mga iyon.
The two staff members beside her demonstrated what she just said. Three paper bracelets were interlinked, and the two ends were fastened around their wrists.
“Everyone will be given a three-piece paper bracelet link, while the four groups from White and Blue team will receive five pieces. The goal is to eliminate everyone except your team by tearing off their bracelets. Good luck!”
The teams started to discuss strategies while I was still trying to convince myself that I just misheard everything.
Zion’s voice pulled me from my thoughts, but I instantly regretted meeting his gaze. He had that contemptuous look on his face as he tried to suppress his grin. I immediately looked for Roi, but he and Arin had already teamed up.
I heard Zion chuckling, much to my annoyance. He showed me the linked paper bracelet that the staff gave just a few seconds ago and fastened the other end around my left wrist. “I guess I won.” And just like that, this has become my worst day.