Hindi ko alam kung naka-ilang buntonghininga na ako ngayong araw dahil kay Darryl. Realizing my growing feelings while he was just right next to me was such a dangerous situation. I thought I could still dispel this feeling toward him, but our latest conversations and interactions made me unbearably aware of his charms, and his unexpected vulnerability and gentlessness.
Muli akong napatingin sa kanya. He fell asleep on the couch while I was trying to play the guitar again after failing the first time. Napahawak ako sa dibdib ko dahil ang lakas pa rin ng tibok ng puso ko. How could this guy right here mess my head and heart this bad?
“Hindi na ako magugulat kung matunaw ‘yang si Darryl maya-maya.”
Halos mapatalon ako nang marinig ko ang boses ni Alice at ang pagtawa ni Jess sa likuran ko. My face turned beet red after realizing that I was staring at him for far too long.
“N-nakabalik na pala kayo,” I commented, trying to shift the topic to something else.
They just returned from their shopping trip, and it was embarrassing that they caught me watching him closely. The two looked at me with a teasing smile on their faces. Even Tricia was trying to suppress a chuckle. Parang gusto ko na tuloy tumakbo sa kuwarto ko dahil sa hiya pero mas magiging obvious ‘pag gano’n ang ginawa ko.
“Tara na at baka nakakaistorbo tayo,” pang-aasar ni Jess at hinatak niya si Alice palayo habang umakyat naman si Tricia sa kuwarto niya.
Mabuti na lang talaga at mukhang malalim ang tulog niya kaya hindi siya nagising noong dumating sila.
To calm my nerves, I went to the bathroom and washed my face. Nagulat ako nang makita ko sa salamin kung gaano kapula ang mukha ko, at parang gusto ko na lang lamunin ng lupa nang ma-realize kong ganito ang itsura ko nang makita ako kanina nina Alice.
I decided to take a walk to get the distracting thoughts out of my head. Paglabas ko ay nakita ko sina Roj at Ven sa may bandang infinity pool at nasa kanila na ang gitara. She said they were rivals, but they looked close. Was there something else going on between them?
Naglakad ako papunta sa kabilang side ng hill. Fortunately, the air was still cold even if it was already noon, so walking wasn’t that exhausting. I stopped short when I saw Yna taking photos of the scenery in front of us.
“Nandito ka pala,” I remarked, prompting her to turn around.
She had always loved capturing photos of scenic views, so I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising to find her here. Umupo ako sa tabi niya habang chine-check niya ang pictures sa phone niya.
“Why are you here, Steff?” she asked. “I thought you were with your bebe boy.”
That horrifying pet name sent shivers down my spine. Kahit cute ang pagkakasabi niya ay nanindig pa rin ang mga balahibo ko. I must have been grimacing so hard because Yna snickered.
“Eh ikaw?” I returned. “Why are you here?”
She pursed her lips and started fumbling her phone. “Not really close with the rest, so it feels awkward for me.”
Napangiti naman ako dahil naalala ko kung paano kami naging friends noong high school. Seatmate kami ni Alice noong first year dahil sa surnames namin. She was already loud and friendly to begin with, so it was easy for her to talk to other people. One time, nagkaroon ng groupings and wala pang kasama si Yna kaya naman tinawag siya ni Alice para tatlo kami. And that started everything.
Yna and I weren’t the sociable type, and it was only through Alice’s outgoing personality that the three of us became friends. Siya rin ang maraming iba pang kakilala noong high school compared sa amin ni Yna. Kaya nga thankful din ako na nasali sa circle namin si Jess para naman mayroon siyang ka-wavelength. Those two did hit off easily.
“But it’s kind of cute that you and Darryl are getting closer even though you have already broken up,” she suddenly remarked, with an emphasis on the last words.
“What? We’re not that close,” I retorted.
She shot a teasing look at me. “Geojitmal jaengi~” (Liar~)
“I-It’s because he lingers around me. That’s not my fault.”
“But you don’t dislike it, right? Before, you can’t even stand his presence, but now, you seem to be enjoying it, and get comforted by it.”
I wasn’t able to respond right away, and she lightly snickered at my reaction. Yna might be the most reserved among us, but she was also the best observer, and her instincts were usually spot on.
“It’s cute to see you crushing on someone,” she commented.
“Wow, now you’re teasing me, too.”
“Because it’s a rare occurrence. And it’s refreshing to see you flustered because of him.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “I swear, if one day I learn about your crush, I’m going to tease you so much.”
“Not gonna happen,” she said as she stuck her tongue out at me.
Makalipas ang ilang minuto ay bumalik kami sa rest house para mag-late lunch. Since everyone was still doing their own business, the group only got reunited at night. Napagdesisyunan din naming magkaroon ng pool party dahil sayang ang infinity pool night view at nagdala rin naman kami ng swimwear.
“May shorts ka pa bang baon, Ven?” tanong ko mula sa banyo.
“Pahiram. I can’t go out like this.”
I was wearing a black two-piece swimsuit, but I didn’t have the confidence anymore to go out looking like this after the addition of Darryl, Patrick, and Tricia to this trip. Mabuti na lang talaga at may extrang shorts si Ven at nagbaon ako ng cover up blazer kaya hindi na rin masyadong exposed.
Pagbaba namin ay sina Patrick at Roj pa lang ang nandoon. They were setting up the grilling station for the barbecue. Tumulong din kami ni Ven at inilabas ang food sa table na nasa tabi ng grill.
Few minutes later, the rest of the group showed up. Nagbaba din ng speaker si Jess at nagpatugtog ng upbeat songs para i-set ang mood.
Agad na lumusong sa tubig sina Ven, Alice, at Jess habang sina Patrick at Tricia ang nag-volunteer na mag-ihaw ng barbecue. Meanwhile, nakaupo lang kami nina Yna sa sunlounger dahil wala pa kami sa mood mag-swimming. Medyo malamig na rin kasi at ayaw ko pang mabasa.
I was busily taking photos of the three who were playing in the swimming pool when Darryl sat beside me. He was wearing a thin white shirt and black shorts, but he looked better than I expected. My heart was thumping a little too loud again, so I subtly drew back to put some distance between us.
He rested his chin on his right hand and smiled at me. “You look great.”
I shrieked in my head upon hearing his compliment. God, he was really making it hard for me to be at peace today.
“Uh, thanks,” I replied, hoping that I sounded unaffected.
Dahil pakiramdam ko ay umiinit na naman ang mukha ko ay tumayo ako at pumunta na sa swimming pool para magpalamig.
“Nakita namin ‘yun, ha?” Alice whispered while circling around me.
“Omg, tingnan mo, pasulyap-sulyap sa ‘yo si Darryl,” mahina ring sabi ni Jess.
I clicked my tongue at them. “Tumigil nga kayo.”
“Kunwari pa pero namumula naman ang cheeks!”
Dahil kanina pa namumuro ang dalawang ‘to sa akin ay tinalsikan ko sila ng tubig sa mukha pero sabay naman silang gumanti. Maging si Ven ay nakisali kaya napagtulungan ako ng tatlo.
“Hoy, magsipag-swimming na rin kayo!” sigaw ni Alice sa natitira.
Napilit din naman namin si Yna after some time pero hindi nagpatinag sina Tricia at Roj. Meanwhile, Darryl and Patrick plunged into the pool after Jess sprinkled water on them.
Nagkakatuwaan na ang lahat at mukhang may pakana na naman si Jess dahil gusto niya raw maglaro.
“Ano bang magandang game?”
Alice smirked, as if they were planning this all along. “Pool chicken fight!”
Yna suddenly pointed at Jess. “She’s small, but she’s strong.”
“Sana hindi mo na sinabi ‘yung small ‘di ba, Yna?” Jess retorted, much to everyone’s amusement. “Okay, game. Steff, let’s go!” sabay turo niya sa akin.
“What? Ayaw ko!”
“Hoy, Roj!” Tawag niya sa kapatid niya. “Tara rito, ikaw bubuhat sa akin!’
Roj, with his ever impassive face, flatly denied her order. “No way.”
Natawa naman kami sa pag-aaway nila pero dahil kahit anong pilit niya ay ayaw ni Roj ay sumuko na rin siya. Her gaze drifted to Darryl, and she looked at him curiously.
“Syempre, kay Steff ka,” she playfully said. “O gusto mo bang ako muna ang partner mo?”
Bigla namang napatingin sa akin si Darryl kaya nag-panic ako. And I swear I just saw Venice smirking at me. Did she notice my uneasiness? I was about to tell them that I didn’t want to be included, but Darryl suddenly put his hand on my head.
“Game, kami niS teff ang magkakampi,” he announced.
“What?!” sabay tingin ko nang masama sa kanya.
Jess grunted. “Then that leaves me no choice.” She stared at Patrick, and he stared back with a confused look on his face. “I’m going to borrow your shoulders.”
I had been in pretty embarrassing situations, but this one was the worst. My whole face was burning red while trying to get onto Darryl’s shoulders.
“Okay ka na?” he asked but I couldn’t reply because I was too conscious of how close we were.
He gently placed his hands just below my knee to keep me balanced, and slowly walked toward Jess who was already mounted on Patrick’s shoulders.
The others started cheering for us, and Jess was getting into it. She was jokingly crackling her knuckles while stretching her arms and neck. Medyo napangiti nga ako nang makita ko ang expression ni Patrick. He looked so done, but he couldn’t do anything.
“Okay, ready, get set, go!”
Agad na sumugod sa amin sina Jess at hinawakan ko ang magkabila niyang kamay. My god, just like what Yna had said a while ago, Jess was petite, but she surely had strength. Kahit mas mahaba ang braso ko kaysa sa kanya ay napu-push pa rin ako at kung hindi lang ako inaalalayan ni Darryl ay kanina pa ako nalaglag.
“Lumaban ka naman, ate!”
“Jess, itulak mo na!”
“Both of you, please be careful!”
I was able to resist her for a minute, but my strength was depleting fast. Hanggang sa tuluyan na akong nanghina at na-out of balance. Fortunately, Darryl was able to pull me before I could sink.
“Okay ka lang?” He softly asked.
“Yeah,” halos hingal kong sagot dahil nawalan na ako ng lakas. “Thank you.”
“Yay, we won!” Jess beamed as she tried to high-five Patrick.
Pagkatapos no’n ay naglaro pa sila ng ilang games gaya ng swimming race at patagalang huminga sa ilalim. Nang mapagod na rin sila ay umahon kami para kumain.
“My god, I’m starving!” Sabay kuha ni Jess ng dalawang stick ng barbecue.
Patawa-tawa naman si Tricia sa gilid habang pinapanood kami kanina. I felt bad because she seemed to be left out, and after learning what she had gone through before, I didn’t want her to feel that she was alone.
I approached her while everyone was busy eating and playing. “Hey, uhm, sure ka bang ayaw mong mag-swimming? And are you okay with everything?”
She smiled back at me. “Yeah, I’m good, no need to worry. But thanks for looking out for me.”
Tumango na lang ako sa kanya matapos niyang sabihin iyon. I thought it would be hard for me to gain more friends in college, but I’d like to know more about her. I wanted to befriend her regardless of her past relationship with Darryl. She was nice and she made me feel comfortable.
Ven and Yna went back to their rooms after eating since they said they were already shivering. Isa-isa namang nagsibalikan ang iba pa dahil gusto na rin nilang mag-shower.
“Ikaw, Steff, ‘di ka pa aahon?” tanong ni Jess.
“Later,” I replied.
It was indeed getting chilly, but I wanted to cool my head down. Mas makakapag-isip din siguro ako nang maayos kung malayo ako kay Darryl kaya minabuti kong magpa-iwan muna.
I went to the deepest and farthest part of the pool so I could rest my arms on the edge and watch the city lights from here. The night sky was also littered with thousands of stars. A smile crossed my lips as I indulged in the beauty of the night scenery.
It was just a shame that I found myself in a conundrum after spending time with him. I thought I had already steeled my resolve on staying away from him, so I wouldn’t get confused about my feelings anymore. That was the rational choice, especially since it might affect my academic standing, and emotional state. However, being with him for a day without anyone scrutinizing our every move, made me realize how much I enjoyed it. That the Darryl from the public perception was significantly different from his private one. And honestly, the latter was annoyingly likeable.
Isang malalim na buntonghininga ang pinakawalan ko. Maybe a sleep would be a better solution to this dilemma.
Lalangoy na sana ako pabalik pero may naramdaman ako sa binti ko. A sharp pain followed by a terrible numbness started creeping from my right foot up to my legs. Panic rose to my throat, and my body suddenly felt heavy. I tried waddling my arms, but it felt like I had lost my ability to swim.
“Help!” I cried after realizing I couldn’t keep myself afloat anymore. “Please, help!”
All of them were probably in their respective rooms, showering, and I burst in tears knowing that nobody could hear me. My head was starting to sink, too, and I was losing air. With a last-ditch effort, I yelled help again, desperately hoping that somebody could hear me this time . . . but no one responded.
My vision started to get hazy as my body gradually sank. I thought it would be a lame way to die, struggling to stay alive, but nobody knew what was happening. The panic I felt turned into a sense of resignation. I felt lonely and guilty, knowing how I would traumatize everyone here if they found me in a while, but a voice jarred me back to a half-conscious state.
“Steff!” the voice yelled in utter panic and despair.
I heard the violent splash of the water, but before I could reach out, my consciousness had already slipped away.