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[Preview] Save Your Heart For Me

“Do you want to live longer, Dana?” tanong sa akin ni Kingston.

I was born with a congenital heart defect. Noong eight years old ako, nag-undergo ako ng heart transplantation. Ang sabi ng doktor, hindi iyon cure pero madudugtungan nito ang life expectancy ng isang tulad kong may CHD.

Ten years. Ten years lang daw ang dagdag sa buhay ko. Unfortunately, seventeen years old na ako ngayon. One year na lang ang itatagal ng hiram kong puso. Kunsabagay, ever since naman, alam kong hindi magtatagal ang buhay ko. Kaya nga wala akong pangarap sa buhay. Alam ko kasing hindi ko maa-achieve iyon. I was fated to not reach adulthood.

Then I met this guy named Kingston. Wala rin siyang pangarap sa buhay. Kasi bata pa lang, nakaplano na ang future niya—planado na ng fate niya bilang sole heir ng isang conglomerate. What’s the use nga naman of having a dream when you can’t decide for your own life?

I told him how I wanted to spend the last year of my life. I wanted to experience an adventure before I die. Then he told me about a Chinese potion which was called an “elixir of immortality.” May clues raw siyang hawak na magtuturo kung saan makikita ang alchemist’s potion and recipe na may kakayahang makapagpagaling ng mga sakit at magpahaba ng buhay ng isang tao.

“Do you want to extend your life, Dana? Let’s find the elixir of life. Come with me.”

I wanted to change my fate. I came with him.


DANA

“GOOOO… go, go Herbie! Go, go, go Herbie! Go beat them! St. Paul Sharks, for the wiiiin!”

Hiningal ako pagkatapos paulit-ulit na isigaw ang cheer chant para sa point guard ng basketball team ng St. Paul Montessori. Hawak ko ang banner na ginawa ng cousin kong si Minnie.

She was supposed to be the one doing the cheering here dahil ito ang girlfriend ni Herbie. Kaya lang, bago pa magsimula ang game ay biglang nagkaroon ng emergency sa bahay nila kaya pinakiusapan ako ng pinsan kong mag-cheer para sa boyfriend niya on her behalf.

Hindi ko dapat tinanggap ang banner na iyon at ni-refuse ko si Minnie dahil school ko itong pinagganapan ng game one ng basketball championship para sa inter-school competition. Meaning, kalaban ng team ni Herbie ang basketball varsity team ng Statefield International School. I was supposed to cheer on my school’s team, right?

Pero friend ko rin naman si Herbie. At ayokong ma-disappoint sa akin si Minnie kapag hindi ko ito pinagbigyan. Isa pa, hindi naman ako emotionally involved sa basketball team ng school namin. Hindi ko sila pinsan at kaibigan. So I guess, my loyalty would have to go to Minnie and Herbie.

Besides, it wasn’t like my cheering would make St. Paul’s team win. I knew my school’s team was a beast.

Aware ako na pinagtitinginan ako ng mga kasama ko sa bench dahil bukod sa para akong naka-megaphone sa lakas ng boses ko, nakasuot ako ng school uniform ng Statefield pero nandoon ako sa bench ng mga kalaban at nakiki-cheer sa mga dayong students. I knew I should have changed into something. Kaso wala akong spare clothes sa locker ko.

Mukhang ginanahan si Herbie sa narinig na cheer para rito kaya naagawan nito ng bola ang point guard ng Statesfield Lions na si Kingston. Pagkatapos makaagaw ng bola ay mabilis na nag-attempt na mag-shoot si Herbie. Napahiyaw ako ng pumasok iyon.

 Nakipag-apir pa ako sa mga katabi kong hindi ko naman kakilala. Mukhang nakalimutan nilang hindi ako taga-roon dahil sa sobrang saya. Nang tapunan ko ng tingin ang scoreboard, napanganga ako nang makitang seven points na ang lamang ng St. Paul sa Statefield. Kanina lang ay naghahabulan lang ang scores ng dalawang teams pero lumamang na nang husto ang Sharks. Happy ako para kay Herbie pero medyo nakaramdam ako ng guilt para sa school ko.

Paano kapag natalo ang basketball team namin sa sarili naming baluarte? It hadn’t happened for the past few years. Palaging nananalo ang Statefield Lions kapag ang “home” ay sa school namin!

Pero hindi pa naman tapos ang laban. Siguro naman, mahahabol ng Lions ang score ng kalaban. Oh, well. I did not really care whoever would win. Kahit anong team ang manalo ay magiging masaya ako para sa kanila dahil deserved nila. Pareho kasing magagaling ang magkalabang teams.

Nag-end na ang third quarter kaya nagsipagbalikan ang players sa bench. Pero may isang player na nag-stay lang sa kinatatayuan niya. Nakatayo pa rin si Kingston sa free throw line habang nakapameywang at nakatanaw sa bench sa direksiyon namin…

Teka. Sa akin ba siya nakatingin? Magkasalubong ang mga kilay niya. His face was grim. Then I realized why he looked mad. It was not because they were behind in the scores. He was probably furious at the fact that I was wearing our school uniform and yet I was at the enemy’s side and cheering on them.

Nag-iwas na lang ako ng tingin kay Kingston. Hindi naman niya ako kilala. Hindi ko kailangang magpaliwanag sa kanya kung bakit kailangan kong gawin ito.

“Ang hot talaga ng captain ng Lions, `no?” narinig kong sabi ng nasa likod ko sa katabi nito.

Naagawan ng bola si Kingston ng kalaban pero mas napansin ng mga babae sa likod ko ang looks ng lalaki. I mean, hindi ako basketball enthusiast but I did think that was a huge blow for a star player. What happened to Kingston?

“I know, right?” sang-ayon ng kausap ng babae sa likod ko. “How could someone be that perfect? Ba’t kasi hindi siya sa school natin nag-aral?”

“Parang gusto ko tuloy lumipat sa bench nila and i-cheer siya.” Humagikgik ito.

“No. You won’t do that. We must be loyal to our school. We shouldn’t betray our team just because of a guy.”

Tumahimik na ang dalawa. Na-imagine ko nang nakatingin sila sa akin dahil obvious namang hindi ako belong sa bench nila. Hindi ko naman gagawin ito kung hindi nakiusap ang pinsan ko. Also, I needed to encourage Herbie to do well. Alam kong nasanay ito na chini-cheer ni Minnie kaya baka bumagsak ang spirit dahil wala roon ang girlfriend para i-cheer ito.

Sometimes we needed to set priorities. I loved my school but I loved my cousin and friend more.

Bumalik ang tingin ko kay Kingston na lumalakad na papunta sa mga kasama. I totally got why even some of their opponent’s team supporters were swooning over him.

Kingston Sevilla was our school’s top heartthrob. He was so popular that even the students from other school knew him. Not only he was super good-looking, he was also doing well in any kind of sports and they said he was smart.

On top of that, Kingston was a rich kid. He was the only son of the group CEO of a top conglomerate, where his grandfather was also the chairman. My dad said their family owned most of the shares.

No wonder he was popular.  Nasa kanya na kasi ang lahat.

He was indeed like the “king” of our school. That even the school bullies and troublemakers could not afford to mess with him. Why, it would cause them a fortune if they try to even graze their fists on his perfect face. They would be in very big trouble because the Sevillas would not take things lightly.

That’s why Kingston was so full of himself. He knew he was quite a big deal. He believed that everyone in this school was below his level of prestige and he was also every girl’s dream.

Well, lahat nga talaga yata ng girls sa campus, may crush kay Kingston… except for me. At saka pala ang best friend kong si Issa.

Pagkaupo ni Kingston sa player’s bench ay uminom siya ng tubig at nagpunas ng pawis. Naalala ko dati, nakita ko siya na pinupunasan ni Emily ng pawis. She was a cheerleader and one of his few ex-girlfriends. He looked embarrased at what Emily was doing. Hindi ba dapat, natutuwa siya dahil caring ang girlfriend niya? No wonder, they split up after only a few months.

They said, Kingston had never told any of his former girlfriends the three magical words. Siguro nga hindi niya minahal ang mga babaeng nagdaan sa buhay niya. After all, he was young and probably still emotionally immature. Well, we certainly all were. We were still teens anyway.

My dad said, love was a serious thing. It was complicated so it required a proper mental age. “Puppy love” pa lang daw ang kayang maramdaman ng mga nasa age namin. Nobody in our age group would seriously fall in love. 

I wonder why Kingston did not have a girlfriend now. He had been single for the whole two semesters, kahit na marami siyang puwedeng gawing girlfriend dahil maraming pretty and popular girls sa campus. Just for example, Quinn—one of the hottest chicks in school.

Last sem, nakipag-break ito sa boyfriend na soccer player. And this sem, she had been trying to get Kingston’s attention but the guy was surprisingly not interested in her. She was going around telling everyone that she and Kingston belonged together. Because he was the “King” and she was the “Quinn.” Ha-ha-ha. Pun-ny.

She was trying to be witty. But she was silly. Bakit kahit hindi ito pinapatulan ng crush, hindi pa rin tumitigil sa pagpapa-cute? I knew Kingston was almost perfect but when a guy made a girl feel that he was not interested, she must leave him alone and move on.

Napaingos ako nang ma-realize kung saan na napunta ang isip ko. Bakit ko ba iniisip si Kingston? He was not even my crush. And the way he scowled at me a while ago, hindi ko talaga siya maka-crush-an.

Napayuko ako sa cellphone na nag-vibrate sa bulsa ng skirt ko. Nang basahin ko ang text message ni Minnie, I sighed in relief. Thank god, Chichi was safe. Minnie’s cat—who just became a mom—was rushed to the vet’s clinic because she suddenly had seizures. But she was okay now. Bawal pa lang daw munang padedehin ang kittens kasi ay kailangan nitong mag-take ng meds.

Pagkatapos kong mag-reply kay Minnie ay tumunog na ang buzzer para sa start ng fourth quarter. Dinampot ko uli ang banner at nag-clear ng throat para ihanda ang sarili sa pagtsi-cheer.


KINGSTON

I WAS walking at the corridor when I saw a familiar-looking girl moving towards my way from the opposite direction. This girl… She was the reason why I was in bad mood these days.

She was my schoolmate and yet she dared to sit at the enemy’s bench in her school uniform while loudly cheering on the school where she did not belong to. Nang dahil sa kanya, naagawan ako ng bola ng point guard ng kalabang team. She upset me. And because she did, natalo kami sa unang game ng championship against the St. Paul Sharks.

It was humiliating. The fact that the ball that was in my possession had been stolen by an opponent was beyond mortifying. It had been so long since someone had successfully stole a ball from me. I was a kid then.

Dahil sa isang insidenteng iyon, hindi na ako nakapaglaro nang maayos. It bothered me so much. And since I was the main man in my team, when I crumbled, they typically did also. And that was what happened. We lost. And it was all because of this girl.

Hindi lang ang pagkatalo namin sa mahalagang game ang pinag-usapan a few days ago, pati siya. Hindi lang ako ang hindi natuwa sa ginawa niya nang araw na iyon. Marami rin sa campus ang hindi makapaniwala sa kanya.

I learned that her name was Dana Mae Fuentes. She was in grade eleven so she was probably seventeen. She was unknown in campus until she did that disgraceful stunt in our game.

She looked so sweet and dainty in her light pink fabric headband. Mukhang hindi gagawa ng ganoong bagay ang babae. But maybe looks could be indeed deceiving.

She was laughing heartily with her friend. How could she afford to laugh like that after she sabotaged our game, her own shool’s team’s game?

Hindi ko inalis ang tingin kay Dana habang naglalakad pasalubong sa kanya pero mukhang hindi niya ako nakikita dahil nakatingin siya sa kasama. She was unbelievable. While everyone around could not help but look at me, she made me feel as if I was invisible. Or maybe she was deliberately avoiding to give me a look. Alam rin siguro na may matindi siyang kasalanan sa akin.

Halos magkalapit na kami pero hindi pa rin tumitingin sa akin si Dana habang nakikipag-usap sa kasama kaya sinadya kong umisod nang kaunti sa daanan para mabangga siya sa balikat ko. And she did. Pero hindi pa rin siya tumingin sa akin dahil niyuko kaagad niya ang nabitiwang folders at binders na nahulog sa sahig. Pinulot niya at ng kasamang babae ang mga nakakalat.

Tumingala sa akin ang kasama ni Dana at bahagyang lumaki ang mga mata nito dahil malamang ay na-recognize ako. She looked surprised.

Tumigil si Dana sa gitna ng pagpupulot at napansin kong lumipat ang tingin niya sa sapatos ko. Napansin siguro na walang balak tumulong sa kanila ang nakabanggaan kaya tumingala siya sa akin.

Finally, our eyes met.

Kumurap-kurap pa si Dana bago lumarawan sa mga mata niya ang recognition. I was expecting to see the same reaction that her friend had but she just gave me a blank look. Ako yata ang nasorpresa sa aming dalawa nang biglang ngumiti ang babae.

“Hi! Baka gusto mo kaming tulungan?” she asked nicely.

I gawked at her.

PINANOOD ko ang pagkurap-kurap ng mga mata ni Dana habang nakatingin sa akin. Now, she looked surprised. When I grabbed her wrist and pulled her towards the end of the hallway, doon pa lang siya mukhang naalarma. I looked at her, eyes dripped with spite.

Did she really think I would let it pass? I was not an unforgiving person. Usually, I wouldn’t make a big deal out of things. But this one… this was unpardonable.

“What’s happening?” she asked, as if clueless. She had a very gentle voice. Pati boses niya ay parang hindi makabasag-pinggan.

“Bakit mo ako dinala rito?” she continued. “And why do you look mad? Hindi ko naman kasalanang nabangga kita. It was an accident. Ni wala ngang nahulog sa `yo. Sa akin, meron.”

She was still very chill. She was not even fazed at my obvious resentment. I exhaled in disbelief. This girl was really something else.

“Ang bilis mo namang nakalimot. O talagang balewala sa `yo `yong ginawa mo sa game one ng championship?”

Bahagyang namilog ang mga mata ng babae. “Oh, that? I knew it was kinda off but I didn’t knew it was that big of a deal.”

Ang mga mata ko naman ang nanlaki sa sinabi ni Dana. “You… you really did think it was okay to do that? You had such nasty tactics to sabotage your own school’s team’s game.”

“What are you talking about?” maang-maangang tanong niya.

“You wore our school’s uniform while cheering loudly on our opponent’s team. You deliberately did those things to distract me. Para maagaw ni Herbie `yong bola sa `kin.”

Her mouth flew open. “What? Pinagbibintangan mo `kong sinabotahe ko kayo?” She raised her palms and gestured denial. “That’s not what happened. I can explain. Siguro nga, para akong naging insensitive and unmindful sa ginawa ko pero wala lang akong choice. Kailangan ko lang talagang i-cheer si Herbie at `yong team niya. Wala akong spare clothes kaya hindi ako nakapaghubad ng uniform. Biglaan lang kasi. It’s not about—”

“Who are you?” putol niya sa sinasabi ni Dana. “You’re not Herbie’s girlfriend. I’ve seen her in the previous games. Did Herbie pay you to do this?”

She gasped. She looked as if insulted. Finally, nagkaroon ng kaunting apoy ang mga mata niya habang nakatingin sa akin.

“Hindi gano’ng tao si Herbie, `no! He’s a good guy. Hindi siya magbabayad ng ibang tao para manabotahe ng laro ng kalaban. Siguro, nagkulang ka lang talaga sa focus. Parte na ng games ang cheering and you should know that. Sa tagal mo nang player, dapat deadma ka na sa cheering na hindi in favor sa `yo at sa team mo. Focus lagi dapat sa laro.”

I could not believe I was hearing these things.

“So, you’re telling me it was my fault that my team lost?” tanong ko.

“Why? Are you telling me it was mine?”

Ah, this was frustrating, so maddening. Why couldn’t she just owe up to her fault? Didn’t she feel even a little bit of guilt? Humakbang pa ako palapit at itinukod ang palad ko sa pader na nasa likuran ni Dana. Nahalata ko ang pagkaalarma niya sa paglapit ko nang husto sa kanya.

Yes, I wanted her to feel intimidated like a mouse trapped in the corner. She had to realize she was just a mouse and I was the cat and I could eat her whole. Siguro nga, hindi ganoon ka-formidable ang image ko sa mga babae sa campus. I was too handsome to be feared of. And I did not want girls to be scared of me, as well. But right at that moment, I wanted to see this girl shake in fear.

I watched her eyes became bigger. Was she scared now? Or did she just feel uncomfortable because my face was too close to hers?

Biglang may tumunog. Was it her phone? It sounded like an alarm. Napayuko ako sa dinaklot niyang suot na wristwatch. `Must be a smart watch. Nang ibalik ko ang tingin sa kanya ay nakita ko sa wakas ang gusto kong makita. She looked anxious now. I guess anxiousness was similar to fear, right?

“Didn’t you really know the gravity of what you did?” I said in a chilly, firm voice. “The mere moment that you stood there cheering on the opponent’s team was a big slap to our faces. Why would our own schoolmate went against us and proudly showed it to everyone? Your loud cheer distracted me only because you were wearing our school uniform. Kung hindi ba, sa tingin mo, mapapansin kita sa dami ng nagtsi-cheer? Naagawan ako ng bola dahil nawala ako sa focus because I saw something unusual. So, we practically lost the game because of you. You are a traitor to your school.”

Kasabay ng paghinto ng mahinang tunog ng smart watch ni Dana ay nawala rin ang apprehension sa mga mata niya. Naningkit ang mga iyon habang nakatitig sa akin.

“Okay, fine!” Finally ay nagtaas siya ng boses. “Sorry na! It wasn’t my intention to distract you. My only intention was to give Herbie the confidence that he badly needed that time. Hindi ko na naisip `yong magiging impact ng ginawa ko. I believed in your team. That’s why hindi ko naisip na may posibleng maka-affect sa laro n’yo. And I didn’t even think it could be me.”

Her apology was obviously insincere. Sino ba ang nagso-sorry pero naka-scowl at mas mataas pa ang boses kaysa sa akin?

“But,” patuloy niya, “it wasn’t my fault that you easily get distracted by unusual things around. So, don’t blame me for your lack of focus.”

Itinulak niya ako ng dalawang palad. Nang makaalis sa harap ng pader ay iningusan niya ako at tinalikuran ako nang gano’n-gano’n lang.

I watched her walked away with clenched teeth. So much for acting docile. She was actually feisty.


DANA

NAPAHINTO ako sa pagsusulat sa notebook kong nakapatong sa lazy bed desk sa sahig nang mapatingin sa pink-strapped Polar FT4 na nakasuot sa right wrist ko. Konektado iyon sa heart rate chest strap na nakadikit sa puso ko sa loob ng suot kong cotton shirt. Napatitig ako sa numbers na nasa itaas ng heart-shaped icon. I had to wear this thing all the time because I needed to monitor my own heart rate. Well, this was better than wearing a Holter monitor.

I still had to wear a Holter monitor at home whenever my cardiologist ordered me to do so.  It was a portable device for cardiac monitoring for at least twenty-four to seventy-two hours to monitor my heart activity.

People in school wore fitness/smart watches, too. Pero para sa akin, I specifically wear it for medical purpose. Although nobody knew about it. Walang nakakaalam sa school—maliban kay Issa, sa school adviser namin at sa school physician—na may medical condition ako.

I was born with a congenital heart defect. I was diagnosed with a truncus arteriosus upon birth and I had to undergo a surgery while I was still a baby. I had another surgery when I was four. When I turned seven, my parents thought I was about to die because my heart developed leaky valves. I was eight when they decided to let me undergo a heart transplant. 

Luckily, the surgery went well but the risk of rejection had been the enemy. Hindi pala natatapos sa paglalagay ng bagong healthy heart sa dibdib ng isang tao ang problema ng isang may sakit sa puso. Madalas pala ay nire-reject ng immune system ng katawan ng isang tao ang bagong pusong ikinabit dito.

Mom said I had to take anti-rejection pills to reduce the risk of rejection. After the transplant, I had been constantly sick and had to visit the doctor every week until I finally felt better. But still, I was not completely healed. I had to visit my cardiologist regularly and take meds for the rest of my life.

Hindi raw cure ang heart transplantation pero madudugtungan ng medical procedure na iyon ang buhay ng isang tao. Hanggang walong taon na lang siguro ang buhay ko noon kung hindi ako nag-undergo ng heart transplant. Pero ang life expectancy raw ng isang taong may hiram na puso ay ten years lang.

Ten years. Seventeen years old na ako ngayon. Isang taon na lang ang itatagal ng puso ko. Recently, my doctor told my dad that my transplanted heart was beginning to deteriorate. I started to have heart symptoms again despite the maintenance meds that I had been taking regularly. Although I felt okay most of the times, I had been experiencing episodes of palpitations, chest pains, fainting and malaise.

In my recent visit to my cardiologist, narinig ko na naman ang madalas niyang ipaalala sa akin—bukod sa pag-inom ng mga gamot ko sa tamang oras—na hindi na niya dapat sinasabi dahil memorized ko na.

Manage your stress. Do not engage in strenuous activities. Always smile. Do the things that make you happy frequently. Avoid dwelling on negative emotions…

It appeared to me na lahat ng ginagawa ko at nararamdaman kong emosyon ay nakakaapekto sa puso ko. Well, I had been trying to do those stuff for all my life because I wanted to live.

I wanted to live for how long I could.

But I had already accepted my fate. Alam kong hindi ako magtatagal sa mundo. Alam kong ipinila na ni Daddy ang pangalan ko sa listahan ng mga nangangailangan ng heart donors. Gusto niyang dugtungan ulit ang buhay ko nang sampung taon sa panibagong heart transplant.

Of course, my dad could not afford to let me die. Pero aware ako na hindi lahat ng nangangailangan ng heart donor ay nakakakuha ng donated heart. Marami ang namamatay na lang bago pa makakuha ng puso dahil sa tagal ng paghihintay. Marami rin ang binabawian ng buhay during and after a major heart operation.

Hindi rin assurance na mabubuhay nang matagal ang isang pasyenteng nag-undergo sa heart transplantation. Some would even die after only a year. Marami rin kasing complications ang medical procedure.

I was only lucky enough that I had survived the complications and I had yet to maximize my life expectancy with this borrowed heart. Walang assurance na mangyayari ulit iyon sa second heart transplant ko.    

So I guess, I might only have a year to live.

“Dana!”

Napatingin ako kay Issa na nakadapa sa sahig ng kuwarto ko, paharap sa akin. Tulad ko, gumagawa rin siya ng assignment.

Every Friday, sumasabay sa akin pauwi sa bahay si Issa para sabay kaming gumawa ng mga homework doon. Gabi na siya umuuwi. Pero alam ko namang hindi siya pumupunta roon once a week dahil kailangan niya ng tulong ko sa paggawa ng assignments kasi di-hamak naman na mas matalino si Issa sa akin. I knew she was here because she wanted to see my older brother.

Issa had a huge crush on my Kuya Damian who was three years our senior. Noong nasa seventh grade kami, ipinagtapat niya sa akin na crush niya si Kuya. Hanggang ngayon, hindi nawala ang feelings niya kahit parang little sister lang ang tingin sa kanya ng kuya ko. Despite that, Issa was hoping that when she turned eighteen, she could finally confess her “love” for him.

“Are you having palpitations again?”

Umiling ako. “Hindi naman. Ba’t mo natanong?”

“Eh, ba’t ka nakatitig diyan sa watch mo?”

Funny, kapag ako ang tumingin sa wristwatch, hindi oras ang iniisip ni Issa na tinitingnan ko kundi ang heart rate ko.

My heart rate was within the normal range right now. But this mid-morning, I had tachycardia. Tumunog ang Polar FT4 ko kanina habang kausap ko si Kingston dahil tumaas sa normal range ang heart rate ko.

When he moved his face close to mine, my heart pounded like crazy.

Alam kong may diperensiya ang puso ko. Madalas, kahit walang trigger, nagpa-palpitate ako. But that moment, alam kong hindi dahil may sakit ako sa puso kaya bumilis nang ganoon ang heart rate ko. It felt different. For the first time, I felt as if my heart beat fast like how people with healthy heart would normally do.

Why? Was it because that moment, I realized that they were not exaggerating when they said that Kingston had a perfect face? That was the first time I had seen him up close. Literally very close.

Maybe it was because no guy had ever been that close to me yet. Not even my ex-puppy love.

Did that excite me or what?

Hindi ako makapaniwala na habang pinagbibintangan ako ni Kingston na binayaran ni Herbie para isabotahe siya at sinisisi ako sa pagkatalo nila ng team niya, nagawa niyang pakabugin ang puso nang ganoon.

He was a jerk. He really acted like he’s king.

“Tumunog ito kanina habang kausap ko si Kingston.”

“Really?” Bumangon mula sa pagkakadapa si Issa at umupo sa sahig.

“Ginalit niya kasi ako. Kaya siguro tumaas `yong heart rate ko.”

Right. That was the real reason why I had tachycardia earlier. It was not because of his handsome face or the nearness of him.

“I’m not sure, Dana, but I think may kasalanan ka talaga. You wore our uniform and cheered noisily on our opponent team. Alam kong hindi mo sinadya and you had no choice but to do it but you knew at the back of your mind that it’s improper, right? Kung `yong schoolmates natin, hindi nagustuhan `yong ginawa mo, lalo na `yong mismong team na naglaro. `Tapos natalo pa sila.”

Aware ako na saglit akong naging usap-usapan campus dahil doon. Actually, I felt embarrassed when I learned that people were talking ill towards me. But I had to shake off negative emotions like guilt and discomfiture because it might harm my heart. Hindi ko iyon dinibdib at sinabi ko sa sariling hindi ko na lang uulitin iyon.

I sighed. “I know. In-admit ko naman `yon. Pero hindi ko matanggap na pinagbintangan niya akong tumanggap ng bayad para isabotahe sila. Don’t you think it’s also improper to accuse me like that? `Tapos sa akin niya ibinubunton lahat ng sisi sa pagkatalo nila sa game. Was it really all my fault?”

“Siguro, sobrang stressed lang si Kingston. Sobrang disappointed siya na natalo sila sa first game. You know, when we are dejected, we tend to do something rashly like blame others of our misfortunes. But, eventually, mare-realize din siguro niyang mali siya na i-accuse ka nang gano’n.”

Why, Issa was really wise and levelheaded. Magkasing-edad lang kami pero mas mature sa aking mag-isip ang best friend ko. Parang nasa twenties na ang mental age nito. Bagay sila ni Kuya Damian ko. If only my brother would take a look at her.

Parang wala kasing interest si Kuya na magka-girlfriend. Subsob ito sa studies kahit second year pa lang siya sa college. He was taking a pre-med course. Gusto kasing maging doktor ng bro ko.

Kung magkakaroon ng girlfriend si Kuya Damian, gusto kong si Issa iyon. Kung hindi man, hindi ko naman pipilitin. Gusto ko pa rin na kung saan masaya ang kapatid ko, doon ito. Basta, bago sana ako mawala sa mundo, makita ko man lang na magka-girlfriend ang kuya ko.

“You think so?” pag-confirm ko sa sinabi ni Issa. “Pagkatapos ng mga sinabi niya sa `kin, mare-realize niya `yon?”

“Possibly. You know, after being in that school for so long…  with kaliwa’t kanang tsika and all… masasabi ko that Kingston might not exactly be a good guy but he’s not a bad guy either. It’s true that he acts like the king in school but he’s far from the likes of Jefferson. And he’s smart. Kaya feeling ko, malalaman niya rin na may mali rin siya eventually.”

Si Jefferson ang pinaka-popular na school bully sa SIS. I really did wonder why he was still in school despite the numerous offenses. Ilang beses nang na-suspend at nag-serve sa community service as punishment pero once in a while ay gumagawa pa rin ng kalokohan sa school.

Come to think of it. Hindi naman talaga ko sinindak ni Kingston kanina ala-school bully. Paninindak ba ang tawag sa paglapit niya ng mukha sa akin? Like, who would get scared of that handsome face?

Siguro nga, naging childish ako kanina. He was mad and when people were mad, we tend to say harsh things that sometimes we did not really mean or realized. Natutunan ko iyon sa mommy ko.

Ang sabi ni Mommy, dapat daw ay hindi sinasabayan ang galit ng isang tao para hindi lumaki ang problema. Kasama iyon sa mga lagi kong pina-practice sa sarili ko para hindi mabigatan ang puso ko sa negative emotions—to remain calm in a heated situation. Kasama roon ang pag-deal sa galit ng ibang tao.

Palagi ko naman iyong naia-apply sa sarili ko. Pero bakit pagdating kay Kingston, nakalimutan kong i-control ang emotions ko?

“Do you think… I should really apologize to him?” may hesitation na tanong ko kay Issa. “Sincerely, this time?”

Nakadapa na uli si Issa at nagsusulat pero tumingala ulit ito sa akin. “Yes. You were taught not to harbor any negative feelings for anyone, right?”

Totoo iyon. Negative emotions, like hatred and guilt, had no place in my heart. Kaya lumaki akong hindi palaaway at hindi nagtatanim ng galit. Tama si Issa. Kailangan kong ayusin ang gusot sa pagitan namin ni Kingston para hindi ko na siya isipin at hindi makabigat sa puso ko ang tungkol sa kanya.

But… how would I apologize to him? Paano kung hindi niya tanggapin ang apology ko? Judging by his overbearing persona, he must not be the kind to accept apology that easily. Maybe I should do something to make it up to him first.

Nakangiti na ako nang bumalik sa pagsusulat sa notebook ko. Freeing myself from negative emotions always made my heart instantly happy. Wala na akong ill-feelings para kay Kingston. Naiintindihan ko na siya.


KINGSTON

“GOOOOO… go Lions! Our team is the best! Let’s show our pride! Statefield Lions for the wiiiin!”

We were inside the locker room getting ready for our practice when my teammates started to mimic Dana’s cheer yesterday. I groaned in annoyance. Hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala sa ginawa ng babae kahapon.

Pumunta si Dana sa St. Paul Montessori kung saan ginanap ang game two ng interschool basketball championship. This time, she was not cheering on for Herbie and the St. Paul Sharks. She and her friend cheered on our school! They even carried a banner with our team’s name.

Hindi ko alam kung matutuwa o maaasar ako dahil kahit sa pagkakataong ito na sa amin na siya nakakampi, I still found her noisy cheering quite distracting. Naisip ko tuloy na nananadya talaga siya, that her real purpose was to distract me again regardless of which team she was cheering on for.

Thankfully, nanalo kami sa laro kahapon. Kaya kahit natulili ako sa cheer ni Dana, hindi ko na masyadong inisip kung ano ang motibo niya sa ginawa. Pero ipinaalala ulit ng mga kasama ko today.

Naramdaman ko na may tumapik sa balikat ko habang naghuhubad ng school uniform para magpalit ng jersey. Hindi ko ito pinagkaabalahang lingunin.

“King, bro,” boses iyon ni Caleb, our team’s center and my best friend, “hindi mo pa sinasabi sa amin kung ano’ng naramdaman mo no’ng nakita mo si Dana na nagtsi-cheer para sa `tin. Kinilig ka ba?”

Naghiyawan ang teammates ko.

That’s the reason why I groaned in annoyance earlier. Alam kong tutudyuin na naman nila ako kay Dana. They had been doing that since the day I confronted her. Ipinagsabi ni Caleb sa teammates namin ang nakita sa dulo ng corridor.

This prick secretly videoed the scene where I tried to intimidate Dana and told the team that I tried to kiss her but she pushed me away. Kaya ngayon ay wala nang ginawa ang teammates namin kundi ang tudyuin ako sa babae.

Isinuot ko ang top ng jersey at ipinasok ang school uniform sa locker bago ko isinara iyon. Hindi ko na lang pinansin ang panggugulo nila.

“She’s so sweet,” patuloy ni Caleb. “Halos `di siya tumigil sa kaka-cheer kahapon. Maga na siguro tonsils n’on ngayon.”

Umupo ako sa bench para magsuot ng medyas at rubber shoes. Just how could a frail-looking girl like her produce such loud, blaring noise?

“Did she do that,” tanong ni Lemuel, “to make it up with what she did previously?”

“I think,” sagot ni Caleb, “she did that because she’s now in love with Kingston.”

Umugong na naman ang hiyawan sa loob ng locker room. Sa wakas ay lumingon ako para pukulin ng matalim na tingin si Caleb na nakuha pang ngumisi sa akin.

“What?” Caleb reacted. “Iniisip ko nga, baka sinadya talaga niyang gawin `yong ginawa niya last time para mapansin mo siya. Sa dinami-rami naman kasi ng may gusto sa `yo, paano mo sila mapapansin kung wala silang gagawing tricks? And now that you’ve finally noticed her, she’s now starting to try to win your heart.”

Napaisip ako sa sinabi ni Caleb. I knew someone who pretended not to like me. `Turned out it was her way to catch my attention. That girl caught my attention but she did not get my interest. She had became my stalker but she quit when I had a girlfriend.

Kung tama ang sinabi ni Caleb, then Dana was wicked. She had the potential to be obssessive.

“Well, she’s cute,” comment ni Jan.

“Yeah,” pagsang-ayon ni Froilan. “But she seems weird.”

“And brazen,” dagdag ni Paul.

“Well,” sabi ni Caleb, “maybe it’s about time that King try that kind of girl.”

Tumayo na ako at pumihit sa kanila. “Can you shut up?” Inihagis ko sa mukha ni Caleb ang bimpo na hawak ko bago humakbang palabas.

Paglabas ko sa locker room ay may nakita akong isang babaeng naka-school uniform na nakatalikod at magkasalikop ang mga kamay sa likod, only a meter away from the door. Nagsihintuan din ang mga kasunod ko sa paglabas.

Nang lumingon ang babae ay natigilan ako nang makilala ito. What was Dana doing here in the gym in front of the men’s locker room?

She smiled sweetly at me.

Maybe Caleb was right. This girl had feelings for me all along.

GUSTO ni Dana na kausapin ako kahit sandali lang daw kaya pinauna ko na ang teammates ko sa court. Hindi kami umalis sa hallway. Hindi rin naman kasi siya nag-suggest na kumuha kami ng ibang puwesto.

Nag-clear muna siya ng lalamunan bago nagsimulang magsalita. “I’m sorry. Sorry sa ginawa ko noon sa game n’yo and sorry din sa mga nasabi ko noong i-confront mo `ko.”

I should be glad to hear that. Hindi naman na kasi maibabalik ang nangyari sa game one. The harm was done. So, an apology was good enough. Pero iba ang pumasok sa isip ko nang marinig na mag-sorry si Dana. Dito na ba magsisimula ang paghabol-habol niya sa akin? Now that she got my attention, would she now try to win my heart?

Well, she’s cute. But she was hardly my type.

“Did you hear me?” tanong niya. Mukhang nahalata ng babae ang pagka-sidetrack ko.

“I’m not deaf,” kaswal na sagot ko.

Bumuntong-hininga si Dana na para bang na-disappoint sa lack of friendliness ko. Gayunpaman, bumalik ang ngiti niya.

“Friend ko si Herbie. Boyfriend siya ng cousin ko. `Yong cousin ko talaga dapat ang hahawak ng banner na `yon at magtsi-cheer for Herbie. Kaso noong nandito na siya sa school natin, biglang nagkaroon ng emergency sa bahay nila. Kaya pinakiusapan niya akong mag-cheer for her boyfriend. I relieved her. But I admit that it was indeed my fault that I went there cheering in my school uniform. I’d been insensitive. So, I want to say sorry for that. Sorry sa buong team n’yo.

“And about naman sa mga sinabi ko noong nag-usap tayo last time, sorry din kung nagmaldita ako nang slight. Nainsulto lang kasi ako noong sabihin mo na binayaran ako ni Herbie to sabotage your team. You were only mad when you said that and I matched your anger. That’s why it turned out that way. But I am sincerely apologizing to you now. Will you forgive me?”

She was looking at me with puppy eyes. Maybe she was sincere… maybe not. But I was not asshole to reject her apology.

“Okay,” pabuntong-hiningang sagot ko.

Maybe I should say sorry, too. Inakusahan ko siyang nagpabayad kay Herbie para isabotahe ang team namin. Iyon pala ay close siya kay Herbie at pinsan ng girlfriend nito. Ibinunton ko sa kanya ang lahat ng sisi sa pagkatalo namin kahit ang totoo, nagkulang talaga kami ng focus nang araw na iyon.

Pero hindi ko mailabas sa bibig ko ang nasa isip ko. Baka kasi kapag nagpakita ako ng lenience o softness, isipin ni Dana na kaya niya akong manipulahin—kung totoong pinlano lang niya ang lahat ng ito para mapansin ko siya at magkaroon ng chance na makuha ang interest ko.

If she was planning to make me fall for her after this, she should forget about it.

“Great!” nakangiting sabi niya. “So, no hard feelings na?”

Inalok ni Dana ang kamay para makipag-shake hands sa akin pero tiningnan ko lang iyon. If I took her hand, she might take it as indication that she had a chance with me.

Tumango na lang ako. “No hard feelings.”

Saglit niyang tinapunan ng tingin ang kamay bago ibinaba iyon. Mukhang hindi naman na-disappoint si Dana sa hindi ko pakikipagkamay sa kanya. “Now, we’re good. Gusto kong bumawi sa inyo. That’s why I prepared drinks and snacks for you and your team. Nandoon na sa bench n’yo. After practice, you can consume them.”

Tinapunan ko ng tingin ang dulo ng hallway kung saan ang lalabasan ay ang basketball court na. My team must be happy to see the snacks.

“And on the finals,” she continued excitedly, “itsi-cheer ko uli kayo.”

Naalarma ako. No! She would distract me again with her loud noise. “Don’t bother.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t bother yourself. Hindi mo na kailangang obligahin ang sarili mo na gawin `yon para makabawi ka. This is enough. Your apology, the snacks… We’re good with those.”

Tumitig sa akin si Dana. Hindi na siya nakangiti. Nahalata ba niyang ayaw ko siyang pumunta at mag-cheer sa final game namin dahil magiging nuisance lang siya roon?

Wait. Bakit kailangan kong mag-alala na isipin niya iyon? Did I care about her feelings?

“Are you sure you don’t need my cheering?”

“Enough na `yong pag-cheer mo sa amin kahapon.”

Humagikgik si Dana. “I helped you win yesterday, didn’t I?”

My supposed snort turned into a forced, breathy laugh.

“I will cheer on you on the finals. I will root for our team. Kahit friend ko pa si Herbie and cousin ko `yong girlfriend niya. I should stay loyal to my school in times like this.” Itinaas niya ang closed fist. “Statefield Lions for the wiiiin!” She giggled and started to take move away from me. “See you on the game!”

I watched her walk away with an open mouth.

Good god. We’re in trouble.

NAKAUPO kami nina Caleb at Jan sa tree bench nang hapong iyon. They were talking about the final game two days ago while I was minding my own business with airpods in my ears.

Mukhang hindi pa rin sila maka-get over sa pagkapanalo namin sa championship game. I was done savouring our victory. Pero may isang bagay pa rin akong iniisip hanggang ngayon.

Dana did not appear that day. She clearly said that she would cheer on us but she was not even there.

Why?

Well, it wasn’t like I wanted to see her there and hear her distracting noise. Hindi ko lang maintindihan kung bakit hindi niya tinupad ang sinabing pupunta at itsi-cheer kami.

Naramdaman ko ang pagsagi ng katabi ko sa braso ko. Napatingin ako kay Caleb na nakakunot ang noo. Wala na sa tabi nito si Jan. P-in-ause ko ang pinakikinggan kong Japanese rock song para marinig ko ang sinasabi ni Caleb.

“Meron bang malapit ditong fast food na nagse-serve ng sandwiches? Nagke-crave ako sa club house. Ang sarap kasi no’ng binigay ni Dana sa `tin no’ng practice. Hindi ko makalimutan. Para akong nagayuma.”

Funny. Kakaisip ko lang kay Dana pero binanggit agad siya ni Caleb.

“You didn’t notice her in the finals, did you?”

“Dana?” Umiling ito. “She didn’t come. Otherwise, narinig sana natin `yong ingay niya.” Halatang natigilan si Caleb. “Wait. Uuuy… hinanap niya. Na-miss mo?”

I glowered him. “Na-curious lang ako. Kasi noong huli kaming nag-usap, she sounded so excited.”

“Maybe this is her way to get your interest. Pinaasa ka niyang pupunta siya kaya noong `di siya nagpunta, hinanap mo siya. She’s a genius. Now you can’t stop thinking about her.”

“Shut up.”

“Bakit nga kaya hindi siya pumunta? Baka naman nagkaroon ng biglang lakad or something. Kaya `wag ka nang mag-isip nang kung ano-ano. I’m sure, hindi nagbago `yong feelings niya para sa `yo.”

“Will you stop teasing me about her?”

“Seriously, bro, I think she’s obsessed with you. Para rin siyang si Lisa. She’s scheming. She planned all this to get your attention. Ngayon, ang strategy naman niya, magpapa-miss siya. And I think, gusto niya ring kunin ang loob ng lahat ng malapit sa `yo—like me and the team. It was that day when she gave us snacks. That homemade clubhouse sandwich… I can’t stop thinking about it. I kinda miss her, too, because of that. Maybe you should date her, bro. Para puwede tayong maglambing ng clubhouse sandwich niya anytime we want.”

I snorted. Caleb must only be jesting about Dana being obsessed with me but there was a possibility. Pagkatapos ng naging experience ko kay Lisa, I had valid reasons to be suspicious of people.

Bakit kasi kailangan kong isipin kung bakit hindi nagpunta si Dana sa finals? As if I care.

Naramdaman ko uli ang pagsagi ni Caleb sa braso ko.

“Another obsessed girl is approaching,” bulong nito.

Napatingin ako kay Quinn na papalapit sa amin. Ngumiti ito nang makitang tumingin ako. Napabuntong-hininga ako. Why would she not leave me alone? She knew I was not interested in her. Otherwise, matagal ko na sanang pinatulan ang mga pang-aakit nito.

“Hi, King!” malambing na bati ni Quinn. “Are you coming to James’ party on Saturday?”

“No,” I replied uninterestedly.

Halatang na-disppoint ang babae. “Why?”

Wala akong obligasyong sabihin kay Quinn kung bakit hindi ako a-attend sa birthday ng classmate ko. “I’ll be busy.”

“He’s going to a concert tomorrow night,” sabad ni Caleb.

I glared at him. Hindi ako pinansin ng kaibigan ko.

“Whose concert?” 

“One OK Rock. Kingston’s favorite Japanese rock band. They’re here in the Philippines.”

God, I want to strangle Caleb right now.

“Oh,” Quinn muttered and smiled at me. “I knew you were into animes but I didn’t know you also dig Japanese music and bands.”

“Quinn,” tawag ng isang kaibigan nito. “Carrie is waiting for us.”

“Right.” Bumalik sa akin ang tingin ni Quinn. “Bye for now!” Kakaiba ang ngiting ibinigay nito bago humakbang palayo.

I smacked the back of Caleb’s head with my palm.

“Aw, bro!” sapo ang likod ng ulo na hiyaw nito.

“Why did you tell her?”

“Why not?”

“She didn’t have the right to know.”

“I still don’t understand why you’re not giving in to her.” Tinanaw ni Caleb ang babaeng malayo na sa amin. “Quinn is so hot. Look at that booty. Malapit na tayong gr-um-aduate, bro. Baka hindi mo na siya makita `pag nag-college na tayo. So you might as well date her kahit hanggang graduation lang.” Ibinalik nito sa akin ang tingin. “At saka ang tagal mo nang walang girlfriend. Hindi mo ba makalimutan si Natalie?”

Natalie broke up with me barely a year ago. She told me I should quit getting into relationships if I was not ready to give my whole heart to someone. I also wonder why out of all the girlfriends I had, none had me wrapped up in them.

I liked them. But I never loved any of them.

I realized Natalie was right. I should quit dating until I find the woman whom I’d be willing to give my heart to. And that’s why I’d been single for almost a year now.

May dumaang grupo ng mga babaeng halatang kinikilig habang nakatingin sa amin. Mukhang nasa tenth grade pa lang ang mga ito.

“Hi, Kingston!” masiglang bati nila.

I put on a little smile and raised my hand to them. They were giggling in joy as they passed by us.

“Ba’t si Kingston lang binati n’yo?” pahabol na reklamo ni Caleb.

Kumaway lang rito ang mga babaeng nagsilingunan. Nagbuga ng hangin si Caleb.

“Ah, these girls are rude. Guwapo rin naman ako, ah. Hindi nga lang ako anak ng billionaire.” He tapped my back not-so-gently. Halatang may kasamang sama ng loob. “Iba talaga `pag celebrity. How to be you po, bro?”

Instead of answering him, pinindot ko na lang ang play button ng Spotify para bumalik sa pakikinig.

How to be me?

People around thought I was living the dream life just because girls liked me and I was a rich kid. Even my friend Caleb did not understand my grievances in life. How I wished I was as shallow and frivolous as him.

For the third time, naramdaman ko na naman ang pagsagi ni Caleb sa braso ko. I almost snapped at him but I caught the sight of Dana who was about to pass by in front of us. On instinct ay pinindot ko uli ang pause ng music app.

I was half-expecting that she would come near us and explain why she was not able to come to the final game but to my surprise, she just gave me a sullen look and coldly looked away. Napamaang ako habang sinusundan siya ng tingin. What was that?

“Did she just…” tanong ni Caleb na halatang nabigla rin sa nakita, “scowl at you?”

Why would she do that?


DANA

PAGKASABI ng teacher ng “class, dismissed,” ay tumayo na kami ni Issa. Bitbit ang bag namin ay lumabas na kami sa classroom. Uwian time na.

“Can I sleep over to your house tomorrow night?” tanong nito habang naglalakad kami sa corridor.

Friday bukas at tuwing Biyernes, sumasama sa akin pauwi si Issa.

“What? Why?”

“Because on Saturday, I will accompany you to the concert, right?”

Right. I asked Issa to accompany me to the One OK Rock concert on Saturday night. Hindi kasi puwede si Kuya dahil nagkataong may kailangang tapusing mahalagang school project. Sayang. Super fan din si Kuya ng One OK Rock. Kaya ko nga nagustuhan ang Japanese rock band ay dahil sa influence nito. Pero napanood na ni Kuya nang live ang concert ng banda sa Japan kaya hindi na masyadong masaklap na hindi ito makakapunta sa Philippine concert nila.

 “Para hindi ko na need umuwi,” Issa continued. “Tuloy-tuloy na tayo sa concert. After we finish our assignment tomorrow night, we can even watch a movie before bedtime.”

I smiled teasingly. “Ang sabihin mo, you just want to sleep under one roof with my brother.”

Ang bilis mamula ng cheeks ni Issa. “It’s not… like that. It’s true that I want to spend time with you privately. Kasi after this school year, baka hindi na kita makasama because you’d be home-schooled na.”

Gusto ni Daddy na i-home school na ako next school year. Nag-aalala kasi ito sa kalusugan ko. My heart would likely last for only a year. So, after this school year, I had to stay at home to wait and prepare for a possible another heart transplant. Hindi ko mararanasang gr-um-aduate sa school just like my batchmates.

But that was not what I had in mind on how to spend the last year of my life. I wanted to experience something I had never done before. Like an adventure that would make me forget about everything.

“Okay. I will tell Mom and Dad that you’d sleep in my room. But I think you need to know this. Wala si Kuya sa bahay over the weekends. That is from tomorrow until Monday. He’s out with his classmates doing their group project. Mag-stay sila sa isang house.”

Nahalata ko ang pagkadismaya ni Issa kahit sinubukan nitong itago. I recalled the day I asked my friend why she liked my brother.

“He’s cute and smart. He’s mature for his age. Plus he’s a very caring brother to you. Nakikita ko kung gaano ka niya kamahal.”

My brother was indeed a very caring kuya. And he was one of the reasons why I had a happy life despite being born with a chronic medical condition. Although sometimes I felt sorry for him. Ako kasi lagi ang iniintindi ng parents namin kaya feeling ko lumaki ang kuya ko na kulang sa atensiyon.

A normal sibling would get jealous of the amount of attention that my parents had been giving me since I was born but my older brother was different. He even encouraged our parents to focus on me. He always tried to go unnoticed. He was so undemanding and independent. He grew up doing things on his own.

Kaya ang suwerte ng magiging girlfriend ng kuya ko dahil napakabait niya. At kung si Issa iyon, I would be really glad. Pero sa ngayon, wala talaga akong nakikitang pag-asa sa kanilang dalawa.

“Puwede ka pang magbago ng isip,” tudyo ko.

Sinagi ni Issa ang braso ko. “Ano ka ba? I really want us to bond whenever possible.”

“Yes. Let’s do that.” Kumapit ako sa braso nito. “Let’s make the most of my time left.”

Marahas na binawi ni Issa ang braso nito sa akin. She looked mad in a instant. “Don’t say that. You’re not gonna die.” Mahina lang ang boses nito dahil ayaw na may makarinig sa amin. “Makakahanap uli kayo ng heart donor and you will get to live for ten more years… and more.”

Ngumiti na lang ako at kumapit uli sa braso ni Issa. I wanted that but I had to be realistic. I did not want to get my hopes up only to feel down in the end. I just wanted to accept things.

I needed to accept my fate.

“Oo nga pala,” sabi ni Issa. “Inirapan mo si Kingston kanina.”

Pagkarinig ko sa pangalan ng lalaki ay bumitiw ako kay Issa.

“Ba’t mo ginawa `yon? Sabi mo, hindi mo na lang siya papansinin as if he doesn’t exist. Ba’t may kasamang pag-irap?”

I twitched my lips. “I couldn’t help it. That conceited jerk.”

Nagpunta kami ni Issa sa school na pinagganapan ng final game ng basketball championship between the Sharks and the Lions. May dala pa kaming banner para sa team ng SIS. I was so ready to cheer for them.

Bago ang game, pinuntahan namin ni Issa ang team nila sa locker room para hatiran ng energy drinks pero natigil kami nang makitang nakaawang ang pinto. Narinig tuloy namin ang pinag-uusapan ng mga nasa loob…

“King, is your new girlfriend coming?”

“Girlfriend? You have a new girlfriend, King?”

May tumawa.

“Are you talking about the noisy girl?”

“Dana?”

Nagtawanan ang mga may-ari ng boses.

“She’s loud but she makes good sandwiches.”

“I told King to date her para matikman ulit natin `yong sandwich na gawa niya. And I think he’s considering it.”

Naghiyawan sila.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Finally ay nagsalita si Kingston. Halata ang irritation sa boses niya. Mukhang sinita niya ang huling nagsalita.

“Are you sure she’s doing all these because she likes King?”

“Of course! Napag-usapan namin siya ni King a few days ago. We think she’s obsessed with him. Parang si Lisa. Remember her?”

“Ah, `yong dating stalker ni King?”

“Yes! `Di ba, nagpanggap siyang walang gusto kay King pero tactic pala niya `yon para makuha `yong attention ni King.”

“That girl is crazy.”

“Precisely. Now someone new is doing it again. It seems like sinadya ni Dana na mag-cheer against our team in her school uniform para mapansin siya ni King. After getting noticed, she’s now trying to make him fall for her with her shrilly cheers and delicious sandwiches. But I think, this time, King will give in to Dana. Mukhang nadala ng ‘goooooo… go Lions! Go, go, go Lions!’ I’m sure mamaya, isisigaw na no’n ‘Kingston for the wiiiiin!’”

That person tried to mimic my shouting voice. Nagtawanan uli sila.

“But seriously, dude, do you like her?” tanong ng isang boses na iba sa huling nagsalita.

“Do you seriously think I’d be interested in a girl like her?” Kingston answered casually.

“A girl like her?”

“She’s too plain-looking for my taste. She’s annoying and loud. And `seems childish. So you all better stop teasing me about her. Ikaw, Caleb. Isa pa, babangasin ko na mukha mo. Stop giving them the wrong idea.”

May tumawa. “Peace, bro!”

Umuwi na lang kami ni Issa nang araw na iyon dahil sa mga narinig namin. That high and mighty Kingston Sevilla harshly criticized and insulted me. He was so mean and full of himself. Puwede naman niyang sabihin na hindi niya ako type. Bakit kailangang pintasan pa niya ako nang ganoon?

And to top it all up, mukhang convinced na convinced siyang may gusto ako sa kanya. At obsessed pa nga raw!

I hated him. I never hated anyone in my life because I was raised to be someone who would not hold onto anger and keep grudges to anyone to maintain my heart free from negative emotions. But since that day, I could not help but feel hatred towards a person.

“I told you to forget about him,” paalala ni issa. “Hindi naman mahalaga kung ano’ng tingin niya sa `yo o kung gusto ka niya, `di ba? Kasi hindi naman siya mahalagang tao sa buhay mo. He’s not even a part of your life. So, his opinions about you don’t matter, right?”

I still hated him.

I knew I was not one of the most attractive girls in school but I was not plain-looking. There were guys who tried to pursue me. I knew I could be loud and childish but that was because I was still young and enjoying my youth. And nobody had ever found me annoying. Only him.

Just because he was handsome, popular and rich did not give him the right to slag off anyone.

“`Wag mo na siyang isipin. Don’t let him affect you. Not good for your heart.”

Tumango na lang ako. Tama. Hindi ko hahayaan ang isang tulad ni Kingston na makabigat sa puso ko. A jerk like him did not have a place even in my mind.

Naalis ko na kaagad sa isip ko si Kingston dahil pinag-usapan namin ni Issa ang tungkol sa isusuot namin sa concert. Kaya lang, nang naglalakad na kami sa pathway papunta sa waiting shed ng mga estudyanteng may sundong sasakyan, natanaw ko ang mayabang na lalaki na papasalubong sa amin.

Kasama ni Kingston si Caleb, who was equally a jerk. Ito ang pinakamadaldal sa loob ng locker room that day. He made fun of me.

Mukhang nakita rin ako ni Kingston. Dapat ay mag-pretend lang ako na wala akong nakita at hindi siya nag-e-exist pero hindi ko pa rin napigilan ang pagtalim ng mga mata ko habang nakatingin sa kanya.

He hurt me. He hurt my feelings. I shouldn’t have apologized to him. He did not deserve my apology and my sandwiches.

Inalis ko na kaagad ang tingin kay Kingston pero humarang ito sa daanan namin ni Issa. Napahinto tuloy kami. He looked baffled.

“Can we talk?” tanong niya.

UMIGKAS ang kilay ko dahil ang sabi ni Kingston ay kakausapin niya ako pero nang pumunta kami sa isang lugar sa campus na walang tao, tumitig lang siya sa akin habang nakakunot ang noo.

Hindi ko dapat siya pinansin nang tanungin ako kanina kung puwede akong makausap pero naisip kong kailangan kong sabihin sa mayabang na lalaking ito na wala akong gusto sa kanya.

“So, ano? Did you bring me here just to stare at me?”

Halatang nasorpresa siya sa unfriendly tone ko.

“What happened to you?” he asked. “The last time we talked, you acted nicely and even apologized to me. And now, you seem mad at me. What is your problem?”

At ako pa talaga ang may problema. “What is my problem? You.” I pointed my finger at him. “You and your oversized ego!”

Halatang nabigla si Kingston. “What?”

Mukhang kapag hindi ko sinabi ang tungkol sa mga narinig ko, he would continue to act as if he did not say mean things about me.

“I was there at the final game. I even brought you drinks. I was serious when I said gusto kong bumawi sa inyo. Pero noong pumunta ako sa locker room na ino-occupy n’yo para ibigay `yon, I heard you and your team talking ill about me.”

He paused as if he was trying to recall his team’s conversation that day. Suddenly, he seemed to understand why I was mad at him. But I saw no trace of guilt in his eyes.

“You might find me plain-looking, loud, annoying and childish. That’s fine. I don’t care what you think about me. But I do care about one thing. Stop thinking that I have a crush on you. And I am absolutely not obsessed with you. Hindi ako katulad ni Quinn o halos lahat ng mga babae rito sa campus na nagkakapandarapa sa `yo. Not everyone gets attracted…”

Nahinto ako sa pagsasalita dahil nasilip ko ang amusement sa mga mata niya habang nakatingin sa akin. As if hindi niya sineseryoso ang mga sinasabi ko. As if hindi siya naniniwalang wala talaga akong gusto sa kanya.

Right. Narinig ko rin ang tungkol sa babaeng nagpanggap na walang gusto kay Kingston pero obsessed pala. Iniisip ba niyang ganoon din ako? Na nagde-deny lang ako ng feelings para pagtuunan niya ako ng atensiyon?

I felt the gritting of my teeth. I could not let him think that way. I needed to prove to him that I did not like him.

Ginawa ko na lang ang unang pumasok sa isip ko. I slapped him. Siyempre, nagulat siya sa ginawa ko. Nanlalaki ang mga mata niya nang sapuin ang pisnging dinapuan ng palad ko. Parang ngayon lang siya nakaranas na masampal ng babae.

“What did you do that for?”

“To prove to you that I don’t like you,” walang ka-guilt-guilt na sagot ko.

“What?” manghang reaction niya.

“I don’t like you. And I will never like someone like you. From now on, let’s treat each other like strangers. Bumalik tayo sa dati. Noong hindi mo pa alam ang existence ko. Noong hindi pa tayo nag-uusap o nagtitinginan kahit magkasalubong. Understand?”

Binigyan ko si Kingston ng malupit na irap at tinalikuran ko na siya.

Natanaw ko si Caleb na nakatayo sa haligi ng roofed walkway at nakasilip sa amin. Mukhang nakita nito ang ginawa kong pagsampal sa kaibigan dahil halata ang shock sa mukha nito. Siguro naman hindi na iisipin ni Caleb na obsessed ako sa friend nito.

MOM was preparing to go to bed when I went inside my parent’s room. It was one of those nights that my dad came late. Natigil si Mommy sa paglalagay ng night cream sa mukha nang yumakap ako rito. Tumayo ito mula sa dresser at hinila ako sa kama para doon gantihan ang yakap ko.

“What’s wrong, baby? Is something bothering you?” tanong ni Mommy Elsa dahil hindi ako nagsasalita habang nakayakap lang rito.

“I slapped someone today.”

“What?” Lumuwang ang yakap sa akin ni Mommy para tingnan ako sa mukha. “Did you have a fight with someone at school?”

Tumango ako. Mukhang naalarma si Mommy.

“Bakit? Hindi mo naman ginagawa `yan noon. Are you hurt?” Sinipat nito ang mukha, leeg at mga braso ko. “Did you…?” Hinawakan niya ang mga pisngi ko. “Did you faint?”

Umiling ako. Ang akala ng mommy ko ay nakipag-catfight ako. Ikinuwento ko rito ang tungkol kay Kingston.

“Oh, it’s a boy.”

“I hate him, Mom.”

“Don’t hate, baby.” Hinaplos ni Mommy ang buhok ko. “It’s a big emotion, an ugly feeling. Remember, you must always be happy and free from negative emotions. So, forgive that guy already and move on.”

“Do I really have to forgive him?” pag-alma ko. “He said mean things about me.”

“It’s okay, baby. We can’t please everybody. Hindi natin hawak ang opinions nila tungkol sa atin. Isa pa, those people don’t really know us at all. `Wag na lang tayong magpaapekto sa mga sinasabi nila, lalo na kung hindi naman sila malaking parte ng buhay natin. What matters most is what our loved ones think about us. Kasi sila ang mas nakakakilala sa atin. Like me and your dad and Kuya Damian. Isama mo na rin si Issa. We think you are beautiful, charming and sweet. And your childishness is just right for your age and that makes you more endearing. Especially to me because I can still treat you as a baby. Even though you’re taller than me now.”

Kiniliti ako ni Mommy sa tagiliran kaya napaigtad ako at napahagikgik. Yumakap uli ako rito.

My mom was right. Kingston did not know me well that’s why he could easily form those opinions about me. Kaya invalid ang mga sinabi niya tungkol sa akin. Invalid and insignificant, because he was not even a part of my life. I got along with everyone around. I did not make any enemies because my patience was big enough.

Si Kingston lang ang nakaubos ng pasensiya ko. Come to think of it. Hindi naman talaga ako madaling magalit pero bakit ang dali kong nagalit sa kanya nang dalawang beses?

“Forget about what the boy said. Don’t fight with him anymore. And apologize for the slap that you gave him.”

“Mommy…” pag-angal ko.

“Yes, do that. Don’t keep grudges and don’t hate anyone. Don’t give your heart an extra work. Besides, I never taught you to physically hurt anyone. Honestly, I’m a bit disappointed.”

Bumuntong-hininga na lang ako. I needed to do what my mom said. Kailangan kong mag-apologize sa pananakit kay Kingston. Hindi ko naman talaga ginustong sampalin siya. Hindi na ako nag-isip nang gawin iyon. In fact, I felt a bit guilty after doing that.

“I’m sorry, Mommy.”

Niyakap uli ako ni Mommy. “I love you.”

“I love you.” I kissed her on the cheek. She did the same.

“You must go to sleep. It’s past bedtime na.”

“Ano’ng oras dadating si Daddy?”

“I don’t know.” Bumalik si Mommy sa harap ng dresser at itinuloy ang paglalagay ng face cream. “But maybe he’s on his way.”

Nakatitig lang ako sa kanya sa salamin habang nakaupo pa rin sa edge ng kama. My mom looked so young and beautiful but her eyes lacked glow. I knew exactly why.

I knew she was unhappy but she was just trying to hide it. Actually, sila ni Daddy. Alam kong hindi na sila masaya sa isa’t isa. It had been so long since I saw their eyes sparked when they looked at each other. Ngayon, pakiramdam ko, nagpapanggap na lang silang masaya at nagmamahalan kapag nasa harapan ko.

Feeling ko, nagsasama na lang sila ni Daddy para sa akin. Hindi nila kayang maghiwalay dahil masasaktan ako. They did not want to break my heart, like literally. Matagal ko na silang gustong tanungin kung mahal pa nila ang isa’t isa pero naduduwag ako. I did not want to confirm my suspicion.

I still hoped that my parents would somehow find themselves falling  in love with each other again.

NOTE: this preview is unedited and unproofread and therefore may contain errors.

2 Comments

  • jeremie

    Aliw naman tong dalawang to, Dana and KIngston. Kinikilig Tita niyo at the same time pineprepare ko na yung puso sa susunod na mangyayari huhuhu.

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