“So, who’s your prom date, Ryan?” asked Adam loudly, so that the entire class’s attention was on him. I stopped writing on the board, waiting to hear his answer. After our mini-encounter last Friday, somehow we decided to drop it and not talk about his leaving anymore, and resumed with our so-called friendship, which was already hard than it was before the knowledge of him leaving sprung up on me. Silence fell around the room, as our classmates anticipated his answer.
Don’t ask me why it had become a public issue who Ryan takes to prom. Maybe coz he has been linked to so many girls that people are actually confused who he’d ask or take to the prom?
Frankly, I’d prefer if he’d go stag. But then again, that would be unfair—he and I aren’t even remotely going out, and I have a prom date (Now it’s actually a bad thing to have one, dang it).
Rumor has it that he had asked Celine to the prom. Celine was his long-time crush, that girl he always liked but she never seemed to like him enough (but sure, she likes him—who wouldn’t like Ryan?). Unfortunately, Celine already has a prom date—her (surprise) boyfriend.
So who does the school heartthrob take to the prom?
He cleared his throat, and I tried to read off the notes Ma’am Claire left us to copy, straining my ears for his answer while I was at it. “No one. Going stag,” he answered, and I had to stop myself from breathing a sigh of relief. I contented myself my relaxing and returning to what I was writing, as the entire class started to tease Ryan.
“Ryan, you? Go stag? Oh c’mon!”
“Ry, come on. A lot of girls are still free, just choose. Bet you that you won’t have a hard time asking anyone out.”
Ryan remained silent, a mysterious smile on his face.
“You have a date to the prom already, Sammie?”
Ryan asked the question so softly that it was nearly inaudible. I lifted my head to look at him, and I hit my head with his accidentally. We laughed, and then turned silent when Sir Andy gave us the evil eye. He returned to what he was checking, and Ryan and I feigned to return to the exercises he asked the class to answer.
“Yeah,” I said after a while, and I saw the disappointment on his face.
“Nathan. He asked me last July.”
I smiled despite this. “Yes.”
He stopped writing. “That was way before prom hype.” I nodded, and I sensed the change of mood in him. “You planning to ask me to the prom?” I asked, and it was his turn to nod.
“Thought you were going stag?”
He wrote “geography” on the question “literally means to describe the Earth” and then turned to me. “I was supposed to… ask you that day. But considering you’ve had your date since July, I reckon I’d really go stag then,” he replied, dismay evident in his voice.
Aw, I thought. Not that his friends would really approve of me being Ryan’s date. The batch geek?
But Ryan never treated me like that. I was never the batch geek to him. He would tell me that I was one great girl—with beauty and the brains. He said I was capable of hooking guys up and catching their attention not just because I was smart, but also because I was beautiful.
“You could ask other girls to the prom, come on,” I urged, but I saw the defiance in his eyes.
“No. I’d go stag. At least I am not obligated to dance or stay with just one girl for the entire night.”
I remained silent as I answered the next twenty questions. He watched me for a moment, and then returned to answering.
“Nathan is courting Laurice. I doubt he’d stay with me the entire night,” I said after a while, pertaining to the fourth year Nathan was eyeing on. Laurice ‘happened’ in Nathan’s life only last January, so he had no way of knowing he wants to take her out for the prom. Unfortunately, he booked the prom with me last July.
He’s staying, Nathan says. He’d still be my prom date. He could always go and ask Laurice to dance any time during the prom, and I won’t stop him from doing so.
“That okay with you?” he asked, and I nodded. “He was gentleman enough not to retract the initial offer, so to speak. That’s fine by me,” I told him, and he stayed silent.
I was nearly finished with the exercise when he said softly, “First and/or last dance, mine, is that fine with you?”
I looked up, trying not to smile so widely and tried not to shout in excitement. Is this really happening?
“Yeah,” I mouthed, and Ryan grinned widely. He winked at me and said thanks.
I breathed deeply.
Reality is bound to catch up on me soon.
“Is he courting you?”
The question I dreaded came, and it was asked by those two people I didn’t want to hear it from: Kai and Shane. Shane was Ryan’s legitimate ex who feels she still needs to protect Ryan, and I got to give it to her for feeling that way. And Kai? I don’t blame her standing next to Shane when this question is asked. She just had to know.
It won’t take a genius to figure out who the ‘he’ in their question was.
I shook my head vehemently. “NO.”
“Are you sure or you guys just ain’t saying?” Kai said, watching me intently. I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure,” I said simply. “We’re friends. You don’t sit to someone for the past six months and not know the person.” I turned at my heel and was about to leave when Shane spoke.
“Ryan asked you to the prom, yet you turned him down.”
I stopped in my steps. How did she know?
I breathed deeply and faced them. “He can’t really ask Celine out. He’s trying to find a bailout, and that’s me. Unfortunately for him, I already got a prom date. That’s why I turned him down,” I explained.
“Just a hypothetical question, Sam,” Kai said, and I knew what was coming. “If Nathan’s not taking you to the prom, would you have accepted Ryan’s offer?”
“Yes,” I answered without batting an eyelash. “And for the record, I don’t owe you guys any explanation. In the event that Ryan and I are in going out, I don’t think we are required to tell you about it.”
I turned at my heel and left them to bitch on me—behind my back.
Stereotypes. When you are a brainy person, you are not supposed to go out with hotties. You’re not supposed to even be liked by them. Yes, you may be friends, but that could just be limited to those times when crises such as book report deadlines, projects, and hard exams arise. Hotties are not supposed to talk to you, because you are only supposed to talk to books, to teachers, and to other geeks. You’re only supposed to carry the school pride and win medals and other competitions. That’s what God made you for, and that is your purpose.
Never—in anyone’s stereotype rule book—should a brainy person (a.k.a. geek) be in the same league as a hottie.
Never should a brainy person go out or fraternize with hotties unless called for by academic woes and reasons.
And NEVER should a hottie fall in love with a brainy person.
I was already near the gates and about to leave campus when Nathan caught up with me, breathless. I frowned—prom was in two days, and we have just finished yet another long practice for the cotillion part. My feet actually hurt with the heels we had to wear (we have to try them on the slippery floor of the ballroom).
“Go to the prom with Ryan, come on.”
I stopped and gaped at him. “What?” I asked, baffled. Nathan grinned and reached out and held my hand. “Ryan—he likes you. He didn’t have to tell me this, but hey, we’ve been friends for so long, I can figure it out, you know?” he said, still huffing because of whatever running he did to catch up with me.
“And Sam, I know you like him,” he said with a sincere smile. “He’s leaving for the States. This could be the last chance for you guys, so…” His voice trailed.
“It’s a win-win situation, huh? You’d go to the prom with Laurice,” I said slowly, and Nathan grinned.
“I’m going stag, Sam,” he said with a wink. “Doing this as a favor to a friend.”
He released my hand. “Wait—Ryan asked you to—”
“Oh no,” he said, shaking his head vehemently. “Did this on my own free will.” He shrugged.
I rolled my eyes. “Guess I owe you one.”
“Tell me that after the prom. If I made the right decision,” he said, and then he turned away. When I got to the gate, Ryan was standing there, a confused look on his face. I shrugged, mouthed “call Nate” and then he nodded.
Turns out Ryan’s not going stag.
Ryan turned to me and smiled. He reached out and held my hand, giving it a slight squeeze. He had just finished the hard part of his day—meeting my parents. He had picked me up from the house as part of his “role” as my date, and he had it complete with a corsage in tow. He looked dapper in his coat and tie—he was wearing a violet polo shirt and a lilac necktie, and he had to give me a sharp look to stop the smile that was forming on my face.
To be honest, violet is his color—and I don’t know how he knew that I’d be wearing a violet dress as well.
The dress was a hand-me-down—we never really that rich enough to afford to have one made for me, so my cousin gave me the dress that she used in her prom. It was haltered (which was really just showing too much skin for my liking) but had a balloon type skirt that made me feel like a princess.
“You look beautiful… and amazing,” I remember Ryan telling me while he fixed the corsage on my wrist. I blushed—the way he said it just took my breath away. He went over the rules with my father—to have me home hopefully before 3AM (I was thankful for my dad for he was somehow lenient in the curfew) and to not party too hard. Ryan had to assure my father that his older brother, Steve, who was driving us to and from the prom, wouldn’t drink or be drunk after the prom.
And then we’re here, in the car, listening to Babyface croon in the background (I was thankful Steve changed it to Babyface from Boyz II Men’s I’ll Make Love to You). His brother had this crazy idea of putting up this cloth between the two front seats and the back seats where Ryan and I were, telling us he’ll be our chauffeur for the night and that would merit him not seeing whatever Ryan and I would do (not that he and I would actually do anything).
Nathan was amazing. Everyone still believed he’s my date, so that Ryan and I could all just surprise them that we’re coming together.
“Nervous how people would react once they see us together?”
I looked at him straight in his eyes, and then nodded slowly. “Kai. Especially Kai,” I said, and Ryan breathed deeply. “I saw the note she passed you, the one you didn’t want to tell me about,” he said slowly, and I flashed him an alarmed look. “You went through my things?” I said, my tone accusing.
Ryan shook his head. “Well, it actually didn’t help that the book you inserted the note in was my English book, Sammie,” he explained, and my jaw dropped.
“You believe her?” he asked after I got over my surprise.
“Believe her when she said we look good together.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. I saw the car pull over the driveway of the hotel where the prom was going to be held, and I turned to Ryan. “Let’s see, shall we?” I said, opening the door to my side. He studied my expression and then got down on the other side, going around the car to help me down. He placed my hand in his.
I took a deep breath. “Here we go,” I heard Ryan said as soon as we stepped into the lobby.
Coz letting love go is never easy/But I love you so that’s why I’ll set you free/And I know, someday, somehow, I’ll find a way/To leave it all behind me/I guess it wasn’t meant to be, my baby/So before I let you go I have to say/I love you…
Ryan placed his hands around my waist and I placed mine around his neck, feeling his breath on my face. He gave me a contented smile, a smile that reached his eyes.
“You look so beautiful, Sammie,” he whispered to my ear. I looked at him and rolled my eyes. “Say it one more time and I probably won’t believe you anymore. You’ve used the line too much,” I whispered back, and he laughed, his breath fanning my face.
At this moment, it felt like it was only me and him, at the center of the pavilion, dancing to the slow music. Nobody was with us—it was just me and him. No one was gawking at us like they did when he and I entered the ballroom together, my hand in his. No one was whispering behind their hands about me and him going to the prom together.
No one, at this moment, is going to go between me and Ryan.
“I don’t want to leave, Sammie,” I heard him whisper, and I held his smoldering gaze. The song in the background seemed so apt: Freestyle’s Before I Let You Go. I gave him an encouraging smile. “Your parents won’t decide to migrate your entire family if they don’t see that it’s going to do your family good. It’s for your own good.”
I know I didn’t sound as convincing as I hoped to be, but Ryan acknowledged my effort with a slow nod. “I know,” he began. “But my entire life is here. The church I go to every Sunday mass, the first street where I learned to bike and drive, the court where I first played basketball, my first school, my first crush, first love, and the next. The girl I like is here and I don’t want to leave her.”
He fixed me a gaze at his last sentence, and I tried not to avoid his gaze. I tried to think that it was some other girl he told me about that I forgot about or I wasn’t listening enough, but I couldn’t deny that I hoped it was me. He hasn’t said the words. I have heard it from other people—from Rose, from Nathan, even from Kai. But not from Ryan. Not from the person from whom I need to hear it the most.
“Look, you don’t want to remember the prom as the day when you give me a litany of what you’ll miss when you get there in Atlanta. Cheer up, Mister. Life’s going to be okay,” I told him, and he nodded, pulling me closer.
He was my first dance.
“So what did you do, Sam? You told us you were going with Nathan, but it appears that you lied, didn’t you?”
I reapplied my lipstick and then looked at Shane’s reflection on the mirror of the bathroom. “Things happened between the last time you asked me and today,” I said coldly. She smirked.
“Ryan’s leaving, Sam. Better make use of your time. Enjoy it while it lasts,” she said, flashing an evil grin and then turning to leave me. I looked at my reflection on the mirror and breathed deeply. She didn’t have to tell me that.
When I got outside, I couldn’t find Ryan at our table. I saw Nathan dancing with Laurice at the floor, her arms draped around his neck, and they were in a deep conversation. I wonder if he’s already asking her if she could be his girlfriend.
“Looking for Ryan?”
I nearly jumped at the sound of Shane’s voice. When I turned, she had a sly look on her face. “Two o’clock,” she said, and then she left me. I scanned the crowd, looking at the direction that Shane pointed, and there was Ryan… dancing with Celine.
They were both smiling, a conversation only exchanged through their eyes. He was looking at her… like his eyes were twinkling. And Celine was blushing, like he had told her a tiny secret. Maybe he told her she’s beautiful as well—the way he had told me the entire night.
I felt tears well up in my eyes. I turned and headed for the exit.
I was breathless when I got to the parking lot. I have no idea how I can get home, but I needed to leave. I wiped the tears on my face and then turned to the person who called me.
“Whoa, what happened?” he said, dropping the magazine he was reading and then rushed towards me. I hugged myself—hello, the night was actually chilly, it’s way past midnight already—and Steve noticed the chills that ran up my arms and on my back and he pulled me towards the car. He fished a jacket from the driver side and draped it over my shoulders.
“Where’s my brother?” Steve asked slowly, and I choked back a sob.
“Sam,” he pressed softly, and before I knew it, Steve was wiping my tears with his fingers gently. “What happened?”
I just shook my head, not trusting myself to speak. He made me sit at the driver’s seat and he knelt in front of me. He placed his hands tentatively on my knees, his expressive eyes filled with worry, and said, “Did Ryan do something to you?”
“Can you take me home?” I asked Steve, my voice throaty, and he hesitated. He couldn’t actually leave his brother here, especially if only just for a girl whom he barely even knows. Steve took a deep breath, bringing out his cell phone and started to text. And then he looked up at me and nodded. “Let’s go. I’ll take you home,” he said with a soft smile.
Steve took my hand and ushered me to the backseat, but I shook my head. “I’ll stay with you up front,” I told him, and his smile widened to a grin. “Alright,” he answered, walking me over to the passenger’s side. He ushered me inside and I was about to close the door when he stopped me.
“Seatbelt,” he said, leaning over and putting my seatbelt on with a snap. He was so close to me—his face was just inches away and I had to stop breathing. He looked at me and just smiled mystically, and then he drew back, walking over to the driver’s side.
Steve revved up the car. “Now let’s go before my brother reads my text and he runs after you,” he said, and I leaned against the plush seat, watching the starless sky through the window.
“What happened, Sam?”
I looked at Steve. I guessed he thought ten minutes into the trip, there had already been too much silence. I took a deep breath. “Where are you studying?” I asked him, and he sighed, shaking his head a bit.
“I won’t get it out of you, huh, Sam?”
I gave him a small smile. “I guess you’re taking up a pre-med course, too, huh?” I said instead. “Ryan said it wasn’t forced upon you Santillans, but it appears you all inherited the interest in medicine from your father.”
Steve glanced at me, and then returned his gaze on the road. “I’m taking up biology at UST,” he replied. “And yes, I guess medicine really does run in the family.”
“Ryan told me once before he was planning to take up nursing in college. Guess I won’t be able to see him do that,” I said sadly.
“You know,” Steve said slowly.
“He told me. A few days before the prom.”
“We have no choice, Sam. It’s family.”
I turned to him. “I know that. How about Maxene?” I asked, knowing that before his batch had graduated, he was with this petite girl with a pearly smile, Maxene. She’s amusing, actually—I’ve met her and fought against her during our first year on a badminton tournament, which my partner, Rhea, and I badly lost. She always had the cheerful and infectious laugh.
“Oh, Max,” Steve said, as if he was remembering something that he had forgotten. “I haven’t seen her in a long while. We… broke up shortly after graduation.”
“That’s fine. She’s… married now, last I heard. She got pregnant.”
I didn’t speak. I counted three hundred seconds before I broke the silence this time.
“You’ve had it easy, you know that? You knew everyone coz you didn’t transfer into this campus. You… grew up with this people. I intruded because I transferred. And then it didn’t help me at all that the guy I like is one of the most popular—if not the most popular,” I said, looking away from him. Steve clucked his tongue in his mouth.
“I never figured out why we—yes, you do remember I was one of them—liked to bully newbies. There was some satisfaction in knowing that they don’t know who we are and what we are capable of doing to them and to their reputations. We have a knack in seeing their fear, but I know it wasn’t right,” Steve said, his voice thoughtful. And then he glanced at me. “We used to trip on you too, I remember.”
I gave him a smug smile. “I’m pretty used to bullying. Can’t really do anything about it, really.”
Silence befell me and him again.
“I saw him dancing with Celine. I just went out for a bathroom break and he was dancing with Celine when I got back,” I said, unable to keep it bottled inside me any longer.
“Oh,” Steve said, and I saw him frown. I waited but he didn’t speak anymore.
“That’s it? Just ‘oh?’” I pressed lightly, and he shrugged.
“Celine… she’s had my brother’s eye ever since… they were kids. She never liked him enough, you know? They’d talk on the phone, they’ll eat out sometimes, but that’s about it. Ryan could never get past to being just her friend,” Steve explained, and then he pulled over. I hadn’t realized we were already at my house.
Steve turned to me. “My brother likes you, Sam. He actually bargained with my parents so he could stay. Said he can live with our grandparents. He wants to stay here. With you. But we can’t just leave him here,” he said, his voice soft. “Sam, give him that dance with Celine. He couldn’t dance with her ever again, you know that, right? After this, come April, we’re all leaving. Give him that one memory to take with him when we leave.”
I took a deep breath, considered which among the ten reasons I could say to Steve (which includes why can’t Ryan be satisfied by just dancing with me if he really likes me and if he wants memories to take when he leaves), and then nodded. “You’re right,” I resolved, and he gave me a small smile. He thanked me for understanding, and I reached out to open the door.
“I just realized I only had one real dance tonight. I promised Ryan first and last, but then again…” My voice trailed, and he smiled.
“I can give you your last dance,” Steve offered, and I laughed. “Steve, no. You’ve already done so much for me tonight,” I told him, and I opened the door. He was fast—when I got down he was already there at the passenger’s side, holding the door open for me.
“Come on, Sam. Humor me,” he said, a playful look on his face, offering his hand. I didn’t know what to do—I was holding back a wide smile, and I felt all warm and fuzzy inside.
“There’s no music,” I said as he pulled me out of the car and placed his left hand on my waist and intertwined his fingers with my other hand. “Oh, I bet we can think of many songs. What do you want me to hum?” he asked, but we already started to move. I was trying not to be conscious—it was a good thing that there weren’t any other people on the street watching this silly moment.
We moved to a tuneless waltz that Steve was humming, and I got caught up in the moment that I just leaned my head against his broad shoulder. I felt him inhale my hair, and then I looked up at him. He twirled me, and then I just laughed. And then I gazed into his eyes as we waltzed again. I don’t know how long he and I were dancing on the street.
We stopped moving.
Steve reached up, tucked a stray lock of hair behind my ear and I just held my breath. He stared at me, and I just got lost in those expressive eyes. And then a smile crept onto his face, and he just kept moving closer. And closer. And closer.
He kissed me on the forehead, a soft, lingering kiss that just made my heart stop.
And then his cellphone rang, and I stepped away from him. There was a blush on his face—I guessed I was blushing too, but I could bet my blush is redder—as he picked up the call, his eyes never leaving me.
“Ryan,” Steve said, sounding gloomy all of a sudden. “Yeah, she’s with me. We’re already at her house.” I waited, and then heard Steve say, “He wants to talk to you.” He offered me the phone but I shook my head.
“You sure?” he mouthed the words, and I nodded.
“She doesn’t want to talk to you, brother,” he said, still studying my face. If I knew it, he was probably measuring how much I had blushed after he kissed me (on the forehead).
“Alright. Be home safe,” he said, ending the call. And then he smiled at me. “He’s checking up on you. He’s worried,” he said, and I forced a smile.
“Thanks for taking me home,” I said, heading for the door. “And for the dance.” I removed the jacket from my shoulders but he shook his head. “That’s yours. You can keep it,” Steve said, and I didn’t insist for I knew he wouldn’t take the jacket back. I thanked him once more and then headed inside the house.
I exhaled once I reached my room (after passing through my dad who asked for a run-through of the prom).
Why do I feel so confused?