Sheena looked up at me and asked, “What’s wrong?”
It was recess, and I patted my pocket for my wallet. Not there. Did a check in my bag, nada. I left my wallet at home. I tried to visualize where in my room I probably should have left it, and I knew where: the bag that I used when I went to Alex’s grave. I groaned.
“I… don’t have my wallet with me,” I replied slowly.
“Did someone steal it?”
“No. It’s at home. I forgot to grab it this morning,” I explained, and she nodded. “Aw, I’m sorry, Trista. I can’t lend you money. I’m bringing just the right amount for recess and lunch,” Sheena said, and I gave her an assuring smile. “It’s alright, Sheen. I’ll figure this one out,” I said, looking around. As if on cue, Nathan was making his way towards me, that wishy-washy smile on his face, exposing his dimple on his left cheek.
“Problem?” he asked, a cute, inquiring look on his face, and I nodded. “Wallet,” was my one-word reply.
He took out his wallet. “I’ll buy you food,” he said, and it wasn’t phrased as a question. I was about to protest when he just took off. “Okaaaaaaay,” I said slowly, lengthening the second syllable, almost dazed at what’s happening. I wasn’t sure how to react. Nathan came back and was carrying cheese sticks and fries, and I accepted. “I’ll pay you later,” I told him, and he glowered at me.
I stared back at him, wanting him to change his mind, but I knew he wouldn’t. “Thanks,” I said instead, and he went back to the food stall and came back with a hotdog and his own fries. He sat next to me, and we ate, small talks in between, sometimes involving Sheena. As soon as we were done eating, Nathan left to be with his team again. I was waiting for him by lunchtime, but he didn’t arrive. I silently wondered how I am to eat lunch.
Gino was the answer. He arrived in style at our acacia spot, delivering a complete food tray on my table. He raised his hand as I was about to pose a question and left once more. When he returned, he was carrying a similar food tray.
“What is this?” I asked, motioning at the pork sinigang, rice, Coke, and banana on the tray. Gino smirked. “Food,” he said simply, and I gave him a sarcastic smile. “That’s kind of obvious, isn’t?” I said, and he sat across me. “Nathan told me to give that to you. The Reader’s Theatre team was called for a practice, so he can’t bring it himself. But he wants me to make sure you eat everything, and that you’d drink your medicines,” he explained, more patiently this time. I thanked him, and then we started to eat.
“You and him finally okay?” he asked, midway the meal. I nodded.
He clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “And here I am thinking I have a chance with you,” he said, shaking his head, almost feigning disappointment, and I stopped myself from reacting violently.
“And here I am thinking you were staring at me all these times because Nathan asked you to watch me for him,” I retorted, and he shrugged.
“Some of it for Nathan, but most of it, I do it on my own accord,” Gino admitted, and I waved my hand dismissively. “Gino, I don’t need to hear this,” I told him, my voice grave. He shrugged. “Do you know how hard that past month was? Staring at you, knowing that for some weird and obvious reason, I can’t make a move on you?” he asked me, his eyes boring into mine.
“That ‘weird and obvious reason’ is Nathan, and he is your friend, and I am somehow committed to the guy. So I can’t get the point why you have to spill this out on me now, especially when you know that he and I are okay already,” I countered, holding his gaze.
“Have to get it out of my chest.”
I sighed, fixing my plate and utensils onto the tray and standing up. “Well, now that I relieved you of that, can we drop it?” I said, holding onto the tray, planning to take it to the canteen. Gino didn’t speak, so I thought he agreed. I took a step towards the canteen.
“Why are you scared of hearing it?” he asked just as I was three steps away.
I didn’t turn. I liked Gino—in more ways than one—but I like him more as an older brother. And I didn’t need to hear this, because (1) I don’t want to have this eerie awkwardness around me and him, since we have a week to go before this entire reviewing-and-playing-under-the-acacia thing ends; (2) I don’t want Nathan to know that one of his friends is going behind his back; and (3) it is damn so not… right to hear a confession of admiration while eating lunch with a person you looked up to as an older brother.
“Scared of hearing what?”
Obviously, I was trying to buy time.
“That someone else other than your—what is Nathan exactly?” he said, and I detected irritation in his voice. I didn’t react to his provocation since I didn’t know what Nathan and I were, and he rambled on. “That someone else other than Nathan likes you. That one of them actually had the guts to tell it to your face,” he continued, and I shrugged, ignoring how maliciously he said Nathan’s name.
“I wasn’t scared of hearing it,” I just said, and walked away. I was partly telling the truth. I wasn’t scared of hearing it—I just didn’t need to hear it.
Maybe Gino was banking on the instability of my whatever with Nathan, who, by the way, I almost seduced into making love with me this morning. Ha. Ha. Never nice.
I hate this life.
For that entire week and then the next, Nathan would:
- Eat recess and lunch with me, and Erica would look at us, a wistful smile on her face. She whispered to me that she is happy for me and Nathan, and I saw to it that Bruce makes a pretty nice move on her and never let her go. Gino would watch us, and when I catch him staring, he looks away. I don’t want to think I hurt the guy.
- Bring me a long-stemmed rose every other day when (1) he picks me up for school, or (2) he drops by before dinner.
- Leave small notes in my locker with sweet nothings (After all, he was my Night.).
- Give Manang Luisa a rose every time he visits us. He so loves Manang Luisa, and it is very much reciprocated. (Manang Luisa cooks Nathan’s favorite adobo every weekend that he spends at my house, and cooks whatever favorite Nathan and I share when he drops by for breakfast.)
- Wish that I meet his family sooner than later, because he and Ian has been telling them countless of stories about me, and his mom isn’t satisfied by the daily car encounters we have. He has told his mom that my favorite is pizza and pasta, and her mom cooks mean lasagna, and wants me over at their house pronto.
As to the last one, my usual reply was silence. I didn’t know how in the hell I could meet his parents when in fact I don’t have parents to show for—only Manang Luisa. For some weird reason, that unsettles me. Meeting the parents isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do. My impression and encounters with parents are very limited, considering mine technically abandoned me when I was two, and I haven’t had that many close friends who asked me to go home with them and meet their lovable parents.
Whatever compromise Nathan and I will be having over this Meet the Parents encounter, I have to wait. He isn’t pushing it, so I guess it was still fine by him that I avoid the topic.
Lyra, by the way, had seemingly forgotten about bitching on me, which is kind of good. I need this week to be A-okay to be relaxed for my contest.
DAY OF THE COMPETITION.
Nathan and I debated last night whether or not he should drive his car to the venue of the contests—amazingly, he has one, and it took him two months before he told me that he (1) has a driver’s license, and (2) has a car that was a hand-me-down from his grandfather. I swear, the car isn’t anything close to looking like a hand-me-down—it was still sleek, and brand new.
Maybe it’ll sputter when we ride it.
We settled for him driving the car, and he asked the permission of Ms. Gutierrez that he won’t be joining the school bus, and I did the same to Ms. Quinones. My coach didn’t quite react the way Ms. Gutierrez shrugged when Nathan asked permission—Ms. Quinones gave me a sermon on boyfriends and relationships and taking it too seriously. I managed to nod at the right moments but blocked her just the same—I knew Nathan and I were attracting attention since I was the newbie and that he was pretty much vocal now about what he feels about me if anyone asks (not that it wasn’t obvious by the way that he pretty much surrounds me whenever he can, and that our body language dictates that he and I aren’t just friends).
When Ms. Quinones finally had a throaty finish (and Nathan was already outside the classroom waiting for me), I surprised her with a hug. “Ms. Quinones, I appreciate everything—your concern and care—and I know you’re thinking that I might be just taking it too seriously because I have no parental supervision. Well, I have, and it’s Manang Luisa. And the only person I have now aside from her is Nathan. I do hope you understand my predicament as well—I am alone, and aside from my nanny, Nathan is my father, brother and best friend all rolled into one,” I explained, releasing her. She sighed, tears gleaming in her eyes.
“Sometimes I wonder why parents would leave their children on their own,” she said wearily, and I knew she was speaking from the mother’s point of view, since she has two beautiful kids in Audrey and Adam. To her statement, I have no answer, so I just shrugged. “Okay. Ride with Nathan,” she relented. “But you know your limitations, okay?” she reminded me, and I nodded, mocking a military salute that made her smile.
“Run along,” she said, pushing me towards the door.
Nathan’s voice interrupted my reminiscing, and I turned to him, shaking my head. “Nah,” I replied, and he leaned to kiss me on the forehead. I took my shoulder bag off the table and he held my hand as we headed to his car. He opened the passenger door for me, and I got in, then he went around and rode on the driver’s side. Paolo was lurking somewhere, that’s for sure, mad since I agreed to Nathan driving us both when all he had is a student’s driver’s license. He made that argument to Manang Luisa the other day, but she just shrugged him off, saying that he was paranoid.
“If there is one person on this planet that won’t hurt my Trista, that’s Nathan,” I remembered her saying. I smiled, amused at how much Manang Luisa trusts Nathan, and how Nathan has earned her trust in a short span of time.
“Ready?” he asked, and I nodded. The car revved to life, and it wasn’t as I expected. It sounded new, and from what Nathan told me, it was well-maintained even after his grandfather stopped using it because he migrated to the United States. Moved like a new car, too, and he laughed at my awed expression.
“You expected it to sputter and die?” he asked, looking around the seventies model of some car—sorry, I don’t speak cars. The only car I know that looked old and vintage is a Volkswagen, and this is not one. I blushed, and then nodded slowly. “Lolo had it re-engineered to be modern inside. It’s just the shell that’s somehow old,” he explained, and I nodded, trying to act like I understood. I knew Nathan saw that I didn’t, for he had that crooked smile on his face. He didn’t comment, which was what I liked about him on some days, and then we drove out.
Santa Maria Catholic School wasn’t as huge as Teddy High, but it had a respectable size. The parking lot could have fit our McDonald’s building, and it was nearly full when we got there. School buses were the ones that occupied much of the space, and Nathan maneuvered until he found a respectable parking space, taking us fifteen minutes.
He turned off the car engine and turned to me. “I want you to know that whatever place you bag, it won’t matter to me, okay?” he said softly, taking both my hands into his. “Although we both know that you’re winning first,” he added as an afterthought, and I slapped him playfully on the shoulder.
“Thanks, Nathan. And you do know that I know that you’re winning too, right?” I teased, and he gave me a long kiss on the forehead. The long kiss allowed me to think that this has been the closest we’ve gotten since the after-showers scene. He and I had been avoiding physical contact as much as we can, with me exerting more conscious effort than Nathan. “For whatever it’s worth, Nathan, win or lose, you still have me,” I said. He let me go, and I smiled his favorite smile. We went down and he texted Gino as to where the Teddy High delegates were, and in five more minutes, we found them. I let go of Nathan’s hand and went to Ms. Quinones.
“Slept well?” she asked, to which I replied, “Yes, Ma’am.” I greeted the nervous Kate (second-year AP, from what I gathered, was a killer, so she has every right to be nervous), and the smiling Sheena. Rose was nowhere to be found.
“Nervous?” asked Sheena, as we sat on one of the benches. Our contest is in half an hour, and I haven’t felt the jolt of clamminess and heart-thumping-against-the-chest nervousness. I shook my head. “I’ve been doing this almost all my life,” I began to explain, “and so I think I can do this. I’m not that confident though, since this is history. Science has always been my field.”
Sheena patted my back. “Girl, we can all do this, come on,” she said, speaking more to herself than to me, and I sighed. Ms. Quinones called us all and told us that she’ll be staying with Kate (since it was always a killer in second-year AP), and I was assigned to one of the elementary teachers named Ms. Nancy. Just Ms. Nancy, no surnames. She seemed to be nice, with her frizzy hair and wide smile. After countless of good lucks and a group prayer, Ms. Nancy and I headed for my assigned room…
Only to be stopped by Gino at the stairs.
He was huffing and puffing—from what I realized later on, the Sci-Dama contests were held on the other side of the campus. “Hey. Where’s the fire?” I greeted, and he tried to catch his breath. For the benefit of Ms. Nancy, who seemed to be weirded by the entire Gino breathless thing, I talked to Gino—the first since he did the Revelation.
“Just wanted to wish you luck,” he said, when he finally was breathing normally. “And God bless.”
Aw, shucks. “Thanks. You, too. Make—” I paused, for I was supposed to say ‘me’—“Teddy High proud,” I said. He winked at me, and then went off. Ms. Nancy’s eyebrows were hiking up her forehead, and I proceeded to the classroom. I wanted to shrink at my spot, and I know I had to regain my concentration in time for the contest. I did one quick prayer, and went to my assigned seat.
Here we go.
It still doesn’t sink with me as I headed with Gino to the Reader’s Theatre contest venue. He bagged second, and I told him I was proud of him. He beamed at me when I did that, like I told him that he’s doing something right for the first time in his life. Only then did it occur to me that I don’t really know anything much about Gino—except that he is a friend of Nathan, and he’s darn good at playing Dama.
“Gino, where are your parents?” I asked softly, as we walked to the building where Nathan’s contest was held. He glanced at me, and I saw the fleeing sadness in his eyes. “Well, they’re at home. My dad’s working in a factory, as a supervisor. My mom’s selling RTWs (ready-to-wear clothes) and managing our small carinderia,” he narrated in an almost robotic voice. “I have three older sibs, and they sometimes send us money. But… they were all the perfect sons and daughter, so I’m the bad one.”
Without thinking, I reached out and touched his arm. He looked at my hand on his and I tried hard not to withdraw my touch. “Gino, in the past months that I’ve known you, I don’t think you are a bad guy. You’ve saved my ass a couple of times already. You’re a nice guy, Gino, and I don’t want you to think otherwise, okay?” I said, my voice sincere. He gave me what I now realized my favorite smile of his, a lopsided smile that made his face brighter. I smiled back.
“Thanks, Trista. Sometimes I needed to hear that,” he said, and we were at the auditorium where Nathan’s contest was held. We were just in time for the announcement of winners.
“Third place goes to… Santa Maria Catholic School!”
Part of the crowd cheered, and I couldn’t spot where Nathan and his group was. The Santa Maria Catholic School Reader’s Theatre team went to the center of the makeshift stage and accepted their medals. I felt Gino’s hand at the small of my back, and I allowed him that. I was so used to guys making advances on me—Ian excluded. No matter what Nathan says that even though I try hard not to allure men, it was unavoidable.
Nathan says it was something about my eyes that somehow says: “Come here. Bite me.”
I laughed at that, and he said he was serious. Getting eyeglasses didn’t help, obviously. I was aiming to hide my eyes, but still…
“Second placers are… Theodore Montessori High School!”
I groaned, and saw Abby, Erica, Peter, and Nathan hug each other and walk over to the stage to claim their medals. I waved at Nathan and he saw me, and he gave me a smile, and it was a sad one. “I love you,” I mouthed, and that made him smile brighter. After receiving their medals, he moved towards me and Gino, and Gino stepped back. I shook my head and pulled him by the hand towards me and Nathan.
“Hey dude, congratulations,” Gino said, and Nathan quickly thanked him, and then asked what position he got. “Second,” he replied, showing him his silver medal that is identical to what Nathan is wearing around his neck. “You, my love?” he asked, turning to me. I blushed. That was somehow a first—calling me ‘love’ in front of other people—much more that it was in front of Gino. Gino grabbed the medal from my pocket and showed it to Nathan.
“Wow, gorgeous. A gold!” Nathan said, and he hugged me. I was still holding Gino’s hand while Nathan hugged me, and when he released me he was frowning. I dropped Gino’s hand and didn’t offer an explanation as to why I was holding it. “You are so treating me out,” I whispered into Nathan’s ear, and he faked a smile. “Yeah. I will,” he said. The first place team was announced and it was Kingman High School. Nathan groaned.
“We were better than they were,” he said angrily, and I knew he felt cheated. I took his hand—I made sure that it was his hand that I was holding and not Gino’s—and replied, “I know, honey. It just doesn’t work that way. It is a contest won by the judges’ scores.”
He sighed, and I looked at Gino, who shrugged. I knew Nathan was taking this so badly. He, like me, isn’t a fan of losing.
“I didn’t watch it, so I couldn’t say anything more,” I told Nathan, and he nodded. I saw Erica call Nathan over for a photo op. I let him go, turning to Gino.
“Damn. Need to work on being a very nice listener and comforter,” I said sadly. I was so used to not caring about other people, but now I have Nathan and I do need to care for what he’s feeling. Gino patted me on my back. I watched Nathan pose grudgingly, holding the silver medal up for the cameraman to click away. I got my gold medal and held it out to him when he came back.
“What’s this?” he asked, frowning.
“A gold medal,” I said, trying not to be sarcastic but it wasn’t working. “I told you this morning, remember? It doesn’t matter to me whatever you win. You’ll still be bagging gold to me for being a good and loving boyfriend,” I told him, more seriously this time. He rolled his eyes, but he was grinning.
“Aw shucks,” he said, imitating my tone whenever I say that. He took the medal from me and pocketed it. “Well, I can’t give you a silver medal,” Nathan said grudgingly, looking at the medal around his neck. I rolled my eyes.
“You don’t have to give me anything, damn it,” I said angrily. I turned and left him with Gino. It isn’t about what he can give me. Why can’t he see that he is enough?
I found Sheena loitering under the Teddy High banner at the far side of the canteen. She was heartily eating a sandwich that I guessed was courtesy of the school, since everyone who was huddled with her was eating one. She handed me a sandwich and a juice in a tetra pack, and I took it but didn’t eat. I sat next to her and pouted.
“Hey. You won. Come on. Why the long face?” she asked, munching happily on her sandwich. She also won gold, and Rose won gold. Kate’s still in her contest—Rose told me that she is having a clincher round for the first place.
“Nathan,” I said grumpily. She was about to ask why when the topic of our conversation arrived, Gino in tow. I looked at Sheena and said, “I know it’s pretty immature, but can we just leave? I want to not be with him for the moment. He needs his space.” Sheena nodded and announced to the Teddy High bunch, “Hey, we’re going to see how Kate’s doing.” A few nods all around, and I went ahead of her.
At the corner of my eye, I saw Nathan headed to follow me and Sheena, but Gino pulled him, and Sheena glared at him.
He stopped and didn’t follow.
One thing I learned when I am in this mood is that I shouldn’t try to rationalize why I got mad because I never come up with a sane explanation.
I wish I knew the reason why I got mad at Nathan. Maybe because I hated the fact that he is a sore loser—like me—and that I got caught holding Gino’s hand—which kinda feels nice, if I may say so. Or is it because he doesn’t know that what I needed and what is enough for me is JUST him? Or maybe I won gold and he won silver, and he thinks that between the two of us, there’s still competition?
I sighed. Kate lost the clincher round. That merits our team with three gold medals and one silver. And yey, we’re all exempted from the exams. At least there’s something good about this day. I couldn’t go home yet—for one, the school bus will wait for everyone’s contests to finish, and that means until this afternoon, and since I picked a fight with Nathan, I can’t really ask him to take me home now.
It’s not like Santa Maria Catholic School is near town—it is an hour away.
Kate, Ms. Quinones, Sheena, and I all headed back to the “Teddy High Headquarters.” Ms. Santana, the high school principal, announced that we’ll be eating lunch at Sheena’s place—I didn’t know she lived around the vicinity—so that we’ll be able to be comfortable instead of being stuck in a cramped space in Santa Maria Catholic School.
“Everyone,” Ms. Santana said pointedly, “will be riding the bus.”
I shrugged. Sheena and I fell in line, Gino and Nathan following closely behind. In the bus, Sheena sat next to me, and Gino and Nathan selected the seats directly behind mine and Sheena’s. I looked out the window and ignored the hustle and bustle of the other Teddy High delegates trying to cram into the bus.
“Trista, whatever it was, I am sorry.”
I turned and was shocked to see that instead of Sheena, Nathan was already the one seated next to me. I breathed deeply and faced the window.
“You are enough, Nathan. I don’t need silver medals. I don’t need gold medals. Just you and I and I am so happy,” I said in a low voice. Nathan didn’t move beside me, and after a while I felt his hand creep up to meet my hand on my lap. He gave it a squeeze.
I didn’t react, but I didn’t remove my hand from his either.
The entire trip we were silent, words failing us both.
I just found out that at Teddy High, the last week of October is actually something to look forward to—for more reasons than one.
It’s Intramurals, and you get to not have classes for a week after the grueling quarterly exams. The sports are: basketball, volleyball, table tennis, tennis, badminton, chess, and the ever famous cheer dance competition. I got included in volleyball (since I played okay during one of our practice games in PE) and was one of the chosen fifty from the seventy-eight students in our batch to be part of the cheer dance competition. I had danced before—Renee attested that I could even choreograph our routine, but I refused (and I got subjected to Nathan’s sermons about “not taking advantage of the opportunities available to” me)—so this should not be different from the dances I had before. They discovered I could do cartwheels and splits, and I had more role than dancing.
I get to distract the crowd while the grand pyramid forms and the girls get tossed up in the air.
I get to split and tumble in our short skirts—the same skirts that made Nathan’s eyebrows hike up his forehead. Apparently we were the first to use skirts in the cheer dance competitions. Jogging pants were often—check that, always—used since the basketball court that we have at Teddy High isn’t really friendly to skirts (it is an outside basketball court, so go figure). I reasoned that we will be wearing cycling shorts underneath the skirts, but he still looked uncomfortable.
I shrugged him off, and he didn’t talk to me for two days as if the entire costume was my idea.
Good Lord. Sometimes I think my boyfriend loves me too much. Ha. Ha.
“I thought it was Mr. and Ms. Intramurals? Why the talent portion then?” I asked Lau impatiently, and she laughed. I had agreed to be the batch’s representative to Ms. Intramurals because (1) Nathan wanted me to join, and he actually got mad at me when I considered turning it down (and yes, I got his lecture again), and (2) Ian is the Mr. Intramurals of our batch. Nathan said he’s feeling okay that I was paired up with his brother—he wouldn’t want any other guy since his brother is the only one in my batch that he trusts. He didn’t care if I reason out that I didn’t need Lyra to go after me again—he just said he wants this.
Well, what boyfriend wants—since, as he pointed out, this is the only thing he has ever really asked from me—boyfriend gets.
I remember his note for me this morning:
I thought the Mr. and Ms. Intramurals thing is not that big a deal in Teddy High, but apparently I was wrong. I thought that it might be just walking and modeling and carrying the batch flag and colors, but it wasn’t. Here we are: talent portion.
“Come on, Trista. You’re one of the most talented people I know. You can sing and dance,” she pointed out, and her friends Renee, Frances and Mai popped around and heard the last bit.
“I reckon that you just sing,” Frances began, “since you’ll be showcasing your dancing prowess when you split and tumble for our cheer dance competition.” I rolled my eyes at her, and the others murmured in agreement. I sighed. “I’ll sing if you guys are going to be my backup,” I relented. In my first few months in Teddy High, I learned that Frances, Renee, and Mai are the resident divas of not only my batch, but also of the entire school. The three girls winked at me.
“Sure,” said Mai, and she suggested one song that led me to think of Nathan right away.
“I love that,” I said, and we high-fived. “Good,” Renee said, and we started planning on how to sing it.
In less than ten seconds, we knew what we’re going to do: sing the song acapella.
“This is just you and Ian for the Mr. and Ms. Intrams, Trista. I hope you’re not thinking otherwise.”
I turned to face her, nodding. “Yes, Ma’am. I am very well aware about that glaring fact that Ian is actually Nathan’s brother,” I said smugly. “Oh, check that. He’s my boyfriend’s brother.” I gave her a sinister smile, and she fumed. She wanted to stomp away from me but it appears as though a better idea had occurred to her.
I found out about her ingenious idea when I felt myself lying face first on the filthy basketball court.
Damn. That little bitch can shove.
It was a good thing that I had my senses to put my hands in front of my face before I fell, so all I had on my face was dirt, and all the cuts were in my hands, and they were stinging in pain already. I heard her laugh maniacally as she went away, and I tried to sit up and dusted off whatever I can from my clothes. I took my handkerchief and wiped my face off, cursing Lyra silently.
I looked up and saw Ian’s worried face. The basketball court was fairly empty—Lyra decided to talk to me in the more secluded and darker areas of the court so whatever criminal act she did to me wasn’t really seen by everyone else practicing with us. It was dark already, after all. Past eight in the evening from what I gathered. Practice for that deadly cheer dance competition hasn’t been this deadly. Every muscle in everyone’s body is actually aching—thanks to pain relievers, we’re surviving.
My dear school takes sports as seriously as they do take academics.
I said irritably, “Can you tell your girlfriend to lay off me?” Ian frowned, and held out a hand and helped me stand. “Girlfriend?” he asked, clueless, and I didn’t speak. It took him a split-second to realize who I was pertaining to.
“Lyra?” he said darkly, and I nodded. “She’s not my girlfriend,” he pointed out. I smirked, accepting his hand and he pulled me up. “I know that, but she’s acting like one,” I told him, and he groaned. He hadn’t let go of my hands, and he turned them over. He saw the cuts I sustained on it, which are fairly numerous considering our outside basketball court doesn’t have the luxury of having very nice, clean, and shiny linoleum floors.
“She did this to you?” he asked angrily. “Now I really don’t care if she goes after you now,” he said, and he turned away, seething, before I can even say ‘what.’
I followed him, and he was already making his way to Lyra, who was laughing with her friends as she probably told them how she floored me. I seriously wanted Ms. Quinones to call the practice into order now, so that whatever had happened can be buried in the flips and dances that we’re about to do. I stopped Ian just in time and pulled him towards me.
Uh-oh, bad for my heart.
It sputtered when Ian wrapped his arms around me when I lost my balance and hit the wall. The Lazaro brothers have weird effects on me, and you don’t need to tell me twice about that.
He released me, but not before I felt his heart race in his chest. I puffed the tension in my body. “Nathan wouldn’t forgive me if I let you do this,” I told him through my gritted teeth. The mere mention of his brother’s name snapped him out of his rage, and he breathed deeply over and over to get back his sanity.
“Lyra has got to stop hurting you, you know that? I don’t know any single thing that you have done that probably offed her,” he told me, and I gave him a knowing smile. “I do,” I said smartly, and he looked me his question. “Well, you ogled over me during the first day, didn’t you?” I said slowly, and Ian flushed.
“That was before I found out my brother likes you,” he argued, sounding real stubborn, as if he had explained that a thousand times. I laughed, feeling good that he actually did like me in that aspect, but Nathan got to me first. Part of me felt sad that that was the case, but that’s like .0000000001% of me feeling that. I pushed that thought out of my head.
“So you think she hates you just because I stared at you a few times?” he said, going back to the topic at hand. I nodded, ignoring the phrase ‘a few times.’ I don’t know how he quantified ‘few,’ but from my perspective, he stared at me far more than ‘a few times.’
“I don’t think I have exes that are also her exes, and I don’t think that Nathan liked Lyra at one point and they went out,” I reasoned, and he nodded. He took my hands and surveyed them, clucking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Nathan’s going to hate me for letting this happen to you,” he said, and I shook my head. “Oh, he knows I have my clumsy moments. He won’t know that Lyra offed me, so don’t worry,” I told him, and he smiled at me. “It’s our little secret,” I said conspiratorially, winking at him, slowly taking my hands off his so that it wasn’t obvious.
Ian’s grin just grew wider. “I’ll keep an eye on you from now on, is that okay?” he asked, turning serious. I shrugged. “Whatever suits you. But seriously, Ian, I can take care of myself,” I told him, and he and I heard Ms. Quinones call out to everyone for another run of our fifteen-minute cheer dance. I wondered how Nathan and Gino are doing, since he said they are doing training for this one, too, and if he’s faring better than I am doing here.
I don’t want to think that’s he’s the one lifting Erica, because if that’s the case, I’m flipping out.
“Let’s go?” I heard Ian say, and I smiled halfheartedly. I followed him as we walked to our positions. I silently thanked the heavens that I was tall enough—only the small girls were allowed to be lifted into the pyramids and whatever basket tosses we’ll be doing—so that I won’t have to endure getting touched by my batch mates in places that Nathan hasn’t even touched.
“Okay guys, let’s go!” I heard Renee shout. She is, after all, one of the three head cheerleaders. The beat started to play at the back, and we started grooving to it, moving and shaking our asses for the final practice before game day.
“And here is Ms. Trista Limtanco, representing… the freshmen!”
I breathed deeply and accepted the microphone from Mr. Santos. I motioned for my backup singers, the very eager Renee, Mai, and Frances, all in similar cheerleader costumes. I wasn’t—we had to improvise a dress that made me look like I am the batch’s muse. They followed me, standing at least two feet away from me. Another microphone was handed to them. Everyone was silent, and every single shred of attention was on me. I tried to spot Nathan in the crowd and found him on the far end of the basketball court, an encouraging smile on his face. I turned to my right and saw Ian, and he gave me a wink. He had just finished dancing for his talent portion.
I breathed deeply and started out my song slowly.
“Some people live for the fortune… some people live just the fame… some people live for the power, yeah… some people live just to play the game. Some people think that the physical things define what’s within… and I’ve been there before, that life’s a bore… so full of the superficial.
Some people want it all, but I don’t want nothing at all… if it ain’t you, baby, if I ain’t got you, baby… some people want diamond rings… some just want everything… but everything means nothing… if I ain’t got you…”
Renee, Mai, and Frances joined me in the second verse and chorus, and the whole time the crowd remained silent, my voice traveling across Teddy High’s big field. The entire time my eyes were intent on Nathan, for I wanted him to feel the song, and that I dedicate it to him.
“If I ain’t got you with me, baby… oooh, ooh… so nothing in this whole wide world could mean a thing… if I ain’t got you with me, baby…”
Maybe they got entranced by my voice, but it took the crowd three full seconds after I finished before someone actually broke off into a clap. I grinned nervously, and then thanked my backup singers. Nathan was… in tears? I wasn’t sure for I was pulled quickly off-stage by Ian.
I found out soon enough when someone actually hugged me tightly, tearing me out of Ian’s grip, and whispered, “I love you so much.” When Nathan released me, I gaped at him, and he did actually cry—his eyes were red. “I didn’t know you can sing like that,” he said amusedly, stepping away when he caught a teacher’s glare.
“Well, we don’t actually sing karaoke whenever we’re together, do we?” I said shyly, and he nodded at my point. The juniors were up, represented by Erica and Bruce. From what Ian told me, Nathan turned down the Mr. Intramurals offer, saying that one Lazaro is enough, and he didn’t want to be pitted against his brother. But honestly, I think the reason was me—he didn’t want me to get jealous or anything if he got paired up again with Erica. I haven’t told him I appreciated that effort, but…
My thought was cut as I heard Nathan laugh. Bruce was trying to juggle four balls, but one was thrown much too high that it ruined the rhythm of the balls. It rolled off the stage and into the crowd, and Bruce just bowed and gave the crowd his Colgate-worthy smile. He didn’t seem embarrassed—or he was good at passing off what happened as something cool. Erica gave him a pat on the shoulder, and when she whirled she saw me watching. She smiled, and I hastily placed a smile on my face. She then turned her full attention to Bruce, who was now blushing.
“You wowed everyone, Trist.”
I turned and saw Ian grinning madly. Trist. That’s something new. Even Nathan doesn’t call me that. I winked at him. “Including you?” I said, and he inclined his head in agreement. “My brother didn’t know you were that good, so I guess singing’s one of your hidden talents, huh?” he teased, and I shrugged. Nathan was oblivious with the exchange his dear brother and I were having—he was busy watching the seniors Mr. and Ms. Intramurals as they try to ballroom-dance their way into winning.
“You weren’t a bad dancer yourself,” I returned the compliment, and Ian blushed. “Geoff did the choreography,” he shared, and my eyebrows hiked up a few millimeters.
“Geoff, as in my seatmate?”
Ian guffawed at my reaction. “Yes,” he said, turning serious.
“I didn’t know he can dance that good.”
“Well, your eyes are meant for only my brother,” he teased. “Geoff partly choreographed the routine that we have for later, but he laid low and didn’t want much credit for it,” he explained, and I just nodded, comprehending.
Yeah, maybe I was spending too much time with Nathan—or watching him—that I wasn’t able to notice other guys around me. Usually, I’m pretty observant, but with Nathan around, nah. For some reason, I am sort of encapsulated whenever I am with him.
“What are you thinking?”
I jumped at the sound of Nathan’s voice. I shook my head. Actually, I am confused as to what I was to think. “Just… something Ian said, but it’s nothing,” I said, and Nathan was about to probe when Ian and I were called onto the stage once more. I paused to squeeze him on the shoulder and said, “It’s nothing.” I followed Ian onto the stage.
“I was just teasing, Trista.”
I didn’t turn to look at Ian, but he was speaking through his teeth, smiling at the crowd. I nodded. “I know. But you have a point. I don’t… notice anyone other than your brother,” I replied through my teeth as well, smiling at no one in particular. The Best in Talent was called, and surprisingly it was me. Ian accompanied me to the center of the stage where Ms. Santana draped the Best in Talent sash over my shoulders and congratulated me. Ian escorted me back, and when I glanced at Nathan he gave me a thumbs up sign, smiling proudly.
I beamed at him, and then searched the crowd for my batch mates, and they were all applauding until their hands hurt. I had never seen them this happy, and I have never noticed how Cherie is closer to Anna and Lyra than to Sam, and how Sam would eye Tim, another of Ian’s friends, with a wishful look in her eyes. I am definitely missing a lot of things.
“And our Mr. Intramurals is,” boomed Mr. Valentin’s voice all over the open field. A synthetic drum roll was played over the speakers. Ian reached for my hand and I gave his hand a squeeze. I turned my attention to my Filipino teacher. “Ian Lazaro, from the Freshmen!”
I let go of his hands and jumped up and down along with my batch mates. He winked at me before receiving his trophy, and then he pointed to our batch, who cheered. Lyra cheered the loudest, and I smiled. That was a no-brainer.
“Our Ms. Intramurals for this year goes to—” another synthetic drum roll—“Ah. They take home all the awards,” said Mr. Valentin almost too resignedly. He is, after all, the adviser of the seniors. “Ms. Trista Limtanco!”
Whoa. The freshmen cheered once more, this time with their banners, and Vin, who I didn’t know could play the drums, played a live beat for the freshmen and they all clapped as I walked to meet Ian at the center of the stage and received my own trophy. We posed for photos, and then everyone was dispersed for preparations for the cheer dance competitions. Elementary cheer dance competitions go first, and so the high school students were given time to prepare for our contests. Ian and I were making our way to our batch mates.
I lost Nathan in the crowd, but it didn’t bother me that much.
He and I will be seeing each other later, so what’s the fuss?
“So that’s forty points for our batch, you and Ian winning!” Lau squealed as she fixed the ribbon on my hair, completing my high ponytail.
I squirmed in my short skirt and beamed at her. I got a few more congratulations from our batch mates who were passing by, carrying our props, and I thanked them. Ian was across the room, with Lyra ogling over him.
“You were so good, Ian,” I heard her say. “I wish you won the Best in Talent though. Your streetdance was way better than singing,” she said, and I grinned despite the insult. Ian laughed, and said, “Well, you’re biased, so I don’t trust your judgment.”
Wow, he’s bantering with her now?
That made my grin disappear, and Lau noticed. “Ian’s got lucid moments. There are times when he’s nice to her. I feel those are the moments that give her hope, you know?” she whispered, and I looked at her, thoughtful. She handed me my green pompoms—green’s the color assigned to us freshmen—and said cheerfully, “I want you to meet someone.”
I frowned. “Who?” I asked, and she was much too excited about this so I figured that it must be a guy. She pulled me to the corridors and I saw a guy in red—the color of juniors. He was wearing the jerseys and shorts that looked very much like Nathan’s, so I knew he is a junior of Teddy High.
“Max,” said Lau, and the guy turned. Tall, dark, and handsome doesn’t cover half of what Max is. He is adorable, with wide, round eyes and long eyelashes. He looked like a Care Bear to me—although I know it’s not how a guy would want to be described. He smiled, and he didn’t dazzle me.
He’s just handsome.
“Hi. I’m Max,” he said in a deep voice, “Lau’s boyfriend.”
I turned to Lau and gave her a glare. “Why didn’t you tell me about him?” I asked, and she shrugged. “It’s a surprise,” she said. “He and I are just new. Just last month,” he said, and I hugged her. “Congratulations!” I said, and added in a whisper, “You owe me stories.”
I released her and she gave me the widest smile. I turned to Max. “You. Take care of Lau here, okay? She’s my best friend and sister. Hurt her, and you’ll deal with me,” I warned him, and he seemed to be taking me seriously for he nodded. I sensed the sincerity in his Care Bear eyes, and believed him.
“I’ve heard enough about you to know that you’ll stick by that,” Max said, and Lau nudged him playfully in the ribs. He ruffled her hair that she had just painstakingly fixed into a perfect ponytail, and she pouted, and I just smiled. Ah, the wonders of new love. Give them another month or two and they’d be like Nathan and me: still feeling our way in the relationship, not really wanting to get physical anymore since we’re getting into deep trouble (our chemistry is way too much), and for my part, lost since as Ian pointed out, I had let my past months in high school revolve around his brother.
I don’t think that’s how I wanted life to be—but my world revolving around Nathan isn’t half-bad.
A guy I recognized to be Will called Max over, saying that the juniors are having a “pre-competition talk” from their adviser, Mr. Sandejas. Both Lau and I rolled our eyes, but she let Max go. I leaned against the wall and faced her. “You know, we’re so compatible,” I whispered, and she looked me a question.
I sighed dramatically. “We both fell in love with upperclassmen whom we thought wouldn’t give us the time of the day.”
She looked at me as if I was joking, and then burst out laughing. “Oh yeah!” she said, and we high-fived. We were called into St. Thomas classroom for our very own pep talk, and were hyped up by the time we ran down to assemble and wait for our turn. Across the court I saw Nathan eyeing me, and he motioned for me to pull my skirt a bit lower, or even use my pompoms to cover my long legs a bit. I rolled my eyes but grudgingly followed, since Gino, who was standing next to him, motioned the same thing too.
Okay. Either the skirt really is too short, or both guys are just panicking. I never got to found out though, for the juniors were the first to perform.
Nathan didn’t lift Erica—and I was comforted at that thought.