Chapter 2 - The Hopeless Romantic Girl

“Hand me some buwad, Olly.”

“Why are you the one who always orders around here? Would you just stand and help yourself?”

“Come again? Remember the Penshoppe bag I bought you?”        

“Okay, okay. I know it’s coming. You’re always making use of your trump card. In fact, it’s more of a normal one now.”

“Are you still flapping those lips?”

“Nope. Here’s your buwad, ate.”

It was a sunny afternoon, flabbergastingly serene weather, for the two of us. Christmas just went by. Lots of firecracker wastes and party poppers dotted the streets and canals. Leftovers of PiccoloSinturon ni Hudas, and lots of trash littered the whole sitio. It was an extended season of family love and merrymaking, yet for me, it was another season when I’d look after my silly sister, and I didn’t want to be a babysitter.

My name was Jelly and I was a twenty-two-year-old Science teacher at Arullina National High School who advised tenth graders. Molly, my sister, was a twenty-year-old call center agent who was the total opposite of me. She loved shopping and going out on dates with her popular-but-not-so-gentleman boyfriend. One thing I hated about her was how she always had a new boyfriend almost every three months. Christian was her fifteenth boyfriend now, and she had her eyes on a new prospect ready to take over once they could not resolve their piled-up arguments anymore. I always scolded her about this because I didn’t want her to look like a slut, but the thing that I could not tell her was that I was just jealous.

Being a teacher was a tough job, not only that the profession would expect too much from you, but also that it would get you so busy you could say goodbye to things such as love. Don’t find love; if it comes, it comes. Let love find you, they said. That was what I believed in. I always had this lucky charm in my purse that was supposed to “attract” love wherever I’d go. I’d carry it around with me and sometimes had it blessed by a priest in every occasion in churches I could attend to, or in a weekly Christian gathering—called The Feast.

I had crushes before. One was during my high school days and I had not set my standards high then. Not when my Korean bebe boys happened. It all happened during my fourth year in Mandaue Middle High School when I was the president of the student council. I was plotting the activities for the upcoming school fair when a freshman came into the office to submit his class’ suggested booth for their level, and I was the only officer available that afternoon because the rest were busy in their class tasks. 

The freshy was named Rico, and he was tall, dark, and… was standing near the door trying to act cool and all. And if you were expecting handsome, no, he was not at all. As he stood, it was obvious how anxious he was just by looking at his demeanor. Upon entering the office, he handed the documents smoothly with an awkward and dentally impaired smile. He left me with an awful pickup line as if trying to pick on some girls who were out of his league. If it were for other girls, they would surely find it cringy and disgusting because this boy was odd-looking, and to add with his crooked and some missing teeth, he had a severe problem with his breath. Not to mention his acnes and pimples.

But not for me.

I experienced the suspension bridge effect right at that moment. I kept it to myself and didn’t even attempt to talk to Rico casually, even after he joined the council. I soon graduated and my feelings remained sealed and undelivered. I later knew that he had signed up for the responsibilities of a secretary because he wanted to establish a close relationship with me. Little did I know he also had eyes for me.

It was too late, though.

My second crush budded during my first year at Cebu Education University. There was this classmate of mine who used to give me a ride on his motorbike to school. Part of my route was to pass by the sidewalk of P-mall, and Joshua might have seen me and thought of reaching out to at least ease my burden of walking another fifty meters to the university. The gesture and his presence made me giddy inside, but I didn’t know that this person’s motive was to have the privilege of copying my notes whenever he was absent from class. The problem was, he was mostly absent the entire school year. He had been transferred to another school during our second year of college due to some serious issues he was involved in—like alcohol and drugs.

I was blind.

I liked another guy, Troy, when I had reached my fourth year at the university. This type of crush this time came in unnoticed. I didn’t have an ounce of feelings for him for almost three years, even though we were classmates, but the more I saw him speak and perform on stage (he was a talented public speaker and orator), the more I noticed him—which made me fall in love with him, eventually. The sad thing was that I couldn’t brave myself up to confess to him until he fell in love with my other classmate, Sasha, and they were still happy even up to this date. I could only think so much about the torture of seeing them happy every day on Facebook and Instagram. 

It had been years since then.

And, I was still single, which had given my colleagues the pleasure to tease me since most of them had their love life figured out already, and some were even happily married. Except for my besties at work. We came in the same batch, and I should say I felt relieved they supported me with all my seeking-for-love thing. With them, I felt a sense of belongingness

Upon finishing our meal, I collected the plates and dumped them in the kitchen sink. The smell of Smart dish-washing soap and rotten, old food wastes still clung in the air, but it never bothered us anymore because we were already getting used to it. It was only the two of us in the chaotic room: crumpled pieces of paper, wrappers of different junk food, chocolate wastes (I liked chocolates), used tissues, Schick razors, and anything that you could fit in your imagination littered the small space. The two of us were not like this before, especially when we were still living with our parents, when they were still alive, in our hometown. We lived in the far north of Cebu, Tabogon, and we would only visit twice a month or during special occasions like Christmas, birthdays, and death anniversaries. The two of us decided to rent a room in a boarding house in Lapu-Lapu when Molly first landed a job as an encoder. It was because we couldn’t afford to commute every day, and it was tedious to always wait for a bus in a crowded terminal. Also, we both didn’t like dirty and crowded places.

How ironic it was for us now.

“Ate, I gotta go buy a drink. What would you like?” Molly asked out of the blue. She was seated on a pillow-seat cushion placed on the floor, wearing short denim shorts paired with a white tank top. Her eyes were barely looking at me because they were glued at the TV situated at the corner of the room. Despite the room being messy, the leafy, green-painted walls accentuated the ambiance of the whole chamber at least. There was a partitioned room by a curtain at the right side of our home dedicated as our sleeping area, and a comfort and shower room in one, compact space just next to it. We both shared a bed, but we didn’t sleep together because of our different job schedules.

The living area consisted of three main furniture only: the low table, serving as our dining area on the left side, near the kitchen sink (we only sit on the floor when eating); the TV cabinet with different stuffed toys displayed on the shelves; and a Whirlpool fridge at the opposite corner. Not having an air-conditioning appliance was a thing that we needed to deal with if we wanted to cut our electricity bill in half. To make up for it, we bought and installed one big ceiling fan in the living area and a stand fan in our provisional bedroom. It was so bare that not even a cockroach would want to live with us if not with the trash littering around.

In short, it was a cramped room.

“Buy me a can of Coke. Include a pack of Whisper with wings. Here, you can keep the change.”

“Oh, thanks!”

When Molly was already out, I pulled my phone and called my best friend. There was more of a chance of a shooting star tonight than not calling Vhina every fortnight. While waiting for Vhina to answer the call, I recalled the blurry images that I frequently dreamed about. It was a woman with long hair and a sweet voice who always said “I love you” to me. Though I had a guess that it was our mother, I couldn’t just figure it out since we didn’t know how she looked like. It was like we forgot her whole existence.

Actually, I felt like I was missing a lot of things in my life. It felt like I skipped some years and then became a teacher. I couldn’t even clearly remember my childhood. 

There was a click on the other end and a wheezing voice coughed, adding sickly: “Hey, been waiting for almost a century for your call.”

“What happened? Seems like you’ve caught a cold,” I furrowed my brows, showing how concerned I was with her condition. I could still remember the moment of happiness we cherished when both of us got accepted in the same school we applied for.

“Just a cold. Been doing great here, though. How was your paperwork?” 

I could hear the pounding keys on a keyboard on the other end of the phone. My worry turned to realization as I remembered I was not yet done with my final term of lesson plans.

Damn.

I rushed into our  bedroom and opened my laptop. Had it not been for the deadlines I needed to meet, I’d surely gaze at the wonders of our sleeping area. It was unlikely for me not to have a glimpse of V’s blazing smile, nor even touch Jungkook’s glossy-white face. Different posters of BTS were hung and posted on every wall and corner of the room. There were even figurines displayed on bookshelves where books should have been, and standees that were meticulously placed at the bed-end. I just thought it was a wonderful thing for me to see them first thing in the morning after waking up. Even the calendar that was hanging on the door was designed with each member of the Korean boy group in their summer outfit.

I could only fantasize about them in this little space, though. No one knew this, except, of course, Molly, since we both shared the space, and luckily, it didn’t bother her. No one could dictate my life with my boys. Not Vhina. Not even my sister.

It was my separate world. My own world.

With my phone placed between my right ear and shoulder, I entered my password right after my computer had started. My password had already crossed seas and climbed mountains over the years, and still, nothing had changed—Mom143. A melancholic memory visited me but only for a while because it was overshadowed by the looming deadlines.

There was a buzz on the other end of the phone, followed by a dry cough. Four dry coughs and a weak voice—weaker than before: “Hey, you still there?”

“You’re sick, Vhi. Try to have some rest for now. I’ll ring you up later.” I pocketed my phone and opened the documents I needed to finish.

Alright. Time to work.

† † †

Sitting on a cushioned monobloc chair, I tried to call the number again. It had been ten times now since contacting the number written on the sticky note that was posted on my little mirror, blocking my reflection, not serving its purpose anymore. I didn’t want to look at myself because I thought of myself as unattractive, or as what I sometimes called myself, especially in moments of weakness—monstrous. In fact, the only reason I could think about why I was still single was that no one liked my face.

The moon was already up in the sky. The temperature gradually dropped as time passed by.

“Oh, hello, um, I’m sorry if I was not able to contact you earlier, cher,” I murmured, trying my best to sound polite. I couldn’t handle any screaming and scolding, but I liked doing it myself—especially to Molly’s misdoings.

“Cher, you know it’s almost seven p.m., right?” answered by the person on the other end matter-of-factly.

“Yes, I know, but I have a serious problem with my activities. The curriculum is kind of hard to understand, too.”

“That’s your problem, not mine. I’m having my kind of fun here—just so you know.”

“I’m really sorry, cher. I’m going to submit it right about now, compiled and proofed already.”

“You better do. I don’t want to go through it again against my leisure.”

“Okay, cher, thank you ve—”

The line was cut.

The person on the other end was teacher Grumpy. Well, that was how she was called in our workplace. She had a big and round head with curly, black hair that had some gray strands already showing on ends. Her eyes would make you think she was half awake and/or half asleep. She had a fat, reddish nose complemented in some ways with her thin, pale lips. She loved wearing red clothes, which intensified her personality more than necessary. She didn’t smile that much like she had been sucked out of joy. Rumor had it that she was always in company with a Dementor.

The call made me a bit mad, but it only lasted for a short time. The lesson plan—revised for the nth time already—flashed on the monitor of my laptop. I was about to write something in my notebook about the revisions I had done when a weak earthquake happened, which lasted for five seconds only. This made me drop my ballpoint pen. I sighed and got annoyed. I felt my long, black hair fall smoothly as I bent my slick neck to reach the pen relaxing on the floor. According to my father, and also my sister, I had a beautiful, small face with sparkly, black eyes; a pair of not-so-thick, black eyebrows; and a cute, small nose paired with the lips of an angel.

Even with how they made it sound so flowery, I just couldn’t believe it. I mean, if I was that gorgeous, a guy or two should have courted me already, right? My sister once asked, “If ugly defines you, what is beauty then?” I missed the old sister I once had. Now, all Molly did was to date any men within her grasp.

I typed the email address and clicked send. This day was finally over. I brushed my teeth and washed my face. Last half of the school year tomorrow.

I went to bed right after.

† † †

It was still five in the morning when I was woken up by a loud banging of the door. I was still drowsy when I got up, donning my bedroom slippers. I smiled at the standees at the bed-end and said good morning to them. I stretched my arms up and a soundless yawn escaped from my throat. I scratched my nape, my back, and my thighs before another loud bang—louder than earlier—echoed from the door once again, followed by a drunken voice: “Ate, open the goddamn door!”

Again? I went to the door and yanked it open, leaving Molly’s knuckled right hand suspended in midair, whose gesture indicated that she was about to knock the door again. She gaped at me. I later realized that I was not wearing a top, and I was only in my underwear.

“Ate! Don’t just open the door to anyone, especially when you’re covered with nothing!” Molly barked in a drunken voice—accompanied by some unwelcome saliva shower onto my sleepy face.

“I know it’s you. Come inside. Did you have another fight with Christian?” I replied, eyeing her crumpled spaghetti dress topped by a maroon cardigan. Her fake, blonde hair was a mess and a mixture of Emperador and Red Horse hit my nose the moment I closed the distance between us.

“How come you know? Did he message you?”

“Oh, come on! What’s new? Find a seat inside and I’ll cook you some Lucky Me.”

“I’m not drunk at all. I’m just tipsy.”

“You reek of alcohol! Come on now before I drag you inside. I was having a fantastic dream earlier until you came, so don’t get on my nerves now.”

“Sorry, ate. Just take this as a blessing in disguise. I got intentionally drunk so I could bang your door to wake you early, and so you could  prepare for your class. It’s Monday, you know.”

I threw my eyelids wide open and she might have noticed the realization that hit me. A satisfactory grin flashed on her face for a moment, thinking she had changed the subject from her being drunk to something I’d think about, but it was gone by the moment I reached for the switch at the right side, just next to the door, turning the lights on. We both twitched with the sudden lighting and later went inside.

After cooking some noodles, I set the bowl on the table and without a minute of hesitation asked: “Tell me what exactly happened.”

She snatched the bowl and had some slurps before answering upfront, “We broke up.”

“Wow. Am I supposed to be surprised? Is there anything about you that is unpredictable?”

“Don’t start it, ate. I caught him with another girl. I hate him,” she replied, and then added two more slurps.

“Didn’t I tell you with this unnecessary dating of yours? Did it ever help you in a way?”

“Don’t throw your bitterness at me just because you’re still single.”

“Oh?” I smirked irritatingly at her and raised my right eyebrow. “What was that again?”

There was a minute of silence before she answered: “Sorry. It’s just that you are supposed to comfort me in this situation, not this!”

“This is my kind of comforting you, Olly! Next time you bring a man here, I promise to heavens that I will leave this room! Don’t you ever think that I don’t know your kinky businesses here with that jerk when I’m not around!”

“Ate, please. Let’s not go there. We’re all grown adults! Of course, we would have that kind of relationship.”

“What? Are you even listening to what you’re babbling about? Do you still have an ounce of decency in you, Olly? You’re doing it here, in our home!”

“Well, it’s too expensive for a hotel. Better as well use what options we have on our hands.”

A whacking sound roared inside the room. Her face was thrown off-guard with the crispy slap she received from me. I just couldn’t control myself any longer. Another moment of deafening silence coated the atmosphere before I stood and approached her sobbing on the floor.

“I—I’m sorry. I just—” My voice croaked with regret as I attempted to touch her now-turning-bloody-pink left cheek, but my hand was swatted.

“Don’t touch me! From now on, I’ll try to live on my own!” She rushed inside our provisional bedroom and swung the curtains close, leaving me in a temporary mental stupor.

After a few minutes, with a luggage full of clothes and other things, she went straight out of the room without even turning around to look at me. It was almost six, and the first rays of sunrise were already reflecting on the glass windows. I forced myself to stand with my wobbling knees and then limped my way to the comfort room. I stood there with the shower on, thinking of what I had done. I believed, though, at the back of my mind, that she would just be back in a few days.

It was not the first time.

I cleared my head and focused on the upcoming duty that I’d be facing ahead. This was the first day of class 2020, and I’d make sure that I’d be in my best condition before presenting myself in front of my students.

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