The Science of Bitterness by Gianne Rabena

Tori felt stupid.

It was Friday, just a little bit after lunch and she was walking aimlessly alone as hordes of people passed her by. The cool February breeze kept slapping at the back of her neck which is a universal reminder that again having her hair short must be a bad idea. She didn’t exactly have anywhere she needed to be or anywhere she wanted to go. She half considered turning her heel to leave campus and find the quickest Jeepney ride home. It’s probably better than hanging back here in school, even if it was a Fair.

And anyway the whole grand idea of there being a school Fair (to celebrate its Foundation Day) isn’t always to stick around and act all festive for the students anyway. Most people would just be glad to be able to get a free off of RizCor and Poligov for a couple of sweet spontaneous days. Most of the people she knew weren’t even in campus anymore since by the time you turned 3rd year no one gave a hoot whether you even spent a day in the fair. It’s all good as long as you get your name signed up in that ridiculous attendance sheet they keep making the Class mayors pass around.

In fact, since she had already had her name signed up for her after the mayor (which was her friend) texted everyone that she’ll just “sign for the class” (a signal which here means, you don’t have to attend the fair at all so just go about your day, it’s on me!), she didn’t even have to go to school that day! She was just being the masochist that she is going to the fair because it was Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day! What a rip off.

The idea that you just have to go to school on Valentine’s Day just to be able to see roses all over the place and sweet gestures is typically Hallmark. She was a sucker for holidays and big events, granted. Doesn’t mean she liked it when noon breaks in and half of her friends already got swept away by suitors and boyfriends. She liked the concept of Valentine’s Day…she liked seeing it first hand, seeing how stupid and mushy it got everyone to become. It was the festivities…but you know after a while you get kind of sick just standing there watching.

She just had to excuse herself from her best friend and one of her guy friends who were starting to become a couple (unless they already were in secret) just to get away from it all.

Apparently, walking aimlessly toward the almost abandoned (spare for a few people who were doing their sweet gestures there) Arts and Sciences building is a good idea because at least there you had the creepy skeleton guy and the test tubes and beakers to keep you company.

And No, it was totally not because TJ was probably going to be there because heck, she knows where he probably is right now. He won’t be helping out with fixing the Science exhibit in the hall like where she last saw him a week ago. He certainly won’t be sitting around in one of the benches they had that let the skyline glare sunlight all over his hair as he stared down at his laptop. He will not be just walking around the hallway or climbing down stairwells and just somehow magically end up meeting her gaze.

No. She was going to the A&S Building because she was a masochist left alone with all these feels!

 


 

TJ felt stupid.

It was Friday, just a little bit after lunch and he was walking worthlessly alone as crowds of people passed him by. The cool February breeze kept slapping at his cheeks as he shoved his fists in his jacket pockets and pretended to be deaf. For the life of him he wished he was deaf!

It was Fair season again and everyone was enjoying the get out of class card topped off with the “Hey! It’s Valentine’s Day!” promo, but there he was swearing under his breath. Try to keep your cool, Teej. Walk it off. Walk it off.

He wanted so much for things to have played out differently that day but somehow everything just came crumbling down on him. What the hell happened? He knew what happened…he just didn’t want to believe it was happening. She wouldn’t. He said. Did his voice pitch a little, unsure? They just had to drag him along and let him see it. They just had to break him off his reverie. We’re doing this for your own good. You deserve to know.

Yeah. Thanks a lot guys. Now I know.

Who was he kidding? He shouldn’t even be angry at his friends. It wasn’t their fault his relationship was history. It wasn’t their fault Melanie was cheating on him.
It sucks but what the heck did they expect him to do? Just stand there and talk about it?
Valentine’s Day! What a rip off.

Apparently, walking worthlessly toward the almost abandoned (apart from those annoying dopes doing ridiculous stunts to prove their worth to someone who’s just going to annihilate their hearts like a heartless, spineless she-robot) ) Arts and Sciences building is a good idea because at least there he’d have the Skeleton guy, Joe, to keep him company.
Maybe Joe died of heartache and since no one would love him he donated his bones for science…oh wait, that thing is plastic. Well whatever.

And No, it was totally not because he was feeling okay enough to still keep working on the project they were supposed to be doing together!

 


 

Tori was staring through the Biology department’s glass case cabinet at a 3-D plastic model of a heart. She contemplated how it looked sort of disgusting and less appealing that way. All that trouble to get one of these?

Well. She thought. Not literally those.

She tapped at the glass. Love. She mouthed while narrowing her eyes at a chamber. She shook her head and rolled her eyes. Love is a fallacy. People sugar coat and sensationalize the concept way too much in T.V. and those sappy love songs you just couldn’t help but get L.S.S. over. It’s a scam to get people in their place. A scam to get people to buy flowers and all that junk on days like Valentine’s Day, anniversaries…and gosh, monthsaries. It’s a concept that people couldn’t even appreciate right, in her opinion, let alone truly describe. Give it a definition people!

Okay, so maybe she wasn’t totally this cynical. Maybe she’d chalk this up to a very bad Valentine’s Day or whatever was in that stupid blue bubble gum shake that tastes like Menthol shampoo. So maybe she does believe in some love. Maybe it does exist, theoretically. Whether it existed or not she couldn’t help but get reeled into all the mass drama. There’s TJ to blame for that.

And anyway love, if love at all, is typically for the privileged. It’s for the better people, the people who actually stand a chance. There’s an actual science to it. The science of attraction? Even science is pointing out that love only happens for people who actually stand a chance. People who actually attract anyone.

Well, as far as she’s read about or watched online, which only proves further that she’s just as affected by the concept.

Anyway, no one has ever even liked her.

It feels like all she’s been doing is calling out for crushes’ hearts, wishing they’d notice her, all of whom would never ever, in a million light-years, even consider her. Let alone like her back! Not that she’d ever actually had much decent conversations with any of them per se. There’s probably a psychological explanation to why she fumbles and freaks when she sees someone she likes. Anxiety maybe.

Then there’s TJ. Right now there’s TJ. Only TJ. Having TJ know her name was miraculous enough to make her feel like the luckiest girl in the world. Having him talk with her for more than a minute was a blessing.

He has a girlfriend.

She’s been going through the motions and it just feels like year after year she would develop a budding new crush on some guy who would always be way out of her league. She would get the details. She would gather information. She would find out his name. She would freak out every time she sees him and then a month becomes a year and a year leads to another Valentine’s Day.

More often than not Valentine’s Days spent bitterly with thoughts of him being with the one that passes the attraction scale.

She realized she had her palm and nose pressed against the glass like an idiot. She looked around a little self-consciously. The building was so empty you could almost hear the feint echoes of footsteps left behind. There was a bit of afternoon light ray passing through the skyline above the building and somehow it made her feel a little less alone.

She decided to walk over to the coffee vending machine, a new and recent discovery she was proud of since the school installed it a month ago. She knew coffee was bitter and it seemed almost ironic to drink it while being bitter herself. The concept of poetic justice plus having the coffee slap her awake seemed tempting, though.

 


 

TJ was staring at a poster tacked onto the Biology Department’s Bulletin Board with a picture of an inside out man. He was glaring almost disgustedly at the heart illustration. “You are a seriously weak and idiotic organ, you know that?” He muttered. “Great, now I’m talking to a picture of a heart.”

He swore again and pulled himself away from the bulletin board. He kept his fists balled up in his jacket pockets. He stopped at the Glass cabinet that had 3-D models of organs in display. He scowled at his reflection in the mirror.

I’m such an idiot.

He turned, leaned on the cabinet and sat down hard on the smooth tiles. The floor smelled like the Janitor just passed here eagerly with a fresh new coat of wax but he didn’t care.

How could he not have known?

What was he thinking? That she loved him? She was this perfect girl. He felt like the luckiest guy in the world that she even bothered to know his name at all when he first started liking her. She was the one who started flirting with him and it always seemed like she was so interested in him. When he finally asked her out it felt like it was just right. She said yes, finally, I thought I’d have to spell it out for you. She was so into them. She always seemed to know how to pull at his strings. She was always so confident, so competitive…so insecure.

She was always trying to be the best. They both were. They were that annoying couple that people keep wondering why they were still together when they have to constantly compete with each other. They shrug it off because the other is always perfect, no competition.
Turns out he was wrong. He was competing in a fight that he didn’t even know he had to fight in. She didn’t even give him a wave of any flag to tell him that he should start running. He didn’t even know he still had to fight for her.

That’s what sucks. It sucks because he was rendered totally vulnerable. It’s the fact that, like those sad dopes outside making a fool of themselves on Valentine’s stunts, he’d already done that without trying and now it’s just embarrassing.

It just…

It all just sucks.

He heard the sound of a machine coming to life. He looked up. The place was empty enough you could probably hear anything even from the 3rd floor. It was coming from the new coffee vendo they placed next to the Nursing Library. A girl was getting herself a cup.

 


 

Tori watched as a white paper cup came out from somewhere inside the machine and seconds later she heard the pouring sound. She waited for the machine’s working hum to die out before crouching over to pull at the cover to check. She reached hesitantly for the cup. Obviously it would be scalding hot, but it’ll probably still surprise her, make her a little nervous and spill.

She licked her lips and gingerly took the cup out. Phew. Did it. Now the problem was drinking.

She turned around to find TJ (of all people!) hovering behind her.

Her hold on the cup panicked and sure enough some of its contents spilled at her fingers almost making her drop the cup.

“Oooh! Shiz! Shizzz!” she freaked out quietly. She was spazzing a little and she set the cup to the closest bench she could find.

“Ouch. Tori, you okay?” he said.

She nodded hastily, internally freaking out that he was talking to her and that he was there.

“Gosh, Tori. Now I’m self-conscious I’ll get burnt too.” He said as a conversational joke as he hovered his finger over the buttons of the vending machine. Once he finally decided and pressed, both of them seemed to be waiting for the cup to come out.

There was nothing but the working machine’s vrrr-ing again, but it felt like a comfort to both of them in that eerie, cold silence.


 

TJ watched as a white paper cup came out from somewhere inside the machine and seconds later he heard the pouring sound. He waited for the machine’s working sounds to die out before crouching over to check. He seemed to have expertly taken it out without breaking a sweat.

“There we go” he said using this cheery tone that only he felt was half-hearted. If anything, Tori’s little spill distracted him for a moment but then he just went right back to frowning.

“Can I?” he asked, since it didn’t seem very chivalrous to try to sit on the bench next to hers when there really wasn’t anyone around and it wasn’t like they didn’t know each other.

She nodded.

Tori sure was quiet.

“Whatcha’ doing here all alone? Waiting for someone?” Feeling close and chatting around with anyone was his thing. That was default Tj, someone he needed to feel like right now. Melanie hated that when it’s with other girls.

She shrugged. “Not really. I ditched my friends.” She said slowly. “Y’know. Was getting too Valentines for me…”

“Gosh, I know right.” He said easing into his seat and started blowing at his coffee. He was glad she at least started talking. “It’s a mess out there.”

She made this face that said she knew what he meant which made him smile a little. He’d met Tori when she joined their organization that made little animated documentaries based on research and speeches. She was in it for the speeches part because she knew a bunch of theories and was pretty good at bringing out facts and topics cool enough to make a docu. Their videos, with a lot of help from their Multi-Media Arts and AB Communcation student members were usually viral on the net. Conversations with her, though usually at a minimum because she was new and was probably still shy, were always stimulating and engaging.

Long conversations about trivial science topics often got to his playful side. Though Melanie was smart and competitive, she almost hated that about him too. She said she loved academics but since she wasn’t that into trivial things that had nothing to do with scoring grades his fascinations were sometimes pushed aside as a little quirk she always had to deal with.

“You don’t have a date or something, Tori?”

She jumped at this. It was almost funny and a little cruel even for TJ. “No!” she suddenly said a little too defensively.

He smiled. “Why not?”

 


 

“Well if anything you’re not exactly alone.” He said matter of fact. “I don’t have anyone too.” He said this with a sort of insinuated bitterness that she recognized from her past rants to her friends.

She raised both eyebrows at this, not exactly knowing how to respond. What does he mean by that?

He seemed to be laughing on the outside about it but, now that she noticed it, his shoulders were sagging and constricted, his eyes were resigned and his body language and actions suggest denial.

Did he and Melanie just…?

He downed his coffee which made her remember hers and made her realize it was already safer to drink. She drank, eyes studying him. Still bitter though, so she winced.

“It sucks. Valentine’s day I mean.” He added when she raised an eyebrow at this. “I mean, theoretically and obviously it’s just an excuse to get people to buy flowers and themed stuff. Total scam.”

She nodded. Finally someone who gets her!

“I know.” She said, finding her voice. “It’s like, just a regular day like any other, right?”

“Yeah. And they put all this pressure on people, you know? Get her something nice. It’s

Valentine’s Day.” He said in a pitched up voice, doing an impression of someone she doesn’t know. “Heck, why get anyone anything nice at all if they’re just gonna’- oh gosh, I’m sorry, Tori. I’m rambling.”

“No it’s okay.” She said nodding. She liked it when he went on and on about trivial things.

It makes him sound cool and smart.

“No. It’s a failed argument because I’m biased right now. Objectively, hey, maybe it can’t be all that bad. I’m just in a bad place.”

She kept nodding. She noted how stupidly, like she could agree even when his argument were about something totally weird like little potato men growing from Mars or Atlantis floating in the sky instead of sinking in the sea. She stopped when he spoke about being biased.

Okay. So maybe she was biased herself. She’d always loved the concept of love, and yes, Valentine’s Day. It’s just that when things don’t work out (since when did they with love and her?) It always seemed easier to resign from the concept. It’s hard to come up with a strong enough argument regarding love when you’re either in love or out of love. Either way it comes out pretty biased. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to define it.

“What makes you think you’re in a bad place?” she said before she could stop herself. There are not enough ways to continue a conversation here.


 

TJ felt overwhelmed. She just had to ask that. Well, he couldn’t blame her. It was him who put that card in the table with his rambling, venting out to the first random person he met that’s not one his close friends. Still, it seemed like a petty thing to ramble about his love life to this obviously, seriously intelligent girl.

“Well…you know.” She probably doesn’t but people would eventually know anyway. “I just found out I was cheated on. It’s stupid really.” No it wasn’t.

She frowned. A look of concern washed over her face it was somewhat comforting.

“Whoa…er…you okay?”

No he wasn’t. He bit his lip and shrugged.

“Sorry. Standard question. Of course you’re not okay.”

He smiled weakly. “It sucks.” He said staring at his half empty cup, a thin circle of coffee left inside. “I feel like an idiot and, man, it doesn’t…” he let out a low whistle. “You know? I mean, I should have seen it coming. I just, I didn’t think I deserved her then, she was so out of my league.” He was trying to find the words to explain it while avoiding how embarrassing it felt talking about it, looking at the wall across them or the corner of the ceiling. “I’m just this and that guy was…she wouldn’t have…If I was…”

He felt totally stupid and now Tori was going to think he was stupid and weak. She was silent.

“Maybe I’m just not good enough.”

“TJ, you have no idea what you’re saying.” She muttered.

“What?”

“You’re not- not good enough. You’re totally good enough.” She said a little shakily.

“What?” Was she complementing him?

“And it wasn’t your fault.” She continued. “Look, there are probably a lot of girls out there right now, Valentine’s-less because they want it to be you! Look you’re this smart dude, right?” she shrugged and slurped at her coffee. “Don’t, like, bully yourself.”

He smiled crookedly and shook his head. Well that was flattering and maybe way flirting.

He inched closer and shouldered her. “You one of those girls, Tori?”

She hid her face behind the cup. “Sh-shut up!”

He started teasing her and they both started laughing with empty paper cups that once held bitter coffee.

 

 

TO GOD BE THE GLORY 😀

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