All the Reasons to be Distracted by Gianne Rabena

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Despite the fact that I can definitely feel the weight of the eye bags forming beneath my eyes and after doing, probably, the 10th yawn I’ve made in the past 30 minutes, I squint at the screen and fumble with the mouse pad on my laptop. The glare of the stupid brightness didn’t do any mercies for my already deteriorating vision and I’m wearing thick framed glasses as it is. Damn. Whoever said doing an all nighter for a project was easy really didn’t know what they were talking about.

I sigh and feel my forehead. Did my face ever feel this numb before? I need a break. What was that about 20/20/20 a professor told us about once? You look at something 20 feet away for 20 minutes…wait…that wasn’t it. Ugh. My brain…

I walk over to the window and yank at the handles. I push it open. Air!!!

The cool night air slaps my face instantly. Instead of making me feel like I’m on a break, opening the window is only reminding me how late it is. I can see a lamp post somewhere below flickering and absolutely no one was outside the convenient store across my dorm, drinking and smoking like there would usually be earlier in the night. It must be past 2 am. Again, damn.

I walk back over to my desk and glare at my paragraph. Gotta’ go back and reference on that article I was just reading. I open the page I was at in Google Chrome and furrow my eyebrows at the text. Remind me again who chose this topic?

Oh right. Me.

You’re the one who said you liked Mysteries and you were that gung ho enough to volunteer to write the Introduction for that annoying Advocacy paper for Philippine Lit. If only I’d known that it would take a lot of effort to write something like this I wouldn’t have volunteered. Then again my group mate did all the field work, interviewing and getting documents from City Hall and that’s why I said I’d rather do the writing. So why am I complaining?

I don’t really know. I guess the 2 am is getting to me and there really are a bunch of other stuff I still have to worry about. You find reasons to complain when you’re the only one sleep deprived, while remembering what you’re doing is for a group project. Plus, maybe it’s the writing and these days it’s killing me to write anything. In order to write this introduction I have to really read some articles about this mysterious disappearance and to be honest I’m starting to get really creeped out. I chose the topic too, thinking it would be cool to discuss real life disappearances in the mountains and compare it to myths and legends. Didn’t think it’d spook me a little, reading about possible murderers or mythical beings that suck you into trees in the middle of the night.

I hear the air conditioning suddenly come to life and feel myself jump.

Really. Really creeped out. Maybe I should listen to some music while I work so it won’t seem that scary. My roommate just had to pick tonight to go work on a shooting for their own project for some other class. I’m alone. This is necessary. But which song do I choose? I think I have a study mode playlist here somewhere.

There I go again. Easily distracted. I waste ten minutes picking out a song.

Katie, don’t be doing this! Get to work!

I take in a lungful of air through my nose and do this intense face as I click my knuckles.

Fine. Where was I? Right.

So anyway, the report my group and I ended up with was something about a disappearance of a mountaineer in a local Mountain. Plus myths and legends about that sort of thing and how we could relate the two. There are stories like that, right? Of the mythical kind? I need to find a way to convince our teacher we knew what we’ll be going on about in that report. I didn’t even have to go anywhere near the mountain because, like I said, group mate got that covered. My teacher expected us all to do the actual interviews, but it’s not like I’d have the time to trek a mountain to ask a local if they’ve ever been abducted in the forest, by an encanto or a murderer, or heard about anyone who has. These teachers all assume theirs is the only class we have the way they give us these projects and deadlines. I just have to figure out how to write about it like we all had chipped in on some real in depth research and it wasn’t just me.

“Okay!” I say in a low whisper “Here we go. Seriously this time.”

My stomach grumbles. I may still have potato chips stocked here somewhere in my cabinet. Something tells me I’m not getting anything done.

I jump again at the sound of my phone vibrating on my dresser. That’s enough coffee for you. I’m desperate for distractions. I reach over for my phone. It’s only 79% so I keep it charging. I type in my pin number, seeing as there’s a little envelope that practically shouted “easy distraction”.

I think I forgot how smiling for normal people felt like because I swear my face still feels stiff as I do.

It’s Tim.

 I hope you’re asleep, Katie. I see your Facebook is still on.

 Speaking of distractions, I’d chalk him up to be my number 11 on a 1-10 distraction scale. Does this boy have like some weird super sense or does he just automatically always know when to pop up when I needed to concentrate? Forget whatever I still have to focus and work on.

I text him back.

Are you stalking me or something? It’s on because I still have stuff I need to finish and there’s no rest for the wicked!

I set my phone back in place and try to keep my cool. No big deal. I mean he could or could not reply. I really do still have stuff I need to do anyway and even if he is the highlight of my evening I still don’t-

The phone lights up and I make a grab for it. Okay. Still very dignified.

Or procrastinators.

I read. I literally giggle. It’s a good thing no one can hear me. Although he could’ve been more generous with his reply. I don’t care. He started the conversation and he could text “K” and I’d still have my heart racing.

But then another message comes in and my heart floored it.

You know you could always put that off till tomorrow. We don’t exactly have classes in the morning…unless you have plans.

I love how he’s always so mature when he speaks. Not a single shortcut to his text messaging. I fumble through my phone’s screen keypad. Stupid thing keeps disappearing every couple of times I type. Sometimes I think phones with actual keypads are better than these screen stuff. I swear under my breath. Don’t make me make him wait, you stupid phone!

 I could… I type. But you know me. I’d rather get this over with as soon as possible. I hate having to cram and the sooner I get this stuff done the more free time I’d get. I know we don’t have classes in the morning so I plan on sleeping in…

I bite my lip. Unless you’re planning on finally taking me up on that Milk Tea date I offered the other day.

 Don’t push your luck, Katie.

No. He’ll probably be okay with it. He knows how you feel.

No. It’s stupid and straight forward. Downright full of it. He’ll turn you down again flat! Then where would you be?

No. He totally gets it. Girls can make the first move and it’s not like he doesn’t already know you have feelings for him.

But he’d probably hate it if you were full of yourself and-

STUPID SENSITIVE TOUCH SCREEN PHONE I DIDN’T MEAN TO SEND THAT YET!

I seriously hate my phone.

He replied!

Okay 🙂

Okay?! I blink at the phone screen. What is that supposed to mean? I reply fast. I sit on my bed and plop down into the comforter. I roll over and lie on my belly so I’m close to the socket. I realize I might be tugging on the phone’s charger too much.

Okay? What do you mean okay?

I have been nonchalantly trying to get Tim to go on a date with me for weeks now. I mean, I started out with pretty smooth conversations and segued into:

“So, you maybe want to hang out sometime?”

I avoided saying “Just us. Without your friends. Like a date.”

Because even I still have my limits.

He said “Yeah that would be great” but then it just left me hanging, wondering if he got the message. We’ve been hanging out a lot in the library consequently after that and I’m pretty sure he thinks that that’s what I’ve meant by it.

So eventually I got the nerve to decide to drop the nonchalance and just go with it since one of my best friends suggested it. Or maybe one too many motivational quotes which I took as signs. It was debatable, since Tim was smart, whether he was really just dense or he was testing me or something. Or he doesn’t like me. Which part of me thinks but I try so hard to avoid.

My friend managed to convince me by asking me “Just how much do you like this boy?”

“So, so much. You think I should just tell him?”

She shrugged. “You guys are in a good place and you’re friends. Just keep talking to him until you get closer.”

“So, you’re saying I should just ask him out?”

“Well, not exactly. I meant just talk to him.”

“Talk to him and tell him. Right. Got it.”

So eventually I start opening up the subject of me possibly liking him so much it’s starting to become a shameless habit and a joke. Part of me is starting to think he doesn’t think I’m serious about it and so I kept getting the horrible feeling that I was somewhere in the clichéd Friendzone.

I hated clichés.

So I asked him out straight and in simple obvious words in the Library while he checked out a couple of books on Philippine Mythology for their project. His hair was over his eyes but I could tell they’d gone wide and darted from left to right as if to see if this was a prank, smiling sheepishly.

“Do you want to go out, on a date with me? Like you and me, on date?” I said. My voice sounded different and almost robotic but a tiny version of me was doing Munich’s The Scream in my head. He looked stunned. I mean, literally his eyes stayed that way, wide and blinking, and his lips pursed, speechless. I was trying to see whether he would start blushing but I ended up feeling like I was the one blushing furiously.

“I’m sorry…what?”

“Let’s go out on a date.” I nodded at my own words, but after a few more seconds of silence the tone sounded off to me. Like it was the lamest thing ever. His whole expression was demanding an explanation like some kind of final game show thing and my mouth just suddenly felt it had no other choice but to start saying things in panic.

I so wanted to sound cooler than that but either I sound like a creep or like I had no idea what I was saying…why can’t this just be normal?

But then he smiled, like really, with all his teeth out and everything. It was enough to make me want to ram my head in the pillar I was leaning on. I felt a wave like a charge of electricity going through me with just the assumption of what that smile could mean.

“Wait, you’re asking me out?” he kept tracing his fingers on the spines of the books he’d been looking through, suddenly avoiding my gaze. Feeling self-conscious. I think we both were. My cheeks started swelling like I had the strange case of the cavities from staring at that smile. Thinking that was lame too.

“Yes.” I started sounding like me again. Whatever confidence I had vanished and left me there like “See ya’ pal!” I blame Adrenaline rush from the pep talk I had with my friend and probably too much Nutella in that crepe I tried in the cafeteria. My voice faltered and I laughed nervously adding.  “Kind of.” As if that changed or reversed anything.

It sounded embarrassing. Somebody should’ve gotten out duct tape and sealed my trap. Internal tears.

He was still smiling though. I can’t tell whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. Anyway, the whole thing made me want to throw up. Not literally of course, I mean, he’s like still there.

“When?” he said.

Sweet angels in heaven! Did he just…? No? I mean, did he really just…?!

If you could imagine what I’d look like while thinking those things it would really help a lot, because I don’t think I could describe my reaction when he said that one word.

“I…” my throat went desert dry. I cleared it. “A-anytime. I mean, whenever. I guess.” Stupid of me not to have thought this through. I thought about asking him out without thinking of when? Seriously, Katie, go jump off a building.

“Okay.” he smiled, staring at his feet. “Er…so like, what?”

“What…what?”

“What do we do? I mean, what time? Where do we go?” he laughed. “I’m sorry, I’ve never exactly been asked out before.”

Are you kidding me? Who? What? Why? I started laughing too. Partly because he was laughing and it makes up for the awkwardness and partly because I was seriously going to kill myself for not thinking this through. “Wherever you want.” That sounded lame. “I mean, we could do whatever.”

“We could always just hang out in the library and read like usual.” he stuck his tongue out and chuckled. I think my reaction must’ve looked funny because he added. “Kidding. Really I don’t know, Katie. This is really, really awkward. I wasn’t expecting this.”

“Yeah.” I said, and then I thought. Woman up! Say something to fix this! “Good awkward though, right?” Forget what I said. Do not speak. Don’t.

He laughed again. “That just made it awkward-er.”

“I can’t help it!”

“Okay…so then what?” he said.

“How bout’ we just agree that we need to get out of the library more and maybe, I dunno’, how about we go get Milk Tea together? Or a movie?”

He thought about it. “When?”

“Today?”

He shook his head. “I have class in 30 minutes.”

“Tomorrow then?”

“I have to go meet up with Ben and Ricky for our Project.”

“Damn. I forgot about that. I have to work on that too with my group. Then the next day after tomorrow we have that seminar and the next day is recollection.” I think it was evident in my face that I was starting to feel down.

“How bout’ after all the projects and deadlines? I’ll just tell you. Or after Finals are over.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“This is so going to distract me during the Finals.”

The thing is after that we barely got to talk about it again. The week went pretty hectic and he kept disappearing into his group of friends, worrying about projects, Finals and deadlines. I would message him every now and then. We would chat on Facebook but then I’d get guilty because I know I’m keeping him from working. Part of me thought it seemed insensitive to try to bring the date back up. He kept saying he was sorry and that he was busy. I said, I understand and that I’d wait for him. I got seenzoned when I said that and I tried my best not to overthink it. It was too crowded in the library these days anyway, so I didn’t bother going there to study. I admit every now and then I wonder if he’d been taking me seriously then or maybe he was just leading me on. Maybe he just didn’t know how to say no.

I mean, YES…I’m available. Let’s go on a date.

Despite the fact that I can literally feel the eye bags forming beneath my eyes and just stopped myself from yawning when the message popped up, I smile at the screen and fumble with the key pad on my phone. The beautiful light of the phone washed over my tired face. Of course it means I’ll end up cramming since I’d want to keep the conversation going. Then I’d fall asleep after telling myself ‘only for an hour’ and sleep through the alarm. Damn.

When asked by Pauline Navarro

When Asked

Like this.
I was minding my business, as I always do when I board a bus home. I came from an exhausting one hour appointment in Makati, and all I want to do is to sleep on the way back to Lipa.
Being myself, I would’ve normally chosen to sit by the window. I tried thinking that it happened that way, with me there, but the image of my face leaning against the glass just wasn’t clicking in my head. I guess, that day, I was different, and so I sat closer to the aisle.

Like this.
You were loud. Everything about you was a fuzzball of loudness – your bouncing curly hair, your overstuffed backpack and your fumbling about and bumping into people. There was no way for me to miss you.
The seat beside me somehow ended up being your target, and before I knew it, you were skipping towards me.
I moved over when you came, as politely as an anxious person could, and let your occupancy settle in just so I could set the proper distance between us. To no avail, of course. You kept opening and closing your bag. Looking around. Fidgeting. You moved so much that looking at you made me feel like the bus was shaking.

Like this.
You began talking to me. I can be pretty self-absorbed when lost in thoughts about just wanting to relax back in the province, and you talked to me. Strangers don’t talk to strangers. That was the cardinal rule.
I didn’t know you but you talked to me like I was familiar. It felt like a scam. My walls were already high up, you know. (But of course, you didn’t.) And so you rambled on about how amazing it was to finally meet me today and about how you’d really love to eat with me once we got off the bus at a fast food chain by the toll way exit.
I didn’t trust you and you said that so yourself, so you promised to let me hold your phone when we get off. It was proof that you won’t hurt me or something. But I was a stranger to you too, you forgot.
Why did you strike up such a weird conversation? You felt like you should, you said. I was that girl you meet once, during a commute that you will never see again unless you take chances.
The deal-maker: you told me that if you were my soul mate and I denied you the chance, it might take another lifetime to find each other again. I was sappy. You took the words right out of the back of my mind even if they didn’t make sense.

Like this.
You were supposed to keep quiet. We were done acknowledging each other. Yet you asked about the actor acting as the male lead of the bus movie that was playing.
I was surprised you were so casual. We were not even friends and my trust would take more than a bus ride to be earned.
But you kept prodding, and with defenses still up, I surprised myself by responding. Being generally nice meant I wasn’t deliberately rude to anyone, and I admit, you were someone that I was intrigued by.
You were too chirpy and when I kept my replies short, you continued telling me your story. Why was it so easy for you to open up to a no one? I looked disinterested but I was already weaving your story and figuring you out. It was dangerous to be that spontaneous and honest, if you really were, and you must know that.

Like this.
I was getting travel-sick. It was hard to keep a conversation, trying to face you. By this time, I already wanted to keep listening. You were talking about your dog.
Of course, I told you I wanted to nap. We were beyond pleasantries for me to be uncomfortable about being frank. You understood.
I leaned to the side away from you and placed my weight on my right arm. I closed my eyes and started taking everything in.
A few minutes later, barely into a decent sleep cycle, you tapped my shoulder. It was cute, how you held one end of your earphones and offered it for me to listen to your songs too. I accepted, shrugging it off as an okay.
We had the same taste in music. Or at least, I liked your songs.

Like this.
I fell asleep. And when I woke, the bus took its last turn and we were back home at last. I remembered you telling me about still feeling strange that you now live here, having come from Manila initially. I wondered if you shared my sentiment then.
We got off and I told myself to forget. You didn’t mean asking me out, did you?
But you were awake the whole trip and you were sure about remembering asking me like you seemed to be sure of everything in your life. Saying what I couldn’t, you asserted once again that we should eat together and that if you should try something funny, I could just drop your phone on the floor. You smiled so so widely.
Okay. Reality check: everything about the whole situation didn’t make much sense. I must still be asleep.
Nonetheless, I walked with you anyway.

Like this.
Exiting, it was the cue for your loudness to end and for me to start replaying everything in my mind. We waited for a jeepney by the road when we’d already said goodbye. Yet again, you didn’t respect the boundaries of polite conversation. Apparently going the same way, we ended up commuting together.
I got off first. In a span of minutes, you were able to get my number so it was alright for you, you said. You’ll keep in touch. Of course, I was content with just the moment.
Walking down the street, silently counting the footsteps from where we separated, I laughed about the coincidences. It was a good day.

Like this.
When asked how I met you, how I came to like you, I would answer them like this.

Dates to Remember by Pauline Navarro

February 1, 2015

They were going to break up.

When she entered their coffee shop that day and saw him by the counter, talking to the new head barista they hired, she knew he was planning to end them.

His shoulders sagged when he greeted her, and when his hands reached for hers, there was a certain heaviness, as if she was an obligation he had to pull around. Even in the way he looked at her, she saw nothing, just the reflection of a girl, searching for the eyes that fell in love with her.

She knew he sometimes appeared detached and sometimes his workload got to him, but that day, he wasn’t even trying.

When they headed to the office, she stayed a few steps ahead of him.

September 28, 2011

It was only during the last day of classes that he truly noticed her.

Sure, she had been a part of the creative team during his campaign term so he saw her a few times at the office. He’s also pretty sure she’s attended a few of the conferences he’s been in. Plus, he knew they’re both business majors, though from different sections.

But she never really stuck out before. She was just always the girl who wore her hair up, perhaps to keep it out of the way as she worked.

That last day, at the faculty room, lining up for consultation with the same professor, was the first and only time he saw her hair down, tips almost reaching her waist. Maybe that was it that got him, that tiny difference. She was so alive, her arms moving around animatedly, her voice commanding half the room, and her hair was down. He was captivated and he couldn’t put a finger on it.

With a swift movement of her hand, she swept her hair on one-side as she debated with the adviser. He thought she looked beautiful.

October 7, 2011

It was only a few more days until the launch of their thesis project.

She thought everything was going well with their business plan. They’ve finished the paper, found a place to rent and contacted the suppliers. It was going to be a stretch for her group to start an actual business, even if it’s just a school requirement, but with everything in her list checked, she felt a little bit at peace.

Until Cheska called her about Bea and how she does not want to speak to the latter ever again. Cheska was forcing her to drop Bea from the group or else she would pull out the suppliers from the contract. Bea called shortly after her conversation with Cheska and she threatened to call off the location contract if Cheska wasn’t going to be kicked out.

Everything was unraveling.

She tried reasoning with the two, showing them that splitting up wouldn’t be practical. She asked them to push themselves a little bit further, to try working as a group again. It was starting to work, until it didn’t and they couldn’t handle each other anymore. They blamed her for further damage.

August 10, 2014

They couldn’t possibly pull it off.

Sure, they’ve been a stable establishment for almost three years but they didn’t have the money to sponsor a big media event in their wee little coffee shop. They have just opened another branch a month ago and that already took half of their budget. Plus, they have the usual expenses to worry about. Why didn’t he get that?

“Don’t worry too much,” he said. “It always works out at the end of the day.”

“I’m glad you have this great plan for our business but don’t you think it’s too much?” she countered, touching his arm.

“We can do this,” he affirmed. “Since when did you retreat from a challenge?”
She moved away from the counter where he was. “That’s not the point, Jade.”

“Trust me. Please.” He said, holding her gaze.
She could’ve just nodded, believed in his dangerously optimistic trust in them. She could’ve held onto his words. But inside she truly felt that giving in was just like making a big mistake. She couldn’t let him do that to them.

So she stopped him. And though he didn’t tell her then, he blamed her for the loss he felt.

October 17, 2011

He didn’t expect to see her like that.

She was shouting in the middle of the school oval. Her hair was a mess and the wind continued to blow it in all directions. Her hands were stained with dirt and a little bit of grass, just like her skirt. She clenched and unclenched her fists and her feet were unsettled. It looked like she was arguing with someone except there was no one there.

He approached her, nonetheless.

“I wouldn’t go near if I were you,” she said when she saw him.

“I was just wondering if you could help me.” He came closer. “You see, I was on my way to return these balls to the athletics building but some keep falling off my grasp.”

“Now is not the time,” she crossed her arms.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Just because,” she turned away.
He stood there and waited for her to continue talking.

“Leave me alone!” she shouted.

“Grumpy, I see.” He said. “Well, Ms. Grumpy, I know a person who needs someone to talk to when I see one.”

He began walking away. “Catch up if you want to.”

After a few minutes, right after he left the athletics building, he turned to see her walk towards his direction. “I do need someone to talk to.”

“My group had split up and I couldn’t do anything about it,” She told him.

She continued talking as he waited for her to reach his side. “It’s either I would choose one of them or I would go solo.”

“I chose to do it on my own,” she said. “Except right now, I have no idea what to do.”

“I just,” she clenched her fist. “Don’t understand why this had to happen!”

“Breathe,” he told her. “It always works out at the end of the day.”

And it did.

It was crazy but for the three hours that followed, he managed calm her down and convince his thesis adviser and his group mates to allow her to transfer to their group.

She was also planning to open a coffee shop anyway.

October 25, 2014

He didn’t mean to bring it up. Not during the coffee shop’s anniversary.

But she was asking for reasons and explanations and he had to come up with one.

“We’re back to that?” She said. “That was two months ago. We decided to turn down the offer together.”

“I know,” he told her. “But I don’t know what else you want me to say.”

“Ever since then, I felt like you were the only one ever deciding on anything about this shop.” He continued.

“Why didn’t you tell me? I could’ve adjusted for you.” she asked, struggling to hold his hand.

“How was I supposed to?” he turned away. “You were always so intense. I couldn’t get a word in.”

She closed her eyes and exhaled. Then, she stood up and walked towards the exit.

“I didn’t mean it like that.” He said.

“Mae, come on.” He approached her. “Talk to me.”

She stopped walking and looked at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what to say anymore.”

“Maybe,” she told him. “You should just stop thinking about how bad you felt and start thinking how horrible it was for me to have to hurt you then.”

It was crazy because for the next three weeks, they didn’t contact each other.

October 25, 2011

She loved the rush. He must have loved it too.

The doors opened and the world around them changed. It was real. They finally launched the café.

She moved closer to him and sneaked a high-five before looking all professional again.

November 22, 2011

She watched him end his phone call.

It was already two in the morning but they were still not done with the preparations.

Ronnie, one of their teammates, had to leave early so only three of them remained at the café. The boys were putting up the new signs outside while the girls arranged the furniture inside.

She was redecorating the menu when she caught a glimpse of him, calling. He was probably explaining to his parents why yet again, he would be sleeping over at his friend’s apartment near the shop. By the look on his face, the conversation did not go so well.

She left her work and headed to the kitchen.

After a few minutes, she came out holding a tray of coffee and cookies. After setting it down on the counter, she called everyone for a break.

Jade came in last, since he had to answer another phone call.

He sat away from everyone after he grabbed a cup and took a sip from it.

She approached him and handed him a cookie.

“You’re welcome,” she told him. “You needed the break.”

“Yeah,” he muttered, checking his phone.

“I took the cookies from our stock. I hope you don’t mind.” She said.

“Uhuh,” he nodded, still occupied with his phone.

“Hey, don’t worry,” she said. “Everything is going to be worth it.”

For the first time since they conversed then, he finally looked her straight in the eye.

“You’re right.” He smiled and pulled her closer, putting his arm around her shoulder.
With that, she remembered the first time she saw him. She saw that man in him again.

Before they all went back to work, she sneaked a cookie pack in his pocket. Just in case he needed another boost.

January 1, 2015

Perhaps a new year would do them good.

For the past months, they have been going back and forth between bickering and not talking. She doesn’t know him and he doesn’t know her anymore.

Celebrating in their separate homes, they count down to one.

March 18, 2012

It’s over.

They turned in the results of their five-month business to their professor. After that, all that’s left is to divide the profit and ace the defense. After that, they would be busy with the graduation and applying to new jobs.

Holding the clear folder, she looked at him. She was going to miss making that face worried over her little fits, making that face scrunch up in confusion over her pointless jokes, making that face smile when he starts making the world’s problems, his problems too.

“We did pretty good,” he said, taking the folder from her and skimming over its contents.

“We did,” she nodded. “I honestly think that the café could grow even bigger in the future.”

He nodded beside her.

“You know what,” he turned to her. “Who says it has to end here?”

He gave her the clear book again and smiled. She immediately took his hand.

“Mae…” he began saying.

“Sorry,” she said. “I just got really excited!”

She tiptoed so they could be eye to eye. “I like you too and I would love to continue the café with you.”

He raised his eyebrows. Did she get it all wrong, the signs, the sweetness during the last week? She felt like she was on the edge.

“Always the anxious with you, Ms. Grumpy.” He rubbed the top of her head.

December 19, 2014

She learned to love him only sometimes, because sometimes, he only loved himself.

He had to meet with investors every day. It was suddenly all about the trade and the stock market. Gosh. She loved the café and all the memories it held but only because she loved him.

But because of his distance, it seemed as if he only loved his dreams of success. How could he be okay with not seeing her, talking to her?

She loves him. She loves him so much. It had been the worst couple of months and she loves him. He doesn’t show up and she loves him. He makes her wait and she loves him. He hurts her because she loves him. And today, alone in a corner of the café, she could not pretend not to.

March 23, 2013

He loved her.
He kissed her and he knew, it would be hard to leave her.

February 1, 2015

They were going to break up.

For a moment, they just stared at each other, the words hanging in the thin air. Who was going to say it first?

She took his hand and brought him at the office, at the back of the café.

“I don’t want to do this anymore,” he said.

She let him speak.

“But if this is what it takes to stay with you, then okay.” He continued.

“Okay?” she asked.

“Okay as in okay, I love you. Okay, let’s not breakup. Okay, let’s fix this.” he told her.

“You would seriously put up with me?” she asked.

She saw it in the way he pulled her closer, his answer.

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 😀