Sharina has always been used to attention - or, rather, the lack of it - and lives an ordinary, monotonous life... until the cute transferee catches her eye.

Number one in a series of short stories.


1. This is a short story of sorts, so no chapters.

            I don't know how, but his bright, hazel eyes find me amongst the sea of people we're in.

            Immediately, I look away and curse myself. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Best to act nonchalant, I guess, so I fix my gaze at the person I should have been looking at in the first place: David Santos, the student council president, who's standing on the stage.

            "Caught you, huh?" Linda, my red-headed best friend, mutters beside me, a sneer playing on her lips.

            My head whips around. "What?" Surely she didn't notice that sliver of humiliation.

            She keeps her gaze focused on David, speaking like an expert ventriloquist. "That guy your eyes were so obviously devouring, he caught you, didn't he?"

            But of course, Linda sees everything. She's got the eyes of a chameleon. "It's because I've never seen him —" I try to explain but she raises a finger to her lips and points to David.

            "He will appreciate it if you'll stare at him while he talks, not if you talk too," she whispers, so I listen to why we've been called here to the gymnasium.

            Thankfully — because it'll help me concentrate on him — David raises his voice, maybe thinking he's not heard clearly by us at the back. The gym's vastness has the ability to muffle sound. "So for this year, the administration decided to stage a play as the culminating activity of the school's Foundation Week, happening next month," he announces.

            "Two weeks in to the new school year and we're already talking Foundation Week, and as if we haven't done a play for the past years," a girl sitting in front taunts loud enough for everyone to hear, making some other girls, probably her friends, around her laugh.

            "Bitch." Linda folds and unfolds her fist, pursing her lips.

            David clears his throat to regain our attention. "This year, you people," he eyes the people in the first two rows disdainfully, "from the Drama Club will perform an original piece which will be made by the Writing Club, instead of the usual children's plays you've done in the past." He smirks and puffs out his chest before adding, "And the Art Club will do their usual job of preparing the stage." 

            They'll be using our piece? My heart flutters in excitement. 

            "Can the presidents of the three clubs stand?" asks David amidst the few murmurs of reaction.

            Before the numbness gets to spread all over my body, Linda nudges me. Stand, says the look she's giving me, so, reluctantly, I stand.

            Strawberry Sy, usually called Berry, the chinky-eyed beauty whom I've always admired — or envied, fine — stands next. Her friends from the Drama Club, including the girl who irritated David earlier, hoots needlessly.

            And then he stands, tall and lean. I mentally note that the top of my head would, probably, barely brush his shoulders — not that I'll get to stand that close to him. His brown hair shines as it catches the few rays of the sun that escape the glass windows set high above the top level of the bleachers on both sides of the gym.

            I turn my head just as he glances at me. Can't be caught twice.

            "I'll meet with you guys privately," David says, looking at the three of us, "Everyone else can go."

            The sound of plastic chairs scraping the cemented floor echoes when everyone rises. "Wait for you outside," Linda says before leaning close to whisper, "Good luck with you-know-who." She winks before walking away, her long hair bouncing in the air with every stride.

            It's my turn for an eye roll. Thanks so much for the encouragement, I tell Linda in my mind. Still, I'd have asked her to stay with me, but David is not known for his leniency.

            Sinking in my chair, I watch everyone leave until only some of the girls from the Drama Club are inside the gym, idling in the entrance far back. Given the choice, I'd stay at least ten meters away from him — or maybe five, so I can still see his features clearly and easily — but alas, I don't have a choice, especially when David calls out, "Sharina, I have a lot of things to do. Chop squared, please." 

            I fiddle with a lock of my short, black hair — something I do when I'm nervous, or, in this case, terrified — as I force one foot in front of the other towards David, Berry, and you-know-who, who are already huddled in seats by the front.

            "So, the work will start with you," David says squarely, looking at me, as I sit beside him in the circle.

            Keeping my head down, I mumble, "Yeah, sure." This would've been no problem if I were talking with just David; we've been in the same section, the star section, since grade school, and he's my only guy friend. But with Berry and you-know-who staring at me, I might as well humiliate myself in any other way. 

            Oh, this is stupid, I tell myself, so I take a deep breath and sit straight before speaking again. "Do we have a theme?"

            David's face brightens up. "That's what will be different. You see, I managed to make the principal agree that we need something fresh this year, not another boring-to-death play that could be shown on TV with the 'safe for all ages' tag." He even cringes dramatically. "Anyway, you're free to write anything you want," he finishes, giving me a weird, insinuating grin.

            Berry stirs in her seat. "Please write anything you want but with the thought of us who'll be acting it out," she tells me. Her face screams irritation and something else... nervousness? That's odd. Strawberry Sy is never nervous. Not that I know her closely.

            "Don't worry, we'll make something simple," I reassure her.

            David grunts, placing a hand on my shoulder. "Simple but fun, Sharina, please. And something you can finish in two weeks, at the most?"

            I bob my head. "Sure."

            "Great. As soon as you're done, you'll give it to Berry and — sorry, what's your name?" He turns to you-know-who.

            My ears go hyperactive. Enough of his face - not that I've looked at him up close, no, not even a glance; I want to hear his voice.

            "Daniel. Daniel Piedra."

            And I'm not disappointed. How could I be? His voice makes me think of silk and velvet. Soft but deep.

            "The transferee, right?" David inquires further, and Daniel nods in reply. "Anyway, as I was saying, Sharina, you'll give copies to Berry and Daniel so they can work on it in their own departments. It's a script so it'll be pretty easy for the Drama Club. As for the Art Club, I suggest you work closely with them. It's your story, anyway," David discusses. "Questions? None? Then we're done here."

            Berry leaves hastily — almost running, actually — to join her friends. Daniel, on the other hand, takes his time, sauntering. Once he's out of earshot, David whispers, "Advanced happy birthday." A full-on wide grin erupts on his friendly face.

            Of course he remembers when I told him about my dream of watching a play I've written get performed. "Thanks, really." I take his hand in mine and squeeze it.

            He waves his free hand dismissively. "No problem. Just make sure you make it really interesting. Do you have anything in mind, already?" he asks as we walk, too.

            "I actually finished writing one just last week," I admit. "For fun," I add before David bursts out laughing.

            As we go out under the blazing sun, I spot Linda leaning on a post of the covered walk, a roofed pathway that starts from the gym, passes by the grade school and high school buildings, and ends at the cafeteria. "How'd it go?" she asks, squinting.

            "Like I told David, I've already finished —" I say.

            Linda rolls her eyes and cuts in. "I meant, seeing you-know-who up close."

            "I think he's a decent kid," David comments, shrugging.

            Oh, he's more than decent.


            I stop short in my tracks and, my eyes widening, stare at David. "You know who you-know-who is?" I almost shriek.

            He chuckles. "Please. I watched you gawk at him for a whole five minutes before he caught you."

            "That wasn't five minutes!" Now I really shrieked.

            Linda snorts. "Yeah, it wasn't. I'm pretty sure it was ten." Then they both laugh mischievously, making me pout my lips and glare at them.

            David puts his arms over our shoulders and tugs us lightly on our way. "Don't worry, you'll only be seeing and talking to him, like, everyday once you're done with the script, which, unfortunately, you are." He beams at me like it's something to celebrate, and I can only hope Daniel Piedra won't remember me or my staring episode.

            But, of course, he won't. There's absolutely nothing memorable about me, Sharina Cruz. Calling me ordinary would be an understatement.


            “What is it? You’re so... fidgety.” My dad, Max, shoots me a suspicious look from across our dining table.

            I stab another sauce-drowned macaroni with my fork and pop it in my mouth, grinning. “Guess whose original script will be used for a play?” My grin widens and my eyebrows rise.

            Dad’s mouth forms a really big O before he raises a large hand and gives me a high-five. “That’s what I’m talking about!” The round dining table’s so small he doesn’t even have to reach too far to muss my hair. “I’ll pay thousands for a front row seat!” He smiles his big, literally-almost-reaching-his-ears smile, making him look younger than he is.

            “No need. I’ll just give you my complimentary ticket and stand in the sidelines if they run out!”

            He was kidding, obviously, because we barely even get by with what he makes as a car mechanic. I wouldn’t be in St. Paul Academy, the best — according to Dad, anyway — and most expensive — now that I’m sure of — school in the city, if not for my scholarship. But Dad was the one who pushed me to enter the school in the first place — I’d have been perfectly fine in a public school — and insisted that he’ll do everything in his power to make ends meet. He’s a firm believer in the power of a good education.

            But I’m not. I only believe that if you work hard enough, you’ll get what is due to you.

            Anyway, he’s my dad, so he gets to call the shots.

            “Really, though, that’s great, Sharina,” Dad says, helping himself to seconds, “Eva would have been proud of you.”

            Eva’s my mom. She died in a car accident a year after I was out of her womb. That’s probably why Dad stopped being an engineer and started working on cars, instead, and has been solo-raising me with that job for sixteen years.

            Mom used to be quite an emotional topic for us — only for Dad, actually, because I don’t have a single memory of her — so I just look down at my plate and smile. “She’ll be watching, too, surely,” I mumble.

            We eat in silence for a few minutes until Dad makes a sound like he remembered something. “By the way, Billy’s wife called while you were at school, asked if you can work on Saturday. Apparently, he’s sick with the flu.” Billy’s the owner of the local bookstore that I watch over on Sundays. In exchange, I get whatever three books I want plus five percent of however much he earns in the month. “I said you can — you can, right?”

            “Yeah, sure,” I answer, glancing up at him briefly before emptying my plate.

            When Dad’s finished the entire baked mac, he goes back to the couch in front of the small TV and I clear the table, wash the dishes. “Good night, Dad,” I call out, him grunting his greeting, before ascending the stairs.

            My room can do so much better; it’s nowhere near my dream bedroom. A four-poster bed with silk canopy, an oaken dresser, a large study table, and ten bookshelves couldn’t fit in my pathetic four-by-three meter room — not that we can afford those stuff — so I make do with a bed just long enough for me to stretch, a built-in closet, a hanging table that can support up to ten books — the most I’ve been brave enough to put on it — and two bookshelves that Dad made himself. The last are both double-stacked full, but there are still plenty of books scattered around. Thankfully, Dad doesn’t mind me spending what small cash I get on books.

            He doesn’t even mind that I want to be a full-fledged author instead of dreaming about being, I don’t know, a doctor or an engineer, anything that will ensure the ease of my future. Have I mentioned just how much I love Maximillian Cruz?

            I perch on a stool by my hanging table and rummage through the piles of papers until I find my finished script. After putting it safely tucked in the clear folder inside my backpack, I head to bed and grab the book I’ve been reading from my bedside table. Ah, the joy of having no homework to deal with.


            “A lonely invisible girl lives alone in a hut smack right in the middle of the forest,” David pronounces every word slowly, as if talking to a kid. “One day, a group of adventurous teens chance upon her house, and all hell breaks loose.” I bob my head when he continues to look at me quizzically. “It’s a weird story, you know. Makes me think the writer’s depressed or something.” He raises an eyebrow.

            “I’m not depressed. The plot just entered my mind so I wrote it,” I heave. “Is it that bad? I’ll just write —“

            “I like it.” A mischievous smile appears on his face. He knows I’m quite paranoid when it comes to my writing. “Not the fun I wanted, but it’s good.”

            Thank god. I droop my head to hide a grin. “Thanks. Linda and the others edited some parts, though, so don’t give me all the credit.”

            David snorts, making me glance from under my lashes. “We won’t single out your name in the leaflets, if that’s what you’re worried about,” he says with another raised eyebrow. “You really have to get used to being under the spotlight, you know. You can’t hide behind ‘The Writing Club’ name forever, especially because you wanna be an author.”

            “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, don’t worry,” I say. “So, can I go now?” My stomach’s been rumbling since first period; I didn’t get to have breakfast, thanks to my alarm clock failing to do its job.

            David’s occupied with my script again and just waves his hand dismissively. I leave without another word.

            The sun’s been blazing since early morning, and the gush of heat that hits me when I walk out of the air-conditioned student council office is unwelcome.

            “What’d he say?” I whip around and see Linda, seated on the tiled floor of the corridor.

            My answering smile relaxes her tensed shoulders and worried expression. “He likes it,” I’m saying, when the glass door beside me opens.

            “Would you do me the kindness of giving copies of this,” David holds up the script, “to the Art and Drama Clubs?” he asks.

            Oh no.

            A hand snatches it from his grasp before I could speak. “Gladly,” Linda hints. A few moments pass before understanding dawns on David, and then they both sneer at me.

            “Whatever. Come on, let’s eat.” I stomp my way to the cafeteria while my two friends follow, laughing so loudly they make heads turn.


            “I asked for something easy, not something boring.”

            For the past half-hour or so, Berry’s insulted my work more times than I thought possible. And for the past half-hour or so, I’ve been fighting the tears, urging them to go back to wherever the hell they came from. I can’t cry in front of Berry.

            I can’t cry in front of Daniel Piedra. Or anyone else, for that matter. They can’t know that I’m too onion-skinned when it comes to my writing.

            Keeping my eyes trained to the ground, I start, “We’ll make another one —“

            “I love it,” Daniel finally speaks out.

            My eyes automatically shoot up to look at him. I must look so pitiful for him to say that.

            He glances at Berry before flipping his copy of the script back to the title page. “The SC’s already approved it. I don’t think you get to have a say.”

            Berry makes a sound of disbelief. “Fine, we’ll make do with this piece of crap.” That makes me flinch and look down again. After a few moments, she adds, “See you in rehearsal,” then she exits the library.

            I wish I’d written something that everybody would love, but I guess it’s true what they say: You can’t please everybody. But it’s Berry who hates my work; she’s the kind of girl whom everybody wants to please. I sigh in defeat.

            “It’s really unique, you know.”

            I forgot that Daniel’s still sitting two feet away from me across the table. Funny how I’d been a total nervous wreck before Linda and David shoved me through the library entrance to meet up with him and Berry, but now I’m being totally unaware of his presence.

            Smiling awkwardly, I mumble, “Thanks.”

            “I think I’ll need some help with the illustrations, though,” he says. His voice is soothing, calming, like hugging a pillow after a long, tiring day. Already I’m forgetting about Berry’s harsh comments.

            But I can’t draw, I complain in my head.

            “You don’t have to draw,” he adds, as if he read my mind. “You just have to describe the scenery to me. I can’t picture them clearly enough.” Then he smiles a smile so beautiful, so shy, so innocent. I get a fleeting glimpse of a dimple on his right cheek.

            My thoughts go haywire and I stop myself from talking, afraid I’ll just sputter incoherent sentences and humiliate myself. I let my eyes wander from his questioning, pleading eyes. Making him wait is rude. He’s being nice, I tell myself, and, still not able to think straight, I simply nod in reply.

            “Great! I’ll read this again at home, make some sketches, and then we can review them next week?” His seemingly true earnest makes me grin stupidly.

            “Sure,” I stutter, still grinning like an imbecile, excited with the prospect of spending more time with him.


            The heat that has enveloped Manila is at its peak today; this morning, I let my hair dry before going out of the house, but halfway through my ten-minute walk to Billy’s bookstore, I finally gave up and tied it in a messy bun. Even now as I sit still as a stone behind the counter, moving as little as possible, strands of my hair find their way to my forehead and nape, sticking there with sweat.

            I once suggested to Billy that he have at least one air-conditioner installed in the store. I chuckle every time I remember the abhorring face he shot me. “Even a tiny increase in the electric bill will tip my budget off the edge,” he said. Since then, I’d never complained about the smoldering temperature, made worse by the poor ventilation. I’d rather sweat buckets than lose the bookstore.

            “Excuse me.”

            I jerk out of my heat-induced reverie and see a porky woman standing on the other side of the counter.

            “Where do you keep the cookbooks in here?” she asks.

            Standing from Billy’s bergere chair, I lean over the counter and gesture to the east wing of the shop. “They’re there after the gardening books,” I answer with a smile. The woman nods thanks before striding off.

            Since opening the store earlier at nine, only a handful of customers have walked in. I guess the sunny weather’s keeping people at home; I’d be nowhere but mine, too, if Billy didn’t get sick. Sighing, I wipe the sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand, sit back down, and pick up the book I’ve been reading. One of the joys of working in a bookstore? Lots of free time. Time to read.

            I glance at the door when it opens with the sound of the wind chime, then do a double take when I realize who just came in.

            Daniel Piedra’s eyes are quite wide with shock, and then they wander around the place and back to me. “You work here?” he figures.

            I nod tentatively. “Yeah,” I stammer.

            His eyebrows rise slightly. “I see. Can you help me, then? I’m looking for this art book.” He takes out his phone from his pocket and, after a few moments of fumbling with the screen — it’s an iPhone — turns to show me a picture of a book cover. I recognize it; some copies were in the shipment we received a few weeks ago, and I myself placed them on the racks.

            “Sure,” I stammer again — I really have to work on straightening my thoughts when I’m with him. “Follow me,” I manage to say more decently, and he does so, quietly, as I lead the way to the east wing, to the shelf with ART printed on a cardboard plaque on top. The book that Daniel’s looking for is right in front. “Here,” I say, handing it to him. I realize my hands are trembling but, thankfully, he doesn’t seem to notice. He thanks me and I smile back, but my head’s still a mess so I walk back to the front in a hurry. Seems like the woman found her gardening book because she’s perched it on the counter.

            “There you are!” She sounds impatient. “You shouldn’t be leaving the station unmanned, you know.”

            Yeah, that was irresponsible. “Sorry,” I mumble, grabbing her book once I’m behind the counter and flipping it to look at its tag. “That’ll be six hundred pesos.” Then I put it in a brown paper bag.

            Daniel appears and leans on the arched doorframe that leads to the east wing as the woman fumbles with her wallet. After one long minute, she hands me the money. “There,” she says. I give the bag to her before putting the bills in the cash box.

            “Do your parents own this place?” Daniel asks, sauntering forward once the woman’s gone.

            “No.” I’m getting used to his presence, I think, because I can now talk normally. He purses his lips and nods understandingly. “Do you need anything else?” I ask. Please need something else. Please stay.

            He shakes his head minutely, disappointing me. “This’ll be all,” he says, giving me the book. “Here,” he adds as he gives me the payment, too.

            One thousand pesos for a book that’s not even a hardcover? Well hello, Richie Rich. I open the cash box again and put the money there before I pack up the book, hand it to him. “Come back soon!” I beam, wishing it for myself.

            “You want me to leave already?” He raises an eyebrow and smirks. My small knowledge in flirting and that kind of stuff comes from the Young Adult books I’ve read but, at that moment, I think, Oh god, that’s one sexy smirk.

            And I’m back to square one: fuddled and rendered speechless.

            Then he chuckles softly. “Kidding,” he says. I finally exhale and manage to smile. “I’m working on the sketches, anyway.”

            “How’s that going?” I ask.

            “Easy, so far. I haven’t reached the parts that I told you confused me. Tomorrow, probably, or on Monday, though, I’ll need to,” a crease forms between his eyebrows as he gropes around his brain for the right word, “consult with you.”

            I giggle. “Yep,” I narrow my eyes dramatically, “I’m the doctor.”

            “Will you be in tomorrow, Doctor?” he chimes in.

            “Oh yes. I’ll be here in my clinic from nine till seven.” I grab a pen and remove the cap. “Shall I add your name to my list of appointments?”

            He shakes his head and furrows his brows. “Please do. I’ll really need your help, I’m afraid.”

            Our laughter fills the air with something positive; I feel it bouncing through the cemented walls and wooden bookshelves, lightening the load of dust on the neglected books. We both try to stop laughing but end up snorting, which only makes us laugh even harder.

            After what feels likes hours, we finally manage to calm down. “Wow, that was a good one,” he says, pinching his cheeks with his thumb and forefinger.

            “Yeah,” I say, pinching my cheeks as well. Too much laughter isn’t good for facial muscles.

            “So,” he puts his hands on top of the counter, all business now, “I’ll see you tomorrow?” He smiles again but this time, I stay calm. I hope I really am getting used to him.

            “Sure, no problem,” I say.

            But what I really wanted to say was, “Sure, that’ll be great. Can’t wait!”


            “You’re fidgety again.” Dad raises a thick, bushy eyebrow.

            The minute Daniel exited the bookstore, I already wanted to see him again. The rest of my time behind the counter went by in a daze; thinking about it now, during dinner, I realize I don’t remember anything about it, don’t remember greeting another customer, nothing. My head can only form one clear picture: Daniel’s silhouette when he stepped past the glass door, out into the sun. It was a glorious sight — he was a glorious sight — the way his spotless skin and tousled hair, the latter a shade darker, shone for a moment as it caught the hot rays. He’s the most dazzling thing I’ve ever seen, even more dazzling than the midday sun.

            Even more dazzling than Edward Cullen. I giggle at my own silly joke.

            Dad waves a hand in front of me. “Hello? Earth to Sharina?”

            “Sorry. I’m just... distracted,” I mutter.

            He leans back in his seat, takes a swig of water and sets the glass back down gently. “Distracted by what?”

            “Distracted by whom, you mean.” I never kept secrets from Dad — we’re that close. Besides, I never had anything to keep secret. Deciding not to start the habit now, I confess, “You see, there’s this boy —”

            “A boy?!” Dad’s eyes look like they’ll fall out of their sockets any second from now.

            Oops. “It’s just a crush, Dad, relax,” I say reassuringly, even rolling my eyes. I’d have laughed if he wasn’t looking so stern, so I just concentrate on my food: fried tilapia — so yummy with ketchup — and rice.

            Minutes pass but he keeps silent. Biting my lip, I steal a glance from under my lashes and catch him seeming to calm down. “Careful, Sharina, it often starts with just a crush,” he says in an I’m-trying-to-be-logical-about-this tone.

            I snort. “Just two weeks ago, during summer, you were worried that there’s something wrong with me because I told you that I didn’t find anyone interesting. Yet now...” I trail off suggestively.

            “Of course I’d be worried! But I’m a father... oh, you know how it is,” he tries to explain, taking his turn at the eye-rolling. He picks up his spoon and fork that both clattered on the plate in his fit of surprise earlier. “So, what’s he like?”

            “You could at least try to act more enthusiastic,” I say through pursed lips.

            “Spare me.” Another eye-roll.

            I sigh. “His name’s Daniel Piedra. He’s a transferee — from Cebu, David told me.” What else? That’s pretty much all I know about him.

            Dad doesn’t give up, though. “How’d you meet him?”

            So I explain how I have to work closely with Daniel on the play. I emphasize the ‘closely’ — with a little schoolgirl giggling — which makes Dad frown.

            “Seriously, Dad, you don’t have to worry about a full-blown hormone kick-in. I’m sure he doesn’t think of me like that.” I’m not one for daydreaming, either, so I don’t see how this crush will last long.

            “I’ll have to see it to believe it,” he challenges.

            Ha. “You want me to bring him home?”

            “Sharina!” Dad slams his hands on the table, making it shake, but I just guffaw. “That wasn’t funny,” he heaves.

            “Relax. You know I’m not that brave,” I say through stifled laughs.

            But, that night, I go to sleep wondering. What if for once, I be brave and tell Daniel how I feel? Make the first move? Ask him out? Will things progress? Will I just humiliate myself and sever our budding friendship?

            Does he even like me?

            Do I even have to ask?

            No. Of course not.


            “What do you think?”

            Daniel’s been flipping through the pages of his sketchpad, explaining his drawings to me. Most of them are just penciled, and he has a lot of subjects: nature, landscape, abstract, people. Not people, actually, but person, because there’s only one — the back of a girl, her long, black hair sweeping behind her, dancing in the air. She’s quite familiar but, feeling it’s too personal, I don’t ask Daniel about her.

            “They’re great. You’re great,” I answer, making him smile timidly and turn to the next page. Looking at the rough sketch, I know it’s time for business. “Rachel’s hut?”

            He winces. “Too bad?”

            “No, no. It’s exactly how I imagined it!”

            And it really is; the small, wooden hut, its windows, cracked at places, and the door, chipped and beaten down by the ever-changing weather in the forest — the setting of my story. And trees, trees everywhere, of all shapes and sizes.

            That’s when I notice my hand, hardly gripping his shoulder. It must have found its way there in my fit of astonishment. “Sorry,” I mumble.

            “It’s okay,” he says, ending that awkward moment. “So,” he straightens up from the hunched position he’s assumed since we sat on the floor in front of the bookstore’s counter, “there’s no need for your help?”

            “Seems like it.” I hope he doesn’t notice my dismay.

            Suddenly, he pulls his sketchpad from my hand and closes it. “Can’t be so sure. There’s a whole lot of background needed for the other scenes.”

            “You didn’t get to finish the sketches?” I ask.

            He shrugs. “I... procrastinated.” He looks away and leans back against the counter.

            I lean back, too, tilting my head away from him and trying to stop the relief from showing. Relief, because I’ll get to spend more time with him. To think that, days ago, I was terrified by the thought of even being near him.

            I glance at the old clock above the store’s entrance. “Blimey, look at the time!” Four-thirty; we’ve been sitting here for almost two hours already? Wow.

            I push off the floor to stand and flick the sign on the door to ‘closed’.

            “I thought you’ll be here till seven?” Daniel asks.

            “Yeah, but I was supposed to be tidying up since three.” Despite being an indie, the bookstore is actually quite big, occupying one whole block of street. When Billy hired me, he said it’s the realization of his childhood dream. “When you’re done with the other sketches, you know where to find me,” I tell Daniel, stopping by the doorway to the east wing.

            He rises and places his sketchpad on the counter. “Let me help you.”

            “Oh, it’s okay, you don’t —“

            “I insist.”

            I shrug and walk into the east wing, to the first shelf, Gardening. “You handle the east wing and I’ll take the west?”

            “Divide and conquer.” He grins.

            I roll my eyes. “Don’t take this lightly, mister. You’ll have to arrange the books alphabetically in every section.”

            That adorable crease appears between his eyebrows again as he hesitates before asking, “And when did you last ‘tidy up’?”

            I sneer at him. “We’re supposed to do it every two weeks but Billy, the owner, started getting lazy and let the customers trouble themselves so...”

            Daniel raises an eyebrow.

            “He’s been lazy for six months so, last January,” I admit.

            He snorts. “Bring it on.”


            On the next two weeks, the same time that David gave me to finish the script, Daniel and I spend more time together, going over his sketches both at school, on weekdays, and at the bookstore, on weekends. I’ve started working every Saturday when Billy didn’t fully recover from his flu; now all he can do is man the counter. On his worse days, the store’s closed. I planned to volunteer to work after school everyday but Dad didn’t agree, saying it might interfere with my studies.

            We’re together almost always that I become at ease when I’m with him. Friends: that’s what we are. I no longer feel nervous when I see him; my thoughts don’t dissipate when he talks to me. The inside jokes and banters come naturally to us.

            He gets me. I get him.

            When it’s finally time to prep the gym’s stage for the play, I watch Daniel paint there on lunch breaks and after dismissal. He’d still ask what I think about the backgrounds. Sometimes I also help with the prop-making. Linda always teases that I only go there to see Daniel, but of course that’s not true. Well, not entirely. I do love cutting and gluing stuff.

            Foundation Week commences and we’re given more free time, having only one or two classes in a day.

            I’m in the shade of the covered walk, on my way to the gym, when I see Daniel walking towards me, his hair swaying lightly in the breeze, tousling it.

            “No work for today,” he says once he gets near.

            It’s Tuesday, play’s on Friday, and we’re still not done with the props and stage designs; we can’t afford this break. “Why?” I ask.

            He shrugs. “Gym’s locked. Guess they don’t want us to do anything today.”

             I grunt. “You mean they want us to waste our time.”

            “Let’s do what they want, then.” He takes me by the wrist — a normal gesture, by now — and lightly pulls me to the booths set up by the baseball field. Each club has one booth, so they’re lined up all the way to the canteen.

            We stop by the Writing Club’s booth where we’re selling homemade cookies. “Two packs, please,” Daniel says to Paz, the club’s secretary, who’s manning in the moment.

            “Sorry, can you wait? We’ve run out of —“ she pauses when she looks up from the book she’s reading and sees me with Daniel, “Oh, hi, Sharina!”

            “Hey there. So, we’ve sold out?” I ask. People must be really hungry today. The members and I carried fifteen boxes full of cookies from Linda’s mom’s — she makes the cookies — van this morning.

            Paz snorts. “You mean eaten out.” She sighs before adding, “Linda ate all the contents of the five boxes that were here during her shift.”

            “Yup, that’s my best friend.” I laugh, remembering how I used to call Linda ‘Cookie Monster’. “So who’s getting the stocks?”

            “Nobody. Linda bolted the moment I caught her in the act, and I couldn’t leave the booth unattended,” she answers.

            “Don’t worry, I’ll do it,” I say. “Where’s the key to the club room?”

            She sighs again. “Linda has it.”

            “Great.” I turn to Daniel. “I’ll just look for her, okay?”

            His smile’s brighter than the burning sun. “I’ll help you.” The dimple on his right cheek deepens.

            “Okay, thanks. Meet back here in thirty?” I suggest. Daniel nods and we split up; me to the canteen and him to the high school building.

            The canteen’s more packed than usual. Everyone’s out of their classrooms, like it reminds them of bad experiences. My eyes take in the faces of those seated by the metal tables — Berry and her friends are laughing by the corner, the jocks with the cheerleaders — and those standing at the food and drinks counters. No sign of Linda.

            “OMG, I’m sorry!”

            I whip around and see Kat, one of Berry’s friends, with a face that screams shock and, oddly, something else. And then I feel it, cold and wet on my back. Smells like Coke. “It’s fine,” I say. It’s okay; accidents happen.

            And then there’s a hand holding a plastic cup, hovering above Kat’s head. It rocks the cup back and forth for a moment before deliberately spilling its content, orange juice. On Kat’s head.

            Her shriek is like the complaining tires of a drifting car, and it’s her turn to whip around to see who did it.

            It’s Linda. “OMG, I’m sorry!” She imitates Kat’s earlier tone and gives her a smug beam.

            Kat’s still shrieking, her hands moving frantically from her hair to her uniform, eyes wide in shock.

            “Linda, what are you —“ I start.

            “She did that,” Linda gestures to my dripping back, “on purpose, honey.” Then she puts her hands on her hips and sniffs Kat. “Revenge isn’t sweet, no?”

            Only one thought is in my mind: why would Katrina Ramos, a girl who I’ve only talked to thrice, at the most, in my whole life, pour Coke on me? Linda must be mistaken.

            Berry and her other friends are now beside Kat, who’s still shrieking. “Are you okay?” “I’ve got a spare blouse in my locker.” “How dare you!”

            Linda stands in front of me, like a shield. “No. How dare you!” She shoves Kat.

            I open my mouth to say something, only to find out that my voice is locked in my throat. Thankfully, Daniel appears and restrains Linda. “What’s happening?” he asks me through gritted teeth. Linda struggles from his grasp.

            “What’s happening is these bitches are playing at Sharina,” Linda answers for me, glaring at Kat and everyone else. Good thing Daniel’s strong enough for her lashing or a full-blown fight would have started already.

            Berry steps up. “You’re the one who purposely poured orange juice on Kat!”

            “Only because she purposely showered Sharina’s back with Coke!” Linda screams back.

            I have to stop this before the teachers find out and we all get in trouble, so I pull at Linda’s ponytail — that’s what I always do to tell her Stop now — and, automatically, she stops thrashing in Daniel’s grasp. I nod to him and, reluctantly, he releases her.

            Then I face Berry, stare at her for a moment, and look past her. “Kat, I’m sorry,” I link arms with Linda, “we’re sorry.”

            And that’s when I realize that everyone in the cafeteria has gone silent, watching us.

            “Whatever,” Kat croaks out.

            Linda snorts. “I wanna hear that real sorry —“

            “That’s enough, Linda. Come on.” I push past everyone who’s crowded around us, tugging Linda with me.

            I’ve never had enemies and, after two minutes of having a whole group of them, I certainly don’t plan on having another any time soon.


            “Do you want help looking for it?” the elderly guard asks.

            I finish writing my name on the logbook. “No need, I know where I left it, but thank you.” I smile before walking away from the guardhouse at the school’s gates, towards the gym.

            In the darkness of eight o’clock in the evening, I grope by the entrance for the light switch for a minute before finding it. The huge industrial lights lining the middle arch of the roof turn on, illuminating the whole gym.

            Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why did I have to forget my History book tonight out of all nights? If not for the quiz that we’ll have first thing tomorrow, I wouldn’t bother going back for it now. I shouldn’t have gone here this afternoon; aside from forgetting the book, I even ran into Berry and the others. All my effort to avoid them since the incident at the cafeteria two days ago, poof! Gone, wasted.

            Muttering darkly, I stride to the bleachers near the stage. “There you are.” I grab the damn book and tuck it under my arm. I’m descending the short flight of stairs when I notice the backdrop that’s been left hoisted on the stage.

            It’s the external view of Rachel’s hut which sits in the middle of the small clearing in the woods. It’s a painting made solely by Daniel. I haven’t been able to stare at it as much as I want; Daniel and the others will surely think I’m weird if they see me doing so.

            Now’s my only chance. After the play tomorrow, they’ll surely throw this away or something. So I take in all the details: the strokes of Daniel’s brush, the swirls of color, soft and light, dark and heavy.

            Beautiful. And Daniel created it.

            I realize, then, that I envy him. His talent.

            I may use a thousand words, but they still won’t be enough for this picture.


            “Give it here,” Kat hisses at the nervous guard and grabs the logbook from him. She flips through the pages until she lands on the one she’s looking for, snorts and announces, “A little before eight last night,” she raises her voice, “Sharina Cruz entered the school and went to the gym.”

            This is bad. Really bad.

            She lifts an accusing eyebrow at me before turning back to the guard. “Why was she here last night?”

            The guard hesitates before answering, “She said she forgot a book at the gym, that she needed it urgently.”

            Kat returns her gaze to the logbook in her hands. “And she timed out at eight-forty.” She snaps the book shut and looks at me again, a satisfied smile on her lips. “Forty minutes to get a book that you knew exactly where you left?”

            No. I didn’t do it.

            I didn’t splatter paint on Daniel’s backdrop.

            But no one would believe me. Not even Daniel. That’s why he looks so confused right now.

            Only Linda and David are looking at me with something else in their eyes. Pity.

            My knees are trembling, about to fail me, but I manage to hold on to a stack of plastic chairs beside me. The next thing I know, I’m walking, striding, running away from their incriminating stares. When I get out of the gym, the tears start falling, warm and wet on my cheeks. I drop my head to avoid any more unwanted stares.

            Unluckily, the cafeteria’s closed for today so everyone’s out by the booths for lunch. Only a few notice me, though. That’s right. I’m a Nobody.

            I’m invisible.

            I’ve been used to getting little attention for so long, it’s weird to crave for it right now. Guess misery does love company.


            “So this is where you hang out?”

            I lift my head, my nape hurting from being slumped for so long, and see him. He who’s supposed to hate me. He who’s smiling as he approaches me, sits beside me on the cold tiled floor.

            “I swear, Daniel, I didn’t do it. You know I love —“ My voice is hoarse from crying as the words come out in a rush, but he raises an open hand to silence me.

            “I know. I never, even for a second, believed it was you. And I know the truth now.” His smile widens, his dimple showing. “Everyone knows the truth now.”

            “What do you mean?” I stutter.

            He rolls his eyes and sighs. “Berry and the others,” he says, “But as to why, I don’t know.” I bring my eyebrows together, and he adds, “I overheard them talking about it in the girls’ comfort room after you ran away earlier. They saw you last night just as they were about to go home after rehearsal. When you went up the stage and stared at my painting for...” he chuckles, “forty minutes, that’s when the idea struck Berry.” He shakes his head and sighs again.

            Confusion. That’s what I feel first.

            Why would Berry do that? Does she hate me that much? It’s silly to even ask. She obviously does. But, if anyone, it should be Kat who hates me and not her.

            And then the anger starts coursing through me, filling me, making me tremble.

            I stare at the plain white wall across the corridor. “What about the guard? Why didn’t he know that they left the school after me?”

            “After adding more layers of paint on the backdrop, they climbed over the school fence to get out. They didn’t have to worry about the logbook because they never left the school since morning.”

            Well, that’s clever of them. I thought hatred was supposed to blind people, making them do stupid things on impulse.

            My fists clench. “Where are they?” I ask through gritted teeth.

            Daniel seems to consider before answering, “At the SC office, waiting for their punishment. The teachers and the principal are —“

            I don’t wait for him to finish. Running. I’m running again. I’ve never ran like this before, like I’m running for dear life, or trying to grab on to the last shred of knowing. I run to the end of the corridor, down one, two, three floors, then left, to the office.

            Laughing. That’s what they’re doing when I push the door open. I must look half-crazy, anger — or, actually, murderous tendency — evident on my face. They fall silent when they see me.

            “Why,” I mumble. Not a question, but a demand. “Why!”

            Berry stands and saunters until we’re inches apart. “You wanna know why? Why we hate you?” she hisses, pushing me back towards the door, and for a moment I’m afraid I’ll fall on my behind and give them another reason to laugh at me, but I don’t. Long, slender hands grip my shoulders and steady me.

            “Why do you hate her, Berry?” It’s Daniel. He doesn’t let go of me, and I’m thankful. I’m so angry I think I might drop on the floor, shaking.

            A pained expression appears on Berry’s face — despite it all, I still think she’s beautiful — and she looks like she’s about to cry. “I thought you’d know why, Niel.”


            “Well, I don’t,” he says, his tone cold and empty.

            Cold and empty enough for Berry to lose her control. The tears start tumbling down her deep-red cheeks. “You want the truth? Fine.” She wipes the traitors away with the back of her hand. “It’s the way you watch her.” She spits ‘her’ out like it’s disgusting. “I guess I was so used to your eyes, your attention, you being mine.” She shakes her head fiercely. “I can’t accept the fact that you’re not mine anymore. It just won’t sink in.”

            Daniel’s fingers tighten around my arms, and I feel his heavy breathing on the back of my head. “Funny. As I recall, you were the one who wanted out.”

            And my questions get answered. Daniel and Berry were together before.

            That’s why she doesn’t talk to him. That’s why she always scurries away as soon as she can when he enters the room.

            But why didn’t he tell me?

            Berry sinks to the ground and weeps into her hands. Her sobs fill the quiet room as we all watch — even her friends are dumbfounded. After a while, Daniel removes his hold of my arms but takes my hand and pulls me out of the office, along the path I took when I decided to confront Berry, up to the creepy, deserted corridor outside the Science labs at the fourth floor. My corridor. I always hide here when I want to get away from people, even Linda. No one goes here, and no one knows I go here. Well, except for Daniel.

            He starts pacing, seeming to be in deep thought.

            It’s the way you watch her.

            “We were together for four years,” Daniel starts, erasing the question that was forming in my mind. “Sweet, caring, understanding... loving. Her laughter always gave me warmth. Our houses were right in front of each other’s, so we almost never separated.” He leans on the wall and puts his hands in his pockets. “That’s why I didn’t understand how she changed without my knowing.”

            I move to stand in front of him, a foot of space between us. I’ve never seen so much sadness in a person. My heart breaks with his. But I don’t know how to comfort him. I hope giving him my ears will help, even for a bit.

            “The day I received my acceptance letter to Billiard, this prestigious art school in Cebu, I ran straight to her door. I didn’t tell her I applied because I didn’t want to disappoint her in case I didn’t get accepted. I thought she’d be happy for me.” He licks his lips and shakes his head minutely. “Guess she thought I’d change my mind about going, so she made me choose. Her or Billiard. No.” He stares me in the eye, his revealing the pain underneath. “Her or my dream.” Then he looks away again. “At that moment, I knew the Strawberry Sy I fell in love with had become a stranger.”

            Selfish. It’s the first word that comes to mind.

            Silence settles, and I force myself to say something, anything, to lighten his mood. Here goes nothing. “So you went to Billiard...”

            Thankfully, a smile forms on his face, instantly brightening it up. “I was planning to go straight to Paris — another acceptance letter — after Billiard, but I finished the courses early, so here I am.”

            “Wow, Daniel. Paris? That’s great!” I beam at him.

            To my surprise, his smile falters. “Yeah, but now I’m having doubts about going.”

            I grip his upper arms and shake him lightly. “Are you crazy? Why?”

            He glances down before staring at me again, but this time, there’s something different in his eyes. “I thought I’d find my dream in Paris, but when I came here I realized, “ he reaches to the nape of my neck and pulls me close to him, until only mere fabrics separate our bodies and my face is inches from his, “my dream’s right in front of me.”

            I’m sure he can feel it when my heart starts beating like crazy. Butterflies in my stomach? Nah. This is a freaking hornet’s nest.

            His hand slides down to the small of my back, exciting all my nerve endings. I’m clueless; what do I do? My gaze drops involuntarily.

            I think I’m about to get a seizure.

            He chuckles, sending a light rush of air to my forehead, and puts a finger under my chin, making me look at him. I try to save the hyperventilation for later when I get to the privacy of my room.

            My knees crumbling, I bring myself to look him in the eye and see that the green in his are intensified. He smiles, and it’s the first time I get a glimpse of the dimple on his left cheek. “Please say something,” he mumbles, his gaze wandering around my face.

            I glance sideways and bite my lip. “I don’t know what to say,” I admit.

            His grin widens. “Well, for starters, how do you feel about me?” He eyes me pleadingly.

            The smile creeps up on my face as I rest my head on his chest. “I think that’s pretty obvious.”

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