These days, I’m mostly thankful to Saia, Lulu and the Elricks for my lessening nightmares ever since they slept with me in my bed. The warmth I felt in their presence helped keep the demons at bay.
However, at Monday came some awkward changes in my routine.
For instance, I sped down to breakfast – for the first time – because I woke up at quarter to seven. I felt so embarrassed that I overslept in the dormitory, despite the fact that Saia was sleeping beside me.
“I’m very sorry, guys, I’m late today…” I muttered breathlessly to my friends when I finally reached their place. I also gratefully noticed then that they had waited for me to come first before eating.
“It’s just alright, Maydee… We understand your reason for being tardy,” Aljee said sympathetically.
“But –” I murmured sadly, then I felt a warm, gentle caress on my shoulders.
“You were spiking a fever this morning – three-thirty A.M. perhaps – and thank heavens, it had subsided two hours later…” Saia said softly to me, her blue eyes luminous with concern.
I felt like I was struck by lightning at that instant. I’ve had another of those fevers, I groaned to myself as I touched my right hand to my forehead.
“But fortunately, it’s already gone… I’m already fine and fit for class today, thanks to you guys,” I deliberately fixed a smile on my face, for the others to see, masking my worry over my sudden body changes.
Lulu gave me a mild frown, then handed me a plate of food.
I mumbled a quick thanks to her, then put the plate on my corner of the table. After praying, I noticed that she had given me a tender, juicy, delicious-looking venison steak with apple-mint sauce. And it was delicious indeed – in fact heavenly in taste, I should say that I enjoyed savouring every bit of it.
Afterwards, when we arrived at our classroom for English class, Ma’am Heidi welcomed us with a smile and a warm hug as a gesture of hospitality. Although we felt awkward about this, I recalled what Ate Anna Suzette, one of my seniors in the SBA scholarship program, had told me about her:
“She may be one of the most formidable persons in the entirety of Saint Bridget Academy, with her auspicious superiority… But, believe me, Maydee, she is the best friend, mother and confidante anyone would ever want…”
It’s just now that I’m starting to realize the true meaning of this remark. That single warm hug from Ma’am Heidi was very heart-warming and evidently, the one I would prefer over Mama’s.
“Oh, good morning, Ma’am Heidi…” We mumbled meekly, as soon as she let us go.
“She surprised me by that, you know…” Isabelle laughed nervously. “But it shows that she wants to dote on us as a mother,” she added with a satisfied smile as we settled in our chairs.
‘A mother hen brooding over her chicks,” Elizabeth added, chuckling.
Aljee flashed a flustered gaze and a shaky smile at her, after catching her last word. All of them burst in laughter at Elizabeth’s seemingly innocent statement with the double meaning. ‘Chicks’ was the English slang for pretty girls.
While they had a short laughing fit together, I subconsciously slid my right hand in my skirt pocket. I was utterly surprised to touch a piece of paper inside. I cautiously took it out and read:
Please see me after class, Maydee… I have something important to discuss with you…
“What’s that about, Maydee?” Saia asked me curiously.
“I don’t know, Saia…’ I shrugged my petite shoulders warily. But actually, I do know what it is all about. Ma’am Heidi was interested in my composition. Especially because I had written there the truth that even the best of my friends hardly know.
Ma’am Heidi gave me a quick sympathetic smile as the class stood up to formally start the lesson.
“Okay, I–St. Francis…” she said seriously with a special kind of excitement spreading in her voice. “On the third week of September, we shall be starting preparations for our Winter School Festival. Your class is to set up a four-hour play as our entry for this…”
“Cool!” Justin grinned.
“What will be our topic for the play, Ma’am?” Lily asked.
Ma’am Heidi smiled at her understandingly. “Oh, don’t worry about that… I’ve already found us a most worthy and original piece of a very truthful and hopeful story – of which I am very proud to be written by one of my most beloved new students.”
At this juncture, our class quickly burst in murmurings. Seatmates turned to one another with the unmaskable and unmistakable glint of triumph in their eyes, all thinking: “It’s my work that the teacher refers to!”
Even though I know exactly who Ma’am Heidi pertains to, I was not fascinated about that person – unlike the others. For that person was me myself… And I am not glad for this recognition of my work since it was never the thing that I had wanted to happen. I simply want to write my story, but for my private purposes only, period.
“Whose is it, Ma’am?” Aljee asked to clarify the matter.
“You all know that I’m teaching the first five sections of the first year level…” Ma’am Heidi said with the lightest trace of a smile. “So it’s just possible that any student from those sections could have done that, right?”
“But, Ma’am….” Our classmates groaned dramatically. “C’mon, spill the beans already!”
“Ah! Enough of that, I–St. Francis!” Ma’am Heidi rebuked them. “We’re starting our grammar lesson now!”
“Oh, Ma’am…”But the whining continued.
Ma’am Heidi preferred to ignore them and went on to write our lecture on the blackboard. “Now, copy this!” She told us sternly.
The class reluctantly became quiet yet I could just mouth the words from my classmates’ lips.
“Why the secret?”
“Just who is this writer anyway?”
I held my breath up to the rest of the lesson, thinking about what Ma’am Heidi and I would talk about later. When she finally dismissed the class, she nodded off my classmates’ imploring looks by saying, “You’ll just see on our next meeting.” And she just went off to the Teachers’ Faculty Room.
Thinking that she might have an inkling of my uncomfortableness to be recognized in public, I deliberately lost track of Saia, Aljee, the Elricks and Lulu to go to Ma’am Heidi’s office. Upon arriving at the Faculty Room, I evidently saw that she had waited for me patiently there.
“Ma’am Heidi?” I asked her uncertainly.
“Come, Maydee… Let’s go to my office,” Ma’am Heidi said kindly, and grasping my right wrist by her left hand, she led me to a spacious blue room. With blue walls and bright accented yellow-and-blue furniture pieces, I easily discovered that Ma’am Heidi was a person of calm temperament. She was an immense reader, too, as I noticed a shelf of books – mostly bestsellers and classics – behind her table.
“Have a seat, dear…” Ma’am Heidi pointed one of her chairs to me. “How do you like my office?” she then asked with a smile.
I couldn’t help but smile, too. “It’s … beautiful, no, it’s more than that… I–It’s perfect,” I said as I settled myself on the plush vinyl chair.
“Thank you for the compliment,” she smiled a third time then she became serious. “Okay, Maydee, about the script of the Winter School play I told your class earlier, it is –-”
“I know, Ma’am, it’s my composition…” I interjected with my brown eyes meeting her candlelight blue ones firmly.
“Oh, so you figured out my message that soon?” Ma’am Heidi broke from her serious front with a soft, angelic laugh. “You are truly an intelligent girl, Maydee…” She reached for my left hand as she stood in front of me and slowly sat down. I noted with great surprise that she had sat in the chair facing me, instead of her grand blue chair.
“O-Oh, M-Ma’am H-Heidi, a-about m-my c-composition… Ah…” I couldn’t stop my stuttering as I was nervous about Ma’am Heidi’s comment about it.
“It’s alright, Maydee…” Ma’am Heidi gently squeezed my hand in reassurance. “I already know about your condition since the first day of school…”
My eyes widened at that instant. “Y-You knew, Ma’am Heidi? But h-how?”
“Even if you try to hide it from me, I’d still know it anyhow,” Ma’am Heidi laughed jovially, yet exuding the seriousness that sealed the statement true. “I have a brother who suffered the same condition. That’s why I understand your situation, Maydee. The way you keep your sickness to yourself and pretend not to be sick around your friends… I already saw some of that from my bro – so, you could say that I know the exact feeling of being close to one who’s got a difficult disease…”
“Difficult,” she continued. “In the sense that it’s taking the toll on you… Even if you didn’t make any sound the other day, I knew you were weeping in the middle of the class. You may have covered your face by your long, curly brown hair but I could still see the tears through them…”
I blinked momentarily at Ma’am Heidi, not entirely believing what I was hearing from her. “M-Ma’am?”
“That’s why I know that making your composition a script of our play would feel somewhat difficult for you, Maydee…” Ma’am Heidi said sympathetically. “But I guarantee you that I will exercise the greatest care so as not to reveal your involvement in this…”
“I entrusted to you, Ma’am Heidi, the story of my life, since that moment when I submitted my composition. So I give you all the rights to the manuscript now, out of my great respect to your goodness,” I said to her honestly.
“Thank you, Maydee… And please, don’t hesitate to come to me when you have any problems,” Ma’am Heidi encouraged me. “Treat me as your older sister, dear…”
“Sure, Ma’am… Actually, you even remind me of my Kuya Jun,” I chuckled.
“Well, an uncanny coincidence…”Ma’am Heidi shrugged. Then she tapped my shoulder.
“Our teas gonna be cold, dear…”
“Oh!” I took my cup of tea from the table and gladly drank it.
“Thanks a lot, Ma’am Heidi…. I enjoyed our talk well…”
“There’ll be more for us in the days to come, Maydee…” Ma’am Heidi promised me as she led me to the door.
At Physics class, I was bewildered to feel my jacket tugged by several hands, followed by questioning voices.
“Maydee, where’ve you been?”
“Why didn’t you join us for the break?’
“We were so worried!”
“I’m sorry, guys… But I’m just fine as I was earlier,” I told them reassuringly.
“Where exactly were you at?” Elizabeth demanded.
I hesitated for a moment, then looked at Lulu. “Ma’am Heidi’s office. She was worried ‘bout my paleness.”
Lulu nodded to me and added. “She must have been apprehensive of a fever…”
“She had expressed her concern to me because her brother was also sick,” I continued, while looking right at Lulu, hoping she would get my double meaning.
“Oh,” Lily said, utterly surprised and concerned.
“Yeah, you’re right…” Lulu muttered in an undertone, looking at me with her it’s-so-bad-it-had-to-happen eyes.
Today, Ma’am Monic gave us our weekly evaluation in Mathematics. I surprised myself by a keen wit and quick thinking that I had successfully answered all of the problems correctly.
“Congratulations! This’ll be your third perfect test now, right, Maydee?” Ma’am Monic cried happily.
I flushed with both pleasure and embarrassment at this, aware of Allen’s piercing glare to my direction.
Before our dismissal, Ma’am Monic gave us a very important message.
“Before I forget, I now announce this year’s Math Olympiad: They are Alfred James and Alfred Leo Bonuie…”
Clap. Clap. Clap. The usual reaction to the mere mention of those exceptional twins…
‘Benjamin Scheichour, and…”
Clap. Clap. Clap. Another round of applause interrupted Ma’am Monic, in recognition to the G-ladz member.
‘Belinda Marie Santiago…”
This time, the class fell into a stunned silence, save for my friends who were cheering on me.
Deborah and her group gaped at Ma’am Monic, dumb-founded.
“Don’t tell me she does not deserve the position,” Ma’am Monic warned the class.
Deborah shot a concerned look to Allen, which he unsurprisingly ignored – as he talked with the G-ladz – then a cold glare to me. This only meant that I had gotten once more one of the things she coveted the most – this time, an extra-curricular post significant to our academic ranking.
“Bah!”Saia said in disgust. “What does she think of herself? A math wizard? There’s no way she can qualify for the Math Olympiad with her flunking all our quizzes!”
“So, Aljee, Allen, Ben, Maydee… We’ll have our first Math Olympiad review last period today at the MOT official room,” Ma’am Monic added as a last reminder before going to her next class.
“Don’t worry about a thing there, Maydee… I’m right beside you all the way,” Aljee assured me, holding my left hand in his own. In that gesture, I felt his warmth and smelled a whiff of perfume similar to the scent of irises.
For lunch, we ordered white puddings and Aljee treated us to traditional elderflower cordials.
“It’s best to take care of our bodies each day of our lives,” he reminded us.
“Aljee, how about if one has nothing to live for anymore?” Isabelle asked him jokingly.
I thought I saw Aljee’s face darken upon hearing that from Isabelle, but it was faster than a second when he looked up to us, flashing his serene smile.
“I don’t think that one would not find what could be worth living for in his life, even in a short lifespan,” He simply said. “For a moment is a treasure wherein you will find yet another, more valuable treasure to cherish forever…”
Treasures within treasures, I immediately thought.
As I ate my meal, I pondered on these words and finally realized that he is indeed correct. Because in every moment I spend with my family, I find them, especially Papa and Kuya Jun, treasures to cherish in my heart all the days of my life.
“Oh, by the way, Aljee… What did you do to prepare for this year’s Math Olympiad?” Elizabeth asked curiously.
“Oh nothing really…”Aljee admitted sheepishly.
“I don’t believe you didn’t do anything during our summer vacation concerning our studies,” Lulu snorted. “Especially a bookworm like you, Alfred Leo Bonuie…”
“Okay, I just skimmed my notes and surfed the Net,” Aljee said promptly.
“Speaking of surfing the Net, did you, by any chance, chat with Meredith, Aljee?” Saia asked him.
Aljee nodded at her. “Yes, in fact, I spend at least five minutes of my limited time in the Net with her even now…”
“Well, well… That reminds me, Aljee… Wasn’t Mereé the only female member of your Mathematics Olympiad team last year?” Elizabeth said.
Lily shot me a quick glance with a smile. “And Maydee’s the rose among you thorns this year… Oh boy, what a coincidence!”
“So enters Belinda Marie Santiago… The transferee girl meant to replace yet another one, only the latter’s better and more deserving,” I said grimly.
“Please, Maydee, don’t say that,” Saia grimaced.
“You still do not know the whole story yet,” Lulu reminded me with a raised right eyebrow.
“Alright, tell me that one then,” I challenged her, raising my own right eyebrow.
Aljee cleared his throat imperiously between us. “I’ll do it first, guys…”
Just as well, I felt his left hand tighten on mine as he was saying:
“I can still remember the day Mereé arrived at our classroom as clear as I see the blue of the sky. She went to sit by my side…”
I gaped at him, hardly believing that some transferee girl dared to sit beside him in the first day of his Seventh Year.
In the next few minutes, Aljee and the others brought me back to the time when they first met Meredith Olvinne.
Aljee was just reading his book on the desk that morning when he heard the sound of footsteps coming his way. He then closed his book, tactfully placing a bookmark by the page he last read and set it down on his desk. Then he looked up to see the owner of those footsteps right in front of him.
It was a girl of average height with here bony hair tied neatly by a single purple ribbon. She was wearing the school uniform with two-inches-below-the-knee skirt and beige knee-length socks. She had a very comely appearance – her bangs (which were not too long to cover her eyes) set neatly on her forehead; her arrow-tipped nose was a little bit small to keep her from being haughty; and her rosy pink lips curled up in a friendly smile that showed her even white teeth. But what caught his attention to her the most were her almond-shaped brown eyes. They were curious yet unafraid.
“Ohayo gozaimazu…” The girl greeted him politely with a bow.
“Good morning to you, too…” Aljee greeted her back with a smile.
“My name’s Meredith Sakurano Olvinne. In case you’re wondering why I’ve greeted you in Japanese, well, I had done that out of habit. I’m half-Japanese, you see… My mom hails from Kyoto,” the girl explained.
“Alfred James Bonuie, Mademoiselle Olvinne… English mother, French father…” Aljee said pleasantly. Soon enough, they exchanged each other’s nicknames.
“Uhm, Aljee-kun… Is the seat on your right already taken?” the girl then asked.
Aljee shook his golden head with a smile. “No, and in fact, should you want it, you can readily be my seatmate, Mereé -chan…”
“Arigato gozaimazu, Aljee!” Mereé smiled graciously to him as she sat down beside him.
Saia noted that she had an easygoing personality which instantly clicked with their other classmates, not just Aljee and company. Except for Allen, unfortunately…
“Excuse me, Al, is this seat already taken?”
Allen did not even take his eyes off the book he was reading, to turn to Mereé. Instead, he simply said. “No, just take the chair to your left…”
Mereé glanced to her left and in her confusion at what Allen had instructed her to do, she asked him bluntly. “What exactly do you mean by that?! There’s no chair in my left side – only empty space!!!”
“Use your brain, Transferee Girl, if you do have one,” Allen said icily, his words cutting through Mereé like sharp stalagmites. “Read between the lines…”
It took all of Mereé’s self-control to keep herself from wrenching Allen’s book from his hands, just to make him look at her. For she wanted very much for him to be her friend.
“So you mean that…” Mereé finally said, after a long silence. Her voice was as dry as parchment at coming to realize what Allen’s intention was.
“Moron… Push the chair three times to the left, so you will be far from me,” Allen muttered the order flatly, which made Mereé’s insides churn.
“What’s the matter with you, Allen?!”Mereé resisted her tears and said indignantly. “Don’t you want to have a seatmate?”
“No.” This time, Allen closed his book and put it down on his desk with a hard thud. His sapphire-blue eyes glared dangerously at Mereé with enough coldness to cover the entire room with snow. “The only ones I could trust to be my seatmates are those whose words and attitude are worthy –and you definitely are not one of them, Transferee Girl. Besides, if you think that I’d go easy on you because you’ve befriended my brother, Aljee, I’m sorry to prove you wrong in all your assumptions. In fact, I hate your lot so much; I just can’t take in your company…”
At hearing these words, Mereé became so frightened that she could not speak a word for a while.
Yet Allen was not finished with her. “So do what I want you to do this instant or else I’ll do it myself in a way that’ll be more hurtful for you…” His threat was so cruel that it scared her out of her wits.
So that left Mereé with no other choice but to push her chair thrice farther away from Allen. “Alright, now here I am…” She said in disgust to Allen, biting her lip to prevent herself from throwing a diatribe.
I stopped my friends in their story by raising my left hand, telling them that I didn’t want to hear the rest of the story right now.
“Anyway, Maydee, Mereé also did some honor to the school while she was here,” Aljee told me, trying to get me on the cheerful side. “She got a Credit Award for the AMC last year…”
“Wow, a Credit Award… For sure, I wouldn’t even get that in honor of our team this year, Aljee…” I said in a morose kind of way.
“Aw, Maydee… Please don’t say that….Of course, you’re not a fortune teller!” Aljee reassured me.
“Not so,” I honestly admitted.
After we finished our lunch, we simply strolled around the school grounds. As we passed by the library, I looked longingly at the distant shelf containing books of classic English Literature – one of which I can see is Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
“Well, guys, since we still have twenty-five minutes before the time,” I turned to the sound of Aljee’s voice and found him, to my embarrassment, just to my left side, first glancing at his watch then at me. “Why don’t we go to the library for a while?”
None of us had any objections, so our group eagerly went inside the library.
“Ohh… It’s an absolutely grand collection of books…” I gasped in admiration at the towering bookshelves.
“757,850 books and still counting,” Aljee muttered matter-of-factly behind me.
“R-Really?” I gasped in awe. “Then almost every type of book in the world is in this library right now…”
“Yes, in fact even foreign Literature -Irish, French, German, Swedish, Russian, American, Indian, Latin American and many more… The school buys today’s bestsellers every now and then to augment to this number,” Aljee added proudly.
“Incredible,” I said softly, slowly going to the shelf of Classic Literature, with a Library Card in hand (Which, by the way, was given to me by Aljee while he was explaining).
I first took a Charles Dickens novel – David Copperfield. I’ve already read this, I told myself and I felt a lump in my throat as I recalled the time I first had this book.
It was a heavy raining morning for which I was thankful for, because I had the perfect cover to freely cry as hard as I could Mama scolded me the night before because she caught me writing a diary. She threw the diary into the flames of our fireplace then slapped me sharply on my left cheek. Afterwards, I ran fast to my room without looking back. Despite having locked myself in my bedroom’s privacy, I desperately had to wait for dawn to be able to cry. Mama hates to see or hear me cry, although she knows that she is the very reason of my tears.
As I was burying myself in my pillow and blanket, I heard a gentle yet hard knock on my door. Fearing that it was a ghost, I did not move even one bit.
“Maydee… It’s Kuya Jun, tuyo hermano, not some wicked phantom…” a familiar soothing voice came from the other side of the door.
“I woke a while ago to the sound of your cry, Maydee…” the person with that voice opened the door and directly let himself in. “You can’t bask away your tears in the darkness of a heavy rain, Sister, ’cause I can hear the sound of your voice, even when I’m asleep… ”
At that, I jumped out of my bed and threw the blanket away from me. I turned to my right and saw the handsome face of my caring big brother drawn in concern.
“Kuya Jun, it’s nothing really… Solamente no hay…” I profusely lied.
Kuya Jun leaned onto me and wiped my tears away, running his thumbs along my cheeks. “It’s just okay to let your feelings show now… The situation will be worse if you just keep those feelings in your heart… Remember that, mi hermana…”
“Si, Kuya Jun,” I sobbed as he wrapped his arms tightly around me. Between my tears, I told him everything I felt that time. When I finally let go of him, I heaved a sigh.
“Yes, Kuya Jun…Gracias,” I smiled at him gratefully.
“Don’t thank me yet, sister… I still got something for you,” Kuya Jun grinned at me cheekily.
“What do you mean?” I asked him, bemused. My brown eyes followed his hands then, as they fumbled with the lower side of his thick fur coat. My eyes widened upon seeing what they took out of the coat.
“A-A book?” I gaped at my brother uncertainly.
“Why, Maydee, don’t you want it?”He chuckled at me, teasingly brandishing the brown hard-covered book under my nose.
“David… Copperfield…” I read the title of the book slowly, as if I was reading it in a far-fetched dream.
“Oh, by Charles Dickens!” I exclaimed in amazement, suddenly remembering where I first saw that book – at Señor Antonio’s Bookshop back in Trinidad, Spain.
“Wow, you now know how to pronounce the book’s title and author properly… That’s a good improvement, mi hermana,” Kuya Jun grinned at me.
“I was simply an innocent five-year-old girl back then,” I retorted.
“Yeah, but you were the cutest five-year-old girl I ever saw…” Kuya Jun said softly, ruffling my hair.
“Kuya Jun…” I laughed at his gesture.
But now, I laughed with a melancholic tune, desperately wishing for his presence right now.
After I replaced David Copperfield in the shelf, another book that I’ve been so interested in caught my eye. A Victor Hugo classic. I gently pulled the book, but I was startled when I felt a strong tug on the other side of the book that pulled it away from me.
“E-Er, may I ask? Who’s there? D’you mind sharing this book with me? I’m gonna read it real fast, I promise,” In my anxiety, I did not quite realize that I was already striking a bargain here.
“Oh, great, this is definitely the best book for you to read,” replied a voice – that was so familiar to my ears that it frightened me. Then a pale white hand pushed the other books in the rack aside to clear a path and reveal the face of….
“A-Allen!” I dropped my hands to my side at recognizing him.
“Why not? This is a perfect read for you, Transferee Girl… Lés Misérables…” he grinned at me tauntingly as he saw the stark horror in my face. “Because you’re a miserable person…”
“So take this with you now,” Allen continued, half-smiling to me.
Then suddenly, Aljee spoke behind me. “That’s o longer necessary, Allen…” I turned my back to Allen cautiously and my brown eyes widened when Aljee raised his hand where he held Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. “I’ve already got her a better book. C’mon, Maydee, let’s go the librarian now…”
“Oh, you’ve again the better things for others, Mr. Perfect Gentleman… Oh how wonderful!” Allen sneered.
I turned my head slightly to the right and looked up to the painstakingly beautiful face of the Bonuie twin and gazed especially at his sad-looking sapphire-blue eyes.
“Allen…” I said softly to him but got no reply since he immediately headed to the door without giving me another glance. But I was so sure that I saw hurt in his eyes as I looked at him just now.
But why? What happened just now that hurt Allen? Could it be…? No, no, it really could not be that. Of course not.
The next events of this afternoon went so fast for my notice; I was more anxious of my first Math Olympiad review. Alas, it took place sooner than I would have thought.
Ding dong! The school bells resounded to the time of 4:30 PM.
“Hurrah!” Isabelle said happily. “At last, no more classes! Me room here I come!”
“Then we’ll all go ahead now, Aljee…” Saia and the Elricks said, before starting for the stairs.
“Take care of her,” Lulu added meaningfully.
“I will.” Aljee held my left hand more firmly in his own.
You be careful there, mi prima. Lulu gave me a keen look then went to catch up with the others.
Grasping my wrist by his left hand, Aljee led me to a peach-painted room at the second floor of the Math Building that had a sign above its ornately carved yew door that goes like this:
Math Olympiad Official Quarters
Exclusively for MOT members only
At a twisted piece of luck, Allen got to the door at the same time that we did. He knocked Aljee’s hand off the doorknob immediately.
“I’ll do it.” He said in a chilling voice that made him sound more arrogant than gallant.
Ben gave Aljee an apologetic smile then followed Allen into the room.
Aljee helped me to a seat beside his and purposefully asked her not to give us another seat plan.
“In the tradition of the SBA Math Olympiad, each year level’s team will have their older peers as their co-reviewers. This is a partnership of learning as the younger will learn from the elder the winning hit of the principles,” Ma’am Monic told us then turned to the door. “This year, your co-reviewers are the sophomores – Andrew Paul Johnston, Chiara Antonia Seville, William Arthur Stapleton, and Kenjiro Hijiri…”
At one look at these co-reviewers of ours, I quickly deduced that the four of us had different reactions for each.
The tall boy with chestnut brown hair shook my hands graciously and then gave Aljee a quick high-five. “Hullo, Andrew!” Aljee smiled and let him take the seat behind him.
A curly-haired brunette sat behind Allen and said to Ben fondly. “Oh, Ben… You’re still irresistibly cute as ever!”
“You too, Chiara,” Ben chuckled at her.
The third sophomore went directly to Allen and tapped his shoulder lightly.
“It’s you again, William Stapleton…” Allen shook the boy’s hand off and glared at him.
“Well, well…”William said imperiously. “You haven’t changed a bit, Allen Bonuie…”
“So did you,” Allen said in a voice devoid of all emotion.
“Hah!” William snorted. ”Guess we’ll have a good partnership here, boy…”
I followed William with my unswerving brown eyes until he went to sit behind Allen, hardly believing what I had just seen happen between the two of them. Then suddenly, I gasped at the sight of a person I never expected to see here.
“K – Kenji-san!”
“That I am, Maydee-chan,” he nodded.
“But, I – I thought you were in Japan! H – How did you… end up here?” I asked incredulously.
“Even though I live with my family in my grandfather’s dojo, I come here to Camden every August First…” he explained.
“But I still can’t believe it!” I shook my head giddily. “You, Kenji-senpai, being a Bridgetan at the same time that I am starting to…”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Allen muttered sarcastically. “I guess it won’t be enough until you two are jumping up and down the floor in glee of seeing each other again…”
“You’re despicable, Allen Bonuie. Don’t ever dare insult me or Maydee; you don’t know who you’re messing with…” Kenji warned him.
“Hijiri Kenji-san! Osuwari kudasai!” I bluntly told Kenji. I know that I already sounded commanding to him but I didn’t care; I just wanted to keep him from doing a bad thing.
Kenji cast me a look of pure concern in his dark brown eyes then sat down with Aljee.
“By the way, how was your first month in this school?’ he asked me curiously.
“Oh well, fun and some ‘never odd’ things, too…” I said to him flatly.
“Maydee-chan…” Kenji sighed. “But you know your brother can do something about it if you’ll only tell him.”
“Yet as long as long it does not concern him in any way, there’s no reason for him to know about it.”
“Anyway,” He then changed the subject, to my great relief. “I’d like to take you to your room tonight. You know, that hace hatud, as you call it, in your father’s tongue… Can I, Maydee-chan?”
“Si, puede tu ese hace,” I nodded to him eagerly.
Not after that, he stood up and helped Ma’am Monic with the two boxes she was carrying into the room.
“Oh, thank you very much, Kenji…” Ma’am Monic smiled at him gratefully. “You’re such a gentleman.”
“Dô itashimashite, Ma’am Monic,” Kenji chuckled as he laid the boxes on Ma’am Monic’s table carefully before going back to his seat.
“Okay now, guys… These two boxes contain the files of all the members of Saint Bridget Academy’s Math Olympiad – including those of their kin,” Ma’am Monic said, answering our profoundly unasked questions.
“What about the transferee girl’s?” Allen asked dryly, to which Kenji shot him a piercing glare.
“Oh, you mean, Maydee…” Ma’am Monic then smiled at me, pretending not to feel the tension building up in the room. She slid her right hand inside the second box and pulled out some papers. “Of course, here they are! Want to see them?”
“No need, Ma’am,” Allen said gruffly. “She won’t have any achievements as good as mine anyway… So why bother?”
“HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT?!” Kenji shouted, all the while resisting my strong grip on his waist to prevent him from getting near Allen.
“Senpai!” I gritted my teeth hard. “Please don’t do something stupid here!”
I was not really sure if Ma’am Monic heard the desperation in my voice at the moment, but she merely read my papers without a word before turning to Allen with an unusual face.
“Yes, Maydee has joined Mathematics competitions just last year…”
“Because my forte is English,” I continued her trailing statement with a sense of unashamed honesty, already prepared for the other’s reactions.
“Then knowing that, you still have the nerve to be here with us at the Math Olympiad Official Quarters?!” Allen sneered at me.
“Y-You…” Kenji struggled to break free from my grasp, so I found it harder to restrain him.
Ma’am Monic, still coolly calm despite the underlying conflict, replied Allen’s question in her most velvet voice. “She must be here, Allen, because she has the potential to be a great mathematician, as much as everyone else in this room has…”
Allen let out a loud snort of laughter. “Ma’am Monic, do you honestly think that a useless girl whose brainless forte is English would be of use to the Math Olympiad?”
“Y-You’ve… gone… too… far… already… Bonuie…!” Kenji became so wild with rage that I hurt my hands in holding him away from Allen.
“Do you remember the English Academe Mathematicians’ Cup of 2008, my dear students?” I was utterly surprised that Ma’am Monic chose to address the whole group, rather than just Allen or me.
Everyone nodded to Ma’am Monic, even Allen who had a bitter smile as he did so.
“Yes, Ma’am Monic – only too well… My sister, Nadeé, who wanted to get first place, did not get it because she was deliberately defeated.”
“Do you recall to whom Bernadette lost in the championship of the EAMC?” Ma’am Monic continued to ask.
“No, Ma’am,” Allen snorted. “I didn’t wish to remember that person’s name, so I didn’t even bother to listen for it that day.”
Kenji rolled his eyes at him.
“Alright, then, I will tell it to you now… The one who bested Lady Bernadette in the most important Math competition was –” Ma’am Monic declared. “–Jonathan Carlos M. Santiago.”
“What did you say, Ma’am? J-JONATHAN CARLOS M. SANTIAGO?!” Allen spit in front of our teacher in his shock.
“Yes,” Ma’am Monic nodded at him curtly. “And he is no less known as –”
“Kuya Jun…” I gasped upon realizing what Ma’am Monic meant. Out of shock, I released Kenji from my grasp. Then I crossed my hands at my lap and bowed my head low.
“Maydee’s older brother and my senpai – who is currently studying at Saint Andrew’s College…” Kenji said imperiously.
Allen closed his mouth with a disgruntled “Hmph!” and I began to silently cry.
All of a sudden, my cell phone rang shrilly, to my great mortification. I could just feel all the eyes of my companions (especially the sophomores) on me at that time. Looking at the phone, I saw that it was Kuya Jun himself who was calling me. I answered the call apprehensively.
“Hello, Maydee… I just called to check up on you. How are you doing there right now?” Kuya Jun said.
“Oh, Kuya Jun… I – I am… j – just f – fine, siempre…” To my dismay, a sob unintentionally escaped my throat.
“What’s that? Are you crying, Maydee?” Kuya Jun asked in concern.
“‘Tis nothing, Kuya…” Alas, another sob.
“Jun-senpai!” Kenji unexpectedly interjected. I looked up to him nervously, afraid that he might betray me and break his promise.
“What is it, Kenji?” Kuya Jun asked him.
“Our teacher, Ma’am Monic, wants to talk to you, senpai,” Kenji promptly replied and my heart smiled in relief.
“Ah, Ma’am Monic…” Kuya Jun chuckled softly. “Sure thing, put her on…”
“Jonathan, can you share to my students the story of how you won the EAMC Cup of 2008?” Ma’am Monic eagerly said, as I handed her the phone. “I want them to see even in you – then a state school student yet a most brilliant boy – the fact that anyone could achieve their goals, regardless of race, religion, and social status, as long they have the determination and talent appropriate to their goal…”
“Alright, Ma’am Monic. I’ll do it,” Kuya Jun agreed. Ma’am Monic put my phone in loudspeaker mode in front of the whole group.
“Ah, actually, I never really expected to win in EAMC – but still, I simply did my best there…”
As I could no longer my sobs anymore, I closed my eyes and laid my head on the desk. I didn’t have the strength to listen to what Kuya Jun was telling the others, because I feel more homesick by just hearing simply his voice. I’m missing him now, more than ever, because, he’s the only one confidante I have in our home. He usually gets the information from me after many times of coaxing me in his sweet and understanding way. Right now, I know that I must tell him earnestly and wholly about the things I am going through these past few weeks, but I just can’t. Because if I ever tell him, I will regret it as soon as the words are out of my mouth – since he has the instinct to do something to those who caused me harm. “For them to learn their lesson in the Golden Rule,” he always tells me. So how am I supposed to tell him that a nobleman’s son and a younger brother of the girl to whom he took a liking at first sight, is the one who makes me cry every night here?
Fortunately, I woke up just right after Kuya Jun finished his story. I quickly wiped my tears by hand, but when I looked up, Aljee handed me a white handkerchief with a sad smile. Embarrassed and surprised that he saw my tear-drenched face, I could only give him a feeble mumbled thanks and an apologetic smile.
“Muchas gracias, Maydee…” Ma’am Monic smiled as she gave me back my phone.
“De nada,” I smiled back to her sincerely.
“I have nothing more to say, Ma’am Monic.” Allen simply said.
“Why…?” Ma’am Monic asked him politely.
“There is no reason for me to do so right now…”
“Oh, please, Allen… Don’t misunderstand my intentions here…” Ma’am Monic said sympathetically. “I never meant to –”
“No, Ma’am… I was not shamed by your revelations… Of course not,” Allen said tersely.
“Very well, let us continue…” Ma’am Monic nodded at the whole group and passed the files to us one by one.
While I was taking my file and Kuya Jun’s, I unexpectedly locked gazes with Allen. He glared at me, as if I caught him doing something. From the look of it, I found that I never seen anything like it before. Allen’s blue eyes blazed like live coals and sent a frosty air in the room. But when it faded away, I saw the blue soften in a calm yet sensitive expression. I then felt, just in one of the most far-fetched dreams of mine, the kindred soul in him and I was captivated by the wonders it could do to a meek soul like mine.
A gentle tap on my shoulders broke my trance – perhaps in a way too soon.
“Maydee…” A gentler voice followed, as I turned my head.
“Aljee!” I exclaimed, startled at his gesture.
“Are you okay?” He asked in concern.
“Yes, I’m just fine, Aljee…” I nodded.
After Aljee settled back in his seat, I stole a glance onto Allen but he was no longer looking at me – instead, burying his nose in his Mathematics textbook. Actually, I don’t quite know what I’m feeling now, just because he didn’t give me his attention anymore. My heart raced the whole time our eyes met and when he finally let go, I do not know if I would feel relieved or sad.
But I was glad when Ma’am Monic gave us some Activity Sheets to solve. I badly needed a distraction from my thoughts about Allen. It was not like I was going to get a distraction in a big way, but it was enough for my situation right now. I soon became occupied by the different mathematical problems – determined to solve them all – that I forgot about Allen.
I bumped shoulders with Allen in my haste to get out of the room. I tried to apologize to him but he just went off to their dorm, even without Ben, to my great surprise. Ben and Aljee exchanged nods and the together, they followed Allen’s route. Meanwhile, Kenji kept his promise and escorted me to the door of my dorm room, amidst the questioning stares and cooing sounds from my roommates.
The Elricks were bearing askance on me, but I anticipated what would happen if I gave in to them, so I only gave them a feeble nod. It was then that I realized how tired my mind was. For the sake of orderliness, I put my things back to their places first then sank down in my bed, I closed my eyes and started to relax for a little bit as I felt a gentle, soothing caress in my hair.
When I woke up, I saw Lulu beside me and was surprised to see a tray of food on my bedside table and even more surprised to see myself in my nightclothes already.
“You’ve fallen asleep too long – long enough to miss your own dinner,” Lulu explained to me slowly. “The Kitchen Attendants allowed me to bring t here for you to eat, as long as I will return their utensils before nine o’clock…”
“Okay…” I nodded at her, slowly understanding how I came to be in this situation.
“Then about your clothes, I stripped the uniform off your body, and put you on your nighties,” Lulu continued.
“P-Pardon?” I looked at my clothes, then at her uncertainly.
“I left you your undergarments, of course… Afterwards, I sought the help of Saia and Lily to dress you, while in bed,” Lulu reassured me.
“Don’t worry, Maydee… We weren’t going to rape you,” Saia added jokingly.
I actually laughed at the notion of them trying to molest me. Not only are they my fellow women and friends, but I also don’t consider myself to be attractive enough for anyone to take an interest in my body.
While eating my supper silently, I noticed that my friends were eyeing me warily. I forked my bangers and dipped them in gravy gingerly. I went on eating as Lulu and the others kept on a hushed conversation.
By the time I was already munching my Rhubard Crumble, Lulu finally asked me.
“How was your first math Olympiad Review, Maydee?”
“Quite long and hard on the edges,” I muttered ominously.
“What do you mean by that?” Isabelle and Elizabeth stared at me blankly.
“So it was bad…?” Lulu said, deducing my statement.
“Nay… ‘Twas good… Kuya Jun called me… ‘e gave me a boost by ‘at, ‘e ‘id…’ I muttered between bites.
“He called you right in the middle of your Review, just to check on you? Oh… How sweet!” Lily sighed in awe.
“Yeah, and I was thoroughly touched by that…’ I said to her sincerely. I said nothing mire, using my drink as an excuse.
“Hmm… D’you like the rosehip tea?” Lulu asked me, peering beneath my furtive eyes as if to try to perceive what it is hiding.
“That’s good… I knew you’ll need it for a stressful day,” Lulu gave me a knowing look and immediately I realized that she already got what she wanted from me by now. With a pang, I watched her get up from her chair and take the tray of my finished food. Before closing the door of our room, she gave a sad and understanding smile to me and mouthed “Amable sueños, mi prima…”
After thanking Saia and the Elricks, I drew my blanket close to me and slept soundly. Yet in my mind, my sleep was as sound as possible due to the unfathomable images flickering in my brain. They were dreams that were primarily about Aljee or Allen doing what they always do to me. But I was frightened by the scenes because they were arguing over me.