POLYTECHNIC University of the Philippines, Laboratory High School, school ground.
“Atten…tion!” Rachel shouted to the caddette’s under her on Citizen’s Army Training. “Left… face! Forward… march!”
She observed the simultaneous marching of the cadettes of the model platoon that she had also been training for several days in the middle of the heat. They will have a competition next week and she will be the platoon leader of the selected model cadettes.
“Rachel!” Her friend Di called her name. She was also with another friend of theirs, Love. “That’s enough practice. Your team might get too good, they have not yet stepped into the start of the competition and you’ll win by default.”
“And have mercy on those ladies. Their skin’s already burned because of your daily training, my gosh,” Love added.
“Then that’s good, I’ll be the only person with fair complexion here.”
She let her platoon leader take over the command so that she could freely approach her friends sitting comfortably under the shade of the Muntingia Tree. They are also CAT officers but she has a higher rank. They have probably dismissed their own private cadettes platoons earlier than her. After all, they are not part of the Don Bosco Cup so it is fine for them to just laze around while her group is being charred under the heat of the sun.
“Why are you guys here?” she asked them.
“What else? Of course, we’re here to catch a glimpse of Corps,” Di answered.
“Our super cutie Corps Commander,” Love added.
The both of them pointed to the elegant man who was training in the men’s platoon with their lips at the same time. But her gaze only penetrated towards the platoon leader of the cadet models. She even cocked her head to get a better view of the boy’s fantastic behind. She felt Di weakly hit her on her nape and she just hit her back on the shoulder.
“Ouch!” her friend complained. “Are you really a woman? How can your hand be that heavy?!”
“Excuse me, you’re the one to first hit me.”
“It’s because,” Love interjected. “You’re lusting over that poor guy again.”
“Stop acting coy with me. It’s too obvious who you are looking at.”
Their heads simultaneously turned in the direction of the male cadets when they heard the loud commanding voice of the person they were talking about. They have also finished their training and are now running back to their barracks. She watched as the platoon leader stood in front of their corps commander for some final instructions.
“In fairness, who could deny that Melvin is extremely handsome,” she heard her friend Di said. “The only problem with that guy is he can’t see that Rachel’s head over heels in love with him.”
“He’s handsome, alright.” Love agreed. “But stupid.”
She didn’t react. She just let her friends talk because they might tease her even more if she even give a single comment. Di and Love were the first people to know that she has a big-time crush on their classmate Melvin. She just did not know how they found out about it while she’s not even showing any reaction when the young man was around her. In fact, they rarely even talk in their classroom. If you can even call their exchanges of “hi,” “hello,” “excuse me,” and “thanks,” as a conversation. They never did talk to each other the way they talked to their other classmates. She also didn’t know why. To think that she is the most talkative in their class and Melvin is the closest to women.
This is the fourth and final year of their high school as classmates. When they were first-year students, they weren’t treating each other as worse as they are right now. He would talk to her and exchange jokes. Because they both are on the talkative side, they immediately get along better than their other classmates. Their classmates even started pairing them up and teasing them whenever they got near each other. She pretended to be upset on the outside. But deep down in her heart, she was happy every time their classmates teased them. In their second year, Melvin became even more popular after he joined their school’s basketball varsity team. That’s when she noticed him slowly getting cold to her. Then all of a sudden, he just stopped talking to her. She was annoyed, of course. Just because he became famous, he has already forgotten about her. And to counter the hurt she felt, she also avoided talking to him. That’s when they start to almost not talk with each other.
“Why can’t you just approach Melvin, Rachel?” Love asked. “We’re almost graduating, but you haven’t even talked to him properly yet.”
“Correct, Rae. We will graduate in three months.” Then Di flicked her fingers as if she had suddenly thought of something. “That’s right, at the Don Bosco Cup, you should just corner Melvin and confess to him. Just tell him, ‘Hey, you stupid guy, why thou doest ignore this beauty? How dare you!’ Then just grab him and kiss him thoroughly. Let’s see if he doesn’t come to his senses then.”
“What if I grill the both of you instead so that your brains get well-done under the sun? You’ll even dare to make me a pervert in front of that one.” She adjusted the berret cap she’s wearing. “If he doesn’t have any intention of talking to me, then so be it.”
“That’s it? You’re just going to let go of the only man who has awakened your femininity?”
“Why? Is there no one else who could revive the woman in me? FYI, he’s not the only fish in the ocean.”
“Wait, stop, I didn’t understand that part,” Love teased.
“Same,” doubled by Di.
“That’s your problem, not mine.”
With the intensity of the sun, she did not expect she would sweat cold when she saw who was approaching where they were.
“Oh!” Di exclaimed afterward. “Melvin’s coming this way!”
“Hey, Rachel, where the hell are you going?”
“I also need to dismiss my platoon. I’ll take my leave.”
“Hah, I think you’re just scared of Melvin that’s why you’re leaving.”
She turned one hundred eighty degrees and stood right where she stood a minute ago. “I’m not scared of him, excuse me!” She motioned her platoon leader to come to her. Then the leader immediately followed. “Get out of here,” she told her friends. “You’re just going to disturb us.”
“Who are we going to disturb you with?” Di answered back. “With Melvin?”
Love just laughed. “You’re really weird when it comes to someone you like, Rachel. I’ve never seen you act so crazy. On second thought, you’re originally crazy. But to become even more crazy because of the person you like—”
She covered her friend’s mouth because her platoon had already formed in front of them. The innocent Melvin has also nearly approached them. And then she heard his familiar baritone voice.
“Cadet Model Osias, Melvin reporting, Ma’am.” Melvin suddenly stopped and stood in front of them, saluting.
She would really like to shove her friends who were secretly smiling and teasing her. She could not look directly at the young man so she just faced her model platoon while they were counting themselves.
“Cadet Model Osias, Melvin reporting, Ma’am,” she heard him repeat.
She fixed her eyes on her platoon.
“Deputy Corps Commander Rachel Rante.” Di interrupt. “He’s talking to you.”
“Huh?” She turned to him automatically and came face-to-face with the most handsome boy in their school. His posture was very dignified as he looked at her while giving a salute. It took all her guts not to blush in front of him when she saluted back and he took a step forward. She was the second-highest-ranking official in their CAT batch, for Pete’s sake! And Melvin was just an ordinary cadet model. There is no reason for her to destroy her reputation because of this guy. Even more so now that almost all of the cadets have been dismissed so they are free to observe the only group remaining on the school grounds.
“What?” she formally asked him.
“Corps is summoning you, Ma’am.”
She glanced at Marx’s place, their corps commander. He was standing outside their headquarters along with the other officers. The bastard even has the guts to wave at her. Now she knew the dimwit was thinking of doing some monkey business again. She didn’t know why but she had this gutsy feeling that even their corps commander somehow knew she had a thing for this particular cadet.
“I’ll just go there later,” she told him after a while.
“Corps told me not to come back without you.”
There was no use arguing with him. Surely he will still follow Marx more than her because he is the king of that school every Saturday. She just faced her platoon that almost all eyes were boring on Melvin.
“Dismissed!” she barked at them.
They took a step back and saluted. “Ma’am, good-bye, Ma’am!”
She hurriedly went to Marx the moment all of them left. “What the hell’s your problem?”
“Nothing,” the guy replied while grinning. “We just want to see you and Melvin together. It’s just unfortunate that we didn’t bring a camera today. We wished you two to have a remembrance with each other.”
She almost shouted at their fellow officers when they simultaneously laughed. “Don’t you all have anything to do with your lives?”
“We don’t.” Then Marx turned to the young man beside him. “Osias, you can now tell Rachel what you want to say to her.”
“Sir, yes, Sir.”
Melvin stared at her. She suddenly felt hotter than boiling water when she glanced at that handsome face. Panic washed over her. What is he going to tell her? And why is he looking at her in that way? Even so, she waited.
“What happened, Osias?” one of the officers there said. “Why can’t you speak anymore? Don’t worry, Ma’am Rante won’t bite you.”
“You better tell her now, bro,” another one said. “She will be even more angrier if you haven’t spoken today.”
Why would she be angry? What should she be angry about? She wanted to ask a lot of questions to the young man in front of him. But as she continued to silently stare at him, her big-mouthedness seemed to suddenly disappear. She also couldn’t help but feel excited about something.
They said he should tell her now or she would be even more mad.
“Osias.” It was Marx’s voice. “Are you going to speak or I’ll give you a demerit?”
Demerits were deductions from their CAT grades whenever an officer, a cadet or cadette, did something against a higher ranking officer. Or for this matter, one failed to do what his or her officer had told them to do in accordance with the rules.
Melvin still didn’t say anything. He was running for cadet model of the year. She knew Melvin would not do anything to ruin it. So she assumed that Marx was the mastermind behind this nonsense again. She turned her murderous eyes to her co-officers.
“You guys should stop playing with Osias and do something productive.” Then she faced Melvin. “You’re dismissed, Osias.”
It was then that Melvin started to move again. He quietly saluted, then left in front of them.
Marx just shook his head. “I should’ve waited for Oasis to speak if I were you, Rachel.”
“And join your nonsense? No way. I will just eat with the time spent with that.”
Rachel couldn’t explain the happiness she felt in those moments. Melvin almost confessed to her. Whatever it was, she knew it was something good. She could feel it in her big, big bones. But that good feeling suddenly disappeared when she saw Melvin again. He was talking to another female student. He was about to regard it as one of his many fans at that school, when the girl suddenly kissed him on the cheek, then anchored in his arms and walked out of the school.
“That’s what we want Osias to tell you earlier,” Marx said, who she hadn’t noticed has already approached her side. “But you just let him slip away.”
There was only one thing to describe what she felt at that moment—crushed. She knew Melvin was popular with the girls but she had never heard he had ever courted any of them. She never knew he would ever have a girlfriend. She just thought that, well… She expected that…
“Next time, Marx,” she said. “Don’t ever try to interfere with what’s going on between the two of us.”
“Why, Rachel? Did we do something wrong?” She didn’t answer. “Don’t worry. I will torture Osias on the next training day for you.”
“I will put a curse on you if you do that.”
“Why Me? Curse Melvin, after all, he’s the one who broke your heart.”
She was right in her suspicions. They already knew that she had a special feeling for that cadet. Hurt and humiliation flooded her system.
She annoyedly turned at the person beside her. “Are you really a man?”
“According to my parents, yes.”
“Then will you just leave me alone?”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“Shut up, Marx!” Then she walked out.
“That’s unbecoming of an officer, Rachel,” Marx annoyingly followed. “Fifty demerits for you.”
“Go to hell!”
She entered their headquarters, then picked up her backpack. She didn’t even bother to take off the fatigue uniform she’s wearing.
After almost four years of hiding her true feelings to him, that’s how it will all end. That day, for the first time in her life, Rachel had experienced a broken heart.
Rachel turned to the person who spoke those words. Melvin was wearing his CAT uniform elegantly with his gloved hands and a royal-blue sash wrapped around his waist.
“Thanks,” she flatly replied. “Congrats, too.”
He just nodded. Both platoons from their school got high scores, placing them first on the overall standing. Other schools have not yet finished performing in the Don Bosco Cup held that day in the said school’s vast school field, but they are almost certain to win. That is why some of their colleagues are already eating outside the room that has been turned into a barracks for their group.
She was trying to untie her blue sash that was wrapped around her neck over her CAT uniform. After all, they are done performing so even if she just wears a white shirt as the top will be okay.
“Have you eaten?” he asked again.
“I’m not hungry. You?”
She was getting annoyed because she couldn’t remove the cursed sash from her neck. She was also upset because Melvin was still talking to her even after what she had learned the previous week. Although it was really not his problem if you think about it. He is not obliged to stay single just for her. However, she still could not help but feel a little pain in her heart. She just wasn’t ready to talk to him now.
And damn this stupid sash!
“Let me help you.”
He placed something that looked like a wrapped sandwich on the arm of the chair near him. Then he walked towards her and deftly unwrapped the silk sash from her neck. Melvin was only a few centimeters tall compared to her so she could freely examine his handsome face even if she did not want to.
Why do you have to come near me? I’ve just had my heart broken because of you but here you go again in front of me, you dimwit! Do you even know what you’re doing to me? Don’t you know that a little more and I’ll put a curse on your entire species?!
In fact, she has already made the decision to forget anything related to her feelings about him. The only problem is, by approaching her this time, he had easily brought back that strange feeling she had for him that she was trying to forget.
He had just finished untying her sash when he rested his left hand on the side of her neck, gently brushing his thumb on her cheek. He was looking at her the way he had never looked at her before. Then she didn’t know what had happened next. She just reflexively closed her eyes when she felt his warm lips touched hers. He had kissed her! Her very first kiss! However, as quickly as that moment happened ended just as quickly. He was already walking out the door when she decided to open her eyes.
“You should eat,” she even heard him speak without looking at her. “I brought that sandwich for you.”
Then he was gone and she was left there, standing dumbfounded. That was the last time they ever had the chance to be together. He never approached her again or talked to her for a long time since that day. He even had the chance to have a few consecutive change of girlfriends until the day they graduate. And not even once did he ever ask her to be one of his girls.
Several times, she kept repeating that scene inside their barracks during the Don Bosco Cup in her mind. Did it really happen that he kissed her? Or is it just her imagination? Frequently, she would touch her lips with her fingers. And every time, she would feel the warmth of his lips on hers. But if that really happened, why did he unswervingly turn his back on her? Did he just play with her?
Indulged her because she likes him?
He’d just humored her because he probably discovered that she had special feelings for him. That was so unfair. Before she gets out of high school, she knew she had changed.
Never again would she let her heart be fooled by a kiss.