Jenny Mae S. Talaver is currently a Senior High School teacher in English at Ateneo de Zamboanga University. She graduated in the selfsame school through a scholarship and part time writing jobs. She has been writing since childhood but her greatest dream is to publish novels. She has worked on several
writing projects for almost ten years, particularly three novels-in-progress.
She was a writing fellow of the 5th Western Mindanao Writers' Workshop on October 2012. She was also the youngest delegate in the 5th Philippine Writers' Festival held in Dumaguete City, Philippines on February 2013. In both events, her stories received acclaim and careful critique from renowned authors.
As a survivor of schoolyard bullying, she dedicates her life towards spreading awareness of the problem of the bullying and all the harm it brings to the person and society, as a whole. She has finished two philosophical papers - focused on bullying - that are both recommended for submission to philosophy journals.
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Thanks a lot for continually supporting me and my dream as a writer!
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A 30-minute Google Hangouts, Skype session, or phone conversation with me where I will discuss the book in greater detail - my writing process, inspirations, etc. Here I will also welcome your suggestions and comments. Or we can just talk about anything under the sun - philosophy, politics, religion, you name it!
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Surviving One Year
Maydee. Allen. Jamie. Two need a heart while the other is willing to give his own in a quest for love set to be in vain from the very start.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/gzwkb 1450 views
|YA Fiction Romance|
|2 publishers interested|
Smile, Old Heart is the chronicle of struggles experienced by two sick teens during the aftermath of the Brexit vote. This is the heartfelt account of how they survived one year of twists and turns in British society and the landscape. One heart is all they need to live beyond the year but the problem with finding enough donors and care is worsened by NHS' troubles with public sector pay. Ultimately, this book is about learning to find meaning in suffering - even if there is suffering, it does not have to be useless - it just has to anchored onto something good.
This is the first book in the series "Treasures Within Treasures" that will tackle issues in the real world at real time. I will show the human aspect behind each news story you hear all around the world.
Sober blue, vibrant red, and confusing silver. But as 2016 gives way to 2017 with the long-winding turmoil of Brexit, student activism, and partisan politics, so will they paint their canvases with the flurry of colors that come out of the woodwork of their families' shared history.
The novel starts in Maydee's struggles with bullying at boarding school.
Chapter 1 - Maydee tells the story of the day when she came back to school, after a long bout of illness.
Chapter 2 - Jamie, who has been interested in Maydee since she first came to St. Bridget Grammar School, apologizes for the bullying she suffered in their Year Ten.
Chapter 3 - Allen approaches Maydee, as well, but in an antagonistic stance, despite having feelings for her. He too hides a weakening heart that needs replacement, just like Maydee's.
Chapter 4 - Maydee finds it more difficult to decode Allen's intentions as she continues to find suspicious similarities to their situation.
Chapter 5 - Deborah, Maydee's main female bully, goads her into auditioning for the school chorale but it backfires when Maydee sings and plays the piano like an angel, even in a piano-violin duet with Allen.
Chapter 6 - Maydee's life story (albeit unknown by her classmates) is chosen as the subject of their class' musical play entry for the Winter School Festival.
Chapter 7 - Maydee clashes with Allen over her appointment as a member of the Math Olympiad team.
Chapter 8 - Maydee and Allen have a thorough philosophical discussion on love, life, and whether sick people deserve to love and be loved.
Chapter 9 - Allen reads Maydee's story in front of the class.
Chapter 10 - Jonathan (Maydee's elder brother) and Bernadette (Allen and Jamie's elder sister) partner with Maydee and Allen for the makings of the play.
The second part of the novel will go beyond school conflicts and reveal the conflicts that tie Maydee and Allen's family histories. This will include clashes in political affiliations, especially with regards to the issues of the NHS. The stakes here are the ticking clocks that Maydee and Allen have in their race for a donor heart.
The third part of the book starts with the death of Maydee's sister which forces her to see human mortality besides her own. Conflict spirals from there until Jamie rapes Maydee in an act of desperation. Close to the end, he drives himself to a fatal accident then with his dying breath, he asks Maydee to accept his heart to replace her own weak heart.
This book is geared towards young adults, particularly those who are depressed, bullied, and thinking of suicide. YA books span a wide range of topics — contemporary, dystopian, romance, paranormal, drugs, sex, gender issues, parental divorce, terminal cancer, bullying, suicide, etc. The YA market is slowly opening up to more diversity - bigger trend, featuring novels with a diversity of race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, etc. On average, 30,000 or so YA books are published every year.
Most importantly, 2017 is all about the here and now — contemporary novels. There is even a steady increase in the number of YA titles that are exploring suicide head-on, with 4 or 5 YA titles published early every year wherein one of the themes is suicide. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why has spurred an interest in these type of stories where Happy Endings are necessarily met.
I chose to write this type of YA novel because in part, this is my story. I have survived many suicide attempts since childhood. But I know I am not alone in my ordeal. Particularly, the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24 is suicide. It's a worrying figure, but one that is rarely talked about in literature. Only in the recent decades have YA authors faced suicide head-on by telling the stories of people who suffered that torment. While other publishers might say that this is just a trend, suicide-themed YA books are significant because their mere presence in the bookshelves raises awareness of the problem of suicide. They emphasize the urgent need for help and hope. People need to know the signs and help those who are suffering.
My marketing plan is to make an author Facebook page to gain followers who love to read. I will also use my Goodreads account to spread awareness about my story to an audience that is looking for their next book to read. Most importantly, I will reach out to my LinkedIn network.
by Meg Medina
In Medina’s novel (winner of the 2014 Pura Belpré Author Award), a Latina teen is targeted by a school bully. Piddy Sanchez has no idea why Yaqui Delgado is singling her out as the person whose ass she wants to kick, but that doesn’t make the threat any less scary. Word is, Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, with too-light skin and too-good grades. But Yaqui has no idea what Piddy’s story is (working a part-time job to save for college and trying to find out more about the father she’s never met). Medina’s book is a good one for reminding teens that everyone has a story, and no one’s life is perfect.
"Smile, Old Heart" is also the story of a teenaged girl of Latina heritage. However, Maydee's story is different because it is grounded in a struggle in and out of the hospital - the struggle to survive and live life meaningfully in the midst of suffering.
250 copies • Partial manuscript.
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100 copies • Partial manuscript.
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Before she dismissed the Maths GCSE class, Ma’am Monic cleared her throat imperiously. “Before I forget, I now announce this year’s Math Olympiad Team for Saint Bridget Grammar School: They are Alfred James and Alfred Leo Bonneau…”
Clap. Clap. Clap. The usual reaction to the mere mention of those exceptional twins…
‘Benjamin Brettschneider, 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 conversed with the G-ladz – then a cold glare to me.
“So, Jamie, 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 leaving the room.
“Don’t worry about a thing there, Maydee… I’m right beside you all the way,” Jamie 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 Jamie treated us to traditional elderflower cordials.
“It’s best to take care of our bodies each day of our lives,” he reminded us.
“Jamie, how about if one has nothing to live for anymore?” Saia asked him jokingly.
I thought I saw Jamie’s face darken upon hearing that from Saia, 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, Jamie… What did you do to prepare for this year’s Math Olympiad?” Saia asked curiously.
“Oh, nothing…”Jamie 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 Bonneau…”
“Fine, I just skimmed my notes and surfed the Net,” Jamie said promptly.
“Speaking of surfing the Net, did you, by any chance, chat with Meredith, Jamie?” Saia asked him with a meaningful look.
Jamie nodded at her with an odd flinty look in his sapphire-blue eyes. “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, Jamie… Wasn’t Mer the only female member of your Mathematics Olympiad team last year?” Saia said.
She shot me a quick glance with a smile. “And Maydee’s the rose among you thorns this year… Oh boy, what a coincidence!”
And what do you want to imply from that, Saia? I casually raised an alabaster brow at her, barely hiding a grimace as she simply flashed me a half-smile.
“And as her successor, you need to know what happened to her…” she quipped, deliberately ignoring Jamie’s bone-breaking grasp on her dainty shoulders and his icy glare paired by his lips in a thinner line than I ever thought was possible in a man.
“Alright, tell me that one then,” I challenged her, raising both eyebrows.
Saia, averting her eyes from Jamie’s intense focus on her, cleared her throat imperiously.
“Mer was my best friend and we were happy being friends with Jamie. But Deborah got angry at her for getting the third honours at fifth grade.” Saia gave me a polite smile, lifting hand loosely and palm up. “So she put her into all humiliating acts you couldn’t imagine them. All of her friends from our class - even the seniors – they tortured her to death by their pranks. They even hurt me and our friends just to make Mer suffer more each day. And what’s more horrible, she didn’t even last a year with us. When her mother knew about what had happened to her here, she literally dragged her off our dormitory and into her car. Mer was crying that day, so much because she didn’t want to leave her friends. But she didn’t have a choice. In January, she was already at Saint Paul’s College.”
I clamped my lips tight to keep from saying something that could incriminate me in a court of public opinion. But damn! I can’t believe her hypocrisy! I already know Meredith’s story from Lulu and she told point blank that Saia did to me the same thing that she did to Meredith in their last year of primary school. Too bad for you, Saia, I can’t let my family down, not when my life hangs on a thread in a daily basis. I closed my eyes and tuned out the rest of her words because they make no sense any more. Before I could lose myself to Morpheus’ arms, Lulu shook my shoulders hard.
Once 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 Jamie’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,” Jamie muttered matter-of-factly behind me.
“Wow!” 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,” Jamie added proudly.
“Incredible,” I said softly, slowly going to the shelf of Classic Literature, with a Library Card in hand.
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 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… 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, Galway 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, Jamie spoke behind me. “That’s no longer necessary, Allen…” I turned my back to Allen cautiously and my brown eyes widened when Jamie 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 Bonneau 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 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.
“Take care of her,” Lulu turned to Jamie meaningfully.
“I will.” Jamie 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, Jamie 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 Jamie’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 Jamie an apologetic smile then followed Allen into the room.
Jamie helped me to a seat beside his and purposefully asked her not to give us another seat plan.
“In the tradition of the SBGS 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 hits 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, the four of us had different reactions for each.
The tall boy with chestnut brown hair shook my hands graciously and then gave Jamie a quick high-five. “Hullo, Andrew!” Jamie 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 Bonneau…”
“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!”
“That I am, Maydee-nee-chan,” he nodded.
“But, I – I thought you were in Japan! H – How did you end up here?” I asked incredulously.
“I transferred here after winning a scholarship,” he explained.
“But I still can’t believe it!” I shook my head giddily. “You, Kenji-kun, 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 Bonneau. Don’t ever dare insult me or Maydee; you don’t know who you’re messing with…” Kenji warned him.
“Hijiri Kenji! 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 Jamie.
“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-nee-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.”
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 Grammar School’s Math Olympiad – including those of their kin,” Ma’am Monic said, answering our profoundly unasked questions.
“What about the Galway 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.
“Kenji!” I gritted my teeth hard. “Please don’t do something stupid here!”
Ma’am Monic merely read my papers without a word before turning to Allen with an unusual face.
“Yes, Maydee has joined just a minimal amount of Mathematics competitions…”
“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… Bonneau…!” Kenji became so wild with rage that I hurt my hands in holding him away from Allen.
“Do you remember the International Mathematical Olympiad of 2013, 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, Bernadette, 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 IMO?” 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 International Mathematical Olympiad of 2013?” 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 expected to win in IMO – 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, Jamie 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.
“Jamie!” I exclaimed, startled at his gesture.
“Are you okay?” He asked in concern.
“Yes, I’m just fine, Jamie…” I nodded.
After Jamie 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 Jamie exchanged nods and the together, they followed Allen’s route.
My roommates 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 them 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 Rhubarb 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…”
My sleep was not as sound as I hoped due to the unfathomable images flickering in my brain. They were dreams that were primarily about Jamie or Allen doing what they always do to me. But I was frightened by the scenes because they were arguing over me.
On our next Math review sessions, I had more pleasant experiences but also more-boggling problems. I became fast friends with almost all of our co-MOT members, save for the ones who hold certain prejudices against me. Yet among them, Allen is the one who perplexed me the most. How he can throw me an icy glare at one moment then help me with something the next always catches me in a daze, even in the middle of the day.
Thursday morning was the one I could say as the most indescribable time of my life here in this school for all its unbelievable surprises and twists. I was enduring the snack break in a table separate from my friends. But instead of eating, I spent the first minutes of the break sleeping with my head onto my right hand. (I would not wonder if anyone passing me by snickered at my position. Of course, I definitely would be drooling with my widely open mouth then.) I woke to the gentle tick! in my table that sounded like something hard and long bumped into it. When I opened my eyes, I learned that that “something hard and long” was the pale white hand of a boy. Looking up, I saw the face of the one boy who gives me the strangest feeling to feel every time I’m with him.
“Hmm…” Allen nodded.
“Er, h-how long have you been here?” I asked him, sweaty hands flapping at him.
“Seven minutes, why?” Allen replied.
“What?!’ I gasped. “Y-You saw me asleep? L-Like this?!”
“Of course, Galway Girl. Why, you’ve placed yourself in the middle of this canteen – so what do you expect? Become invisible?” He said this so bluntly that I flinched in the soundness of his argument.
In an attempt to maintain my composure, I touched my left hand to my jaw and lower cheeks. Amazingly, they were dry, as if some cloth wiped away all the wetness in them. Not wanting to think about this “oddness” any further, I then turned to Allen.
“Why are you here, Monsieur Bonneau?”
Allen simply chuckled at me, to my utter disgust, dismay, surprise, anger and a cool feeling that I don’t know how to describe or explain. (I know this may seem insane, but Allen smiling makes me feel four or more feelings at the same absurd time.)
“Spending my break in one of the canteen’s many tables, just like you and everyone else… Why, is that wrong?” He grinned cheekily at me.
“No…” I admitted to him grudgingly.
“So what keeps you?” Allen said to me, still wearing his grin.
Still trying to shake off the unexplainable feelings brought about that simple gesture of his, I looked at him straight in the eye and gave him my most stern face expression. “Please go away, Allen… I am going to sleep now, and I don’t want to be disturbed by anything… You go that?!””
“Okay,” Allen sighed effortlessly. “I’ll go; I don’t want to see you drool in front of me anyway…”
I resumed my sleep, confident that Allen had already left me, assuming by the sound of footsteps slowly fading away from earshot.
It also did not take long for me to have a dream. A pleasant dream in my mind.
I dreamed that I was seeing an angel. The most handsome being I have ever seen in my entire life. Although we were surrounded by a brilliant white light that almost sparkled, his face outshone the beauty of the scene. I blinked for many times until I was already sure that he was there in the flesh. I got my proof when the angel spoke to me with the most musical and beautiful voice I could ever imagine.
“If you’ve got any problems, you can tell them to me… It’s alright, I’m your friend…”
“My guardian angel…” I said quickly without even thinking about it. But well, my mind went to each other to enough thinking during the past few days, I said to myself. So it’s only right to say words without thinking them through now because I am simply in a dream. What harm could a dream do, unless it is a nightmare? So I pushed all my doubts to the back of my mind and focused on the face of the angel.
The first thing that caught my eye in him was his vibrant, thick, sun-streaked golden hair. I marvelled at the way it so resembled a roaring lion’s mane even in this subtle, moving scene. I looked into his eyes and at once, I saw sadly the vast difference in our features. He had mysterious blue eyes that gleamed in the light and sparkled with life. What a contrast to my muddy brown eyes that have been duller than a plain rock! Even his nose was undeniably a work of art, being a sign of his noble heritage. And I surprised myself by staring so long at his parted lips which showed a sliver of elegant, pearly teeth. Ito test their texture by the feel of a touch.
“You are so beautiful, kind sir...” I could hardly recognize the low, throaty velvet voice as my own. Normally, I would squeak if ever I give praises to anyone. But then, this is just a dream. So I’m not afraid. “And I couldn’t believe I’m seeing you right now, despite how woeful my life is… You’re too glorious to be real…”
“Beautiful things are always around, you just need to take the time to look…” the angel nodded at me with a smile.
“Well, I know that every day is made by God in ways that would serve and prove the good within us humans…” I heaved a long heavy sigh.
“Yeah, you’re right,” The angel agreed with me. “But…” he added sympathetically, clearly anticipating the contradiction I would be telling him at the next moment.
“I can’t see how my own days are not so good,” I muttered glumly. “Still, maybe, I’m just unlucky to have the kind of life I have now…”
“Milady,” said the angel with a soothing voice (and a moderate French accent, to my outmost surprise). “I have already gone past my fourteenth year in this world and still have never yet met such thing as Luck. For it is solely yourself who directs yourself to the paths you take at present, with God’s guidance upon you…”
I knew that the angel was telling me the truth, but still… “My lord, I have gone through the worst childhood ever!” I wanted to argue with him badly.
“How do you know about worst childhoods, milady? Have you known about those of other children straight from their minds?” He then raised a golden brow at me.
Knowing from fact that angels are naturally sympathetic and optimistic in life, I felt a sudden urge to explain my situation to him. I didn’t care if I even sounded delirious in trying to convince that I did have “the worst childhood” but I realized that I just needed to tell it to him anyway.
“I’ve been spanked and punished by my mother, even for things I did not even do!”
“I’m sure she didn’t mean it as a bad thing, milady… Whippings – it’s discipline – can be her way of expressing the love she has for you…”
“Some kind of tough love, huh?!” I scoffed.
“You must be grateful that you have such a mother, Maydee… Most children aren’t even fortunate to have one,” At this, the angel looked thoughtful.
“Yes, but –––” I stooped in mid-sentence at the stark hurt in his features. It was not the kind of hurt one would get when struck by a hard object directly at the face, but it was the hurt which was in the inside gradually showing itself in the delicate face of the one who is hurt.
“Maybe, you only think of the pain the punishments inflict on you, and not on the more important things, which is the reason for those punishments…” The angel said seriously with his mysterious blue eyes, brimming with emotion. “Man’s thoughts are of course, different from those of God’s, so it’s only natural that we may doubt his good intentions in bringing things in our lives…”
“Like family and a sickness…?” I said, choking back a sob.
The angel’s blue eyes became wide, round pools as he gauged my gesture. Even so, he maintained his steady, calm voice when he reminded me. “God has made everything and neither you nor I can understand any more than you understand how new life begins in the womb in the womb of a pregnant woman…”
“I know that, sir…” I tried to imitate the steady calm of his voice for my heart’s sake.
“Do you think that life is only unfair to you?” The angel asked me gently.
“Yes, it makes me question what I was living a miserable life here for,” I swallowed a hard lump in my throat – resenting the bitter taste in my tongue.
“Oh, why?” The angel urged me with his steadfast gaze.
“Because I have been given an incredible family at my birth… They are wonderful people that I often wonder why they are the ones who were given to me by God. I hardly deserve them, you see…” No matter how hard I try, I no longer could stop the tears from coming. Before I could crumple like a heap of dust on the table, my angel caught me in his arms. With his left hand, I let him guide my head onto his lean chest. Then he held my shaking hands in his own strong ones to try to relax them.
Though cool tears dropped and flowed in streams into both our laps, I amazingly felt warm in my angel’s embrace. Slowly, I calmed down by the soothing words he gave after the comfortable silence.
“It’s alright, you deserve a good family to take care of you, Maydee… But, I know in a far more certain way that they deserve to have you…”
I looked up to him, barely believing his last remark. They deserve to have you – my family deserves me…? I fought back the urge to chuckle at my angel (that would be disrespectful and irreverent, knowing the fact that he is a heavenly being and I, a mere mortal.) for his suggestion. I know that he meant well for me but I can almost call him a liar to his face. I especially do not consider myself as a prize to be fought for and won over by the outstanding, so how can he? Even if he has clairvoyance, I doubt that he is seeing something good in my future.
Yet something strange is happening before my eyes right now. The more I looked at my angel’s face, the more his face cleared my mind to directly focus on my situation. He (the angel) had just finished comforting my sombre heart with words of good intent. I have no reason to be afraid of him. But as I gazed at him longer, I felt a strange ripple of emotion, which definitely wasn’t fear. It was excitement. Some sort of adrenaline. No, no, it was compassion and gratefulness for what he did. No, it was still not that. When I continue observing his facial features, I realize that it makes my feelings more incoherent and hard to understand.
Feelings more incoherent and hard to understand…? Good Lord, I know just one person who could give them to me. But no, that person could not be the one I’m talking to right now. He doesn’t want to be involved with me in any way and he detests my mere presence in a room together with him. He is also a stickler to social norms, so he would not associate himself to an undesirable commoner like me. And besides, he already told me earlier – before I fell asleep in this table for the second time – that he’ll go (away, far away from me, I’m sure!) Besides I’m talking to an angel – most likely, to mi angel dela guardia – in a dream, am I not?
Then suddenly, my angel’s face drew closer to mine. Because of the close proximity of our noses, I was able to inhale and feel his breath in an intimate way. As I breathed in with him, it was a frosty, sharp scent I smelled in him. Oh no, it cannot be! Impossible…! I looked at my angel in alarm. How could my angel have the same scent of Allen Bonneau, the one boy who has made himself a dangerous paradox by his actions towards me? How could… it… be…?
“A ---” I almost called him “Angel of God” when he pressed his lips in a thin line. That facial expression could only be in the face of the boy who at many times, made me overrule my own emotions. Yet why does this angel in front of me wear that particular expression in my own dream. Unless…
“This is just a dream… Nothing more than a dream,” I said to myself as I took my left hand and with my thumb and index finger, I pinched my nose as hard as I could, expecting not to be hurt by the pressure in my nose. Instead, I cried as I felt the searing pain in the middle of my face. That alone told me that I was not in a dream and brought me back to my senses. Taking my hand off my nose, I took the time to scrutinize my companion.
Playfully tousled golden hair, mysterious blue eyes (which I now noticed as sparkling like sapphires), a sharp aristocratic nose, dimpled cheeks and bluish-red lips. There is no doubt about it now: This is Alfred Leo Bonneau facing me now. Only one doubt stayed in my mind though. Why had he not left me? What on earth has he been doing the whole time he was here?
"Maydee... It's me, Allen..." He gently said to me, confirming what I've just guessed.
It took a while for the full impact of the truth to settle, yet in a way, it was not hard to grasp it. Only its consequences were. "Allen... You're here..." I gasped as I remembered parts of my so-called dream earlier. I glanced down quickly and flinched as I saw that I was semi-curled into its lap. Feeling my cheeks heat in embarrassment at the scene, I slid down away from his lap as fast as I can. But as I started to move inches away from him, he stopped me by grabbing my left wrist.
“No, Maydee… It’s just okay,” Allen said.
“No, this is not okay!” I snapped at him. “I am not okay!”
“About this?” Allen swept a light caress on my right hand.
I shuddered at a wave of emotion that I haven’t yet known before. “Yes, but that’s not the only thing that bothers me now, Allen…”
“Then what is it?” Allen spoke in surprising concern.
I looked away from him to avoid being deluded in the strange expression in his eyes. “Why have you not gone away from me, Allen?” I said in exasperation. I hate that again he proved me wrong when I thought that I perceived him surely.
“What makes you think that I will do that?” Allen did not grin, but had on his face the most serious expression you could only expect from a nobleman.
“You said so yourself.” I retorted.
“You believed those words?” Allen gasped incredulously.
“Well, what else did you expect me to do?” I said to him angrily.
“What did you expect me to do?” he shot me back the same question. I balled both my fists and glared at him vehemently.
“Go away. Find some other place to eat snacks.” I shook my head at him, half-knowing that I was barely making sense to him in my agitation. “I don’t care what else you do, but I certainly don’t understand why stayed,” I added, albeit lamely.
Allen stood rigid like stone for a moment then without any preliminaries, he cupped my shoulders and met my eyes bravely. “I stayed here by my own will.”
I glanced quickly at his hands gripping my shoulders then at his face. And before I could think of looking away, his eyes blazed blue fire with an emotion I couldn’t quite yet express. Yet he should not be acting like this! He had already told me before that he did not care about me at all. So why does he do this?
“Why?” I willed my eyes to meet the intensity of his.
“I don’t quite know it myself, but I know that I need to stay.” Allen held my shoulders tighter, never letting my eyes wander away from him.
I gaped at him for a moment, mulling the purpose behind his words. Then I remembered that he could also be cutting in his speech. “So you needed to stay… After all, you’ve found a new thing to entertain you better in this sullen morning, huh?” I sneered at him for the first time.
“Hey! Is that the only way you think of yourself?” Allen asked me angrily.
The hurt I saw in his eyes was devastatingly familiar that I finally relented to him. “No, Allen,” I then said to him, drawing a deep breath at the effort. “It’s just that most people would avoid a laughingstock so as to avoid being one…”
Allen released my shoulders (to my great relief!) but held my right hand instead. “I’m like those people. Don’t judge me and my actions like you do theirs.”
I looked differently at our hands – Allen threaded his hand with mine – and I fought back tears welling up in my eyes. “That’s actually what I’m most afraid of. You could be so different from everyone,” I shuddered as I felt the chill of the truth in my words.
“Sure, I’m different from other people - even from you – because they weren’t raised the way I was,” Allen said matter-of-factly.
I looked at him for a long moment, my heart seeking something that it could not tell. Then with a slightly trembling voice, I said, “So, Allen. Y-You heard me say that I had a worst childhood, right? I did not experience what other children did, because of my family…”
“You know. Maydee… You’re already lucky enough to have that family of yours, when some other kid only wishes for such in his life...” He said to me softly. I frowned at hearing this but the question in my mind went unsaid when Allen left the topic behind.
“Say, Allen… Well, this is just, er, a hypothetical question, definitely nothing personal,” I took advantage of the opening his friendly though stiff behaviour led me to. I exactly do not know why I did this, whether it was instinct or pure folly. But I no longer cared about reason when I saw his truest smile.
It was the most unbelievable, the most wonderful, and the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever seen in my life. Allen’s purplish lips curled in a friendly smile, baring undeniable grace and relaxed heart to my eyes. It also showed his cute slightly crooked teeth, with a fang-like molar peeking innocently from the outside. I couldn’t resist staring so long at his face, especially his lips. No matter how hard I tried to repress the urge, Allen’s simple smile warmed my heart.
“Definitely nothing personal, that’s good enough for me,” He nodded to me.
“Well, er -” I said awkwardly as I looked for a way to tell him without giving away my intentions. “What would you do if you learned that you won’t be able to keep your life?”
“Oh,” Allen said with a knowing smile. Had someone else asked him this question before?
“What will you do, Allen?” I asked him again.
“I’ll do the best I can in my life,” He smiled. “Make the best things happen to me while I’m still alive...”
“E-Even love?” I stuttered, shaking my head at him.
“Yes, you’ve got to give love and have others give it to you, too...” He continued.
“You’ll let them give you as much love as they can?” I gasped and did a double-take at Allen’s open smile.
“Of course, that’s how love is. You either let it in or let it out...”
“So you’ll still let them love you even though they know that you’ll eventually die before them?!” I gasped, an icy chill crawling over my spine.
“It is their right to love as much as it is ours,” I quirked a brow at how he stressed the pronoun “ours”.
“So it’s their right to be sad at the moment you leave them,” I challenged him.
“It’s only natural for humans to feel happiness, surprise, anger, and sadness on occasions that warrant them...” He said calmly but the way his sentence rang true to my ears sent away the same calmness I set for myself and I fumed in silence.
“You see, when you feel happy, smile or laugh. You feel sad? Then cry,” continued Allen. “Just show it to yourself and those that matter. It makes people’s minds more peaceful, knowing how their dear one is feeling… and that they know that they can help you, even in their small way… Don’t take that simple expression of their love for you away from them. That’s already cruel…”
“I think it’s crueller to keep their hopes high for something that won’t last forever,” I subconsciously noted that I used the same cutting-edge tone Mama uses to me when she does not approve of my behaviour.
“Well, they know that they must tell someone how they feel about him or her,” Allen said, still cool as a cucumber. “Because opportunities are lost in the blink of an eye and regret can last for a lifetime…”
“So does sorrow,” I countered.
“No,” He shook his head at me. The nerve! “Happiness is a choice and people could still find meaning in their lives, despite suffering. They will move on and survive with hope in their hearts.”
“Still, avoiding someone’s feelings is just okay…” I gritted my teeth, narrowing my eyes at his sparkling eyes. “It doesn’t always mean that you hate the person. It could also mean that his feelings aren’t right for the both of you…”
“Not right?” Allen repeated with a heavy gasp. “So you mean having feelings for a sick person is not the right thing to do?” His face was red, even with his blond hair sometimes reaching his eyes – which he fingered back to their places.
“No,” I said to him tersely. “I meant too much love, Allen…”
“So you mean, when you are sick, you must only be given a little love – to the point of neglect?!” Allen asked, his blue eyes blazing as French curses flew from his mouth.
“No! That’s not what I meant!” I shook my head as furiously as he was doing so. How can he not understand what I’ve trying to say to him? “I only want love – just enough love for the sick person to live peacefully but not too much as to make her loved ones weak with grief and mourning…”
“I don’t think you have the right concept of love there, Maydee…” He said. “Because when you love someone, there is no “enough” word in your vocabulary. You’d want to give love and receive as much love in return.”
He rendered me speechless by such a passionate remark.
“So I must ask you! Have you ever loved someone before?” he continued.
This time, I regained my voice and shot confidently back to him. “My family, of course!”
“If you love them, why do you want to restrict how they will love you? That’s a selfish notion, Maydee…” Allen narrowed his eyes at me, in a hawk-like gaze.
“I am not a selfish person, I am more than willing to die for my family’s sake!” I snapped at him. “How dare you accuse me like that?”
“Yet you also don’t want them to do it for you. You’re selfish because you keep them fr4om doing their duty to you…” Allen said evenly.
“I do not want them to die, Allen!” I said to him with my voice almost a bellow. “Alright then, if you’re in a situation where you are in a grace medical condition and just ton save you, your own brother will give up his own life, his own heart to replace your weak heart – what would you do? Let him do that because he loves you? Would you rather not jump to your death from a quite cliff so no one will suffer because of you ever again?”
“You’re still wrong!” Allen waved a fist at me, his eyes bloodshot and lips trembling to maintain a normal tone to prevent a public spectacle. “You already give your life up, just because you learned that you would not be able to live for a longer time. You thought you already know your fate, but you are mistaken. We may make our plans, but God has the last word…”
“I already know my fate. I’m fated just a few years in my life! That’s how God judged me on the day of my birth!” I said.
He regarded me with a knowing look, but I still count on the fact that we are having a conversation on a hypothetical topic.
“How do you know that? How can you ever know about your own death beforehand?” Allen demanded.
“The d-doctors t-told me…” I stammered out, hardly understanding why he’s so particular on the matter of death.
“No, no, no…” I shook my head fervently at him. “I-I just know it…”
“How could you boast about tomorrow when you could not have known what will happen between now and then? Even one who is clairvoyant draws mistakes from her predictions, because events happen and change things at an unpredictable speed.” Allen said. “Only God, only He who created time, can call all times soon…”
My heart almost jumped when I heard his last four words. “Call all times soon”. If I’m not mistaken, it was Aslan’s words towards Lucy Pevensie in the book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’ beloved novel series, The Chronicles of Narnia. “A-Allen, are you, in any way, familiar with Narnia?” I gasped, barely comprehending the idea that someone would quote one of the most beloved of my books at home, to almost defeat me in an argument that I had vaguely started.
“By all means, yes,” Allen nodded twice. “I’ve read everything C.S. Lewis has written. Why do you ask of it?”
“He’s my favourite author,” I told him hesitantly.
“Incredible,” His slightly wide eyes reflected even my own feelings. We, who were supposed to be distinct opposites of each other, now had a common interest. Wow, it sounded impossible but it was true – too true to my own ears.
“I have a best friend who has a congenital heart disease from birth,” I gasped at how he answered the question that went unsaid in my mind for the whole time. “Hence, I don’t like you saying things like “fated to die” or something like that… I-It irritates me, Maydee…” I looked away from him momentarily as his hands curled themselves into fists.
“Were I the Jane Doe in this situation, I would prefer my own death than see someone close to me do the thing…” I trailed off. I dare you to refute me on this, Allen! Go on, you’ll see my logic soon. Then eat dust.
“But, suicide? You’ll prefer taking your own life as a solution to such an illness… What kind of life are you supposed to be living then?” He spat at me as he shook his head continually. Bloody hell no! How could you still not understand the point here? Do you need me to paint the canvas red just for you to see it?
“It’s sacrifice.” I shrugged. “It isn’t murder, but rather a mere act of mercy. I’m already sentenced to die from the heart disease, anyway. I’m just an ordinary person, a ship that will leave without a trace in the ocean where it travelled…”
“Is that exactly what you think of yourself?” Dang it, does he ever tire in asking that?
“Yes.” I met his intense eyes unflinchingly. And what of it? You don’t have a mandate to make me change my mind on this.
“Why don’t you value yourself at your true worth, even for a while? That way, you won’t be deprived of the respect you crave…” Allen said, his gaze never wavering from me.
“Wow! That’s rich coming from you, Monsieur Bonneau, when you’re the first one on the list of people who disrespect me on a daily basis…” I cackled shortly.
“But Maydee, have you ever tried changing the course of your life? You know, you can still change how you interpret this life,” Allen persisted.
This question caught me off-guard, but not for long. “I’ve long learned that nobody here on earth has the power to make things prefect, no matter how much I want to.” I muttered in a monotone voice, looking skyward for a long moment.
“But everyone is given countless of chances to make things right,” He spoke with more calm than I had at the time that my blood boiled. Alas, we’ve reached another stalemate. Shite, he’s almost making me swallow my words now.
“Still something goes wrong once a person tries to settle things in his own way, Allen,” I softly snarled at him. “So how do you explain that?”
“Of course, we human beings are perfect. We often make mistakes, but just as we can make them, we can also correct them…” His alert gaze held me like a rat clamped between the claws of an eagle.
“Why bother living to the fullest when life is not perfect?” I snorted. I can’t wait to shove your head to eat the bloody truth that you stubbornly refused to see. I mentally rubbed my palms together as he nodded at me curtly.
“There is something fundamental about living with a hopeful heart, Maydee…” He smiled, his fanglike tooth relaxed as that of a languid panda. “Living as a suffering being does not mean that life is pointless. Rather, it means that the human person has to find a response to suffering strong enough to anchor the self into finding the good that such suffering leads to.”
I sorely wish I was a porcupine right now so that I can shoot all my pricks at this insensate fool in front of me. Why the bloody hell can’t he take a hint?! “But life isn’t fair, Allen! It is not and will never be a fairy tale. There’s no use in working for a “happily ever after”.”
“Wrong again, Maydee. Even if we possibly feel oppressed by whatever makes us suffer, we are still free to think and behave as our own persons.” He jabbed a finger at me. “It is we who will choose how we will take up our unique burdens in life and re-affirm ourselves in doing so.”
“Y-You! How can you still be proud of how you’re living, especially in this painful world we live in?” I moved back slightly, but he was quick to grasp my wrist to keep me in eye level with him.
“I’m proud of the way I live because I choose how I live, not other people…” He continued. “No one can force me to do their will. They can’t take away the essence of my humanity – my personhood or sense of self. It’s still the person’s choice to act and think the way he desires, even if the environment he lives in does not provide happiness.”
“But that might mean that they don’t care,” I gasped at the implications whirling in my mind. No, no, I must be wrong in thinking about this. Jamie appears to have a pleasant childhood, and Allen’s his brother. It makes no sense how siblings, especially twins, should have contrasting views of growing up!
“Frankly, I no longer mind if they don’t care about me at all…” He shrugged half-heartedly. “My sister, Bernadette, cares for me as much I need in my life.”
“How about Aljee?” I tugged on his sleeve lightly. I knew I asked the wrong question when Allen simply clammed up.
“I-It’s something I can’t tell you, Maydee…” He looked down at the floor, dropping his gaze from me. His hands curled around his middle. The complexity of his emotions were conveyed by the small details: the firm set of his eyes and mouth, his pale white hands tightened at the knuckles, and the lump in his throat that he incessantly swallowed.
I closed my eyes to keep traitor tears from coming then veered back to our original topic. “Anyway, Allen, d’you think that a person severely ill deserves to have potentials? No offense to your best friend, but I just want to know what you think of it….”
“Yes,” Allen gave me a close-lipped smile.
“I slightly beg to differ…” I countered.
“Every baby born has a special talent given by God which normally serves as a driving force,” He said.
We then settled in a long silence. I pondered on Allen’s words, everything that rang true and my arguments. I still value my own opinions and I won’t let him change all them. Yes, he’s right about love, but I also can’t automatically accept that. I consider other’s feelings before mine so I don’t want them to be hurt by my passing, because of too much love. I shot Allen a swift glance. What are you thinking now?
Allen himself chose to break the silence. “You know, life here on earth is a pale comparison to eternity in God’s paradise. But still, we’ve got to make the best of it, right?”
“Even though you’re already sick and your family’s too helpless to help you? I don’t think so, Allen.” I said.
“Gosh, Maydee! Stop being pessimistic!” he shot back at me with a piercing glare.
“I’m just being realistic here!” snapped.
“Realistic? Don’t see you ben realistic by negative thoughts,” Allen said.
“Life, of course, is a journey of hardships. Admit it!” I pointed my index finger at him.
“No! You must believe that life is worth living and this will help create the fact in your life,” Allen said.
“But there are things that you cannot hold on forever no matter how much you fight for it…” I countered.
“Still, if you hadn’t even tried fighting for it, how will you know that you can get it for yourself?” He asked.
“Yet, if is so short, Allen ---” I started, but music suddenly blared inside the canteen. Ironically, it was The Moffatts’ If Love is So Short.
I gritted my teeth at Allen, for he still held my hand the whole time we talked. Is he going to continue that, even when this song is already in the air?
Darn it, he’s still holding it. He’s not let go of my hand! But even if I want to take his hand off mine, it’s not because my hand feels heavy beneath it. Instead, the warmth of the contact was scorching that it surprised me since both of our hands were cold. His solid grip rooted me to the spot. Will I melt in his touch? Why is happening to me? I‘ve never been brave venturing into the unknown – and this thing with Allen is not something I can easily predict. Why do I feel like the lyrics of this song points to our situation? My limbs tingled at his hot gaze. When the song finally ended, I couldn’t do anything but stare at Allen who said softly. “You’re the most difficult woman to love, Maydee…”
“Huh? What are you talking about there, Allen?” I did a double take at his unwavering gaze that had me swimming against an unknown emotion in the depths of his eyes. I flushed when he wrapped my hand around his and intertwined our fingers.
“I’m serious about this, Maydee,” He rubbed his hand across the back of my hand with a unusual look in his eyes.
No, I can’t take this anymore! With all the force I could muster, I took my hand off his unflinchingly. “You know what, Allen, this conversation is going nowhere… I better eat now, instead of talking to silly you…”
“You’re going to eat what?” He asked me with a blank stare.
“Um.. A bread stick,” I ignored the Allen’s comical wide-eyed look and bit hard twice in my food. But as soon as the coppery taste flooded my tongue, I realized that he had the right to be incredulous. I gently lifted my hand away from my lips and there I saw it. Pea-sized crimson drops ran down my index finger. As I squinted, I cringed at the deep bite marks at the topmost part of the finger. Shikes!
“Now, look at what you’ve done to yourself!” Allen grasped my hand back to his.
“No, no, I’m alright! You don’t have to bother yourself about this, Allen!” I retorted, pulling my hand from his grasp with a well-placed glare at his furrowed expression.
“Oh, bother, bother, bother, bother!” He rolled hs eyes at me when he finally got my hand across his lap.
“What would you do about, Allen?” I asked him. I hope whatever he thinks is a good enough trick because I can’t go to class in this condition.
Allen focused his eyes on my hand, whilst slipping a free hand inside his vest. He took out a white handkerchief the size of a pocket dictionary. He made precise four folds in the handkerchief. Then he let go of my wrist and ordered me to dab some of the blood with the clean napkins on our table. Afterwards, I stretched out my hand and at once he fashioned a tourniquet around my index finger, wrapping it not too tight that it might disrupt the blood flow in my hand. He was done within six minutes.
“You know, you’re acting strange today, Allen –” I said.
“What do you mean by that?” He looked up to me.
“I thought you are already unkind,” I glanced at the wall clock, mesmerized at the intricate carved hands that crawled around like the paws of a sloth.
He heaved a sigh then pulled my cheeks with the strength of a feather. “You should not assume that of me, Maydee…” It was the seventeenth time he called me by my nickname and this time, I believed the sincere, angel-soft tone of his voice. Perhaps, it smacked in my face that he was there in front of me. I could feel his warm breath mixed by the sharp, frosty smell of mint. I almost smiled at this, and then I realized our proximity. His face, a few breaths away from mine, brown met blue in a stand-off that spanned several heartbeats. My stomach fluttered like jumping jacks out of their boxes and my chest tightened as my mind raced, gathering all the neural signals that pinged and ponged inside my head.
Allen settled this issue by stroking my forehead, brushing my brown curls in place with the back of his left hand.
“I could never mean those words I told you earlier, Maydee… Because I do not want to push away a kindred spirit that would make the difference better…”
“Er, make the difference better? What do you mean?” I made quotation-mark finger gestures at him, my brows squishing against each other.
He gave a soft, musical laugh but he looked skyward. I narrowed my eyes at him and patted his shoulder. Allen blinked then turned to me with a wry smile.
All of a sudden, a strong rumble resounded in the canteen. Allen stifled a laugh behind his hand but the sweet sound of it showed his lack of success in the attempt. “There’s the answer you are looking for, Maydee…” He stretched out his hand and patted my stomach by the tips of his fingers.
“I’m not hungry, Allen…” I blushed, lifting his hand away from me but he twitched his lips into the smallest trace of a smile.
“You’re still not being honest with me, Maydee…” he said.
“I’m being true to myself right now!” I snarled. But I was defeated by my own body. Again my stomach roared to be filled with something I constantly denied it.
“I don’t think so,” Allen brushed a wintry hand over my left cheek. I shuddered at this gesture, feeling as if the room is closing in me with the flames of Mauna Loa.
“Please, don’t…” I flinched, stilling myself against the onslaught of thoughts and emotions that simple touch elicited from me.
Allen heaved an exasperated sigh. “I’m sorry…” He took his hand off my cheek and I relentlessly followed his hand as he lifted his hand in the air and snapped his thumb, index and middle fingers together twice. I tilted my head at him, raising both eyebrows when someone came to our table with impeccable timing.
“Yes, Mr. Bonneau?” I looked over Allen’s shoulder, my face redder than chilli pepper. Sheesh, Allen, you didn’t have to call a Kitchen Attendant!
“Two sets of teriyaki, please…” Allen handed his Blue Card to the Kitchen Attendant.
“You don’t need to order food for me, Allen.” I shook my head and gave him a short glare.
“Why not? You’re my friend,” Allen smiled with a gleam in his eyes.
I blanched, cocking my head with a slackened mouth at the most perplexing man I have ever met. “Why do you consider me as your friend now?” I asked him, seeking his serene face for signs of falsehood.
I was so surprised to find none. “I have already deemed you worthy for my friendship, Maydee…” he said.
“Because you need me,” He took my hand in his and pressed them together at his chest. I gasped as heat seared my hands. I felt his fast heartbeats under my palm and I gulped at the sight of his thumb rubbing circles at the back of my hand.
My mouth slammed shut then I sent him a blazing glare. “When pigs fly.” Have you gone mad, Allen? Me, needing you?!
“You need me, someone who will tell you what’s right and wrong in handling your life…” Allen said. He squeezed my hand and although both of our hands were as cold as Antarctica, they felt hot against each other.
“W-What?! Of course, I know right from wrong! I have a conscience, after all,” I snapped at him.
“Your pessimistic view of life should be changed,” He gave me knowing smile.
“You have the nerve!” I laughed with a sharp edge to my voice. “Don’t you remember that you’re the one who ---“
I yelped when he gave a look of such yearning that I felt too inadequate to fill. “I’m not going to bully you anymore, Maydee. I’ll just correct your wrong actions…”
My belly clenched as I drew small, erratic breaths. As my voice dried up, my eyes solely focused on Allen as he twined our hands together, with my fingers clutching at the patch of clothes that covered his chest.
“You’re my friend now, so I’ll just reprimand you if you don’t treat yourself well.” He said before raising my hand and dropping a small kiss on it.
“You really mean that…?” I hardly dared hope, but now he triggered a spark in my heart that I have never felt before.
“Yes. Why else would I put my favourite hanky on you?” He added, grinning as he swiftly glanced at my tourniquet-ed index finger.
I glanced pensively at my bandaged finger then smiled at him. It felt light-years passed us by as our eyes met with a piercing intensity. Silence sizzled between us until…
“Oh, here’s our teriyaki, Maydee!” The Kitchen Attendant finally brought our order and gave Allen’s Blue Card back to him. Allen handed me my share as the Kitchen Attendant’s footsteps thudded away from us.
“Thanks for the treat, Allen…” I blushed as he smiled at me. “Especially, you got me one of my favourite Japanese snacks…”
“Oh, I just know it – you’re my friend, after all!” he grinned before popping a cube of teriyaki into this mouth. I shook my head, smiling at his silly answer.
We finished the snacks in record time, Allen not giving me time to look at my wristwatch as we strode back to our classroom with our hands still intertwined with each other. But we quickly separated when he stepped into the room before. I bowed my head and kept my eyes on the floor as I felt all eyes upon us.
“You’re late.” Lulu pulled me to my seat in a steely grip on the wrist that previously had Allen’s hand.
“Sorry about that. I slept in the cafeteria, you see…” I shrugged, chuckling weakly at Lulu’s thunderous expression.
“Are you unwell today, Maydee? Another fever…?” Lulu hovered to me, squinting at my face to my torso with a set jaw.
“No, I’m just fine! Nothing’s wrong with me,” I held up my hands as my heart thumped an uncomfortable rhythm at Lulu’s lips pressed flat in a line straighter than the flag pole.
Shit. My finger!
“What happened to your finger, Maydee?!” I winced at the shouts of Jamie and his friends, their intermingling voices overwhelming my auditory nerves.
“Have you cut yourself or something?” Jamie asked me.
I looked from one troubled face to another and sighed. “I accidentally bit my index finger earlier…”
“Ah, so you dreamt about eating in your sleep…” Lulu quipped.
“Yes and it’s so embarrassing!” I chuckled weakly. Sorry, Lou, it’s too complicated for you to understand.
I turned to Jamie with brows furrowed as he crossed his arms tight across his chest, his sapphire-blue eyes intent at my bandaged finger alone. “Jamie?”
His head tilted as if weighing something and he muttered to me with a voice slightly higher than usual. “Oh, I think I’ve seen such a tourniquet before…”
I stiffened for a moment, my mind going back to the family situation Allen painted in my mind. Then I twitched a small smile at him and shrugged half-heartedly. “Maybe…”
Lulu shot me countless glances at me and glares at Allen. You don’t fool me, mi prima. You’ve never had tourniquets before. Tell me now, who did this to you? Who?!
I grimaced at her lion-like stance, remembering just now that Allen and I have managed to absent ourselves from two of our classes this morning. I shifted in my seat, retracting my hand from hers. I stared at the clock like I was a person in the desert and it the drink that thoroughly quenched my thirst, when it comes on time. As Lulu glared daggers in my direction, I resolutely veered off her questions, no matter how relentless she was.
Please visit this page to preorder my debut novel, Smile, Old Heart. This is the story of not only one, but ...
I have just launched the Smile, Old Heart page. As the campaign launch is fast approaching (August 31st), I will release book excerpts, more ...