(Author’s Notes: Female readers may use the male version of their names, or any guy name they want. For the uninitiated, some of the dialogue is in Tagalog, one of the major languages of the Philippines; translations are provided immediately after the original wording. Bear in mind that this story contains boy x boy, so please move on if that isn’t to your liking.)
Prologue (first person PoV)
Dear Ate Charo,
Itagò niyo na lang po ako sa pangalang (You may hide me under the name) [y/n].
It was in our third year at a private, Catholic high school that Emilio and I became classmates. He was popular in class and well-liked without. I was quieter, and in a different barkada (clique) from him. They were the mischievous sort, but Emilio was (relatively) more mature than his friends, sometimes preferring to sit alone and strum at his guitar during lunch while they wreaked havoc on our classmates.
That January, the issue of which girl he would take to the Junior-Senior Prom seemed the bigger question than who would be Prom King and Prom Queen. His solo appearance at the event came a surprise to most, as it was both unprecedented and yet a relief to his many admirers, which included half the girls from our class, a throng from the batch, and the odd few from other year levels. Of course, the resident baklâ (gay) community absolutely loved watching Emilio and the other boys play basketball during Physical Education.
Once, as Emilio was running across the court in his red, sweat-drenched jersey, Ate (big sister) Feliks–the fourth year boy who was “queen bee” of the gays–strode into the scene with the rest of his court. Crowned with a purple plastic headband and pointing his pink folding fan like a sceptre, Ate Feliks led the camp in cheering Emilio on with hoots and catcalls that ranged from the mildly flirtatious to thinly-veiled double entendres.
For my part, I simply watched and thought two things. Firstly, I'm gay too, but why are these other gays so bolder and open, saying such things to a guy they find cute or really fancy? Second, I hadn’t the slightest idea why everyone – even my best friend Angela’s little sister – is so patáy-na-patáy (head-over-heels crazy) for Emilio. He was nice, I guess, but I put down my uncertainty to the fact that I barely knew him. He was captain of our school's Arnís Team, while I was with the news section of the school newspaper, so we never really spoke outside of class.
That all changed in our senior year, on a drizzly Tuesday afternoon in August as exams approached.
Part I: So The Waters, I Will Test (third person PoV)
“[y/n], aren’t you going to eat? It’s twenty minutes to the end of lunch and not once did I see you leave your seat for the canteen.” Angela’s monotone voice still carried some concern, as she always checked on you to see if something was wrong.
“No, ayos lang ako (I’m just fine). Needed to finish reading my notes for History since it’s my oral exam today. Hindî sa nagbubuhát ng sariling bangkô (not that I’m blowing my own horn), but it's my favourite subject and I usually do well here,” you reply as-a-matter-of-factly.
“Sorry po!” said Angela as she dipped into a ridiculous-looking curtsey a là Kathryn Bernardo.
“GAGA! (Stupid!) Besides, since I’m up first later anyway, I need to get this out of the way so I can review Maths, which I happen to fail at miserably,” you tell her.
Your male classmates were running about the room, having taken to upending desks and starting a mock battle from behind these, using empty plastic bottles as ammunition. Elisabeta, Françoise, and Katyusha were ducking and covering as they ran out of the room, while the class president, Arthur, was screaming, “Civilians! Let us through!” as he bounded for the door.
“I’ve to go to the washroom; my hair’s a mess thanks to their roughhousing. Boys, pfft. Anyway, you can have this!” she said, handing you a sandwich and ensaymada. “'Mare (girl-friend/‘sistah’), you cannot study on an empty stomach, no?”
“Ikaw talagá (Oh, you). Salamat! (Thanks!)” you stand and call out after Angela as she dashed towards the door, arms on her head. You pace slowly back to your seat by the window on the left-hand side of the classroom, reciting your spiel for the one-on-one in spite of the ruckus going on.
“…Emilio Jacinto y Dizon, called the ‘Brains of the Katipunan’, wrote for the group’s newspaper, Kalayaan, under the pen name ‘Dimasilaw’, and authored the Kartilya or charter outlining the society’s–“
A white-and-khaki blur whizzed past you, smacking the seat of your trousers. All you could do was manage an indignant face as Emilio lifted his eyebrows through his tousled, dark brown hair, and flashed a cheeky grin.
You were boiling as everyone assembled for the start of class. “How dare he slap me on the bum! Akala niya kung sino siya at nagawâ niya ‘yun? (Who does he think he is that he even did that?) We aren’t even close!” you silently ranted on in your head as your teacher, Mr Legaspi, led the rest of the class in the Grace After Meals.
“We give Thee thanks, Almighty God, for all the blessings…”
You could hear a pair of feet shuffling behind you, and then someone tapped your left shoulder.
"...that we've received today. Amen."
“ANÓ?! (WHAT?!)” you said through clenched teeth as you quickly crossed yourself and turned your head to face Emilio, who was standing to your left, a sheepish grin plastered on his face. “[y/n], patawad (sorry),” came the tender apology as he embraced you around your waist from behind.
After pausing briefly to mentally process his sudden, somewhat intimate gesture, you scoff slightly and take your seat. As you put away your notes, you felt your ears and cheeks tingle with warmth despite the cold rain pouring outside.
“Everyone,” Mr Legaspi said in a vain attempt to have the class settled down. "For the one-on-one exam, I’ll call each of you out to the corridor, and when we sit down, you shall draw one of four cards lying face-down on the table. A king means I can ask any of the five prepared questions; a queen means I ask one of two you pick; a jack/knave, you answer one of three I pick; and an ace means you may answer any question you want.”
“'Sus. (Jeez.) He’s making it so complicated. Can’t we just pick our own?” you heard Emilio grumbling behind you.
“Mr Del Pilar, I expect you studied hard, since you have enough confidence to insist on picking which one to answer?” Mr Legaspi retorted.
“Hehehe, birò lang po (just kidding), sir!” was all he could say with a wide, ivory smile as he gave the teacher a playful salute and a wink.
“Haaaay.” Mr Legaspi sighed as he rolled his eyes. “Anyway, we can hear you from outside, so please be quiet. You may review as you await your turn, but if you’re scheduled for Thursday or next Tuesday, you may instead do your homework, read, or sleep. No group meetings, though. Maliwanag ba? (Is it clear?)”
“Yes, sir!” your class shouted in unison.
“Good. [y/n], you’re first up today.”
You wink at Angela, and she flashes a double thumbs-up while mouthing the words “gora na ‘yan, girl!” (that's a go, girl!)
As luck would have it, you picked the ace of hearts, and breezed through the test, discussing Emilio Jacinto and the Katipunan as though you were chewing on the latest tsismis (gossip) with Angela and the clique.
Dismissal came, and Angela rode off in a tricycle cab down the road to go home as you walked the opposite way.
“[y/n]!” you hear someone yell. “[y/n]! Teka! (Wait!)”
You could but roll your eyes as you stopped in your tracks. “What do you want, Emilio?”
“Uy, [y/n], ang galíng mo kanina! (Hey, [y/n], you were really good earlier!)”
“So? Is that the best you can say after slapping me in the bum? Masakít ‘yun, ‘no! (That hurt!)”
“Sorry na nga, e. (sorry already!) It was all in good fun. With you being serious and all, I bet you did pretty well during the exam!”
“How would you know? You're seated far from the door, so how could hear anything?” came your tart reply.
“Well, you were quick about it. Anyway, I think you're so good that you could…err...help me since I’m taking the test next Tuesday.”
“Why, Emilio? You’re already really good at History. I know you don’t recite as often as I do, but I see your tests or homework once in a while and the way you answer–it’s as if you lived through all those events!”
“Oo nga, pero (Yes, but) this is different. I wasn’t able to study for this particular test since the Arnis team and I have been preparing for the regional finals next Friday, and I’ve been studying for our other exams.”
“I–our deadlines for the newspaper’s September issue are coming up, and Roderich’s pressuring me to finish my articles as soon as I can,” you explained.
“Can we study at your place tomorrow? Please naman, o.” he asks, trying to steer things in his favour.
“Err...kasí…sige na nga (Err...because...oh, fine, then). But I need you to do something for me in exchange.”
“Anó ‘yun? (What’s that?”)
“Help me with Math, okay? Medyo mababà marka ko dun. (My marks are quite low there),” you softly ask. “I know you’re also good at that.”
“Deal!” Emilio replied, his satisfaction showing a toothy smile that did not match your mouth, which hung slightly open in incredulity.