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Buzzer Beater

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“What? Again?” Karl Mao Santiago or Kao blurted out in disbelief.

“This is the 20th time that you’ve been rejected, Win! Don’t you get tired? Or maybe numb?” Alfonso Pascual or Flon said while rubbing his jaw as he looked at the silent, tall chinito sitting beside him.

“If this was a winning streak, you would have been a champion by now,” Justin Rosales Jr. also known as JJ said before leaning back on his chair and looking at his wristwatch.

“You know I’m not that jock kind of guy. The rigorous training is too much for me,” Arwin Dave Ibarra or Win answered in a glum voice as he fingered the stem of the rose that the girl gave back to her. He had been courting her since Senior High School and he thought he stood a chance when they both passed the UPCAT. But the girl had other plans and chose to reject him on the very first day of classes after asking to have lunch with him.

“But you used to play for your senior high school soccer team!” Kao reminded Win while craning his neck to look beyond the door. He is curious about how their professor in this subject is going to look like because the first instructor that they met earlier looked old enough to be his father but is still very active end energetic for his appearance.

“Yes, why not try out for the varsity? Girls like sporty guys,” Flon said while fiddling with the buttons on his shirt. Win scoffed before crossing his arms over his chest.

“If they don’t like me as I am now, then it's their loss, not mine,” Win said haughtily, finally regaining back his confidence.

“You think you are such a good catch, huh?” JJ told him in a hushed whisper and Win had to subtly look around him to see if their other classmates heard what JJ said.

“I don’t think, I am,” Win said in a confident tone that had Kao tapping the desk with his palm in agreement.

“Oh great! Typhoon season coming!” Flo said before rolling his eyes in feigned annoyance.

“Besides we’re freshmen. Adjusting to college life is hard enough without having to worry about training or games. Been there, done that.” Win said as he cocked his head to the side to regard his friends intently.

“If I had your height and agility, I wouldn’t think twice about playing for the university. Aside from the allowance and other benefits, you get all the girls,” JJ said ruefully as he fidgeted with his ballpen nervously while looking at his wristwatch, class is about to start in minutes.

“I don’t need a lot of girls. I just want the one I like to like me back,” Win said empathically before straightening up in his seat.

“Tough luck, Win. You might be called Win but you are a loser in the Love department,” Flon chided Win before running a hand through his hair to make them look somewhat presentable.

“Hey, our professor is here. Keep your voice down,” Kao said since he was seated close to the door and he saw someone approaching. He wasn't sure if it was a professor or a student since they do not have uniforms so it is hard to distinguish faculty from students especially since many instructors looked young enough to pass as students.

The person who entered the room looked like she just stepped out of a magazine cover with glowing skin and a fresh aura that certainly didn't fit the stereotype of the usual college professor. Her hair was tied up in a slightly messy bun with dark-rimmed glasses framing her deep-set eyes. She wore a light blue button-up blouse with a sailor collar that made her look like one of the Sailor soldiers from an anime. She walked with an air of confidence around her as she proceeded to the table in front and put down her clear envelope containing sheets of paper.

“Good morning, is this Humanities I Section TBX-3?” She asked in a soft but firm voice that immediately caught everyone’s attention.

“Yes, ma’am.” They answered in unison and the instructor smiled back in amusement.

“Good, welcome to the University of Long Lines and Nude Sculptures! Just kidding! I’m Namtan Pineda and I will be your professor for Humanities 1. How are you finding your college life so far?” the instructor said before taking her seat behind the table in front of the classroom.

“Overwhelming,” a bespectacled guy said from the back of the class.

“Culture shock,” a petite girl volunteered.

"Well, this is your first semester in UP, the country's premier state university. Many were called but few are chosen, and fewer will remain standing until the end. I hope you can enjoy the ride and learn from your own experiences. Is this your very first class for this semester? No? Okay, so I don't need to repeat what your other professors might have briefed you about our code of conduct in the classroom. For me, I only have two additional rules for this class. First is mute or turn off your cellphones during class and second is…” Namtan was interrupted by a harried-looking student who suddenly barged into the classroom.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry for being late. I got lost and waited in another classroom by mistake,” the newcomer said as she tried to catch her breath. Namtan just shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly before speaking.

“As I was saying, I will not accept students who are more than 10 minutes later than me. You are lucky dear because it’s our first day together and you are just 5 minutes later than me. Please take your seat.” Namtan then smiled encouragingly at the still terrified-looking girl who stood motionless at the doorway.

The latecomer’s features literally took Win’s breath away. It’s like all of Win’s heartaches from his past rejections set him up for this glorious moment with this gorgeous being. Her light brown hair blew past her as she breezed towards one of the empty seats which happened to be beside Win. As she huffed in relief while she settled at the chair, Win can see a finely chiseled nose, rosy cheeks, and pink lips that still glistened with the lip balm she might have put on before going to class. She hardly has any trace of makeup on but she glowed radiantly with youth and freshness. Win winced when he felt the blunt end of a ballpen poke his back.

“Bro, you’re ogling her,” Kao whispered to Win.

“Can you close your mouth, Win? This is so embarrassing!” JJ whispered from behind Win.

“Shut up, JJ! I am only admiring a work of art, we are Art Studies majors, we should learn to appreciate art in the everyday setting,” Win whispered back tersely before the instructor finally spoke again after searching for something from the envelope she brought to class.

“Okay, now that we have all settled, I am checking your attendance so just say “Here!” and raise your hand if your name is called. No need to stand up, okay?” Namtan said in a no-nonsense but still polite tone as she peered on the list of names provided by the enrolment administrators.

There were almost 20 persons in that class and though the majority came from the freshman block, there were students who belong to the upperclassmen since the subject is included in the core subjects that every student is required to take regardless of course. Win and most of the freshmen belong to the BA Art Studies course.

“Crisostomo, Lovely,” Namtan said.

“Here!” The latecomer raised her hand in acknowledgment.

“I see you are not with your blockmates, what happened?” Namtan raised a well-shaped brow in question.

“The personnel in charge of the enrolment inadvertently put my name in this section. That is why I was late, I didn’t bother checking the section, I just went with my blockmates. I had to run here from the first floor,” Lovely explained animatedly and Namtan shook her head in amusement.

“This always happens in my class. I’m starting to think that someone must have a crush on me from the department because they keep adding random students to my classes.” Namtan said in jest to lighten up the mood. “I can arrange for you to be transferred to your block’s section if you like,” The instructor offered the latecomer but the latter just shook her head vigorously.

“No, it’s okay. I don’t want to be a bother. Besides, a change of scenery is fine once in a while. They would be my classmates for most of the year anyway,” Love said shyly and Namtan just nodded her head appreciatively.

“Not bad, you aren’t adverse to change. That is good,” The instructor said as she looked back on her list to continue checking the attendance.

 

“Wow, her name suits her perfectly. If she becomes my girlfriend, then I can just call her Love for short.” Win whispered to Flon as Namtan continued calling the roll.

“Hey, don’t you realize? If you get married, her surname will be Crisostomo-Ibarra,” JJ leaned forward to whisper to Win.

“Destiny, I think! Maybe this is your final shot at happiness, Win!" Flon whispered back in a teasing tone and Win just smiled at the thought.

“Ibarra, Arwin Dave.”

“Here!” Win said in a confident voice.

Love looked at Win with curiosity in her eyes and when their eyes met, Love beamed shyly at Win and it made his heart miss a beat. Blushing furiously, Love bowed her head to look at her blank notebook while Win elected to look towards their teacher to hide his nervousness.

Seconds later and the attendance check is finished. Namtan arched her brow and nodded her head in approval before speaking in an appreciative tone.

“Perfect attendance, huh? I’m impressed. Hope you can continue this until the last day of classes. Now, I am going to give you a copy of this subject’s syllabus so you would know what reference materials you would need to read for every topic. Please pass this around and make sure that everybody has a copy.”

 

“I’m really sorry, Bryde. It’s not you, it’s me,” Gigie Saldivar said as she towered over the young man sitting on a wooden bench. A young man looked on the verge of tears as he looked up at the lady standing in front of him. So near yet so far.

“We can still fix this, Gigie, I am begging you. It’s been two years!” Bryden Keith or Bryde said as he grabbed Gigie’s hand and tried to pull her closer but the lady wouldn’t budge and continued to stand more than a foot away from the seated man. Gigie let out an exasperated sigh before speaking in a frustrated voice.

“That’s the point, Bryde. We’ve been together for two years but our relationship hasn’t gone anywhere at all! We always argue, you are always jealous and I am always anxious. It’s just not working,” Gigie tried to pull her hand away but Bryde held fast and refused to let go.

“Maybe we haven’t tried hard enough. Please! Are you really giving up on me now?” Bryde said desperately as he held on to Gigie’s hand with both his hands, enveloping the lady’s dainty hand in his own calloused hands. Gigie shook her head sadly before speaking with finality in her tone.

“I’m sorry but I can’t continue like this, Bryde. We’re going round in circles. I can't take this anymore so please, do yourself a favor and let me go before we end up hurting each other more," Gigie said with a hint of exasperation in her voice as she futilely tried to pull her hand free from Bryde’s tight grasp.

“Don’t you think that I am already hurting now?” Bryde looked up at Gigie with desperation in his big round eyes but it did not faze the woman who seemed firm in her decision.

“Let’s forget about it, Bryde. It’s not going to work out whatever we do. Let’s just end this right here. Goodbye,” With the last word, Bryde’s grasp loosened and Gigie forcefully pulled away from Bryde's hold and stormed off without once looking back. Bryde was left on the bench with an empty hand and a broken heart and all he could do was bow his head and weep silently while his teammates just looked on helplessly from a distance.

 

Bryde woke up from an uneasy sleep and he realized that he inadvertently slept on the bench inside the boy’s locker room. Practice ended early and since he had to wait for his younger sister to finish her classes so they can go home together, Bryde decided to rest inside the locker room while his teammates all went home straight after practice. They all knew better than to ask him to go with them since everybody is aware of the team captain’s infamous moodiness especially now that Gigie has broken up with him on the first day of classes in their sophomore year. They have been together since high school and Bryde just couldn’t accept the fact that it’s all over in the blink of an eye.

The player stared at his phone, the wallpaper is a photo of Gigie with her eyes sparkling in mirth and her full lips curved into a dazzling smile. The picture was taken when they went to the beach last year with Bryde’s family and they asked Bryde to bring his girlfriend along. Bryde really thought that he and Gigie would end up getting married after they both graduate more or less three years from now but everything was for naught as Gigie opened the current semester by breaking Bryde’s heart.

A lone tear slid down Bryde’s cheek as he looked at his phone’s wallpaper. He unlocked his phone before going to his gallery, swiping through numerous photos of his ex-girlfriend before coming to a stop on a photo of his younger sister with her eyes disappearing in slits while she laughed, her perfectly lined teeth on full display. He clicked on the said photo and set it as his new wallpaper before locking his phone again and putting it inside his sling bag.

Maybe next week, I would find the strength to delete all of her photos on my phone. Bryde thought to himself as he glanced at his wristwatch before picking up his gym bag and trudging out of the door, making sure to lock the door before jogging towards the parking lot. He still has to fetch his younger sister from her last class in the Math building and since he is at the College of Human Kinetics, it is quite a distance from here. He had to put on a brave front and act as if everything is okay because she tends to worry too much about him even if he was older. She would surely be hovering over him like a mother hen especially since he told her earlier that Gigie finally broke up with him after days of giving him the silent treatment.  

Bryde looked at the gathering grey clouds overhead and quickened his pace towards his parked car. No sooner had he started the engine when a bolt of lightning streaked across the grey sky followed by a loud thunderclap that made Bryde cover his ears to protect them from the loud sound. He had just pulled out of the parking space when the rain began to fall in torrents.

 

“Uhm, so you have a class here too?” Love said as she caught up to Win, totally ignoring her blockmates as they all walked past her toward the main stairs. Their Math class had just finished and she spied the tall chinito walking out of one of the classrooms with his friends.

“Yeah, oh I remember you. You were the student who came in late to our Hum 1 class,” Win said animatedly, feigning surprise. He has been watching Love from afar when he noticed her enter the same building with her blockmates. He didn’t expect Love would notice him too amidst the throng of students in the Math building.

“Yes I am that girl, the late Lovely Crisostomo,” Love said in a deadpan manner that managed to deliver the joke better. Win chuckled softly before extending his hand towards the lady.

“Nice seeing you again, Lovely. I’m Arwin Dave Ibarra but you can just call me Win,” His smile grew brighter when Love didn’t hesitate to take his hand in a brief but firm handshake. She then let go of his hand to tuck some stray strands of hair behind her ears shyly.

“I would really prefer that you call me Love but because it sounds awkward you can just call me Lovely, no shorter nicknames for me,” Love said in feigned exasperation and Win can’t help but smile amusedly at the girl’s cheekiness.

“Your name suits you well, your mother must be clairvoyant,” Win said as they slowly walked side by side, ignoring all the other students rushing past them to catch their ride home. Win’s friends discreetly left him alone when they saw Love approaching since they know that Win has his own car with him and would have no problem going home alone.

“Not really, she was just obsessed with Beauty and the Beast at the time she was pregnant with me. I am just so thankful that she didn’t push it further and actually named me Beauty because it would have been a whole lot more embarrassing than being named Lovely,” Love said animatedly, her eyes sparkling with delight as she shared an anecdote about herself and Win easily got caught up in her joy as they shared a good laugh while slowly descending the main stairway in the center of the building.

“Uhm, so how are you going to get home? It’s been raining hard for almost 20 minutes now,” Win asked cautiously, knowing that offering to give her a ride home in his car would be too straightforward considering that they just met this morning.

“My elder brother would come for me. He will be coming from the CHK,” Love said nonchalantly and Win couldn’t hide the amazement in his voice despite feeling a little dejected because he couldn’t spend more time with Love by braving the rush hour traffic together in his car.

“CHK? Is he a varsity player or something?” Win asked with genuine curiosity being an athlete himself albeit an inactive one now.

“Yes, he is. He’s been a varsity player since he entered the university last year,” Love said with obvious pride at her brother’s achievement.

“Really? I can’t imagine such dedication. Are you into sports too?” Win asked as they both stood at the side of the main entrance, giving way to the other students who are in a hurry to get out of the building to try and beat the rush hour traffic.

“Uhm, I just like to watch and observe. I used to play volleyball for our high school but since I got severely injured in one of our games, my parents forbade me to go back to actively playing. Being the youngest and a girl at that, everybody tends to be overprotective of me." Love said in a laidback manner that made her more endearing in Win’s eyes.

“Well, I agree with them. A young lady like you needs to be taken care of and protected well.” Win said carefully, testing the waters. Love arched an eyebrow questioningly at him before scoffing loudly.

“Don’t be fooled by my looks, Win. I am not a damsel in distress. I may look frail but I have a brown belt in Judo so don’t get any weird ideas if you don’t want to get hurt,” Love even wagged a slim finger at Win and the latter had to laugh out loud at the insinuation.

“Wow! So feisty! I am a good boy, you know? Uhm, would you like to grab some coffee with me at the cafeteria? Perfect for the cold weather,” Win said hesitantly, afraid of sounding too upfront with his new acquaintance.

“But my brother might come any minute from now,” Love said with a mix of uncertainty and concern.

“With this rain? I doubt it. You can tell him to join us for coffee, I’m sure he would love to sip on a hot cup of joe in this weather.” Win said with a kind smile and it seemed to work with Love because she nodded her head slowly as if considering Win’s offer.

“Actually, that is a good idea. My brother likes black coffee with no sugar in it. I’ll just text him to find us at the cafeteria so he can help himself to a cup of caffeine to perk up his mood,” Love said, a little sad when she remembered the reason why the first day of school didn’t turn out right for his elder brother.

“Great! Shall we go now?” Win asked while beaming with his brightest smile.

“Let’s go!” Love acquiesced.

 

Bryde is drumming his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel as he eyed the row of red tail lights facing him. Barely 10 minutes of continuous rain and there are already flooded parts inside the campus, how pathetic!  The player thought to himself as he tried to lift his mood by whistling but the shrill sound of his own whistling only served to rile him up even more.

He turned on the car radio and the heavy guitar rift of Santana’s “Smooth” greeted his ears. He sang along with renewed fervor only to be stopped in his tracks by a certain part of the song:

You got that kind of loving that can be so smooth

Give me your heart, make it real

Or let’s forget about it.

Let’s forget about it, Bryde. It’s not going to work out whatever we do.

Forget about it.

Forget about it.

Annoyed, he jabbed at the screen of the car radio to switch channels. The next station was playing “Forever Blue” by Cacai Velasquez and Bryde resisted the urge to scream when he heard the familiar lyrics of the chorus:

I guess I was wrong to want you, yeah

Cause I’m afraid, I’m afraid, I’m afraid

To be forever blue

Infuriated, Bryde jabbed at the screen with his finger again to switch to another channel. The next song sounded like it was from the New Wave genre and before he even got to recognize the song, the line of red tail lights started to move. Releasing the hand brake, Bright followed the vehicle in front of him only to stop again after a few meters. Damn! When will traffic cease to co-exist with the rain? Bryde thought tersely to himself as he waited for the vehicle in front of him to move forward. That was when he caught the lyrics of the song playing on the radio:

And how can I forget you, girl?

When there is always something there to remind me

Always something there to remind me

I was born to love her

And I will never be free

She’ll always be a part of me

Exasperated, Bryde decided to just turn off the car radio and simmer in silence as the rain continued to drown the streets in gloom and misery.

 

“This blueberry cheesecake is really good!” Love gushed before wiping her lips with a tissue to remove any remnant of the rich cream that smothered the pastry they were eating.

“Yeah, I really didn’t expect something delicious to come out from this quaint cafeteria,” Win said while putting the fork laden with sweetness into his mouth.

“Hey, don’t be too judgemental. These commissaries wouldn’t be around for long if they don’t provide good food for low prices. The students and the faculty in this university are uniquely practical. They usually go for the taste and not the branding,” Love said before taking a sip from her coffee mug.

“You don’t sound like a freshman at all,” Win chided her lightly and Love giggled at the realization that she does sound like she’s been in the university longer than the other freshmen.

“Well, since my older brother is a student here as well, I have been somewhat exposed to University life earlier than most of the freshmen,” Love said simply as she placed another forkful of pastry into her mouth before closing her eyes to savor the sweetness. Win smiled unknowingly at such an adorable gesture.

“I forgot to ask, what college are you from? I don’t think I have seen you around the CAL building,” Win asked before drinking his now lukewarm coffee.

“Oh, I’m from the College of Business Administration,” Love said as if it was just an afterthought.

“Really? That explains the rich kid vibes,” Win commented in a teasing manner and Love pouted in mock annoyance.

“I am not a rich kid, well not the really rich kid that many of my blockmates are,” Love said candidly, and Win finally understood why Love is not too keen on socializing with her blockmates.

“But there are two of you studying here. Tuition isn’t actually cheap here despite it being a state university and all,” Win pointed out as he scooped the last morsel of pastry into his mouth using his fork.

“My brother is a varsity scholar so he sort of pays for his own tuition. He just has to juggle his time between sports and acads to maintain his scholarship,” Love said matter-of-factly as if what she said was the easiest thing to do in the world.

“That must be tough, I wouldn’t be able to imagine how he managed to balance all of that,” Win whistled in disbelief, he couldn’t imagine being in the same situation on his first year in the university. Love’s brother must be a really tough cookie to be able to manage that. Win mused to himself as he sipped his tepid coffee.

“Well, he had to sacrifice a lot. And when I say a lot, I really mean a lot. That is why I am so proud of him,” Love beamed with pride and Win is somewhat eager to meet the oft-mentioned older brother. I wonder what he’s like? I never had an older brother so it must be fun having someone who dotes on you while sharing your weird quirks. Win thought absently, his interest was really piqued with all the things that Love has been telling him about her brother.

“He is lucky to have an appreciative sister like you,” Win said with frank admiration in his eyes and an appreciative smile that made Love blush furiously.

“Stop flattering me. Oh, I have been meaning to ask you this since our first class together but are you some kind of an athlete or something?” Love quickly change the subject to veer the conversation away from her. She never liked talking about herself that is why she mostly told Win stories about her brother. Yes, she is shy like that.

“I used to be. But I gave it all up when I passed the UPCAT. I wanted to devote my time and efforts to studying, I am not good at multi-tasking," Win admitted shyly and Love pouted in understanding.

“Aww, that’s so sad. With your height and built, you would easily pass for a varsity player,” Love enthused and Win had to clear his throat to ward off the wariness that has started to seep in his heart.

“I still work out a lot even after I quit competitive sports,” Win said awkwardly, failing miserably to hide his discomfort in the current topic of their conversation. Love seemed to take the hint so she elected to just finish her coffee and say nothing more about their current topic.

There was a short moment of silence as the air grew uneasy between them. Win didn’t want to talk about why and how he quit competing but he didn’t want to be rude to his classmate and crush. He can see that Love seems to be a sports enthusiast the way her binder is filled with stickers of the Fighting Maroons and he is silently praying that Love will still see his merits even if he isn’t an active athlete anymore.

“OMG! Don’t move!” Lovely said as he subtly aimed her phone at Win. Win immediately assumed a casual pose that would easily pass for a candid shot. Love was giddy with excitement as she looked at the photo that she took.

“Why didn’t you say you wanted a photo with me? We could have taken a selfie together,” Win said with feigned exasperation and Love just giggled in return before bashfully tucking her hair behind her ear while looking at her phone.

“Uhm, I didn’t want him to notice that I was taking his picture,” Love admitted shyly with her eyes lowered to the empty plate in front of her as if looking towards Win’s direction will get her caught.

“Who? I thought you were taking my picture?” Win said and tried to look behind him but Love’s hand on his stopped him from doing so.

“Don’t turn around, he might notice us,” Love pleaded in a hushed voice.

“Who is he really? A celebrity?” Win asked with irritation lacing his voice. I am in front of you! Why take a picture of someone else? Win thought tersely but he stopped himself from blurting out his thoughts to avoid offending the lady in front of her.

“He is Lucas James Furukawa, we went to the same high school together and he played for the school’s basketball team. I heard that he will be trying out for the Maroons as well,” Love whispered to Win without taking her eyes off of the person she took a photo of. She slid her phone towards Win so that the latter can see who Lucas is.

Win’s eyes widened as he saw the face of the person Lovely was talking about on her phone's screen. It turned out that Lucas played for the school that defeated Win’s school for the basketball championship. He was the cool, aloof guy every girl liked to chase after and it seems that his current prospect is not immune to this man’s charms.

“Do you like him?” Win asked cautiously, trying to hide the disappointment that he felt.

“Like him? Oh no, it’s not like that,” Love denied profusely and Win felt instant relief. He smiled as he felt the stirrings of newfound hope bloom in his chest. “I thought you have a crush on him,” he continued as he slid the phone back to Love.

"Crush? No, that's too much. I'm just a fan…of sports in general," Love said bashfully as she took back her phone while avoiding to meet Win’s gaze.

“Oh, so you like basketball?” Win surmised and Love slowly nodded in agreement.

"Yes, I like playing volleyball but I would always have a soft spot for basketball. I have been watching PBA and NBA games since I was a kid. It was a favorite bonding activity with my brother and father," Love said with a smile but her eyes cannot hide the sadness that she felt with the happy memories.

“Why do I feel sadness in your words?” Win asked cautiously, afraid to touch a sore nerve but his curiosity is overwhelming.

"Dad passed away just recently. He didn't even get to attend my graduation from senior high school. I really miss him so badly," Love explained in a broken whisper, and Win tapped her hand slightly with his forefinger in an attempt to comfort her.

“Sorry to hear that, I’m sure he is always watching over you,” Win said in a warm voice that evoked comfort and Love smiled at him but her eyes glistened with unshed tears.

“I would like to believe that very much so I still talk to him whenever I feel sad. My brother already has his plate full at the moment, I don’t want to trouble him anymore with my selfish rants, he has suffered a lot too when it happened,” Love said in a broken voice and Win was afraid she is about to break down crying anytime now so he hurriedly changed the topic.

“Speaking of your brother, why isn’t he here yet? His coffee is getting cold,” Win indicated the untouched mug of coffee with his palm and Love reached inside her shoulder bag to pull out wads of facial tissue.

“Maybe he was caught in the sudden downpour, I can’t call or text him again because he might be driving and I don’t want to distract him,” Love said simply as she carefully dabbed at the corner of her eyes with the tissue she took from her bag. She looked at the cold coffee sitting inside the untouched mug before smiling brightly.

“I’ll just drink his coffee, I like iced coffee anyway. Can you ask for sugar and fresh milk for me, Win? I prefer my coffee sweet with a dash of milk. I would get them myself but I need to keep a lookout for my brother. He might not see me if I am at the counter,” Love said in a sweet and calm voice and who was Win to say no to that tone?

“No problem, leave it all to me,” Win said confidently before pushing his chair back to stand up.

 

Win got what he needed from the counter but as he was about to return to Lovely, he saw in his peripheral vision that Lucas is about to enter the caféteria with his friends. Feeling awkward all of a sudden, Win bowed his head to avoid showing his face to Lucas as the latter passed him by unawares. He slowed down his steps so he can subtly follow the group's movements. When the group settled on a table quite far from where Lovely was sitting, Win heaved a sigh of relief. He quickly turned in the direction of the table he shared with Lovely but he was blindsided by the presence of a bulky body in front of him. It was too late to stop and Win ended up crashing to the other guy, spilling the fresh milk on the latter’s shiny windbreaker jacket with the university’s official logo on the left side of the chest.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t see you coming,” Win apologized absently before lifting his head to look at the other guy whose thick brows are now furrowed deeply while his round eyes stared at Win with unbridled annoyance.

“Of course you wouldn’t! You weren’t even looking at where you are going,” The unknown guy said brashly before proceeding to check on the milk stain on his jacket.

“Hey, I already said I’m sorry,” Win said in a defensive tone, his hackles were raised by the other guy's abrasive behavior.

“And who told you that apologies are always enough? See what you did to my jacket?” The other guy said in a slightly raised voice. People were silent around them but their stares told Win that they were intently watching the scene unfolding in front of them.

“It’s just milk. It isn’t even sweetened,” Win said in a caustic manner that just succeeded in riling up the other guy more.

“I just got it back from the laundry. I don’t have an extra pair and these jackets don’t actually dry fast,” the other guy said pointedly, his full lips curling downwards in distaste and his eyes shooting daggers at Win.

“Why are you being salty about washing your jacket?” Win lashed back and dug his hands deep into his pockets. He knew that he is short-tempered so he deliberately hid his hands so that he wouldn’t be tempted to throw a quick punch at the offending guy.

“It’s the rainy season, dumbass. Jackets are as essential as umbrellas in this weather and I don’t have an extra pair. What will I use during practice?” The other guy said in a patronizing voice that managed to aggravate Win’s annoyance.

“As if that’s my problem? It’s not my fault you are too poor to buy another jacket,” Win shot back, unmindful of the words he used and the implications of what he said. The other guy clearly took offense as he jabbed a long forefinger downwards in an attempt to stop himself from pointing directly at the offending freshmen.

“That kind of attitude does not belong in the State university!” The other guy said with his eyes narrowed and jaw clenched. Win crossed his arms across his chest and cocked his hip to the side in a defiant pose in response to the guy’s clear aggression.

“Stop being high and mighty! You wanted to chew my head off just because of a small stain. Who is being arrogant right now?” Win said in a snarky tone that he often used when trash-talking players from opposing teams.

The other man narrowed his eyes in fury and opened his mouth again to speak if not for a dainty hand tugging at his biceps. Win was surprised to see Lovely standing behind the other guy, red with embarrassment.

“I’m sorry Win. Kuya Bryde is going through something right now so excuse his less than amicable behavior," Love said in a small voice, obviously embarrassed by the heated exchange that is transpiring in front of a small audience.

Kuya? Brother?

“You know this asshole?” The other guy who turned out to be Bryden Keith Crisostomo, Lovely’s elder brother said.

“Yes, Kuya. He is my classmate in Hum 1. He is from CAL,” Love said simply as the small crowd that has gathered around them slowly dispersed. Lovely saw Luke staring at the three of them with an amused smirk and she wanted to die with embarrassment on that very spot she was currently standing on.

“He is the brother you are talking about?” Win asked in an incredulous voice. Oh, crap! Of all the people to have a run-in with on the first day of school! Great! Just great! Win thought to himself sarcastically as he waited for Love’s confirmation.

“Yes, Win. He is my Kuya Bryde from the college of Human Kinetics,” Love said while looking at Win apologetically while Bryde just stood there with an unbothered expression on his handsome face.      

Win drew a nervous breath. Who would have expected that someone as amicable as Lovely would have such an ill-mannered brother? I have to play my cards right or I wouldn't have a chance with Lovely. Win thought as he forced his facial muscles to relax into an awkward smile.

The anger in Bryde’s face turned to confusion. What is this idiot smiling about all of a sudden? And what are the chances that Love would see me explode like this? I have been trying to keep my emotions under wraps for days, she shouldn't see me like this, or else I would never hear the end of it from her. Bryde thought tersely as he unfurrowed his brows and relaxed his jaw. He tried his best to look calm and unaffected in front of his sister and her stupid classmate.

“Look, I’m sorry I spilled—“ Win began but Bryde cut him off harshly with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“Forget about the jacket. It wasn’t really a big thing. And sorry for venting out on you, I’m having a bad day. Let’s go, Love. We would surely be caught in the rush hour traffic jam,” Bryde said and turned to go but Win immediately called out to him.

“Wait! At least let me make it up to you…Bryde?” Win said in a cautious tone as Bryde turned back around to look at him with his hands planted on his waist.

“And how would you do that? You even told me that it wasn’t even sweetened milk!” Bryde cocked his head to the side to regard Win carefully. Win might be taller by a couple of centimeters but Bryde has faced taller opponents in court and wasn’t the least bit intimidated.

“Win, it’s okay. My Kuya is just being difficult, it wasn’t anybody’s fault,” Love tried to intervene but Win put up his palm to politely cut her off.

“No, he was right. It was my fault for not watching where I’m going. I’m just glad that I wasn’t holding something hot, it was really careless of me and I am really sorry,” Win said in a sincere tone but Bryde just scoffed in disbelief at the other guy’s sudden show of humility.

“Why the sudden change of tone? Is it because my sister is here now?” Bryde said in a snarky manner and earned another tug on his bicep courtesy of Love.

“Kuya, stop it! He apologized already,” Love said in a pleading tone that Bryden could never say no to.

“I would wash your jacket for you,” Win suddenly blurted out and the sibling’s eyes both widened in surprise and shock.

“Do you even know how to wash clothes?” Bryden said in a scathing tone that Win just let slide before replying in a calm and confident voice.

“No, but we live near a Laundromat. I can have your jacket ready by tomorrow morning since I have an early class at the CHK,” Win said in an even tone, sounding braver than he actually felt. Bryden glared at him for a while before Love’s incessant tugging on his bicep led him to relent grudgingly.

“Fine, I’ll just go there and get it from you. What is your class there?” Bryde said as he started to take off his jacket, revealing a simple black shirt underneath which clung to his muscles like a second skin.

“Weight training, first period,” Win said as Bryde tossed his jacket on him. Win easily caught the garment and was even able to catch a small whiff of the varsity player’s cologne that must have rubbed off on his jacket. Hey, we wear the same scent! Win thought absently as his brain registered the familiar smell on the other guy’s jacket.

“I’ll be there before seven, don’t be late,” Bryde warned in an intimidating low growl that involuntarily sent shivers up Win’s spine. Win brushed off the awkwardness and stuck out his chest confidently.

“I won’t, it’s our first class this semester,” Win said with conviction as he clutched the jacket against his flat abdomen.

“Win, you don’t have to,” Love began but Win’s smile stopped the words she was about to say.

“Oh but he does, Love. He needs to be responsible for his actions if he is going to survive University life,” Bryde said in a taunting manner that earned him Love’s disappointed glare.

“It’s okay, Lovely. I understand your brother. Guess I’ll see you around then,” Win said in an assuring tone.

“Drive safely, Win,” Love said with a small wave of her dainty hand.

“Thank you, Lovely. See you tomorrow, Bryde!” Win said while waving to the siblings who started to walk out of the cafeteria. Bryde just nodded curtly in acknowledgment before going in their way.

Win clutched the jacket tightly and waited until the siblings are out of his sight. He then walked out of the cafeteria ignoring the curious stares of the people around him. He was about to walk down the stairs when Bryde suddenly pulled him back by gripping at his arm from behind.

“Bryde? Where is Lovely?” Win asked in confusion and Bryde just rolled his eyes in feigned annoyance.

“She is at the ladies’ room. It’s a long ride home.” Bryde said evenly before handing Win his cellphone. “Give me your number,” Bryde said with authority in his voice.

“Why?” Win asked but he took the phone anyway, it had Love’s photo as wallpaper.

“I don’t want you bailing out on me,” Bryde shrugged simply before digging his hands into the pocket of his denim jeans, the coarse fabric emphasizing his ample bottom and thick thighs. Win tore his eyes away and wondered briefly why his sight followed that direction.

"How can I bail out on you? I am a freshman and your sister is my classmate," Win said with his eyes focused on the phone as he typed his cellphone number.

“She is not your block mate. And I just want to make sure,” Bryde said without looking directly at Win. Suddenly, Win’s immaculately clean sneakers looked interesting to Bryde as he kept his eyes on the ground.

“Fine, here,” Win said before handing back Bryde’s phone to him.

Bryde took back his phone and called the number that Win typed. Win’s cellphone immediately buzzed from his pocket, leading him to pull it out to see who is calling. When he saw an unregistered number, his brows furrowed in confusion before answering it only for the call to be ended abruptly.

“That is my number, save it. I just wanted to make sure that you did not give me a fake number,” Bryde said in a voice bereft of any emotion, his prominent cheekbones and rigid jawline making him look like a stoic Greek statue handsome but unmovable.

“Who hurt you so bad to make you so cynical and untrusting?” Win couldn’t help but blurt out his observation but the stoic façade that is Bryde’s face didn’t even waver.

“You don’t need to know, you are not my friend,” Bright said while pocketing his cellphone and turning his back on the still dumbfounded Win before stopping on his tracks abruptly like he remembered something. “Tell the laundromat to not use fabric conditioner, I don’t like strong fragrances,” Bryde said without turning around to look at Win before finally walking away from the surprised freshmen.