Chapter 12:

CHAPTER 9: A REQUIEM ABOUT A PAINFUL PAST

The Ballad of the School Hallways


It was a cold day in December…Bookmark here

To be honest, I couldn’t describe my feelings back then. My heartbeats were fast, as if it would jump right out from my chest in any moment. I couldn’t feel my cold hands, and I was shivering a little. I tightly held onto the small, black velvety box that gathered all of my precious feelings for the entire 12 years we’d been together…Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

I hope I will gain the permission to make her happy forever…Bookmark here

“Do you have any reservations, Ma’am?”Bookmark here

“Yes, it’s the table for Seth.”Bookmark here

“Right this way, please.”Bookmark here

“!!!” My heart almost stopped when I saw the beautiful figure of Anne Marie appear at the restaurant door, talking to the staff. I decided to pick this fancy place, since it’s a special one for me and her…Bookmark here

This is the restaurant where we had our ‘first date’, right after we graduated and landed in our respective jobs.Bookmark here

And then, Anne Marie came to my table, led by a waitress.Bookmark here

“Thanks!” she smiled at her, before sitting down.Bookmark here

I started our small talk, “Hey, how’s work?”Bookmark here

“Pretty stressful,” Anne Marie answered, complete with a sigh. “I was too busy at it that I almost missed your message inviting me here. Thanks, by the way! If I remember right…hm…this is the place where we had our first date, no?Bookmark here

Heh, good thing you looked at your phone,” I commented. Well, even if she missed my message, I had already planned to notify her of my invitation through her family. She wouldn’t miss anything!Bookmark here

“Yep…haaa…so stressful!” Anne Marie let out another sigh. But I could tell she’s happy, now that we’re back here in this memorable place of ours.Bookmark here

“Look at you, sighing like that and being stressed out and all…” I kept on the small talk, since she loved it. “And yet, you’re still as beautiful as ever!”Bookmark here

Haha! Stop with the lip service, mister!” Or so she said, but I could see the faint blush that appeared on her cheeks.Bookmark here

“I’m telling the truth,” defending myself. “You know, we teachers shouldn’t lie, or we’ll get our licenses revoked.”Bookmark here

“Yes, true. And I’ll be the one to start a case against you, since you’re lying to me by saying I’m beautiful.”Bookmark here

“State your complaints,” I chuckled. “I can defend myself.”Bookmark here

“Really, eh?” Anne Marie playfully traced my hand with her finger, which she eventually used to lightly pinch my nose. “Good thing you’re a cute fellow, or I’d really make a case against you.”Bookmark here

“Well, want to order something? Come on, my treat!”Bookmark here

“Oh?!” she looked at me suspiciously. “You said your treat, huh? Aren’t you thinking of something?”Bookmark here

“Hm?” I played the ‘innocent’ card. “Who knows?”Bookmark here

“Come on, don’t make me go in circles, Seth!” Anne Marie tried to make herself sound angry, but her smiling eyes betrayed the fact that she’s just bluffing.Bookmark here

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”Bookmark here

“Alright, mister! The most expensive on the menu, then!” she pulled the menu and put her finger on the priciest item on the list.Bookmark here

“Bring it on!” I countered, showing to her my ATM card.Bookmark here

So, we did order the most expensive item on the menu, and ate to our heart’s content. We did have a fun time back then, talking about work, our students, and our annoying superiors. We laughed and cheered like there’s no tomorrow, seemingly oblivious of the time we’re spending together…Bookmark here

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And then, the moment came for me to go back to my original goal of inviting her.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“What, is there something wrong, Seth? You suddenly became silent? Are you okay?”Bookmark here

“Anne Marie…” the nervousness that was gone a while ago suddenly came crashing back. And my heart was beating wildly once again. “There’s something I’d like to say to you…”Bookmark here

Hm? What is it?”Bookmark here

“Can I ask you something?”Bookmark here

“Alright, what is it? Don’t leave me hanging,” impatient at my words, Anne Marie put her arms to her sides. She jested, “Are you having an affair with someone and would like to ask for my forgiveness?”Bookmark here

I chuckled, “No! No, that’s not it. I wouldn’t think of anything like that.” And then with all my might and courage—plus, with all the saints in heaven, gathered, I brought before her eyes the black, velvety box I was holding earlier. Carefully opening it, I presented to her a diamond ring.Bookmark here

“!!!” Anne Marie couldn’t hide her surprise upon seeing that.Bookmark here

“Will you allow me to make you happy forever, Anne Marie?” I asked with unwavering courage.Bookmark here

However, she was silent. Her eyes repeatedly went from the ring, then to me, and back to the ring again.Bookmark here

“Wi-Will you marry me?” I asked once more, this time, with a direct question.Bookmark here

“…” But, my girlfriend kept her silence for a long while. I began to feel awkward…did I say something wrong?Bookmark here

“Anne Marie?”Bookmark here

“I…Seth, I…” there were tears in her eyes, “I’m sorry.”Bookmark here

I think my entire world suddenly crashed down upon hearing those painful words. She grabbed her bag and quickly headed for the exit, with tears falling from her eyes.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

I was left alone in that restaurant, bewildered and confused. I never even closed the box because of shock.Bookmark here

I don’t know how I went home that day…Bookmark here

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I never showed up in my social media account that night after I received that short message. Nevertheless, my laptop was on, and the browser was up. The Go*gle home screen was the only source of light around, as my mother turned off the lights of our dining area to sleep. My eyes quickly looked for the clock, it was 2:34 in the morning.Bookmark here

I guess I fell asleep on the dining table…Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

So it was a dream, huh? I thought I went back in time…Bookmark here

The recent event got me exhausted, even though I just came from sleep. I told myself that I would move to my bed to continue sleeping, though only after I checked on my social media account. I guess my students were waiting for me to login, and might’ve wondered why I wasn’t able to do so.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

As it turned out, I was right on my hunch. A lot of messages piled up in my inbox, most of it were asking for my whereabouts. After all, I think this was the first time I wasn’t online to talk to them.Bookmark here

Ugh…I’m in no mood to talk to anyone, really…Bookmark here

However, I still went over the messages, weighing my options of whether or not I would reply to my students. Just before I closed my browser, a new message box suddenly popped out, and demanded my attention.Bookmark here

‘Sir Seth!’ It was from Stephanie.Bookmark here

Well, I don’t want to chat right now, so I better—Bookmark here

Another message came in once again, ‘Are you alright?’Bookmark here

I stopped. My mouse cursor was already hovering on the browser’s ‘close’ button, yet for some reason, I didn’t want to exit. The simple words from my student, ‘Are you alright?’ spoke volumes to me. While the others were just looking for their teacher, here was Stephanie asking if I’m okay.Bookmark here

‘Yo!’ I replied to her.Bookmark here

‘Ah, thank goodness you answered Sir!’Bookmark here

‘Is there any problem?’Bookmark here

‘Nothing on my side. How about you?’Bookmark here

The last part of her chat caught me off guard. That simple question, though it may seem routine, told me that Stephanie was aware that something was going on. But, in any case, I’m an adult and her teacher. One of the advises I received when I entered this profession was not to let the students see your ‘emotional side’.Bookmark here

‘I’m okay.’Bookmark here

Now it was Stephanie’s turn to be silent. I guess it was for around a minute or two, but I knew she was there, for the chat box showed that she was typing. I wondered what’s taking her long to key-in her reply; nevertheless, even though the time was about to strike 3 o’clock in the morning, I stayed up to wait for her chat.Bookmark here

‘There’s something wrong about you, Sir. I can feel it.’Bookmark here

‘What made you say that?’Bookmark here

‘Aside from you logged in just now, it took a while before you answered me if you are okay.’Bookmark here

I guess this was also connected to the other advice I was given before: ‘don’t underestimate your students; they can be more perceptive than you’. I didn’t know I was being observed this close…I thought that my students only paid attention to the fact that they could confide to me as their teacher, and not to my actions as a personal individual.Bookmark here

But here is Stephanie trying to check on me, even though she’s still a kid…Bookmark here

‘I’m spot on!’ came another chat from her. ‘You’re really taking your time to answer me, Sir! What’s the problem?’Bookmark here

‘Go to sleep,’ I replied. ‘It’s 3 a.m. and you’re still up!’Bookmark here

‘Don’t change the topic! And besides, I ate a lot so I’m just waiting for my stomach to settle down.’Bookmark here

‘I thought you’re trying to slim down, Tank?’Bookmark here

‘I hate you, Sir! Joke!’Bookmark here

I couldn’t help but laugh on the last one.Bookmark here

‘Sir?’Bookmark here

‘Yep?’Bookmark here

‘I know you’re going through something right now. If you don’t want to tell me about it, then I guess I can’t force you. But please, I just want to say that, your students love you and we support our one and only Sir Seth.’Bookmark here

My fingers, though they were on the keyboard ready to type my next message, were frozen. Stephanie’s words—though she may be young—hit me like a speeding train. At that moment, I felt my chest burst from all the emotions I kept to myself for so long, and my tears fell.Bookmark here

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When I opened my eyes after a couple of hours of sleep, everything seemed black and gray to me. The sun was high and up in the sky, but I saw nothing other than a lighter shade of gray.Bookmark here

While Stephanie’s chat earlier helped me ease the pain in my chest a little, the morning brought back all the heavy feelings crashing in once again. Honestly, I guess one would understand if I badly wanted to talk to her, just to let off the emotions that I had.Bookmark here

Nevertheless, I will not do that. I’m an adult. I should act like a professional.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“Hey bro, what do you want for breakfast?” my sister asked me. She’s in-charge of the cooking, since she’s still unemployed to take care of her infant son.Bookmark here

“Nothing. I’m not hungry,” I answered as I dragged myself from my sofa bed and into the dining table to work on my lesson plan for the day.Bookmark here

“You alright? You look shit,” she told me.Bookmark here

Well, I do feel like one. But I never said that to her; instead, I just nodded for an answer. I put on the headphone on my ears and turned up the volume, before blasting some sad music to appease the feeling of pain in my heart.Bookmark here

For the meantime, I did not erase that short message from my friend. You know, after all that happened, I still loved Anne Marie. I still want to see her, to check on her well-being, and her family as well. I wanted to talk to my girlfriend, just like the good old times…Bookmark here

I still hope that I can be with my Anne Marie…and I’m angry at that person who stole her from me.Bookmark here

But no, even though I’m like that, I won’t be destroying a family. I love Anne Marie, yes, and because of that, I would never break something that she cherished—even at the cost of my own happiness.Bookmark here

That’s how my love for her will be…Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

Still…it hurt so bad I wanted to cry.Bookmark here

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Finally arriving at school, I tried my best to smile to my students, who were happy to see and greet me. However, I couldn’t bring myself to even wave ‘hello’ at them. My steps were heavy, and my head was downcast. I was thinking if I should’ve just skipped work, and go home instead…Bookmark here

For a moment, I guess I looked like a real wandering bad spirit…Bookmark here

“Siiiirrrrr!”Bookmark here

“!!!” I felt someone slap my back. I turned around and saw the glowing face of Stephanie.Bookmark here

“Wh-What’s up?” I asked, taking care that she won’t see that I’m still sad. After all, this girl was perceptive of the people around her.Bookmark here

“Hey Sir, now that you can’t run away from me, tell me what happened. You look all gloomy, even though you try to hide it with smiles.”Bookmark here

“Eh?”Bookmark here

“Don’t ‘eh’ me, Sir!” she laughed. “I can feel your dark aura miles away from school! Now tell your cute student your problem; I won’t accept ‘I’m okay’ for an answer!”Bookmark here

“Go back to your room,” I tried to sound serious so she would leave me alone.Bookmark here

“No can do! I will continue to bug you until you say something!” Stephanie pulled my arm to stop me from going away. “I can’t forgive you adults always barging in our talk, yet when we offer our help you dismiss us as ‘kids’.”Bookmark here

“Well, that’s how the world works, so you better aim to grow up, Tank! Both in mind and in height!”Bookmark here

“No! You’ll tell me your problem!” she insisted, though her grip on me loosened when I stopped struggling against her.Bookmark here

“I’m good, Steph! I’m an adult, so I can deal with it myself.”Bookmark here

Stephanie didn’t answer for a few moments. Her head was downcast, and her fists clenched, “Seriously Sir…am I a joke to you?”Bookmark here

“Is that a meme?Bookmark here

“No!” she replied with a stronger voice. I was taken aback by her action, yet, before I could call her out, she never let me speak. “Your students, no, I—I’m not used to see you down like that! You helped me before…why can’t you let me help you in return?”Bookmark here

Silence. I didn’t know what to say. Stephanie…though my initial impression of her was that of a whimsical, fun-loving teenager, was turning out to be a girl with a beautiful soul. Not only was she sensitive with the feelings of the people around her, she was courageous as well, if it came to helping those she loves…Bookmark here

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