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Excuses

by ALLANA LUTA

The sun was high up in the sky, signaling the time for a siesta. But students who were in Mr. Ning’s class could only dream of laying their heads on a comfortable pillow. Instead, they had to settle for their desks. Mr. Ning rambled on to the class about his college years and how it freed him from conforming to social norms, except Christine was hardly listening. The heat and afternoon breeze were enough to induce her to sleep without Mr. Ning’s dreary voice in the background. She fought against it though, knowing her homeroom teacher was keenly aware of the sleepyheads seated near the windows. She bit her lip to keep herself awake. However, the sensation only reminded her of the lips that touched hers last Saturday. A smile tugged on the corners of Christine’s mouth but something about the crucifix above Mr. Ning’s head told her that the kiss was something she shouldn’t have liked this much.

***

After classes ended, Christine started walking home alone. She lived just a few blocks from school. Her mom worked at her school’s administration and they used to walk home together. Christine’s mom would drive her crazy by asking a hundred questions about her day. But the walks stopped when Christine started high school because her mom was promoted to a busier position. Christine didn’t mind. At the very least, it gave her ample time to think.

All of a sudden, hands covered her eyes and pulled her roughly towards the body they were attached to. She started to panic when…

“Stop fidgeting, Chris. It’s only me!”

It was just Sam. Christine loosened up and turned around. Sam was standing there with those vegetable earrings (eggplants today) and that goofy smile of hers. Sam’s pixie haircut was in its customary state of mess, which made her look even more ridiculous.

“Not funny, Samantha Tanglao.” Sam hated it when people called her by her full name. Christine straightened out her uniform then continued walking home.

“Hey, what’s the rush? Don’t you want to get something to eat first? It’s my treat.” Sam smiled again, that blinding display of her pearly whites.

“I need to go home, Sam. Assignments, you know, and we need to study for the exams. Maybe tomorrow,” Christine replied.

She wanted to go with Sam, of course. It had become somewhat of an afternoon ritual ever since Sam moved into their neighborhood months ago. Every afternoon, after classes were dismissed, the two of them would go buy street food and talk about future plans, particularly what they would do once they entered college.

“I’m going to join a lot of clubs and maybe run for student council,” Sam said while pouring hot and spicy sauce over her squid balls.

“That’s very nice but I think they’re referred to as orgs, not clubs,” was all Christine could contribute. Sam had always been ambitious about these things. She was, after all, part of the soccer team, the environment protection club and the honors section. She also ran for president in the student council elections last year but lost to the more popular basketball team captain.

“College won’t be about popularity anymore so I’ll have a better chance of winning. Or at least that’s what people say anyway.” Sam took two squid balls and popped them whole into her mouth. Christine just nodded.

Today, however, was different. Christine knew the awkwardness would soon seep in even though she didn’t feel it yet. She didn’t want that to happen. She didn’t want to ruin their friendship.

“Hey, is this about what happened last Saturday?” Sam raised a brow. “Look, don’t worry about it! It was just for fun!” She shook Christine’s shoulders a little. Christine smiled apologetically and said she had to go home. Maybe tomorrow, she repeated. But Christine knew she had to avoid Sam, even for just a little while.

***

Sam had transferred to their school two years ago and was designated to the top class, something no transferee had ever done before. She had always worn her signature pixie haircut and vegetable earrings. Her hair was somewhat controversial at first, in a school full of conservative Catholics, but she had come from an all-girls school and reasoned out that the hair was a way for her to stand out among all the typical long-haired girls surrounding her. The earrings? She thought they were cute.

Unlike the rest of her friends, Christine had always wanted to get to know Sam. She was different from the rest of her uninspiring schoolmates and, compared to Christine’s ordinary appearance and attitude, Sam was exciting. Which is why when Sam’s family transferred to her neighborhood, Christine made it a point to get to know Sam. And get to know Sam, she did.

***

Christine closed the door and sighed as she took in the sight of her home: papers and toys scattered all over the floor. It was her job to clean the house when she arrived from school. She stopped in front of their small altar and said a short prayer before continuing on to her room. Her sister had a whole pile of papers beside her on the bed and a huge book pressed against her face.

“Midterms not done yet?” Christine asked.

“Yep. I’m dying here, I really am. I don’t even know why I’m in this stupid course. I should just quit now and pursue painting or something,” June couldn’t stop complaining. Christine just rolled her eyes. June was always like this, complaining about her studies yet she managed to get top grades in all her classes and remain their parents’ favorite child.

June stopped talking, looked at the clock hanging on the opposite wall then at Christine. “You’re home early.” June never missed anything.

“Oh … I didn’t feel like eating with Sam today.”

“Huh,” June shrugged and continued reading. “I thought the kiss was nothing?” she asked without looking up. No, June wouldn’t let it down.

“It is. I just … I don’t … just study, will you?” June shrugged again. “You didn’t tell Mama and Papa, did you?” Christine looked nervously at her sister. June wasn’t much of a secret keeper.

“Nope. I almost did this morning, though. Good thing I caught myself or mom would kill you later.” June gave a shallow laugh then went back to her papers.

Christine got off her bed, changed into house clothes, and started tidying up the place. She took all of her baby brother’s toys and put them in a box before placing it in the guestroom, along with the other papers strewn on the floor, and attached the bills to the refrigerator magnets so her parents could see that they needed to pay their water bills already. Christine never did discover how their home managed to get so messy every day. Only the altar area was neat.

The rest of the night went by uneventfully. Christine’s mom didn’t kill her during dinner.

***

Christine was walking home alone again. It had been a week since her last walk with Sam. She thought she was safe for another day but Sam was already outside their gates, waiting.

“Do you really think you can avoid me forever?” Sam playfully punched Christine’s shoulder.

“I should go in now,” Christine said as coldly as she could, which was a complete failure in itself because she couldn’t really say anything mean to Sam. Not wholeheartedly, anyway.

“Did I do something? Is it the kiss?” Sam’s eyes widened.  Her expressions were always exaggerated. Christine hated it because she always fell for it.

“No. This is nothing. I’m just not in the mood. I … have my period.” Christine paused. They both burst into laughter.

“You’re so lame. But seriously,” Sam looked Christine in the eye.

“Fine. Whatever,” she sighed. “Come on, let’s go get fish balls.”

“Yes!” Sam punched the air in a victorious fashion. Christine smiled in response. Another afternoon with Sam wasn’t going to hurt. Christine knew it was another afternoon without her that would.

***

Christine was doing her homework at the dinner table while her mom was washing dishes.

“Tin, how are Tina and Liz?” her mom asked. Christine shrugged and focused on a particularly difficult physics problem. “How about that Marcus guy, how is he anyway?”

Her mom always asked about Marcus like there was something between him and Christine when there wasn’t. First of all, Marcus was a jerk and invited himself to dinner when he was courting her. Second, he was spreading nasty rumors about her in school.

“I don’t know, Ma. Marcus is a really boring person. All he talks about is himself and his stupid science scholarship thing. I can’t even say anything once he starts talking,” Christine reasoned out.

It wasn’t just that. Marcus later insulted Sam and her “pathetic” attempt to become student council president. He said nobody in their right mind would vote for “someone weird like Sam” as student body president in their school. Christine blew her cool and rejected Marcus then and there. Apparently, Marcus had never been dumped before and now he was convinced Christine was in love with Sam.

“Oh. Well, it’s just that Ma’am Chess said she saw you holding hands with someone in the mall last weekend. What’s that about, Tin?” Christine knew this was what her mom wanted to ask the entire time. She put down her pen, turned her calculator off and sighed in exasperation.

“Ma, you know Ma’am Chess likes to gossip. If I ever had a boyfriend, I’d tell you. There’s no one. There’s just S—,” she stopped and caught herself.

“Yes?” Her mom stopped washing the dishes as well, her face expectant.

“Just … so many gossipers in the world, huh.” Close call, Christine thought. She couldn’t tell her mom; she would freak about it, her being a devout Catholic and all. Besides, she didn’t mean to hold on to Sam’s hand that long. Sam’s hands were warm and comforting, it was hard to let go. It was just a friendly gesture. Right?

***

Sam’s happiness could not be contained. They finally received the results from the college entrance exams they took last year. Sam and Christine were both accepted in their chosen universities. Sam also received a letter saying she was qualified for a scholarship.

“It’s happening, Chris! We’re finally moving on to bigger things!” She was literally jumping for joy.

“I know. It’s great,” Christine said with mild enthusiasm. She knew her mom wouldn’t let her study in a university away from home anyway, and a university with a reputation for being too liberal, too.

Sam hugged her and said, “Don’t worry about it. College will be a grand experience wherever you’ll study.” Sam sounded so sure about it, Christine almost believed it herself.

They bought more kikiam than usual that afternoon to celebrate their first glimpse of the future.

***

Oh, God.

It happened again. Students, especially the seniors, were extremely busy this particular afternoon, going around school chasing professors for missed requirements, getting class pictures taken, getting club pictures taken, taking pictures of their crushes from the lower years.

Christine was in the hallway, sweeping the crumpled exams and papers on the floor and throwing them into the trash when, out of the crowd of rowdy students, a pair of lips touched hers.

“I’m going to the capital tomorrow for my scholarship orientation. Chris, I can’t believe it! I’m finally getting out of here!”

It lasted for about a second yet felt infinite. Christine’s heart started pounding in what she thought was a dangerously fast pace. And in that moment, she knew.

A hug, a few gasps and a head of unkempt pixie hair among stunned faces.

“Oh, God.”

***

“Maria Christine, what were you thinking?!” Her mom’s booming voice rang through their home and Christine was sure her neighbors would hear what was going to happen next as clearly as she could.

Christine had never seen her mom this livid. “Kissing in the school is bad enough. But doing … that? You are in a Catholic school, Christine!” Her mom was trembling with anger.

“Ma, calm down, please. It was nothing. Please stop, I’ll explain. Please,” Christine begged. Then she started crying. She wanted to hug her mom and tell her it was nothing, but she didn’t.

She knew it was no longer nothing. It was no longer just a game of spin the bottle like that Saturday. It was no longer just a dare. It was no longer a string of questions in her head regarding her individuality, her friends, her society, her religion. There was something more in that kiss in the hallway. It was the answer to all the confusion she had felt the past few weeks. And the answer was something her environment would never, could never accept.

“Mama, please, stop crying, please.”

“Why? Did I not raise you right? What did I do wrong? Have I not been a good mother?” She let everything out. Certain rumors about her daughter had been circulating the school the past few days. And finally that afternoon, she saw it with her own eyes.

“You are not allowed to talk to that girl anymore. I do not want to see you with her or hear about you and that girl together, you understand?” Christine’s mom wiped her tears and composed herself once more. “Do you understand, Christine?”

All Christine could do was nod and go back to her room. How could she have been so careless? In front of her mom! Of everybody!

But it was too late now. Her mom knew and so did the whole school and probably the whole town. Tomorrow at school, she would be branded as an outsider, one of the weirdos. And what hurt was that she couldn’t be with Sam throughout this ordeal.

She ignored June’s inquiring looks and went straight to her bed. June continued to prod her with questions about that afternoon’s event but Christine didn’t have the strength to answer or fight her off. Eventually, she fell asleep while June was left confused about what truly happened.

***

The next few days passed by in a blur. Tina and Liz tried to talk to her but they gave up once they realized Christine wasn’t going to say anything. Marcus was bragging to everyone how he knew all the time that she was a dyke. Christine threw her drink all over him during lunch and shut him up for good. Mr. Ning talked to her after class about teenagers and raging hormones and confusion and how it would end up the good, old natural way in God’s time. She looked at him and wondered how he could say that when he outed himself when he wore that disgusting pink polo shirt and said he “didn’t conform to social norms.” He was part of the weird society himself. He sent her to the principal for saying that to his face.

Christine no longer picked up the papers on the floor when she arrived at their house that week. She went straight to her room, leaving the chore to June, who grumbled about her projects piling up and how cleaning was taking up too much of her study time. Christine locked her and her complaints out of their room.

It almost felt like that week after that Saturday. Christine did everything she could to avoid Sam ever since she arrived back from the capital. And Sam did everything she could to talk to Christine.

Before walking home one afternoon, Christine passed by the girls’ bathroom to check herself in the mirror. It had become a habit to keep herself from breaking down. It was usually just her reflection she saw but Sam’s appeared out of nowhere.

“Stop this, stupid. You’re not helping yourself,” Sam said, sounding serious for once.

Christine turned to go but Sam blocked the doorway.

“Get out of the way Sam. I need to get home,” Christine said in a low voice.

“Not until we talk, Chris. And talk seriously, mind you. You know I rarely talk about feelings and stuff but we need to get this huge elephant out of our syst—”

“I said get out of my fucking way. I don’t want to talk to you.”

Christine swore she saw her soul float up from her mouth and leave her forever as she uttered those words.

Sam stood there, wide-eyed. She had never heard Christine curse before. And yet, even though Sam was surprised, she somehow knew Christine was more stunned at herself than she was. It was the way Christine’s back straightened up when she realized what she just did. Sam reluctantly stepped aside and let Christine through.

***

Mr. Ning was saying how proud he was of all of them and how he would miss them all after Sunday. Christine was hardly listening, feeling the drowsiness brought about by the heat come over her. She bit her lip to keep herself awake and remembered she still needed to get her toga. Mr. Ning was telling them about never forgetting where you’re from or something along those lines. She looked over to where Sam sat and their eyes met. Sam smiled, not the goofy kind, but a warm, consoling one—the one she saw right after that kiss so many Saturdays ago. She looked away and her eyes fell on the crucifix on top of Mr. Ning’s head. Christine gazed at it for a few seconds then folded her arms on the desk and laid her head down, the drone of Mr. Ning’s voice finally lulling her to sleep. ☁

ALLANA LUTA likes stories in all its forms, be it through words, images or sounds. She doesn’t like the “Allana? Wala na!” joke so just stop. You can find her hiding from real life @elivazeth and Living On Avenue Q.

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