#BookbedFictory 036: ‘All That Matters’

by Celestine Trinidad
This year’s Fictory is in partnership with BRUMULTIVERSE, a fictional multiple universe with dimensions, realms and parallel realities where amazing stories happen. All fics use the prompt: “The Main Character wakes up on the first day of school, late for their classes in a university to which they don’t remember enrolling.”

Content warnings: mentions of death of a parent, descriptions of a cadaver

When Alyssa woke that morning, the first thing she noticed was how warm it was.

She had gone to bed the night before buried underneath her blankets, shivering in the cold, because her roommate, Christie, had turned down the temperature of the air conditioner in their room to its lowest setting. Alyssa thought that in the first place, there was really no need to turn on the aircon anyway, because it was August and the middle of the rainy season already, but Christie was used to having the aircon on at home all the time. On any other day Alyssa would have stood her ground on the matter until she and her roommate reached a compromise, an agreement where both of them would be happy—or miserable. At least it would be fair. But she had other things on her mind that night, and she really didn’t have the energy to argue, so she said nothing.

Maybe it’s a good thing Sam isn’t here, she thought before falling asleep. If he ever finds out about this, I’ll never hear the end of it.

But this only brought a weird twinge of pain in her chest, instead of bringing relief.

Right now, though, it was actually quite warm. Maybe Christie had noticed that she was cold, so she decided on her own to spare her roommate. Well, that was nice of her—

Alyssa stared at her surroundings. She closed her eyes, and opened them again. She rubbed her eyes. But even after she did all this, nothing changed.

She wasn’t in her dorm room in the University of Saint Rita, the medical school in Manila she was supposed to be attending that year. Christie wasn’t there in the room, and her roommate’s bed was nowhere to be found, too. Alyssa’s bed was different, too. It was a little bit bigger, and the mattress and pillows were softer, somehow, more comfortable. Her bed sheets and pillows, instead of the white and gray ones she had brought from home, were now a bright shade of fuchsia pink, her favorite shade. 

She looked down at herself. Well, she was still wearing her pajamas from last night, at least. She got up and walked over to the study table at the corner of the room. Her laptop was still on it, but there was now a book shelf above the table, filled with textbooks. Wheater’s Functional Histology. Gray’s Anatomy. Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology. She counted them, running the spines under the tip of her index finger. All her new Medicine textbooks were still there, but she knew she had piled them onto a small stack on the floor beside her desk last night, because she was pretty sure her room didn’t have a bookshelf just the night prior.

She made her way towards the window, pulled open the curtains—which were the same shade of pink as her bed sheets—and sunlight came streaming in. Outside were trees—acacia, narra, calachuchi. She could also hear the twittering of birds. This really wasn’t what she remembered the view was like outside of her room, because all she could see outside their window before was the street and a couple of other apartment buildings. 

She closed the curtains, and went over to the door. It opened to a hallway, with doors on each side. A few other female students were lingering in the halls, and some of those who passed her by stared at her. They were wearing uniforms, but it wasn’t the all-white uniform of St. Rita Med; this instead consisted of a white blouse, a blue tie and a blue checkered skirt of a similar shade, and over that was a dark blue jacket. 

She returned inside, and threw her closet door open. Inside, mixed with her other clothes, were several sets of the same uniform. Hanging on a hook on the door was her ID.

She peered closely at it. It still did say Allisana Ferrer Silvano, Medicine, MD-PhD in Molecular Science. Her photo was still the same. But now, instead of University of Saint Rita Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, it now said: Berkeley-Reagan University College of Medicine.

Berkeley-Reagan University? She had never heard of this school before; much less remember enrolling in it. And the address on her ID said it was located in Taguig. St. Rita was supposed to be in Manila.

What in the world was going on?

She took her phone, and opened her planner app. She still had the same subjects on her schedule, but there were key differences from what she remembered putting into the app a few days before. Instead of Physiology at 8 a.m., her first class was now Biochemistry…

At 7 a.m.

She glanced at the wall clock above her door.

It was already 6:58 a.m.

“Oh shit,” she blurted out, because after everything that had already happened that morning, this was by far the worst of it. 

Well, her first day in med school was certainly off to a great start. 

* * *

She managed to shower in under ten minutes (which certainly was record time for her), brush her hair, and apply BB cream on her face and tinted lip balm to her lips. Then she made a run for it. Her first class was in the building across the dorms, in Gumamela Hall. At least, that was what she could figure out from the school website.

Maybe this was a dream, she thought. Maybe it was just like one of those anxiety dreams she had sometimes, where she was late for class, but when she finally arrived in her classroom, she would realize she was completely naked. Well, going to class without her usual makeup was equivalent to being half-naked (she didn’t even have time to fix her eyebrows, the horror!), so maybe this was really all just a dream.

But the dream didn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, so she kept running.

When she reached the room of her first class, she saw that the only door to it was already closed. She glanced at her watch. She was already fifteen minutes late. She had to go in, though, so it looked like she had no choice but to disrupt the class. 

She took a deep breath and reached for the doorknob—

At the same time someone else did. 

“Ah, sorry!” she cried out, letting go of the person’s hand at once. “You go ahead—”

“Alyssa?”

She looked up at the one who spoke, and seeing who it was, she felt her heart lift.

“Is this for real?” Samuelson Rivera said, his gray eyes wide. His light brown hair hung over his face in messy waves, as they usually did when he didn’t have time to put gel on it. Which was, honestly, all of the time, because he was always running late. 

“Sam,” Alyssa said. “Oh my God, I’m so glad you’re here. Why—”

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” Sam breathed. “Alyssa Silvano, actually late for a class?” 

She blinked at him. “Oh,” she said. “So you’re not surprised I’m here?”

“Huh?” He frowned at this. “Why would I be? We’re classmates.”

“We…we are?”

His eyebrows furrowed. “Hey. Are you okay?” He leaned towards her, peering closely at her face. “Hmm. You didn’t have time to do your eyebrows. That bad, huh? So that’s why you didn’t call me this morning. You must have had a really rough night.”

Alyssa turned away, putting her hands on her forehead to hide her eyebrows. “Shut it, Sam,” she said. Her earlier feeling of relief at seeing him switched to something she was more familiar with: annoyance. “We don’t have time for this. Let’s just go to class.” She reached for the door again.

“Wait.” Sam laid a hand on her arm, gently. “Was it because of…that?”

“What do you mean?”

“The lab session later,” he said. “In Anatomy.”

“What? No.” Her eyes widened, because she did have to admit, she had forgotten all about that. She shook her head, but now that he had mentioned it, that familiar knot in the pit of her stomach had reappeared, and she suddenly felt cold all over. 

“I’m not worried about it,” she said. “Really.”

Sam was still frowning at her, but he let go of her arm. 

Alyssa opened the door, keeping her eyes focused in front. She hoped he wouldn’t ask her any more questions, because she really didn’t have any answers, herself.

* * *

Everyone kept saying that Sam was her best friend, but Alyssa had always disagreed. Sure, they had known each other all their lives, for their families lived next door to each other. His late mother and Alyssa’s mom had been best friends since high school, and they had even gotten pregnant with Alyssa and Sam around the same time.  They had never once left Zamboanga City, their hometown. They went to the same kindergarten, grade school, high school, and college. 

Okay, maybe she was his best friend.

But he was honestly the most annoying, most infuriating, person she had ever known.

He was flippant, lazy, and he was perpetually late for everything. If it wasn’t for Alyssa calling him every morning, he would never make it to class on time. He often fell asleep in the middle of class, in church, during parties; he would even fall asleep in the middle of conversations with her.

Even awake, though, he was still annoying, for his favorite pastime was teasing Alyssa and playing pranks on her. On their very first day in elementary school, he taped an air horn to her chair so when she sat on it, the sound made everyone jump, even their teacher. He hid plastic cockroaches inside her things, which always, always freaked her out whenever she found them.

In turn, her favorite pastime was to scold him about his failings. She always had a ready retort whenever he teased her, and she made sure she had the last word. Admittedly, she bossed him around all the time, because she found that no matter how much he grumbled and complained about it (Alyssa “Slave Driver” Silvano was one of his nicknames for her), he always did what she asked him to.

Despite everything, they still stuck with each other through the years. They had many other friends and dated other people, and moved in different circles, but they still ended up with each other, somehow. They commuted to and from school together. They talked for hours on the phone, studied in each other’s houses during hell weeks, and gave each other advice. During his mother’s illness, she took turns with him at the hospital. She also stayed up with him during her wake, and stayed by his side during the funeral.

But for the first time in years, because of med school, they were supposed to finally be apart from each other. She had enrolled in St. Rita for their MD-PhD in Molecular Science track, while he stayed in Universidad Catolica for their MD-MPh track. They had no choice, because no other schools offered these tracks.

But this was not true, apparently, because they were here now, in this strange school. 

They now sat eating lunch in the university’s mess hall, and he was going on about a game he was playing, which she would usually be interested in, but this time she wasn’t listening. She was busy reading about Berkeley-Reagan University on her phone. 

“It says this school was founded in 1951,” she said, absently picking at her food while reading. “It’s weird why we’ve never heard of it until now.”

“Huh? What are you going on about?” He was staring at her now, slack-jawed.

“This university,” she said. “Berkeley-Reagan.”

Sam still looked bewildered. “You’re talking about BRU?” He pronounced the letters together, then amended, “Okay, sorry. B-R-U. You’re going to tell me off about that again.” His frown deepened. “What do you mean we’ve never heard about it before? It’s one of the premier universities in the country, and the only one that has both double degrees we want. Getting into this university was all we could talk about the past two years, because otherwise we’d have gone to different schools to get the track we wanted.”

“Uh, yeah,” Alyssa said. She avoided his eyes. “Right.”

“Are you sure you’re okay? Do you want to take a nap first, or—” 

“No. It’s fine.” Alyssa glanced at her watch. “Class is starting soon. Let’s go.”

He rolled his eyes heavenward. “We still have fifteen minutes. Why are you always in a hurry?” But he got up, and took both their trays and deposited them on the cart in the middle of the mess hall. They went out of the hall and rode an e-jeep back to the Calachuchi Building, where the laboratory classes for Medicine were going to be held. 

It took her some minutes to realize that he was silent during their ride back to the building, for she was deep in thought as well. She looked up at him, and found that he was looking at her, that expression of concern still on his face.

She looked away. She kept her eyes on the floor as she said, “Sam, I’m fine, okay.”

He didn’t say anything as they got down from the jeep. When they reached the entrance to the building, he stopped before the door, and looked back at her.

 “Hey,” he said. “Do me a favor. If you’re feeling faint later or something, tell me, okay?”

“Nothing’s going to happen.” She pressed her lips into a thin line. 

“Alyssa.” His tone was still gentle, but it was firm, and brooked no argument. “I mean it. Tell me when you do. You might faint again.”

“I’m not going to, okay—”

“I know, I know, maybe you won’t.” He held up his hands. “But if you ever do, I want to be there to catch you. Okay?”

She stared at him, her eyes wide. She felt heat rising up her cheeks.

“I don’t want you to hit your head again,” he said. He put a hand on her shoulder. “Promise me, Alyssa.”

She finally nodded. “Fine,” she said. “But…you don’t need to care so much about me.”

He only replied to that when they were already standing right outside the Anatomy laboratory, just as the bell was ringing. He said it so softly, that she almost didn’t catch it.

“I know I don’t need to,” he murmured. “But I do.” 

His lips turned up in a smile—not a teasing one, as was his usual, but a gentle, sincere smile. “You know I always do.”

She looked away, still feeling the warmth on her cheeks, and now her heart was racing, as well.

* * *

When they entered the laboratory, the smell was the first thing she braced herself against.

The pungent smell of formaldehyde pervaded the air, and it was a smell she was familiar with because of their Biology classes in pre-Med. But it was mixed with something else, a more familiar smell, and actually kind of pleasant—mint, she realized. She took a deep breath. Maybe because the bodies were preserved this time, she would be fine. Maybe there wouldn’t be that smell again—

And it hit her.

That smell, like raw meat.

Celestine Trinidad is a licensed physician (particularly, a pathologist) based in the Philippines. In her spare time, she writes fiction of various genres, including speculative fiction, romance, crime, young adult, and children’s short stories.
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One response to “#BookbedFictory 036: ‘All That Matters’”

  1. […] Reader’s choice: All That Matters by Celestine Trinidad […]

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