A Square Moon
Kara listened to her Chemistry teacher drone on and on about molecules, atoms, and whatever, as if she understood anything that came out of her teacher's mouth. She was more of a Social Studies kind of girl. When it came to Chemistry, she sucked.
Riiiiiiiiing! The school bell signaling recess finally rang. It was her salvation from falling asleep and getting kicked out of class. She stuffed her notebook into her backpack as fast as she could and stood up. Her best friend Mary, who was in the other class, was already waiting for her outside.
"Class, don't go out yet!" Ms. Francisco, her Chemistry teacher, stopped her and her classmates from walking out of the classroom. "Don't forget your assignment. Answer pages 145 to 146."
"Yes, ma'am," they all said in unison, and hurried out of there.
"Hey, Kara," Vincent, her seatmate, called her just before she stepped out of the door.
"What?" she asked, turning around to face him. Her stomach was rumbling from hunger, since she hadn't eaten anything for breakfast.
"Um…" Vincent drifted off. "What was…" he stopped, but his face lighted up and he said, "What was the assignment again?"
"Pages 145 to 146," Kara answered, and before she walked out the door, turned to him and said, "Do you have memory loss or something?"
"No, I just didn't hear it," Vincent said, looking horrified. She smiled at him and walked out the door.
"You are so evil," Mary said, when the two of them were walking along the corridor toward the canteen.
"What?" Kara asked, rolling her eyes.
"Vincent is so crushing on you," Mary said, like she hadn't noticed it. The guy was so obvious, always doing anything he could to talk to her. "And you act like you don't notice. Don't you have any pity for him at all? Maybe you should give him a chance."
"I pity him. That's why I pretend not to notice that he likes me. And…" Kara was rendered unable to finish her sentence, since Neil Cortez just passed in front of her. He turned to look at her, as he walked, with a hint of a smile on his face. She watched him walk away and only then was she able to finish her sentence. "And I'm already in love with someone else."
"Dream on, Kar," Mary said, slapping her on the back of the head. "Math Club president. Honor Roll. CAT officer. Talented artist. Things could actually work out between the two of you… if he knew who you were."
"Have you seen the way he looks at me?" Kara said, holding on to the last thread of hope left inside her.
"Yeah, he's been looking at you like that since freshman year—"
"See?" Kara said, insisting even more. "We're like—"
"Oh my God, Kara. Please don't say it," Mary said, and walked ahead of her, shaking her head. "Please don't say you're—"
"Soul mates?" Kara asked. "You agreed with me. He's been looking at me like that since freshman year and we're juniors now. So, in total, he's been looking at me like that for three years."
"Yeah, but has he actually done anything?" Mary asked, as they entered the canteen and lined up. "You've been looking at each other like lovesick puppies for three years now. You said it yourself, but he's never actually bothered to talk to you or get close to you."
"Maybe he's scared…" Kara said, picking out her choice of food.
"Scared? A guy with his achievements?" Mary said, raising an eyebrow. She picked one from the packs of junk food on the shelf. "Does the name Arianne ring a bell?"
"How could it not?" Kara said sarcastically, glaring at Mary. Arianne was a girl Neil dated when he was in Grade Nine. Arianne was in Grade Ten then. She was one of the prettiest girls in the entire school and was also a ballerina, always dancing at school events.
"Face it, Kar," Mary said, as they sat down on a table, laying down their soft drinks and junk food. "He's graduating in two weeks. He's leaving, and, as much as I hate to break it to you, it's unlikely you'll ever see him again. No more analyzing every single look he gives you."
Kara just kept quiet. Mary was right. Wasn't she always? Getting Neil to fall in love with her was as possible as the fact that the moon was square.
Their adviser walked away after repeating over and over again the importance of their silence that afternoon. The Grade Ten and Grade Nine students were in another symposium at their auditorium about the future, about careers. Every upcoming symposium was always more boring than the one before it. Kara shifted in her wooden seat. It was a relief that she wasn't seated next to Mary. She didn't want to listen to another lecture about Neil, how she should forget him, how those looks he gave her didn't mean anything. She was sure it wasn't going to get her anywhere, but she allowed herself to hope, to believe that maybe… something might actually go right this time.
The symposium hadn't started yet. She looked around, hoping for something interesting to watch during the symposium. She looked around for Neil. He was graduating after all, so she wanted to store up as much as she could about him. She felt close to bawling, when she couldn't find him anywhere. Her seatmate, Jolie, was hunched down on her seat texting someone, probably her hundredth boyfriend. Her seatmate on the left, Bianca, covered her face with her handkerchief and was about to fall asleep.
Then, she heard someone singing behind her. "I don't want you to go. I want you to stay. If I could turn back the time, I'll spend it with you…" It was soft at first, barely audible. It was a voice she could never forget, a voice she had been lucky enough to hear only a few times. "I want you to know, even though you're gone, that I'm drowning in tears. I wish you were here and hear me say... Believe me, I'm sorry."
She turned around, before she could stop herself and think about what she was doing. Even though she knew who was singing, she still couldn't help but feel a mixture of happiness and sadness. Neil was sitting right behind her. It was the perfect goodbye present, even if he didn't know he was giving it to her. Their eyes met for one spectacular moment, and all the noise, all the questions, all the wishes, all the hopes just went away. What was important was he was right there, looking right back at her. He stopped singing.
"Settle down! The symposium is about to begin!" Kara heard their principal's voice from the speakers. She turned around to face the stage. The moment, which seemed to belong in a fairy tale, was over. Neil was going away. That was it. She didn't notice the single tear that rolled down her cheek, as she wondered if what she felt for him was the real thing.
Kara walked to the jeepney stop. She was walking alone, since Mary had to catch a ride somewhere else. She reviewed events in her mind's eye, as she walked, not noticing the stream of people who just passed her by, all in a hurry to be somewhere. She first saw Neil when she was a freshman, and when he was a sophomore. He transferred to her school, as a freshman, and elementary students were in a different building, so she didn't see him until her first year in high school.
She didn't really notice him at first. One day, when she was walking alone on the school grounds, and he was about to go up the stairs, he just stopped moving when he saw her, like he wasn't breathing anymore. He just stood there, one hand on the railing, about climb up the stairs. She just swallowed hard and walked away, without even looking back to see if he was still standing there. If she did look back, she would've seen him slap his forehead and hear him call himself a stupid moron. She thought he was weird, always staring at her, like he wanted to say something, but never actually saying anything. It just happened gradually, and, soon enough, she was staring back at him, returning the same look he always gave her. No words were ever exchanged between them. She had no idea who he was, until she watched a basketball game at an interschool competition for the first time. That was when she found out that he was Neil Cortez, the guy her female classmates always talked about.
He'd look at her, like he wanted to go to her and tell her… what? She didn't know, but she returned the same look, until his junior year, when he and Arianne became a couple. She looked down on the ground, every time he walked by, not wanting to see or analyze again what the look on his face meant. If she did look up, she'd see, she'd understand in a moment, what he was trying to tell her, just one look into his face. He was sorry, but sorry for what?
She reached the jeepney stop. She observed students there, not even bothering to pretend that she wasn't watching them, since they didn't notice her at all. There was one couple, a girl who was in her year and a boy who was in Grade Ten. She scoffed at them. Did she believe his promises that he was going to be faithful to her when he got college? There are tons of pretty and smart girls in college. Mary's words in her head were like an irremovable dagger. Anger welled up inside her, seeing how sweet her schoolmates were. It was unfair. Neil always looked at her, like he felt the same way about her, so why didn't the two of them have a chance? Why not? All they needed was one chance, but many people said it was impossible. But it was possible, right? They could've made it work, but…
The jeepney that she was supposed to ride passed, and she managed to control herself before she started stomping and rolling on the ground shrieking, "Unfair!" She passed her fare to the driver at the front and sat at the very end of the jeepney. She hugged her backpack closer to her, leaned on it, and pretended to be asleep. She felt someone sit down beside her. She didn't look up. Like always, she already knew who it was. He always got on the jeepney, after she started pretending to be asleep. He was near her. She could feel it. It was enough… for now.
Kara walked along the campus. She noticed people giving her strange looks, girls. She had no idea why. She was heading towards the Art Exhibit, which had just been opened. It was held in the Sewing Room of their school, decorated with frilly pastel curtains, and the artistic works of the students from the high school department. She was hoping that maybe Neil had a sketch there or something. His graduation ceremony was in one week. Then, it was all over. She had to forget him, erase every trace of him from her memory. She was about to enter the Sewing Room, when two students stepped out.
"That's her." She heard a student she recognized as an eighth grader, whisper to the student who was walking by her side. That's her? What did that mean? She stepped into the Sewing Room and found herself alone. She looked at every artwork, checking the name of the student who created it, looking for something that Neil had done. She turned around, and, before she saw the name of the artist beside it, she knew it was Neil's. She walked closer to it, feeling like everything around her was just a dream, the sound of footsteps drawing nearer and nearer, the noise of the students passing by, everything.
It wasn't just a sketch, like she had thought. It was a painting… of her. In the painting, she was looking out from a window, staring at the moon. And the moon was shaped like a square…
"Oh, no! You're not supposed to be here yet!" She turned around just in time to see a Grade Ten student bolt from the door and run like rabid wolves were chasing him. She turned back to the painting, unsure of what she was supposed to do. She checked the name of the student who created it just to be sure. There it was. Neil Cortez.
"I didn't know she was coming here," She heard the same voice earlier. "I swear I had no idea. I just checked in here to see if everything was okay, and then—"
"Where is she—" Neil stopped in midsentence, seeing who was standing in front of his painting. Kara. He had waited three years to talk to her, to say just a single word to her. He thought she was too far from his reach, as possible as a square moon. That was what his painting was all about, trying to reach someone unattainable. Kara turned around and faced him. The two of them had no idea what to say.
Thoughts ran through his head. Sophomore year. When he first heard her laugh and thought her different from the rest… Junior year. How she had refused to look at him during his relationship with Arianne… He didn't really care about Arianne. His friends all approved of her, and they had started making fun of him for never having a girlfriend. There was always someone else in his mind, in his heart. He had waited three years for this moment, thinking of the right words to say, the right moment to say them, hoping that it wasn't too late.
"I don't think we've met," he said, stepping closer to her. Allan, his classmate who had called him when he saw Kara at the exhibit, just faded away, so did the paintings, the sketches, the other students who were standing there and had seen his painting of Kara and were just curious. She was the only one left in his vision, standing there, looking at him.
"I'm Neil," he said, the speech he had prepared was long forgotten.
"I'm Kara," she said, and smiled. She was just as he assumed she would be… and more. If things were meant to be, they were meant to be, right? Sometimes you just had to stop relying on fate and do something.