I stared at myself in the mirror, holding my left shoulder. I had only gotten an hour's worth of sleep, but I knew full well that I should remember where I got that wound.
The mark on my shoulder was a small red line, ending in two points – a perfect line segment. My face was paler than usual, and the skin inside my eye sockets was almost white. It was bad enough that I was pale because of an iron deficiency, but not getting much sleep just made me look dead.
I thought about the night before, and groaned inwardly. How much did I have to drink? He was much taller than I, so it was awkward dancing with him. Was it the booze? Or the conversation? I wouldn't have danced with him like that otherwise. But I couldn't remember.
I could feel myself blushing at the thought of him, but the girl in the mirror stayed pasty-white. I stared at the gash on my shoulder. It was on exactly the same spot where his lips had brushed against my skin while we were dancing. My knees grew weak, but it was hard to tell whether it was him or the lack of sleep.
Stepping into the shower, I turned the water on without the heater. I was greeted by the welcome cold water splashing in little drops all over me, waking me up. Hello to the morning after.
Uneventful, to say the most. I woke up at 4 am, went back to sleep at 5 after taking a walk, and then woke up again at 6 pm.
What a sad thing it is to live alone. Back in the province, my siblings would all be jumping on my bed by 10 am, screaming, "Ate! Pancakes!" But here in the city, I stay in my own apartment, and there is nobody here to keep me from my Sleeping-Beauty tendencies. I'd sleep all my life if I could.
The city, for all its dark corners and neon lights, poverty and "culture", holds no real interest for me, except at night, when most places are closed. The number of cars on the road can be counted on one hand, and even the shadiest people have gone to sleep. As a lone pedestrian nervously makes his way along the streets, and the eerie silence of abandonment is all that remains, I find beauty in the city.
My body clock has gotten screwed. This is how partying has taken its toll on me – I get a funny red wound on my shoulder and I can no longer keep my eyes open during daylight hours.
While trying to stay awake during lunch break, I suddenly recalled a little more from that night at the party.
We had dinner at the same table. That's how we met. And then we got to talking. I told him about school and my friends, and he told me about his grandmother. Strange, the way he talked about her; it was as if he were talking about his sister and not his grandmother. But he showed me her picture in his wallet. He was only my age, too young to have a sister with wrinkles and a head full of white hair.
I remembered him noticing the necklace I was wearing, which used to belong to my grandmother. He had observed that it was old and I told him that my grandmother had found it in the baul, along with her grandmother's belongings.
After that, he had asked me to dance. He took my hand and led me to the dance floor, and the longer we danced, the closer we got.
I tried to remember more of it, but then I grew dizzy. My heart started beating faster and faster, and I couldn't seem to catch my breath. What was happening to me? I was feeling nauseous and there didn't seem to be enough air for me to breathe. I needed oxygen.
Luckily, my friends were not facing my direction, so they didn't notice.
My pants either shrank, or I grew a whole inch taller in five days. Either way, it was weird. I wore them low on my hips so that the difference in my height wouldn't be so obvious. My friends noticed anyway. They all thought I was wearing heels, even if I was in flats. The height thing wasn't all they noticed.
"Ceci, are you in heels?" Ana asked me during our lunch break. We were the same height before, so she was the first to notice.
"No," I replied, showing her my feet. "Bakit?"
"You seem taller," she said. Then she turned to Rob, who was sitting beside her. "Diba, Rob? Doesn't Ceci seem taller to you?"
Rob, who was a six-footer, stood up and put his left hand just below his shoulder and inched toward me. "Hanggang dito ka dati," he said, pointing to his left hand. I stood next to him, and he moved his hand out to my head. My head was higher than his hand. "Yeah, you did grow."
Marla was standing behind us and joined in. "You do look different, Ceci," she chimed in. "You're so pale –paler than usual anyway. Are you okay?"
I nodded. Marla put her hand on my head to check my temperature. "You're kind of cold, too."
Why were they picking on me? "Guys," I said shrugging them off. "I'm fine. Quit noticing every little thing."
Then I started getting dizzy again. I sank into my chair quietly and pretended to just be PMS-ing. My friends continued chatting, and I stayed a little way off from them. My heart was beating so fast and I was running out of oxygen again. Everything around me seemed to slow down. I couldn't hear things very well at first, and then I could hear everything all at once, to the point that it was deafening. I plugged my earphones into my ears but didn't turn my mp3 player on. It helped a little with the sound, but there was still a buzzing in my ears.
All of a sudden, there was a hand on my shoulder. Ana was bent over me, her face distorted with worry. Ralph, one of our other friends, appeared at her side, and put a plate of siomai in front of me. "Eat," he told me.
I looked at the food in front of me as its smell floated into my nostrils. The salty soy sauce scent mingled with the damp smell of the dumpling. Normally, it smelled good to me. Today, I all but gagged.
I closed my eyes, but even so, I could tell my friends were exchanging worried glances. And then I smelled it. Dinuguan. My eyes opened and I looked at Marla, who was dipping a bite-sized rice cake into the black blood sauce of the pork. She saw me looking at her food and held the bowl out in front of her. "Want some?" she asked.
Nodding, I got up from my seat and walked over to her. I was still dizzy, but she was near enough to walk to easily. She fed me a spoonful of pork and rice cake, and it made me feel slightly better. I went back to my seat and sat down. After a few minutes, my breathing had returned to normal, and the sounds around me didn't seem so loud anymore.
P.E. was much easier today than it had ever been. For the first time ever, I made good time in the five-kilometer run. In fact, I came first. This never happened to me. I had already accepted the fact that I never inherited the athletic gene in my family. I was clumsy and had no aptitude for sports, aside from having asthma. I couldn't catch a ball, I ran slow and always tripped, and in kindergarten, I couldn't hold onto the monkey bars as long the other kids could.
In the girls' locker room, while we were changing out of our P.E. uniforms, Ana was going on and on about it. "When did you learn to run so fast?" she said breathlessly, still panting from her run. "You didn't even break a sweat. Look at you! Nakakainis ka!"
She went on like this the whole time, and I just laughed. It was strange though, because as I was listening to her, I was listening in on the conversation of the girls on the other side of the room at the same time.
"I can't believe I fell for it!" the first girl whined. Her voice was naturally nasal, and this made her whining even more unpleasant to the ear. Whiny-the-Hoo(chie).
"It's not your fault, sweetie," the second girl said, trying to comfort her friend. "How were you supposed to guess he was a heartless dickhead when you'd already had four Weng-wengs?" Bitter-much?
"Was it that bad?" the third girl asked. Clueless.
"He said he loved me!" Whiny cried.
"He said he loved your butt," Bitter-much replied. "That isn't the same thing."
"Oh my gosh!" Clueless exclaimed. "What a chauvinist pig! Oh honey, what were you thinking?"
"She wasn't," Bitter-much muttered.
"I was drunk, okay?" Whiny answered. "But even before all the drinks, he was really sweet. And he's cute, too. And he said he was close to his lola."
I stopped listening at that point. I continued listening to Ana, but in my head I was desperately hoping the three girls weren't talking about him.
I finished changing and waited for a pause in Ana's spiel. Then I excused myself and went to the sink to wash my hands. But I was really trying to overhear the conversation of the three girls again, because their spot was near the sink. I could even see them in the mirror. I pretended to wash my hands and fix my hair while I listened in.
"He was such a smooth talker pa," Whiny said, loud enough for the entire locker room to hear.
"Look, lesson learned," Bitter-much replied. "Never go out drinking with someone you don't know."
"You're just lucky he didn't really try anything with you," Clueless said, patting Whiny on the back.
"Well, he couldn't," Bitter-much said, and then she turned to Whiny. "You got pretty sick right after…"
"I know," Whiny sighed. "It was so weird. I got so dizzy —and not drunk-dizzy— parang nagdonate ako ng dugo. But you know I just feel so bad na I saw him getting really touchy with another girl last weekend. Ugh, Justin, I hate you!"
Justin! Yes, that was his name!
"Well, it's not like you have to see him ever again," Clueless said.
"Oh yes she does," Bitter-much answered. "He studies here, too."
Oh shit. That meant there was still a chance of seeing him. I could feel the imminence of an awkward moment.
"Hey," Clueless said, pointing at Whiny's neck. "What a weird hicky. It's like he actually bit you."
I looked up from the sink. On Whiny's neck, there was a small wound identical to the one on my shoulder.
"I don't think it's a hicky," Whiny said. "And I don't remember him biting me."
My hand automatically went to my shoulder. The little wound was healing slowly, but it was still there. I didn't remember him biting me either.
In the middle of History class, my mind began to wander. Goodness, could there be a more boring subject? Instead of paying attention, I kept thinking about the conversation I had overheard in the locker room the day before and everything else that had happened after.
When Ana and I came out of the locker room and were making our way to our next class, several of the boys playing basketball in the gym stopped. They were all looking at us. It wasn't strange that the boys would be staring at Ana, who was a total heartthrob, especially in school, but then Ana turned to me and whispered, giggling, "Ceci, they're all staring at you."
I rolled my eyes and said, "Duh, Ana. Not me. You." And to prove my point, I stopped to retie my shoelace while she walked a little way ahead. Unfortunately, only a few eyes remained on Ana. What on earth?
At that thought, my focus returned to my History class, but only long enough to answer one of the teacher's questions. I started thinking about Justin and what happened last Friday: We ate dinner and talked. Yes, that's been established. Then we danced. But what happened while we were dancing?
I stared out the window. Downstairs, there was someone listening to a radio. The song playing sounded familiar…
And in a sudden rush of thought, memories from that night returned to me. We were dancing, his hands were around my waist, and my arms were around his neck. We danced closer and closer. Soon, his hands were traveling up and down my back and my hands were running through his hair. Our faces lingered dangerously close to each other's, but there was no kiss up until the song ended. After that we made our way to the bar and he bought me a funny drink…
There was a crash and I snapped out of my trance. The projector screen had gotten unfastened and had rolled back up with a crack. Some people jumped in their seats. Their minds had probably been elsewhere as well.
The teacher rushed to the screen to pull it back down, and my eyes wandered over to the door. Out in the hallway stood Justin himself, grinning at me from outside the door.
I began to get dizzy. My stomach churned inside me, my heartbeat quickened its pace; the air seemed to escape my lungs faster than I could inhale. My vision blurred and I could no longer see him standing outside. Not knowing what else to do, I excused myself and hurried out of the classroom.
Justin caught my arm as I went past him, so I had to stop.
"Please," I gasped. "Let go."
Somehow, he wasn't alarmed by my panting and wheezing. He held a hand up in front of him and spoke. "Hold your breath."
Nodding, I did as he suggested, and in a few seconds, I felt a little better. "What are you doing here?" I asked once my breathing had gone back to normal.
"I figured you might need this," he replied, handing me a small thermos.
I took the thermos, but I didn't understand. "I don't get it," I said, eyeing him carefully. What was he trying to pull? He only shrugged. "Look," I told him, putting on my "You-ain't-messing-with-me-boy" look. "I'm not playing games. I've heard about you. You like to take girls out, have a little fun, tell them what they want to hear, and when you're done with them, you forget about them. Am I right?"
"It's more complicated than that," he said. "Makikita mo rin."
What the hell was he going on about?
Then he glanced down at my shoulder (I was in a tank top, so my shoulders were bare) and grinned again. "Interesting scratch, don't you think?"
Before I could answer, the bell rang and he ran down the stairs.
After deciding that whatever it was in the thermos he gave me wasn't poisoned, I took a sip of it. I couldn't tell what it was, but there was a lot of cherry flavoring trying to mask its real taste. There was something metallic about it, like blood. Maybe the material the thermos was made of was affecting the drink.
The drink wasn't exactly my kind of thing, but for some reason, I couldn't stop drinking it. It seemed to quench a thirst that even water couldn't.
I didn't go to lunch with my friends like I usually did. Instead, I decided to go back to my apartment and take the rest of the day off. Something was wrong with me.
I stepped into the elevator and on the way up to my floor was joined by a cute junior I always saw in school. I could tell he was looking at me in the reflection on the elevator's metal doors. I didn't get it. Why were they all staring at me like that? I looked no different than I did the week before, and nobody had noticed me then. It felt nice to be noticed, though. Especially when the cutest guys were noticing me now. I stared right back at him in the reflection.
"Hi," I said. What the—where the hell did I get the guts to do that? Speak to him? What? Why? And still, I couldn't stop myself. "Cecilia," I said, holding my hand out in front of me.
He faced me and shook my hand. "I'm Mark," he said, smiling. "Nice to meet you." He looked good enough to eat.
"Do you live here?" I asked, still unable to control what I was saying. What, did I contract Tourette syndrome or something? I could feel my face smiling, and my eyes looking at him as if I wanted him. I did, but where was my sense of decorum? What happened to my Catholic school education? I mean, I was flirting like there was no tomorrow, and I wasn't even doing it on purpose!
"Yeah," he answered. "I'm in 10D. You?"
"9C," I replied, (to my horror) with no hesitation. But that wasn't all. The elevator arrived at my floor and I went even further before I stepped out. "Come visit me some time."
He grinned triumphantly, knowing what I had meant. If only I knew what I was talking about!
Once the elevator doors had shut, I hurried into my apartment and locked the door. My head ached and I was beginning to get dizzy again, so I took a sip from Justin's thermos. I didn't care if it was going to give me Tetanus —it was the only thing that made the dizziness disappear for long.
I went to face myself in the mirror and realized what everyone in school had seen. My face was still pale, but the acne had cleared up. My skin was taut and smooth, and even my eye bags had disappeared. My eyelashes seemed longer, my eyebrows neater and more defined. The mop of hair on my head was still messy, but it still looked styled. I opened my mouth and bared my teeth; the coffee and tobacco stains were gone, and I no longer needed to get braces. But the most noticeable thing was my lips: they were a dark red color, like I was wearing lipstick.
Who was that, staring at me in the mirror? It definitely wasn't me; I didn't look like that. And I wouldn't have acted the way I did just minutes earlier. I wasn't a flirt. I would have never invited a guy up to my apartment, not for whatever it was my invitation had implied, anyway.
Hating myself, I flopped onto my bed and closed my eyes. This was all Justin's fault. I wasn't sure how. I just knew he had something to do with all the weirdness going on with me this week. I worried about this until I had fallen asleep.
I didn't go to school. I simply did not feel like it, and something in me told me I wasn't going to need to put in much effort into school anymore. I got up and went around my apartment, tidying here and there. By around noon, I realized I was hungry. I rummaged in the refrigerator and found a steak.
I mixed up some marinade and brushed it lightly onto the meat, not wanting it to keep the bloody flavor from getting masked. As I was frying the meat, I realized that I had never liked my steak rare before.
Shrugging it off, I put the steak on a plate and dug in. Halfway through my meal, the doorbell rang.
After wiping my mouth with a napkin, I answered the door. Justin, the cause of my freakish week, was standing right in front of it.
"Hey, Ceci," he said with a grin, his teeth flashing. Was it just me or were his canines sharper than most?
He stepped inside without an invitation and shut the door behind him. For some reason, part of me was afraid of him, but the rest of me was glad he was there.
We stared at each other silently for a few moments. He seemed to be looking for something as he peered at me, his hand on his chin. Then he stepped forward and looked at my shoulder. "It's gone," he said quietly.
Then all of a sudden we were kissing violently. My mind was screaming "What are you doing, Ceci, you idiot! Get him off you!" but I paid no attention to it. I was letting my instincts take control of me. But then he pulled away, sniffing the air.
"Steak?" he asked, looking at the half-eaten meal in the kitchen. He let go of me and took the plate, throwing its contents into the garbage bin. "You deserve better," he said.
What in the world was he going on about?
"When I saw your necklace," he said, leaning against the wall. "I knew you were right for this."
This? Why, what was this? I shook my head and told him, "Ano? I don't understand."
He did not say anything. He went up to me, held my chin up, and bit my neck. It did not hurt me, though his teeth had punctured my skin. Only then did I realize what he was. My eyes darted to his empty thermos lying in the sink.
"The drink at the bar?" I asked. "And in the thermos?"
He nodded, holding out his right arm, showing me a long, pale scar. "Regular drinks mixed with a little of my blood. It didn't take too long for you to turn; your lola's lola must have been one of us. Some makers give their children tokens, and your necklace is one of them. The woman who turned me has one of her own."
It did make sense. My great-great grandmother had disappeared for a while after my great-great grandfather's death. My lola did tell me that when her lola had come back, she was wearing the necklace, and seemed stronger and younger than she had before she left. Then there was the picture in his wallet. Maybe that was his sister. Even the whole Whiny bit made sense.
"No wonder you go out at night," I said, more to myself than to him. "You're not picking up girls, you're –"
Just then, there was a knock on the door. "Who is it?" I called out.
The voice on the other side of the door answered, "Mark."
Justin turned and stuck his leg out the fire escape. "I'll be going now. Bon apetit."