Jaded black eyes stared tiredly at the people walking all around him inside the coffee shop. A half-empty mug of coffee was placed beside an open red notebook. There were scattered pens, books, and papers all over the table. The owner of the red notebook tapped his fingers on the table, trying to block out the senseless noise he was hearing from the other café patrons.
“I’m worried about Tansy,” a boy said while balancing books in his hands.
“Yeah, me too, I want to help her,” a girl with short hair responded as she walked in front of her friend.
Aloe, a university student, could only sigh deeply and gaze contemptuously at his peers as they passed by him and went out of the establishment. The bell rang signaling the opening and closing of the door. He shook his head and tried to focus on his readings. He was struggling to understand some of the fancy terms in Latin while trying hard not to cringe at the thought of being called in class for the particular topic.
“Yo. Why the long face?” an amused voice disrupted Aloe’s thoughts.
Aloe turned his head and found his friend, standing right behind him with a mug in his hand and looking over the messy table. Aloe craned his neck to look at his blonde-haired friend.
“What? You’re not used to my resting bitch face yet?” Aloe smiled wryly as he waited for his friend to sit across him. Peter hummed as he sat comfortably on the cushioned chair.
“You heard them talking about Tansy?” Peter nonchalantly asked while sipping from his own drink, and the steam from the coffee slightly fogged up the eyeglasses he was wearing. Behind the spectacles, blue eyes peered curiously at Aloe.
“Yeah, I did,” Aloe said in a resigned voice, he ran a hand through his black messy hair.
Silence reigned over the two of them as they were left to their own thoughts. Aloe took comfort in the quietness where he could hear no lies and insincere words. Peter was one of the people Aloe was comfortable with, as the latter was one of the rare people who the former got along with.
The silence was broken when Peter spoke out loud.
“Sometimes, I think you see too much.”
“Do I?” Aloe pretended not to know what Peter was talking about.
“I dunno, do you?” Peter tilted his head at Aloe.
Aloe laughed bitterly. The words spoken by his friend were so near yet so far to the truth of his obscure ability. “No, I don’t. I can’t even find what I’m looking for.”
The two friends went back to studying while pretending to be ordinary students without an ounce of drama in their lives. The rustling of the papers and the scribbling of the pens were the only sound coming from their table.
Moments later, Aloe could feel Peter’s stare. Peter was fidgeting in his seat.
“Nope, not a good idea,” Aloe mentioned offhandedly, continuously writing on his notebook.
“But I haven’t even said anything yet!” Peter exclaimed.
“I just felt like saying it, besides, all of your ideas are stupid by default,” Aloe smirked.
“Hey!” Peter slammed his hand on the table. The other customers shot them nasty looks for the noise. Peter bashfully scratched his blond hair and waved apologetically at them.
Aloe just snickered at his friend.
The next day at the university, the mundane academic life consumed its occupants. Students and professors alike wandering about, ready to face the day filled with lessons.
Aloe walked briskly towards his classroom, noting that he was already late but it didn’t matter. The professor was late as always. Black eyes silently scanned the room as he observed his classmates and hated himself for it. His classmates often steered clear of him, perhaps because he was too frank. Either way he didn’t care.
Aloe proceeded to walk to the back of the classroom where he found Peter chatting with their other classmates.
“Good morning!” Peter greeted with enthusiasm, his hands frantically waving in the air. Aloe could only shake his head at his friend’s antics. “Tone down the brightness, and stop shitting rainbows please.”
“Somebody is cranky. Forgot your meds today?” Peter teased while waiting for Aloe to finish setting his things down on the table. Loud laughter distracted the two males, both of them turned their heads at the boisterous sounds coming from their classmates from the front. Amidst the cheerful banter, a person stood out from the crowd.
“Hey Tansy, you look sick, are you ok?” One of their classmates asked with concern in his voice, Aloe recognized the male as the one he saw in the cafe.
“Yeah,” Tansy she blandly replied at her classmates as she tucked her red hair behind her ears. There were dark circles around her green eyes.
Aloe took a deep breath and turned his head away from the scene. He was getting exhausted so easily nowadays. He blinked rapidly when he noticed two hands waving in front of him.
“Hello, earth to Aloe. Hi. Hello. Hey that rhymes,” Peter joked jovially, his blue eyes looking at Aloe. Before he could reply, the door opened which caused the noise to die down, and all the students simultaneously stood up.
The professor walked in, heels clacking against the floor.
She stopped in front of the teacher’s table and placed her bag on the table. She waved her right hand gracefully. The students sat down and waited for their imminent fate.
“Good morning,” she greeted the class, “So, let’s begin with the next topic,”
She retrieved a bundle of yellow cards in her bag. Eyes carefully followed her hands as she shuffled them.
There was tension in the room. Most of the people anticipating on who would be called. Aloe observed with indifference. Before the professor could call out the name on the card she finally picked, Aloe elbowed Peter.
Blue eyes glared at Aloe for his actions. “What–“
“Peter,” the professor called out. Stunned, Peter slowly stood up from his seat. “Yes ma’am?”
The long time battle between the students and professor began. Almost all of them sincerely praying they be spared for the day. Hours felt like years for the students, waiting for the clock to turn faster.
Chris, one of the active members of their class, was called next for recitation. He stood confidently, his brown eyes stared bravely at his professor as he answered fluidly.
“Good job Chrysanthemum,” their professor, knowing that Chris disliked his full name, teased him.
“Thanks ma’am,” Chris scratched the back his brown cropped hair, a sign of his awkwardness.
Unfortunately for Tansy, she was the next one chosen to parry the questions of their professor. Aloe took note of Tansy’s fidgeting form as she sat in front near the teacher’s table.
“Ma’am, a-according to article 19, uhm,“ She stuttered as her hands were flipping her notes rapidly. She kept on going though, despite her apparent desire to stop. The glaring difference between Chris’s performance and Tansy’ own performance made it worse for her.
“Tansy, please sit down,” Tansy could only nod meekly and sit slowly in her seat.
Aloe furtively glanced around the room, and clenched his hands when one of his classmates whispered to one another. “It’s none of my business, none,” Aloe convinced himself.
Class was almost over to the relief of the people. Aloe was already arranging his things before the bell rang.
“I’ll see you next meeting,” their professor announced, gathering the class cards in her hands. “Tansy, please see me in my office,” she said gently to the girl who was slightly shaking. She walked out of the room as the students fixed their things to go home.
Within minutes, the room was almost empty leaving only Aloe, Peter, and a handful of students. The pair that Aloe previously saw in the café were talking loudly near the exit of the room. They were subtly looking at Tansy who was sitting alone dejectedly in her chair. Aloe rolled his eyes, he was sick of seeing and hearing them everywhere.
“Worrying does nothing, why don’t you try to give a helpful advice instead of just, “describing the situation” according to your terms,” Aloe casually directed at the short-haired girl as he walked outside the door, looking at them at the corner of his black eyes. He left his classmates dumbfounded and confused.
“What was that about?” Peter asked Aloe. Peter looked back at his classmates who were suddenly quiet and staring at Aloe with trepidation, while the cause of their unease was just sauntering away and unfazed by what just happened.
“Nothing. Just pointing out inconsistencies,” Aloe shrugged.
“Uh, didn’t you just do the same? Giving useless advice?” Peter poked Aloe.
“I’m pained that you call my advice useless,” Aloe placed a hand on his heart in faux hurt.
“Well, it was unsolicited,” Peter remarked, he was getting used to Aloe’s strangeness. Aloe snorted and just continued walking while Peter cheerfully followed.
Left alone in their room was the red-haired girl.
Tansy stared blankly into space, her red bangs partially covering her green eyes. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. The ringing in her ears still haven’t subsided.
She sluggishly fixed her things, and prepared to go to her professor’s room. She checked her phone. She read a message from her brother which made her grimace. She could feel the tears prickling her eyes.
She stepped out to the corridor and slowly walked towards the room of her professor. She hesitated when she arrived at the door with the sign of her professor’s name. She was about to knock when the door suddenly opened.
“Oh, Tansy, come in,” the kind professor ushered her in. “Please, sit.”
Tansy did what she was told, and sat on the chair in front of her professor’s desk while placing her bag beside her on the floor.
“Tansy, I’m sorry to say this, but you’re not doing well in my class right now,” her professor gently told Tansy, she was looking at Tansy’s class card. “I also noticed you’re failing in your other classes.”
The young girl stayed quiet, and refused to make eye contact.
“You have to keep your grades up if you want to stay in this college,” her professor appraised the student in front of her.
“Yes, ma’am,” Tansy politely answered, her hands clasped together, laying on her lap.
“Do you have any problems understanding the lesson? Problems at home?” Her professor prodded.
Tansy fiddled with her hands harder at the mention of home. She answered in the negative to all her professor’s questions. Tansy glanced at her professor.
“I’ll do my best, I’m just,” Tansy’s voice broke as she struggled to find the words to express herself. “I’ll do my best,” she repeated weakly.
“Tansy, if you have any problems, please don’t be shy and just approach me.”
Tansy nodded, and stiffly stood up. “Thank you ma’am,” She bowed and bid farewell to her professor while picking up her bag. Her green eyes were glossy.
She hurriedly walked out of the stifling room and almost ran into the restroom. Luckily, there was nobody else in the place. She locked the door. She tried to control her breathing. Her ears were ringing and her chest hurt badly from the rapid beating of her heart.
She covered her mouth as she stifled her sobs. Her whole body was shaking violently.
“I want to die, but I can’t,” Tansy miserably whispered to herself. “How pathetic is that,”
Moments have passed before her breathing gradually slowed down. She finally breathed in deeply and calmed herself. She wiped her tears away and walked out of the cubicle. Green eyes glared at the girl in front of the mirror. After habitually washing her hands, she strode out of the restroom.
Surprised, she took a few steps back when she saw Aloe standing alone in the middle of the corridor, his black eyes looking at her intensely, as if waiting for her.
Embarrassment flooding her at being caught in an uncomfortable situation, Tansy tried to pretend she didn’t see him and walked away until Aloe was behind her.
“She genuinely cares for her students,” Aloe said mildly,
Tansy stopped, but she didn’t turn to face Aloe.
“You should accept help when it’s offered,” Aloe’s voiced out his thoughts. Tansy could feel her heart pick up its pace again when Aloe’s words were too close to her secret.
She ignored Aloe, then continued to walk away. She was about to exit the building when she saw Chris.
Chris waved at her which she politely returned. She was blinded by Chris’ questionable friendliness that it somehow irked her. Chris approached her and started to make small talk.
“You did well in class,” Chris carelessly said to her.
“It sucked,” Tansy retorted, annoyed that Chris could blatantly lie to her face in attempts of comforting her.
“Stop fishing for complements Chris,” Green eyes glared at brown eyes.
Chris only laughed, and ruffled his brown hair. “Sorry, my bad, but I do think that you did ok if not good,”
“Yeah, whatever, bye,” Tansy dismissed Chris and walked down the front staircase of the building and into the road.
Chris watched the sunset for a few minutes. His surrounding were bathed in red-orange light. Chris exhaled loudly. He was about to leave when he heard someone call out to him. “Chris!”
He turned and saw Aloe waving at him where Tansy previously stood. Chris beamed and returned the gesture. He went towards the parking lot. He opened his car and drove home.
Chris arrived at his house, all was silent except for the dull noise coming for the television which was tuned to the news station.
“I’m home,” Chris called out. Nobody answered. He went straight to his room and changed his clothes.
He got his books and laid them on his study table cluttered with pens and highlighters of different colors. He read for a while before suddenly throwing his book in frustration.
He decided to sleep when he couldn’t understand anything anymore. He closed the lights and let the darkness cover him.
He laid down on his bed. He stared blankly at his ceiling that was covered with glow-in-the-dark stickers. Sleep wouldn’t come to him as he tossed and turned in his bed. He watched the darkness slowly turn into light. Chris closed his eyes, only to be disturbed by his alarm clock.
When morning came, Chris ate breakfast with his family, his older brother absent because he was abroad participating in a contest.
Chris sat in silence, before clearing his throat. “I got a high score yesterday in our quiz, and my recitation was also good,” Chris proudly reported to his parents.
“I should hope so. Your older brother got a perfect grade in his class,” Chris’ father disinterestedly said while flipping the newspaper he was holding. A half-eaten toast and a steaming mug of coffee sat near his dad.
Chris’s smile almost fell. He just took a sip from his orange juice and averted his gaze.
His mom suddenly placed a plate with freshly cooked eggs in front of him. “Good job Chris!” she hugged her son.
She leaned and whispered into his ears, “Don’t mind your father, he’s just cranky today.”
Chris blinked and smiled genuinely at her. Chris played with the food in front of him. His appetite almost non-existent at that time. His mother nudged him on the head, a warning for him to eat breakfast.
“Well, I’m off to work,” his dad coldly announced and stood up from the dining table.
“Bye dear, take care,” Chris’ mom kissed the father on his cheeks. Chris only looked at his father exiting the dining room.
“Chrysanthemum, do you know what your name means?” His mom asked out of the blue.
Chris only chewed his eggs and shook his head no.
“I know it’s a girly name, but you have to be proud of it,” Her tone was wistful. “Your name means cheerfulness and good spirit, we were so happy when you were born in this world”
Chris snorted, and almost choked on his food. His mother slapped him on his back.
“Your father loves you too, you know, he just has a different way of showing it,”
Chris looked away from his mom. “Oh look at the time, I’m late, gotta go now.” Chris abruptly stood up similar to the way his dad exited.
Chris arrived at school, and was immediately bombarded by some of his classmates when he got to the room.
“Yo! I heard your brother won the competition, you guys are so amazing,” Peter greeted Chris.
Chris stilled slightly but he immediately grinned and accepted the greetings from them. “It’s in the genes man, it’s in the genes,” Chris exclaimed
“You mean your pants? Where can I buy one?” Peter joked.
“Shut up,” Peter was punched on the arm by Aloe.
“Ignore him Chris, he got high on coffee again,” Aloe said sarcastically, placing Peter’s head in a headlock.
“What, I’m not!” Peter struggled to get out of Aloe’s hold.
The banter among his friends went on, while Chris became subdued, and almost nobody noticed it. Aloe witnessed the change in Chris’s mood. Aloe opened his mouth, hesitating to say something, but he didn’t proceed.
Aloe merely placed a hand on Chris’ shoulder. Chris nodded and his lips slightly tilted upwards at the corner.
Classes began once again, and nothing much changed.
Months after Tansy was called out by their professor, the semester was almost over, with only two weeks remaining before final examinations.
Everyone collectively breathed out when the professor announced that they were finished with the whole subject. They were glad that the day was finally over. Students broke off into groups, each one planning on how to de-stress after a long week. Almost half of the class was gone.
“Hey! Chris! We’re hanging out tonight, wanna come?”
“Nah, sorry I’m busy, I have to do something,” Chris smiled at his friends while walking past them.
“Oh come on! It’s a Friday!” One of his friends shouted at his retreating back. Chris merely raised his right hand without looking at them.
“I’ll just see you guys later,”
Aloe almost faltered in his steps. His heart was beating faster inside his chest. He started to go towards Chris when he was stopped by Peter. “Where are you going?”
Aloe stood motionless, staring at the direction where Chris went. “I’m not so sure.”
“Well, let’s go then,” Peter tugged Aloe’s shirt. “I want to watch a movie,”
“Okay,” Aloe hesitantly agreed, his gaze never left Chris. Peter noticed Aloe’s fixation and grabbed the latter’s shoulders to turn him in the other direction.
“Don’t worry about Chris, he’s probably just going to study. Such a nerd.” Peter jested, he tried to alleviate Aloe’s concern.
It was Monday again. Aloe entered the room and immediately looked for his brown-haired classmate. He began to worry when he noticed Chris was not there.
“That’s strange, Chris is late today?” Peter turned his head, trying to look for their classmate.
“I hope so,” Aloe muttered. He fixed
“He’s usually so early, I needed to ask him something,” Peter moaned with disappointed.
Chris didn’t attend class that day. The next day, Chris was absent again.
“Maybe he’s sick?” Peter mused. The color from Aloe’s face withdrew and he closed his eyes as he struggled to remain calm.
A week has passed before they learned of Chris’ whereabouts. The news was announced after their class.
“Class, Chris is at the hospital right now, if you want to visit him I can give you the hospital where he is staying at,”
Aloe froze in his seat. He tried to block out the words that the professors were saying. The voices in his head got louder and harder to ignore.
“Holy cow. Did you guys hear? I think he tried to kill himself,” one of their classmates whispered.
“Wasn’t it an accident? Somebody said that he bought the wrong medicine,” the person said in a confused voice.
“Poor guy, never expected him to do it,” a boy said while shaking his head.
“Oh my goodness, I can’t believe it! Chris?”
“Hey, you shouldn’t talk about him like that,” Peter intervened and tried to quell the rumors. “We only know he is in the hospital, we should pay respect.”
“Yeah, but we’re all just surprised. Aren’t you?”
“I am, he was a happy and energetic guy, and I know he would never try to kill himself,” Peter stated with conviction.
Aloe turned his head to Peter, who was proudly proclaiming how much he knew Chris when he was so ignorant of what truly happened. Aloe felt something dark crawl into his heart. He didn’t know where Peter got his ideas. He didn’t see it coming.
“He was just weak. That’s the plain truth. Weak or stupid,” Tansy brazenly spoke. Everyone in the vicinity who hear cringed and looked away from Tansy.
“Tansy, you’re not supposed to say something bad about people,” Peter gently reminded her. Aloe clenched his fist.
“Guess we better plan something for him,”
Aloe gritted his teeth, his feelings were a mess. He could have done something. He should have done something. He never felt so helpless and betrayed before. He angrily picked up his bag and walked out. Peter followed him outside the room.
“Hey, Aloe, are you okay?” Peter asked, worry tinged his voice, as he placed a hand on Aloe’s shoulder.
“Am I?” Aloe mockingly asked. He shrugged Peter’s hand off his person.
“I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking,” Peter defensively answered.
Aloe finally snapped. “Why are you people like that?”
“Like what?” Peter asked incredulously.
“You people are so fake!” Aloe fished a pen from his pockets. “See this pen? You’re all like this. PLASTIC.” Aloe threw the pen at Peter’s chest.
Peter could only stare at Aloe in astonishment. Before Aloe could stop himself, the dam of resentment burst out, and dark words flowed from his mouth, uncaring of the audience they suddenly had.
“Of all the people. I thought you would understand. You act so nicely. I thought you were decent,” Aloe said, his voice so deep that Peter almost didn’t hear him. “I thought you were genuine.”
“I thought you were real,” Peter didn’t move or say a word. “I expected better from you.”
“How could you think that Chris was weak?! You don’t know what’s going on with him! You don’t know him!”
“Why? Why are you people like this?” Aloe begged him to answer. The air was heavy with pressure.
“Oh stop being so melodramatic,” Peter uncharacteristically deadpanned, finally having the courage to answer Aloe.
“I said stop it. You act so high and mighty. You can’t ask for something, you can’t give.”
“What are you talking about?!”
“You ask for something genuine. You’re not,” Peter continued. “I’m sorry, but I know you’re not.”
Aloe stood motionless as a statue. Everything in his world was slowly being turned upside down. His feelings of guilt, betrayal, hurt, and resentment festered deep inside him. His friend just called him a hypocrite without any basis.
“I could notice you judging us, acting as if you’re above us. You’re not,” Peter laughed harshly. “You can’t read minds Aloe, you can’t,”
“Stop. You act like we hurt you,” Peter pointed at him. “No, you hurt yourself,”
Aloe was staring down at Peter before both of them even realized it. Peter gingerly held his face with his left hand, his glasses lying on the floor. Peter’s blue eyes widened in shock. Aloe towered over him with this right hand clenched in a fist and bruised.
“You know nothing,” Aloe hissed.
Aloe then looked at the eye of each and every one of them who were watching their fight. He stared at them coldly, his black eyes glittering.
“Chris wasn’t weak. Chris wasn’t happy,” His voice cracked. “You were all just trapped in your own little words like selfish bastards that you are. We all were.”
“And now you think it’s a fucking burden to even visit him in the hospital, I don’t blame you though, you all have your priorities.”
The crowd shivered from the insult in Aloe’s words. They were dispersed when one of the professors arrived at the scene. “Aloe, Peter. Please follow me to the Dean’s office.”
Peter stood up and dusted his clothes. Aloe had finally calmed down. He was suddenly aloof and indifferent. The two of them followed the professor to their impending doom.
“People like you disgust me,” Aloe said coolly to Peter while they were walking. “People who think that it’s wrong to say the truth out loud.”
Peter turned pale, finally realizing that Aloe seems to know more than the ordinary person. The two of them walked soundlessly towards the Dean’s office.
“Sit down, wait for the dean. She is currently in a meeting,” the professor said brusquely. Aloe and Peter sat in front of a table filled with papers and calendar. “No fighting in this office,” she warned the two students.
Peter looked at Aloe who was sitting placidly, all of his anger seemingly disappeared.
“Why?” Peter returned the question to Aloe. Weary black eyes looked at Peter. Peter’s blue eyes suddenly averted his gaze.
“Tansy was admiring Chris for his bravery. For doing something she couldn’t do,” Aloe said softly, he fiddled with his fingers. “Did you know? Yet she thinks he’s stupid for failing. Ask her. She’ll tell you. She won’t lie about it.”
Peter sighed and hunched over. He placed his head in his two hands. He ignored the pain that he could feel on his left cheeks.
Things were getting out in the open. Aloe continued and ignored Peter’s distress at his revelations.
“You didn’t talk to Chris. I’m not talking about mere small talk. Nobody ever thinks of talking to the cheerful guy with the seemingly perfect life.”
“You even thought he was weak for trying to kill himself,” Aloe accused. Peter only shook his head, his blond hair covering his face.
“It’s not my story to tell, but nobody sees. Nobody listens.” Aloe whispered. “Somebody needs to say it.”
Aloe’s voice started to shake. “I could have stopped him. I knew he planned it. He fucking planned it because he was tired of it. So tired of it. I don’t blame him at all,” Aloe clenched his hands together. “I wanted to stop him but I didn’t.”
Peter looked worriedly at Aloe. “Aloe, Aloe stop, it’s not your fault,”
“I wish the others who are half of a person that he is killed themselves. Why do people like him think they’re the ones that need to disappear?” Aloe could only ask bitterly.
“I’m sorry,” Peter sorrowfully said. “I’m sorry for what I said earlier Aloe, I’m sorry,”
“They don’t need pity. I don’t. They need help,” Aloe snapped. “Help that nobody gave, help that I didn’t give because I was too scared,” Aloe ran a hand through his black hair.
“Aloe, it’s okay,” Peter tried to placate his friend.
“All I hear are lies.” Aloe said resignedly. “Sometimes I wish I knew they weren’t lies.”