The rain fell in heavy sheets.
They were alone, barely dry, on a small island at the center of the school they first met in. They were standing apart, under a shed in the heart of the school’s soccer field. A small storm was raging around them. Rain battered classroom windows. Torrents of water flowed through the campus like rivers.
Neither had spoken for what felt like forever.
He glanced at Ellaine.
She looked tired, but beautiful. Her wet hair stuck to her face, giving her an otherworldly, almost ghostly look.
Her gaze was faraway, as if she was looking somewhere beyond the confines of the campus. Her eyes were melancholic. They spoke of nostalgia.
She was looking back, looking away toward simpler times.
They first met a year ago.
Michael was a sophomore in college, Ellaine a senior in high school. They came from sister schools; two universities that thrived under the same parent organization. Events, ranging from sports meets to seminars, were common between their institutions.
Her school was hosting a seminar, their first big one for the year. Students from prestigious schools all over the region were invited to attend, he and his classmates included.
Michael and his classmates arrived under a grey sky, on a mid-morning day in the middle of summer.
It was a Friday and the school was alive with activity. Students moved through the campus in hurried steps. A soccer game was being played on an open field, sharing space with students playing softball, while in the far distance, a cadre of volleyball players went through their morning drills.
There was a noise in the air. The yells and cheers and jeers of bystanders and players alike. Michael asked one of their hosts if some big sporting event was coming up.
“Just the intramurals,” his host said. “Everyone’s gearing up for it even though it’s still a few weeks away.”
Michael smiled. His gaze fleeted across the sports field. He couldn’t help but smile. Their uniforms and the campus layout were different, but he could feel the same competitive spirit in the air. If he closed his eyes he could imagine himself back in his home campus, back in the company of students who were always working hard, who were always going full-speed ahead toward their dreams.
He watched as a pair of soccer players skirmished over a ball. They were only practicing but both players were taking the game seriously, fighting over the ball as if they were playing in a championship. With a sudden burst of speed, one of the players dashed forward and stole the ball away from his opponent.
He meant to pass it to his teammate on his right, but he put too much strength into his kick, and the ball instead sailed high into the air, flew over a shed near the edge of the field, rolled through the green grass, and somehow ended up a few feet away from Michael.
The players waved for him to return the ball.
Michael glanced about, expecting someone else to take the responsibility off his shoulders. He sighed, stretching his arms as he strode toward the ball. Back in high school, a girl he liked once called him a ‘peak physical specimen capable of one day becoming the greatest sports player of all time.’ Whether she said that in jest, Michael did not know, but he was confident that he could return the ball with a kick.
Perhaps sensing what he was about to do, one of the soccer players waved for him to take it easy, yelling at him to just ‘throw the ball back.’
Throw the ball, Michael scoffed. Like he’d do that.
He took a running start toward the ball and gave it a kick.
The soccer ball flew through the air in a gentle spin. He watched it go, his gaze falling briefly toward the shed that the ball flew over just moments before.
A spectacled girl in a high school uniform sat there.
While the school around her was alive with activity, she seemed to be in a world of her own. Her eyes were buried in a thick, leather-bound book. There was an atmosphere of tranquility around her. The air around her was still. Though the skies were overcast, there was a gap in the cloud cover, from which a pillar of sunlight shone through. It landed on her and her shed like a spotlight. Michael had never seen someone so beautiful.
She lifted her eyes from her book and her gaze fell on him.
The world was in slow motion now.
The world seemed to slow down even more when he realized where the soccer ball— propelled by his misguided kick— was going.
It was going to her head.
He heard the thud, watched as her glasses fell off her face, as the ball ricocheted on the ceiling, before landing on the opposite side of the shed and rolling lazily toward the field.
He was beside her in a heartbeat. His apologies tumbled one after another. For a moment he was the Eminem of ‘I’m sorries’ and ‘I didn’t mean to do thats.’ She accepted his apologies with a measured smile.
She was more beautiful up close. But he knew that his chances with her were shot the moment he hit her in the head with a soccer ball. So he left, making a hurried excuse about important college seminar stuff, and leaving apologies in his wake.
Unluckily for him, his friends saw what happened, and he would spend the opening ceremony being teased by said friends.
“You know, I heard about that,” Jason, said. “There was a wise man who once said that the best way to pick a girl up was by knocking her down.”
“Shut up.” Was all he could say.
“I saw how you looked at her,” Christine, his other friend said in a more understanding tone. “You wanted her to fall for you.” She smiled. “But that was a bit much.”
“Haha,” he said mockingly.
The teasing eventually died down as the event’s organizer gave his opening remarks. The speakers were big time, important personalities from across the country, people involved with the government, professionals who had made names for themselves. They were all people that Michael wanted to be like one day.
“Hey, isn’t that Sir Revocal?” Christine said, tapping him on the shoulder.
He held his breath. Beside the stage was Engineer Joe Revocal, one of the leading scientists in the country. The old man was involved in a variety of environmentally-oriented projects that Michael had recently read about. He was a foremost figure in the world of Agricultural Engineering, an idol for aspiring engineers everywhere.
“Why are you two acting so surprised?” Jason asked. “He’s our nine o’clock speaker.”
“He is?” Christine asked.
“Yes,” Jason said. “Do you know how I know? It’s because I have this thing,” he waved a booklet in front of Christine. “This is called a programme.”
“Oh,” Christine said, swiping the booklet and flipping through its pages excitedly.
“He doesn’t look too happy, though,” Michael said, still watching Revocal. The old man was saying something to one of the organizers. Judging by his expression and the gestures that accompanied his words, he looked distressed.
“I better go and ask what’s going on,” Michael said. Before his friends could say anything, he stood up and approached the engineer, straightening his collar and shirt in the process.
Michael was halfway to the old man when he realized that the person Sir Revocal was talking to was the girl from the shed. He was just about to backtrack and return to his seat, when he saw the faces of Christine and Jason. They were smiling like goofballs.
With a ‘screw it’ muttered under his breath, he straightened his shoulders and resumed his approach.
“—I was going to show off that drone today. I need it for a demonstration,” Engineer Revocal was saying.
“I could just get it for you, sir,” the girl said, glancing briefly at her wristwatch. It sounded like the lead organizer’s remarks were coming to an end. Sir Revocal’s talk would immediately be up next.
“That drone is around thirty-kilos. You’ll have trouble carrying it on your own.”
That was when the girl saw him approaching. For a heartbeat, her sweet, angelic expression seemed to shift into something else.
“Well, luckily I have my kuya here to help me,” she said, perking up and gesturing toward Michael. “Right, kuya?”
Realizing that he probably owed her as much after what he did this morning, he relented and offered a shrug and a ‘sure.’ The girl flashed an ear-to-ear smile.
Then as if on cue, the sound of thunder echoed from outside, followed by the familiar roar of heavy rainfall.
“So where are we getting the drone, miss…?”
“Okay, Ellaine. Where are we getting the drone?” he asked as they stood by the doors of the amphitheater. The rain was doing a number on the campus outside, turning hard-packed earth into slick mud. Luckily the walkway that led to the parking lot was tiled with concrete instead of bare earth.
“From his car,” Ellaine said. “Way over there.”
She pointed at a lone Fortuner on a faraway corner of the lot. The wind picked up, sending drizzle toward them. They stepped away from the doors at the same time.
“You know what, I’m sorry,” Ellaine said, wiping her brow with her sleeve. “I shouldn’t have asked you to come. You’re a guest here and you shouldn’t be doing this.”
“Nah,” Michael said. “I owe you.”
And with that he grabbed the umbrella she was holding and heroically strode toward Engineer Revocal’s car. When he finally arrived, soaking wet, at the car and unlocked it with the engineer’s keys, he realized that he needed help. There was simply no way for him to carry the drone back while holding unto the umbrella at the same time.
Ellaine arrived a moment later, with a second umbrella in hand, and a cheeky smile on her face.
When they were finally back at the amphitheater, they were both as wet as dogs. But they were both smiling.
The seminar lasted for three days. And in those three days they grew close. Close to the point that they would exchange numbers and emails. Close enough that their friends would tease them, and that they wouldn’t mind. Close enough that they’d think of each other in the evenings before they would sleep.
They were into each other. But their attraction was skin-deep.
Their schools were regions apart, on opposite ends of Luzon. As he boarded the bus back to his school, he realized, with a heavy heart, that they would be a twelve-hour drive apart.
Hundreds of kilometers apart.
They kept in contact over the following months. The conversations they could have had in person were done through private messages and video calls. A connection was there and it lingered despite the distance between them.