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.
He would awaken with a message from her. And she would sleep with a goodnight from him. They were the first of each other’s thoughts in the morning and the last in the evening.
They were perfect for each other.
But impersonal, distant conversations could only do so much to keep the flame of romance alive. They lived in different worlds, existed in different points of each of their lives.
Their second meeting was six months later, during a national seminar held in Baguio. He couldn’t stop smiling when he found out that she was going to the same seminar. The weeks leading to the event were filled with hurried, excited conversations. They wanted to see each other badly. More than anything.
The seminar-goers were distributed across three hotels. Through some miracle, their schools were housed in the same hotel, on the same floor, their rooms only a few doors away from each other.
When they crossed paths in the hallway, she graced him with a shy smile. That smile was accompanied by hoots and hollers from his friends.
Despite the distance, despite the time that had passed, the flicker of interest still hung in the air between them.
On the second day of the seminar, the organizers announced that due to complications from the attending speakers, the seminar would end a day ahead of time, on the 5th instead of the 6th. Groans of disappointment filled the air, but they were mixed with voices of excitement.
Most of the attendees came from big schools with big budgets. Michael’s school had booked their return tickets for them, but the schedule of their trip was still on the 6th.
“We could just reschedule, get back home a day early,” Jason suggested during an impromptu meeting in their hotel room.
“Alternatively, we can not do that, and instead stick around in Baguio for an extra day,” Christine said. “The organizers said that they’ll still pay for our rooms and food, anyway. Why waste the opportunity to explore the city?”
Michael could only smile.
He didn’t hesitate. He wanted Ellaine to know what his schoolmates were planning. He raced out of their room and headed toward hers.
A few knocks later and the door to their room opened. In stood Ellaine dressed in a shirt and shorts with a bag over her shoulder, ready to go.
“Hey,” she said with a smile.
“Hey,” he responded, slowly. He looked over her shoulder and found her schoolmates preparing their bags.
“Are you guys going somewhere?” he asked, hoping for a different answer than what he was expecting.
“We’re just packing our things,” she said. “We’re heading back to Cagayan tonight.”
“Tonight…?” his words caught in his throat. He was suddenly unsure of how to word what he wanted to say. “The… organizers are still paying for our rooms. You can stay the extra day. At least, that’s what my schoolmates and I are planning on doing.”
Ellaine nodded slowly. She understood where he was coming from.
“But they also offered us refunds if we wanted them,” she looked away, folding a loose strand of hair from her eyes. “My schoolmates and I decided to go for the refund.”
She looked away, avoiding his gaze.
“Our exams are coming up. I… we, need to review.” She gave a soft, held back smile.
“Ah,” he said. “Of course.”
He had to remind himself that she was graduating high school in a few months. She was in the middle of the pre-graduation rush. She was on the run for Valedictorian. Her grades, at this point of her life, were the only things that mattered to her.
“I guess I’ll see you… the next time our paths happen to cross.”
She gave a faint smile.
“The founding anniversary of our schools’ parent companies are coming up. I’ll still be at Saint Louis for college.” she offered.
“That’s a year from now,” he pointed out, the corners of his lips curling into a small grin.
The energy and excitement he felt was gone. He wanted to ask her out. He wanted to spend the entirety of tomorrow with her. Now the possibility of that was gone.
He gave an excuse and turned to leave.
But something stopped him.
He couldn’t just go. They haven’t seen each other in months. She was leaving this evening, but he couldn’t just let her go so easily. He turned back, hand forced on the door before she could close it.
“Are you doing anything now?”
She blinked, not sure of what she was hearing.
“No,” she eventually said after a moment of awkward silence.
“Do you want to get something to eat?” he offered with a smile.
Understanding, followed by relief, flooded her face. After a hurried goodbye to her friends, she followed him to the elevator— to outside, to wherever, she did not care.
They had two hours to burn. Two hours to pass before she had to go back.
He wanted to take her away, bring her some place she’s never been to before. He wanted to explore Baguio with her. They should have been out there, spending the day visiting the parks, looking at the views, tasting the strawberries and the food and taking in the cold, late-afternoon air.
Instead they were in a McDonald’s near the hotel, chatting away about dreams and aspirations and the latest episode of Game of Thrones. They weren’t out there to explore one of the country’s most beautiful cities, but it didn’t matter.
Michael and Ellaine were in their own world.
And in those two hours, that was all that mattered.
“I’m going to be a doctor one day,” Ellaine said those words with a quiet determination. It was a statement not a promise. A simple fact that she wanted Michael to know.
“I want to be an engineer,” he said. “My mom’s a mechanical engineer, my dad’s a civil engineer. I’m going the agricultural route.”
She smiled. “That explains why you were so interested in Sir Revocal’s talk.”
She looked toward the ceiling and nodded.
“I want to help people.”
He reached out and held her free hand. It was soft like cotton. She didn’t move away. He didn’t let go. They sat that way for minutes, minutes that felt like hours.
They tried to make the distance work. They were each other’s first thoughts in the morning, last in the evening. They texted and called and emailed one another, even going as far as to making their relationship public on Facebook.
But a screen is no substitute for the real thing. For real experiences and real intimacies shared in the moment.
A year passed and the anniversary of their schools’ parent company had arrived. It was celebrated in her campus. His school was invited to attend.
And now they stood, under the canopy of the shed they first met in. The rain battered the grounds outside. The thunder that boomed across the sky was as loud as the beat of his own heart. The rain that fell like hail on glass as weighty as the tears that had now dried on her face.
“California’s far away,” he whispered.
“Tokyo is too,” she would say, after she closed her eyes for a moment longer than a standard blink.
Her parents were moving to the U.S. and they were taking her with them.
He received a scholarship in Japan.
They had spent the whole afternoon here, under the shed. They were lost in conversation, speaking of dreams and aspirations and prophecies for their future.
But there was no future.
Their distance was simply growing too vast.
They stayed in the shed even as the sky grayed and the rain began to fall.
They stayed in the shed even as their conversation lulled, as their smiles disappeared, as the joy in their eyes was replaced with the sudden realization of just how distant they would soon become.
When the sky finally cleared, she was the first to move.
The first to utter a goodbye.
He watched her go.
He wanted to stop her.
He wished, he expected for her to stop, turn around, and come racing back to his arms.
About the Creative
Anthony Ridad is an everyday writer who writes in his free time. He is a former Philosophy and Social Sciences instructor. Hopelessly unromantic.
Banner photo by Dom Parañal