Whatever he was thinking of, I didn't like the idea that he could just cast me off as a secondary concern. "No, seriously, Dante…" I interrupted his concentration. "What's really holding you back from getting what you want?" He now turned to me…and this time, he actually had the decency to face me with his whole body. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean, you said earlier that you could've grabbed my gun from me. And, also, here I am, all alone with the most battle-hardened rebel to pose a threat to the Philippine Government's stability. What's stopping you from killing me on the spot right now?"

"What makes you think that that is what I want?"

I was silent for a moment. Not because I didn't have anything to answer, but because I didn't quite want to think about it…I didn't quite want to think about them. "Well…" I hesitantly began. "…you've killed pretty much everybody else in Corps Bala…" I closed my eyes, and intercepted a sob from making its way out of my throat. "I just thought…it was about time you finished the job."

He raised one of his eyebrows. "I thought…" I continued, still with my eyes closed. "It was about time that you killed me."

Dante shook his head and raised his shoulders, still looking at me. "Well…" he said. "…that's not really my mission. Your attempts at reading my intentions are futile, Trish, I'm sorry…"

"Trish…I'm really sorry. I've been quite busy lately. I just pray that you could find it in your heart to forgive me for not having a gift for you today…I'll make it up to you sometime, I promise. Happy Birthday, baby. I love you."

It was already 2:28 in the afternoon, two minutes before the last subject period of the day. I still clutched in my hand the note that he passed to me that morning. The two of us have not talked since. I know I may have been overreacting, but I couldn't help but feel disappointed. Can you blame me? It was my birthday and the only person who ever remembered didn't even have a gift for me!

But what the heck…I wasn't about to let that get me down. I wasn't about to turn my back on my baby just because of that. I didn't decide to love him for the gifts he gave me. At least he remembered my birthday. And I could understand just how busy he was at the moment. He was class president of their section, literary editor of the school paper, and a consistent honor student. The Student Council had also tried convincing him to run for any position, but he declined. He reasoned that the Student Council was no place for an idealistic activist like himself. I figured he was correct. Since we were freshmen, he had always been part of some big issues. Little did I know that he was part of yet another one…just about to unravel itself.

"Good afternoon, class." Miss Micks, our Algebra teacher, greeted as she strode in with her usual cheery smile. And yet, something seemed amiss about her smile that day. My eyes fell from her smile down to the files and folders in one of her hands, to the paper bag on the other. And so it struck me. Paper bag, huh? It was probably a present from her secret suitor…who had not been very 'secret' since the students found out that it was Sir Jake, our Physical Education teacher. No wonder she smiled like that.

As usual, the class paid little attention to Miss Mick's greeting while two or three students lazily replied, "Gooooood–aaaaafteeeeernoooon–Miiiissss–Miiiiiiickssss!" It was already 2:30 in the afternoon and students were looking forward to exactly one hour into the future – dismissal time.

"Good afternoon, Trish." Miss Micks specifically greeted. I didn't get it…why me, of all people? There were around thirty-six other students who didn't greet her. Why must she notice ME? But I didn't have a choice.

"Good afternoon, Miss Micks." I greeted.

"Okay, take your seats…except for you, Trish. Come forward to the teacher's table."

Whoa! What's going on!? Miss Micks had never been that strict before! Just because I didn't greet her!? And to think that I thought she was wearing a kind smile. It turned into something that looked more of a malicious one!

Upon arriving at the teacher's table, I watched her put the paper bag on the table right between the two of us. "Someone from the other class…" she said. "…asked me to deliver this to you." She turned the bag around, revealing an attached card. What I read rendered me bedazzled for the next few seconds (or minutes? I really couldn't tell).

"I was just playing with you, baby! You know I love you! Happy Birthday, my angel!"

But what really caught me off-guard was that it was written in a very special way…

It was written in my invented alphabet.

When I recovered from the shock, I grabbed the bag from the table and bowed Miss Micks a 'thank you', unable to hide my infatuated smile. I quickly paced towards my seat in fear of making a fuss if I stood in the middle of the class any longer. My classmates would notice me holding something that I didn't usually have with me and it wouldn't be long before they found out that it was a gift from Rainier…which they did, by the way, despite my efforts.

As soon as I was in my place and I got the paper bag in a position that only I could see it, I put my hand inside and pulled out what – to my surprise – was a novel…

entitled "Sorduel".