Someone's already knocking on the door. Each rap against the wood is hard and urgent.
Oh no, I think, but I don't budge an inch.
There's momentary silence. I hear some shuffling outside, then the thumping continues, this time from somebody larger and stronger and angrier than the first one.
I am suddenly filled with dread – disturbing, how-do-I-get-out-of-this-craptastic-situation kind of dread.
I'm inside the powder room in my best friend Inez's house, sitting on the closed lid of the toilet and staring blankly at my phone. I completely understand the fury accompanying someone desperately trying not to pee his pants, but I don't want to – no, I can't leave the safe confines of this room. I just can't.
Two perfectly valid reasons, see, and both have absolutely nothing to do with the stifling temperature outside or this carpeted, fully air-conditioned room. Valid reason #1: I desperately need to do something – anything! – about the incriminating photo saved in my phone and throbbing in my brain for the last 24 hours. Valid reason #2: Do I really need to share the utter humiliation of being dumped online – online! – with everyone in my class?
There are now several voices outside the door. The knocking has advanced to banging, nicely complemented by angry, incoherent words. "Yeah, I'm there!" I call out sweetly. I jam my phone in my rhinestone-studded clutch and turn to the mirror.
Side-swept bangs and softly tousled hair skimming my shoulders? Check. Usually unruly eyebrows groomed and tamed? Check. Dark color carefully lining light brown eyes? Check. Gold tank top, dark blue denims and red patent flats – totally appropriate for a house party? Check.
But most importantly, I prepare a placid, unperturbed façade for the expectedly long line in the hall.
"Finally!" It's Cliff, my friend Chloe's ex-boyfriend. He practically runs me over.
I grit my teeth. I never really liked him. "Whatever!" I mutter under my breath.
Maybe I'm paranoid or self-absorbed or just gifted with bionic hearing, but I swear they're all whispering as I breeze past the small crowd. I struggle to feign nonchalance, even when my breathing is deep and labored.
I catch the question someone blurts out. "So where's Via's boyfriend?"
My heart stops in my chest. So yeah, where exactly is Kyle Olvera? Where is this famed boyfriend of mine?
I'm supposed to debut him tonight. I'm supposed to introduce him to all my friends. I'm supposed to make them all drool in envy, because he's gorgeous and rich and totally hot for me. I'm supposed to drink and dance and drink some more with him by my side. I'm supposed to take a million make out selfies when we're good and properly smashed.
I've spent the past month talking nonstop about him – how he's already a freshman in college, and a varsity swimmer to boot, how he has his own car and how we ended my cousin Lisa's debut with an earth-shattering kiss.
I've practiced how smug I'd look when I parade him in front of the girls and see their jaws simultaneously drop. Kyle Olvera is real! He's not just an elaborate, made-up social media account that everyone's already friends with. He is as real as the hot Manila sun shining above our heads!
And the icing on the cake? He wouldn't be able to keep his hands off me, because I'm pretty and fascinating and he's completely loco about me.
I keep walking, imagining the looks of pity and sympathy they're throwing my back. But I know this crowd well – so that can only mean most of them must be smothering hyena-like laughter behind those simpering smiles.
So where's my boyfriend? Oh, you mean Kyle? The photo saved in my phone flashes before my eyes. Didn't you see the picture online? It must've been shared a million times by now. He's busy. Busy kissing someone else!
Yes, kissing someone else. I've been repeating it inside my head for the past 24 hours now.
But to describe that as kissing is too mild. It's more of sucking face.
Yesterday was the last day of school. I was already home, showing Inez and our friends Jessica and Chloe some of the Victoria Handmade clutches I was selling. That's the small business venture I started after the Christmas holidays – I hand-stitch rhinestones, crystals and semiprecious stones on wallets, clutches and wristlets. That's the reason I can afford things like makeup and insanely short denim cutoffs, without having to explain why I need them to my clueless dad or dipping into my allowance.
I was in the middle of convincing Jessica to buy a lapis lazuli-embellished clutch when my phone chirped to notify me that Kyle had just posted a photo. I opened the app to find the picture that would make me stumble backward and stifle an outraged scream.
It's a close up. There's Kyle's unmistakably angular profile and it's pressed against a face that isn't mine. Pink lips, delicate cheekbones and unbelievably thick lashes that can only be fake or unfair. The caption: #todaywasafairytale.
Fairytale? What kind of a banal hashtag is that?
The girl is tagged in it. Who the expletives-that-would-make-my-dad-faint is Nicole Valencia? Who does she think she is? Doesn't she know anything about Kyle and me?
Her account is private, unfortunately. Only two details are supplied in her page: 1) She studies in the same college as he does, and 2) she looks adorable. Her profile pic shows this infuriating, gut-wrenching fact. Creamy skin, doe eyes, a sickeningly sweet smile – all taunting me, tempting me to lose my mind.
So this is why he never changed his Single status to In a Relationship.
Panic. Fury. Disbelief.
I screen capped the image ten times. Then I disabled all my social media accounts. All. I received text after text after text – from friends, classmates, even Lisa – but I didn't reply to any of them.
He posted it. He wants me to see it. He wants everyone we're mutual friends with, never mind that he hasn't actually met majority of them IRL, to know.
A boy breaking up with a girl is already bad. A boy breaking up with a girl, then getting it on with another one before anyone can say 'jerk', is a jerk. A boy breaking up with a girl via text, whether or not she's a complete psycho, is listed in the dictionary under the word 'asshole'.
But a boy breaking up with a girl, using a picture of him sticking his tongue down someone else's throat, uploaded on social media?
OMFG, I want to die.
Someone touches my shoulder – or rather, grabs it with all his might, abruptly jerking me back to the present.
Oh, right. I'm here at Inez's. Our barkada is throwing the first party of summer in the Castañers' sprawling property in Pasig, while her parents are conveniently vacationing in Europe. Jessica, Mark, Chloe, Inez and I teamed up with another bunch of kids in our class to raise enough cash and hire a decent mobile bar to ring in Grade 12. Inez's older brother, Franco, amazingly agreed to DJ. And judging the way people are now spilling from the spacious living room to the pool area, when it's not even midnight yet, it's turning out to be pretty epic.
Epic? Yeah, epic fail.
I'm ready to run and look for some other hole I can burrow under, but it's Inez's hold keeping me in place. The usually beaming happiness on her pretty mestiza face, from which no normal teenage boy is immune, has been replaced by a wary expression.
I swallow down the emotions teetering on the edge of my tear ducts. "I swear I'm not going to lose it here. I'm not going to make a scene – "
"Via," she interrupts me. Panic has overtaken her chipper voice. Kyle is the last thing on her mind right now. "Mom and Dad's room is locked. I can hear people inside, but they're not opening the door."
She glares at me. Okay, so she's dead serious. "What if they're – "
"What if they're what?" I ask when she trails off.
Her voice drops to a whisper and she huddles closer to me. "What if they're… you know."
"You mean hooking up?"
"Can you please be quiet?" Inez snarls, squeezing my left arm so tightly that it hurts.
I let out a short yelp. "Take a chill pill, Inez," I mutter when she finally lets go.
She glances around to see if anyone is listening in to our conversation. "What am I going to do? They're going to kill me if they find out someone did it on their bed!"
I press a hand against my forehead. I don't have a lot of experience in this arena, I have to admit. I already can't deal with the absence of a boyfriend on my arm – what more naughty classmates locking themselves in the master bedroom? "Oh, Inez," I breathe out, which is quite supportive but won't help her much.
My best friend immediately realizes that I'm basically useless. "Where's Franco? I need Franco." She ambles off, muttering murderous things under her breath.
"Help you find him," I call out halfheartedly, already unzipping my wristlet to retrieve my phone and gaze at Kyle's betrayal for the millionth time.
But Inez stops by the sliding glass doors leading to the pool, whips her head around and flashes me a grateful smile, even if she looks like she wants to cry.
Oh man. I'm instantly overcome with guilt. This is Inez. She has generously volunteered to host tonight's party at her house. She's also letting Jessica, Chloe and me crash in one of their many guestrooms after the party. She even let me wear her new sequined top, when she already built her entire look tonight around this piece, just to cheer me up. She convinced me that sulking at home and planning the life of a hermit is so not Via Romero, thank you very much.
I sigh and zip my clutch shut. I have to help my girl out. I think I can multitask between finding her brother and fleshing out a brilliant digital revenge plan against my bastard of an ex-boyfriend.
And I need to get away from these countless prying eyes, watching – and getting ready to laugh at – what I'd do next.