II

"Hey, haven't you watched the newest episode? It was so exciting!"

I glared at the speaker. As if sensing my murderous glare, the group slinked away from me. I don't care! I wanted to kill. Ah—my poor heart. I could not take it. I missed the episode and now the only silver lining in my days were ripped off from me.

I slumped on my desk. I rested my head on my desk, facing the window.

I seriously needed a life but in this small town news travels fast. My mom had been known to be proud, always bragging her children—lemme correct that, her child. I could hear nothing but praises to my younger brother who represented the school in a competition, who aced the test . . . Of course, I am nothing like my genius brother with bright prospects. I hated being compared. Why are you not like your brother Victoria? You're the first in my womb yet you did not inherit any of my smarts. Yes, my mother is good at pep talks. My father . . . he left us for greener pastures. Maybe my mother compared him to my brother so he left?

Then, our teacher entered, a woman from the city. We rarely see her smile. It must be because, we were not the glamorous future she had envisioned for someone coming from the city. True, we are not genius material but as monkeys copying what she do, we learn a little, okay? We're children of farmers and knowing how to do math is not useful, not unless we were supposed to count money and the harvest. And when she do actually smile, we knew that the next moments were really not to our favour. We greeted her and she happily wrote on the board: QUIZ.

That woman and her smile!

My heart dropped to my stomach. I forgot to study fractions. Why did it have to be Math? I was so busy moping about my heroes when I should have been studying. My notes did not make any sense. I got hit last night by my mother for not understanding how to add four-sevenths and three-halves. Why, why can't the given be equivalent fractions? Why did she have to be perverted to give me improper ones? I was on the verge of tears.

Then she announced, "You can do it with your seat mate."

I felt rejuvenated. I felt hope. I turned to my seat mate.

It was Leo. I don't know if Buddha decided to smile on me or mock me. He is one of the smartest in the class but we're not exactly close. Though we are on speaking terms after that horrendous day . . . maybe I can count that as good?

I gave him a fake smile. I am desperate, after all.

He gave me a glare that froze me to my toes.

I whispered-threatened him, "You, this is payback for yesterday. Better make sure that you get a high score."

He was silent and wrote on the paper. From my seat, I tried to look and what he had written was alien to me. What? Why is that the answer? I looked up and asked him. He just quietly said, "Do the math yourself."

I scowled at him.

It was one of those times after school. As I was walking home with Chuck, I decided to play a prank on him. I went and hid behind the slide at the playground. I rummaged my bag and to find some arsenal but I stopped when I felt another gaze on me. I turned to see Leo's dark eyes on me. He was sitting on the swing and looking at me steadily. I was surprised. Why was he not rushing home like the usual?

Before I could do anything, one of the older kids started to hover. I was frozen on the spot as they pushed him around. The chains of the swing creaking with each hateful word. I could only stare in horror as they grabbed his bag and tossed his things aside.

Apparently, the commotion brought stares from the other kids but they dared not interfere. The prank on Chuck was forgotten. I only stood there, shaking, my eyes wide. Waiting and wishing for them to be done. When they finally did, I went towards Leo. I might not like him but nobody deserved something like that. In the cartoons I watched, the heroine intervenes and kicks the villains' asses. In my case, I am no heroine, letting someone be bullied like that. I felt so small.

I felt tears fall from my eyes.

He did not say anything. He just collected his things and dusted his bag. He looked at me.

"Why are you crying?"

I cried. The more apt word was 'bawl'.

"You're really ugly."

I stopped and sniffed.

"Why should I console you? You're not the one hurt."

"B-But—"

"What can a chubby girl like you do to those guys?"

My tears at this time started to dry up.

"Sit on them until they surrender?" He said sarcastically.

I'll tell Auntie about this! His tongue was just too poisonous! I looked at him and then at myself. I was indeed heavier than his scrawny self. Fine! I'd better use these fats then! With the help of Chuck, we dragged him towards the clinic and did not release him until he reached his home.

When the semester ended and my name was on the lists of those who will have to stay in school for summer, I felt all my plans of fun and beach flew. I dreaded going home and telling my mother and my grandparents that I was not a good student. Tears were already forming as I imagined how hard my mother will smack my butt and the cartoons I could not watch. I lingered in the school grounds. I had to hide from tattle-mouth Chuck. He'll definitely break with just a glare from my mother. As I dragged my feet around, Leo stopped in front of me.

"Um, my mom wanted you to visit our house during summer." I eyed him with suspicion and jealousy. The insensitivity of it rankled me. He who gets a vacation just rubs it to my face.

He frowned at my words.

"Never mind," I waved him away. I was talking to the wrong person. This person has no conscience. "I'll just be hit anyway." I started planning on how to save my butt. The cardboard trick last year did not work on my mom. Finding out that I smuggled some cardboard in my shorts while she hit me made the punishment worse. I could not sit for a week.

"I'll walk you home." He said. I looked at him with suspicion. Why is he nice? I turned to him with narrowed eyes. Did he want to see me humiliated?

"No need." But, as expected, he did not listen. We walked in silence at matching pace. I kept sighing out loud. Just as I was about to take the road towards my house, I heard him say, "Fine."

I stared at him owlishly. Seeing a complicated look pass his face, understanding dawned on me. He's serious, yes?

He patted my head, grumbling all the way. "Fine. I'll tell your mom that I'll be tutoring you for the summer so you can play."

I felt my face split into a grin.

"Drop by our house and I'll teach you, okay?"

Somehow, the reluctant words sounded warm to my ears.