Prologue: A Princess Locked Away
There are few words in the English language that come close to describing the intense feeling of being in love. There are even fewer words to express the unbearable torment of heartbreak. And the heartbreak from someone's first love? Forget it.
But this was the precise emotion seventeen-year-old Rapunzel Kate Lapuz was experiencing inside a stall in the girls' bathroom. Kate, who took pride in having English as her favorite subject and being called Ms. Webster by her English teacher in junior high, found herself at a loss for words to describe what she was feeling.
Outside, it was a sunny Thursday afternoon in sleepy Concepcion Integrated Technology School - High School on one of the 7, 641 tropical islands of the Philippines. For Kate though, it felt like a giant hood had been slipped on top of the world, extinguishing all light and sucking away all breath.
Had the whole world in fact ended, that would've solved a lot of things. At the top of Kate's list were public humiliation and social suicide. She couldn't begin to comprehend the level of stupidity she had shown. She was an honor roll student but she fell for the oldest trick in the book: she fell in love with the bad boy.
But who was she kidding? There were no books written about this. Her own ma, the loving and strong woman that she was, couldn't have warned her about this. And Kate's own trusty big brain? If it had hands, it would've washed them clean of all traces of this #EpicFail.
Her brain had known what was going to happen. Her brain had warned her that Josh Ventura couldn't be trusted, that he couldn't change. Being a player was in his nature. Her brain gave Kate plenty of heads-up but her heart was too happy to listen.
Her heart - her big, fearless heart - had told her that when the day came, they would all deal with it together. The same way Kate had entered the relationship, she would leave it unburned and with eyes wide open. She had thought then that she would be ready now but it was clear nothing could've ever prepared her for the day.
She wished she could thrust her hand inside her chest and massage her heart. She might as well yank the whole organ out and give it a telling-off. Or she'd try to figure out all the veins and arteries. They'd been studying DSL installation in ICT-11, so maybe she could figure out which wires went where and which ones were defective. Maybe then her eyes would stop gushing tears without her express permission.
She tried to trace the point when everything had started to go wrong, right before they spiraled out of control. She kept thinking if she could identify such a point, things would somehow instantly get better.
Why was Josh so hateful to her? How could he dump her so unceremoniously and replace her with Bernadette? The Super Glue of all people! It was in the canteen that Kate found out. She thought they were on the same side. She and him against the world. JOSH & KATE 4EVER in a heart pierced with cupid's arrow, like the extensive graffiti in that bathroom; now nothing but trashy and meaningless scrawls.
How could Josh be so cruel? She thought he would never hurt her. He said so. He promised it. It was like she hadn't known him at all. Or he her. The more she recalled his familiar face - his long hair, thick eyebrows, dark brooding eyes and aquiline nose - the sharper the pain she felt.
It was weird. The pain was emotional but it also bordered the physical. She kept rubbing her chest through her middy blouse as though that would ease it. She was having trouble breathing. She was crying so much she was getting sick and wanted to throw up. How could something so beautiful cause her this much pain? Now Kate knew that burning fire lurked behind an angel's smile.
She guessed everybody was talking about her right now. She rarely missed class and there was supposed to be a pop quiz in English today. Worse than the intense feelings of jealousy and heartbreak was the humiliation. How could she muster the strength to come out of the bathroom ever again, hold her head high and not let anybody see her swollen eyes? She just hoped to go on with her life but even that option had been taken away from her.
Ma... she silently cried out as she thought of her mother and how much she wanted to feel her embrace. If only she could teleport from the bathroom stall back to her bedroom, where she'd stay forever. Her ma; caring, ever supportive and intuitive. When she noticed Kate was walking on air the first few days of her relationship, she had immediately guessed she was in love. At first, Kate tried to deny it but it seemed her ma knew her more than she did herself. She said she could see it in the glow of Kate's skin and her lively movements. She slept with her for the first time in a while and teased her about it.
Her ma whispered to her that she was happy Kate had found love. She explained that love made everybody happier, gentler and altogether nicer people. Love could change even those who were bitter and devoid of hope. But Kate's ma also warned that people were sometimes not who they said they were. Beauty was only skin-deep. What mattered most was what was inside. What was invisible and essential, like in the book The Little Prince, which her ma used to read to her when she was a kid.
Why are you telling me these? Kate had asked her ma, still trying to deny the truth.
Well, it's because I care about you so much and you have a very big heart. You wanna trust everyone around you because you have so much love to give. And it's all right when you're with me and your pa and your close friends, but sooner or later you'll meet different kinds of people and some won't be who you expect they are. I don't want you to be disappointed and, most importantly, I don't want you to change and lose your trusting character. Because that's the part I love about you the most.
The thought of her ma and her warning, which Kate couldn't really make sense of till today, made her cry even more. She was quickly running out of pocket tissue and even toilet tissue from the dispenser. The tears just kept pouring out of her. She thought she might flood the entire school if she kept at it.
She couldn't stay in the bathroom forever though. The rough plan was to wait till the school closed and it got dark. She knew all about the ghost stories but didn't care about any of those right now. She was so upset she thought she could strangle a ghost to death, or back to life, whatever.
Grade 11 students took most of their lessons in the old building, which meant the bathrooms were housed in another structure. They were dirtier and older but they were also visited less frequently, which was perfect for Kate's present needs. Besides, it was kind of suitable because right now she felt like something that had been discarded after its owner had lost interest.
She had been crying so much she wondered where all the water was coming from, how her small body could produce that much. She was also starting to feel thirsty. Thirsty and tired.
She noticed belatedly that her phone was vibrating. She rummaged through her shoulder bag and peeked at the screen, sobbing piteously. It was her beshie Lor (short for Lorraine) checking on her. It turned out Kate had been crying for two hours straight and it was finally time to go home.
Kate ignored all the missed calls and texts and put the phone back in her bag. Let them all think she had gone home early, she thought.
She couldn't stop thinking of Josh Ventura. He was stuck in her mind like a Tik Tok clip and she couldn't get him out. All the happy memories that they had shared now felt like the giant wheels of a speeding cargo truck, under which he had thrown her.
And the thought of Josh and Bernadette together made her blood boil. Kate never used to care or think about Bernadette in any way. She was just another student on another track. People even dubbed her the Super Glue because of her tendency to stick to any boy. But now Kate was forced to compare herself to her with regards to appearance, intelligence and personality.
She wished there was an off switch for love. But in the same way she hadn't noticed when she fell for Josh, there was no end in sight for the pain. It felt infinite. She wished she was some kind of robot that could be programmed to forget, so she'd be back to her normal cheerful self who didn't miss class and looked forward to every single day. She wanted to be her ma's daughter again or the straight-A student that everyone in school admired her to be.
The thought of her old self and where she was hiding atm brought another bucket of tears.
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