I was trying my best not to stare at perfection.

She was manning the cashier of a bakeshop, oblivious to my presence outside. Visibly shaking and increasingly uncertain with every step, I reined in my nerves and took a big gulp out of the Mogu-Mogu I bought before approaching their store. Here goes nothing…

I entered, nondescript, and kept my gaze down. Picking a cinnamon bun and a chocolate roll, I proceeded to the cashier. To her lane. As I handed her the pastries, her head shot up to my nervously grinning face. Her face lighting up, I tried my best to play it cool.

“Uy, andito ka pala?”

The smile she gave me made my heart drop.

It started a month or so before J-Day (Her-Name Day LOL).

I was increasingly worried about her, our communication limited to a few text message exchanges. She stopped school because her aunt, who pays for her tuition, is mad at her. I tried helping her out but then, coming from another lower middle class family, there’s little to nothing that I could do.

A plan began taking shape in my head. I have to “save” her. From everything, from the world. I wanted to shield her, protect her. Take care of her. The only thing missing was the HOW.

First, I had no idea where she was. Second, I didn’t know if she really needed “saving.” Third…what if I wasn’t the hero she was hoping for? What if…there was already a hero saving her at the moment? Only one way to find out.

I picked some clues from our sms-es during those turbulent times. She mentioned that she was fooled by one customer who paid her with counterfeit money. She was so upset that she got charged with the fake money and that the thief got free cake to boot. Money and cake.

December 30, 2012. After a couple of days of non-stop layouting for our campus paper, we decided to stop work for a while and resume after New Year’s Day. We bid goodbye to each other and I proceeded to ride a jeepney to confirm what I had in mind.

I got off at a certain town and proceeded to a bakeshop there.

“Bakit ka andito?”

“Masarap daw ang tinapay dito eh.”

Smiles. One uneasy, the other as genuine as could be.

“Paano mo nalaman na nandito ako?”

“So ‘yun ang takeaway mo? Na pumunta ako dito para sa’yo?”

A sheepish smile. Gahd, this woman smiles a lot.

“Oo na. I was worried. Tsaka may dala ako.”

I gave her a plastic bag with several issues of our campus paper and her Peys shirt (The Associate Editor gets his way, apparently). Enclosed inside the magazine was a letter.

“Nanakaw ‘yung cellphone ko kaya ‘di na ako nakakapagtext. Anong number mo?”

Panic. She was already fiddling with the stuff I gave her, so nonchalantly I scribbled a number from one of the three simcards that I had back then (Long story short: I bought them all to win an Amazing Race contest). On hindsight, I should’ve known that it was my subconscious that wrote that number. I really didn’t want to say goodbye.

“Sige, aalis na ako.”

I turned away before she could answer. My heart at my throat, the ride going home was the longest in my life. That night, around midnight, I received one missed call and a couple of messages.

Although the message that I dared hoped she would send, one that I was willing to give it all just to hear from her lips…

Never came.

Four years later, “Sally” got married. And Marty is as miserable as ever.