11/23

 
 
 

11/23 Chapter 1


#WhenTwentitriElebenStopped

“Perhaps a wrong move, but one must save the broken self.”

-x-

If given a chance to share an unforgettable memory, Jhing Blanco’s quivering lips will involuntarily tell a time: 23:11. To be honest, she doesn’t want to talk about anything related to things she needs to forget.

But heck.

How can she forget a time? Really.

She’s clearly nervous—her hands were trembling, just like her lips.

Two years ago, her first book was published. And in those years, she learned that acting confident is one of the rules to be followed in the ‘Art of Being an Author.’ Authors always need to face the crowd to promote themselves. And because Jhing wants to be an effective author of her own, she needs to promote herself.

But not like this.

She knows how much she hates the ‘spotlight,’ even if that spotlight was just a figurative speech…

Before.

Jhing recently found out that she also hates the spotlight literally. That light. It’s focusing on her. The spotlight that catches everyone’s attention.

All eyes are on her.

Waiting for her next… mistake.

Or not.

People just need to hear an answer, that’s all.

She’s kind of hoping for ‘looks can kill’ to turn real. Jhing wants to die. After all, death is better than being stared by countless of people.

The seat is comfortable, the aircon in the mall feels cool…. And yet, Jhing felt the heat.

Oohh, hot seat.

Tss.

“Jhing?” The host searched for Jhing’s eyes, worry etched on her face. “Are you reminiscing? Seems like our flashback takes a long while, ah?”

Alongside with Jhing’s co-authors who are lined up on her side on the panel, the audience laughed. She did too, yet she wanted to run. Or walk out. But then again, that would be rude.

There are already a lot of people who assumed that she has an ‘attitude.’ Jhing needs to become a ‘proper idol’ to her fans, and she doesn’t want to add more adjectives that ‘so-called critics’ use against her.

But who can blame her, ah.

From the thousands and millions of questions around the whole wide world, of course, the host wants to know the author’s most unforgettable memory. She could’ve asked what love is. Or who their crush is!

That’s easier to answer than a question about a memory.

“Uhm. . .”

Jhing blinked, trying to get her shit together.

She quickly searched her brain about any unforgettable memories in her life.

But all she could think of was the familiar smirk plastered on that someone’s face, the laughing voice on the phone, boyish grin she saw once, childish emoticons, those stupid chats she needs to get over with, and that guy.

That.

Freaking.

Guy.

“When I was a child,” she gulped.

Why are the audience staring at her like that!?

“I was the top in my class. I can’t ever forget that. We ate a special dinner for celebration. It was my, and my siblings, first time to eat lobsters. I can still remember the taste even now ah. So good.”

Well, true. She was top in her class. Her Mom borrowed money from her friend for the celebration dinner. Everyone enjoyed the lobster.

But also a lie.

First: She doesn’t remember the taste nor what the lobster looked like. She was just 12 years old then. She’s already 23 now.

Second: Uh, nevermind.

The audience laughed as the host commented, “Hmm, it sounds delicious! I hope I can eat that lobster too, you should’ve invited me!”

Lame.

Jhing tried to laugh. Tried. It still looked forced no matter how she tries ah. Seems like it’ll be impossible for her to be an actress.

They finally changed the topic and scenarios. The host is already talking to a different author, but the first question stayed in her mind: Most unforgettable memory.

It was so unforgettable that every single day, she always think about it.

It was not really the greatest of memory.

For her, that is.

“Jhing?”

She was still in a daze.

Fortunately, Fall who’s beside Jhing smacked her back to reality.

The authors sitting in the panel went down for a break. While the good looking men dances on the stage and the women screams in excitement, the authors were briefed by the woman in charge: Mary Zue, publisher.

“Next part will be the question and answer portion with your readers,” Zue told the authors. “Then the signing begins. Ready?”

Before the authors went to the stage, Zue instructed them to, “Smile” so everyone did.

So did Jhing. She smiled, and the ‘I’m okay, let’s get this done’ façade was back again.

On the earlier stage of Q and A thing, the audience were shy.

There were people who urged other people to ask their question, there are those who doesn’t raise their own hands but instead raise the hands of the one sitting beside them, the rest will stand up… before sitting back down again.

Nothing happened even after a whole full minute has passed.

Silent mutters. Some giggles. Small talks. Still, no one dared to ask anything to anyone. The host was about to do her job to end the dead air, when a petite lady raised her hand, waving.

Almost all pair of eyes in the activity area, and even those who doesn’t really know what kind of event is going on, focused on that girl at the corner.

“Yes, Ate! ” The host nodded at her before clicking sound of her heels were heard.

The girl looks dainty, but it also seems that she’s already in mid twenties. She’s wearing a long sleeves polo and jeans.

“What’s your question for the authors?”

One of the things Jhing is thankful for is her 20/20 vision. But at that moment, her perspective of being ‘thankful’ changed as she saw the look the girl gave her while asking, “Where do broken hearts go?”

And for some odd reason, whether it was the gaze or the question— Jhing tensed.

Fortunately, Jhing is sitting on the far left. Before her turn, the authors on her right side started answering the question one by one.

Their answers went from hilarious “The hospital.”

To serious “According to science…”

And sarcastic “It’s inside my heart, drinking coffee. Do you want to join?”

Until all people stared at Jhing, again, to hear her version of the answer.

‘No comment,’ was what she wanted to say, but the girl who asked the question is still looking and smiling at her.

Where do broken hearts go?

Then she asked herself…

Where’s your heart, Jhing?

So she came up with an answer. Straight from her heart.

“The thing is, no matter how much you want your broken heart to disappear… it will always stay there.”

That silenced almost everybody.

The others wasn’t listening so they asked, ‘What did she say?’ or a ‘Why did you turn silent? What? What was it?’

Most of them quickly tapped their fingers and posted the lines, quoting Jhing, that gained some likes, shares / retweets / regram and replies like “omg!”, “ouch ha,” and “#relate2damax!”

“Broken into pieces. Sharp, pointed edges trying to cut you from the inside.” Another smile, pulled up the ‘I’m still okay, guys’ façade.’

“Broken shards will pierce everything it touches. That’s why it hurts. That’s why nobody can tell you’re bleeding because your broken heart has no plan of going anywhere. It’s staying. Inside you. Inside us.”

Wow. That’s just so… emo.

Those who can relate from her words almost did a standing ovation. It won’t even be a surprise if they will go as far as jumping and tumbling. Look, even the host almost cried when she heard Jhing’s words.  

Although, the girl who asked the question, had no reaction.

That made Jhing nervous.

After the Q and A session which revolved more on love, moving on and silly crushes— the signing event finally started. It’s fun, and at the same time tiring, to do book signing.

Anyway, this is what Jhing wants. She’s already content with this even though she doesn’t like spotlight. Figuratively. And literally.

After a few signs on the readers’ book, small talks, and selfies plus groufies, the girl who asked the question was next in line. Jhing was still smiling as she takes the new published book from the reader’s hands before realizing the familiar innocent face of the latter.

“Hi,” the girl greeted. “I loved how you answered my question a while ago,” she added.

Jhing thanked her.

When she glanced at the sticky note on the cover, she felt a punched towards her heart.

It says MJ.

Why the initials?!

She also got conscious because that girl took a picture of her.

Jhing raised her eyes and what she saw made her hands colder than it already were.

On the girl’s wrist, were horizontal line scars. A lot of it.

Maybe that explains the long sleeves?

She looked away when MJ got curious about her expression. Acting as if nothing hapened, Jhing started writing her dedication with her right hand slightly trembling.

Hi MJ, thank you for supporting me and my first fantasy book.

Of love and karma, JhingBlanco.

When Jhing returned the book to her, MJ grabbed something from her bag.

It was a box. A present, but not so presentable. The gift wrapper is a mess. It looks like they redid the scotch tape a few times because there are parts on the design that disappeared. There was even  a loose thread and who knows where that came from.

“This is for you,” the MJ girl said.

Jhing took the box. She got embarrassed because it’s not her birthday, and Christmas nor any kinds of occasions that needs ‘presents’ are still far away.

“Thank you, MJ.”

“Uhm, no, actually,” she said, “I’m not MJ. I was only tasked to give it to you.”

Before Jhing could react, the girl bid goodbye. A last look from the girl made her uneasy. She stared at the present on her hand as fear starts to crawl her skin and she doesn’t know why she felt that.

The signing ends peacefully, but Jhing’s mind was still on the box, wrapped not-so-nicely that even Fall mocked it, “Maybe there’s a fish inside ah?”

Well, Jhing doesn’t want to expect a lot of things because expectations cause depression, but she at least hope that the box doesn’t contain a fish.

Fingers crossed.

“Are you serious, Miss Zue?!” Fall asked, wide eyed.

“Is this the real life or is this just fantasy?”

The people on the backstage laughed, including Miss Zue even though she really was serious.

“Again, girls, I’m serious,” she smiled, “Each of you here will write a novella, no more than thirty thousand word count. All eleven of you are chosen to do this trial stage. It will be a special edition; only one thousand copies will be sold each book, with a lot of illustrations, and some trivia and all other cool things your readers will enjoy.”

“Seriously?” you can clearly see the excitement from Fall’s expression.

Another author smiled, “For you, Fall, everything’s a joke… like you, you were born a joke.”

They laughed once again. No matter how tired they were, they can still find the time to fool around.

“The most important point here is…” Zue turned to Franz, the marketing head.

“Drum roll please.”

The crew members really did a drum roll using either chairs and tables while one of them playfully smacks the empty plastic bottle against his friend’s head, laughing.

Franz stood up, fixed his tie and smiled. “Great news is that the Star V CineFilms will read the novellas and choose one book that will get adapted into the silver screen.”

“SERIOUSLY?!” Fall screamed even more hysterically.

Everyone laughs at Fall’s reaction.

“So better write those novellas after you get your beauty rests. The deadline of the first draft will be the first day of the next month,” Zue turned to the editors in charge of the projects, Vammy and Stella. “Vams and Stel will take charge, you already know their emails.”

The news made Jhing smile. She had no idea about this! Wow.

She almost wanted to scream ‘Bring it on!’ The sudden overwhelming good vibes feels really good that she even happily joins the discussion about the ‘last women standing’ as they walk towards their van.

Later on, Jhing went back to her apartment while holding the presents her thoughtful readers gave her.

She had a smile on her lips until she saw the present that girl gave. It didn’t have any card nor note telling her what’s inside it.

It’s only green, unpresentable, and… box.

When she decided to peel off the wrapper— she felt scared.

She felt like she’s holding the Pandora’s box. She can imagine her world falling into ruins the moment she opens it.

But!

This is a gift from a reader. It should impossible that a reader will bring chaos, no?

So she opened it.

Jhing was greeted by a small brown card and a CD. Underneath was something white, a paper or something. There were no touching message on the card to make Jhing teary-eyed but…

Oh, gods, no.

It was just a simple drawing, a very familiar emoticon from the past. That certain past she wanted to forget.

( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Silence.

All she could hear was her heart thumping loud…

Her breath stopping…

And yeah, a thought of saying shit too.

Taking the card that has an emoticon to the side, Jhing took the CD below it.

It was a mix tape. She nervously started playing it on her laptop.

Together with her breathing, her heart stopped for a while the second she heard the first song: Silent Sanctuary’s “Sa ‘yo.

What pissed her off is that the one singing was not Raymund Sarangay, the vocalist of the band; instead, it was an acapella from a familiar voice— and even though the man’s voice has hints of laughter and was even out of tune, Jhing couldn’t make herself laugh.

No. She can’t.

After the CD was a white book. No titles, nor illustrations on the cover. When she saw pages after pages of the book, Jhing couldn’t help but tighten her hold.

It was a book of comical illustrated unforgettable online memories.

Of her.

Of that guy.

Of them.

Of the 23:11’s.

What the hell’s going on?

For a few months, Jhing kept silent, trying to live like a normal person who aims to be better than herself from yesterday. She is reaching towards that path, slowly,  one step at a time.

But this box, her own Pandora’s box, with things she don’t want to get involved to again, will ruin her from the inside, and will pierce her until destruction.

She’s okay now. She deleted that stranger from her life already.

A few months has passed by!

But how can one move on, when the stitches of the past starts bleeding again?


 
 
 


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