Chapter 36: A Win and a Loss
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The crowd erupts from their seats with a terrible noise. The Maaravi Warriors wins their first game.

“I LOVE YOU, MARK MERCADO!!!”

“CHEF MARK! CHEF MARK! CHEF MARK!”

His teammates flock towards him in droves, shouting at the top of their lungs.

“Nice one, Mark! You are the buzzer-beater!” Justin says to him.

“You have won our first game, Mark!” says Cesar.

They praise Mark while walking towards their coach.

When Mark comes face to face with the coach, the latter says to him, “You are the man!!!”. And Coach Perez hugs him. “You’ve done an amazingly great job.”

Coach Perez lets go of him and sees Samantha and Ruth by the stands waving at him.

Samantha holds her hand over his mouth and shouts, “Great job, Mark!!”

Ruth also holds his hand over his mouth and shouts, “You’re my hero!!!”

Mark smiles at them and bows.

‘I hope Samantha is impressed by my performance today.’

He then sees Cesar going up to the stands towards Samantha. When he meets and hugs Samantha, a sting pierces through Mark’s heart.

‘Why do you have to like him when I like you? Why can’t you see my love for you? Why must you be far away? Why are you in my heart all the time? Why is my heart longing for you, most beautiful maiden? Can’t you see this aching heart of mine?’

The opposing players shake each other’s hands as the game reaches its conclusion. When Mark shakes the hand of Managaytay, the big man smiles.

“I will see you again next year. Next year is my chance to beat you before moving up from junior high school. I just want to say that I see a potential in you. You’ll be a special player soon, Mercado. And I’m glad that I can see it firsthand. You have defeated us fair and square, congratulations for your victory, my friend.”

Mark smiles and says, “We will see each other again and I will remember this day how you became a monster on the court. You fought the good fight, you may have lost but life must go on.”

By lunch, Mark, Justin, Cesar, Ruth, and Samantha eat at Jollibee. Mark orders a burger, he doesn’t need to order rice because he brings his own rice; Justin just brings his own lunch; while Cesar, Ruth, and Samantha order spaghetti and chicken with rice.

They bring the beeper to notify them of the foods they order and they go up the stairs to the second floor. They sit at the one side of the long table. From left to right are Justin, Mark, Ruth, Samantha, and Cesar.

Ruth smiles at Mark and says, “I’m so glad you made that last shot. You are awesome, Mark.”

Mark smiles back and says, “Thank you, Ruth. I can’t believe I made the shot. A couple of weeks back, I’m just learning how to shoot. But by Cesar’s guidance and teachings, I got better very quickly.”

“And all because you helped Cesar from Junrey, he never forgot your act of deliverance.”

Justin puts his hand on Mark’s shoulder and says, “This man is a hero to us all.” Then Justin laughs and eventually, the three of them are laughing.

Cesar looks at them and smiles. Samantha looks and smiles at them, and then looks at Cesar.

“Thank you for teaching Justin and Mark how to play basketball, it’s the best thing you have done.”

“Nah, it’s just nothing. I’m just returning the favor.”

The beeper beeps and Mark voluntarily grabs it and stands up.

“I’m just gonna get our food.”

“I’m coming with you,” Ruth says.

“I’m coming with you too, Mark,” Cesar interjects.

But Samantha says, “Cesar, they’re fine. Let them be.” Samantha winks at Cesar.

“Oh,” Cesar nods and smiles. “Go get our food. We’ll wait here.”

Justin smiles at the two and says, “Go on. We’re hungry.”

The two eventually go down the stairs.

Ruth glances at him and says, “I’m amazed that you can shoot threes. Your opponents are scary; especially that towering Managaytay. I’m glad you’re safe after all the competition.”

Mark smiles at her and says, “Hehe. Thank you so much for the compliment, Ruth. I never had that kind of compliment before, it’s amazing that everything can change in the blink of an eye. I can’t comprehend what just happened. Haha.”

Ruth shoots a smile at him and he sees it, the both of them stop in their tracks. The world stands still as the both of them are entranced with each other.

“I like you, Mark Mercado,” Ruth says.

Mark strays from her eyes and onto the ground.

“Ruth, you’re a kind girl. A little bit quirky. But…” Mark looks at her eyes again. “But my heart chooses Samantha, always has been.”

Silence reigns over them while the beeper annoyingly beeps incessantly. Mark continues walking toward the counter without giving attention to Ruth, he just leaves her in the air.

Three trays are waiting for them as Mark puts the beeper on the counter. He grabs a tray with their food at the counter and carries it towards their table. As he is passing by Ruth, he stops in his tracks beside her.

“I’m sorry, Ruth. It’s not your fault, it’s just that I don’t have the same feelings you have for me towards you.”

Mark continues to walk up the flight of stairs leaving Ruth behind. Reaching their table, Mark puts the tray down on it. Justin glances at Mark and then turns the other way.

“Mark, where is Ruth?” Justin says as he looks at Mark.

“She’s downstairs. She’ll come back here. Anyways, I’ll get the last tray.”

Mark goes back to the course he took earlier, down the stairs and over the counter to get their food. Going downstairs, he meets Ruth holding a tray. But Mark sees the tears leaving a trace on her face.

“Are you ok, Ruth?”

“Yes. I’m ok, Mark. Don’t worry about it. All you see in me is only a friend. I’m sorry for having feelings for you. I knew you only liked Samantha, but please consider that I like you too. Please, Mark… please give me a chance.”

Ruth passes him by while Mark just stands there. After a while, Mark eventually moves forward. He carries the tray from the counter and walks to their table.

When Mark reaches their table, he puts the tray on it. Samantha keeps asking Ruth if she’s ok while rubbing her back. But all the time, Ruth says:

“I’m ok, bes,” while she sniffles.

Mark sits on his chair when Justin tips him with a finger.

“What is it, Justin?”

“What happened down there?”

“What do you mean?”

“Before you two went down, Ruth was jolly and happy. But when she came back here, she seemed… sad. And it looks like she cried.”

Mark lets out a sigh and says, “I’ll tell you later.”

Justin nods and says, “Ok. Take your time.”

After conversing with Samantha, Ruth eventually tells her, “I’m fine, don’t worry about me. Let’s just eat, I’m hungry.” And Ruth chuckles.

Samantha nods at her and says, “Ok. Let’s eat it out.” Samantha turns to Cesar and says to him, “You lead the prayer.”

Samantha glances over to Mark and Justin and mouths to them, “Let’s pray.”

All of them bow their heads and Cesar leads the prayer.

“Dear Lord, thank you for today. You have been so good to us today. Thank you for the victory that you have given us in our first game in the basketball tournament. You have been so good to us, Lord. Thank you for the food you’ve given us today, Lord. Give us the energy to go on for the rest of the day and help us study, Lord, this afternoon. We thank and bless your name, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Amen,” is their response.

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