[ KATRINA’S POV ]
"You really did it, you brat!"
The crowd erupted in cheers while Chloe sat confidently in the stage prepared for her. Tumabi si Jazer sa kanya at nagsimula na silang asarin ng mga tao.
Nakapagtapos na si Chloe at nakuha na niya ang Master's degree niya sa NUS. Sabi niya, mags-stay na raw siya for good sa Pilipinas dahil magiging CIO na rin siya sa isang subsidiary company nila rito.
Habang nagce-celebrate sila ay hindi rin naiwasan na itanong kung kailan nila balak mag-settle down ni Jazer. Magt-twenty six pa lang naman siya pero excited masyado ang mga tao sa paligid nila.
"Naku, mukhang mauunahan pa kayo nina Queenie at Iñigo, ah!" sigaw ni Kuya Larry.
Nagsimula na naman silang magsigawan at syempre, napunta sa dalawa ang attention.
"Not yet!" sigaw ni Queenie. "Saka na kapag nagka-boyfriend na 'yong isa r'yan!"
She and Chloe snickered while Jazer and Iñigo both looked at my direction. Ugh, these couples really like to make my life miserable.
"Ha-ha, okay then, huwag na kayong magpakasal," I replied while raising my drink.
"Don't worry, ako na ang maghahanap for you!"
Nang bumalik na ulit kina Chloe ang spotlight ay saglit akong napangiti. My life isn't going to the path I wanted to take but I'm thankful that I met them. Nang nag-decide ako na lumuwas sa Manila noong college, akala ko magiging okay ang lahat. Sinubukan kong lumapit sa mga sikat na personality sa campus dahil gusto ko ring maranasan 'yon. I heard a lot about Iñigo and Queenie so I got curious about them. Nang makita ko siya for the first time, na-attract agad ako. He was close to my ideal type, however, he already had a girlfriend.
Napalapit din ako kay Chloe dahil sa isang subject. Actually, nagulat nga ako dahil sabi nila, masama raw ang ugali niya, pero nang nakausap ko siya ay na-realize ko na straightforward lang talaga siya. She doesn't like pretenses and I think that's one of her charms. But I didn't expect na magkakilala pala sila ni Jazer.
I admit, hindi ko in-expect na makita sa Manila si Jazer. Siya pa lang ang inaasahan ng pamilya niya noon kaya akala ko ay hindi siya lalayo sa kanya, lalo na at kailangan siya ng mga kapatid niya. It turned out he got a job here as his mother's substitute.
Napatingin naman ako bigla sa kanan ko dahil may tumabi sa akin. His smug face was irritating me so I glared at him in return. Naaalala ko ang mukha niya at isa siya sa mga workmate nina Iñigo at Jazer.
"What do you want?"
He started inching closer to me and was about to put his arms around my shoulder when a guy suddenly seized that jerk's shoulders. Nagulat kami sa ginawa niya kaya sabay kaming napatingin sa kanya.
"What the hell? Get your—"
"Uncomfortable, isn't it?" he asked, a mocking smile pasted on his face. "Get lost, dude, she's my friend."
Mukhang na-intimidate ang lalaking 'yon kaya agad siyang umalis at umupo naman 'yong gumawa no'n sa kanya sa tabi ko.
"Well, technically, you are her friend," he muttered.
"Why did you do that?" tanong ko sa kanya.
Naglagay naman siya ng vodka sa baso niya. "Your friend asked me to save you," sabay turo niya sa side ni Chloe. "Her man said that guy is a notorious flirt."
"Obviously," bulong ko naman sa sarili ko.
I glanced at his direction and I remembered his face from before. He was the guy who was with Chloe when she and her Dad went home.
"Ah. You're the old guy Chloe was talking about."
Mukhang na-offend siya sa sinabi ko dahil biglang niya akong sinamaan ng tingin. Dahil ba tinawag ko siyang old guy? Eh, 'yon ang description lagi ni Chloe sa kanya kapag nagkukwento siya.
"Did she really introduce me as old guy?” he asked in disbelief.
Tumango naman ako. “Yeah. So we thought you’re around 40-50 years old.”
“That woman,” bulong niya sabay tingin sa direksyon ni Chloe.
Tumingin ulit ako sa kanya at mukha ngang mas bata siya kaysa sa inakala naming edad niya. When I saw him the first time in the airport, akala ko ibang tao ‘yong tinutukoy ni Chloe since mukha lang siyang ka-age namin. Bakit nga ba old guy ang tawag niya sa kanya?
I looked at Chloe’s direction but my eyes drifted toward Jazer. He mouthed ‘okay ka lang?’ and I just nodded. Mukhang worried nga siya dahil doon sa lalaking umaligid sa akin kanina.
“You know him?” biglang tanong ng lalaking katabi ko. What was his name again? Did he introduce himself a while ago?
“Yeah. He’s my best friend.”
“Why? Jealous?” I teased.
Nang makita ko siya dati, hindi ako mapalagay dahil baka agawin niya si Chloe kay Jazer, lalo na at hindi sila madalas magkita. On the other hand, this guy was always by her side when she was still in Singapore. Isa pa, iba rin ang tingin niya kay Chloe. I could sense some lingering attraction and affection.
“What? No. She’s just my little sister,” sabi naman niya.
“Really,” he stressed. “I just want to know and see how he treats her.”
“Don’t worry, he’s the right person for her.”
“How can you be sure?”
Hindi ko alam kung ayaw niya ba kay Jazer o nang-aasar lang siya. I glared at him as I poured more wine in my glass. Gano’n din ang ginawa niya sa baso niya.
“I know him since we were kids. He’s kind, respectful and hardworking. He’s the kind of guy that parents want for their daughters,” sabi ko habang nakatingin kay Jazer.
“Did your Mom and Dad like him for you before?”
I gave him a pensive smile. “I don’t know. I don’t have parents to ask.”
“Oh, I’m . . . I’m sorry . . . I didn’t . . .”
“I know. It’s okay,” sabay inom ko sa wine na hawak ko.
Matagal ko naman nang tanggap na hindi na ako babalikan ng parents ko. They already have their own families to take care of. I was thankful that my aunt took care of me when I was a child but I also felt sorry because she didn’t have the chance to have her own family. Dahil busy siya sa pag-aalaga sa akin noon ay hindi na niya naasikaso ang sarili niyang buhay. Kaya ngayon, ako naman ang mag-aalaga sa kanya. I wanted to provide for her so she could live comfortably. I wanted to earn a lot of money so I had to work harder than everyone but it seemed like the guys I liked couldn’t understand that . . .
. . . except Jazer.
Well, technically, I didn’t like him. We grew up together and he was protective of me that was why when I decided to go to the city, he almost got angry. Alam ko rin na nagustuhan niya ako dati kaya naging mahirap para sa akin na kausapin ulit siya. I didn’t want to ruin our years of friendship because I treasured him so much. Kaya noong makilala niya si Chloe ay naging thankful ako pero unti-unti rin akong nainggit. Kahit hindi niya aminin ay alam kong may feelings na siya para kay Chloe at gano’n din si Chloe sa kanya. I was rooting for them but at the same time, I was sad because I traded my friendship with them to my greed.
Noong tinalikuran na ako ng mga taong sumuporta sa akin noong pasikat pa lang ako sa campus, doon ko na-realize na hindi sila ang mga totoong kaibigan ko. I also realized I almost ruined two relationships and that really threw me in the deep. That was why when Jazer, Chloe and Queenie became my friends despite hurting them, I promised to myself that I wouldn’t waste those second chances again.
“I was really rude. I’m sorry.”
Napatingin ulit ako sa kanya at mukhang masyado niyang dinamdam ang sinabi ko kanina kaya nginitian ko siya.
“And I said it was okay,” I replied. “I don’t really care about them now. Besides, I have someone who’s like a mother and father to me. And I’m pretty sure she’d also like Jazer for me.” I glanced at Chloe and Jazer’s direction and a smile escaped from my lips. “But we only have a platonic relationship. I’m also sure she would also see that right away. How about you?” sabay tingin ko sa kanya. “You liked her at first, right?”
Mukhang nagulat naman siya sa tanong ko kaya napainom siya bigla sa vodka na nasa baso niya.
“Fine. At first,” he confessed. “She was crying when I saw her the first time. But when she presented her project in front of the board members, I thought she wasn’t the same person. It was fascinating to see her headstrong side and I kinda wanted to protect her vulnerable side.” Napangiti naman siya habang nilalaro ang glass na hawak niya. “But I realized it wasn’t the kind of attraction I was hoping for. I just sincerely wanted to see her grow as a strong woman and to succeed in the path she has chosen. She was just a little sister, an annoying one, in my eyes.”
“I see,” bulong ko naman. “I guess we’re kind of the same.”
“Yeah. I could see that, too.” Bigla naman siyang humarap sa akin at inilahad ang kamay niya. “I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Shang Zuan,” he said with a smile on his face. “And please don’t call me old guy. I’ve had enough of that nickname. I can’t bear to have another person calling me that.”
Natawa naman ako sa sinabi niya. “Fine . . . Shang.” I reached for his hand. “Katrina Mendoza. It was nice talking to you.”
Pagkatapos no’n ay pareho kaming umalis dahil tinawag kami ng mga kakilala namin. I spent hours talking to different people and went outside to have some fresh air.
Malalim na ang gabi na kaya medyo malamig na sa labas. Napangiti naman ako nang makita ko ang buwan at mga bituin. Sa probinsya, sobrang liwanag nila at sariwa rin ang hangin. Nakaka-miss tuloy. Gusto ko munang bumalik ay magpalipas ng pagod.
Nagulat naman ako nang makita ko si Jazer sa tabi ko. He was also looking at the sky.
“Ha? Paano mo . . .”
“Isa ‘yan sa mga naging habit mo nang mapunta ka rito sa Manila.”
Napakunot naman ang noo ko. “Ang alin?”
“Kapag gusto mong umuwi, tumitingin ka lagi ka sa langit nang matagal.”
Nakatulala lang ako sa kanya matapos niyang sabihin ‘yon. Jazer was observant since we were young but I didn’t know he would notice even the tiniest habits of people around him.
“Kilalang-kilala mo talaga ako, ano?” sabay ngiti ko sa kanya.
Ngumiti naman siya pabalik. “Siyempre naman.”
“Nasaan pala si Chloe?” pag-iiba ko sa topic.
“Kausap ng Dad niya.”
Naalala ko naman bigla noong sinabi sa akin ni Jazer ang nangyari that time. Kinausap kasi siya bigla ng Dad ni Chloe at nakwento niya sa akin ang sinabi niya. Her father asked him if he likes her and his question caught him off-guard.
“Hindi ko pa po masasagot ‘yan sa ngayon,” he said.
“Why? Are you unsure of your feelings toward her?”
“Gusto kita o mahal kita. Hindi dapat gano’n kadaling sabihin at bitiwan ang mga salitang tulad nila. Dapat ay handa ka na sa lahat ng pwedeng mangyari oras na sinabi mo sila. Kaya hindi ko pa po masasabi ‘yan sa ngayon. Gano’n po ako pinalaki ng magulang ko.”
“I see. You’re a good kid. Then, will you answer me again once you’re ready?”
“Yes, Sir. Sorry po kung—”
“No need to be sorry. You’re right. People nowadays take those words for granted. It’s refreshing to see someone who knows the value and weight of them.”
I was really impressed when he told me that. Then I realized he was ready to risk it all when he confessed to me before. I was glad I turned him down or else his life would be ruined because of me.
“Anong oras ka aalis?” tanong niya kaya bumalik sa kasalukuyan ang isip ko.
“Hmm, ngayon na siguro.”
“11 PM na. Delikado. Mamayang umaga ka na lang bumiyahe.”
“Sa Bolinao ako pupunta. I want to see the sunrise by the beach so mas magandang umuwi na ako ngayon.”
Hinawakan ko naman ang magkabilang balikat niya at tinulak siya papunta sa pintuan. “Bumalik ka na sa loob, baka hinahanap ka na ng fiancée mo.”
Nang nasa loob na siya ay agad akong naglakad palabas. Magta-taxi na lang ako papunta sa sakayan ng bus. Mukhang maaabutan ko naman ang sunrise sa beach kung mabilis lang ang byahe.
Nasa gate na ako nang may mapansin ako sa gilid kaya napatigil ako.
“That woman. She said she’ll help me,” he muttered while typing something on his phone. Hindi ko na lang sana papansinin pero mukhang ang laki ng problema niya.
“What are you doing?” tanong ko at napatingin naman sa akin si Shang.
“Finding the nearest fine beach on my own because Chloe said she couldn’t help me anymore since she’s too busy blah blah. I’ll get back to her someday—oh.” Napahinto naman siya sa pagta-type. “You’re going home already?”
Ilang segundo kong pinag-isipan kung sasabihin ko ba na sa beach din ako pupunta pero hindi naman kami close at paniguradong magiging awkward lang.
“Not really but kind of,” sagot ko at napakunot ang noo niya.
“I see. I hope you just live around here since it’s already dangerous to travel alone at this hour.”
“Actually, it’s six to seven hours away from here.”
“Oh, I see—what?!”
Napaatras ako nang sumigaw siya. Anong problema nito?
“That’s way too far!”
“Well, I live in Pangasinan, that’s why.”
“Pang—wait . . .” sabay tingin niya sa phone niya. “Is that where Bolinao is? There are many beaches there, right?”
I heaved a sigh and decided to tell him. “Yeah. Actually, I’m going to a beach there. You can come with me at the bus station but please don’t sit beside—”
“No, come with me!” sabay lapit niya sa akin.
“W-wha-what are you—”
“I brought a car.”
“It’ll save you some time. Don’t worry, I won’t trouble or pester you during the travel. I just need someone to guide me if my navigation software app fails me. Is that alright with you?”
We were just staring at each other and I was still undecided that time but in the end, I agreed. It would benefit the both of us, after all.
And he did not bother me, just like what he just promised. We talked to each other when we had to or when both of us had questions but it didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.
We were just on time for the sunrise and it was a beautiful view. Pagkatapos no’n ay nag-rent ako ng room para matulog muna habang siya ay mukhang mag-e-enjoy sa pags-swimming. We did things on our own and I was thankful for that.
Nang hapon na ay pinanood ko naman ang sunset habang umiinom ng coffee at parang nawala ang pagod ko these past few days. After that, kailangan ko na ring bumalik sa Manila dahil may hindi pa ako natatapos na paperworks. I was about to say goodbye to him but I was surprised when he was there when I opened my door.
“Oh, hi. Uhm, I need to go back now since my flight would be tomorrow morning,” bungad niya.
“Actually, me, too. I still have unfinished work so . . .”
“Do you want to go back with me?”
“Is it okay with you?”
“Of course,” sabay ngiti niya.
Tahimik lang kami buong byahe at mukhang napagod din siya sa activities. Pagdating namin sa Manila ay nag-sorry siya dahil dumiretso kami sa condo niya. Kailangan niya raw kasing kunin ang mga gamit niya since ilang oras na lang ay flight na niya.
“I’m really sorry,” he said after getting his things. “Where do you live? I’ll get you there—”
“No need,” I said, cutting him off. “You can drop me off in the airport.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Medyo malapit na ro’n ang apartment ko.”
“Okay. Sorry again and thank you.”
Pagdating namin sa airport ay bumaba na ako pero napahinto ako nang makita ko si Chloe. Tinawag ko siya at tumakbo kami papunta sa isa’t isa.
“Babalik ka sa Singapore? Akala ko—”
“May aayusin lang ako sa company and kukunin ko rin ‘yong diploma ko,” sagot naman niya.
“Oh, okay. Akala ko matagal ka na naman do’n.”
“So . . . you were with the old guy,” bigla niyang sabi habang nakangiti nang nakakaloko kaya napaatras ako.
“You mean, Shang? And please stop smiling like that. You’re scary.”
Napalitan naman ang ngiti niya. It turned into a genuine smile. “Shang is a good man, even though he acts like a kid sometimes.”
“Oh, stop that,” I said. “You know my history with men.”
“I just have a feeling he’d be different.”
“Paano mo naman nasabi?”
“Because he’s like you. Both of you are too obsessed in working that you forget to rest and prioritize your own happiness. Maybe spending a few hours together would make you realize that.”
Pagkatapos niyang sabihin ‘yon ay naglakad na siya papasok sa airport pero napahinto siya at lumingon sa direksyon ko.
“I will cheer for the both of you! You two look good together!” sigaw niya at kinabahan ako dahil baka narinig ni Shang ‘yon.
Paglingon ko ay dala na niya ang mga gamit niya at mukhang hindi niya ‘yon narinig dahil busy siya sa pag-aayos ng mga ‘yon. Buti na lang.
Huminto siya sa harapan ko at ngumiti.
“Thank you again, Katrina. You were a life-saver,” he said.
“That’s an exaggeration.”
“Right,” he snickered. “When I get back here, maybe you could bring me to other beaches.”
Nagulat naman ako sa sinabi niya kaya hindi agad ako nakasagot. Hindi ko alam kung nagbibiro lang ba siya o seryoso siya sa sinabi niya.
“Just kidding,” he chuckled. “You don’t have to—”
“Sure,” I blurted and I realized what I just did. “I . . . I mean . . . uhm . . . I just—”
“I’m taking it back,” he suddenly said. “I’m not kidding. I hope you aren’t, too.”
Pagkatapos niyang sabihin ‘yon ay pumasok na rin siya sa airport habang naiwan naman akong nakatayo ro’n.
“See you next time, Katrina,” he said while waving at me and I waved back subconsciously. “Wait for me!” he yelled as he chuckled. “Definitely kidding!”
Pinanood ko lang sila ni Chloe hanggang sa hindi ko na sila makita.
Maybe Chloe was right. It was just a few hours but it felt like that was the most refresing and longest rest I had for a long time. Maybe being with someone who isn’t that demanding for time would be the best match for me.
“You, too,” I muttered. “See you next time.”