“For real?! When?!” Queenie yelled and I immediately pulled my phone away from my ears.
“Damn it bitch, you’re too loud.”
“She’s drunk,” Katrina said, and based from Queenie’s whining, it seemed like she snatched her phone away.
I smirked. “Oh, so you’ve turned into her babysitter.”
“Oh, please,” she groaned. “Kaunti na lang, iiwan ko na ang bwisit na ‘to rito. Nakakahiya at nakakairitang kasama. Anyway, are you really coming home?”
“Yeah. For one month.”
“Wow, that’s a surprise, considering that the longest stay you’ve ever had here was three days.”
“Well, it was Dad who suggested it,” sabi ko naman.
“For real? Now, that’s big.”
“Yeah, but hey, but don’t tell him that I’m going home.”
“Jazer?” she asked. “Bakit?”
A smile escaped my lips. “I want to surprise him.”
She groaned one more time. “Why do I have to be surrounded with couples who love to surprise one another? You guys are so troublesome.”
“Fine, fine. I won’t.”
Napatingin na lang ako sa phone ko pagkatapos niyang i-end ang call. That woman. She became grumpier after the guy she was dating dumped her. Idagdag pa na siya ang nagiging emotional dumpsite ni Queenie tuwing mag-aaway sila ni Iñigo.
Katrina wanted to earn a lot of money so she dedicated most of her time working. She wanted to provide for her aunt who raised her by herself after her parents left her to start their new lives, and to live comfortably in the future. Since she was too busy, she couldn’t give him her time and in the end, he dumped her.
Naiintindihan ko naman kung saan siya nanggagaling. I, too, wanted to save money as long as I could so I wouldn’t have to worry about our future. On the other hand, Queenie always tells us to give ourselves time to rest and time to be with our loved ones. I think one of the reasons why their relationship is still strong is because they still have time for each other despite their busy schedules. Ang problema nga lang, laging stressed si Queenie kaya nadadala niya sa pagkikita nila ni Iñigo. He must be the reason why she was drinking tonight.
Tumayo muna ako para mag-stretch dahil kanina pa ako nagliligpit ng gamit. I had already packed two luggages of stuff and it still felt not enough. Napahinto naman ako nang makita ko ang pictures sa bed-side table ko. I smiled upon looking at their faces. I had been busy working and studying that I never realized how much I missed them.
It’s been three and a half years since I got here and tomorrow would be the first time I’d get a proper vacation. I felt excited and nervous at the same time. Excited because I would finally see them again. Pero kinakabahan din ako dahil alam kong magkakaiba na ang mga mundong ginagalawan namin.
My thoughts got disrupted by the knock on my door.
“Finished?” asked Dad.
I shook my head. “Not yet. You?”
“I’m already done.”
We met each other’s gaze and there was something different.
“May I talk to you for a second?” he asked in a calm yet serious tone.
Tumango naman ako at umupo kami sa gilid ng kama ko. He was in casual clothes, which was a rare sight. I would always see him in his suits. When we’re at home, we’d just stay in our own rooms to have our personal time and rest.
“Do you want to stay there?” bigla niyang tanong kaya hindi agada ko nakasagot.
“S-stay? You mean . . .”
He smiled. “Yeah. In the Philippines.”
I just stared at him for a few seconds, refusing to believe what I just heard. Did he really say that? Could I really stay there?
“Why?” I carefully asked. I wanted to know why he said that.
“Your performance as the deputy CIO was praised by the board members,” he said. “Because of your strategical planning, we managed to raise the profits of our company, as well as our subsidiaries. Now, you have been granted the rights to be the CIO of one of our subordinate companies either in the Philippines or US. The question is, can you do it?”
His statement lingered in my head for a while. I never thought I’d hear praises from the board members because half of them were in the Mao faction. I just did my job as an information officer but this kind of accomplishment made it more gratifying to the point that I almost teared up. I was given a chance and it was tempting but I knew I already had my answer before I could think about it.
“I’m beyond grateful, really . . .” I looked at Dad and smiled. Looking at his expression, he must already know my decision. “But I want to get my Master’s degree. Besides, I still have a lot to learn from my CIO. I can surely do it but not this early. So can you ask me that question again after some time, Dad?”
I knew some people would think I wasted an opportunity. Queenie would probably yell at me for choosing this path rather than staying with my family but this was my way of becoming better. I wanted to be someone I could be proud of.
“Of course,” Dad replied with a gentle smile on his face. “I knew you would say that.”
Tumayo naman siya mula sa kama ko at naglakad palabas ng kwarto pero huminto siya nang nasa pintuan na siya.
“You’ve grown well,” he said as I watched his back. “I’m beyond proud of you.”
“Dad . . .”
My voice faltered upon hearing his words. He’s a man of few words so I get flustered and moved whenever he says anything heartwarming.
“I know you’ve been chasing my back since you were young and you’ve been supporting me these past few years.” He turned around and looked at me right into my eyes. “This time, take the lead and keep moving forward. And if you stumble, I’ll be right behind. Because this time, I’ll be the one supporting you.”
He walked away after saying those words and my throat hurt trying to hold back my emotions. I breathed deeply and clutched my necklace. I must face him head-on. That would be the only way to show my resolve.
“Thank you, Dad,” I whispered.
This time, I am only looking forward.
“How are you feeling? Excited? Nervous? Both?”
I rolled my eyes at him. Bakit ba kasama namin ang isang ‘to?
“Shut up, old man,” I ordered.
“Ah, nervous, I see.”
“Why are you even here?”
“What? Am I not allowed to have a vacation? Philippines has a lot of beautiful beaches, right?”
“Are you really looking for beaches? Or is it the one with a different spelling?”
“Hey! Do you think I’m that kind of person?”
“You . . .”
“Shut up, I’m going to sleep.”
Nilagay ko ang earphones sa tenga ko at tumingin na lang mula sa bintana. I could see the ocean and landscape below and that made my heart race. Malapit na kami.
I couldn’t sleep last night because I was too busy planning everything. Iñigo told me he would distract Jazer in case he sensed something wrong since they were working in the same place. Susunduin naman ako nina Queenie at Katrina sa bahay at ihahatid kung nasaan siya. I just hope everything would go well.
Lalo lang akong na-rattle nang nag-announce na magla-land na kami. It felt like my heart would explode any moment.
“We’re finally here!” Shang exclaimed.
Nagsimula nang tumayo ang mga tao, maging sina Dad at Shang. I tried to calm myself by breathing slowly but the thought of finally seeing him after a long time made me more anxious.
“Damn it, calm down,” I muttered.
“Hey, relax,” Shang suddenly said as he gently hit my back. “You’re too stiff.”
“Come on, granny,” he said, smirking. “You’re going to to see him, right?”
Natulala na lang ako nang sabihin niya ‘yon, but at the same time, it made me calm. Matapos kong huminga nang malalim ay kinuha ko ang bag ko at sumunod sa kanila ni Dad. We waited for our luggages and walked toward the arrival area.
“Ah! It’s them! Daddy! Ate!”
The tension in my body momentarily disappeared and I broke into a grin when I saw the people waiting for us. I missed them.
Halos matumba ako dahil sa pagtakbo at pagyakap niya sa akin. I hugged her back and she hugged me tighter. After that ay tumakbo rin siya papunta kay Dad habang si Clark naman ang sumalubong sa akin.
“Hey, Clark,” I greeted.
“Ate,” he called and he almost tackled me with a hug.
“My god, ang laki mo na. I can’t believe it.”
Hindi naman na siya ulit nagsalita at nanatili lang na nakayakap sa akin. I carried him because he didn’t want to let go while Czanelle walked with Dad. Napahinto naman ako nang makita ko rin sina Nanay Meling at Kuya Larry pero natulala ako dahil sa mga katabi nila.
“Gusto ka rin niyang makita,” sabi ni Nanay Meling.
“Hindi namin inaasahan na dadalaw siya ngayon pero h’wag kang mag-alala, hindi niya sinabi sa kanya,” dagdag ni Kuya Larry.
Waiting with them was Mom who was in a wheelchair. She was holding a photo of our family as she stared curiously at us.
“Mom . . .”
“Kanina pa niya kayo hinihintay.”
My eyes drifted to the person standing beside Nanay Meling and Kuya Larry. She was holding Mom’s wheelchair and my eyes started to well up when I saw both of them.
“Nanay Fe . . .”
“Na-miss ka namin, Chloe.”
I walked toward them while carrying Clark and Nanay Fe gave me a tender hug. Umupo naman ako para maging ka-level si Mom at ngumiti sa kanya. She didn’t give me any expression but seeing her here was enough for me.
Dad was right behind me and his expression softened while looking at Mom. Ibinaba ko naman si Clark at hawak nil ani Czanelle ang magkabilang kamay ko. Dad crouched and smiled at Mom.
“We’re here,” he softly said. “We’re home, dear.”
Dad kissed her forehead and took over Nanay Fe in pushing Mom’s wheelchair.
Sabay-sabay kaming naglakad papunta sa exit pero nagulat ako nang makita ko si Katrina. She was running toward us with a panicked expression on her face.
“Chloe!” sigaw niya. “I’m sorry!”
Napatigil naman ako nang marinig ko ‘yon. Sorry? For what? Wait, was she talking about our plan? What happened?
“We tried, but . . .”
I was about to ask what she was sorry for when a familiar figure appeared right behind her.
He loosened his necktie as he frantically ran and searched for someone. His face was covered with sweat and he was having a hard time to breathe but he didn’t stop looking around . . . until our eyes finally met.
It felt like the world suddenly stopped moving and I could only see him. His tanned skin . . . the deep dimple on his face . . . his broad shoulders . . . the way he looked at me . . . I missed them. I missed everything about him.
He froze for a few seconds, maybe still in disbelief that I was here, especially since I didn’t tell him anything. However, he started walking toward me with a bizarre look on his face. Seeing him getting closer made my head buzz. My heart was beating too fast and I couldn’t breathe properly anymore.
He was just a few meters away . . .
Few steps . . .
Few seconds . . .
Few inches . . .
I was scared to say anything. I was scared to face the present him but I had to. We were finally in the same place at the same time. I wanted to say the words I was longing to tell him.
I spent sleepless nights to plan an event for him but it only took him a single action to surprise me—he kissed me on my lips.
My knees felt weak and it felt like I would collapse anytime but he held me closer and supported my weight. The moment our eyes met again, his curious expression gently broke into a smile.
“Welcome home, Chloe,” he whispered. “Na-miss kita. Sobra.”