It’s been three days since we returned yet everything that happened that day still felt surreal. I was so dumbfounded that time that I couldn’t speak for a couple of minutes.
“Right in front of their families,” Katrina muttered while hugging Clark.
“Such bravery,” Shang added as he covered Czanelle’s eyes.
“What happened? What happened?” tanong ni Czanelle.
Nanghihina pa rin ang tuhod ko at nakaalalay si Jazer sa akin habang nakaharap kami sa kanila. Dad cleared his throat while Kuya Larry kept pursing his lips to hide his triumphant grin but failed in the end.
“Sir,” Jazer called while looking at Dad. Tumango lang sa kanya si Dad at lalo lang akong nanghina.
They were all looking at us and I wondered how Jazer could look unaffected despite what he just did, while I was just seconds from passing out.
“Okay ka lang ba, anak?” tanong ni Nanay Meling at napunta ang atensyon nilang lahat sa akin.
I drew a shaky breath. “May I collapse now?”
The atmosphere turned light and Kuya Larry started laughing. My surprise event got ruined but it was worth it. Now that they’re here, everything was worth it.
“Saka na kita hahalikan sa labi kapag kaya na kitang buhayin at panindigan.”
His words repeatedly echoed inside my head as I blankly stared at my room’s ceiling. Was that why he did that? Or he just acted on impulse?
“Damn it!” I cursed as I rolled on my bed but I halted when I heard a knock on my door.
Napabangon naman ako nang marinig ko ang boses ni Dad. Agad akong tumayo at pinagbuksan siya ng pinto.
“Why do you look tensed?” tanong niya kaya naubo ako.
His lips subtly curved upward. “I’ve already talked to him,” he said.
“W-what? What did you say to him?”
“What do you think?”
“Bumaba ka na. Kakain na.”
I could not really understand what’s going through his head. Hindi ko alam kung nang-aasar ba siya o seryoso, but teasing wasn’t his nature. Did he seriously talk to him?
Bumaba naman ako at tahimik lang akong kumain ng lunch pero na-realize ko rin na ito ang unang beses na kakain kami nang sabay-sabay. Dad was assisting Mom in drinking while Czanelle carefully watched Clark as he ate his meal. Napangiti na lang ako habang pinapanood ko sila. I didn’t know a simple thing like eating with your family would be this delightful.
After that ay umalis ako para kitain ang mga may kasalanan ng lahat.
“I swear, I didn’t tell him!” bungad ni Queenie nang dumating ako sa café.
“Me, too,” dagdag ni Katrina. “I didn’t know how he learned about it.”
“Actually . . .”
Sabay-sabay kaming napatingin kay Iñigo at napaatras siya mula sa aming tatlo.
“You told him?!” sigaw ni Queenie.
“I didn’t, but . . .”
“But what?” I asked, glaring at him.
He heaved a sigh. “Hinatid kasi siya ni Kuya Larry sa work at kasama niya sina Czanelle at Clark. Malapit lang ako sa kanila kaya nakita at narinig ko sila. Jazer asked where they would go and Clark blurted out ‘Ate.’ Czanelle covered his mouth and Kuya Larry just laughed it off and drove away. Siguro masyado siyang busy sa project niya ngayon kaya hindi niya agad na-realize ‘yon pero nang nasa office na kami ay bigla siyang tumingin sa akin.”
“And? You told him?”
“No. He searched for the arriving flights from Singapore and asked if I could drive him to the airport. I was so flustered that time that I couldn’t react. Hanggang sa tumakbo na lang siya palabas. Hindi ko kaagad siya napigilan kaya tinawagan ko si Katrina since nasa labas lang siya ng airport that time.”
“Then I saw him outside the airport that time. Tumakbo na rin ako papunta sa arrival area dahil alam kong ‘di ko na siya mapipigilan. I tried to warn you but then that happened.”
Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako dahil sobrang palpak ng naging plano namin. I didn’t think about the possibility that Czanelle and Clark might slip up like that.
“So what will you do now?” Iñigo asked.
“Nevermind that,” sabi naman ni Queenie habang nakangiti nang nakakaloko. “He freaking kissed you right in front of everyone! How did it feel?”
Blood immediately rushed to my cheeks when she said that. I could vividly remember the time he was running toward me and when he surprised me with a kiss.
“Oh, right. I have a video of that.”
Nagulat naman ako nang marinig ko ‘yon mula kay Katrina. The next thing I knew, the three of them were already watching it on her phone.
“Hey! Delete that! And why do you even have that?!” sigaw ko habang pilit na kinukuha sa kanya ang phone niya pero hinaharangan naman ako ni Queenie.
“Hiningi ko kay Kuya Larry,” sagot niya. “He got the whole scene recorded.”
“Oh my god, Jazer, that was smooth!” Queenie squealed.
“Wow. That was quite a reaction, Chloe,” dagdag pa ni Iñigo.
Dahil naririnig ko ang audio ay naalala ko na naman ‘yon. Napaupo na lang ako pabalik sa upuan ko at bumuntong-hininga dahil sa mga pinaggagawa nila. Couldn’t they feel my embarrassment? Damn these people.
“Nasaan pala si Jazer?” tanong ni Queenie at salamat naman, tinigilan na rin nila ang panonood. Humanda talaga si Kuya Larry sa akin mamaya.
“He’s with his sister. Mag-a-apply ng scholarship for college.”
“Oh, so he won’t be back for a while. Why don’t you do your event today?”
“Huh? Are you out—”
“She’s right,” Katrina chimed in. “You can still do it.”
“Para naman makabawi ka sa kanya. Besides, you still have a lot to say, right?”
Natulala na lang ako sa kanila habang bigla na silang naging busy sa preparations. These people just do everything they want to do without any considerations.
But perhaps, it might work out.
I sat down as I waited for their updates.
Even though the sky was clear and the sun was about to set, it felt like I came back to that time. He was the only person who saw me at my weakest. He comforted me a lot and I gave him a hard time because of that. Looking back, he was always there at the right moment, as if he knew what exactly I needed.
Napahawak naman ako necklace na binigay niya as a birthday gift. He did a lot of things for me. It’s my turn this time.
Nag-ring naman ang phone ko kaya agad kong sinagot ‘yon.
“He’s on his way there!” Queenie informed while sounding excited. “Good luck, witch.”
In-end niya ang call at hinintay ko naman si Jazer na dumating.
Weird. I thought I’d be a bundle of nerves but my heart was tranquil. Maybe what happened at the airport made me less anxious.
I was playing with my ring when I saw someone running toward my direction. It felt like that airport scene once again. Our eyes met and he loosened his tie as he walked toward me with a worried expression on his face . . .
. . . but this time, I was smiling at him.
“You’re here,” I greeted.
He was still huffing and he looked confused. “Hindi ka raw nila ma-contact. Wala ka sa bahay, sa park, sa paborito mong café. Kaya . . . inisip ko na nandito ka . . .”
“Yeah. I’m here.”
“Anong . . .”
Before he could ask his question, I stepped forward and hugged him. He was always the first one to hug me and I didn’t know the feeling of being hugged and hugging someone was quite different.
“Thank you for finding me,” I whispered and I could feel his heartbeat getting faster and louder. “Thank you for everything.”
That moment, he hugged me back and he laid his head on my shoulder.
“Do you still remember what happened here?” tanong ko at naramdaman ko ang pagtango niya. I smiled, remembering how he calmed me down and accompanied me here when I learned that Mom was in the house that time. “The rain was falling hard and we got stranded here. Then I realized I lost my bracelet and you made me a temporary one using flowers. Maybe I just didn’t want to accept it but that time, you were already special to me. That kind of feeling was unfamiliar to me and I got scared thinking that I might get hurt again. But you know what? Someone told me that acknowledging my feelings isn’t a crime. She told me to love fearlessly. And even though she can’t remember any of that anymore, I’m beyond thankful that she pushed me to be honest with my feelings.”
Napangiti ako nang maalala ko ang oras na ‘yon. Mom said I could run to her when I get hurt and whatever happens, she would always be my ally.
I gently pushed him to see his face. His eyes were welling up with tears but he looked straight at me and I did the same.
“That’s why I’m grateful that you exist. Thank you for being in my life,” I said as I reached for his face.
“Chloe . . .”
“I know we still have a lot of responsibilities to our respective families. We are still learning about life and still trying to be our better selves. But after I finished my Master’s degree . . . or maybe whenever you’re ready . . . are you willing to spend the rest of your life with me?”
The wind blew right after I said those words and we both went silent.
My heart started to race and anxiety kicked in. Saying it was easy but waiting for any kind of response made me distressed. I should’ve planned this better. Damn it.
“I . . . I mean . . . it’s just . . . uhm . . .”
I was about to step back but he suddenly held my hand and pulled me closer to him. Our face was just inches apart and I could feel his breath and heartbeat. My heart melted the moment he smiled.
“Did you just propose to me?” he whispered with a playful expression on his face.
I immediately averted his gaze because I was too embarrassed but my cheeks felt hotter when he suddenly chuckled.
“W-what’s funny, you—”
“Inunahan mo ako,” sabi niya kaya napatingin ulit ako sa kanya. This time, I couldn’t take my eyes off him anymore. “Sa tingin mo bakit kita hinalikan sa labi?”
I was getting dizzy because of his gaze and smile but that question made me scream internally. “Uhm . . . I . . .”
“Handa na akong panindigan ka,” he said as the tip of our nose touch each other. “At maghihintay ako hanggang sa maging handa ka na. Pakakasalan kita.”
The tears I was trying to hold back streamed down my face but he gently wiped them off and gazed at me intently. The next thing I knew, his lips was already pressed against mine.
For the first time, I was living in the moment. I didn’t care about the past or the future.
I was just here. With him.
It was just the two of us.
Dad was still in the living room with Czanelle and Clark when we returned. Dumiretso naman si Jazer sa kwarto niya at doon ko lang din napag-alaman na aalis na siya rito. He said he already got an apartment near his work so he was planning to move out next week. Umakyat na rin ako sa taas pero napahinto ako nang nasa tapat na ako ng room ni Mom.
I carefully opened the door and she was sitting on her bed, her upper body leaning against the headboard. She didn’t pay attention to me but I sat right next to her and hugged her.
“Mom, thank you,” I said. “You said I should run to you when I get hurt, but this time, I’m here because I’m happy. I want to tell you that.”
Sa ilang series at movies na napanood ko, daughters usually inform their mothers first whenever something good happened to them. It always warms my heart how the mother gets happier than her daughter when a scene like that plays. I knew it would never happened to us but I still wanted to do it. I wanted to share my happiness with her.
Humiwalay ako sa pagkakayakap ko sa kanya at hinawakan ang kamay niya. She had a vacant expression on her face but that didn’t stop me from telling her everything.
“I never thought I’d be given a chance to be happy,” mahina kong sabi. “Sa totoo lang, nawalan na ako ng pag-asa noong tumigil na kayo ni Dad sa pagdalaw sa akin dito dati. I closed off my heart to everyone, including my siblings, but he was the one who opened it again for me. You told me not to live a life full of regrets. You told me not to follow the path you have chosen. That’s exactly what I’m doing right now, Mom. So, thank you, for telling those things to me.” I kissed her hand and I felt a lump of emotions in my throat. “The only thing I regret right now is that I’m only telling you these when you can’t even understand me anymore. I want my voice to reach you but it’s hard. I just want to hear again how proud you are of me.”
Natigilan naman ako nang naramdaman ko ang paggalaw ng kamay niya. He weakly squeezed my hand and my heart sank when I looked at her face.
“M-Mom . . .”
Tears were falling from her eyes and she gave a weak smile while looking at me.
It took me a few seconds to take in what just happened and I sobbed my heart out because that was the first time she showed any kind of reaction.
And for me, that meant a lot.
They say when you’re at the peak of your happiness, life will always find a way to balance it.
Two days after I confided to her, she passed away in her sleep.
Dad’s yell woke me up and everyone went to where he was—in their room. Kuya Larry called for an ambulance but deep inside, we already knew it was too late. We couldn’t feel her heartbeat and pulse anymore. She finally found her peace.
It was a busy week because of Mom’s funeral. I thought I’d cry hard but ironically, I just felt relieved. Mom was struggling for years and it pained me to see her live like that. It was time for us to let her go.
“Siguro hinintay niya lang na mabuo kayo bago siya tuluyang magpaalam,” sabi ni Nanay Meling habang inililibing si Mom sa tabi ng parents niya.
Napangiti naman ako nang marinig ko ‘yon. “Yeah. I’m sure she did.”
Nang umalis na ang ilang nakilibing ay lumapit ako sa puntod niya. I sat in front of her and placed a flower bracelet on her grave.
“We made you wait for a long time, Mom,” I said. “I’ll take care of Dad, Czanelle and Clark so you have nothing to worry about. You can rest peacefully now.”
When she left me before, the hope that she’d return turned into hatred. That was what influenced me to live my life without letting anyone in.
When I learned about her disease, I was eaten up with guilt and all I could think of was what if I have forgiven them before? Maybe things would end up differently.
When she forgot about me, it felt like I had already lost her. It was hard to accept at first but she said before that it’s okay to get hurt because that feeling would teach me a lot of lesson. I had learned to accept the reality that she wasn’t the same person anymore and we would lose her sooner or later.
Maybe that was why I had handled her death with a less heavy heart.
I stood up and smiled at her one last time.
“I will always remember you, Mom. Good bye for now.”
"So, when will you come back again?"
"Inform us beforehand."
"No way," I said. "You're going to ruin everything again."
Halos sabay naman akong tinaasan ng kilay nina Queenie at Katrina matapos kong sabihin 'yon. They had been lenient with me after what happened to Mom but I told them not to and just act like normal.
I'd leave later and they went to our house this morning just to see me off. Nauna naman na si Dad sa akin. He left four days ago since he was needed in the board of directors meeting.
"You're going to leave again?"
Napatingin naman ako kay Clark habang dala niya ang favorite blanket niya. It was already too short for him but he still liked it.
Umupo ako para makita ang mukha niya. "Yup, but I'll be back after a while. Can you wait for me?"
He nodded. "Yes."
"Be a good boy, okay? Listen to your ate Czanelle."
Sakto namang bumaba si Czanelle mula sa second floor. She ran toward my direction and handed me a notebook. I stared curiously at her and she was trying so hard to control her expression.
"Take that, Ate."
I carefully opened the cover and I inhaled sharply when I saw what was inside. It was like a story book.
"Did you draw all of these?" tanong ko sa kanya.
"Mmm," she pouted, "but Kuya helped me, too."
"I see. Thank you for this."
Browsing the pages, I saw how she based the story on our family. There were only four members at the start but turned into five, and then into three, and finally into four. I was worried about them because of Mom's death but Czanelle had already grown into a dependable sister.
I kissed them good bye and turned to Queenie and Katrina. Ngumiti naman ako sa kanila.
"Are you sure na ayaw mong magpahatid?" Katrina asked.
Umiling naman ako. "No need. But please, stay for a while. Look after them," sabay tingin ko kina Czanelle at Clark.
Napatingin naman kami sa front door nang may marinig kaming kumatok. Nagmadali akong pumunta ro'n at binuksan ko ang pinto.
"Ah, kaya naman pala ayaw magpahatid," Queenie muttered.
Jazer helped me with my suitcases and trunks. Nag-book na siya ng car kaya naman inilagay namin agad ang mga gamit ko ro'n. Umuwi kasi si Kuya Larry kaya walang magda-drive ng kotse.
Pumwesto naman kami sa backseat at napabuntong-hininga ako nang unti-unti na kaming lumalayo sa bahay.
"Huwag kang mag-alala, akong bahala sa kanila," he said.
Napangiti naman ako. "I know. Thank you."
It was a long, eventful month. My emotions were at their peak during my stay here and leaving this place felt heavy.
I reached for his hand for comfort and he looked at me in return.
"We only have an hour left. This sucks."
He squeezed my hand back, his ring brushing onto my skin. I couldn't help but smile. When I gave that to him, I never thought he would wear it everyday. It looked good on him.
I suddenly remembered my 'proposal' to him. He said he would wait for me. He said he would marry me. I wanted to hear those words again but it would be too embarrassing.
Mabilis namang lumipas ang isang oras at agad kaming nakarating sa airport. It was finally time to leave.
Nakatingin lang ako sa kanya habang inaayos niya ang mga maleta ko. I couldn't read his expression but I didn't want to leave him without doing anything. While he was busy with my things, I carefully stepped closer to him until we were standing right in front of each other.
"Okay na 'tong mga gam—”
My lips gently brushed against his and I was reminded how much I would miss him this time.
I stepped back, my heart still racing, while he was at a loss for words.
“Just like what you did that time,” I teased. “Surprise me more next year.”
He was still in a daze when I was walking away and he looked too cute when he had that confused expression. Napahinto naman ako sa paglalakad at muling lumingon sa direksyon niya.
“Jazer!” I called and we stared into each other despite the distance.
I never liked announcing my feelings but for the first time, it was what I wanted to do.
“Mahal kita. Sobra,” I uttered and grinned widely at him.
Hindi ko na hinintay ang reaction niya dahil dumiretso na ako sa ticket counter but I couldn’t help but smile when he shouted the same words I just told him.
“Mahal kita! Sobra!”
Some people might think this wasn’t the right choice. Why would I leave my guy and my family behind? I would be happier here.
They have a point but I want to be better. For myself. For my family. For him. For our future.
We still have a lot of responsibilities and careers to build. I think being mutually understanding of each other’s dreams makes a couple’s bond stronger. Being too dependent on each other would just exhaust both of us and I’m glad that he, too, prefers to have space and freedom for ourselves.
Several years ago, I was a teenager who hated everything. There was no room for positive emotions in my heart because I already built a fortress, thinking I was protecting myself. But there were people who tried to break my walls and dragged me out of my safe place. I didn’t know beyond that was something I was unconsciously craving for—a place called happiness.
Here, I learned to accept my siblings.
Here, I learned to forgive my parents.
Here, I made friends.
Here, I finally loved myself.
Here, I am growing and healing.
And I hope I can stay here for a long time, together with the people who helped me reach this place.
It took me a while but finally, I can say these words sincerely.
"I am happy."
- Chloe Zurbano