"So, nasaan ang pasalubong namin?" bungad ni Jess noong dumating si Steff.
"Grabe, Jess, kakapasok ko lang sa bahay nina Alice," she retorted.
"Fine," sagot ni Jess at tumahimik siya for a few seconds. Pag-upong-pag-upo naman ni Steff ay inulit niya ang tanong niya. "So, nasaan na ang pasalubong namin."
"She's hopeless," Yna commented.
Dahil galing sa Canada ang family ni Steff ay inuwian niya kami ng maple syrup, mugs, snow globe at kung anu-ano pang souvenirs.
"You should have brought a casket for Alice's heart," Yna joked. Sinamaan ko naman siya ng tingin.
"Ha. Ha. Funny."
"Thanks. At least my sense of humor has improved."
Nagtawanan naman sina Yna at Jess habang napailing na lang si Steff. Alam kasi nila ang nangyari bago mag-Christmas at nagtawagan din kami noong New Year. Nag-breakdown ako no'n sa kanila kaya galit nag alit sila kay Kevin ngayon.
We talked about our respective vacations and somehow, it distracted me from thinking about Kevin. Medyo okay na rin ako ngayon dahil sa pagle-lecture sa akin ng tatlong 'to before pero these past few days, ibang-iba talaga ang mood ko.
After that night, hindi ko na siya ulit nakita. Wala rin siyang kahit anong message. Walang kahit anong paramdam. Bigla na lang siyang nawala.
Looking back, all people involved had their own share of fault. Dad invited Kevin's mom because he thought they were already okay. Kevin's emotions were all over the place that night and he snapped at Dad for what happened to his mother. And I made it worse by shouting at him.
Nakalabas si Mom ng ospital after three days habang si Tita Kristina ay na-discharge lang noong Christmas. Fortunately, she only got a broken rib and a dozen of cuts from the shattered windshield of the car. Nagkausap na rin si Dad at ang family ngayon ni Tita Kristina. Balak ko nga rin sanang dalawin siya sa bahay nila pero hindi ko magawa dahil naaalala ko si Kevin.
"Hello, Earth to Alice? Earth to Alice?"
Nawala naman ako sa train of thought ko dahil sa pagbangga sa akin ni Yna. 'Di ko napansin na kanina pa pala sila may sinasabi sa akin.
"Naku, ikaw ha, sinasabi namin sa'yo, masyado kang lenient pagdating kay Kevin," Steff complained. "For once, isipin mo naman ang sarili mo."
"Agreed," dagdag ni Yna.
"Kahit pinsan 'yon ni Pat, lagot pa rin sa akin 'yon. Malapit na niya sana kaming ma-convince ng sincerity niya."
'Di na ako nakasagot. May point din naman sila pero iniisip ko, kung ako ang nasa gano'ng kalagayan, I think gano'n din ang gagawin ko, lalo na at buhay ng Mom ko ang nakataya. One more thing, even if he continued to cut off his connection to his Mom, it was obvious that he still cares about her. He still years for her. Learning that his Mom was in the Emergency Room must have been a shock to him, especially since they didn't part well.
"Oo na, oo na. I know," I retorted after those ruthless remarks.
Alam ko rin namang worried sila sa akin. Ang hirap nga lang i-weigh ng ganitong situation dahil kahit anong piliin o gawin ko, may masasaktan at masasaktan pa rin—ako.
Nag-stay sila ng ilang oras at ilang beses din akong na-hot seat. Palibhasa, ayos ang love life ng mga 'to kaya ako ang napagdidiskitahan. Well, ako at si Yna, actually. However, masyadong masikreto ang isang 'to kaya kaunti lang ang nakukuha naming information.
After that ay umuwi na rin sila at naiwan na naman akong mag-isa. Mom and Dad wouldn't be home this night because of their business trip. Tumambay na lang muna ako sa veranda ng kwarto ko para magmuni-muni.
I was contemplating what to do if I meet him in the campus when my phone suddenly rang. Akala ko nga noong una ay si Jess na naman dahil kanina pa siya patawag-tawag para lang mang-asar pero nanigas ako nang makita ko ang pangalan ni Kevin sa screen.
"What?" I muttered, wondering if I was just hallucinating. "Shet, nababaliw na ba ako?"
Halos ilang segundo kong pinag-isipan kung sasagutin ko ba o hindi. In the end, my curiosity won. Dahan-dahan kong inilapit sa tenga ko ang phone pero hindi ako nagsalita. I listened, afraid that he'd hear my breathing but he wasn't saying anything.
"How long are you going to stare at your phone? You look dumb, Kuya."
"Mind your own business, Karla."
Saglit naman akong naguluhan. Tinawagan niya ba talaga ako? Alam ba niya na nasa kabilang linya ako? Hindi ko tuloy alam kung dapat ko na bang ibaba o kung magsasalita ba ako. It seemed like he couldn't see his screen as of the moment.
"Kung pinuntahan mo na si Ate Alice, eh 'di sana tapos 'yang problema mo," sabi ni Karla kaya bigla akong naging interesado. At the same time, I was afraid to hear Kevin's response.
Narinig ko naman ang pagbuntong-hininga niya. "It's not that easy."
"Yeah, because you got angry and vented your frustrations at her. Now, your guilt is preventing you from talking to her. You're such a coward, Kuya."
"So you're trashtalking me now?"
"Obviously. You know, sa lahat ng mga babaeng nakita kong kasama mo, si Ate Alice lang ang nagustuhan ko. She's different."
"I already know that," Kevin muttered and the way he said those words almost melted my troubles. "She's . . . she's special."
I heard approaching footsteps and it seemed like Karla walked toward his brother.
"I know that face," she commented. "That's the same expression you always make when you're thinking about Mom."
Nagulat naman ako nang marinig ko 'yon. I didn't expect her to mention that topic so casually. I thought that was a sensitive subject to them, especially to Kevin.
"I'm a jerk, aren't I?" he asked.
"Yeah. Buti alam mo," Karla answered and for some odd reason, that made me smile a little.
"It's just that . . ." Hindi naman niya maituloy ang gusto niyang sabihin at nadugtungan lang 'yon ng isang malalim na buntong-hininga.
"You're afraid to lose her just like how we lost Mom?"
"Damn it. Are you a mind reader now?"
"Ewan ko sa'yo, Kuya. Dad and I have already moved on. Ikaw na lang ang hindi. People come and go. We can't bring back someone who had already went away. But those who are still here? They stayed for a reason. Don't take their reasons for granted or else, they'll walk away from you. You'll lose them, too."
"Are you sure you're the younger one?"
'Yon na lang ang nasabi ni Kevin at maging doon ay napangiti ako. Ang cute nilang magkapatid.
"Oh, shit!" he cursed, followed by a few seconds of pause. "H-hello?"
Para naman akong binuhusan ng malamig na tubig nang ma-realize kong nakita na ni Kevin na nasa kabilang linya ako. That I was eavesdropping. Kaya bago pa may kung ano akong masabi ay agad kong in-end ang call.
I placed my phone on the table behind me and sighed deeply. Lalo lang akong naguluhan sa dapat kong gawin. They told me I shouldn't bend so easily . . . that I should learn to know my worth, but it's hard when your heart and mind say otherwise.
Napatingin na lang ako sa langit. One star was twinkling brightly, as if telling me some positive sign, which would sound absurd for my friends, but not for me.
Napaisip naman ako sa mga narinig ko sa usapan nilang dalawa. Alam kong close silang dalawa pero hindi ko in-expect na ang taas na ng level of maturity ni Karla. Kung tutuusin, mas mukha pa siyang mas matanda kay Kevin kung maturity ang pagbabasehan.
Narinig ko naman ang pag-vibrate ng phone ko sa mesa kaya napalingon ako. Nagdalawang-isip pa ako kung kukunin ko ba o hindi dahil baka si Kevin 'yon. In the end, kinuha ko pa rin. Minsan talaga ang rupok ng mga tao, eh.
And I was right. It was him.
From: Kevin Fuentez
May I call you?
Ilang minuto akong nag-contemplate kung ano ang ire-reply ko. I ended up not replying at all. After several more minutes, may dumating ulit na message galing sa kanya.
Silence means yes?
Hindi na naman ako nakapag-reply. Half of me wanted to say yes but half was too sad to respond. Hanggang sa tuluyan na akong nag-panic dahil naka-display na screen ang pangalan niya. He was already calling.
I forgot how many deep breaths I took before answering the call. Carefully, I put my phone beside my right ear, afraid that I'd be swayed after hearing his voice.
But he wasn't speaking, too.
Halos ilang segundo na ang nakalipas pero wala pa ring nagsasalita sa aming dalawa. Ni walang hello o hi. We were just anxiously waiting for someone to break the ice.
"My stupid mouth
Has got me in trouble"
And finally, he did. Pero nagulat ako dahil imbes na magsalita ay bigla na lang siyang kumanta.
"I said too much again
To a date over dinner yesterday
And I could see
She was offended
She said "well anyway"
Just dying for a subject change"
The lyrics reminded me of what had happened that night and the way his feelings reverberated through every word made it more impactful.
"Oh, another social casualty
Score one more for me
How could I forget?
Sister said "think before speaking""
Para naman akong tanga na nagpipigil umiyak. His voice was so soothing yet the lyrics were trying to open up a healing wound.
"No filter in my head
Oh, what's a boy to do
I guess he better apologize now"
Gusto kong itanong kung anong kanta 'yon, kung may binago ba siya sa lyrics o own composition niya. But the message was clear and I was relieved that it wasn't nothing to him.
A wave of silence followed after his singing. Hindi pa rin ako nagsasalita dahil hindi ko rin naman alam ang sasabihin. Isa pa, ayaw kong isipin niya na gano'n lang kababaw ang nangyari.
"Marami akong gustong sabihin," he softly said. "I want to say these words to you personally. See you tomorrow, Alice."
I didn't respond. We waited for each other to end the call but nobody did. Dahil pakiramdam ko ay sasabog na ako ay ako na rin ang unang bumitiw. Binaba ko ang phone at kung anu-ano na ang pumasok sa isip ko tungkol sa mangyayari bukas.
"What should I do?" I whispered, unsure of what to feel or do if I see Kevin.
I guess tomorrow would be a long day.