Ianne had been clutching her chest since she left the campus. Her heart was beating fast and loud that she was having a hard time breathing properly.
Pag-uwi niya sa bahay ay napahiga na lang siya sa kama habang nakatingin sa kisame. Rico Blanco's Your Universe was replaying in her head for several times already, but instead of his face, all she could see was Benjamin's.
"Oh my god," she squealed as she rolled on her bed. Everything felt so surreal, she wasn't sure if they were even real.
Napahawak siya sa magkabilang-pisngi niya. They were still warm and tingling. It had been a while since she felt this happy, but she couldn't shake off the doubts lingering in her head.
Benjamin said he did not need an answer. He just wanted to tell her how he felt for her. But the truth was, she also did not know what to feel that moment. In fact, she remembered her emotions going haywire. It was euphoria, confusion, fear, and wavering all at the same time.
Muli niyang tiningnan ang phone niya at napatitig sa huling message ni Benjamin: see you next year.
Dahil start na ng Christmas break ay hindi niya ito makikita ngayong taon. It was also a good thing because she needed to sort out her feelings for him, too. Medyo naguguluhan pa rin kasi siya.
Benjamin was attractive. Besides his physical features, she liked his personality, especially his humor. Madali rin itong makagaanan ng loob kaya komportableng makipag-usap. However, after what happened with her previous relationships, she wasn't sure if she'd be ready to risk her heart again. Nandoon na 'yong takot na baka lokohin o iwanan na naman siya lalo na't gano'n naman ang laging nangyayari sa kanya.
What if he's just the same? That question dawdled in her mind for days.
They continued messaging each other, and she was thankful that Benjamin did not open any topic about his confession. Madalas ay puro asaran lang at kung ano ang ginagawa ng isa't isa.
Days passed by quickly and she spent her vacation binge-watching several kdramas and TV series. Halos umaga na rin siya natutulog kaya hindi siya agad nakakasagot ng chat nito at halos oras ang pagitan ng replies.
Her family also celebrated Christmas with the standard food on the table. Pagdating ng hatinggabi ay nagbatian sila ng mga kaibigan niya at nauwi sa group call.
"Wala bang magreregalo sa akin d'yan?" tanong ni Gray habang kumakain ng lumpia.
"Sige, shuta ka, reregaluhan din kita ng Katinko!" she retorted after remembering his gift for her birthday.
Natawa naman si Gray sa sinabi niya. "Essential kasi 'yon! Kunwari ka pa, ginagamit mo rin naman!"
"Galawang tita," Elle chimed in.
There were just laughs and banters for a good thirty minutes. Pagkatapos no'n ay nagkulong na siyang muli sa kwarto niya para manood ng movies, pero bago pa siya makapag-ready ay nakita niyang binati siya ni Benjamin sa chat.
Her lips automatically curved upward, much to her surprise when she realized it. Kahit wala namang tao ay na-conscious siya at agad na itinikom ang labi niya.
For the next few days ay magka-chat lang sila at nag-uusap ng kung anu-ano. Deep inside, she already knew that she liked him, too, and she wanted to tell him that, but her skeptical side was holding her back.
She knew confessing took a lot of courage, but the burden would always be on the receiver, because they would either accept or break someone's heart. But what made him different from the others was that he said telling someone you like her wasn't a question she needed to respond to. That his intent was just to sincerely express how he felt for her, and not for her to reciprocate it.
Still, she felt like she needed to say something about that, too.
Ianne decided to address it during New Year's Eve. Nagkakantahan na ang parents niya at ang mga kapitbahay nila sa labas pero nandoon lang siya sa sala nila habang kaharap ang phone. Pakiramdam niya ay lalabas ang puso niya sa sobrang kaba.
Nagcha-chat lang sila tungkol sa mga pinaggagawa nila at nang makahanap siya ng tyempo ay tinanong niya kung pwede siyang tumawag. Few minutes later, he replied yes.
With her trembling hands, she called his number and mentally noted the things she wanted to talk about.
Benjamin was singing Balisong when Ianne called and his relatives were watching so he had continue the song. Palibhasa ay binibida siya ng mga magulang at kapatid niya sa mga ito kahit average lang naman ang boses niya. Ayaw niya rin naman magpatalo sa mga pinsan nila dahil ganoon naman lagi kapag New Year. Laging may pagalingan sa pagitan ng mag-anak.
"You mesmerize me
With diamond eyes
I try to fool myself
To think I'll be alright
But I am losing all control
My mind, my heart, my body and my soul."
"Hello?" Ianne greeted, clearly confused, because he was just singing. "Bakit ka kumakanta?"
"Never in my life have I been more sure
So come on up to me and close the door
Nobody's made me feel this way before
You're everything I wanted and more."
He was worried she would end the call but she listened quietly until he finished the song, though there were moments where he could clearly hear her stifling a laugh.
"Whoo! Ang galing naman ng songer na 'yan," she teasingly cheered.
Agad naman siyang tumakbo papasok sa kwarto niya at halos magkandadapa-dapa siya sa hagdanan nila.
"Ang condescending 'pag galing sa 'yo," he retorted. "Porque mas magaling ka lang kumanta sa akin nang slight."
He realized she could sing during the fair. Noong sinasabayan nito ang mga kanta ay nagulat siya na maganda pala ang boses nito. Perhaps that was also one of the many reasons why he was enthralled with her that night.
Ianne cackled. "Sigurado ka ba d'yan sa slight?"
"Medyo magkaboses naman kami ni Rico Blanco."
He heard her gasp. "Hoy mahiya ka naman kay Rico! 'Di siya napipiyok nang gano'n!" she remarked, referring to how his voice cracked earlier.
Natawa naman siya sa reaksyon nito. "Oo na, oo na. Bakit ba kasi si Rico lagi ang kumakanta 'pag magkausap tayo? Sa fair, tapos ngayon naman. Pahamak."
The line went silent for several seconds. He thought the call got cut and was about to check his screen when he heard the faint but quivering breathing on her end. Narinig niya ring humugot ito ng malalim na buntonghininga.
"S-speaking of fair . . ." Her words hung in the air, making him hold his breath. "You know . . . 'y-yung sinabi mo sa akin that time . . ."
"Ah, 'yon . . ."
"Uhm . . . ano kasi . . ."
The rising tension and brief silence were making him dizzy. Hindi niya alam kung ano ang maririnig niya, lalo na at mukhang nahihirapan si Ianne na sabihin ang gusto niyang iparating.
He heaved a sigh to calm himself. "Sabi ko naman sa 'yo, hindi mo kailangang—"
"No," she interjected. "Gusto kong sabihin na gusto k—"
Parehas silang napasigaw bago pa matapos ang sasabihin ni Ianne. Bigla na lang kasing nagpaputok ang kapitbahay niya at nagulat si Ianne sa pagsigaw niya.
Puta, mamaya na kayo magpaputok! he cursed in his head as he hastily closed his windows.
"Ano ulit 'yon?" tanong niya. "Hindi ko narinig."
He heard the first words, but he did not want to assume anything. He wanted to hear it again, this time, clearer.
"Wala na! Ayoko na!"
He chuckled at how flustered she sounded. "Ang duga nito. Hindi ko nga narinig."
"'Di ko na kasalanan 'yon!"
"Kasalanan nga ng paputok! Dali na, 'di ko nga talaga kasi narinig, promise."
Ianne breathed deeply and the silence that followed made him hear his own pounding heart. "I . . . feel the same. Gusto rin kita."
For a moment, he thought he just misheard it. No, he wanted to believe that he misheard her because what she just said was beyond belief . . . and that the sprout of hope he had been hiding in the deepest part of his heart would grow and bloom out of his control.
"Pakiulit . . ."
"Ewan ko sa 'yo! Bahala—"
He cracked up at her reaction. "Sorry na. Hindi pa kasi nagsi-sink in sa akin."
"Gusto kita," she repeated, and he blushed because he did not expect her to say that again. Narinig naman niya ang isa na namang malalim na buntonghininga. "But I'm so sorry, I . . . I'm not yet ready for any commitment."
Parang lumubog naman ang puso niya sa narinig, hindi dahil sa sinabi niya, kundi dahil sa tono nito. He could hear the pain and fear in her trembling voice.
He knew her commitment issues and fear would not disappear overnight. It would not magically go away just because she liked someone again. And he could completely understand that.
"Okay lang," sagot niya. "Hindi pa rin naman ako makapaniwala kaya 'di pa nakakarating 'yung isip ko sa commitment na 'yan," he snickered. "Wala namang nagmamadali rito."
"Sorry . . ."
"Bakit ka nagso-sorry?"
"Feeling ko kasi ang unfair ko," she mumbled.
"Bakit unfair?" balik niya. "Dahil hindi ka ready mag-commit?"
"Ako rin naman," tawa niya. "First time para sa akin lahat ng 'to kaya hindi ko rin alam kung ready na ba ako o hindi pa. And one more thing, you're allowed to have doubts. It's natural to feel worried, especially after what happened to you."
"Benj . . ."
"Let's take things at our own pace," he continued. "And maybe, one day, kung darating man, kapag ready ka na, saka natin pag-usapan 'yan."
The sounds of fireworks filled the silence between them.
Ianne pondered on the words he just said. She had been in bad relationships, so perhaps it became natural for her to wonder if the next one would end up like that, too. But what comforted her was when he said she was allowed to have doubts. That even if she thought she was with the right person right now, the fear would still be there, and that her mindset would not magically change.
But the thought of being with the right person also made it less frightening to risk her heart again.
"Hypothetically speaking," she said, breaking the silence, "kung magiging tayo man, can you promise me one thing?"
She choked back the dread rising in her throat. "Kapag na-fall out of love ka na, o kung nagsisimula ka nang magkagusto sa iba, can you tell it to me honestly?"
His brows furrowed in confusion. "Ha?"
"I mean . . . break up with me first before falling in love with someone else." She forced a laugh. "Kapag naka-third strike ako, maniniwala na akong malas ako at baka sa akin nga ang mali."
He heaved a sigh with a scowl on his face. She was practically asking him not cheat because of what she had been through. Ianne had always been confident when talking about herself, but when it comes to relationships, her self-esteem had taken a nosedive. He couldn't help but get resentful at her ex for making her doubt herself when she did nothing wrong.
"Okay," sagot niya makalipas ang ilang segundo. "Pero hypothetically speaking, kung magiging tayo man, bakit breakup agad ang nasa isip mo?"
"Parang doon naman lagi napupunta 'yung akin," she snickered.
"Malay mo hindi na. Paano kung umabot sa kasalan?" biro nito.
Natawa naman siya sa narinig. "Matagal pa 'yun, wala pa akong pera."
"Ah, so pera ang problema mo, hindi ako?"
Ianne's face immediately felt hot. "Luh wala naman akong sinabing gano'n! Bakit kasi napunta sa kasalan?! Advanced ka mag-isip!"
He laughed heartily. "Eh ikaw rin naman, advanced masyado mag-isip."
Natabunan na naman ng ingay ng mga paputok ang usapan nila. Pagtingin ni Benjamin sa orasan ay mag-a-alas dose na. As if on cue, his relatives downstairs started the countdown while both of them remained silent. Once the clock struck 12 AM, the whole neighborhood cheered in celebration. Fireworks lit up the sky. Adults clanged metals outside their houses. Kids excitedly jumped, believing they'd get taller.
He grinned widely. "Happy new year!" sigaw niya dahil hindi na sila magkarinigan.
Ianne was laughing, too. "Happe new year din! And thank you!"
"For understanding," sagot niya. "Sige, need ko na bumaba! See you next week!"
"Mm. See you!"
After the call ended, he stared at the screen for a few seconds, trying to take in everything that had transpired. Hindi naman niya napigilan ang pagngiti niya.
Next week. He couldn't wait for next week.
Ianne was excited for the new year, but the paperworks upon returning to work were something she wasn't looking forward to. Idagdag pa na ang daming bagong projects ngayon at thesis students kaya ang daming dapat asikasuhin.
They were busy the whole January that they did not even have the time to hang out. Mabuti na lang at nakakausap niya pa rin si Benjamin sa chat kaya kahit papaano ay nakakapagpahinga siya.
Na-open niya na rin sa friends niya ang tungkol dito nang lumabas sila noong birthday ni Chi last January 29. Alam nilang rare occasion na makalabas si Chi sa ospital kaya naman kahit busy sila ay naglaan sila ng time para rito. Besides, mahigit isang taon na rin noong huli silang nagkita-kitang lima.
"Hoy gago, 'wag ka muna mag-jowa," Gray said as soon as he finished singing. Nasa KTV kasi sila at ngayon na lang ito nakainom kasama ang friends niya. "Paunahin mo si Chi!"
Chi laughed at his remark. Kumakain lang ito ng nachos dahil hindi siya pwedeng uminom. "Wala na, Gray, tayong dalawa na lang ang nasa single's club. Mamaya ikaw na 'yung sunod ha?"
"Maghanap ka na kasi ng mayamang doktor," Elle chimed in. "Wag matanda."
"Sa fiction lang naman may gwapo, bata, at mayamang doktor," dagdag ni Cayleigh.
"Truth!" sigaw nila sabay cheers.
"Pero anong status n'yo?" asked Chi, shifting the topic back to her.
"Hmm, parang more than friends? M.U?" she chuckled. "Shuta akala mo high school pa rin, eh 'no?"
"At least walang ghosting, 'di ba, Cayleigh?" pang-aasar ni Gray.
Cayleigh drank her cocktail drink. "True."
"Okay lang 'yan. Maghihintay naman 'yan kung seryoso sa 'yo. Saka anong magagawa mo kung hindi ka pa talaga prepared?" Elle said. "Mas mahirap i-maintain ang isang relationship kung hindi mo na-sort out nang tama ang feelings mo. You'll end up hurting not just yourself, but the other person, too."
"Oo nga, saka natural lang naman na matakot kang pumasok ulit sa isang relationship lalo na't you've been cheated on twice," dagdag ni Chi.
Cayleigh nodded in agreement. "But you know, if you feel like he's the right person, then don't let that fear gets in the way of a potentially good relationship. Loving someone is always a risk, so . . ."
"Yes naman, Miss Cayleigh, expert ka na rin sa pag-ibig!" sabay akbay ni Gray rito. "Wala na akong masasabi kaya bahala ka na sa buhay mo. Desisyon mo pa rin naman 'yan. Malaki ka na."
"Wow maraming salamat sa napakamakabuluhang statement!"
Matapos ang seryosong usapan ay nagsimula na silang uminom nang uminom. That night, all the doubts and worries that kept her real feelings at bay were washed away by the liquor.
When February came, she decided to go on dates with Benjamin so that they could know each other better. However, they became more cautious of their actions. They might have held hands before, but that was because of some circumstances. Now, they were both aware of each other's feelings so the intent would be different.
Napansin niyang lagi nang nasa bulsa nito ang mga kamay niya kapag naglalakad sila nang magkatabi. She asked about that one time and was surprised with his reply.
"Baka unconsciously kong abutin 'yung sa 'yo, eh," he jokingly said. "Dapat ikaw mag-initiate para alam kong pwede."
She did not tell him, but her heart fluttered that time because despite holding it several times already in the past, he still respected her personal space. Natutuwa rin siyang nandoon pa rin ang closeness nila sa isa't isa kapag nag-uusap sila. She was grateful that they could still talk like friends and laugh at each other's humor and teasing.
Siya rin ang kasama niya noong week ng Valentines. They didn't want to spend the day in the malls so they had a quick getaway. Nagpunta sila sa malapit na beach at naglakad-lakad doon.
She found it refreshing because instead of flowers and chocolates and other romantic stuff, they spent the day running around and playing in the water.
"Hoy, burahin mo 'yan! Parang tanga 'to!" sigaw niya nang kuhanan siya ni Benjamin ng candid photo. "Ang panget ko d'yan!"
He ran away while laughing. "Ipo-post ko 'to sa birthday mo!"
Hinabol naman niya ito at pinagtinginan pa sila ng mga tao dahil para silang mga bata. But she was happy doing childish and weird things with him.
Spending time with him made her realize that she felt safe whenever she was with him. That she was starting to trust him much more than before. However, when she thought about the future, there was a conception at the back of her mind that she could be deeply in love with a person, but also be scared to be committed to that person.
But there were also a lot of times when she thought she might have been treating him unfairly. Or if she was taking things too slow that he might think she was just leading him on. Sometimes, she would worry that she might make him wait for a long time and would end up pushing him away . . . and that scared her much more than her fear of commitment.
That was when she realized she would rather risk her heart again for her present happiness, than lose the chance because she was scared of getting her heart broken in the future.
"Saan tayo pupunta?" tanong ni Benjamin nang ayain niya itong lumabas.
It was March 14, Sunday, at nagpasama siya rito. She told him she'd buy something, but the truth was she was waiting for this day. In Japan, this day was also known as White Day, a special occasion when people give reciprocal gifts for their partners, lovers, or someone who confessed to them.
"Wait, bili muna tayo chocolates," sabi niya at mabilis naman itong nag-okay.
Halos marinig na ni Ianne ang tibok ng puso niya habang naglalakad sila. Nang makarating sila sa hypermarket ay dumiretso sila sa sweets section. Benjamin reached for her favorite chocolates with his left hand while Ianne was staring at his right.
She had been hesitant of going all the way these past few months and she knew Benjamin understood her reasons. She had kept him at arm's length to protect herself, but this time, she wanted to prove that even if she was scared of commitments, she could still make a commitment.
She reached for his hand and held it tenderly. It might be a small step, but for her, it was a leap of faith.
Benjamin, on the other hand, went rigid. Nang makita niyang hawak ni Ianne ang kamay niya ay parang huminto rin ang utak niya. And the next moment, his thoughts and feelings were all over the place.
He drew a shaky breath as he slowly shifted his gaze back to her face. Pagtingin niya kay Ianne ay nakatingin ito sa kabilang direksyon at nakatago ang mukha.
Benjamin grinned. "Ianne," tawag niya. "Itong chocolate ba?"
"Oo, 'yan na," she murmured, her face still facing the opposite direction.
"Hindi mo nga nakikita," biro niya. "Tingnan mo."
"B-basta 'yan na!" she exclaimed.
Benjamin stifled a snicker. "Tingin muna ng mukha mo."
Muli siyang napatingin sa kamay niya. He gently adjusted his hand, this time, lacing his fingers through hers and lightly squeezed it. Her warm hands reminded him of the time he first held them, and this time, he did not want to let it go.
"Akala mo ba special ka?" he chuckled. "Hindi lang naman ikaw ang pulang-pula na ang mukha."
He felt like all the blood in his body rushed into his face. Maging ang mga tenga at leeg niya ay namumula na pero wala na siyang pakialam. He was beyond happy after what happened.
"So, ibig sabihin ba nito . . ."
She heaved a sigh. "Alam mo na 'yun."
"Anong alam ko na?"
"'Yun na nga 'yun," she muttered. "Pag talaga ako niloko mo . . ."
"Maloko lang ako, hindi manloloko," he retorted.
"Tara na nga!" sabay hatak ni Ianne sa kanya.
Benjamin jokingly craned his neck toward her face. "Tingin nga muna kasi ng mukha."
"Parang tanga 'to," Ianne commented, but she was smiling. Nilapat niya ang kamay niya sa mukha ni Benjamin para hindi siya makita nito. "Kumain na nga lang tayo."
He laughed in response. "Hindi mo na bibilhin 'yung chocolate? Sige, saan mo gusto?"
This time, she turned to his direction and smiled warmly. "Ramen Nagi?"
"Okay, tara, marami tayong pag-uusapan."
They walked hand in hand with their beet red faces and radiant smiles. Being with someone who loved her as much as she did was something she could only wish for before. But right now, that someone was walking beside her and holding her hand.
Commitment still scared her, but someone like him did not deserve half the love, attention, and trust that she could give.
If it were him, maybe the fear would be worth it.
If it were him, risking her heart and believing he would never hurt or abandon her would be the right and best thing to do.
And if it were him, perhaps the idea of forever would be something she could finally look forward to.
The thing about chances was that they would not wait for you. Either you take them, or you regret not taking them.
Hindi naman na bago kay Benjamin ang mawalan ng chance at alam niyang kasalanan niya rin iyon. Kapag kasi nagkakagusto siya sa isang tao, madalas ay dinadaan niya lang sa biro. Katulad na lamang ng nangyari noong college.
Nagkagusto siya sa isang blockmate nila. Andrea told him that Valerie, his crush, might have feelings for him, too. Madalas naman din kasi silang magkita dahil classmates sila sa isang major subject.
Kaya naman nagsimula na rin siyang kausapin ito. Fortunately, Valerie was approachable. She had a bright personality so it was easy talking to her. Masaya rin siya kapag lagi niya itong napapatawa. They got closer, even became friends, but he was afraid to ask her out.
"Alam mo, sinayang mo lang 'yung chance mo," sabi ni Andrea matapos ang block meeting nila. "Mukha namang may gusto rin sa 'yo si Valerie, eh!"
"Paano mo naman nasabi 'yan? Paano kung wala naman?"
Andrea almost rolled her eyes. "Bakit, magco-confess ka lang ba kapag sure siya sa feelings niya for you?"
He could not answer her question. At the back of his mind, he knew he didn't have the courage to take that one extra step to pursue her . . . because he did not want to lose what they have now.
Paano kung wala naman pala itong gusto sa kanya at hanggang kaibigan lang talaga ang maibibigay nito? What if they became awkward after that?
He let out a sigh. "Mahirap din naman kasi magsabi. Ang daming mababago."
"Of course, it's hard," komento nito. "But why not take the risk? Malay mo better change naman ang mangyari. Ikaw rin. Baka 'pag pinatagal mo pa 'yan, magsisi ka."
And that was what exactly happened.
He convinced himself that he was contented with what was between them that he did not dare tell her his true feelings for months. Kaya naman noong may nag-confess kay Valerie ay wala na siyang nagawa, lalo pa't mukhang masaya ito.
Her smiles were different when she was with the other guy. And he knew it was his fault for letting the chance pass by. If only he was brave enough to take the risk, maybe things would be different now.
"Ayan, sinasabi ko na sa 'yo, eh," litanya ni Andrea matapos ang isa nilang klase. "Nasa huli talaga ang pagsisisi. Brokenhearted ka tuloy."
They were still friends, but it was hard to look at her now. Akala niya ay walang mababago kung hindi siya magco-confess, pero ganoon din pala ang mangyayari sa huli. Unti-unti na rin silang nagkakalayuan ng loob dahil sa magkaibang schedules at sa boyfriend nito.
That was when he learned that sometimes, there would be no second chances. Sometimes, things and relationships just end.
Ganoon din ang nangyari noong nagkagusto ulit siya noong fourth year college. Laging dinadaan sa biro. Laging nagpapatawa. Hanggang sa may magustuhan na namang iba ang gusto niya.
Kaya naman noong naging ka-trabaho niya pa rin si Andrea sa lab ay iyon ang lagi nitong panlaban sa asaran.
"Hoy, at least ako kaya kong mag-confess sa crush ko, 'no," she retorted while chugging a glass of alcohol. "Wala 'yan sa gender! Kung torpe ka, torpe ka!"
"Who?" John, their new labmate, innocently asked. He was just eating fries. Nahatak lang nila ito sa inuman dahil hindi nila sinabi kung saan pupunta. "Si Benjamin?"
"Hindi ako!" depensa nito at tumingin kay Bryle.
"O, puta, bakit sa akin ka nakatingin? 'Di ako duwag!"
"Mamatay na mga torpe!" yelled Andrea as she keyed in Torpe Song #5 by MYMP.
♫ Kung 'di ngayon kailan pa? Bukas o makalawa?
Baka pa makawala pa
Naiparating mo na ba? Naihayag mo na ba?
Nakapagtapat ka na ba, ano ba? ♫
Hindi na sila nagkaintindihan pagkatapos dahil nagwawala na si Andrea sa mga kantang pinili nito. Still, he felt relieved that he didn't have any feelings for anyone that time because she would surely mock him to death.
One thing that he learned upon watching John was that the guy was the real deal.
Nang malaman nila na may gusto siya kay Cayleigh, researcher sa Chemistry building, ay nagulat sila sa pagiging straightforward nito. He was sincere, but not assertive with his feelings. And Benjamin found himself cheering for him because John could do the things he was afraid of doing.
Pero kakabit no'n ay ang isang taong hindi niya minsan mabasa at masabayan.
Ianne had that bright and welcoming personality, but sometimes, her jokes would catch him off guard. Hindi niya alam kung malakas lang ba talaga itong mang-asar o half-meant ang ilan sa biro niya. But as time went by, he had gotten used to her antics. Hindi man niya aminin, natutuwa siya sa tuwing magkausap sila.
Ilang beses niya na rin itong nakasama lumabas, madalas ay coincidental, at panay lang ang kwento tungkol kina Cayleigh at John, o 'di kaya naman mga nakakatawang pangyayari. But after that phone call during her birthday, he realized how much he did not know about her.
Hearing her trembling voice while a guy was continuously asking him to drink on the other end of the call alarmed and frustrated him. All that was running through his head were ways to get her out of there.
And that moment, albeit unexpectedly, he took that extra step to help her. He pretended to be her boyfriend.
"Ingat din. Love you."
Maging siya ay nagulat sa sinabi niya. He was so into that role that he only realized it after it had been said.
Ah, shit, he cursed inside his head. He wondered if he just crossed the line. At kung magiging awkward na ba sila sa isa't isa.
There were already several scenarios in his head, but everything dissipated when she heard her response. "Love you, too."
Parang nalaglag ang puso niya nang marinig iyon. His ears were burning while talking to her and despite the doziness, he waited until Ianne messaged back to make sure she got home safely.
"Mukhang tulog na," he muttered after sending a chat. Hindi na kasi ito nagre-reply. Pagtingin niya sa oras ay mag-a-alas dos na.
Mukhang ako naman ang hindi makakatulog, he mentally remarked, and just gave up trying around 3 AM.
Isang malalim na buntong hininga ang pinakawalan niya. That was the first time he desperately wanted to be with her. He did not know if it was because she needed his help, or the situation made him realize how he felt for her.
His mind reeled at the what ifs. Subconsciously, they knew there were boundaries that shouldn't be crossed even if their jokes would sometimes go to that direction, but after that conversation, those same boundaries became less defined. And he knew it was him who went beyond them first.
Andrea's words suddenly rang in his mind. "But why not take the risk? Malay mo better change naman ang mangyari. Ikaw rin. Baka 'pag pinatagal mo pa 'yan, magsisi ka."
A chance. He knew how short-lived one could be, but at the back of his mind, he was worried at how it would change their relationship and interactions. Taking a chance would like dropping a pebble into the water. There might be times where nothing would change, but sometimes, it could create infinite ripples.
"Ah, tangina, bahala na," Benjamin grumbled as he aggressively ruffled his hair.
That night, he fell asleep while staring at their last conversation.
"Alam mo, ikaw, last minute ka lagi magpabili," reklamo ni Benjamin sa kapatid niya nang tumawag ito habang nakapila na sa bus pauwi sa kanila.
"Dali na, kuya, please! Nakalimutan kong sabihin kahapon," Bridgette pleaded. "Requirement namin sa Eng 40. 1984 by George Orwell. Thank you, labyu!"
"Eh 'di mag-download ka na lang ng PDF o kaya ebook! Bakit ba libro pa?"
"Ayoko magbasa sa phone, masakit sa mata!"
"Napakaarte nito, mayaman ka ba?"
"Babayaran naman kita pag-uwi mo!"
"Utot mo, ilang beses ko nang narinig 'yan pero 'di mo pa rin binabayaran mga utang mo," he retorted. "Baka nagkakalimutan na tayo sa mga binili mo sa Watsons noong nakaraan?"
"Hala, parang 'di naman tayo nag-Watsons—"
Bridgette laughed. "Joke lang kasi! Sige na, compute-in mo at babayaran na kita mamaya."
"Wow, parang ako pa ang may kasalanan, ah. Sige, nakakahiya naman sa 'yo."
"Bobbie lang?" sabay halakhak ng kapatid niya. "Pero kuya ha, 'yung book."
"Paano kung ayaw ko?" he returned, but the truth was he was already in the mall. Mabuti na lang at nakapila pa lang siya kanina sa bus bay sa labas ng mall.
"Grabe naman 'to, parang others! Sige, 'wag na. Kay ate Ianne na lang ako magpapabili."
Benjamin flinched upon hearing her name. "Kapal talaga ng mukha nito, o."
"Ayaw mo, eh! Babayaran ko naman siya, 'no. Saka close na kaya kami. Sige bye na, kuya, te-text ko na lang si ate—"
"Eto na, nasa mall na ako, 'wag ka nang manggulo ng ibang tao."
Narinig niya ang pagpipigil ng tawa ng kapatid sa kabilang linya. "Yiiieee. Si ate Ianne lang pala katapat mo, eh. Don't you worry, dahil d'yan, ilalakad kita kay ate—"
"Tigil-tigilan mo 'yan—"
"Labyu, kuya! Bye!"
Napailing na lamang siya habang papasok sa NBS. Kahit sakit sa ulo ang kapatid niya ay madalas hindi niya rin ito matanggihan.
He was about to go to the Classics section when he saw a familiar face. Agad niya itong chinat para kumpirmahin pero napatigil siya nang magtama ang mga mata nila. She looked like she was about to cry, and a couple was closely following her.
Ianne hastily walked toward him, but her expression hardened when the guy called her name. Bigla naman siyang napaisip. Kung may kasama na itong babae na mukha namang girlfriend niya, ay anong kailangan nito kay Ianne?
His question was answered when he saw her reply: Ex ko.
His emotions and reflexes took over and came to her defense. Tinawag niya rin ito at kumaway sa kanya habang nakangiti. Ianne smiled back and ran to him.
"Kanina pa kita hinihintay!" she beamed, but he could see the anguish and resentment in her eyes.
Her ex stopped in his tracks and gave him a curious stare. Napaisip siya kung bakit sinusundan pa nito si Ianne kung may kasama naman siyang iba. Looking at Ianne's expression, he thought the guy must be a jerk.
"Sorry," he softly said while shifting his gaze to her. "Tara?"
Ianne quietly nodded and he steered her toward the Classics section. Fortunately, the guy did not follow them.
"Wait," she whispered. "Bakit dito? Pwede bang lumabas na lang?"
He leaned closer. "May kailangan pa akong bilhin. Saglit lang," bulong niya.
Agad naman niyang nahanap ang pinapabili ni Bridgette. He also told her why he had to buy it and she let out a chuckle. "Ang rupok mo naman sa kapatid mo."
"May bayad naman, eh, tapos lalagyan ko ng patong," he replied.
"Hoy, grabe ka!"
Napansin naman niyang conscious pa rin ito sa paligid habang papunta sila sa counter. He could see that she was trying hard to act normal, but that guy's presence must be too hard to ignore.
He halted in front of a shelf and pointed at a book. "Gusto mo ba? Libre ko na sa 'yo."
Sinamaan naman siya nito ng tingin nang makita ang title ng libro: How To Get Over Your Ex. "Gagi, naka-move on na ako 'no!"
He snickered in response. "Ay, akala ko recent breakup, eh."
"One year na," she replied. "Medyo nag-panic lang talaga ako kanina." Ianne averted his gaze. "I'm also embarrassed. And annoyed."
"Kasi bakit gano'n 'yung reaction ko?" she said as a melancholic smile escaped her lips. "Bakit parang ako pa 'yung dapat umiwas? Eh wala naman akong kasalanang ginawa. Iniisip ko na lang na para sa peace of mind ko pero deep inside, ayoko lang makita nila ako at isiping mukha akong kawawa."
She ended her words with a laugh and before he could say anything, she lightly push him toward the counter. Wala naman siyang nagawa kundi magbayad at tahimik na maghintay.
That was the first time she opened up something about herself. He realized that behind those radiant smiles and confidence of hers were doubts, pain, and insecurities from her previous relationship.
Paglabas nila sa bookstore ay ngumiti ito sa kanya. "Thank you pala kanina. May utang na loob na naman ako sa 'yo."
"Hindi ka pa ba gutom?" tanong niya.
"Bakit? Libre mo ako?"
"Aba, abuso ka na," he retorted and she laughed heartily, which put him at ease. Gusto niya itong makitang tumatawa at masaya bago sila maghiwalay.
"Tara, nagugutom na nga rin ako."
They decided to eat in Ramen Nagi. Nagdadalawang-isip pa si Ianne noong una dahil mahal pero agad din itong pumayag nang sabihin ni Benjamin na libre na niya ang karaage.
He knew she wouldn't talk about what happened earlier anymore so the topic naturally shifted to Cayleigh and John. She was genuinely happy for them, and had a lot of stories she excitedly shared.
Pagkatapos nilang kumain ay nagpaalam na rin sila sa isa't isa. Habang nasa byahe ay ka-chat niya pa rin naman ito pero napatigil siya nang makwento niya ang nangyari sa kanila ng ex niya.
The guy was a cheater and what made it worse was he broke up before her birthday.
Bigla naman siyang may na-realize matapos malaman 'yon. Perhaps that was also the reason why she drank alone after her birthday celebration with her friends.
There was a sudden urge in him to comfort her, but he also knew that she might feel uncomfortable. He realized she was the type of person who would rather suffer alone than tell it to the world. The type to hide her pain behind her cheerful and carefree demeanor.
He was trying to sort out his feelings these past few days, but it was pointless to understand anymore. Because this time, the fear of not taking the risk and not being there for her outweighed his fear of rejection and how it would change the things between them . . .
Cute nga, he replied after she sent a photo.
. . . and that perhaps being honest with his feelings was the chance he should not let slip away.
Hindi niya alam kung matatawa ba siya o lalong kakabahan dahil sa mga pinaggagawa niya.
Benjamin tried to be more straightforward with his replies and jokes, but his heart would summersault whenever he sees her typing. Hindi niya alam kung magiging awkward ba ang usapan o sasakyan lang ito ni Ianne.
Mukhang naging busy naman ito dahil hindi na nasundan ang pag-uusap nila noong araw na iyon. At the back of his mind, he was wondering if she got uncomfortable in their last conversation. Pauwi na sana siya nang narinig niya si John na kausap si Cayleigh. Balak niya itong asarin pero agad siyang napatigil dahil naging mas seryoso ang mukha nito.
"Sasabay si Ianne? Bakit?" John asked. "What? That's messed up. Okay. I'm on my way."
"Anong meron?" tanong niya dahil mukhang may hindi magandang nangyari.
John sighed, clearly perturbed. "Sabi ni Cayleigh, Ianne's ex is waiting for her outside the building. Hindi raw tuloy makauwi kaya isasabay na lang namin."
I-cha-chat niya pa lang si Ianne pero naunahan na siya nito. There was a tingling sensation in his chest upon knowing that she was asking for his help. It might be because he knew the situation between them, but he was still pleased that she messaged him.
"Sama ako," sabi niya kay John at tinitigan siya nito nang ilang segundo.
He could hear his racing heartbeat as they approached the building. Saktong nasa first floor na sina Cayleigh at Ianne nang dumating sila sa lobby.
Ianne ran toward his direction, but her ex pulled her arm before she could reach him. His brows knitted in irritation as Ianne yanked the guy's hand off her. He could not understand why this guy kept on pestering her if he was the one who cheated on her in the first place.
"Ikaw na naman?" he interrupted and Ianne stood close to him. "Please leave my girlfriend alone."
His declaration earned a variety of shocked expressions from the four, but he did not mind. Gusto niya lang layuan na ng lalaking 'yon si Ianne. She clearly did not want to be associated with him anymore.
"Ianne," he called as he turned to her. Benjamin could feel his heart in his throat, but he did what he promised. He carefully held her hand and almost flinched at how cold it was. "Tara na?"
All she could do was nod, and before his ex could react, he gently pulled her with him.
He was staring at his hand while Ianne was ordering their food. Nagprisinta itong pumila at hindi na niya pinigilan.
Ianne's hand was cold, but by the time they arrived at the town center, it was already warm. However, he realized that that kind of warmth was also quick to disappear the moment he let go of her hand. He did not know it would leave such a strong longing feeling.
Gaya dati ay idinaan na lang nila sa tawa at light na usapan ang mga nangyari.
"Kita mo 'yung mukha niya kanina? Mukha namang titigilan ka na niya," he said as they started eating dinner.
"Sana nga. Pero sana in-orient mo naman ako sa script!" reklamo nito. "Grabe ang daming tanong ni Cayleigh. Naging tsismosa na tuloy 'to."
Napahalakhak siya sa sinabi ni Ianne. Sa katunayan, chat din nang chat si John pero nag-offline na lang siya para hindi muna mabasa.
"Mage-gets naman siguro nila 'yun."
Balak na sanang umuwi ni Ianne pagkatapos nilang kumain pero napaisip siya na rush hour pa at mahihirapan lang ito kung ngayon siya babyahe. Besides, he still wanted to spend more time with her.
"Ano ba 'yan bakit ang daming couples?" she muttered while they were strolling around the mall. "'Di naman February."
"Uy, inggit," he teased.
"Luh, 'di ah."
"Fine, slight," pag-amin nito.
He chuckled. "Bakit may kasama ka rin naman, ah?" sabay turo sa sarili niya.
"Magkaiba pa rin!" she retorted. "O, tingnan mo 'yang nasa harapan natin. Sarap daanan sa gitna."
Mayroong magka-holding hands na naglalakad sa unahan nila at muli siyang natawa dahil sa sunud-sunod niyang reklamo.
"Ka-holding hands lang ba kailangan mo? O, eto na," he taunted as he jokingly extended his left hand. Natutuwa kasi siyang makita ang expression nito kapag naaasar. He started walking ahead of her, but halted when Ianne suddenly reached for his hand.
He did not expect her to take her teasing seriously so when she laced her fingers between his, his brain froze momentarily.
"Pwede rin," Ianne murmured, looking at the opposite side, but he could see her cheeks reddening.
He cleared his throat and tried hard to act normal despite getting overwhelmed by her closeness.
Her hand is warm, he thought. That moment, the only thing he could think about was the tinge of sadness he felt when he let go of her hand earlier. This time, he hoped the warmth would last a little bit longer.
And perhaps that feeling was what drove him to indirectly and jokingly admit how he felt for her when they parted ways.
Ilang araw na rin ang nakalipas noong nangyari iyon pero hindi pa rin nagre-reply si Ianne. Mabuti na lang at may conference silang a-attend-an kaya naman kahit papaano ay magiging busy ang utak niya.
He thought she might have gotten uneasy with him after what happened so a lot of unpleasant thoughts weighed in his chest. Pagod ang utak at katawan niya matapos ang conference at madaling araw ang flight nila pabalik sa Metro Manila kaya alam niyang knockout siya bukas.
His eyelids were already getting heavy around 8 PM that he thought he was hallucinating when she saw her chat. Halos pikit na ang isang mata niya habang nagre-reply hanggang sa hindi niya namalayang nakatulog na pala siya. Nagising na lamang siya noong kumalam na ang sikmura niya.
"Ba't 'di n'yo ako ginising?" ingit niya nang makitang mag-a-alas onse na.
Bryle threw a pillow at him. "Gago ka, tinatadyakan ka na namin, 'di ka pa rin gumigising!"
"He was about to put his foot on your face," John mentioned.
"Kadiri kang hayop ka!"
Matapos nilang maghampasan ng ilang unan ay lumabas siya para kumain nang mabilis. Mabuti na lang at may fast food sa baba ng hotel na tinutuluyan nila. Ianne was still awake so he continued chatting with her. Para hindi siya antukin ulit at para bumili ng pasalubong ay naglakad siya sa night market sa tapat ng hotel nila.
He had already bought souvenirs for his family last night, but he wanted to give something to her, too. Tinawagan niya na rin ito dahil nangungulit si Ianne tungkol sa tanong na hindi niya pa sinasagot: Anong meron? Why did he start acting different toward her?
"A-ano? Bakit may pagtawag?" bungad nito sa kabilang linya.
He chuckled lightly. "Masama ba? Samahan mo muna ako para 'di ako antukin."
"What?! Akala ko ba—"
"Saka ko na sasabihin," he interjected, "kapag kaharap na kita."
Natahimik naman si Ianne sa kabilang linya at saglit siyang napatingin sa phone niya para i-check kung in-end ba nito ang tawag.
"Hello, ate? Andyan ka pa ba? Nakatulog ka ba bigla?"
"Oo, tulog na."
Natawa naman siya sa tono nito. He stopped at a stall that sells wooden souvenirs. "Uy, nandito ako sa bilihan ng keychains at ref magnets."
"At talagang gusto mong totohanin 'yang keychain, ha?"
"Standard na 'yan sa pasalubong," he snickered as he checked some of the stuff displayed. "Meron ding coasters saka utensils na wooden. Anong gusto mo?"
Napahinto siya sa paghawak sa isang coaster nang marinig ang sinabi ni Ianne. He wasn't sure if he heard that right, but before he could clear it up, she was already rambling on some excuses.
"I-I mean, ikaw bahala!" she shrieked. "H-hindi ko naman kasi nakikita 'yung sinasabi mo! Kaya ikaw na bahala! Hindi ikaw as in ikaw! Ikaw lang pipili! Hindi 'yun—"
"Kahit ano na lang! Ikaw na bahala! Basta walang ibig sabi—"
"Ianne!" he interrupted while holding back his laughter. "Kalma lang. Sige na, ako na ang bahala."
He immediately shifted the topic so she would not feel awkward. Mabuti na lang at mabilis din magbago ang mood nito lalo na noong ibang tao na ang pinag-uusapan nila. He was talking to her until he returned to their hotel. Pero dahil may pasok pa ito bukas ay in-end niya na rin ang tawag bago siya makarating sa floor nila.
He was about to open the door to their room when John came into view. Nagkatitigan sila ng ilang segundo at doon niya na-realize na kausap nito si Cayleigh dahil nakasuot ang earphones nito.
"Benjamin's smiling from ear to ear," John reported and he just realized it upon hearing that. "Baka kausap si ano kanina."
Naglakad si John palabas ng room nang hindi niya alam kung ano ang dapat i-react. Sisigawan niya sana ito pero naalala niyang hatinggabi na kaya wala siyang nagawa kundi pumasok na lang sa kwarto. Naabutan niya namang naglalaro si Bryle sa PS4 nito.
He plopped on his bed and stared at his reflection on his phone. I want to see her already, he thought.
As usual, nakakuha agad ng ticket si Andrea sa December fair. Madalas ay hindi siya ganoon ka-interesado sa fair pero kahit papaano ay nag-eenjoy din naman siya kapag andoon na. This year, it was different.
After that dare with Ianne, he planned on telling her his feelings even if it meant days of getting restless. Iyon na kasi ang huling araw ng trabaho sa campus at huling araw para makausap siya nang harapan ngayong taon. But he had almost forgotten everything when Ianne hugged him the moment they met.
He was so flustered that he just stood there like an idiot. Mabuti na lang at si Ianne na ang susunod sa pila sa stall kung nasaan siya at napunta sa pagkain ang atensyon nila.
"Hindi ka kakain?" tanong nito sa kanya habang hawak ang rice-in-a-box na in-order niya.
"Hindi pa ako gutom."
Dahil wala namang mauupuan ay kumain na lang si Ianne habang naglalakad sila. They also played games and tried some rides. Tawang-tawa nga siya noong nakasakay na sila sa ferris wheel dahil sobrang bilis ng takbo nito. Ianne was screaming at the top of her lungs while her knuckles were already turning white as she desperately held onto the metal bar.
"Octopus next!" he beamed while Ianne was still recovering from the ferris wheel of death.
He could not help but take videos and pictures of her while they were riding some of the extreme rides in the fair. Halos yakapin na ni Ianne ang kanang braso niya noong sumakay sila sa Octopus at Viking kaya naman naghalu-halo na rin ang pakiramdam niya.
"Ayoko na," she groaned.
Napahalakhak naman siya. "Ano, kaya pa ba?"
Ianne pointed at the crowd in front of the stage. "Doon naman tayo sa kalmado lang, pwede ba?"
Bumili muna siya ng pagkain niya at agad naman niya iyong naubos bago pa sila makarating sa parte kung saan maraming tao. Pero hindi niya ine-expect na magkagulo ang mga nandoon. The emcees just announced Rico Blanco as a special guest so almost everyone plowed their way toward the front.
Halos matangay din sila sa daloy ng mga tao pero nagulat siya nang halos sabay nilang inabot ang kamay ng isa't isa. Their eyes met and Ianne immediately let go of his hand. Mabilis nitong inilipat ang tingin sa stage kung nasaan si Rico Blanco.
After a few minutes, he started playing some of Rivermaya's hit songs and the crowd loudly sang along.
♫ Am I real?
Do the words I speak before you
Make you feel?
That the love I left for you
Will see no ending?
Well, if you look into my eyes
Then you should know ♫
He was just staring at Ianne as she recorded and sang with everyone. May ilang babae ring tumitili sa bawat linyang kinakanta ni Rico pero lumakas pa lalo iyon nang marinig nila ang pamilyar na tono ng isang kanta.
His heart throbbed painfully against his chest as he realized that this could be one of the few chances he was waiting for. Shit. This is it, he mentally remarked.
He drew a deep breath. "Ianne," tawag niya.
"Sasagutin ko na 'yung tanong mo."
Ianne's expression went from excited to curious to anxious. "H-huh?"
He leaned closer. "Listen carefully," he whispered while pointing at the stage. "'Yung kakantahin niya ang summary ng gusto kong sabihin sa 'yo."
As if on cue, Rico started singing the first lines.
♫ Tell me something
When the rain falls on my face
How do you quickly replace it with
A golden summer smile? ♫
Pakiramdam niya ay lalabas na ang puso niya sa sobrang kaba habang pinakikinggan din ang kanta. He wanted to confess, alright, but he thought he might mess up his words. Fortunately, the song kind of summed up what he was feeling at the moment.
♫ Tell me something
When I'm feelin' tired and afraid
How do you know just what to say
To make everything alright? ♫
Nakikisabay nang kumanta ang halos lahat habang nakapako naman ang tingin niya kay Ianne. He was watching her carefully, and when one of the lights illuminated her face for a second, he noticed that she was blushing. Upon seeing that, his face got hot, too.
"You can thank your stars all you want but," pagsabay niya sa kanta at napatingin sa kanya si Ianne. Isang malawak na ngiti ang ibinigay niya rito. "I'll always be the lucky one."
Ianne gasped as her eyes widened. "W-what—wait . . . are you—"
He inched closer to her right ear. "Sabi ko, ang swerte ko kasi sa 'yo ako nagkagusto."
Upon saying that, the fear that he felt earlier melted away. He did not know if it was the right decision, but at least, he finally took the risk. He took the chance. And he did not need any reaction nor answer from her at all. Because all that mattered to him was being with her at that moment.
After having her heart broken, akala ni Ianne ay hindi na niya muling ipagkakatiwala ang puso niya sa isang tao.
Falling in love was easy, but staying was a different story.
Sa dalawang relationship na na-experience niya, siya ang laging naiiwan. Both cheated on her, and sometimes, she would wonder if she was the problem.
"Oo, tanga ka minsan, pero 'di mo kasalanan na nag-cheat siya," said Elle after a week of her breakup with Mark.
Noong gabing nakipag-break si Mark sa kanya ay nakatulala lang siya. His words would not even sink in. They were together for more than a year, and everything went well . . . until that day. Bakit biglang naging gano'n? O baka naman matagal nang ganoon ang sitwasyon.
Her mind reeled. May nagawa ba siyang mali? Nagsawa na ba ito sa kanya? Nagkulang ba siya? Or was her way of showing her love too much? Was she not good enough?
She couldn't even sleep that night and what was worse was it would be her birthday in a few hours. The day she was supposed the happiest turned into one of her worst.
Ang maganda lang ay may three-day break dahil sa undas. Ayaw niyang makita siya ng coworkers at friends niya sa ganoong estado.
She celebrated her birthday in her room, crying. It was especially hard because her Mom was asking her what was wrong. Noong sinabi niya na break na sila ni Mark ay tumahimik lang ito at binigyan siya ng maraming pagkain na inihanda nito para sa kanya.
"Ikain mo na lang 'yan, 'nak. Makakarma rin 'yon."
Hindi niya tuloy alam kung matatawa siya o maiiyak. Still, it made her heart lighter.
Coworkers, former classmates, and friends greeted her all day. Somehow, it was funny because she was replying with smileys while her eyes were swollen. She was feeling a bit better but then one text pulled her back to the misery pit.
Happy birthday. I'm sorry.
Isang text lang mula kay Mark ay nagsimula na namang tumulo ang mga luha niya. Ang dami niyang gustong sabihin. Ang dami niyang gustong itanong. Gusto niyang magalit. Gusto niyang manumbat. But the pain of being abandoned triumphed that moment.
She turned off her phone and watched movies instead. Of course, Enchanted was the first on the list. That was her comfort movie since high school. Tuwing malungkot siya o may pinagdadaanan, iyon ang lagi niyang pinapanood. Somehow, the theme of true love and happy ever afters would calm her heart despite being unlucky when it comes to those.
Ganoon lang ang buhay niya sa tatlong araw na break. She would make herself busy during the day, watch series or movies at night, and cry when everyone's asleep.
A week after their breakup, she told her friends what happened in a light tone. Tinawanan niya na lang ang nangyari dahil ayaw na muna niyang umiyak. It was hard because she was still not over him, but at least she wasn't chasing desperately this time.
"Hay nako, 'pag talaga nakita ko 'yung hayop na 'yon, may kalalagyan siya," Elle ranted after hearing her story.
Tinawanan niya naman ito. "Makikipagsuntukan ka?"
"Dadalhin ko si Gray, bakit? Saka kukulamin ko siya," countered Elle.
"Sinasabi ko na nga ba't may lahi ka talagang mangkukulam!"
"Ito ba 'yung girl?" Cayleigh chimed in as she showed them her phone.
"Luh, bakit na-stalk mo agad?!"
Her friend shrugged. "Halata naman sa posts nila. Awayin ko ba silang dalawa?"
"Gaga ka, marunong ka bang mang-away?! Role ni Elle 'yan!"
"Akin na, ako ang mang-aaway," dagdag ni Elle at doon na sila nag-agawan ng phone.
Few weeks had passed and she was slowly moving forward. Nahirapan siya noong una dahil nasanay siyang laging kausap ito tuwing gabi. Realizing that a part of her life had been removed from the cycle was something she could not get used to even after several weeks. Kaya naman inilaan na lang niya ang oras sa mga kaibigan niya at iba pang hobbies.
She also blocked his number and social media accounts for her peace of mind. Ayaw na niyang makita ang mga pinaggagawa nito kasama ang bago niyang girlfriend. Fortunately, her friends were there for her. Kapag mag-aaya siya ng gala ay agad papayag ang mga ito kapag walang tatamaang schedule.
Hanggang sa masanay at matanggap na niyang wala na sa buhay niya si Mark makalipas ang ilang buwan.
She was enjoying the single life, but sometimes, she would miss the feeling of having someone to depend on and talk to. Mabuti na lang at may bago siyang mapagkakaabalahan dahil kay Cayleigh.
Ianne never thought her friend would catch feelings again after that fiasco with John the ghoster.
The thing about having an almost lover was that everything was an uncertainty. One would always wonder if it would end up in a relationship or someone would just leave without notice. They had to manage their expectations because there were no commitments nor labels. And if all else failed, they couldn't even say anything because there was technically nothing between them. Only the what ifs and could have beens.
Halos magkasunod lang ang heartbreak season nila last year kaya naman natutuwa siya na may ibang paglalaanan ng attention at feelings ang kaibigan.
The first time she saw the other John Santos, she could feel the sparks flying. She had to bit her lip to keep herself from squealing. John was staring hard at Cayleigh while the latter was explaining the process of their assay services.
"Gaga ka, paano mo nakayang naka-poker face lang habang nakatitig sa 'yo si kuya?!" halos patili niyang tanong habang pabalik sila sa lab. "Bakit ako 'yung kinilig instead na ikaw?!"
Cayleigh just knitted her brows. "Baka gano'n lang talaga siya 'pag nakikinig."
"Ano ba 'yan tey, alam mo, ito na ang tamang panahon!"
"Ano na naman 'yang pinagsasabi mo?"
"Ang tamang panahon para lumandi!"
"No thanks," sagot nito at saka binilisan ang paglalakad.
Ianne could never read Cayleigh's impassive face, but she knew her friend was affected by John's presence. Sanay naman silang walang paramdam si Cayleigh sa group chat tulad ni Chi na busy sa med school, pero kapag si John ang usapan ay lagi lang itong nangsi-seen kahit online siya.
She thought it was fun teasing her because she was trying real hard not to react. Madalas din nilang patugtugin ang "Pag-ibig Na Kaya" sa desktop ng lab kapag nagkakaasaran, o 'di kaya naman OSTs ng Full House pandagdag kilig. Even though Cayleigh insisted that nothing was going on, it was quite obvious that her friend was drawn to him, kaya naman hindi na rin nakakagulat noong nag-decide silang magkita outside of work.
Kilig na kilig siya noong sinabihan siya ni Cayleigh na samahan ito dahil nahihiya ang kaibigan na pumunta mag-isa. To support her friend and to see what would happen, she agreed in exchange of free dinner.
"Oh my god!" she squealed as she watched the two get closer while they were walking. Panay pa ang kuha niya ng picture sa kanila at real-time na nag-a-update sa GC.
Pigil pa ang pagtawa niya dahil masyadong kabado si Cayleigh. Good thing John was patient with her friend.
She had used too much energy following and silently reacting at them, but she could not even eat because Cayleigh was too busy with her date. Hindi pa man din siya nagdala ng pera dahil akala niya ay libre ng kaibigan. Nakalimutan niya rin kasing ipaalala kanina kaya nanonood na lang siya sa kanila habang kumakain.
Dahil ayaw niyang lalo pang magutom ay nag-decide siya na bumalik na lang muna sa lab. However, she bumped into someone upon turning around.
Pareho silang natigilan at gulat na nagturuan.
"Oh! Ka-lab ni John!"
"Ka-lab ni Cayleigh!"
She remembered the guy because they were the only one talking that time they had to eat together with John and Cayleigh. Kung tama ang pagkakaalala niya, his name was Benjamin.
Napatingin naman si Benjamin sa likuran ni Ianne. "Teka sila ba 'yon? Sinusundan mo sila?"
Ianne nodded. "Kabado si Cayleigh kanina, eh, kaya pinapasunod niya ako. Tapos ngayon parang 'di na ako nakikita. Napakarupok na bata," sabay iling niya.
He snickered in response. "Galing ng bata ko."
Natahimik naman sila pareho habang nakatingin sa kanilang mga kaibigan nang biglang kumalam nang malakas ang sikmura ni Ianne. Benjamin laughed heartily after a few seconds and she couldn't decide whether she would run away in shame or smack his head because he wouldn't stop laughing.
"Bakit kasi 'di ka nagdala ng pera, ate?" komento ni Benjamin matapos sabihin ni Ianne ang nangyari.
"Eh libre naman kasi dapat," she complained.
"Pautangin muna kita, gusto mo?"
"Pero may interes."
Sinamaan niya ng tingin si Benjamin. "Ah, sige, salamat na lang."
"Joke lang," he chuckled. "Pero may kapalit nga."
"Ano?" tanong niya.
"May alam ka ba sa pangkulay ng buhok?"
It turned out someone asked him to buy some hair dyes. Dahil wala siyang alam sa kung ano ang maganda o hindi ay tinulungan na niya ito at pagkatapos ay sabay na rin silang kumain. Fortunately, they already met before so it was not that awkward. Besides, pareho naman silang maraming kwento tungkol sa kani-kaniya nilang kaibigan.
Nagpapabidahan pa sila kung sino ang mas na-fall. Ianne said John looked head over heels with Cayleigh, while Benjamin returned that the latter looked way too nervous when she was with his friend. In the end, napag-decide-an nila na pareho lang may feelings ang dalawa sa isa't isa at nagkwentuhan na lang tungkol sa mga nakakakilig nilang moments.
After that encounter, madalas na silang mag-usap sa chat. Nagsimula dahil sa paniningil, hanggang sa napunta na sa asaran. Sometimes, they would also talk about their "ship" and would help them to get closer. Dahil doon ay naging close din sila kahit papaano, though she was not sure if he could consider him as her friend.
Noong naging sina Cayleigh at John na ay siya ang una niyang ginulo dahil alam niyang matutuwa ito sa balita. Hours after her birthday, shinare niya kay Benjamin ang kilig niya sa dalawa at patuloy na kinukulit si Cayleigh habang nagkakaraoke at umiinom.
She was thankful that her birthday this year was different from the previous one. Last year, she was alone and grieving. This time, she was with friends and her ship even sailed.
Still, there was that little sadness in the corner of her heart. Ayaw niyang madala ito pag-uwi kaya naman uminom pa siya nang mag-isa . . . and that was one of the things she shouldn't have done.
"Hi, Miss," one of the guys greeted.
She was on the high top near the bartender because she just wanted to drink and enjoy the vibe. Kaya naman nainis siya nang umupo ang lalaki sa katabi niyang stool at pilit siyang kinakausap.
"May I buy you a drink?" he asked, with an annoying smirk on his face.
She shifted on her seat. "No thanks."
"Ang cold naman, Miss."
Bakit ba ang kulit nito? sa isip niya. She wondered why some people could not accept a refusal.
Lalo pa siyang pinipilit ng lalaki at gusto nang kunin ang number niya kaya naman naubos na ang pasensya na.
"May boyfriend na po ako," mariin niyang sagot dito. "I'm waiting for him."
Palihim niyang binuksan ang messenger niya habang patuloy na nangungulit ang lalaki. Balak niyang i-chat si Gray pero baka nagwo-work pa ito dahil night shift ang kaibigan. Dahil nasa pinakaitaas ang convo nila ni Benjamin ay siya na lang ang chinat niya.
Please, sana gising pa siya, she quietly pleaded, and fortunately, he was.
Benjamin immediately called and she put it on speaker. She felt sorry for putting him on the spot, but she wanted a way out without the guy bothering him. Magso-sorry na lang siya pagkatapos dahil alam niyang mali ang gagawin niya.
"Okay, Miss, just one drink," the guy said while pushing a glass of alcohol in front of her, much to her annoyance.
She was about to act like his girlfriend when Benjamin started speaking. "Babe, saan ka na? Malapit na ako."
She wasn't sure if it was because of his words or because of the alcohol, or perhaps the relief of being saved, that she could feel the blood rushing through her cheeks. For a second, her mind just went blank.
"U-uhm, yeah, palabas na," sagot niya at saka siya tumayo mula sa kinauupuan niya.
"Alright. Hintayin mo na lang ako sa entrance. I'll be there in a minute."
She walked past the guy who looked displeased after hearing that. "Okay. Ingat sa pagd-drive."
"Ingat din. Love you."
Her heart almost dropped upon hearing that unexpected phrase, but he was still near the guy so she still had to continue the act. "Love you, too."
Halos patakbo na siyang lumabas sa KTV kahit medyo umiikot ang paningin niya. Her face was burning red and she could feel her heart pounding loudly despite the loud music blasting from the bar's speakers.
"Nakalayo ka na?" mahinang tanong ni Benjamin sa kabilang linya. She turned off the speaker and put the phone on her ear.
"H'wag mo munang ibaba, baka nakasunod pa sa 'yo. Mag-book ka na muna ng Grab."
Kahit nanginginig ang kamay niya ay nakapag-book naman siya at mabuti na lang ay halos sa kabilang kanto lang manggagaling ang sasakyan. There was an awkward silence between them while she was waiting for the car. Hindi niya alam kung dapat ba siyang magsalita o hayaan na lang na tahimik lang ang linya.
"Okay ka lang?" he suddenly asked after almost a minute of silence.
"Mm," she responded, but she could hear her own voice trembling.
Ianne found herself following his words and took a deep breath to calm herself. Her heart was still throbbing painfully against her chest, but she did not know if it was because of the danger she just escaped . . . or because of him.
That impromptu called would not have worked out if he didn't catch what was going on. Akala nga niya ay hindi siya papansinin dahil palagi niyang pinagtitripan ito. Hindi niya rin naman sinabi na magpanggap itong boyfriend niya kahit iyon ang ginawa niyang excuse sa lalaki kanina. She was thankful that they were on the same page even though they were unprepared.
"Lasing ka pa ba? O tipsy na lang?"
"Uhh, medyo okay na," she replied, though her head was still spinning.
"Send mo sa akin details ng na-book mo. O kahit sa friends mo."
Agad siyang napaisip sa sinabi nito. Her friends did not know that she went to another bar and she would surely have an earful once they learned what happened so she decided to send it to him.
Bigla namang dumating ang Grab na binook niya kaya agad siyang naglakad papunta roon. He was still on the line even though they weren't talking, and somehow, knowing that someone was looking out for her felt comforting.
"Uhm, nandito na 'yung Grab."
"Okay. Ingat ka pag-uwi," he softly said and her heart did a little summersault.
"Uy, ano, t-thank you ulit, and sorry. Sige, babye."
She let out a deep sigh upon ending the call and boarded the car. Napasandal na lang siya habang pilit na pinapakalma ang puso niya. Few minutes later, nag-chat ulit ito sa kanya at nag-usap lang sila para hindi siya makatulog sa byahe.
That was the first time she realized that he was a man. That perhaps, it was not the alcohol that was making her face hot and her heart flutter. And that perhaps, there was an unseen boundary that had been unwittingly crossed.
There was an obvious tension between them after that incident. Kapag mag-uusap sila sa chat ay hindi niya maiwasang hindi iyon maalala kaya naman dinadaan niya na lang sa biro ang lahat. Pero ang ikinagulat niya ay sinasabayan na siya ni Benjamin sa pang-aasar.
Before, he would either ignore her teasing or would reply "wtf" and annoyed memes. Ngayon ay ito na ang nauuna sa pang-aasar. Naisip niya tuloy kung feeling ni Benjamin ay siya ang may advantage at nanalo sa kanilang dalawa dahil nagpatulong siya sa kanya noong araw na 'yon.
She felt more indebted to him after having some run-ins with Mark. He had to act like her boyfriend and even though she did not want to admit it, she was slowly getting attached to him. That it felt good whenever she was with him.
But then she was reminded of her past relationships. Ganoon din naman ang naramdaman niya noong una. They made her feel good and safe. They did things that made her happy. But in the end, they cheated on her. In the end, she was betrayed and left alone.
There was that lingering trauma of being abandoned again even after giving her all. At kung mangyari man ulit iyon ay natatakot siyang isipin na baka nasa kanya nga ang mali. Na baka siya rin ang dahilan kung bakit siya laging iniiwan.
Kaya naman noong nag-confess ito sa chat nang pabiro ay hindi niya alam ang dapat maramdaman. First, she did not expect him to have any feelings for her. Sure, she had been teasing him about falling for her, but she never thought it would really happen. Second, she realized she had feelings for him, too, but she wasn't sure if it was deep or serious enough for her to accept his confession. Third, natatakot na siyang mag-commit matapos ang nangyari sa past relationships niya.
Okay naman siya sa sitwasyon nila. All the jokes and flirting made her happy. And when he held her hand for several times as part of the act as her boyfriend, she felt safe and secured. Hindi mahirap ma-attract sa kanya lalo na kapag nagiging protective ito pero meron pa rin siyang reservations.
Because she could not trust her own judgment, Ianne asked for Elle's advice. Ito kasi ang may wide perspective sa lahat ng bagay. Kahit madalas silang magbatuhan ng panlalait sa isa't isa ay alam naman niyang tutulungan siya nito sa ganitong bagay.
Elle told her to trust her feelings, but to be careful. Na dapat ay alam na niya kung kailan mags-stay at kailan dapat umalis, lalo na kung nagiging problematic na ang tao o ang mismong relasyon.
Kaya naman noong nagbibiruan sila tungkol sa upcoming fair ay sinabayan niya rin ang pang-aasar nito. Somehow, it ended up in a dare. Na yayakapin niya si Benjamin kapag nagkita sila sa fair.
Then came the night of the fair and she was too frantic. Nang makita niya si Benjamin malapit sa isang stall ay parang tumalon ang puso niya sa sobrang kaba. Attempting to hide from him, she got separated from Elle and Gray. Chinat niya si Gray para puntahan ito pero saglit niyang nakita si Andrea, ka-lab nina Benjamin, kaya bigla siyang nag-iba ng direksyon. Baka kasi kasama nito ang tinataguan niya.
She was not sure how many minutes she had been cautious of everyone. Kahit naglalakad-lakad lang siya ay naubos na ang energy niya sa sobrang pag-aalala. At dahil nakaramdam na siya ng gutom ay pumila na lang muna siya sa isang stall ng rice-in-a-box.
Sakto namang Silent Sanctuary na ang tumutugtog sa stage habang mag-isa siya kaya ramdam na ramdam niya ang kanta.
♪♪ Minsan, 'di ko maiwasang isipin ka
Lalo na sa t'wing nag-iisa
Ano na kayang balita sa iyo?
Naiisip mo rin kaya ako? ♪♪
Sumabay sa pagkanta ang halos lahat ng naroon, maging siya, lalo na nang kantahin nila ang chorus, pero agad siyang natigil nang mabasa niya ang chat ni Benjamin. Nakita raw siya nito kaya nag-panic siya.
She wasn't ready for that hug. And she was too embarrassed to do it.
Mukhang nahalata naman ni Benjamin ang pagkabahala niya kaya sinabi nito na hindi naman niya talaga kailangang gawin 'yon kung hindi siya komportable. Then, they talked about how she was not used to being the one on the receiving end of showing effort and affection.
Medyo naging emotional siya nang mabasa niya ang replies nito, lalo na at tumutugtog ang Di Na Kita Mahal.
Ang sa akin lang, huwag mo masyadong sisihin ang sarili mo sa mga bagay na hindi lang naman ikaw ang involved.
Her eyes started welling up. Maybe because of the song and the ambiance. Or maybe because she had been longing to hear those words for a long time.
His assurance that it was not her fault melted her uneasiness. Kaya naman nang makita niya itong naglalakad papunta sa kanya ay hindi na siya nagdalawang-isip.
"Uy," bati ni Benjamin sa kanya habang nakangiti.
Kismet started playing as he stood in front of her. He had that teasing smile on his face, but that disappeared after what she did.
♪♪ I don't mind the distance
This kismet's a dance ♪♪
One step. It took her one step to close the distance between them. Slowly wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled him into a hug.
♪♪ This time, I surrender
My everything forever
Life doesn't matter
Just our souls together ♪♪
His familiar scent hit her nose. Ramdam na ramdam din niya ang mabilis na pagtibok ng puso nito, maging ang kanya. His shoulders were tensed, but they relaxed a second later.
It was just a hug, she thought, but it made her feel much better. Perhaps because this was one of those times when a hug was the only thing to say. That a hug was strangely enough to convey one's feelings.
During that moment, she felt like every sound was slowly fading away. All she could hear was her own erratic heartbeat. But there was that sense of comfort amid the noiselessness. His warmth and presence were her solace at that little while.
"Thank you," she whispered before letting him go.
Huminga siya nang malalim at tiningnan ang mukha ni Benjamin . . . and she did not expect to see his blushing face. He covered half of his face with his right hand and averted her gaze.
"Huh," he blurted out as his gaze shifted back to her after a few seconds. "Tinotoo mo nga."
A gentle smile escaped his lips and upon seeing that, Ianne realized her face was burning, too. And they just stood there in silence, their hearts and minds gone haywire, as the crowd loudly sang along to the last part of the song.
SAT AT 1:51 AM
Nakauwi ka na?
SAT AT 2:03 AM
Kakauwi lang haha
Uy yung kanina pala
Sinabi ko lang haha di mo kailangang sagutin
Di ako nagkape ngayong araw para lang di kabahan HAHAHA
Epekto ba yan ni Rico Blanco o epekto ko? 😂
BWISIT KA KASI
Okay so ako nga hahaha
O eh ano naman kung ikaw nga?!
Matutulog na ako balakadyan
O wag masyadong highblood may nagmamahal naman sa yo
TAMA NA BENJAMIN KUMALMA KA
Hahahaha eto na nga matulog ka na
Good night, Ianne
And see you next year