John always thought he wouldn't be interested in someone other than the girl she had a crush on during high school . . .
. . . until he met Cayleigh, that timid research assistant he had to work with for one of their projects.
Inis ito kay Benjamin dahil siya ang pinagpasa ng samples.
"Ikaw ang nag-message kaya ikaw ang mag-submit," sabi nito sa kanya habang patawa-tawa pa.
Andrea chuckled at him. "Okay lang 'yan, John, para naman ma-exercise ka rin! Lagi ka na lang nakaupo!"
He grunted as he arranged the samples that they would submit. Ayaw na ayaw pa naman nitong lumalabas ng building, lalo na ngayon at sobrang init sa labas. He thought Benjamin would volunteer since he likes meeting new people.
Dahil nagsabi niyang may pupuntang representative sa lab nila after lunch ay nagsimula na siyang maglakad. After fifteen minutes, he arrived at the building and told the guard that he was looking for someone named Cayleigh, an RA of Dr. Garcia.
"Pababa na raw po," the guard informed him and he nodded in return.
Naghintay siya ng ilang minuto hanggang sa may babaeng bumaba. She looked at him with cautious eyes but immediately averted his gaze when he met hers.
"Miss Cayleigh?" he asked for confirmation.
"Yes," she answered.
Agad niyang inabot ang samples na dala niya. But one thing he had noticed was that she didn't even look at him while he was explaining something in the transmittal forms.
It felt strange because he was taught to always look at someone while they are talking as it is a sign of respect. He wondered if she was just timid or he did something that made her wary of him.
"Okay na ito," she said. "I-email ko na lang if available na 'yong results."
"Okay. Thank you," he replied as he flashed a polite smile.
He swore he saw her glaring at him for a second. Hindi niya rin alam kung bakit. Nagpaalam naman ito sa kanya at tuluyan nang umakyat habang tumalikod siya at nagsimulang maglakad pabalik sa sarili nilang building.
When he arrived at their lab, he realized he forgot to ask about the tentative date of the release of the results. He didn't want to bother the girl anymore but their boss would surely ask for that during their meeting.
He messaged her and fortunately, she replied. Next week daw pwedeng makuha.
Then came next week and he went back to retrieve the samples and get the results. Dr. Parada told him to submit the next batch, too, since she had already talked with Dr. Garcia, her project leader.
He waited at the lobby and three people came down to meet him. One of them was Cayleigh. The other two seemed to be her labmates and they were suppressing their smiles.
"Hello," bati niya at tumango naman si Cayleigh.
Inabot nito ang samples at results sa kanya. She started explaining the details of the assay and printed results. He closely watched and listened to her but she kept her eyes on the paper and kept on stumbling over her words.
Cute, he thought.
She was so good at explaining that he understood the results much better than expected.
"Ah, oo nga pala, we will submit another batch of samples," he said, earning a confused look from her. "I think naka-cc ka ro'n sa email kanina."
"Oh. Sige, iche-check ko na lang. May questions ka pa ba?" she asked, and for the first time, she met his gaze for more than a second.
"Nothing," he replied. "Thank you."
She wasn't the headturner type but there was something in her that piqued his curiosity. Despite her impassive expression, she had that intriguing aura and captivating eyes. He also admired how she talked passionately about the assay she did.
For the next few days, he got more curious about her. Hindi niya rin alam kung bakit. For him, she was interesting. Something that he didn't feel from girls who got interested in him before.
They were speaking professionally in the chat but it became more relaxed after a few days. Maybe the way he put smileys helped. Lagi rin kasi iyong ginagawa ng labmates niya sa collaborators nila from other institutions kaya na-adapt na niya rin.
One time, he saw her replying a smiley but it got deleted after a few seconds. Napangiti siya nang makita niya iyon. She seemed to be the type not to use emoticons.
He thought they kind of got closer, especially after the three-day training in their laboratory. Medyo nakakailang nga lang dahil nakamasid sa kanila ang lahat. His labmates would constantly tease him about her. Napansin kasi ng mga ito na palagi siyang nakatingin kay Cayleigh.
Nakita niya ring palihim na tumatawa ang labmates ni Cayleigh noong nagpatugtog sila ng love songs sa desktop. Meanwhile, she remained focused on her tasks as one of the trainers.
He realized that was the reason why he kept on watching her. She looked cool when she was working hard. Iyong tipong lahat ng atensyon niya ay nandoon lamang sa ginagawa niya. In contrast, she looked cute when drunk.
Naalala niya noong bigla na lang itong nag-chat matapos ang ilang araw nilang hindi nag-uusap. He thought she was sending some codes at first and realized she was drunk after a series of replies.
When he deciphered that she was in the bathroom without any company, he got worried. He was hesitant to tell her because she might think he was crossing the line, but he realized there was nothing wrong with being worried about a person.
Nang hindi na ito mag-message ay lalo lang siyang nag-alala. Inisip niya na baka bigla na lamang itong nakatulog sa loob ng cubicle o 'di kaya ay nahilo na. He tried calling her and was surprised when she answered the video chat.
The poker-faced Cayleigh that he knew became much more expressive.
Ang cute, he silently remarked while watching her. Itinatong pa nito kung sino siya hanggang sa kung anu-ano na ang pinagsasabi niya.
"Luh, ba't kita kausap?" she muttered. "Hmm? John?" Her eyes narrowed as she read the screen.
"John . . . mga pa-fall . . ." she commented while glaring at him. "Eeessh . . . hate you . . . kainis ka . . ."
Nagulat na lang ito nang biglang sahig na lang ang nasa screen pero mas nagulat siya sa narinig niya. He was about to ask what she meant when he heard another voice from her end.
"Hoy, gaga ka, wait . . ."
The video chat ended and he felt confused . . . and a little hurt. Hindi niya alam kung may nagawa ba siyang mali dahil mukhang may galit sa kanya ito. He tried messaging her about it and said sorry but he didn't get any replies for days. In the end, binura niya na lang dahil mukhang wala na itong balak magparamdam.
Is this what they call ghosted? tanong niya sa sarili niya pero hindi niya rin naman alam kung tama ba iyon. There was nothing between them anyway. Nobody declared their feelings or intentions.
Pero nagulat siya nang mag-message ulit ito tungkol sa microscope. He got a bit disappointed because it was work-related but what could he do about it? They weren't even friends. And maybe she was really avoiding him. Ayaw naman niyang ipilit ang sarili niya sa taong nilalayuan siya.
Hindi niya rin ito nakita nang pumunta ito sa lab nila dahil nagpatulong si Geraldine sa na-stuck na sliding glass ng fumehood nila. But he saw her with Carlo, one of her labmates, when they were passing by the next lab.
He wasn't sure if he saw it right but she had a solemn expression on her face. His chest suddenly felt heavy. Pakiramdam niya, may kasalanan siya. It was hard to see her sad.
He said he didn't want to bother her anymore but he couldn't resist talking to her. She tried messaging her again, and this time, she replied. He told her he wanted to meet her in person.
It took him a lot of courage to say that. He was never the type to ask someone to meet him because he was quite shy himself but he wanted to cheer her up and know her better.
He wanted to prepare himself for that day but they unexpectedly met in the mall while they were with their friends. Pero nagtaka siya dahil kakaiba ang kilos niya. She looked like she was about to cry.
It turned out she met the guy who ghosted her. Nalaman niya ito nang nag-drunk chat ulit si Cayleigh sa kanya. She started ranting about "John," that he initially thought was him, until her friend took over. When her friend told him that she was talking about another John Santos, he finally understood what happened.
Kaya pala ganoon ang tingin nito sa kanya noong una silang magkita. Lalo na at magkapangalan pa sila. He liked using his first name, John, because it was too common. Hence, it wouldn't attract any unnecessary attention. But when he learned about her experience, he felt a bit ashamed that he shared the same name with that guy.
He still couldn't get why people would resort to "ghosting" when they could just say it outright. Naalala niya ang kaibigan na si Andrea. That woman would directly say she wasn't interested anymore to the guys she previously talked to or dated once she realized that they weren't a match.
"Mas mabuti pang tapatin mo na, 'di ba?" she would always say. "You won't save them from the pain if you just disappear quietly. If you think that's you being kind, you're wrong. Mas masakit pa iyon kasi hindi mo alam kung bakit biglang nawala kaysa kung alam mo kung ano ang dahilan. At least have the decency to do some closure kung ikaw naman ang nagsimulang magpahayag ng intentions. Hindi 'yong iiwan mo 'yong tao sa ere na hindi alam kung aasa pa ba siya o susuko na."
Matapos nilang pag-usapan ang nangyari ay tinanong niya kung tuloy pa ba ang pagkikita nila na supposedly ay sa Friday. She said she would still check her schedule and after a few days, she confirmed she'd be available that time.
Halos hindi siya mapakali nang mag-Friday na. He didn't tell anyone about it kaya wala rin siyang makausap. He wanted to make her comfortable later but he was too nervous that he thought she'd feel it, too.
Nagulat naman siya nang malaman ni Benjamin ang tungkol doon pero medyo nabawasan ang kaba niya nang kasabay na niya itong naglalakad.
"Hindi ka naman masyadong kabado, niyan?" pang-aasar nito nang malapit na sila sa town center. "Ano bang gagawin n'yo?"
"Dinner," he replied. "And maybe talk over a cup of coffee."
"Yes naman, casual date pala."
Gulat ang mukha ni Benjamin nang tanungin iyon ni John sa kanya pero agad din itong ngumisi.
"Kaya mo na 'yan. Malaki ka na. Saka baka 'di effective moves ko sa kanya. Ibang klase ako, eh."
Napagaan naman kahit papaano ang loob niya dahil sa pagbibiro ng kaibigan pero noong sandaling makita na niya si Cayleigh ay parang bumalik ang kaba niya kaninang umaga. He tried hard to look composed but in the end, he admitted that he was nervous because of her. He couldn't even look at her after that because his face was blushing hard.
The tension gradually lowered when they were eating dinner. They talked about work-related stuff, a topic that they were both comfortable talking about, and it helped improved the atmosphere.
"Oh, so madalas pala kayong late night," he commented.
She nodded in response. "Marami na kasing tatapusin. Biglaan din 'yong influx ng samples from other collaborators."
Magiging busy rin siya dahil puro cell-based na ang gagawin nila from October to December. Iyon din ang isa sa dahilan kung bakit nais niyang makipagkita.
There were still moments that they would be both silent but it wasn't as suffocating as before. Nang matapos silang kumain ay naglakad-lakad sila sa mall. He noticed that her eyes twinkled when they passed by the stationary shops. Noong pangatlong beses nilang may nadaanang ganoon ay huminto siya at kinalabit ang balikat ni Cayleigh.
"Gusto mong pumasok?" tanong nito.
"You seem interested with crafts."
Hindi naman na tumanggi si Cayleigh at pumasok silang dalawa sa loob. Her face may be inexpressive but he could see the excitement in her eyes and body. The way she hurriedly walk in small steps and how her eyes scanned the shop were adorable.
Napabili na rin si John ng notebook at pens para sa lab dahil paubos na rin ang ginagamit niya. Meanwhile, Cayleigh bought memo pads and some stuff that he didn't know the names.
They went to a nearby coffee shop right after. He insisted to take her orders so that she wouldn't go to the counter anymore. Nagkanya-kanya naman silang bayad dahil ayaw ni Cayleigh na si John lang ang magbayad.
While they were waiting for their orders, she took out the one of the memo pads she bought a while ago and wrote something on it. Pero agad itong napatigil at biglang tumingin nang masama sa bandang kisame. He was confused at first but he realized it was because of the song that was playing.
♫ Well, I'd never want to see you unhappy
I thought you'd want the same for me ♫
♫ Goodbye, my almost lover
Goodbye, my hopeless dream
I'm trying not to think about you
Can't you just let me be ♫
Right. She had her almost lover before. That song must have resonated with her. Still, he couldn't believe he'd see that kind of expression on her. Cute nga talaga itong magalit.
"Okay ka lang?" he asked.
Dumating na rin ang orders nila. They resumed their conversation until it shifted to the personal matters.
He learned that she likes neutral colors but her favorite is white. Matatakutin din ito kaya bilang lang ang napanood na horror movies. Lahat ng napanood nito ay pinilit lang siya o 'di kaya naman ay hindi niya sinasadyang mapanood. She also has low alcohol tolerance. That, he knew already.
"Siguro isa o dalawang baso lang, lasing na ako," she said while taking a sip from her cup.
He chuckled. "Halata nga."
He saw her blushed at his remark. Naalala niya ang dalawang beses na nag-drunk chat ito sa kanya. During those times, he felt they were closer than usual. And he enjoyed watching her clumsy side.
Tinanong niya kung marami ba siyang chinachat kapag lasing dahil minsan ay ganoon ang labmates niya, lalo na si Benjamin. Pero ang kaibahan ay puro seryoso ang usapan.
"N-no," she muttered. "Madalas sa group chat lang namin. The last two times . . . sa 'yo lang."
Halos mabilaukan siya sa kapeng iniinom niya. His heart raced upon hearing that. She just threw an unintentional fastball at him.
"Sana sa akin din 'yong mga susunod," he joked to ease the building tension in his chest but it backfired when he saw how red her cheeks were.
"Okay," she mumbled.
Ang cute, he thought, and he wondered just how many times he had called her cute this day already.
"Cayleigh," marahang tawag nito habang nakatingin sa kanya.
She averted his gaze and just stared at the cup of coffee she was holding. "H-hmm?"
"May I say something more personal?"
She shifted her gaze at him. There was a hint of nervousness and fear in her eyes but she nodded.
He took a deep breath. "I was never this interested in a person before," he stated. "Ngayon lang." He could feel his whole face burning but he continued. "I . . . I want to know you better. I want to see you more often." He let out a nervous chuckle. "I mean . . . s-sorry if this is making you uncomfortable. I just—"
Napatigil siya nang marinig iyon mula sa kanya. He thought he just misheard it because she was just mumbling. But the look on her face confirmed it. Pakiramdam niya ay sasabog na ang puso niya sa sobrang bilis ng tibok nito.
"So . . . this won't be the last time?" he asked.
"D-depends on you."
"Alright," he breathed. "Then this won't be the last time."
That moment, he realized it was more than just interest. More than just attraction. He was drawn into her because she made him feel things that he couldn't understand before. She made him realize the side of himself he didn't know before.
He likes her. And he didn't mind falling deeper.
Because it's her.
Time seemed to move faster because it was already 10 PM and they had to go home. Sinamahan niya ito sa taxi bay at noong pasakay na si Cayleigh ay bigla itong may inabot sa kanya.
It was a piece from the memo pad.
"Good night," she said before entering the taxi.
He smiled at her. "Good night. Ingat."
He watched the taxi until it disappeared from his sight. Napatingin naman siya sa ibinigay ni Cayleigh at agad niya iyong binasa.
I enjoyed this night despite the restlessness. Thank you for making me comfortable.
Honestly, I'm scared of this feeling because of what I had experienced before. Pakiramdam ko, mawawala rin lahat after some time. But my friend said I should enjoy it while it lasts. And that I should be honest with you. But I couldn't bring it up because I was embarrassed kaya dito na lang.
You made my heart flutter :)
ᴘ.s. ᴵ ʰᵒᵖᵉ ʸᵒᵘ'ʳᵉ ⁿᵒᵗ ᵃⁿᵒᵗʰᵉʳ ᵃˡᵐᵒˢᵗ ʰᵃʰᵃ ᶜʰᵒᵘʳ
He smiled upon reading it and his fluttered, too. And with the hope budding in his heart, he was already looking forward for their next meeting.