The Girl Who Got Bitten By A Red Ant


There was a Girl not very tall, not very pretty, not very slim, who walked in a field of Grass and got bitten by a very red Ant. She was angry at the Ant for biting her, but she knew the Ant was not angry at her. It was just being an Ant.

The Girl wanted to be just that too, a Girl. And she contemplated on that while staring at the blades of Grass: how to be a Girl, before it was too late. She somehow felt Time was not on her side.

A gentle Breeze came to her corner of the Field, and whispered to her, It’s not just any girl you have to be. You have to be yourself.

Myself, you say? But what does that mean? I am not very tall. I am not very pretty. I am not very slim.

The Breeze touched her face and her hair. Who said those things matter?  I know you can sing. And that means everything.

Who told you that? There was no answer, for the gentle Breeze had left. A strong Wind had taken its place. It blew Flowers onto her lap, for the Girl was now sitting down. The Flowers blended with her dress, and she suddenly had Colors. Red and blue, white and green. She liked her pretty dress now. It was no longer plain. She whispered a thanks to the Wind, for its gift of Flowers.

The Wind blew Leaves all over the Field as well, and the Girl stood up. She stepped on them, listening to the strong crunch of the dry Leaves under her leather sandals. She crushed every voice that had ever said that she was not very tall, and she was not very pretty, and she was not very slim.  She shouted at the memory of the hands that had touched her not very slim body, and the eyes that had mocked her. She hopped and skipped, and then she started to dance.

She looked up. The Sun was hiding behind the Clouds. It told her, It is about to rain. Take cover under a Tree. And sing to me. I will come back when I hear your song.

So while the girl was standing, wearing her flower-printed dress, in a field of green Grass, dried Leaves, and Wildflowers, the Rain began to pour. Softly at first, touching her hair, caressing her arms, poking her feet. She embraced the Rain with her wide open arms. But the Rain grew stronger, and each drop started to hurt her skin, like needles, only she was not bleeding. She knew the Rain was not angry at her, but was just being Rain. It also washed the Flowers from her dress, which had begun to cling to her body. She remembered to run for cover.

She found an old Tree with a great big trunk. She sat on it, and the Tree’s leafy branches protected her from the rain. The tree told her, The rain was just playing with you. Did you have fun?

The Girl said, So that was me, having fun. It was all new to her. And then she laughed, like she had never laughed before. She hugged the tree, thanking it for the gift of shade and wisdom. The Rain slowed down, about to say goodbye. The Girl sang.

How wonderful your touch, how happy you’ve made me

Thank you so much, rain and wind, breeze and tree.

I have been sleeping all these years, you see.

I am awake now, and almost, almost free.

The Sun heard the Girl’s song and shone its brightest, piercing through clouds, branches and leaves, until its rays touched the Girl. Why do you say you are almost free? It is time now.

The Girl looked, and her clothes, her hair, and her skin were all dry. She smiled at the Sun. Her dress turned to the color of her cheeks. She remembered a time of Tears and Nightmares, but they could no longer hurt her. She started to walk, to hop, to skip, and to dance again.

She said goodbye to the green Field, the blades of Grass, and the pretty wildflowers.

I will sing about you, she said.  Thank you, dear Friends.

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Changed My Mind About Defying 40


I have changed my mind. I’m not throwing a concert-party when I turn forty, after all.

I posted twice about my grand plans for a showcase of talents here and my own playlist here. But since then, so many things have happened that have convinced me that I do not have the amount of energy for an event of such proportions that my wild imagination invented. It was easy to conceptualize when I was in Sydney; but being back in Manila, I had to face the reality of turning 40.

My friends are really busy. My health commands my attention. I can embrace the gift of life in solitude and in simplicity. There are things to do and I have to conserve resources for what are truly important in life.

I still want to defy 40, but I guess I’ll just limit it to not looking my age. I am grateful for my genes because this healthy, Asian skin is not prone to wrinkles. So I look maybe about 26. :)

Definitely, there will be some food, some drinks, my real friends, and my family. That should be enough.

All right, let’s do this, July!

 

Luha at Tamis (Huling Yugto ng Housewife Series)


Ang huling kabanata sa kwento nina Sheryl at Julius. Para sa nakaraan, pakibasa po lamang ang Kwentong Housewife (Daw) sa pamamagitan ng link sa itaas.

VI.  Luha at Tamis

Magandang umaga!” bati ni Julius kay Sheryl, sabay alok ng kape na siya mismo ang nag-brew. Tutulong sanang maghanda ng almusal si Sheryl pero nakahain na ang mga yaya ng mga anak ni Joanne paglabas niya sa kuwarto.  Maaga talaga nagigising ang household pag may bata.

Huwag kaya tayo dito mag-breakfast?” tanong ni Julius.

Puyat at hindi pa masyadong gising si Sheryl, pero sulit naman ang sakit ng ulong dinaranas niya ngayon. Napalapit siya nang husto sa mga kaibigan ni Julius, at natuwa rin siya sa mas malalim na pagkakakilala niya rito dahil sa kanila.

Saan tayo pupunta?” tanong ni Sheryl, sabay tanggap sa mug ng kape na inihanda ni Julius. Nag-kiss sa kanya si Julius sa noo. “At nasaan silang lahat?

Yung mga hindi talaga tagarito, alam mo namang unti-unting nagsiuwian na mula pagsikat ng araw. Sina Alex at Joanne, ipinasyal na ang mga bata. Nagtatatalo sila paglabas dito kung sa park o sa swimming o sa horseback riding o sa McDonald’s sila pupunta.”

Hirap talaga ng may anak,” sabi ni Sheryl. Kung siya, limang oras lang ang tulog na putol-putol pa dahil sa labas-masok ng mga roommates niya, malamang, yung mag-asawa, halos wala pa dahil sila ang hosts kagabi, pero kailangang pagbigyan ang lakad na talaga namang pinlano at inilaan para sa mga bata.

Ano, ready ka na bang umalis? O kung gusto mo light breakfast muna tayo dito, tapos magsimba tayo, tapos lunch sa Tagaytay?” Kanina pa gising si Julius at nagpaplano ng kanilang araw. Sa sala kasi nagsiksikan ang mga kalalakihan kaya walang may matinong tulog sa kanila. Ang mga misis at si Sheryl, nagkasya sa mga kwarto. Pero isa-isa na ring nagpaalam ang mga barkada dahil karamihan sa kanila, kagabi pa dapat umuwi.

Maganda yata yung almusal-simba-lunch na plano. Aabot tayo sa 10 a.m. mass, bibilisan ko lang mag-pack,” sagot ni Sheryl. Naka-shower naman na siya. Aba’y hindi siya magpapakita kay Julius ng bagong-gising look kaya siniguro niyang bago siya bumaba sa kusina ay ayos na siya.

Masarap ba ‘yung kape? Batangas brew ‘yan,” kwento ni Julius.

 

Actually parang matapang siya kesa sa usual na iniinom ko, pero tama lang ito para magising.”

Wala ka bang hangover? May Berocca rito, iniwan ni Ria para sa iyo.

Ayun, parang kailangan ko ‘yan…” bago pa makakuha ng basong may tubig si Sheryl para sa Berocca, nagawa na ito ni Julius. Pinanood nila ang tablet na mag-fizz sa tubig.

Ang thoughtful naman ni Ria. Actually, aside from Joanne, parang siya ang pinaka-makakasundo ko sa barkada mo. Although mabait naman lahat. Natuwa rin ako dun sa abogada, pinagtanggol ka.

Natuwa rin silang lahat sa iyo,” maingat na sabi ni Julius. Bigla lang siyang nag-flashback sa nangyari dati, nung nakasundo ng barkada ang dating girlfriend niyang doktora at makipag-break siya, hindi niya maintindihan bakit may opinion sila. Apektado lahat. Sana naman hindi mangyari iyon with Sheryl. Not that may  balak siyang makipag-break kay Sheryl. Ni hindi pa nga sila. Yata.

Sana nga makita ko sila ulit.” Na-conscious si Sheryl sa sagot niya kasi parang nagpapa-imbitang ewan siya sa lakad ng barkada. Pinansin na lang niya ang nakahain sa lamesa. “Grabe naman ito, parang hotel breakfast. May pancakes, may toast, may fruits, may yogurt. Pero ang pinakamasarap, yung kape!

Siyempre, guwapo ang nagtimpla eh. Pero gusto ko ng kanin. Di bale mamayang lunch na lang natin. With bulalo at tawilis!

Pag nagpupunta ang barkada ni Sheryl sa Tagaytay, palibhasa all girls dahil hindi usually isinasama ang mga asawa’t anak ng mga kaibigan niya, hindi sila sa bulalohan kumakain kundi sa mga out-of-the-way na restaurants na Western food ang inihahanda, o kaya sa mga bed-and-breakfast na may kasamang spa. Mahina siya sa kanin pero masarap sigurong panoorin kumain nang marami si Julius.

Unless gusto mo sa mga date places dito, yung may mga steak at kailangang magpa-reserve,” sabi ni Julius, na nabasa na naman ang iniisip ni Sheryl.

Hindi ah, ano’ng akala mo sakin, sosyal? Punta tayo sa bulalo restaurant na may view ng Taal volcano, na may kumakanta, ok sakin yun,” excited na sagot ni Sheryl. Kahit sa carinderia pa sila kumain ni Julius ngayong araw na ito, happy pa rin siya!

O sige, aayusin ko na ang kotse ha, ilabas mo na lang ang mga gamit mong ilo-load ko sa trunk.

What a difference a night with his friends makes. Nawala ang awkwardness, ang new-coupleness, nila. Natural lang na magplano ang isa, sumang-ayon ang isa, mag-suggest, mag-usap. Magaan at masaya ang umagang iyon.

Late sila nang konti dumating sa misa dahil dumaan pa sa park para magpaalam kina Alex at Joanne. Sa likod sila ng simbahan nakaupo. Naalala ni Sheryl na kagabi lang, nagdadrama siya sa kasal dahil sa pagsisikip ng dibdib niya sa pag-uusap nila ni Julius sa biyahe. Ngayon, wala na yung mga emote niya.

Nagsisimba si Julius. Yun na ang pogi points sa lahat ng pogi points. Ipinagdasal niya ang araw na iyon at lahat pang mga darating na araw. Hiniling niyang matuto siyang mag-dahan-dahan sa pakikipag-relate kay Julius.

Pagdating sa restaurant, nakakuha sila ng sariling kubong maganda ang view ng Taal Lake. Wala nang hiya-hiya si Sheryl, masarap nga ang bulalo at mainit na kanin at bagay sa tawilis na in-order ni Julius. Uminom pa sila ng buco juice. Kinantahan din sila ng roving singers ng restaurant. Aegis ang banat.

Mahal na Mahal Kita by Aegis

Hindi kita puwedeng iwanan

Hindi kita puwedeng pigilan

Ipaglalaban kita

Kahit hanggang kamatayan man

 

Kung mawawalaya sa iyo

Huwag kang mag-alala’t babalik ako

Para ipagpatuloy natin ang ating pag-ibig

Na aking iniwanan sa ‘yo

 

Chorus:

Mahal na mahal kita dito sa aking puso

Ikaw lang nag-iisa, o aking mahal

Mahal na mahal kita dito sa aking puso

Ikaw lang nag-iisa, o aking mahal

 

Mahalin mo lang ako nang tapat

Mamahalin din kita nang tapat

Kahit anong pagsubok dumating

Ipangako mo rin, ipaglalaban natin

Kilala mo ang Aegis?” amused na tanong ni Julius habang pinapanood si Sheryl na sumasabay sa banda.

Oo naman! May Pilipino bang hindi nakakakilala sa kanila? ‘Luha’ at ‘Basang-Basa sa Ulan,’ at oh my gosh, yung ‘Halik,’ sobrang winner yung kantang yun.

Pwede ba yung ‘Halik?’” tanong ni Julius sa lead singer ng munting bandang nakatapat sa mesa nila.

Ano?” patawang tanong ni Sheryl. Hmm sexy ang lead singer, at nakatingin si Julius, ano kaya kung buhusan nya ng mainit na sabaw ng bulalo….

Ibig kong sabihin, kung pwede nilang kantahin yung paborito mo,” sagot ni Julius na ibinaling kaagad ang tingin sabay hawak sa kamay ni Sheryl. Marunong siyang mag-shift ng eksena.

Hindi ko naman favourite yun, pang-sawi iyon eh. Wala akong ganung angst ngayon,” sabi ni Sheryl, na ayaw na bumitaw kay Julius. Kahit hindi na siya makakain at mag-sebo na ang bulalo.

Ay ano na lang po ang request niyo, ma’am?” tanong ng lead singer na naka-skinny jeans.

 

“O baka po may theme song kayo, ma’am, ser,” ang dagdag pa ng gitarista.

Isa ngang makabagbag-damdaming ‘Hawak Kamay’ diyan,” request ni Julius, sabay kindat kay Sheryl.

Hawak Kamay ni Yeng Constantino

Minsan madarama mo kay bigat ng problema

Minsan mahihirapan ka at masasabing “di ko makakaya”

Tumingin ka lang sa langit

Baka sakaling may masumpungan

Di kaya ako’y tawagin

Malalaman mong kahit kailan

 

Chorus

Hawak-kamay

Di kita iiwan sa paglakbay

Dito sa mundong walang katiyakan

Hawak-kamay

Di kita bibitawan sa paglalakbay

Sa mundo ng kawalan

 

Minsan madarama mo

Ang mundo’y gumuho sa ilalim ng iyong mga paa

At ang agos ng problema’y tinatangay ka

Tumingin ka lang sa langit

Baka sakaling may masumpungan

Di kaya ako’y tawagin

Malalaman mong kahit kailan

 

Sumabay pa si Sheryl sa chorus at sa bridge siya na ang kumanta:

 

Wag mong sabihin nag-iisa ka

Laging isipin meron kang kasama

Narito ako oh, Narito ako…

 

Natuwa pati mga katabing mesa sa performance. Palakpakan ang lahat. Matapos niyang abutan ng tip, nagpakuha ng picture nila ni Sheryl si Julius sa gitarista.

Bagay po kayo, ma’am, ser, parang in-love na in-love ang aura niyo” sabi nito. Nagpasalamat ang dalawa.

Pag-alis, sabi ni Sheryl, “Ooh, malay natin may powers pala si Kuya. Nakita niya ang aura natin eh!

“Hindi masyadong kuya si Kuya,” paliwanag ni Julius. “Napansin mo ang pilantik ng daliri?

At come to think of it, malagkit nga ang tingin sa iyo,” dagdag na puna ni Sheryl, na natatawa lang. Kailangang masanay na kung si Julius ang ka-date, maraming nakatingin dito. Pwes, hanggang tingin lang naman sila.

Julius…

Yes, Sheryl?”

Paano naging ‘Hawak Kamay’ ang theme song natin?

Di naman official iyon. Nagkataon lang. May alam akong mas bagay sa atin.”

Ano?”

“’Init sa Magdamag,’ alam mo yun ‘no?”

Nonoy Zuñiga at Sharon Cuneta! At hindi bagay sa atin ‘yon!”

Ano ka, sakto kaya ‘yun sa atin. Kantahin mo nga ang chorus.”

Kung langit sa atin ay ipagkait,

Dito sa piling mo’y muling makakamit.

Walang hanggang pag-ibig na may luha at tamis,

Nasa’n ka pagsaluhan natin ang init sa magdamag.…”

Sumabay si Julius sa pagkanta, at nag-blend kaagad ang mga boses nila. Parang pinraktis na nang maraming beses. Pero mahina lang ang kanta nila at baka marinig ng mga nasa kabilang kubo.

O diba, sa sandaling pagkakakilala natin, may luha at tamis na, pero may langit din…”

Loko. Gusto ko pang makarating sa totoong langit...”

Sheryl…”

Yes, Julius?”

E kung, next week na tayo umuwi?”

Nangangarap ka nang gising?” Sumandal siya kay Julius habang nakatanaw sa bulkang Taal.

Oo tingnan mo, naplano ko na. Ang dami nating pwedeng gawin. Tomorrow, gawin natin yung Taal Volcano trek. Sa Tuesday, magpapa-spa tayo maghapon, the works! Uuy, alam kong gusto mo yun. Kasi mapapagod tayo sa trek kaya kailangan ng massage pagkatapos….”

 

“Actually gusto ko rin ng foot spa at facial…” Sumali na rin sa pangangarap si Sheryl.  Julius was gently stroking her hair while talking dreamily and staring into the “Island within a Lake on an Island within a Lake on an Island.”

“Kita mo na? I’m starting to make sense diba. Then, sa Wednesday, rent tayo ng boat sa Taal Lake Yacht Club. Sa Thursday, maghahanap tayo ng kakilalang magpapapasok sa atin sa Tagaytay Highlands, kahit overnight na tayo doon. Sa Friday ng gabi, sakay tayo sa malaking ferris wheel aka ‘Sky Eye.’  Hindi ka mukhang nagca-casino so we can skip that. Sa Saturday pwede tayong mag-day of prayer o mini-retreat. Diba? Muntik na nating maaabot ang langit nun!!!”

Dami mo namang plano.”

Gano’n talaga. Nakakapagod kayang puro trabaho lang.”

Pero Julius, may pasok tayo bukas.”

Pwede namang mag-leave!”
Agad-agad? Hindi ka naman demanding. Kailangan sa amin months in advance ang paalam lalo na kung more than 3 days na VL.”

Karapatan ng manggagagawa ang VL.”

Iga-grant naman, pero di lang pwede short notice.”

Ayaw mo yata akong kasama eh.”

Hello! Ang drama. Gusto na nga kitang papirmahin ng kontrata e.”

Ay dapat kagabi pa, nung andito si Adora, at nang ma-review muna niya. Teka, anong kontrata?”

Huminga nang malalim si Sheryl.

Yung ex ko kasi.” Tiningnan niya si Julius. Hindi naman bumitaw sa kanya. “Punung-puno ng pangarap at plano iyon. Tatanda raw kami together. Iikutin daw namin ang mundo together. E hindi pa nga tapos ng college, hindi na kami together!”

Ano’ng nangyari, bakit kayo nag-break?”

Nag-cross enroll siya sa UP Baguio isang summer. Artist e. Pagbalik ng June, may ibang girlfriend na, pero di ko pa alam, so pinagsabay kami. By September, nabuntis na niya, so nalaman ko rin. By December kasal na sila.”

Parang may nagliwanag sa isip ni Julius. “Ahh, kaya pala ayaw mo na nang paliguy-ligoy, sigurista ka na ngayon. Kaya yung listahan mo diretso sa kung ano hinahanap mo sa asawa at sinasabi mo agad na pang-housewife ka.”

Tumango si Sheryl. “Ayoko na kasi ng bolahan. First love ko yun e, high school sweethearts kami. Sabi ng lahat, bagay kami, at nadaan ako sa lakas mambola, galing manligaw. Kahit maraming ibang kaklase kong umaaligid, siya sinagot ko. Ang tiyaga-tiyaga niya noong bago pa lang kami.”

Naka-ilang boyfriend ka pa after him?”

Wala, siya yung last. Traumatic for me, e.  It was so hard to trust men after that. It took me years to get over him.”

Whoa. Ang tagal na no’n a.”

Kaya nga Julius, I’m not wired for casual dating. Siguro naman by now, I’ve made that clear.”

Crystal clear.  Hindi nga lang ako makapaniwala. Sa ganda mong yan, as in wala talagang sumunod after college?”

Merong pailan-ilang dates, pero hindi nag-work out. May officemates na laging bumubuntot pero hanggang di nagsasabi nang intensiyon, friends lang sila for me. Meron doctor, best friend ng isang kuya ko, gusto ko na sana, nag-abroad naman para mag-further studies. Hanggang napagod na akong mag-date, naging busy na ako sa work, at nahirapan na rin ang friends ko hanapan ako ng ise-setup with kasi ang pili-pili ko na raw.”

E anong sabi mo sa friends mo nung na-meet mo ako?”

Alam mo, fishing ka!” Sabi ni Sheryl sabay tayo. “Punta muna akong restroom.”

Pagbalik niya, sabi ni Julius, “May missed calls ka ulit.”

Hay, ang Mom ko, at sina Pauline. You haven’t met my friends, we have to schedule that.”

Papuntahin mo sila rito sa Tagaytay, our kingdom for a week,” sabi ni Julius sabay akbay kay Sheryl.

Uuwi tayo tonight diba, Julius?”

Iisipin ko pa. Hindi ako takot sa Tatay mo, ha kala mo ba,” pabirong hirit ni Julius. Nothing could be further from the truth.

E sa mga kuya ko? Bullies ko sila nung maliliit pa kami pero nung lumaki na ako  bumait na sila sa akin.  They wanted to pay Darwin a visit, yung ex ko, after they found out what happened. Full force, and some of them are taekwondo black belters. Kaso pinigilan sila ng Daddy. Ang sabi, buntis na ang babae, hayaan na nilang pangatawanan ni Darwin ang ginawa niya, di na nga lang siya makakalapit o tawag sa akin ever.”

How did you take it?”

Hindi ko kinaya. Nagbakasyon ako sa Tita ko sa London that Christmas. Winter kung winter. Tinapos ko lang last year ko sa UP nang parang nanaginip, then balik sa London, this time with my parents. Natakot yata silang saktan ko sarili ko, kasi sobrang depressed ako nun e.”

Sana pala sa UP ako nag-aral, o kaya nakilala kita noon pa. I could have saved you from heartache.”

Mga hirit nito! Baka ikaw ang nag-cause ng heartache. Atsaka ang layo kaya ng Mapua, feeling ko lang hindi ka magtitiyagang dumalaw nang madalas.”

Uuy, nag-research, alam kung saan ako nag-college.”

TseAng feeling mo talaga!

Lipat tayo sa Bag of Beans, kape at masarap na bread.”

Sure. Hindi ko na lang iisipin bakit mo kabisado ang Tagaytay, kung ilang girls na ang inilibot mo rito.”

Madalas ako rito for work. Minsan, sinasama ko mga kapatid ko, parents ko, tsaka pamangkin ko.”

Paglipat nila sa Bag of Beans, mas intimate na ang ambience. Naisip ni Julius na mag-confess.

I think I have to tell you something.”

Ano? Don’t tell me you’re married. Or may anak ka na…” Huwag po, huwag po naman sana, panalangin ni Sheryl.

Wala pa, that’s just your trauma talking.”

E kasi naman mga intro mo nakakakaba.”

Here goes. Naalala mo ba yung first date natin?”

Sa tingin mo makakalimutan ko yun?” Makasaysayan kaya ‘yun. Napangiti si Sheryl.

Haha. Meron ka kasing text message…”

Hindi pa tapos si Julius, natigilan na si Sheryl. Napawi ang ngiti sa mukha niya. Text message. Isa lang ang sinend niya, sa place ni Julius yun. She texted her friends. Hindi yata’t…

Na-include mo ako sa recipients,” simpleng dagdag ni Julius.

Maraming four-letter words na nagsigawan sa kalooban ni Sheryl. Buti napigilan niyang sabihin ang mga ito out loud. Oh no!!!

Nakangiti si Julius. Lumipat sa tabi ni Sheryl. Tumalikod si Sheryl, burying her face in her hands. Gusto na niyang mamatay sa hiya.

Hey, I’m still here, diba?”

Tinanggal ni Sheryl ang mga kamay niya mula sa mukha at nakuha niyang maggalit-galitan para itago ang matinding kahihiyan.

Bakit ngayon mo lang sinabi? I made a fool of myself!”

Kakakilala pa lang natin nun, paano ko naman sasabihin. Naisip ko rin, first impression lang ‘yun, lilipas din.”

Sinabi ni Sheryl sa text na iyon na nahanap na niya ang The One. Kung nabasa ni Julius iyon, dapat nagpakalayu-layo na ito sa kanya. Pero hindi naglaho si Julius. Oo nga pala, mga isang linggo lang.

Kaya pala naghintay ka ng 1 week bago tumawag ulit. Pinalipas mo ang kagagagahan ko.”

Hindi naman. I checked myself also kung ano ba intensyon ko sa iyo. Klaro kasi na pangmatagalan ka, hindi lang pampamilya, pang-sports pa.” Ang mga jokes ng dalawang ito, pang ‘80s kids talaga.

Pwede ko bang tanungin ano intensyon mo sa akin? Don’t freak out, okay?” Marahang tanong ni Sheryl. Tuwing napupunta kasi sa seryoso ang usapan, parang luha at pait ang napapala niya.

Sher, right now, ito lang masasabi ko, I’m crazy over you. I want to get to know you more. Wala akong powers para malaman, o ma-assure ka, what tomorrow brings. Except na gusto ko talagang kasama pa rin kita bukas, at sa isang bukas, at sa isa pang bukas….”

Luha. Tutulo na ang luha ni Sheryl. Naalala niya ang acting workshop na pinasukan niya dati, sabi tumingala para bumalik ang luha, tapos pagbaba ng mata, sabay ngiti. So ginawa niya ito. Effective.

Julius, what are you saying?” Nagniningning ang mga mata ni Sheryl sa hindi tumulong tears of joy.

Kung may audition, mag-au-audition ako. Kung may pila pipila ako. Kung…

Shh…” sabi ni Sheryl. “Lika nga rito,”

Lumapit pa nang husto si Julius sa kanya. Inilagay naman ni Sheryl ang chin niya sa shoulder ni Julius sabay sabing, “Selfie muna tayo.”

Ha?” Gulat na gulat si Julius.

Gusto kong maalala ang moment na ito forever and ever. Smile!” Click. “And you bet I will upload this. Out na tayo.”

So Sheryl, kung out na tayo, ibig sabihin tayo na? We are official?”

Well, kung susundin ko ang rules ko, hanggang hindi ka nagsasabi ng I Love You, at hindi kita sinasagot, hindi pa tayo.

E kung hindi natin sundin ang rules mo?

Pwede rin naman, kung bigla mo akong i-kiss, malilimutan ko ang rules na ‘yon.”

Dito mo gusto ng halik, sa Bag of Beans? Sa harap ng maraming tao?”

Bakit, hindi ka na makapigil?” pilyang sagot ni Sheryl.

Kinuha ni Julius ang bill. Dahil matagal dumating, nagpunta na siya sa counter para bayaran ito. Nag-takeout si Sheryl ng bread para sa parents niya. Tatawag pa sana siya kay Francine nang bigla siyang hinatak ni Julius sa kotse, hindi na makapigil.

Nagawa naman nila lahat ng pinlano ni Julius sa Tagaytay, hindi nga lang noong linggong iyon. Hindi sila nagmadali. Pinlano nila bawat trip, para special, at inunti-unti sa loob ng iba’t ibang weekend.

Sa loob ng Ferris Wheel nag-propose si Julius kay Sheryl in less than a year. Umikot ang mundo ni Sher, literally.

Nakilala nina Pauline, Francine, (at Georgia at Larissa through Skype) si Julius. Sila rin ang mga bridesmaids sa kasal.  Umuwi lahat ng kuya ni Sheryl sa Pilipinas para rito. Ang mga pamangkin nila at inaanak ang ring bearers at flower girls.

Si Alex ang Best Man. Maiyak-iyak at tawang-tawa ang mga bisita sa speech at toast niya.

Ang barkadang The Tux ang reception singers. Rock, pop, Pinoy, at 80’s music naman ang kinanta nila sa wedding reception. Pinakamaraming YouTube hits ang duet ng bagong kasal ng “Init sa Magdamag.” May surprise number din si Julius para kay Sheryl (“Blaze of Glory”), at si Sheryl para kay Julius (“Bituing Walang Ningning”). Iyak-tawa ulit ang audience.

Nagpa-cater si Julius sa kaklase niyang may-ari ng restaurant kung saan sila nag-first date. Nag-message ang Head Waiter sa video para sa bagong kasal, sabi niya, na-predict niyang love-at-first-sight ang nangyari sa dalawa. Malaking tip na naman ang inilaan ni Julius para sa kanya.

Tumira muna sila sa condo ni Julius, at patuloy na nagtrabaho si Sheryl.  Ngunit nung manganak na siya, pinili niyang maging full-time mom. Housewife, pero part-time singer.

Sina Julius at Sheryl, simple lang ang pangarap, simple rin lang ang buhay na hinarap.

Nawa ang kwento nila ay nakapagdulot ng saya sa inyong lahat.

The End.

(Tapos na talaga, wala nang aapila.)

Si Julius, Pre-Sheryl (Housewife Series, Part 5)


Ito po ay Chapter 5 na. Pakibasa ang Housewife Series para sa mga Nakaraan…

V.  Si Julius, Pre-Sheryl

Nasa parking lot pa sila, tumutulo na ang luha ni Sheryl. Tingnan mo ‘tong hudas na ‘to, naisip niya. Nag-threaten lang ako magpasundo, hinatid ako agad. Pwede naman akong pigilan! Pwede namang sabihing we can work this out.   Masama ang bisyo nito, lagi akong hinahatid nang wala sa oras!

Nag-iisip din si Julius kaya dahan-dahan niyang inatras ang kotse. Parang nabigla siya sa desisiyon niyang ihatid na si Sheryl kahit hindi pa tapos ang reception. Kanina kasi mukhang wala na siyang ibang options. Ngayon nagsisisi na siya, pero too late na para bawiin ang nasabi na. Nag-shift siya from reverse to forward nang may sumalubong sa kanilang walong lalaki.

Hinarang ng The Tux (walong lalaking naka-suit, hindi naman tux pero same genre) ang sasakyan ni Julius. May tumalon sa harapan, may kumatok sa bintana ni Sheryl, may nagtutunog-wangwang, may sumigaw ng “Intervention! Intervention!” As in, nag-explode sila sa eksena.

Binaba ni Julius ang bintana niya at nagsabing, “Mga ‘tol, pag di kayo umalis diyan, sasagasaan ko kayo!”

Ibinaba rin ni Sheryl ang bintana niya kasi si Raymond, the groom, ang nandoon. Hininto na ni Julius completely ang kotse, kasi wala na siyang madaanan. Bukod sa malalaki ang tiyan ng iba niyang kabarkadang nakaharang, ay nakainom pa ang mga ito at baka nga makaaksidente pa siya.

Sabi ni Raymond, “Sheryl, we come in peace. Pero hindi kami papayag na umuwi kayo. Kung anuman ang sinabi o hindi sinabi, ginawa o hindi ginawa ni Julius ngayong gabi, patawarin mo siya. Hindi niya alam ang kanyang ginagawa!”

Windang si Sheryl; hindi makapagsalita. Natatawa siyang naiinis kasi sinira ng barkada ni Julius ang pag-eemote moment niya.

Humirit ang kabarkadang pinakamalaki ang tiyan, si Louie, “Wala pa tayong group picture! Pambihira naman kayo, e.  Dapat kumpleto ang barkada.”

Bakit ang senti ng mga ito bigla? Nagtaka si Julius, ngunit mabilis ang mga pangyayari. Hindi niya alam kung magpapasalamat siya o magpoprotesta.

Sheryl, hindi ka ba kakanta ulit?” tanong ni Jun, na akala ni Sheryl na pinakamahiyain sa barkada. Nakadikit ang mga mukha nila sa side ni Sheryl, kasi sa hitsura ni Julius parang gusto silang upakan anytime.

Naalala ni Sheryl ang sakit ng puso niya. Ayaw na niyang kumanta kasi baka “Total Eclipse of the Heart” lang ang lumabas mula sa lalamunan niya.

Galing sa driver’s side, sumilip si Julius sa bintana ni Sheryl at nagsabing, “Lubayan niyo na si Sheryl. Gusto na niyang umuwi.”

Tumingin si Sheryl kay Julius. “Umm, I didn’t actually say I wanted to go home….”

Nag-chorus na naman ang mga kalalakihan. “Ayun naman pala, e! Let’s all go back to the party!

Madiin ang boses ni Julius at kinausap si Raymond, “Pare, ano ba’ng ginagawa mo rito? Diba may program pa kayo sa loob? Baka magalit si Janine, iniwan mo siya dun.

Ok lang kay Janine, she encouraged me nga to join the others. Sumenyas kasi si Alex na kailangan ng Intervention,” ang mabilis na paliwanag ni Raymond.

Kailan pa tayo nagpakailaman ng buhay, tanong ni Julius sa sarili. Atsaka lang nagsalita si Alex, ang salarin.

Julius, Sheryl, patawarin niyo ako. Pero someday, you’ll thank us for this. Sayang naman ang masayang wedding reception kung wala kayo. Bukas na lang kayo mag-usap! Tonight, let’s drink and be merry!”

I have to go back before the guests wonder what happened to me. Bago ako umalis, ito lang ang masasabi ko, Sheryl at Julius:”

Biglang tumugtog ng gitara si Jun. Dumiretso sa kanta ng Side A band:

 

Sana Naman

 

(Raymond, na tinuturo si Julius)

Kay tagal na ng panahon

Ako ay labas-masok sa mga relasyon

At kung aking iisipin, walang dapat sisihin

Ganyan talaga ang pag-ibig.

Refrain (lumakad-kembot paatras si Raymond, pasok si Alex – maayos ang blocking, considering wala silang practice)

(Alex, na tinuturo ang puso gamit ang dalawang kamay, parang boy-band pose)

 

Heto na naman ako

Naglalaro sa isip, wag sanang maulit

Na siya’y mawala sa akin

At baka ikamatay

Puso ko’y di na mabuhay.

(Walong Lalaking Malalakas ang Boses, may blending ha, in fairness naisip ni Sheryl)

Sana naman, sana naman

Sana naman KAYO na’ng magkatuluyan

(sana naman, sana naman)

Sana naman wala nang iwanan.

 

Award!!! Natunaw ang puso ni Sheryl matapos ang kanta ng magkakaibigan. Pero ayaw niyang ipahalata kay Julius. Malay  niya kung ano’ng iniisip nito.

Tumabi kayo sabi, e!” Inatras ulit ni Julius na naggagalit-galitan ang kotse, pabalik sa iniwang parking slot. Napailing na lang siya sa effort mangharana ng mga kaibigan sa mabatong parking lot na iyon. Mahirap ding gawin ‘yong on-the-spot, alcohol-induced choreo nila.

Nang nakaparada na ang kotse ulit, palakpakan ang barkada, habang tumakbo na pabalik sa wedding reception niya si Raymond.

Ipinagbukas ni Chris, na laging nakangiti, ng pinto si Sheryl. “Konting tiis, Sheryl. Medyo mabagal kasi ang kukote ng isang ito,” sabi niyang may parinig kay Julius.

Lumabas na rin si Julius na nakahinga nang maluwag. For that moment, kahit gusto niyang bugbugin isa-isa ang mga kabarkada niya, nagpapasalamat siya at dahil sa comic relief nila, nabawasan ang tensiyon. Naalala nila ulit ni Sheryl na pumunta sila sa Tagaytay to enjoy the company of friends. And to get to know each other more.

Kabilugan ng buwan at ang hangin ay may kalamigan…” kanta ng masayahing si Daniel, na siya ring may pinakamagandang boses sa barkada, nang lumabas na sina Julius at Sheryl.

Kabilugan ng Buwan

(Apo Hiking Society)

 

Kapanahunan na naman ng paglalambingan
At kasama kitang mamasyal sa kung saan
Kabilugan ng buwan at ang hangin ay may kalamigan
Aakapin kita, mahal ko, sa buong magdamag

Pagmamahalan lang naman ang mararanasan
Sa sariling mundong tayo lang ang may alam
Kabilugan ng buwan at ang hangin ay may kalamigan
Aakapin kita, mahal ko, sa buong magdamag

CHORUS
Halina’t pakinggan ang awit na dala ng pag-ibig
Masaya ang mundo ‘pag kapiling kitang ganito
Huwag kang hihiwalay at ang puso ko ay maligaya
Lapit na, o lapit pa

Pag-ulit ng chorus, may nag-backup vocals pa. Naalala talaga ni Sheryl ang The Tux sa kanila…

“Sheryl,” sabi ni Julius, sabay offer para mag-link arms sila. “Julius,” sabi ni Sheryl, who accepted the offer.

Ano, bukas na lang tayo mag-usap?” tanong ni Julius na may kasamang wish na pumayag ang kausap.

Yeah. Or maybe next week?” sagot ni Sheryl, na-realize kasi niyang mas tama sa weekend na iyon ang magdiwang kaysa sa magluksa. Masyado pa nga namang maaga. Kailangan lang ulit ma-slow mo ang puso niyang extremes kung mag-react kay Julius.

Nagsasayawan na ang mga bisita pagbalik nila sa reception venue. Niyaya ni Julius si Sheryl. Pumayag naman ito.

Swing! Marunong si Julius mag-swing! Sabi ng cheering squad sa puso ni Sheryl.

Kahit ang hirap ispelengin ng ka-date niya, hindi maitatanggi ni Julius na masarap ito kasama. When she’s not obsessing about the future, Sheryl can be pretty fun to be with.

Kailan ka natutong mag-swing?” tanong ni Sheryl nung nagpalit na ang DJ ng music sa tinatawag nila noong high school na “sweet.”

Actually, ex-girlfriend ni Julius na trained dancer ang nagturo sa kanya, pero ayaw na niya ng away kaya hindi niya inamin. Atsaka hindi niya rin maalala ang pangalan nun kaya mabuti pang huwag masyadong magbigay ng detalye kay Sheryl.

“Wala, natural na talented lang ako talaga,” sagot niya.

Maniwala ako sa iyo. Tambay ka siguro sa dancefloor. Sa college ko natutunan iyan e, P.E. ko ang Social Dance,” sabi ni Sheryl. Alam niya ang dance rules ng swing dahil may exam sila noon, pero ngayon pa lang siya naisayaw ng lalaking marunong talagang mag-lead. Ayan na naman siya, nilalagay sa pedestal si Julius.

Katabi nilang sumasayaw sina Louie at asawa nitong si Ria. “Hi, Sheryl,” sabi ni Ria. “We’ll hang out with you guys later, sa rented house nina Joanne. I’ll tell you all about Julius and his escapades!

Nagningning ang mga mata ni Louie sa dami ng kwentong pwede niyang sabihin para ilaglag si Julius. Si Julius, umiling na lang at nagsabi kay Sheryl, “Kahit anong sabihin nila, I will deny everything! May memory lapses na ako e.

Lumapit si Adrian, ang pinakamaliit sa barkada, para ipunin ang lahat sa pinakahihintay na group picture. Hinila ni Julius si Sheryl, na hindi sure kung dapat ba siyang sumali.

Halika na, ‘no, sayang naman ang production number ng mga ito para sunduin ka kanina.

Ngumiti si Sheryl at sumama na rin. “It’s also high time I met Janine!

Dumiretso sila sa gitna at habang sine-setup ng photographers ang positions ng lahat, pinakilala ni Julius si Sheryl sa bride.

Janine, this is Sheryl,” sabi ni Julius kay Janine na talaga namang lumulutang ang ganda. Bakit kaya sa araw ng kanyang kasal, may kakaibang glow ang bride na hindi kayang pantayan ng sinuman? Dala siguro iyon ng kaligayahan. Dala siguro iyon ng pag-ibig.

It’s great to finally meet you! I’m so glad you decided to stay,” sabi ni Janine.

Kabado si Sheryl, may dating kasi si Janine na alpha female atsaka, siyempre, alam niyang best friend nito si Susannah. Pero hindi siya nagpahalata, ngumiti siyang labas lahat ng dimples at nagsabing, “It’s a beautiful wedding, and I love your gown!

Wala nang oras para mag-chika chika kasi nagsimula na ang pictorial ng grupo. Na-relieve din si Sheryl. Para silang mga artistang pinagkaguluhan hindi lang ng mga official photographers kundi pati na ng lahat ng may DSLR at smartphone na bisita, not to mention inilabas din ang mga baon nilang camera na ibinilin nila sa mga naiwan sa table nila. Halatang mahalaga ang okasyong ito para sa magkakaibigan.

Pagkatapos ng pictorial, niyaya ni Julius si Sheryl sa photo booth, yung magiging wedding souvenir ng mga bisita. Maganda yung backdrop, may bilog na buwan, kalahati ng puno, at park bench kung saan maaaring maupo ang mga magpapa-picture. Ibang level na photo booth iyon.

Maganda ang kinalabasan ng pictures nila. Kahit gaano kaganda ang buwan sa labas, walang talent sa professional photography si Julius kaya hindi niya mapapalabas na ganoon kaganda kung nag-selfie sila sa full moon. May naisip tuloy na lumang-lumang hirit si Julius habang tinitingnan ang mga kuha, at hindi na siya nakapigil.

Alam mo Sheryl, hindi tayo tao…

Ano? Ano’ng ibig mong sabihing hindi tayo tao?

Hindi rin tayo hayop…” Nakatawa si Julius kaya napansin din ni Sheryl na may punchline ito.

Alam mo kung ano tayo? Tanungin mo sa akin kung ano tayo!” Buti na lang hindi maalala ni Sheryl ang punchline, kaya sumakay na rin siya.

Sige nga, Julius, ano tayo?

Bagay tayo!” Triumphant grin ang isinukli ni Julius sa pakikiisa ni Sheryl sa paghirit niya.

Napatawa naman nang malakas ni Julius si Sheryl sa sobrang ka-cheesy-han nito. Kanina nga lang ba, muntik na silang maghiwalay?

Niyaya siya ulit palabas ni Julius. Ayaw na sanang sumama ni Sheryl, dahil sa mga kadramahan kanina, pero sabi ni Julius, may ipapakita lang siya.

Wala naman talagang ipapakita si Julius. Gusto lang niyang masolo si Sheryl ulit. And to kiss her hair, which he did. Matagal silang nakatayo sa kung saan tanaw na tanaw nila ang maliwanag at bilog na buwan, at pinili ni Sheryl na hindi magsalita, kasi baka may masabi pa siyang mali ulit, at masira ang moment.

Doon sila dinatnan ni Alex, na buhat-buhat ang bunso nitong tulog na si Dave. “Tara na, Julius? Convoy tayo, although sana dala mo ang mapang in-email ni Joanne.”

Sunud-sunod na naglabasan na rin ang magkakabarkada, ang mga huling bisitang naiwan. “Ang dami nating baon galing sa open bar, woohoo!” sabi ng mga ito.

Umiinom ka ba, Sheryl?” tanong ni Ria, habang naglalakad sila papunta sa mga sasakyan. Hawak ni Julius ang kamay ni Sheryl, baka kasi magsimula na si Ria ng paghahalungkat ng nakaraan.

Medyo pero hindi siguro kasing-lakas ng mga ‘to,” sagot ni Sheryl.

Pagdating sa rented house sa Nasugbu, inasikaso na ng mga yaya ang mga bata, at naglabas si Joanne ng mga baong pulutan: potato chips, adobong mani, chicharong may laman at walang laman, pistachio nuts. Ready rin si Alex, meron silang bag of ice, plastic cups and utensils, garbage bags, table napkins, at paper plates.  Meron ding nachos with different dips, at mga naibalot galing sa handa.

Kumpleto ang barkada maliban kina Raymond at Janine. Hindi nila mapalampas ang pagkakataong magkasama-sama ulit, at, honestly, makilala ang pinakabagong kabarkada, si Sheryl.

Sina Adrian at Chris ang nagsilbing bartenders. Kahit ano alam nilang timplahin at gawin. Ang mga babae, nakaupo na lang sa sakit ng paa dahil sa mga stilettos nila.

Nakapaligid silang lahat kay Sheryl. Mababait naman lahat kaya hindi na siya feeling left out. Dahil alam na nila paano nagkakilala sina Sheryl at Julius, dumiretso na sila sa pang-aasar.

So, ano’ng gusto mong malaman tungkol sa mga kalokohan ng magkakaibigang ito?” Simula ni Charm, asawa ni Chris.

Mga siga sa Mandaluyong ‘yan, at mga miyembro ng choir, na walang ginawa kundi manligaw sa mga babaeng nakikilala sa parokya.

Correction, nanliligaw lang po kami sa mga MAGAGANDANG babaeng nakikilala sa parokya,” pambubuko pa ni Chris.

Pero you got the smartest among us, Sheryl. Kay Julius lang kami nangongopya nung high school, kaso minsan walang solution sa math problems, alam lang niya ang tamang sagot, nasa utak niya ang solution, mahirap kopyahin sa test paper!” kwento ni Daniel.

Sinasadya kong huling isulat ang solution, pambihira, ang lalakas niyong mangopya! Nahuli pa nga tayo minsan!” dagdag ni Julius.

Member din ako ng choir na ‘yun,” sabi ni Ria, “pero di ako kasing-galing mo kumanta. Mas gusto kong mag-gitara at sumayaw… anyway, enough about me…

Oo nga, hon,” singit ni Louie, “akala ko ba iro-roast natin si Julius dito?

Naman, kung roasting sa tingin niyo makakatulong kay Sheryl?” sabi ni Adora, ang maybahay ni Adrian.

Mabait yan si Julius sa mga younger members ng choir, kuya nga siya ng bayan e.

Kasi members din ang apat na kapatid ko,” paliwanag ni Julius.

Asuus! Style lang yung mga pa-kuya-kuya ng mga girls kay Julius! Nagpapaturo pa kunyaring mag-gitara!” sabat ni Ria.

Tumingin si Sheryl kay Julius, “Kilabot ka pala ng youth sa choir,” sabi niya.

Sumagot naman ang abogadong si Adora, na tagapagtanggol ni Julius sa gabing iyon. “Kaya siya Kuya ng Bayan ay dahil yung apat niyang kapatid na iyon, tumulong siya  sa pagpaaral nila, at ang requirement niya, makatapos mag-aral at maging active sa simbahan.

Naisip ni Sheryl na ang daming pogi points nun kay Julius. Magaling sigurong abogado si Adora sa totoong buhay.

But let’s talk about Julius’ girls!” sabi ni Louie, makapang-asar lang.

Baka isipin ni Sheryl, marami…” depensa ni Julius.

“Marami naman  talaga e!” sagot ng lahat, sabay nagtawanan.

Ano’ng drink ang gusto mong i-try?” alok ni Julius kay Sheryl, para mabaling ang atensiyon sa ibang bagay.

Bakit, kailangan ko bang makainom bago ko marinig ang mga nagbabagang eksena ng iyong past conquests? Gin and tonic, please.” Sagot ni Sheryl.

Hinde, gusto ko lang tumayo kasi baka masakal ko na ‘tong mga katabi ko, e,” sagot ni Julius.

Halata namang maganda ang samahan ng magkakaibigan, kahit karinyo brutal ang iba at natural ang alaskahan. Natupad na ang plano ni Julius – ang makilala ni Sheryl ang mga kaibigan niya, at mag-enjoy siya sa weekend na iyon.

Nag-ring ang cellphone niya. Si Larissa, tumatawag sa Viber, on US time. Nag-excuse si Sheryl, pumunta sa kuwarto at sinagot ang phone.

Ano nang nangyayari? Kumusta? Sabi nina Fran, hindi ka na raw nag-reply ulit after mong mag-send ng sad face kanina.

Oh, it’s a long story, but I’m fine now. We’re hanging out with his friends. They’re wonderful. They’re giving me a glimpse of Julius, pre-Sheryl.”

“Ano yung drama kanina?

Well,” nag-isip si Sheryl kung aamin  ba siya, at naisip niyang walang mawawala kung magsabi ng totoo, “alam niyo naman ako. Umandar na naman ang pagka-bratinela ko.

Ay Sheryl! ‘Yan ang surefire way para mag-goodbye sa’yo ang lalaki. Keep him interested, tsaka mo na dapat pinakita ang sungay mo…”

Ayun nga, nag-stage ako ng walkout. Kumagat ang loko. Pero hinabol kami ng barkada, at medyo natauhan kami.

“Walkout? Ano, feeling diva ka naman diyan? Umayos ka Sheryl,  nakita ko ang pictures ng Julius. Guwapo, at may dating. I mean, looks aren’t everything, at dapat kilalanin mo pa siya, pero kung gusto mo talaga, dahan-dahan ka rin. Don’t be too demanding agad.

So medyo on-the-job trainee ako sa larangang ito. I have to go, I’m missing out on all the tsismis and kwento in the other room.”  Nagpaalam na si Sheryl kay Larissa at bumalik sa sala kung saan nagkukukwentuhan ang magkakabarkada.

Naisip niya lang kung ganito rin sila ka-warm at welcoming noon kay Susannah. Pero hindi siguro tamang topic iyon for that night. Natuto siya sa mga paalala ni Larissa.

Nagtatawanan ang lahat pagpasok niya sa sala. Tiningnan siya ni Julius nang matagal at niyayang maupo ulit sa tabi niya sa sofá. Siksikan sila dahil maliit lang ang sala. Nag-explain si Sheryl na overseas ang call kaya medyo natagalan.

What did I miss?” tanong niya kay Julius.

“Pinapaliwanag lang nila na meron daw silang secret signal talaga para mag-intervene kung may hindi magandang mangyari sa atin kagabi.

Kaso itong engot na si Alex, hindi na-gets agad, hinayaan pa kayong lumabas, eh, nag-signal na ako!” sabi ni Joanne.

Aba, gaano ka ba kadalas makipag-LQ in public at may super secret plan na sila to intervene kaagad?

More of yung kay Susannah iyong signal, hehe. Kaya hindi ko na-connect dahil nakalipas na si Susannah,” palusot ni Alex.

“Oh yes, let’s talk about Susannah, o Emotionally Constipated One!” sabi ni Sheryl kay Julius, sabay sandal dito.

Umangal si Julius, “Huwag naaa!

Nag-chorus naman ang magkakaibigan. “Madali kaming pakantahin, Sheryl!

Naisip ni Julius, nakaraan ko lang niluluto ng mga ito, a. Si Sheryl kaya, ano ang mga nakaraan? Naka-ilang relationships na? Ang dami pa nyang hindi alam.

At siguro, may panahon na ngayon para matuklasan niya kung sino si Sheryl, pre-Julius.

ITUTULOY…

Connected to the World


Connected to the World

This Saturday morning I am thrilled to see that friends from all over the world visited my blog, on the week leading, and up to, Valentine’s Day to read about the stories of Stella and Eddie (the Geeks) and Sheryl and Julius (the Housewife-to-be and her Man). The screen capture cut off Australia, where I’m currently vacationing, and New Zealand, the current setting of the Geek story, but the views from there were already counted anyway. ;)

Image

Ang Magkaibang Plano (Housewife Series, Part 4)


Maligayang Araw ng mga Puso! Narito na ang pang-apat na kabanata sa kwento nina Julius at Sheryl. Kung nais balikan, o simulan, ang naunang tatlong kabanata, maari po lamang na magbasa ng Maikling Kwento. Salamat!

IV. Ang Magkaibang Plano

Nag-stop over nga sa malaking gas station sina Sheryl at Julius bago tumuloy sa Tagaytay. Naka-gown si Sheryl, diba? Kasi dapat didiretso sila sa simbahan pagkatapos. Nakasuot naman ng suit nya si Julius maliban sa jacket kaya bagay sila, at hinayaan na lang nilang pagtinginan sila ng mga tao.

Pumasok sila sa Starbucks para magkape. Alam nilang dapat kumain din sila kasi dinner pa ang susunod nilang meal, sa reception.

May gustong tanungin si Julius kanina pa, at nakahanap siya ng pagkakataon nung nakaupo na sila, habang naglalagay ng asukal sa kape niya si Sheryl.

Uh, Sheryl, earlier when you introduced me to your dad… sabi mo, ano, sabi mo… I’m your ‘friend’ Julius.”

Nagpigil ng tawa si Sheryl. “Tama naman, diba? We are friends, right?” Pinanood niya ang facial expression ni Julius.

Hindi matiyak ni Julius kung paano sasabihin ang follow-up question. Uminom ng kape niya si Sheryl, at naisip na hindi pala muna niya dapat ginamit ang MAC lipstick, sana light gloss na lang muna kasi napunta lang sa coffee cup lahat. Hindi bale, talent naman niya iyong pagre-retouch.

Binalikan niya ang pamumrublema ni Julius nang may konting amusement.  “Bakit, akala mo na-Friend Zone kita?” sabi niyang naglalaro ang mga mata.

No, no, I just wanted to… know what that meant for you.” Si Julius ba ito? Si Julius na ni hindi umaabot sa Friend Zone, dahil matapos niyang pagsawaan ang mga babae, halos hindi na siya kinakausap ng mga ito? Si Julius ba itong worried kung kaibigan lang ang turing sa kanya ni Sheryl?

Look, it’s my dad. I know what triggers his alarm system. Hindi ka pa niya kilala e. Hindi pa rin kita masyadong kilala. When it becomes clear to us what we are, then I’ll tell him. Okay?” Hindi sinasadya ni Sheryl na mang-pressure. Hindi pa nga naman sila nagtatanong kung anong status nila. Nililigawan ba siya ni Julius? Iyon ang bagay na maiintindihan ng henerasyon ng parents niya. Are they dating? Iyon ang uso ngayon, walang commitment, unless sabihin nila parehong exclusive na sila. Sila na ba? Sheryl was hoping these things would be settled that weekend.

Ok.” Napalunok si Julius. Ito ang napapala niya sa pagtatanong ng mga bagay na hindi niya alam ang sagot. At hindi pa siya handang sagutin. Sa tanda niyang ito, parang hindi nag-aapply lahat ng dati niya nang gawi. Dati-rati, siya ang hari ng MU, ng malalabong usapan.

Ang ikli naman ng sagot, naisip ni Sheryl. Pero ayaw niyang masira ang magandang araw. Hindi siya magmamadali. Kahit na sabi ni Georgia, hindi utak ang pinapagana niya rito kay Julius.

Tell me, Sheryl,” sabi ni Georgia nung huli nilang usap sa Skype, nang mabalitaan nitong sasama siya sa Tagaytay para makilala ang mga kaibigan ni Julius, “which of your standards did Julius meet so exceptionally well? Hindi kaya inabutan lang siya ng right time, yung handa ka nang magka-relationship ulit? Or you just found him irresistibly handsome? Kasi come onnn, sa tinagal-tagal nang paghihintay mo, hindi mo masagot sa akin bakit ang lakas ng tama mo rito kay Engineer?”

Puwede ba naman kay Georgia ang mga sagot na, “Hindi ko maipaliwanag e, basta masaya ako pag kasama ko siya, at wala akong gusto kung hindi makausap siya, isipin siya, o planuhin kelan kami magkikita ulit.” So, hindi ito ang sinagot ni Sheryl.

Ang sagot niya, “Georgia, sabi mo nga tumatanda na tayo. Baka natututo na rin ako kung ano ang gusto ko, baka hindi man measurable or logical at this point, there’s something about him.

Just take care of your heart, Sheryl. Alam kong ikaw na ang pinakamaingat sa ating magkakabarkada, pero noong kabataan natin, medyo may tendency ka ring maging baliw sa pag-ibig e.

Ngayong kaharap ulit ni Sheryl si Julius, naaalala niya ang mga sinabi ni Georgia. Kasi para nga siyang teenager ulit. At ayaw niyang masyadong mag-isip. Go lang siya nang go.

I’ll just freshen up ha,” sabi niya kay Julius. Ito ang hirap sa mga out-of-town weddings, kung wala kang bahay na mapagbibihisang malapit. Kahit nag-rent sina Alex ng bahay sa Nasugbu, after reception pa sila pupunta roon.

Tumango lang si Julius. Hindi naman niya makita kung ano pa ang dapat i-improve sa ayos ni Sheryl. Paglabas nito, masaya niyang in-escort pabalik sa kotse. Kumapit si Sheryl sa kanang braso niya palabas.

Kuha tayo ng selfie,” sabi ni Sheryl.

Selfie pa rin ba tawag kahit dalawa tayo?

Hindi ko alam, pero mas matangkad ka, so ikaw humawak ng phone ko.

Naka-ilang take sila kasi hindi naman sanay kumuha ng selfie si Julius. Inayos din ni Sheryl ang buhok ni Julius na ginulo ng hangin. Gumanda lang ang shot nung pinaglapit nila ang kanilang mga mukha, na magkaharap.  Mahirap i-execute ito dahil sa layo ng agwat ng height nila.

Ia-upload mo ito?” tanong ni Julius.  Hindi pa sila out sa social media as a couple. Hindi pa yata ready si Julius….

“Hmm, baka hindi. Just wanted to be reminded of the moment,” sagot ni Sheryl, “atsaka baka may mas magandang shots mamaya.

Oo nga pala may pupuntahan tayong kasal, ‘no?” sabi ni Julius, na totoong nakalimutan sandali kung saan sila papunta.

Biglang nag-ring ang cellphone ni Julius. Si Alex ang tumatawag.

Asan na kayo?”

On the way na,” ang sagot ni Julius.

Siguruhin mong maaga kayo para makita mo ang bunso ko na ring bearer ha.

Andiyan na kayo?” gulat na tanong ni Julius. Mga isang oras at kalahati pa ang layo nila, sa tantiya niya. Sinakto lang din niya ang estimated arrival nila na magsisimula na ang kasal.

Kanina pa, kailangan mag-practice ni Davey nang paglalakad, e. Isa pa, kaya ako tumawag, pakisabi kay Sheryl vinolunteer ko siyang kumanta dun sa pictorial session. Andito kasi ang choir, pianista, at strings quartet, nagpa-practice din,” sagot ni Alex.

Ano? Ikaw kaya ang magsabi. Baka hindi pumayag ito,” sabi ni Julius, habang naglalakad sila ni Sheryl pabalik sa kotse.

Ikaw na, hindi naman kailangan ng notice niyan e. Tiyak may baon nang kanta yan, si Sheryl pa.” Hindi na lang sinabi ni Alex na narinig na niya ang wedding singers at mas magaling pa ang ka-date ni Julius kaysa sa mga ito.

Pagsakay sa kotse, tamang-tama, si Odette Quesada ang kumanta ng “I Think I’m in Love” galing sa playlist ni Julius. Sabi niya, “Alex asked me to tell you, if you could sing during the pictorial session. Matindi yon e, nai-volunteer ka na hindi ka man lang tinanong muna.”

Oh. Hindi yata ako handa,” nabigla si Sheryl. Hindi kasi niya kilala ang bride and groom kaya siya medyo hesitant. Pero naisip niya, wala namang nakikinig sa kumakanta pag pictorial na, kasi either naka-pose nang wacky sa harap ng altar ang mga tao, or nakaupo at nanonood sa mga nagpo-pose ng “wacky” at “closer.”

Vinolunteer din ba niya kung ano ang kakantahin ko?” sabi ni Sheryl makalipas ang ilang sandaling pag-iisip kung tatanggi siya.

Hindi, pero sigurado raw siyang may baon ka nang kanta,” sagot ni Julius na parang naging messenger ni Alex. Naisahan siya dun, a.

“Hmm, okay ba yung Till I Met You?

Kahit ano, tiyak na matutuwa sa iyo si Janine, hindi man niya mapansin agad mamaya, pag pinanood niya ang video ng wedding.

Tahimik sila habang nakikinig kay Odette Quesada. Inaalala na rin ni Sheryl ang kakantahin niya. May napansin silang babaeng nasiraan ng kotse sa highway, at may tumutulong na dito. Naawa si Sheryl, at inisip niyang sana, hindi lokohin ng mekaniko ang babae. May naalala tuloy siyang observation niya tungkol sa mga mekaniko at lalaki.

“Alam mo, kayong mga lalaki, daig pa ang mga mekaniko ng kotse,” pasimula ni Sheryl.

Ha? Paano mo naman nasabi yun?

Kasi, nung minsan, I was in a minor car accident. I was fine, but my car,  unti-unti nang nag-deteriorate after that. Hindi ko na sa kasa dinadala kasi ang mahal. Tuwing may papa-repair, nag-ca-canvass ako sa iba’t ibang shops. At alam mo kung ano’ng napansin ko?

Hindi agad makasagot si Julius. Nagulat siyang si Sheryl mismo ang nagpapagawa ng kotse niya. Hindi ba niya pwedeng iasa iyon sa… sabagay, talagang enigma si Sheryl. Malamang marunong din itong magpalit ng flat tire.

Ano’ng napansin mo? Na mabait sa iyo ang mga mekaniko?

Hinde. Tuwing may sira at magpapalit ako ng mekaniko, may bago na namang theory kung anong problema ng kotse ko, at kasalanan iyon ng previous mekaniko, at siya lang – ang bagong mekaniko – ang makakagawa nun, kasi hindi siya manloloko, at alam niya ang ginagawa niya, at maaasahan ko siya.

Parang alam na ni Julius kung saan papunta ang observation ni Sheryl.

Car mechanics, like men, tend to think they are the only exception to the rule, that you are lucky to meet them in a world full of fraud and dishonesty.

“Saan ka ba nagpapagawa ng kotse? May talyer yung tatay ng kabarkada namin, papakilala kita.” Nag-pretend si Julius na hindi nakuha ang ibig sabihin ni Sheryl.

That was before. I bought a new car last year,” sagot ni Sheryl.  Napatawa si Julius.

Paano mo nga naisip ulit na happy kang maging housewife?

Huminga nang malalim si Sheryl. Madaling sagutin ito sa first date, yung wala pa siya masyadong pakialam kung ma-turn off si lalaki. Noon pa nga lang, mega react na siya sa pambibitin ni Julius. Iba na ngayon, medyo kapag natakot na naman si Julius sa mga sasabihin niya, baka hindi niya kayanin.

“Kaya nga ako may list, e,” sabi niya, at naramdaman niya ang inner Pauline niyang nagsasabing, “Wrong answer, Sheryl!

You have a list?

“Ahh, medyo traffic ano? Huwag sana tayong ma-late. Sana pagtungtong natin sa simbahan, hindi pa nagsisimula yung procession to the tune of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major…

Hindi ko alam bakit sa lahat ng kasal yun ang tugtog. Walang originality ang mga tao. Pero hindi mo sinagot ang tanong ko. Ano yung listahan mo?

Mukhang hindi nakalusot si Sheryl. Siguro kailangan na nilang harapin ang katotohanan.

Yeah, I have a list. Of qualities. In a man. Siyempre para ma-sustain ko yung Housewife Dream, naghihintay ako ng Good Provider.” Tahimik lang si Julius. Nagsisi naman si Sheryl. Bakit kasi kailangan siyang maging honest palagi? Ano na lang ang magiging reaction ni Julius? Na sinusukat niya ang mga lalaki? Paano pag na-realize niyang nasa testing phase sila ngayon kung pasok nga ba si Julius sa mga listahan ng hanap niya? At hindi niya balak sabihin kung ano ang laman ng listahan.

Hey. Say something,” sabi ni Sheryl, sabay hawak sa braso ni Julius na malapit sa hand break.

Umaandar ang utak ni Julius. Sabi ko na, high maintenance ang babaing ito e. Sabi ko na, maraming hinahanap ito sa buhay e. Shape up, Julius. Time to make an exit plan, before it’s too late.

Sakto naman ang pasok ni Basil Valdez sa car stereo.

Anong kailangan kong gawin

Upang malaman mo

Ikaw ay minamahal ko

Kailangan ko’y katulad mo

Sa buhay kong ito

Nag-iisa lang sa mundo.

 

Dati’y nasaktan na ‘ko

Takot nang magtiwala

Ayoko na sanang umibig pa

Ngunit ika’y ibang-iba

Sa lahat ng nakilala

Sana ay ikaw na nga.

 

And this list, how does it work? Pag may palpak minsan, o may kulang, The End na? Good bye na?” Nairita si Julius sa playlist niya for the first time. Masyadong nakaka-enhance ng damdamin, e gusto niyang mag-concentrate sa pag-iisip ng mga usual niyang exit plan sa mga sandaling iyon.

Na-sense ni Sheryl na medyo tense na si Julius. Great job, Sheryl, naisip niya.

It hasn’t worked yet, obviously. Pero dahil sa List, hindi ako madalas nakakahanap ng date. O kung lumabas man ako, hindi ako nai-impress basta-basta. It’s been years since my last boyfriend.” Pause to reminisce. Pause for effect.  “But after our first date, I threw away the list,” dagdag pa ni Sheryl.

Nabuhayan ng loob si Julius. Ayaw lang pala niya yung feeling na hindi siya nakapasa.

Pero, napaisip siya….

Teka, ang ibig ba nitong sabihin, nasa kanya na lahat ng hinahanap ni Sheryl? Naalala niya ang text message nito sa mga kaibigan noong makasaysayang first date nila: “I have found the one. He gets me!

Kailan kaya niya aamining natanggap niya rin ang text? Hindi pa siguro ngayon. Hindi pa siguro bukas.

Wala namang masama sa listahan, ang problema, wala pang ganoon si Julius. Hindi sya kasing-handa ni Sheryl sa mga ganitong usapan.

Sheryl, I don’t mean to be mean, okay?

Uh-oh. Ano raw?

I just want us to manage our expectations a little bit more. Ang sabi ko, wala akong balak lokohin ka. Bigyan mo lang ako ng chance to get used to some of your ideas.

What’s the matter? Ayaw ba niyang matukoy na nakapasa sa Sheryl’s Exalted List of Qualities in a Husband?

Ayun, husband na kasi agad ang hinahanap niya.  Segue lang ang Boyfriend. Pupunta pa naman sila sa kasal. Paano ba mag-manage ng expectations sa ganitong environment?

Aalagaan kita nang mabuti ngayong weekend. Pero pagkatapos nito, pag-isipan natin kung pareho ba tayo ng hinahanap sa relationship, and let’s try to meet halfway. Tama ka, hindi mo pa ako masyadong kakilala. Kung baga sa Monday, back to reality tayo. Ngayong weekend, let’s pretend we’re just a regular, happy couple.

Maiiyak yata si Sheryl. Dang it! Malapit na sila sa simbahan. Ano bang pinagsasasabi ni Julius? How could he expect her to process this? She was in freaking three-inch heels.

Are you okay with that, Sheryl?” malambing na tanong ni Julius.

What the hell, ano’ng gusto mong isagot ko? Ang tunay na thought bubble ni Sheryl. Nagpigil siya dahil kailangan pa nilang maging sweet para sa kasal at sa reception at sa after-reception gimmick. At may bukas pa. Magpasundo kaya siya sa daddy niya?

Julius, I don’t know how your previous girlfriends responded to this kind of proposition, but you leave me with no choice. Ok, I am your date for the weekend. Beyond that is a mystery.

Ayaw sakin nito, naisip niya. I mean, not enough to want to spend forever with me.

“Kasi naman, bakit ka nagmamadali? Forever ka diyan!” ang sabi ng chorus nina Pauline, Francine, Larissa, at Georgia sa utak niya.

Dumating na pala sila sa Chapel on a Hill. Matarik ang hagdan paakyat kaya inalalayan siya ni Julius. Nung nakaupo na sila sa tabi nina Alex at Joanne, atsaka tumugtog ang Canon in D Major. Nag-co-compose ng mukha si Sheryl, ayaw niyang magpahalata kahit kanino.

Ayun, naglakad na ang Maid of Honor. Parang artista sa ganda, naisip ni Sheryl. Actually, kamukha ni Dawn Zulueta, napansin niya. Kung anu-ano na lang ang iniisip niya para hindi mag-emote.

At dumating na ang bride. Yung moment na nagpalit ng music, at kumanta na ng

Ikaw ang bigay ng Maykapal

Tugon sa aking dasal

Upang sa lahat ng panahon

Bawat pagkakataon

Ang ibigin ko’y ikaw

Ay, hindi na nakapigil si Sheryl. Buti na lang, marami siyang kasabay magpunas ng luha. Ang weird lang e kasi hindi naman niya kakilala ang bride. Naramdaman niyang hinawakan siya ni Julius sa kamay.

Ano, bawal umiyak? Naisip niya. Tiningnan niya si Julius nang galit.

Nung nagtama ang tingin nila, nagsikip ang lalamunan ni Julius. Bakit siya umiiyak? Gusto ko lang naman malinaw usapan namin para walang sisihan.

Bakit ba ang hirap-hirap? Drama ng puso ni Sheryl. Itong mga iba, sina Joanne at Alex, Janine at Raymond, happy ending. Hindi sila iniwan ng mahal nila. Itong si Julius, napakahirap dalhin. Ang ilap-ilap. Gusto na niyang sumuko. Tama yata sina Georgia, kung ayaw niyang maghintay sa wala, dapat lumayo na siya kay Julius noon pang una.

Wala nang pinakamalungkot na bisita sa kasalang iyon kundi si Sheryl. Buong misa, napadasal tuloy siya nang matindi.

“Lord, bakit Niyo naman ipapakita yung gusto ko, tapos sample lang pala? Bakit hindi sya consistent? Bakit feeling ko po, anytime, bibitawan ako nito? Hindi naman po ako naghahangad ng lahat ng lalaki sa mundo e. Minsan lang po ako makakita ng gusto ko.

Madasalin pala si Sheryl, naisip ni Julius, habang pinapanood si Sheryl na taimtim na nakaluhod pagkatapos ng communion. Pag-upo nito, sumenyas na si Alex, malapit na ang pictorial. Kakanta na siya.

Fight, ang naisip ni Sheryl. Akin ka ngayong weekend, diba? Pwes, I’ll kill you with my charm. At wala nang iba pang greater power si Sheryl kundi ang pagkanta.

For Janine and Raymond,” sabi niya, bago sinimulan ang awitin.

 

I never dreamed

Cause I always thought that dreaming was for kids

Just a childish thing

And I could swear

Love was just a game that children play

And no more than a game

 

‘Til I met you

I never knew what love was

‘Til I met you

This feeling seems to grow more every day

I love you more each day

Ang bawat tao sa buong simbahang puno ay nagtanong kung sino ba iyong artistang kumakanta. Sunud-sunod ang group pictorials, hindi na nag-solo ang mga taga-choir, ibinigay na kay Sheryl ang mikropono. Pumili na lang siya sa mga song sheets ng choir.

Sana’y Wala Nang Wakas

Now That I Have You

How Did You Know?

Hiningan pa siya ng calling card ng strings quartet, kasi gusto nilang mag-partner sa isang wedding singer. Ngumiti lang si Sheryl. Nang bigla niyang makita si Julius na kausap si Dawn Zulueta,  yung Maid of Honor.

Lapit agad sa kanya si Alex, “Ok ma’am, kalma lang. Best friend ni Janine yon, si Susannah. Nag-date sila ni Julius dati. At huwag kang mag-alala, galit kay Julius iyan. Magpa-Pasko kasi nung nakipag-break ang kaibigan ko, ayun, ang sabi ni Susannah, emotionally constipated daw siya.

Hindi mukhang galit ang hitsura ni Susannah, dahil tumatawa ito sa kung anuman ang sinasabi ni Julius. Akala ba niya sila ngayong weekend?  Lumapit nga siya.

There you are,” sabi ni Sheryl, sabay angkla sa braso ni Julius.

Nanlaki ang mata ni Susannah, halatang hindi na-realize na may ka-date si Julius. Galit pala ha, naisip ni Sheryl.

Ipinakilala ni Julius si Sheryl kay Susannah. “Susan, this is Sheryl.” No labels, naisip niya. Mabuti na ang safe.

So pleased to meet you,” sabi ni Susan. “You have a lovely singing voice. Are you a professional singer?

I am the unofficial girlfriend, naisip ni Sheryl. Fight mode talaga siya.

No, I just like to sing occasionally. I’m in marketing,” sabi niya habang nade-depress unti-unti kasi ang tangkad at ang payat ni Susannah. Parang model lang.

Yun pala, model nga. Nakita niya si Joanne sa pila papasok sa reception, at nagpunta sila sa restroom nang sabay. Binulungan siya ni Joanne, “Nakita mo yung model-modelang exgf ni Julius?

She is my worst nightmare! Please tell me may ka-date siya ngayon.

Hirap na nga siya sa sitwasyon nila ni Julius, hindi pa niya kaya ang love triangle, lalo na kung 23 inches ang waistline ng karibal niya.

Meron, at nilalait ng barkada. Medyo may edad na kasi at umuurong na raw ang noo… Alam mo naman ang mga lalaking ito pag makakasama akala mo nakatambay pa rin sa kanto kung mag-usap-usap.

Not a comforting thought, naisip ni Sheryl. Kahit sino kapag itinabi mo kay Julius, walang comparison, naku kailangan niyang kumapit kundi pati sa weekend na ito, baka ma-zero siya.

Naupo na siya  sa silya sa tabi ni Julius. Hindi pa tapos ang explosives nito.

Sheryl, later, yung mga games para sa singles, wag na tayong sumali ha. Don’t try and catch that bouquet.

Ulit, ulit. Rewind. Is he telling her what to do? Bakit noong first date, cute ito, pero ngayon, nakakainis yatang madiktahan?

Pero naalala niya ang façade niya bilang sweet girlfriend.

Why, if there’s an eligible bachelor here who wants to put a garter on my leg, who am I to resist?” sabi niya while batting her eyelashes coquettishly. Marunong din siyang mang-inis.

Basta, alam ni Raymond ayoko ng mga ganun. Lumalabas nga ako usually, e dahil kasama kita, hindi ko gagawin iyon.

Seriously, Julius. This is a wedding. Lighten up! Ano’ng gagawin ko kung mag-roll call ang bride and groom?

Hindi ka pa naman nila kilala e.

Aray ko naman. That really hurt. Gusto nang kunin ni Sheryl ang sapatos niya at pukpukin ng matulis niyang heels si Julius.

Fine. Hindi ako sasali. I will go outside and smoke a cigarette.

I didn’t know you smoked.

Hindi mo naman ako kilala e.” Ang smoking ni Sheryl ay pang-college days lang, at minsan pag may overtime sa work at kasama niya yung mga artists na nag-de-design ng marketing paraphernalia. Pero hindi naman niya ito habit. Naghahanap lang siya ng pang-inis kay Julius.

Nagpaalam si Julius, may kukunin lang daw. Pagbalik nito, dala ang gitara. Malapit na pala yung Harana nilang magkakabarkada. Dumiretso na ito sa may stage para mag-setup.

Naiwan sina Joanne at Sheryl sa side nila ng mesa, kasi ang mga bata ay nasa kabilang mesa.

“This is what they do best. Ako rin, naharana noon. Biglang gumuguwapo ang magkakabarkada pag kumakanta na. At ang Julius mo, pogi points sa paggigitara.

Ang Julius ko. Nais tumulo ng luha ni Sheryl. Sabagay, kanya si Julius, according to him, hanggang Linggo ng gabi, sa computation ni Sheryl. Masulit nga.

Nagbuhos pa siya ng red wine na naiwan sa mesa pagkatapos ng mga toasts to the bride and groom. Ininom niya ito at naghandang making sa mga maghaharana. Mas maganda kung naka-barong sila. Puro naka-suit eh. Sa kasal niya, gusto niya naka-barong lahat ng lalaki. Kung ikakasal man siya. Erase na nga, at baka maiyak na naman siya.

Si Raymond ang unang lead singer, siyempre siya ang nakasalang bilang groom. Halatang matagal nang magkakaibigan ang grupo, dahil sa luma ng mga jokes nila at kanta. Humalili sa pagkanta ang iba habang nag-first dance ang bagong kasal.

(Ikaw Lang Ang Aking Mahal)

Itanong mo sa akin

Kung sino’ng aking mahal

Itanong mo sa akin

Sagot ko’y di magtatagal

 

Ikaw lang ang aking mahal

Ang pag-ibig mo’y aking kailangan

Pag-ibig na walang hangganan

Ang aking tunay na nararamdaman

 

Isa lang ang damdamin

Ikaw ang aking mahal

Maniwala ka sana

Sa akin ay walang iba

Palakpakan. Inom pa rin si Sheryl.  Hinanap niya ang cellphone niya. Dami nang text messages ng mga kaibigan niya, nangangamusta. May text din si Mommy.

(Ang Awitin Ko)

Bakit di ko maamin sa iyo

ang tunay na awitin ng loob ko.

Di ko nais mabuhay pa

kung wala sa piling mo

Ngunit di ko pa rin maamin sa iyo.

 

Di malaman ang sasabihin pag kaharap ka

Ngunit nililingon naman pag dumaraan na.

O, ang laking pagkakamali kung di niya malalaman

Kaya sa awitin kong ito ipadarama.

 

Nag-text si Sheryl kina Pauline at Francine. “He says we’ll spend the weekend together then assess on Monday. I know. I shouldn’t have agreed but I’m already here. :-(”

Reply ni Pauline: “What does he mean ‘spend the weekend together’?”

Reply ni Francine: “Sheryl, straight na ang English mo. You must be mad. Want us to get you? Gigisingin ko si Mahal.

The only way for me to know what exactly he means is to stay. I don’t think he knows what he wants yet, girls. I intend to straighten that out of him. So, no, don’t rescue me just yet. Ktnxbye!

Pagkatapos ng mini-concert ng barkada, palakpakan ang lahat. Nag-speech si Raymond.

Itong mga kababata ko pong ito ang nagtulak sa akin para makitang si Janine ang dapat kong maging kabiyak. Pag hinarana na po namin ang babae, that means that’s it na, welcome to the family na, at handa kaming ipaglaban ang pag-ibig nila. Ngayong gabi, meron po sa aming bagong miyembro…

Natigilan si Julius. Ano’ng sinasabi ni Raymond?

To Sheryl, where are you? Ah, there you are. Sheryl, nagpapasalamat kami ni Janine na kumanta ka kanina sa simbahan. [Palakpakan ang lahat ng tao.] At alam naming how special you are to Julius. Pasensiya ka na sa kaibigan naming medyo mahina sa pag-express ng tunay niyang damdamin, pero ako na ang nagsasabi, matino iyan pagdating sa tunay na pag-ibig, at hindi man halata, bakit wala din naman sa mga hitsura namin, pero Husband Material ito, ma’am.

Gusto ni Sheryl na maglaho na lang sa balat ng lupa. Gusto ni Julius sakalin si Raymond, pero kasal naman nung tao.

Pag-upo ni Julius, hindi ito makatingin kay Sheryl. Nag-speech naman ang isang ninang at isang ninong. Puro payo sa mga bagong kasal. Punung-puno ng pag-asa at pag-ibig ang gabing iyon. Samantalang nasa bingit ng kamatayan ang lovelife ni Sheryl.

Nakakahalata na si Joanne na hindi nagkikibuan ang dalawa. Sinenyasan niya si Alex.

Na-carried away doon si Raymond. Alam nyo na, high na high e, at pag in-love ang tao gusto niya lahat sa paligid niya masaya rin. Ang hindi ko alam ay kung bakit mukha kayong namatayan diyan.

Nag-announce ang emcee na tumayo na ang lahat ng single ladies. Nakaporma na ang games para sa bridal bouquet.

Ayaw ni Sheryl to make a scene. Tumayo rin siya pero dumiretso sa labas. Maginaw. At manipis ang kanyang shawl.

Sumunod pala si Julius. Hindi na siya kinailangang sabihan nina Alex at Joanne.  Naramdaman na lang ni Sheryl may naglagay ng jacket sa kanya mula sa likod.

O, bawal magkasakit, lagot ako sa tatay mo.

Kanina ka pa lagot, thought bubble ni Sheryl.

What are we doing here, Julius?

Nagtatago,” maikling paliwanag ni Julius. “Sa mga kabaduyan na dapat pang-pelikula na lang.”

Halatang hindi niya nasundan ang ibig sabihin ni Sheryl.

No, I mean, what are we doing? Am I an experiment? Kasi kung hindi ka pa ready, ok lang naman, sabihin mo lang. I just have to step back, too.

Huwag. Kang. Iiyak. Iyon ang mahigpit na tagubilin ng inner Georgia ni Sheryl, at nakinig naman siya rito.

I have to admit, tuwing mapag-uusapan natin ang pag-aasawa, at pagiging housewife mo, hindi ko alam ano’ng isasagot ko. Sa mga dati ko kasing girlfriend, hindi ganito ka-seryoso agad.

E bakit mo ako dinala sa kasal? Sadista ka ba?” tanong ni Sheryl. Hindi ulit galit ang tono niya, nanghihina na siya.

Kasi gusto kitang dalhin dito. Sa Tagaytay. Kasama ng mga kaibigan ko. Gusto ko mag-enjoy ka. Obviously hindi ako successful sa last.

Sa lahat din ng babaeng nakilala ni Julius, si Sheryl ang pinakamahirap pasunurin. May sariling isip. Nagtatanong ang mga mata. Nangungusap ang katahimikan.

Sheryl, iba yung emotionally constipated, I admit there’s some truth to that, sa manloloko o babaero. Hindi ako ganun. At hindi ko gustong saktan ka. I’m just being honest with you. Before I met you, wala pa sa kukote ko ang pag-aasawa.

But you already have hurt me, sabi ni Sheryl kay Sheryl.

Alam mo Juls, without you even trying, tuwing mapapaso ka sa akin, nasasaktan ako. I can’t help being myself, though. Ganito ako, transparent, emotional. Hindi ako usually reckless. Siguro dapat klaruhin mo muna sa sarili mo anong intentions mo sa akin.

Niyakap ni Julius si Sheryl. Hindi na naman niya alam ang sasabihin, e.

Nakita mo itong gown ko? Alam mo kung saan gawa ito?

Natural, hindi alam ni Julius. Wala siyang alam sa mga tela at mga gown.

Hindi ko alam, saan?” Tiningnan ni Julius ang gown. Nakita niyang maganda ang fit nito sa katawan ni Sheryl.

Sa housewife material.

Bago maka-react si Julius, nagsalita muli si Sheryl.

And I’m sorry for being like this. Pero ayoko na ng emotional yoyo. Mag-soul searching ka muna, kasi simula pa lang, sinabi ko na sa iyo ano’ng plano ko sa buhay. If you can’t be part of that, then we’d better say goodbye here. Magpapasundo na ako sa driver ng daddy ko.

Wait, Sheryl,” hindi na naman makahabol ang utak ni Julius sa damdamin niya. Parang may masakit pero hindi niya mahanap kung nasaan.

I’ll, I’ll take you home. I owe you that much.

Paano mae-endure ni Sheryl ang biyahe pauwi? Pero sabagay, once tawagan niya ang daddy niya, baka kung ano’ng gawin no’n kay Julius. Sasabihin na lang niyang sumama pakiramdam niya kaya umuwi na lang sila instead of overnight. Hindi na rin niya inistorbo sina Francine.

Well, you better drive fast. And none of that saccharine-sweet music. And you explain to Alex and Joanne why we’re not joining them. You don’t have to be honest. Just say I’m sick.

 Bumalik sila sa mesa, sinimot ni Sheryl ang laman ng bote ng red wine. Ayaw pumayag ni Alex.

Pare, nakainom ka, mahirap mag-drive sa gabi.

Isang beer at isang wine lang, wala ‘yon. Kailangan nang umuwi ni Sheryl e.

Hindi na nagpumilit sina Joanne at Alex. Kanina pa nahahalata ng mag-asawa na asiwa ang Julius at Sheryl sa isa’t isa.

Naunang lumabas si Sheryl. Naalala niya, ni hindi niya nakausap ang bride na si Janine. Kung sabagay, hindi naman niya na kailangang kaibiganin iyon. Una, best friend siya ng ex ni Julius. Ikalawa, asawa siya ng best friend ni Julius, na malapit na niyang maging ex.

Bilog ang buwan, napansin ni Julius. Ituturo sana niya kay Sheryl pero hindi siya nito pinapansin. Ipinagbukas pa rin niya ng pinto. Naupo si Sheryl nang tahimik.

Parang may mali, naisip ni Julius. Hindi ito ang pinlano niyang weekend.

Pero iyon ang problema. Weekend lang ang pinlano ni Julius.

Forever ang pinaplano ni Sheryl.

Magkatagpo pa kaya ang kanilang mga plano?

Abangan ang susunod na kabanata. 

The Time Given to Us (Geek Series, Part V)


If it’s your first time to read this work, please visit “The Lord of the Geeks“, link provided above, for the first four chapters, before proceeding to chapter 5 below. Thanks! – E.

V.  The Time Given to Us

Kia ora!” Eddie warmly greeted Stella when they were both inside the car, while handing her various maps, brochures, and other travel guides to Auckland. “Take your pick, we have a week,” he added.

Stella suddenly felt warm but she didn’t want to remove Eddie’s jacket. He was honestly the best-looking guy she had ever spent time with. She stopped herself from gushing out loud and opted to simply thank him and look at the wealth of tourist information he had given her.

Eddie started to drive while Stella pretended to read about the hottest places in Auckland. She could not concentrate, as she was prone to motion sickness.

She was also becoming dizzy for other reasons. It suddenly struck her that what she was doing was something she had only read or written about in the past. She was running away with a stranger. Her instincts told her she should be running away from this strange foreign man, but she decided to do something crazy for the second time in her life (the first was running after Richard, and what a gamble that was). Well, technically, they were just staying put in one city, but still, the image of what she was trying to pull off stunned her.

She remembered her brother’s advice when she learned of Richard’s Reason (for not being with her), “The only way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” She laughed at Vince, for at that time she didn’t think she could ever want to be with anyone other than Richard.

Then just a few months later, she found herself in another country, with a man she barely even knew save for the information she had dug from his online profiles, and she had to stifle a giggle. Of course she was going to report this to Vince, who would be proud of his older sister.

She should be scared, really, but she wasn’t.

Eddie found a parking space outside Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. He and Stella spent hours exploring the Gallery’s collection of New Zealand historic, modern and contemporary art, as well as international painting, sculpture and print collections.

When they entered the Gallery’s Library upon Stella’s insistence, however, they received quite a surprise.

Stella saw her first: the Aquamarine Lady. She was standing behind the librarian’s desk, in a room that housed the Gallery’s extensive collections about the visual arts. From a distance, her hair took on a silvery shine, and then she looked up and saw them. Stella had a weird feeling that she had been expecting them.

“Well, look who’s here! Hello, young lovers! And welcome to the Auckland Art Gallery’s Research Library!”

Eddie guided her by the small of her back to the librarian’s desk, and they introduced themselves. He was so delighted to see Felise, but Stella was quiet, only smiling politely and extending her hand at the proper moments.

Stella was silently overcome with guilt and discomfort. Her first impression was wrong again. If Felise was a librarian, then she must have read The Lord of the Rings. Stella had no business imputing Tolkien ignorance on this great lady. Oh, she hoped Felise was not a mind-reader, because she was so embarrassed by how her caffeine- and sleep-deprived brain had treated Felise the day before.

The librarian said they could read any of the books on display, and showed them the coffee table book from the recent exhibition, Angels & Aristocrats, which they had missed by a few days. Eddie promised to buy the book at the museum shop, and told them both how fascinated he was by angels.

A geek who likes angels, Stella thought. Eddie on 3D was even more interesting than his travel photos on Instagram and his list of skills on LinkedIn. She wondered if he found her equally appealing.

“So, what are you up to after this? I’m surprised the art gallery is your first stop after Hobbiton!” Felise remarked. “Although, very pleased to see you. I’m proud of our collections, of course.”

“It’s because of me,” said Stella. “Aside from it being too cold for me for any outdoor activities, I really love libraries and museums and art galleries. Eddie here is being nice.”

“No, no, I am glad we’re doing this. If not for you, I would never have seen those outstanding works by Māori and Pacific Island artists,” Eddie was not replying to Felise, but looking at Stella. What a pair of geeks we are, she thought.

Felise, with eyes of wisdom and tenderness, said to the couple, “Yes, a familiar place can be seen under new eyes when you revisit it with someone special. You see gems that were always there, waiting to be discovered.”

Stella liked that. She wanted to hug Felise.

“I don’t mean to sound like your grandmother, but it’s going to be a rainy evening, and you’d better go if you want to see more of the city,” Felise said. “All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.”

Stella was pretty sure that the last sentence was a paraphrase from Tolkien.

“I wanted to see the university’s old buildings, and Eddie wanted to have dinner somewhere near the Viaduct Harbour.” Felise nodded her approval at their simple plans.

“Parking could be a problem. We should probably leave the car here and come back for it before dinner.”

“How are you at map-reading, at dusk, in the rain?” Stella had to ask, before she realized she needed to put more trust in Eddie, as he was more familiar with the CBD than she was.

Before Eddie could reply, Felise blurted out, “Oh, don’t worry about that, it’s a pretty small city. Besides, you might like what you find along the way!”

Not all those who wander are lost,” Eddie, Stella, and Felise said at the same time. And they laughed.  They obviously had a shared love for “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, from which that line was taken.

Felise looked so encouraging and confident that Stella wanted to stay behind to pick her brain about her travels and books and holiday romances. Almost wanted to stay behind, she corrected herself, for she also wanted to spend every waking moment of the next week with Eddie.

“Drink a lot of wine, try our famous Whittaker’s chocolates, and watch the Wynyard Crossing bridge as it lifts to allow watercraft to pass through tonight,” suggested Felise.

Stella agreed and said, “I have been gloriously acquainted with your excellent white wines recently, and I am definitely going to try the Pinot Grigio for dinner.”

“That, my dear is a good plan,” Felise replied.

They walked from the Gallery to the University of Auckland. Being Asian, Stella could not resist buying an umbrella from the museum shop and using it against the rain. Eddie ended up having to carry it as he was the much taller one, although he appeared to Stella not to be an umbrella person.

Stella wanted to document everything, but restrained herself. Her camera could get wet, and some moments were best preserved in her heart’s memory, she realized. Especially since it was turning out to be a very special afternoon. So they just walked by the School of Music, the beautiful building for Political Studies, and the law school library.

“Tell me, Eddie, if you were to choose another career, what would it be?” Stella had no real answer herself to that question, as she knew she was going to be a writer by the time she received her first Annie journal when she was nine years old. She liked thinking about alternative careers whenever she was roaming a university campus, however. And she liked to discover more of Eddie.

“I wanted to be a pilot when I was a child,” came the reply. “But my eyesight turned out to be not good enough for it. I’m wearing contacts, by the way. I think it’s the closest I could ever be to actual flying,” and Eddie gave Stella his boyish grin that she found so endearing. “And you?”

“I’m boring, for I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” she replied. “But I sometimes daydream about being a figure skater, probably because of all the Disney on Ice shows I watched as a girl.”

“Do you know how to ice skate?”

“Oh no, of course not,” Stella laughed. “We don’t have ice in Manila, although there are good skating rinks inside a couple of malls.”

“We could do that tomorrow! I could teach you, or we could hire an instructor for an hour …” Eddie said as they sat on a wet bench in Albert Park.

Eddie used his jacket as a dry spot for him and Stella to sit on, so instead of using the entire length of the bench, they were squeezed on a tiny portion of it, connected on one side, from shoulder to feet. Stella was, once again, freezing, but inside, she was warm, as if a shot of brandy had travelled all throughout her body.

Stella wasn’t sure she wanted to stumble and fall on the ice in front of Eddie. At the same time, it sounded sweet.

All we have to do is to decide what to do with the time that is given to us.

As she leaned on Eddie’s shoulder, Stella replied, “Let’s think about tomorrow, tomorrow.”

“As you wish,” Eddie said.

They watched as the rain softly fell on the brown leaves on the ground, not bothering anymore to bring out an umbrella.

Stella’s hair was sticking to her face, her makeup had long been washed away, and yet she did not feel the need to fix anything at all.

“We are going to get soaked, and I don’t want you to catch a cold,” Eddie said. He was holding Stella’s hand and could feel her shivering. “We’d better head back to the hotel, change, and have a nice dinner.”

But Stella did not want to move. There was nowhere else she’d rather be than with this man who was making her feel cared for.

“Let’s stay for a few more minutes,” she pleaded into Eddie’s eyes. “I have a pretty strong immune system,” she assured him.

Her mobile phone, her camera, in fact her entire bag was in the rented car. Stella did not care. She was, however, remembering every second of that moment, as if to write about it someday.

How long had it been since she had sat this close to a man (other than Richard, who did not count)? She felt fragile yet strong. Anything was possible. Anything she said seemed to fascinate him. He seemed to want to be with her, and not anyone else.

True, she did not know him yet, but surely her heart would not betray her. Surely she could trust Eddie.

“Tell me, how did you get started liking angels? It seems, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, a little bit out of character. For a brainy guy like you.”

“Angels remind me of my late mother,” Eddie replied, while staring at something in the distance.

“I’m sorry to hear that, when did she pass away?”

“Just, just four years ago. I was an only son. She and dad had separated when I was in five, and dad has another family. Mum was all I had,” he said in a quiet voice.

Stella covered Eddie’s hands with both of hers, although they were small compared to his.

“We used to travel a lot together. Her family left her with a house in France, and we visited Europe every year.”

Stella was not familiar with such loss. Her parents and younger brother Vince were all still living in their family home in Manila.

“I have never been to Europe.” Out of all the things to say, she had to make it about her? Stella wanted to take it back, but it was too late.

Eddie looked at her and said, “I could take you there someday. Mum left me the house.”

“Oh, Eddie, let’s not make promises like that. It’s dangerous for my heart. I am bad at this!” The rain had stopped. Stella knew that Eddie merely replied to her suggestion, but she did not want to build an imaginary future just yet, as she was prone to do with men, evidenced by the fact of her recent failed relationship. Was she thinking about Richard in the past tense now? That was progress!

“I mean, I would love to say yes, but let’s not do that to my poor heart.” As a writer, Stella had learned that she tended to feel things more deeply: love, lust, loss, pain, disappointment, heartbreak. Her therapist back at Sydney, whom she had consulted after Richard’s Revelation, tried to train her to be aware of how passionate she could be, and to avoid situations that would lead to certain agony.

As it was, she knew she was already treading on dangerous ground.  But she thought that taking it one day at a time could lessen her tendency to feel too much.

She did not know that she was miscalculating again.

“Fair enough, I shouldn’t have made such a promise. I’m worse at this, believe me,” Eddie said. It was true. He had never figured out the right way of dealing with women. He always meant what he said at the time he said it, but that had gotten him in trouble more than once.

“To go back to mum’s angels, after the divorce, she took to buying art – paintings and sculptures – of angels and filled our house with it. She wanted to protect herself from further pain, I was told by my aunts later on. I always had angel pins and stickers in my school bag. She was not very religious, but just believed in angels, particularly the archangels.”

Coming from a Catholic country, Stella knew all the archangels, and in fact had received her Sacrament of Confirmation from the National Shrine of Saint Michael and the Archangels in Manila.  She had, since she began working, been an absentee Catholic. She wondered if Eddie went to church.

“After mum’s death, I talked to a priest. I just walked into the chapel in the hospital, as I refused to talk to anyone else. The priest was a good listener. He and I had become good friends. He keeps asking that I attend mass sometime. I have never taken up his offer.”

“Maybe we could visit this priest-friend of yours. Maybe we could go to mass,” Stella was making “future” plans, she knew. She had not felt this urge to attend mass before, not even during the time of heartbreak from Richard. All she wanted then was to change the situation, and she took matters into her own hands. See where that led: she refused to let go of her co-dependency on Richard, and vice versa. For, although he left her for Australia, Richard still wanted Stella in his life, to be an observer, absorber, and validator.

“Maybe,” Eddie replied. “I’ll call him tonight, but that means you’ll have to go with me to Sydney, where he is assigned.”

Knowing her time in Sydney was limited, Stella wondered if she should tell Eddie. But it felt too soon to talk about such things.

“I’m hungry,” was what came out of Stella’s mouth.

Eddie chuckled. “Let’s feed you then,” he said.

Back at the Hilton, Eddie took a shower while Stella unpacked. He was not exaggerating when he said he had a big room. She happily hung her few clothes and mentally noted that she needed to schedule shopping the next day. If Eddie wanted to, he could just sit and drink coffee somewhere while she picked what she needed.

She also appropriated the other bed for herself, and left her watch, jewellery, and her books for night reading on the table beside it. They were going to sleep on separate beds, she was sure of it, despite what Vince her brother advised her before on how to forget Richard. He must not have meant it literally.

Eddie stepped out of the bathroom – he finished more quickly than Richard, no surprise there – wearing his clothes already, to Stella’s relief. She did not want to seem prudish but she also did not know how to react had he appeared wearing only a towel.

“Your turn,” he said, not looking at her. He pretended to open the closet to look for something. Stella felt it was just for show, as he was already, as previously observed, fully clothed.

“Thanks,” she said, and carried her toolbox-sized toiletry bag and her change of clothes with her to the bathroom. The tub looked inviting but she was hungry for dinner, so she opted for a shower as well.

“I’m going to browse for a restaurant, what do you feel like eating?” Eddie asked through the door.

“Seafood maybe?” Richard is allergic to seafood, so Stella always ate them whenever she was out of his house. Or in this case, out of his life. Her therapist must be counting the number of times she had mentioned Richard in this trip. She decided to let the water wash all thoughts of Richard away, and down the drain with the soap and shampoo.

“I found a place that has a seafood platter, better for outdoor dining, but it may be cold tonight. I’ll call to reserve a seat inside,” Eddie again, at the door.

Stella could barely hear him through the shower and so she just shouted her assent, “Okay!”

This should be awkward, only it wasn’t. So she was taking a shower in a hotel room that really wasn’t hers and talking to a man through the bathroom door to whom it belonged and now that she started thinking about it, she became self-conscious as she carefully dressed for dinner.

She should have worn the Wicked dress tonight, she thought with regret. Instead she settled for skinny jeans and a girly top. She was hungry and was ready in 20 minutes, which was a record, considering the outcome. She was pleased at the face of the girl staring back at her in the mirror. She looked grown-up, sophisticated, and free.

When she opened the door, she caught Eddie munching on the cookies that were provided by the hotel. The poor guy must have been hungrily waiting for me, she realized with a tinge of guilt.

Eddie looked at her appreciatively. He said, “My lady, if you would permit me, I’d like to take you out to dinner.”

“Why, kind sir, I believe you have started with dinner already,” Stella replied with a mischievous grin. She took the cookie from Eddie’s hand and bit into it. “I thought I was the one who was hungry,” she said, crumbs ruining her lipstick and all.

Eddie said, “That was very unladylike, and would not do.” He took a tissue from the bathroom sink and wiped away the crumbs, the lipstick and all traces from Stella’s mouth.

And then he kissed Stella. Right there, slowly, as if asking permission, which she gave, and then deeply, as if hungry and waiting for her all his life.

Stella was not sure how long they stood like that, because she was now with her back against the wall, and Eddie was leaning so he could reach her, and he did not seem to show any signs of slowing down, and something stronger than brandy was now surging through her blood, and Stella thought she should do something before dinner, and her seafood, and her Pinot Grigio, was totally forgotten.

She pulled back, and Eddie let her, although the look of longing in his eyes gave him away.

“There’s plenty of time after dinner, but right now, I think we have a reservation at a restaurant? Or was that just a ruse to get me out of the shower quickly?” Stella was still thinking clearly, and was grateful for that. Eddie did not seem to be able to reply immediately. He was still holding her very close. Their faces were only inches apart, the only inches Stella could muster to create between them.

Eddie gave her lips a brief kiss and then said, “This is going to be a quick dinner, okay?”

Instinctual fear of the unknown and the (seemingly) perfect made Stella promise herself to prolong dinner as long as she could.

They walked to the restaurant hand in hand, not talking. When they got there, Stella wanted a beer. It was not what she had planned, but she wanted to start with a beer. It seemed to go well with the seafood platter that Eddie had ordered.

Eddie, surprised that she wanted a beer, got one for himself too, although he ordered for her an Amstel Light. He was not sure what Stella’s alcohol tolerance was, but he did not want to risk it. He did not want to get his date drunk that night, for he had other plans.

Before the food was served, Stella was already halfway through the Amstel Light, her new best friend. She clung to it and not to Eddie, who suddenly became a most desirable object she could not have. She did not want to risk him kissing her in public. And then a thought entered her, something she wanted to repeat to herself all throughout dinner: this was just, technically, their first dinner date. It was up to her to take things slow. But the memory of his kiss lingered, and all coherent, prudent thoughts threatened to dissipate through the seafood platter.

“I didn’t know you drank beer,” Eddie broke the electrifying silence. He was sitting across from her, and not beside her. He could sense Stella needed some space, and he gave it while he still could.

“Back home, I enjoyed the occasional light beer. Our famous beer is San Miguel, named after an archangel,” Stella managed to reply. She thought of St. Michael, and in a sudden surge of Catholic school memory, asked for his intercession, to protect her from any harm.

Not that she feared Eddie. She did not think Eddie had any intentions of hurting her. What she feared was her own capacity to hurt herself, which, in the past, she had enormously and repeatedly done.

At the mention of an angel, Eddie’s blood flow slowed down as well. He showed her the St. Michael’s medal protection necklace that his mum had given to him when he started going to big school, at the time when the other boys were bullying him for being a weakling at sports, which everyone else in Australia seemed to be good at. His mother used to say that sports were Australia’s religion.

Remembering his mother, Eddie also got reminded of her advice on how to treat women, and he made a mental promise to her that he would be a perfect gentleman to Stella. For as long as he could.

Image

– TO BE CONTINUED–

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