Creative Writing

Some poems and short stories, written to scratch an itch. I had different levels of satisfaction after writing each piece. I consider them as creative writing exercises before I sit down and write the real thing.

I have always loved poetry. My other blog has some proof.  For poetry attempts from 2003 to 2008, please visit my other blog here

Disparity

03 January 2014

There is a huge imbalance between our time together

And the depth of my reaction;

It surprised me.

There is a massive disproportion between my letter

And your reply.

It hurt me.

There is a great inconsistency between your words

And your actions-

It confused me.

There is a mammoth mistake that I owned

And you did not,

It left me cold.

There is a mountain of truths I must climb

And you refuse to-

It seems unfair.

There is a terrifying distance

Between you and me.

It emptied me.

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To Have and Not To Hold

December 28, 2013

In between your coming and your going I struggle

To be kind to myself,

And recall at which point precisely did I open the

Unguarded gates of my heart

To your impermanent but decidedly charming affections.

Was it the jokes, the banter,

The immediate exchange of thoughts and pasts,

As if we had known each other for years?

Did I know before I actually saw you that

You would disturb my already cluttered mind?

Were you playing one of your games

And did I lose again, unaware of the rules,

Or of the fact that I was taking part in it?

I want to go back and talk to myself

And warn her against you.

For what I found irresistible I now

Doubt as mere generic kindness

And an occasional exercise of your flirting muscles.

My only wish is that you do not deny

Any part that you took in this whole mess.

There must be a room somewhere

Where I can review not the events but your thoughts,

Your motivations, your real reactions.

For I heard what I wanted to hear,

And it was that you liked what you saw in me.

Now, fogged still by emotions stirred

That were long thought dead or protected,

I hear soundbites that pierce rather than comfort.

I remember the ending, the cold distancing,

And the washing of the hands.

You who wooed but insisted it was part of the plan,

To whom I acquiesced, too naïve to resist,

You swept me off my feet then put me down.

Such actions should be criminalized, and your punishment:

Severe and permanent solitary confinement.

If you were surprised how fast I developed

A liking for our uninterrupted conversations and our

Seemingly mutual joy at each discovery about the other,

Let me assure you that it struck me as odd too.

I watched myself fall as if I had never been vigilant of such madness before.

It is up to me I know to uplift my spirits

And believe that you had genuine care and concern for my feelings,

But I have not as yet developed the wings for such freedom.

We acted the way we said men and women often do:

Women feel. Men flee.

I will not apologize for not knowing

That I would be this vulnerable,

And I should accept your refusal to participate anymore.

But give me the space to remember

That once, you found me beautiful.

Smooth Talker

July 29, 2009

There and not there

In the space where I thought I had met you,
I have found a pebble.
All my love reduced to a pebble.
Unlike some people, I refuse to talk to a pebble.

Sometimes I see shadows moving,
hear voices whispering,
and think, My rescuers have come.
With tools and spectacles, they study the pebble,
which I insist is not mine, and they leave.

I have memories in chaos.
Words, songs, scenes, moments:
All mishandled; best forgotten.
I look for recognition, and ask
If you have left the key with me.

You made me see beyond this space and time,
Challenged me to reach,
Encouraged me to leap,
And left me in the air.
I should not be so surprised.

With teetering faith and questions upon questions,
I walk back and forth.
Your pebble is a smooth pendant I hang on my neck,
A rock weighing me down,
The universe outside of me.

I am at once a feeling being,
Exposed for the world to see,
And I am free.
What can a pebble do to me?
Nothing.

For my even earlier short stories, please go to this link.

Spring. A Bird. Shade. (Challenge Accepted!)

12:29 pm
13 Sept 2013
Anchorage Beach Resort
Vuda Point, Lautoka, Fiji

What inspired Vivaldi or Monet about spring was just a concept to me until I spent a winter in Australia.

An admission here: I don’t believe in fairies. My niece is not supposed to know this, though, because she loves having me sit beside her while she watches Tinkerbell’s wonderful world of Pixie Hollow on video.

In Mia’s mind, pixie dust, happy thoughts, and belief in fairies are enough to make people, even grownups, fly. Her parents and I clarify the difference between fantasy and reality but she just gives us a look as if to say that she knows better. Recently, however, something made me understand why little girls would believe that fairies are responsible for the changing of the seasons.

I mean, neither birds nor flowers could read, and they definitely are not governed by the human calendar that announces, in this country I am now exploring, that September 1 means Springtime. But it’s as if they – the birds and the flowers – read the memo. Each day since the Beginning of this Spring, they returned to our garden more and more.

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In Pixie Hollow, during spring time, fairies gently lay a blanket of color to the forest. They paint the designs on butterflies and honeybees. They remove dead leaves and coax shiny new green ones from the trees. This invites birds of every shape and color to take shade from the sun under the leafy branches, and to sing happy songs while laying eggs on perfectly formed nests.

Let me explain that where I come from, we only have two seasons in a year, aptly called the wet and the dry season. And although I have done a fair bit of traveling, it is only this year that I have had the time to ponder at the wonder of spring.

So when I witnessed the vibrant blossoming of flowers, the constant chirping of the birds, the return of leaves to trees and shrubs that looked sullen with their empty branches just a few weeks ago, I nodded to my inner toddler and thanked the fairies for doing their work well. Science would explain how plants and animals worked out when to hibernate and when to frolic in the sun, but the fairy explanation gives the concept of spring a lot more whimsy for me.

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On the second day of spring, it was not all charm and cheer in my sister’s garden. I was playing in the living room with my niece when we heard the frantic chirping of some birds outside, followed by a loud thud. Together with the whole family, I went to the balcony to check. It was hard to absorb the picture before us. Three birds perched on the garden table were making loud squeaking noises at the grass, or so it seemed. Then they flew away. I noticed something straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon, that is, the outline of a bird as it crashed, wings spread wide, against the glass on the balcony’s balustrade. The impact must have been so strong so as to produce the panic among its winged friends who were obviously, just a few minutes ago, chasing it playfully.

I beat Mia and her parents to the garden. What I saw pierced my heart. A bird – could have been a pigeon- sat, unmoving, on the green grass, as if nesting eggs underneath, or resting under a shade. A closer inspection showed that the bird was being very still.

Mia of course asked the bird what happened and how it was feeling, to which the sad pigeon chirped a feeble reply. Mia jumped because the bird responded! Meanwhile my sister and I prepared bread and water for our feathered friend who merely looked at the unattainable feast. My brother-in-law advised us not to torture the bird and to remove the food from its line of vision.

Mia was so excited but we grownups were dreading the inevitable. We left the bird to sit and, hopefully, to recover. A few hours later, I saw the bird face down on the grass, its wings spread wide around it, and its eyes closed. I thought long and hard how I would tell Mia.

Surprisingly, she took the death of the bird well. Although the story fascinated her enough to talk about it nonstop for days even to her grandparents abroad, it did not devastate her. I guess she was not that attached to the bird. I dare not imagine how losing a puppy would affect her. But that story would be told another day.

After that, we continued to enjoy the abundant sunshine of spring, walking at the neighborhood park and taking photos in the garden. I am still discovering how the beauty of spring warms the hearts of people and plants hopes in hearts. Just as leaves fall in autumn, and flowers disappear in winter, they come back at the appointed time.

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I focus not on death and loss, but on hope and rebirth. Just like the light of Easter can only be appreciated after the darkness of Good Friday, the warmth of spring only works wonderfully after enduring the harshness of winter.

Like Toys From Cereal Boxes

July 16, 2011

Her hands were shaking, and no matter how many times she had tried, Dana could not seem to light the candle properly. She must pretend like nothing was wrong.

It was not his first lie, but it was his biggest one yet. Oh, the extent of her anger was beyond measure. All she could do now was wait.

She went with it. She knew she could not have children, so she went with Philip’s indiscretions that had, just now, reached epic proportions. And it was his birthday today. She had set the table perfectly as he had always wanted it. All she wanted to do, however,  was to smash the china on his smug face and to break the perfumed candlesticks on his Blackberry, the tool that had simplified his endless pursuit of women who seemed to be getting younger, and duller, by the minute.

He said he would marry her, and she believed him. The moment her doctor urged her to inform him that she could never bear children, however, she feared he might walk away. He did not. But he dangled the possibility of a proposal like a meaty bone to a hungry dog. And she held on. Through lie after lie. Despite promise after broken promise.

She thought that by being perfect, she would, one day, be good enough for him.

Philip and his parents moved into the house next door when she was 10. He used to play with her older brother, Joseph, because Joe had a roomful of toys. Angry that her brother was no longer able to spend time with her, Dana barged into a rather violent game involving guns and tanks, demanding that the boy Philip go home. After he had left, Dana received a scolding from her mother, who wanted her to be kinder to the boy, whose own  mother was dying of cancer.

Dana felt sad and guilty. She picked up flowers from their garden and went to visit their newest neighbors. Philip’s father opened the door. Dana offered the flowers, smiled prettily, and said she just wanted to welcome them into the neighborhood. The man smiled back and thanked her for her thoughtfulness. Then he invited her in to meet his son, Philip.

Philip was leaning on the breakfast table, lining up his toy soldiers, when Dana entered the small house.

“Hi,” she said.

Phil did not even look up.

“Those are neat,” she attempted to say, but she heard a bell ringing, and then Philip’s dad went inside a bedroom. Philip looked up at the sound of the bell, then his hands shook and he spilled the toy soldiers on the floor.

Dana helped pick up the small plastic soldiers, one by one.

“Mom used to buy me the special cereals so I could collect these,” he said quietly. “She said she and Dad would get me those big G.I. Joes when I turn eight. But she never did. She got sick.”

Dana said, “I am so sorry I was mean to you. Please come and play with Joe anytime you want. You can bring these little guys. I think they’re cool.”

“Yeah,” Philip replied. “But they are not real toys.”

“Of course they are,” Dana said. “They make up an army when you line them up like that.”

Philip’s mom died that summer, and he grew even closer to Dana and her family. She adored him all those years and loved making him happy. She learned to bake cookies, climb trees, and swim laps just for him. Philip, on the other hand, never seemed to be interested in anything more than friendship.

Until one moonlit night, when Dana was in his apartment to bring him baked macaroni to last him a week in med school. He got drunk, said some things he could neither remember nor mean, and ended up having his first serious girlfriend.  Dana could not believe it either, but it finally, unceremoniously, happened: they became a couple.

And adoration turned into worship. She did not accept foreign assignments for work because she could not stand to be apart from him. Her brother had warned her about Philip, but she did not listen. She waited for him to love her.

Dana’s recollections were abruptly halted by the sound of the doorbell. The birthday boy had arrived from his business trip, where he had attended a conference, which he was supposed to have attended alone.

She opened the door and there was her prince, carrying a bouquet of fragrant flowers. She knew a thing or two about bringing flowers to assuage one’s guilt. She let him in and he admired the table setting.

“Sorry I was not able to call. My phone died,” he said after giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. That was all she offered him.

“Why what’s wrong with it?” Dana asked.

“It ran out of battery and then I forgot my charger,” came the reply.

“You know why you ran out of battery?” she asked while helping him take off his coat, out of habit.

“I have no freaking idea. I went back to the hotel extremely tired last night and immediately fell sleep.”

“Let me tell you why your phone died, Philip. You dialed my number last night at about 9:15 p.m. I answered it and we were on the phone until about 11.”

“No, that could not have happened. I was…”

“Where were you last night, Philip?”

Philip froze as recognition hit him. “Dana…”

Tears started to fall, and her head wanted to explode in pain, but she had a few things to say. “I do not know what freaking object pressed the Dial button, but I heard your pathetic lines that never change, especially when you have had too many whiskies. I do not even want to know who she is. I had enough of her screaming and moaning.”

“Listen, Dana, I’m…”

“You’re what, Philip? Sorry? You’re not going to do it again? She’s just a fling?”

“There is a better way to talk about this, when you’ve calmed down…”

“I am NEVER going to calm down. I have wasted my youth on you. I have believed every promise and lie that just naturally dripped from your tongue.”

“You know me, Dana. I just need to save up so we can have a grand wedding and a happy life together. I just want to give you everything that you deserve! I cannot settle down just yet.”

“Twenty years ago, that sounded sweet, Philip. Now it just makes me sick. You are never going to want to settle down.”

“I don’t deserve you…”

“Save it,” Dana pleaded. She had been lining up toy soldiers for so long.

“I have to grow up. We have to grow up. You have been feeding me scraps, yet you say I deserve more. I would rather go through life without you, at least maybe in my memories you would have a chance at being a good person.”

“I do not know what to say, Dana,” Philip said, as he looked around her apartment for the last time.

“That actually says a lot to me,” replied the girl who had loved him blindly all her life. “It was never real. It was never going to be real. I let myself believe that you would change. You have to go now.”

Philip stood outside the closed door for a few minutes, then turned and started walking along the corridor to the elevator.  Along the way, he fished his Blackberry from his pocket and dialed a girl’s number. It did not matter who she was.

Dana saved her china from breaking that night. She broke her heart instead.

Lorraine’s Coffee Blues

May 4, 2008

Lorraine heard the doorbell and she jumped to her feet. She was disappointed to see that it was only the messenger from her credit card company. She was waiting for the mailman, to see if she had mail from her man.So maybe he was not exactly her man yet, but surely he was on his way to becoming one. After all, her friends and even her officemates said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Greg was very, very fond of her before he left for the States. She was hoping the distance could help push him to grow fonder.Her younger cousin Rita, who shared her apartment with her, noticed her looking out the window. She rolled her eyes and said, “Lorraine, don’t tell me you’re still waiting for a postcard from the other end of the world. No one sends postcards anymore! It’s just so.. so… I don’t know.. so analog!”Lorraine pouted and retorted, “You don’t know Greg. He values traditional things. He writes down his notes on yellow pad. He carries a Filofax instead of a Blackberry. He said he would send postcards, and I believe him. Just wait and see.”Greg was on vacation with his family, with scheduled trips to around seven different states, and he promised Lorraine she could travel vicariously through his postcards.He had been gone three weeks and all she got was a postcard from the first hotel he stayed in, the Manele Bay Hotel in Hawaii. She was not worried, for it took 10 days before that postcard arrived.Lorraine covered for Greg’s accounts at work while he was away. It was no burden to her really as they were on the same sales area anyway, and she knew most of his clients. She did not need to e-mail him for anything as he had properly endorsed his accounts to her.She missed him at day’s end, however, for he usually was the one she had late dinner with. On weekends, he’d drive past her house to take her malling. She often had good suggestions on what gifts to give his mom or his sister. She was his fashion consultant, coffee buddy, office ally, and shopping assistant. It was only a matter of time before he would notice her, she convinced herself. She only had to play her cards right.

Her officemates kept telling her that she was being naïve. Greg had broken up with his girlfriend of seven years because he was not sure if he wanted to get married. He was not in the market for a girlfriend, let alone wife, material – all the things Lorraine hoped to be in his life.

Rita asked her once, “Has he ever complimented you on the way you looked? About your hair, your complexion, your outfit, or even your perfume?”

“Hmm, no… not yet, but-“

“Oh, Lorraine, you are living in a fantasy world! If a guy likes you, he would tell you immediately.”

“I sometimes catch him staring at me…”

“… Is it followed by a request for a cup of coffee from the pantry? Who died and made you his secretary?”

“You’re wrong about this, Rita,” Lorraine insisted. “We have a connection. He’s just not ready for a serious relationship yet. I can wait.”

Rita shook her head and said, “If I were a betting woman, you’d be destitute at the end of this short-lived drama. Wake up and smell the roses. Better yet, read that book ‘He’s Not That Into You’. That should remind you of your place in his life –“

“I’m his best friend”, Lorraine proudly quipped.

“If a man needs a best friend, he’d get a dog”, Rita sagely concluded. “You should quit fooling yourself.”

Lorraine was so upset after this conversation that she decided to e-mail Greg. She knew he had limited Internet access, being on travel and all, but he said she could always reach him through e-mail if she had urgent questions about work.

She asked him about a dormant client who called, but whose account history he did not endorse to her, and very innocently inserted that she had not heard from him in quite a while and was wondering if postcards were already phased out in the States.

She pressed the SEND button before thinking, “Uh-oh. That sounded too needy.”

He did not reply. She kept herself busy while he was away. She arranged his files. She got a haircut. She read a book, not what Rita suggested, but the one entitled “Office Romance: The Guide to Success in Career and Lovelife”. It bored her so much that it became a regular read before bedtime. At least it made her stop thinking of him at night.

On the day before his arrival, Lorraine dropped by his apartment – he gave her the only extra key so she could help him watch over his stuff – to water the plants and hang a “Welcome Home” banner. She also stocked the fridge with his favorite ice cream, and bought him a brand-new French-press coffee maker, the one he kept inspecting at Starbucks whenever they hung out there. She left a tiny note below the bright gold ribbon, “Realized that the best brew is the one I have with you.”

She left the apartment wondering if her note was too affectionate and revealing, and decided that it was but she didn’t care, because surely, after weeks and weeks without her to fix his life, he would be practically running into her arms and begging her not to leave his side for the rest of his life anymore. Her note was a little nudge in the right direction.

She woke up the next day in bright spirits. She dressed carefully for work, hoping that she would get invited for dinner by the man who must have brought home souvenirs and trinkets from all over America, for her.

She checked her watch and imagined his plane landing. She thought of him pulling his heavy suitcase, going through immigration and customs, and finally getting a cab. Before he left, she asked if he wanted her to pick him up from the airport, but he said he did not want her to be absent from work just for him. She knew she was daydreaming again at work so she tried to snap back to reality.

His plane was supposed to arrive at 1 p.m., yet by coffee break time, he still had not texted her to announce his arrival. She checked whether the plane was delayed, and upon learning through the Internet that it had arrived on schedule, she dialed his mobile number. It was turned off. She realized he might not have had the time to charge his phone, or he might have forgotten to turn it on, in the busyness of his flight home.

She could not wait to leave the office and at 6 p.m., she decided to surprise him by bringing his favorite pizza over. She could have just called the pizza company, but she thought her showing up on his doorstep with a box of thin-crust would look so cute.

Her plan turned out to be difficult to execute because the minute she stepped out of her office, fat, heavy raindrops poured from the sky. By the time she arrived at his apartment building, she was soaking wet. The pizza, however, remained protected under her umbrella.

She rang the doorbell. No one answered. She waited. She was about to ring it again when the door opened, and there was Greg, looking like he was showered and ready to go out.

Her heart skipped a bit. She did not know it could actually do that. She thought writers just made it up, but it turned out that words were not even enough to describe the experience.

Lorraine was staring at the man of her dreams, and he was staring back. He did not look as pleased as she had hoped he would. In fact, he frowned a little and asked, “Hi Lor! What are you doing here?”

“Uh, hi. I’ve come to bring you pizza. Thought you would be hungry. And uhh, welcome back!” Needy, stalker, fatal attraction-woman! she chided herself.

A female voice from inside the apartment said, “Honey, it’s raining outside and I only brought my Prada shoes, do you think—“

The voice turned out to be a tiny, Beyonce-big-haired lady in a dress Lorraine was sure revealed more than it covered, who said “Oh. I didn’t know someone was at the door.”

Greg, who had been staring at Lorraine, her dripping umbrella, and her huge yellow box of pizza, seemed to pause for a split-second before saying, “Honey, I want you to meet Lorraine Castro, my officemate. Lorraine, this is Anna. My fiancée. We met in Hawaii. It’s a very long and interesting story. Would you like to come in? You look a little pale, it must be all that rain on your dress. It’s a lovely dress, by the way. You look lovely in it.”

Officemate. Fiancee. Officemate vs. fiancée.

Lorraine was of the mind to drop the pizza, hit Greg with her umbrella, and pour all the rainwater on Anna’s precious little Pradas. Instead she said, “Yes, I’d like to come in for a while, just until the rain stops. Thank you.”

Once inside, she could smell the coffee. Anna said, “I didn’t know you had Starbucks in the Philippines. This made me feel at home immediately. Thank you for your gift!”

Who the —- was this Anna and why did she touch my French press? Lorraine thought. She wanted to search the apartment for her little note, but realized it was too late. Anna had probably read it already and sized her up as “The Enemy”. Or, she could be gloating inside and thinking of Lorraine as “The Loser”.

She wanted to leave the minute she stepped in that apartment. But she also wanted to hear the story of how Greg met this girl whose suitcases were spread all over his living room.

“Was she planning on staying here?” Lorraine thought, scandalized. Some considered her conservative in her views about man-woman relationships, but she had always seen it as simply doing the right thing in the most important relationship she was going to make in her entire life.

So Lorraine, as polite, proper, and perfect as she had always been, sat down for a cup of coffee with the man of her dreams, and the girl who sat on his lap.

It was a cold, rainy, summer night.  She also thought that writers made up scenes like that, with claps of thunder and bolts of lightning, but such was the picture while Greg regaled Lorraine with stories of his whirlwind romance with Anna, who was silently purring at him, in front of Lorraine’s shocked eyes.

By the time she got home, she expected Rita to be asleep, but hoped she would not be.

Rita heard the key turning and waited by the door to ask her immediately, “So, how did the great big reunion go? Did he miss you? Did he kiss you? Why are your eyes red? My gosh, Lorraine, what happened?”

And Lorraine proceeded to tell Rita how right she was. Greg was so not into her.  Lorraine cried the whole night. And the whole week. And the whole month.

At the end of the year, Greg married Anna in Honolulu.

Lorraine was at Starbucks that day, writing in her blog from her cellphone, celebrating the gift of technology, and telling the world of the two things she had learned from that year:

1. If a guy you fancy treats you like his best friend, go buy him a dog, and don’t offer to take it for walks, pick up the tab for the vet, or clean up the poo. It’s his dog, and his best friend. You are a woman. Be one.

2. A woman should stick to her values, but it would not hurt if she wore more dresses instead of suits. They’re cheaper, and actually look lovelier.

(Wrote this on a cold summer night.  I’m looking for  a better title to this story.  Post a comment if you have a suggestion, please.)

Opportunity Doesn’t Knock Twice

I dug this undated story from my files tonight as I was looking for any unfinished piece I could work on just to be able to write something entirely from my imagination.This story is entirely a figment of my imagination. I think I wrote it sometime in the year 2000. I know I should date my work but I’m too lazy. I can’t even write like this anymore. I’ve just lost the touch.
Opportunity Doesn’t Knock Twice

We grew up together, Joshua and I. He was my quiet, sickly seatmate in first grade who wiped away my tears when he saw that I could not color within the lines. My world was falling apart because I felt like everybody else was doing well in their seatwork, whereas my workbook was such a colorful mess. He offered me some Sunkist orange juice that his Mom had prepared for him in a Voltes V thermos. “My Mom always gets thirsty after crying,” he wisely said as he handed me the red cup. I took it and asked if he could do my seatwork for me. He smiled and then colored my flowers in beautiful, even strokes. When I got home, I told my mother about it and she packed some M&M’s for me to give to that “nice little boy classmate” of mine. The next day, however, Joshua was absent. Teacher said he was sick with asthma. I didn’t know what asthma was so I asked Teacher if my M&M’s could help Joshua. She said I had to wait until he got well before I could give it to him.

I waited again the next day. I heard the bell but I waited outside the classroom just in case Joshua got in late, clutching the little brown package I had for him. Teacher took me by the hand and said that Joshua was going to come soon. But he didn’t arrive that day. Or the next. I was so sad that I tried to color within the lines, so I could show it to him when he came back. My tears began to flow when it appeared like the elephant I colored became the ugliest elephant in our class. I wished Joshua were there to help me. 

He came after a week looking thinner than I remembered him. I waited for recess and readily gave him the treasure that was meant only for him. He said he wanted to share the M&M’s with me, but not with the other children. So we hid from our classmates who were all in the playground and stayed in the classroom with Teacher. She smiled at us as we ate the candy piece-by-piece, one for him and then one for me.

We became inseparable after that. I often ended up giving him all my baon because I wanted him to get a little fat so he wouldn’t be sick again. He, on the other hand, showed me all his secret hideouts in the school grounds where he would go during recess. The other boys called him names and bullied him because he was the smallest among them. He never fought back and even stopped me from calling names on his behalf.

When we were ten years old, his parents enrolled Joshua in a swimming class. He got better and grew stronger after that. Our girl classmates all had a crush on him. I could not imagine having a crush on him; it was simply a ridiculous idea! He was my friend! 

He told me he wanted to be a doctor someday because he wanted to heal sick people. I did not know what I wanted to be then, so I joined his dream and planned on becoming a doctor, too.

Our classmates started to tease us in fifth grade. On Valentine’s Day, they sent me a card and signed his name on it. I knew he didn’t send it because that wasn’t his handwriting. I showed it to him and he laughed so hard. To my surprise, seeing him laugh made me feel worse. I didn’t expect to be disappointed, but I was! The Sunday after that, I saw him and his family. I was seated at the first floor while he was at the balcony of the Church. We used to make faces at each other whenever Mass got boring. Joshua tried to catch my attention then to but I ignored him.

I did not want to be teased about him. But I didn’t want him to laugh at the teasing. Puberty caused so much confusion that I decided to ignore Joshua indefinitely. This went on until we graduated from grade school. He never made an effort to talk to me, either. He was busy with the swimming team and all his fans. I could not wait to graduate and move to a different school!

I didn’t hear from him for two years. Until we had a class reunion and he was there, looking taller and more handsome than I gave him credit for. He told me PLDT finally reached their subdivision and he could now call me. He recited my telephone number, which he said he had memorized all those years, even though he had never called me on the phone before. I was delighted to learn that and gave him permission to call me.

We burned the lines after that, picking up where we left off. No day was complete without us talking for at least three hours. My sisters could not wrestle the phone from me, as I carried it even while doing my errands around the house, describing to him in detail what I was doing. We got so familiar that he could already tell from the swishing sound whenever I stood in front of our washing machine and I could tell from his “Hello” if he was sick. He consulted me about his crushes – how to charm them, what gifts to give them. We talked about a different girl every week. He would also interrogate me, like a strict kuya whom I never had, about boy classmates who visited me at our house. He always had an insult ready for every boy I told him about. And yet, when I went on our graduation retreat, he gave me a Palanca letter that sent me bawling because he wrote there that I was the best friend any man could ever have. 

His expected date for their graduation ball backed out at the last minute. He told me about it and on the same breath and in the same sentence, asked me if I thought my father would allow me to go to the grad ball with him. Caught off guard, I said that I would have to ask permission first. He said it was ok and moved on to other topics.

That night, I told my Dad that Joshua needed me to be his date and explained that it was too late for Joshua to get someone else so I would be the most logical person to bring. Dad looked at me intently and asked if I wanted to go. I said I did, because I pitied Joshua. My Dad said that he would not allow any of his daughters to be anybody’s consolation prize. He said he only would allow me to go if I told him that I was not expecting anything more than friendship from Joshua. “Of course, Daddy,” I assured him.

I tossed and turned in bed after that and wondered how honest I had been to Daddy. I remembered how fast my heart beat when Joshua asked me to be his substitute date, even though he did it so matter-of-factly. I also nearly palpitated when I thought Daddy wouldn’t allow me to go. I realized I didn’t like where my thoughts were going. 

The next day, I jumped every time the phone rang. I couldn’t wait to tell Joshua that I could go to his grad ball with him. When he finally called, he didn’t ask about the ball immediately. He talked about the summer outing he and his friends were planning in Batangas. I prayed that I could play it cool until he brought the dreaded matter up. I lost my balance when he said, “And oh, Dawn said she would go with me to the ball after all! Isn’t life great?” I felt as if ice-cold water was poured into my heart. Trying to control my voice, I told him I had to put the phone down because my sister needed to use it. 

How insensitive and dense could this person get?! I planned a future without him shortly after that. I went to a different university and did not even take up pre-med. Yet he called me long distance everyday just to tell me about his campus and the many women he met in all their college parties. I gave up hope on us and eventually had my own boyfriend who was so loyal to me that he didn’t mind the mandatory one-hour conversations with Joshua that I couldn’t let go of.

One day Joshua asked to meet with me for dinner. He said I should look my best because he had something important to say. As I was preparing for that, I planned how I would break off with my boyfriend so I could be with Joshua. Of course that was where all these were leading to, I concluded.

I arrived early at the restaurant. When Joshua walked in, someone was with him. He had his arm around a pretty, pale-looking girl. When they reached me, he said, “Catherine, this is Annabelle. I wanted you to be the first one to meet her! She’s THE ONE I’ve been telling you about.” I got confused because there were around 12 women’s names I could remember from our recent conversations. Who was this and what planet did she come from?

I endured that dinner, witnessing a different Joshua. My friend looked wonderfully happy. Every bite I took was tasteless and I wanted so much to throw up.

I broke off with my boyfriend anyway and moved on with my life.

Six months later, I got a call from Joshua. Nothing unusual with that, as we had kept in touch. He asked me to sit down and not to get mad and to just say yes. I didn’t know which to do first so I just froze on the spot. He said, “Will you be part of my wedding entourage?”

WHAT? Run that by me again, please! It was a few months before college graduation and Joshua got his pale-faced girlfriend pregnant. How stupid of him, I blurted out. I told him I did not want to be present at his wedding and he could waste his future without my participation.

On his wedding day, he sent his brothers to pick me up at my house early in the morning, when I had no plans of getting up from bed. I wore a plain dress and would not have worn any makeup if my mother did not insist on it. His two younger brothers treated me as their Ate and in consideration of their innocence, I behaved well on the way to Church.

We arrived before everyone else. Joshua was restlessly pacing in front of the Church and upon seeing me, ran to hug me. I didn’t hug him back. I went to the Blessed Sacrament and prayed the rosary. After I finished, I saw his Mom helping Joshua with his Barong Tagalog. She saw me and beckoned for me to come nearer. “Did you believe it when he told you, hija? My little boy is going to be a husband and father! Oh, my makeup!” Just like that, and then she rushed off to wipe away her tears, leaving Joshua with his Barong hanging from his upraised arms. I finished the deed and buttoned it for him. He was just looking at me the whole time. I was thinking of our childhood and how his had to end that day. Finally he said, “Thanks for coming. I really need you to be here.”

“I hate you, Joshua,” I said. I didn’t elaborate any further. 

“I love you, Catherine,” he replied. I didn’t ask him to elaborate on this, either.

After the wedding, I rushed to the ladies’ room and locked myself in the cubicle. I cried without a sound. Nobody ought to hear. Nobody ought to know.

Shattered were my dreams, and his. Joshua never became a doctor. 

I, on the other hand, never recovered from that day. But nobody heard. And nobody knows.

A Fairy Tale

September 17, 2006

Karell, a fellow Filipina student, gave Margaret her first guitar. She didn’t want to buy it as she had used up her budget on the pots, pans, and other items that Karell had sold at bargain, rush-owner-leaving prices. Margaret had secretly wanted to play classical guitar all her life, but never got around to doing so. She had traveled all the way to Toronto to study literature, not music, she said to herself, so she turned down the irresistible offer that Karell made.
Late one afternoon Margaret heard a light knock on the door. She opened it and there Karell was, holding the guitar with a huge red ribbon tied around it, and beaming happily.“Meg, I’d like to give this to you as my welcome-to-Toronto present. I hope it brings you good luck, ” Karell said.Margaret laughed and replied, “Kay, being a renewed Christian I don’t usually use ‘hope’ and ‘luck’ in the same sentence. But thanks, this is so generous of youI guess nobody wanted to buy it, huh.” They both laughed at this, and then she let Kay into her room and listened to Kay’s last-minute tips on how to survive life as a Filipina student in a foreign land. Then they bid each other goodbye, exchanging email addresses, as Kay was set to fly back to Manila the next day, having finished her master’s degree in political economy in just one year.After closing the door, Meg felt a little sad. Kay was the first friendly face she met upon landing in this country, as the former was part of the Filipino community’s welcoming committee for her.
Classes started soon, however, and Meg became too busy trying and learning new things to feel lonely and sad. Besides, she chose not to entertain such negative feelings. She was, after all, starting a brand new life. The guitar thus gathered dust under her bed, a place she only got to clean occasionally.She became more disciplined than she had ever been in Manila. She went to mass everyday, as she deliberately chose a university from the internet that was accessible to church. She swam ten laps thrice a week, signed up for jazz classes, and hit the books like she had never done all her academic life. She hardly made real friends as she was always busy rushing from the library to the gym, the church, or the pool. She preferred to eat alone and when she had nothing to do, she slept. She oftentimes dreamed of her family back home and called them up weekly.Meg thought she was functioning properly, and was making good progress at her studies, when she read one email that got her curious. It said that the university was offering free guitar lessons to enrolled students as part of the campaign of the new dean of the Conservatory to revive interest in music, which up until then had not been a particular strength of their school.As if to maintain her interest in the offer, while having her coffee during breakfast one morning, she read the university newsletter and chanced upon an article about the new dean, apparently one of Canada’s more famous child prodigies who could play the violin, flute, piano, drums and guitar, but who decided he was just fed up with performing and wanted to try teaching, to impart the gift of music to more students. They forgot to insert a recent photo of this interesting young dean, she thought, as she finished her coffee.How one so young could become dean was something she thought about while walking to the library. It made her decide to make a detour and pass by the College of Music. She was sure the slots for the free guitar lessons were already filled up, and anyway there was no way she could fit that into her schedule, so she didn’t know what she was still doing there. She looked for a bulletin board, but when she couldn’t find one, she decided to try her luck at the Dean’s Office.

Can I help you?” she heard a baritone voice behind her. She turned around and knocked the Starbucks coffee that the man behind her was holding, spilling the hot brown liquid all over his crisp white shirt. ”Oh no, I’m really sorry,” she managed to mumble, and spent precious seconds wondering if she should offer to wipe the coffee off his shirt. She decided against it. She looked up and noticed he had deep blue eyes. He said, “Don’t worry I’ve got an extra shirt inside, just in case a beautiful dark-haired girl would decide to do this to me on what would otherwise have been another boring day”.

Despite her embarrassment, she looked at him indignantly and said, “If you go around giving women lines like that, you would surely be asking for coffee and all sorts of hot beverages on your clothes everyday! I hope you have an exciting life!” Her budding music career forgotten, she stomped off in the direction of the exit to the building. “Men!” she muttered to herself, as she fought off all urges to look back and see if he was ok. She heard the office door open and close, which was good, she thought.

She didn’t know why she was still fuming as she was running down the steps. She was astonished to see the same guy – who must have changed shirts faster than that blue-eyed superman – running ahead of her and then jogging backwards, to talk to her across the field. “I’m sorry, did I offend you? Please stop running.”

Meg stopped running. She said, “Ok, if you’re trying to show me that indeed you have a new shirt, well I’m glad you do. Congratulations. I’m also glad to have saved you from boredom. Now please get out of my way, I have tons of readings to knock down next.” She was surprised at her own responses. Something’s wrong with me, I’m definitely sick, she thought.

“Whoa, whoa, hold on for a minute. Why do you turn psycho on me every time I try to start a decent conversation? I was just curious what you were doing outside my office.”

Your office?”, Meg asked, wondering why the words “young dean” didn’t register to her earlier. Of course. She had just spilled coffee over, and then proceeded to insult the very person she needed to ask help from; aside from walking, rather, running away from him in the middle of that ridiculous conversation.

It didn’t help that his eyes turned a lighter shade of blue under the sun. Meg suddenly felt dizzy. Her knees threatened to give way any minute now…

“Yes, my office, Miss… I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name. My name is William King.”

Pleased to meet you, Dean King. I’m Margaret Gonzales. I come from the Philippines”,Meg replied in a small voice. “You have the name of a prince and yet you are a king,” she added before she could stop herself. There must be an institution for people like me, she inwardly shuddered. She was on a roll today. Must have been the coffee she drank that morning.

May we go back to my office now? I have no weapons; the hot coffee has now safely been disposed of, thanks to you.” He was smiling. How could he smile at such a time as this? Is he making fun of me? She was still suspicious, and growing crazier every minute.

She walked back to his office with him. In silence. He opened the door for her. She could see coffee droplets on the doorknob and the floor, actually all the way to the garbage bin where he must have hurriedly shoved the empty cup. She mentally stopped herself from wiping off the evidence of her graceful nature.

He asked her to sit down. She sat down, and immediately noticed something she loved on his table. He was reading “Pride and Prejudice”. Ahh, she knew it. An artistic, soft-spoken guy could not be presumed to be straight in this day and age. He noticed her staring at the book lying on his desk, and he immediately explained, “It’s for my niece, I’m writing a book report for her.

It’s ok, you don’t have to explain. You don’t have to invent an imaginary niece either.” She couldn’t believe she said that! She just insulted a stranger twice in less than thirty minutes. She was going psycho, she concluded.

To her horror, he laughed. It was a deep, baritone laugh. “I had better ask you matters of business before you make this day my most interesting yet since I went back to the academe. So, let’s start over. As you can see, my secretary isn’t here yet. She’s a working mom and some days she comes in late. What can I do for you, Margaret Gonzales?”

Of course his eyes were dark blue again. Indoors, dark blue. Outdoors, light. She realized he was waiting for her reply, and she said, “Honestly, I was just curious about the free guitar lessons…”

Can you play the guitar?”

“No,” she said. She thought of adding, “otherwise I wouldn’t be here for free lessons”, but before she could speak he shot another question. “Can you play any musical instrument?”

No, uhh, if that’s a requirement then I guess this was a bad idea…” she said.

”No, no, it’s perfectly fine. Let’s wait for my secretary so you can sign up. Or you can come back, as you seem to be in such a hurry.” He finished his sentence, then started rubbing his temples. “I get a headache if I don’t have my coffee. Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to remind you.

Before her big mouth could get her into real trouble, the dean’s secretary buzzed that she was in, and very sorry as her toddler refused to be left at the day care center. He buzzed her back to come in. He instructed her to show Ms. Gonzales where to sign up for the guitar lessons.

Relieved and eager to end that encounter before she said one more bizarre thing, Meg wordlessly followed the secretary. After she was finished signing up, she heard a voice behind her. “You owe me coffee.” She whirled around, with her bag and her hair whirling with her, and faced him.

Haven’t you had enough excitement for one day? I am a walking disaster. You have not been exposed to the worst of my antics.

I love a good challenge. And I need my espresso, pronto. Shall we?”

Margaret had sworn off men. She hated men. She left her country because she was tired of men. She didn’t need this.

But she owed him coffee, and he was kind and helpful enough the whole morning despite being on the receiving end of her tactless outbursts.

“Just coffee,” she said. But of course they talked for hours. She ended up volunteering to write the real niece’s book report, as it was something she could whip up in minutes. It was easy to talk to him, she realized. He could take her insults with smiling, sometimes even amused, eyes. A girl could get used to that.

So amused was he by her, in fact, that he played the flute for her one day at the library. It was totally unheard of, but to have the famous new dean courting a Filipina was enough excuse to disturb the silence of the academic halls.

He disturbed the academic pool too, when he played the violin for her as she was doing her laps.

He showed up during her dance class and played jazz favorites on a portable piano, to the delight of her classmates and the amazement of the entire gym.

His music inspired her to write. He gave her strength to explore fresh ideas and express them passionately. He could have already gotten away with her heart through all that, but he still decided to bring in the entire school orchestra to play for her. She looked out her dorm room window and saw them, with their stools and music stands and music sheets, playing under the baton of their dean, with songs that gave her a new home.

During their wedding reception, Meg surprised William with a performance on her guitar. She played Pachelbel’s Canon in D. And he surprised her with this poem, which he wrote faster than he could have written the book report, had he been the one to finish that.

Fire came
In that little package
That stood waiting-
To ruin my shirt,
To waste my drink.

That little fire threw me out
Of the prison of my boredom.
Music came alive
Within me when before,
Only notes were played to perfection.

Her hair is dark,
Her tongue is sharp,
A wild, fearful heart.
I wanted to tame her
With my every song.

Now tender, now sweet,
She still is fire, waiting
To ruin more shirts,
To waste more drinks–
Until death do us part.

As the guests clapped at this wonderful piece of poetry, the university orchestra played, the jazz dancers performed, and the couple kissed.

Smiling in her seat is Karell, who enjoys a happy ending as much as the next fairy godmother.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Author’s note: I wrote this after a night of God’s Love, Lingkod QC’s most unique CLP yet. We had music, poetry, stories, sharings, fellowship, pica-pica, mingling, greeting. It was a blast. And we talked about all kinds of love. Well I love music and poetry, and I believe they should get married, and the rest as they say is history.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Phil Catches a Cold

He was late, and Sara usually hated waiting, but this was one of those rare moments when she didn’t mind it that much. She used the time to compose herself and organize her thoughts.

“He”, of course, is Phil, who, after an eternity of waiting, finally asked her out to dinner.

It took them a long time, after that momentous invitation, before they were able to set the date for dinner because of Sara’s habit of saying “No” even if she meant “Yes, I thought you’d never ask.” She did not want to appear too eager and to reveal her true feelings.

She saw him entering the restaurant and searching for her. He obviously had walked in from the rain, for his hair was wet and his shirt was soaked.

“Hi, sorry I’m late”, he said, as he lightly touched her on her right shoulder before pulling the chair in front of her. “I had to walk part of the way and leave the car with my driver as traffic was not moving.”

The waiter handed him a small towel and he excused himself to pat his clothes dry in the men’s room.

Sara momentarily forgot about her nervousness, as she grew concerned that Phil might catch a cold. Or she probably willed herself to think about something else other than what she hoped Phil would say after he got back from the restroom.

A little fall of rain could hardly hinder Phil from fulfilling his plans for the night. He knew that dinner did not start too well because he was late, and he wanted to make a good impression, so he had to make the most out of the time he had left.

He returned to his seat and ordered the meal he had picked out earlier from the menu that his secretary had furnished him. Food was the last thing on his mind, but he wanted the night to be perfect. Their waiter took down his order, and then left.

Sara, who had a glass of wine while waiting, boldly asked, “So, what was so urgent and important that you had to tell me tonight, that you refused to cancel dinner despite the pouring rain?” A girl had to know, she thought.

“You really don’t allow men to catch their breath, do you?” he replied, avoiding her question.

“I can’t help it if I take their breath away, and I can’t be bothered to wait for it to come back before engaging in a proper conversation,” she quipped, the wine obviously taking over. Sara had always been a no-nonsense woman, but she was extraordinarily blunt tonight. A voice inside her was cautioning her to slow down, or, better yet, shut up.

If Phil had been ill at ease at this unmitigated show of female frankness, he hid it well. He smiled at Sara, poured himself a glass of wine from the open bottle nestled in a bucket of ice on the table, and sipped it quietly. He knew she was waiting impatiently, and he was almost certain that she would drum her French-tip-manicured nails on the table anytime now.

They met each other four years ago at a convention of franchisees of a fastfood chain, of which their respective families each owned a branch. They got to know each other better when they found out they had common friends, with common interests in diving and photography. Since they both had on-again, off-again relationships with other people, they had never gone out on a date like this. They were walking on unchartered territory, and they knew it.

Phil asked her in a way that there would be no mistaking that he clearly intended for it to be a date. She was the most attractive woman he had ever met, but she was also the feistiest. He knew he had to pace the conversation, otherwise she would manipulate it.

Sara changed tactics and asked him how his niece, Alyssa, was, for Phil absolutely adored that little girl and always brightened up whenever she became part of a conversation.

“She’s fine and just started reading Nancy Drew now that Julia Robert’s niece is starring in the film version. She begged me to buy her the entire collection of books.”

“You know what, I’ve read them all.  The ‘Hardy Boys’ too.” She almost bit her tongue after saying that. Why did she always have to be a know-it-all?

“I bet you did,” he replied, briefly imagining Sara as an 11-year old girl solving mysteries with a magnifying glass. She could probably make Harry Potter’s Hermione look tame.

Just then the waiter arrived with their dinner, and the conversation moved to the chef’s masterpieces that Phil had ordered. Sara was a picky eater and he wanted her happily fed tonight, for what he had to say needed her to be in a good mood.

It worked, for the meal was perfect, and Sara loosened up a bit from playing Detective Know-it-All. Phil thought dessert would be the perfect time to get to the heart of the matter.

“Sara,” he began. “Yes?” she asked, putting down her teaspoon with a pinch of panna cotta, suddenly losing interest in the sweet concoction.

“You know we’re not getting any younger, right?” Obviously Sara had a paragraph’s worth of reply, but he stopped her by adding, “My sister has been nagging me for years that my attachment to Alyssa is a mere excuse not to have my own children.”

For the first time tonight, Sara filtered her thoughts and prevented her tongue from speaking out. Phil ought to have his moment, as he obviously had prepared his speech.

“I was thinking, that instead of starting the age-old dance of introducing myself to someone new and getting that person to like the things that I liked, and then turning it into a relationship that could hopefully last for a lifetime, which approach had resulted to a lot of disasters anyway, I should do it the other way around and propose a lifetime relationship with someone who already knows me, shares my passions, and shows a high probability of keeping up with me for the rest of my life.”

Sara definitely did not trust herself to respond to this one, either, so she slowly nodded and reminded her face not to show how much she was trying to second-guess what Phil was actually saying.

They’ve had moonlit nights on the beach before, when, taking time to be alone despite being in the company of friends, they had talked about their fears and dreams and everything in between. There was always the feeling, and Sara thought Phil felt it more than she did, that there could be someone else out there, and what they shared was simply friendship, and their deep conversations were just enhanced by the availability of huge amounts of alcohol during dive weekends. Sara had taken care of a drunken Phil on more than one occasion in the past.

They had also seen the world together, literally, as they both joined a European backpacking tour with like-minded photographers and roamed several historical cities. Romance was the last thing on their minds then, however, despite seeing couples at every corner. They just competed with each other on who would take the best photograph of a couple kissing. Sara always declared that she won, as she caught on close-up the tender moments between couples while Phil always tended to hold back, adding a huge background or focusing more on the buildings surrounding his subjects.

It dawned on Sara that their Italian meal tonight consisted of exactly the same dishes that they had while they were with their friends one time in Venice. After that dinner, Phil left to be with a Finnish woman he had met while they were queued up for the gondola, and Sara spent that night crying in the company of friends. She doubted Phil knew about that last bit. Come to think of it, she remembered how much she hated Venice.

She realized that she had tuned out while Phil was talking. She did it again, failing to be where she was because her seemingly more important thoughts took her elsewhere.

“…Everyone says we’d make a good pair, you and I, and I’ve always just laughed at them, but now I’m thinking, this could actually work!” Sara caught Phil’s last sentence and wondered what else she’d missed, because it did not sound like an amorous proposal to her at all.

“Sara, I think we should get married!” Phil blurted out.

There was silence.

Phil put both his hands, which he had raised while exclaiming his wild proposition, on the table and moved closer to study Sara’s expression. He noticed her shaking her head quizzically. He realized he was holding his breath for her response.

Still more silence. Sara picked up her forgotten teaspoon, tasted her dessert, and swallowed carefully, all the time keeping her eyes on the floor. She was groping for the words to convey her thoughts without revealing her emotions.

Finally, after almost another eternity, she lifted up her eyes, and Phil did not like what he saw.

“That’s it?” she asked quietly.

With his mouth agape, Phil nodded vigorously, as if to emphasize how well-thought out and sensible his proposal was. Surely Sara would see the point he was making. They were perfect for each other. Courtship was no longer necessary, for as good friends they could skip that and proceed directly towards starting a family. He was surprised that she was not as excited about it as he thought she would be. He had always known she had feelings for him, for their friends told him so. He just never wanted to take advantage, until he realized he was letting go of a perfectly good opportunity.

“Why don’t you look happy, Sara?” Phil managed to ask. He was really bewildered at her reaction. He was expecting a beam, a clap, even a tear, but not this. She was being unusually silent, and that was a bad sign.

“Phil, I appreciate the effort, and thank you for considering me. Really. But I don’t agree with you. It won’t work. Not like this.”

“What do you mean, it won’t work? Two friends, of sufficient age and discretion, we have a chance to have a good life together! I’ve finally seen the light. You are the woman for me. The search is over. The End. Finito.”

He thought he saw her eyes glistening, until a tear fell, followed by several others. Sara asked to be excused but he held her hand and would not let her stand up.

“Stay with me, let’s talk about this,” he insisted. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” she said, wiping away her tears with her table napkin. “You worked me up for this night, you sent flowers to my office, making my staff giggle with excitement, you wrote a card inviting me to a candlelit dinner just the way I’ve always wanted it with you, then you made me wait when all I wanted to do was burst with anticipation, and then all you had to say was this… this madness!” She attempted to stand up again, but he gently but firmly pinned both of her hands on the table.

“Why is it madness? It is the most natural, logical, practical thing in the world! We make sense, Sara. We make a good team. Isn’t that what marriage is all about? Partnership, companionship?”

Sara looked around the table to see if they were making a scene. She was thankful that nobody seemed to notice that her part of the world was crumbling.

“Let me go, Phil.”

“What more do you want, Sara? I just asked you to marry me.”

“Yes, you did. It’s a very decent proposal, and I reiterate my gratitude. But did you have to make it sound like a contract, or an arrangement? I’m sorry but that’s not how I thought it should be.”

“There you go again, making things complicated, wanting everyone to live out the perfect little world you have going in your head. You can’t give people scripts to read from, Sara. This is a sincere offer I’m making you.”

“I’ve considered your offer and decided not to accept it. Thank you for dinner.” With that, she stood up, took her purse with her, and strode out of the restaurant. She could hear him calling out her name, but she did not slow down. She looked for a taxicab but because it had rained, she waited in vain.

Phil, who settled the bill, finally caught up with her outside. “At least let me offer you a lift home,” he said.

Sara was looking less than perfect now. Her makeup had smeared on her face. She felt a choking sadness that she could not hide from Phil. She wanted to be as far away from him as possible.

She took out her cellphone to call a friend and ask him to pick her up, but he stopped her.

“Sara, I’m here, just me, and I’m asking you to give us a chance. Forget what I said about marriage, let’s start from the beginning. Let’s get to know each other all over again. Maybe in time you’ll see that I’m right.”

She pulled out a wad of tissues and wiped her eyes. The sadness remained.

“I’ve heard all I needed to hear from you tonight, and I doubt you could say anything that would change what you’ve so clearly expressed to me.”

“Maybe I’m better off expressing myself with a kiss. I’ve never been good with words, you know that.” He walked closer to her, but she stepped back.

“Stay where you are. You know what’s even more painful than what I heard?”

“What?” he asked, totally frustrated now.

“It’s what I did not hear. Who was I kidding? I have loved you for what seems like forever, and fooled myself into believing you would one day notice me.”

Phil interrupted, “But you’re always with someone, out on dates, calling boyfriends on the phone…”

Sara just stared at the night sky that had already cleared after the torrents of rain it had produced. “What was it that Hermione said to Ron? ‘Next time there’s a ball, ask me before someone else does, and not as a last resort!’”

“What??? You’re not making sense, Sara. I did ask you before someone else did…”

“…But this sounds like a last resort,” she added.

Phil paused to try to let that sink in.

“If thou must love me, let it be for naught, except for love’s sake only,” Sara softly said. She then kissed Phil on the cheek, quickly turned around, hailed a taxi, and boarded it.

All these happened while Phil stood frozen on the spot.

It started to rain again, and still Phil did not move, not realizing his hot tears were mixing with the cold raindrops on his face.

He touched his cheek where she had kissed her. And then, he finally realized what he had forgotten to include in his entire grand master plan for the night.

He ran to the parking lot, dismissed his driver, and hoped he was not too late.

— FINITO —

The Condition

Guide question: What was the real condition that was behind the story?
Puff, the magic dragon, living by the sea…”As Arthur sipped his coffee, he had to endure once again his secretary’s taste in music. Quite advanced in age but still as efficient as she was when she first worked for Arthur’s father, Emily deserved her little pleasures in life, Arthur thought. At least she was not listening to the AM news this time, as the crackling and breaking sound of her favorite station sometimes caused him migraines.He looked outside his office window along Ayala Ave. Protesters have lined the streets again and some cooperative buildings have been showering the business district with colorful confetti. He was not really aware what the demonstrations were for this time. The scene, however, reminded him of his early days as a student activist in the state university. Back then he never would have imagined he would become the youngest Senior Associate in one of the country’s top law firms. For three years in college, he preferred to get his education from the streets. Then his father died, leaving them in mountains of debt, and Arthur had to forego his principles and join the corporate world right after college.His mother, a housewife up until her husband passed away, did not want Arthur to give up the family dream of him inheriting his father’s law practice. To please his mother and the late memory of his father, he struggled for five years as a working law student. Then he worked hard to support his only brother’s education. Arnold thus grew up idolizing Arthur and consulted him for his every decision.A buzz from Emily snapped Arthur out of his reverie. “A visitor for you, APS. It’s Arnold.”

Speaking of the…Arthur thought, but before he could finish his sentence, the door to his office burst open and in tumbled Arnold, with two huge black bags strapped across his shoulders, arms outstretched and waiting for a big hug and shouting in a voice the whole office could hear, “Kuyaaaa!!!”

Although younger by eight years, Arnold towered over his brother. He did not have the firm muscles that Arthur achieved after years of discipline in the gym. Arnold loved food as much as he loved life, and it showed. If not for their strikingly similar handsome faces, no one would have guessed that the two men were even remotely related.Arthur returned the hug but closed the door firmly to the curious glances from the secretaries of the other associate lawyers. They must be enjoying this rare display of affection, he said wryly to himself.“O, how was Boracay?” Arthur asked. As a graduation present, he had arranged for a vacation for Arnold and his friends in a resort owned by one of his clients.“Fantastic, Kuya!” came Arnold’s reply as he disentangled himself from his bags and helped himself to the nuts on Arthur’s coffee table. “We tried spear-fishing and I was addicted. Imagine I was able to wake upearly for five days after serious partying every night.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed your trip. You must be exhausted. How come you went straight to my office from the airport?” Arthur asked as he noticed how bright his brother’s Hawaiian polo and shorts looked against the dark wood paneling of his office. “Did you run out of money?”

“Kuya, hello! What do you think I am? Thinking of you? Change me. Ibahin mo ako!” Arnold laughed at the linear thinking of his brother. Boy, is he in for a surprise. “Dat’s not why I’m here. And I’m not telling you until you treat me to lunch. My only meal today has been junk
food given by the airline. I want sustenance! Outback tayo?” He asked hopefully, knowing that his Kuya could not say no to him.

Over at the restaurant from Down Under, Arthur could not wait for Arnold to say what he was supposed to say, but Arnold was taking his sweet time and was attacking his steak with gusto. “Arnold,” Arthur began, “I have a meeting in an hour. I would love to stay and listen to your stories but I have to—“

Before Arthur could finish his sentence, Arnold raised his right hand to signal he was going to say something, swallowed what he was chewing, gulped his iced tea, and said, “Ok, ok, I don’t want to kill you with the suspense. Gosh, bro, cut back on the caffeine, you might suffer a heart attack just like Daddy. Patience is a virtue, remember?”

“It is a virtue that I did not inherit. Now, will you tell me what’s up with you or shall I wait patiently for it later when I get home?” Arthur very rarely lost his temper on Arnold but he really had an important meeting that could not wait.

“Here’s the thing, Kuya. You’ve been to Boracay, right? Wait, don’t answer, I know you’re familiar with that beautiful island as your clients run a huge chunk of it. We-ell, then you must know of the breath-taking sunsets there, the kind that splashes across the sky with bursts of yellow and orange and reflects on the water like Swarovski crystals on a bridal gown…”

Arthur nodded his head with a puzzled expression on his face as, being a lawyer, he tried to figure out where his brother was taking this conversation.

“You know of the beauty of the Boracay nighttime sky, with the stars glittering and the laughter…”

“Arnold, you could write about the beauty of Boracay and I would be proud to endorse it to some publisher. But please can I go back to the office now?”

“What I’m trying to say is, Kuya, that spending a week in paradise with my friends, especially Nica, has reminded me of the important things in life. One night as I held hands with Nica on the fine white sandy shore of the beach, I could not help but be aware of how much I loved her and I told her so. She then gave me the most glowing smile I have ever seen and my heart stopped, Kuya. My heart took over my mind and before I knew it, I was asking her to marry me.”

“Without a ring???” Of the thousand and one thoughts that ran simultaneously through his head, that was the first thing that Arthur could blurt out.

“Well, what matters is that she said Yes! We’re getting married, Kuya! I promised to buy her a beautiful ring and to ask her parents for her hand in marriage, formally, when we get back to Manila. Oh, I’m so happy!!!”

“Arnold, Arnold, what are you telling me? You HAVE gone out of your mind. You are barely out of college and you promised me that you would consider going to law school. You’ve only known Nica, what, a few years—“

“Fourteen years, Kuya. Monica and I were childhood sweethearts.”

“What would Mama say?”

“I already called her in the US and she said she would send me money for the wedding and even look for sponsors from our relatives there to help me out. She’s being wonderful about this.”

“But you are too young! Marriage is not just about holding hands before glorious sunsets. It’s about commitment, about responsibility, which you could only prepare for by years of experience. It’s also a huge financial obligation that you have to save up for!”

“Is that why you’ve made Marianne wait all these years? You are still gaining experience and saving up?”

“Now don’t involve my life in this. This is about you and your mindless decision-making.”

Still smiling but obviously bent on making his point, Arnold looked his brother in the eye and said, “I have made up my mind and will patiently wait until you could accept my decision. Of all my job offers, I’ve decided to accept the bank management trainee position. I called them from Boracay to tell them that I will report for work on Monday. Take your time digesting this, Kuya. Nica is right now planning the details of our wedding and I believe Marianne has offered to help her with all the contacts she has made all these years in the weddings she has attended. You are the last to know because I believed you would not take this sitting down. You did not leave your seat while listening to me but you sure made known your strong objections. O, go to your meeting na. And thanks!”

Arthur realized he ran out of words. Things were moving and he was not consulted. He was simply being informed. His mother supported this! And Marianne? How come she did not mention anything the night before when they had dinner? He wanted to explode but knew he did not have the luxury to consider these things as Emily already texted him to remind him of the legal staff meeting.

He was distracted the whole afternoon. He texted Marianne “Why didn’t you tell me about Arnold and Nica???” but she did not respond.

He felt like the world had gone insane. Arnold was being reckless and the usually wise and sane women surrounding them were foolishly fanning the flames of his recklessness. He could not wait for the meeting to end so he could go to the gym and vent all his frustrations by lifting real weights.

Marianne arrived late for dinner; good thing Arthur did not have much of an appetite. The waiter must have passed by seven times before Marianne showed up. She told Arthur that she accompanied Nica to her couturier-best friend and they lost track of time while designing the gowns for the whole entourage.

“Oh, honey, Nica would make a lovely little bride!”

“Her parents don’t even know about it yet and you went shopping for gowns?” Arthur said, not bothering to hide his irritation.

“As a matter of fact, they do already. We’ll just have to schedule a pamanhikan, whenever you are available, to formalize everything. And we haven’t bought anything yet, we just brainstormed for possibilities. I am one of the bridesmaids!”

“This must be the fifth time that you would be a bridesmaid and you’re still excited about it?”

Marianne’s good humor dissipated at this last comment from Arthur. She expected to hear him rant about this but he was testier than she thought he would be.

“All right, Arturo, spill it. Which part of this whole grand plan don’t you approve of, exactly?”

“Why do I have to spell it out? Am I the only who has some sense left here? Does Arnold have a job?”

“He starts Monday.” Marianne supplied the answer Arthur predicted she would give.

“Does this lovely couple have any idea how much a wedding costs these days? Where does the groom expect to get the money to buy a diamond engagement ring? Where do they expect to live? Marianne, I’m surprised at you! The mere thought of what Arnold got himself into this time infuriates me.”

“You speak of Arnold as if he has not been the ideal student, son, brother and boyfriend he truly is. He graduated on top of his class so you would be proud of him. One day he grew up and you’re mad that he didn’t ask for your permission first?”

“Tell me why I should be happy about any of these.” Arthur lowered his voice as he massaged his aching temples.

“Honey, the kids are in love. What greater reason is there to get married? Nica is not pregnant, and if the possibility that she is ever crossed your mind, then you don’t know your brother at all. They are young and healthy; they could easily reach their dreams together if that’s what they want….”

“You said it, Ms. Witness. I nailed you right there. They… are… just…kids!” Arthur could feel his blood pressure shooting up. He downed a glass of water and took several deep breaths.

“Ang puso mo.” Marianne said, aware of the folly of pushing this conversation any further. But she had to.

“Arthur, nobody wants to go through with this without your blessing. But if you will be stubborn until the end, then we will be forced to arrange things without your knowledge. They only want a simple wedding. Oh, you should see them together now. They seem to be floating and not touching ground,” Marianne said with a dreamy, look, as if reminded of romantic moments from long ago.

“That’s because they are on Cloud Nine. I just know that when those feet land on solid ground, they would realize how right I am about this.”

“You haven’t given it much thought yet, hon.” Marianne touched Arthur’s hand that was resting on the table, hoping her suggestions would pass through the walls of reasoning he had built around him.

“I have given marriage much thought, honey.” Marianne’s lowered head shot up at this statement. She looked at Arthur’s eyes to confirm if what she thought he meant was correct. He just stared back at her.

“Then I suggest you allow your heart to speak to you this time. Love defies logic, that’s a rule. What the heart is capable of desiring, the mind is not always capable of accepting. Think about it tonight and tomorrow morning, I hope you would give us all the good news of your approval.”

Marianne brought her car so Arthur drove home alone. All this talk about love defying logic had him puzzled, coming from Marianne who had always seemed to him to be a reasonable woman. While they were in law school, he told her he could not make a commitment yet as he had to juggle work and studies at the same time. After graduation, several of their friends decided to tie the knot but Marianne agreed with him that they both needed to establish their careers first before venturing into greater responsibilities.

She had always supported his decisions. Born to a well-to-do family, Marianne is now handling their businesses full time, making full use of her business and law background. This woman of wisdom is now the number one champion of his brother, the Boracay beach lover. His headache was getting worse.

The relentless ringing of the telephone woke him up at 3:00 a.m. It was his mother, calling from overseas.

“Hijo, Arnold told me that you had lunch today. My baby is getting married!” Arthur wasn’t sure if she was crying or laughing. He sometimes could not tell from the sound of her voice.

Shaking all grogginess from his head, he replied, “Ma, he said you promised to send him the money for the wedding. That’s the beginning of a commitment from you to send him money for everything. Soon you’d be sending him money for appliances, for doctors’ fees, for diapers…”

“Oh my dear sensible child, you’re always thinking ahead. This time, though, I agree with you, BUT I look forward to having a son who needs to buy diapers, because that means I would have grandchildren before I die!”

Arthur was reminded again where Arnold got his flair for the dramatics. His mother had been badgering him into giving him “apos” ever since he passed the bar. She had previously bordered on the hysterical after Arthur’s younger cousin in the States gave birth to twins.

“You’ve always wanted me to go home, anak. Well one permanent reason for me to stay in the Philippines would be to take care of my grandchildren.”

“Ma, Ma, you are getting sidetracked when the main issue here is whether or not Arnold is ready for the responsibilities of marriage. In my well-considered opinion, he is not.”

“We are not in court so spare me your lawyer’s language. You’re sounding like your father again, bless his soul. I want you, my children to be happy. If Arnie wants to get married then let him do so. Nica is such a sweet child, I’m sure they would be happy together.”

“Dad knew he loved you for like a decade before he asked you to marry him. And you both came from a generation and a province where the marrying age was 16! Dad always said that a father should be a good provider…”

“You forget that he mortgaged our house and accepted too many pro bono cases in his lifetime that he left us with nothing in the end. I loved your father but maybe you are taking his lectures on responsibility the wrong way. He was a man whose heart was bigger than his pockets too, my son.”

“Then that’s all the more reason why I take my responsibilities more seriously and consistently!”

“And meanwhile Marianne’s body clock is ticking…”

“Here we go again. How many times have I told you that Marianne and I have an understanding about this…”

“Oh? When was the last time you seriously checked how she’s been doing? I phoned her a few weeks ago only to find out that she had been to the doctor. Her OB-GYN says that if she does not have a baby soon, she might not be able to bear children at all. It’s a complicated condition that I don’t expect you’d bother to attempt to understand.”

“Mama, I’m sure Marianne would have mentioned something to that effect to me.”

“Are you saying I’m lying? You take after your father, with your double meanings!” Now she seemed to be truly crying and Arthur felt worse than he did the whole day combined.

“Ma, please don’t cry. I’m sorry. I promise to talk to Marianne first thing tomorrow morning about this. Now I need to get some sleep as I have a hearing.”

“Ok go to sleep then. You tell Marianne to call me. And send Arnie my love.” She was sniffling as she put down the phone. Arthur wondered why he was the bad guy in all his recent conversations. He had trouble sleeping afterwards.

The judge was late and Arthur’s boss decided to make small talk while waiting for their case to be called. “Was that your younger brother who came to visit you yesterday? The secretaries said he looked just like your father.”

“Yes, DRC. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to introduce you. We were kind of in a rush. He had some news to tell me.”

“What news?” DRC, or Darwin R. Collado, asked conversationally. Lawyers were addressed by their initials in their firm.

“He said he proposed to his girlfriend after watching the sunset in Boracay,” Arthur replied in a tone of surrender. Contrary to Marianne’s prediction, sleep did not improve his attitude towards the impending wedding. Oh boy, have to call up Marianne…

“UUNAHAN KA PA?” DRC’s voice boomed and all the other lawyers waiting for the judge turned their heads to Arthur. DRC laughed but Arthur was stunned. What did his boss say? What was he pointing out?

“Well, not if I could help it, sir.”

“Ah, you mean you and Marianne are getting married first?” DRC was on a roll. The fact that he was Arthur’s supervising partner prevented him from punching his jolly face right then and there. Where was that confounded judge?

“No, sir, what I meant was I do not approve of the wedding. They are too young…”
Before Arthur could launch his marriage-is-a-huge-responsibility speech, he heard the bailiff say, “All rise.” The judge had arrived.

On their way back to the office, DRC let his driver go and rode with Arthur, obviously to have the last say in their conversation.

“Your brother looked pretty young to me indeed. You, on the other hand, are not getting any younger. What are you waiting for? You think Marianne has the patience of Job?” Arthur didn’t like where this was leading but had no energy to say anything. “I want you to strive hard to be partner, but as a family man let me tell you that there is nothing more rewarding than having a warm kitchen to go home to after a full day’s work. There is nothing like the sound of your children greeting you as you open the door, clamoring for their pasalubong, to wipe away all tiredness. Go get married, son, and do it as soon as you can!”

DRC indeed had the last say in that conversation. Arthur was rendered speechless for the second straight day. He who had the highest scores in moot court could not summon a single word to express how he felt.

How did he feel? He wasn’t sure anymore. These past couple of days his priorities have been questioned. His lovedones were causing him emotional upheavals which he had always resisted, for he had always won every argument with them. Why were they ganging up on him now? He locked himself in his office that afternoon and did some soul-searching while staring outside his window.

After several hours, he saw the sun set on Makati. His mind made up, he apologized to Marianne through text and asked her to dinner again to make up for last night’s disaster. She replied that she was in a bridal fair with Nica and asked him to meet her there. Tired of losing his arguments, Arthur relented.

He found Marianne standing beside a display of a strapless bridal gown dotted with Swarovski crystals. She did not see him as she was concentrating on comparing two invitations she was holding. Her eyeglasses were perched on top of her nose and her hair needed combing.
But to him, she looked perfect, as gracious, generous and gregarious as she has always been.

He approached her quietly and continued staring at her until she acknowledged his presence. “How come, without looking up, you can always tell when I’m staring at you?” he asked her, probably influenced by the music from the strings quartet hired by the bridal fair.

“It’s because my heart can feel what my eyes do not see.” She replied with a smile, fixing her glasses and running her fingers through her hair self-consciously.

It was her standard reply to this question which he began asking her way back in law school, when he would waste precious study time just staring at her while she neatly classified her reviewers and labeled them with her multicolored pens.

“Where’s Nica?” He asked to break the silence.

“Her mother came to pick her up. She says hi and she’s hoping that you’re feeling better.”

“Actually, I’m feeling a bit better. What’s that you’re holding?”

“She couldn’t decide between these two invitation layouts and left it up to me.”

Putting his right hand on her shoulder, he guided her out of the bridal fair. “Let’s get you out of here before you have too many ideas of your own,” he said with a teasing smile that somehow did not merit an immediate retort from his girlfriend.

As they walked to their favorite restaurant, Arthur felt the cool November breeze. He looked up and saw the full moon, nature’s excuse for doing foolish things. He asked Marianne a question.

“If I give a conditional blessing to this wedding, would it be fair enough for everyone involved? I promise not to give all of you a hard time anymore, if my condition is met.”

“Atty. Salve, is this an attempt at a compromise? I cannot commit yet because I have to consult my clients first. You might impose an impossible condition…”

“It IS a very possible condition, I assure you, Atty. Cosco. It is one thing I am sure you would encourage your clients to accept as you have a personal stake in it, too.”

“I try to separate my personal life from my professional life, Atty. Salve.” Marianne said, and then she stopped walking. “Arthur, I’m not good at surprises. What are you driving at?” Marianne asked but she was smiling, despite herself. She had no idea why but Arthur’s mood was infectious. She just knew that the man she loved with all her heart was up to something good.

“You see, I’ve given this some thought, but with wheels turning all around me I had very little time to go through my usual thinking processes. I followed your advice and listened to what my heart was telling me. Deep inside I want my brother to be happy, I want my mother to have grandkids, I want to support your career as a bridesmaid, BUT,” he added, knowing
Marianne wanted to interrupt him already, “I cannot just consent to this marriage absolutely. My stand is still that Arnold needs to work for at least a year and have decent savings of his own. More importantly, and this is THE condition that I know would be popularly accepted by everyone involved, I cannot allow my YOUNGER brother to get married ahead of me.”

The night air was stilled by this declaration.

“Arthur,” Marianne began, but Arthur interrupted him. “My younger brother Arnie claims that he is a patient man. All your arguments about love and logic told me that I am the one missing out on happiness because I have been putting it off for one reason after another. Then I conclude that Arnie could put off his wedding plans because there really is no urgency in their situation.”

“Is there an urgency in ours?” Marianne asked softly, afraid to say anything that would break the desirable course of their conversation.

“You know, honey, when you decide you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start right away!” He smiled innocently and paused, waiting for Marianne’s reaction which he was able to predict anyway.

Marianne’s eyes widened as she realized, “That’s not original! That’s a line from the movie When Harry Met Sally! Ar-thur!!!” She punched him, he ran, she followed, and then he stopped.

He got down on one knee. They were in front of their favorite restaurant already. The strings quartet, Were they from the bridal fair? Marianne wondered, was waiting for them and played as if on cue upon seeing Arthur getting down on one knee.

Marianne was out of breath, she wasn’t sure if it was because of the running.

Then Arthur spoke, “I bought this ring from my first salary, Mari-anne.” He called her Mari-anne when he wanted to emphasize something. This night the emphasis was on love.

Music, a full moon, and a diamond ring. Marianne’s heart seemed ready to burst, but she realized he hadn’t asked her the question yet —

“Mari-anne, honey, will you give me the honor of being my lawfully-wedded wife?”

Marianne stared at Arthur who still had one knee on the cobblestone road. She had a playful look in her eyes, then she said, “I’m not sure, Arthur. As you know, the Family Code states that ‘marriage is a special contract of permanent union…” but before she could finish her recitation of Article One of the Family Code, Arthur got up and kissed her. She laughingly broke away from him and said, “Ok, alright, before you give that ring to Arnold to give to Nica, my answer is, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!”

“Hey from what movie is that?”

“Honey, it’s from a book, not a movie.”

“But which one? I can’t remember!”

“Go ahead and think about it, hon. I have a phone call to make.”

She dialed a number on her cellphone and Arthur heard him say,

“Arnold? YES!!! IT WORKED!!! I’m wearing the ring now. It’s bigger than you described it to be. Is Nica with you? Hug her for me. Would you both be darlings and please call Mama in the States? Please tell her I’ve picked out her gown already….”

Arthur stared at Marianne in complete shock and amazement.

“Wh-what was that all about? Did you say ‘it worked???”

Smiling, Marianne responded, “Honey, this should teach the world never to underestimate the wisdom of a woman lawyer. Now let’s go in, I’m starving. I have to start my bridal diet tomorrow….”

— The End —

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Sky’s the Langit

One happy ending at a time…

The Sky’s the Langit

By Ella del Rosario

“I just think that management has to cut me some slacks.” Lydia was not sure if it was the noise at Sbarro in Megamall that impaired her hearing, or if she heard Engr. Roy dela Peña, with whom she was having a lunch meeting, correctly. She was tempted to comment that he looked good in jeans so why bother with the slacks, but was afraid that the joke would be lost on him. After all, he seemed to be unaware that what he said did not make sense as far as the English language that Lydia grew up with was concerned. He did carry his Levi’s well, though, she realized woefully.She thought to herself, “What am I doing checking him out? He’s my client! And he’s definitely not my type.”She had been corresponding with him for the past couple of weeks as she, a freelance trainer and consultant, was hired to teach the engineers-turned-salesmen of Roy’s company some communication skills to improve their sales performance. Roy was proving to be a challenge for Lydia as he seemed to be disinterested in remembering the rules on syntax, grammar, diction, and even spelling. She was sure that if she cut-and-paste his e-mails to her Word editor, they would be underlined in red by pages, with overlapping green marks due to grammar. “Oh, wherefore art the renaissance men?” she asked herself. His writing was the worst of the lot, and prior to meeting him in person, she imagined that he looked disheveled, with unkempt hair and crumpled shirts. To her surprise, he happened to have some resemblance to Benjamin Bratt. A minor distraction, she convinced herself.She remembered that she was working and she had to take the spirit of his statement and not the presentation, so she responded based on her understanding of what he was trying to say. “Roy, I’m sure you are doing a wonderful job and they just want you to perform better. They’re stingy with compliments because they want to keep you on your toes, for you to be constantly driven to do your best. Don’t take it personally.”Roy resented being sent to “grammar school”, as he put it. Lydia thought it was understandable, for how could an engineer who graduated magna cum laude stand being tutored this way? Still, she went to work and showed him his errors in the essay she asked him to write. She pushed all unprofessional thoughts at the back of her head. In the subject of language, her brain and training reigned supreme, and he should just live with that if he wanted to impress his bosses.

He invited her for coffee afterwards but she declined, saying she had to buy something for her niece who had been begging her for the new Harry Potter book. He offered to go with her to Powerbooks, and mentioned that he was not able to finish Book One of that series. “Another reason why I should not have coffee with you”, she thought. “I prefer men who adore Dumbledore as much as I do.” Instead she said, “I can find Powerbooks by myself, silly. Really, I’m ok. Thanks and see you next week!”

She turned to walk away but was able to notice the look in his eyes, where a mixture of disappointment and fascination was mirrored. She was glad she wore a skirt today, because she could feel his eyes on her, and so she deliberately walked slowly to give him a better view.

When she got to her car, it refused to start. She had just recently traded in her old second-hand car for a new second-hand fully powered and automatic Toyota Altis and she was still unfamiliar with what the lights, aside from those for water and gasoline, were for. She took out the manual from her glove compartment but it had a thousand and one reasons for why the car would not start. Besides, it did not make sense to her. She wanted to edit the darn thing.

Somebody knocked on her window. It was Roy. She opened the car door, because the power window wouldn’t budge without the power. “Is everything okay? I thought you left already,” he said, with a look of concern.

She gave her sweetest smile and said, “The car wouldn’t start.”

He said, “I believe, my lady, that I could help you with that. IF you ask for help, that is. Can you say it, Lyd? Repeat after me… ‘I… need… your…help, Roy’.”

He said it in straight English, but at that point that wasn’t what Lydia was thinking of.

“You stalker, how come you found me here? Did you follow me to my car?” Deep in her heart, however, she knew that it was something else, fate maybe, that brought him there at that precise time to rescue her.

“It’s not my fault that I parked near your car and that I have a knack for memorizing plate numbers. I’m good with numbers. Now if you don’t need help, I’ll be on my way, Miss.”

“Wait!” She stepped out of her car.

“Yes?” he asked expectantly.

She said softly, “I need your help, please.”

Jumper cables, mocha frappuccinos, and several hours later, Lydia discovered that English was not the only language in her world. She could speak Filipino, too. Roy could speak Whale*. It all made sense. Like a blessing in the sky.

* Please watch “Finding Nemo” if you haven’t yet. Wonderful movie. Otherwise my short story would not make too much sense to you. You don’t have to like Benjamin Bratt as much as I do, especially if you are a guy, but you’ve got to hear Dory speaking Whale, in Humpback or whatever other dialect it was. Hilarious. Endearing to a clown fish as well. Now that’s another happy ending!

PROM DATE KA LANG

By Ella del Rosario

For the longest time, Homer had had a crush on Felichi but did not admit the attraction to anyone. Their barkada would tease him no end if they found out for sure. And another thing, he knew he could never be her type. Ever since high school, though, he had watched her grow in beauty, wisdom and poise. A girl like her, class valedictorian, debate champion and virtuoso violinist, would not be attracted to a guy like him, he was certain of that. So he buried his feelings at the bottom of his heart and set out to conquer less complex and more reachable women. He succeeded at this, thankfully. His life was in his complete control.

They were prom dates in their senior year in high school, though. Back then Felichi had just broken up with the love of her life who found himself a new girlfriend just two weeks after their breakup. To save Felichi from humiliation and depression, the barkada asked Homer to take Felichi to the prom. He watched her trying to hold back tears the whole night. They slow-danced and he thought she heard the loud beating of his heart. He realized, though, that her quiet sobs prevented her from really noticing him that night. She thanked him for being a dependable friend before she got in her father’s car. He never got as drunk again in his life as he was after their senior prom. He thought he was able to drown everything and to forget Felichi forever.

But fate does catch up on those who run from it. When Homer saw the invitation for their kabarkada Marie’s wedding, he noticed that his partner as veil sponsor was Felichi. The distance he had put between them would not work on that wedding day, he thought. He would be forced to help her with her wrist corsage. He would have to enter that flower-bedecked church with his arm linked with hers. He decided he didn’t want to bring a date for that confusing occasion.

He woke up with a bad hangover and he knew he was going to be late for D-Day. When he arrived at the church, the wedding coordinators were already preparing the line of sponsors. There was Felichi, so fetching in her lilac gown.

“Hi Homer. Late night out again, huh? I thought you were going to stand me up.” She smiled at him. His eyes automatically checked her right wrist. The corsage was already fitted snugly and he heaved a sigh of relief.

“I was planning to do that, but the thought of Marie’s wrath convinced me to do otherwise”, he smiled back. Then he heard music in the background. The wedding entourage started its procession, and Felichi motioned for them to link arms. I can endure this, he thought. Just a few steps to the altar and we’d be free to go our separate ways again.

As he took his seat, he noticed Felichi walking towards where the choir was sitting, behind the commentator’s podium. He should have guessed that she would be asked to play the violin for Marie. He unfortunately had a good view of the choir and the lilac-clad violin muse. He watched her pick up her violin, put it under her chin, and begin swaying the bow to the strings as gracefully as she had always done. The cathedral windows provided a colorful background to her mesmerizing figure. A gentle breeze lightly played on her long, beautiful hair. He felt like unbuttoning the collar of his dress barong for he was fast running out of breath.

Felichi’s haunting violin solo reverberated throughout the tiny church. He was sure all the male wedding guests fell in love with her at the same time. He knew he couldn’t take his eyes off her. When they went to the altar to put the veil on Marie and her groom, she threw him another winning smile. He was hopelessly lost.

After the wedding, he sought her out. “Do you have a ride to the reception?” he asked.

She replied, “Yes, I do. Homer, meet Jay, my fiancé. We’re getting married this coming September. I’m giving you advance notice ha. You should be there, otherwise I’d think you loved Marie more than you loved me.”

Fiancé. Love Marie more than I love her? Homer’s mind spun. He shook fiancé Jay’s hand and excused himself.

At the wedding reception, he broke his all-time drinking record, thanks to the steady flow of bottles at his disposal. Try as he might, though, he could never forget the memory of Felichi’s silhouette against the picturesque cathedral windows that morning. Ron, Marie’s brother and his best friend, asked him if he heard that Felichi was getting married. He nodded absent-mindedly.

Ron put his arm around him and said, “Ikaw kasi pare, eh. We’ve always thought you and Felichi looked good together. You should have pursued her while she was still available. Marie told me once that Felichi had a crush on you.”

“Whaat?” Homer wanted to strangle Ron on the spot. “That’s impossible. Why didn’t you tell me anything before?”

“Why do you think we forced you to take her to our senior prom? The problem with you, pare, is that you only choose to see what you want to see. Sayang, you could have been our only intra-barkada romance.” Then Ron laughed.

Homer failed to see the humor in the situation. His eyes wandered to the table where Felichi was sitting with her boyfriend. She must have felt his smoldering eyes on her because she looked up to meet his gaze. She smiled at him again, then looked back at Jay to continue what she was saying.

Ron was shaking his head when Homer’s consciousness returned to his own table. “Ron, why didn’t your or Marie or anyone tell me?”

“Hoy, Generoso, I thought you were the expert on women. There is this special class, to which Felichi belongs, who want to be pursued and who would die before they admit to anyone that they had any feelings for you. Ate Marie threatened to kill me if I told you about Felichi’s hidden feelings. They waited for you to make the first move, but you never did. All along I thought you weren’t interested.”

“Well you thought wrong,” Homer replied as he downed another shot of whatever it was that was before him.

“Why, pare, we have to drink to that. To your stupidity!” Ron said, raising his glass. Homer raised his glass, gulped his drink, and felt worse than he ever did his entire life.

– Ella del Rosario

March 12, 2003 11:40 – 1:09 p.m.

This is LUNCH BREAK, a three-part series that I posted to the Lingkod QC egroup. It was my first short story in about five years. The brothers and sisters lapped it up a la MeteorGarden, with discussions, comments and arguments in between my postings. I wrote these on my lunch break while working at the Sandiganbayan.🙂 Internet connection was my own dialup account ha!

From: Ella del Rosario
Date: Fri Jul 5, 2002 12:57 pm
Subject: LUNCH BREAK galadri_ella

Lunch Break (Part One)

Richard was about to step out of his apartment when his cellphone beeped. It was Carol, reminding him to bring the Marvin Gaye CD that he had completely forgotten he borrowed from her in the first place. He quickly texted back the requisite “K” and ran to unearth the CD from his pile of readings for his Masters class.

Carol had been texting everyday lately, Richard thought as he boarded the FX that would take him to the MRT station. He was not sure what to make of it, though, so the thought was soon forgotten as he saw a petite mestiza and followed her line through the MRT turnstile and onto the Cubao platform.

“I wonder if he liked the songs”, Carol told Diane as they were collating materials she would use in her presentation to their Board of Directors that afternoon. “That CD contains great date music,” she sighed. “I’m tempted to ask our whole barkada to back out at the last
minute tonight so I could have him all to myself!”

Diane shook her head at her boss and friend. Carol is the Chief Finance Officer of their company, a very logical and take-charge kind of woman who is attempting to use her corporate-world skills to capture the man of her dreams. Diane knows she is all bark and no bite, though.

“Wake up, Sleeping Beauty, and focus on your report. Our year-to-date figures would surely make Chairman Ben jump from his seat again later. May I remind you that you have to convince him we can meet our targets next month? You’ll have time to entrap Prince Charming afterwards!”

“I swear, Diane, you exist to make my life miserable!” Carol wailed as she made a face at her assistant and left her to come up with a speech to pacify Chairman Ben.

As usual, she lost track of time as soon as she sat in front of her computer. When she stood up to print her work, her attention was caught by her blinking cellphone – it was ringing in Silent mode. It was Richard!

“Hi.” She managed to sound cool and NOT overly eager.

“Hi! I thought you’d never pick up.” Gosh, he sounds so cute… I swear I don’t have time for this… I’m acting like a high school junior again, focus, focus!

“Oh, I’d make you wait but never forever, my friend,” she had the presence of mind to reply as she saw Diane mouthing through her glass door, “WE’RE GONNA BE LATE.” Carol signaled for her to go ahead. She’d make time for this even if it meant her job. At this point, she didn’t care actually. Innocent flirting seemed more interesting than her lifetime of career choices.

“I was in the neighborhood and thought you could treat your working-student-friend of 12 years to lunch,” came Richard’s excuse for this welcome disturbance.

Carol gritted her teeth in frustration and replied, “Much as I’d love to drop everything to be at your beck and call, Mister, I can’t today. You should have booked this with Diane a month ago.” She could feel her chest getting heavier every split second. Darn Richard and his spontaneity! She wanted to drop everything to be at his beck and call.

“Aww, sungit tayo today. You need a break! Let me cheer you up with a song…”

“WAIT!” Carol interrupted him before he could start serenading her with his legendary off-key rendition of “You are So Beautiful To Me.” “Diane’s waiting for me, I’ve really got to go. Whatever made you want to have lunch when we’ll see each other at Cristy’s birthday dinner tonight?” She couldn’t help asking him as she hurriedly shoved her materials into her portfolio and frantically searched her pockets for her car keys.

“Wala lang,” came the non-comittal reply.

“That’s not good enough, you need to come up with a better reason tonight. I’ll see you later, k?”

“K, take care.”

I will not analyze, I will not speculate, I will concentrate on our company’s performance for the year-to-date, Carol chanted to herself as she repeatedly pressed the elevator button.

Richard stared at the phone after she hung up. Now why on earth did I do that, really? He asked himself.

(OOPS. END OF my LUNCHBREAK. TO BE CONTINUED LATER! — Ella)

Lunch Break (Part Two)

From: Ella del Rosario
Date: Wed Jul 10, 2002 12:25 pm
Subject: LUNCH BREAK CONT’D. galadri_ella

Richard stared at the phone after she hung up. Now why on earth did I do that, really? He asked himself.

He had gone out of his way to be “in the neighborhood”. He admitted to himself that it was because he wanted to see her. Now, how to explain that later, in front of her penetrating eyes that don’t seem to miss anything, posed a real problem. He would have to be creative! It was going to be an interesting dinner, he thought.

Being with Carol always challenges him to be up on his toes. Unlike all the girls he had been with, she always asks the WHY’s of things. Unfortunately for him, she seems to always know the answers to her questions. This unnerves him.

They had met in college. They started out taking the same business subjects until he shifted out and went college hopping before finally graduating on his seventh year at the University. By this time, Carol had already been pirated twice by multi-national companies. They had dated for a while during sophomore year until a more serious suitor captured Carol’s attention. Richard let her go easily, but they had kept in touch. After five years, Carol’s fiancé broke off their engagement to try his luck as an engineer abroad. She was devastated.
She shut out everyone and concentrated instead on her career, which was more rewarding at that time.

Richard, on the other hand, dated a different girl in each college that he enrolled in. Carol had warned him against breaking too many hearts but he simply was a man who enjoyed the opportunities that were put before him. She and Richard only got friendly again after the reunion of their college freshman block. Seeing her again after all those years, she looked prettier and more self-assured than he remembered. He had decided, then, that a woman like that would have nothing to do with him.

Recently, however, his cellphone has been loaded with her messages. He wasn’t sure which of those were merely forwards and which were intentionally meant for him, but he kept most of them.

He was growing to be more excited about that dinner party, the more he thought about it. Smiling, he bought a sandwich and munched contentedly while he composed his opening line for Carol later.

Carol could not believe the sea of cars that she met in EDSA. After her long yet productive meeting, she had barely an hour left to go home, grab the cake she baked the night before for Cristy, squeeze in a quick shower, change out of her stifling linen suit into her little black
dress, and rush to her best friend’s house. She would need to exercise her makeup-application-while-driving skills again. She wondered if she had seamless black stockings to go with her stilettos. She hated the wasted time and texted Cristy her apologies for being late, in advance.

Later, she rang the bell and then ran her fingers through her damp hair, very much aware that she didn’t have enough time for a proper blow-dry. Cristy’s husband Arthur opened the door for her. “Now the party can start,” he said, beaming at her as he ushered her into the
living room where most of their friends were gathered.

Cristy, radiant and pregnant with their second child, greeted her with a tight hug, “I never imagined I’d be THIS happy when I turn 30!” she said. “I only wish that you would be happily settled down when your 30th birthday comes.” Carol returned the hug and felt how genuinely fulfilled her friend was. Then Cristy raised her eyebrows and subtly pointed Carol to look at the corner of the room where Richard was talking to Arthur’s younger cousin, Melanie. Cristy did not hide her disapproving frown. Carol raised one eyebrow in return and went to the powder room to check her makeup. She needed to fortify herself for this night.

Richard noticed Carol come in and almost dropped the glass he was holding. She looked smashing in black. Power oozed from that woman and he felt the ancient need to protect himself. He pretended not to see her and feigned interest in what Melanie was saying. It was difficult because she was talking about some bar she hangs out in with her friends, a bar he
had never heard about. Richard felt old, all of a sudden.

People were on their way to the dining area when the doorbell rang again. Arthur looked at Cristy before opening the door. The exchange was not lost on Carol, who suspected something was up. When the door opened, she froze.

“Happy Birthday, Cristy,” came a deep baritone voice Carol would recognize anywhere. It was David, her one and only ex.

(THAT’S ALL FOR NOW, FOLKS. I GOTTA GET ME BACK TO WORK! –Ella)

Lunch Break (Part Three)

LUNCH BREAK: CONCLUSION

“Happy Birthday, Cristy,” came a deep baritone voice Carol would recognize anywhere. It was David, her one and only ex.

Carol could feel the eyes of the entire room focused on her. Perhaps she was being paranoid, but she checked her reaction just the same. She smiled at The Perfect Man who arrived and made a mental note to strangle Cristy and/or Arthur for not warning her, later.

Richard could not believe it. After all these years, Carol’s ex still commands attention to himself. This dramatic entrance was so typical of him. He smoothly came to Carol’s rescue and ushered her into the dining room with one hand on her shoulder.

“I swear, if you hold that smile for one more minute, you could model for this ad I’m making,” he whispered to her ear while walking. Still smiling to the outside world, Carol asked, “Ad for what product, Close-Up?”

“Careful, honey, your clenched teeth are showing,” he replied into her deep, dazed eyes. “No, we’re re-launching Pioneer Epoxy,” he said with a straight face. “I noticed that you used some awfully tight glue on your smile tonight.”

Despite herself, Carol broke into a genuine smile and gave Richard a playful punch. She noticed the firm biceps of the funny man. “Your job is to distract me tonight,” she said, a silent plea mirrored in her eyes. “It will be my pleasure, my lady,” Richard replied. Carol needing anything from anyone was such a rare opportunity; he would not be one to waste it.

The feast that Cristy prepared for her guests momentarily distracted everyone. Carol went to the kitchen to help her serve dessert. “Cristy, you’ve outdone yourself again. Even the men were stuffing themselves with your cooking and not drowning themselves in Arthur’s open bar,” she said, while slicing the carrot cake that she made.

“Thanks, Carol. Um, about David…” Carol interrupted her in mid-sentence. “YES, about David, what, pray tell, is your excuse, for conveniently forgetting to warn me of his presence in this party? In the country, for that matter?”

“I knew how you’d plan everything and prepare for tonight’s party as if you were going into battle. There’s no need for all that anymore, now that you’ve apparently moved on with your life and he with his. All those long talks during his previous visits should pay off by now, don’t you think? In fact, I think you’re doing well tonight.”

The kitchen doors swung open as if on cue and there he was, tall and mighty David, come looking for more ice. “Your guests are starting to remember there’s an open bar,” he said to Cristy while smiling at Carol. “I shall come bearing dessert,” Cristy announced, and left to keep her guests sober.

“I heard about your promotion. Congratulations, Carol,” he said.

“Didn’t know you were in town,” she replied, suddenly finding herself wiping and cleaning Cristy’s kitchen.

“Had to come flying home. Angela got married,” he beamed at her. She returned the smile, “Little Angela? That’s great! Ooh, wait, that actually makes me feel old.” She was so fond of David’s younger sister, who was then too young to be her Maid of Honor, and who was now a happily wedded bride.

“Tell me about it. And she succeeded in persuading me to sponsor their honeymoon.” They laughed like old friends. They WERE old friends, Carol thought.

“There you are,” Richard swung the doors open. “Your cellphone is ringing,” he said, handing it to her. He nodded at David.

“Thanks. Richard, you remember David. David, Richard,” she glossed through the re-introduction while checking who the missed calls were from. They were from Diane who was probably dying to know how the night was going. She turned her phone into Silent mode. Diane would hear all about it on Monday. She turned to face the present.

“They’re probably waiting for this melting ice,” David said. “I’ll be at the bar,” he told Carol. “Good to see you again, Richard.”

There was silence in the kitchen as the doors swung close behind David. After the silence became unbearable, Richard spoke. “I’m not sure if I rescued you, or interrupted you.”

“You did both,” Carol said. “We were laughing like the best of friends. But people like us are not allowed to be the best of friends.”

“He has always been a party drinker, your ex,” Richard commented disapprovingly.

“Let’s go get some fresh air,” Carol said. They went through the back door into Arthur’s neat backyard, illuminated by the full moon. Carol led Richard into the big swing that she often sits in with Clarice, her goddaughter and Cristy’s first born.

Richard began the swinging before jumping in and sitting across her. “I still believe you didn’t need rescuing a while ago,” he insisted, probing.

“Girls always need to be rescued, though we seldom admit it” Carol said, realizing how relieved she was to see Richard a while ago. There was a soft breeze. She felt a little cold so she folded her arms to fight it.

“Not you. Whatever a guy can do for you, you can do for yourself, and even do it better. Unless it’s a totally self-made and successful man, probably.” Richard caught himself voicing out his long-kept observations. Perhaps it was the chilly night that made people instinctively want to protect themselves.

Carol could not help her reaction. “Is that how things are now, Richard? Career woman meant to live successfully alone? Carefree man justified in never being alone with one woman? Have you boxed us both into one-dimensional persons?”

“You know why I let you go when you told me you met David all those years ago?” Richard asked, allowing himself to recognize emotions he had ignored all this time. Carol was asking for it. “You needed someone you could fit into your perfectly organized life. Someone you could predict. Someone you could be proud of. I am not so sure about myself, Carol. That’s why I never fought for you. I may never have enough confidence to stand by you and be your man. You need someone who is exactly like you.”

“You’re wrong. I didn’t think of it as heroism on your part then, but as a sign of extreme pride. You are the one who doesn’t need anyone in your life. You can drown and yet never ask for help from anyone. And you wonder why your life seems so directionless.” Carol didn’t feel cold anymore. She couldn’t understand how they became so hostile on this beautiful moonlit night.

She softened her voice. “Let’s not talk about the past, Richard. We were young. We were expected to make mistakes. But we’re here now, older, hopefully wiser. People seldom get a second chance like this.” There. Carol took a chance with that last line. She couldn’t take back her words anymore.

Richard stared at her. The swing had slowed down. “How sure are we that you won’t meet another David and decide that you need to be rescued by a king and not by a prince?” Richard asked, all thoughts about the party forgotten by the way things are turning out in the children’s swing.

“We’re not. We can’t be sure about anything. We can’t predict that you would cease flirting with other women just to spite me.” Richard was about to protest violently, when Carol continued, “I think I will be doing a lot of women a favor if I finally reined you in. I’m rescuing you, too, Richard.”

The swing finally lost momentum and stopped completely.

No one moved. The wind carried traces of laughter from the guests in the house. Carol waited.

Then Richard stood up, and sat beside her. “You threaten to wreak havoc in my perfectly imperfect life, and you claim to rescue me? You are something else, you know that?” He took both of her hands. They were cold. “I still make mistakes up to now,” he said, “but I recognize a golden chance when I see it.” He kissed her right hand.

Carol was fighting back tears. She could not think of a single word to say.

“You are so beautiful… to me” Richard sang, or at least attempted to. Yes, Carol could live with imperfections.

“I’ll let you in on a secret,” she whispered. “ I make mistakes too. I made one when I left you.”

They were still locked in a tight embrace when Clarice found them.

“Ninang, Mommy’s looking for you. Oh hi, Tito Richard. Mommy said I’d find Ninang with you.” She declared as she took them both by the hand and walked back into the party with them. Too young to be the Maid of Honor, she became the couple’s Flower Girl when they got married not long after.

THE END

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