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

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

V.  The Time Given to Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stella liked that. She wanted to hug Felise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know how to ice skate?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“As you wish,” Eddie said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She did not know that she was miscalculating again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Ang Araw ng Kasal (Housewife Series, Part 3)

Basahin muna po ang unang dalawang kabanata sa pamamagitan ng “Maikling Kwento” link sa itaas. – E.

III.  Ang Araw ng Kasal

Dumating na ang araw ng kasal, ang pinakahihintay na okasyon ng ating magsing-irog.

Hindi nga pala sina Sheryl at Julius ang ikakasal, kundi ang kabarkada ni Julius na si Raymond at ang soon-to-be ex-girlfriend nitong si Janine. Bisita lamang sila rito, pero sa level ng excitement at preparation, akala mo silang dalawa ang mga bida sa okasyon.

Si Sheryl. Nagpapasalalamat siya at fashion designer ang kaibigan niyang si Francine, dahil formal ang attire sabi sa imbitasyon na nahalungkat din sa wakas ni Julius sa trunk ng kotse niya, matapos siyang kulitin ni Sheryl. Nai-design siya ng simpleng gown at ipina-paspas ito ni Francine sa kanyang mga mananahi sa loob lamang ng ilang araw. Tinulungan din siya ni Francine na pumili ng sapatos na bagay sa kulay at tela ng gown, at pinahiram sya ng beaded evening purse.

Pero hindi siya nakalusot sa inquisition ng kaibigan nung una siyang lumapit dito. “Uhmmm… nung isang linggo lang, ngawa ka nang ngawa tungkol sa Julius na iyan. Ngayon, kandarapa kang magpagawa ng gown at sasama ka pa sa Tagaytay. Hunghang ka na ‘day?

Fran, ewan ko ba. Para akong mababaliw nung time na hindi siya tumatawag. I felt I didn’t deserve the treatment I got from him. Andun lahat ng hinahanap ko sa first date eh: magic, connection. Nung naputol iyon, nothing made sense to me. Tapos, nung tumawag na siya, okay na ulit ang mundo ko. Parang pati boses namin sa telepono, perfect fit. Bagay!  Rough kasi boses niya, tapos malambing boses ko. Kahit gusto kong magsungit, hindi kaya.

Tumaas ang kilay ni Francine, sabay sabi habang sinusukatan ng hem length ang kaibigan, “Ikaw, malambing boses sa telepono? Sabi ko na nga ba, maglaladlad ka rin pagdating ng tamang lalaki eh. Matipuno siguro si Julius kaya naalala mong babae ka pala.

Alam ni Sheryl na nagbibiro lang si Francine, kasi siya ang pinakakikay sa kanilang magkakaibigan. Lagi lang siyang alaskado na baka hindi interesado sa lalaki dahil matagal na simula nung makipag-break siya sa long term boyfriend at first love niya.

Nag-ring ang cellphone ni Francine. “Hello? Ano, nahanap mo yung tela sa suki ko? …. Ano ba naman yan, Mahal?!! Paano mo mawawala ang listahan? Sabi ko na kasing ite-text ko na lang eh. Nagmamadali tayo kasi may hinahabol akong order tapos sumingit pa itong si Cinderella na mag-aattend ng magic ball sa Tagaytay!

Pumutak pa nang pumutak si Francine sa asawa nyang si Pedrong nasa telepono. Businessman si Pedro, at certified na under kay Francine, kaya ito ang nauutusan sa mga rush order sa Divisoria, at napapagalitan pa dahil sa sampung utos sa kanya, laging may nahahanap na mali ang asawa.

Pagbaba ni Francine ng telepono, pumuna si Sheryl, “Ikaw lang ang nakakabanggit ng salitang ‘Mahal’ na punung-puno ng poot. Mabuti nga sunud-sunuran sa iyo si Pedro e, samantalang marami siyang tauhan. Kailangan ba galit ka lagi, o lambingan niyo ‘yan?”

Ganun talaga dapat, to keep them in line. Husbands should know you’re the boss. Pag nalaman niyang gagang-gaga pa rin ako sa kanya katulad nung mag-boyfriend pa lang kami, baka mabawasan ang powers ko.

Kawawang Pedro. Pinakasalan si Dr. Jekyll, nakuha si Mrs. Hyde,” biro ni Sheryl, na hindi makita ang sariling nagsisisigaw kay Julius. Marahil, maaga pa masyado sa kanilang relasyon, kaya pa-sweet effect pa siya. Natural lang kasi na kapag kausap o kasama niya si Julius, nagiging mas pino ang kilos niya. Tumataas ang pitch ng boses, pero hindi pasigaw. Palaging nakangiti. Ayan, napangiti na siya naalala lang niya si  Julius.

“Pumili ka, do you want to be generous in front, or at the back, or both?” Nabalik sa kasalukuyan si Sheryl, at nag-wish na hindi nakita ni Francine ang ngiting-daydream niya.

Anong ibig mong sabihin?”

Low neckline, backless, or both? Iyong gown mo, Cinderella. Ako ang iyong fairy godmother. Nasa sa aking powers kung gaano ka magiging ka-generous sa date mo. If I were you, I’d show more skin. Tiisin mo ang ginaw. Gagawan kita ng shawl.”

“Kunsintidora ka rin ano?” ngiting may pasasalamat ang naisagot ni Sheryl. “I want to look my best. Pag halter, diba naha-highlight ang aking nice shoulders? Pero ikaw na bahala. I trust your expertise!” At binigyan ni Sheryl ng mahigpit na hugggg si Francine. Alam niyang maganda ang kalalabasan ng gown niya. Maraming boutiques ang sinu-supply-an ni Francine. Hindi pa lang siya nagbubukas ng sariling shop gamit ang kanyang pangalan dahil iniipon pa niya ang capital.

“Fairy godmother lang ako ha, pero hindi mo ako kukuning ninang sa kasal. Ay ano ba, pag nalaman ni Georgia na ako ang kakuntsaba mo sa kalokohang ito, hindi na ako papadalhan nun ng mga pinaglumaan niyang fashion magazines galing Singapore.

Fran-fran my fairy godmother, I owe you big time. Flower girl na lang si Anna ha!” Nagtawanan ang magkaibigan. Ganun talaga ang mga babae, ang hilig magplano ng wedding day nila. Lahat ng details naiisip na, kahit wala pang groom. O kahit may potential groom na, pero wala pang naiisip ang pobreng lalaki na mga ganoong bagay.

Pagkagaling kay Francine, pumunta si Sheryl sa counter ng MAC sa mall at nagpa-trial makeup, atsaka bumili ng ilang basics na matagal na niyang gusto ngunit hindi niya binibili dahil mahal. Pinakamahirap kayang gawin ang nude makeup – yung hindi halata – at kailangan niya ng tamang brushes at maraming practice. Buti at magagaling ang mga makeup tutorials sa YouTube. Inilabas niya rin ang bihirang gamiting hair curler at straightener. Production number talaga pag uma-attend ng wedding ang mga babae. Added pressure pa na gusto ni Sheryl maganda ang first impression sa kanya ng mga kaibigan ni Julius.

Nung araw ng kasal, isang Sabado ng Pebrero, alas-sais pa lang ng umaga, gising na si Sheryl at nag-aayos na.

Si Julius. Nagpa-dry clean siya ng suit. Iyon na ang extent ng preparasyon niya para sa actual wedding. Pero marami rin siyang ibang inihanda, kasi mahaba-habang drive mula Novaliches, sa bahay ni Sheryl, hanggang Don Bosco Batulao. Kailangang i-set niyang mabuti ang ambience. Hindi na uso ang mix tape, na ginagamit ng mga pinsan niya noong nanliligaw sila dati. Playlist na ang uso ngayon, at gumawa si Julius ng para sa mahalagang lakad na ito. Ang title, “Kanta at Gitara.” Pinili niya ang mga kantang makikilala ni Sheryl at matutugtog niya. Siyempre, OPM.

Ang Playlist.

Ewan, Apo Hiking Society, pero yung version ni Sharon Cuneta (O ha! Matutuwa si Sheryl dito, naisip niya.)

I Think I’m In Love, Kuh Ledesma, na kinanta rin ni Odette Quesada, yung nag-compose nito.

Each Day With You, Martin Nievera,

Hang On, Gary Valenciano,

I Need You Back, Raymond Lauchengco.

Meron din siyang mga fast numbers na sobrang flashback sa ’80s, na iniisip pa lang niya, natatawa na sya:

Urong-sulong, Regine Velasquez,

Please Don’t Throw My Love Away, Martin Nievera,

Mambobola, Zsa Zsa Padilla,

Babaero, Randy Santiago,

Mr. DJ, Sharon Cuneta,

at ang theme song ng paborito niyang “Ninja Kids” na pelikula, “You’ve Got the Power!’ na kinanta nina Gino Padilla, Randy Santiago, at Juan Miguel Salvador. Wala lang, parang gusto lang niyang i-share kay Sheryl anong mga hilig niya nung bata pa siya.

Eto naman ang mga clincher na kanta, pag may silent moment sa kotse o di kaya kailangan lang niya ng closer:

Kahit Na,” Zsa Zsa Padilla,

“Ipagpatawad Mo,” VST & Co. featuring Vic Sotto,

“Sana ay Ikaw na Nga,” Basil Valdez,

Ikaw ang Aking Mahal,” VST & Co.  (Pag hindi pa naman sila nagkaigihan ni Sheryl sa biyahe nito, naisip ni Julius. Excited siyang patugtugin ang mga ito at makita ang galak sa mga mata ni Sheryl. Lilingon siya kahit nagmamaneho.)

Pumili siya ng pabango, yung Davidoff Adventure na regalo ng dalawa niyang kapatid na babae noong Pasko, para daw amoy-pogi ang kuya nila. Nag-ahit pogi rin siya. Bihis na siya matapos ang ilang minuto.

Samantalang sa Novaliches, tanghali na, hindi pa tapos mag-ayos si Sheryl. Nagtext na si Julius na malapit na siya.

Mommmm!” sigaw ni Sheryl sa labas ng kwarto, humihingi ng saklolo sa kanyang ina.

Ang ganda naman ng anak ko. Bagay yung hikaw na bigay ng daddy mo sa iyo. Dapat lagi kang mag-dangling!

Mom, I’m running late. Pagdating ni Julius, could you entertain him for a few minutes? Please? Finishing touches na lang ako.”

Aba anak, hindi mo pa siya pinapakilala sa amin ng Daddy mo, tapos ako na agad ang haharap?

Kaya mo yan, Mom, kahit huwag muna si Daddy, ako na’ng bahalang mag-introduce sa kanya. Paupuin niyo lang, alukin ng juice… please Mom?” Tumatalon sa isang paa sa buong kwarto niya si Sheryl, naghahanap ng isang sapatos, pinipili ang gamit na magkakasya sa pagkaliit-liit na purse na pinahiram ni Fran. Kanina pa nagte-text sina Pauline at Fran, hindi niya muna sinasagot ang pangangamusta nila dahil busy siyang magpaganda.

Nag-doorbell na si Julius. May hawak na isang bungkos na tulips. Gusto sana niya roses pero sa isang linggo na lang, malapit na ang Valentine’s Day. At nagmamahal na rin ang mga bulaklak! Natigil ang pag-iisip niya kung saan siya o-order ng roses nang bumukas ang pinto.

Magandang tanghali po, Mrs. Zabala. Ako po si  Julius.”  Gusto sana niyang tawaging Tita ang mommy  ni Sheryl, pero ang chummy naman kaagad.

Are these for me?” biro ni Mrs. Zabala, at nung nakitang nagulat si Julius, sabay bawi, “Ikaw naman, hijo, pinapatawa lang kita! Na-tense ka kaagad!”

“Hahaha! Sa susunod po dadalhan ko rin kayo! Pasensiya na po sa reaction ko, kala ko seryoso kayo eh. Sa inyo pala nakuha ni Sheryl ang charm niya.

Tuloy ka, Julius. Maupo ka muna. Ikaw na ang mag-abot nito kay Sher.” May hitsura nga, naisip ng ina. Sana mabait ka. Huwag kang magkamaling saktan ang bunso namin at lagot ka sa apat na anak naming lalaki, ang sabi ni Mommy sa loob-loob niya. Darating ang mga iyon galing sa apat na sulok ng mundo para sa baby sister nila. Pero nakangiti lang siya kay Julius, na tumitingin-tingin sa mga paintings na nakasabit sa walls.

Gusto mo ng juice? Tubig?”

Hindi na po, Tita. Salamat po.” Hala, lumabas agad ang Tita?  At least hindi “Mommy” ang naitawag niya.

Napangiti si Tita/Mommy. Magalang na bata.

Lalabas na si Sheryl. Sandali na lang daw.”

“Tina, nabuksan mo ang pinto? Nasaan na ang anak nating a-attend ng J-S Prom?” ang daddy ni Sheryl ang lumabas. Nanlaki ang mata ni Mommy Tina. Napatayo si Julius. Hindi niya masyadong napag-planuhan ang meet-the-parents moment. Mabuti na lang nag-ahit siya.

Ikaw talaga, dad. Hindi na high school ang bunso mo! Heto ang kaibigan niya, si Julius.

Good morning po,” sabi ni Julius, sabay abot ng kamay niya. Give a firm handshake, ang diin niya sa sarili, at tiningnan niya sa mata ang daddy ni Sheryl. Mas matangkad siya rito pero bakit parang siya ang nanliliit? Nakakabasa ba ng utak ang mga neurosurgeons? Gusto na niyang humingi ng tubig.

Good morning, Julius,” sagot ng daddy ni Sheryl. Hindi ito ngumingiti. Sumenyas lang na maupo ulit si Julius. Naupo si Julius. Straight back, parang gusto niyang sabihing boy scout siya noong elementary. Ewan niya kung may bearing iyon sa first impression ng daddy ni Sheryl. Si Dr. Zabala ay hindi niya matatawag na Tito.

Emergency, emergency, naisip ni Mommy Tina. Inutusan niya si Juana, ang katulong nila, para katukin na si Sheryl. Marami nang manliligaw si Sheryl ang hindi bumalik matapos ng sandaling makausap ang daddy niya. Gustong bigyan ng fair chance ni Mommy Tina si Julius para kay Sheryl, dahil sinabi ng anak niya,

“Mom, I really like him. Please help me make dad like him, too.”

Hi, everyone,” sabi ni Sheryl. Napanganga silang tatlo: si Daddy, na nagpigil ng luha sa ganda ng prinsesa niya; si Mommy Tina, na gustong kumuha ng camera kahit hindi na ito J-S Prom; at si Julius, na hindi makahinga at hindi makapaniwala sa napakagandang vision na nasa harap niya.

Hello, may nagdaang anghel?” tanong ni Sheryl, pero flattered siya sa mga stunned expressions ng kanyang intended audience. “Dad, I see you’ve met my friend Julius. Be nice to him ha.

Hindi ka ba giginawin sa suot mo, anak?” ang unang bumulalas sa bibig ni Dr. Zabala.

Daddy, si Francine ang designer ko. She made me a special shawl pag humangin na sa Tagaytay. Don’t worry!

O, baka ma-traffic na kayong dalawa. Hihintayin na lang namin ang pictures niyo sa Facebook mamaya,” tulak ni Mommy Tina, para hindi na magtagal ang paghihirap ng kalooban ni Julius sa combined powers ng mag-ama.

Uhh, Sheryl, these are for you,” hindi malaman ni Julius kung paano iaabot ang bouquet. Parang matutunaw kasi siya sa tingin ni Dr. Zabala, at pakiramdam niya masamang magbigay ng bulaklak sa anak nito.

Oh, these tulips are perfect! Thanks! Hmm, ilalagay ko ba rito sa vase o dadalhin ko?

Dalhin mo na, para ma-enjoy mo. Malamig naman doon so hindi agad malalanta ‘yan,” inakbayan na ni Mommy Tina si Sheryl at sabay bulong, “Lakad na, ako’ng bahala sa daddy mo. Ganyan lang talaga yan ka-protective.

Nagpaalam na sila sa mga magulang ni Sheryl. Sa wakas ay nakalabas din sila ng bahay. Tawa nang tawa si Sheryl.

What’s so funny?” Tanong ni Julius habang inaalalayan siyang sumakay sa passenger side. Pag-upo niya sa driver’s seat, tumatawa pa rin si Sheryl.

You should have seen your face,” sabi nito. “I wanted to be the one to introduce you to my dad, kaso lumabas siya agad, e. Hindi namin na-timing-an ni Mommy. Was he nice to you? Mukha ka kasing kinagat ng langgam na pula sa paa, e.

Your dad, he has a presence,” yun lang ang nasabi niya. Hindi naman Darth Vader-ish, pero intimidating talaga. Makapal kasi ang kilay nito, na grayish na.

You should do well to remember, Julius Gomez, that there are currently five other men in my life. One dad and four older brothers. So kung may balak kang lokohin ako, ingat ka lang dahil mild pa ang nangyari kay Vhong Navarro sa kalalabasan mo.” Nasabi ni Sheryl ang threat, na hindi veiled, habang malambing pa rin ang boses niya. Pasalamat si Julius at hindi siya nagsumbong noong hindi siya nito agad tinawagan. Kasi, alam niyang pagtatawanan lang siya ng mga kuya niya noon dahil first date pa lang. Pero ngayon, gumawa lang ng false move si Julius, isang barangay kaagad ang magtatanggol kay Sheryl. Marami kayang friends ang brothers niya.

Napangiwi si Julius. Hindi masaya ang picture na ibinigay ni Sheryl. Moment ito para maiba ang mood, salamat sa kanyang baong playlist.

“I will remember that. Wala naman akong balak lokohin ka, e.” Sabi niya. Wala talaga. Napindot niya ang controls ng iPod niya at tumunog ang boses ni Randy Santiago.

Alam kaagad ni Sheryl ang kanta. Pagdating sa chorus, napabungisngis siya. Nag-duet pa sila ni Julius:

Sino’ng may sabi, makakating labi
‘Di-di-di-di naman totoo
Puro’t imbento, sari saring kwento
Basta’t sayo lang ako!

Whew. Ayan napatawa kita. Pwede na yung next level ng music sa playlist ko.

Aba, may playlist, naisip ni Sheryl. Nagplano ang loko. Ano kaya ang magiging theme song ng araw na iyon?

Ipagpatawad mo, aking kapangahasan

Binibini ko, sana’y maintindihan

Alam kong kailan lang tayo nagkatagpo

Ngunit parang sa’yo ayaw nang lumayo

Ipagpatawad mo, ako ma’y naguguluhan.

Hindi agad kumibo si Sheryl. Nag-panic nang slight si Julius. Too much ba ang kanta? Ang hindi niya alam, nakikinig ito sa kanyang inner Georgia:

Kanta lang iyan, Sheryl. Huwag mong dibdibin. Bawal masyadong kiligin.

Tumingin siya kay Julius at ngumiti. “So review nga ulit, sinu-sino ang mga kabarkada mo, mga respective na asawa nila, at mga anak?” Hindi niya inamin na na-print na niya ang email ni Julius tungkol sa topic na ito, at na-match na niya ang mga pangalan sa mga mukha nila. Kailangan lang ni Sheryl ng ibang topic, yung magbababa sa kanya ulit sa lupa.

Sinagot naman ito ni Julius, at inisa-isa ang mga pangalan. “Sher, they’ve been prepped well. Si Alex nag-email agad sa barkada at kung anu-ano na ang sinabi. You can imagine, kaya nung mag-exaggerate kung gusto niya.

So, did he exaggerate when he described my looks?”  Hindi naman siya masyadong fishing. Konti lang.

Oops. Hindi iyon ang ibig sabihin ni Julius. “No, no. He described you accurately – na mas maganda pa sa lahat ng ex-girlfriends ko combined.

Ex-girlfriends??? Naka-ilan ka na ba?” Nairita si Sheryl. Hindi pa nila pinag-uusapan ang mga pasts nila. Ngayon ba ang tamang panahon para sa topic na ito? Yung naka-gown pa siya and everything?

Bakit ba lahat ng hirit ni Julius mali?! Parang hindi going according to plan ang drive nila. Kailangan ulit ng mood music.  Pinakanta niya si Martin.

Flowers for you on this lovely evening

Though they have no words they share my feelings;

As we walk along the avenue,
Pardon me, I just can’t help staring at you. 

When I look into those sparkling eyes,

I float in the air and wonder in paradise;
You give my heart a source of inspiration,
Your beauty is beyond imagination.

Hininaan niya ng konti ang music, sabay hirit ng, “Hindi ko na maalala kung ilan e. Wala pa talagang significant. Until now.


E di natameme si Sheryl.  Julius chose his battle well, and won.

“So ano na lang mga sinabi ni Alex sa barkada mo about me?

Bukod sa maganda ka, matalino, charming, at lahat na, na alagaan ka raw nila, at pakitaan nang mabuti, para maisip mong may mga kaibigan akong matitino’t nakapagtiis sa akin nang ilang taon, at marunong ako ng totoong commitment, hindi pa lang halata. Actually, joint email nila ni Joanne yun,” sagot ni Julius.

Na-meet na ni Sheryl si Joanne sa office Christmas party. Mabuti na lang at may kakilala siya sa pupuntahang kasalan kaya nabawasan ang pressure. At mukhang hinanda na rin ng mag-asawa ang mga kabarkada para sa warm welcome niya. Napangiti na si Sheryl.

You’ll like them. And they’ll love you. I’m sure of it,” sabay hawak sa kamay ni Sheryl. Binigyan niya ito ng reassuring squeeze.

“You look beautiful, Sheryl. Baka ilang beses kong sabihin sa iyo ngayon ‘yan. I mean,” dinagdagan niya bago pa ma-misinterpret ang sinabi niya, “I’ve always found you beautiful, but today you took my breath away. Kaya siguro ayaw kang pakawalan ng tatay mo at pasamahin sa akin.

Good boy, naisip ni Sheryl. Natututo na ring sumagot ang Julius. At effective ang barely-there makeup niya na inabot ng isang oras.

“Thanks, Julius. You don’t look too bad yourself,” ang comeback ni Sheryl. Naisip niya na he smells nice too pero nag-withhold naman siya ng compliment. Kanya na lang yun. Huwag daw ibigay ang lahat sa lalaki, bilin ng mommy niya. Sa compliments, sa lahat. Baka mas malalim pa ang kahulugan ni Mommy, a.

Salamat. Ang tagal kong nagpa-parlor kaninang umaga para ma-achieve ang look na ‘yan,sabi ni Julius sabay tawa. Nag-boses bading ito pero hindi bagay.

Ayaw umamin ni Sheryl kung gaano siya katagal nag-ayos nung umagang iyon. Masyadong na kasing nag-ca-cartwheels ang puso niya.

“Stop over tayo sa gas station paglampas ng C-5,”  sabi ni Julius, na hindi pa rin inaalis ang kamay niya.

May authority. Hindi nagtatanong. Take-charge kinda guy. I like, naisip na naman ng inner Sheryl ni Sheryl.

Ang kahabaan ng biyahe ay naging memorable dahil sa mga baong OPM ni Julius, sa malamig na tinig ni Sheryl, at sa anticipation sa first wedding na official launching ng love team nila.

(Ano, bitin na naman? Abangan na lamang ang susunod na kabanata. – E.)

Isang Linggong Paghihintay (Housewife Series, Part 2)

(Basahin muna ang unang bahagi, Pang-housewife Ako e, Bakit ba? Ito ang karugtong matapos ang maraming hiling ng mga nagbasa’t nabitin sa kilig. Kaya lang hindi na ito nakakakilig masyado. Ang updated kuwento ay nasa link na Kwentong Housewife (Daw)– E. )


Natakot nga ba si Julius? Bibisitahin nating muli kung bakit tinapos agad niya ang makasaysayang first date nila ni Sheryl. Ngunit bago iyon, tingnan muna natin kung totoo nga bang career na lang ang inasikaso ni Sheryl at nakalimutan niya na kaagad si Julius, o press release na naman iyon.

Bakit hindi pa siya tumatawaaaaag?” atungal ni Sheryl habang nakadapa sa kama sa guest room ng best friend niyang si Pauline. Hindi siya pinapansin ng kaibigan, nasa telepono ito. Tatlong araw na ang nakalilipas mula nang ihatid siya agad-agad ni Julius, na para bang napaso sa kanya at isinoli siya sa Nanay at Tatay niya. Feeling ni Sheryl, puwede nang umasang tatawag si Julius, following the three-day rule in her dating books. Pero epic fail ang feeling na ito dahil hindi tumawag ang magaling na lalaki, kaya sa halip na umuwi galing sa trabaho ay tinawagan niya si Pauline at muling nagpaampon dito. Kailangan niya ng kausap.

Francine, pumunta ka na rito please, tulungan mo ako, sasabunutan ko na itong babaeng ito e,” sabi ni Pauline, na hindi matiis si Sheryl pero gustong tumawag ng genmeet ng buong barkada.

Ang sakiiiiit,” patuloy na monologue ni Sheryl. Nasa second floor naman ang inaanak niya at malamang, mahimbing na ang tulog kasama ang daddy nito at hindi naiistorbo sa kanyang pagdadalamhati.

Ang sabi ni Francine, tigilan mo na  ‘yang kaiiyak mo. Ni hindi umabot ng isang linggo ang pag-ibig niyo, kaya please lang, stop the drama!” report ni Pauline. Naisip niya na ring tawagan ang mga kaibigan nila sa States at Singapore dahil sa dalawang kagimbal-gimbal na pangyayari: una, na nakipag-date at nahulog agad ang mapiling si Sheryl sa ka-date niya; at ikalawa, na heartbroken ulit ito na parang noong high school lang. Hindi kayang i-handle ni Pauline mag-isa ang nagngangawang kaibigan, dahil hindi na siya sanay.  Dati-rati, pinipili ni Sheryl maging tigang kahit pa Valentine’s Day, huwag lang magmukhang tanga dahil sa pag-ibig.

Hindi naman true love yan, oy!” Dagdag ni Pauline. “You’ll scare men away if you fall in love after the first date! Sasabihin nila, kakaibang nilalang ka, Sheryl.”

Humarap si Sheryl kay Pauline sabay sabi, “Thank you ha! Yun na nga ang nangyari. Natakot na sa akin, okay? I am a disgrace to all women!

Ah, may lagnat ba si Anna? O sige na nga, huwag ka nang sumugod dito. Wala na lang sisihan pag nasampal ko itong kaibigan natin ha. Ok, bye.” Tinapos na ni Pauline ang pag-uusap nila ni Francine, na kailangang mag-alaga ng maysakit nitong anak, at hinarap na si Sheryl.

Nakalabi si Sheryl. “Ang lupit mo naman. Ilang beses mo ba akong nakitang ganito? Minsan-minsan lang ako mag-date, ganto pa ang napala ko. Hindi ka ba naaawa sa akin? I don’t want your pity pala. Don’t you at least feel my pain?

Kunyari lang namang nanggigigil si Pauline kay Sheryl. Kaya sila mag-best friend ay dahil siya palagi ang kalmadong boses sa makulay na mundo ni Sheryl.

I just hate seeing you like this. Hindi ba natin ‘yan madadaan sa kanta? O sa single malt whisky?” alok ni Pauline. Best friend din ni Sheryl si Carlo, ang asawa ni Pauline, lalo na sa inuman. Pwede niyang gisingin iyon maya-maya.

I don’t understand. Okay maybe I do understand, na ganoon talaga, paasa ang mga lalaki, dalubhasa sa pambibitin, but I don’t want to. Ang labo ko, ‘no?” Gulung-gulo pa rin si Sheryl.

Gusto mo bang sagutin ko ‘yan? Wait, may gustong makipag-Facetime. Si Larissa, umaga na sa States, ayan may bago ka nang kukuwentuhan. Check ko muna yung mag-ama ko sa taas.” Sabay abot ni Pauline ng iPad Mini niya kay Sheryl, na nagpunas ng luha para hindi naman mukhang sawi sa pag-ibig.  Pero halata pa rin dahil mugtong-mugto ang mga mata niya.

Sa pagkukuwentong ilang beses naputol ng hagulgol, inulit ni Sheryl kay Larissa kung bakit na-text niyang The One si Julius, at ang mga nangyari, o hindi nangyari, pagkatapos ng deklarasyong iyon.

Ang hindi alam ni Sheryl ay naisama niya sa group text si Julius. Iyung text na nagsabing he’s the one. Yup, that text. Hindi kasi niya sa Facebook group ng barkada inilagay, kundi sa iMessage, kasi naisip niya mas mabilis mababasa ng mga kaibigan niya ito dahil lagi nilang hawak ang mga Apple gadgets nila. Dahil wala sa sarili, hindi niya napansing naisama niya si Julius sa mga recipients.

Kaya hindi na tayo magtataka kung bakit natakot nga si Julius.

“Sa lahat ng ayaw ko p’re, sa mga babae, yung bawa’t bagay naka-report agad sa mga kaibigan nila e. Yung parang di-nate mo na ang buong barkada nila,” reklamo ni Julius kinabukasan kay Alex nang mangamusta ito, pagkatapos ng “makasysayang first date.”

Whoa, hindi ito ang ine-expect kong marinig sa iyo,” sabi ng gulat na Alex. Akala niya magpapatulong nang mang-harana si Julius pagkatapos ng isang gabing kasama si Sheryl. Ano nga ba ang nangyari kagabi? “Disaster ba, p’re? Di ka nag-enjoy? Masyadong pakipot?” Sunud-sunod na tanong ng hindi-makapaniwalang Alex.

Hinde. Sobra kaming nag-enjoy. Ayoko na ngang ihatid pauwi e,” sagot ni Julius, na naalala ang mga sandaling gusto niyang halikan si Sheryl pero nagpigil siya.

Ayun naman pala e. So bakit mo nga hinatid? Nagyaya ba?” naghihintay ng paliwanag si Alex.

Ang dami mo namang tanong,” paiwas na sagot ni Julius. Ayaw niyang ikwento sa iba yung sinabi ni Sheryl sa mga ka-text niyang kaibigan. Ayaw niya rin palang mapahiya si Sheryl. Kahit kay Alex.  Protective pala siya.

O sige wala nang NBI investigation. Women talk, sabi ng misis ko. Don’t take it against Sheryl kung palaging nagtetext habang magkasama kayo, malamang ikaw naman ang topic nila.”

“Yun nga ayaw ko e.”

“Ito lang ang sasabihin ko, halos naka-giftwrap na para sa iyo si Sheryl. Ang reputasyon niyan, mapili pa sa mapiling ina. Pihikan! Tapos nag-enjoy sa date niyo? Huwag mo nang pairalin ang tigas ng ulo mo. Tapusin na natin ang Great Bachelor Days ni Julius Gomez. Ginto na ‘yan, hindi pinapalampas,” para sa man of few words, napabira ng sermón si Alex, na dati-rati ay tameme lang kay Julius. “Tawagan mo na,” diin nito.

Hindi pa rin tumawag si Julius kay Sheryl. Parang ayaw niya ng sakit ng ulo.

High maintenance e,” kwento niya kay Michelle, ang kapatid nyang sumunod sa kanya, na nangamusta tungkol sa date niya nung dumaan siya para dalawin ang mga pamangkin niya. “Hindi ko kayang bumuhay ng ganoon.

Bakit naman pagbuhay at parang pagpapakasal na ang nasa isip mo, first date pa lang? Siguro type mo ‘no, kaya may I examine my networth ka agad diyan?” sagot ni Michelle, sabay siko sa kanyang kuya. “Maganda ba? Sino’ng kamukha? Marian Rivera? Angel Locsin? Kim Chiu?

Ipinakita ni Julius kay Michelle ang picture ni Sheryl. Hinampas siya nito sa braso sabay sabing, “Ano’ng problema mo, kuya? Sobrang ganda nito! Buti pinansin ka!”

Nakaka-tempt ikwento kay Michelle na, hindi lang pinansin, siya pa ang “The One” ni Sheryl, pero may pumigil na naman kay Julius. Parang gusto niya munang sarilinin ang bagay na iyon, kahit iyon ang dahilan kung bakit tinapos niya kaagad ang “makasysayang first date.”

Iyon nga ba?

Habang nagda-drive pauwi, nag-isip si Julius. Alam niyang bugso lang ng damdamin ni Sheryl iyong na-text niya at hindi totoo. Kaya niyang palampasin iyon. Pero marami ring telltale signs kaya hindi niya dapat tawagan ulit si Sheryl.

Si Sheryl, handa na yata iyon sa serious committed relationship. Nasa tipo e. Parang hindi nakikipaglokohan basta-basta. Ayaw ng laro-laro lang.

Siya, si Julius, ay hindi pa handang mag-seryosong relasyon. Masaya lang siyang mag-buhay binata. Gusto niya lang ng padate-date. Girlfriend pwede rin, pero kapag nagiging demanding at clingy, iniiwan na niya. Ayaw niya sa mga babaeng clingy! Yung binabantayan lahat ng kilos niya, sino kausap niya, saan siya pupunta.

Pero kinabahan din siya nung nagsabi si Sheryl ng “take it one step at a time” at huwag na silang mag-“best foot forward,” bago sila umakyat sa condo niya. Ang daming assumptions ng statement na iyon, at kahit totoo, hindi siya handang umamin.  Kasi yung statement na iyon, parang nasa Chapter Ten na ng libro. Si Julius, nasa prologue pa lang. Masyadong advanced mag-isip si Sheryl. Nakakatakot.

Kung bakit naman nakalipas na ang tatlong araw, nasa isip pa rin niya si Sheryl. Anong pabango ba ang ginamit nun? Jo Malone? Viva la Juicy? Hinahanap-hanap niya. Kahit sa opisina, e hindi naman nakarating si Sheryl sa opisina niya.

Sa radyo, Miyerkules na Miyerkules, puro lumang tugtugin ang pinapaptugtog sa paborito niyang istasyon. Meron pang linshak na “OPM Hour.” Sinimulan ng DJ sa Apo Hiking Society.

There I was, an empty piece of a shell,
Just minding my own world;
Without even knowin’ what love and life were all about
Then you came,
You brought me out of the shell;
You gave the world to me
And before I knew, there I was so in love with you

You gave me a reason for my being
And I love what I’m feelin’
You gave me a meaning to my life
Yes, I’ve gone beyond existing
And it all began when I met you

Anak ng… nahuli na lang ni Julius ang sarili niyang kumakanta! Buti walang nakakita at nakarinig. Pero traffic, baka pinagtinginan siya ng mga driver at pasahero sa ibang sasakyan sa EDSA.

Kinulam yata siya ni Sheryl! Usually isang tulog lang, nakakalimot na siya pagkatapos ng first date. Pag dinesisyunan niyang ayaw na niya, ayaw na niya. E bakit ngayon may pakanta-kanta pa siya ng “When I Met You?” Masamang senyales ito.

Balikan natin si Sheryl na nagluluksa sa bahay nina Pauline at Carlo. Gising ang mag-asawa at nagbukas na ng Macallan single malt whisky si Carlo, para kay Sheryl.

“Mag-leave ka na lang bukas. Masama uminom kapag masama ang loob,” paalala ni Carlo.

Can’t afford to. Baka half-day ako. O work from home,” sagot ni Sheryl habang nakatitig sa baso niyang may tatlong pirasong yelo at isang shot ng whisky. “Ang tipid mo naman maglagay. Dagdagan mo pa, bilhan na lang kita ulit sa Duty Free,” pakiusap niya kay Carlo.

Tatayo sana si Carlo pero pinigilan siya ni Pauline na i-top up agad ang baso ni Sheryl. Sa pamamagitan ng tingin. Nakukuha si Carlo sa tingin ng asawa niya

Sheryl, don’t let this one guy and one date affect you this much. He’s not worth it! Ano na lang sasabihin ni Georgia pag nalaman niyang nagkakaganyan ka at baka napapabayaan mo pa ang work mo?” Hindi alam ni Pauline paano mag-react. Sila rin naman kasi ang nagtutulak kay Sheryl na makipag-date na at bawasan ang pagka-pihikan sa lalaki.

Si Georgia ang feministang kaibigan nila, na naka-assign ngayon sa Singapore. Gabriela Silang iyon sa tapang, at galit sa lahat ng lalaki. Ang dahilan – iniwan siya ng boyfriend niya noong college pa lang sila. At single mother si Georgia. Prangka at hindi marunong magpigil ng dila niya basta sa ikabubuti ng mga kaibigan.

Alam niyo naman effect ng Macallan sa akin. Inaantok ako. This will help me sleep. I can’t deal with Georgia tonight, please. Huwag mo nang i-inform na andito ako at tiyak na tatawag yun,” sagot ni Sheryl. Kung minsan, nakakatulong ang maraming kaibigan. Kung minsan, mahirap kasi kailangan mong pakinggan ang mga nagbabagang opinyon nila. Lalo na ni Georgia.

I don’t know what came over you, Sheryl. This is so unlike you at all,” puna ni Pauline.

Umiling-iling din si Sheryl. “Hindi ko rin alam anong tumama sa akin, Pauline. At hindi ko maintindihan kasi parang sobra naman kaming nag-connect. Parang tuwang-tuwa naman siya sa akin at ayaw akong lubayan ng titig at, medyo touchy siya ha. Hinayaan ko naman. Promise, hindi ako nagpaka-manang.

Baka naman kailangan lang ng space nung tao,” singit ni Carlo. “Para mag-isip. Baka he had Too Much Sheryl – you can be intimidating, you know.”

Pinanlisikan ng mata ni Pauline si Carlo na parang nagsasabing, you’re not helping my depressed friend right now.

But that’s just it. While other guys I’ve dated seemed unable to handle me, Julius appeared to be into me, to appreciate me. At the very least, I thought he’d want us to see each other again. Hindi yung ganito, kasisimula pa lang, ending na agad. It doesn’t make sense. Feeling ko, gandang-ganda sa akin. Aliw na aliw sa akin.”

Baka player. Tapos nakitang hindi ka pwedeng lokohin. Hiritan mo ba namang gusto mong maging housewife. Talagang you dared him to see you as a wife and you made it clear that what you’re looking for is not just a husband, but a good provider. Pile on the pressure, kung baga. At kaming mga lalaki, ayaw ng pinangungunahan kami. Sa unang date alam mo ba, physical lang ang pinag-uusapan diyan.” Si Carlo ang matiyaga sa mga asawa ng barkada para magpaliwanag ng male perspective, kaya close sa kanya si Sheryl.

Talaga? Hindi ba pwedeng pagkatapos ng physical attraction, meron ding iba pang connection? Intellectual stimulation? Emotional investment, kahit kaunti?

Depende sa lalaki, pero last nilang haharapin ang feelings. This guy sounds like he’s having too much fun being in control of his life, and you were a threat to that, so he could either be taking his time, or moving on.

How will I know?” tanong ni Sheryl, na parang naubusan ng talino at nalalaman sa mundo.

Hintayin mo. Bigyan mo ng isang linggo,” sagot ni Carlo. “Maganda yung may deadline. Pagkatapos noon, hindi ka na namin paaasahin. Ipahaharap ka na namin kay Georgia kung mag-pine ka pa sa Julius na iyan kung hindi ka niya tawagan matapos ang one week.

“Ang hirap naman. Torture!” Gusto ni Sheryl mag-leave nang isang linggo. Mag-novena sa Quiapo. Pumunta sa Manaoag. Surely, a man like this is worth praying for. Or fighting for. Pero hindi niya tatawagan. Iyon ang major no-no sa lahat. Mali na ngang nag-text siya kaagad kinabukasan e. Nangingilabot pa siya pag naalala niyang nagawa niya iyon. Lyrics pa ng kanta. Ang baduy-baduy!!! No wonder nasungitan siya ni Julius sa text.

Iyon ang pinakamahabang isang linggo ng buhay ni Sheryl.

Ikapitong araw matapos ang “makasaysayang first date,” habang nag-aalmusal ng cereal at gatas, at walang kamalay-malay na deadline na niya sa barkada ni Sheryl, naisip ni Julius paano kung paggising niya, nakaluto na ang almusal niya– paborito niya ang tapsilog sa umaga kaya lang nakakatamad — at kung may nag-brew na ng kape. Naisip lang niya bigla, na baka masarap iyon.

“Maid ang kailangan mo kuya, hindi girlfriend,” na-imagine niya ang boses ni Michelle kung babanggitin niya ang naisip niyang iyon.  Inilagay niya sa mute ang boses ni Michelle bilang konsensiya niya at naghanda na papasok ng office.

Tinawagan siya ni Alex nung lunch break.

P’re, malapit na ang kasal nina Janine at Raymond. Kailangan mo ng ka-date.”

“Oo, isa na namang tumiwalag sa barkada yang si Raymond. Bumigay din.”

“Tinawagan mo na ba si—“

“Tama na, Alex. Hindi bagay sa ‘yo ang matchmaker. Don’t worry. I’ll find a date for the wedding. Tagaytay din iyon, hindi ko sasayangin ang lokasyon.

“Nag-book kami ni Joanne ng bahay sa may Nasugbu sa weekend na iyon. Ayoko kasing mag-drive nang balikan, at para maipasyal na rin ang mga bata. Dun ka samin tumuloy, at nang makainom din tayo. Pero kung may ka-date ka, bahala ka na sa buhay mo. Unless, si Ma’am Sheryl ang isasama mo.

Parang nauubusan na ng excuse si Julius para hindi tawagan si Sheryl. Parang hindi rin niya maisip sinong babae ang madadala niya sa kasal, ipapakilala sa mga kaibigan, isasakay sa kotse niya, kundi si Sheryl.

Blackmail naman iyan, p’re. Halatang-halatang may misyon ka e. Kung mag-second date man kami, sa kasal agad? Baka lalong magka-idea iyon.”

“Hindi gano’n si Sheryl, ‘no. Matalino naman iyon, at hindi nagmamadaling magpakasal. Kailangan ka pa niyang padaanin sa butas ng karayom. Mabuti nga yun at nang makilala niya ang buong barkada. Makita niyang may mga kaibigan ka naman pala kahit na minsan, emotionally constipated ka. Sino ngang ex-girlfriend mo ang tumawag sa iyo ng ganon?” Natawa si Alex nang maalala niya ang bansag ng ex ni Julius sa kanya, matapos nitong makipag-break ng Disyembre. Doon kasi magaling si Julius dati, sa pagpipigil at pagtatago ng damdamin. Pero umaasa si Alex, naniniwala siya, na sa bait ni Julius, hindi ito likas na babaero. Hindi pa lang niya natatagpuan noon ang babaeng magpapatino sa kanya.

“Hindi ba parang too late na, isang linggo na ang nakakalipas e. Baka na-delete na ni Sheryl ang number ko, o kaya baka nagalit kasi ang tagal ko bago tumawag?”

Huwag mo na akong tanungin, tawagan mo na! E kung hindi ka sagutin, di hindi. Basta, may isang room na kaming ilalaan ni Joanne sa inyo sa Nasugbu. Kung malasin ka naman, pwede ka sa sala, at sa room si Sheryl. Hahaha,” pang-aasar ni Alex, na alam nang tatawagan ng kaibigan niya si Sheryl. Tapos na ang pagninilay-nilay nito. Malamang natatauhan na.

Hindi na halos makapag-concentrate sa trabaho si Julius. Ayaw naman niyang mag-text. Pagsampa ng alas-singko, lumabas na siya ng opisina, at tumawag kay Sheryl habang nasa parking lot. Hingang malalim.

Nasa meeting si Sheryl nang makita niya ang phone niyang umiilaw. Picture ni Julius ang lumabas, at ang ipinangalan niya rito sa iPhone niya ay “Julius, Last Day mo na.”

Hindi niya sinagot ang tawag at nag-text na lang siya, “In a meeting. Let you know when I’m done.

Iyon na yata ang pinakamatagal na dalawang oras sa buhay ni Julius. Nag-drive siya pauwi. Umorder ng take-out at kinain nang mabilisan. Hindi niya halos nalasahan ang pizza kahit super hot ang pinili niya. Sheryl, mag-text ka na.

Eksaktong alas-siyete nang tumunog ang cellphone niya. “Hi. Meeting just ended,” text ni Sheryl.

Hindi na niya nakuhang maghintay, pinindot agad ni Julius ang call.

Ring, ring. Nag-panic siya. Ano’ng sasabihin niya? Baka humingi ng paliwanag kung bakit siya naglahong parang bula. Sasabihin na lang niya, busy siya. Totoo naman. Busy siyang kakaisip kay Sheryl nang isang buong linggo.

Hello?” sinagot ni Sheryl matapos ang pitong ring. Pito.

Hello! Sheryl, si Julius ito.

Sinong Julius?” Tapos, katahimikan.

Patay. Mukhang mahihirapan siya rito. Pumikit si Julius at hindi na nakaisip ng mga palusot at pambobolang gumagana sa lahat ng ibang babae.

Si Julius, yung engot na ngayon lang tumawag sa iyo,” simpleng sagot niya.

Naalala ni Sheryl ang mga sinabi ni Georgia nung isang gabi lang sa Viber, habang nakatitig siya sa mga kandilang sinindihan niya sa kwarto niya at nagpapalipas ng ikaanim na araw ng pagkawala ni Julius sa buhay niya.

Sanay ‘yang lalaking ‘yan na siya ang hinahabol at pinipilahan. Lumayo ka riyan! You’re worth more than that. A man should know daig pa niya ang nanalo sa lotto ‘pag pinili ka niya, Sheryl. Hindi yung parang naghe-hesitate siya at nag-aabang pa ng ibang pagpipilian. You’re much too good for him, my friend.” Iba talaga ang mga babae kung mag-analyze. Buong pagkatao ni Julius, nahusgahan na ng barkada ni Sheryl.

Pero si Sheryl, naniniwalang may pag-asa pa sila. Na kapag humingi ng second chance si Julius, hindi niya matitiis, pagbibigyan niya. Papahirapan niya muna, though. Aba, kailangang makasigurong hindi na ulit gagawin ng Julius na ito ang disappearing act niya. Nakakaloka yun.

Oh, that Julius. Yung Martian,” cold and distant ang balak na tono ni Sheryl, pero bakit parang ang lambing ng lumabas na boses sa kanya? Nakakainis.

Yan ba ang bansag mo sa akin? Sabagay, kamukha mo naman si Venus,” ayun, old habits die hard. Makabola lang. Pero sana seryosohin.

I’m sure 99% of the time, nagwo-work ‘yang mga linya mo. I’m not amused right now, though.” Kapag galit si Sheryl, napapadalas ang Ingles. May galit din kasi siya kay Julius. Naman, one for the books ang pambibiting ginawa nito. If he wants a second chance, he has to earn it.

Sheryl, sorry I didn’t call sooner.” Wala siyang masabing dahilan. Wala. “But I’m calling now to ask you if you would be my date for a wedding. Ikakasal yung kabarkada naming ni Alex next week, sa Tagaytay.”

Ano yung nararamdaman ni Sheryl? Luha? Pinigil niya ito, mamaya na ang emote. Kailangan niyang pag-isipan ang sagot. She tried to break down Julius’ words into bite-sized pieces.

Sorry raw. Pero walang excuse kung bakit hindi tumawag.

Tapos, nagyaya ng second date.

At ang second date, sa wedding.

Sa Tagaytay, the most romantic place she could think of right now.

Naisip ni Sheryl, kailangan niyang mag-shopping. Ng isusuot. Sa kasal.

Hi you still there?” Tanong ni Julius, na umaasang hindi mabalasik ang sagot ni Sheryl.

“Hang on, I’m trying to process what you just said. I mean, wala naman akong karapatang umasang tatawag ka, o magtanong kung bakit mo ginawa o hindi ginawa ang mga bagay-bagay…”

Here we go, Julius thought. He deserved this, naisip niyang sasabihin ni Michelle sa kanya.

Nagpatuloy si Sheryl, “But can you give me a minute to think it over?” A minute? Dapat sinabi niya she’ll sleep on it. Pambihira. Pero hindi na nabawi ni Sheryl ang nasabi na.

Sa Chapel on a Hill ang wedding, tapos ang reception naman sa…” at nag-blangko ang utak ni Julius. Hindi kasi niya hawak ang imbitasyon, at fancy yung pangalan nung venue kaya hindi niya maalala. “Sa malapit lang din doon. Hapon ang kasal,” dugtong niya. “Masaya yun, may surprise number ang barkada sa reception. Kakantahan naming ng medley ng harana songs yung bride. Kami rin kasi ang nag-harana nung nililigawan pa lang si Janine ni Raymond.

So, makikilala ko ang mga kaibigan mo? Hindi ba too much too soon iyon?” Patay. Ano na naman ito, espirito ni Georgia na nag-possess sa kanya para maging bitchy?

May nagsabi sa akin, let’s take it one step at a time. Ito, one big step for me, Sheryl.” Nandoon na ang pag-amin. Julius meant every word. Sheryl put several meanings in between the lines, pero nagpigil din siya.

“Pwede namang baby steps muna. Sasama ako sa iyo sa wedding, sige. Pero, hindi mo ba ako ililibre  muna ng kape?” Hamon ni Sheryl.

Asan ka ba?” Nagalak si Julius na hindi pa siya nagbibihis ng pambahay. Makakaaalis siya in, like, two minutes.

Nasa office. Sa Ortigas.

Iyon na yata ang pinakamabilis na pagmamaneho ni Julius mula Pasig hanggang Ortigas. Pagdating niya sa driveway ng building nina Sheryl, naghihintay na ito sa kanya. Nakangiti.

Hindi muna nag-update si Sheryl sa barkada. Papagalitan siya ng mga iyon bakit ang bilis niyang tinanggap ulit si Julius. Kaya naman niyang pangatawanan ang desisyon niya. Pasok naman sa deadline ang tawag nito. Wala mang paliwanag, hindi na niya kailangan iyon sa ngayon.

Pagsakay niya sa kotse ni Julius, nag-kiss siya na parang girlfriend lang.

Ang misteryo ay kung paano pa nakapag-maneho si Julius, dahil umikot ang tingin niya nang matapos bumati si Sheryl.

Tama na ulit ang simoy ng hangin. Totoo nang naaamoy niya ang pabango ni Sheryl, at hindi imahinasyon lang.

Alam na niya ang mga kakantahin ng barkada pag hinarana nila si Sheryl. Puro Tagalog. Para tagos sa dibdib.

WAKAS. (Sa ngayon….)

A Change of Plans [The Lord of the Geeks (Part IV)]

(You must read Parts 1 to 3, if you still haven’t. You’ll find the link to the first three chapters  on one of the tabs above. Thanks! – Ella)

A phone was ringing in Stella’s dream. She pressed Snooze, only to realize that she had reached for her iPhone, which was actually ringing, and that the Snooze button only worked for the alarm, which in her dazed state last night, she forgot to set.

She was dreaming of a tall, handsome, green-eyed elf who was kissing her hair and swearing love in the liquid elven tongue, and she most definitely did not welcome this rude awakening at all. The caller would receive the full wrath in her voice.

“Go away, Richard!” She said, and it was all that she could muster.  Her vocal chords were still at rest. How could some people be so dense and self-absorbed? She thought. And why did she answer the phone when she could have pressed the red button and denied the call? She berated herself. There were ten reasons to hate Richard at that precise moment and Stella added them to her growing list of resentment.

“Good morning, my princess. I have good news for you. I am picking you up from the Kingsford international airport! I wouldn’t want you to worry about carrying your heavy luggage full of toiletries on the train, like you so heroically planned to do. Tell me, are you on your way already?”   Richard was being unusually cheerful, blissfully unaware that Stella was really and truly in the process of leaving him. Wait, Stella’s groggy inner voice told her, he must be realizing that his powers on her are weakening, hence this stubborn refusal to let go.

“Since when did I become your princess? You would do well to remember that I already told you that I’m staying longer in Auckland!” This city was beginning to feel like sanctuary, she thought. She didn’t realize how tired she was, how absolutely tired, of Richard’s neediness.

“You mean, you are doing this to me? Just when I need you to edit the words to a song inspired by your absence?” Stella could hear the pout in Richard’s voice. It made her feel sick.

She sat up despite her body’s refusal to leave the warm bed. She felt her blood rising, which was a strange feeling. She used to have infinite patience for Richard, even when they were constantly bickering like an old married couple. It was too early in the day for that image, and she felt the irony in it. For they would never be married. For the first time, Stella felt she could stop repeating the same mistakes she had been making for two decades. She could stop hoping Richard would choose to be with her. For he couldn’t, and he wouldn’t.

“No I am not doing this to you. I am doing this for me. Please, Rich. Maybe this is good for us? For me, I mean.” Stella needed to be stronger and more consistent if she was going to be serious about moving on. Then she remembered Eddie.

Stey-a!” Richard screamed his pet name for her, which he only used whenever he wanted her to do something against her will, which usually involved asking her to stay. Stella interrupted him before he could further hurt her ear drums.

“I have to go now, Rich. And stop calling me. I cannot afford the mobile roaming charges! I am here and I will make the most out of my trip. I can deal with my classes online. I’ll see you in a week.”

She could hear him building his protests, but she pressed the End Call button. She put the phone on silent mode and resolved to ignore Richard for the rest of the day. Make that for the rest of the week, which she planned to spend happily with Eddie.

Speaking of Eddie, she jumped out of bed and started preparing to meet him. Richard was right about the toiletries, for she loved special shampoo-bath gel-conditioner combinations that only came in huge bottles, and she always brought at least two each of lotions, creams, perfumes, colognes, and soaps. She liked to have her options, and for her scents to match her different moods. Thus, she was definitely not a light traveller.

She dressed up deliberately, thankful that she packed the old rose-colored lace dress she bought on sale from Witchery, which went well with her black tights and ankle boots. A black Banana Republic jacket, a purchase from Manila that she had always treasured, and a floral scarf from Richard (whose taste was exquisitely perfect) completed the outfit. She did not bring enough clothes for a week, but maybe this was an excuse to splurge and do some of her own shopping. She wondered if there were outlet stores in Auckland.

Stella had great skin and needed little makeup, but she still made the effort to put on cream blush, sheer lip gloss, and lash-lengthening mascara on top of her powder foundation.

She was attempting to close her suitcase when the hotel phone rang. “Do you need help with your bags, ma’am?” came Eddie’s voice on the other line. Stella laughed, because she felt like it, and said “Why yes, but don’t expect any tip. I’m saying yes as a favour to you! What an excuse to enter my hotel room!”

In less than five minutes – what, did he fly? – Eddie was knocking on her door. She opened it and felt a little rush of excitement upon seeing him. He was dressed in a blue knit sweater that was definitely Ralph Lauren – this was Richard’s voice in her head and she needed to shush it -, jeans, and brown suede boots, with his leather jacket hanging from his pointer finger that was casually resting on his right shoulder. Without the unflattering North Shore cap on, his hair was revealed in all its glory, black curls cascading up to chin level. He did not shave that morning and that left a stubble that made him look even more ruggedly handsome.

“Hi,” he said, and flashed a smile that revealed pearly white teeth. Stella wondered how this could be the same guy she was annoyed at just yesterday morning. She was definitely a fan of having enough time to get ready in the morning, for it made a world of difference in them both.

“Good morning. You’re not the bellhop,” Stella returned the smile. She knew her effect on Aussie men, for she had been exposed to them on the beach near Richard’s apartment. They found her short frame and her olive skin and her dark eyes exotic. She, in turn, did not find the tattooed and muscled bodies that frequented the beach that exciting. That’s what set Eddie apart. He was an Aussie, handsome alright, but geeky in his brilliance, a welcome respite from the beer hounds that seemed to roam Richard’s neighbourhood. The last part started to sound sexy. After staying up to get to know him through his social media posts, Eddie felt like less of a stranger to her.

Eddie could not think of a word to say. His brain froze at the sight of Stella’s beauty, and he inhaled her perfume as if intoxicated. He merely followed her to where she pointed to her bags, like a puppy. He wanted to put his arms around her but something told him it was not appropriate.  It was amazing how his conscience was still speaking despite his lack of sleep and his mad dash that morning from Rotorua to Auckland, stopping briefly at his room at the Hilton, which thankfully he had reserved for two weeks as his home base. He also had the time, using superhuman speed, to book a car so he and Stella could have a leisurely holiday.

“Have you eaten?” he managed to ask her. Stella did not have time, she said. Neither did he.

“We could have brunch,” Stella suggested, before realizing that brunch sounded like a very Richard thing to do. Straight men like Eddie, they probably only took meals by their proper names.

Eddie looked at Stella’s suitcase and wondered out loud, “Were you planning on staying a week? This definitely is not an overnight bag,” he teased.

“Oh yes, I was planning a tryst with an old lover who is now married with four kids, but he stood me up, and so I settled for you,” Stella quipped. She was a writer and could whip up a storyline at the blink of an eye, except that she was surprised at her own wit that morning, considering the increasingly alarming lack of caffeine in her system.

“Please, can we grab a quick breakfast? I really, really need some good coffee,” she begged Eddie, while closing the hotel room door behind them.

“After having experienced your charm without your drug of choice, yes, I do believe we should find a café at the soonest possible time.”

“We can just have sandwiches, and maybe plan our day?” Stella was surprised how naturally that felt, how she did not feel awkward about making plans with a man she had just met. Of course, she had always been a planner, at least, as to the things she could control.

“As you wish,” Eddie responded. The reference to one of her favourite childhood books, “The Princess Bride,” made Stella smile. She could be Buttercup in her story, finally.

Stella checked out and signed the receipt at the hotel lobby while Eddie got the car. When she stepped out of the hotel double doors, she felt very much like putting on a bandana, wide white-rimmed wayfarers, and a string of pearls, before riding a light blue convertible, except that it was not summer in Auckland, and she immediately knew that she was not going to be warm enough in her well-planned outfit of the day.

Eddie was waiting in his rented Toyota Camry, wearing dark aviator glasses that made Stella doubt if he really was a software engineer. He looked like one of those Nespresso models. How could this guy be single? Oh wait, maybe he’s not. Did she care? She was honestly not in the mood to answer that question.

“I’m thinking of taking you to Parnell, which, according to its website, is ‘New Zealand’s oldest suburb, famed for its galleries, cafes, restaurants and charming boutique-style stores.’ Then we can do something that this cold weather would permit, something indoors, perhaps?” Eddie was on the phone with his travel agent early that morning, planning a changed itinerary that now involved going around Auckland with an amazing Filipina writer.  He had previously booked a Lonely Planet-inspired vacation out of the city, but he was only too happy to drop that for Stella, whose charming presence both intrigued and attracted him.

They found a cozy little Italian restaurant that had the best barrista on the Southern Hemisphere, in Eddie’s opinion. Stella was much more reserved in her praises, but definitely enjoyed her first shot of espresso for the day.

“Where do you want to go? We can walk around Parnell, or go to Queen St., which is Auckland’s most iconic and historic street.” Eddie was sounding very much like the tour guide that he was not. “I’m reserving the Viaduct Wharf for dinner as it’s very near our hotel.”

“I know where I want to go, now that my head has cleared after that magical cup of coffee,” Stella declared.

“Where do you want to go?” Eddie asked.

“I want to see the Auckland Art Gallery,” Stella replied. “And after that, let’s walk to the old buildings that house the University of Auckland. Please,” she added.

“The woman knows what she wants!” Eddie observed, amused. “As you wish!” he affirmed.

When they got out of the restaurant, it was raining. Eddie ran to the car to get his extra jacket, and put it around Stella. It was naturally much too big for her. He unzipped the hood and covered her head with it. Unfortunately, it also covered her eyes. They ended up laughing.

Stella did not remove the hood and walked with her arms in front of her, like a blind woman in need of constant guidance. She caught Eddie’s arm and let him lead the way.

After recovering from the spectacular vision that was Stella’s playful side, Eddie started walking back to the car, but moved Stella’s hand from his arm to his other hand, and firmly guided her to where they parked earlier.

Stella, who could not see a thing, felt Eddie’s warm hand on hers, and smiled underneath her large, black winter cloak.

She knew how the rest of that day would be like. She could already write it in her head. She just hoped that, unlike Richard, Eddie would play his part, and say his lines, well.



Pang-housewife Ako e, Bakit ba?

Part One ito ng nadagdagan ng kwento, matapos magreklamo ang mga nabiting mambabasa. Pakibasa ang updates sa link na Kwentong Housewife (Daw). –  Maraming salamat! E.


Gusto kong maging housewife,” sabi ni Sheryl. Muntik nang mabilaukan si Julius.  Hindi lang niya pinahalata. Pinatuloy niya ang pag-nguya sa Wagyu steak na in-order niya para ma-impress si Sheryl. Kaklase naman niya ang may-ari ng restawran kaya medyo may discount siya rito.

First date pa lang nila at todo pa ang pagpapapogi ni Julius. Ang sabi kasi ng common friend nilang nag-setup ng blind date, sosyal daw si Sheryl. At matalino. At maganda. “E bakit single pa?” tanong ni Julius sa kaibigan niyang si Alex noong pinaplano pa lang ang date. “Suplada ano?” dagdag pa niya. Medyo matagal bago sumagot ang Alex. “Hindi naman sa suplada…. Ano, mapili lang,” ang sagot nito sabay pakita sa kanya ng picture.

Hindi maikakailang maganda siya sa picture, pero naisip ni Julius, baka angle lang iyon. Hindi rin kapayatan, pero maganda na rin ang katawan, at least sa picture. Magaling ang kumuha, o alam lang ng babaeng ito kung paano i-highlight ang profile niya sa camera. Mahirap maniwala agad basta-basta sa picture lang sa panahon ngayon. Kailangan i-assess nang malapitan, yung walang filter o Photoshop na nakialam.

Nakuuu, pinapahamak mo ba ako?” urirat ni Julius sa kababata niyang officemate naman ni Sheryl.  “Maniwala ka sa akin, p’re, bagay kayo. Sa tingin ko, papasa ka sa standards nito,” tiniyak ni Alex. “Ikaw yata ang pinakagwapong electrical engineer sa Meralco,” sabi pa nito sabay inom ng malamig na Pale Pilsen na kinuha niya sa pridyider sa condo ni Julius.  Iniidolo ni Alex si Julius dahil hindi ito nakatapos ng pag-aaral. Maagang nag-asawa si Alex, nakabuntis kasi ng minamahal niyang girlfriend, at napilitang bumuhay ng pamilya kaagad, at sa sales siya napunta.

Si Julius naman, dahil may angking talino, katulad ng karamihan sa mga panganay sa mga lower middle class na Pilipino, ay nagsikhay para tumulong sa pagpapaaral ng lima niyang kapatid. Kaya naman lampas treinta na ay hindi pa rin siya lumalagay sa tahimik. Kinukulit na siya ngayon ng kanyang mga magulang, kapatid, at pamangkin upang mag-asawa. At si Alex, buong buhay nila ay naghahanap ng makakapareha ni Julius. Sa dami ng dine-date nito, walang tumatagal na girlfriend. Alam ni Alex kung sino ang dahilan – si Julius din naman. Tapos na ang mga responsibilidad nito at malamang, ang nananaig, ay ang takot sa commitment at buhay may-asawa, dahil sa mga nakikita niyang pinagdaaanang hirap nina Alex at iba pa nilang kabarkada.

Ito na nga ba ang babaeng katapat niya?  Marketing manager si Sheryl sa isa sa pinakamalalaking multinational corporations sa bansa. Mga limang brand na ang hawak niya sa ngayon. Dahil sa sipag at tiyaga sa pagtatrabaho, hindi masyadong naasikaso ang lovelife. Mas hilig niya pa raw ang mag-tour sa iba’t ibang bansa kasama ang mga kaibigan, ayon sa press release ni Sheryl. Ang totoo ay hindi lang siya basta-basta nagkakagusto sa lalaki. May listahan siya talaga at ayaw niyang bawasan ang mga katangiang hinahanap niya. Kahit nagsipag-asawa na ang halos lahat ng mga kaibigan niya at ninang na siya ng mga anak nila, sikat na si Sheryl sa pagiging mapili niya.

O, bakit parang hindi ka naniniwala?” nakangiting tanong ni Sheryl habang kumakain ng Caesar’s salad. Iyon lang ang in-order niya at parang walang ganang kumain, pansin ni Julius.  Hindi alam ni Julius, kasama ang linyang ito sa test ni Sheryl sa mga dine-date niya. Depende kung paano silang mag-react sa kanyang pangarap, oo, tunay na pangarap niya ito, na maging ganap na maybahay, ay nakikita niya kung bagay sila o kung gugustuhin pa niya ng pangalawang date.

Ha, ano, hindi. Iniisip ko parang sayang naman ang talino mo at ang career mo kung magiging housewife ka lang,” sagot agad ni Julius. Paano ba niya maipaliliwanag ang pagkagulat niya? Hindi niya maubos-maisip kung paanong si Sheryl, na naka-branded malamang mula ulo hanggang paa, na amoy French perfume (hula lang naman niya na French, ang bango kasi) at naka-manicure ang kamay (pati siguro sa paa, pedicure yata ang tawag doon, sabi ng mga kapatid niyang babae), na nangingislap ang alahas, na maganda ang makeup, kung paano ito mabubuhay bilang isang plain housewife. Parang kailangan bilyonaryong may-ari ng TV station ang asawa nito para mapasaya siya. Hindi niya sinabi lahat itong naisip niya dahil baka mag-walkout ang kausap niya. Tinanong na lang ulit niya si Sheryl, “Ayaw mo ba talaga ng pasta man lang? Baka hindi ka mabusog sa salad!”

Natawa na lang si Sheryl. Ano baaa? Naisip niya. Ang hirap naman amining hindi sya makakain pag nasa date, lalo na kapag guwapo ang ka-date niya at mahusay manamit.  Naalala niya noong may boyfriend pa siya noong college, ang payat-payat niya at ang sabi, para raw siyang ibon kung kumain. Wala lang talaga siyang gana kumain pag in-love.  Pero hindi pa siya in-lab kay Julius. Hinde! Masyado lang mabilis ang train of thought niya. Kailangan niyang habulin. Rewind, rewind. Tanggihan ang order. Ngumiti at manatiling maganda.

“Ok na ako dito, may chicken strips naman, atsaka sayang ang Zumba toning class ko kung ikakain ko lang. Sa gabi talaga, light meal ako,” sabi ni Sheryl habang pilit nagsubo ng croutons at bacon bits. Pero parang gusto niyang um-order ng wine. Bigla lang.

E wine, nakapili ka na ba?”  Kanina pa umiinom sa baso niya ng Merlot si Julius, pero nahirapang pumili si Sheryl. “Gusto mo tulungan kitang pumili ng masarap?”

Anong pagpapanggap ito, Sheryl? Tanong niya sa sarili. Napakadalas niyang uminom ng wine. Hindi lang talaga umaandar ang utak niya ngayon. At parang nabasa ni Julius ang utak niya! In sync nga ba sila? Shucks, kilig moment ito. Ang sarap i-message ang mga kaibigan niya, pero alam niyang bad manners iyon pag nasa dinner date.  Parang tama si Alex,  yung taga-Sales department na nag-match sa kanila ni Julius. May dating ang kaibigan niya. Balita ni Sheryl, marami nang babaeng lumuha sa paghihintay dito. Kinabahan siyang bigla. Ayaw niyang maghintay. Ayaw niyang lumuha. Kailangan niya ng wine.

“Sige nga, please choose for me,” sabi niya. Naisip niya rin, dahil hindi sya ang magbabayad, hahayaan na niyang si Julius ang magdesisyon. Tinawag ni Julius ang waiter at sinabi ang order. “One glass of Chardonnay for the lady, please.” Pag-alis ng waiter, sabi ni Julius, “Mas maganda pa ang bihis sa akin nung waiter kaya napa-Ingles ako.”  Natawa si Sheryl. Maganda ang tawa niya, hindi masyadong mahinhin, hindi masyadong malakas. Sakto lang. Ito ang hirap sa first date, napansin ni Julius. Lahat pinupuna niyo sa isa’t isa. Para kayong may checklist ni Santa Claus. At best behaviour kayo dapat.

Ang piniling brand ni Julius, hindi yung pinakamahal, pero full-bodied kaya bagay sa grilled chicken breast na nasa salad niya. Pogi points ito para kay Sheryl. Umandar ang mental calculator. Check sa list – importante sa kanya ang confidence mula sa isang lalaki.  Kung ano naman ang koneksyon ng kaalaman sa wine at confidence ay hindi nya maisip sa sandaling iyon. Malamang kinikilig lang siya kaya parang sumasang-ayon ang mga ipinapakita ni Julius sa listahan niya. Tumingin siya sa relo. Halos isang oras pa lang silang magkasama. Magaan na kaagad ang loob niya. Hmmm….

So, balita ko, mahilig kang mag-dive,” simula ni Sheryl. Ang sabi kasi ng lahat ng magazine at ng mga kaibigan niya, dapat, yung lalaki ang pagkwentuhin at makinig lang siya muna. Gusto raw nila ito.

A, oo. Lalo na nung mga single pa yung mga kabarkada namin ni Alex. Halos every weekend! O kung kelan sweldo, kasi mahal noon para sa amin eh. Ikaw, do you dive?”  Umasa si Julius na oo ang isasagot ni Sheryl. Pero ok lang kung hindi. E di siya ang magdadala kay Sheryl sa mga dive spots!  At tutulungan niya itong mag-enroll sa kilala niyang mahusay na diving school.

“Hmm, ang na-try ko pa lang, helmet diving sa Boracay,” sagot ni Sheryl. “And don’t tell me because I already know na old school o baka nga hindi totoong diving iyon. Pero noon pa lang parang umandar yung mild claustrophobia ko. Isa ako sa unang umahon sa grupo.”  Para sa iyo, susubukan ko ulit, ang naisip ni Sheryl pero itinigil na niya doon, at baka magmukha siyang overeager.  Parang katiwa-tiwala kasi ang hitsura ni Julius. Parang na-iimagine niyang pwede silang pumunta sa beach, tapos mag-hire ng bangka, dala ang dive equipment, tatalon sa gitna ng malalim na tubig,  kukuha ng shots mula sa underwater camera, habang safe ang pakiramdam niya, kasi si Julius ang bahala sa kanya. Ewan naman paano niya naisip iyon sa sandaling pagkakakilala nila. Naka-steroids yata ang imahinasyon niya ngayon. Mabuti dumating na ang Chardonnay at na-distract ang pagde-daydream ni Sheryl sa kalagitanaan ng kanilang date.

Natakot naman si Julius na pilitin si Sheryl kung ayaw nitong mag-dive. Pero sa tingin niya, kayang harapin ang mild claustrophobia.

Sabi sa akin ni Alex, sa isang bagay tayo magkakasundo. Mahilig kang mag-gitara, at mahilig akong kumanta,” hirit ni Sheryl, na may listahan talaga ng common interests nila.

Natuwa si Julius. “Ganoon ba, anong sabi sa iyo tungkol sa pag-gigitara ko?”

Expert ka raw. Kaya mo raw ang Guns ‘n Roses, Mr. Big, Sting…

Kilala mo ang music nila?” napahanga si Julius. Hindi mukhang fan ng rock music si Sheryl. Sa kasosyalan nito, parang classical at jazz music lang ang tumutugtog sa iPod niya. Mukhang magkakasundo nga yata sila.

“May apat akong kuya. Pinagdaanan ko ang Van Halen, Bon Jovi, pati Nirvana at Metallica.”

“So pag tinugtog ko, makakanta mo ang ‘Blaze of Glory’?” excited na tanong ni Julius.

Hindi ko pipiliin, pero pwede akong pilitin,” pa-cute na sagot ni Sheryl. E bakit ba, medyo nakainom na siya kaya nabawasan na ang hiya. Mahiyain pala siya! Sa mga may karapatan lang siya nahihiya.

Naku, hindi ako marunong mamilit. Gusto ko yung nadadaaan lang sa lambing,” humihirit na rin ang Julius. Sayang ang pagkakataon e. “Anong klaseng music ba ang pinapakinggan o kinakanta mo? Para naman ma-practice ko.”

“Huwag kang tatawa,” sabi ni Sheryl.  Ito na talaga ang test kung bagay sila, pag natanggap ni Julius ang taste niya sa music.

“Bakit naman kita pagtatawanan? Cute ka pala pag nakakainom. Medyo mamula-mula ka na,” patuloy na damoves ng Julius.  Lalong namula si Sheryl.

Ang pinapakinggan ko, araw-araw, ay OPM, Manila sound. Kung English man, 80s music lang,” ang sagot. Nakita ni Sheryl na nanlaki ang mata ni Julius.

Anong pagkakamali ito? Bakit ko siya hinusgahang sosyal? Naisip ni Julius na marami pa siguro siyang hindi alam tungkol kay Sheryl. At parang buong gabi niyang gustong makilala pa ito nang husto. “Ahhh. Kayang-kaya iyan. Sige, awitin mo at itutugtog ko.”  Proud siyang nagamit niya ang isang awitin ng VST & Co. para sa hirit na iyon.

May pagka-jologs pa nga ako e. Basta, iba kasi ang dating ng mga kantang Tagalog. Mas tagos sa puso. Kaya ako nakaka-100% lagi sa office videoke. Dahil sa repertoire kong Sharong Cuneta, The Company, Odette Quesada,” napansin ni Sheryl na dumadaldal na siya. Hindi tama ito. Ang sabi sa singles/dating websites, let the man talk. Ngunit hindi niya mapigilang magkwento na rin tungkol sa sarili. Masarap kausap si Julius. Iba ang vibes niya, di katulad nung mga ibang lalaki, sa hindi pa niya maipaliwanag na dahilan.

Tapos nang kumain si Julius. Parang ang bilis ng pangyayari. Gusto pa niyang pahabain ang gabi. “Gusto mo ng dessert?” alok niya.

Parang gusto ko pero di ko kayang umubos ng buo…”

Pwede namang hati tayo,” sagot ni Julius. Tumango si Sheryl. “Ikaw pumili.”

E baka ayaw mo, pero favorite ko ito e. Carrot cake.”

“Sige, carrot cake. Madali akong kausap.”

“Talaga? Hate yan ng mga kuya ko. Bakit daw dessert ang gulay. So pag nagbe-bake ako, dinadala ko lang sa school at sa office.”

“Mahilig kang mag-bake?” Sobrang nagalak si Julius. Mahilig kasi siyang kumain. Hindi lang halata kasi araw-araw siyang tumatakbo para hindi lumaki ang tiyan.

“Magaling akong magluto at mag-bake. Housewife material nga, sabi sa iyo e.”  Oops, medyo parang overkill, naisip ni Sheryl. Pero nasabi na niya. At totoo namang pinagkakaguluhan ang mga luto niya. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Kung totoo yon, dati pa dapat niyang nakuha ang lahat ng hearts ng lahat ng men. Hindi masyadong totoo yun.

Dumating na ang dessert. Nakangiti ang waiter sa kanila. “This one’s on the house, sir, according to our owner, Mr. Reyes. He had to leave to pick up his wife but he left instructions.”

Ang totoo, kilala ni Julius ang waiter, sa dalas siyang kumain ditong mag-isa, dahil nalalakad lang mula sa condo niya. Nagpasalamat siya at itinapat kay Sheryl ang platito ng cake. Dalawang tinidor ang ibinigay ng waiter. Bago umalis, kumindat ito kay Julius at pasimple pang sumenyas ng OK sign. Gustong batukan ni Julius ang pahamak na waiter.

That waiter is nice, kahit hindi sabihin, nagagawa niya ang trabaho niya at hindi siya intrusive. Ayaw na ayaw namin ng mga kaibigan ko yung nag-uusap-usap kami tapos sabat nang sabat o istorbo ang waiter. Ito, na-refill niya ang water goblet ko, natanggal niya ang used plates, at dinalhan pa tayo ng dalawang tinidor. At grabe siya makangiti, nakakatuwa,” banggit ni Sheryl.

Ngisi ang tawag diyan. Medyo kilala ako dito e, dahil kaklase ko yung boss nila at malapit lang ito sa condo ko. At nakangisi yung waiter kasi may ka-date ako. Masyado lang siyang natuwa.”

Malapit ka dito nakatira? E bakit mo pa ako sinundo sa kabilang ibayo ng Metro Manila?  Pwede naman akong nag-drive,” gulat na sagot ni Sheryl. Nasa Pasig sila, pero sinundo siya ni Julius sa Novaliches.

Ang gustong ihirit ni Julius, you’re worth the distance. Ang nasabi niya lang, “Hindi iyan ang turo ng nanay ko. At baka hindi ka ma-impress sa first date mo kung hindi ka sinundo,” ayun nagpahalata na si Julius na nagpapa-impress siya. Baka sakaling kumagat.

Actually, ang sabi ng dating books ni Sheryl, kung blind date dapat makipag-meet lang at hindi magpasundo sa bahay, at may backup na kaibigang naghihintay para mag-rescue kung sakaling disaster ang date. Hindi niya na sinunod iyon. Tamad siyang mag-drive e.

Tsaka lang napansin ni Sheryl na naitulak na pala nila (niya? Ni Julius?) sa gitna ng mesa ang platito, at kumukuha sila ng carrot cake mula sa isang hiwa, na parang dati na nilang ginagawang maghati ng pagkain. Sabi ng dating websites, ang pag-share ng plato at pag-usog sa space sa mesa ay indikasyon ng pag-unlad ng intimacy ng date. Pero parang patapos na… dessert na diba? Nalungkot yata siya.

O, parang natahimik ka. Hindi ka yata naniniwalang gentleman ako by training. Ano bang pinagsasasabi sa iyo ni Alex?”

Huwag kang mag-alala. Binenta ka sakin. Salesman ang kaibigan mo e. Sabi ko, hindi ako basta-bastang bumibili. Kailangan kilatisin ko munang maigi.”

Alam mo, para sa isang kolehiyala, ang lalim mo ring ma-nagalog minsan. Nakakagulat ka,” puna ni Julius. Talagang unti-unti siyang natutuwa kay Sheryl, at nag-iisip siya paano pa niya mapapahaba ang gabi.

Kolehiyala nga ako, pero laking-probinsiya. At tuwing bakasyon, umuuwi kami sa Zambales. Hindi rin kami mga Inglesero’t Inglesera sa bahay.” Pahiyang-pahiya na si Julius sa anumang image meron siya noong una tungkol kay Sheryl. Iba talaga kapag nakikilala mo na ang tao.

Atsaka lang nila napansin ang piped-in music sa restaurant. Nag-iba kasi. Kanina, parang puro instrumental lang, ngayon biglang tumugtog ang “I Will Always Stay In Love This Way.”  Duda  ni Julius, may kinalaman ang kaibigan niyang may-ari, o di kaya yung waiter na pahamak.

“OPM yan, kahit Ingles,” sabi ni Sheryl.

Oo, pero piano yan. Kaya ko sigurong kapain sa gitara… masubukan nga.”

“Kelan ko naman maririnig iyang pinagmamalaking pag-gigitara mo?” tanong ni Sheryl sabay tingin sa mga mata ni Julius. Agad niyang inalis. Parang napaso siya. Electric shock ang dating. Taga-Meralco pa naman ang kausap niya.

Ngayon, kung gusto mo. Andyan lang gitara ko, sa condo…” alam niyang medyo forward na ang tanong, pero nandoon na rin ang opening.  Sinubukan na ni Julius, tutal ang balak lang talaga niya, sa ngayon, ay magpaka-gentleman. Tugtugan ng gitara, pakinggan kumanta, alukin ng wine, tapos… bahala na!

Sige, sa isang kondisyon…”

“Ano?” kinabahan naman si Julius.  Baka bawal silang uminom, o gabihin, o umagahin….

“Titigilan natin ang kaka-best food foward. Ang mental checklists. Yes, I know you checked me out physically before asking me out, and we’re both weighing each other tonight. I came with a whole dating  book in my head, too. Pero please, mag-enjoy na lang tayo. Kuwentuhan, kantahan, game ako diyan. We’ll take it one step at a time.”  Napakatamis ng ngiti ni Sheryl. Sabay inubos ang Chardonnay niya.

Natigilan si Julius. Hindi makasagot.  Hindi niya alam paano sumagot. Bakit ibang mag-isip ang mga babae?  Bukas pa niya mare-realize na tama si Sheryl. Na may point si Sheryl. Pero bukas pa. Ngayong gabi, nagulat lang siya kung saan nanggaling iyon.

Tumayo si Sheryl para magpunta sa toilet. Nagbayad si Julius at binigyan pa rin ng malaking tip ang pahamak na waiter. Nakangisi pa rin ang loko.

Pagbalik ni Sheryl, nakatayo na si Julius. Hinawakan siya sa kamay, at naglakad na sila patawid ng kalye, paakyat sa condo, papasok sa bahay ni Julius.

Maganda pala talaga ang boses ni Sheryl. Napatulala si Julius. Hindi niya kailangan ng guitar accompaniment. Memorized pa ang lyrics, daig pa ang ilang volume ng 1,001 songs na meron siya.  Itinigil niya minsan ang pagtugtog. Si Sheryl, nakatayo sa bintana, malayo ang tingin. Kumanta lang ng “Bituing Walang Ningning.”

Itago mo ako sa lilim ng iyong pagmamahal
Limutin ang mapaglarong kinang ng tagumpay
Sa piling mo ngayon ako’y bituing walang ningning
Nagkukubli sa liwanag at kislap ng ating pag-ibig….

Tapos na pala ang kanta. Hindi nahalata ni Julius na nakatitig na sa kanya si Sheryl habang nakaupo siya sa sofá, hawak ang gitara, nakapikit ang matang nakikinig. Nang dumilat siya, tinanong ni Sheryl, “Alam mo ba kung bakit favorite ko ang kantang iyon?”

Sa pagkakataong ito, parang alam niya ang sagot. Nagbaka-sakali si Julius. “Gusto mo kasi talagang magpaalaga sa lalaking magmamahal sa iyo. Pagod ka nang magpanggap, gusto mong maging totoo, ng simpleng buhay. Hindi mahalaga sa iyo ang career mo o mga material na bagay.”

Napaluha si Sheryl. Nag-excuse siya, pumunta sa banyo, at nag-text sa lahat ng kaibigan niya. “Girls, I think I have found The One.  He gets me! He reads me! Kuwento later.  Still in his condo.”

Pagbalik niya sa sala,  nakatayo na si Julius. “Gabi na, ihahatid na kita.”

Ano raw?! Saan nanggaling iyon? Gulat na gulat si Sheryl. Kinuha niya ang bag niya at sumunod na lang kay Julius. Nakaakbay ito sa kanya, na parang natural lang.

Tahimik sila sa kotse. Kapwa malalim ang iniisip.  Pagdating sa bahay nila, hinalikan siya ni Julius sa pisngi at nagsabi ng good night.

Kinabukasan, hindi na nakatiis si Sheryl. Nag-text siya, umasang may makukuhang reaction kahit pabiro mula kay Julius,

You ask me if I’ve known love
And what it’s like to sing songs in the rain
Well, I’ve seen love come
And I’ve seen it shot down
I’ve seen it die in vain
Shot down in a blaze of glory… 

Ang sagot lang ni Julius, “I’m sorry, Sheryl. Masyado pang maaga para sa kantang iyan.”

Nasaktan si Sheryl. May double meaning ba iyon? Maaga pa dahil umaga pa lang, o maaga pa dahil kakakilala pa lang nila? Ang hirap mag-overanalyze nang lahat ng bagay! Nagbibiro lang naman siya. Bon Jovi iyon, paborito nilang pareho. May nangyayaring misteryo.

Makalipas nang isang linggo, tinanong na ni Sheryl kay Alex bakit hindi pa ulit nagpaparamdam sa kanya si Julius.

Hintayin mo lang. Natakot yun, ma’am,” sagot ni Alex.

Natakot? Alam ni Sheryl na masyado siyang naging honest kay Julius. Na baka nga nakakasakal ang kanyang Housewife Test. Na baka mas maraming magagandang babaeng nauna sa buhay ni Julius. Isang date lang naman sila. Siguro, makakalimutan niya rin ito.

Nagpakasipag na lang siya sa pagtatrabaho. Naisip niya na lang mag-retire nang maaga. Kaya naman siyang buhayin ng savings niya.

Si Julius, hanggang ngayon, ay nag-iisip pa rin.

(Bitin ba? Ganyan talaga ang buhay. Minsan, gusto mo pang dugtungan, pero tapos na talaga ang istorya. Nag-enjoy ka naman diba?)



Love in the Time of Search Engines (The Lord of the Geeks Part III)

Please read parts 1 to 3, and even the updates, on the link to the Lord of the Geeks series above. Thanks!  – E.

Eddie waited for Stella to reply, while repeatedly banging his head against the wall of his hotel room. Why did he have to sound like a bumbling fool and say all that in one breath? Naturally he scared her off!

Finally, after what seemed like eternity, but in reality just a few seconds, Stella spoke. “I believe I am that Stella, the caffeine addict. I’m not sure about the rest of that bit you just said.” Her voice sounded musical, the kind that brought sunshine to every room. This made Eddie smile. Widely.

“Well, um… Hi,” he brilliantly muttered. “I’m glad I caught you in a cheerful mood.”

“Haha, I was kind of mean earlier, wasn’t I? I’m just not a morning person.  And I didn’t get much sleep the night before.” Stella was determined to show she had a pleasing personality. Because she had a compulsion to please people, even not-so-strangers of whom she should be wary, actually.

“Much as I’d like to ask you why you didn’t get precious shuteye, I won’t.” Boyfriend trouble? Late flight? Insomnia? Eddie wanted to get to know everything about her. It was not his normal behaviour towards women, but he was going with it. He decided to push his luck. “Stella, I was just wondering, why did you call?” Eddie was a simple man. He asked what he wanted to know.

“Eddie, I believe you’re the one who rang me this time.” There was a hint of a smile. He could tell.

“Yes, but I was just returning your call.” Pushing his luck even further…

“Ok let me just remind you that you gave me your name AND phone number?!”  Stella retorted, to Eddie’s amusement. He could almost see her sparkling eyes flashing and he couldn’t help laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Stella asked, not really sure if Eddie found her cute. But she was curious.

“You! It’s like I’m seeing two versions of the same woman. You’re just a powerhouse of emotions, and I should really be careful around you. If your life were a movie, this should be what your poster would say: ‘Life is like a box of Stella. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”

“Either you just compared me to chocolates, or you diagnosed me with bipolar disorder,” she said, beginning to care, despite herself, what this geeky guy she just met thought of her. What was wrong with her?

“I meant it in a good way! You’re full of surprises… And I’m going to change the subject. What did I miss after I left Hobbiton? I really think they didn’t give us enough time to explore.”

“You mean you didn’t get to go shopping for key rings and mugs and other stuff? We had $10 off any purchase.”

“I hate shopping so I waited in the bus while the driver rushed the others through the store,” he stated. This, Stella knew to be the universal truth among men, except Richard. She closed her eyes and willed herself to think of Eddie, not Richard. The present, not the past.

“They sold bottles of the special brew they developed for the dwarves in ‘The Hobbit,” she said. “It had about 2% alcohol, so the actors could appear tipsy without actually being drunk. It had a cool name, I just can’t recall it right now.”  She suddenly remembered that Eddie was in another tourist spot, and asked, “Hey, how are those hot springs you were raving about? Are they as good as you expected?”

“It’s very hot in here,” came Eddie’s reply. “This is a geothermal city, with so many things to explore.” He felt like saying that it was better if he was exploring it with someone. So he did. “I wish you were here with me. I could take great shots of you, while you make love to the camera.”

Wait… whut? Did he really just say that out loud?

For an awkward moment he thought he really did it this time, and said the wrong thing without thinking. But she didn’t hang up!

“Stop wishing and just take me with you. Or better yet, come back to Auckland. You staying here in New Zealand for a while or heading off to…?”

Relieved that she let it pass, Eddie volunteered more information. “I could always go back here. I get assigned for work to Auckland every six months. But this is my personal holiday, a great use of my annual leave. How about you?”

“I have an early flight tomorrow back to Sydney.”

Silence. Eddie immediately calculated that he could not book a flight and be with her the next morning, and he did not own a plane. His mind raced, not knowing what to say.

“But I’m thinking of extending my trip here in Auckland,” she added.

Relief! Oh, there must be a God. Although he had not prayed yet, that was exactly what he would have asked for.

“Wait for me. I’ll cut this trip short. Will you? Please?”

“I’ll have to check with the hotel and rebook my flight…”

“I have a huge room at the Hilton. You’re more than welcome to stay,” he blurted out. “I have two giant beds and a beautiful view,” he explained.

“You’re staying at the Hilton? Wow!”  Stella reacted to what she could react to, and wondered if she should take the offer. She was on a student’s budget, really. But she did not know this guy. She had yet to Google him. His hotel, however, she was familiar with. She had wanted to stay there but it was too expensive, as it offered great ocean views and was minutes away from the newly-developed Viaduct Harbour.

“I used my frequent flyer points. I travel so much for work, there must be some purpose to those miles.”

“Speaking of work,” Stella started the background check, “we haven’t reached that subject at all. If you don’t mind me asking, what do you do, Eddie?”

“I’m a software engineer for a Sydney startup tech company, working in the Silicon Valley of Down Under,” he proudly stated. It figured. Stella needed his last name so she could look him up on LinkedIn. She still had not revisited the subject of his age, which she suspected was far below her minimum. Yes, she only dated men who were either her age, or within three years older or younger than her.

“How about you, Stella? Any preoccupation aside from coffee and Tolkien?”

“You just about summarized it. I love books. I always have, so I took up Creative Writing at uni. Then I taught English for many years. Coffee helped me stay up to check all those papers.”

Stella had opened her MacBook, and was ready to do her research. She did not have much search words though: Eddie, software engineer, start-up tech company, Silicon Valley of Down Under.  There were 335,000 search results. She needed to narrow it down, if she was to verify the identity of this man she planned to have a holiday romance with. Yes, it was just going to be a fling. She had no patience for younger men in her real life.

“Which university? Maybe I could sit in, if and when you discuss the ‘Lord of the Rings’?” Eddie had his HP Envy on Google as well. Love in the time of search engines was either getting more invasive, or preventive of heartaches. Either way, he wanted to see her digital footprint, if only to get to know her on a faster pace.

“Oh, I taught back in the Philippines. In Australia, I’m just a student at the University of Sydney,” she said.

“I went to the University of Melbourne. And then got my Ph. D. at MIT,” Eddie said casually.

Stella nearly dropped her mobile phone. Ph. D. at MIT? she mouthed to herself in awe. She also mentally gauged that Eddie could be older than he appeared, and this excited her.

“Are you on Facebook?” he asked.

“Maybe,” she said.

“Twitter? Instagram? LinkedIn? Google Plus?”

“Yes; yes; yes; no, I’m not a Google employee.”

They both laughed at that, and they instantly connected. Literally, for they exchanged user names and added each other as Friend/Follower/Connection.

After being social media stalkers of each other, Stella suddenly said she had to go.

“But we were only starting to get to know each other,” Eddie complained.

“No, silly. I have to put down the phone so I could concentrate on rebooking my flight.”

But Eddie would not let her go. He called up her hotel landline so she did not have to cradle her iPhone while typing on her MacBook. He helped her to rebook her flight online.

“One month?”

“You wish,” she said. “You’d grow tired of me. One week.” When Eddie didn’t reply, Stella checked if he was still there. “Hello?”

“Uh, sorry, I was also e-mailing my travel agency, that I’m heading back to Auckland earlier than planned. I want to be there tomorrow when you check out of Mercure.”

“How did you know which hotel I’m staying at?”

“First, you gave me the hotel number, and the receptionist said the name of the hotel before connecting me to the room. Second, and this is the real reason – I remembered clearly when I first saw you stepping out of your hotel lobby and into the van this morning. You were a vision in silver-grey.”

“I was not aiming for the Gandalf the Grey look with my winter coat. More of Galadriel.”

“The effect was indeed stunning. You were a black-haired, hobbit-sized, grey-cloaked Lady Galadriel.”

“Sobering thought,” Stella said sleepily. Eddie asked, “Did I just bore you?”

“That’s the name of the special brew being sold at the souvenir shop at The Shire. SobeRing Thought.”

“And did you bring back a bottle?” he teased her.

“Are you kidding? What is the point of 2% alcohol? I prefer mine a little stronger, thanks.”

“You are my kind of girl, you know that?”

“That remains to be seen.”  Stella yawned. She did not realize it, but it was almost four a.m. “I really must get some sleep now,” she almost whispered.

“All right, sleep tight, Lady Stella. I will see you later, as soon as I can find a car that would take me back to you.”

“Good night, Eddie of Hobbiton.”


— To be continued —

Stella’s Story (The Lord of the Geeks Part II)

Hey, have you read part 1? Please read that, and the rest of this updated story, using the tab for The Lord of the Geeks above. Thanks! – E.

Back in Auckland, Stella regretted not taking the whole tour package that the travel website offered. Had she done so, she would have been immersed in a hot spring with Greek god-lookalike Eddie that night, instead of dining in the hotel’s only restaurant alone. The thought depressed her so she ordered room service, but added a glass of Riesling to continue her exploration of the New Zealand white wines.

It was raining and her room overlooked a park, so she sat by the window, listened to Chopin’s “Raindrop” prelude, and watched the autumn leaves and park benches being drenched, all from the comfort of her warm chair. Her mobile phone suddenly rang, and she wondered whether Eddie had telephatically gotten her number. But she saw that it was Richard calling. Her heart jumped and she grabbed the phone.

“I’m still not talking to you,” she said, in a voice that did not sound convincing.

“Stella, my lovely, how was your tour? Did you get to brush Legolas’ hair?”

“I was in Bag End, you silly, ignorant brute. Legolas is an elf not a hobbit. Call me when you have your Middle Earth facts straightened out.”

“Oh goddess of perfection, what will the world do without all the knowledge that you store in your pretty little head? My world is falling apart. I need you back. I need you to help me figure out the cable and TV remote controls.”

“I’m thinking of extending my trip here, Rich.”

“What do you mean, extend? Impossible. Stella, we both know you can’t live without me a day more than necessary.”

But you can. Live without me. Stella did not say that out loud, but felt increasingly convinced that she needed this time apart from him.

“I want to explore the city more. And I heard the University of Auckland has a campus with heritage buildings and they are within walking distance from my hotel.”

“Do I hear Chopin in the background? Are you writing again? Please tell me you’re writing; only then will I allow you to extend.”

Stella wanted to slap him for his petulance. “Why, I do believe I don’t need your permission.” After a slight hesitation, she added, “And I don’t need to be around while you throw yourself at that new Boy Wonder you just met.”

Richard heard the genuine hurt in Stella’s voice and stopped being playful, for her sake. They were still both getting used to the truth being out there between them, that the reason why they could not be together, even after years of flirtatious friendship and deep conversations, was that Richard wanted to date other men. He had just admitted this to her, one night, to end all the questions. Moving to Australia had allowed him the freedom to be himself. Stella had followed him using a student visa, and left everything behind in Manila. He knew he should have told her earlier, but he still had not figured out himself at the time.

“Ok, Stell. Tell me about your big day at the movie set. I bet your tiny frame fit right into that hobbit-hole.”

“The interiors were shot in Wellington.” Stella could sense the sudden change of topic and took a sip of her white wine to calm herself. “I entered the biggest hole, and there was nothing inside but sawdust. I met someone, though.”

“You mean the movie sets were elaborate on the outside but empty inside? Wait…. What? Met someone? Did Stella meet a hobbit?”

Stella smiled at the thought of a hobbit-sized Eddie. “No, this time I made sure it is a Man,” she couldn’t resist the emphasis. “Not an elf. Not a hobbit. A real man.”

Her friends back home had warned her not to throw her life away to follow Richard, but she was a hopeless case. He had the voice and he played the guitar so well and for a time after he left the Philippines, there was no music in her life. They dated for seven months but he never seemed to be able to commit to her. She thought he was just being the typical musician – impossible to have. So she reincarnated herself to the next best thing, and became his best friend. That way, she became indispensable to him.

She ignored all the signs. How his toiletries were color-coded. How he knew all the Carpenters songs – she even found this cute. How he was the neatest, cleanest, male on the planet. How his kisses were restrained, by the book. How he did not mind going shopping with her, and holding her bag for her.

This went on for nearly two decades. Stella had had other boyfriends, but always ran back to Richard for companionship, endless hand-holding, and romantic comedy movie marathons.

And then he told her he was moving to Australia. She thought she could manage, and it was time to move on. She grew miserable and depressed and wanted to hurt herself after he was gone, so she decided to follow her heart and go to him. She did not even tell him beforehand. She just showed up at his doorstep in Coogee one day, making sure he was home and not in rehearsal by constant email and Viber messages.

Their first few days were bliss. They took long walks on the beach. Stella moved in with Richard, and the world was right again. She cooked for him, did his laundry, and cleaned his apartment, while he paid the bills. They were practically married, she thought. But they still slept in separate rooms. This should have been the biggest warning bell inside Stella’s head, but she still thought he was just being a gentleman.


“So this man, is he sitting with you in your hotel room right now and did I interrupt something?” Richard’s voice brought Stella back to the present.

Stella was tempted to lie, but Richard would hear it in her voice so she simply said, “No, as my luck would have it, he probably is flirting with another gorgeous Asian in Rotorua.”

“I love the confidence, darling. You seem to enjoy being the gorgeous Asian girl in these Western countries a lot! Now go get yourself to Roto- wherever that is. I have to go, band’s first set is almost starting. I will sing Buble’s ‘Everything’ and dedicate it for you in my heart.”

Stella said goodbye to Richard and did not bother to explain that Rotorua was several hours, and hundreds of dollars, away. Everything was the song Richard had dedicated to her the night he told her of his real preferences. He said she deserved a man who would make her his everything, but he was not that man. Stella wanted to catch a plane back to Manila the very next morning, but she had to finish her Masters of Creative Writing course at the University of Sydney.

Needless to say, the heartbreak Richard caused her made for pretty interesting and distinguished writing, and her professors were impressed. She was going home in a few months, and the Auckland trip was supposed to be their final one together, but he cancelled on her. She knew the band was just an excuse. It was a particular band member, the well-toned drummer, that was the focus of Richard’s undivided attention, she was sure.

She knew she needed to concretize the act of moving on. She checked her watch – it was close to 9 p.m. If Eddie was being a good boy and thinking of her instead of making out with another tourist at that moment, she could risk ringing him. She found the brochure he had given her and dialled his number. She did this and then remembered that: a) he didn’t know her number, and might screen the call; and b) he didn’t know her name. She immediately cancelled the call, but not before it got connected and Eddie’s phone started ringing. Stella disconnected.

Eddie rang back. Stella made a quick comparison of the number flashing on her iPhone and the handwritten figures. He likes me and was waiting for this, she quickly thought.

“Stella here,” she said. “Umm, hi. Stella. What a wonderful name. I got a call from this number and am just returning it. Are you who I hope you are? Stella the caffeine addict? This is Eddie, the guy from the Hobbiton tour. You know, the one who could not get over how gorgeous you looked as you were frowning at him before sunrise this morning?” Eddie spoke quickly with an accent she could not quite place, and she had to concentrate to understand what he was saying. She usually compensated her ignorance of the Aussie accent by lip-reading, but there was no such help available for phone conversations.

Stella could tell this conversation was going in the right direction. Any man who found her gorgeous at 5 a.m., aside from needing an eye checkup, is a keeper in her books.

–To be Continued —

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