***

“Sorry, I can’t remember you.”

My eyes fluttered open and it felt like Mom was just right here, saying those words to me. It wasn’t like a nightmare but a slap of reality. It was a terrible feeling.

Ilang minuto akong nakatulala lang sa kisame habang pinapakinggan ang ingay ng mga manok sa labas. It was still dark but I got up since I couldn’t sleep again. Pagtingin ko, tulog pa sina Czanelle at Clark kaya dahan-dahan akong lumabas sa kwarto. Sa kabilang kwarto naman natulog sina Nanay Fe at hindi ko alam kung paano nila napagkasya ang mga sarili nila ro’n. Mukhang tulog pa rin silang lahat.

I carefully opened the front door and was welcomed by the pastel-colored sky. The sun was starting to rise.

Pupunta sana ako sa papag para magpalipas ng oras pero napahinto ako sa paglalakad nang makita ko si Jazer na nakahiga ro’n. After a few seconds of hesitation, I decided to approach him. It turned out that he was sleeping. Napaisip tuloy ako kung anong oras nagising ang isang ‘to.

Napakunot naman ang noo ko nang may nakita ako sa tabi niya.  Umakyat ako sa papag at umupo malapit sa kanya sabay kuha ko sa bagay na ‘yon. It was my ring.

“He really searched for it,” I muttered while looking at his sleeping face.

Kinuha ko ang singsing at sinuot sa ring finger ko. Bigla naman akong napangiti nang maalala ko ang flower ring na ginawa niya kahapon. This guy really knows how to make me feel better.

Nilabas ko ang phone ko at kinuhanan siya habang natutulog. He looked like an innocent kid when sleeping. Kind of different when he’s awake. And I already noticed it before but his eyelashes are seriously long. Maybe even longer than Czanelle’s. His tanned skin also complemented his strong features.

Maybe if the circumstances were different, I would choose to stay like this forever. He was one of the reasons why I got through the predicaments that life threw at me.

“Thank you,” I murmured.

I was about to move away when he suddenly wrapped his arms around my waist. He curled up his body and I didn’t know what to do. I was in the middle of having a mental breakdown when he woke up and our eyes met each other. He just stared at me for few seconds and he jolted back when he realized what was happening.

“Chloe?” paninigurado niya na para bang hindi ako totoo. “S-sorry. Hindi ko sinasadya—”

Hindi ko na siya pinatapos at tinulak ko ang noo niya para bumalik siya sa pagkakahiga. I don’t want to talk to him with our eyes on the same level. That would be disadvantageous for me.

He looked lost but he didn’t argue and lay down quietly. Mukhang gising na ang diwa niya pagkatapos no’n pero ako naman ang hindi mapalagay dahil nakatitig lang siya sa akin.

“You found it,” sabi ko na lang at itinaas ko ang kamay ko para ipakita ang singsing.

He smiled in return. “Yeah. Buti na lang.” Damn that distracting dimple of his.

“Where did you find it? I thought we’re going to find this together.”

“Sa may daanan. Buti nga at walang nakakuha. At akala ko tanghali ka pa magigising,” sabay ngiti niya ulit kaya inirapan ko siya.

"Wait, anong oras ka nagising at anong oras ka naghanap?”

“Importante pa ba ‘yon?” he asked while rubbing his eyes. “Ang mahalaga, nandyan na ulit ‘yan sa daliri mo. Regalo niya sa’yo ‘yan, ‘di ba?”

Natahimik naman ako sa sinabi niya at bigla kong naalala ang nangyari kahapon. He was still treating me the same so I guess he believed what I said. That was too close.

Bigla naman akong na-conscious dahil sa posisyon namin. I realized I was sitting on the space between his body and right arm but I couldn’t move away.

“Bakit pala dito ka natulog?” tanong ko para mawala ang atensyon ko ro’n.

“Nasakop na nila ‘yong buong higaan. Wala na akong mapwestuhan pagbalik ko.”

“Bakit hindi ka nagdala ng unan at kumot?”

“Nakuha na rin nilang lahat . . . kaya dito ka lang,” seryoso niyang sabi kaya medyo nag-panic ako.

“Huh?!”

“Pangharang sa araw at hangin.”

I should’ve expected that kind of answer but my anger slipped and pinched his nose in return.

“Ayan, hinarangan ko na ang hangin. Don’t worry, hindi mo na rin makikita ang araw,” I coldly said while he was struggling to remove my hand from his nose.

“Joke lang!” sigaw niya pero hindi ko pa rin siya tinigilan. Para ‘to sa mga kilos niyang nagpagulo ng isip ko. Suffer, you misleading guy.

Bigla naman siyang huminto sa pagtanggal sa kamay ko at nagulat ako nang hawakan niya ang bewang ko. The next thing I knew, our positions had already interchanged. I was still in the middle of shock and confusion when he looked at me with a humorless expression.

“Ang sakit no’n,” sabay hawak niya sa ilong niya habang nakatingin pa rin sa akin. Nakaka-intimidate pala kapag ikaw ang nakahiga at ang kausap mo ang nakaupo. I had no choice but to look up.

“You deserve that,” I muttered.

Pareho naman kaming napatigil nang may narinig kaming sumigaw pero pagkatapos no’n ay ngumiti siya. It turned out na may nagtitinda ng pandesal habang naglalakad. Pagtingin ko sa relo ko, 6 A.M. pa lang. Ang aga naman niyang magtinda. 

Bumili si Jazer ng at nilapag niya ang isang balot sa papag. My stomach growled upon seeing those freshly-baked bread rolls.

“Gusto mo ba ng kape?” tanong niya at tumango naman ako.

Pagkatapos no’n ay pumasok siya sa loob habang naiwan ako ritong mag-isa. Makalipas ang ilang minuto ay may bitbit na siyang dalawang tasa ng kape at nakasunod sa kanya sina Jem at Jessa. Nagsimula kaming kumain at maya-maya lang ay naglabas si Jazer ng gitara.

He started strumming. I didn’t know that he can play the guitar. At least, tumugtog lang siya at si Jem ang kumakanta. Well, not really, since she was just humming along but her voice was a lot better than her brother.

The other kids woke up an hour later and the house was filled with noise in no time. Ako naman ang pumasok sa bahay at naabutan ko si Nanay Fe na nagwawalis sa loob.

“Ang aga mo yatang nagising ngayon, Chloe?” masaya niyang bati. Naalala ko naman bigla ang panaginip ko kanina kaya hindi na ako nakatulog ulit.

“I think I’m . . . namamahay? Is that the right term?”

Ngumiti naman si Nanay Fe at tinanong niya ako kung ayos lang ba ang pakiramdam ko. She was worried that I would find it difficult to live here. Hindi naman gano’n kahirap mag-adjust, I think?

“Ah, oo nga pala, Nanay Meling. Why didn’t you return after three months?” tanong ko dahil ‘yon ang paalam niya sa akin dati.

“Ang totoo niyan, balak ko na sanang bumalik pero sabi ni JJ, okay lang daw na siya muna roon. Kaya naman daw niya ang trabaho at gusto niyang dito muna ako para maasikaso ko ang mga kapatid niya.” Saglit namang natawa si Nanay Fe. “At ayaw na niya ring mag-ayos ng mga papel para sa paglipat na naman ng eskwelahan.”

“Oh.” Huh. So that guy was the reason.

Naintindihan ko naman ‘yon. Isa pa, mas mabuti na rin ang gano’n dahil mas may oras na siya para sa mga anak niya. Honestly, I’m a bit envious but I don’t want her children to experience the feeling of being unfamiliar with their parents because they were away for a long time.

“Mas mabuti na ring ganito para naman ma-enjoy ng batang ‘yon ang buhay niya,” dagdag ni Nanay Fe.

“Hmm?”

“Siya na ang tumayong tatay ng mga kapatid niya. Siya rin ang nag-alaga sa kanila noong mga panahong wala ako. Sabi ko nga, gawin niya naman ang mga gusto niya pero matigas din ang ulo niyan at mas gustong maglagi rito sa bahay. Buti nga at kahit papaano ay napilit ko ‘yang pumalit muna sa akin doon sa inyo. Kumusta naman pala siya roon?”

“Well, the kids like him,” sabi ko naman.

“At ikaw?”

I could feel my cheeks burning upon hearing that even though I knew she wasn’t pertaining to that kind of like. Huminga ako nang malalim para kumalma pero kakaiba na ang tingin sa akin ni Nanay Fe.

“We’re okay,” sagot ko. “But he’s annoying sometimes.”

“Mabuti naman,” sabay ngiti niya. “Kaunti lang kasi ang nakakausap ng batang ‘yon na kaedad niya.”

“Like Katrina?” Crap. Why did I say that?

“Aba. Kilala mo si Katrina?”

“Uhm, yeah. Actually, doon din siya nag-aaral.”

Hindi ko alam kung ano ang iniisip ni Nanay Fe pero sana ay wala na siyang itanong. That topic would definitely ruin my day.

Napalingon naman ako nang may narinig akong ingay sa labas. That was Jem’s voice. Weird. Bakit parang sumisigaw siya?

Sumilip ako sa bintana para malaman kung ano ang nangyayari at napahinto ako nang makita ko si Katrina ro’n. Of course. Ngayon ko lang naisip na nandito rin siya dahil bakasyon.

“Anong ginagawa mo rito?” Jem asked with a cold tone.

“Pwede bang makausap ang kuya mo?”

Hindi naman sumagot si Jem pero narinig ko ang boses ni Jazer. Mukhang galing siya sa likuran ng bahay at mula rito sa kinatatayuan ko ay kita ko ang mukha niya. However, I couldn’t read his expression.

He rushed to Katrina’s direction and pulled her away from them. Naglakad sila palayo at lumabas ako nang hindi ko na sila makita.

He’s really different when he’s with her, huh?

“May gusto ka ba kay Kuya?” Halos mapatalon ako nang bigla na lang nagsalita si Jessa sa tabi ko. And what the heck was she saying? “Hmm . . .”

“Wala,” I flatly replied. After seeing that scene, I guess it was the appropriate answer.

“They say the mouth may lie but never the eyes,” bigla naman niyang sabi at saka siya bumalik doon sa papag.

So I couldn’t even fool a kid, huh?


***

Naglakad-lakad na lang ako dahil ayaw ko munang maisip ang nangyari kanina. Sabi ni Jem ay huwag daw ako masyadong lumayo pero hindi ko na namalayan kung gaano na ako katagal naglalakad. Napahinto na lang ako nang may narinig akong umaagos sa gilid. I followed the sound and found myself staring at a stream.

Lumapit ako ro’n at namangha ako sa linis ng tubig. I could even see the stones below. The air was also fresher and the trees surrounding the area made it cooler. I sat on the ground and took pictures but I almost dropped my phone when someone suddenly called. Pagtingin ko, naka-display sa screen ang caller ID ni Shang. Dahil wala naman akong ginagawa ay sinagot ko ‘yon.

“Hey, Chloe!” bati niya sa video call at mukhang break time nila ro’n kaya may oras manggulo ang taong ‘to. “How are you?”

“Fine, I guess?”

Kaya pala siya napatawag ay dahil ngayon niya lang nabasa ang text ko kahapon. Nagtatanong kasi ako ng updates tungkol sa company at kung kumusta na si Dad. Ilang minuto kaming nag-usap tungkol doon at mukhang mas lumalaki ang opposition faction sa kumpanya. Those damn geezers.

“Are we done talking about business?” tanong niya at tumango naman ako. I thought he’d end the call but what he said after got me flustered. “So, tell me anything about this Jazer guy.”

“H-huh?! Wait, how did you know him?!”

“Your dad told me.”

“Huh?! What did he tell you?!”

“Oh, you’re blushing, young lady,” he teased along with that annoying grin of his.

“Stop making fun of me, old man!”

“Hey, I’m just 23!”

Napunta na sa asaran ang pag-uusap namin hanggang sa kinailangan na niyang magpaalam dahil may meeting na sila. Napangiti naman ako pagkatapos no’n. I was actually thankful that he called. I needed that.

“I wish I could just forget this feeling,” I muttered and heaved a sigh.

“Anong gusto mong kalimutan?”

Para naman akong binuhusan ng malamig na tubig nang marinig ko ang boses ni Jazer sa likuran ko. Lalo pa akong kinabahan nang umupo siya sa tabi ko at tumingin sa akin nang seryoso.

“W-what are you doing here?” I tried to sound nonchalant but I could hear my voice shaking.

“Hinahanap ka na nila.” Huh. Nila . . .

“Bakit ka nandito? Pwede mo naman akong i-text,” I retorted. “At ayaw ko pang umuwi.”

“Bakit?”

“Just because.”

“Hmm.”

Bwisit. Bakit ba siya nandito?

“Go back,” sabi ko matapos ang ilang segundong katahimikan. “Katrina might look for you again.”

Bigla naman siyang humiga sa batuhan. What the heck? Hindi ba siya nasasaktan? Hindi ba natutusok ang likod at ulo niya?

“Tapos na kami mag-usap,” sagot niya.

Somehow, he seemed dispirited. Ano kaya ang pinag-usapan nila? Did Katrina say something that made him unhappy? Was he hurt?

“Are you okay?” tanong ko.

“Oo naman,” sabay tingin niya sa akin. His eyes were solemn yet it felt like they were studying me . . . looking through my soul. After a while, he smiled.

“W-what?” Bakit gano’n siya makatingin? It’s making me nervous.

“Nothing.”

Hindi ko alam kung nantitrip lang ba siya o front niya lang ‘yon. His melancholic gaze returned to the sky. This time, ko naman ang tumitig sa kanya. This guy was always there when I needed help. He was my crying shoulder. Gusto ko rin siyang tulungan kahit papaano.

I placed my hand a few inches above his eyes.

“Anong ginagawa mo?” tanong niya. Hindi ko naman makita ang buong expression niya dahil natatakpan ng kamay ko.

“Shielding you from the world,” sabi ko. “You can cry now.”

He answered me with silence. However, after some time, he started chuckling. Bigla naman akong nahiya. Bwisit na ‘to, siya na ang tinutulungan, tapos tatawanan lang ako?

“Hindi naman ako naiiyak,” sabi niya at lalo lang akong nahiya.

“Tss. Then why are you even here?”

Aalisin ko na sana ang kamay ko sa taas ng mga mata niya nang bigla kong naramdaman ang paghawak niya sa singsing na suot ko. My skin tingled. His delicate touch made my heart race. I couldn’t think straight anymore. My mind was telling me to pull back. I don’t want to get hurt again . . .

. . . yet when he was about to take his hand off me, I held onto it.

Hindi ko agad na-realize ang ginawa ko at pagtingin ko sa mga kamay namin ay parang sasabog na ang dibdib ko sa sobrang lakas at bilis ng tibok ng puso ko. I was too embarrassed with what I did. I was about to pull away but I froze when he curled his fingers against mine and rested our hands on his chest.

“Gusto kitang samahan,” he replied.

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. It felt like my heart would leap out of my throat once I open my mouth. The silence and tension between us were killing me but I stayed tight-lipped. Might as well enjoy this short-lived moment. 

Kahit ngayon lang. Kahit sandali lang. Habang kaming dalawa lang.



***