“Steff, ready ka na ba?” sigaw ni Dad mula sa labas ng kuwarto ko.
“Yes, dad! Palabas na!”
I wasn’t able to attend the first three dawns of Simbang gabidawns of Simbang gabi. Kahapon naman ay hindi namin nakasama si Dad dahil may business meeting siya for two days sa Cebu at tanghali na siya nakabalik. This Tuesday lang kami nakumpleto kaya mukhang excited si Ven.
Today was the fifth out of nine masses, and there were already a lot of people even if it was just 3 a.m. Pumuwesto kami sa right side dahil doon ‘yong may vacant seats pa. We sat on the left end of the pew pero napatigil ako nang makita ko kung sino ang makakatabi namin.
Darryl met my gaze and we stared at each other for a few seconds, unsure of how to react. The one who broke the ice was Tita Inna.
“Hija? Oh, Steven,” sabay tingin niya sa amin ni Dad.
Dad’s eyes widened upon seeing her. “Inna, nandito rin pala kayo.”
The two grew close when I was hospitalized before. Dahil sila ang nagligtas sa akin at si Dad ang nag-asikaso ng lahat ay nakapag-usap na rin sila ng ilang beses.
“Steff, aren’t you going to sit down?” asked Mom.
Dahil ako na lang ang nakatayo sa amin ay wala akong nagawa kung hindi ang umupo sa tabi ni Darryl. I felt awkward when I saw him in the restaurant, and it felt more uncomfortable this time because we were with our families.
I could feel his shoulder brushing against mine, but I remained silent. Tahimik kaming nakinig sa misa pero nasira na naman ang concentration ko nang hawakan niya ang kamay ko noong kumakanta na ng Ama Namin. Pakiramdam ko tuloy ay nagkakasala ako dahil distracted ako.
Something inside me stirred when I felt his hand tightening around mine. He was warm, and I could feel the same heat rushing onto my cheeks. I maintained a poker face until the end of the mass, but in reality, my heart had gone haywire.
Ako ang unang lumabas nang matapos ang mass dahil ang init na ng mukha ko at ayaw kong mapansin nila iyon. After that incident in the restaurant, I had already accepted that he didn’t have any romantic feelings toward me. That was the reason why I made that gift. I wanted him to know my feelings, so I could come to terms with them, and finally move on . . .
. . . yet a single act from him was enough to rouse and sway my emotions again.
Nakakainis. Akala ko ba hindi niya ako gusto? Why was he doing that? Tapos heto naman ako, biglang aasa na naman.
I thought that would be the last time that I would see him this year, but fate was playing a cruel game with me. Apparently, napagkasunduan ng parents namin na sabay um-attend sa remaining masses kaya lalo lang tumagal ang paghihirap ko.
He would always sit on the other end, so that we could sit side by side. I tried switching places, but Venice would always push me first when getting in the pew chairs, so I had no choice but to sit beside him.
Hindi pa rin kami nagpapansinan at iyon na lang ang pinagpapasalamat ko. Maybe he felt that I was uncomfortable, or he just didn’t feel like talking to me at all.
“Ate, bakit hindi kayo nag-uusap ni kuya Darryl,” tanong ni Ven nang matapos ang second to the last mass.
“Para kasing ang awkward n’yo,” she remarked. “Did something happen between the two of you?”
“Huh? Wala!” I intoned.
She narrowed her eyes at me. “May something talaga, eh. Do you like him now? Like for real?”
Bigla siyang ngumiti nang nakakaloko sa akin at alam ko na agad na nagkamali ako ng sagot. God, why was she so perceptive when it comes to topic like this?
Nang dumating na ang last mass ay mas naging pushy pa si Ven at tumabi siya sa akin para lang siksikin ako papunta kay Darryl. I was already staring daggers at her, but she just kept grinning at me. I swear, lagot talaga siya sa akin pag-uwi sa bahay.
Nakahinga lang ako nang maluwag nang matapos ang misa. Akala ko ay matatapos na ang paghihirap ko pero halos mapanganga ako sa sumunod kong narinig.
“Gusto n’yo bang mag-celebrate ng Christmas sa bahay?” tanong ni Dad kay tita Inna. “We haven’t showed our gratitude for your family yet for saving Steff before.”
Nagkatinginan naman sina tita Inna at tito Dan. She shrugged and smiled at Dad. “Sure. Sa bahay lang din naman kami supposedly magce-celebrate. Okay lang ba sa inyong dalawa?” tanong niya kina Warren at Darryl.
Warren excitedly nodded, while Darryl glanced at me. Agad akong napaiwas ng tingin at nahuli naman iyon ni Venice kaya isang mapang-asar na ngiti na naman ang binigay niya sa akin.
“Sure, Mom,” he replied.
Yup. I guess I had to spend Christmas with him, too.
I usually spent this day watching chick flick movies with either Ven or Alice and Yna, but today was a tad bit different. My mind was all over the place, and I didn’t even have any interest in watching a movie right now. Nasa harapan lang ako ng closet ko at pinag-iispian kung ano ang isusuot ngayong gabi. After much deliberation, I decided to wear a simple pastel pink dress.
Ven and I started checking the decorations, too. Inayos namin ang gifts na nakalagay sa ilalim ng Christmas tree at ni-setup din ni Dad ang movies na papanoorin mamaya.
Bandang 8:00 p.m. ay may nag-doorbell at halos sumakit ang dibdib ko sa kaba. As expected, it was the Garcia family. They were dressed casually, but they still looked stylish and luxurious.
“Good evening po,” bati ni Darryl kina Mom and Dad at sumunod naman si Warren pati ang parents niya.
He was wearing a brown knitted vest over a white polo shirt, paired with black trousers. His hair was styled in a wavy and messy kind of way, yet he looked good with it. Nang magtama ang mga tingin namin ay hindi agad ako nakagalaw sa kinatatayuan ko. My heart was beating so fast I was afraid someone would hear it.
Lalong bumilis ang tibok ng puso ko nang ngumiti siya. I wanted to run away and scream to the void because I was starting to lose my resolve. Instead of moving on, my feelings might grow more, and honestly, that was frightening the heck out of me.
“Merry Christmas,” he softly greeted.
I bit my lower lip to calm myself. “M-merry Christmas,” I returned.
Agad akong pumunta sa bandang kitchen dahil hindi ko kayang tumagal sa harap niya.
Nag-stay ako ro’n ng ilang minuto kahit wala naman akong naitutulong sa pagluluto. I was just loitering around, hoping that he wouldn’t talk to me because I could really not face him now.
“Kuya! May papakita ako sa ‘yo.”
Saglit akong napalingon nang marinig ko ang boses ni Ven. She was gesturing at Darryl to come with her at the second floor, and he eventually followed. Dahil parang may hindi magandang mangyayari kapag magkasama ang dalawang ‘yon ay agad akong sumunod. Ven caught me watching them, and the next thing she did had taken me aback. She grabbed him by the arm and dragged her inside her room. Pero ang ikinagulat ko ay nang makita ko ang hawak niya sa kabilang kamay niya.
It was the scrapbook I made for him.
“Ven!” tawag ko habang patakbong umaakyat sa hagdan.
Panic rose to my throat as I raced toward her room. Nang makarating ako sa harapan no’n ay kumatok ako at tinawag ang pangalan niya pero hindi pa rin niya iyon binubuksan. I was trying to keep my voice down because Mom would surely scold me if she heard me screaming, but my sister was exhausting my patience.
“Ven,” I said in a threatening tone. “Isa.”
Nakailang pagbabanta at katok na ako pero hindi pa rin nila binubuksan. The anger swirling in my head was gradually replaced by embarrassment and anxiety. Sure, I made that as a gift for him, but I didn’t have the courage to give it to him anymore. Tapos biglang ngayon ay posibleng binabasa na niya iyon sa kuwarto ni Venice.
I marched toward my room, which was just adjacent to Ven’s, and went to the veranda. Sinilip ko rin ang veranda ng kuwarto niya pero hindi iyon bukas kaya hindi ko rin makita kung ano ang ginagawa nila. Defeated, I went back to my room and plopped on the bed.
Hiyang-hiya ako ngayon dahil paniguradong nakita na niya ang laman no’n. On a positive note, at least he’d already be aware of my feelings. He would either get awkward around me, or just outright reject me. It would hurt, but at least, I could have my closure. Siguro mas mabuti na rin ‘to. At least, mas madali akong makaka-move on mula sa kanya.
Napatingin naman ako sa pink guitar na regalo niya noong birthday ko. Dahil na-a-anxious ako sa katahimikan nila ay kinuha ko iyon at sinubukang tumugtog. He thought me some of the basic chords before, but I couldn’t remember most of them anymore.
I let out a dry laugh as I recalled what he said that day. He said his gift comes with an instructor, but he didn’t get to teach me again because of what happened. I desperately avoided him that week, then the break came.
I was just absently strumming my guitar, sure that I wasn’t making any cohesive tone or sound, when I heard a clunk in the veranda. Saglit kong ibinaba ang gitara sa kama ko at naglakad patungo ro’n. I saw a pebble on the floor, but before I could speak, someone called my name from Ven’s veranda.
Darryl was resting his elbows on the railings, a wide grin on his face while looking at me. The light was quite dim, but I could clearly see his face. I was about to admonish him for what he and Ven did, but I stopped short when he spoke first.
“Step back a bit, please.”
Napakunot ang noo ko nang nagsimula siyang umakyat sa railings.
“Wait, what are you—!”
Hindi ko naituloy ang sasabihin ko dahil napanganga na lamang ako sa sumunod niyang ginawa. He jumped from my sister’s veranda to mine, a good one meter of distance, without any hesitation.
“Darryl! Oh my god—!”
He landed on my veranda, but he still had a lot of momentum from his jump. I caught his left arm, and he held the railings with both hands to stop his movement, but I got stuck in the process. Halos hindi ako nakahinga nang mapunta ako sa pagitan niya at ng railings. Our faces were just inches apart, and I was sure he could already hear my racing heart.
For a second, nobody moved and spoke. There was a complete silence between us, and all I could see were his eyes staring right through me.
It took me a lot of courage to clear my throat. “Uhm, y-you’re pinning me.”
He stepped back from me, and I furtively heaved a sigh of relief. I was surprised that I could still stand after that because my knees were terribly shaking.
Pumasok siya sa room ko at sumunod naman ako. I wasn’t sure how to act. Na-a-awkward-an ako dahil nakita niya ang gift ko. Gusto kong malaman kung ano ang reaksyon niya ro’n, and at the same time, natatakot din ako. Sinasabi ko na ginawa ko iyon para matahimik na ang feelings ko para sa kanya, but seeing here made that tiny hope at the corner of my heart bloom.
Napahinto naman siya nang makita ang regalo niyang gitara sa akin sa kama. He turned toward my direction with a smile on his face while pointing at the guitar.
“Nagamit mo? Marunong ka na?” tanong niya na para bang walang nangyari.
Ako lang ba ang kinakabahan sa aming dalawa? Ako lang ba ang affected?
I drew a breath and shook my head. “I was busy,” I muttered.
Isang malawak na ngiti naman mula sa kanya ang sumalubong sa akin. “Don’t worry, ‘di ba sinabi ko naman sa ‘yo na may instructor na kasama ‘to?”
Kinuha niya ang gitara at pumuwesto sa upuan na nasa gilid ng kama ko. I remained standing at the middle of the room, but he tapped my bed, motioning me to sit right next to him. I knew this would backfire on me again, but my stupid body wasn’t listening to me.
Anxious, I made my way toward him and sat right across him.
He held his gaze on mine and started playing the guitar. Pakiramdam ko ay mauubusan ako ng hangin dahil hindi na ako makahinga nang maayos. Our distance between us was much farther than earlier, but my heart was beating more painfully against my chest.
A familiar melody hit my ears, and I bit my lip when he started singing the lines.
“I don’t know you, but I want you, all the more for that.
Words fall through me, and always fool me, and I can’t react.”
That was one of the songs I wrote on the scrapbook: Falling Slowly from the movie Once. Iyon din ang kinanta niya noong sembreak kaya meaningful ang kantang ‘yon para sa akin.
“Falling slowly, eyes that know me, and I can’t go back.”
Rinig na rinig ko ang lakas ng tibok ng puso ko lalo na at nakatitig pa rin siya sa akin. My head was a mess, and all I could think of was this moment right here.
“First, practice makes perfect,” sabi niya habang patuloy pa ring nagp-pluck. “It’s all about effort and determination. Second, start with easier songs, and adjust the difficulty later. Third, it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you don’t give up on learning.”
Nag-iba ang strumming pattern niya pero isang pamilyar na kanta na naman ang narinig ko. Another song on that scrapbook.
“You're in my arms, and all the world is calm.
The music playing on for only two.
So close together, and when I'm with you,
So close to feeling alive.”
I had to choke back the lump forming in my throat as he sang the lines with such sincerity. Hindi ko maiwasang hindi umasa lalo na’t ganoon ang tingin niya sa akin. Was it alright to feel this way? Should I assume that he feels the same?
Gusto ko siyang tanungin pero natatakot akong marinig ang magiging sagot niya.
My shoulders tensed when he suddenly stood up.
“So close to reaching that famous happy end,
Almost believing this one's not pretend,
And now you're beside me, and look how far we've come,
So far we are, so close.”
He stood right in front of me, as if reenacting the words he just sang. Saglit siyang tumigil sa pagtugtog at tanging ang paghinga lang namin ang naririnig ko. He leaned closer until the tip of our noses were just an inch apart.
“Steff,” he gently called. “I’m glad that I’m spending this night with you.”
The walls I was trying hard to build between him and I started to crumble. No matter how hard I try to hold my feelings in check, in the end, I would still fall for him. And there was no stopping it.
“Darryl . . .”
I was about to lay bare my feelings when his phone suddenly rang. Noong una ay hinayaan niya pa ito pero matapos ang pangatlong ring ay napabuntonghininga siya at tumayo nang maayos. He fished out his phone from his pocket and answered the call.
My eyebrows twitched upon hearing her name. I watched his expression closely, and I felt something bad would happen when his face darkened.
“Okay, papunta na ako r’yan.”
Pagkababa niya sa phone niya ay tumingin siya sa akin. He had a regretful expression on his face, and I knew his next words would hurt me again.
“I’m sorry, Steff. Kailangan ko munang umalis,” marahan niyang sabi.
“Oh,” I murmured, unable to hide the disappointment in my tone. “O-okay.”
“I’ll be back later,” pahabol niya habang naglalakad palabas sa kuwarto ko.
Sinundan ko siya ng tingin at matapos ang ilang segundo ay sumunod sa kanya. Tiningnan ko siya mula sa pintuan ng kuwarto ko at nakita kong hiniram niya ang susi ng kotse nila mula sa dad niya.
Parang lumubog ang puso ko nang makita ko ‘yon. I thought we would have a great night tonight. I thought I could finally convey my feelings, but one call from her and he was gone.
Sinarado ko ang pinto ko at muling humiga sa kama. My eyes started welling up, but I held back the tears that were threatening to fall. Huminga ako nang malalim at sinubukang kalmahin ang sarili ko.
Right, he said he’d be back later, I thought. Siguro iyon na lang ang panghahawakan ko. Hindi rin naman niya maiiwasang hindi pumunta dahil kaibigan niya si Andrea. Still, I was hurt, even if I had no right to be jealous.
Lumipas ang isang oras pero hindi pa rin siya bumabalik. For once, I lowered my pride and unblocked his number. With trembling hands and bated breath, I called him.
I stifled a gasp when I heard him talking from the other end of the call. Pero natigilan ako nang may narinig akong umiiyak sa background. Was that Andrea?
“Hello?” ulit niya.
“Uhm, m-matagal ka pa ba?” mahina kong tanong. “Hinahanap ka na nila rito.”
There were a few seconds of silence from his end, until I heard Andrea’s voice.
“Sino ‘yan?” she asked between her sobs. “Wait, Ian!”
“Sorry, Steff, mukhang matatagalan pa ako,” he replied. “Pakisabi kina dad nab aka past midnight pa ako makabalik.”
“Oh, gano’n ba?”
So, he would be staying with her this Christmas, huh?
“Sorry, I have to go.”
Hindi ko na napigilan ang mga luha ko. “. . . but I want to spend time with you, too,” I mumbled despite knowing he wouldn’t hear me anymore. “Please, bumalik ka na rito.”