Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Long Weekend Part II

I.

The styrofoam cup felt warm on my hand, but the coffee was still scalding hot. I stirred it some more, careful not to spill its contents on my lap.

It is 7am in the morning, and I am sitting at the pre-departure area at Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport in Tacloban. I had called my best friend the previous night, and the conversation went like this:

“Tatat! I’ll be in Manila tomorrow!”

“Bitch! Why didn’t you inform me sooner so I could have arranged a schedule swap. I have work tomorrow.”

“That’s ok, no need to pick me up. I know my way around town, thank you. So where’s your new apartment?”

“Near Shaw.”

“Can you just meet me at the MRT Station at around 10am?”

“Alright, twinnie.”

“See ya.”

It was a sunny morning, and Cancabato Bay was visible through the glass windows of the airport. Seemingly hypnotized by the glistening waves, my mind drifted to the events that happened the past two years- my leaving the company, returning to the province to study, and of course, Eric.

Two years of self-exile hadn’t erased a single bit of memory of him. Yeah, I still see him if I close my eyes: neat, sharply dressed in long sleeves and slacks, and that sexy grin he has when he’s telling a joke.

I last saw him during the trip to Sagada. I took a sip of my coffee, and set down my glass. I wonder where he is now? Does he still work for Info? I had yet to catch up on the goings-on of my previous office.

The speaker sounded. “PR 175 bound for Manila, now boarding.”

I shook out of my reverie, collected my bags, and made my way to the gate.

-o-o-o-

A blast of warm air hit my face as I left the Centennial Airport. Damn! I remembered Manila was like this- warm, crowded, and utterly polluted. As if on queue, a bus drove by, spewing a cloud of soot from its exhaust pipe. I gritted my teeth and kept walking.
“Taxi!” I waved frantically with my left hand.

“Shaw?”

The driver shakes his head. My bag was getting heavy, I was eager to just pay extra just so I could get to my destination without the hassle.

“Or you could just drop me off at the Pasay MRT Station.” I said, getting desperate by the second. He agreed.

The air conditioning hardly calmed my impatience as the car made it’s way through the traffic. I was relieved when I finally saw the huge Pasay MRT Station.

“One ticket for Shaw Station please.” I handed the amount to the cashier.

It was strangely comforting to be at the crowded station waiting for the train. How many days have I gone to catch the early morning train after my shift? I notice a couple of yuppies joking talking amongst themselves near a bench. I almost forgot how cute most of the guys were in Manila. I ruffled my hair self-consciously.

Ding! The train’s sliding doors open and out came the passengers. The crowd parted and lo and behold! A tall guy emerges, and he is no other than the guy who broke my heart.

“Hey Eric.” I said.



II.

He wore his hair the same way the last time I saw him- spiky, and fashionably styled. I had always been a fool for men with nice hair. He looked at me, mouth agape, for a moment.

“Gabby?! Hey, how have you been?” His eyes showed his surprise, and possibly, delight.

“I’m good. I just arrived from the airport.”

People had started to board the train, so we moved away from the crowd. He gestured at the nearby bench.

“That explains the traveling bag then.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I’ve been lugging around this heavy thing since early morning.”

“Where do you work now?”

“I’m not employed, actually.” I said. I was suddenly aware of my rumpled shirt. “Ah, after I resigned I decided to study again full time in the province.”

“Really?”

“How about you, still with Info?”

“Yeah. Six years and going strong.” He sat next to me on the bench.

“Up for another promotion?” I asked.

“Nah, not really. The teams I handle have not been doing well. Besides, I doubt if they have openings at this point.”

We were silent after we discussed work-related things. I smiled awkwardly.

“I guess I’d better be going. Tatat is waiting for me at Shaw Station.”

“No kidding. She left months after you did. Without much dramatic flair though…” He teased, referring to how I left the company years ago.

“Forget about that. I was a little crazy.”

“So you’d join us again at Info?” He smiled.

“Unlikely. I’m done with that industry.” I said, standing up.

“Hey, want to go out sometime, while you’re still in town?”

“Sure Eric.”

“Your number?”

I gave it to him.

“It was great to see you. I’ll call you sometime.” Standing up, he towered over me. He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed.

My heart gave an involuntary leap. “Alright.”

I walked towards the train, turning around and giving him a wave just as the doors started to close.

As the train started moving, I was once again lost in my thoughts. Seeing Eric today, on my first day in Manila made me realize how much I had missed him. I’ve always wondered if I had made a mistake, leaving Info. I would have just settled to being one of his friends just so I could see him everyday.

You’ve already made the decision, I told myself, so stick to it!

In the distance, I saw the morning rays cast a glow to the city skyline.



III.

“Twinniiee!!”

Uh oh. I know that voice. I turned to face my best friend, honorary twin sister, and partner in crime, Tatat.

Hug, hug. Kiss, kiss.

“You look fat!”

She pouted. “Bitchy as always.”

“Are you still with CVG?”

“Old news Gabby dear.” She scoffs.

“I’m training with Dell right now.” She removes a pack of Marboro Lights and offers me a cigarette.

“Still a chain smoker, I see. Honey, your nasty habit is wrecking havoc on your skin!” I said, pretending to examine her face.

“That’s a load of bull.”

“Seriously! Anyway, guess who I bumped into earlier.”

“Who.” She said disinterestedly.

I paused to take a breath. She looks into my eyes, reading my thoughts.

“No!”

“Yes!” I said, “I bumped into him by accident.

She grabs my phone.

“Hey! Give that back!”

“I don’t like this.”

“If you are looking for his text messages there’s none.”

She looks at me. “You erased them?”

“No. Because I don’t even have his number.”

“Somebody’s going to get hurt.”

I looked at her seriously. “I promised myself I’d never again be in a situation like that. I’m not stupid Tat.”
“Just make sure you don’t see him again, because I already know how this is going to end.”

Bzzz! My cellphone vibrated. 1 New Message.

“Hi Gab, it’s Eric. Remember that place at Eastwood where we had Chiqui’s birthday dinner? I’m craving pasta right now. Want to meet me there? My shift ends at in about an hour.”

“Who is it?” Tatat asked.

I look her in the eye. “My mom checking on me if I’ve arrived safely.”

“I brought some binagol, by the way. Give some to Cricket.” I showed her the delicacies I had brought from Tacloban.

“Yipee!”

That’s Tatat, she loves her food and loves her boys.

“C’mon, I need to leave this bag at your place. I need to leave right away.”

“Got somewhere to go?”

“To Megamall. I need to buy some toiletries.” I lied.


IV.

I had been waiting at the table for twenty minutes. I changed into a polo shirt and jeans and practically bathed in my favorite scent.

I saw Eric outside through the window. I wave at him.

“Sorry I’m a little late.”

“That’s ok. I just arrived a few minutes ago.” I smiled.

“Somebody smells nice.”

I laughed nervously.

“I needed to get the airplane smell out.”

The waiter came with the menus and took our order.

“So Eric, do you still travel?”

“Yeah. Went to El Nido last summer.”

“Was it expensive?”
“Not if you stay at the town instead of the resort. You?”

“Just around Leyte. We have great beaches there.

“Who’d you go with?”

“Where?”

“Your trip to El Nido. Your girlfriend? Jen?”

Eric laughs. I have no girlfriend right now, and Jen got married last year.”

“Really?”

“To Royce, of all people.”

I giggled. “No way! How did that happen?”

“They met on a company team building and started going out.”

The food had arrived.

“Smells nice.” I said, having a wonderful time.

“Try my seafood pasta.”

I took a bite.

“So?”

“Better than sex.” I laughed.

“I’m taking a trip to Galera tomorrow. Wanna go?”

“Hmm I have some things to take care of, and I don’t think I’d have enough money.”

“I’ll take care of the accommodations.”

“Talaga? Who else are going?”

“Just us.”

I knew I was breaking my own rules.

“What time do we meet tomorrow?” I asked.






V.

The wind was chilly and I felt it sting my cheeks.

“You’re late.”

Eric was waiting at the bus station.

“Sorry, traffic.”

“At Four Am?”

“Tatat and I had a little argument.”

“About what?”

“Forget it, we do these things.” I said dismissively as I boarded the bus. I was quiet on the way to Batangas Pier.

Tatat did have a point, Eric was like a bad habit I have. This time, I hope she isn’t right about the ending.

The sun was rising in the horizon as the boat drifted in the water. I looked at the man beside me and smiled. He was a little older, and I notice new lines on his face I haven’t seen before.

He had a few freckles on the bridge of his nose, and a laugh line that would show itself now and then.

“All aboard!” Eric said, with anticipation in his eyes.

-o-o-o-

I was massaging my slightly sunburned neck as we walked on the sand. We had joined a group of Korean students snorkeling at high noon. Bad idea- even with sunblock lotion, Eric and I were as red as beets because of sunburn. The sun was now setting, and we were on the way to the bars.

“Aww.”

Eric laughed. “Who’s idea was it to join those Korean kids?”

“Better than just stay in the room. There was nothing else to do earlier.”

“Then stop complaining.”

We settled at a popular hangout called Peter’s. After dinner, we started a round of cocktails.

“Eric?”

“Yeah.”
“I’ve always been curious. How did you react when you found my letter that night?”

He looks me in the eye.

“A little sad.”

“Just a little?”

“I was sad because I lost a friend.”

We were silent for a while. The sound of the waves drowned my thoughts. My Margarita tasted bitter.

I asked him quietly. “Why did you invite me here?”

“I missed you.”






VI.

Early the next day, we had to return to Manila because of a 911 situation at work and Eric was expected later in the day. I myself needed to get back to Tacloban the following day. We were walking along the shore, waiting for the boat to take us back to Batangas.

“So, how do you like the shift in career so far?”

I make a face. “Sucks.”

“But you don’t want to go back to the Customer Service Industry either.”

“I told you, I’m done with that already.”

I nudge him on the stomach.

“Aren’t you tired of the night shift?”

“It’s alright.”

“Ah, what a great ACCM you are. Six years and still going”

“What time is your flight tomorrow?”

“I’ll have to check my ticket. I left it in Tatat’s apartment.”

“Gab, I appreciate your coming with me.”

I laugh.

“Ang pormal mo naman.”

“It’s hard for me to say it sometimes.”

“Say what?”

“Goodbyes.”

“In my book, I always get to decide the ending.”

He looks at me. His hair blown by the wind, his face tan, and that little laugh line showing itself again.

“And how does this end?”

“The good guy gets the guy.”

He gives me a wide smile that was almost a laugh of delight. He grabs my hand and pulls me in the direction of the boat that was now moored to the shore.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Recipe for a Heartbreak

3 cups sugar, melted into clear syrup.

“Raise your legs ‘cause I want to see you.”

“What?”

My cheeks were flushed, and I was breathing in short gasps. I still had my shirt on, but I was naked from waist down. I kept pressing my legs together as I lay on the bed but my lover pulled them up to his shoulders.

“No!”

“Come on, I want to see you.”

His fingers traveled incessantly. Down my stomach, lower and lower as he kissed my cock.

“Oh god.”

Suddenly he grabs my legs and spreads them as wide as he could. He licks my inner thigh slowly, making tiny circles. I place my hand on his head and try to get him to stop.

Oh god.

But I didn’t make a sound.


1 box flat dough, kept moist.

To him I was as rare as a Mediterranean desert dish few people ever tasted. I thought it was a wrong match, from the start. He was twenty four years my senior and while I was still struggling with what predicaments young adults have, he was already accomplished.

He liked fine wine and luxury. Dinner was always a blur of gourmet food, fine china and table napkins to match. My idea of good food was simply a cup of rice to go with any viand. I retch at the taste of wine- too sickly sweet for me.

“More Baklava for you?”

“No.”

“You barely touched your pasta.”

“I’m a little full.”

“Alright.”

There was only the sound of the stereo crooning a lovesong. I pushed my food around in my plate, and noticed the hair on his forehead was already receding.


1 pound walnuts, finely chopped


“What’s its name?” There was a twinkle in his mischievous eyes.

“Who?”

“Your penis.”

I laughed. “It doesn’t have a name, it’s just part of me.”

His fingers held my cock while he examined it.

“You have a mole.”

“What?”

“You have a mole on Junior.”

I giggled. His other hand kept rubbing my side and I was tickled by it.

“What does it mean then?”

“It probably means you are a maniac.”

He kneeled in front of me, naked. I ran my fingers through his brown skin, and held his face. He had the tiniest bow lips which parted slightly when he made a sound. His eyes were dreamy.

I moved my face close to his and licked the borders of his mouth. He sighed. Then he wrapped his arms around me and held me as we kissed.

“Alright, I’ll name it then.”



Slather unsalted butter on the flat dough and make five layers.

The car made its way through the traffic. We were seated at the backseat going over the details of my trip.

“What time will you be arriving?”

“Maybe 9am.”

“Are there people picking you up?”

“Yes.”
I shrugged off the questions, becoming more annoyed by the second. I detested being treated like an eight year old. The luggage made a thumping sound in the back compartment of the car.

“Alright then.” He said, adjusting his seatbelt.

We had a strange relationship. He provided every possible material need for me, yet somehow other than gratitude I felt nothing more for him. I rarely show a touch of affection. No kiss, no pat on the shoulder, nothing more than a friendly smile.

As I stepped out of the car, I turn to him. “Thanks again, for everything. I needed this trip to unwind.”

The glare of the sun reflected on the glass of the car window and it was hard to see his face as he sat in the dark interior of the car. Had I stayed a second longer, I would have seen the pained expression on his face as a cloud momentarily blocked the bright sun.


Add layers of chopped nuts & syrup.

“The heat here is unbearable.”

“Is that a compliment?” He laughed.

I stroked his chest.

“More of a complaint. Sweat has been dripping off me since yesterday at the airport.”

He put his arm around me and teasingly licked the lobe of my right ear. “I’ll make your stay worthwhile.”

The sheets were moist and the sun had set on our second day together. Jon was, in every way the perfect man: a young, cherubic face that could turn heads with a body for sin, but best of all, he was as young and impulsive as I was. But there was, of course a catch. Jon was already committed in a five-year relationship.

I took a drag of his cigarette and exhaled slowly, letting the smoke linger for a while in the humid air. .

“I didn’t know you smoked.” He said, taking the cigarette from my fingers.

“I don’t.”

“Are you upset you’d be leaving tomorrow?”

I swallowed.

“Yeah.”

He kissed me again. I tasted the cigarette on his lips, slightly bitter, but the kiss was sweet.

“Fuck me again.”


Set the oven at 300° C and bake for 90 minutes.

The landscape whizzed past as the bus made it way through the rural landscape. My phone buzzed repeatedly.

Him: “Where are you now?”

Me: “Still on the road.”

Him: “Were your hosts good to you?”

I felt a frisson of guilt slowly working its way up my stomach.

Me: “Yes.”

Him: “I should thank them for taking care of you well.”

Me: (no reply)

Him: “Still there?”

Me: (no reply)

The bus seemed to spin. I took a breath and gathered myself, and decided to come clean.
Me: “I slept with Jon.”

Him: (no reply)

Me: “Are you there?”

Him: “You went there with the full intent of going to bed with him, didn’t you?”

Me: “No! It just happened…I-”

I could feel his anger mounting, and with good reason. It was getting difficult for me to breathe.

Me: “I’m sorry.”

Him: (no reply)

“Jon, I need to talk to you now.”

“You told?”

“Yes.”

“So sorry, buddy.”

I felt tears well up again.

“I did see our photos when we went around town. You looked hot!”

“Jon.”

“This’ll blow over in a few days, I promise.”

I held the photographs in my hand. Jon and me in his favorite coffee shop, one of us having dinner at that vegan restaurant I loved, and that photo of us kissing.

The kiss. I could still feel those lips and those arms around me.

“Hey, I need to go. The old ball and chain needs me.”

“Right.” I said.

I saw the colors bleed as my tears wet the photo of us kissing.


Let cool a few minutes and serve.

The Long Weekend

I.
The styrofoam cup felt warm on my hand, but the coffee was still scalding hot. I stirred it some more, careful not to spill its contents on my lap.

“What time is the bus leaving?” My bestfriend was smoking her third cigarette for the day.

“Probably at 7am. Ugh! Why did we arrive so early?” She scoffs.

I was with three friends- Tatat, my bestfriend, Eric, a fellow Team Manager and my long time crush, and Jen, who I just met weeks ago. We all worked in the same office, except for Jen. We were headed to Sagada, Mountain Province for a three-day stay. Presently, we were huddled together in a corner in Dangwa Bus Station in Baguio, as we wait for the first bus to Sagada.

“Gab, do you already have your QA scores for the week?” Eric asks. I took a sip of my coffee. “I don't have them yet. I'll phone Malou of Queue desk tomorrow and ask.”

“Wasn't your team the highest last week? Your team has been consistent with high marks. The Quarterly Evals are coming up, and it looks like a big bonus is coming your way.” Eric smiles as he sits on the bench opposite mine.

“I hope you're right on that one.” I reply.
Eric and I were batchmates- we were among the pioneer reps in the company, who at that time merely had forty employees. In a span of four years the number of employees had grown exponentially, with its present count almost reaching a thousand. Both of us now held higher positions, and are both up for evaluation.

Eric was tall, mestizo, and well educated- a combination rare among guys. He graduated Cum Laude from Ateneo, and if that wasn’t enough he also happens to be well off and incredibly nice. He became known as “the office heart throb”, who elicited stares from girls and gay guys alike at work.

I call him “the impossible dreamboat”, for I was among those who secretly had a crush on him. It was such an irrational infatuation, that I always get mad at myself whenever I think of him. Every time I have lunch with him at the pantry, I would silently curse myself for enjoying his company.

Let me explain: First of all, Eric is a straight guy, and that alone should be enough to deter me. A straight- gay relationship is a paradox; it will always be one way since he can’t return the feeling. Second, let us say, if in a parallel universe I was a girl, he would still be way out of my league. He is well bred, well off, and sophisticated. And me, well, all the schooling at UP Diliman will never change my provincial ways. Third, he is my friend, and in that respect should be off limits. It would be such a waste to throw that friendship out the window.

“Here comes the bus.” Jen said.

Tatat turns to me and whispers. “I didn't know she could speak.” I made a face. “Hey, be nice to her. She's Eric's friend.”

With our luggage in hand, we board the bus. I take a seat next to the window, and my friend Tatat sits on the adjacent seat. Jen and Eric took the seats on the next row. There were hardly any passengers except for an old woman who brought with her baskets of vegetables, a boy with a stack of newspapers, and an old man in the back.

The rickety bus finally moves as its engine sputtered to life. I ready my camera as I lean out the window, enjoying the cool morning breeze. Tatat lit another cigarette.

“How many hours was it again to Sagada?” I nudge her.

“Seven years.” She replies, waving her hand for emphasis.

“Aww C'mon Gab, just enjoy the sights. The views are spectacular, and the last time I was here, I took a lot of great photos.” Eric chimes in.

“The ones posted on Friendster?” Tatat asks.

“Yeah, I think I saw those. Where are we staying again?” I ask Eric, who had been to the place before. Gosh, he looked so cute in his navy sweater.

“St. Joseph Resthouse. It’s a really cool place, and their common area has a fireplace. Plus, it’s really cheap. The amount you spend for a three day stay in Bora can last a month here.” Eric said.

“Sounds good!” I look out the window again. I could only see mountains, as far as my eyes could see.

I remember a scene that happened a week ago in the office…

II.

“Guys, I have some very exciting news!” Karen, our diminutive Assistant Call Center Manager, was practically jumping up in her seat. She always gets like that when she’s about to make some grand announcement, I thought. I had an idea on what it was about.

“The higher management has opened two new posts for the ACCM position. Excited murmurs filled the room. I turned to my seatmate Iona, who also handled a team, “Let's apply!”“Hmm I would decline for now. My team has been stuck in the early morning shift for a long time now; I still have a lot of improvements to make... You, on the other hand, are a contender. Go!”

“Are you kidding me? Maybe Eric. He seems like the ACCM type.” I whispered.

Eric was seated at the far end of the table, looking sharp in his crisp white long-sleeved shirt and grey dress pants. His satin tie was the same shade as his pants. He was chatting with Jet, one of his buddies in the evening shift.

“So Gabby, any plans?” Karen turns to me.

“Uhm, I’ll have to think about it Karen.” I say. “I’m really happy with my team’s performance. At this point it’s almost effortless for us to get good stats.”

“Which makes it the perfect time for you to move up. Don’t you want to challenge yourself and apply your brand of leadership on a larger scale?”

“Give me a day or two to decide.” I smiled.

The meeting ended at around 7am. My shift was already done. I gathered my things and made my way to the elevator.

“Gab! Let's have breakfast at Delifrance.” Eric catches up to me.

“Who's going?” I ask. Eric places his hand on my shoulder. I felt a tingle in my spine. Damn, that happens every time! Why am I so affected? I wondered.

“Jen, Jet, Mavic.. I don't know the rest. So are you coming?” He smiles.

Aww I wish I could just freeze this moment. If I tell you how I feel Eric, would you still treat me the same way? I smiled sadly.

“I'll just drop by the 14th, it might be Tatat's break already. I'll see you on the 12th floor.”

“Okidoki.” He hops off the elevator, upbeat and without a care in the world. The elevator closes as it ascends to the 14th floor.

“Tatat!!” I exclaimed as I approached Tatat on a transfer station.

She waves her arm, signaling that she is still on the phone.

“You will never guess what happened. What time is your break?” I ask.

She presses the mute button. “I'm already on break, actually, but this caller won't end the call. Grrr!”

“Relax, you'll have a coronary. Just have your break adjusted.” I pat her arm.

“Thank you, and have a great day!” She says sarcastically on the phone, with her eyes rolling. Like any call center veteran, she knew how to be sarcastic while sounding pleasant over the phone.

“You really are a good actress." I laugh. "The others are going to have breakfast at Delifrance, wanna go?"

“Nah, I'll just go down and have a smoke. So, what's the big news? Is this about Jon, your cute CSR?” She waves a finger at me.

“No! Eric asked me earlier if I wanted to have breakfast. He touched me on the shoulder it was so kilig.”

“Hmp, if I'm not mistaken, he already has a girlfriend. Why don't you go out with Alexis' CSR?”

“Are you kidding me? He is a lot more effeminate than me. Tat, I'm not a lesbian, ok? Come on, let's go to my station. I need to get my things.”

We make our way to the 12th floor. The CSRs have already transferred to the 11th floor, and there were only a handful of busybodies left- a few TMs and some maintenance people.

“Gab!” It was Eric, walking from his station. “Let's go. Hello Miss Tatat!” He says to my bestfriend.

“I like your tie.” Tatat says.

“That's Hermes.” I whispered.

“Gab, are you applying for the ACCM post?” He asks as he sits on my chair.

I open my pedestal and took out my phone and my mug. “I'm not sure.. It seems like a stressful job to me.” I reply, hardly looking at him.

“I know just what you need- a fun weekend. A couple of friends of mine are going to Sagada.” Eric said.

“In Mountain Province?” Tatat asked.

“It’s a great place. Gab can make up his mind up there.”

“Are you applying for the post?” I ask him.

“I already submitted my application form and resume.” He winks mischievously.


III.

The bus made its way through unpaved winding roads, but the bumpy road was no trouble at all. Eric was right- the views were spectacular. We stopped at a roadside store, and we all hopped off to stretch.

“How was your interview yesterday?” Tatat asked.

“With Ravi? It was ok, I think. I held my composure all throughout. I felt like a beauty contestant!” I joked.

“When is your interview with the Call Center Director? I had mine with her and she’ll really grill you over hot coals.” Eric adds.

“As soon as we get back. Hey Jen, how are you doing?”

Jen smiles at me. “A little exhausted, but enjoying the trip so far. Let's buy food!”

We boarded the bus for the final leg of the trip. At 2:00pm, we finally arrive at the quaint village perched on top of a mountain. It was beautiful.

“Whew! Finally!” Tatat exclaims.

“Let’s get our things to the resthouse and start exploring.” Eric says.

“Yes, captain.” I called after him.

Eric and I ended up sharing a room, while the girls stayed at the adjacent room amidst my protestations to Tatat.

“Do you want them to share a room?” She hissed.

“You have a point there.” I said. And so I finally agreed.

I set my bag on the small bed. “The rooms are small.. But I guess its cozy, and the receiving area looked really nice.” I said.

“Did you see the fireplace? Hurry, let’s go to Echo Valley, then to the hanging coffins and then Sumaguing Caves.” He could hardly contain his enthusiasm.

We trekked the entire time because there were no means of transport- no tricycles or pedicabs in sight. It looked like people walked here all the time. The girls and I trudged along as Eric, the most athletic was in the lead. He was wearing shorts and rubber shoes, with his camera strapped on his shoulder.

“Eric, where to next?” I called out from way behind him. I was panting and so were the girls.

“Sumaguing Caves. We'll get a guide.” He says.

It was almost sundown when we arrived at the mouth of the cave. It was huge, the mouth seemingly eating up all the light that passed through it.

“Oh dear, it's getting dark. I think I'll just stay outside.” Jen says.

“Yeah, it looks creepy as it is.” Tatat nudges me.

“Eric, can we just go in tomorrow? I'm not familiar with the place.”

“Relax Gab, I’ve done this before. The girls can go ahead, come on, let's go! I'll take care of you.” There he was again, being charming to get his way.

“Fine, but let’s make it quick.” I say as I hand my backpack to Tatat.

The guide led us further down to the mouth of the cave. I heard flapping of wings, and I realized there were bats on the cave. Eric was animated, humming to himself, walking with ease.

The ground turned to jagged white stones. Water flowed in the crevices and I struggle to keep my balance. I turn my back and saw nothing but blackness; the only light now came from the kerosene lamp the guide had brought.
“Eric, wait.” I said nervously.

He laughs. “Are you afraid Gab?” I grab his arm and pretend to box him. I was starting to enjoy it actually. The guide’s face was just impassive as we went further down. He has done this a thousand times, I thought, and he couldn’t care less.

“What happened to your friends who were supposed to come with us?” I asked.

“Something came up at the office and they couldn’t make it, except for Jen.” I realized I’ve been holding on to his shoulders for a few minutes now, as the ground began to slope downwards. And then there was just shadow in front of us. As the guide drew closer, I saw that the ground dropped several feet and there was a thick piece of rope hanging.

I walked too far down, and there was no turning back now. I swallowed as Eric made his way down.

“This is called rappelling.” He says.

“It doesn’t look like fun. How deep is the drop?”

“Around 8 feet sir.” The guide says. Great, and below it is solid rock. I just hope I don’t go “splat!”

Shakily, I made my way down. I had taken off my sandals for more traction on the rock, which was wet. It was getting cold, and I imagine we were about three stories below ground level, deep in the earth’s bowels.

“Pretty cool, huh?” He grins.

“I’m wet!” I say, examining the camera. Luckily the case was waterproof. We take a few pictures of the rock formations. The guide points to a pond-like structure. We wade to the point where the icy waters reached our knees.

“It's cold out here. Let's go back up.” Steam came out of my mouth as I exhaled. Gosh, the temperature must have been really low. And I realized it was already nighttime.

“One last thing.” Eric says, he takes off his shirt and hands it to me. He walks over to the deep part and immersed himself in the water.

“Are you crazy?” I was panicking already. I imagined some sort of crazy cave monster lurking somewhere.

His laughter echoes through the cave as he grabs his shirt and puts it on. He was shivering.

“You're really losing it.” I said. He wraps his arms around me. “Whooo! The water is ice! Good thing you’re warm.”


IV.

I was starting to get confused with the way Eric was acting. It was about 8:30 in the evening and I was washing the dirt and dust off me from the day’s trip. I was thinking aloud.
Eric and I are pretty close. He shares his personal matters with me, and we share a lot of passions… He even persuaded me to apply for promotions. Earlier, I could have sworn he was giving me signals. Is there a possibility there could be more than just friendship here?

I rinse off quickly as the warm water began to cool. I enter our room and Eric is lying on the bed wearing only his boxers. Uh-oh. I pick up my clothes from my bag and put my shorts on. Then my t-shirt.

His wet clothes from the trek earlier hung at the back of a chair.

“Gab?” He asks.

“Yup?” My eyes squint as I try to see him through the dim light of the lampshade.

“Let's have a drink tomorrow.” He grins sheepishly.

“Sure.” I said. I haven’t had the chance to fill in Tatat of the recent incidents. Earlier at the Yoghurt House restaurant, we only talked about the caving trip that they missed. I turn off the light.

The moonlight filtered through the curtains. I could still see the silhouette of his lean body. I turn in my bed, and closed my eyes.

We spent the following day trekking to the waterfalls. I was feeling good, and Eric was in high spirits. The girls on the other hand, didn’t share the same sentiments. The treks were exhausting, often off the road. We made it home just in time for dinner.

“So, do you think you nailed the interview with MAD?” I ask.

“Pretty much. My stats speak for itself.” He said, taking a swig of beer.

“Ang yabang nito!” I laugh. I was feeling a little tipsy already. We were in the middle of our fifth bottles of San Mig Light.

“Can I ask a personal question?”

“Shoot.”

“Would you consider dating a guy?”

Eric laughed. “What a question. Why do you ask?”

“I'm in love with you, Eric.”

He just looks at me intently, silently.

“Just kidding. Forget what I said.”

I was trying to make the light of it, but my eyes said it all. Making him understand would be a futile effort. Oh Eric.

I took another swig of my beer. We became silent. Eric turned his eyes toward the window, his face unmoving.

We made our way back to our room. Eric was so hammered he just fell on his bed. I watched him for a while as he slept, and then I lay beside him, lost in my thoughts, until I drifted off to sleep.

V. We were silent inside the crowded bus that took us back to Manila. Eric and I hardly spoke to each other since we left St. Joseph hours ago. I glace to my side, Tatat was asleep, with earphones stuck to her ear. I decided I’ll just tell her about it when we get to Manila.

We finally arrived at about 4:00 am. We got off the bus, exhausted from the trip. Tatat hails a cab, and we say our goodbyes to Jen and Eric. I meet Eric’s eyes as the taxi moved away, I had the feeling it was the last time I'll ever see him.

The night I returned to work, I went to see my ACCM.

“What?” Karen exclaimed.

“Are you sure about this Gabby? You have a good chance of getting the promotion, you know.” She looks at me disbelievingly.

“It’s personal Karen.” I said.

“I’m saddened, but it’s your decision.”

I take a deep breath as I sign the document. I walked slowly towards my station and pick up my things. I had one more thing to do- I pick up a pen and a piece of paper and wrote:

Hi Eric,

I guess I should probably start with an apology or an explanation, but something tells me you already know so I won’t. Like what Tatat said, all anyone had to do was see the way I look at you to know that I have feelings for you. Hey, you didn't tell me at the start of the Sagada trip that Jen was your high school girlfriend, so that makes us even.

I regret doing this, but I feel like this is the only way. Unlike some people who can just move on from such an episode and dismiss it as some interesting anecdote later on, I obviously cannot. I’m still in love with you, actually. Haha! That’s so hilarious to hear, even to me. But I guess I couldn’t help it.

I’ve decided it was really time for me to go. If I remain here I'd probably get sent to the clinic every night for recurring heartaches. I’ll never forget that you’ve always been nice to me from the start and sorry if I caused you a headache.

“The only true paradises are the ones we’ve lost.” Now I know what that line means. Thanks for the four years of great friendship and company, I’ll always remember that. Those memories are like secret beach coves I alone know about- and they’d always be beautiful.
Congratulations on your promotion. Malou told me about it. I’ll bet you’d make a great ACCM.
Gabby
I fold the paper and tuck it under the keyboard on his station. I walk towards the elevators and take a last look. Beep! The glass door opens, and I step out.

“Are you ok?” Tatat asks gently as she steps out of the elevator.

I shook my head and I felt my eyes blur.

She squeezes my hand and takes my paperbag. “Ikaw talagang bakla ka.” She makes a face. We both burst out laughing as the elevator closes.