Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Long Weekend

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…


“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.


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.”


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?”


“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.
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.

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