SHORT STORIES

DANCING ON MY OWN

The sound of the music is echoing throughout the empty dance hall. It’s been like that for more than an hour now and alone, I tried to match every beat that I hear. Pop, grind, slide, wave, swing, jump, pause, slide; nothing coordinated, just letting my body feel every single rhythm. I haven’t done this for so long that I wonder if I actually look ridiculous.

I can feel the drops of sweat running down my upper body as I move, slowly caressing the skin, like that of a lower taking it ever so slowly. It was both that of torture and of sweet anticipation. I hate that feeling yet I continued to move as if it’s the most important thing to do. I hate that feeling but I didn’t want to lose it too.

“It always looks so raw and beautiful when you’re like this.” I almost missed my footing when I suddenly heard your voice. I stopped in mid-step and tried to regain my balance.

“I never thought I’d ever see you like this again.” You said with a sad smile.

“You shouldn’t have.” I said, walking towards the stereo and turning it off. Suddenly, I feel tired.

“What are you doing here?” I asked you. Instead of answering, you took your shoes and coat off before rummaging on the CD tracks on the desk beside the stereo.

“Dance with me.” You whispered before putting the CD on the stereo. When the first few chords of Broken Strings came out, I just shook my head.

“Please…” There was begging in your voice.

We’ve danced to this song so many times that I can’t even count anymore. This was our warm up song. Every single time, we would play this just to let our body loose. This was our song, the only thing that we really ever had.

Let me hold you
For the last time

I guess we’ve been rehearsing for this day and time. The only thing is, we never really talk about what we should do. We just move and somehow, it clicks, every single time.

You were already moving on your own when I turned to look at you. As always, it was beautiful that it was almost painful to watch. I let out a sigh before stepping towards you. If this would be the last time, then let it be something beautiful. Even pain can be beautiful you know.

“One last time…” I told myself before gently caressing your face with a sad smile. I’ll fall in love with you for one last time.

It still amazes me how synchronized we can be despite not really planning and what would be the next move or next step. You sway and I’ll match it without thinking. You glide and I’ll glide with you. Every pop, every swing, every jump, like that of two bodies with one mind, we dance.

Oh… It tears me up
I tried to hold on but it hurts too much
I tried to forgive but it’s not enough
To make it all okay

Broken strings. Quite fitting. That’s all we ever were. The broken string of a guitar connected only by music and movement. I should have realized that before. You needed me to find your rhythm. I needed you to make each unsteady step firm. We needed each other but only inside the dance floor, that’s all there is to it. Nothing more.

“I used to watch you and wonder how it would feel like to hold you in my arms like this.” I said. You almost missed a step but continued. I did the same.

“When did you stop watching me?” You asked. I almost laughed. Instead of replying, I lifted you up in the air. After all these years, I can still do that effortlessly. You used to say that when I do that, you always feel like you can do anything as long as you have me. I’ve wanted that for you too.

But the two of us have always been a couple of broken toys at the eye of the storm. And the point is, we both didn’t even realize it until we were being thrown all over the place, away from each other.

When I put you down, you didn’t make a move and just stared at me. I stopped as well.

“When did you stop looking at me?” You asked. I let out a sigh.

“When you stopped noticing…” I said. And as if on cue, I heard footsteps coming towards us.

“I knew you two would be here!” I didn’t even turn to see who it was. The storm has come to take you away for good.

“You two aren’t cheating on me, are you?” I guess that was supposed to be a joke. It wasn’t funny.

“We just have to say goodbye the way we know it.” I said with a smile before walking towards the stereo. Just in time too.

Let me hold you, for the last time
It’s the last chance we’ll feel again…

The last notes, the last few beats, and then it was over. Like everything else between us.

“Hey! We’ll expect you tomorrow!” There it was again, the voice of the storm.

“You’re not going to miss our wedding and come up with a lame excuse are you?” I laughed. I guess saying that I can’t watch you any longer as you walk away from me would be lame.

“Of course…” I said. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

I heard your footsteps walking out of the studio before the deafening silence. It was over.

I took the CD out of the stereo and dropped it on the nearest trash bin. I’ll never dance to that song again.

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MIDNIGHT SKIES

“If I would write a love story about us, it would be short, bittersweet, and of both of us finding someone else.”

I was a little taken aback when I heard you say those words. It was meant to be a joke when I suggested that you be my partner if you are writing my love story. I didn’t even think that you would actually consider it just to shut the idea down completely afterwards and bluntly at that.

There was no sugarcoating or pretense in your choice of words. That was so like you: blunt and brutally honest. It almost made me wish that I didn’t say anything at all.

This isn’t exactly the first time that you tried writing my love story. You did try to partner me up with a common friend of ours before, teasing me with it actually. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea but there was no stopping you anyway so I let you go ahead with it. I guess it didn’t work out since you stopped talking about it.

“You’re both too reserved for the story to work. You need someone to force you out of your comfort zone.” That’s what you said and I couldn’t agree more.

That’s when it actually struck me that if there was someone who can take me out of my comfort zone, it would be you. Blurting that out didn’t seem like such a great idea though since you shut it down just like that.

“I wouldn’t have the patience to wait for you to change your mind and fight for me.”

Short. Sharp. Direct to the point. And it was also true. I guess that’s the reason why I wasn’t quite surprised when I felt a sharp stab on the chest after hearing that.

In all honesty, I didn’t want to think about it yet a part of me wanted to prove you wrong for some reason. The idea that you wouldn’t even consider a make-believe love affair between the two of us was nagging me for some reason and wasn’t sitting well with my pride.

For days, those words keep popping in and out of my mind. Looking at it logically, I can actually see how you came up with that conclusion.

It takes a while for me to really warm up and open up to people. I don’t easily trust anyone. There are only a handful of people who can come as close to me as you did because of the walls I’ve built around myself.

I’m not even quite sure how you tore down those walls in the first place. It was like I woke up and you were just there, insulting the hell out of me.

Being with you is quite a roller coaster ride if you look at it. One minute, you’re making me feel like the worst person alive, then a minute after you’d be making me feel like I can conquer the world. You can easily talk me out of a depression and sent me right back in if you wanted to.

You see right through me and it’s scary at times since you tell me things about myself that I wouldn’t even dare think about. But I think that’s exactly what had me inching closer and closer to you. You saw both good and bad in me and stayed. You never let me hear the end of it, of course, but you stayed.

Then there are those late night conversations that seem to last until morning. We can talk about anything and everything under the sun. We often disagreed but that’s what made it livelier. Not one of us would ever back down. We’d stick to our guns and stay with it until we change the topic, not yielding until the very end.

I can be who I am with you and it would be okay. It was as simple as that.

And maybe that’s the reason why it bothered me so much, you saying that we wouldn’t work if ever, not even in your made-up stories. It was like you saying that you know me well enough not to fall in love with me and that hurts. I want someone like you to fall in love with me, someone who can see through me and still love me no matter what.

I still had that thought in my mind when we met a few days after.

“So, you really won’t fall in love with me?” I asked. I wasn’t sure what exactly I was hoping to hear when I asked that but I just had a feeling that I should.

You looked like you were giving it a thought before you answered.

“It’s not impossible but I’m not that stupid to fall for someone who can’t love me back,” Was your answer. Somehow, those words made me feel a little better.

“Why are you asking anyway?”

“Just curious,” I said. “So I guess I just have to fall in love with you first then and you’d be able to write our love story.”

“That’s just plain weird and scary coming from you and a little stupid too.” You said with a laugh.

“Why so?”

“Falling for me doesn’t necessarily mean that I’d fall for you too.” That was painful to hear but you had a point.

“Besides, you’d never fall for me. I’m not exactly lovable.” You added.

My mind went haywire of things to say to prove that wrong. You are painfully blunt but that’s just because you care enough for the person that you’d rather he or she takes things as it is. You are tactless and would always talk your mind freely when given the chance but that’s just you making it real. You never give in to what the society expects from you unless it suits your purpose. You make your own rules and even with your stubbornness, people are still drawn to you, because sharp-tongued as you are, you know how to take care of the people that matters to you.

I could have listed a million things that would make you see just how easy it is to love you. And that’s when it struck me.

“I’m in love with you.” I said softly, more like a confirmation for myself than telling you.

I heard you choke on your beer. You were still coughing when I looked you in the eyes.

“Please tell me I didn’t hear you say that…” You said under your breath, a look of fear in your eyes.

That was the most painful thing I have ever seen; seeing you scared of me loving you.

I wanted to take it back knowing that if I did, you would not have that scared and pained look in your eyes. I wanted to say that I was kidding but I know that you would see right through it.

“You don’t get to do this to me. Not you of all people.” You said when I didn’t say anything. And before I knew it, you were out of the bar and into the streets. I immediately followed you but you wouldn’t even look at me.

“Is it really that bad for me to love you?” I shouted at you when I couldn’t take the pain anymore. There I was, finally admitting that I was in love with you and you’re first impulse is to run away.

You turned around with tears in your eyes and that almost broke me.

“Yes!”

The most painful part of hearing that was knowing that you believed it with all your heart. You loved me too, I was sure of it, yet that seems to be exactly the reason why you are running away.

“Could you please stop running away and tell me just exactly why it’s such a bad thing?” I asked you and that just made you sob even harder.

You walked back to me and the pain in your eyes was just too unbearable to look at.

“Because you falling in love with me would break you. Because you falling in love with me would go against everything that you believe in and that would kill you. And I know that when push comes to shove, you wouldn’t have the courage to fight for me and I love you way too much that if that happens, it would break me.”

I couldn’t say anything after hearing that. You were right, of course. You know me way too well.

“I have enough demons on my own, Nate. Please don’t make me fight your demons too.” You said with the saddest smile I’ve ever seen.

“I’d change. I’d do—“

You placed your finger on my lips to stop me.

“You wouldn’t. Not for me.”

I was surprised when you gave me a soft kiss on the lips before hugging me ever so tightly. I wished that moment lasted a little longer. I wish I have had the courage to tell you right there and then that I would prove you wrong, that I can make it work. But I just couldn’t lie to you.

“I guess I was right. Our love story would be short and bittersweet.” You said with a smile before finally letting go and walking away.

“We’re both cowards, Nate, you and I. And we’ve been running round in circles far too long to be anything else but that.”

And just like that, you disappeared from my life. My world had never been so quiet.

For days after, I struggled with my own demons and tried to drown every feeling I have for you with all the alcohol I can get my hands on to. I’ve wasted days and nights trying to convince myself that you were right, that we wouldn’t have worked anyway. Weeks turned to months until it finally turned into a year, but still, one thing remained, I still wanted to love and be loved by you.

I tried looking for you, asking our old friends and acquaintances if they knew where you are. I even went as far as asking your parents but they wouldn’t tell me anything.

They said that I’d just break you again and that there was no way in hell that they would let me. The hardest part of hearing that was knowing that they were probably right.

A few more months after that, I saw you at a coffee shop with someone else. You looked so happy and it was obvious that you were going out with the person you were with. You two didn’t even care that the world was watching you. You looked so secured with what you two have that the rest of the world didn’t seem to matter.

Only then did I finally accept to myself that you were exactly where you should be; happy and unafraid, something that you will never be with me.

I walked away, knowing that it was time for me to write my own end of the story, finally admitting that you wouldn’t be writing it with me.

ALL THIS TIME

“You’re crazy, you know that?”

I just rolled my eyes and continued eating. There was no point in answering anyway. No matter what I tell my friends, they’d still think that I am crazy. I guess that’s the reason why we were friends anyway. We were a crazy bunch, all with their own eccentricities which oddly worked quite well together.

Melissa, one of the closest friends in the group just stared at me blankly for a while before speaking. “So? You’re still doing that waiting thing?”

Everyone else in the table seemed to suddenly get interested with my answer. I guess that is one of the perks of being the only single person in the table. I am the constant third wheel, or fifth, or seventh, depending on how many are there of them with their partners and all.

For some reason, they often treat me like the kid they have to give away in marriage, and like most parents, my love life is one of the major topics. I guess that was expected since I haven’t been in a real relationship for awhile.

“Who even said that I was waiting?” I said, my mouth still half full with tempura. We were at a Japanese restaurant for what had become a weekly “meeting” and for some reason, my non-existent love life had been the sole topic since we arrived. It’s funny, actually, since they seemed more bothered about my being single than I was.

“Oh come on! You’ve been pining…”

I started zoning it out every single word Melissa was saying after the first two words. It takes a lot of practice to do that, especially with my friends but I’ve long gotten the hang of it. We’ve been friends for years, college friends even. Being with them almost every single day do give you time to develop such talents.

The thing is, they never stop talking about anything and everything under the sun, and so, instead of telling them to shut up which would not stop them anyway, zoning out was way better.

“You’re not even listening, are you?” I caught those last few words enough to grin a little. I guess they do know me well enough. Melissa gave me her usual dagger eyes but I just smiled.

“Just let him be. It’s his choice anyway.” It was Andrew this time. “It’s not like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s old enough to make his own decisions, you know.”

“No truer words have ever been said! Thanks dude! I knew I can always count on you.” I said, laughing. Melissa just stared at both of us blankly.

“You know I always got your back, brother, no matter how crazy you are.” Andrew said, ignoring Melissa’s glare altogether. I was sure that he would have hell to pay when they go home. Nothing major though. They have been together for more than eight years now, married for two.

“He’s thirty-two,” Melissa said, scowling. “He should at least be in a real relationship by now.”

“Why?” I asked. “It’s not like my sperm has an expiration date like your fallopian tubes. And speaking of which, shouldn’t you be worrying more about that?”

“I’m already pregnant you dimwit!” Melissa exclaimed, silencing everyone on the table.

My jaw dropped for a while after hearing the news before I started literally jumping for joy. It would have looked a little over the top to some but that was normal for me. I like kids and for some stupid reason, I like hearing people telling me that they are having kids.

“And here I am, not really surprise that he would react this way,” Andrew said in between chuckles, watching me walk towards Melissa and forcing her to let me put my ears on her tummy. I just rolled my eyes. Andrew knew everything about my life and of course, he wouldn’t be surprised at all.

Melissa protested for a while but gave in anyway. “God! You’re annoying!” She said with a little laugh.

“Annoyingly handsome, adorable, and really cute to boot!” I said before, making a face before turning my attention to her still flat tummy. “Right, baby? You call me Papa Handsome, okay?”

Hearing my own voice say those words gave me a little chill. It wasn’t the first time I’ve said those words.

“And we still wonder why he is single,” Celine, one of our other friends, said making everyone else on the table laugh. That brought me back just in time.

I don’t mind, really, being told that I act like a kid, I mean. I do act like a kid most of the time and it doesn’t bother me at all. Besides, it’s only with them that I can act out like that anyway without being condemned or ridiculed.

I was still on my knees, baby-talking with Melissa’s tummy when my phone rang. Melissa’s eyes rolled when she saw that it was you. I’ve been meaning to ask her why she hates your guts but I was sure that I won’t like what I would be hearing so I never did.

Standing, I gave Melissa’s tummy just one last light tap before walking away and answering the phone. The minute I did, I heard you crying. I didn’t even get to say hello. I gave out a sigh before saying anything.

“You got dumped.” It wasn’t a question. You didn’t even answer and just continued sobbing. I let out another sigh.

“I’ll be there in 30 minutes.” I said before hanging up.

I went back to my friends to tell them that I was going ahead. They didn’t really like the idea but they didn’t ask me to stay. They knew it would be futile.

The drive to your place took just about twenty minutes and I wasn’t really surprised when I saw you still bawling over your broken heart on the couch.

I didn’t say anything. I went straight to the kitchen and started making coffee. If you wanted to cry over it all, then I’m not going to stop you. After all, it’s your feeling. It’s not like I can really do anything about it.

I was already on my second cup when you came into the kitchen, your eyes puffy and all red from all the crying. Truthfully, I was already getting tired of listening to your sobbing but I stayed anyway. It’s not like you needed me. You just didn’t want to be alone and I’m stupid enough to make myself available for you most of the times.

“Are you done being stupid?” I asked as I pour some coffee on another mug. You didn’t answer. I guess I was being pretty harsh but from experience, I know that sweet-talking you and sugarcoating everything just makes it worst.

These kinds of things, I have learned about you over the years, right from the day that we have started going out. Even after we broke up, you’d still come running to me. And as always, I didn’t have the heart to say no.

I should have gotten a degree in Psychology in college instead of literature and film. If that would have been the case, then I could at least charge you every single time. Too late for that, I guess.

“Why are you being nice to me?” Your voice was just above a whisper but I heard it loud and clear. I almost laughed right there and then. But I saw how hard you were clutching the mug, your fingers turning almost white. This was no time for laughing or kidding around.

“Because I did this to you.” I said bluntly. “And no matter what you do I would always feel responsible for everything. I’m not being nice. I’m just doing this for my own conscience.”

You gave me a half-hearted smile in response. For a while there, I wish that you didn’t. I will never stop comparing this type of smile that you give me now to the one that I used to see you give me when we started dating. I wonder if I’ll ever see you smile like that again.

I miss your innocence, the way you seem to be always so naïve about everything. I still remember those times when you would suddenly just come up to me out of nowhere and tell me that you love me. In all honesty, it was a little annoying before, how you followed me around, and how you always tell everyone that you would do everything just to make sure that I fall in love with you.

Our first mistake was being stupid enough to let something happen between us. The second was thinking that we could actually make it work. Then that was followed by a parade of mistakes that even I didn’t think was possible. By the time we both admitted that it would never really work out, you were pregnant. And everything just went downhill from there.

“You don’t have to do this. You have nothing to be guilty about.” I didn’t have any answer to that. This was, after all, the first time that you ever gave me some kind of absolution from all the things that happened between us two.  For years, you have been blaming me for all of it, how I ruined you, how I took away everything from you.

“Please say something…”

I let out another sigh. That has become a habit for me as well. It gives me about a few seconds to think first before blurting out what was in my mind.

“That’s new.” I said. It was the safest thing I can think of. You gave out a hallow laugh as an answer.

You took a quick sip from your coffee before responding. “I guess you’re right.”

The silence that followed was deafening, but I got used to that as well. Thinking about it now, that was all we ever had between us after our kid died before he was born. No, we didn’t blame each other; there was no shouting, no crying, no dramatic interlude between being together and finally breaking up. If we have had something in my mind then, we both decided to keep it to ourselves. So, just silence. The deafening and heart wrenching sound of emptiness.

“I didn’t have a miscarriage. I had our baby aborted.” I stiffened a little when you just went ahead and blurted out those words. Not that I didn’t know about it. I have known it all along. It took me awhile to get my mind wrap around it. I even hated you for a while, to be honest, until I came into terms with the fact that I was partly to blame for it too.

Averting my eyes, I settled on staring at my own cup of coffee. It’s been five years but somehow, it still feels like it just happened yesterday; the pain of hearing that you were in the hospital, bleeding and almost dying, and then the talk with the doctor after, it’s still clear in my mind up to this day. I have never forgiven myself for that. That’s why I stayed, that’s why I never left.

“I’ve always known.” I said. “Why do you think I stayed beside you this long?”

I can feel your eyes on my face but I kept staring at the mug. I didn’t have to look at you to know that you were really surprised to hear that. I at least knew you that well enough.

“And you chose not to hate me. That’s cheating.”

“I cannot hate you when I was the one who drove you into doing that. You were in love with me and I took advantage of that just because I was lonely. I was a giant prick. I still am. I thought that I could fall in love with you and took the chance without even thinking of what could happen if I didn’t. I’m actually still wondering why you put up with me all those times.”

The words came out like a crashing tidal wave. I don’t know what exactly came over me but it feels like it was finally the right time to say those things out loud.

“Your sense of guilt is really annoying.” You said with a laugh. That made me look at you and I was really surprised at what I saw. You were smiling, an older and wiser version of the one you used to give me, but it was a real smile nonetheless. It didn’t quite reach your eyes just yet but it was almost there. That’s when it hit me.

“You two didn’t break up.” Again, it was a statement, not a question.

“No. He wouldn’t let me. He said that he would wait as long as he needs to. He said that he would wait until I would have the courage to finally give up on you. That scared me. You were that one dream that I thought I would never give up, the one dream that I gave up everything for. And you never really made it easy, you know. You stayed. Even when you didn’t have to.” There was a long pause after that.

“I guess, all these time, I just really can’t let you go. I knew you love me; you wouldn’t have stayed if you didn’t. I also knew that the love you had for me wasn’t exactly the love that I wanted from you. But I have made myself believe that it would be enough. You see, I have given way too much already to just give you up. Besides, I knew you would never leave unless I asked you to. So I trapped us into this prison for years. You were too kind and as I see now, I have both loved and hated you for that.”

I just sat there, listening to you, wondering if there was really something that I should say or do.

“I feel in love with a dream and I didn’t want to wake up.”

“I was a nightmare.” I finally said. You just laughed.

“You were a mistake, but never a nightmare. And you would always be that mistake I would willingly commit over and over again.”

There were no words coming into my mind after that. I didn’t expect any of this when you called earlier. I thought I would just come here and listen to you rant and blame me just like before.

“Do you love him?”

It took you awhile before you finally answered, “I do.”

There was nothing more to say after that.

I emptied my mug and rinsed it before putting it back inside the cupboard. Then, I took the key to your house out of my pocket and placed it on the table in front of you before walking out the door.

You didn’t ask me to stay like you always had and I knew right there and then that this would be the last time that I’d ever set foot inside that place.

The painful jabs that I feel on my chest were making it hard to breathe but I kept walking anyway. I needed to be as far away from you as possible because if I didn’t I’d go back there and ask you to take those last two words back; I’d let myself be selfish all over again.

Maybe now I can really be as nice as you have always thought I was.

When I reached my apartment, I wasn’t even surprised to see Andrew waiting for me. He does know me well enough. One look was all it took for him to understand what happened.

“You finally got dumped.” He said. I just nodded.

“And she doesn’t even know what exactly she did…”

I just nodded once again.

JUST FOR NOW

The wind was quite strong at that place for some reason and I watched as it played with your hair as you were looking at the other direction. The sound of wave crashing on the shoreline was music as always, like a small thumping beat, one you can either put as rather joyous or sad.

Without you saying anything, I knew you were scared. So was I. But none of us said a single word. We just stood there, looking at the sunset, your hand in mine, your back on my chest, and the scent of your perfume drowning me.

You said that you didn’t like sunsets. It was too melodramatic for your taste, too sad, too overused, too much of goodbyes.

As for me, I love the sunset, how the blue sky turns to bright pastel colors of red, yellow, and orange, how it deems everything else, making you focus more on your other senses. I love the fact that it means endings, the sadness of it all. I love standing under the dying light and think back if I have given it my all.

A felt a shiver run down your body so I hugged you a little tighter, still basking in the sweet silence that was between us. I guess that’s one more thing that I like about sunsets; you no longer have to talk to show how much you care. You just have to feel it, to know it, and make it last, as long as you can.

“What are you going to do know?” Your voice quavered a little, a little unsure, too weak, but I heard it loud and clear. But you didn’t give me the chance to answer.

“Forget about me…”

I closed my eyes to keep the tears from falling before nudging you a little so that your eyes meet mine. I slowly pushed away the tangles of hair that was covering your face, and there it was, the mouth, the nose, those tiny little freckles underneath your eyes, those long lashes, and those deep brown eyes that I have always loved, the face that I have painted in my heart for years. How can I ever forget that?

I planted a kiss at the tip of your nose and smiled. You were crying again, hot tears rolling down your pale cheeks, your eyes full of sorrow. And there I was thinking that I could take them all away. I guess I needed more time, something that I don’t have any more.

“You know I can’t do that, even if I tried,” I whispered softly. Those weren’t the right words; those weren’t the words you wanted to hear. But that was the truth and I didn’t want to lie to you. You smiled bitterly and gave me a quick weak kiss on the cheeks. I almost broke down.

“How I wish you’d lie to me sometimes…”

Oh, I did, about little things. I never told you the truth why I was late when we went to your parents’ house. I never told you why it took me forever to go and pee that time in church. I never told you why I look away every time I hear you call my name. Lying by omission. By now, I have lied to you countless times.

“I’ve lied, you know that,” I said, smiling again. “I’m human too, you know.”

You just stared at me. “I know,” And for some reason, that gave back a little twinkle in your eyes.

“Are you scared?”

“No.” And there I was lying again, just like when I said that I was stuck in traffic to your parent’s house when all along, I was just outside, in the car, waiting for the tears to stop from falling, or that time in church when I spent almost an hour in the restroom, cleaning the mirror I have broken after listening to you talk to the priest, or that time when you were in the hospital, grasping my hand, calling my name, when I wasn’t strong enough to look at you fading away, inch by inch.

I lied about not hating God for doing this to us. I lied about being okay with your choice of not going through the operation yet again. I wanted you to fight, at least one more time, but you said you were tired, so I just said okay. I lied about that too. It wasn’t okay. You were giving up. That wasn’t okay with me.

“You don’t have to lie anymore,” You said, giving me yet another kiss, on the lips this time. And I broke down. The touch of your lips on mine, the feel of your hand on my cheeks, your body against mine, your scent, everything about you was saying goodbye.

“Just let me lie, at least for now, just for now, please…” And you smiled, one last time.

“Sure…” You said as you closed your eyes.

“I love you,” My voice was shaking, the tears flowing like a river during a storm, giving you one last kiss, as your arm dropped to your side, as your body went limp. I said those three words over and over again, until the darkness finally set in.

You hated the sunset because you knew it would be the time that you’d leave. I would always love the sunset because it was the last time that I’d have you with me.

CHANCE ENCOUNTER

“Oh God! Are you gay?”

There I was, sitting on her bed, with nothing but my underwear on, trying hard not to burst out laughing hearing the frustration in her voice.

I met her in a bar a few hours ago, drinking with her friend. And since I was alone, they have asked me to join them, a complete stranger. And at the very minute I sat down beside her, I knew where it was going. The flirtatious glances, the lingering touches on my thigh, her lips almost nibbling my ears every single time she wants to say something; it was clear, we were having sex.

That wasn’t actually the first I got “picked up” at a bar, for some reason that even I do not understand. I’m a guy, not exactly the testosterone induced one most of the time, and I go to bars alone not because I want to hook up, at least not every single time.

I like getting lost in the crowd, giving me the feeling that I am there but not actually there, like hiding on plane sight. It gives me the time to think, to see the bigger picture.

But tonight, I was just lonely. And as it seems, so was she. And we both needed the company. Who was I to say no? I wanted it as much as she did.

I took another quick glance at the picture on her side table, the same picture that I have seen earlier, making me stop. Too bad I wasn’t that drunk to just ignore it. It would have been one good night, something I’d probably forget in a few days, but still, one hell of a good night.

“Would you feel better if I say yes?” I asked, trying hard not to chuckle.

“Is it me?” She asked, the hurt in her voice showing all her insecurities. There’s just a certain ring of need in there that almost made me take the last article of clothing I have on and just go ahead with it. She was a very pretty girl and if it had been any other time, I would have just went ahead and did it. She wanted it, I wanted it. Who cares about tomorrow, right? But for some stupid reason, I didn’t.

I gave her a quick peck on the lips and started to put my clothes on. She just watched me.

“Go kiss your kid goodnight, even if he’s asleep. He needs to know that you got home safely.” I said. Her eyes automatically darted to the picture on her side table.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a saint. I’m probably worst than the guys you have met before and if we did have sex tonight, I might not even remember it in a few days. But you would and you’d hate yourself. I can’t have that, especially with a kid waiting for your attention. I can’t be that selfish.” I wanted to add that she shouldn’t be that selfish but I kept that to myself.

I’ve already rejected her, at least that’s how it looks. She didn’t need any more jabs after that.

“You’re different.” She said with a sad smile, the same sad smile that had brought us to that, the same sad smile that had made me feel needed, the same sad smile that assholes like me had taken advantage of in the past.

“I’m not. I just can’t be that selfish.” I told her. “This was nothing more than a one night stand, at least for me.”

She laughed a little. “I know.”

I sat down beside her on the bed and held her hands when I was done putting my clothes on. “If you’re looking for a man who needs you, you already have that.” I said, glancing at the picture once again. “How old is he?”

“Twelve.” Somehow, even in the dark room, I saw a glitter of happiness in her eyes.

“He’s probably better at being a man than I am.” I said, giving her one last hug before heading for the door. She put on her shirt and followed me out of the room up to the front door.

“Why did you come here?” She asked, opening the door for me.

“Because I was lonely and horny,” I answered with a laugh. “And because you were pretty and stupid enough to think that I was worth your time.”

“You’re thinking that this is a mistake.” She said, more like a statement instead of a question.

“Yes. But not mine.” I said, giving her another peck on the lips. “I just don’t want to be someone else’s mistake tonight. Too bad, you got me at a time when I actually have a conscience.”

She was quiet for a while.

“I’m not a nice guy so don’t take this against you.”

“How else am I supposed to take it? You rejected me.”

I smiled. “I didn’t reject you. I rejected me.”

I walked away without looking back. I didn’t even ask for her name. But that’s usually how chance encounters end. And this was nothing different. It was just that, an encounter, two strangers meeting.

I’d probably regret taking the high road later. My groin already is. But still, she didn’t need me, at least not the way she thought she did. I wasn’t the man who could take away her misery.

Having a conscience does suck at times. I think I’m doing the growing up thing all wrong. At this point, I shouldn’t have cared at all.

NOT THIS TIME

“What if I fall for you?”

I choked on my beer as I tried to keep myself from laughing out loud for what you have just asked. It was just a little too out of the blue and knowing that you’re halfway from being drunk just makes it so funny for some reason. There we were, on some bar, amidst people we don’t really know nor care to know about, just talking in between gulps of beers despite the rowdy crowd that night. I did try to suppress my laughter but it still came out as a giggle which you noticed.

Frowning, you looked at me straight in the eyes. “What’s so funny?”

“I’m not really sure,” I said, smiling. You made a face before looking the other way. It was obvious that you were pissed, yet there I was, still unable to take the smile out of my face.

“Keep smiling and I’m gonna smack it out of you myself!” You said without even looking at me. That just made me smile even more, which turned into giggles. You didn’t like that either. By the time I stopped, you looked like you were about to bolt out of the club.

“I’m really sorry but I wasn’t laughing at you.” I said soon as I got myself composed. You just rolled your eyes. You have always been so sensitive although you seldom say anything. Unfortunately for you, it always shows on your face no matter how hard you try to hide it. I, on the other hand, had always been an ass. It was the complete recipe for disaster but somehow, we’ve managed to get over that and became close. As to how that happened, some scientist would be better at figuring it out because I have no idea whatsoever.

“I just didn’t expect the question, not from you anyway.” I explained. That was the truth. You have always been honest about a lot of things but never about how you really feel. It was, of course, a hypothetical question, but that’s the farthest you have ever gone ever since we met.

I let out a sigh before continuing. “Do you really want me to answer that or did you just run out of things to say or ask?”

Again, you averted your eyes before answering. “Not really.”

I didn’t even know that silence can be so overwhelming in a noisy bar but there it was, that heavy feeling of unspoken words. You grabbed the bottle of beer in front of you and downed more than half of it before putting it down again.

“What if you fall for me?” You asked. I just stared at you, this time, you didn’t avoid my eyes. I stared at those deep browns before inching closer until our face just a few inches away.

“What is it to you?” I asked. I saw you open your mouth as if about to say something but closed it without uttering a single word. I smiled and pulled back.

“What’s with the questions anyway?” I did want to know the reason why. You have been acting weirdly all night. You let out a sigh.

“I just want to know if you’re in love with me.” You’re voice was just a notch above a whisper but I heard it all too clear.

“Then why didn’t you just ask me that? You know I’d answer anyway. It’s not like I’m—”

You cut me off. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear your answer. Anyway, forget it.”

Then you excused yourself and went to the restroom. I was still musing about what you have just said when your phone lit up and a message popped on the screen. I was curious on who it was from so I took a quick glance at it. I didn’t mean to actually read the message. It was the manufacturer’s fault and the message was just right there, scrolling on its own.

It was my ex, which wasn’t really surprising because you two were friends. It was the message that caught my attention.

By the time you got back, I was in the middle of singing, thankfully. I at least got the chance to pour my heart out, singing at the top of my lungs. You were smiling when I was done. I smiled back.

“Where did that come from?” You asked as I sat back down from putting the microphone on the empty table beside ours.

“It’s one of my God-given gifts.” I just said, chuckling a little. Believe me; I will still be more surprised of myself than you would have been of me if you knew what I knew back then.

We were out of the bar after a while. Since your unit was just beside mine, we walked home together. What we talked about within those almost thirty minutes was gone from me. The only thing that was clear was what you said as I tried to open my door. I was fumbling with my keys a little when you spoke.

“I love you,” You said, loud enough for anyone who was still awake in the compound to hear. I dropped the keys in shock. I didn’t think you would actually go that far. I took my time picking it up before turning around to face you.

“Thanks! I love myself too.” It was apparent that you didn’t expect that answer. I saw your face hardened but I didn’t even care anymore.

“Damn it!” You exclaimed. “Are you playing—”

“I’m not.” I was the one cutting you off this time. “Good thing you didn’t turn the recorder on.”

All colors left your face, your hand clutching on your phone.

“I deserve better than you lying and betting on me falling for you. I thought we were friends.” I told you before going back to open the door. It came open on the first try.

“I’m—” You started.

“Oh my God, please don’t apologize.” I said, cutting you off once again. “You’re apology won’t make it right so don’t waste any more of my time. As I see it, you’ve wasted enough.”

I went inside my unit and closed the door behind me, trying hard to keep the tears at bay. It was a good thing that I didn’t answer any of your questions. You would have won. But you didn’t hear me say a word. None of us won, at least not this time.

SOMEDAY, SOMEHOW, MAYBE

I was in a middle of a meeting when I saw your message. For about a minute there, I just stared at the notification, trying to ask myself if it was really your name that I was seeing.

I faltered at what I was trying to say because my mind just went blank right there and then. All I can think of is that of your name on the screen, waiting, like an old door asking to be opened.

It’s been years since I last saw you, and about six months since I last allowed myself to even think of you. And now, here you are, reminding me yet again of the things that I wanted to forget.

Of course you were getting married at some point in time. I wasn’t stupid enough to believe otherwise. I just didn’t think that it would be this soon, and the bigger reason, not with me. Somehow, I always had the notion that it would be you and me. That was until six months ago, when you called out of the blue just to tell me the news.

“I’m happy for you,” I said, trying to hold my emotions down as my mind tried to grasp everything that you were saying. As for my heart, it went down the drain soon as you said, “…someone else…”

You asked if I would attend your wedding. I said no without any pretense. You didn’t ask why because we both knew that none of us wanted to hear the answer.

So you got married and I honestly wanted you to be happy. I also wanted to break your neck for telling me.

It took me an hour to finish what should have been a fifteen minute presentation. Half of that I spent trying to ignore the phone in my hand.

I can’t really think of anything that you would want to say to me, at least not of anything that I would want to hear. You got married. That’s the last news I wanted to hear about you.

Still, I opened the message.

“Will you ever forgive me?” That was your message.

For what? For not waiting for me? I can’t be angry because of that. It wasn’t your responsibility. For making me believe that you’d wait? Probably not for that either. For hurting me? Maybe, just maybe.

“What for?”

I sent that without thinking. It just felt as if I owe you that much. I didn’t wait long for your reply.

“For not trusting you enough to wait for you.”

I turned off my phone after that. It was all I can do really, to shut it off, thinking that by doing so, I could shut the pain out too. But things don’t really work that way.

As always, the pain was overwhelming, just like when I ask you to wait, just like when you said that you can’t promise that.

I wanted to be someone you would be proud of, that would be worth your love, and for that I needed time. I had hoped for a second chance or at least a new beginning, but as it seems, it is not for me.

Days passed after that message, then weeks, then months which then turned into years.

From out of the blue, I received another message from you. The same question. But that’s just it. It was the wrong question.

It wasn’t a question of me forgiving you but the other way around, and maybe that of me forgiving me.

“Are you happy?” I asked instead. You said yes.

“Cliche as it sounds, it wasn’t you. It was me. I’m sorry…” That was the truth.

“Are you happy?” You asked in return.

I just smiled before I replied.

“Definitely.” I said. You didn’t need to hear the maybe after that.

NEVER LET ME GO

“Why did you leave?”

You appearing out of nowhere, hearing you ask that question, you standing in front of me, accusing, angry, I wasn’t really expecting any of that. I wasn’t expecting to see you at all, at least not just yet.

I was on my second cup of coffee, about done with the book I was reading when you came. It’s been a hectic week and it was the first time that I actually got some time for myself and truth be told, I wasn’t happy to see you at all or anyone for that matter. I wanted to be alone, to have some little “me” time. But you chose that very day to come barging in so I guess that it is true, you never really do get what you wish for.

Closing the book and putting it on the table, I just stared at you, not saying a single word. I was sure that my face wasn’t showing any emotion either. I’m good at that now, keeping my face blank, not showing anything. It’s been three years after all.

“Why did you leave without telling me?” You ask once again, gentler this time. The anger that was etched on your face just a few seconds ago turned to sadness in a flash that I almost didn’t believe it. Then I remembered, you were good at that. I just smiled.

“You could at least say hello first,” I said before taking a sip from my cup. The coffee was still warm and strong but not enough to break the coldness I have nurtured for the last three years.

“You could at least have said goodbye as well.”

I let out a sigh. Word play, you’re good at that too. I still remember just how good you were at that, clearly actually, like everything just happened yesterday.

“Goodbye.” I said after a while.

“What?”

“You wanted me to say goodbye, I just did.” I said with a straight face. You just gaped.

Your eyes never left mine and I got the chance to see those beautiful browns again, remembering how I used to get lost in them, even melt. It was like mocha, your favorite. I wonder how many other stupid people got lost in them in the past three years.

“You’ve changed.” You said, almost a whisper. I just smiled again. I’m starting to be good at that too, smiling. There are even times when even I start believing it too.

“Three years is a long time,” I said before asking you to take a seat. A flash of hope ran through your face which almost made me laugh. I was just getting tired of having to look up that’s why I asked. I was actually expecting you to walk away.

“What happened to you?”

“You don’t really want me to answer that,” I said. I tried to catch your eyes but as always, you averted yours. You do know when to look away, when to run, when to hide.

“You didn’t even give me the chance to apologize,” I chuckled after hearing you say that. There was a time when I wanted to hear those exact same words, not because I actually believe that you are sorry but because it would at least give me the chance to say everything that I wanted to say back then.

“For what?”

“For everything…”

I snorted. I wasn’t trying to be mean. It just came out naturally. They say it’s a natural reaction to bullshit. I guess it’s true.

“I love you, you know…”

I just stared at you, not really believing what I just heard.

“You don’t want to go there.” I said coldly that even I had chills.

“I gave up everything for you,” The accusation was back in your voice and that pissed me off.

“You took everything away from me,” My voice quivered a little, my hand shaking from anger. I took a deep breath to calm myself down. Three years of practice did its magic.

“I made a mistake, Michael…”

“Which part of it was a mistake? The drugs? The alcohol? You sleeping with half of my friends? Or you killing my son in the process? Take your pick.”

You averted your eyes once again. I guess that’s the thing that I have learned in the past three years, to never expect anything from you anymore. You will never own up to anything that you have done.

“You said you’d never let me go…” I was so stunned with just how shameless you are that I started laughing, so hard that the other people in the café started staring at us.

“You left my son, on a table, so that you could fuck one of my friends, on my bed, in my house, and while you were grunting and moaning, my son was crying as he fell to his death. Does that even mean anything to you?” There was a certain calm coldness in my voice as I said those words, as if all those things actually happened to some other person and not me.

“You’re talking as if that wasn’t hard for me too,” You said with a sniff. That’s when I burst.

“Hard? It was hard for you?” I said, a few notch away from shouting. “I died every single day since then!”

It was a good thing that you didn’t say anything right after that. I wouldn’t have been able to control myself.

“Will you ever forgive me?” You asked after a while.

“I already did,” I said and that was true. I have forgiven you. That was the easy part. As for forgiving myself, that’s something that I’m still working on.

You gave me a weak smile before standing up and walking away. You turned to look at me one more time, a few steps away from the café door.

“You’re still the best dream that I ever got…” You said. I just smiled. That was the same thing that I used to tell you.

“But nightmares are dreams too…” I whispered as you walk away. And the worst part of it all, even at that very moment, I still love you.

I kept my promise, or at least a part of me did. My heart never did learn to let you go.

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

“Was it worth the wait?”

I was really surprised when I saw his comment on my photo. I wasn’t really thinking about anything when I placed that caption. Tired and still sweaty from my jog, I just took a picture, wrote down whatever was on my mind, and then posted on Facebook.

I remember him, alright. He was that random stranger on the bus, the guy who seemed to look as if he was lost yet collected, the guy who seems to know what he wanted but never knew how he would actually get it. I was sixteen I think, and he was in his early twenties at that time.

No he wasn’t really that good looking. Brown eyes that seems to have seen more than he wanted, strong jaw, smooth mocha skin, a strong thin mouth, just another ordinary guy, I guess. He had his earphone stuck on both ears that time, singing under his breath but loud enough for me to hear. He can sing, that’s for sure.

Spent all your time waiting
For that second chance
For that break that would make it okay
There’s always some reason
To feel not good enough
And it’s hard at the end of the day

I wasn’t familiar with the song and I wasn’t even sure if he was singing it correctly. All I knew was, he made my heart skip a little bit. I didn’t even realize I was staring until his eyes caught mine.

He just stared at me, maybe wondering why I was looking, but he never stopped singing. The loneliness in his eyes caught me by surprise for a while. Then he smiled. My heart skipped more than just a bit this time.

For some reason, I was crazy enough to smile back and throughout the long trip from Cabanatuan to Manila, we exchanged a few more glances, smiles, and some giggles here and there. I never got the courage to talk to him directly since my sister was beside me. She would really kill me if I made the first move.

Lucky enough, he was the one who did. The bus was already at NLEX when I felt his eyes on me again. He was just a seat away, on the other side of the bus aisle. I turned to look at him.

“Can I get your number?” He mouthed. I turned to look at my sister.

I smiled when I saw that she was sleeping. I sighed and took my phone out of my pocket and typed in a simple message. It wasn’t something that I normally do, but I guess, I was a little smitten or maybe just stupid.

“Why?” I typed, before handing him my phone. It didn’t even occur to me that he might be a bad guy or a robber or something.

Instead of an answer, he typed-in his number and gave my phone back with a smile.

Just then, the bus stopped, and he was on his way out. He gave me another nod and another smile before mouthing another message.

“Your call,” He said before getting off. My sister just raised an eyebrow. Of all the time to be awake, she chose to wake up at that very moment. She didn’t ask any question though, which was a good thing.

I didn’t see him again after that. We did exchange messages, flirted for a while, and even planned on meeting each other in Manila. We almost did, but he was busy with work. We chatted on Facebook as well, him correcting my grammar most of the time and me getting pissed for being made to look like a moron.

Still, I started writing his name down on my notes, downloading his pictures, waiting for the time he would be online so that we could talk. I wanted to hear his voice again, to hear him sing, but I knew that if I did, I’d just fall in love with him all over again.

I wasn’t even sure that it was possible. But it happened. I fell for a total stranger. I fell for a voice. I fell for a man who was a few miles away from me yet seem further away. Maybe I was young. Maybe I was just being stupid, or maybe, I really did just fall for him. I’m not sure and I have no way of knowing that now. We didn’t have the chance to see it through.

Then we stopped messaging each other. He changed phone numbers for some reason and I never got the courage to message him again on Facebook as well.

Time and time again, I’d see his posts on Facebook and time and time again, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have worked between the two of us. I just laughed it off though. I don’t even know him, I mean, not really. And he didn’t know me.

A few years after, my parents’ petition for me to Canada was approved. And despite the fact that we never really had any more communication aside from the few likes and comments on each other’s posts, I wish I could have said goodbye.

I’ve posted about it, me leaving, and I’ve waited for him to say something. He didn’t, so as the years went by, I stopped waiting as well or expecting anything from him. We never did get beyond being strangers anyway.

Then he commented on that picture asking me if it was worth the wait, as if he knew that for a while, I waited for him to make the first move, for him to try to see if there was something there between us, if we could have made it work.

I sent him a private message, asking him how he was. He replied after a few hours, just some simple words saying that he was okay and asking how I was. I’ve read his message but never responded to it again.

I am too far away now, and I didn’t want to wait again. I didn’t want to think of the maybe’s and what if’s. I didn’t want to fall in love to a voice all over again. Not this time.

QUESTIONS

“Did it ever occur to you in all those years that I might just be making you jealous?”

I choked on my coffee after hearing you say those words. It’s been two years since we last saw each other and I might have been expecting a lot of questions about how my life have been but never that.

“Where did that come from?” I asked soon after I made sure that no coffee would start dripping from my nose. At least, that was one thing that never changed; you still surprise me.

“I was just wondering.” You said, smiling the way I remember you do.

I rolled my eyes before letting it settle on the coffee cup in front of me. Two years may just be a short time but a lot of things have happened in that time and we’ve lived those two years away from each other with no communication whatsoever. I don’t know if you ever asked about me but I tried not to ask about you. I guess our friends knew more than I was willing to admit that they refrain from talking about you when I was with them.

The last time I heard anything about you was when you came into my house in the middle of the night and told me that you were getting married. Fate must have been on my side that time since the day after that, I got a call from the film school in London telling me that I need to pack my things as soon as I can. A week after that, I was gone.

I didn’t tell a soul. I didn’t tell you. I just disappeared. I was a coward that way. After all the fake smiles, the congratulations and the “I’m so happy for you” that I’ve given you that night, I was sure that I can’t do anything more. The minute that you left, I just sat there, trying to catch my breath and holding back the tears. I can honestly say that I never cried for you. I almost did though. But as I have said, I was a coward. I didn’t even have the courage to cry for losing you.

I was actually surprised to see you earlier on the mall. I was half waiting for someone else to pop out beside you but no one ever did. I didn’t even try to look at your hands to check for a wedding ring. What was more surprising was you grabbing my hands and dragging me to the nearest coffee shop demanding that I have coffee with you. Even then, I tried not to look at your hands, or your face, or any part of you. If I can, I wanted to pretend that today never happened. It took me two years to move on. I can’t let myself go through the process again.

“So how’s the married thing going on?” I asked after a while.

“You are barking up the wrong tree.”

“You didn’t get married?”

“You left.”

“That has nothing to do with it.”

“For a smart person you can really be stupid.”

I just stared at you, confused on what you are trying to tell me. For some time, we both fell silent.

“Can I just ask one question?”

“Shoot.”

“How come you never asked who I was going to marry?”

Again, I went back to staring at my coffee. I didn’t have the courage to put a face on that one person who was taking you away from me that’s why I never asked. It didn’t even seem weird to me that you never mentioned who it was. I was actually thankful. I didn’t need the name or the face of the person to hate.

“Were you in love with me?”

“You said just one question.” I answered playing coy.

“I didn’t think you were planing on answering. I thought you would just run away again. Just answer the last one if you want.”

I knew that silence wasn’t going to work this time.

“Yes.” That one word took all the strength that I had. I was an inch
away from trembling.

“Wow.”

I guess “wow” is in fact the most appropriate reaction to that.

“I guess I owe to tell you that I am really getting married this time around.” It’s been two years since I last heard you say those words yet the pain I felt at that same moment two years ago came rushing back like it just happened yesterday. I guess the plan of pretending that this day never happened would be totally useless.

“Congratulations then. I hope this one goes through.” I said, mastering whatever remaining courage I still have.

“That depends. Are you planning on running away again?”

That made me look at you for the first time.

“I at least need the time to ask you to marry me before you disappear again, if you are running away. Could you give me that this time around?”