"I'm sorry, hija, do you really think you can go there alone?" My Mom asked while fixing my hair in the mirror.
"Yes, Mamá." I answered. "I can do it, and I'm a grown up. Kaya ko."
"Pasensya na, your Dad and I has to do a lot of things. Inaayos namin ang bago permit ng patayong branch sa Manila." Aniya.
"It's alright, Mom. It's just a photoshoot." I smiled.
"Driver, kailangan mo? Maybe, we can find someone who can drive you?"
"No, Ma." I answered. "Ayos lang,"
"Kailangan kasing dalhin ang sasakyan sa Manila, the other car is still not fixed so..."
"Okay lang," Tawa ko. "Don't worry about me anymore, I can definitely do things on my own."
"Alright," She sighed.
Matapos n'yang kulutin ang buhok ko at nilagyan ng clip ay inayos ko ang dress na suot ko.
I fixed the necklace I am wearing and looked at myself in the mirror.
That looks decent, I guess.
"I noticed you wearing this necklace for years," She said, I saw her touched the necklace I am wearing and I stayed quiet, listening.
"Who gave you this?"
I cleared my throat, biting my lip.
"N-Nothing," I lied.
"I know someone gave you this, Lena." Aniya at sinubukang hanapin ang mata ko. "I saw you a lot of times, caressing this necklace while crying in the garden."
I froze, kaagad na nag-angat ng tingin at gulat na napatingin kay Mamà.
"Of course, I knew." She sighed. "I just don't say a thing but I see you."
Hindi ako kaagad nakapagsalita at napatitig lang sa kanya.
"Ejercito," I murmured, "He...gave me this."
I saw how emotion filled her eyes but then nodded and pouted her lips.
"I thought so," She murmured. "You still like him?"
Hindi ako kaagad na umimik at napatungo lang.
"Lena, answer me." She said.
I slowly nodded, staring at her. "I love him, Ma. So much."
She sighed, I saw her brush her hair and shook her head.
"I still don't want him for you, Lena." Aniya. "No one's deserving of you."
"I don't deserve his love either, Ma." Malungkot kong sabi. "Pagkatapos lahat ng ginawa ko, hindi ko rin s'ya deserve."
She caressed my cheek and I looked at her.
"Am I a bad mother to you?" She said at kaagad akong umiling.
"No..." I whispered.
"I...I know he doesn't deserve you but you, crying every night because I took him away from you, mas hindi mo 'yun deserve." Mabilis akong nag-angat ng tingin sa kanya at nakita ko ang lungkot roon.
"You were just in college back then, Lena, and I only want you to be successful."
"I am successful," I said. "I took up modelling, like you wanted, I joined pageants, malapit na rin akong mag-train sa kompanya ni Papá."
"But are you happy?" She asked me and that's when I lowered my head.
"I am but..."
"But?" She asked.
"I'm sorry, Ma, but I feel unsucessful, honestly." I sighed. "Nakuha ko ang gusto ko pero sobrang may kulang dito." I pointed my chest.
"Okay," She smiled at me, inalalayan n'ya akong paupo sa kama ko at tinignan. "Why do you feel like that?"
Sumulyap ako sa kanya at nag-alangan.
"Don't worry, I won't judge you, I am talking to you right now as your mother. I just...you know, realized how selfish I am. Nag-usap kasi kami ng Papá mo kagabi and I realized some things."
Tumango ako at sumulyap sa kanya.
"Ma, kasi noon. We dreamed our future together." I murmured. "Sabi namin, when I become a model or a beauty queen, he will stay by my side, he'll be there to support me, as always. Na...kahit pagod s'ya sa trabaho at may kasong inayos ay nand'yan lang s'ya palagi."
I saw her eyes twinkled and nodded at me.
"Tapos s'ya...kapag may kaso, d'yan lang din ako sa tabi n'ya. I'd either help him or assist him whenever he needs something. If he wanted to talk, makikinig ako. We'll share our opinions, kagaya noong college, kapag nag-aaral kaming dalawa, he'll help me where I lack understanding and I will help him about the subject he's been struggling."
Nakita kong napangiti s'ya roon at hinawi ang buhok ko.
"You two did that?" She asked, quite amazed.
"Yes, Ma." I smiled. "You know why I always get high grades in law? Because he helped me a lot, sobrang hirap kasi ng subject na 'yun and I struggled a lot memorizing or even understanding articles and such. Tapos magrereklamo ako sa kanya and you know what? Kahit antukin 'yun at tulog kapag walang ginagawa, gigising s'ya at mag-uunat, tapos sasabihin sa akin, what part is hard for you?"
Natawa ako habang naaalala.
"Then, maybe we'll go to the library where he'll teach me how to memorize and understand every articles. Hindi s'ya nag-rereview but he always got the highest scores in law, kaya nga hanga sa kanya ang law professor namin at ako s'yempre. Sabi ko, that's my future Attorney!"
"Your smile is so genuine right now," She said kaya natigilan ako at napasulyap ako sa kanya.
"I'm sorry I took that kind of smile from you," She murmured, mukhang naiiyak na.
"Ma..." I took her hand and caressed it. "I...I left him because I want him to be successful, noong mga panahong 'yun, I found out he got a spot in Harvard's law school pero ayaw n'yang tanggapin dahil sa'kin. He...told me, we'll stay together here, reaching our dreams together."
I shook my head.
"And I don't want that, ayokong masisira ang pangarap n'ya dahil sa akin. I know he can achieve a lot in Cambridge and the only thing I know that can help him make a decision is when I broke up with him."
I saw her froze and looked at me.
"You...mean you did that for him to become successful? H-Hindi dahil sa'kin?"
I nodded at her.
"It's my decision, Ma, and you see how much it paid off? My love rule the law school." Napangiti ako. "He topped the bar exam, got the highest score, he also closed a lot of cases kaya sobrang proud ako."
"Lena..." She murmured. "I'm sorry, Lena..."
"You don't need to," I said.
"I have to," She sighed. "I didn't know."
"That's a closed part of our lives now, Ma." I said. "Mahal na mahal ko pa s'ya but I don't think we're still destined for each other."
"C-Can I do anything?" She asked. "My talk and your father's last night opened my mind, narinig ka kasi n'yang umiiyak kagabi."
I sighed and nodded.
"Ayos lang ako, Ma. Don't worry."
"Does he have a girlfriend now, hija?" She asked me, tila nag-aalala.
"Hmm, I think so." I smiled sadly.
"Shit," She cursed kaya napatingin ako sa kanya. "Now I understand why you always avoid getting blind dates. Kung bakit wala kang gusto sa mga inireto ko!"
Napangiti ako sa kanya.
"I don't think I deserve his love, Ma. I don't think I'd still find a love so genuine, pure and true like that." I smiled sadly.
"Uh, maybe I can help you find one?" She negotiated pero tumawa lang ako at umiling.
"No, Ma. I think...Ejercito is the only man I'd love in this lifetime."
Pagkababa namin ni Mamá ay nagtaka kaagad si Papá. Itinaas n'ya ang kilay habang pinagmamasdan kami kaya ngumiti ako.
"Hi, Pa." I said.
"Hello, hija. What happened to you...and your Mom?" Sumulyap s'ya kay Mommy na nakanguso na ngayon.
"Nothing," My Mom said. "Mayroon bang sasakyan d'yan na pwede? Para maihatid si Lena sa venue ng shoot n'ya."
"Yeah, mayroong inaayos, I think pwede na." Ani Papá. "You sure you can be alone now, Lena?"
"Yes, Pa." I smiled. "Malaki na ako, kaya ko."
"Alright, nag-aalala lang ako." Ani Papá kaya napatawa na ako at bahagyang lumapit. I slowly hugged him and he chuckled and hugged me back.
"I always forget that you're already a grown-up woman now, sorry if we always treat you like a baby." Aniya at mas napangiti ako.
"It's alright, Pa. I like it also whenever you're overprotective of me, tho, minsan ayaw ko." Tawa ko.
"Ang batang 'to talaga," Tawa n'ya. Nang lumayo ako ng bahagya kay Papá ay nakita ko si Mamá na nakasulyap sa aming dalawa.
"Am I such a bitch?" My Mom suddenly asked and we both laughed.
"Definitely," My father commented at napataas ang kilay ni Mom.
"What? You..." She grimaced pero tumawa lang si Dad.
"Anyway, hija, Cecille and Floyd called. Pagkatapos daw nila mag-asikaso ay pupunta sila sa shoot mo."
"Why?" I asked.
"Manunuod lang," He shrugged.
Nang magpaalam ako sa mga magulang ko ay sumakay ako sa sasakyang katatapos palang yata ayusin, nagkaproblema kasi ata sa makina pero sa tingin ko ay naayos na rin naman.
Habang nasa byahe ay nakatitig lang ako sa daan, I always like it her in Sta. Monica, maaliwalas, malamig at maraming mga ala-ala.
Well, my parents likes the city so well, minsan ay naroon ako naglalagi kapag kailangan sa pageants ko pero gusto kong umuuwi dito sa probinsya.
Maybe if I got married, sa Maynila kami titira dahil sa negosyo at pagkatapos ay uuwi rito kapag may oras para sa pahinga. Maybe we'll build a resthouse or a house?
Pero mag-aasawa ba?
Natawa ako sa sarili.
Damn, how stupid of me to dream about a happy family with Ejercito as my husband. Then, we'll build a happy family, maybe three...four kids?
We will shower them with love so they will grow up as wonderful individuals until they build their own family.
Wow, napakaganda ng imagination mo, Abelló! Wala ka ngang boyfriend yet you're already dreaming for a family!
I stopped from daydreaming when the car suddenly stopped. I looked at the driver and saw him scratching his neck.
"Ma'am, mukhang hindi pa rin maayos ang makina." Aniya.
"Can you check, Kuya?" I asked him, taking a glance at my wrist watch. "Medyo male-late na po kasi ako."
"Sige, Ma'am." Nang lumabas s'ya ay naghintay ako sa loob.
Ten minutes and he's not back, lumabas na ako ng kotse, naabutan ko s'yang sinisilip ang makita sa ilalim ng hood ng sasakyan kaya lumapit ako.
"Kumusta, Kuya? Malala ba?" I asked.
"Opo, Ma'am, pasensya na at ganito. Itatawag ko nalang po kayo ng taxi." Aniya.
"Sige, salamat po." I smiled and nodded.
I took a glance at my wrist watch and gasped when I realized I only got twenty minutes to reach the venue. Kanina pa rin nagtatawag ng taxi ang driver pero madalang at puro may sakay pa.
Sinipa ko ang bato sa gilid ng daan at kinagat ang labi ko.
"What's the problem here?" Just that voice and I feel lost again.
Nagmamadaling sumilip ako sa gilid ng sasakyan at nanlaki ang mata nang makita si Ejercito na lumapit sa driver namin.
I saw his car near ours, mukhang lumabas nang makita ang sasakyan.
"Sir, nasiraan po e. Nag-hahanap nga po kami ng taxi para makaalis si Ma'am, may photoshoot kasi." The driver said.
Biglang lumingon si Ejercito sa pwesto ko at nanlaki ang mata ko at tumalikod.
Shit! Shit, Leona! Calm down!
Napahawak ako sa dibdib ko at huminga ng malalim.
"Kumalma ka," Kausap ko sa sarili ko at mariing pumikit.
I heaved a deep breath, opened my eyes and turned but I lost my balance when I saw Ejercito standing behind me!
Napatili ako, akala ko'y babagsak na sa lupa pero mabilis akong nasalo ni Jer at nagkatinginan kami.
"Shit..." He cursed, mabilis naman akong napakurap at nang matauhan s'ya ay marahan akong inalalayan patayo.
"Careful," He said.
"T-Thank you," I stuttered.
Napasulyap ako sa kamay ko at nang matantong nakahawak pa rin ako sa braso n'ya at hawak n'ya ang baywang ko ay sabay kaming napabitaw at napatikhim.
"You have a photoshoot?" Biglang tanong n'ya kaya mabilis akong humarap sa kanya at tumango.
"Yeah," I said.
"For what?" He asked, brushing his hair a bit with his fingers.
"Uh, may pageant kasi ako." I said. "And you know...just usual, photoshoots."
He nodded, I saw how his arm flexed on his longsleeve deep black shirt. Nakapantalon lang s'yang kulay kape at sneakers pero parang mawawalan na ako ng hininga.
"Nasiraan daw kasi 'yung sasakyan kaya...natigil kami rito."
"Where is it?" He asked.
"Yung?" I saw him looked at my dress and back to my eyes.
"Venue ng shoot,"
"Uh, sa may Sta. Paredes, 'yung malaking building 'dun." I said.
I saw him took a glance on his watch then looked at me.
"Ako na ang maghahatid sa'yo," He said and my mouth parted.
"Doon rin naman ang daan ko kaya ihahatid na kita," He said pero nanatili lang akong nakatulala sa kanya.
"Lena," He called.
"B-Baka makaabala lang ako," I murmured. I saw his forehead creased for awhile and shook his head.
"No, it's still early for my meeting. I will just meet a client somewhere, ihahatid na kita." He said with finality kaya nakagat ko nalang ang labi ko at wala nang nasabi.
I saw him talking to my driver at nakita kong tumango ito.
"Dadaan na rin ako sa talyer para masabi ang nangyari sa sasakyan," Ani Jer na sinilip ang sasakyan namin.
"Sige, salamat po, Sir!" Ani nito.
Naglakad ako palapit, I saw the driver asking me about Jer kaya ngumiti lang ako at tumango.
"Ayos lang, Kuya, kaibigan ko." I said at nang tumango s'ya ay lumapit na ako kay Jer.
I saw him wearing his sunglasses again, nakabukas ang shotgun seat ng sasakyan at inaantay ako papasok.
"Thanks," I said and smiled.
He just nodded, locked the door on my side before walking towards the driver seat and started the car.
We were silent the whole ride, panaka-naka ko s'yang tinitignan at kita kong seryoso lang s'ya habang nagdadrive.
Can't it get any awkward?
I suddenly remembered that night when we're left alone in our cakeshop, hinatid n'ya ako pauwi pero hindi rin kaming nag-usap dalawa.
Kulang nalang ay magkaroon ng kwago para magkaingay.
"Uh...so, saan ka magmemeeting ngayon?" I suddenly asked to remove the awkward silence.
I saw him took a glance at me.
"Just near the location you're at. Just another cases about permits, I don't have big cases for now."
"Saan ang opisina mo?" I asked him.
"Sandejas law firm," Aniya. "My Dad's, the main office is in Manila, nagtatrabaho lang ako rito para may magawa."
"So, dapat talaga bakasyon ka dito?" I asked.
"Hmm," He said. "Nothing's interesting so I am working,"
"Kumusta naman ang trabaho? Masaya? Ako, uhm, I've been busy for shoots, modelling, pageants...just something like that."
"It's good," His baritone voice said. I saw his veins protruding from his hand as he grip the stirring wheel.
"It's hard at first but I learned how to adopt,"
"You're doing great, I'm proud of you." I said and smiled while staring at the road we're taking.
"Y-You are?" He suddenly asked kaya napasulyap ako sa kanya.
I saw his forehead creased, his blue eyes looks confused.
"Of course," I said. "You were my bestfriend and I'm proud of what you've become."
"Were?" I saw him clenched his jaw.
"Huh?" Naguluhan ako roon.
"Dati lang? Hindi na ba ngayon?" He asked and my heart almost stopped from beating, umawang ang labi ko ng bahagya at napatitig sa kanya.
"Sabagay," He chuckled blankly.
"Jer..." I whispered.
"You are my bestfriend, Harriet, still. Forever. It will not change and I understand kung kahit pagkakaibigan ayaw mo na." He said blankly and I shook my head.
"It's not what I mean," I said and sighed.
Hindi naman s'ya umimik, nakita ko kung paano kumuyom ang kamay n'ya.
"Jer," I called him but he just licked his lip and maneuvered the car.
"We're here," He said coldly and went out, nangilid ang luha ko.
Nang pagbuksan n'ya ako ng pinto at nakalabas ako ay pilit kong hinanap ang mata n'ya pero nag-iwas lang s'ya ng tingin.
He walked with me towards the venue, binati na ako ng mga kasamahan ko at photographer pagpasok pero ang atensyon ko ay na kay Ejercito.
He was assisting me yet he's very, very quiet. Kita kong sinusuri ang buong lugar kung saan ang venue ko.
Nang hilahin na ako ng mga make up artists ay hindi na ako nakapalag. I saw Jer talking to the manager of this event at nakita ko ang magiliw na pagsagot ng manager sa sinasabi ni Jer.
"Miss Lena, tingin dito." Napapikit ako nang ayusin nila ang mukha ko at sa muling pagmulat at paglingon ay wala na si Jer.
Wala ka na bang alam kung hindi ang saktan si Ejercito, Lena?
"Naku, alagaan n'yo 'yang si Lena!" Nagulat ako ng lumitaw ang manager na may malaking ngiti.
"Po?" I asked and smiled a bit.
"Boyfriend mo ba iyon, hija? Abogado 'yun diba? Nakikita ko palagi sa balita at dyaryo!" Aniya at nagtaka ako.
"Bakit po?" I asked.
"Wala naman pero ang sweet," Humagikhik s'ya, "Sinabing alagaan ka rito at pakainin sa tamang oras."
My heart thumped harder, nagtilian ang mga make-up artist ko pero ako'y gulat lang sa narinig.
While on our shoot, I was pre-occupied. Ang utak ko ay na kay Ejercito at sa nasabi ko kanina, hindi ko naman sinasadya.
All I thought is...he's mad at me, at hindi na rin ako ang bestfriend n'ya kaya ko nasabi 'yun.
Now how can I apologize?
Nagso-shoot ang mga kasama ko sa pageant pero tulala lang ako, the staff offered me a lot of foods pero tumatanggi lang ako dahil wala akong gana.
How can I apologize to him?
I feel so...so guilty and hurt.
Galit na s'ya at lahat pero nasabi pa n'yang alagaan ako sa Manager.
"Lena, last take tapos lunch na." Tawag sa akin ng photographer.
I nodded and smiled, I fixed my casual dress and wore the sash I had.
Habang nagshoshoot ay pinilit kong magrelax at maging masaya para gumanda ang mga kuha sa akin.
"Smile a little more genuine, Lena." Ani ng photographer at ginawa ko iyon.
"No, not like that, that sweet smile you always have." Aniya.
I stood still, inihahanda ang sarili para sa ngiti pero nawala ang atensyon sa camera nang magsitilian ulit ang mga make-up artist ko at ang manager.
"Lena! Nandito na si Attorney!" Hagikhik n'ya at natigilan ako.
From their place, I saw Ejercito walking from the door, sumunod sa kanya ang iilang staff at doon ko napansing may hawak s'yang plastic bag ng pagkain.
Nang magkatinginan kami ni Jer ay literal na naramdaman ko ang pagtigil ng puso ko.
My mouth parted, tumayo s'ya sa may malapit sa stool roon at tumitig lang sa pwesto ko.
"Okay, Lena, nand'yan na ang boyfriend mo, last shot then done." Aniya at nang humarap ako sa photographer ay parang lumuwang ang pakiramdam ko.
He came back!
"Smile!" He asked me to smile and I did, effortlessly. Kita ko ang paglaki ng ngiti n'ya nang tignan ang picture at nag-thumbs-up sa akin.
"This is the genuine smile I am talking about!" He chuckled. "Boyfriend lang pala ang katapat." He teased me and I smiled a bit.
"Hindi po... Kaibigan lang." I said.
He shot me an 'Are-you-kidding-me' look and I just smiled.
Sa muling pagharap ko ay nakita kong kinakausap na si Jer ng manager at ng mga make-up artist, nakikiusyoso rin ang mga kandidata at mukhang nabibighani rin kay Jer pero ang atensyon ko ay ang gusto ko lang s'yang makita.
"Kanina pa namin inaaya sa pagkain pero ayaw, ikaw lang ata ang inaantay!" Tawa pa ng manager.
I saw Jer shifted his gaze at me, his cold blue eyes pierced through my soul and my heart pounded like crazy.
He came back...kahit galit s'ya sa akin! He came back!
Umayos s'ya ng tayo nang makita ako, binilisan ko naman ng lakad palapit sa kanya dahil nangingilid na ang luha ko.
He looks a bit confused when he saw my eyes, nang makalapit naman ako sa kanya ay walang pagdadalawang-isip na yumakap ako sa kanyang baywang.
I heard gasps and cheers.
Pumikit naman ako ng mariin at isinubsob ang mukha ko sa kanyang leeg at mahinang napaiyak.
"S-Sorry..." I whispered and clutched his shirt. "I didn't mean to say that, sorry."
Hindi s'ya umimik kaya mas sumikip ang dibdib ko.
"Y-You're still my bestfriend," I whispered. "Y-You will always be."
He sighed, mas nanghina lang ako nang maramdaman ko ang marahang pagyakap n'ya sa akin pabalik at ang mahina n'yang boses.
"It's alright, I'm not mad, okay?" His husky voice whispered.
"S-Sorry..." I whispered. "A-Ang sama-sama ko sa'yo."
"Sshh," He hushed me and slowly pulled away, hinanap n'ya ang mata ko at marahang pinunasan ang luha ko.
"It's alright, don't cry." He murmured, staring at me. "I'm not mad."
I sniffed and nodded.
"Don't cry, Harriet." He murmured and stared at me softly. "I brought you foods, I want you to eat a lot, okay?"
I nodded and he smiled, a genuine one that I haven't seen for years before pinching my cheek.