"Asawa kooooo! I missed you so much!" Ace squealed upon seeing me. He was beaming from ear to ear, his excitement resonating out of him. I returned his smile but weakly. We hugged, feeling the intensity of his longing from the tightness of his embrace. His warmness only intensified my guilt.
He must've seen it in my face because he asked, "Are you okay? Para kang namatayan ah... Di ka ba excited na makita ako ulit?"
"Of course I'm excited. Pero kasi..." I hesitated. I drew a deep breath, gathering up the courage I need. "Can we talk, Ace? May kailangan akong sabihin sa'yo."
His enthusiasm faded in an instant, being replaced with worry. "Is there something wrong?"
"Pwede ba tayong mag-usap someplace else? 'Wag dito."
He gave me a weird look. "Sure... Let's have lunch while you're telling it. Magta-tanghali na rin naman."
We hailed a cab going to SM Mall of Asia. During the ride, he reached for my hand to hold it, but he remained quiet. I guess I was lucky that he chose not to talk, because in my head, I was busy trying to construct my thoughts, racking my brains to decide how to tell him everything that had happened in his absence. I could feel his anxiety from his grasp, and it was unnerving. When we arrive, we chose Yoshinoya since it was the first restaurant we saw; both of us had already lost our appetite anyway. After getting our orders, we occupied the table in the farthest corner. We didn't want anyone to be eavesdropping. Fortunately, the place wasn't that much crowded.
"So Sep... What's going on?"
I couldn't look at him directly due to apprehension. It was like experiencing once more the events of March 2013. It's hard to believe the possibility of it happening again, yet there we were.
"Kasi Ace, this is actually about Uno..." I began. I could feel my body slightly shaking, unsure if because of the temperature of the room or because of the nerve-wracking tension inside me. "Remember him? Yung kinuwento ko noong isang araw."
"Yeah, 'yung crush mo? What about him?"
"Yes," I said. "Ace, I think... I think I'm already in love with him." There was no way I could say it without hurting him, so I just let it out. "I'm sorry, Ace... I know this will make you angry."
Ace didn't answer. He just held his gaze at me, reading my movements. His face was unfathomable.
"Hindi ako galit. Confused, oo." he said after several minutes of silence. "Sep, sigurado ka na bang 'yan talaga ang nararamdaman mo? Baka naman nabibigla ka lang?"
"I dunno. Tingin ko oo."
"But how? Twice mo pa lang naman siya nakasama, di ba? Nung party na pinuntahan mo at nung niyaya ka niya manood ng movie. Mahal mo na siya agad after that?" he quizzed. I could hear the sudden rise of emotion in his voice.
"Ang totoo kasi niyan, hindi lang 'yun 'yung times na nakita ko siya. Marami pang beses," I confessed. "Hindi ko lang nasabi sa'yo..."
"What? Are you kidding me?" he said, incredulous.
"Let me explain, please..." I asked. "I will tell you everything."
He looked pale now, his face was being drained of its color. I remembered the bright smile he had earlier at the airport. I would give up everything at that moment just for it to appear again. If I had only kept my mouth shut, then maybe we were enjoying a lunch full of "I love you's" and "I miss you's" instead of that depressing scenario. We could've been happy at that time. But I'm not that kind of guy, enjoying something that I don't deserve in the first place. I could never, in my conscience, live a lie, especially if it's someone else's heart that is at stake. Ace had the right to know the truth, so I'm giving it to him.
I told Ace all the things he was unaware of until then: the several drinking sessions Uno and I had with our common friends, Uno's confession regarding with his own feelings towards me as a reaction to my New Year's post, the agreement Uno and I made about our feelings with each other, and the supposedly back-to-work final party at Kim's.
"Nasa sofa kami. Alone. Nasa kwarto sa itaas 'yung mga kasama namin, nagpapakalasing. Kami ni Uno medyo tipsy lang, kasi alam namin na kailangan naming mag-usap ng maayos. First, I said sorry to him kasi nagkaroon ako ng feelings sa kanya. Na dapat bilang someone na in a relationship na, dapat pinigilan ko ang sarili ko. Dapat hindi na siguro ako nag-post at hinayaan ko na lang mawala. Parang lalo lang kasing tumindi nung umamin ako..." I said. My throat was getting dry and kinda sore. The kind of soreness whenever you're forcing yourself not to cry.
"Then, siya naman 'yung nag-sorry. Humingi siya ng tawad kasi alam naman niyang may karelasyon ako. Sorry daw kung nakakagulo pa siya. Alam naman daw niya na wala siyang magagawa, pero hindi niya pinigilan 'yung sarili niya na makasama ulit ako. Tapos ayun, bigla na siyang humagulgol. Isinandal niya 'yung ulo niya sa lap ko, tapos niyakap niya ko dito sa bewang. Palagi na lang daw siya nasasaktan, gusto na lang niya iiyak lahat ng sakit. Hinaplos ko siya sa ulo at likod sa awa ko sa kanya. Ilang minuto rin siguro 'yun...
"Then nagulat na lang ako nung bigla siya ulit umupo. Hinawakan niya yung magkabilang pisngi ko, inilapit sa mukha niya... Hinalikan ako... At hindi ko siya pinigilan, Ace..."
Tears began to flow down his cheeks. I could see that Ace was doing his best to prevent them from falling, but after hearing what I just revealed, he was no longer able to maintain his composure. I looked down in deep shame.
"I am very sorry, Ace. Sobra. Sorry... Please, please forgive me," I said.
"How was the kiss?"
"How was it? 'Yung halik niya, Sep... Masarap ba ha?"
The solemn moment flashed back in my mind. The feel of his lips pressed against mine, his tongue softly exploring my mouth, the warmth of his breath—I could still remember all of it vividly. The kiss was careful but endearing. Definitely a kiss one will have a hard time forgetting. But all I could tell Ace was, "It-it was... Passionate..."
"Fuck..." he swore. "Why Geosef?"
I let him cry silently, giving him time to manage his emotions. He didn't mind if ever someone would see him in that state, so I decided not to care as well. He stopped after a few minutes, wiping his face rather vigorously before looking at me again.
"Meron pa ba?"
I wished I could say the opposite when he asked me that. That there was nothing more to say. That that was already everything. But fate wouldn't let me have it; unfortunately, there's still more.
"We broke off, and we just hugged each other after that, hanggang sa bumaba 'yung isa naming kasama. Kailangan na raw kasi umuwi. Kaya naisipan na rin sumabay ni Uno, kasi nga ihahatid pa niya ang tatay niya sa airport. Kaya sinamahan namin silang dalawa hanggang sa sakayan ng trike... Sobrang lungkot ang naramdaman ko that time, Ace. Alam ko kasi na 'yun na ang last naming pagkikita. Parang ayaw ko pa na umuwi siya. Grabe ang pigil ko sa pag-iyak kasi kasama naming naglalakad 'yung iba.
"Nung nakaalis na 'yung siya, biglang umagos 'yung mga luha ko. Hindi ko na talaga kinaya. Napayakap ako kay Kim habang umiiyak, doon sa tabi ng daan. Buti na lang at past midnight na 'yun kaya walang tao. Hanggang sa paglalakad pauwi, humahagulgol ako. Para akong tanga.
"Tumigil na ako nung makabalik kami sa bahay ni Kim. Umakyat sila ulit sa taas para ipagpatuloy ang pag-inom, pero nagpaiwan muna ako sa ibaba. Umupo ako ulit sa sofa. Nung naalala ko 'yung naging conversation namin ni Uno, pati yung halik niya, napaiyak ulit ako. This time mas malakas. Wala na akong pakialam halos kung maririnig ako ng kapitbahay ni Kim. Malamang rinig din ako sa itaas pero hinayaan lang nila ako. Para akong nag-concert, Ace. Atungol na yata halos yung ginawa ko. Sa tingin ko, inabot ako ng around 15 minutes sa paghagulgol. Dire-diretso 'yun. Ang tagal... I think 'yun na yata ang pinakamalalang iyak ko sa buong buhay ko," I recounted. I was in near tears myself by the time I finished.
The way Ace was looking at me, I could see pain, anger, and pity. It was breaking my heart further, one little crack at a time.
"Walang ibang dapat sisihin kung hindi ako. Hindi ikaw, hindi rin si Uno. Tinago ko sa'yo ang mga bagay-bagay kaya lumala. Kung naging totoo lang sana ako agad sa'yo, eh di sana napigilan mo ako agad," I continued. "Hindi rin pwedeng sisihin si Uno kasi wala naman siyang ginawang actions for this to happen. He never flirted with me. 'Yung mga conversations and interactions namin before ako umamin ay puro casual at friendly lang. Never naging intimate. Walang kahit anong pang-aakit...
"Kaya naman ang lungkot-lungkot ko since New Year, Ace. Alam ko kasi sa sarili ko na kasalanan ko ang lahat kung bakit umabot sa ganito. I did this to myself, sa kalandian ko. And worse, nandamay pa ako ng ibang tao. Makakasakit pa ko ng iba, particularly someone who truly loves me..."
With tears now in my eyes, I stared at Ace, wanting to make sure that he understood who I was referring to.
"It pains me so much knowing that I would hurt you again... Pinag-isipan kong mabuti if aaminin ko ba
sa'yo ang lahat ng nangyari. Since nag-decide naman kami ni Uno na
itigil kung ano ang meron kami, inisip ko na hindi mo na kailangan
malaman. To spare you the pain. Kaso hindi kaya ng konsensya ko, Ace.
Halos hindi ako makatulog sa kakaisip. Hindi ako mapakali, knowing na
nagsinungaling ako sa'yo ng whereabouts ko ng ilang beses. Hindi kaya ng
konsensya ko na wala kang alam..."
He managed to smile amid the tension. "You have always been honest to me, Sep. That is the best thing about you..." He let out a deep sigh. "So... What should we do about this?"
I tried to smile back, but failed. I was dreading what he would say next as sadness reigned on his face once again.
"Well, I think we've had a good run, Sep. I believe we've made each other happy these past three years. Maybe kaya nangyari ang mga ito, we are being told that what we have is already enough..."
I thought I'm already prepared for that blow, but I was wrong. I felt suddenly afraid. I feared the thought of losing him, of not having him in my life. The thought of me being alone as quick as that frightened me immensely. I reached for his hand in panic.
"Ace, please no... Don't be too rash. 'Wag ngayon. 'Wag dito... I don't think kaya ko. Please," I begged, wide-eyed.
He stared at me long and hard, studying me with his watery eyes. After what seemed like an eternity, he switched his gaze to his food and began attacking it. "Kainin na natin ang mga 'to. Tapos uwi muna tayo..."
To be continued...