Four years later. Greenbelt 3, Makati City.
That’s how I’ve always described the night breeze in Makati. Even in the summer, when the city is bursting with life, Makati feels cold, distant.
Maybe that’s why people who live and work here can’t survive without their caffeine and alcohol. Something to keep them warm enough to experience what the city has to offer, if they are brave enough to find it.
For the past four years, the city has been my life source. And by that, I mean my source of money as I jump from one agency to another, trying my best to forget that I have a journalism degree.
Four years out of college and I am still not doing what I thought I would after breaking free from the four walls of the university. I haven’t really figured it out yet. But in the meantime, I have the city.
Four years out of college. I haven’t really mapped out my life yet. The only thing I’ve learned so far is I can’t seem to run away from the people I thought I’d never want to see or hear from again.
One month ago.
The first contact happened last month, during a very busy afternoon at work. I was rushing two poster studies for an up-and-coming lifestyle magazine when my phone vibrated.
“Is this Kit Castille?” read the message with an unidentified number.
“Yes. May I know who this is?” I replied.
“Hi, Kit. This is Matthew Rondillo.”
I almost dropped my hot coffee on the keyboard.
At first, I thought it was Hazel playing a bad prank on April Fool’s day, but my college BFF reassured me she had nothing to do with the text message.
“So, what did you say?” she asked.
I deleted the message right after I ended the call to Hazel that day. I had no idea what kind of twisted animal would play this card to haunt me on April Fools’.
Two days later, the same number called and I answered because I wanted to know which prankster I needed to destroy.
“Hello?” the voice on the other line said. “Is this Kit Castille?”
And just like that, a hundred summers washed all over me in one go. I really didn’t need to ask. His voice was something I knew by heart.
“It’s Matthew,” the person on the other line replied.
I had a ‘drop everything’ deliverable that day. My career comes first this time, I figured. Job orders are orders. So I dropped the call.
The third time Matthew tried to contact me was a true test of how long I can stand to torment myself. My boss and I were waiting at the conference room for our client and his editorial team. I spent an infinite amount of time working on the deck that won us this client. The glass door opened and the president of the newcomer publishing empire and his young editor-in-chief entered.
It wasn’t fate that made our paths collide once more. It was the winning pitch that gave him access to my mobile number and online portfolio. I would like to say that the rest is history, but as it turned out, it was only the beginning.
Weeks after the successful launch of the new lifestyle magazine, the client treated our small creative team to a Thai-inspired dinner at Greenbelt 3. My excitement (or fear) to work with their EIC Matthew Rondillo was cut short, two weeks into the project.
No one really knew what happened. No one really asked. One afternoon, a new EIC was introduced and that was it.
So why, after all these years, am I waiting for Matthew again?
Some girls never really learn, do they? A lot had happened. But here I am, immobilized by my illogical fear of letting people know that I know Matthew.
Nobody really found out how close we were in college. At least for a brief period of time. No one knew, not even my bubbly college bud Hazel.
Four years after college and I still don’t know why I am affected by the unexplained stigma that is him.
He’s late, my inner bitch said. You should have left while you still have your dignity.
“Shut up,” I said. “He’s on his way.”
That’s what you said when you had dinner, alone. That’s what you said when you ordered coffee twice.
“I know where you’re going with this,” I said. “I don’t want to hear it.”
He’s not coming.
In an instant, it feels like college all over again. I really thought I would be healed by now. I honestly hoped I would be okay. But I’m not.
I walk around, trying my best to tune out the thoughts inside my head. I remind myself that it’s different this time—that it was him who asked me out. I straighten my back. This time, it was him who kept asking me out until I finally agreed to a cup of coffee.
Coffee at 11 o’clock in the evening? My inner bitch is on a roll tonight. That’s a booty call and you know it.
I shake my head vigorously, which is something I do to remind my inner devil that she’s about to tread on very dangerous grounds.
And just like that, she’s gone.
I tell myself that I’m a grown woman. And that I’m no longer the whiny, emotionally unstable 18-year-old college student who crumbles at the sight of Matthew Rondillo.
But my inner devil is right—I should have left hours ago. Truth is, I don’t even know why I said yes. Haven’t I learned my lesson already? Have I not been burned enough?
As I wait for Matthew in the midst of a busy Friday night in Makati, I remember one of the great conversations we had during those good times that felt like an eternity ago.
Four years ago. College.
“I heard some of your classmates hate you,” Matthew said. We were at our secret place at the university library with books on our laps.
“And you heard this from whom exactly?” I asked.
“So, you don’t care what people think about you?” he asked.
“I really don’t care what people say about me.”
I reached for a piece of Chips Ahoy I had in my bag. I nibbled nervously, half afraid to open my mouth and say the mean things stuck inside my chest. I wanted to lash out. I wanted him to bathe in hate with me. I wanted to share things.
“I know people say things about me,” he said.
“Haven’t you heard?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to sound rude, Matthew, but I’m not really interested in every piece of gossip about you. I have my own problems.”
“So you don’t care what they say about you?”
I closed the book and tried to edit in my head what I was about to say. How far can I go without revealing how much of me is vulnerable?
“I feel like people are out to get me,” I heard myself say.
And there it was, the fear I’ve always been scared to verbalize. I finished the rest of the cookie, half afraid to say more after realizing that it was the first time I had admitted this weakness to an actual human being.
“Are you scared?”
“Why do you think I’m hiding here?”
“I get scared, too,” he said. “Let’s hide here for a while.”
And it was the first time he held my hand.
It’s been ages since college, but I still remember many of the run-ins I sometimes wish never happened. Four years is a long time and I hope that by now, I already learned something. But the bits and pieces that make up our untold story are still as sharp as my rage.
Matthew finally arrives, 45 minutes past midnight, two hours after our agreed meeting time. I am both relieved and livid. Relieved for not being stood up; livid for being made to wait this long without a quick phone call.
Well, he did send one text message that said “Hey, I’ll be late” and nothing else after that. I believe he just assumed I’d still be here and he was right.
I have always fantasized how I would look and what I would say when I finally meet him by accident. In my fantasies, I am always wearing this classy, body-tight, little black dress. My long brown hair is curled perfectly with some of the little curls tangling with the chunky gold statement necklace that hangs elegantly on my neck. My red nails are polished to perfection and my classic black heels are as sharp as my hate.
In reality, I have forgotten how I planned it in my head. I am wearing a white lace blouse, a pair of jeans and flats. My hair smells like cigarette smoke and a lone white gold necklace hangs on my neck.
But just like in my fantasies, the reunion is happening on a cold and rainy night at Greenbelt 3. What surprises me is how Matthew looks now.
He walks towards me in the same quick strides I remember from a lifetime ago. His eyes scan the crowd and finally, they settle on me once more. A quick recognition. A shy smile that, even years later, makes me feel unsure.
It’s the same shy smile from years ago, when he first sat beside me at Sir Magic Pants’ class, only this time, the sparkle that was once so contagious doesn’t reach his eyes anymore.
The guy walking towards me now looks so far from the once dignified EIC with a solid built frame and an ego the size of Russia. In his place is a guy with a pair of sad, weary eyes.
“Hi, Kit…” he starts, and from the tone of his voice I can tell that he is scouring his brain for some fake apology that can somehow makeup for making me wait without even a decent heads up.
“Hey,” I say.
“Sorry, I’m late. I…”
“Never mind,” I catch myself saying. “Want to catch a movie?”
I am a grown woman, alright. But both the 18-year-old and 24-year-old woman in me are experiencing the same anxiety attack.
After four years, I expected to have better control of my emotions and expectations by now but I am suddenly so conscious of Matthew’s hands so close to mine again after all this time.
We decided to catch a late night movie and quickly queued for some popcorn. In our haste, he trips and the tub of popcorn he is holding flies from his hands. For a split second, the world was at peace as the popcorn fell from above.
“Are you okay?” I ask as I help him brush the popcorn off his hair.
“Um, yes,” he says. “Shit, sorry about the popcorn.”
And just like that, I feel it happening, as though someone switched it on again. I feel the connection, the one I so desperately tried to break.
I can feel him again. And just like that, I open my mouth and say: “You fell for me again.”
For a split second, I swear I saw his face light up. For the first time in years, I hear him laugh again. And it sounds so beautiful.
To be continued…