by Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla

by Scott Baraquel Jr.

My college life was split in half: the one before Matthew and the years after it. When I graduated from college, I told myself I was closing a phase.

Four years later, who would have thought that I never really got out of the same rabbit hole. Am I the same girl he used to know?

Matthew asked me out again the following week. The invite came almost as a surprised irony during one of my ad hoc meetings with the magazine he used to head. It wasn’t long before I learned that Matthew was fired by the owner for truancy, three months into the job.

Sometimes, during these meetings, I would hear them say shitty things about him. My resting bitch face usually saves me tons of unwanted drama and questions I don’t want them to ever ask.

And just like in college, nobody in the office knows that I know Matthew. Only this time, it seems like I really don’t know the ‘egotistic, drama queen, ex-editor’ they’re talking about. At least that’s how it seems to me.

In my head, even after all the years in between, Matthew is still the young editor my college professors put on a pedestal, the master writer, the college heartthrob, the university urban myth.

Once again, in the days that followed our reunion at Greenbelt 3, I can feel I’m inching closer and closer to the deep end, the same cliff I dove from all those years ago. Live a little, my inner voice says from time to time. Don’t you miss the thrill?

This weekend, Matthew and I are on the road to Tagaytay. The skies were cloudy when we left Manila but being the young and free-spirited young adults we are, we find ourselves finally parking at this hillside restaurant where they serve pumpkin soup and bulalo.

An hour later and I barely tasted the heavy lunch he ordered for the both of us. The rain has stopped but the usually cool Tagaytay breeze feels so unwelcome and unrelenting this time of year.

Wrapped in the only sweater I brought, we make our way to the car and start the short drive to one of those overlooking coffee shops we Googled earlier.

The rain starts again a few kilometers before we reach the cafe. The rain gets heavier by the minute. And just like any other Manileño who visits Tagaytay on a regular basis, we don’t have anything to shield us from the rain.

The rain is getting worse. We decide to park at one of those Tagaytay houses along the road with viewing decks on top, anything to get off the slippery road. Matthew kills the engine, grabs a blanket from the backseat and gives it to me to keep warm. Why he has a comforter at the backseat, I’ll never know.

We talk about college—Sir Magic Pants, the infamous packed lunch during our baccalaureate mass that gave half of the attendants food poisoning and the beautiful campus that gave us much solace from the scary outside world of Manila. To my dismay, he does not mention The Literati, nor the poem I found at our secret place.

We talk about the present—his new job at this new men’s magazine (not the one he was fired from) and my job as a junior designer at this small advertising agency in Makati. He offers no explanation about his sudden disappearance from my client’s team, and just like every other unresolved issue I should have brought up a long, long time ago, I do not ask.

And then we start talking about me.

“You went to law school, right?” he asks.

“How did you know?”

He smiles. “I keep tabs.”

I smile back, then say, “I quit.”

“I thought you wanted to be a lawyer? That was all you ever talked about when…”

He cuts himself short and his face registers a fleeting but nonetheless obvious hint of regret. Or is that shame I sense? Guilt, perhaps?

I know he’s editing lines in his head, carefully weighing how much damage his words can bring me now. But I’m a grown woman. So I open my mouth first.

“I thought I wanted to be a lawyer,” I make it easier for him. “I… sometimes feel lost, you know? I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”

“You’re a journalism graduate,” Matthew says. “Why aren’t you writing?”

“I don’t know,” I shrug and look out the window. It’s still raining. “I wouldn’t know what to write about.”

“You can write for me,” he says excitedly. “You can join me at this new magazine we’re launching next month.”

“Seriously?” I ask. “You really think I could write for a magazine?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Your college essays are good.”

“How did you…”

“I told you,” he smiles. “I keep tabs.”

I try to smile back but I can’t shake the feeling that all this time, he had been keeping tabs on me somehow and still, we both can’t bring ourselves to talk about what happened and what did not happen in sophomore college. After all these years, he knew how to reach me but he never did, until now.

It pains me even more that as I look at him now—inside a parked car in Tagaytay—I still can’t start the conversation we should have had ages ago. Why can’t I ask him what really happened? Why can’t I shake him and demand the apology and the closure that I never got?

And why can’t he be man enough to talk to me now about that one thing that still haunts me to this day? I’m a grown woman. If I really want closure, can’t I just demand it from him?

I really don’t know what’s stopping me. I should hate him. I shouldn’t have allowed him to walk into my life again. There must be some kind of higher purpose why our worlds collided again. While I wait for the universe to give me a sign, I say that one thing I am sure of now.

“I’m lost, Matthew.”

And then it happens again, the thing I promised myself I wouldn’t allow myself to do. The first thing that brought me to the rabbit hole I once thought was natural and beautiful. The free-fall was the most intoxicating thing I had ever felt, only to find out later that a snake was waiting for me at the deep end. I was bitten, over and over, until the poison I thought would kill me only made me want it more and more. I allowed it to consume me, until there was nothing left in me to spoil.

Matthew leans over and kisses me on the mouth. The first one is always the sweetest, tentative and unsure. And even after four long years, I can still remember the curves of his mouth on mine.

The second reveals his hunger—the soft subtle bites on my lower lip, the tentative pursuing of his tongue. And just like a well-rehearsed choreography, I would cling on to what is both fleeting and beautiful.

The third goes for the kill, the deadliest.

I remember the steps just like yesterday. Soon, my hands would find their way to his chest and his hands would settle on the base of my skull. He would tilt my head slightly to the left and by then, it would be too late for me.

“I am lost too,” he says, searching my eyes for signs of recognition. And just like that, I am long gone.

***

My heart is racing at the speed of light. I feel like I could crash any minute now, but every time I feel his calloused hands on my nipple, I just have to have more of what I know would kill me later.

In between my deep panting, I realize I have somehow lost my red top, which is now in the backseat with the blanket that was wrapped around my upper body just a few seconds ago. Matthew’s right hand is unclasping my black lace bra while the other hand finds its way down south, exploring.

My 24-year-old heart is reacting wildly just as it had when it was 18, to the same choreographed touch, to the same hungry mouth and to the unexpected joke of Mother Nature that would have put us both in jail.

The rain has stopped. Matthew’s car doesn’t have tinted windows. I am half naked and Matthew’s royal hardness is out in plain view.

Everything happened so fast. The next thing I hear is the sound of glass breaking from Matthew’s side of the car. The owner of the house where we parked had been knocking on the car window for the past five minutes. He finally decided to use his baseball bat to get our attention and tell us to get the hell out of his goddamned property.

Matthew lets out a string of expletives as he starts the car in full rage over the broken window. He puts the car on reverse, hits the gas and we race onto the slippery streets of Tagaytay.

I wrap myself with the comforter again and hang on to dear life as he zooms past the beautiful Tagaytay view that could be the last thing I will ever see if we both die today. I’m sure it would have been a lovely view. But everything is a blur when you’re accelerating too fast.

I look at Matthew and in plain, clear sight I can see him seething. One of shards cut his right cheek that is now bleeding mildly. He doesn’t slow down until we reach a red light in the city proper.

I am still too shocked and too scared to say anything that might aggravate him further, knowing he is behind the wheel and I am still inside his car with the broken driver-side window. Matthew hits the gas when the lights turn green and we are on full speed once more.

I do not know what to do. I close my eyes and do the first thing I think off. I start singing, as if we’re on a road trip with clear blue skies.

“I waited ’til I saw the sun. I don’t know why I didn’t come.”

 I stare out the window and see that the skies are still gray, the wind is still unforgiving, and the roads are still wet and slippery.

“I left you by the house of fun. I don’t know why I didn’t come.”

We begin to slow down. When I am sure that it is safe to make contact, I touch his right hand that has been gripping the gear shift since we roared to our escape. I continue singing and then I feel his fingers intertwine with mine.

“When I saw the break of day, I wished that I could fly away.”

 I feel the same downward spiral I had experienced when I was 18 and vulnerable. I shiver at the same fear and excitement that I once cursed but spent years dreaming about. I can feel every inch of me coming to life, as though these parts have been in deep slumber for years.

“Instead of kneeling in the sand, catching teardrops in my hand.”

 I know I have his attention now. I know this is my chance. I know he is listening, just as he did during our brief moment in college. My inner voice tells me I shouldn’t have opened my mouth because we both know where this could lead. But every line drowns out all the warnings, all the threats.

I know all the lines by heart—like the same songs from the same broken record. Once again, I am singing the same song that used to soothe him when he was troubled. Here I am, singing for him just like when he was mine.

“My heart is drenched in wine… but you’ll be on my mind. Forever.”

To be continued…

***

Edits: Jacquie Bamba S. Zamora
What Am I To You is the prequel to Before I Do by Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla. Before I Do is available at National Bookstore, Powerbooks and Uniqube.
What Am I To You
Philippine Copyright © 2016 by Katherine C. Eustaquio-Derla
Disclaimer: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying without written permission of the publisher or author. The exception would be in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles or reviews and pages where permission is specifically granted by the publisher or author.
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2 replies on “What Am I To You: Episode 3

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