by Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla
I had almost forgotten what it was like to be with him. How it feels to be the one beside Matthew and have all the other girls feel a lot less.
Men like him are a rarity. At least, in my current circles and in my own twisted point of view. The kind who whisks you away to depths you’ve never gone to before. The kind who sends you spiraling around, like a top spinning, trying to keep its balance. The kind who makes you feel very much out of control but this time, the helplessness feels welcome, wanted.
And so we manage to reach Eastwood City on a Friday night. I am happy to know that he did make reservations at this Greek restaurant that he reviewed for a magazine once.
“So tell me again about this breast enhancement cream they told you to write about,” he teases while we wait for our food. He pours me white wine.
I giggle. I never giggle. But with him it feels more like an awkward fusion of a laugh and snicker that I end up regretting it. “It’s stupid,” I say. “It’s not as interesting as your job. Tell me about your new magazine.”
Matthew sighs and raises his hands in the air. “Stressful. Imagine, our original cover girl, one of those sexy up-and-coming, 18-year-old noontime show hosts, backed out the day before our photo shoot. I had to call in favors and pull off a miracle in 24 hours because we can’t re-book this obnoxious photographer.”
“So who did you get?” I ask.
“I cashed in a favor from Solenn. Good thing she’s not out of the country or else I’m toast.”
“You know all the right people,” I smile.
“Some, not all,” he continues. “Apparently, I don’t have a good graphic designer.” He opens his smart phone and shows me few pages of the magazine’s initial layouts. At such a young age, Matthew is rallying behind a newcomer in the men’s magazine lineup. He talks me through the entire editorial plan for their maiden issue. I sit there, with my mouth slightly ajar, trying to contain all the optimism and passion attempting to escape my mouth.
As the reluctant COO (child of owner) of my parents’ small printing empire, I know the technical side of production better than he does. Soon, I begin shooting down the wrong assumptions he has. Without prompting, we begin talking in a language only the two of us understands.
“Write for me,” I hear Matthew say.
“Come on. You know where you really want to be. It’s not at that advertising agency. It’s here, in this magazine. Now. You’ve known this ever since college, remember? You want to be with me.”
For a while there, I could swear the air inside the restaurant shifted when he said the last line. He said it. We both heard it. And we both understand the need to clarify that we are talking about the magazine and nothing else.
A part of me is ready to jump off a cliff with him. Any cliff. Any time. But I am more terrified at the thought that I haven’t written anything in months, except maybe my emails and that one copy for the breast enhancement cream. What if Matthew finds my work second rate? What if he’s wrong about me?
“Maybe someday, Matthew,” I finally answer. “I’ll warm up with copywriting for now, okay?”
“Fine,” he shrugs and lets me go. “But promise me you will write for me someday.”
Just then, the food arrives. Later still, the chef joins our table for a quick chat. Matthew has this air around him that sucks you whole. Or maybe it’s just me and my unabashed attraction to men who take charge.
It’s another Friday night and Eastwood City is bursting with life of all shapes, sizes and colors. After sharing a scrumptious meal at this Greek restaurant in Eastwood City, Matthew suggests we take a walk. It starts to rain so we take shelter at Starbucks and decide to have a late night latte.
“So, you didn’t go to work today?” I ask as we settle on one of those outdoor sitting areas.
“Yeah,” Matthew answers. “I was feeling restless this morning. I was supposed to drive to Tagaytay to play tennis but the rain got in the way.”
“Well, it’s good you didn’t go,” I take a sip. “Slippery roads and all.”
“It’s okay,” he shrugs. “I’m not afraid to die.”
I look at him and notice yet again how much he has changed since college. Four years is a long time. But clearly, the years don’t seem to explain how he had changed from the preppy college guy I knew to the slightly harassed writer with weary, sad eyes.
“What happened to you?” I finally ask.
“What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean, Matthew.”
He looks into my eyes and, maybe, finally realizes how much he owes me. I know he is trying to avoid it. I did too but the stories keep haunting me to this day. I can’t let this moment pass me by, yet again, without knowing what really happened… to us.
He leans back in his chair and closes his eyes for a while before exhaling the name that has haunted me for a long, long time.
“What happened?” I ask Matthew.
“She left me,” he replies, looking out into the rain.
I do not prod. I can’t bring myself to look back into the past that is currently consuming my present. Bridgette Santamaria, a journalism graduate who was two years my senior, a Palanca awardee and, not to mention, Matthew’s long-time girlfriend when I first met him.
She was the girl Matthew was with when he first saw me at the university chapel. Bridgette never found out about our affair back in college. I knew it was wrong. I knew karma would get me in the end, but my blind passion for Matthew shaped my resolve that it was her standing between me and my happiness. I asked him to choose. And he chose her.
No one knew the real reason why I didn’t attend the small party at The Literati. Everyone just assumed that I was being the stuck-up snob I’ve packaged myself to be. How can you face the world when every part of you is broken?
I sit there, stunned into silence. I feel so many things all at once—confusion, sympathy, fear, pain. I don’t need to look at Matthew to know that he is also suffering. Even after four long years, the invisible ties that bind us still have its unnerving effect on me. I can feel his sadness wherever I go.
“Do you still want her back?” I ask now.
“I don’t know,” he says.
“Is she the reason you’re still single?”
He shrugs. “I don’t want to get hurt again.”
“You’re missing out on a lot of things,” I reply.
“Is that why you’re still single?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“Oh come on,” he continues. “Is that the reason why you’ve never been in a relationship since college?”
“Keeping tabs on me, huh?”
He leans back, waiting for me to answer.
“Mine’s different, Matthew,” I reply, almost as a whisper. “I gave my heart to someone a long time ago. He didn’t want it. I never got it back.”
I see Matthew’s face contort and show an emotion I have seen briefly before. “Kit…” he says. “We’ve talked about this before. What happened back then. You knew about her. You knew I had a girlfriend. Everyone knows it. But… god.”
I look at him. He is shaking his head and trying to avoid my gaze for fear that he might show more than he should. “I was so in love you with then, Kit.”
“I know,” I say softly. I swallow hard and say for the first time the line I have practiced for so long in my head in the last four years. “And you knew I loved you when you clearly did not.”
“That’s bullshit. You know how I felt… feel about you.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Do you really know how you feel about me?”
Matthew does not say anything more after that. He looks into the rain as if in a trance. I wrap my hands around the warm mug to keep myself from freezing. My lips quiver and I close my eyes tight to keep myself from crying. I am a grown woman now. I will not let an old fear take control of my life again.
“What do you want from me?” I ask. “What am I doing here?” He looks at me as if trying to read my head once more, just as he tried all those years ago.
“You have to stop doing this to me,” I bite my lip. “Let me go.”
To be continued…
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