by Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla
Photo from Pixibay

On a scale of 1 to 10—with 10 being the highest—I deserve a 20 rating for being a wretched friend. I ended up meeting Matthew that night, leaving Tristan at the party with all the other beautiful people in his life, a life that I could be part of if only I had chosen the light.

I wanted to tell Matthew that I can’t, that I was actually someone else’s date and that I wanted to stay in all that golden light. Maybe it’ll make me turn my back on him once and for all. But I couldn’t. My heavy heart gravitated towards the wicked, towards the unknown, towards the darkness, towards him.

The stunt I pulled that night deserves to be in the list of 101 ways on how to be a jerk to someone who had been nothing but kind and supportive all these years. Instead of politely telling Tristan I needed to go, I hailed a cab after ending Matthew’s call and traveled from Makati all the way to Matthew’s office in Quezon City.

I could have called Tristan in the cab, which would have been the decent thing to do. But instead, I went online and sent him a Facebook message that just said I needed to go. When he asked where I was headed, I told him I needed to see Matthew. He ‘seenzoned’ me. I felt bad.

But all the guilt vanished when I arrived at Matthew’s office and saw what was left of the man I pined away for all these years. He looked like he had not seen better days. Or rather, he looked like he had not seen the light for several days.

He had a duffel bag filled with clothes and some shoes. Takeout leftovers filled the trash bins near his desk. Everyone else had gone home, if he does really have an editorial team somewhere. He dragged himself to the door and let me in.

He gave me soft peck on the cheeks after giving me a look over from head to foot. He probably liked what he saw because his eyes lit up a bit when they settled on my chest. I felt scrutinized, but this scrutiny was somehow welcomed. I didn’t know what else to do when he sat down again in front of his laptop and typed away.

I looked around his office, careful not to touch anything, intrude or break the streams of consciousness that enabled him to write. I knew what it was like—to sit down and not know how to start when you really need to finish a piece that was due yesterday.

One wall was filled with mock pages of the current issue. There were still several blank pages, which meant he had many more nights to spend in front of the computer before this hell of a pilot issue went to press. I pitied him. I didn’t want to be in his shoes right then. But I also admired him, for taking on such a responsibility at such a young age.

After nearly an hour of silence and staring at the walls of his dreary workplace, I fell asleep on the worn out couch and woke up with his mouth on mine. I seemed to have lost my shoes while waiting for him to finish whatever he was working on. This time, he was working on me.

I smelled the distinct taste of takeout pizza on his breath. I felt his lust. I felt my desperation. I felt my pathetic, longing heart scooping up whatever he can throw at me during his spare time. I began to hate myself for being so helpless at a time in my life when I had hoped to have more control. But that night, and in the last few months we had spent together, he had total control over me.

It was the same dance I had known by heart. And despite my inner protests, I opened for him willingly on that worn out couch, in his office, in the dead of the night where the only light came from the street lights outside and the small lamp on his desk. His thrusts felt hostile, his bites hurt. His hands clasped my waist with pressures I had not felt before. I closed my eyes and started breathing gently; trying my best to slow down the moment I knew would be gone too soon. But in no time, I spiralled down the same rabbit hole once more. But the once bottomless pit had its limits and the next thing I knew, he was discarding the condom and wrapping it carefully in the small box where it came from and threw it inside his duffel bag to discard later.

He handed me some of the takeout napkins from his desk and asked me to clean up. There were rarely any words exchanged that night. All the words were typed on this computer screen. I carefully tidied myself and checked if traces of me were left on the office couch. There was none, but a spot stained my dress.

I felt awful. Whatever light that made me glow in this dress earlier that evening was replaced by a memory of a hook-up that shouldn’t have happened. I stared at the spot for a long time, knowing full well that I could never get rid of it. And that even if I did, the dress would always remind me of Matthew, that stupid couch and that night.

That was a week ago.

I still feel like my honor has been stripped of me that I don’t know what face to show Tristan after what I did. Honestly, I know Tristan would forgive me for the rude attitude. I know that whatever happens, he would always forgive me. But I am more concerned about the version of me that he would see when I finally talk to him about Matthew and what has really been going for the past few months. I can’t bear to see the look on his face when he realizes that the once pristine, idealistic girl he befriended in high school is no more. I hardly feel like that person anymore. I don’t even know what I had become.

It takes me a full week to grow the courage I need to visit Tristan’s new restaurant in Katipunan. It’s a short walk from his old apartment. He has spent the last few days managing the renovation, meeting suppliers and testing out new recipes. This I know because I have been stalking him on Facebook. Earlier today, I sent him a message to ask if I can drop by at the new place after work. He simply replied with a “K.” I take that as a yes. Better a one-letter response than none at all.

Tristan’s new restaurant is like him: simple, functional, uncomplicated and a bit rugged on the sides. One side is raw, unfinished cement wall while the other is adorned with white tiles. The exposed ceiling is painted all black, which complements the chairs. The floors and tables are made of wood. The bar is modest but functional. The lights are welcoming. All in all, it’s shaping up to be a place where you can sit down, have a good meal and stay for the vibe.

I catch Tristan writing on the huge chalkboard wall. When he sees me holding a bottle of red wine and a bagful of dried green mangos from SM Supermarket, he turns around and crosses his arms.

“You look awful,” he says.

Okay, I deserve that. “I feel awful,” I reply.

“What is wrong with you?”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“People asked where you went,” he adds and just when I think I couldn’t feel any guiltier, I lose it. I start from the beginning, how Matthew got my number, the office meeting, the meetup in Greenbelt 3, the Tagaytay thing, everything. I spare him no details. I edit nothing out. I unload a heavy burden on someone who may or may not be gauging if my friendship is worth all this drama.

He opens the bottle I brought, takes a whiff and stashes it deep in his cupboard. He pours me wine from his own collection, offers me food when he realizes I’ve finished two glasses in 15 minutes and basically listens for nearly an hour of my nonstop babble about this guy who messed me up in college, the same guy he had never met personally but whom he knew a lot about through the stories I shared mercilessly.

Towards the end of my monologue, he seems unfazed. If I had confided to Hazel, the two of us would be gutting Matthew fifteen minutes to my revelation. We would have been stalking him online and taking screenshots of social media posts that could destroy his career and his life someday. We would be creating fake Facebook accounts so we can stalk his friends. I am expecting none of that tonight. Tristan has always been level-headed and wise. I can count on him to never judge, never panic, never let go.

“Maybe he’s just busy,” he says when I told him that Matthew has not yet again called me since that Saturday night I left Tristan’s to go to him. “You can’t expect him to check in on you every day. He’s not your boyfriend.”

“But…… but we’ve slept many times in the last few months,” I reply, trying to keep the tears from building up. “And he said he likes me. He said that I make him feel good about himself.”

“So? That doesn’t mean you’re in a relationship. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“It means something to me.”

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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