The press invite comes like a notification on Facebook messenger, like a message from someone who doesn’t care if you already made plans for that particular day. The press invite arrives with the same aura as the editor behind it—mysterious and demanding. Matt’s magazine launch is set on a Friday night, the day before my best friend Tristan travels to the island province of Marinduque for a week-long culinary training.
“Why don’t you come with me?” Tristan asked me a few days ago.
“I can’t just leave for a whole week, Tristan,” I replied. “I have a job, remember?”
“But you’ve never been on a vacation in, what, two years?”
If he had prodded me for a while longer, I would have given in. His training will take place at the picturesque Bellaroca Island Resort with all expenses paid. At least I wouldn’t have to pay for anything because I’ll be going as a freeloader. Any time would be a good time to get away from Manila, away from its heat and its problems.
My problems, to be exact. And those problems just became more complicated when the press invite for the magazine launch landed on my desk this morning at work. Matthew knows where I live. He could have delivered it personally or, at the very least, call me to say that he’ll be sending the invite via courier.
I guess, for him, sending the magazine’s invitation at my office is a way to show the motherfuckers that he is heading a different magazine now, regardless of being fired from the previous one, an account that the company—I—still handle today.
The invite says one seat reserved. Okay, so that leaves out bringing a date to a social event where I probably wouldn’t know anyone personally. There will be celebrities, oh yes, and I could probably name a few but I don’t know if I would be attending as his date, which makes it all the more complicated. At this point, I can’t even bear to call him and ask.
Friday night comes and I call for a car service to take me to 71 Gramercy in Makati. It’s one of those trendy bars that got their hype because of the people who go there—Anne Curtis, et al. But in terms of food, less expensive joints located 71 floors down offer the same gastronomic feast. The fact that it’s located on the 71st floor of one of Metro Manila’s tallest and most expensive residences created the hype that blows up on the face of people who have actually been there.
Still, I dress the best I can. So what if I blew half of my paycheck on a ridiculously expensive sheet of black satin dress that looks like it can fall off or get blown away anytime? The silk texture feels good and the thin straps scream “sex” in all direction. The sky-high stilettos feel like needles on my feet. But the overpriced blow dry helps pull everything together. I look goddamn spanking hot.
When I arrive at the venue, I look like everyone else. It would be nice to know that the venue was overflowing with models and celebrities but I soon blended in a sea of black-wearing, stiletto-wearing, lipstick-smacking women whose every pore scream “sex” all around.
In a sea of black, I feel more exposed than ever. I want to take another long elevator ride down 71 floors, get a car and drive back to Katipunan where Tristan’s friends are having a small drinking session before he goes to Marinduque. But my strong will to support Matthew in his crazy world keeps me from turning my back on the all the beautiful people, even if that means spending the rest of the night standing painfully in heels and talking to a slightly tipsy Denver.
I see him first from a distance. His face, like the rest of this features, are easy to spot and for some women, easy to admire. Denver is a dead ringer for Piolo Pascual, a male celebrity in the Philippines who has been the object of many women’s fantasies in the past five years. I met Denver in college, when he was still a philosophy major who worked as a staffer for The Literati.
We stayed friendly through the years but I never told him about Matthew and me. I had seen him in several glossy magazines, posing for one brand to another until he landed a small role in an indie film that also featured a less popular Coco Martin in his early years in show business.
“Kit!” he nearly shouts my name, and despite the blaring music, some people turn their heads. “Are you covering the launch?”
His breath smells like whiskey. I am about to tell him that I’m here as a guest when a tall, blonde girl—who clearly looks like a model and who clearly looks like she doesn’t live here—grabs Denver’s hair, pulls him close and delivers a massive, wet kiss that makes my head lean sideways.
The kiss lasts for a good five seconds that Denver raises a hand, asking me to wait. When the scene ends, the blonde model turns to me with her glazed eyes and walks away as if nothing happened.
“My date,” Denver says, grabbing another glass of whatever the passing waiter was holding. He gulps it down in one solid, smooth gulp, winces and motions for me to follow him to one of the cocktail tables occupied by a group of college-looking girls. They stifle a round of squeals when Denver arrives but decide to leave the table when the male model politely brushed off a request for a selfie.
“Heartbreaker,” I tease.
“Underage bitches,” he says, “If you can’t fuck them, why mess with them?”
“So, are you and blondie fuck buddies, then?”
He smiles and hands me a glass of whiskey he grabs from another roving server. He looks like he’s about to sexually assault any woman who dares stand beside him, but I’ve known him for so long that I know he will never dare touch me. Contrary to tabloid reports, Denver isn’t a moron. In fact, he has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and two years of law school under his belt. He comes from a rich family but attended Ateneo Law School under a scholarship until he got kicked out because of a fraternity fight.
In fact, he is probably one of the smartest guys I know but in the succeeding years following his dismissal from law school, he spent his days partying in Bonifacio Global City until one agent “discovered” him and groomed him for the pageant industry wherein he won a Ginoong Pilipinas title a few years back. The title opened several doors for him, including—maybe—some back doors that rarely open, and gave him more modeling projects, which probably explains why he’s here tonight.
“She’s one of those vacationing models from Australia,” he replies. “And yes, I’ll explore her land down under later.”
I laugh. Normally, any sane woman would have walked away. But his sense of humor keeps us friendly after all these years. But most of the time, my friendship with Denver was my way of keeping dibs on Matthew since college. He’s part of the same circle where he and Bridgette Santamaria belong.
Denver is on a roll tonight and at the slightest, subtle prodding, I asked about her and he immediately gave me a blow-by-blow of Matthew’s failed proposal at one of their dinner parties and how the lovely Bridgette single-handedly destroyed the man’s huge ego with one line, “I’m sorry, Matthew, I can’t.”
I am shell-shocked. I am not expecting to learn a huge deal of what happened to Matthew and Bridgette on a night when I look and feel great. He gave her a ring! And she didn’t want it. And it all just happened last year.
“Dude, it was so bad he threatened to commit suicide,” Denver continues and drinks some more. “We didn’t see him for about half a year? Then we found out he’s an editor of that other magazine. But when he called me for a modeling project, he’s working on another magazine so we really don’t know which is which but hey, free booze.”
Denver’s drunken state fails him to see the amount of shock and anguish that is probably painted on my heavily made-up face.
“I guess the job saved him,” he adds before getting another drink. He sees blondie from a distance and quickly downs his fresh drink. “Later, gotta hide from dumbo.”
I stay there, unfinished drink in my hand, no sure just how much I really know and just how far back I really need to look into. It’s over. She said no. He’s back on track. He has a new magazine, a new job. He has me.
I hear the program starting so I walk to the main area just in time to see Matthew on stage officially launching the new magazine. I know very little about the glossy world of glossy magazines but from an artist’s point of view, the cover design could use a brand new designer. The fonts are weird, the text alignment is off, the photos are too dark. It looks like a high school student made it using a Microsoft PowerPoint software and got a B- for the entire damned thing. But that’s why they serve alcohol at product launches, it masks the nonetheless visible flaws that could ruin everything. Matthew does his rounds and soon finds me in the sea of people grinding to the music.
“Wow,” his mouth twitches while his eyes scan me. The music blares from the speakers. He leans forward, rests his chin on my collarbone and whispers, “That dress should be illegal.”
I smile, not because I’m flattered but because I seem to be wearing the same thing every other girl in the room is wearing. I can feel his hand feeling the absence of fabric on my entire back. When his hand reaches the top of my butt, he presses his palm and then I feel a wave of lust imploding from every pore. “Wait for me,” he says and then he is gone.
I notice I’m still holding an unfinished glass of whiskey in my hand. I gulp it down and feel the lust intensify. I see a roving waiter and grab another fresh glass. The room start to crowd but in the darkness, I see Denver kissing a brownie on one of the couches before a sea of blonde hair and long limbs reaches out and grabs the brunette’s hair by a fistful. Denver’s date raises her hand and her palm lands smack on the other girl’s breast, causing a little black strap to snap and expose a boob. Even in the darkness, everyone can see the supple breast and a pink nipple hanging for dear life as the blondie raises her hand again and aims for the other side.
A small cat fight causes people to pool and watch the girls try to claw each other blind. Denver, clearing conked out on whatever recreational drug he sniffed tonight, stands there with eyes glazed and mouth hanging open. It took a while for the bouncers to separate the two girls and throw them into the elevator on their way out. Blondie is calling out to Denver who was then kissing yet another model—hopefully not from the same agency—and inching her skirt up with every beat of the music.
And it was only this time when I realize I had not eaten anything before downing two glasses of whiskey. I feel the floor give away before Matthew catches me.
To be continued…