I’d like to think that I’m a workaholic. I may have a problem with the occasional—okay, constant—tardiness but given that I live near the office, I am often the first to arrive and one of the last people to leave during the work week. My boss, Joey, didn’t have the heart to tell me no when I asked for a three-day vacation leave. And when I asked if I can leave on a Wednesday, his email response just said “Approved.”
Last Saturday, after a very late brunch, Tristan ended up inviting me to Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa in Marinduque where he’s accepted an extended culinary fellowship. Normally, the resort is an 8-hour drive from Manila, which includes a ride on a RORO ship, but not Tristan and his lucky friends. His cousin Jason’s parents own a helicopter service that flies wealthy folks to Bellarocca for a price tag that is close to my one-month condo rent. I was spared the bankruptcy when Tristan insisted I hitch a ride with him on Wednesday morning.
Typically, visitors to this luxury resort take a small boat or yacht from the shore and arrive at the boating dock. They say it’s a good five-minute ride, a chance to see the stark difference between the rural countryside and the opulence of the luxury resort. Tristan and I were spared the guilt trip.
We land at around 11AM on the small helipad at the top of the resort. A small group of resort personnel greets us and, even though the chopper only has two visitors, they perform this local, welcome song and place leis over our heads. A bartender arrives just before the welcome song ends, offers us a summer cocktail before one of the women whisks us away to our hotel room.
All this time, I can see Tristan gauging my reactions to the whole scene. As a guest-slash-trainee at the resort, I’m not really sure how many times he had gone through the whole ordeal. He watches me with slight amusement and maybe a dash of anxiety, probably wanting to make sure I enjoy every single bit of what could be the longest vacation I have had in years.
When I go out of town, I try to experiment with my clothes. Normally, I’m either in jeans, boots and jackets even if the weather in Metro Manila is an unapologetic 34 degrees Celsius. When I attend events for work, especially when there’s a chance I’d run into someone I know from the industry, I would be in full socialite attire. This time, when I’m sure nobody from my or Matthew’s circles will see me, I’ve decided to wear something I’ve never worn since I was 16 and knew less.
I had on this frilly sundress, in a shocking floral pattern enough to bring out the positive vibes left inside of me. I haven’t worn wedges in years, but today, I am sporting a newly purchased pair complete with a huge sun hat that can cover my entire head if I tug at the edges and wear it like a hijab. The sun is up and the temperature is climbing, but the beauty of the place is enough to make me forget that I forgot to wear sunscreen and that I am actually trying to forget someone. Yes, I am here to do a lot of forgetting.
Bellarocca means “beautiful rock” and from the looks of the place, I’m pretty sure a lot of men have taken their significant others here to present a beautiful rock that will seal the deal. Every structure in the Santorini-inspired resort is white and when you touch the walls, despite the sun’s blistering heat, they remain cool.
Tristan and I arrive at the hotel. I wait by the small, indoor koi pond while he talks to someone at the front desk. Minutes later, I feel a slight touch on my bare shoulder.
“There’s been a small mix-up,” Tristan says.
I feel my heart fall down to my stomach. I am halfway through my welcome drink and in the middle of constructing a lie to my boss about feeling sick and needing a two-week rest so I can stay at the resort longer.
“Are we going home now?” I ask him, sounding pained.
“Um, not really. Follow me.”
I quickly realize how Tristan managed to land an extended training at the highly exclusive resort. It turns out that his cousin Jason’s parents are one of the resort owners. His auntie, after learning I’d be joining Tristan for a few days at the resort, upgraded the two separate hotel rooms he booked into a villa. And since the resort is sponsoring a food blogger event in the next few days, every other hotel room, villa and suite had already been booked.
A villa upgrade sounded divine. I’d seen some of the villas during the walk earlier this morning. Our designated upgrade is a few minutes’ walk from the main hotel. There are golf carts ready to take guests wherever they want but it seems Tristan wanted to walk the short length and I figure, I need the exercise anyway. We reach a quiet area with a single-story villa. Like the rest of the resort structures, the villa has an all-white façade. Trees stand proud from both sides and the small manicured lawn is lush with real Bermuda grass and flowering shrubs.
Tristan unlocks the door and we step into a large living room with wall-to-ceiling windows that open into a terrace that has a Jacuzzi, a small infinity pool and an outdoor dining area. I can see why Tristan’s aunt chose this villa for us—it offers both views from the mountains and the sea.
After spacing out at the terrace, I walk back inside and see Tristan leaning on the wall near the decent-size kitchen complete with an oven, a coffee maker and a refrigerator the size of my cabinet back in the condo.
The living room has three large, tropical-style couches, a complete entertainment system and a coffee table half the length of a Queen-size bed. Apart from the standard fresh fruits, there’s a chilled champagne resting in an ice bucket on the coffee table. Two gleaming champagne glasses rest near the fruits as well as a note from his resort’s general manager.
“Not my idea,” I hear Tristan reply when I check the chilled bottle of booze. It is only when I checked the bedroom that I realize where the anxiety is coming from. There’s only one bedroom.
“I can sleep on the couch,” he says, following me into the bedroom.
“No need,” I reply, trying to hide my uneasiness while looking at the King-size bed. “We can just ask for an extra mattress.” Tristan brought me here, without having to spend a single cent. I don’t want the guilt upon seeing him sleep outside, even if the couch seems amazingly comfortable.
“Sure,” he says before walking out of the bedroom. “I need to go to the hotel restaurant now. Sorry, I can’t join you for lunch. Do you want to have lunch at the restaurant or do you want to eat in?”
“Is it okay if I order room service for now?” I ask.
He smiles. “You’re on vacation. You can do anything you want.”
And with that, he grabs his chef’s jacket from his luggage and walks out the door.
As it turns out, I wouldn’t see Tristan for the rest of the day. His culinary training-slash–internship covers the late afternoon to dinner shift at the hotel restaurant. I spend the rest of the lazy Wednesday afternoon inside the villa, shifting between reading a Stephanie Plum novel, having a “Game Of Thrones” marathon and taking dips in our private infinity pool.
Every now and then, Tristan sends a text message to check up on me. Normally, I would get annoyed but on a lazy day away from the hustle and bustle of dirty Metro Manila, I welcome it. When dinner time arrives and it becomes apparent that Tristan couldn’t get out of the kitchens yet, I order a fish dish via room service and eat in front of the TV, watching cable.
By 10 p.m. I am exhausted and decide to call it a night. I look at the bed and forget all about the extra mattress. I call room service and ask for one. The resort employee places it right next to the King-size bed and helps me arrange it with a few pillows and a comforter.
For the first time in a long while, I manage to sleep soundly. No dreams. No thoughts. No Matthew. Just peaceful sleep. Perhaps it has something to do with being away or maybe my body is thanking me for taking a break from all the work (and the drama). I wake up the next morning feeling lighter. I move to the edge of the bed and find the additional mattress looking as pristine as it looked the night before.
I get up and walk to the living room and there I see Tristan sleeping on the sofa—no comforter, no down pillows. I try not to feel guilty. I dial room service and order breakfast for both of us. I figure he’ll get the tapsilog.
By the time the food arrives, I have already showered and dressed for a day outside the villa—bikini, shorts, a kimono-style light cover up and a pair of flip flops. I set up the food at the outdoor dining area. I am about to pour my second cup of coffee when Tristan walks into the terrace.
He’s wearing a pair of boxer briefs and a moss green shirt. His long curly hair is loose and messy. He looks tired but nothing a good, strong coffee can’t fix.
“Good morning,” he says before doing some stretches while taking in the view.
“Good morning,” I sip my coffee. “What time did you get in last night?”
“Around 1 o’clock? Not really sure,” Tristan takes a seat on the table across from me. “Did you wait?”
“No, not really. I fell asleep around 10, 11 maybe. You didn’t sleep on the extra bed.”
He takes a sip of his coffee before replying, “I wasn’t sure if you’d approve.”
“You’ve seen me sleep, Tristan.”
“Yeah, but that was in high school and we were kids then,” he says.
During our last year in high school, our class went on a youth fellowship outing in Caliraya, Quezon Province. As expected, some of teachers took turns staging a vigil to ensure that the boys were separated from the girls and no students would sneak out and smoke pot in the dark.
How Tristan and the other boys managed to get into one of girls’ room (ours) escaped me. It was the first time I tried weed. Tristan stopped me after two joints. He never smoked an inch that night but smoking in a confined space turned it into a “hot box” and almost everyone started laughing or crying. I kept giggling. It was that day when I found out wacky tobacky’s weird effect on me. The boys ended up sleeping at the girls’ room that night. Some couples probably sneaked out into the night but Tristan slept beside me and we were absolutely sure nothing happened. By first light, the boys sneaked out before the teachers arrived.
Tristan and I eat our breakfast, laughing as we recall those days when everything was simpler. It reminds me that he really is one of my oldest friends.
“Promise me you’ll sleep in the bedroom tonight, okay?” I say. “I don’t mind and I don’t need the guilt trip.”
He smiles, “Okay, I promise. Let’s go to the beach today. I have some activities I want you to try.”
“I can’t swim.”
“I know. Don’t worry, we have machines.”
When Tristan said machines, I thought he was talking about a speedboat or a small yacht. I stand at one of the resort’s smaller docks, looking and feeling a bit anxious when one of the resort’s staff pulls up a blue and white Jet Ski to the shoreline. Tristan helps me secure my life vest and all the time I think, I am not dressed for this. I should have brought a rash guard.
But there’s no time for that now. Tristan only has the morning free before his afternoon shift starts. He decides against getting two machines, knowing full well it’s my first time to ride one. He mounts it first, testing, before I join him. The instructor tells me where to hold Tristan and what to do in case the Jet Ski capsizes. Having spent a long time in California, I am confident that Tristan had done this before.
We make our way into the ocean. The morning sun and the ocean breeze make a great combination and only after a few minutes, I start to understand why people get addicted to the rush. I have my arms around Tristan’s waist. His long, curly hair is tied into a messy bun. I can smell his skin and taste the salty waters as the machine hits the blue sea. If I am not screaming my lungs out, I have my face pressed against the back of his life jacket.
By the time we circled the elephant-shaped island, I have enough confidence to drive on my own. So Tristan gets a separate machine for him and we ride the waves once more. And then we move on to kayaking. Tristan paddles in front while I take care of the back. It is nearly 11 o’clock. I’ve never had much experience in water sports but I can understand why people get high on these things. Tristan and I circle the island one more time and I marvel at the white structures peering from the greenery. It’s easy to forget that we are still in the Philippines.
They call Marinduque the “heart of the Philippines” because of its shape on the map. Perhaps Tristan is right. Coming here will help me wade through my own issues. It’s only my second day on the island and I am starting to feel like my troubles are so far away, as far as I am from Manila.
We make our way back to the small boat dock, wave goodbye to the instructor and make our way to the small restaurant for lunch. Tristan held my hand when he helped me out the kayak and up the steps from the boat dock. He has yet to let go. He’s a few strides ahead of me, a cut short of dragging me as he leads the way.
He tells me to order the sweet pork dish, the restaurant’s specialty. We talk about our recent water sport activities, laughing along the way, without much care because we are only the diners at the restaurant. Maybe the real couples chose to have their meals inside the room.
When my food arrives, Tristan tells me he can’t join me for lunch as his shift starts in about 30 minutes. I don’t mind eating alone. I’m used to it. But it would be nice to share a meal with him. After all that water activity, he must be starving. I know because my stomach is rumbling.
When he’s sure that I am all set for lunch, he stands up from his seat, places his right hand at the back of my neck, pulls me close and kisses me on the forehead. Before I could react, he is halfway across the restaurant.
A friendly kiss, I say to myself. Nothing but a friendly kiss.
Or is it?
To be continued…