by Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla

Have you ever felt like in just one night, your life could change?

I wake up this morning feeling all is right in the world. Well, at least in mine. The sun’s gentle morning light is seeping through the slightly opened windows of our room. The gentle sea breeze smells wonderful. And Tristan’s warm body is wrapped around mine in an embrace.

Tristan is a big man, in every sense of the word. Apart from towering over me, it is only now that I realize how little I am as I settle closer into his outstretched arms on the bed. It is only now that I realize that if I stay in a fetal positon, I can lose myself in him, quite physically too.

He has also seen the world. In those years in between attending college and waiting tables in the U.S., he backpacked around Europe and has seen many of the sights I’ve only seen in movies. He has tasted dishes in their countries of origin and has brought home with him the freedom of being able to go after what he truly wants.

It is only now that I know for sure that his plans involved me all along.

Have you ever felt like in just one night, your life could change? When Tristan and I decided to sleep together last night, we both knew we could never go back. Everything in front of us now is new, un-treaded and terrifying to a certain fault.

I feel him stir and slowly awake. His face is buried in the back of my neck and I can feel his hot breath when he slowly yawned and exhaled. His muscles stiffen as he brings me closer to his chest in a tighter embrace, as though he needs assurance that I am still here and that last night was not a dream and that, in a certain level, I am his.

I do not object. I have always wanted to belong to someone.

Am I really Tristan’s now? I ask myself. Can I really make that switch after just a few weeks? I love Tristan. There is no doubt about it. But when you’ve spent loving a person from a far, it is hard to just switch it off and move on with your life. Why do I feel that I need some kind of closure from Matthew? Is it even necessary?

Fully awake now, Tristan kisses the back of my ear, that sensitive spot again and the same heat washes all over me. I feel his hands on my breasts, slowly caressing them under the white sheets where we both lay naked. I feel him growing with every kiss he leaves on my neck and bare shoulders. A quick rip of a foil package, a little bend forward and I feel the same wave of euphoria from last night. This time, we both finish and lay spent on the bed, feeling exhausted even before the day starts.

***

I don’t have a lot of friends. And at this point, I don’t know if I should be labeling the shift that happened between me and Tristan last night. It must be easier for guys. Get a girl, make her yours and she’s off limits to your male friends for life. For women, lines can sometimes get blurry and exes end up dating your girlfriends after all the drama has sizzled out. For women, we need to know the state of where we are in a relationship. So how I do I ask Tristan now?

After the quick sex this morning, he ate breakfast with me at the patio and left for his afternoon shift. If felt as if we had been together for all our lives. There were lots of touching and kissing and exploring that we almost didn’t get to touch the plate of tapsilog he ordered via room service.

He said ‘I love you’ many times. And I replied with the same just as much. Am I really in a new relationship now? Despite the beauty of the place, I end up feeling more conflicted so I decide to take another walk to the Meditation Sanctuary and try to collect my thoughts in a more peaceful surrounding because every single thing in the villa reminds me of Tristan. I need to detach and find my center.

I check my phone before I leave the villa and find messages from Tristan sent yesterday telling me he’ll be back soon after the shift at the kitchens. And then there were messages from Matthew, all twenty-four of them.

“Hey, are you mad at me?” one SMS asked. “Did I offend you or something?”

Why is it that every time I try to tear myself away from Matthew, he tries to pull me back in? I have a choice. I can stay here and decipher his messages or walk out the villa and step into the light. I have chosen the darkness over and over. This time, I choose the light.

I take my time walking to the hotel and realize the resort has suddenly become too crowded. The Meditation Sanctuary is filled with people taking selfies. When I reach the hotel pool, it seems the area is closed off for the blogger event. I walk towards the seaside restaurant, near the place where Tristan and I took the Jet Ski but even the place is teeming with people with large cameras hanging from their necks.

My little paradise in Marinduque has been invaded.

I am about to make my way back to the villa when I hear someone call my name. When I turn around, I see Matthew holding a cocktail and walking towards me. My face must have been a mixture of shock and panic.

“Hi,” says Matthew. He looks well-rested, happy even.

“Hello.”

“I’ve been trying to reach you…”

“I know.”

He frowns. “You’re avoiding me?”

I keep quiet and turn my eyes to the shore.

A few quiet beats pass.

“This is about that night at the ‘Avenue Q’ event, right?”

I put my sunglasses on so he won’t see my eyes twitching in frustration. He moves closer and reaches for my hand.

“Kit,” he sighs. “I’m just trying to protect you.”

“Protect me?”

“Yes. Look, the people around me, they… they like to make assumptions about the girls I hang out with. Whenever they see me with someone new, they immediately assume that I’m sleeping with her or worse, playing games.”

“But isn’t that what we’re doing?” I ask, trying my best to make sense of what he’s saying. “We’re sleeping together? We’ve been having sex since college, Matthew.”

He seems genuinely surprised. “Yeah, but you don’t know these people, Kit. When they make these assumptions, it’s not flattering, you know? It’s like they’re branding the girls they see me with and I don’t want them to label you that way.

“Look, I live under constant scrutiny,” he continues. “It’s up to you if you don’t want to believe what I’m telling you now, but it’s true. I… you know this already, Kit. You’ve known this since college. I loved you and, fuck this, I love you. A part of me will always be connected with you. That connection never left me even in all those years in between.”

And just like that, I feel the tug of the red string pulling me closer and closer until I feel my eyes close when his lips rest on mine. “I just want to protect you,” he says, pulling away.

I keep my eyes close, as though I never want to open them and deal with spider’s web I’ve spun. When I open my eyes, I want all this to be over. I want to be back in senior high and choose fine arts as my first choice in my college application. I want to be back in college and make new friends from a different course. I want to wake up not knowing Matthew because I know that my life has become a complicated, jaded mess the moment he sat on Hazel’s chair that day in Collin’s class.

But I open my eyes to something even more terrifying—the sight of Tristan standing near the glass doors of the restaurant with his eyes wide in disbelief, pain and anger. I recoil from Matthew’s hold. He must have seen my face of terror but when he spins around, he steps back just as Tristan walks towards us and pushes him away from me.

“Get your hands off my girl,” Tristan shouts to his face.

“What?” Matthew’s face contorts after regaining his balance. “Your girl?”

Neither of us answers him. “Since when?” he adds.

Tristan grabs my arm and pulls me towards the direction of our villa, half dragging me in my three-inch wedges. I look back and see that a small group of people is watching us walk away, including a bewildered Matthew.

We reach the villa and Tristan fumbles with the key, cursing along the way. I’ve never seen Tristan this angry before. He seems like a different person, so far from the calm and soft-spoken guy I’ve always known.

When he finally opens the door, he grabs my elbow and drags me inside with him, kicking the door closed. I feel his fingers digging deeper into my skin and when I try to pull away, he digs even harder. He pulls me to the bedroom and throws me on the bed.

“What the fuck was that?!” he yells at me.

By this time, I am already crying out of fear and shaking badly. When I don’t answer, he grabs the lampshade on the bedside table and throws it on the wall far behind me. I close my eyes until I hear the last of the glass shards hit the floor.

“I asked you a question! Why were you kissing him?!”

He kissed me!” I say. “I didn’t even know he was here!”

“Oh, I bet!” Tristan mocks. “Is that why you agreed to go with me? Because you know he’d be here at that stupid blogger event?”

“No! I didn’t know!”

“So why the fuck was he kissing you?!”

“Because he loves me!”

And with that, Tristan pins me down on the bed and locks both my hands above my head.

“No, Kit,” he says, looking at me with eyes burning with anger. “I love you.”

“Wha…”

And then he kisses me, angrily. On the mouth, on my neck, on my breasts. “You are mine. You have always been mine.”

His kisses became more intense, hurried. As though he is trying to leave a mark on me as if I am simply property. Something feels wrong and this isn’t the way moving on is supposed to happen. What happened to wanting to do it the right way? What happened to the stable guy whom I used to call my Tristan?

“Wait…” I say.

“What?” he asks.

“I… this is wrong.”

And with that he pulls away from me and rests on the farther end of the bedroom, looking both forlorn and confused. I gather myself and start to weigh my words before I speak again. But before I could open my mouth and explain to him what happened a few moments ago with Matthew and the decision I have made to be with him, he begins to laugh.

He laughs more, for a long time, that I end up laughing a bit despite my heart racing in my chest. And then he says something that will forever change who we are.

“Are you really that broken that you’re happy being just a fuck buddy?”

My mouth drops first. Then my heart breaks. And what happens after that was a clear indication that he didn’t mean to say what he just did. He looks as if he heard what he just said for the first time and regretted it miserably. He tries to gain his footing and looks for words that could somehow make sense of what he just said. But he finds none.

I cried out in pain when he dragged me back to the villa. I cried when he dug into my skin deeper when I tried to wiggle away from his grasp. But the first real tears that mean something fall just before my head drops and my eyes close.

“Shit,” I hear him say.

Even with my eyes closed, I feel him walk towards me and attempt to touch me. But he decides not to. And then I hear the door open then lock close and everything is quiet again.

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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