Chapter Eight

Before I knew it, two days had gone by. The bandage had been removed from my head and mom was discharged earlier today. Tomorrow will be a big day for me. My eyes stared blankly at the ceiling of the room, counting the stars many times over. It was already eleven-thirty and I was hoping that the cold breeze from the open window would bring me to sleep. I took alternate deep breaths before closing my eyes but drowsiness never found its place in my wake.

I put my right hand on my chest that was thumping like crazy. A whole different brew of sensations was making me sleepless. I was giddy and elated. The excitement was so overwhelming that I felt breathless. Funny enough, I was also very anxious.

“God! Ian, just f****** calm down and sleep,” I told myself as I rolled over and pressed my face on the bed. I slithered my arms below my face. A sigh left my mouth. Still, I was restless. It was getting uncomfortable by the moment so I raised my lower legs alternately, hoping to ease my muscles and nerves.

A familiar ring echoed from the side table. I lifted my head a bit and stretched an arm to pick the phone that was still ringing. I pushed the answer button without looking at the screen and slipped it on my ears.

“Hello,” Yeren whispered from the other line.

“Whoa,” I let out a soft chuckle. “You called so late.”

He stayed silent for a moment. “I just thought that maybe, you’re awake.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep. I felt excited and anxious at the same time.”

“As I expected,” he laughed a bit. “Wanna take a breather then?”

“Sure,” I said and he hung up.

It was a brief conversation but I already knew what he meant. I got up, changed into jeans, and wore a jacket that I rummaged from my old closet. I sneaked out of the house after slipping my wallet and spare key into the back pocket of my jeans. The restlessness in my chest slowly melted as I patiently waited for him in the corner of the road.

Thirty minutes had passed but there was no sign of his presence. I lifted my gaze and took a deep breath to relieve myself of a different kind of anxiousness. Another ten minutes elapsed but he still wasn’t there. I walked back in front of the house and inserted the key in the doorknob. I was about to reel it when I heard the familiar sound of a motorcycle from not too far away. I smiled to myself while returning the key to my pocket and stepped out of the yard.

“Sorry,” Yeren said as soon as he stopped in front of me. He took off his helm and smiled. “I came all the way from home so I took so long.”

“Don’t worry. I just got outside myself.”

His lips widened, “When I called you, it might have been a good excuse that I figured out that you’re anxious.” He looked directly into my eyes and covered his mouth with the back of his right hand. “But honestly, I just wanted to see you so bad that I was so happy right now.”

His sudden confession made my chest pound like crazy. My tummy felt weird and it was then I understood the phrase, ‘butterflies flying in my stomach.’ I had no way to see how I looked at the time but I can draw it at the back of my head. My cheeks were hot, reddened. I felt special that there was immense happiness within me. I could imagine my eyes glittering in that darkness.

Yeren withdrew his hand from his face. His hand found my own and pulled me closer. “Let’s go,” he said, handing me a helmet before putting back his own. I wore it as I hopped behind him, then wrapped my arms around his waist.

The cold hush of the midnight wind accompanied the whole ride. We didn’t speak nor talk about anything, but there was a pleasant lightness within that silence. All the anxiety was gone. There was just us; and the swift movement of the vehicle, taking me back to the first time I met him.

Even though I had already seen the vivid picture of the town’s night market that was glittered with thousands of lights, it didn’t fail to amuse me. It was still as beautiful as the first time I saw it. I took a deep breath and held Yeren on his wrist. I felt the weight of his hand and a familiar warmth from where I touched. He was surprised by my boldness but he didn’t withdraw his hand. He beamed and gave me an encouraging look. “It’s my treat tonight,” I said.

Yeren was enthusiastic as I led him within the narrow alley of the market. There were only several people and some of the shops were still opening. We stopped in a noodle shop with a very intriguing name. Mag-asawang Kantunan, it read. I found it quite funny and green at the same time.

We sat on the stools at the counter. A middle-aged woman greeted us, though she’s particularly looking at Yeren. He simply returned the gesture and said, “I’ll have the same old order.”

I glanced at Yeren then back to the woman. “I’ll have the same order as him,” I said. She smiled as she scribbled something on a small notepad.

“It’ll be ready in three minutes,” she said, slipping the paper in a small rectangular opening behind her.

“You won’t regret it, their canton is good.”

I laughed inaudibly, “You know your way in here.”

“Nah, I’ve been coming back here for three years.”

“No wonder.” I took a breath and looked into his eyes. “But how about your family, do they know that you’re going out at night?”

There was a long pause before he said anything. “Doesn’t matter. They don’t care.”

Air moved past through our backs with people getting thicker behind us, though it seemed that they disappeared when he frowned. An empty space, so hollow yet so heavy, enveloped the two of us, like a birdcage, our stares held us in place. I only sensed him and his vulnerability.

“Sorry,” I finally said.

He arched his lips, the same bright smile that he’d always wore but there was something much more behind his eyes. “Don’t be, it’s not your fault.”

“Sorry for the wait,” the shopkeeper abruptly said, which was a good ice breaker. She slid two plates on the counter, one for me and one for Yeren. The food didn’t have any fancy dressing. It rather looked ordinary, a canton with some vegetable toppings in it. Instinctively, the food made its way to my mouth and I chewed. Surprisingly, it tasted great that I had another spoonful of Canton in my mouth.

“Water! A glass of water, please,” I said when I realized the intense hotness in my tongue. I slightly stick it out and open my mouth as I try to cool it with my hand. A moment later, a glass of water found its way to my mouth. I drank and drank until there was not even a single drop left.

I turned to Yeren who was silently laughing beside me. I glared at him, “You didn’t tell me that it was spicy!”

“Well, you never asked,” he answered, still laughing.

I threw him another glare. “Then, you eat it,” I said, sliding the plate in front of him.

“No prob.” He stopped laughing and looked at the woman, “Can you get him another one, without chili?”

She nodded. It was quite surprising that Yeren didn’t mind the spiciness of the food. He ate a spoonful of canton, one after another, and he seemed to be enjoying it. By the time the shopkeeper brought my food, he had already finished one plate and began to dig on the one I gave him. It was a delight to watch him eat.

We visit three more shops before going home at two-thirty. Tomorrow will be a busy day and I have to get even an ample amount of rest. The wind on the way home was colder, thicker. The sky roared, the rain drizzled. Yeren accelerated and we got home before I knew it.

“Can you stay the night?” I asked as I unlocked the door, the rain starting to get heavier.

“No,” Yeren shook his head. “I can manage.”

I looked directly at his eyes. “I insist.”

“Fine.” His lips curved halfway, “But I’ll leave as soon as the rain stops. It would be bad if your dad found out.”

I nodded. There was a long gap of silence until we reached my room. I fumbled my hand over the wall beside the door and switched on the lights.

“Can you turn out the lights for a moment?” Yeren suddenly whispered.

“Wow,” he mumbled as soon as I turned off the light.

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I gently turned to him. He was looking up, staring with wonder. The faint light from the stars illuminated a smile on his face, his eyes glittering in the darkness. I raised my head a bit and looked at the stars of my childhood. Sure, it was beautiful but there was no awe anymore as I looked at them.

“Is it that beautiful?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.

“It is,” he answered without taking out his glance above. I sat on the bed and watched him, his eyes remained still. Amusingly enough, I could see my childhood in him. It took me back to when I received those stars as an early gift from my mom during my tenth birthday. The wonder and awe that I felt on that day. How long I stood mesmerized by its beauty. I knew it should have been a good memory but some things would never go the way we want them to be. My lungs were breathless. The nightmares of my tenth birthday were reenacting themselves, turning into moving lifeless forms. So dull, so heavy.

I gasped. Yeren took several steps and stood in front of me. He held my cheeks and wiped some tears that fell from my eyes. He took a deep breath and sat beside me. “You saved me,” he said, his voice cracked. “That day, the first time we met. You see, I was thinking about a lot of things.” He let out a bitter laugh. “It was pretty depressing.”

I didn’t say anything, I didn’t have to. There was a long moment of silence before he spoke again. “At first, I thought, you remind me of her.” He looked at me and laughed. “It sounds crazy, but you do look like her. But I already realized, you were different. Very different.” He stopped laughing and gave me a very serious look. “You are you. And for an entirely different reason, I think I am falling.”

His hand hovered to my waist, pulling me closer to him, placing his chin on my shoulders. I could feel his breath on me. It was warm. I could sense the trembling of his hands on my back as I hyperventilated, my breathing went erratic. My heart missed beats. He was as nervous as I was.

“Sorry, did I make you uncomfortable?” he asked when he finally let go.

I remained silent and leaped out of my seat to the other side of the bed, my back against him.

“Do you hate me now?” he asked again.

His words hung for a moment.

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“How can I possibly hate you?” I answered, my voice barely above a whisper.

No one spoke again after that but I felt his quiet movement from the other side. A warmness descended upon me. Knowing that he was there, lying in the same bed. At last, the cold breeze from the window and silent drops of the rain lulled me to sleep. When I woke up that morning, the rain had already dissipated. I rolled to the other side of the bed, finding out that Yeren was already gone. I looked above and arched my lips. Happiness found me again.

The stars, for once, were shining again.

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