Chapter Nine

Awe I never felt in years held me in place; warmness lingered in my chest. I remained still, my face bathing in the luminous morning light through the window. The birds chirped which sounded like music to me. I pulled the pillow Yeren used last night and embraced it dearly. I gently closed my eyes. His faint smell made me so full, so happy. There was nothing I could do but feel, and be absorbed by the moment.

Fantasies rolled, like I was making a film of us, together. I imagine myself living with him, thinking of the things that we can share and the jokes we’ll laugh at. No language could explain the happiness welling up within me. I was going to explode. It was too overwhelming.

‘I think I am falling.’ His words repeatedly played in my head. I returned the night before, to the time when he clasped me in his arms. It was what made me the happiest. What I had wasn’t mine alone, Yeren shared them with me.

The lower corner of my bed stirred and I felt someone sit on it.

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“You looked really happy, kuya,” Eris said as I opened my eyes. “Did something happen?”

“Huh?” I gave her a puzzled look. “What made you say that?”

“Look at your face, kuya, you were smiling like a mad man.” Eris rolled her eyes and heaved a sigh. “When I entered your room, you’re already awake but you didn’t seem to notice that I was here. Heck, you even hugged that pillow while saying someone’s name.” A spasm of panic surged as her stare turned into a mischievous smile. “It’s almost as if you’re in love.”

“What are you talking about?” I cried out in disagreement.

Eris shook her head as her lips widened to her ears. “Did something good happen last night?” My heart ached in horror. It implied something. I knew she was asking to let me know that she knew about it.

I leaned my back in bed and threw a pillow at her, and looked away, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yeren,” Eris said in a childlike but comical manner as she hugged the pillow I threw at her. She burst into laughter.

Fear took over. I was breathless. The traces of happiness vanished in an instant. I was horror-struck, wanting to just disappear at that moment. All I could hear was the sound of her snickers as I stared unseeingly somewhere else.

I felt a sudden, light pinch on my cheeks. I looked back.

“Why do you suddenly look so glum, kuya?” Eris gave me an encouraging look. “It’s not like I’m gonna sell you out.”

I stared in disbelief. An alienation for myself grew in a minute. It was hard to trust her, about something that I couldn’t even understand. But there was nothing I could do other than feel, and be lost to the sensations that were foreign to me. Foreign yet I held it with such care. I wondered how it was wrong or why our society looked at it with such disgust when it felt so right; when all I did was love.

“Kuya,” Eris called out. I bit the back of my lower lip, realizing that I’ve been staring somewhere else; lost to my thoughts. Her smile gleamed with perfect sincerity, then she sucked a deep breath. “How do I say it? I don’t know what you’ve been thinking but you can trust me.” She beamed again. “Honestly, I don’t even see anything wrong about it.”

Her words hung for a moment.

“Are you sure about that?”

She nodded, “Pretty much. And, kuya, remember this, I will be the last person to deny you of your happiness.”

“Great,” my lips curved into my ears. It was wonderful, knowing that someone understood. Hearing her words lifted my doubts. I found the kind of encouragement to assure myself that nothing was wrong with it.

“Anyway, kuya, I’m curious about what you did last night.”

I gave her a querying look.

“Don’t try to deny it, kuya. I saw Kuya Yeren leaving your room very early this morning.”

I couldn’t answer, words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. She stayed silent for a moment, staring at me with a twinkling gaze. She giggled. “I didn’t know that you were that bold, kuya. You never brought a friend before so it surprised me that you sneaked your boyfriend in.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” I blurted out.

Eris threw a doubtful stare.

“He’s not my boyfriend, okay?”

She rolled her eyes. “What’s your relationship then?”

“We’re friends.” I tried hard to sound as convincing as possible but Eris didn’t seem to notice it. She looked at me, filled with disbelief.

“God, why wouldn’t you believe me?”

“I just couldn’t believe it.” A sigh left her mouth. “But you, at least, like him, right?”

My cheeks and ears were hot, embarrassed by her sudden inquiry. Words remained trapped in the back of my throat. There was no way for me to answer but the reaction on my face said it all.

An earful smile marked her lips. Her eyes shone with little surprise and wonder. She let her body fall on the bed, hugging the pillow beside her. She wiggled, left and right, for a moment; stopped and looked at me. “I’m really happy, kuya.”

“Yeah,” I rolled my eyes. “And you seemed more excited than I am.”

Eris was about to say something when mom stormed into the room. “Why are the two of you not responding? I called many times.”

Eris grinned. “Sorry mom, we’re just having a fun talk.”

Mom half-smiled, “That’s fine and all but get up already. The food is waiting downstairs.”

We agreed and followed mom as she exited the room. Dad was reading a newspaper in the kitchen with a cup of coffee on the table that was half-empty. Fried eggs, hotdogs, bacon, and rice were already decked on the table. He closed the newspaper and slid a plate in front of him.

Breakfast was nothing eventful. No one talked. We ate in utter silence. The low audible clatter of utensils in the plate engulfed the table. It was a common scenario, silence wrapping the room like we were there yet we’re not. No one was allowed to speak other than Dad who rarely asked questions about our grades in school.

“Ian,” dad called out after finishing his meal, breaking the silence. “Are your stuff already packed?”

I nodded.

“Good, we’ll leave after you’re finished.”

“I thought you’d leave after lunch,” mom commented, wiping the side of her lips. She put her spoon down and drank from her glass.

“I have a sudden business meeting with a client this evening. I have to get back early.” Dad stood up, drank his remaining coffee, and exited the room.

“Does it have to be this early? It’s only seven-thirty,” Eris complained.

I got up as I drank from my glass and gave her a bitter half-smile. “It’s dad’s decision. Can’t do anything about it.”

Eris frowned. Mom remained silent. She began to clean up the plates on the table as I dashed out of the kitchen into my room.

Only allowed on

My gaze wandered in my room, staring in every corner, from the walls to the closet, the bed, the window, to the ceiling. Nostalgia made its way to my heart, anxiety building up in my chest.

Today, I’d be facing a new chapter in my life.

I grabbed two pieces of luggage underneath my bed and dashed downstairs. Before I could get out of the door, mom called out to me.

“You sure you’re not forgetting anything? Just to be sure, check your bags again,” mom demanded for the second time.

I stared reassuringly, “Don’t worry, I already checked it thrice yesterday. I checked it once today. Nothing’s missing.”

“Just to be sure,” she insisted. “Check it again.”

I heave a deep sigh. “Mom, I’m pretty sure that I’m not forgetting anything. Everything’s there.”

Eris laughed from behind, “Mom was just worried about you, kuya.”

I turned my head and looked at her, “God, mom’s just being a worrywart.”

“She’s being a worrywart because she is a worrywart,” she joked.

I laughed. “That makes sense.”

Mom frowned, her forehead crumpled slightly. “How can I stop worrying? I won’t be there if you need me. I don’t even know if you’ll be fine by yourself.”

“Mom…” I paused, letting out a deep sigh. “I can take care of myself. I’m seventeen already.”

“Fine, fine,” she nodded. “Just don’t forget to call us.”

“I’ll be in touch.”

“We’re going now,” dad interrupted the melodramatic conversation.

Mom hugged me tightly for about a minute. Dad gave her a peck on the cheek and we hopped in the car after putting all my bags in the trunk.

“Gab, drive safely,” mom shouted before we left.

Dad didn’t say a word. He showed no emotion. He stared at the road as he drove on. It was dead silent.

I turned my head to the window and watched the new scenery as they unraveled before me. A lightness dawned on me. I had been to San Carlos twice during the entrance exam and enrollment but I always left the house when everything was still shrouded in darkness. Today, the morning light shaded the road, the trees, and the house with dappled colors. It was amazing, the greenery and the blue sky filled with cirrus clouds.

Two hours darkened the hue of the sky. A series of crashing thunder echoed as the greenery slowly faded behind the heavy downpour of the rain. I watched a few people, running around, to find some shelter; and some children, playing under the rain. I remembered a memory from a long time ago when I was six or seven, Eris and I used to do the same thing though we always caught a fever every time. Mom scolded us, of course, but dad would only laugh at her. “Let them have fun, let children be children,” he used to say.

I glanced at dad. He’s still expressionless like he didn’t care if I was there or not. He cocked his head, his eyes suddenly meeting mine. He frowned. A ‘what?’ looked was written on his face. I slightly darted back to my seat, turned away, and discreetly laughed. I wondered how time could change, how it could change people, and how it could change us so much. I remembered the time when he was still a father to me when love wasn’t lost. And when everything changed on my tenth birthday, back to that time, seven years ago.

My chest ached as if someone had slammed their fist into my chest. There was a heaviness in my breathing, my hands started to tremble. Before I knew it, the light had escaped the peripheral of my vision and I was staring in total darkness.

The phone rang from my pocket. My cornea almost leaped out. I missed a breath. The time read 11:56 on my phone. Two hours? I’ve been out for another two hours. I glanced at the caller ID. There was a moment of hesitance before pushing the answer button.

“Hello, have you left your house yet?” he inquired.

I stayed silent for a moment as my prospect wandered behind the window. The rain had stopped. The familiar gate of Tuazon University caught my eyes before dad took a sudden turn. “I’m afraid I’m already in San Carlos,” I answered, my head acutely rotated behind, looking at the gate as it disappeared. “We left very early this morning,” I added.

“Oh!” he muttered, his voice hardly audible. Then his phone went off and I received a message from him shortly after.

‘Sorry. Just text me when you arrive. I’m still cleaning up.’

After a few more turns, I sent Yeren a message when dad parked the car in front of a large five-story apartment complex. We stepped out, I grabbed the luggage from the trunk and took them inside. It was brightly lit inside, the white walls almost reminding me of my stay in the hospital. There were six wooden doors, five of which have numbers ranging from 101 to 105 on top of them. A darker door beside the staircase stood out of them. It didn’t have any number on top of it, instead, there was a sign, reading Landlady, hanging on the door.

Dad left without saying a word as I looked around. I followed outside and heard the car roar back to life. I watched as he maneuvered the car out of the lot. Not even a minute passed before he finally drove out of sight.

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