Two

Chapter Two

The ride in the first jeepney took longer than the ride that morning. There was a car accident in a town next to San Carlos that added a lot to the traffic. When I transferred to another jeepney, the sun had already set and there was just darkness in every corner of the sky. It was a moonless and starless night. The wind was so frigid that it penetrated through my polo shirt as it blew through the open window of the jeepney. It was then I regretted not bringing a jacket.

I arrived at Magsaysay Grand Terminal by eight-thirty. The sky was a flickering of light and darkness as it roared, the cold intensifying by the moment. When I reached the section of the terminal where the buses had lined up, it was a thought battle. The experience in the ordinary bus this morning was hell and I didn’t want another one but riding the air-conditioned bus could be an equally bad idea or worse in this kind of weather. I thought hard as if my life depended on it. Before riding the bus of my choice, I took a deep breath.

I curved my lips as I stepped inside. The temperature was warmer from what I thought it would be. Surprisingly, It was colder outside. I looked ahead, there were just two remaining seats. I dashed through the narrow way and sat at the last seat of the left-wing beside the window. After a minute or two, I plugged earphones on my ears.

“Excuse me,” someone said as I scrolled through some music on my phone. When I turned my gaze, I saw a stranger that seemed so familiar to me, like we’d met somewhere though I couldn’t remember when or where.

He turned to me after settling down to his seat, my eyes meeting his. The color of his eyes mesmerized me, a deep hue of emerald green. I wanted to look away but I was too caught in the moment, like everything stood still, like there were only the two of us. He did the same, his eyes refused to look away. I couldn’t remember how long we stared at each other but the charm was only lifted when my phone slipped from my hand.

Adrenaline streamed through my veins as I cocked my head away from his gaze and stretched my left hand down on the floor to search for my phone. I moved my hand around until it halted when I touched another hand. It was soft but bigger, much bigger. When I realized whose hand it was, I immediately pulled my hand and straightened to my seat as I stared at the window, heart racing, blood streaming to my cheeks and ears.

“Here,” he called out. I hesitantly looked back. His right hand was half-stretched to me, my phone resting in his palms. I carefully got it from his hand.

“Thanks,” I said and his lips, though seemingly peeling and dry, curved into a smile with his eyes.

For another moment, everything stood still. If there were memories that were forever burned in my little gallery of photographic memory, it was that moment. Up to this day, I could still remember with such clarity the picture of his smile and all the feelings I experienced when I saw it. I was lost. I can’t do anything. I can’t even move. There was something entirely different in me, something much more than fascination that I’d never felt before. My body suddenly felt hot all over. Droplets of sweat rolled down in my back with each heavy beating of my heart.

“Are you okay?” he suddenly asked, bringing my senses back.

I pointed at myself with a question ‘me?’ on my face.

He nodded. “Your face is deep red. Do you feel kinda sick?”

I wanted to answer but it seemed words were trapped in my mouth. My lips trembled and it confused me. When I trembled before, I’ve been nervous, scared, or extremely cold, but now it was entirely different.

“Hey, are you okay? You’re trembling.” His face was painted with uncertainty and I don’t know, a bit of worry maybe.

I mustered all my courage and took the most inaudible deep breath I could take “I’m fine, just a little cold.” I answered, lips slightly trembling. It sounded funny. I remembered talking to some people but I could rarely recall their faces or names. Yet, he was different. It was the first time I wanted to talk to somebody else.

My eyes widened when he raised his arms and tugged his gray jacket up. He held it and stretched his right arm to me. “Here,” he offered. For a moment, I don’t know what to do. I just stared at him, puzzled.

He beamed a smile. “I just wore it this evening. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Thanks,” I said, hesitantly taking it from his hand as I stared at the back of the seat in front of me, hiding my embarrassment. I wanted him to reply but his silence disappointed me.

His jacket had a sweet, fragrant smell of fabric conditioner. It smelt good and I found myself inhaling it. What am I doing? My body was hot and I sensed large droplets of sweat rolling in my forehead. Blood surged up to my cheeks and ears. I took a glance at him and heaved a huge sigh. His eyes were closed, with earplugs on his ears. For a while, I stared at the seat in front of me, watching his sleeping face in the corner of my eye.

For some unknown reason, I couldn’t take my gaze off of him. Perhaps, it was a byproduct of my biased recollection but as my eyes traced his face from his chiseled cheeks to his symmetrical nose until it halted to his long dark eyelashes, his olive skin was luminous against the pale light of the bus. He was beautiful and the more I stared, the more I realized how inhumanly beautiful he looked.

The thumping of my heart exaggerated at the moment like it wanted to get out of my chest. It was overwhelming and out of control. I put my hand over my heart and counted every beat as I stared at him. The realization struck me like a fist. My chest suddenly felt heavy, my eyes on the brink of tears. It can’t be. I shut my eyes tightly and everything went quiet behind the darkness. I fell asleep quickly, extremely confused and exhausted.

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When I opened my eyes, I found my head on his shoulders. My heart pounded like crazy as I gasped and moved away. I immediately looked at the window. I couldn’t remember seeing anything behind them other than his faint reflection and the heavy downpour of the rain.

“Sorry,” I muttered, barely above a whisper.

“It’s fine, you seemed sleep-deprived,” he answered, his reflection grinning mischievously. God, he knew where I was looking. “Why don’t you look at me instead of my reflection?”

A burst of blood surged into my face as I bit the back of my lower lip. The air conditioner was cold, yet my body and cheeks were hot. My eyes still refused to look at him directly, I could only look at him in the corner of my eye. I was too embarrassed.

“You’re weird.” He laughed and I was lost for words. God, make him laugh again. My heart pounded as I stared at him, thinking of how he could talk and laugh with strangers so casually, let alone lend his jacket to someone he didn’t know. We didn’t even know each other’s names.

“My name’s Yeren if you’re wondering,” he said like he was reading my thoughts. “No, I’m not reading your mind,” he added. I don’t know the facial expression I wore at that time but it sure surprised me. I laughed, the first genuine one after many years of faking it.

“You’re funny.”

He smiled and my heart skipped a beat. “What’s yours?”

“I’m Ian. Ian Reyes.”

“Happy birthday, Ian,” he said all of a sudden. The grin on my face disappeared. Can this guy read my thoughts? I wondered and it frightened me.

“You don’t have to be so startled. I definitely can’t read what’s in your head,” he said. “Your mom called almost an hour ago but you’re sleeping soundly. Your phone kept on ringing so I answered it for you.”

“And?”

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He thought for a while. “She was crying and greeted you with a happy birthday. She also said that she’s glad because you grew up a good boy and healthy and she hopes that you can soon get a girlfriend.”

“She said those embarrassing things?” I asked as huge streams of blood filled my cheeks.

“No, she just greeted you with a happy birthday and then hung up,” he said, hiding his snickers.

“Should I be grateful or should I punch a stranger?” I jokingly glared at him but I was frozen when he suddenly put his right hand behind my ear.

“I don’t know, but that woman ahead of your seat was furious. She almost slapped your phone in your face. Good thing, I saw it and stopped her,” he whispered, sending shivers to my skin.

“Eh?” was my only reply. Was it doubt or shock? Even I, myself, didn’t know.

“It’s true. I felt bad so I answered it for you,” he said reassuringly.

I smiled. The best one, trying to give him the warmest one I had. “I should be grateful, then. Thank you.”

He nodded. “Happy Birthday again, I mean it.”

He returned it− much brighter and warmer than the one he had before.

“Thank you,” I said again.

“Do you mind if I use your phone?” he asked out of the blue. Just when I got my phone from my pocket, he suddenly grabbed it from my hand. God, he was full of surprises. “You’re a freshman, right?” he asked as he was typing something. I nodded and he gave it back.

“I saved my number. I need a roommate this upcoming semester so if you’re searching for a place to stay, you can call me anytime. You can also call me if you ever need something.”

“San Isidro! San Isidro!” The conductor shouted the name of the town before my own. Yeren stood up. “It was nice meeting you, Ian. Don’t forget me. Yeren. Yeren Axle Guevara,” he added and left the bus.


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