October 26 07.
As soon as I got my luggage from the antiquated carousel, I received an sms from Ricky saying he was gonna be a few minutes late because he got stuck in traffic at The Fort area. I quite expected that. It was a Sunday and I was in Manila. So I excused myself from Rems and decided to move to a less crowded place to have a ciggy. There were no No Smoking signs around and people there were a few men in sight smoking. I thought it was ok. Towards my last three puffs, I saw a security person and politley asked, "Manong, san pwede magtapon nito (Sir, where can I throw this)?" referring to my cigarette butt.
"Dyan. (Right there.)" He pointed to the ground.
It made me smile. Haaaaaaaaaaay! Manila! With the utmost conviction and the biggest smile, I dropped the cigarette butt to the ground. I was home.
Few minutes later, Ricky arrived. It felt a little bit odd that he and my mom were having more conversation in the car than he and I. It felt wonderful that they were able to preserve the admirable in-law relationship I had always wanted them to have, despite the break-up. Along EDSA, Ricky instructed Rems to reach for a paper bag that was hidden under the backseat.
"San ko to ilalagay (Where will I put this)?", Rems asked.
"Buksan mo. Para sa yo yan. (Open it. It's for you.)"
Rems obliged gigglingly. It was a box that contained a 6-inch Buddha icon, a book on Buddhism, and some incense sticks. She was ecstatic when she thanked Ricky. Ricky only replied with a smile that beamed with contentment.
The drive to Cubao from the Domestic Airport wasn't as exhausting as I had expected. When we got there, I just dropped off my luggage, said my hellos to my cousins and to my Siamese cat, Petipa, and started heading to Tita Mike & Tito Augie's cozy antique- and wooden furniture-adorned apartment for the homecoming dinner that they threw for me.
Quarter to 8, Ricky and I were by their gate, buzzing them when Tito Eric (Ex Ed-in-Chief of FHM, Pump and Maxim, and is currently working on the Philippine franchise of an international magazine) arrived with a box of kakanin for dessert.
Tito Augie (Palanca Awardee and one of QTV's most in-demand writers) opened the gate and greeted me with a very warm "Kumusta? (How are you?)" I replied with a one-liner and ran to the house to see Tita Mike ( Caronia's Marketing Direcor, who is responsible for its new brand image). Tita Mike's gentle voice (that I always thought never matched her wicked humor) almost shrieked when she saw me as I entered the kitchen where she was making her specialty: Kalderetang Tisay. I never left the dining table after our besos. I sat there, salivating, impatiently waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. Few minutes later, Tito Chito (probably QTV's busiest Segment Producer) arrived, followed by Tito Elmer (playwright and Tito Augie's QTV sparring partner). A few sighs of impatience later, Tita Mike laid on the table a bowl or Portebello mushrooms --- the last addition to the evening's menu and dinner began.
Later on, Tito Blaise (ex Ed-in-Chief of Star Studio magazine, currently finishing his M.A.) arrived with a gallon of caramel ice cream. I joined him at the dining table where we talked about my career goals and my life in HK. Just as he was about to finish eating, Tita Ge (stage-slash-soap opera actress-slash-stage manager-slash accounts executive-slash-kumare-slash-slash) arrived from an event with two other good friends Mira and Cara (stage managers extraordinaire-slash-drinking buddies) and Cara's uber charming kid, Dex.
It was an evening filled with good (good is such an understatement) food, corpulent laughters, witty remarks, intelligent discussions, hilarious anecdotes, stories of disturbing curses, and lots of catching up. None of them ever asked about the Ricky and me story.
I was in that apartment for more than 4 hours with successful, intelligent people who cared not the slightest about my politics (or the lack thereof) --- people who had strong opinions to say but never were too busy talking to listen to mine. They are Ricky's friends --- the people whom I've come to love as my own friends and who have accepted me as one of theirs, no matter what has become of Ricky and me. It felt tremendously good to be with them once again.
I was home.
At around 1am, the party was over.
Sitting at the passenger's seat, I was asked by Ricky what I wanted to do. Where I wanted to go. I was too shy to say "Take me home." And I didn't have the heart to lie and say "Bring me home."
"Nagdala kang gamit? (Did you bring any of your stuff?)", he asked.
Then he started driving towards the direction of Rems' place in Murphy. The heavy rain poured down all of a sudden. In my head, I was thinking with all my might how I could manipulate him into inviting me to sleep over in Monte Vista. We were two blocks away from Remi's and there was nothing I could think of.
He stopped in front of Remi's gate and asked whether I brought the keys. I didn't. I took out my mobile and started calling Rems so that she could open the gate for me. I hadn't gotten off the car because the rain was heavy. I was counting the rings. Five rings and I would hang up. That would already be an excuse to sleep over. But Rems picked up on the fourth. "Nandito na ko, ma. Pabukas ng pintuan. (I'm here already, mom. Please open the door.)"
"Anong gagawin mo bukas? (What are you doing tomorrow?)" he asked.
"Wala. Yung podcast lang sa gabi. (Nothing. We only have the podcast planned in the evening.)", I said still hoping for an invitation.
That's how it all started almost three years ago. It was around 2am, we
just left a bar in Timog and he was driving me home. Somewhere along C5, he
asked, "Mag-mo-morning show ka bukas? (Are you doing a show tomorrow
"Hindi. (No.)", I answered excitedly.
He unfastened his seatbelt and reached for me on the passenger's side.
He kissed me. I reciprocated. Then he pulled back and made a u-turn.
After a moment of waiting, and hoping, he said "Bye. Good night."
I said my goodbye without turning to look at him. I was afraid it might be difficult to resist kissing him.