SHE felt someone’s staring at her. Or maybe she was just dreaming. But the tingling sensation was there, alerting her, causing her senses to be awake. Alam niyang imposible ang nararamdaman niya. Ganunpaman, pinagbigyan niya ang sarili at unti-unting ibinuka ang namimigat na talukap upang mapapikit lamang ulit nang sumalubong sa kanya ang sinag ng araw. Ngunit napadilat siya ulit. Someone’s really staring at her!
Napasigaw siya sabay atras sa headboard ng kama yakap-yakap ang sarili. Inatake siya ng nerbiyos at ganoon lang ang paghabol niya ng hininga. Who the hell— Saka lang niya naaninag ng husto ang mukha ng taong nakatayo sa paanan ng kama niya. He was leaning near the window like it’s natural for him being there. And he’s staring at her! For a split of second tumigil ang pagtibok ng puso niya. Para siyang natuka ng ahas at wala siyang maapuhap na sasabihin. Saka bumilis ulit ang kabog ng dibdib at tila mabibingi siya sa lakas ng tibok niyon. Ilang beses siyang napakurap-kurap at kinagat niya ang dila para masigurong hindi siya nananaginip. It’s Gino! What is he doing in her room? Dagli niyang nahila ang kumot sabay singhal, “Ano’ng ginagawa mo rito?”
“I-” Napatitig ito sa kanya saka napangiti nang makita ang reaksiyon niya. “Good morning.”
“Why-are-you-here?” she said in gritted teeth. Tumaas-baba pa rin ang dibdib niya sa gulat. He was still wearing the three-piece suit he wore last night. And just like his clothes he looked worn out.
“I found those.” anitong inginuso ang silver stilettos na nasa sahig.
Napahigpit ang yakap niya sa sarili dahil sa kabang dulot ng presensiya nito. She remembered kicking her shoes off last night. So he found them. But what is he doing in her room? It’s her room! Lapat na lapat ang bibig ni Mushroom at nanliliit ang mga matang tiningnan niya ito. Tumayo siya sa kama, napaatras sa dingding, kipkip pa rin ang kumot para matakpan ang pantulog. She’s wearing a night shirt and cotton undies but she felt naked with his stare. Bigla’y tila napakaliit ng silid na iyon. She felt she’ll die in suffocation. Her knees trembled lalo na nang maalala ang namagitan sa kanila kagabi. His presence is unnerving her more than ever. Kaya pinilit niyang patatagin ang sarili. What happened last night was a mistake. “And that gave you right to go inside my room? Don’t you at least respect someone else’s privacy?” aniyang halos sumisigaw.
Napahawak ito sa tenga tila nakukulili sa lakas ng boses niya. “Calm down, will you?”
“Calm down?” aniyang mas lumakas pa ang boses. “You expect me to calm down as I wake up with a man in my room?!” nanggigigil na sigaw niya. Halos mabingi na siya sa lakas ng kabog ng dibdib.
“There’s nothing wrong about being calm,” kalmadong sabi nito.
Gusto niyang sumigaw. Ngunit ayaw niyang lumikha ng eksena. Nanggigigil na tiningnan niya ito. “How the hell were you able to get inside here?”
“Oh,” anito na tila may naalala. “The door’s not locked.” anitong itinuro ang pinto ng silid.
“You’re not funny.” angil niya.
“Of course, I’m Gino!” anitong ngumiti. And her heart started to flutter.
“I told you you’re not funny!” singhal niya.
He suppressed a smile. “Okay, I asked Dinah where you might be last night and she told me you’re already in your room. And since I’m occupying the other room, I–“
Nanlaki ang mata niya. “You–What?” aniyang kumunot ang noo. “No way!”
“I guess we both have no choice. Everything else is occupied.”
“It’s not my problem! I got here first! You move out!” galit na sabi niya. Nobody told her she’s going to share cottage with someone else, much more with Gino!
Umangat ang isang sulok ng labi nito. Oh, how she hated him everytime he does that.
“I was here first,” anito. “But I won’t ask you to move out. Never.”
“I can’t believe this!” aniyang kinuha ang cellphone para tawagan si Dinah. He looked amused looking at her contorted face. “Get out, will you?” singhal niya.
“Is that how you greet a long lost friend?” anito sa mababang tono na napayuko, tila ba takot sa maaaring isagot niya.
Napipilan siya pero hindi nagbago ang ekspresyon ng mukha niya. “You’re long lost. But you’re not my friend.” mariing sabi niya. “But fine, hi Gino, welcome back. I’m so pissed to meet you again!” gigil na sabi niya.
He broke into a laughter. “The pleasure is mine.”
And Mushroom’s eyes are starting to well up. She missed that. She missed that sound for a long long time. Oh, for goodness sake… Why can’t she stop being so touchy? “I’d be pleased if you just leave.” mataray na sabi niya.
He’s still amused. And he stared at her more which made her knees weak. Dapat siyang magpakatatag. She has to drive out all the soft spots she has for Gino or else, masasaktan lang siya ng husto. She can’t believe he’s finally in front of her after ten years. And just like before, she’s mad at him and she’s yelling at him while he’s so cool about it. Natutuwa ito habang kumukulo na ang dugo niya.
She felt relieved when he took a step forward. She was expecting him to go through that door. Pero nagulat siya nang bigla itong naupo sa kama niya.
“This bed seemed softer,” anito. “This is better than the sand, isn’t it?
Namula siya ng husto nang maalala ang muntik nang mangyari kagabi. How dare him!
“Get off my bed!” nanggagalaiting sabi niya. “Gino, ano ba?!” aniya nang hindi ito tuminag. How she hated every bit of him! And how she missed hating him… Umiling-iling siya. Stop it, Mushroom!
Ngunit nahiga si Gino pahalang sa kama, ipinikit ang mga mata at ini-unan ang mga kamay. He had been standing and staring at her for hours, watching every breath she takes. She looked peaceful in her sleep he can’t almost blink an eye. So peaceful…and so so beautiful that makes his heart ache. He’d like to spend his nights holding her close and watch her as she sleeps. Now, he felt his muscles sore. His plan was to leave before she wakes up. But he could not make himself leave. Now, nothing will ever make him leave. He belonged to Mushroom, he knew that for so long. He waited for this moment for so long. He only have to convince her she belonged to him too. Though he’s never sure where to start. “Pagod ako, Mushroom,” he smiled at the sound of her name. “Sige lang, magtaray ka pa. That’s what I’ve missed most.”
Lumambong ang mga mata ng dalaga pero pinigilan niya ang sariling luha. No, Gino is a bloody liar. So he doesn’t have the right to miss her and say these things to her that makes her weak! Bumangon lahat ng hinanakit niya sa kababata. Lahat ng sakit na dala-dala niya hanggang ngayon ay gusto niyang isumbat dito. But no, she wouldn’t give him the slightest idea that he can still affect her. She’s over him at iyon ang dapat nitong maramdaman.
“Kapag hindi ka bumangon riyan, sisipain kita,” banta niya.
Pero hindi ito natinag. Nakapikit pa rin, animo’y natutulog. Hindi napigilan ni Mushroom na titigan ang mukha ng binata. He has the same face… The same handsome face she used to dream every night only to wake up crying. Mas naging prominente nga lang ang cheekbones nito, mas tumangos ang ilong, makakapal ang kilay, perpektong mga labi… Napalunok siya nang maalala kung paano inangkin ng labi nito ang mga labi niya kagabi. Just the thought of it makes her melt inside. Biglang bumuka ang mga mata nito. Kaagad siyang umiwas ng tingin ngunit huli na, nahuli na siya nito. At ganoon na lang ang ngiti nito.
“Na-miss mo’ko no?” tukso nito. His eyes glittered and gave her that boyish smile.
“Tigilan mo nga ako, sisipain na talaga kita!” aniya dahil sinalakay na naman ng pamilyar na kaba ang dibdib.
Pumihit ito paharap sa kanya at itinukod ang siko at sinuportahan ng palad ang ulo at matamang tiningnan siya.
“Halata naman, ayaw pang umamin.”
“Ow, shut up! You want an honest answer?” nanghahamong sagot niya. “Nakalimutan na kita,” she said on gritted teeth. “Now tell me, paano mo mami-miss ang isang taong hindi mo naman naaalala?”
His smile vanished. “Is that so?” anitong halos bulong. Saka nagdududang tiningnan siya. “I didn’t seem to feel that last night.”
Pakiramdam niya’y nag-init ang mukha niya. How dare him talk so bluntly about last night!
“Last night was nothing.” aniyang diniinan ang bawat salita. “I was drunk.” pagsisinungaling niya. “I could kiss anybody. It so happened it was you and you took advantage of that!”
For a while he was silent. He looked deeply hurt. The kind that makes Mushroom sorry of what she just said. Napahalukipkip siya. Hindi siya dapat magpaapekto. Pero nararamdaman niyang nanginginig siya. Hindi normal ang tibok ng puso at hindi pantay ang paghinga. Why does Gino still have this power over her?
“And now you’re not?” tanong nito na halos hindi kumawala sa bibig.
“Huh?” aniyang hindi maintindihan ang tanong nito. Pero bigla siyang napatili nang bahagya itong bumangon at hinila ang kamay niya. Bumagsak siya sa kama at napasubsob siya sa dibdib nito.
Tatayo sana siya pero hinawakan nito ang bewang niya. At bigla siya nitong kinubabawan.
“This is harassment!” sigaw niya. Nagkandabuhol-buhol na naman ang hininga niya.
“You’re not drunk now, are you?” anitong tinitigan siya sa mga mata. Umiwas siya ng tingin at pilit na nagpupumiglas. She’s locked into the hardness of his body and she felt heat building up again. His musky scent drives her crazy. And his hot breath sends shivers to her spine. She needs to get out now or else she’ll surely burn.
“Stop doing this to me!” angil niya. Tumigil siya sa pagpupumiglas dahil alam niyang wala siyang panama rito.
“Doing what?” pa-inosenteng tanong nito na mas lalong ikina-inis ng dalaga.
“This, hugging me, touching me, kissing me. You are not my boyfriend, Gino!”
“Do you have any?”
Napa-ungol siya sa inis. Hindi makapaniwalang napatingin siya rito. “Let me go!”
“I’m not holding you.”
She breathed hard. Yeah, he wasn’t holding her. Pero nakakulong ang katawan niya dito. Nakapaloob siya sa dalawang braso at dalawang tuhod nito. And there was almost no space between them. Halos dumikit ang ilong nito sa ilong niya. At naaamoy niya ang mabangong hininga nito.
“Then get off me!” aniya at itinulak ng dalawang palad ang dibdib nito. Pero hindi man lang ito natinag. Nanatili itong nakatitig sa kanya.
“I missed you, Mush. I’ve always missed you.”
Umigkas ang kilay niya. For a while she was lost in the honesty she saw in his eyes and the sincerity of his voice. But still, she remembered the long waiting which is hurting her up to this very moment. Tinangka niyang pigilin ang sariling magsalita. Gino is so good with words at hindi na siya magpapaloko pa. She planned on the I-don’t-care tactic. Pero hindi niya napigilan ang sarili.
“Kaya pala ni tawag, fax, ni sulat, ni offline message, wala. Kaya pala hindi ka man lang nagtangkang kamustahin because you’ve always missed me. Very nice, Gino. I’m deeply touched.” sarkastikong sabi niya. At nandoon na naman ang sakit na tila mas lalong tumindi pa. “You left me. You were totally gone. So you have no right to say you missed me!” maigting na sabi niya.
Gumuhit ang pait sa dibdib ng binata. Mas masakit pala kung mismong sa bibig ni Mushroom manggagaling ang mga salitang iyon. They were like sharp blades slicing his heart. Pero papaano ba niya maipapaliwanag kay Mushroom ang lahat nang hindi ito nasasaktan?
“I left because it’s the only choice I had. I did what I thought was best for you. But it wasn’t easy for me too, Mush. Nothing was ever easy.”
“Save it, Gino,” matigas na sabi niya. “Kahit anong paliwanag mo, hindi ko paniniwalaan. Do you think I would still trust you?”
“I just want you to listen. Kahit na hindi mo muna ako intindihin. Hindi kita pipiliting unawain ako. Just give me time to make you forgive me and put that trust back.”
“No words could bring back what was lost, Gino. So if I were you, I won’t waste my time.” Kinagat ni Mushroom ng mariin ang labi, kasehodang dumugo iyon. She won’t let her tears fall. She won’t cry. And much more she won’t give him comforting words. Kahit pa mas naramdaman niya ang sakit na nararamdamn nito kesa sa sakit na nasa dibdib niya, hindi na siya maniniwala sa anumang sasabihin nito. “Do you really think you can just budge in? Ten years was long enough, Gino. Maraming nagbago. It’s not the same as you left. I’m not the same. And so are you.”
“I’m still me,” mariing saagot nito. “Mas guwapo nga lang ako ngayon. But I’m still the Gino who loved you so much. And if you’re not the same Mushroom, I love you just the same.”
Her heart melted with those words. And his so manly scent fills her lungs causing her pulse rate to accelerate. Pero nanaig ang isip niya. Hindi siya puwedeng magpaalipin ng puso. “I won’t buy it.” matigas na sabi niya.
“Let me convince you, then.” anitong nakatitig sa labi niya.
Gino tried hard to resist the desire to kiss Mushroom but just like last night, he lost his control. Everytime he looks at her, he gets lost. Her warm breaths turns him on he just wants to have to taste the sweetness of her mouth again. He wants to breathe with her again and pretend for a while that she doesn’t hate him.
“You are not-” hindi nito naituloy ang sasabihin dahil sinakop na niya ang labi nito.
NANLAKI ang mata ni Mushroom. His mouth on hers felt just so good.
“Gino, ano ba?!” aniya sa pagitan ng mga halik.
“Stop talking,” anito at hinuli ang dila niya. He sucked her tongue and she has lost all her resistance right away. She moaned in pleasure. At tila may sariling isip ang mga kamay at pumulupot sa batok ng binata.
“You aren’t drunk,” paalala nito sa kanya. Bago pa man siya makasagot, siniil siya muli ng halik. Nagpagulong-gulong sila sa kama. She could feel Gino’s hands smoothering her legs and his hands went up higher. She moaned when she felt his hands on her breasts. And her back arched as he fondled its stiffened peaks. Caressing it, teasing it, making her shudder in an unexplainable delight but he never let go of her lips. And she felt that need again. She wanted Gino to fill her in. She pulled him even closer and kissed him hard like she couldn’t get enough of him.
Pareho silang nagulantang sa katok mula sa labas ng pinto. Nanlaki ang mata ni Mushroom nang mapagtanto ang nangyayari. Kaagad niyang itinulak si Gino at inayos ang suot.
She panicked. Kaagad na isinuot niya ang roba at buong pagmamadaling lumabas ng silid.
Isang naka-ngangang Dinah ang napagbuksan nila.
“Have I interrupted something?”
“Of course not!” lapat ang labing sagot niya at pasimpleng sinuklay ng kamay ang nagulong buhok. Pumasok sa balintataw niya ang namagitan sa kanila ni Gino at nag-init kaagad ang pisngi niya. If Dinah had not come, she wouldn’t be back to her senses! They almost did it again. At kung hindi dumating ang kaibigan, malamang naibigay na niya ang sarili kay Gino.
“Are you sure? You two looked like you just made love,” anang kaibigan na tumawa.
Nanlaki ang mata niya sa sinabi nito. “Dinah!” saway niya.
At the corner of her eyes she saw Gino smiled. “Perfect timing, Dinah.” sagot nito. Mangani-nganing tapakan niya ang paa nito.
“I just came by to check if you’re alright. I’m sorry, Mush, I forgot to tell you, you need to share this cottage with Gino.”
“Find me another room,” nanggagalaiting sabi niya. Wala siyang pakialam kung marinig iyon ng binata.
“We’ve no more vacancy.” Dinah said in a sad face.
“Then let me sleep in your room,” aniya. “Dinah, please.”
“The purpose of this reunion is to resolve issues from the past,” anitong kinindatan siya.
“We have no issues!”
Mataman siyang tinitigan nito saka si Gino. “Prove it. Kung talagang wala kayong issues, it won’t bother you staying in the same cottage.”
“Fine, I’m leaving this place!” deklara niya.
“Mushroom, you promised us last night! You left early in the party but you promised to make it up today and tomorrow,” paalala ng kaibigan sa napag-usapan nila kagabi. “And besides, Gino has changed. He’s a perfect gentleman now, not a jerk anymore.”
Napa-uhurmmm si Gino sa likuran nila. “I am right here,” anito na ikinatawa ni Dinah pero hindi niya ito nilingon. It’s more than that, Dinah, gusto niyang sabihin pero kagaya ng dati’y hindi niya masabi sa kaibigan ang totoong nararamdaman.
Hinarap ni Dinah si Gino. “You promised na hindi mo siya bubuwisitin. You promised to be good, di ba?”
“I am good.” sagot nito. “I’ve always been.”
“Then, it’s settled!” masayang sabi ni Dinah. “Here,” inabot nito ang schedule of activities nila. “I’ll have to check all other cottages. I’ll see you later!” anito saka tumalikod pagkuwa’y muling lumingon nang may maalala. “Oh, Dianne has been looking for you all night,” anitong nakatingin kay Gino.
Tumango lang si Gino. “I’ll call her,” sagot nito.
Dianne... So that’s his girlfriend’s name, huh? Mushroom felt betrayed and humiliated at the same time. Is Gino playing some kind of game here?
“Okay, bye! Huwag kayong male-late!” ani Dinah at iniwan silang dalawa.
Nang silang dalawa na roo’y hinarap ni Mushroom ang binata at isang malakas na sampal ang pinadapo niya sa pisngi nito. Gino didn’t flinch a bit like he expected it from her.
“How dare you kiss me like that! I’m not your girlfriend and I don’t want to be!” aniya’t akmang tatalikuran ito pero maagap nitong kinuha ang mga kamay niya. He pinned her against the wall and for a split of second he’s kissing her again. The longest and earth-shattering kiss she ever had in her whole life. Kapwa sila naghahabol ng hininga nang maghiwalay ang labi nila.
Gino touched her face so gently it makes her want to cry.
“Marry me,” biglang nanulas sa labi nito.
Awang ang bibig na napatitig siya rito. Pakiramdam niya’y mabibingi siya sa lakas ng kabog ng dibdib.
“Marry me, Mushroom. I want you to be my wife.”