MALAKAS niyang itinulak si Gino at mabilis na tinakbo ang silid at ini-lock iyon. Napahawak siya sa dibdib. Tila lalabas na ang puso niya sa lakas ng kabog niyon. Maghunus-dili ka! galit na sabi niya sa sarili. Nagpalakad-lakad siya sa loob ng silid. Hindi pa rin siya makapaniwala sa bilis ng pangyayari. She’s too tensed. She can’t think straight. Iwinasiwas niya ang kamay sa ere para mawala lahat ng iniisip niya. Pero hindi pa rin niya magawang kumalma.
Gino just proposed to her. He proposed! In less than 24 hours being together, he asked her to marry him. At heto siya ngayon, parang hilong talilong nag-iikot sa silid niya dahil hindi siya makapaniwala sa narinig. Eversince Gino came, he took all the serenity she used to live in. Alright, she really needs to calm down. She needs some time alone. She needs to think.
She has to pacify herself. And think.
Pero ano pa ba ang dapat niyang pag-isipan? For goodness sake, why is she so thrilled about the proposal? She knew better. Mas makabubuting umiwas siya kay Gino kung ayaw niyang masaktan pa. She should not risk herself again. Sapat na ang sampung taong paghihirap niya. He made her fall for him but he wasn’t able to catch her, which left her broken in pieces. He had his chance. But he chose to hurt her. He chose to ignore her for a very long time. And now he’s suddenly back, telling her he loves her? No amount of reasoning could make her forgive him for abandoning her. And she won’t believe in a crap as “sinaktan-kita-dahil-ayaw-kong-masaktan-ka” kind of reasoning. Because that is plain stupid. Dahil kung inisip ni Gino, kahit minsan lang kung ano ang maaari niyang maramdaman noon, he wouldn’t leave her hanging. If he loved her, he won’t let her wait. He would’ve called even once. He would have felt how lonely she had been without him and how much she had been missing him every single day. But he left her with nothing but a broken promise.
Naglandas ang luha sa mga mata niya. She didn’t want to remember any of those things that hurt her anymore. Pero bumabalik ang lahat ng iyon ngayon at hindi niya alam kung papano mawawala ang sakit. She was transported to the time when she felt young and helpless again.
So, no… She isn’t letting him in her life again. She has to take control of her own feelings. Hinding-hindi na niya hahayaan ang sariling masaktan muli.
NAPATITIG si Gino sa nakapinid na pinto ng silid ng dalaga. He was too fast, wasn’t he? Napasabunot siya sa sariling buhok. Sira na naman ang diskarte niya. Kailan ba siya matututo? Kita niya ang pagkabigla sa mukha ng kababata, may takot at galit din siyang nabanaagan sa mata nito. Napabuntong-hininga siya. He just hoped Mushroom won’t get away from him. The good thing and the only thing that gives him hope is he didn’t hear her say NO. Pinasadahan niya ng huling tingin ang silid ng kababata pagkuwa’y dumiretso sa sariling silid para makaligo’t makagayak. He’ll think of ways to make up with Mushroom later.
Katatapos lang niyang magbihis nang mag-ring ang cellphone niya. Si Dianne. Sinagot niya kaagad iyon.
“Do you have a minute? I’m right outside your cottage.”
“Give me a sec.” aniya saka mabilis na lumabas ng silid.
“Patched things up already?” bungad ni Dianne sa kanya.
Nagkibit-balikat siya. “She hates me,” amin niya.
“Giving up now?” anito na anyong babatukan siya.
Ngumiti siya. “Never.”
“That’s the spirit. I’m sure she’ll understand as soon as she hears your side.”
“I hope so, Dianne. I can’t wait for that to happen.”
“It will happen anytime soon,” she assured him. “I’m just dropping off your key,” anitong iniabot ang susi ng BMW niya.
Umiling siya. “Use it.”
Nang-aarok ang matang tiningnan siya nito. “I can rent cars.”
“I can buy anytime,” aniya.
Tumawa ito, pina-ikot ang eyeballs. “Yeah, right.”
“Besides, you need it more than I do.” Alam niyang pupunta ito sa kamag-anak nila sa Batangas. It’s her first time in her homeland and she wants to meet the family she never met before.
“Aw, that’s so kind of you. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Enjoy your vacation. I’ll see you in the exhibit then.”
Tumango ito. “I’ve contacted with the media, both print and broadcast offered free advertising especially when they knew the proceeds goes all to the children cancer foundation. I’m sure this will be as successful as the the other exhibits. I’ve checked your webpage and a lot has been looking forward as they saw the preview. Everyone’s interested on your priceless collection.”
Ngumiti siya. “They’re still priceless… but I’ll let Mushroom decide.”
“Okay,” anitong tumango saka napangiti. “Enjoy the rest of the weekend. And one whole week with Mushroom.”
“Thanks for your help. Auntie.” Biro niya dito. Dianne is just two years older than him. She’s his father’s half-sister. Nang tumira sila sa States, si Dianne ang palaging nandoon para sa kanila. And she never left them during those times he was in the hospital. She was always there for him and his mom up to this moment. She is his personal assistant, event organizer, driver, bodyguard – all-in-one.
Tumawa ito. “Call me Aunt once more and you’ll never gonna see me,” banta nito.
“Alright, Tita.” Aniya at niyakap ito. Napahalakhak ito ng malakas.
PAGLABAS ni Mushroom ng silid, nagawa na niyang pakalmahin ang sarili. Tumaas ang kilay niya nang may marinig siyang mabining halakhak sa labas ng cottage na sinundan naman ng tawa ni Gino. Naglapat bigla ang labi niya. Alam na niya kung kaninong halakhak ang naririnig niya. Walang kangiti-ngiting lumabas siya ng cottage.
NATIGIL ang tawanan nila nang lumabas si Mushroom. Nakasuot ito ng mint green halter sundress na humahakab sa katawan nito sa tuwing umiihip ang hangin. Nanuyo ang lalamunan ni Gino. Nang mapatingin siya kay Dianne, nanunudyo ang ngiti nito at umiiling-iling.
“Mush,” tawag niya sa kababata. Bahagya itong lumingon sa kanila at bahagya ding ngumiti. Yung tipong napipilitan lang. “Meet Dianne. Dianne, si Mushroom.”
“We finally met. I’ve heard so much about you,” ani Dianne at niyakap ang dalaga.
“I hope they are all true,” anito saka pinukulan siya ng masamang tingin.
“Oh, I bet they are,” anaman ni Dianne. Na tiningnan siya na para bang sinasabing, You’re in trouble.
“Nice meeting you. Sorry, I have to rush.”
“It’s alright. I’m glad we finally met.”
Ngiti lang ang isinagot ni Mushroom saka tuluyang tumalikod. Naiirita siya na hindi niya mawari. Pakiramdam niya’y bubuga ng usok ang ilong niya. He proposed to her a while ago and now, he’s flirting with another woman. Nanggigil siyang talaga.
Nagulat siya nang biglang may humawak sa kamay niya. Paglingon niya’y nakangiting mukha ni Gino ang tumambad sa kanya. Kaagad niyang binawi ang kamay.
“Sorry about that, she always comes unexpectedly.”
Hindi siya sumagot. Naiinis pa rin siya.
“Dianne is my aunt,” anito. “She’s my Dad’s half-sister.”
Napalunok si Mushroom ng ilang ulit bago tiningnan si Gino. Unti-unting napalitan ng pagkapahiya ang inis na naramdaman niya.
“So?” aniyang tinarayan ito.
“I’m just saying. So you won’t get jealous.”
Naniningkit ang matang hinarap niya ito. “Masyado ka ring bilib sa sarili mo, ‘no?
“Hindi naman. Just, you know,” anitong nagkibit-balikat.
“I’m not jealous,” mariing sabi niya.
“Totoo?” panunudyo nito.
“Why would I be?” seryosong sagot niya.
“You’re my bride-to-be,” natural na sagot nito.
Pakiramdam ni Mushroom may humalukay sa tiyan niya sa narinig. “Have you forgotten? I don’t want to be your girlfriend. What made you think I’d wanna be your wife? I’ll make this clear once and for all Gino, I am turning down your proposal.”
Nawala ang ngiti sa labi nito at lumambong ang mga mata. For a moment she wanted to hug Gino when she saw the pain in his eyes.
“I…” Napabuga ito ng hininga. “I guess I’ll have to wait until you say yes.”
Magsasalita pa sana siya ngunit hinawakan muli nito ang mga kamay niya sabay hila. “Male-late na tayo, Mush.”
And though she wanted to let go, she couldn’t because Gino’s holding her tight… and because she missed how good his hold felt in her hands.
SINIKAP Mushroom na iwasan si Gino buong araw. Pero sadya silang pinagdidikit ng tadhana at naging tampulan pa ng tukso ng lahat. Baka daw sila ang meant-to-be dahil pareho pa silang single. She tried to laugh at it, kahit minsan nasasagi ang sakit sa dibdib niya. She tried hard to appear cool about it all. Everytime she looks at Gino, she can see hurt all over his face which he always masked with laughter. The only thing she has to work out right now is to feel happy to see him hurt. Because right at that moment, she felt so horrible.
There is a possibility that Gino could still be in love with her. And that thought could almost tear down her defenses. But how can she ever believe in a love that he never showed? Alright, she could feel something everytime he kissed her. An emotion so strong that no one ever made her feel except Gino. But maybe, it’s just her. She could admit there’s chemistry between them. They could set the whole place on fire. But then again, for all she knows, he might only want her in bed.
But he proposed... Ipinikit niya ang mga mata. Ayaw na niyang mag-isip. She said no because it’s the sanest thing to do. Though deep down inside…she only wanted to say yes.
LAHAT ay nag-enjoy sa activity nila nang araw na iyon. Dinah was in-charge of all the games. Boys versus girls. Unbelievably, the girls keep winning. They played volleyball, swimming relay, tug-of-war at samu’t-saring parlor games. Noong una’y nagtataka siya kung bakit si Dinah yata ang nagplano ng lahat ng activities sa reunion nila. Until it occured to her that Dinah is still dating Jordan, ang president ng student council nila noon. Kaya magkapartner ang dalawa sa pagbuo ng reunion na iyon. Mushroom knew, Dinah is in love with Jordan, but she never expected something from him. Kuntento na ito sa kung anuman ang kaya nitong ibigay. Jordan is a certified womanizer. Hindi niya alam kung bakit nagtitiis si Dinah. Gusto niya itong pagsabihan. Pero papaano kung mahal nga ng kaibigan si Jordan? She couldn’t advice her to stop loving… because she herself knew it isn’t possible. She’ll just have to be there for Dinah whenever she’s hurt and help her bear the pain. That is the only thing she can do.
MARAMI pang nagna-night swimming at walang katapusan ang kuwentuhan sa may bonfire. They played truth or consequence. Napuno ng tawanan ang paligid. Until it was Jordan’s turn. It was the best truth confession of the night. He finally admitted that he’s in love. And by the fire, with everyone watching, he knelt and proposed to Dinah.
Halos hindi makapaniwala ang lahat, lalo na si Dinah. She had been waiting for Jordan for so long to realize it. Umiiyak si Dinah sa tuwa. She hugged Jordan tight and kissed him and shouted “Yes!”
Mushroom own eyes were misty. She’s so happy for her bestfriend. Hindi nasayang ang pagtitiis nito. Her two bestfriends seem to have found the love of their lives. And that leaves her single… and happy, pagpupumilit ng utak niya. Nang sulyapan niya si Gino’y nakangiti ito habang pinagmamasdan sina Dinah at Jordan. Saka napatingin sa kanya. Ibinaling niya kaagad sa iba ang tingin dahil tila mapupunit ang puso niya sa sakit na nakikita niya sa mata nito.
The bottle spinned. And it stopped directly in front of her.
“What was the worst thing during highschool?” tanong ni Jordan.
Pagak siyang tumawa. “As if you don’t know.” aniyang pina-ikot ang mata. “Gino,” pasimple niyang sagot. Pero ni hindi niya magawang tingnan ang kababata. Nagkaroon ng tuksuhan.
“And what was the best?”
Tumawa siya. And her heart was struck with her own answer. Si Gino din. “Isa-isang question lang ‘no. Next,” aniya at inikot ang bote. Nagpatuloy ang laro. Saka lang niya naramdaman na parang may kulang. Nang magpalinga-linga siya, wala si Gino. May narinig siyang ingay sa tabing dagat. Marahil nasa dagat ito kasama ang katropa nito.
MAG-UUMAGA na nang magdesisyon siyang humiwalay sa grupo. Inaantok na siya. Nagulat siya pagpasok ng cottage at makita si Gino sa sala, umiinom ng beer. Nakaka-walong na bote na ito. She was hesitant to go inside her room because Gino was sober. Parang pasan nito ang mundo. Kung makatungga ng beer, parang mauubusan. She felt like she want to wrap him in her arms to ease whatever he is feeling inside. But she dismissed the thought and walked to her room.
“You’re good at walking out on me, do you know that?”
Umigkas ang kilay niya’t natigil ang paghakbang. “Don’t start with me,” mataray niyang sagot na hindi ito nililingon man lang..
Nagpanting ang tenga niya sa narinig. “Excuse me?” aniyang nakapameywang na hinarap ito.
“I said you’re a coward.”
“You have no right to say such thing!” aniyang tila huhulagpos ang pagtitimpi.
“Oh, I’m heartbroken, I have the right to say anything I want.” parang batang sambit nito. “You’re a coward you can’t even face your own feelings. Admit it, Mushroom, you love me still.”
Patuya siyang tumawa. “Sleep and get over it, you’re drunk.” aniya.
“I’m not drunk. I know what I’m saying. And you know what I’m saying.”
Itinaas ni Mushroom ang dalawang kamay. “What is this really about, Gino? If this is because I turned down your proposal-”
“It’s not just about that,” kaagad na sagot nito. Tinitigan siya nito ng matiim. “You were the best thing that happened to me during high school, do you know that?” anitong bahagyang gumaralgal ang tinig.
Hindi makapagsalita si Mushroom. Pakiramdam niya’y tinutusok ng libu-libong karayom ang dibdib.
“And I was your worst,” anitong umiling-iling. “Didn’t you love me way back then? Because I’m so confused right now. Hindi ko mapigilang hindi maramdaman ang sakit dito,” anitong itinuro ang dibidb. “But I could never explain why I feel loved in your eyes, in your touch, in your kisses. I’ve always felt you love me but you always say you don’t. I always feel that something attracts us together. And if that something isn’t called love, I don’t know what to call it anymore. So even when you push me often, I keep coming back because I still feel that you want me. I feel that you love me.”
“Conceited, aren’t we?” aniya saka mapaklang ngumiti. “Is that how they mold you there? I don’t want you in my life. Period.”
“Better be conceited than a liar.”
Napakuyom ng kamao si Mushroom. “If I say I don’t want you, it means I don’t want you. Bakit ba ipinagpipilitan mo ang sarili mo?!” aniyang tumaas ang tinig.
“Why does your eyes say otherwise?” anitong tumayo at hinarap siya. Napaatras siya bigla. “Afraid I might prove you wrong?”
Napahalukipkip siya at napilitang harapin ito. “Fine, bring it on,” matapang na sagot niya.
“I could look into your eyes and tell you I love you because it is what I feel. And if I kiss you right now, I know you’ll kiss back and it is because you feel the same. Now, tell me, Mush, no, prove me I’m wrong.” hamon nito.
Tinaasan niya ito ng kilay at taas noong sinalubong ang titig nito kahit pa nagsisimula ng manginig ang mga tuhod niya. “Don’t be so confident with few kisses Gino. You’re not the only person I kissed and touched. And you, men, always assume the same thing.”
Nakita niya ang pangangalit ng bagang nito. “Well, it’s not just about the kisses,” anitong mataman siyang tinitigan saka bumaba ang tingin nito sa kamay niya. “You’re still wearing the ring.”
Kaagad siyang pinamulahan ng mukha at sunud-sunod ang matinding tibok ng dibdib.
Tumaas ang sulok ng labi nito. “My lovely fiancee is blushing.”
“Nàkasanayan ko ng isuot.” aniyang pinilit pinatigas ang mukha. Ba’t ba niya nakalimutang tanggalin iyon? “This doesn’t mean anything.”
Itinaas niya ang mga kamay. Pero kinuha iyon ng binata at hinawakan na lalong nagpatindi ng kabog ng dibdib niya.
“By this ring, I told you I’m gonna come back,” anitong nakatitig sa mga mata niya. “Here I am, Mush… I told you I’m gonna marry you. And I will if you just say yes. Kahit ngayon na. Kahit saang simbahan. Kahit-”
“Do you think it’s that easy, Gino?” putol niya sa sasabihin nito at tuluyan nang humulagpos ang hinanakit na matagal niyang kinimkim sa dibdib. Pahablot niyang binawi ang kamay. “Do you really think I could believe you after ten long years you ignored me? Do you think I’d still want to see you after hurting me? You want the truth? Fine, I’ve loved you! Kahit ayoko na dahil nasasaktan na ako, hindi ko pa rin magawang hindi ka mahalin. At kahit anong pilit kong kalimutan ka, hindi ko magawa!” aniyang hindi napigilan ang pagbalong ng luha nang maramdaman kung gaano kasakit iyon sa dibdib. “I took courage when I admitted to myself that I’ve fallen in love with you. But where did it lead me? It only broke me.”
“You’ve been so unfair,” aniyang pigil ang sariling mapahikbi. “If you cared for me, paano mo ako nagawang tiisin? Alam mo ba kung ano ang pakiramdam ng umaasa sa wala? Alam mo ba kung gaano kasakit iyon? Sana sinaktan mo na lang ako nung paalis ka. Sana inasar mo na lang ako. Pero ano, bumait ka. You even made silly promises you weren’t able to keep! I’ve been waiting for calls, for letters, for anything because even when I don’t want to, I missed you! Eversince you called on my birthday, I waited for your call because you said you’ll definitely try. I waited for a long time. But you never called back. It took me a lot to realize that you totally forgot about me. Do you have any idea how painful that was? And now you are proposing? Sa tingin mo maniniwala ako? It seems easy for you, huh? Dahil hindi mo alam ang pakiramdam ng naiwan at nasaktan!” aniyang patuloy ang pagbagsak ng luha.
“Stop, right there!” ani Mushroom nang akmang lalapitan siya nito. “Stop making me feel weak. Please, just stop this.” desperadong sabi niya. ” I might have loved you, but I don’t want to love you anymore, Gino. I’m done with hurting. Kaya please, lubayan mo na ako.”
“You know I can’t,” ani Gino na nangangatal ang labi. “I’ve suffered for ten years without you and I don’t want any single minute of that anymore,” anito saka tila batang napahikbi. “Did you ever think it was easy for me to leave? Did you ever think it was easy waking up every morning without you? Everyday, Mushroom, everyday in those ten years, I never thought of anyone but you. You were the first thought I had in the morning, the last at night and you even invade my dreams. Gusto kong umuwi dahil gusto kong kasama ka parati, pero hindi pupwede. Everytime I’m in a crowd, ikaw ang hinahanap ko kahit alam kong wala ka doon. Tinatawag ko ang pangalan mo kahit alam kong walang sinumang lilingon. Hindi ko siguro alam kung ano ang pakiramdam ng naiiwan, pero alam ko kung ano ang pakiramdam ng nasasaktan. Because each day without you is a torture.” Marahas niyang pinahid ang luhang dumaloy sa pisngi. “It wasn’t an easy life. Because I was never happy. Dahil nang iniwan kita, naiwan ko rin dito ang buong pagkatao ko.”
“I’m sorry for hurting you. But I never intended to. Kahit kailan, Mush, hindi ko gugustuhing masaktan ka. Kung pupwede ko lang kunin yang sakit na nararamdaman mo ngayon, gagawin ko. Dahil hindi ko kayang makita kang nasasaktan. I’m sorry for being silent in all those years. Ginawa kong tikisin ka dahil inaakala kong iyon ang mas makabubuti sa’yo. I’m so sorry if my mere presence hurt you. And I’m sorry I can’t get away from you. Kahit na ipagtulakan mo ako palayo, hindi pa rin ako aalis sa tabi mo dahil hindi ko kaya. I don’t want to live in misery of not having you in my life again.”
Mushroom felt her heart twisted as she saw him cry. “I am marrying you. It will take time for you to say yes pero hindi ako titigil hangga’t hindi kita napapa-oo. You’re the only thing that mattered to me, Mushroom. And I can’t just give up just because you hate me. I’m gonna prove to you that you can still love me. Hindi pa rin nagbabago ang pagtingin ko sa’yo, Mush, mahal na mahal pa rin kita. At paulit-ulit kong sasabihin sa’yo iyan hanggang sa maniwala ka, hanggang sa kusa mong maramdaman, hanggang sa tuluyan mo akong mapatawad.”
Gino stretched his hands to reach her pero hindi nito itinuloy. “I’m so sorry this has been so much for you. But I will make it up to you for all the days to come. But for now, I’ll give you time to think,” anito at malungkot na tinalikuran siya’t lumabas ng cottage.
Naiwan siyang yakap-yakap ang sarili’t impit na napahagulhol. She wanted so much to run after him. But she can’t make herself move. She’s torn between her fears and her own feelings. Should she take the risk of loving him again? Is love worth a second chance? Paano kung masaktan siya ulit?