MUSHROOM couldn’t bring herself to calm down. Ilang sandali na ang lumipas at hindi pa rin matigil-tigil ang iyak niya. Hindi niya maiwasang mag-alala kay Gino. Hinagilap niya ang cellphone. She desperately needs someone to talk to.
“What seems to be the problem?” ani Betchy nang mapagbuksan niya ang mga ito.
Hindi siya makapagsalita. Napayakap siya kaagad dito.
“Si Gino-” aniyang tuluy-tuloy ang pagbagsak ng luha.
“He’s with Jordan, Mush. You don’t need to worry,” ani Dinah.
Pakiramdam niya’y nabunutan siya ng tinik sa dibdib sa narinig.
“Omigosh, Mush, ngayon lang kita nakitang umiyak, ever!” anito na tila hindi makapaniwalang napatingin sa kanya. Iginiya siya ng dalawa na maupo. Pinilit niyang pinakalma ang sarili. Ramdam pa rin niya ang hapdi sa dibdib lalo na kung maaalala niya ang mukha ni Gino habang binibitiwan ang mga salitang ayaw niyang paniwalaan.
“You’re in love with Gino,” halos magkapanabay na bulong ng mga ito.
“No-” agarang tanggi niya pero binara siya kaagad ni Dinah.
“Come off it. Hindi mo kailangang magdeny. It’s all over your face. Since last night, you’ve always had your eyes on Gino.” deklara nito. “Now, tell us what happened.”
Pigil ang sariling mapahikbi, ikinuwento niya sa mga ito ang matagal na niyang itinago sa dibdib. She admitted how she fell in love with Gino, how she waited, and how confused she is right now that he’s back confessing that he loves her still. For the first time, she shared what she truly felt to the two persons she trusted most because she can’t seem to bear the hurt. And her bestfriends seemed lost for words for a while and did nothing but hugged her and cried with her.
“I just knew there was something between the two of you,” ani Dinah. “Kasi noon pa man, kahit inis na inis ka doon sa tao saka kulang na lang ipa-salvage mo, you care for him. We felt how sad you were when Gino left. We were just waiting that you’d tell us.”
“When he left, you were also gone,” mahinang sabi ni Betchy at malungkot na ngumiti. “You were totally changed. You always fake smiles and laughters. We understood it, Mush. Because we fell in love, too. And there are just hurts that we tend to ignore because they tend to be unbearable when we begin to recognize them. Though in those years we wished we could’ve done something to lessen the pain.”
Hindi siya makapaniwalang napatingin sa dalawa. Hilam ang luhang napasubsob siya sa balikat ni Betchy habang nakahawak ng mahigpit ang isang kamay kay Dinah. All along, she thought she hid it well. All along, she thought she suffered alone. Pakiramdam niya’y nabawasan ang bigat ng dibdib niya.
“I thought I could keep it to myself… I didn’t want you to know because I even denied it myself.”
“It’s alright, Mush,” ani Dinah. “Gino’s here now. You can stop hurting. Kailangan mo lang siyang tanggapin ulit sa buhay mo para maging masaya ka, gaya ng dati.”
“H-Hindi ko alam kung ano ang gagawin ko.” parang batang sabi niya. “I still can’t forgive him for leaving me. He just neglected me.”
Nakakaunawang tumango ito. “I can’t seem to understand why he ignored you for the past years. But I am quite sure he has his reason, Mush. Maybe deeper than the most acceptable reason. We don’t know. It’s all up to you if you let yourself listen. Just follow your heart. It always leads you to happiness. Learn to let go of all the fears and pains.”
“Huwag mong pakawalan ang pagkakataong maging masaya,” dagdag ni Betchy. “Love is all about taking risks, Mush. When you let love move you, all the pains and hurts will be gone. When you love, you can face everything because love surpasses all things.”
Mushroom felt the conviction in her bestfriends’ voices. They speak of their own experiences. They speak out of their own hearts. And it somehow comforts her to know someone had already been where she is now and they are happy because they chose to love.
She thought of Gino. She knew in her heart that she loves him. She might want him to go away but she didn’t want him hurt or anything. She might push him away because of the pain he caused her but a huge part of her wants him to stay. Dahil alam niyang kahit na ipagtulakan niya ito palayo, wala pa ring magbabago sa nararamdaman niya, mamahalin pa rin niya ito.
Napayakap siya ng mahigpit kay Betchy saka yumakap din kay Dinah. “Thank you so much,” aniyang bumalong ang luha. “I’m sorry I haven’t shared you about this. Kung alam ko lang na magiging ganito kaluwag ang pakiramdam ko, matagal ko na sanang sinabi sa inyo.”
“We know you, Mushroom. Mas mataas pa sa Mt. Everest ang pride mo. We know you will never admit you like Gino, much more, love him. But we just know. You are our bestfriend. Iniisip mo pa lang, alam na namin.”
“You two are the best bestfriends in the world. I felt guilty I kept all my feelings from you. But all this time you knew.”
Ngumiti ang mga ito saka niyakap siya. “I wish you’ll be happy this time.” ani Dinah.
“Make the right decision, Mush.”
HALOS hindi makahinga si Gino sa paninikip ng dibdib. Napasipa siya sa buhangin. He can’t believe he had hurt Mushroom in the deepest possible way. He thought he did what was best for her. But seeing her like that, and hearing her say those things makes him want to kill himself for all the wrong decisions he made. He hurt Mushroom… He hurt the one and only person he wanted to protect all his life.
Napalingon siya. Ngumiti siya ng mapakla nang makita si Jordan.
“Shoo!” taboy niya rito. “I don’t want to see happy people.”
Tumawa ito. Pagkuwa’y sumeryoso ang mukha. “Have you told Mushroom?”
Umiling siya. “I can’t,” aniyang napahagod sa batok.
“You should tell her. She deserves to know, Gino.”
“It will hurt her,” aniyang lalong nanikip ang dibdib nang maisip kung ano ang magiging reaksyon ng kababata.
Tiningnan siya ng mataman ni Jordan. “You just can’t keep it from her. It’s a part of your life she must know.”
Napapikit siya ng mariin. How could he tell her he forgot everything about her? That he broke the only promise he thought he could keep?”
“She had been waiting for a sensible reason, Gino. Maybe when she knew, she can understand. She needs to know the reason behind her own pains that she may heal. You owe her that.”
“I just don’t know how to tell her.” Napabuga siya ng hininga. After his second brain surgery, he woke up remembering nothing. And it went on for years. Araw-araw, para siyang nangangapa sa dilim. There were those times he got so frustrated. Because the memories flashed but he couldn’t recognize if those were really part of his life. Ang alam lang niya, may dapat siyang maalala na hindi niya matukoy kung ano. He only found comfort everytime he is painting. He could release all the frustrations he had in his heart. His mom had always been there to encourage her, telling her everyday what his life had been, letting him know the people he loved that he may gain back his lost memories. Pero kahit anong pilit niya, wala siyang maalala.
When he knew about Mushroom, it was then that he realized, she had been that nameless face he had always seen. Her face haunted him even when he’s asleep. He used to paint her and he didn’t understand by then why his heart ached everytime he thought of her. His mom suggested they go home so he could remember more but he refused. He wanted to rememeber everything before he goes home. He couldn’t seem to face that girl without remembering anything. Because everytime he remembers her face, something gripped his heart so painfully hard.
When his memory seemed to restore, he tried to pick up the lost pieces of his life even when it seemed too late. Five years was long enough. Mushroom completely had forgotten about him. He cried when he finally understood why his heart seemed to ache when he thought of her. He promised to love her… but he failed. He told her he would come back, but he wasn’t able to. And what pained him most was the fact that Mushroom had lived the past five years of her life without him knowing what she had gone through. He wasn’t able to be there for her because he could not. And by the time that he could, Mushroom had moved on. She was together with someone. She was happy. She didn’t need him. It was too painful he wished he just didn’t gain back his memory.
He was left with no choice but to move on. He tried to forget everything about her even when it was impossible. He stopped knowing any updates about her. He kept himself busy. Ibinuhos niya ang lahat ng panahon sa pagpipinta. Until he became famous because of his works. Success seemed sweet. It made him happy for a while. Pero hindi niya maikakaila ang kahungkagan sa dibdib niya. The only person who knew everything about what he had been through was Jordan. When he invited him for the reunion, he was hesitant at first. Because deep inside him, he was still hurting. But the desire to see Mushroom again was so strong he could not resist. He finally decided to go home and faced what he always feared. He thought she was married already. Until now that he learned that she isn’t… because she is still suffering from the heartache he caused her.
How can he ever explain to her everything without hurting her?
Napahawak siya sa ulo dahil bigla’y tila may pumitik na ugat. Napahiyaw siya sa sakit.
“Are you okay, Gino?” naulinigan niyang sabi ni Jordan.
Napapikit siya ng mariin nang muling maramdaman ang sakit. Mas diniinan niya ang hawak sa ulo. Naramdaman niyang hinawakan siya ni Jordan. Pakiramdam niya’y mawawalan siya ng ulirat sa tindi ng sakit.
NAGTAKA si Mushroom nang hindi na muling magbalik si Gino sa cottage. Nakatulog na siya’t nagising, wala pa rin ito. Hindi niya ito mahagilap kahit saan. Kasama daw ito ni Jordan. Pero hindi niya mapigilan ang sariling mag-alala.
THE whole event was successful. Everyone enjoyed. Lahat yata gusto pang mag-stay kaso may trabaho na kinabukasan. Mushroom could’ve enjoyed more kung alam niya kung nasaan si Gino. Even Dinah doesn’t know where they could’ve been. Naiinis na ito kay Jordan dahil kailangang-kailangan ito sa final program.
Pareho silang tila nabunutan ng tinik nang makita ang dalawa sa kalagitnaan ng program. Napasulyap siya kay Gino. Tila matamlay ito. Hindi niya napigilan ang sarili’t nilapitan ito.
“Mush,” tanging sambit nito. Tila hindi maapuhap ang sasabihin.
“Where the hell have you been?” aniyang pilit pinababa ang boses pero hindi niya maitago ang inis. She was worried!
“Sinamahan ko lang si Jordan. It,” umiwas ito ng tingin sa kanya. “It’s sort of confidential.”
Naglapat ang labi niya. “You should’ve still informed us,” gigil na sabi niya. May ilang napalingon sa gawi nila pero wala siyang pakialam. “If you want to make up for what we’ve lost you really should try not to let me worry!”
Ilang segundong napatitig ito sa kanya, tila hindi makapaniwala sa narinig.
“You were asking for a chance. I’m giving it to you. But I should warn you, you need to earn my trust. And you owe me a specific reason why you just didn’t bother to contact me for years. You have a lot of making up to do and it would do you good if you resist the chance of making me mad because right now, I am. “
Gino could not believe his own ears. He felt that lump on his throat as he fought back the tears. “Thank you, Mush,” aniya saka walang pahintulot na kinabig ang dalaga palapit at niyakap ng mahigpit.
Nabigla si Mushroom sa ginawi ni Gino pero hindi siya nagpumiglas. Her anger seemed to subside in an instant. Her worries turned to comfort. Her hurts covered with joy. And at that moment she knew that even when Gino can hurt her so much, he can comfort her in a way that nobody else can.
“I love you, Mushroom,” bulong nito’t kinintalan siya ng halik sa noo. “I’ll do whatever it takes to gain your trust back. In time, I will tell you everything as I make up for all that we’ve lost. Thank you so much for this chance, Mush.”
AFTER the final program, they bid goodbye and set a date for the next reunion. Mushroom hugged everyone tight especially Betchy. Baka matagalan pa bago siya makabisita ulit doon. But she will definitely find time lalo na’t malapit na ang kabuwanan nito.
“Mush,” tawag ni Dinah sa kanya. Pumitlag ang puso niya nang makita si Gino, dala ang maleta nito.
“I was wondering if Gino could take a ride with you,” anang kaibigan.
“Wala siyang kotse?” takang-tanong niya na napatingin kay Gino.
“Sige na Mush, pareho kasi kayo ng destination.” pakiusap ni Dinah.
“Saan ka ba tutuloy?” takang-tanong niya.
“Sa dati.” sagot ni Gino.
Kumunot ang noo niya.
“Sa bahay katabi ng bahay ninyo,” ani Dinah na kinindatan siya.
Hindi nagsalita si Gino. Hindi naki-usap.
“Just put your bag in the trunk.”
She heard him sighed in relief.
“Thanks, Mush,” ani Dinah at niyakap siya. “Mag-iingat kayo!”
Napabuntong-hininga siya. It won’t be that bad.
“I’ll drive,” prisinta nito na inilahad ang kamay.
Napatingin siya sa susing hawak. Saka unti-unting ibinaba niya iyon sa nakalahad na kamay ni Gino. She can trust him with her car.
THEY were both awkward on the first minute of the trip. Pati paghinga nila, awkward. Wala sa natural na ritmo.
“H-How’s Tito and Tita?” pagbubukas nito ng usapan.
“They’re fine,” aniyang pilit maging normal ang boses. “Matutuwa iyon pag nakita ka.”
“I’m allowed to visit them?” tanong nitong biglang nagliwanag ang mukha. Huli na para mabawi niya ang nasabi. Tumango na lang siya.
Nakita niya ang pagngiti nito sa sulok ng mga mata niya. Kinagat niya ang labi at itinuon ang tingin sa dinaraanan nila. Kanina pa niya nararamdaman na gusto niyang mangiti. At hindi niya alam kung kailan nagsimula ang pakiramdam na iyon. It’s so odd after being so sad last night. But feeling this famliar feeling, seeing Gino at the corner of her eyes driving carefully and checks her every now and then, and thinking that Gino is going to live in the same house again, hindi niya mapigil ang saya sa dibdib. It seems like it finally sinked in… Gino’s finally home.
NANG makarating sila sa bahay, umibis din ito.
“I’m saying hello to Tito and Tita,” anito.
Hindi na niya ito napigilan dahil nauna na itong umibis, saka kinuha ang mga gamit niya.
Nang makapasok sila’y, naabutan nila ang mga magulang niya na masayang nag-uusap sa sala. Nang mapalingon ito sa kanila’y nanlaki ang mga matang napatingin kay Gino.
“Gino?” hindi makapaniwalang sambit ng Mommyat Daddy niya saka napatayo. “Gino!” masayang sambit ng Mommy niya at kaagad na yumakap sa binata. Her heart flinched. Her mom’s crying. Pasimple namang kumurap-kurap ang Daddy niya para hindi mahalata ang luha nito. And she felt the happiness they felt she’s almost crying too. Tumingala siya kaagad para mapigil ang luha.
“Gino, I’m so glad to see you again.” anang Mommy niya at mahigpit na niyakap ang kababata.
“You’re staying here for good?” umaasang tanong ng Daddy niya.
“I’d love to, Tito.” sagot naman ni Gino at nagbungguan ng braso ang mga ito saka nagkatawanan.
“Malakas ka na ah,” anang Daddy niya.
“Siyempre naman po, hindi na kayo uubra sa’kin,” nagmamalaking sagot Gino na ikinatawa lalo ng daddy niya.
“Saan ka ba tutuloy hijo? Kung gusto mo dumito ka muna.”
“Mommy!” aniyang kumunot ang noo. Napalingon sa kanya ang tatlo. Tila noon lang napansin na naroon pala siya.
“Hija,” anang Mommy niya na abot tenga ang ngiti. “I’m so glad you enjoyed your weekend. I’m sure you’re happy Gino’s here. He can stay here with us.”
“Nakakahiya naman ho.” sabad ni Gino.
“Oo nga naman Mommy, nahihiya siya. Besides he just lives next door. He doesn’t have to live here,” aniyang tabingi ang ngiti. The idea of having Gino live inside their house is too much. Kailangan pa niyang mag-isip. Paano siya makakapag-isip kung nandoon ito at haharang-harang sa daanan niya?
“Magiging masaya kami, hijo kung dumito ka muna,” anaman ng Daddy niya.
Napatingin ulit ang tatlo sa kanya.
Pagkuwa’y nagkatinginan ang mommy’t daddy niya at sabay napatawa. Nagtatakang tiningnan niya ag mga ito.
“I missed that look on Mushroom’s face.” anang Mommy niya na hawak ang tiyan sa kakatawa. Amused naman na nakatingin si Gino sa mga ito.
Umungol siya sa inis pero parang walang naririnig ang mga ito sa protesta niya.
“Please stay here for the meantime, hijo, habang wala ka pang kasama sa bahay.” anang Mommy niya na nakangiti.
“Thanks Tito, Tita,”
No no no way! Pinandilatan niya si Gino nang magpang-abot ang tingin nila pero inginuso lang nito ang mga magulang niya.
“Thanks for coming home, Gino. You made this day a special one.Kaya, for a change, ako ang magluluto!” masayang sabi ng Daddy niya.
“At para siguradong masarap, I’d gladly help!” anang MOmmy niya. “Mushroom, estimahin mo muna ang bisita natin.”
NANG silang dalawa na’y hinila niya si Gino palayo sa bukana ng kusina.
“You’re not staying here,” mariin niyang bulong.
Tinitigan siya nito. Pigil ang ngiti. “It’s not for me to decide,” bulong din nito.
Naningkit ang mata niya. “You can’t,” nanggigigil niyang sabi. “I am giving you the chance but living in our house isn’t part of that. I still need some time to think things over. Paano ako makakapag-isip kung nandiyan ka palagi?”
“Magtatago ako,” anito. He smiled sheepishly. Pagkuwa’y natatawang itinaas nito ang kamay nang pumadyak siya sa inis. Saka sumeryoso ang mukha. “Your mom and dad invited me. You know I can’t say no. Besides, I missed this house. I missed your mom. And I,” lumunok ito. “you.”
She was breathing heavily and her heart is pounding so hard again. Gino’s teasing her emotions again.
“Fine,” aniyang lapat na lapat ang mga labi. “You can stay pero hindi mo ako madadala sa mga pagpapacute mo.”
Lumuwang ang pagkakangiti nito. “Hindi pa ako nagpapa-cute, Mushroom.” Tiningnan siya nito at bumuka ang bibig pero nangiti lang ulit.
“Ano?” aniyang pinandilatan ito.
“You find me cute?”
Napabuga siya ng hininga. “Che!” aniya at lumayo rito. Ganun na lang ang halakhak nito. Hindi niya ito magawang tingnan ng diretso sa mga mata dahil baka tuluyang manlambot ang tuhod niya.
“Can I have a hug?” pagkuwa’y sabi nito.
“A welcome hug?” anitong ibinuka ang mga bisig.
Nakapameywang na hinarap niya ito. “You’re not welome here, in case hindi mo nararamdaman,” inis na sabi niya at mabilis na tinalikuran ito saka dumiretso sa silid. She forgot about that… She forgot she can’t breathe normally with Gino around.
MASAYA ang salo-salo nila sa hapunan. His Dad made his forte, ang paella na gustung-gusto ni Gino.
Napuno ng halakhakan ang buong bahay. Hindi magkamayaw ang Daddy niya sa pagkukuwento. Ipinakita pa nito ang news clippings kung saan naroon si Gino dahil sa mga tanyag na taong naipinta nito. Her parents are so proud of Gino. At halatang miss na miss ng mga ito ang kababata.
“May girlfriend ka na ba, hijo?” biglang tanong ng Mommy niya.
Napatingin si Gino sa kanya bago tumingin sa mommy niya. Parang mahihirinan siya kaya mabilis siyang uminom ng tubig.
“Wala pa po.”
Lumiwanag ang mukha ng mommy niya. “That’s good.”
Nagsalubong ang kilay niya.
“You see, ang magandang dalaga namin dito, wala ding boyfriend.”
“Mommy!” saway niya.
“Ows? Sa ganda ho ni Mushroom? Walang nanligaw?”
Sinipa niya ang paa ni Gino sa ilalim ng mesa. Napa- aw ito ng wala sa oras.
“May nanliligaw, ayaw naman. Sobrang pihikan,” anang Daddy niya na iiling-iling.
“Kaya kung may plano kang manligaw, kay Mushroom na.” anang Mommy niya na ngumiti ng matamis.
“Mommy!” aniyang gustong magwala.
“Hayaan n’yo ho-” Hindi naituloy ni Gino dahil napa-aw na naman ito. “Tito, sinisipa ako o,” sumbong nito.
Ganoon na lang ang tawa ng Daddy at Mommy niya.
TUMULOY si Gino sa guest room na nasa tabi ng kuwarto niya. Wala siyang nagawa kundi ihatid ito sa silid na tutulugan nito. Naghanda na rin siya ng toiletries.
“That was your room,” aniyang itinuro ang silid nito nang mapansing nakabuntot ito sa kanya papunta sa silid niya.
“I know. I just want to thank you,” anitong nginitian siya.
“Napilitan lang ako, don’t thank me.”
“Kahit na, thank you pa rin.”
She felt the butterflies in her stomach as he looked at her. The kind of look he always gives her everytime he tells her he loves her. Parang mabibingi na naman siya sa lakas ng kabog ng dibdib lalo pa’t malapit ito sa kanya.
“I’ll take your Mom’s advice. Liligawan na muna kita.”
Namilog ang mata niya sa narinig. She suddenly felt she’s sixteen again, blushing. Mushroom! saway niya sa sarili.
“I thought you’re giving me time to think, Mister,” nakapameywang na sabi niya.
“I am. And I am helping you think,” anito nginitian siya. “Sleep well tonight.” anito’t kinintalan siya ng masuyong halik sa noo. He swiftly put his arms around her waist and pulled her closed to hug her.
Ilang beses siyang napakurap. Then she felt his face bent down. His nose touched her nose. His warm breath mixed with hers. “If kissing you makes you mad, stop me,” bulong nito habang nakatitig sa mga mata niya. She remained unmoved. Her heart is racing and her knees are becoming like jelly. Then gently, he brushed his lips on hers. And all she did was close her eyes and felt his kiss. It was soft and sweet, pulling her heartstrings in every slow and gentle motion enough to make her breathless.
“You’re taking advantage,” aniyang habol ang hininga nang maghiwalay ang labi nila.
“I can’t help it,” ani Gino. Pinigilan niya ang sariling muling angkinin ang labi nito dahil baka tuluyang humulagpos ang pagtitimpi niya. He wants more than just kiss her. “Goodnight,” aniya bago pa man siya matukso at makalimot.
Mabilis na pumasok si Mushroom sa silid hawak-hawak ang labi. She felt silly. Why does it always feel the first time everytime Gino kissed her? Why can’t she make herself resist him? Nahiga siya sa kama sabay yakap sa unan. Gino can really make her go crazy. It’s not a good idea that he’s always near. And what did he say? Liligawan siya nito? Nahigit niya ang hininga.