It was a surprise birthday bash for one of our friends – one of his best friends. Earlier that day I locked myself up at home when I received a text message: “How are you gonna go to Dave’s party?”
“Have to meet my cousin and check something at the mall.”’
“Do you need a ride?”
“I’ll be coming from Pasay. Traffic will be bad.”
“That’s why I’m asking if you need a ride.”
But I’m a single independent woman so…
“I’ll just meet you somewhere close to the venue, then we go together. Drive safe.”
“I’ll meet my college friends for early dinner. But let me know if you change your mind, alright? I’ll see you.”
Giddy like a school girl I read that conversation during my commute to meet my cousin Ria – perhaps more times than south of Manila traffic would allow. Bought new kicks and sports watch for no reason and caught up with her the whole afternoon. “You seem different. Good different”.
It’s important to note that I am not overtly open when it comes to my relationships even to my closest friends or family. There is no way in hell that I’m gonna tell her that there’s this guy who’s making me smile like an idiot while eating a whole slice of Chicago White stuffed pizza. No. If it’s not official, everyone is on a need-to-know basis. Just in case the rocket explodes seconds after launch.
I was in the middle of checking powerbooks top 10 fiction books when my phone rang. “Hello”, ughh that “I need fluffy loving tone. “Asan ikaw?” I swear my eyes rolled so far back that I had seen my frontal lobe.
“Megamall. Book hunting.”
“Like you’re not.”
“I’m a pogi nerd.”
Another round of eyerolls. His confidence is getting annoyingly cute.
“Your mind plays – hello?” Line was cut.
“Time to go, miss. We’ll be late.” He took my shopping bag off my hands and lead the way. The ride to the venue was pretty mundane of him telling me about dinner and me telling him of how this surprise party is gonna be. We parked a hundred meters away from the venue, checked his phone, and leaned his seat back.
At this point, I’m no longer surprised. He’ll win any sleeping contest there is.
He lay on his side facing me and took a nap while I worked on my phone to check where everyone is.
The night was going well with our ex-workmates, some members corporate football team and Dave’s friends. It had a pretty chill vibe – pretty much how 28th birthday celebrations are – with drinks and food and loud catch up conversations.
“I like him, Bea ha”, my football coach whispered on my ear as he took another shot of double black. He clearly was quite drunk. “He seems to be a good guy. Well-mannered, good social skills. I am happy for He clearly is quite drunk. “He seems to be a good guy. Well-mannered, good social skills. I am happy for you.” He smiled at me and left our table to take a piss. Breathe, I told myself.
I looked around the table to check whether someone else heard that – I am not accustomed to be a part of a pair being shipped by the group. Then I looked at Lou seated next to me, he was talking to one of my teammates, having an animated discussion about god-knows-what. My head is buzzing but I am somehow calm despite the alcohol and the fact that the past few weeks have been a rollercoaster.
I smiled in a way my mama would probably be proud of. Somewhat confident, lady-like and self-assured. I took a sip of my drink and looked at the man beside me having a light-hearted conversation about politics with our friends. He’s seated comfortably with his legs crossed and his arm calmly resting on my back rest.
Smart. Well-mannered. Presentable. Someone you’d bring home to your mama that will validate the way she raised her daughter. At that point, I was as calm the ocean on sunset. He looked to my direction and asked whether I was having fun. All I can do was nod. I was home. I was happy.
Later that night, he drove me home. Since we both live south, he made it a habit to make sure I was home safe – he loves driving around and dropping people off so much I wondered why he didn’t become a school bus driver.
“Here we are. Thanks for dropping me home.”
“You’re welcome. Did you have fun tonight?”
“I did. I’m glad I went.”
“I’m glad you did.”
I took the seatbelt off and opened the door. “Thanks again for tonight.”
“Hmm. Aren’t you forgetting something?”
I stopped and looked at him, puzzled. “What?”
He smiled to show his pearly whites I have died for since the day we met four years before. Good lord I was not trained for this. More moments of silence and his stupid grin.
Then – clueless and tensed as I was – I leaned in for a hug that he returned with full warmth bear hug (he gives the best of those coz he fully envelopes me in). We were like that for a while ‘til I gave him a peck on the cheek and a smile.
He pulled up something from the backseat – my shopping bag. Holding back his laughter.
“I was actually referring to this. But I’m glad your brain is quite slow tonight.”
We just exploded laughing inside his parked car, under the clear 2 AM Manila sky.
It was hope. That was what happy looked like.