Chapter 1: Questions
The autumn palette of modern furnishing matches the aroma of roasted coffee that hung inside the café. The golden hour’s light from the window beside them softly plays across Mia’s features as she stares at the cars passing by Katipunan Avenue. Her eyebrows are slightly knitted and the corners of her lips are turned down. Even her thumb is sliding across her lips back and forth.
Neo lifts his head from the black book Penguin Edition of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Mia’s unusual silence catches his attention. A few seconds pass since he took notice. He maintains the silence, hoping that she’d notice his eyes on her. She doesn’t.
She immediately sits up straight and snaps her head to Neo at the sound of her name. Her eyes slightly widen in question. Neo’s own eyebrow rises as he studies his best friend. Their eyes lock.
“You know I’m here for you if something’s bothering you.” Neo gently assures her.
The side of Mia’s lips turn up for a second sending Neo a silent thank you before she snickers and shakes her head while her eyes roll. She tosses Neo’s worry aside.
“Oh it’s nothing,” She says lightly despite the sound of uncertainty by the end of her phrase. She trails off as she stares at the table, but nothing in particular. Her smile fades.
“Sis…” He says with his tone low and concerned.
Mia snaps her head back in the same manner as before. They lock eyes once again and Neo lightly sighs, pouting at her. Mia groans and sighs immediately after.
“I mean… Kasi…” She begins. Her eyes turn down and she watches her fingers fiddling on the table. She looks up again. “Do you think people who you matter to the most, say your name differently?”
She tips her head to the side looking at Neo curiously while he looks completely lost. Neo’s eyebrows knit as he quietly thought to himself. The image of Salle calling out to him and saying his name came to mind. Was there a difference? If there was, he hasn’t really noticed.
“Well… I don’t know.” Neo lightly shrugs his shoulders and resorts to the one answer he is certain of.
Mia purses her lips, not exactly satisfied with Neo’s answer. She too shrugs her shoulders. A deep sigh escapes her as she rearranges herself to plant both her elbows on the table and lean her chin on both her knuckles.
“Because, I heard somewhere that, people tend to say someone’s name differently if they like the person.” She thinks to herself out loud.
As the book is left open between Neo’s fingers on the table, his mind wanders back to the “someone that he more than likes”. He tries again to recall the many times Salle said his name. Neo’s head unconsciously leans to the side as his thoughts lifts him from the present. He isn’t really catching on to what Mia was saying in particular. Then his eyes widen. His mind suddenly produces a definite example of Salle saying his name very differently. It causes Neo to sit up straight and clear his throat as he tried to ignore the heat that barely rose on his stomach.
Mia noticed the sudden wash of pink across Neo’s cheeks. “What?” She inquires innocently.
Neo quietly blinks at her. “Nothing.” He lets out blankly as best as he could.
She answers with a sharp raise of her eyebrow. Neo clears his throat again and turns his eyes down to his book though he wasn’t really able to comprehend the string of words. He shrugs again.
“I don’t know…” He says again, but quietly this time and his voice grew even smaller when he says, “I guess… When you have… sex, maybe.” He mumbles as he stares at the page.
Mia’s face contorts into pure disgust as her head slowly pulls away until she was leaning far back and away from Neo as possible. Neo lifts his head back to her, his cheeks a shade darker.
“It’s true—” He defends.
Mia raises both her hands up to stop him. A second of silence passes between them. “Not in front of my latte you fucking pervert.”
Neo groans and rolls his eyes at her. “Well I’m not lying—”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t really talking about that.” She interjects with a sharp, high-pitched tone.
Her sass shuts Neo up. Then he silently rolls his eyes at her. “Well why are you even asking?” he says as he finally closes the book.
Mia’s shoulders sag again. She pouts at Neo. “Because I think I’ve been saying Iya’s name differently…”
Neo leans in with his eyebrows knitted. “How would you notice that?”
Her eyes search around the ceiling of the café for answers. “Well…” The strands of her hair gracefully fall off her shoulder as she turns her head back down at Neo. “I would sometimes call out her name out of the blue when she’s sitting next to me and she gives me this weird look…”
“Yeah.” Mia nods at Neo with certainty. Neo continues to look lost. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”
Neo still isn’t catching on, but slowly nods anyway to try and satisfy Mia’s emotional need for understanding. “If you say so… I guess.”
He nods at Mia again to assure her then dismisses the topic by re-opening his book and turning his head back down to read.
He heard Mia’s sound of disapproval. His head lifts once again, “What?” he asks even more confused than before. He thought the topic at hand had already passed.
“It’s as if parang, ‘di ka naman in love.” She scoffs at him.
Neo’s eyebrows knitted in confusion as his mouth hung. He didn’t know exactly whether that was an insult, but it definitely sounded like one.
“Oh whatever.” She tosses at Neo’s utter look of confusion as she rolls her eyes. “C’mon, let’s go na. I have to do my homework pa.” She flips her hair as she announces their leave.
As Mia stepped away, Neo took a few more seconds, their odd conversion echoing in his head.
Does he say my name differently?
Chapter 2: Answers
The sound of his name echoes in his head coming from the minute sound of the earpiece. It was too short for him to think much of it, but after setting foot in his unit after his coffee date with Mia, it feels as if he was hearing his name for the first time.
It left him staring at the light patterns on his bed, unfocused as he holds his phone to his ear.
There it is again, but it was quicker this time and pitched higher. Frantic. The receiver from the other end was met with more silence.
“Huy nandiyan ka ba?” Neo jumps. “Okay ka lang?!” Salle’s voice rose higher.
“Salle!” Neo regains his senses and he lightly shakes his head, snickering. His soft laugh alarms his boyfriend from the other end.
“Huy okay ka lang ba?” He sounded softer this time.
“Yes! Sorry,” Neo giggles again. He flops down on his bed and trains his eyes on the ceiling with a smile on his lips. “Mia’s just been asking me weird questions.”
“Oh,” His voice was soft against his ear as if all his worry from just seconds ago has disappeared. “What kind of questions?”
The golden orange light patterns begin to dance into the dim interior of his unit, across his walls, softly bouncing on the ceiling. The ruckus of cars passing in the distance nearly fading and the sound of Salle’s voice felt distant, but echoed in his head anyway. The peacefulness of it all was pulling Neo into a trance. His lashes fluttered shut. It all felt warm and homey.
“Sleepy ka na?” His voice was crawling through his blurred senses again, a little distorted as it came from a piece of device than his lips whispering in his ear. The voice softly snickers. “Call me when you wake up.”
Neo hears and barely moans to answer.
“Love you.” He unconsciously whispers in his haze. He stupidly smiles to himself, unaware that the receiver from the other end was sharing the same smile.
“Love you too, Neo.”
He hears his name again. It was smooth, like those four words were only meant to be said by that voice. The thought remains as he slips into unconsciousness.
It was brighter this time. There was a more definite sound of “e” that one could only be heard with the image of a smile from only his lips. His name, a sort of sing-song tune that ended with a lively pitch. The lightweight of it lifted a smile on Neo’s lips.
“Happy birthday, babe!” Salle greets him, his eyes disappearing in his big smile where both ends reached his ears. It’s followed by a low giggle. Salle’s long, neatly gelled back hair lightly shakes; the strands framing his face beautifully.
At that point, Neo’s only wish was that everyday should be his birthday; to witness a sight like this.
He shakes his head, snickering to himself at his ridiculous thought. Salle’s eyes once again lift open and meet his blue ones. Neo cocks his head to the side, lovingly staring at Salle. He couldn’t help it really. Salle smiles back at him. A giggle escapes Neo and he extends his arms to his boyfriend. Salle steps into it, wrapping his big arms around Neo’s back and buries his face on Neo’s smaller shoulders.
“Thank you.” Neo whispers against Salle’s neck.
Salle answers him by placing endless soft kisses on his skin, trapped against their hug.
It’s louder than how he usually says his name in whispers, like secrets. This time the secret escapes him even if he doesn’t want it to be. The first sound of his name was quick, loud; a yelp. A split second of silence. Then there was the succession of his name escaping Salle’s lips in a mantra loud enough for neighboring rooms to hear. Each call for his name is followed by the sound of skin slapping, by low grunts pulling deeply from Salle’s chest, by the wet sounds of where their need meets with each snap of their hips.
The sound of his name is stretched until it met the desired end of Salle’s ministrations. The echoes of it was ringing in Neo’s ear, imprinting in his memory for ages, filling him with pride amidst the assault of plowing hips. Only he, out of many of his lover’s admirers got to hear his name worshipped this way by Salle himself.
This was the very reality he had in mind when Mia asked him. And it was damn well one of his favorite ways of his lover saying his name differently.
Neo’s knees locks and the rest of his body jerks as Salle fills him. He clenches on Salle, gratefully receiving everything he gives. Neo ends with a whine and sags to into the soft sheets of his bed. His softened erection gently ruts against the fabric, waking him with a heat that quickly fades as he decides to ignore it.
Salle pulls out emitting a soft moan from both of them. Neo immediately feels incomplete with the sudden hollowness at his rear. He lets his legs collapse onto the bed, putting his full weight, face down on his bed.
Neo’s eyes flutter shut, humming in content. The heavy air of their previous activity lifts, but the scent of after sex remains. A warm press at his cheek makes him slightly jump. The pressure pulls apart both of his cheeks and his puckered center is once again exposed. Neo’s breath hitches and his eyebrows knit at the center. Despite the mind blowing escapade they shared earlier, he was too exhausted for a second round. He moans in discomfort.
“Sssh sssh,” Salle softly shushes his protest. “I’m just cleaning you up.”
A soft, wet sheet touches his entrance and Neo’s shoulder jerks. It wipes across around his entrance and barely dips a few times before the wet tissue leaves Neo’s skin of contact, but so does his lover’s touch. Neo sinks back into the bed. The thick fabric of his sheets catches his cheek.
The caress of a warm palm smoothing along the line of his back pulls him back to consciousness.
“Okay ka lang?”
The soft whisper of concern tickles his ear. He twists his head to the side and lifts his eyelids. He’s met with Salle’s torso closely hovering over his. Salle plants his elbow beside Neo’s head. He runs the soft press of his palm up from the dip of Neo’s back to the dip between his shoulders and to the back of his neck. His thumb presses patterns on Neo’s skin. They stare into each other’s lidded eyes in silence.
A smile spreads across Neo’s lips unknowingly. Salle returns it.
It was different from how it sounded just minutes ago. It was gentle. Feather like— brushing against his lips like a chaste kiss. It makes Neo softly blink at Salle, entranced. Neo twists under Salle’s touch to scoot closer to his shirtless frame. He extends his fingers to softly graze the tips against Salle’s cheek.
Salle’s eyes flutter shut while a pleasant smile appears on his lips. It was sight too surreal for Neo and it causes him to lean in, keeping himself snug against Salle’s skin. It felt like home for Neo to be touched like this.
This was new. His name sounds alien to him, like it isn’t his. It isn’t loud or soft. It is reserved; quiet despite the restraint crawling beneath his skin. The sound of it feels like ice piercing through one’s tongue. There is an unsettling edge with his stern voice. The absence of sound that resided the room didn’t help abate the chill in it, despite the heat in their tension.
Salle’s green eyes are sharp, his brows aggressively meeting in the middle. It bore into Neo’s blue ones and he could barely look at them. A wave of guilt made Neo break their eye contact. He turns his eyes down.
The air was growing thick as the seconds of silence prolonged. Neo’s anxiety was quickly beginning to eat him up. The weight of the empty room was growing heavy around him. He looked up to make sure Salle was still there.
Salle’s voice shakes the silence in the all too quiet unit. The sound of the vague question was prying Neo to come up with an answer.
“I don’t know, Salle.”
Neo’s voice breaks and he shrugs. He hears a deep sigh from the other and he hesitantly tries to look up at his… lover. He catches him in the middle of tensely wiping his fingers across his face. Salle locks eyes with him again.
It was a sight he never wanted to see. He felt the weight of Salle’s disappointment on every fiber of his being. His chest shook, containing a sob.
Salle turns his eyes down. He shuts his eyes. He tensely shakes his head with full restraint. His eyes open once more. Neo catches the plea behind them. His lips shake as he takes a breath, his eyes were beginning to sting.
His lover… takes a few steps to close the distance between them.
Neo sits up straight on his bed and leans his head back to look up at Salle who towers over him. He caught the other man’s tired eyes before he bends down. Salle’s fingers reaches out to hold the back of Neo’s head. He pushes his lips against Neo’s forehead with an amount of pressure.
Neo blinks away his tears when Salle steps back. He only turns his head back up when he hears his door open. His head snaps in direction of the sound.
“Salle,” Neo begs at his… lover’s… back.
It was just his name. It sounded as dead as possible, as cold as possible, like all the warmth in the way he heard his name coming from this man’s lips never even happened in the first place. It wasn’t even a sort of good bye. He hopes it wasn’t. He didn’t want it to be.
The sound of his name echoes in his head, hoping it was loud enough to call him back.
“Sabi sa’yo eh.” He whispers into his ear jokingly.
Neo plants his face into Salle’s chest and lightly smacks his shoulder.
“Araaay,” A light giggle escapes him. “Ang violent mo naman.” As Neo pushes himself up on Salle’s chest to look up at him, Salle gathers his violent fingers in his own. Salle’s eyes soften as he stares down on Neo. A smile creeps up on the corner of his lip.
“Ikaw kasi.” Neo shoots at him.
Salle exaggeratedly opens his eyes. “Hala ako nanaman,” He playfully defends himself.
Neo rolls his eyes at him with a smile. His eyes land on Salle’s. The other gives him a suggestive eyebrow wiggle.
“Panget mo.” Neo teases his boyfriend. He sticks his tongue out. It causes Salle to throw his head back, laughing. He tightens his grip on Neo’s fingers.
Neo peers up to Salle as he rests his chin on his lover’s vibrating chest. A gleaming warmth spreads across Neo’s chest as he witnesses Salle’s bright laugh. He stares at him in complete awe, until the other’s laughter ends with a pleasant smile directed back at him.
Salle reaches out to stroke Neo’s hair. His eyelids unconsciously flutter shut.
He revels in the feeling of Salle’s touch.
It’s been a long time.
They spend seconds in silence. Unable to lift his eyes open, Neo dips his chin and plants his face on the fabric of Salle’s clothing. He inhales the musky scent that could only be Salle. Suddenly there was a piercing truth that he’s missed his touch.
His chest tightens as he realizes that the time spent over a month without contact has become overwhelming. His eyebrows knit together against the fabric and the corner of his lips turn down. He struggles to keep in a sob as the realization crashes through him that he could have lost Salle because of the basic things he lack in keeping up with a relationship. This was his first time after all. He was used carrying himself, and suddenly he didn’t know how to react to Salle who always caught him.
Salle below him, shifts. His fingers that ran through Neo’s hair slid down to caresses his cheek.
“What’s wrong, Neo?”
Neo pulls on Salle’s torso and further presses his face into his chest. He refused to meet Salle’s green eyes. With his pout unknown to him, he feels comfort in Salle’s silence.
“I missed you.”
Neo whispers to Salle’s skin.
Salle resumes stroking Neo’s hair.
He hears his name from Salle’s lips above his head. The name rang in time with Salle’s exhale. It was airy, light. But at the end of Salle’s breath they both heard the overbearing weight of two syllables.
Neo holds onto him tighter. He clings to him like he never meant to let go in the first place.
His voice cracks, “I’m sorry,”
His shoulders vibrate as he lets his tears stain Salle’s shirt. He feels his boyfriend’s arms wrap tightly around him. He feels the urgency in Salle’s lips as they pressed against the top of his head, buried under his hair.
He hears Salle’s soothing whispers brushing his hair, “Neo, I’m sorry rin. It’s okay.”
Neo parts his lips to take a breath. He pushes himself up and resorts to kneeling in between Salle’s knees. As he pulls his face from Salle’s chest, he immediately covers it with both his palm, ashamed of himself for letting them part for so long. He didn't deserve Salle. He didn't deserve him being his fallback, this man who stayed despite the many times he's unconsciously pushed him away.
Salle follows him up. He doesn’t hesitate to wrap his arms back around Neo’s shoulders. And yet, he was. He still caught him. He hasn't left him.
Neo shakes his head, hidden by Salle’s frame. He wipes his tears away and forces himself to look at Salle in the eye.
Salle pulls away and reaches out to cup each of Neo’s cheeks. He brushes his thumbs over the bunched up skin to wipe away Neo’s tears. They find each other’s eyes.
They share a silence. In the distance, there is the faint blaring of a truck’s horn passing by Katipunan Ave., outside the door, the slightness of footsteps echoes across the empty corridor, within the unit, the air conditioning softly hums. The world outside remains continuous. Neo’s world stills. It closes in on in on Salle’s eyes.
Neo watches as the hard features on Salle’s face softens. The tears on his cheeks dry. Salle lowers his palm from his boyfriend’s cheeks. Under their unwavering gaze, over their thighs, they find each other’s fingers and laces them together. The corners of Salle's lips turn up.
Salle takes a breath.
He sighs. He blinks.
His breath ends with the sound of his name.
Neo’s eyes slowly widens. His name felt like his lover’s breath.
She was right. He did say his name differently.
This plotless thing is long overdue. I'm sorry. I only got back to writing this (or anything in general) today because of the many other things na kailangan kong pagtuunan ng pansin. So ayun, basahin niyo na lang uli ng buo para mas mafeel niyo lol.
oh and have ya'll seen the SSU RP Accs on twitter. NeoSalle is malandi asf just btw and Phil is the relatable, baon sa luha at readings uni kid. Follow them para masaya HAHA (also puta walang paring Tomas, sad ako)
@neo_loyola @sallevador @utakandpuso
Also me narin @essi_mag bec i am starving for BuKo trash people. HAHAHAhahahuhuhu
Salamat sa pagbabasa!!