It was Salle’s cousin’s wedding day. It’s not that Salle did not want to go to this memorable event however he thinks he could live on with his life without attending it. Salle was just a guest so being gone for a few minutes would not harm anybody. He tapped his younger sister on the shoulder and gestured that he’ll be heading out.
“Where to, Kuya?” Cess mouthed. Salle answered with another gesture, saying he’ll just smoke. Cess frowned but let his brother go. She cannot see the point of arguing with him.
Salle went to his car, lit a cigarette, and looked up. The weather was nice that day. Clouds were blocking the sun however there were ample light peeking through them. It was not necessarily warm either, which was nice for Salle considering wearing a tuxedo makes him sweat.
“I thought you quit smoking.” A familiar voice said that made Salle’s head turn.
He was wearing a dark blue button down shirt and blue stripped tie with matching white slacks and coat. His hair was combed neatly in place and a polite yet smug smile spread through his face. It was Neo, Salle’s ex-boyfriend.
Neo walked over Salle and grabbed the cigarette from his mouth and stepped on it, putting it off. Salle raised his brow and grabbed another one to light it just for Neo to repeat what he’d done to the previous cigarette.
“If you’re trying to be cute, Neo, it’s not working.” Salle said, an obvious irritated expression printed on his face.
“Why are you here anyway?” Salle got a third stick from his pocket and lit it up. Neo tried to grab the cigarette from Salle’s lips but the latter swatted his hand away. “Stop it, Neo. It’s not funny.”
“I’m not trying to be. You promised me you’ll stop.” Neo frowned.
“That promise died when we broke up, Neo, so stop acting like you’re still my boyfriend.” Salle sucked the smoke and exhaled through his nose, looking away from Neo. Neo was clearly pissed so he, swiftly, grabbed the cigarette from Salle’s fingers and placed it between his lips and inhaled.
The first timer coughed his lungs out his eyes started to water.
“Gago! What are you doing?” He swatted the cigarette out of Neo’s hand and extinguished the cigarette. “Ito na. I’ll stop.” Salle rubbed his ex-boyfriend’s back as the man starts to regain his composure and steady his breathing.
“Why the fuck did you do that?” Salle pulled the younger man closer to him.
“You told me you’d stop.”
“What is it to you, Neo? It’s not like you’re harmed by my smoking.”
“Gago, you’ll die.”
Salle laughed. “We’ll die one way or another, Neo. You know this. You’re not two.”
Salle sighed and saw his best friend, Don, exiting the building and heading to the parking lot. “Mappy, right here!”
Neo turned to the direction of Don and frowned. When he and Salle were still in a relationship, they would almost always fight because of Salle’s relationship with Don. Neo never admitted that he was jealous of Don but he clearly was and Salle just ignored it and it was one of the reasons Neo broke up with Salle.
“Hey.” Don simply said as he acknowledge the presence of Neo.
“You’re here.” Neo said with his unintentional dead pan tone that made Don slightly uncomfortable.
“He’s here with me.” Salle remained his arm on Neo’s waist.
“I’m just here as a friend, no more no less.” Don said, in defense. Neo raised his brow. “You’re too defensive, Don. Relax.” Don could not help but sigh.
“He’s not mine so he’s all yours.” Neo smiled and break away from Salle’s grip.
Neo went inside the event hall and searched for Salle’s younger sister, Cess.
“Neo, you’re here.” Addie walked up to Neo with a small plate filled with marshmallows drizzled with chocolate fondue. “Is there a gathering for everyone who had a crush on Salle?”
Neo narrowed his eyes. He knew fully well that Addie had a crush on his former boyfriend but he just did not see Addie as a threat. Maybe that was because Addie knew better than going for Salle. He still knows that she’s secretly hoping Salle would like her back but it’s not her top priority.
“Hilarious. Cess invited Mia actually but Mia sent me instead because she got chicken pox. I think she did it because she just wanted me and Salle to have some closure.”
“Or because she has chicken pox.” Addie smiled and shrugs. “Grab some food and let’s eat.”
Neo did not feel like eating but he kind of needed to since he has not eaten the moment he woke up. To be really honest, he was nervous in seeing his former boyfriend and being surrounded by his family is not helping. Sometimes he would hang out with Cess in Katipunan because of Mia but that does not affect him at all. He got pasta and a brownie for dessert and followed Addie to the table where Cess was sitting.
“Kuya Neo, you’re here.” Cess’s tone was confused yet excited at the same time.
“Mia has chicken pox so I’m her replacement.” Neo chuckled, meekly.
“Oh no, Mia.” Cess pursed her lips.
“She’s quarantined and we contacted Arem.” Cess raised her brow. Arem was actually a new friend so she did not expect Neo to rely on him. “Anyway, have you seen Kuya? Hindi pa siya bumabalik eh. The bouquet and the garter will be thrown soon. I want to know if Kuya’s gonna be married soon.”
Neo laughed at how cute Cessie was. “He’s outside with Don.”
“Is he still smoking?”
Neo shrugged. “Perhaps?”
“His lungs would suffer. Kuya talaga.” Cess looked worried yet irritated.
“I share your sentiments. We fought on my way here actually.”
“What’s new.” Addie commented. Her mouth was filled with several marshmallows.
“How many can you get in there?” Neo asked in disgust and awe.
“Hm.” Addie stopped to think. She slowly inserted another marshmallow in her mouth. “Chubby bunny?”
Neo just laughed and Cess did as well as she whipped her camera open and photographed Addie.
“Ma-choke ka nyan, Addie.” The three turned to the voice. It was Salle and Don.
“Where did you go, Kuya? Why do you guys look haggard?” Cess asked. The two looked like they just had sex. Their hair was a mess and they were panting like crazy. Salle, sheepishly, scratched the back of his head and he met eyes with Neo. Neo was unamused. He has a slight inkling on what had happened and that was pretty far from what had actually happened.
After Neo left…
“Paano kayo magbabati niyan, Salle? Pinalala mo lang sitwasyon.” Don remarked as he shared a cigarette with the archer.
“You’re here with me naman talaga. I invited you to be my plus one.”
Don shook his head. “That’s the point, Salle. You could have just said Cess invited me or I was a wedding crasher.”
Salle laughed. “I was honest though.”
“It’s mean but a white lie won’t hurt, Salle.” Don inhaled slowly and handed the cigarette to Salle.
“This has been in your lips and then mine. Are we indirectly making out right now?” Salle teased. Don turned red and glared at his friend, regretting that he was one instantly. “I’m joking.” Salle sucked smoke from his cigarette and threw it on the ground, accidentally hitting a bird.
It was a black raven and Salle and Don never knew that it would exist in the area but it was there anyways. It got mad and started attacking Salle. Don tried to drive it away but all he got was a tiny scratch. The two took cover and ran towards the event hall and closed the door before the raven could even enter.
“Are you alright?” Don asked. Salle nodded. “No harm done. Let’s clean you up before we go to Cess.”
The groom and the bride are now in the center of the hall with a garter in the male’s hand and a bouquet of blue roses in the female’s. Instead of throwing the garter, it had become a game wherein all bachelors were on the dance floor and were tasked to pass it among themselves until the music stops.
Evidently, no one wanted to be married soon since the men would pass the garter faster than a beat of the heart. It was an intense game and Neo was sweating but as soon as the garter landed on his palm, the music stopped. His eyes widened and he immediately looked at Salle who was standing directly in front of him. Salle looked shocked at first but chuckled afterwards. It was the bride’s turn. The girls clustered together and the bride turned and threw the bouquet backwards. It was Cess who caught the flower, which made Neo slightly relieved and Salle slightly annoyed.
There was a chair placed in the middle of the dance floor. Cess took a seat, a slight giggle escaped from her lips. Neo could not help but chuckle as well. “So are we like gonna marry each other now?” Neo asked.
Cess shrugged. “Maybe we’ll marry soon but probably not with each other.”
Cess inserted her foot in the white garter and the people started shouting higher. Neo slowly brought it higher but the higher he gets, the louder the people yells. He reached Cess’s thigh. Even though, they were practically family, Cess felt a bit uncomfortable. Not because it felt intimate and disgusting but it was because of Neo, who was clearly embarrassed.
“Gago, subukan mo pang itaas yan!” Neo heard Salle shout from the crowd. His face was terrifying that Don stepped an inch away from him. Neo stopped and put his hand up which made Cessie laugh. The crowd cheered and went on with whatever weddings do. Cess and Neo went to their table where Salle was still seething and Don and Addie were just feasting on marshmallows, ignoring Salle.
“Inenjoy pa ni gago.” Salle spat. Cess smirked. “You’re just jealous, Kuya, because Neo doesn’t touch you like that anymore.”
Don and Addie choked on their marshmallow and tried to hold back their laughter. Neo was completely red by this point and Salle was shocked by his sister’s remark. “Cess, kanino mo nakuha yan ha?”
A few months earlier…
“May tiramisu pa kaya sa fridge?” Cessie asked as she stood after a few hours of reviewing for her finals. Her Kuya has been in his peak these past few days since he’s on an earlier break than Cess, which means more time with Neo.
Cess peeked from her bedroom to check if anyone was in the hall. When she saw the coast was clear, she headed to the kitchen. She saw Salle sitting on the counter, his green eyes locked with blue ones. The brunette had his hand on Salle’s lap. Before Cess could even see anything, she bolted to her room and locked herself in there for a few more hours before checking the kitchen once again. She is incredibly happy for her brother to be in a relationship with a brilliant young man but she is not willing to witness his brother and one of her closest friend making love on the kitchen counter.
The day started to end. The sky was a beautiful shade of purple, pink, and orange. There were only a few more people left in the hall and it strangely became a bachelor party for the groom but instead of a stripper it was his wife. Almost everybody was either tipsy or drunk. Salle had lost his black suit jacket and had unbuttoned his shirt halfway. Neo was incredibly quiet but had nearly ten bottles of beer already. Addie and Cess has tried almost every ladies drink offered and now they are doing another round of everything and started rating and reviewing the alcoholic mixed beverages. Don was probably the most sober since he is the designated driver. He decided on that the moment he saw Neo with Salle that afternoon. He went outside on the balcony. The air was fresh and it would be so bad to ruin it with the smell of cigarette smoke. However, Don unconsciously got a smoke from his pocket and had it lit. If he could not damage his liver as much as those guys are doing, he could at least damage his lungs.
Don met Salle while he was smoking in Intramuros. It was the end of a hellish day, which was everyday of Don’s life, and he just had to relieve himself with a stick or two. And perhaps, even one bottle of ice cold beer. Salle was there with some friends that Don don’t particularly see anymore. He was quietly sitting on his table drinking and smoking when Salle came up to him and invited him over to their table. Don had five bottles and finished an entire pack of cigarettes that night and he did not have to spend a single peso for it. It was apparently Salle’s birthday that time and he “scored” as far as Don could remember. He also got his nickname “Mappy” during that time when Salle was subtly drunk flirting with him which Don did not mind. At least, it did not end with both of them naked in a sheet in an unknown room. It actually ended with a text asking if Don arrived home safe and that’s the moment Don thought he could be his man.
However, Salle never saw him that way after that day.
Don never shed a tear for what could have been. Maybe it was because he exhausted his tear ducts from crying over requirements and academic work or it was because he was strong and wise enough to let Salle go and perhaps he would find someone better. Of course, he would often think it was the latter.
After a few minute of fresh and cool air mixed with addictive pollution, Don decided to head inside, just to see Salle and Neo missing. He asked Cess and Addie of Salle’s whereabouts but they have no idea they were even gone in the first place. He looked around for the two and finally found them beside the pool. He did not dare to go nearer.
Neo and Salle were stripped to their boxer briefs and dipped themselves in the pool. The entire venue is owned by the family of Salle so limit does not exist in Salle’s world at the moment. Don can only see the back of Neo’s head and Salle’s face a few centimeters away from the guy. Don sighed and turned to head to Salle’s car. He has the archer’s keys since that afternoon and drove around the villa for a while to cool down. He did not care if it was a waste of gas since he’ll be paying for it later anyway.
Cess left Addie on the table and headed to the girl’s restroom. The event hall was hot and humid that she could feel her makeup melting. She could hardly walk straight and she was cheering herself on just so she could reach the bathroom in one piece. As she was retouching her makeup, she wondered where her older brother went. She shrugged as she put powder on her face, and dabbed a small amount of red tint on her lips. The moment she was contented with her masterpiece, she scouted the venue to look for his brother. She checked the parking lot, maybe he was just abusing his lungs again. When she arrived in the parking lot, she was partly confused as to why Salle’s car was no where in sight. Did her Kuya leave her? Is Neo and Mappy with him?
“Are they-?” Cess gasped and ran back inside. She bumped into Addie who was heading to the pool.
“Watch where you’re going, Cess. You’ll cause destruction to your surroundings.” Addie half-heartedly laughed.
“Addie, Neo, Mappy, and my Kuya are gone! They left us here. They are probably having a-“ Cess turned red. Just thinking about it made her pity Neo and Don for falling into Salle’s seductive trap.
“What are you talking about, Cess?” Addie wanted to laugh but Cess looked really concerned. “Neo and Salle are by the pool.”
“But Kuya’s car is not there.” The two girl’s eyes turned wide as they rushed to the poolside. Salle and Neo are sitting on two lounge chairs, facing each other. They are clothe by only their wet boxer briefs.
“Kuya, your car is missing!” Cessie exclaimed the moment she caught her breath. Salle stood up suddenly. “What?” He wore his white shirt, buttoning it half way. As he slid his legs in his slacks, he asked, “Where’s Mappy?”
“He was looking for you earlier.” Cess said.
“He’s currently MIA.” Addie added. Salle calmed down. He kind of know what is happening. He sat down and grabbed his phone from his coat’s pocket. Don’s number was on Salle’s speed dial, considering he pester him almost every hour. It turned worst when he and Neo broke up. After a few rings, Don answered.
“Hello?” Don said on the other line.
“Are you out with the car, Mappy?”
“…No.” Mappy replied, hesitantly.
“Gago, di nga?” Salle’s heart started to beat fast.
“Joke lang. Yeah, I’m currently driving so kung ayaw mo kong mamatay ibababa mo to.” Mappy uttered, monotonously.
“Go back here. Why are you driving my car ba?”
“Practice.” Don joked, which did not earn a laugh from Salle. “Punta ako ng Jollibee. May gusto kayo?”
“Andaming pagkain dito, Mappy, what the fuck?” Salle laughed but felt really bad for abandoning his best friend for a steamy moment with his ex in the pool.
“I’m craving Jollibee. Will be back in a while. Ciao.” Don said.
“Adios.” Salle shook his head as he ended the call. “My car is with Mappy. No worries.”
Don did not want to go back but he has to. Don’s budget was destroyed but he needed that Jollibee kiddie meal and that ice cream sundae. Don was a few hours away from the venue that he had time to think about Salle. Don hated it. Thank God there was no traffic but it was nearly midnight and he has to drive Neo to Katipunan, Addie, Cess, and Salle to Taft before he heads home. Don was tired. He hopes that he won’t fall asleep on the way back to Manila.
It was 12:30 when Don arrived back to the wedding place. Salle, Neo, Cess, and Addie were already sitting outside in the curb.
“Finally, Mappy.” Salle said as he carried her sleeping sister, who was leaning against his leg, to the back of the car. Neo and Addie sat next to each other with Cessie in the back while Salle sat shotgun. “It’s late and everyone is tired. I suggest we crash sa vacation house namin nina Cess. It’s pretty near lang.”
“I can’t, Salle.” Don said. “I have requirements due this Monday and I have not started yet.”
“I’ll help you with that.”
“Salle, you’re a business student.”
“I have a friend who can help you.” Salle patted Don’s back. “No worries. Besides, overnight lang. Let’s go first thing in the morning.”
Don scratched his head and started driving. “Turo mo nalang saan.”
It was not far, to be fair. It was actually located within the vicinity of the wedding place. Salle carried his sleeping sister to her bed. He carefully undressed her and grabbed a night dress in her drawer. They place clothes there for emergency. He went back to the living room where the three stayed. “Sorry we only have three rooms here.”
“It’s fine. I can sleep here.” Don said, lying on the big couch he was sitting on.
“No way, man. Mosquitoes would feast on you here.” Salle pushed Don out of the couch. “You can sleep in my room tonight.”
“I’m not sleeping with you, Salle.” Don frowned. Addie grabbed the man with glasses up. “We can be roommates then?”
“The room is just down the hall.” Salle said as he placed his arm around Neo. “Pero I’ll lend you guys clothes muna.” Salle quietly entered Cess’s room once again to get an oversized shirt and gartered shorts for Addie. He went out, handed it to Addie and grabbed some of his own clothes in his cabinet for Neo and Don.
Once they got their change of clothes, they all headed to their bedrooms and called it a night. Or at least most of them did. Salle was still up, smoking in his balcony while Neo was on Salle’s bed wearing Salle’s boxer shorts. Salle always keep new pairs in their houses just in case someone comes over. After what had happened in the pool yesterday, Salle had conflicting feelings. He tried to get over Neo. He really did and he knew Don was suffering from his pestering because of it but that was an intense moment back then and it felt good being it Neo’s first.
Salle was not the only person awake in the house with a million thoughts running in his mind. Most of it were about his academics and his destroyed body clock but Don was panicking and trying to contact Benjo. He presses the phone on his ear. It keeps on ringing but Benjo seemed to be busy. Don went inside the bathroom and started calling him again. He started pacing in the small cramped bathroom.
“Come on. Pick up.”
It took him three more times before Benjo answered.
“Kung hindi ka lang talaga cute, Don, uupakan kita.” Benjo grumbled on the other line.
“I’m sorry.” Don sighed and slid down on the floor, his back pressed on the cold white tiles of the bathroom. “I don’t know who else to call.”
“Bakit ba?” It did not come of as irritated to Don. Perhaps it was but knowing Benjo, it probably was not. “May nang-away ba sayo?”
“No.” Don whimpered. “I’m just sad.”
“Gago. Where are you?”
“Anong ginagawa mo diyan?” Benjo exclaimed. Don could hear noises from the other line. “Bakit ang ingay?”
“Sorry. It’s dark kasi and I’m looking for my shirt and keys.” The red headed boy said as he switched the lights on. “That’s better. Okay. Text me your address, sunduin kita.”
“What? No.” Don suddenly stood up, which made him dizzy. “You can’t just barge in here. Besides anlayo mo.”
“No. I’m in Cavite with my dog.”
“I take my dog out on dates, Don. What do you think of me, a soulless freak?” Don raised his eyebrow. Benjo was a weirdo badass, that’s what he think he is. “Fuck my shirt. I’m going.”
“Gago. I don’t know where I am.”
“Kinidnap ka ba? Sabihin mo lang, Don. Magdadala ako ng backup.”
“No. I’m with Salle, actually.”
Don could hear Benjo sit down. “Ay kaya pala. Nanggising pa ang gago.”
“You don’t understand, Benj.” Don breathed heavily. “I’m with Salle and Neo.”
“Itext mo nga location mo. I’ll go there.”
“I just need someone to talk to, okay? You don’t need to inconvenience yourself.” Don slid back down again. “At least not for me.”
“Bahala ka. Ako na magresearch. I’ll text Salle na punta ako diyan.”
“Don’t you dare, Benj.” Don was trying to stop the tear from escaping his eyes. “Hindi na kita kakausapin again. Ever.”
And there was silence.
“Hanggang when kayo diyan?” Benjo asked.
“Later. Once everyone’s awake, we’ll head home.” Don weakly answered.
“Promise me you’ll drop by my house later then, okay?”
“Nagiging Salle ka na.”
“Wag ako, Benj.”
“Dali na. Daan ka lang sa bahay. Maaga rin luwas ko. Pagluto kita.”
Don sighed. Maybe he would feel better if Benjo was around. “Fine.”
“It’s a date then.”
“Love you. Tulog na ako ha.”
“Matulog ka na.” Don was waiting for the call to drop but it did not happen. “Hello?”
“Love you nga.”
“Thank you. Sige, bye na.” Don dropped the call and smiled to himself. Maybe Benj could help.
It was Neo who was the first one to get up. Inches away from his face was his former boyfriend, Salle. He never imagined he would be able to see this view again. His cold hand crept on Salle’s face which woke the archer.
“Good morning.” Salle croaked. Neo felt like he was in a dream. He pinched Salle’s cheek, which made him jolt. “What did you do that for, gago?”
“I’m not dreaming.” Neo whispered, audible enough for Salle to hear. Salle’s face softened and laughed. He cupped Neo’s face and planted a soft quick kiss on his lips. “Good morning, love.”
“Kuya!” Cess barged inside Salle’s bedroom with her night gown. “Where’s Mappy and Addie?” Salle groaned and dialed up Don’s number. It took two rings before someone answers.
“Mappy’s phone, Addie speaking.”
“San kayo?” Salle asked, climbing out off bed to grab a shirt.
“We’re just getting some breakfast. Will be back in a sec.” Addie sounded like she had a good night sleep. “Oh and Mappy said that you’ll drive daw mamaya since you’re not drunk anymore.”
“I’m hangover sabihin mo.”
“Excuses mo daw. Di ka nahahang over sa sobrang sanay na ng katawan mo sa alak.” Addie laughed. “What do you guys want? I’ll get tapa, Mappy.”
“Guys, ano raw gusto nyong breakfast?” Salle covered the microphone of his phone to ask his twin and boyfriend.
“Starbucks.” Neo answered, plainly, toying with his phone.
“I’ll get tapa, Kuya.”
“Okay. Dalawang tapa and Starbucks daw si Neo.” Salle told Addie.
“Malayo Starbucks, Neo!” Don exclaimed from the background.
“Neo, malayo raw.”
“Kahit ano nalang.”
“Kahit ano nalang daw.”
“Neo, uuwian kita ng tae ng kalabaw. Umayos ka.”
“I’ll get tapa nalang din.” Neo mumbled.
“Okay noted yan. The delivery time would be around 30 minutes po at may delivery charge na 40 pesos.” Addie joked over the phone.
“Anong delivery charge? Dala nyo nga sasakyan ko eh.”
“Free na daw delivery charge.” Addie laughed. “Sige sayang load. Bye.”
It actually did take the two to go back within 30 minutes. Addie joked that if they were even a minute late, they would pay for the whole thing. Salle paid for the whole thing though. Cess brewed coffee for Don, Salle, and Neo. Neo’s coffee, however, did not look or even taste remotely like coffee at all after adding sugar and milk in it. Salle and Don just drank it plain. Everyone ate in peace and once everyone was done, Salle and Cess started to wash the dishes while everyone started to gather their things and place them in Salle’s car. The caretaker of Salle and Cessie’s vacation home would be coming over in a while to clean up so they could leave their dirty clothes over for laundry. A few minutes later, the group were ready to go back to Manila. Salle was in the driver seat and beside him was Neo. Cess, Don, and Addie stayed at the back. While they were still in Tagaytay, their windows were down and Salle’s music blasting on the radio. Everyone was energetic and singing along. It felt like they were in a road trip movie looking for themselves in the big world. Half of it was true, though.
“Salle, can you drop me off kay Benj?” Don asked. “On the way naman diba?”
“Why are you going there? I thought you have things to accomplish?”
“I can borrow Benj’s laptop naman eh.”
“Let him be, Salle.” Neo said. “Daan ka namin.”
Salle frowned at the man but let it pass. The entire trip was silent after that.
Don arrived at Benjo’s house. It was not Salle’s villa but it still looked intimidating. Don took a deep breath, he can’t believe he is doing this. He and Benj hanged out a couple of times before but they were never alone. He pressed the doorbell twice and waited. After a while, he rang it once again.
“Coming.” A familiar voice from inside yelled. Don stepped back. The large gate opened and revealed Benjo with only a plain red shorts on. He leaned on the cement wall on his left, smirked and uttered alluringly, “Good morning, gorgeous.”