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stay 'til the a.m.

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12:45 AM is already a terrible time to stay awake but for some reason, despite the same slow mellow music that keeps on playing through his earphones, Neo can’t sleep. He was supposed to be asleep an hour ago, but here he is—staring at the dark ceiling, wide awake as ever.

No matter how long he stared at practically nothing, no matter how hard he tried to make anything out of the darkness, no matter how hard he tried to even count sheep in his head—nothing is working.

The gentle strumming of the guitar begins to irritate him. Eventually, Neo presses the Pause button, presses Back a few times, and finally, removes his earphones. He doesn’t bother locking his phone, since it would automatically do that after a few seconds. With the noise finally gone, Neo sighs in relief.

The air around him is starting to become cool enough for him. Neo tries to close his eyes again—feeling sleepy and tired just from trying to sleep. As soon as he concludes not to listen to music before he sleeps, Neo finally loses the will to think of anything.

He lets himself go to the feeling of comfort and peace—the feeling of strong firm arms hugging him from behind, never letting him go.

Finally, he was asleep.


 

It hasn’t been too long when all of a sudden, Neo’s phone buzzes loudly under his pillow as it vibrates.

At first, Neo decides that he would just check the notification some time later when it is not ungodly and when he is thinking properly enough to reply with a decent message.

(He would rather not to do the same mistake he did last time. It was a good thing that Don had been understanding, and immediately realized that Neo had misread the question, which resulted to the latter answering differently than what Don expected. If it were Mia or Phil, they would never spare his life and would tease him nonstop.)

However, it is the thought that someone messaged him at this time of the day that made Neo worried. Maybe one of his friends needs to talk to him immediately about something important. Maybe they need some advice from him, though Neo isn’t really the best person to be seeking advice from.

After a few more debates in his mind, Neo finally reaches for his phone. The brightness temporary blinds him for a few moments, but his eyes are quick to adjust immediately. He sees the notification in his lock screen and notices that it was a message from someone sent via Messenger. As he checks who it was it from, he almost drops his phone unto his face.

Seeing the green heart and the heart-with-an-arrow emojis is enough for him to know who it was from.

What the hell?

Then, Neo reads the preview of the message:

“Tigilan mo na ang pag-scroll sa TL mo at matulog ka na. You’re…”

Neo becomes even more confused. As he unlocks his phone, he notices all the other chat heads are still on. It is then he finally realizes that because he forgot to close all the other chat heads and the Wi-fi connection from his phone, other people might have seen that he was still online at that time of the day.

And the fact he noticed it, of all people, somehow makes Neo guilty. Knowing that overly dramatic idiot, he definitely must have been worried about him. And Neo doesn’t really like making other people worry about him, simply because he doesn’t want to be a bother to them.

But the real question is: why is that overly dramatic idiot still awake?

Neo decides to press his chat head to read the entire message:

“Tigilan mo na ang pag-scroll sa TL mo at matulog ka na. You’re just making me worried.” There was that laughing-out-loud emoji at the end of the first sentence.

 Initially, Neo expects it to be a huge block of text. Though surprisingly, it is just a pretty short message, probably because the idiot was expecting an instant reply from Neo.

And that is what Neo will give.

“Excuse me,” Neo writes in lowercase, not even bothering adding any other punctuation marks besides periods and dashes. “Nakalimutan ko lang i-close ang Messenger sa phone ko.”

As soon as he sends his reply, Neo closes his conversation with Salle, leaving his chat head open and floating at the side of Neo’s home screen. He decides to test and see which will happen first: Salle replying, or Neo falling asleep.

The winner, apparently, is the former. “Ahh…Eh, bakit ka gising ngayon?”

Neo sighs, as he mentally facepalms. Up until now, he still wonders how he ended up falling in-love with an idiot like him. “You messaged me, gago.

He can imagine Salle scoffing before the latter replies, “Sorry na! Did you even think about replying later?”

“Of course, I did. Kaya nga naisip ko mag-reply sa ‘yo kanina, ‘di ba?”

“Bakit?”

At first, Neo hesitates answering that question honestly. He doesn’t want to be the first to give in during his banters with Salle. But then again, it is almost 2 AM and Neo can easily reason out that he was too sleepy to even think about his replies in the first place.

“I thought something happened to you, and you decided to message me.” As soon as he sends the reply, Neo quickly writes a follow-up. “…or something.”

“You can just say that you were worried instead of being vague about it, you dork.”

Neo almost laughs, and he ends up sighing instead with an amused smile. He shakes his head in disbelief—Salle is an unbelievable guy full of surprises. He more or less never fails to entertain Neo.

“Shut up,” is the reply Neo decides to go with.

After a while, Salle still hasn’t replied, even if he had already seen Neo’s reply. It is either Salle couldn’t come up with a better reply or he had already forgotten that he hasn’t replied yet.

Salle is quite the forgetful person, though Neo is able to handle it regardless. From time to time, he has to remind Salle about the smallest tasks such as buying groceries or studying for an exam.

He also has to remind Salle that he genuinely loves him and trusts him with all his heart. (This being Neo’s fault, because he was used to expressing himself through actions rather than words. Actions speak louder than words, after all.)

As soon as he finds himself lost in his thoughts, his phone suddenly lights up and vibrates in his hand. Despite being half-asleep, Neo types in the pin and presses on Salle’s chat head with ease, as if it has always been doing the same routine from time to time.

“Neo.”

He blinks in surprise the moment he sees his name. He finds himself wide awake again, as he read the question that followed after.

"Before you sleep, what do you always think about first?"

Before I sleep, huh?

“My cat, of course,” Neo writes without any hesitation. After a while, the sad reaction pops under his message. He smirks triumphantly as he waits for Salle’s reply to come up.

“I. Am. Offended.” Salle sends those words one by one as three separate messages. Neo immediately covers his mouth to stop himself from laughing. Afterwards, Salle follows up with another message. “But, I can’t blame you. Coco is absolutely the sweetest and cutest little one ever.”

Neo smiles as he thinks about his dear pet. Coco is a white stray cat with some brown patches scattered around her body. Neo found her wandering the school grounds one time, and decided to adopt her. Since then, Coco became his little companion whenever Neo is at home. Whenever he feels sad, Neo just plays with her until they are both too tired. At this hour, Coco is sleeping peacefully in her small bed that Neo made for her (with a little help from Salle as well).

After a while, he isn’t sure on what he is supposed to say next. He stares blankly at Salle’s reply for a while, before he scrolls back up a bit to read their old conversations.

Most of his conversations with Salle vary from short greetings, long banters, complaints on school work, date plans, and more complaints. There was one point when Salle had been terribly frustrated about his thesis that he suddenly called Neo mid-conversation just to vent out his frustrations. Neo, knowing how Salle has so many responsibilities in his life both as a college student and an older brother, listened to him patiently as Salle continuously rambled how life is just horrible and unfair.

Eventually, Neo scrols down back to their most recent conversation. Salle hasn’t said anything yet, and Neo’s eyes are starting to get tired.

He looks at Salle’s message once again. He starts to rethink about the question carefully, his mind still surprisingly active and awake enough to properly evaluate things. What do I always think about before I go to sleep?

And then, he remembers.

That feeling.

So warm. So familiar.

Neo always thinks about that feeling every now and then before he goes to sleep. It has been too long since he and Salle last slept in the same bed together. And frankly, he misses it so much.

Slowly, he begins typing the letters to form that one word that carries such a special meaning. “You.”

He stares at his reply for a while. For a moment, he is certain that he has no plans in getting all sappy and romantic so late in the night. But then, he thinks: Fuck it.

He presses Send and patiently waits for Salle’s reply.

Only for it becoming a series of replies which includes jumbled capitalized letters, question marks, and exclamation points. Out of  Salle’s replies, the one that Neo can make out was,“OH MY GOD!!?!?!?!?!”.

Neo smirks to himself, amused from the turn of events. He can imagine Salle’s face turning red while being completely overwhelmed and embarrassed.

He sends his next message nonchalantly. “Ano?”

Neo, I swear to God–why are you like this!?” Salle replies in an instant. There are still some capitalized letters and too many exclamation points and question marks after that.

“What are you on about?” Neo asks, trying to remain cool and casual. He can only imagine Salle, his face fully red, trying to type his response properly without making any typos.

Finally, Salle’s reply pops up. “You are literally going to be the death of me. You should know that.”

Neo chuckles to himself. “I know, I know.”

“Pero, seryoso. Tunay ‘yon?”

The smirk on Neo’s face slowly turns into a smile as he types his response. “Oo. Hindi ako nagjo-joke, promise.”

“Aww, I am so touched right now.” Salle must be wearing that wide grin in his face, Neo thinks. “So, what? Does that mean that you missed me?”

Neo pouts upon reading the reply and rolls his eyes. If Salle thinks that he was being smooth and romantic in his last reply, he was actually being too cliché. But, he doesn’t have to know that.

If there is anything that Salle needs to know, it is the answer to his question. And the answer is that Neo does miss him.

“I miss you all the time,” Neo answers. “You should know that by now.”

It takes a minute or so for Salle’s reply to finally come. The guy must have freaked out from Neo’s last reply—and Neo can’t help but smirk to himself again. That is his plan, after all.

“Jesus Christ, Neo, it’s past 2 fucking AM, and yOURE DOING THIS TO ME!?!?!”

Neo practically giggles to himself as he reads the message.

Moments later, there is a follow-up message. “GOD I MISS YOU SO MUCH I CANT WAIT TO VISIT YOU SOON”

Neo smiles to himself. He can imagine what they would do if Salle comes over to his small apartment room again. Maybe, they might end up going outside instead and hang out. Though, he would love for them to just stay at home and relax. They can watch YouTube videos (maybe a random season of Buzzfeed Unsolved) or movies in Netflix. They can even play with Coco until they are too tired to keep up with her. And once they get too tired, they would end up sleeping next to each other, with Salle cuddling him. And Neo wouldn’t worry about anything else, because he feels safe around Salle’s arms. He always does.

“I’ll be waiting,” Neo replies, still smiling at his phone’s screen. “But, you would have to do a lot of cleaning when you get here.”

“Can’t you at least clean your own room? Kahit one time man lang?”

“No, and no.” Neo snickers to himself as he presses the Send button.

He can hear Salle sighing exasperatedly at the other end once he receives his reply. “You’re unbelievable.”

Neo smiles to himself, typing his next reply with mischief with a hint of genuine love. “Love you, too.”

Then, he receives a notification that Salle reacted to his message with the heart-eyes emoji. Eventually, Salle’s pops up. “Now, go to sleep. You need it.”

Somehow, Neo can see Salle smiling at him. He isn’t simply giving off a smile. It is the smile that softens his features, the one where you can see the fondness in his eyes—that one smile that never fails to make Neo’s heart skip a beat. Even just now, Neo feels his heart skip a beat just from reading Salle’s message.

He ends up smiling instead, and he begins to type his reply. “You too. ‘Wag kang magpuyat, ha?”

“Opo, opo~” is Salle’s teasing reply.

And then, another message from him pops up. This time, it doesn’t sound teasing like the previous reply.

“I love you, Neo,” it reads, with the blue heart and the two hearts emojis at the end.

And Neo feels like he is falling hard for Salle all over again. God, why is he like this?

Thus, he decides to send an identical message, but he uses the green heart emoji instead of the blue heart. “I love you too, Salle.”

The conversation ends there, Neo knows. So, he turns off his phone and places it under his pillow, before lying down on his bed. As he rests his head on his pillow and tucks himself with his blanket, he begins to feel sleepy again. This time, it doesn’t take him a minute before he finally closes his eyes.

In his sleep, he feels strong firm arms hugging him from behind, keeping him safe and warm for the night.

But, that is only just a dream.