“So may drink promo si Hxppy Lxmon na 50% off yung second drink ng ka-date mo and may kasamang payong na gusto ni Cess. G?”
“OK lang, magkita tayo ulit sa UPTC?”
“‘De wait, I’m coming to pick you up na.”
Phil’s break was at 10 in the morning to 2:30PM, and he knew he should be studying for that Kas 2 long exam next meeting. Still, his and Salle’s dates were growing more frequent than ever, and while Phil felt bad for hanging out with him more often than Mia or Neo, he couldn’t just drag them away from their studies now.
It was getting harder and harder to hang out with them, really, but hanging out with Salle made up for it. Recharging for extroverts was always something of a stretch when you had introvert (and really, really busy) friends, so he was grateful for the attention.
A black sedan rolled to a smooth stop in front of AS steps, and Phil smiled to himself. The hazard lights were on and the window rolled down to let Salle wink at him from the driver’s seat. He tried to ignore the looming mess in the backseat behind him—Salle and Cess’s messes all bunched together in an organised mess, with Salle’s letterman perched neatly on top like garnish.
He hopped down the stairs to hear someone gasp “hala ang gwapo ng grab driver ni kuya”, and Salle was already snickering as Phil got into the car.
“Hi kuya Grab driver,” Phil said cheerfully, “Sa UPTC po.”
“May ime-meet ka ba?” Salle replied easily, turning his eyes to the road as an amused smile played at his lips.
“Opo. Friend ko siya.” He wasn’t quite sure why the way that word rolled off his tongue didn’t feel… right.
“Ayos.” Salle grinned. “Gwapings ba siya?”
“Mm, super.” Phil nodded, leaning against the door with an easy smile. “Tapos mabait, pero medyo mahilig pagsamantalahan ang kabi-kabilang promo ngayong Valentine’s season.”
“Gags,” Salle burst out laughing, and he punched Phil’s shoulder lightly as the two of them drove out towards Katipunan. “Admit it naman, it’s super convenient.”
“True.” The other young man chuckled, though he winced and hissed at the sight of the traffic along the road. “Ew. Gusto mo talaga bang pagtiyagaan yung traffic? Di ka ba male-late?”
“Nah. Haba ng break ko.” Salle shrugged, honking a motorbike that cut in front of their car suddenly. He lazily threw the rider a rude gesture, but the motorist was already speeding away from them between the cars practically parked along the highway. “Gagi, sana madisgrasya ka.”
“Relax, Salle.” Phil sighed, squeezing his bicep, and Salle threw him a sidelong grin.
“Pero ayos din na stuck tayo sa traffic.” He said, “Mahaba-habang samahan kasama yung cute sa front passenger seat.”
“Pag ako, na-late sa Kas 2, ikaw sisisihin ko.” Phil giggled, and Salle made a show of rolling his eyes.
“Weh. Ikaw, bothered sa pagiging late?”
“Sige na, sige na,” Phil laughed, his cheeks turning pink in embarrassment. “Ako na laging late.”
“Bagsak mo na lang prof mo sa evaluation thing niyo at the end of the sem.” Salle replied, “Grabe naman kasi kung maka-overtime. Akala mo nagtuturo nang maayos.”
Phil waggled a finger at him at that, but didn’t deny anything.
They easily slipped into light, aimless conversation about anything and everything—‘bumalik yung tanginang energy gap but it gets faster with every energy word shet’—until somehow, eventually, they managed to get into a parking slot.
“Ok, saan ba dito yung Hxppy Lxmon?” Salle asked as they got out of the car, and Phil gave him a thumbs-up.
“Alam ko kung saan. Tara.”
“And then lunch. I haven’t eaten yet, grabe.” Salle sighed, slinging his arm around Phil’s easily, and the young man gaped at him.
“Tapos iinom tayo ng malamig? Kumain ka muna, Salle!”
“Sure thing, mom.” Salle drawled, and Phil answered with a smack on his arm, rolling his eyes.
“Masamang tamaan ng sikmura. Mag-ingat ka rin nga minsan! Kaya madalas magwala sina Cess at Neo sa’yo eh.”
At that Salle sobered up, scratching his cheek. “Yeah… uh. Siguro nga.”
Phil didn’t seem to mind his hesitation, and dragged him off to eat.
“OK, so ulit lang ha—dapat same drink tayo?”
“Yeah, promo mechanics. Parang may share-share something sila na ewan.”
Phil looked at the menu longingly, and poked it. “Pero yung… Milo rocksalt and cheese…”
Salle looked down at the menu. Truth be told, he wasn’t a regular at the stall—Cess was the one more into it, really—but she had been so busy as of late she couldn’t get the drinks she wanted. Then there was the umbrella, too, and he had wanted to give her something to look forward to after her hell week.
That was all it was, he kept telling himself, but he knew the sound of his own voice when he was lying.
“Edi sige ganito. Bili ako ng three drinks, yung sa promo yung gusto ni Cess tapos mag-extra tayo ng Milo. Ayos ba?”
“Hala, OK lang ba?” Phil looked at him with wide eyes, and Salle tried not to imagine a tail wagging behind him, with the way he looked so… hopeful. “Diba dagdag-gastos?”
Yes, Salle wanted to say. “Nah.” He ended up replying.
He also began to wonder what else he could do to keep Phil looking like that.
“Kasi Cess is super stressed na rin so I kinda want to give her something nice para maging happy siya.” Salle said, rubbing the back of his neck, and a tiny voice sneered in his head.
Wow, that excuse sounded paper thin.
“Grabe, ang bait mong kuya talaga.” Phil’s voice was soft, and Salle felt even softer. “Minsan, gusto ko rin maging ganyan para kina Libby pero ang hirap, ‘lam mo yun?” He rubbed his arm awkwardly, and the line shuffled forward.
Salle blinked at him owlishly, and Phil’s cheeks coloured pink.
“Ang lalayo kasi nila.” He says, after a long moment of awkward silence. “And ok, wala kasi akong pera.” He laughed awkwardly, “Hanggang combo meals lang ako sa kantunan. Nakakahiya namang manlibre ‘dun, diba?”
“No.” Salle replied, “I, uh. Matutuwa ako kahit canton lang while standing up.”
Phil smiled at that, soft as ever, and it made Salle think of marshmallows. And soft, floating rock salt and cheese.
“Um, sir? Kayo na po?”
Salle jumped at the sound of the young lady at the cash register, and quickly listed off their ordered items.
Kayo na po, she said. Why couldn’t he get that thought out of his mind?
Later on, Salle and Phil walked together back to Salle’s car, three drinks in hand—Phil’s was halfway finished, the young man sporting a proud cream cheese-Milo moustache, and the other two in Salle’s hands, plus a bright, friendly yellow umbrella hanging from his wrist.
“Hindi ako makakapag-drive ng ganito.” Salle laughed, but he let Phil take the car keys hanging from his belt. “Phil, tulong naman oh.”
“Ladies first.” Phil winked at him, unlocking the car and opening the front door at him.
“Aw, ang sweet mo naman, kuya!” Salle pitched his voice in that tone he reserved for mocking Cess, and Phil burst out laughing, his Milo drink swirling in its plastic cup dangerously. “Wuy, yung inumin mo, Phil!”
He quickly put Cess’s drink down in the cupholder by the driver’s seat, and he shot his hand out to steady Phil’s drink.
His hand wrapped around his warmly, and Salle realised how well they fit together. Phil was by no means small, but Salle wasn’t, either.
Yet there they were, fingers lacing together on top of collecting condensing water on the side of a feeble plastic cup, and some Milo dripped over the edge and between their fingers.
“Ay, sorry!” Phil gasped, and quickly steadied himself. The both of them fell silent, gaping at each other with quiet alarm, and Salle finally pulled his hand away from Phil’s.
“Uh…” He began, and tore his eyes away from the tall young man. “Ayos lang. Tara na, let’s go before you get late.”
“Um, okay.” Phil got into the seat next to Salle, and the rest of the drive was oddly silent, and awkward.
The Milo left a sticky sensation on his fingers, but the memory of their fingers interlaced stuck even harder.