When I'm with you home is never too far
There are a lot of things he misses about Vancouver. It is home. No matter how much traveling his family did, their feet taking them from the busy streets of Seoul to Batangas to New York, and all the way to Toronto. Mark growing up in the spaces of countries, fitting himself, imprinting his name in each one.
But Vancouver is home.
Sometimes, he misses the late-night talks he has with his mother. Mark loves her maybe a little too much. There is no doubt about that fact. His mother read him the first story Mark remembers dreaming about. They would talk about the latest red velvet cake recipe she would like to try. Mark would tell her stories about his classmates in middle school, and the new Jordans everyone is hyping about during lunch breaks.
It is the same way Mark asks his mom about his interest in going back to the Philippines to study—unhurried, curious.
“ Do you remember your childhood in the Philippines?” Mark asks as he peels the bananas they will be using for Turon.
“I remember bits and pieces. Like the specific candy, I would get from the tindahan near our house. I wish I could exactly piece together the time I had there. It wasn’t much but it’s still a part of me,” his mom answers, patting Mark’s hair.
“Do you miss it?” He adds.
She stops preparing the wrapper for a moment. “Of course.”
“Even if you barely had any memories there?”
“You make a home out of whatever it is that you have and wherever it is that you are. I was there and yes it wasn’t for long but it was special to me. My whole family was with me. We were healthy and no one was sick. I don’t exactly remember the specifics but I do remember the feeling. I was happy just as happy as I am right now here with you. So, yeah I miss it.” She smiles.
“I think I’d like to study there.” He blurts out.
“In the Philippines?”
Mark feels his hand shake a little. He doesn’t think it’s out of nervousness nor fear but something akin to excitement. “Yeah. A university reached out to me. Basketball scholarship.”
“Yeah. I know. It sounds insane. I was just thinking you know. It’s my home too. Besides, the university is super competitive with their basketball program. I figured I’d give it a shot.”
“That’s amazing.” She says, wiping her hands and hugging him.
“ I thought you’d be mad or something.” Mark exhales.
“Why would you even think that?”
“Haha. I don’t know.”
“I’m very proud of you and I’m very touched that you want to go back to my home,” she adds, still holding on to him.
“Are you scared?” She asks.
“I’m—no. I’m not scared.”
“Don’t be. I have a feeling you’ll make a home for yourself there as well.”
At kung meron man na isang bagay na hindi miss ni Mark about Vancouver… it’s the weather, definitely.
Vancouver and its cloudy mornings. Vancouver and its rainy afternoons. Mark has never been the one to enjoy strolling around but he does get jealous whenever he sees pictures of cousins in Los Angeles in their tank tops reveling in the sun’s warmth.
Mark literally meets the sun in the form of Lee Donghyuck.
“Okay, cut!” Donghyuck shouts sa likod ng camera. He’s wearing a cap and shades that hide his eyes.
“Mark. Kung gusto mong maging convincing sa audience you need to relax. Respectfully, mukha kang natatae.” Donghyuck points out of frustration. Renjun snorts beside him. He thinks Jeno would side with him but no, he finds the other laughing as well.
“Hyuck. I’m not a model. I don’t even know why I agreed to this in the first place?” Mark tries to wipe the sweat that has been pooling on his shoulders. He’s wearing a tank top and shorts all exposed sa ilalim ng init ng araw. Pero ang totoo it didn’t really take a lot of convincing for Donghyuck to get Mark to agree sa pakulo niya for his project.
“Ako may idea ako kung bakit!” Renjun snides.
“Renjun, no.” Jeno immediately adds.
“Anyway. As I was saying. 25% ng grade namin ni Jeno to, Canada so please, pakiusap, ngiti juseyo.” Hyuck says clasping his hands together.
They are in the last few weeks of first year at nagsisimula nang nagsisilapitan ang mga deadlines para sa kanilang final outputs at submissions. Thankful si Mark at natapat ang basketball season sa first semester. Most of his classes sa 2nd sem has been just kicking his ass.
“You know what. Hyuck. Demonstrate mo nga how I should attack this.” Mark says.
Donghyuck removes his shades, raising his eyebrow na may kasamang devilish smirk.
“Okay.” Mark eyes his friend havang dinampot ni Hyuck yung water bottle na prop nila for the project. For Jeno and Hyuck’s Marketing class kasi, they have to submit an ad with their chosen product and upload it sa Facebook. Mark still has no idea bakit siya pinilit ni Hyuck na mag ‘model’ though. He knows he’s stiff as fuck.
Hyuck props his foot on one of the stools and starts posing with so much exaggeration mimicking fashion models and their staple poses. Mark doesn’t stop himself from laughing out loud. Sobrang init pa rin ang basang basa na ang katawan ni Mark with perspiration. But he can’t stop himself from fawning over his friend. Wala namang sobrang nakakatawa even Jeno is just smiling and Renjun is flat out rolling his eyes sa kagaguhang ginagawa ni Hyuck. But, Mark loves it though. He feels more relaxed. He finds early on in their friendship that Hyuck has that effect on people.
“Oh tapos na ba kayong dalawa dyan?” Renjun pipes in. Mark wipes his neck with a towel and Donghyuck goes back behind his camera with a small smile etched on his face. They both share a secret timid smile.
Mark doesn’t take his eyes off Hyuck, still a bit high from the serotonin brought by Hyuck’s antics.
He feels the heat prickle his skin, so different from the cold of Vancouver. The familiar coats and heat pads are replaced with thin shirts and tank tops. The frostbites are exchanged with burns and sweat. Mark feels something flutter in his stomach. It makes him look away from his friends' gaze. Naramdaman niyang namula bigla yung mukha niya.
“Bro, okay ka lang?” Jeno asks beside him.
Sinilip ni Mark si Hyuck behind the camera habang kinakausap si Renjun. If his stomach flips for the 2nd time seeing his best friend run his hands in his hair— Mark blames it sa init ng araw. It was because of the sun, definitely.
Pero baka ito na rin ang start ng beginning of the end para kay Mark lee. Freefall and all that.
Siguro, hindi na dapat nabigla si Mark nang isang araw it came to him like a speeding car, at bigla siyang sinagasaan ng isang malaking realization. Head first devoid of kahit anong safety gear.
How fucking cliche it is to fall in love with your best friend.
He guesses na he should've seen it coming lalo na kapag game day at sa dagundong ng arena, sa nakakabinging sigaw ng mga supporters at ng audience, sa nakakabulag na intensity ng ilaw coming from all sorts of directions, his eyes gravitate to one person and one person alone. He should’ve seen it coming sa bawat gabing pagod siya sa training and his body screams bloody murder, when all his head screams REST!! his heart screams something else, a faint sound of a name. No matter how hard any day might be, pagod man, exhausted, pigang piga from training, from university, from homesickness he mindlessly gravitates towards one person and one person alone. And he should’ve really seen it coming when all this exhaustion comes to a halt the moment he sees Donghyuck waiting for him sa labas ng Blue Eagle Gym, with his books thrown on his lap, wearing an oversized hoodie engulfing his own body.
Yukhei is the first one to notice Hyuck habang naglalakad sila palabas after their evening training.
“Hey Donghyuckie!” Sigaw ni Yukhei.
Hyuck looks up setting his thick textbooks aside. “Sup, Wong!”
“It’s ayt, you know. Same old same old.” Yukhei replies. “You with Renjun?” Dagdag ng kasama.
Hyuck smiles knowingly. “Nah, may org ganap sila sa Diliman.”
“Ah. Right. Una na ako. Bye, sunshine! Alagaan mo yang si Mark, pagod yan!” Yukhei cheekily says
“Gago. Umuwi ka na sa inyo.” Mark jokingly replies as Yukhei bro hugged him before putting on his cap and jogging towards his car.
A deafening siren from a passing fire truck fills the chilly evening of the Ateneo Campus. In front, the colorful lights of the establishments are glowing waiting for the night owls, partygoers and insomniacs to arrive.
“It’s late. You shouldn’t have waited for me.” Binaba ni Mark ang gym bag niya sa gilid at umupo sa tabi ni Hyuck.
“It’s alright. Wala naman akong ibang ginagawa.” Hyuck replies, fixing the hood of his hoodie sa ulo niya.
“You looked swamp, man.” Mark observes with the way nagkalat ang mga biology books niya sa lapag.
“Eh. Just reading some stuff. Nothing special. Kinda had a rough day actually. So I wanted to see you.” Hyuck whispers as he collects his books into his backpack.
and Mark silly, stupid Mark is enveloped with an overwhelming need to protect, to shower his friend with all the love he could squeeze from his frigid little heart. Mark is not one for dramatics. That’s more Yukhei’s style but if Donghyuck wants the theatre, the circus, and the opera, Mark would say fuck it and do it in a heartbeat.
Donghyuck sneezes so loud hanggang Diliman siguro rinig, his whole body trembling from the act. Mark starts to laugh, his heart beating fast with every laughter coming from his mouth. He feels his stomach clench again for the nth time.
“Ako na nga tong nabahing. Respeto naman sa may sipon gago ka,” pagmamaktol ni Hyuck, as he attempts to stand up but Mark is quick to pull him down embracing him, wrapping his arms around his best friend.
“Dapat sa loob ka nalang nag wait. It’s cold dito sa labas.” Mark whispers habang yakap yakap parin si Hyuck. He feels Hyuck laugh.
“Thank you for waiting for me, Hyuck,” he softly adds.
“I’ll always wait for you, Mark Lee. Wag kang mag alala.” Hyuck replies in a soft whisper.
Mark really should have seen it coming. It’s Lee Donghyuck. He’s the type of person who lights up the room wherever he goes. He’s the one who walks in your life and fills it with warmth and he is Mark’s best friend.
He wishes he could be more.
He starts noticing it in pieces. Noong una, he just shrugged off the signs. They were all best friends anyway. Besides, Jeno was Donghyuck’s blockmate. They were inevitably gonna have more to talk about and relate with each other better.
Mark could be a little dense sometimes but he’s not stupid. If someone knows how to pine over your best friend the best, it would probably be Mark. So when he notices yung mata ni Jeno na lumilibot sa periphery niya until it lands on Donghyuck, when he starts to always save a space beside him para tabi sila whenever they go out for drinks, whenever Jeno’s eyes would get lost sa bawat tawa at kwento ni Hyuck about sa latest adventure niya sa kanyang Bio lab Mark knows.
Mark invites Jeno to drink one Saturday evening sa Sagul. It’s pretty secluded from the highway at ingay ng ibang bar sa Maginhawa. It’s also a little early that’s why wala pang masyadong mga college students na lumalaklak ng beer around.
“Hey, Mark.” Jeno greets him as he comes back after getting both of them San Mig. He doesn’t want to get totally wasted but he knows he can’t be sober for this. He needs a little liquid courage. It’s his feelings after all.
Mark settles sa tapat ni Jeno. He’s fidgeting with his cold beer. “How’s class so far?” He begins, cringing a little by his stupid question.
Jeno snorts. “It’s saks. Accounting’s been busting my ass but I’m doing fine with labs.”
“That’s good.” Mark humms.
“Why’d you ask though? Did Mom ask you to check up on me again?” Jeno groans.
“No no. Nothing like that. Calm the fuck down, bro.” Mark assures him. He feels dampness in his hand. A mixture of the condensation of the glass and his sweat.
“Ah. I’m gonna go straight to the point I guess.” Mark says.
“The fuck. Bro, you’re scaring me. Are you sick or something?” Jeno jokes, laughing a little. May sumigaw bigla sa side nila dahil sa nahulog na beer sa sahig at tawanan mula sa kabilang table.
“Shut up. I’m not. I uh…” Mark stutters. He takes a deep breath and finally asks, “Are you in love with Hyuck?” and he immediately sees Jeno tense, gripping his bottle tightly, bowing his head a little.
“I’m sorry.” Jeno quietly says.
Na surprise si Mark. Hindi niya inexpect ang reply ng kaibigan. “Jeno-yah. Why are you apologizing?”
“Because it’s stupid.” Jeno grits, covering his eyes.
“No it’s not. Why would you think that.”
“It’s a stupid crush, Mark. Don’t worry.” Jeno reassures him with a shaky smile. This is the first time in Mark’s life to see his friend like this—so vulnerable and unsure of himself. He’s Jeno Lee for fucks sake.
“It’s not stupid and we both know it. This is Donghyuck we’re talking about Jen. I would understand if you fall in love with him.” Dagdag niya. It’s true. Hindi naman talaga mahirap mahalin si Donghyuck. He just wishes he was fucking brave enough to say it out loud.
“I know you love him too.” Jeno says back, looking at him in the eye.
“And I’m pretty sure he’s very much in love with you as well.” Jeno adds chugging down the rest of his beer in one go.
“I didn’t come here to police your feelings man. You’re one of the best people I know, and regardless of what I feel, I want you to be happy. It doesn’t matter if I like him or not. What matters is what you feel, what you want to do. I am here for you, asshole. Promise hindi ako sinabihan ni Tita.” He adds a sad attempt to lighten the mood.
But Jeno only looks like he’s about to tear up from Mark’s word. “Lee Minhyung. Fuck!” Jeno says.
“I wish you weren’t such a saint you know. Would make it easier to hate you.” Dagdag ni Jeno.
“I like Hyuck. That’s true but I’m not stupid enough to get in between whatever it is that’s going with you guys. I’m not a homewrecker.” Jeno jokes.
Jeno laughs, “I’m kidding. Gago naman to. Lighten up. I’m not gonna bawl my eyes out or start punching you don’t worry.”
“I know you and I know Donghyuck. I just wish you guys would just get your shit together you know. Alat na alat na kami ni RJ.”
“In my defense, I only found out like recently. My feelings I mean. Makes me feel so stupid.” Mark confesses.
“Aren’t we all a bunch of stupid idiots when it comes to love, Lee Mark.”
“We are indeed, Lee Jeno.”
“Besides. I’m kind of seeing someone else.” Jeno says quietly, like it was still a secret.
“Kind of?” Mark squints his eye.
“Care to share more?” teases Mark.
“Too soon, I think.” Jeno adds.
“But you’ll let me know?”
“You’ll be the first.” They share a smile.
Jeno offers him his bottle for a toast of shorts. Sa totoo lang, when he decided to talk with Jeno, he was ready to bury his feelings sa kailaliman ng puso niya so he can be there for Jeno. Jeno is his first friend. Lumaki siya kasama ito, kahit na malayo sila sa isa’t isa growing up, Jeno Lee and his big heart and warm smile. He’d frankly do anything for him gaano man kasakit. What are best friends for diba?
“Cheers?” Jeno offers.
Meeting Donghyuck’s parents might just be one of the most unforgettable moments ni Mark sa time niya sa Pilipinas so far. It just feels surreal na nasa bahay ng bestfriend niya ngayon. He first thought na baka maging awkward siya. He was scared na he wasn’t gonna fit in, that they wouldn’t like him, his broken tagalog, and everything that screams canadian about him.
Pero nakalimutan niya ata na parents ito ni Donghyuck and if Donghyuck is loveable, kanino niya nga ba ito nakuha?
Mark just finished one of the heartiest meals of his life at ngayon ay naka higa siya sa ilalim ng bed ni Hyuck, they’re both facing each other.
Donghyuck is playing with his fingers. Mark wants to retreat his hand. It’s not the softest, unlike Hyuck’s delicate ones. Puno ng scars and scans from fatigue of training. But Donghyuck grip is strong, like he’s never letting go.
“Mark pwedeng favor?” Donghyuck asks him.
“What is it?” He says barely a whisper.
“Please don’t look at me like that.”
“Like you might just love me.” Donghyuck says in a whisper. Kung pwede lang malunod si Mark sa titig ng kaibigan, matagal na siyang nahila pailalim.
Paano ba yan, Mark thinks to himself. The mere mention of your name makes me the happiest. I would be the luckiest person if I could have the tiniest piece of your heart.
Mark felt his heart clench. When he was about to reply, Tita Dianne opens Donghyuck’s door. Asking both of them if everything is alright.
It has been a few hours since Mark heard Donghyuck snoring. It means he’s already deep in his slumber kaya he quietly stands up, reaches for his phone and walks towards the balcony of the Lee Residence.
Sobrang lamig na and Hyuck is right na no matter how near Pampanga is sa Manila, iba pa rin ang simoy ng hangin dito. Mark sits himself on one of the stools outside and appreciates the fresh air of Arayat.
He types in the all too familiar contact in his phone.
Within a few rings, the person on the other side of the line picks up the call.
“Mark, anak.” His mom greets him.
“Hi, mom!” he greets as cheerfully as he could without catching attention from the sleeping ones inside.
“Where are you?”
“I went home with Hyuck, mom. I’m in Pampanga.” He says, his tone warm with excitement and pride.
“That’s exciting. How is it? Are you feeling alright?”
“Yeah. I’m very happy, actually. I wanted to tell you that. That’s why I called.” Mark softly says into his phone.
“Mom. You said it once, when I told you about my plan of studying here that I shouldn’t be scared, that I’d find home wherever I’d go.”
“Yes. I did, honey.”
“I think you’re right. I think I never left home. My home is here as well,” Mark blurts out, shivering against the cold.
“Is Donghyuck with you?”
“Yep. Inside. He’s sleeping so I can’t be too loud,” Mark replies looking behind him to check.
“I figured. He’s a great boy that one isn’t he? Very bubbly.” His mom adds.
“I know. He’s amazing. Just… the best.” Mark says, closing his eyes and biting his lip to contain his smile.
“Don’t let him go then.” She finally says.
“I won’t. I don’t think I could possibly do that.” Mark replies looking at the sky.
Not much really changed simula nang maging official sila ni Donghyuck. Both realized na all the things they were doing before were borderline romantic already, label lang talaga ang kulang. They still wait for each other after their long schedules. Mark still has his training (kahit off season siya), Hyuck still has his tutorials na umaabot minsan hanggang 9 pm. They would walk together sa campus when all the classes have ended, when everyone has left the campus, when the moon casts its faint glow on the streets, when it’s only Mark and Donghyuck.
“Baby,” Mark starts, holding Donghyuck’s pinky with his hand. It’s almost 10 pm and Mark just got off a team building training. It’s also a Friday so that means, Donghyuck goes home with Mark sa condo niya. They built a routine of sorts. Kapag weekdays at hindi siya busy, he would spend his early evenings with Donghyuck sa lounge ng dorms just catching up or doing coursework together. Pero every weekend, kapag hindi umuuwi si Donghyuck and Mark doesn’t have any immediate schedule, usually nag sstay sila sa condo ni Mark.
“I missed you,” kaniyang sabi. Mark had always prided himself to be calm and collected. Feelings never were something that clouded his judgement nor fazed him in his life. He doesn’t do PDA even with his past relationships in high school. But with Donghyuck, he feels this pull. He gets the urge to touch him, not necessarily in a creepy way. He just wants to feel that he’s there with him. He’s overwhelmed with the feeling of comfort, kapag nasa tabi niya si Donghyuck, nothing else matters. The world could burn but he’d probably won’t even know, not when his eyes are only on him —on Donghyuck, no one else.
“Utut mo. Mga 2 days lang tayo di nag kita eh.” Donghyuck laughs, playfully pushing Mark away. His cheeks are dusted with pink tonight. February has only begun and the remnants of the cold of new year is still floating in the air.
Donghyuck looks so adorable in Mark’s hoodie. He’s wearing the hoodie Mark lent him last year. Favorite actually ni Mark yun, but he can’t help but feel like it looks even better on Hyuck.
“Eh. It doesn’t matter. Di mo ba ako na miss?” Mark stops in his tracks, pouting a little. He’s feeling extra playful and clingy tonight. Must be the 2 days without his dose of his sun. Buti nalang Yukhei, Renjun or Jaemin aren’t here para asarin siya.
Hyuck looked a bit shocked for a second, scrunching his brows before laughing.
“Hahahahahahah. Baby ko naman. Ahh bakit ang cute mo?” He comes closer to Mark, hugging his waist. Mark is so fucking thankful na gabi na at walang masyadong tao sa campus not because he doesn’t like people seeing them like this— no he has gotten a lot better with showing his affection to his boyfriend (he deserves all the love in the world anyway, and mark would gladly give him all the love he could muster, he’s a sucker like that)
“ Of course I missed you,” Donghyuck whispers caressing Mark’s chin. Mark’s thankful because he’s a little selfish really. He sees Donghyuck like this, soft, vulnerable, so open and beautiful. Gusto niyang angkinin muna ang bawat ngiti ng mga labi ni Donghyuck, at ang tamis na umaapaw sa bawat titig na pinagsasaluhan nila.
Mark has read many stories in his life. Heck he even majored in creating them. From Shakespeare to Hemmingway to Austen and Wood. There is heartbreak, joy, fear, acceptance, loneliness, temptation, discomfort, acknowledgement in fables, poems, novels and epics and sometimes nag ooverlap pa ang bawat emosyon, at more often than not confusing ang pinapahiwatig ng bawat linya at salita.
But Mark has always particularly taken a liking to love stories. The thrill of meet-cutes, the tension of seduction, the push and pull. There is something exciting and beautiful about two souls meeting and finding home in each other’s presence.
As he kisses Donghyuck lips, his nose, his rosy cheeks, and as he sees his sunshine’s eye flutter open and slowly offering him the sweetest smile he can’t help but feel that out of all the cliche love stories he;s read in the world, this, the story of one Mark Lee of Vancouver and Donghyuck Lee of Pampanga, this might just be his most favorite one.
My weary heart has come to rest in yours
“Huh” Jeno bites his finger. He has a weird habit of doing that kapag di siya mapakali. Wala siyang tinitignan specifically, his gaze follows the flickering of christmas lights na decor ng Sagul.
Jaemin fidgets in his seat, halos 30 minutes na rin silang nakatambay at umiinom in silence. Naka tatlong bote na ng Heineken si Jeno and he shows no signs of stopping any time soon. He surveys Jeno. Mukha siyang pagod, like not just physically, parang may malaki at madilim na ulap na bumabalot sa kaniya ngayong gabi.
Malamig na. It’s december.
Jeno starts giggling, mahina lang noong una pero palakas nang palakas hanggang sa sumobra na sa pula ang kaniyang mukha from laughing.
“Anong nakakatawa? Share mo na man,” Jaemin jokes.
Jeno wipes his eyes. Frankly, hindi alam ni Jaemin kung tears of joy ba yan o ano. Ngunit suddenly, umusog si Jeno sa tabi ni niya at biglang hinalikan ni Jeno si Jaemin. Hindi ma explain ni Jaemin kung bakit parang ang bigat ng bawat halik ni Jeno sa kaniya. Jeno kisses Jaemin like he wants to prove something. He licks Jaemin’s top lip, bites his lower plump one. Bawat hagod ni Jeno sa leeg, sa neck, at sa kaniyang panga, ramdam na ramdam Jaemin.
Thankful si Jaemin at nasa second floor sila at they have the floor for themselves. He doesn’t know what has gotten into him. Because this kiss feels like a testament but it also feels sad.
“Jen, teka.” Jaemin tries to pry himself away.
“You want this right?” Jeno whispers, kissing the corner of Jaemin’s mouth.
Not like this, Jaemin thinks.
Not like this.
“Let’s calm down first, okay.” Jaemin successfully put a space sa pagitan nila. Medyo inayos ni Jaemin ang kaniyang buhok at tinignan ang kaibigan.
“What happened, there Jen?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry.” Jeno looks disheveled. Pinupukpok niya ang ulo niya with this hands in frustration.
“Hindi mo kailangan mag sorry. If I didn’t want to kiss you, trust me you’d know.”
“Still. That was an asshole move. Ugh. Ang gago ko talaga, puta. Hahaha”
“Jeno.” Jaemin hurts. That has always been his major flaw. He feels too much that he’s prone to hurting. He sees Jeno na understanding, na mas pinipili pa ang kaligayahan at kapakanan ng best friends niya kahit na it had cost him his own happiness. Si Jeno na punong puno ng pagmamahal para sa mga kaibigan niya, sa pamilya niya. Jaemin hopes nagtira siya ng konti para sa sarili niya. If anyone deserves to be loved the most, si Jeno yon.
Jaemin is afraid of touching Jeno, because Jaemin who’s known for being fearless, carefree and always giving, for the first time in his life, is afraid of feeling, of falling, of hurting, of loving and Jeno— he makes the fall look enticing.
Where do broken hearts go nga ba? Ang iba sa Sagada. Madalas sa mga bar ng Maginhawa pero minsan, ang iba tulad ng isang Jeno Lee ay napupunta sa piling ng isang Jaemin Na.
Katipunan Nights #2 featuring Na Jaemin and Lee Jeno