The succeeding knocks on his office’s door were enough to haul Jaehyun’s attention to the source of the noise. The hallway’s already empty and the employees might have already gone home, considering that some of them will be spending holidays from this day until New Years.
To Jaehyun, there is nothing to do at home. Abala ang kanyang pamilya sa paghahanda para sa kanilang family reunion kasama ang kanilang mga kamag-anak. Nahila ng kanyang magulang si Sungchan para maging “errand boy” nila. Habang si Jaehyun naman ay tinatapos ang natitirang paperwork para sa susunod nilang project. He decided that he will meet Sungchan and his parents at their family reunion’s venue in a town in Batangas.
Sa kasalukuyan, siya at ang mga kaibigan niyang mag-asawa ang natitirang licensed architects sa floor nila nang ganitong oras.
And speaking of the two, the door’s already opened with Yuta leaning on it while Jungwoo is beside him, standing by the door frame. Yuta is grinning at him while Jungwoo crosses his arms. “Architect, baka hanggang New Year nandito ka,” Saad ni Yuta sa mapanuyang tono, making his husband snicker at him lightheartedly.
Jaehyun let his hand hover above his laptop’s keyboard for a moment, pondering for an answer to that but before he could voice it out, Jungwoo had already cut him off. “Doc Huang won’t appreciate you being this workaholic on a holiday.” At the mention of his lover’s name, Jaehyun directed his attention back to his work then saving the document before shutting the laptop down.
“I’m not. I’m working to lessen my load after the holidays.” Jaehyun reasons out while closing his laptop.
“Alright, if you say so.” He sees Jungwoo fixing his posture, then smoothing the imaginary creases of his work suit. Kinuha naman ni Yuta ang kanyang gamit. “Send our greetings to Doc Huang. Happy holidays to you two, Jaehyun. See you next year.” Pagpapaalam niya kasabay ang isang kaway na sinundan naman ni Yuta.
“Happy holidays, Woo at Yuta.” Bati ni Jaehyun kasama ang isang maliit na ngiti. “Ingat papunta sa province.” Pahabol pa niya. He was informed by the couple that they will take their leave starting from today. Uuwi sila sa hometown ni Jungwoo sa Laguna para doon mag- media noche .
“We will.” Yuta sported his usual beam before saluting to the taller.
“‘Wag mo masyadong galingan baka mabalitaan naming promoted ka na sa January.” Dagdag ni Yuta na nagpahalakhak sa dalawa.
“Sira.” Jaehyun chortled, gesturing to them to get out of the room. They gave Jaehyun one last wave of their hand before Yuta closed the door. Now, Jaehyun’s left all alone inside.
Ngayon niya lang napansin ang malamig na temperatura sa silid dahil sa lakas ng aircon. Mabilis niyang isinuot ang coat bago ligpitin ang mga gamit. Isinilid niya sa long brown envelope ang mga papel na kailangan niyang iuwi saka inilagay sa kaniyang briefcase kasama ng laptop. Ni-double check niya kung may nakasaksak pa sa outlet bago kunin ang phone. Pagkatapos, lumabas na siya ng opisina para umuwi sa condo niya malapit sa firm.
As he proceeded to exit the building, he messaged his boyfriend.
amore, work’s done. how about yours? dinner ka na.
He typed another message after pressing the send button.
I love you.
Then, he waits.
Before going home, he took a quick detour to the grocery to find something to cook dinner for himself. By the time he reached his unit, Renjun sent his reply.
kaka-out ko lang. jaemin’s still in the clinic. magluluto palang ako dinner :<
The message was followed by a blurry photo of him while walking back home from the clinic.
dinner ka na din hm?? I love u, my babie. <3
While wearing a wide grin on his lips, Jaehyun’s fingers did work to type his answer. He single-handedly removed his leather shoes, not forgetting to place it back to the rack before hurrying to the sofa.
vc later? He tosses the briefcase beside him as he sits down, a grin still etched on his lips. The thought of the younger alone was enough for imaginary flowers, butterflies, and rainbows to cascade down to him.
At another beep of his phone, Jaehyun’s smile slowly wears off.
can’t pa. pwede tom?
Albeit curious and disappointed by that (answer), he immediately thinks that the younger must be so tired. There might have been a surge of patients recently since it’s a holiday.
alright, call me during your free time. i’m free tomorrow bibili lang ako ng gamit ko for our trip sa batangas.
Habang hinihintay na tumunog muli ang telepono, inihubad niya ang coat at ipinatong sa gilid niya saka niluwagan ang sariling necktie. Pagkatapos, tinanggal niya ang kaniyang relo bago ilapag sa mesa. Inilabas niya ang kuwintas mula sa pagkakatago nito sa loob ng kaniyang damit.
He picked his dirty laundry up to put in the hamper. Nang makabalik sa sala ay tumunog ang kaniyang phone.
Jaehyun felt his heart leap to his throat as he read the caller’s ID. He picked the call up then held the phone to his ears as he walked to the kitchen. He effortlessly turned the switch on while his focus was between the grocery bag and the caller.
“Hindi mo ako natiis ‘no?” Jaehyun jokes.
“Your conceited ass talaga,” He could see the younger rolling his eyes.
Gamit ang isang kamay, inilabas niya ang ingredients ng fettuccine mula sa paper bag. “Just kidding. What are you cooking?” He took note of the muffled noise in the background. Mukhang wala si Renjun sa apartment nito.
He hears Renjun clear his throat. “Nasa Mama’s Grill ako. Nabili ng pagkain. Tinatamad na ako magluto e,” His voice was laced with something that Jaehyun couldn’t pinpoint. Nevertheless, he kept silent about that.
“I see. So, nag-commute ka?” Ipinatong niya ang phone sa counter saka pinakuluan ang pasta bago kumuha ng cutting board at kutsilyo para maghiwa ng mga lulutuin.
“Y-yeah…” He knitted his eyebrows at the shaky voice from the other line.
The knife stayed mid-air as he asked, “Are you okay?”
“I am!” Lalong kumunot ang kaniyang noo sa narinig. “I really am.” Renjun confirms, now in a stable voice.
Jaehyun nodded as if the other could see him, although he was a bit doubtful about it. He placed his faith in the young doctor. If there were something wrong and Renjun had not have the courage in him to speak about that, he would choose to respect his decision. In more than a year of his relationship with the younger, he had learnt that Renjun seemed to still have a difficulty in bringing his problems up to him. Hence, he had learnt to be more patient. Usually, he would wait for the younger to deal with it by himself and when the time came that he had to step in (which is often rare), he would do so.
“Alright, Doc. I love you.” What he would often say under the guise of “I’m here”.
Umangat ang gilid ng kaniyang labi nang marinig ang hagikgik ng nakababata. “I love you, mahal ko.” Sagot nito. Jaehyun bit his lower lip to prevent himself from smiling. In a short while, his worries vanished as if these were being washed away by the sea waters.
“Renjun Huang, you’re making me feel giddy as if I were a teenager again.” He sighed while preparing the pan.
“Do I?” Renjun teased him and Jaehyun just wanted to fly to the island and cage his lover in his arms. More than a year has passed yet Renjun has been keeping the fire inside him alive.
It’s making him feel content. He’s satisfied with the life he has now. It had reached its fulfillment the moment the doctor came to his life.
“You do, amore. Not that I’m complaining but can you tone it down sometimes? Nami-miss kita lalo,” He responded in a joking manner.
Isang tawa ang isinukli ng doktor sa kaniya. “I will, architect. Duly noted po.” Malambing nitong saad.
“Stop using that voice on me,” Jaehyun whined and Renjun laughed louder.
“God. You’re cute.” He could hear the younger talking in a voice that was an octave higher.
Nang ilagay ni Jaehyun ang sahog sa kawali, kinuha niya ang phone habang naggigisa. “We haven’t talked properly since before Christmas. How was your Christmas Eve?” Before Christmas, Renjun informed Jaehyun that he would spend the said day in the clinic dahil siya ang nakatoka sa duty noon. Pagkatapos ng hatinggabi at tulog na si Jaehyun, saka niya natanggap ang Christmas greeting ni Renjun thru text kasama ang dalawang missed call. Mula noon ay nagkakasalisihan sila ng text messages.
That was Renjun’s turn to tell him about the influx of patients due to (mostly) stomach ache while a few had flu and hypertension, because it’s a holiday. Sunud-sunod ang house call noong araw na iyon kaya wala silang choice kung hindi pabalikin si Jaemin, Wendy, at ang mga bagong general physician sa clinic na sina Xiaojun at Yangyang. Maliwanag na ulit ang langit at tumitilaok na ang mga manok nang kumaunti ang mga pasyente. In the end, they spent Christmas, all of them, cramped up in the lobby of the clinic with a pizza takeout and a case of beer brought by Winter and Jisung.
“That was quite a ride,” Jaehyun chuckled at the turn of events during Renjun’s own version of Christmas Eve. His life will never be that chaotic (in a good way), considering his monotonous work life. He has barely worked on-site recently and his last major project was in Siargao wherein he first met his lover there.
“It is! Although I wished na walang pasyente no’n. Pero parang I was wishing for something impossible.” Renjun giggled.
“Ikaw? How was Christmas?” He asked, then he gasped when he seemed to remember something. “How was the gift pala? Did they like it?” He added another question as his voice got smaller by the end of the sentence.
Jaehyun reminisces about the time when he spent Christmas dinner with his family and when it was time to give gifts, he gave Renjun’s gifts na ipinabili niya sa nakatatanda sa mga magulang nito pati na kay Sungchan. His dad received Burberry’s Manston check silk tie partnered with a fountain pen while his mom got Cartier’s Diamants Légers bracelet. And lastly, Renjun gifted Sungchan an Omega watch. He remembered them thanking the younger one along with his mom’s usual, ‘if Renjun comes here in Manila, I should be the next one to see him after his family do’ whenever they talk about the doctor. Jaehyun’s mom has taken a liking to Renjun the moment her oldest son broke the news to her about having a lover years after his breakup with Ten. Aside from his mom, his dad and Sungchan had also expressed their excitement to meet Renjun after his moonlighting in the island.
“They loved it. As usual, they are excited to meet you.” He pours the sauce into the pan as he sandwiched he turned the loudspeaker again.
Renjun hummed. “I haven’t met them yet nga pala tapos ikaw na-meet mo na family ko.” Jaehyun nodded as a matter-of-fact. He had already met Renjun’s family when they visited Renjun on the island. Hindi sila nakasama sa clan reunion ng doktor dahil sa trabaho kaya lumipad siya papunta sa isla nang mabalitaang naroon ang pamilya ni Renjun. From then on, he hasn't seen his lover in the flesh yet.
“Napag-usapan naman na namin ni Jaem na baka umuwi kami diyan by next year. Sana free sila pagdating ko,” May bahid ng pagkahiya ang boses niya.
“Oh, they will clear their schedules for you. You’re their favorite, baby.” Jaehyun said with honesty, chuckling at the snort Renjun let out.
“Stop tha– Renjun! ” Renjun was cut off when a voice from the other line called his name. Jaehyun immediately picked up the familiar voice.
“Jae, let’s talk again mamaya or tomorrow? My workmates are here pala. I’ll message you pagkauwi ko.” Renjun almost rambled.
“Okay, text me. Mag-iingat kayo, baby.” Naguguluhan man, hinayaan ni Jaehyun ang nakababata na ibaba ang tawag.
He racks his mind over the familiar voice he heard earlier while preparing his meal up until washing the dishes and utensils. He thinks of how weird Renjun acted at the beginning of the call. However, there will always be a small voice inside his brain that will tell him to not dwell into it too much.
And so he did.
“Architect Jeong?” A voice from behind him prompted him to look up from choosing between the loaves of bread he was planning to stock before he would leave. In the end, he chose wheat bread without raisins then stood straight from crouching only for him to meet Donghyuck carrying a basket in one arm while the other was holding his phone. Nakabukas pa ang notes app nito.
It was no brainer for Jaehyun to recognize Renjun’s friend despite the interactions they have had before that he could only count with his fingers. One of these was when he had to fetch Donghyuck from the hospital (which is just a few minutes drive away from the firm) because it was raining too hard and the latter couldn’t use his motorbike to go home.
After that, they only talked through Renjun. This is the second time they met again and Jaehyun was not surprised because they are living within the same city. Kung magkita man sila sa grocery, hindi na nakakagulat iyon.
“Hi, Doc Lee.” Jaehyun smiled a bit and he saw Haechan’s ears flushing.
“Donghyuck nalang sabi!” He unintendedly raised his voice and Jaehyun knew it was nowhere near anger or annoyance. Natawa siya nang takpan ni Donghyuck ang sariling bibig.
“I’ll call you that once you stopped calling me ‘architect’,” Hindi pa din nawawala ang ngiti sa mga labi ni Jaehyun. Itinuro niya ang estante ng mga tinapay sa tabi. “Wheat, plain, or wheat with raisins?” Tanong niya at akmang kukuha nang umiling si Donghyuck.
“‘Yung peanut butter sa tabi po,” Ininguso niya ang mga palaman sa likod ni Jaehyun.
Jaehyun immediately turned to reach a small jar of peanut butter before extending his arms towards the younger for him to accept it. “You’re making me feel like an old man.” He tried cracking a joke.
Donghyuck lets out a small laugh as the older hands him the glass jar. “Thank you, Jaehyun.”
Lumipat ang tingin ni Jaehyun sa basket na hawak ni Donghyuck. Kita niya ang kaisa-isang kare-kare mix dito. Mukhang kakasimula palang mag-grocery ng nakababata. “Kare-kare?” Tanong niya nang maibalik ang tingin kay Donghyuck.
“Hindi. Menudo lulutuin ko.” Jaehyun snorted.
“Christmas or New Year?” Tanong niya ulit at nagsimulang maglakad upang sundan si Donghyuck na umalis sa pwesto niya.
“Both.” Donghyuck answered without a hitch. It was as if this has been going on for a long time. “Duty ako sa New Year’s Eve saka nag-assist ako sa operation noong pasko.” Dagdag nito.
“Understandable.” Jaehyun comments coolly as he squeezes himself in the crowd to catch up with Donghyuck’s steps.
“Of course! You have Doc Huang. By then, alam mo nang hindi normal ang kalendaryo namin.” Pagbibiro ni Donghyuck na mabilis na nag-’yehey’ nang matanaw ang vegetables section.
Jaehyun walked to his side to examine some of the ingredients Donghyuck was about to get. Nang masiguradong sariwa ang nakuhang puso ng saging, inilagay niya ito sa basket ng doktor. “I do.” Sagot ni Jaehyun. Kumunot ang kaniyang noo nang palitan ni Donghyuck ang kinuha niya. Mas maliit pa ito sa inilagay niya.
“‘Baka hindi ko magamit lahat at mabulok. Ako lang naman ang kakain.” Ngiti sa kaniya ng doktor.
Ibinuka niya ang mga labi ngunit walang boses na lumabas mula dito. He wasn’t sure if he were in the position to interrogate him further so he decided to drop the attempt to question it. But he was lying if he refused to admit that he did notice the other’s smile not reaching his eyes.
He’s Renjun’s friend. The one his lover fondly talks about how he makes him happy for the past years even before he met him. Those who hold a special place to Renjun’s life are the same ones who are special to him as well, and Donghyuck’s one of them.
He doesn’t have work. He doesn’t have anything to do for the whole day except for wrapping gifts for his nephews and nieces. That can wait later tonight.
Kinuha niya mula kay Donghyuck ang ipinalit nitong puso ng saging saka ibinalik ang kinuha niya kanina.
“You can cook for me too.”
After a dinner scrumptiously prepared by Donghyuck with a brief FaceTime with his boyfriend, Jaemin, the architect drove home. Nang tawagan nila si Jaemin ay wala si Renjun dahil nasa house call ito. Hence, they took up the remaining time catching up with each other with them occasionally asking about Jaehyun’s work,
“You don’t know how many times Jaem told me how much he loves you.” They are in a voice call again and not in FaceTime.
Jaehyun shrugged as he picked the scissors from the ground to cut the gift wrapper enough to fit a box of lego in it. “That’s my way of gratitude to him. He is taking care of you while I’m here in Manila.” He answered in a matter-of-fact tone.
Hindi mawaglit sa isipin niya ang mga pagkakataon kung saan ay makakatanggap din siya ng text messages mula kay Jaemin sa tuwing lumalabas sila papuntang Cloud 9 o hindi kaya’y bumibyahe sila pa-norte ng isla. Minsan ay magse-send ito ng mga litrato ni Renjun na umiidlip habang breaktime sa clinic pati na ang paglalakad nito pauwi sa apartment nila. Alam niya sa sariling hindi siya nag-demand nang gano’n mula sa kasintahan ngunit ‘tila anghel na ipinadala ng langit si Jaemin at Donghyuck sa kanilang dalawa. They don’t step in all the time but they are always there for the two of them.
“And that’s a huge thing for him! And for me,” Aniya sa mahinang boses mula sa kabilang linya.
“It makes me glad that the most important people in my life are getting along well.” Jaehyun could hear his voice drawn out from smiling widely. Nothing could melt his heart other than Renjun’s happiness.
Pumutol si Jaehyun ng kapirasong tape mula sa dispenser saka idinikit sa wrapper. “I’m learning to love every single thing in your life as much as you do.” Sagot nito.
“And it’s easy. I was certain that it would be because loving you is the easiest yet greatest thing I’ve done in my life.”
Tahimik ang kabilang linya maliban sa malakas na hangin at mahinang indak ng alon na hindi nakaligtas mula sa kaniyang pandinig. “I was taught that love should be a semblance of grandeur and I took it literally.” He chuckled and Renjun joined him.
“I took Ten to the most expensive restaurants. I rented a yacht for his birthday. I would always bring him several costly bouquets of flowers from Taeyong’s shop.” Matapos balutin ang lego set ay kinuha niya ang dollhouse para sunod na ibalot. “But I learned that those weren’t enough to love him to this extent.”
He hears Renjun’s hum. “With you, I realized love could be in the form of the most mundane things. No expensive dates, gifts, or whatsoever, although I still want to give you those minsan.”
If his lover were beside him, he could have received a smack in his arm already. “Ewan ko sa’yo, Yuno.”
“My point is,” He answered in defense. “Mahal kita. You make me envision a future where there are the two of us, our kids, and a dog. I planned to invest those luxuries I could offer you now in exchange for a good life I want to give you and our children in the future.”
“Hm, but I want a cat too!” Jaehyun was close to booking a flight to Siargao to hold his lover in his arms.
“Okay, baby. And then, a cat too.” Tugon niya at ramdam niya ang saglit na pananakit ng kanyang dibdib nang makita ang stuffed toy na nakaupo sa sofa.
Renjun lit another fire in his heart.
He brought his knees to the floor to move bago kunin ang malaking teddy bear. Ngunit napatigil siya nang magsalita si Renjun matapos ang ilang minutong katahimikan.
“I want that, amore.” Panimula niya. “I want that future you have in your mind with you.” Itinuon ni Jaehyun ang atensyon sa mga letrang bumubuo sa pangalan ng nakababatang tila iginuhit sa kalangitan gamit ang mga bituin.
“And I’ll give you one without second thoughts.” Aniya sa malamyos na tinig habang ang apoy na walang humpay na nagliliyab sa kaniyang puso ay higit na sumisidhi. Hindi nito alintana ang distansya mula sa kasintahan o ang lamig ng centralized aircon na kasalukuyang nakabukas sa sala.
As his love for Renjun and his lover himself have always done: keeping the fire inside him alive and burning.
Abala si Jaehyun sa paglalagay ng mga regalo sa backseat ng Fortuner nang tumunog ang kaniyang phone. Nasa parking lot na siya ng condominium at papaalis na patungo sa isang resort sa Batangas. Isinara niya ang pintuan sa backseat bago magtungo sa unahan habang hawak ang phone malapit sa tainga.
“Ma? Papaalis palang ako.” Sagot niya kaagad, tanda ang caller ID bago sagutin ang tawag.
“Can you go to Mahogany Market on the way? Your ate Krystal’s there.” His mom answered through a loudspeaker. Jaehyun listened as he was typing the resort’s location in Waze.
“Mhm, I’ll chat her ‘pag malapit na ako. May ipapabili kayo?” The engine roared to life once he turned the ignition key.
Jaehyun began maneuvering the steering wheel while his mom talked. Ibinilin nito na bumili ng kakailanganing iihaw mamaya pati na ng mga prutas. Nagpabili din ito ng mga matatamis na pagkain na ibibigay sa mga bata. “I sent her the list too. Call me or Sungchan kung may problema. Have a safe trip, anak.”
“We will. Thanks, ma.” Nakalabas na nang basement ang sasakyan nang sabihin niya ito. Akala niya ay ibinaba na ng mama niya ang tawag ngunit nagsalita pa ulit ito.
“Bilisan ninyo. Kanina ka pa hinahanap ng lolo mo.” He snorted. Napakalayo pa niya at baka abutin pa ng ilang oras bago sila makarating. Lalo na’t bumper to bumper ang trapiko palabas ng Maynila kahit alas sais palang ng umaga dala ng holiday rush.
Dahil maaga pa, he supposes Renjun’s still asleep. May duty siya sa clinic ngayong araw tulad ng sinabi niya kagabi bago ibaba ang tawag.
He turned the radio on to keep himself awake since it will take him a long time to arrive there. Maya-maya dadaan siya sa drive thru para bumili ng kape. He can ask his cousin later to treat him to breakfast.
Almost an hour later, he’s entering the south. So far, the traffic’s not as heavy as he had expected earlier.
Memory by Tom Misch is currently playing from his own playlist and he is driving with one hand while the other rests on the opened window. The sunlight peeked through the tinted glass and his porcelain skin shone brighter when its rays struck his figure from behind. He brought the sun visor down to shield his eyes from the glare of the sunlight.
After doing so, his phone rang. As soon as the younger doctor’s name flashed on the screen, Jaehyun was fast enough to answer it.
“Saan ka na?” Bungad ni Renjun nang i-loudspeaker niya ang phone matapos alisin ang bluetooth connection mula sa stereo.
“Alabang na.” He answered. “Breakfast?” He asks, eyes still directed to the road.
Renjun hummed and he could imagine him nodding even though they couldn't see each other. “I’ll have a sandwich.” Afterward, he yawned.
“May duty ka. Baka hindi ka na makapag-lunch.” Kunot-noong tanong ng kasintahan sa kaniya.
“May handaan mamaya. It’s okay, architect.” There he goes again with that tone akin to an innocent attempt to convince him. .
“Handaan after work?’ Jaehyun pressed the button for the window to roll up.
“Hm, yeah.” He hears the rustling of sheets, indicating that Renjun has gotten up from the bed. A moment after, Renjun let out a groan followed by a series of complaints of how it has been colder than usual lately.
“Don’t forget your beanie.” Paalala ng arkitekto sa kaniya which received a whine from his lover in return.
His hearing caught the faint sound of Renjun’s slippers hitting against the floor. “Sige na. Liligo na ako. VC tayo mamayang lunch?”
Jaehyun nodded. Quickly realizing Renjun couldn’t see him, he clears his throat. “I’ll wait for you. Mag-ingat sa work, Doc.” He slowly stepped into the break when he saw the slow traffic ahead.
“Yep.” A laughter erupted from the architect when he heard the noise of Renjun’s lips smacking against the microphone. “Drive safely, amore! Have a great day because I’m already having one.” The cheerful tone was enough to draw an amused smile from the former.
The disconnect tone from the phone signaled that Renjun finally hung up.
Even though he heard a faint ‘Uncle Ren’ from a familiar voice in the background earlier, Jaehyun ignored the temptation to think about it.
It took them an enormous amount of patience (with complaints in between) before they arrived at the resort where the clan reunion will be held. Nevertheless, they kept themselves entertained while their car seemed to queue on the road. Napagkuwentuhan nila ang joint pastry business ni Krystal at ng boyfriend nito kasabay ng minsan niyang pag-sideline bilang modelo kahit ilang taon na ang lumipas simula nang tumigil ito sa pagiging full-time model.
The woman also filled him into what their other cousins have been doing recently. Pinag-usapan din nila ang pag-uwi ng pinsan na si Chenle (na ka-edad ni Sungchan) mula sa Shanghai nitong nakaraang buwan. Jaehyun’s quite fond of the latter since the younger lived with them before so the architect had to be his older brother figure to him for a while. Huli na niya itong nakita noong college undergrad pa siya. He was certain Chenle had changed a lot since then.
Of course, things got more interesting when it was Jaehyun’s turn to be interrogated. It was a huge news for everyone when they came to know about Renjun’s existence. Hindi nakatulong sa kanilang kuryosidad ang madalang na paggamit ng arkitekto ng social media. However, in contrast to what Krystal had expected, Jaehyun fondly talked about his lover and Siargao.
Jaehyun told her about Renjun as if any minute from then, he would hang the stars in the evening sky to make the latter’s world as bright as possible. Bilang tugon, isang tapik sa balikat ang ibinigay ng kaniyang pinsan kasabay ng isang malawak na ngiti. She also expressed her enthusiasm in meeting the younger soon, completely interested in the younger who is making his cousin the happiest these days.
The trip went smoothly after that. Both of their hearts felt light and happy.
Krystal let out the biggest sigh once Jaehyun stepped into the break as he steered the car into its respective parking space. Kita mula sa kanilang pwesto ang mga pamangkin nilang naglalaro sa maliit na playground malapit sa gate. Nakatayo malapit dito ay ang matangkad na pigura ni Sungchan na binabantayan sila.
The young woman stretched her legs after opening the door then stepping outside. With her leather bag slung on her shoulder, she basks under the sunlight. “Ako na magdadala ng mga prutas.” Aniya sabay turo sa likuran ng sasakyan.
Tumango si Jaehyun habang sinusuot ang sariling sunglasses bago lumabas mula sa driver’s seat. Nagtungo siya sa likuran para buksan ang trunk lid. He lets his cousin lift a bag of fruits herself.while he took two huge plastics of meat. Pag-angat niya ng paningin, nakita niya si Sungchan na papalapit sa kaniya nang pumasok si Krystal sa loob.
Iniabot ni Jaehyun ang plastic sa kapatid sabay tapik sa balikat bago isara ang trunk. “Ako na dito sa isa.” Ininguso niya ang hawak na plastic bag. “Kami nalang ba ni ate Krystal ang kulang?” Tanong niya.
“Oo, kuya. Pero nagluluto pa naman ng lunch. Dadalhin ko na ba yung mga regalo?” Ibinaling ni Sungchan ang tingin sa backseat kung saan nakalagay ang mga regalo.
“‘Wag na. Mamaya ko nalang kunin.” Ani Jaehyun.
Nagpaalam na si Sungchan na mauuna na siya sa loob dahil hindi pwedeng matagal na nakabukas ang gate kaya naiwan si Jaehyun sa parking lot. Bumalik siya sa unahan para kunin ang wallet at phone. Kinuha niya ang pabango sa compartment upang pabanguhan muli ang sarili. Pagkatapos, sinara niya ang pinto at ni-lock ang kotse bago tumungo sa loob.
He sauntered his way to the gate, clad in light blue denim pants and tucked in plain white t-shirt, partnered with a pair of charcoal red slip-on.
Bumungad sa kaniya ang mga batang naglalaro sa gilid ng gate. Napukol sa kaniya ang tingin ng mga ito nang may magsalita hindi kalayuan mula sa kaniyang pwesto.
“That’s Uncle Yuno! Magmano kayo, kids!” There Chenle was, standing in front of him while his hands were in his pockets. Kung lalapit pa ito ay makikita ni Jaehyun ang pagliit ng agwat ng kanilang katangkaran. He was grinning while the kids crowded around Jaehyun.
The architect had no choice but to bend forward and point his index finger at his cheeks. “Kiss uncle nalang. I’m still young pa eh.” He uttered softly while smiling in a sweet manner.
Numerous pairs of tiny lips collided against both sides of his cheeks along with high-pitched cheers of ‘Uncle Yuno!’ making himself smile wider than before. Afterwards, they left to play again.
Iniayos niya ang pagkakatayo saka naglakad papalapit kay Chenle na nakangisi sa kanya. “Mister Architect Jeong!” Bati nito nang akbayan ni Jaehyun at magsimulang maglakad kasabay niya papunta sa loob.
“Lele.” Jaehyun greeted back and a high-pitched laugh erupted from the younger one. Truly, there are some things that didn’t change in him.
“How was your boyfriend?” Chenle wiggled his eyebrows at the question.
The older one ruffled his dark brown locks. “He’s doing fine.” Sagot niya.
“I’m sure he is.” Makahulugang tugon ni Chenle ngunit bago pa makapagsalita ang nakatatanda ay humiwalay na siya mula sa pagkakaakbay nito sa kaniya. “Balik na ako sa pagbabantay, kuya! Nasa dalampasigan sila.” He winked before running back to the kids, leaving Jaehyun alone to walk his way to the other side of the place.
Napapailing na tinahak ni Jaehyun ang daan patungo sa dalampasigan kung saan ay nagtitipon ang mga nakatatanda sa pamilya. It didn’t take much time before the others could see him trekking along the sand.
Sabay-sabay nilang tinawag ang pangalan niya at sinalubong niya ang tingin nila upang batiin sila. Nauna siyang nagmano sa mga tiyuhin at tiyahin niya saka siya niyakap ng mga pinsan niya
“Jay, we missed you!” Pagbati ng ate ni Krystal.
Lahat sila ay nakagayak na ng panlangoy. Nang tingnan ang kabuuan ng lugar, sila lang ang tao doon. Hindi kalayuan sa kanila ay nag-iihaw ang mama niya pati na ang ibang mga kapatid ng tatay niya.
“Sorry, quite swamped with work pa recently eh. Let’s catch up later.” He smiled apologetically.
“We really need to. Saka stop being a workaholic like your cousin over there.” Krystal pointed at Yunho, their oldest cousin, who was busy talking with someone. Nang makita ang mga pinsan na nakatingin sa kaniya, he mouthed a “what”.
Jaehyun chuckled when his other cousin rolled her eyes at him. He took his cue to leave when his mom called his name.
Ibinigay niya sa helper ang plastic na bitbit saka tumabi sa nanay niya. “Ako na mag-iihaw, ma.” Pagprisinta niya nang makitang hindi pa ito nakabihis sa napagkasunduan nilang attire.
However, his mom was quick enough to swat his hands away from her. “Go bond with your cousin, Yuno. Kami nang bahala dito.” Pagtanggi niya and Jaehyun knew that finality in her tone. Hindi niya mapipilit ito.
He had no choice but to sit beside his cousin-in-law who was with her kid. Binati niya ito bago kilitiin ang tiyan ng bata na napahagikgik sa ginawa niya. Nang matapos palitan ng lampin ang likod nito ay tumakbo na ang pamangkin niya papunta sa loob. His eyes fondly followed the kid until he disappeared into the hallway.
“Such a goofball of energy.” Komento niya. Hindi niya maiwasang isipin ang hinaharap kasama si Renjun. He couldn’t help but think of his children running around like that after he and his lover took turns in changing their towel.
He missed Renjun more than anything at that moment and the sight of the shore wasn’t of any help.
Ibinaling niya ang atensyon sa katubigang dumadaloy patungo sa dalampasigan tulad ng mga alaala mula sa isla at ng mainit na dampi ng kamay at labi ng nakababata sa kaniyang balat—higit na nagliliyab sa bawat oras na lumilipas na malayo sila sa isa’t isa.
Mahal niya si Renjun at higit niya itong minamahal sa mga pagkakataong malayo siya sa kaniya.
Kinuha niya mula sa bulsa ang phone saka kumuha ng litrato ng dalampasigan bago ito ipadala sa kasintahan. Ilang saglit pa lamang ang nakakalipas nang tumunog ang kaniyang phone.
Abot-abot ang tahip ng kaniyang dibdib nang makita ang larawan ng kaparehong dalampasigan ngunit tila ay kinuha ito sa ibang anggulo.
humingi ako kay sungchan ng pic :) ang ganda naman diyan! the next time you plan to go there, I’m with you na. I promise.
Warmth enveloped his chest that he almost felt light headed by its sensation. He badly wanted nothing but to have Renjun within his reach. Wala siyang ibang gusto kung hindi ang ikulong ang kasintahan sa mga bisig niya habang ibinubulong sa kaniyang tainga kung gaano niya ito kamahal.
ako naman ipagtimpla mo ng kape pag-uwi mo dito, mahal.
Mukhang walang pasyente sa clinic dahil sa bilis sumagot ng doktor. Jaehyun clicked the notification banner again then he read Renjun’s reply. An endearing smile found its way to his lips.
mahal din kita, yuno. :)
After a few rounds of games with his cousins, they went to the long table placed in front of the cottage to have lunch. Pagkarating doon ay naabutan nila ang mga bata na binibigyan ng pagkain kasama ang mga magulang nila. Jaehyun was one of the others who helped serve food to the kids and to the elders (given that they have already cooked earlier).
Once everyone settled with their food—well, not everyone because Jaehyun realized there was one person missing among them.
That person whom everyone tells has been finding him. The one who favors him the most among his cousins because he is the “favorite apo”.
“Ma, where’s Lolo? May food na siya?” Jaehyun asked when he walked to his mother who was engrossed in a chit-chat with her siblings. Her mother looked up at him before pointing at a plate of dessert on the table.
“He’s done with his lunch, ‘nak. But go give him that dessert sa loob. He wanted one daw.”
Jaehyun only nodded then greeted his aunts before leaving to get the plate. Without still having his lunch, he walked along the sand then into the villa. He wore his shoes off to avoid the sand getting onto the pristine white tiled floor.
The villa was quite big. There was a spacious living room that could accommodate almost half of them. The glass walls around it allowed the sunlight to pass through and illuminate the area. Beyond that is a huge dining area.
Tanaw ng arkitekto ang kaniyang lolo na nakaupo sa kabisera ng hapag-kainan. Sa kaliwa nito na nakatalikod mula sa pwesto ni Jaehyun ay may nakaupong lalaki, kausap ang matandang lalaki. Hindi niya marinig nang malinaw ang pinag-uusapan ng dalawa ngunit hindi niya ito alintana dahil pinili niya pa ding lumapit sa kanila, bitbit ang pagkain para sa kaniyang lolo.
Ilang hakbang na lamang siya malapit sa kanila nang marinig ang pamilyar na hagikgik ng lalaki. Kasabay noon ay ang pagsilay ng ngiti mula sa mga labi ng matanda.
Napatigll siya nang magsalita ang lalaki. Ramdam niya ang paghina ng mga kamay na nakahawak sa plato ngunit pilit niya itong pinigilan. Huminga siya nang malalim bago tumikhim—sapat na upang tawagin ang atensyon ng dalawa.
Agad na iniangat ng kaniyang lolo ang tingin nito sa kaniya. Nang makita ang dala ay sinenyasan niya itong lumapit. Tahimik na sumunod ang binata habang nakatingin sa pigurang hindi pa din lumilingon sa kaniyang direksyon.
“Yuno, apo! Nandito ka na,” The invigorating and welcoming presence his lolo exudes translated to familiarity. The elder’s youthful smile strongly contradicted his actual age.
Pakiramdam ni Jaehyun ay tatalon na ang kaniyang puso mula sa sariling katawan nang makita ang pamilyar na hitsura ng lalaki. Walking closer to him gave him a better view of the guy. And when it does, he convinces himself that this is too impossible.
It seemed to be a cue for the other to face him and Jaehyun was anything but prepared for it.
“Renjun,” Aniya sa mahinang boses, hindi makapaniwala sa nakikita.
Isang ngiti ang isinukli sa kaniya ng nakababata kasabay ng paghaplos nito sa kaniyang braso. “Kanina ka pa hinahanap ni Lolo,” The mellifluous tone of his voice almost lulled him to sleep. Tila nag-short circuit na ang utak ni Jaehyun sa nakita at narinig.
Finally noticing his grandfather who was waiting for the food while still having a certain smile on his lips, Jaehyun finally places the dessert on top of the table. Pagkatapos ay nagmano ito.
He kept his composure beside Renjun until the younger wrapped an arm around his waist. Tamang-tama dahil anytime ay mukhang bibigay na ang kaniyang mga tuhod. Jaehyun kept his gaze on the empty plate perched peacefully in front of the latter.
Thinking he had enough time to mull over it, Jaehyun spoke up in the middle of the silence.
“How are you, ‘Lo?” He found purchase on the top back of the chair.
“Okay naman. Masakit ang tuhod nitong isang araw pero nandito naman si Doc,” Tumingin ito kay Renjun na sinundan naman ni Jaehyun. Bakas sa mukha nito ang pagkahiya.
“Renjun nalang po. ‘Wag na po Doc.” Renjun almost pleaded which made Jaehyun chuckle but he instantly flinched when the former pinched his waist.
“Gusto ko lang maranasan na may matawag na ‘Doc’ sa mga apo ko.” His grandfather’s eyes crinkled along with a smile. The architect fondly watches Renjun’s orbs glimmer with delight.
“...Mga pasaway kasi. Walang nag-doktor ni-isa sa kanila,” Bulong nito na akala mo ay nagsasabi ng sikreto. Isang mahinang tawa ang isinukli ni Renjun.
And Jaehyun? He found himself falling in love over and over again that it was too impossible to stand up and resist the plethora of emotions the younger one is making him feel.
He was wrong. He loves Renjun the most in every moment of his life since he met him—without any conditions.
“Pero ikaw, nandito ka na.” The oldest of them placed a hand atop Renjun’s. “Ipagpatuloy mo lang, apo. Kasama mo naman si Yuno,” Sunod niyang ipinukol ang tingin sa sariling apo.
“Ang maalaga kong apo.” Pagngiti nito at bakas ang paghanga sa tono ng kaniyang boses. “Nakaalalay siya sa’yo palagi. Susuportahan ka niya.” Jaehyun’s gaze directed back to his lover when he heard sniffles coming from him. His crybaby.
“Kasi ganiyan siya magmahal. Ganoon ka niya kamahal.” The architect comfortingly placed a hand on his lover’s shoulder.
“And you know the best how much more he could offer knowing he loves you to a greater extent. Even greater than what he gives us.” Jaehyun hopes his lolo would stop talking because he’s close to tears too.
Yet he couldn’t help but agree to everything he told them.
Tinapik-tapik niya ang balikat ni Renjun bago sandaling tumingala upang pigilan ang pagtulo ng luha.
Tuluyang umatras ang kaniyang luha nang marinig ang boses mula sa kaniyang likuran. “Lolo, bakit pinapaiyak mo bisita natin!” Here goes Sungchan in his faux nagging tone, obviously laced with humor. Narinig niya ang mga hakbang nito papalapit sa kanila bago niya nakita ang kapatid na may dalang tubig na siyang iniabot sa matanda.
“Wala akong kasalanan,” Pakikisakay ng lolo niya saka uminom mula sa tubig na binigay ni Sungchan.
“Gusto mo nang lumabas, Lolo?” Namamaos na tanong ni Renjun ngunit mabilis na sumabat si Sungchan.
“Hep! Ako na sasama kay Lolo palabas.” Pag-ako nito bago pabalik-balik na tumingin sa magkasintahan. “Kayo na diyan. Linisin niyo nalang pinagkainan niya.” Pinaningkitan niya ito ng mga mata, ‘tila nagbabanta na ‘huwag kayong gagawa ng kalokohan dahil may mga bata sa labas’ .
Jaehyun snickered playfully before pulling away from his boyfriend to clean the plates on the table. He stacked it properly along with the cups they used. Good thing those were disposable, hence, it would be easy to clean up.
“O siya, aalis na kami.” Pagpapaalam ng lolo nila bago siya alalayan ni Sungchan maglakad. Kita ang katandaan nito dahil sa maingat at mabagal na paglakad. Sungchan was patient enough to match his colossal footsteps to his grandfather’s.
Kinuha ni Jaehyun ang mga maruming plato, utensils, at baso bago itapon sa black bag malapit sa kusina. Nang bumalik siya sa mesa ay sinalubong siya nang mahigpit na yakap ng nakababata. It took him a moment to reciprocate the hug.
He let his fingers card through the softness that is Renjun’s hair as the latter rested his head on his shoulder. Also, he could smell the fragrance of the conditioner that the younger one usually uses. Next, he registers to his mind the warmth surrounding his lover.
The older gently swayed their bodies, as if following a certain rhythm. Every time passing by, he’s been convinced that Renjun fits in like a perfect puzzle piece—the only one who could fill in every crevice of his heart.
Renjun embraced everything in him searingly without any questions asked and it was with consistency despite a few hurdles they have gone through before.
A blanket of silence engulfed them with a myriad of questions being answered evaporated into it.
With Renjun, there is no room for doubt, questions, and uncertainties.
"I can't believe you tricked me," Out of all the things he wanted to say, such words slipped out of his mouth.
The younger's body shook in laughter as he pulled himself away from the architect's hug. Ikinulong niya ang pisngi ng nakatatanda sa pagitan ng kaniyang mga palad bago tumingkayad at gawaran ng halik ang tungki ng ilong nito.
"Surprise, baby." Renjun's eyes crinkled with mirth.
Jaehyun circled his arms on his waist. "Kailan ka pa nandito?"
"Noong isang araw. Sungchan fetched me from the airport." The doctor's voice was teasing then a gasp elicited from his lips when his lover only pulled him closer.
"Two days." His lips brushed on the shell of Renjun's ear. "Did you stay here?" Tanong pa nito.
The younger nodded weakly, basking into the intoxicating warmth of the older against his body.
"They're nice." Renjun said, referring to Jaehyun's family. Ipinulupot niya ang mga braso sa leeg ng kasintahan saka binigyan ng mahinang pisil ang batok nito.
Renjun's touch felt like a touch of nirvana yet it could ground him to reality at the same time. At that moment, the architect's mind only had the younger's name and the younger himself in it.
"Renjun," Mahina niyang sambit.
The same, familiar twinkling orbs met him.
"I love you." His voice was dripping with honey. "I love you," Pag-ulit niya.
Renjun's lips against his felt warm for some reason when the former pulled him down to give him a searing kiss. Their lips moved languidly, mimicking the familiar calm seawaters of Siargao.
Pinupog niya ng halik ang noo ng nakababata nang maghiwalay ang kanilang labi. Ang mahigpit na kapit ng binata sa kaniyang kuwelyo kanina ay unti-unting lumuluwag.
"Architect," Malambing na tawag ng doktor kay Jaehyun.
Jaehyun hummed in a questioning manner, his lips still on his lover's forehead.
"Mamaya na hug at kiss? I want to swim." Renjun pouted. Akala nito ay hihiwalay si Jaehyun ngunit lalo lang nito inilapit ang sarili sa kaniya. "Jae!"
"But I want to see you ruined on the sheets," The older teased while lazily rubbing circles on Renjun's hip.
Mahina nito hinampas ang braso ni Jaehyun. "Bastos! Nandito pa mga kamag-anak mo, pwede ba." Saka niya sinamaan ng tingin ang kasama.
The older only chortled then tapped the small of Renjun's waist. "Mauna ka na. Magbibihis lang ako," Saad nito bago mag-iwan ng halik sa pisngi ng kasintahan.
Renjun replied with a nod, "Bilisan mo, okay?"
Jaehyun's faint smile stretched into a wide one. "Of course, I will."
Nang lumabas si Jaehyun mula sa villa patungo sa dalampasigan ay nakita niya ang kasintahan na kumakain ng barbecue sa tabi ng kaniyang ina.
Ngayon lang niya napansin ang suot nitong puting tanktop at navy blue board shorts. May suot na din siyang shades. His dark, silky hair was disheveled in a pleasant way. Jaehyun ingrained Renjuns porcelain skin into his mind, locked the image with a key before throwing the key to the deepest pits of the ocean.
The familiar silver chain clinging to his neck caught Jaehyun’s attention. He trailed his gaze downwards, landing onto the cross pendant against Renjun’s sternum.
Nang magtama ang tingin nila ng doktor ay ngumiti ito nang napakalawak na siyang ginaya naman ng nakatatanda. Pinanood niya itong magpaalam sa ina ni Jaehyun, na siyang tumingin din sa kaniyang direksyon, bago itapon ang stick ng barbecue sa basurahan. He watched Renjun happily skip towards him.
Hindi niya alintana ang tingin ng kaniyang mga pinsan na may mapaglarong ngiti sa kanilang mga labi nang ipalibot niya ang braso sa beywang nito. Kung narinig niya man ang pekeng pag-ubo ni Sungchan ay hindi niya ito pinansin.
Nothing else mattered aside from the man in his arms right now.
Ang kaniyang tahanan sa kanilang munting mundo.
“Tara, Doc Huang?” He asked, a smile plastered on his lips. He was happy, genuinely happy .
Renjun’s giggles harmonized with the melody of the waves crashing to the shore. The younger held the hand on his waist with his thumb caressing it soothingly before removing it from his waist to clasp his hand.
“It feels nice that you’re here with me again.” He spoke softly with eyes sheltering a swirl of emotions.
Niyakap ni Renjun ang kaniyang braso saka sumandal sa balikat niya. “Coming home to you is beyond happiness.”
“Then I would gladly welcome you with open arms.” Jaehyun pinched the lad’s cheeks to which Renjun swatted his hand playfully in return.
Together, they sauntered through the shore—to play with the frisky sea waters—just like what they have always done on the island.
Here is where they belong: to the place where the shade of skies and the sea resembles the hue of the hottest flames.