“Anong nangyari kanina?”
That was his text to me that afternoon. And I didn’t know how to respond.
“Anong anong nangyari? Ha?”
That was all I was able to say because I didn’t really know what he was asking.
“Labas tayo mayang gabi, pwede? Kahit dinner lang. Tagal na natin di nakalabas.”
In his own way, he was telling me he misses me. That’s Elmo for you. He never said it outright. But if, like me, you’ve known him for so long, know his quirks, his antics, you would understand what his words implied. I missed him, too, of course.
“Paalam ako kila mama. Saan magkita?”
And just like that, we made plans to meet up. We’ve been friends for so long that I knew my parents wouldn’t really mind me going out for dinner with him tonight. Still, I didn’t want to confirm to him and end up cancelling. I’d have to make sure before I said yes.
“Sunduin na lang kita. Text mo ko pag pwede na. Kahit mga 7, pwede yun?”
It seemed like a good plan.
“Sige, sabihan kita by then. See you, Moe!”
Elmo and I have had our ups and downs. That happens when you’ve been friends for as long as we have. People think we’ve only been friends for two years, the duration of our JuliElmo tandem. But the truth is, we’ve been friends even before we were even paired up. It was the kind of friendship that just happened. No catalyst, no coercing. Just like that.
“Ano yung text mo kanina pala?”, I finally asked him after dinner.
As I expected, my parents allowed me to go out for dinner with Elmo. We had dinner at his family home because his sisters came home tonight from their birthday weekend and the family got together for a post-birthday dinner.
Now, we were lying on top of his car hood, looking up at the night sky while parked somewhere near their Antipolo home. The place was lit only by a single street light a few meters away, throwing us in shadow, which meant the stars’ lights weren’t overpowered by commercial lighting. We could see them clearly. And they were magnificent.
I felt him silently shrug beside me and I knew what that meant: he wanted to talk about it but don’t necessarily want to talk about it. I know it’s weird but…well, it means he doesn’t want to bring it up because it’s either he’s embarrassed by it or he doesn’t know how to handle it.
I sat up and poked at his ribs, which made him sit up, too.
“Oy, anu ba, Julie”, he complained, facing me.
We looked at each other and I could see the conflict in his eyes.
“Ano ba yun, Moe?”, I asked again.
He bit his lip. A sign that he didn’t know how to bring up what he wanted to bring up. What was wrong with him tonight?
I was about to ask again when he finally spoke.
“Yung spot mo kanina, bakit ganun? Anong nangyari?”, he finally said.
I frowned. My spot? In Party Pilipinas earlier? What was wrong with it? I suddenly felt anxious.
“Nagkamali ba ako nang di ko alam? Sintonado?”, I asked with agitation.
He chuckled and shook his head.
“Niloloko mo ba ako? Ikaw, sintonado? So ano ako? Tumutula na lang, ganun?”, he joked.
I raised my eyebrow at him and crossed my arms in front of me.
“Diretsahin mo kasi, pinapakaba mo ako eh”, I chided.
He took a deep breath.
“Bakit andun si Alden?”
That took me by surprise. Alden? His problem was Alden being in my spot? What was wrong with that?
“Anong masama dun? Eh sinubukan lang naman ni Direk”, I explained.
He shrugged and looked away, looked towards the view of the city in front of us.
“Sinubukan ang ano? DenLie na naman?”, he asked. Somehow, his voice was approaching a rather bitter tone.
“O ano naman? Ikaw naman, diba pumayag na tayong tumambal muna sa iba? Kasi lumalaki na masyado yung issues sa tandem natin?”.
We’d talked about this weeks ago. This was why we haven’t had solo productions numbers anymore, because we were trying to do damage control on the issues surrounding our love team. We didn’t like the controversies coming out. We agreed to lie low for a while. But only as a love team, of course. We were still friends, no matter what happened.
“Pero iba pala pakiramdam…”, he trailed off.
I couldn’t understand what he was saying.
“Anong iba? Anong pakiramdam?”, I asked.
I cupped his chin and forced him to look at me. He frowned. I knew he hated it when I did this, but I wanted to talk to him face to face and he was making that hard right now.
“Elmo, anong inaarte mo naman dyan? Diba nga, kailangan muna natin pahupain yung issue sa girlfriend mo—-“
“Di ko siya girlfriend, Julie, ano ba”, he cut me off, looking away again. His voice was slowly approaching sinister. I was surprised.
“Ha? Di mo naman kelangan itago sakin—-“
“Di ko siya girlfriend”, he repeated, this time with more emphasis. Aggressively, one would even say.
That silenced me. Despite us being friends for a long time, we don’t dwell on each other’s love life. It was just an aspect of our life that we agreed not to discuss. Come to think of it, we never really verbally agreed not to discuss our love life with each other. It was just, sort of, implied. This was actually the first time I addressed his girlfriend, which he apparently doesn’t acknowledge as such. Still, it may only be because he wanted to be discreet about it. But I wanted him to know I accept every part of him, even his choice in women.
“Imposible naman ata eh lagi naman kayong nagde-date—-“
“Yun na nga yun. ‘Dating’ lang kami. Hindi ko siya girlfriend”, he said.
“Oh. Eh bakit pa tayo pumayag magpatambal sa iba? Kung wala naman palang issue na kelangan ayusin?”, I asked, frowning.
“Sinunod ko lang desisyon mo. Ikaw nauna nagsabi nun diba? Na hinto muna kasi may issues? Kaya pumayag na din ako.”
That caught me off guard.
“Pero… pero ano… pero kaya ko lang naman nasabi yung issues dahil sa inyo ni—-“
“Eh kung wala ngang issue samin, pwede na ba uli ituloy yung love team natin?”, he asked. His voice was now approaching something close to pleading.
That caught me off guard, too. What was really the issue again? Alden in my spot earlier. I still didn’t understand why he was acting this way because of that. I do have a nagging suspicion, but it was an unlikely reason seeing as we were best friends…
“Tapatin mo nga muna ako… bakit ka ba apektado sa DenLie masyado?”, I asked point blank.
He was silent for a few moments and I didn’t interrupt his thoughts. Instead, I patiently waited for him to respond.
“Alam mo ba bakit ko siya dine-date?”, he asked me.
It was off topic, but I conceded.
“Malamang kasi gusto mo siya”, I replied, chuckling.
What else would it be?
“Kasi gusto ng mga ate ko sa kanya para sakin”, he admitted.
This was the first time I heard this.
“O? Eh pero siguro naman gusto mo din naman siya”, I prodded. I knew I was being stubborn and breaking the unwritten rule between us about not discussing love life, but I didn’t really know what else to say.
He shrugged again.
“Ayos lang. Okay naman siya”, he said. He sighed. “Pero asdjkfhkla.”
At least, that’s how I heard it. He mumbled at the end there and I didn’t understand what he said.
“Ano?”, I asked, a little too loudly.
He looked at me. Sad eyes. Why did he have sad eyes?
“Sabi ko, ‘Pero hindi siya ikaw’”, he said, looking away again.
I was speechless. What did he mean? Why was he being so vague?
“Tapos? Ayaw mo ba sakanya?”, I asked.
My sentences weren’t related but thoughts were running around in my head faster than my brain could catch up and process them. There was really no time to be coherent with words.
“Di ka ba nakikinig? Sabi ko okay lang siya. Pero hindi siya ikaw”, he blurted out, this time looking me straight in the eyes.
And now it was my turn to look away because his stare was just too intense, I swear it would’ve made my heart jump from my chest to my throat. Now I understood what was happening to him. He was jealous of Alden. He didn’t like that girl as much as I thought he did.
“Pero bakit binabalikan mo padin siya?”, I asked. I didn’t mean for my voice to sound condescending. But it did, anyway.
He banged his fist on the hood of the car and it made me jump.
“Uy, ano ba”, I scolded.
“Julie, anong klaseng tanong yan? Bakit ko siya binabalikan?”, he asked, staring at me. Angry eyes, this time. Angry, but sad. I don’t know how it worked, but that was how I read his expression.
I didn’t respond.
He folded his arms in front of him and stared at his lap. He licked his lips and took a deep breath, as if what he was about to say was draining him of his last remaining energy. And maybe it was. I wouldn’t know. His mind was always such a mystery to me, the thoughts running through his head.
“Pinagbibigyan ko lang ang mga kapatid ko. Wala naman kasi akong mairarason kung bakit hindi ako papayag na subukan i-date siya diba? Best friend nila siya. Natural, gusto nila malapit siya sa pamilya. Ako yung ka-edad niya. Since wala naman daw ako dine-date ngayon, bakit di ko daw subukan siya. Baka sakali daw magkatuluyan kami. Pero siyempre alam kong hind mangyayari yun.”
I nodded and bit my lip. How was I supposed to process that information? He was with her because of his sisters. He didn’t want to, but they asked him to try. And try he did.
“Bakit naman di mo subukan sa ibang babae kung di ka naman masaya?”, I encouraged him. Somehow, I know this statement will just frustrate him. And it did. I heard him groan.
“Kasi hindi ka pa pwede diba?”, he answered. Calm and controlled tone of voice. For once, I didn’t know what that tone of voice meant.
I was spared the necessity of responding as he continued speaking.
“Ayokong subukan sa iba kasi hinihintay kita. Kasi hindi ka pa pwedeng mahalin. Hindi pa panahon. Hindi pa natin panahon”, he told me, briefly making eye contact then slowly turning away and lying down on the hood again.
I just sat there, not knowing what to say. What do you do when your best friend just indirectly admitted that he loved you? I looked down at him. His eyes were closed. I could hear him breathing heavily. He was tired. I couldn’t blame him.
Without knowing why I was going to do what I was about to do, I leaned down and gave him a peck on the cheek. His eyes flew open and he stared at me as our faces were a few inches away. I sat back up but he kept on staring at me with questioning eyes.
“Hindi pa natin panahon…pero darating din tayo dun kung maantay mo”, I finally said.
This made him sit up and stare at me. I saw the slow transformation of his facial expression go from shock to confusion to happiness. It happened so fast, I didn’t really know how I was able to keep up with it.
“Ilang taon na akong naghihintay, Julie…ano ba naman yung ilang taon pa”, he said, smiling at me. Smiling eyes. No more sad or angry eyes, this time. His eyes were smiling. And it made me feel warm that I’m the reason for that.
We sat in silence for a while. I was the one to break it.
“Nagsisisi ka ba, Elmo?”, I asked. It was a vague question, I know. But I felt shy to continue. I was still warming up to the idea of my bestfriend being in love with me.
“Hmm? Nagsisisi sa ano?”, he asked, turning to me. I could only see him from my peripheral vision. I couldn’t bring myself to stare him in the eyes. Like I said, I felt shy.
“Na minamahal mo ang isang taong hindi pa pwedeng mahalin, tulad ng sabi mo? Na ang napili mong mahalin eh paghihintayin ka pa?”
I heard him sigh, then chuckle. He took one of my hands in one of his. And even though I don’t turn my head to look at him, I could feel his eyes on me. It made me blush.
“Hindi ko pagsisisihan ang pagpili sayo. Ang tunay na pagmamahalan eh pinaghihirapan, pinagtatrabahuhan, hindi perpekto, pero masaya. Ikaw ang nakakapagpasaya sa akin. At kung kailangan kong paghirapan ang pagmamahal ko para sayo, tama lang yun. Walang kailangan pagsisihan. Sabi mo nga darating din tayo dun. At pag nangyari yun, lahat ng pinaghirapan, lahat ng trinabaho ay magiging maliit na bagay na lang. I’d rather wait a long time for the best imperfect love than settle for an over-the-counter pseudo-perfect one”, he replied.
And at that moment, I knew he was right. We were both gonna have to wait for the right time. But it’ll be magical when we get there.
We sat there for a long time, just looking up at the stars, the way we started tonight. Everything looked exactly the same, but nothing really was. Tonight was the start of something. Something huge. Something true. Something wonderful.