Everybody in the canteen is transfixed on the television. PAGASA raised signal number 3 in Metro Manila and all the surrounding provinces.
I looked outside the window and it looked like 6 in the evening instead of 7 in the morning. All the typhoon hype is making me nervous and queasy which made me stop drinking my cappuccino. PAGASA is advising people from work and school to go home already, if they still can, before the typhoon hits in the afternoon. As usual, late announcements. As for our company, we were told to wait until 8 am for further announcements – whether work operations will be cancelled or not. Jacques, Marit and I looked at each other.
“This is crazy. I mean, late announcements again! It would take me 2 hours to go home and by that time trees have fallen along the expressway. I will get stuck inside my car and will die in the typhoon!” Jacques exclaimed exaggeratedly. He was always like this. Plenty gay and beautiful — more beautiful that Marit and I. We shook our heads.
“Don’t be silly,” she said, trying to look calm, but I know she is worried for her family — the signal has been raised to 4 in their province. “You two are fortunate enough because you could still go home to your families, me? I’d probably be alone in the apartment, dying not because of the typhoon but because of worry for my family.”
“Come home with me, Marit.” I asked her. “At least you would have company. You don’t have to stay alone in the apartment.”
“I don’t know… I’ll think about it.” She said, while toying away with her salad.
“What is there to think about? Nothing! Nothing!” Jacques exclaimed.
“Yeah, he’s right. So what? Do I get a yes or not? Come on, we don’t want to leave you alone in there. Besides, we wouldn’t have to worry about anything at all at my home — food, clothing, shelter…”
“Okay, okay, I’ll go home with you.” Marit finally conceded.
“Great! Wait, I’ll call my dad. Whether they cancel or not, I would still go home. I do not want to be trapped in this place. It’s hell.” I stood up and went to the stairs, far from people. I dialed my dad’s number, told him I’d be going home any moment now, and that Marit is coming too. He said OK, and told me they are busy preparing for the typhoon. PAGASA said it will probably last 2-3 days. Great. Stuck with no electricity and water supply, for sure. I sighed. Dad told me to take care, and to pass it along to Marit. He said he is cooking Arroz Caldo, my favorite. At least that made me smile. He hung up. I walked back to my two best friends.
“OK. All settled, Marit. We’ll leave in a few minutes.”
“There is no announcement yet, sweetums.” Jacques commented.
“Like I give a damn.” Then my phone started ringing. I looked at the screen. Oh damn.
My face must have looked like hell, Jacques and Marit pulled me back to earth.
“Who’s calling, Auds?” Marit asked. “Why aren’t you answering the call?”
“Is it Pierre?” Jacques asked. I nodded.
“Oh why not answer it?” he asked again.
“I will. Excuse me.” I stood up and pressed the OK button. I sat on the staircase.
“Audrey? Where are you?” he asked. How I like it when he calls my name.
“Still at work. You?”
“Same. Listen, are you going home? We were advised to go home. Work cancelled for 3 days.”
“Hmmm. I don’t know yet. We were advised to wait until 8 am today.”
“But you are going home anyways, are you not?” he said. I could almost see him smiling. I smiled and answered,
“Then let’s go home together. I’ll see you at the train station. Thank God there is a train.”
“But there would probably be loads of people —”
“Not if we beat them to it. Come on, let’s go home together.”
“And Marit is with me.”
“Leave now. I’ll buy us the tickets.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Audrey, I insist.”
“Fine.” I said a little harshly. I hate it when he acts like that. Like he is some almighty Hercules come to save me. He is more like Paris — who destroyed everything for me.
“I’ll call you again. Bye.”
“And Audrey?” he asked, this time softly it almost broke my heart. Again. He does that too often.
“Take care. Please do take care.”
“Will do. You too. Bye.” Then I hung up. I heaved a heavy sigh and returned to our table.
Marit and Jacques have already concluded what we have talked about, as it was clearly visible on their faces.
“He is going home with us, right?” Marit said.
“Yes. He is going to buy us the tickets.” I said, nonchalantly.
“Ah, bless Pierre’s soul!” Jacques commented, then sniggered.
“Don’t do that!” I said.
“Ah, to add to your feeling of elation,” he teased, “Work is cancelled for 3 days, honey. They just announced, while you were in the staircase too busy to notice anything. So you and Marit could enjoy 3 days doing practically nothing except burying your noses in your home’s posh library.” He said jealously.
“Awwww.” Marit teased.
“If we are allowed to go home now, can we get moving? I want to catch the 8:30 am train. The earlier, the better.”
We all stood up, grabbed our bags and our tumblers, and then headed to the nearest door.
It was mad outside — sure there is no rain — yet. But the winds are so strong, the three of us had to grab on to each other to make sure nobody is going to be blown away. Jacques told us he’d give us a ride to the train station, and Marit and I could never be grateful enough for that — all the means of transportation going to the station are crappy and full. Full of crap.
It was heaven inside Jacques’ car. And then my phone started ringing again.
“Is it the musketeer?” Jacques teased.
“No, it’s the evil butler who ruined my life.” I said.
“Awww. Don’t be too hard on him.. and just answer the damn phone, Audrey.” he said.
Why is it too hard to press the OK button when he calls? And why is my throat dry?
“H-hello,” I croaked.
“Audrey? Where are you?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Jacques took this shortcut. He’s taking us to the station.”
“Great. Will you be here in 20 minutes? There is an 8 am train.”
“I don’t know. I’ll ask.” I put my phone down and asked Jacques.
“Jacques, are we going to be there in 20 minutes? He says there is an 8 am train trip.”
There was no need for this, but he grabbed my phone, put it in loudspeaker, and in a raised voice he said, “Yes, Pierre honey, we will be there in 20 minutes. I will deliver Audrey to you safe and sound. And Marit too. Now, don’t you worry, ok?” he said, voice in a fit of frenzy. He loves doing this to me. I heard Pierre’s loud laugh emanating inside the car from my phone.
“Ok, thanks, Jacques.”
“Jacques, honey?” Jacques teased him. He laughed again.
“Yes, Jacques, honey. Thanks.”
“Great! Bye! And see you in 10 minutes. Audrey, you might want to re-touch.” He said, and that made Pierre laugh again.
“There was no need for that comment! Yeah, we’ll see you in 10. Bye.” and then I hung up.
I glared at them, and then they started laughing.
“You might want to re-touch, Auds.” Marit said. I grunted, but did as told.
Sure enough, in ten minutes we were in the station, and after a lot of goodbyes and take cares, we finally let Jacques go. Marit and I walked to the ticket booth and looked for Pierre.
Marit was the one who spotted him.
“He’s there. Beside that fat guy. Ewww. Oh my he looks good. Navy blue suits him.” She commented. I didn’t need to hear that; I’ve seen him many times wearing navy blue. I am impartial to that color. To him, anyway. Maybe he felt Marit and I looking, because he suddenly turned to our direction, smiled and waved. There was nothing else to do but smile back and wave. He stood up and walked towards us.
“Where is Jacques?” he asked.
“We didn’t let him stay too long, he needs to get home ASAP.”
“Oh okay,” he said. “I booked separate compartments.” He said. “You and me, Marit is alone.”
“What? Why?” I asked, fuming. I HATE IT WHEN HE IS SO ASSUMING.
“Because there is no available compartment for three persons. And because Marit wanted to be alone. Didn’t you tell me so, Marit?” he asked. She nodded. I do not know who is lying but I am determined to stay with Marit.
“You go in that compartment alone! I will stay with Marit! Where are the tickets?” I demanded. He gave me the tickets.
“You will have to share that compartment with me,” he said. “It is registered in my name and your name. And they will check, won’t they?”
“Stupid! Trickery! Don’t you come near me.” I said.
“Honey, you’re pink in the cheeks,” Marit said, smiling affably.
“Urgh! You two! Can we get to the coach, please? Marit is just beside us, right?” I asked.
“Yes, her coach is number 24. Ours is 25.”
I didn’t wait for them to respond, I just headed where the train was waiting. I climbed up and sat on the couch. Marit peeked in, smiled, waved, and then headed to her coach. Pierre joined me inside.
“Why are you so upset? We’ve made this trip many times before.”
“Exactly. I don’t want to make trips like this with you anymore.” I said weakly. Great going, Audrey. I told myself. He would really believe that, what a weak assertion.
“What are you thinking?” he asked.
“Nothing that concerns you.” I snapped. He sighed.
We stayed silent for a good 20 minutes. All that is inside my head are memories with him, and it is so funny, that here I am with him, shouldn’t I be making another memory worth remembering? But no. I don’t want them anymore. Staying away is the best option for us, because I want the cycle to stop. And I am determined to stay away, but most of the time I do it half-heartedly. One call, one message and everything is returning. But now I am determined. I can only go so far. I AM TIRED. AND THIS IS NOT RIGHT.
“Audrey?” he called.
I looked at him. “Yeah?” I said.
“Will you kiss me?” he asked. He looked desolate, but there was a finality in that look that it scared me.
I tried to regain my composure.
“Will you give up with that already?” I asked, half exasperated and half amused.
“What? You think a kiss is just some kind of candy I could give away to anyone and at anytime? My kiss?!” I exclaimed.
“I think your kiss is so special and I want it. For selfish reasons.” He said, unwincing. Just like that, huh?
“Yeah, for selfish reasons.” I repeated.
“So, will you? Just this once, Audrey, and I won’t ask for it again.”
“You’re damn right you won’t! Because if I kiss you now, it would mean goodbye. If you choose for me not to kiss you, I will stay in your life indefinitely; like an old favorite shirt you stacked away inside your closet.” I said. I finally managed to say it. I have been thinking about that for a very long time.
He looked at me. His face registering mixed emotions I can hardly name them all — shock, guilt, sadness, wait, what was that one? Amusement? And then he turned serious. And silent.
It was so silent inside the compartment; all I can hear is the thundering of my heart inside my chest, and the engine of the train. I wonder what Marit is doing. She needs to be the little beast that she is and knock and put an end to this very uncomfortable silence. I know Pierre is thinking, and is choosing between the two choices I gave him.
Finally, he spoke. He called my name. Will this be for the last time?
“Audrey?” he called. I closed my eyes and let the sound of his voice reverberate inside my head.
“Yeah?” I asked. I have no energy to even open my eyes.
“Look at me please.” And just like that my eyelids opened. I hate this effect. And so I looked at him.
Those black eyes devoid of any emotion for so long are now looking at me meaningfully, it’s like looking at a part of him. A part I say, because I can never fully understand and know him. Never. This has come to an end. And I can taste the goodbye already, even if the choice has not been stated yet.
“I have made my choice. The reason for your life being such a mess right now is because of me. I admit to my selfishness; we are all selfish, everyone of us involved in this situation. I wouldn’t give myself all the credit of hurting you, but I admit to having a big, significant part in it. And this is why I need to stop. You don’t need me in your life; and I don’t need you in mine. I want you so badly, but I don’t love you. I don’t need you. The one you love and need is now gone, and now you will be alone. But someone is bound to come for you. I will have to say goodbye.” He said. This, this is the longest speech he has ever had with me.
“So?” I croaked.
“So I am choosing the kiss. Your kiss, Audrey. And I promise never to be a nuisance to you anymore. Ever.”
I glared at him, but his facial expression was so soft and torn in anguish. I am guessing he never felt this way before.
“Up to the last minute, you are as selfish as ever. You get something from me, I don’t get anything in return.” I said. It sounded stupid, child-like.
“You get your freedom, Audrey. You get to move on.”
“Yeah. From the sordid, hellish past.”
“Yes. And it will make me feel right again, knowing you’d be happy somewhere.”
“Right.” I answered, and sighed.
He moved beside me, he was so close, too close — I could smell his peppermint breath. And I could not breathe at all.
“Thank you Audrey, for showing me things. For making me feel things.” He said, looking at me straight in the eyes. His eyes were sincere.
“Okay. Right.” I answered. There is no need for me to say stuff like that, I’ve already said them at least a dozen times before.
“So, this is good-bye.” And before I could do anything, he cupped my face gently, and pulled me closer to him with enough force, and then it happened —
The Kiss. Our lips met.
We were like that for I don’t know — seconds? minutes? Until he moved his lips and gave me a real kiss. I answered back but it was to me, improper. I stopped. I pulled away from him, and before I can stop it, the tears fell.
Goodbyes. I hate goodbyes.
“Am I that bad a kisser?” He joked.
“Don’t! Don’t joke about it! I, I, I—” I cannot go on. I cannot speak anymore. He embraced me.
He put his lips in my ear and whispered,
“Goodbye, Audrey. I pray for your utter happiness. You deserve it.” He looked at me, wiped the tears from my eyes, kissed my forehead, and sat still beside me.
The train has already stopped. I looked wildly to check for the station; we are in his stop already.
He stood up, grabbed his bag, looked at me, and I finally managed to say,
He smiled, and then stepped outside the compartment without another word.
He traded a lifetime of standing still for a minute of a kiss.
It has come to an end. A new start awaits me.
(For Viviene and Fhadz — who told me to write. Told, not asked. :)) Forced. Hahaha. Purely fictional.)