9. Fucking Stay With Me

“WHERE is Stefano?” Cielo inquired hurriedly to the bouncer while catching her breath from running. Minadali niya ang pagbiyahe mula sa mansiyon papunta sa club ng makatanggap ng tawag mula sa numero ni Stefano.  She heard the loud music from the background pero dinig niya nang sabihin nitong he needed help. He’s at this famous bar at hindi na makakapag-drive dahil sa kalasingan. “I am his fiancé.” Mabuti at kilala nito ang binata at ito na mismo ang sumama sa kanya sa loob.

         Buhay na buhay pa rin ang loob ng club kahit na ala-una na ng madaling araw. Lights are blinding the moment she stepped in at dinala siya ng bouncer sa second floor. While ascending on the stairs ay napatining si Cielo sa baba and she was amazed how party people stay the night.

The dance floor was jam-packed; woman and man danced to the upbeat music skin to skin. Ang iba ay may mga hawak pang baso ng alak sa kamay. While men are casually dressed, women look chic and sexy. Napatingin siya sa suot na simpleng white statement shirt at high waist pants na tinernuhan ng isang pares ng sneakers. Walang sinabi ang get-up niya sa mga naroroon na halos naka-dress na umabot lang hanggang sa kalahati ng hita or di kaya’y mga naka-skirt. Very off ika nga but considering the urgency of the situation ay hindi na niya iyon inalintana. And the fact that hindi naman talaga siya nagsusuot ng ganoon ka-revealing na damit.

                I beg to disagree! Naipikit niya ang mga mata, remembering the shoot yesterday. In a month’s time ilalabas na ang issue ng magazine and you’ll see the face and body of the new model of Redline Maxi Collections...”

                “Andoon po si Sir,” itinuro sa kanya ng bouncer ang kinaroroonan ng lalaki and to her surprise, kahit tulog na ito ay may dalawang babae na obvious ang interest sa binata. Mukha lang namang natutulog si Stefano sa pinakadulong couch na ang ulo’y nakasandig sa dingding. “Tulungan ko na po kayo.”

                They walked passed a series of other occupied couches before they reach him, him who do nothing but to shoo the hands of those desperate ladies and decline their offer.

                “Stefano,” she called out. Three pair of eyes look at her direction; the ladies who didn’t hide their distaste on the newcomer and his deep set of dark brown eyes na natuwa pagkakita sa kanya. “Nandito na ako. I’m gonna take you home.”

                “The fiancé is already here. I’m sorry, ladies,” the ladies protested pero hindi naman iyon pinakinggan ng binata. Tumayo ito sa couch pero dala ng kalasingan ay na-out of balance ang lalaki. Madali naman nila itong nahawakan ng bouncer. He looked at her with that hooded eyes before he turned to the buff guy. “I’m okay, ‘pre. I got my girl here. You can go back to your post.” Mukha pang nag-alangan ang bouncer kaya sumagot na siya.

                “You heard him. Thank you,” sabi niya na inilagay na ang isang braso ni Stefano sa kanyang balikat para suportahan ito. Her other hand lies flat at his lower back. “We can manage, I guess.” At naglakad na sila pababa ng club. Nakasunod sa kanila ang bouncer.

                “I thought you would not come,” naka-alalay ito sa kanya, not giving so much weight on him. Parang naka-akbay lang ito sa kanya ng kaswal dahil matuwid pa naman ito maglakad which is quite odd kung wasted nga ang lalaki. “Can you be a doll and get this drunk man on his flat?”

                “That’s practically what I’m doing, Stef,” aniya at ng makalabas na sa maingay na club at tinungo na kung saan naka-parking ang kanyang sasakyan. Good thing at mayroon pang bakante sa front parking. “And Stef, sa passenger seat ka. Remember, you’re drunk?” aniya at namangha nang lumayo sa kanya ang binata at kusang nagtungo sa driver’s seat.

                “Right! How could I forgot. I’m drunk!” anitong natauhan nang mahawakan ang pinto ng sasakyan at hindi iyon magbukas anumang pilit nito. “Of course, milady,” and he ushered her like a real prince. Sinakyan na lang ni Cielo ang gusto nito na napapa-iling. Ang kotse nito ay inihabilin muna sa may-ari ng club. His close with Douglas Kramer, name pretty sounds familiar pero hindi mapin-point ni Cielo kung saan.

                Moments later they hit the road. Stefano is kinda cute kapag nakainom. He’s talkative. His mouth just keeps saying the words that comes first in his mind. It’s kinda refreshing, seeing this side of him na hindi nito madalas ipakita sa tao. And she’s happy that he regards her as one of those few people that he let to see this ‘Stefano Hernandez’.

                “I see you smile. So ano’ng nakakatawa sa sinabi ko about Astronomy?” Yes he’s talking about the vast universe and heavenly bodies he’s fixated about. Hindi nga alam ng dalaga kung nasusundan pa niya ito.

                “Nothing, professor. Magkwento ka pa.” She urged him, pilit na itinatago ang ngiti sa mga labi. From the rearview mirror ay nakita niyang nagsalubong ang mga kilay nito, then his mouth turned into a thin line. His facial features hardened and she thought he’s playing the guy na kunwari ay nagtatampo. She chuckled as she manuevered the wheels. “What? I said it’s nothing, Stef. Go on. I’m listening.”

                “Bakit ba hindi niyo na lang sabihin kung ano ang mali? Di ba may mali?” Wala siyang masabi. She was caught off-guard to the sudden change of atmosphere, to the words that comes forth in his mouth. From the funny guy turned scorned soul in a jiff. “You keep feeding me with lies, may mali na pala bakit hindi niyo sinasabi sa akin? Hell! Ano ba ako? Walang pakiramdam at di nasasaktan? Nasasaktan ako, Cielo! Nasasaktan ako pero bakit lagi na lang niya akong sinasaktan...” may halong sakit at paninisi ang boses ng binata. Dama niya ang kinikimkim na hinanakit nito sa dibdib at kahit papaano’y nakaramdam siya ng awa dito. This outburst of emotions was unexpected or dahil dala na lang din siguro ng sitwasyon kung kaya nailabas nito ang saloobin.

                He’s...hurting inside. Hindi niya alam kung gaano kalalim ang extent pero kung nagkakaganito ang isang Stefano Ezekiel Hernandez sa kanyang harap, it’s obviously not some petty problems of the heart. And her heart wants to reach out to him.

                “Stef...” he raised his hand to cut her.

                “I...just pleased drop me to my house.” He said na sinundan nitong muli. “Not to my flat but to my house. I want to go home.”

                “Alright then, let’s get you home,” she said. And he never tell stories about the stars and galaxies again. Nakabibinging katahimikan ang pumagitna sa kanilang dalawa habang binabantas ang daan patungo sa bahay nito.

~*~

                AN almost hour drive away from the metro, narating nilang dalawa ni Stef ang two-storey Mediteranean style na bahay nito sa isang exclusive na subdivision. Bumaba agad si Stefano nang maihimpil niya ang sasakyan sa harapan ng gate nito at tuloy-tuloy na pumasok sa loob. She get her keys bago sumunod dito. Nagaalala siya baka kung mapaano ito papasok sa loob. Hindi na niya na-appreciate ang exteriors ng bahay na naiilawan ng mga nakapalibot na lamp posts. He’s walking too fast she needed to catch up.

                “Stef, Ano ba ang problema?” she said, staring at the tired image of the fiancé infront. Naupo ito sa isa sa mga sofa at isinandig ang katawan doon, head resting on the cushion and eyes firmly closed. “Tell me what’s wrong para matulungan kita. I know there’s something wrong...”

                “You wouldn’t understand,” he said not even opening his eyes. “Salamat sa paghatid. I can take it from here.”

                “Of course hindi ko maiinintidihan kasi hindi niyo pinapaintindi sa akin. No one ever dared to make me understand my position in this situation,” frustrated she said. Pent-up emotions rise as past events replay to her mind, pinapaalala sa kanya kung ano ang napasukan niyang gulo. She bit her lower lip hard before lashing the words to him na parang dito niya naibunton ang galit, ang sakit, ang hinanakit. “Alam mo hindi lang ikaw ang may problema. I had my own. I’ve caught myself into a real mess, Stefano, pero tinawagan ba kita? Tinawagan ko ba si Beatriz? Wala akong tinawagan ni isa sa inyo kasi alam ko we had our own problems to deal with. In two weeks time frame, ang gulo-gulo na ng sitwasyon ko! And you call me. You call me, Stef.”

                “I call you because you’re my fiancé.”

                “You call me dahil kailangan mo ng kausap!” she stressed out. “Kailangan mo ng kausap na hindi ka huhusgahan. And we’re practically strangers so I’m the best candidate in the position.

                “If it’s all about that incident earlier, huwag mo nang isipin ‘yon,” he said na nahimas pa ang batok at bakas sa boses ang pagkabagot. “It’s nothing. So please, let’s call it a night.”

                Pero sadya atang matigas ang ulo ng dalaga. With everything that’s been done the past weeks ay noon niya lang na-realize na she’d become someone far from the prim and proper Cielo. She’d done things na hindi niya inakalang magagawa sa tanang buhay niya kahit pa sabihing may nagtulak sa kanya para gawin iyon, para maramdaman iyon. She permitted everything that’s been done.

                She felt alive.

                She felt the freedom.

                Ilang hakbang pa at nasa tabi na siya ng binata. She held his face and looked directly to his eyes. “Tell me what bothers you and let’s seek answers together.” Napabuga ito ng hangin bago tinitigan siya nang mapang-arok na mga mata. Hindi naman siya nagpatinag. Na dapat ata na kanyang pinagsisihan.

                “Dahil mapilit ka. Fine. This is what bothers me,” at kinabig siya ni Stef sa batok at siniil ng mapusok na halik ang kanyang mga labi. Marahas na halos ikapunit ng mga labi niya sa tindi ng intensidad na hatid niyon. She tasted blood afterwards and she was alarmed. Kahit ano’ng tulak niya sa dibdib nito ay hindi matinag ang binata bagkus ay mas lalo pa siyang hinapit nito sa baywang.

                Trapped and helpless, she shed tears. Mga luhang nalasahan ni Stefano kapagdaka.

                As if struck by lightning, Stef let her go and he immediately received a hard slap coming from her. Pumaling ang mukha nito sa kabilang panig at bumakat sa pisngi ang bigat ng kasalanang ginawa nito sa kanya.

                “What is that?” She asked while sobbing, her eyes can’t stop shedding tears while looking at him. He didn’t reply, na para bang iniisip din nito ang ginawang kapusukan. “I said what is that, Stef? Kaya ka ba nagkakaganyan ay dahil gusto mo ng intimacy na hindi ko pa nabibigay?” Gigil na sumbat niya. Na kung hihingin man nito ay hindi alam ng dalaga kung kaya pa ba niyang ibigay.

                She’d given it to someone else. At isa iyong pagtataksil sa kanyang fiancé.

                “It’s not that...”

                “Then what is it?”

                “It’s us, Cielo!” Naihilamos nito ang mga palad sa mukha bago humarap sa kanya. “Should we push through with the engagement, with the wedding kung sa halik ko pa lang ay ayaw mo na?” She bit her lower lip. He had a point but...

                “You’re hurting me...” umiling ito.

                “Don’t give all the blame to me. You didn’t respond. In passionate kissing hindi isa lang ang gagalaw. It’s a mutual effort of lovers.” Ginagap nito ang kanyang kamay at hinalikan ang likod niyon. Nakatitig lang siya dito na parang nababatubalani. He’s like speaking a foreign language she had the hard time to understand. “I want you to be honest with yourself. I’m giving you the chance to back out. Hindi pa huli ang lahat.”

                “And what about you?” she got her wits back. He smiled but it never reached his eyes.

                “I’ve lost everything and it’s all my fault. I’ve got nothing to lose now because I’m void inside, Cielo. Do you still want a soulless man like me?”

                Wala siyang naisagot. Stef kissed her forehead and stand up. “Please drive safe. Hindi na kita maihahatid sa inyo. And locked the door when you leave.” And he left her and walked towards his bedroom. He shrugged off all his clothing and lie naked on his bed. Precisely their bed. Stef cried once more as images of his wife flashed on his mind.

                Ericka came back to make amends, pero ano ang ginawa niya?

                Now she’s totally out of his life.

                “Ang gago mo, Stefano! Ang gago mo!” aniya sa sarili at pinagbabato sa kung saan ang mga bagay na maabot ng mga kamay.

~*~

                WHEN Marco poured whiskey into the glass, his hands were shaking. Kinailangan niyang ibaba ang bote sa lamesa at isandal ang pagod na katawan sa swivel chair. His tired eyes land on the wall clock ahead, it’s already 2 am in the morning and here he was, spending time alone in his office after a day of meetings and paperworks. It was tiring, indeed, but he has to make himself busy just to forget everything about her but it was temporary. Bahagya niyang inikot ang baso, swirling it’s content.

                Pagod man ang katawan at isipan niya pero heto pa rin siya, thinking about Cielo.

                “Ito ba talaga ang gusto mo?” Sambit niya sa kawalan. At parang narinig niya ang boses nitong nagsalita ng kompirmasyon.

                Oo, Marco, ang itsura nito ay puno ng sakit. Pero ang dumaang pagsisisi sa mga mata nito sa nagawa nila ang lubhang nagpayanig sa sistema niya. Nakuha mo na ang gusto mo, ‘di ba? It’s time for you to do your side of the agreement. Sobrang mali na binigay ko sa’yo ang sarili ko at ayokong nang madagdagan pa ang kasalanan ko. Leave me be...

                “That’s bullshit!” Malakas na sigaw ng binata kasabay nang pagkabasag ng baso sa dingding. Nagkapira-piraso iyon sa sahig na parang sinasalamin nyon ang buo niyang pagkatao. He’s suttering to pieces thinking Cielo would not comeback. Frustrated that he could not do anything at the moment, halos itaob niya ang kanyang lamesa at ang mga muebles na naroroon. Nagkalat ang mga papeles sa kung saan-saan. “Bullshit! Bullshit! Cielo, I told you to stay with me! Fucking stay with me!” He shouted more habang ibinubunton niya ang galit sa mga bagay na sakop ng opisina.

                Mukhang pinasok ng magnanakaw ang itsura ng opisina ni Marco pagkatapos ng unos na ginawa niya. Nanghihina siyang napa-upo pabalik sa swivel chair at inihilamos ang palad sa mukha. Isang araw. Isang araw pa lang at ganito na ang epekto sa kanya ng kaalamang di magbabalik ang dalaga sa kanya.

                Alalahanin mong hindi siya sa’yo, Marco. His mind talking some sense to him. Should you persuade her, ano’ng plano mo? You can’t possible have everything when honestly you got nothing to offer back. Ano ba ang kaya mong ibigay para sa kanya?

                Ano ba para sa’yo si Cielo para mabaliw ka, Marco?

                Nahilot niya ang kanyang sentido.

                Hindi ito maari. He has to do something, he said to himself as he fish out his phone and dialect Beatriz number.

                “Hello?” Napapikit ang mga mata niya pagkarinig sa boses ni Rafaele, ang asawa ng kapatid.

                “I don’t have time for you, Avila.” He said at dahil galit siya ng mga oras na iyon ay muli niyang naalala ang katarantaduhan nito. His jaw harde, nagpipigil na bulyawan ito kahit pa kating-kat ang mga kamao niya na basagin ang mukha nito. “Give the phone to my sister. I need to talk to her.”

                “She’s sleeping already. Ako na lang ang magsasabi sa kanya---“

                “I said give the damn phone to my sister.” Marco stressed every words. “Si Beatriz ang kailangan ko,”

                “You don’t boss me around, Marco. Kapag sinabi ko na tulog na si Beatriz, ibig sabihin di siya pwede magambala. She’d stay up late to finish some plates at wala pang isang oras...”

                “Wala akong pakialam!” Noon siya sumabog. “ Kapag sinabi kong ibigay mo, ibigay mo!”

                “You sounded shit. Try to call tomorrow morning at baka lipas na ‘yang init ng ulo mo.” End tone.

                “Bull shit!” and his phone crash at the other side of the room.

~*~

                “Stop making a fool of yourself, Poleen. You’re wasting your precious time on him. He’ll not come around.” Poleen looked back to see Nikos Al Farsi. May hawak itong scotch on the rocks. He looked majestic as the party lights light his way. Despite the casual clothes, the prodigal prince of the Al Farsi Kingdom of the East exudes royalty. His reputation just all the more added to his popularity. “Maaga pa ang gabi. Come and have some fun.”

                “He said he’ll call me. Alam niya na birthday ko ngayon.” Yes, it was her birthday at nandito siya sa pool side ng Wynn Las Vegas, isang high end luxury resort and casino, dahil na rin sa paanyaya nito. All the way from the east, lumipad si Nikos sa Romania para sunduin siya. She have no clue that he’ll bring him to Las Vegas and throw a party for her.

                He isn’t one of her friends but Nikos never failed to attend her plays. He’s always there, in the middle of the crowd, watching her. Poleen thought his fascination over her will fade over the time but he’s stubborn as the media says. Hindi nito itinago na attracted ito sa kanya unang pagtatagpo nila sa isang party sa Madrid. And his patience on her was surprising indeed. She never heard that Nikos Al Farsi chased any woman in the past for more than a week. It’s always the other way around.

                “Maybe he did pero nasaan siya ngayon? Tumawag ba siya sa’yo?”

                “What are you implying, Nikos?”

                “He didn’t love you,” he said straight to her face na para bang hindi siya masasaktan sa mga binitawan nitong salita. His hazel eyes challenge hers. “Tell me, did he even say the words even once?”

                “Y-Yes...”

                “Liar.” He inched his way to her. His hands hold the rails, trapping her. Bumaba ang ulo nito hanggang sa magkapantay na ang kanilang mga mata. His minty fresh breath mixed to faint smell of alcoohol assaulted her senses. Something inside her warm. “I can see through you, Poleen. Kilala na kita. You suck at lying.” She pushed him on the chest and give ample space between them.

                Her face flushed, Poleen shook her head. “I better get going. And don’t look after me.” She run after and never bother to look back as he shouted the words.

                “I’ll easily find you, sweetheart. I’ll easily do.” Inubos ni Nikos ang alak sa dalang baso habang pinapanood ang papaalis na si Poleen.

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