Re-post of Chapter 19, and the subsequent chapters.
“James, what the hell. It's freaking 4 AM!” angal ni Bret sa pag-gising sa kanya ng kaibigan. “What are you on, man?” tanong nito sa kaibigang ala ipu-ipo sa kakadampot ng mga gamit na ineempake nito. Pupungaspungas pang bumangon ng bahagya si Bret.
“I have to take care of some things. I need a dress.” tulirong sagot ni James.
“You need a dress.” Bret repeated dryly. “Wait, what?”
“I also have several appointments to make today. You have to take the coaster with everyone cause I gotta go now.”
“James, it's early, I haven't had my coffee, and you're acting crazy.” Bret narrated as James paused with a shirt in his hands.
“Okay. Here's what I got. You're leaving at this ungodly hour.” James tried to speak but Bret hushed him with a gesture. “And I have to take the coaster with the gang... That's fine. Also you're acting like a tazmanian devil, and I'm not sure if I heard this one right - YOU need a dress.”
James paused and stared at his friend for a moment. “Good. You were paying attention.” He stuffed another shirt in his bag. “I was worried you weren't quite awake yet.” he added cooly.
Bret had a royal facepalm moment before he finally scrambled to his feet with a confused expression. “Coffee... I need coffee. And you, my friend, are giving me a headache.”
“Huy naman! Devs! Bat dito ka natulog? Akala ko naman, eh nasa beach ka lang kasama nina Ate Shey, tapos pag-daan ko dito, bigla nalang kitang nakita! Akala ko naman nag eemote-emote ka, pero hinde! Sleeping beauty pala ang drama mo.”
“Ha?” Devon answered. Pupungas-pungas pa ito habang bumabangon. “Ow.” anang dalaga cupping a palm to her side while the other rubbed at her eyes.
“Yan kasi. Why'd you sleep out here ba? Yan tuloy. Masakit likod mo 'no? Eh kasalanan mo rin naman yan, girl.” Tuloy ang talak ni Kyra habang bahagyang hinahaplos ang mga balikat at likod ng kaibigan. “I packed na your things.”
“Ha?” Devon said groggily.
“Eh sinama ko lang naman sa bag mo yung toiletry kit mo.” paliwanag ni Kyra. “Halos hindi rin naman nagalaw ang bag mo eh. Aalis na daw tayo in two hours...”
“Wait.” hiling ni Devon habang unti-unting bumabalik sa huwisyo ang sarili.
“Eh, sorry na kung nangialam ako. Akala ko naman ok lang sayo eh.”
“Huy! Owver ka naman. Sobrang big deal na ba sayo na nilagay ko sa bag mo yung ano? Nakakaloka ka ha. Nagpapasorry na kaya ako.”
“Hindi ako galit sa'yo. Relax. Wait lang...” pakiusap ni Devon habang unti-unting nagigising. Magaan ang pakiramdam niya. It was as though nabunutan siya ng isang malaking tinik sa dibdib. Napasarap yata ang tulog niya, at pati sa paggising ay dala niya ang kakaibang comfort na ito. “Uuwi na tayo?” she asked as she craned her neck absently as if searching for a certain something or someone, pero di siya sigurado kung sino o ano, at saka pa lamang niya naisip na baka magandang panaginip ang dahilan ng kanyang magandang mood. Kagabi kasi... ano nga ba naman ang nangyari kagabi?
Si James! Devon jumped to her feet, nang naulirat and turned here and there in search for the man, who was obviously not there with her.
“Eh ano pa nga ba? E Wednesday na po. Dapat nga kaninang umaga pa tayo nakaalis dito. Buti nalang mabait yung management pinayagan tayong mag extend hanggang PM.” simpleng sagot ni Kyra na walang kamalay-malay sa inaasal ng kaibigan. “Let's go!” aya nito at niyakag na ang kaibigan sa braso. Sumunod lang si Devon sa pag akay sa kanya ng kaibigan, inaalala parin ang magandang panaginip na parang totoo.
“Devs, naiwan mo.” pasimpleng binalikan ni Kyra ang recliner at dinampot ang isang hoodie. Nang makita ito ni Devon, ay nanlaki ang kanyang mga mata.
Hindi lang basta panaginip ang dahilan ng warmth na nararamdaman niya.
Magkasama sila kagabi at walang iringan o away na nangyari. At tuluyan nang nagising ang dalaga the moment na dumampi sa kanyang mga kamay ang malambot na tela ng hoodie ni James. Ang hoodie na ipinatong ng binata sa mga balikat niya kagabi. Ang hoodie of peace, ika nga ni ng binata dahil bati na daw sila.
There was a flurry of activity and last minute to-dos before the gang finally managed to start packing up completely to leave. It was already dusk by the time they were all ready to shove out, and Devon was not able to go searching for James all day. While loading up on the coaster, she noticed that James car was not in the lot, and Bret was riding back to the real world with them.
She whipped out her phone, and turned it on for the first time in days. 10 Unread Messages, most were forwarded messages, except for a couple from her mother reminding her to take care of herself. She smiled at this before clicking on the new message icon.
Her fingers hesitated before typing James at the To: section, and then again before clicking on James Reid from the list of contacts names James. She clicked the message box and stared at the blinking cursor as her mind held no prisoners. She was still deliberating what to send when she overheard Fretzie ask Bret where James was. Bret answered that James left really early for appointments before they moved on to a new subject, and Devon retreated back to the subject at hand. Her phone, and the wanton message of extreme difficulty.
James stared at his phone for the nth time before he willed himself not to bother Devon. Things were good between them for once, and the last thing he wanted to happen was for her to feel overwhelmed. He would reduce the probability of that if he could at all help it. But this whole thing has been such a challenge. This whole giving her space effort has proven to be such trying times because he was so miserable, like a two bit coke-whore deprived of her drug of choice, because he missed her. He missed her so much it was pitiful. 15 hours and counting of this misery – and already he was wondering how he could deal with the overwhelming need to see her. He fully realizes that he was acting like a complete lunatic, but the floodgates have been opened and there was no turning back for him. All the repression he's enforced for the past year came in hordes to haunt him. He might just go completely and utterly, figuratively, and medically insane from the sheer amount of catching-up he felt he needed to do. But he revelled in it come hell or high water. He sees in his mind's eye what he envisions would lie ahead for them. !9 years old, and he has never been so sure about anything in his life before this one thing. This one girl. Devon. His resolve was reinforced by his all encompassing love. Except she doesn't know yet.
He left his phone on the table and walked to his favorite chair smiling to himself and feeling like a fool. Sitting there for but a moment, his phone went off. And James, well he went flying towards his device, he held it reverently in his hands and checked who was calling.
Ann Li. He heaved a sigh and laughed at himself.
“Hello?” he answered, his mouth still retaining the remnants of a smile.
“Well someone sounds happy.” Ann teased. “We wanna come over. Do you have any food? I'm pretty starved.” James heard Ryan in the background telling Ann to tell James he was hungry too – that his worms are throwing a revolt – that he might eat Jenny as a sacrifice to the rowdy parasites in his stomach – that his mom said he should eat well and James should help the cause – and a litany of other Ryanisms.
“We?” James asked a bit too eagerly, which Ann noticed but did not comment on. “And no, tell Ryan no food.” he added with a laugh. He remembered he hasn't really eaten all day. “I have some stuff here to cook, but nothing's ready and I don't really feel like cooking.”
“We're just gonna stop over somewhere then. We're coming in waves, by the way. You were warned. Haha!”
“Um, we were dropped off at ABS a couple of hours ago. Most of the guys just chilled there. Devon went to dinner with her family, and we went to the park, so she's not with us right now.” Ann heard James sigh a little. “Ivan took Shey and Kyra home cause Shey needs to rest still, and Fritz and Bret are with him too so they'll get there together. We'll get there in a couple of hours or so...”
“So, what does that mean Ann? You were kinda... Digressing. You lost me.”
Ann heaved a sigh. “Ivan's car will probably get there around 10:30. We'll probably get there around 11 or so. I'm not sure about Devon, but we'll pick her up when she calls us or something.” Ann said with a shrug. “Don't worry she's coming.” Ann added as an aside, to which Jenny and Ryan hooted, hollered and made kissy noises.
“Aw come on guys.” James acted annoyed, but Ann knew otherwise.
“See you later stud muffin.” She said with a laugh.
“Bye.” James answered, smiling.
“No. No, you're not rude. I mean, you're not being rude.” James said quietly. Devon simply responded with a small 'Hm.' “I mean, well, you could be when you want to be, but right this moment, you're not. You are, uh, totally off the mark there.” he prattled on awkwardly.
Devon laughed that small private laugh she did when they hung out together many moons ago. The laugh that always managed to warm his heart and wave his worries goodbye, regardless of what or how it came about. He openly stared at her then, though she seemed oblivious. Caught in her own thoughts, preoccupied by her feet in the water.
“I mean, that you're not off the mark, just off the – Okay, everything seems to be coming out wrong no matter how hard I try.” he finally confessed after slurring and stuttering through his own words.
“I get it. Relax. Chill.” Devon offered, elongating the last word in a soothing, although obviously sarcastic manner. She looked at him and smiled. He smiled back despite himself ignoring that little jibe. Still, she was giving him the proverbial olive branch or what have you, and he appreciated the gesture for what it was. Unaware that as much as he was revelling in this pocket of existence they shared for the moment, she was relishing the same for she missed his company. She missed the old James. She wondered what might have happened that changed everything... But worried too much to actually ask. They were in a fragile bubble that could burst at any moment and she didn't want to relinquish this yet. Neither did he.
Because this might be their last chance at this.
Tomorrow, they go back to the real world and who knows what.
“What happened?” he said solemnly, quietly. He spoke as if he was talking to himself.
Devon turned to him, sharing that same expression of confusion. She knew what he meant. “Hindi ko alam.” she finally answered, her voice significantly lowered in an effort to hide the pain in the words but it had not been lost on James.
“How can neither of us know? Something must have happened.”
“Something must have. Tama ka.” Devon agreed. “You got tired of all the drama, so you went to Australia. When you came back...”
“When I came back... You were working with Ivan.”
“Oh yeah... That show with Kim and Ge.”
“You call him 'Ge' now too?” he asked her with a raised brow. “Quite close, huh?” Devon rolled her eyes. “All the tabloids were saying you and Ivan were spotted somewhere in Eastwood on a date.” he added seriously. “And Ivan was always driving you somewhere after shows.”
“Yeah... Ivan, he's been so good to me.”
“He has been...” he started then caught himself. “He said you never dated.”
“Oh man!” she laughed. “You too?” she asked, mouth agape. “I can't believe you believed that. I can't believe you were one of them this whole time. Nakakaloka.” Devon laughed.
“So, you never dated...”
“No! Never.” she answered with quite the head shake.
“But you were always together. You guys were always leaving together...”
“We were. I owe that guy big time.” she shrugged.
“He took me to the hospital, took me to work, took me home to drive me right back to the hospital...” Devon pulled her feet out of the water and hugged her knees close to her chest. “Malaki na utang ko dun. Sa gas palang? I'm so screwed.”
“Yeah. Okay, okay.” he said absently, brushing what she said off. “I mean, why the hospital?” he asked.
“My mom?” she answered, with a raised brow. Yung expression ng namimilosopo. There was a moment where Devon struggled to identify the expression James wore on his face. “You didn't know.” she deduced finally.
“Is it the same thing as...”
“As at the house? Yeah. But it was different in the real world.” she said bitterly. “Walang Big Brother sa labas eh.” she joked.
“Why didn't you tell me?” he asked quietly. He felt guilty. He abandoned her for petty, childish, stupid, and whatever other derogatory words that were relevant to his situation reasons.
“You did.” he repeated, more as an aside to himself than in response to her.
“You were in Australia when it happened, but she was confined for a little while still when you got back. Hence, the hospital trips with Ivan.” she said, wondering why she felt obliged to explain herself. “She asked me why you didn't visit at all. I said kasi back then we got different work stints na eh. Sabi ko you were busy. Tapos, yun na yun.” she concluded.
They sat in silence. James feeling guilt over his petty behaviour and admiration for her strength at the same time. It was overwhelming to know the truth, and embarrassing to accept his own misgivings, but he felt light and happy. As if a huge portion of himself that had been locked away for too long finally breathed some fresh air for the first time.
It wasn't as hard as he had anticipated. Talking proved to be a fruitful affair. It was exhilarating. It felt all too soon till Devon started to nod off. James watched, wanting to have her rest her head on his shoulder but hesitating in a bout of self doubt. The bubble - it was fragile and one wrong move could burst it. And this moment was warm and comfortable and homey. Things he has not felt for a long time. Feelings he had thought were mere frivolities in songs, or movies, or romantic novels of the prissy kind. He was inlove and he was embracing it. Accepting it as a part of his whole.
After some deliberation he took a leap of faith and gingerly reached for her head. Gently craning her neck to rest on his shoulder he took a deep breath. The scent of her shampoo drifted into his lungs and bubble be damned. He lifted his feet from the pool and crouched down beside her. He rested her head on his chest and lifted her.
“Hey, anong--” mahinang bulong ng dalaga sa bisig ni James.
“Shh. It's alright.” he whispered into her hair as he pressed her gently towards him. He walked slowly, gingerly. Takot na baka tuluyang magising ang dalaga, at umuutang ng makaiilang sandali pa. He gently propped her on a recliner and watched her settle back into slumber. Decidedly staring at her face for a time.
Relishing the completeness of this moment.
He was inlove.
“Kailan ba natin makikita yung gown mo? Akala ko ba dapat i-tetext ka nung designer?” iritableng pagtatanong ni Dhemy sa kapatid. Wala parin si Dimples at nasa seminar parin ito.
“Ha?” pasimpleng sagot ni Devon. “Eh, sa Saturday pa daw para isang fitting na lang. Alam naman na daw niya size ko eh.” and deadmang sagot nito sa ate bago sumubo ng tortellining in-order niya.
“Eh, last minute na yun, Devs!” angal ni Dhemy.
“Dhemy, mas excited ka pa sa kapatid mo. Kumain ka na nga lang.” natatawang pang-aawat ni Mommy Lyn. “Devon, dumaan nga pala si James sa bahay kanina. Ang tagal din naming di nagkita non. Sobrang busy pala siya eh.”
“Dumaan siya sa bahay?” sabay na nagtanong ang magkapatid, parehong gulantang. Nagtinginan sila. “Bakit daw?” usisa ni Devon.
“Eh, oo. Nirefer niya ako sa doktor na kaibigan daw ng dad niya. Ewan ko ba kung bat biglang nakaalala yung batang yon.” anang ginang, smiling.
“Ah, eh, baka nagkataon lang yun Ma.” ani Devon, inaalala ang naging pag-uusap nila ni James.
“Baka nga.” sagot ng ina, at nagkibit balikat na lamang si Dhemy.
“Eh, anak, sino ba ang kasama mo sa Ball? Si Ivan ba o si James?” intrigerong tanong ni Papa Sonny.
“Solo flight lang po ako, Pa. Kasama ko siguro mga Gems. Haha.” tawa ni Devon, awkward at pinagpapawisan ang kamay. Sunud-sunod na kasi ang mga pagsisinungaling niya, at natatakot siyang mabuko. Tiningnan niya ang cellphone niya bilang patay malisya at nagulat siya ng tumambad sa kanya ang oras. Late na siya sa pagpunta sa bahay ni James.
She asked her dad to drive her, at dahil nakisama naman ang traffic ay kalahating oras lang at nakarating na rin si Devon. Bitbit ang isang to-go container ng tortellini na hindi niya din nakain dala ng nerbyos. Pag-alis ng kanyang pamilya, humugot muna siya ng isang malaking breath bago niya pinindot ang buzzer para sa unit ni James. Sabagay, sanay naman na siya dahil dito naman silang grupo madalas tumambay.
“Hello?” anang boses ni James sa intercom.
Aba? Si Jaime ang sumagot ng buzzer? Himala yata. “Hi. Lemme up.” casual na bati ni Devon sa intercom.
Devon? I thought she was supposed to come with Ann later! Shit! Ann set me up? What the hell! “Um, sure, ok.” anito sa intercom at pinindot ang button. Narinig pa niya ang click ng pag bukas ng lobby door bago niya binitawan ang pinindot na intercom. Nagmamadaling nagsuot ng isang manipis na sweater si Jaime at nilagay sa lababo ang mga basong iniwan niya sa coffee table. Tila tulirong naghahanap ng maililigpit sa sala ang Jaime bago bumukas ang pintong nakagawian na niyang hindi i-lock kung may parating na mga bisita, at pumasok si Devon. Simple lang ang ayos nito, naka white tanktop, at gray skirt na may black cincher belt. Sa isang kamay ay isang simpleng wristlet at – pagkain. Kumalam ang sikmura ng Jaimeng maghapon na nga palang hindi kumakain.
“Wala pa sila?” tanong ni Devon at umiling naman si James. “Wow. At nauna pa pala ako kahit na one hour late na ako.” natatawang sambit nito habang hinuhubad ang kanyang classic chucks. She went to the living room and propped herself on her usual spot. Si James naman ay walang kibong pinanonood lamang ang bawat kilos niya. “Ay. Gusto mo?” offer ng dalaga sa binata.
Muling kumalam ang sikmura ni James. “Sure.” simpleng sagot nito with matching ngisi. Tumayo si Devon at kumuha ng plato at ininit ang pagkain sa microwave.
“Wag kang feeling importante.” Devon said. Preempting the sly grin forming on James' lips. “I couldn't eat well at dinner tonight.”
“And here, I thought this was a thoughtful gesture.” nang-aasar na wika ng binata.
Umismid si Devon. “Mukha mo.”
“I thought, 'Wow! Food for me! How thoightful!' but it turns out, I got the doggie bag. Wow, indeed.” he joked.
“Sina Papa kasi eh. Naka hot seat ako the whole time. Grabe.” angal ni Devon habang pinupunasan ang counter. Kailangan kasi may ginagawa siya habang inaantay ang pagkain.
“What were they bugging you about?” usisero mode ang Jaime.
“Wala. Kung anu-ano. The ball... Eh kasi naman hindi naman nila alam na nag-decide na akong--” Devon caught herself. “Saka ano nga pala, pinuntahan mo daw si Mama?” change the subject ang drama niya.
“Oh, uh, yeah. I referred her to Dad's friend.” iwas intrigang sagot din ng Jaime. Nagiiwasan ang mga mata ng dalawa nang mag ding ang microwave. “Let's eat at the balcony.” aya ng binata.
“K.” sang ayon ng dalaga. “Here, take these. I'll get some drinks.” anito sabay pasa ng plate at kubyertos bago tumungo sa fridge. Tahimik na lang na sumunod ang binata. Comfortable sa bumabalik na mannerisms nila with each other. Him as the matulungin and supportive man figure behind boyish good looks, and her as the maalaga sweetheart na mataray behind her angelic face and dazzling smile. Paglabas ni James ay natigilan siya. Dumedestiny yata ang bagay-bagay dahil buo at bilog na bilog ang buwan.
Kinain, ni Jaime ang Tortellini with creamy alfredo sauce habang natatawang pinagmamasadan lamang siya ni Devon.
“Huy, take it easy.” tawa nito. “You wanna choke or something? FYI, hindi ako marunong ng Heimlich maneuver, no!”
Ngumiti lang ang binata. “I'm so hungry!” at tuloy ang kain.
“Here, have some water. Mamaya, maempacho ka pa. Makunsensiya pa ako.”
“What does empacho mean?”
“Tummy ache?” anang dalaga at tumango lang ang binata bago tinanggap ang baso ng tubig.
“Kumain ka ba all day? Grabe ka!” natatawang tanong ng dalaga. “Buti na lang pala gigantic ang portions sa Chianti's kundi mamamatay ka na pala sa gutom.” she gushed as James inhaled dinner.
After eating, James took the things they used inside and came back out with a blanket.
“Oh!” Devon exclaimed. May naalala.
“What is it?” tanong ni James, sinusundan ng tingin ang dali-daling tumayong dalaga. Ilang segundo pa ay lumabas din ito dala-dala ang sweater ni James from the previous night at Matabungkay. She stood by the door, hawak ang pruweba ng gabing muling nagdugtong ang landas nila. Part of her wanted to keep it, the sentimental non-girlfriend-pero-hoping part, pero the casual-friends-lang-ang-inooffer-niya-sayo side, dinidikta na protocol na isauli niya ito. Bahagya niyang piniga ang malambot na tela ng sweater bago niya ito inabot sa binata.
“You found it.” simpleng bigkas ni James ng tumunog ang buzzer at sabay silang lumingon.
“I got it.” Devon said, para lang din maiwasan ang mga mata ni James.
Masayang nagkwentuhan ang mga dating housemates, simpleng tambayan lang. Parang ayaw pa nilang magsibalik sa kanikanilang mundo. Pasimpleng inoobserbahan ni Ann si James. Basang-basa niya ang kaibigan. Panandalian din naman kasing naging mag boyfriend-girlfriend sila noon... Pero it didn't work out. Ann and him were better off as friends, pero kilala ni Ann si James. Sa dinami-daming babaeng kinasakasama nitong si Jaime na lumabas, si Devon lang ang hindi kumagat at naghabol sa kanya. Usually, open din si James na sabihin kung bakit hindi na niya kasakasama ang isang tao. Pero tungkol kay Devon, tikom ang bibig nito. Mala-laser eyes ang pagsunod ng mga mata ni James kay Devon habang nasa kusina ito at nagsasalin ng chips sa bowl para sa mga naglalaro ng Super Smash Brothers Brawl.
“Try takin' a picture, why dontcha?” Ann teased bago tumabi sa binata.
Hindi sumagot si James, pero tumungo na lamang.
“Remember what I said about her.” Ann said, stern. “Hindi si Devon yung tipong binabasta-basta lang, James. Joe and Eslove? They will end you. Saka Kuya Ivan and her are super friends.”
“I love her, James. She's like the sister I never had.” she begged. “If this is some game to you, wag siya. Wag sa kanya.” Seryosong naguusap ang dalawa habang nagwawala si Jenny sa kakahampas kay Ryan in real life dahil nabubugbog siya ni ryan sa Brawl na nilalaro nila.
“It's not like that, ok?”
“It's not like what? You mean, seryoso?”
Seryoso. “Take it as you will.”
Bahagyang niyakap ni Ann si James. “Congratulations, Mr. Swabe.”
“Oh my God! Mr. Swabe? I know that dance! Panood ko luma PBB Gerald Anderson sayaw!” ang masyadong na-excite na comment ni Ryan, sabay giling-giling mode.
“Hoy! Ano ba Ryan Bang! You're so nakakadiri! Yuck!” tumatawang pangsaway ni Jenny sa ka-ibigan.
“Are we playing, or what?” natatawang Kuya mode ni Ivan.
“Dance party na lang!” udyok ni Devon.
“Wait! Wait lang!” tili ni Ann sabay jump to the rescue and she plugged in her iPod into James' stereo. At nagsimulang magsisayawan ang mga magbabarkada.
“Devs, do you have a fitting tomorrow?” usisa ni Ivan nang kumalma na silang lahat.
“Ah, ha?” pasimpleng tanong ni Devon. Hyper-kinig naman ang Jaime dahil napansin niya ang biglang pagbabago sa aura ng dalaga.
“Well, everyone else is having a fitting tomorrow.” inosenteng follow-up ni Ivan as he lounged on the couch. “I could drive you if you want.” James was all ears when Devon changed the subject by asking Ann something trivial at tuluyan nang inisnab ang query ni Ivan. James smiled to himself. Devon was such a terrible liar.
All day Friday, Devon started to 'fake-it' in preparation for Saturday. Pero kilalang-kilala siya ng kanyang ina at wa-epek ang acting niya. Maloloko niya talaga ang lahat pero kay Mommy Lyn, wala siyang lusot. Kaya by Friday evening, nang dumating ang isang chipper na Ann at equally giddy na Tricia para makipagchikahan tungkol sa Ball, napilitang makihalubilo si Devon. Ang nakapagtataka, may dala-dala silang maleta na hindi sinasadyang naiwan nila nang umalis sila, pero nang tawagan sila ni Devon, late na daw at bukas na lang daw nila pipick-upin. Wa-care naman ang Devon at sinubukang matulog na, pero tinamaan yata siya ng malas dahil wa-epek ang effort niya. Iniimagine niya ang mga kaibigang pupunta sa ball, si James. Ang Jaimeng sharp na sharp in his stylish suit, pasimpleng ngumingisi...
Makailang ulit din niyang pinaulit-ulit sa kanyang ala-ala ang nakaraang Star Magic Ball at madaling araw na nang makatulog siya.
Tanghali na nang gisingin si Devon ng ina.
“Anak, tanghali na ah.” tawag ni Mommy Lyn. “Bumangon ka na nga diyan. Kanina pa tawag ng tawag si Ann.”
“Ha? Eh ba't hindi niya nalang tinawagan yung cel ko? O kaya nag text na lang siya.” angal ng dalaga. At pag dampot niya sa cel, drained pala ang battery nito. Malamang sa kakatawag ng mga kaibigan niya ay na drain na ang battery nito, kaya't ang landline na lang ang kino-call brigade nila.
“Babangon na po.” anang dalaga sa ina.
“Aba, himala yata at tumigil na rin sa kakaring tong teleponong to!” narining pa ni Devon na bigkas ng ina, kinakausap ang sarili. “Talagang ia-unplug ko na sana to eh.”
Nagulat si Devon ng biglang bumulaga sa kwarto niya ang ate Dhemy niya.
“Devon!” sigaw nito bago biglang tumalon sa kama ni Devon, tila akmang gugulpihin ang kapatid. “Devon! Gaga ka talaga kahit kelan! Bumangon ka na! Bangon bangon! Bilis! Dali! Bangon na!” pangungulit nito.
“Ahhh! Ate!” gulat na tili ni Devon. “Ano bang nakain mo?”
“Mag aala-una na! Darating sila dito around 4 kaya bumangon ka na! Dali! Hindi ka pa naliligo! Ano ba! Dali! Bangon na BUMANGON KA!” ang sermon with matching shake shake ni Dhemy kay Devon.
“Oo na! Babangon na!” sigaw ni Devon.
“Hoy! Anu ba yan! Ang tatanda niyo na, kung magtilian kayo akala niyo kinukurot kayo sa singit!” saway ng ina. “Manahimik kayo diyan kung ayaw niyong makurot sa singit for real!”
“Opo!” sabay na sagot ng magkapatid, dahil di naman matatawaran ang respeto ng magkakapatid sa kanilang ina. Tahimik na kinurot ni Dhemy si Devon at sinenyasang pumunta na ng banyo at nginusuan naman ni Devon ang ate nito.
Bago tumuloy sa banyo si Devon ay narinig pa niya ang ate niya. “Ma, may for real-for real ka nang alam ha!” paglalambing nito sa ina.
Habang nasa banyo at naliligo, saka lamang naisip ni Devon ang binanggit ng ate niya na may darating.
“Sino naman kaya ang darating?”
Bumaba ng Limo isa-isa ang magkakaibigan at huling bumaba si Devon. Ni sa panaginip ay hindi niya inakalang makakapunta siya sa Ball. Pero heto siya, kumikinangkinang pa ang mga hair clips na nasa buhok niya at maririnig pa ang romantic rustle ng soft chiffon sa dress niya. Feeling Cristine Daae, abot tenga ang ngiti ng dalaga. Abot langit ang tuwa niya habang pinanonood ang mga kaibigan niya nagbebeso-beso at nagbabatian. Laking pasasalamat ni Devon sa mga kaibigan dahil sila ang dahilan kung bakit nasa Ball siya, at kung gaano na lang kasaya. Masyado mang vain, o mababaw ang kaligayahang ito, minsan lang namang nangyayari ang ganitong bagay sa kanya at kung tutuusin, munting bagay lang ito.
Mabilis niyang hinagip ng tingin ang mga tao, inaasahang makikita niya si James. Pero wala ito sa lobby. Bahagyang nalungkot si Devon, pero dumating si Ivan at pinuri ang magandang damit ni Devon. Mabilis pang inikot ni Ivan si Devon bago niyakap ang dalaga.
“You look lovely, Devs!”
“Ann and Tricia brought the dress last night! Isn't it lovely?”
“They brought the dress...?”
“Yeah... I wasn't gonna go... And...”
“You weren't gonna come? But you said--”
“Can we please talk about this later? I'm sorry! But later na lang. You can yell all you want.” Devon begged. “Please, masaya ako eh.”
“Ikaw ha, niloko mo ko ha.” hirit ni Ivan, bago hinalikan sa noo ang dalaga. “You'll explain later, lagot ka sa'kin!”
“Lavya!” lambing na bati ng dalaga sa sermon ni Ivan, at tumugon naman ito ng ngiti bago nakihalubilo sa iba pa nilang mga kaibigan.
Tahimik lamang na nagmamasid ang dalaga. The low lights made everything appear grander, classier. Parang panaginip lang ang lahat. Kitang-kita ang bawat glimmer ng mga shining-shimmering-splendid na mga alahas at hair accesories across the hall.
“You look lovely.” simpleng bati ng isang biglang sulpot na Jaime.
“James!” abot tenga ang ngiti ng dalaga na tumunaw naman sa puso ni James. “Akala ko 'di ka pupunta eh.”
“I wouldn't orchestrate an elaborate charade just to miss it all.”
“Ano nanaman ang hinihirit hirit mo diyan, hm?”
“You really do look lovely. The dress suits you perfectly.”
“Thanks!” Devon beamed. “Ann and Tricia got it for me.”
“How sweet of them.” nakangiting sagot ng binata.
Ann walked by with Quen and urged them to dance.
“Wow Devon, in fairness to James, perfect fit ang dress on you!” biglang sambit ng dalaga sa kaibigan, sabay kindat kay James bago niya nagmamadaling kinaladkad si Quen palayo. Tuwang tuwa sa set-up niya kay James. Bulgaran kung bulgaran.
“Ano?” surpised na sambit ni Devon. “Anong sinabi ni Ann? Anong ibig--”
“I don't know why you keep trying to lie to everyone. You're so bad at it.” simpleng sagot ni James, sabay bulsa ng mga palad nito.
“So, ikaw nga. Pero--”
“Come on, Devs. Just enjoy the night. Enjoy it, ok?”
“Pero wala namang nakakaalam na kailangan ko ng--”
“Sabi ko sa'yo, you're a terrible liar.”
“But the dress is perfect. It's--”
“It suits you. Soft, feminine, beautiful.”
“Pano ngayon yan. I owe you...”
“One dance, and we're even.”
“One dance, and quits na tayo?”
“Ayaw mo, then one dance, and we'll discuss later payment options?”
“Please, Devon. Just have fun. That's really all I ask.”
“James, What is... What is all this...? This is too much, diba?”
“Why do people go all up in arms bago mag war? To win. The same reason applied here.”
“Okay...?” sagot ni Devon habang sumusunod sa pag-lead sa kanya ni James papuntang dance floor. “May war bang darating? Dahil ba sinauli ko ang hoodie of peace?”
“I'm on a quest, Devon.” he said seriously.
“A quest, ha. Aren't you being overly dramatic?”
“No.” he answered. “I don't think so.” he looked into her eyes and Devon's heart beat faster.
“Because I'm on a quest to win your heart.”
Devon's jaw dropped. Ano daw? My heart daw? James absently looked around, as Devon tried to look into those deep brown eyes of his.
“My heart?” Devon asked. In truth, matagal din niyang pinangarap na mangyari ang pagkakataon na ito, pero sa dami ng nangyari, parang mahirap tanggapin. She can't help but wonder and feel affected, despite herself. Gaga ka. Minus 1 MILLION ganda points pag hinimatay ka. At isara mo nga yang bibig mo! Masyado kang feeling? As in ang haba ng hair mo, ganon?
James smiled coyly which only drove Devon more insane. “I won't repeat myself, if that's what you're gunning for.” he said in that smooth, suave manner of his. “Alam ko, you're not deaf.” he was purposefully being vague. Part of him felt confident, but there's still a hint of doubt. Devon could have other plans. Paano nga naman kung ma-basted lang ang Jaime after that massive eureka moment? Three years in the making din ang moment ng magiging pag-sagot ni Devon sa kanya, kung tutuusin. He wanted it to be better. More meaningful. He wanted everything that's been broken to be repaired before he tried to even breach the subject.
James, ano 'to? Anong laro 'to? Kung totoo, sana totoo, pero hindi ko alam. Baka hindi rin, at masasaktan lang ulit ako kung iisipin kong totoo 'to. Devon gave a quick look around at her surroundings, hinanap ang candid camera na hindi rin naman niya namataan. Iba ang pakiramdam niya. Parang malaman ang mga salitang lumalabas sa mga labi ni James, pero ayaw din niyang maging assuming.
“You got the dress, and you set this whole thing up.” Devon deduced. She waited for James to respond, pero hindi ito sumagot at nakangisi lang ng bahagya. “What's the angle, James? Please tell me what's going on. Ano bang tumatakbo sa utak mo?”
“Devs, I could tell you – but where's the fun in that? Pwede naman you wait na lang. Wait and see.” he said simply. “Don't spoil the night with this face of yours wearing that silly expression.” he said as he leaned close.
Devon looked up at James, her mouth open. Dapat siguro he should feel panicked dahil nabulgar na ang secret mission niya, but he couldn't bring himself to stress. The night has so far proven to a lovely one. A lovely girl with him, his closest friends scattered about, everyone dressed to the nines... Everything's perfect.
Ofcourse, Devon would ask questions, he knew.
“Devs, I could tell you – but where's the fun in that?” he simply offered, and promised Devon to wait. And see. Marami pa nga namang kailangang patunayan ang Jaime.
“Don't spoil the night with this face of yours...” he touched her cheek delicately. “wearing that silly expression.”
James leaned in close. Intending to kiss her. Wanting to touch his lips to hers.
James, you do NOT want to kiss her. No. Get that thought out of your head. Let go of her face. The last thing you want to do is cause undue bad rep unto her. You do NOT want to scare her the hell away. James struggled to keep a tight reign on his emotions. 'You're so beautiful, Devon. You're so beautiful and you don't seem to be at all aware just how gorgeous you look tonight.'
“You, you look lovely Devon.” he whispered, his forehead touching hers. “So lovely.” It took all his will power not to kiss her just then. Not to tell her, profusely, undyingly, that he loved her. That he was sure he loved her, and has loved her unknowingly for some time now. “You should just enjoy the night. Enjoy it with all out friends. With me.” he said instead. Convincing himself that what he was doing was not self restraint, but was instead, relishing the moment.
Devon's breath hitched at her throat. The way he was looking at her spoke volumes. His gaze made her heart race, and she struggled to keep her knees of jello from buckling beneath her, but she returned his gaze defiantly with an equally penetrating stare. However, when she did manage to take a breath, his scent attracted her even more. To her, he was forbidden fruit. Natanggap na niya na mahirap magkaroon ng feelings para kay Jaime. Mas makabubuti pa na maging magkaibigan na lamang sila. Pero mula nung magkausap uli sila, gumulo ulit ang isip niya.
“You don't look half-bad either, stud muffin.” Devon said, with a wink.
Pero deep down, naghuhumiyaw ang puso niya. Na mahal niya ang lalaking kasayaw niya. Ang lalaking umaalalay sa kanya sa bawat twirl at side step, na nagmamay-ari ngmatipunong dibdib na bahagyang dumadampi sa kanyang pisngi.
“Sabi ko sayo, kung hindi mo siya liligawan, ako ang manliligaw sa kanya, bro.” biro ni Sam kay Ivan before he joined him at the bar.
Ivan glanced at Sam, but said nothing. He took a sip oh his drink instead.
“Hindi naman kasi masyadong obvious na kanina mo pa tinititigan yung dalawa.”
“Man, you and I both know they have something na hindi pa nareresolve. There was never any kind of closure. They never even had a start.” pag amin ni Ivan.
“I know, bro. Everyone knows. Pero hindi mo obligasyon na bigyan ng chance si James.”
Hindi mo rin obligation na bigyan ako ng chance.” Ivan retorted.
“Dude, Devon and I are friends. Really good friends. I love her, but not romantically. Deep down, alam mo 'yon.” tugon ni Sam. “I only said what I said to encourage you to do what's right for you and her.”
“Sam, what's right for me isn't necessarily what's right for her. She doesn't see me in the same light. Maiipit lang siya. I don't want to hurt her.”
“Might not have been the case then, bro. Pero things change, if James blows it--”
“Don't finish what you're gonna say. Kasi, pag nangyari yan, mas lalo lang siyang masasaktan. James better not mess this up.”
“So you are a potential rival after all, bro.” Sam suddenly said, with a different tone. More determined.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, pag nagkataon, you have feelings for her – so karibal din pala kita.”
“Dude, I can't believe you played me.” Ivan laughed a small dismissive laugh.
“Sorry, I wanted to get the real scoop.”
“Nah, don't worry about it.” Ivan said, “sa huli, si Devon parin ang mag dedecide.”
“And malay mo, mainlove tayo sa ibang tao – and meant to be pala yang dalawang 'yan.”
Ivan took a big swig of his drink, and turned somber. “Malay natin.” he said through gritted teeth.
“Ano kaya'ng pinag-uusapan nila?” Sam asked, rhetorically.
After three songs, saka lang nag-ayang maupo ni James. He left her with the gang before he went to the bar to get Devon some soda, and something stronger for himself. At the far end of the bar, he didn't see Ivan and Sam chatting, watching him.
When he got his drink, he quickly took it in one swig. And willed himself not to ruin things with his own impatience. He never thought not telling her how he felt would be such a struggle, but all he could think of doing was to tell her over and over that he loved her until she believed him. He wanted to know if she felt the same, too. He didn't want to rush her, but life was too short – and as far as he was concerned, he already wasted too much time. A plethora of contradictions assaulted him. Devon's drink in hand, he turned to return to her and saw her instantly. Her back tastefully revealed by the cut of the dress, the soft fabric clinging to her thigh, her hair occasionally sparkling as light hits it, she was quietly chatting away with Fretzie, smiling every now and then as James watched the girl of his dreams. And then he saw her – Ann, with Quen in tow. Ann – the blabber mouth friend who means well, the friend who may very well ruin everything. James headed towards them.
But the caterers just wheeled in their long presentation tables infront of James and cut him off. Blocking his view of Ann, and Devon.