“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
“Uy, Gab! Si Ate mo?” John Lloyd called out, closing his car door hurriedly, glancing at his watch to check the time. 3:45—uh-oh, he’s forty-five minutes late—not good, not good at all. Remembering the package he placed on the passenger seat, he went back inside the car and grabbed the white paper bag and handed it to Gab who’s now waiting expectantly in front of him. “Cronuts,” he explained, “pinapabili ng mommy mo.”
“Wow,” Gab quipped excitedly, already reaching inside the white box with the familiar black logo to get one, “thanks!”
“Si Ate mo?” he asked again, almost anxiously.
“Hmmn,” chewing distractedly, his lower face now coated with crumbs and light cream from the pastry he was currently enjoying, he then pointed towards the house, “sa kwarto po nya.”
“Thanks,” he exclaimed, already on his way inside.
He didn’t meet anyone as he walked through the dark foyer, going past the living area and up the front staircase. It’s pleasantly cooler inside the house even though the central air conditioning unit is usually turned off that time of day. The big open windows provided enough ventilation to allow fresh breeze to come into the high-ceilinged room, thankfully pushing out the muggy afternoon air out. He knew that the parents are probably at the back of the house doing their usual chores while the girls are in their respective rooms attending to their own responsibilities. He’s become quite familiar with the family’s routine, usually lending them a helping hand whenever his own schedule allows him to.
But today is a day unlike any other day.
The second floor family area was also unoccupied, although it looked more lived in than the sala downstairs where visitors are usually received. Ambling quietly, almost reverentially, in the darkened corridor, his feet took him directly to the room at the left wing.
He walked through the open doorway and paused by the threshold, panning the room for the person he came to see. The room was dimly lit and he almost failed to see Sarah standing motionlessly by her window, staring unseeingly outside the yard, her arms wrapped around herself, looking lost in her own seemingly disturbed thoughts. Emotions are flickering intermittently on her face, grazing unhurriedly over her crinkling brows and be-dimpled cheeks. That gave him pause. Why? What’s bothering her?
He couldn’t believe that it’s finally here. No more turning back—for both of them. But the question remains, what is troubling her? Even a year ago, all of these, somehow, seemed impossible.
“Uy,” Sarah mumbled, talking plaintively at his back, now almost in tears, “sorry na. Nakiusap na ako kay Boss Vic pero hindi na ra talaga pwedeng ipabago ang schedule eh. Big contract daw kasi.”
He rubbed his face with his hands, disappointed—both hurt and angry by the new turn of events. He’s planned this for months. He’s arranged his schedule so that he could free up a couple of weeks for this vacation with her. He has requested for advanced shooting days for his soap and he’s been having really late nights at the set, consequently dealing with really pissed-off actors and crew members who were forced to gratify, albeit begrudgingly, his undisclosed request.
He was able to rent a whole place at the south so that they could spend the summer with some of their really close friends. She will also be taking her siblings with her and it was supposed to be the first time he would be spending a long vacation with them. These are the people they love whose approval and acceptance mattered to him. Their relationship is somehow still a secret, meaning they haven’t confirmed anything yet to the media although almost all of their friends knew already what’s between them. He knew that she had to fight for him and her friends’ distrust is hurting her. This trip was supposed to be an opportunity to answer their questions personally and maybe silence their preconceived ideas about him once and for all.
That’s why he considers this as a necessity. But how could he do that now? Moving the date is just not possible. If this didn’t push through he knew this opportunity would never come up again.
Taking another deep breath, he combed his fingers through his hair, controlling the emotion that wanted to unleash itself at anybody who would dare stop him say what was in his mind.
Carefully, he turned around and willed himself to face her, convinced his anger was valid and that it is his duty to tell her what he was feeling right now. He felt his heart skip a beat as his eyes finally rested on her. She was looking down, wringing her hands in front of her, her lips trembling in misery as the first drops of tears finally fell silently down her cheeks.
This vision looked familiar and his memory is vivid of her looking almost exactly like this. Five years ago, on location where they were shooting their second film together, on his way to her van to talk to her, he saw her standing this very same way in front of her mom and dad. He couldn’t really hear their conversation but it was plain to see that she was apologizing and that they were reprimanding her. He heard his name mentioned not only once, spoken with controlled anger, and he knew she’s crying because of him. It broke his heart to see her that way, receiving hurtful words just because she loved him. He was sure she did—she told him so—right after he told her how much he loved her. He wanted to run towards them then, to be her valiant prince who will save her but he knew it would hurt her more if she saw him talking back to her parents. He would have put her in a position where she needed to make a choice and he knew that he would lose—and rightly so. She was still so very young then.
He swore to himself that, if given a chance, he would never make her cry. He vowed that he will move mountains just to make her happy. But seeing her cry now fills him with shame. It seems he’s broken his promise yet again. He’s forgotten the reason why he even planned for this vacation. He wanted to see her happy and yet, just because his plan didn’t go his way, he was ready to shame her and hurt her the same way he was hurting.
Sarah was trying to discreetly rub the tears away from her cheeks, crying quietly, desperate to hide her sadness from him. She’s always like this, considerate, always thinking of the other person’s feelings rather than her own. The years they were apart, it was what he most worried about. People could easily take advantage of her because she allows people to bully her. That’s why he’s done things back then to protect her, that is, without her knowledge, using connections available to him to fight for her. He won’t admit to it though—even to her. That secret would die with him.
Feeling again a familiar pain somewhere on his chest, he walked cautiously towards her, ashamed with the thoughts that he allowed in his mind. This has always been how it was between them—dramatic, assuring him that his life with her will never be boring.
He took both her hands and pulled her gently in front of him. She resisted at first, unwilling to be pacified but he coaxed her chin up and made her look at him.
“Sorry ha,” he whispered apologetically, her red-rimmed eyes and wet lashes making him feel more miserable by the minute. “Huwag ka nang mag-alala. Madali naman mag-cancel kasi kilala ko yung may ari nung resort,” he placated her, lying through his teeth. “I-book na lang natin ulit kung magkakaroon tayo ulit ng chance. So, stop crying na, ha?” he cajoled affectionately, reaching out to tenderly rub off the tear tracks still visible on her cheeks.
“Talaga?” Sarah asked, her voice breaking a little, hope coming back to her eyes. “Pwede pa naman next time, di ba?” she implored pitifully. She was trying to smile and it’s breaking his heart because he knew she was doing it for him.
“Oo, naman, marami pang next time,” he maintained, giving her his 1,000 watt smile. “Wala ka naman balak iwanan ako di ba,” he added sternly, saying the very thing he knew could make her laugh—and it did.
She shook her head vigorously, smiling naturally for the first time, taking a step closer to him to hide her face in his shoulder. She lovingly wrapped her arms around his waist and laid her head on his chest in relief. He couldn’t have felt more loved at that moment and he’s thanking God for taking away his bad temper, mercifully preventing a disaster from happening.
He enfolded his arms around her, closing the remaining distance between them and pressed his face into her neck.
It was then he knew that only their love mattered. It was wrong to put other people’s opinions above their relationship and it is his duty, as well as her own, to protect that love and to preserve it if they really wanted it to last.
“Sarah?” he softly called, walking uncertainly towards her, not wanting to startle her.
She swiveled around, her face immediately lighting up with a smile. “Beh, dumating ka na pala,” she exclaimed happily, walking briskly towards him, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing his cheek enthusiastically.
Comforted by her affectionate welcome, he couldn’t help but reach down and catch her lips with his, deepening it when he felt her response.
With her cheeks flushed from the unexpected kiss, she looked questioningly up at him. “Bumabawi ka ba kasi late ka na naman?” she asked playfully, giggling a little bit.
He shook his head, caressing her cheeks tenderly. “Miss ko lang Bebe ko,” he confessed, lovingly gazing at her glowing face. Remembering the expression he witnessed on her earlier, he frowned and released her, stepping back to get a clearer view of her, angling her towards the window, making the afternoon sun light her face. “May problema ba?” he asked worriedly.
Her brows creased in confusion, puzzled by his question, not liking the distance placed between them. “Bakit?”
“Kasi, pagpasok ko ng kwarto kanina eh nakita kita, and you looked,” he paused, looking for the best word to describe it,”worried. May problema ba? Is there something we need to discuss?” He softened his voice, wanting her to confide to him.
“Ahhh,” her face immediately clearing, “wala ‘yun,” she added, looking downward, laughing nervously, embarrassment covering her face.
“Hmmn, kung wala eh, ‘di, why don’t you just tell me?” he insisted, now worrying about it.
Seeing the concern on his face, she exhaled heavily, and decided to just confess. “Wala nga,” she reassured him softly, reaching out to rub his forearms folded in front of him, wanting to be comforted by his touch, “may mga naalala lang ako. Alam mo na, yung mga pinagdaanan natin, at saka…” She made a quick glance at him before looking down at the floor again, unable to bring herself to face him while coming out clean.
“Siguradong-sigurado ka na ba sa gagawin natin? Handa ka na bang iwan lahat?” she asked, almost inaudibly, swallowing nervously before finally looking up at him. “Pwede ka pang magbago ng isip, ok lang sa akin,” she promised earnestly. She was afraid that she’s being greedy and selfish for making him turn his back on ‘show business’. “Ayaw ko kasing dumating ang panahon na pag-sisisihan mo ang desisyon mong iwanan yung mga nakasanayan mo na.”
He gave a relieved sigh and smiled patiently at her. He was afraid that she was worrying about something big. Comfortable now with the topic, he reached for her hand and pulled her to a settee at the foot of her bed. He sat down first and pulled her down to face him. “I am sure,” he said plainly, looking seriously straight to her eyes. “Eh, ikaw? Are you re-considering your career change?” he asked smilingly.
She shook her head, smiling wryly, embarrassed by her own doubts. “Sure na rin ako.”
Pulling her now in his arms, he settled back on the loveseat. He lovingly kissed her brow as he felt her tighten her arms around his middle.
“Hayaan mo,” he was telling her, “after five years, kung sa palagay ko nagkamali ako ng desisyon, babalik ako sa ‘showbiz’.”
She chuckled, knowing already when he’s just humoring her. “Sasabayan kita,” she quipped, “mag-sign up tayo sa Seiko Films.”
He laughed out loud. “Sige, ako na lang ang manager mo,” his eyes glistening with mirth, “mag ‘bold’ ka na lang.”
“Hmp, kung papayag asawa ko,” she acquiesced smilingly, “conservative yun, eh.”
She suddenly reached up towards him to kiss him on the cheek then settled back on his chest. “Love you, Beh,” she whispered, nuzzling his neck in contentment.
He closed his eyes and made a quick prayer of gratitude to God for this gift He has given him.
“Halika ka na,” he whispered back, “it’s time.”
They both stood up and looked around the room.
“Iyon na yung last box,” she pointed to the small carton on the table.
He nodded and picked it up, then offered his arm to her. “Ready?” he asked her, looking for any sign of fear on her face.
She nodded, her face still glowing with contentment. And with that they walked down the stairs.
They were not surprised to see her whole family milling around John Lloyd’s car. They, too, know what time it is.
“Anak, ito na yung hinahanap mong sweater kanina. Nahalo sa gamit ng ate mo.” Her mom was handing her a brown paper bag and Sarah noticed that her eyes were red and puffy. Worried, she looked to her older sisters and her dad and was met with amused faces. Her brother pointed to his eyes and drew squiggly lines down his face while chuckling a little bit.
Instead of getting the paper bag from her, she stepped into her mom’s arms and hugged her tightly. “Mommy, may hinanda si Lloydie na kwarto niyo dun sa bahay kaya pwede kayo pumunta dun anytime na gusto niyo,” she softly spoke to her mother’s ear. By that time her mom was already sobbing in her shoulder and Sarah held her until she was able to compose herself.
She smiled to her mom when she finally released her. “Si mommy talaga, para namang ibang bansa ang pupuntahan ko. Madali lang pumunta dun, hindi kailangan ng passport,” she chided lovingly, kissing her on the cheek. Her mom spanked her bottom, her usual response when her children make fun of her.
Everyone was laughing at the image of Sarah rubbing her backside, her face scrunched up with pseudo pain. “Ikaw talaga, wala ka nang niloko kung hindi ako,” her mom said sternly. Sarah gave a cheeky smile and kissed her mom one more time.
John Lloyd and Sarah went around giving hugs, goodbyes and reminders before going inside the car. After buckling in, they paused and looked at each other. Suddenly John Lloyd broke into a big grin, “Hindi mo pa sinabi sa mom mo ang tungkol sa baby, noh?”
Sarah smiled back at him, putting a protective hand on her belly and shook her head. “Huwag muna. Sa atin na lang munang dalawa.”
He looked at her face and felt satisfied. This is how it would be from now on, just the two of them. Not that they’re going to exclude everyone else. All it meant was that they would finally be living their lives the way wanted to. From now on they themselves will be the ones calling the shots, no station executives telling them what they could and could not do, no stylists telling them what to wear, no fans to consider when making an image change—just each other.
As he smiled at her, he took the hand nearest to him and kissed the wedding ring on her ring finger. And with one final wave to the people looking at them through the glass, he faced the gate opening before them. He pressed the ignition and pulled the gear stick to Drive and, with one loud blare of the car horn, released the brake and moved to a unknown future waiting to be discovered.