i didn't mean to hurt & love you (fiction)



hong kong
december thirty one, two hours before new year's eve

the phone rang as i was about to step out of my flat. it was a dreary winter night, and the wind was biting cold. i was cold even if i was already wearing a thick outer jacket over cashmere sweater and a scarf. i did not expect that you would call. i was already on my way to meet up with you at our favourite restaurant where we planned to spend the new year's eve with some of our friends who preferred to stay in the city instead of going out of town for the holidays.

once outside, i answered the phone.

"what's up?" i said happily, my other hand tucked safely inside one of the side pockets of my jacket to keep it warm. i was walking briskly, imagining that you were wearing the blue ralph lauren sweatshirt that i gave you as a christmas present while you were driving your car on the way to central.
but your "hello" did not sound cheerful at all. i was alarmed. i knew that tone of voice. i already braced myself for some bad news. i stopped and sat at the stairs outside of a building that was already closed for the night.

"sorry i can't make it tonight," you said sullenly. for a while i thought somebody died. it was close. "my father had a heart attack right after dinner and we are now in the hospital."

"what happened?" i said, disappointed. i had big plans for tonight. this was our first new year's eve together and i spent the last three weeks preparing for it -- booking a table at the french restaurant where we first met, planning my outfit, thinking about your gift, choosing the wine that would go with the food, looking for a party that we could go to after our late dinner. unfortunately, i didn't have a plan b.

"i'll tell you all about it once i see you, ok? right now, i am in the hospital with my family."

"ok. take care then."

"you too." then before you hang up, you said: "in case i won't be able to call you later, happy new year.  i am sorry for this."

"it's alright," i said, even if it was not. but what can i do? it's an emergency. "happy new year too."

i wanted to go back to my flat and spend the new year's eve by myself. but that would be too depressing. i was afraid i might do something stupid like taking a lot of sleeping pills. i would feel safer in a crowd. i knew that being with people won't lessen the sadness, but at least it would distract me.

((((((((((((((((((((((

a quarter before midnight. i was seated alone, drinking stella artois, at the staunton bar in soho. it was packed with people that there was hardly a space to walk or even breathe.  the crowd spilled out into the street even if it was drizzling. some were dancing, others were kissing, while some were simply huddled in a group, probably talking about what was waiting for the global economy in the coming year as the european financial crisis worsened. the entire staunton street was closed for the new year's eve revelry. policemen were all over the place to man the streets and manage the crowd.

five minutes before twelve, fireworks started exploding into the air, drowning the music, the laughers, the loud conversations. everybody erupted into a loud "happy new year!" except me.

i loathe new year because a few days after, it would be my birthday. i dread my birthday. mostly because i  resent all the attention, all the fuss about you just because it's your birthday. i don't like the feeling of being special, of being on the spotlight. also,  my birthday brings back bad memories.

it was my birthday when my older brother died. since then, a gloom would envelope me as january three approaches. i thought that by spending it with you tonight, i would feel different about new year's eve. about my birthday. that i would start loving it from now on. but spending it alone, unexpectedly, in this overcrowded bar made it even worse.

the fact that everyone was joyful, intoxicated, laughing, singing, dancing as though it was their last day
on earth made me feel even more alone. sadder.

luckily, i saw your friends -- twenty something celine and her best friends, sandy and danielle, and their boyfriends whose names i wasn't able to catch because of the noise. it doesn't matter anyway. i am a face person. i easily remember the face, but not the name. among them, it was celine whom i liked.

cheerful, dark-skinned, petite. skinny. she was beautiful like everyone else in this town, but her cheerful attitude and the overall positive vibes that she gave out to everyone she met made her stood out. she always made the gloomy, sad me smile.

that night she was wearing a red, strapless lanvin dress that i helped her pick several days ago when we went shopping together - i looking for a gift for you and she a dress to wear during the new year's eve party. even if it was cold (she left her winter coat and scarf at the bar). the dress was very sexy, very short. exposing her healthy cleavage and well-toned legs. pointy stilettos and a clutch completed the outfit. she looked ravishing, like a goddess ready for the haunt.

"where's pierre?" celine asked, offering me a glass of champagne that i accepted gratefully. i lost count of how many glasses of stella i had consumed.

"in the hospital. his father had a heart attack."

celine became quiet. she looked confused.

"what's wrong?" i asked, sensing the sudden change in her mood.

"nothing. i just remembered something." she said. then she raised her glass and offered a toast. "happy new year dahlin!"

"happy new year sweetie," i said, kissing her on both cheeks. i lingered for a bit on her soft, tanned neck where a few strands of hair rested because i loved the scent of channel number five, mixed with the smell of cigarettes and sweat, on her.

lovely smell or not, i knew she was lying.

"want to dance?" she asked.

"where?"

"on the street."

"alright."

dancing helped me forget about you for a while; soothe the agony of a broken promise.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

six o'clock in the evening
january three

i was calling you. i have not heard from you since the night you called when your dad was in the hospital. but you were not picking up the phone. so i decided to drop by your house. i knew where it was even if you haven't brought me there yet despite my pleadings to meet your parents, your only brother. i took the mtr. it would be a forty five minute train ride from central. i didn't mind really. i had nothing else to do that night after work.


as soon as the train stopped, i got off quickly. excited to finally see where you live. it was a typical middle class neighborhood. there was a shopping mall right next to the mtr station, fast food chains, restaurants,  bars, starbucks, seven elevens. across the mall was a park, where i could imagine you playing tennis or running for a few hours. you've always been conscious of your body, scared of gaining weight. you wanted to keep your thirty-inch waistline. that's why you were also choosy when it comes to food -- no meat, no rice, no pizza. mostly vegetables, fish and fruits. you don't drink beer either, unlike me. but i wasn't fat. maybe i was born that way.

it was almost eight when i reached your family's apartment building. i decided to call you up, afraid that you might get mad if i suddenly appeared at your doorstep. but you were not answering the phone. it just kept on ringing. now i was having second thoughts. about going up and seeing you. what if you were not there? and what if you were there, but you didn't want to see me?

while trying to make up my mind, i decided to stay at starbucks first. have a cappuccino to warm me up. it was an unusually cold night. too bad i forgot to bring my jacket and a book that i could read to while away the time as i was in a hurry to leave my flat. i was absent-minded the whole day. because it was my birthday and i did not hear from you. i am a big worrier and it was obvious that you worried me. all the time. like the new year's eve, i also had big plans for my birthday dinner with you.

i was halfway through my frothy cappuccino when i saw you, clad in a black leather jacket, jeans and brown scarf, entering the coffee shop with a tall, elegant young lady. your arms were on her shoulders, her hands on your waist. there was no denying that you were lovers. i almost fainted. i blushed, my hands and knees trembled. i wanted to run away from there as fast as i could. at that moment, i wished i were invisible. i decided to put on the hood of my sweater hoping to cover my face like a celebrity and walked as fast as i could to the nearest exit.

still, you saw me. it was, after all, a small place.

you were stunned. turned red. the woman, short, black hair, bob style, oriental eyes, with little make up except for the bright red lipstick, was oblivious. she kept on talking to you. she was tall, almost as tall as you, skinny,  in tight jeans, black turtle neck shirt, jacket and boots. gorgeous like a movie star. i must say you two looked good together, like angelina jolie and brad pitt, hong kong version. if she noticed your reaction when our eyes met, she did not show it.

but we chose to deny each other's presence. we passed by each other quietly, nervously.

(((((((((((((((((

once outside, i called up celine to tell her about it. i needed to get it out as soon as i could or else i would suffer a heart attack. after a long conversation, of her trying to comfort me, begging me to meet up with her in a bar, she told me the truth: your father died a long time ago. you got married last year. that explained the hushed phone calls inside the bathroom, your refusal to spend more than one night in my apartment, the many excuses you gave me every time i asked to meet your family.

**************

it was the longest train ride that i ever had since living in the former british colony three years ago. the saddest too. the train was crowded, filled with people in a holiday mood. i was freezing, not from the wintry weather, but from the pain of discovering the truth about you. from finally finding out the web of lies that you made up to keep me glued to you. i didn't know if i would be happy or miserable for finally uncovering the truth and for having the chance, at last, to be free from you.

all around me, people were noisily chatting away. but i did not notice them. i could not even hear what they were saying. i felt like i wasn't there. that i was watching an old black and white film and the sound was turned off. i sat quietly, unable to cry. my heart was breaking into a million pieces. at the same time, there was a dull sensation, as if i had taken some medicine to numb the pain.

"tonight i can write the saddest lines.

write, for example,'the night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'

the night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

tonight I can write the saddest lines.
i loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

through nights like this one i held her in my arms
i kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

she loved me sometimes, and i loved her too.
how could one not have loved her great still eyes."

tonight I can write the saddest lines.
to think that I do not have her. to feel that i have lost her.

then i saw a couple seated in front of me. they were kissing, their hands locked together. as if they were the only people inside the train. i started to cry. a strong, uncontrollable gush of tears flowed.  i didn't mind the happy people who could hear and see me cry. in pain, i could no longer see them.

in grief, i was invisible. at last.

***********


the train snaked its way into the bottom of the sea. then went up a hill. then went down again. as if mirroring my emotions. my state of mind. sometimes it would be dark outside, like it was the apocalypse. then when it stopped, there would be light everywhere. like it was the beginning of a new day, marked by people moving, rushing to get in and out of the loaded train.

most of the time, the train would rock me gently, as if lolling me to sleep. sometimes it would  shake me hard, as if it was trying to wake me up from a horrifying nightmare.

more thoughts ran through my mind. i kept picturing the two of you -- laughing like children from time to time over a private joke while you were sipping hot cappuccino (our favourite drink) and she her green tea (i could imagine her being a green tea person. i didn't know why). then there would be silences as if both of you had ran out of things to say, only your eyes and your hands, clasped tightly, would be speaking.

here i was, alone, cold in the train, surrounded by people who were happily looking forward to a party with their families and friends. i have always felt this way ever since i was young. an outsider looking in, even when i was with my family during the holidays.

in that long, lonely train ride, i recaptured my innocence.

&&&&&&&&&&&&

after what seemed like an endless ride, the train finally reached its ultimate destination. central. this time, my tears had stopped. i  got out of it, climbed into the streets. lost. i didn't know what to do, where to go. my mind suddenly went blank. i just wished that the sadness would go away, even temporarily.
walking aimlessly with heavy footsteps, looking glum in a city filled with beautiful people who were cheerfully clad in the holiday mood, i ended up in a bar. quite far from my flat. in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

i really avoided going to bars where we often went because i feared that our friends, including the waiters and the bartenders, would ask about you. where were you? would you be coming along later? right now, i didn't have the answers. so i sat at one of the tall bar stools in this far away bar, where there was not much people. where a soft jazz music floated through the air. the bartender appeared in front of me. wearing a tight-fitting black sweater. a friendly face, someone from the philippines judging from his dark skin, thick black hair and the way he spoke english. very distinct, with a little lilt. he exuded a certain sweetness common among filipinos who meet their compatriots in a foreign country. he tried to make conversations while serving me drinks.

stella artois. then shots of tequilla. then heineken. then scotch. then gin tonic. i drowned my sobs, quietly, in the cacophony of laughters, of friendly banters, of people looking forward to a new year.
at around midnight, you called. i ignored it. you kept on calling. finally exasperated, i pushed the red button that gave you a busy tone. but you were persistent. you kept on calling. as if by calling me, by talking to me, it would help ease your guilt and erase the pain that you caused me. then everything would be alright. would be forgiven. but  you were wrong.

***************

when i woke up, i was in an unfamiliar room. naked. i didn't know what time it was. for a while, i was clothed in fear. i heard some voices outside of the cramped room, occupied mostly by a bed big enough for two, a small table on the corner and a cabinet made of wood. there was no chair, no table lamp. on the bed were two pillows, one was in between my legs, and a white bed sheet, half of it on the floor. the walls, i noticed,  were painted marine blue. my favourite colour. bare. like most apartments in hong kong, there were no windows. the heater was still on.

waking up finally, i looked for my clothes. they were hanging inside the cabinet, along with some unfamiliar shirts, pants and jackets. i checked my wallet, it was still there, at the back pocket of my jeans. my shoes were near the closed door along with my socks.

after putting on my clothes and shoes, fixing my hair with my fingers, i stepped out of the tiny bedroom into another narrow room -- a living and dining room in one. there was a large beige sofa that could fit in three people, a huge flat screen samsung teevee mounted on the wall like a work of art, a corner round table with a few magazines. then a few meters away, a small dining table with four chairs neatly arranged around it. there was food on the table. a mini ref beside it.

the bathroom door opened and i saw a stranger wearing only a towel around his waist. he was brown-skinned like me, slim figure. smooth, handsome face. he looked young, around twenty. he was drying his hair with a face towel. even from a distance, i could smell the soap and the shampoo that he just used. in another life, in another time, i would have devoured him. instantly. then he saw me. i was embarrassed, as if he could read my thoughts.


he smiled. a shy, trusting smile. i noticed a mole on his upper lip. the dimples too. ah, i thought, young man you will have your heart broken so many times if you're not careful.

"good afternoon," he said in filipino. i didn't say a word. i could not remember him. have i been kidnapped by this young and handsome stranger? i suddenly felt self-conscious. i still reeked of cigarettes and alcohol. i must look horrible too. i always look ugly right after waking up, with stinky breath to match.

sensing my confusion, he shifted to english. "i am jules. the bartender from last night. sorry, i took you home. i didn't know where to take you last night. you were so drunk that my manager asked me to take you home with me. to make sure that you were safe. you are filipino right?"

i nodded my head. my throat was still dry from the hang over. surprisingly, i did not have a headache.

"thank you," i managed to say at last. "sorry for all the trouble."

"it was alright. happy to help a kababayan," he said, adjusting the knot on his tiny towel that barely covered his body.  i couldn't help but notice the bulge underneath the flimsy fabric. "you want coffee?"

"i'm fine. i just want to go home." then i changed my mind and asked for a glass of water. he opened the small fridge (so small he had to squat to open it) and handed me a bottled water.

"romeo, right? that was the name you gave me last night."

i gulped down the water. grateful for its cold, calming effect.

i nodded my head.

"why don't you stay for a while. it's saturday. it's my day off.  i am alone, my flat mates went home to the philippines for the holiday. maybe you can take a shower first while i prepare our breakfast? i can lend you some clean clothes."

"no. sorry. i don't want to be rude, but i really want to go home."

"ok. there's an mtr station five minutes from here. or you could take a cab. or call your driver," then he
added: "i can take you there if you give me a minute to put on clothes."

"that's alright. i can manage," i said, suddenly shy. stealing a glance at his crotch. imagining what was in between his hairy legs.

he opened the main door to let me out. i extended my hand to shake his. instead of taking it, he touched my face with his cold, fresh from the shower hand. it smelled of soap. i almost stayed as i felt his hand stroking my face. gently. i liked the way he touched me. so familiar, so ticklish. the way he was looking at me. he had beautiful eyes too. honest but sad, brown eyes. slowly, everything came back. about what happened last night after he took me home. in his bed. after i asked him to turn the lights off. after we took off our clothes. before we fell asleep in a tight embrace. a newly born twin. exhausted. i suddenly remembered him on top of me, moaning, then gasping for air after a long, hard kiss.

"not now," i said softly and walked towards the elevator.

as the elevator door opened, i looked back and he was still there. still standing outside of his door. an apparition in a blue towel. smiling at me, waving his hand. i liked his hair armpits. i smiled back and stepped inside the empty, dimly-lit elevator devoid of any music. it descended slowly, as if contemplating if it wanted to stay or leave. upon reaching the ground floor, i lingered inside. then i pushed the number to his floor.

----------------to be continued ----------------
(part two)



there was a sudden change in his mood. i didn't know what triggered it.

"are you alright?", i asked, suddenly alarmed. we were talking jovially on the way to my apartment after shopping some groceries, about his day at the restaurant, about my day at work. about an interview i had that morning with a fund manager who warned about the collapse of the chinese economy in three to four years. he responded with a laugh and told me to stop talking in french.

"you know that i don't understand anything about business news. i don't even read the business page," he said, teasing me. i laughed too. his laughter, full of the energy of youth, so honest, so ethereal, was contagious. if it were a disease, i would gladly invent a virus so i could spread it all over the world.

but a few meters away from the apartment door, he suddenly became quiet. his face darkened. when i asked why, he pointed, using his lips, at the man standing on the street, leaning on a black volvo car that was parked right in front of the building.

it was him. he who should not be named. at least while i was still hurting. still trying to heal. i was glad that jules understood. i had stopped talking about him, even with celine. but i could never fool my heart.

at night, when i was alone, i still craved for him: his touch, his kisses, his smile, his voice on the phone, his scent after he took a shower, his snore; the way he snuggled beside me in bed, especially when the night was too cold and we were sharing only a small, thin blanket. the small things that he would do like learning to say "mahal kita" in his cute french-british-chinese accents; or when he would be grumpy, sitting quietly at the sofa and refusing to join me in bed after a petty quarrel about what movie to watch on the dvd. the way he teased me that i wasn't fat but plump, especially when i refused to eat his favorite cheese and baguette.

ah those petty, pierre (that's his name) gestures that endeared him to me the most.
i felt weak. rather, my knees trembled. my throat suddenly went dry.

&&&&&&&&&&

it was a lovely spring. monday. the air was no longer biting cold. the end of the thick jacket and scarf weather in the city. in fact, there was a bit of a sunshine in the morning. tonight, the air was a bit chilly. but tolerable. i was wearing only a flimsy sweater over a long-sleeve shirt, while jules had a blue adidas nylon jacket over a black turtle-neck shirt. his uniform. we were both wearing dark jeans.

it had been three months since jules and i met, officially, that morning in january in his apartment. after i came back for another round of love making, i stayed for two more days in his flat. i called in sick at the office. they understood. my editor, a friend of celine, must have known what happened to me and pierre (yes, he who must not be named) because he said yes right away. i didn't have to explain. i only went home when jules told me that his flat mates were coming back to hong kong the next day.

since that day, we were inseparable. we would meet right after i finished working at the office. usually i would drop by the restaurant where he worked. i would have dinner there, then a few drinks and we would go home together to my apartment afterwards.

during those days, pierre tried calling me. either on my mobile or at the office. he even told celine, the good-hearted, saintly but slightly slutty celine, several times to help convince me to meet up with him and talk to him. celine begged me, but i told her i was not ready yet. that the pain was still fresh. the wound had not yet healed. forgive me for the cliches, but there was no other way to describe how i felt then. that i was still vulnerable and might fall in love all over again with his movie star looks, fall for his lies. his promises.

right now, i told celine, i just want to forget him.

celine asked me about jules. i had mentioned him to her several times though they have not met yet. are you in love with this boy?, she asked. i don't know, i said. it's too sudden. but are you happy, she asked again. i didn't say a word. because at that time, this was during our last conversation a month ago, i was not sure yet. i had fun when i was with him. but when i was alone, i couldn't help but think of pierre. yes, i still love the bastard, i admitted to myself.

why is it that the harder we try to forget about someone, the more difficult it becomes? that everywhere you go, everything you see, every song you hear, they all remind you of the person? it is as if the universe and the gods were conspiring to keep him in your memory.


$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

but jules knew. even if i didn't tell him anything. even if i had swept my apartment clean of pierre's clothes, shoes, photos, perfumes, shaving creams. i could see it in your eyes, even if  you were laughing, that there was a certain sadness hidden beyond those smiling eyes. a certain longing. and i knew, he sighed, that i could not fill it. the void was too big.

then he would add: not yet, anyway.

during those times, when he was in a sentimental mood, i would just keep quiet. i wanted to assure him,  say that i love him. but i never knew how to lie. lying would just make it worse.

jules, bless his twenty-one-year-old soul, understood. he was an old soul. he was mature beyond his age. maybe because he grew up poor, he said, that's why he was forced to grow up so fast so he could help provide for his family, a sickly fifty-year-old mother, a widower, who raised five children alone when her husband died.

jules was the eldest. his father died when he was only sixteen. since then, he became the head of the family. he quit his studies.. he was second year in college, taking up hotel and restaurant management, when he stopped so he could work as a waiter in a restaurant in the city. his mother was a teacher, but her salary was not enough to feed six mouths and send them all to school.

at eighteen, he met an old gay man who helped him financially. he sent him to school. and as long as he lived with him, he also provided money for jules' family. his mother did not know. of course. until now. all she knew was that jules then was living on his own in the city, away from the family, and earning a decent salary as a call center agent.

when he finished college, he applied for work in hong kong. a cousin helped him get the job. he ended up bartending.  at first, he kept his relationship with his gay lover. but a few months later, he told jules that he found a new boyfriend. jules understood and let him go.

did you love him? i asked him one night after we made love. we were lying in bed, both naked, my head on his lean, toned arms. he was smoking a cigarette. what was it about guys and smoking after sex? i used to hate the smell of cigarettes. (pierre never smoked.) but i learned to love it (the cigarette, or at least its smell), because of jules. on the days that jules could not stay and sleep in the apartment, the scent of his cigarettes lingered, comforting me.

yes, jules told me honestly. i loved him. his name is luis. he is a banker. he is very rich. he was fifty years old when we were together, but you won't notice it. he's so youthful. he is a health buff just like your pierre.

then he smoked some more. sometimes i would share his cigarette.

what was it about luis that you loved? he made me feel secure. safe. with him around, there was nothing i need to worry about. he was so caring, so loving, so generous. he always asked me what i wanted, what i needed. what my family needed.

the father you lost, i said.

exactly, he said. except we would have sex. wild, perverted sex.

that's incest. perverts. i would tease him.

then we would laugh again. then we would make love once more. before the night was over.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

with him around, i was slowly forgetting all about pierre.

until tonight. of course i had imagined meeting him again. i even rehearsed some lines that i would say to him (mostly bitchy dialogues that i learned from watching those cherrie gil movies). but that night, i was lost. it was as if words had abandoned me. it was ironic, because i make a living with words, either spoken or written.

"can i talk to you just for a minute," he said. ah he looked fabulous. his thick black hair was skillfully styled like a vogue model. held together by mousse that he would buy online from a french boutique in paris. he was wearing a blue long sleeve shirt with the top button opened. his golden yellow tie was loosened. the shirt was tucked neatly under brown slacks. his eyeglasses (black frames), a blue sweater tied around his neck, leather brown belt and shoes completed the look.

i wanted to hug him. tell him how much i missed him. but i controlled myself.

"what do you want?" i said, feigning anger. finally recovering from the shock of seeing him again. but i knew that he knew that deep down inside, i was happy to finally see him. i stood so close in front of him, my hands on my pockets. i was scared that unconsciously, i might reach out and touch him. jules, sensing he was not needed, had left us alone. he went inside the building without me, carrying the groceries. i felt guilty. but there was nothing else i could do. i wanted this business with pierre over with. right now.

&&&&&&&&&&&&

"can we talk somewhere else?"

i took a deep breath. then quietly, he opened the door of his car. i went in.

we were silent as he was driving. i could smell his scent. expensive perfume. everything about him was expensive. beautiful. sweet smelling, including the green apple scent of his car. all of a sudden,

everything that was familiar came back to me. the comfortable leather seat of his car. the faint music. helen reddy. one of our favorites. his hands on the wheels, his eyes on the road. i missed him. i missed this. i missed us. but i didn't dare say anything. i wasn't sure what he was going to say to me.
would he be saying goodbye for good? would this be our last time together? will he be moving back to new york with his wife?

helen reddy softly cooed. interrupting my thoughts.

"sunday morning, waking up and touching you.
you're always warm at nine a.m.
pillows close and i can feel you wanting me.
then i'd go back to sleep again.
i didn't mean to love you.
and i never meant to care..."

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

i was surprised when we ended up in a bar at the manila pen. a bit far from central.

why here, i thought. it was the first time that he brought me there.

when we were together, we would always dine, wine in soho, a few steps away from my flat. he hated
going to far away places.

they are all the same, he would tell me. so why waste the time traveling?

anyway, he hates driving around hong kong's narrow, busy streets.

once we were settled, had ordered drinks and food, he started to talk.
he removed his eyeglasses. his blue eyes sparkled. absorbing the lights from outside that penetrated through the glass wall.

we sat at a table that offered a panoramic view of the well-lit city below at night.



^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

"this is not easy for me," he began. his eyes on me. suddenly, i felt self-conscious. he always had this effect on me. his gorgeousness always made me uncomfortable. inadequate. i would always feel awkward in his presence, unsure of myself, insecure: why me? why the flat-nosed, dark skinned, bit overweight me? i was ugly, he was a god.

"it isn't easy for me either."

he shushed me. very him. always in control of things. exactly my opposite. i was like a vine, a leaf, a twig, lost in the vast ocean. drifting, directionless. going where the tide would take me. i never believed in making plans, in looking forward to the future. i was a traveler without a map, a drifter without a destination. for me, this is how we should navigate life. be surprised at the turn of a corner.

"let me talk please?"

i smiled. i couldn't help it. then i nodded my head. he tried to reach out to touch my face, but i stopped him by turning away.

"first let me say how sorry i am. for everything. for lying to you. god knows how difficult it was for me to lie to you all the time. to our friends. to my wife."

then he stopped as the waiter approached. he showed pierre the bottle of wine that he ordered. then the waiter opened the bottle, handed pierre the cork. for his part, pierre went through the whole ceremony of ordering wine even if he wanted us to be left alone. he smelled the cork, nodded his head and gestured for the waiter to pour our glasses with wine. the waiter was efficient. he did everything without a noise, without a fuss.

how i wish life was like that. my life, at least.

when the waiter left, pierre, now smiling, flashing his winsome smile and cute-as-a-baby dimples, raised his glass to offer a toast. i shook my head. he didn't force me. he drank his wine (i guess he needed it for what he was about to tell me), while i stared at the busy street scene below. cars. too many of them in standstill. people walking. in jackets and scarves and i thought winter was over. trees swaying with the wind. lights all over. blinding me sometimes.

"when i met you, i was about to marry sui. at that time, she was still in new york. she was working there but she would soon join me here in hong kong. she asked to be transferred here."

(so that was her name. sui. how very sui generis.)

"she is a banker. manages these accounts of wealthy chinese people."

(rich. well-educated. i was guessing harvard. major in finance and global economics. cum laude.)

"anyway, when i met you, i was instantly drawn to you. you were so.....different. so fun. you always make me laugh. you are so full of life. don't you know that before i met you, i haven't been to any of the bars here in hong kong? i haven't even been to a disco. or to a noisy bar with a band playing loud music. i never danced, especially in public. i never drank. i never tried a cigarette. but you. you made me do all of them. i was hoping though that you would also take me to a karaoke bar. but that's not your thing."

i drank my wine. he was making me nervous. his eyes. his lips. his smiles. the music. ella fitzgerald. round midnight. another one of our favourites.

"it begins to tell 'round midnight, midnight

i do pretty well, till after sundown
supper time i'm feelin' sad
but it really gets bad 'round midnight



memories always start 'round midnight
haven't got the heart to stand those memories
when my heart is still with you
and old midnight knows it too

when a quarrel we had needs mending
does it mean that our love is ending
darlin', I need you, lately i find
you're out of my heart and i'm out of my mind.."
 
if he was trying to seduce me, he succeeded without much effort. then he started tapping the table with his fingers. he always did that every time he was about to say something serious.

like the time he first told me he loved me.  in contrast, my hands were on the wine glass. ready to gulped it down in case the news was so bad, i could not bear it. suddenly, i wished i had one of jules' cigarettes with me.

jules. poor kid. how was he doing back home? i felt guilty. all of a sudden. thinking about jules only made things worse. made me even more confused.

pierre continued.

"to make the story short, i fell madly in love with you. of course, i had always known that i was attracted to men. but i controlled my feelings. you already knew that my first love was a classmate of mine in high school. but nothing happened because i wanted to be straight. i wanted a wife. children."

"can i talk now?"

he was surprised. i never interrupted him before. i was the listener; always the good listener. maybe that's the reason why i became a reporter even if i finished a business management degree. i like listening to stories. collecting tales. writing them down. (i also dabble in fiction writing sometimes because news writing is so limiting. you are limited by the facts. but in fiction,  i am free to make-up some of the details as i go along. to make the story more compelling.)

"sure."

"if it's forgiveness that you want. then don't worry anymore. i have forgiven you. now, can i go home?"

i stood up. but he was quick. before i knew it, he was right in front of me, his hands on my shoulder.

"please stay?"

"why?"

"i want you back."

"what about your wife?"

"i am divorcing her."

i was shocked.

i sat down. i didn't know what to say. it was all too sudden. too much, too soon. totally unexpected.
outside, the traffic had eased. the trees had calmed down. the streets looked deserted. actually, everything was foggy. was blurred. i was in tears.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

"walking on and talking till the sun went down
you kept me warm with just your eyes.
seems that all we wanted just came naturally.
we never even have to try....
i didn't meant to love you. didn't want to let it show."

when i reached home, jules was already asleep. it was almost midnight.

his face, serene, calm, innocent, was illuminated by the faint light coming from the window. there was a bit of a moon outside. shy moon.

i didn't want to wake him up, so i decided to just sleep in the couch outside. i was in the bathroom washing my face when i heard his footsteps.

then his voice. gentle. as if he was scared to wake someone up.

"gabriel?" (when i got back to the apartment when we first met, i told him my real name.)

i continued washing my face. then i brushed my teeth.

when i opened the door, he was sitting on the sofa. staring at me.

"are you alright?" he asked. always the adult. as though i was his child.

i sat beside him without saying anything.

he put his arms around my shoulders. like he always does. i felt better.

"so how did it go?"

"it was alright."

"did you?"

"yes."

sadness. i shivered. i wanted to break away from him. be somewhere else. i didn't want to hurt him, this beautiful and lonely boy of twenty-one.

but he continued to hug me. brought me even closer to him.

"is this goodbye?"

"yes."

then he kissed me. on the mouth.

"will you be alright?" i asked.

he was crying.

"please don't cry."

"i can't help it. it hurts so much."

"i'm sorry. i didn't mean to..."

"it's alright. you love him. you belong to him."

"thank you for understanding."

then he started taking off my shirt, his shirt. we kissed some more. our hands explored each others' bodies eagerly as though we were trying to design a map. a map of our bodies. marking each familiar territory with kisses, with touch. he was warm, hard, young. hairy. his lips were soft. his kisses were steamy. hungry. unforgiving. his touch was angry, mad, piercing through my soul.

when i woke up he was gone.

"guess you'll always be inside me.
kind of warm and soft and still.
i didn't mean to need you.
and i didn't wanna cry.
i never meant to lose you
i never meant goodbye.
i never meant goodbye."

fuck  you, helen reddy. you're not making things easy.

i panicked. i searched for my phone and tried calling him. he wouldn't answer.

so i sent him a text message.

"sorry. i was too impulsive. but please don't go. i love you, jules. i love you. it's you all along. i was stupid. i didn't realize it until this morning when i woke up and you were gone. i felt so sad. so empty. without you. please wait for me."

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

helen reddy's i didn't  mean to love you:


ella fitzgerald's round midnight:


(photos were taken from different websites. no copyright infringements intended. please inform me if you want these pictures taken off and i would gladly do so. thank you.)

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